Professor Nichols (Eyal Tal)
November 13 2012
Peter Van Inwagen's Response to the Problem of Evil
This paper will explain Peter Van Inwagen's defense of God's reason for allowing evil to exist. It will also explore the problem of evil and free-will leading up to Van Inwagen's defense.
The problem of evil is a problem for those who believe in God. It says that if there were a God, there would not be such a immense amount of evil in the world. Because of this, the conclusion is, there is no God. It is assumed that God is omnipotent and morally perfect. One who is omnipotent can do anything that is not fundamentally impossible. For example, Van Inwagen uses the example that it is impossible to create a round square, but it is possible to turn water into wine because it is possible to change the particles of water and convert it a wine. One who is morally perfect never does anything wrong. Being morally perfect, God would never do anything wrong, and if he did, then you would be mistaken, assuming God does exist. Van Inwagen then adds one more feature of God which is that he is omniscient. One who is omniscient knows everything. Supposing God has these features, he wouldn't let the evils that have come about occur in the first place, or even remove them the instant they exist. With this being said, for those who believe in God, if he has the traits of being omnipotent, morally perfect and omniscient, then evil should not exist.
The free-will defense against the problem of evil says that we as rational, self-aware beings, have a free choice between different choices. For example, having a choice between x and y, we can choose either one and God cannot make us prefer one over the other because this would bring about the impossible. By having a complete free choice, humans often make bad decisions, therefore producing more evil in the world. God thought the ability of free choice produces more good than evil, which is why he even allowed free will in the first place.
The difference between a theodicy and a defense is that a theodicy is put forward as true and a defense just represents a real possibility. Philosophers often use a defense rather than a theodicy because they usually do not know the facts. The defense is usually told through a story in response to a problem. He uses the example of a single mother who left her children in her flat for over an hour one night to explain what a defense is. The aunt of the children proclaims that the mother is not suited to raise the children anymore after the incident. Then you offer up possibilities of why she had a good reason to leave her children alone. In this case, you aren't telling the aunt exactly why she left the children alone, but you are offering a real possibility of why she did. Van Inwagen presents a theodicy as him knowing the reasons for why God allows evil to exist, and him telling them to us. With this, he would be offering up the truth and we cannot rule it as wrong, because he knows the reasons. Often what happens with philosophers though, is that they don't know so they must come up with an alternative answer, which is where a defense comes in.
The two standard objections to the free-will defense are as follows: First, it is impossible to believe the good of free will outweighs the amount of evil and physical suffering that actually exists. Second, much evil doesn’t come from free will at all, but rather from natural events like hurricanes and disease. These objections are fairly straight forward and make a good point. To think that the good of free will actually outweighs even the physical suffering in the world would be implausible. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes have caused so much suffering and it would be crazy to think that these are caused by human decisions. As Van Inwagen explains, the free will defense would only be able to deal with the existence of "some evil" that is caused by human decisions....
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