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Ethics: Problem of Evil, Part 2

Part 2 of a trilogy. Here, Greg gives a response to the deductive version of the Problem of Evil on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. In thinking about this response, we need to think about whether God can make contradictions true, and whether God can have good reasons for allowing bad things to happen.

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

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  • leaf green style avatar for user Tomasz Stachowiak
    There is no contradiction in a god creating a rock he cannot lift. He simply stops being omnipotent at that moment (with respect to the rock at least). Omnipotence does not mean he has to remain omnipotent for ever. To put it another way: can an omnipotent being stop being omnipotent (possibly by its own wish)? Sure, why not?
    (3 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user rhouts
      "He [an omnipotent god] simply stops being omnipotent at that moment [he creates a rock he cannot lift] (with respect to the rock at least)."

      Tomasz, is it your position that the following two statements are logically inconsistent?

      1. An omnipotent god exists.
      2. An immovable rock exists.

      That is, are you claiming that it's logically impossible for both of those statements to be true at the same time?
      (12 votes)
  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    At the risk of seeing my question answered in a future video, I ask: what good reason could the esteemed Dr. Ganssle give us for the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago which killed so many people including a lot of innocent, or the tsunami in and around the Indian Ocean which did the same, or what about the kidnapped girls in Nigeria? I know Dr. Ganssle tells us that we can not know God's reasons or motives for causing such things to happen. (If theists credit God for good things happening, they must be willing to blame God for bad things.) So please give us your best guess, please.

    As Pavlos argues, dying ain't the same as no candy before breakfast.

    Since Dr. Ganssle is affiliated with the Riverdell Institute: "In 1995 we founded the Rivendell Institute as an affiliate organization here. Since that time we have pursued our mission to explore the intersection of Christian faith and contemporary scholarship as a research institute and study center to serve the spiritual and intellectual interests of the Yale community.", it's no surprise that he argues for the existence of God. What troubles me is that he reframes the argument because the original premises don't work for him. That is among the many problems people face in attempting to posit the existence of a god. If we hold the premises steady, how does he frame his argument (weak as it is) to reach the conclusion that he already knows he will reach?
    (5 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user admin
      Thanks for engaging with content! Just a few thoughts on the nature of these videos in general:

      All of these videos are created as statements of traditional problems. The faculty that are volunteering their time to create this content are doing so to articulate what traditional problems in philosophy have been. Obviously, we recommend you engage with the content (e.g. if you find an argument to be weak because you disagree with a premise then it's great to point out the premise you disagree with and your reasons for doing so). This is very much the goal for the videos. However, you should not infer from the videos to the views of the faculty. Nor should you infer from the videos (which are intentionally created to be simple statements of problems to introduce people to the traditional arguments) that there are not more sophisticated or nuanced versions. In fact, the very same reasons you might have an issue with a premise might very well be the very same reasons a person has a more sophisticated view. We highly recommend that you use these videos as a guide to initial statements of problems and uses these as jumping off points towards greater engagement. One easy place to get a bit deeper into this problem would be the following article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/ Of course, if you are interested in Dr. Ganssle's personal views on these issues then you might consider reading some of his work on the issues. A few links are available through here: http://wi-phi.com/contributor/greg-ganssle. Hope this helps!
      (2 votes)
  • winston baby style avatar for user M
    If God created a boulder he couldn't move:
    He would be all powerful because he could make an immovable rock, but he would also not be all powerful because if he was all powerful, he would be powerful enough to move the rock.
    If he couldn't create a boulder he couldn't move:
    He wouldn't be all powerful because he couldn't make an immovable boulder.
    (Plus the root words for omnipotent are Latin, I learn this because ogni potere is Italian for every power, and Italian is one of the closest modern languages to latin.)
    (3 votes)
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  • piceratops tree style avatar for user silk23p98
    Here is a situation: "You hear a young child screaming for help as he/she is drifting in a fierce river towards a waterfall. You know he/she might die. What do you do?" People would either help the child and the child would very grateful or some might let the child die. The ones that let the child die would feel very bad. Why? There is another question that arises from this situation. Why would the child be grateful to be saved? The answer seems obvious, the child is scared that he will drown or die. Why is he scared to die? If we do not believe a God exists we would be able to answer these questions. Even though everybody dies, we are still scared of death. It is normal, but we are still scared. Why?
    (3 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Hudjefa
      I'm not an expert so I'll try to answer this question as far as I can.
      The will to survive is part of all life. When life is endangered, life resists. In humans it manifests as fear and panic (suicide is a funny thing). This is a simple explanation without God coming into the picture.
      I will accept that belief in a supernatural entity makes death easier (not quite obvious as you can't go around asking dead people about their "experience") but that doesn't make it real.
      A lie can be beneficial but it is still a lie.
      (2 votes)
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user Ravengal101
    I'm agnostic and I felt that the points made in the last video were excruciatingly weak. I'm glad they were revised.
    (3 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hobin
    So the professor said in the video that he did not allow his son to eat candy before breakfast. But he's assuming that that was an evil thing to do? How is that evil? I don't think any rational person would think that not allowing kids to eat candy before breakfast is evil.
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Nicolas Posunko
      Well, I guess he just meant to produce a simple visual example of something that from one person's point of view brings discontentment/disappointment/suffering (minor or not) and from another's something nice. It may be easy to find flaws in some particular example like that, but I think the point was to say there are things like that one could think of—without spending too much time to save it for the more "problematic" steps of the argument.

