Exploring the Problem of Moral Evil
The problem of evil is broad and takes many forms. It is often divided into two types: the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil. Furthermore, the discussion of evil can be divided into problems of natural evil (suffering caused by the laws of nature), moral evil (suffering caused by the actions of human agents), gratuitous evil (evil that seems completely unnecessary on any scheme), and the ontology of evil (whether or not evil really exists), to name a few. To avoid speaking in broad generalities, this essay will focus on the problem of moral evil, specifically as it concerns the example of Brian and the drunk driver.
The logical problem of evil posed by my example is strictly concerned with whether or not it is logically possible to assert that the evil of Brian’s death exists in a world supposedly created by an omnipotent, good God, i.e. the Christian God. While various defenses have been put forward throughout the centuries, it is widely held that Alvin Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” has sufficiently explained the logical problem, or at least diminished its strength. As its title suggests, the “Free Will Defense” claims that the existence of evil is compatible with the omnipotent, good God of Christianity because of the nature of free will. In short, it posits that if God created humans with freedom to make their own choices, then any evil that results from their free choices is the fault of humans, not God.
So in the case of Brian, Plantinga would claim that it is logically consistent to say that God is good and omnipotent, yet did not prevent the evil resulting in Brian’s death. This statement can be made on the grounds that because God determined at creation to give humans free will, it is always a possibility that they will use their freedom to bring about evil. The drunk driver presumably chose to drink excessively, get in the car, drive, and not stop after hitting Brian. This event was possible because God had already determined not to coerce the driver to act against his or her will, and to uphold the consequences of the driver’s free actions.
Nevertheless, it may still be objected that a good God would intervene whenever possible to prevent moral evil if God knew that the evil did not serve some greater good. So in the case of Brian’s death, if no greater good (such as the repentance and salvation of the driver) resulted, then God was not justified in allowing the evil, and the idea of the Christian God must be modified. At this point, two replies are possible. The first would be to claim that is impossible for humans to know and judge the greater good, so we may simply trust that God has ordered this event to bring about some greater good. But this answer will probably fail to convince those who are already skeptical of Christian claims. The second response would be to qualify God’s omnipotence by claiming that God cannot do the logically impossible, namely, to arbitrarily go against God’s own decrees to honor human freedom whenever such freedom threatens to bring about evil. This response may also fail to satisfy the skeptic, but it nevertheless frees Christians from any claim that their worldview is logically inconsistent.
Yet, even though the “Free Will Defense” may give an answer to the logical problem, the evidential problem remains. The evidential problem is not concerned with logic as much as it is concerned with probability. Simply put, the evidential problem of evil claims that all of the seemingly gratuitous evil in the world makes it improbable that the omnipotent, good God of Christianity exists. Yet, to echo the words of the Christian philosopher William Hasker, it may be asked, “[I]mprobable for whom?” Hasker, who draws upon the work of Alvin Plantinga, asserts that the probability of the Christian God’s existence will depend largely on the probability of the initial propositions used to support God’s existence, which will vary depending on who is making the propositions. In other words, an atheist and a Christian will arrive at different probabilities due to their differing assumptions. Nevertheless, Hasker essentially argues that it is incumbent upon the Christian to give the atheist good grounds for changing the probabilities, i.e. to construct a theodicy. Plantinga, on the other hand, is content with the unresolvable nature of the evidential problem, thinking that a theodicy that gives Christian reasons for evil will remain unconvincing to a skeptic. Applying his argument to Brian’s case, Plantinga would say that even though reasons may be given by Christians for the evil of Brian’s death, those reasons would probably be rejected by skeptics with different worldviews. Plantinga makes a good point here: the Christian’s responsibility lies mainly in showing the logical consistency of Christianity’s truth claims (and it may be added, preaching the gospel, which is nothing less than the eschatological solution to the problem. This will be explored later). It is not necessary for Christians to build theodicies and debate probability, though these things may be fruitful.
