Arguing About Evil: Mackie’s Argument

by Luke Muehlhauser on September 12, 2009 in Problem of Evil

Part 3 of my series Arguing About Evil.

evil03

Last post: There are both logical and evidential arguments from evil. Questions we’ll consider include: Can a sound logical argument from evil be found? Are there any good reasons God would permit so much evil? If we can’t think of any good excuses for God to allow evil, does this mean there aren’t any? Is God really able to create a world with less evil?

This post: Mackie argued that the existence of evil and the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God are logically incompatible. And since we know evil exists, therefore God must not exist. But can evil and God really be proven to be logically incompatible?

mackieFor centuries, atheists argued that (an all-loving, all-powerful) God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil, and thus the existence of evil provided a knock-down argument against God. The standard form of this argument was provided by J.L. Mackie in Evil and Omnipotence (1955).

Mackie argued that theism can be disproved like so:

(1) If God exists, God is an omnipotent and wholly good being.

(2) A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.

(3) There are no limits on what an omnipotent being can do.

(4) Evil exists.

∴ God does not exist.

(The ∴ symbol means “Therefore,” and signifies the conclusion of an argument.)

Mackie notes:

If you are prepared to say that God is not wholly good, or not quite omnipotent, or  that evil does not  exist, or that good is not opposed to the kind of  evil that  exists, or that there are limits  to what an omnipotent thing  can do, then the problem of evil will not arise for you.

But the theist is not prepared to affirm any of those things. So, he must face the logical problem of evil.

Which premises might the theist attack? To deny (1) is to deny traditional theism. This was the strategy of Rabbi Harold Kushner in his bestseller, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Kushner said that God wants to destroy evil, but he just can’t. He’s too weak and limited.

But the traditional theist believes (1). So let’s move on. Can he deny (3)? Not if omnipotence is properly understood. God cannot do the logically impossible. He cannot make a square circle or a married bachelor. But this not really a limit on God’s power. As Richard Swinburne puts it:

A logically impossible action is not an action. It is what is described by a form of words which purport to describe an action, but do not describe anything which it is coherent to suppose could be done. It is no objection to A’s omnipotence that he cannot make a square circle. This is because “making a square circle” does not  describe anything which it is coherent to suppose could be done.1

So premise (3), properly understood, is simply true by definition.

Premise (4), that evil exists, is abundantly obvious. If someone does not see evil in this world, it is not clear what he means when he says that “God is good.” Such a person must mean something very different than the traditional theistic conception of a good God.

We are left, then, with (2). Can we be sure that (2) is correct?

young_plantingaThere are several problems with (2), as Alvin Plantinga explained most accessibly in God, Freedom, and Evil (1974).2 To see the first problem with (2), imagine the following scene:

Bob has been stranded in the middle of the Sahara desert. There is no water within 30 miles of him, and his legs are broken. You are 50 miles away. You have a helicopter, and a personal doctor. But, you are unaware of Bob’s plight.

Clearly, Bob is suffering some evil. And you have the ability to eliminate that evil. And yet you do not. Does this mean you are not a good person? Clearly not. So, it simply isn’t true that “A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.”

But the God of traditional theism would never be caught in your situation, for he knows everything. He would be aware of the evil that Bob is suffering. So let’s be generous to Mackie and improve his argument:

(1*) If God exists, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.

(2*) An omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.

(3) There are no limits on what an omnipotent being can do.

(4) Evil exists.

∴ God does not exist.

Now, can (2*) succeed where (2) failed?

There is another worry. What if there is a good state of affairs that necessarily entails a little evil? Let us consider an act of creative moral heroism in the face of some adversity – heroism that inspires hundreds of people to do good, and turns a bad situation into a good one. The total situation, then, is good. And yet it necessarily entails some evil. The act would not be heroic and inspiring of greater good had no pain been involved. So, it seems we must modify the second premise yet again:

(2**) An omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being eliminates every evil E as far as it can without eliminating a good state of affairs that outweighs E.

Now are we sure this is true? The wording is a little clunky. Perhaps we can rephrase it:

(2′) An omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being always eliminates evil as far as it can, unless it has a morally justifying reason not to.

But then, to get to the conclusion that “God does not exist,” we must add a fifth premise:

(5) There is no morally justifying reason for God to permit evil he could prevent.

But in order for Mackie’s logical argument from evil to work, (5) must be certain. Is it certain?

How could we know such a thing? Maybe God has morally justifying reasons for permitting evil that we can’t understand. That’s the “God is mysterious” answer.

Or maybe he has morally justifying reasons we can understand. Some theologians have tried to explain exactly what God’s morally justifying reasons for permitting evil are.

For example, Saint Augustine thought that a world with free will is better than a world without free will. But a world with free will entails that some people will do evil, therefore God has a morally justifying reason to permit evil: evil is necessary for there to be free will. Augustine wrote:

For a runaway horse is better than a stone that stays in the right place only because it has no movement or perception of its own; and in the same way, a creature that sins by free will is more excellent than one that does not sin only because it has no free will.

When a theologian offers a specific reason God is morally justified for permitting evil, he offers a theodicy. Augustine offered the Free Will Theodicy.

Now whether or not the Free Will Theodicy is true would be very hard to say. Perhaps the same difficulty arises for other theodicies. (We’ll discuss them later.) But Plantinga does not need a successful theodicy to defeat Mackie’s logical problem of evil. He doesn’t need to show exactly what God’s morally justifying reason for permitting evil really is.

Plantinga only needs to show that (5) is possibly false. If it is even possible that God has a morally justifying reason to permit evil, then there is no logical contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a good, omniscient, omnipotent God.

Can Plantinga show that (5) is possibly false? This is the goal of his Free Will Defense (to be distinguished from a free will theodicy). We will discuss it next time.

  1. The Coherence of Theism, page 149. []
  2. Plantinga provided a more thorough coverage of the topic in The Nature of Necessity (1974). []

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck September 12, 2009 at 7:36 pm

Mackie went about it all wrong. All you have to do is find a single evil act that can only be attributed to God (supposing he exists).

1. If God is all good, then he can do no evil.
2. X is evil.
3. If God exists, then God would have to have done X.

Therefore, God does not exist.

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lukeprog September 12, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Chuck,

How, exactly, would you find an evil act that can only be attributed to God? If we knew of such a thing, this would DEFEAT atheism, and the theist could escape by adding a premise about how “Possibly, God had morally sufficient reasons to have done X.”

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Chuck September 12, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Really? What if I told you Evil X is such that it stands in complete opposition to God’s nature. Is the theist prepared to argue God can act (has acted) against his nature? Because that what will be required.

