Problem of Evil

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The Dilemma - 1

God alone created universe ex-nihilo

Total responsibility

Omnipotent = can do anything logically possible

Could have created world free from evil + suffering

Could end it too

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The Dilemma - 2

  • God = omniscient
  • --> Complete knowledge of e/thing in universe, incl. evil + suffering;
  • Knows how to stop it
  • If all loving, would wish to end evil + suffering
  • Suffering physical and mental torment for no reason + to no avail -> no all-loving God would allow
  • God = omnipotent
  • Immediately carry out His desire to stop suffering
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David Hume

  • Examining qualities of omnipotence, omnibenevolence + evil
  • DH = only 2 of 3 can exist alongside each other.
  • Either God not omnipotent, or God not all-loving, or evil does not exist
  • Effects of evil felt too widely + presence too vivid to dismiss
  • T/f, accepting that evil exists = God impotent/malicious
  • God does not exist.
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Agreed, God's existence in face of evil = logically impossible

  • Concept of infinite goodness essential part of God's nature, proof against goodness being infinite = proof God does not exist.
  • Tiniest amount of evil = prevents poss of infinite goodness
  • We witness evil = witnesses to proof against existence of God

Hume, accepted conclusion; Aquinas rejected - still famous Christian thinkers.

Aq.'s arg works if accept 2 premises:

a) concept of infinite goodness is part of definition of God

b) in talking a/b God's goodness, we are referring to same thing as human goodness.

God's goodness = v. diff from our own. His goodness allows Him to tolerate existence of "evil" (acc. to us) as temporary part of plan. 
Not logical contradiction in supposing God is all-loving, all-powerful and hasa reason for allowing what we call 'evil' to exist. 

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Augustine's Theodicy

  • God is perfect, made world from flaws
  • God cannot be blamed for creating evil - evil not substance but deprivation; no sense to say God created deprivation
  • Evil comes from angels + humans who chose deliberately to turn away from God.
  • Poss of evil in created world = unncessary. 
  • Only uncreated God = perfect, e/thing else susceptible to change.
  • Everyone guilty, seminally present in Adam.
  • T/f, everyone deserves to be punished


Natural Evil = fitting punishment, came a/b bc human action destroyed natural order.
T/f God = right not to intervene + put stop to suffering
God through Christ shows merciful + just 

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Augustine's Theodicy 2

Starts from assumption: God = wholly good + created world free from defects.

"All God made pleased Him" - Evil + Suffering unknown

Evil = substance X --> lacking in a thing; 'privation of good'

Analogy of blindess: not entity > absence of sight

Angels + human beings abused God's gift of freedom + chose wilfully to turn attention away from God - supreme good - idolising instead 'lesser goods'.

Desire for power = too much for Adam + Eve --> tempted, fruit etc

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Augustine Theodicy 3

After explaining origin of evil. All suffering fully deserved consequence of human sin

Natural Evil originated from loss of order within nature following 1st sin - destroyed delicate balance of world = enemity btwn humans + creatures.

Humans battle constantly to grow enough food; pain resulting from childbirth + death in world.

Moral evil flourished + spread

All evil sin or punishment of sin - all humans incl. innocent babies suffer bc all present in the 'loins of Adam' (seminally present) t/f, every generation guilty bc inherit guilt for disobeying God.

If God just = everyone go to rightful punishment in Hell. 
God sent son to die on cross so some might be saved and go to Heaven. (Blood washes away sins)

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Critique of the Theodicy - Strengths

Brian Davies:

evil not substance, 'gap btwn what there is + ought to be' > invalid to blame God for creating it.

Any criticism should be based on God creating more than He has (how much? unclear)

God giving humans free will = necessarily entails moral evil

Sometimes humans choose good, if always then not truly free - choices predetermined (robots)

Accounts for existence of natural evil as a result of intro of moral evil into world - if we have genuine free will (Aug assumes), always needed to be the poss of some natural evil.

Free will so valuable - justifies risk of evil

Compatibility + reliance upon Genesis account of creation, appeals to Christians who accept authority of Bible + word of God.

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Critique of the Theodicy - Weaknesses

  • logical errors
  • scientific errors
  • moral errors

Schleiermacher: perfect world gone wrong, evil created out of nothing - whether or not deprivation, still real feature of world as is the suffering produced - evil attributed to God.
Either world imperfect tbw or God enabled it to go wrong.

Free will defence: Perfect world - no knowledge of good + evil, how poss freedom to obey + disobey since good + evil unknown.

Chose to disobey = already knowledge of evil - come from God.

