The Problem of Evil


Augustinian Theodicy

St Augustine of Hippo

Genesis 1:31- "and God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good."

Humans inherit sin as a result of Adam and Eve's betrayal of God.

Predestination: God knew who He would save and who would be sent to Hell when He created the world.

God is perfect and so cannot have made a world with flaws. God didn't create evil as evil is not an actual thing, it is just the privation of good. (like darkness is the absense of light)

Natural evil is a punishment for humans upsetting the natural order by disobeying him.

Principle of Plentitude: the more things there are in the world, the more chance that the amount of good will be greater than the amount of evil.

Principle of Aesthetics: God would be just if He sent us all to Hell but He is also omnibenevolent and so gives us the chance to save ourselves through Jesus' salvation.

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Logical Problem of Evil

If God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful then He should know that evil exists, would have the power to stop it and would want to stop it. However, evil exists so it is logically impossible that an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God exists. 

David Hume said that omnipotence, omnibenevolence and evil cannot exist together, only two can exist at one time. Either God isn't omnipotent or He isn't omnibenevolent or evil doesn't exist. Evil does exist, that is undeniable, so the Judeo-Christian God CANNOT exist.

Epicurius' Inconsistent Triad

  • God is omnipotent.
  • God is omnibenevolent.
  • Evil exists.

These three are inconsistent and so there can't be an all-loving, all-knowing God. 

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The Evidential Problem of Evil

The evidential problem says that the existence of evil in the world is evidence (rather than proof) against the existence of God. The amount of evil makes His existence improbable.

William Rowe

The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism. (1979)

Great amounts of suffering (to both humans and animals) happens on a daily basis.

If evil resulted in some 'greater good' then it's existence would be justifiable.

The amount of horrific evil in the world hasn't resulted in a 'greater good' and so cannot be justified and is evidence against the existence of God.

Rowe's examples of unjustifiable evil

  • a five year old being *****, beaten and then strangled to death.
  • a fawn in a forest fire who is severly burnt and lies in terrible agony for several days before death.
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John Hick

Developed the Irenean Theodicy.

Natural and moral evil are important for "soul making" and allows us to morally  develop.

Man is made in God's image but we are not perfect like He is, and so must learn how to be morally superior. 

God needed to allow humans to develop on their own because virtues learnt from experience are greater than virtues known automatically. 

God is at an epistemic distance (we have no immediate knowledge of Him) so that we don't act good out of fear of His limitless power. We must have the ability to choose whether we worship and obey Him.

If the world was a paradise then we wouldn't be completely free as all human action would result in happiness.Qualities like love, honour and courage would be impossible.

Process of becoming like God continues in the afterlife. Only a universal salvation can justify the amount of suffering endured. Everyone will go to Heaven.

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Process Thought

A.N. Whitehead & David Griffin

God did not create the universe but molded it. He is bound to physical laws.

God's omnipotence means that He has the ability to pursuade and guide the world, rather than directly cause anything. Power comes from an ability to overcome resistance. 

God cannot directly stop evil, He knows all possible futures and is trying to guide us towards His but sometimes we change the path. 

God travels through time with us and is learning as we learn. Brian David described the God of process theology as being "in the soup".

God suffers when we refuse to follow his plan and feels frustrated with us. God is an intergral part of the world and so participates actively in its struggles and concerns.

God suffers more than we do, His pain is unimaginable and incomprehensible to humans. 

However, evil means that we can see the value of goodness and gives us the chance to be good.

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Horrendous Moral Evil

Marilyn Adams

Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God

There are some acts of moral evil that are so horrific that they cannot be excused by the person's potential to do good. No matter what good they could have potentially done in their lives, if God is all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful then He should not have allowed the person to live.

Examples of Horrendous Moral evil

  • Child abuse described by Karl Karamazov
  • ****** someone while cutting off their arms
  • Eating your own children
  • Being forced to disfigure or murder someone you love
  • Slow death by starvation
  • Physcophysical torture with the aim of destroying personality
  • The Nazi Holocaust
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Aquinas' Augustinian Theodicy

Like Augustine, Aquinas emphasises that the existence of evil is simply a privation of goodness.

All evil stems back to sin and the punishment for sin, which is an essential requirement of God's justice.

While God's omniscience meant that He knew sin would be commited when He created the world, He in no way determined that this would happen.

Aquinas acknowledges that God could have created a 'better' world than ours (by, for example, creating more beings) but this would be a different universe and wouldn't actually be ours.

"Given the things which actually exist, the world cannot be better."

Like in Augustine's principle of aesthetics, Aquinas emphasies how evil enhances the perfection of the world. Without evil, many good things would also not exist. 

Evil has a value in developing human virtues like patience. The theme is central in Irenaeus' theodicy, who came before Aquinas.

