The Many Faces of Evil
John S. Feinberg
The existence of evil is, perhaps, one of the hardest problems for Christianity to untangle. Why should a God who is all loving, all good, and all powerful, allow evil to exist? While the first reaction to Christianity in modern times is “science has proven God doesn’t exist,” a logical fallacy of the first order, and the second is, “the Bible is just a bunch of made up writings of folks who lived a long time ago,” the final fallback position in almost every discussion over the existence of God is the problem of evil.
Dr. Feinberg has, in this book, penned one of the most thorough examinations of the problem of evil you will find. The tone is a bit philosophical, and the writing and references might be a bit difficult for the average layman to read and understand, but there are few other authors who put so much effort into breaking the problem of evil down into its component parts, and then examining each part in great detail. The author breaks the topic up into four major sections covering the logical, evidential, and religious problems of evil, and the problem of hell (or rather, the problem of eternal punishment for sin). It is critical to the author’s argument that the reader absorb and understand this logical breakdown in the problem of evil in order to grasp the underlying arguments Dr. Feinberg makes.
The first chapter considers the problem of evil itself. Here the author explains and justifies the way he has broken the problem apart. Here he also explains the difference between defending God from the charge of being evil, or having evil intent, because evil exists (a theonomy), and simply providing a set of plausible reasons for the existence of evil. Dr. Feinberg argues we cannot know the mind of God, so it is folly to try and justify the existence of evil. The best Christians can hope for is to provide reasonable explanations; going beyond this invites unhealthy theological speculation.
From here, he moves into the logical problem of evil deals with the relationship of evil to theology; can theology explain the existence of evil in the abstract? Is it possible to explain why God would allow such a thing as evil in the world, and yet have a theological system that is consistent, or rather has a consistent view of God? Three different theological views are presented, and a defense for the existence of evil is presented and evaluated for each one. In each case, Dr. Feinberg finds the theological system does, in fact, provide a valid explanation of evil. In chapters six and seven, he considers the different between the moral and natural problems of evil within the logical realm.
The second section deals with the evidential problem of evil, which posits that while God is possible (in that he could logically exist), the existence of God isn’t probable. One reason they point to in order to claim God’s existence isn’t probable is the improbability of an all good, all powerful, all loving God who would, in fact, allow (or create) evil. This is the most technical of the sections, replete with formulas and constants in various forms. Is it reasonable to believe this is the best of all possible worlds? Should we, in fact, expect God to create the best of all possible worlds?
In the third section, which consists of a single chapter, Dr. Feinberg addresses the problem of hell. Once again he breaks the problem down into pieces, and addresses each piece. There are, on the whole, better defenses for the existence and justness of hell available, but given the length and positioning of this short chapter within the framework of the book, the author provides a solid and usable defense.
The final section is what most Christians living “in the trenches” will be interested in. Here, Dr. Feinberg addresses the question of individual evil. “If God is good, then why did that particular evil happen to me,” or “to that really well known Christian over there?” The discussion on what to, and not to say, to someone who is dealing with what appears to be a massive evil in their own person life, given through the lens of someone who has suffered great pain, is helpful and useful in a very practical sense.
Overall, this is an excellent and practical book for the Christian trying to understand the nature and place of evil within the Christian belief system. The philosophical parts might be a bit deep for the average person, and the practical parts might leave the average theologian or philosopher a bit perplexed (or even bored), but the overall effect is a well rounded defense of God, and the Christian faith, in the face of the problem of evil.