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Evil may be defined as something that is immoral, causes pain or harm, is offensive, or threatening. Evil may be considered the opposite of good in a metaphysical sense.

In the philosophy of religion and theology, the problem of evil is the question of whether evil exists and, if so, why. The question particularly arises in religions that propose the existence of a deity who is omnibenevolent while simultaneously also being omnipotent, and omniscient.[1][2] Attempts to resolve the question under these contexts have historically been one of the prime concerns of theodicy.

Some responses include the arguments that true free will cannot exist without the possibility of evil, that humans cannot understand God, that evil is merely the privation of good, or that evil is a result of a corrupted and fallen world.

There are also many discussions of "evil" and associated problems in other philosophical fields, such as secular ethics,[3][4][5] and scientific disciplines such as evolutionary ethics.[6][7] But as usually understood in the Anglo-American tradition, the problem of evil is posed in a religious context.[1][2]

Detailed argumentsEdit

Numerous different versions of the problem of evil have been formulated.[1][2][8]

Logical problem of evilEdit

One example among many of a formulation of the problem of evil is often attributed to Epicurus[9] and may be schematized as follows:

  1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

This argument is of the logically valid form modus tollens (denying the consequent). In this case, P is "God exists" and Q is "there is no evil in the world".

Another theory exists as such:

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
  3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
  5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).[2]

Versions such as these are referred to as the logical problem of evil. They attempt to show that the assumed propositions lead to a logical contradiction and cannot therefore all be correct. Most philosophical debate has focused on the propositions stating that God cannot exist with, or would want to prevent, all evils. A common response is that God can exist with and allow evil in order to achieve a greater good.

Many philosophers accept that arguments such as Plantinga's free will defense (in brief, that God allows evil in order to achieve the greater good of free will) are logically possible and thus successfully solve the logical problem of evil in terms of human action;[10] the question of how free will and God's Omniscience are compatible remains however (see the Argument from free will). Plantinga's defense further seeks to explain natural evils by positing that the mere logical possibility of "a mighty nonhuman spirit"[11] such as Satan is sufficient to resolve the logical form of the problem of natural evil. Since Plantinga's goal is to defeat only the assertion that God and evil are logically incompatible, even a highly implausible but possible, coherent instance of God's coexistence with evil is sufficient for his purposes.

Additionally, it appears that evil may only exist when intentional and so it might be argued that evil might only exist in a world with a God, as it is the willful source of the naturalistic suffering and allows it to continue despite supposedly having the power to stop it.[8]

Evidential problem of evilEdit

The evidential version of the problem of evil (also referred to as the probabilistic or inductive version), seeks to show that the existence of evil, although logically consistent with the existence of God, counts against or lowers the probability of the truth of theism.

A version by William L. Rowe:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.[2]

Another by Paul Draper:

  1. Gratuitous evils exist.
  2. The hypothesis of indifference, i.e., that if there are supernatural beings they are indifferent to gratuitous evils, is a better explanation for (1) than theism.
  3. Therefore, evidence prefers that no god, as commonly understood by theists, exists.[12]

These arguments are probability judgments since they rest on the claim that, even after careful reflection, one can see no good reason for God’s permission of evil. The inference from this claim to the judgment that there exists gratuitous evil is inductive in nature, and it is this inductive step that sets the evidential argument apart from the logical argument.[2]

The logical possibility of hidden or unknown reasons for the existence of evil still exist. However, the existence of God is viewed as any large-scale hypothesis or explanatory theory that aims to make sense of some pertinent facts. To the extent that it fails to do so it is disconfirmed.[2] According to Occam's razor, one should make as few assumptions as possible. Hidden reasons are assumptions, as is the assumption that all pertinent facts can be observed, or that facts and theories humans have not discerned are indeed hidden. Thus, as per Draper's argument above, the theory that there is an omniscient and omnipotent being who is indifferent requires no hidden reasons in order to explain evil. It is thus a simpler theory than one that also requires hidden reasons regarding evil in order to include omnibenevolence. Similarly, for every hidden argument that completely or partially justifies observed evils it is equally likely that there is an hidden argument that actually makes the observed evils worse than they appear without hidden arguments. As such, from a probabilistic viewpoint hidden arguments will neutralize one another.[1]

A common response to the evidential argument is by claiming that we can see plausible and not hidden reasons for God’s permission of evil. This is discussed in a later section.

Related arguments Edit

If there is a belief in hell, possibly including eternal suffering, then the problem of hell is a particularly strong form of the problem of evil. If unbelief or incorrect beliefs or poor design are considered evils, then the argument from nonbelief, the argument from inconsistent revelations, and the argument from poor design are similar to the problem of evil. There are also various omnipotency paradoxes.

