The Problem of Evil: Theodicies

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Swinburne's Theodicy

  • Evil provides an opportunity to do good
  • God is omnipotent and could stop evil, but at the price of sacrificing the virtuous acts as a response to evil
  • Suffering existing makes higher order goods possible
  • It's better that we live in a world where we can act to reach good, than a 'toy world' where our actions have no consequences.
  • If there was no possibility of suffering, no evil outcomes of our actions and no objects to our desires, our actions would be devoid of meaning and there would be no moral dimension to anything we do
  • When our actions matter and we have real challenges, we can make moral decisions and human agencies have a point.
  • God created a half finished world - neither free or full of evil - so we have the chance to improve it from within.
  • If God intervened, humans couldn't anticipate consequences to their actions, or formulate genera laws of nature
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St Augustine's Theodicy

  • God is omnibenevolent, and omnipotent, and created a perfect world 
  • Evil entered the world when God's creatures turned away from God, e.g. the fall of Satan and Adam and Eve (the original sin)
  • God's world was corrupted
  • Free will led to the original sin
  • Moral and natural evil is caused by free will
  • Even though God made a perfect world, humans introduced evil through their choices, so evil is the responsibility of humans and not God
  • Evil is an unfortunate side effect of free will, but it's worth it as free will can lead to salvation and redemption
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Irenaeus' Theodicy

  • God created an imperfect world
  • Humans must use free will to work towards moral and spiritual understanding, and perfection in the next life
  • Perfection will come in the future, at the end of time
  • Soul making
  • Free will didn't cause evil to come into the world
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Leibniz's Theodicy

  • God chosethe best possible world as he is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient
  • Pain and suffering are needed for the best possible world, and must contribute to making it a better place.
  •  If any pain or suffering were different, the world would be worse off
  • We don't have God's perpective of the whole of creation, so we may not understand how this is the best possible world.


  • If this is the best possbile world, what are the others like? 
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Criticisms of Swinburne's Theodicy

  • It relies on the assumption that there is free will, otherwise humans can't have the opportunity to imporve the world from within and strive for the higher goods.
  • Can some evils, such as the Holocaust be justified, just for providing an opportunity to do good?
  • There is still some suffering that seems to lead to no good at all, e.g. cancer
  • Swinburne argues this is neccessary for spiritual growth, otherwise there woul be virtual proof for the existence of God if we always saw and understood what good came out of evil. There would then be no need for hope or faith, which depend on uncertainty. Faith and hope are essential for spiritual growth.
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Criticisms of St Augustine's Theodicy

  • It relies on a literal interpretation of Genesis. Augustine believes the temptation of Adam and Eve is the original sin, yet many believers read this account as symbolic of how evil entered the world. Many believers don't believe that the angel, Satan, turned away from God, and that this also introduced evil into the world.
  • However, the theodicy could still make sense, by being reinterpreted to symbollise how evil came into the world when humans disobeyed God, and listened to contrary 'voices', symbolised by the devil.
  • If God, being omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient created a perfect world, how could evil enter it and corrupt it in the first place?
  • F.D.E. Schleiermacher- how can you say that a perfect world went wrong-evil can't create itself out of nothing!
  • If God didn't create evil, then how did Adam and Eve have the knowledge of disobedience and evil to turn away from God. If humans chose disobedience, then evil must have existed already, so God made evil.
  • If humans were created perfect, it would be impossible for them to choose to do evil.
  • Science suggests the world started in chaos, with the Big Bang, not with perfection and order. Also, science suggests suffering is neccessary for survival, as death allows for life and progression. - survival of the fittest.
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Criticisms of Irenaeus' Theodicy

  • All evil is only justified if all evil leads to spiritual growth. Yet many people suffer and their spirit is broken, e.g. abused children who never recover, people suffering at the end of their lives so there is not enough time for them to develop, and people dying before they grow spiritually.
  • Hick acknowledges that misery and pain appear to be randomly distributed, sometimes to people that seem to least deserve them.
  • The argument should be taken generally - the person suffering may not always be helped, but it can be in response to the suffering of other people that we grow.
  • Dostoyevsky wondered if the outcome of perfection at the end of time could be justified by the methods of achieving this perfection; allowing evil and suffering into the world. The examples in his novel The Brothers Karamazov express this view, and suggest that the world is disgusting, and God can be rejected as He appears unworthy of worship.
  • •Is God justified creating a world with much pointless evil, just to attain certain goals - surely God could create us virtuous - why do we need to become good through soul making?

