John H. Hick, Philosophy of Religion (3d edition), 1983.


The Problem of Evil


For many people it is, more than anything else, the appalling depth and extent of human suffering, together with the selfishness and greed which produce so much of this, that makes the idea of a loving Creator seem implausible and disposes them toward one of the various naturalistic theories of religion.

Rather than attempt to define "evil" in terms of some theological theory (for example, as "that which is contrary to God's will"), it seems better to define it offensively, by indicating that to which the word refers. It refers to physical pain, mental suffering, and moral wickedness. The last is one of the causes of the first two, for an enormous amount of human pain arises from mankind's inhumanity. This pain includes such major scourges as poverty, oppression and persecution, war, and all the injustice, indignity, and inequity that occur in human societies. Even disease is fostered, to an extent that has not yet been precisely determined by psychosomatic medicine, by emotional and moral factors seated both in the individual and in his or her social environment. However, although a great deal of pain and suffering are caused by human action, there is much more that arises from such natural causes as bacteria and earthquakes, storm, fire, lightning, flood, and drought.

As a challenge to theism, the problem of evil has traditionally been posed in the form of a dilemma: if God is perfectly loving, God must wish to abolish all evil; and if God is all-powerful, God must be able to abolish all evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly good.

One possible solution (offered, for example, by contemporary Christian Science) can be ruled out immediately so far as the traditional Judaic-Christian faith is concerned. To say that evil is an illusion of the human mind is impossible within a religion based upon the stark realism of the Bible. Its pages faithfully reflect the characteristic mixture of good and evil in human experience. They record every kind of sorrow and suffering, every mode of "man's inhumanity to man" and of our painfully insecure existence in the world. There is no attempt to regard evil as anything but dark, menacingly ugly, heartrending, and crushing. There can be no doubt, then, that for biblical faith evil is entirely real and in no sense an illusion.

There are three main Christian responses to the problem of evil: the Augustinian response, hinging upon the concept of the fall of man from an original state of righteousness; the Irenaean response, hinging upon the idea of the gradual creation of a perfected humanity through life in a highly imperfect world; and the response of modern process theology, hinging upon the idea of a God who is not all-powerful and not in fact able to prevent the evils arising either in human beings or in the processes of nature.

Before examining each of these three responses, or theodicies,1 we will discuss a position that is common to all of them.

The common ground is some form of what has come to be called the free-will defense, at least so far as the moral evil of human wickedness is concerned; for Christian thought has always seen moral evil as related to human freedom and responsibility. To be a person is to be a finite center of freedom, a (relatively) self-directing agent responsible for one's own decisions. This involves being free to act wrongly as well as rightly. There can therefore be no certainty in advance that a genuinely free moral agent will never choose amiss. Consequently, according to the strong form of free-will defense, the possibility of wrongdoing is logically inseparable from the creation of finite persons, and to say that God should not have created beings who might sin amounts to saying that God should not have created people.

This thesis has been challenged in some recent philosophical discussions of the problem of evil, in which it is claimed that no contradiction is involved in saying that God might have made people who would be genuinely free but who could at the same time be guaranteed always to act rightly. To quote from one of these discussions:

If there is no logical impossibility in a man's freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.2
This argument has considerable power. A modified form of free-will defense has, however, been suggested in response to it. If by free actions we mean actions that are not externally compelled but flow from the nature of agents as they react to the circumstances in which they find themselves, then there is indeed no contradiction between our being free and our actions' being "caused" (by our own God-given nature) and thus being in principle predictable. However, it is suggested, there is a contradiction ii saying that God is the cause of our acting as we do and that we are free beings specifically in relation to God. The contradiction is between holding that God has so made us that we shall of necessity act in a certain way, and that we are genuinely independent persons in relation to God. If all thoughts and actions are divinely predestined, then however free and responsible we may seem to ourselves to be, we are not free and responsibly in the sight of God but must instead be God's puppets. Such "freedom" would be comparable to that of patients acting out a series of posthypnotic suggestions: they appear to themselves to be free, but their volitions have actually been predetermined by the will of the hypnotist, in relation to whom the patients are therefore not genuinely free agents. Thus, it is suggested, while God could have created such beings, there would have been no point in doing so -- at least not if God is seeking to create sons and daughters rather than human puppets.

1 "Theodiciy," formed (by Leibniz) from the Greek theos, god, and dike, righteous, is a technical term for attempts to solve the theological problem of evil.

2 J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," Mind (April 1955), p. 209. A similar point is made by Antony Flew in "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom," New Essays in Philosophical Theology. An important critical comment on these arguments is offered by Ninian Smart in "Omnipotence, Evil and Supermen," Philosophy (April 1961), with replies by Flew (January 1962) and Mackie (April 1962).


The main traditional Christian response to the problem of evil was first formulated by St. Augustine (354-430 a.p.) and has constituted the majority report of the Christian mind through the centuries, although it has been much criticized in recent times. It includes both philosophical and "theological strands. The main philosophical position is the^idea of the negative or privative nature of evil. Augustine holds firmly to the Hebrew-Christian conviction that the universe is good -- that is to say, it is the creation of a good God for a good purpose. There are, according to Augustine, higher and lower, greater and lesser goods in immense abundance and variety; however, everything that has being is good in its own way and degree, except insofar as it has become spoiled or corrupted. Evil -- whether it be an evil will, an instance of pain, or some disorder or decay in nature -- has therefore not been set there by God but represents the going wrong of something that is inherently good. Augustine points to blindness as an example. Blindness is not a "thing." The only thing involved is the eye, which is in itself good; the evil of blindness consists of the lack of a proper functioning of the eye. Generalizing the principle, Augustine holds that evil always consists of the malfunctioning of something that is in itself good.

As it originally came forth from the hand of God, then, the universe was a perfect harmony expressing the creative divine intention. It was a graded hierarchy of higher and lower forms of being, each good in its own place. How, then, did evil come about? It came about initially in those levels of the universe that involve free will: the levels of the angels and of human beings. Some of the angels turned from the supreme Good, which is God, to lesser goods, thereby rebelling against their creator; they in turn tempted the first man and woman to fall. This fall of angelic and human beings was the origin of moral evil or sin. The natural evils of disease, of "nature red in tooth and claw," and of earthquake, storm, and so on are the penal consequences of sin, for humanity was intended to be lord of the earth, and this human defection has set all nature awry. Thus Augustine could say, "All evil is either sin or the punishment for sin."3

The Augustinian theodicy adds that at the end of history there will come the judgment, when many will enter into eternal life and many others (who in their freedom have rejected God's offer of salvation) into eternal torment. For Augustine, "since there is happiness for those who do not sin, the universe is perfect; and it is no less perfect because there is misery for sinners . . . the penalty of sin corrects the dishonour of sin."4 He is invoking here a principle of moral balance according to which sin that is justly punished is thereby cancelled out and no longer mars the perfection of God's universe.

The Augustinian theodicy fulfills the intention lying behind it, which is to clear the creator of any responsibility for the existence of evil by loading that responsibility without remainder upon the creature. Evil stems from the culpable misuse of creaturely freedom in a tragic act, of cosmic significance, in the prehistory of the human race -- an act that was prefigured in the heavenly realms by the incomprehensible fall of some of the angels, the chief of whom is now Satan, God's Enemy.

This theodicy has been criticized in the modern period, the first major critic being the great German Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleirmacher (1768-1834).

The basic criticism is directed at the idea that a universe which God has created with absolute power, so as to be exactly as God wishes it to be, containing no evil of any kind, has nevertheless gone wrong. It is true that the free creatures who are part of it are free to fall. However, since they are finitely perfect, without any taint or trace of evil in them, and since they dwell in a finitely perfect environment, they will never in fact fall into sin. Thus, it is said, the very idea of a perfect creation's going wrong spontaneously and without cause is.a self-contradiction. It amounts to the self-creation of evil out of nothing! It is significant that Augustine himself, when he asks why it is that some of the angels fell while others remained steadfast, has to conclude that "These angels, therefore, either received less of the grace of the divine love than those who persevered in the same; or if both were created equally good, then, while the one fell by their evil will, the others were more abundantly assisted, and attained to the pitch of blessedness at which they have become certain that they should never fall from it."6

The basic criticism, then, is that a flawless creation would never go wrong and that if the creation does in fact go wrong the ultimate responsibility for this must be with its creator: for "This is where the buck stops"!

This criticism agrees with Mackie's contention (quoted on p. 42) that it was logically possible for God to have created free beings who would never in fact fall. As we shall see in the next section, the alternative Irenaean theodicy takes up the further thought that although God could have created beings who were from the beginning finitely perfect, God has not in fact done so because such beings would never be able to become free and responsible sons and daughters of God.

