The Ontological Dilemma Against Gratuitous Evil

Here is a quick one, two, as it were… A good reason to think God exists and that the problem of evil is unsound1:
1. Either the concept of a maximally great being (a being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect in every possible world) is self-consistent or not.
2. If the concept of a maximally great being is self-consistent, then there is at least one possible world where a maximally great being exists.
3. If there is at least one possible world where a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in every possible world.
4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then a maximally great being exists.
5. If the concept of a maximally great being is not self-consistent, then the atheologian does not provide sufficient justification for arguing that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
6. The atheologian provides sufficient justification for premise that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
Therefore:
7. A maximally great being exists.
And…
8. If the atheologian provides sufficient justification for the premise that the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil, then the existence of a maximally great being entails the impossibility of gratuitous evil.
So…
8. Gratuitous evil is impossible.

I think the atheologian would have to object to (5) or (6). Giving up on (6) would mean that the atheologian abandons defending the problem of evil. I am more interested in denying (5). The denial of (5) means that the atheologian can provide sufficient justification for the premise of the problem of evil while the concept of a maximally great being is not self-consistent. This seems implausible to me, since most atheologians appeal to a conceptual analysis moral perfection, omnipotence, and omniscience in explaining what might be entailed by those properties. No atheologian whom I am aware of appeals to the non-self-consistence of a maximally great being in justifying those premises. So the practice of atheologians betrays the fact that they rely on a justification grounded in self-consistency rather than, say, the principle of explosion.

One might object and say that the atheologian is agnostic towards whether a maximally-great being is self-consistent. Instead, they use the problem of evil to defeat the idea that a maximally excellent being exists (a maximally excellent being has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection). They reason that if a maximally excellent being fails to exist in this world, then a maximally great being is impossible. A couple of responses might be ventured. 1) Given divine simplicity, God is identical to God’s attributes. This means that a maximally excellent being is essentially distinct from a maximally great being, if it is not the case that a maximally excellent being’s attributes are non-identical to necessary existence. So the non-existence of a maximally excellent being would not rule out the possible existence of a maximally great being. And 2) the self-consistency of a maximally great being should not be undermined by something external to it. Since gratuitous evil is said to be external to maximal greatness, it should not be a defeater for self consistency, and so no a defeater for the logical possibility of a maximally great being. A maximally great being, on the other hand, is a deafeater for gratuitous evil, if our atheologians have done their homework properly.

1The formulation of the argument in terms of consistency is inspired by the formulation of Plantinga’s modal ontological argument here:
K.E. Himma. “Anselm: Ontological Argument for God’s Existence” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/ont-arg/#H4

Posted on February 21, 2014, in Arguments for God and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If the whole argument comes down to abandoning 6 or letting the argument run, the problem of evil is defeated. So salvaging the problem of evil comes down to rejecting 5, and as I’ve said, reject 5 is philosophically dubious both from observing the practice of atheologians and from the standpoint of modal epistemology.

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