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John Calvin's Augustinian Theodicy

Placed a greater importance on Bibical teachings behind his theodicy rather than actual philisophical arguments. 

Adam is soley responsible for the existence of natural and moral evil as he chose to willingly abuse God's gift of free will and ignore his capacity for good.

The original sin resulted in disaster and upset the natural order of the world as well as creating heretical Original Sin.

God not only knew Adam would disobey but also determined that it would happen. However, we still have complete free will. While our actions are determined, we do desire them and want them to happen.

Predestination means that God actively condemned many to Hell, but it doesn't affect His goodness and just demonstrates His ultimate power and freedom.

Because of our faults, all of our punishment is justified and deserved. The fact that God chose to save some through no merit of their own is an illustration of God's all-surpassing goodness.

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Leibniz's Augustinian Theodicy

Monadology (1714)

Leibniz was the philosopher to coin the term 'theodicy'.

Developed Augustine's aesthetic argument to become the main focus of his theodicy.

Our world is the best possible world as it permits the greatest quantity and variety of beings resulting in the "most reality, most perfection, most significance".

Faced with all possible universes that He could have made, God could not "fail to act in the most perfect way, and consequently to choose the best". 

Rationalising determinism and human free will, as well as God's free will was a great problem for LeibnizLeibniz' solution casts God as a kind of "optimizer" of the collection of all original possibilities: Since he is good and omnipotent, and since he chose this world out of all possibilities, this world must be good.

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Strengths of Augustinian Theodicies

  • Brian Davies supports the idea that evil cannot be a susbtance by itself and says it must be "the gap between what there is and what there ought to be".
  • The Augustine theodicy successfuly accounts for the existence of natural evil as a result of the introduction of moral evil into the world.
  • Many support Augustine's belief that free will is important and so valuable that it justifies the risk of evil. 
  • Because of its compatibility and reliance on the Bible and Genesis, many Christians are attracted to Augustine's theodicy.
  • In The City of GodAugustine describes the Fall as "happy fruit" because it allowed for the coming of Jesus. His theodicy supports the belief that there will be a Judgement Day when all the people of the world will be judged by God.
  • Predestination (as touched upon by Augustine and developed by Calvin) is Biblically supported and many passages of the Bible suggest that God is omnipotent. 
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Logical Errors in Augustinian Theodicies

F.D.E.Schleiermacher believed that the Augustinian Theodicy was contradictory and flawed. He said that something that was created perfect CANNOT go imperfect, as the world has. It would mean that evil had been created out of nothing, which is impossible. If God is omniscient then He should have known that Adam and Eve would rebel against Him and so God is ultimately responsible for the reduction of good in the universe.

Augustine's appeal to the free-will defence seems to contradict itself. How can there be the possibility to do evil in a perfect world with no knowledge of good and evil? The fact that God's creatures disobey Him suggests that they knew about evil which could only have come from God. Also, if free-will was given to us then it is almost the permission to commit sin.

Calvin's Theodicy also has its logical flaw. This problem comes from Predestination and a belief in free will. If humans are predestined then they cannot be truly free in the sense of being morally responsible for their actions. It would be incoherent to use free-will as a defence for the existence of evil.

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Scientific Errors in Augustinian Theodicies

With the exception of Leibnizall Augustinian Theodicies depend on a literal interpretation of Genesis where Adam and Eve commit the original sin by eating the forbidden fruit.

John Hick argued that Augustine's theodicy is flawed because the biblical story of Adam and Eve is fatally implausible and mainly myth. 

Augustine's idea that the world was created perfect by God and then damaged by humans goes against evolutionary theory. In fact, the universe is continually developing and getting better rather than getting worse. Evolution's essential idea of an innate selfishness to survive makes the blissfull life in Eden even more unlikely. 

The second major weakness is that Augustine assumes that each human being was seminally present in Adam. This theory must be rejected on biological grounds and so no one alive today is guilty for Adam's sin. This means that God is unjust for punishing us for someone else's sin.

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Moral Errors in Augustinian Theodicies

A serious moral problem concerns Augustine's view that God graciously forgives some sinners and takes them up to heaven. This means that God is arbitrarily favouring some people over others, showing irrational insonsistency. 

A further problem is that Augustine believes that God chose to create the world depite knowing that the Fall would happen. John Hick argues that this makes God ultimately responsible for evil. Given that we hold the manufacturer to blame for making a faulty product, we must blame God for making a world He knew would result in sin. God is, however, far more responsible for the issue because of His omnipotence. 

The moral problem is more obvious in Calvin's theodicy and his belief in predestination. Hick argues that Calvin only makes the problem Augustine had clear and obvious. The act of deliberately creating people so that they would spend eternity in Hell is like an act of torture and incompatible with the idea of an all-loving God. 

