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The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God. Evil in philosophy, and most discussions of the problem of evil, is defined in the broad manner as all pain and suffering, but this is problematic since pain is necessary for survival. In the narrow definition, evil is a moral concept involving condemnation of horrific behavior committed by responsible moral agents who intend or desire to do harm. The best known presentation of the problem is attributed to the Greek philosopher Epicurus which was popularized by David Hume.
The problem of evil is often formulated in two forms: the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil. The logical form of the argument tries to show a logical impossibility in the coexistence of God and evil, while the evidential form tries to show that given the evil in the world, it is improbable that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God. The problem of evil has been extended to non-human life forms, to include animal suffering from natural evils and human cruelty against them.
Responses to various versions of the problem of evil, meanwhile, come in three forms: refutations, defenses, and theodicies. A wide range of responses have been made against these arguments. There are also many discussions of evil and associated problems in other philosophical fields, such as secular ethics, and evolutionary ethics. But as usually understood, the "problem of evil" is posed in a theological context.
In contemporary philosophy, there are two basic concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. A broad concept defines evil simply as any and all pain and suffering: "any bad state of affairs, wrongful action, or character flaw". Evil in the broad sense is the sort of evil referenced in most discussions of the problem of evil, yet according to John Kemp, evil cannot be correctly understood on "a simple hedonic scale on which pleasure appears as a plus, and pain as a minus". Pain is necessary for the survival of the individual and the human race, and as Marcus Singer says: "If something is really evil, it can't be necessary, and if it is really necessary, it can't be evil".:186
Renowned orthopedist and missionary to lepers, Dr. Paul Brand explains that leprosy attacks the nerve cells that feel pain resulting in no more pain for the leper, but which leads to ever increasing, often catastrophic, damage to the body of the leper.:50,51;9 Congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP), also known as congenital analgesia, is a neurological disorder that prevents feeling pain. It "leads to ...bone fractures, multiple scars, osteomyelitis, joint deformities, and limb amputation... Mental retardation is common. Death from hyperpyrexia occurs within the first 3 years of life in almost 20% of the patients."  Few with the disorder are able to live into adulthood. Seeing all pain and suffering as evil is too broad to supply a sufficient definition of evil because some pain is necessary.:186
The narrow concept of evil involves moral condemnation, therefore it is ascribed only to moral agents and their actions.:322 This eliminates natural disasters and animal suffering from consideration as evil: according to Claudia Card, "When not guided by moral agents, forces of nature are neither "goods" nor "evils". They just are. Their "agency" routinely produces consequences vital to some forms of life and lethal to others". The narrow definition of evil "picks out only the most morally despicable sorts of actions, characters, events, etc. Evil [in this sense] … is the worst possible term of opprobrium imaginable”. Eve Garrard suggests that evil describes "particularly horrifying kinds of action which we feel are to be contrasted with more ordinary kinds of wrongdoing, as when for example we might say 'that action wasn't just wrong, it was positively evil'. The implication is that there is a qualitative, and not merely quantitative, difference between evil acts and other wrongful ones; evil acts are not just very bad or wrongful acts, but rather ones possessing some specially horrific quality".:321 Todd Calder argues that evil must involve the attempt or desire to inflict significant harm on the victim without moral justification.
The problem of evil refers to the challenge of reconciling belief in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God, with the existence of evil and suffering in the world.[note 1] The problem may be described either experientially or theoretically. The experiential problem is the difficulty in believing in a concept of a loving God when confronted by evil and suffering in the real world, such as from epidemics, or wars, or murder, or natural disasters where innocent people become victims. The problem of evil is also a theoretical one, usually described and studied by religion scholars in two varieties: the logical problem and the evidential problem.
Originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus, Hume summarizes Epicurus's version of the problem as follows: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?"
The logical argument from evil is as follows:
P2. There is evil in the world.
C1. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.
This argument is of the form modus tollens, and is logically valid: If its premises are true, the conclusion follows of necessity. To show that the first premise is plausible, subsequent versions tend to expand on it, such as this modern example:
P1a. God exists.
P1b. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.
P1c. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
P1d. An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
P1e. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
P1f. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
P1. If there exists an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient God, then no evil exists.
P2. Evil exists (logical contradiction).
Both of these arguments are understood to be presenting two forms of the 'logical' problem of evil. They attempt to show that the assumed premises lead to a logical contradiction and therefore cannot all be correct. Most philosophical debate has focused on the suggestion that God would want to prevent all evils and therefore cannot coexist with any evils (premises 1d and 1f), with defenders of theism (for example, St. Augustine and Leibniz) arguing that God could very well exist with and allow evil in order to achieve a greater good.
If God lacks any one of these qualities—omniscience, omnipotence, or omnibenevolence—then the logical problem of evil can be resolved. Process theology and open theism are other positions that limit God's omnipotence or omniscience (as defined in traditional theology). Dystheism is the belief that God is not wholly good.
