Christian Theism And The Problem Of Evil -- By: Michael L. Peterson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 21:1 (Mar 1978)
Article: Christian Theism And The Problem Of Evil
Author: Michael L. Peterson

Christian Theism And The Problem Of Evil

Michael L. Peterson*

The problem of evil has always been one of the most serious philosophical challenges to the Christian faith. Frequently, atheologians have used it to pronounce the defeat of Christian theism. Too often theologians have significantly modified orthodox theism in order to evade this agonizing problem. Other theologians have generated a plethora of theodicies in hopes that a multiplicity of defenses would retain the intellectual integrity of Christian doctrine. Although all discussions operate on the assumption that there is a profound relation between God and evil, one that may determine whether Christianity is acceptable or unacceptable, many proceed without a clear understanding of the theoretical structure of the problem. It is not always clear in the writings of theologians and atheologians precisely how evil constitutes a problem for theistic belief. When one consults the traditional and current scholarship on God and evil, he finds the issue formulated in many different ways—a confusing array of problems, answers, evasions and denials. Since the exact formulation of the problem one countenances indicates the direction of his analysis, thinking Christians obviously need not just another clever answer but an understanding of the logic of the problem, of where the burden of proof lies and of what reasons and evidences are appropriate.

In this article, I survey the contemporary literature on the topic and note ways in which the problem has been conceived, looking for instructive patterns in these various formulations. I then identify two very important formulations, what I call the problem of logical consistency and the problem of prima facie gratuity, which are the primary atheistic arguments from evil. As devices to elucidate the structure of these two arguments, I cite two familiar theistic arguments, the ontological and teleological arguments respectively. Last, I recommend responses that Christian philosophers and theologians should make to the two different problems of evil. It is only after such an investigation that we can begin to construct a responsible answer to the theme that has so long bewitched studies of history, literature, philosophy and religion.


It sometimes appears that the problem of evil is not just one particular argument but a cluster of arguments, each relating to a certain area of concern and having an identifiable structure. To sort out the various renditions is to move closer to an adequate response. A brief survey of the ways in which philosophers have distinguished formulations of the problem would be helpful.

*Michael Peterson is assistant professor of philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York.

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