The Logical Problem of Evil attempts to show that the existence of evil in the world is contradictory with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God. If the Logical Problem of Evil is sound, it implies it is irrational to believe in the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God because of the existence of evil. In “Soul-Making Theodicy,” John Hick argues the existence of evil in the world is not contradictory to the existence of an omni-being God because the evil in the world is required for human spiritual evolution. Therefore, Hick argues, it is rational for one to believe in God as an omni-being. To respond to Hick, I would like to present “The Evidential Argument from Evil,” by William Rowe. Rowe argues, it may not be contradictory, meaning logically impossible, for God as an omni-being to exist with evil, but it is highly unlikely God as an omni-being exists when there is evidence of unjustified evils. Hick’s argument justifies the existence of evil as being necessary for human spiritual evolution, whereas Rowe’s argument asserts, if there is evidence of unjustified evils, in other words, evils which are unlikely to result in human spiritual evolution, then it would be rational to not believe in God’s existence. Ultimately, I will argue The Logical Problem of Evil fails because, as Hick shows, it is not a contradiction for an omni-being God and evil to exist simultaneously. However, I will argue, just because The Logical Problem of Evil fails to disprove God’s existence, it doesn’t mean, as Rowe’s argument demonstrates, that Hick has proven it is more rational to believe in God. Even though Hick hasn’t proven it is more rational to believe in God, I will argue the theist could still have a response to the Evidential Problem of Evil.
The Logical Problem of Evil starts with supposing God exists as an omni-being and tries to show the supposition is contradictory to the existence of evil (class notes). The Logical Problem of Evil is as follows (class notes):
“(S1) God exists and is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient.
(P2) An omnipotent being can actualize any logically possible world.
(P3) An omnibenevolent being would want to bring about the best possible world.
(L4) This is the best possible world. [S1 + P2 + P3]
(P5) Evil exists.
(P6) A world with evil is worse than a world without evil.
(L7) This is not the best possible world. [P5 + P6]
(C) Either God doesn’t exist or he is not omnipotent, omnibenevolent, or omniscient.”
The Logical Problem of Evil is a reductio ad absurdum argument, in that it starts with the supposition an omni-being God exists and then proceeds to reduce the argument to an absurdity by showing it is a contradiction for an omni-being God to exist in a world of evil. By showing an omni-being God and evil can’t exist simultaneously, the Logical Problem of Evil implicitly asserts it is irrational to believe in the existence of God.
Hick argues against the Logical Problem of Evil at (P6), by asserting a world with evil is better than a world without evil (class notes). Hick asserts humans have evolved from “a morally, spiritually, and culturally primitive state” “as part of the continuum of animal life, in a universe which functions in accordance with its own laws and whose workings can be investigated and described without reference to a creator” (317; 319). According to Hick, this “epistemic distance” allows humans to be genuinely and autonomously free in relation to God (class notes; 319). Further, Hick argues, a morally perfect human created in a morally perfect or imperfect world would just naturally not sin, through no choice of their own due to their inherent moral perfection (319-320). However, per Hick, a morally imperfect being in a morally imperfect world would have the freedom to choose not to sin (320). Hick argues a morally perfect being who doesn’t sin through no choice of their own is “intrinsically less valuable” than a morally imperfect being who chooses not to sin in a morally imperfect world (320). Therefore, according to Hick, in order for the most valuable kind of morality to be achieved, morally imperfect humans have to exist in a morally imperfect world at an epistemic distance from God (320).
Morally imperfect humans in a morally imperfect world not only can choose to commit moral evils, but can choose how to respond to moral and natural evils, and can learn and grow from experiencing moral and natural evils. Hick justifies all evil in the world as being necessary for the spiritual evolution of humans (320-321). The spiritual evolution of humans, to become more like God, is the greater good which justifies all evil. For Hick, spiritual evolution, which is the growth of the human being to becoming the most valuable moral and spiritual being, requires humans be autonomous and free in relation to God. If there were evidence showing how evils are justified for this greater good, i.e. for the purpose of becoming more like God, then humans could not be autonomous and free, thus, could not spiritually evolve.
Rowe’s argument can be read as a response to Hick. Rowe establishes the first premise of The Evidential Problem of Evil as “There exists instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse” (325). Rowe’s second premise is “An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse” (325). Therefore, per Rowe, “There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being” (325). Rowe’s argument is not a reductio ad absurdum, in that it doesn’t start with a supposition and then try to show the supposition is absurd. However, his first premise implies, roughly, the conditional: if (S1), (P2), and (P3), then ~ (P5). I say roughly because his argument, due to the addition of the distinction of unjustified evils, is more like: if (S1), (P2), and (P3), then ~ unjustified (P5). Rowe’s argument also assumes (P6). Therefore, Rowe seems to be arguing against (L4), or by negation for (L7), by asserting this is not the best possible world. Why is this not the best possible world? Rowe doesn’t say definitively this is not the best possible world, instead, he seems to assert given the evidence of unjustified evils, it is not likely this is the best possible world. The best possible world would be one where no unjustified evil exists, and it is unlikely this is true for this world.
Rowe moves outside of The Logical Problem of Evil by asserting it is not contradictory for evil and an omni-being God to exist together. So, Rowe is granting Hick the logical possibility of evil and an omni-being God existing simultaneously. However, Rowe asserts, it just doesn’t seem very likely based on the evidence of unjustified evils. Firstly, Rowe’s argument seeks to establish there is evidence of unjustified evils in the world, evils which do not seem to lead to some greater good. Secondly, Rowe’s argument implicitly argues against Hick’s epistemic distance.
