Problem of evil

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For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
For more information, see the Atheist Debates video on The Problem of Evil.
Epicurus first expounded the problem of evil
For more information, see the Crash Course video:

The logical problem of evil points out a contradiction in the traditional conceptions of the nature of God and the current state of the world. As Epicurus pointed out:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?[1]"

There are many counterarguments to the problem of evil. Arguments that justify the existence of evil are known as theodicies, a term coined by Gottfried Leibniz. A theodicy can generally be divided into four categories, each typically rejecting one of the four premises used to make the argument. The argument is, we must remember, not an argument for the nonexistence of all gods, but an argument for the nonexistence of a god with all three of the characteristics of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence in the presence of evil.

Many counterarguments rely on wild and unsubstantiated speculation:

"So how do theists respond to arguments like this? [The Argument from Evil] They say there is a reason for evil, but it is a mystery. Well, let me tell you this: I'm actually one hundred feet tall even though I only appear to be six feet tall. You ask me for proof of this. I have a simple answer: it's a mystery. Just accept my word for it on faith. And that's just the logic theists use in their discussions of evil. [2]"

Most theodicies crumble in the face of easily prevented, extremely "evil" acts, such as the rape and murder of a child, or a gross atrocity like the holocaust, slavery or other genocides. Many theodicies have worse implications than the original problem.

Closely related problems include the problem of suffering, the Kalam cosmological problem of evil, the problem of non-God objects and the evidential problem of evil.


The argument[edit]

The logical problem of evil is usually stated:

  1. Premise: Evil exists.
  2. Premise: God is omnipotent: he is capable of doing something about evil.
  3. Premise: God is omnibenevolent: he does not want evil to exist.
  4. Premise: God is omniscient: he must know about all evil in the world.
  5. From (2-4), a God with this attributes would prevent evil occurring
  6. From (5), evil exists ergo God does not exist

However, this results in a contradiction because evil cannot both exist and not exist. Dropping any one of those four premises would resolve the contradiction, but dropping #1 would require us to fundamentally redefine evil in some way, and dropping the other three would undermine the Christian concept of God. Accepting all four premises would lead to irrational theism, which is belief that is contrary to evidence and reason.

The argument makes two implicit assumptions about God: [3]

  1. An omnibenevolent God attempts to eliminate evil as far as it can.
  2. An omnipotent God can eliminate evil.

These two assumptions are most often the target of counter arguments.

"Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot, or he can do so and is unwilling, or he has neither the will nor the power, or he has both the will and the power. If he has the will but not the power, he is a weakling, and this is not characteristic of God. If he has the power but not the will, he is grudging, and this is a trait equally foreign to God. If he has neither the will nor the power, he is both grudging and weak, and is therefore not divine. If he has both the will and the power (and this is the sole circumstance appropriate to God), what is the source of evils, or why does God not dispel them?"

— Cicero's character Cotta[4]

David Hume expressed the argument as:

"Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity"

Counter arguments: God is not omnipotent[edit]

These arguments attack the premise that God is omnipotent or limit the concept so as to avoid the unwanted conclusion.

Free will defense[edit]

It is often claimed that evil exists because God gave humans free will. According to the Bible, God's gift of free will led to the fall of Adam and Eve through their original sin. Free will is assumed to be a greater good than the evil that it causes or is needed by God to serve some purpose. For example, free will is required for people to love God in a free and open fashion. So if a young girl is raped and murdered, this is because God needed the rapist's free will so that his actions could result in greater good or so that the rapist could freely love God.

"the origin of evil is not the Creator but the creature's freely choosing sin and selfishness [5]"

One undesirable implication of the free will defence is that any interaction of God on the universe would be a potential violation of free will. [6]

Plantinga: Possibly the best possible world[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
Alvin Plantinga in 2009

Apologists such as Alvin Plantinga argue for the possibility that God could not have created a better world. Therefore, an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God may possibly be compatible with evil. Since they are possibly compatible, the axioms of the problem of evil do not imply a contradiction. [7]

"It is possible that God, even being omnipotent, could not create a world with free creatures who never choose evil. Furthermore, it is possible that God, even being omnibenevolent, would desire to create a world which contains evil if moral goodness requires free moral creatures."
"The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good."

This theodicy suggests that no improvement may be made to the world because doing so would violate free will. According to this argument, it is impossible for God to intervene to prevent a murder.

