The Problem of Evil

Problem of Evil- God.

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Is God Good?

  • begins with assumption of God's nature: if he exists assumes he is OMNISCIENT, OMNIPOTENT, OMNIBENEVOLENT. It is only if God is regarded like this that evil poses a threat to God.
  • if God was not all knowing: evil might exist due to God's ignorance.
  • .............. all powerful: evil might exist due to God's inability to prevent it.
  • ................ all loving: evil might exist due to God's willingness to permit it.
  • A Simple way to resist the argument from evil, then, is to deny that God possesses all of these attributes BUT these attributes are a fundamental aspect of theism.
  • Brain Davies argued that the argument from evil errs in its assumption that God is perfectly good. God is perfectly good, but not in the sense that gives rise to the problem of evil. There are many different types of goodness and perfection: what makes a perfect wife is different to what makes a perfect racehorse. The conditions for goodness are thus relative to what kind of thing something is. Being a good God is different to being a morally good God. Morally good is to do with fulfilling one's duties acting in a way we OUGHT to act. God though has no duties so describe God as morally good/bad is a mistake as GOD IS AN AMORAL BEING.
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  • "either God cannot abolish evil or he will not"-> AUGUSTINE Confessions.
  • NATURAL EVIL: arises from events which cause suffering but which we have little control
  • MORAL EVIL: arises from actions of groups/individual who cause suffering/harm.
  • no problem if atheist/Hindu (evil is an illusion)/Buddhist (all life is suffering and goal is to escape the cycle of rebirth into Nirvana)/monist (you say everything is of one nature)
  • Ivan Karamazov explains in his novel "The Brother's Karamazov"- to what extent do people have to suffer?
  • J.L. MACKIE spoke of the problem of evil in his article entitled "Evil and Omnipotence". Three claims 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 omni benevolent, he will put a stop to it.
  • The Process Theology by A.N. WHITEHEAD says that God is wholly involved in the life processes like a co-sufferer, he is in time so acts by persuasion, does not control us but sets us goals.
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Augustine's Theodicy

  • Confessions and City of God
  • All creation is good so evil is therefore not something that God created himself but rather a privation: a "lack" of something. or corruption of Good.
  • had hierarchical view of creation: God, angels; humans; animals. All these beings have a purpose but others fall short of these expectations- some give up their duty and role and cease to be what they are supposed to be which is when 'evil' occurs.
  • the ones who misused their freedom are the ones responsible for the presence of evil in the world. Moral evil is their fault and natural occurs as the "penal consequence of sin". First started in Gen 3: The Fall of man. It was a perfect creation as we see in Gen. 1 but due to human disobedience in GofE, we all inherit original sin as "we were all in that one man".
  • argues angels and men fall from grace because they can't handle freedom which God gave them. As God is omniscient, he knew this would happen so planned for Christ to come in order to save us from sin. As St. Paul writes: "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive".
  • misuse of free will is evident in Satan "who leads the whole world astray" (Revelations 12) who Platinga argues is key in Ag's theodicy as ultimate origin for evil is result of those who rebelled against God in heaven before humans fell- "He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him". Only way to avoid this- create angels and humans without free will.- but nothing more than puppets.
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  • evil=not an entity in itself but rather God creates things which lack full goodness (privatio boni). Evil originates from Fall of man and free will which God gave us.
  • EVERYONE DESERVES TO BE PUNISHED- NATURAL EVIL IS FITTING PUNISHMENT- came about by human action destroying the natural order.
  • relates to Ar's idea of potentiality as Goodness is achieved actuality
  • plenitude: it was right that God should have made such a world as ours and to show why this is so, he appeals to what has been called "principle of plenitude"- states that the richest and most desirable uni contains every possible kind of exitence.
  • aesthetic analogy: theodicies see all realities and events as enclosed within a universal harmony. Every sin and punishment belongs to this harmony, just as in music a discordant note, when resolved makes a work more satisfying.
  • Aquinas aruges that God's goodness is infinitely different from human goodness. therefore it's conceivable that God allows evil and suffering to exist as part of his greater plan of love.
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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • based on Bible and does not contradict scriptures
  • evil is not originally part of God's creative work.
  • stresses the value of free will as the best choice God could have made for mankind.
  • God is therefore not responsible for man's evil choices.


  • F.D.E. Schleiermacher- how can you say that a perfect world went wrong-evil can't create itself out of nothing!
  • even if evil is deprivation, it is still a real feature of the world, must somehow be attributed to God.
  • in a perfect world where no knowledge of good/evil, how can there be freedom to obey/disobey God since they're unknown-> suggests already knowledge of evil
  • world was once perfect but then damaged contradicts evolutionary theory which asserts a gradual development of world from chaos- essential to evolution is selfish desire for survival.
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  • we must reject of scientific grounds notion that we're seminally present in Adam hence God is not just in allowing us to suffer for someone else's sin. "natural evils" before humans, cannot have been caused by man's sin.
  • suggests Hell is part of design of uni? Means God anticipated that world would go wrong- and accepted it. Complete separation from God. Eternal, therefore pointless, suffering. Selection of only some for salvation suggests irrational inconsistency, not mercy.
  • if humans are finitely perfect, then even if they have free will to sin, they don't need to.- if they do, flawless to start off with, Jesus was a sinless human.
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The Irenaen Theodicy

