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Problem of Evil

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In philosophy, more specifically in theology, the problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of an omniscient, omnipotent and good God.

We can distinguish two forms of the problem of evil: the logical problem and the probative problem.

The logical or a priori problem seeks to demonstrate that it is logically impossible for God and evil to coexist. This problem assumes that theists accept the following propositions that God exists, that God is omniscient, that God is omnipotent, that God is good, and that evil exists.

For supporters of the logical problem, the first four premises which reflect the traditional view of God are incompatible with the fifth.

The probative or a posteriori problem considers that, although God and evil can logically coexist, the apparent contradiction constitutes an argument against theism, i.e. that the reductive thesis that evil exists has an impact. negative on the omnipotence of God because it theoretically reduces its natural qualities.


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, portrait by Christoph Bernhard Francke
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

(The term “theodicy” was introduced by the German philosopher, mathematician, and polymath scholar Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in his Essais de Théodicée.)

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s theory of possible worlds has often been simplified as an attempt to show that we live in the best of possible worlds (in which there would be no evil), as is caricatured in Voltaire’s comic novel Candide ou l’Optimisme; however, this is not what Leibniz postulates. Rather, it lays the logical foundation for the chain of events, which determines which are possible and which are not. Among all the possible combinations, God, since he knows everything, is able to choose the best.

Leibniz’s argument can be summed up as follows: First, we know God as an omnipotent, omniscient, good and free creator of the world (by definition). Things could have been otherwise; in other words, there are other possible worlds. So, it can be assumed that this world is not the best of all possible worlds (in other words, the world could be better). If this world is not the best, one of the following statements is true: either God is not powerful enough to create a better world; or God did not know how this world was going to evolve after its creation; either God did not want to create the best world; either God did not create the world; or there are no other possible worlds. However, all of the proposed cases are contradictory to the premises relating to the existence of the omnipotence of God and the fact that the world could have been otherwise. So this world is the best of all possible worlds, not because it was foreseen by God, but because it results from a logical chain of events, the best there is.

The theory of possible worlds is then defined by the deduction from the fact that, according to the properties of God and according to the contingency of the worlds, it is impossible that the world in which we live is other than the best.

This thesis of possible worlds is a potential solution to the problem of evil in that it articulates divine omniscience, which knows that the current world is the best of possible worlds, and the presence of evil in this best of all worlds. The thesis solves the problem by assuming that in the divine intellect all suffering finds its justification for a greater good, and that the existence of evil in the world is, in truth, a lesser evil.

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