Many unbelievers seem to think they have a simple, four-step syllogism for the argument from evil:
1.God is omnipotent
2.God is benevolent (or omnibenevolent)
3.There is evil
4.Given (3), either God is able to prevent evil, but unwilling (pace #2), or else he is willing to prevent evil, but unable (pace #1), in which case there is no God.
Many unbelievers also seem to think that this is an internal critique of the Christian theism because it generates a contradiction between a set of propositions which a Christian would affirm. But this argument is deceptively simple.
1.The first premise isn’t especially problematic although some unbelievers caricature the attribute.
i) There is a logical constraint on what is possible.
ii) There is also a constraint on what is physically possible. For the physical is inherently limited. A finite medium is not infinitely elastic.
iii) Finally, omnipotence is not self-referential. It’s not about God’s power over himself. Rather, it’s about God’s ability to make things objective to himself.
2.The second premise is far more ambiguous.
At this point, many unbelievers make no attempt to define divine goodness in Biblical terms. They simply begin with *their* preconception of what a benevolent being would do, equate that with God, then proceed to disprove God because he doesn’t live up to their preconception. But there are two basic problems with that move:
i) It represents an unspoken shift from an internal critique to an external critique.
ii) In presenting an external critique, the onus is now on the unbeliever to justify his own value-system as well as his belief that there are creatures capable of suffering pain or suffering wrong.
3.As with #2, many unbelievers simply begin with *their* preconception of what constitutes gratuitous evil. But at that point it ceases, once more, to be an internal critique.
In sum, the common flaw in the formulation of the argument from evil is that it operates at too high a level of abstraction. It often purports to be an internal critique, but it frequently disregards Christian theology when defining the key terms.
So the argument from evil is generally a straw man argument.