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A solution to the problem of evil: Augustine's theodicy

Updated on May 2, 2012
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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

Criticisms:

  • ´╗┐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!

Strengths

  • 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.


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      5555 3 years ago

      1111

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      Augustine is largely wrong. His claim that evil is only a privation or lack of good is only partly true. His theory itself is a privation and while it has some truth in it, it also has falsity in it and morally speaking, it doesn't have a leg to stand on. Augustine embraces a cruel God which is the Bible God. Its unfair, unwise, unkind, insane, and cruel to have Adam and Eve's sin passed on to all future unborn humans thus corrupting and ruining human nature. God set up humanity to fail with this experiment. God refuses to forgive Adam and Eve and curses and punishes them and allows their sin to be passed on to all future unborn humans. As if that's not bad enough, this unreasoning, unfair, unforgiving, cruel God decides to curse and punish the entire creation for all time with predation, violence, venomous pests such as centipedes, mass starvation, ticks, fleas, lice, hurricanes, tsunamis, birth defects, intense cold, intense heat, and death. Now innocent animals also have to suffer and die as well as sinful humans. The entire creation was set up to be screwed. God was a lousy irresponsible parent almost from the start. He allowed evil and danger to enter the Garden of Eden in the form of a talking, tempting snake(how does a snake even talk?) and a lurking Satan in the background. In His initial warning to Adam and Eve, God doesn't bother telling them anything about sin, or diseases, or mass starvation, or a hell in the next life if they disobey and eat the forbidden fruit. God doesn't bother telling them that the entire creation was in danger of being corrupted and ruined if they ate the forbidden fruit. And God refuses to forgive them. This God has no common sense and has no reasoning. Augustine doesn't account for Natural evils such as cancer, centipedes, tsunamis,etc and has no concern about animal suffering. So the world lost paradise and gained a hell because two ignorant humans ate a forbidden fruit thousands of years ago. This is unfair, insane, sick, and cruel. And if many people are headed to hell in the next life then this is another win for Satan. Augustine is cruel and immoral.

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      I continue. Evil is not always a privation as Augustine says like darkness is the absence of light. Evil is often a positive entity. Malaria is not a lack of something but its having too much of something, which is the plasmodium microbe from mosquitoe bites. Malaria, ebola, cancer, tooth decay, etc are horrible evils which inflict suffering and death to both people and animals. Augustine is an ignoramus. In order to defend his God, he has to justify and execuse his God's cruel behavior because according to Augustine and Fundamentalists, God can do no bad and God can do wrong(no matter how cruel, immoral, and unfair God's behavior seems to us humans.) So all manner of evil, cruelty, misery, and horror are justified if God does it or if God decrees it or if God allows it. The Bible God not only is cruel but He is a hypocrite as well who cannot keep His own commandment Thou shalt not kill. He killed millions of people in the Bible and He killed millions to billions of animals in the Bible. He supposedly hates violence and killing yet He inflicts violence and killing wholesale and the Nature He created is full of violence and killing. So He does what He forbids and He forbids what He does, and He creates what He forbids and He forbids what He creates. It's a contradictory, mentally incomprehensible, morally conflicting, confusing, morally impossible God. This God kills 70,000 men just because David took a census and He threatens His chosen people with turning into cannibals and mothers shall eat their babies and He curses and punishes the entire world for all time just because Adam and Eve ate a forbidden fruit. Unfair, irrational, insane, unreasoning, unwise, unforgiving, cruel. The cruel beliefs of Augustine are similar to Tertullien, John Calvin, and Fred Phelps. They all worship a cruel God whether or not they know it and wherher or not they admit it. Isahaia chapter 45, verse 7 in the King James Bible says that God creates light and darkness, and He makes peace and He creates evil. The Bible God has a Jekyll and Hyde personality or a split personality or bipolar personality. The Satan in Job inflicts physical torture and killing under God's permission whereas elsewhere in the Bible Satan is better known as liar, tempter, and deceiver. I nearly the entire Bible God is the one who is inflicting physical torture and killing. If blame is going to be thrown on the Devil (Satan) and demons for having evil and suffering, then why is God allowing it? Human nature is a screw up and Nature is a screw up. History is a horror movie and a tragicomedy. This makes the creator look bad. Allowing thousands to millions of years of evil, sin, suffering, death, and extinctions is an embarrassment and a crime. And if many people are headed to hell to be tortured forever in unimaginably horrifying ways then this is a win for Satan. Augustine's solution is no solution. His arguments don't have a leg to stand on morally speaking. Augustine is a cruel man.

    • Trevor Wallace profile image

      Trevor Wallace 2 years ago from Outside Houston, Tx

      Simple answer: The "God" worshiped by most is NOT the Monad, or Supreme Architect of the All and Nothing. No, most worship the creator of the physical realm, a being known as Ialdobaoth, or the Demiurge - a blind, idiot, insane godling created when Pistis Sophia, the Holy Spirit, initially split from the Monad.

      Bad and evil happen because the Demiurge is capricious and utterly whacked out of his metaphysical skull.

      See? Simple.

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      Moral Man 23 months ago

      That's a strong argument, Trevor. You may be right. That's certainly a possibility. The Demiurge or Ialdabaoth is an inferior, immoral, amoral, insane, incompetent, cruel being who made this flawed, screwed up, evil filled world. The Demiurge is a jackass and jerkass with a Jekyll and Hyde personality who is filled with contradictions and contrasts and whose intelligence goes hand in hand with His stupidity. Both good and evil, intelligence and stupidity exists in the Demiurge, and this can be seen in the Nature He created and in the human beings He created. The creator is semi-evil, and so is His creation. The creator is semi-horrible, and so is the world He made and so are the humans He made.

      Dualistic religions such as Gnosticism believe that the Demiurge or Ialdabaoth is the false, inferior creator God. The real good God is weak and remote and unable to help us and is limited by the Demiurge, limited by Satan, and limited by matter. The God of Dualism is good and wise but weak, and the God of Monism is powerful but cruel and insane. Either way its a DEFICIENT God, and either way the creation is screwed and ruined, and either way its a victory for the Devil. I could be wrong about my theory about the God of Dualism. A weak God may also be a cruel God. We just don't know what God is really like. What we can know with reasonable certainty is that God is deficient in some manner because evil and suffering ABOUNDS ad nauseam, ad infinitum. In what way is He deficient? Well, no one knows and He certainly isn't going to tell us and chooses to keep silent and secret.

      Another solution to the problem of evil is the Devil defense, or putting the blame on Satan and demons. Even this has problems. First of all, God is said to have created all things, including Natural evils such as cancer, centipedes, and tsunamis, and not Satan and demons. Secondly, in the Bible God is the one inflicting physical torture and death 99 percent of the time. Only in Job does Satan inflict physical torture and death and even here it was under God's permission. Thirdly, if Satan and demons are to blame for Natural evil and for Human evil and sin, then why is God allowing these evil beings to tamper, corrupt, torment, and ruin His creation? Its immoral, insane, irresponsible, and stupid to allow this. So in the end not even Satan and demons can get God off the hook for having a world filled with evil, misery, and death.

      Whoever or whatever created diseases such as cancer, stroke, aneurysm, malaria, heart disease, ebola, and tooth decay is a criminal worse than Hitler. Both God and Satan are criminals in my book, and both of them are cruel, immoral, amoral, insane, selfish, egomaniacal, narcississtic jerks. Neither one is fit to worship. They are both monumentally, unimaginably, immeasurably cruel. The human mind cannot even grasp and cannot even imagine the depths of cruelty of both God and Satan. These two beings have no common sense, have no reasoning, have no heart, have no pity, have no mercy, have no morals, and have no conscience. That's why the world is the screwed up hellhole and horror movie that it is. We have a deficient God on one hand and a Devil on the other hand, and between these two bastards, the creation is being ruined and neglected.

      According to Fundamentalist Christians such as Mary Baxter, Bill Wiese, and David J. Stewart, this monstrous God and Satan are going to throw billions of people in hell to be tortured forever. Fire, worms, a sewer like stench, suffocation or inability to breathe, giant spiders and giant snakes, being mutilated and sliced by demons, and being buried alive inside a claustrophobic, cofffin like environment are among the tortures. Imagine being buried alive forever inside a closed coffin and burning in fire at the same time. Its demonic, Devilish, Satanic, fiendish, diabolical, monstrous sadistic cruelty and horror vastly infinitely worse than any horror movie. Theres a difference between just punishment for sin and monstrous sadistic unimaginable cruelty and torture, and this God doesn't know the difference. Its a God who is cruel like the Devil who is supposed to be His enemy. The world is a hellhole and horror movie ruled by a deficient God and ruled by the Devil. That's the solution to the problem of evil.

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