The Problem of Evil

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John Hick's Soul-making Theodicy

  • Both natural and moral evil are essential to soul-making.
  • God deliberately left us imperfect and unfinished
  • Following Iraneus, he says we are created as children of God in the image of God with the potential to achieve perfection in the future when they will be in the likeness of God.
  • God = partly responsible for evil as it is through this that we become children of god.
  • God needed to allow evil so they could develop themselves, forming virtues is intrinsically more valuable than already being ready made with them.
  • If God wanted humas to be genuinely loving he had to give them the opportunity.
  • If we are to have genuine free choice, evil must both be a possibility and a reality.
  • In the Irenaen tradition no suffering is pointless - there is sense in allowing evil in his creation; God is in fact demonstrating the true extent of his love for humans
  • God is at an epistemic distance = knowledge gap between God and humans - freedom of choice whether to acknowledge and worship or turn from God
  • If the world was a paradise humans would not infact be free, they would be robots. Qualitites such as courage and honour would be impossible
  • Soul-making is part of coping with the challenges of evil and suffering.
  • The process of becoming in the likeness of God continues in the afterlife - enherit eternal life.
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Strengths of Hick's Theodicy

  • Gil Edwards argues that it is only through suffering that qualities such as courage and trust have an opportunity to come to the fore. So supports that evil is essential
  • Peter Vardy - King and Peasant Girl = In the same way, God had to allow humans to love and obey him for themselves if their love for Him was to be genuine
  • If we are able to develop we must also accept then that we had to be created imperfect, we had to be distanced from God and the natural world could not be a paradise.
  • Provides a rational explanation for why a God of Classical Theism permits natural and moral evil resulting in suffering
  • Also in line with the theory of evolution
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Weaknesses of Hick's Theodicy

  • Fails to justify the extent and severity of suffering in the world. eg. The Holocaust
  • Suffering is used for the benefit of others' development and this would suggest that God thinks more highly of some people than others, suggesting that God uses some people and situations as a means of allowing others to develop has been regarded as racist by some black theologians.
  • Suffering is distributed inconsistently. If suffering is essential to human development as Hick suggests it is surely unfair that some miss out on its benefits.
  • Fails to account for animal suffering. How is it justifiable for animals to suffer if it is only humans who benefit from pain?
  • Suffering can never be an expression of God's love. D.Z Phillips said that it would never be justifiable to hurt someone in order to help them.
  • Ivan Karamazov - Refuses to believe in a God who allows innocent children to suffer.
  • Mary Midgely - Hick doesn't take into account human wickedness in creating evil. If God has made us capable of committing evil, then we need to understand what it is so we can control it.
  • Many christains are concerned - Jesus' role is no longer as the innocent sacrifice to gain God's forgiveness for original sin. It is as a teacher
  • Hick's view that everyone will go to heaven seems unfair and calls God's justice into question. It also makes moral behaviour pointless, theres no point in doing good.
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Process Thought

  • Based on work of A.N Whitehead. Developed by David Griffin
  • Seeks to respond to challenge that the amount of suffering in the world is too great and unjust
  • God is no longer regarded as all-powerful
  • Use Hebrew translation of Genesis - 'the earth was without form and void'. - God is limited by these natural laws and is not omnipotent. God persuades and lures creation to a state of order. As the creative process develops, the possibilities for good and evil increase. Humans exert own influence in world and God's control is further diminished. Their knowledge of God is limited as he did not fashion them after his own likeness. God is simply unable to stop evil however it was God after all that started the process so he must take some responsibility for it. Griffin says that the universe has produced enough quantity and quality of good to outweigh evil.
  • God suffers too - His creative desires are frustrated. God is a part of the world and is affected by it but cannot control it. He participates actively in its struggles and concerns. God is 'the fellow sufferer who understands'. He has experience every suffering there has ever been.
  • Evil allows for recognition of perfection and generates the desire for a better world. We cannot experience all values if we do not have opposites. Griffin believes that suffering is a part of life and can only be avoided by bringing humanity to an end by not reproducing.
  • Evil in process though is not just actions that bring about suffering but also opportunities missed to bring about good. Natural Evil = God wasnt working with materials in perfect state.
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Strenghts of Process Thought

