The Problem of Evil


The Nature of the Problem

"Either God cannot abolish evil, or he will not; if he cannot then he is not all-powerful; if he will not then he is not all-good." Augustine, 'Confessions'.

If God is good, then he would eliminate evil as far as it is possible. If he is omnipotent then all evil should be eliminated. So why does evil continue?

The 'Inconsistant Triad' puts forward a problem for Christians. Could they drop one of God's characteristics?


David Hume, 'Dialogues Concerning Natural Relgion', argued that either God is not omnipotent, not omnibenevolent or evil does not exist. Since evil does exist, God must lack either omnibenevolence and omnipotence, therefore the God of Christianity must not exist.

Many philosophers have presented theodicies to explain the existence of evil, while maintained God's characteristics.

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Different Types of Evil

John Hick described evil as "physical pain, mental suffering and moral wickedness."

There are two types of evil that exist:

  • Natural Evil - suffering caused by natural disasters.
  • Moral Evil - suffering caused by human selfishness.
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Irenaeus' Theodicy

There are two stages of creation. First, man was created as an immature being, yet to grow and develop. Then, there would come a period of change where man would repond to life's situations and become a 'Child of God'.

We are created imperfect, and are made at a distance from God, a distance of knowledge (an Epistemic Distance). Moral evil is a result of us having the freedom to grow.

The world is a 'soul making place'. Evil is necessary to aid our development into becoming Children of God. Natural evil has such purpose- to help us develop qualities like compassion.

Evil will eventually make us better people. At death, those who have completed their development will go to heaven. Those who haven't will continue their soul making journey.

God is responsible for evil. It is a means by which we can learn and grow.

Moral evil was a response of the freewill to follow or disobey God.

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Criticisms of Irenaeus' Theodicy

  • The idea that everyone goes to heaven seems unjust as immorality is not punished.
  • The quantity and extremity of evil seems unacceptable in soul making.
  • Allowing evil to continue can never be an expression of love according to D. Z. Phillips.
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Counter Criticisms using Irenaeus' Theodicy

Irenaeus said that heaven was meant for everyone as:

  • If life simply ended, God's purpose would never be fulfilled.
  • Only a supremely good future (heaven) can justify the magnitude of suffering.
  • Many 'evil' people cannot be held responsible for their crimes so eternal evil is unjust.
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Augustine's Theodicy

Unlike Irenaeus, Augustine believed God was not responsible for evil or that we are working towards perfection. His beliefs stem from Genesis 3 (the story of the fall) and Romans 5: 12- 20 (St. Paul describes how Jesus' crucifixion wipes the sin of Adam and Eve).

A good God created the world and at the time of creation it was good. Evil is a "privation of good".

Evil is a result of the angels who turned away from God, misused their free will and tempted Adam and Eve into moral evil. Since all humans are 'seminally present in the loins of Adam', we are born with original sin- a punishment for the "penal consequences of sin".

On Judgement Day, the good will go to heaven, and the bad will go to hell. Because evil is punished, Augustine argued that God's world can still be seen as perfect.

God is not responsible for the existence of evil.

Moral Evil came about by the misuse of free will by Adam and Eve, Natural Evil is our punishment.

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Criticisms of Augustine's Theodicy

  • F. D. E. Schleicermacher said that Augustine's Theodicy was flawed. It was a logical contradiction to say that a perfectly created world had gone wrong, since this would mean evil created itself 'ex nihilo', which is impossible. Either the world was created imperfect or God allowed it to go wrong.
  • How could there be freedom to obey or disobey God, since the knowledge of good and evil were unknown.
  • The view that the world was made perfect and was then damaged by humans is contrary to the theory of evolution (the universe has been continuingly developing from a state of chaos).
  • The existence of hell as a place of eternal torment challenges the notion of an all-loving God.
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The Freewill Defence

Like Irenaeus, the freewill defence centres on the idea that for man to respond freely to God, he must be able to make his own decisions. This means that a man may chose to do good or commit moral evil.

Richard Swinburne said that God cannot intervene to stop suffering because this would jeopardise freedom and the need for responsibility and development.

He said that death is necessary since it means humans are forced to take responsibility for their actions- "if there is always a second chance then there is no risk".

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Critique of the Freewill Defence

Is God justified in allowing people to misuse freewill to such an extent that millions die? John Hick argued that if we say some evils are too great then we start going down a scale of evils until the slightest evil becomes too great. He said that we must either demand a world free of evil or accept the one we have.

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Contemporary Arguments

Whitehead (B= 1861)

  • God is within our world
  • Doesn't have the omnipotence to eradicate evil and so is the "greatest companion- the fellow sufferer who understands"

Rowe (D= 2015)

  • It seems reasonable for God to allow limited human suffering
  • Allows us to grow and develop

Gregory S. Paul (20th + 21st C)

  • "The Holocaust of Children"
  • 50 billion children have died naturally, no omnipotent/ omnibenevolent God would allow for this
  • Children have no free will to even disagree with the existence of God
  • Should not be punished
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