Special Issue "Is the God of Traditional Theism Logically Compatible with All the Evil in the World?"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444). This special issue belongs to the section "Religions and Humanities/Philosophies".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (15 February 2021) | Viewed by 19667

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. James Sterba
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Philosophy Department, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556 USA
Interests: moral and political philosophy; philosophy of religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

At least since the exchange between Alvin Plantinga and John Mackie in the 1970s, theists and atheists alike have tended to agree that the all-good, all-powerful God of traditional theism is logically compatible with all the evil in the world. Accordingly, the only question left open by this consensus concerns whether an evidential or probabilistic argument against the existence of God could be provided. It has been on that question that subsequent debate between theists and atheists has tended to focus.

Recently, however, I published Is a Good God Logically Possible? (Palgrave paperback 2019), in which I argue—in opposition to this long-held consensus—that the all-good, all-powerful God of traditional theism is logically incompatible with all the evil in the world. The novelty of this argument led to an author-meets-critics session last year at the annual meeting of the Society for Philosophy of Religion in San Diego, and to other public discussions and challenges as well. Given that, in my judgment, my argument has so far survived its initial onslaught of critics, I thought it entirely appropriate to have this Special Issue focus on the general question to which my book is devoted.

Now some contributors may want to develop their own argument for why the God of traditional theism is logically incompatible with all the evil in the world, but then they should indicate how their argument compares to mine. Other contributors may want to develop their own independent argument for why the God of traditional theism is logically compatible with all the evil in the world, but then they should indicate as well how their argument undermines, or at least helps to undermine, the argument of my book. The ten essays that will comprise this Special Issue should make for exciting reading. A resolution of this topic is about as important as it gets in philosophy.

Prof. Dr. James Sterba
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • Alvin Plantinga
  • John Mackie
  • God of traditional theism
  • logical argument from evil
  • evidential or probabilistic argument from evil
  • Free-Will Defense
  • Pauline Principle
  • skeptical theism
  • superheroes
  • an ideally just and powerful political state

Published Papers (17 papers)

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Editorial
Sixteen Contributors: A Response
Religions 2021, 12(7), 536; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12070536 - 15 Jul 2021
Viewed by 804
Abstract
It is a rare event indeed to have sixteen philosophers join together in a symposium to reflect up the central question of one’s book [...] Full article
Essay
James Sterba’s New Argument from Evil
Religions 2021, 12(1), 21; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010021 - 29 Dec 2020
Viewed by 729
Abstract
This article addresses the main argument in James Sterba’s book, an argument which claims that the existence of a good God is logically incompatible with the evil in the world. I claim to show that his main premise, MEPRI, is implausible and is [...] Read more.
This article addresses the main argument in James Sterba’s book, an argument which claims that the existence of a good God is logically incompatible with the evil in the world. I claim to show that his main premise, MEPRI, is implausible and is not a secure foundation for such an argument. Full article
Article
God, Moral Requirements, and the Limits of Freedom
Religions 2021, 12(5), 285; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050285 - 21 Apr 2021
Viewed by 625
Abstract
This article addresses James Sterba’s recent argument for the conclusion that God’s existence is incompatible with the degree and amount of evil in the world. I raise a number of questions concerning the moral principles that Sterba suggests God would be required to [...] Read more.
This article addresses James Sterba’s recent argument for the conclusion that God’s existence is incompatible with the degree and amount of evil in the world. I raise a number of questions concerning the moral principles that Sterba suggests God would be required to follow, as well as with respect to the analogy he draws between the obligations of a just state and the obligations of God. Against Sterba’s proposed justified divine policy of constraint on human freedom, I ask: What would motivate a perfect being to create human beings who imagine, intend, and freely begin to carry out horrific actions that bring harm to other human beings, to nonhuman animals, and to the environment? I argue that the rationale is lacking behind the thought that God would only interfere with the completion of the process of human beings’ bringing to fruition their horrifically harmful intended outcomes, rather than creating beings with different psychologies and abilities altogether. I end by giving some friendly proposals that help to support Sterba’s view that God, by nature, would be perfectly morally good. Full article
Article
The Sovereignty of Humanity and Social Responsibility for Evil Prevention
Religions 2021, 12(6), 418; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060418 - 08 Jun 2021
Viewed by 916
Abstract
In this paper, I suggest that James Sterba’s recent restatement of the logical problem of evil overlooks a plausible theistic interpretation of the divine–human relation, which allows for a theodicy impervious to his atheological argument, which boils down to God’s failure to meet [...] Read more.
In this paper, I suggest that James Sterba’s recent restatement of the logical problem of evil overlooks a plausible theistic interpretation of the divine–human relation, which allows for a theodicy impervious to his atheological argument, which boils down to God’s failure to meet Sterba’s “Evil Prevention Requirements”. I argue that such requirements need not apply to God in a world under full human sovereignty, which presupposes that God never intervenes to change the natural course of events to prevent evils, as God has a decisive “greater good justification” for not intervening, namely respecting human sovereignty. This non-interventionist view of divine providence can be made tenable by the great good and dignity of the God-granted human God-like self-creativity implied by human sovereignty (a concept inspired by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola). The Mirandolian theodicy can both accommodate and complement Dostoyevsky’s Russian Orthodox view of “beneficial suffering”, predicated against the background of the conception of “collective selfhood”, overlooked by Sterba despite “featuring” on the cover of his book, no doubt due to his libertarian–individualistic assumptions about human agency and human flourishing, which a proponent of a theistic theodicy may do well to resist. Full article
Article
Heaven and the Goodness of God
Religions 2021, 12(5), 316; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050316 - 29 Apr 2021
Viewed by 728
Abstract
In this essay, I argue that we should take fully seriously the doctrine of heaven when dealing with the problem of evil in our world. The hope of heaven is integral to Christian theism so it cannot be neglected in any substantive discussion [...] Read more.
In this essay, I argue that we should take fully seriously the doctrine of heaven when dealing with the problem of evil in our world. The hope of heaven is integral to Christian theism so it cannot be neglected in any substantive discussion of the problem of evil. Indeed, heaven provides resources to respond to even the worst of evils and to fully redeem them in such a way that the victims of those evils can fully affirm the goodness of their lives. Anyone who achieves heaven will experience a good of such significance and value that the ultimate beauty and goodness of their life could not be questioned. The Christian doctrine of the afterlife also provides resources to make sense of ultimate accountability. The perpetrators of horrendous evil cannot escape and will be called to account for their actions. However, even those who have committed such evil evils can be fully transformed in such a way that they can be fully reconciled with their victims and heartily embraced by them. This shows the doctrine of heaven to be not only profoundly hopeful, but also starkly honest and realistic. Full article
Article
God and the Playpen: On the Feasibility of Morally Better Worlds
Religions 2021, 12(4), 266; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12040266 - 12 Apr 2021
Viewed by 860
Abstract
According to the free will defense, God cannot create a world with free creatures, and hence a world with moral goodness, without allowing for the possibility of evil. David Lewis points out that any free will defense must address the “playpen problem”: why [...] Read more.
According to the free will defense, God cannot create a world with free creatures, and hence a world with moral goodness, without allowing for the possibility of evil. David Lewis points out that any free will defense must address the “playpen problem”: why didn’t God allow creatures the freedom required for moral goodness, while intervening to ensure that all evil-doing is victimless? More recently, James Sterba has revived the playpen problem by arguing that an omnipotent and benevolent God would have intervened to prevent significant and especially horrendous evil. I argue that it is possible, at least, that such divine intervention would have backfired, and that any attempt to create a world that is morally better than this one would have resulted in a world that is morally worse. I conclude that the atheologian should instead attack the free will defense at its roots: either by denying that the predetermination of our actions is incompatible with our freely per-forming them, or by denying that the actual world—a world with both moral good and evil—is more valuable than a world without any freedom at all. Full article
Article
Is God Morally Obligated to Prevent Evil? A Response to James Sterba
Religions 2021, 12(5), 312; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050312 - 28 Apr 2021
Viewed by 982
Abstract
James Sterba’s book, Is a Good God Logically Possible?, argues that given the amount of significant and horrendous evil in the world, it is not possible for a (morally) good God to exist. This article draws on the work of Brian Davies’ [...] Read more.
James Sterba’s book, Is a Good God Logically Possible?, argues that given the amount of significant and horrendous evil in the world, it is not possible for a (morally) good God to exist. This article draws on the work of Brian Davies’ interpretation of Thomistic metaphysics and theology proper and argues that God is not a moral being, and thus has no obligations to prevent such evil. If such is the case, then the problem of evil as presented by Sterba is not a problem for God’s existence. Full article
Article
A Compensatory Response to the Problem of Evil
Religions 2021, 12(5), 347; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050347 - 13 May 2021
Viewed by 772
Abstract
In this essay, I affirm the univocity thesis while discussing some alternative positions that avoid the problem of evil by rejecting the univocity thesis. I reject Sterba’s assumption that God’s governance of creation is adequately understood as an analogy to good governance of [...] Read more.
In this essay, I affirm the univocity thesis while discussing some alternative positions that avoid the problem of evil by rejecting the univocity thesis. I reject Sterba’s assumption that God’s governance of creation is adequately understood as an analogy to good governance of a politically liberal democracy. I suggest that Sterba’s commitment to the Pauline principle forces a dilemma between significant human freedom and meticulous divine intervention. Finally, I argue that the existence of horrendous evils is logically compatible with the existence of a good God, given a compensatory response to the problem of evil. Full article
Article
On James Sterba’s Refutation of Theistic Arguments to Justify Suffering
Religions 2021, 12(1), 64; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12010064 - 18 Jan 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 832
Abstract
In his recent book Is a Good God Logically Possible? and article by the same name, James Sterba argued that the existence of significant and horrendous evils, both moral and natural, is incompatible with the existence of God. He advances the discussion [...] Read more.
In his recent book Is a Good God Logically Possible? and article by the same name, James Sterba argued that the existence of significant and horrendous evils, both moral and natural, is incompatible with the existence of God. He advances the discussion by invoking three moral requirements and by creating an analogy with how the just state would address such evils, while protecting significant freedoms and rights to which all are entitled. I respond that his argument has important ambiguities and that consistent application of his moral principles will require that God remove all moral and natural evils. This would deleteriously restrict not only human moral decision making, but also the knowledge necessary to make moral judgments. He replies to this critique by appealing to the possibility of limited divine intervention, to which I rejoin with reasons why his middle ground is not viable. Full article
Article
Evil and Divine Power: A Response to James Sterba’s Argument from Evil
Religions 2021, 12(6), 442; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12060442 - 15 Jun 2021
Viewed by 866
Abstract
In this article, I offer a response to James P. Sterba’s moral argument for the non-existence of God. Sterba applies to God the so-called Pauline Principle that it is not permissible to do evil in order that good may come. He suggests that [...] Read more.
In this article, I offer a response to James P. Sterba’s moral argument for the non-existence of God. Sterba applies to God the so-called Pauline Principle that it is not permissible to do evil in order that good may come. He suggests that this is the underlying element in discussions of the Doctrine of Double Effect, a doctrine that has been largely overlooked by philosophers of religion. Although, as hypothetical trolley cases demonstrate, human beings sometimes cannot avoid doing or permitting evil in order to prevent a greater evil, Sterba argues that the same cannot be said of an omnipotent God and that, since our world contains horrendous evils, the existence of a God who is both omnipotent and good is therefore logically impossible. I argue that, if God is thought to be a conscious being with unlimited power to prevent horrendous evils, Sterba’s argument might be valid. I also argue, however, that divine power need not be construed in this way. Drawing on some ideas derived from the work of Charles Hartshorne, I suggest that God is not a kind of divine micromanager and that it is more coherent and, indeed, helpful to think of God as a social influencer whose power is a source of positive energy for the promotion of goodness. Full article
Essay
Compassionate Deism and the Grammar of Permission
Religions 2021, 12(3), 200; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030200 - 17 Mar 2021
Viewed by 544
Abstract
Both theism and atheism assume that God permits evil. But neither theism nor atheism make this assumption with due attention to what I call, following Wittgenstein, the grammar of the term ‘permission’. When this grammar is examined, it becomes clear that this assumption [...] Read more.
Both theism and atheism assume that God permits evil. But neither theism nor atheism make this assumption with due attention to what I call, following Wittgenstein, the grammar of the term ‘permission’. When this grammar is examined, it becomes clear that this assumption cannot avoid the atheistic force of the argument from evil. To rescue belief in God, I propose the adoption of a position I call compassionate deism. This position is a combination of Christian theism and traditional deism. The combination is produced by making a slight deistic modification of Christian theism in the direction of non-intervention, and a slight modification of deism in the direction of compassion. Such a compassionate deism denies the common assumption made by both Christian theism and atheism, namely, that God permits evil, and thus avoids the theistic denial of the reality of evil and the atheist’s denial of God’s goodness. Full article
Article
On the Significance of Assumptions about Divine Goodness and Divine Ontology for ‘Logical’ Arguments from Evil
Religions 2021, 12(3), 186; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030186 - 11 Mar 2021
Viewed by 643
Abstract
Sterba’s Is a Good God Logically Possible? (2019) draws attention to the importance of ethical assumptions in ‘logical’ arguments from evil (LAfEs) to the effect that the existence of (certain types) of evil is incompatible with the existence of a God who is [...] Read more.
Sterba’s Is a Good God Logically Possible? (2019) draws attention to the importance of ethical assumptions in ‘logical’ arguments from evil (LAfEs) to the effect that the existence of (certain types) of evil is incompatible with the existence of a God who is all-powerful and morally perfect. I argue, first, that such arguments are likely to succeed only when ‘normatively relativized’—that is, when based on assumptions about divine goodness that may be subject to deep disagreement. I then argue that these arguments for atheism are also, and more fundamentally, conditioned by assumptions about the ontology of the divine. I criticise Sterba’s consideration of the implications for his own novel LAfE of the possibility that God is not a moral agent, arguing that Sterba fails to recognize the radical nature of this claim. I argue that, if we accept the ‘classical theist’ account that Brian Davies provides (interpreting Aquinas), then God does not count as ‘an’ agent at all, and the usual contemporary formulation of ‘the problem of evil’ falls away. I conclude by noting that the question of the logical compatibility of evil’s existence with divine goodness is settled in the affirmative by classical theism by appeal to its doctrine that evil is always the privation in something that exists of the good that ought to be. Full article
Article
The Problem of Evil Remains Logically Binding
Religions 2021, 12(3), 154; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030154 - 27 Feb 2021
Viewed by 735
Abstract
Most contemporary discussions of the problem of evil assume that “logical” formulations of the problem are untenable, and that we should operate with “evidential” formulations instead. I argue that this consensus is founded on a mistake and that there is no legitimate reason [...] Read more.
Most contemporary discussions of the problem of evil assume that “logical” formulations of the problem are untenable, and that we should operate with “evidential” formulations instead. I argue that this consensus is founded on a mistake and that there is no legitimate reason to abandon logically binding formulations of the problem of evil. I conclude by arguing that, though it is possible to formulate a genuinely “evidential” problem of evil, logical formulations of the problem of evil are preferable in all cases. Full article
Article
God and the Problem of Evil: An Attempt at Reframing the Debate
Religions 2021, 12(3), 218; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12030218 - 21 Mar 2021
Viewed by 778
Abstract
This article attempts to reframe the traditional account of the problem of evil for God’s existence. The philosophical debates about the problem of evil for the existence of God within the traditional framework do not exhaust the available options for conceiving of God’s [...] Read more.
This article attempts to reframe the traditional account of the problem of evil for God’s existence. The philosophical debates about the problem of evil for the existence of God within the traditional framework do not exhaust the available options for conceiving of God’s perfection, including our understanding of God’s power and God’s relationship to the world. In responding to the problem of evil, rational theists should seek a reformulation of divine perfection consistent with God’s existence as both necessary and as morally relevant to human life in a manner that does not collapse in the face of the problem of evil. The neoclassical account of God’s nature as developed in the tradition of process philosophy is presented as an alternative that meets these requirements. Full article
Article
The Thomistic Dissolution of the Logical Problem of Evil
Religions 2021, 12(4), 268; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12040268 - 13 Apr 2021
Viewed by 5184
Abstract
In his book ‘Is a Good God Logically Possible?’, James Sterba argues that the existence of much of the evil to be found in the world is logically incompatible with the existence of God. I defend the Thomistic view that when one properly [...] Read more.
In his book ‘Is a Good God Logically Possible?’, James Sterba argues that the existence of much of the evil to be found in the world is logically incompatible with the existence of God. I defend the Thomistic view that when one properly understands the nature of God and of his relationship to the world, this so-called logical problem of evil does not arise. While Sterba has responded to the version of the Thomistic position presented by Brian Davies, I argue that his response fails. Full article
Article
Reconciling the God of Traditional Theism with the World’s Evils
Religions 2020, 11(10), 514; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11100514 - 10 Oct 2020
Viewed by 874
Abstract
Replying to James Sterba’s argument for the incompatibility of the world’s evils with the existence of the God of traditional theism, I argue for their compatibility, using the proposition that God has reasons for permitting these evils. Developing this case involves appeal to [...] Read more.
Replying to James Sterba’s argument for the incompatibility of the world’s evils with the existence of the God of traditional theism, I argue for their compatibility, using the proposition that God has reasons for permitting these evils. Developing this case involves appeal to an enlarged version of both the Free Will Defence and Hick’s Vale of Soul-Making Defence, in the context of God’s decision to generate the kind of natural regularities conducive to the evolution of a range of creatures, including free and rational ones. Sterba writes as if God would be required to authorise frequent infringements of these regularities. Sterba’s arguments from ethics and from the inadequacy of post-mortem compensation are problematised. Predicates used of God must bear a sense appropriate to the level of creator, and not of a very powerful cosmic observer. The ethics that applies within creation should not be confused with the ethics of creating. Full article
Essay
The Problem of Evil, Skeptical Theism and Moral Epistemology
Religions 2021, 12(5), 313; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel12050313 - 29 Apr 2021
Viewed by 690
Abstract
This paper argues that skeptical theism isn’t susceptible to criticisms of the view presented in James Sterba’s new book on the logical problem of evil. Nevertheless, Sterba’s argument does serve to underscore the unpalatable moral-epistemological consequences of skeptical theistic skepticism (STS): for precisely [...] Read more.
This paper argues that skeptical theism isn’t susceptible to criticisms of the view presented in James Sterba’s new book on the logical problem of evil. Nevertheless, Sterba’s argument does serve to underscore the unpalatable moral-epistemological consequences of skeptical theistic skepticism (STS): for precisely the reasons that STS doesn’t succumb to Sterba’s critique, STS threatens to undermine moral knowledge altogether. Full article
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