Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 10) – Conclusion

A Unified Theodicy answers the logical problem of evil, evidential problem of evil, and existential problem of evil with one word: Love. Humans were created to love God and to love each other, but when we turned away from our purpose (which is sin) we introduced the world to evil. The irony, however, is that evil was allowed because God loved us.

He loved us enough to let us experience His love and return His love, which through our free will. But with free will inevitably comes a species that will choose sin, that will allow evil. But were God to prevent our free will because of His foreknowledge of what would occur then evil would have triumphed over God’s plans. Thus, God created us, refusing to let evil triumph over His love.

He loves us enough to allow specific acts of evil so that we might help display His love to those who suffer from evil. While some evils can be and are gratuitous, they only become so when we fail to respond to them with God’s love.

He loves us enough that when we suffer specific acts of evil, He is there to comfort us even if no rational explanation exists for why the evil occurred. What is more is that He experienced evil Himself on a cross, all on our behalf.

Certainly more can be added to this theory and other parts challenged. The specifics do leave many questions. Yet, I would contend that any future theodicies must take a whole view of the world into order and more importantly they must include the cross. In a theodicy we attempt to offer up an answer for the problem of evil, but we offer no solution. Only God has offered a solution to the problem of evil, something beyond an answer. For it is on the cross that gratuitous, unmerited, freely given, infinite, perfect love is given as God’s solution to evil.


Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 9) – A Final Plea

The issue of gratuitous evil is, much to the chagrin of the academic elite, ultimately answered by gratuitous love. Though I have presented what I believe to be a solid argument for the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil, it doesn’t offer a 100% rational answer. The reason is that one doesn’t exist, thus any theodicy must acknowledge that it will ultimately be incomplete unless it includes love at the center of its theodicy.

Though this answer isn’t popular among Christian philosophers, we must never forget that in all our theorizing on why God allowed evil, He answered the question of, “God, why this evil” on a cross. Any theodicy that doesn’t include the cross is inherently doomed to failure, because the cross is God’s answer to evil, so how can it be ignored?

The cross serves as the best answer to the existential problem of evil, for while we may not know why God allowed an evil to occur, we can at least know that Jesus suffered evil just as we do. We can know that God was not content to watch us suffer, but instead partook in our suffering. A people may question the king when he allows his people to starve, but if he himself chooses to starve while handing out food to all others then the critics must turn away in shame. So it is with God.

Ultimately, the question of why God allows specific evils will remain a rational mystery to a certain degree. We are limited to say that God allows specific evils because He won’t violate free will in every instance, but this doesn’t say much about why some evils are allowed while others aren’t. But in order to know why God allows some evils and not others requires us to know the mind of God, which is impossible. Why is it that God will step in and drown the Egyptian army, but won’t stop one ethnic group from attacking another ethnic group? We do not know why, other than God has a purpose in stopping some evil. Hence, why evil occurs will ultimately remain a mystery to us, because we do not know the mind of God.

It is in the mysterious aspect, however, that ties into the existential answer to the problem of evil. That it is a mystery and that God’s purposes are known alone to God shows that we should rely on Him even more. To believe in mystery requires us to trust in God. To believe in mystery requires us to rely on Him, which only increases our love for Him.

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 8) – Possible Objections to a Unified Theodicy

Objection I: “God could display His love without allowing evil, such as in the case of the Trinity. The members of the Trinity love each other fully and in a perfect manner, but no evil is presence. Therefore, couldn’t God have loved us and we loved God without evil?”

The Trinity is a relationship of equals, of persons who share the same essence, so logically sacrifice will be different. Within the Trinity the love occurs among equals, therefore the Father shares His glory with the Word and Spirit. The Father, Word, and Spirit all work together, but do so as one within the same essence. We, however, are not of God’s essence, but instead are created. Thus, we cannot experience love in the same way that love is experienced within the Trinity.

Since the Three cannot be divided and are One, the love expressed between the Three, that is, the love expressed within Community of God, is not experienced outside of the Trinity. How, then, do lesser creatures experience the perfect love of God? Since God cannot share His nature with us – since He is uncreated and we are created, He is infinite and we are finite, and so on – the Father cannot display His love by allowing us to share fully in His nature. Likewise, the Word and Spirit cannot submit to us as they submit to the Father for they are of one will with the Father, one nature with the Father, and infinitely above us. The One who is above does not submit to the will of the one who is below.

God must display His love in a different way to the created beings. The best way to display this love, then, is through sacrifice. But how can God sacrifice in a perfect world? While the act of creation is a sacrifice, it is not the ultimate sacrifice. What is it that all finite beings fear other than to cease to exist or to meet their end? Thus, in order to sacrifice God had to “meet His end.”

Of course, since God is eternal He cannot die, therefore He came down in the form of a man to die on our behalf (though it was the human nature of Christ that experienced death, not His Divine nature). God knew that in creating free will creatures, death would inevitably occur, but knowing this He also knew that He could fully display His love by giving His only begotten Son on our behalf in an act of gratuitous love. Therefore, we cannot imagine a world that God would create where death wasn’t required for Him to fully display His love.

Objection II“The argument only works up to the Cross, but if Christ has already died on the cross and God’s love has been displayed, why is evil necessary anymore? Wouldn’t this mean that after the event of the cross, it’s no longer logical for God to co-exist with an evil world?”

If God simply ended the world after the resurrection, only a few hundred would have been saved. In other words, while there has been evil since the event of the cross and the resurrection, there has also been a substantial amount of good, namely people who have come to Christ. Thus, if God ended the world after the resurrection, it would have prevented multiple people from existing and eventually coming to Christ.

The other aspect of this answer is that while the cross works as an answer to the problem of evil, that is not the only purpose of the cross. Once we come to Christ we are learn to grow in Him while on this earth. Where would be the act of theosis, or sanctification, if the world simply ended after the cross?

Objection III – “Couldn’t God just be evil or contain evil? If God contains evil then as theists we have an easier job of answering the problem of evil.

Such an objection does make sense if we consider other theodicies that seek to take away God’s foreknowledge; if we can limit God’s foreknowledge, then why not limit His goodness as well? However, arguments that seek to impose a limit on God (unless the limit is a nonlogical one) always end up being irrational. Saying that God contains evil is one such argument.

For God to be God, He must be wholly good or wholly evil, He cannot be both. The reason is that evil is the opposite of good, it is a contradiction of good. Therefore, one must be the absence of the other. Thus, if God contains evil, then He is wholly evil and has no good within Him. The reason is that God cannot contain an absence of Himself, nor could He hold two contradictory substances within Himself. In both instances He would be a contradiction and therefore would not exist.

I would argue that we know that God is wholly good and not wholly evil. If there were no good in Him then He would embody every attribute of what it means to be evil, including narcissism. Were God narcissistic then He would have a desire to worship and reflect Himself and Himself alone, thus we would not exist. Even if He desired to torture us by causing us to exist, there would be no need as His need for narcissism would negate any desire to torture rational creatures.

Even if one doesn’t buy the narcissistic argument, we could also consider that we have bouts of good in this life, but this begs the question as to why a purely evil god would allow goodness. Certainly if God were evil then He would simply torture us in a Hell-like world. But let us consider the following; having free will is a good thing, thus an evil God would not create creatures that have free will. Existing is better than not existing, so God wouldn’t create creatures that exist. Therefore, if God were evil we would not exist. We exist, therefore God is not evil, but instead is good.

Objection IV“Doesn’t your argument concerning God logically needing evil make God reliant upon evil to exist?

While I stated that in order for God to achieve His ends (displaying His love in the best possible way) He needed to allow for the existence of evil, this doesn’t mean that God is necessarily dependent upon evil. For instance, we can conceive of a world where He created no intelligent creatures, just the cosmos, for the simple act of His enjoyment. Or we can conceive of God not creating anything. The only time the allowance of evil becomes necessary is when free will agents enter into the equation.

