The Instigator
Pro (for)
10 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
4 Points

The Problem of Evil (PoE)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/6/2011 Category: Religion
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,699 times Debate No: 16213
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (53)
Votes (3)





God - An omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent personal being who created the universe and is concerned with the well being of His creatures.

Evil (minimalist account) - (At least) anything which causes suffering, pain, disability and death.

(Note: Even though the notion of evil as an extensive and controversial one, it is merely to avoid controversy and semantics that I restrict myself to this definition of evil.)


The Problem of Evil (PoE) is widely regarded as the biggest challenge to belief in a God of the kind described above. In this debate, my role is to present a version of this argument, and to defend it against Con's objections. The type of PoE I will present is the evidential form, which states that while evils themselves are not necessarily logically incompatible with God, the existence of gratuitous evils present what most recognise as a very powerful argument against the existence of God:

The WSA Evidential problem of evil (1)

(P1) If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good.

(P2) There is lots of evil in the world.

(P3) Much of that evil is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good.

(C) Therefore, there is no God who is all powerful and all good.

Defending P1

P1 states that in order for an evil to be reconciled with God, it has to be "logically necessary for an adequately compensating good." This means that the evil cannot be avoided, and that the reason for permitting outweighs preventing the evil. For example, those with tooth decay have reason to permit an evil (painful drilling) if this is the only way to relieve them of a greater evil. Such an evil would be compatible with the conditions of P1, iff this relieved the pain in the most efficient way possible. Likewise, goods like free-will are said to be so valuable that God has a morally sufficient reason to permit them, even in the face of horrendous evils. So what reasons do we have for believing P1 to be true. As Christian philosopher Daniel Howard Snyder remarks,

"on the face of it, the idea that God may well permit gratuitous evil is absurd. After all, if God can get what He wants without permitting some particular horror (or anything comparably bad), why on earth would He permit it?"

Almost all Christians and atheists agree on this point, because not only is the attributes of God seemingly logically inconsistent with the existence of gratuitous evil by its very definition, but the denial of P1 leads to massive problems elsewhere.

Defending P2

If P1 is virtually undeniable, P2 is even more so. The fact is that there are many things which cause suffering, pain, disability and death. Indeed, there are many things which cause all 4. In short, there is lots of evil in the world. There is torture, there is rape, murder, and a host of natural evil, from floods to droughts. However, in my defence of P2 it is merely sufficient to establish that these things exist and do so in abundance.

I'll say very little else of P1 and P2, because I don't seriously expect Con to deny either that gratuitous evils are incompatible with an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent being, nor do I expect Con to deny that evil exists in our world - that much is obvious. Rather, the objector to the PoE most commonly aims to direct fire at P3, that there are actually existing evils which are not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good, and it is to this which I know turn.

Defending P3

P3 states that some evils in the world are not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good - they are gratuitous (in the sense that I am using the term). An all powerful being is able to prevent the evils that occur, and an all good being is obviously willing, so the question becomes, is there always justification for the evils in the world, in the ways described above? The answer, I think, is quite clearly, no. Consider the examples of mass murders, torture, rape and other unimaginable cruelties in Indonesia, under Suharto, in Pinochet's Chile, in Stalin's Russia, Pol-Pot's Cambodia, or in Nazi Germany, and many, many more. What possible reason could there be for this horrendous evil? What compensation can there be for such barbarism? The short-term costs of such evil are so frighteningly high, so intuitively horrific and so apparently unnecessary that to attempt to justify it would is a tremendously difficult and, I suspect, an insurmountable task. Yet there is more.

In conjunction with moral evils, there are natural evils, one of which is described in the following example:

"Many babies each year are born with Down's syndrome. Most of these babies, with normal paediatric care, will grow up healthy. A significant number, however, have intestinal obstructions that will kill them if they do not receive an operation. Without the operation, dehydration and infection will cause these babies to wither and die over a period of hours and days. Today this operation is relatively simple, but not long ago these babies could not be saved . . . This baby (one born in the past with this) suffers for days, then dies." (3) (Sinnott Armstrong,2004, P84)

Now given the examples above, does it remain rational to affirm that these evils are logically necessary for an adequately compensating good? Well, it certainly is hugely problematic to even suggest scenarios which would plausibly deal with the with suffering and death of a child in such a circumstance as above. We know (beyond reasonable doubt) that this child suffers. We know that if God exists, then this suffering must be necessary for an adequately compensating good (as P1 states). Yet what is also abundantly clear is that the prolonged suffering and inevitable death of this child and thousands like them brings absolutely no conceivable benefit whatsoever, let alone that the compensatory for this evil AND that this in turn be logically necessary. As Rowe points out:

"In light of our experience and knowledge, of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing some greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinary, absurd idea, quite beyond our belief." (4) (Rowe, 1979, P4).

Now, of course, the PoE, being as old as it is, has attracted all sorts of solutions to try and puncture its intuitive, emotional and intellectual grounding, but the all the solutions I have heard thus far fail on so many different levels, but I'll let Con present the reasons he finds persuasive and we can discuss it further.