A second criticism, made in the light of modern knowledge, is that we cannot today realistically think of the human species as having been once morally and spiritually perfect and then falling from that state into the chronic self-centeredness which is the human condition as we now know it. All the evidence suggests that humanity gradually emerged out of lower forms of life with a very limited moral awareness and with very crude religious conceptions. Again, it is no longer possible to regard the natural evils of disease, earthquakes, and the like as consequences of the fall of humanity, for we now know that they existed long before human beings came upon the scene. Life preyed upon life, and there were storms and earthquakes as well as disease (signs of arthritis have been found in the bones of some prehistoric animals) during the hundreds of millions years before homo sapiens emerged.

A third criticism attacks the idea of the eternal torment of hell, which is affirmed to be the fate of a proportion of the human race. Since such punishment would never end, it could serve no constructive| purpose. .On the contrary, it is said, it would render impossible any solution to the problem of evil, for it would build both the sinfulness of the damned and the nonmoral evil of their pains and sufferings into the permanent structure of the universe.

3 De Genesi Ad Litteram, Imperfectus liber, 1.3

4 On Free Will, III, ix. 26.

5 See Schleiermacher's The Christian Faith

6 City of God, Bk. 12, Chap. 9


Even from before the time of Augustine another response to the problem of evil had already been present within the developing Christian tradition. This has its basis in the thought of the early Greek-speaking Fathers of the Church, perhaps the most important of whom was St. Irenaeus (c. 130 - c. 202 A.D.) He distinguished two stages of the creation of the human race.7 In the first stage human beings were brought into existence as intelligent animals endowed with the capacity for immense moral and spiritual development. They were not the perfect pre-fallen Adam and Eye of the Augustinian tradition, but immature creatures, at the beginning of a long process of growth. In the second stage of their creation, which is now taking place, they are gradually being transformed through their own free responses from human animals into "children of God." (Irenaeus himself described the two stages as humanity being made first in the "image" and then into the "likeness" of God -- referring to Genesis 1:26).

If, going beyond Irenaeus himself, we ask why humans should have been initially created as immature and imperfect beings rather than as a race of perfect creatures, the answer centers upon the positive value of human freedom. Two mutually supporting considerations are suggested. One depends upon the intuitive judgment that a human goodness that has come about through the making of free and responsible moral choices, in situations of real difficulty and temptation, is intrinsically more valuable -- perhaps even limitlessly more valuable -- than a goodness that has been created ready-made, without the free participation of the human agent. This intuition points to the creation of the human race, not in a state of perfection, but in a state of imperfection from which it is nevertheless possible to move through moral struggle toward eventual completed humanization.

The other consideration is that if men and women had been initially created in the direct presence of God, who is infinite in life and power, goodness and knowledge, they would have had no genuine freedom in relation to their Maker. In order to be fully personal and therefore morally free beings, they have accordingly (it is suggested) been created at a distance from God -- not a spatial but an epistemic distance, a distance in the dimension of knowledge. They are formed within and as part of an autonomous universe within which God is not overwhelmingly evident but in which God may become known by the free interpretative response of faith. (For more about this conception of faith, see pp. 69-71.) Thus the human situation is one of tension between the natural selfishness arising from our instinct for survival, and the calls of both morality and religion to transcend our self-centeredness. Whereas the Augustinian theology sees our perfection as lying in the distant past, in an original state long since forfeited by the primordial calamity of the fall, the Irenaean type of theology sees our perfection as lying before us in the future, at the end of a lengthy and arduous process of further creation through time.

Thus the answer of the Irenaean theodicy to the question of the origin of moral evil is that it is a necessary condition of the creation of humanity at an epistemic distance from God, in a state in which one has a genuine freedom in relation to one's Maker and can freely develop, in response to God's noncoercive presence, toward one's own fulfillment as a child of God.

We may now turn to the problem of pain and suffering. Even though the bulk of actual human pain is traceable, as a sole or part cause, to misused human freedom, there remain other sources of pain that are entirely independent of the human will -- for example, bacteria, earthquake, hurricane, storm, flood, drought, and blight. In practice it is often impossible to trace a boundary between the suffering that results from human wickedness and folly and that which befalls humanity from without; both are inextricably mingled in human experience. For our present purpose, however, it is important to note that the latter category does exist and that it seems to be built into the very structure of our world. In response to it, theodicy, if it is wisely conducted, follows a negative path. It is not possible to show positively that each item of human pain serves God's purpose of good; on the other hand, it does seem possible to show that the divine purpose, at least as it is understood in the Irenaean theology, could not be forwarded in a world that was designed as a permanent hedonistic paradise.8

