1. Atheists insist the problem of evil exhibits how an omni-competent God cannot exist. The logical problem of evil is the first form of the problem of evil. The logical problem of evil asserts there is a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. The logical problem of evil, using the reductio ad absurdum, is as follows:
(1) God is omni-competent.
(2) If God is omni-competent, then God should know about evil, God should be able to prevent evil and God would not allow evil.
(3) If an omni-competent God exists, then evil should not exist.
(4) Evil does exist.
(5) Therefore, an omni-competent God does not exist.
The logical problem of evil is convincing primarily because it demonstrates a contradiction between the existence of what theists claim God is, namely omni-competent, and the existence of evil. The argument asks theists a very critical question: If an omni-competent God exists, why does evil exist? Or in other words, why would an omni-competent God allow evil to exist? If theists cannot provide answers to these questions, then the atheists’ argument holds, meaning, an omni-competent God must not exist.
The second form of the problem of evil is the evidential problem of evil. The evidential problem of evil, compared to the logical problem of evil, focuses on the evidence for the existence of evil as opposed to the contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. The evidential problem of evil is as follows:
(1) Unjustified evils exist.
(2) An omni-competent God would not allow unjustified evils to exist.
(3) Therefore, an omni-competent God is unlikely to exist.
Premise (1) of this argument implies evidence shows unjustified evils exist. The evidential problem of evil is primarily convincing because it demonstrates how if unjustified evils exist, then an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God is unlikely to exist, because such a God would not allow evil to exist without having a good reason, justification, for the evil to exist. Evil could be justified by theists in many different ways. However, if there should exist even just one form of evil which cannot be justified by theists, then an omni-competent God is unlikely to exist. In turn, this argument forces theists to provide evidence to justify the existence of all evils. If the theist cannot provide evidence to justify the existence of even one evil, then the atheists’ argument holds, and therefore, and omni-competent God is unlikely to exist.
The theistic response to both forms of the problem of evil is regarding the very concept of what is considered “unjustified evil.” Theists would respond with asserting, first of all, there are different forms of evil, namely there are moral evils and natural evils. Moral evils are the evils brought about by human action, like genocide, rape, war, etc. Natural evils are the evils brought about by natural disasters, like disease, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. Theists would assert all moral and natural evils can be justified. For example, Aquinas would argue evil is simply a consequence of allowing humans to have freewill. In other words, in order for humans to have freewill, God cannot prevent humans from committing evil actions. Atheists would in turn argue, natural evils have nothing to do with human freewill. To the atheist, God could prevent natural evils without affecting human freewill. Theists could then respond with justifying natural evil as necessary for moral and/or spiritual development.
The theists’ responses justifying moral and natural evils demonstrates a flaw in the logical problem of evil. If an omni-competent God allows evil because of some greater good (like freewill or moral and/or spiritual development), then it is not a contradiction for an omni-competent God and evil to exist together. However, this does not provide evidence to counter the evidential problem of evil. Atheists, as per Rowe, would ask theists to provide evidence for how a baby deer burned severely in a natural fire and suffering many days before eventually dying, could be justified. The fawn died, so it couldn’t have benefited from any moral and/or spiritual development. The fire occurred naturally (act of God perhaps), so it wouldn’t have infringed on human freewill to prevent the fire, thus prevent the fire from burning the fawn. Even if it was the fawn’s freewill to venture to where the fire occurred, God could have allowed the fawn to die quickly instead of suffering for days before dying. Theists could argue, from Stump’s influence, that the horrendousness of the situation with the fawn allows humans to truly know of God’s goodness. In other words, all evil is justifiable because if the worst evil exists, then the truest good must also exist, and this truest good is God. For Stump, by witnessing evil, humans can witness God. However, atheists could just as easily respond that if no one witnessed nor knew of the fawn’s situation, then no one would be led to God’s goodness based on the situation, therefore, the evil would still be unjustified. Theists could then respond by asserting, in time, the evil could be justified, we are simply unable to know it at the moment. Essentially, at this point, the argument becomes an epistemological problem. How does anyone know if an evil is justified or unjustified? How does the atheist know the burning, suffering and dying of the fawn is ultimately an unjustified evil? How does the theist know ultimately it is justified?
