As alluded to, while the logical problem of evil has been adequately dealt with, we are still left with the evidential problem of evil. Yes, it is logical for God and evil to co-exist, but is the current amount of evil we see necessary? This is where the argument of gratuitous, or superfluous evil becomes extremely problematic for theists.
The skeptic might accept Plantinga’s argument, but turn around and argue that we can imagine a possible world with less evil. We could, conceivably, imagine a world where humans never discovered how to split the atom, which would prevent disasters like Nagasaki and Hiroshima from occurring. It would prevent the threat of annihilation. It would prevent people dying slow, horrible deaths from nuclear poisoning and the inevitable cancer that comes with it (think of Chernobyl or the inevitable problems that will be caused by the Fukushima power plant). We could imagine a world where Hitler or Stalin never came to power or where nations mostly existed peacefully (with wars only arising every few hundred years).
Likewise, we can imagine God acting to prevent some of the superfluous evil without contradicting a person’s free will (or at least this is the argument, though I take issue with it). For instance, if a man grabs a little child to kidnap her, we could imagine God sending an angel down to stop the man from doing so. After all, God prevented Pharaoh’s army from slaughtering the Hebrew people, He prevented Daniel from being eaten by the lions, and prevented Daniel’s three friends from being consumed in the fire. So we have examples of God supposedly preventing a superfluous evil, so why can’t we imagine a world where this Divine intervention happens more?
– Great Good Theodicy
Many theists and Christians attempt to explain the existence of superfluous evil by stating that it’s not really superfluous; they take Plantinga’s argument and say that every act of evil is invariably tied to a greater good that results from the evil. God will allow an evil only if a greater-good can be obtained from the evil, or if He intends for the greater good to obtain from the evil.
A greater good (G-G) theodicy teaches that some goods are contingent upon certain evils. They point to the example of the cross, where Jesus’ death, though evil, must occur for the good of salvation. Or one can think of the chicken pox, that while a child must endure the temporary evil of the chicken pox, she will have the greater good of not getting it later in life when it would be worse. Under the G-G theodicies, no evil is really “gratuitous” because it will always produce a greater good, it always has a reason, and is always necessary.
Already some readers may recognize the problem with G-G theodicies. The first problem and possibly the biggest is that it forced God to become reliant upon evil. If God wishes to obtain good and must only rely on evil, then how is He not ultimately responsible for evil? It would mean that God would have to cause evil in order to obtain a good from the evil. Likewise, it makes God the ultimate pragmatist, which would seemingly contradict God’s holiness; just because a greater good can be obtained through evil, how could God remain holy for doing this in every instance?
The other problem with G-G theodicies is that they significantly limit free will, which forces us to reconsider or abandon the answer to the logical problem of evil. If every act of evil begets good and good is part of God’s plan, then we must commit that act of evil. God is dependent upon us acting in an evil way, we have no other choice, so how are we truly responsible for acting in an evil manner? Let’s say that God plans to use Mike to cure HIV/AIDS, but the only way Mike will do this is if his wife contracts the disease through a blood transfusion and dies from it. Thus, God kills Mike’s wife in order to motivate Mike to cure HIV. Where is Mike’s free choice in the matter of choosing to cure HIV/AIDS? God knows that the only thing that will motivate Mike to cure HIV is the death of his wife via HIV (and then AIDS). Mike doesn’t really have a choice in such a situation and God becomes the cause of evil.
Along the same line of though, if all evil leads to a greater good then we have no reason to prevent evil. If a man sees a woman being mugged he has no reason to step in because a greater good could obtain from her being mugged. How do we know the good provided by evil won’t be greater than the good we achieve by preventing the evil? If a greater good obtains in every case of evil, then why work to stop every case of evil?
Hoes does a proponent of G-G theodicies escape the inevitable conclusion that God wills evil? As Little argues, “…if the good is necessary to the plan of God, then so is the evil, which logically leads to the conclusion that God wills the evil.” If the good is willed by God and is necessary to the plan of God, then the evil that brought about the good would also be willed by God (under G-G theodicies). It’s a matter of forward causation – if God demands that G occurs, but E is needed for G to obtain, then God must have ordered E to occur.
Yet, G-G theodicies become more problematic the more we examine them, namely that we can always imagine ways God could bring about some good, yet use a less evil. We can think back to Roman times when the death of a Christian served as a testament to God. People would argue that the temporary evil of a Christian being torn apart by a lion would beget the greater good of the testimony offered by the Christian. Yet, we can imagine that God could somehow miraculously save the Christian, which would equally display His power to people.
