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The Problem of Evil

8. Conclusion

Book cover: The Evidential Argument from Evil by Daniel Howard-Snyder

There are theodicies of a narrow religious nature that I have not dealt with in this essay. These theodicies rely on religious doctrines peculiar to particular creeds. Theodicies of this type draw on the doctrine of the fall, as recounted in Genesis 3, and the doctrine of everlasting heavenly bliss, whether it be accompanied by an ancillary doctrine of everlasting hellfire or not. The doctrine of heavenly reward, at best, is a teaching about compensation for earthly pains and sufferings. As such, this doctrine does not provide a justification for such pains and sufferings, which is required of a bona fide theodicy. These kinds of creeds also typically run counter to established scientific theories and generally accepted facts, and so have a hard time to get going. Many also raise serious questions about the moral probity of God and so fail on that account.

It may be thought that although no one theodicy explains all of the types, amounts and distributions of evil, pain and suffering in the world, two or more combined can provide a coherent and comprehensive account. The discussion of each of the theodicies dealt with in this essay, I think, shows that no one theodicy explains satisfactorily the nature and scope of the evil, pain and suffering it was designed to explain. Combining individually defective theodicies will not make an effective overall argument for the moral permissibility of all of the evil we see in the world.

Combining some theodicies also generates new paradoxes for the theist. A case in point is theodicists who conjoin the soul-making theodicy with the idea of the intrinsic value of free will in an attempt to avoid the possibility of a world in which we always freely choose rightly. In this package deal, God determines that some people must freely choose to do evil for the benefit of developing virtuous traits in others. However, the theodicist must now explain how these acts of evil are genuinely 'free' and thus worthy of our moral condemnation.

Combining either the soul-making theodicy or the free will theodicy with the doctrine of heaven also generates puzzles. If there is no evil in heaven that requires minimizing through virtuous acts, then of what benefit is soul-making for the afterlife? Further, if 'free will' necessarily entails the possibility of acting wrongly, then how can heaven be guaranteed to be free of evil?

Given some three centuries of monotheistic thought, it seems reasonable to suppose that if a convincing theodicy or combination of theodicies were to be found, it would have been constructed and generally accepted by now. In just the last two hundred years, scientists have uncovered the workings of the universe at the global scale, with the two theories of relativity, and at the micro scale with quantum field theory. Each of these theories is conceptually multifaceted and mathematically complex. It's not that the world of human beings has had a shortage of intellectual ingenuity.

As a last resort, the skeptical theists wish to make the problem of evil philosophically irrelevant. This essay shows that their argument created more problems and paradoxes than it was intended to solve. Their retreat to principium ignoramus, as I tried to show, also excludes them from making legitimate moral judgments altogether. In this sense, their skeptical move parallels that of nineteenth century theists making God a 'God of the gaps' within the empirical domain. With the help of skeptical theists, that gap has now slammed shut inside the moral sphere. In conclusion, the problem of evil remains as a significant challenge to the rationality of monotheistic belief.

Copyright © 2015

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