"So long as it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, it follows that God and evil are logically consistent. [8]"

See also:

Thought crimes[edit]

An alternative version is based on the concept that some thoughts are evil, even if they are not acted upon. If God were to eliminate all evil, this would limit freedom of thought.

"Evil is destructive whether it is acted out or not. Hatred and bigotry in someone’s heart is wrong. If it is wrong and if God is to stop all evil, then He must stop that person from thinking his own thoughts. To do that, God must remove his freedom of thought. [9]"

This assumes freedom of thought is more important than the non-existence of evil, which has not been established by the apologist.

Natural evil[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
Tsunami damage which God did not prevent
Forest fires which God did not prevent

The free will defence and "best possible worlds" theories fail to explain why God allows natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. These are collectively known as "natural evil" and kill large numbers of people based on geographical locations. This indicates that the concept of "evil" is not necessarily tied to what people do. Furthermore, it fails to account for evil done to people against their will. The argument of free will is used to justify why an infant can be killed, however the infant invoked no measure of free will to allow for this evil to result. So in order to give the gift of free will to this infant, the child is murdered without having any choice in the matter.

"All you have to do is want into any children's hospital and you know there is no God. At least no good God. May be there is an evil God."

Dan Barker[10]

"The child born without limbs, the sightless fly, the sightless fly, the vanished species-these are nothing less than Mother Nature caught in the act of throwing her clay. No perfect God could maintain such incongruities. It is worth mentioning that if God created the world and all things in it, he created smallpox, plague, and filariasis. Any person who intentionally loosed such horrors upon the earth would be ground to dust for his crimes."

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

Even if we define natural disasters as not being evil, there remains the fact that they occur, and that God does not prevent them or the deaths and suffering they cause. If we replace "evil" with "suffering" in the discussion above, the problem remains: either God is unaware of people's suffering, and is therefore not omniscient; or he is unable to do anything, and is therefore not omnipotent; or he is unwilling to intervene, and is therefore not omnibenevolent.

Some apologists argue that natural disasters are attempts by God to influence human behaviour. An omnipotent God should have better means of communicating which do not inflict needless suffering.

Free will does not exist[edit]

Evidence uncovered by psychologists undermines the existence of free will. What moral choices are explained partly by our culture, by our upbringing, by our genes, even by the state of our brains (since some types of brain damage affect our moral decisions and our capacity to lead a morally good life).

Many philosophers have dismissed free will because the universe apparently operates based on causality or natural laws. This implies hard determinism, which is usually considered to be incompatible with free will. Free will is also incompatible with a God having omniscience.

Arguably, free will is total freedom of action without limitation. Since humans are limited by practical concerns, they do not have free will.

Free will is not a defence[edit]

Bertrand Russell in 1907

Even if human sin is the cause of evil, God is still ultimately responsible, since he could have foreseen the outcome and God created humans anyway knowing they would sin. Alternatively, God could have chosen not to create humans at all. If God cannot do evil and any world (supposedly) must contain at least some evil, not creating the world would seem to be a viable option. In other words, the problem of evil raises the related problem of non-God objects.

"The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good and omnipotent. Before He created the world He foresaw all the pain and misery that it would contain; He is therefore responsible for all of it. It is useless to argue that the pain in the world is due to sin. In the first place, this is not true; it is not sin that causes rivers to overflow their banks or volcanoes to erupt. But even if it were true, it would make no difference. If I were going to beget a child knowing that the child was going to be a homicidal maniac, I should be responsible for his crimes. If God knew in advance the sins of which man would be guilty, He was clearly responsible for all the consequences of those sins when He decided to create man. [11]"

Bertrand Russell

A better world is possible[edit]

Portrait of David Hume

It is easy to propose improvements to the world, which directly refutes Plantinga's argument that we possibly live in the best possible world.

"[Suppose] I show you a house or palace, where there was not one apartment convenient or agreeable; [...]; you would certainly blame the contrivance, without any further examination. The architect would in vain display his subtlety, and prove to you, that if this door or that window were altered, greater ills would ensue. What he says may be strictly true: The alteration of one particular, while the other parts of the building remain, may only augment the inconveniences. But still you would assert in general, that, if the architect had had skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole, and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner, as would have remedied all or most of these inconveniences. His ignorance, or even your own ignorance of such a plan, will never convince you of the impossibility of it. If you find any inconveniences and deformities in the building, you will always, without entering into any detail, condemn the architect."

David Hume
"For example, imagine that our world had one less violent human act, or one less tragic natural disaster. [12]"

God could allow free choice but intervene to reduce or mitigate the harm one person inflicts on another. This is a simple improvement that would reduce suffering and evil overall without interfering with free choice directly.

God could have made humans less lazy. This would obviously result in an overall benefit without interfering with free will.

"Let [humans] be endowed with a greater propensity to industry and labour; a more vigorous spring and activity of mind; a more constant bent to business and application. [...] Almost all the moral, as well as natural evils of human life, arise from idleness [...] Here our demands may be allowed very humble, and therefore the more reasonable. [13]"

The obvious non-optimal design of the world leads to the argument from poor design for God's non-existence.


If Heaven exists, the problem of evil is strengthened. If God can allow people to have a worthwhile existence in Heaven in the future (where no evil exists), there is no obvious reason why evil exists now. As Mackie asked: [14]

Why could [God] not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? Even if man is believed to have free will, God could have created humans such that they would always freely choose the good. This he did not do and is therefore ultimately responsible and blameworthy for any evil act which humans perform.
For at least some theists, this difficulty is made even more acute by some of their further beliefs: I mean those who envisage a happier or more perfect state of affairs than now exists, whether they look forward to the kingdom of God on earth, or confine their optimism to the expectation of heaven. In either case they are explicitly recognizing the possibility of a state of affairs in which created beings always freely choose the good. If such a state of affairs is coherent enough to be the object of a reasonable hope or faith, it is hard to explain why it does not obtain already.

If heaven exists, a better world is clearly possible. God could have just created a group of people in Heaven and simply omit creating Earth and Hell.

Other moral agents exist[edit]

Other moral agents, such as evil spirits, could be the cause of evil. This is effectively relying on polytheism, which is not a favored tactic of most apologists.

Some humans lack free will[edit]

Some medical conditions result in people being born apparently without free will. Other people seem to lose their free will by coercion, medial reasons or brain washing. If the free will defence is employed, it raises the "problem of lack of free will". One cannot argue that God considers free will as necessary and at the same time that he allows some people not to have it.

Why can humans limit freedom of humans while God cannot?[edit]

We find it morally acceptable to incarcerate people who are dangerous, in order to limit their choices and mitigate their harm. It is contradictory to claim that humans can limit freedoms at the same time as say God could not limit the harm caused by very morally evil people.

"Why, if this argument would be unacceptable coming from a human being, should we think it any more acceptable coming from God? [15]"

Conversely, if God wishes people to exercise their will freely, including criminals to go on crime sprees, this implies human attempts at reducing crime is an act that is contrary to the will of God. This absurd conclusion illustrates that mitigating the harm people do cannot be immoral, even for God.

"If evil is merely the harbinger of greater good, why should we be opposed to its occurrence, and why, indeed, should we be expected to prevent it? [16]"

Free will is superior[edit]

The free will defence often relies on the suppose fact that humans with free will are better than humans without free will or total non-existence. This has not been established and is pure speculation.

"'God thought it good to create free persons' (p. 170) [because] '[a] world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and [who] freely perform more good actions than evil ones) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.' (p. 166) [17]"

Moral good requires the possibility of moral evil[edit]

"God could not have created a universe containing moral good (or as much moral good as this world contains) without creating one that also contained moral evil [7]"

The free will defence often relies on the suppose fact that moral good was created by God but requires the humans that sometimes choose to do morally evil acts. In Plantinga's jargon, it is possible that "every essence suffers from transworld depravity." This has not been established and is pure speculation. Some compatibilist philosophers (who accept both determinism and free will) claim that God could have created a world where people always choose good.

"There is nothing logically inconsistent about a free agent that always chooses the good. [15]"

As mentioned above, the existence of heaven would show that moral good can exist apart from moral evil.

God could influence people while still allowing free choice[edit]

Holy books often refer to direct interactions between God and humans, e.g. God hardens Pharaoh's heart Exodus 7:3–4 Bible-icon.png.[18] This apparently does not remove the human's free will. According to scripture, interaction with God influences people he interacts with. Many theists also pray for God's guidance and believe they receive it. Based on these precedents, God should be capable of influencing people to do good. If God actually influences people to be good (and supposing God is omnipotent), this would greatly reduce or eliminate evil while still allowing for free will. We would also expect to see a sustained effort on the part of God to influence humans. However, there is no evidence this occurs and significant evil still exists.