In order to refute the argument, Con must deny at least 1 of the 3 premises, assuming he accepts that the argument is logically valid. In order to do, he must present both a plausible and coherent account of why the argument is unsuccessful. I invite him to make his case, closing with the words of the prominent Christian scholar N.T.Wright:

"If you think you have solved the problem of evil, lie down. It will pass." (5)


1,3. God? Debate between a Christian and an Atheist, William lane Craig and Walter Sinnott Armstrong, 2004, Oxford University Press, p84.
2. Howard-Snyder, Daniel, and Frances Howard-Snyder. 1999. "Is Theism Compatible with Gratuitous Evil?" American Philosophical Quarterly 36: 115-29.
4. Rowe, William, The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism, American Philosophical Quarterly 16: 335-41.
5. (debate can be found here).


To open, let us clarify an issue regarding the nature of this argument. It first needs to be said that it is an argument against God not one used for a theist to argue for God's existence. While this seems trivial on the outset as it is called the problem of evil not the solution of evil, it needs to be clarified that in regard to the burden of proof that Unitedandy has to fully show as he has noted in his opening post :

"... the existence of gratuitous evils present what most recognise as a very powerful argument against the existence of God"

Note very clearly that Unitedandy does not attempt to defend the logical problem of evil which notes it is impossible for there to be evil if an omni-max God exists. The reason this argument is rarely presently advocated is that it was soundly refuted by Plantinga[1]. Thus what Unitedandy is actually asserting is that the existence of evil does not make God impossible it just makes it unlikely, implausable, etc. . The first point I would make in refutation is thus one of clarification :

C1) What exactly is the resolution being very specific, noting that something is an argument against something is rather vague. What exactly are we talking about, is it that observations of evil makes God's existence improbable?

Second, as noted in the above, while Unitedandy clearly has the burden of proof, in each of his assertions he has done just that, made assertions and thus it is demanded now that for each of them he is to provide actual warrant.

P1) To defend this premise Unitedandy notes "on the face of it, the idea that God may well permit gratuitous evil is absurd".

There is little to say in this regard except to note on the face of it much of what we know to be true is absurd from any point of view of common sense and intuition. Do I really need to generate a list of examples from modern physics in which matter behaves in ways that does not make sense even to the people who have discovered it. I will be a bit indulgent here as it is a field close to my heart and quote from a few people I have great respect for :

"...the "paradox" is only a conflict between reality and your feeling of what reality "ought to be." - Richard Feynman"

"For those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it." - Niels Bohr

and probably the most telling :

"If that turns out to be true, I'll quit physics." - Max von Laue

The latter quote had von Laue talking about duality in physics which is commonly introduced to undergraduate students in that an electron behaves one way if you look at it in one way, it behaves another way if you look at it another way and if you don't look at it then it behaves in both ways in all places/times. At which point the students have no choice but to say "What you talkin' bout Willis?"

Note all of the above were Nobel Laurates in Physics, the highest honor given and for each of them the ideas that modern physics revealed were completely shocking, baffling and in Laue's case simply appalling. I have left out the famous case of Einstein simply because it is well known, but I will present it because the followup it relevant.

"God does not play dice with the cosmos." - Albert Einstein

and to wit Bohr replied after hearing Einstein keep saying this finally retorted :

"Einstein, do not presume to tell God what to do." - Niels Bohr

My point, humor aside is that it is simply not an argument to say something appears to be absurd that it must be false. I would have thought it is absurd that "Friday's" would be so popular but here we are with approaching 150 million people being apparently fascinated by such drivel, "they, they so excited" obviously.

P2) Again, Unitedandy's defense of this premise is "... evil exists in our world - that much is obvious". Now it has to be stated here is we are talking about a very specific argument, and the argument, in its most general form, is akin to stating there are things we can observe which we should not observe if an omni-max God exists. Ok, fine, but that needs justification it can not simply be stated and then advocated as an argument again simply because "it is obvious".

P3) To affirm this premise Unitedandy uses the argument that there is no obvious or conceivable reason why a God who could stop such observables would not stop them and thus concludes that is an argument against God. Now again as noted earlier we need to clarify exactly the nature of the resolution as "argument against" is fairly vague, but in any case the conclusion seems to affirm something akin to "this makes it unlikely God exists".

Now as a comment here I make the following comment, our current understanding of gravity is fairly problematic. We can not account for effects which lead us to postulate such things as dark matter (which is matter which we can not observe, hence is it "dark" to our eyes, but still has gravitational effects). We are also at a complete loss to try to apply gravity at small distances and time scales and thus the early universe is a blank as we can not model it, and this is also why black holes create singularities (points at which physics breaks down as the equations contain unnormalized infinities). At this time we simply do not have solutions to these problems, in fact it is not even known if these will have solutions - does this mean then we could say that gravity does not exist?

In closing, to clarify I do actually have arguments to oppose the above premises, but I will demand very strongly that Unitedandy actually first provide an argument for each premise first and not simply retreat to - it is obvious, or it is absurd not to accept it. Quite frankly, if these were all obvious and it was absurd not to challenge them then this would be a closed matter in theology and philosophy and it is obvious that is not the case and absurd to make such a claim(*).



(*yeah this is irony, this should be obvious**)

(**so was that, Alanis Morissette eat your heart out)
Debate Round No. 1


Definitions and clarification

I assume that Con accepts both the definition of God I gave and the definition of evil given as neither has been explicitly challenged. I assume that as Con spent his whole round basically seeking clarification, and chose not to dispute these definitions (while disputing things like the very existence of evil), that we agree here.