An essential premise of this argument concerns the nature of the divine purpose in creating the world. The skeptic's normal assumption is that humanity is to be viewed as a completed creation and that God's purpose in making the world was to provide a suitable dwelling place for this fully formed creature. Since God is good and loving, the environment that God creates for human life will naturally be as pleasant and as comfortable as possible. The problem is essentially similar to that of someone who builds a cage for a pet animal. Since our world in fact contains sources of pain, hardship, and danger of innumerable kinds, the conclusion follows that this world cannot have been created by a perfectly benevolent and all-powerful deity.9

According to the Irenaean theodicy, however, God's purpose was not to construct a paradise whose inhabitants would experience a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain. The world is seen, instead, as a place of "soul-making" or person-making in which free beings, grappling with the tasks and challenges of their existence in a common environment, may become "children of God" and "heirs of eternal life." Our world, with all its rough edges, is the sphere in which this second and harder state of the creative process is taking place.

This conception of the world (whether or not set in Irenaeus's theological framework) can be supported by the method of "counterfactnal hypothesis." Suppose that, contrary to fact, this world were a paradise from which all possibility of pain and suffering were excluded. The consequences would be very far-reaching. For example, no one could ever injure anyone else: the murderer's knife would turn to paper or the bullets to thin air; the bank safe, robbed of a million dollars, would miraculously become filled with another million dollars; fraud, deceit, conspiracy, and treason would somehow leave the fabric of society undamaged. No one would ever be injured by accident: the mountain climber, steeplejack, or playing child . falling from a height would float unharmed to the ground; the reckless driver would, never meet with disaster. There would be no need to work, since no harm could result from avoiding work; there would be no call to be concerned for others in time of need or danger, for in such a world there could be no real needs or dangers.

To make possible this continual series of individual adjustments, nature would have to work by "special providences" instead of running according to general laws that we must learn to respect on penalty of pain or death. The laws of nature would have to be extremely flexible: sometimes gravity would operate, sometimes not; sometimes an object would be hard and solid, sometimes soft. There could be no sciences, for there would be no enduring world structure to investigate. In eliminating the problems and hardships of an objective environment with its own laws, life would become like a dream in which, delightfully but aimlessly, we would float and drift at. ease.10

One can at least begin to imagine such a world -- and it is evident that in it our present ethical concepts would have no meaning. If, for example, the notion of harming someone is an essential element in the concept of a wrong action, in a hedonistic paradise there could be no wrong actions -- nor therefore any right actions in distinction from wrong. Courage and fortitude would have no point in an environment in which there is, by definition, no danger or difficulty. Generosity, kindness, the agape aspect of love, prudence, unselfishness, and other ethical notions that presuppose life in an objective environment could not even be formed. Consequently, such a world, however well it might promote pleasure, would be very ill adapted for the development of the moral qualities of human personality. In relation to this purpose it might well be the worst of all possible worlds!

It would seem, then, that an environment intended to make possible the growth in free beings of the finest characteristics of personal life must have a good deal in common with our present world. It must operate according to general and dependable laws, and it must present real dangers, difficulties, problems, obstacles, and possibilities of pain, failure, sorrow, frustration, and defeat. If it did not contain the particular trials and perils that -- subtracting the considerable human contribution -- our world contains, it would have to contain others instead.

To realize this fact is not, by any means, to be in possession of a detailed theodicy. However, it is to understand that this world, with all its "heartaches and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to," an environment so manifestly not designed for the maximization of human pleasure and the minimization of human pain, may nevertheless be rather well adapted to the quite different purpose of "soul making."11

And so the Irenaean answer to the question, Why natural evil? is that only a world that has this general character could constitute an effective environment for the second stage (or the beginning of the second stage) of God's creative work, whereby human animals are being gradually transformed through their own free responses into "children of God."

At this point, the Irenaean theodicy points forward in three ways to the subject of life after death, which is to be discussed in later chapters.

First, although there are many striking instances of good being triumphantly brought out of evil through a person's reaction to it, there are many other cases in which the opposite has happened. Sometimes obstacles breed strength of character, dangers evoke courage and unselfishness, and calamities produce patience and moral steadfastness. On the other hand, sometimes they lead to resentment, fear, grasping selfishness, arid disintegration of character. Therefore, it would seem that any divine purpose of soul making that is at work in earthly history must continue beyond this life if it is ever to achieve more than a partial and fragmentary success.

Second, if we ask the ultimate question -- whether the business of person making is worth all the toil and sorrow of human life -- the answer must be in terms of a future good great enough to justify all that has happened on the way to it. Its claim is that the endless enjoyment of that fullness of life and joy, beyond our present imaginations, which is the eventual fulfillment of God's love toward us, will render manifestly worthwhile all the pain and travail of the long journey of human life toward it, both in this world and perhaps in other worlds as well.

