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March 2 2024 22:34 EST

John Hick, University of Birmingham, U.K.

John Hick



since 01.01.06

Introduction to Philosophy

John Hick, "Allowing for Evil"

Abstract: Hick argues that moral evil is a result of the mystery of free will. He believes the occurrence of nonmoral evil in the world is a necessary condition for the ethics of choice and the process of soul-making.

  1. According to Hick what is the most powerful positive objection to the belief in God?
  2. On what ground does he refute the Christian Science solution to the problem of evil?
  3. How does he refute the Personalist school solution? The Augustinian solution?
  4. What objections have been raised to the traditional Christian position concerning moral evil? What is Hick's reply?
  5. What objection has been raised to the traditional Christian position concerning nonmoral evil? What is Hick's reply?
  6. What is Hick's ultimate answer to the problem of evil?
  1. John Hick's important work on the problem of evil from the 1960's was a turning point in the study of theodicy.
    1. Several biographical points should be briefly mentioned.
      1. Hick supports the view of religious pluralism—the view that all religions have insight and truth into what is real, and no one religion is exclusively absolute.
      2. Different religions are culturally based.
      3. Hick emphasizes the epistemological aspects of faith over the act of will. Faith, to Hick, is a cognitive interpretation of experience rather than leap of volition.
      4. Much of Hick's interest in philosophy of religion is with theodicy—the justification of the nature of God with the presence of moral and natural evil in the world.
    2. His life-work is sometimes summarized in the thesis: theodicy can be sensibly articulated, in large measure, through eschatology—the study of the possibility of events beyond and succeeding earthly human existence.
  2. The reading from which these notes drawn is "The Problem of Evil" in John Hick, Philosophy of Religion 4th. ed. (Upper Saddle Hill, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989). Selections from this classic introductory analysis are available from many philosophy and philosophy of religion anthologies.
    1. Notes are arranged in response to the questions stated above in reference to the chapter "God Can Allow Some Evil" from Classic Philosophical Questions, eds. James A. Gould and Robert J. Mulvaney, 11th ed. (Upper Sadddle Hill, N.J.: Pearson, 2004), 275.
      1. According to Hick what is the most powerful positive objection to the belief in God?
        1. The problem of evil is most often posed as an argument as follows.
        2. The Problem of Evil:
          • If God is perfectly good, then He must want to prevent evil.
          • If God is all-powerful, then He can prevent evil.
          • Evil exists.
          • Therefore, God is either not perfectly good or God is not all-powerful, or both.
        3. The problem as it stands appears to be a valid argument. Since we want to reject the conclusion, there must be at least one false premise (of course, there might be more than one false premise).
        4. Note in the following questions from the reading how each proposed solution to the problem attacks one of the premises. Hick's discussion of those objections and counterobjections can be summarily portrayed in this chart of the argument.
          Hick's Argument Concerning the Problem of Evil
          The Problem of Evil Objections Hick's Counterobjections
          If God is omnipotent, God can prevent all evil. Personalists—God is finite in power. Limited power contradicts Biblical faith.
          If God is perfectly good, God must want to prevent all evil. Hick—Evil is a necessary possibility for persons to exist.
          Mackie—God could create wholly good persons.
          A "wholly good person" is a logical impossibility, a meaningless conjunction of words.
          Evil exists. Augustine—evil is not created by God but is the decay of good.
          Christian Science—evil is an illusion
          The denial of evil contradicts Biblical faith. These views raise anew the question of the origin of evil
          Thus, God is either not omnipotent or not perfectly good or both
      2. On what ground does he refute the Christian Science solution to the problem of evil?
        1. The Christian Science solution is to reject the premise that evil exists. What could this position mean? Possibly, from our limited perspective and intelligence we cannot see how the parts of the universe fit together for the total harmony of the good. "We cannot see the forest for the trees."
        2. Hick's response to the Christian Science position is that this belief contradicts Biblical Faith—a point of view that he simply assumes to be true without argument. On this supposition, then, on Hick's view, some other premise must be false.
      3. How does he refute the Personalist school solution? The Augustinian solution?
        1. The Personalist School denies the truth of the premise that God is omnipotent. God is thought to be the most powerful being in the universe, but He is not all-powerful.
          1. To say that God is all-powerful is tantamount to committing heresy, on this view, because I have some power. If I had the power to do something wrong, we would not want to say God is responsible; we would want to say I did it. So some power in the universe is not God's.
          2. John Stuart Mill has objected to this view along the following lines:

            "In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are Nature's every day performances. Killing, the most criminal act recognized by human nature, Nature does once to every being that lives; and in a large proportion of cases, after protracted tortures such as the greatest monsters whom we read of ever purposely inflicted on their fellow creatures … All this, Nature does with the most supercilious disregard both of mercy and of justice, emptying her shafts upon the best and noblest indifferently with the meanest and worst; upon those who are engaged in the highest and worthiest enterprises, and often as the direct consequence of the noblest acts … I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go." (John Stuart Mill, "Nature" in Three Essays on Religion (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1998) 5.)
          3. So Mill concludes that God does the best job that can be done in an intractable world.
        2. The Augustinian Solution attacks the premises which hold that there is evil to be prevented. Hence, there is an existential fallacy involving all the premises in the dilemma. Augustine sees evil as the absence of goodness or the decay of good; evil is nothing in and of itself. Like temperature or sunlight exist, but the absence of them, cold and shadow, do not exist.
          1. Hick believes that Augustine's view of evil as the decay of good merely raises in a different form the question of the origin of evil. What is evil? It is important to distinguish between …
            1. moral evil which is dependent upon persons and their free will (e.g., poverty, oppression, persecution, war, and injustice), and …
            2. nonmoral evil which is dependent upon nature (e.g., earthquake, hurricane, storm, flood, drought, and blight).
            3. Note that Hick points out that often it is difficult to distinguish the two kinds of evil, as in psychosomatic illness where injustice leads to sickness, and so on.
      4. What objections have been raised to the traditional Christian position concerning moral evil? What is Hick's reply?
        1. The main objection is that God could have created wholly good persons. Hick's response is that the idea of a person who can be infallibly guaranteed always to act rightly is a self-contradictory since to be a person is to be a finite center of freedom. That is, the belief that God could create wholly good persons is a meaningless conjunction of words, a logical impossibility.
        2. Mackie argues that we could still be free and God could create the world in such a way that we "happen" always to make the right decision. The idea is that God could have the world predestined, but from our point of view we freely decide--the two events simply coincide.
        3. God might see the universe-process without time. On the lower dimension, think about your path to school as you walk it in time. On the higher dimension think about your path from the point of view of a map. In your mind's eye you can see the whole path in "no time." So, likewise, God's view of the universe is outside time.
        4. Hick's response to Mackie is that this kind of free will is not freedom at all, but is the same sort of delusion as some sort of hypnotic suggestion. We wouldn't be genuinely free unless we could have acted otherwise. Hick's conclusion is that the complete answer to the question of the origin of moral evil can only be answered when we have the answer to the free will problem.
      5. What objection has been raised to the traditional Christian position concerning nonmoral evil? What is Hick's reply?
        1. The traditional Christian position is that nonmoral evil serves the purpose of good in the universe. The main objection is, of course, Dostoevsky's—namely, how can the evil inherent in the suffering of one innocent child be construed as a good thing. Isn't such a position contradictory?
          1. Hick's response is that the world must be seen as a place of soul-making; there could not be a place for soul-making in a permanent hedonistic paradise.
          2. I.e., he champions a method of Negative Theodicy: a theodicy, as discussed above, is the attempt to justify the fact of God's goodness with the fact of evil in the world. A Negative Theodicy shows that without evil, there could not be a divine purpose.
        2. If there were no evil, the laws of nature would have to be suspended, and there could be no science, nor would we have ethical concepts such as right, courage, generosity, and so on because no harm could come to anyone. There would be no suffering or pain.
        3. For "soul-making" to be possible, Hick believes we need all the heartaches of the present world.
      6. What is Hick's ultimate answer to the problem of evil?
        1. Moral evil is forever wrapped up in the problem of free will. If a causal explanation could be given, there would, of course, be no free will. This mystery remains.
        2. Nonmoral evil is a necessary condition for possibility of the process of soul-making and efficacy of ethics. Even so, evil can only be answered if there is a future good which overcomes it. There must be something beyond this life which explains it, even though we cannot know exactly what it is. There is no other way to explain the business of soul-making.
Further Reading:
  • “Eschatology” Walter Schmithals reviews the historical background of &lquo;the doctrine of last things” or the notion of the afterlife from the Apocalyptics, Gnostics, Christians, and Idealists and concludes the problem of eschatology is a matter of faith in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas maintained by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library.
  • John Hick: A brief biography of Hick, a discussion of his theory of religion, his religious pluralism, and bibliographies are provided by Richard Peters, Robert Smid, and Mark Mann in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Modern Western Theology, edited by Wesley Wildman.
  • John Hick: A brief discussion of Hick's religious pluralism and reviews of his best-known works in religious epistemology and theodicy are presented in the Wikipedia.
  • John Hick: Official Website: Many papers by Hick as well as an extensive bibliography are made available.
  • The Evidential Problem of Evil: The view that the existence of evil in the world constitutes some evidence for the conclusion that the creator is not all-good, all-powerful, or all-knowing is discussed with emphasis on William Rowe's evidential argument and Stephen Wykstra's objections. In addition, Nick Trakakis, the author of this entry in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sketches a theodicy in response to Rowe's evidential argument.
  • The Logical Problem of Evil: The problem of evil explained as a logical conflict and various theistic explanations are discussed with a special emphasis on Alvin Plantinga's free will defense, by James R. Beebe in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  • Problem of Evil. Radoslav A. Tsanoff essays extensive summary approaches to the problem of evil in philosophical, literary, and religious thought in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas.
  • The Problem of Evil: The logical (or incompatibility) and the evidential (or the inductive) formulations of the argument from evil are reviewed by Michael Tooley in this entry from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The inductive or evidential discussion of the problem by Tooley is extensive.
  • “Theodicy” Leroy E. Loemker's entry in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas maintained by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library discusses the the problems raised by the presence of evil in the universe and the presence of a wholly good omnipotent God. Both philosophical and theological theodicies, together with their criticisms, are presented.
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“God can do everything' a signification not of Pious Intention but of Philosophical Truth, they have only landed themselves in intractable problems and hopeless confusions; no graspable sense has ever been given to this sentence that did not lead to self-contradiction or at least to conclusions manifestly untenable from the Christian point of view.” Peter Geach, Providence and Evil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), p. 4

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