The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil
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by John S. Feinberg
Description: In this revision of the classic text, John Feinberg examines questions posed by the problem of evil.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [1.1 MB]
Reading time: 713-998 min.
God said that Job was a righteous and blameless man, but he suffered anyway. He lost his children, his possessions, and ultimately his health. Job's friends believed that a loving, powerful, and righteous God would never punish a blameless man, so they urged Job to repent and make peace with God. Job maintained his innocence, but like his friends, he knew that God punishes the wicked, so he couldn't understand why he was suffering. Wracked by intellectual and spiritual questions and besieged by emotional and physical pain, Job wanted an opportunity to plead his case in God's courtroom. Eventually God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind and overwhelmed him with a sense of his power and grandeur. But he never explained why he hadn't used some of that power to protect Job from the evil that befell him, nor why once beset by tragedy upon tragedy, Job wasn't released from it by this omnipotent God who seemingly could do anything. Though God had bestowed his love upon Job bountifully before the affliction came and did so even more abundantly when he finally released Job from the evils he endured, he never explained how allowing those evils into Job's life squared with his love and benevolence.
Job's experience is a paradigm case for the riddle of God and evil, but it isn't the only instance of horrendous suffering and evil. And so, professional philosophers and theologians along with ordinary people wonder how God could allow such horrible things to happen and why he wouldn't stop them from taking such a heavy toll upon mankind. Doesn't he love us enough to remove these evils? Or, is the problem that he just isn't powerful enough to do so? Who hasn't asked such questions?
The problem of evil as traditionally understood in philosophical discussion and debate is stated succinctly in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:
Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
[Footnote 1: David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part X, in The Empiricists (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974), 490.]
In his article "Evil and Omnipotence," written some years ago, J. L. Mackie concurred with this traditional understanding of the problem. He claimed that though traditional arguments for God's existence don't work, theists can accept the criticisms against those arguments and still maintain that God's existence can be known in some nonrational way. Perhaps they have experienced God in a vivid way, so no amount of rational argument to the contrary will likely dissuade them from their belief in God. However, Mackie argued that there is a far more devastating objection to theism. All forms of theism, he argued, which hold that God is omnipotent and benevolent succumb before the Epicurean trilemma stated in the portion cited from Hume. Mackie wrote:
Here it can be shown, not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational, that the several parts of the essential theological doctrine are inconsistent with one another, so that the theologian can maintain his position as a whole only by a much more extreme rejection of reason than in the former case. He must now be prepared to believe, not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds.
[Footnote 2: J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," in Basil Mitchell, ed., Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 92.]
Mackie believed the traditional problem of evil deals a devastating blow to all theistic positions committed to God's omnipotence and benevolence and evil's existence. Later in life he modified his views somewhat, but he maintained to the end that the existence of evil poses an unresolvable problem for traditional theism. I believe these claims are mistaken and that it is possible to demonstrate so. That is the major burden of this book.
Many things can and will be said about why and how Mackie's and other atheists' claims err. However, I begin by pointing out that Mackie's critique ultimately rests on two false assumptions. The first is that all forms of theism that hold to God's omnipotence (in some sense of "omnipotence") entail that an omnipotent being can eliminate all forms of evil. Of course, if one defines divine omnipotence so as to allow God to actualize logically contradictory states of affairs, then God can eliminate all forms of evil. My point is that not all forms of theism understand omnipotence that way. Hence, not all theistic systems entail that God can remove all kinds of evil.
Mackie's second erroneous assumption is that conditions in our world which he considers evil are evil according to all forms of theism that hold that God is omnipotent. As we shall see, theistic systems incorporate different notions of evil. This is even true of systems committed to divine omnipotence. Moreover, it is simply wrong for Mackie, an atheist, to assume that all theological positions committed to God as omnipotent hold his views on the meaning and nature of evil.
These complaints about Mackie must not be misunderstood. They don't mean that the existence of evil poses no problem for theistic systems committed to divine omnipotence and benevolence. As we shall see, evil's existence poses a variety of problems for any number of theistic positions.
