The nature of evil and suffering


How did John Hick define evil and suffering?

'Physical pain, mental suffernig and moral wickedness. The last one is one of the causes of the first two, for an enormous amount of human pain arises from people's inhumanity. This pain includes such major scourges as poverty, oppression and persecution, war and all the injustice, indignity and inequalities that have occurred throughout history.'

What is natural evil?

  • Natural evil is the apparent malfunction of the natural world, which produces diseases, earthquakes, volcanoes, famines and floods.
  • 'Natural evil is the evil that originates independently of human actions, in earthquakes, storms, droughts, tornadoes.' (John Hick)

What is moral evil?

  • Moral evil arises as the result of human actions that are morally wrong, such as murder, war and cruelty.
  • 'Moral evil I understand as including all evil caused deliberately by humans doing what they ought not to do, or allowed to occur by humans negligently failing to do what they ought to do, and also the evil constituted by such deliberate actions or negligent failure.' (Richard Swinburne)

What other types of evil are there?

  • Animal suffering.
  • Psychological.
  • Emotional and mental suffering.
  • The evil of contingency (that things corrupt and die).
  • The question of whether death itself is an evil.

Different types of evil sometimes overlap, for example the natural evil of famine caused by drought can be worsened by the moral evil of civil unrest and corruption in countries struggling to get aid.

Does evil exist?

There is no evil

Monists claim that the universe is a single, harmonious unity that is good, and so evil is a mere illusion in our minds. Evil causes a feeling of suffering only because we cannot see the whole picture. If we could see the whole picture, we would realise that evil is an illusion. Evil is not something, it is simply the absence of good, like an eye that is blind. This raises problems because it seems to contradict our own experience of the world in which there is obviously evil and suffering. Nor does it reallyexplain why a loving God would allow humanity to suffer from an illusion, why should we bother to try and avoid it?

There is no God

For atheists, evil is convincing evidence that God does not exist because they claim a loving God would not have created a universe full of evil and suffering: 'I cannot imagine any omnipotent sentiment being sufficiently cruel to create the world we inhabit.' (Iris Murdoch). The atheistic argument is that it is just as rational to reject belief in God as it is to believe that an all-loving and all powerful creator would be responsible for the evil and suffering that characterises the world.

Our view of evil is distorted

In Hindu and Buddhist thought, evil is an illusion brought about by human greed and selfishness. Under the doctrines of karma and rebirth, all suffering is the resuly of evil committed in a previous life…


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