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 3

Part 3 of a trilogy. Greg considers the evidential version of the Problem of Evil, and gives a response on behalf of someone who believes that God exists. This involves considering whether God might have a good reason to allow bad things to happen.

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

Want to join the conversation?

  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Erin (Hexaflexagon!)
    What is a carbon-14 atom?

    I know what an atom is, but I've never heard of a carbon-14 atom.
    (4 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Insert Name Here
      There are more than 300 types of atoms (called isotopes), divided into roughly 118 categories (called elements). In these categories, each atom has the number of a particle called a proton. There is also another type of particle called a neutron, and the sum of the number of protons and neutrons is called the atomic mass. Carbon is one of those categories, and has 15 isotopes. Each of the isotopes has 6 protons, but the number of neutrons varies from 2 to 16. One harmlessly radioactive isotope (it's in you right now) has 8 neutrons for an atomic mass of 14. Therefore, it is a carbon-14 atom.
      (6 votes)
  • aqualine seedling style avatar for user sadiemurray1997
    At like (argument about the deer + the fire) couldn't you simply say that fire is part of the natural world such as mass extinction in evolution?

    God allows suffering a death, plus the ultimate idea that life on earth is temporary - it is not your real or eternal life therefore the evils suffered on this earth or existence are similarly not real or at least not evil?

    Basically, there's a bunch of explanations that jumped to mind to explain the fire as a rational evil. Secondly, what definition of evil are you working off? It seems to be just "bad things" which is something that seems off and flawed to me.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • male robot hal style avatar for user Darth Jetsooth
      "couldn't you simply say that fire is part of the natural world such as mass extinction in evolution? "

      This has to do with the assumption of a God that created that 'natural world' and its laws, so it all goes back to God.

      "God allows suffering a death, plus the ultimate idea that life on earth is temporary - it is not your real or eternal life therefore the evils suffered on this earth or existence are similarly not real or at least not evil?"

      In this case laws and morals, any effort at all is not real as well. We might simply kill ourselves and spare us the suffering...

      "Secondly, what definition of evil are you working off? It seems to be just "bad things" which is something that seems off and flawed to me"

      The deer example is very clear. Suppose you were God, would you allow even one innocent being to die, no matter what "ultra-mega-super divine plane you wanna put into motion?

      Cause if I needed to keep my God-hood throne based on such a condition (i.e. killing even one innocent being ), I'd file my resignation...
      (2 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user yvillettaz
    How do you know that it is god that is doing evil
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Sofia
    About the argument for the deer and fire, it could be an unjustified evil, but maybe not. A reason I've come up with would be a cause-and-effect universe, as well as free will. If humans had found the deer in the forest, they might nurse it back to health after the days in the blaze, therefore, free will. Or, if the deer was still trying to survive, there would be free will.
    Does anyone else have any other ideas?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Cole Wyeth
    Isn't the obvious flaw in the counter argument that we can actually pretty much prove that there is no reason to allow evil to happen?
    1. When something evil happens, it is bad.
    2. An omnipotent being could make evil things NOT happen.
    3. Bad things not happening is preferable to bad things happening.
    4. It would be preferable if an omnipotent being were to make evil not happen (as opposed to not making evil not happen).
    Of course, the counter argument that one bad thing not happening causes other bad things or prevents good things makes sense, but an omnipotent being could prevent these bad things (good things could be defined as the absence of bad things, or vice versa, if the argument went the other way around).
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf green style avatar for user Marc Paulusma
      I don't agree with you on 1. Only you losing a 100 pounds is directly connected to diabetes (evil). You got a black belt in martial arts and studied philosophy and the bible because you chose that yourself. Diabetes created a vacuum in your life which you chose to fill in with philosophy studies, diabetes did not do that for you or made you any better at it. So in this case evil is still bad only you saw the opportunity to change it in something good.
      (1 vote)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Andrew Moser
    The problem of evil from the assumption of a Christian God is interesting (although clearly biased), whereas I sincerely wish to hear a postmodernist critique of this video series!
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user ded
    whats that article by William Roe called?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine seed style avatar for user Joan Ignasi Vicente Selvas
    Did you realize this? In this video this can be seen very clear. We are making conditions to the existence of God but we do not apply any condition to the existence of Evil. Evil is obvious... Nothing for me is obvious! Other could say the existence of God is obvius with the same logic that you say Evil is obvious to eventually tell Evil does not exist.

    A good reason? A bad reason?

    I think a reason is a reason even in the context of ethics.

    May be this ethics principles are like a fish which is eating his own tail?
    (0 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Moe
      The problem is, we can actually determine whether there is an elephant in the room, or a particular atom present, even if we don't see them, using various scientific technologies (such as infrared light, or a carbon-14 detector). There is a way to establish clearly whether these things are or are-not present. One could examine the likelihood of presence logically without instruments (there might be an elephant in the room, for instance, if you're in a large enclosure near an elephant habitat), but we can still factually determine, without a doubt, whether these things are or are-not there. Putting aside speculation about evil and the reasons for its existence-- there's no way to empirically prove that God exists. He remains as real as a Unicorn.
      (1 vote)
  • leaf orange style avatar for user Randy
    An all powerful god could simply reverse the arrow of time at the end of her experiment and undo all events back to the big bang. Wouldn't this solve the problem of theodicy?

