The Problem of Evil

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Part of Philosophy>Philosophy of Religion

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. ... If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. ... If, as they say, God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" (Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief)

Looking at this problem another way. What exactly does Evil mean? Evil is an evaluation of some event or person by comparison to some ideal or standard. If a God exists and claims the right to decide what ideal or standard everyone SHOULD follow, then he creates both good and evil at once by setting this ideal in place. The tree of Knowledge of good and evil in the bible story for example would represent such a line in the moral sand so to speak...and its prohibition to mankind was the claim that ONLY God had the RIGHT to draw that line. If we assume an all knowing being, there may be some severe problems, such as how such a godlike entity can call anything REAL, evil, compared to what? this being would KNOW anything he used as a standard of comparison would be a false standard and thus a lie. An all knowing being would see that every moment is just real, not good nor evil. Assuming a real being could only KNOW what is real, then knowledge of what has yet to occur would not be required and this being could, with far greater understanding of the true potential of all beings, set standards that he knows they could live up to. The only problem then is if this being claims to be God and yet does nothing to prevent what he can prevent, why would anyone consider this being other than evil for not doing so? Jiohdi 19:56, 8 February 2007 (UTC)

Suggested Reading[edit | edit source]

  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor "Rebellion" From The Brothers Karamazov.
  1. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Feinberg, Joel. ed. Reason and Responsibility. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0534543510. 
  • Johnson, B. C. "God and the Problem of Evil."
  1. Johnson, B.C.. Feinberg, Joel. ed. Reason and Responsibility. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0534543510. 
  • Swinburne, Richard. "God and the Problem of Evil."
  1. Swinburne, Richard. Feinberg, Joel. ed. Reason and Responsibility. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0534543510. 

Encyclopedia Entries[edit | edit source]

Lecture Notes[edit | edit source]

MSC Philosophy[edit | edit source]

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Back to Arguments for God

The Problem of Evil[edit | edit source]

Reading questions.[edit | edit source]

1. How do concepts change over time?
2. What was the Ancient concept of Evil, and what is its modern counterpart?
3. Why does the existence of Evil deny the existence of God?

Terms.[edit | edit source]

Hellenes is a term for either ancient or modern Greeks (used in this fashion to note that at the time the nation/national identity of Greece did not exist)

B.C.E Before Common Era -

Introduction.[edit | edit source]

The problem of evil is not a simple topic, nor is it free from the fetters of religious interpretation and influence. For our purpose we shall begin with the simple aspect of a definition, and look at how it’s concept has evolved, but before we do that we must note that all aspects of ancient philosophy that we have access to today has been translated and interpreted in some cases many times before it reaches us. All philosophical thought is based on the search for reasons why and how the world works. These reasons for things are based on observation and reason filtered through the observers experiences, thus these reasons and ideas develop or evolve based upon the experience or knowledge of those interpreting them. For example concepts such as Metaphysics and Epistomology existed in ancient times but they were not termed as such because there were no terms for them as we know them today. So if we were to talk to an ancient philosopher about their work on "metaphysics," for example, they would have no idea or frame of reference for what we're talking about because that term doesn't exist to them.

Evil and Good.[edit | edit source]

We must first ask the question, “What is evil?” Most modern dictionaries define Evil as morally bad or wrong, wicked, depraved, causing pain harm or trouble. As such it is heavily bound in ethics, to the ancient Hellenes, however, Evil was disorder/chaos, anything that disrupted the structure of their lives. One extreme example of this is that in Sparta it was illegal to get sick. The Hellenes equated order and structure with goodness, as it helped their lives function and protected them, on the same token disorder, chaos and anything that disrupted that was bad and thus Evil. With the conception of Socratic Ethics and Platonic Forms (around 400 B.C.E.) these concepts gained a more moralistic tinge to them that has stuck with them ever since, as can be seen in the difference between Hellenistic and Modern definition of the word, simple disorder versus a lack of morality. I reference these ancient philosophers because they had a profound influence on the formation of church doctrines at and around the formation of the Christian church for whom "The Problem of Evil" is an issue. The Christian philosopher Augustine worked much of Plato's works into church doctrine, about 1000 years later Thomas Aquinas brought the works of Aristotle into Christian doctrine. These works vastly influenced the formation and early life of the Christian church.

The Problem of Evil.[edit | edit source]

The problem of evil is that an omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God (these features are commonly associated with “God” in monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and their derivatives) can not exist in the same world with “real evil.” For example one common argument is that “…God knew about the Holocaust and could have prevented it, but didn’t…” The logical solution to this problem is to weaken one of the premises, such as saying that the murder of thousands isn’t evil or that God doesn’t care about humans. However this is an example of Moral Evil, evil that is caused by man's Free Will and not by God. A better example would be a Natural Disaster (Natural Evil) like a Tsunami, Hurricane etc. Either way it causes a weakening of one of the premises negatively effects the stability of monotheistic religions and that in a nut shell is the problem of evil.

Conclusion.[edit | edit source]

What conclusions can we draw from this? Are our beliefs about God incorrect or do we just not have all the pieces of the puzzle? It is my opinion that given time and experience we shall come up with information or a new perspective on this issue and it’s concept will once again change, such is the evolution of the human experience, human intellect and human spirituality.

Test Yourself. Choose the best option.[edit | edit source]

1. To the ancient Hellenes what was evil?
a) Something Wicked
b) Disorder
c) The French
d) None of the above

2. What is the Problem of Evil?
a) A lack of concern for ones fellows.
b) Moral depravity in society.
c) An omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent God can not exist in the same world with “real evil.”
d) Bad Cheese

3. To the ancient Hellenes what was good?
a) Order
b) Faith
c) Both a and d
d) Structure

4. Why is the problem of evil important?
a) Because it calls into question long standing beliefs about the nature of God.
b) It is the supreme conflict of the spiritual universe.
c) All of the above.
d) It isn't.

5. Put Aristotle Socrates and Plato into the correct order chronologically.
a) Who are these Guys
b) Plato, Socrates, Aristotle
c) Aristotle, Socrates Plato
d) Socrates, Plato, Aristotle

6. Why is it important to look at things in the terms and environment in which they were created?
a) Because we may have a different frame of reference for things today than was present at their inception.
b) It is unimportant because concepts do not change over time.
c) So we do not get confused with poorly translated texts.
d) None of the Above.

7. Which ancient Philosopher listed below most influenced Augustine?
a) Aristotle
b) Plato
c) Socrates
d) Thomas Aquinas

8. Which ancient Philosopher listed below most influenced Aquinas?
a) Aristotle
b) Augustine
c) Plato
d) Socrates

9. About how long after Augustine was it before Aquinas?
a) 18 hours
b) 7 light years
c) 1000 years
d) 6 months

10. Who were the Hellenes?
a) The French
b) Christians
c) Philosophers
d) Ancient Greeks

[Answer Key]

Important(?) People.[edit | edit source]

Socrates - Athens 469-399 B.C.E

Plato - Athens 427-347 B.C.E

Aristotle - Athens 384-322 B.C.E

Augustine - Tagaste 354-430 C.E

Thomas Aquinas - Italy 1225-1274 C.E

For Additional Information check out.[edit | edit source]

The Wikipedia entries for Evil, God and the aforementioned philosophers.
Also take a look at the section on [/Presocratics+and+Socrates Presocratics and Socratics] if you haven't already.

My Works Cited can be found [here].[edit | edit source]

The entirety of the Mesa State College Intorduction to Philosophy page including the origional of this Document (From MSC Philosophy down) may be viewed here.

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