Religion Wiki
The factual accuracy of this article is disputed.
See further information on its talk page.


Part of a series on

General conceptions
Atheism · Deism · Henotheism · Monolatrism
Monotheism · Panentheism · Pantheism

Specific conceptions
Creator · Architect · Demiurge · Devil
Sustainer · Lord · Father · Monad
Oneness · Supreme Being · The All
Personal · Unitarianism · Ditheism · Trinity
in Abrahamic religions
(Bahá'í Faith, Christianity, Islam, Judaism)
in Ayyavazhi · in Buddhism · in Hinduism
in Jainism · in Sikhism · in Zoroastrianism

Eternalness · Existence · Gender
Names ("God") · Omnibenevolence
Omnipotence · Omnipresence · Omniscience

Experience and practices
Faith · Prayer · Belief · Revelation
Fideism · Gnosis · Metaphysics
Mysticism · Hermeticism · Esotericism

Related topics

Philosophy · Religion · Ontology
God complex · Neurotheology
Euthyphro dilemma · Problem of evil
Portrayal in popular media
List of religious texts

Theodicy (pronounced /θiːˈɒdɪsi/) is an attempted answer to the problem of evil.[1]

Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy that attempts to justify the behaviour of God.[2][3][4][dubious ] Theodicy may also be described as an attempt to reconcile belief in God with the perceived existence of evil.[5]

Origin of the term

Gottfried Leibniz in a painting c. 1700.

The term theodicy comes from the Greek θεός (theós, "god") and δίκη (díkē, "justice"), meaning literally "the justice of God," although a more appropriate phrase may be "to justify God" or "the justification of God".[6] The term was coined in 1710 by the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in a work entitled Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal ("Theodicic Essays on the Benevolence of God, the Free will of man, and the Origin of Evil").

The purpose of the essay was to show that the evil in the world does not conflict with the goodness of God, and that notwithstanding its many evils, the world is the best of all possible worlds. Leibniz wrote his Théodicée as a criticism of Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, which had been written not long before; in this, Bayle, a well-known skeptic, had argued that the sufferings experienced in this earthly life prove that God could not be good and omnipotent.

Defenses and theodicies

Responses to the problem of evil have sometimes been classified as defenses or theodicies. However, authors disagree on the exact definitions.[7][8][9] Generally, a defense attempts to show that there is no logical incompatibility between the existence of evil and the existence of God. A defense need not argue that this is a probable or plausible explanation, only that the defense is logically possible. A defense attempts to answer the logical problem of evil.

A theodicy, on the other hand, is a more ambitious attempt to provide a plausible justification for the existence of evil. A theodicy attempts to answer the evidential problem of evil.[8] Richard Swinburne maintains that it does not make sense to assume there are greater goods, unless we know what they are, i.e., we have a successful theodicy.[10]

As an example, some authors see arguments including demons or the fall of man as not logically impossible but not very plausible considering our knowledge about the world. Thus they are seen as defenses but not good theodicies.[8]

Free will

The free will argument is as follows. God's creation of persons with morally significant free will is something of tremendous value. God could not eliminate evil and suffering without thereby eliminating the greater good of having created persons with free will who can make moral choices.[8][11] Christian apologist Gregory A. Boyd claims that God's all-powerful nature is not incompatible with his allowing free agents to act against his own wishes.[12] He argues that since love must be chosen, love cannot exist without true free will.[13]

Gregory Boyd also maintains that God does not plan or will evil in people's lives, but that evil is a result of a combination of free choices and the interconnectedness and complexity of life in a sinful and fallen world.[14]

A problem with the free will response is that it doesn't explain natural disasters and diseases. A possible reason for natural disasters using a free will argument is that the world is corrupted due to the sin of mankind, and hence is imperfect, causing natural disasters and diseases.[15]

C. S. Lewis writes in his book The Problem of Pain:

We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.[16]

Consequences of sin

Another possible answer is that the world is corrupted due to the sin of mankind. Some answer that because of sin, the world has fallen from the grace of God, and is not perfect. Therefore, evils and imperfections persist because the world is fallen.[17]

The Afterlife

While free will deals with humanity as a whole, the afterlife theodicy deals with individual justice. It is argued that each and every individual is brought to justice in the afterlife, and that all evils will be defeated.[18] One criticism is that this afterlife would seem to imply that even the greatest evil becomes relatively trivial. An answer is that this theodicy does not imply that any evil becomes trivial in any absolute sense, and that the afterlife does not change the horrors of evil.[18]

