In the previous post, I sketched a valid argument from evil concluding the non-existence of God. I noted then that premise (3) was the most dubious, and promised to give it support. So..
Support for (3)
(A) God exists. (Assumption)
(B) If God exists, he is ontologically independent (i.e. it is possible that he should exist, without any other thing existing).
(C) If God exists, then he instantiates all good-making properties, and no evil-making properties.
(D) Thus, it is possible that God alone should exist, instantiating all good-making properties and no evil-making properties.
(E) Then, there is no good-making property whose instantiation entails instantiation of an evil-making property.
(F) Therefore, every evil-making property is such that its existence is not entailed by some good-making property.
(3) Every evil-making property is such that its existence is not entailed by some greater good-making property.
Let’s run through the premises. (A) states that God exists. I don’t believe it, of course, but the point here is that the theist would, and I tailor this sub-argument for him/her. Think of it this way: I’m arguing that theism leads to (3), and with it a sound argument from evil, which shows theism to be false. Therefore theism, if true, is false; therefore it is false.
(B) states a widespread understanding of God, which is expressed in various ways. The notion of God as ‘the ground of all being’ stipulates the being of God as prior to, and supportive of, the existence of anything else. The conception of God as a necessary being, particularly as used in the Cosmological Argument, is taken to imply his ontological independence. Lastly, it would seem that ontological independence is a perfection, which God would exemplify1 .
(C) explicates a plausible interpretation of God’s being wholly good: of any good-making qualities that he has them, and of any evil-making qualities that he lacks them. The strongest way in which this premise may be justified is if one takes God to be goodness itself, so that ‘God’ and ‘good’ are interdefinable. Since goodness itself cannot be evil, God would have no evil-making propeties, and since goodness itself cannot fail to include some good-making property (else that property would not be good), neither would God lack any good-making properties. A supporter of this view is William Lane-Craig, here attempting to evade the Euthyphro dilemma2:
“God’s character is definitive of moral goodness; it serves as the paradigm of moral goodness. Thus, the morally good/bad is determined by reference to God’s nature; the morally right/wrong is determined by reference to his will… If the non-theist should demand, “Why pick God’s nature as definitive of the Good?” the answer is that God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, and a being which is the paradigm of goodness is greater than one which merely exemplifies goodness.”
Notice that Craig appeals to perfect-being theology as a reason to identify God with the good, an orthodoxy with distinguished luminaries (Anselm, Aquinas, Leibniz, Plantinga, ..many more). But even leaving aside this argument, (C) is compelling: we understand God as being without flaw (hence without evil-making properties), and as being good in every way that something can be good, even if some other of his properties are not great-making.
(D) gathers (A), (B) and (C) together. (E) draws the consequence of (D). To see this, suppose the contrary, that some good-making property did entail an evil-making property: then, if the good-making property existed, so must the evil-making one. But (D) states that this is not so, that every good-making property can exist in the absence of every evil-making property. So if (E) is false, then (D) is false, thus (D) entails (E).
(F) is a deductive consequence of (E). Suppose the contrary, that there is some evil-making property whose existence is entailed by a good-making property. Then there would be a good-making property which entailed it, whereas (E) states that no good-making properties entail evil-making properties. If (F) is false, (E) is false, so (E) entails (F). (3) is a special case of (F) – if every evil-making property is not entailed by a good-making property, then a fortiori, they are not entailed by greater good-making properties.
So there we have it, support for (3). But what about various theodicies which contest (3)? I’ll quickly consider a couple of these to show what the above considerations tell us about these responses.
The Soul-Making Theodicy
The Soul-Making Theodicy suggests that the evil in the world may be justified by the spiritual growth of our souls. The evil we observe and endure has a greater purpose, and that purpose is the moral perfection of humanity, or soul making. The thought here is that a character won through the strength of temptation overcome is more excellent than the same character produced ab initio. Call the latter ‘character’, and the former ‘character+‘. God attempts to create character+, but naturally, sometimes temptation is not overcome: this is the source of evil in the world.
The premises supporting (3) tell us this must be false. It is false because on this hypothesis there is some good-making property which entails an evil-making property, namely that character+ entails one or more historical evils. If so, then by (C) we can infer that God has this good-making property (character+ , not just character), and that the evil-making property entailed is not a property of him. But that contradicts (B), for (B) asserts the possibility that God alone should exist, in which case said evil-making property would not exist, there being no other existent to attach it to. Since (B) and (C) are highly plausible, therefore the soul-making hypothesis is not.
The Free-Will Defense
This highly popular reply offers free-will as a greater good entailing evil, specifically libertarian free-will. Briefly, the argument is that having free-will entails the ability for agents to do otherwise than they do, and that this means God cannot deny existence to any evil-making action without also denying the agent their free-will. Of course, this wouldn’t be necessary if God made agents who would only choose the good, but perhaps this can’t be done. For all we know, it is argued, every person-essence might be transworld-depraved, such that none would unerringly choose the good in the actual world. If so, some greater good entails an evil – the free-will of various person-essences entailing evil via their ‘counterfactuals of freedom’ – and so (3) is false.
Again, I think the resources for reply are found in the subargument for (3). God instantiates all good-making properties, so he instantiates free-will. His free-will, at least, does not entail any evil. Why not? Presumably because he is omnibenevolent, and this flawless character makes it logically impossible for God to choose evil over good3. In contrast, our characters are flawed, and this is why evil is possible for us. But this distinction just provides more grist for the mill: if God is ontologically independent and instantiates all good-making properties, then flawed character cannot be a good-making property, and furthermore is not requisite for any other good-making property. Given that, there can be no reason for an omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good being to create creatures with flawed characters4. A God would create flawless characters instead, these being better5.
This is not to deny the free-will defender’s argument that there are possible worlds which God could not actualize. I can admit that there are such worlds, and that these are ones in which flawed denizens of the world always choose the right. But I insist, quite apart from these worlds full of flawed characters, there is a set of worlds containing creatures who are not flawed, who always ‘go right’ in virtue of their flawless character, à la God. If such beings are possible, God can actualize them; if he actualizes them, then they choose the good as a matter of course, without needing coercion. But if God exists, then free and flawless beings are possible, for God is such a being. Thus the free-will defense is no defense after all – it does not give us reason to reject (3).
I’ve offered a valid argument from evil, which shows inconsistency between the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and wholly good being with the existence of evil in the world. This argument depends heavily on what, at first glance, appears to be a dubious premise. But God is a queer entity: he is both logically independent of any other thing, good in every way imaginable, and possesses a character without blemish. Turning his curious properties to the task of supporting our premise, that no evil-making property can be entailed by any good-making property, we find that his existence would entail it. Enlisting them in the task of refuting theodicies and defenses, we find that there is, as there must be, a implicit deviation from the divine. But if God is actual, so too is he possible, and so there can be no hope of denying the possibilities he is said to embody to his creations elsewhere. Given the support his existence would provide to the once-suspicious premise, and given that the other premises in the logical argument are either definitional, highly plausible, or deductive consequences of such, I conclude that at least one logical argument from evil is sound. God does not exist.
1 There’s an objection I ignore here: that abstract objects exist necessarily, and so God could not exist alone. The objection is easily enough handled, for I need only modify (B) so that God is ontologically independent of concreta, and add as a premise: “Only concrete objects can instantiate evil-making properties”. This adjustment aside, there might be good reason to take abstract objects as part of God, which would support (B). See the SEP article on ‘God and Necessary Objects‘ for details.
2 William Lane-Craig, Reasonable Faith (1984), p. 182.
3 Quentin Smith pursues a similar line to that here. See here for the article, A Sound Argument from Evil.
4 Isn’t it obvious? No, not if you begin with the fact that certain person-essences are instantiated, having less than perfect characters – that is, if you begin by thinking of this world as including a God and asking why God doesn’t intervene. But the problem of evil is broader than that of intervention in a ready-made world: it is a problem of the world’s being as it is, as opposed to a better way. So here is another reason why I favour speaking of God’s denying existence to evils, rather than merely eliminating them: the latter frames the problem in a way which leaves out what may be most troubling for the theist. The concentration on concrete evils, or probabilistic arguments from evil likewise tend to frame the problem as one of non-intervention, and so it seems to me a mistake to think of these as simply more cautious statements of the logical problem.
5 Could one not argue that character supervenes on what person-essences do, such that God’s choosing an unflawed character for his creatures would be tantamount to choosing their actions for them? Yes, but only at the cost of denying God’s necessary goodness. If God has no property which determines that he always do the right thing, then it is false to describe him as being determined to do the right thing, and so false to say his goodness is necessary. A God who is not essentially good is not God, ergo, God does not exist.