The Problem of Evil

Posted by: Wendy C. Turgeon - St. Joseph's College-NY
Designed for: College/University, High School, Middle School
Estimated Time Necessary: 1 hour-a week
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Learning Objectives

  • comprehension - Students should be able to articulate the nature of the problem of evil for theists.
  • Reflection - Students should examine the offered solutions and discuss and reflect on their relative merit.
  • Evaluation - Students should work towards evaluating the problem of evil to see if there is a solution or what its implications might be.

Tool Text

In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions, one of the major problems for theists [those who believe that there is a God] is the “Problem of Evil.”  It runs like this:

If God is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, how can there be evil in the world?  Since we witness evil of various types, this presents a problem.  There are natural evils–like hurricanes, floods, fires.  There are also many man-induced evils like from theft and murder to genocide and war.  Since many good, innocent people are touched by these evils, how can God allow this to happen?

  1. God is not all good:  Perhaps God has a mean streak in Him/Her and allows evil to happen.  He sees the tsunami approaching but doesn’t care if it kills men, women, children.  But this clearly clashes with mainstream beliefs in all three religions.  This is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus or Mohammed.
  2. God is not all-powerful:  God sees the evil but is helpless to stop it.  S/He would love to stop that tsunami but can only stand by and watch.  God lacks power to save the innocent.  This too seems a sad commentary on the notion of God we find in these scriptures and in theology.  Surely God is the epitome of the All-Powerful!  But then why not stop this from hurting undeserving humans and animals?
  3. God is not all-knowing:  these evils take God completely by surprise, as  much surprise as we ourselves experience and as such, caught unawares, he did not know this would happen.  Again, this completely disagrees with our classical notions of God in these main traditions.

The conclusion could be that either God lacks these attributes of power, goodness, and knowledge OR perhaps there is no god at all.  Is the being of God inconsistent with the reality of evil in lives?  Or must we reframe our understanding of “evil?”  Christian, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers have  tended to take the second road in making sense of God and evil.

For some information on the 2004 tsumani, see this article.

Read the article by Peter Kreeft for some of the responses to evil from philosophers.

Watch the video below to help you see a range of possible routes for reflection on this problem.

What do you think?

The Problem of Evil

Have Your Class Watch This Video

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. How is the Judeo-Christian God generally described in terms of attributes?
  2. How does the problem of evil challenge the concept of God found in Western religions?
  3. Is there a distinction between natural and man-made evil?
  4. Can we reconcile the presence of evil in the world with the existence of God?
  5. Can we avoid the problem by using the idea of free will to explain humanly caused evil?

Resources for Further Study

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