C. S. Lewis & The Problem of Evil


The existence of pain and suffering in mankind’s world is self-evident. In De Rerum Natura Epicurean poet Lucretius powerfully captured mankind’s “well befitting” cry “for whom remains/ in life a journey through so many ills”(Lucr. 5.224) that  begins the moment infants are born.

Sudden rains, flaws of winds with furious whirl, torment and twist, savage beasts, and death are but few of so many ills Lucretius named that mankind faces. These were major proof, for Epicureans, that the gods did not interfere with mankind’s welfare. Going beyond Epicureans’ position are some contemporary atheist philosophers of religion. The existence of pain and suffering, they argue, does not only challenge the idea of divine providence but also the very existence of a benevolent and omnicompetent God.

“In light of our experience and knowledge of the variety and scale of human and animal suffering in our world,” representatively contended William Rowe, “the idea that none of this suffering could have been prevented by an omnipotent being without thereby losing a greater good or permitting an evil at least as bad seems an extraordinarily absurd idea, quite beyond our belief.”(Rowe 1990: 131)

The problem of pain and suffering did not escape the ink and papers of twentieth century’s most tremendous Christian defender Clive Staples Lewis. In The Problem of Pain Lewis presented two major responses to this challenge, viz., the Free Will Defense and Soul-Making Theodicy. This two parts article concisely explored a part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense¹ found in his work, The Problem of Pain.

Pain and suffering were not strangers in C. S. Lewis’ life. Three months before he turned ten years old, cancer stole his mother’s life and estranged his father. The God who his mother taught him, the God he encountered in the Church of Ireland was then for Lewis  cruel and probably just a vague abstract. Within the next four or five years Lewis lost his belief in God and became a self-confessed atheist.

According to Lewis, the strongest case that assured his atheism is found in Lucretius’ line: “Had God designed the world, it would not be / A world so frail and faulty as we see” (Lucr. 5.198-199). It was not until in his early thirties that Lewis returned to the faith he lost and became one of Christianity’s greatest defender the 20th century has ever produced.

In The Problem of Pain Lewis set the deductive problem of pain and suffering as follows:

If God were good, He would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both (Lewis 1996, 23)

If a being that is rightly called God must by necessity possess perfect goodness and almightiness as essential attributes, then lack of either or both would mean that there cannot be such a being.

The second part of this article looks at a small but significant part of Lewis’ Free Will Defense, namely his challenge to hidden assumption that an omnipotent God can, without exception, do all tasks.

Next: C. S. Lewis & Omnipotent God

[1] A biblical-based and personal response to this challenge is found in A Grief Observed as Lewis wrestled with the death of his wife.

Cover Image: Dan DeWitt, Mere Imagination © 2011 Theolatte


Lewis, C. S. (1996) The Problem of Pain. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura Trans. William Ellery Leonard & E. P. Dutton (1916) Perseus Digital Library Project.

William Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” in The Problem of Evil, ed. by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (1990) Oxford: Oxford University Press. First published in American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979): 335-41.

Epicurean Paradox (Mis)understood


A great amount of ink is being spilled on the so called the problem of evil. Without doubt the problem of pain and suffering is the most essential, and probably the most influential, case against the providence of a benevolent God in mankind’s world. The burden of proof, in this article, is to show that the classical problem of pain and suffering should not be understood as a case against the existence of God(s) but against divinely providence in mankind’s world.

A case for the incompatibility of the gods’ divine providence and existence of pain and suffering in mankind’s world can be traced  back to Epicureans who believed that the gods existed but did not take any interest in mankind’s affairs. Epicureans are among the first to contend, against Stoics, that the idea that mankind toil in the hostile and inhospitable world demonstrate that gods’ aeons of blissful tranquility is uninterrupted by mankind’s pain and suffering (Letter to Herodotus, D. L. 10.76¹).

It is inappropriate, according to Epicureans, to hold that this fragile and faulty mankind’s world was designed by beings that are enjoying the blissful aeons of existence. The existence of pain and suffering is, for Epicureans, a proof that the gods neither created mankind’s world nor concerned themselves with it. In De Rerum Natura Epicurean Lucretius poetically wrote (RN 5.195-199):

Quod si jam rerum ignorem primordial quae sint,

Hoc tamen ex ipsis caeli rationibus ausim

Confirmare aliisque ex rebus reddere multis,

Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam

Naturam rerum; tanta stat praedita culpa.

Lactantius, a 4th century Christian theologian, was aware of Epicurean’s argument against philosophers who defended divine providence. He explained that philosophers were “almost driven against their will to admit that God takes no interest in anything, which Epicurus especially aims at.”(AG 13). Epicurus’ argument, according to Lactantius, unfold as follows:

God, he[Epicurus] says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? or why does He not remove them?(ibid)

Philo, one of David Hume’s spokesperson in Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779), reechoed Epicureans’ position that “the course of nature tends not to human or animal felicity”(D 198) and reformulated Lactantius’ argument attributed to Epicurus. Philo contended,

Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered. Is he[God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil? (D 198)

Epicurean’s argument could be formulated as follows:

  1. The gods power and wisdom are infinite (thus whatever they will comes about and they know how to bring their will about).
  2. Neither mankind are happy nor is the world design for their felicity.
  3. Therefore gods neither will mankind’s happiness nor designed the world for their felicity.

The idea that the existence of pain and suffering leads to the conclusion that the god(s) did not exist would be foreign to Epicureans. Their argument was aimed to challenge the divinely providence in mankind’s world. It was not aimed to challenge the existence of gods. According to Epicurus’ admirer Lucretius and Epicurean spokesman in Cicero’s On the Nature of the Gods Epicurus strongly rejected atheism.

Epicurean paradox should, thus, be understood as a case against divinely providence in mankind’s world and not against the existence of God(s).


Lactantius, “A Treatise on the Anger of God” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, eds. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, vol.7 (1886) Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Diogenes Laertius Lives of the Philosophers, trans. R. D. Hicks, Loeb (1972) Classical Library, 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

[1] See also Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 1.45

Does Karma & Reincarnation Solve The Problem of Evil?


Does the idea that human beings after the end of their current embodiment (incarnated) are embodied again (re-incarnate) merged with karma, the idea that embodiments are based on the moral quality of the previous embodiments solve the logical problem of evil, namely God and existence of evil are logically inconsistent?

Let us assume that the doctrine of reincarnation that includes another doctrine of karma is true.  Let us assume that Yajnavalkya saying in Brhadaranyaka Upanisad: “A man turns into something good by good action and into something bad by bad action.”(Upan 3.2.13) is correct. Does the moral justice unfolding itself throughout a series of embodiments solve logical problem of evil?

Agreeing with Keith E. Yandell[1], I think it does. A person who believes in reincarnation and karma can solve the problem of evil by pointing out that evil is a result of just punishment of bad actions(karma) from a person’s previous embodiment(s). Actions done in previous embodiment(s) can explain why bad things happen to good people or why infants suffer, et cetera and the verse.

Borrowing Yandell, a reincarnation and karma believer could argue:

For any evil E that occurs to a person in lifetime N, E is the just consequence of wrong actions by that person in lifetime N or in her lifetimes prior to N.(Yandell 1999, 124)

It appears that a person who believes in reincarnation and karma would have, if argued in such manner, succeed to show that God and existence of evil are logically consistent. The problem of evil is thus not a problem for those who believe such Eastern doctrines.

Yandell, Keith E. (1999) Philosophy Of Religion. Routledge: London and NY

[1] Yandell and I do not believe that doctrines of reincarnation and karma are true.

Hume’s Unnoticed Theodicy

David Hume

The intelligent author of nature’s attribute of benevolence, argued David Hume in Fragment on evil, could be proven by the effect of good prevailing much above evil. If good prevails much above evil, according to Hume, the author of nature could be said to be benevolent. If evil prevails much above good, then the intelligent author of nature could not be said to be benevolent.

Acknowledging his inability of determining with any certitude that evil prevails much above the good, Hume nonetheless found himself more inclined to the idea that “evil predominates in the world, and [he] apt to regard human life as a scene of misery, according to the sentiments of the greatest sages as well as of the generality of mankind, from the beginning of the world to his day” (Hume 2007, 111) He continued,

Were evil predominant in the world, there would evidently remain no proofs of benevolence in the supreme being. But even if good be predominate; since it prevails in so small a degree, and is counter balanced by so many ills; it can never afford any proof of that attribute.(ibid 111-112)

Qua Philo, in the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume presented a rich version of the problem of evil. The apparently extent of pain and suffering in the world, both as a result of moral agents and blind forces of nature, according to Hume, makes the idea of a benevolence deity who care about his creation difficult to accept. (Hume 1947, 198)

Hume qua Demea offered a theodicy that could rescue the benevolence attribute of intelligent author. Demea argued,

This life but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to larger views of things, see the whole connection of general laws, and trace, with adoration, the benevolence and rectitude of the deity, through all the mazes and intricacies of his providence.(ibid 200)

But qua Cleanthes, he tore down this theodicy as “arbitrary suppositions”, and “conjectures and fictions” whose reality cannot be proven. Rejecting the belief in God of standard theism, a benevolent author of the universe, Hume nonetheless believed in a deity of limited theism:

The whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion. (Hume 1964, 309)

In book III of The Natural History of Religion Hume provided, if I understood him correctly, a theodicy for a limited theistic deity whose providence “appears not immediately in any operation, but governs everything by those general and immutable laws, which have been establish from beginning of time”1(Hume 1985, 581). He contended,

Any of the human affections may lead us into the notion of invisible, intelligent power; hope as well as fear, gratitude as well as affliction: But if we examine our own hearts, or observe what passes around us, we shall find, that men are much oftener thrown on their knees by the melancholy than by the agreeable passions. Prosperity is easily received as our due, and few questions are asked concerning its cause or author. It begets cheerfulness and activity and alacrity and a lively enjoyment of every social and sensual pleasure: And during this state of mind, men have little leisure or inclination to think of the unknown invisible regions. On the other hand, every disastrous accident alarms us, and sets us on enquiries concerning the principles whence it arose: Apprehensions spring up with regard to futurity: And the mind, sunk into diffidence, terror, and melancholy, has recourse to every method of appeasing those secret intelligent powers, on whom our fortune is supposed entirely to depend. (Hume 2007, 129)

Hume’s theodicy, thus, is that pain and suffering, unlike leisure and prosperity, lead man to probe the nature of intelligent creator.

Next: Critique of Hume’s Deistic Theodicy


Hume, David (1947) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Norman Kemp Smith (2nd ed.) Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

____________ (1964) Natural History of Religion, in Green & Grose ed. The Philosophical. 4th vol. Dannstadt.

____________ (1985) Essay, Moral, Political, and Literary. E. F. Miller (Ed.)  Indianapolis: Liberty Classics Pub.

____________ (2007) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion And Other Writings. Dorothy Coleman (Ed.) Cambridge University Press.

[1] In his essay titled ”Of Suicide”

Q&A: Is the Problem of Evil a barrier to belief?


How can an individual believe in an omnicompetent God in a world with so much evil? Is not the problem of evil, namely belief in existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God at odd with existence of such evil?

The problem of evil is undoubtedly a serious emotional barrier to a belief in an omnicompetent God, but it is rather weak, as far as I know,  as an intellectual barrier. Whether in deductive form (DE), namely existence of evil is inconsistent with existence of an omnicompetent God, or inductive form (IE), existence of evil makes it improbable that an omnicompetent God exists, problems from evil are a failure as cases against existence of omnicompetent God because they assume notions that are not necessarily true.

DE, for example, assumes that if a being G is able (and knows how) to bring about not-E, willing to bring about not-E and desiring not-E, then not-E would be the case (viz., G would act accordingly to its ability, will and desire). This notion is not necessarily true, because it is possible, not necessarily true, that G has sufficiently moral justifying reason to permit E to be the case (forever or for a given period of time).

If it possibly true that a being that is able, desires and wills to bring about not-E to have morally justifying reason to permit E, then IE also assuming that some evil are seemly [as far as we know] pointless is false because as far as we know G could have sufficiently moral justifying reason to permit E.

Another often assumed notion, in DE, is that if omnipotent God cannot prevent (or eliminate) evil, then God is impotent, which is not necessarily true. A difference between God’s ability, viz., God being able to prevent evil, and God’s capability, God being capable of preventing evil, is often overlooked.

Overlooked difference between ability and capability in B can(not) do X (Morris 1991):

B can be able to but not capable of doing X. Example: I am able to cheat my wife but not capable because I dearly love my wife and also strongly believe it is immoral etc.

B can be capable of but not able to do X. Example: Adam, a mean father, is capable to physically torture her daughter, but not able because Adam is badly handicapped.

With that distinction in place, God could be able, having maximal possible power a being could have, to prevent evil but not capable. Thus God not preventing evil does not necessarily show that God lacked certain power a being could have to prevent evil.

God’s Omnipotence and Problem of Evil


“A wholly good omnipotent being”, contended J. L. Mackie, “would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being” (Mackie 1982: 150)

Is it necessarily true that a wholly good omnipotent being who is able eliminate evil, would eliminate evil? Is it necessarily true that a wholly good omnipotent being who cannot prevent pain and suffering, would be impotent?

Thomas V. Morris and Peter van Inwagen contended that the notions that if God exists, He would eliminate evil, and if He cannot eliminate evil, He is not omnipotent, are not necessarily true.

Following Morris, what we mean by a being B can do x, is either B’s ability, viz., B is “ able to do x” or B’s capability, viz., B is “capable of doing x”(Morris 1991). With this in mind, it become clear that God, a wholly good omnipotent, could be able to eliminate evil, but either God is morally incapable to eliminate evil without eliminating good, viz., God’s incapability to create a creature C who possesses true freedom of will and C only do good and never do evil, or God has sufficient moral reasons not to eliminate evil.

Inwagen expounded this idea:

Suppose, for example, that Alice’s mother is dying in great pain and that Alice yearns desperately for her mother to die—today and not next week or next month. And suppose it would be easy for Alice to arrange this—she is perhaps a doctor or a nurse and has easy access to pharmaceutical resources that would enable her to achieve this end. Does it follow that she will act on this ability that she has? It is obvious that it does not, for Alice might have reasons for not doing what she can do. Two obvious candidates for such reasons are: she thinks it would be morally wrong; she is afraid that her act would be discovered, and that she would be prosecuted for murder. And either of these reasons might be sufficient, in her mind, to outweigh her desire for an immediate end to her mother’s sufferings. So it may be that someone has a very strong desire for something and is able to obtain this thing, but does not act on this desire—because he has reasons for not doing so that seem to him to outweigh the desirability of the thing. The conclusion that evil does not exist does not, therefore, follow logically from the premises that the non-existence of evil is what God wants and that he is able to bring about the object of his desire — since, for all logic can tell us, God might have reasons for allowing evil to exist that, in his mind, outweigh the desirability of the non-existence of evil.(Inwagen 2006, 64-65)

Thus following Morris and Inwagen, even if God could eliminate evil, it does not follow that God would eliminate evil.

But what if a wholly good omnipotent being could not prevent evil, would it necessarily follow that He is impotent? No. It could be because of God’s moral incapability and not God’s inability to prevent evil that He could not prevent evil. God, following this view, cannot prevent evil not because God lacked possible power a being could have to prevent evil, but lack of moral reasons to prevent evil.

It is neither necessarily true, thus, that God being able to eliminate evil, He would eliminate evil, nor if God could not eliminate evil, would He be not omnipotent because it is possibly true that God could have good moral reasons not to prevent evil.


Inwagen, Peter van (2006) The Problem of Evil. Oxford Press Inc., New York.

Mackie, J. L (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Morris, Thomas V. (1991) Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology. InterVarsity Press.

Smith’s Probabilistic Argument From Evil


“Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs” vividly described Quentin Smith his dark night cabin in the woods experience. “One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another”(Smith 1991, 159).

Self-evidence  of this instances of the law of predation, “the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive”, according to Smith, is a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

Smith outlined his probabilistic argument as follows:

(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

(2) If God exists, then there exist no instances of an ultimately evil natural law.

(3) It is probable that the law of predation is ultimately evil.

(4) It is probable that there exist instances of the law of predation.

Therefore, it is probable that

(5) God does not exist. (ibid, 160)

Smith robustly defended only premise (3). He deemed, I believe, that if true, this case gives justification to his intuition that God cannot co-exist with such gruesome and horrific evil.

Let us grant, for argument sake, that premises (3) and (4) are true, would Smith be justified in his intuition that it is probable that God does not exist?  Is this a sufficient evidence that God does not exist? I don’t think so. It might be true that the existence of God is very unlikely  given Smith’s-like background data, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

A just-so example to explain why I find Smith’s case unconvincing:

Think of following background data B of a 24 years old Saudi-Arabian man, Hassan: 99% of Saudi-Arabians’ men are Moslem. Hassan’s entire family is Moslem. Considering only B, the probability that Hassan is a Moslem is, unquestionably, very high. Am I, then, justified in holding the intuition that Hassan is a Moslem? Is B a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem? No. There could be other background data OB, that I am ignorant about, that could reduce the probability of Hassan being a Moslem to nearly zero. If that could be the case, then B is not a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem. Example: Hassan working with C1 Christian’s Insider Movement. Given OB, though we grant B, it is very unlikely that Hassan is a Moslem.

Theist could, for the argument sake, bite Smith’s bullet, and accept that it is probable, given evil natural laws, that God does not exist, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.


Smith, Quentin (1991) An atheological argument from evil natural laws. Philosophy of Religion 29: 156-174, 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Cover image: Miguel’s Illustration