In any case, finding such an Evil X does atheism no harm. It is only “evil” when we suppose God exists. When we don’t, there is no problem.

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Jake de Backer September 12, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Chuck

A theist would gladly concede their God acted “against his nature” if it hastened the the conclusion of the atheism vs. theism debate as to his existence in favor of the theists position, I have no doubts.

i.e.

Person 1: “I’m going to give you 5 million dollars. The only problem is I have to ship it to you and since it’s cash and all in single dollar bills, shipping cost is going to be several thousand’s of dollars.”

Person 2: “Can it come out of the 5 mil.”?

Person 1: “Sure. Straight deduction from the total sum.”

Person 2: “Let me get that address for you..”

We are admitting that there is a God if by no other means then allowing that there is in fact A God to have a nature which he is acting AGAINST.

J. de Backer

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Samuel Skinner September 12, 2009 at 9:47 pm

“If it is even possible that God has a morally justifying reason to permit evil, then there is no logical contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a good, omniscient, omnipotent God.”

Except that hasn’t been shown. For example free will falls flat because God created humanity- which means he could have people who don’t need free will. Or the fact that free will obviously doesn’t exist in heaven.

The “for a greater cause” argument falls apart because God is the one who has made the rules.

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Steven Carr September 12, 2009 at 10:45 pm

‘If it is even possible that God has a morally justifying reason to permit evil, then there is no logical contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a good, omniscient, omnipotent God.’

So if it is even possible that there is a morally justifying reason for me to steal your money, even if I personally have no idea what it is, then my stealing your money cannot be classed as an evil act?

Is there any logical contradiction between the fact that my memory and senses tell me that almost everybody has two legs and my belief that Homo sapiens is a unipedal species?

Plantinga has unleashed the Doomsday weapon of Christian apologetics, taking all rational discourse with it.

99.9% of the entire world thinks it is logical to think there is a contradiction between a belief that human beings have one leg, and what we see when we count how many legs we can see.

But the vast majority of the world are not Christian apologists who will point out that there is a logical possibility that people miscount their legs.

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Steven Carr September 12, 2009 at 10:48 pm

So Plantinga tries to find *one* logically possible world in which his god and evil can co-exist?

And then Plantinga declares that his god is a *necessary* being, who exists in *all* possible worlds, regardless of how much pointless suffering these worlds contain?

How does that work? How can this alleged god exist in all logically possible worlds, when Plantinga has to write entire books trying to find even one world in which this alleged god can exist?

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Jake de Backer September 12, 2009 at 10:56 pm

Steven Carr,

I haven’t read your Hollywood & Anti-Semitism as that is quite honestly, not a topic of interest to me but were you to put out anything regarding philosophy of religion (and why the hell haven’t you?!) I would definitely be a customer. Incidentally, I have only one article by you, entitled “Which Bible”. Is there any more material you have I might acquire?

J. de Backer

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 5:59 am

Chuck,

But you said we must find an evil that only God could have performed. Doesn’t that mean that God must exist, or else the evil would not have occurred?

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 6:02 am

Carr,

That is very interesting. If an all-good God exists in all possible worlds, then there should be lots of possible worlds in which he does not have a morally justifying reason for permitting the evil that exists in some of those possible worlds. I’ll have to think about that…

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Kip September 13, 2009 at 6:43 am

Steven Carr: And then Plantinga declares that his god is a *necessary* being, who exists in *all* possible worlds, regardless of how much pointless suffering these worlds contain?

Is this true? From what I’ve read and heard of Plantiga (not a whole lot), his arguments always seem to be rather defensive, not offensive. For example, he argues that IF God exists, then Christians would have good reason to believe in God. But, he never says “therefore, God exists”.

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2009 at 6:51 am

“Let us consider an act of creative moral heroism in the face of some adversity – heroism that inspires hundreds of people to do good, and turns a bad situation into a good one.”

That is the old “it builds character” story we’ve all heard from parents and educators. But I’m not buying it from an omniscient, omnipotent God. Parents and educators are not omniscient and omnipotent, and know that they cannot be there to help you later in life. Those limitations do not hold for a God. An omnipotent God would be able to inspire those other people without allowing a bad situation to develop. Otherwise, who sets these rules that the omnipotent God must follow? Who says the only way He can accomplish that later greater good is to allow the present bad situation to develop?

I don’t seem to have any commenting features (html, etc) showing up. Did you change something?

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Reginald Selkirk September 13, 2009 at 7:01 am

“For a runaway horse is better than a stone that stays in the right place only because it has no movement or perception of its own; and in the same way, a creature that sins by free will is more excellent than one that does not sin only because it has no free will.”

Respectfully speaking, Augustine should have smoked less crack. A creature A that is identical to creature B except that it does not sin is superior. This is not the comparison Augustine makes. He says that a creature A which is inferior in numerous ways to creature B is inferior. Big whoop. A horse which has free will but does not run away is better than a runaway horse. A horse which does not run away because it has no free will is better than a runaway horse. Those are the comparisons which Augustine ignores, much to the detriment of his argument.

Also, He would have to make the argument that Free Will is intrinsically good in order to counter the evil of the sin the creature with free will might commit. He has not established any such intrinsic goodness for Free Will (whose very existence has not been established, BTW.)

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Chuck September 13, 2009 at 8:12 am

lukeprog: Chuck,But you said we must find an evil that only God could have performed. Doesn’t that mean that God must exist, or else the evil would not have occurred?

Well I guess I wasn’t clear because that isn’t what I meant. Let me be more precise. Let’s call G the state of affairs, “God exists” and X the specific evil we observe. What I was trying to say (what I am saying now) is that X is such that

If G, then X is only attributable to God, but
If NOT-G, then X is attributable something else.

Here’s an example. Suppose that Gravity is the specific evil that we observe. Throughout history, It has caused untold suffering to countless billions. But Gravity is part of the fabric of the universe, so if there was a designer-god, then he is directly responsible. How could it be otherwise?

On the other hand, if the universe wasn’t designed, then no harm, no foul. We can all be atheists where Gravity exists, even though God does not.

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Andy Walters September 13, 2009 at 8:52 am

You’ve correctly pointed out the flaw in Mackie’s argument, and I agree wholeheartedly.

For me, Mackie’s argument is not properly leveled at the existence of God, but rather at *the existence of a God any rational being would willingly serve.* Suppose a convicted rapist surprises you on the street and asks for your unswerving allegiance and abject servitude. Suppose also this rapist tells you that he had excellent reasons for raping his victims–even moral reasons–but he cannot share them with you. What rational human would willingly submit to him?