"God can still do lots of things so that people will more often choose to do morally right things freely, even if He can't absolutely guarantee it. [...] After all, people's evil decisions don't come entirely from a vacuum. God can do lots of things to make it more likely that people would freely do morally good actions (things having to do with genetics, the environment, the temperament that people have, etc.), so that not all of the evils caused by people nowadays are necessary in order to have a world in which people are significantly free. [19]"

God could kill evil doers[edit]

God could simply kill off evil doers in an open and obvious manner. This would prevent future evil. This often happens in the Old Testament Genesis 19:24-25 Bible-icon.png, so it is impossible to argue this is contrary to the nature of God (at least as described in the Bible) or would violate their free will. The fact that it does not happen now raises the problem of evil.

If killing is too drastic, God could certainly mitigate the harm caused by evil. Since this does not happen, we face the problem of suffering.

Leibniz: Best of all possible worlds[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
Portrait of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

According to Gottfried Leibniz, we currently live in the best possible world that God could have created. While theologians debate if God is obligated to create the best possible world, it is often considered obvious that God would do so. There exists the most amount of good and the least amount of evil. A universe with less evil would be less desirable or impossible. [12]

The reason that God could not create a better world is unknown. Therefore this is an argument from ignorance. For this reason, most apologists prefer Plantinga's free will defence.

Since it is fairly easy to imagine a better world, this argument seems to be refuted.

Alternatively, there may be an infinite series of better worlds, with no "best world". If God decided to create a world, there always be better possible worlds than the actual world. So the choice of this particular one would be less optimal than some alternatives.

Irenaean theodicy: God's tough love[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Apologists often claim that what appears to be harmful to humans may, in fact, be for humanity's good. How can we learn, the argument goes, without making our own mistakes? This is sometimes referred to as the "soul-making theodicy". Irenaean theodicy considers evil as God's means to enable humans to fully develop or to fully know God.

"it is quite possible that God uses the suffering to do good. In other words, He produces patience through tribulation (Romans 5:3 Bible-icon.png) [9]"
"The basic idea is that suffering of innocents will help them to become stronger. All evil offers us the possibility to learn from it and grow into a better human being. [20]"
"Second, God may be letting evil run its course in order to prove that evil is malignant and that suffering, which is the unfortunate product of evil, is further proof that anything contrary to God’s will is bad, harmful, painful, and leads to death. [9]"

The "tough love" argument only works if God is limited in power. If God is omnipotent there is nothing he can not teach us gently that he can teach us harshly. If he is benevolent than he would never choose to teach us a harsh lesson when it could be taught, with exactly the same impact, gently.

Another problem with this argument is that although according to this argument, God wants us to grow as people by learning from our mistakes, according to most religious doctrine he also wants worship. Worship involves complete obedience and submission, whereas learning from mistakes requires using one's intelligence. It is contradictory to claim that God wants us to be both completely obedient and make decisions for ourselves, since complete obedience means blindly obeying authority, for example the story of Abraham and Issac (Genesis 22:1-19 Bible-icon.png). Abraham was called "righteous" because he blindly obeyed God's command to murder his son. The fact that God stopped Abraham before the knife fell means nothing- even if he had allowed the murder, Abraham would still be called righteous for obeying God's command.

Apologists sometimes argue that some virtues can only expressed it in the face of evil. [21] However, the need or desirability to express these virtues has not been established.

A further problem is if it is desirable to have people with a developed character, God could simply create people in the final state and avoid the need for humans to develop. This would make evil redundant.

"If God is all powerful he could have eliminated the need for evil by making us characterized to begin with. [20]"

Really powerful, but not all-powerful[edit]

God is not all-powerful in the sense that he can create a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it. So, God is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and really really powerful.

