THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
The problem of evil is concerned with whether the existence of evil (or of particular kinds or amounts of evil) is logically incompatible with the existence of God or provides significant evidence against the existence of God. The “logical” problem of evil focuses on whether evil (or particular kinds or amounts of evil) is logically incompatible with the existence of God. The “evidential” problem of evil focuses on whether evil (or particular kinds or amounts of evil) provides significant evidence against the existence of God.
G. God exists.
E. Evil exists.
There are four logical possibilities concerning the above two claims:
Christianity asserts that both (G) and (E) are true.
The logical problem of evil arises because God, according to traditional Christian theology, traditional Jewish theology, and traditional Islamic theology, is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and perfectly morally good.
One way to avoid the logical problem of evil is to opt for a finite and imperfect god, a god who is less than omnipotent, and/or less than omniscient, and/or less than perfectly morally good. If you believe in an imperfect god, then evil is not a problem, at least evil does not rule out the possibility of a finite and imperfect god. But such a god seems unworthy of worship, devotion, and unquestioning obedience, so traditional Christian theology, traditional Jewish theology, and traditional Islamic theology hold the view that God is a perfect being who possesses the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and perfect moral goodness.
Some philosophers and apologists put forward a DEFENSE of the goodness of God, which is an attempt to show that the existence of God is logically compatible with the existence of evil (or a particular kind or amount of evil). A DEFENSE is thus an attempted reply to the logical problem of evil.
Other philosophers and apologists put forward a THEODICY, which is an attempt to show that the existence of evil (or a particular kind or amount of evil) fails to provide significant or powerful evidence against the existence of God, so that belief in the existence of God is still reasonable and justified even in view of the existence of evil (or of a particular kind or amount of evil).
In this and future posts, I will be considering various THEODICIES to see if any of them are plausible without making use of assumptions about the PLANS or PURPOSES of God. I strongly suspect than any THEODICY must make use of such assumptions in order to have any hope of being a plausible THEODICY.
THE AUGUSTINIAN THEODICY
The main traditional Christian THEODICY comes from Augustine, and was used and developed further by Aquinas.
One element of this traditional THEODICY is that evil is a “privation”. The idea is that everything that exists is basically good, and that there are no evil things, per se. Evil exists, but not as a kind of thing. Rather evil is a disorder, disfunction, imperfection, perversion, or brokenness of something that is basically good.
A bucket with a hole in it, is a disfunctional and imperfect bucket, because the hole causes water (and other liquids) to leak out of the bucket, making the bucket imperfect and less functional than it would be if it had no hole. Buckets are good things, but buckets with holes in them are imperfect and less than fully functional.
The idea that evil is a privation allows for the possibility that God created everything, and that everything was good; there was no evil created by God. But this idea of evil as a privation does NOT get God off the hook for the existence of evil.
Suppose that you buy a new car, and the new car works perfectly for one week. But then your one-week old car starts sputtering, hesitating, backfiring, spewing smoke out the tailpipe, and refuses to go over ten miles an hour. You make it two blocks and then there is a loud bang, the engine dies, and it refuses to start up again. You have the car towed to the dealership. Why? Because it is a brand new car. The fact that it worked perfectly for one week is of no great credit to the designer and manufacturer of the car. The fact that it broke down after only one week reflects poorly on the designer and/or manufacturer of the car.
Similarly, even if the universe and everything in it worked perfectly for a few years or a few centuries, if the universe broke down and became disfunctional, disordered, and corrupted, then that would reflect poorly on the person who designed and/or made the universe (if the universe was designed and made). So, if the creator made a universe which was subject to breaking, to becoming disordered, disfunctional, and imperfect, then the creator can be blamed for having made a faulty universe, even if the universe and everything in it worked perfectly for a few years or a few centuries.
If there was a perfect designer and creator of the universe, then we would expect the universe to not only work perfectly for a few years or a few centuries, rather, we would expect the universe to continue to work perfectly forever. But according to the Bible and to Augustine, the universe became corrupted and disfunctional very soon after it was created.
