If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Ethics: Problem of Evil, Part 1

Part 1 of a trilogy. Greg lays out a classic argument that God does not exist, called ‘The Problem of Evil’. He distinguishes two versions of that argument, which are sometimes called ‘the deductive’ and ‘the evidential’ version. He goes into some details on the deductive version.

Speaker: Dr. Greg Ganssle, Senior Fellow Rivendell Institute, Yale University.
Created by Gaurav Vazirani.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leaf blue style avatar for user Joshua
    Might seem like a stupid question, but from onward, you talk about the different premises, and that if 2 and 9 are true, God cannot exist because it is evil. But how can this be a good enough argument? Is it possible that God just can't eliminate all evil?
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Agent Smith
      The problem with evil is that it produces the following dilemma:
      Either God is not all good OR God cannot eliminate evil
      If God is not all good then well, he's bad too
      If God cannot eliminate evil then, he is not all-powerful
      So the conclusion is God is bad or God is not all-powerful
      This is what logic says about God. Not a pleasant choice.
      (10 votes)
  • female robot ada style avatar for user Aseel Azab-Osman
    i think an important aspect that we fail to include, either intentionally or not, is "ALL WILLING" and also the fact that God is omniscient, means that God sees things in the best and truest light much more than humans do. as for accidents of natures that kill many, well that goes back to what theists believe is the reason for life on earth, it is a test to be followed with punishment or reward. if you do good deeds or die in natural accidents then you should be rewarded with Heaven. similarly, how do we know whether or not some of those who die in natural accidents actually deserve to die. i mean among those killed could criminals, convicts, etc. the whole point about God being omnibenevolent is that nothing God does is done with the intention of malevolence, malice or the likes, but rather that the over final construct of the whole universe from genesis till end is for goodness
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Nick J
      What you are trying to explain when you say, "The fact that God is omniscient, means that God sees things in the best and truest light much more than humans do." is that this god has greater reasoning capabilities about morality than us. We all assume that our reasoning is valid before anything else. To suggest that a god's reasoning is better than our own is a useless claim with no evidence that this god exists in the first place. It is an excuse meant to be an explanation for the bad things we see happening.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Joshthecreator
    So he is saying that because there is evil exists and that you can't see God makes him not real? That goes against a bit of logic and history. History shows that many animals that were thought to be fake like the platypus were real. Many theories of Aristotle were also incorrect, proved many, many years later. If not, then please tell me what he meant.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user supergirl78.dg
      he's not saying that for sure, God can't exist, NO MATTER WHAT, but he's saying that the conclusion that God does not exist is the most rational and logical.
      I can totally see your point, but maybe this will help you see things from an atheist's point of view:
      yes, a platypus was long thought to not be real. but a platypus does not defy logic and contradict itself, it's simply a strange animal.
      (1 vote)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Jonathan Lo Ern Chern
    Hi got a question. Theist here so one can say my view will be biased but I noticed a significant flaw in the words chosen to fulfill premises two. I agree that evil exists however, what does evil define? If evil in the previous video is considered lynching and terrorism, then lets say the person who was lynched decided to go and work out so he wont get lynched next time. That would be good derived from an evil consequence. In addition, who decided to make use the fact that terrorism is bad. I take terrorism as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It is simply the speakers opinion and idea of what Evil means. Good also does not have a very good meaning here and is also not clearly defined. For if we kill all of the Al-Qaeda and ISIS members, than does it not mean that we are hence doing evil in that killing? So what is Evil?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Agent Smith
      The author of the video appeals to the common general understanding of good and bad. Most of us don't have the skills or time to think too deeply on the subject so we have to rely on our world view shaped by experience, religion, culture etc.
      This is the reason why lynching and terrorism were cited as examples. The author assumed rightly that such things would be accepted without question as being evil.
      I guess the author wasn't expecting such opposition from the viewers.
      In my humble opinion ethics is a really controversial subject.
      (2 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Patrick Rivera
    Why is it that philosophers deduce that there can only be one or the other? The principle and fundemental law is that the world is composed of sine waves(opposites). Right and wrong,left and right,on and off, etc. Why would thus be different? They they are opposites and not contradicting.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Agent Smith
      Presence of evil does contradiction the notion of an all-good god.
      Yes, the world is a complex interplay of opposites. But, notice something - if something is hot, it cannot be, at the same time, cold. If it is right, it can't be wrong and vice versa.
      So, if evil exists then god can't be all good and if god is all good, evil can't exist. It can't be that both evil exists and god is all good. At least that's what the argument is saying.
      (2 votes)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Joey Graziano
    Unspoken premise: perhaps evil is permitted by God.
