God and the Problem of Evil

Philo and Soc Sci Essays

 

 

In this post, I am going to share Ms. Dua Aeka Uriarte‘s brilliant engagement with William Rowe and John Hick’s theodicy as her answer to the take-home essay exam in my class Theodicy. My main reason for doing this is to provide philosophy students some hints on how to write a take home essay exam in philosophy. Ms. Dua Aeka Uriarte is a senior BA Philosophy student at Silliman University. Needless to say, Ms. Uriarte’s paper is indeed an excellent one.

 

  1. Explain as thoroughly as possible the key concepts in William Rowe’s Argument from Evil. Present your own critique of Rowe.

In his work, Arguments / Ruminations from Evil, William Rowe presents an argument against the existence of God that had been captured in two succinct premises, namely;

  1. Probably, there is pointless suffering in the world,
  2. If God exists, there is no pointless suffering,
  3. =    Thus, probably, God does not exist.

As stated in the first premise, Rowe began his argument by proving his claim that there are instances of pointless suffering, more specifically, suffering that could have been prevented by an omnipotent and caring God without losing something for the greater good or permitting something worse happen. His famous example of this is the pointless and agonizing suffering of a fawn that had been badly burned in a forest fire. Rowe sees the suffering of the fawn as pointless in the sense that God, or any divine deity out there, could have prevented the fire or the innocent fawn from dying or at least put it out of its misery, without causing any hindrance to any possible greater good or causing something far worse to happen. It’s a dying fawn, if He killed it now, it obviously dies; if He makes it suffer for hours, it still dies. The lack of any divine intervention begs the question of what reason does God have to deny the fawn of death.

While a theist may insist that there is a reason for Him letting the pointless suffering to happen,  Rowe opens the possibility that it could be that He doesn’t have one or that He hadn’t stopped it either because he did not want to or because he wasn’t there. However, the point was set; there are instances of pointless suffering in the world and that these pointless sufferings prompts the inquiry into the justifications behind His actions. Curiously, despite his example of the burned deer, Rowe admits that it wasn’t conclusive that the first premise was true but that it was a reasonable case enough to accept, a point which will be discussed later on.

With his first premise explained and defended, he moves on to question the nature of God. Despite his refutation of the existence of the Christian God, his inductive argument which is directed against the former actually relies on the traditionally held idea that God is a being with omni-attributes, that is, He is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. It is with these attributes in mind that theists and atheists alike can concede that if evil is to be permitted then there must be a form of “divine justification” since their God is loving and kind.  Rowe cites instances where He can allow evil to exist, and they are as follows:

  • A greater good occurs in such a case where evil occurs,
  • A greater good occurs in such a case where evil, or some evil equally bad or worse occurs,
  • Or, evil is preventable only in such a case which God permits some evil equally bad or worse.
  • So, if some evil occurs, then either (i), (ii), or (iii) must obtain.

If one agrees to these points, one affirms the validity of the second premise that there is no cases of pointless suffering since God has justification. However, this particular premise is quickly invalidated by Rowe through the mere affirmation of the first premise wherein he has already proven that there are instance of pointless suffering wherein God could have prevented without violating his divine justifications but didn’t.

In addition to the attack on the “divine justifications” that have been forwarded in defense of God, the omni-nature of God came under fire seeing as there are instances of pointless suffering that He could have prevented without contradicting himself. The lack of intervention, for Rowe, shows that He is not as omnipotent or as omnibenevolent as the theists have suggested since he would have either seen the being suffering pointlessly and had chosen not to intervene, contradicting his all-kindness, or he had not seen him at all and thusly could not do anything, contradicting his all-seeing nature.

Therefore, with the first premise reasonably accepted, the second conclusion is invalidated and the conclusion logically states that God does not exist because the instances of pointless suffering evident in the world proves that not only is his nature contradictory and flawed in the face of evil, but the claim that there is no suffering that is pointless is just implausible.

As well-received, logical and succinct Rowe had been with this argument against God, there is one point in his argumentation that poses a very stark threat to his entire case. This apparent flaw lies at the very core of his first premise, more specifically in his justification of his readers accepting the first premise on the grounds that it is reasonable enough to believe or accept. It becomes problematic in that this statement itself is questionable. People may not easily find the first premise reasonable enough to accept due to the circumstantial nature of his main example (the burnt and dying deer) and may request a more concrete instance to be presented before agreeing to Rowe’s claim. They may also doubt the premise simply because it is a conclusion that had been drawn from just one cited circumstance. If the reader is not convinced in his examples or pieces of evidence, they are more likely to not accept or to not affirm the first premise. With this, his whole argumentation becomes less significant as the reader may not see the value of the first premises invalidation of the second premise.

Another aspect that Rowe had glossed over is the nature of the evil that he is referring to in support of his case. The evil that befell the fawn is more likely to be considered as something that could be classified as a “natural evil” which means that it is something that man cannot control. It begets the question of why he did not consider including moral and physical evils in the banner of pointless evils. There are notable instance of pointless moral evils in the world even during his time but it seems odd that he did not engage them. Rowe’s case may or may not had opted out of using moral and psychological evils for fear of falling under the argument of free will, however, this does leave an unexplored point in his argument.

Though his argument can be summarized within three lines of arguments, the implication and significance of his claim has prompted a new perspective in the ongoing debate on God’s existence. His inductive arguments not only helped solidify the need for more logical analysis of the discourse as opposed to historical re-tracings but it also introduced a new point of departure for succeeding philosophers, that is, the presence of cases of pointless sufferings being an indispensable proof for both the flawed nature of the Christian Omni-God but also of his non-existence.

 

  1. Explain as thoroughly as possible the key concepts in John Hick’s Soul-Making Theodicy. Present your own critique of Hick.

In direct contrast to William Rowe is the soul-making theodicy put forward by John Hicks, a 20th century philosopher. In his theodicy, he not only claims that there is no such thing as pointless suffering in the world despite but Him allowing evil to also exist but that despite there being evil in the world, God still exists and he is still kind and omnipotent since the evil that he allowed helps people in their development and soul-making.

The discussion on Hick’s theodicy began with a clarification of what the former thinks about the “Fall of Man” and how it shaped our conception of human nature. His view on the “Fall of Man” is quite notable as it presents his denial of the traditional Augustinian account of the fall of man. Traditional Augustinian philosophy/theology would tell us that the main reason as to why moral evils exist in the world is mainly due to our God-given freedom, and that the “original sin” (Adam and Eve’s sin of disobeying God) is the cause for all of the world’s natural and psychological evils since it caused us to drift away from God. The only way for us to be reconciled with Him is through atonement and redemption through His grace, which we can find in the Church.

For Hick, this account of the fall of man is inconsistent for three reasons:

  1. Scientifically, pain and sorrow has existed even before the supposed fall of man. The mere existence of man and the world already indicates the existence of fear, pain, agony, and hunger, among others.
  2. Morally, Hick finds it unfair to have an entire race suffer for the sins of two individuals (Adam and Eve). With this, even a baby is considered a sinner even before he had learned how to walk! This only serves to paint God as a vengeful, unjust and immoral Being.
  3. Lastly, Hick finds this account logically inconsistent seeing as man and the world, in Augustine’s account, is described as perfect and almost god-like. By all accounts, that also goes to imply that they are flawless and are perfect enough not to perform actions that are obvious violations to God’s orders. Augustine’s version of man then after the fall is not a developed one but is one that has regressed from being perfect to antiquated.

With the idea of the “original sin” denied, sinning, then, for Hicks is something that was influenced by inner or outer flaw. This led to Hick claiming that humans and the world were created by God, before or after the fall, imperfectly or unfinished. This claim would prove significant in his theodicy as it is because of our imperfectness or our being created unfinished by God that gives us the need to have evil exist.

