The Problem of Evil Origins of the Problem • The problem of evil begins with the observation that a loving and powerful God would prevent evil and suffering. Since evil and suffering exist, God (traditionally understood) cannot exist. • The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus is credited with discovering this problem. • The problem was then promoted by David Hume, who made Epicurus a character in one of his dialogues. David Hume Epicurus The Inconsistent Triad • An inconsistent triad is a series of three propositions which cannot all be true at the same time. Epicurus and Hume expressed this as follows: 1) God is all-loving (omnibenevolent) 2) God is all-powerful (omnipotent) 3) Evil and suffering exist • Conclusion: God either is not all-loving or all-powerful, or he does not exist. Moral and Natural Evil • Philosophers since the time of Augustine have distinguished between ‘moral’ and ‘natural’ evil. • Moral evil refers to evil caused by moral agents (i.e. the free choices of human persons – murder, rape, etc.). • Natural evil refers to the suffering caused by natural events (e.g. drought, disease, earthquakes, etc.). Saint Augustine Augustine’s Theodicy • Augustine was bishop of Hippo (Algeria) in the fourth century. • Augustine argued that evil did not really exist as a ‘thing in itself’. Rather, it is merely an absence of good, a ‘privatio boni’. • Creation was originally perfect, but evil is what happened when people used their free will to turn against God. • Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God in the Garden of Eden, an act which Augustine calls ‘Original Sin’. It’s all their fault. “To defect from him who is the Supreme Existence, to something of less reality, this is to begin to have an evil will.” Consequently… • God did not create anything evil. He gave creatures free will (a good thing) so that they could choose to depart from what he intended. • There will be rewards for those who turn to God and punishment for those who do not. • However, human free will only explains moral evil. To get around the problem of natural evil, Augustine argued that fallen angels had chosen to cause earthquakes, diseases, etc. This allows free will to explain all aspects of evil. Criticisms of Augustine • This still doesn’t explain why evil exists. If God knows everything, he would have known that Original Sin would happen. Why did he allow it? • According to John Mackie, free will is not an adequate explanation. An omnipotent God could have created free moral agents who would always do the right thing. • The references to Adam and Eve, and angels causing natural disasters do not fit with our modern world view – who would believe that? These are out-dated myths. Response to Criticisms • God may have known that evil would occur but still had just reasons for creating things as he did. Perhaps the ability to reject God is an important part of giving us meaningful free choices – we are not just robots. • Mackie is wrong to say that God could make free people always choose good. According to Alvin Plantinga, actualising a world in which certain free choices must be made contradicts the whole idea of freedom. • Adam and Eve might be out of date, but the general point about free will remains a good one. Saint Irenaeus Irenaeus’ Theodicy • Irenaeus was bishop of Lyon in the 2nd century. • His theodicy is teleological – it is concerned with the ultimate purpose of evil and suffering. • He argued that humans were not made perfect in the beginning; they were created like infants. • The sin of Adam and Eve was not catastrophic; humans have to struggle and make mistakes so that they can eventually gain perfection. • Humans are made in the image of God, but they will one day share his likeness. Nobody’s perfect… “It was possible for God Himself to have made man perfect from the first, but man could not receive this, being yet an infant.” John Hick builds on Irenaeus… • Modern philosopher John Hick has tried to develop and improve Irenaeus’ theodicy. • He calls his approach the ‘vale of soul-making’ theodicy. He argues… • If God made our world cosy and safe, it would be like making a cage for a pet. Human life is meaningful because we have to grow up. • Suffering and difficulties allow us to develop integrity, courage, compassion, etc. • God is also ‘hidden’, meaning that his existence isn’t immediately obvious. This makes belief more of a challenge or trial. Criticisms of Irenaeus and Hick • Surely it’s possible to learn values and virtues without great suffering; isn’t there another way? • The process of human development might justify some suffering, but surely not the awful pain experienced by many in this life. • A lot of suffering is ‘dysteleological’; it is apparently pointless. What does a six year old child who starves to death learn from this process? This cannot be just. Responses to Criticisms • To suggest that we could learn values without suffering is mere speculation. • Great/significant pain does build character. Some people have achieved amazing things after terrible adversity. It is wrong to suggest that we can learn simply through minor pains. • Hick responds to dysteleological suffering with the afterlife – our souls may continue to develop after death, justifying what appears to be meaningless suffering now. Another Theodicy – “The Best of All Possible Worlds” • An argument developed by the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). • Leibniz argued that God is all-powerful, but still could not create an absurd, logically contradictory world (a world without natural laws, etc.) • Given that there are these reasonable limitations, God created “the best of all possible worlds”. The world needs things like an atmosphere, even though this causes problems such as hurricanes. It’s not perfect, bit it’s the best world that could be made. Objections • If God is all-powerful, why could he not make a world which is perfect, ignoring such difficulties as natural laws? • How do we know that this world is the best possible? There might be a better one out there somewhere. • This thought isn’t very comforting for those experiencing pain. As Voltaire ironically remarked: “all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Voltaire Leibniz Process Theology • Developed by the theologians Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. • God is not omnipotent in the sense that he has not created a universe which must obey his will. • Instead, the universe is in a constant state of change and process. God’s power is persuasion; he tries to bring things round to his will, to what is good. Objections • The God of Process Theology really is not very powerful – is he worthy of worship? • Since God is no longer an all-powerful judge, is there any point in being good? • God may be trying to influence or persuade creatures to do good, but is there really any evidence of this? Final thoughts… • The problem of evil is only a problem if we attempt to maintain a perfectly classical definition of God. If we change his attributes, the problem may go away. • It is one thing to say that we cannot justify evil, but it is quite another to say that evil cannot be justified. God may have a purpose behind evil and suffering, but it may not be known to us.