    (0 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. And today we're talking about the philosophical problem of evil. In previous discussions,[br]we've seen the charge of contradiction or the deductive logical problem of evil discussed. And this is the claim that[br]there is a contradiction in asserting that God[br]exists, God is wholly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing,[br]and that evil exists. The solution to this charge[br]of contradiction, we found, was in the idea that God might have[br]a good reason to allow evil. A good God can allow evil if[br]He has a good reason to do so. It's from this point that[br]the second major argument in the philosophical[br]problem of evil begins. This is the evidential argument. Rather than "the charge of contradiction," I like to call this "the unicorn[br]objection." Just like a unicorn might exist but they're awfully hard to find, this argument starts with[br]the idea that maybe God has a reason to allow the evil we witness, but it sure seems like there[br]is no reason out there. So let me see if I can make[br]this a little more rigorous. I'm following an important[br]paper that was published by philosopher William Rowe in 1979. This argument goes something like this[br](and I'm going to simplify). Premise one: There are unjustified evils in the world. Premise two: If God exists, there will be no unjustified evils in the world. Conclusion: Therefore, God does not exist. Let me clarify a few things before I try to give a bit of an answer. So, what is an unjustified evil? An unjustified evil is an evil where there is no good reason to allow it. No good being would allow this evil if he could prevent it. The argument is that there are cases of evil like this in the world, and if there are, then God does not exist. Now, notice the way I set up the argument, it's actually a valid deductive argument. So why would we call this[br]an evidential argument? The answer is the first premise, "There are unjustified[br]evils," can only be supported with an evidential case. We cannot argue that, beyond[br]the shadow of a doubt, there are unjustified evils. We have to weigh the[br]evidence, pro and con, for the claim that there[br]are unjustified evils. So let's begin to do that. Well, William Rowe in his[br]article tells a story of a deer who's caught in a forest[br]fire and suffers horribly for four or five days before she dies. And he points out that in the[br]case of suffering like this, we cannot see any reason that[br]God might have to allow it. It looks like an unjustified evil. And we can go through and look at some of the standard reasons God[br]might have to allow evils and show that they don't[br]seem to apply in this case. For example, human free[br]will seems to be irrelevant especially if the fire[br]was caused by lightning. Secondly, the fact that it's a good thing to have a regular cause and effect world doesn't seem to apply,[br]because God could always end the deer's misery without[br]really interfering with the regularities of the world. So here's a case that looks[br]like an unjustified evil. How is a theist going to respond? Well, another philosopher named Steven Wykstra begin this way. He said, "We're looking for a reason that God could have to allow this evil," or "We're looking for what we could call a justifying reason." And William Rowe's argument[br]goes something like this. First: It doesn't seem like[br]there's a justifying reason. Secondly: Therefore, probably there is no justifying reason. And that's the kind of reasoning that's supporting premise one. The evidence we bring[br]to bear to premise one is that, as much as we think[br]about it, we cannot discern a justifying reason, so it[br]seems like there is none. Then we conclude not[br]that there definitely is no justifying reason, but[br]that it's likely, or probably there is no justifying reason. And then our conclusion becomes[br]"Probably, there is no God." Now what Steve Wykstra does with this is he thinks hard about this inference from "It seems like there[br]is no justifying reason" to "Probably, there is no justifying[br]reason." I'm oversimplifying his case quite a bit, but it's as if he's making this claim. Sometimes inferences of that kind are very strong and[br]sometimes they're very weak. So here's some examples. Look around the room. It seems like there are no[br]live elephants in the room. Therefore, probably there are[br]no live elephants in the room. That seems to be a[br]pretty strong inference. What about this one? Look around the room again. It seems like there are no[br]carbon-14 atoms in the room. Therefore, probably there are[br]no carbon-14 atoms in the room. Well that doesn't seem like[br]a very strong inference, even if you look around the room twice. What is the difference? The difference can be captured[br]in the sentences of the form "If there were a ____, we would probably know it." Now we'll take the first case. "If there were a live elephant in the[br]room, we would probably know it." That is true. You look around the room, and a live elephant is something[br]you're going to notice. If the room is small[br]enough, there aren't a lot of large objects a live[br]elephant could hide behind. So it's a very strong inference. But think about the carbon-14 atom. "If there were a carbon-14 atom in the[br]room, we would probably know it." That turns out to be false. You cannot detect tacarbon-14 atom simply by glancing around the room. So sometimes these inferences are strong and sometimes they're weak. Now let's go back to Rowe's argument. What is it with which[br]he fills in the blank? A justifying reason. A reason God could have[br]to allow this evil. So we look at a particular case of evil. And we asked the question "If there were a justifying reason,[br]would we probably know it?" If the answer to that question is "Yes," then Rowe's argument is strong. If the answer is "No," then it's weak. Let me tell you why I think it's weak. First of all, if God[br]exists, we would expect that many of His reasons for[br]doing things are going to be stuff that we cannot figure out. Secondly, we can figure[br]out reasons God might have for lots of the evils in the world: things due to free will, due to cause-and-effect universe. There are lots of evils that we encounter where we can figure out what[br]a justifying reason might be. Third thing: every philosopher recognizes that we're not going to[br]be able to figure out God's reasons in every case. So we all accept the idea[br]that there are many cases we can figure out and there are many cases we shouldn't be able to figure out. The question is, are there[br]too many cases of that kind? And this is where the disagreement is. I think, if you have other[br]reasons to think God exists, then you're in good grounds for saying that this argument is not strong, because the number of cases we cannot figure out is[br]not necessarily so great to render existence of God unlikely. This is one of those cases where both the theist and the atheist can say that the other side can be perfectly rational[br]in their beliefs. It's a matter of assessing[br]the evidence differently. In fact, in Rowe's article[br]where he first put forward this argument, he makes this point. He says he thinks it's[br]perfectly reasonable for a theist to continue to believe in God even in spite of this argument. So we've looked at the[br]evidential argument from evil, simply one version of it by William Rowe. And I've explained how[br]a theist can respond, to see whether it's still[br]reasonable to believe in God. Of course, many philosophers have launched different versions of this argument which are more complicated and perhaps more difficult to answer. Subtitles by the Amara.org community