What is more important to realize, however, is that by allowing free will, evil becomes inevitable. The inherent problem with G-G theodicies is they attempt to say that God is reliant upon every act of evil so that a greater good might come about. This is not what I’m saying. Rather, I’m saying that because evil was a foregone conclusion, an inevitable outcome of creating humans, He utilized this fact in order to optimally display His love. Thus, while I use the phrasing, “God logically needed evil to achieve His ultimate end,” one could easily argue that this is either poor phrasing on my part, or that there is no better way to put it. However, the connotation I wish to get across is merely that because evil was an inevitability, God used it to achieve His ultimate end; but it couldn’t have happened any other way (in any possible world where free will agents exist).

Objections to the Unified Theodicy on the Evidential Problem of Evil

Objection I – “Aren’t you still teaching a G-G theodicy by saying that God allows evil for a purpose?

While some could misconstrue what I am arguing, it would be a mistake to think that I’m a proponent of a G-G theodicy. Rather, what I argued on the evidential side of the argument is that while God allows some evil for a purpose, the good He seeks to bring from a specific evil may not always actualize. For instance, God might allow evil action E to occur in order that person S will bring about a specific good G through action x. S, however, decides to perform action x2, which prevents G from occurring and actually increases the evil (E+). Thus, in this event God allows E for the purpose of letting S perform x in order to lead to G. However, S sins and doesn’t actualize G, but instead causes E+. By saying that God allows all specific acts of evil for a purpose doesn’t make a Unified Theodicy a G-G theodicy, it merely denotes our responsibility in this world when we encounter evil. Continue reading

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 7) – A Unified Theodicy

Before presenting my answer to the problem of evil, it is better to understand the two major mistakes that the above theodicies seem to make. They will seem like petty critiques, but I will seek to show why they aren’t petty and why these problems must be dealt with.

First, the minor problem I’ve noticed is that philosophers and theologians inevitably end up using a language of being with talking about evil. Now, of course this is inevitable, but unfortunately rather than recognizing it, it often subverts the theory. The language of being (e.g. “cause,” “purpose,” etc) indicates that evil has a form, a substance, and an essence; yet evil lacks all of these things because it isn’t really a “thing.” Rather, evil is a lack of something. As the Damascene explains, “For it is inconceivable that evil should originate from good. Then we reply that evil is no more than a negation of good and a lapse from what is natural to what is unnatural, for there is nothing that is naturally evil.”[1]

To be fair, none of the philosophers in the G-G theodicies, nor Little, nor Plantinga would argue that evil has a substance. They would contend that they use this language only out of necessity, but ultimately acknowledge that evil is the privation of good. However, it seems that though the language of being is necessary to talk about evil (at least without using long, drawn-out sentences), we do begin to treat evil as though it were a substance. In using the language of being when discussing evil we begin to act as though evil does have a being, which can inadvertently impact our theodicy (I see this particularly in G-G theodicies as opposed to C-O theodicies). Perhaps it is an accident, or perhaps I am reading into these defenses what isn’t there, but it is an observation.

The second problem, and the bigger problem, is that many of these theodicies ignore worldview thinking. While worldview thinking may not be popular with some philosophers, it’s an inescapable reality; unless we are inconsistent in our views on the world, we all have a worldview. Likewise, theism and Christianity are self-contained worldviews (that overlap in some areas). In light of this, the above theodicies, with exception to C-O Theodicy, are seemingly created outside of these worldviews, or refuse to take an overall narrative into account when creating a theodicy, making the theodicy inconsistent within the broader narrative.

What we see with Plantinga’s theodicy and G-G theodicies is they aren’t really consistent with what theists say about God. Worse for Christians is they aren’t consistent with a Christian worldview. While a C-O Theodicy seeks to avoid this problem, I would argue that it fails to answer (1) how it is that we were capable of sin before the fall, but not after glorification (if we’re simply returned to our original state as Little seems to believe) and (2) the ultimate purpose for creation; the very act of creation seems superfluous if there is ultimately no point in allowing evil. I applaud a C-O Theodicy for correcting the mistakes of G-G Theodicies by attempting to place a theodicy within the Christian metanarrative and attempting to put theodicy back on the right track of fitting within the Christian context, but I believe that Little’s attempt ultimately falls short of accomplishing its goal.