  • •HIck replies someone who has become good through dealing with evil 'is good in a richer and more valuable sense' than someone who is simply created good.

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Criticisms of Leibniz's Theodicy

  • If this is the best possible world, what are the other worlds like?
  • It is hard to justify God's existence when there is evil, pain and suffering
  • We don't know what the consequences would be if we removed these features of the world, and it could produce a worse world. Because we can't know this, we can't know that this isn't the best of all the possible worlds.
  • The most obvious form of event changing is for God to intervene in what caused the event. For example, he could hit Hitler with lightning. This would be a miracle. The laws of nature are a great good, as they make things happenning in a regular way, allowing free will. These laws give rise to evil. but it is justified as the alternative is a worse world where nothing takes place in a regular way.
  • God could intervene sometimes, but he would have to allow some other evil to occur, or there wouldn't be enough total evil in the world to grow.
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The Free Will Defence

  • St Augustine - free will led to the original sin of Adam and Eve
  • Irenaeus - free will is necessary to improve ourselves and the world, to acheive spiritual maturity.
  • Vardy

1. The highest good for humans is a loving relationship with God.

2. Love must be freely chosen

3. So, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God gave humans freewill in order to freely choose to enter into a loving relationship with God.

4. Free will means that sometimes humans will choose to do good, and other times bad.

5. Therefore, evil exists so humany may choose a loving relationship with God.

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Flew's criticism of The Free Will Defence

Freely chosen actions are ones that have causes within the person themselves, not externally

If your choice is internal to you, it is freely chosen

God could have created a world where all humans had a good nature, yet they were free in Flew's sense, and wold choose to do the right thing. This world would be better than the world we have now.


What would be the difference between these 'naturally good' oeopl, and robots programmed to always act in a good way? Theists believe that God gave them free will so we can choose to love and worship God, or turn away from Him.

God appears to manipulate humans in His creation to bring about His desired results. Is the love felt for God by 'naturally good' humans of any value, and is a God who manipulates his end results in the way Flew describes worhty of worship?

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Mackie's Criticisms of The Free Will Defence

With an omnipotent God:

1. It is logically possible for me to choose to do good on any one occasion

2. It is logically possible for me to choose to do good on every occasion

3. It is logically possible for any individual to choose to do good throughtout their life

4. God is omnipotent and can create any logically possible world.

5. Therefore God could have created a world n which we are all genuinely free, yet we all choose to do good.

6. God did not create such a world.

7. Therefore, either God is not omnipotent, or omnibenevolent.

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Criticisms of Mackie

Plantinga rejects the idea that God can create an infinite number of worlds: He can't create a world in which humans aren't created by God.

Within the possible worlds that God can create, there are limitations. It is possible that in every world, there is a person (Curly Smith) with a corrupt nature., and in every possible world God creates, he chooses to do at least one bad action.It is therefore not possible for God (despite being omnipotent and omnibenevolent) to create a world where Curly Smith is free yet always chooses to do good.

The existence of evil is compatible with an omnibenevolent and omnipotent God.

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Criticisms of Augustine's Aesthetic Theodicy

  • Mackie - The contrast theory sets limits on what God can and cannot do; he can't create good or make us aware of good without creating evil. This undermines God's omnipotence.
  • Hick - if evfil is pain and suffering, good and evil may not be opposites.

We can imagine a world where everyone does good and no wrong; we would not need concepts of good and evil but are actions may still be good, even if they aren't recognised as good, and the world could still be better.

  • Darwin - Suffering undergone by animals doesn't seem to be balanced, even when they die. Augustine just argues that nature needs to change and progress, and the death and suffering of animals helps this to happen.

