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Beyond the Problem of Evil

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by Wayne Ferguson

NOTE TO THE READER: This paper is written with a view to

encouraging genuine dialogue between those who believe that the

fullest and richest experience of truth and life can be attained

only by pursuing God within the bounds prescribed by Christian

orthodoxy and those standing outside of orthodoxy, who in all

sincerity have concluded that the restrictions of orthodoxy are

opposed to the fullest possible experience of truth and life.

Endnotes are indicated by numbers in brackets, e.g., {1};

text intended to be in italics has been placed in brackets .


The problem of evil is, in my opinion, the best point of

departure for a fruitful dialogue between Christianity,

traditionally conceived, and those strands of modern philosophy

which have been perceived--indeed, have sometimes perceived

themselves--as a threat to that tradition. As such, I will attempt

first, to outline the problem of evil in the starkest terms

possible, presenting Augustine's approach to its solution followed

by a critical analysis; second, to present an alternative approach

to the questions which give rise to the problem--an approach

derived in large part from Spinoza and Nietzsche; and, third, to

show how this more philosophically acceptable alternative can be

expressed in the categories of faith, allowing us to reappropriate

the tradition .

PART ONE: Augustine's Approach to the Problem of Evil

Simply put, the problem of evil resides in the apparently

unavoidable contradiction between the notion of God as omnipotent

and omnibenevolent, on the one hand, and the existence of evil

(natural and moral), on the other.{1} Indeed, granting that God is

all powerful, it would seem impossible for us to vouch for his

benevolence, considering our first-hand experience of evil in the

world. Likewise, if we grant from the outset that God is the

paradigm of goodness, then it would seem that we must modify our

conception of his power. However, Christian "orthodoxy" remains

unwilling to modify its conception of God's goodness or his power--

thus, the persistence of the problem.

St. Augustine was fully aware of this problem and spent much--

perhaps most--of his philosophical energy attempting to come to

terms with it. In , he writes:

Those who ponder these matters are seemingly forced to

believe either that Divine Providence does not reach to

these outer limits of things or that surely all evils are

committed by the will of God. Both horns of this dilemma

are impious, but particularly the latter (1.1.1).

His approach to a solution to this problem is three-pronged:

1) he holds that evil is a privation and cannot be properly said to

exist at all; 2) he argues that the apparent imperfection of any

part of creation disappears in light of the perfection of the

whole; and 3) he argues that the origin of moral evil, together

with that suffering which is construed as punishment for sin, is to

be found in the free choice of the will of rational creatures.

As a Manachee, Augustine believed that both God and the

principle of evil were some sort of material substances, neither

deriving its existence from the other. Evil, although somehow

than God, was, nevertheless, infinite and presented a

real problem for God to overcome in the course of his cosmic

existence. He describes his motives for believing such things as


piety (however bizarre some of my beliefs were) forbade

me to believe that the good God had created an evil

nature ( 5.10.20).

Even after Augustine had abandoned these "bizarre beliefs" of the

Manachees and had, as a Christian, arrived at the notion of God as

an immutable, spiritual substance, the existence of evil still

troubled him for:

Although I affirmed and firmly held divine immunity from

pollution and change and the complete immutability of our

God, the true God . . . yet I had no clear and explicit

grasp of the cause of evil. Whatever it might be, I saw

it had to be investigated, if I were to avoid being



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