Problem Of Evil
The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God (see theism). Or as the first known presentation by the Greek philosopher Epicurus puts it:
“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?”
Responses to the problem have traditionally been discussed under the heading of theodicy. Besides the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is also important to the field of theology and ethics.
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.
The problem of evil acutely applies to monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that believe in a monotheistic 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.
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Formulation and detailed arguments
Further information: Existence of God
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. 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 rape or terror attacks wherein innocent children, women, men or a loved one becomes a victim. 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.
Logical problem of evil
Originating with Greek philosopher Epicurus, the logical argument from evil is as follows:
- If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
- There is evil in the world.
- 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:
- God exists.
- God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.
- An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
- An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
- An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
- 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.
- If there exists an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient God, then no evil exists.
- 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 propositions lead to a logical contradiction and therefore cannot all be correct. Most philosophical debate has focused on the propositions stating that God cannot exist with, or would want to prevent, all evils (premises 4 and 6), with defenders of theism (for example, 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.
Evidential problem of evil
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. As an example, a critic of Plantinga’s idea of “a mighty nonhuman spirit” causing natural evils may concede that the existence of such a being is not logically impossible but argue that due to lacking scientific evidence for its existence this is very unlikely and thus it is an unconvincing explanation for the presence of natural evils. Both absolute versions and relative versions of the evidential problems of evil are presented below.
A version by William L. Rowe:
- 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.
- An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
- (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.
Another by Paul Draper:
- Gratuitous evils exist.
- The hypothesis of indifference, i.e., that if there are supernatural beings they are indifferent to gratuitous evils, is a better explanation for (1) than theism.
- Therefore, evidence prefers that no god, as commonly understood by theists, exists.
Problem of evil and animal suffering
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.— Charles Darwin, 1856
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:
- God is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good.
- The evil of extensive animal suffering exists.
- Necessarily, God can actualize an evolutionary perfect world.
- Necessarily, God can actualize an evolutionary perfect world only if God does actualize an evolutionary perfect world.
- Necessarily, God actualized an evolutionary perfect world.
- If #1 is true then either #2 or #5 is true, but not both. This is a contradiction, so #1 is not true.
Responses, defences and theodicies
Responses to the problem of evil have occasionally been classified as defences or theodicies; however, authors disagree on the exact definitions. Generally, a defense against the problem of evil may refer to attempts to defuse the logical problem of evil by showing that there is no logical incompatibility between the existence of evil and the existence of God. This task does not require the identification of a plausible explanation of evil, and is successful if the explanation provided shows that the existence of God and the existence of evil are logically compatible. It need not even be true, 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.
The above argument is set against numerous versions of the problem of evil that have been formulated. These versions have included philosophical and theological formulations.
Main article: Skeptical theism
Skeptical theism defends the problem of evil by asserting that God allows an evil to happen in order to prevent a greater evil or to encourage a response that will lead to a greater good. Thus a rape or a murder of an innocent child is defended as having a God’s purpose that a human being may not comprehend, but which may lead to lesser evil or greater good. This is called skeptical theism because the argument aims to encourage self-skepticism, either by trying to rationalize God’s possible hidden motives, or by trying to explain it as a limitation of human ability to know. The greater good defense is more often argued in religious studies in response to the evidential version of the problem of evil, while the free will defense is usually discussed in the context of the logical version. Most scholars criticize the skeptical theism defense as “devaluing the suffering” and not addressing the premise that God is all-benevolent and should be able to stop all suffering and evil, rather than play a balancing act.
“Greater good” responses
The omnipotence paradoxes, where evil persists in the presence of an all powerful God, raise questions as to the nature of God’s omnipotence. There is the further question of how an interference would negate and subjugate the concept of free will, or in other words result in a totalitarian system that creates a lack of freedom. 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. Among the most popular versions of the “greater good” response are appeals to the apologetics of free will. Theologians will 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. Therefore, they say nature of evil has a necessary role to play in God’s plan for a better world.
Main article: Free will
The problem of evil is sometimes explained as a consequence of free will, an ability granted by God. Free will is both a source of good and of evil, and with free will also comes the potential for abuse, as when individuals act immorally. People with free will “decide to cause suffering and act in other evil ways”, states 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 and curtailing free will, because that would no longer be free will.
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.
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, 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.
