Saturday, March 8, 2008

Theodicy: The Problem of Evil and God - ||Work in Progress||-


I was hesitant to put this article online in an unpolished form, but it is in response to a recent lecture we had in medical school about spirituality and medicine. The speaker posed this question to our class and I had to go back and think about it. This is something I came up with some time ago, but never got around to putting the finishing touches on it (so please forgive the mess!).
I am indebted to Dr. John S. Feinberg for his book where I was blessed with most of these ideas:

The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil

I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who seriously wants to tackle this problem. All page references are to this book.

First things first, we must ask ourselves Does God owe us anything? In fact, Christians claim that we only deserve His righteous judgment. So any suffering that does come our way is far less than what we deserve and any blessing far more than we ever merited. One of the major problems we have is that are natural disposition is to feel that God is entitled to give us a basic minimum, when this is simply not the case (and even harder to show logically that He is entitled).

In a nutshell:

If we deserve something from God --> If He doesn't satisfy that minimum, He is evil or probably does not exist (at least not as the Christian God)

If we deserve nothing from God --> We cannot blame Him for not giving us something nor when bad things befall us

With that said...

What is theodicy? 

In short how can an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God allow evil?

The problem of evil must first be separated out into two different aspects:

1. The real purpose of all evil - maybe possible to answer (Would have to get the answer straight from God)

2. Possible explanation of why it exists - definitely possible to answer (We could come up with logical scenarios as to why God would allow evil, though they might not be the absolute real reason or simply part of the reason)
Another important aspect to remember is that there are many problems of evil not just one. The problem most people refer to is the logical problem of evil, however there is:

a) The religious/personal problem of evil (Why is this happening to me?)

b) The evidential problem (Evil used as evidence against God)

c) The problem of natural evil (Evil in nature)

d) The problem of hell

Remember the logical problem of evil is asking if it is coherent that God can be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and let evil exist (David Hume's critique). This is the problem most people bring against Christianity and thus will be the main topic of this blog (with some additional comments on the other problems.) If we show that the above mentioned statements are logically non-contradictory, we have settled the argument, regardless if the opponent is displeased or disagrees with the answer, for all we need to show is that God and evil can be logical coherent.

It is super important to keep in mind that the logical answer to the problem of evil will not necessarily help out someone who is struggling with the religious/personal problem of evil. So don't try to comfort someone who is in pain by saying "Hey, I know how to logically reconcile your situation and an omnibenevolent God" b/c it probably won't help.

It is also crucial that the problem of evil be addressed within the various theological systems (i.e Calvinism and Arminism each answering for itself). The great thing is, even if you don't agree with the system (in fact I really don't agree with Hicks and Adams) it can still answer the problem of evil and accomplish our goal.

The Free Will Defense

Major Proponents: Augustine & Plantinga

Is it required of God to remove moral evil?

1. Free will is a good thing and God bestowed it upon humans (and fallen angels). It is impossible to have free will without the chance to do evil. God gave man (Adam) all the blessings and easiest opportunities to prove himself, but he made a wrong choice. In this way, when Adam and Satan fell, evil entered the world through their agency, thus evil in no way had its origin in God.

2. Moral evil is the product of human willing, which is permitted by God (pg 61). All evil comes from sinners and not God. Should God take away our choices and make us robots? Is it fair for God to let us reap the rewards or punishments of our choices. Why should He come in and stop us and would we want to live in a world where He restricted our freedoms like that?

3. Free will is a gift to us to use for good and for God to reward us. Should God be at fault for our misuse of it? - Augustine

Extra Notes:

a. Augustine also said that God's foreknowledge does not necessitate man's sin.

b. Plantinga notes that "God creates a world containing evil and has good reason for it." We don't have to know the exact reason, but simply understand there is one.

c. Freedom + evil is better than being a robot

d. Take away moral evil, you have to take away some good. [Things like courage and hope could not exist w/o evil.]


Major Proponent: William Ockham

1. God is not bound by moral laws, therefore by def. he cannot do evil

2. God voluntarily submits himself to the moral laws his creatures have to follow and if He has never violated one of those laws, He is cleared, as long as He is not obligated to remove all evil (and He does not). Thus God is neither impotent nor evil.

On free will (off-topic):

a. He would answer Newcomb's paradox by saying you would choose whatever God predicted, however were you not free in that choice at the same time?

b. God's foreknowledge has no causal power to perform an act.

Leibnizian Rationalism/Most Metaphysical Rich World

1. In making a world God could've made one all good, all evil, or a mix of both. In a sense the all good and evil world's are "incomplete" and thus making a world that contains both good and evil is more "complete" and better (metaphysically) - it has the most "reality." This holds especially true if the evil can be used for didactic purposes, to prevent other evils, or to highlight the good (as in consequential ethics).

