Posted: February 28th, 2023



  Read the assigned reading from the chapter. Then choose ONE of the questions below to answer. Answer the question you chose in a response that is a minimum of 1-2 paragraphs. Be sure to explain your answers and give reasons for your views. 

Do you agree with Rowe that it seems unlikely that all instances of intense human and animal suffering lead to greater good? And do you think that if all that suffering does lead to greater goods, that “an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods without permitting the instances of suffering that lead to them”?

According to Hick, what is the “soul-making process”? Is it, as he says, of such great value that it justifies all the human and animal suffering involved in it? Do you think Rowe’s criticism of the soul-making theodicy is cogent?

 Can you conceive of a world that has slightly less suffering than our world has, yet in which plenty of soul-making takes place? Explain.


Some people doubt the existence of God because they believe that the traditional arguments for theism fall short and that no other evidence in God’s favor seems forthcoming. Others take a stronger stand against theism by setting forth the argument from evil. They ask, in effect, “If God exists, how can there be so much unnecessary evil in the world? An all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God might allow some evils because they are necessary to bring about some greater good. But much of the world’s evils seem to be entirely and blatantly gratuitous. So how can we conclude anything other than that there must be no such God?” Philosophers and theologians have generally concerned themselves with two types of evil. Moral evil comes from human choices and actions and the bad things that arise from them. Injustice, murder, deceit, theft, and torture are moral evils from which flow pain, suffering, injury, loss, and death. Natural evil results from the workings of nature. From hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires, disease, and drought come vast sums of evil in the form of human and animal suffering. To make their case, atheists have usually appealed to both kinds of evil, challenging theists to explain why a perfectly good and powerful God would allow such horrors. Rowe’s Argument from Evil One of the more influential versions of the argument from evil is provided by philosopher William L. Rowe, who focuses on evil as “intense human and animal suffering”: William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion Taking human and animal suffering as a clear instance of evil which occurs with great frequency in our world, the . . . problem of evil can be stated in terms of the following argument for atheism. 1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good. 2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby preventing the occurrence of some greater good. Therefore, 3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. What are we to say about this argument for atheism, an argument based on the profusion of one sort of evil in the world? The argument is valid; therefore, if we have rational grounds for accepting its premises, to that extent we have rational grounds for accepting atheism. Do we, however, have rational grounds for accepting the premises of this argument? The second premise of the argument expresses a belief about what a morally good being would do under certain circumstances. According to this belief, if a Moral evil is evil that comes from human choices and actions and the bad things that arise from them. Natural evil is evil that results from the workings of nature. 2.3 God and the Problem of Evil 91 morally good being knew of some intense suffering that was about to occur and he was in a position to prevent its occurrence, he would prevent it unless he could not do so without thereby losing some greater good of which he was aware. This belief (or something very close to it) is, I think, held in common by theists and nontheists. Of course, there may be disagreement about whether something is good, and whether, if it is good, one would be morally justified in permitting some intense suffering to occur in order to obtain it. Someone might hold, for example, that no good is great enough to justify permitting an innocent child to suffer terribly. To hold such a view, however, is not to deny premise 2 which claims only that if an omniscient, wholly good being permits intense suffering then there must be some greater good (a good which outweighs the suffering in question) which the good being could not obtain without permitting the intense suffering. So stated, 2 seems to express a belief that accords with our basic moral principles, principles shared by both theists and nontheists. If we are to fault this argument, therefore, we must find some fault with its first premise. Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless, leading to no greater good. Could an omnipotent, omniscient being have prevented the fawn’s apparently pointless suffering? The answer is obvious, as even the theist will insist. An omnipotent, omniscient being could easily have prevented the fawn from being horribly burned, or, given the burning, could have spared the fawn the intense suffering by quickly ending its life, rather than allowing the fawn to lie in terrible agony for several days. Since no greater good, so far as we can see, would have been lost had the fawn’s intense suffering been prevented, doesn’t it appear that premise 1 of the argument is true, that there exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby preventing the occurrence of any greater good? . . . The truth is that we are not in a position to prove that 1 is true. We cannot know with certainty that instances of suffering of the sort described in 1 do occur in our Figure 2.11 Does a fawn’s suffering alone in the forest lead to a greater good? Could an omnipotent God obtain this greater good some other way? 20 Do you agree with Rowe that it seems unlikely that all instances of intense human and animal suffering lead to greater goods? And do you think that if all that suffering does lead to greater goods, that “an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods without permitting the instances of suffering that lead to them”? 92 Chapter 2 God and Religion world. But it is one thing to know or prove that 1 is true and quite another thing to have rational grounds for believing 1 to be true. We are often in the position where in the light of our experience and knowledge it is rational to believe that a certain statement is true, even though we are not in a position to prove or to know with certainty that the statement is true. In the light of our past experience and knowledge it is, for example, very reasonable to believe that neither Goldwater nor McGovern will ever be elected president, but we are scarcely in the position of knowing with certainty that neither will be elected president. So, too, with 1, although we cannot know with certainty that it is true, it perhaps can be rationally supported, shown to be a rational belief. Consider again the case of the fawn’s suffering. There are two distinct questions we need to raise: “Does the fawn’s suffering lead to some greater good?” and “Is the greater good to which it might lead such that an omnipotent, omniscient being could not obtain it without permitting the fawn’s suffering?” It may strike us as unlikely that the answer to the first question is yes. And it may strike us as quite a bit more unlikely that the answer to the second question is yes. But even if we should think it is reasonable to believe that the fawn’s suffering leads to a greater good unobtainable without that suffering, we must then ask whether it is reasonable to believe that all the instances of profound, seemingly pointless human and animal suffering lead to greater goods. And, if they should somehow all lead to greater goods, is it reasonable to believe that an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have brought about any of those goods without permitting the instances of suffering which supposedly lead to them? When we consider these more general questions in the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and profusion of human and animal suffering occurring daily in our world, it seems that the answer must be no. It seems quite unlikely that all the instances of intense human and animal suffering occurring daily in our world lead to greater goods, and even more unlikely that if they all do, an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods without permitting the instances of suffering that lead to them. In the light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world, the idea that none of those instances of suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without the loss of a greater good seems an extraordinary, absurd idea, quite beyond our belief. It seems then that although we cannot prove that premise 1 is true, it is, nevertheless, altogether reasonable to believe that 1 is true, that it is a rational belief.12 Some theists reject Premise 1 by appealing to human ignorance. They argue that there could be goods unknown to us that justify the evil we see—goods comprehended by God but beyond our ken. Or our concept of good may not be God’s, for his morality is of a higher, purer kind than ours. In God’s eyes, then, what we believe is evil might be good, or what we think is good might be evil. Defenders of Premise 1 reply that we may indeed be unaware of goods that God discerns, but none of the goods we do know about could ever compensate for life’s vast burden of seemingly gratuitous evil. We need not know what God knows to be justified in believing Premise 1. As Rowe says, That things appear to us to be a certain way is itself justification for thinking things are this way. Of course, this justification may be defeated. But apart from such defeat, the fact that things appear to us to be a certain way William L. Rowe, Philosophy of Religion 2.3 God and the Problem of Evil 93 renders us rationally justified in believing that they are that way.13 And to assert that God’s morality is higher than ours, some argue, is to cast doubt on all our moral judgments and to render meaningless our terms good and evil. J. L. Mackie observes that on this higher-morality view, “When the theist says that God is wholly good he does not mean that God has anything like the purposes and tendencies that would count as good in a human being. But then why call him good? Is not this description misleading?”14 The Free Will Defense To many theists, the best way to counter the argument from evil is to present a theodicy, an explanation of why God permits evil. The point is to provide good reasons why evil may be a necessary part of God’s creation, thereby showing that the