The evidential problem of evil (also referred to as the probabilistic or inductive version of the problem) seeks to show that the existence of evil, although logically consistent with the existence of God, counts against or lowers the probability of the truth of theism. Both absolute versions and relative versions of the evidential problems of evil are presented below.
A version by William L. Rowe:
Another by Paul Draper:
The problem of evil has also been extended beyond human suffering, to include suffering of animals from cruelty, disease and evil. One version of this problem includes animal suffering from natural evil, such as the violence and fear faced by animals from predators, natural disasters, over the history of evolution. This is also referred to as the Darwinian problem of evil, after Charles Darwin who expressed it as follows:
'the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time' are apparently irreconcilable with the existence of a creator of 'unbounded' goodness.
The second version of the problem of evil applied to animals, and avoidable suffering experienced by them, is one caused by some human beings, such as from animal cruelty or when they are shot or slaughtered. This version of the problem of evil has been used by scholars including John Hick to counter the responses and defenses to the problem of evil such as suffering being a means to perfect the morals and greater good because animals are innocent, helpless, amoral but sentient victims. Scholar Michael Almeida said this was "perhaps the most serious and difficult" version of the problem of evil. The problem of evil in the context of animal suffering, states Almeida, can be stated as:[note 2]
Responses to the problem of evil have occasionally been classified as defences or theodicies; however, authors disagree on the exact definitions. Generally, a defense refers to attempts to show there is no logical incompatibility between the existence of evil and the existence of God. This does not require a full explanation of evil, and it is successful if the argument shows that the existence of God and the existence of evil are logically compatible. It need not even be true, or even probable, it need only be possible, since a false though coherent explanation would be sufficient to show logical compatibility.
A theodicy, on the other hand, is more ambitious, since it attempts to provide a plausible justification—a morally or philosophically sufficient reason—for the existence of evil and thereby rebut the "evidential" argument from evil. Richard Swinburne maintains that it does not make sense to assume there are greater goods that justify the evil's presence in the world unless we know what they are—without knowledge of what the greater goods could be, one cannot have a successful theodicy. Thus, some authors see arguments appealing to demons or the fall of man as indeed logically possible, but not very plausible given our knowledge about the world, and so see those arguments as providing defences but not good theodicies. This argument is set against numerous versions of the problem of evil that have been formulated using both philosophical and theological formulations.
Critics have noted that theodicies and defenses are often addressed to the logical problem of evil. As such, they are intended only to demonstrate that it is possible that evil can co-exist with an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being. Since the relevant parallel commitment is that good can co-exist with an omniscient, omnipotent and omnimalevolent being, not that it is plausible that they should do so, the theist who is responding to the problem of evil need not be committing himself to something he is likely to think is false. This reply, however, leaves the evidential problem of evil untouched.
Another general criticism is that though a theodicy may harmonize God with the existence of evil, it does so at the cost of nullifying morality. This is because most theodicies assume that whatever evil there is exists because it is required for the sake of some greater good. But if an evil is necessary because it secures a greater good, then it appears we humans have no duty to prevent it, for in doing so we would also prevent the greater good for which the evil is required. Even worse, it seems that any action can be rationalized, as if one succeeds in performing it, then God has permitted it, and so it must be for the greater good. From this line of thought one may conclude that, as these conclusions violate our basic moral intuitions, no greater good theodicy is true, and God does not exist. Alternatively, one may point out that greater good theodicies lead us to see every conceivable state of affairs as compatible with the existence of God, and in that case the notion of God's goodness is rendered meaningless.
In response to arguments concerning natural evil and animal suffering, Christopher Southgate has developed a “compound evolutionary theodicy.”:711 Robert John Russell summarizes it as beginning with an assertion of the goodness of creation and all sentient creatures.:15 Next Southgate argues that Darwinian evolution was the only way God could create such goodness. "A universe with the sort of beauty, diversity, sentience and sophistication of creatures that the biosphere now contains" could only come about by the natural processes of evolution.:716 Michael Ruse points out that Richard Dawkins has made the same claim concerning evolution.
Dawkins ...argues strenuously that selection and only selection can [produce adaptedness]. No one — and presumably this includes God — could have gotten adaptive complexity without going the route of natural selection... The Christian positively welcomes Dawkins’s understanding of Darwinism. Physical evil exists, and Darwinism explains why God had no choice but to allow it to occur. He wanted to produce design like effects (including humankind) and natural selection is the only option open.:714
According to Russell and Southgate, the goodness of creation is intrinsically linked to the evolutionary processes by which such goodness is achieved, and these processes, in turn, inevitably come with pain and suffering as intrinsic to them.:716 In this scenario, natural evils are an inevitable consequence of developing life.:716 Russell goes on to say that the physical laws that undergird biological development, such as thermodynamics, also contribute to "what is tragic" and "what is glorious" about life.:715 "Gravity, geology, and the specific orbit of the moon lead to the tidal patterns of the Earth’s oceans and thus to both the environment in which early life evolved and in which tsunamis bring death and destruction to countless thousands of people".:717–718 Marcus Singer says: "If something is really evil, it can't be necessary, and if it is really necessary, it can't be evil".:186
Holmes Rolston III says nature embodies 'redemptive suffering' as exemplified by Jesus. "The capacity to suffer through to joy is a supreme emergent and an essence of Christianity... The whole evolutionary upslope is a lesser calling of this kind". He calls it the 'cruciform creation' where life is constantly struggling through its pain and suffering toward something higher. Rolston says that within this process, life itself "is forever conserved, regenerated, redeemed".
