The Fundamental Problem of Evil
January 3, 2015 — 10:28

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: ,   Comments: 40

Here’s a nice challenge: What is the fundamental problem of evil? If there is a fundamental problem of evil P, then there is some organization among the many proposed problems of evil. That would be good news. Let a fundamental problem of evil P be such that (i) a solution to P would solve all other problems of evil and (ii) a solution to other problems of evil would not (necessarily) solve P. Let’s say that a problem of evil P is more fundamental than a problem P’ just in case (i) a solution to P would solve P and (ii) a solution to P’ would not (necessarily) solve P.

The challenge in the logical problem of evil is to show that it is metaphysically possible that God co-exists with evil, E. There are various ways to take the challenge; one natural way is to take it as asserting that it is impossible that God cannot eliminate E without a cost of a greater good G. All possible evil is gratuitous.

The challenge of the evidential argument is to show that God coexists with all actual evil. One natural way to take the challenge is as asserting that there is some actual evil E that God can eliminate without the cost of any greater good, G. The evidential problem has given rise to a host of epistemological replies concerning how we might know that God could eliminate E without the cost of G. These are not solutions to the problem; they are dissolutions: they remove the challenge without showing that, for any actual evil E, there is a greater good G such that G entails E. But if it could be shown that there is a solution to the evidential problem of evil, then there would be a solution to the logical problem of evil.

But the fundamental problem of evil, I’d propose, is the modal problem of evil. The challenge in the modal problem of evil is to show that, in every possible world W, if E exists in W then God co-exists with E. One natural way to take the modal problem is as asserting that there is a possible world W and some evil E in W such that God can eliminate E without a cost of a greater good G.

It is useful to contrast the logical problem of evil with the modal problem of evil. The logical problem of evil claims that every evil in every world in which they occur–in the vastness of metaphysical space–is gratuitous. To show that that’s mistaken we need to show that just one instance of evil in just one world is not gratuitous. FWD addresses this problem. But the modal problem of evil claims that  there is some evil, in some possible world–in the vastness of metaphysical space–that is gratuitous. To show that that’s mistaken we need to show that there are no instances of evil in any possible world that are gratuitous. FWD is useless here. Indeed, just the sort of theistic defense that FWD presents can be used as an atheistic defense in the modal problem of evil. For all we know, the atheist might urge, there is some strange and distant possible world in which, as Guleserian says, a single sentient being suffers pointlessly for a few hours. For all we know modally, aren’t there such worlds?

The modal problem of evil seems like too imposing a challenge. But it is a serious and genuine problem for theism. Possible gratuitous evil is no less a challenge for theism than actual gratuitous evil, since God exists in every world and has the divine attributes in every world. A solution to the modal problem of evil would show that there is no possible world in which there is an instance of evil E such that God can eliminate E without the cost of a greater good. A solution to the modal problem of evil would solve all other problems of evil.

Comments:
  • The Bill Bellichick Argument

    Consider a world wherein God is, but evil isn’t. This would constitute perfect beings, say angels, performing perfectly good actions upon perfectly good worldly items. The world would be made up of PerfectPlayers (PP) and PerfectGear (PG) which numbers would perfectly range from 0 to infinity for each of our two categories, plus one God or including one God, as when God would constitute such a world. One such world, might include God only, wherein PP = PG = 0. Let’s call this PW-1, or Perfect World 1.

    The problem with PW-1 is that it cannot be a perfect world. It would be like having the perfect football head coach, without any other coaching staff or players, not even a football. Bill Belichick only. A perfectly good football coach with no team or gear, is good for nothing.

    Let’s consider, make the assumption, that for all intents and purposes we might have, that any Perfect World is like any Perfect Football Game, such that all PWs equal (or are perfectly equivalent to) all PFGs respectively. We have already considered that what we would like to call PW-1 or PFG-1 is not a perfect world at all, such that Bill Bellichick does not and cannot constitute, as the Perfect Football Coach only, the Perfect Football Game.

    Let’s say Bill’s first acquisition is Tom Brady, the perfect quarterback. This immediately brings us to the question why is Tom the perfect quarterback. Without a Peyton Manning, who is nearly perfect, there is no need for Tom. If we cannot call Peyton perfect, then from the beginning, we see that evil must enter the game, in order to have a game.

    Let’s fast forward to where we see how it is quite possible that Bill and Tom, the perfect head coach and perfect quarterback, are playing in a full-fledged Cosmic Football League. This brings us in time, to the perfect season (PS). Each time prior to PS was less than perfect, or more evil, as it were, more evil plays, players, and even less than perfect gear. There had to be, therefore, permutations of lesser or more evil in each of the Cosmic Football Teams. This perfect season then occurs when Bill & Tom’s team either loses or wins perfectly, the perfect amount of good overcoming the perfect amount of evil.

    This Perfect Season PS, by definition, as we know, cannot be perfect teams playing against each other. It is not good football for Bill Bellichick clones to be coaching Tom Brady clones in each and every other team, such that perfect good overcomes perfect good. That itself is nonsense, which is evil. PS occurs when the perfectly good football team overcomes all the other football teams in with all their variances of evil or imperfections, which ends in winning the Super Cosmic Bowl. More likely than not, I will venture without proof or discussion, that there is no possible PS, only a best possible season, or BPS. Either way, we go on with the main line of thought.