"But supposing the Author of Nature to be finitely perfect, though far exceeding mankind, a satisfactory account may then be given of natural and moral evil, and every untoward phenomenon be explained and adjusted. A less evil may then be chosen, in order to avoid a greater; inconveniences be submitted to, in order to reach a desirable end; and in a word, benevolence, regulated by wisdom, and limited by necessity, may produce just such a world as the present. [13]"

The problem with this argument is there is still more evil than would be expected if God was very powerful. If a child is raped and killed, is this because God is not powerful enough to prevent it? I could prevent that and would strive to with the smallest degree of foreknowledge. So if this argument is to succeed it must conclude that I am more powerful than God. And more benevolent. In fact, the general disorder of the universe is the basis for the argument from poor design.

Frequent divine interventions would cause chaos[edit]

"[...] for the most part, the existence of free will and of order in the physical universe are inexorable facts. While we might wish for such miraculous deliverance to occur more frequently, the consequences of interrupting these two sets of forces would be utter chaos."

Francis Collins, The Language of God

An omnipotent God could intervene to minimize chaos.

For human action, it is easy to imagine that God could intervene regularly in certain circumstances such as to prevent murder. For instance, all murder victims would be miraculously healed or resurrected after the attack, while the murderer is still free to exercise his free will. This would not cause chaos because the regularity of the intervention would be perfectly predictable to humans. Murder is a relatively rare occurrence, so its prevention would cause minimal disruption.

In terms of natural evil, God could quite easily modify the earth to be more benign, in terms of reducing natural disasters. The means to do this would hardly affect human affairs. The outcome would clearly benefit human existence. Natural evil is as much an argument from poor design as the problem of evil.

Unspecified reason for God's inability to prevent evil[edit]

This undermines the concept that God is actually omnipotent. Usually this is framed by apologists as an "impossibility" for God to prevent evil. This is special pleading - if there is a reason God cannot intervene, let us hear it - otherwise, we cannot simply draw conclusions about God based on unknown arguments. An omnipotent God should be able to intervene because that is the meaning of omnipotence.

How would one tell the difference between an omnipotent god who allows and/or causes evil/suffering without explaining why, and an non-omnipotent, or indifferent, god?

God does not exist[edit]

God is unable to prevent evil because God does not exist. The problem of evil does not apply to non-existent gods.

"The only excuse for God is that He does not exist."

Counter arguments: God is not omnibenevolent[edit]

These arguments attack the premise that God is omnibenevolent or limit the concept so as to avoid the unwanted conclusion.

Punishment theodicy: evil is a consequence of disobeying God[edit]

Main Article: Evil is a consequence of disobeying God
For more information, see the Wikipedia article:

Evil exists not because it was created by God but because it results from our disobeying God's divine laws. Because God is supposedly "all just", he must punish evil. However, God being "all just" is incompatible with God being omnibenevolent (or being all merciful). One form of the argument is Augustinian theodicy, which blames evil on the fall and expulsion from Eden. God is good and does good, but any evil you do you brought upon yourself. This principle is also the theodicy of Islam.

"ultimately, no one is innocent. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23 Bible-icon.png) and are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3 Bible-icon.png). There is none innocent. [9]"
"Allah has placed a physical law and a moral law in this universe. Allah allows suffering to occur when one or more of these laws are broken. The physical law is based on cause and effect. Sickness comes if one does not take care of one’s health or is exposed to infections. A car accident occurs when one is not alert, or drives in a careless manner, or if the cars are not checked, roads and freeways are not made and kept in right shape, or the traffic laws are not right or not properly enforced. [22]"

This explanation argues that God has created an earthly consequence for disobeying divine laws. There are at least two problems with this argument:

  1. Seemingly innocent people being victims of evil. This includes people being killed inside places of worship[23], which would be safe if God protected the faithful as some apologists claim.[24] Apologists argue that everyone has original sin and are therefore worthy of punishment. This relies on the questionable notion of collective guilt.
  2. The problem with this argument is there is no clear connection between sin and evil. Evil people often live long happy lives while virtuous people often have short miserable lives. The arbitrariness of victims of natural evil is particularly noticeable. If there was a connection, it would be observable, quantifiable and verifiable. This there is not any connection, the theodicy fails.

If you are raped, you were bad. If you have a holocaust happen to you, you were bad. If something bad happens to you, you brought it on yourself. This theodicy consists of blaming the victim, in the case of a baby born sick or disabled it blames the parents.

Muslims considers Allah to be good, wise and just. However, since he has many other attributes, he is benevolence is not considered to be absolute.

"God is seen as one and unique in context of all his names and attributes. So if God was just good and omnipotent, then there may be problem in reconciling suffering and evil in the world. However if you include attributes such as ‘the Severe in Punishment’ and ‘the Wise’, these problems would not exist. [21]"

God is omnibenevolent to something non-human[edit]

Another way to redefine 'benevolence' is to argue that God may be benevolent to specific humans or to non-humans. Our entire history may exist for the positive influence it may have on aliens we have not met. We may be actors in a puppet show that makes these beings happy. After all, it is perfectly possible for benevolent humans to play comically violent video games with their delighted children.

But this argument is sophistry. To win the argument the apologist defines a God that neither we nor he would have much reason to worship. For example, if the creatures in a violent "Run and Gun" video game were to gain self awareness, would we expect them to view us as benevolent beings worthy of their love and trust as we blast them into electronic oblivion?

And, if God is not benevolent toward humans, then what differentiates him from a human sociopath or from the Devil?

The problem of evil must be taken up in the context of humanity. No other context would make a God useful to humans in any realistic way. A God that is benevolent to others at lethal expense to humans is, by definition, malevolent, or at least indifferent, toward humans. It is an unusual apologist indeed who believes in this type of God.

God is benevolent to the point of impotence[edit]

Some claim that since God is omnibenevolent, he loves all his creatures, even Satan, who is considered by many to be the embodiment of evil. Therefore it would violate his omnibenevolence to simply destroy Satan or any other evil creation. This of course implies that God is not omnipotent. It is also contradicted by the Bible, which states that God hates evil.

Perfection implies no lacking in evil[edit]

God is also evil. The problem of evil does not apply if we accept that.

"I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."

Isaiah 45:7 Bible-icon.png

"I devoted my first childish literary trifle, my first written philosophical exercise, to [the origin of evil]—and so far as my “solution” to it at that time is concerned, well, I gave that honour to God, as is reasonable, and made him the father of evil."

Friedrich Nietzsche [25]

According to Christianity, God supposedly places those in authority in power Romans 13:1 Bible-icon.png, including corrupt and psychotic leaders. God commanded atrocities in the Old Testament. Jesus allowed a herd of pigs to drown for no reason.

God allows evil so that the good is appreciated[edit]

God wants to be loved and is very vain. He wants to be loved so much that he allows many evils to befall mankind so that they appreciate the good more. Much as the blind man healed by Jesus appreciated his sight more because of his blindness.

Evil is allowed to justify God's punishment[edit]

God may allow evil to justify his punishment of sinners.

"A third possible reason that God is letting evil occur is so that on the day of judgment the condemned will have no right to say that their sentence is unjust. [9]"

This assumes the punishment itself is inevitable and just, which has not been established. It seems like God is setting up some humans to fail, which is not consistent with omnibenevolence. Also, it is an appeal to consequences.

Existence of evil glorifies God[edit]

A further question is why does God allow Satan to continue to exist, which raises the problem of evil. Some apologists argue that God will be more glorified if he allows Satan to exist, which is not an omnibenevolent attitude.

"he knows that when we walk in and out of those temptations [caused by Satan], struggling both with the physical and moral effects that they bring, more of God's glory will shine in that battle than if he took Satan out yesterday. [26]"
"Yes, paradoxical as it may sound, Satan’s way of governing has in reality served to glorify God.[27]"

Unspecified reason for not preventing evil[edit]

Apologists sometimes argue that God has a reason not to address evil which may be unknown or unknowable to humans.

"it is possible that God has reasons for allowing evil to exist that we simply cannot understand. [9]"
"God’s wisdom, as there may be divine wisdom in permitting evil and suffering. Even if we can’t evaluate what the wisdom is, it doesn’t mean it is not there. To argue such a thing would be a logical fallacy, known as the argument from ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam). [21]"

This undermines the concept that God is actually good. No reason can justify a "good" God from not doing good, apart from an inability to do so.

How would one tell the difference between a good god who allows and/or causes evil/suffering without explaining why, and an evil, or indifferent, god?

Counter arguments: God is not omniscient[edit]

These arguments attack the premise that God is omniscient or limit the concept so as to avoid the unwanted conclusion. Unlike the other characteristics of God, omniscience isn't necessarily required for the argument.

God does good, Satan does evil[edit]

God only has limited omniscience, he cannot see the future. God simply did not know that Satan would turn against him because he cannot know the future. Satan blindsided God, who lacks future knowledge, and created evil himself. God was betrayed and Satan is the reason evil exists.

