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A solution to the problem of evil: Augustine's theodicy
The problem of evil can be a huge obstacle for believers. If there is an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God, how and why is there evil and suffering present in our world today?
Augustine developed a theodicy to answer this question, and take the blame for the existence of evil away from God, ensuring there is a way around it for believers. Augustine takes the Genesis story of The Fall literally, and uses it to argue that God had intended for the world to be perfect, however due to humans disobeying him, they had brought about evil. In Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve, the serpent convinces Eve to pick from the tree of knowledge of good and evil that she was forbidden by God to pick from. She was tempted by the serpent, and as a consequence, the state of perfection was ruined by human sin and the delicate balance of the world was destroyed. This tells believers that it is not God's fault, but humans' for giving in to temptation; therefore, they can still hold belief in the God of classical theism. Augustine also believed that the sin of Adam is seminally present and passed on to all humans, also called original sin, and as a result, humanity could no longer remain in the paradise God had orinally created.
This all links to free will; Augustine argues that evil is a result of humans abusing the gift of free will. Humans were created perfect, but with the capacity to make choices and decisions for evil as well as good. Through the use of free will, humankind realised the potential for evil and created a gap between God and human beings. As Peter Cole stated, "the creation of free creatures involved the risk that persons would misuse their freedom and reject the good, and this is what happened"- that, however, begs the question as to why, with that risk in mind, did God create the universe? Human free will means that God would not interfere to prevent humans committing acts that were either evil in themselves, or that brought about evil consequences. As, logically, it was impossible for God to create human beings who freely only ever performed good acts, Free Will would inevitable lead to evil and suffering.
Augustine further developed his argument by claiming that evil is not a substance, therefore God cannot be responsible for its existence, he claimed that "God made a good world but humans chose not to obey God so the goodness of the world went wrong. Evil is not a thing in itself but it's a 'privation of good'". Following this claim, he is still able to say that God created all things, and continue to argue that he created them all good - originally. He now understood evil to be 'privato boni', which means 'the privation of good'. In other words, something becomes evil when it ceases to be what it is meant to be, or stops doing what it is meant to be doing. For Augustine, evil is the going wrong of something that is, in itself, good. Therefore concluding once again, that God created this perfect world, in which we 'ceased to be what we were meant to be, and stopped doing what we were meant to be doing', and therefore, introduced evil and suffering into the world. However, not everyone agreed with this, more famously, Schleiermacher, who was a critic of the Augustinian Theodicy and stated that either the world was not created perfect in the first place, or God made it go wrong; either way, God is to blame.
God, although omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good, and despite creating the world and everything in it to be good, is innocent when it comes to the presence of sin and evil in the heavens and the earth as this occurred as a result of the freedom for both humanity and the angels to make their own decisions.
Summary of Augustine's theodicy:
- Man was created in the perfect likeness of God
- It is a soul deciding theodicy
- Man was created with true moral autonomy so has the freedom to make choices
- Man's freedom inevitably leads to his fall from grace and perfection
- The exercise of free will leads to sin and the consequences of his sin by Jesus
- God foresaw man's fall and predestined some for salvation and others for condemnation
- Sin, evil and suffering are part of the aesthetic pattern of the universe in which man has been placed
- Evil is a privation or absence of good
- The work of Jesus on the cross is essential for man's redemption from sin
- Man can only be redeemed from the consequences of his sin by Jesus
- Logically contradictory to claim that a perfectly created world went wrong, since this implies that evil created itself ex nihilo, which is a logical contraction. Either the world was not perfect to sstart with, or God made it go wrong. The existence of evil is not justified.
- If the world was perfect and there was no knowledge of good and evil, how could Adam and Eve have had the freedom to disobey God? The disobedience suggests there was already knowledge of good and evil.
- It in inconsistent with the theory of evolution which asserts that the universe began in chaos and is continually developing, not diminishing over time.
- It raises the question of whether God could have created free beings that always choose what is morally right
- If God foresaw man's fall then he should have prevented it, but he did not, challenging the God of classical theism idea.
- Augustine's view that evil is seminally present in the loins of Adam is biologically inaccurate. also, it raises the question of God's fairness - it is not just that other humans have to suffer for the sin of another
- Salvation is reserved for the few who accept Jesus - thus, dooming most people in our multi-cultural society to a life filled with evil and suffering.
- It simply lacks optimism!
- It is biblically based so it appeals to conservative beliefs in the creation and the story of The Fall - strong basis for believers
- It values free will as the best choice God could have made for mankind
- God is therefore not responsible for man's evil choices
- Evil is not originally part of God's creative work - therefore, he is an all loving God.