Even before one gets to Rowe's argument, however, one may disregard Hick's argument because it depends on imagining an infinite number of possibilities to explain away evil, rather than accounting for it. Instead of actually explaining how a benevolent and omnipotent god can allow evil to exist, Hick's argument simply states that this evil is not really evil, although with no evidence to back this up other than the convenient fact that believing it makes an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god logically possible. While one is entirely free to take this approach, it renders further argumentation irrelevant, because one side has simply decided to redefine a central term, apropos of nothing, in order to make its position tenable.
Although Hicks and others would like the reader to believe that there is more nuance to their arguments, in reality this rebuttal is merely an attempt to redefine terms in order to make them logically consistent, after their original formulation was shown to be false. The supposed greater good, whether it be soul-making or something else, is not sufficient to justify or account for evil, because there is no evidence to suggest that this greater good exists, and furthermore, a supposedly beneficial recompense does not justify earlier suffering; although someone in heaven will supposedly not concern him or her self with past sufferings, the joy of heaven does nothing to diminish that suffering in its original context, or justify its existence in the first place.
Saint Augustine takes a similar, yet distinct tack when he attempts to redefine evil, not by labeling it as part of a larger good, but rather by defining it as a negative aspect, the absence of good rather than the presence of evil (Augustine, 2009, p. 251). In this respect, evil is not a thing that god has allowed to exist, but rather a temporary lack that arises due to the possibility for human decision in a universe granting free will. "Natural" evil is explained away as a kind of systemic flaw, and in Christian mythology this flaw is seen as the consequence of Adam and Eve's original sin. Once again, evil is redefined, but this time the move is slightly more subtle. Instead of attempting to literally change evil into part of a larger good, Augustine attempts to change evil into nothing; that is to say, he attempts to argue that evil does not actually exist, but rather is only identifiable as an absence of good. According to this perspective, it does not matter that the existence of evil is not logically consistent with an omnipotent and omni-benevolent god, because Augustine claims that this evil does not actually exist.
The importance of Rowe's argument becomes clear when one examines these rebuttals to the logical argument from evil, because Rowe's argument intentionally takes into account the suggestion that evil is part of a greater good or else does not truly exist. The goal of Rowe's argument is not to prove that an omnipotent and omniscient god is logically inconsistent with the existence of evil, but rather to demonstrate that an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god is one of the less likely explanations for the existence and experience of evil. Thus, the question shifts slightly from one of impossibility to one of improbability, although the evidence against the existence of a god remains as strong.
Neither Hick's soul-making of Augustine's absence of good matter in this case, because there remain more likely explanations for existence and experience of evil or suffering; if that evil is part of a greater good, there is no evidence that might reveal this good, and even if evil is truly the lack of good, the very real experience of evil and suffering demands a more robust justification from an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god than what has thus far been provided by holy texts or apologists, particularly because it seems impossible to define the "good" that is lacking without first presupposing the existence of an objective, universal standard of morality. Thus, Augustine and others are put in the position of attempting to refute the argument from evil, and thus demonstrate the possibility of their god, by drawing on a concept of morality that itself cannot exist without the presupposition of an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god; thus, the evidence and the claim become the same thing, demonstrating the theist argument for the circular logic that it is.
Before concluding it is necessary to point one final detail, if only to ensure that this study has been sufficiently diligent in discussing the contours of the argument. In particular, one must be careful to note that the question of whether or not the argument from evil disproves the existence of god is itself a kind of rhetorical misdirection, because it attempts to place the burden of proof on the skeptic, rather than the believer. It is the believer that is making a positive claim about the existence of a god, and it is up to the skeptic to decide whether or not the evidence warrants that belief. In this context, the problem of evil is evidence against the existence of the proposed (omnipotent, omni-benevolent) god, but it is not the duty of the skeptic to "disprove" this god; rather, it is the duty of the believer to prove this god, or at least provide compelling evidence to suggest that this god is both possible and likely. Anyone attempting to argue that it is the job of the skeptic to disprove god claims is simply being dishonest.
By examining the argument from evil, one is able to understand not only how the existence of evil and suffering logically precludes the existence of an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god, but also how the arguments in favor of a deity are dependent on logically incoherent positions, shifting definitions, and a constant desire to shift the burden of the proof. The general goal of this study was to determine if the existence of evil proves that god does not exist, but even framing the question that way demonstrates a kind of theist bias, because the onus of proof is not on the skeptic, but rather on the person making the claim that god exists. Nevertheless, the argument from evil can provide insight into this question, because it serves as evidence against the claim that god exists, first by showing that evil is logically inconsistent with an omnipotent, omni-benevolent god, and secondly by showing that even if one accepts that this god is not inconsistent with the existence of evil, this god nevertheless remains one of the more unlikely explanations for the existence of evil, and as such belief in this god must depend on blind faith, rather than any evidential support. The problem of evil is one of the oldest challenges to claims of all-powerful, all-good gods, and although the debate rages one, its validity as an effective argument against the existence of god has yet to be sufficiently challenged.
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