Augustinian Theodicy

based on two major assumptions:

  • evil didnt come from God since God's creation was faultless and perfect
  • evil having come from elsewhere, God is justified in allowing it to stay

Augustinian theodicy


  • God decided that before he created the world who is to be saved and to go to Heaven, and who is not and will go to hell
  • this decision was not based on a foreknowledge of the person's future acts, but on the unfailing wisdom of God (omniscient)
  • Augustine bases this conclusion on verses in the New Testament such as 'those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son'
  • he also thought that the number of the elect was fixed and couldnt be changed
  • CHALLENGE: suggests if God predestines some to Heaven and some to Hell, then God predestines some to sin
  • RESPONSE: humans arent predestined to sin, but have free will to choose to sin and therefore can be held morally accountable for our sins
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Augustinian theodicy

Augustine's argument

  • God is perfect therefore he made a world free from flaws
  • God cant be blamed for creating evil since evil isnt a substance but a privitation, and it makes no sense to say that God created a privitation
  • evil comes from fallen angels and humans who chose deliberately to turn away from God
  • the possibility of evil in a created world is necessary. Only the uncreated God himself can be perfect; created things are susceptible to change
  • everybody is guilty because everyone was seminally present in the 'loins of adam'
  • therefore everyone deserved to be punished
  • natural evil is a fitting punishment and came about because the human action destroyed the natural order
  • therefore God is right not to intervene and put a stop to suffering
  • that God saves some through Christ shows he is merciful as well as just
  • Augustine's aesthetic argument proposes that despite evil, the world is wholly good when viewd in its entirety
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the problem of evil

  • the problem of evil is a challenge specifically for believers in the God of classical theism. Other religious outlooks, which accept the existence of a variety of gods of assorted character and authority, do not have the same problem since the existence of evil can be attributed to the tensions between different gods.

The problem of evil challenges this belief and comes in two forms:

  • the logical problem of evil argues that evil makes the existence of God impossible
  • the evidential problem of evil argues that evil makes the existence of god improbable
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the logical problem of evil

argues that the existence of evil's incompatible with the existence of God. As a result, it's logically inconsistent to accept that both exist together. this can be summarised as the following dilemma:

  • since God alone created the universe out of nothing, he has total responsibility for everything in it. If he's omnipotent, then he can do anything logically possible. This means that he could have created a world free of evil and suffering, and free from the possibility of ever going wrong. It also means that, should he have allowed them to come about, he could end all evil and suffering
  • Since god is omniscient, he has complete knowledge of everything in the universe, including E&S. he also knows how to stop it.
  • however, if god is omnibenevolent, he has complete knowledge of everything in the universe, inlcluding E&S.J.L Mackie said - 'A wholly good being eliminates evil as far as it can'. any loving being would wish to would wish to stop multiple horrors upon millions of innocent people. No all-loving God would allow his creation to suffer physical and mental torments for no reason and to no avail.
  • upon examining the qualities of omnipotence, omnibenevolence and evil, David Hume argued that only two of the three can exist, or God isnt omnibenevolent, or evil doesnt exist. existing that evil exists, he concluded that God must either be impotent or malicious. Either way, this entails the death of the God of classical theism. Hume therefore concluded that God cannot exist.

the problem of evil is often given in the form of an inconsitent triad. Epicurus gave the following three propositions: evil and suffering exist in the world, god is all-powerful, god is all-loving. Epicurus argued that these propositions were inconsistent and thus that there could be no all-powerful, all-loving God

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can god and evil both exist?

  • Hume's position is supported by an argument found in Aquinas' summa theological, which suggests that God's existence in the face of evil is logically impossible.
  • For Aquinas the concept of infinite goodness is an essential part of God's nature any proof against God's goodness being infinite will constitue proof that God doesnt exist. The existence of even the tiniest quantity of evil precludes the possibility of infinite goodness. We are thus witnesses to the evil in our world to proof against the existence of God
  • However, Aquinas differed from Hume in that whereas Hume, as an atheist, accepted this conclusion, Aquinas went on to reject it. Despite drawing attention to the apparently insurmountable contradiction between God and evil.
  • this is possible becuase Aquinas' logical argument only works if we accept its two premises: The concept of infitnite goodness is part of the definition of god AND in talking about God's goodness, we are referring to the same thing as human goodness, and assuming that what we call evil is incompatible with the goodness of God.
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the evidential problem of evil

  • the logical problem of evil argues that the existence of the God as defined by classical theism is logically imcompatible with what is known about evil and the suffering it causes. the evidential problem of evil argues that what is known about evil and suffering is evidence (rather than proof) against the existence of God, which is therefore improbable.
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william rowe's evidential problem of evil