Advocates of the free will response to evil propose various explanations of natural evils. Alvin Plantinga, following Augustine of Hippo, and others have argued that natural evils are caused by the free choices of supernatural beings such as demons. Others have argued
- • that natural evils are the result of the fall of man, which corrupted the perfect world created by God or
- • that natural evils are the result of natural laws or
- • that natural evils provide us with a knowledge of evil which makes our free choices more significant than they would otherwise be, and so our free will more valuable or
- • that natural evils are a mechanism of divine punishment for moral evils that humans have committed, and so the natural evil is justified.
Some scholars explicitly disagree with Plantinga’s argument. The dissenters state that while explaining infectious diseases, cancer, hurricanes and other nature-caused suffering as something that is caused by the free will of supernatural beings solves the logical version of the problem of evil, it is highly unlikely that these natural evils do not have natural causes that an omnipotent God could prevent, but instead are caused by the immoral actions of supernatural beings with free will whom God created. According to Michael Tooley, this defense is also highly implausible because suffering from natural evil is localized, rational causes and cures for major diseases have been found, and it is unclear why anyone, including a supernatural being whom God created would choose to inflict localized evil and suffering to innocent children for example, and why God fails to stop such suffering if he is omnipotent.
- Free will and animal suffering
One of the weaknesses of the free will defense is its inapplicability or contradictory applicability with respect to evils faced by animals and the consequent animal suffering. Some scholars, such as David Griffin, state that the 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.
- Heaven and free will
There is also debate regarding the compatibility of moral free will (to select good or evil action) with the absence of evil from heaven, with God’s omniscience and with his omnibenevolence.
One line of extended criticism of free will defense has been that if God is perfectly powerful, knowing and loving, then he could have actualized a world with free creatures without moral evil where everyone chooses good, is always full of loving-kindness, is compassionate, always non-violent and full of joy, and where earth is just like the monotheistic concept of heaven. If God did create a heaven with his love, an all-loving and always-loving God could have created an earth without evil and suffering for animals and human beings just like heaven.
“Process theodicy reframes the debate on the problem of evil by denying one of its key premises: divine omnipotence.”: It integrates philosophical and theological commitments while shifting theological metaphors. For example, God becomes the Great Companion and Fellow-Sufferer where the future is realized hand-in-hand with the sufferer.
Soul-making or Irenaean theodicy
Main article: Irenaean theodicy
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 discussed by John Hick, and the Irenaean theodicy asserts that evil and suffering are necessary for spiritual growth, for man to discover his soul, and God allows evil for spiritual growth of human beings.
The Irenaean theodicy has been challenged with the assertion that many evils do not seem to promote spiritual growth, and can be positively destructive of the human spirit. Hick acknowledges that this process often fails in our world. A second issue concerns the distribution of evils suffered: were it true that God permitted evil in order to facilitate spiritual growth, then we would expect evil to disproportionately befall those in poor spiritual health. This does not seem to be the case, as the decadent enjoy lives of luxury which insulate them from evil, whereas many of the pious are poor, and are well acquainted with worldly evils. Thirdly, states Kane, human character can be developed directly or 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. Further, horrendous suffering often leads to dehumanization, its victims in truth do not grow spiritually but become vindictive and spiritually worse.
This reconciliation of the problem of evil and God, states Creegan, also 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”.
On a more fundamental level, the soul-making theodicy assumes that the virtues developed through suffering are intrinsically, as opposed to instrumentally, good. The virtues identified as “soul-making” 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 precisely because persecution exists. Likewise, we value the willingness to donate one’s meal to those who are starving 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 that we would lose anything if suffering did not exist.
Soul-making theodicy and Process theodicy are full theodical systems with distinctive cosmologies, theologies and perspectives on the problem of evil; cruciform theodicy is not a system but is a thematic trajectory within them. As a result, it does not address all the questions of “the origin, nature, problem, reason and end of evil,” but it does represent an important change. “On July 16, 1944 awaiting execution in a Nazi prison and reflecting on Christ’s experience of powerlessness and pain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned six words that became the clarion call for the modern theological paradigm shift: ‘Only the suffering God can help.” Classic theism includes “impassability” (God cannot suffer personally) as a necessary characteristic of God. Cruciform theodicy begins with Jesus’ suffering “the entire spectrum of human sorrow, including economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, social ostracism, rejection and betrayal by friends, even alienation from his own family…deep psychological distress… [grief]…” ridicule, humiliation, abandonment, beating, torture, despair, and death.
Theologian Jürgen Moltmann asserts the “passibility” of God saying “A God who cannot suffer cannot love.” Philosopher and Christian priest Marilyn McCord Adams offers a theodicy of “redemptive suffering” which proposes that innocent suffering shows the “transformative power of redemption” rather than that God is not omnibenevolent.