2. God is omniscient therefore He knows every possible idea even though they may not be realized (ie God can't know what a round square is, but He does know about evil b/c it is possible). In this way God did not create evil, it is just a possibility.

3. This world wasn't made for man's maximal happiness and in fact. A world in which man is maximally happy is not necessarily the best, therefore God should rather make the world that is better than the "happy world." Leibniz believed God didn't make the world for man's happiness, b/c God was interested in making the best possible world, which was not a world of maximally happy men. God knows all possible worlds and when He chose to form ours He knew it was the best one - better than one without evil.

4. The world is best in toto, but not in its parts. Looking at an isolated piece of evil may leave you asking questions, but if you could step back and see the whole picture it makes sense.

Hick's Soul Binding Theodicy

Is the world the type of environment that fits its primary purpose "soul binding" (building up one's soul). People with (libertarian) freedom is part of this world and it is not God's fault if they don't exercise that gift within this environment.

Marilyn Adams

God's beatific vision for us to suffer and grow closer to Him and to understand Him (to suffer righteously as He did) more.


1. The way men are created they are built in with desire. Desire gone astray (James 1:15-17) produces sin. Some of the surrounding conditions may be brought about by God, but "the temptation to evil and the actual willing of evil stem not from God, but from man."

2. Humans are not sub or superhumans ie we are what we are. "Why not make a another creature who is unable to do evil?" - God intended to make non-glorified human beings. In Christian theology, glorified human beings cannot sin (think in heaven). However, it was not God's intention for us, while on Earth to be like that. It is important to remember we are, in God's eyes, the pinnacle of creation. The point here is we are created with a high intrinsic value already and cannot fault God for making us less than perfect. (Think complaining of about a $50,000 engagement ring b/c you want a million dollar one)

3. Though Satan may tempt us, the problem originates in us and saying "Satan made me do it" will not hold up on judgment day.

4. If God were to remove all evil right now, we would still sin - Adam did why not us? Remember, we would all be frozen if God removed all evil and even our well intentioned deeds that would lead to evil (like accidents) would have to be frozen.

5. Everyone says that God can make some better world or could have made the eternal state now. But this is better in what way? God could've had a reason to make this world. God can't make the non-glorified human he made and also accomplish the goals he has achieved by creating our world.

6. One of the general points of this view (modified rationalism) is that our universe is one of the good universes. It may not necessarily be the best, in fact, Feinberg might ask "Does it make sense to even ask 'What the Best Universe' is? And according to who?' " Therefore evil has an important purpose in the universe and without it our particular universe could not exist (ie to show the love of Christ on the Cross among other things). We don't have to like the reason God uses evil, but remember this is about logically coherency, NOT IF WE AGREE WITH GOD.

(Unattached) Natural Evil (ie acts of nature)

1. Some natural evil could be caused by humans (and as a logical possibility demons)

2. God made the world perfect and it is by virtue of the fall that nature is afflicted.

3. Everyone will die and death is meted out by different causes (genetic, natural, moral/human acts)

4. No one deserves grace and God is (by def. of grace) not required to give it and in fact probably does hold back a lot.

5. Nature's processes are good and regular (cf. miracle intervened world). Remember, what's the difference btwn a good rain and a drought or a flood - too little or too much.

6. God does not and should not remove natural processes

Evidential Case of Evil

In a nutshell, it says that the very existence of evil negates God or that it is rational (i.e. probability wise) to be an atheist

1. Many atheist philosophers agree that it is God and evil are logically consistent and that theist can argue against Hume's points.

2. Go the Van Tillian (presuppositional) route and say one cannot define evil without God - For than what defines good and evil?

3. The probabilities will always be in dispute depending on your presuppositions. Think about the intelligent design vs evolution debate.
4. Must consider all the background evidence, not just evil's existence to when considering the nonexistence of God. Evil counts against God and is given some -% value, but design in nature, the cosmological argument, the moral argument are all +%. See Plantinga's example of Frisian swimmers on page 209. Depending on your presuppositions, you will give different %.
5. We do not have to be cognizant of God's purposes for evil and we may not rationally have epistemic access to it.

6. Our reactions to evil and our feelings of disgust don't (logically) negate God's existence b/c we would feel the same way if He did not exist (ie our personal dislike/feelings for evil do not logically negate His existence).

7.Wykstra's Parent Argument (suffer now for some later good see #8 below) + Core Naturalism (the believe where evil has no purpose b/c the whole world is purely physical) and then someone shifts to Core Theism (That evil has purpose) = Good argument pg 233 [This is really complex, so I'm not even going to try to explain it here...]