For Hick, evil or suffering is not exactly pointless or unnecessary since it is vital to God’s “masterplan,” and so it does not contradict God’s nature but in one way or another, it actually support the omni-attributes. Since humans are created unfinished, then they are still in the process of creation and one way in which God gives man the avenue for development is by letting evil exist. With God allowing it to be in the world, Hick claims that it serves as the catalyst for man to become virtuous beings through becoming people that are more than capable of following His will. Suffering then is not exactly pointless or there is no such thing as pointless suffering since it helps ‘perfect’ man, which is the express purpose of what Hick calls soul-making.

The concept of soul-making is the core of Hick’s theodicy. As mentioned before, the main objective of pain and suffering is to help mankind become perfect. By this, Hick doesn’t mean to become flawless and ethereal beings but to become beings that are not only virtuous (as mentioned before) but are also conscious and aware of their dependence on God. This need for God is emphasized when Hick states that it is through the man being ignorant of this dependence on Him that he falls into sin and fall away from Him (this may be the internal or external flaw that he was referring to in his refutation of traditional Augustinian perspectives).

With this awareness of our relationship with God, one can begin to understand why Hick says that a sinner can have their sins done away with through redemption that is freely chosen seeing as man now knows that to be perfect is to be one that aligns their will to His. The perfect man or the perfect child of god is not something that is created but is something that is developed, nurtured, or perhaps fostered.  The world, therefore, does not only allow for the cultivation of this idea of perfection but is “…a valley of soul-making,” which means that it is a place where self and spiritual development is always happening.

But, according to Hick, the soul-making process is not one that we can complete on Earth. It may be due to the natural life-span of man or to the unpredictability of our environment, but the process of self -development and soul making is one that will reach completion in the afterlife despite the fact that it begins on Earth. It is a process that will occupy man for the entirety of his mortal life and perhaps even after it. Nonetheless, John Hick’s soul-making theodicy does present a more optimistic and positive perspective of God’s position and actions in the face of evil being present in the world. His theodicy does not necessitate a compromise of the three omni-attributes but invokes the idea of a God that is as loving as he is patient. However, this does not mean that it is beyond critique.

One of the criticisms that makes itself apparent is the scope of the soul­-making process. As we have understood from Hick, one of the main motivation for God to let the world experience suffering is to help them develop and become virtuous beings that acknowledge their dependence on Him. Does this also mean that this soul-making process also extends to the non-human beings? If not, then it begs the question of why God allowed these non-human beings (which includes, but are not limited to, animals, plants, insects, and microorganisms) to suffer the same evil as human beings if they are not included in the development. Following his inclination to using scientific evidence, the inclusion of the non-humans would imply that God unfairly subjected the non-human beings to pain and suffering as far back as Mesozoic Era in anticipation of the human race’s development despite the fact that they do not come into existence for at least several billion years later. This line of argumentation not only works against the idea of a kind God but also of an omnipotent God.

Another point of contention in Hick’s theodicy concerns the duration of the soul-making process. If the person at the beginning of the process is the same at the end of it in the sense that they were still both developing, then what does the completion of the process entail? If it truly did entail the development of man into a perfect being, then why does God want to wait for a person to die before he can become someone reconcilable to Him? Pragmatically-speaking, it would make more sense to have man return and believe in Him while they were still alive as to assist others in reaching god-consciousness? This line of questioning in turn invokes the idea of an afterlife wherein man can actually ‘reap’ the results of his life-long struggle for development and ‘be with’ his/her creator. Sadly, Hick was silent about the idea of a life after death nor did he clarify why the process had to end in death and not when a person reaches an epiphany.

Yet, by the end of it all, John Hick’s idea of a life-long process of self and spiritual development is one that gives a more positive perspective of an evil-filled world. Suffering does exist, but it is not detrimental to both man and his world as it is through pain and suffering that they learn to become better versions of themselves, to be virtuous, god-conscious, and perfect beings that are on their way to being reconciled with Him in this life or the next.

———

 

For a detailed discussion on William Rowe’s Argument from Evil, see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Evidential Problem of Evil”: http://www.iep.utm.edu/evil-evi/. For John Hick’s Soul-Making Theodicy, see “John Hick,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://www.iep.utm.edu/.

For students who are new to philosophy, this article may help: http://philonotes.com/index.php/2017/12/16/what-is-philosophy/.

 

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