A Response to David Johnson’s logical argument from natural evil

The problem of evil is seen as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, obstacles to believing in the traditional concept of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good. The logical argument from evil argues that it is impossible for God and evil to both exist.[1] The logical argument from natural evil is a sub-set of the logical argument that attempts to show that it is impossible for both God and natural suffering to exist. In this paper, we will be exploring the logical argument from natural evil as proposed by David Johnson who says that Plantinga has misunderstood the problem because of what we now know about the laws of nature from contemporary science: we will see whether Johnson succeeds in his argument. My aim is to argue that David Johnson does not successfully show that natural evil/natural disasters is logically incompatible with the existence of God even with his supposed reformulation or clarification of the argument from natural evil. I will argue that he does not successfully show this by raising multiple objections by proposing a few logically possible states of affairs that demonstrate that the proposition, “God and natural suffering/disasters both exist” is not necessarily false (a contradiction), and I will then be responding to potential replies to my objections.

The traditional logical argument from natural suffering argues that the existence of any natural evil disproves the existence of God beyond any doubt. Examples of the obvious existence of natural evil include things such as cancer, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Plantinga has a response to the logical argument from natural evil/suffering. Plantinga says that it is logically possible that demons or supernatural beings are responsible for natural evil by the power of their freewill. Because of this, natural evil can be seen as being moral evil itself.[2] Nevertheless, Johnson’s paper is about how Plantinga has not solved the problem of natural evil because there is another way of understanding natural evil that has to deal with what we now know about natural evil/disasters given the laws of nature.

As of right now, there has only been one person who has responded to Johnson’s paper, and that person is James Sennett. Sennett’s objection utilizes skeptical theism to try to undermine Johnson’s argument.[3] However, it is not clear how skeptical theism would work for Johnson’s argument because Johnson’s logical argument from natural suffering is focused on the existence of natural disasters, not seemingly gratuitous disasters. As Johnsons explains, skeptical theism does not actually solve the problem for the theist because Johnson’s argument is about logical possibility, so the theist needs a different objection. The crucial point is this: the logical argument from natural suffering/disasters does not rely on a no-see-um inference, which is what skeptical theism is all about; rather, Johnson is just noting the obvious fact that natural disasters exist. Moreover, Sennett shockingly does not say anything about the logical impossibility of God creating the laws of nature and the relation of those laws to natural disasters, which is the main point in Johnson’s argument!   Sennett missing this point is one reason why Sennett thinks skeptical theism will somehow work against Johnson’s argument. My paper here will be offering my own original objections and not the skeptical theist objection that Sennett endorses. My paper will be focused on a rebutting defeater to Johnson’s argument by way of logical possibility, not an undercutting defeater by way of epistemic possibility, which is what Sennett was at least trying to do.

Johnson notes that Plantinga grants that instances of things like cancer or hurricanes, what we call natural suffering, is really moral evil at the end of the day. Johnson responds by saying that means natural evil really is not natural evil at all but moral evil.[4] Johnson says this does not really solve the problem of natural evil because the evil is really moral.

Johnson then forms a supposed new argument that really is “natural evil”, specifically focusing on natural disasters, that is not the result of free creatures such that Plantinga or the theist is not off the hook yet because this argument from natural evil is supposed to point out that this new way off understanding natural evil cannot be reconciled with free beings, but rather the laws of nature itself. Given modern day science, we allegedly know how how natural suffering comes about because of the laws of nature; but how could an all-good, all-powerful being set the laws of nature this way and still be all-good?