Rowe asserts the first premise of The Evidential Problem of Evil is the premise in dispute between atheists and theists (326). Rowe offers a thought experiment, which serves to implicitly argue against Hick’s epistemic distance. He asks for the reader to consider a situation where a fawn becomes horribly burned in a forest fire and then suffers for days before dying (326). Rowe asserts the fawn’s suffering seems to not be connected to any greater good nor would preventing the fawn from suffering for days before dying seem to permit any equally bad or worse evil (326). Rowe points out what appears to be unjustified evil does not necessarily prove the first premise to be true, as we have no way of actually knowing what the long term effects over time of any event would be (327). However, Rowe states “it is one thing to know or prove that (1) [the first premise] is true and quite another thing to have rational grounds for believing (1) [the first premise] to be true” (327). Rowe’s point is, when considering our “experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary absurd idea” (327).
For Rowe, while one cannot prove, absolutely and definitively, there is unjustified evil in the world, it is reasonable to believe unjustified evil does exist in the world based on what we have experienced of the world, and therefore, it is rational to not believe in God. To add to Rowe’s argument, being at an epistemic distance from God in Hick’s sense would mean we would not be able to know or understand the specific reasons for evil, but the evils are justified in that they lead to a greater good. Rowe’s argument seems to acknowledge this could be possible. However, Rowe’s argument seems to assert it just doesn’t seem probable given the enormity and severity of the evil. For Rowe, it seems, the epistemic distance, if there is such a thing, would be too vast in too many instances of evil to be probable justification.
In other words, the Evidential Problem of Evil is a challenge to theists. It challenges theists to provide evidence for theologies, meaning, it is a challenge to theists to provide evidence supporting their explanations of why God allows evil. If a theist cannot provide evidence justifying evil, but the atheist can provide evidence of unjustified evils, then it is more rational to not believe in God. Hick’s theology with the assertion of an epistemic distance between humans and God implicitly asserts there is no direct evidence to justify evil, because as noted earlier, if there were such evidence it would be detrimental to humans being genuinely and autonomously free in relation to God. Therefore, per The Evidential Problem of Evil, it would be more rational to not believe in God.
Essentially, Hick’s argument defeats The Logical Problem of Evil by justifying evil. However, Hick’s argument implies there can be no evidence to justify to humans the evil in the world is for a greater good, because to do so would prohibit the ability of humans to obtain the greater good the evil is meant to lead humans to. Rowe’s argument defeats Hick’s argument by asserting if there is evidence of evils which do not lead to the greater good, in Hick’s case spiritual evolution, then it is unlikely an omni-being God exists. Hick, by nature of his argument, is unable to respond because his argument doesn’t allow for evidence to support the justification of the evil.
The Logical Problem of Evil implicitly asks the theist to justify the evil in the world. One way to justify the evil in the world is with a Soul-Making Theodicy. The atheist response is The Evidential Problem of Evil asking the theist to prove their justification with evidence. The Soul-Making Theodicy, based on epistemic distance, inherently denies much evidence can be provided to prove the theist’s justification. The atheist really has no other need to respond at this point because the evidential existence of evil, despite the defeat of The Logical Problem of Evil, still provides the atheist with rational reasons to not believe in God.
However, the next step for the theist, as eluded to implicitly by Rowe’s use of the “G.E. Moore Shift,” could be to respond by asserting theists don’t require evidence for their justification because their belief in God, based on their experiences and knowledge of the world, is a basic belief (328-329). By doing so, they could turn the argument back on to the atheist by challenging the atheist to provide evidence or proof theists do need evidence further justifying their beliefs as basic beliefs. In other words, if the atheists require evidence, then the atheists would need to provide evidence or proof that evidence is required, which is something different from showing evidence of unjustified evil exists. The atheist has already shown, per Rowe, there is evidence of unjustified evil. However, evidence of unjustified evil, which cannot prove definitively that the evil is not justified for a greater good, doesn’t correlate to evidence against a belief based on experience and knowledge of the world as being a basic belief. If the theists can show it is rational to believe in God based on experiences and knowledge without evidence, then the atheist is challenged to respond by providing evidence or proof that shows the theist cannot have such beliefs. However, the very nature of basic beliefs is that they do not require evidence or proof. Several questions arise at this point: How does an atheist provide evidence or proof a belief has to always be based on evidence or proof? Or, if not all beliefs have to meet the evidential or proof criteria, then why would the belief in God be different from the external world, which was the original argument G.E. Moore responded to using his “shift”? What would be, if there are any, the consequences to the atheist if the atheist demanded such evidence and proof? Would holding such a position be contrary with or weaken other positions the atheist holds, thus making the atheist’s entire belief system incoherent or inconsistent?
In conclusion, The Logical Problem of Evil has been defeated by Hick justifying the evil of the world with his Soul-Making Theodicy. However, Hick’s epistemic distance is challenged by Rowe’s Evidential Problem of Evil. Rowe’s Evidential Problem of Evil, challenging the theist to provide evidence that the evils of the world are justified, cannot be answered by Hick’s theodicy. However, the theist could still respond by asserting their beliefs are based on their experience and knowledge of the world, and as such are basic beliefs which do not require any further evidence. By the theist doing so, they have turned the argument back on to the atheist by challenging the atheist to provide evidence or proof that the theists need to provide evidence that their beliefs, being basic, are rational. Ultimately, one has to question, however, if such a demand could undermine the atheists position in the long run.
Hick, John. “Soul-Making Theodicy.” In Philosophy of Religion, by Michael Peterson,William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. 316-322. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Rowe, William. “The Evidential Argument From Evil.” In Philosophy of Religion, by Michael Peterson,William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, David Basinger. 324-330. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.