The afterlife answer was called “a very curious argument” by the philosopher Bertrand Russell. He pointed out: “If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, ‘After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here then the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say: ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;’ and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say: ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.’”[19]

Mankind's limited knowledge

One argument is that, due to mankind's limited knowledge, humans cannot expect to understand God or God's ultimate plan. When a parent takes an infant to the doctor for a regular vaccination to prevent some childhood disease, it's because the parent cares for and loves that child. The young child, however, will almost always see things very differently. It is argued that just as an infant cannot possibly understand the motives of its parent while it is still only a child, people cannot comprehend God's will in their current physical and earthly state.[15]

Another related suggestion is that, the Problem of Evil's logical argument is flawed because it silently assumes that people really can comprehend what God should do. In other words, for the Problem of Evil to be logically valid, it must be proven that there can be no god which cannot be so comprehended.[20]

Definition of evil as absence of good

The fifth century theologian Augustine of Hippo maintained that evil was only privatio boni, or an absence of good, much like darkness is an absence of light. An evil thing can only be referred to as a negative form of a good thing, such as discord, injustice, and loss of life or of liberty. It is argued that evil is not created by God, but that God created mankind who can choose to commit evil acts.[21]

Evil is complementary to good

Concepts such as yin and yang argue that evil and good are complementary opposites within a greater whole. If one disappears, the other must disappear as well, leaving emptiness. Compassion, a valuable virtue, can only exist if there is suffering. Bravery only exists if we sometimes face danger. Self-sacrifice is another great good, but can only exist if there is inter-dependence, if some people find themselves in situations where they need help from others.

"Evil" suggests an ethical law

Another response to this paradox argues that asserting "evil exists" would imply an ethical standard against which to define good and evil. C. S. Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity,

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.[22]

As a necessity for greater purpose

Spiritual development

Evil is sometimes seen as a test or trial for humans. Irenaeus of Lyons and more recently John Hick have argued that evil and suffering are necessary for spiritual growth. This is often combined with the free will argument by arguing that such spiritual growth requires free will decisions. A problem with this is that many evils do not seem to cause any kind of spiritual growth, or even permit it, as when a child is abused from birth and becomes, seemingly inevitably, a brutal adult.

The general answer given consistently in the New Testament is that life is essentially a training ground and test for spiritual development. People are constantly told to shun possessions etc. in order to fulfill God's will. Jesus' parable about the king and the three workers, the final chapters of the Book of Revelation and portions of the Pauline Epistles state that the greater one's performance on Earth, the greater the reward, and that the greatest achievers will rule the post-apocalyptic world as God's lieutenants. Mormons believe that they will become demigods, of sorts. If one holds these beliefs then it is logical to simply disregard the suffering of one's present life, as it is nothing compared to the potential everlasting reward one may get as a result.

Punishment and Karma

There is also the just world hypothesis, the belief that evil exists because people get what they deserve; in other words, if someone suffers or falls ill, that is because they committed a sin that merits such punishment. However, such beliefs do not answer why God allowed such evils and suffering in the first place.

The problem of evil is often phrased in the form: Why do bad things happen to good people?. Some religions answer that good people simply do not exist. For example, some forms of Christianity teach that all people are inherently sinful due to the fall of man and original sin; for example, Calvinist theology follows a doctrine called federal headship, which argues that the first man, Adam, was the legal representative of the entire human race. A counterargument to the basic version of this principle is that an omniscient God would have predicted this, when he created the world, and an omnipotent God could have prevented it.

Due to their belief in predestination and omnipotence, Luther and Calvin, who both taught that humanity was inherently sinful, argued that the fall must be part of God's plan; followers of this answer sometimes claim that humans ultimately may never be able to understand or explain such a plan.[23] Opponents of this position have argued that it endorses an ends justifies the means system of ethics.

In Hinduism, the problem of evil is present but does not exist per se as souls are eternal and not directly created by God. In Dvaita (dual) philosophy, jivas (souls) are eternally existent and hence not a creation of God ex nihilo (out of nothing). The souls are bound by beginningless avidya (ignorance) that causes a misidentification with products of nature (body, wealth, power) and hence suffering. In effect, Hinduism identifies avidya (ignorance) as the cause of evil, and this ignorance itself is uncaused. Suffering from natural causes is explained as a natural karmic result of previous births. See also Karma in Hinduism.