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Weaknesses Cont'd

Scientific difficulties - reliance upon creation and fall stories from Genesis.

Perfect world created by God - damaged by humans; contradicts evolutionary theory - asserts universe continually developing from earlier stage of chaos. + innate + selfish desire for survival --> Garden of Eden blissful happiness less easy to accept
Still if God's world contained flaws at outset, God must bear responsibility for evil.

Seminally present: rejected on biological grounds - not guilty for Adam's sins. God not just, suffering for someone else's sin.

Moral difficulty: concept of Hell > part of design of universe. Means God already anticipated world would go wrong + accepted it.

God's selection of some people for Heaven shows His mercy, others argue displays irrational inconsistency - questioning God's goodness.

 Augustine's theodicy = doesn't work.

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Irenaeus' Theodicy

  • God's aim = humans flawless, in His likeness
  • Genuine human perfection = not ready-made, develop through free choice
  • Free choice = potential to disobey Him
  • No potential if no poss of evil - humans ready-perfected + God policed His world continually = no free will
  • T/f, natural order to be designed with poss of causing harm, humans = imperfect + God stand back from creation.
  • God cannot compromise freedom by removing evil
  • Eventually, evil + suffering = overcome + everyone develop in God's likeness, living in glory of Heaven.

Temporary evil = justified

God partly responsible for evil, responsibility extends to creating humans imperfectly+ making it their task to develop to perfection.

At first, humans made in God's image then likeness - God's image requires intelligence, morality + personality - lacked completion, only gained upon transformation into God's likeness - evil essential to transformation

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Irenaeus' Theodicy Cont'd

Explaining why evil is necessary + why God did not simply create humans perfectly tbw

Attaining likeness of God requires 'willing co-operation of human individuals' - absolute goodness could not be bestowed upon humans by God, but had to be developed by humans through willing co-operation > this requires genuine freedom - cannot willingly co-operate with smth if we are being forced into it. G.F = requires poss of choosing evil instead of good. God's plans: require genuine poss that our actions might produce evil.

Humans chose evil = fall

Evil clearly makes life difficult, nevertheless beneficial, enables to understand what good is.

God should never allow evil to happen = God should take away humanity

Being human entails freedom, if God were to intervene each time evil act committed, no freedom to commit evil.

Heaven = everybody completed dev into God's likeness, sufferings on Earth forgotten - vital everyone attains this stage - marking completion of God's creation.

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Critique of Theodicy- Strengths

John Hick:

Agreed - God needed to allow humans to develop themselves than creating perfect

Goodness developed by free choice better than ready-made 'goodness' of robots

If automatically love God + obey Him, love = valueless

King + peasant analogy: power to force girl to marry him, chooses to win her - love not created by complusion.

Premises to be accepted if accept that human perfection developed than ready-made:

a) had to be created imperfect

b) distanced from God

c) natural world could not be paradise

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Strengths Cont'd

  • Created at distance from God so could decide for themselves whether to follow laws = 'epsitemic distance'
  • If presence too imminent - overwhelmed by knowledge of God's expectations.
  • Obey God not bc choose to do so, but bc God overlooking
  • Natural World not paradise = bc if it was, then no kind of harm would occur + humans not free, bc every poss human action = happiness. Evil indistinguishable from good, both result in same thing. Humans = robots
  • Everyone would follow God's laws bc never any difficulty in doing so - qualities: courage, honour + love all impossible. Result = no opp to dev into God's likeness, since qualities essential fr such dev.

Counterfactual hypothesis establishes God's purpose not poss in world completely free of suffering + evil: while not poss to demonstrate need of every e.g. of suffering, world must contain natural laws that produce some suffering - Hick concludes: world not designed for maximisation of human pleasure + minimisation of pain, but adapted to purpose of 'soul making'.

Some natural evil essential + moral evil

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Weaknesses of Irenaeus' Theodicy

Concept of Heaven for all = unjust

Religious people object bc religious texts Bible + Qur'an, promise punishment for unrighteous + makes oral behaviour pointless. Of everyone rewarded Heaven, what's the point of going out of our way to do good? No incentive to maken dev of what Ir. regarded as imp bc we know will happen anyway.

Quantity + gravity of suffering = unfair.

Soul making in paradise = accept, but does world need extent + severity of suffering found in events e.g. Holocaust? 4 instead of 6m Jews?

Suffering = never expression of love. D.Z Phillips: never justifiable to hurt someone in order to help them. Consider magnitude of suffering in world, prob more serious.

The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan refuses to believe in God who allows innocent children to suffer. Emphasises such suffering never justified, even by eternal compensation in Heaven.

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