argument from evil fails. Chief among such approaches is the free will defense, which is usually offered as an explanation of moral evil. It says that human free will is an enormous good, so much so that a universe where humans have free will is better than one where they don’t, even if their exercise of freedom brings about much evil. Moral evil is the unavoidable byproduct of God’s gift of free will. According to Richard Swinburne, Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? The free-will defence claims that it is a great good that humans have a certain sort of free will which I shall call free and responsible choice, but that, if they do, then necessarily there will be the natural possibility of moral evil. . . . A God who gives humans such free will necessarily brings about the possibility, and puts outside his own control whether or not that evil occurs. It is not logically possible—that is, it would be selfcontradictory to suppose—that God could give us such free will and yet ensure that we always use it in the right way.15 Here, free will may sound like a serious restriction of God’s power (a denial of his omnipotence), but most philosophers, whether theistic or not, have not taken that view. They have interpreted God’s omnipotence not as the power to do anything whatsoever, but as the power to do anything that is logically possible. They have acknowledged that God cannot make a square circle or a married bachelor, cause 2 + 2 to equal 5, or create a triangle with four sides. But logical impossibilities are fundamental facts about reality and are not thought to set any restrictions on God’s power. Against the free will defense, two main objections have been raised. The first is the contention that there is no reason why an omnipotent God could not have created free agents who always choose the good. As Mackie says, “If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose What mean and cruel things men do for the love of God. —W. Somerset Maugham 21 Is Mackie correct in saying that an omnipotent God could have created people with free will who always choose the good? Is such a state of affairs logically possible? You can say that you trust God anyway—that no arguments can undermine your faith. But that is just a statement describing how stubborn you are; it has no bearing whatsoever on the questions of God’s goodness. —B. C. Johnson 94 Chapter 2 God and Religion the good?”16 But many theists assert that to ensure people always freely do what is right, God would have to force them to do so—and forcing people to act freely is logically impossible. The second objection is that even if God could not have made humans so they always freely choose the good, he could have at least made people such that they do less evil than they actually do. In this view, God could have given people better moral character so their desire to do good would be stronger and their desire to do evil would be weaker. Such an alteration in their character would not diminish their capacity to act freely, and even a slight change would reduce the amount of evil in the world. Many theists would object to this line, however, charging that such manipulation of character by God would indeed curtail free will. God’s tinkering with people’s psychological makeup would be analogous to controlling a person’s behavior through hypnosis or drugs. The Soul-Making Defense In any case, free will is not the only good that has been offered as a justification for God’s permitting evil. The philosopher John Hick says that the greatest good is “soul-making.” In his theodicy, he argues that evil in the form of suffering is necessary to provide humans with a world where moral and spiritual progress is possible. Personal growth—soul-making—can take place only when people make free choices in response to the pain and anguish of living. Hick explains: John Hick, Evil and the God of Love Instead of regarding man as having been created by God in a finished state, as a finitely perfect being fulfilling the divine intention for our human level of existence, and then falling disastrously away from this, the [minority view] sees man as still in process of creation. Irenaeus himself expressed the point in terms of the (exegetically dubious) distinction between the ‘image’ and the ‘likeness’ of God referred to in Genesis i.26: ‘Then God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ His view was that man as a personal and moral being already exists in the image, but has not yet been formed into the finite likeness of God. By this ‘likeness’ Irenaeus means something more than personal existence as such; he means a certain valuable quality of personal life which reflects finitely the divine life. This represents the perfecting of man, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for humanity, the ‘bringing of many sons to glory’, the creating of ‘children of God’ who are ‘fellow heirs with Christ’ of his glory. And so man, created as a personal being in the image of God, is only the raw material for a further and more difficult stage of God’s creative work. This is the leading of men as relatively free and autonomous persons, through their own dealings with life in the world in which He has placed them, towards that quality of personal existence that is the finite likeness of God. . . . In the light of modern anthropological knowledge some form of two-stage conception of the creation of man has