The Problem of Evil

You learned about the problem of evil in Chapter 7. Philosophers through the ages including David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and contemporary philosophers have taken up the problem again. The question that “the Problem of Evil” poses is: If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, why is there evil in the world?

One contemporary defense of evil is called “the Greater Good Defense.” According to this defense, certain evils — including man-made and natural disasters — serve to bring about a “greater good” for humanity. According to this view, horrible events like the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans evoke in humanity virtues like generosity, courage, compassion, and fellowship. Thus tragedy brings a greater good in its wake. People give blood, time, money, and whatever help they can offer.

“The Greater Good Defense” of evil would argue that the atrocities of Nazi Germany or Hiroshima brought about a greater good. How so? Doctors tried to heal those damaged physically and psychologically by the events. Ordinary citizens showed compassion in their response to the victims. Political figures resolved that it should never happen again.

Another kind of theodicy or defense of God is illustrated in the philosophy of John Hick. In Evil and the God of Love (1978), Hick defends God against the charge of evil by saying that tragic outcomes in life are justified by people acting virtuously. In this manner, they develop virtues gradually.

The popularity of the philosophy of religion is surging. Courses once part of religion departments have been absorbed into philosophy programs. Philosophy in the analytic period will always have something to say about religions, since the analytic movement views the task of philosophy as the analysis of statements.

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