The Problem of Evil in light of arguments for God’s existence

One way a theist can respond to the evidential problem of evil is to say that we should look at the probability of God existing relative to the total evidence, or the rest of our background knowledge.  In other words, we shouldn’t just look at evil in determining the probability of God existing.

Theist: Maybe the probability of God existing given evil is low. However, this wouldn’t mean that it’s unlikely that God exists given our total evidence. Evil would be just one piece of evidence. We need to look at all the other arguments in favor of God’s existence.

Atheist: Sure, it’s true that just because God’s existence might be unlikely given evil that wouldn’t mean that God’s existence is unlikely give the total evidence. I don’t think that we would have to look at all the arguments in favor of theism, however. For example, I’m not sure how the argument from consciousness or design are relevant to the argument from evil. After all, the being in the argument from evil is all-powerful and all-good. Similarly, what’s the point of using the Leibnezian cosmological argument from contingency? That doesn’t get you to an all-good being.  Likewise, the Kalam cosmological argument doesn’t get you to an all-good being. Perhaps, we should look at most, a lot, or some arguments for God’s existence; however, that doesn’t mean we should look at all arguments in favor of theism.

Theist: I see what you’re saying. Maybe we don’t need to look at all arguments in favor of theism. I might have exaggerated a bit. The design argument doesn’t get you to either an all-powerful nor all-good being, that’s true. But with respect to cosmological type arguments, I think some of them give you good ground for thinking the being is at least all-powerful with respect to the universe if not just an all-powerful being. For example, in the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the creator of the universe would have had to create the universe ex nihilo. I’m not sure how a being can create a universe ex nihilo, unless that being is all-powerful. So while some arguments for theism (with respect to the argument from evil) might not be sufficient on their own to get you to an all-powerful and all-good being, that doesn’t mean they can’t be used in a cumulative case. I can get Omnipotence from certain arguments for God, and then I can get Omnibenevolence from other arguments (like the moral argument or the argument from degree). There are also ontological arguments to where we can get all the Omni attributes from God. And note: an atheist can still run the evidential problem of evil with a being that is really really powerful and really really good. If that’s the case, why would a theist have to conjure up arguments for an Omnipotent/Omnibenevolent being?

Finally, I do grant that arguments like “the argument from reason” and “the argument from consciousness” don’t plausibly get you to an all-powerful and all-good being.

Atheist: Your case looks really hard now. You admit that cosmological type arguments don’t get you to an all-good being, but say you’re running a cumulative case. But now you have even more of a burden (big burden) by taking on multiple arguments and giving multiple reasons to accept more and more premises. I’m not sure this is a better approach than just sticking with one argument: The ontological argument. One of the worries is that hardly any Philosopher takes the ontological argument seriously. That doesn’t mean the ontological argument is false, it just raises worries about the credibility of such an argument if the experts don’t find it convincing. You then conceded that we don’t have to look at every single argument in favor of theism in light of the problem of evil. I’m glad you granted this because it really doesn’t seem like we would have to examine all of them.

You then pointed out that its not obvious that the evidential problem of evil relies on the being in question having to be all-powerful and all-good. That’s true. Maybe and plausibly we can run the problem of evil without those attributes. But, that doesn’t mean I have to run the argument without those Omni attributes. But, if I can run the argument with the Omni attributes, and the theist can’t come up with reasons or arguments for a being with those Omni attributes, then wouldn’t that be a big problem for the theist?


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