Obviously, God’s (supposed) record is a lot worse.

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Steven September 13, 2009 at 9:11 am

“Let us consider an act of creative moral heroism in the face of some adversity – heroism that inspires hundreds of people to do good, and turns a bad situation into a good one.”

I don’t think this is a problem here, because the supposed “greater good” argument requires evil to exist. If there is no evil in the mix, then there is no “greater good”, as all things would be equally good. Good in greater or lesser degrees would imply the presence of some evil in the mix.

“If an all-good God exists in all possible worlds, then there should be lots of possible worlds in which he does not have a morally justifying reason for permitting the evil that exists in some of those possible worlds.”

What about Heaven as a possible world? And we can also throw in the idea that there is no freewill in heaven, unless we believe it’s possible for a “saved” person in heaven, to reject heaven and leave. Even if a person chooses heaven by freewill, is the freewill then taken away? If so, why was the initial choice necessary, if freewill is no longer required?

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faithlessgod September 13, 2009 at 9:19 am

I do not agree you are justified in moving from 2* to 2**.

Your move results from introducing a second goal “increasing good” in addition to “eliminating evil”, these can conflict as your heroic example indicates, as it would reduce its ability to reduce evil this was not Mackie’s argument. It is because they can conflict that a god would not accept the introduction of such a second goal, so I see no reason to introduce this second goal so then one remains with your 2* version and so the christian god does not exist.

PS. Great improvement in commenting. I suggest that with this comment form you add in a header saying what html is accepted and we can immediately see the results. This solution is good enough IMHO.

PPS Separate out the “click to edit” and “request deletion” links so that they appear as two not one link.

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Chris September 13, 2009 at 10:37 am

First of all, we don’t have free will, at least not the contra-causal variety (libertarian agency) that is needed to justify evil (and hell). Modern neuroscience has destroyed the soul. Your neurons don’t just fire themselves, that is, there are no “prime movers” floating around in that electrified piece of meat between your ears.

Dilbert sums it up nicely.

I guess you could ignore the science and cling to free will. Kinda like a YEC clings to Genesis. That’s cool.

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age2age September 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm

(2′) An omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being always eliminates evil as far as it can, unless it has a morally justifying reason not to.

You forgot to include the time limit he has to do so. Maybe it’s not time yet.

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Joshua Blanchard September 13, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Chuck: Mackie went about it all wrong. All you have to do is find a single evil act that can only be attributed to God (supposing he exists).
1. If God is all good, then he can do no evil.
2. X is evil.
3. If God exists, then God would have to have done X.Therefore, God does not exist.

It seems like this sort of reasoning really reduces to evidential formulations of the problem of evil, which are still “logical,” but are so in (usually) a more inductive sense. This alternative argument of yours is really saying that this particular evil is incompatible with the traditional God. That’s an evidential, not a logical, argument.

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Chuck,

Ah, I see, that’s much better. But it does not defeat Plantinga’s escape, which is to say that “Possibly, God has a morally justifying reason for permitting X.”

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm

faithlessgod,

Yes, the move from 2* to 2** is hasty. Plantinga is, of course, much more careful. But I have to summarize somewhere, or else my blog posts will be 10 pages long!

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 3:50 pm

Chris,

Plantinga’s response to that is that even if science has shown that free will does not exist, it’s still logically POSSIBLE for it to exist, and therefore the free will defense stands.

Gotta love Plantinga! :)

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Chuck September 13, 2009 at 7:57 pm

lukeprog: Chuck,Ah, I see, that’s much better. But it does not defeat Plantinga’s escape, which is to say that “Possibly, God has a morally justifying reason for permitting X.”

Luke,

I have no intention of defeating the Escape. My argument doesn’t work for a generic X. And guess what: it doesn’t have to. Because I only need to come up with one X that works. And as soon as I do–as soon as tell you what X is, you no longer allowed to say, “Possibly, God has a morally justifying reason for permitting X.”

If you want to stay in the game, you have to offer up what those reasons are.

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Justin Martyr September 13, 2009 at 8:26 pm

lukeprog: Chris,

Plantinga’s response to that is that even if science has shown that free will does not exist, it’s still logically POSSIBLE for it to exist, and therefore the free will defense stands.

Gotta love Plantinga! :)

Come on Luke, you are too sophisticated to fail to appreciate the difference between the logical problem of evil and the evidential argument from evil. Science and Bayesian statistics cannot say that free will is impossible. At most, it can only say that the probability is extremely low.* That is enough to defeat the logical argument.

* that is not, in fact, what science says. See ‘The Mindfull Universe’ by Richard Stapp (not to be confused with Penrose’s highly implausible theory of free will based on quantum physics).

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Chuck,

Plantinga would say he does not have to offer up those reasons to defeat a logical argument from evil. A logical argument from evil says that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the existence of evil (or, in your case, a particular instance of evil X). But if it is even possible that God has morally justifying reasons for permitting X, even if we don’t know what they are, then God’s existence is not logically incompatible with the existence of X.

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Justin,

I’m quite aware of the difference between logical and evidential arguments from evil. I wonder if something like a Free Will Defense could be deployed against ontological arguments, and if so, what would be the reaction from theists? I don’t know, because I haven’t studied ontological arguments much yet.

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Chuck September 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

All right Luke,

What possible justifying reason could God have had for creating Tay-Sachs disease?

Tay-Sachs disease is caused by the absence of a vital enzyme called hexosaminidase A (Hex-A). Without Hex-A, a fatty substance or lipid called GM2 ganglioside accumulates abnormally in cells, especially in the nerve cells of the brain. This ongoing accumulation causes progressive damage to the cells.

The destructive process begins in the fetus early in pregnancy, although the disease is not clinically apparent until the child is several months old. By the time a child with Tay-Sachs disease is three or four years old, the nervous system is so badly affected that life itself cannot be supported. Even with the best of care, all children with classical Tay-Sachs disease die early in childhood, usually by the age of five.

A baby with Tay-Sachs disease appears normal at birth and seems to develop normally until about six months of age. The first signs of TSD can vary and are evident at different ages in affected children. Initially, development slows, there is a loss of peripheral vision, and the child exhibits an abnormal startle response.

By about two years of age, most children experience recurrent seizures and diminishing mental function. The infant gradually regresses, losing skills one by one, and is eventually unable to crawl, turn over, sit, or reach out. Other symptoms include increasing loss of coordination, progressive inability to swallow and breathing difficulties. Eventually, the child becomes blind, mentally retarded, paralyzed, and non-responsive to his or her environment.

Most children with Tay-Sachs disease usually die before reaching age 5.

