Reflections On “Evil And Theodicy” by Laura W. Ekstrom (2023) part 1: Background Context


  • Suffering is ubiquitous. Quests to make sense of it in relation to the existence of God – and to find meaning in our lives in the face of it – are significant aspects of the human experience. Evil and Theodicy motivates the project of theodicy by examining arguments rooted in evil against God’s existence and by critically assessing the response of skeptical theism. Ekstrom explores eight different lines of theodicy. She argues that, even if the prospects for theodicy are dim with respect to defending the rationality of theistic belief in light of suffering, nonetheless, work in theodicies is practically useful.

Brainstorming to activate context prior to reading:

I think God is legally guilty of depraved indifference murder for things like earthquakes, hurricanes and cancer.  I don’t think evil necessarily disproves a higher power, just certain types.  I don’t think an omniscient/omnipresent/omnipotent/omnibenevolent god who loves us and has a plan for our lives is compatible with childhood cancer, because that isn’t love.  This is still compatible with a god who is evil, or insane, or incompetent, impotent, etc, The theist responds that God’s thoughts and ways are beyond ours, and there is justice in the next life, but this hardly seems intellectually honest and is grasping at straws.  

Or perhaps there is no such thing as evil?  If you compare the judgment of the West at the time of 9’11 with many Palestinians at the time who were celebrating, you get one and the same event which is pure evil from one perspective, to the highest good in the other.  Schelling said, to the contrary, that evil is the distinctly human freedom, in that only humans can sink below animals in terms of depravity. 

 I think morality goes back to our evolution because as a general rule we are more successful in life if we cooperate with others.  Some theists say we need God to stamp authority on moral imperatives, because otherwise you get relativism, but this is silly.  Even children reason morally through the lens of friendship in that you are being a good friend if you share your candy, and being a bad friend if you steal his/her toy.  The ground of this, the golden rule, is found cross culturally and across time irrespective of religion or society.  It states “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  This is another way of saying “Be a good friend, and don’t be a bad friend.”  Relativism is a non-starter because every person has a circle of friends, however large or small, that they act in a friendly way toward.

So, there are going to be conflicting moral evaluations at times: I may think the feeding of the Christians to the lions for sport in ancient Rome was horrific, even though if I was a Roman at the time I might have considered it great fun. But this doesn’t deny the objectivity of moral evaluation criteria anymore than would any application of criteria for judgment (eg., two wine connoisseurs coming to different judgments about a wine, or two teachers scoring an essay differently on an evaluation rubric). We are learning to hold actions up to the standard of Universal Human Rights

Whether you are a God or person, you act in such a way that you are always already accountable for your actions, unless you are not of sane capacity, in which case we say “you don’t know any better.” Our self unconsciously legislates a rule that we morally accompany all our actions, so even a God is a subject to Justice as attached to actions. I can’t unhinge myself from responsibility for what I do, that I own my actions. In this way Kant rethought the rational animal as the moral animal. We see this in criminals who try to come up with endless reasons to mitigate responsibility, which just goes to show how yoked we are to out behaviors.