Problem of evil

  • Created by: Em.sp8
  • Created on: 24-04-15 15:50

What is evil?

John Hick defined evil as “physical pain, mental suffering and moral wickedness” For Hick, the consequence of evil is suffering

Natural evil: The apparent malfunctioning of the natural world e.g. diseases and natural disasters

Moral evils: The result of human immorality e.g. Genocide

1 of 20

Epicurus Inconsistent Triad

The problem of evil can be viewed as an inconsistent triad:

The three are logically inconsistent. If God is omnipotent, he is aware of the existing evil and suffering and knows how to put a stop to it. If God is omnibenevolent he will want to put a stop to it. Yet evil and suffering does exist.

2 of 20


  • Marcion introduces a third quality of God, God must be omniscient as well as being omnipotent and omnibelovent. If God knows what is going to happen in the future and that people are going to be tricked into evil then why didn’t he stop it?
  • If God was all-powerful he could have stopped evil and he should have wanted to but there still evil.
  • God cannot have all of these qualities if evil still exists.
3 of 20

David Hume

  • Hume makes the point that believers say everything in to world is the will of God therefore evil in the world must have been intended by God, if God intended for evil then he cannot be all loving. 
  • Hume points out that we have a world that is flawed and full of evil. This is not the sort of world you would expet to be created by a God who is all-powerful an omnibenevolent.
4 of 20

John Stuart Mill

  • John Stuart Mill says we should not even try to attempt to link an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God with a flawed world.
  • Mill argues that to try to involve a God and this world is intellectually impossible and a contradiction so try to argue for a loving powerful God is revolting.
5 of 20

The Logical Problem of Evil

  • If God is omnipotent, he can do anything logically possible so he could've created a world free from actual evil and suffering, and free from the possibility of ever going wrong. He could end all evil and suffering.
  • Since God is omniscient, he has complete knowledge of everything in the universe, including evil and suffering, he also knows how to stop it.
  • However if God is all-loving, he wish to end all evil and suffering. Mackie says "a wholly good being eliminates evil as far as it can."
  • Hume argued that only two of the three qualities of omnipotence, omnibenevolence and evil can exist alongside each other. Therefore, either God is not omnipotent or God is not omnibenevolent or evil does not exist.
  • Hume considered the effects of evil are felt too widely for it to be dismissible. Therefore, God must be either not be omnipotent or all-loving
6 of 20

The Evidential Problem

  • William Rowe is the scholar
  • Suffering is evidence of evil, we experiance suffering everyday so it is improbable that god exists. 
  • Rowe uses an example of a 5 year old girl who was beaten, ***** and strangled on New Year's Eve by her mums drunk boyfreind. 
  • Rowe asks the question that why counldn't a girl just die quickly as this innocent suffering which appears to show no purpose so is pointless and has no greater goods.
  • Rowe looks at the plenitude and the intensity of suffering. ("Intense human & animal suffering.....Occurs on a daily basis... it is in great plenitude in our world")
  • The amount of suffering in our world is the problem for Rowe it is the plenitude that cause the problem of evil.
7 of 20


  • Christains believe that in heaven there will be no more suffering as in heaven there will be peace and harmony. 
  • He makes the argument for eschatological justification as what happens in the end (heaven) will justify what happens in this world (i.e. suffering).
  • He uses the example of "the brothers Karamazov" a mothers child was tortured in front of her by a general with his dogs and asks the question as to if there is anyone in the world with the power to forgive the general. Is the suffering of a child a to0 high price to pay for a ticket to heaven? God is the 'architect' of this world and gives the conditions of heaven but would you constant to this suffering in order to reach heaven? 
8 of 20

Free Will Defence

  • Free will is central to defence of evil.
  • Evil is the result of human free will not Gods will.
  • Free will is an essential part of humanity otherwise we would be puppets
  • Genuine Free will must allow the possibililty of evil.
  • If God stopped throughout history to rescue us (e.g. to prevent the holocaust) we would not have genuine freedom.
  • Therefore evil is the risk/price we pay for genuine freedom.
9 of 20