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 9:45 pm

PLANTINGA: “I don’t know what possible morally justifying reason God could have for creating Tay-Sachs disease, but there’s still a possibility, however remote, that God could have a morally justifying reason we just could never understand.”

LUKEPROG: “Everything we do know suggests that there is no morally justifying reason to create Tay-Sachs. Therefore, an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God almost certainly does not exist.”

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Steven Carr September 13, 2009 at 11:07 pm

LUKE
Plantinga would say he does not have to offer up those reasons to defeat a logical argument from evil.

CARR
I can look at people and see that they have two legs.

I count my own legs and come to the number two.

I draw the conclusion that I have two legs, based on the results of my counting.

That is not a logical argument says Plantinga. You might have miscounted how many legs you have.

Plantinga’s ‘arguments’ are the Doomsday device of Christian apologetics, destroying all rational thought to ‘save’ his world.

Has nobody ever heard of ‘saving the appearances’ arguments?

The world is flat, and all arguments to the contrary can be dismissed by ‘saving the appearances’ arguments.

Why bother talking to people like Plantinga who are no better than flat-earthers producing any old rubbish, no matter how ridiculous those arguments would look when applied to other subjects than theology?

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faithlessgod September 13, 2009 at 11:39 pm

Hey Steven

Are you the Steven Carr that has been debating theists for a long time on Bowness? Do you now have a blog?

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lukeprog September 13, 2009 at 11:58 pm

Carr,

I think I know what you’re saying, but remember nobody is arguing that it is logically necessary that the world is flat. In contrast, atheists HAVE argued that it is logically necessary that God and evil cannot co-exist.

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Dace September 14, 2009 at 12:16 am

I don’t think (5) needs to be certain, it just needs to be true for the argument to go through. It sure would be nice if it were certain, but it remains a logical and not a probabilistic argument even if it is not.

Another point I want to make is that I don’t think we should be persuaded into accepting that it is possible for God to have morally justifiable reasons for allowing evil by the sheer mildness of the claim. Just as if someone were to say to us that a time machine were possible, we should ask for a proof of principle here, rather than simply capitulate to the assertion out of caution. It is a perfectly reasonable position to reject possibility claims when we are being asked to believe that there is a possibility which is beyond our abilities to conceive. In that case, Plantinga’s free will theodicy isn’t just hypothesis about the nature of a vague possibility which we should all accept in sketch, but a necessary demonstration of the possibility claim. If you doubt this, then consider that without the conceivability restriction, the way is open to argue that contradictions are possible.

Finally, I’d like to point out that Plantinga doesn’t just have to show that (5) is possibly false, but in line with Lukeprog’s comments on (1), he has to hit on a possibility which is palatable to mainstream theist whom Mackie is targeting. So it won’t be enough for Plantinga to speculate that natural disasters are caused by various spirits, and so that so-called ‘natural evils’ are the product of free-will after all. If he doesn’t believe it, and his fellow Christians don’t believe it, then he has not found a solution to the problem of evil.

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faithlessgod September 14, 2009 at 3:50 am

If you take the conception of go0d to include the revised divine command theory then what is good is a part of god’s eternal nature (the Euthyphro subjective horn) and there can be no such thing as morally sufficient reasons (the Euthryphro objective horn), since if there were then this would refute that morality is only grounded in god’s eternal nature. So 5 is incompatible with a fully christian conception of 1

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Steven Carr September 14, 2009 at 4:10 am

‘ In contrast, atheists HAVE argued that it is logically necessary that God and evil cannot co-exist.’

Not even Mackie did that. He only talked about ‘unabsorbed evils’ in The Miracle of Theism. In that book he granted that a god and *some* evil could co-exist.

And Plantinga’s arguments remain nothing more than ‘saving the appearances’ arguments.

It is not rational to believe we only have one leg, because we there is a logical possibility we may have miscounted the number of legs we have (in the way people miscount the number of legs on a millipeded)

http://stevencarrwork.blogspot.com/2005/11/problem-of-evil-and-saving-appearances.html has more on that.

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Ben September 14, 2009 at 4:58 am

The best comments here, imo:

Reginald Selkirk: An omnipotent God would be able to inspire those other people without allowing a bad situation to develop. Otherwise, who sets these rules that the omnipotent God must follow? Who says the only way He can accomplish that later greater good is to allow the present bad situation to develop?

And:

Andy Walters: For me, Mackie’s argument is not properly leveled at the existence of God, but rather at *the existence of a God any rational being would willingly serve.* Suppose a convicted rapist surprises you on the street and asks for your unswerving allegiance and abject servitude. Suppose also this rapist tells you that he had excellent reasons for raping his victims–even moral reasons–but he cannot share them with you. What rational human would willingly submit to him?

I think the point is that allowing any evil, if you don’t have to, makes you evil by definition and there’s no need to start our hunt for the proverbial black swan. Even the Bible outright denounces it leaving every such theodicy dead in the water (Romans 3:8, just check out how vehement all the commentaries are on that count). To ignore this makes us all of the sudden the cliche’ evil utilitarians who are willing to make one little girl suffer so a society can flourish. Perfect morality for the collective can’t expend the individuals who make up that collective. Theists only go there when God’s ass is on the line (even Paul, in the same letter no less, manages to contradict himself with Romans 11:32) and I don’t think moral people should follow.

Ben

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Ben September 14, 2009 at 4:59 am

BTW, Luke, I love the new commenting system.

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Justin Martyr September 14, 2009 at 5:36 am

lukeprog: I’m quite aware of the difference between logical and evidential arguments from evil. .

1. Your post was a fair summary of the debate, but your comment mocking Plantinga did not show an equivalent understanding. All Plantinga has to show is that free will is logically possible, not that it actually exists. We are only dealing with logical possibility, not probability. The free will may defeat the logical argument from evil but not the evidential. In fact, J.L. Mackie actually had a very good response to the free will defense that you did not address. There is nothing logically impossible about not sinning. Otherwise Jesus would be unable to avoid sin. So why isn’t there a possible world in which everyone freely chooses not to sin? That was a powerful challenge and Plantinga devised the concept of transworld depravity in response. That was generally conceded by atheists to have solved the logical problem of evil. The Christians Daniel Howard-Snyder and John O’Leary Hawthorne actually created a new opening with their concept of transworld sanctity, but given that both concepts are mutually exclusive it basically turns the logical problem of evil into the evidential argument.

I wonder if something like a Free Will Defense could be deployed against ontological arguments, and if so, what would be the reaction from theists? I don’t know, because I haven’t studied ontological arguments much yet

2. I haven’t looked deeply at the ontological argument either, just enough to know that the vast majority of the arguments that atheist’s muster (the perfect island, etc…) are very bad. But I don’t see what is wrong with Oppy’s response that it is question-begging. There is basically one premise that does all the work and atheist’s can deny that premise on epistemic grounds. They are not conceding that the concept of God is logically coherent when they say that the probability of God existing is non-zero.

3. I haven’t fully thought it out, but I think you are right. If free will is shown to be logically impossible then theism would also be logically impossible. The key premise is that it is (metaphysically) possible that a being with maximal excellence exists. If that being does not have free will then I don’t see how that premise could be true.

4. Like the new comment system.

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lukeprog September 14, 2009 at 6:54 am

faithlessgod,

You seem to be saying that there can be no such thing as morally sufficient reasons if we assume essentialism about divine morality in order to avoid the Euthyphro dilemma. Is that correct? Could you explicate this more fully?

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lukeprog September 14, 2009 at 6:59 am

I’m glad to hear a few of you like the new commenting system. I miss the WYSIWYG options, but they seemed to break stuff.

Your comments are all very thoughtful, even though I can’t respond to every one of them!

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Kip September 14, 2009 at 7:30 am

The argument from evil (for the non-existence of God) was never very persuasive to me. The Bible even says that God created evil (Isaiah 45:7). This just supports the usual theodicy, I think, that God uses “evil” in his grand benevolent plan.

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Matthew G September 14, 2009 at 11:45 am

lukeprog: Carr,That is very interesting. If an all-good God exists in all possible worlds, then there should be lots of possible worlds in which he does not have a morally justifying reason for permitting the evil that exists in some of those possible worlds. I’ll have to think about that…

This is called a modal argument from evil. Nothing new here. People will probably tell you that it begs the question (Plantinga’s modal ontological argument, anyone?).

By the way, is Carr a poe?

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Josh September 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I’ve always wondered, what does this mean about heaven?

So, the reason that evil exists on earth is because god has some reason to let evil exist on earth that makes earth awesome. Also, evil does not exist in heaven by definition. Similarly, heaven is supposed to be more awesome than earth, by definition.

This seems to contradict itself…

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Kip September 14, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Josh: I’ve always wondered, what does this mean about heaven?

One apologist rebuttal I’ve heard says “this it the best possible world on the way to the best possible world”.

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Dace September 14, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Random thought:
If free-will is intrinsically good, and God presumably does not restrict the actions of evil-doers because doing so would impinge on their free-will, then haven’t we been doing the wrong thing all this time by locking up murders, sexual abusers, and thieves?

Question for anybody:
Does the bible support to the free-will hypothesis in any of its passages? Does it even mention free-will?

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akakiwibear September 15, 2009 at 1:55 am

Good work pulling this together!
You did however not address the possibility that the PoE argument may logical but invalid.

Step outside the box of your reasoning for a moment – you added omniscient and onmi-benevolent to the definition of God. OK, now if there is an omniscient God, then what ever position that God has taken on evil (relative morality or free will or any other) is by definition the best one – or do you argue to the contrary from a position of superior omniscience?

If a proposition in your argument is that an omniscient God exists (and it is your P1) you have to demonstrate your greater omniscience to discredit that property of God. Alternatively, you withdraw your premise that God is omniscient and the basis of your PoE falls.

Sala kahle -peace

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Jake de Backer September 15, 2009 at 2:39 am

RE: The Free Will Defense

When I inquired several years back to a Christian friend of mine why slavery is never unambiguously rebuked and in fact quite antithetically, is tacitly condoned by God conceiving of the legality of slaves (i.e. how they’re treated, maintained, traded/sold, etc.) the answer from him, as it appears to be from all theists, was that it would be a direct interference with our “free will” but if such is the case, so is any other rule, mandate, or edict aimed towards coercing our behavior so as to avoid punishment. Why is slavery, or anything for that matter, set aside as not being able to be reprimanded from on High on account of the sanctity and autonomy of our free will but reproving murder and coveting (amongst others) are seemingly not an interference at all?

Another question:

I’ve been told that the revelation’s of the great monotheistic religions were made so as to “initiate” our relationship, should we chose to do so, with God. This is all well and fine except that it opens a conflict where people may be able to get away with anything on account of “absolution” from their church or praying forgiveness which, as Jesus made explicit, was always accepted. If God wanted the criteria for who should be rewarded in the afterlife to be sincerely action-based, despite whatever professions an individual made or apologetic prayers offered at the conclusion of massacring a building full of infidels or a bus full of children, while simultaneously not interfering with there free will, could he not have just avoided revealing anything to us whatsoever? If our lifetime here, as we’re told by Craig and others is just a “blink” in the landscape of eternity, why not let us lead our lives entirely without being prompted by our concern with the afterlife to commit insincere propitiation’s and divine ass-kissing? Where’s the harm? I would love to have led my life with no religion whatsoever –No concept as divine existence or judgment at all– only to die and meet someone who was prepared to grant me life-eternal on my terms because I GENUINELY led a good, moral life without being motivated to help people and sacrifice things so as to please Him. It seems to me that the “revelation” was the worst possible thing that He could have done to promote peace and happiness on this transient plane. I think it’s safe to say that a large portion of atheist’s disdain for God, is the way he’s reported to have behaved in the Bible. If we had no concept of what this being was like, despite wanting an answer for why he permitted so much suffering, I’m sure I’d have a much easier time reconciling spending eternity in his company if all I’ve learned of him from the Judeo-Christian bible was eradicated.

Again, if this sounds polemical, well, it probably is but I would still appreciate some rejoinder’s as these are issues which I truly can’t rationalize on the behalf of believers.

J. de Backer

P.S. Steven Carr I would be particularly interested in your perspective of these two neophyte “arguments”.

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lukeprog September 15, 2009 at 6:45 am

akakiwibear,

I don’t understand. Omniscience is not the property that suggests God has chosen the (morally) “best” position on everything. That would be his omnibenevolence. But this world does not seem to be the product of omnibenevolence. Hence the problem… of evil.

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akakiwibear September 15, 2009 at 1:28 pm

lukeprog, OK, but you added both onmis to your definition.

The point is, you ask if your (5) There is no morally justifying reason for God to permit evil he could prevent can be shown as possibly false.

By your own definition of God as onmiscient and omni-benevolent you have established God’s likely superiority to know everything and determine what is best.

So if such a God permits evil then by your own definition it is the thing to do.

sala kahle – peace

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Yair September 16, 2009 at 5:39 am

When a theologian offers a specific reason God is morally justified for permitting evil, he offers a theodicy.