Johnson gives examples of the problem as follows:


It took a while for these explanations to mature, and some have only done so recently, but it was eventually discovered that tornados are the result of a complex interplay between cool, dry air and warm, moist air in thunderstorms, that earthquakes are the result of tectonic plates slipping and releasing vast amounts of energy that build up as they press together, that hurricanes are the result of (roughly put) water vapor hovering over low pressure areas in the ocean, and that diseases and mental disorders are the works of viruses, germs, genetic anomalies, chemical imbalances and brain injuries. Thus, these calamities and adversities began to be viewed, truly, as “natural disasters”— disasters that were the result of the workings of the newly discovered natural laws that govern the way the matter of our universe behaves….Illness could no longer be understood as something that was caused by demons or evil spirits, and neither could meteorological disturbances….tornados most often form in the American Midwest, earthquakes happen over fault lines, hurricanes always form over oceans, diseases happen after exposure to a virus or bacteria, and mental disorders appear after brain injuries. In addition, the idea that God directs natural disasters, once formed, to punish the sinful also became unpalatable. It is tempting to think, when someone you don’t like has their house flattened by a tornado, that God is punishing them, but, we all know that natural disasters lay waste to their victims without bias…”[5]

In sum, Johnson says that it does not seem to make sense to say that God could create any universe or world, which includes our world, in which he authored the laws of nature that lead to natural disasters. In essence, God would be creating evil if, in any world, he creates laws of nature that lead to natural disasters, which is logically impossible given God’s nature.


My Objections:


I want to first respond to the semantic point that Johnson made, and I hope we can get beyond it. He says that under one relevant definition of natural evil, the problem of natural evil has not been solved. The objections I will raise is to argue in response to Johnson’s new formulation, are that what Johnson thinks can only be attributed to natural processes is mistaken. Hence, there is also really is no “natural evil” at all in the sense that Johnson is using the term in his argument, which means that there are at least two ways of using the phrase “natural evil. One definition is that there is apparent natural evil because that evil is moral evil. The other definition says there is natural evil that is actually natural evil and not moral evil or apparently natural evil”. However, I will argue in this paper that it is logically possible that “real” natural evil really is moral evil/”apparent” natural evil at the end of the day despite what Johnson claims and despite him trying to get around this problem with his supposed new argument; the whole issue in question is whether natural suffering really cannot possibly end up actually being moral evil at the end of the day, and the whole issue in question is whether natural evil, in any sense of term, collapses into moral evil/apparent natural evil, so Johnson is begging the question on this semantic point, for he is putting the cart before the horse.

I am going to raise several objections to Johnson’s claim. But first, let me clarify that I am aware that Johnson’s point is not that God allowing natural suffering from disasters is where the problem is. Rather, the problem is that God creates laws of nature that lead to natural disasters and then natural suffering (my contention is that there is the possibility of experiencing suffering, not that suffering is inevitable from natural disasters which come about because of the laws of nature which theism alleges that God created).

My first objection to Johnson’s argument is that it’s logically possible that God has a morally sufficient reason for having created the laws of nature that would allow for humans to possibly necessarily not experience suffering from natural disasters unless some other condition is satisfied, even though we might not know what the condition is (The burden of proof is shifted back to the atheist). The reply might be that this objection doesn’t show that God and evil are compatible. However, the argument from natural suffering/disasters would be undermined because the argument is predicated on the assumption that God and natural suffering/disasters are incompatible and that it is impossible for God to have a morally sufficient reason, which means the non-theist has the burden of proof (not the theist) of demonstrating that God cannot have a morally sufficient reason for the possibility of natural suffering arising from natural disasters. Therefore, the argument cannot get off the ground unless it can be argued that God cannot have a good reason for allowing natural suffering. The problem is not God creating laws of nature that lead to natural disasters as such. Rather, the problem would be if God created the laws of nature that allow for natural disasters in conjunction with humans actually experiencing the suffering caused by those natural disasters. If humans do not experience suffering from natural disasters, there is no problem (we must not confuse the problem of poor design with the problem of natural suffering).  When seen in this light, this is a vastly important distinction that, if sound, really threatens Johnson’s argument. One possible reason humans now experience suffering from natural disasters is possibly due to how we abused our freewill in the past, and it is possible (in fact plausible) that we abused our freewill in the past (specifically when it comes to the first people who committed immoral actions), but more will be discussed on this defense later on in this paper.

