Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil—Another Take

By | September 24, 2021

In my previous post I contrasted four models of divine providence with respect to the retrospective and prospective problems of evil. Here’s another complementary way of looking at the problem of evil in terms of how each model tries to relieve some of the tension caused by evil by adjusting our understanding of the divine attributes that give rise to the problem.

The traditional problem of evil claims to discern a tension, if not an outright conflict, between God’s power, God’s goodness, God’s knowledge, and evil. Surely, the thought goes, an all-good, all-powerful God who knew with certainty of every instance of evil before it occurs would have prevented very much of it (with the exception of those evils that He knows to be necessary for a “greater good”).

  • Theistic determinism attempts to deal with the PoE by strongly affirming God’s power and antecedent knowledge while greatly qualifying God’s goodness. God is all-powerful, but isn’t “good” in anything like we normally understand the term.
  • Molinism attempts to deal with the PoE by qualifying both God’s power and goodness while strongly affirming God’s antecedent knowledge. God’s power is limited by counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. God’s goodness is less strongly qualified than on theistic determinism, but there’s still a significant gap between God’s “goodness” and our understanding of goodness.
  • Open theism attempts to deal with the PoE by qualifying God’s knowledge while strongly affirming God’s power and goodness. God cannot know for certain in advance how creatures will use or misuse their free will. God can prevent all evil, but cannot preempt all evil without also eliminating creaturely freedom. There’s an ineliminable degree of risk.
  • Process theism attempts to deal with the PoE by strongly affirming God’s goodness, but qualifying God’s knowledge and greatly limiting God’s power. God can’t know for certain in advance if evil is about to occur, and even if He did, He couldn’t prevent it, even if He wanted to.

In sum, every theist makes some kind of “concession” in response to the problem of evil. As before, theistic determinism and process theism are the more extreme positions. Each has to greatly qualify our understanding of one of God’s traditional attributes, whether power or goodness. Molinism and open theism are moderating positions that differ on where they think the modifications are best made, whether to God’s power and goodness (Molinism) or to God’s knowledge (open theism).

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