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The Problem with the ‘Problem of Evil’

  • David (a1) and Randall Basinger (a2)


Current discussions of the ‘problem of evil’ vary greatly in atleast two ways. First, those involved in such discussions often differ on the exact nature of the problem. Some see it as primarily logical (deductive), some as primarily evidential (inductive), and still others as primarily psychological (personal, pastoral).1 Second, those involved in such discussions differ radically on what is required of the theist in response. Some claim that unless the theist can offer an explanation for evil (a theodicy) that is satisfying to rational individuals in general, theistic belief is rendered unjustified.2 Others agree that the theist must offer a theodicy, but deny that such an explanation must be found convincing by most if theistic belief is to remain justified.3 And still others deny that the theist is required to offer any sort of explanation (theodicy), arguing instead that the theist need only defend the logical consistency of simultaneous belief in the existence of evil and God.4



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1 A good introduction to the distinction between the logical and evidential approaches to evil can be found in Peterson, Michael, Evil and the Christian God (Grand Rapids. Baker Book House, 1982). A succinct defence of the psychological (pastoral) approach to evil can be found in Hauerwas, Stanley, ‘God, Medicine and the Problem of Evil’, Reformed Journal (April, 1988), 1621.

2 See, for example, Griffin, David, Evil Revisited (Albany: SUNY Press, 1991), chs 2, 5 and 6.

3 See, for example, Reichenbach, Bruce, Evil and a Good God (Fordam University Press, 1982).

4 The most influential proponent of this perspective is Alvin Plantinga. See, for instance, ‘The Foundations of Theism: A Reply’, Faith and Philosophy, III (1986), 298313.

5 It is important to note that the contention that all theists who believe God to be omnipotent and perfectly good face the same problem is not new. Hume, for instance, traces it back at least as far as Epicurus. Also, it is important to note that the current discussions of evil by both theists – for example, Peterson, Reichenbach and Plantinga – and nontheists – for example, J. L. Mackie and Antony Flew – make this assumption.

6 Morris, Thomas V., Our Idea of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991), p. 66.

7 See Gottfried Leibniz, ‘The Argument Reduced to Syllogistic Form’, from Theodicy in William Rowe and Wainwright, William, Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 2nd ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989), pp. 197205.

8 See, for example, Plantinga, , God, Freedom and Evil (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), chs 57.

9 Morris, pp. 77–8.

10 See, for example, Griffin, pp. 22–40.

11 See, for example Leibniz, pp. 197–201. Contemporary proponents of this perspective are called theological determinists. See, for example, Clark, Gordon H., Religion, Reason and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1961).

12 Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, ch. 6.

13 Griffin, ch. 1.

14 Morris, ch. 3.

15 Morris, pp. 50–1.

16 Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, The Brothers Karamazov, tr Magarshack, D. (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1958), Part 2, Book 5, ch. 4, p. 287. A contemporary version of this perspective has been proposed by Stump, E., ‘The Problem of Evil’, Faith and Philosophy, II, (1985), 392423.

17 Tracy, Thomas, ‘Victimization and the Problem of Evil’, Faith and Philosophy, IX (1992), 301–19, quote from p. 310. A version of this perspective has also been set forth by Hick, John in Evil and the God of Love (London: Macmillan; New York: Harper & Row, 1978).

18 See, for example, Plantinga.

19 For example, the followers of Christian Science fit into this category.

20 In general, those theists who believe that God can control what we freely do maintain that this world contains no gratuitous evil, while those who believe that God cannot both grant us freedom and control its use acknowledge that this world may well contain gratuitous as well as nongratuitous evil.

21 Mackie, J. L., ‘Evil and Omnipotence’, in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Issues, p. 225.

22 Nash, Ronald, Reason and Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 187.

23 See, for example, Griffin's critique of the theodicy of free-will theists in Evil Revisited or William Hasker's critique of the theodicy of those who affirm middle knowledge in God, Time and Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), ch 10.


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