become an almost unavoidable Christian tenet. At the very least we must acknowledge as two distinguishable stages the fashioning of 2.3 God and the Problem of Evil 95 homo sapiens as a product of the long evolutionary process, and his sudden or gradual spiritualization as a child of God. But we may well extend the first stage to include the development of man as a rational and responsible person capable of personal relationship with the personal Infinite who has created him. This first stage of the creative process was, to our anthropomorphic imaginations, easy for divine omnipotence. By an exercise of creative power God caused the physical universe to exist, and in the course of countless ages to bring forth within it organic life, and finally to produce out of organic life personal life; and when man had thus emerged out of the evolution of the forms of organic life, a creature had been made who has the possibility of existing in conscious fellowship with God. But the second stage of the creative process is of a different kind altogether. It cannot be performed by omnipotent power as such. For personal life is essentially free and self-directing. It cannot be perfected by divine fiat, but only through the uncompelled responses and willing co-operation of human individuals in their actions and reactions in the world in which God has placed them. Men may eventually become the perfected persons whom the New Testament calls ‘children of God’, but they cannot be created ready-made as this. The value-judgement that is implicitly being invoked here is that one who has attained to goodness by meeting and eventually mastering temptations, and thus by rightly making responsible choices in concrete situations, is good in a richer and more valuable sense than would be one created ab initio in a state either of innocence or of virtue. In the former case, which is that of the actual moral achievements of mankind, the individual’s goodness has within it the strength of temptations overcome, a stability based upon an accumulation of right choices, and a positive and responsible character that comes from the investment of costly personal effort. I suggest, then, that it is an ethically reasonable judgement, even though in the nature of the case not one that is capable of demonstrative proof, that human goodness slowly built up through personal histories of moral effort has a value in the eyes of the Creator which justifies even the long travail of the soul-making process. . . . If, then, God’s aim in making the world is ‘the bringing of many sons to glory’, that aim will naturally determine the kind of world that He has created. Antitheistic writers almost invariably assume a conception of the divine purpose which is contrary to the Christian conception. They assume that the purpose of a loving God must be to create a hedonistic paradise; and therefore to the extent that the world is other than this, it proves to them that God is either not loving enough or not powerful enough to create such a world. They think of God’s relation to the earth on the model of a human being building a cage for a pet animal to dwell in. If he is humane he will naturally make his pet’s quarters as pleasant and healthful as he can. Any respect in which the cage falls short of the veterinarian’s ideal, and contains possibilities of accident or disease, is evidence of either limited benevolence or limited means, or both. Those who use the problem of evil as an argument against belief in God almost invariably think of the world in this kind of way. David Hume, for example, speaks of an architect who is trying to plan a house that is to be as comfortable and convenient as possible. If we find that ‘the windows, doors, fires, passages, stairs, and the whole economy of the building were the source of noise, confusion, fatigue, darkness, and the extremes of heat and cold’ we should have no hesitation in blaming the architect. It would be in vain for him to prove that if this or that defect were corrected greater ills would result: ‘still you would assert in general, that, if the architect had had skill and good intentions, he might have formed such a plan of the whole, and might have adjusted the parts in such a manner, as would have remedied all or most of these inconveniences’. But if we are right in supposing that God’s purpose for man is to lead him from human Bios, or the biological life of man, to that quality of Zoe, or the personal life of 22 According to Hick, what is the “soulmaking process”? Is it, as he says, of such great value that it justifies all the human and animal suffering involved in it? 96 Chapter 2 God and Religion John Hick, Evil and the God of Love eternal worth, which we see in Christ, then the question that we have to ask is not, Is this the kind of world that an all-powerful and infinitely loving being would create as an environment for his human pets? or, Is the architecture of the world the most pleasant and convenient possible? The question that we have to ask is rather, Is this the kind of world that God might make as an environment in which moral beings may be fashioned, through their own free insights and responses, into ‘children of God’? Such critics as Hume are confusing what heaven ought to be, as an environment for perfected finite beings, with what this world ought to be, as an environment for beings who are in process of becoming perfected. For if our general