The Problem of Evil

5. Necessary for Survival

  1. Theodicy 3: Pain is a God-given warning device that alerts us to body damaging situations, such as fire, abrasion, piercing, and so on. As such, it is designed to prevent even greater harm.[9]

Book cover: The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  1. Response 1: Advocates of this theodicy leave unexplained why God created such potentially dangerous situations at all. It is not obvious why God could not have fashioned a world in which acids, knives, viruses, and so on, had no effect on the human physique. We know this is possible because, for example, many animal viruses are unable to infect humans.

  2. Response 2: As a warning system, our pain mechanisms have many deficiencies that we would not expect from an omniscient and omnipotent designer. For many potentially harmful situations, humans experience no prior feelings of pain. Examples here include exposure to environmental pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, to damaging radiation and to ingestible toxins, such as arsenic. In addition, a small minority of babies are born with a debilitating genetic defect known as congenital analgesia. This gene mutation deprives the infant of pain receptors, with devastating effects on their quality of life.

  3. Response 3: To help us avoid the greater evil of bodily injury, it seems possible that God could have designed us in such a way that we automatically and without conscious deliberation steer clear of perilous situations. Our existing blink reflex response to excessive corneal stimulation and withdrawal reflex response to excessive heat are reflexes that do not incur pain and that God could have generalized in the design of our physiology.

  4. Response 4: This theodicy leaves unexplained suffering that does not involve bodily pain. For example, it fails to explain the mental torment of the mother who discovers her husband's incestuous relationship with their daughter, the unemployed youth's contemplation of suicide and the maddening effect of solitary confinement.

    Also left unexplained is pain that overstays its usefulness; excruciating pain that the unfortunate sufferer does not have the power to avoid. One such incident ending in unavoidable agonizing pain was the spilling of molten pig iron onto steelworker Wayne Thompson in 1994.[10] Another well-known case involved climber Aron Ralston in 2003. After getting his arm trapped in a fall in Utah's Bluejohn Canyon, he first broke and then cut off his own arm without any form of anaesthesia.[11]

In summary, a plus for this theodicy is that it includes within its scope animal pain. However, this theodicy both fails to account for the many types of human deprivation that do not serve as a warning and for the absence of pain when it could have served as a caution. Most importantly, it fails to explain the necessity of the feeling of pain itself as a warning indicator.


  1. [9] For an argument along these lines, see Hick [1968: ch. XV].
  2. [10] Baltimore Sun, Steelworker Killed by Molten Metal Never Let Dangerous Job Get Him Down,
  3. [11] Shane Burrows, Cheating Death in Bluejohn Canyon,

Copyright © 2015

You will be interested in
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Baggini
Book cover: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
Book cover: Philosophy of Mind by Jaegwon Kim
Book cover: A Brief History of the Soul by Stewart Goetz
Book cover: Evil and the God of Love by John Hick
Book cover: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume

Share This

  • twitter
  • facebook
  • linkedin
  • googleplus
  • gmail
  • delicious
  • reddit
  • digg
  • newsvine
  • posterous
  • friendfeed
  • googlebookmarks
  • yahoobookmarks
  • yahoobuzz
  • orkut
  • stumbleupon
  • diigo
  • mixx
  • technorati
  • netvibes
  • myspace
  • slashdot
  • blogger
  • tumblr
  • email
Short URL: