Helpful Resource on the Problem of Evil

     John Feinberg sets out to defend seven independent, but related, theses in The Many Faces of Evil. These thesis are divided into two categories. The first category covers the notion of the problem of evil. Feinberg’s point is that, rather than there being such a thing as the problem of evil, there are several problems of evil. There is a religious problem of evil (dealt with autobiographically in the last chapter) and the theological/philosophical problem of evil. Even with this distinction, there are other sublevels of problems of evil: there is the existence of moral evil and natural evil, which Feinberg treats at length in his study. There are also the issues of quantity, intensity, and gratuitousness of evil. Also, there is the problem of animal suffering, and the problem of hell. Finally, the theological/philosophical problem of evil must be addressed in terms of the logical and evidential forms. Thus, Feinberg makes the point that both theists and atheists must clearly define which particular problem is being addressed before any progress can be made in the debate. He writes, “An acceptable solution to one problem of evil isn’t nullified because it doesn’t solve any or all other problems.” (27) The second category covers the ground rules for treating the logical problem of evil. Feinberg states that “the most fundamental rule for handling [the logical problem of evil] is that any problem of evil posed in its logical form is about the internal consistency of a theological position.” (27) Thus, theists must construct arguments do not contradict themselves. Atheists must “specify a problem that actually arises withinthe views of the system they attack.” (27)
     The first half of the book is devoted to presenting the logical problem of evil as well as to showing the various forms of the theological-philosophical problem of evil. Feinberg lays out the differences between theonomy on the one extreme and Leibnizian rationalism on the other extreme, with modified rationalism in between. He then summarizes several different theodicies (soul-building, greater good, free will), and then presents his own “defense” (note: not theodicy) which he describes as moderately Calvinistic. Feinberg, like others, takes a middle ground between theonomy and Leibnizian rationalism, and embraces modified rationalism. His position is that God cannot remove evil without being responsible for creating greater problems. He outlines his own position in chapters six and seven.
     The second half of the book treats the evidential form of the problem of evil. Feinberg does a thorough job of presenting both atheistic and theistic treatments of the problem, and presenting his own position in chapter twelve. The problem of hell is addressed in chapter thirteen, with attention given to both the logical and evidential forms of the problem. Feinberg’s position is that it is possible to defend the traditional doctrine of hell based on the seriousness of sin and the holiness and majesty of God. Finally, after a thorough discussion on the theological/philosophical problem of evil, Feinberg addresses the religious problem of evil from his own perspective as someone in the midst of a profound struggle with what seems to be excessively intense anguish. His goal is to approach the problem pastorally first and intellectually second, which, he says, is the appropriate way to treat the religious problem.
Feinberg, John S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil.Wheaton: Crossway, 2004.
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