The Problem of Evil: Seven Points

Saints and Sceptics

One Some have argued that evil and suffering are logically incompatible with the existence of God. This argument can be set out quite simply:

i)   A wholly good being always eliminates evil as far as he can.

ii)  There are no limits to what an omnipotent and omniscient being can do.

iii)  So, if a wholly good, omnipotent and omniscient being exists, he eliminates evil completely.

iv)  Evil has not been eliminated completely.

v)   Thus, a wholly good, omnipotent and omniscient being does not exist.

However, we can question premise (ii). As strange as it sounds, there are limits on omnipotence: logical limits. To create beings capable of achieving virtue God must give those beings the gift of free-will. An omnipotent God cannot force a free being to choose the good. So if God created beings with free will omnipotence could not prevent them from freely choosing evil.

The point is that it is logically possible that there are greater goods which God could not bring about without permitting suffering in his universe.

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Two It is widely (although not universally) accepted that the logical problem of evil does not prove God’s non-existence. However, the evidential problem of evil aims to establish that God’s existence is improbable given the existence of evil. It  claims that a good, omnipotent and omniscient creator would eliminate every purposeless or gratuitous evil. A gratuitous evil is an evil which does not bring about a greater good.

Given the amount and variety of evil in the world,  there is probably at least one gratuitous evil. Therefore,  God probably does not exist. We can summarise the evidential argument:

  1. If there is a God, he will not permit evil which does not bring about some greater good.
  2. There are evils which do not bring about some greater God.
  3. There is no God

Why should we believe that there are evils that do not bring about greater goods? Consider all the murders, rapes, massacres and other atrocities in our world. Is it really conceivable that each of these instances of suffering were necessary to bring about some greater good? Isn’t it possible that in at least one of these instances the suffering was unnecessary? Couldn’t a good God have prevented at least one of those evils without losing a greater good? It is surely plausible that the world would be no worse off in the absence of some of those evils.

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The Problem of Evil: Seven Points – Saints and Sceptics


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