Moreover, even within the realm of avidya, good and evil are an individual's deeds, and God dispenses the results of an individual's actions but has the power to mitigate suffering. Advaita (non-dual) mysticism maintains that every seemingly separate person is in fact a thought, dream, or experience of God; God creates and becomes / experiences each creation, deliberately limiting it to a specific identity in space and time to undergo a particular life experience. In Advaita, it is God who experiences every pain, suffers every indignity, dies every death, and experiences the illusion of being each separate individual.


Open theism, followed by some theistic Unitarian Universalism, much of Conservative and Reform Judaism, and some non-traditional wings of Protestant Christianity, is a position that argues that the deity prefers to persuade rather coerce, and/or that omnipotence has been willingly relinquished so that humanity might have absolute free will. For example, the scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne suggests that, in addition to free will, God has created the universe in such a way that it is, to a significant extent, allowed to make itself, and that such a world "is better than the puppet theatre of a Cosmic Tyrant."[24]

Hence, in this view, evil is not a direct consequence of human action, but it is a direct consequence of the working out of the same laws of physics, chemistry and biology which allow intelligent free-willed beings to evolve. In common with many physicists such as Martin Rees and Paul Davies, Polkinghorne argues that these fundamental laws and constants of physics were necessary for intelligent life to evolve;[25] such thinkers argue that these laws impose very tight limits within which life can exist - a concept known as the Fine-tuned universe,

The related position of Deism argues that the deity exists, but no longer cares about the universe. Tzimtzum is a similar principle in Kabbalistic thought, holding that god has withdrawn himself so that creation could exist, but that this withdrawal means that creation lacks full exposure to god's all-good nature.


Ditheistic belief systems (a kind of dualism) explain the problem of evil from the existence of two rival great, but not omnipotent, deities that work in polar opposition to each other. Examples of such belief systems include Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and some forms of Gnosticism. In certain forms of Gnosticism, for example, the world is seen as corrupt and an accidental creation, but the work of Christ, an emissary from the monadic God, redeems the world and thus the demiurge's creation of it.

The Devil in Islam and usually in Christianity is not seen as equal in power to God, who is omnipotent. Thus the Devil could only exist if allowed to by God. The Devil, if thus limited in power, can therefore by himself not explain the problem of evil.

Modified Dualism argues that the powers of good and evil are unequal, the evil power being merely tolerated by the good power, who uses it as a mechanism for eventual good. Classical Christianity, from the Apostolic Fathers to Augustine, has been characterised as Modified Dualism. Augustine of Hippo and Basil the Great both explicitly mention this idea, while John of Damascus proposed that God deliberately leaves some events in our hands. In early modern times (1714) Modified Dualism was advocated by John of Tobolsk. Calvinism, also, may be seen as a form of Modified Dualism, in the Augustinian tradition.

One form of dualism is cacodaemony, which attempts to reconcile the supposed existence of good in the world with the assumption of an omnimalevolent omnipotent Demon. This was a philosophical exercise by Steven M. Cahn in his essay entitled "Cacodaemony" in which, through the weakness of the concept of cacodaemony, the weakness of theodicy is underlined. John King-Farlow replied to this in his article Cacodaemony and Devilish Isomorphism,[26] claiming that it is bizarre to claim that having 'proved' the existence of a devil means you've disproved the existence of God.


The omnipotence paradoxes have some proposed solutions that involves reducing the "degree of ability" associated to the notion omnipotence. Greater good arguments also make such assumptions since it is argued that God cannot do logically impossible things, and the existence of the greater good, such as free will, without the existence of evil is argued to be logically impossible.[11]

Process theology, developed by philosophers Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, argues that there are things which exist that can't be overridden by God. In Judaism the most popular works espousing the idea of a non-omnipotent God are from Rabbi Harold Kushner; many of his works have also become popular with Christians.

Defining "evil"

As an absence of good

Like the [Platonists] before him, the fifth century theologian Augustine of Hippo maintained that evil was only privatio boni, or an absence of good, much like darkness is an absence of light. An evil thing can only be referred to as a negative form of a good thing, such as discord, injustice, and loss of life or of liberty. These are all defined in terms of a spectrum with its lowest absolute being zero good (injustice being the absolute lack of just decision or action). If a being is not totally pure, evil will fill in any gaps in that being's purity. This is commonly called the Contrast Theodicy — that evil only exists or can only be known in contrast with good.[27][28]

However, the privatio boni argument doesn't completely solve the problem of evil, as even if the apparent existence of suffering and evil in the world are illusory, the question remains why God neglected to create those goods that are found to be lacking in the world.[29] There are similar ideas in Neoplatonism and Jewish Kabbalah (see Tzimtzum) which see the world as consisting of several layers. Each layer is increasingly more removed from God and less perfect.