    Then what happens, do we have another, different, and therefore less perfect season, less perfect than BPS even? Which brings up the question of whether it is best to have a perfect season, or whether it is best to have a best possible season. What if the best sum of all perfect seasons, could not add up when the BPS was included? Would Bellichick favor having the best possible season or the best possible set of all seasons? (Who are we to judge?)

    Furthermore, what if in some grand design, there was an imperfect player, a Doug Flutie say, who, for the best to happen, has to play for some set of seasons. This player Doug, would be perfectly good for the game itself, but would not be as good a quarterback as Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers even, or who-have-you.

    January 3, 2015 — 20:41
    • Michael Almeida

      I’m pretty sure I didn’t follow the metaphor all the way through. It looks like you’re saying that the best worlds (if there are such worlds) must include evil. This is something like the line that John Hick takes. I’m unpersuaded that anything like this is true. I do think, and have argued (for what it’s worth, here, for instance, https://ryecast.ryerson.ca/67/Watch/3046.aspx), that the best worlds require the possibility of very bad worlds.But it seems perfectly possible that there are worlds in which no evil occurs at all. I do make the distinction between struggle and evil. The fact that a world includes challenges and struggle does not entail that the world includes any evil.

      January 4, 2015 — 10:55
  • Remark

    Dr Almeida,

    “One natural way to take the modal problem is as asserting that there is a possible world W and some evil E in W such that God can eliminate E without a cost of a greater good G.”

    This is a very interesting post. It occurs to me that some theists, relying on a familiar response to the Problem of Evil, would feel the need to pose the problem differently since, according to the response they rely on, God could eliminate evils without cost to the good. It might be worth mentioning what they would say, even if it should be rejected.

    According to such theists, then, every possible world could contain evils that *appear* gratuitous, although God exists in all of them. The response is that some evils exist in order to prevent the existence of evils that are even worse. All relations of such evils to any other ‘real existences’ are absent, so that they are entailed neither by any greater good, nor by the evil whose existence they are meant to prevent (which, being prevented from existing, is incapable of entailing anything at all). If there are such evils, and they have no perceivable relation to anything else, then for all appearances, they are gratuitous (although, according to the response, they are not). Nevertheless, God could eliminate them without cost of a greater good.

    The trouble with this response is that it isn’t clear why the elimination of these evils is at no cost to the good, for, it seems to me, the world ends up worse off (i.e., less good) regardless of whether such evils exist. If they don’t, then the world is plagued by an evil that is even worse; and if they do, the world is worse off than it was before. The response might well be expressed in a way that avoids these problems, of course, but as I have expressed it, the elimination of evil does result in the reduction of good.

    Just a thought.

    January 4, 2015 — 10:17
    • Michael Almeida

      All relations of such evils to any other ‘real existences’ are absent, so that they are entailed neither by any greater good, nor by the evil whose existence they are meant to prevent (which, being prevented from existing, is incapable of entailing anything at all). If there are such evils, and they have no perceivable relation to anything else, then for all appearances, they are gratuitous (although, according to the response, they are not). Nevertheless, God could eliminate them without cost of a greater good.
      I’m not sure this is consistent. On the one hand you say that these evils prevent worse evils, and on the other hand you say that these evils can be prevented without cost or a greater evil. I’m not sure you can say both. If I build a wall to prevent a flood, and the flood therefore never occurred, then my building a wall caused the flood not to occur. This is not hard to make sense of counterfactually: my causal claim is that had I not built the wall, the flood would have occurred.

      January 4, 2015 — 11:09
      • Remark

        I’m not sure this is consistent. On the one hand you say that these evils prevent worse evils, and on the other hand you say that these evils can be prevented without cost or a greater evil.

        Dr Almeida,

        I think that what you say is the very point I wanted to make. What I intended to say (perhaps in not the most clear way) was meant to draw attention to the inconsistency involved in adducing the ‘prevention on a worse evil’ response and what it really entails – namely, a contradiction. In other words, a denial that the response is effective against your position. Makes sense?

        January 4, 2015 — 11:28
  • Michael Almeida

    Remark,

    Right, I think this is where I’m missing your point a bit. The case is something like this: there is an evil E in some world W. You suggest that E’s occurrence might be entailed by the non-existence of some worse evil E’. Let’s suppose that’s true in W. Now, I think we disagree on the next point you want to make, which I take it is this:

    i. Had E been prevented, then the world would have been better than it is.

    I think you want to advance (i) because there is no E’ in W that E is actually preventing. But, though it is true that there is no E’ in W (and true, even, that there would have been no E’ in W, no matter what anyone did in W) it is nonetheless true that there would have been an E’, had E been prevented. So, it is true at W that

    ii. Had E been prevented, then the world would have been worse than it is.

    The reason (i) is false and (ii) is true is because it is true in W that, had E been prevented, then W’ would have been actual (not W), and W’ is worse than W. So, although you’re right that, had E been prevented, W would have been no different, what matters is that had E been prevented W’ would have been actual, and W’ is worse than W.

