Slide show


If God is All Powerful Why is There Is Still Evil?: The Problem Of Evil And Theodicy.

A Discussion on the problem of theodicy and a critical evaluation of  the views of Augustine (354-430) and Karl Barth (1886-1968).

If God is All Powerful Why There Is Still Evil?: The Problem Of Evil And Theodicy.

The problem of theodicy has preoccupied theologians from time immemorial. Central to the discussion is how a God is who is good and all powerful can co-exist with evil and suffering. Various scholars have made significant contribution to this body of knowledge. This paper will restrict its evaluation to the theodicy of Augustine and Karl Barth. It will seek to critically evaluate these two scholars’ contribution and highlight shortcomings of their views in light of new information and proposals in the same area of scholarly dialogue. We will start by defining theodicy and tracing its roots before delving into this analysis.

The word theodicy was coined by Leibniz in 1710 (Dyrness & Karkkainen, 2008:881) to refer “to a theoretical justification of the goodness of God in the face of the presence of evil in the world” (McGrath, 1995:702). Etymologically, theodicy is derived from the Greek words theos meaning “God” and dik meaning “just”. Thus theodicy seeks to “justify the ways of God to man” (Ferguson and Wright, 1988:679). Thus, theodicy is about man’s wrestling with seemingly inconsistent realities, about what we believe God to be and the reality of evil, pain and suffering in his world. The question occupying scholarly dialogue is if God is good and sovereign (alternatively, omnibenevolent and omnipotent respectively) how does he allow evil, pain and suffering in his world? As already alluded to, this paper will look at both Augustinian and Karl Barth theodicy.

We will now discuss what this paper will constantly refer to as Augustinian theodicy. This refers to the views of Augustine (354-430) of Hippo’s views on theodicy. One needs to appreciate Augustinian’s intellectual and religious journey as he wrestled with theodicy. His original views are those of a non-Christian rooted in dualism of Manicheism (Ferguson and Wright, 1988:58). According to McGrath (1995:702), Augustine while adherent of Manicheism believed in the existence of the good God and the evil God. The evil one is the one to whom all pain and evil are attributable. The hope for those holding this view is that one day the good God will triumph over the evil God. Obviously such a simplistic view of the origin of evil has significant shortcomings and can be dismissed at best as part of speculative Eastern mysticism not worthy a shred of credibility.

There is a huge difference between Augustine the Manicheism adherent and Augustine the Christian Apologetic. At this stage Augustinian theodicy seeks to give a comprehensive response to what theodicy literature will refer to as the “evidential problem of evil” which then challenges the existence of God. Such scholarly position postulates that the power and goodness (omnipotence and Omni benevolence) of God cannot co-exist with evil. By extension, the fact that evil exists implies that God is either non-existent or he exists but is not all-powerful or all-good. Thus Augustine seeks to provide valid explanation that affirms the existence of God and the at the same time explaining the existence of evil.Thus his theodicy is anchored on the affirmation of the existence of one true God who created the world is what is generally referred to as the Augustinian theodicy and it mirrors the orthodoxy position. Of such a position, Morley (2006:33) asserts that “It must affirm that God is both good and all powerful…despite the existence of pain and evil…” Such is the genesis of Augustine’s articulation of his theodicy.

Further, Augustine (having converted) firmly believed that evil is not the creation of God in the same way he created the world. But evil is the “absence of good” (Morley 2006:27) and that absence of good is occasioned by the “free turning away from God” McGrath (1995:192). This gives birth to the Free-will discourse of the source of evil. It is therefore Augustine’s contestation that man or humanity and not God is responsible for the evil in the world. Such evil is a result of humanity’s sin. For “all good is from God” (:192) and as such evil cannot be conceived, according to Augustine to come from God.

Augustinian theodicy has attracted attention both negative and positive. Ranging from atheism, pantheism, Christian Science, dualism (where Augustine initially belonged and we have already commented on that above), process theodicy, theodicy after holocaust and from among orthodoxy circles. We discuss some of these below.

One such weapon used against Augustinian theodicy is “free-will”. His opponents argue on the following lines. To start with they argue that while God gave men free-will, he is all knowing and that it is “His infallible knowledge of the future that makes it impossible for thins to turn out differently” (Morley, 2006:89).  Thus the fact that God does not act on such knowledge to prevent negative outcomes makes him the creator of evil contrary to Augustinian theodicy. Augustine (as quoted by Morley) would argue to the contrary however, and this paper supports this position in upholding evil as a consequence of moral decisions. “If God knows what will happen tomorrow, it does not necessarily mean that He will cause it to be so, nor that He will make it such that it cant be otherwise. Therefore it will be better to say that God merely knew yesterday what you would freely choose today” ( :90).

 If God exists and is the creator of the universe, one would expect him to ensure that whenever his creation (humanity) exercises the gift of free will they would do so in such a way that the outcomes are always good consistent with God’s goodness. The fact that God allows outcomes contrary to his goodness makes him the creator of evil and not man. Such an argument on the surface seems to be valid disputation of the Augustinian theodicy. However, it lacks merit as is demonstrated below.