Moreover, if a theology has an unacceptable view of divine omnipotence and/or an untenable account of evil, then the system is untenable, regardless of any alleged inconsistency between God's attributes and evil's existence as the system understands them. As Peter Geach says, any critic who attacks a theological position on the grounds of a problem of evil and any apologist who defends the system against a problem of evil are simply wasting their time, if the theology's notions of divine omnipotence and/or evil have already been shown to be untenable. There is simply no need to beat a dead horse, so to speak. Nonetheless, inadequacy of a theology because it holds unacceptable notions of omnipotence and/or evil isn't the same thing as untenability for failure to solve its problem of evil.
[Footnote 3: Peter T. Geach, Providence and Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 29.]
My complaints about Mackie's view, then, don't mean that evil poses no problem for theistic belief, but rather that one must understand more accurately than Mackie has the nature of this problem and the "ground rules" for dealing with it. There are a number of theological positions with doctrines of divine omnipotence and benevolence, and the existence of evil poses a variety of serious and significant problems for those systems. Some of those problems deal with matters of internal inconsistency, whereas others question how probable it is that the theology's account of God and evil are accurate.
Granting, then, that it is legitimate for theologians and critics alike to talk about the problems that evil's existence creates for theistic belief, I want to address those problems in this book. I propose to do so by focusing my discussion around the articulation and defense of seven theses. They are: 1) The traditional understanding of the nature of the problem of evil considers it to be only one problem that attacks all theological positions in precisely the same way, but this is mistaken. There is in fact no such thing as the problem of evil, for at best, the expression "the problem of evil" stands for a host of distinct problems that confront theologies holding that (a) God is omnipotent (in some sense of "omnipotent"), (b) God is good in that he wills that there be no evil, in some sense of "evil," and (c) evil, in the sense alluded to in (b), exists; 2) Since a problem of evil in its logical form is about the internal consistency of the three propositions just mentioned (propositions [a]-[c]), anyone who attempts to discuss a logical problem of evil as it relates to a particular theology must show that the problem arises within that system's accounts of God and evil. It is illegitimate to criticize a theology for failing to solve a problem of evil which could arise only if the critic's notions of omnipotence and evil are incorporated into the system; 3) There are many forms of theism that can solve their logical problem of evil. Thus, the complaint that there is no rational way to demonstrate the internal consistency of any theological position that holds to an omnipotent and benevolent God and to evil's existence is false; 4) Evil's existence also poses an evidential problem that many theistic systems can resolve; 5) While many theologies can solve their logical and evidential problems of evil, they incorporate theological and/or philosophical commitments I find unacceptable. Thus, I shall present a theology whose intellectual commitments I accept, and I shall show how problems of evil arise for that system and how to solve them. In order to do this, I shall present an original defense that is compatible with the system's views of the divine attributes, human freedom, and evil; 6) Among the many problems of evil, one of the most challenging for theism is the problem of hell. Despite its difficulty, there are a number of systems that can solve this problem in its logical and evidential forms. I shall examine many of those answers and explain how, given my theology, I would handle this problem; and 7) The religious problem of evil is a different kind of problem from the rest; consequently, it requires a different treatment. I shall offer a variety of reflections that address that problem.
At this early point in this book the meaning of many of these seven theses is opaque to the reader. As the discussion moves along, however, each will be explained. In the rest of this chapter I want to explain the first two theses. This will allow me to set forth the ground rules for handling the problem of evil in its logical form. At the end of the chapter, I plan to present the structure for the rest of the book. In doing so, I shall indicate how I shall handle the remaining theses.
Before turning to my first thesis, I want to address two other preliminary but important matters. Readers who believe in God may be troubled by what I have said so far. Rather than resolving the problem of evil, I appear to be expanding it in that I am claiming that there is not just one problem of evil but many. This may be especially perplexing to some in light of a commonly held belief that the problem of evil is an attack on God's very existence.
