Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Steven M. Cahn

Subject Categories

Philosophy | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


chance, deontology, God, gratuitous evil, theodicy, vagueness


William Rowe has argued for atheism as follows: (1) There seem to be evils God could have prevented without losing a greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse, and (2) God would not allow such evils. This dissertation examines (2), the "No Gratuitous Evil Thesis," and its role in Rowe's argument. In Part One I argue that there are crucial ambiguities in the notion of a greater good this thesis appeals to and that these present dilemmas for Rowe's argument, as well as for defining gratuitous evil. This leads to my approximation of the notion of gratuitous evil. Part Two is a defense of the No Gratuitous Evil Thesis. I first argue against Eric Reitan that a deontological moral perspective does not challenge the No Gratuitous Evil Thesis, as formulated by myself or by Rowe. I then argue that chance is irrelevant to the No Gratuitous Evil Thesis via a critique of Peter van Inwagen's work on chance and divine providence and of Daniel Howard Snyder's revision of Rowe's thesis. I complete my defense by arguing against Peter van Inwagen and William Hasker, the most influential critics of the thesis. Van Inwagen has argued that certain arbitrary yet morally permissible decisions show the No Gratuitous Evil Thesis is false. Hasker has argued that the thesis is incompatible with the divine goal of humans having significant morality and so should be rejected by theists. I argue that van Inwagen and Hasker both implicitly appeal to vagueness and that vagueness is irrelevant to the No Gratuitous Evil Thesis. My defense in Part Two provides an explanation for why we should expect non-gratuitous evils to appear gratuitous, which is the subject of Part Three. I offer an account of the relations between God's permission of instances of evil and the general goods of traditional theodicies that shows why those relations generally will not make the non-gratuity of evils conspicuous to us and moreover make non-gratuitous evils seem gratuitous. In this way my defense of Rowe's premise (2) undermines the force of his premise (1).