Monday, 27 January 2014

Augustinian Theodicy Essays

a.) Explain Augustine’s Theodicy.

St Augustine of Hippo was an early Christian theologian and a North African bishop; he outlined his justification for God (in the face of evil) in his work City of God, and in his theodicy he cites both Genesis 1 and the work of Plato, amongst other things.

Augustine’s theodicy was a response to the Problem of Evil; the Problem of Evil suggests that because we know there is evil in the world, God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent – this is known as The Inconsistent Triad. The Problem of Evil states that if God was all-powerful he would be able to prevent suffering, and that if God was all-loving he would also want to prevent suffering; clearly, both cannot be true because we know that this world still cultivates and harbours evil. Epicurus (who framed the idea originally) explained the Problem of Evil in this way, and summed up by saying: “Then why call him God?” If he is not omnipotent or omnibenevolent then he is not the God of Classical Theism. J.L. Mackie and David Hume later developed the idea, and indeed David Hume described the Problem of Evil as the ‘Rock of Atheism’ because it is extremely hard to prove sufficiently wrong.

Augustine’s theodicy is based on The Privation of the Good and The Free Will Defence. He insisted that God was not the creator of evil, and that the world was created perfect; he cites Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.” Augustine claimed that God never intended for evil, but that it was caused by Adam and Eve through their wilful disobedience to God. The Fall (when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis 3, abusing their Free Will) is the reason for the unexplainable suffering in the world. The Privation of the Good states that God, who is perfect, created everything ‘ex nihilo’ (from nothing) and in harmony – and it was good. He states that evil only exists where things do not work in harmony with one another, which is caused by a lacking of goodness, and this is what is known as the Privation of the Good (‘privatio boni’); Augustine is adamant that “evil is not a substance” but that it is lack of goodness. This removes any blame from God, as it implies that God himself did not create evil.

The Privation of the Good links closely to what is known as The Aesthetic Defence, originally formulated by the Greek Philosopher Plato, who greatly influenced Augustine. Plato, in his work The Republic, explains his ‘Theory of the Forms’ using the allegory of the cave. Plato was a dualist, believing in both The World of Appearances (our world) and The World of the Forms. In his allegory he explains that what we see in our world are but shadows of the forms; he writes in Socratic dialogue: “To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.” Plato believed that we have a limited perspective and we see but reflections; Augustine draws from this idea, stating that only God, due to his omniscience, knows what is good and what is evil. He says that we, like the prisoners of the cave, have a limited perspective, and what may seem to us to be evil (e.g. a scorpion’s sting), may actually be good (i.e. for the scorpion to survive). In his Morals of the Manichaeans Augustine writes: “All these things… cannot be called evil: for all such things as far as they exist, must have their existence from the most high God, for as far as they exist they are good.” After converting from a dualist religion (Manichaeism) to Christianity (a monistic religion: “We believe in one God.” – Nicene Creed), it was important for Augustine to recognise that there is only one all-powerful being, and that there is no independent power of evil within creation, as God created everything.

Augustine’s theodicy also refers to the Free Will Defence; again, his views come from the story of The Fall. Augustine claimed that all evil is a result of the moral choices of humanity, rather than coming from God – this, again, removes the blame. Augustine writes: “I thought it better to believe that you had created no evil… rather than to believe that the nature of evil, as I understood it, came from you.” Augustine insisted that suffering only comes from humanity’s abuse of God’s gift of free will (e.g. Adam and Eve eating the fruit); free will is good because it allows us to have the same freedom as God, distinguishes between the good and the bad, and allows us to eventually achieve eudaimonia. Augustine explains that all humans are born with Original Sin (the first turning away from God); Original Sin comes from The Fall, and because we are all seminally present in Adam, we are born with it. It makes human beings inclined towards evil, and, as a punishment, gave us the innate tendency of concupiscence. Augustine thinks, therefore, that even though we have free will, most of humanity have been predestined to go to Hell.

Augustine is keen to emphasize the fact that our wills are free, and that as rational beings we have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. He writes: “A man possesses the happy life when his will, an intermediate good, clings to the changeless good… but when it turns away from the changeless good, common to all, and turns towards the good of its own, or to an external or lower good, then the will sins.” In this way, Augustine’s theodicy is often known as a ‘soul-deciding’ theodicy. This means that, according to Augustine, humans have the choice to turn to God through free will, or indeed to turn away from him. Augustine himself described The Fall as a ‘felix culpa’ (a happy fault) in that it allows humanity to achieve salvation from Jesus, and be reconciled with God. Augustine writes: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” This quotation is a theodicy in itself: the good that comes from evil outweighs the evil itself (i.e. the good of salvation outweighs the sins of The Fall). Augustine also discussed the free will of the angels; he wrote that the angels who turned away from God (i.e. the lost Archangel Lucifer) cause Natural Evil (i.e. floods and earthquakes) by bringing disharmony into creation. Therefore Augustine’s theodicy explains both Moral Evil and Natural Evil by blaming the abuse of free will. Hence it is called the Free Will Defence.