If the critic says that there could be a morally sufficient reason that God has, they are conceding too much. Because if God has a morally sufficient reason for creating circumstances (laws of nature) that might or plausibly lead to experience of suffering of natural disasters, then God is justified in allowing evil. Note that I am not endorsing skeptical theism because skeptical theism has to do with the evidential argument from evil; hence, I am not so much arguing epistemic possibility; rather, I am concerned with logical possibility, possibilities across worlds. To maintain that God and natural disasters both existing is necessarily false (a logical contradiction) entails that God and natural disasters both cannot exist in any possible world.

There might also be the objection that this move is ad hoc. If the freewill defense fails for natural evil and one grants this, then my move is ad hoc. This move is not just contrived, for the move of undermining the argument from evil by concluding that it is logically impossible is by nothing that fact that the argument assumes this.

In fact, some theists who do not buy into the freewill defense against the logical argument from evil have proposed other logical possibilities. Thus, it is quite to dubious to assert that if the freewill defense is defeated, the logical argument from evil necessarily comes back from the eternal abyss to which it was sent to.

Now let us move onto an offensive reply to what Johnson says by demonstrating that God and natural suffering/disasters can both exist, even given the fact that God created the laws of nature (i.e. both of them existing together is compossible). It’s logically possible that God created and designed the universe/laws of nature in some possible world as to where He also set up Earth (and maybe other planets that might have life) as to where humans would not suffer from natural disasters brought about by the laws of nature unless freewill created the circumstances where humans would then or will suffer. In other words, humans will suffer from natural disasters if (and only if?) they abuse their free will. So, there are natural disasters which are ultimately due to the laws of nature but that God does not guarantee or virtually guarantee it to where humans do not suffer from them. Maybe God uses His omnipotence to protect them from diseases or that he can guide them to avoid natural disasters, or that he preserved them on pieces of land, for example, where hurricanes could not reach them. There might be a reply that this would not mean that natural disasters did not exist prior to human rebellion; however, the argument is not about poor design; rather, the argument from suffering is just that, suffering.

What is to be understood here is that there are some possible worlds where this story holds true, and if this is the case, then God-if God exists-being the author of natural laws that lead to natural disasters is not impossible as Johnson alleges.

It also might be objected that this is just improbable considering the theory of evolution by natural selection. But, God is all-knowing so he would anticipate that humans would rebel and justly arranged the laws of nature accordingly which would of course be prior to any life (including animals). More will be said on this when I respond to Johnson’s objection regarding Adam and Eve.

Another possible story I allege is that there’s also no logical contradiction in supposing, for example, that God designs any universe but that demons or supernatural creatures tamper with the laws of nature. We shouldn’t conflate or confuse nomoloigcal possibility with logical or metaphysical possibility. Michael Murray, for instance, actually talks about how demons or Satan could be responsible for animals suffering because they tampered with nature.[6] In this case, I could see how we can apply that solution to the current problem at hand, which is the problem of natural disasters (actualized by God creating the laws of nature). It might be objected that such a situation is not possible given what we now know, what we plausibly know about the laws of nature, although we are not certain, but this is confused and irrelevant, for what’s alleged to be true is that there is no contradiction in the scenario I laid out. If there is no contradiction, then it would not be logically impossible; it is true in some possible world(s , which is important because a contradiction, which is what Johnson’s logical argument is aimed at, would say that it is impossible or false in every possible world that God and natural disasters co-exist (necessarily false); it’s alleged to not be compossible, which means if there is one possible world where God and evil can exist, then there is no contradiction. So, the objection is almost irrelevant to begin with.

One of Johnson’s main points is that there seems to be an obvious problem when it comes to God designing the universe or laws of nature; however, it’s not always clear what is meant by God creating the universe. For example, one option is that God could have upheld the universe from eternity past, which means the universe has always existed. If that is the case, what is the problem exactly in holding the compatibility with God and natural disasters? It might be objected that this would challenge God’s omnipotence if the universe exists as an independent contingent brute fact or an eternal contingent dependent being. But why is that? What’s true is that the universe, for all we know, could exist without God or is the way it is., and God can’t do logically impossible things and that includes broadly logically impossible things. It might also be objected that this doesn’t explain the whole problem of design of the laws of nature; however, if the universe exists as a contingent brute fact, which is strictly logically possible, then this objection does not take into account that the laws of nature would be independent of God. Furthermore, this objection is a sort of bait and switch because the original proposition what that God creating, not allowing, the laws of nature and design to be the way it is was the problem. But why would God not change the laws or design a new universe? What is true is that at some time there are laws of nature in some universe that are capable of producing natural suffering, and this is true whether or not God eventually rearranges the universe or creates a new universe. In other words, that moment still occurred in some universe. But notice that God allowing (or rearranging) the laws is not the same as God creating those very laws.

So as far as Johnson’s point about God creating the universe or designing the laws of nature, we can admit that it’s logically possible that he didn’t, without committing ourselves to the proposition that this is actually the case; this is to say in some possible world God was not the being that created or designed the universe, so what this means is that in some possible world where the universe was created and designed, this was not the doing of God (In his footnotes, Johnson seems to think that this logical possibility, regarding demons, entails that one is denying that God is actually the creator of the laws of nature, but as you can see, this objection is off the mark given my position and what I have argued regarding possibilities.) I don’t see the immediate problem with it being logically possible that demons or very powerful supernatural beings designed the universe and the laws of nature. God allows them to tamper with nature for the greater good of freewill. It might be objected that this move is ad hoc, but I contend that the move is not ad hoc because when we think about certain religious traditions, it is commonly said that angels participated in the creation and design of the universe. If angels can do this, then why couldn’t other very powerful supernatural beings, like demons, do the same? But perhaps is is possible that angels are the sole ones who created and designed the universe. Or at the very least, they participated with God, so that the reason the universe has the way less than perfect laws of nature that they do (that allow for natural disasters) is because finite supernatural beings are not Omnipotent; maybe this is the best that these creatures could do on a cosmic level; this is one option that someone can take. Someone might object by saying, “Surely supernatural beings, if they could create a universe ex nihilo, should be able to design better laws of nature than what we have.” First off, it is not obvious the creation ex nihilo is the correct creation narrative. Second of all, even if it was, God as an Omnipotent being would allegedly be able to do it by himself or work with angels. But if God can do it by himself, why involve angels with design? Well because God wants to share the good with finite beings and finite supernatural beings are able to participate in the design of the universe.

God designing a universe all by himself is a sub-set of theism, like Christian theism (not standard/generic theism), that a person doesn’t have to commit themselves to as actually true, and perhaps the laws of nature are a brute fact.

Now let me proposed yet another logical option (logically possible story). It is logically possible that there is a spiritual realm where demons, or some other very powerful finite creatures, have chosen to use their freewill to rebel against God. They’ve abused their freewill and as a result, there is to be punishment for their freewill, such that it is logically possible that the constants in nature are the result of punishing demons for their abuse of freewill. In other words, there is a price to be paid for the fall of demons. That is, there is a fall before the possible fall of humanity, something like Adam and Eve. I do not think that blaming the free will of demons and issuing punishment is a sound theodicy, but Plantinga already concedes this in his original response by pointing out that the objection that it is not a sound theodicy or plausible solution is confusing theodicies with defenses.

