THE PROBLEM OF EVIL & SUFFERING - Ecclesbourne School
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL & SUFFERING A great problem for Christian theism, arising from an interpretation of human experience. Hume called it the rock of atheism. Now called the problem of evil and suffering
Put simply: There is so much apparently random evil and suffering in the world, from natural evil and moral evil (human ill- will and wickedness), makes the idea of an all powerful and good loving God who cares for his creatures difficult to believe in. Epicurus (342-270BC) earliest classical formulation of the problem. Repeated by Augustine (354-430AD) and Hume (1711-76AD)
Called the Inconsistent Triad: Is God willing but not able to prevent evil? Then He is impotent Is He able but not willing? Then He is malevolent If He is both able and willing? Whence then is evil? Put differently:If God is all powerful He can stop evil and suffering. If He is all loving He will stop evil and suffering But evil and suffering exist.
Therefore . . . ? The traditional Christian response to evil and suffering has not been to lose faith but to put forward answers about evil and suffering that would still preserve the righteousness and love of God. These responses are called theodicy- GK Theos= God Dike = Just Term first used by Leibniz
Purpose is to demonstrate that in spite of evil and suffering God is just and righteous. Leibniz believed that God created the best of all possible worlds for the realisation of His purposes. This idea seems to be central to most theodicies. Even supported by Peter Vardy in The Puzzle of Evil, 1992.
There are two traditional theodicies St Irenaeus (150AD) St Augustine (354-430AD) The Augustinian Theodicy Based on an understanding of The Fall Genesis 3 Borrowing St Pauls interpretation of The Fall in Romans 5:12-20 Augustine argues that sin and death entered the world through the disobedience of our first parents
This brought about a disorder in our nature and a disorder in Creation The fault was not Gods but mans It became a happy fault in the end because it caused the bringing about of a great redeemer, Christ From the original disorder caused by mans sin God brings about a new order made possible by the grace of Christ
Closely allied to the Augustinian Theodicy is the Free Will Defence This is the view that evil is the result of mans misuse of his free will beginning with Adam and continuing ever since Evil is traceable to man, not to God However, the ultimate origin of evil can be traced to the misuse of free will by Satan, an angel who rebelled against God in heaven This act of disobedience and pride led to the
infection of Creation with all sorts of evil God could have prevented this evil by creating human beings and angels without free will This would also mean that they would not be free to choose to love Him and be in a relationship with Him No choice = No real relationship It becomes nothing but a relationship of a puppet maker and his puppets who can only live when he moves the strings God did not want to do this and risks the potential of evil due
to free will He tries to redeem the situation by offering a rescue package and by bringing good out of evil in His own mysterious way This has given rise to a debate about whether free will necessarily involved its misuse Antony Flew and JL Mackie have tried to argue that God could have created beings whose natures were such that they would
always freely choose good This raises the obvious question that if people are programmed always to choose good, how can they be genuinely free? John Hick and Richard Swinburne: Evil and suffering are necessary elements of the world for people to develop the higher virtues of courage, selfgiving (the giving of the self and not giving to the self), love and compassion Seems to fit in more with the Irenaean Theodicy but Offers a second perspective on the Free Will Defence
In this view the genuine freedom to choose between good and evil is a requirement for the development of moral virtue and therefore forms a justifiable defence of the existence of evil Weakness of the Free Will Defenceignores the following facts: So much evil is often unjustifiably caused to others through one persons misuse of free will The misuse of free will by our first parents, or rebellious angels, in the absense of a sinful nature cannot easily be explained
If God is omniscient He can hardly be excused responsibility from knowing the consequences of how His creatures would act Huw Parri Owen (Christian Theism, 1984)- Free will defence is unable to offer much comfort to the people who are most involved in the problem of evil, those who suffer Does Augustines theodicy work? Appears to be noticeably impersonal Emphasis is on justice, the restoration of a balance
Evil = something which man deservedly brings on himself and can therefore be seen as punishment by God Leaves a number of big questions unanswered Why is there an imbalance of evil? Why do some have to bear a larger share than others for no apparent reason? It fails to account for the origin of evil at the beginning of mans life in the world Evolutionary history says that evil precedes man
therefore the Fall is not a satisfactory explanation If God created man perfect at the beginning of his history and then falls from perfection, why in the redeeming work of Christ didnt God restore man to perfection to eliminate evil and suffering this side of heaven? Perfect redemption would mean the now and not just that which is to come The Irenaean Theodicy Revived by John Hick in Evil and the God of Love, 1966 The world is the way it is to achieve Gods plan and
purpose i.e. to test man so that he develops the qualities necessary to be a noble soul The world is therefore seen as a veil of soul-making where physical and moral evil play their part in enabling man to grow into the sort of creature fit for his salvation Irenaeus said that man was first made in Gods imageGenesis 1:26, but it was Gods plan to make him grow into Gods likeness- Genesis 1:26 For this to happen man had to be tested This life provides the ideal conditions for this to happen
Man is given evil and suffering to enable him to develop the character qualities that will enoble him: courage, generosity, kindness, and love Part of this test is the epistemic distance that evil creates between man and God This means that man lives in a kind of fog which makes Gods presence difficult to see and therefore makes faith more virtuous The story of the Fall is a mythological account of mans testing Its outcome made it necessary for Christ to come
In order to set an example that man to follow To show him how to find his true salvation with the help of grace Does Irenaeus Theodicy work? Has the advantage that it works better than the Augustinian theodicy with the facts of evolution It allows for the idea of growth and development to achieve moral virtue But it does not easily explain why Adam and Eve failed when they were not at an epistemic distance
from God Why they were held fully responsible by God even though they were supposedly at an immature stage of moral development and might therefore be excused for their fall Another problem is that its not only saying that suffering is good for you ! ! ! ! !
But without suffering great virtue cannot be achieved This is often put forward to justify physical evilearthquakes, famine, disease, and so on Richard Swinburne in The Existence of God, 1979,
argues that the world needs to have evil in it for man to develop morally This overlooks three awkward facts 1. That many people can claim to have lived moral lives without having suffered 2. Many who have suffered have been dehumanised by it 3. The view that suffering is good is difficult to square
with Jesus attitude towards suffering (in Luke 4:18f shows Jesus trying to eliminate suffering as a fulfilment of one of the signs of the messianic age. The seemingly senseless and random occurrence of evil causes a real difficulty with a theist definition of God For many, neither of these theodicies on their own have much practical value in helping a person to cope with evil For believers, much of the theodicies are
blended together to help answer the mystery of evil and suffering New Testament Theodicy It could be argued that the A and I theodicies are too theoretical They offer rational accounts of why loving, all powerful God must be right to allow evil But they offer cold comfort to believers who have to cope with the reality of evil in everyday life The Free Will Defence is often accepted
St Paul and other writers of the NT have put forward their own theodicies They are based on Gods future promises (eschatological in nature) Pauls approach is to contrast the present world sufferings and misfortunes with the rewards and glories to come I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us . . . I am convinced that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35f
Never again will they hunger, never again will they thirst, they will never again be scorched by the heat of the sun. God will lead them to springs of life-giving water and God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:15f Process Theodicy Distinctive religious world view developed by A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947) David Griffin developed the Process Theodicy from this
world view Different to the others Accepts David Humes view that evil is incompatible with the existence of an omnipotent, all loving God It starts from the assumption that God is NOT omnipotent Since God is not omnipotent, He did not create the universe The universe is an uncreated process which includes the deity I.e. God is part of the world and bound by natural laws
Gods role in creation was limited to starting off the evolutionary process This process has led to the development of humans to exert their own influence on the world God no longer has total control since humans are free to ignore God They have very limited knowledge of Gods will since He did not fashion them after His own likeness God suffers when evil is committed Follows naturally from the fact that God is part of the world, affected by it, yet unable to control it
Whitehead describes God as fellow sufferer who understands Although God is not powerful enough to stop evil He must bear some responsibility for it since it was God who started off the process of evolution that He knew He would be unable to control The theodicy needs to explain why God took such a risk Does this by arguing that the universe has produced enough quantity and quality of good to outweigh evil i.e. given a choice between the universe we live in and
no universe at all the former is preferable This, it is argued, justifies Gods work Does Process Theodicy work? For those who like this theodicy it has several advantages It removes the stumbling block of why an all loving and omnipotent God doesnt stop suffering by saying that He cant For many the fact that God suffers may be encouraging because it means that God can
personally experience what theyre going through Within the process scheme there is no certainty that God will triumph in the end. It may encourage others then to join in the fight against evil and secure victory. To do nothing would result in disaster for all There are also severe criticisms This is not a theodicy at all Theodicy = a justification of God in the face of evil Since PT takes away the concept of omnipotence it does not justify Him at all
It denies the God of classical theism This conclusion is simply unacceptable to many on religious and philosophical grounds Would a being with such limited power be worthy of worship? While for some the uncertainty of the future could encourage a fight to overcome evil, for others it may simply fill them with despair If God cannot guarantee anything, what is the point of human effort?
So . . . ? No universally accepted solution to the problem of evil Two sharply contrasting responses to the problem of evil and suffering: faith and atheism For some, evil and suffering is a denial of the existence of God, compels the rejection of a God who they cannot exonerate for allowing some evils to happen For others, they have managed to retain their faith and even found their faith strengthened through theodicies and an acceptance of an element of mystery. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the
heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him. -St Paul Christian Theological Theodicy Embraces the idea of an: All loving All knowing All powerful Free will giving Consequence of free will = character-building and glorymaking despite evil and suffering (not so much Irenaean) Wounded Healer, Suffering Servant God (not Process T
where God is unable to do anything) Redemption/saving God from death, sin and hell He was despised and rejected. A man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. He was pierced and crushed, beaten and suffered. By His wounds the world was healed. Isaiah 53
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