Answers and Defenses Edit

Main article: Theodicy

Responses to the problem of evil have sometimes been classified as defenses or theodicies. However, authors disagree on the exact definitions.[1][2][13] Generally, a defense attempts to show that there is no logical incompatibility between the existence of evil and the existence of God. A defense need not argue that this is a probable or plausible explanation, only that the defense is logically possible. A defense attempts to answer the logical problem of evil.

A theodicy, from Greek θεός (theós, "god") and δίκη (díkē, "justice")), on the other hand, is a more ambitious attempt to provide a plausible justification for the existence of evil. A theodicy attempts to answer the evidential problem of evil.[2] Richard Swinburne maintains that it does not make sense to assume there are greater goods, unless we know what they are—without knowledge of what the greater goods could be, one cannot have a successful theodicy.[14]

As an example, some authors see arguments including demons or the fall of man as not logically impossible but not very plausible considering our knowledge about the world. Thus they are seen as defenses but not good theodicies.[2]

Free willEdit

The free will argument is as follows: God's creation of persons with morally significant free will is something of tremendous value. God could not eliminate evil and suffering without thereby eliminating the greater good of having created persons with free will and who can make moral choices.[2][8] Christian apologist Gregory A. Boyd claims that God's all-powerful nature does not mean that God exercises all power, and instead allows free agents to act against his own wishes.[15] He argues that since love must be chosen, love cannot exist without true free will.[16]

Gregory Boyd also maintains that God does not plan or will evil in people's lives, but that evil is a result of a combination of free choices and the interconnectedness and complexity of life in a sinful and fallen world.[17]

C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Problem of Pain:

We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.[18]

Consequences of sinEdit

Another possible answer is that the world is corrupted due to the sin of mankind. Some answer that because of sin, the world has fallen from the grace of God, and is not perfect. Therefore, evils and imperfections persist because the world is fallen.[19]

The AfterlifeEdit

While free will deals with humanity as a whole, the afterlife theodicy deals with individual justice. It is argued that each and every individual is brought to justice in the afterlife, and that all evils will be defeated.[20] One criticism is that this afterlife would seem to imply that even the greatest evil becomes relatively trivial. An answer is that this theodicy does not imply that any evil becomes trivial in any absolute sense, and that the afterlife does not change the horrors of evil.[20]

The afterlife answer was called “a very curious argument” by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He pointed out:

“If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, ‘After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here then the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say: ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;’ and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say: ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.’”[21]

Mankind's limited knowledgeEdit

One argument is that, due to mankind's limited knowledge, humans cannot expect to understand God or God's ultimate plan. When a parent takes an infant to the doctor for a regular vaccination to prevent some childhood disease, it's because the parent cares for and loves that child. The young child however will almost always see things very differently. It is argued that just as an infant cannot possibly understand the motives of its parent while it is still only a child, people cannot comprehend God's will in their current physical and earthly state.[22]

Another suggestion is that, the Problem of Evil argument is logically flawed because it silently assumes that people really can comprehend what God should do. In other words, for the Problem of Evil to be valid, it must be proven that there can be no god which cannot be so comprehended. [23]

Definition of evil as absence of goodEdit

The fifth century theologian Augustine of Hippo maintained that evil was only privatio boni, or an absence of good, much like darkness is an absence of light. An evil thing can only be referred to as a negative form of a good thing, such as discord, injustice, and loss of life or of liberty. It is argued that evil is not created by God, but that God created mankind who has the choice to commit evil acts.[24]

Evil is complementary to goodEdit

Concepts such as yin and yang argue that evil and good are complementary opposites within a greater whole. If one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness. Compassion, a valuable virtue, can only exist if there is suffering. Bravery only exists if we sometimes face danger. Self-sacrifice is another great good, but can only exist if there is inter-dependence, if some people find themselves in situations where they need help from others.

"Evil" suggests an ethical lawEdit

Another response to this paradox argues that asserting "evil exists" would imply an ethical standard against which to define good and evil. C. S. Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.[25]

Irenaean and Augustinian Theodicy Edit

The church has adopted two main responses to the problem of evil and suffering: the Augustinian theodicy posited by St Augustine of Hippo (354 AD – 430), and Irenaean theodicy posited by Irenaeus (2nd century AD - c. 202).