On the PoE itself, the easiest way to clarify would be say that it is a probabilistic argument, but that this is based largely on the inference from apparent to existing gratuitous evils. The argument here us not that a certain amount of evil tips the balance of atheism, nor is it the logically problem of evil. Put simply, it renders belief in the kind of God defined less likely, on the basis that gratuitous evils exist.


In order to deal with the PoE, Con basically follows the same approach to doubt all 3 premises of the argument by charging that the argument is never justified, rather it’s points are merely asserted. While I provided justification for each premise, Con rather crudely claims that the argument appeals to intuition or common-sense. This is largely straw-manning, particularly regarding P2 & 3. While these points are made, it is after a lengthy discussion and analysis of the issues that I use these to further bolster the case. Now Con hasn’t really engaged with the argument much except to lazily make the same point about the 3 premises, and I think especially when we look in depth at P2, it is abundantly clear how inept this response really is.

Defending P1

Here Con appeals to the absurdity of modern physics, using examples to show that what is wholly counter-intuitive is often still true. The problem here is that (as I stated in post 1), God is by definition at odds with gratuitous evils. God is defined as:

Omniscient = God knows anything logically possible
Omnipotent = God can do anything logically possible
Omni benevolent = God is morally perfect

Given these attributes, God knows, can and wants to prevent any evils. Now given that, any evils which do exist do so necessarily because God allows them or because he doesn’t exist. Now if God exists and allows evils, it must be (given that he is morally perfect) that He has morally sufficient reason to do so. If the permitted evils are not logically necessary or have no adequately compensating good, then again God does not have a morally sufficient reason to permit them. This is all that P1 states, and it is easily shown to be true analytically. The most mind-boggling thing here is not only has Con accepted these parameters before (in forum discussions), but even the Plantinga paper (which he mentions) USES this exact principle to “soundly refute” the logical PoE. Asking for justification for P1 isn’t so much like a physics problem, where a fact about the external world shatters our expectations, like he suggests. Rather, it is an extrapolation of the necessary implications of a definition. Just as we can know that all bachelors incompatible with marriage by definition, so can we know that the God defined above is incompatible with gratuitous evil for the very same reason.

Defending P2

Now I think I should probably remind the readers that ALL P2 stated was that were lots of evil in the world. Given the way I defined evil, I am truly astonished that Con denies P2. Of course disability and death exist, and I went into length to discuss them later on, but here it seems to me that either Con has misread the argument completely and conflated P2 with P3, or we do have a denial of the real world. Just to be thorough, I will just give the example of Ebola:

“Ebola hemorrhagic fever is potentially lethal and encompasses a range of symptoms including fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, generalized pain or malaise, and sometimes internal and external bleeding. The span of time from onset of symptoms to death is usually between 2 and 21 days.” (1)

Now given that Con doesn’t dispute my definition of evil, we are left to conclude that the above, as well as things like the various cancers, wars and so on absolutely constitute an acceptance of P2. Even trying to dispute definitions here would be incredibly problematic, because any ethical system that sees the examples I gave as evils would still almost certainly be susceptible to my argument.

Defending P3

Con again follows the familiar line, again using examples such as gravity to try and blunt the force of P3. The problem here is that this is disanalogous, because we have reason to suppose gravity exists in the first place. If someone tells me there’s an 8 foot elephant in the garage, and I see no evidence for it at all, and every reason to jettison such a story (the person that told me was a notorious liar, my garage is too small, elephants don‘t tend to live in UK, etc), no amount of retreats to the possible and appeals to absurdity will give me pause to doubt my conclusion. Secondly, Con essentially creates an invisible gardener type scenario, where God is as undetectable and untraceable as something which doesn’t exist. Lastly, I gave a rather extensive account of an evil which I justify as being gratuitous. Con refuses to interact with this account, by-passing it, and therefore the most contentious premise is left largely ignored.


In his first post, Con has spent more time talking about physics than philosophy. Instead of seeking clarification on a few points and engaging with parts of the argument he disagreed with, Con merely provides anecdotes and concludes that we shouldn’t be too hasty rejecting the seemingly absurd. Also, the denial of things like death (P2) is either solipsism masquerading as serious thought, or a mistake characteristically drastic of his opening post (mistaking evil for gratuitous evil). An already well supported P1 and P2 have been bolstered, while in the case of P3, Con has wasted space by retreating to the possible, rather than what is plausible or even feasible. Given that this is Con’s last chance to put something substantive and challenging to the argument that I can interact with, I welcome him to get on with stating his objections to the argument at hand.




"Put simply, it renders belief in the kind of God defined less likely, on the basis that gratuitous evils exist."

Excellent, now we have a statement which can be expressed through Bayes Theorem[1] which allows quantitative probabilistic inferences, or simply stated - how likely is it that something it true given something else is observed. Now here is where I will make my first objection :

O1) The resolution as defined is not a truth-apt proposition as it is to vague to be falsified/confirmed.

Noting that belief is less likely is not something that can be supported by argument because there is no quantification on how much less likely has to be seen in order for it to really be less likely.

