Metaphysics Philosophy Theodicy

The Logical Problem of Evil: A Molinist’s Response

Logical Problem of Evil

Interpreting the Premises

In 1955, J.L. Mackie posited that a logical contradiction exists between the following three propositions:

1)      God is omnipotent

2)      God is omnibenevolent

3)      There is evil in the world[1]

The crux of Mackie’s argument, then, is that God cannot exist if evil exists, and evil exists – therefore, God does not exist. Immediately apparent in this are the numerous assumptions made within the propositions. Most prominently, and as Mackie himself would accept, the deity in question must be the greatest conceivable being, to borrow Anselmian terminology. This author will indeed proceed per the biblical conclusions of perfect being theology, rejecting the less orthodox assumptions of process theology and the Irenaean theodicy of John Hick.

To begin assessing the faulty conclusion of Mackie, it will prove beneficial to dissect the propositions offered. Most importantly, it is evident (even to Mackie himself) that some set of additional or hidden premises must be accepted in order to prove the three propositions given above are truly contradictory. More specifically, if one holds that the statements, (1) an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God exists and (2) evil exists, are logically incompatible, further explanation of these terms must be provided. For to simply assert the above conclusions is to assume a specific understanding of “omnipotence”, “omnibenevolence”, and “evil”. Here we again arrive at the problem with assumed dogmas and inadequate philosophies. For clearly Mackie presents a view of God reminiscent of Descartes’ conclusion wherein even the laws of logic do not pose a limit on God. Related to this “hidden premise” is the conception of omnibenevolence wherein if God is indeed maximally good, then He would desire a world free of evil. Since God is simultaneously omnipotent (and under the Desacartian assumption, not limited by logic), He would actualize a world without evil. Assuming God can create any world He desires necessitates an undisclosed premise based on logic foreign to the incompatibilist, as it remains to be shown.

Free Will Defense

Alvin Plantinga first offered the free will defense, in response to J.L. Mackie’s logical problem of evil. Highlighting the assumptions and premises presented in the previous section, Plantinga successfully deconstructed the proposed contradiction. In his own words,

The heart of the Free Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that 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. And if so, then it is possible that God had a good reason for creating a world containing evil.[2]    

To expound upon this argument, it must simply be possible that humans have libertarian free will for the premises regarding the nature of God’s omnibenevolence and omnipotence to be proven as not necessarily true.[3] More specifically, the assumptions that God can create any world He desires (by virtue of His omnipotence) and would favor a world free of evil (per His omnibenevolence) are not necessarily true.

To be sure, the possibility of libertarian freedom is quintessential for this argument, which immediately undermines Calvinistic determinism. But again, binding our definitions of omnibenevolence and omnipotence to necessarily conform to the conclusions of any one dogma, such as those of Calvin and Descartes, does nothing to disprove the possibility of God and evil existing simultaneously. Further, the remaining natural evil present in the actualized world could possibly be the result of Satan and his cohorts expressing their own free will.[4] As Mackie himself admitted, this defense offered by Plantinga does indeed eliminate the logical problem of evil. What we must address now, however, is the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil. It will prove beneficial, however, to first expound upon the seemingly theoretical nature of Plantinga’s defense, to show the same logic of possibilities might move us closer to probability in the area of a well-defined theodicy.

Possible and Feasible Worlds

Following the reasoning of incompatibilism, one can successfully postulate the inherent goodness in God’s creating beings with true, libertarian free will. Indeed, it seems antithetical to suggest God would create mere automatons, programmed to perform the function of worship, especially when He already has creatures bound to this duty.[5] It appears our value to God is perhaps greater than the angels who we will “judge”.[6] In any case, it seems all the more meaningful to have humans who freely choose to worship God, even when faced with the opposing pull of sinful desires. On the negative side, creaturely free will also negates any suggestion that God might somehow be responsible for evil. If one takes a deterministic worldview – wherein God determines the actions of creatures – it is well-neigh impossible to escape the implications of such direct causation.

