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The Problem of Evil

  • Renée Jeffery
Chapter
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Abstract

Despite being conceived in secular terms in much contemporary thought, the “problem of evil” has traditionally been a theological one concerned with the question of how to reconcile the existence of suffering, and hence evil, in the world, with the characterization of the Judeo-Christian God as benevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Formally articulated by Epicurus (341–270 BCE) and originally quoted in the work of Lactantius (c. 260–340 CE), the “problem of evil” is traditionally presented as follows:

God 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 willing, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor 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?2

Keywords

International Relation Christian Faith Moral Evil Natural Evil John Hick 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, trans. J. F. Shaw, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm (accessed October 27, 2004), I.11. The Enchiridion was composed by Augustine at the request of the little known Roman, Laurentius, who had asked him to write a handbook of Christian doctrine.
  2. 2.
    Epicurus, quoted in Neil Forsyth, “The Origin of ‘Evil’: Classical or JudeoChristian?” Perspectives on Evil and Human Wickedness 1, no. 1 (January 2002): 20.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 27.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Marilyn McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press; Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999), 8. Adams also directs the reader to Alvin Plantinga, “Self-Profile,” in Alvin Plantinga, ed. James E. Tomberlin and Peter Van Inwagen (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing, 1985), 38.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, Introduction to The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 2.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    J. L. Mackie, quoted in Adams and Adams, The Problem of Evil, 2; J. L. Mackie, “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind 64 (1955): 200–12. As Daniel Howard-Snyder remarks, “anyone modestly acquainted with medieval philosophy will tell you that the proposition that evil exists is not an essential part of theism. Perhaps Mackie just meant to voice his conviction that it is exceedingly unreasonable for a theist to deny that evil exists, which seems quite right.” Daniel Howard-Snyder, Introduction to The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), xix.Google Scholar
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    Rowan Williams quoted in Ibid., 39. See Rowan Williams, “Reply: Redeeming Sorrows,” in Religion and Morality, ed. D. Z. Phillips (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 132–48.Google Scholar
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    See also, Judges 3:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1. In Hebrew, the word ba’al means “master,”“possessor,” or “husband.” In the Old Testament, the singular name “Baal” refers to Hadad, the Canaanite storm god. The plural “baals” seems to suggest the existence of multiple deities that were identified as “Baal.” D. F. Payne, “Baal,” The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, vol. 1 (Leicester, UK: Intervarsity Press, 1980), 153.Google Scholar
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    Kelly, The Problem of Evil, 19. It is interesting to note, as Eleonore Stump does, that unlike most contemporary readers who interpret the story of Job as an attempt to reconcile his suffering with the existence of “an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God,” Thomas Aquinas “understands the book as an attempt to come to grips with the nature and operations of divine providence.” This we will see in more detail when Aquinas is discussed shortly. Eleonore Stump, “Aquinas on the Sufferings of Job,” in The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 50.Google Scholar
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    Arthur S. Peake, The Problem of Suffering in the Old Testament, The Hartley Lecture Delivered to the Primitive Methodist Conference in Carr’s Lane Chapel, Birmingham, June 8, 1904 (London: Robert Bryant, 1904), 102.Google Scholar
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    Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Random House, 1995), 39.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. 41. Ibid. The Greek word used here is diabolos, meaning “one who throws something across one’s path.” As Jeffrey Burton Russell makes clear, although the “devil” has come to be understood as the “single personification of evil,” there is no linguistic connection between “evil” and “devil.” Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 5 and 7. situating it well within the period in which Jewish apocalyptic literature remained influential.Google Scholar
  24. 45.
    Russell, The Prince of Darkness, 19. Yasna 30, quoted in Kraemer, Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature, 5. Translations of the Zoroastrian texts can be found in Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism, ed. and trans. Mary Boyce (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  25. 46.
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  31. 58.
    Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was, prior to his conversion to Christianity, the head of rhetoric in Nicomedia, appointed by Emperor Diocletian. After his conversion, he was employed by Constantine to tutor his son. His most important works that discuss the question of evil are his Divine Institutions, written between 303 and 311, a work defending Christianity against paganism, and De Ira Dei, a supplement to the Institutions in which he attacks Epicurus’s understanding of suffering.Google Scholar
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    John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 21.Google Scholar
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  34. 69.
    Augustine’s disillusionment with the Manichaean system at the time of his conversion to Christianity was multifaceted and saw, in addition to the publication of the works named above, the composition of five other works that explicitly sought to refute the central tenets of Manichaeism: De Duabus Animabus contra Manichaeos (Of Two Souls against Manichaus) (391 CE), Contra Epistolam Manichaei quam Vacant Fundamenti (Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus) (397 CE), Acta Seu Disputatio contra Fortunatum Manichaeum (Acts or Disputation Against Fortunatus the Manichee) (392 CE), De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae (Of the Morals of the Catholic Church) (388 CE), and De Moribus Manichaeorum (On the Morals of the Manichaeans)¸(388 CE). Douglas R. Geivett, Evil and the Evidence for God: The Challenge of John Hick’s Theodicy (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1985), 11.Google Scholar
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    Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (London: Faber & Faber, 1967), 59.Google Scholar
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    Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, Contra EpistolamManichaei quam Vacant Fundamenti, 397 CE, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1405.htm (accessed October 27, 2004), 34, 24.
  37. 75.
    Jean Bethke Elshtain, Augustine and the Limits of Politics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995), 20.Google Scholar
  38. 76.
    Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. D. Pine-Coffin (London: Penguin, 1961), V.3, 97.Google Scholar
  39. 77.
    Ibid., V.3, 92–93; V.7, 98.Google Scholar
  40. 81.
    Augustine, Against the Fundamental Epistle of Manichaeus, 35.41; On the Morals of the Manichaeans, De Moribus Manichaeorum, 388 CE, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1402.htm (accessed October 27, 2004), 2.2; Confessions, VII.5, 138.
  41. 82.
  42. 84.
    Plotinus, Six Enneades, trans. Stephen Mackenna and B. S. Page, http://ccat.upenn.edu/jod/texts/plotinus, (accessed October 27, 2004), I.8.1.
  43. 85.
    Augustine, On the Nature of Good, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1407.htm (accessed October 27, 2004), 1.
  44. 89.
    Augustine, City of God Against the Pagans, ed. and trans. R. W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), XI.22, 477.Google Scholar
  45. 91.
    David Grumett, “Arendt, Augustine and Evil,” The Heythrop Journal 41 (2000): 156.Google Scholar
  46. 104.
    W. S. Babcock, “Sin and Punishment: The Early Augustine on Evil,” in Augustine, Presbyter Factus Sum, ed. J. T. Leinhard, E. C. Muller, and R. J. Teske (New York: Lang, 1993), 241.Google Scholar
  47. 108.
    Augustine, Of Two Souls, De Duabus Animabus Contra Manichaeos, 391 CE, available at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1403.htm (accessed October 27, 2004), 10.14.
  48. 114.
    Stephen Chan, Out of Evil: New International Politics and Old Doctrines of War (London: I. B. Tauris, 2005), 10.Google Scholar
  49. 115.
    John Kekes, The Roots of Evil (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 11.Google Scholar
  50. 116.
    Ibid., 13–14.Google Scholar
  51. 117.
    Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, in A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, ed. Peter Kreeft, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), I.2.3., 53–54. 118. Ibid., I.2.3., 55–64. Aquinas’s five arguments are, in turn: (i) the “argument from motion” that maintains that “whatever is in motion must be put in motion by another” and, as such, something must be responsible for causing the first motion; (ii) the argument “from the nature of efficient cause”; (iii) the argument “from possibility and necessity”; (iv) the argument “from the gradation to be found in things” that “Among beings there are some more and some less good, true, noble and the like. . . . The maximum in any genus is the cause of all in that genus” and, as such, “goodness, and every other perfection” is what “we call God”; and v) the argument “from the governance of the world.”Google Scholar
  52. 119.
    Ibid., I.2.3., 64.Google Scholar
  53. 120.
  54. 121.
    Ibid., I.49.1., 98. 122. Brian Davies, Introduction to On Evil, by Thomas Aquinas, trans. Richard Regan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 14.Google Scholar
  55. 123.
  56. 132.
    Elmar J. Kremer and Michael J. Latzer, Introduction to The Problem of Evil in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Elmar J. Kremer and Michael J. Latzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 7.Google Scholar
  57. 133.
    Ibid., 7–8.Google Scholar
  58. 134.
  59. 135.
  60. 136.
    Alfred J. Freddoso, “Suarez on God’s Causal Involvement in Sinful Acts,” in The Problem of Evil in Early Modern Philosophy, ed. Elmar J. Kremer and Michael J. Latzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 10.Google Scholar
  61. 137.
    Ibid., 10–11.Google Scholar
  62. 138.
    Ibid., 11.Google Scholar

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© Renée Jeffery 2008

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