Ultimately, the strongest response the theist could make to the evidential problem of evil, as per Rowe, is to use the G.E. Moore Shift. The G.E. Moore Shift basically asserts we do not require evidence to know some things. In this case, the theist would argue, we do not need evidence justifying evils to know the evils are justified. Essentially, the theist’s response to the atheist is a “shift“ of premises to form the conclusion:
(1) God exists and is omni-competent.
(2) An omni-competent God would not allow unjustified evils to exist.
(3) Therefore, unjustified evils do not exist.
While the atheist is asking the theist to provide evidence justifying the burning, suffering, and dying of the fawn as a “justified evil,” the theist could shift it back on the atheist and ask the atheist to provide evidence showing this is truly an “unjustified evil.” The atheist could respond one of two ways. The atheist either has to respond by providing evidence showing the fawn’s situation is truly an unjustified evil (which if they had such indisputable evidence, then they would have already provided it ending the argument at that point) or by conceding they cannot provide evidence showing the fawn’s situation is truly an unjustified evil. If the atheist cannot provide evidence showing the fawn’s situation is truly an unjustified evil, then the atheist’s argument falls apart. Or in other words, if the atheist expects evidence, but they themselves cannot provide evidence, then their argument is not sound. If the atheist tried to use the G.E. Moore Shift and assert we don’t need evidence to know the evils are unjustified, then the atheist has just defeated his own argument by negating premise (1) of the evidential problem of evil which implies evidence exhibits there are unjustified evils. Therefore, the G.E. Moore Shift is the strongest argument theists can provide to the evidential problem of evil.
2. God is omni-competent, meaning God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. The freewill problem focuses specifically on God’s omniscience, or quality of being all-knowing. The freewill problem asserts that if God knows everything, including what will happen in the future and ultimately what every human action will be, then humans do not have freewill. The freewill problem is as follows:
(1) God is omniscient.
(2) If (1), then God knows everything, including every human action, which will occur in the future.
(3) If (2), then everything, including every human action, which will occur in the future, must occur.
(4) If (3), then humans do not have freewill.
(5) Therefore, humans do not have freewill.
Responses to the freewill problem have been provided by determinists, compatibilists, and libertarians.
Determinists argue all events are caused per preceding events and/or God’s will. Determinists argue all actions and events are determined per God’s will and all events happen in line with God’s plan for perfection. Determinists are willing to accept humans do not really have freewill, because they are comfortable in knowing all things happen per God’s plan. To determinists, God is omni-competent and purely loves humans. As such, God only wants what is the best for humans. So, to determinists, knowing everything happens because of God’s will means everything that happens is what an omni-competent God, who purely loves humans, deems is the best for humans. The illusion of choice, per determinists, simply allows humans to learn from their experiences. To determinists, the freewill problem doesn’t really exist, because freewill doesn’t really exist. Furthermore, its perfectly fine freewill doesn’t exist, because everything will happen per God’s will for the best. Determinists are comfortable with giving up the concept of freewill in order to retain God’s complete, infallible, omniscience.
For Calvinism determinists, humans are free to do what they choose to do, but, as Hasker notes, “this ‘freedom’ has to be consistent with the fact that God has infallibly predetermined what they will choose.” Ultimately, per Hasker, “there is no real possibility of their choosing otherwise.” For example, say someone goes to the only restaurant open for hundreds of miles because of a severe blizzard. The person is stuck at the restaurant and can’t leave because of the weather and wants to order apple pie a la mode. Due to a huge rush of diners, the restaurant is out of all menu items except apple pie a la mode. In this case, the person is freely choosing apple pie a la mode and this choice just happens to be in line with what the person can choose. On the other hand, if someone else wanted to order pumpkin pie with whip cream, the person could not choose this because it is not in line with what the person can choose. So the starving person, who can’t leave because of the weather, then chooses the apple pie a la mode because that is the only choice the person can make. For Calvinism determinists, God’s omniscience is preserved in that God still knows what will occur. Additionally, freewill is preserved as humans are free to choose the choice which is in line with what God knows will occur. However, on this view, Calvinistic determinists sacrifice some freewill in order to maintain God’s omniscience. Humans can’t choose just anything, they can choose what God’s knows they will choose which is in line with His will. Furthermore, this view is also linked to compatibilism. Hasker notes, “[t]he conception of free will affirmed by a Calvinist must, of course, be a compatibilist conception.”