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.
A second objection to the afterlife theodicy is that it does not reconcile the suffering of small babies and innocent children from diseases, abuse, and injury in war or terror attacks, since “human moral actions” are not to be expected from babies and uneducated/mentored children. Similarly, moral actions and the concept of choice do not apply to the problem of evil applied to animal suffering caused by natural evil or the actions of human beings.
Deny evil exists
In the second century, Christian theologists 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.
Evil as the absence of good (privation theory)
The absence of good (privatio boni) is a theological doctrine that evil, unlike good, is insubstantial, so that thinking of it as an entity is misleading. Instead, evil is rather the absence or lack (“privation”) of good. It is typically attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote:
And in the universe, even that which is called evil, when it is regulated and put in its own place, only enhances our admiration of the good; for we enjoy and value the good more when we compare it with the evil. For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
The relationship between light and darkness is often used to frame a metaphorical understanding of good and evil. The metaphor can be used to answer the problem of evil: If evil, like darkness, does not truly exist, but is only a name we give to our perception of privatio boni, widespread observation of evil does not preclude the possibility of a benevolent, omniscient, and omnipresent God.
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 fifth-century theologian Augustine of Hippo adopted the privation theory, and in his Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, maintained that evil exists only as “absence of the good”, that vices are nothing but the privations of natural good. Evil is not a substance, states Augustine, it is nothing more than “loss of good”. God does not participate in evil, God is perfection, His creation is perfection, stated Augustine. According to the privation theory, it is the absence of the good, that explains sin and moral evil.
This view has been criticized as merely substituting definition, of evil with “loss of good”, of “problem of evil and suffering” with the “problem of loss of good and suffering”, but it 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.
Evil as illusory
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 theologists 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”.
Turning the tables
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.
Previous lives and karma
The theory of karma refers to the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). The problem of evil, in the context of karma, has been long discussed in Indian religions including Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, both in its theistic and non-theistic schools; for example, in Uttara Mīmāṃsā Sutras Book 2 Chapter 1; the 8th-century arguments by Adi Sankara in Brahmasutrabhasya where he posits that God cannot reasonably be the cause of the world because there exists moral evil, inequality, cruelty and suffering in the world; and the 11th-century theodicy discussion by Ramanuja in Sribhasya.
Many Indian religions place greater emphasis on developing the karma principle for first cause and innate justice with Man as focus, rather than developing religious principles with the nature and powers of God and divine judgment as focus. Karma theory of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism is not static, but dynamic wherein livings beings with intent or without intent, but with words and actions continuously create new karma, and it is this that they believe to be in part the source of good or evil in the world. These religions also believe that past lives or past actions in current life create current circumstances, which also contributes to either. Other scholars suggest that nontheistic Indian religious traditions do not assume an omnibenevolent creator, and some theistic schools do not define or characterize their god(s) as monotheistic Western religions do and the deities have colorful, complex personalities; the Indian deities are personal and cosmic facilitators, and in some schools conceptualized like Plato’s Demiurge. Therefore, the problem of theodicy in many schools of major Indian religions is not significant, or at least is of a different nature than in Western religions.
According to Arthur Herman, karma-transmigration theory solves all three historical formulations to the problem of evil while acknowledging the theodicy insights of Sankara and Ramanuja.
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.
Evil God Challenge
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.
Sociologist Walter Brueggemann says theodicy is “a constant concern of the entire Bible” and needs to “include the category of social evil as well as moral, natural (physical) and religious evil”. There is general agreement among Bible scholars that the Bible “does not admit of a singular perspective on evil. …Instead we encounter a variety of perspectives… Consequently [the Bible focuses on] moral and spiritual remedies, not rational or logical [justifications]. …It is simply that the Bible operates within a cosmic, moral and spiritual landscape rather than within a rationalist, abstract, ontological landscape.” In the Holman Bible dictionary, evil is all that is “opposed to God and His purposes or that which, from the human perspective, is harmful and nonproductive.” Theologian Joseph Onyango narrows that definition saying that “If we take the essentialist view of [biblical] ethics… evil is anything contrary to God’s good nature…(meaning His character or attributes).”
