May 1, 2013

Posted by in Apologetics | 4 Comments

Problem of Evil: The Internal Problem (cont.)

Part 4 of a 5 part series on the problem of evil. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Internal Problem of Evil (cont.)

Reconsidering the Premises (cont.)

At the end of Part 3, we began to reconsider the premises in the internal problem of evil. Recall the four premises of the argument.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2)  Evil exists.

(3)  There are no limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4)  A good being always prevents evil as far as it can.

Since the conclusion that logically followed from these premises led to a contradiction, we started to reconsider these premises to see if any, as written above, are false. If one or more of these can be re-written then hopefully the contradiction can be resolved. In Part 3, we looked at (1) and (2), in this post we will reconsider (3) and (4).

Premise (3), as it is written here, is not true. There are limits to what God can do. These limits are not in God’s power; they are in the realm of logic. God cannot do something that is logically impossible. God cannot create a square circle or a married bachelor. These limits are grounded in the reason, rationality, and the way we communicate in language. A Christian college student asked me last year if it is appropriate to think of limiting God in this way. Indeed some believe that logic itself is merely a creation of God’s mind, the result of an arbitrary choice to think a certain way. I don’t agree with that assessment of logic, but I cannot refute it. What I can offer is simply the observation that the laws of logic are, in the opinion of every philosopher I have read, a brute fact of reality. To put it another way, we cannot escape reason and logic. It is self-refuting to imagine we can. In order to make an argument, denying the necessity of reason and logic, one must use them to make the argument.

The existence of reason and logic also impacts our understanding of God. He has revealed Himself to humanity through the Bible. God wants humanity to trust and obey Him based on that revelation. Our comprehension of the Bible and trust in God hinges on our ability to trust reality, as we perceive it through things like reason and logic. If God, in His interactions with creation, and us were not “bound” by reason and logic, our ability to trust God would be seriously undermined.

If there are logical limits to what God can do, what bearing does that have on the problem of evil? Simply put, God could not create free creatures that would not sin. If God created a world without the possibility of sin, it would not have freedom. Based on these observations, we can modify premise (3) to read as follows:

(3*) There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.


Moving on to premise (4) we must ask the question, “Is it possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil?” The answers to this question fall into two broad categories. First there is the importance God has placed on human freedom. Free will is at the core of our dignity as sentient beings. Moral responsibility, creativity, love, all flow out of our capacity for libertarian freedom.[1] C. S. Lewis answers the “why” question of human freedom this way.

“Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”[2]


A second category of answers could be filed under how God can use “evil” for His purposes and for the benefit of humanity.[3] Consider one of the greatest obstacles to our relationship with God, pride. Everyone, Christian or non-Christian, is susceptible to the desire to be self-sufficient, to deny our need for help. An unexpected, tragic, or even malicious event can quickly shatter our inflated view of our independence. Another example can be found in the metaphor of being a parent. There are times when one must allow something unpleasant in a child’s life (like a vaccination or medical procedure) for the long-term well-being of the child. A third and final example is in our reaction to evil. The suffering we experience in the world is a reminder of the presence of sin. The reaction that we have to suffering is a reaction to the sin that is in the world. The revulsion we experience when confronting evil is a vestige of the image of God. We know, deep in our being, that something is wrong. Perhaps the only significant difference between Christians and everyone else, is that Christians recognize the brokenness in themselves. We suffer with sin as much as anyone else, but we rejoice in the knowledge of our savior.

Let’s modify premise (4) to read as follows:

(4*) A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.


Reconsidering the Argument

The internal or logical problem of evil we have been considering has four premises.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2)  Evil exists.

(3)  There are no limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4)  A good being always prevents evil as far as it can.

We have been reconsidering these to see if any of them might be false. We now have alternate versions of (3) and (4).

(3) * There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4) * A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.

Now we will reconsider the entire argument with these modified premises.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2)  Evil exists.

(3)  * There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4)  * A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.

(5)  If (1) and (4) then God prevents all the evil He does not have a reason for

(6)  If (1) and (3) then God can prevent all of the evil that it is logically possible to prevent.

(7)  If (5) and (6) then God prevents all evil where logically possible and that he has no good reason to allow.

(8)  If (2) and (7) then evil exists but there is no evil unless it is logically necessary or God has a good reason to allow it.

Our conclusion (8) is no longer a contradiction. Instead we have an argument that explains that the coexistence of God and evil. Further, the discussion surrounding how and why premise (3) and (4) were modified offers some necessary background material about the nature of evil and the nature of God.

In the next and final installment of this series, we will consider the external or evidential problem of evil.

[1] See Chapter 20 of Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004).

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 47.

[3] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 544–548.


Ken Mann is a graduate student in Biola’s Science and Religion program. Ken is a software engineer by way of vocation, a physicist by way of education, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ, in his words, by necessity. Ken is the Chapter Director of Ratio Christi at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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  1. Daniel Killins says:

    Hey Ken! I read your post with interest and am grateful for the thinking and heart that went into it. A couple of thoughts kept running through my mind as I read it: Premises are defined by the terms they contain and if one doesn’t define terms then you can create a logically valid but false conclusion. Augustine addressed the problem of evil by first defining what it is. I’ve used Augustine’s definition of evil to good effect (thoughtful silence) time and time again in apologetic discussions. It has the advantage of brevity and profundity. In our fractured landscape of sound bites, the beauty of logical constructions is lost on most. As Christian’s, we don’t have to defend the idea that this world is the best possible of all worlds, it’s just the pathway to that world. (One of Geisler’s apologetic points).

    In His glad service,


    • Ken Mann says:

      Thanks for your comments. The scope of this topic and the number of directions that can be pursued is almost overwhelming. This portion of this series is focused on a particular variant of the argument popular with atheists. As to premises and their content, the response outlined here seeks to clarify the theological assumptions found in the premises. Precision, clarity and even a little tedium are sometimes needed.
      As much as I appreciate Augustine’s view, I fear it might be too brief and too profound.
      Whatever argument is used, the origin and nature of “the good” needs to be explored. What I appreciate most about Augustine’s view is the connection it makes between good and evil.

  2. Ian Ridgway says:

    Is it true to say that God is bound by what we understand to be the laws of logic? I think such a view is intolerable because why then is God not also bound by the laws of number, space and physics as well? Why does logic have this power over God? Our logic is a response to the ‘logical’ aspect of God’s self-revelation within the created order. I can’t see how that can make God himself subject to our formulations of logic. No doubt our reasonings are subject to those laws but that’s not the same thing as saying God is also subject.

    • Ken Mann says:

      Thanks for your challenge. To begin, I think there are some important distinctions that need to be made about “laws of number, space and physics.” When referring to physical sciences (“space and physics”) our culture has become accustomed to using phrases like “laws of nature.” That concept originated in a theistic context. Science sought to understand the “laws” written by the “law giver,” God. In other words, science believed nature was structured and ordered, that we could rely on the stability of nature in the same way we can rely on God not changing. The origin of science was also predicated on the idea that nature is contingent. Nature is not governed abstract principles that can be found via philosophical reflection (consider for example the 4 “elements of Greek thought). As scientific knowledge has exploded in the last two centuries, we have learned many different facts about nature. All of the constants of nature are completely arbitrary, there is no principle of physics that can derive all those constants. Yet, we know our existence is balanced on the nearly unimaginable precision of the values of those constants. In my post I made it clear that I was referring to logic and reason, not physics. The physical laws are contingent, they are what God chose them to be.
      Turning to the laws of logic, philosophers refer to these as necessary rather than contingent. In other words, they are true and operative in any possible universe. As I said in my post, to deny that God is not bound by logic, is to deny we can actually know God. Let me try putting it another way. It is impossible for God to engage in any kind of evil. To follow your objection, God is subservient to morality in the same way I am arguing He is subservient to logic. In response, one could argue that Morality or Logic are simply whatever God decides them to be. They are arbitrary constructs from within God’s mind. They could change at any time. You may recognize this as the Euthyphro Dilemma. What I would like you to consider is that logic, reason, numbers, and any other universals you can think of exist because God exists. They are grounded in His nature the same way that morality emanates from God’s nature. The philosophers perception that the laws of logic are necessary aspects of reality merely reflects the image of God in humanity. We cannot escape reason and logic any more than we can escape the presence of God. In reality God is not “bound” by reason and logic, we are bound by the universe that God created.

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