Evil and Suffering

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  • Created by: joshway99
  • Created on: 01-03-16 01:22

Nature of Evil

Suffering and the consequences of evil are inescapable; we are surrounded by them and it is difficult to understand how and why they happen and what we can actually do to rid the world of terrible tragedy.

There are two types of evil;

>       Moral evil

>       Natural evil

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Moral Evil

Moral evil are acts caused by the actions of human beings. The suffering caused by such acts of evil is often difficult to understand because it is the result of actions caused by people like ourselves. Such acts appear to have no motive whatsoever and it is difficult to understand why they happen.

Examples of moral evil would be the Holocaust, where approximately 6 million Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and disabled people were killed under the orders of Adolf Hitler. 

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Natural Evil

Natural evil is evil caused by events that happen within nature and are not controlled by human beings. These events happen when nature is believed to malfunction in some way. Incredible suffering can come from this evil, such as earthquakes. This is because earthquakes can devastate whole cities.

Disease is another type of natural evil, the most reason cases are cancer and AIDS. Whether such diseases are always wholly natural evils is however a heated debate. As some would argue that sometimes they can be cause by human behaviour such as smoking cigarettes (cancer) and promiscuous sexual behaviour (AIDS).

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Problem of Evil

For many philosophers over the centuries, the existence of such evil causes real problems.

From traditional world religions, God is meant to be omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), omnipresent (everywhere) and omnibenevolent (all loving).

Some would argue that these characteristics of God are not compatible with the existence of evil and suffering in the world.

For example, if God was meant to be all powerful, then he could surely do something to prevent people from committing acts of evil. As he is also believed to be omnipresent, then God would know what is happening everywhere in the world and would therefore know where evil was happening and would be able to do something about it. Finally, if God is meant to be all loving, he would care about his creations and would want to prevent them from being hurt. Many people believe he does none of these things.

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Problem of Evil (Continued)

Philosophers who agree that such an incompatibility exists would argue that there are two possible conclusions;

>       God doesn’t exist. After all, if God existed he would not tolerate such evil taking place.

>       God should be understood rather differently. God can’t be omnipotent, omniscient or omnibenevolent. Therefore, we must redefine what we mean by the word God.

An early Christian called Lactantius, quotes Epicurus (341-270BCE). The main points of his argument are;

>       God is able but unwilling or weak

>       Or God is willing and able

>       If God wants to do it but he can’t he isn’t all powerful

>       If God is able but he doesn’t want to that makes him not good

>       If God is able and willing why doesn’t he want to do it

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David Hume

David Hume sets out his problem in ‘Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’. He came to the conclusion that God wasn’t omnipotent or omnibenevolent or that evil didn’t exist. As Hume couldn’t argue with the existence of evil and as both omnipotent and omnibenevolent were crucial characteristics of God, then the only conclusion to arrive at was that God didn’t exist. His solution then was atheism. He came to arrive at the ‘Inconsistent Triad’

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Animal Suffering

Animal suffering is also something worth considering. Lots of animal suffering is caused by animals themselves but some is caused by other forces, such as humans. Some philosophers argue that animal suffering is justifiable. Some is due to natural selection and evolution not human intervention.

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A theodicy is the attempt to justify the existence of God alongside the presence of God.

Two of the most important theodicies were developed by Augustine and Irenaeus. Despite them being centuries old, they’re still most frequently quotes in way that can be defined in the way that God existence is the presence of evil.

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Augustine Theodicy

Augustine believed in God and dint think that the problem of evil posed any threat to his existence.


>       Many of Augustine’s ideas were based on a very important text that can be found in Genesis of the Bible. These chapters describe the creation of the world and of mankind. It is said that God created a world that was perfect; a world that even a God

>       called ‘good’. In this world there was a beautiful garden called Eden which man (Adam) and woman (Eve) were given to live in. god warned Adam and Eve that, although they could live in the garden, if they ever ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would die.

>       Eve, however, was tempted by a serpent to eat from the tree and she gave Adam an apple to eat as well. In due course, God found out about their sins and cursed them in various ways. For Eve, God said that her pain would be multiplied in childbearing and for Adam, that he would have difficulty farming crops from the land.

