The Problem of Evil - The Richmond Philosophy Pages

This problem of evil remains one of the most
contentious and unsettling areas in the
philosophy of religion.
The problem is important to both non-believers
and believers alike: believers because they
have to reconcile their belief in God with their
day-to-day encounter with pain and suffering
in the world; non-beliveers because the
existence of evil is often cited as evidence
against the existence of God.
The problem of evil is generated through our
experience of life, and not just through
intellectual investigation.
The Nature of Evil
When we describe something as evil we
are saying that it is morally wrong.
The consequence of evil is suffering –
suffering can involve mental anguish
and depression as well as physical pain.
It is often unjust and does not
discriminate who it strikes and as such
innocent victims are often caught in it’s
Write down a list of 10 things that have
happened in the world in the last 100
years that you consider to be evil
What do these things have in common –
what makes them evil?
Natural and moral evil
We can distinguish between two types of evil in the
world: these are natural evil and moral evil.
 Natural evil is evil that is caused
by nature and cannot be attributed
directly to mankind. Things
such as weather disasters can be
considered natural evil.
 Moral evil is evil caused by
mankind. The suffering
caused by human actions
such as war would be
considered a moral evil.
Discuss evils with the person next to
you to come up with a few examples
of both natural and moral evils.
Natural and Moral Evils
So evils can fall easily into 2 types:
Pain and suffering caused by humans
2. Pain and suffering caused by nature
What is the Problem
of Evil?
The problem of evil is that
there is evil in the world and
this conflicts with the ideas
religious believers have
about God’s nature.
Evils in the world, particularly natural evils
present a problem for religious believers.
If a God is both omnipotent (all powerful) and
omni-benevolent (all loving) then how can he
allow evils in the world that produce an
extreme amount of suffering for mankind.
The Problem of Evil
So the problem of evil affects all theistic
religions which have a God who is the
all-powerful creator of the world, and
who cares deeply for his creation as
their object of worship.
The effect this has on religion
It is often argued that the problem of evil leads
to the conclusion that either God cannot exist or
if He does he is not a God worthy of our worship
and does not posses the attributes He is
believed to.
It is easy to answer the problem of moral evil
with the concept of free will. But what about
natural evil? If God created the world and is
both omnipotent and omni-benevolent then
surely he would have created a world free from
evil and suffering.
The problem is demonstrated by this quote
from Epicurus:
“God either wishes to take away evils and is
unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is
neither willing nor able; or he is both willing
and able. If he is willing and unable he is
feeble, which is not in accordance with the
character of God; if he is able and unwilling,
he is envious, which is equally at variance with
God; if he is neither willing nor able, he is both
envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if
he is both willing and able from what source
then are evils? Or why does he not remove
What do you think?
Mini debate –
 Do you think that the problem of evil poses a
problem for religious belief?
 Do you think it can be answered?
 Can natural evil be explained to still allow for
an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God?
Religious Responses to the
Problem of Evil
Evil did not come from God, it came
from elsewhere
 Evil is a test for mankind
 Evil is a punishment for sin
 God gave humans free will so they
cause the evil themselves – even in the
case of natural evil: the disasters are
caused by human actions e.g. Global
Resolving the Problem of Evil
Since the problem of evil was first posed,
theists have sought to resolve it without
abandoning their belief in an all-powerful,
all-knowing and all-loving God.
 There have been many proposed solutions
to the problem of evil, but we can group the
main ones into 4 types:
Evil is necessary for good
Evil needs to be seen in a wider context (life after
Evil is a means to a greater good (soul making, the
best of all possible worlds)
Evil is the responsibility of humans (the free will

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