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A theodicy ( // from Greek theos "god" + dike "justice") is an attempt to resolve the evidential problem of evil by reconciling the traditional divine characteristics ofomnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience with the occurrence of evil or suffering in the world. Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God's existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy provides a framework which claims to make God's existence probable. The term was coined in 1710 by German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his work, Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. British philosopher John Hick traced the history of theodicy in his work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying two major traditions: the Augustinian theodicy, based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo, and the Irenaean theodicy, which Hick developed, based on the thinking of St Irenaeus. Other philosophers have suggested that theodicy is a modern discipline because deities in the ancient world were often imperfect.
German philosopher Max Weber saw theodicy as a social problem, based on the human need to explain puzzling aspects of the world; sociologist Peter L. Berger argued that religion arose out of a need for social order, and theodicy developed to sustain it. Following theHolocaust, a number of Jewish theologians developed a new response to the problem of evil, sometimes called anti-theodicy, which maintains that God cannot be meaningfully justified. As an alternative to theodicy, a defence may be proposed, which is limited to showing the logical possibility of God's existence. American philosopher Alvin Plantinga presented aversion of the free will defence which argued that the coexistence of God and evil is not logically impossible, and that free will further explains the existence of evil without threatening the existence of God. Similar to a theodicy, a cosmodicy attempts to justify the fundamental goodness of the universe, and an anthropodicy attempts to justify the goodness of humanity.
A theodicy is a response to the evidential problem of evil, the challenge that the occurrence of evil in the world counts as evidence against the existence of an omnipotent andomnibenevolent deity. Theodicies attempt to justify the existence of God in light of evil. In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Nick Trakakis proposed an additional three requirements which must be contained within a theodicy:
- Common sense views of the world.
- Widely held historical and scientific opinion.
- Plausible moral principles.
As a response to the problem of evil, a theodicy is distinct from a defence. A defence attempts to demonstrate that the occurrence of evil does not contradict God's existence, but it does not propose that rational beings are able to understand why God permits evil. A theodicy seeks to show that it is reasonable to believe in God despite evidence of evil in the world and offers a framework which can account for why evil exists. A theodicy is often based on a prior natural theology, which attempts to prove the existence of God, and seeks to demonstrate that God's existence remains probable after the problem of evil is posed by giving a justification for God's permitting evil to happen. Defences propose solutions to the logical problem of evil, while theodicies attempt to answer the evidential problem.
The term theodicy was coined by German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz in his 1710 work, written in French, Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal (Theodicy: Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil). Leibniz's Théodicée was a response to skeptical Protestant philosopherPierre Bayle, who wrote in his work Dictionnaire Historique et Critique that, after rejecting three attempts to solve it, he saw no rational solution to the problem of evil. Bayle argued that, because the Bible asserts the coexistence of God and evil, this state of affairs must simply be accepted.
French philosopher Voltaire criticised Leibniz's concept of theodicy in his Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (Poem on the Lisbon disaster), suggesting that the massive destruction of innocent lives caused by the Lisbon earthquake demonstrated that God was not providing the "best of all possible worlds".
In The Catholic Encyclopedia (1914), Constantine Kempf argued that, following Leibniz's work, philosophers called their works on the problem of evil 'theodicies', and philosophy about God was brought under the discipline of theodicy. He argued that theodicy began to include all of natural theology, meaning that theodicy came to consist of the human knowledge of God through the systematic use of reason.
In 1966, British philosopher John Hick published Evil and the God of Love, in which he surveyed various Christian responses to the problem of evil, before developing his own. In his work, Hick identified and distinguished between two types of philosophy:Augustinian, which had dominated Western Christianity for many centuries, and Irenaean, which was developed by the Eastern Church Father Irenaeus, a version of which Hick subscribed to himself.
Dr Philip Irving Mitchell of the Dallas Baptist University notes that some philosophers have cast the pursuit of theodicy as a modern one, as earlier scholars used the problem of evil to support the existence of one particular god over another, explain wisdom, or explain a conversion, rather than to justify God's goodness. Professor Sarah Iles Johnston argues that ancient civilizations, such as the ancient Mesopotamians, Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians held polytheistic beliefs that may have enabled them to deal with the concept of theodicy differently. These religions taught the existence of many gods and goddesses who controlled various aspects of daily life. These early religions may have avoided the question of theodicy by endowing their deities with the same flaws and jealousies that plagued humanity. No one god or goddess was fundamentally good or evil; this explained that bad things could happen to good people if they angered a deity because the gods could exercise the same free will that humankind possesses. Such religions taught that some gods were more inclined to be helpful and benevolent, while others were more likely to be spiteful and aggressive. In this sense, the evil gods could be blamed for misfortune, while the good gods could be petitioned with prayer and sacrifices to make things right. There was still a sense of justice in that individuals that were right with the gods could avoid punishment.
The Augustinian theodicy is based on the writings of Augustine of Hippo, a Christian philosopher and theologian who lived from 354 to 430 AD. This form of theodicy argues that evil does not exist except as a privation - or corruption of - goodness, and therefore God did not create evil. Augustinian scholars have argued that God created the world perfectly, with no evil or human suffering. Evil entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the theodicy casts the existence of evil as a just punishment for thisoriginal sin. The theodicy argues that humans have an evil nature because it is inherited from the original sin of Adam and Eve,and maintains that God remains blameless and good.