Philosopher Richard Swinburne says that, as it stands in its classic form, the argument from evil is unanswerable, yet there may be contrary reasons for not reaching its conclusion that there is no God. These reasons are of three kinds: other strong reasons for affirming that there is a God; general reasons for doubting the force of the argument itself; and specific reasons for doubting the criteria of any of the argument’s premises; “in other words, a theodicy.” Christianity has responded with multiple traditional theodicies: the Punishment theodicy (Augustine), the Soul-making theodicy (Irenaeus), Process theodicy (Rabbi Harold Kushner), Cruciform theodicy (Moltmann), and the free-will defense (Plantinga) among them.
There are, essentially, four representations of evil in the Bible: chaos, human sin, Satanic/demonic forces, and suffering. The biblical language of chaos and chaos monsters such as Leviathan remind us order and harmony in our world are constantly assailed by forces “inimical to God’s good creation.” The Bible primarily speaks of sin as moral evil rather than natural or metaphysical evil with an accent on the breaking of God’s moral laws, his covenant, the teachings of Christ and the injunctions of the Holy Spirit. The writers of the Bible take the reality of a spiritual world beyond this world and its containment of hostile spiritual forces for granted. While the post-Enlightenment world does not, the “dark spiritual forces” can be seen as “symbols of the darkest recesses of human nature.” Suffering and misfortune are sometimes represented as evil in the Bible, though theologian Brian Han Gregg says, suffering in the Bible is represented twelve different ways.
- Deuteronomy 30 and Hebrews 12 open the possibilities that suffering may be punishment, natural consequences, or God’s loving discipline.
- Genesis 4:1-8 and the first murder suggests much suffering is the result of certain people’s choices.
- Genesis 45 says God’s redemptive power is stronger than suffering and can be used to further good purposes.
- Luke 22:31–34 says resist the fear and despair that accompany suffering, instead remember/believe God has the power to help.
- Job 40 says God is not like humans but wants a relationship with all of them, which requires some surrender to God and acceptance of suffering.
- Romans 8:18–30 sets present temporary suffering within the context of God’s eternal purposes.
- Hebrews 12:1–6 sets suffering within the concept of “soul-making” as do 2 Peter 1:5–8, James 1, and others.
- Exodus 17:1–7 and the whole book of Job characterize suffering as testing and speak of God’s right to test human loyalty.
- 2 Corinthians 4:7–12 says human weakness during suffering reveals God’s strength and that it is part of the believer’s calling to embrace suffering in solidarity with Christ.
- 2 Corinthians 1:3–7 says God is the comforter and that people learn how to better comfort others when they have personal experience of suffering.
- The great hymn in Philippians 2, along with Colossians 1:24, combine to claim Christ redeems suffering itself. Believers are invited to share in that by emulating his good thoughts, words and deeds. All New Testament teachings on suffering are all grounded in and circle back to the fall of mankind and the possible redemptive power to individuals of the cross.
Jewish theodicy is experiencing extensive revision in light of the Holocaust while still asserting the difference between the human and divine perspective of evil. It remains rooted in the nature of creation itself and the limitation inherent in matter’s capacity to be perfected; the action of freewill includes the potential for perfection from individual effort and leaves evil in human hands.
In the Hebrew Bible Genesis says God’s creation is “good” with evil depicted as entering creation as a result of human choice.Chapter 4 The book of Job “seeks to expand the understanding of divine justice …beyond mere retribution, to include a system of divine sovereignty [showing] the King has the right to test His subject’s loyalty… [Job] corrects the rigid and overly simplistic doctrine of retribution in attributing suffering to sin and punishment.”:Chapter 3:Job Hebrew Bible scholar Marvin A. Sweeney says “…a unified reading of [Isaiah] places the question of theodicy at the forefront… [with] three major dimensions of the question: Yahweh’s identification with the conqueror, Yahweh’s decree of judgment against Israel without possibility of repentance, and the failure of Yahweh’s program to be realized by the end of the book.” Ezekiel and Jeremiah confront the concept of personal moral responsibility and understanding divine justice in a world under divine governance. “Theodicy in the Minor Prophets differs little from that in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.” In the Psalms more personal aspects of theodicy are discussed, such as Psalm 73 which confronts the internal struggle created by suffering. Theodicy in the Hebrew Bible almost universally looks “beyond the concerns of the historical present to posit an eschatological salvation” at that future time when God restores all things.
In the Bible, all characterizations of evil and suffering reveal “a God who is greater than suffering [who] is powerful, creative and committed to His creation [who] always has the last word.” God’s commitment to the greater good is assumed in all cases.