To the first concern I reply that we shall see that by recognizing that there is more than one problem of evil, we don't make it harder to handle this issue. Rather, I shall show that by distinguishing the many problems of evil we make great headway in moving to their resolution. In fact, when theists do not distinguish among the many problems and identify the specific one they want to address, the likelihood of their resolving any of the problems is diminished.
As to the concern that the problem of evil is an attack on God, that isn't necessarily true. Any of the many problems of evil is actually an attack on some theological conception of God. To the extent that a given theology's conception of God matches the true and the living God, then, of course a problem of evil posed against that notion of God really does attack God. Suffice it to say that the burden of this book isn't to defend my conception of God as the correct one; I have done so elsewhere. Rather, my purpose in this book is to show that many different theologies committed to divine omnipotence and benevolence can solve the many problems evil poses for them. That is a tall enough order in itself. Deciding and defending which of these theologies most likely matches the true and living God is a task for another occasion.
[Footnote 4: For a detailed explanation and defense of this theology, see my No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2001).]
My first thesis is that there is no such thing as the problem of evil. This is true in at least three distinct respects, the first of which is that it is possible to distinguish a host of different problems that can arise over the issue of God and evil. There is initially a distinction between what I shall call the religious problem of evil and the theological/philosophical problem of evil.
A religious problem of evil arises from a particular instance of suffering and evil that someone is actually experiencing. Faced with such affliction, the sufferer finds it hard to reconcile what is happening with his beliefs about God's love and power. This precipitates a crisis of faith. In the midst of this turmoil, the sufferer asks, "Why is this evil happening to me now?" "This just isn't fair. What did I do to deserve this?" "How can a loving God let this hap-pen to me?" and, "In view of what's happening, how can I worship a God who won't stop it?" It is the religious problem of evil that Job confronted.
[Footnote 5: What I call a religious problem of evil coincides with what Ahern calls a specific concrete problem, a problem which arises from the actual world as experienced by an individual. See M. B. Ahern, The Problem of Evil (New York: Schocken, 1971), 8. Brian K. Cameron speaks of an existential problem of evil as he discusses Marilyn McCord Adams's response to the problem of evil. As Cameron describes this problem, it is in the main what I am calling the religious problem of evil. See Brian K. Cameron, "A Critique of Marilyn McCord Adams' 'Christian Solution' to the Existential Problem of Evil," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 73 (Summer 1998): 420-424. The work by Marilyn Adams to which Cameron refers is "Redemptive Suffering: A Christian Solution to the Problem of Evil," in Robert Audi and William J. Wainwright, eds., Rationality, Religious Belief, and Moral Commitment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986).]
In contrast, the theological/philosophical problem of evil is about the existence of evil in general, not some specific evil that someone encounters which disrupts her personal relation with God. In fact, the theological/philosophical problem of evil is sufficiently abstracted from instances of experienced evil that it could be posed even if there actually were no God and no evil at all. One could ask how the existence of an omnipotent, all-benevolent God, if he existed, would square with the existence of evil, if there were any.
[Footnote 6: Ahern (Problem of Evil) calls this problem the general problem (p. 4). He also delineates what he calls specific abstract problems, problems that deal with specific kinds (moral and physical, for example), degrees, and numbers of evils that do or might exist (pp. 7-8).]
Attempts to solve a theological/philosophical problem of evil may not help someone at all with his religious needs. In response to the pain and suffering someone undergoes and bemoans, suppose some well-meaning but misguided friend says, "Stop your complaining; evil is just an illusion, an illusion that soon will pass." Or, "I know things are hard now, but you must see that there really couldn't be less evil in the world, because this is the best of all possible worlds."
[Footnote 7: Or someone might say that once one sees that "evil" should be interpreted on an emotivist account of ethics, one comes to understand that evil really doesn't exist. According to an emotivist account of ethics, ethical claims don't assert facts about the world. They merely express the utterer's feelings about something. Hence, "It's not right that I have to suffer so terribly," on an emotivist rendering of ethics means little more than that the speaker doesn't like pain. It doesn't assert that his afflictions are truly unjust.]
