The Problem of Evil: The Theodicies

Epicurus’ formulation:

P1. If a perfectly good god exists, then there is no evil in the world.

1: Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent

P2. There is evil in the world.

P3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Theodicies can all be refuted with the premise that God is:

A. Omnipotent (all-powerful)

B. (all-knowing)

C. Omnibenevolent (all-loving/good)

The Theodicies

I. Big-plan theodicy

a. What it is:

i. All suffering of innocent beings is part of a big plan and had to happen.  The whole plan, however, is completely good.

b. Defeated:

i. If God is all powerful, he can devise a “big plan” which does not encompass evil.

II. Punishment theodicy

a. What it is:

i. When we see people suffer terribly, the reason for this is that they have sinned.  Their suffering is a punishment for their sins.

b. Defeated:

i. This is explains why God would punish evil-doers.  However, much of the suffering is undeserved.  Take children, and those born into poverty, slavery, or otherwise: they still suffer tremendously.  Also, this can be defeated with the argument of omnibenevolence: an all-loving god would not create suffering in the first place.

III. Suffering-builds-character theodicy

a. What it is:

i. The basic idea is that suffering of innocents will help them to become stronger.  All evil offers us the possibility to learn from it and grow into a better human being.  This theodicy is sometimes called the “soul-making theodicy”.

b. Defeated:

i. If God is all powerful he could have eliminated the need for evil by making us characterized to begin with.

IV. Contrast theodicy

a. What it is:

i. We need evil in the universe to know that there is good.  If there were no evil and everything were good, we could not tell that it is good.

b. Defeated:

i. If God were omnibenevolent he would not have neglected to make the good that we are lacking in place of evil.

V. Devil theodicy

a. What it is:

i. Innocent suffer because the devil likes to let innocents suffer.

b. Defeated:

i. If God were omnipotent he could override the power of Satan.  This also suggests that Satan exists outside of God, a whole new problem unto itself.

VI. Test theodicy

a. What it is:

i. Earthly life is just a test.  God has thrown us into this world full of evil and pointless suffering in order to find out what kind of beings we are.  Without the pointless suffering, his test is not complete.  If we pass, we go to heaven.  If we fail, we go to hell.

b. Defeated:

i. God cannot be omniscient under this premise, because then he would already know whether or not I’m going to fail and the test would be pointless in the first place.

Free will cap:  If God is all knowing, you can’t have free will.


8 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil: The Theodicies

  1. Nice summation. Not especially novel (these themes are touched on in the bible and other holy books as well as secular works), but a nice summation. Your answers cover a lot of ground, but are not exhaustive. Well done.

  2. I am using similar reasoning when going into discussions with theists (if I cannot avoid it) but they nearly always counter with something like “god is so powerful, there is no way we can understand him”. And then I give up, what’s the point… That one about the devil is a good one, hadn’t thought of that one yet, if god is all powerful etc. how could he let this happen, i.e that an angel fell out with him who then seduced Eve etc.. Big mistake of this all knowing god!

    • Not at all, evil is a judgment call from humanity, in fact ALL religion is a judgment call from humanity. What you call evil is either completely natural (i.e. smallpox) or is completely man made (i.e. genocide). Don’t confuse your judgement of what happens in the world with what you would LIKE to happen instead. Evil only exists within the construct of humankind’s societal boundaries.

  3. One of my favourite parts of the bible is the tale of Lucifer.

    Apparently this omniscient sky pixie created Lucifer who then upset it (sky pixies don’t like people questioning or challenging them) and, as a result of this, the sky pixie created a firey pit and cast poor old Lucifer into it for an eternity, to be joined by other people who do things that said pixie frowns upon.

    As this sky pixie knew that with the creation of Lucifer would come the creation of Hades, the sky pixie intentionally created a place of suffering and torment in which to house those who displeased it, no doubt taking great pleasure in the much wailing and gnashing of teeth that they would be subjected to.

    If a god exists, it is cruel, evil and sadistic.

    Ergo, god enjoys S&M.

  4. What if there is no evil in the world? It may be only how we see things, and so therefore it must be treated of as being called “evil”. I’ve already run through theological material defining evil as an absence of goodness, but since this cannot exist with an omnibenevolent God then there is no evil. Simple.
    I’d also like to add that there has never been one evil act done by any being with “free-will” because one such being would always act to obtain a good. You can never choose something that you see as totally detrimental to yourself.
    There is no evil.

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