A Critical Evaluation of the Deductive Argument from Evil
Logically, can Evil and the “three-O” God co-exist in this universe? The deductive argument from evil says they cannot. In this essay I will explain the argument and analyze why it is valid but unsound. I will do this by discussing fallacious nature of the premise that if God were omnipotent and knew he could prevent the existence of evil without sacrificing some greater good he would then necessarily prevent it.
The essay will propose the following evaluation of the deductive argument from Evil: that each premise logically follows from its antecedent, but that the concepts in the premises themselves are not entirely understood and can be refuted. God’s Omni benevolence, specifically, need not incontrovertibly mean the prevention of every evil on earth – not even necessarily natural evil. Furthermore, I will address the purpose of evil and the compatibility of God’s all-good nature with the existence of evil.
Concluding finally that the deductive argument from evil does not justify a belief in the nonexistence of God, despite the strength of the overall argument.
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The deductive argument from evil is an explanation for the incompatibility of evil and a “three-O” God. It answers to the problem of evil, which is the problem of whether or not such a God could logically coexist with evil. This argument both positively states that evil exists in the world, and normatively states that if God existed there would be no evil, therefore God does not exist.
As mentioned previously, it deals with the concept of a “three-O” God; which is to say a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Omnipotence means here that God has the ability to do anything that is logically possible and omniscience denotes that God knows everything that is true. Omni benevolence is the idea that God is perfectly good by nature and that He does no morally bad actions, including the omission to perform action. I accept the first two concepts as sound, but reject the third since it is implying ideas that may not directly stem from the nature of goodness or the all-good personality of God.
However, I will come to this later on in the discussion of why this argument – as it stands – should be rejected on the basis of referential fallacy. In the deductive argument from evil it follows that if God can do anything logically possible and He knows all truth, then knowing He has the power to prevent evil without sacrificing some greater good, by his omnibenevolent nature he will. Evil in this case is not merely the absence of good, but actions and events that cause suffering – particularly natural evil or that which is not originated by man. This is the strongest variant of the argument and thus will be the one analyzed.
If the premises in this argument were all true then the conclusion would irrefutable true; making the argument valid and the conclusion false if and only if one or more of the premises are false. This means that the argument can only be objected on the basis of unsoundness, leading to an examination of the possibility of falsity in the assumed truths of the argument or logical fallacy; namely a consideration of the meaning of Omni benevolence and the implications of a being’s nature. As stated above, the deductive argument from evil holds true that if God is omnibenevolent he will necessarily prevent the existence of evil.
Nonetheless, it is not true that because a being has a certain characteristic he therefore must always act in accordance with this characteristic independent of his other attributes or other aspects of the situation. The premise is either asserting that God is not Omnipotent in His choice of whether or not to act in a situation where evil exists; Or it is assuming that God’s goodness directly implies a need for action against anything that is not good, rather than simply stating He will act in accordance to His good nature when He decides to intervene in human suffering.
This brings back the idea of the true meaning of Omni benevolence. If it does denote that God will not omit to perform good actions, then does this not immediately explain how God’s lack of action against evil will lead to an understanding of the nonexistence of God? No. Simply because God does not intervene in evil, doesn’t imperatively mean that God is not choosing to do “good” through the choice of nonintervention.
If God is Omnipotent and can choose to do anything logically possible, then he can also choose to allow evil if it serves a good purpose, not necessarily related to a greater good which explains the existence of all evil, but for other good reasons. Suppose that the greater good that not only enables us to forgive but also to justify all evil on earth was Heaven – a possibility of eternal life in paradise. God knowing he can prevent evil without sacrificing this greater good would do so due to his “three-O” nature (explained in the deductive argument from evil).
Then what kind of evil might He logically allow to exist? Evil that may lead one to choose this eternal kingdom would be a form of evil that would be justified since it brings about a good, not that greater good which allows all evil to exist, but another good that is reasoned in the eyes of God. Eleonore Stump offers this idea as a response to the deductive explanation of the problem of evil, stating that natural evil can humble men and bring us closer to a reflection of the transience of the world.
In her retort she explains that these things may bring man to even contemplate God’s existence, and thus possibly placing faith in God and guaranteeing an eternal life in the kingdom of Heaven (Stump, 210). An even further analysis of the issue of misinterpretation of Omni benevolence, or false assumptions about God’s nature, is the claim that the deductive argument from evil contains a referential fallacy; presuming that all words refer to existing things and that their meaning lies in what the refer to.
This claim of the unsound nature of the argument asserts that the deductive argument from evil fallaciously assumes the idea of Omni benevolence is defined by existing ideas and worldly concepts of “all good nature”. It is logically possibly, however, that God’s perfect goodness is beyond man’s understanding and cannot be defined by actions or non-actions relating to the evil of this world. Thus leading to the false conviction that God need necessarily eliminate all evil from the world in order to be inherently good. These forms of counter arguments to the deductive explanation of evil’s non-compatibility with God can be refuted.
The following are defenses for the deductive argument that support the primary understanding of God’s Omni benevolence as mandating the elimination of all existing evil. Firstly, Omni benevolence is a description of God’s absolutely good nature and entails that God desires everything that is good. This desire to bring about good things also means a desire to prevent evil things from happening. Hence God’s good nature doesn’t need to necessarily lead to no omission of good actions, but it does lead to the necessary idea that God would mostly want to prevent evil and would do so to fulfill His will and please Himself.
Secondly, an argument based on the idea of Heaven is flawed because the existence of eternal life cannot be proven on Earth. Furthermore this is not a greater good that justifies the reality of evil because it is not tangible and does not coexist with the evil that is on here on Earth, right now. Despite these refutes, the three main arguments against the soundness of Omni benevolence ineluctably meaning the elimination of evil still stand. Firstly, God’s good nature can lead Him to desire good things, yet He may allow evil things on Earth in order to make us understand what is moral and what is immoral.
Without evil then there would be no consequences to immoral actions, therefore no one would be able to distinguish between good or bad (Zacharias, 2013). Moreover, simply because good is correlated with the lack of evil does not necessarily mean good will cause nonexistence of evil. Secondly, heaven need not be a real place, proven by science, in order to posit a valid argument for the existence of God. The argument is that if Heaven exists, then it follows that all evils are justified by this eternal life.
Also, a greater good that justifies evil is not required to be a good that is enjoyed in the present time; it may be a good that is to come. In conclusion, the deductive argument from evil is valid, with a logical conclusion following from the premises posed, but it is unsound in its assumptions of the nature of God – the implication of His traits. It makes a flawed link between the Omni benevolent essence of God’s being and a “necessary” elimination of evil by God. Furthermore, it fallaciously entails both a human conception of “perfect good” and a human understanding of this notion.