      In other words, we could take the chid example not literally but rather as a general representation of all situations where people say:
      — I am against this thing!
      — Why? How can you be against it if it's good, because of so-and-so and makes me sad in this way?
      — I am, since it's also bad, because of such-and-such and will benefit you in the long run. It's for the greater good!/It's for your own good!

      Also, in my opinion, you can't differentiate between good or evil just based on the "magnitude" of a given act. I suppose, the professor assumed evil=bringing suffering. And you can have an enormously evil deed, and you can have a very-very minor one. It's just easy to justify that good reason or bad reason, mass-murder looks kind of bad, while denying candy is not "negative at all." But we consider it non-negative, because we know the consequences and the reasoning and of course we understand it's "for one's own good." But the example's just to show someone "upset." And we can imagine, if there was no reason at all to deny the candy in some ideal-candy-paradise where you lived forever and ate candy, that would be a negative ("pro-suffering", "evil") thing to do. It might be very minor, but that's what he wanted to demonstrate—some minor thing like that with positive consequences one wouldn't argue.
      (3 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Susan Jaracz
    So are there philosophers that try to figure this out from a position of not knowing, instead of deciding then arguing to prove their point?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user rayan
    So I used to read this Islamic (eastern) philosophy text some time ago when I was 15. there the argument was that there is no evil. (reject the second premise). Sure there is earth quakes and disease and terrorism and no one can deny that. The rejection goes like this, think of shadow/darkness, a shadow does not have an existence of its own, it is the absence of light, where there is no light shadow is caused. the same principle can be applied the evil. Evil does not have an existence of its own, it is just the absence of good.. the argument was more intricate than this (maybe I should find and revise that text...) but can something that doesn't have an existence of its own still be considered as existing ?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf yellow style avatar for user turtleshell
    Can't premise 1 be broken down further? What if God is not omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent? Losing any one of these properties makes it possible for both God and Evil to exist.
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user Noble Mushtak
      Most modern religions assume God to be an OOO being, so the Problem of Evil does so, too. Combining the assumption of the existence of God and the assumption that God is an OOO being gives the proof makes the proof easier to understand because it shows that the Problem of Evil really only refutes the existence of an OOO being, not all notions of what a God is.

      In this proof, God is only defined as an OOO being and no other properties are attributed to God. To say that God exists, but he is not an OOO being is to simply say that something called "God" exists and really, this "God" could be anything since you haven't described what "God" is. Refuting that God is an OOO being here is to take away the meaning of what "God" is.

