Polytheism: the view that there are multiple gods, perhaps in some kind of hierarchy, but not necessarily.

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1 Handout: God and the Problem of Evil Important Terms Theism: the view that there exists a personal god or gods. A theist is a person who believes in the existence of some kind of personal god or gods. A theist maintains that something (whether it is evidence found in the world, logical arguments, or pure faith) counts in favor of believing in God. (Note: we use the term theism to refer to the class of views that affirm the existence of some kind of personal God or gods. As such, it is a more general term that picks out monotheistic views (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, some forms of Hinduism, at least a couple of versions of Buddhism) as well as polytheistic views (some forms of Hinduism, the Greek pantheon, etc.). But most people who believe in the existence of some kind of personal God or gods are not simply theists, they are Jewish theists, or Christian theists, or Muslim theists, etc.; that is, they believe in the existence of a particular version of God or the gods.) Atheism: is the rejection of belief in a personal god or gods, which generally includes a rejection of all spiritual realities as well. An atheist is a person who believes in the nonexistence of God (of any kind). The atheist denies that there is anything that counts in favor of belief in God, or more strongly, believes that there is in fact evidence that counts strongly in favor of not believing in God. Agnosticism: the view that there is not enough evidence to support either belief in the existence of God, or belief in the non-existence of God. An agnostic is a person who does not claim to believe that God exists (the theistʼs evidence is inconclusive), or to believe that God does not exist (the atheistʼs evidence is inconclusive). Monotheism: the view that there is only one exclusive divine being (God). (Exclusive means here that monotheistic belief excludes, as impossible, the existence of any other gods than one.) Polytheism: the view that there are multiple gods, perhaps in some kind of hierarchy, but not necessarily. Henotheism: the view that there are many gods, but there is one absolute/supreme God that is responsible for the creation of the other gods. Pantheism: the view that all of reality (the universe) is God. God and the universe are co-extensive. Panentheism: the view that God includes both a transcendent and personal aspect (spirit/mind), as well as an immanent aspect (matter - the entirety of the universe.) Non-Theism: the view that there is a spiritual reality of some kind, but that it is nonpersonal. 1

2 Defining God For the purposes of this class we will focus exclusively on one influential way of understanding God: the classical, western, monotheistic view of God. According to this understanding of the nature of God, there can be only one exclusive and absolute divine being the existence of more than one God is impossible. In the orthodox views of the three main western monotheistic religious traditions Judaism, Christianity and Islam God necessarily has a very specific nature (otherwise the being in question would not count as being God). In classical theism the nature of God could be expressed as the sum of all perfections. This means that God has every good attribute to the nth degree, and lacks any attribute that would imply limitation, or defect. For example: knowledge is a good thing. It is good to have knowledge. God must have knowledge. Moreover, God must have all knowledge, otherwise Godʼs knowledge would not be perfect. Thus, God is omniscient (all-knowing). On the other hand, being dependent on something is seen as an imperfection. Humans are dependent on all kinds of things: we require a certain kind of atmosphere to continue living, we can only live within a fairly narrow range of temperatures, we need to eat, drink, etc., we only come into existence through the existence of other humans (our parents). Any being that depends on something else for its existence (in any way) is less than fully perfect, so God must not depend on anything for Godʼs existence. Thus, God is independent and self-subsistent. In classical theism, God is said to have (at least) these attributes: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, omnipresence, eternality or everlastingness (there is a difference and this is a disputed matter within theism), simplicity (no parts), immortality, independence, self-subsistence, impassibility, immateriality, and immutability. Importantly, classical theism maintains that, as the absolute and unconditioned being, God has always existed and is the creator of everything else that exists, or has existed. The Problem of Evil Logical Version The logical problem of evil is an argument against the existence of God, or against the rationality of belief in the existence of God. The argument maintains that Godʼs existence, given certain claims about Godʼs nature, is incompatible with the existence of evil. This means that, since evil seems to be an obvious fact about the world, it is both impossible that God exists, and it is irrational to believe that God exists. The argument works by claiming that the theist believes two contradictory claims: (1) God exists, and (2) Evil exists. 2