Insofar as what science indicates is probably the case regarding natural evil/disasters, I agree with Johnson. Johnson then comes up with an analogy regarding God designing the laws of nature, if he in fact did. Johnson says, “Let me further explicate the problem by analogy. I own two small house dogs. Let us suppose that I am going to build a house for them to live in and in the design of this house I included dog killing machines—machines that randomly but often activate and kill any dog within reach—in every room. Of course, there is no guarantee that either of my dogs will ever be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it’s likely that at some point they will be; if they ever figure out what is going on, they will live in constant fear. Regardless, if I did such a thing, I could hardly be said to be a loving master of my dogs—I certainly could not claim to be morally perfect. Yet human killing machines—tornados, earthquakes, tsunamis, diseases, etc.—are woven into the very design of our universe. Thus, in the same way, it seems difficult to maintain that the designer of our universe is morally perfect.”[7]

But I have already explained one solution when I talked about human rebellion and God. It is possible that there was a guarantee for humans to avoid suffering from disasters until or unless they rebelled. Nobody who understood Plantinga’s proposal of demons objected because they understood that he was talking about logical possibilities and not plausibility, and I am proposing the same with my solution. But what about animal suffering before humanity? Well God can look forward to the fall of humans, and this can be seen as a sort of punishment defense (not theodicy). But it might be objected, “But why do animals have to suffer when man is responsible?”, but The problem with this objection is that nobody objected to Plantinga’s original proposal which was that humans have to suffer because demons possibly and freely are behind natural suffering and disasters. God respects free will, and free will has consequences even when free will hurts innocent humans or animals and whether or not the free will is abused by demons or humans. But of course, it should be recalled that it is also metaphysically possible that demons with freewill tampered with the laws of nature, or demons messed with a few things on earth by means of physical processes such as tampering with the origin of life, natural selection, and actualizing natural disasters (and/or the experience of pain/death). It is possible that demons are behind what we know of natural disasters by science, which means we are not denying what science tells us about tectonic plates and such.  Demons messing with what happens with animals on earth is not God’s fault because they did it with their own freewill. God created the laws of nature, but demons are the ones that guaranteed that natural disasters would come about on earth, which means that demons are responsible for guaranteeing that creatures would experience suffering from natural disasters; experiencing suffering is the relevant issue here. But how could God allow for the possibility of humans or demons to abuse their free will such that they are responsible for the experience of suffering in animals? Well for the same reason God allows free will to be abused by humans or demons in suffering does not have to do with natural disasters, but it might be objected that this ignores that God created the universe with our laws of nature that could lead to experiencing pain inflicted by natural disasters. Yes, but how is this different from God actualizing a universe that, no matter what, could possibly lead to humans committing murder by freewill or demons bringing about a hurricane? This was Plantinga’s proposal. I must stress this as much as I can, which is that natural disasters being necessitated by the laws of nature created by God is not the same thing as creatures experiencing the pain inflicted by those natural disasters. Therefore, Johnson’s argument will only work if he thinks it necessarily follows that humans would suffer from natural disasters.

With natural suffering, it could be the case, for instance, that humans did not listen to God and rebelled. As a result, they no longer are aided by God in order to avoid natural disasters which will then inflict suffering.

The main problem is that Johnson sees the supernatural explanations irrelevant when it comes to explaining natural suffering because of what we know about the laws of nature. That is, the supernatural explanation is unparsimonious and violates Ockham’s razor. But wait a minute, we all need to be reminded that the problem we are dealing with is the logical argument from evil, so if the problem is in terms of parsimony, then that assumes that there is a logically possible reason for why God allows natural suffering even if the reason is improbable. The burden of proof for the proponent of the logical argument from evil is to show that it is impossible that natural suffering/disasters can be explained in another way, so it won’t do to offer an undercutting defeater to someone who wants to affirm another explanation for natural disasters (and it is not obvious why someone can’t at least affirm the possibility of another explanation like a supernatural explanation even if the supernatural is unparsimonious) because that does not demonstrate the de facto incompatibility of God and natural evil co-existing (whether it is compossible). Someone might not be able to affirm a supernatural explanation, but they also might not be able to rule it out either; hence, the proponent of the logical argument from natural suffering is going to have to do more work than offering de jure or undercutting defeaters. So, we don’t have to commit ourselves to actually rejecting the fact that the natural laws are explained by science. Even though cancer, for example, can be explained scientifically, nevertheless, it’s also logically possible that demons are behind it.