    January 4, 2015 — 12:27
  • Remark

    Dr Almeida,

    Thanks for this (and well explained). There are issues arising that the theist who advocates the solution we are currently discussing will have to address. First, it may not be obvious that the existence of E (which supposedly prevents E’) could itself have been prevented by a lesser evil, E”, given the assumption that lesser evils can prevent greater ones. And thereafter, why should not a lesser evil still, E”’, be able to prevent E”, and so on, to the point where nothing characteristically evil is required at all.

    Second, again, according to this solution, presumably world W’, in which the prevented evil E’ exists, must be a world in which God does not exist (since He could have, but failed to, prevent E’ by allowing E, which is inconsistent with His goodness). Alternatively, if God exists in all possible worlds, then it looks like W’ is an impossible world.

    Anyway, back to the modal problem: perhaps an expression of it might take into account ‘metaphysical evil’, i.e., evil associated not with any greater good or prevention of greater evil, but with ‘limitation’. As you know, Leibniz argued that limitation (or imperfection, or metaphysical evil) is a necessary component of all possible worlds in order that they should be distinct from God, who is unlimited. The modal problem then becomes (perhaps in addition to your expression of it) one of there being no possible world in which there is more evil than is necessary for there to be a metaphysical distinction between it and God. But how could we possibly conceive how much evil is in question?

    January 5, 2015 — 5:15
    • Michael Almeida

      Second, again, according to this solution, presumably world W’, in which the prevented evil E’ exists, must be a world in which God does not exist (since He could have, but failed to, prevent E’ by allowing E, which is inconsistent with His goodness). Alternatively, if God exists in all possible worlds, then it looks like W’ is an impossible world.

      Some of this is right, I think, and important. We have (i) ~E’ entails E and (ii) E obtains and (iii) W’ would be actual were E prevented, and W’ is worse than the world we’re in], so we can conclude that E is a justified evil. But it does not follow that God could not actualize W’. It might be true in W’ that it would be worse if God prevented E’, since there is some G in W’ such that G entails E’. So, whereas in W it is true that it would be worse for God to prevent E, it is true in W’ that it would be worse for God to prevent E’. There might be other reasons why God could not actualize W’, for instance, that it is a worse world than W. But that’s a different discussion.

      January 5, 2015 — 11:11
  • Frank Gibbs

    This whole dicussion is based on a pretty large logical mistake. ‘Evil’ is not a thing that’s exists as itself. Just as there is no such thing as darkness or cold. Darkness is merely the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat. Evil is the absence of love! I would really enjoy seeing your arguement with this logical ‘fix’.

    January 5, 2015 — 9:43
    • Michael Almeida

      This whole dicussion is based on a pretty large logical mistake.

      If it is a mistake not to regard evil as an absence of good, it is certainly not a logical mistake. It would be a metaphysical mistake, if it were a mistake at all. But, first, I never take a position on the nature of evil in the post, nor do I imply one. I take the standard view on the existence of evil, namely, that God cannot permit an instance of evil E (whatever it’s nature) that is pointless or gratuitous, where (roughly) E is a pointless or gratuitous evil if E is not entailed by a greater good. I’m entirely unpersuaded of the view that, if we learned that torturing an innocent child to death were really just the absence of a good, and not a positive evil, then the existence of such evils would present no important challenge for theists. It would present the same challenge. Just as, if we learned that Berkeley was right that all evil events were ideal or mind-dependent things, the solution to the problem of evil wouldn’t be “stop thinking about them”. Rather, they would still present the same problems for theism, though we would be better informed about their nature.

      January 5, 2015 — 10:50
  • Matthew

    If I undersand it correctly, the success of the modal poe would show not that God doesn’t exist but that God doesn’t exist necessarily (i.e. in all possible worlds)? There’s a debate between Plantinga and Richard Gale in which they discuss this. Gale says that we can imagine possible worlds that contain nothing more than an instance of gratuitious suffering. If I remember correctly, Plantinga says that whether that is possible depends on whether we think God exists; if God exists, then Gale’s possible world isn’t possible after all. Gale jokes that we need a “modal intuition bowl” between Notre Dame and Pittsburgh to determine whether there are such possible worlds. I doubt that our grasp of modality is good enough to determine whether the modal arg. from evil, or the modal ontological arg., is successful. (Let me add that I’m not a philosophy professor.)

    January 5, 2015 — 15:39
  • Michael Almeida

    On the contrary, our modal intuition is quite sufficient to show that there are worlds in which there is, for instance, gratuitous evil. You’re actually living in one, very likely. Kripke once said that there isn’t any better evidence available than the deliverances of intuition. There is a common strategy among theists to go skeptical on this issue (and others), or to beg the question entirely (the Plantinga stratagem is an instance of this) to save theistic belief. Non-theists find that tendency cheap and annoying, and they’re right to think so. But when theists are not rushing off to the philosophy room to raise the standards for modal knowing and save theistic beliefs, I think we all know that possible worlds in which there is wide-spread suffering and evil–evil and suffering that serve no greater purpose– are quite possible. Think of it this way: it took an enormously ingenious argument to show that, in some possible world, God coexists with evil. To show that God coexists with all evil in all worlds would take an extraordinary argument.

