I thought I’d do a quick fire article on what we can learn from 10 different Christian philosophers about the problem of evil. I’ll summarise the gist of each philosopher’s work, or a single key idea from their work, in a sentence or two. This obviously has limitations, so if you’re tempted to respond to any of these philosophers I suggest getting more familiar with their work than provided in these summaries!
From each of these thinkers, we learn a number of things.
(1) Alvin Plantinga: Argues that the existence of evil is, in fact, logically compatible with the existence of God since it’s possible that God create free beings who choose to do evil things.
(2) Stephen Wykstra: Points out that God’s intellect is exceedingly greater than ours, such that if He has a purpose in evil there’s no reason to suppose we would be aware of it.
(3) William Alston: From Alston we learn that the hope of establishing negative existential claims such as “There are (probably) no morally sufficient reasons for many of the evils we are confronted with in the world” are far from promising, and thus all such arguments face a massive uphill battle.
(4) Peter Van Inwagen: Whilst most theists deny that there are gratuitous evils (and implicitly assume the atheist is right that such evils are incompatible with God’s existence), Van Inwagen claims that due to the Fall we now live in a world which contains gratuitous evils, and thus there is no tension between the existence of God and the existence even of such gratuitous evils.
(5) Richard Swinburne: Argues that natural evils are necessary in a world in which humans can have morally significant free will.
(6) John Hick: Tells us that the evils of our world are part of the necessary environment for humans to grow towards a God-centred life through developing certain character traits that they could not otherwise develop.
(7) Eleonore Stump: Reminds us that many other Christian beliefs are relevant to the proper Christian response to evil, and that the world we live in – with the evils it contains – is the necessary environment for God to fix our wills and make us fit for eternity of union with God.
(8) William Lane Craig: Tells us that the highest good is not happiness or earthly pleasure, but rather the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good.
(9) MB Ahern: Reminds us that our knowledge of the goods and evils in the world and the interconnections between things and events is very limited.
(10) William Fitzpatrick: Points out that our grasp of the divine nature and purposes is riddled with enormous deficiencies.
Whether you agree with these authors or not, each of them is worth reading in more detail by anyone interested in arguments from evil.
Stephen J. Graham