Bethany N. Sollereder writes that evolving life has become increasingly complex, skilled and interdependent. As it has become more intelligent and has increased its ability to relate emotionally, the capacity to suffer has also increased.:6 Southgate describes this using Romans 8:22 which says "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth" since its beginning. He says God responds to this reality by "co-suffering" with “every sentient being in creation".:716–720 Southgate's theodicy rejects any 'means to an end' argument that says the evolution of any species justifies the suffering and extinction of any prior species that led to it, and he affirms that "all creatures which have died, without their full potential having been realized, must be given fulfillment elsewhere".:63 Russell asserts that the only satisfactory understanding of that “elsewhere” is the eschatological hope that the present creation will be transformed by God into the New Creation, with its new heaven and new earth.:718–720
Others have argued
In what Russell describes as a "blistering attack by Wesley Wildman" on Southgate's theodicy, Wildman asserts that "if God really is to create a heavenly world of 'growth and change and relationality, yet no suffering', that world and not this world would be the best of all possible worlds, and a God that would not do so would be 'flagrantly morally inconsistent'.":290:724 Southgate has responded that, since this was the world God created, we can justifiably presume this was the only type of world that would do for creating the 'selves' of each sentient creature. That means "our guess must be that though heaven can eternally preserve those selves subsisting in suffering-free relationship, it could not give rise to them in the first place".:720
Thomas Tracy offers a two point critique: "The first is the problem of purpose: can evolutionary processes, in which chance plays so prominent a role, be understood as the context of God's purposive action? The second is the problem of the pervasiveness of suffering and death in evolution".
John Polkinghorne addresses Tracy's objections by discussing chance as a necessary aspect of evolution: too much deterministic order and there is no new life, too much chaos and life cannot adapt.:317 According to Polkinghorne, the existence of chance does not negate the power and purposes of a Creator because "it is entirely possible that contingent processes can, in fact, lead to determined ends".:317–318 But in Polkinghorne's view, God is not a "Puppetmaster pulling every string".:317 Francisco J. Ayala adds that this means "God is not the explicit designer of each facet of evolution".:714 For Polkinghorne, it is sufficient theologically to assume that "the emergence of some form of self-conscious, God-conscious being" was an aspect of divine purpose from the beginning whether God purposed humankind specifically or not.:317–318
Polkinghorne links the existence of human freedom to the flexibility created by randomness in the quantum world. Richard W. Kropf asserts that free will has its origins in the "evolutionary ramifications" of the existence of chance as part of the process, thereby providing a "causal connection" between natural evil and the possibility of human freedom: one cannot exist without the other.:2; 122 Polkinghorne writes this means that "there is room for independent action in order for creatures to be themselves and "make themselves" in evolution.:318–319
A world in which creatures 'make themselves' can be held to be a greater good than a ready-made world would have been, but it has an inescapable cost. Evolutionary processes will not only yield great fruitfulness, but they will also necessarily involve ragged edges and blind alleys. Genetic mutation will not only produce new forms of life, but it will also result in malignancy. One cannot have the one without the other. The existence of cancer is an anguishing fact about creation but it is not gratuitous, something that a Creator who was a bit more competent or a bit less callous could easily have avoided. It is part of the shadow side of creative process... The more science helps us to understand the processes of the world, the more we see that the good and the bad are inextricably intertwined... It is all a package deal".:318
Mats Wahlberg argues that evolutionary theodicies fail to show how unique type-values require evolution in order to be actualized and reach the goal(s) God is said to have had when creating our world.:428 Asle Eikrem and Atle Ottesen Søvik argue that Wahlberg's critique fails when the distinction between type and token values is taken into consideration.:428 "A type-value is a value that can be instantiated at several times and places, e.g. joy... A token-value is an instantiation of a type-value at a certain time and place, e.g. the joy of attending the party yesterday at my neighbor’s house".:430
Eikrem and Søvik also assert that Keith Ward outlines in his book Divine Action a theodicy that shows how both type and token values require evolution.:428–430 Examples are genuine independence (that beings have the freewill to influence what happens), self-creating creation (that beings cause their own characteristics over time), the creativity of creation (that new things occur), and surprise (that unexpected things occur).:431–432 Ward asserts that God could not have created the you that is you in another universe, because what makes you you is the particular structure of your history. This means that "evolution is necessary for the token individuals of this world to exist".:430–431 Because God wanted to actualize values that are both type-unique and token-unique, God had to create our universe by evolutionary means.:434
The problem of evil is sometimes explained as a consequence of free will. Free will is a source of both good and of evil, since with free will comes the potential for abuse. People with free will make their own decisions to do wrong, states Gregory Boyd, and it is they who make that choice, not God. Further, the free will argument asserts that it would be logically inconsistent for God to prevent evil by coercion because then human will would no longer be free. The key assumption underlying the free-will defense is that a world containing creatures who are significantly free is an innately more valuable world than one containing no free creatures at all. The sort of virtues and values that freedom makes possible – such as trust, love, charity, sympathy, tolerance, loyalty, kindness, forgiveness and friendship – are virtues that cannot exist as they are currently known and experienced without the freedom to choose them or not choose them. Such "goods" benefit those who receive them and those who bestow them.:30
