Theism and the Existence of Evil in St. Augustine: A Critique

The Problem of Theism and the Existence of Evil in St. Augustine: A Critique


This work looks into the different mysteries of life as experienced by man, specifically, the reality of evil in the world created by Omnipotent, Omniscient and all-loving creator, these evils in the world have caused division among thinkers; theists, where St. Augustine is used as a case study and atheists. The work therefore is an attempt at reflecting on the existence of evil in a world assumed to be created and designed by a God that is both Omnipotent and infinitely good as the theists believe. Furthermore, the work aims at revealing some supportive opinion as well as counter-opinion given by different philosophers and schools of thought concerning this problem. However, the answers or responses which may not in themselves be conclusive are intended to help man understand more about this problem. For it is only when he begins to understand the happening in this world can he truly understand himself.



1.1 Background of the Study

The problem of theism and the existence of evil, have attracted severe consideration from both philosophers and theologians.

The problem has parted philosophers and theologians into two separate versions; theists and atheists, which means “a belief that there is God and also a belief that there is no God” respectively. St. Augustine as a Christian thinker was worried about the very source of evil and such, joined some schools which claims to have an answer to the problem. He joined the Manichean school and adopted their explanation of evil. But he later found it unsatisfactory. Having read the works of Plotinus, he rejected the explanation of Plotinus that evil is not a positive thing but simply the negation of being or in his words, the absence of being, the lack of being. Every positive thing was created by God, for God is the creator of all things and whatever

he created is good. God did not create bad things. Matter itself was created by God and it is therefore good. Augustine thus disagreed with Plotinus who held that matter was evil. Augustine being theist was opposed by some atheists who held that God is the creator of evil for if he is infinitely good and merciful as claimed by St. Augustine, he ought to have removed evil even if he is not the creator since he has the power to do so. For the existence of an omnipotent, omnipotence and infinite merciful God on one hand and the reality of evil on the other hand imposes contradiction.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

St. Augustine’s solution of the problem of evil in a world created by an omnipotent, Omniscient and benevolent God has divided scholars into three main camps. In the first place, there are theistic commentators who seem to share the view of St. Augustine. Examples of such commentators include St. Thomas Aquinas, Baron-Cohen and Celestine Bittle. Secondly, there are equally atheistic commentators who vehemently oppose the

saint’s views; examples include H.J. McCloskey, John James, Albert Camus and Leon pearl. Lastly, there are authors who have middle-of-the-road review of his view. Such mixed reviewers include Charles Hartshorne, John Hick and Co- authors, Richard Swinburne and Teilhard de Chardine. Let us take a look at the views of these authors according to their clarifications or schools of thought. The theistic school of thought has its Chief protagonist, St. Thomas Aquinas, According to him, “there cannot be evil in God, for God According to him, is good and does (creates) every good thing.”7

A second author of the theistic school is baron-Cohen who emphasizes that evil, being itself inexplicable, lacks any explanatory power, for this, he finds the ideas of evil to be misleading. Celestine Bittle is yet another theistic commentator of St. Augustine. In his work, Evil and Will affirms that evil is the antithesis of good, evil is the discomfort of something.

McCloskey is a prominent advocate of the atheistic school of thought. According to him, the problem of contradiction is inherent in a world where good and powerful God exists side by side with evil, noting that God is responsible for evil. On his own part, James argues as follows: If God is almighty, why should he allow evil, if all-loving, why should he desire it? Indeed, God is responsible for evil.

Camus is another renowned author of the atheistic camp, in his work the Plaque, Camus expresses disgust at the existence of evil in a world created by an infinite good God. The last author in the atheistic category is Leon Pearl. In his book, Four Philosophical Problems, Pearl opines that the presence of evil actually constitutes a reason for doubting the reality of the universe being the creature or handiwork of an infinite being.