Overall, Augustine concludes that Free Will, despite causing evil, is a source of greater good. God simply gave humanity the choice to create evil, rather than creating evil himself; he is therefore removed of blame. Augustine has shown that the evil in the world is only a lack of good, and that it was not created by God, but rather caused by The Fall and the abuse of humanity’s (and indeed that of the angels) free will. Evil is simply a possibility of man’s actions.


b.) ‘Augustine’s explanations for evil are not convincing,’ Discuss.

The Augustinian theodicy, presented in his work City of God, does not sufficiently justify God in the face of evil.

John Hick, English philosopher and theologian, argued that God, because of his omniscience (another important characteristic of the Theistic god), would have created the world in the knowledge of The Fall’s inevitability. He would have also known of the future problems with the human race and the faults of Free Will; Hick argues, therefore, that the Theistic God is either not omniscient or is responsible for evil. This, therefore, proves that God is still to blame for evil, and so Augustine’s theodicy is weak.

However, many Theists would argue that Free Will is a gift from God, and that evil is simply a by-product of this gift. Alvin Platinga, an American philosopher, supported this claim by saying that the benefits of free choice outweigh the suffering and evil in the world. Christians would also claim that an act would not be good if there was no such thing as evil; for example, Jesus’ miracles of Mark’s Gospel would not be spectacular if they were every day occurrences.

This poses a problem: if God is omnipotent, why could he not give us free will without any by-product of evil? Although it may seem irrational to the human mind, God, as an omnipotent being, would be able to give humanity free will, but with the result that we always do good; thus, there would be no evil. J.L. Mackie questioned why our autonomy had to cause evil. He wrote: “there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but would always do right.” This therefore proves God not to be omnipotent, and therefore Augustine’s theodicy does not explain evil.

Another obvious flaw in the Augustinian theodicy is its contradictory nature; F.D.E Schleiermacher argued that to say that the world is perfect is logically false. He claimed that because we know that there is evil and suffering in the world, the world cannot be perfect, nor can it have been made perfect, as it states in Genesis 1 (“and he saw that it was good”) and in Augustine’s theodicy. He also argued that God is just as much to blame for creating a Privation of Good than for creating evil. The illogicality of the argument proves Augustine’s theodicy to be weak.

However, Augustine’s Theodicy is particularly strong to Theists not only because it sticks to the scriptures, but because it removes all blame from God. By claiming that evil is not a substance, Augustine was able to support both the creation story and God’s omnibenevolence. Brian Davies supported this, saying that evil is “the gap between what there is and what there ought to be”. The fact that it sticks to the story of Genesis 1 and 2 also makes the theodicy more appealing for theists.

However, every modern scientist would argue against this; one major flaw of the theodicy is that it contradicts the Big Bang, now the accepted explanation for our universe. The Augustinian Theodicy relies on a completely literal interpretation of Genesis; the story of The Fall (with Adam and Eve being the first two humans) also contradicts Darwin’s Theory of Evolution (On the Origin of Species), which proved that Homo sapiens evolved from monkeys. Therefore, Augustine’s explanations for evil are not convincing.

One of the supposed benefits of free will is that it allows God to distinguish between the good and the bad; many philosophers therefore question whether a loving God would send a large number of people (Augustine believed that, because of our innate tendency to sin, the majority of people would go to Hell) to live in suffering, pain and anguish for eternity. This does not resemble the caring, omnibenevolent Theist God – surely God ought to save everyone. This suggests an evil God, and therefore defeats Augustine’s explanations for evil.

However, many Christians would argue that it is up to us to be good; thus Augustine’s theodicy is known as a soul-deciding theodicy. Augustine wrote that we have the choice to turn to God by using our autonomy, and it is our responsibility to do this; he also argues that free will is a chance for reconciliation with God. We are, therefore, responsible for our own fates.

John Calvin argued against this; he said that it is impossible for us to have true autonomy if God is an omniscient being. Psalm 139 tells: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book…” which suggests predestination. He said that God’s omniscience suggests that the future is predestined, and he questioned whether it was possible for humanity to be autonomous and predestined – surely this is contradictory. This claim immediately destroys Augustine’s theodicy because if we do not have free will then God is still to blame for evil, and if we aren’t predestined, then God is not omniscient. This defeats the Classical God of Theism, and therefore Augustine’s theodicy does not adequately explain evil.

Overall, the high number of discrepancies in Augustine’s Theodicy prove it to be fruitless in its explanations for evil; for instance, Augustine doesn’t explain why God did not prevent the angels’ from causing natural evil, nor does he explain the necessity of extreme suffering. The Augustinian Theodicy, therefore, is not an adequate response to the Problem of Evil.

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