Compatibilists argue determinism is compatible with God’s foreknowledge and freewill. On this view, God exists outside of time. If God exists outside of time, then God doesn’t see events as past, present and future, but instead sees all events as present. In other words, for God, all past, present and future human events occur now. Since God sees all events as present, God has foreknowledge of all events but does not cause the events. A compatibilist view offered by Molina asserts God has “middle knowledge” and focuses on three points. The first point Molina asserts is God knows all necessary (logical) truths and God is restricted in His choices by these necessary (logical) truths. For example, it is a necessary (logical) truth that all triangles have three sides. Therefore, God cannot create a triangle with four sides.
The second point is God has knowledge of all contingent truths. Contingent truths are truths that are dependent upon God willing them. In other words, God’s decisions are contingent upon His choice. For example, God doesn’t have to create X if God doesn’t want to, meaning, the existence of X is contingent upon God’s choice to create X.
The third point is God has middle knowledge, or God knows all counterfactuals, which aligns with God existing outside of time. God wills a world where His will is accomplished, to achieve His plan for perfection. In other words, God creates humans (per necessary/logical and contingent truths) and gives them freewill, but places humans in situations where He knows they will freely choose His will, per His plan. On this view, God knows every human so intimately, and as such knows what every human would freely choose in every possible situation. Therefore, God places humans only in situations where He knows they will freely choose what falls in line with His will. For example, if person P were in situation S, P would freely choose action A. Molina’s view preserves God’s omniscience and allows humans freewill to choose what God knows they would choose based on the situation God places them in. Both Calvinistic determinism and Molina’s compatibilism assert humans have the freedom to choose, but not the freedom to do anything and everything they want. In support of these views, as noted in class, humans wouldn’t be able to do anything and everything they want anyway because of natural laws (as much as anyone may want to, humans can’t fly solely of their own volition).
Libertarianism, as opposed to compatibilism and determinism, asserts humans are absolutely free to choose. A libertarian view offered by Hasker is “open theism.” In open theism, God is open to taking risks with humans. God creates the world, creates humans, and knows humans so well that He knows the probabilities of what individuals will choose. If an individual should choose contrary to God’s plan, God will change or compensate for the choice to accomplish His will. On this view, the future is open for human choice, because God is not completely sure what humans will choose. Ultimately, however, God’s plan will be accomplished because He compensates, based on probabilities, for human choices. For libertarians, this solves the freewill problem, because humans have freedom to choose. However, on this view, God is not omniscient in the classic theist sense, meaning in the sense that God knows absolutely everything. Libertarians argue “God is omniscient, in that he knows everything that logically can be known.” Hasker argues, future events cannot be logically known because if one is free to choose an action, then this would mean one might choose the action or might not choose the action. If one might or might not choose the action, then it is not true one definitely would or definitely would not choose the action. Logically, according to Hasker, if humans have freewill, then future events cannot be known. Libertarians sacrifice some of God’s omniscience in order to preserve freewill. However, libertarians assert God is omniscient for all logical truths. Therefore, for libertarians, freewill and God’s logical omniscience is preserved.
3. Two arguments offered by atheists against the concept of God as a Perfect Being are: God is vain, and God remains hidden from humans. It has been argued if God is vain and/or remains hidden from humans, then God cannot be a Perfect Being. Perfect Being theology, according to Anselm, asserts any of God’s attributes originate logically from God’s core attribute of perfection. God, as a Perfect Being, is then omni-competent (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving).
Regarding the argument asserting God is vain, this argument focuses on three points: creation, worship and redemption. Some atheists argue God is vain because He created humans in His own image, requires humans to worship Him, and is the only way for humans to obtain redemption. Vanity is an imperfection, or more specifically, vanity is a sin. If God is vain, then God is not a Perfect Being.
Regarding the argument of God remaining hidden from humans, some atheists argue this also shows a flaw in the concept of God as a Perfect Being. A form of the argument, noted by Murray, regarding the “hiddeness” of God is as follows:
(1) The “hiddeness” of God is tied to disbelief.
(2) Disbelief is a sin.
(3) Sin is evil.
(4) God not revealing Himself to humans so as to leave no doubt about His existence means God is responsible for sin (i.e. evil).
(5) If (4), then it is evil God would intentionally hide Himself from humans and punish humans for their disbelief in Him.
(6) Therefore, God is not a Perfect Being.
Both of the above arguments from atheists assert God is not a Perfect Being because God is responsible, either via His actions or via His inaction, for sin. Incidentally, both of the arguments also involve the problem of evil and the freewill problem. The following arguments, which will be outlined below, by Murray and Taliaferro demonstrate the arguments given by atheists do not show a flaw in God as a Perfect Being.
