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Concept of Theodicy: Logical Problem of Evil Has Been A Lynchpin for the Atheistic Belief of Nonexistence of God

By Dr Suhail Anwar

January 9, 2021

The term Theodicy, coined by G W Leibniz (1646-1716), literally mean “Justifying God”. Theodicy is a response in theology and philosophy to what is known as the “problem of evil”. In the presence of an all loving God how can we have evil and suffering in the world. The problem of evil is the reconciliation between the existence of suffering and evil in the world with an omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing) and omnibenevolent (infinitely kind) GOD. Evil is understood to encompass both moral evil (caused by free human actions) and natural evil (caused by natural phenomena such as disease, earthquakes, and floods).

The Scottish philosopher David Hume in his Dialogue concerning natural religion (1779) said: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Is he able, but not willing? Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”

The logical problem of evil has been a lynchpin for the atheistic belief of nonexistence of God.  As described by Epicurus (341-270BC):

Premise one: If God exists, then he isomnipotent, omniscient and omni ambivalentand perfectly good.

Premise two: A perfectly good being would eliminate evil as far as it could- there is no limit to what an omnipotent being can do.

Deductive conclusion: If God exists, there would be no evil in the world; there is evil in the world; therefore, God does not exist.

In this argument and in the problem of evil itself, evil is understood to encompass both moral evil (caused by free human actions) and natural evil (caused by natural phenomena such as diseases, earthquakes, and floods).


Also Read:   The Pandemic: Is It Also A Punishment or A Blessing? A Spiritual Journey to Theodicy During the Lockdown


George Bchner, a German atheist and poet, calls the problem of evil the “immovable boulder of atheism”.However the fact remains that the existence of human and animal suffering has perturbed both theist and atheist alike. The modern atheistic world view depicts human beings as mere replicators for genetically coded information. Even the concept of altruistic behaviour is tied to the selfishness in propagating one’s own kin ship and progeny. Nonetheless even if we disregard a religious, or lack of it, point of view materialism seem to have a profound effect on our perception of the problem of evil and suffering.

The European renaissance and the ensuing period of enlightenment gave rise to the concept of “quality of life” almost replacing it with the “purpose of life”. The debate of presence of evil has raged for ever but undoubtedly gained more momentum inside the framework of modern day humanitarian and legal framework. The western secular network which follow the moral ethical code of consequentialism and utilitarianism (actions judged by greater good for greatest number of people) have set a limitation on the cosmic understanding of the problem of evil. Herein lies the dilemma for the modern secular world view where the anthropocentric (human being is the most important entity) view is at loggerheads with the human beings just mere replicators for gene transfer. If human suffering disproves the existence of God than by default we are Gods special creation not deserving any pain- a view that does not sit right with the atheistic world view of humans just being a conglomerate of atoms and molecules.

 As Victor Frankl put it, “More people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.  In The Inductive Problem of Evil, William Alston explains how humans are firmly shackled by their lack of data, the crippling complexity of many phenomena, the obscurity of what is metaphysically possible or necessary, their ignorance of the full range of possibilities and values, and their biased judgments as subjective creatures.

St Augustine’s of Hippo (354-430AD) proposed that evil unlike good, is not “substantial”. Evil is not an entity and perse, is just the absence of good. Rejecting the idea that evil is a positive force, he argues that it is merely a “name for nothing other than the absence of good”.Thus, God did not create evil, but God allows for the absence of good so as to give God’s creatures rational free will—choice based in reason.

This view has gained popularity in the recent times by Cambridge professor Simon Baron Cohen’s recent “empathy scale”. In his 2011 book Zero Degrees of Empathy, Baren Cohen uses empathy erosion as a better term for evil. People on the extreme end of empathy scale demonstrate a profound lack of goodness thus demonstrating evil traits. This resonates with the concept of evil as a non-entity and the mere absence of virtue and goodness.

The existence of free will has been a hot topic of debate between philosophers since recorded history. The debate between determinism and freewill respectively denies and accepts human capability to shoulder responsibility for their own actions, albeit good or bad.Moral actions are rational choices between good and evil. If humans are granted with a free will and choose to accept or reject good or evil, the collective human societies ends up bearing either the  burden of evil or the rewards of good deeds. Committing an evil act consumes individuals, societies and often whole populations. Non resistance to evil both actively or passively promotes the spread of evil beyond individuals to large communities.

The modern day atheistic worldview denies the presence of freewill since according to the atheistic philosophy human decision making is governed by physical, biological and physiological laws with no overriding element of a “higher consciousness”. This view clearly exonerates human beings of any immoral behaviour. On the contrary most religions accepts the concept of free will, promoting reward and punishments in the life here and hereafter, as incentives and deterrents for good and evil.

According the English theologian Richard Swineburne (1934- ) the maximum amount of good that God can give us requires the presence of evil. Natural evil (suffering not caused by a misuse of human free will) is a necessary part of achieving a “greater good.” It motivates us to understand the natural world (in order to prevent natural evils).It provides opportunities for us to learn things like courage and compassion—it promotes human “moral growth.” The opportunities to achieve certain kinds of moral goodness (courage, self-sacrifice, etc.) only arise in a world in which certain natural evils occur. The greatest possible good requires the presence of at least some (natural) evil.  John Hicks (1922- 2012) offered the “soul making theodicy” which states that “ we are not God’s little pets and he is not our benevolent owner whose sole job is to keep us in safe comfortable environment”. According to Hicks the presence of evil help our growth as humans- that the world is not perfect and evil is important for development of our character.

To reconcile the different perceptions of suffering and evil between a theist and an atheist, requires a deeper understanding of metaphysical realities and continuum of life beyond the our current existence. The biggest stumbling block is the faith, or lack of it, in the existence of a supreme being and the life hereafter. Theodicy is dependent on this. The presence of evil in the world would always be a strong argument against the existence of God. The counter arguments whether strong or feeble, would require a degree of faith in the omnipotence, omni benevolence and omniscience of God.Our rationality and logic are limited by our myopic vision of the world and our inability to see beyond the physical, will always be a hindrance in fully understanding the problems such as the existence of evil in the world.

Original Headline: The logical problem of evil in the world and the concept of Theodicy.

Source: The Daily Times


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