The problem of evil has haunted humanity from ancient times and it is a frequent topic in the ancient scriptures (eg. Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes). Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the wicked seem to prosper, oblivious to, or unfazed by, the pain and sorrow they are causing? How can an all powerful, all loving, all knowing God allow evil to exist? Traditional theology states that evil originated with human sin / rebellion. However, this view is impossible to reconcile with the evidence of modern science, and it is not even clear that this is a good theological statement. So where does evil originate? If God is all-powerful and all knowing, why did he not prevent it? Is the benefit of “free-will” actually worth the price of evil?
This is the problem of theodicy, and it still perplexes modern Christians today. It perplexes me. Over the centuries, Christians have provided many lines of reasoning to address the theodicy issue. However, no single argument has captured Christian minds, probably because none comes without its flaws.
Those who wish to expose Christianity as a sham delight in highlighting the problem of evil. For atheists it is a good strategy since, in my opinion, it is their best (and maybe only good) argument. The other arguments frequently put forward (eg. “I can’t see any evidence for God, therefore he doesn’t exist.”, “There are lots of errors in the bible, therefore Christianity must be wrong”, and “The scientific evidence supports evolution, so God didn’t create the world”) pale in comparison. But theodicy is very difficult, and I suspect that a debate limited only to theodicy would prove very uncomfortable for any Christian.
Opponents of evolution like to state that, since it demonstrates “nature red in tooth and claw”, evolution makes the problem of evil even worse. After all, how could a loving creator be so inefficient and allow so much death and destruction? But is this so? I really don’t see how evolution increases the theodicy difficulty. It adds details to the process of how we have been created, but is irrelevant to the central problem of long eons of death and extinction. Whether one explains the fossil record by many progressive creative acts, or the gradual creative process of evolution, the fact remains that much pain and death have occurred.
I certainly do not have a complete answer to the problem of evil. So rather than articulate a partial solution to the puzzle, I’ll simply provide some pointers to resources I’ve found helpful so far:
- Probably the closest thing I’ve found to a satisfactory answer is John Polkinghorne’s “Free Process Theodicy”. The best place I’ve seen this outlined is in “Science and Providence: God’s Interaction with the World” pages 59-68. (I do not have a link to a good overview on the net – can anyone help me here?)
- William Dembski has an interesting article entitled “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science”. I am not very comfortable with Dembski’s solution but it is a well reasoned and consistent proposal. I would like to hear the opinions of others on this. For some reason, I haven’t seen much discussion on this paper. This is odd since, to me, it seems much more interesting than some of the other things Dembski has written.
- Since sin and evil are so intertwined in Christian theology, I’d also like to point to an excellent article on the origin of sin by George Murphy entitled “Roads to Paradise and Perdition: Christ, Evolution, and Original Sin”.
- I’ve previously mentioned Cliff Martin’s series on the relationship of entropy to evil. Cliff has just posted the second part of his “Theodicy: A New Approach”. If you are interested in discussing the question of theodicy, I highly recommend you visit his blog, as it is indeed (I think) a new approach. My suggestion is to read the following posts in order:
- Theodicy: Evil’s Riddle
- Theodicy: Standard Christian arguments
- Theodicy: A New Approach (Part 1)
- Theodicy: A New Approach (Part 2)