If I am right in my criticisms then all future theodicies must (1) seek to do their best to avoid using a language of being when talking about evil and (2) seek to make the explanation of evil consistent within theism (especially Christianity). My attempt at a Unified Theodicy seeks to meet both of these criteria.

A Unified Theodicy can best be explained as “when gratuitous evil is met by gratuitous love.” This is simply a play on the word “gratuitous.” When applied to evil the connotation of “gratuitous” has already been explained (seemingly unnecessary). When applied to love, however, it refers to something done free of charge, or to something that is given (like a mechanic doing gratuitous work on a car, this means he wouldn’t charge the car owner). The entirety of my theory rests upon love, specifically the love of God.

Before going on, it would be best to define love. When I use the word “love” I have in mind the Greek word agape, which can refer to benevolence. Rather than reducing word after word, ultimately love refers to an act of sacrifice, specifically an act done without expectation of repayment or for which it is impossible to repay. A man might see a woman unable to pay for her groceries and he pays for them, knowing the woman will never be able to pay him back. This is a form of love and one of the higher forms at that (as it’s an act of purely altruistic sacrifice). Since sacrifice is indicative of love, the greater the sacrifice and the less likely such a sacrifice can be recompensed, the greater the act of love.

We can look in the Trinity and see that such a love does exist among the members of the Trinity. The Father shares His glory with the Word and the Spirit, while the Word and Spirit work with the will of the Father. Since the Persons of the Trinity all share in the divine essence of God (though His essence is not divided as all three are equally God), the type of sacrifice available is limited. But even in this limitation, we still see the members working to serve one another.

We also see sacrificial love with God’s act of creation, for to create means God allowed something lesser than Himself to come into existence. But then He limited His power in order to allow His creation to have free will. Such a limiting was an act of sacrifice on the part of God, which in turn is an act of love.

Both the ancient Jews and early Christians understood that the act of creation was really an act of love and done out of God’s love (not solely or primarily for His glory as many in the Reformed tradition say).[2] The deuterocanonical book Wisdom of Solomon displays that the early Jews understood that God shows His love to all of His creation (Wisdom of Solomon 11:24-26) and that everything was created because of His love. We can turn to the Damascene and read,

“Now, because the good and transcendentally good God was not content to contemplate Himself, but by a superabundance of goodness saw fit that there should be some things to benefit by and participate in His goodness, He brings all things from nothing into being and creates them, both visible and invisible, and man, who is made up of both.”[3]

Notice that the Damascene says it was out of a “superabundance” of goodness that God saw fit to create everything. While God could have contemplated Himself for eternity and lived in perfect, holy communion with Himself (since though He is one, He is three in person), He instead chose to create those who could also experience His love and love Him, though they would be lesser than Him.

Likewise, Genesis 2:9 teaches us that humans were created in order to Love God. The love man experiences doesn’t stop with God, but is also meant to extend to his neighbor (Mathew 22:37-40). Thus, man was created to love God and to love his neighbor, but to truly sacrifice demands that one has free will. After all, if I am forced to give up something then the motive behind my sacrifice is forced, which cannot be considered an act of love. Rather, in order for sacrifice to truly be a loving act, it must be freely given out of a desire to benefit the other. Continue reading

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 6) – The Existential Problem of Evil

Ideally both the logical theodicy defense and the evidential theodicy defense should leave us prepared to have a good groundwork to deal with the existential problem of evil. I call our experience of evil the “existential” problem of evil because we must face it in our own way, and the greatness of the evil varies from person to person. While the previous two categories of evil allow us to step back and view the problem without any attachment, the existential problem of evil focuses on our everyday lives and experiences with evil. How we evaluate that evil is purely subjective, which poses a problem for explaining why the evil is allowed. To the three-year-old, not being able to have ice cream for evil one can face; for the adult it’s losing one’s job, losing a spouse, losing a child, or so on.

