lauren's A level religious studies revision

all of my A level revision for the religious studies 2016 OCR spec x

problem of evil essay ocr

the problem of evil

problem of evil essay ocr


there has always been evil and suffering. the black death, the thirty years, irish famine, flu pandemic. evil and pain are in the fabric of the universe. stalin, hitler, mao, pol pot, weapons of mass destruction, terrorists and many other daily things. it is the greatest objection to the existence of god. evil is within human nature. pain is the tragedy of human existence whether by nature or humans themselves. we are capable of both great evil and great love. some rise above it and some do not. is there answer that does does not include god’s neglect? you cannot give a theoretical answer to such real pain.

defining the problem

logical problem

this is the deductive problem. (if all premises true, then all true but if one wrong then all wrong) gods existence is logically incompatible with evil.

the inconsistent triad. posed by Epicurus and J.LMackie .

  • if god were all powerful he would be able to stop evil
  • if god were all loving he would want to stop evil
  • but it exists

god therefore his either not all loving, not all powerful, or not both. this would not rule out a deist creator (created the world and then left it and didn’t care about it any more). it could be a god who put evil to make it more interesting for him, to entertain him. but the abrahamic god is intimately linked to the world and is claimed to love it and care for it. 

responses to the problem

other responses are trivial . the cruellest is that we need evil to understand and appreciate good. this does not give any explanation to a victim of evil, or to the amount of evil. or why we should have evil at all, why must we experience good at the expense of so many? D.Z. Phillips argued this is a callous and hateful way to view other’s suffering. what good came from the second world war that possibly allows so much suffering? 

theologians argue Jesus shows that god does not abandon us in our suffering. god suffered on the cross to look the evil we face in the eyes. but this doesn’t explain why we have evil in the first place.

  • assumes all suffering is bad, and that god would not allow some kinds of suffering. god may not want to stop all suffering. 
  • does evil even exist? if it is just an absence of good, then doesn’t exist. or is it a human illusion from greed? 
  • maybe god is impersonal, then he cannot be loving, or good. 

evidential evil

this is the inductive problem. it makes god’s existence unlikely or improbable, there is just too much evil: no reason can justify how much evil there is: dostoevsky’s brothers karamazov.

evil is always suffered and experienced by someone individually. if a million people die, a million people hurt and then a million that love them hurt too. it is not a theoretical problem. there is two kinds:

  • moral evil: comes for human choices, why does god let us do that?
  • non-moral, natural evil: natural sources like disease or hurricanes. why create evil things?

augustine’s theodicy

an attempt to justify god’s goodness in the face of evil is called a theodicy

he was a manichaean when he was younger. this was a perversion of plato’s teaching and took the idea that the soul is good and the body is bad to extremes. matter and spirit were from two gods and the soul must escape the desires of the body by denying all material life. it is part of gnosticism , which is that all physical matter is evil. in this, if god is good, he cannot be responsible for matter, and jesus could not have material body. but if matter is from god and god is good then evil needs another explanation. 

original perfection

he had the view that the universe was made good , as it claims in genesis 1. it is not the same good as god is, but it is good in its own way. a good stone is not the same type of good as a good harp player. if everything was made good, then evil must have come from something going wrong. he then says that evil must be the privation within something that is good. he calls this privatio boni , meaning that evil is just a privation of good. hitler was good in that he was human, but he was not everything a human could be, so he was not good. he says if someone has his gifts and doesn’t use them, it is better to possess them than not.

he uses the fall of angels and the fall of man to explain the evil in a world made good. the fall of angels was by choice of the angels to reject god. the same with the fall of man. they rejected god and were punished with evil . augustine’s theodicy is described as a soul-deciding theodicy . we decide to obey god or not. evil is a test of faithfulness and goodness. he believed punishment continues for every generation of evil. it is either a result of sin or a punishment for evil. we are also born into original sin through adam. god does not abandon us, but offers us salvation and redemption through jesus.

there is an importance of will . augustine said we can know good and still not do it because we have will. it essential to being truly good, because we must freely choose to be so. love must be given freely in any relationship to mean anything. to have a genuine love for god, we must freely choose him. augustine believed a world with evils from free will is better than a world without free will. this explanation for the reason for evil says it was not a choice of god.

JL Mackie claimed that some people have free will and always choose the right thing, so why did god not make everyone this way? this is not logically possible, being free to only be good, but god’s omnipotence means he could have done so. we might say that this is not genuine love if we have to choose it and not have a second option. 

