We’re using the “Handbook of Apologetics” by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli to go over the arguments for the existence of God. Today, we will be covering the above referenced subject in relation to the existence of God. Dr. Kreeft teaches logic in two major universities, so his arguments tend to be clear, concise and very helpful.
A third term in need of definition is the term omnipotent, for the problem of evil is the apparent incompatibility of evil with a God who is all-powerful as well as all-good. If “all things are possible with God,” why didn’t God create a world without sin?
The answer is that he did, according to Genesis 1 and 2. Evil’s source is not God’s power but man’s freedom. Then why didn’t God create a world without human freedom? Because that would have been a world without humans, a world without hate but also without love. Love too proceeds only from free will. Animals cannot love, they can only like, or be affectionate. But isn’t a world with free human beings but no sin possible? It is indeed. And God created just such a world. But such a world—a world in which no-sin is freely possible, is necessarily a world in which sin is also freely possible. And if there are human beings at all, that is, creatures with free will, then it is up to their free choice whether that possibility of sin is freely actualized or not.
To put it another way, even omnipotence could not have created a world in which there was genuine human freedom and yet no possibility of sin, for our freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning. “All things are possible with God” indeed; but a meaningless self-contradiction is not any thing at all. One such meaningless self-contradiction is a world in which there is real free choice—that is, the possibility of freely choosing good or evil—and at the same time no possibility of choosing evil. To ask why God didn’t create such a world is like asking why God didn’t create colorless color or round squares.
Do all agree?
Not all Christian thinkers agree with this concept of omnipotence. Some argue that God’s power is limited by nothing, not even the laws of our logic. This view seems motivated by piety and the desire to credit God with every possible perfection. But a pious motive does not excuse a mental confusion. We believe this is a misunderstanding both of God and logic.
It is a misunderstanding of God in that it is not a divine perfection to create or perform a meaningless self-contradiction. It is rather God’s consistency—his never contradicting himself—that is a perfection. There is also a misunderstanding here of what logic means. The law of noncontradiction is not “our” logic. It is not an artificial rule, like playing nine and not ten innings in baseball. It is an objective truth about everything. We discover it; we do not invent it. Nor is it a mere tautology, a verbal repetition like X = X. It is a universal, eternal, objective truth about all reality. It is based on the nature of God as one and identical and consistent with himself. To relativize or subjectivize or humanize the law of noncontradiction is to demean a divine attribute. That is impious.
Thus, even an omnipotent God cannot forcibly prevent sin without removing our freedom. This “cannot” does not mean that his power meets some obstacle outside himself, but rather (as Lewis said) that “nonsense does not cease to be nonsense when we add the words ‘God can’ before it.”
This notion of God’s omnipotence as not extending to self-contradictions explains necessary physical evil as well as moral evil. Even omnipotence cannot avoid all physical evil if it creates a finite world that is not infinitely perfect.
More specifically, let us distinguish two kinds of physical evil: (1) the imperfections, weaknesses, diseases and deaths of nonhuman things, and (2) the suffering of human beings. The first is inherent in any finite, created world. The second is a necessary consequence of sin, as we saw with our image of the magnet and three iron rings (Connecting Suffering with Sin: The Fall). Because of the body-soul unity, soul-evil necessarily has body-consequences.
At first, God’s omnipotence seems to contribute to the making of the problem of evil, for there seems to be a contradiction between evil and an omnipotent God. But in reality, omnipotence contributes to the solution to the problem of evil, by enabling God to providentially bring good even out of evil, to make all things work together for a good end for all who love him, who freely choose to enter his plan (Rom 8:28). For them, it is true, as Boethius says, that “all fortune is good fortune.” God’s solution to evil is like a fairy tale; he “writes straight with crooked lines.” In his painting, each dark shadow contributes to the overall light; in his plot, every terrible event aids the wonderfulness of the End. We are not yet at the End, so this cannot yet be seen or proved. But it can be believed and lived, as the “theological virtue” of hope.