|The Problem of Evil Overviewed
Evil is understood as a problem when we seek to
explain why it exists (Unde malum?) and what its relationship is to
the world as a whole. Indeed, something might be considered evil when it
calls into question our basic trust in the order and structure of our
Peter Berger in particular has argued that
explanations of evil are necessary for social structures to stay
themselves against chaotic forces. It follows, then, that such an
explanation has an impact on the whole person. As David Blumenthal
observes, a good theodicy is one that has three characteristics:
- "[I]t should leave one with oneís sense of
reality intact." (It tells the truth about reality.)
- "[I]t should leave one empowered within the
intellectual-moral system in which one lives." (Namely, it should
not deny Godís basic power or goodness.)
- "[I]t should be as intellectually coherent
as possible." (It is an answer that is both coherent and
This is not to suggest that every culture deals with
evil in the same way. As Amťlie Rorty notes, evil and its relationship to
the world has been understood in the West in a number of ways, including
- The Neo-platonic: Evil as the privation or
negation of the good or being, so that evil is only evil set against
the greater good.
- Theodicy and coherentism: Evil can be understood
as part of or in relationship to Godís larger plans for the cosmos.
- Manichaeanism: Good and evil are equal
conflicting powers expressing their opposition in human history.
- Pious rationalism: Human reason cannot understand
evil, but reason must postulate a God to explain human morality.
- Pious fidiesm: Human reason cannot understand
evil, so a leap of faith is required to trust in God.
- Pessimism: Evil is real, but the world does not
make sense nor can it be understood.
- Non-existent: Evil does not actually exist;
rather, human beings project their own subjective disapproval onto
events and actions.
"Theodicy" is a term that Leibniz coined
from the Greek words theos (God) and dike (righteous). A
theodicy is an attempt to justify or defend God in the face of evil by
answering the following problem, which in its most basic form involves
- God is all good and all powerful (and, therefore,
- The universe/creation was made by God and/or
exists in a contingent relationship to God.
- Evil exists in the world. Why?
Notice what this problem suggests. It begins with
the assumption that such a being as God will want to eliminate evil. If
God is all good but not all powerful or knowing, then perhaps he doesnít
have the ability to intervene on every occasion. Likewise, if God is all
powerful and knowing but not all good, then perhaps he has a mean streak.
If God is somehow all these things, but the universe does not exist in a
contingent relationship, then God has little to do with evil (even though
Godís design can still be faulted). However, if God is both good and
powerful, then why does evil exist?
Now, this problem assumes several things. The first
point implies that God is a personal being, though not all theodicists
would agree. Likewise, the second point assumes that God interacts, or at
least has interacted at some point, with the world. And that we can
recognize evil is in the world assumes that "evil" is something
that can be rendered intelligible and, therefore, discussed. Evil is
typically defined as any undesired state of affairs and is generally
considered to include both moral evil, acts done by humans, and natural
evil, which includes pain and suffering that results from natural
disasters, diseases, or genetic defects.
As one can see this is an issue within and
surrounding monotheism. Evil, its origin and purpose, takes on a different
meaning when seen from the perspective of a polytheistic, atheistic, or
non-theistic belief system. A system in which there are multiple divine
powers, no power, or some form of impersonal cosmic force (e.g Tao) will
not conceive of the problem in this way. Evil can not only be conceived in
metaphysical and religious terms as abomination, disobedience,
malevolence, impurity, and dishonor (or alternately in some Eastern
systems as illusion or imbalance), it can also be understood in
essentially natural or secular terms as social vice, egoism, partiality,
corruption, criminality, and sociopathology (cf. Rorty). And many of these
while not antithetical to a theistic belief system are not dependent upon
Nietzsche's Objections to the God of Theodicy
Nietzsche in theory does not believe that God
exists; "God" for the philosopher is, after all, a human
construction and a poor one at that. So Nietzsche's strong and bitter
sarcasm aimed at the Judeo-Christian God should be understood as attacks
at human ideas that weaken human beings and deny the noble man his source
of power and nobility. However, one can also read these objections with a
certain suspicion--Does Nietzsche protest to much? Has he really
"gotten over" the God he says he doesn't believe in?
Examine the following passages:
- 30--an imperfect world and the fiction of a god.
- 181--Uncaring Father
- 203--Holy Spirit as source of religious violence
- 253--The unknown torturing god.
- 262--God guilty of bad taste in designing the
Nietzsche's Alternative Answer
Ultimately, Nietzsche argues that the problem of
evil doesn't really exist. The problem in his view is a mistaken
understanding of the cosmos. if we move "beyond good and evil"
then we cannot embrace the world for what it is. Even things typically
defined as suffering or natural evil really should be understood as part
of life's drama. Ironically, his answer comes strangely around to
something like the view of the noble suffering stoic, except now this
heroic nobility is a mask, a creation of meaning we place over the cosmos.
Note the following:
- 86--God is a conjecture; rejection of all views
of the One or Unmoved Mover
- 314--Rejection of the kingdom of heaven for the
earth as it is
- 143--Life is best played by good actors
- 165-166--Yes and Amen, the blessing of an
- 180-Disgrace of praying
- 201-202--Everything is in flux and should be
- 314-316--Need for an ironic quasi-religious
ritual as veneer over life as it is
- 319-321--Time, Death, and Eternity