Any religion without a theodicy problem is immoral

Why does God allow evil?  You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason.  It is the absence of what should be there.  God cannot have a reason for it.  It cannot be good that evil be.  It cannot be that good relies in any necessary way on evil.  That would mean that good isn’t entirely good and can’t be self-subsistent; it means that God, Who is Subsistent Goodness, doesn’t exist.  If you think you have thought of a good reason for God to put sin in the world, repent and put such wicked thoughts aside.  It is not better that Satan fell and Adam sinned.

What then, can theology do?  It must be humble.  It can only establish that a good God has no obligation to build a flawless world.  There can be no reason why He didn’t do so.  That uncreated perfect world with its uncreated sinless men would have a far better claim on existence than our world and we in it do, if it were true that anything could have a claim on existence.  But it can’t, and this is the key point.  We must not imagine that we exist independently of God like a child does from its parents and that we are in a position to confront God with obligations to us.  It is a gratuitous act of His to make us exist at this moment at all.  There may not be a reason for this act of creation to stop short of full bodily and spiritual integrity, but there’s no reason it can’t either.  He can carry His creative act as far as He wants.

Of the “reasons for evil” I’ve read, only Zippy’s avoids justifying the unjust by appealing to the goodness of this world.  There’s no claim that evil makes the world better than it would otherwise be, only that that other world wouldn’t be this one.  It’s an appeal to thisness rather than essence.  I’ve expressed reservations about it (though I’m not sure if I still take my own side in that argument), but it does have that virtue of reframing a discussion that had been set by asking a wrong and unanswerable question.

33 thoughts on “Any religion without a theodicy problem is immoral

  1. You seem to be saying that God created a partially evil world for no reason at all, that he could have created a perfectly good world but just arbitrarily decided not to. Saying that he was perfectly within his rights to do so isn’t much of a defense. If you’re defining God as “Subsistent Goodness” itself, for what conceivable motive could he have chosen to create evil rather than good? “To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17).

    Your first paragraph was correct. Evil means there is no omni-God, full stop. There is either a finite God (as in Paganism, Mormonism, etc.) or no god at all.

    • It depends on what one means by finite or infinite. I have an idea, perhaps an imperfect idea, of what an infinite number is. But a number is an abstraction. What is an infinite person? One that has neither body, nor parts, nor passions? I think not. My model of an infinite person is what God is, and by the example given to us, what Jesus is. That should be sufficient, whether it agrees with the philosophical ideas of men or not.

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  3. My understanding was that while it would have been better had Adam and Eve chosen correctly, the world as is is better than it would be had God denied their free will to choose, since to choose supernatural good necessarily presupposes free will, so had he denied their free will to choose we could have only natural good.

  4. Why does God allow evil? You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason. It is the absence of what should be there. God cannot have a reason for it. It cannot be good that evil be. It cannot be that good relies in any necessary way on evil.

    It must be that you’re (incorrectly) using ‘evil’ to mean “moral evil”, which is to say, ‘wickedness’.

    But, in fact, when ‘evil’ is used correctly, it *is* Good that evil exist — for, our very existence is evil, the existence of all-that-is-not-God is evil: for all that is not-God lacks at least one thing, self-existence, and generally lacks far more than that.

    • What then, can theology do? It must be humble. It can only establish that a good God has no obligation to build a flawless world. There can be no reason why He didn’t do so.

      It is *impossible* that God “build a flawless world” — the demand that God create a flawless world is the demand that God create (another) God, which is logically impossible.

      • Ilion has nailed it. Further, with his succinct statement he has killed two distinct but related birds with one … nail.

        First, yes, it is impossible that God should create anything that is perfect along all dimensions. Creatures must be somehow weak. This is no more than to say that they must be weaker than God.

        Second, only a being that is in every respect perfect will be incapable by nature of any act that is less than perfectly good. God is by nature logically incapable of any imperfect act. Per contra, any being that is less than perfect must logically be capable of doing less than what is perfectly good.

        So, God can make a world of creatures that each immaculately implements its nature, at least to begin with – this is what he tells us in Genesis that he actually did – but he cannot make a world that is immune to error.