Charles Hartshorne is a principal exponent of the mixed reviewer; He suggests that God should be conceived in dipolar terms in which case he can be responsible for evil and good, all to an excellent end. Similarly, Hick notes that God is responsible for both good and evil, all for a greater good.

Richard Swinburne & Telhard de Chadian supports Hartshorne & Hick saying that both good & evil are useful for achieving greater good and development respectively. I am criticizing the view of St. Augustine with the reasons that includes: inconsistency, self-contradictory, biblical misinterpretation or what I may term as self-deception as well as so many others.

In first place, St. Augustine can be accused of contradicting himself by saying that God is all-powerful, merciful, omnipotent but still permits or unable to remove the brute evil or sufferings which befalls his children. Secondly, St. Augustine’s inconsistency is seen in his claims that God is the creator of everything in the world but did not create evil, for it is either that God created everything including evil, or that he did not create everything in which case he did not create evil.

Thirdly, in the aspect of biblical misinterpretation, God notes that “I formed the light and darkness, I make peace and create evil, I the Lord do all these things.”8 Also, the knowledge of God’s attributes is attainable only by faith and not reasoning as claimed by St. Augustine who thinks that God is infinitely good and so, cannot be said to be responsible for evil, this is because faith is said to start from where reason stops.

1.3 Scope of the Study

Philosophy is divided into different branches namely, Epistemology, Axiology, Metaphysics, Logics, Ethics, Social Political. The branch which this study ventures into is the area of metaphysics, precisely, under theodicy. Theodicy is a technical term for the problem of justifying the character of a good, creative and responsible God in the face of such doubts that arise by the fact of evil. For example, if God is good, why evil.

However, this work may not pretend to be confined to a particular branch but would overlap into other areas if and when necessary. Such, then would show the spirit of philosophy and any philosophical enquiry which has refused to be limited.

1.4 Purpose of the Study

If there is any one mystery that the human race would sincerely give all it has to solve, it is the problem of the existence of evil in the world. This is one problem that has troubled the naïve, the average and the sage. Hence, it is difficult, even impossible to simply wave the question aside. Thus, the purpose of this work is to examine the prepositional belief of the theist, namely that there is an omnipotent and benevolent God which exists, and also to explore why there is evil in a world created by such a God. This would also examines some solutions on this aged problem in a bid to reach an understanding of them and life in general.

Further more, the purpose of this work is to force the ordinary man into philosophy. To make him to philosophize and thus realize his true being and the troubles of the universe in which he lives.

1.5 Significance of the Study

The significance of this study cannot be over-emphasized. For if one could really understand why these evils are, one will better know how to either accept it in good faith and live with it or avoid it as case may be. Indeed, when man comes to full understanding of the happenings in his environment, he is better prepared to face life and this would no doubt enhance the spirit of man, for the spirit of man becomes purer when it strives to understand the ultimate in nature. Thus, by examining the answers, solutions, explanations or views given by different philosophers and other schools of thought concerning the problem of evil in the universe, man would be introduced or rather re-introduced to the basic problems confronting him in his existence, setting him alive to it and forcing him out of his state of complacency: and making him face reality with better comprehension and, consequently living a better life devoid of abnormal fear, wrong, opinion, superstition and prejudices. Here, this work leaves man with options of either accepting the reality of evil or not accepting it.

1.6 Methodology

I adopted in this study, the analytical, argumentative expository, comparative and critical method. In using the analytic method, I lay bare the problem facing theistic belief.

The methodological research of this work centres on library consultations of textbooks, journals and articles from the internet.

1.7 Definition of Terms

1.7.1 Theism: This is the belief in the existence of one God, who rules and controls the universe.

1.7.2 Atheism: This is the belief that there is no God.

1.7.3 Evil: A privation of good that ought to be in something.

1.7.4 Omnipresence: A superior Being who is everywhere.

1.7.5 Omniscience: A Being that knows everything.

1.7.6 Omnipotent: A Being that has all power or the most powerful being.

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