Such remarks have philosophical sense and may even have a certain philosophical plausibility for some, but they are no help to someone who wonders whether God is worthy of devotion in view of actual suffering being experienced. If you were suffering greatly, would such pronouncements com-fort you? Of course not! As Plantinga says, after the philosophical discussion ends, the person with problems about his personal relation to God needs pastoral care, but his questions don't belong in a philosophical debate.
[Footnote 8: Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), 63-64. ]
There is also a distinction between the problem of moral evil and the problem of natural evil. Moral evil or sin is evil that arises from human or angelic actions (though the problem is normally posed in regard to human action alone). The problem of moral evil asks why there should be sin in a world created by an all-powerful, all-loving God. The problem of moral evil is actually the theological/philosophical problem of evil.
Natural evil includes various phenomena like pains and diseases, earth-quakes, fires, floods, pestilences, hurricanes, and famine. Though some of these evils result from human activity, many natural evils occur apart from the direct actions of any agent. Like the problem of moral evil, this is a problem about evils in general, not about specific natural evils. If God is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why doesn't he remove natural evils?
In addition to these problems of evil, there are also problems about the quantity, intensity, and apparent gratuitousness of evil. The problem about quantity grants that there may be a satisfactory explanation as to why God would allow evil in general. However, this problem asks why there should be so much evil in our world. Whatever God's point in allowing evil, couldn't he make it with much less evil than there is? A variation of this problem focuses not on the amount of evil produced by many different people, but the amount stemming from the actions of one person. Consider the serial killer who murders ten helpless people. Some might argue that the killer must be allowed to do these evil deeds, because it is only by the exercise of his free will that his character becomes set. However, the critic of this reply will ask why God didn't stop the killer after the fourth or fifth murder. By that point, hasn't the killer's character been determined? Why are the other five or six murders necessary to establish his character? If four or five murders would be enough to set his character, than even one more murder, let alone another five or six, is just too much evil.
The problem of the intensity of evil grants that it may be possible to justify the existence of evil in general and even in the amounts present in our world. Still, why are some evils as bad as they are? For example, if someone has to get cancer, why must it be excruciatingly painful and so resistant to any medication that would remove even some pain? In other words, why are certain evils so evil?
Then, there is the problem of the apparent gratuitousness of many evils. Some evils seem attached to some good end, but others seem to serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever. If there are evils that really are purpose-less, not just apparently so, it is difficult to imagine why an omnipotent, all-loving God wouldn't remove them.
We can also identify two other distinct problems of evil. One is the problem of animal suffering and pain. Sometimes animals suffer at the hands of humans, and in other instances the cause is nonhuman, but there is no doubt that animals experience a significant amount of pain. It is hard to see the purpose of such suffering, since it can't be to punish animals or to aid in their moral growth. If the point of their suffering is to teach humans some lesson, it is difficult to understand why we could not learn that lesson through some other means. Surely, if there is an all-powerful and all-loving God, he wouldn't subject innocent animals to such treatment. In more recent years, some atheists have linked the problem of animal suffering with the problem of the apparent gratuitousness of some evil to argue that instances of animal suffering that serve no apparent purpose whatsoever surely argue against the likelihood that God exists.
A final problem of evil has received increasing attention in recent years, and it is especially challenging to theistic belief; it is the problem of hell. No one would deny the enormity of evils like the Holocaust, but as horrible as that was, neither it nor any other evil can match the horror of hell. As under-stood by traditional Christianity, hell is an evil that is meted out in retribution for sin, and it is a never ending punishment. How can an eternity of conscious torment, an apparently infinite punishment, be a just recompense for a finite amount of sin? Even the most heinous crimes ever perpetrated don't merit such a response. And, if that is true, how can it possibly be just for God to send otherwise noble people to an eternal hell, just because they didn't believe in Christ, even though they never heard of him? Many critics of theism (and even some theists) believe that the traditional doctrine of hell must be abandoned, for there is no moral way to justify its existence, and any God who would exact such a punishment can't be a loving God.
