Among Christians there has been quite a bit of disagreement on the problem of evil, particularly on the evidential problem of evil. While Alvin Plantinga has all but ended the debate over the logical problem of evil (is it possible for an all-good, all-powerful God and the lack of good to co-exist?), the evidential problem of evil persists. The inadequacy of Plantiga’s argument can be akin to explaining the existence of ponies; logically speaking, the existence of ponies is possible. But there’s no evidence to indicate that this is so. Likewise, the logical defense shows that God can co-exist in a world of evil, but the evidence (as it seems to us) just isn’t there to support such an idea.
To handle this issue, many theodicies have been put forth that attempt to explain that gratuitous evil simply doesn’t exist, that all evil has a greater-good attached to it (even if we don’t see it). They take the solution from the logical problem of evil and apply it to the evidential problem of evil. But in doing so, they create quite a few problems and end up begging the question.
Enter Bruce Little who has attempted to explain that gratuitous evil can and does exist, but that none of this impacts God. While he takes a path that is considered dangerous by some Christian philosophers, ultimately he makes some good points, but often to the detriment of “greater-good” theodicies. While I would agree that we shouldn’t have a universal application of greater-good, in some specific instances (such as the cross) it’s perfectly legitimate. However, just because some instances allow for a greater-good theodicy doesn’t mean all specific instances do.
Beyond the intellectual problems of evil (as listed above) we have the existential problem of evil. We all experience evil and at such a time our intellectual arguments generally fail us. This isn’t because the intellectual arguments are wrong, but that evil is so blatantly irrational – since it is the absence of God it must be irrational – that it’s different to explain rationally. Anyone who has been through an evil, especially a seemingly gratuitous kind of evil, will recognize that in the moment there is no explanation, no comfort, no reason, nothing positive. Why is this?
Thus, we are left with two major problems among competing theodicies; (1) the evidential argument seemingly comes apart because it must allow for greater-good theodicies in some instances, but gratuitous evil in others, so how can we reconcile this with an all-good, all-powerful God? The second problem (2) is existential; when all of our reasons fail for explaining why God allows evil and evil strikes at us, what then? Why does God allow specific evils that impact us and what should our response be?
To these two problems I believe I have finally structured a workable theodicy, one that deals with both the intellectual problem of evil and the existential problem of evil (both are tied together and reliant upon each other, but applied differently in different situations). It will show that human free will and submission to God are key explanations. What is more is these theodicy defenses only make sense within the tradition of Christianity.
It will take some time to put together an essay explaining this new (yet old) argument, but I think it will be well worth it. I plan on writing it soon, because it will tie into another essay I’ve been working on. Suffice it to say, this argument is built upon ancient teachings from the Christian writers, philosophical application, and Scripture; the weakness in all theodicies up to this point (at least as developed in the West) is they have ignored one of those three requirements, leading to an incomplete theodicy. My goal is to link all three together and show that some of the theodicies that combat against each other actually work better in unison.