A less well known approach has been that of the mathematical logician William Hatcher (a member of the Baha'i Faith), who uses relational logic to show that very simple models of moral value cannot be consistent with the premise of evil as an absolute, whereas goodness as an absolute is entirely consistent with the other postulates concerning moral value.[30] In Hatcher's view one can only validly talk about an act A being "less good" than an act B, one cannot logically commit to saying that A is absolutely evil, unless one is prepared to abandon other more reasonable principles.

As an opposition necessary by definition

The related concept of Yin and Yang (known as "Taiji") is used in Eastern thought to illustrate complementary opposing forces as an unchangeable and necessary law of nature. Such forces always exist and are opposite yet inseparable from each other by their very nature, because they can only be defined in terms of their opposite. In this dualism opposites are generally referred to as on opposite sides of an emptiness; thus, evil is an opposing force to good with a neutral equilibrium.

In addition, yin and yang are not only traditionally depicted as complementary, but comingling and incorporating the other. No force or object is perfectly yin or yang; the darkest night fills the sky with stars, while the brightest day creates that much more difference in the shade of a tree. Similarly, no action or person is perfectly good or evil; there is always some good inherent in evil, and some evil inherent in good.

A criticism of this thinking is that such dualism requires all opposites to be describable in an infinite spectrum, with "zero" as an equilibrium point between opposing forces that can have infinite effect. In physics light and heat are usually described quantitatively, with darkness and cold being their absence as is argued in Contrast Theodicy. They have no positive limit, but do have a finite negative absolute. Thus, many physical concepts used as metaphors for good and evil and described as similar according to Taiji in fact have no negative, only a complete absence. The counter is generally a difference in the definition of a "force" in terms of affecting change. Good as a metaphysical force acts in a constructive manner, while evil acts destructively. Both affect change in society towards order or chaos. In creating opposite effects, they are defined as opposing forces.

Ambiguous meaning

Another response to this paradox argues that asserting "evil exists" would imply an ethical standard against which to define good and evil. This argument is used in the Argument from morality for the existence of God.

Mary Baker Eddy (the founder of the Christian Science movement) regarded evil as an illusion. Consequently, she and her followers claim to have no philosophical problem with the concept of an almighty and wholly good deity. In regard to the question as to what caused or causes the illusion of evil, Christian Science responds that the question is meaningless, and furthermore that inquiring into the origin of the illusion of evil tends to reinforce it, since such an inquiry would strengthen the belief that evil is real. Mary Baker Eddy writes: "The notion that both evil and good are real is a delusion of material sense, which Science annihilates. Evil is nothing, no thing, mind, nor power."[31]

Theological resolutions

Template:Bad summary In the particular case of religions that believe in an omnibenevolent and omnipotent deity, one of the prime concerns of Theodicy is to rectify this belief with the existence of evil.[8] Several early arguments involved demons or a fall of man, but due to the subsequent increase in knowledge about the world, these are not now seen as very plausible.

An oral tradition exists in Judaism that God determined the time of the Messiah's coming by erecting a great set of scales. On one side, God placed the captive Messiah with the souls of dead laymen. On the other side, God placed sorrow, tears, and the souls of righteous martyrs. God then declared that the Messiah would appear on earth when the scale was balanced. According to this tradition, then, evil is necessary in the bringing of the world's redemption, as sufferings reside on the scale. This is a particularly significant part of Holocaust theology

Gnosticism refers to several beliefs seeing evil as due to the world being created by an imperfect god, the demiurge and is contrasted with a superior entity. However, this by itself does not answer the problem of evil if the superior entity is omnipotent and omnibenevolent. Different gnostic beliefs may give varying answers, like Manichaeism, which adopts dualism, in opposition to the doctrine of omnipotence.