[Footnote 9: In recent years a problem related to the wastefulness of the evolutionary process has been raised. Those who think evolution gives the correct account of origins and that God is in some way in control of evolution wonder why the process has taken such a long and destructive (of individual life forms) route to form the various species we have today. An article which discusses this problem and gives a very helpful bibliography relevant to this topic is Christopher Southgate, "God and Evolutionary Evil: Theodicy in the Light of Darwinism," Zygon 37 (December 2002). If this issue raises a difficult issue, so much the worse for theistic evolution and evolution in general. Traditional Christian theism hasn't embraced Darwinian evolution, and hence it is understandable that this is not a problem of evil that is raised against traditional theism.]
From what I have already written, it is clear that there is not just one problem of evil. However, there is a second sense in which there isn't just one problem. Not only can we distinguish the various problems already mentioned, but even the theological/philosophical problem of evil is not just one problem. Since each theology has its own views of omnipotence, benevolence, and evil, there isn't just one theological/philosophical problem of evil that attacks all theologies in the same way. That is, there are as many distinct theological/ philosophical problems of evil as there are theological systems which hold that (a) God is omnipotent, in some sense of "omnipotence," (b) God is benevolent in that he wills that there be no evil, in some sense of "evil," and (c) evil, in the system's sense of "evil," is said to exist. What this means is that not everyone holds the same account of God and evil. Each account generates a distinct theology, and a distinct theological/philosophical problem of evil confronts each theology. Some systems can solve their problem of evil, while others fail to do so, but each theology confronts its own theological/ philosophical problem.
There is a final respect in which there is no such thing as the problem of evil. In recent years, philosophers have distinguished between a logical form of the problem of evil and an evidential form. Problems about moral evil, natural evil, the quantity of evil, evil's intensity, apparently gratuitous evil, animal pain, and the problem of hell can all be posed in either a logical or an evidential form.
The logical form of the problem is the traditional way the problem of evil has been posed for centuries. According to the logical problem, theistic systems which espouse divine omnipotence and benevolence and the existence of evil contradict themselves. That is, if any two of the propositions about God's attributes and evil's existence are true, the third must be false. The set as a whole is self-contradictory. Readers will immediately recognize this as the form of the problem of evil contained in the portions quoted from Hume and Mackie. Chapters 2-of this book address various problems of evil in their logical form.
As a result of Alvin Plantinga's masterful elaboration and defense of the free will defense, there is a general consensus among atheists and theists alike that the logical problem of evil is solvable. I shall argue that other defenses also solve that problem, but Plantinga's free will defense is surely the best-known. In spite of the success of Plantinga's defense, atheists aren't yet ready to give up the fight. Rather, they have launched the attack from another direction. They have argued that even if it is possible for theists to tell a logically consistent story about God and evil, evil in our world still offers strong evidence against the probability that there is a God. This is the evidential problem of evil. It is inductive in form and relies heavily on the notion of probability. In chapter 8, I shall explain more thoroughly the nature of this problem, and in chapters 9-, I shall interact with contemporary discussions of this problem.
The fact that there isn't just one problem of evil has some important implications for both theists and atheists. For theists, the implication is that they must identify which problem of evil they are discussing, and they must provide an answer that is relevant to that problem. To illustrate this point, consider the following.
A man walks into his pastor's office and begins to tell the pastor his tale of woe. He explains that he is absolutely devastated. Today his wife went to the doctor and learned that she has ovarian cancer. It has been growing for some time, and as a result, the doctor wants to begin treatments immediately. Treatments will be painful, there are no guarantees about whether she can be cured, and treatments are very expensive. This last fact is especially trouble-some in that the parishioner explains that because of the bad economy, people are being laid off at the plant where he works, and during layoffs, insurance benefits are not available. Today he learned that he is one of those being laid off.
If that isn't bad enough, the story gets even worse. He relates that his son was riding his bike home from school on a very busy street. He wasn't as cautious as he should have been, and a motorist accidentally ran into him. His son, thankfully, is alive, but he has a number of broken bones and is in the hospital for observation and care. When he will be released is unknown. The parishioner explains that he knows that Christians aren't guaranteed exemption from all pain and problems in this life, but he never thought something like this would happen. It is especially hard to take since he and his family are faithful followers of Christ. How could God allow this to hap-pen? If he loves us as much as Scripture says and has the power that Christians believe he has, it is just unbelievable that he would let this hap-pen. Why do things like this happen to people who are trying to follow God and do his will?
