Philosophy of Religion

Chapter  6. The Problem of Evil

Section 4.  Theodicy


Any attempt to make the existence of an All-knowing, All-powerful and All-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil is known as a Theodicy.  It is an attempt to justify the ways of god to humans. It is as attempt to explain the coexistence of God and Evil.  

Now what operates in these attempts to rescue the idea of the existence of a deity from the charge that there can not be a deity if there is moral evil is the very subtle altering of the idea of the deity from that of a supreme and all perfect being to something other than that.   All criticisms of these apologists or defenders involve exposing the subtle attempt to convert the idea of the supreme being from one that so perfect as to generate the Problem of Evil in the first place to the idea of the deity as not quite being all perfect or all knowing or all powerful or all good.  The Problem of Evil is the result of :

Logical Analysis

The inconsistency in the ideas of an all knowing, all powerful and all good being that is the creator of the universe with the existence of moral evil.

Historical Explanation:

The early Hebrew deity is one that has apparent weaknesses and is not at all perfect in every way.  It is jealous and vindictive and unjust. For the Christians the idea of the Hebrew deity was not going to be acceptable to those whom they hoped to convert: those who had come under the influence of the Greek manner of thought, those other than the Hebrews.    The Christians take the idea of the all perfect being , the source of all that is true, good and beautiful, from the Greeks and layer it over the idea of the single deity of the Hebrews and the history of that idea as presented in the Hebrew scriptures.  The ideas about the qualities of the early Hebrew god when combined ideas about the Greek ideal deity have made for many problems.


Augustine:    Humans are free and Humans have fallen because they are as children

St. Augustine proposed a solution to the problem by blaming it on the Fall of Humanity after the disobedience in the Garden of Eden. From this view, humankind is responsible for evil by being led astray by Satan. This not only absolves the deity, the  God,  of creating evil but also allows the deity  to show the world its love by bringing a form or version of itself into physical form in the presence of the Christ into the world. The Supreme Being, God,  is seen as involved in soul making. Humans are growing from bios to zoe: from undeveloped life to divine love and spiritual life. However, the existence of Evil leads to the questioning of the existence of an all loving and all good and powerful deity.   The large amount of EVIL is particularly difficult to explain.

Irenaeus  Developmental and Teleological view   God is involved with soul making.  

Irenaeus (130-202 AD) thought that the existence of evil actually serves a purpose. From his point of view, evil provides the necessary problems through which we take part in what he calls "soul-making". From this point of view, evil is a means to an end in as much as if it did not exist, there would be no means of spiritual development.  However , with this view god is the author of evil and although it has a purpose it challenges the nature of god as being all good.

Irenaeus' view has been put forward in modern times by such philosophers as John Hick (Evil and the God of Love, 1966) and Richard Swinburne. According to this view the pains and sufferings of the world are meant by God to act as a means of producing a truly good person.

However the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov has severely criticized this view .  Using human suffering as a means to good is criticized and condemned on the grounds that the suffering of one child can never be justified in terms of what good results.  Again this defense of the deity brings into question the all -good aspect of the deity.

John Hick: Developmental and Teleological view   God is involved with soul making.  

Hick's answer involves interpreting the creation story in Genesis in a non-literal fashion. Rather than regarding the story as an account of what has already happened, he suggests that we consider it an account of what is currently taking place. The idea here is that we are an integral part of God's creation. In essence, we have not yet reached the final 'day' of creation. God is still, in a way, creating humanity (using us as tools and as that which is shaped). This earth is seen as a factory for making souls. This creation requires the possibility that we suffer in order to provide incentive for improvement. ---Michael J. Connelly, Longview Community College


 Hick, John.  “Evil and Soul-Making.” Evil and the God of Love.  Harper & Rowe, Publishers, Inc., 1966.   pp. 253-261.

Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004

In his essay “Evil and Soul-Making,” John Hick attempts to justify the problem of evil.  It is a theodicy cased on the free will defense.  The majority of theodicies that have dominated Western Christendom are Augustinian in nature.  According to St. Augustine, God created man without sin and placed him in a paradise free of sin.  The decline of man occurred as a result of his weakness in the face of temptation and his misuse of free will.  This theory holds that the grace of God will save some of humanity, but at the same time, some of humanity will suffer eternal damnation.  Hick refers to this Augustinian Theodicy as the “majority report.”  However, Hick believes that the Irenean tradition is more plausible. 

The Irenean tradition, or the “minority report,” as designated by Hick, comes from Irenaeus and the early Greek founders of the Church.  It is two centuries older than the Augustinian tradition, and it holds that man was not created as a complete being without sin that proceeded to rebel and fall from grace.  Instead, Hick argues, man is in a constant state of creational evolvement.  According to the Irenean tradition, man is created in two steps, Bios and Zoe.  The first step, Bios is the creation of the physical universe and organic life.  This phase continues with the creation of man, an organic being with a personal life who is capable of having a relationship with God.  This phase is the creation of man in the image of God.  The second phase of this creation is man achieving goodness and personal worth.  This is the quality of Zoe or the attainment of the likeness of God.  This is what Hick refers to as the “soul-making” process. 

Hick’s basic argument is that the relationship between God and humankind is a parent/child relationship on a grand scale.  For a parent to produce a well-rounded, moral child, there is a two-fold process.  First there is the actual conception and birth of the child, which can be compared to the physical creation of man.  The second step for a parent is to teach the child the difference between wrong and right and between good and bad.  The parent must teach the child how to avoid temptation and live the good life.  On a larger scale, man must learn how to live the good life as God sees fit.  Since humankind is endowed with free will, this must be a cooperative effort. 

Some would argue that God could have just created man in this final, perfected state from the outset.  However, Hick argues that doing so would be akin to God creating man as a pet in a cage.  Additionally, he argues that such initial perfection would not be nearly as valuable as perfection achieved through trial and error.  According to Hick, goodness achieved over a period of time through the trial and tribulation of resisting temptation and sin involves strength and “moral effort.”  Hick deduces that God would certainly hold this goodness achieved through strength and “moral effort” in higher regard than goodness achieved by doing nothing more than simply being created in a perfect form. 

In response to the criticism that a loving God would not create a world full of evil and temptation, Hick once again refers to the parent/child analogy.  Even the most loving parent does not indulge his/her child’s every whim.  The most loving parents do enjoy providing their children pleasures, but at the same time, a loving parent realizes that there are times when a child must be denied immediate pleasure in order to gain greater values, such as “moral integrity, unselfishness, compassion, courage, humour, reverence for the truth, and perhaps above all the capacity for love.”  Thus, according to Hick, the presence of evil is transcended by its necessity for “soul-making.”

Hick claims that it would be impossible for the deity to have created human with free will and yet not with the ability to choose evil.  Hick claims that either humans are made free and that leads to moral evil or else they are made without freedom as with robots and that would make it possible to avoid there being any acts of moral evil.  It is better that there be free will and so the deity made the universe with free will in it and that leads to the existence of moral evil.


Madden and Hare: Counter to John Hick

These two philosophers argue against the position of Hick.  They claim that Hick commits three fallacies:

    1. All or Nothing fallacy- but, there could be an intermediary position between being free and being robots (puppets)
    2. It could be worse – but, it could be better
    3. Slippery slope( if the world were perfect, humans would need to be robots) – but, the existence of limits is possible (freedom within limits)

They claim that it is possible that there could be a universe created by a deity that could have creatures of free will who do not choose evil.  God could have chosen not to permit those humans to be conceived that god knew in advance of their conception would use their free will to choose and to do evil.  The deity, God,  might permit only those fetuses to develop that creator deity, God,  knew in advance would lead to the birth and life of  basically good person who would avoid choosing to do evil.


Madden, Edward H. and Peter H. Hare.  “A Critique of Hick’s Theodicy.”  Evil and the Concept of God.  Springfield, IL:  Charles C. Thomas, 1968.   pp. 83-90, 102-103.

Summary by Meghan Ramsay, QCC 2004 

Edward Madden and Peter H. Hare begin by stating three fallacies that are often employed in attempts to solve the Problem of Evil.  These fallacies are:  “all or nothing,” “it could be worse,” and “slippery slope.”  According to Madden and Hare, John Hick uses all three erroneous beliefs adroitly in his free will defense. 

In his theodicy, Hick argues that without free will, all people would be nothing more than a “pet animal” in a cage.  Hick asserts that God had to create people with the ability to do evil, for otherwise, people would not be able to participate in “soul-making” which is what serves to bring men closer to God.  However, Madden and Hare point out that there can’t have only been two options available to God.  Thus, this is an “all or nothing” argument.  Madden and Hare give an analogy of God as a headmaster at a liberal school.  At God’s school, the freedom of the students is paramount.  God does not want to have students who learn only because they fear punishment.  Instead, he wants students who take an active role in learning for the love of knowledge.  Thus, God declares that there are no rules and no organized classes at his school, and each student will be responsible for his own education.  However, simply because strict rules would result in negative consequences does not mean that having no regulation is ideal.  It is a false dichotomy to suggest that, just as it is a false dichotomy to assert that God had no other options in creating humans.

Hick also employs this all or nothing fallacy when discussing the “initial epistemic distance” between man and God.  According to Hick, God does not reveal much information about  “himself” to humans because he does not want to harm the development of people’s attitudes towards Him.  However, Madden and Hare disagree.  They take their headmaster analogy further by stating that this is parallel to God the headmaster never addressing the students, so as to avoid “spoon-feeding” them.  Once again Hick utilizes a false dichotomy in asserting that God either must tell all about himself or remain aloof. 

Hick then shifts to what Madden and Hare refer to as the “it could be worse” fallacy.  Hick argues that some evil is necessary in order for mankind to achieve goodness, and that goodness achieved through trial and error is better than goodness given to man from the outset.  Madden and Hare argue, however, that simply because goodness might come from evil, this argument only shows that evil would be even worse if good did not result from it.  In essence, the argument really does not show a need for evil.  It only shows that it could be worse, there could be no resulting good.  However, Madden and Hare point out that this argument ignores the fact that just as easily as it could be worse, it could also be better.

Hick also claims that if God were to begin removing evil, there would be no point at which to stop, unless He removed all evil.  Hick argues that if God were to remove all evil, He would be creating a hedonistic paradise, and soul-making would be impossible in such a world.  However, this is a slippery slope argument.  In effect, Hick asserts that God would have no method to gauge the effect of removing each type of evil.  Madden and Hare point out that God could remove evil to the point where there was just enough to justify it as a means to an end of soul making. 

Finally, Hick appeals to mystery in his argument.  He says that the mystery of why God does what He does also helps to foster soul making.  Again, he employs the all or nothing strategy by saying that without the occasional unjust, unwarranted or needless evil, there would be no sympathy.  Madden and Hare note that there are three ways of criticizing this idea.  First off, it is possible to have sympathy for those who are suffering as a means to a desired end, such as a husband sympathizing with his wife who is suffering from labor pains.  The suffering brings about both sympathy and a desired end.  Secondly, even if it is necessary for there to be undue suffering to increase compassion, there needn’t be nearly as much unjust suffering as there presently is.  A miniscule amount of suffering would do just as well. Finally, unjust suffering may cause compassion, but it also breeds resentment.  Madden and Hare argue that it is likely that the negative aspects of resentment would outweigh the positive ones of compassion. 

