Phil 349: Oct 22, 2012
Problem of Evil
The concept of God that is relevant to the discussion of the problem of evil is the concept of an
appropriate object of worship or such similar religious attitudes. One would naturally expect that
such a being is a person who is, at the very least, supremely powerful, supremely knowledgeable,
and morally supremely good. The problem is to explain how evil exists given the existence of
God conceived as this supreme being with the mentioned qualities. Thus, the problem at its core
is that of a logical compatibility between the existence of evil in the world and the qualities of
A very basic way of stating the problem in more formal terms:
1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
5. Evil exists.
6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn't have the power to eliminate all evil, or
doesn't know when evil exists, or doesn't have the desire to eliminate all evil.
Note that this could easily be turned into an atheistic argument for the non-existence of God.
This, of course, is the most abstract formulation of the problem of evil that is based on the mere
existence of evil. In some formulations, this evil is specified. In fact, some would argue that
while the world would be better off without the vast majority of evils, this is not so for absolutely
all evils. On the contrary, it might be argued, some evils are necessary to make the world a better
place. That is, some evil is necessary for the greater good. And if this is the case, then the
prevention of all evil might well make the world a worse place. This, of course, makes us
question premise (4), where it is claimed that if God is morally perfect, then God has the desire
to eliminate all evil.
There is also another reason why that claim is problematic. The possibility of committing moral
evil seems necessary for the existence of free will. Thus, one could well argue that the world is
better place if it contains individuals with the capacity of doing morally evil deeds rather than
individuals without such capacity.
At this point, it might be useful to distinguish between two basic types of evil: human evil and
natural evil, that is, evil perpetrated by human beings and by natural disasters, diseases etc.
1 There seems to be two main strategies against the argument from evil: one optimistic the other
1) This world reflects only a minor point in the grand plan of things, which exceeds the limits of
our knowledge. The present evil in the world may be rectified elsewhere or in some other period
of time. Overall, there maybe more goods than evil. The benevolence of God is to be found in
this grand plan.
2) The sufferings in this world will be compensated for in another world. Therefore, there is
justice in the overall system.
3) This world, despite containing some evil, is still the best of all possible worlds (Leibniz).
A quick look at Leibniz’s solution
1. Whoever does not choose the best is lacking in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.
2. God did not choose the best in creating this world.
3. Therefore, God is short in power, or in knowledge, or in goodness.
The sub-argument for (2)
2a. Whoever creates things in which there is (any amount of) evil, which could have been created
without any evil, or which could have been not created in the first place, does not choose the
2b. God has created this world with evil in it.
2c. This world could have been created without any evil or not created at all.
2. Therefore, God has not chosen the best.
Leibniz: 2c is wrong. Some amount of evil is required for greater good. (Ex: Adam’s fall is a
happy sin because it eventually led to the incarnation of Jesus.) Not only that: A world without
evil is not possible at all, and this world is the best of all possible worlds. There is evil in the
world, but this world is still better than any other possible world. And he who chooses the best of
all possible options is truly benevolent.
1) Some evil is necessary for greater good.
2) Good is possible only when there is evil. (Opposite extremes are interdependent)
3) Suffering has an edifying role: our experience of evil helps us better understand the nature of
the moral good.
4) Suffering of the members is necessary for the good of the whole (i.e., species or society).
2 An overview of Hume’s discussion of the problem in the Dialogues:
Hume first presents the problem in the form of ―Epicurus's old questions‖ which remain
―unanswered‖. The questions are these: Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then
he is not omnipotent. Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent
(or at least less than perfectly good). If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then why is
there evil in the world? [Note that omniscience can also be added to this equation!]
Several theodicies (different ways of coping with the problem of evil) are available to the theist:
One strategy may be to argue either that there are no real evils in the world (i.e., only apparent
evils) or that there are real evils in the world but they are all necessary evils — without which the
whole system of nature would not be so perfect.
In respect of the first view, that there is no real evil, Philo takes the view that it is plainly
contrary to human experience.
The first line of reply to this comes from Demea (the mystic) who argues that ―the present evil
phenomena … are rectified in other regions, and in s