What is consistent about the existential problem of evil is that it seems all the academic efforts in theodicy fall apart in a personal crisis. One of the more famous examples is C.S. Lewis, who dealt with the problem of evil in his book The Problem of Pain. Yet, when he suffered an incredible loss in his own life (the death of his wife through cancer), he openly questioned God and found no solace in his theodicy, all of which is painfully evidence in his Grief Observed. When faced with the existential problem of evil it seems there is simply no reasoned response to it, which some would argue is a problem for Christians.

However, I would contend that the lack of a reasoned response is not a problem, but expected within a Christian worldview (though not necessarily a theistic worldview). As stated earlier, evil is the privation of good and good is an attribute of God. We must remember that His attributes cannnot be separated (for God is not composed of parts, but is simple). That means if evil is the absence of good, then it will in turn also be the absence of all other attributes of God. There won’t be any good in evil, but there also won’t be any wisdom, eternality, logic, and so on. Since evil is the absence of the power of God’s goodness, it follows that evil is also devoid of God’s reason as well. Therefore, all evil is by definition senseless and irrational, so when we experience evil there isn’t a reasoned response to it.

While we can offer a reasoned response to evil when we’re simply an observer, because we can draw back and look at it within the scheme of things, when we’re experiencing the evil we lack this ability because we’re in the midst of an irrational action. In fact, the greater the evil, the more illogical and senseless it is. The more we suffer or watch someone close to us suffer, the less likely we are to find an answer because evil is not only the privation of good, but the privation of reason as well (and all of God’s attributes). Since evil is devoid of the power of God (His goodness, His reason, and so on), we shouldn’t try to make sense of what is by nature senseless.

Some might take issue with me saying that evil is the privation of God. Perhaps it is better to flesh this out before moving on. When I say that evil is the privation of God as a whole, which includes all His attributes, what I mean is that it’s the privation of God’s power, for God Himself cannot be removed from anything (this would entail that He has limits). Therefore, evil is the privation of God’s power, but even then this comes in degrees.

A less evil (or sin) will entail a minor privation of God’s power, though not His presence. A greater evil would entail a major privation of God’s power, though not His presence. Due to the existence of free will, God’s power (as it is experienced) can be withheld without His presence being withheld (for God can remain hidden if He so chooses).

Some might contend that my argument falls apart when we consider the communicable and uncommunicable attributes of God. For instance, God is love and humans can love, God is rational and we can reason, etc. Here I would argue that while we can love, we cannot do so perfectly, thus we don’t technically share in the attribute of God itself, but rather in the power of God’s attribute. For humans can increase or decrease in love because we are accessing the power of God, but God cannot increase or decrease in love because it is a part of who He is (and His power is ever present in Himself).

Sadly, I don’t have space to go through a full defense of this – which could possibly require an entire other section and if I ever write a book on this issue, I might dedicate substantial space to this issue – but will leave my defense here. Since God cannot be divided and evil is a privation of the power of His goodness, it should follow that it is a privation of all of God’s power to some degree. This would include reasoning (as well as love, which is why an act of love can never be evil).[1]

Certainly, though, there must be some explanation to the existential problem of evil. There must be something we can turn to, something we can grasp a hold of. I would argue that there is, but it only makes sense if we work out the problems with the logical problem of evil and evidential problem of evil first. When those are settled, we are then supplied with the necessary framework to explain the existential problem of evil. I believe this is best accomplished through a Unified Theodicy.

[1] I would assert that this explanation of evil as a privation of God’s whole power (to varying degrees, depending on the evil) is almost essential to my Unified Theodicy. Without the belief that evil is a privation of God’s power, a Unified Theodicy would collapse.

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 5) – The Evidential Problem of Evil

As alluded to, while the logical problem of evil has been adequately dealt with, we are still left with the evidential problem of evil. Yes, it is logical for God and evil to co-exist, but is the current amount of evil we see necessary? This is where the argument of gratuitous, or superfluous evil becomes extremely problematic for theists.