J.L. Mackie:

He argues that there is a logical inconsistency with God’s existence and Evil at the same time

  1. God is omnipotent and omnibeneficent (all good)
  2. EVIL exists
  3. A good being always eliminates EVIL as far as it can.
  4. Therefore, theists are inconsistent

 Alvin  Plantinga :  against Mackie

A modern advocate of Augustine's view can be found in Alvin Plantinga (God, Freedom and Evil, 1974) who claimed that for God to have created a being who could only have performed good actions would have been logically impossible.  Here are his basic points:

  • God may have good reasons for permitting EVIL

  • Free Will demands the possibility for EVIL

  • God could not make Humans free and guarantee no EVIL (no sin)


  • This is the idea that humans sin in all possible worlds or else

  • God is not all good or not all powerful

  • God can not create a world with moral Good and without moral EVIL

Therefore, every world that God creates must have not only the possibility of evil in it but actual evil as well.


“The Free Will Defense” by Alvin Plantinga 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

In examining the Problem of Evil, Alvin Plantinga holds that the Free Will Defense is an acceptable method for overcoming the claim that the Problem of Evil negates the existence of God.  Plantinga outlines the Free Will Defense as stating, “A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable than a world containing no free creatures.”  Plantinga also states that in order to create creatures that are freely capable of committing morally good acts, He must also create creatures that are simultaneously just as capable of committing morally evil acts.  Additionally, God cannot simultaneously give these creatures the freedom to commit evil and yet prevent them from doing so.  One objection to the Free Will Defense is that it is possible for beings that are capable of committing evil to never do so.  Based upon God’s omnipotence, it is possible that a world full of such creatures could exist.  Those who object to the Free Will Defense use this line of argument to assert that either God is not wholly good or that God is not omnipotent.  Plantinga also offers the argument of Leibniz who stated that since before creation, God had the choice of creating any one of a multitude of worlds, and since the omnipotent and all good God chose to create this world, it must be the best possible world.  Plantinga asserts, however, that neither argument is correct, and that even though God is omnipotent, He could not just call into existence “any possible world He pleased.”  Due to the fact that humans are free to make choices based upon experiences, whether or not humans perform good or evil is ultimately up to the human, not God.  Although there are many possible worlds that contain moral good without moral evil, this world does not have to be the best of all possible worlds.  Additionally, due to the freedom of action ascribed to humans, God could not create any one of a multitude of worlds, however, He does retain omnipotence.   

In response to the claim that god could have created a world containing moral good but no moral evil, Plantinga argues that in creating a world in which God actively causes people to do good, they are no longer free.  Plantinga brings about the idea of transworld depravity, and argues that if a person suffers from transworld depravity, God cannot actualize a world in which that person maintains his/her freedom and yet does no wrong.  In order to create a world containing only moral good yet also containing people suffering from transworld depravity, God would have to create people who were significantly free but at the same time would, by virtue of their transworld depravity, at some point commit evil in regards to at least one action in any possible world.  Thus, the consequence of creating a world in which these sufferers of transworld depravity commit moral good is creating a world in which these persons commit at least one morally evil act.   

Plantinga, Alvin.  God, Freedom, and Evil.  Harper and Row, 1974. 


This view was later criticized by Anthony Flew and J.L.Mackie, who both argue that God could have chosen to create good people who still possessed free-will and chose only the good.

Link to works by Alvin Plantinga:

Using evil to produce good

Those who argue that the deity is using evil to bring about good and so somehow good produces good have to contend with the following counter argument that establishes that there must be some evil that does not produce the good in any way: that there is a high probability that there exists purely gratuitous moral evil.:

The Evidential Problem of Evil : The inductive argument against the existence of the all perfect deity  

William Rowe

It is possible that there are and have been acts of evil that have not led to any good result whatsoever.  Thus, the argument to defend god based on the claim that the deity is using evil for some good purpose is defeated. Based on the mere possibility of an act of evil, human suffering, that is completely gratuitous. It would be an act in which a human does an evil act and another human suffers as a result but he act is not witnessed by anyone and both the evil doer and the victim of the evil deed die without communicating it to anyone directly or indirectly. It is possible for such an act to occur and is so then there would be no possibility for it to teach any lesson to anyone. There would be no possibility for it to lead to a greater good.   

