The Metaphysical Necessity of Evil


The biggest challenge to the Christian faith is why an all benevolent God would allow evil to befall His creation. Ultimately, the problem of evil is one of the most beautiful aspects of Christianity, providing legitimacy for much of what it teaches. For the Christian perspective, evil is a metaphysical necessity in all possible worlds so long as God decides to create in all possible worlds. Since God creates optimally and cannot create less than perfect, what occurs in the actualized world is optimal, perfect beyond all possible worlds. The evil experienced in this world, though difficult and emotionally tragic, still leads to the beauty of God’s love. Evil, therefore, is necessary because it is the most optimal way for God to display His love to His creation.

For His Glory, For His Love

To understand why evil exists, one must first understand that God created this world for His glory. In saying that God created for His glory, it must be stressed that this was not to add to His glory, but merely to display it in physical format. God’s glory is eternally complete, thus it cannot be added to or subtracted from. What, then, does it mean to say that the world is created for His glory? God created the world as a display of His glory, of what He was capable of in an optimal fashion. It is akin to an artist painting his masterpiece; though he knew he was able to and he was a very capable artist prior to painting the picture, by painting the picture he merely displayed what already existed. Likewise, when God created, He was merely displaying what already existed, primarily, His glory.

The idea of God creating for His glory, however, falls short if one does not include the concept of a relationship with His creation and, more importantly, His love for creation as a purpose for creation. God created this world because He loved what He would place into the world. He created this world in order to display His love. This, however, does not mean that the world is an addition to God; in fact, this world is a subtraction from God. As Dr. William Dembski states, “…God plus the world is less than God alone. To see this, consider that God could have created any number of worlds. Thus, in creating this one, God, far from expanding himself, instead contracted himself. The lesson here is that even apart from evil and sin, it is possible for intelligences (whether created or uncreated) to give irrevocably so as to deny and thereby sacrifice other options.”[1] God, by creating, was engaging in an act of sacrifice.

God did not just create a world where He would give love, but also gave a world where He would receive love. In fact, as Dr. Dembski points out, “Christian theology has always regarded God’s creation of the world as an act of love.”[2] Had God wished to create a world where He merely loved without receiving love, then He would have created a world with unintelligible creatures. Though such animals can love in a sense, this love is out of a sense of duty and protection and not to the level that free agents can love. Though a man will love his dog, he will not appreciate the love of his dog as much as he appreciates the love of his wife. The reason for this is the wife is a free moral agent and can choose to love or not love her husband; because the dog is dependent upon the man, the dog will love the man regardless of what he does to the dog. Similarly, by creating free agents, God indicates that He wants to receive love from a certain part of His creation.

The Choice

By creating a world where people were freely able to choose Him, God inevitably had to allow the freedom of choice. A “positive moral” is to be defined as any action or thought meant to produce love toward God and a “negative moral” is the opposite; in both instance, the moral choice will be made determined on how much a person loves God. By allowing this free will, this choice, God subsequently had to allow evil to enter the world.[3] For man to choose good he had to know what the opposite of good was. After all, there is hardly any choice when only one option is presented. If a father tells his daughter she can mow the lawn or play inside, but then locks the door to get inside, he has effectively left her with only one option and, consequently, removed any reality of choice. Thus, for God to create a world where real choice existed, He would have to allow for evil to enter into that world.

Since these creatures are allowed to choose, there is a chance for evil since God will not determine what they can and cannot do. If God determined humans to perform good actions all the time, then there would be no freedom of choice; if there is no freedom of choice, there is no love, which negates the entire purpose of creation. As Alvin Plantinga adequately states, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free…is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.”[4] Therefore, God created creatures capable choosing good, but in doing so, He had to allow them to choose evil as well.

God not only created the world for love and allowed free beings, but God created the world in an optimal state. As Michael Wittmer light-heartedly states, “God created this world for us to enjoy, and he himself announced that he did a pretty good job.”[5] Wittmer brings up the valid point that when God created the world, He declared it “very good.” The Hebrew for “very good” indicates that a standard was met. One must ask, can God create something that fulfills a standard that is less than optimal or less than perfect? If God can create anything that does not measure up to His standard of perfection, one must conclude that God is either partially evil (for not allowing the best circumstances to play out for His creation), impotent, or fallible. Thus, it is best to believe that God created the most optimal world that fit within His perfect plan.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

That God chose the most optimal world means that God knows all other possible worlds in which man could exist. Assuming that God is a metaphysical necessity and is all-knowing, it is possible to fathom that God could have created a world in which evil did not exist, or in which there was no man. God knows all that could have happened in a different world, or if a different set of circumstances existed. Though these situations did not actualize, He knew they could occur. Since God knows all possible worlds, one must ask if evil then becomes a metaphysical necessity, or if a world can exist without it.

Since God creates optimally and according to His perfect plan, one would have to assume (hypothetically) that if God created World B, He would still want some type of intelligent creature there that would seek out a relationship with Him. Though man is contingent (in that he did not need to exist for God to exist), he is also necessary if God’s plan is followed in all possible worlds. Thus, assuming God followed His perfect plan in all possible worlds; one could conclude that man is, in a way, a metaphysical necessity. If man is a metaphysical necessity, then evil too becomes necessary in all possible worlds. Whether one is discussing World A (the actualized world), or Worlds B, C, or D (the theoretical worlds), evil would exist in all possible worlds since God would follow His perfect plan in all possible worlds (since He cannot do anything less than perfect).