John Joseph Haldane’s Wittgenstinian-Thomistic account of concept formation and Martin Heidegger’s observation of temporality’s thrown nature imply that God’s act of creation and God’s act of judgment are the same act. God’s condemnation of evil is subsequently believed to be executed and expressed in his created world; a judgement that is unstoppable due to God’s all powerful will; a constant and eternal judgement that becomes announced and communicated to other people on Judgment Day. In this explanation, God’s condemnation of evil is declared to be a good judgement.
Irenaean theodicy, posited by Irenaeus (2nd century CE–c. 202), has been reformulated by John Hick. It holds that one cannot achieve moral goodness or love for God if there is no evil and suffering in the world. Evil is soul-making and leads one to be truly moral and close to God. God created an epistemic distance (such that God is not immediately knowable) so that we may strive to know him and by doing so become truly good. Evil is a means to good for three main reasons:
- Means of knowledge – Hunger leads to pain, and causes a desire to feed. Knowledge of pain prompts humans to seek to help others in pain.
- Character building – Evil offers the opportunity to grow morally. “We would never learn the art of goodness in a world designed as a hedonistic paradise” (Richard Swinburne)
- Predictable environment – The world runs to a series of natural laws. These are independent of any inhabitants of the universe. Natural Evil only occurs when these natural laws conflict with our own perceived needs. This is not immoral in any way
St Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE) in his Augustinian theodicy, as presented in John Hick’s book Evil and the God of Love, focuses on the Genesis story that essentially dictates that God created the world and that it was good; evil is merely a consequence of the fall of man (The story of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and caused inherent sin for man). Augustine stated that natural evil (evil present in the natural world such as natural disasters etc.) is caused by fallen angels, whereas moral evil (evil caused by the will of human beings) is as a result of man having become estranged from God and choosing to deviate from his chosen path. Augustine argued that God could not have created evil in the world, as it was created good, and that all notions of evil are simply a deviation or privation of goodness. Evil cannot be a separate and unique substance. For example, Blindness is not a separate entity, but is merely a lack or privation of sight. Thus the Augustinian theodicist would argue that the problem of evil and suffering is void because God did not create evil; it was man who chose to deviate from the path of perfect goodness.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Saint Thomas systematized the Augustinian conception of evil, supplementing it with his own musings. Evil, according to St. Thomas, is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature. There is therefore no positive source of evil, corresponding to the greater good, which is God; evil being not real but rational—i.e. it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception; things are evil not in themselves, but by reason of their relation to other things or persons. All realities are in themselves good; they produce bad results only incidentally; and consequently the ultimate cause of evil is fundamentally good, as well as the objects in which evil is found.
Luther and Calvin
Main article: Original sin
Both Luther and Calvin explained evil as a consequence of the fall of man and the original sin. Calvin, however, held to the belief in predestination and omnipotence, the fall is part of God’s plan. Luther saw evil and original sin as an inheritance from Adam and Eve, passed on to all mankind from their conception and bound the will of man to serving sin, which God’s just nature allowed as consequence for their distrust, though God planned mankind’s redemption through Jesus Christ. Ultimately humans may not be able to understand and explain this plan.
Some modern liberal Christians, including French Calvinist theologian André Gounelle and Pastor Marc Pernot of L’Oratoire du Louvre, believe that God is not omnipotent, and that the Bible only describes God as “almighty” in passages concerning the End Times.
See also: Christian Science § Evil
Christian Science views evil as having no ultimate reality and as being due to false beliefs, consciously or unconsciously held. Evils such as illness and death may be banished by correct understanding. This view has been questioned, aside from the general criticisms of the concept of evil as an illusion discussed earlier, since the presumably correct understanding by Christian Science members, including the founder, has not prevented illness and death. However, Christian Scientists believe that the many instances of spiritual healing (as recounted e.g. in the Christian Science periodicals and in the textbook Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy) are anecdotal evidence of the correctness of the teaching of the unreality of evil. According to one author, the denial by Christian Scientists that evil ultimately exists neatly solves the problem of evil; however, most people cannot accept that solution
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Satan is the original cause of evil. Though once a perfect angel, Satan developed feelings of self-importance and craved worship, and eventually challenged God’s right to rule. Satan caused Adam and Eve to disobey God, and humanity subsequently became participants in a challenge involving the competing claims of Jehovah and Satan to universal sovereignty. Other angels who sided with Satan became demons.
God’s subsequent tolerance of evil is explained in part by the value of free will. But Jehovah’s Witnesses also hold that this period of suffering is one of non-interference from God, which serves to demonstrate that Jehovah’s “right to rule” is both correct and in the best interests of all intelligent beings, settling the “issue of universal sovereignty”. Further, it gives individual humans the opportunity to show their willingness to submit to God’s rulership.