Thus the Problem of Evil is reduced to the theodicity that this is the best of all possible worlds – a quite-literally ridiculous statement, but not a self-contradicting one.

But the theist is not prepared to affirm any of those things. So, he must face the logical problem of evil.

There is another option: it is possible that god doesn’t prevent evil because he already did in another world. If you allow god to create multiple worlds, then he should create all worlds that are more good than evil, and supposing that this world is worthwhile, even if not perfect, is an entirely reasonable proposition. In this scheme God already create a more-perfect world, and cannot bring this one to it due to the identity of the indiscriminate.

I don’t know why more theologians don’t take this route, it seems to follow from God’s omnipotence.

Of course, that’s just an argument against the PoE, and it rather robs our life of “meaning” and uniqueness, so I guess that’s why.

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lukeprog September 16, 2009 at 6:47 am

akakiwibear: So if such a God permits evil then by your own definition it is the thing to do.

But this begs the question. We cannot assume that an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good being exists. That is precisely the kind of being called into question by a world filled with evil. It does no good to say that “IF God is omniscient…”, because that is indeed the IF question we are asking with the problem of evil.

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lukeprog September 16, 2009 at 6:51 am

Yair,

I don’t think theologians would want to say that their all-good God has created many worlds, some with more evil than others. They want to say that of all the possible worlds God could have created, he only created the one with the maximum amount of good, which happens to be this world.

Which is still ridiculous, but… well, it’s theology.

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Yair September 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

Luke – I agree that’s what they argue, I don’t see how they can argue it and maintain that god is good and omnipotent with a straight face. But then, that’s hardly their only logical failure from where I’m sitting…

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Yos September 16, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Ben: The best comments here, imo:
And:
I think the point is that allowing any evil, if you don’t have to, makes you evil by definition and there’s no need to start our hunt for the proverbial black swan.Even the Bible outright denounces it leaving every such theodicy dead in the water (Romans 3:8, just check out how vehement all the commentaries are on that count).To ignore this makes us all of the sudden the cliche’ evil utilitarians who are willing to make one little girl suffer so a society can flourish.Perfect morality for the collective can’t expend the individuals who make up that collective.Theists only go there when God’s ass is on the line (even Paul, in the same letter no less, manages to contradict himself with Romans 11:32) and I don’t think moral people should follow.Ben

Where is it said that Roman’s 3:8 applies to G-d in addition to humans?

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akakiwibear September 16, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Lukrprog you correctly say We cannot assume that an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good being exists … because that is indeed the IF question we are asking with the problem of evil YES! You are now beginning to see the circularity of your argument!

Yos quotes Ben’s I think the point is that allowing any evil, if you don’t have to, makes you evil by definition

The PoE looks at evil at its broadest. Would napalm bombing villages qualify as evil? Yes?

To permit this evil God has allowed multiple factors; flight, human intelligence and exothermic chemical reactions (fire) to name but three. Now, as a challenge to the all knowing, all benevolent God which of these should not have been allowed?

Sala kahle – peace

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Ben September 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Yos:
Where is it said that Roman’s 3:8 applies to G-d in addition to humans?

If it is wrong for humans as moral agents to do evil that good may result then I fail to see the relevant difference for an even greater moral agent said to be morally perfect. Where’s the logical disconnect? I suppose the Bible never claims to be morally consistent, so you got me there.

Ben

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faithlessgod September 16, 2009 at 9:58 pm

I like Stephen Laws’ inverse argument The Problem of Good (PoG) with respect to another tri-omni-god called Seth – omnipotent, omniscient and omni-malevolent.

Is Seth the god of this universe? How can one accept that given there is so much good in the world?

Either Seth is omnipotent and omniscient and not omni-malevolent
Or Seth is omniscient and omni-malevolent but not omnipotent

The Problem of Good refutes an omni-Seth. By the same reasoning the PoE refutes an omni-God.

OTOH, if you reject such reasoning wrt to the PoE then you must, on the pain of rational consistency, reject this wrt to PoG. Then it is just as possible that Seth exists and God does not as vice versa, and from such possibilities it is impossible to decide that God is omni-benevolent (it is epistemically undecidable).

So either God is not tri-omni (i.e. ontologically) or it is impossible to know that God is omni-benevolent (i.e. epistemically) or both!

I am being brief the argument might be stronger than I have laid it out and any errors are my own not Stephen’s.

PS Commenting is great now, thanks and I am envious being stuck on Blogger’s solution :-(

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lukeprog September 16, 2009 at 11:06 pm

Blogger is fairly limiting, but you get free bandwidth!

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akakiwibear September 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Ben: I fail to see the relevant difference for an even greater moral agent said to be morally perfect

I accept you fail to see the relevant difference, perhaps I can help you.

P1 of the PoE is the tri-omni God (not my definition, but as lukeprog points out necessary for the PoE).
PoE then states the existence of such a God is contradicted by the existence of evil – but the PoE relies on P1 which by definition precludes anyone who is not of superior omniscience from deciding what is evil if not seen as such from the perspective of the tri-omni.

I understand the PoE as thoroughly refuted, by either logical fallacy or free will or by requiring an irrational outcome. I have alluded to the logical fallacy above and to the irrational outcome is alluded to in my earlier comment:

akakiwibear: The PoE looks at evil at its broadest. Would napalm bombing villages qualify as evil? Yes?

To permit this evil God has allowed multiple factors; flight, human intelligence and exothermic chemical reactions (fire) to name but three. Now, as a challenge to the all knowing, all benevolent God which of these should not have been allowed?

sala kahle -peace

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Yos September 17, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Ben: Yos:
Where is it said that Roman’s 3:8 applies to G-d in addition to humans?

If it is wrong for humans as moral agents to do evil that good may result then I fail to see the relevant difference for an even greater moral agent said to be morally perfect. Where’s the logical disconnect? I suppose the Bible never claims to be morally consistent, so you got me there.

Ben

*Shrugs*

It’s something to note. I guess the idea came from reading off of another person(possibly from reading from someone’s comment off of Vox Day’s blog) regarding the idea that the 10 commandments doesn’t necessarily apply to God. After all, what mother or father does God have to honor? What does he have to covet?

To continue, who is to say that these laws apply for more than humans to obey? Do we not have evidence of homosexual and or violent animals at the ready for review(animals that may act contrary to our moral laws).

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Ben September 17, 2009 at 9:43 pm

akakiwibear:
but the PoE relies on P1 which by definition precludes anyone who is not of superior omniscience from deciding what is evil if not seen as such from the perspective of the tri-omni.