Johnson further says: “There is neither a sound explanation for how lying, stealing or sexual immorality can make cold and warm air meet in a thunderstorm, nor one for how Adam and Eve’s eating fruit could alter the laws of physics. (The view that the Adam and Eve’s sin could somehow corrupt the natural order was also rendered problematic, since Adam and Eve were no longer considered by academics to be historical figures.)”[8] But there not being an explanation that we know of yet is not the same thing as it being impossible that there is an explanation, and there’s also a confusion between nomological and metaphysical possibility because I don’t know of any theist or Christian who would affirm that natural suffering arising from sin would fall under nomological possibility; rather, it would fall under the category of broad logical possibility. There is certainly nothing strictly logically impossible about natural suffering arising from sin, and strict logical possibility/impossibility is what we are concerned with here anyways. God could have arranged the universe such that it contains natural disasters prior to the fall of humanity involving the first man and first woman as a sort of foreshadowing. In other words, possibly, God knows that it will happen and allows natural suffering because of man’s guilt. In addition, we do not have to be talking about Adam and Eve as historical figures; rather, we are talking about a case where humans first choose to do immoral things (sin). Because of sin, perhaps, God no longer guides us away from natural disasters because of justice or because of freewill. Nevertheless, I have already proposed another possible story that Johnson does not take into account, and the story involved supernatural figures or demons. What this mean is that Johnson’s objections to the Adam and Eve story do not apply to my story regarding demons, so further objections are needed.

Response to what Johnson’s sees as potential objections

Johnson talks about potential objections to his argument. An objection that he listed was the appeal to skeptical theism.[9] But, we both agree that skeptical theism is not of much help when it comes to the logical argument from evil.

Johnson also clarifies that, “The problem I have presented does not suggest that God would create a perfect world; it simply suggests that God would not author natural disasters.”[10] I agree with his point on perfection, but my response has been to suggest that God wouldn’t author the laws of nature the way they are that would necessarily lead to the experience of suffering. I want to be clear that I know that Johnson is not saying that our world must be perfect. So any time I have said “natural suffering” I was inevitably talking about natural disasters.

Regarding the freewill defense Johnson says free will would not outweigh the horrific suffering caused by natural disasters, but this objection is a red-herring out of left field and  confused because his logical argument is not about gratuitous suffering[11] (evidential argument), and Plantinga was not dealing with gratuitous suffering; thus, the free will defense as applied here still stands.[12] Even more, the atheist would have to demonstrate that it is logically impossible that God has a morally sufficient reason for having created the laws of nature that would allow for humans to possibly necessarily not experience suffering from natural disasters, unless some other condition is satisfied, such that, the horrendous suffering caused by natural disasters (in some possible world) is present because of a greater good that is also an outweighing good and a necessary good… if the atheist could even form a logical argument from pointless horrific suffering.
Final Clarification and response

I want to make it clear to everyone that my defense which has to do with free will or free will in conjunction with punishment is not meant to be a plausible explanation (theodicy). Rather, I am endorsing logical possibilities because we are dealing with the logical argument from natural disasters. I want to also make clear that when I am talking about humans and animals, I am talking about beings or creatures, and this means that these being fall under the broad category of conscious creatures. This means that we are not to include demons or any other supernatural creatures because we are talking about the issue of natural disasters caused by the laws of nature, and demons cannot suffer from natural disasters because they are non-physical beings. Furthermore, I have already talked about demons and punishment, which would sufficiently counter the objection at hand because if demons could even endure suffering or suffering caused by natural disasters, then this would be due their abuse of free will prior to creation.

Someone might object to all I am been saying by noting that we can make an argument from natural disasters in an evidential form, which is true. However, that would mean that Plantinga did not misunderstand the problem of natural suffering/disasters because he was not dealing with the evidential argument. An evidential form would focus on the improbability of God and horrendous suffering like natural disasters, but even this will not do because it would mean Plantinga did not misunderstand the problem because he was focusing on any natural suffering not horrific natural suffering. But, would it be any different when it comes to horrendous suffering across worlds? It would not be different because the issue here is not gratuitous suffering. It might be replied that I have missed the point in the sense that it is improbable that in any possible world free will outweighs horrific suffering; however, the issue here, yet again, is not gratuitous suffering.

Someone might also argue that my main distinction in my argument regarding natural disasters as such and actually experiencing the suffering from natural disasters is a distinction without a difference. First off, the burden of proof is on the atheist to argue why that is the case because they are running the argument. But, I have already elaborated on the point by noting that suffering is the real issue not allegedly poor design like natural disasters or natural disasters as such. Johnson needs to pay attention to what I have said because this is crucial. It is important to note that I am not granting that humans will still plausibly suffer from suffering as Johnson uses in one of his analogies. Rather, I am talking about something totally different with my distinction. What I am talking about is that humans will not or cannot experience suffering by natural disasters unless X where X stands for something (but not limited to) like free will.
Johnson might object by saying that I misunderstood his argument because he is not dealing with natural suffering/disasters caused by moral evil but rather natural disasters. But, I have already pointed out why this objection misses the mark, and I have argued, contrary to what Johnson claims, that we can still, for example, invoke the free will defense. And as Johnson points out, his argument is about how we reconcile God creating the laws of nature that allow for natural disasters to begin with. Hence, as I have argued, there is no sense in which natural disasters do not possibly have to do with free creatures. So, it is possible, that disasters are not just events that are lifeless, indifferent, and the result of blind processes. Therefore, it is possible that there are no natural disasters that do not have to do with free will; Johnson’s definition collapses back into the original definition that Plantinga originally argued against. So what Johnson should have laid out is this:
(1) God is omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good.

(2) Disasters in nature exist

(3) Possibly, the disasters in nature are the result of the free actions of nonhuman persons in conjunction with natural processes (which would mean that it is possible that natural disasters cannot be reduced to only being the results of natural processes. Therefore, possibly, there are no disasters in nature which are due to only due to natural processes) (I have already argued that we can reconcile natural disasters with God given the laws of nature and given that God created the laws of nature).

So, we’ve seen how we can revise all of Johnson’s premises in order to escape what Johnson claims are logically incompatible:
(1) God is omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good.

(2)) God cannot be the creator and designer of any universe (including our universe), including the natural laws that govern it, in which those laws lead to natural disasters

(3)  Calamities and adversities such as hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases and the like, and the evils they bring about, are the product of the laws that govern our universe.


I have noted how we can make a distinction and revise 3 in the form of logical possibility. I have also noted how we can do the same for 2. Here’s the revision:

(1’) Necessarily, if God exists, God is omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good.

(2’) (Assumption) God cannot be the creator and designer of any universe (including our universe), including the natural laws that govern it, in which those laws lead to natural disasters

(3’) But, possibly, calamities and adversities such as hurricanes, earthquakes, diseases and the like, and the evils they bring about, are the product of the laws that govern any such universe in conjunction with free agents (in some possible world) being responsible for the very possibility of those natural laws being able to inflict suffering.

So, God creating the laws of nature that lead to natural disasters is a necessary condition in order for humans to suffer, but I have argued it is logically possibly or plausibly not a sufficient condition.  When we add 3’, it seems apparent that there is logical contradiction between God creating natural laws that lead to natural disasters. It should also be noted that 2’ can be revised to 2* which his to say that in some possible worlds God is not the creator and designer of the laws of nature.