    I find it hard to take Gale too seriously on these issues, but he’s right about there being independent reason to trust modal intuition on the existence of the worlds in question.

    January 5, 2015 — 18:20
    • “to save theistic belief.”

      Hmmm, a sort of teaser phrase, quite the judgment, spoken, however, as if to save the metaphysician.

      I come from mystical experience, so I do not want to dabble here in theistic belief as such, as I don’t view that as anything to save per se.

      There has been a core metaphysical assumption, and we need this for open-mindedness, at least free-thinking, that there could be such a world that does not include God, — even as we “come from” a world in which God is an omni-present creator, the creator and full participant in every moment. That there is something, anything, is a smoking gun that there is God. Indeed, it is the gun of God firing.

      This creative force, is an ever-present, assertive love — via experience. Any world otherwise, with or without what may be pondered as gratuitous evil, is simply metaphysics, which value which might be to create patterns of thinking that may be considered in pondering religious conundrums, for instance, as they present themselves to society and one’s individual life, even to be best able to counter evil propaganda.

      When we are asked to assume that there is a world with gratuitous evil, we may as well therefore be asked to assume that this world has gratuitous evil. How does that change things, if it does, and how could that ever be possible?

      When we are asked to imagine a world in which there is no God, it is as if we are being asked to imagine there were no God in this world. How could that be? Would it be like the story line in “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Or do atheists have some important point to make here?

      When we are asked to imagine a world in which God is not present at all times or in all places, we are asked to imagine, what if that were the case with our world. What would it be like for God to sometimes not be present, and why would a perfectly good God ever do that? Would it be like a parent who is not present at a teenager’s date? or slumming somewhere outside God’s mansion? Is this the time when evil really gets to the gratuitous point?

      What we know about this Universe that we experience as being within, is that it necessarily must come to an end. Thus, if there is a perfect God, which I will ask an assumption of in those who do not believe or have not had mystical experience, then there will be a summation of all universal times. Some scripture has said that there will be a judgment from this, for instance.

      Whether this best possible world, has ever or will ever, contain what could be considered the most evil time, we can say from experiences documented and the hardships that many of us go through, that something like the worst possible times, or most evil times exists often, such that if you apply a modicum of love to this world, your heart will necessarily be thoroughly broken.

      At each of those times, however, as with each moment in time, is a Utopia or Paradise that is just within or maybe just outside our reach. We see this in the writings of ancient Chinese poetry (http://thesunmagazine.org/issues/469/ten_thousand_pearls) that we still relate to today. IN other words, at each moment, there is a mystical experience filled with love to be had.

      So I take issue with this statement: “On the contrary, our modal intuition is quite sufficient to show that there are worlds in which there is, for instance, gratuitous evil. You’re actually living in one, very likely.”

      Let me assert the opposite: Most likely, we are all living in a world where there is no gratuitous evil, or by definition, evil not in the purposes of a loving God’s.

      When we use the term “very likely”, we are making a statistical statement, that there is a greater than 50% chance. Yet, we have nothing, either of us, to back that up, no data whatsoever. All we are really doing is shoring up an idea we would like to be accepted for the purposes of our argument, “to save theistic belief” or our particular “metaphysical belief.”

      January 5, 2015 — 22:50
    • Matthew

      “…when theists are not rushing off to the philosophy room to raise the standards for modal knowing and save theistic beliefs, I think we all know that possible worlds in which there is wide-spread suffering and evil–evil and suffering that serve no greater purpose– are quite possible. Think of it this way: it took an enormously ingenious argument to show that, in some possible world, God coexists with evil. To show that God coexists with all evil in all worlds would take an extraordinary argument.”

      (Indeed. And when I was an undergrad 5 or 6 years ago in a phil of religion class trying to understand AP’s argument, you’re articulation of it in various places on the net was what allowed me to grasp exactly what AP was up to. )

      Let me try a different line of thought. I believe some philosophers and theologians have thought that God could do evil acts (i.e. it’s possible that God do evil acts in some sense of “possible”) but in actuality never will do those acts. In that case, there are possible worlds in which God does evil (not just co-exists with gratuitous evil), but God will never actually do evil. So, somehow those philosophers think that the mere possibility of God doing evil is consistent with God’s goodness. But that just is the rejection of the idea that God is essentially good, if “essentially good” means perfectly good in all poss. worlds, right? But why is that so off limits to Christian theism? Maybe it isn’t possible for a being to have that attribute, and maybe this modal arg. from evil shows it. If we really can trust our modal intuitions here, then it seems that a perfectly moral being cannot exist in all poss. worlds. But the greatest possible being must be a moral being, so the greatest possible being is one that doesn’t exist in all poss. worlds. Perhaps a non-moral being could exist in all poss. worlds, but the greatest possible being couldn’t.

      January 7, 2015 — 13:43
      • Michael Almeida

        I believe some philosophers and theologians have thought that God could do evil acts (i.e. it’s possible that God do evil acts in some sense of “possible”) but in actuality never will do those acts.

        Right, Senor has taken a line like this. It assumes that the disposition/power to perform the evil action is never manifested. The assumption is that something might have necessarily finked dispositions. I’ve argued against that. Carry Jenkins has argued recently that it’s coherent.

