Informally speaking the problem of evil is pretty straight forward. On one hand:

  • God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

On the other hand:

  • Evil exists in the world.

This is a contradiction because the existence of evil contradicts one of the three premises: If Evil exists in the world, it is because God either can't do anything about it, doesn't know about it, or allows it. And so he/she can't be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent all at the same time.

But does this formally (i.e. as in formal logic) translate into a contradiction, or into a paradox (like Russell's paradox)?

If it is indeed a contradiction, has anyone tried to work around it by using non-classical logics?

  • this is confusingly worded. – user6917 Apr 6 '16 at 21:04
  • @MATHEMETICIAN I rolled back the changes you made. You changed the title to "the argument from evil" - I see where you are coming from, but it is called "the problem of evil" in all of the literature - so I will stick with the existing terminology. I did keep some of the changes you made to the text though. – Alexander S King Apr 6 '16 at 21:39
  • ok, np. you're the boss. it's obvs a phrase "the argument from evil" which is regularly used – user6917 Apr 6 '16 at 21:42
  • As stated this may be a contradiction but there is no evidence for 'true' contradictions 'out there'. It seems certain that the whole problem is just a misunderstanding. Even if your two propositions are true this does not set up a contradiction since it may be that a dynamic universe with no evil in it is not a possible object, being itself a contradiction. And then, the problem stems from your assumption that evil exists. Many philosophies would deny this and say instead that the problem is ignorance. – user20253 Jun 21 '18 at 11:59

This is not strictly speaking a contradiction, unless you add some premisses or formal definitions (such as: an omnibenevolent being does not want evil to exist, an omnipotent being makes what he wishes be the case etc.). They are implicit in your reasoning but they can be discussed.

(Even with these premisses, it's only a contradiction, of course, if you assume that God exists, and as you must know the problem of evil is taken as an argument against the existence of God.)

There is no clear cut difference between a paradox and a contradiction: generally we call something a paradox when all the premises seem obvious, but lead to a contradiction. In this case the existence of God is not really obvious since not everyone believes in God and I think it is generally considered an argument by contradiction, not a paradox.

I don't know of any attempt to revise logic in this case but one would have to argue why alternative logics should be used in this case rather than in any other argument, and how it would solve this contradiction but not other contradictions that we would like to retain (since arguments by contradiction are widely used, for example in mathematics to show that there is no greater prime number). Generally, alternative logics are motivated by logical or mathematical problems, by paradoxes, or at least by contradictions that would apply to all facts in the world (for example the problem of change in time) not to a specific being. Denying the existence of this being or revising the premises seems a more natural move.

You can find more information here http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/

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  • My folk definition of the diff between contradiction and paradox is that a contradiction has a truth value and it is always "FALSE", while a paradox can't have a truth value. (You'd think someone trained in AI would know more about propositional logic,..but hey I come from the connectionist side of the divide.) – Alexander S King Dec 14 '15 at 23:22
  • Your definition seem to apply to the liar paradox but I don't think it works for all paradoxes (Zeno's paradox, the Sorite paradox...). Even the liar's paradox can be reframed as the assumption that all well-formed logical propositions can have a truth value leading to a contradiction, and Russell's paradox as the assumption that all definable sets have an extension leading to a contradiction. – Quentin Ruyant Dec 15 '15 at 12:46


Nelson Pike has a formal argument to reconcile the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (perfectly good) God with the existence of evil in the form of suffering :

(a) An ommipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being would create the best of all possible worlds;

(b) It is logically possible - or, at least, it cannot be shown to be logically impossible - that the best of all possible worlds might contain instances of suffering;

(c) If it is logically possible that the best of all possible worlds might contain instances of suffering, these instances of suffering would be logically necessary components of the best of all possible worlds;

(d) Thus, if it is possible that instances of suffering are necessary components of the best of all possible worlds, then there might be a morally sufficient reason for an omnipotent and omniscient being to permit instances of suffering.

The morally sufficient reason does not entail any lack of knowledge or power.

(Nelson Pike, 'Hume on Evil', The Philosophical Review, LXXII, 15-16 (reprinted in Nelson Pike, ed. God and Evil, Englewood Cliffs, 1974. Quotation taken from Eduardo O. C. Chaves, 'Logical and Semantical Aspects of the Problem of Evil', Crítica: Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Vol. 10, No. 29 (Aug., 1978), 15-15.)

Pike refers to 'suffering', you talk of 'evil'. The logic of his argument is unaffected if you substitute 'evil' for 'suffering'.


There is an inclination to say : but it must be possible for an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent (perfectly good) God to create a world - the best possible - which is without suffering or evil. But God can only do what it is logically possible to do; God's omnipotence does not exceed the logically possible. To defeat Pike's argument you would need to conceive in full specificity a logically possible world, X, that was both the best possible and exempt from suffering or evil. I do not see how we can know an apriori or in any other way that it must be logically possible for God to create world X.

Only if we can know this does your paradox or contradiction arise. Or to put the point another way : you can conceive, I don't doubt, of a world, Y, that is exempt from suffering or evil, but unless you can conceive of all logically possible worlds how would you know that that world Y in its totality is the best that is logically possible ?

No religious motivation informs this answer.