Plantinga’s explanations for the logical and evidential problems of evil are confirmed by the biblical narrative, as well as the early church fathers. In the Genesis story of origins, God declared that everything God had made was “very good.” Evil is nowhere to be found in God’s created world. Yet, God planted a tree in the Garden of Eden that contained the knowledge of good and evil. So certainly, the possibility of evil existed. When Adam and Eve freely chose to eat from this tree, creation was “subjected to futility.” In Romans 5:12, Paul claims that through Adam’s trespass, sin and death entered the created order and spread to all humans because all humans sin. Thus, it would seem that the biblical account of creation and human sin explains moral evil along the same lines as Plantinga – evil is a result of the free actions of human beings, not God’s “good” creative act.
Not only can a rough outline of Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” be found in Scripture, but it can also be found in some of the early church fathers. Writing in the 2nd and 3rd century CE, Origen argues that “the creator granted to the minds that he [sic] made the power of free and voluntary movement, so that the good which was in them might become their own through … their own free-will. But sloth and weariness in the preservation of good supervened … and so the withdrawal from good began.” For Origen, evil entered the creation because humans did not use their free will to preserve the good. Furthermore, by describing evil as the withdrawal from the good, Origen refuses to grant evil its own ontological status. To do so would require evil either to be a creation of God or some mysterious entity that coexisted eternally with God.
Gregory of Nyssa picks up Origen’s argument and takes it farther. Gregory claims that humans were created to share in God’s goodness. Thus, it was necessary for God to bestow on humans God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). Part of this image included free will, which would allow humans to attain higher forms of excellence as they chose the good. Yet, this freedom entailed the possibility of withdrawing from the good. In Plantinga fashion, Gregory concludes that when Adam and Eve withdrew from God’s good plan and ate from the forbidden tree, evil was born. Gregory states: “The origin of evil can only be understood as the absence of virtue.” So in Brian’s case, a common interpretation of the Biblical narrative, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Alvin Plantinga all agree the origin of this evil is found in the free will of the drunk driver.
Now that a Christian explanation for the origin of moral evil in Brian’s case has been forwarded, it must be restated that this explanation is different than a solution. To clarify this point, an analogy may be helpful: the United States is currently in the midst of an economic crisis. Explaining the reasons behind why the crisis has developed the way that it has may be helpful as far as mental understanding is concerned, but it is a far cry from a solution to the turmoil. Though understanding the reasons for the crisis may help in discovering the solution, the solution itself must trace out the path toward recovery andresult in recovery. Similarly, although explaining the origins of evil may help humans understand their predicament, a real solution will bring resolution to the problem of evil by tracing out how evil can be overcome and by guaranteeing its eradication. Fortunately, the Christian solution to the problem of evil does precisely that. Christian eschatology guarantees evil’s defeat, the beginning and end of which is Jesus Christ. The remainder of this essay will explore how this works.
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 According to the theologian John Feinberg, “there is no such thing as the problem of evil.” Instead, he distinguishes a variety of problems. Nevertheless, I believe it is safe to proceed under the assumption that the problem is that there are many problems due to evil. John S. Feinberg, The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil, Rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 15.
 Feinberg lists others. Ibid., 15-18.
 William L. Rowe, ed., God and the Problem of Evil (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001), 76.
 Indeed, the claim of Romans 8:28 that “for those who love God all things work together for good” supports this argument in the case of evils perpetrated against Christians.
 William Hasker, Providence, 24.
 Alvin Plantinga, “The Probabilistic Argument from Evil,” Philosophical Studies 35 (1979), 1-53, referenced in Hasker, Providence, 24 and 41.
 For a great collection of essays on theodicy and the evidential problem of evil, see Rowe, God and the Problem of Evil.
 Genesis 1:31, English Standard Version (ESV).
 The significance of this tree, whether metaphorical or literal, deserves its own essay. It has been argued by theologians as early as Origen that evil existed before the creation and made its way into God’s good creation via demonic agents. Regardless of when evil first came about, the fact remains that God’s creation was good, and the first instance of evil inside God’s creation happened through the sin of Adam and Eve.
 Origen. “On First Principles II, 9, 1-6,” in Documents in Early Christian Thought, ed. Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 97.
 Gregory’s entire argument can be found in “Catechetical Oration 5-8,” in Documents in Early Christian Thought, ed. Maurice Wiles and Mark Santer, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 101-12.