The Question of Gratuitous Evil and the Evidential Problem of Evil
by Jason Dulle
The evidential problem of evil points to the improbability that the amount of evil we see in the world – particularly gratuitous evil – would exist if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists. The argument usually takes the following form:
(1) If God exists, gratuitous evil would not exist
(2) Gratuitous evil exists
(3) Therefore God does not exist
Many theists attempt to undermine this argument by attacking the veracity of premise two. For example, William Lane Craig and William Alston argue that humans are not in an epistemic place to judge any act of evil as gratuitous since we cannot see the big picture of history. For all we know, an act of seemingly gratuitous evil will result in a greater good years or even centuries from now, either in the life of the person who experienced the evil or in the life of another person in another country. Our cognitive limitations should not be used as evidence that gratuitous evil exists. At best we must remain agnostic on the question.
This is an appeal to the Greater-Good Defense, which argues that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all evils—including those that appear gratuitous to us—such as using them to bring about some greater good that could not have been brought about apart from those evils.
In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi, Kirk R. MacGregor provides some reasons for thinking that this response to the evidential problem of evil is misguided. Just because our cognitive and temporal limitations make it impossible for us to prove that any act of evil is truly gratuitous does not mean that gratuitous evil does not exist…
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