summary notes

  • god is perfect, so must have created perfect world. cannot create imperfect world. 
  • privatio boni: evil is lack of good. 
  • we have free wil l to choose how we act, we disobey god, so we have an absence of good in ourselves
  • adam and eve destroyed state of perfect world, so now we have fall of man and original sin.
  • god is loving and fair, his justice is not intervening and preventing evil: all evil is either sin or punishment for sin
  • through jesus’ death, eternal life is available
  • literal: augustine is reading scripture literally, genesis as history not poetry. his science is flawed too, in that he believed (as was the common view at the time) that men has lots of little people in their loins and they were implanted in the womb to grow. we now know we did not pre-exist conception and were not present in eden. it would be unfair anyway to blame everyone else for the actions of adam. we do not punish a whole family for the crimes of one member. it seems unjust that a loving god would do any different. modern original sin is the idea of the inclination to sin. 
  • true perfection?: if creation were truly perfect, it would not go wrong . perfection entails not being able to become wrong. if god created hell as a place to send the wicked, then he didn’t just build imperfection into the world but made a place of suffering that in itself must be the opposite of good.
  • truly good?: does it make sense to call things like stones good? it is good for something, but not in itself good. we place the value in it. even during creation, things were only good in the mind of god, not necessarily in reality . can we also say that things are more good than others? 
  • inconsistency: in his other work, Augustine believed we were ignorant and therefore not able to overcome our wretched condition. if we are ignorant, how can we make informed and free choices? is that ignorance our fault, and are we to blame then, for our evil choices? should we be punished? to be truly responsible we must have full awareness . if we sin for ignorance, our punishment is incredibly unjust .
  • his views on predestination, that god has already chosen our path in life and our fate of heaven or hell also denies free will. only god can choose if we go to heaven, not us. these problems undermine him. 
  • why do we choose to go wrong? perfect beings would not choose wrong.
  • richard dawkins says this is the world you would get if there was no god. it looks like no god. nothing is evil, it’s just getting on with it. how do you know what a world with god is like when we have no worlds to compare to?
  • is augustine just defending god? using this privatio boni sounds like a comforting thing trying to get god ‘off the hook’ for evil’s existence

irenaeus’ theodicy

there is evil in the world to provide opportunities for people to choose and do good to develop goodness and character . we must reach towards divine likeness .

“let us make man in our image”. we are made in the image of god but must grow through life into his likeness . we need to become like god in maturity and control. adam and eve, to irenaeus, were immature like children and disobeyed god. this was not a catastrophe but a part of growing up. god wanted humans to mature in this way over a long time, through history was a whole. he sent christ to help us learn. for irenaeus evil can serve a purpose . it is soul-making, not soul-deciding . we learn to be good through experience, so god sends evil to help us in this. we would not know the need for goodness if we only knew good. things that are worthwhile are gained through difficulty, and then we see their value. we must be patient for god making the world. irenaeus balances free will of humanity and god’s work. both are required for salvation . he suggests this continues into the next life. he also believes those who reject god are damned.

he took irenaeus’ theory of soul-making and explained its consequences . his version requires genuine freedom . god wants a genuine relationship. to have real choices we must have real consequences. hick says god creates an epistemic distance between us and himself; a gap in knowledge that allows us to make rational conclusions . his view of natural evil considers that these issues help us to grow and develop good virtues; without suffering we would be zombies , not suffering and not caring. there is no true human life in that world, so there would be no value or point in it. if god constantly intervened, we would not get to make our choices. and none of us would grow into the likeness of god.

instrumental god

something’s goodness relies on its purpose . if god made the world to develop us, i must have both good and evil, and he made it very well. it is an instrument that we use to make our souls full and mature. so it is a ‘vale of soul-making’ . there is then, no room for dysteleological evils, ones that have no purpose, because every evil serves to help us grow. but this is potentially a controversial way of thinking. he admits dysteleological evil is an issue.

universal salvation

hell is part of the problem of evil for hick. if evil exists to produce good, we cannot explain hell. it does no good in itself and is eternal. hick takes the view that hell is purgatorial and temporary , so that those who have no developed properly in life have the chance to do so before they get to heaven. this fits a god of love and mercy.

the problem lies in that soul-making requires the choice to reject or accept god, and if we are in eternity with god, we eventually will have to choose him, so this is in fact not freedom. the other view is that if we reject god we do not get eternal life. but for hick this does not allow further improvement and would make no sense. 

richard swinburne 

briefly, he says we need to have previous knowledge of evils to be able to stop them or refrain from them. so evil is instrumental.

d.z. phillips

on theodicy

against swinburne, he focused poignantly on the holocaust . how can the death of an innocent jew mean she is useful? no one can justify torture for the sake of the possibility of some good, torture is still evil. he claimed the following were not good enough reasons: evil gives opportunities to develop, evil is logically necessary, acts as a way to motivate people to do good, things aren’t actually that bad, suffering is never more than we can bear and all will be redeemed after death.

“would the world not be better off without such attitudes to the suffering of others?…here is..a theodicy..adds to the evil it seeks to justify.” – d.z. phillips

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OCR Problem of Evil Essays A/A*

OCR Problem of Evil Essays A/A*

Subject: Philosophy and ethics

Age range: 16+

Resource type: Assessment and revision

Anthony A's Shop

Last updated

4 December 2019

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Essays covering (FOR OCR H173 -> 40 markers - PHILOSOPHY OF RELIGION)/Applicable to other specifications in content

  • Problem of evil as a whole

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