Suppose the pastor swallows hard and then says, "Well, dear brother, you have really been through the wringer! I know that these things are hard to handle, but you must understand why things like this happen. When God decided to create this world, he debated whether to create us as creatures with free will or not. He loves us, and he wants us to love him. But God realized that it is better if we love him because we want to than if we love him because we are forced to do so, so he gave us free will. Free will is a great gift, but it has a liability. If people are really going to be free, no one can guarantee what they will do with that freedom. Hopefully, they will use it to do good, but sometimes they choose to do evil. So, the reason that things like those that have happened to your family occur is that humans have free will, and some-times they use it to do evil. But God isn't to blame, because he didn't do these things to your family, and because the gift of free will is a great gift! Would you rather be a robot?"
If you were that man, would you be comforted by what the pastor just said? Of course not! The parishioner will probably leave the pastor's office scratching his head, but before he goes, he may just ask the pastor, "Pastor, what does free will have to do with my wife's ovarian cancer and the other things that happened to my family today?" And well he should pose that question to the pastor, for the pastor has made a grave error. What is the problem here? The problem with the pastor's "counsel" is that while the free will defense he has just offered is an appropriate answer to the problem of moral evil, the parishioner isn't asking that question. He is wrestling with the religious problem of evil, and an answer to the problem of moral evil simply doesn't address, let alone solve, the religious problem. No, this man doesn't need to hear the free will defense or any other answers to the problem of moral evil. As Plantinga says, this man needs pastoral care, and unfortunately, his pastor doesn't understand that. If we are going to help people as they wrestle with a problem of evil, we must identify which problem they are raising and offer an answer that is relevant to that problem, not some other problem.
There is also an important implication for the atheist of the fact that there isn't just one problem of evil. It is illegitimate to reject a theist's defense against one problem of evil on the ground that it doesn't solve all problems of evil. Unfortunately, atheists frequently make this mistake. For example, some critics of theism aren't sure whether the free will defense works, but even if it does, they complain that it is inadequate, because it doesn't handle natural evil. Of course, it was never intended to do so, for it addresses a different problem, the problem of moral evil. As another example, Richard Schoenig presents an elaborate critique of Plantinga's free will defense. In answer to various possible objections to Schoenig's presentation, Schoenig affirms that atheists have posed a significant challenge to theism, and theists must explain "why it is reasonable to affirm both the existence of the theistic God and the quantity and quality of evil found in this world." Indeed, theists do need to answer the problems of the quantity and quality of evil in our world, but not in order to address or assess Plantinga's free will defense. That is a defense whose focus is the problem of moral evil. If Plantinga were to extend that defense to address the problems of the quantity and quality of evil, then we would have to assess how well it handles those problems. But since Schoenig is evaluating Plantinga's free will defense as contained in his God, Freedom, and Evil (as well as others of his writings), Schoenig's comments about the quantity and quality of evil are irrelevant. In other instances if the theist offers an explanation for natural evil in general, critics complain that this does not solve problems about the amounts of natural evil or the instances of apparently purposeless natural evil in our world.
[Footnote 10: Bertha Alvarez, "How the Problem of Evil Poses an Obstacle to Belief in God,"Dialogue 41 (April 1998): 23.]
[Footnote 11: Richard Schoenig, "The Free Will Theodicy," Religious Studies 34 (1998): 470.]
While there is an element of truth in each of those objections, they are still misguided. They fail to recognize that there are different problems of evil and that no one defense addresses all problems of evil, nor does it intend to do so. It is wrongheaded at a very fundamental level to think that because a given defense or theodicy doesn't solve every problem of evil, it doesn't solve any problem of evil. Once we understand that there are many problems of evil, then we can avoid this mistake. In each instance, then, theists and atheists alike must identify the specific problem which is under discussion, and then decide which defenses address that problem and how well they handle it. An acceptable solution to one problem of evil isn't nullified because it doesn't solve any or all other problems.