Augustine proffered a theodicy of freewill in the fourth century, but the contemporary version is best represented by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga offers a free will defense, instead of a theodicy, that began as a response to three assertions raised by J. L. Mackie. First, Mackie asserts "there is no possible world" in which the "essential" theistic beliefs Mackie describes can all be true. Either believers retain a set of inconsistent beliefs, or believers can give up "at least one of the 'essential propositions' of their faith".:90, 97–98 Second, there is Mackie's statement that an all powerful God, in creating the world, could have made "beings who would act freely, but always go right", and third is the question of what choices would have been logically available to such a God at creation.:98
Plantinga agrees that there were innumerable possible worlds, some with moral good but no moral evil, available to God before creation.:38 We live in the actual world (the world God actualized), but God could have chosen to create (actualize) any of the possibilities. The catch, Plantinga says, is that it is possible that factors within the possible worlds themselves prevented God from actualizing any of those worlds with moral goodness and no moral evil. Plantinga refers to these factors as the nature of "human essences" and “transworld depravity".:51–53
Across the various possible worlds (transworld) are all the variations of possible humans, each with their own "human essence" (identity): core properties essential to each person that makes them who they are and distinguishes them from others. Every person is the instantiation of such an essence. This "transworld identity" varies in details but not in essence from world to world.:50–51 This might include variations of a person (X) who always chooses right in some worlds. If somewhere, in some world, (X) ever freely chooses wrong, then the other possible worlds of only goodness could not be actualized and still leave (X) fully free.:184 There might be numerous possible worlds which contained (X) doing only morally good things, but these would not be worlds that God could bring into being, because (X) effectively eliminated those options through free action in other possible worlds. (X)'s free choice determined the world available for God to create.:187–188
An all knowing God would know "in advance" that there are times when "no matter what circumstances” God places (X) in, as long as God leaves (X) free, (X) will make at least one bad choice. Plantinga terms this "transworld depravity".:186 Therefore, if God wants (X) to be a part of creation, and free, then it could mean that the only option such a God would have would be to have an (X) who goes wrong at least once in a world where such wrong is possible. "What is important about transworld depravity is that if a person suffers from it, then it wasn’t within God’s power to actualize any world in which that person is significantly free but does no wrong".:48 Plantinga extends this to all human agents noting, "clearly it is possible that everybody suffers from transworld depravity".:186 This means creating a world with moral good, no moral evil, and truly free persons was not an option available to God. The only way to have a world free of moral evil would be “by creating one without significantly free persons".:189
Critics of the free will response have questioned whether it accounts for the degree of evil seen in this world. One point in this regard is that while the value of free will may be thought sufficient to counterbalance minor evils, it is less obvious that it outweighs the negative attributes of evils such as rape and murder. Particularly egregious cases known as horrendous evils, which "[constitute] prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant’s life could (given their inclusion in it) be a great good to him/her on the whole," have been the focus of recent work in the problem of evil. Another point is that those actions of free beings which bring about evil very often diminish the freedom of those who suffer the evil; for example the murder of a young child prevents the child from ever exercising their free will. In such a case the freedom of an innocent child is pitted against the freedom of the evil-doer, it is not clear why God would remain unresponsive and passive. Christopher Southgate asserts that a freewill defense cannot stand alone as sufficient to explain the abundance of situations where humans are deprived of freewill. It requires a secondary theory.:42
Another criticism is that the potential for evil inherent in free will may be limited by means which do not impinge on that free will. God could accomplish this by making moral actions especially pleasurable, or evil action and suffering impossible by allowing free will but not allowing the ability to enact evil or impose suffering. Supporters of the free will explanation state that that would no longer be free will. Critics respond that this view seems to imply it would be similarly wrong to try to reduce suffering and evil in these ways, a position which few would advocate.
A third challenge to the free will defence is natural evil, evil which is the result of natural causes (e.g. a child suffering from a disease, mass casualties from a volcano). The "natural evil" criticism posits that even if for some reason an all-powerful and all-benevolent God tolerated evil human actions in order to allow free will, such a God would not be expected to also tolerate natural evils because they have no apparent connection to free will. Patricia A. Williams says differentiating between moral and natural evil is common but, in her view, unjustified. "Because human beings and their choices are part of nature, all evils are natural".:169
Advocates of the free will response propose various explanations of natural evils. Alvin Plantinga, references Augustine of Hippo, writing of the possibility that natural evils could be caused by supernatural beings such as Satan. Plantinga emphasizes that it is not necessary that this be true, it is only necessary that this possibility be compatible with the argument from freewill.:58 There are those who respond that Plantinga's freewill response might address moral evil but not natural evil. Some scholars, such as David Griffin, state that free will, or the assumption of greater good through free will, does not apply to animals. In contrast, a few scholars, while accepting that "free will" applies in a human context, have posited an alternative "free creatures" defense, stating that animals too benefit from their physical freedom though that comes with the cost of dangers they continuously face.
