Gratuitous Evil Revisited: Is the ‘Greater-Good’ Theodicy the Theist’s Best Defense? -- By: Matt Brubaker

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 21:3 (Summer 2004)
Article: Gratuitous Evil Revisited: Is the ‘Greater-Good’ Theodicy the Theist’s Best Defense?
Author: Matt Brubaker


Gratuitous Evil Revisited:
Is the ‘Greater-Good’ Theodicy the Theist’s Best Defense?

Matt Brubaker

M.Div. Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587

Central to the ‘Greater-Good’ theodicy is the denial of gratuitous evil. It maintains that God is justified in permitting only that evil which will bring about a greater good or prevent an evil equally bad or worse. Such a premise has been accepted by the vast majority of Christian philosophers throughout the history of Christendom and has been used as a means to defend a position of classical theism against the problem of evil. The intention of this essay is to reveal the theologically harmful ramifications resulting in the ‘Greater-Good’ theodicy’s attempt to prove all evil purposeful. The conclusion reached maintains that gratuitous evil may in fact exist, but that such an admission does not necessarily contradict a consistent theistic worldview nor count against the claim that God is a morally good being.

The present author will begin by explaining why a theodicy is indeed necessary. Second, he will examine the basic evidentiary argument from evil presented by William Rowe. Following this will be a critique of gratuitous evil in light of the theodicies of Richard Swinburne and John Hick. Here an attempt will be made to unveil the problematic ramifications arising from the ‘Greater-Good’ theodicy’s denial of gratuitous evil. Next will come a look at the position held by Michael Peterson, who affirms the existence of gratuitous evil, along with the logical extensions resulting from such a contention. Finally, the argument will be made that God may choose to bring about some good from evil, but that He does so in spite of and not because of the evil. Adherents of this position also maintain that God is neither dependent upon evil for the obtainment of good nor in any way ontologically compromised by not eliminating gratuitous evil. The paper concludes with the proposal of several conditions to which any legitimate theodicy should adhere.

The Need for a Theodicy

Not all people feel the demand for a theodicy is warranted. While the atheologian argues that the problem from evil counts against the existence of a

morally good, omnipotent supreme Being, some theists argue that evil does not necessarily disprove God’s existence. Furthermore, they maintain that theodicy is inappropriate because it demonstrates a “presumption and arrogance of mere humans trying to probe into divine mysteries.”1 In light of these objections, many Christians argue that giving an ans...

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