    Unspoken premise: Perhaps evil is a lack of God, That is how you know there is even evil at all.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • marcimus pink style avatar for user chloe  :)
    I agree with learning23p98, we would just be puppets without free will. we disobeyed God and allowed sin to enter the world. God warned us that if we disobeyed the earth would be cursed. But God being holly and good sent his son to save us. If you read revilation it says that in the last days there will be increasing evil and sickness because of the evil people do. And last I want to say that God WILL eliminate all evil, in fact that is the point of christianity! all of revilation states how God will defeat the devil as soon as the last of his children are saved. He will eliminate evil, He is waiting for the last of his people to come to Him.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user tuannb1997
    I suppose BOTH premises 3 and 4 have serious problems. First of all, a wholly good being is not NECESSARILY the one that always attempts to anihilate Evil as far as it can. Take real world the case: how do you know if someone, or something is Pure Evil or simply is negatively affected by Evil. Pure Evil must be destroyed, obviously, but Evil-due-to-Influence may not be. This leads to another question: What is Pure Evil and what is Evil-due-to-Influence ? Little differences are there between these two concepts frankly, so the Wholly Good are unlikely to ALWAYS track down and get rid of the Pure Evil EFFECTIVELY without causing Collateral Damages, which then makes them no longer Wholly Good. Secondly, how we, as mortals, distinguish the Omniscient, Omnipotent among this overcrowded world ? One's unlimited Power and all-knowing Wisdom are the primary causes of Envy and Suspicion from others, hence we neither admit their superiority to us nor consider giving them absolute power due to our own selfishness and distrust. As a result, it is impossible that there are no boundaries to the authority of the Omniscient, Omnipotent being.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Rebekah
    You are saying that God should have destroyed evil before He anything else. What right have you to tell God when He should destroy evil? HE Created us with a free will to obey or disobey Him.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops tree style avatar for user Mr. Wells David
    I feel like this is almost like a paradox. If god is all good then he would get rid of all evil. If god gets rid of all evil, it wouldn't exist. If evil doesn't exist, is good still defined as good? There must be good for there to be evil and visa versa. So to try and say that being all good you would get rid of evil is to say that you could even get rid of it in the first place. What if we don't really understand what all good really means?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, my name is Greg Ganssle, and I'm a part-time lecturer[br]in the Department of Philosophy at Yale University, and a senior fellow at the Rivendell Institute. Today we're going to talk about part of the philosophical problem of evil. The philosophical problem[br]of evil is an argument beginning with facts about evil, leading to the conclusion either that God does not exist, or that[br]it's most likely the case that God does not exist. So first we need to make a distinction. There's what has been[br]called "a deductive," or "the logical problem of evil," and then there's what has been called "the evidential problem of evil". Deductive or logical problem of evil, I like to call "the[br]square circle objection" or "the charge of contradiction." It is an argument that to believe that God exists, and that evil exists, is like believing in square circles. There's a contradiction. The evidential problem, on the other hand, I like to call "the unicorn objection." It is not that there's a contradiction, but it's pretty hard to believe in God in light of facts about evil. Today I'm going to talk about[br]the logical problem of evil, and how theists, or[br]philosophers who believe in God, begin to answer it. So, first we need to look at what is the charge of contradiction. Where is the contradiction found? I'm following a famous paper by a British philosopher named John Mackie who began his argument[br]with a couple of premises. Premise one: God exists,[br]and is wholly good, omnipotent, and omniscient. The second premise is that evil exists. So we have God on the one hand, and evil on the other hand. His aim is to show that these two together entail or lead to a contradiction. He recognizes that the contradiction is not obvious at first. We have to amplify "What does it mean for God to be wholly good,[br]omnipotent, and omniscient?" Once we amplify this, we can see how these premises together[br]lead to a contradiction. In order to amplify this, he[br]adds two additional premises. Premise three: There are no[br]limits to what an omnipotent, omniscient being can do. Premise four: A good[br]being always eliminates or prevents evil as far as it can. That's part of what it[br]means to be a good being. So, Mackie has four premises, and he tries to derive a[br]contradiction from them. We can see pretty clearly[br]that he can succeed. We can take step number five: God can eliminate or prevent[br]all of the evil there is. If premise one is true and God[br]is all-powerful, omnipotent, then he's powerful enough[br]to eliminate all evil. Premise six: God will eliminate or prevent all of the evil that there[br]is, because he is good. If premise one is true[br]and God is wholly good, and premise four is true "a good being always[br]eliminates or prevents evil as far as it can," then step six is true. God will eliminate or prevent all of the evil that he can[br]eliminate because he is good. So from these six steps, we can see that a contradiction follows. If step five and step six are true, then we get the conclusion that God does eliminate[br]or prevent all evil. Well, if God eliminates[br]and prevents all evil, then step eight is true: there is no evil. But the final step, step nine, builds on premise two, the[br]premise that evil exists. And we get a statement "There is evil and there is no evil." And that is the explicit contradiction. Something is wrong with a valid argument that leads to a contradiction. Some premise has to be rejected. John Mackie and other atheists think premise one needs to be rejected. It's not true that God[br]exists and is wholly good, omnipotent, and omniscient. Theists, or philosophers who[br]believe that God does exist, they think the problem is[br]not with the first premise, nor is it with the second premise, because it's pretty[br]obvious that evil exists. Rather, they look carefully[br]at the additional premises, premise three and premise four. Subtitles by the Amara.org community