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In the philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent (see theism). An argument from evil attempts to show that the co-existence of evil and such a deity is unlikely or impossible, and attempts to show the contrary have been traditionally known as theodicies.
There are a wide range of responses that have been given to the problem of evil. These include the explanation of evil as the result of free will misused by God's creatures, the view that our suffering is required for personal growth, the denial that God is omnipotent, omniscient, or omnibenevolent, and skepticism concerning the ability of humans to understand God's reasons for permitting the existence of evil. There are also many discussions of "evil" and associated "problems" in other philosophical fields, such as secular ethics, and scientific disciplines such as evolutionary ethics. But as usually understood, the "problem of evil" is posed in a theological context.
This argument is of the logically valid form modus tollens. In this case, P is "God exists" and Q is "there is no evil in the world".
Since it is unclear precisely how the antecedent of the first premise of the epicurean argument entails the consequent, later versions have been offered such as:
Versions such as these are referred to as the logical problem of evil. They attempt to show that the assumed propositions lead to a logical contradiction and cannot therefore 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 No. 3 and No. 6), with defenders of theism arguing that God could very well exist with and allow evil in order to achieve a greater good.
One greater good that has been proposed is that of free will, famously argued for in Plantinga's free will defense. The first part of this defense accounts for moral evil as the result of free human action. The second part of this defense argues for the logical possibility of "a mighty nonhuman spirit" such as Satan who is responsible for so-called 'natural evils', including earthquakes, tidal waves, and virulent diseases. Many philosophers accept that Plantinga successfully solves the logical problem of evil,, as he appears to have shown that God and evil are logically compatible, though others demur.
The evidential version of the problem of evil (also referred to as the probabilistic or inductive version), 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.
A version by William L. Rowe:
Another by Paul Draper:
These arguments are probability judgments since they rest on the claim that, even after careful reflection, one can see no good reason for God’s permission 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 logical possibility of hidden or unknown reasons for the existence of evil still exist. However, the existence of God is viewed as any large-scale hypothesis or explanatory theory that aims to make sense of some pertinent facts. To the extent that it fails to do so it is disconfirmed. According to Occam's razor, one should make as few assumptions as possible. Hidden reasons are assumptions, as is the assumption that all pertinent facts can be observed, or that facts and theories humans have not discerned are indeed hidden. Thus, as per Draper's argument above, the theory that there is an omniscient and omnipotent being who is indifferent requires no hidden reasons in order to explain evil. It is thus a simpler theory than one that also requires hidden reasons regarding evil in order to include omnibenevolence. 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. As such, from a probabilistic viewpoint hidden arguments will neutralize one another.
Author and researcher Gregory S. Paul offers what he considers to be a particularly strong problem of evil. Paul describes conservative calculations that at least 100 billion people have been born throughout human history (starting roughly 50 000 years ago, when Homo Sapiens – humans – first appeared). He then performed what he calls "simple" calculations to estimate that the historical death rate of children throughout this time. He found that it was over 50%, and that the deaths of these children were mostly due to diseases (like malaria). Paul thus sees it as a problem of evil, because this means, throughout human history, over 50 billion people died naturally before they were old enough to give mature consent. He adds that this could have implications for calculating the population of a heaven (which could include an additional 30 000 billion humans who died naturally but prenatally, the aforementioned 50 billion children, and finally the remaining 50 billion adults – excluding those alive today).
A common response to instances of the evidential problem is that there are plausible (and not hidden) justifications for God’s permission of evil. These theodicies are discussed below.
Doctrines of hell, particularly those involving eternal suffering, pose a particularly strong form of the problem of evil (see problem of hell). If unbelief, incorrect beliefs, or poor design are considered evils, then the argument from nonbelief, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from poor design may be seen as particular instances of the argument from evil.
Responses to the problem of evil have sometimes been classified as defenses or theodicies. However, authors disagree on the exact definitions. Generally, a defense 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. A defense need not argue that this is a probable or plausible explanation, only that the explanation is logically possible, for if on some logically possible explanation God and evil are logically compatible, then whatever the case with respect to that explanation's being true or not, God and evil are logically compatible.
A theodicy, on the other hand, is more ambitious, since it attempts to provide a plausible justification—a morally 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 defenses but not good theodicies.
The problem of evil will not be encountered if God lacks any one of the three qualities.
Dystheism is the belief that God is not wholly good.
Since good and evil are merely the perceptions of what is beneficial and harmful to a living creature, the human concept of good and evil may not be applicable to God. God may not be bound to human standards of morality, or may not be wholly good from a human perspective. One argument proposes a Creator who is omnipotent, omniscient and completely just, although is not omnibenevolent. In this argument, since God brings the universe into existence, God can cause both 'good' and 'evil' in the world while remaining completely just.
In polytheism the individual deities are usually not omnipotent or omnibenevolent. However, if one of the deities has these properties the problem of evil applies. Belief systems where several deities are omnipotent would lead to logical contradictions.
Ditheistic belief systems (a kind of dualism) explain the problem of evil from the existence of two rival great, but not omnipotent, deities that work in polar opposition to each other. Examples of such belief systems include Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and possibly Gnosticism. The Devil in Islam and in Christianity is not seen as equal in power to God who is omnipotent. Thus the Devil could only exist if so allowed by God. The Devil, if so limited in power, can therefore by himself not explain the problem of evil.
The omnipotence paradoxes have some proposed solutions that place limits on omnipotence such as not doing logically impossible things. Greater good arguments also make such assumptions since it is argued that God cannot do logically impossible things and the existence of the greater good, such as free will, without the existence of evil is argued to be logically impossible.
The free will argument is as follows: God's creation of persons with morally significant free will is something of tremendous value. God could not eliminate evil and suffering without thereby eliminating the greater good of having created persons with free will who can make moral choices. Freedom (and, often it is said, the loving relationships which would not be possible without freedom) here is intended to provide a morally sufficient reason for God's allowing evil.
C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Problem of Pain:
We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.
"Natural" evils such as earthquakes and many diseases are sometimes seen as problems for free will theodicies since they don't seem to be caused by free decisions. Possible reasons for natural evils include that they are caused by the free choices of supernatural beings such as demons (these beings are not so powerful as to limit God's omnipotence—another possible response, discussed later); that they are caused by original sin which in turn is caused by free will; that they are caused by natural laws that must operate as they do if intelligent, free agents are to exist; or that through observation and copying they allow humans to perform greater evils, which makes moral decisions more significant.
For many evils such as murder, rape, or theft it appears that the free will and choice of the victim are diminished by the free will decisions of the offender. In some cases such as murdered very young children, it appears that they never had any free will choices to make at all. A possible response is that a world with some free will is better than a world with none at all, however an omnipotent deity should by some definitions be able to circumvent this without impinging on the free will of the offender.
Another possible objection is that free will could exist without the degree of evil seen in this world. This could be accomplished by inducing humans to be inclined to always make, or make more, good moral decisions by causing these to feel more pleasurable; or if harmful choices were made, then for some or all of them God would prevent the harmful consequences from actually happening; or if harmful consequences occurred, then God would sometimes or always immediately punish such acts, which would presumably diminish their frequency; or the worst diseases could have been prevented, more resources could have been available for humanity, extremely intense pains either did not arise or could be turned off when they served no purpose. A reply is that such a "toy world" would mean that free will has less or no real value. A response to this is to argue that then it would be similarly wrong for humans to try to reduce suffering, a position for which few would argue. The debate depends on the definitions of free will and determinism, which are deeply disputed concepts themselves, as well as their relation to one another. See also compatibilism and incompatibilism and predestination.
There is also a debate regarding free will and omniscience. The argument from free will argues that any conception of God that incorporates both properties is inherently contradictory.
While not affecting the validity of the free will argument itself, this reasoning creates problems for other common religious beliefs. It implies that there can be no heaven unless its inhabitants have no free will and thus lose its tremendous value. If a heavenly existence is still more valuable than an earthly existence, then the earthly one seems unnecessary and filled with meaningless suffering. Another problem is that if free-will requires the ability to choose evil, then God does not seem to have free-will, since he cannot fail to do what is good. One response to this is to argue that God's omnibenevolence consists in his constantly choosing to do good, however, as this view still allows that it would be possible for God to choose evil, it is not consistent with taking omnibenevolence to be an essential characteristic of God. Another response is to assert that God defines goodness, and so, as a matter of necessity, anything he does would be good. For discussion, see the Euthyphro dilemma.
Thus, another possible answer is that the world is corrupted due to the sin of mankind (like the original sin). Some argue that because of sin, the world has fallen from the grace of God, and is not perfect. Therefore, evils and imperfections persist because the world is fallen. An objection is asking why God did not create man in such a way that he would never sin. A reply is that God wanted man to have free will which makes this another example of the free will argument. Some have wondered whether free-agency, or the loving relationships to which it is thought to be necessary, constitutes a good large enough to justify the evil it brings in its wake.
There are also beliefs that when people experience evils it is always because of evils they themselves have done (see Karma and the just-world phenomenon) or their ancestors have done (see again the original sin).
Evil and suffering may be necessary for spiritual growth. This approach is often combined with the free will argument by arguing that such spiritual growth requires free will decisions. This theodicy was developed by the second-century Christian theologian, Irenaeus of Lyons, and its most recent and outspoken advocate has been the influential philosopher of religion, John Hick. A perceived inadequacy with the Irenaean theodicy is that many natural evils do not seem to promote this, such as the suffering of young children. Others enjoy lives of ease and luxury where there is virtually nothing that challenges them to undergo moral growth. Another problem attends this kind of theodicy when "spiritual growth" is cashed out in terms of its usefulness in overcoming evil. But of course, if there were no evil that needed overcoming in the first place, such an ability would lose its point. One would then need to say something more about the inherent value in spiritual health.
Another response is the afterlife theodicy. Christian theologian Randy Alcorn argues that the joys of heaven will compensate for the sufferings on earth. He writes:
Without this eternal perspective, we assume that people who die young, who have handicaps, who suffer poor health, who don't get married or have children, or who don't do this or that will miss out on the best life has to offer. But the theology underlying these assumptions have a fatal flaw. It presumes that our present Earth, bodies, culture, relationships and lives are all there is.
Philosopher Stephen Maitzen has called this the "Heaven Swamps Everything" theodicy, and argues that it is false because it conflates compensation and justification. He comments that this reasoning:
...may stem from imagining an ecstatic or forgiving state of mind on the part of the blissful: in heaven no one bears grudges, even the most horrific earthly suffering is as nothing compared to infinite bliss, all past wrongs are forgiven. But “are forgiven” doesn’t mean “were justified”; the blissful person’s disinclination to dwell on his or her earthly suffering doesn’t imply that a perfect being was justified in permitting the suffering all along. By the same token, our ordinary moral practice recognizes a legitimate complaint about child abuse even if, as adults, its victims should happen to be on drugs that make them uninterested in complaining. Even if heaven swamps everything, it doesn’t thereby justify everything.
One response is that, due to humanity's limited knowledge, humans cannot expect to understand God or his ultimate plan. When a parent takes an infant to the doctor for a regular vaccination to prevent childhood disease, it's because the parent cares for and loves that child. The infant however will be unable to appreciate this. It is argued that just as an infant cannot possibly understand the motives of its parent due to its cognitive limitations, so too are humans unable to comprehend God's will in their current physical and earthly state. Given this view, the difficulty or impossibility of finding a plausible explanation for evil in a world created by God is to be expected, and so the argument from evil is assumed to fail unless it can be proven that God's reasons would be comprehensible to us. A related response is that the concepts of good and evil are beyond human comprehension, given their divine origin. Thus, what appears to be "evil" is only evil from humanity's limited point of view, but is not truly evil. This view would supply an agreeable interpretation of the biblical passage: "...Who makes peace and creates evil; I am the Lord, Who makes all these.".
A counter-argument is that God could make it absolutely clear to and assure humanity that, even if these cannot be understood in detail, good reasons and a plan do exist. Here the problem of evil becomes similar to the argument from nonbelief. The "limited knowledge" defense to the problem of evil has been argued by some to be a fallacious appeal to ignorance.
The fifth century theologian Augustine of Hippo maintained that evil exists only as a privation (lack, absence) in that which is good and thus evil is not created by God. Evil is only privatio boni or an absence of good such as in discord, injustice, and loss of life or of liberty. Some believe that this doesn't completely solve the problem of evil, as the question remains why God neglected to create those goods that are found to be lacking in the world.
A common concept takes this one step further, defining Evil as a relative absence of God, Himself. A correlation is usually drawn to heat vs cold or light vs dark. Just as cold and darkness do not truly "exist," except as a comparison (the less heat that is included, the colder something feels) so too does evil not truly exist, except as a comparison (the less God is included, the more evil something is). This comparison does not contradict the omnipresence of God, since energy is present even in cold things.
Concepts such as the Taoist yin and yang suggest that evil and good are complementary opposites within a united whole. If one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness. Compassion, a valuable virtue, can only exist if there is suffering. Bravery only exists if we sometimes face danger. Self-sacrifice is another great good, but can only exist if there is inter-dependence, if some people find themselves in situations where they need help from others. (Sometimes known as the 'need for contrast' argument in GCSE Religious studies examinations.)
One possible argument is that evils such as suffering and disease are illusions. An argument against is that the sensation of suffering caused by such illusions is evil. Strictly speaking, the claim that evils don't exist represents a dissolution rather than a solution to the problem of evil, which is only generated on the supposition that evil exists. This approach is favored by some Eastern religious philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and by Christian Science.
This solution has been criticized by arguing that also the illusions of evil are problematic, such as the illusion of pain, and that it needs to be explained why God allows the illusions of evil to persist.
Another response to this paradox argues that asserting "evil exists" would imply an ethical standard against which to define good and evil which implies the existence of God. See the argument from morality.
C. S. Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity,
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.
In order to satisfy those who believe the distinction between good and evil is grounded on the existence of a divine law, the factual premise "evil exists" can be stated in the conditional form "if there is a perfect being, evil exists". Since arguments from evil attempt to show that existence of evil in the world contradicts (or provides evidence against) the premises of orthodox theism, it suffices for the purpose of such arguments to think of evil as such "state of affairs that orthodox theists would agree are properly called evil".
Assume that there is no best of all possible worlds. Then for every possible world, however good, there is a better one. For any world God creates, there is a better. Then it is argued that God cannot be criticized for not having created a better world since this criticism would apply no matter which world God were to create. One can not be faulted for failing to perform some act where there is no logical possibility of performing it.
One response is that, even accepting the basic assumption that there is no best of all possible worlds, a value system which sees all worlds except the best possible one as equally valuable is questionable. But the argument only assumes that all worlds are equally permissible for God to create, not that they are equally valuable.
Another response is to avoid a direct confrontation and argue instead from a deontological approach that certain forms of the problem of evil do not depend on the claim that this world could be improved upon, or upon the claim that it is not the best of all possible worlds: it is that there are in the actual world evils which it would be morally wrong for God to allow. That there might be better and better worlds without limit is simply irrelevant.
Thomas Jay Oord argues that the theoretical aspect of the problem of evil is solved if one postulates that God's eternal nature is love. As necessarily loving, God always gives freedom and/or agency to others, and God cannot do otherwise. Oord calls his position, "Essential Kenosis," and he says that God is involuntarily self-limited. God's nature of love means that God cannot fail to offer, withdraw, or override the freedom and/or agency God gives creatures.
Jehovah's Witnesses teach that God has tolerated evil since the Garden of Eden in order to establish evidence that Jehovah's "right to rule" is both correct and in the best interests of all intelligent beings, and to give individual humans the opportunity despite adversity to demonstrate their willingness or lack of willingness to submit to God's rulership (that is, to God's "universal sovereignty"). They contend that God could have justly executed Satan, Adam and Eve, but that would only have demonstrated God's power and would not actually have settled the issue raised: the "issue of universal sovereignty" implied by Satan's claim that "your eyes will be opened" upon disobeying God.
God allowed that the issue could be settled by allowing humankind and Satan several millennia to experiment with any form of government and social organization they wished without interference or overt intervention by God, and to solve humankind's problems by their own secular and/or demonic devices. During the intervening period of alienation from God, free-will individuals (such as Job) could show whether it is possible for humans to remain subject to God despite whatever evils might occur to them by coincidence or by Satanic purpose. With few limitations, demons and humans could tacitly or actively perpetuate evil.
At some future time known to him, God will end this period of evil (during which humankind has been alienated from God) and consider the issue of universal sovereignty to have been settled in God's favor as precedent 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.
Steven M. Cahn has argued that there exists a "problem of good" (or "Cacodaemony") which is a mirror image of the problem of evil. The problem is the same except for that omnibenevolence is replaced by omnimalevolence, greater good is replaced by greater evil, and so on. Cahn argued that all arguments, defenses, and theodicies regarding the problem of evil applies similarly to the problem of good. However, critics have noted that the "problems" are about whether such omnipotent beings "could" or are "likely" to exist, not that they "must" exist, so these problems do not logically contradict one another.
An argument that has been raised against theodicies is that, if a theodicy were true, it would completely nullify morality. If a theodicy were true, then all evil events, including human actions, can be rationalized as permitted or affected by God, If every conceivable state of affairs is compatible with the "goodness" of God, the concept is rendered meaningless. Volker Dittman writes that,
the crucial point is, that .... there will be no evil, because every suffering could be justified. Worse: It would be impossible to act evil. I could torture and murder a young child, but this would be justified for a higher good (whatever the perfect solution is, it could be something else than free will). This would be the end of all moral, which clearly is absurd. The theist could not point to the ten commandments and claim that they are necessary, because one goal of morals – to prevent evil – would be granted no matter how I behave...
The problem of evil takes at least four formulations in ancient Mesopotamian religious thought, as in the extant manuscripts of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi (I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom), Erra and Ishum, The Babylonian Theodicy, and The Dialogue of Pessimism. In this type of polytheistic context, the chaotic nature of the world implies multiple gods battling for control.
In ancient Egypt, it was thought the problem takes at least two formulations, as in the extant manuscripts of Dialogue of a Man with His Ba and The Eloquent Peasant. Due to the conception of Egyptian gods as being far removed, these two formulations of the problem focus heavily on the relation between evil and people; that is, moral evil.
A verse in the Book of Isaiah is interpreted in the King James Bible as "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.". The Hebrew word is רע Ra`, which occurs over 600 hundred times in the Hebrew Bible. It is a generalized term for something considered bad, not held to mean specifically wickedness or injustice in this context, but to mean calamity, or bad times, or disaster.
The Book of Job is one of the most widely known formulations in Western thought questioning why suffering exists. Originally written in Hebrew as an epic poem, the story centers on Job, a perfectly just and righteous person. He makes no serious errors in life and strives to do nothing wrong; as a result he is very successful. A character described only as the 'Accuser' challenges God, claiming that Job is only righteous because God has rewarded him with a good life. The Accuser proposes that if God were to allow everything Job loved to be destroyed, Job would then cease to be righteous. God allows the Accuser to destroy Job's wealth and children, and to strike him with sickness and boils. Job discusses his condition with three friends. His three friends insist that God never allows bad things to happen to good people, and assert that Job must have done something to deserve his punishment. Job responds that is not the case and that he would be willing to defend himself to God. A fourth friend, Elihu, arrives and criticizes all of them. Elihu states that God is perfectly just and good. God then responds to Job in a speech delivered from "out of a whirlwind", explaining the universe from the scope of God's perspective and demonstrating that the workings of the world are beyond human understanding. In the end God states that the three friends were incorrect, and that Job was incorrect for assuming he could question God. God more than restores Job's prior health, wealth, and gives him new children, as though he has been awakened from a nightmare into a new awareness of spiritual reality. The ultimate purpose of the story is a matter of much debate.
Professor of Religious Studies Bart D. Ehrman argues that different parts of the Bible give different answers. One example is evil as punishment for sin or as a consequence of sin. Ehrman writes that this seems to be based on some notion of free will although this argument is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Another argument is that suffering ultimately achieves a greater good, possibly for persons other than the sufferer, that would not have been possible otherwise. The Book of Job offers two answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; another that God is not held accountable to human conceptions of morality. Ecclesiastes sees suffering as beyond human abilities to comprehend.
An oral tradition exists in Judaism that God determined the time of the Messiah's coming by erecting a great set of scales. On one side, God placed the captive Messiah with the souls of dead laymen. On the other side, God placed sorrow, tears, and the souls of righteous martyrs. God then declared that the Messiah would appear on earth when the scale was balanced. According to this tradition, then, evil is necessary in the bringing of the world's redemption, as sufferings reside on the scale.
Tzimtzum in Kabbalistic thought holds that God has withdrawn himself so that creation could exist, but that this withdrawal means that creation lacks full exposure to God's all-good nature.
Bart D. Ehrman argues that apocalyptic parts of the Bible, including the New Testament, see suffering as due to cosmic evil forces, that God for mysterious reasons has given power over the world, but which will soon be defeated and things will be set right.
Gnosticism refers to several beliefs seeing evil as due to the world being created by an imperfect god, the demiurge and is contrasted with a superior entity. However, this by itself does not answer the problem of evil if the superior entity is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Different gnostic beliefs may give varying answers, like Manichaeism, which adopts dualism, in opposition to the doctrine of omnipotence.
Irenaean theodicy, posited by Irenaeus (2nd century AD – 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 3 main reasons:
The consequences of the original sin were debated by Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo. Pelagius argues on behalf of original innocence, while Augustine indicts Eve and Adam for original sin. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint all of humanity and that mortal free will is capable of choosing good or evil without divine aid. Augustine's position, and subsequently that of much of Christianity, was that Adam and Eve had the power to topple God's perfect order, thus changing nature by bringing sin into the world, but that the advent of sin then limited mankind's power thereafter to evade the consequences without divine aid. Eastern Orthodox theology holds that one inherits the nature of sinfulness but not Adam and Eve's guilt for their sin which resulted in the fall.
St Augustine of Hippo (354 AD – 430) in his Augustinian theodicy 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.
This, however, poses a number of questions involving genetics: if evil is merely a consequence of our choosing to deviate from God's desired goodness, then genetic disposition of 'evil' (currently fictitious) must surely be in God's plan and desire and thus cannot be blamed on Man.
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.
Evil is threefold, viz., metaphysical evil, moral, and physical, the retributive consequence of moral guilt. Its existence subserves the perfection of the whole; the universe would be less perfect if it contained no evil. Thus fire could not exist without the corruption of what it consumes; the lion must slay the ass in order to live, and if there were no wrong doing, there would be no sphere for patience and justice. God is said (as in Isaiah 45) to be the author of evil in the sense that the corruption of material objects in nature is ordained by Him, as a means for carrying out the design of the universe; and on the other hand, the evil which exists as a consequence of the breach of Divine laws is in the same sense due to Divine appointment; the universe would be less perfect if its laws could be broken with impunity. Thus evil, in one aspect, i.e. as counter-balancing the deordination of sin, has the nature of good. But the evil of sin, though permitted by God, is in no sense due to him; its cause is the abuse of free will by angels and men. It should be observed that the universal perfection to which evil in some form is necessary, is the perfection of this universe, not of any universe: metaphysical evil, that is to say, and indirectly, moral evil as well, is included in the design of the universe which is partially known to us; but we cannot say without denying the Divine omnipotence, that another equally perfect universe could not be created in which evil would have no place.
Both Luther and Calvin explained evil as a consequence of the fall of man and the original sin. However, due to the belief in predestination and omnipotence, the fall is part of God's plan. Ultimately humans may not be able to understand and explain this plan.
A more meta-perspective view than of Luther or Calvin is that an angel originally created flawless and named Lucifer convinced itself that it was God then set about deposing the necessary, original God, so becoming Satan the adversary and the King of Rebellion. Since God is omiscient, this would have been foreseen along with the inevitable outcome (since Satan is not actually God, those ambitions will inevitably fail), so God chose (with certain limitations) to let things work themselves out, proving to the satisfaction of every intelligent being that things will only work in God's way. The consequence of this is that God is then able to legitimately destroy Satan and those allied with them, then no being would ever be tempted to repeat those mistakes. Since never is an indefinitely long time, the goodness done (no matter how long it takes) in an evil-free universe will inevitably far outweigh any evil generated before that penultimate destruction.
The population and economic theorist Thomas Malthus argued that evil exists to spur human creativity and production. Without evil or the necessity of strife mankind would have remained in a savage state since all amenities would be provided for.
Christian Science views evil as having no reality and as due to false beliefs. 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.
Jehovah's Witnesses consider "the problem of evil" concept itself to result from Satan. They believe that evil did not exist until Satan in the Garden of Eden challenged God's right to rule, that God intends to eventually reverse all evil's effects, and that subsequently evil will never again be tolerated (that is, after Armageddon and Christ's Millennium Reign). Jehovah's Witnesses publications discuss the entire matter as "settling the issue of universal sovereignty" (see section above).
Islamic scholar Sherman Jackson states that the Mu'tazila school emphasized God's omnibenevolence. Evil arises not from God but from the actions of humans who create their own actions independent of God. The Ash'ari school instead emphasized God's omnipotence and control over human actions. God is not restricted to follow some objective moral system centered on humans but has the power do whatever he wants with his world. The Maturidi school argued that evil arises from God but that evil in the end has a wise purpose. Some theologians have viewed God as all-powerful and human life as being between the hope that God will be merciful and the fear that he will not.
Epicurus is generally credited with first expounding the problem of evil, and it is sometimes called "the Epicurean paradox" or "the riddle of Epicurus":
Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world? – Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief
Epicurus himself did not leave any written form of this argument. It can be found in 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.
"Is he 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.
Immanuel Kant argued for sceptical theism. He claimed there is a reason all possible theodicies must fail: evil is a personal challenge to every human being and can be overcome only by faith. He wrote:
We can understand the necessary limits of our reflections on the subjects which are beyond our reach. This can easily be demonstrated and will put an end once and for all to the trial.
Victor Cousin argued for a form of eclecticism to organize and develop philosophical thought. He believed that the Christian idea of God was very similar to the Platonic concept of "the Good," in that God represented the principle behind all other principles. Like the ideal of Good, Cousin also believed the ideal of Truth and of Beauty were analogous to the position of God, in that they were principles of principles. Using this way of framing the issue, Cousin stridently argued that different competing philosophical ideologies all had some claim on truth, as they all had arisen in defense of some truth. He however argued that there was a theodicy which united them, and that one should be free in quoting competing and sometimes contradictory ideologies in order to gain a greater understanding of truth through their reconciliation.
Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft provides several answers to the problem of evil and suffering, including that a) God may use short-term evils for long-range goods, b) God created the possibility of evil, but not the evil itself, and that free will was necessary for the highest good of real love. Kreeft says that being all-powerful doesn't mean being able to do what is logically contradictory, e.g., giving freedom with no potentiality for sin, c) God's own suffering and death on the cross brought about his supreme triumph over the devil, d) God uses suffering to bring about moral character, quoting apostle Paul in Romans 5, e) Suffering can bring people closer to God, and f) The ultimate "answer" to suffering is Jesus himself, who, more than any explanation, is our real need.
Mathematical logician William Hatcher (a member of the Baha'i Faith) made use of relational logic to claim that very simple models of moral value cannot be consistent with the premise of evil as an absolute, whereas goodness as an absolute is entirely consistent with the other postulates concerning moral value. In Hatcher's view, one can only validly say that if an act A is "less good" than an act B, one cannot logically commit to saying that A is absolutely evil, unless one is prepared to abandon other more reasonable principles.
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