The Problem of Evil is not a problem at all unless “Good” and “Evil” are properly defined and meaningfully understood; or else, the problem cannot be raised.
Given that meaning is usage, let’s look at what we usually do not absolutely consider to be the meaning of Good.
- Good is not painlessness. For, in our daily usage, it is commonly accepted that Good usually involves pain (e.g. in exercise, study, work).
- Good is not absence of grief or sorrow. For, if that was the case, the sense of a loss of Good would not exist; which would in turn imply that the sense of Good itself doesn’t exist. It is possible for Good to exist along with grief (for instance, when someone in a world X which is free of a particular Evil, say starvation, is sad about people in a world Y, where people are starving). In this sense, sympathy, grief, and compassion are virtues; i.e. they are good.
So if Good is not the absence of pain or sorrow, then what is Good? Before we answer that question, let’s submit that Evil and Good are perfect opposites of each other; thus, we can define Evil as anything that is opposite to Good (one definition looks at Evil as just the absence or privation of Good in the same manner that darkness is the absence of light).
1. The Relativity of Good in A Contingent World: Good is always recognized as relative to the instance of an essence (e.g. vision is a quality which is good in humans; however, one doesn’t say that it is evil for a pen to not have vision and to be blind). Thus, what is good in a particular world is to be understood in relation to it and not in comparison with other kinds of worlds, where the essential properties are different (for instance, we cannot compare what is good in an ant and say that the same should be with humans; for in that case, Good would become Infinite, if not contradictory (one could be as tiny as an ant and as large as a whale at the same time)). But, if Good could become Infinite in the instance of this universe, then the universe would become God (which is not the case at all). Consequently, one cannot call anything evil unless one is able to identify what is actually good with respect to that particular entity with respect to which evil is being predicated.
Further, in an economy or eco-arrangement of multiple contingent beings, dependence would become inter-related (implying that the profit of one would mean the loss of something or someone else; the profit of tigers would mean the loss of deer and the profit of deer would mean the loss of grass, for instance). A non-dependent world would be loss-free, or Infinite (which, in the case of our universe, is negated by experience of contingency – the core concern of the Problem of Evil).
Another possibility would be for a contingent world to become not inter-dependent but trans-dependent; that is to become absorbed into the Infinite in such a way that the contingent is supplied by the Infinite (as in the new creation of biblical eschatology). But, that possibility will require a non-free universe (which is super-governed by the Infinite) in a way that the Good also exists as freedom (i.e., is also recognized as good, thus being free). This is contradictory.
But, the contradiction is only conditional; given the non-free absorption of free-creatures into the Infinite. However, given that the free-creatures within a temporally and spatially finite and contingent world choose (by exercise of freedom- for freedom to exist for the recognition of Good) to be absorbed into the Infinite world (Kingdom of God) and there is a bridge (ontological and moral) between the Infinite and the finite, then such a world free of contingent evil, will become possible. In Christian doctrine, that bridge is the person of Christ, the Mediator.
2. Good as Absolute and Necessary. Good as absolute and necessary (i.e. devoid of any instance of or possibility of Evil) can only be predicated of a being that is Infinite and in which Good can be Infinitely instantiated (with no room for Evil). In contingent beings or entities, Good can be absolute only with respect to what can be defined as Good relatively to them. For instance, an apple tree that produces sweet apples is experiencing the Good (there is an ideal “absolute” image or standard of Good when one talks about good apples and bad apples); however, one cannot consider an apple tree not producing apples but producing mangoes to be a good apple tree in any sense (in fact, that image is contradictory). But, it is conceptually possible to imagine a perfect apple tree whose fruit is 100% perfect – i.e. the good apple tree conforms to the ideal of an absolutely good apple tree. But, contingency and inter-dependence would mean that such perfection itself is also contingent and therefore not necessary (if a card loses balance somewhere, all other cards are affected – contingency is necessary, but perfection is not).
But, such relativity doesn’t apply to the Infinite. An Infinite does not submit to gradation of degrees of Good, since the Infinite is trans-temporal (the Infinite cannot be a little good at times and better at other times). Also, there cannot be more than one instance of the Infinite (e.g. many Infinite oceans cannot co-exist). Therefore, the Infinitely good is absolutely and necessarily good.
3. The Problem of Evil as Evil. The very moral condemnation of the Infinite on grounds that Evil (physical and moral) exists is Evil, for it is an attempt of the contingent to deny its necessary contingency and assume equivalence with the Infinite without submission to the Infinite (which by virtue of the very rule it uses to raise the Problem of Evil condemns itself).
1. If God (as Necessary) is All-powerful, All-loving, and All-good, then Evil (as Contingent) cannot exist.
2. Evil (as Contingent) exists.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary) is not All-powerful, All-loving, and All-good doesn’t exist.
4. That is to say, God is a Contingent Being.
The syllogism is invalid. The valid form should be
1. If God (as Necessary) exists, then Evil (as Necessary) cannot exist.
2. Evil exists as Contingent, not as Necessary.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary) exists.
1. God (as Necessary) or Evil (as a Necessary).
2. Evil as Contingent, not-Necessary.
3. Therefore, God (as Necessary)
To assert that Evil exists as Necessary is to assert the absoluteness, inevitability, infinity, and immutability of Evil; which makes Evil co-Infinite with Good. But, this is both a contradiction and a denial of the Problem of Evil. It is a contradiction because Good and Evil cannot infinitely co-exist (Good would infinitely negate Evil as light negates darkness – and in Infinite Good, there are no degrees of goodness (dim light, brighter light) because of its infinitude). Also, to assert that Evil exists as Necessary is to deny the Problem of Evil, for then one can neither desire the annihilation of Evil nor would have need to argue for the non-existence of Necessary Good (since the concept of Good would become negative in face of Absolute Evil, with no contingent existent remaining). Therefore, to posit the Syllogism of Evil in order to negate the existence of Absolute Good is to engage in prejudiced judgment; that judgment is Evil since it doesn’t just concern the issue of validity or invalidity but also the choice (in freedom) to call evil good and good evil — it features as Evil when it condemns Infinite Good as either non-existent or being the opposite of Good; thus, affirming Evil as Ultimate Reality. But, if Evil is Ultimate Reality, then the problem would no longer be the Problem of Evil, but the Problem of Good. Then, the cry would not be for the Christ, but for the Anti-Christ (See Nietszche, The Antichrist). Such approach is nothing but the approach of Evil against Good.
Also, to claim that Necessary Good be unconditionally attributed to Contingent Being is to claim unconditional right to Infinitude (which implies the overthrow of the Infinite; for, there cannot be more than one Infinite). But, the overthrow of Infinite Good (though logically impossible) is Evil. Therefore, also, the Syllogism of Evil is Evil.
Updated on December 11, 2014
Discussion extended at Philpapers.