This is an inductive argument because it is based upon possibility.  It defeats the defense of the existence of an all perfect deity that is all good and all powerful and all knowing at the same time.

Rowe’s argument states the following “There is, in all probability, at least one instance of suffering that is completely pointless. If there were a God, He would not have allowed any completely pointless instances of suffering. So, it is quite probable that God does not exist.    This simple, concise proof makes the existence of God very unlikely granted the fact of pointless suffering in the world. Obviously this argument is valid, but the terms must be clarified to understand the full power of this demonstration. The God that Rowe is referring to is the traditional God of Christian Theism, a being that is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly benevolent. An instance of pointless suffering would be one that God "could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good" (Rowe 87). Thus, God would be permitting pointless suffering if, by not intervening, an obvious opportunity for some greater good was lost, or an even more horrific evil was to result.  He mentions the example of a suffering young fawn: "suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire, the fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering" (Rowe 88). Now it seems quite evident that "no greater good . . . would have been lost had the fawn's suffering been prevented" (Rowe 88). Therefore, you may conclude that such suffering was, in all probability, pointless.  Probability is dependent on the amount of background information and, therefore, one would require omniscience to know the full extent of the above example. To this objection, the atheist may respond in the form of a question: is it reasonable to hold that throughout the entire course of human history, there was not at least one case of pointless suffering?  Think of Hitler's butchering of six million Jews during the Second World War.  Was not a single one of those deaths pointless, given the others?  Think about the Crusades and the slaughtering of innocent women and children by "Christians" who claimed to have permission from God Himself. Is it not eminently reasonable to hold that at least one of these instances of innocent suffering was pointless? To establish the second premise, all that is needed is one such case.  -Francesca Sinatra (QCC, 2003)

“Evolution and the Problem of Evil” by Paul Draper 

Summary by Meghan Ramsay (QCC, 2004)

Draper, although hopeful that theism is true, points out that there are two problems that may prevent theism from being true.  Those two problems are evolution and evil.  Draper uses evidential arguments (arguments that are based upon certain known facts) to show that naturalism (denial of any supernatural involvement in creation) is more likely than theism (the idea that a supernatural being “God” created the world).  Draper attempts to show that evolution is more likely to be true on evolution than on theism.  He points out that for naturalists, there is a lack of plausible alternatives to evolution, while for the theist, who starts out with such grandiose things as omniscience and omnipotence, anything is possible.  Some theists argue that the complex and well ordered evolution of some beings is not possible without divine intervention.  Draper gives the example of the human eye.  Some theists argue that evolution cannot completely explain exactly how the eye became so incredibly complex.  However, Draper points out that no one has yet to offer solid reasons why evolution could not have achieved the complexity seen in the human eye.  While Draper admits that there are some gaps in the knowledge that we have regarding evolution, he counters the arguments based upon these gaps by saying that there is no good reason to believe that naturalist solutions to the problems or questions relating to evolution will eventually be found, as many have already been discovered.     

Draper then goes on to discuss the pattern of pleasure and pain in conjunction with evolution as an evidential argument for naturalism over theism.  Draper points out that there are countless connections between pain, pleasure and reproductive success.  He notes that humans certainly find “a warm fire on a cold night” preferable to “lying naked in a snowbank,” and then he connects these instances to reproduction.  In order for humans to be successful in reproduction, they must maintain a constant body temperature.  Additionally, Draper notes that children enjoy playing with one another, which, he argues is the development of a social skill that heightens one’s chances of future procreation.  By pointing out that the blind process of natural selection is what drives evolution and that often a strong trait (such as walking upright) that gives a species reproductive advantages would be furthered even though it may also come with weaker traits (such as back and foot problems), Draper argues that natural selection is much more probable on evolutionary naturalism than on theism.  Additionally, if natural selection drives evolution, it is most likely that the evolution of pain and pleasure also arose from natural selection, thus inherently linking pain and pleasure to reproductive success. Draper says that this idea is furthered by our knowledge that many parts of organic systems are methodically conjoined to reproductive success.  Draper states that, “the biological goal of reproductive success does not provide an omnipotent omniscient creator with a morally sufficient reason for permitting humans and animals to suffer in the ways they do or for limiting their pleasure to the sorts and amounts we find.”  Therefore, Draper concludes, pain and pleasure and their connection to reproduction must be more probable on evolutionary naturalism than on theism.  The moral randomness of pleasure and pain (i.e. good persons suffering intense pain and bad persons experiencing great pleasure) is much more likely if the cause of pleasure and pain is related to evolutionary naturalism than to a supernatural God.  Although neither naturalism nor theism has been proven to be true or false, Draper argues that the ratio of the probability of naturalism is much greater than the ratio of the probability of theism.  Since theism and naturalism are opposite hypotheses, they cannot both be true simultaneously.  Therefore, all things considered, evolution and natural selection provides a powerful argument against theism.   

Draper, Paul.  “Evolution and the Problem of Evil.”  Philosophy of Religion, An Anthology.  Louis P. Pojman, ed.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1998.   

1.  An Atheistic Perspective    by  Thomas Rauchenstein.

2.  Why Does God Allow "Pointless Suffering"? For a Greater Good?  by Luke Wadel 

3. The Problem of Evil and Suffering: Gaining Perspective  Dr. Peter E. Payne 

4. God, Evil and Probabilistic Arguments by Paul Pardi

 5.  The Evidential Argument from Evil (1998)   Nicholas Tattersall 

6. Reply to Rowe by Michael Bergmann & Daniel Howard-Snyder

An extensive and polemical essay on Theodicy 

Evil and the Power of God by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis : The impossibility of God’s doing away with evil is explored by C.S. Lewis 

READ: C. S. Lewis and David Hume on the Problem of Evil   

Theodicy, the Free Will Defense and the Nature of God in the Presence of Moral Evil

Perhaps the most common theodicy is the so-called free-will argument - very similar to Augustine's argument.  God creates humans with free will because that is better (more perfect) than to create them without free will.  God who is all perfect must do what is the best.  To create humans who would only do good would be to deny them free will.  It is free will that is the source of evil and not the God that created the evil doers. 

The argument:

1. Evil is the result of human error

2. Human error results from free-will (the ability to do wrong)

3. If we didn't have free-will we would be robots

4. God prefers a world of free agents to a world of robots

5. Evil is therefore an unfortunate - although not unavoidable outcome - of free-will

6. For God to intervene would be to go take away our free-will

7. Therefore, God is neither responsible for evil nor guilty of neglect for not intervening

Argument against the free will defense:

Consider these cases meant to illustrate that the deity is not removed from responsibility for evil even if humans have free will.

Free Will Defense 1:  The deity is not responsible for the evil but people are responsible all by themselves and without the involvement of the deity because they have and use free will to choose evil.

If people do exactly what their deity created them to do then why would they be punished for doing what the creator created them to do?  If the creator knows that the fetus will become a child and grow into a mass murderer and the deity proceeds to allow the conception and the birth and the growth of that human being and then allows that being to get the means together and commit the murders then why would the human being be punished for what the creator-deity made that human being to do?   If it is the choice of the human to kill was it not the choice of the creator to make the being that will choose to do the evil?

Counter Example Situation 1

Let's say I run a sports and gun shop in a small town. Someone I know, Joe, comes running into the store and wants to but an automatic weapon. Joe is very agitated and angry and he tells me hat he hates all those women across the street in the bakery shop and he is going to teach them a lesson. I tell him that he should not hurt anyone. He says sell me the gun and I do. He tells me he is going to kill those women. I tell him it is wrong to do that and he should not do that. He asks me to sell him the ammunition for the weapon he just bought and I sell it to him. He says he will kill every last one of those women and I say he must not do it. I tell him it is very bad. He asks me to show him how to shoot the weapon and I teach him. I warn him again not to use it to kill people. He goes out of the store and crosses the street and kills everyone of the women.

When the police question me, I tell them the whole story and I point out that it was not my fault because Joe had free will and I warned him and told him not to do it!

Well, most humans would hold me responsible just based on what it was reasonable to think that Joe would do given what Joe said before leaving my store. If I am responsible in part for the killings then what about God who gave Joe life and knew for sure what Joe would do with that life?   I only know pretty darn well what he would do with the weapon. God knows for sure and can stop anything. Or else, God does not know or God does not have all power.

Free Will Defense 2:   The deity is not responsible for the evil but people are responsible all by themselves and without the involvement of the deity because they have and use free will to choose evil.

Counter Example Situation 2

I ask some human being, say Susan, to baby sit for a group of eight children aged 3 to 7.  I ask Susan to watch them for 5 hours.  They are playing in the very large ballroom of a mansion.  In the ballroom are a large number of toys, electronic games and small rides for children.  Some workers had been removing paint from the iron windows and left cans of paint at the far end of the ballroom where the windows are.  There is also paint remover, thinners, flammable liquids and a blowtorch they have been using to get the old paint off of the window frames.  I instruct Susan to keep the children at the end of the ballroom far away from the painters’ materials.  I return five hours later to find the mansion on fire, Susan out in front with three of the children.  The other children were trapped inside and burned to death.  I ask her what happened and she said she stepped out of the ballroom for a break and when she returned it was on fire.  I ask her how she could do such a thing and she replies that she only stepped out for five minutes and he warned the children before she did so not to touch the materials at the end of the ballroom near the windows.  She told them that it was very dangerous.  They touched those things anyway.  She claims it was not her fault that she warned them, that she didn’t know what would happen.  Now if some human made those claims there are few rational adults who would not think that the person who was left to watch the children was responsible for the harm that came to them.  That Susan should have known. 

If this is what we would think about Susan, then what should we think about GOD, who is supposed to know everything about the past, present and future and is all powerful as well?  Is God responsible for EVIL?   If we would hold Susan responsible in part for the harm to the children then even more so we must hold the deity responsible for evil since the deity that is all knowing and all powerful could have and should have stopped it as Susan should have stayed with the children to prevent harm.

Counter Example Situation 3

Now think. If the deity made the humans to do the evil knowing they would choose the evil then is the deity also responsible for that evil? THINK

Suppose a deity with ALL KNOWLEDGE knows the future.   The deity says to you and I if we go through door #3 we will produce a child that will murder more than 550 people.  We hear what the deity tells us and believe that the deity knows the future and then we go through door #3. The child grows up and kills 550 people.

Would you and I be responsible for those deaths in any way?  We might have gone through door#1 or door #2 or door #4 etc... but we chose #3 after knowing what would come if we did so.

Well, if we would be in part responsible so would the deity who knows in advance and then chooses to create or allow to be conceived the killer of 550 people.

Free Will Defense 3:  The deity is supposed to be all perfect and all good , all knowing and all powerful at the same time.

  • 1) The deity permits evil as a a consequence of creating creatures with free will.  

  • 2)There is no way to have creatures with free will and not permit the possibility for a creature actually choosing evil.

  • 3) The deity knows in advance of a creature coming into existence all that the creature will choose and do.

  • 4) This is not a denial of the creature's freedom but only foreknowledge of what the creature will do.

  • 5) If the deity were not to allow for evil and the evil acts it would make puppets/robots of humans.  

Counter Example Situation 3 

A manufacturer of automobiles make two different models.  The testing of one model prior to sale indicates that it has defects in the brake system likely to cause brake failure, accidents, injuries and deaths. The other model is tested and the results indicate no problems at all.  The manufacturer decides to proceed with the production and sale of both models.  The model with known faults does have numerous brake failures resulting in many injuries and deaths.  The manufacturer is held liable for those injuries and deaths due to prior knowledge of the defect and the likelihood of brake failure resulting in injuries and deaths.

Now if instead of the manufacturer of automobiles the deity is the creator of humans.  The deity knows in advance how each human will use free will the deity has given the human.  The deity knows in advance which humans will use free will to choose evil.  The deity knows in advance which humans will use free will to choose evil.  The deity chooses which humans will actually be born and survive and live to do those things he deity knows in advance that they will choose to do of their own free will.

There would be no denial of free will and no making of puppets out of humans if the deity choose that the humans who choose evil instead of good are not born in the first place.  Such humans would be conceived but not born, experiencing a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage or were to die soon after birth and before the start of the evil doing.  But evidence is that if there is a deity then the deity chooses not to act in this way and so the deity chooses the evil to occur through the actions of the humans that were created by the deity knowing in advance of their actual physical existence that they would choose evil.   Thus, the deity is responsible for the evil acts and their consequences.  Therefore the deity cannot be all good and all knowing and all powerful at the same time.

The Free Will Defense does not really solve the Problem of Evil for the deity is seen as not being all good because the being is in part responsible for evil.

Free Will Defense 4:  The deity is testing humans by giving them free will in order to determine if they will use that free will to do good or to do evil.  Those who use free will to choose the good will be rewarded and those who choose evil will be punished.

 If god is giving a test what kind of a being would that make god?  If god is all-knowing would god know the results of all such tests before the tests were even administered?      If god made humans and made them with free will and knows before they are born how they will use that free will and then goes ahead and makes them be born,

1. where is the freedom of choice?
2. how is god not responsible for what his creatures do?
3. what is the point of any test when the results are known before the test is given?

Counter Example Situation 4  If I knew in advance everything my dog was going to do and then let my dog loose and it bit someone I would be responsible for that harm!  Why isn't the deity responsible for what the deity knows its creations will do before they are even created?  After all according to the belief system in the Supreme Being that is all-perfect, the deity chooses who to create!!!!!

When you consider that the problem of evil arises for a deity that is all good and all-knowing and all powerful at the same time then this idea of testing/punishing humans presents problems of inconsistency because one or more of the aspects of the deity appear to be incompatible with another.  With the testing/punishing explanation and defense the deity is the author of the evil or not an all good or all merciful and all loving being.  The testing/punishing explanation and defense would have the deity punishing creatures for failing a test when the outcome was known before the test took place.

Counter Example Situation 5  If an instructor gave an examination to a class and the instructor knew that the materials on  the exam had not been covered in the course and that few , if any, students would be able to pass the examination, well what sort of an instructor would that be?  Why is not the deity that is all knowing not in the same position as that instructor in terms of fairness and justice?  This argument by analogy is offered to defeat the defense of the deity as being all good based on the idea that the deity is using evil to test humans (creatures with free will).  

This defense (Evil is part of a Test) does not really solve the Problem of Evil for it challenges the characteristic of an all perfect being being all good and all just.


What each of the defenses of the supreme being does is to subtly alter the idea of the Supreme Being by weakening or ignoring one or more of the characteristics of that being that led to or created the inconsistency or contradiction that is termed the "Problem of Evil".  In each of these defenses the deity permits or creates evil or is unable or unwilling to reduce or remove evil.

Theodicy Defense or Gambit or Ploy Weakens or ignores
Humans have Fallen and need to develop the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Soul Building- the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Avoiding Robots the all powerful nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Testing Humans the all knowing  nature or the all good nature of the supreme being
Using evil for some good purpose the all good nature of the supreme being

The defenses do not succeed against the criticisms and do not solve the Problem of Evil so that the traditional nature of the Supreme Being is preserved and seen as consistent with the existence of moral evil because they in one form or another rely upon the altering of the idea of the supreme being by either reducing or denying one of its characteristics that is responsible for the problem in the first place.

Further readings:

If the Problem of Evil as it has been approached by the theodicists has not been solved or dealt with in a manner that satisfies critics what other approaches may be taken? The other three options will now be examined.

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2001. All Rights reserved.  Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

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