Augustinian TheodicyEdit

Augustinian theodicy focuses on the genesis story that essentially dictates that God created the world and that it was good; evil is merely a consequence of the fall of man (The story of the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve disobeyed God and caused inherent sin for man). Augustine stated that natural evil (evil present in the natural world such as natural disasters etc) is caused by fallen angels, whereas moral evil (evil caused by the will of human beings) is as a result of man having become estranged from God and choosing to deviate from his chosen path. Augustine argued that God could not have created evil in the world, as it was created good, and that all notions of evil are simply a deviation or privation of goodness. Evil cannot be a separate and unique substance. For example, Blindness is not a separate entity, but is merely a lack or privation of sight. Thus the Augustinian theodicist would argue that the problem of evil and suffering is void because God did not create evil; it was man who chose to deviate from the path of perfect goodness.

This, however, poses a number of questions involving genetics: if evil is merely a consequence of our choosing to deviate from God's desired goodness, then genetic disposition of 'evil' must surely be in God's plan and desire and thus cannot be blamed on Man. Similarly, the idea of inherent sin because our forebearers committed some sin seems incompatible with the teachings in the bible. The Old Testament states "should the children's teeth be set on edge because their fathers ate sour grapes?"[26] It is not, however, because the Fall led all men to have what is known as concupiscence, or the natural inclination to sin. This is removed at Baptism, so the children have a way to be redeemed for their "father's eating sour grapes."

Irenaean theodicyEdit

Irenaean theodicy was first created by Irenaeus but has been reformulated into its current state by John Hick. It holds that one cannot achieve moral goodness or love for God if there is no evil and suffering in the world. Evil is soul-making and leads one to be truly moral and close to God. God created an epistemic distance (such that God is not immediately knowable) so that we may strive to know him and by doing so become truly good. Evil is good for 3 main reasons:

  1. Means of knowledge Hunger leads to pain, and causes a desire to feed. Knowledge of pain prompts humans to seek to help others in pain.
  2. Character Building Evil offers the opportunity to grow morally. “We would never learn the art of goodness in a world designed as a hedonistic paradise” (Swinburne)
  3. Predictable Environment The world runs to a series of natural laws. These are independent of any inhabitants of the universe. Natural Evil only occurs when these natural laws conflict with our own perceived needs. This is not immoral in any way


In Hinduism, the problem of evil is present but does not exist per se as souls are eternal and not directly created by God. In Dvaita philosophy, jivas (souls) are eternally existent and hence not a creation of God ex nihilo (out of nothing). The souls are bound by beginningless avidya (ignorance) that cause a misidentification with products of nature (body, wealth, power) and hence suffering. In effect, Hinduism identifies avidya (ignorance) as the cause of evil and this ignorance itself is uncaused. Suffering from natural causes are explained as karmic results of previous births.

Moreover, even within the realm of avidya, "good" and "evil" are an individual's deeds and God dispenses the results of an individual's actions but has the power to mitigate suffering.(see Karma in Hinduism and Hindu answers to the problem of evil)

See alsoEdit

Notes Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Problem of Evil", Michael Tooley
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Evidential Problem of Evil", Nick Trakakis
  3. Nicholas J. Rengger, Moral Evil and International Relations, in SAIS Review 25:1, Winter/Spring 2005, pages 3-16
  4. Peter Kivy, Melville's Billy and the Secular Problem of Evil: the Worm in the Bud, in The Monist (1980), 63
  5. Kekes, John (1990). Facing Evil, Princeton: Princeton UP.
  6. Timothy Anders, The Evolution of Evil (2000)
  7. J.D. Duntley and David Buss, "The Evolution of Evil," in Miller, Arthur (2004). The Social Psychology of Good and Evil, 102–133, New York: Guilford.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Logical Problem of Evil", James R. Beebe
  9. The formulation may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Mark Joseph Larrimore, (2001), The Problem of Evil, pages xix-xxi. Wiley-Blackwell. According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academical source which is not only not epicurean, but even anti-epicurean. Reinhold F. Glei, Et invidus et inbecillus. Das angebliche Epikurfragment bei Laktanz, De ira dei 13,20-21, in: Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988), p. 47-58
  10. Meister, Chad (2009). Introducing Philosophy of Religion, Routledge.
  11. Plantinga, Alvin (1974). God, Freedom, and Evil, Harper & Row.
  12. Draper, Paul (1989). Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists. Noûs 23 (3): 331–350.
  13. Template:Cite encyclopaedia
  14. Template:Cite encyclopaedia
  15. Boyd 2003, pp. 57-58
  16. Boyd 2003, p. 76
  17. Boyd 2003, p. 96
  18. C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain HarperCollins:New York, 1996 p.24-25
  20. 20.0 20.1
  21. Why I am not a Christian
  23. The Supposed Problem of Evil,
  24. A Good Reason for Evil Transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl.
  25. C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity Touchstone:New York, 1980 p.45-46
  26. Jeremiah 31:29-30 and Ezekiel 18:2-4

References Edit

External linksEdit


Encyclopedias Edit


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