The god beyond belief: A review

In defense of William Rowe’s Evidential argument from evil by Nick Trakakis

Here and here, my friend Prayson wrote regarding the logical problem of evil that Epiricus asked many eons ago. The problem can be stated as follows

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able, and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God.

to which Platinga challenged arguing that the existence of god and presence of evil was not a logical contradiction and which we are told atheist philosophers generally agreed with him.

Platinga’s argument can be stated as follows

(a) God exists
(b) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good
(c) Evil exists.

What Rowe conceded is that a-c can be logically true but matter of fact no all of a) b) and c) are true.

In this book, Trakakis, looks at Rowe’s evidential arguments from evil and offers a defense in face of challenge by philosophers such as Platinga and Swinburne among others. This is Rowe’s[1979] argument

(1) There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

(2) An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

(3) (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Rowe presents two instances of evil which he uses to defend the above argument. The first instance,E1, involves a fawn caught, unable to escape, in forest fire caused by lightning and unable to escape and is thus burnt horribly and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. He asks what good is served by the fawn’s death and could an omnipotent god do anything to help the situation of the bird. His second instance, E2, involves a five-year old daughter who was raped and murdered by her mother’s boyfriend. He again asks what good was served by the little girl’s death? What greater good could god have had in mind by permitting such an evil act to occur?

In support of the above argument, Rowe goes further to state

No good state of affairs we know of is such that an omnipotent,omniscient being’s obtaining it would morally justify that being’s permitting E1 or E2.


No good state of affairs is such that an omnipotent, omniscient being’s obtaining it would morally justify that being in permitting E1 or E2

In responding to the above argument, theist philosophers have resorted to among others arguing that the ways of god are inscrutable. This argument as developed by Wykstra aims at showing that

given our cognitive limitations, we are in no position to judge as improbable the statement that there are goods beyond our ken secured by God’s permission of many of the evils we find in the world.

In examining this argument, the author shows that Wykstra fails to provide reasonable grounds for thinking it likely that the goods for which god permits many sufferings would be indiscernible to us.

Other arguments that are looked, of which I had mentioned one in  a previous post, deals with divine hiddenness . Two levels of this have been advanced

  1. Divine hiddenness – level 1: God’s reasons for permitting horrendous evil are hidden from us.
  2. Divine hiddenness – level 2: God hides from us the fact that he has a reason for permitting horrendous evil and/or the fact that he exists or loves us and cares about us.

Against this line of argument, the author argues that

[..] we would expect a loving God, like a loving parent or partner, to pursue a personal relationship with us, to seek us out and draw near to us – an expectation that is magnified when we take into account that it is God who permits our suffering, and magnified further when we do not understand why he allows this suffering to befall us.

whereas Rowe argues that whoever holds the above premises 1 and 2 to be correct must also subscribe to the following

  1. A being of infinite wisdom and power is unable to prevent any instance of horrendous suffering without thereby forfeiting a greater good1.
  2. A being of infinite wisdom and power is unable to enable those who undergo horrendous suffering to understand just what good1 is (for which their suffering was necessary) without thereby forfeiting a greater good2.
  3. A being of infinite wisdom and power is unable to be consciously present to those who undergo horrendous suffering without thereby forfeiting another greater good3 – despite the despair and loneliness of those who undergo horrendous suffering without any conscious awareness of God’s presence.
  4. A being of infinite wisdom and power is unable to enable those who undergo horrendous suffering without any conscious awareness of God’s presence to understand just what good3 is (for the sake of which their suffering without any conscious awareness of God’s presence

Other philosophers have appealed to human freedom to defend divine hiddenness arguing that if the presence of god was made unambiguously clear to us, our freedom would in some significant way be curtailed. The problem I have with this argument, is if we take the bible account to be true, then this argument can’t hold. For at the moment of creating Adam and Eve, god’s presence was immediate while these two fellows still had the audacity to go against his commands. When we look farther even to Abe who has these late night conversations and BBQ sessions with god, he still does things in contravention to what god has told him. Appealing to this argument then can’t be supported by the bible story which to me is the basis of christian- Judaic belief.

Richard Swinburne in support of divine of hiddenness argues for moral freedom. He presents such a scenario

Knowing that there was a God, men would know that their most secret thoughts and actions were known to God; and knowing that he was just, they would expect for their bad actions and thoughts whatever punishment was just. Even if a good God would not punish bad men further, still they would have the punishment of knowing that their bad actions were known to God. They could no longer pose as respectable citizens; God would be too evident a member of the community. Further, in seeing God, as it were, face to face, men would see him to be good and worshipful, and hence would have every reason for conforming to his will. In such a world men would have little temptation to do wrong – it would be the mark of both prudence and reason to do what was virtuous. Yet a man only has a genuine choice of destiny if he has reasons for pursuing either good or evil courses of action; for … a man can only perform an action which he has some reason to do

This line of reasoning again can be turned on its head since the same theists insist their god knows our every thought and actions. To therefore appeal to this argument to defend god’s apparent hiddenness is to not be committed to traditional theism which as I have stated claims god’s omnipresence and omniscience.

The author shows there is no successful theodicy against natural evil.

Farther arguments that have been advanced in trying to explain away evil  is an appeal to god of chance where the theist when asks what is the purpose of an event, the answer is that it happens for no purpose. In such a scenario who want to believe in such a god who allows things to just happen without purpose at the same time, this argument can also be turned on its head because the traditional theist argues that everything that happens does so for a reason and that god knows the reason. It is therefore contradictory to hold the position that things just happen and at the same time hold it that everything happens for a reason.

The other argument appealed to is how do we know that the evil that is occurring here is beyond the minimum allowed by god? Well my question is why would an all loving god want to have so much of the evil that we see?

In conclusion Trakakis argues that Rowe’s argument is successful. He has this to say

The significance of these results for theism may be put as follows. If, as I have argued in Chapters 4–12, Rowe’s evidential argument successfully withstands the most powerful objections raised against it, and if the more indirect ways of responding to Rowe’s argument discussed in the present chapter (i.e., the G.E. Moore shift and revisions to the concept of God) prove to be unsatisfactory, then the only rational course of action left for the theist to take is to abandon theism and convert to atheism. This is by no means a novel conclusion, but it has been reached largely by way of a much neglected route, viz., by highlighting theism’s inability to account for any natural evil at all.

He says farther

in stark contrast to the common irenic view that, once all sides to the debate over the evidential problem of evil have been given a proper hearing, we arrive at a kind of stalemate or détente, with neither side in a position to claim victory.25 Against this view, I have argued that Rowe’s arguments succeed in settling the matter in favour of atheism.

On a light note and encouragement for the theist facing disillusionment on the foregoing he says

For some this is merely cause for frustration or resignation; but for the rest of us it reveals the fascination and beauty of all philosophical problems.