The "free creatures" defense has also been criticized, in the case of caged, domesticated and farmed animals who are not free and many of whom have historically experienced evil and suffering from abuse by their owners. Further, even animals and living creatures in the wild face horrendous evils and suffering—such as burns and slow death after natural fires or other natural disasters or from predatory injuries—and it is unclear, state Bishop and Perszyk, why an all-loving God would create such free creatures prone to intense suffering.
"Process theodicy reframes the debate on the problem of evil" by acknowledging that, since God "has no monopoly on power, creativity, and self-determination", God's power and ability to influence events are, of necessity, limited by human creatures with wills of their own.:143 This concept of limitation is one of the key aspects of process theodicy; another key element is its stressing of the "here and now" presence of God. God becomes the Great Companion and Fellow-Sufferer where the future is realized hand-in-hand with the sufferer.:143 The God of process theology is a benevolent Providence that feels a person's pain and suffering, and through knowledge of all possibilities, provides "ideal aims to help overcome them in light of (a) the evil that has been suffered and (b) the range of good possibilities allowed by that past".:93 God's will is only one factor in any situation, making that will “variable in effectiveness”, because all God can do is try to persuade the person in the best direction and make sure that possibility is available.:98–100 The God of process theology cannot unilaterally intervene and coerce a certain outcome, but "God labors in every situation to mediate the power of compassion to suffering" by enlisting persons as mediators of that compassion. Griffin quotes John Hick noting “the stirring summons to engage on God’s side in the never-ending struggle against the evils of an intractable world" as another key characteristic of process theology.
A hallmark of process theodicy is its conception of God as persuasive rather than coercive.:179 Nancy Frankenberry asserts that this creates an either-or dichotomy – either God is persuasive or coercive – whereas lived experience has an "irreducible ambiguity" where it seems God can be both.:180–181
Since the 1940s, process theodicy has also been "dogged by the problem of 'religious adequacy' of its concept of God" and doubts about the 'goodness' of its view of God.:186 It has not resolved all the old questions concerning the problem of evil, while it has raised new ones concerning "the nature of divine power, the meaning of God's goodness, and the realistic assessment of what we may reasonably hope for by way of creative advance".:196
The greater good defense is more often argued in response to the evidential version of the problem of evil, while the free will defense is often discussed in the context of the logical version. Some solutions propose that omnipotence does not require the ability to actualize the logically impossible. "Greater good" responses to the problem make use of this insight by arguing for the existence of goods of great value which God cannot actualize without also permitting evil, and thus that there are evils he cannot be expected to prevent despite being omnipotent. Skeptical theologians argue that, since no one can fully understand God's ultimate plan, no one can assume that evil actions do not have some sort of greater purpose.
"According to skeptical theism, if there were a god, it is likely that he would have reasons for acting that are beyond [human] ken, ... the fact that we don’t see a good reason for X does not justify the conclusion that there is no good reason for X". One standard of sufficient reason for allowing evil is by asserting that God allows an evil in order to prevent a greater evil or cause a greater good. Pointless evil, then, is an evil that does not meet this standard; it is an evil God permitted where there is no outweighing good or greater evil. The existence of such pointless evils would lead to the conclusion there is no benevolent god.:79 The skeptical theist asserts that humans can't know that such a thing as pointless evil exists, that humans as limited beings are simply "in the dark" concerning the big picture on how all things work together. "The skeptical theist’s skepticism affirms certain limitations to [human] knowledge with respect to the realms of value and modality".:6, 8 "Thus, skeptical theism purports to undercut most a posteriori arguments against the existence of God".
Skeptical theism is applicable to the first premise of William Rowe's argument: "There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse";:11–12 and to John Schellenberg's argument of divine hiddenness;:13–14 and to the first premise of Paul Draper's Hypothesis of Indifference which begins "Gratuitous evil exists".:15–18
Skeptical theism is criticized by Richard Swinburne on the basis that the appearance of some evils having no possible explanation is sufficient to agree there can be none, (which is also susceptible to the skeptic's response); and it is criticized on the basis that, accepting it leads to skepticism about morality itself.
The soul-making (or Irenaean) theodicy is named after the 2nd-century Greek theologian Irenaeus whose ideas were adopted in Eastern Christianity. It has been modified and advocated in the twenty-first century by John Hick. Irenaen theodicy stands in sharp contrast to the Augustinian. For Augustine, humans were created perfect but fell, and thereafter continued to choose badly of their own freewill. In Irenaeus' view, humans were not created perfect, but instead, must strive continuously to move closer to it.
