Re: The Problem of Good

From: Tom Pearson (
Date: Mon Sep 08 2003 - 12:52:41 EDT

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    At 06:32 PM 9/7/2003 -0500, Steve Petermann wrote:

    >I suggest that the very reason we love those
    >things in life is because the *structure* of life is such that evil is
    >possible. While, of course, evil itself is to be loathed and challenged
    >wherever it is met, life would not be what we want if the potential for evil
    >were not possible.

    This is a familiar argument, whose roots are in Augustine. There are at
    least two substantial problems with this argument.

    The first is that this position essentially contends that evil is really
    good. Since we cannot discern goodness, it is alleged, without the foil of
    evil, evil is necessary for goodness to exist, thereby making evil a good
    thing. (Leave aside the difficulty that this argument confuses epistemic
    concerns with ontological ones). The second problem is that this position
    significantly reduces omnipotence as an attribute of God.

    These two issues reinforce each other. If evil is a *necessary* feature of
    human existence, it suggests that God could not eliminate evil in order to
    produce good. We then have a "logical problem of good" that parallels the
    traditional "logical problem of evil" that has been largely put to rest by
    Alvin Plantinga. But this "logical problem of good" is not so easily
    dispelled. For instance, if evil is simply a contingent feature of human
    existence -- if evil just happens to show up at regular intervals in our
    life -- then we could reasonably ask why God doesn't just remove this
    annoyance. But if evil is a necessary aspect of our existence, then it
    appears God could not have done otherwise but to weave evil into the fabric
    of creation; God had no choice, since evil is a logical necessity. In this
    case, evil becomes a "necessary good." But that means God is impotent to
    craft his creation as he might see fit; God's will is constrained by
    logical necessity. Leibniz and some contemporary philosophers would love
    this, but Christians can't go there.

    It seems to me that to say evil is really good is to deny the reality of
    evil, no matter how often we say evil is to be loathed and
    challenged. However, if evil is indeed real, then even if it allows us to
    recognize and appreciate the good, it is still *evil*, and the original
    problem of evil is not quenched: why would God set up a system that
    requires genuine evil in order to grasp the good? If the answer to that
    question is, "God had to do it that way," then we have eclipsed omnipotence
    as a meaningful attribute of God. That way lies disaster for the Christian

    Tom Pearson

    Thomas D. Pearson
    Department of History & Philosophy
    The University of Texas-Pan American
    Edinburg, Texas

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