With the virtues of an incompatibilist view established, the crucial task of discerning reasons why God actualized this specific world remain. According to the Molinist, God discerns all the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom according to contingent circumstances. The collective whole and ultimate procession of these counterfactuals thus makes up the gamut of possible worlds God could actualize.

Now, it should be assumed that the greatest conceivable being would wittingly chose to actualize a world wherein His purposes would be accomplished. Further, I would offer that given His reasoning for creating man in particular, God would logically bring about a world that would bring Him the greatest amount of glory. Given the reality of free will, this must be explored further. A world wherein everyone chooses only good certainly might be possible for God to actualize, though it is likely not feasible. We might imagine that such a world contains five creatures, all of which live five minutes after being created – a scenario with significantly less glory being given to God compared to the actual world. One must further assume that God’s reasoning is far more inscrutable, and the nature of “infeasible” far more complex to a perfect being. In addition, it doesn’t appear beneficial to adapt the view of Leibniz wherein God is viewed as actualizing the greatest possible world. Rather, one might assume He actualized a best possible world that was feasible for Him and will ultimately achieve His purposes. To adopt Leibniz’s logic here would lead one to an infinite quantitative progression in goods, wherein an end is logically unlocatable. To conclude this section, is a possible explanation for the existence of evil utilizing the middle knowledge view, “God could not have created a world that had so much good as the actual world but had less evil, both in terms of quantity and quality; and, moreover, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists.”[7] It is now the task of this writer to address the evidential problem of evil using inductive reasoning. 

Works Cited

[1] J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence” In Mind, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955), 200-212.

[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 31.

[3] William Lane Craig, J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 1601-04.

[4] Plantinga, God, 58.

[5] Cf. Isaiah 6:2-3. Revelation 4:8.

[6] Cf. 1 Corinthians 6:3, see also, Hebrews 1:4.

[7] Craig, Foundations, 1609.

Philosophy Theodicy

The Problem of Evil: A Molinist’s Theodicy (Pt. 1)

Throughout the millennia, philosophers and laypersons alike have struggled with the existence of evil. Augustine passed on a dualistic vision of morality reminiscent of his former Manichaeism, wherein the body is essentially evil while the mind good. This elevation of the mind, intellect, and reason proved pervasive – bleeding into the Catholicism via Aquinas and defining European society by popular literary artists such as Dante. Evil and suffering have thus historically been viewed in the post-Greco world as a product of man’s inability to transcend the physical.

Given our modern setting, new challenges have arisen where atheism has been offered as an acceptable and complete worldview and naturalism permeates a society inclined toward monistic thought. In this climate, philosophers like Nietzsche are welcome to categorically deny distinctions between “good and evil”, at least as they exist in traditional thought. Moreover, Judeo-Christian values and duties are mocked as simplistic and illogical, due to the still pervasive influence of Aristotelian asceticism, Calvinistic determinism, Descartes’s extension of divine omnipotence, and so forth. Common association of these philosophies with theism in general have caused many to back away from, or unapologetically ridicule, Christianity. It is thus crucial for the Christian to develop a fuller theodicy, expounding upon both proper theology, philosophy, and logic.

In modern times, the derision and rejection of religion continues. The issue is not so simply dismissed by the Christian as through an appeal to wrongheaded yet pervasive philosophies. Rather, these enduring issues involve complex emotional struggles with tangible evil and personal suffering. Within our world exists not only moral evils, explained by some fault in humanity, but also the seemingly gratuitous natural evils devastating the masses. At the base of this problem lies the question, why would God allow evil? Or more personally, why has God allowed me to suffer thus? To properly formulate a theodicy, one must address not only the logical problem of evil, but also the evidential or probabilistic. In upcoming posts, this author will differentiate between these facets of this quandary and explicate their validity from a Christian worldview, all the while utilizing logic and philosophy.