As we all know very well, people act badly - sometimes even atrociously. They hurt each other in various ways. Some of them commit gruesome murders. Some of them succeed in acts of genocide. Some of them just pain other people by what they say to them. As we also know, there is (and for a long time has been) a great deal of physical pain and suffering, and a lot of psychological pain and suffering which is not the doing or intention of any human being. Before people came on the scene there were prehistoric animals, many of whom must have died in agony.1 And there are human beings alive today who are congenitally depressed, who have terminal diseases, and who are victims of natural disasters which leave them disabled. Our world is now, and has long been, full of anguish. Let me put all this by saying that evil is something with which to reckon.2
'Evil', of course, is a strong word that people now employ fairly rarely. Nobody likes being given an ii\jection by a dentist (a bad thing to have to endure), but hardly anyone would call the pain of that injection an 'evil'. Then again, we may not approve of people who lie to excuse their late arrival at a party (perhaps this is morally bad), but we would not normally refer to them as evil for doing so. We tend to employ the term 'evil' when referring to a great or horrendous deal of badness - like that present in genocide, ruthless serial killing, wanton cruelty, cancer, the deaths of thousands of people by virtue of an earthquake, and so on. But badness is badness, even if it admits of degrees (from slight to horrendous). Medieval thinkers had one word for it in all its forms - malum (which we can translate either as 'badness' or as 'evil'). Malum, they rightly concluded, is all-pervasive. And, with this thought in mind, I say, once again, that evil is something with which to reckon/5
Given this fact, we might be forgiven for concluding that life is pretty grim and makes very little sense on the whole even if we appreciate much of what it gives us - like our families (if we have families), our friends (if we have them), the taste of a good wine (if we can afford it, or get someone to buy it for us), and the music of Mozart (if we have been privileged to have been introduced to it and are not deaf). Yet there are those who believe that the world is created and governed by a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and good. These people tell us that everything we encounter is God's gift to us and is guided by providence or mind (God's providence and mind). They insist that what we deem to be bad or evil in the world is no good reason for abandoning belief in God.
Given how we find the world to be, however, how can these people be right? With this question we come to what is commonly called 'the problem of evil'. It is, of course, an intellectual problem. I might wonder how to protect my family from terrorists, or I might worry about how to avoid heart disease or hurricanes. Then again, I might ask myself how best to control my desire to kill people, or how I might reform compulsive rapists. The problem of evil, however, is usually taken to be a theoretical matter, not one where the focus is on how one might bring about some desirable goal (a practical matter). In much philosophical literature it is commonly regarded as a philosophical challenge to belief in the existence of God. Does the occurrence of evil in the world show that there certainly is no God, or that there probably is no God? In response to this question some say 'Yes' and some say 'No'. If we take sides with either party here, or are interested in their positions, we are engaged with what now goes by the name of 'the problem of evil'.
How should we approach this problem? My view is that the right way to do so is to proceed by attending to what I would call 'basics'. That is to say, in order profitably to think about God and evil we need to begin by asking 'Is there a God?' and 'What is God?' So in this book I approach the problem of evil by trying to attend to such basics. In the very first line of his De Providentia, Seneca (3 bc-ad 65) writes: 'You have asked me, Lucilius, why, if a providence rules the world, it still happens that many evils befall good men. This would be more fittingly answered in the course of a work in which we prove that a providence presides over the universe, and that god concerns himself with us.'4 You might think of the present book as written by someone partly seeking to follow Seneca's advice.
To start with I offer an introduction to ways in which people have reflected on God and evil since the time of David Hume (1711-1776), whose writings on God and evil did much to influence subsequent discussions of the topic (Hume is almost required reading, or an essential starting point, for the modern debate on God and evil). The purpose of this introduction is to give you (should you need it) a sense of how people have approached the topic of God and evil in recent years (though I also briefly refer to some less-than-recent authors).
