Evil and Suffering



John Hick penned suffering as "the rock of atheism" and in 'Philosophy of Religion', David Hume defined it as "physical pain, mental suffering and moral wickedness." 

It is the main reason peple find it difficult to believe in the God of Classical Theism and why atheists consider faith and monotheism to be wishful thinking.

It can be traced back to Epicurus, who stated that "if God can remove evil, but does not, then he is malevolent, but if he wants to remove evil, but can not, then he is impotent." These are not characteristics of the Classical Theist God.

Anthony Flew criticises the inclincation of believers to justify their faith by manipulating God's characteristics to justify suffering, rather than accepting there is a genuine problem that needs to be solved. 

Basil Mitchell maintains "believers need to face the full force of the conflict."

"Suffering is a perpetual burden of doubt for the believer and an obstacle of commitment for the unbeliever." John Hick

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J. L. Mackie

'Evil and Omnipotence'

Mackie comes from the evidentialist standpoint. He postulated the Inconsistent Triad.

There are three proposals we are asked to accept. 

1. God is omnipotent

2. God is omnibenevolent

3. Evil exists.

The problem lies in the fact you can not believe all three at the same time without contradiction. Mackie argues either God can not remove evil, so he is not omnipotent, or he does not remove evil, so he is not omnibenevolent. 

This undermines the God of Classical Theism.

"A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely."

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David Hume

David Hume backs up Mackie.

He argues that of the three ideas, (God's omnibenevolence, God's omnipotence, evil's existence) it is impossible to believe all three at the same time without contradiction.

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Augustine of Hippo's Theodicy


Comes from the metaphysical standpoint, classical biblical answer.

Evil is a "privato boni."

Mankind is directly responsible for evil, and this came as a result of eating the fruit of knowledge from the tree of good and evil, an allusion to when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree, also known as the Original Sin. "All evil is sin or punishment for sin."

Evil is the misuse of free will; moral evil is the misuse and natural evil comes as a result of this; it is the corruption of order and harmony within nature, and caused the downfall from perfection as described in Genesis, when "God was very pleased."

"Taken singly all things are good, but taken together they are very good."

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Alvin Plantiga

Argued that if we were created so that we would always choose good, our love would not be truly genuine.

All of our choices would be predetermined.

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John Hick

'The Nature of Necessity'

If we were made so we would always choose God, our love would not be genuine and we would essentially be robots. 

"Suffering is a perpetual burden of doubt for the believer and an obstacle of commitment for the unbeliever."

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C.S. Lewis

'The Problem of Pain'

Harper Lee described him as "the greatest Christian apologist of the twentieth century."

He maintains that God made the path of evil easy, and the path of good difficult, so those who choose the easy path will be punished.

Furthermore, he argued that suffering creates human character; suffering leads to humility, which leads to a greater contentment in God.

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Ric Machuga

'No Thing is Evil'

A world where people are forced to be good and are essentially puppets would be worse than a world where people are free to choose between good and evil.

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According to Zoroastrianism, suffering is a cosmic dualism:

There is a constant battle between Good "ahura mazda" and Evil "angra mainyu"

Evil is a destructive force designed to take down God's creative force, not an equal to good

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Peter Vardy

'The Puzzle of Evil'

Created a King/peasant girl analogy:

- A King falls in love with a peasant girl

- He has the power to make her fall in love with him

- He chooses to let her fall in love with him on her own accord, as "love created by compulsion can not be truly genuine"

In the same way, God had to create us so we would choose him, so our love can be genuine

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Mark Twain

'Man's Place in the Animal World'

Humans are created with the knowledge of the difference of what is good and evil, so our actions can be good or bad because we know the difference; animals do not have this knowledge, so their actions can not be morally good or morally bad, as they do not know the difference

Animals do not use metaphysics to justify their actions, whereas humans do

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Irenaeus' Theodicy

He admitted that God was partly responsible for evil; he created humans imperfectly, making it their task to develop into perfection. Being human entails having freedom, humans chose evil. Attaining the likeness of God requires genuine freedom and "the willing cooperation of humans."

Evil is an essential means to transform into God's likeness.

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Criticisms of Augustine

The Logical Problem - F.E.D. Schliermacher

There is a logical contradiction in saying that a perfectly created world had gone wrong. This would mean evil created itself ex nihilo, which is logically impossible. Evil is deprivation, a real feature of the world, so God must have had something to do with it.

The Scientific Problem

Augustine's theodicy relies heavily on the creation story, so it is based on controversial and ancient theology. It contradicts evolution. Therefore, if the world created flaws from the outset, God must have had something to do with it. 

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Judging God in human terms is anthropomorphism; we should not view him as a morally good being or a morally bad being.

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Epistemic Distance

John Hick

A distance of knowledge from God.

If we could see God, humans would be overwhelmed by God's expectations, so rather than being genuinely good we would only be good because we are aware of God's expectations.

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It was actually David Hume who used the phrase 'rock of Atheism' 

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