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  • Food for thought: One could argue that an all-powerful being could create a circumstance in which the best possible existence precludes suffering. It truly depends on how you view 'all-powerful'. – GOATNine Jun 19 '18 at 14:53
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    @GOATNine. I agree. I found Pike's paradoxical argument interesting and wanted to give it the best run for its money but one would rather expect that an all-powerful being could create a circumstance in which the best possible existence precluded suffering. Best - GT. – Geoffrey Thomas Jun 19 '18 at 18:05

The statement "God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent" and "Evil exists in the world" is a contradiction. You yourself give the argument in the question.

I do not know about a logical trick to work around this contradiction by employing a different calculus of logic. I doubt whether a different calculus resolves the contradiction.

Of course, paraconsistent logic does not presuppose the principle "ex falso quodlibet", hence it does not banish contradictions; see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/logic-paraconsistent/ But I do not know what to conclude from this contradiction by employing paraconsistent logic.

In my opinion, a contradiction which results from such plain and simple statements should not prompt looking for a workaround. Instead, one should identify the reason of the contradiction and correct it. Here the reason is the combination of three contradictory concepts.

I assume you know about Leibniz' attempt to solve the theodicy problem by employing the concept of possible worlds. But as far as I know, he did not invent modal logic as a calculus to deal with this concept on a logical base.

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It's a paradox, and amusingly the self-contradiction is already there within just the first clause of the problem.

To state that God (or anything) "is omnipotent" is a paradox by itself. Using the most obvious/common definition of being omnipotent, it means the answer to whether you can do something is always true. But then you could possess a trait and the negation of that trait at the same time, which allows an endless list of paradoxes. "Perfectly good and perfectly evil", "5 inches tall and 10 feet tall", "Able to create a rock too heavy for you to lift" (The "Sunday School Paradox").

The only way a statement "XYZ is omnipotent" is non-paradoxical is if we use a definition for "omnipotent" that is weaker and much more complicated. For example, maybe we take "omnipotent" to mean able to do anything that's not included on a certain list of contradictions and impossibilities.

Using a weaker definition of "omnipotent" can allow the Problem of Evil to be resolved, for example by assuming that God is unable to prevent all evil without also denying free will (which would be an evil act).

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Russell's paradox was resolved by changing the foundational concepts in Set Theory; an alternative resolution uses paraconsistent logic.

Similarly theodicies resolve the problem of good and evil by resolving these concepts: for example, in Simone Weils concept of theology, evil is due to Gods absence in the world, and who is placed at an infinite distance from the world with an infinitesimal residue - grace; another is this paper which takes propositions to be thoughts, and use Lewis's possible worlds.

Given that the set of people who are knowledgeable about paraconsistent logic, theology and are interested in the problem of evil - there's unlikely to be much work on this, at least I'm unaware of it.

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  • Could you please give a reference how paraconsistent logic resolves Russell's paradox, thanks. – Jo Wehler Dec 14 '15 at 11:52
  • @wehler: in the IEP, 'Newton Da Costa was the first to develop an openly inconsistent set theory in the 60s, based on Alonzo Church's set theory with a universal set ... axioms like those of standard set theory are assumed, along with the existence of a Russell set. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 14 '15 at 12:21
  • Which entails some resolution in terms of the underlying logic they use; they don't give details - presumably one will have to check the refs at the end. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 14 '15 at 12:23

The supposed 'contradiction' comes from what the meaning is for good, and evil.

"omnibenevolent" - infinitely good, and "Evil exists in the world"

Yet we don't have an absolute scale to measure what is good or evil. How do we know what is evil, or good; according to who the Omni being or us? Therefore it really isn't a contradiction.

One way to solve the problem is that god created 'evil', or god created 'free will'. If there wasn't evil, then we would be 'omnibenevolent' ourselves, which would cause us to do the one only thing that is the absolute good, we would have no choice, therefore lose free will (some people call it heaven).

Is the Omni being causing these things to happen or is it us? Do we still have free will when there is a Omni being? Is it within the Omnipotent ones power to be able to give us free will?

I think the better question is do we have a free will with a Omnipotent being?

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  • Did the 500k+ children killed in the post-90s wars die of their own 'free will' ? – Overmind May 4 '18 at 8:33
  • I think wrt @hit answer, hit is saying that the existence of free will is what allowed the wars to happen (i.e., other people, often adult men, exercising free will is what led to the wars) not that the children's free will led to the wars/their own death – simpatico May 4 '18 at 12:35

Here is another perspective:

Considering what happening the world today, if God influences our worldly aspects in any way, it means God is a sadistic psychotic tyrant.

Therefore, it cannot be omnibenevolent (since evil does exist in plentiful quantities and usually is the less innocent categories that suffer the most).

It is irrelevant how potent it is or not in this dark side scenario or if he is omniscient.

There is no fallacy or paradox in this case. Just God having dark fun.

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I would prefer to phrase the problem using suffering instead of evil. It is a tricky one for those who see evil and suffering as real and believe in a God as here defined. I would call it a contradiction as stated, one that derives immediately from the premises.

I feel it shows that a more sophisticated idea of God, evil and suffering is required. These problems only arise for naive or philosophically-unreflective monotheism. They are very useful in helping us to straighten out our ideas and ensure they are rational. Fortunately non-contradictory views of these issues are also available.

There is also the problem that you do not define God as creating the Universe, in which case none of it is His fault.

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