In my article https://confident-faith.com/2018/01/27/plantingas-answer-to-the-logical-problem-of-evil-part-1/ I showed how Plantinga assesses that the problem of evil is most probably intended by most to argue for an implicit contradiction between a certain set of beliefs within Christian theism.
I concluded by reporting the two propositions supposedly necessarily implied by the propositions: 1) God is all-powerful, 2) God is perfectly good and 3) Evil exists.
These two implied propositions were:
a) “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can” (which is presumably deduced by the proposition “God is perfectly good”)
b) “There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do” (which is presumably deduced by the proposition “God is all-powerful”).
Are these propositions true? Clearly not. Let’s see why and then, for the sake of the argument, let’s see if these two propositions can be reformulated in such a way to result more probably true. As we will later see, even other reformulations of these two propositions a) and b) will not meet the criteria necessary to make the logical problem of evil succeed.
So, is proposition a) true? Is it true that “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can”? No. Let’s see the possible counterexamples:
1) a good thing may not eliminate an evil he can eliminate because it isn’t aware of the existence of that evil (whether this applies to God it’s irrelevant, it simply shows that the proposition has, at least, to be reformulated).
2) Or again, it could well be that a good thing doesn’t eliminate evil as far as it can, even the ones it knows about because it could be that there are two contemporaneous actual evils which, when together, cannot both be eliminated. An example would be a person who has to quickly choose to save one of two people in danger of life and has the time to save only one. The person could save both endangered people singularly, but he might not be able to save them both at the same time.
3) Or again it could well be that a being doesn’t eliminate an evil he can eliminate because the elimination of such evil would bring forth a greater evil.
4) Or again it could be that there is a positive state of things which can be actualized only if a smaller negative one is actualized. If such relation is strictly necessary, a good being could well leave actualized the smaller evil to bring forth the greater good.
Therefore the natural atheologist will have to reformulate the original proposition in something like this: “An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate” (Plantinga p.21).
By “properly” it is implied that he will eliminate an evil whose elimination would not bring forth a greater evil or that he will not eliminate an evil which would eliminate the greater good to whom it is the condition of actualization.
Lets now see proposition b). Is it true that “There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do?” Since the days of Anselm, when the concept of a maximally great being was formalized in the field of natural theology, the majority of Christian theologians consistently asserted that God could not do the logically impossible. Such claim is clearly compatible with an all-powerful being given the fact that a perfect God would have a rational nature and hence it is expected from Him, given the principle of identity, to act according to what he is, that is, a logical being.
For a clear and coherent presentation of the “omni” attributes of a theistic God, I advise reading the book “Maximal God: A New Defence of Perfect Being Theism” by philosopher Yujin Nagasawa (here is the Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Maximal-God-Defence-Perfect-Theism-ebook/dp/B076DGT9Q8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1518301748&sr=8-2&keywords=yujin+nagasawa).
Therefore, if it can be coherently be asserted that a maximally great God cannot do the logically impossible, the proposition “There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do” is false.
Besides this, if the theist were to assert that God could do the logically impossible, the purportedly logically contradictory set of theistic beliefs would be somewhat irrelevant. A contradictory set of beliefs for a God who can bring about incoherent states of affairs will not go against the proposition that “God exists”.
Therefore we can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that proposition b) is wrong. Now, a defender of the logical problem of evil could say that a more modest version of b) could be defended so that our answers to the original formulation can be overcome and the logical problem could still succeed. A reformulation of the original proposition could be something like: “there are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do” (Plantinga p.21).
So the reformulated set of theistic beliefs can be summarized in the following way:
God is all-powerful, -God is perfectly good, God is all knowing, -Evil exists, -An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate, – there are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do.
Clearly this set, with the reformulated propositions a) and b) doesn’t logically oppose theism when the existence of evil is taken into account. This new set of beliefs simply implies that “there is no evil [in this world] that God can properly eliminate” (Plantinga p.22). To make the set of theistic beliefs contradictory the proposition “An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate” would have to be reformulated in “If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs” (Plantinga p.22). In such a way the set of theistic beliefs would imply that “there is no evil in this world” but there is evil in this world and hence we would have a contradiction in the set of theistic beliefs.
But is the proposition “If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs” true? It is false because, of the four criticism offered to the proposition “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can” reason 3) and 4) still can apply to an omnipotent and omniscient being (we will see particular cases in our future articles, but for now, the logical possibility is sufficient to assess the lack of necessity of the reformulated proposition).
All of this seems to make sense, but can we make a positive case in showing that there is internal coherence among the set of theistic beliefs? Yes, and Plantinga shows us how. It is sufficient to give a state of affairs in which all the beliefs of a certain set would be true if actual. This way of showing internal consistency among a set of beliefs can be brought about in different ways. This is one of them: take for example two sets of beliefs which we will call 1) and 2). To show that 1) and 2) are consistent it is sufficient to show that, for example, belief 1) is consistent with another belief which we will call belief 3) with belief 3) that entails necessarily belief 2). If belief 1) and 3) are compatible and belief 3) entails necessarily belief 2) it follows that belief 1) and 2) are consistent. This applies to the problem of evil in the following way: we want to show that the belief: “God is omnipotent, all knowing and perfectly good” is consistent with the proposition: “evil exists”. Now, what is another belief that is compatible with the first proposition and entails the second one when combined with the first? A proposition of this type could be: “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” (Plantinga p.26). If the set of beliefs “God is omnipotent, all-knowing and perfectly good” and “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” is consistent, then the set of beliefs “God is omnipotent, all-knowing and perfectly good” and “evil exists” is consistent.
What is left now? Well, presumably a person would like to have some more information on how the proposition “God is omnipotent, all-knowing and perfectly good” is consistent with the proposition “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so”.
Now, if the state of affairs in which the set of theistic beliefs were actual, would it be possible for the proposition “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” to be true? Yes, because such proposition wouldn’t contradict any of the postulated theistic beliefs.
In the next article we will analyze precisely the relation between the propositions “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so” and “God is omnipotent, all-knowing and perfectly good” by offering reasons why God would have reasons to create a world containing evil and why such reasons are sufficiently good.
In Christ our Savior,
Amedeo Da Pra