At some future time known to him, God will consider his right to universal sovereignty to have been settled for all time. The reconciliation of “faithful” humankind will have been accomplished through Christ, and nonconforming humans and demons will have been destroyed. Thereafter, evil (any failure to submit to God’s rulership) will be summarily executed.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) introduces a concept similar to Irenaean theodicy, that experiencing evil is a necessary part of the development of the soul. Specifically, the laws of nature prevent an individual from fully comprehending or experiencing good without experiencing its opposite. In this respect, Latter-day Saints do not regard the fall of Adam and Eve as a tragic, unplanned cancellation of an eternal paradise; rather they see it as an essential element of God’s plan. By allowing opposition and temptations in mortality, God created an environment for people to learn, to develop their freedom to choose, and to appreciate and understand the light, with a comparison to darkness
This is a departure from the mainstream Christian definition of omnipotence and omniscience, which Mormons believe was changed by post-apostolic theologians in the centuries after Christ. The writings of Justin Martyr, Origen, Augustine, and others indicate a merging of Christian principles with Greek metaphysical philosophies such as Neoplatonism, which described divinity as an utterly simple, immaterial, formless substance/essence (ousia) that was the absolute causality and creative source of all that existed. Mormons teach that through modern day revelation, God restored the truth about his nature, which eliminated the speculative metaphysical elements that had been incorporated after the Apostolic era. As such, God’s omniscience/omnipotence is not to be understood as metaphysically transcending all limits of nature, but as a perfect comprehension of all things within nature—which gives God the power to bring about any state or condition within those bounds. This restoration also clarified that God does not create Ex nihilo (out of nothing), but uses existing materials to organize order out of chaos. Because opposition is inherent in nature, and God operates within nature’s bounds, God is therefore not considered the author of evil, nor will He eradicate all evil from the mortal experience. His primary purpose, however, is to help His children to learn for themselves to both appreciate and choose the right, and thus achieve eternal joy and live in his presence, and where evil has no place.
Islamic scholars in the medieval and modern era have tried to reconcile the problem of evil with the afterlife theodicy. According to Nursi, the temporal world has many evils such as the destruction of Ottoman Empire and its substitution with secularism, and such evils are impossible to understand unless there is an afterlife. The omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god in Islamic thought creates everything, including human suffering and its causes (evil). Evil was neither bad nor needed moral justification from God, but rewards awaited believers in the afterlife. The faithful suffered in this short life, so as to be judged by God and enjoy heaven in the never-ending afterlife.
Alternate theodicies in Islamic thought include the 11th-century Ibn Sina’s denial of evil in a form similar to “privation theory” theodicy. This theodicy attempt by Ibn Sina is unsuccessful, according to Shams C. Inati, because it implicitly denies the omnipotence of God.
See also: Holocaust theology
According to Jon Levenson, the writers of the Hebrew Bible were well aware of evil as a theological problem, but he does not claim awareness of the problem of evil. In contrast, according to Yair Hoffman, the ancient books of the Hebrew Bible do not show an awareness of the theological problem of evil, and even most later biblical scholars did not touch the question of the problem of evil. The earliest awareness of the problem of evil in Judaism tradition is evidenced in extra- and post-biblical sources such as early Apocrypha (secret texts by unknown authors, which were not considered mainstream at the time they were written). The first systematic reflections on the problem of evil by Jewish philosophers is traceable only in the medieval period.
The problem of evil gained renewed interest among Jewish scholars after the moral evil of the Holocaust. The all-powerful, all-compassionate, all-knowing monotheistic God presumably had the power to prevent the Holocaust, but he didn’t. The Jewish thinkers have argued that either God did not care about the torture and suffering in the world He created—which means He is not omnibenevolent, or He did not know what was happening—which means He is not omniscient. The persecution of Jewish people was not a new phenomenon, and medieval Jewish thinkers had in abstract attempted to reconcile the logical version of the problem of evil. The Holocaust experience and other episodes of mass extermination such as the Gulag and the Killing Fields where millions of people experienced torture and died, however, brought into focus the visceral nature of the evidential version of the problem of evil.
The 10th-century Rabbi called Saadia Gaon presented a theodicy along the lines of “soul-making, greater good and afterlife”. Suffering suggested Saadia, in a manner similar to Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 5, should be considered as a gift from God because it leads to an eternity of heaven in afterlife. In contrast, the 12th-century Moses Maimonides offered a different theodicy, asserting that the all-loving God neither produces evil nor gifts suffering, because everything God does is absolutely good, then presenting the “privation theory” explanation. Both these answers, states Daniel Rynhold, merely rationalize and suppress the problem of evil, rather than solve it. It is easier to rationalize suffering caused by a theft or accidental injuries, but the physical, mental and existential horrors of persistent events of repeated violence over long periods of time such as Holocaust, or an innocent child slowly suffering from the pain of cancer, cannot be rationalized by one sided self blame and belittling a personhood. Attempts by theologians to reconcile the problem of evil, with claims that the Holocaust evil was a necessary, intentional and purposeful act of God have been declared obscene by Jewish thinkers such as Richard Rubenstein.
Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt
The ancient Egyptian religion, according to Roland Enmarch, potentially absolved their gods from any blame for evil, and used a negative cosmology and the negative concept of human nature to explain evil. Further, the Pharaoh was seen as an agent of the gods and his actions as a king were aimed to prevent evil and curb evilness in human nature.
Ancient Greek religion
The gods in Ancient Greek religion were seen as superior, but shared similar traits with humans and often interacted with them. Although the Greeks didn’t believe in any “evil” gods, the Greeks still acknowledged the fact that evil was present in the world. Gods often meddled in the affairs of men, and sometimes their actions consisted of bringing misery to people, for example gods would sometimes be a direct cause of death for people. However, the Greeks did not consider the gods to be evil as a result of their actions, instead the answer for most situations in Greek mythology was the power of fate. Fate is considered to be more powerful than the gods themselves and for this reason no one can escape it.For this reason the Greeks recognized that unfortunate events were justifiable by the idea of fate.
Later Greek and Roman theologians and philosophers discussed the problem of evil in depth. Starting at least with Plato, philosophers tended to reject or de-emphasize literal interpretations of mythology in favor of a more pantheistic, natural theology based on reasoned arguments. In this framework, stories that seemed to impute dishonorable conduct to the gods were often simply dismissed as false, and as being nothing more than the “imagination of poets.” Greek and Roman thinkers continued to wrestle, however, with the problems of natural evil and of evil that we observe in our day-to-day experience. Influential Roman writers such as Cicero and Seneca, drawing on earlier work by the Greek philosophers such as the Stoics, developed many arguments in defense of the righteousness of the gods, and many of the answers they provided were later absorbed into Christian theodicy.
On the other hand, the philosopher Lucretius in De rerum natura, rejected the divinity in nature as a cause of many evils for humanity.
Buddhism accepts that there is evil in the world, as well as Dukkha (suffering) that is caused by evil or because of natural causes (aging, disease, rebirth). Evil is expressed in actions and state of mind such as cruelty, murder, theft and avarice, which are a result of the three poisons: greed, hatred, and delusion. The precepts and practices of Buddhism, such as Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path aim to empower a follower in gaining insights and liberation (nirvana) from the cycle of such suffering as well as rebirth.
Some strands of Mahayana Buddhism developed a theory of Buddha-nature in texts such as the Tathagata-garbha Sutras composed in 3rd-century south India, which is very similar to the “soul, self” theory found in classical Hinduism. The Tathagata-garbha theory leads to a Buddhist version of the problem of evil, states Peter Harvey, because the theory claims that every human being has an intrinsically pure inner Buddha which is good. This premise leads to the question as to why anyone does any evil, and why doesn’t the “intrinsically pure inner Buddha” attempt or prevail in preventing the evil actor before he or she commits the evil. One response has been that the Buddha-nature is omnibenevolent, but not omnipotent. Further, the Tathagata-garbha Sutras are atypical texts of Buddhism, because they contradict the Anatta doctrines in a vast majority of Buddhist texts, leading scholars to posit that the Tathagatagarbha Sutras were written to promote Buddhism to non-Buddhists, and that they do not represent mainstream Buddhism.
Mainstream Buddhism, since its early development, did not need to address a theological problem of evil as it saw no need for a creator of the universe and asserted instead, like many Indian traditions, that the universe never had a beginning and all existence is an endless cycle of rebirths (samsara).
Main article: Problem of evil in Hinduism
Hinduism is a complex religion with many different currents or religious beliefs Its non-theist traditions such as Samkhya, early Nyaya, Mimamsa and many within Vedanta do not posit the existence of an almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God (monotheistic God), and the classical formulations of the problem of evil and theodicy do not apply to most Hindu traditions. Further, deities in Hinduism are neither eternal nor omnipotent nor omniscient nor omnibenevolent. Devas are mortal and subject to samsara. Evil as well as good, along with suffering is considered real and caused by human free will, its source and consequences explained through the karma doctrine of Hinduism, as in other Indian religions.
A version of the problem of evil appears in the ancient Brahma Sutras, probably composed between 200 BCE and 200 CE, a foundational text of the Vedanta tradition of Hinduism. Its verses 2.1.34 through 2.1.36 aphoristically mention a version of the problem of suffering and evil in the context of the abstract metaphysical Hindu concept of Brahman. The verse 2.1.34 of Brahma Sutras asserts that inequality and cruelty in the world cannot be attributed to the concept of Brahman, and this is in the Vedas and the Upanishads. In his interpretation and commentary on the Brahma Sutras, the 8th-century scholar Adi Shankara states that just because some people are happier than others and just because there is so much malice, cruelty and pain in the world, some state that Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.
For that would lead to the possibility of partiality and cruelty. For it can be reasonably concluded that God has passion and hatred like some ignoble persons… Hence there will be a nullification of God’s nature of extreme purity, (unchangeability), etc., […] And owing to infliction of misery and destruction on all creatures, God will be open to the charge of pitilessness and extreme cruelty, abhorred even by a villain. Thus on account of the possibility of partiality and cruelty, God is not an agent.— Purvapaksha by Adi Shankara, Translated by Arvind Sharma
Shankara attributes evil and cruelty in the world to Karma of oneself, of others, and to ignorance, delusion and wrong knowledge, but not to the abstract Brahman. Brahman itself is beyond good and evil. There is evil and suffering because of karma. Those who struggle with this explanation, states Shankara, do so because of presumed duality, between Brahman and Jiva, or because of linear view of existence, when in reality “samsara and karma are anadi” (existence is cyclic, rebirth and deeds are eternal with no beginning). In other words, in the Brahma Sutras, the formulation of problem of evil is considered a metaphysical construct, but not a moral issue. Ramanuja of the theistic Sri Vaishnavism school—a major tradition within Vaishnavism—interprets the same verse in the context of Vishnu, and asserts that Vishnu only creates potentialities.
According to Swami Gambhirananda of Ramakrishna Mission, Sankara’s commentary explains that God cannot be charged with partiality or cruelty (i.e. injustice) on account of his taking the factors of virtuous and vicious actions (Karma) performed by an individual in previous lives. If an individual experiences pleasure or pain in this life, it is due to virtuous or vicious action (Karma) done by that individual in a past life.
A sub-tradition within the Vaishnavism school of Hinduism that is an exception is dualistic Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya in the 13th-century. This tradition posits a concept of God so similar to Christianity, that Christian missionaries in colonial India suggested that Madhvacharya was likely influenced by early Christians who migrated to India, a theory that has been discredited by scholars. Madhvacharya was challenged by Hindu scholars on the problem of evil, given his dualistic Tattvavada theory that proposed God and living beings along with universe as separate realities. Madhvacharya asserted, Yathecchasi tatha kuru, which Sharma translates and explains as “one has the right to choose between right and wrong, a choice each individual makes out of his own responsibility and his own risk”. Madhva’s reply does not address the problem of evil, state Dasti and Bryant, as to how can evil exist with that of a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
According to Sharma, “Madhva’s tripartite classification of souls makes it unnecessary to answer the problem of evil”. According to David Buchta, this does not address the problem of evil, because the omnipotent God “could change the system, but chooses not to” and thus sustains the evil in the world. This view of self’s agency of Madhvacharya was, states Buchta, an outlier in Vedanta school and Indian philosophies in general.
Epicurus is generally credited with first expounding the problem of evil, and it is sometimes called the “Epicurean paradox”, the “riddle of Epicurus”, or the “Epicurus’ trilemma”:
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 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.
David Hume’s formulation of the problem of evil in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
“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.
Thomas Robert Malthus
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.
Problem of good
Several philosophers have argued that just as there exists a problem of evil for theists who believe in an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent being, so too is there a problem of good for anyone who believes in an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent (or perfectly evil) being. As it appears that the defenses and theodicies which might allow the theist to resist the problem of evil can be inverted and used to defend belief in the omnimalevolent being, this suggests that we should draw similar conclusions about the success of these defensive strategies. In that case, the theist appears to face a dilemma: either to accept that both sets of responses are equally bad, and so that the theist does not have an adequate response to the problem of evil; or to accept that both sets of responses are equally good, and so to commit to the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnimalevolent being as plausible.
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 only 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.