.. ritual and moral growth. The second stage necessitates the free actions of those human beings. Through their own free actions they can be transformed into the children of God; that is they can become the likeness of God. In both the Augustinian and Irenaean accounts much emphasis is placed on the idea of free will.
According to Augustine, human freedom results in the Fall. According to Irenaeus, human freedom is necessary if human beings are to become the kind of creatures God wants them to be. The free will defence thus tries to remove the blame from God for the presence of evil, by focusing on the wilful turning away from good to evil by free human agents. Some scholars have gone further; if human freedom is to be a reality, evil is a necessary part of the moral universe, for it presents us with real choices about how we are to live. Just as we can freely choose to do good, so we can use our freedom to do evil. Richard Swinburnes theodicy provides a good illustration of this kind of approach.
According to Swinburne, evil is necessary for the creation of greater goods. These greater goods are defined in two complimentary ways. The main emphasis lies with the will of God. God wants human beings to know and love him freely. In order for this to happen, we have to be confronted with the choice between good (God) and evil (that which is not God).
Human freedom lies in the ability to choose between God and that which is not God. Freedom is the crucial issue here. For Swinburne, there has to be a real risk involved if human beings are to learn to act responsibly ; if God simply created human beings who were free but incapable of evil actions there would be no real responsibility. If evil did not result from wrong choices, then human life would be akin to a video game. If I crash a car whilst playing a computer game, no one is injured; there is no cost to my mistake.
Swinburne argues that in order for us to become mature and responsible adults we have to be in a position to see the results of a wrong action. Connected to this point is Swinburnes account of the relationship between evil and virtue. According to Swinburne, evil and suffering give human beings the opportunity to perform at their best. A world without evils would be a world without forgiveness, compassion, bravery and self-sacrifice. In order for there to be such virtues there have to be evils which prompt people to behave in altruistic ways.
In Swinburnes words: Evils give men the opportunity to perform those acts which show men at their best. Thus evil becomes necessary for the exercise of goodness. If human beings are to develop as persons, they must come into contact with evil and act against it. It is by acting against evil that goodness is generated. Whilst Swinburnes argument is clear, it is not altogether convincing.
The argument rests upon the assumption that evil is necessary for good. Without evil, there would therefore be no goodness. Evil therefore becomes good itself, simply because without it there is no good. Such a conclusion is based upon a misunderstanding of the connection between suffering and goodness. Swinburne appears to be arguing that good can come out of human suffering. In a way he is right: often people will look back on the difficult times as the formative years of their lives.
However some forms of suffering defy such categorisation. It is difficult to see what good came out of Auschwitz. Any good that comes out of such extreme suffering should not be understood as casually connected to the evil which preceded it. A casual connection would suggest that in order for there to be good there had first to be suffering. Perhaps we would be better advised to think of the good which comes out of such situations as a by-product of the initial experience not something that arose because of the suffering , but something that arose despite the suffering.
A further development to the kind of theodicy advanced by Swinburne is found in John Hicks writing. While broadly reiterating Swinburnes position, Hick develops this idea. Like Swinburne, Hick argues that human beings move through suffering and moral struggle toward perfection: the kind of goodness which… God desires in his creatures, could not in fact be created except through a long process of creaturely experiences in response to challenges and disciplines of various kinds. The world is thus a place of soul-making, an arena where we have the opportunity to become the children of God.
However, unlike Swinburne Hick accepts that the outcome of suffering is not always predictable. The kind of experiences people meet in life may be soul-breaking, rather than soul-making. How then can the idea of God as creator of the system and this kind of suffering be justified? Hick argues that if the work of creation is to be completed the process of soul-making must continue beyond the grave in a realm where the person is subjected to processes of healing and repair which bring it into a state of health and activity. In such a higher harmony, we will grow and develop; moreover, we will understand the meaning of the suffering endured in this world. Whilst this argument is perhaps stronger than Swinburnes, it is not without its problems.
According to such a view, the presence of evil in this world is justified by the righting of wrongs and erasing of suffering in a future world. If this is the case, the meaning of this world is to be questioned. If evil is to be righted in the future, why fight against present evils in the here and now? Such a view might lead to inaction in this life and apathy towards the suffering of others. Natural Evil The final area that I want to examine is that of natural evil, i.e. evil that is not brought about by human action.
The best example being children born with Spina-Bifida. This is a crippling and extremely painful deformity. The vertebrates do not properly form around the spinal column, leaving the nerves in the spinal cord exposed. In some cases the skin does not form around the spinal cord either, leaving nerves completely exposed. This results in paralysis loss of bladder control, and extreme pain.
If doctors attempt to help the child then it will live a short and painful life. In the worst cases the course of action taken by medical staff is to fill the child with painkillers and allow it to die naturally. In other words the doctors do not attempt to treat the patient. There is no argument to my mind that can satisfactorily explain such an evil. Random Acts Of Evil A good example here is the murder of James Bulger, by John Venables and Robert Thompson.
The murderers as children are considered to be innocent, and it shocked people at the time that these two children could be capable of murdering a complete stranger. James Bulger as a three year old child could not be seen to deserve to be murdered and there was seemingly no benefit to be gained from his death. Equally, it is clear that his murderers did not fully understand the implications of their actions. So, what could the motives of a benevolent God possibly be in such a situation. Murder in itself can generally be argued away using the free will argument, because in 75% of cases the victim knows the murderer. However, in the instance of serial murder the victim is not known to the attacker, the crimes are random, an example is Ted Bundy who murdered thirty or more college girls. The victims are not in any way connected with the killer, but are instead the innocent victims of random attack. How is it then possible to defend the existence of a God who allows such events to happen.
Conclusion There are many good reasons to be atheist, the problem of evil is to my mind the best argument for it. However, as I stated at the start in this field, ones best argument is what one feels. If I felt that God existed then I would believe, as it is I dont and so I dont. One does not need an argument either way I believe what I want/need to believe i.e. if one feels that there is a God then one will want/need to believe in him. This is as far as I am concerned the only argument that one can use in this field of study.
All other arguments seem futile because in the end you find that they are a mass of contradictions.