  • Removes reason as to why God is all-loving and onipotent but does not put an end to all suffering; he cannot. This leads to many suspecting that God is not really all-loving, Process thought avoids this suspicion.
  • For religious believers, the fact God suffers may be encouraging if God has a personal experience of they are going through. It could be argued a deeper, more loving relationship is possible
  • Since God suffers all the evils that have ever afflicted the world and continues to draw on the creative process, the believer can be reassured that their own struggles are worth the strife.
  • There is certainty that God will triumph in the end and it may encourage some believers in the fight against evil and secure victory. 
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Weaknesses of Process Thought

  • Not a justification of God in the face of evil. It in fact denies a God of Classical Theism.
  • It can be argued that omnipotence is such a crucial attribute of God that a being with such limited powers would not be worthy of worship.
  • Go already experiences our pain and suffering through Jesus' crucifixion. Since he offers no solution to our helplessness, the process God again seems not to be worthy of worship.
  • If God cannot guarantee anything, what is the point of human efforts?
  • Since there is no promise of heaven, there is no certainty that the suffering of the innocent will ever be compensated.
  • For people who have only known pain, have never known the joys and may never know them as they are now dead with no guarantee of an afterlife there is no justification.
  • God can easily be condemned or 'indicted' for urging the process on. 
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The Free-Will Defence

  • Evil is the result of human free will rather than God's will.
  • It argues that free will is an essential part of humanity without it we would be robots. Genuine free will, requires the genuine possibility of evil, if God removed this possibility he would we removing our free will.
  • Humans need to respond freely to God, without which no genuine relationship with him would be possible. Must choice God of own free will.
  • Evil is the result of human action and therefore God cannot be held accountable for it.
  • Kierkegaard = Parable of the King and Peasant Girl.
  • Swinburne - God cannot intervene as this would jeopardise human freedom. If God is to give humanity freedom then God can never intervene otherwise there is not total freedom of choice.
  • It can be aruged that even though God is omnipotent, he can only do that which is logically possible, taking away evil and leaving us with free will is not logically possible.
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Strengths of The Free-Will Defence

  • Removes the blame from God by placing it on humanity.
  • If God gives human beings genuine free will, this necessarily entails the possibility of moral evil.
  • If God had designed humans so that they always chose God, they would not truly be free.
  • Free will bring unity with God in heaven.
  • If we were immortal there would always be another chance for us to make amends and so probably that would never happen. The world therefore needs to contain natural laws which can cause death, however painful this may be.
  • Death also limit the time during which an individual is able to inflict suffering on others, meaning that there is a sense in which it can be seen as merciful.
  • It therefore explains death and perhaps orher natural evils that are necessary to facilitate death, to this extent it can justify the suffering caused.
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Weaknesses of The Free-Will Defence

  • Peter Vardy - fails to explain the existence of natural evil in the world. Natural disasters are often independant of any actions of humans and cannot be controlled by them
  • William Rowe - many examples of natural evil that do not produce any such greater good for anyone.
  • Alvin Plantinga - neither God nor humans are responsible for these things, but fallen angels are.
  • J.L. Mackie - God could have created a world in which humanity has freedom of choice but always chooses good. God could have simply made morally superior free beings who would never wish to sin and who would never have caused so much suffering, since God did not do this he cannot be omnipotent or omnibenevolent.
  • Determinists - every human choice and action is nothing more than the effect of a prior cause. It can be argued that our freedom is an illusion anyway and so we cannot justify suffering.
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St Augustine's Argument


  • God is perfect. He made a world free from flaws
  • God cannot be blamed for creating evil since evil is not a substance but a privation and it makes no sense to say that God created a privation
  • Evil comes from fallen angels and humans who chose deliberately to turn away from God.
  • The possibility of evil in a created world is necessary. Only the uncreated God himself can be perfect; created things are susceptible to change.
  • Everybody is guilty because everyone was seminally present in the loins of Adam
  • Therefore everyone deserves to be punished.
  • Natural Evil is a fitting punishment and came about because the human action destroyed the natural order.
  • Therefore God is right not to intervene and put a stop to suffering.
  • That God saves some through Christ shows he is merciful as well as just.
  • Augustine's aesthetic argument proposes that despite evil, the world is wholly good when it is viewed in its entirety.
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Augustine's Argument continued...