      Although there are religions that regard God as not an OOO being, the Problem of Evil simply doesn't aim to refute those notions of God. Thus, breaking Premise 1 up would make the meaning behind the proof harder to understand.

      I hope this helps you understand the Problem of Evil better!

      P.S. An OOO being is a being that is "wholly good, omnipotent, and omniscient."
      (1 vote)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Cole Wyeth
    There are several flaws in this argument, starting with the fact that, around , God is stated to not be able to create contradictions. Alright, great. It makes total sense that nothing can create a contradiction, because believing in something that creates contradictions would be to ignore logic. Except God is apparently omnipotent. Anything omnipotent can make anything happen, even a contradiction, by the definition of omnipotence. But you can't make a contradiction happen, as is established. Therefore, there can't be an omnipotent God, because it creates a contradiction itself. Really, premise 1 or 2 should have been rejected. This isn't a rebuttal to the problem of evil; it actually supports it. I'm not sure that's what Greg wanted, but, you know...
    Secondly, Dr. Greg Ganssle states that there are reasons to allow evil. Honestly, this is far to illogical to even need a rebuttal. It's basically self evident that you shouldn't let evil things happen, because they are wrong. Of course, Gregs response is that evil things must be done, essentially, for the greater good. However, as stated earlier, God is supposed to be omnipotent! That means he can choose to have no evil things happen, and to also support the greater good at the same time, which should be possible, because Greg still wants to believe that this guy is omnipotent.
    A basic example would be that God could give children candy, and then make candy be good for them. Why not? Candy being healthy would not destroy free will. At least, I hope not.. Anyway, free will is not an excuse to let people die. For instance, if someone is being murdered, not stopping the murderer gives the murderer free will at the expense of the other person's life. You don't see the police saying "Gee, I'd love to throw this guy in jail, but he can do whatever he wants, right?" Plus, if someone is dying of illness, it really doesn't hurt anything to cure them. Would you let someone die if you had a cure that could save them? To say it's different for God is really just special pleading, since he's still supposed to be omniscient, so any consequences to saving the person would be, of course, chosen by him.
    Clearly, there is no good reason to allow a bad thing to happen, when you can have it both ways by being omnipotent. There's also nothing you can't do if you are omnipotent, by definition. Honestly, Greg would have a much better argument if he just rejected God's omnipotence. Then it wouldn't really be a god anyway, though.
    Can anyone support Dr. Ganssle's rejection of premises 3 and 4?
    (1 vote)
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    • mr pants teal style avatar for user monkey77
      Omnipotence is usually defined to mean the capacity to either do anything that is logically possible or bring about any possible result. Thus the rock paradox is not actually a paradox. Lifting a rock that cannot be lifted is logically impossible and not a coherent idea, just like a squared circle.
      (1 vote)

Video transcript

(intro music) Hi, my name is Greg Ganssle, and I'm a Senior Fellow[br]at the Rivendell Institute at Yale University. We're discussing the[br]philosophical problem of evil. So in the last lecture, we looked at the philosophical problem of evil and we said that atheists[br]want to deny premise one, that is, "God exists and is omniscient omnipotent, and wholly good", while theists want to investigate the additional premises more carefully. So let us check to see. Are these premises true? So let's look at premise three first: "There are no limits to what an omnipotent, omniscient being can do." Is this true? Well, let's think about it. You've probably heard this question: "Can God make a rock so big[br]that even He can't move it?" What about this: "Can God make a class so boring[br]that even He falls asleep?" These are the kinds of questions some people think are[br]going to be unanswerable. But they boil down to,[br]especially the rock question boils down to, "Can God[br]make contradictions true?" You see, a rock so big[br]that an all-powerful being cannot move it is a contradiction. So the question is, can God[br]make a contradiction true? So let's answer the question[br]"Yes" and let's answer the question "No" and see what happens. "Yes": If God can make contradictions true, then he can make a rock so[br]big that he cannot move it. But then, he can also move[br]it, because he can make the contradiction true that[br]he cannot move the rock and he also can move the rock. So this is not a problem. But what if God cannot do contradiction? Then we will have to say that God cannot make this kind of a rock. It's not something that,[br]as an all-powerful being, He can accomplish. Now traditionally, most[br]theologians and philosophers have understood God's power such that He cannot do contradictions. And it's very important for[br]the atheist to hold this view. Because the atheist[br]wants to have an argument that God does not exist, such[br]as John Mackie's argument. So suppose Mackie has[br]a successful argument: There's a contradiction in believing that God exists and that evil exists. The theist can simply[br]say, "Well, if God can do contradictions, he can make[br]that contradiction true. There is no contradiction that challenges the existence of God." So in order to have any[br]argument against the existence of God at all, we have to[br]assume that God's power does not extend to being able[br]to make contradictions true. So we are going to say that premise three as it stands is false. There are some limits to what[br]an all-powerful being can do. There are logical limits. God cannot draw a square circle. God cannot make a rock[br]so big He cannot move it. These are contradictions. So we need to rewrite premise three. We'll call it "Three*": There are no non-logical limits to what an omnipotent,[br]omniscient being can do. This has a chance of being true. So we've revised premise three;[br]let's look at premise four. Premise four: "A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can." This too turns out to be false. Often, a good parent[br]allows evil and suffering into her child's life even[br]if she could eliminate it. In our family, we had a very[br]strict rule that the children were not allowed to eat[br]candy before breakfast, and sometimes this caused distress. But we knew we had a good reason to allow this kind of suffering. It didn't make us bad parents. So we have to revise premise[br]four as well. Four*: A good being always eliminates[br]evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it. This has a chance of being true. So the theist says, "We need[br]to revise those two premises. Let's plug them back into our argument and see if we can still[br]get a contradiction." Premise one remains the same. Premise two remains the same. Evil exists. Premise three*. "There are no non-logical limits to what an omnipotent being can do." Premise four*. "A good being always eliminates[br]evil as far as it can, unless it has a good reason to allow it." >From these four, we can[br]go through the steps. Statement five is actually going to be statement five* now: God can eliminate all the evil that it's logically possible to[br]eliminate. Statement six becomes statement six*: God will eliminate all[br]the evil He can eliminate because He is good, unless He[br]has a good reason to allow it. >From statement five* and statement six*, we get statement seven*: God eliminates all the evil[br]He logically can eliminate, unless He has a good reason to allow it. Statement eight*: There[br]is evil and there is no evil, unless God has a good reason to allow it. And this is not a contradiction. So what the theists have recognized is that if it's possible that[br]God has a good reason to allow evil, there is no contradiction in claiming that God[br]exists, God is wholly good, all-powerful, all-knowing,[br]and yet evil exists. Could it be that God has a[br]good reason to allow evil, but we don't have to[br]know what His reasons are for any particular evil? There are some things that[br]have come up as suggestions for why God might allow some[br]of the evils we encounter. First, human freedom. Many philosophers believe[br]that if God allows us to be free in a significant[br]way, then He cannot determine that we always choose what's right. That would be a contradiction: a determined action that's free. Secondly, many people[br]think that the regularities in the universe require the possibility of natural evils such as[br]drownings and burnings. It's the very same properties[br]of water that make it biologically useful that make[br]it possible for us to drown. If we're going to have a regular[br]cause and effect universe, we need to have a stable world. These might be some of the reasons that God allows evil in the world. We don't know His particular reasons. So the charge of[br]contradiction is the charge that there is a contradiction[br]between the existence of God and the existence of evil. We've shown that there's[br]probably no contradiction. If God can have a reason to allow evil, then the argument has been answered. Of course, this leads to[br]the next problem of evil called "the evidential problem." But that's for another day. Subtitles by the Amara.org community