8. Atheists want to know the why there is seemingly pointless evil, but they must show an actual instance of pointless suffering b/c we all have experiences where are hardships made us stronger. Consider someone who missed a plane for the birth of their child and was super angry yelling at God "What was the point of me missing this?!" only to find out that plane crashed. Point is there may be no pointless suffering.
9. Can flip the argument on them and say b/c there are so many numinous/divine experiences it is doubtful God does not exist. (Presuppositions are key*)
10. Our noetic structure will make us assign different probabilities to variable regarding the evidence for or against God's existence. Why can't God be properly basic identity that defies evidence. B/c of our biased presuppositions all probability arguments are purely autobiographical.
11. If God were to come down and intervene every time an evil act or thought would occur - what kind of world would this be? And would it even be a better world?

Gems/Personal Insights (may be unrelated):

0. Relational view of God and His desire to show His whole character to us.
1. Flew's Freewill = unconstrained, able to make other choices, can be casually determined. Think of Dennet's example. If you had to kill someone to protect the whole world, you are compelled to do it, but you could freely choose to do otherwise - you freely will to kill the person based on the consequences. As opposed to, someone who hates the world and thus doesn't care if it goes away, but scientists knowing this decide to control him with some sort of brain manipulating device. In this instance you to kill the person even though you don't will it, thus it is not freewill.]
Remember randomness in making decisions (incompatibalism) is not good*
2. The Two Utopias Hypothesis: Eden and Heaven. Heaven; Eden, Heaven is not possible w/o Sin and Christ.
3. If a person can freely choose God, theoretically he can do so for every choice.
4. Humans in heaven never sin and b/c Jesus was fully human and never sinned (assuming impeccability) always choosing good in not incompatible w/ humanity nor free will.
5. Frankfurt style + compatibilism defense of free will = Don't need alternate possibilities + Able to be causally determined and still have alternate choices
6. The problem of incompatibilism and omniscience = If incompatiblism is correct and there aren't antecedent conditions.
7. Boethian Free Will: God sees all of time (all is "present"), but we don't know and we are bound by the 4 dimensions.
8. Glorified beings in the eternal state do not possess the same kind of human nature as ours.
9. Augustinian vs Irenian Tradition:
a) Augustinian tradition tries to put the responsibility of evil away from God unto man.
b) Irenian tradition tries to justify God's ultimate reason for evil.
10. God voluntarily steps into time, so does it even make sense to question what predestining in atemporality is?
11. Evil is allowed for the "common good" (like necessary for the eternal state) see #2.
12. We are not responsible for creating our nature it is by def. forces external to us that do (whether evolution or God). We are built in with a natural inclination toward God, the eternal state can be a place where all barriers (sin) are removed from that natural inclination.
13. There are only oh so many ways for God to remove evil from this world, why not through Christ and the eternal state? Comparatively speaking our world is way less than 1% of known history. Remember it is not a question of if God will get rid of evil, only when.
14. We don't necessarily have to show the morally sufficient reason why God created this world, just that this is a good world. To say that their is a better world God could've made is beyond what is necessary for the logical problem of evil.
15. God's chief end is to bring Himself glory and to show His goodness to creation. All creation is made to Glorify God.
16. Satan & Co. may take some responsibility for natural and other evils.
17. If God created a world where miraculously intervened: a) would destroy predicted regularity.
18. If God created a world with less evil (no evil) how do you show that the world would be significantly better? Must show
19. Who has the burden of proof with the evidential problem of evil. The atheist is the one who is saying that evil is evidence against God, than all theists need to do is defend instead of making a positive case for theism.
20. If God had permitted less evil than He has actually permitted whatever free creatures He had would have acted less well (or less free?) than His actual free creatures actually do.

Personal Notes

1. I am a compatibalistic in term of free will and a consequentialist in terms of my ethics (though I have nonconsequentialist inklings)
2. My theodicy is that God wanted to make Himself known to us and enter into a full relationship with us and that entailed revealing His love for us on the Cross.
3. My defense is [for now] the value of free will (I think incomp. free will is logically incoherent) and that God has a sufficient moral reason for allowing evil and we don't need to know it b/c this is a good world (but perhaps the best - if there is such a notion).
4. Remember Romans 9 God can do what he wants.
5. See John Piper's Justification of God for more on Romans 9
6. Remember Adam brought this upon himself - the test was so easy!
7. Realize there are severe consequences and the eality of sin.
8. Angels are superhuman beings and it is difficult to ascertain the capacities of their free will.
9. Human beings sin caused their lifespan to be 120 (evidence of God withholding evil, along w/ government and the role of the Holy Spirit)
10. God did make everything perfect! The Fall has definite effects ie death. Everyone must die whether its from disease (slow or fast), genetic, or from nature. This was God's warning to Adam. Does it make God worse to mete out one death versus another.
11. No one deserves grace! All have sinned and fall short!
12. Against the evidential argument for evil: Is there a ontological necessity between the existence of (grautitous) evil and the non-existence of God? No, rather evil can only be explained by God.
13. Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Resolution: The theories are not reconcilable, however are perfect in regards to describing their associated phenomenom. God's sovereignty and our free will are an instance of this "paradox," rather resolution.