Privation Boni

  • God is the source of everything which was created out of nothing (ex nihilo). Therefore, Augustine argued that as everything in the world was created by God then it was created good and free from defects. As God created everything then evil cannot be a thing.
  • As God's creation was perfect then at the time of creation, suffering and evil did not ecxist. God is perfect and only creates perfect things.
  • Genesis 1:31 'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good'.
  • Good is a substance whereas evil is not. Augustine compared this to blindness being an absence of sight. Sight is a substance whereas blindness is the reduction of the substance.

Explanation for the Origin of Evil

  • Angels and humans made wrong choices. However as evil is not a substance, they cannot have chosen to do an evil thing.
  • The fallen angels decided to rebel against God and were cast from heaven. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and were cast out of The Garden of Eden. The misuse of free will unbalanced the harmony of God's creation and led to the privation of goodness which we call evil.
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Augustine's Argument continued...

Explanation for the existence of suffering

  • Suffering is a fully deserved consequence of human sin. In a world distanced from God, moral evil has flourished and spread. It occurs because of wrong choices that humans make when they disobey God's commands. eg. Do not kill.
  • Natural Evil is the consequence of moral evil as the initial sinners corrupted the natural order of God's creation. Pain such as childhood entered the world along with death.
  • Both types of evil are interpreted as punishment. Augustine made the point that all humans deserved to suffer.

The Principle of Plenitude

  • This principle assers that everything that can happen will happen
  • Appears to be much inequality and unfairness in the world. Within creatino there must be the possibility of existence of every creation consistent with nature of the world in which they are created. Diversity in the world is a good thing. Only God is capable of seeing the whole perspective of all things and therefore the goodness of the whole
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Augustine's Aesthetics Argument

  • If God were simply just, everyone would go to his or her rightful punishment in Hell.
  • Through God's grace Jesus was sent to die on the cross so that some might be saved and go to Heaven. This shows God is merciful and just
  • The aesthetics argument states that the world only appears evil when sections are considered in isolation from the whole.
  • In the context of the final judgement when all evil will be punished, wrongs will righted and God's astonishing grace will prevail, the totality of creation is good.
  • The problem of evil can therefore be seen as as a problem of perspective
  • Humans by nature have a limited perspective
  • From the persepective of God's omniscience, however, evil has no reality, for what we consider evil in fact magnifies the goodness of the whole
  • E.g. A scorpion's poison. From a victim's point of view the poison and the scorpion are evil but not from the scorpion's point of view
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St Aquinas' Development

  • Like Augustine he emphasises that sin is a privation and absence of good. And trace all evil back to Adam.
  • Aquinas acknowledges that God could have created a 'better' universe than ours, but this would have been a different universe and no longer ours.
  • Aquinas also argues that given the things that actually exist the universe cannot be better.
  • He also emphasises that this enhances the perfection of the whole world.
  • This latter point suggests that evil has an intrumental value in developing human virtues such as patience
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John Calvin's Development

  • Calvin placed greater reliance on the biblical teaching behind the themes of Augustine's argument, as opposed to philosophical arguments such as the nature of evil.
  • Calvin places the blame for moral and natural evil entirely upon the shoulders of Adam who wilfully abused God's gift of free will
  • 'All of us who have descended from impure seed, are born infectde with the contagion of sin'.
  • Calvin also argues that God predestined all of this to happen, he also says that the original sin of Adam was also foreknown and predestined by God. 'God not only foresaw the fall of the first man'.
  • He explicitly rejects the view that God merely permits the sin
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Done freely yet predestined?

  • Calvin = a choice is freely willed as long as the agent desires it to happen as opposed to being forced against his or her will. eg. Adam's sin was free because he wanted to commit even if it was determined that he would want to.
  • Shows God actively willed the damnation of many people. God, in his grace chose to save some sinners but didn't choose to save others.
  • Moreover, Augustine accepted that when God made the world he knew Adam would sin and he knew which people he would save.
  • This predestination, according to Calvin only shows God's total power and freedom, the fact he even chose to save some shows his surpassing goodness.
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The Strengths of Augustinian Theodicies

