04 November 2014

"Problem of evil" syllogism, reworked

by Dan Phillips

I'm sure you're all familiar with some form of this:
  1. If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
  2. If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. Therefore, there is no God. (Or: God is either not all-powerful, or He is not good.)
But it's a loaded syllogism — well, both loaded and unloaded, if you follow my meaning. It snips a couple of Biblical truths, but holds them in isolation from everything else the Bible teaches.

A more honest version would be:
  1. If God can do anything He wishes, He could prevent evil if He wished.
  2. If God is good... I can't think of a reason why he would not prevent evil.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. Therefore... um, I don't know why God might choose to permit evil.
That's a lot more truthful, and it leaves the problem where it belongs: not on God, but on the arguer. Here's another:
  1. If God can do anything He wishes, He could prevent evil.
  2. If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
  3. But I don't believe in God anyway, so I can't have an opinion on what "evil" is or whether it exists.
  4. Therefore, what's for dinner?
Or this:
  1. If God can do anything He wishes, He could prevent evil if He wished.
  2. If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
  3. I have the vague feeling that the Bible says more about God than that He's almighty and good, but I just really haven't cared enough to study it out for myself.
  4. Therefore... well, nothing about the God of the Bible. But the God I made up might have issues.

Here's the best of the lot:
  1. If God can do anything He wishes, He could prevent evil if He wished.
  2. If God is good, He will not allow evil to go unpunished or reign forever.
  3. Evil exists, will be punished, and it both has been and will be dealt with permanently.
  4. Therefore, repent and believe in the Lord Jesus, or be part of that evil that will be judged and dealt with.
(I give more on the subject, here. You must admit: it's nothing if not red.)

Dan Phillips's signature


The Christian Theologist said...

God has a purpose in all things he created; even evil.

Jonesy said...


Taking what you said early on, viz, "It snips a couple of Biblical truths, but holds them in isolation from everything else the Bible teaches", I think would could escape this evil syllogism by recognizing that God is more than good and all-powerful. He is WISE.

In my experience, by including God's wisdom in the discussion, one quickly avoids the conclusion that God is either (a) Evil, (b) a Wimp or (c) non-existent.

I generally ask: are you wise enough to know what is truly good (N.B. no reference to "what is good for an individual")? Are you wise enough to know what plan to implement that will bring about this good? If yes, to both questions, are you powerful enough to see to it that your desire for this good comes to pass?

Hopefully, this will silence most fools.

MSC said...

What do you think is/are the best book[s] on theodicy?

Rob Steele said...

Good book: God and Evil: The Problem Solved.

Given creation ex nihilo there is no law or standard of morality above God by which to judge him. If there were, it would be God. I think the shortest theodicy is also the best: It is good that there is evil.

Kurt said...

Always a pleasure to read your posts Dan.

The previous one (about standing next to dead heretics to pick up an anointing) was quite funny, sorry I didn't get a chance to mention it when that thread was active.

I admit I had to study theology for a bit before I could give a coherent answer to the problem of evil.

And I admit I only learned what a syllogism was yesterday when reading Jason Lyle's new book.

If I was still a Charismatic I might read some special meaning into that. :-)

Daniel said...

I've explained the error of this kind of syllogism in this way in the past:

The only valid way to describe the God of the bible, with regards to the concepts of good and evil, are to use the concepts of good and evil as found in the bible.

God is good. If that is the biblical standard by which "goodness" is measured, then applying an outside standard is to suggest that there is a standard for good that is above God Himself - and I am left to wonder upon what authority that standard stands?

We are left with the real problem - which is who has the right to define what is good and what is evil?

Secular humanism says, "the majority", the bible says, "God alone" - and this syllogism is false for that reason: it uses a secular understanding of what is good to judge the the true standard of what is good.

Jim Pemberton said...

Nice honest syllogisms there. Here's a nice passive-aggressive one:

1. Evil exists, or at least what I think is evil.

2. If God, who is good in the way that I envision good, can do anything he wants, then he would prevent what I think evil is.

3. Since what I think is evil still happens, then God doesn't exist...

4. ...because he should have prevented that awful thing that I once experienced (or continue to experience). Therefore, I refuse to believe in him. (That should hurt his feelings, if he had any.)

Michael Coughlin said...

I really enjoyed this post. You made reasoned points...but added some fun humor, too.

DJP said...

Thanks Michael.

Michael Coughlin said...

Oh, you're welcome.

Just clicked through to http://www.bibchr.com/evil.html and was greatly enlightened as well.

I really appreciated the analogy toward the end which I won't spoil here.

trogdor said...

Love these. The second one especially exposes one of the errors I find myself falling into, mistaking a question/challenge for an honest inquiry instead of wicked bluster. Most often the "problem of evil" is "I'm evil and I know it, and I know God will judge it, so I need to find a way to help myself pretend He doesn't exist".

The more I hear the original, the more I'm reminded of Job's friends, or Adam. The objector decides what God must be/do, going well beyond the limits of what he can possibly know, and 'judges' God by his own ignorant standard.

The last one of course points to the solution, which fits our logic even less: "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

Praise God that His wisdom exceeds our logic.