The key points of a soul-making theodicy begin with its metaphysical foundation: that "(1) The purpose of God in creating the world was soul-making for rational moral agents". (2) Humans choose their responses to the soul-making process thereby developing moral character. (3) This requires that God remain hidden, otherwise freewill would be compromised. (4) This hiddenness is created, in part, by the presence of evil in the world. (5) The distance of God makes moral freedom possible, while the existence of obstacles makes meaningful struggle possible. (6) The end result of beings who complete the soul-making process is "a good of such surpassing value" that it justifies the means. (7) Those who complete the process will be admitted to the kingdom of God where there will be no more evil. Hick argues that, for suffering to have soul-making value, "human effort and development must be present at every stage of existence including the afterlife".:132, 138
The Irenaean theodicy is challenged by the assertion that many evils do not promote spiritual growth, but can instead be destructive of the human spirit. Hick acknowledges that this process often fails in our world. Horrendous suffering often leads to dehumanization, and its victims become angry, bitter, vindictive and spiritually worse. Yet, life crises are a catalyst for change that is often positive. Neurologists Bryan Kolb and Bruce Wexler indicate this has to do with the plasticity of the brain. The brain is highly plastic in childhood development, becoming less so by adulthood once development is completed. Thereafter, the brain resists change.:5–9 The neurons in the brain can only make permanent changes "when the conditions are right" because the brain's development is dependent upon the stimulation it receives.:7 :13 When the brain receives the powerful stimulus that experiences like bereavement, life threatening illness, and other deeply painful experiences provide, a prolonged and difficult internal struggle, where the individual completely re-examines their self-concept and perceptions of reality, reshapes neurological structures.:6–7:4 The literature refers to turning points, defining moments, crucible moments, and life-changing events. These are experiences that form a catalyst in an individual’s life so that the individual is personally transformed, often emerging with a sense of learning, strength and growth, that empowers them to pursue different paths than they otherwise would have.:2
A second critique argues that, were it true that God permitted evil in order to facilitate spiritual growth, it might be reasonable to expect that evil would disproportionately befall those in poor spiritual health such as the decadent wealthy, who often seem to enjoy lives of luxury insulated from evil, whereas many of the pious are poor and well acquainted with worldly evils. Using the example of St.Francis of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton argues that, contrary "to the modern mind", wealth is condemned in this theology because wealth insulates from evil and spiritual growth, and that Assisi pursued poverty "as men have dug madly for gold" because it is a path to piety.:32; 89–90
G. Stanley Kane asserts that human character can be developed directly in constructive and nurturing loving ways, and it is unclear why God would consider or allow evil and suffering to be necessary or the preferred way to spiritual growth.:376–379 Hick asserts that "...one who has attained to goodness by meeting and eventually mastering temptation, and thus by rightly making [responsible] choices in concrete situations, is good in a richer and more valuable sense than would be one created ab initio in a state either of innocence or of virtue. In the former case, which is that of the actual moral achievements of mankind, the individual’s goodness has within it the strength of temptations overcome, a stability based upon an accumulation of right choices, and a positive and responsible character that comes from the investment of costly personal effort.":255 However, the virtues identified as the result of "soul-making" may only appear to be valuable in a world where evil and suffering already exist. A willingness to sacrifice oneself in order to save others from persecution, for example, is virtuous because persecution exists. Likewise, the willingness to donate one's meal to those who are starving is valuable because starvation exists. If persecution and starvation did not occur, there would be no reason to consider these acts virtuous. If the virtues developed through soul-making are only valuable where suffering exists, then it is not clear what would be lost if suffering did not exist. C. Robert Mesle says that such a discussion between genuine and apparent evil and good presupposes that such virtues as charity are only instrumentally valuable instead of intrinsically valuable.
The soul-making reconciliation of the problem of evil, states Creegan, fails to explain the need or rationale for evil inflicted on animals and resultant animal suffering, because "there is no evidence at all that suffering improves the character of animals, or is evidence of soul-making in them". Hick differentiates between animal and human suffering based on "our capacity imaginatively to anticipate the future".:314
Cruciform theodicy is not a theodical system in the same manner that Soul-making theodicy and Process theodicy are, so it does not address all the questions of "the origin, nature, problem, reason and end of evil.":145 It is a thematic trajectory that, historically, has been the primary Christian response to the problem of evil. Its inclusion as a theme divides general theistic theodicies from specifically Christian ones.:79–80 Its key elements are:
Thomas Aquinas suggested the afterlife theodicy to address the problem of evil and to justify the existence of evil. The premise behind this theodicy is that the afterlife is unending, human life is short, and God allows evil and suffering in order to judge and grant everlasting heaven or hell based on human moral actions and human suffering. Aquinas says that the afterlife is the greater good that justifies the evil and suffering in current life. Christian author Randy Alcorn argues that the joys of heaven will compensate for the sufferings on earth.
Stephen Maitzen has called this the "Heaven Swamps Everything" theodicy, and argues that it is false because it conflates compensation and justification. This theodical view is based on the principle that under a just God, "no innocent creature suffers misery that is not compensated by happiness at some later stage (e. g. an afterlife)" but in the traditional view, animals don't have an afterlife.