        There is no logical problem of evil. “World that cannot fall” is incoherent, like “square circle.” That God cannot perform a logically incoherent act is no defect of his omnipotence, nor is it a defect of his perfect goodness, mercy, or justice. Contra Wm Jas, “finite God” is incoherent, like “black white,” or, more straightforwardly, “finite infinity.” If there is no infinite God, then there is no God at all, period full stop; and we ought then to be atheists.

        None of this justifies evil. A theodicy that tries to do that is trying to square a circle. That God can procure great good even from evil, as he has done, nowise justifies the evil. That we can see ex post the good that came of evil does not mean we can understand the evil. As Bonald points out, there can be no such justification or reason, for, as the negative of justice and order, evil is unreasonable, unintelligible. We might with equal sense ask how chaos is ordered. The human mind, desperate to understand, is ever wont to ask that sort of question (so that evil will always be a problem pastorally, and apologetically), but it arises from a category error.

      • Absolutely agree, and Kristor has sharpened this point well. To make a flawless world that actually had living being especially, would be to make those beings without flaw. This would entail no flaw in their knowledge, longevity, strength, moral uprightness, and spatial occupancy. That is essentially asking “why God does not make more Gods?”, which is, as Kristor points out, attempting to squaring a circle.

      • Yes, “finite God” is a contradiction if you use the classical theological definitions of “God.” What I mean by “finite God” is that it is possible that the being described in the Bible and referred to there as God exists, but that he lacks some or all of the omni-attributes ascribed to him by Hellenized theology. I suppose you would say that in that case he wouldn’t properly be a God at all but only an angel or alien or something; I would say that a worshipper of Yahweh is still obviously more like a theist than like an atheist. The same goes for the ancient pagans who worshipped finite beings.

      • We all agree that square circles are impossible or incoherent or just plain nonsense. What we don’t agree on is whose theology has square circles. For example, a Muslim would argue that that Allah cannot literally have a Son in the Christian sense.

        I agree with Judah Halevi, Pascal, and Martin Buber that the God of the Philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and thus attempting to merge them or to maintain they are the same is an error.

      • Indeed, the “God of the Philosophers” is not the God of Abraham.

        Nevertheless, we can learn some true facts about God, the Creator, the God of Abraham, via reason apart from revelation (via consideration of the “God of the Philosophers”) — and, in fact, we *must* judge (purported) revelation by the light of reason.

      • Is 1 Cor. 3:19-20 only a purported revelation? See also 1 Cor. 1:23 and 1 Cor. 2:10-12. Bonald correctly makes the point that theology must be humble. So must reason apart from revelation and experience be humble. The Book of Job is full of arguments back and forth, quite impressive ones, and the conclusion of the book suggests humility before God regardless of how tight one’s argument might look. The world’s philosophical schools are hardly in agreement, and a recent study suggests 62% of philosophers are non-believers. Many of them would argue against all religion by the light of their reason.

      • The Bible and the Koran both purport themselves to be the self-revelation of God to mankind.

        How are you going to judge between these conflicting (and contradictory) claims except by the use of reason-sans-revelation? How are you going to going to judge whether Jehovah or Allah is God, except by comparison to what one can learn about God via reason before its augmentation with revelation?

      • Important to point out, Leo, ‘philosopher’ is a rather nebulous profession. Yes, the majority are not theists, but the majority of philosophers do not deal with the question of God anyway, and are instead engaged in other fields of philosophy. This and the fact that MANY academics, in all fields, already have arrived at their theological conclusions prior to achieving their educational degrees. One cannot conclude that the smartest people in society, having analyzed all arguments objectively, have come to such and such a conclusion. People from the West in particular will receive an anti-theological education bias. This is prevalent throughout almost all institutions of higher education, so this must be taken into account when we move from addressing philosophy as a subject, to what actual philosophers themselves think.

        You will find very few academics in North Korea who believe in God, but this is not because they are so smart they have managed to debunk Him, but simply a bias of the society they live in. Our society too has its biases, not as obvious for sure, but they are there.

