Adam I. Gerard

Another Reply to the Argument from Evil

The following argument has proven both interesting and vexing to many theologians and philosophers. I'd like to offer my own opinion (and what might be a fairly original argument).

The Argument from Evil

The following argument gets its name from an ancient/archaic naming convention where the gist or main point of an argument is identified as the origin or starting place of the resulting conclusion (occasionally since the argument gets refined during the process).

It's also often called The Problem of Evil (as a general topic and argument name). Reprised from Mackie:

  1. God is defined as being all-powerful, all good, and all-knowing. (Omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, pure good or The Good.)
  2. If God is all-powerful, God can eliminate or prevent all evil (or evil deeds).
  3. If God is all-knowing, God knows about or foresees all evil (or evil deeds).
  4. If God is all good, God desires to eliminate or prevent all evil (or evil deeds) and would do so.
  5. But there is evil in the world.
  6. Therefore, there is no God.

I've slightly simplified the argument so make sure to read over the great Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article if you're interested. The article has a great summary of attempted refutations or replies.

The argument can be slightly reformulated into a weaker variant that targets Christian conceptions specifically.

Plantinga’s Free Will Defense

I think it used to be the case that Plantinga’s Free Will Defense was the most widely accepted reply:


I'm not sure if this is presently the case. I want to pick apart one such formulation of the argument (setting aside other arguments or formulations). (Special thanks to Heimir Geirsson for what I consider to be the clearest, crispest, presentation of the argument - he was a great mentor to me and is an influential contributor to the whole debate!)

It establishes that in some modal logic frames, God is both present with Free Will and that the presence of Free Will cannot be present without there also being evil - the primary aim being to show that the Argument from Evil is invalid.

In other words, it’s possible that God can't create both a world in which there’s Free Will and where there is no evil.

Some personal criticisms of his argument:

  1. Mere possibility is strictly less than actuality and given standard treatments of modal logic systems also makes the argument only a second-order modality.
  2. The argument doesn’t establish that such a possible world is local or near us in any way.
  3. It doesn’t determine that such a world is anything like ours.
  4. It doesn’t determine the statistical probability of such a world being the one we’re in versus all total possibilities.
  5. Furthermore, thinkers tend to identify properties of God as being necessary ones and this would seem to make creation properties contingent.

We might also ask why God, given their omniscience (with a nod here to the very inspiration of such - full understanding of all possibilities - that led to modal logic semantics in the first place per Leibniz and Kripke) would choose to create such a world over one in which there is both Free Will but in which there is no evil.

Despite these criticisms, Plantinga's defense remains one of the most interesting, technically-informed, and viable defenses of theism (also one of the only ones in modern discourse) in the face of multiple attacks on various conceptions of God or the divine.

Beyond 'God' (the Concept)

My reply. In two steps:

  1. The theist accepts the conclusion of the Argument from Evil.
  2. The theist successfully argues that the absence of any object falling under the predicate 'God' (or being identified as such) is irrelevant.

To draw this move out more clearly, we consult the formulation of Mackie's argument given in LaFollette's article. It concludes: "God, so described, does not exist." (on pp. 124). The theist accepts that this description does not obtain or accurately describe the relevant notion of divinity. However, the theist further maintains that such a description is irrelevant anyway.

In short, the theist can counter-intuitively accept that there is no God [no object falls under that predicate 'God'], maintaining that the relevant notion of the divine is something beyond [the concept of] God.

The First Step:

  1. 'God' as a concept is contradictory, approximate, and incomplete.

In fact, it is widely admitted by almost all major religions that this is the case (e.g. that human limitations render such conceptions as admittedly crudely and inaccurately representational).

In other words, that our human understanding of the divine is partly accurate, often not, and incomplete - that some part of God is known or knowable and the rest not or impossible to understand.

  1. Therefore, there are no beings that fall under the contradictory predicate ‘God’ (or that are identified as such).

The Second Step:

  1. But, there is a 'Highest Being' (as a matter of logical necessity whether there are two or more, or not).
  2. And, this 'Highest Being' overlaps any definition or conception that exceeds our word, term, conception, representation, or idea of ‘God’. (Beyond 'God'.)

The theist can rest easy and stop there having blunted the thrust of the argument. Even if the Argument from Evil is true, it's irrelevant to religious belief and divinity since 'God' is not the relevant concept anyway.

Such a move is justified by the observation above (that almost all religions and all the ones relevant for the line of attack by Mackie) accept that 'God', the 'divine', the 'almighty', etc. is unknowable (in part).

As a matter of logic, even if two properties are contradictory, their being subsumed into higher properties does not entail a further contradiction. (Simple scenario: I can't share more than one apple if I have only one apple. I can share more than one apple if I have many apples. So, lower-level property definitions being mutually exclusive or seemingly in contradiction does not entail those higher-level ones are as well.)

The theist can also move the ball forward just a bit. They can further advance the argument a tad:

  1. Such a definition that goes beyond the contradictory concept ‘God’ would itself be non-contradictory (presumably the only imperfection in that definition) whatever the new definition might be.

Here, the theist leverages indeterminate reference (singular or not) to block the intent and main thrust of the Argument from Evil (ridding the world of a divine spark). They have not shown that there is a God (they have denied as such) but they've asserted and created the groundwork for the actual, relevant, conception (although what that amounts to remains to be seen) and can justifiably dismiss the Argument from Evil as a red-herring.

Note that 5. does not depend on the concept of 'Highest Being' and that separating these two concepts (and further refining the nature of their overlap) provides the theist with increased flexibility in resisting future attacks similar to the Argument from Evil.

The reply above should apply to the whole class of arguments (that involve the use of the word 'God').

I am not a theist - however, I see the move above as a shield to block the thrust of undue Atheism. The theist can nullify the attack of Atheism but has yet to prove the existence of God or any higher being.

Humorously, one may accept the [uh] Death of God here (meaning the end of that concept or way of talking here [LOL]) but maintain the existence of some perfectly divine being(s). This is Hegelian since it sublimates the Death of God with a repudiation of Atheism. It's also somewhat Nietzschean since this transcends the theologian's primitive notions of 'Good' and 'Evil' (as being grounded in the concept of 'God' - there is still, I think, objective morality).

See also: Supersentience.

Similar Lines of Reply

I recently learned that Leibowitz has a similar and compelling Kantian reply.


  1. He distinguishes between the errant, incomplete, or inaccurate conception of God (the God-of-religion) and the actual, noumenal, God.
  2. The Problem from Evil and most theological concerns then regard only the former and would preserve the latter unscathed.


  1. Leibowitz nevertheless relies on two conceptions of the divine:

i. The conception of God as described and used in religion/human thought.

ii. The conception of God as a noumenal object.

iii. The latter conception attempts to transcend human thinking (and results in something less than the noumenal - simply another concept) and runs afoul of common arguments against Kantian systems.

iv. I don't argue along Kantian lines and simply accept the thesis of many religions at face value - that the divine is partly or fully unknowable. That is, that the God-of-religion is not correctly captured in the theologian's vernacular in the first place.

  1. I argue that two contradictory sub-concepts can demonstrably be subsumed into two higher non-contradictory concepts providing a logical justification for the move (independent of Kantian presumptions).

i. The simple example described above demonstrates this: e.g. - via Cohen Forcing of a contradictory or inconsistent model to one that is model proper via extension.

ii. Consider also the Liar Paradox which I have so resolved in the same method.

  1. I argue from a largely ecumenical standpoint surveying the multiplicity of religions and not just those that are Judeo-Christian.

Despite these differences in argumentation, we appear to agree that the Problem from Evil can be nullified - we differ in methodology, scope, and justification.