Editor’s Note: This question and answer are taken from an exam by Randy Hroziencik, a student in our ARS Apologetics Certificate Program. It is used by permission.
In your own words, try to present the “explanation” of evil from the point of view of at least three other world views other than Christian theism. Also, provide what you see to be the Christian “explanation” of the problem of evil, explaining why you believe the Christian response is to be preferred.
Some of the more prominent non-Christian worldviews for dealing with the problem of evil are as follows:
Docetism & Eastern Mysticism: Docetism is a variation of Gnosticism that denies the reality of the physical creation; only the spiritual realm is real while the material realm is merely an illusion. Docetists maintain that evil is merely an illusion, and one should make every attempt to be cognizant of that fact. This approach is essentially the same as that of the Eastern religions in general (e.g., Hinduism and Buddhism’s concept of maya), and has filtered down to the “New Age” movement (Western Mysticism) and its offshoot’s Christian Science and the Mind Science’s in general.
Dualism: The approach of Dualism maintains that evil is independent of the good God – there is a “good” god and a “bad” god who may or may not be equal in power. Evil exists because of the evil god’s influence upon the natural realm.
Naturalism: The naturalistic approach emphasizes the role of evolutionary forces in the problem of evil. Evil exists because we humans perceive evil as being the bad things that result from our evolutionary past rearing its ugly head, e.g. “struggle for survival” and “nature is red in tooth and claw.” As a race of biological-only beings, we have not yet evolved to a state of peace and tranquility – if that is even possible.
Postmodernism: This “evil is relative” approach holds that there are no universal standards of good and evil, and therefore what one thinks is evil may not really be evil. This is, of course, nothing but postmodern philosophy which also has a somewhat strong connection to naturalism.
Stoicism: Stoicism maintains that everything which happens in nature is the result of the impersonal forces of the material universe, over which we have no control. The Stoic tries to control the only thing that we human beings can control: How we react to the situation at hand. Through emotional self-control, the Stoic deals with the problem of evil through “mind over matter”: If one doesn’t mind the problem of evil, it won’t matter. Once again, there is a strong connection to naturalism in this worldview.
Only the Christian worldview can adequately make sense of the problem of evil. Christians may state with confidence the following:
- Evil is not an illusion, as Docetism, Eastern Mysticism, and the New Age-Mind Sciences teach. Our emotional and cognitive abilities are too powerful to believe the lie that evil is not real.
- Our inherent “God-hardwiring” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 – God has “set eternity in the human heart”), the obviousness of intelligent design (Romans 1:20), the scriptural doctrine of one God and his powerful but limited (in fact, created) enemy, and the philosophical and science-heavy arguments for one supreme Creator-God (including “Ockham’s Razor”) points to one God and a limited enemy of God, not a dualistic theology.
- Determinism, through the impersonal forces of nature, cannot account for what happens in our lives. Nature is clearly not all there is.
- Moral relativism fails when viewed in the light of Scripture.
- God is in control of the universe, and he has gifted us with the ability to make free will choices. Therefore, the impersonal forces of nature do not solely account for what happens in our lives and the universe as a whole.
The three theodicies, or manners of dealing with the problem at hand, are the free will, soul-making, and natural law approaches:
Free Will Theodicy: The free will theodicy entails that the decisions which sentient, thinking beings sometimes make are evil in nature, and as a result of these decisions evil is perpetuated in the world. The biblical record describes the problem of evil having originated within the angelic realm, and then spread to humanity in large part due to the influence of Satan upon the first humans.
Soul-Making Theodicy: The soul-making theodicy maintains that evil exists for the purpose of exercising our ability to make proper moral choices, teaching us valuable lessons so as to develop our moral character and bring us more in line with how God intended us to be. Only by struggling against evil can we as human beings develop ourselves to be more Christ-like.
Natural Law Theodicy: The natural law theodicy maintains that the things of this material world have the capacity to bring us either pleasure or pain, depending upon how they are used. God has created a world in which the laws of nature are unchanging (barring miracles) and as a result people should know what to expect in a given situation: Wooden bats and bullets hurt or even kill when used as weapons, and these are consequences that people understand and they must be taken into consideration when making moral-behavioral choices. Our physical environment is such that it provides for the best possible means of both testing and developing our moral behavior, and therefore compliments the two previous theodicies.
Despite this theologically well-reasoned approach to addressing the problem of evil, the honest Christian believer must maintain that at the end of the day, the problem of evil has a very strong emotional component to it that cannot be so quickly explained theologically. No matter how many times I offer these explanations for the problem of evil – either for others or even just for myself – I am still cognizant of the fact that from an emotional perspective, the problem of evil is simply beyond human understanding. We may be able to get glimpses of enlightenment into this issue, but we will never understand it adequately while alive on the earth.