Rowe bases his argument around the form of evil that he describes as the 'intense human and animal suffering' that 'occurs on a daily basis' and 'is in great plenitude in our world'. Rowe accepts that if this evil and suffering resulted in 'some greater good' that could only be achieved by its presence, then such suffering might be justified even though it would still be considered evil even if the final outcome was good. However, Rowe argues that this type of suffering is not all required for a greater good, and that it's therefore evidence against God's existence:

  • there exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse
  • an omniscient, wholly goodo being would prevent the occurance of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting  some evil equally bad or worse
  • therefore there does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Rowe considers it a valid argument that a God who is able to do anything and who is wholly good would not permit evil that's avoidable, pointless and in no way fulfils his purpose for the world. the evidence that such evil exists is therefore taken as evidence that God cannot exist.

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religious responses to problem of evil

  • typical defence against the problem of evil is that God's goodness is a very different concept from our own, and that's a temporary part of his plan his goodness might allow him to tolerate the existence of what we might consider to be evil
  • if this is the case, there is no contradiction in supposing that God is all-loving, all-powerful and has a reason for allowing what we call evil to exist.
  • a number of religious thinkers have constructed theodicies to explain what this reason might be
  • theodicies = a theodicy is a defence of the justice of God in the light of evil. Theodicies generally argue that God is fair to allow the existence of evil and suffering because they're in some way necessary
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what is a theodicy?

  • the term literally means the 'justice of God', but when applied to the problem of evil it's better to think of it as 'the justification of God'. A theodicy is seeking to explain the apparent existence of evil in the world and at the same time to retain the 3 attributes of the God of classical theism of omnipotence, omnibenevolence and omniscience
  • several theodicies have been developed to seek to resolve the problem of evil while retaining the goodness of God. these have been included considering evil and suffering as an illusion.

the familiar theodicies are:

  • the theodicies in the augustinian tradition
  • the free will defence
  • John Hick's 'vale of soul-making' theodicy (from the Irenaean tradition)
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St Augustine of Hippo

  • converted to christianity from Manichaeism, and Gnosticism of this religion was to influence the way in which he developed his theodicy.
  • Manichaeism theology teaches that 2 opposing natures existed from the beginning: light (good) and darkness (evil)
  • augustine rejected the dualism of Manichaeism in favour of the God of classical theism, who has sovereignty over all things. however, although Augustine rejected Manichaeism, the influence on his theology can be seen in regard to the theodicy he developed to reconcile the existence of apparent evil with the god of classical theism.
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Privatio boni

  • Aug believed that God's love is imcomphrehensible and unchangeable, but it was out of this love that God created us. For Aug, God's supreme perfection and goodness. God's the source of everything which was created by God out of nothing (ex nihilo). Therefore as everything in the world was created by God then it was good and free of defects. As God created everything then evil can't be a thing. As God's creation was perfect then, at the time of creation, suffering and evil didn't exist. In fact it would be impossible for evil to exist as the world and everything in it was God's creation and as God is perfect then God only creates perfect things. Supported by reference to Genesis - 'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good'
  • According to Aug, good is a substance whereas evil isn't. God's creation was good and according to Aug is still good: it's simply less good. There has been a privation of good (privatio boni), that is, evil is an absence of good. Aug compared this to blindness as an absence of sight.A privation is therefore a falling short of a thing's true nature. Meaning that everything considered evil must have some good in it.
  • everything in God's creation is good, but when people make the wrong choices then there is less good in the world
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Explanation for the origin of evil

  • Aug traced the origin of evil to those areas within the world that have free will; namely, angels and human beings. These beings made wrong choices. However, as evil isnt a substance they couldnt have chosen to do an evil thing. How, according to Aug, did this privation of goodness occur? What was to turn their attention away from God, the supreme Good, to things of lesser goodness.
  • The fallen angels led by Lucifer chose to rebel against God and were cast out of heaven. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and were cast out of the Garden of Eden. This misuse of free will unbalances the harmony of God's creation and led to the privation of the goodness in the world that we call evil
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Explanation for the existence of suffering