        In that case, there are possible worlds in which God does evil (not just co-exists with gratuitous evil), but God will never actually do evil
        No, there are no worlds in which God manifests the power to do evil. He just has the power to do it. The idea is to preserve God’s omnipotence in terms of his power to do anything, even immoral acts.

        January 7, 2015 — 17:14
  • John Alexander

    Here is a question that I find puzzling related to your question re the fundamental problem of evil: Was God ever not God-like? In other words, did God become God-like or was He always God-like. By ‘God-like’ I mean having the qualities associated with being God, i.e., omnipotence, omniscience, etc. The reason that this question is interesting to me is that some argue that the fundamental question of God allowing evil is that He does so in order to create a greater good or to eliminate an equal or greater evil. Some, e.g., Hicks, suggest that God allows evil so that we as imperfect beings can become more perfect and that earning this perfection is a greater good than simply being handed it without any effort on our part.

    The question is how is it determined that earning a good is preferable to being given it? I am pretty sure that I would not turn down $1m (or $10 for that matter) if it were given to me as a gift. But, I do think that most of us would agree that earning some good by overcoming obstacles we encounter is preferable to being defeated by these obstacles. From this it seems to follow that what we earn is more important to us then what is simply given to us. We are imperfect beings facing a world where the challenges we meet and face help to determine our character and sense of self-worth – both important goods to be sure. We learn this by experience regardless of our beliefs about God’s existence/nature.

    The question is, how did God learn this or is it knowledge that He has always had? Can God learn? If it is knowledge that He has always had then it would seem to be a self-evident truth, like mathematics, which I do not think that it is. We can see that it is not self-evident because there a clear situations were given a good to another is simply the right thing to do, the parable of the Good Samaritan for example. But, maybe they have earned it by simply being the type of being we are? But, if this is so then why does not God simply give us perfection or is this perfection, or striving to be better person then we currently are, not tied into being the type of beings we are? If, on the other hand, God learned this thru His experiences of growing (maturing) into being God-like then He does have a reason for creating us as imperfect beings, etc.

    January 6, 2015 — 9:20
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi John,

    I don’t think any theist believes that God might lack any of the divine attributes: he has them essentially. Your second concern about Hick’s approach to theodicy is interesting. It might have to do with the exercise of autonomy in the pursuit of value. It might be better that S exercises his autonomy in pursuit of value V rather than being required to pursue V’, even if V’ is better than V. In any case, that’s a political liberalism line for allowing agents to pursue what they view as valuable (with the proviso that it does not harm others).

    January 6, 2015 — 9:58
    • John Alexander

      Not being a metaphysician, I am probably going off your track here, but if God is essentially omnipotent, omniscient, etc., then would He create all possible worlds or would He create only the best of all possible worlds? (I think you have addressed this in other threads, but I do not recall your argument) You seem to argue here that He creates (or is at least capable of creating) all possible worlds, or am I misinterpreting your views? Can it be argued that if He is all-knowing then He would know all possible worlds, but could, given His omnipotence, create only the best? Is this not Leibniz’s argument? I know that many discount his argument, but it seems that if we think that He could have created a better world then the one we are in them He is not a completely good being. If He is a moral being then creating less than the best would seem to count against His being all-good so in at least one possible world He would not be all good. If Leibniz’s defense is a plausible defense then it seems that this is the best world possible given any possible world that He could have created given the morally plausible idea that an earned good is morally preferable to one where the goods are simply given -better to earn perfection then being created as perfect beings.

      January 6, 2015 — 23:07
      • Michael Almeida

        Hi John,

        Leibniz tried to have his cake and eat it too. He did say that God must actualize the best world, but he also argued that there were other, less than best worlds. I’m inclined to agree that God must actualize the best world(s), but the trick is to do that and not lose contingency. That’s hard to do.

        January 7, 2015 — 8:01
        • John Alexander

          Hi Michael
          I take it that losing contingency would mean that we lose freedom along the lines suggested in your recent post on PSR where if the principle is true then everything that exists necessarily exists? Is the freedom lost libertarian or compatibilist freedom, or both? If there is only one world that actually exists, is this world completely determined? Would this also mean that God is not free? Is this not Rowe’s argument? His argument aside, I take it that God can exist without any possible world actually existing; His existence is metaphysically prior to any world that actually exists. If this is so, then can contingency exist only in God’s mind in so far as he can create any logically possible world, but chooses to create this one because it is the best? Our world is contingent because God did not have to create it, it is simply the one He choose to create. Now, if this is possible, then is it also possible that God leaves the future open (free) in the sense defended by Open Theists such that He and we cannot know the future and so it seems that we are free to perform any relevant alternative possible course of action? The future seems contingent. Our understanding of contingency then is based, in part, by the fact that the future does seem open in so far as given any two courses of action, both of which cannot occur, that it seems as if the choice of which occurs is ours and therefore not necessary. (In the back of my mind I am thinking of James’s Dilemma of Determinism.)