In the second century, Christian theologians attempted to reconcile the problem of evil with an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God, by denying that evil exists. Among these theologians, Clement of Alexandria offered several theodicies, of which one was called "privation theory of evil" which was adopted thereafter. The other is a more modern version of "deny evil", suggested by Christian Science, wherein the perception of evil is described as a form of illusion.
The early version of "deny evil" is called the "privation theory of evil", so named because it described evil as a form of "lack, loss or privation". One of the earliest proponents of this theory was the 2nd-century Clement of Alexandria, who according to Joseph Kelly, stated that "since God is completely good, he could not have created evil; but if God did not create evil, then it cannot exist". Evil, according to Clement, does not exist as a positive, but exists as a negative or as a "lack of good". Clement's idea was criticised for its inability to explain suffering in the world, if evil did not exist. He was also pressed by Gnostics scholars with the question as to why God did not create creatures that "did not lack the good". Clement attempted to answer these questions ontologically through dualism, an idea found in the Platonic school, that is by presenting two realities, one of God and Truth, another of human and perceived experience.
The fourth-century theologian Augustine of Hippo adopted the privation theory, and in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, maintained that evil exists as "absence of the good". God is a spiritual, (not corporeal), Being who is sovereign over other lesser beings because God created material reality ex nihilo. Augustine's view of evil relies on the causal principle that every cause is superior to its effects.:43 God is innately superior to his creation, and "everything that God creates is good.":40–42 Every creature is good, but "some are better than others (De nat. boni c. Man.14)".:44 However, created beings also have tendencies toward mutability and corruption because they were created out of nothing. They are subject to the prejudices that come from personal perspective: humans care about what affects themselves, and fail to see how their privation might contribute to the common good. For Augustine, evil, when it refers to God's material creation, refers to a privation, an absence of goodness "where goodness might have been (Conf.3.7.12)".:44 Evil is not a substance that exists in its own right separately from the nature of all Being. This absence of good is an act of the will, "a culpable rejection of the infinite bounty God offers in favor of an infinitely inferior fare", freely chosen by the will of an individual.:46
This view has been criticized as semantics: substituting a definition of evil with "loss of good", of "problem of evil and suffering" with the "problem of loss of good and suffering", neither addresses the issue from the theoretical point of view nor from the experiential point of view. Scholars who criticize the privation theory state that murder, rape, terror, pain and suffering are real life events for the victim, and cannot be denied as mere "lack of good". Augustine, states Pereira, accepted suffering exists and was aware that the privation theory was not a solution to the problem of evil.
An alternative modern version of the privation theory is by Christian Science, which asserts that evils such as suffering and disease only appear to be real, but in truth are illusions, and in reality evil does not exist. The theologians of Christian Science, states Stephen Gottschalk, posit that the Spirit is of infinite might, mortal human beings fail to grasp this and focus instead on evil and suffering that have no real existence as "a power, person or principle opposed to God".
The illusion version of privation theory theodicy has been critiqued for denying the reality of crimes, wars, terror, sickness, injury, death, suffering and pain to the victim. Further, adds Millard Erickson, the illusion argument merely shifts the problem to a new problem, as to why God would create this "illusion" of crimes, wars, terror, sickness, injury, death, suffering and pain; and why God does not stop this "illusion".
A different approach to the problem of evil is to turn the tables by suggesting that any argument from evil is self-refuting, in that its conclusion would necessitate the falsity of one of its premises. One response—called the defensive response—has been to assert the opposite, and to point out that the assertion "evil exists" implies an ethical standard against which moral value is determined, and then to argue that this standard implies the existence of God.
The standard criticism of this view is that an argument from evil is not necessarily a presentation of the views of its proponent, but is instead intended to show how premises which the theist is inclined to believe lead them to the conclusion that God does not exist. A second criticism is that the existence of evil can be inferred from the suffering of its victims, rather than by the actions of the evil actor, so no "ethical standard" is implied. This argument was expounded upon by David Hume.
A variant of above defenses is that the problem of evil is derived from probability judgments since they rest on the claim that, even after careful reflection, one can see no good reason for co-existence of God and of evil. The inference from this claim to the general statement that there exists unnecessary evil is inductive in nature and it is this inductive step that sets the evidential argument apart from the logical argument.
The hidden reasons defense asserts that there exists the logical possibility of hidden or unknown reasons for the existence of evil along with the existence of an almighty, all-knowing, all-benevolent, all-powerful God. Not knowing the reason does not necessarily mean that the reason does not exist. This argument has been challenged with the assertion that the hidden reasons premise is as plausible as the premise that God does not exist or is not "an almighty, all-knowing, all-benevolent, all-powerful". Similarly, for every hidden argument that completely or partially justifies observed evils it is equally likely that there is a hidden argument that actually makes the observed evils worse than they appear without hidden arguments, or that the hidden reasons may result in additional contradictions. As such, from an inductive viewpoint hidden arguments will neutralize one another.