The consequences of the original sin were debated by Pelagius and Augustine of Hippo. Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint all of humanity and that mortal free will is capable of choosing good or evil without divine aid. Augustine's position, and ultimately that of much of Christianity, was that Adam and Eve had the power to change nature by bringing sin into the world, but that the advent of sin then limited mankind's power thereafter to evade the consequences without divine aid.[32] Eastern Orthodox theology holds that one inherits the nature of sinfulness but not Adam and Eve's guilt for their sin which resulted in the fall.[33]

Contemporary Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft provides several answers to the problem of evil and suffering, including that a) God may use short-term evils for long-range goods, b) God created the possibility of evil, but not the evil itself, and that free will was necessary for the highest good of real love. Kreeft says that being all-powerful doesn't mean being able to do what is logically contradictory, i.e., giving freedom with no potentiality for sin, c) God's own suffering and death on the cross brought about his supreme triumph over the devil, d) God uses suffering to bring about moral character, quoting apostle Paul in Romans 5, e) Suffering can bring people closer to God, and f) The ultimate "answer" to suffering is Jesus himself, who, more than any explanation, is our real need.[34]

Other views

Some of the oldest attempts to address the problem appear in Mesopotamian religious literature; the extant manuscripts of Ludlul bēl nēmeqi (I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom), Erra and Ishum, The Babylonian Theodicy, and The Dialogue of Pessimism, each address the problem.[35] However, such early works use different formulations of the problem to each other, making it difficult for them to have been studied collectively. The Ancient Egyptian "Book of the Heavenly Cow" attributes the suffering in the world to a rupture in humankind's relationship with the divine due to wrongdoing.[36]


Epicurus is generally credited with first expounding the problem of evil in a logical manner. David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) cited Epicurus in stating the argument as a series of questions:

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?[37]"

A bust of Epicurus

As a result of Epicurus' investigation of the problem of evil, it is sometimes called "the Epicurean paradox" or "the riddle of Epicurus."

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" — Epicurus, as quoted in 2000 Years of Disbelief [38]

In this form, the argument is not really a paradox or a riddle, but is considered by some critics as being a reductio ad absurdum of the premises.[39] Epicurus drew the conclusion that the existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of the gods, who care about the matters of mankind, assuming absolute concepts of benevolence, knowledge, and power. More generally, no paradox or problem exists for those who do not accept the premises, in particular the existence of a benevolent god or gods. The assumption of a benevolent divine principle, however, was not only a central concept for both classical and later schools of philosophy,[40] but continues to be one of the essential assumptions of Christianity to this day.

Epicurus himself did not leave any written form of this argument. It can be found in Lucretius's De Rerum Natura and in Christian theologian Lactantius's Treatise on the Anger of God where Lactantius critiques the argument. Epicurus's argument as presented by Lactantius actually argues that a god that is all-powerful and all-good does not exist and that the gods are distant and uninvolved with man's concerns. The gods are neither our friends nor enemies. The stronger form most people know of Epicurus' problem of evil is actually David Hume's formulation of the problem of evil in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion:

"[God's] power we allow [is] infinite: Whatever he wills is executed: But neither man nor any other animal are happy: Therefore he does not will their happiness. His wisdom is infinite: He is never mistaken in choosing the means to any end: But the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity: Therefore it is not established for that purpose. Through the whole compass of human knowledge, there are no inferences more certain and infallible than these. In what respect, then, do his benevolence and mercy resemble the benevolence and mercy of men?"

The Bible

The Book of Isaiah clearly claims that Yahweh is the source of at least some natural disasters:

...I bring prosperity and create disaster: I, Yahweh, do all these things[41]

But Isaiah doesn't attempt to explain the motivation behind the creation of evil. In contrast, the Book of Job is one of the most widely known formulations of the problem of evil in Western thought. In it, Satan challenges God regarding his servant Job, claiming that Job only serves God for the blessings and protection that he receives from him. God allows Satan to plague Job and his family in a number of ways, with the limitation that Satan may not take Job's life (but his children are killed). Job discusses this with three friends and questions God regarding his suffering which he finds to be unjust. God responds in a speech and then more than restores Job's prior health, wealth, and gives him new children.

Bart D. Ehrman argues that different parts of the Bible give different answers. One example is evil as punishment for sin or as a consequence of sin. Ehrman writes that this seems to be based on some notion of free will although this argument is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible. Another argument is that suffering ultimately achieves a greater good, possibly for persons other than the sufferer, that would not have been possible otherwise. The Book of Job offers two different answers: suffering is a test, and you will be rewarded later for passing it; another that God in his might chooses not to reveal his reasons. Ecclesiastes sees suffering as beyond human abilities to comprehend. Apocalyptic parts, including the New Testament, see suffering as due to cosmic evil forces, that God for mysterious reasons has given power over the world, but which will soon be defeated and things will be set right.[42]

Secular ethics

In ancient Egypt, Egyptian gods were thought of as being far removed from ordinary life, meaning that studies of the problem of evil took a secular form, focusing heavily on the relation between evil and people; that is, moral evil. It was thought the problem could be formulated in at least two distinct ways, as in the extant manuscripts of Dialogue of a Man with His Ba and The Eloquent Peasant.

