Plantinga’s Answer to the Logical Problem of Evil – Part 1

In this article, we will start seeing how Plantinga in his book “God, Freedom and Evil” tackles the logical problem of evil. For the reader who is interested in a brief introduction to the issue, I advise reading my article

Let’s begin!

The logical problem of evil implies that there is an inherent contradiction in postulating both the existence of a theistic god and the existence of evil.

Let’s see how a contradiction among a given set of fact can be intended to see if such contradictions really apply to the set of facts that both a theistic God exists and evil exists.

As Plantinga points out in Part 1 of his book previously mentioned, a contradiction can be either explicit, formal or implicit. Let’s briefly see how these can apply to the problem of evil.

To see whether any of these contradictions apply lets set out the set of facts accepted by the theist which are held by the skeptic to create inconsistencies when all held at the same time to be true.

The set of facts or, more properly, propositions are:

1) God is all-powerful, 2) God is perfectly good and 3) Evil exists.

Let’s start with the explicit form of contradiction which can be defined as “a conjunctive proposition, one conjunct of which is the denial or negation of the other conjunct” (God, Freedom and Evil, p.12). An example would be: “I am a human and I am not a human”.

Does the set of the three reported theistic beliefs entail such form of contradiction? Clearly not. In fact, no form of explicit contradiction can be found in the set of propositions here taken into account. The set does not include propositions as “evil doesn’t exist” or “God is not perfectly good” or “God is not all powerful”. We can then conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the theistic belief isn’t explicitly contradictory.

Let’s now see how the concept of “formal contradiction” applies to the set of theistic beliefs.

A formal contradiction results when a deduced proposition from the set of beliefs contradicts explicitly the set of beliefs from which it was deduced. In simpler words, as Plantinga says, it is a contradiction that can be evinced from the laws of logic.

An example of a formal contradiction would be: 1) if Ed and Ame are identical twins they have the same biological parents, 2) Ed and Ame are identical twins, 3) Ed and Ame do not have the same biological parents.

This is a formally contradictory set of beliefs because proposition 1) and 2) entail (given modus ponens) that 4) Ed and Ame have the same parents. Hence, the implied statement of 1) and 2) which is 4) contradicts 3) hence qualifying as a set of beliefs which is formally contradictory.

Is the set of our three theistic beliefs formally contradictory? Clearly not. From 1) God is all powerful, 2) God is perfectly good and 3) Evil exists no proposition can be logically deduced which would deny explicitly one of the three propositions.

We are now left with the claim that the theistic set of beliefs is implicitly contradictory. Given the extremely evident case that the set of these theistic beliefs is neither explicitly nor formally contradictory, it is safe to say that the anti-theist is arguing for the problem of evil in its claim that there is an implicit contradiction in the set of theistic beliefs.

So, what is an implicit contradiction? A set of beliefs is implicitly contradictory if, from such set, follows logically and necessarily a proposition p which makes the set of beliefs in question formally contradictory.

When applied to the question of the consistency of theistic beliefs in the light of the existence of evil what could these implicit premises possibly be? Alvin Plantinga at page 17 of God, Freedom and Evil”, on the basis of John Mackie’s writings, highlights two of such claimed premises:

a) “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can”

b) “There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do”

Given the previous definition of what an implicitly contradictory set of beliefs is, these two propositions just mentioned, are believed to follow necessarily from the theistic set of beliefs 1) God is all powerful, 2) God is perfectly good and 3) Evil exists.

But are a) and b) really implicit premises of this set of theistic beliefs?

If they were, then this set of beliefs would presumably by inconsistent, if not by a strict implicit logical contradiction, by a loosely logical implicit contradiction (in the sense that, even if the implicit propositions do not lead to a formally contradictory set, they lead to a set in which the proposition cannot all be true, that is, at least one of the propositions has to be necessarily false).

In our next article, we will show that propositions a) and b) are both non-sequiturs, that is, they do not follow necessarily from the set of theistic beliefs. After analyzing how these propositions do not follow necessarily, I will show how a) and b) do not even follow probabilistically.
We actually have good reasons to say that they do not follow at all, or rather, that the opposite is true; that is, reformulating Plantinga’s words:
a) a good thing doesn’t always eliminate evil as far as it can, given that there are reasons by which a evil could be permitted and
b) There are limits to what an omnipotent being can do (In particular, in this context, if free creatures are granted free will).
The defense of both the reformulated propositions a) and b) will provide convincing arguments against the logical and probabilistic problem of evil.

In Christ our King,

Amedeo Da Pra

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