You seem to be presuming that God exists and that my opinion is challenging a literal moral opinion of his, which begs the question.

akakiwibear:
Would napalm bombing villages qualify as evil? Yes?

To permit this evil God has allowed multiple factors; flight, human intelligence and exothermic chemical reactions (fire) to name but three. Now, as a challenge to the all knowing, all benevolent God which of these should not have been allowed?

We have video games with A. I. intelligence, sophisticated game engines alloying dynamic effects, and vehicles. That doesn’t mean the game designer can’t arbitrarily say napalming can’t happen. Your argument suffers from a lack of imagination.

Yos:
regarding the idea that the 10 commandments doesn’t necessarily apply to God. After all, what mother or father does God have to honor? What does he have to covet?

You’ve provided obvious examples of where certain moral concepts can’t *logically* apply for all to see. What does that have to do for OTHER examples like the one actually provided where only an arbitrary excuse is on the table? Why should any moral agent do evil if they don’t have to? Why would God ever have to? A deity who is perfect in and of itself doesn’t need anything, and therefore doesn’t have to do anything at all. It’s all optional, therefore any evil at all is unnecessary.

Ben

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akakiwibear September 17, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Ben: You seem to be presuming that God exists

No … P1 does, you too are getting close to seeing the circularity of the PoE

Ben: That doesn’t mean the game designer can’t arbitrarily say napalming can’t happen. Your argument suffers from a lack of imagination.

If you say so. In which case I presume you would expect the tri-omni-god to post a list of things that we are not only prohibited from doing, but actually unable to do.

… that does stretch the imagination, but it is strong on the omni-benevolence … sky diving would be fun, no need for parachutes; fire eat would be boring; the gun lobby would be happy.

I admit such a world challenges my imagination, so please describe a rational internally consistent (i.e. with laws of physics that are actually laws not variables) functioning world in which no harm can come to anyone. Perhaps for simplicity you could focus on only on our food supply, ageing and death.

Sala kahle – peace

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Yos September 18, 2009 at 9:26 am

Ben:
You seem to be presuming that God exists and that my opinion is challenging a literal moral opinion of his, which begs the question.
We have video games with A. I. intelligence, sophisticated game engines alloying dynamic effects, and vehicles.That doesn’t mean the game designer can’t arbitrarily say napalming can’t happen.Your argument suffers from a lack of imagination.
You’ve provided obvious examples of where certain moral concepts can’t *logically* apply for all to see.What does that have to do for OTHER examples like the one actually provided where only an arbitrary excuse is on the table?Why should any moral agent do evil if they don’t have to?Why would God ever have to?A deity who is perfect in and of itself doesn’t need anything, and therefore doesn’t have to do anything at all.It’s all optional, therefore any evil at all is unnecessary.Ben

1)What the other examples have to do with the other that was put on the table through the scripture that was provided is that some Christians may believe that they’re applications could be towards humans alone.

2/3) That’s a question that has bugged me at times. It may be found in this paragraph:

“So now I take you back to the other question, why did God give us the ability to sin knowing it would result in evil? I believe it is for the same reason why God allowed everything else to occur. It is for the same reason why God allowed his Son to die. It is for the same reason why God created the universe. God has decreed everything for his glory. He knew that humanity would disobey him and he allowed it to occur because it would magnify his greatness. Because of sin and because of evil he is able to show us his inscrutable justice and his amazing grace.”

http://realchristianity.wordpress.com/2007/12/02/why-does-god-allow-evil/

It seems to suffice for some. It’s not to say that I don’t continue pondering,though.

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Robert Gressis September 18, 2009 at 11:19 am

I didn’t see whether the following claims of Steven Carr’s have been addressed yet:

“So Plantinga tries to find *one* logically possible world in which his god and evil can co-exist?

“And then Plantinga declares that his god is a *necessary* being, who exists in *all* possible worlds, regardless of how much pointless suffering these worlds contain?

“How does that work? How can this alleged god exist in all logically possible worlds, when Plantinga has to write entire books trying to find even one world in which this alleged god can exist?”

As I understand Dr. Carr, he is claiming that Plantinga has to hold the following two views:

(1) God exists in all possible worlds (i.e., is a necessary being);

and

(2) There is only one logically possible world in which God and evil coexist.

(Forgive me if I miscontrued your claims, Dr. Carr; if I did so, it was unintentional.)

There are a couple of responses:

First, if God exists, and evil exists, and there is only one logically possible world in which God and evil coexist, then there is only one logically possible world–i.e., necessitarianism (the claim that all truths are necessary rather than contingent truths) is true.

Second, I don’t think it’s in fact correct that Plantinga believes there is only one logically possible world in which God and evil coexist. I think all he’s saying is that, of the logically possible worlds, some them are such that God and evil are compossible within them. Now, you might reply: “that doesn’t make sense–on the one hand, God exists in all possible worlds, but on the other hand, there’s only some range of logically possible worlds in which God and evil are compossible–what do we say about the remaining LOGICALLY POSSIBLE worlds in which God and evil are NOT compossible?” The response is that when Plantinga is talking about possible worlds, we have to be careful as to what he means: there’s a distinction between metaphysical possibility and logical possibility. Logical possibility is broader than metaphysical possibility. All logical possibility refers to is whether there is a formal contradiction in the description of the scenario. To say, “God exists in world 1″ and “x turps of evil exists in world 1″ might be logically possible, while turning out to be metaphysically impossible (Plantinga calls what I’m calling metaphysical possibility “narrowly logical possibility”, I think; “broadly logical possibility” amounts to what I’m calling “logical possibility”, I think) (note that a “turp” is a unit of evil). So, there’s a range of worlds that have n turps of evil or less, and in which God also exists, and a range of worlds in which n+m turps of evil exist and in which God also exists. Whenever m is 1 or greater, it is in fact metaphysically impossible for God and that number of turps to coexist, while being nonetheless logically possible, because the description of that world does not contain a formal contradiction.

So, to sum up: God exists in all metaphysically possible worlds, not all logically possible worlds.

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lukeprog September 18, 2009 at 2:25 pm

Robert,

I still haven’t read enough Plantinga, but doesn’t his modal ontological argument try to establish God’s existence in all logically possible worlds, not merely his existence in all metaphysically possible worlds? I suspect I must have been mistaken this whole time…

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Robert Gressis September 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Hi lukeprog,

The more that I think about it, the more I think you’re probably right–he thinks God exists in all logically possible worlds. That said, we can revise what I wrote above without too much difficulty. We can say that a world w with n+m turps is epistemically possible–that is, w appears to be possible given what know about possibility, necessity, etc.–but not logically possible–that is, if we write out every proposition true in w, we will find a contradiction. What this means is that the number of worlds that we think are logically possible after thinking about the problem of evil turns out to be smaller than the number of worlds that we thought were possible before thinking about the problem of evil.