A sub-variant of the "hidden reasons" defense is called the "PHOG"—profoundly hidden outweighing goods—defense. The PHOG defense, states Bryan Frances, not only leaves the co-existence of God and human suffering unanswered, but raises questions about why animals and other life forms have to suffer from natural evil, or from abuse (animal slaughter, animal cruelty) by some human beings, where hidden moral lessons, hidden social good and such hidden reasons to reconcile God with the problem of evil do not apply.
Pandeism is a modern theory that unites deism and pantheism, and asserts that God created the universe but during creation became the universe. In pandeism, God is no superintending, heavenly power, capable of hourly intervention into earthly affairs. No longer existing "above," God cannot intervene from above and cannot be blamed for failing to do so. God, in pandeism, was omnipotent and omnibenevolent, but in the form of universe is no longer omnipotent, omnibenevolent.:76–77
One resolution to the problem of evil is that God is not good. The Evil God Challenge thought experiment explores whether the hypothesis that God might be evil has symmetrical consequences to a good God, and whether it is more likely that God is good, evil, or non-existent.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?— The Epicurean paradox, ~300 BCE
There is no surviving written text of Epicurus that establishes that he actually formulated the problem of evil in this way, and it is uncertain that he was the author. An attribution to him can be found in a text dated about 600 years later, in the 3rd century Christian theologian Lactantius's Treatise on the Anger of God[note 4] where Lactantius critiques the argument. Epicurus's argument as presented by Lactantius actually argues that a god that is all-powerful and all-good does not exist and that the gods are distant and uninvolved with man's concerns. The gods are neither our friends nor enemies.
"Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"
"[God's] power we allow [is] infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?"
In his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, the sceptic Pierre Bayle denied the goodness and omnipotence of God on account of the sufferings experienced in this earthly life. Gottfried Leibniz introduced the term theodicy in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal ("Theodicic Essays on the Benevolence of God, the Free will of man, and the Origin of Evil") which was directed mainly against Bayle. He argued that this is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created.
Imitating the example of Leibniz, other philosophers also called their treatises on the problem of evil theodicies. Voltaire's popular novel Candide mocked Leibnizian optimism through the fictional tale of a naive youth.
The population and economic theorist Thomas Malthus stated in a 1798 essay that people with health problems or disease are not suffering, and should not viewed as such. Malthus argued, "Nothing can appear more consonant to our reason than that those beings which come out of the creative process of the world in lovely and beautiful forms should be crowned with immortality, while those which come out misshapen, those whose minds are not suited to a purer and happier state of existence, should perish and be condemned to mix again with their original clay. Eternal condemnation of this kind may be considered as a species of eternal punishment, and it is not wonderful that it should be represented, sometimes, under images of suffering."
Malthus believed in the Supreme Creator, considered suffering as justified, and suggested that God should be considered "as pursuing the creatures that had offended him with eternal hate and torture, instead of merely condemning to their original insensibility those beings that, by the operation of general laws, had not been formed with qualities suited to a purer state of happiness."
Immanuel Kant wrote an essay on theodicy. He suggested, states William Dembski, that any successful theodicy must prove one of three things:  what one deems contrary to the purposefulness of world is not so;  if one deems it is contrary, then one must consider it not as a positive fact, but inevitable consequence of the nature of things;  if one accepts that it is a positive fact, then one must posit that it is not the work of God, but of some other beings such as man or superior spirits, good or evil.
Kant did not attempt or exhaust all theodicies to help address the problem of evil. He claimed there is a reason all possible theodicies must fail. While a successful philosophical theodicy has not been achieved in his time, added Kant, there is no basis for a successful anti-theodicy either.
The problem of evil is acute for monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that believe in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent; but the question of "why does evil exist?" has also been studied in religions that are non-theistic or polytheistic, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
Quod si haec ratio vera est, quam stoici nullo modo videre potuerunt, dissolvitur etiam argumentum illud Epicuri. Deus, inquit, aut vult tollere mala et non potest; aut potest et non vult; aut neque vult, neque potest; aut et vult et potest. Si vult et non potest, imbecillis est; quod in Deum non cadit. Si potest et non vult, invidus; quod aeque alienum a Deo. Si neque vult, neque potest, et invidus et imbecillis est; ideoque neque Deus. Si vult et potest, quod solum Deo convenit, unde ergo sunt mala? aut cur illa non tollit? Scio plerosque philosophorum, qui providentiam defendunt, hoc argumento perturbari solere et invitos pene adigi, ut Deum nihil curare fateantur, quod maxime quaerit Epicurus.— Lactantius, De Ira Dei
But if this account is true, which the Stoics were in no manner able to see, that argument also of Epicurus is done away. God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing or able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils or why does He not remove them? I know that many of the philosophers, who defend providence, are accustomed to be disturbed by this argument, and are almost driven against their will to admit that God takes no interest in anything, which Epicurus especially aims at.— Lactantius, On the Anger of God
John Hick, for example, proposes a theodicy, while Alvin Plantinga formulates a defence. The idea of human free will often appears in a both of these strategies, but in different ways.
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