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Free-Will and Predestination

It can be argued that to blame humans for willingly doing what they were determined to do makes no more sense than blaming a computer for being badly programmed. 

Kant said that divine omnipotence and predestination cannot allow for humans to be totally free. 

In Doctrine of DeterminismWilliam James says that determinism is a "quagmire of evasion under which the real issue of fact has been entirely smothered". For James"freedom presents no problem at all." We must have the possibility of making our own moral choices.

Augustine's principle of aesthetics also raises problems. If if the world could be considered good as a whole, humans do not have the all-encompassing vision required to see this. It would be no comfort for someone with cancer to hear that the existence of cancer allows for the existence of goodness.

Also, if human sin really did contribute to the overall goodness of the world then there would be still less justification for God to punish the entire human race for introducing it into the world.

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The Free Will Defence

The Augustinian Theodicy has been developed into the Free-Will Defence. The FWD argues that free-will is an essential part of humanity as without it we would just be robots. Free-will is worth the risk of evil. Genuine free-will requires the genuine possibilty of evil so if God removed the possibility of evil then He would remove some of our free-will. Even the terrible extent of horrendous moral evil is in someway necessary for the existence of free-will and so God doesn't step in and stop it.

The FWD centres around the idea that humans must respond freely to God as any forced relationship with Him would not be genuine. Ultimately, humans must have the choice between good and evil and when moral evil occurs then humans have just abused God's gift of free-will.

Evil is the result of human free-will and so God CANNOT be blamed for it.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard used the Analogy of the King and the Peasant Girl to support th FWD. The King, falling in love with a peasant girl, writes up a law forcing her to marry him but then realises that he would never know whether she loved him back. If he went to her house with gold and riches, he would never know whether she loved him for his wealth. So the king went to live with the villagers and seek the girl as his wife. Only then could he be sure whether she truly loved him.

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Swinburne's Support of Free Will

The free-will defence leaves the question as to why the all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God does not prevent at least the most serious effects of moral evil.

Swineburne argues that God cannot intervene to stop suffering as it would jeopardise human freedom and take away our reponsibility.

He argues that God cannot intervene even when such moral evil occurs as the death of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, as such intervention would compromise human freedom. If God is to give humanity total freedom then God can NEVER intervene.

It can be argued that even though God is omnipotent, He can only do that which is logically possible. It would not be logically possible for God to take away evil and suffering while granting us true free will.

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Strengths of the Free Will Defence

Modern philosophers generally support the view that if God gave us total free-will then there must also be the possibility of moral evil.

Plantinga agreed with Hick and claimed that although humans sometimes choose to do good, if God had designed them so that they would always choose good then they would not be totally free. 

Some also support that the benefits of free will are enough to justify the risk of evil. Free will brings for Christians the greatest reward of all: unity with God in Heaven. Christians argue that by following the teachings of Jesus, it is possible to obtain God's forgiveness for sin and to begin an eternal relationship with him. This relationship can only be obtained through a person's free choice.

Though the FWD is believed to only account for moral evil, it can also acount for some types of natural evil. Swineburne argued that death, despite the suffering it causes, is essential to free-will. This is because death means that life is limited meaning that we have genuine responsibility for our actions. If we were immortal then we would have infinite chances to make amends. Death also limits the amount of time that someone can cause suffering, meaning that death can be seen as merciful.

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Weaknesses of the Free Will Defence

Peter Vardy argues that the FWD does not explain the existence of natural evil in the world. Natural evil is independent of human actions and cannot be controlled by them. While Swineburne argued that death makes our free-will more meaningful, William Rowe argues that there are some acts of natural evil that don't produce any greater good for anyone.

Alvin Plantinga argued that natural evil is the result of the actions of fallen angels but many would reject the concept of such beings. 

J.L. Mackie undermined the essential assumption of the FWD: that free-will entails the potential for evil. Mackie suggests that God could have created a world where humans have total freedom but always choose to do good. God's gift of free will cannot excuse the existence of evil as God could have made morally superior free beings.

The FWD is also criticised by Determinists who argue that every human choice is nothing more than the effect of a prior action. If our lives are determined by events outside of our control, it can be argued that freedom is an illusion and so cannot justify suffering. 

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Strengths of Hick's Theodicy

Hick's theodicy is supported by well-established Christian doctrine dating back to Irenaeus. Irenaeus argued that without evik, good would have no meaning; without the contrast of good and evil, humans would simply be robots.

Gil Edwards in his book Stepping Into the Magicargued that only through suffering can qualities like courage, trust, tolerance and integretity come into the fore. This supports Hick's argument that evil is essential to the process of soul making.

Peter Vardy uses the Analogy of the King and the Peasant Girl to support Hick's argument that God needed to allow humans to develop themselves rather than creating them perfect because goodness created by choice is better than goodness that is programmed. God must allow us to love and obey Him freely for their love to ever be genuine. 