The skeptic might accept Plantinga’s argument, but turn around and argue that we can imagine a possible world with less evil. We could, conceivably, imagine a world where humans never discovered how to split the atom, which would prevent disasters like Nagasaki and Hiroshima from occurring. It would prevent the threat of annihilation. It would prevent people dying slow, horrible deaths from nuclear poisoning and the inevitable cancer that comes with it (think of Chernobyl or the inevitable problems that will be caused by the Fukushima power plant). We could imagine a world where Hitler or Stalin never came to power or where nations mostly existed peacefully (with wars only arising every few hundred years).

Likewise, we can imagine God acting to prevent some of the superfluous evil without contradicting a person’s free will (or at least this is the argument, though I take issue with it). For instance, if a man grabs a little child to kidnap her, we could imagine God sending an angel down to stop the man from doing so. After all, God prevented Pharaoh’s army from slaughtering the Hebrew people, He prevented Daniel from being eaten by the lions, and prevented Daniel’s three friends from being consumed in the fire. So we have examples of God supposedly preventing a superfluous evil, so why can’t we imagine a world where this Divine intervention happens more?

– Great Good Theodicy

Many theists and Christians attempt to explain the existence of superfluous evil by stating that it’s not really superfluous; they take Plantinga’s argument and say that every act of evil is invariably tied to a greater good that results from the evil. God will allow an evil only if a greater-good can be obtained from the evil, or if He intends for the greater good to obtain from the evil.

A greater good (G-G) theodicy teaches that some goods are contingent upon certain evils. They point to the example of the cross, where Jesus’ death, though evil, must occur for the good of salvation. Or one can think of the chicken pox, that while a child must endure the temporary evil of the chicken pox, she will have the greater good of not getting it later in life when it would be worse. Under the G-G theodicies, no evil is really “gratuitous” because it will always produce a greater good, it always has a reason, and is always necessary.

Already some readers may recognize the problem with G-G theodicies. The first problem and possibly the biggest is that it forced God to become reliant upon evil. If God wishes to obtain good and must only rely on evil, then how is He not ultimately responsible for evil? It would mean that God would have to cause evil in order to obtain a good from the evil. Likewise, it makes God the ultimate pragmatist, which would seemingly contradict God’s holiness; just because a greater good can be obtained through evil, how could God remain holy for doing this in every instance?

The other problem with G-G theodicies is that they significantly limit free will, which forces us to reconsider or abandon the answer to the logical problem of evil. If every act of evil begets good and good is part of God’s plan, then we must commit that act of evil. God is dependent upon us acting in an evil way, we have no other choice, so how are we truly responsible for acting in an evil manner? Let’s say that God plans to use Mike to cure HIV/AIDS, but the only way Mike will do this is if his wife contracts the disease through a blood transfusion and dies from it. Thus, God kills Mike’s wife in order to motivate Mike to cure HIV. Where is Mike’s free choice in the matter of choosing to cure HIV/AIDS? God knows that the only thing that will motivate Mike to cure HIV is the death of his wife via HIV (and then AIDS). Mike doesn’t really have a choice in such a situation and God becomes the cause of evil.

Along the same line of though, if all evil leads to a greater good then we have no reason to prevent evil. If a man sees a woman being mugged he has no reason to step in because a greater good could obtain from her being mugged. How do we know the good provided by evil won’t be greater than the good we achieve by preventing the evil? If a greater good obtains in every case of evil, then why work to stop every case of evil?

Hoes does a proponent of G-G theodicies escape the inevitable conclusion that God wills evil? As Little argues, “…if the good is necessary to the plan of God, then so is the evil, which logically leads to the conclusion that God wills the evil.”[1] If the good is willed by God and is necessary to the plan of God, then the evil that brought about the good would also be willed by God (under G-G theodicies). It’s a matter of forward causation – if God demands that G occurs, but E is needed for G to obtain, then God must have ordered E to occur.

Yet, G-G theodicies become more problematic the more we examine them, namely that we can always imagine ways God could bring about some good, yet use a less evil. We can think back to Roman times when the death of a Christian served as a testament to God. People would argue that the temporary evil of a Christian being torn apart by a lion would beget the greater good of the testimony offered by the Christian. Yet, we can imagine that God could somehow miraculously save the Christian, which would equally display His power to people.