The modern secular view of the problem of evil is an approach that completely excludes religious answers, viewing them as irrelevant;[43] humanists, for example, argue that moral values derive entirely from humanity. Typically, one of three main answers are given to the problem:

  • that there are people who freely and rationally choose to commit pure evil, for its own sake[44]
  • that there are people who freely and rationally choose to commit evil for some other goal[44]
  • that evil as a concept is a human invention, that doesn't really exist[44]


In Buddhism, the "problem of evil" is strictly non-theistic as Buddhism generally rejects the notion of a benevolent, omnipotent creator god, identifying such a notion as attachment to a false concept. For instance, in the Bhūridatta Jātaka the Bodhisattva sings:

If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why does he order such misfortune
And not create concord?
If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance
And he such inequity and injustice create?
If the creator of the world entire
They call God, of every being be the Lord
Then an evil master is he, (O Aritta)
Knowing what's right did let wrong prevail![45]

Gottfried Leibniz

In his Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, the sceptic Pierre Bayle denied the goodness and omnipotence of God on account of the sufferings experienced in this earthly life. Gottfried Leibniz introduced the term theodicy in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal ("Theodicic Essays on the Benevolence of God, the Free will of man, and the Origin of Evil") which was directed mainly against Bayle. He argued that this is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created, on the grounds that goods and evils are so interconnected that God could not improve the world in one way without making it worse in some other way.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant argued for sceptical theism. He claimed there is a reason all possible theodicies must fail: evil is a personal challenge to every human being and can be overcome only by faith.[46] He wrote

We can understand the necessary limits of our reflections on the subjects which are beyond our reach. This can easily be demonstrated and will put an end once and for all to the trial.[47]

Victor Cousin

Victor Cousin argued for a form of eclecticism to organize and develop philosophical thought. He believed that the Christian idea of God was very similar to the Platonic concept of "the Good," in that God represented the principle behind all other principles. Like the ideal of Good, Cousin also believed the ideal of Truth and of Beauty were analogous to the position of God, in that they were principles of principles. Using this way of framing the issue, Cousin stridently argued that different competing philosophical ideologies all had some claim on truth, as they all had arisen in defense of some truth. He however argued that there was a theodicy which united them, and that one should be free in quoting competing and sometimes contradictory ideologies in order to gain a greater understanding of truth through their reconciliation.[48]

Opposition to the study of Theodicy

Atheists sometimes argue that the need that religions have for Theodicy itself can be used to suggest that no gods exist, by the method of reductio ad absurdum. Agnostics similarly believe that no answer to the question of religion will ever be found, or at least that it cannot be discovered with the present level of human knowledge.

Another popular reaction against Theodicy, among contemporary philosophers of religion, is skeptical theism;[49] this theology is based on the assumption that, due to human cognitive limitations, humans can never expect to understand the divine. As this assumes that the deity can't, or won't, make it blatantly clear that valid reasons exist, it has been accused of transforming Theodicy into something similar to the argument from nonbelief[8]

The late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder wrote an unfinished essay entitled "Trinity Versus Theodicy: Hebraic Realism And The Temptation To Judge God" (1996). Yoder argues that "if God be God" then theodicy is an oxymoron and idolatry. Yoder is not opposed to attempts to reconcile the existence of a God with the existence of evil; rather, he is against a particular approach to the problem. He does not "deny that there are ways in which forms of discourse in the mode of theodicy may have a function, subject to the discipline of a wider setting."

Yoder asks:

  • Where do you get the criteria by which you evaluate God? Why are the criteria you use the right ones?
  • Why [do] you think you are qualified for the business of accrediting Gods?
  • If you think you are qualified for that business, how does the adjudication proceed? [W]hat are the lexical rules?

Yoder's rejection of the implications of the term, as meaning the justification of God,[50] has been called anti-theodicy by some; Zachary Braiterman was first to coin this term, defining it as the refusal to justify, explain, or accept [the relationship between] God (or some other form of ultimate reality), evil, and suffering.

