The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beliefs. By Jeremy A. Evans. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013. 226 pp. $24.99. ISBN 978-7-4336-7180-7.
The Problem of Evil has been said to be the only really good argument against the existence of God, as broadly construed by the major Theistic religions. The problem of evil, which began as what could be broadly construed as the logical problem of evil, in the writings of some ancient philosophers, has taken on a number of different forms, and been advanced by a number of different authors. In this book, Jeremy Evans seeks to interact with, and defeat, all of the known versions of the problem of evil. In this review we will consider the purpose of this book, its general outline, as well as considering some relative advantages and disadvantages of this book.
The General Editor of the B&H Series in Christian Apologetics, Robert B. Stewart, notes that the books in this series are written for College and University Students, with the intention that they be used as course textbooks. The purpose of this book, which is obvious from the title of the book, is “an attempt to address two universal features of human experience, namely the problem of evil and the problem of suffering.” The book includes a Table of Contents, an Index of proper names, an index of subjects and an index of scripture references used. The book is divided into 12 chapters and a short section with concluding remarks.
Chapter 1 serves as an introduction to some of the themes that will be discussed in the book. Evans considers what is meant by the term evil, and explains the commonly accepted distinction between moral and natural evil. He also distinguishes between the two primary types of responses that are given to the problem of evil, namely a theodicy and a defense. This chapter finishes with a survey of some of the most prominent theodicies. Chapter 2 seeks to respond to what is commonly called the logical problem of evil. The author interacts primarily with the logical problem of evil as expounded by J. L. Mackie in his famous article, “Evil and Omnipotence.” The author explains one of the most well-known response to Mackie’s version of the logical problem of evil, the free-will defense by Alvin Plantinga. Evans notes that “the LPE is a relic of the past. Even J. L. Mackie, who formulated the LPE in its most precise form, decidedly rejected his own thesis in his later work, effectually conceding that the problem of evil does not show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another given the reality of evil.”
In Chapter 3 Evans explains and responds to the argument which is known as the evidential argument from evil. He uses William Rowe’s version of the Evidential problem, and explains the ways in which this argument has been questioned by such notable philosophers as Jonathan Kvanvig, William Alston and Stephen Wykstra. This chapter is also interesting as the author argues that an expanded or full theism should be the subject any time one considers the problem of evil. In chapter 4 Evans discusses the notion of the Defeat of Evil, that is, that evil will be defeated by God. In chapter 5 Evans responds to the problem of divine hiddenness, explaining that it is a version of the problem of evil. In chapter 6 Evans takes on Hell. That is, he sets out to demonstrate that the traditional view of hell is both the only true view of hell (over against the Christian Universalist view and the Christian Annihilationist view), and that it does not create an additional problem of evil.
In chapter 7 Evans takes on the problem of Natural evil by comparing the claims of Naturalism and the claims of general Theism. He seeks to show that not only is there a solution to the problem of natural evil for General Theism, but, also, that Naturalism is unable to explain Natural evil, and is, therefore, in a potentially worse situation than Theism.
Chapter 8 is a short introduction to the deontological problem of evil, as it has been developed by Michael Tooley. He explains that in order to properly interact with this argument one must first of all consider questions related to theories of morality. Chapter 9 seeks to “argue that objective moral values are best grounded in a theistic construct”, and that naturalism is unable to provide any sort of grounding for objective morality. In chapter 10 he argues that traditional Divine Command theory is the best foundation for morality, in comparison with Mark Murphy’s view that the will of God should be seen as the foundation for morality, rather than the commands of God. In order to enter into this discussion the author introduces us to the notion of speech-acts. Chapter 11 is an interesting interaction with the Euthyphro dilemma. Evans considers this dilemma as it was presented by Socrates, but also as it was formulated by Bertrand Russell. He makes the interesting claim that everybody, including those who adhere to Naturalism, has to deal with some form of the Euthyphro dilemma. Following Kretzmann, he proposes that it is possible to avoid the Euthryphro dilemma through the doctrine of Divine Simplicity, and provides an interesting overview of this controversial doctrine. This chapter concludes with an interesting discussion of God’s command to bind Isaac, in which he asks, and answers, the question, was this command arbitrary? In the final chapter Evans asks questions about the relationship between evil, sin, God’s omnipotence, and the notion that God is totally free. He concludes with a section that seeks to show how it is that God, who is not morally obligated to do anything, could be worthy of worship. The book finishes with a short section in which Evans sums up what had been considered in this book.
This book is probably one of the best short introductions to the contemporary debates concerning the problems of evil that is currently on the market. The reader will be introduced to almost all the main people that are currently involved in the dialogue concerning the relationship between God and evil, as well as a number of important authors of the past, including Socrates, and Aquinas. B&H Academic has succeeded in providing a great introductory textbook to this subject. I would highly recommend this book for a course on the problem of evil, or as complimentary reading in a course on philosophical apologetics. The reader should be aware that the author presupposes, and relies upon, a modified version of libertarian free-will. As such he holds that Free-will and determinism are incompatible. He is also a proponent of perfect being theology. Though he also accepts and defends a form of Divine Command Theory, he is not at all opposed to Natural Law Theory, and seems to desire to reconcile these two views. Some of the drawbacks of this book is that, first of all, though the author provides answers for all of the problem of evil, drawing upon multiple answers from numerous different philosophical and theological traditions, one wonders if the varying answers given by the author are able to coherently meld together into one complete and rational understanding of scripture and the world. This is a question that might take some more time to consider.