The Soul-Making Theodicy:
A Response to Dore

1. Soul-Making and the Problem of Evil

Citation Information

Allan, Leslie 2015. The Soul-Making Theodicy: A Response to Dore, URL = <>.

Stained glass image of a grieving angel

Perhaps the most persistent objection to theism is the problem of evil. There appears to be an incompatibility, or a prima facie incompatibility, between the belief that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect creator of the world, and the belief that there are instances of evil (typically, instances of suffering). In this essay, I will consider one type of attempt to solve this problem; namely, the 'soul-making' theodicy.

'Soul-making' theodicies can be characterized as centring on the claim that:

  1. moral character, in the form of dispositions to act virtuously, is intrinsically valuable, but can only be developed by free agents responding to actual instances of evil, or
  2. the virtuous responses of free agents are intrinsically valuable, but such responses can only be evoked in confrontations with actual instances of evil, or
  3. both a. and b. above.

For the 'soul-making' theodicist, the intrinsic value of the disposition or the virtuous act outweighs the disvalue of the necessary evil, and hence the occurrence of evil is morally justified. In the following sections, I will outline two of the more difficult problems for such theodicies and evaluate the adequacy of the responses given to them.

In order to do this, I want to first make clear what the problem of evil is and is not. The best way that I can characterize this problem is in the form of a set of seven statements that is mutually inconsistent, with consistency being won at the cost of the negation of at least one of the statements. The set of seven statements is as follows.

  1. God is omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect.
  2. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent/eliminate evil.
  3. An omniscient being knows how to prevent/eliminate evil.
  4. A morally perfect being, as much as possible, protects/promotes good and prevents/eliminates evil to the extent that a greater good is not thereby prevented/eliminated.
  5. God exists.
  6. The occurrence of evil or the a posteriori[1] possibility of evil is neither logically nor causally consequent to the occurrence of any greater good.
  7. Evil exists.

Statement (1) is taken to be analytically true. I shall take it that 'x is omnipotent' iff 'There is no limit to the magnitude of the force that x can generate'. I shall take it that 'x is omniscient' iff 'x knows the epistemic status of every analytic and contingent statement'. The properties of a morally perfect being are stipulated by the most adequate normative ethical theory. Statements (2) and (3) are not analytically true, but are accepted by the theodicist. Statement (4), I take it, is not analytically true. On some normative theories that I accept as logically coherent, (4) is rejected. For example, those theories that either incorporate the Principle of Double Effect or certain rights as primitive will reject the consequentialism of (4). However, theodicists, in common with those critics who raise the problem of evil, are, by and large, consequentialists. Without further argument, I shall go along with theodicists who accept (4) as integral to an adequate normative theory. Statement (5) is either accepted by the theodicist as not analytically true, or the theodicist regards the problem of evil as an argument for the thesis that there is no valid argument for (5) with purely analytic premises. Statement (6) is also not analytically true. Whether one accepts or rejects (6) will depend on one's axiology. All 'soul-making' theodicies explicitly reject (6). Statement (7) is contingently true and accepted by 'soul-making' theodicists.

Statements (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7) form a logically inconsistent set of statements. However, the problem of evil is not the apparent logical inconsistency between the theist's belief in the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect being ((1), (2), (3) and (5)) and his belief in the occurrence of evil ((7)). Logical inconsistency only arises after the addition of the reputably morally acceptable premises (4) and (6). The problem of evil is the problem of rationally reconciling the belief that an omnipotent, omniscient and morally perfect being exists, the belief that evil occurs, and the acceptance of an adequate normative theory.

It is relevant to the appraisal of the 'soul-making' theodicy to note a weaker version of the problem of evil. The theodicist may successfully reject statement (6), and hence justify the occurrence of some evil. In this case, the theodicist replaces (6) with

  1. The occurrence of some evil, or the a posteriori possibility of some evil, is logically or causally consequent to the occurrence of some greater good.

But now the set, (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) and (6′) is logically inconsistent with

  1. There are instances of evil whose occurrence, or a posteriori possibility of occurring, is not logically or causally consequent to the occurrence of some greater good.

So, the theodicist must not only show that the existence of some evil is morally justified, but also that there are no unnecessary instances of evil. That is, he must be able to supply a morally sufficient explanation for the actual amount, distribution and types of evil in the world.


  1. [1] 'A posteriori possibility' is here used in the libertarian sense of 'x is a posteriori possible' iff 'x is not logically consequent to the laws of nature and the initial conditions'.

Copyright © 2015

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