Any situation God did not foresee can still be addressed through the power of omnipotence. If God is all-good, all-powerful and knows Satan exists now, he should snuff out Satan and promptly remove all evil from the world.

Evil is a test theodicy[edit]

Evil is needed so that God can test people.

"Earthly life is just a test. God has thrown us into this world full of evil and pointless suffering in order to find out what kind of beings we are. Without the pointless suffering, his test is not complete. If we pass, we go to heaven. If we fail, we go to hell. [20]"

"The One Who created death and life, so that He may put you to test, to find out which of you is best in deeds: He is the all-Almighty, the all-Forgiving"

Surah 67:2 Bible-icon.png

If God is omniscient, then God already knows what humans will do in any test, rendering the exercise (and the pain caused by evil) pointless and unnecessary.

The necessity of the test itself has not been established. God is just inflicting evil, in the form of a test, for no apparent reason.

Counter arguments: Evil does not exist[edit]

These arguments attack the premise that evil exists or limits the concept in some way.

Evil is an illusion[edit]

We believe that evil exists because we view things like genocide as bad. We are simply wrong, all of these things are good.

Which suggests that everything which has ever happened is objectively good: rape, the holocaust, slavery, genocide. In order defend this theodicy, a proponent would need to agree that any horrific thing you could mention is a good thing to do.

Although not generally accepted by most theists, many philosophers consider evil to be subjective, a human construction or a meaningless concept (moral nihilism). In this case, the problem of evil has invalid axioms.

Humans cannot judge if evil exists[edit]

Apologists such as Gottfried Leibniz argue that humans are not able to judge the universe because of our limited experience. [28]

"if theism is true we would expect that there would be inscrutable evil. Indeed, a little reflection shows there is no reason to think we could so much as grasp God’s plans here, even if he proposed to divulge them to us. But then the fact that there is inscrutable evil does not make it improbable that God exists. [29]"

Judging the overall state of the universe is unnecessary to make the more limited observation that "evil exists".

It is all part of God's plan theodicy[edit]

God's divine plan is good. What we think is evil is not, rather it's a part of God's plan we are misidentifying as evil because we cannot see the big picture.

"What they did was wrong and Joseph suffered greatly for it. But, later, God raised up Joseph in Egypt to make provisions for the people of that land during the coming drought of seven years. Not only was Egypt saved but also his family and brothers who originally sold him into slavery. Joseph finally says to them, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:15-21 Bible-icon.png). [9]"

"Do you know why God subjects you to so many miseries? That He may bestow on you the riches of heaven."

St. Paul of the Cross

The holocaust is part of God's divine plan? Young girls being raped and murdered is part of God's plan? If such things are part of God's plan, even without seeing the big picture one must conclude that it's a really bad plan.

Furthermore, what is the point of a plan if one is all powerful? There are no steps needed; simply create the end results. This presumably would avoid the need for evil to exist at all.

There is no evidence of a divine plan. This counter argument is mere speculation with an unfounded basis.

"These arbitrary suppositions can never be admitted, contrary to matter of fact, visible and uncontroverted. Whence can any cause be known but from its known effects? Whence can any hypothesis be proved but from the apparent phenomena? To establish one hypothesis upon another, is building entirely in the air; and the utmost we ever attain, by these conjectures and fictions, is to ascertain the bare possibility of our opinion; but never can we, upon such terms, establish its reality. [30]"

Divine morality differs from human morality[edit]

As with "benevolence", "evil" can be redefined. What is "evil" for humans may not be evil for God. In fact, anything that God chooses to do can be construed as "good", which is the premise of divine command theory. Using this argument, "evil" can not exist in any definable terms when applied to God.

The apologist treads dangerously close to moral relativism. We know from information in the Bible that moral rules have changed at the will of God. Is God, then, a moral relativist?

"In general terms the word ‘good’ has a meaning that relates to human experience, whereas in Islamic theology ‘good’ as an attribute of God is primarily viewed as a unique attribute that can be appreciated but not fully comprehended due to his uniqueness and transcendental nature. [21]"

If the answer is that God is following a moral plan, then the apologist opens himself up to the Euthyphro dilemma. If the answer is that God changes as he sees fit and anything that god declares as good is good, then what is the difference between being a relativist and following a relativist God?