In order to demonstrate how God’s “hiddeness” is consistent with God as a Perfect Being, Murray responds to the “hiddeness” of God with the antecedent freewill theodicy. The antecedent freewill theodicy asserts, prior to God allowing choices at all, humans must know what will happen, the repercussions which will always happen if certain actions are committed. For example, humans must know that if they run into someone with a car going 85mph, the possibility does not exist that the person is going to bounce elegantly like a gigantic, durable, rubber ball off the grill and land in a gymnastic pose fifty feet away unscathed. Humans must know their evil actions have consequences which are, in turn, another form of evil. Additionally, if natural evils exist, then humans can respond to these disasters with kindness. Thus, humans must know their good actions have good repercussions. In this argument, evil must exist for humans to know their choices have consequences. If humans know their choices have consequences, then humans can make choices which are “morally significant.” In other words, humans can have freewill and be morally responsible for their choices only in a world where evil exists.
Additionally, Murray argues, there are three types of threats. Firstly, there is the strength of the threat, or how severe are the repercussions if the threat is not followed. The threat for humans to not believe in God is to suffer in agony for an eternity in Hell. A severe threat indeed, but it doesn’t affect human freewill because if one doesn’t believe in God, then this person most likely doesn’t believe they are going to Hell for not believing in Him. Secondly, there is threat wantonness, or if the threat is taken seriously. Again, if a person doesn’t believe in God, then they are not going to take the threat of punishment from God seriously, thus, the person’s freewill remains unaffected. Thirdly, there is threat imminence, or the likeliness the threat will be carried out. Murray argues, in the case of threat imminence, human freewill can be affected. Murray argues, if God were to become unhidden, and make His presence irrefutably known, then humans would know without any doubt God does exist. If humans know without any doubt God exists, then humans would take the severity of the threat of punishment seriously and be forced to worship God. Therefore, humans would no longer have freewill. God, according to Murray, wants humans to have freewill and freely choose to worship Him. God remaining hidden is not an unjustified evil, but is to allow humans freewill and moral responsibility. Therefore, God remains a Perfect Being.
Taliaferro counters the argument concerning God being vain by responding to each of the three arguments provided for God’s vanity. Regarding creation, Taliaferro argues God is not vain because He could have created more obedient creatures instead of humans who have the potential to sin. Additionally, God sustains humans even though humans sin. God could not have created humans, could have created humans differently or could destroy humans, but He created humans and sustains humans out of love. To add to Taliaferro’s argument (which also coincides with the “hiddeness” of God), it would have been more vain for God to have created obedient humans with no doubt about His existence. A vain God would want humans to have no doubt about His existence, because humans would then be obligated to worship Him and by worshiping Him (per the atheists argument), feed into God’s vanity. God couldn’t be vain, because He doesn’t make His presence irrefutably known. Instead, God allows for freewill, which in turn allows for humans to be able to disbelieve in Him and sin (i.e. evil). In this case, the existence of sin (i.e. evil as disbelief) demonstrates God is not vain, because if God were vain, He would make his presence irrefutably known, so people would worship him thus, not sin.
Furthermore, regarding worship, Taliaferro argues God doesn’t want humans to necessarily worship Him, but instead to worship His Divine Properties. God wants humans to worship the Divine Properties of wisdom, kindness, love, and forgiveness. God wants humans to worship the Divine Properties so humans can become more like these properties and thus, more like God. Again, to add to Taliaferro’s argument, if God were truly vain, He wouldn’t want humans to become like Him. If God were truly vain, He would want to be the only being with Divine Properties.
Regarding redemption, Taliaferro argues God is not vain because He is doing for humans what humans cannot do for themselves. According to Taliaferro, God sent Himself, as Jesus, to help humans find redemption. As Jesus, God was not omni-competent and was subject to pain and betrayal. A vain God would not lessen Himself and subject Himself to hardships just to save humans. God offers Himself as a source of redemption out of love. Adding to Taliaferro’s argument, a vain God would also keep humans always seeking Him for redemption, but never being able to be redeemed. God is not vain because He grants humans redemption instead of keeping humans always seeking Him for redemption. God is not vain as God created humans with freewill, out of love, wants humans to enjoy in His Divine Properties, and offers Himself to save humans. God, therefore, remains a Perfect Being.