>       Furthermore, humanity would become mortal.

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Augustine Theodicy (Continued)

Augustine believed that this original sin would be inherited by members of all future generations and therefore that everyone would be born with it. From this fall of humanity, nothing would ever be the same; we would all be tainted by Adam and Eve’s actions. It was here that evil was born.

The understanding of this story is very important for Augustine’s theodicy. For Augustine, God created the world perfectly – it was good. As a consequence, Augustine denied the existence of evil. For Augustine, evil was privation boni, the privation of good.

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Augustine Theodicy (Continued)

Evil as the Privation of Good;

Absence: this is absence of something that wasn’t meant to be there in the first place. For example, a human wouldn’t expect to have fins.

Privation: this is the absence or lack of a basic necessities. For example if a humans arm was missing then this would be a privation as a humans arm is a basic necessity.

For Augustine, evil was the privation of good. Evil was not something that existed in itself, just as emptiness isn’t something of itself. Rather, evil is a lack of goodness.

For Augustine, the world was created perfectly good and God had nothing to do with the introduction of evil. This was brought about by the actions of Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God. They were able to disobey God because they had the free will to do so.

 Natural Evil;

For Augustine, God also had nothing to do with the existence of natural evil. Augustine believed that natural evils were caused by the actions of angels such as Lucifer (the Devil) who deliberately perpetrated such acts as form of revenge on God.

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Criticisms of the Augustine Theodicy

Many would question whether the idea of the Devil existing. Since God created the world, we would surely think that the Devil was under God’s control as well. As this must be the case, then this makes God partly responsible, at least, for the natural evils taking place in the world.

Augustine’s ideas are largely in the belief in the story written down in chapters 1-3 in the book of Genesis which describes the existence of a paradise state after the creation of the world. However, many philosophers would question the story from an evolutionary point of view, as we know that the evolution of man took place many millions of years after the creation of the Earth.

Surely God would create a world where such evil doesn’t exist. Indeed, if God created a good world, then surely the people he created would not be able to commit acts of evil.

F D E Schleiermacher argued that God was responsible for evil. He argued that if God had created a perfect world, then it is illogical for it then to go wrong. Therefore, evil is the fault of God.

The Augustinian theodicy is the belief in a Hell as a punishment for sin. However, the existence of hell does seem to contradict the existence of a benevolent god and the creation of a perfect world.

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Irenaean Theodicy

This theodicy is another influential one and it carries much support from philosophers of today such as Professor John Hick.

Irenaeus believed that humans were created at an epistemic distance from God. He though that although we were created in the image of God, we had to grow to become his likeness, and so become one with God. For humanity to achieve this aim, we must live in a world which would enable us to grow and mature into spiritual beings. The kind of world which would enable mankind to do this would be a world full of temptation and danger e.g. the world we have now. Thus, the reason why evil exists is to enable us to grow as human beings so that we can become increasingly aware of and like God. Just like our parents sometimes allowed us to make our own mistakes, believing that it was in our own interests to learn ourselves, so God creates a world for us in which we learn to grow and mature for ourselves.

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Irenaean Theodicy (Continued)

John Hick agrees with Irenaeus but takes the theodicy one stage further. Hick argues that suffering provides a perfect opportunity for moral development or soul making. He states that a world like our own is preferable to any other.

Hick also believes that a future in Heaven will ‘justify all that has happened on the way’. We can enjoy a relationship with God because we have chosen this relationship. If we were not given the freedom to choose, we would simply be robots with God pulling the strings. Many people would prefer to be free than to live the life of a robot.

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Criticisms of the Irenaean Theodicy

Irenaeus’ Theodicy doesn’t justify the killing of innocent children. Ivan, poses the problem of the six year old boy in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’. We could indeed ask how such an excruciating death could possibly enable him to grow and mature spiritually.

If God was omnibenevolent, then surely he could have made such moral spiritual virtues inbuilt in his creations.

Many argue that if God was caring, he would enable his creation to learn such lessons in a far easier way.