When an apologist tries to redefine the premises of "the problem of evil" he finds himself in a morass of relativism, but when he tries to work with the premises he finds himself unwittingly limiting the unlimited God of his religion.

Evil is the absence of Good[edit]

Just as cold is the absence of hot and dark is the absence of light, evil is the absence of good. This is intended to challenge that evil requires creating at all.

The problem of evil can be simply reframed as "the problem of the absence of Good". This contradicts an omnibenevolent, omnipresent deity because we would expect such a deity to intervene.

"If God were omnibenevolent he would not have neglected to make the good that we are lacking in place of evil. [20]"

This argument relies on dubious ethics: are evil deeds an absence of some corresponding good? Is rape an absence of unrape? Is murder an absence of unmurder? (How many people have you unraped or unmurdered today? We're committing unsins constantly!) Conversely, if baking your neighbor cookies [or name any random act of kindness] is a good deed, what is the absence of that good deed? Is it evil not to bake your neighbour cookies?

"Atheists do not have a clear concept of evil"[edit]

"Relativists Can’t Complain About the Problem of Evil [31]"

Apologists may claim the argument cannot be made by an atheists because they supposedly have no clear concept of evil. This is an ad hominem attack since it does not address the argument. It is a form of presuppositional apologetics. All that is necessary is that the theist accepts that the concept of evil is valid. If necessary, an atheist can simply accept the axiom of morality exists, for the sake of this argument.

Miscellaneous theodicies[edit]

Heaven exists after this world[edit]

After you die you can go to heaven which evens everything out in the end. Regardless of what pain and suffering exists here, heaven will balance out the scales. This was often used by religious authorities to justify torture and murder during the many inquisitions and crusades. The victims' temporary agony was justified if it saved them from the eternal agony of hell.

"Last but not least, this life is a temporary. All those who suffered will not remember a thing the moment they enter Paradise. [32]"

This has nothing to do with the argument since it does not address the logical consequence of a deity incompatible with an evil filled world. The problem of evil stands, if heaven exists or not. Also, the existence of heaven has not been reliably established.

God also allows good[edit]

Apologists point to the fact that some good exists or that there is more good than evil.

"It is wrong to see one side of the coin and not to see the other side. Any philosophy that concentrates on one aspect of the creation and denies or ignores the other side is partially true and partial truths are no truth at all. [22]"

This is a red herring since it does not address the problem of evil at all. It is reminiscent of the argument from incomplete devastation.

See also[edit]


  1. This quotation is almost certainly paraphrased from a report in Lactantius's De Ira Dei (c. 318). [1]
  2. Quentin Smith, Two Ways to Defend Atheism, 1996 [2]
  3. [3]
  4. The Nature of the Gods (3.65, 133, trans. P.G. Walsh)
  5. [4]
  6. [5]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 1974
  8. [6]
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 [7]
  10. [8]
  11. Bertrand Russell, Has Religion Made Useful Contributions to Civilization?
  12. 12.0 12.1 [9]
  13. 13.0 13.1 David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
  14. J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," Mind, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 254. (Apr., 1955), pp. 200-212.
  15. 15.0 15.1 [10]
  16. Dean Stretton, The Moral Argument from Evil, 1999
  17. Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, 1974
  18. [11]
  19. [12]
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 [13]
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 [14]
  22. 22.0 22.1 [15]
  23. [16]
  24. [17]
  25. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, Preface, aph. 3
  26. [18]
  27. Satan’s Way of Ruling Sure to Fail, The Watchtower (2010)
  28. [19]
  29. Alvin Plantinga, Epistemic Probability and Evil
  30. [20]
  31. [21]
  32. [22]

External links[edit]

v · d Arguments against the existence of god
Existential arguments   Argument from nonbelief · Problem of Evil (logical) . Who created God? · Turtles all the way down · Problem of non-God objects · Argument from incompatible attributes · No-reason argument · Santa Claus argument · Can God create a rock so heavy that he can't lift it? · Outsider test
Arguments from the Bible   Failed prophecy in the Bible · Biblical contradictions
Evidentiary arguments   Problem of evil (evidential) · Inefficacy of prayer
Reasonableness arguments   Occam's Razor · Outsider test · Argument from locality · Argument from inconsistent revelations
Other arguments   Emotional pleas