Augustinian Theodicy

  • Soul Deciding- created perfect and through sin and punishment we become imperfect
  • Augustine argued that the Bible shows that God is wholly good and that in Genesis 1, he is described as creating the world perfectly good and free from defect.
  • Evil is not a thing or substance and therefore God did not create it. Evil is the going wrong of something good. Augustine termed this as a 'privation of good' - which came not from God, but from freewill. As a consequence, the state of perfection was ruined by human sin.
  • Natural evil came through the loss of order in nature and moral evil came from the knowledge of good and evil, which humans discovered through their disobedience. 
  • Augustine said that both forms of evil are punishments and humans have brought suffering on themselves so God is justified in not removing it; all humans were seminally present in Adam and Eve at the time of sin.
  • God is presented as omnibenevolent (all-loving) because if he was just, then everyone would receive their rightful punishment in hell.
  • It is soul-deciding: humanities fate is decided on the basis of Adam and Eve's sin and individual's response to God's offer of salvation.
10 of 20

Strengths of the Augustinian Theodicy

  • Removes the responsibility of suffering from God. God did not create evil as it is a privation.
  • Free will- link back to the general free will defence as the reason for evil
  • Works for genesis being metaphorical and literal
  • If humans are responsible for suffering then suffering is a punishment and God is justified in not removing it.
  • It explains both moral and natural evil. Moral evil is a result of freewill and natural evil is a result of the disorder brought about by 'the fall'.
11 of 20

Weaknesses of the Augustinian Theodicy

  • Main critics = Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher suggested the theodicy was logically flawed: he said it was a contradiction to say that a perfectly created world had gone wrong, since it would mean that evil had created itself out of nothing (ex nihilo) which is logically impossible. Either the world was not perfect to start with or God made it go wrong. 
  • If the world was perfect and there was no knowledge of good and evil, how could there be freedom to disobey God?
  • If god created man in his own image then why would they do evil?
  • This account of creation is contrary to the theory of evolution.
  • The view that everyone was seminally present in Adam and Eve is not plausible 
12 of 20

Irenaean Theodicy 1

  • Soul Making- we are born imperfect but through tests and challenges we become perfect
  • Evil is the test and in the face of a challenge we will grow
  • We will become like God as Adam had the form of God (image) but not the contents (likeness) which will develop and grow when in the face of evil we will become more like God.
  • This world is the 'vale of soul making'. The evil is here on earth to give us genuine freedom.
  • The Irenaean Theodicy has been added to by John Hick.
  • Hick contributes the idea of an 'epistemic distance' which is a distance of knowledge as God is not obvious and God being distant allows genuine human freedom giving faith value as 'there is no value in the love of robots'
  • Evil fits into the idea of epistemic distance as evil is a barrier/ obstacle to knowing god (evil=veil)
  • Peter Vardy uses an analogy to explain epistemic distance. A king who wants to win the love of a peasant girl without commanding her so he goes in disguise to get him to love her for himself instead of intimidating her. God does the same and in this analogy the King=God, Disguise=evil, Peasant Girls=Humans. 
13 of 20

Irenaean Theodicy 2

  • The Irenaean Theodicy is based on the reasoning that doing Good is better than created Goodness.
  • This also explains the unequal distribution of evil. If evil was not unequal then we could end up with a cynical calculating society as people would only do good to get rewards so good would come from training/ conditioning which is second order goodness so not as valuable.
  • Evil brings about the best qualities of humans. If there was no bad things then the best qualities would not be there. (For example if there is no poverty then there would be no charity)
  • Eschatological Justification= the ends will justify the means, the afterlife justifies the suffering. This is central to explaining evil everybody will ultimately be perfect and get peace and harmony (Universalism)
  • Also unique to Irenaean line of thought is that there is no idea of hell, this could cause problems with people who think the suffering is too high of a price to pay for harmony, links to Dostoyevsky.
14 of 20

Hicks contribution to the Irenaean theodicy

  • Hick uses counterfactuals to develop the theodicy. Counterfactuls are using reduction ad absurdum which is proving X by disproving Y by taking opponentes argument to a hypothetical extreme in order to argue it is absurd or illogical. 
  • Hick uses the counterfactuals to argue that a perfect world (no evil or suffering) is both illogically impossible and inmesurable. Therefore God has created the best of all possible worlds.
  • If there was no evil there would be no natural laws, no competitions no working, no death, no diversity and gravity would only operate sometimes.
  • With evil there would also be no morality greater good or compassion 
  • Hick then concludes that God has created the best of all possible worlds. Evil is logically and practically necessary (has a purpose).
15 of 20