In conclusion, it is David Johnson, not Alvin Plantinga, who has misunderstood the logical problem of natural suffering/disasters, and I have argued why it is possible for God and natural disasters to both exist.  Furthermore, it seems to me and it seems to most Philosophers of Religion, that it is time to move on from Epicurean type arguments from evil and for good reasons. The old logical argument from evil has been dealt with and we don’t need to be living in the past insofar as responding to the argument. It needs to be in the museum of the history of Philosophy which also will talk about the solution to the supposed problem. Philosophy can progress and solve problems, and Plantinga has successfully solved one such problem. There still needs to be more work done on the evidential argument from evil, specifically with skeptical theism which is garnering more and more literature in recent years. If anything, when it comes to logical arguments from evil, we might need to focus on new formulations that have been developed since Plantinga that are not identical the Epicurean types.





Johnson, David Kyle. “The Failure of Plantinga’s Solution to the Logical Problem of Natural Evil.” Science, Religion and Culture SRC 2.2 (2015): 61-74. Staff Kings. King’s College, 2014. Web. 4 May 2016.


Mackie, John L. (1955). “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, 64: 200–12


Murray, Michael J. “Animal Suffering and the Fall.” Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.


Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974), pg.57-61.


Sennett, James. “Satan and the Argument from Natural Evil.” Philosophical Approaches to the Devil. 1st ed.  Taylor and Francis, 2015.



[1]Mackie, John L. (1955). “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, 64: 200–12

[2] Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom and Evil. pg.57-61 (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1974)

[3]Sennett, James. “Satan and the Argument from Natural Evil.” Philosophical Approaches to the Devil. 1st ed.  Taylor and Francis, 2015.




[6]Murray, Michael J. “Animal Suffering and the Fall.” Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. pg. 73-107 Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008.





[10] But there does seem to be something quite telling here about Johnson’s admission because Plantinga was not even dealing with the presence of lots of natural suffering but the presence of any natural evil. As a result, is Johnson going to admit that Plantinga has not misunderstood the argument Plantinga was responding to? But Plantinga then explains why a different argument, like the argument from the amount of evil, does not make sense on its own in the form of a deductive argument/logical argument. And I have already argued how we can understand God creating the laws of nature and the presence of natural disasters which is actually Johnson’s argument. It seems to me that if God creating the laws of nature problem will suffice for Johnson’s argument. It does not seem to matter how much suffering there is because Johnson explains that God creating evil is the problem. And the amount of suffering has to do with the evidential argument from evil because that’s an inductive premise.

[11] Skeptical theism would be able to be brought back up to undermine the claim that lots of horrific suffering in any world or the horrific suffering in our world is not necessary in order to achieve a greater good. However, this would entail that the atheist has not demonstrated that God and natural evil (caused by natural disasters) are actually logically contradictory, instead, they would have to argue inductively that there really is pointless suffering, but that would also entail that establishing the existence of pointless suffering cannot be established deductively (thus logically) because it is still possible that God has a morally sufficient reason. Therefore, at best, one would not conclude that God does not exist, but that all things being equal, God probably does not exist.

[12] If someone wants to run an argument from gratuitous suffering, then the logical argument from evil is done away with. If someone doesn’t, then the free will defense is still relevant.



#Rebuttal #Natural evil #Plantinga #Objection #Response to David Johnson #failure of David Johnson’s argument #failure of Plantinga #staffkings.edu #philo #philpapers.org #Philo #natural disasters #God creating the laws of nature #God creating evil #God creating evil #Plantinga has not misunderstood the problem #Johnson missing the point #contemporary science #modern science #God #natural theology #new argument from natural evil #a new argument from natural disasters #a new argument from natural suffering #David Kyle Johnson Associate Professor of Philosophy King’s College Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711 Davidjohnson@kings.edu 570-208-5900 ex 5242 #what the problem really is #moral evil and natural evil  #David Kyle Johnson, “A Refutation of Skeptical Theism” Sophia 52 (3):425-445 (2013) #David Kyle Johnson, “Natural Evil and the Simulation Hypothesis,” Philo 14:2 (2011).

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