The problem of using evil against the possible existence of God

Juan Rafael Torres, University of Texas at El Paso


This thesis has two modules, which entail two different approaches about the problem of evil. In module one, which consists of chapters one and two, I consider the difficulties of defining ‘evil’ and the case against the ‘logical problem of evil’ respectively. Module two is a phenomenological and skeptical approach to the problem of evil. Specifically, it is a response to those that do not agree with Plantinga’s arguments and it is a critique of the traditional paradigms about God, evil and ethics. For instance, I reject the so called category of “natural evils” and I categorize ‘evil’ as a human phenomenon that requires consciousness, intentionality and agency. Additionally, this last module brings into question the anthropomorphic views about an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God. Moreover, it introduces evolutionary ethics and evolutionary psychology as possible explanations of why there is a problem of evil in the first place and why humans categorize actions, persons, phenomena and even the gods or God as either good or evil. On the other hand, the main objective of including a section on the ‘phenomenology of evil’ is to understand what makes an action or an agent evil. This analysis proceeds from an unorthodox paradigm. I question the most traditional philosophical dogmas about the concept of evil, such as: evil as a positive-objective reality, natural evils and the banality of evil. Evil has traditionally been used to make a “logical” argument against the possible existence of God. Yet, most philosophers have assumed that there is at least an implicit contradiction among the premises:^ God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent.^ Evil exists in the world.^ Therefore, an omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God does not exist (John Teehan, 2013).^ Many philosophers also argue that there is an obvious inconsistency among the prior premises, but such a claim is problematic while building a “logical” argument against the possible existence of the traditional God, because these premises are not explicitly contradictory. Additionally, the ambiguity of the concept ‘evil’ is disregarded and thus cannot be used as an adequate premise for a logical argument. Upon critical examination of the terms and assumptions made from philosophers such as J.L Mackie and David Hume, Plantinga claims that the problem of evil as a logical issue is weak. Additionally, these philosophers do not provide an explanation of what they refer to by the premise “evil exists" and simply rely on traditional views such as: Evil as an independent and objective reality or as something that is self-evident or natural. Mackie exemplifies a common mistake that is made by other philosophers as well in supporting this argument, such as Epicurus. They assume that evil exists, because it is generally “known”, and/or self-evident. However, these two assumptions are problematical.^ My claim is that we do not know whether or not evil exists as an independent objective entity. Additionally, I argue further that even if evil does exist as an objective entity, there is no logical inconsistency with the premises in the argument for the existence of the traditional Western God. This is the case because even if evil is used merely as a logical place holder in a standard syllogistic argument, it is still possible to maintain a valid conclusion that necessarily entails that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent if we include the premise that an omnibenevolent God does not necessarily entail the exclusion of the existence of evil because of the demands of human free will. However, in my thesis I problematize the merely logical approach by defending the view that evil requires agency and intentionality. This claim may seem outrageous for some people because it has been commonly accepted that we know what evil is and that the existence of evil contradicts the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, but I want to show how the use of the term ‘evil’ in standard arguments is problematic. So on the one hand, I show how the traditional argument for the existence of God is rationally sound, on the other hand I claim that philosophers are not able to define evil without facing many problems because moral judgments claiming that something or someone is evil are neither analytical nor empirical truths (Shafer-Landau, Ross, 2012). Therefore, using such a problematic term makes the argument ultimately fallacious since the word “evil” does not mean something specific. It has no objective reference in the physical world. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)^

Subject Area

Religion, Philosophy of|Divinity|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Torres, Juan Rafael, "The problem of using evil against the possible existence of God" (2014). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1557798.