Braiterman uses the term "in order to account for a particular religious sensibility, based (in part) on fragments selectively culled from classical Jewish texts, that dominates post-Holocaust Jewish thought." Braiterman asserts, "Although it often borders on blasphemy, antitheodicy does not constitute atheism; it might even express stubborn love that human persons have for God. After all, the author of a genuine antitheodic statement must believe that an actual relationship subsists between God and evil in order to reject it; and they must love God in order to be offended by that relationship."

Two of the Jewish post-Shoah thinkers that Braiterman cites as antitheodicists (Emil Fackenheim and Richard Rubinstein) are also cited by Yoder. Yoder describes their approach as "the Jewish complaint against God, dramatically updated (and philosophically unfolded) since Auschwitz ... The faithful under the pogrom proceed with their prayers, after denouncing JHWH/Adonai for what He has let happen." Yoder sees this as a valid form of discourse in the mode of theodicy but he claims it is "the opposite of theodicy."

Some believers argue that Theodicy completely nullifies morality; all evil events, including human actions, would be somehow rationalised as being permitted or affected by God. To such believers, events permitted by God are by definition good, and therefore there can no longer be such a thing as evil values.[51] Volker Dittman argues that the crucial point is, that .... there will be no evil, because every suffering could be justified. Worse: It would be impossible to act evil. I could torture and murder a young child, but this would be justified for a higher good (whatever the perfect solution is, it could be something else than free will). This would be the end of all moral, which clearly is absurd. The theist could not point to the ten commandments and claim that they are necessary, because one goal of morals – to prevent evil – would be granted no matter how I behave...[52]