Irenaean Theodicy Strengths

  • This Theodicy fits in with modern evolutionary thinking, rather than depending on a conservative biblical view of humanity.
  • God is justified in allowing evil as evil is teleological (has an end purpose) the purpose of evil is tto facilitate growth (of greater goods).
  • Values freewill as a way in which mankind develops both morally and spiritually. God is not responsible for mankind's evil choices.
  • This theodicy offers an explanation for the unfair distribution of evil.
  • Hick offers a very strong logical argument when stating that evil is logical and practially necessary. Evil is an inevitable mark of any universe.
  • Practical necessity- evil has a purpose as would a world with no suffering really be the best of all possible worlds.
  • Also the irenaean theodicy is more positive so probably more widely accepted. 
16 of 20

Irenaean Theodicy Weaknesses

  • The whole defence hinges on the idea that Gods creative work was imperfect. God put evil in the world.
  • The Irenaean Theodicy contradicts key bible teachings for example genesis (idea of God creating a perfect world) Also the idea of no hell it too far from the scriptures to prove god of the bible.
  • Man's choices do not always lead to growth in power, freedom and knowledge.
  • Does this mean that people who do not respond in the face of evil are suffering are expendable tools in God's plan?
  • Evil does not always lead to greater goods as in the face of evil many people act in a cowardly, greedy selfish way. (for example in disaster zones there are people looting houses)
  • As there is no idea of hell in the Irenaean Theodicy salvation is universal. This means that it could undermine the purpose of mankind striving to do good.
  • Eschatologcial Justification is a key idea in this theodicy. If a soul can become perfect in purgatory then why face trials in life? If the end result is guaranteed then what is the point in the test in the first place.
  • This Theodicy is also far too optimistic
  • You accept that tests are logical however it does not explain the plenitude and intensity of the suffering.
  • If God created a perfect world with no suffering we would not know what it would be like. Just because we can't imagine it doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
17 of 20

Process Theology

  • Process Theology has the idea that there was pre-existing chaos/matter which God reordered to make our universe.
  • God is in the Process of making himself all powerful.
  • God is like a loving parent who wills mankind to do good but cannot exert absolute control. (A parent can punish you but not fully control) 
  • God is affected by the universe and our choices as humans.
  • Pathentheism: Means that the universe is a state of change & flux and as god contains the universe Gods state is affected by change in the universe and by our behaviour.
  • Jesus is not divine but "a man among many" (Pittinger). He was a prophet who was in tune with gods wishes.
  • Our salvation is not guaranteed. Not part of god's plan as god cannot guarantee it due to not haveing complete power over the universe.
  • We must join God in his fight against Evil victory is not guaranteed however me must keep trying to fight on Gods side for peace and harmony.
  • This explains Evil as it shows did not create evil so cannot be blamed for it. As God did not create the natural Laws he is subject to them.
  • This Means God is a cosufferer (like a parent he shares our suffering)
18 of 20

Process Theology Strengths

  • Simplest explanation there is, can be linked to the Epicurus inconsistent triad as an explanation.
  • This is the fullest explanation available, can link to Rowe as this explains the plenitude of suffering as God cannot stop suffering.
  • Reassuring as some people are more willing to accept a loving God then one who is Punishing and testing. As God is a cosufferer he is easier to relate to.
  • Encouraging and is good motivation. Shows doing good is purpose full and our morality is valued by God as God needs you.
  • States the universe is in a state of flux and change which fits in with science better.
  • God was justified in creating a world he could not completely control because it is a good world.
19 of 20

Process Theology Weaknesses

  • This presents a worrying and alarming view for a God who is not omni potent.
  • Demotivating- Salvation is not guaranteed so we may as well live for now and be selfish as there's possibly no reward or punishment.
  • God is still to blame as God is irresponsible creating a universe that he had no control over. He is still omniscient so could tell what was going to happen.
  • If God is lacking in and not omni-potent then is he still worthy of worship? By saying that God is not all powerful that it raises the question of does God exist or is he not worthy enough of worship.
  • David Hume said there's still a problem with evil as to many questions.
  • I could be argued that it is not a defence at all instead it's an anti-theodicy because it's taking away Gods greatest quality.
  • Goes against every ounce of theology as all but one religion has an all-powerful God.
20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »