There seems to be a compelling argument that, given the reality of Evil, God does not exist. But wait—there is more to the story! If we dig a bit deeper we find a problem with one of the premises (and therefore the entailed premise and conclusion). This week I’ll begin to explore “the rest of the story.” But to do so I must first review how to evaluate arguments.
Reviewing How Arguments Go Bad
I’ve been discussing the argument often raised against God’s existence from the reality of Evil in our world. The argument can be stated formally in four premises, leading to the conclusion:
If God is all-good, he would will all good and no evil. (He would desire to produce only good and prevent all evil.)
If God is all-powerful, he would accomplish everything he wills. (He would be able to do anything in His will.)
Therefore if God exists he would want to and could create a world with no evil (and therefore would create such a world).
Yet there is evil.
Therefore God (an all-powerful, all-good Being) does not exist
Constructing a good argument is a lot like accurately calculating the costs to build a house. When a builder calculates his costs, he needs to do two things, both of which are vitally important to getting his pricing right.
First, he has to draft a spreadsheet that has the right formulas in the right cells, so he gets an accurate total at the bottom: his profit margin. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t entered any figures in the spreadsheet yet. If the formulas are wrong, no matter what numbers he enters in the cells, the total will be wrong. So this has to be done correctly before he begins determining the material costs or gets bids from subcontractors.
It is no different when constructing a logical argument leading to a conclusion. The conclusion is like the profit margin on the builder’s spreadsheet—the result of the calculations. And just as a spreadsheet must have the right mathematical formulas to give an accurate sum, an argument must have the right logical relations to give an accurate conclusion. Only then can we trust the conclusion of the argument. In logic this is called an argument being valid. I believe the argument we are discussing is valid—the conclusion follows from the premises.
In our modern vernacular, we tend to equate a “valid” argument with a true conclusion. However, in terms of logic there is a second way an argument can go wrong, leading to a false conclusion. Again, the analogy of a builder is helpful. For him, there is a second way a spreadsheet can give a wrong sum. The builder must also ensure he gets accurate costs for each line, in order for the total to be accurate. If one of the numbers is wrong, no matter how good the formulas are, the total will also be wrong.
For instance, he might decide the project will require 300 2x4s. He puts this number into the spreadsheet and orders the lumber. Only after the boards are delivered and he begins building does he discover he actually needs 400 2x4s. This pushes his total costs up and his sum (his profit margin) is no longer accurate. The calculations in his spreadsheet were all correct, but he had entered incorrect data (the number of 2x4s needed).
Similarly, in valid arguments the premises can still be wrong. Much like wrong data entered into the builder’s spreadsheet, having wrong premises in an argument leads to an inaccurate conclusion. So if a premise cannot be verified, the conclusion should not be believed. A conclusion is only proven if the argument is valid and all the premises are true. This is called a sound argument, and gives us confidence in the truth of the conclusion.
Finding The Faulty Premise
We can now return to the argument at hand, which concludes God does not exist due to the reality of Evil. While valid, many say this argument is not sound—one or more premises are false. If so, it fails to prove God does not exist due to the reality of Evil.
In the past few posts I’ve discussed reasons some reject premises one, two, or four, and why I don’t agree with their reasons for rejecting these premises. But that seems to prove the argument is sound, and therefore the conclusion is accurate. I say, “not so fast!”
We must go back and think more carefully about the first premise: “If God is all-good, he would will all good and no evil. (He would desire to produce only good and prevent all evil.) Notice the phrases “He would will…” and “He would desire…” These imply it is impossible for God, if he is all-good, to have morally-adequate reasons to permit evil.
Absolute claims should always make us suspicious, because making claims about what is and is not possible is tricky business. Such claims are disproven by just one counterexample. In this case, premise one is falsified if it is possible that God has even one morally-justified reason to permit evil. If such a reason exists, premise one is false, the argument is unsound, and therefore the conclusion does not follow.
As I said earlier, this is the type of argument to discuss with one struggling intellectually with the problem of evil and seeking answers from logic and reason (in this case, from modal logic, which deals with the realm of possibility, impossibility, and necessity). It is rarely helpful in consoling the friend who has just lost a loved one. (Though at some point it might be, as it may help answer the “why” question, at the right time.) On the other hand, for the person struggling to make rational sense of why God might allow Evil, this argument has a great deal of force.
I believe there are at least two morally-adequate reasons God may allow Evil. In fact, for these reasons it is reasonable to actually expect an all-good God to allow Evil. If true, these are good reasons to reject premise one, and with it the conclusion that God does not exist. I’ll begin looking at the first of these two reasons next week. Until then, grace and peace.