Theodicies and the Problem of Evil
I (Sandra LaFave) actually did not write most of this page. I added the sections on Process Theodicy and Monism, but most is from "The Problem of Evil" by Jim Riley.
(A word of explanation: When I first found this material in 2006, it appeared as part of a series of pages (tutor2u) designed to prepare British students for exams. No author was listed, so I explained that to my students, and cited the URL of the page. Years passed, I retired, and only got back to my websites in 2015. By that time, the old URL no longer worked, but I found Riley's article again, this time with identifying information. I added his name and the new URL as soon as I became aware of the information.)
WHAT IS EVIL
John Hick defined evil as “physical pain, mental suffering and moral wickedness.” For Hick, the consequence of evil is suffering
"Natural evil" means the apparent malfunctioning of the natural world e.g. diseases and natural disasters.
"Moral evil" means the result of human immorality e.g. genocide.
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
The monotheistic God of Christianity, Judaism and Islam supposedly possesses divine qualities of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence. However, the existence of evil and suffering in the world challenges this idea.
Augustine, in ‘Confessions,’ states the problem very clearly: “Either God is not able to abolish evil or not willing; if he is not able then he is not all-powerful; if he is not willing then he is not all-good.”
The problem of evil can be viewed as an inconsistent triad, as in J. L. Mackie's article "Evil and Omnipotence."
According to Mackie, the 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 omnibenevolent he will want to put a stop to it. Yet evil and suffering do exist. You might want to read my notes on Mackie.
Thus, David Hume argued that either:
According to Mackie, each of these possibilities solves the problem of evil, but none are orthodox. Since we have sufficient direct experience to support the existence of evil, if God exists he is either an impotent God or a malicious God — not the God of classical theism. Hume and Mackie conclude that God therefore does not exist.
Antony Flew wrote that believers need to acknowledge that the existence of evil and suffering has no consistent solution. All the supposedly orthodox "solutions" to the problem of evil qualify the notion of God, i.e., believers arbitrarily change the nature of God to suit different circumstances. The challenge is to solve the problem of evil without taking back any of God's supposed divine attributes. See separate notes on Flew.
Thomas Aquinas' theodicy exemplifies this "qualifying" approach. Aquinas argued that God’s goodness is infinitely different from human goodness (although he does maintain that both have points of correspondence). Therefore, it is conceivable that God allows evil and suffering to exist as a part of his greater plan of love. So God's "goodness" and God's "love" are so different from our notions of goodness and love (our notions of goodness and love are so qualified when we discuss God's goodness and love) that these notions become completely unintelligible and meaningless to us: God's "goodness" includes starving innocent children to death, for example.
Theodicies are attempts to justify the existence of evil and suffering, and they usually claim that evil and suffering are a necessary condition for the achievement of God’s greater plan.
AUGUSTINIAN THEODICY (SOUL-DECIDING THEODICY)
Based on the narratives of 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 of goodness, just as blindness is a privation of sight. Since evil is not an entity in itself, just like blindness is not an entity in itself, God could not have created it.
Instead, evil originates from free will possessed by angels and humans, who turned their back on God and settled for a lesser form of goodness thus creating a privation of goodness, as the narrative of ‘the fall’ in Genesis 3 tries to explain. As a result the state of perfection was ruined by sin.
Natural Evil: Occurred because of the loss of order in nature, defined by Augustine as the ‘penal consequences of sin’
Moral Evil: Derived from human free will and disobedience
Augustine reasoned that all humans are worthy of the punishment of evil and suffering because we are “seminally present in the loins of Adam”, deserving of the punishment for original sin.
God has the right not to intervene and put a stop to evil and suffering, since he is a just God and we are worthy of punishment. It is by his grace and infinite love however, that we (some of us, those to whom he chooses to give grace) are able to accept his offer of salvation and eternal life in heaven.
IRENAEN THEODICY (SOUL-MAKING THEODICY)
Like Augustine, Irenaeus argued that evil is the consequence of human 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 immature being could develop through a soul-making process into a ‘child of God,’ in God's perfect likeness.
For Irenaeus, 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 (a controversial claim; see below), God had to permit evil and suffering to occur.
Natural Evil: Has the divine purpose to develop qualities such as compassion through the soul-making process
Moral Evil: 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.
HICK'S REFORMATION OF THE IRENAEN THEODICY
John Hick highlighted the importance of God allowing humans to develop themselves. He reasoned that if God made us perfect, then we would have the goodness of robots, which would love God automatically without any further deliberation. God wants humans to be genuinely loving and therefore gives them free will.
If God interfered or became too close, humans would be unable to make a free choice and thus would not benefit from the developmental process. This is known as the counterfactual hypothesis. Therefore God created humans at an epistemic distance from himself, a distance of knowledge.
Both the Augustinian and Irenaen theodicies assume free will, i.e., the notion that moral evil stems from moral agents, and free agency is a necessary condition for human development. According to the free will defense, the goodness of free agency outweighs the evil derived from free moral agents.
Supporters of the free-will defense argue that divine intervention would compromise human freedom, thus preventing human development.
Swinburne used the example of death. Death brings about suffering but is necessary to ensure humans take their responsibilities seriously. Swinburne wrote: ‘If there is always a second chance there is no risk.’
CRITIQUE OF THE FREE-WILL DEFENSE
Process theodicy is a modern theodicy that stems from the line of thinking of A.N. Whitehead, developed by David Griffin
Process theologians argue that God is not omnipotent and he did not create the universe; instead, the universe is uncreated and he is a part of it. This is contrary to the all-powerful and transcendent God of Abrahamic religions. According to process theology, God is responsible for starting the evolutionary process which eventually led to the development of humans, and is thus partly responsible for the existence of evil and suffering.
God does not have control over humans and they are free to ignore him, but he does do everything in his power to ensure the universe produces enough goodness to outweigh evil, although he is restricted by the laws of nature. Moreover, he suffers with humans when evil occurs.
Monism is not a theodicy but a challenge to the existence of evil. Monists argue that the universe is perfect and good and the concept of evil is an illusion that evokes the feeling of suffering.
Spinoza argued that we assess things wrongly. We make judgments from our anthropocentric perspective only. We ask only how useful things are to us, and miss their true value independently of us. Spinoza reasoned that if we look at everything objectively, we would see that everything has a unique value and there is no good and evil.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Movement, argued that evil and suffering are in the mind. She claimed that if sufferers would only realize there is not reality to their pain, then their pain would instantly stop.
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