If we’re all meant to mature as a result of temptations and troubles that surround us, then why do some people seem to have a much easier time than others? Surely it would be fairer if we were all faced with the same experiences.

If we were all going to end up in Heaven anyway, what is the point in being good?

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Other Important Theodi

Suffering as a form of punishment;

>       The idea of suffering is a form of punishment, is very common in Biblical tradition. It is common to see God in the Bible punishing those who have not been obedient to his will.

>       The idea of suffering as a form of punishment is also linked to the thoughts of theologians such as Augustine. Augustine stated the sin committed by Adam has tainted us all and we are all therefore being punished because of this original sin.

>       However, it is difficult to believe this theory when we see the suffering experienced by innocent children. Many would argue that innocent children should not have to suffer as a consequence for this original sin committed by Adam.

>       Nevertheless, Hindus would agree that suffering should be seen as a form of punishment. Hindus and Buddhists believe that suffering is the natural part of life that must be accepted; we are born suffering and we die suffering.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Other Important Theodi

Suffering as illusion;

>       There are some people who argue that suffering is simply an illusion, a creation of the mind. For example, Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of the Christian Science movement. According to Eddy, God was completely good and therefore goodness was real. As a consequence, evil and suffering were not real and were a result of ignorance of the true God. Thus, disease is just the incorrect thinking and death is also an illusion, for belief in God gives one access to immortal life with God. Eddy believed that disease and sickness could be cured by mind and healing.

Suffering depends upon interpretation

>       Many would argue that to call something ‘suffering’ really depends upon your original perspective. For instance, many would argue that in terms of natural suffering volcanoes and earthquakes are, in themselves, neutral; nothing inherently evil in them – they only become evil when someone is hurt after coming into contact with them.

>       Herbert McCabe illustrates this idea effectively when he argue that if a lion eats a lamb, then this is obviously an example of suffering from the lambs point of view, but from the lions point of view he his filling his stomach, which can only be a fulfilling experience.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Other Important Theodi

The free will defence

>       For Richard Swinburne, moral evil is largely the result of our own actions. Just like a parent, God gives us the ability to make our own mistakes. If God were to interfere with our actions all of the time, then we would be puppets without our own ability to lead our own lives. Therefore, we accept that we experience evil and suffering so that we can be free.

>       However, other philosophers disagree as Anthony Flew and J L Mackie argue that as God is believed to be an omnipotent being, then he would be able to create a world in which we have the freedom to do as we choose, but would always choose what is good.

Suffering as a test of faith

>       The problems of suffering and evil remain as such. In the Old Testament, God reveals to a guy named Job creation to him and leaves him with the unassailable conclusion that there is no way of understanding God’s creation. Suffering and evil must be accepted and not questioned. God rewards Job at the end of the story for his faithfulness, this leaves us with the impression that if those who suffer retain their faith, they will ultimately be rewarded for this, whether it be in this life or the next.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Other Important Theodi

Process Theodicy

>       A N Whitehead first developed the Process Theodicy and then later by D R Griffin in the twentieth century.

>       These philosophers argue that God has two distinct poles to his existence. One of these poles of God is within the universe. In other words, part of God is within the world and suffers alongside humanity. In this way, God is a co-sufferer. According to this theodicy, God didn’t create a perfect world but he rather creates over time and brings order out of chaos. God didn’t create out of nothing, but worked with matter that was already in existence. Because of this, matter clearly had the capacity to turn away from God. This means that there is evil and suffering within the world because God is not powerful enough to stop it.

>       This theodicy argues that the universe is evolving and God is responsible for persuading the universe to become more harmonious. Nevertheless, God cannot make people reject their evil tendencies.

>       Many philosophers would argue that the fact the universe is evolving doesn’t justify the suffering experienced by many innocent people. Furthermore, this theodicy doesn’t justify the existence of natural evils. Also it doesn’t fit with the Biblical understanding of God or creation.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Other Important Theodi

The best of all possible worlds

>       Leibniz argued that God created this world, he had the ability to choose from an infinite number of possible worlds to create. The fact that he chose to create this type of world does suggest that this world was the best choice. So, this world in this best possible world.

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