Or we can imagine the collapse of a building during office hours in which hundreds are killed. The building collapsed due to faulty standards and oversight. Though hundreds are killed, the government passes new legislation that fixes the building standards and provides more oversight to prevent the tragedy from ever happening again. But can’t we also imagine that an inspector catches the problem before it happens and lobbies the government to pass such a law and they do? Or what about the building collapses a night with no one inside, leading to the same good as if hundreds had perished? In this example too, while a good does obtain as a result of the evil, we can imagine far less evil (or no evil) occurring that leads to the same resulted good.

Even if we accept that God somehow relies on evil to obtain good in every instance of evil, we can still imagine God using lesser evil. The problem is that to respond to this, one must argue that the level of evil is actually necessary for the good to obtain. As Little argues, “

“If the good is necessary, then so is the particular evil, for if the good could be accomplished with a lesser evil, then the all-good God would use the lesser evil. The end is, that the particular evil is necessary, for the good could not obtain without the evil and the good must obtain because it is necessary.”[2]

God then either appears infinitely dull in not thinking of better ways to obtain the good by using lesser evil, or it becomes an impossible mystery to us, but this doesn’t offer an answer to the problem of evil. We must argue that every act of evil is absolutely necessary (which can lead to Christian nihilism, where there is no point in preventing evil) or that God just can’t think of a better way to use a lesser evil.

Even if we disregard the above objections, we still have a further problem with G-G theodicies, namely that they almost inevitably lead to further evils. What is good now may be evil tomorrow.

One can think about the freedom of the US and all the good that was brought about through the evil of war. But turn around and think of the evil thrust upon the Native Americans via expansionist genocide. Or we can think about the evil caused by the institution of slavery. The original good (freedom from an oppressive government) eventually turned into evil (oppression was thrown upon another group).

We can imagine about how Israel was formed because of the Holocaust, and Israel is good in that it provides a homeland for Jews who would otherwise be persecuted (today or eventually) in other countries. But the trade-off is that many Palestinian people were forced off their homes (either by Jewish settlers or out of fear) and also caused a perpetual state of war between Israel and her neighbors. Even if this isn’t the ultimate fault of Israel, we can see that much evil has arisen from the original good of the Jews having their own homeland.[3]

In the end, some goods end up causing greater evils, which in turn should lead to greater goods, which in turn would inevitably lead to greater evils, and so on. This leads us to believe that at some point, good should stop allowing for evil, or the only evils left will be so horrendous that they would wipe out all of human existence. The evils should get greater if we look at the history of humanity and apply a G-G theodicy to it. And finally, at what point does the cycle end, or are we doomed to simply watch evil escalate until humans can’t stand it anymore?

Finally, G-G theodicies don’t adequately deal with natural evils because rarely do we see a “greater good” coming from a natural disaster. We can think of Haiti’s earthquake in 2010 and how they are still suffering from the devastating affects of the earthquake. Where is the greater good? Or what about Indonesia where over 200,000 people were killed, leaving even more without mothers, fathers, friends, husbands, wives, children, and so on? Shall we say that a greater good has come from the earthquake in Indonesia, and if it has, where is it? In all these cases, couldn’t God allow structural damage while disallowing the loss of life and still achieve the same “greater good”?

The ultimate problem with G-G theodicies is that they leave an undue burden on the theist to explain evil and find the greater good in every act of evil. I think back to an episode of the television show Scrubs where Dr. Cox takes the antagonistic position on evil while Nurse Roberts takes the affirmative position, arguing that God allows evil for a reason. The entire episode they go back and forth with Cox pointing to an evil and asking, “What’s the purpose in that,” while a short time later Roberts finds the purpose and shows him. But is such a defense necessary or even warranted? Why should theists have to point out the good in every act of evil when the good isn’t always apparent?