conception of God’s purpose is correct the world is not intended to be a paradise, but rather the scene of a history in which human personality may be formed towards the pattern of Christ. Men are not to be thought of on the analogy of animal pets, whose life is to be made as agreeable as possible, but rather on the analogy of human children, who are to grow to adulthood in an environment whose primary and overriding purpose is not immediate pleasure but the realizing of the most valuable potentialities of human personality. Needless to say, this characterization of God as the heavenly Father is not a merely random illustration but an analogy that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus treated the likeness between the attitude of God to man and the attitude of human parents at their best towards their children, as providing the most adequate way for us to think about God. And so it is altogether relevant to a Christian understanding of this world to ask, How does the best parental love express itself in its influence upon the environment in which children are to grow up? I think it is clear that a parent who loves his children, and wants them to become the best human beings that they are capable of becoming, does not treat pleasure as the sole and supreme value. Certainly we seek pleasure for our children, and take great delight in obtaining it for them; but we do not desire for them unalloyed pleasure at the expense of their growth in such even greater values as moral integrity, unselfishness, compassion, courage, humour, reverence for the truth, and perhaps above all the capacity for love. We do not act on the premise that pleasure is the supreme end of life; and if the development of these other values sometimes clashes with the provision of pleasure, then we are willing to have our children miss a certain amount of this, rather than fail to come to possess and to be possessed by the finer and more precious qualities that are possible to the human personality. A child brought up on the principle that the only or the supreme value is pleasure would not be likely to become an ethically mature adult or an attractive or happy personality. And to most parents it seems more important to try to foster quality and strength of character in their children than to fill their lives at all times with the utmost possible degree of pleasure. If, then, there is any true analogy between God’s purpose for his human creatures, and the purpose of loving and wise parents for their children, we have to recognize that the presence of pleasure and the absence of pain cannot be the supreme and overriding end for which the world exists. Rather, this world must be a place of soul-making. And its value is to be judged, not primarily by the quantity of pleasure and pain occurring in it at any particular moment, but by its fitness for its primary purpose, the purpose of soul-making. . . . If, then, the evil in human life finally reveals its nature according as it becomes or fails to become a phase in the fulfilment of God’s purpose, we must conclude, so far as the present life is concerned, that there are both good and evil suffering, and that there are redeemed and unredeemed sinners. Any revision of the verdict must depend upon lengthening the perspective out until it reaches a new and better conclusion. If there is any eventual resolution of the interplay between good and evil, any decisive bringing of good out of evil, it must lie beyond this world and beyond the 2.3 God and the Problem of Evil 97 enigma of death. Therefore we cannot hope to state a Christian theodicy without taking seriously the doctrine of a life beyond the grave. This doctrine is not, of course, based upon any theory of natural immortality, but upon the hope that beyond death God will resurrect or re-create or reconstitute the human personality in both its inner and its outer aspects. The Christian claim is that the ultimate life of man—after what further scenes of ‘soul-making’ we do not know—lies in that Kingdom of God which is depicted in the teaching of Jesus as a state of exultant and blissful happiness, symbolized as a joyous banquet in which all and sundry, having accepted God’s gracious invitation, rejoice together. And Christian theodicy must point forward to that final blessedness, and claim that this infinite future good will render worthwhile all the pain and travail and wickedness that has occurred on the way to it. Theodicy cannot be content to look to the past, seeking an explanation of evil in its origins, but must look towards the future, expecting a triumphant resolution in the eventual perfect fulfilment of God’s good purpose.17 Critics have assailed Hick’s view on several fronts, arguing that suffering can warp character as well as build it, that God’s allowing people to suffer for their own good constitutes morally repugnant paternalism, and that Hick’s theodicy has the bizarre implication that our trying to eradicate evil would be wrong. Rowe’s main criticism is that far more evil afflicts people than is required for soul-making: The problem Hick’s theodicy leaves us is that it is altogether reasonable to believe that some of the evils that occur could have been prevented without either diminishing our moral and spiritual development or undermining our confidence that the world operates according to natural laws.1

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