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Defining ‘gratuitous evil’: a response to Alan R. Rhoda


In his article, ‘Gratuitous evil and divine providence’, Alan Rhoda claims to have produced an uncontroversial theological premise for the evidential argument from evil. I argue that his premise is by no means uncontroversial among theists, and I doubt that any premise can be found that is both uncontroversial and useful for the argument from evil.

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1. Rhoda Alan R.Gratuitous evil and divine providence’, Religious Studies, 46 (2010), 281302. (Page references in the text are to this article.)

2. Rowe William L.The problem of evil and some varieties of atheism’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 16 (1979), 335341.

3. I have omitted Rhoda's discussion of the notion that God should prevent all gratuitous evils but conceal from us the fact that He is doing so. Neither Rhoda nor I regard this as a viable strategy for God to adopt.

4. Material in this section draws upon William Hasker ‘Can God permit “just enough” evil?’, ch. 5 in idem Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God (London: Routledge, 2004); also relevant are idem ‘The necessity of gratuitous evil’, Faith and Philosophy, 9 (1992), 23–44, repr. as ch. 4 in Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God; and idem The Triumph of God Over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 187–198.

5. Note that an agent who is afraid that her own case might be one of the rare exceptions has an easy remedy: she need only decide early on that she will take no action to prevent the evil. It's as though God is saying: ‘If you fail to do the right thing I will step in, but please give me plenty of advance notice’.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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