My second thesis deals with the "ground rules" for handling the logical problem of evil. The most fundamental rule for handling that problem is that any problem of evil posed in its logical form is about the internal consistency of a theological position. This means that the theistic system is accused of contradicting itself. Hence some of its views can't be true, because taken together, they generate a contradiction within the set.
This rule has implications for theists who would construct a philosophical theology, and for atheists who critique theism. As for theists, they must be careful to structure their theologies so that they don't incorporate in their system views that do contradict one another. In particular, they must be careful not to formulate a theology with a God who is both good and able to get rid of the evil present in our world. If the theist's God is both good, can get rid of evil, and has no morally sufficient reason for failing to do so, then his theology will be internally inconsistent and will collapse.
The implication of this ground rule for atheists is that they must specify a problem that actually arises within the views of the system they attack. If the alleged inconsistency between God and evil doesn't arise within a system theists actually hold, then it damages no position theists actually hold. Hence, atheists must ensure that when they accuse a theology of contradicting itself in regard to its handling of God and evil, they are attacking a viewpoint that some theist(s) actually holds.
J. L. Mackie is one who has broken this rule when interacting with Alvin Plantinga's free will defense. As we shall see in chapter 4, Mackie rejects the free will defense, because he believes that it is possible for God both to give us free will and to eliminate all moral evil. Of course, Mackie's attack incorporates a notion of free will that is contrary to the understanding of free will inherent in the free will defense. Nonetheless, he still thinks that he has shown the free will defense to be unable to solve its problem of evil. However, the problem under discussion is the logical problem of moral evil, and Mackie hasn't identified any problem internal to the free will defender's theology. One can always generate a problem of internal inconsistency by attributing one's own views about God, evil, and freedom to someone else. But that doesn't show that the theist contradicts himself. Rather, it shows that the theist and atheist have different, even contradictory views on such matters as God's attributes, the nature of evil, and human freedom. But we already knew that; that's why the atheist is an atheist and not a theist.
Mackie isn't the only one who makes this error, for other atheists and even some theists overlook this important point. Obviously, challenges to theism that commit this error fail to show that a theistic position is actually guilty of contradicting itself. However, just because some break this rule that doesn't mean that theistic systems have been vindicated. As we shall see, there are logical problems of evil that do arise within various theological systems. In those cases, the theist must explain why his apparently self-contradictory views aren't in fact genuinely contradictory. As for Mackie, because he doesn't show that any free will defender accepts his account of human freedom, his objection fails to destroy the free will defense on grounds of internal inconsistency!
There are other ground rules for addressing the logical problem of evil. Since the logical problem of evil accuses theistic positions of contradicting themselves, we must clarify what it means to say that a system or a set of propositions contains a contradiction. It doesn't mean that there may be a way to fit a theology's views together consistently but neither the critic nor the theist knows how. Nor does it mean that someday we shall understand, even though we don't now. It doesn't even mean that God knows how ideas fit together without contradiction, even though we don't. Instead, a charge of contradiction means that there is no possible way for anyone ever to harmonize these views, for they both affirm and deny the same thing at the same time and in the same way.
This is, indeed, a robust accusation. We can see why Mackie believed this attack more fatal to theism than theism's supposed inability to write a valid and sound argument for God's existence. But if this is what it means to claim that views are contradictory, then how to answer this charge should be clear. The theistic defender need only show a possible way for the various propositions held to be true. Hence, theists need not claim to have the explanation as to why an omnipotent, all-loving God would allow evil. They need only offer a possible explanation. Atheists may complain (and they do, as we shall see) that the explanation isn't very plausible, but that is irrelevant to the logical problem. When someone charges a system with contradiction, the only relevant issue is whether the defender can offer a possible explanation of how the allegedly contradictory ideas can all be true at once. If the defender does that, she answers the charge of contradiction, and her views are vindicated.
