Mackie (in "The Miracle of Theism" for instance) has argued that the supposed incompatibility between an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect God and the existence of evil actually demonstrates an internal inconsistency among many theists' beliefs (it doesn't just demonstrate the implausibility of theism, if I understand correctly). This is the logical problem of evil. Plantinga responded to this by imagining a logically possible world in which God is all-knowing/powerful/good but nevertheless permits the existence of evil.

My question: In contemporary philosophy, is Plantinga generally considered to have been successful in his attempted refutation of the logical problem of evil? Is there still a significant number of philosophers of religion who defend it?

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    Every formulation of the so-called problem of evil is based on poor assumptions, so it's not really a question of whether or not Plantinga was successful in refuting it. All such arguments simply collapse under their own weight. – user3017 May 22 '17 at 18:22
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    Plantinga did not offer a refutation but only a defense, even if successful his conclusion is only that it may be possible that God's attributes are compatible. His defense, however, is based on a number of assumptions about modality and free will that many believers reject (including Catholic orthodoxy, which is Thomist). See discussion under How does free will defense of God's benevolence work? The issue remains, but there are plenty of other responses available to theologians. – Conifold May 22 '17 at 21:12
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    It seems an excellent argument against a naive idea of God. For esoteric Christianity and Islam there would be no evil to cause these problems of incoherence. – PeterJ Sep 12 '17 at 16:45

How do you define 'evil'? Is it a cause of negativity at every causal link, from every frame of reference? Such Divine Evil and Divine Good is not perceived on this plane - even wiping our all of life on Earth will get a cheer from a few strange humans - 'evil' that depends on a frame of reference.

The problem of evil is that it assumes that the word and concept of 'evil' offers an accurate and valid interpretation of aspects of the equation when harm is evident, as well the assumption that it offers an effective deliniation for moral action.

a) Killing = 100% Evil.

b) no killing > less killing > more killing.

'Kill 1 person or 100 will be killed' - choosing which rule are you guaranteed the prefered outcome of less killing, as a) infers and b) states outright?

The problem of evil is that the term, once defined and overlayed over a reality that depends on conditions and frames of reference, actually offers an inferior definition of 'wrong action'..


In contemporary philosophy, is Plantinga generally considered to have been successful in his attempted refutation of the logical problem of evil?

Absolutely not. At best his argument could be considered valid for a world that permitted evil but where that evil did not have deleterious effects on innocents.

Essentially, he has collapsed the problem of evil and the problem of the suffering of innocents into the latter.

The suffering of innocents in the presence of a god that could prevent it but doesn't, especially for cases where the suffering isn't caused by man, is a much harder nut to crack.

  • How do you define 'evil', such that it can exist in a world where no innocent being experiences deleterious effects? – labreuer Sep 12 '17 at 18:42
  • @labreuer I'm using Mackie's definition as Plantinga did. – Alex Sep 12 '17 at 20:48
  • From Mackie's Evil and Omnipotence, we have "Let us call pain and misery 'first order evil' or 'evil (1)'." Are you saying that if I experience deleterious effects from punching through the window next to me, that constitutes 'evil'? It seems to me that if only guilty people experience deleterious effects, they can easily deserve them and it would be difficult to call those effects 'evil'. – labreuer Sep 13 '17 at 0:59
  • @labreuer Mackie Is actually criticising first order evil as it's used by others to defend its existence. He and I are more interested in second order evil which does have an implication of will. Using either definition though, suffering does not correlate to guilt. If it did that would be a reasonable defence. – Alex Sep 13 '17 at 6:36
  • Any instance where suffering exceeds guilt would seem to be "suffering of innocents". So if 'evil' is "where suffering exceeds guilt", then you've achieved said collapse with your definitions. If I've misunderstood, I suggest providing some definitions and a short argument in your answer—this is Philosophy.SE, after all. I'd be happy to delete some/all of my comments afterward. – labreuer Sep 13 '17 at 16:45