I then proceed to talk about God and evil by focusing on the basics to which I have just referred. What I shall be arguing is very much what has been defended by many classical Christian authors - especially Thomas Aquinas (1224/6-1274), to whom I am particularly indebted and to whom I refer frequently in what follows. It has been suggested to me that I refer too frequently to Aquinas in this book, and perhaps that is so. Yet, as well as being a major figure in the history of theology, Aquinas is a thinker whose stature is increasingly acknowledged by philosophers (especially analytical ones).5 And he strikes me as especially illuminating when it comes to issues with which I am here concerned. Aquinas, I think, is someone with whom we may approach the topic of God and evil with renewed vigour and insight. It therefore seems to me appropriate often to bring him into my discussion and sometimes even to engage in expositions of him and in evaluations of what some of his critics have had to say against him. The fact that I do so should not, of course, be taken to imply that points made by Aquinas, ones that I deem valuable, are not also ably made by other authors. Nor should it be taken to imply that a view is right just because Aquinas held it.
I shall be arguing that once what I call 'basics' have been attended to in a certain way, much that has recently been written on God and evil (by both foes and friends of God) should be viewed as either beside the point, just plain wrong, or even morally dubious. But I also want to say something positive about God and evil - to comment on how we might actually think of evil given God's reality. My basic line, counter-intuitive though it might seem, is that we can take much evil to be positively desirable. I deny that the problem of evil shows God to be certainly or probably non-existent. When it comes to evil itself, I argue that, up to a point at least, sense can be made of it (or, at least, of God's goodness in relation to it) if we view it as belonging to a divinely created order, and especially if we view it in the light of some of the things that Christians (and only Christians) have said. Theologians sometimes suggest that evil is a mysteiy and that this is what one should stress with an eye on the problem of evil. My position, though, is that evil, as such, is not a mystery.6 As we reflect on the problem of evil we should, I think, be ruminating not on the mystery (or problem) of evil but on the mysteiy (or problem) of good - our proper question being 'Why is there not more good than there is?'
It is easy to write on God and evil without going back to the basics of which I speak above. By this I mean (and only mean) that one is spared a lot of work if one does not take it as part of one's brief to approach the topic of God and evil by starting with questions about the existence and nature of God. Yet I take it as part of my brief to do just this. So I have a major problem at the outset. Discussions concerning the existence and nature of God are legion, and they raise all sorts of questions which cannot be fully dealt with in a single volume. In this one I have tried to deal with many of these questions in what I hope is a cogent way. But I recognize that much that I say could be developed and that there are objections to it which, for reasons of space, I simply pass over in silence. As I have said, though, it seems to me impossible fruitfully to engage with the problem of evil without having some (relatively developed) understanding of God at the outset. Such understanding is what I shall try to present as part and parcel of what I have to say about God and evil (though, as you will see, I believe that our understanding of God is extremely limited).
For comments on various bits of what follows I am grateful (with the usual disclaimer) to Christopher Arroyo, Victor Austin, Michael Baur, David Burrell, Norris Clarke, Peter Geach, Paul Helm, Luke Timothy Johnson, Gyula Klima, D. Z. Phillips, James Ross, James Sadowsky, Charles Taliaferro, Margaret Walker and Charles Wright-ington. T. W. Bartel, my copy-editor for this volume, helped me considerably, for he went about his task as a serious thinker and not just as someone able to note where a reference is missing or where a semicolon needs to be provided. I am also grateful to Fordham University for awarding me a Faculty Fellowship (2004/05) which gave me time to work on this book as well as on other things.
In conclusion I should note that all biblical quotations come from the New Revised Standard Version.
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Preparing for Armageddon, Natural Disasters, Nuclear Strikes, the Zombie Apocalypse, and Every Other Threat to Human Life on Earth. Most of us have thought about how we would handle various types of scenarios that could signal the end of the world. There are plenty of movies on the subject, psychological papers, and even survivalists that are part of reality TV shows. Perhaps you have had dreams about being one of the few left and what you would do in order to survive.