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Evil, problem of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K019-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 12, 2024, from

Article Summary

In this context, ‘evil’ is given the widest possible scope to signify all of life’s minuses. Within this range, philosophers and theologians distinguish ‘moral evils’ such as war, betrayal and cruelty from ‘natural evils’ such as earthquakes, floods and disease. Usually the inescapability of death is numbered among the greatest natural evils. The existence of broad-sense evils is obvious and spawns a variety of problems, most prominently the practical one of how to cope with life and the existential one of what sort of meaning human life can have.

Philosophical discussion has focused on two theoretical difficulties posed for biblical theism. First, does the existence of evils show biblical theism to be logically inconsistent? Is it logically possible for an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good God to create a world containing evil? One classical response to this, following Leibniz, is to argue that such a God would create the best of all possible worlds, but that such a world may contain evil as an indispensable element. Alternatively, evil may be an unavoidable consequence of the boon of free will, or it may be part of a divine plan to ensure that all souls attain perfection.

The second difficulty for biblical theism is, even if we grant logical consistency, does evil (in the form, for instance, of apparently pointless suffering) nevertheless count as evidence against the existence of the Bible’s God? One frequent theistic response here is to argue that the apparent pointlessness of evil may be merely a result of our limited cognitive powers; things would appear the same to us whether or not there were a point, so it is not legitimate to argue from the evidence.

Citing this article:
Adams, Marilyn McCord. Evil, problem of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K019-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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