        We must never view any field of the academy in our own countries as some kind of pinnacle of objectivity, since many are influenced by an anti-Christian western elite. There is no reason to view them as any less biased than Modern politicians especially when it comes to topics as controversial as God.

        I will agree however that a danger exists in relying too much on philosophy regardless of who is doing the philosophizing. Philosophy, in my opinion, has sharpened the arguments for God and created a wonderful study of apologetics, but ultimately we must be humble and recognize that we cannot know everything.

  5. Hi Bonald,

    I am having trouble reconciling the following two statements of yours:

    You are asking for a reason for evil, but evil is by definition that which has no reason.


    There can be no reason why He didn’t [build a flawless world].

    If evil is by definition that which has no reason, then if God had no reason not to build a flawless world, wouldn’t this be evil? But I know that must not be what you mean…

    • One can say that God had a motive to create the world–think of all the good things in it–but there can’t be a reason for creating this world rather than that one. Hence the felicity of Zippy’s analogy with love. Sure, there are reasons to love your wife, but there can’t be a reason for loving her rather than any other woman that purports to be the reason, such that you would transfer your love if certain qualities of hers and another womans’ were switched, or else it isn’t love at all.

      I disagree with Ilion and Kristor. There is a difference between finitude and evil, the difference between mere absence and privative absence. (This also addresses Ian’s concern–he’s right that I spoke inprecisely.) Nor does the existence of free will require the possibility of sin, or else those who enjoy the beatific vision would not be free. God could have infused everyone ever created with effacacious grace (as a Catholic would put it) and predestined them all (as a Calvinist would put it). We can’t say why he didn’t. We can only argue that this absence in God’s will is not strictly-speaking privative (something that ought to be there else the substance in which it fails to inhere is flawed).

      • Another way to understand the question (and/or demand), “Why can’t/doesn’t God create a flawless world?” is that it is *really* asking “Why can’t/doesn’t God create a world in which nothing changes?

        Is the “world” of Plato’s Forms really a world? Or, is this world, but created as analogous to a painting or carving, really a world?

      • I should have noticed more carefully in my comment that creatures are not eo ipso simply evil merely on account of the fact that their natures are not perfect along all dimensions of perfection, as with God. God is indeed alone perfectly good, ergo all other beings are by comparison but imperfectly good. But then, imperfection in that one respect could only appertain to a being that ought properly to be perfectly good – i.e., to God. But this just means that the comparison of creaturely and Divine perfections is inapposite. As Ilíon points out, creatures are not properly perfect as God is perfect. The perfection proper to creatures is the perfect actualization of a nature or essence that is less maximally perfect in itself than the nature of God.

        That a tiger is by nature unable to do calculus does not make him a bad tiger. Likewise, e.g., it is not a flaw of our nature that it does not include omniscience. We *can’t* be omniscient without being God; so it *can’t* be wrong – can’t, that is, be a flaw in us – that we are not omniscient. What is right and proper for us is the complete and faithful actualization – the immaculate actualization – of the essence of manhood.

        We are not doomed to fail at what is proper to us, or it wouldn’t be proper to us in the first place. It’s just that, as beings of finite power, we are (unlike God) by nature capable of such failures. It is such failures that are evil.

        An incapacity to do other than the divine Will is a capacity to do but one thing: the Divine will. A being that must do only one thing cannot properly be said either to err, or not to err, or therefore indeed itself to act at all. What can do only one thing cannot possibly move from it, and is therefore already fully in act, with no potentiality, no power at all to do one thing or another, or therefore to do anything. The notions of failure or success would be just inapposite to such a being. In no sense could it ever itself try, or act, or move, or do, or therefore either fail or succeed; it could rather only be, like things that are already done, and past.

        If God had given all of us freedom to do nothing other than his will, and thus prevented us from sin in our very nature – so that men could no more sin than they can now breathe water – then none of us would ever have been able to choose not to love him. That choice would never have been open to us; but then, by the same token, nor would the opposite choice ever have been open to us, either. Thus we would never have been able to love him in the first place, as an act of the rational will. The question would never have been in our power to answer. As we could not then love, nor a fortiori could we worship.

        That the saints enjoying the BV are no longer capable of falling does not mean that they never were. Their current incapacity to sin is a result of their accomplished salvation history, which includes their past sins. It is analogous to Saint Michael’s current incapacity to fall, given his aeviternal decision not to do so. Once sanctification is perfected – once it has altogether come to pass, and been fully achieved – holiness is as it were aeviternal (we could for that matter say that whatever is past is as it were aeviternal, and that it is the aeviternity of the past that makes it past, and inalterable). Once get altogether free and clear of concupiscence, and it has no more sway over you; that’s what getting truly free of a thing means (so that if concupiscence still does have some sway over you, you have not yet got free of it). Knowing full well as he does the disastrous sequelae of slavery to sin, the saint will not feel the slightest temptation to it. Only a madman would make such a crazy choice; and saints are by definition immaculately sane. They are free, but thanks to their experiences they are no longer free to live as if they were still stuck in their own concupiscent past, because they have left behind that past and its concupiscence, just as they have left behind their freedom to be someone who has not lived the lives they have actually lived. They can no more go back to concupiscence than I can go back to being a choirboy.

      • Sure, there are reasons to love your wife, but there can’t be a reason for loving her rather than any other woman that purports to be the reason, such that you would transfer your love if certain qualities of hers and another womans’ were switched, or else it isn’t love at all.

        Yes, or even a dog. I’m actually not all that fond of dogs in general; but I’d take my dog over most human beings.

        In general, the ‘problem of evil’ doesn’t makes sense except in a world of pure abstractions, absent particulars. But who loves abstractions the same way you love your dog?

  6. From my studies, it seems this question actually has good quality answers.

    1) Implicit in the question is God’s existence. To complain that there is such a thing as evil is to acknowledge there is such a thing as good, and to admit this implies some way to differentiate between the two (i.e – a moral law), and following from this, there must be a moral law giver – AKA – God. So whatever explanations follow on from this, they have to include God somehow. If they don’t, the question really isn’t asking anything.

    2) There is a distinction made between possible worlds, and feasible worlds. A world in which everyone had free will and freely chose to always do good is possible… but it is not feasible. Craig describes it as such

    “For example, there is an intrinsically possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in precisely the same circumstances in which he in fact denied him; but given the counterfactual truth that if Peter were in precisely those circumstances he would freely deny Christ, then the possible world in which Peter freely affirms Christ in those circumstances is not feasible for God. God could force Peter to affirm Christ in those circumstances, but then his confession would not be free. By means of His middle knowledge, God knows what is the proper subset of possible worlds which are feasible for Him, given the counterfactuals that are true.”

    So a world without evil would necessarily entail, if one takes into account the counterfactuals, a world with no freedom, a puppet world. God has no reason to desire such a thing. This is a Molinist perspective dealing with Middle Knowledge.

    3) We are not really in any position to judge any perceived evil that God allows to occur, due to our being in time and space and thus limited. The Holocaust might have been an evil event, but preventing it from occurring may have in turn caused some even more horrific evil to take place 100 years later, in a totally different place. This ‘butterfly effect’ in which even small events take on massive significance for an omniscient being who sees every chain reaction as it ripples out, is an ultimate if impractical dismissal of the argument. God may allow evil to occur if it serves a greater purpose later on (for instance perhaps a tragedy leads more people to freely choose to come to God).

    4) Another good point is, even if you affirm that a free world without evil is unfeasible, to complain about how much evil there is ends up being foolish, again because of our limited knowledge. If there were half as much evil in the world, we would STILL think the world was horribly evil just because we had never experience any world more evil than ours. And yet, can we not all imagine a world with far MORE evil than our own? Glass half empty? Glass half full? Depends on your perspective

    “There can be no reason why He didn’t [build a flawless world].”

    Yes there can. Because such a world is unfeasible. It is conceivable that was world with sin is a flawed world, but a world without free will is also a flawed world. In this situation, God doesn’t really have the option of creating a flawless world, at least not the kind where people would freely choose Him, which is what He wants.

    I don’t really see this as too much of an intellectual problem. You have the following feasible options for God.