Ultimately, the G-G theodicies, while popular, are problematic in their logic, but also impractical as explanations. They place an undue burden on the theist without giving a satisfactory explanation. While sometimes God will allow an evil in order to bring about a greater good, to say that He does this in every case of evil is unfounded and unnecessary.

– Creation-Order Theodicy

A new alternative to the G-G theodicies is Bruce Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy (C-O). Rather than attempting to deny the existence of gratuitous evil or say that God allows all evil for a greater good, it embraces that gratuitous evil exists, but that this doesn’t count against God’s holiness or power. Ultimately, his theory is based on the idea that because humans have free will, God cannot logically prevent certain evils or most evils because this would limit human freedom. He argues,

“The creation order does not provide a means for God to filter out the bad choices from which He cannot bring about a greater good. Instead, the creation order allows for gratuitous evil as a corollary to the authenticity of the libertarian freedom.”[4]

Evil, even gratuitous evil, must be allowed because God allows free choices, which means we must be responsible for these choices. So why doesn’t God stop terrorists when they detonate an explosive in a crowded restaurant? If He prevented every act of evil, or most acts of evil, then free will wouldn’t exist because there wouldn’t be consequences to our choices because our choices would never be actualized. Continue reading

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 4) – The Logical Problem of Evil

In dealing with the problem of evil, it is best to approach the logical problem of evil first. After all, if it’s not even logically possible for God and an evil world to co-exist then there is no point in exploring the evidential problem of evil or the existential problem of evil. We don’t attempt to find evidence for things that both exist and don’t exist in the same space and dimensions because such things are logically impossible. Likewise, if God and evil are completely opposite, that is, an all-good, all-knowing God is mutually exclusive to a world that contains even a small amount of evil, then the theist is left with nothing and there can be no evidential or existential defense; God, by logical necessity, would not exist.

One of the more famous attempts to explain how God and evil are logically incompatible with each other comes from the philosopher David Hume. As previously noted, he wrote, “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

What Hume pointed out was that logically God cannot co-exist with an evil world, thus no explanation the theist gives will be satisfactory because it is ultimately illogical. The way Hume’s argument is structured it prevents the Christian from taking away from God’s omnipotence or benevolence in order to skirt around the problem of evil, both of which are essential to a ‘definition’ of God.

Hume’s attack against theodicy actually plagued Christian philosophers more than it should have, but for some time Christians and theists were left without an adequate explanation to the problem of evil. Around the 1970s, however, the philosopher Alvin Plantinga began to formulate a response to the logical problem of evil.

Plantinga began to take a “greater good” approach to the problem of evil, arguing that it was better that God create some creatures who are free than to create robots who has no choice in following God or to create nothing at all. Yet, in order to create beings that are truly free, He had to allow for the possibility of evil, indicating that both God and evil can co-exist. As Plantinga explains:

“A world containing creatures who are significantly free…is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so…The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good…The heart of the Free Will Defense is the claim that it is possible that God could not have created a universe containing moral good…without creating one that also contained moral evil. And if so, then it is possible that God has good reason for creating a world containing evil.”[1]

In a possible world where God wants freedom to exist for His creatures He must allow free will to also exist, but in doing so He must allow for the possibility of evil. If the theory of best possible worlds is correct and that the actualized world is the best of all possible worlds, then creatures who are free to choose evil, but do not, cannot actually exist. In fact, Plantinga expounds more upon his free will defense when he writes,

“Being perfectly good, He must have chosen to create the best world He could; being omnipotent, He was able to create any possible world He pleased. He must, therefore, have chosen the best of all possible worlds; and hence this world, the one He did create, must be the best possible.”[2]

If we remember that God can do all things that are logically possible, we must ask if there is a possible world that could exist where free-will agents always chose to do the right thing. Since free-will agents must have the option to choose to go against what is good, it is simply improbable that free-will agents who, though free from immorality are still not perfectly good, would continue to pick what is good.

Yet, how does all of this counter-act Hume’s argument? Plantinga begins to offer a syllogistic explanation and defense of his Free Will Defense. We can ultimately boil Hume’s objection down to a basic syllogism: Continue reading