Springing to Augustine’s “free-will” defense are scholars like Plantinga. For him, just like Augustine, God is not the author of evil. Further the existence of evil does prove the existence of God; it does not preclude the existence of God and vice-versa (Hasker, 2008:56). Same evil, he maintains is still a result of the exercise of the free-will of man. In fact Plantinga finds inconsistencies in the arguments of opponents of Augustinian theodicy in their insistence that God should ensure that human free-will always produces good outcomes consistent with his goodness. Plantinga refutes such assertions as he contends that “even an omnipotent God cannot make creatures who are free but who never sin. That is because a being who is free cannot also be controlled (or determined)… being controlled and being free are incompatible” ” (Morley, 2006:92-93 see also Ferguson and Wright, 1996:679). Thus the free-will enterprise cannot be used to turn the table on God and accuse him as the creator of evil; evil is a result of man making decisions that are marked by “absence of good”.

One suggested seeming limitation of Augustinian theory is to assume that all evil is moral evil. However evil that we wrestle with in the world is not merely moral evil which results from wrong moral choices that humanity makes and the obvious pain and suffering resulting from such choices. It is also natural evil, evil that is not attributable to humanity’s moral decisions. Such evil could include natural disasters seemingly not premised on the moral deficiencies of humanity. Thus all evil in the world is not moral evil, some of it seems to be beyond humanity’s capacity to influence, and doesn’t that prove the non-existence of God? We attempt to give a response below

While it is true that Augustinian theodicy does not adequately articulate on the natural evil and dwells almost exclusively on moral evil, the existence of natural evil cannot prove the non-existence of God. One can still supply evidence to prove that its existence should not at all preclude the existence of God. Such evidence can still be based on the Augustinian free-will axiom. Plantinga introduces into the theodicy dialogue the existence of free-willed non-human agents into the debate as being responsible for natural disasters. However, one needs to hasten to assert as Hasker (2008:65) does, that “…we do have abundant evidence that many sorts of evil arise from natural causes in such a way that to insert the agency of non-human persons into the causal chain is monumentally impossible”. Such natural evils or disasters will include earthquakes and volcanic activity best explained by plate tectonics etc. Thus both Augustinian theodicy and Plantinga defense falls short at this point.
If God is All Powerful Why There Is Still Evil?: The Problem Of Evil And Theodicy.
Related to these natural disasters are other situations of evil, pain and suffering for which human free will cannot account. An example could be birth defects, poverty etc. This paper agrees with Morley (2006:210) in the assertion that “Although birth defects and other serious problems are not part of God’s ideal plan, He does not absolve Himself as a cause of them. When Moses claimed to lack the necessary eloquence for his calling, God replied ‘Who has made a man’s mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord’ (Exod. 4:11)”. Such incidents are very much prevalent throughout the pages of scripture and thus for Augustinian theodicy to overlook this is not to be entirely faithful to scripture. We may not understand why God allows such evils, pains and sufferings to happen.

While Augustinian theodicy seems to absolve God of all evil and attribute all evil to the domain of human free will, Irenaean makes an admission of God’s responsibility for some evil. Thus Irenaean theodicy concedes to the notion that God is responsible for some of the evil but such evil is meant for the good of humanity or its development. Various cases in scripture seem to affirm that God sometimes allows evil or disaster- which is not a result of moral failure on the part of humanity (thus coming as punishment) but evil that is developmental in nature. Consequently, unlike the Augustinian theodicy, the Irenaean theodicy does not attempt to protect God from being responsible for evil; rather, it argues that God is responsible but justified for it because of the benefits it has for human development. Such suffering will include that of Christ, for instance (Dyrness & Karkkainen, 2008:882).This is one of the shortcomings of Augustinian theodicy.
For Karl Barth, deemed it impossible for human theodicies he only viewed crucifixion as the only platform to establish the goodness of God not human theodicies. God ultimately is control of human suffering. At least Karl Barth seems to suggest that not all suffering is a result of moral sin but can also be a result of Divine providence and God uses it to work out something good as he does with the crucifixion.

Finally, there has been scientific criticism of Augustinian theodicy as well. Some like John Hick criticized Augustine's theory on the basis of their understanding of the Evolution theory postulated by Darwin. The theory sees humanity’s progression to perfection as opposed by imperfection of the original sin postulated by Augustine. For one to accept Hick’s argument, they will have to put up with all the inadequacies of Charles’ Darwin’s theory in the first place; a position this paper refutes on the weight of the Anti-Darwin theory evidence.

While there are challenging views to Augustine and Karl Bath’s view of theodicy, the ideas promulgated by the two are largely valid and enjoy the support of orthodoxy. As noted above, there is so much dwelling on moral evils by both scholars at the expense of natural evils and pains that come therefrom. Such views as expressed by Irenaean theodicy and other related views need to be given serious consideration in coming with an all rounded view of theodicy.

Reference List

Dyrness, W & Karkkainen, V (Eds).2008. Global Dictionary of theology. Downers Groove: IVP
Ferguson, S and Wright D F (Eds). 1996. New Dictionary of Theology- Student Edition. London: SC Press Ltd.
Hasker, W. 2008. The Triumph of God over Evil- Theodicy of a World of Suffering. Downers Groove: IVP
McGrath, A E (Ed). 2001. The Christian Theology Reader, 2nd Edition. New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwel.
Moreland, J P and Craig, W L. 2003. Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview. Downers Groove: IVP

Morley, B.2006. In The Shadows of Evil in God’s World. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd.