Problem of Evil as raised by Dostoevsky

“Rebellion” or “The Sufferings of Little Children”


1.      Overview of the problem of evil

         a.      Perhaps the strongest argument against God’s existence (at least a certain kind of God)

         b.      Serious stumbling block to religious faith

                   i.       People who believe sometimes stop believing when they encounter terrible evil

                   ii.      People who want to believe, can’t believe because of it

         c.      Not just an intellectual, philosophical, or academic problem

                   i.       An existential problem: Feel it in one’s gut

                   ii.      A problem that Christians (and other faiths who believe in a certain kind of God) should seriously confront

2.      Dostoevsky makes one really feel and see the problem

         a.      Brings it alive

         b.      Real issue in the lives of Ivan and Alyosha

         c.      A focus on the sufferings of children



4.      Hume’s formulation

         a.      Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent.

         b.      Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent.

         c.      Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

5.      John Hick’s formulation (p. 463 original)

         a.      “If God is perfectly loving, he must wish to abolish evil; and if he is all-powerful, he must be able to abolish evil. But Evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly loving.”

6.      Problem of evil involves the idea that the following four propositions are logically incompatible (can’t all be true)

         a.      One: God is omniscient

         b.      Two: God is omnipotent

         c.      Three: God is omnibenevolent

         d.      Four: Evil exists

7.      Why need all four?

         a.      Which is ignored by Hume’s and Hick’s formulations?

8.      A reasonable conception of God?

         a.      A traditional Christian conception

         b.      Problem of evil is a problem for anyone who accepts this conception of God



10.    One: Deny one of the four propositions

         a.      God has limited knowledge or ability or goodness

         b.      Evil is an illusion; it doesn’t exist

                   i.       Dostoevsky makes this a hard response to accept

                   ii.      What happened to the five year old girl in the outhouse is not evil?

11.    Two: Explain why the four are not incompatible (despite appearances)

         a.      This is a “theodicy”: A defense of reality and goodness of God given the existence of evil


12.    Dostoevsky’s response to the “higher harmony theodicy”

13.    Higher harmony

         a.      Evils here will be made up for later

         b.      Suffering of children necessary for the higher harmony?

         c.      Objection one: God using children as a means to God’s own ends?

         d.      Objection two: Ivan will not accept that sufferings of children can be made up for

                   i.       Why not?

                   ii.      If there is a higher harmony, there must be atonement (reconciliation between wrongdoer and victim) and this requires forgiveness

                   iii.     But a mother should not forgive those who tortured her children

                   iv.     And putting a person in hell for these acts doesn’t make up for the suffering of children

                   v.      Nothing can make up for that