a) Examine what Theists mean by the problem of Evil (6)
b) Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of 2 theodicies that attempt to solve this problem (14)
a) Theists believe in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. This God, in principle, should be able to remove all occurrences of evil in the world. However, it is quite clear to us that both evil and suffering continue to exist. A theodicy tries to solve this obvious problem. The likes of Aquinas and Augustine have recognised the problem as this: If God is able to prevent suffering and does not do so, then He is malevolent, if He is willing to prevent it but cannot, then He is not all powerful. Furthermore, if God’s omnipotence includes the ability to know everything, he must know that humankind suffer due to evil, not only in the present but in the future. Therefore a Theist cannot claim that it is God’s ignorance of suffering that stop him from intervening to prevent either its occurrence or its impact. Atheists on the other hand conclude that the God of Classical Theism cannot exist as he clearly lacks one or more of his necessary qualities.
This means that the nature of God is brought seriously into question as the evidence of evil implies that God has chosen to allow it, whether it be moral evil, such as murder or rape, or natural evil, such as earthquakes and volcanoes. A theist cannot logically deny the existence of evil.
Theists are therefore left with a dilemma. Should they abandon belief in God because the evidence of evil is so overwhelming? Do they qualify their belief and understanding of God to fit the evidence or do they claim that evil and suffering are figments of the imagination and do not exist in reality – as ‘Christian Scientists’ do. Theists have to recognise the truth of two conflicting claims – that God is all powerful and all loving and that evil exists.
This is both theologically and philosophically implausible unless a theodicy can be found that preserves the nature of God without denying the existence of evil.
If Theists try to qualify their belief, for example, by saying ‘God’s love is mysterious’ this unacceptably weakens their picture of God and leaves them open to criticism, that they do not allow clear evidence to affect their belief – thus rendering this belief invaluable. However, abandoning their belief in God, as soon as life becomes difficult means that these people cannot be considered ‘true Christians’ by any means. Nevertheless, Aquinas said that the problem must be solved, since God is infinite goodness, he must and should be able to overcome evil.
b) Traditional Christian belief has produced two major theodicies. These aim at attempting to solve the problem of evil. Augustine’s ‘soul deciding’ theodicy rests on traditional Christian belief in the creation of the world. Augustine states that God created humans perfectly, but as moral free agents, we had the capacity to choose evil as well as god. Man’s freedom inevitably led to his fall from grace. The exercise of free will leads to sin and its consequences, that is evil and suffering. Furthermore, Augustine says that God foresaw the fall and its effects and, through the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus, he provided a means for man to be reconciled with him.
Augustine’s Theodicy is Biblically based and therefore appeals to conservative beliefs in creation and the fall. It values free will as the best choice that God could have made for humankind. Moreover, he blames Adam and Eve (and humans) for sin and it is therefore not God who is responsible for sin. Augustine also seems to account for natural evil, it is the work of Satan and the punishment for sinning. Augustine places all Humans in the category of ‘sinner’ because according to him every member of the human race was seminally present ‘in the loins of Adam’ so we all deserve the punishment for that first sin let alone those we have committed.
However, the Theodicy has come under fire from a number of sources. It has been criticised for being outdated by evolutionary views of man’s development. Modern Science tells us that humans began as lower life forms and evolved upwards. Augustine’s theories suggest that we began as higher beings which have become lower. It has also raised questions as to whether God could have created free beings who always do right. Furthermore, Augustine implies we are responsible for our own actions, even if we sin, however, the Theist claims that God is the determiner and causer of all things, therefore no action can be out of his control.
With Augustine’s theodicy, salvation is reserved only for those who accept Jesus. The theodicy has further been criticised because if God foresaw the fall, he should have prevented it. Also God giving us the means to be reconciled with him through Jesus does not justify the pain and suffering experienced now, particularly that of Christians.
Irenaeus’ ‘soul making’ theodicy attempts to save some of the major criticisms concerning Augustine’s theodicy.
Ireneaus states that God created humans imperfect with the form but not the content of God. Man was created with true automatism, and therefore has the power to make free moral choices. It is man’s freedom that gives him potential to grow into the likeness and image of God through his responsible choices. Man’s positive choices enable him to find redemption through his own actions. God remains at an ‘epistemic distance’ so as not to be overwhelmingly obvious and distract humans from their decision-making process. Ireneaus is implying that evil and suffering are necessary for man to grow in power, freedom and knowledge. Therefore evil leads to God. The work of Jesus doesn’t facilitate man’s redemption, but those who do not redeem themselves through Jesus are said to be resigned to purgatory.
This theodicy is evolutionary rather than dependent on conservative biblical belief. It again values free will as the best choice God could have made. God is again not responsible for man’s evil actions and evil is not necessarily explained (R. Swinburne).
These two theodicies are only partial answers to the problem of evil. They do not fully answer it, however, it is hard to see how any potential theodicy will fully answer the problem, as it is a very complex problem and no theodicies seem to overcome the criticisms of the sceptics. It seems to be the Christians who suffer most as they cannot rationally believe in a God who, according to all the evidence, seems to allow evil to occur in the world.