Thus, the idea that evil is a privation does NOT let God or the CREATOR of the universe off the hook for the evil that exists in the universe. A perfect CREATOR should be able to design and make a universe that runs perfectly for more than a few years or a few centuries. A perfect CREATOR should be able to design and make a universe that runs perfectly forever, a universe that never breaks down, never becomes disfunctional or disordered, that never becomes flawed or imperfect.
But wait a minute. What if a person buys a brand new car, but then horribly abuses and misuses that car? What if someone takes a brand new car and drives it into a lake or into an ocean? What if someone drives a brand new car off of a cliff? or drives a new car at 100 miles per hour and then steers the car into a solid concrete wall? What if someone takes a brand new car and fills the interior of the car with wet concrete? or fills the gas tank with sulfuric acid?
Such a car would probably become disfunctional, disordered, and imperfect in a matter of days or hours. That would NOT be the fault of the people who designed the car, nor would it be the fault of the people who manufactured the car. Taking the broken and disfunctional car back to the dealer would be unreasonable, because the blame for the disfunction and disorder of the car would be squarely on the person who severely abused and misused the car.
This scenario of abuse and misuse of a new car is similar to the appeal to Free Will by Augustine and Aquinas to explain evil and to justify the perfect goodness of the CREATOR of the universe. The creator made the universe and everything in it perfectly good, without any disfunction, disorder, or imperfection. But human beings through bad choices abused and misused things and each other, causing disfunction, disorder, and imperfection to come into existence. There was no evil when God finished making the universe, but human beings corrupted a perfectly good universe and the things in it, causing disfunction, disorder, and imperfection. God made the universe, but human beings broke the universe by making bad choices. God did not create evil; humans created evil.
However, this explanation of evil still does NOT let the CREATOR of the universe off the hook. There is an important disanalogy between the scenario of the owner of a new car abusing the car and the scenario of human beings making bad choices resulting in evil in the universe. The designers and makers of the new car did not design and make the human being who purchased the new car, so they are not responsible for the bad choices of the owner of the new car. But the creator of the universe is ALSO the creator of the human beings who make the bad choices that (allegedly) caused evil to come into existence.
The CREATOR designed and produced human beings, so the bad choices of human beings are, at least indirectly, the result of the actions of the CREATOR. This is particularly the case if the CREATOR happens to be omniscient, because then the CREATOR must have KNOWN in advance that human beings would make bad choices, and thus cause the universe to become disfunctional, disordered, and broken. The CREATOR would have known that these creatures would bring about the existence of evil. Thus, in deciding to make human beings, the CREATOR determined that evil would come into existence.
There is more, of course, to say in defense of Augustine’s THEODICY. The value of Free Will, it is thought, outweighs the disvalue of the evils that the CREATOR knew human beings would bring into existence, so one could argue that the CREATOR was morally justified in making human beings with Free Will even knowing all of the various horrible evils that would result from this.
But there is a different and huge problem with Augustine’s THEODICY that makes it implausible. Evil existed BEFORE human beings existed. Pain, suffering, injury, disease, violence and death did NOT begin after human beings came into existence. These evils existed for millions of years before any human being walked the face of planet Earth. So, the bad choices of human beings cannot be the cause of those evils that existed for millions of years before human beings existed. The universe was badly broken long before human beings came along.
Furthermore, there is no evidence that there was ever a golden age on the Earth when there was no pain, suffering, injury, disease and death. Although there was a time when there was no injury, disease, and death, that was a time when there was NOTHING that was alive. There was also a time when there was no pain and no suffering, but that was a time before there were sentient animals. As soon as there were living things, there was injury, disease, and death. As soon as there were sentient animals, there was pain and suffering. There was no golden age when there were living things but no death. There was no golden age when there were sentient animals but no pain or suffering. The Augustinian THEODICY is based upon an empirically FALSE description of the natural history of the planet Earth.
In the next post, I will discuss the question of whether the Augustinian THEODICY involves some assumptions about the PLANS or PURPOSES of God (or of the CREATOR of the universe).
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