The Problem of Evil Essay

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When we are talking about God, the most common understanding is that God is the greatest possible being. God is said to be perfect in every way. The general description that we give when asked what attributes God has is that he is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient; that is to say that he is thought to be all-powerful, loving, and all-knowing. All three of these attributes together make the perfect being. However, these three attributes that are supposed to combine to make the perfect being have created a problem, namely, the logical problem of evil. My thesis for this essay is to discuss in more depth the problem of evil before examining a few of the ways in which theists have responded to this problem. Following my thorough examination of some of the possible responses to the problem of evil, I will first conclude that every possible response discussed in this essay failed to prove that the problem of evil does not pose a threat to the existence of God or the conception of God. Secondly, I will conclude that the only way for a theist to find a solution to the problem of evil is by denying at least one of God`s key attributes.

The logical problem of evil is one that has posed much doubt on God`s existence or at least on the general conception of God. The problem stems from the three attributes which make God the greatest possible being. The three attributes which are attributed to God are omnipotence, omnibenevolence, and omniscience. These three attributes combine to make the greatest possible being. The problem arises because these three attributes are not logically consistent with the evil that exists in the world, hence the name of the logical problem of evil. I want to take a further look at the premises for the argument in order to properly evaluate whether this problem can be solved or if the problem of evil truly does pose a threat to God`s existence. The general interpretation of the problem of evil is as follows:

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  1. Premise 1) If God exists then God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
  2. Premise 2) if God were omniscient then God would be aware of evil.
  3. Premise 3) if God were omnipotent, then God would be able to eliminate the evil that exists in the world.
  4. Premise 4) If God were omnibenevolent then God would want to eliminate any evil in the world.
  5. Premise 5) if God were omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent then there should not be any evil in the world.
  6. Premise 6) it is evil in the world.
  • Conclusion 1) so, either God is not all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving or
  • Conclusion 2) God does not exist.

The argument sketched above is the most common interpretation of the logical problem of evil. The argument itself is valid because if we were to accept the premises then there is no way to refute the conclusion. In addition to this, the argument is also sound because the premises all seem to be true. God is thought to have these three attributes so premises two, three, four, and five logically follow. It is evident that it is evil in the world. Although some may argue that there are two kinds of evil and that God cannot control the second form of evil. moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is the evil committed by us, as individuals inflicting pain on another. Natural evil is evil that we have no control over, for example, natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis that kill thousands of people. If God created the earth and everything on it and God is all powerful then God should be able to stop natural disasters from occurring and inflicting mass suffering. The problem of evil finds great strength in its valid structure and soundness. It makes the argument more plausible and credible and thus harder to refute.

As I have discussed, the problem of evil is well structured and from what we can tell, extremely plausible and credible. Despite this, many theists have tried to discredit the argument and find solutions to the problem. In Evil and omnipotence, John Mackie set out some ways in which the theist has responded to the problem of evil. He separates these solutions into two categories: adequate and fallacious. I am going to give a few examples of the solutions which Mackie mentions in his paper before going on to explain some of the ways in which Mackie rejects these solutions. According to Mackie, the problem of evil can only be solved if the theist is able to give up at least one of the propositions that constitute it, the theist must admit that God is not any one of the following three things, all-knowing, all-powerful or all loving. Mackie states a few have been prepared to deny God`s omnipotence, and rather more have been prepared to keep the term omnipotence but severely to restrict its meaning... some have said that evil is an illusion (J.L.MACKIE, 1955). Mackie suggests that the people who are prepared to keep the term omnipotence but restrict its meaning are suspected of thinking that God`s power is unlimited in other contexts. Theists who suggest that there are limitations to the term omnipotence but in other contexts still claim that God`s power is unlimited only offer a halfhearted solution to the problem of evil because they are not consistent in their response. In order for the solution to be sufficient the theist must deny the proposition in a way in which it can be retained in other contexts otherwise the solution would be fallacious. Further to this, another solution that is mentioned is to say that evil is an illusion. Mackie points out that those who believe evil is an illusion may be thinking inconsistently that this illusion is itself evil. In addition to that, I believe that theists who try to solve the problem of evil by claiming evil are an illusion are misunderstanding the problem. The problem of evil is formed because our conception of God is inconsistent with the evil that we experience in the world, not with evil itself. Alongside these adequate solutions, Mackie goes into more detail and evaluation regarding the fallacious solutions. According to Mackie, these solutions attempt to avoid the problem of evil without giving up any of the propositions about God. This will lead to a fallacious argument because as we have already seen, All three propositions about God are inconsistent with the existence of the evil that we see in the world today. It is sometimes suggested that evil is necessary as a counterpart to good, that if there were no evil there could be no good either, and that this solves the problem of evil. It is true that it points to an answer to the question of why should there be evil? But it does so only by qualifying some of the propositions that constitute the problem. Suggesting that evil is a counterpart to good and that there can be no good without any evil is in a way qualifying God`s omnipotence. The theists who argue that this is the case are unwillingly suggesting that God is either not powerful enough to create good without any evil or is putting limits onto God`s omnipotence because an all-powerful being would, in theory, be able to have it so their can be good with no evil. On this interpretation, it would be logically impossible for good to exist without any evil so a possible concern that the theist might have to Mackie`s response to this solution is that omnipotent has never been taken to mean having the power to do what is logically impossible. To which Mackie replies, I think that some theists at least have maintained that God can do what is logically impossible. Many theists, at any rate, have held that logic itself is created or laid down by God, that logic is the way in which God arbitrarily chooses to think... And this account of logic is clearly inconsistent with the view that God is bound by logical necessities. This solution to the problem of evil therefore cannot be adopted along with the view that logic itself is created by God. None of the solutions mentioned thus far have offered a good solution to the problem of evil, this is likely because the theist does not want to deny any of God`s attributes however it is likely that this may be the only suitable solution to the problem of evil as we can see from the statement of the problem itself.

