An Analysis of Peter van Inwagen’s The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: a Theodicy

An Analysis of Peter van Inwagen’s The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: a Theodicy

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An Analysis of Peter van Inwagen’s The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: a Theodicy


In his essay, "The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: a Theodicy," Peter van Inwagen alleges a set of reasons that God may have for allowing evil to exist on earth. Inwagen proposes the following story – throughout which there is an implicit assumption that God is all-good (perfectly benevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient) and deserving of all our love. God created humans in his own likeness and fit for His love. In order to enable humans to return this love, He had to give them the ability to freely choose. That is, Inwagen holds that the ability to love implies free will. By giving humans free will, God was taking a risk. As Inwagen argues, not even an omnipotent being can ensure that "a creature who has a free choice between x and y choose x rather than y" (197)1. (X in Inwagen’s story is ‘to turn its love to God’ and y is ‘to turn its love away from God,’ towards itself or other things.) So it happened that humans did in fact rebel and turn away from God. The first instance of this turning away is referred to as "the Fall." The ruin of the Fall was inherited by all humans to follow and is the source of evil in the world. But God did not leave humans without hope. He has a plan "whose working will one day eventuate in the Atonement (at-one-ment) of His human creatures with Himself," or at least some of His human creatures (198). This plan somehow involves humans realizing the wretchedness of a world without God and turning to God for help.

The telling of this story provokes many questions. Why didn’t God, being all-good and benevolent, "immediately restore His fallen creatures to their original union with...


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... passage to suggest the essential role natural evils play in this story: "People who do not believe in God do not, of course, see our living to ourselves as a result of a prehistoric separation from God. But they can be aware – and it is a part of God’s plan of Atonement that they should be aware – that something is pretty wrong and that this wrongness is a consequence of the intrinsic inability of human beings to devise a manner of life that is anything but hideous" (203). Nowhere does experience prove this inability of human beings to escape the hideousness of the world more than in the case of natural disasters. They have existed as long as the human race, and though it may be possible for a person to delude him or herself into believing he or she is living a good life in a seemingly good world, no one can deny the horrible dangers that natural disasters present.

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