          January 7, 2015 — 9:56
  • Kevin Corbett

    I struggled mightily with the evidential problem of evil for the last several months, and it is what brought me here in the first place, after having dismissed it on the basis that all that was needed was for God to be a necessary existence, and anything else about Him you choose to believe just came down to personal preference. But it was a lot more formidable than I thought. But in the end, I just came out with the same solution to it I had in the beginning after I saw faults in various other Theodicies and Skeptical Theism, that Augustinian theodicy for all its problems is the one I’m willing to accept, even if it is historically improbable.

    That said, I think this modal problem is a little hard to understand, at least for me. If we suppose God is God, He would act the same with regard to all potential universes. So if we can show that there are no actual gratuitous evils, because God would not allow them to exist, we can infer from that that there are now potentially gratuitous evils. It seems a much bigger issue to try to show how all the actual evils in the world are not gratuitous.

    Oh, there’s this recently paper I stumbled across a few months ago that seems to touch on a similar issue that you might find interesting: http://paperity.org/p/52495370/bad-samaritans-aftertastes-and-the-problem-of-evil if you have a free minute. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it since some off the arguments seemed a bit too involved for me to fully grasp their import, but an interesting read nonetheless.

    January 6, 2015 — 22:55
    • Hi Ken,

      The Bad Samaritan argument that you raise does not wash for me. Assume that there is a God, that created this world, and all the laws of physics that go along with it. Why then would such a God get in the way of bullets? If this were to be God’s new year resolution, to stop all bullets, then no one would ever be able to kill anyone else with a bullet. Why stop there? God could also not allow anyone to die who gets thrown from a horse. This would be good for someone like me, who is at risk of falling, at least I could rest assured that I would not die from a fall, say falling off a sidewalk into oncoming traffic. God needs some slack cut here. If we are each going to be born, and then we are each going to die, we have to die of something, some sooner, some later.

      For similar reasons, I cannot buy into the Aftertaste Argument. I read this as sort of an off shoot of the song If I Were a Rich Man, especially the final couplet, “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan?/If I were a wealthy man.”

      In both arguments, the deflecting of the bullets, and the longer lasting mint, are up to us. If you think the world would be better off with longer lasting mints, then invent it, and advertise how the mint lasts longer and the aftertaste is better than the competition. If you would like less people killing innocent people with guns, then hop on board and petition for gun laws to be put into effect that would reduce these deaths –or do whatever you would see that would lessen the killings.

      I am confident that you do not require a moralistic lecture, so I hope that’s not what is read. It’s just that this is how the world works. You may find that along the way to making either the better mint, or getting the best legislation enacted, that God is on your side.

      January 7, 2015 — 1:22
      • Kevin Corbett

        I’m sorry if it sounded like I was mentioning that article in defense of it. In fact, I more did so because I disagreed with it, but I couldn’t grasp a lot of what the author seemed to be trying to say.

        January 7, 2015 — 2:42
    • Michael Almeida

      That said, I think this modal problem is a little hard to understand, at least for me. If we suppose God is God, He would act the same with regard to all potential universes. So if we can show that there are no actual gratuitous evils, because God would not allow them to exist, we can infer from that that there are now potentially gratuitous evils

      The modal argument requires that there be no possible world in which God coexists with gratuitous evil, not merely the actual world, so it is much more difficult to solve. Consider all the ways in which evil might arise or occur: in none of those ways, the theist must argue, is the evil gratuitous. See the recent post above for a way evil arises that the theist cannot easily show is non-gratuitous.

      January 7, 2015 — 7:46
      • John Alexander

        I have had this issue with gratuitous evil: why think that there is any? If God creates a world where there is evil then it seems that it is necessary for creating possible greater goods or eliminating an equal or greater evil. Rowe’s fawn example is a case in point; it seems that the death of the fawn is gratuitous, but why do we need to think this? The fact that we cannot see the greater good or the evil eliminated does not mean that there is no possible greater good or eliminated evil. Maybe the greater good is that by seeing (thinking of) the dead fawn we feel sympathy and compassion for its suffering that we can then extend to other creatures including human beings.

        January 7, 2015 — 9:31
      • Kevin Corbett

        “The modal argument requires that there be no possible world in which God coexists with gratuitous evil, not merely the actual world, so it is much more difficult to solve. Consider all the ways in which evil might arise or occur: in none of those ways, the theist must argue, is the evil gratuitous ”

        But how are we to make inferences about how evil might arise or occur in other worlds except by observations of what is in the actual world? If we can use Plantinga’s solution to the logical problem of evil for this world, we can certainly use it any other possible world or possible occurrence of evil. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to understand the difference.

        January 8, 2015 — 3:30
        • Michael Almeida

          But how are we to make inferences about how evil might arise or occur in other worlds except by observations of what is in the actual world?

          There are lots of things we know about other worlds that are false in the actual world. We know that, possibly, there are rational beings that are non-human. We know that possible people read ten thousand times faster than we do. We know that, possibly, there are golden mountains. None of these is actual. Some things we know combinatorially, by patching together parts of actual objects. Other things it is hard to say how we know. We know that 2 + 2 = 4 necessarily. We know that it’s actually true, but how do we know that it’s necessarily true? There are lots of hypotheses about this; but there’s not much dispute that we have this modal knowledge.

