‘The Problem Of Evil’ is something I initially studied at A Level when taking Philosophy. However, I think it is such a fascinating debate that everyone can have and should have an opinion on. Evil exists. But there is a lot more to the subject than just its existence. In this article, I am going to be looking at the fundamental ‘problem of evil’, and evaluating the responses to this problem.
- Evil and Suffering
- The Problem
- J.L Mackie and the ‘Inconsistent Triad’
- David Hume
- The Evidential Problem
- Responses To The Problem: Theodicies
- The Augustinian Theodicy
- The Irenaean Theodicy
- J.L Mackie’s Criticism of the Idea of Free-Will
- My Conclusion
Evil and Suffering
Before we begin our examination of the problem of evil, it is important to define the key terminology.
Philosopher John Hick, in ‘Philosophy of Religion’, defined ‘Evil’ as “physical pain, mental suffering and moral wickedness”.
There are essentially four types of evil: natural - malfunctioning of the natural world; moral - evil that is caused deliberately by humans doing what they shouldn’t be doing; physical - the experience of evil in a physical form; and meta-physical - imperfection and contingency as a feature of the cosmos.
Suffering comes as a result of the four evils; it is the unjust result of evil, manifested in mental and physical terms.
God is assumed to be omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient in many religions - Christianity for example. However, the existence of evil and suffering in the world causes a major problem for the idea that God holds the three attributes mentioned above. St Augustine of Hippo wrote in his ‘Confessions’: “Either God cannot abolish evil or he will not; if he cannot he is not all-powerful, if he will not, he is not all good”.
As mentioned above, God is meant to be, all-powerful, all-loving and all-seeing. Therefore, he should be able to see all of the evil in the world, take away all the evil in the world and love humans enough to do so. However, there is still evil in the world, so his attributes and existence are questioned.
J.L Mackie and the ‘Inconsistent Triad’
(From ‘Evil and Omnipotence’, 1955)
Above is philosopher J.K Mackie’s ‘Inconsistent Triad’. On the corners of the triangle are: God’s omnipotence, God’s omnibenevolence and Evil exists. The combination of any two positions on the triangle leads logically to the third being impossible. Therefore, all three of them cannot be true at the same time and since we know that evil definitely exists, it would mean that God is either not omnipotent, omnibenevolent or both.
However, theists maintain the view that all three positions are true which then presents the issue.
The Evidential Problem
The argument for this is that the amount of evil and suffering present within the world cannot be reconciled with the God of classical theism. Whilst a small amount of evil might be tolerated in order for us to be able to distinguish the difference between right and wrong, or to highlight God’s goodness, there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason as to why God permits the existence of such a great amount of evil and suffering - the Holocaust for example. The Evidential Problem therefore concludes that the evidence of unnecessary evil suggests that God does not exist.
Responses to ‘The Problem’: ‘Theodicies’
Theologians have developed theodicies (“a defence of God’s righteousness” according to Leibniz) in defence of the God of classical Theism. The Theodicies that will be examined in this article are:
- The Augustan Theodicy
- The Irenaean Theodicy
The Augustinian Theodicy
St Augustine of Hippo developed his theodicy in his ‘Confessions’, known as a ‘soul-deciding’ theodicy. He argues that man was created in a state of perfection as part of the hierarchy of being. Humans were created by God, in his image and were told to look after the plants and animals; “and God saw that his creation was good”. In addition to this, God also created Man to be free. This links back to ‘The Fall’ or ‘The Original Sin’ when Adam and Eve turned away from God. They were cast out of the garden of Eden, determined to die, but as a result of the death of Jesus Christ, people are able to have eternal life; this is dependent on how humans choose to use that free will. Evil isn’t a substance, it is the privation of good due to Man turning away from the hierarchy of being. However, natural evil is a result of ‘Satan and his cohorts’ turning away from their role in creation and placing their pride over good.
The Irenaean Theodicy
Irenaeus developed a ‘soul-making’ theodicy in ‘Against Heresies’. He argues that the world and mankind was created with free will but wasn’t created to be perfect - even though God does have the power to do so if he wanted to. Whilst mankind was created in the image of God, it was not created in the likeness of God; mankind is imperfect. Augustine described ‘The Original Sin’ as being a catastrophe but Irenaeus described it as a childish mistake. But in order for this mistake to have been made, Adam and Eve must have been given free will, by God, so that they could genuinely choose right from wrong. We have the choice to freely come into knowledge of God by acting morally, with the product of this being a fre, genuine and valuable relationship with God.
It does seem hard to comprehend that there is simultaneously a God, who is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving, and a world full of evil and suffering - this problem is depicted by J.K Mackie’s ‘Inconsistent Triad’. However, like classical theists, I believe that it is possible for all positions on the triangle to be true at once.
Whilst God is all-loving and would wish to destroy evil as he would not wish any of his subjects to endure suffering, evil is in the world as a result of human sin. As any parent wouldn’t want to punish their child, they have to for the greater good - so that the child can learn from their mistakes. There is also a greater thing for humans to look towards in respect to their relationship with God. As John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish but have eternal life.” Therefore, we aren’t doomed to suffer for all eternity. We can use the free-will that Iranaeus spoke about to end the suffering in the long run.
What To Do Next
I have formed my own opinion from the arguments provided above but you should do the same. Put in the comments below what your conclusion would be.
I would highly recommend reading the following to learn more about ‘The Problem Of Evil’:
Theodicy of Love by John C. Peckham
© 2021 Pwavi Hans