    A) Make no world at all

    B) Make a world with free people, knowing that they will choose evil sometimes

    C) Make a world of automatons who always do good.

    To suggest option B has no justification seems to miss the entire message of God and what He ultimately wants. I agree with your point that God has no obligation to make this world a nice place for His pets, but appears to me that the free choice to do evil or good is intrinsic to being human, and our relationship with God would not be the one He desires if we were just marionettes being manipulated to always do good. Which is more valuable? A person who freely chooses to love and adore you, or a computer you program to love and adore you?

    • Or, to put it another way, a “flawless world” would be one in which change is impossible. Such a hypothetical world is not a world in which *we* could live.

      • Ilion, sure, we live in a flawed world. But in Heaven, you’ll be able to run, jump, sit, stand, and so forth. Running, jumping, sitting, and standing imply change. I just don’t see why any change there in Heaven would even suggest that anything was wrong with you or it.

        In his book “Theology for Beginners,” Frank Sheed explains why no one sins in Heaven. You and I choose people, places, or things because they at least seem to be good in some respects. If I prefer something to another thing, that’s because I think it’s somehow better than the other one. In Heaven, where we’ll see God, we’ll know that He’s infinitely good in every respect. So we won’t prefer anyone or anything to Him.

      • “…no one sins in Heaven.”

        Those that rebelled in Heaven were cast out.

        See Rev. 12:7-9, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Jonathan Edwards’ “Wisdom Displayed in Salvation,” various parallels to the above in the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a lot of Christian artwork (Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens, etc.). I realize Milton and Jonathan Edwards might not hold much appeal to Catholics, but the artwork might.

  7. We must not imagine that we exist independently of God like a child does from its parents and that we are in a position to confront God with obligations to us.

    Don՚t you know your scriptures? One of the key passages of the old testament is precisely Abraham confronting God with his moral obligations. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?…Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.”

    • Dear a.morphous,

      Which demonstrates my earlier point that the God of the Philosophers is not the God of Abraham. See Norbert Samuelson, in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 65, Nr. 1, pp. 1-27, January 1972.

      Job’s confrontation with God led to Job to admit his lack of understanding and to repent in dust and ashes, but however unequal the conversation, it was at least a confrontation.

      • Thanks Leo, I have been making essentially the same argument here, but without your references, so thanks for those.

        (eg here: “In other words, the more you embrace the Greek idea of God as some kind of eternal and pure Absolute, the less he looks like the more primitive tribal deity of the scriptures, who is always acting and thundering and getting angry or jealous, and wants to make sure that his people don՚t cheat on him with other gods. These concepts simply don՚t fit together despite the thousands of years of Christian philosophy attempting to square the circle.”)

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  9. Leo:Ilion asks how are we then to judge between different faith traditions.

    Ilíon most certainly did not ask “how are we then to judge between different faith traditions” — he leaves such phrases as “faith tradition” to the sort of people who do not actually *believe* their (purported) “faith tradition” to be true.

    Rather, what Ilíon asked is: how can one judge between Jehovah/Elohim and Allah (and “Heavenly Father”), to know which (if any) is God, without engaging in circular reasoning, *except* by the use of reason before strengthening reason with revelation?

    For any Christian’s “the Bible says”, the Moslem has a “the Koran says”, and the Mormon has a “the Book of Mormon says” — simply pointing to one of the purported revelations of God does nothing to help one resolve the question: “Who is God? What is God like? What does God require of men?

    Ilíon that said that the only way to judge between these purported and conflicting revelations is to judge the “god” so revealed according to the light of reason, that we have no option but to judge the revealed “god” according to what we can discover about God without reference to a purported self-revelation.

    Leo thought to dispute what I’d said by referencing Matthew 7:16.

    Not only did Leo engage in the very sort of circular reasoning I’m pointing out gets us no-where, but his example text backs up what I’d said: “By their fruits you shall know them” — in this context: judge between Jehovah and Allah (and “Heavenly Father”) not by the mere fact that each of them claims to be God, but by using reason to compare their “fruits” against some standard separate from their claim to be God.

    As Jehovah said (and Allah never did): “Come, let us reason together

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