Gratuitous evil means some evil act that serves no purpose; it contributes to no greater good or specific end of a morally-good God. Dialectically, what ends up happening is the atheist or skeptic will assert there is gratuitous evil, the Christian will assert some version of the Greater Good Defense (or even theodicy), and the skeptic will reply with some seemingly random, but still relevant, case of evil and/or suffering. Their challenge is typically something along the lines of "Show me how this is used in God's plan!" or "So you're telling me that this cat being tortured by this psychopath was necessary in order to achieve God's greater plan?"
I don't think these are burdens the Christian defender needs to bear. First, a Christian need not be forced to say they know how some act of evil works in God's plan, just that it's completely possible (and even plausible, given other positive arguments) that it does. Second, I think we're too hasty to admit the idea that each and every act of evil or suffering itself is necessary to achieve the greater good of God's plan. It seems to me that there is a way to justify the evil in the world even if each and every evil act was not itself necessary to the outcome; it needs only to be the case that the evil serves some purpose on its own and that there is not some world such that the same good outcome can be reached with less evil and suffering.
But Randy, one may say, doesn't this entail the world was necessary for that specific outcome? Not particularly. For we can imagine that there may be a world where some other cat died, or some other person was treated wrongly, or the same person was mistreated only at a different time, etc., with the same results or end goals achieved. Perhaps this is the case, perhaps not. But the point is this: each individual act of sin perpetrated in the world need not be shown to be necessary in order for the defense to succeed. It only needs to be shown that it is possible, for all we know, that each act of evil contributes to some morally-justifying end(s). Any arguments of incredulity will depend on intuitions that actually tell us we are not in a position to know how each act of evil impacts the overall scheme of the world. This actually helps the Christian's case, for then it cannot be asserted with any confidence that there is no purpose to evil in the world.--------------------
All posts, and the blog Possible Worlds, are the sole intellectual property of Randy Everist. One may reprint part or all of this post so long as: a) full attribution is given (Randy Everist, Possible Worlds), b) all use is non-commercial, and c) one is in compliance with the Creative Commons license at the bottom on the main page of this blog.