‘A’ Level Philosophy and Ethics
The Problem of Evil: Theodicy
Theodicy - from θεος (Theos - God) and δικη (dike - righteous). Coined by
G. W. Liebniz (1646 - 1716) to refer to arguments that attempt to solve the
theological problem of the existence of evil.
Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430)
Augustine was a Bishop in North Africa, but had trained as a Rhetorist in
Milan. During his philosophical training he came under the influence of the
Neo-Platonists. He also had been a member of the Manichean sect, who were
renowned for their inventive mythology.
Evil came about as a result of the misuse of free will.
1. Evil was brought into the Cosmos by the fall of the angels after Lucifer
chose to rebel against God.
2. Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent, chose to disobey God.
Whether you take the events as symbolic or literal, these are the events that
Augustine uses to explain the existence of evil.
Augustine saw Creation as having been created to be fundamentally Good.
God is naturally good, and things are graded in a chain of lesser and greater
goods. Creation contains a wide variety of forms of existence, and each form
takes its place in the hierarchy of the Universe. The universe should be, in
theory, in perfect harmony.
Dissonance is introduced to this Divine counterpoint by the choice to rebel.
This “invents” or introduces evil. Augustine believed that, since everything in
Creation was created by God, evil could not be a substance. If evil were a
substance, God would have had to create it, and this would be illogical. For
Augustine, evil was therefore "a privation", or a lack of something - evil
comes about when a part of the Created Order leaves its proper path and
ceases do what it was created to do.
cf. Blindness - the eye is created to be perfectly good. Blindness is a
malfunction of the eye. Blindness is therefore not a “thing” but a state or a
condition. Free will, good in itself, has been corrupted by choosing evil.
Augustine also stated that Natural Evil is a result of Human Rebellion
upsetting the equilibrium of the universe. A natural disaster is a penalty for
moral evil, a punishment on Humans:- “All evil is either sin or a punishment
Augustine (perhaps influenced by the flights of fancy of his Manichaean
colleagues) argued that there was a fall from Heaven of angels and of man -
God (being omniscient) foresaw this fall, and achieved the redemption of Man
through the Crucifixion of Christ. All men are tainted with the stain of the
original sin of Adam, and the redeeming activity of Christ brings about
atonement. This stain stems from the exercise of Free Will in the Garden of
Jesus Christ, in His self-sacrifice on the cross, gave Humans the opportunity
to make amends through a rejection of evil, and turning to good through the
grace of God (and belief in Jesus Christ). Jesus’ death atones for the misuse
of free will. Christ freely chose ultimate goodness to redress the balance after
we chose evil. God experiences suffering through Jesus Christ to identify with
Humans and to suffer in our place.
At the end of time, we will be judged. Good will be rewarded, evil punished,
both in an afterlife. The good will experience eternal happiness, the evil will
receive their just punishments.
Problems with Augustine’s Theodicy
1. How can something perfect go wrong? Why should creatures living in a
perfect world choose to rebel?
§ Augustine explained that what went wrong was less than perfect. But in
creating a universe with imperfections makes evil God’s fault, and
Humans are therefore being punished for what is God’s fault.
2. What is the purpose of Hell? What does eternal punishment achieve other
§ Augustine explained that it restores the moral balance of the universe.
Salvation, though, becomes impossible.
3. Modern theories of Creation, such as the theory of evolution, seem to
disprove Augustine. There is no room for the development of a moral
sense. Natural disasters shaped the planet long before there were humans
to punish. By the same token, the story of the Garden of Eden, and the fall
of angels, appears to have no place in a modern view of the World.
Is Augustine speaking in mythological terms? This doesn’t make his theodicy
untrue:- a myth seeks to give understanding to a spiritual truth. The
apparent lack of historical truth in the story of Adam and Eve doesn’t mean
that the principle isn’t true. There is room for evolution in the myth of Adam
4. There does seem to be something illogical in the account - if God is all-
knowing, He surely knew that Man would "fall". It is therefore hard to
accept the role of an all-loving God in a brutal universe given this point.
§ The classic response to this argument is to concentrate on the word
"love". Christians have long proposed that God wishes to enter in a
"loving relationship" with Creation. Love can only be possible in a
situation of total freedom - there can be no compulsion. A world
populated by people compelled to love God would be a world of robots -
a non-moral world.
5. For many people, Evil is too powerful an experience for it to be a privation
of good. Many argue that Evil is a real entity.
Irenaeus (130 - 202)
Irenaeus was a Bishop during the earliest stages of the development of
Christian Theology, and one of the most important Greek speaking Fathers of
the Early Church.
Humans were created in the image and likeness of God. We are in an
immature moral state, though we have the potential for moral perfection.
Throughout our lives we change from being human animals to “children of
God”. This is a choice made after struggle and experience as we choose God
rather than our baser instincts. There are no angels or external forces at
work here. God brings in suffering for the benefit of Humanity. From it we
learn positive values, and about the world around us. Suffering and evil are:-
1. Useful as a means of knowledge - Hunger leads to pain, and causes a
desire to feed. Knowledge of pain prompts humans to seek to help others
2. Character Building (cf. Keats) - Evil offers the opportunity to grow
morally. If we were programmed to “do the right thing” there would be no
moral value to our actions. Swinburne:- “we would never learn the art of
goodness in a world designed as a complete paradise”. Hick also agrees.
3. Predictable Environment - the world runs to a series of natural laws.
These laws are independent of our needs, and operate regardless of
anything. Natural evil is when these laws come into conflict with our own
perceived needs. There is no moral dimension to this. However, we can be
sure of things in a predictable world!
Heaven and hell are important within Irenaeus’ Theodocy as a part of the
process of Deification, of the lifting up of Humanity to the Divine. This
process enables humans to achieve perfection.
Problems with Irenaeus’ Theodicy
1. It is not orthodox Christianity. It denies the “Fall”, and Jesus’ role is
reduced to that of a moral example.
2. Do natural disasters actually provide opportunities to do good in practice?
3. Why do some people get more than would seem to be their fair share of
• Hume is critical: “Could not our world be a little more hospitable and
still teach us what we need to know? Could we not learn through
pleasure as well as pain?”
• Swinburne argues that our suffering is limited, by our own capacity
to feel pain, and by our lifespan.
1. Process Theology - Everything is in process. Every actual event is a
momentary event, charged with creativity. God continually offers each
event the best possible outcome, but every event is free to conform (or
not) to God’s will. Evil comes from events that fall short of God’s purpose.
When God created the world, he formed a primal chaos into an ordered
universe. Within this there is the risk of the positive benefits over the
• “Should God, for the sake of avoiding the possibility of Hitler, and
horrors such as Auschwitz, have precluded the possibility of Jesus,
Gautama, Socrates, Confucius, Moses?”
David Griffin, “God, Power and Evil, a Process Theology”
2. Alternatives - God offers an alternative amongst other alternative
choices. God and the Devil represent opposing ends of a spectrum of
choices - they are not spiritual individuals. God is the very depths of our
3. Evil as Necessary - John Hick, “Evil and the God of Love” - argues that
evil is necessary for the perfect development of Human Beings. People are
“sin prone”, able to turn their backs on their intrinsically sinful natures to
aspire to heights by choosing to do good.
• “A world without problems, difficulties, perils and hardships would
be morally static, for moral and spiritual growth comes through
responses to challenges; and in a paradise there would be no
J. Hick, “Evil and the God of Love” p. 372
Knowledge of God must be acquired, perhaps even arduously, to maintain
an independence of being from God. This “epistemic distance” or
knowledge gap, between humans and God maintains their identity, but
allows humans to seek knowledge of God. Suffering is a necessary
condition of being finite.