The Problem of Evil
If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? This question is known as the “problem of evil,” and it poses a substantial challenge to all monotheistic faith traditions, as well as a serious obstacle to the reconciliation of religion and reason. Not surprisingly, therefore, the problem of evil has been fervently studied and debated for millennia, including by many of the greatest theologians and philosophers in human history. The problem will not be resolved any time soon. Even in the absence of an “answer,” however, studying the problem of evil provides an opportunity to examine fundamental questions of how the moral universe is structured and what our role in that universe should be. In other words, because the problem of evil deals with what it means to be a human being who interacts with — and therefore suffers from the actions of — other human beings, the natural world, and possibly a deity, the problem resides at the core of human self-contemplation, inextricably intertwined with the ultimate dilemmas of our creation, existence, and death. This course will examine the problem of evil and some of the most prominent theories that have been advanced in response to it. We will discuss the Old Testament (particularly the books of Genesis and Job), the theology of St. Augustine, and attempts by modern academics and clergy to respond to the problem. We will analyze the extent to which each response is effective, logically sound, and otherwise desirable. We will also take a higher-level view of the question, discussing what the problem of evil means for theologians and philosophers today, and what areas of future inquiry might prove most fruitful.