Revision:The problem of evil

The problem of evil, described by Hume as “the rock of atheism,” is one of the oldest and greatest challenges to classical theism. It can be summed up by the Inconsistent Triad – if God is omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, then why does evil exist?

  • Logical Arguments (God cannot exist) e.g. Epicurus, Mackie – a priori, deductive.
  • Evidential arguments (improbable that God exists) – gratuitous evils probably exist (e.g. Rowe a fawn dying in a forest fire), inconsistent with God, so God probably doesn’t exist.
  • OT – seems God causes/allows evil but has good reason for it; test of faith, reward will be in heaven. (Job). NT – Suffering is part of human experience, Jesus is the perfect man, he suffered (‘Divine Exchange’) to show us how we ought to live & thereby be reconciled to God (coming back to God, living in harmony with him “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans). The resurrection indicates that good triumphs over evil, Jesus shows that suffering can be coped with. Moltmann – “God died on the cross of Christ,” not detached from it, should fight against evil.

Hume – 3 solutions: God is not OB, not OP, or evil doesn’t exist. Experience tells us that evil does exist, so God is not OB/OP – not the God of classical theism, so God doesn’t exist.


Augustine (354-430) ‘Confessions’ – based on the Fall of Man (Gen 3), literal interpretation.

  • God created a perfect world; we were created perfect and with free will.
  • Evil entered it with the disobedience of A&E; they fell from grace when mankind turned away from God, unable to resist temptation. We are all guilty, all deserve to be punished, were all seminally present because this ‘original sin’ is passed on through sex, leads to a privation of goodness (evil is not a thing, not created). Schleiermacher – logical contradiction that a perfectly created world went wrong, God must be responsible.
  • Happy fault because it brought about the great Redeemer, Christ. The Divine Exchange is essential for our redemption from sin. God foresaw the Fall, predestined some for salvation and some for condemnation.
  • However Darwin – suffering undergone by animals isn’t justified after death; falling from perfection seems contrary to evolution. Also eternal damnation seems unfair if we were born evil, doesn’t explain why some take a disproportionate share. Had –ve view of sex = opinion.
  • He also suggest that evil is part of the natural balance of the universe (aesthetic arguments), like an artist using light and dark shades to create balance in a painting (contrast theory “where there is love, there is pain”). However Mackie – this puts limits on God because he can’t make good things without simultaneously allowing evil. Hick – good has intrinsic features, not just in contrast to evil since we could imagine a world in which everything is good.

Aquinas – developed Augustine, evil doesn’t exist because it is the opposite of goodness and goodness = being. Also we are in time & space (anthropocentric) whereas God can see the whole tapestry of the universe (theocentric), not for us to speculate. Nygren – God is mysterious.

McCabe – badness isn’t a thing, but a quality of a thing, parasitic on goodness, so God doesn’t create evil. What fulfils one thing diminishes another e.g. lion and lamb. “You cannot make material things that develop in time without allowing for the fact that in perfecting themselves they will damage other material things.” A morally evil act done by a person diminishes their character.

MONISM – not a theodicy

Boethius – wicked people and acts are just an illusion, because it is people mistakenly falling short of the fullness of being, and is a sign of powerlessness.

Spinoza – we assess things in terms of how useful they are to us rather than their objective value.

Mary Baker Eddy – evil doesn’t really exist, pain is only to do with the mind, can heal through faith. “Health is not a condition of matter, but of mind.”

However Schopenhauer “I therefore know of no greater absurdity than explaining evil as something negative. For evil is exactly that which is positive, which makes itself palpable.”


Evil exists as a result of the misuse of free will, beginning with Adam. God allows this because he wants people to love him genuinely and true love can only be free.

Irenaeus (130-204)

  • Genesis - created imago dei, (freedom, morality) but imperfect, have to become God-like.
  • Evil necessary to achieve God’s purpose (teleological), for man to develop a noble soul (Aristotle, Virtue Ethics)
  • The world is a “vale of soul-making” (Keats). Christ sets an example for us to follow.


Hick (b.1922)

  • God created us at an epistemic distance in a religiously ambiguous world. (Doesn’t explain why A&E failed without any epistemic distance)
  • Goodness and faith are more virtuous if they are hard-won; someone who has attained goodness by meeting and eventually mastering temptation is good in a richer and more valuable sense than someone created ab initio in a state of innocence or virtue.
  • Soul-making is a great good, and people only see evil as a problem when they mistakenly think that the world ought to be a hedonistic paradise.

Eleonore Stump suggests terrible suffering that some people undergo at the end of their lives has been ordained by God for the spiritual health of that person – but it doesn’t always fall on people with bad characters.

Swinburne (b.1934) – natural or physical evil is a precondition of moral evil if we are able to have knowledge of evil and “logically necessary if agents are to have a genuine choice between bringing about evil and bringing about good.” However Popper – we don’t learn inductively, but hypothetico-deductively. Doesn’t fit in with Gospel accounts of Jesus trying to eliminate suffering. Law’s “secretive headmaster” randomly torturing pupils, breaks rather than builds characters.


  • Mackie (lib) – God is omniscient therefore should only allow people to come into existence who he knows will always freely choose the right thing.

However: - Plantinga “transworld depravity”, it is part of our essence to do evil (Satan infected the world with evil), “hence it was not within God’s power to create a world in which E’s instantiation is significantly free but always does what it right.” Can’t have moral good without the potential for evil.

Personalist God can’t see the future, but if God is pure actuality he can’t choose.

  • Flew (s.d.) – God should create our n&n so we always freely choose the right thing.

However - Hick “we are his mindless puppets” epistemic distance makes it better when we choose the right thing, Swinburne “like an overprotective parent” evil is necessary to make a free choice.

However Dostoevsky – extent of evil makes it not worth it “hand back my ticket” Doesn’t explain dysteleological evil. Doesn’t seem like a loving God. Owen – hypothetical, doesn’t help the victim.

Leibniz – God is able to select our universe from all possible universes that he could create, so the one he chooses to create must be the best one possible. If pain and suffering were any different the world would be worse off. But Schopenhauer argues God created possibility so he should have created the possibility of a better world than this one. Could also be argued in other direction.

Process Theology (Whitehead & Hartshorne) – God and the world exist together in a continuous process of becoming and changing. God doesn’t have unlimited power, acts in the restrictions of reality as we experience it. Each moment is a creative entity, and failure to find harmony is evil. Evil is essential and in the nature of the universe, and there is nothing God can do about this, but we should act of his side to try and reduce it – surrenders God’s omnipotence. God is “the great companion – the fellow sufferer who understands.” Is this God really worthy of worship? Can’t just change the definition of God – Flew “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.”

Nietzsche – the innocent suffer because that is just the way life is. Suffering is inevitable; the key issue is how we deal with it – “turning troubles to your advantage.” We should not be looking for happiness, but for fulfilment, and this is gained through abandoning comfort.