Therefore, in any world where God wishes to have a relationship with His creation, evil must exist. Though evil is contingent on the idea that God will follow His plan, at the point He follows His plan (to create beings capable of a loving relationship with Him) evil becomes necessary. In the actualized world, man has been created to love God.[6] As already established, via Plantinga, the only way for man to choose good (loving God) is for man to have the opportunity and ability to choose the opposite (hating God).

A Non-Knowing God

There are those, however, that believe there is an alternative explanation for evil, namely, that God simply did not know the future and thus God did not know evil would enter the world. Up to this point it has been assumed that evil is a natural byproduct of God’s overall plan and sovereignty, but many would say that though God has a plan it is not always followed, which is why evil exists. Clark Pinnock clarifies this position by saying, “The future is not fixed and settled to the ‘nth’ degree but can still be shaped, together with God, by the prayers and actions of God’s people.”[7] God does not know the future, but instead influences the future. Not only does God influence the future, but man partakes in this influencing of the future, by asking God to intervene with His power to influence a situation. Evil, therefore, is an accidental byproduct of God’s creation that He simply did not foresee, not a decreed one.

The explanation for why God would forbid Himself from knowing the future is, ironically, that God loves His creation. Again, Pinnock states, “Because God loves, he makes himself vulnerable. His heart can be broken owing to the unfaithfulness of his creatures, which also implies that he has changing experiences and self-limits himself in the area of power to give us room to function.”[8] For Pinnock, the only way free will can truly exist is if God does not know what man will choose. Though He might know possible futures, He does not know the absolute future or what anyone will choose in any situation; at best, He because a Divine guesser. Out of love, it is said, God limited His knowledge of the future and because of this evil entered and remains in the world.

The inherent problem with this view is that if God does not what will occur in the future, then He doesn’t know all possible worlds. To the open theist, this might not seem like a problem; why would God need to know all possible worlds? However, the implications of such a statement shake the very foundation of the Christian understanding of God. If God did not know all possible worlds, than the actualized world could be less than optimal – God simply could have not known of a better world to create. This would mean that God is, in fact, fallible in achieving His perfect purpose. Thus, God has to know the future, for this is the only way He can know the most optimal world to create.

Furthermore, an anthropological response when faced with evil is to pray to God; because God has a plan and knows the outcome of all events, Christians pray to gain insight and comfort from God’s sovereignty. If, however, God does not know the future, what then is the point in prayer? As John Hammett accurately observes, “Why pray to God for guidance when He does not know which path will lead to blessedness in my future? What if He should be mistaken in the guidance given?”[9] Prayer is one of the most natural responses to evil, but if God does not know the future, then what is it worth? Evil, in a way, becomes more powerful than God as it can occur without Him knowing. Though He might hold power to shape it, He cannot prevent it nor can He preempt it. Thus, if God does not know the future, there is no need for prayer when evil occurs.

Ultimately, when faced with evil, one must take solace in the fact that God knew evil would occur and allowed it for a reason. Romans 8:28 speaks of how God will work all things to good for those He has chosen and called – He can only do this if He knows the future and the evils His chosen will face. When evil strikes, there is solace in the fact that God knew it would occur.

Why Does He Allow Evil?

Though the Free Will defense is helpful, it does not fully explain why God allows evil to occur; there must be a deeper explanation. Though God wanted His creation to love Him, the best way for God to display His love to His creation is through sacrifice. The only way this can occur is if evil exists within the world. As Dr. Dembski has stated, “Indeed, the only way to gauge the extent to which one person loves another is by what that person is willing to endure for the other.”[10] The solace for Christians is that God did not leave man to face evil on His own; God sent His Son in the flesh to not only face evil, but to become the ultimate sacrifice. This is the deeper explanation that the Free Will defense lacks – God allows evil in order to display His love.

For man to truly understand love he must endure hatred, to understand God’s glory he must endure the opposite of God’s glory. Even when Christians are in Heaven and evil has been removed, they will still appreciate God and what He has done because of all they suffered on the other side of eternity. Evil is the cold that God allows so that His warm embrace will mean so much more. A person in Hawaii will not appreciate a flannel blanket on the beach, but a person in a Siberian prison will be forever grateful to whoever gave him that blanket. It is the same with humans – God allows evil because it makes humans all the more grateful when He loves them. In fact, not only does evil enhance man’s understanding of God’s love, it is the best way man experiences and knows God’s love.

Conclusion

Evil is a metaphysical necessity in all worlds where God creates to display His love and be loved by rational agents. Since God created to display His love and to be loved, He had to create beings with free will. By allowing these beings to choose, He had to allow there to be a real choice between good and evil. God’s allowance of this was based on His foreknowledge and plan for creation. God allows evil so that humans might enjoy His love and feel secure in the knowledge that He is in control. Evil, as horrible as it is, is a metaphysical necessity in all possible worlds.


[1] Dembski, William, The Reach of the Cross. www.designinference.com, October 19, 2006, p. 18. Accessed December 6, 2007.[2] Ibid, 20

[3] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 40.

[4] Ibid, 33

[5] Michael Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 60.

[6] Ibid. 91

[7] Clark Pinnock, “A Response to “From Bad to Worse”,” Criswell Theological Review 1, no. 2 (Spring 2004): 167.

[8] Ibid. 168

[9] John S. Hammett, “Divine Foreknowledge and Open Theism,” Faith and Mission 12, no. 1 (Fall 2003): 26.

[10] Dembski, 18

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2 thoughts on “The Metaphysical Necessity of Evil

  1. Excellent overview of the topic. Good reasoning and explanation.
    Took me back to my Metaphysics and God and Freedom classes.
    Once again, good job.

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