  • Aug went on to show that all suffering is a fully deserved consequence of the human sin. The first sin caused the world to become distanced from God. In this new and damaged environment, remote from God, moral evil flourished and spread. Moral evil occurs because of the wrong choices that humans make when they disobey God's commands. For example, people ignore God's command, 'you shall not kill' or 'you shall not commit adultery' and as a result suffering occurs when murder or adultery occur.
  • Natural evil is the consequence of moral evil as the rebellion of the fallen angels and the first humans disrupted the perfect and natural order of God's creation. The disruption has prevented God's creation from achieving its true nature. Since original sin occured, there's been enmity between humans and other creatures. Humans would have to battle constantly to grow enough food.
  • Both types of evil are interpreted as a punishment: 'All evil is either sin or the punishment for sin.' Aug made the essential point that all humans, including innocent babies, deserve to suffer because all humans were present in the 'loins of Adam'. This reflects the ancient belief that every generation was seminally present in Adam, and therefore that every generation is guilty because they inherit his guilt for disobeying God.
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The principle of plenitude

  • there appears to be much inequality and unfairness in the world. Some creatures appear to have short harsh lives whereas others live long and happy ones. However, all occurances in nature that we may regard as causing suffering to other creatures isnt natural evil according to the principle of plenitude (this asserts that everything that can happen will happen).
  • under this principle, within creation there must be the possibility of existence of every creation consistent with the nature of the world in which they're created. Aug's view's that this diversity contributes to bringing about the perfection of the whole. Only God is capable of seeing the whole perspective of all things and therefore the goodness of the whole. Only God is capable of seeing the whole perspective of all things and therefore the goodness of the whole
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Augustine's aesthetics argument

  • Aug concluded his theodicy with a reminder of God's grace: if God were simply just, everyone would go to his or her rightful punishment in Hell. Through God's grace Jesus was sent to die on the cross so that some might be saved and go to Heaven. This shows that God is merciful as well as just.
  • This strand of thought links to what is called Aug's aesthetic argument. This states that the world only appears evil when sections of it are considered in isolation from the whole. But in the context of the final judgement, when evil will be punished, wrongs will be righted and God's astonishing grace will prevail, and the totality of creation is good. Aug writes 'the universe even with its sinister aspects is perfect'
  • the problem of evil can therefore be seen as a problem of perspective. Humans by their nature have a limited perspective, judging things by their practical usefulness to themselves and other self-centred criteria. From this point of view, evil is a reality. From the perspective of God's omniscience, however, evil has no reality, for what we consider evil in fact magnifies the goodness of the whole.
  • Augustine gives the example of a scorpion's poison which is evil from its victim's point of view but not from the scorpion's point of view.
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St Aquinas' development

  • like augustine he emphasises the nature of sin as a 'privation' or 'absence of good'. He traces traces all evil back to sin and the punishment of sin, which is an essential requirement of God's justice. He is keen to point out that, although in his omniscience God knew when he created the world that sin would be committed, He didn't in any sense determine this to happen
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John Calvin's development

human free will

  • Calvin places the blame for moral and natural evil entirely upon the shoulders of Adam who willfully chose to abuse God's gift of free will and ignore the inclination towards good with which God created him - 'Adam's choice of good and evil was free'


  • despite his emphasis upon human free will and blame, Calvin also argues that God predestined all of this to happen . Calvin also emphasises that the original sin of Adam wasnt just foreknown but forordained or predetermined by God - 'God not only foresaw the fall of the first man...'
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done freely yet predestined?

  • Calvin is able to maintain that our actions are both determined and freely willed by adopting a particular understanding of free will, whereby a choice is freely willed as long as the agent desires it to happen, as opposed to being forced against his/her will. On this basis, Adam's sin was free because he wanted to commit it, even if it was determined that he would want to.
  • although Calvin's doctrine of predestination raises serious questions about God's justice, in that it shows that God actively willed the damnation of many people, it can be seen as a necessary consequence of the Augustinian theme that God, in His grace, chose to save some of the sinners, for this entails that he didn't choose to save the others. 
  • Moreover, Augustine accepted that when God created the world, He already knew that Adam would sin and which people he would choose to save. Some argue that the fact God still went ahead with the creation shows that he determined what followed. If this is true, Calvin is only making explicit a theme that was already implicit within Augustine's original argument
  • To calvin himself, there wasnt the faintest suggestion that predestination might threaten God's goodness, for this merely demonstrated God's total power and freedom. Calvin believed that because of their faults all punishment was fully deserved by humans. As with Augustine, the fact that despite this God still elected some to grace through no merit of their own was the clearest illustration of God's surpassing goodness
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Lebniz's development

  • developed Augustine's aesthetic argument into the main focus of his theodicy
  • He argued that our world is the best possible world, in that it permits the greatest quantity and variety of beings, resulting in the 'most reality, most perfection, most significance' possible. Faced with all of the possible universes he could have created, God, being God, couldn't as Lebniz argued 'fail to act in the most perfect way, and consequently to choose the best'
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Influence on the free-will defence