Consider the following scenario :

I give you two buckets and ask you to fill them with water to equal amounts. You carefully take a graduated cylinder and pour an equal amount, as defined by the graduations on the cynlinder, into the buckets. When you return I rebuke you because I meant the exact same amount of molecules, not simply 1/10 of a ml (a typical limit on graduated cylinder precision). Note that until I let you know fully what equal really meant you had no way to know if one of the buckets had "less water" because less was not defined.

Similar until Unitedandy quantifies the "less likely" part with both a measure and a metric to obtain said measure then the resolution is negated by default as the burden of proof can not be sustained.


"Given these attributes, God knows, can and wants to prevent any evils."

Second objection; now to be clear the wording from Unitedandy is very particular to my argument, but to my defense, this is an argument that he advocates strongly and is very familiar with and thus he has to be held to task rigerously for his exact claims.

O2) The assertion as stated is impractical and still undefined as the alternate world is not described

Consider what is it that Unitedandy is actually asking God to do? What should the world be in his view if there was no PoE? Is it clear you you as it certainly is not to me.

For example he has defined evil to include death, and thus if God can not allow evil he can not allow death then obviously he can not allow birth. Without death then the Earth is simply over populated in a trivial amount of time and then what happens, populations crush each other - but exist without death forever in some kind of apathic non-suffering non-dying existence?

Given the nature of God would he want to create such a world?

In general it is impossible to know what God would want to do because Unitedandy has not even bothered to present even a hint of what the alternative world he is talking about should be actualized. Again, Unitedandy has made what appears to be an "obvious" conclusion but has not even explored trivially the consequences of this conclusion or even attempt to sketch out what God should be doing which would make it "more likely" not less likely that he exists.

In order to sustain the burden of proof this alternate reality with God has to be described fully and warrant supplied that it is a more likely world given God's existence and not simply vaguely asserted.


"Given the way I defined evil, I am truly astonished that Con denies P2."

Continuing with the objections.

O3) There will always be evil as long as there is anything remotely resembling life as we know it

Note again Unitedandy makes a claim with no effort, not even a trivial one to describe how things would be in the alternate existence he is saying should exist.

What exactly is a world without evil? We can look around and pick something to us which is most evil and then say well that thing there that should obviously not be, and on the face of it that seems obvious. But consider the following, we by our nature are relative creatures meaning how we feel about something or even what we feel as pain and suffering are not absolutes[2].

Simply consider the following - take the most horrible thing you can imagine, the thing that on a scale of 1-10 of awful defines a 10 for awful. Now imagine a world where that thing does not exist, does this mean that your scale of awful only goes to nine? Of course not, it still goes to ten and you are just as outraged by that new ten as you were by the old ten.

What does all of this mean? It means that if I were to now magically blink out of existence all of the things from 2-10 on Unitedandy's scale of evil and erase all knowledge of them from him, he would then generate a new list of truly evil things and this new scale of 1-10 would be all things which were 1 on his old scale which then he would have tolerated.

Now if you would say well a thing which was one on the old scale is still evil, then simply consider something which is 0.1 on the old scale, or 0.01, or 0.0001, etc. . The point is simple, with all the things from 0.0001 to 10 removed then the new scale will be just as "good/bad" in our eyes because we judge by what we experience.

The point of all this is simple, in order to remove evil as an absolute what we would be left with would not be anything similar to what we call life now. Second, Unitedandy has not even explored this at all. He has just stated "it is a bad thing" but has not even considered at a basic level the alternature which is says would make God "more likely" so there is no way he can claim to have satisfied the burden of proof.


"The problem here is that this is disanalogous, because we have reason to suppose gravity exists in the first place. If someone tells me there's an 8 foot elephant in the garage, and I see no evidence for it at all, and every reason to jettison such a story (the person that told me was a notorious liar, my garage is too small, elephants don‘t tend to live in UK, etc), no amount of retreats to the possible and appeals to absurdity will give me pause to doubt my conclusion."

Final objection :

O3) There are lots of reasons/evidence for God

Here is where Unitedandy makes a dramatic leap, again with no warrant at all, and now makes the following absurd resolution "Given that there is no evidence for God at all - anything which makes God unlikely forces a conclusion that God is unlikely to exist."

Now is that really sensible, is that even a premise which can be asserted to an audience which is anything but completely ignorant of modern theology and philosophy? Of course not.

This debate is not about the exisence of God, but as Unitedandy has trivialized this argument so extremely then something has to be said to combat this as it is one of the foundational cores of his argument. I will thus present (as an overview) the main arguments for God as stated by one of the promient Christian apologists, Dr. William Lane Craig (these are in my own words) [3]

1) Kalam Cosmological Argument

2) Ontological Arguments

3) Fine Tuning

4) Ressurection of Jesus

5) Divine witness, revelation, miracles, etc.

It is not the intent here to show that these arguments do (or even can) sustain the burden of proof to assert a claim for God's existence, but simply to show there is a wealth of evidence and argument for the existense of God. Even for just one of these lines of argument then there are a nearly steady stream of academic publications which explore the argument in detail[4]. Thus it is clear that Unitedandy's support for P3 falls completely flat and is absurd.

In closing :

"Given that this is Con's last chance to put something substantive and challenging to the argument that I can interact with, I welcome him to get on with stating his objections to the argument at hand."

That is all well and good, but an argument has to be presented before it can be refuted.




Debate Round No. 2



Rather than realising that not every premise in an argument is controversial, Con seemingly thinks his best strategy is to reject every premise of the argument. I personally think that he is best to focus on P3, but as we see from his last post, this is the premise he disputes least. Now, given that Con’s counter arguments apply to specific premises, I’ll deal with them as part of defending my own premise, but I start off with a separate objection raised by Con, about the nature of the argument itself.

Con’s O1

Firstly, Con charges both that the debate resolution is vague, and that this makes it problematic when we come to consider the argument, given that it is a probabilistic argument “because there is no quantification”. Now, the reason there is a problem is simple: Con has conflated the debate resolution (merely the title of the debate topic), with the argument in support of that resolution. While the debate resolution distinguishes my position (Pro) and my opponent’s position (Con) on the general plausibility and credibility with regards to the problem of evil, it has no truth value. It wasn’t set up to have truth value, but merely to indicate the topic of discussion and our consequent positions on it. Besides, this is such a minor point that we have to ask whether this is isn’t a completely manufactured complaint, especially with Con given the title of the debate beforehand.

The second point Con makes here about quantifying is actually a potentially tricky one for the PoE. There are 2 potential meanings Con may have here. The first is to ask how/when we determine that the amount of evil in the world is sufficient to present a problem for God. In short, when is enough evil evidence against the existence of God. The second potential problem for the advocate for the PoE is to challenge the basis on which we quantify things like evils. Now as I explained in my second post, my argument isn’t based on the AMOUNT of evils, but the NATURE of these evils, so the first meaning has no relevance to my argument. In fact, any single gratuitous evil would validate the argument completely. What the argument states is that it vastly more probable to think that the evil I described in my first post (babies with an intestinal blockage) is gratuitous that not because not only do we have a litany of reasons to think it so and none with which to doubt it, but even the conceptual-type arguments (classical theodicies, such as free-will for example) all fail miserably. Now, while Con hasn’t presented any for me to engage with here, I have heard him defend several (contradictory) theodicies, and much more besides, and I think I can convincingly show why none of them work. As for quantifying this in terms of a metric, I think the standard attributes of good philosophical explanation apply here (explanatory scope, power, plausibility, and economy among others), so there’s no real mystery to be had here. But even if it were the case that I couldn’t quantify this, Con has used concepts which would demand the same standard. For example, if God is all powerful (as Con agrees), what metric is Con using here? Likewise, when he talked about the physics problems going against intuition, how does one measure this? We see again Con’s contrived standard for the PoE, while he himself continues to flaunt the standards he sets.

Defending P1

Now Con here asserts that I have an impractical argument (stemming from my inclusion of death as an evil), and that I present no credible alternate world. Ironically, both these can be dismissed simply by restating my P1 from my very first post:

“If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good.”

In this single sentence, I explicitly state that evil itself is not incompatible with God. Rather it is evil which is gratuitous (not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good) which is incompatible with God. So taking death, Con argues ridding the world of this is absurd, because without death, we can’t have life. Notice that rather than dismiss P1, Con actually vindicates P1, by using an example of evil (death) which is logically necessary for an adequately compensating good (life). But as Con himself points out, birth necessitates death (the evil here is logically necessary), and the price of death therefore is ultimately life (the adequately compensatory good). As for the “alternative world”, again, this is explicitly mentioned within P1. Rather than claim a world with no evil is feasible (it may or may not be), I simply state that if God exists, then there would be world absent gratuitous evils.

P1 simply seeks to establish that God (if he exists) would only permit evils if he had morally sufficient reasons to do so. He could want to preserve free-will, character build or bring people to Him. Whatever the proposed theodicy is irrelevant for P1. Whether or not gratuitous evils actually exist, or whether God actually exists, P1 is true regardless, not least by definition.

Defending P2

Again Con seems incapable of understanding P2:

“There is lots of evils in the world”

All this means is exactly what is says. If there is lots of suffering, pain, disability and/or death (a definition of evil that has went unchallenged), then P2 is automatically true, regardless of the nature of evil whether or not this is gratuitous (this the scope of P3). Even Bill Craig remarks that:

“Everyone admits that the world is filled with apparently gratuitous suffering.” (1)

So denying that suffering exists at all (P2) is regarded as ridiculous by even the expert Christian philosopher who Con appeals to in his own post!

Further, Con remarks,

“There will always be evil as long as there is anything remotely resembling life as we know it.”

Surely, if there always will be evil, Con must accept that evil exists in the first place? Again, I aim to be charitable to Con here, but the very fact that he acknowledges evil to dismiss its existence is truly astonishing. On the point about levels of pain, again this assumes evil exists (a strange way to deny P2, which seeks merely to affirm this), but also it is otherwise irrelevant. What amount of evil in the world isn’t what creates the problem for the theist. Rather, it is the particular kind of evil (gratuitous evil), which is the remit for P3.

Defending P3

For P3, I gave a particular case of evil which I argued was gratuitous. Now given that Con has not even mentioned this is so disconcerting, as this (and other examples like it) is the sole basis for the argument itself. This is the problem of evil. The painful and inevitable death of babies who had an intestinal blockage in the past seems wholly inconsistent with God both because there was no even conceivable benefit this would have, let alone an adequately compensating benefit which was logically necessary. The fact that Con totally ignored this example repeatedly while arguing over debate titles and such is really unforgivable.

As for the likelihood of God and the arguments (bar perhaps the ontological argument) for His existence, these matter not a jot. Even if I were to concede that they work (which I don’t), then all it would mean, is that given the PoE, such a God would not be all-powerful and/or all-good. All we are discussing here is the God defined in the first round, and given this, these arguments make no difference, especially when Con resorts to listing them, rather than defending them.


Con's position seems to be that anything is more favourable than accepting the conclusion of the PoE, taking comfort in any source, be it the appeal of absurdity from physics to denying the existence of evil altogether. There certainly are numerous challenges one has to overcome to use the PoE, but by failing to engage with P3, none of these challenges emerged in this debate.


(1) God? . . . P114


Unitedandy unfortunately dropped all objections to the argument presented aside from the first and even then just hinted at a defense and from that point forward just repeated the original assertions. I will summarize the objections, note some comments and then recap and conclude.


"Con has conflated the debate resolution (merely the title of the debate topic), with the argument in support of that resolution. "

The resolution is just a topic, Unitedandy was asked for clarification and responded clearly that it was a probabilistic argument. It was then noted that this assertion was so vague as to be meaningless because it was neither quantitative in nature nor even had an attempt at a defined metric.

"Likewise, when he talked about the physics problems going against intuition, how does one measure this?"

That is the exact point.

The quotes concerning the reflections that physicists made when confronted with the apparent absurd nature of quantum theory were just that and nothing more. They were obviously not truth-apt propositions and in no way at all could be used as arguments against quantum theory in anything claiming a probabilistic sense.

They of course were not used in such a manner, they were just physicists trying to resolve how they felt the world should be with how it appeared. Richard Feynman, one of the greatest modern physicists would often say (paraphrase) "If you think you understand quantum theory - you don't."

This does not mean he argued that it was not real, that it was true that it was "the problem of quantum theory".

If the problem of evil is going to be used as an actual probabilistic argument against the existence of God then this probability has to be quantified and this means a metric has to be defined. Let me know what probability you are talking about, how you are calculating it - give me something to refute!

Without this there is nothing to contend and all that remains are again nothing more that the statements of physicists in regards to early quantum theory.

O2) Unitedandy makes no attempt to deal with this objection. The point is clear, the next step in a functional argument from evil once O1 is resolved is to then describe the world in which this "more probable" situation exists which has no "problem of evil".

What exactly, being very specific, is supposed to be observed if God exists? Note how Unitedandy can give very specific, but highly isolated examples, which apparently show how God is "less likely" to exist, but can not provide even the barest of outlines of what the world should be like if God exists.

What is this world like which does not have the problem of evil? Surely that can not be impossible to answer if evil is such a claim against God - if you do not know what you should be observing then how can you say you should not be observing what you are.

The point here is clear, probabilities are comparative.

If Unitedandy is going to argue using modal logic (many worlds theory) and saying that what we observe here in this world shows God is "less likely to exist" then surely he can describe even one world which would have observables which indicate God is more likely - he has to in order to complete the argument.

Unitedandy can not claim one world shows a lower probability if he can not produce a description of this world without the problem of evil as probabilities can not be argued in isolation.

Probabilities are always asserted with the question in mind "as compared to what". Thus for the argument of the problem of evil to even get off the ground Unitedandy has to provide the "what" that he is supposedly comparing this world to.


"Surely, if there always will be evil, Con must accept that evil exists in the first place?"

Again, humans do not judge evil as an absolute - it is relative. Would you call a hangnail suffering, would you say God does not exist if you had a papercut, if God supposed to make sure that you could even by accident get a mild muscle cramp?

That all seems silly and even petty - but what about if you lived in a world where that was the only and therefore maximum amount of suffering you experienced? Again, Unitedandy make no comment on the issue of evil being relative and exactly how God is supposed to actualize this world without the problem of evil.

Uuitedandy can list a number of what he calls truly objectionable evils and he claims - "see God would not allow these surely". The point here is simple, in a world where they do not exist, would Unitedandy not make that claim, of course not. He would pick the next most evil thing and make the exact same claim and so on no matter how many "evils" God removed.

The point here is that God could remove and remove and remove down to events so small, so trivial, so minute, that people in this world would not regard them as evil at all, they would not even register as events of significance - but in this new world where they are the only suffering, the only pain, then they would be viewed as extreme acts of suffering no matter if they were as simple as a a light discomfort from the shade as the sun passes into a cloud.

Thus you are left with O3 which should have been more clearly written as

O3) There will always be "evil" as long as there is anything remotely resembling life as we know it"

This of course is linked very closely to O2 which argues that a world with no evil in an absolute sense is not a world which can of course be created because evil is a relative and can never be reduced to zero.

The amusing thing here is that while Unitedandy can not even provide the barest hint of detail, the minimum description of this world which does not have the problem of evil - he has no problem claiming with full confidence that it has to be the way things should be - but he has never even said what "it" is supposed to be in the first place.

A point of clarification, the final objection was numbered incorrectly, it was :

O4) There are lots of reasons/evidence for God

This was completely dropped as well.

"Con's position seems to be that anything is more favourable than accepting the conclusion of the PoE, taking comfort in any source, be it the appeal of absurdity from physics to denying the existence of evil altogether."