It’s just like saying, “water could have had a boiling point of 250 degrees fahrenheit” was epistemically possible before we knew all the properties of H2O. But even though we thought it was epistemically possible, it turns out not to have been logically possible (because water is necessarily H2O).

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lukeprog September 18, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Robert,

Now I’m really confused.

What is “epistemically possible” except a substitution for, where appropriate, “metaphysically possible” and “logically possible”? Whenever we use the latter two terms, we are always silently prefacing our statement with “according to everything we know about possibility, necessity, etc.” So I don’t think you’ve invented a new category of necessity for God to hide in.

How could it be that God would exist in a world that is “possible given what we know about possibility… but not logically possible”?

The boiling point of water is thoroughly contingent. It is both logically and metaphysically possible that water have a different boiling point. I don’t see what that has to do with a God who supposedly exists in every logically possible world, and yet who (according to Plantinga) cannot exist in a great many logically possible worlds which contain evil.

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Robert Gressis September 19, 2009 at 3:27 pm

For someone to say that “x is epistemically possible” is to say that, for all she knows, there is no contradiction in thinking that x obtains. An example illustrating the notion of epistemic possibility has to do with Clark Kent and Superman. You and I know that Clark Kent is identical to Superman; thus, a world where Clark Kent dies and Superman lives does not seem to us to be epistemically possible. However, Lois Lane (at least, in the first movie), does not know Clark Kent to be identical to Superman. Thus, a world in which Clark Kent dies while Superman lives is epistemically possible to her. (This is discussed in much greater detail in Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity.)

Of course, God can’t really exist in a world that is logically impossible but epistemically possible, but to say that it’s epistemically possible for God and M+N turps to coexist is just to say that, for all we know, about God and evil, it appears that God and that much evil could coexist. But as it happens, perhaps God and that much evil, despite what we think, really can’t coexist. (I.e., there’s a hidden contradiction in assuming that God and that much evil are logically compossible.)

As for the boiling point of water and it’s being thoroughly contingent or necessary, a lot of this was hashed out, not only in Naming and Necessity, but also in Hilary Putnam’s “The Meaning of Meaning” and Gottlob Frege’s “Sinn und Bedeutung” (“Sense and Nominatum” or “Sense and Meaning”). The basic point is that we have to distinguish the meaning of “water” from the reference of “water”. Back in the 16th century, say, “water” meant something along the lines of “that transparent stuff that we can sometimes drink, that fills our lakes, that rains down, …”, etc.* It did not mean H2O, because obviously no one knew that water and H2O were identical because they had no idea about molecules. Nevertheless, all along they were referring to H2O, because that’s what water is; you can’t refer to water without referring to H2O. This leads most philosophers to the conclusion that water is necessarily H2O–you couldn’t have a possible world that had lots of water but no H2O. What you _could_ have is a possible world with lots of stuff that looks and acts like water but has a different chemical composition–say, “XYZ” (XYZ are molecules that don’t exist in our universe). Call this stuff “twater”. Although twater shares a lot of properties with water, the fact that it has a different chemical composition means there are going to be different features discoverable somewhere down along the line. It could very well be that H2O’s boiling point is one of those features; i.e., it could be that anything with the chemical composition H2O has a certain range of features in every possible world in which it existed–if it didn’t have those features, it wouldn’t be H2O; it would be something else, like XYZ–and it could be that one of water’s essential properties is its boiling point.

Now, what does this have to do with God? Well, again, God could have some essential properties we don’t know about (an essential property is one that an entity has in all possible worlds in which it exists); and it could happen that, because of those essential properties, a lot of worlds that “look” possible (i.e., that we think are possible–in other words, epistemically possible worlds) are not, in fact, possible.

*–This is a controversial definition of meaning, one Kripke wouldn’t accept (though I think John Searle would accept it).

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lukeprog September 19, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Robert,

But when we say that “X is logically impossible,” don’t we always just mean “X is logically impossible, given what we know.”?

As for water; that’s fine. If we agree that what we mean by water is H20, then of course water is necessarily H20, in the same trivial way that 2 is 2.

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Robert Gressis September 20, 2009 at 8:31 am

“But when we say that ‘X is logically impossible,’ don’t we always just mean ‘X is logically impossible, given what we know.’?

Well, take standard examples of cases where what a person knows comes apart from what he believes. Lois says, “Superman is not Clark Kent”. Another way of putting this is, “Given everything I know, Superman is not Clark Kent.” But of course, Lois is wrong. So, “Superman is not Clark Kent” is false, but from Lois’s epistemic position, it appears true.

As for logical possibility, there are obvious and inobvious logical impossibilities. That 2+2=5 is obviously logically impossible. That 2+2=4 is obviously logically possible. “God and M+N turps coexist” is inobviously logically impossible. “God and M turps coexist” is inobviously logically possible. So, the reason we sometimes say, “x is epistemically possible but logically impossible” is to highlight certain tricks of the ‘modal light’, so to speak. I.e., it’s to point out interesting features of people’s differing epistemic positions.

“As for water; that’s fine. If we agree that what we mean by water is H20, then of course water is necessarily H20, in the same trivial way that 2 is 2.”

First, you mean, “If we agree that what we REFER to by water is H2O, then …”. Second, the fact that water is necessarily H2O is an a posteriori necessary truth. You might think such things aren’t particularly interesting (I can’t tell if this is your view or not; if you DO find it particularly interesting, then no need to read on), but from what I gather, Kripke’s pointing this out–that there can be necessary truths that are a posteriori–is considered by the ‘analytic’ community to be the most important philosophical discovery of the 20th century; before that, just about everyone thought that if some proposition was necessarily true, then it had to be known a priori.

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lukeprog September 20, 2009 at 10:43 am

Robert,

Thanks. Obviously, I have lots of important philosophical study ahead of me!

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Robert Gressis September 21, 2009 at 10:11 am

lukeprog,

From your response I take it that you haven’t read either the Kripke book or the Putnam article. I strongly recommend that you read them–I think you’ll enjoy them a lot.

Rob

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lukeprog September 21, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Robert,

Yeah, thanks. I already have both, I just haven’t gotten to reading them yet!

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Mai Kahotai January 5, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Free will….
I do not believe in any supernatural being. I have an IQ of 142 and know how dumb I can be (and not as much as I should). This means out there we have a believer with an IQ of 58 who knows everything with certainity, such as the existence of god that must also be thanked for all that is good but be held harmless for all that is evil.

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