If we accept that human perfection must be developed rather than ready-made then we must also accept the rest of Hick's theodicy. The world must have been imperfect, God must be distant and the world can't be a paradise.

The theodicy is a rational explanatio for why God of classical theism allows both natural and moral evil to exist. It is also in line with scientific theory as we are developing stage by stage.

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Weaknesses of Hick's Theodicy

Hick's theory that everone goes to Heaven seems unjust. Even those who accept Hick's theodicy argue that it fails to justify the extent of suffering in the world. Why were 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust rather than 4 million? And, even if the world cannot be a paradise it doesn't explain the excessive nature of natural evil like earthquakes. The extent of this suffering is utterly pointless and so unjustifiable. Supporters of the theodicy argue that no suffering is pointless and that this counter has simply missed the point.

It also appears that God's use of evil for the benefit of others means that God favours some of his children over the rest. Some black theologians have argued that the suggestion that God uses some people's suffering to allow others to develop is racist. How come the black community suffered so much during the slave trade to benefit white people? Some suggest that humans chose the blacks and the Jews to treat horribly, not God and so God couldn't intervene. 

Hick's argument is unable to explain why some people suffer so greatly while others do not suffer at all. If suffering is essential to human development then surely its unfair that some people don't experience the benefits of suffering!? Also, if these people have developed in other ways, then why can't other people develop in that way too?

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Suffering Does Not Express God's Love

A more fundamental critism of Hick's theodicy is that suffering cannot be an expression of God's love. D.Z.Phillips argued that it is never justifiable to hurt someone in order to help them. When we consider the magnitude of suffering in the world, then the problem is even more serious.

Supporters of Hick argue that people have missed the point of soul-making so everyone can become children of God. However, the character Ivan Karamazov of Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov refuses to believe in a God who allows innocent children to suffer. He emphasises that such suffering can never be justified, even with the promise of eternal compensation.

Mary Midgely believes that Hick does not take into account human wickedness and doesn't take suffering seriously. She argues that the examination of evil as a positive trait is misguided and does not allow for us to have serious responsibilty for our actions.

Hick's view that everyone goes to Heaven seems unfair and calls God's justice into question. Religious believers reject it as it goes against texts like the Bible or Qur'an which promise for the punishment of unrighteousness. It also makes moral behaviour pointless: if everyone will be saved then why should we do good in the first place? 

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Strengths of Process Thought

Process thought removes the issue of why an all-loving, all-knowing and all-powerful God doesn't end all suffering. He simply cannot. The process theodicy is the only theodicy to avoid the issue that if God really wanted to He could make everything better.

For religious believers, the fact that God suffers may be encouraging as God would have a personal experience of the suffering of people. It would be a deeper, more loving and trusting relationship. 

Since the process God suffers from all evil that has ever occured and still continues with the creative process reassures the believer that their suffering is worth it all in the end.

Within the process scheme, there is no certainty that God will triumph over evil in the end. This may encourage people to join the fight against evil and secure victory. It is not a theodicy that encourages resistance to change as this would cause disaster for all. 

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Weaknesses of Process Thought

Process thought is not a justification of God in the face of evil as it removes the traditional concept of omnipotence and so only rejects the God of classical theism. The process approach is often unacceptable to many on religious and philosophical grounds. It can be argued that traditional omnipotence is an essential attribute of God and so cannot be removed.

There is no need to accept process thought to see God as a "fellow sufferer who understands". In the traditional Christian thought, God suffers pain through the crucifixion. The crucial difference is that here God chooses to allow this experience, maintains His omnipotence and offers certainty for a future. 

While uncertainty about the future may inspire people to fight evil, it may fill others with desperation. God is unable to offer us certainty so what is the point of human effort? 

The idea that God begun evolution as the good would outweigh the evil doesn't appeal to those who have suffered. There is no certainty that their suffering will be compensated.

Even if God has experienced all the pain in the universe, He has also experienced all of the joy. This seems unfair. God may see that the amount of good is greater than the amount of evil, but a person who has suffered has no way of knowing this.

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Is Free Will a Satisfactory Explanation?

The Augustinian, Hickthe FWD and Process Theodicies all appeal to the role of human free-will in the justification of evil. Augustine believes free-will explains the Fall while Hick focuses on why God gave us freedom. 

One of the strongest arguments that free will doesn't satisfactorily explain the existence of evil came from J.L. Mackie. He claimed that God could have made completely free beings that just always chose good. 

Along with Plantinga, Hick argued that humans cannot be totally free if they always chose to do good. They would simply be robots.

If God didn't create the world then the FWD fails. Ian Barbour claimed that the creation of the the world ex nihilo is not a biblical concept. He believed that the concept came about as a defence against the Gnostics who believed that God created the world from pre-existing matter. 

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