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EVIL, MAN-MADE OR GOD-MADE? IN ST. AUGUSTINE’S VIEW

Philosophy  and Religion Project Topic: Evil, Man-Made or God-Made? In St. Augustine’s View


CHAPTER ONE

It is evident that serious philosophico-theological reflections have been given to the elusive problem called evil from the earliest recorded history of man. This problem revolves around God who is said to be good God [summum Bonum], Omniscient, All-powerful, Almighty and the Creator of all that exists. The problem of evil has diverged and converged philosophers and theologians into two different camps [theists and atheists]. This problem, however, bothers Christians most because in their faith God is the highest Good and the creator of all that exists. St. Augustine was one of the Christians thinkers who fought against the notion that God is the creator of both good and evil. He was for a long time disturbed by the problem of evil. “He could not understand where evil came from. Since God is infinitely good, he could not have created evil. Where then is the source? And who created it?”[1]

To explain the source of evil and who created it, Augustine joined the Manichaeans who postulated two principles namely: “the principle of good [Ormuzd] and the principle of evil [Ahriman].”[2] For him, the Manichaean’s explanation was not adequate. He had read Plotinus works who holds that: “Evil is not a positive thing, it is not something positive but simply the negation of being, or in other words, the absence of being, the lack of being.”[3] However, Plotinus later affirmed that “matter was evil[4]. Augustine[5] disagreed with him on this because God being the creator of all that is, presupposes the fact that matter being one of the things created by God is also good. Should this be negated, then God being the creator of all that is becomes a contradiction to his nature. This made St. Augustine to vehemently subscribe to the view that all that is, is good. Evil exist not on its own but on a substance [good]. It is a parasitic to good. Certainly, there are so many possible questions today that still propel atheists to doubt the St. Augustine’s view. But how can God who created everything not be able to remove this impending evil in the world? Does it mean too that the plague of his children does not disturb him –a good God? These questions and many more cannot in any way be reconciled with God who is said to be Infinite, All-powerful and the Creator of all that is. For the atheists, if God exist, He is not good. If He is the creator of all that is then He created evil too. And if evil is as a result of choice-making, can’t he change it? St. Augustine then, being faced with much of the above questions set out to prove that:

(i) “God is good and created only good things, evil did not exist; if it did it would have been good.

[ii] Evil is only a privation of the good.

[iii] This privation of the good in creatures, created good, was brought about by their evil choice as free creatures.

[iv] Though God foresaw this “misfortune” he allowed it, he is “capable” of turning all into good.”[6]

These and other related things are what the author has projected to accomplish in this write-up, subscribing to the view that evil is not God-made but man-made, it is a negation, a privation and has no “fundamentum in re” [foundation in reality].

1.2     ­ Background of the study

The question of whether evil is man-made or God-made has agitated the minds of great thinkers, right from the ancient period to the contemporary era. Thus, this problem is not only perennial but also recurrent and topical in philosophical discourse. Interestingly, in the ancient period, evil was seen as God’s retributive justice, a way God used in punishing those who offended him. It was believed that evil results from man’s refusal to hearken to the divine injunctions. As such evil becomes the price of human disobedience. However, with the advent of the itinerant teachers who went from one city to the other city teaching and instructing people, “they questioned the foundations of traditional religion and morality, and cast doubts on the real existence of the gods; Religion and morality were for them human inventions”.[7]

These views notwithstanding other groups have different versions about the cause of evil. For Christians, evil is man-made and not God-made. Thus: “…Evil resulted from the freedom which comes with it, a responsibility given to human being at creation. In this view it is the wrong choice human being that gives rise to evil; hence, God is not to be blamed but man”.[8] However, atheists hold that the creator of the good is also the creator of the evil, that evil is his product. God would have made the world in such a way that evil will be absent. But he willingly let the loophole for evil.[9] For the atheist, God created evil and not man. They argue too that if evil is man-made because of man’s misuse of the freedom, it indicates that evil was created with freedom. As such it is God-made. Succinctly put, this problem of evil and its origin cannot be solved by reduction, by a priori reasoning. We are obliged to return to a posteriori reasoning which is founded on the principal of causality.

1.3     Purpose of the Work

The question of evil and its moral implications has been a perennial problem among philosophers due to the question of morality that is inherent in it. It is on this note however; that this work aims at enlightening the minds of the people who think that evil is God-made and not man-made.

1.4     Scope of the Work

This work is philosophically oriented as such moves within the ambience of philosophical reflections; it is far removed from the shackles of dogma and the like. It brings to limelight the view of st. Augustine, pointing out the merits and demerits of his philosophy. Chapter one is a general introduction of the work where the author considers the background, purpose, and scope of the work followed by explication of terms. Chapter two reviews the works of some theistic and atheistic philosophers and their different position. Chapter three looks into the problem properly as man-made according to St. Augustine. The fourth chapter, the author would evaluate and then conclude the work.

1.5 Explication of Terms.

Evil:  Evil has been a thorn in the flesh to created realities. Its problems reach to every facet of life. According to the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of English Language, evil is seen as: “Wickedness arising from or caused by real or supposed wickedness. It is that which indicates wickedness, foul, disgusting, disastrous, ill-omened and what is morally wrong, it is what is materially socially, religiously, very harmful”.[10]

Physical Evil: is a “lack of any element, parts, functions, services, ends, purposes that should be present in a natural agent that is in any duty constituted nature.”[11] It is a deficiency of the body or part of it. It may be caused by sin or nature. It affects nature.

Physical evil is “evil done in nature where man has no moral responsibility. The heavens and the earth can, and do, perpetrate horrendous evil that surpass human explanation”.

For examples: “earthquakes, tornadoes and volcanic eruption, flood and fire outbreak, land slide and desertification, extreme heat and cold, plagues and diseases. Some also include cancerous cells, viruses, and defective genes, creatures of nature like mosquitoes, tsetse flies, parasites, carnivores and sharks as well as man himself’’[12]

Certainly, one can say that natural evil then is evil that occurs by the nature of the way things are, unwilled and uninfluenced by man.

Metaphysical Evil:  Every created being is guilty of this evil. It is very common to all created things. “It is referred to as the finite, contingency and hence an imperfection of all created things.”[13] It is “only the Ultimately Ultimate Being, God himself is ontologically perfect, with no limitation or lack.”[14]

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[1] J. Omoregbe; Philosophical Look at Religion; (Lagos; Joja Press,2000) 137

[2] Omoregbe 137

[3] Omoregbe 138

[4] Omoregbe 138

[5] Omoregbe 138

[6]  M. Egbuogu, Eschatological Hope As Christian Theodicy; (Enugu; Snaap Press,2006) 135.

[7] Omoregbe137

[8] Omoregbe138

[9] G. Ukaegbu; Father Kpim: Philosophy and Theology of Pantheleon Iroegbu; (Ibadan; Hope Publications, 2005)  213

[10] “Evil”, 1st def., New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary , 5th edition 328-329.

[11]Maduka J. The Paradox of Evil (Enugu Snaap Press, 2007) 14

[12] P. Iroegbu; Kpim of Predicament; Cause of Evil and Suffering: God, Demon, Man? (Ibadan: Hope Publication, 2004) 38

[13] Iroegbu 33

[14] Iroegbu 33

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