  • Of all of Augustine's themes, that which has formed the basis of more theodicies than any other is his emphasis upon human free will as the cause of moral evil. 
  • A number of difference developments of this theme are explained by the free-will defence - the view that human free will, and the context in which it can be meaningfully used, explain and justify the existence of evil in a world created by God.  The free-will theme, for example, figured prominently in theodicies in the tradition of Irenaeus. The free-will defences can be seen therefore as a development of a theme used by Augustine
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strengths of Augustinian theodicies

  • Brian Davies supports the claim that evil cannot properly be called a sunstance and agrees that it's 'the gap between what there is and what there ought to be'. As such, we can agree with Augustine that evil isn't a created entity but a privation of good
  • Any criticism of God would need to be based along the lines that God should somehow have created more than He has - which lacks precision
  • The view of Augustine and Aquinas that evil is less goodness as the result of human free will rather than an entity created by God can also be supported by the argument that if God gives human beings genuine free will, this necessarily entails the possibility of moral evil.
  • Alvin Plantinga argues that although humans sometimes freely choose good, if God had designed them so that they would always choose good, they wouldnt be truly free. Their 'choices' would be predetermined, like the 'decisions' made by robots
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the possibility of natural evil

  • Augustine's theodicy successfully accounts for the existence of natural evil as a result of the introduction of moral evil into the world.
  • It can also be argued that if we are to have the genuine free will that Augustine assumes we have, there always needed to be the possibility of some natural evil. Without this possibility, people would have less freedom to demonstrate courage and self-sacrafice in the face of real danger
  • many would support Augustine's assumption that free will is so valuable that it justifies the risk of evil. For without free will, humans would be as puppets or robots, and their humanity would be destroyed. Most religious believers would argue that people must turn to God out of their own free choice because otherwise the whole concept of religious faith would be meaningless
  • because of its compatibility with and reliance upon the Genesis account of creation, Augustine's theodicy appeals to Christians who accept the authority of the Bible as the word of God
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strengths: heaven and hell

  • In the city of God, Augustine called the Fall 'Oh happy fault' because Adam and Eve's original sin made it necessary for God to send Jesus. Aug's theodicy is supported by the Christian belief that there will be a Judgement Day, when the good will go to Heaven and sinners will go to Hell.
  • Because evil is punished, Aug argued that God's world can still be seen as perfect in the end. Although all humans deserve the ultimate punishment of Hell, God offers forgiveness and salvation through the belief in Jesus Christ enabling all who believe in him to be saved
  • although the theme of predestination that was developed by Aug and fully articulated by Calvin causes problems, it also has its strengths. It's supported by several biblical passages including 'All the days ordained for me were written in your [God's] book before one of them came to be'.
  • Its supported by God's omniscience and avoids the suggestion that evil either took God by suprise or frustrated His plans. It leaves intact the belief that God is completely in control of everything
  • Finally, for those who consider it to be compatible with free will, it doesnt prevent God's punishment of humans from being fully deserved
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weaknesses of Augustinian theodicies

logical errors

  • expressed by F.E.D Schleiermacher - argued there was a logical contradiction in holding that a perfectly created world has gone wrong, since this would mean that evil has created itself out of nothing, which is logically impossible. Whether or not evil is a privation of good, it's still a real feature of the world, as is the suffering that it produces. As such, evil must somehow be attributed to God. Either the world wasnt perfect to begin with or God enabled it to go wrong
  • A further logical difficulty can best be seen in Calvin's development of Aug's theodicy. This is the problem that if, as Calvin argued, humans are predestined by God, there are good grounds for saying that they cannot truly be free in the sense of being morally responsible for the Fall. In which case, it would be incoherent to appeal to the free-will defence to justify evil. This argument focuses on the relationship between free will and determinism and is considered more fully in the section on moral errors below
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weaknesses of Augustinian theodicies

scientific errors

these scientific difficulties stem from the Aug reliance upon the Genesis creation and Fall stories. As a result, much of the argument rests upon ancient and scientifically controversial Judaeo-Christian theology. This dependence leads to two major criticisms:

  • one prob is Aug's idea that the world was made perfect by God and then damaged by humans. This contradicts evolutionary theory, which asserts that the universe has continually been developing from an earlier stage of chaos. Essential to evolution, moreover, is the innate and selfish desire for survival. This renders the Genesis concept of blissful happiness in the Garden of Eden still less easy to accept. Yet if God's world contained flaws at the outset, God must bare responsibility for evil
  • concerns Aug's assumption that each human being was seminally present in Adam. This theory must be rejected on biological grounds, which means that we arent in fact guilty for Adam's sin. This means, of course, that God is not just in allowing us to suffer for someone else's sin
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weaknesses of Augustinian theodicies

moral errors

  • the problem is that since everyone deserved punishment, God is arbitrarily (randomly)  favouring some over others and showing irrational inconsistency. If he is able to save some, He could have saved others (being omnipotent), and the fact that he does not suggests thathe cannot be omnibenevolent
  • a further prob concerns Aug's view that God chose to create the world despite knowing that the Fall would happen. John Hick argues that this must make God ultimately responsible for evil. Given that we would hold a manufacturer responsible for knowingly making a faulty product, God must be held to account for the sinfulness of humans. It can be argued that God is far more responsible, for his omnipotence suggests that He could have found a way to avoid the fault. Aug's theodicy therefore fails in its claim that evil is the punishment we deserve, for the punishment is unwarranted.
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the free-will defence

  • one of the key themes in Aug's theodicy is the idea that evil is the result of human free will rather than God's will. This theme has been developed into a theodicy in its own right called the free-will defence (FWD).
  • the FWD argues as a starting point that free will is an essential part of humanity, without which we would be mere robots. This explains why free will is sufficiently important to be worth the risk of evil.
  • secondly it argues that genuine free will requires the genuine possibility of evil, so that if God has removed this possibility he would have to have taken away our free will. Then it argues that even the terrible extent of evil throughout history is in some way necessary to our free will, explaining why God does not simply step in and rescue us from the worst effects of our choices
  • the FWD centres on the idea that for humans to respond freely to God, without which no genuine relationship with Him would be possible, they must be able to make their own decisions and choose to love God of their own free will. This means that ultimately, humans must have the choice to do good or to commit evil. When moral evil occurs, it's because humans misused their God-given freedom. The FWD attempts to combat the prob of evil by rationalising that evil is the result of human action and therefore God isnt to be held accountable for it
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Soren Kierkegaard's support for the FWD

  • used the parable of the king and the peasant girl
  • in the outline of the parable that follows the king represents God, and the peasant girl, humanity
  • a rich king fell in love with a peasant girl. He decided to draw up a royal decree that would force her to marry him. But the king realised that if he forced her to marry him, he would never be really sure of her love.
  • then he considered that if he appeared to her in his finest clothes and showed his great wealth and power she would agree to become his wife
  • But he realised that he would never know if she had married him for his riches and power. Finally the King decided that he would go and live and work with the villagers as a peasant and seek to win the girl as his wife
  • only then, if she had fallen in love with him as himself, could he be sure that she really loved him
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Swinburne's support for free will

  • this leaves the question why God, if He is omnipotent and omniscient, could not intervene to prevent at least the most serious effects of moral evil.
  • Richard Swinburne agures that the reason why God cannot intervene to stop suffering is that this would jeoparadise human freedom and take away the need for responsibility and development.
  • Swinburne 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 freedom then God can never intervene otherwise there isnt total freedom of choice.
  • It can be argued that even though God is omnipotent, He can only do that which is logically possibe; and it wouldnt be logically possible for God to take away evil and suffering while granting us true free will
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strengths of the FWD

  • modern philosophers generally support the view that if God gives human beings genuine free will, this necessarily entails the possibility of moral evil.
  • There is support also for the view that the benefits of free will are sufficient to justify the inherent risk of evil. In addition, free will brings for christians the greatest reward of all: unity with God in Heaven.
  • The christian tradition has argued that by following the teaching and example of Jesus, it's possible to achieve God's forgiveness for sin and to form an eternal relationship with him. This can only be achieved through the individual's free choice
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weaknesses of the FWD

  • Peter Vardy notes that a major criticism of the FWD is that it fails to explain the existence of natural evil in the world. Natural evil such as floods and disease is often independent of any actions of humans and cannot be controlled by them. It is true that Swinburne has argued that natural evils like death can have a part to play in making our free will more meaningful, but William Rowe has shown that there are many examples of natural evil that dont produce any such greater good for anyone. So God isnt freed from the responsibilty of natural evil.
  • The FWD comes under fire from determinists who argue that every human choice and action is nothing more than the effect of a prior cause. This is a major threat because, if our lives are determined by events outside our control, it can be argued that our 'freedom' is an illusion anyway, and so cannot justify suffering
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