3 Of course, it is not immediately obvious why these two claims are contradictory. They are not contradictory in the overt way that these claims are: (a) Mike was born in Pittsburg, and (b) Mike was not born in Pittsburg. Or: (c) My current car is a Ford, and (d) My current car is not a Ford. These claims have the form of p and not-p and are overt contradictions. Both claims cannot be true at the same time and in the same way of the same thing. (We are not talking about two different guys named Mike, one of whom was born in Pittsburg, the other of whom was born in Boston; or of two different cities named Pittsburg, one in Pennsylvania, the other in Montana. We are talking about the same guy and the same city, and the event of physical birth.) So, the proponent of the logical problem of evil argument must be claiming that God exists and Evil exists are contradictory in a concealed way, like: (e) Mike is a married bachelor. This is a contradictory claim because bachelor just means unmarried male, so Mike is a married bachelor amounts to the claim that: (f) Mike is married and Mike is unmarried. This claim has the form of p and not-p, and is an overt contradiction. So what is concealed contradiction is involved in the claim that God exists and Evil exists? If we go back to our classical conception of God we see that the contradiction arises with these claims: (1) God exists (a) God is omnipotent (b) God is omniscient (c) God is omnibenevolent (perfectly benevolent and good) (d) God is the creator of everything that exists, and (2) Evil exists. 3

4 The proponent of the problem of evil claims that: (A) Omnipotence entails that there are no limits to what God can do. (B) Omniscience entails that there is no truth that God does not know. (C) Omnibenevolence entails that God would be motivated to do all that can be done to prevent or eliminate evil. Thus, the problem of evil argument claims that: If God exists, then since God is omniscient there is no evil that God does not know about, and since God is omnipotent there is no evil that God cannot prevent or eliminate, and since God is omnibenevolent he would be motivated to prevent or eliminate any and all evil. Put simply: if God is motivated to prevent or eliminate evil, and cannot fail to know when and where evil exists, and has the power to do whatever God is motivated to do, then evil should not exist. But evil does exist, so it is inconsistent (and irrational) to believe that God exists. The existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God (so defined). If evil exists, God cannot exist. What is Evil? For the purposes of the current problem we will work with the idea that evil is undeserved (or gratuitous) suffering or pain suffering or pain that does not serve, or lead to, any greater good. Many people believe that at least some of the pain and suffering in the world is deserved, as just punishment for moral wrongdoing. There are questions to be raised about this claim, but for now, we will focus on pain and suffering that seems to be undeserved. In discussing the problem of evil, we make a distinction between two types of evil, both of which raise distinct problems for theism: (1) Moral Evil: pain, suffering, and bad states of affairs that are brought about through the morally wrong actions of agents (human or otherwise), and (2) Natural Evil: pain, suffering and bad states of affairs that are not brought about through human agency, but rather, are the product of natural events (earthquakes, cancer, mosquitos) The Problem of Evil Evidential Version The evidential problem of evil differs from the logical problem of evil in this way: the logical problem of evil aims to show that the claims God exists and Evil exists are logically inconsistent. That is, it is impossible for both evil and God to exist, and it is irrational to believe that both God and evil exist. The evidential problem of evil aims to show that the existence of evil provides strong evidence against the existence of God. That is, it is not impossible that both God and evil exist, and the theist is not guilty 4

5 of irrationality in believing that both God and evil exist, but the evidence provided by evil makes it highly implausible that God exists, and makes belief in God unreasonable. The difference between the logical problem and the evidential problem comes down to the difference between two sets of concepts: irrational and unreasonable, and impossible and implausible. If Bob claimed to believe one of the contradictory claims listed earlier, such as Mike is a married bachelor or My car is a Ford and My car is not a Ford, we wouldnʼt know what to make of that belief. We might wonder if Bob really understands the meaning of the words used, or wonder if heʼs trying to be clever, or is using the words in equivocal ways. But if we determine that Bob understands that bachelor just means unmarried male, and nevertheless claims to believe that Mike is both married and unmarried, and we rule out the possibility that Bob is trying to be cute (what heʼs really trying to express is that Mike is married, but he still runs around like a single guy going on dates, etc.), and heʼs not trying to express amazement ( I just canʼt believe that Mike, of all people, the consummate single guy, got married!!!),then the only conclusion we can make is that Bob is irrational. He (apparently) believes a contradiction. But note how this differs from another kind of case. Suppose that Bob approaches you and offers to bet you that a tossed coin will come up heads one hundred times in a row. He allows you to pick the coin guaranteeing that it will be a normal fair coin allows you to pick the place where the flipping will occur guaranteeing that he is not using magnets or some other means to control the coin and allows you to do the actual flipping guaranteeing that there is no secret coin-flipping skill involved. Now, it is not impossible that the coin will come up heads one hundred times in a row, but it is highly unlikely, or implausible, that it will do so. That Bob believes that the coin will come up heads one hundred times in a row, is not irrational, strictly speaking, but it is highly unreasonable. You should take the bet. The evidential problem of evil is like this last case. The argument is that, given all of the evil we see in the world, it is just not plausible that God exists, and belief in God is not reasonable. 5

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