Thirds not only does a theodicy of the Irenaean type require a positive doctrine of life after death but, insofar as the theodicy is to be complete, it also requires that all human beings shall in the end attain the heavenly state.

This Irenaean type of theodicy has been criticized from a variety of points of view. Some Christian theologians have protested against its rejection of the traditional doctrines both of the fall of humanity and of the final damnation of many. Philosophical critics have argued that, while it shows with some plausibility that a person-making world cannot be a paradise, it does not thereby justify the actual extent of human suffering, including such gigantic evils as the Jewish Holocaust.12 Others, however, claim that this theodicy does succeed in showing why God's world, as a sphere involving contingency and freedom, is such that even these things can, alas, happen -- even though human history would have been much better without such conspicuous crimes and horrors. There is also unresolvable disagreement as to whether so painful a creative process, even though leading to an infinite good, can be said to be the expression of divine goodness.

7 See Irenaeus. Against Heresies. Bk IV, Chaps 37 and 38.

8 From the Greek hedone, pleasure.

9 This is essentially David Hume's argument in his discussion of the problem of evil in his Dialogues, Part XI.

10 Tennyson's poem, "The Lotus-Eaters," well expresses the desire (analyzed by Freud as a wish to return to the peace of the womb) for such "dreamful ease."

11 This discussion has been confined to the problem of human suffering. The large and intractable problem of animal pain is not taken up here. For a discussion of it see, for example Austin Farrer, Love Almighty and Ills Unlimited (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company! Inc , 1961), Chap. 5; and John Hick. Evil and the God of Love, 2nd ed. (London: Macmillan, and New York: Harper & Row, 1977; paperback version in Collins' Fount series.), pp. 309-17. The latter book includes a comprehensive presentation of a theodicy of the" Irenaean type.


Process theology is a modern development in which a number of Christian theologians have adopted as their metaphysical framework the philosophy of A. N. Whitehead (1861-1947).13 For a number of reasons, including the fact of evil in the world, process theology holds that God cannot be unlimited in power but interacts with the process of the universe which God has not created but is nevertheless able to influence. Although different process theologians have offered hints towards a theodicy, it is only with the publication of David Griffin's God, Power and Evil: A Process Theodicy that a systematic version has become available. An item of contrast with the more traditional Augustinian and Irenaean theodicies will provide an apt point of departure for an account of Griffin's position. According to the main Christian tradition, God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe ex nihilo (out of nothing), and God's power over the creation is accordingly unlimited. However, in order to allow for the existence and growth of free human beings, God withholds the exercise of unlimited divine power, thereby forming an autonomous creaturely realm within which God acts noncoercively, seeking the creatures' free responses. Process theology likewise holds that God acts noncoercively, by "persuasion" and "lure," but in contrast to the notion of divine self-limitation, process theology holds that God's exercise of persuasive rather than controlling power is necessitated by the ultimate metaphysical structure of reality. God is subject to the limitations imposed by the basic laws of the universe, for God has not created the universe ex nihilo, thereby establishing its structure, but rather the universe is an uncreated process which includes the deity. In some passages, indeed, Whitehead seems to say that the ultimate metaphysical principles were initially established by a primordial divine decision. However, Griffin follows Charles Hartshorne, another leading process thinker, in holding that those ultimate principles are eternal necessities, not matters of divine fiat. They are laws of absolute generality, such that no alternative to them is conceivable; as such they fall outside the scope even of the divine will. Accordingly, as Griffin says, "God does not refrain from controlling the creatures simply because it is better for God to use persuasion, but because it is necessarily the case that God cannot completely control the creatures."14

One should add at this point a second difference from traditional Christian thought, which becomes important in relation to the final outcome of the creative process. This is that for the former, in its Irenaean form, the creatures whom God is seeking to make perfect, through their own freedom, were initially created by God and thus are formed with a Godward bias to their nature. For process thought, on the other hand, their very creation came about in struggle with the primordial chaos, so that the divine purpose is only imperfectly written into their nature.

The ultimate reality, according to process theology, is creativity continually producing new unities of experience out of the manifold of the previous moment. Creativity is not, however, something additional to actuality -- that is, to what actually exists at a given instant -- but is the creative power within all actuality Every actuality, or "actual entity,'' or "actual occasion," is a momentary event, charged with creativity. As such it exerts some degree of power. It exerts power first in the way in which it receives and organizes the data of the preceding moment. This is a power of selection, exercised in positive and negative "prehensions"15 of the data of which it thus becomes the unique "concrescence.'' Thus each wave of actual occasions, constituting a new moment of the universe's life, involves an element of creativity or self-causation. An actual occasion is never completely determined by the past. It is partly so determined and partly a determiner of the future, as the present occasion is itself prehended by succeeding occasions. As part determiner of the future it is again exercising power. This dual efficacy is inseparable from being actual, and so every actual occasion, as a moment of creativity, necessarily exerts some degree of power.

However, finite actualities do not exercise power because God has delegated it to them, but because to be a part of the universe is to exercise creativity and hence power. Indeed because to be actual is to be creative, thereby exercising some degree of power, it is impossible for even God to hold a monopoly of power. Every actual occasion is, by its very nature, partially self-creative as well as partially created by previous actual occasions which were themselves partially self-created. Thus God's power over each occasion, and in directing the stream of occasions as a whole, is necessarily limited, and the reality of evil in the world is the measure of the extent to which God's will is in fact thwarted. God continually offers the best possibility to each occasion as it creates itself, but the successive occasions are free not to conform to the divine plan. And, as Whitehead says, "So far as the conformation is incomplete, there is evil in the world."16

Evil is, according to process theology, of two kinds, contrasting with two kinds of good. The criteria are ultimately aesthetic rather than moral. An actual occasion is a moment of experience, and the values that experience can embody are harmony and intensity. The concrescence of a multiplicity into a new complex unity, a fresh moment of experience, may be more or less richly harmonious and more or less vivid and intense. Insofar as it fails to attain harmony it exhibits the evil of discord. This discord, says Whitehead, "is the feeling of evil in the most general sense, namely physical pain or mental evil, such as sorrow, horror, dislike."17 Insofar as a moment of experience fails to attain the highest appropriate intensity it exhibits the other form of evil, which is needless triviality. To some extent harmony and intensity are in conflict with one another, for a higher level of intensity is made possible by increased complexity, thus endangering harmony. So one form of evil or the other, either discord or needless triviality, is virtually inevitable within the creative process. Even more important perhaps, greater complexity, making possible greater richness of experience, also makes possible new dimensions of suffering. Thus human beings can have qualities of enjoyment beyond the capacity of lower forms of life, but they are also subject to moral and spiritual anguishes which far exceed those of the lower animals and which can even drive humans to suicide. For this reason also evil is an inherent part of the creative process.

The evolution of the universe as a whole, and of life on this planet, is due to the continual divine impetus to maximize harmony and intensity in each present occasion, at the same time creating new possibilities for yet greater harmony and intensity in the future; and this divine impetus is justified on the ground that the good that has been produced, and is yet to be produced, outweighs and renders worthwhile the evil that has been produced and that will yet be produced. For God could have left the primal chaos undisturbed instead of forming it into an ordered universe evolving ever higher forms of actuality. God is therefore responsible for having initiated and continued the development of the finite realm from disordered chaos toward ever greater possibilities of both good and evil.

Thus this particular conception of a limited deity still requires a theodicy, a justifying of God's goodness in face of the fact of evil. As Griffin says, "God is responsible in the sense of having urged the creation forward to those states in which discordant feelings could be felt with great intensity".18 The theodicy proposed is that the good created in the course of the world process could not have come about without the possibility and, as it has turned out, the actuality of all the evil that has been inextricably intertwined with it. God's goodness is vindicated in that the risk-taking venture in the evolution of the universe was calculated to produce, and has produced, a sufficient quality and quantity of good to outweigh all the evil that has in fact been involved or that might have been involved. For the alternative to the risk of creation was not sheer nothingness but the evil of needless triviality in the primordial chaos. This theodicy is stated by Griffin in the following passage:

[The] question as to whether God is indictable is to be answered in terms of the question as to whether the positive values that are possible in our world are valuable enough to be worth the risk of the negative experiences which have occurred, and the even greater horrors which stand before us as real possibilities for the future. Should God, for the sake of avoiding the possibility of persons such as Hitler, and horrors such as Auschwitz, have precluded the possibility of Jesus, Gautama, Socrates, Confucius, Moses Mendelsohn, El Greco, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Chief Joseph, Chief Seattle, Alfred North Whitehead, John F. Kennedy, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller, Louis Armstrong, Albert Einstein, Dag Hammarskjold, Reinhold Niebuhr, Carol Channing, Margaret Mead, and millions of other marvelous human beings, well known and not well known alike, who have lived on the face of this earth? In other words, should God, for the sake of avoiding "man's inhumanity to man," have avoided humanity (or some comparably complex species) altogether? Only those who could sincerely answer this question affirmatively could indict the God of process theology on the basis of the evil in the world.19

