The Problem of Natural Evil, by Luke Gelinas

Gelinas introduces his examination of the arguments from natural evil and their replies by noticing that an omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good being existing in concurrence with the existence of evil appears to be a contradiction. He goes on to state that this inconsistency seems to many to be justifiable in favour of theism through free-will. Free-will dictates that I have the choice of doing wrong or right, and since free-will entails the uncertainty of what I choose to do, God cannot be held accountable for the evil that arises from exercising free-will (Gelinas 2009, p. 533). However, Gelinas points out that the evil that free-will accounts for is moral evil that comes from the human capability to exercise free-will; free-will does not account for the natural evil that arises from processes found in nature. One reply to this criticism of theism that Gelinas discusses is the argument developed by Swinburne. Swinburne states that in order to have free-will, I must be able to choose between doing good or evil. To know how to do good and evil, I must know the effects of certain actions. To gain the knowledge of these effects, it is preferable to be introduced to them through experience rather than in other manners. Gelinas elucidates that at least one individual who is introduced to these effects by experience has to have experienced them in nature without any moral intent, and if these effects are essentially evil in nature, then we can conclude that natural evil is required to know these effects and therefore required to commit the evil. In Swinburne’s argument, since free-will is highly valued, it justifies natural evil. (Gelinas 2009, p. 540-541) In this essay, I will argue that there are some cases where free-will does...

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...ut this natural evil, we are only experiencing it and its effects, so there is no action learned or associated with effects of the evil. If action is absent, then there is no action to attribute good or evil to or to choose between. Since we are not making a decision we are not exercising our free-will, so in this case, natural evil is not justified by the value that free-will brings since there is none being exercised. Although Gelinas points out that Swinburne does not state that all natural evils can be explained, my argument questions whether Swinburne’s argument actually can explain all natural evil and it increases the improbability of the argument that natural evil is necessary for free-will for all cases of natural evils.

Works Cited

Gelinas, L. 2009. “The Problem of Natural Evil I: General Theistic Replies.” Philosophy
Compass, 4/3, pp. 533, 540-542
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