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Philosophy of religion » The problem of evil » The puzzle of evil

How can we reconcile belief in a loving God with the existence of evil?

"As a challenge to theism, the problem of evil has traditionally been posed in the form of a dilemma; if God is perfectly loving, he must wish to abolish evil; and if he is all-powerful, he must be able to abolish evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly loving." John Hick


Within the Judeao-Christian tradition, God has been seen as the creator of all things. Indeed, as we have seen from the design argument (click here), the wonder of creation is one of the most powerful reasons to believe in a divine agent. On the other hand, the apparent flaws in creation and the evil and suffering that it contains seem to count against a belief in a God characterised as perfect in the traditional sense.

From the time of Epicurus (341–270 BC) it has been understood that a perfect being should be all-powerful, all-knowing and good to all – omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. St Augustine used this definition of the Christian God. Yet, if this description of God is accepted, it is difficult to reconcile his nature with the imperfections in the nature of his creation.

To be clear, it could be said that most belief in a perfect creator God relies on three logical propositions:
1. God exists and is omnipotent and omniscient
2. God exists and is omnibenevolent
3. Evil exists

Yet maintaining all three as co-beliefs has been labelled "positively irrational" by JL Mackie.

Defending God

Attempts to stabilise this "inconsistent triad" – as David Hume put it – are known as theodicies, from the Greek "theos", meaning "God", and "dike", meaning "defence".

Basically there are four approaches to theodicy:

1. Deny propositions 1 or 2, dropping one of the qualities of God, either redefining the nature of perfection or denying God’s perfection (potentially heretical)
2. Deny proposition 3, the existence of evil (known as monism)
3. Provide a fourth proposition, a "morally sufficient reason" for a perfect God to have created or allowed evil in a good creation
4. Demonstrate that maintaining propositions 1, 2 and 3 is not irrational or inconsistent as Hume and Mackie said it was.