This is the the twenty-seventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post looked at the logical problem of evil, which seeks to show a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. This post now moves to responses to that argument.
The logical problem of evil makes one assumption that theists might not want to give up on so easily. A perfectly good being would in general want to oppose evil, and couldn't an omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything to stop such evil? Actually, the answer isn't so clear. An omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything possible. There are limits to omnipotence. They are not physical limits. They are logical limits. An omnipotent being could not make contradictions true or make square circles. Those are not actions that could be done, and thus a being that can do anything possible could not do them. This is not a real limitation, since there is no such action to be done, and thus God could still be able to do any coherent action.
(One reason why it makes little sense to say that God can do anything is that God would then be able to make true contradictions. If so, then the contradiction between God and evil would not be a problem. God can make contradictions, and thus that contradiction would not be a difficulty for theism. So it is not in the best interests of the person presenting the problem of evil to require that sort of thing of an omnipotent being. For more on this issue, see here and the discussions also at the two cross-posted locations of the same post at Prosblogion and Philosophy et cetera.)
Now it may be true that you can put a coherent description to the following action: God stops the existence of all evil. But that is coherent only if you grant a few things. One way to stop the existence of all evil is not to create. Presumably creating other beings is a good thing, however. Is the world better off with created beings than it is without them? Is it a good action on God's part to create? Most people tend to say yes. But it also seems coherent to describe God as creating in such a way that no one ever does anything wrong. If God could create beings, and those beings could turn out to be perfectly moral beings 100% of the time, then there would be no evil (it would seem). Could an omnipotent being make such a situation the case?
The answer is yes. An omnipotent being could guarantee that created beings would do no wrong. But think about what this would involve. This would mean setting things up from the beginning so that any choices people would make would all move in the direction of good. Many people would not consider that to be freedom. Is freedom of this sort a good thing? Many say yes. In fact, many people think it would be immoral to make people like us but then force us to act a certain way. Would a perfectly good being do that?
If not, then the logical problem of evil is defeated. If a perfectly good being would not do such a thing, then it matters little how powerful the perfectly good being is. Even if this being could stop all evil, perfect goodness would not allow it. Thus the combination of perfect goodness with omniscience and omnipotence prevents something that a merely omnipotent and omniscient being could easily do. It turns out, then, that an omnipotent and omniscient being could prevent evil but only as long as this being is not perfectly good. It is impossible for even an all-powerful being to create free human beings while guaranteeing that they do no wrong, if this line of argument is correct.
It is important to notice also that the line of argument does not even really need to be correct. All that matters is that it is possible. Is it possible that a perfectly good being would not do everything possible to prevent evil? We just looked at one account of why a perfectly good being might allow evil. It may not be the only one. It may not be the correct one. But it shows that one is possible, and if it is possible then the argument (i.e. the logical problem of evil) fails. The argument claims that a being with these three traditional features of God would not allow any evil. If it is possible that such a being would allow evil, then the argument's conclusion is simply false. Such a being might allow evil, and it may be because there might be good reasons to allow evil. Therefore, there is no real contradiction between the existence of God (in the traditional sense) and the existence of evil.
Next up: the evidential problem of evil