  • evil does exist and God is responsible for it.
  • Moral evil is the result of human freedom- God allows us to sin and to do good.
  • God put natural evil in the world to create a 'vale of soul-making'- we develop through life's experiences; without evil we wouldn't mature.
  • God created us for fellowship with him- why he created evil (we must be free to love him or not to love him)
  • The fall is either denied or seen as irrelevant- God intended all of this to happen.
  • he differentiates between the "image" (imago dei) and the "likeness" of Gof as shown in Genesis 1:26 as for example, Adam had the form of God but not necessarily the attributes of God.
  • Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden as they were immature and needed to develop morally and spiritually into the "likeness" of God. Peter Cole describes them as the "raw material for a further stage of God's creative work" which reinforces the idea of humans having to develop into becoming in the likeness of God, which is only possible through our free will.
  • By embracing suffering, humans learn from it. Like Aristotle's theory we develop from our potentiality into our actuality.
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  • Through our free will, Irenaeus explained that humans did choose evil which is why the Fall happened. But although evil clearly makes life difficult and "multiplies the perils that we face" it is nevertheless beneficial in that it enables us to understand what good is "How, if we had no knowledge of the contrary, could we have instruction in that which is good?" and those who argue God should never allow evil to happen are in fact saying that God should take away their humanity.
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John Hick's Reformation ("Evil and the God of Love")

  • goodness that has been developed by free choice is infinitely better than the ready made 'goodness' of robots. If God wanted humans to be genuinely loving, He had to give them the opportunity to develop this quality for themselves. Were we to have been created in such a way that we would automatically always love God and obey him, we would have been automatons and our love would have been valueless.
  • Peter Vardy has clarified this through the analogy of a king who falls in love with a peasant girl. Although he would have the power to force the girl to marry him, he instead chooses to win her round of her own accord since love cannot be created by compulsion. In the same way, God had to allow humans to develop for themselves, if their love of God was to be genuine.
  • If human perfection must be created by development, three things are required to enable this development to take place: a) humans had to be created imperfect, (so they were free to go against God) b) humans had to be distanced from God,( so they could decide whether or not they wanted to follow his laws. John Hick called this the "epistemic distance". Humans would obey God not because they had chosen to but because he was overlooking their every move) c) the natural world could not be a paradise.
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  • (in a world where there was no possible chance of ever causing any kind of harm, then humans would in fact not be free because every possible human action would result in happiness. Evil would be indistinguishable from good since both would result in the same outcome. In consequence, humans would be like robots. Everyone would follow God's laws because there would never be any difficulty in doing so. Qualities such as courage, honour and love would all be impossible. This would mean that there would be no opportunity to develop into God's likeness as these qualities are essential to such development.
  • Hick believes moral evil is a necessary price to pay for our freedom to love God and to grow spiritually but with natural evil, he acknowledges that it is not angels or the devil but says that yes, there is a problem with both the intensity and indiscriminate nature of evil.
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  • values free will as the means by which we develop to God.
  • evil is teleological- its purpose is to facilitate growth.
  • God is not responsible for man's evil choices.


  • The concept of Heaven and Hell seems unjust-> the idea of everyone going to heaven calls God's justice into question. Religious people object to it because it contradicts religious texts which promise punishment for the unrighteous. It also marks moral behaviour as pointless: if everyone is to be rewarded with Heaven, what is the point of going out of our way to act good? (inconsistent w/ Gen 3). also changes Jesus' role from 'saviour' to 'role model'
  • The Quantity of Gravity of Suffering is unacceptable-> does our world really need to contain the extent and severity found in events such as the Holocaust? would it not have been sufficient to prove a point for 4 million Jews to die instead of 6 million?
  • Suffering can never be an expression of God's love-> D.Z. PHILLIPS ('The concept of prayer' argued that it would never be justifiable to hurt someone in order to help them. Also, mental retards cannot be held accountable for actions.
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Similarities between both theodices:

  • it is better that this evil exists, for it is the price we must pay for the greater good.
  • Both are free will theodices including both natural and moral evil.

The Free Will Defence

  • divine intervention would compromise human freedom, thus preventing human development.
  • Swinbourne used the example of death. Death brings about suffering but is necessary to ensure that humans take their responsibilities seriously he wrote: "If there is always a second chance there is no risk".
  • a God who intervened to prevent the large scale horrors would compromise the gift of freedom and remove human responsibility, thus preventing genuine human development.
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Criticism of Free Will Defence

  • is the magnitude of suffering really necessary for human development? Hick argued that either the world is free of evil and suffering and there would be no free will OR we accept the world as it is now.
  • Some argue that God could have created free agents without risking bringing evil and suffering into the world- there is nothing logically inconsistent about a free agent that always chooses goodness over evil. However Hick argued that is such a case humans would not be truly free since their actions would have been decided before they came into existence, even if they were under the illusion that they were acting freely.
  • Suppose you had the chance to prevent a murder form happening, but you chose to let the murder happen anyway. You could not use the free will defence to justify your inaction. It would certainly be unacceptable for you to argue that you were right not to prevent the murder, even if you were able to, simply because you wanted to preserve the free-will of the murderer. So why should this justification be more acceptable coming from God?
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jon whane


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