See also


    • Encyclopedia Britannica: "(from Greek theos, “god”; dikē, “justice”), explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil."
    • Catholic encyclopedia: "Imitating the example of Leibniz other philosophers now called their treatises on the problem of evil "theodicies".
    • Random House Dictionary: "a vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil."
    • The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: "A vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil."
    • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: "defense of God's goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil"
  1. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, entry on Theodicy
  2. Otis, Brooks, Ovid as an epic poet (1970), page 132
  3. Alvis, John, Divine purpose and heroic response in Homer and Virgil, page 176
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica: Theodicy
  5. Concise English Dictionary, entry on Theodicy
  6. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Problem of Evil", Michael Tooley
  7. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Evidential Problem of Evil", Nick Trakakis
  8. Honderich, Ted (2005). "theodicy". The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. ISBN 0199264791. "John Hick, for example, proposes a theodicy, while Alvin Plantinga formulates a defense. The idea of human free will often appears in a both of these strategies, but in different ways.". 
  9. Swinburne, Richard (2005). "evil, the problem of". in Ted Honderich. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. ISBN 0199264791. 
  10. 11.0 11.1 The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Logical Problem of Evil", James R. Beebe
  11. Boyd, Gregory A., Is God to blame? (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003) p.57-58
  12. Boyd, Gregory A., Is God to blame? (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003) p.76
  13. Boyd, Gregory A., Is God to blame? (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2003) p.96
  14. 15.0 15.1 Blank, Wayne, Why Does God Allow Suffering?
  15. Lewis, C. S., The Problem of Pain HarperCollins:New York, 1996 p.24-25
  16. Rhodes, Ron, Notes on the Problem of Evil
  17. 18.0 18.1 The Problem of Evil
  18. Russell, Bertrand, Why I Am Not a Christian
  19. The Supposed Problem of Evil,
  20. A Good Reason for Evil Transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl.
  21. Lewis, C. S., Mere Christianity Touchstone:New York, 1980 p.45-46
  22. Kelly, Joseph F., The Problem of Evil in the Western Tradition: From the Book of Job to Modern Genetics, Liturgical Press, 2002, pp. 94-96
  23. Polkinghorne, John (2003). Belief in God in an Age of Science. New Haven, CT: Yale Nota Bene. pp. 14. ISBN 978-0300099492. 
  24. See esp. ch. 5 of his Science and Providence. ISBN 978-0877734901
  25. King-Farlow, J. (1978), Cacodaemony and Devilish Isomorphism, Analysis, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Jan., 1978), pp. 59-61
  26. Martin, Michael (1992). Atheism: A Philosophical Justification. Temple University Press. p. 450. ISBN 0877229430. 
  27. Trakakis, Nick (2006). "Does Hard Determinism Render the Problem of Evil even Harder?". Ars Disputandi 6. 
  28. "Does Evil Exist?". 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  29. Hatcher, William, Computers, Logic and a Middle Way
  30. Eddy, Mary Baker, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, 1971, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston, p. 330.
  31. Catholic Encyclopedia:Pelagius and Pelagianism
  32. Orthodox Theology, Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Part II "God Manifest in the World" [1]
  33. Strobel, Lee (2000). The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. pp. 25–56. 
  34. "Ancient Babylonia—Wisdom Literature". Bible History Online. Retrieved 2007-04-19. 
  35. "The search for God in ancient Egypt", Jan Assmann, translated by David Lorton, p116, Cornell University Press, 2001, ISBN 0801487293
  36. Hume, David. "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2008-08-15. 
  37. The quoted argument may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Mark Joseph Larrimore, (2001), The Problem of Evil, pages xix-xxi. Wiley-Blackwell. According to Reinhold F. Glei, it is settled that the argument of theodicy is from an academical source which is not only not epicurean, but even anti-epicurean. Reinhold F. Glei, Et invidus et inbecillus. Das angebliche Epikurfragment bei Laktanz, De ira dei 13,20-21, in: Vigiliae Christianae 42 (1988), p. 47-58
  38. Tattersall, Nicholas (1998). "The Evidential Argument from Evil". Secular Web Library. Internet Infidels. Retrieved 2007-04-12. "[The Argument from Evil] is a reductio ad absurdum argument. It claims that there is an inconsistency with the theistic hypothesis and certain facts about the world. What atheism has to say about morality is irrelevant as to whether theism is contradicted or made improbable by the fact that pointless suffering probably exists." 
  39. Plato, in his Timaeus, states that the Demiurge's intentions were good. Gottfried Leibniz based his philosophy of optimism on the idea that god is both omnipotent and benevolent.
  40. Isaiah 45.7
  41. Ehrman, Bart D., God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer. HarperOne, 2008
  42. Kekes, John, Facing Evil, 1993
  43. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Kivy, Peter, "Melville's Billy and the Secular Problem of Evil: the Worm in the Bud", in The Monist (1980), 63
  44. Jataka, Book XXII, No. 543, vv. 208-209, trans. Gunasekara, V. A. (1993; 2nd ed. 1997). The Buddhist Attitude to God. Retrieved 22 Dec 2008 from Buddhanet For an alternate translation, see E. B. Cowell (ed.) (1895, 2000), The Jataka or Stories of the Buddha's Former Births (6 vols.), p. 110, retrieved 22 Dec 2008 from Google Books In this Jataka tale, as in much of Buddhist literature, "God" refers to the Vedic/Hindu Brahma.
  45. See Kant's essay, "Concerning the Possibility of a Theodicy and the Failure of All Previous Philosophical Attempts in the Field" (1791). Stephen Palmquist explains why Kant refuses to solve the problem of evil in "Faith in the Face of Evil", Appendix VI of Kant's Critical Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000).
  46. As quoted in Making the Task of Theodicy Impossible?
  47. Cousin, Victor (1856). The True, the Beautiful, and the Good. D, Appleton & Co.. pp. 75–101. ISBN 9781425543303. 
  48. Jordan, Jeff (2006). "Does Skeptical Theism Lead to Moral Skepticism?". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 72 (2): 403–417. doi:10.1111/j.1933-1592.2006.tb00567.x. 
  49. Braiterman, Zachary, (God) After Auschwitz: Tradition and Change in Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought (1998). He writes, "Theodicy is a familiar technical term, coined by the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz."
  50. Stretton, Dean, The Moral Argument from Evil
  51. Dittman, Volker and Tremblay, François The Immorality of Theodicies

Further reading

  • Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov, 1881. Chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor"
  • Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love, 1966. (Palgrave Macmillan, Rev. ed., 2007)
  • Ormsby, Eric. Theodicy in Islamic Thought (Princeton University Press, 1984)
  • Stewart, Matthew. The Courtier and the Heretic: Leibniz, Spinoza and the Fate of God in the Modern World (W.W. Norton, 2005)

External links

ar:ثيوديسيا bg:Теодицея cs:Teodicea hr:Teodiceja ia:Theodicea lb:Theodizee hu:Teodicea pt:Teodiceia ru:Теодицея sk:Teodícea sr:Теодицеја sh:Teodiceja fi:Pahan ongelma sv:Teodicéproblemet uk:Теодіцея