Further, as Griffin also emphasizes, God is directly involved in the risk of creation, for the quality of the divine experience depends in part on the quality of the creatures' experiences. God shares our human joys, but also our human as well as subhuman pains. The whole weight of earthly sorrow and agony, wickedness and stupidity, passes into the divine consciousness, together with the glory of all earthly happiness and ecstasy, saintliness and genius. God, who alone knows the total balance of good and evil, finds that the risk was worth taking, and this fact should help us to accept that the evil is in fact outweighed and justified by the good. As Griffin says,

Awareness of this aspect of God as envisioned by process thought not only removes the basis for that sense of moral outrage which would be directed toward an impassive spectator deity who took great risks with the creation. It also provides an additional basis, beyond that of our own immediate experience, for affirming that the risk was worth taking. That being who is the universal agent, goading the creation to overcome triviality in favour of the more intense harmonies, is also the universal recipient of the totality of good and evil that is actualized. In other words, the one being who is in a position to know experientially the bitter as well as the sweet fruits of the risk of creation is the same being who has encouraged and continues to encourage this process of creative risk taking.20

Such a theodicy appeals in two main ways. One is that it avoids the traditional problem arising from the belief in divine omnipotence. God is not the all-powerful creator of the universe, responsible for its character, but is a part -- though a uniquely basic part -- of the universe itself, unable either to vary its fundamental structure or to intervene directly in its changing details. Thus God does not need to be justified for permitting evil, since it is not within God's power to prevent it. (This point is however qualified in Griffin's presentation; according to him, God could have refrained from 'luring" the universe on in the evolutionary development which has produced animal and human life, with all its pain arid suffering.) The other appeal consists of the stirring summons to engage on God's side in the never-ending struggle against the evils of an intractable world. This was the moral appeal of earlier forms of belief in a finite God who claims our support in the ongoing battle of light against darkness -- as in ancient Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, or (as a tentative hypothesis) in the thought of John Stuart Mill, who wrote:

A creed like this . . . allows it to be believed that all the mass of evil which exists was undesigned by, and exists not by the appointment of, but in spite of the Being whom we are called upon to worship. A virtuous human being assumes in this theory the exalted character of a fellow-labourer with the Highest, a fellow combatant in the great strife. . . .21

However, despite its appeal, the process theodicy has been severely criticized.22

One basic claim is that it involves a morally and religiously unacceptable elitism. In all ages the majority of people have lived in hunger or the threat and fear of hunger -- often severely undernourished, subject to crippling injuries and debilitating diseases, so that only the fittest could survive infancy -- and they have dwelt under conditions of oppression or slavery and in a constant state of insecurity and anxiety. As Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos put it in their survey of the human condition:

The actual life of most of mankind has been cramped with back-breaking labour, exposed to deadly or debilitating diseases, prey to wars and famines, haunted by the loss of children, filled with fear and the ignorance that breeds more fear. At the end, for everyone, stands dreaded unknown death. To long for joy, support and comfort, to react violently against fear and anguish is quite simply the human condition.23
The process theodicy does not suggest that it is their own individual fault that hundreds of millions of human beings have been born into and have had to endure this situation. The high intensity of physical and mental suffering that is possible at the human level of experience is just part of the actual process of the universe. What makes it acceptable to God, according to the process theodicy, is the fact that the same complex process that has produced all this suffering has also produced the cream of the human species. For each one such "marvelous human being," perhaps tens of thousands of others have existed without any significant degree of personal freedom and without any opportunity for intellectual, moral, aesthetic, of spiritual development, their lives spent in a desperate and degrading struggle to survive. But God is apparently content that this great mass of human suffering has been endured and this great mass of human potentiality has been undeveloped because, as part of the same world process, the elite have fulfilled in themselves some of the finer possibilities of human existence.

It would of course be quite wrong to say that, within the process theodicy, the unfortunate have suffered deprivation in order that the fortunate may enjoy their blessings. It is not that some have been deliberately sacrificed for the good of others. The more extreme evils of human cruelty and neglect, injustice and exploitation, might conceivably never have occurred -- and the creative process would have been the better without them. The process doctrine is rather that the possibility of creating the degree of human good that has in fact come about involved the possibility of creating also the degree of human evil that has in fact come about. According to the process theodicy, the good that has occurred renders worthwhile all the wickedness that has been committed and all the suffering that has been endured.

Clearly, it can be questioned whether such a God is to be equated with the God of the New Testament, understood as the Creator who values all human creatures with a universal and impartial love. Clearly, again, this is far from being the God of contemporary liberation theology, who is the God of the poor and the oppressed, the enslaved and all against whom the structures of human society discriminate.24 These individuals are deprived of the opportunity of developing the moral and spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic potentialities of their nature. The God of the process theodicy is the God of the elite, of the great and successful among mankind. He is apparently the God of saints rather than of sinners; of geniuses rather than of the dull and retarded and mentally defective; of the cream of humanity rather than of the anonymous millions who have been driven to self-seeking, violence, greed, and deceit, in a desperate struggle to survive, or of those millions who have been crippled by malnutrition and have suffered and died under oppression and exploitation, plague and famine, flood and earthquake, or again of those -- perhaps numbering about half the sum of human births -- who have perished in infancy.

For the God of the process theodicy, although not the ultimate maker and lord of the universe (for there is no such), is still responsible for having elicited human existence out of the earlier stages of life, risking the vast dead-weight of human suffering and the virulent power of human wickedness, for the sake of the morally and spiritually successful in whom God rejoices. God may indeed, as Griffin suggests, find the total spectacle of human life through the ages to be good on balance; for in the total divine experience the sufferings of those who suffer, and the inadequacies of those whose human potential remains undeveloped, are overbalanced by the happiness and achievements of the fortunate. However, the starving and the oppressed, the victims of Auschwitz, the human wrecks who are irreparably brain-damaged or mind-damaged, and those others who have loved and agonized over them, can hardly be expected to share the process God's point of view or to regard such a God as worthy of their worship and praise. It is not they but others who benefit from the bracing doctrine, reminiscent of nineteenth-century laissez faire capitalist theory, that though the weak may go to the wall, the system as a whole is good because it also produces those who are spiritually and culturally rich

The situation would, of course, be transformed if a process theodicy were able to affirm the eventual successful completion of the creative process in a future heavenly fulfillment in which all are eventually to participate. Then the tragedy of human life, though real, would not be ultimate; it would be woven into what Dante called the Divine Comedy of God's creative action in its totality. Then it would be true that, in Mother Julian's phrase, "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." However, Griffin, while not excluding the possibility of continued human existence after death in a disembodied state, is emphatic that we cannot draw from this possibility the hope of a limitless final good to justify all the evil that will have occurred on the way to it. He is insistent that any justification must be found in the actual character of human existence in this world. He can even contemplate the possibility of a nuclear or environmental disaster which annihilates the human race, or which reduces the survivors to a state of brutality and misery, and can say that "No matter how bad the future actually turns out to be, it will not cancel out the worthwhileness of the human goodness enjoyed during the previous thousands of years."25

In suggesting that Griffin's process theodicy is elitist in a way that violates the basic Christian conviction of God's love for all human creatures, one is perhaps complaining that its ultimate principle is aesthetic rather than ethical. Its criteria of good and evil are the essentially aesthetic criteria of harmony and intensity of experience. In this respect it is in line with the ancient Stoic and Neo-Platonic analogy (which Augustine also used), according to which the universe may be good as a whole even though it contains considerable evil in its details.

12 See, for example, Edward H. Madden and Peter H. Hare, Evil and the Concept of God (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C Thomas, 1968), Chap. 5.

13 See John Cobb and David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976).

14 From God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy, by David Ray Griffin. Copyright © 1976 The Westminster Press. Used by permission, p. 276.

15 The act by which an occasion of experience absorbs data from other experiences is called a 'feeling' or a 'positive prehension'. The act of excluding data from feeling is called a 'negative prehension'." Ibid., p. 283. .

16 A. N. Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1930), p. 51.

17 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p. 330.

18 Griffin, God, Power and Evil, p 300. .

19 Ibid., p. 309.

20 Ibid., pp. 309-10.

21 John Stuart Mill, Three Essays on Religion (London: Longmans, 1875 and Westport, Conn Greenwood Press), pp. 116-17.

22 See, for example, Madden and Hare, Evil and the Concept of God, Chap. 6.

23 Barbara. Ward and Rene Dubos, Only One Earth (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., Inc 1972), p. 35.

24 This charge seems to me to hold despite the fact that some of the process theologians have aligned themselves with the contemporary liberation theology movement. (See Schubert Ugden, Faith and Freedom: Toward a Theology of Liberation, Nashville: Abingdon, 1979, and John B. Cobb, Jr., Process Theology as Political Theology, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982.) For the question remains whether this move is compatible with the process theodicy as formulated by Griffin.

25 Griffin, God, Power and Evil, p. 313.