  • Brian Davies - Evil cannot be properly called a substance it is 'the gap between what there is and what there ought to be'.
  • Alvin Plantinga - Although humans sometimes freely choose good, if God had designed them so that they would always choose good they would not be truly free.
  • Possibility of Natural Evil - If we are to have genuine free will there needed to be the possibility of some natural evil. Without free will humans would be robots and their humanity destroyed. People must turn to God at their own accord otherwise the whole concept of religious faith would be meaningless.
  • Augustine's Theodicy appeals to Christians who accept the authority of the Bible as the Word of God.
  • Heaven and Hell - Augustine called the fall 'oh happy fault' because A+E's sin made it necessary to send Jesus. Because evil is punished, God's world can still be seen as perfect in the end. Although all humans deserve punishment, God offers forgiveness and salvation through belief in Jesus Christ. Predestination also supported by many biblical passages including Psalm 139:16 - All the days ordained for me were written in your book'. Leaves intact the belief that God is completely in control of everything.
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The Weaknesses of Augustinian Theodicies

Logical Errors

  • Expressed by F.D.E Schleiermacher
  • Logical contradiction in holding that a perfectly created world has gone wrong, since this would have to mean that evil has created itself out of nothing = logically impossible. Evil is a real feature of the world as is the suffering. It must somehow be attributed to God. Either the world was not perfect to begin with or God has let it go wrong.
  • This would suggest flaws in God's creation  - If God is omniscient he must have known that the rebellion of the Angels would happen and The fall and did nothing to stop it.
  • The fact God's creatures chose to disobey him suggests there was already a knowledge of evil which can only have come from God.
  • Calvin says humans are predestined - In which case it would be incoherent to appeal to the free-will defence for justification of evil
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The Weakness of Augustinian Theodicies

Scientific Errors

  • Theodicy depends of the literal interpretation of Genesis 3
  • John Hick argues that the Theodicy is flawed because 'it is fatally lacking in plausibility'. and describes it as a 'myth, rather than history'.
  • Much of the argument rests upon ancient and scientifically controversial Judaeo-Christian theology. This dependence leads to two major criticisms;
  • Augustine's theodic says that the world was made perfect and then damaged by humans however this contradicts evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory assert that the universe has continually been developing from an earlier stage of chaos. Essential to evolution is the innate desire for survival. This renders the Genesis concept of blissfull happiness in Eden harder to accept. If God's world contained flaws at the outset, God must bear responsibility for evil.
  • Secondly, Augustine's assumption is that we are all seminally present in Adam. This theory must be rejected on biological grounds, which means we are in fact nor guilty for Adam's sin. Therefore God is allowing us to suffer for someone elses sin.
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The Weaknesses of Augustinian Theodicies

Moral Errors

  • God graciously saves some but not others, since all of us deserve punishment God is favouring some over others and showing irrational inconstency. He therefore cannot be omnibenevolent.
  • God chose to create the world knowing the fall would happen - This makes God wholly responsible for evil according to John Hick.
  • Moral problem seen clearly in Calvin's doctrine of predestination. Reveals a series of weaknesses in a whole tradition. The act of deliberately creating people so that they will spend an eternity in hell is an act of torture
  • The very existence of hell demonstrates that evil and punishment are written into the design of the universe.
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The Compatibility of Determinism with Free Will

  • It can be argued that to blame a human being for performing willingly the acts that were determined for him makes no more sense that blaming a computer for being badly programmed.
  • Kant accepts that there is determinism in the empirical world and freedom in the world of things-in-themselves, the world of reason but could not accept that we would have any freedom if there was divine determinism and the action was predetermined.
  • Kant did not believe it was possible to consider the individual as free and described this concept as a 'miserable subterfuge'.
  • For William James we must have the possibilities of making our own moral choices
  • To humans suffering is a terrible reality. It would be no comfort to tell a person that dying from a poisonous bite that the poison is good in itself.
  • If human sin really did contribute to the overall goodness of the world, there would be still less justification for God to punish the entire human race
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Is Natural or Moral Evil the greater challenge to

  • Moral Evil can be explained by huamns choosing to act against God's laws and is therefore under human control.
  • Moral evil is the unavoidable risk that free will entails. Natural evil on the other hand is beyond human control and is unpredicatable.
  • The vast suffering casued by a natural disaster seems to be without purpose, this is used by many atheists to reject the belief of an omnipotent, all-loving God.
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