The Evidential Problem of Evil

Ganssle and Lee discuss the probabilistic version of the problem of evil in their essay, “Evidential Problems of Evil.” [1] This argument is much more modest than the logical problem, as it does not argue that it is logically impossible that God should exist but that it is improbable in the face of evil and suffering.

Ganssle and Lee discuss a few versions of the problem, but the common thread among them is the move from the appearance that evil is unjustified to the conclusion that evil is unjustified. This may be done in an appeal to a particular and heinous act of evil or to evil generally. It seems as though the critic in this case attempts to position himself in such a way that the Christian must provide a sufficient justification for each and every instance of evil in order to defeat the argument.

This positioning of the critic is inappropriate. As Koukl explains in his book, Tactics, “The burden of proof is the responsibility someone has to defend or give evidence for his view.” In this case, it is the critic who is proposing a view (that God is unjustified in allowing evil). Therefore it is the critic who bears the burden of proving his view, not our responsibility to debunk it. In other words, the critic must show that it is improbable that God has justification to allow evil and not our responsibility to provide that justification.

Wykstra’s response is a good one. [3] He demonstrates that the move from the appearance to the probability is only appropriate when we are in a position to know. Wykstra demonstrates this by contrasting the determination that a hippopotamus is absent from a dog park with the determination that a dog whistle is not being blown in a dog park. Whereas one is in a position to see any hippos in attendance, one is not in a position to hear any dog whistle’s being blown.

William Lane Craig gives a similar response. He writes, “The burden of proof it lays on the atheist’s shoulders, namely, trying to show that the coexistence of God and suffering is impossible, is just too heavy to bear.” [4] Consider the following parallel arguments:

1) If God exists, then unjustified evil does not exist.

2) God exists.

3) Therefore, unjustified evil does not exist.

Compare this with:

1) If unjustified evil exists, then God does not exist.

2) Unjustified evil does exist.

3) Therefore, God does not exist.

The critical premises here will be premise two. One must choose what is more compelling, that God exists or that unjustified evil exists. There are independent reasons (such as the moral argument, cosmological argument, etc) to believe that God exists but there is no independent argument that unjustified evil exists. For these reasons, it seems more reasonable to believe that God does exist and therefore unjustified evil does not exist.

[1] Gregory E. Ganssle and Yena Lee, in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain – Kindle Edition by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

[2] Greg Koukl, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 58.

[3] Ganssle and Lee, 2013.

[4] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision – Kindle Edition (Wheaton: Good News Publishers, 2010).

6 thoughts on “The Evidential Problem of Evil

  1. All these responses miss the original point of the back and forth about God and morality.
    The problem is whether or not God is morally authoritative.
    If God is morally authoritative, then moral properties are finally inexplicable to us and so arbitrary, by our reckoning.
    If God is not morally authoritative, then moral properties exist independent of divine will, and God is not “complete” in itself.


    1. Thanks for reading and for the comment! I was a little confused by your reasoning. You said that, “if God is morally authoritative, then moral properties are finally inexplicable to us and so arbitrary” and if God is not morally authoritative then moral properties are “independent of divine will.”

      This sounds like you are framing the Euthyphro dilemma? Are you saying that if “the good” is whatever God commands, then it is arbitrary? If God commands it because it is “the good”, then God is referring to something outside himself to measure it?

      If that is what you mean, then it would not connect with Christian theism which places morality in God’s nature, not in his commands or as an external measure. In this way, “the good” is that which corresponds to God’s nature and his commands (which constitute our moral duties) issue from his nature. In this way morality is neither arbitrary nor independent of God.

      Does that connect with what you were saying? Perhaps I have misunderstood you?


      1. You got it. This is all a riff on Euthyphro.
        The justification for evil is the divine nature. The justification for good is the divine nature.
        That would seem to be the end of things, and no different than saying something is good or evil because God says so, since he says so because he’s good, and good is what he is.
        A brute fact for God, and arbitrary for us. If, for instance, having horrible pain every time we swallowed conformed with God’s nature/will/command – whatever you want to call it – then wouldn’t the pain be good?
        Morality defies analysis because moral properties have a single constituent, and moral reasoning is therefore futile.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you for the clarification.

          You said that the justification for evil is the divine nature. What did you mean by that? Typically I have heard the justification for evil in divine purposes/reasons, but I have never heard the divine nature justifying it. In what way do you see God’s nature as justifying evil? Perhaps you mean “defined by” rather than “justified by”? We would certainly define evil as that which does not correspond to God’s nature. Is that what you meant?

          You said that if the justification for (definition of?) the good is in the divine nature, then that is no different than saying it is good because of God’s “say so”. You suggested that it is no less arbitrary in this case. I’m confused by this, because arbitrary means based on random chance or personal whim. If it is based on God’s nature, then it isn’t a choice that God has made. In what way are you saying it is still arbitrary?

          It seems like you may be suggesting that if God’s nature were different, then morality would be different. I’m not sure that this makes sense in light of divine necessity. Divine necessity is the attribute of God that says he, as he is now, exists in every possible world. In other words, in every possible world God has the same moral nature. It is logically impossible that evil could correspond to God’s nature in some other possible world, since God has the same nature in every possible world. So the question, “If something evil corresponded to God’s nature, would that make it good?” is nonsense since it is referring to a logical impossibility; that evil could correspond to God’s nature. There is no possible world in which God has a different nature, and therefore there is no possible world in which different things conform to God’s nature than in this world.

          It is interesting that you say moral reasoning is futile, aren’t we reasoning about morality right now?


  2. Reasoning about morality is different than moral reasoning – meta-ethics vs. ethics.
    In the interest of staying on the rails, I will only say that I do mean ‘justified’ as in thoroughly explained. I don’t think that really differs from what you are claiming, if I read you right.
    And, by ‘arbitrary’, I mean based solely upon authority, as in asserted by an arbiter.
    Let me illustrate with a more innocuous property. Take blue. Blue is composed of a wavelength of light, specific retinal activities, associated neural activity, the totality of conversations which everyone has had about blue, and so forth.
    The phonemes which constitute ‘blue’ are arbitrary, not because they could be otherwise, but because they do not refer to an identifying schema, like the phenomenon itself. They have no identifying composition, as such.
    Moral properties, taken as manifestations of divine will or whatever you want to call the deity’s intentionality analog, are in the phonemes’ situation.
    Hopefully, you are not reading this on a holiday; I am only writing it on a holiday because I am psyched to climb and can’t sleep any longer.


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