The problem of evil A* grade summary notes


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The logical problem of evil (Mackie)

  • Mackie’s inconsistent triad.
  • Evil, omnipotence and omnibenevolence form an inconsistent triad, meaning it cannot be the case that all three exist.
  • This is because an all-powerful being would be able to eliminate evil
  • An all-loving being would be motivated to eliminate evil
  • This is a deductive argument – it concludes that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with God’s existence.
  • It is sometimes presented as an a priori argument concluding that God and evil cannot co-exist, and sometimes as an a posteriori argument including the premise that evil exists and concluding that God therefore does not exist.

The evidential problem of evil (Hume or Rowe)

  • The evidential problem of evil does not try and claim that there is a logical incompatibility between evil and God’s existence.
  • Hume, for example, says it’s logically possible that a perfect God created an imperfect world.
  • Hume’s point, instead, is that the evidence of evil we experience makes belief in a perfect God unjustified.
  • The logical problem claims that the existence of evil logically proves that God cannot exist.
  • The evidential problem claims that the existence of evil is only evidence against God’s existence.
  • There could be a perfect God, but because of evil we are not justified in believing that there is.
  • Evidential is an inductive argument – the premise that evil exists is only evidence which supports the conclusion that God does not exist – it does not logically guarantee that God does not exist (unlike with the deductive logical problem).
  • Analogy explaining the difference: imagine you have two detectives looking at something. One thinks it is absolute certain logical proof that X did the crime. The other doesn’t think it proves it logically for certain, but does think that it is good evidence that X did the crime.
  • The logical problem is saying that evil proves God does not exist.
  • The evidential problem is saying that evil is evidence that God does not exist.

Augustine’s theodicy

  • Evil exists because we created it and deserve it. 
  • “Evil is either sin or punishment for sin”. 
  • Adam and Eve created original sin – a corruption in human nature giving us an irresistible temptation to sin (moral evil) – which was created by Adam and Eve’s sin against God. 
  • They were also forced to live in a fallen world which is full of evil, as punishment. Adam and Eve chose to create us, and we are born with original sin and in a fallen world (natural evil). 
  • So, evil exists because we created it and deserve it as punishment. So it’s not God’s fault.
  • Evil is ‘privatio boni’ – an absence of good – it is merely the result of our falling away from God’s goodness.

Augustine vs the logical problem (Original sin violates moral responsibility & incompatibility with omnibenevolence)

  • Pelagius argued that if we have original sin and are thus completely unable to avoid doing evil, it would surely be unjust for God to punish us for our sinful behaviour. 
  • It’s not ethical for all humanity to be blamed for the actions of Adam and Eve. 
  • This suggests an indefensible view of moral responsibility – that people can be responsible for actions committed by others which is of special absurdity in this case since the action occurred before they were even born. 

Augustine responds: 

  • God doesn’t punish us because of the actions of adam and eve – God punishes us because we are sinful beings – because we are born with original sin.
  • Augustine is not actually arguing that God himself blamed all humanity for Adam’s sin, he’s merely pointing out that it was a factual consequence of Adam’s sin that all future humanity, in Adam’s loins, became infected with original sin. 
  • It’s not God’s fault, it’s Adams’. So, Augustine argues that predestination is not unjust of God, since we are corrupted by original sin and so if we go to hell it is deserved.
  • This might seem unfair, but Augustine puts it down to the “secret yet just judgement of God”, indicating that it is inscrutable – impossible for us to understand – but we should have faith it is just. Augustine points to Psalm 25:10: ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth,’ and concludes: neither can his grace be unjust, nor his justice cruel”.

Augustine vs the evidential problem (the scientific critique of the fall & original sin)

  • Scientific evidence against the fall – we evolved, Genesis cannot be literally true, genetic diversity shows we couldn’t have all come from two ancestors. 
  • Augustine doesn’t understand reproduction – we weren’t all present in Adam’s loins, that’s unscientific nonsense. 
  • So, the doctrine of original sin is not true.


  • maybe the fall isn’t accurate – but original sin still does seem accurate if you look around you at how terrible humans can be. 
  • E.g. Augustine’s pear – he told a story how, as a child, he stole a pear, not because he was hungry but just for the fun of sinning – so even children must be born with a desire to sin = original sin.
  • Chesterton argues original sin can be seen in the street – it is observable.

Irenaeus & Hick’s theodicy

  • God allows evil because it serves the good purpose of soul-making (character development). 
  • A good person is someone who chooses good over evil. 
  • To get into heaven we’ve got to become good people. 
  • So, God has to allow evil to exist to give us a chance to become good people (by choosing good over it).
  • Hick: epistemic distance – God has to ‘hide’ himself or not allow us to know for sure that God exists – because if we did know for sure that god existed, then we would just follow his commands out of obedience – but this is not the right moral motivation required for genuine character development – genuine development of personal virtue.

Irenaeus & Hick vs the logical problem

  • Why wouldn’t God just create us fully-formed to begin with?
  • The process of soul-making is unnecessary – God could just create us good to begin with.
  • So, evil is not justifiable by soul-making.


  • Hick responds that it is actually not possible for God to create us fully-formed as good people.
  • A good person is one who has chosen good over evil.
  • If God makes us that way, we haven’t really made a choice.
  • So, it’s actually logically impossible – even for God – to create us fully formed good people in the first place.
  • You can’t make someone choose something – then it’s not a choice.

Irenaeus & Hick vs the evidential problem (The issues of purposeless and soul-breaking evil)

  • Criticism of Irenaeus/Hick: there is lots of evil that does not help soul-making.
  • E.g. a child who dies of cancer – they were too young to understand what was happening, there’s no way that evil helped them become a better person – in fact it prevented that.
  • Some evil is soul-breaking, causing people to become depressed etc – it’s not soul-making.


  • Hick thinks the epistemic distance solves these issues. Imagine if we observed that every case of evil perfectly aligned with the character development requirements of those who suffered from it. Then we would clearly think that there was a God who had designed evil to serve that purpose – and this would break the epistemic distance. So we need to live in a world of – at times seemingly random and purposeless – evil.
  • He does also add that it’s precisely those cases of seemingly purposeless evil that most arouse our sympathy and develop our compassion – helping us become better people.