          January 8, 2015 — 9:03
      • Kevin Corbett

        Now that I think about it, I understand how the refutation of the logical problem would not resolve the problem of a universe in which all that existed was a being suffering for a few hours, since that removes the possibility of good coming about. But still, I agree with what other have said, even if such worlds are logically conceivable, I don’t know that they can be used to argue against God, since we do not know that they are metaphysically possible. Or at least if they are, they worlds or states of affairs that God could not (or would not if you like) conceivably actualize.

        But in any case, I’m bowing out of the discussion because I feel I am out of my depth..

        January 8, 2015 — 6:40
        • Michael Almeida

          But still, I agree with what other have said, even if such worlds are logically conceivable, I don’t know that they can be used to argue against God, since we do not know that they are metaphysically possible.

          It’s true that conceivability does not entail possibility, but not all modal intuition is based in conceivability.

          January 8, 2015 — 9:06
          • Kevin Corbett

            I’m afraid the finer details of modal logic will forever allude me. I was lucky to get the required D to pass Pre-Calc in senior year of high school.

            January 8, 2015 — 10:56
  • Michael Almeida

    If God creates a world where there is evil then it seems that it is necessary for creating possible greater goods or eliminating an equal or greater evil

    Right. But if there are such evils, then there is no God. Indeed, if there were such evils, then they there would be no reason to believe they’d be less than obvious. If there were such evils, there would be no basis for skepticism about them (I leave aside a broad value skepticism that I see no basis for at all). The line of skeptical theism, broadly, is that if God were to exist, then the evils and goods we see would look pretty much as they do: it would appear that they are unjustified. For lots of reasons, I think this line is mistaken. I would say, speaking generally, it is always a bad move methodologically to back yourself into skepticism to maintain a philosophical position.

    January 7, 2015 — 9:52
    • John Alexander

      Hi Michael
      I was not trying to defend ST – I also think that this approach is misguided. I was suggesting that there may be no gratuitous evils, not because we do not know the reason for a specific evil (fawn-like cases) existing and this reason is outside our ability to know/understand, but rather we do know the reason; that if God exists then He has a reason and that reason is that it is necessary for the possibility of a greater good or to eliminate an equal or greater evil. I take it that this criteria is not limited to theists, although it does seem as though may theists do accept it. I am suggesting that evidential arguments collapse into the logical problem and that there is no contradiction between 1) God exists and2) evil exists. If He exists then He has a reason for allowing evil to exist, even those that appear to be gratuitous, and, in fact, we do know this reason because it appears to be one that many theists and non-theists seem to agree on. But, then again, I could be wrong.

      January 7, 2015 — 17:02
  • Remark

    Dr Almeida,

    Right: we should not retreat into skepticism. So what’s the alternative as far as the present discussion goes? Here’s a (possibly last-ditch) argument available to the theist (although not an unproblematic one). It is that a mistake lies behind the formulation of the modal problem in the first place. The mistake is that, theistically speaking, logical possibility does not imply metaphysical possibility. While worlds with tremendous gratuitous evils are logically possible (providing their descriptions are not contradictory), they are not metaphysically possible, in the sense that they are creatable by God. Although God can conceive such worlds (as ideas in His understanding) they are such that He could not bring Himself to create any. Either only those worlds which contain no gratuitous evil are on this list, or else there must be a different criterion for metaphysical possibility which can somehow accommodate such evil. A difficulty is that we must now say that God exists only in all metaphysically, although not logically, possible worlds. And this threatens (if not destroys) the notion of God’s necessary existence. Doesn’t it?

    January 7, 2015 — 10:58
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Remark,

    The mistake is that, theistically speaking, logical possibility does not imply metaphysical possibility. While worlds with tremendous gratuitous evils are logically possible (providing their descriptions are not contradictory), they are not metaphysically possible

    Right, but see the formulation of the modal argument in the recent pos abovet. I don’t think it violates these requirements.

    January 7, 2015 — 11:21
  • Michael Almeida

    John, your claim above was this,
    The fact that we cannot see the greater good or the evil eliminated does not mean that there is no possible greater good or eliminated evil.
    That’s an appeal to skeptical theism. But in your latest you say,
    that if God exists then He has a reason and that reason is that it is necessary for the possibility of a greater good or to eliminate an equal or greater evil.
    Right. But the very thing in question is whether he exists, given that we see no (and can imagine no) greater good for some of the evils we see.

    January 7, 2015 — 17:09
    • John has said it succinctly and well.

      There is no reason to think there is no perfectly good God, just because a group of philosophers in 2015 cannot figure out how some evils are not gratuitous.

      And let’s drive the point of evil home squarely. There are horrendous evils going on in the world right now as we debate and discuss, person to person evils, governmental evils, evils by design and ignorance, all going on all the time.

      We as people are failing miserably at being perfectly good. Let’s not bring God into it. God creates and participates in this world out of love, never anything less. If he (or she if you’d rather) is not stepping in, it is for us to do. As imperfect as we are in this evil vs. good sense, s/he still accepts us. That may be hard to take, and seemingly impossible, bu that’s the way the world is. Love is always right there to be used in each and every situation we find ourselves.

      Arguments otherwise are only persuasive to someone, if they have a prejudicial frame of mind to accept otherwise.

      January 8, 2015 — 12:05
      • John Alexander

        Rus, thanks for the compliment, but one should not read more into my argument then is there. I am not arguing that there is a God – I do not believe that there is one as defined by the theist. My argument rests on the plausible idea that a moral agent will eliminate evil unless there is a good reason not to and that one reason commonly accepted is that evil is permissible if it is necessary for a possible good to come about or to eliminate an equal or greater evil. So IF God exists and is perfectly good then the evil He allows to exist meets this condition. Nothing I have suggested can be used to argue that there is such a being, only that the existence of such a being is consistent with the existence of evil assuming that the condition mentioned is a necessary one.

        Here is an argument (not original) that God does not exist. Assuming that God can created any logically possible world then if Heaven is a possible world then God should have created us a ‘saved’ beings. There is no logical contradiction here (that I can see) although there may be a metaphysical one in the sense that maybe God cannot create a perfect world (which I doubt). Therefore, the existence of actual evils would not be necessary to create the possibility of a greater good in so far as the greater goods would already exist if God had created only Heaven. If this argument is sound the all evil is gratuitous.

        To your later point – yes there are horrible evils existing which we as moral beings have a duty to fight whether one believes in God or not. To say that an evil is gratuitous does not mean that it is not horrific. But, it is not philosophy’s fault that these evils exist. It is the goal of philosophy and the philosopher to try and understand the nature of the question/problem and to try and explain what we find to others whether they will agree with us or not. As a philosopher (if I can be called one) I do not study this subject because I think I will come up with a definitive answer to any truly important question. If the history of our subject demonstrates, agreement is not in the cards. I study the subject to better understand the questions/problems and maybe therefore the world a little better and to understand myself and how I fit into what I think is the way things are. I teach philosophy, not to give the Truth to my students, but to develop their capacity to think critically and honestly about the world we live in. I am beginning to preach so I will end.

        January 8, 2015 — 17:51
        • Hi John,

          I did not read more in than you said. Your use of the word “if”, I read, as important to your previous points. I am the mystic, and not a “theist” by argument.

          You can apply a similar logic, now, to your argument against there being a God, as in why would God bypass the experiential part of the “pre-Heaven” world, if what we are talking about is afterlife, or “pre-saved” states if what we are talking about is salvation. You and I already have no problem with what is perfectly good being involved and in contact with what is evil–as a possibility. It seems, from all of our experiences in this world, that at least part of why we must “endure” or experience (even enjoy) this world with this evil, is so that we will have gone through it. It’s not the pill of knowledge, even of good and evil, that we are being served up, but the school of hard knocks, an experience probably not one of us would want to have turned down.

          Part of my own point was that you as a philosopher stack your deck, indeed, the greater conversation in philosophy is too often, from what I am observing, dealing with other philosophers’ stacked decks. The arguments boil down to this (rigorous argument notwithstanding): If X were to exist, then Y would never be, so . . . since the world we are in contains Y, then X cannot exist. The argument against this is to say wait just a minute, who said X cannot exist with Y. Whoever is predisposed to accept the existence of X will accept the latter argument, whoever is predisposed to accept that X does not exist, will accept the former. Elaborations and citations follow.

          I am not putting philosophy or philosophers down, or specifically logic or logicians. I love it all. By getting these philosophical, even metaphysical ducks in order, a service is brought to religions, similar to what science can bring, in how it defines what is possible and impossible. Like you say, it may not be the specific patterns of thought, the pre-conclusions, if you will, but the critical thinking itself that is so important.

          The other side of my point, what I put on the table as a mystic, is the experiential aspect of what is being talked about. It’s not only that what is perfectly good can coincide with what is perfectly evil, it’s that it does. To respond with an “argument” from where I come from, as you have, that there is a God, I simply say note the all powerful love that is ever-present.

          January 8, 2015 — 21:29
  • Andy

    Hi Dr. Almeida.
    First, before I get to my question, I’m pretty sure in the your second paragraph you meant to say that it is impossible that God CAN eliminate E without a cost of a greater good G, instead of that it is impossible that he cannot.
    Here’s my question. Why would it be a sufficient answer to the logical problem of evil to point out one instance of evil that is not gratuitous? If the logical problem of evil demands for an answer that it be shown that it is metaphysically possible for God and evil to exist, then it seems that what we must show is that there is no evil which contradicts his nature of being all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful.

    July 31, 2015 — 23:34
  • Michael Almeida

    Hi Andy,

    The challenge restated in the second paragraph says,

    one natural way is to take it as asserting that it is impossible that God cannot eliminate E without a cost of a greater good G. All possible evil is gratuitous.

    That is, there is no possible world in which God cannot eliminate E without the cost of a greater good. That is, there is no world in which E is not gratuitous.

    It is an adequate answer to the LPE to show that there are some possible worlds that include evil that God is justified in allowing. That’s more difficult than it looks: the best known reply to the LPE–Plantinga’s FWD–itself is question-begging. It is a premise in the FWD that there are agents who bring about moral evil in some worlds. That is the very point in question, so it cannot serve as a premise in the argument.

    August 1, 2015 — 7:36
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