Irenaeus (died ca 202) expressed ideas which explained the existence of evil as necessary for human development. Irenaeus argued that human creation comprised two parts: humans were made first in the image, then in the likeness, of God. The image of God consists of having the potential to achieve moral perfection, whereas the likeness of God is the achievement of that perfection. To achieve moral perfection, Irenaeus suggested that humans must have free will. To achieve such free will, humans must experience suffering and God must be at an epistemic distance (a distance of knowledge) from humanity. Therefore, evil exists to allow humans to develop as moral agents. In the twentieth century, John Hick collated the ideas of Irenaeus into a distinct theodicy. He argued that the world exists as a "vale of soul-making" (a phrase that he drew from John Keats), and that suffering and evil must therefore occur. He argued that human goodness develops through the experience of evil and suffering.
Reasons for theodicy
German philosopher Max Weber interpreted theodicy as a social problem, and viewed theodicy as a "problem of meaning." Weber argued that, as human society became increasingly rational, the need to explain why good people suffered and evil people prospered became more important because religion casts the world as a "meaningful cosmos". Weber framed the problem of evil as the dilemma that the good can suffer and the evil can prosper, which became more important as religion became more sophisticated. He identified two purposes of theodicy: to explain why good people suffer (a theodicy of suffering), and why people prosper (a theodicy of good fortune). A theodicy of good fortune seeks to justify the good fortune of people in society; Weber believed that those who are successful are not satisfied unless they can justify why they deserve to be successful. For theodicies of suffering, Weber argued that three different kinds of theodicy emerged - predestination, dualism, and karma - all of which attempt to satisfy the human need for meaning, and he believed that the quest for meaning, when considered in light of suffering, becomes the problem of suffering.
Sociologist Peter L. Berger characterised religion as the human attempt to build order out of a chaotic world. He believed that humans could not accept that anything in the world was meaningless and saw theodicy as an assertion that the cosmos has meaning and order, despite evidence to the contrary. Berger presented a similar argument to Weber, but suggested that the need for theodicy arose primarily out of the situation of human society. He believed that theodicies existed to allow individuals to transcend themselves, denying the individual in favour of the social order.
Alternatives to theodicy
In 1998, Jewish theologian Zachary Braiterman coined the term anti-theodicy in his book (God) After Auschwitz to describe Jews, both in a Biblical and post-Holocaust context, whose response to the problem of evil is protest and refusal to investigate the relationship between God and suffering. An anti-theodicy acts in opposition to a theodicy and places full blame for all experience of evil onto God, but must rise from an individuals belief in and love of God. Anti-theodicy has been likened to Job's protests in the book of Job.Braiterman wrote that an anti-theodicy rejects the idea that there is a meaningful relationship between God and evil or that God could be justified for the experience of evil.
The Holocaust prompted a reconsideration of theodicy in some Jewish circles. French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, who had himself been a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, declared theodicy to be "blasphemous", arguing that it is the "source of all immorality", and demanded that the project of theodicy be ended. Levinas asked whether the idea of absolutism survived after the Holocaust, which he proposed it did. He argued that humans are not called to justify God in the face of evil, but to attempt to live godly life; rather than considering whether God was present during the Holocaust, the duty of humans is to build a world where goodness will prevail.
Professor of theology David R. Blumenthal, in his book Facing the Abusing God, supports the "theology of protest", which he saw as presented in the play, The Trial of God. He supports the view that survivors of the Holocaust cannot forgive God and so must protest about it. Blumenthal believes that a similar theology is presented in the book of Job, in which Job does not question God's existence or power, but his morality and justice.
Free will defence
As an alternative to a theodicy, a defence may be offered as a response to the problem of evil. A defence attempts to show that God's existence is not made logically impossible by the existence of evil; it does not need to be true or plausible, merely logically possible. American philosopher Alvin Plantinga offers a free will defence which argues that human free will sufficiently explains the existence of evil while maintaining that God's existence remains logically possible. He argues that, if God's existence and the existence of evil are to be logically inconsistent, a premise must be provided which, if true, would make them inconsistent; as none has been provided, the existence of God and evil must be consistent. Free will furthers this argument by providing a premise which, in conjunction with the existence of evil, entails that God's existence remains consistent.
Cosmodicy and anthropodicy
A cosmodicy attempts to justify the fundamental goodness of the universe in the face of evil, and an anthropodicy attempts to justify the fundamental goodness of human nature in the face of the evils produced by humans.
Considering the relationship between theodicy and cosmodicy, Johannes van der Ven argued that the choice between theodicy and cosmodicy is a false dilemma. Philip E. Devenish proposed what he described as "a nuanced view in which theodicy and cosmodicy are rendered complementary, rather than alternative concepts". Theologian J. Matthew Ashley described the relationship between theodicy, cosmodicy and anthropodicy:
"In classical terms, this is to broach the problem of theodicy: how to think about God in the face of the presence of suffering in God's creation. After God's dethronement as the subject of history, the question rebounds to the new subject of history: the human being. As a consequence, theodicy becomes anthropodicy — justifications of our faith in humanity as the subject of history, in the face of the suffering that is so inextricably woven into the history that humanity makes."
Cosmodicy has been identified as a major theme in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.
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