Consider the argument over this issue between Plantinga and Pike and see what we can adjudicate :

For some fifteen years now, Alvin Plantinga has been offering the Free Will Defense (FWD) in rebuttal to those who claim that the theist is inconsistent in affirming both the existence of God (an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent Creator and Providence) and the existence of evil. And for some fifteen years, Nelson Pike has been publishing articles in rebuttal of Plantinga. Now that the FWD is "clothed in the complex finery of possible worlds ontology," Pike has offered a response dressed for the occasion.1 I will suggest, however, that he really has said nothing new. Pike's criticisms, in whatever garb, suffer in the same way now as in the past: from a misunderstanding of Plantinga 's position.

Plantinga's strategy is the following. To show that propositions (1) An omnicompetent God exists and (2) There is evil are logically consistent, he need only find a third proposition (however complex) which is consistent with (1) and such that it and (1) jointly entail (2). Plantinga suggests for this third proposition the conjunction of

(3) It was not within (an omnipotent) God's power to create a world con- taining only moral good (i.e., moral good but no moral evil)


(4) God created a world containing moral good.

Now clearly (1), (3), and (4) entail (2). And, claims Plantinga, "these propositions are evidently consistent - i.e., their conjunction is a [logically] possible proposition" (GFE 54). Pike will contest neither the entailment nor the strategy in general, but rather the consistency of the set: he claims that (3) is inconsistent with God's omnipotence (or rather, if we understand "God" to mean an omnicompetent being, that (3) is self- contradictory).

Before turning to Pike's argument, however, let us look at the general format of the critic's contention that (1) and (2) are inconsistent. The atheologian posing the problem of evil, says Plantinga, is claiming that "God could have actualized worlds containing moral good but no moral evil" (GFE 40). I take that claim to be the denial of (3), and so recast it as

(5) It was within an omnipotent God's power to create a world containing only moral good (i.e., moral good but no moral evil).

And the argument might continue in this fashion:

(6) An omnibenevolent God who could have created a world containing only moral good would, if he created at all, create such a world.

.'. (7) If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent and creates a world, he creates a world containing only moral good.

(8) This world is not a world containing only moral good.

.'. (9) Either God is not omnipotent, or not omnibenevolent, or he did not create this world.

The argument is valid, and (8) - which is entailed by (2) - is both an obvious truth and part of the theist's accepted beliefs. But (9) entails the denial of (1); so if (5) and (6) are necessary truths, (1) and (2) are inconsistent.2

Pike's contention that (3) is a contradiction is, of course, equivalent to the claim that (5) is a necessary truth.

(Keith J. Cooper, 'Here We Go Again: Pike vs. Plantinga on the Problem of Evil', International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1983), pp. 107-116 : 107-8.

A. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Harper and Row, 1974) : 54.

N. Pike, 'Plantinga on Free Will and Evil, Religious Studies, 15 (1979), 449-473. )

The proposition that gives me most trouble is :

(7) If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent and creates a world, he creates a world containing only moral good.

Grant that God created the world. Grant that God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. It could still be that a world that contains only moral good is not axiologically the best world. Moral value does not exhaust all value. Thus it seems to me a logical possibility - a non-self-contradictory state of affairs - that an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God created a world that does not contain only moral value and does contain moral evil. There is logical space for this possibility.


The problem of evil is based on the assumption that we know for sure what is good and what is evil for God itself. We make, so to say, a God in our image and likeness.

Since we haven't any logical certainty about the properties of something who transcend us (like God), I think that there's no logical problem at all. Of course we can still argue about it if we accept on faith God's properties (i.e. God is morally good following our current canons of "being good"), but it's not a logical problem.

Nonetheless, this is still a never ending debate, with radically different answers depending on the religion/God you refer (i.e Hindu, Christian, Islamic, Buddhist...)


God gave us free will to do as we please, that's what he did give us, so that we know what we are doing ( we have to make decisions continually to function in our everyday life, and you can't make a decision to function without free will. It's part of our anatomy -free will in order to go about our daily lives. Unfortunately sin was passed down to us from our forefathers as punishment and curse. God is perfect, if we didn't sin we would be perfect and equal with God, God is perfect and full of love, he has enough love for the whole world to cover the sin. People sin because it's in our nature and we are born into it at birth, and as a choice of free will. Sin just escalated, to produce evil, as the laws say what can happen will eventually happen. Our King creates the perfect universal order that keeps everything almost in check.

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    Why does this say "community wiki"? – AmagicalFishy Jun 23 '17 at 0:20
  • This doesn't address my question. I understand the free will defense. – florence Jun 23 '17 at 1:58
  • There is not much evil in the world! why does God allow bad things to happen? most people are good most of the time. Evil does marginally exist and We are on earth not in heaven, heaven is perfect, earth is not, earths laws are different to heavens laws. Evil sprouted from the beginning of time and was passed on down to us from our forefathers as a curse and punishment from God. Without Jesus dying on the cross in our place for our sin we would have no atonement and NO exemption from sin Jesus had a part to play so that man knew he was not equal with God and was born into the flesh. – Lisa M Mcdonald Jun 23 '17 at 2:45
  • when God created the serpent in the garden of Eden he also granted Free Will to Adam and Eve, one of the first gifts man got from God. Man was made in the flesh and eventually given to temptation as a result of being made in the flesh. We are not spirits like God, we are flesh and have to eat and are inferior to God, we are his creatures. God knew that man would have weakness according to design causing sin which escalated turns to evil. Gods back up plan was Noah's flood to destroy all people when things got too bad. He obviously didn't want to know everyone, as he is a jealous God. – Lisa M Mcdonald Jun 23 '17 at 3:02
  • doesn't answer the question. – Swami Vishwananda Jun 27 '17 at 7:50

If you want this question to have an answer, there is no point in waiting until Plantinga. It is already answered in Plato, with minor variations of the same answer given by Leibniz, Descartes, Kant, and several others. Evil is a misunderstanding -- reality is beyond your comprehension, and the things you see as evil are really just not the way you want them. If you truly trusted God, you would see beyond your petty concerns and realize that every evil event now ultimately causes an opportunity for greater good in the future.

[By one rather standard reading of Job, Satan is one of the Elohim, something even greater than an Angel. He is the Adversary of Man, a part of God that simply does not share any of the specific goals of mankind that are not ultimate goals of God himself. But his overall interest is in some sense good. He is pushing the boundary in quality assurance of the soul.]

From the POV of someone who would readily accept the argument, it seems that people just don't accept the logic because they don't like the tone. The problem with the answer is that it implies God's goodness has little or nothing to do with making you happy. And that is bad for the basic message of a lot of religious movements.

People continue to try and rationalize these perspectives. Like prophesy and free will, or human nature and responsibility, the question is no longer about new answers, it is about fitting together the existing ones in ways that don't bother us.

  • "implies God's goodness has little or nothing to do with making you happy": I've always wondered why theologians haven't tried to explain away the problem of evil by deferring the resolution to the afterlife: "We're sorry your suffering was a necessary part of the greater good. Worry not, any innocent who suffered collateral damage from God's inscrutable plan will be amply compensated in the next world." – Alexander S King Sep 12 '17 at 19:53
  • @AlexanderSKing Catholicism definitely does. The 'Pangloss' answer Voltaire skewered Leibniz over is pretty common -- "This is the best possible world, and anything evil in it ultimately creates something better." Well, what is the something better? "Make of your suffering an offering to God." and "When you suffer wickedness, you lay up treasure in heaven." Put these together and you get the position that life is a test: evil exists so you can honor God with your ability to handle it and you will be rewarded for this in the afterlife in some proportion to your suffering. – jobermark Sep 12 '17 at 21:47

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