Is gratuitous evil a coherent concept?

  1. God is a maximally great being
  2. A maximally great being has the properties of being omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent.
  3. The properties of (2) are incompatible with gratuitous evil.
  4. There exists at least one logically possible world fitting the description of ‘has gratuitous evil’.
  5. A maximally great being exists necessarily (ie. in every logically possible world).
  6. If (4) then there is at least one world in which a maximally great being does not exist.
  7. Therefore, a maximally great being does not exist.

One has to decide which of the following two possibilities are more plausible:

1. It is possible for a maximally great being to exist.

or

2. It is possible for gratuitous evil to exist.

One cannot countenance both. I accept (1), and therefore I think that it is not possible for gratuitous evil to exist.

What is gratuitous evil? Gratuitous evil is evil which does not contribute to the overall goodness of the world. Is it possible for evil to not contribute to the overall goodness of the world? If anything relevantly similar to Christianity is true, then perhaps not. Suppose that one believes that God providentially orchestrates all events in the world such that there is not a single evil which does not elicit some good, then it would seem that there could not be a single evil which does not elicit some good. Thus, we might conclude that if God exists, then he necessarily providentially orchestrates all events in such a way that not a single evil fails to elicit some good. Notice that this argument offers a logical defeater for certain brands of Deism which suggest that God exists as a disinterested observer with respect to the world. If God exists, then it is not logically possible that he be a disinterested observer (even if the object/goal of providence is realized mediately by the original design rather than immediately by intervention).

Any measure of evil imaginable will remain amenable to contributing to the overall goodness of the whole created order. One could turn to the Holocaust as a great evil, and notice that it has not only kept western civilization in check morally since Germany’s plunge into the barbarism inspired by the enlightenment, but has also since that time inspired ecumenical rapport between Jewish and Christian communities which had previously been unprecedented. Even in possible worlds where such things did not result in part thanks to the atrocity of the Holocaust, we can imagine innumerable ways in which the Holocaust could have contributed to the overall good of the story of mankind. To turn to the most extreme conceivable occasion of evil, let us suppose that Hell exists and that some persons go to Hell. Hell too, it seems, contributes to the overall goodness of the world, for its reality eternally exemplifies the justice of God. Thus those in heaven rejoice in God’s justice upon observing the state of those in Hell. Even those in Hell, though they are incapacitated with respect to the ability to worship (since communion is a prerequisite for worship), do elicit the worship of God in those in heaven. Those in heaven are able to read the words on the gates of hell “me too made eternal love” (that line lifted from Dante’s ingenious classic) and interpret Hell in light of that narrative.  Hell, then, contributes to the overall goodness of the created order.

Thus, there is no conceivable evil such that it cannot possibly contribute to the overall goodness of the world. It is not logically possible, moreover, that there exists some evil such that it does in fact not contribute to the goodness of the world if a maximally great being exists. It is inconceivable that a maximally great being not exist. It is therefore not logically possible that there exist gratuitous evil – there is not even a coherent concept of some evil which could exist which would constitute gratuitous evil so long as it is inconceivable that a maximally great being not exist. In the end, it isn’t only the case that we cannot know that God has not any morally sufficient reason for allowing evil, but rather we know that it isn’t logically possible that God has not morally sufficient reason for allowing any and/or all possible evils.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Eschatology, Hell, Modality, Theodicy, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is gratuitous evil a coherent concept?

  1. Pingback: Are worlds comparably good or bad? | Third Millennial Templar

  2. Pingback: Stringer’s Modal Arguments for Atheism | Third Millennial Templar

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