This must not be misunderstood. Armed with this ground rule, theists may offer any explanation whatsoever that removes the contradiction, no matter how fanciful the answer. Though doing so would remove the alleged inconsistency and thereby satisfy the demands of the logical problem of evil, theists should try to offer explanations that are as plausible as possible. After all, one would hope to say more than that one's theology tells a logically consistent story. Any good philosopher or theologian should know enough about logic to know how to construct a set of views that avoids contradicting itself. But that alone isn't reason enough for anyone to believe those views. To be believable, the system should espouse plausible views, not just possible ones. Still, all that is necessary to meet the demands of the logical problem of evil is to show a possible way for the theistic doctrines to fit together with-out contradiction.
Since theists, when addressing the logical problem of evil, need only offer a possible explanation of why God would allow evil, they needn't claim that they know God's actual reason. In line with this point, in contemporary discussions of the problem of evil a distinction is often made between a theodicy and a defense. A theodicy purports to offer the actual reason God has for allowing evil in our world. A defense is much less pretentious, for it claims to offer only a possible reason God might have for not removing evil. As long as that defense does remove the alleged inconsistency in the theist's system, the theist meets the demands of the logical problem of evil. A defense is defense enough; a theodicy is not required.
[Footnote 12: Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 28.]
Not everyone adheres to this distinction. Some use the term "theodicy" when they actually offer what they consider only a possible explanation of why God would allow evil. For our purposes, I shall assume that when a philosopher uses either term, he refers to the concept indicated by the term "defense." Normally, I'll use the terms interchangeably in that way. However, if a philosopher claims to know the actual reason for evil in our world and tells us that she is offering it, I'll make a point to mention that.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE BOOK
In order to elaborate and defend my theses 1-and 5, in chapters 2-I shall investigate various forms of theism in order to show that there is no one theological/philosophical problem of evil. Each system generates its own distinctive problem, and many of these theologies can solve their logical problem of evil. Nonetheless, I shall raise objections to these systems, objections based on grounds external to each system. I shall then offer my own system, and indicate how it solves its logical problem of evil.
In chapters 8-, I turn to the evidential problem of evil (thesis 4). Chapter 8 clarifies the nature of this problem, and then chapters 9-present atheists' and theists' treatments of this problem, concluding with my own response to it (chapter 12). Among other things, I shall show that my point about different forms of theism is still important in handling this problem. Before leaving the evidential problem, I shall address the problem of the quantity of evil, and the problem of apparently gratuitous evil. In chapter 13, the discussion turns to the problem of hell, and I'll address it in both its logical and evidential forms (thesis 6). Finally, in chapters 14-I turn to the religious problem (thesis 7). I shall explain why and how this problem differs from the rest. Then, I shall present material from my own family's experience which I hope will both minister to the afflicted and help those who minister to them.
As to the next portion of the book, chapter 2 begins my treatment of the logical problem. The focus is theonomy, a radical form of theism in which theology is prior to logic, ethics, physics, etc., so that God chooses whatever laws govern those matters. If we plot theistic positions along a continuum running from those at one end which emphasize God's will and power (as the controller of all things) to those at the other end which emphasize reason as the governing principle of the universe, theonomy is located toward or at the former end. For theonomy everything depends on God's will, so reason alone cannot comprehend how things are or should be in our world; all rules must be conveyed to us by divine revelation. Theonomy immediately suggests its opposite, a radical form of rationalism, located toward or at the opposite end of the continuum. That rationalistic position is Leibnizian Rationalism, a system in which logic is prior to theology, so to speak. Whatever is logically and morally possible according to Leibnizian Rationalism is discernible by pure reason alone apart from divine revelation. Leibniz's system is the subject of chapter 3. In chapter 4, the discussion turns to Modified Rationalism, a mediating position between the two extremes. As we shall see, many traditional Christian theistic systems assume the Modified Rationalist metaphysic. My own system is one of them. Chapters 4-present various theologies broadly within the Modified Rationalistic approach and address in particular the logical problem of moral evil as it arises for these theologies. In chapters 6 and 7 I offer my defenses against the problems of moral and natural evil.