To clarify, all of the above objections can be summarized very clearly. If you are going to advocate, in general, that you have a set of observations which make a hypothesis unlikely - then it is absolutely necessary that you also have a set of observations which can be provided to show that the hypothesis is more likely, in fact one can not even be defined without the other.

But that is just what Unitedandy has tried to do here, and what is worse his observations are relative in nature. If God removed the ten worst possible things from this world and all memory from them then in this new world would the people see any difference - no, because evil is always normalized to experience. Thus what exactly is Unitedandy proposing that God should do?

If Unitedandy wants to make an argument from evil which is probabilistic in nature (he has admitted that the logical argument from evil is invalid) then he has to do the following :

1) Make a specific claim. Probabilities are quantitative - this means math, it means Bayes Rule, it means make a statement that requires evidence and can be thus either refuted or supported. I can then get Thaddeus's slide rule and get to work.

2) Describe, at least in the barest of marginal details what is the alternative. What does the possible world actually look like without a problem of evil. How do we live and grow and gain character and wisdom and love and create and feel passion and thrill and excitement and joy (and of course argue and debate) - all of what makes being human, well actually worth living.
Debate Round No. 3
53 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by warpedfx 7 years ago
arguments aren't evidence.
Posted by Man-is-good 7 years ago
I'm glad; the birds sing and I see shells in the beaches.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
"when this evidence was pointed out you ignored it and the fact that it completely obliterates your entire argument until you deal with it"

Just think how unreasonable this is Cliff. I have to deal with 5 separate arguments, all of which would take an entire debate each to deconstruct, as well as present my own argument, justify radical presuppositions like the existence of Death, perform pretty extensive conceptual analysis for P1, and construct, justify and maintain a Bayesian argument (which I don't think necessary anyway) for P3, as well as defend the argument from appeals to absurdity and so on. Get real. The fact is, if I were able to do this, we'd very likely be discussing miracles.

All the while, you get to waste (almost) an entire first post on physics, claim that Plantinga destroyed the logical PoE with only an article to back you up, as well as not even applying your own standards to your own case. With all this in mind, as well as your refusal to actually characterise my position on anything correctly, I've got to say, this isn't a debate where you came open-minded, but a "let's score cheap points at all costs affair", which have zero interest participating in.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Obviously a well-worked ontological argument could destroy the PoE, but you got to make the argument first, and I think even most Christian philosophers will tell you that you're wasting your time. It's just a bad argument, but I'll leave it at that, because as I have continually said, it's just not even relevant to this debate.

On likelihood, as have said over and over again, the criteria I used were typical philosophical criteria. Now asking me to justify ever single statement I make isn't the duty of Con. If it were, any argument could be dismantled by asking how rationality can be justified as the best way to base conclusions on for example. What you're doing isn't some bold or erratic answer to an age old problem, it's pretty much the "why" question game.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Cliff, on the arguments for the existence of God, THE VERY FACT THAT YOU NEVER EVEN MADE THEM IS ENOUGH TO REJECT THEM FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS DEBATE. You named them, and given some of the criticisms that you have labelled at my argument thus far, how in the hell do you get away with just naming an argument? Total nonsense. But again, Kalam doesn't show in any way a good God, let alone an omnibenevolent one, neither does it necessarily conclude that the creator of the universe is ALL powerful, rather than merely very powerful. Now, Craig might argue for such a God on the basis of these arguments, but who cares? I certainly (as an atheist) ain't going to concede something which I completely and utterly disagree with, unless Craig (or you) provide a bridge to get from Very powerful to ALL powerful, particularly to someone who wanted justification for the existence of suffering, pain, disability and death.

On the ontological argument, I actually said that this was the only argument that was immune to this sort of criticism in the debate. But this point still fails (as do the other 4 arguments on the basis of you never explicitly arguing in favour of it (merely naming it), and the fact that I think it's just a silly argument. But we could debate these arguments all day long, the fact is you never made them, and so their relevance to the debate is NIL.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
"I could do this for every argument you LISTED."

Unitedandy you are well aware that ontological arguments are based on God as an all-great being, so you accusation falls completely flat and this is a perfect example of how you completely dropped this point and are now skirting around it.

You are also well aware that I did not posit a full list and you are even more well aware that Dr. Craig takes the arguments to develop an omni-max God, they are not each in isolation complete arguments they are all together to be taken as an argument.

You are now resorting to statements which you know perfectly well are false. Here are the facts :

1) you argued that you did not have to defend a probability metric because there was no evidence for God and thus any probability against it is enough to reach a conclusion

2) when this evidence was pointed out you ignored it and the fact that it completely obliterates your entire argument until you deal with it

Now you are saying that it is not relevant evidence because it only argues for a God not an all powerful/good God? That is ridiculous. I can not believe you would make that statement because I know you know better, here is the opening part of Plantinga's :

"It is proposed that a being has maximal excellence in a given possible world W if and only if it is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good in W"

Now you are well aware of that argument and the other forms and still you state what you know is a complete and utter fabrication when you say the evidence I listed was not for an all good and all powerful god.

Just how is "omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good" not all powerful and all good?
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
Now as for a double standard, if I was for example to use Plantinga's ontological argument for God, which is a probabilistic one then yes, the probabilities would have to be quantified.

As you are well aware, one of the main challenges to Plantinga's ontological argument is that he starts off with the premise "It is possible that God exists." This of course just means "There is a non-zero probability that God exists".

Plantinga himself acknowledges that this is the weakest part of his argument precisely because he can not assert this with rigor. The most he can say is that it has not been shown to be impossible and thus we can infer the probability is non-zero, and then he will talk about things like "it seems to be just as likely as not" meaning on the face of it there are arguments on both sides so it would be reasonable to have the possibility be 50/50.

Note he can not simply refuse to discuss this because it is a valid challenge to his argument and exactly because he frames it with probability and modal logic and thus it is perfectly valid for someone to nail him on the fact that he did not constrain the probability of the opening premise and without that the argument is meaningless.

And as noted he of course defends it, and he does not defend it as you have attempted by simply shifting back to the accuser and demanding "well you quantify the improbability of God then". He can not do that because he is the one making the argument so the burden is on him to quantify his position.
Posted by Cliff.Stamp 7 years ago
Cliff, again I think this shows a complete double standard. No bayes for you, just something that you never mentioned in the debate and never explained in the comments section.

Unitedandy, this makes no sense at all, you were making a probabilistic argument. You were claiming that one set of observations would make a hypothesis "less likely". You are also well aware that there is supporting evidence for that hypothesis. Thus in order for your argument to even start you have to compare the probabilities otherwise you have nothing and no conclusion can be reached.

As a clear example, any experiment ever conducted in any lab will always generate false negatives, this is where the results of the experiment will reject some very well known theory/law. Now based on this do the scientists start arguing about "the problem of gravity", of course not. Because they know that the probability of their experiment being a true negative is very low and it is more likely that the counter evidence is correct.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Just to finish off, I didn't say that the arguments weren't strong or anything like that. Again, I don't know where you're getting this stuff. I said they were irrelevant and I'll tell you why.

Firstly the conclusion of my argument IS NOT that God doesn't exist. It is that an all-powerful and all good God doesn't exist. This is very important. Now take Kalam. All Kalam can do at the very most (and I deny all of this anyway, but putting it aside) that a personal, effective, immaterial, VERY powerful being outside of time created the universe. Is this incompatible with my conclusion. NO. The fact that it doesn't even pretend to touch of the moral character of such a being is bad enough, but in no way does it show an ALL powerful being. Fine-tuning is the same, except it substitutes things like immaterial for intelligence (again, I don't buy the argument at all). Not necessarily an all-powerful being not necessarily an all good one either, and I could do this for every argument you LISTED. Again, the fact that I have to seemingly dismantle arguments that you never made until I meet your satisfaction for O4 (even after clarifying and even after showing them to be irrelevant) shows a tremendous double standard.

Now when I made clear to you that I did not think there where no arguments or grounds for believing in God, you just ignored it and said I didn't respond. I can't tell you how bloody annoyed I am here. TBH, I think because you had a go at defending theodicies in the forums, and kept switching from each one because of how implausible they were, you gave up on that and tried to stop the debate before it got started. I think however when people go to such lengths to deny that disability and death exist, whatever account you gave, however weak or implausible would have been better than adopting this weird transfusion of solipsist, irrelevant vagary.
Posted by unitedandy 7 years ago
Cliff, again I think this shows a complete double standard. No bayes for you, just something that you never mentioned in the debate and never explained in the comments section. I think the fact that you think this is sufficient for you, but expect me to give an extended account of how unlikely evil makes God ( a point which kinda distorts my whole argument in the first place), we have a clear double standard.

With regards to evil and the existence of God, I am not claiming that they are necessarily incompatible, nor am I claiming that instances of evil make God less likely (which alone seems to nullify your O1). I am saying that GRATUITOUS evils (evils which are not logically necessary for an adequately compensating good) ARE incompatible with a God as described. Now, you can deny P3 by trying to account for the evils I deem gratuitous, or you can get around it with something like the Noseeum response. You didn't do that.Instead of getting to the crux of the debate, you chose to deny that things like disability and death exist (P2), gave a litany or irrelevant quotes and examples from physics and to completely straw-man my argument, often taking the last line of my argument (which I used as a summary of the points I had made before) to say that I had appealed to intuition and so forth, when the defence I gave was pretty substantial.

On the arguments for God's existence, I think you and I have talked enough for you to know that I don't think this. In fact, I distinctly remember a whole forum where I was defending the fine-tuning argument, and you were commenting, so either you have selective memory here, or it's to hell with the truth. The fact also that you had to attribute a quote to me here which I never made in order to substantiate your point is a pretty good indicator of this as well. But even forgetting all that, you said I never answered O4 when I gave 3 answers to that point (a point which you listed rather than made).
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by Sieben 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Wow. See comments section.
Vote Placed by medic0506 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Con wins because he refuted the premise. Pro's entire argument is based on presumption. Good debate, and interesting topic.
Vote Placed by trendem 7 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: While many of Con's arguments were thought-provoking, they were too tangential. I don't see why the argument needs to be quantified anymore beyond "PoE makes God less likely". I don't see why Pro needs to take time out to describe the absence of EVERY gratuitous evil in a world where God is more likely. Also, sometimes Con just isolated one of Pro's sentences and strawmanned him, like in R1 "Again, Unitedandy's defense of this premise is "... evil exists in our world - that much is obvious"