Or we can imagine the collapse of a building during office hours in which hundreds are killed. The building collapsed due to faulty standards and oversight. Though hundreds are killed, the government passes new legislation that fixes the building standards and provides more oversight to prevent the tragedy from ever happening again. But can’t we also imagine that an inspector catches the problem before it happens and lobbies the government to pass such a law and they do? Or what about the building collapses a night with no one inside, leading to the same good as if hundreds had perished? In this example too, while a good does obtain as a result of the evil, we can imagine far less evil (or no evil) occurring that leads to the same resulted good.
Even if we accept that God somehow relies on evil to obtain good in every instance of evil, we can still imagine God using lesser evil. The problem is that to respond to this, one must argue that the level of evil is actually necessary for the good to obtain. As Little argues, “
“If the good is necessary, then so is the particular evil, for if the good could be accomplished with a lesser evil, then the all-good God would use the lesser evil. The end is, that the particular evil is necessary, for the good could not obtain without the evil and the good must obtain because it is necessary.”
God then either appears infinitely dull in not thinking of better ways to obtain the good by using lesser evil, or it becomes an impossible mystery to us, but this doesn’t offer an answer to the problem of evil. We must argue that every act of evil is absolutely necessary (which can lead to Christian nihilism, where there is no point in preventing evil) or that God just can’t think of a better way to use a lesser evil.
Even if we disregard the above objections, we still have a further problem with G-G theodicies, namely that they almost inevitably lead to further evils. What is good now may be evil tomorrow.
One can think about the freedom of the US and all the good that was brought about through the evil of war. But turn around and think of the evil thrust upon the Native Americans via expansionist genocide. Or we can think about the evil caused by the institution of slavery. The original good (freedom from an oppressive government) eventually turned into evil (oppression was thrown upon another group).
We can imagine about how Israel was formed because of the Holocaust, and Israel is good in that it provides a homeland for Jews who would otherwise be persecuted (today or eventually) in other countries. But the trade-off is that many Palestinian people were forced off their homes (either by Jewish settlers or out of fear) and also caused a perpetual state of war between Israel and her neighbors. Even if this isn’t the ultimate fault of Israel, we can see that much evil has arisen from the original good of the Jews having their own homeland.
In the end, some goods end up causing greater evils, which in turn should lead to greater goods, which in turn would inevitably lead to greater evils, and so on. This leads us to believe that at some point, good should stop allowing for evil, or the only evils left will be so horrendous that they would wipe out all of human existence. The evils should get greater if we look at the history of humanity and apply a G-G theodicy to it. And finally, at what point does the cycle end, or are we doomed to simply watch evil escalate until humans can’t stand it anymore?
Finally, G-G theodicies don’t adequately deal with natural evils because rarely do we see a “greater good” coming from a natural disaster. We can think of Haiti’s earthquake in 2010 and how they are still suffering from the devastating affects of the earthquake. Where is the greater good? Or what about Indonesia where over 200,000 people were killed, leaving even more without mothers, fathers, friends, husbands, wives, children, and so on? Shall we say that a greater good has come from the earthquake in Indonesia, and if it has, where is it? In all these cases, couldn’t God allow structural damage while disallowing the loss of life and still achieve the same “greater good”?
The ultimate problem with G-G theodicies is that they leave an undue burden on the theist to explain evil and find the greater good in every act of evil. I think back to an episode of the television show Scrubs where Dr. Cox takes the antagonistic position on evil while Nurse Roberts takes the affirmative position, arguing that God allows evil for a reason. The entire episode they go back and forth with Cox pointing to an evil and asking, “What’s the purpose in that,” while a short time later Roberts finds the purpose and shows him. But is such a defense necessary or even warranted? Why should theists have to point out the good in every act of evil when the good isn’t always apparent?
Ultimately, the G-G theodicies, while popular, are problematic in their logic, but also impractical as explanations. They place an undue burden on the theist without giving a satisfactory explanation. While sometimes God will allow an evil in order to bring about a greater good, to say that He does this in every case of evil is unfounded and unnecessary.
– Creation-Order Theodicy
A new alternative to the G-G theodicies is Bruce Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy (C-O). Rather than attempting to deny the existence of gratuitous evil or say that God allows all evil for a greater good, it embraces that gratuitous evil exists, but that this doesn’t count against God’s holiness or power. Ultimately, his theory is based on the idea that because humans have free will, God cannot logically prevent certain evils or most evils because this would limit human freedom. He argues,
“The creation order does not provide a means for God to filter out the bad choices from which He cannot bring about a greater good. Instead, the creation order allows for gratuitous evil as a corollary to the authenticity of the libertarian freedom.”
Evil, even gratuitous evil, must be allowed because God allows free choices, which means we must be responsible for these choices. So why doesn’t God stop terrorists when they detonate an explosive in a crowded restaurant? If He prevented every act of evil, or most acts of evil, then free will wouldn’t exist because there wouldn’t be consequences to our choices because our choices would never be actualized. Continue reading