The Problem of Evil

HideShow resource information

Natural and Moral Evil

Natural Evil - caused by natural disasters e.g. earthquakes. Moral evil - caused by the abuse of free will e.g. murder, ****, theft etc.

The Problem of evil using Hume's Inconsistent Triad 

  • God is all-powerful
  • God is all-loving 
  • Yet, evil still exists
  • Either, God is not all-good/all-powerfull or he does not exist. 

The problem questions God's omnipotence, benevolence and omniscience. People argue that because of the amount of evil and suffering in the world it challenges the existence of God, why would God allow this?

It is a problem for theists as they understand God to have these qualities - one would expect that a perfect God created a perfect world, but he has done the opposite. 

Augustine - "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"

1 of 13

Why evil challenges the belief in God

If God is all-powerful, why doesn't he prevent evil?

  • Forwarded by J.L. Mackie - called the "logical problem," because religious believers must try to justify their belief in God, while evil still happens 
  • Mackie says why would God not stop evil when he has the power over everything?

The amount of evil appears to challenge the goodness of God

  • A small amount of suffering is good for you e.g. a child learns that fire is hardmul by suffering the harm of a minor urn, but how can you justify great acts of suffering and evil? Like the Holocaust
  • How can free will be worth the price of innocent people suffering and how can anyone believe in the all-good God when such suffering occurs?
2 of 13

Logical Solutions

What logical solutions are possible?

  • The statement that God is a good/loving being could be wrong. The evidence could be used to show that God exists but is evil
  • If God doesn't exist anyway that would take away good and omnipotence and solve the triad
  • Its possible that evil doesn't exist and we are just misguided in interpreting events as evil
  • The attributes of the theistic God could be wrong. Maybe he isn't what we expect so so he may not be omnipotent to stop evil. Also God may be unaware of evil because he may not be omniscient 

Hume's Solution 

  • Only 2 of the aprts of the inconsistent triad can exist at one time. If you try out the combination it affects the Christian understanding of God
  • As a result, he didn't think that the theistic God of Christians existed

In order to keep the belief in God intast some forwarded Theodicies - a justification for the existence of evil to explain the way God allows evil. 

3 of 13

Augustine's Soul-Deciding Theodicy

Based on Genesis 1-3, Augustine's theodicy argues that God created the world and it was perfect, without any evil or suffering. Genesis 1:31 "God saw all that he had made and saw that it was very good." 

  • Augustine defined evil as the privation (lacking something) of goodness, just as blindness is a privation of sight 
  • Since evil doesn't exist on its own, just like blindness is not an entity in itself, God could not have created it. So God is not responsible
  • Instead, evil comes from free will possessed by the fallen angels and humans, who turned their back on God. 
  • As a result, the state of perfection was ruined by sin. 
4 of 13

Augustine's Soul-Deciding Theodicy

Natural evil for Augustine - occured because of the loss of order in nature due to the first sin which broke natural order, defined as the "penal consequence of sin."

Moral evil for Augustine - derived from human freewill and disobedience

  • Augustine reasoned that all humans are worthy of the punishment of evil (original sin) and suffering because we are "seminally present in the loins of Adam" - we all are from Adam as he is the father of man
  • God has the right not to intervene and put a stop to evil and suffering since he is just a God and we are worthy of punishment 
  • It is by his grace and infinite love however, that some of us, to whom he chooses to give grace, are able to accept his offer of salvation and eternal life in heaven
5 of 13

Strengths and Weaknesses of Augustine's Theodicy


  • The idea that evil can arise when people exercise free will fits with our experience of life
  • It is a traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible, hsowing that bad people go to hell for their crimes. Unlike Irenaeus who implies everyone goes to heaven eventually. 


  • Concept of evil being a privation and not part of God's creation is illogical
  • Because evil is a privation of goodm it seems that evil pops out of nowhere
  • If the world was meant to be perfect then how could Adam and Eve find out about evil? Did their understanding of evil come from God? So maybe he is responsible?
  • Augustine's ideas of grace and salvation go against evolution, plus it excludes many people
  • Hell appears to be part of the design of the universe. This means God must have already anticipated that the world would go wrong and would have accepted it.
    • However, it God accepted the wrongs then he wouldn't have created Hell, rather he would have sent everyone to paradise as he would be accepting something must mean it is good as all God's decisions are good. So there being a Hell shows that he doesn't accept the evils. Maybe man is the cause of getting himself to hell 
6 of 13

Irenaeus' Soul-Making Theodicy

Like Augustine, Irenaeus argued that evil is a consequence of human abuse of free will and disobedience. However, unlike Augustine, Irenaeus believed that God was partly responsible for evil and suffering. 

Irenaeus argued that God created the world imperfectly so that every imperfect being could develop into a "child of God" in God's perfect likeness.

  • God could not have created humans in perfect likeness of himself because attaining the likeness of God requires the willing co-operation of humans 
  • God thus had to give humans free will in order for them to be able to willingly co-operate
  • Since freedom requires the ability to choose good over evil, God had to permit evil and suffering to occur.
7 of 13

Irenaeus' Soul-Making Theodicy

Natural evil for Irenaeus - has the divine purpose such as compassion through the soul-making process. When others see people affected by disasters this can also make humankind compassionate - furthers their soul-making. 

Moral evil for Irenaeus - derived from human free will and disobedience. 

Irenaeus concluded that eventually evil and suffering will be overcome and humans will develop into a perfect likeness of God and everyone will have eternal life in heaven. 

8 of 13

Strengths and Weaknesses of Irenaeus' Theodicy


  • Avoids the problem of Augustine's "random" appearance of evil
  • It does not rely on Genesis and the story of the Fall
  • Allows for the modern concept of evolution, that mankind progreses through suffering and adapting 
  • Values free will (as opposed to redemption through Jesus) as the means by which man develops morally and spiritually


  • Suggests that God's creative work was imperfect
  • Man's free choice do not always lead to growth in power, freedom and knowledge
  • Irenaeus' universalism (heaven for all) seems unfair and contradicts holy texts, making moral behaviour pointless
  • We can accept perhaps that some evil and suffering are necessary for God's purpose but is so much suffering necessary? 
  • Suffering, according to some critics, can never be an expression of God's love 
9 of 13

John Hick's Soul Making Theodicy

It was important for God to allow humans to make free choices, otherwise we'd be like robots obeying God automatically. God wants humans to be genuinely loving, thats why he gave us free will. If God intervened then humans wouldn't develop. This is called the "epistemic distance."

10 of 13

Similarities between Irenaeus and Augustine

  • They both trace evil back to human free will
  • When humans use their freedom to disobey God, they cause suffering 
11 of 13

How does Irenaeus differ from Augustine?

  • Irenaeus doesn't base his argument on the Fall
  • For Irenaeus, God did not create a perfect world
  • Human beings were not created perfectly for Irenaeus, but with the ability to do evil
  • God had to allow the possibility of evil, because if there was no such possibility man would not be free to choose good over evil for Irenaeus
  • If there were no evil and suffering humans would follow God's laws because there would never be any difficulty in doing so. There would be no need to demonstrate such qualities as faith, courage, honour, love etc
  • God does not policie our world continously because this too would limit our freedom 
  • Natural evil has been deliberately put in the world by God to create a "vale of soul-making." Suffering has a specific purpose: to teach us obedience. It is not a punishment, as it was for Augustine 
  • By exercising free will to choose good over evil and by overcoming natural evil we can progress from to the "likeness" of God (perfection)
  • Since evil and suffering will be overcome, there is no need for Hell. All will be saved, if not by their virtuous behaviour in this life then possibilly through an ongoing process of soul-making after death 
12 of 13

Possible Conclusion - Ant and Carpet Analogy

Humans do not fully understand the purpose behind suffering as God's knowledge transcends beyong ours its possible he allows the suffering because he knows something more about it. 

For example, an ant is crawling though an Arabian rug, the ant thinks that the differnt coloured threads are causing it unnecessary suffering. But the carpet maker, who looks from outside of the world of the ant and knows more than the ant, knows the real purpose of this carpet. 

No one can truly know what God has in his plan, it is easy to undersand things from a human understanding, but to understand God's actions in another new science, which only he can master. 

13 of 13


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Philosophy resources »