Does the Existence of Gratuitous Evil Prove That a Good God Does Not Exist?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Although most philosophers of religion have conceded that the logical problem of evil (i.e., an all-powerful, all-good God cannot logically exist if evil exists) has been effectively answered by theists, there is still a battle over the evidential problem of evil. The problem for theists, as stated in the evidential argument, is that an all-powerful, all-good God could do a lot more to reduce the gratuitous evil in the world, and since he does not, it is more rational to believe that he does not exist.

David Baggett and Jerry Walls write that for the anti-theist to make the case that “there are far more sufferings than are morally justified, he needs an argument that a good God would not create the actual world.” Can the case be made that it would have been better for God not to create the world than to create the actual world we live in? Baggett and Walls think that it is doubtful.

His case would require more than showing that there are many instances of excessive sufferings, which seems true, but that there are more and worse of those than there are countervailing or parallel goods overall. And the case of whether there are depends on the evidence for Anselmian theology. To the extent that independent reasons exist for such theology, we have more grounds for doubting [the anti-theist’s] insistence that we’re rationally constrained to give up theistic belief.

Anselmian theology holds that God is the greatest conceivable being – all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect in every way. The anti-theist must show that this particular conception of God fails to explain how the world could contain the evil it does. Baggett and Walls argue that it

is plausible to think that there would be a great number of occasions during which God would not intervene to stop people from exercising their wills in terrible ways if he went to the trouble of creating a world featuring such freedom. By parity of reasoning, the case is similar with a world of stable natural laws, assuming that God saw its creation as valuable enough to effect in the first place.

Assuming that God sees value in creating a world of meaningful freedom and stable order, it is doubtful that he would intervene often to thwart people’s evil expressions of freedom or disrupt the natural order unless the overall balance between goods and evils in the world began to tip in the direction toward evils.

But how can there be any counterbalancing goods in the face of evils such as child torture? Aren’t there simply some evils which are so gratuitous that there can be no possible ultimate justification for God allowing them? For Baggett and Walls, gratuitous suffering does not entail ultimately unjustifiable suffering.

Consequently, we accept that a good God wouldn’t allow suffering for which there aren’t morally sufficient reasons, but we reject the notion that . . . problematic gratuitous sufferings are simply to be equated with ultimately unjustifiable sufferings. The distinction between gratuitous suffering and ultimately unjustified suffering may rest on how much value we place on certain intrinsic goods.

The anti-theist must

genuinely leave open enough room for the intrinsic good of God’s allowing the actual world to “play out.” If [the anti-theist] can’t accommodate this actual world, his concession to the potential value of free will amounts to very little. He insists that, even if God went to the trouble of creating a world with free will and stable natural laws, he would not allow a world like this one, even though creating a world with traits like physical laws and meaningful free will introduces the possibility of great suffering. This is, needless to say, a highly ambitious claim, and one we find unpersuasive.

Although in principle reason does rule out some things for a good God—unconditional reprobation, a command to torture children for fun, and certain qualitative and quantitative evils—the claim that this world belongs in that category is far from obvious, to put it mildly.

God has created a world with free will and stable natural laws, and therefore great suffering may occur and does occur. The anti-theist, to persuade us that God would not create the world we live in, must somehow show that God has insufficient moral reasons for allowing the evil we see around us. It seems impossible to ever demonstrate this, given the Anselmian God, and so the evidential argument from evil fails.

  • PhilosophyJunky

    Interesting. This is of course under the assumption that we actually have a free will. However, let’s assume we do have one. I think the problem of evil and pain only scratches the surface on questioning God’s “goodness.” A better question would be: how could a good God not only create Hell, but allow petty human minds the free will to even choose to enter such a place?

    Also, if free will exists, how can you ever say “God is in control”? Or “God has a plan”? Was his plan to create
    people, to have a free will, to choose something that was in His plan? Sounds a bit circular and ridiculous.

    So with this information in mind, that we have a free will and God doesn’t intervene much of the time, should we live as if God isn’t in control? That He doesn’t intervene into the affairs of man? Meaning: we should live as if we’re responsible for ourselves and our own choices? … and that there is no one in the sky watching and controlling our every thought or move? Sounds a bit like atheism actually. You may be on to something!

  • I have written extensively on this blog about how man is free and God is in control. Obviously you haven’t read any of those posts, so please click on the category of “free will” in the left sidebar and learn something about this issue.

  • This fails to take into account natural evils, which is where the argument from evil is focused on today. I’ve developed an argument called the Evolutionary Argument Against God, that proves how the traditional notion of god (all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good) is logically incompatible with the world we live in.

    1. If God chose to use evolution as the process by which he created human beings and all other forms of life, then God knowingly chose a process that requires suffering that is logically unnecessary.

    2. If humans are the product of gradual evolution guided by God, then at some point during the process the soul appeared.

    3. Once the soul appeared, humans could be rewarded
    in an afterlife for the suffering they endured while they were alive.

    4. If higher level primates are capable of third level pain awareness (knowing they are experiencing pain) then our pre-human hominid ancestors also did and they did not have souls.

    5. This means God chose to create humans using a method that knowingly would involve conscious suffering that was not logically necessary.

    6. An all-good, perfectly moral God who is incapable of unwarranted cruelty would not create beings that could consciously suffer in a way that was not logically necessary.

    7. Therefore, the traditional notion of God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good does not exist.

    Even if you deny evolution, the argument still stands because no one would deny that Neanderthals existed. And higher primates have third level apperceptive pain awareness. But if you accept theistic evolution, as many Christians are nowadays, you have to believe god purposely created a world that would include large amounts of conscious suffering, for no logically necessary reason. That means god is cruel and/or indifferent and therefore incompatible with his general attributes.

    I’d like to hear anyone try to refute this argument.

  • I’ve often heard the argument that suffering among animals and animals that CAUSE suffering can be blamed on The Fall. That’s the fall of man (via Adam and Eve), not the band fronted by Mark E Smith, or indeed the Camus novel.

  • Well evolution requires suffering, and life does too. There was never a literal Adam & Eve.

  • Bill Pratt

    Actually the post does answer your argument. In essence, you have no way of knowing that the actual world, including the existence of Neanderthals, is not necessary for God to accomplish his good salvific purposes. Your premise 1 is false. For speculation on why God specifically created pre- human hominids, go over and read some articles on Neanderthals at