Moving on from Mackie, Ancient Philosopher Augustine of Hippo offered a solution to the problem of evil largely based on the claim that humans introduced evil into existence of their own free will. Augustine believes that God created a world with no evil in it. He believes God`s creation to have malfunctioned in some way and that is why there is evil in the world now. According to Augustine evil is merely a name for the privation of good. By this, Augustine is saying that the absence of good is what evil is, it is not a thing in itself. This is what is referred to as privation theory. One assumption that privation theory makes is that existence is the ultimate good so everything which exists must have good inside it thus God created the world with no evil in it. The aim of the privation theory is to prove that all evil occurred later when humans used their own free will to sin. For Augustine, the immediate source and cause of evil in the world is the individual will: an evil will is the cause of all evils... And this evil choice consists solely in falling away from God and deserting him. As this text demonstrates, Augustine held that the cause of all evil was an evil will, and to have an evil will be to fall away from God of one's own accord. This account of evil that Augustine has put forward illustrates that God is not at fault for the evil that we see in the world today, that it is in fact humans that are the ones to blame. As humans, with our own free will, we choose to inflict suffering on others. This account of evil makes sense to a certain extent because it fits with the world we see around us. The world would be a better place if humans were not selfish, angry, jealous, etc. As previously discussed, our world is full of moral evil, evil which we choose to commit. While this account of evil explains why we see moral evil in the world it does not explain why we often come across natural evils such as earthquakes. It is not possible for humans to choose to cause an earthquake so a natural disaster like this must be God`s fault. Augustine acknowledged this concern. Augustine explains natural disasters by pointing to the misuse of free will again, this time not by humans. Augustine claims that natural evils are the fault of angels who are misusing their free will. The Bible describes a war in heaven in which some of the angels turn against God. These angels have supernatural powers which they can use to destroy God`s creation and that is just what they did. So, according to Augustine natural evils such as natural disasters can be explained by the misuse of free will by angels in trying to destroy God`s creation. Augustine goes on to discuss the original sin of Adam and eve. They were told by God not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, but they were tempted into eating the fruit by Satan, according to Augustine. Adam so corrupted himself that the infection spread from him to his descendants. (J. Calvin,1960). John Calvin perfectly describes the Augustinian view in this passage. Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul. The original sin has caused the human race to be tainted by sin and thus introduce evil into the world. Now Augustine has given a full account of evil which explains the evil in the world without the involvement of God. Augustine's account of evil acts as a plausible solution to the problem of evil.

Augustine`s solution to the problem of evil is credited because it avoids the traditional problem of having to deny God`s omnipotence, omniscience, or omnibenevolence. However, there are some criticisms that have been raised. Friedrich Schleiermacher is concerned with the notion of the original sin and how this sin caused the rest of humanity to fall. Schleiermacher argues that God must not have made humans perfectly because it should not be possible for a perfect creation to go wrong. If God created Adam and Eve to be perfect, then they should not have committed the original sin. This objection puts a hole in Augustine's solution. Augustine claimed that God created everything good and perfect but then goes on to say that Adam and Eve committed the first sin which would cause the fall of the human race from divinity. Adam and Eve were the very first humans which were created by God and so following Augustine's logic, they should have been perfect and not able to be tempted by the fruits. This inconsistency puts doubt on the credibility of the solution. Further to that, John Mackie offered another criticism of the solution. If God is omnipotent, Mackie proposes, then why did God not make humans who had free will but did not sin? An omnipotent being would have the power to create free-willed beings who did not sin, furthermore an omnipotent being would have the power to stop humans from being tempted by Satan and his fallen angels, thus eliminating evil in the world. In the end, Augustine`s solution falls victim to the same problem as the other solutions to the problem of evil.

Since the theist has failed to provide a good solution to the classical problem, it can only be concluded that the problem of evil is a threat to the existence of God or at the very least the perception of God as the greatest possible being However, this does not necessarily mean that the logical problem of evil cannot be solved. As John Mackie suggested, I believe the only way to find a solution to the problem of evil is by giving up one of the propositions which constitute it. None of the solutions that I have discussed in this essay have been prepared to fully deny God`s Omnipotence, Omniscience, or Omnibenevolence, the propositions which constitute the problem of evil and thus have all failed to give a sufficient solution, they have all been fallacious. If the theist was prepared to fully give up one of the problematic propositions, only then can the problem of evil can be solved.


  1. MACKIE, J., 1955. IV. EVIL AND OMNIPOTENCE. Mind, LXIV(254), pp.200-212.
  2. Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, ed. Henry Paolucci (Chicago, Henry Regnery Company, 1961), p. 12, City, p. 454
  3. Maker, W., 1984. Augustine on evil: The dilemma of the philosophers. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 15(3), pp.149-160.
  4. Calvin, J., 1960 Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. Mac- Neill, Library of Christian Classics, vol. 20 (Philadelphia: Westminster)
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