How can the eternal suffering of humans who go to Hell be justified, assuming there is a Hell? This just moves the problem of evil onto the after life, as why would an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent God allow eternal pain and suffering to those in Hell. It magnifies the problem of evil: if we struggle to justify how a God can exist in this world, how much harder is it to justify the existence of a God with eternal suffering.

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Augustine's Aesthetic Theodicy

Evil is part of the natural balance of the unvierse, like an artust uses light and dark shades t create harmony and balance in a painting.

It may seem to us like there is imbalance in God's creation, and that too much evil goes unpunished. But our sinful acts are ultimately balanced by the justice of God. In the afterlife, those who had a relatioinship with God will be rewarded in heaven, and sinners who did not have a relationship with God will be punished in hell.

There is a moral beauty, where justice is done and the moral balance of the universe is restored.

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Criticisms of Leibniz's Theodicy continued...

  • Animals suffer, yet it does no good to them or us
  • For us to exist, given the laws of nature, other sentient animals also need to exist. We've evolved from them, and we can't know if God had created a world without animals or the suffering of animals whether it would make a better world.
  • To justfiy evil, we must suppose there are no alternaitve sets of natural laws which could cause less evil. This seems hard to believe, as is it impossible that cancer didn't exist? There must be laws that mean these things never happen - a good God would choose these laws.
  • We take the happiness of Earths creatures as the standard for judging whether the world could be better, yet we can't. If we expand this to 'the happiness of all beings capable of happiness and suffering',, we would not know what other beings exist in the universe, e.g. supernatural beings like angels. Our earthly unhappiness may be small in comparison with their happiness, and to remove our unhappiness would lead to greater unhappiness overall.
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Considering evil with the Afterlife

Many religions believe in life after death, usually thought to involve survival of an immortal soul - Plato believed our souls existed before we were born

Abrahamic religions believe our souls were created at conception.

Hick - an omnipotent peronal creator would not allow his human creations to cease to exist while his aspirations and purpose for them had not been met

Putting pain and suffering in the context of eternal life makes the problem of evil easier to resolve. In eternity, limited suffering become infinitesimal compared to unlimited happiness.

We get satisfaction from knowing people who inflict injustice and suffering on us in this life are punished in the next, and sent to Hell, while virtuous people are rewarded in Heaven.

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Problems with the Afterlife

  • This doesn't resolve the problem of evil, but moves it on to the next life.
  • If it was hard to reconcile the existence of a benevolent God with limited suffering in this life, it's even more difficult taking into account eternal suffering of Hell in the afterlife.
  • There is no moral justification of evil - Heaven is only compensation for the unjust suffering experienced in life, so suffering is not made morally good or justifiable. A benevolent God wouldn't act in this way.
  • If we want to bring about good, knowing it will harm someone innocent, we should ask their permission first, making the compensation more morally justified if they give their consent, yet God didn't ask. If he made a world in which evil is unfairly distributed, to achieve greater good, He has used us as a means an end, despite compensation.  
  • Why would an an all loving God create a person with free will, when He knew they would abuse it and end up being tortuned for eternity in Hell.
  • Catholics believe in Purgatory - where you serve your punishment before entry to Heaven.
  • Hell could be a metaphor, and there is no Hell but just the absence of God, for those who rejected Him. Or maybe there's no Hell, or absence of God, and everyone goes to Heaven - universalism.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus is clear some are and some aren't invited to the banquet
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Swinburne and the Free Will Defence

Even though God is omnipotent, he can only do that which is logically possible; and it would not be logically possible for God to take away evil and suffering while granting us true freewill, otherwise there wouldn't be freedom of choice, freedom of humans, or the the need for responsibility and development.

  • Moral evil can also be accounted for natural evil, like death. Despite the suffering it causes, it is nevertheless essential to the free will defence. Death means that life, and the chances that each life contains, are limited. This is vital, because only in a limited life span can we have genuine responsibility for our actions. 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.
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Criticisms of Irenaeus continued...

  • There is still some suffering that seems to lead to no good at all, e.g. cancer
  • This is neccessary for soul making, otherwise there woul be virtual proof for the existence of God if we always saw and understood what development came out of evil. There would then be no need for hope or faith, which depend on uncertainty. Faith and hope are essential for spiritual growth.
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