Pathways in Theodicy

Pathways in Theodicy: An Introduction to the Problem of Evil

Mark S. M. Scott
Copyright Date: 2015
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  • Book Info
    Pathways in Theodicy
    Book Description:

    Why does God permit senseless suffering? If God is good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? The problem of evil perennially vexes theology, but many theologians have abandoned the project of theodicy, or the theological explanation of evil, as either fruitless or hopeless. Academic studies on theodicy, moreover, typically succumb to theological deficiency and abstraction, often devoid of any concrete connection to Christian life and practice. In Pathways in Theodicy, designed for students and scholars alike, Mark S. M. Scott reinvigorates stalled debates in philosophy and theology through a detailed reassessment of the problem of evil and the task of theodicy and through a careful analysis of the major models and motifs in theodicy. Scott explores the strengths and weaknesses of classic and contemporary perspectives on the problem of evil and invites readers to assess the cogency and relevance of each on their own. Rather than promoting a single perspective, Pathways in Theodicy explores the plurality of options available to treat the problem of evil and the provisional and tentative nature of theodicy, which searches not for final, definitive solutions but for viable ways to move the conversation forward.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-6980-6
    Subjects: Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Does God exist? When Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) addresses the foundational question of theology in hisSumma Theologiae, he first entertains the strongest possible objection to God’s existence. On the surface, he says, the reality of evil undermines the concept of God:

    It seems that there is no God. For if one of two contraries were infinite, the other would be completely destroyed. But by the word “God” we understand a certain infinite good. So, if God existed, nobody would ever encounter evil. But we do encounter evil in the world. So, God does not exist.¹

    With peerless precision,...

  6. 1 Rethinking Evil From Ontology to Theology
    (pp. 11-52)

    The elusive termevilconjures up a vast array of images and emotions. It recalls horrific historical events, natural disasters, and personal losses. It refers to heinous acts of cruelty and violence. It expresses our sense of outrage at the worst that humanity does and the worst that it suffers. Evil, however, resists concrete categorization and simple definition. Despite the pervasiveness of the term in scholarly and colloquial discourse, the concept has different valences in different contexts. Most scholarly treatments of the problem of evil merely restate the standard philosophical formulations of the logical tension between the nature of God...

  7. 2 Redefining Theodicy Expanding the Boundaries
    (pp. 53-68)

    The termtheodicyhas been prone to misapprehension and misinterpretation. Some see it as empty technical jargon: a word reserved for specialists, disconnected from real life, which reinforces the perceived disjunction between the academy and the real world. Whatever theodicy might mean, it is something elusive and abstract, a topic for think tanks in ivory towers, not for the average person. For others, particularly experts on the subject, theodicy has a precise purpose and purview: it refers to the logical attempt to reconcile God’s nature with the reality of evil. It operates in an amorphous theistic zone between theology and...

  8. 3 Free Will Defense Playing the Blame Game
    (pp. 69-94)

    Theodicy travels along two parallel tracks: it deflects blame for evil from God and redirects it elsewhere. These positive and negative functions operate simultaneously to diffuse the atheological force of the question: “Whence evil?,” which Epicurus and, later, Hume, effectively pressed.² The search for origins doubles as the search for culpability: it implicitly links causal and moral responsibility. Discover the origin of evil, and you will discover the culprit. So, when translated from metaphysical to moral terms, the question “whence evil” really asks “who is to blame for evil”? According to the logical problem of evil, the blame rests squarely...

  9. 4 Soul-Making Theodicy No Pain, No Gain
    (pp. 95-118)

    For centuries, the FWD enjoyed almost universal acceptance in Christian theology. It was the central prism through which theologians reflected on the problem of evil. In 1966, however, John Hick published a sweeping study on evil that would prove to be a game-changer.Evil and the God of Lovedeveloped a new paradigm that would fundamentally reshape the conversation for decades. In her Foreword to the 2007 reissue, Marilyn McCord Adams characterizes Hick’s study as a “framework-setting, discussion-shifting” reappraisal of Christian theodicy.² With scholarly depth and theological ingenuity, Hick analyzes traditional perspectives on theodicy, subjects them to critical analysis, and...

  10. 5 Process Theodicy Denying Divine Omnipotence
    (pp. 119-144)

    If SMT takes a decisive step away from traditional theism in its effort to explain evil, process theodicy takes a dramatic leap. Process theodicy (hereafter PT) utilizes the cosmology of process philosophy to shed new light on the problem of evil.² Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), the founder and figurehead of process thought, developed his metaphysical system famously inProcess and Reality(1929), hismagnum opus.³ In a stunning and sweeping synthesis of philosophy, theology, and science, Whitehead strives “to sound the depths in the nature of things.”⁴ His cosmology was extended and modified by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and...

  11. 6 Cruciform Theodicy Divine Solidarity through the Cross
    (pp. 145-172)

    In the FWD, SMT, and PT we encounter three paradigmatic theodical systems, complete with distinctive cosmologies, theologies, and perspectives on the problem of evil. Over the final three chapters, we will explore three broad themes or trajectories in theodicy that appear in these systems but that also have their own inner intellectual integrity and particular contributions to theodicy. These theodical themes do not address all the questions of theodicy—the origin, nature, problem, reason, and end of evil—but they do inflect the discussion in significant ways, and offer valuable theological resources. To designate it a cruciform theodicy (hereafter CT),...

  12. 7 Antitheodicy Intellectual and Moral Critiques
    (pp. 173-194)

    At the end of the day, what does theodicy have to do with “real life”?² Does it ameliorate or illuminate the lived experience of suffering? Does it contribute to the betterment of the world at all? If not, does that fact invalidate the task of theodicy, and should we discard it as more useless theory? Must theodicy have practical dimensions? After all, many theories do not have concrete applications in the “real world.” If theodicy does in fact mitigate suffering in some way or mobilize ethical action, does that involve a paradigm shift in the concept of theodicy? These are...

  13. 8 Beyond Theodicy The Afterlife and Mystery
    (pp. 195-210)

    Christian theology posits the continuation of human life beyond death, and that core belief impacts theodicy. All Christian theodicy, if it stays true to its biblical and theological heritage, will appeal to the afterlife in some way. The nature of that appeal and the vision of the afterlife it hinges on will vary widely, but the expansion of the time frame of human existence beyond the terrestrial life is a basic instinct of Christian theodicy, grounded on eschatology, that is, theological reflection on the last or final things, including heaven and hell. Jürgen Moltmann defines eschatology as the “theology of...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 211-216)

    The title of our study,Pathways in Theodicy, expresses the multiplicity of options available in the critical theological analysis of the problem of evil. It signifies the varied paths that have been traversed and hints at others that await exploration. As a rule, I have not promoted a particular theodicy, nor have I adopted a particular theological perspective, at least not intentionally. Instead, I have tried to shed light on the entire landscape of the problem of evil in Christian theology, and to highlight the resources available to those who seek to embark on the journey in theodicy. I have...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-224)
  16. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)