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Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan Evil, God, and the Agnostic Inquirer Suffering and wickedness pervade the world. How could an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God have created such a world? This question poses what philosophers and theologians call "the problem of evil." Perhaps this is something of a misnomer. After all, there is more than one problem of evil. What are the psychological roots of wickedness and apathy? How does one fight one's own recalcitrant will? What is the best way to alleviate abuse and poverty? All these are certainly problems of evil, but they are different from the problem theoreticians have chosen to call the problem of evil—or better—the philosophical problem of evil. The philosophical problem of evil challenges theists to reconcile the existence of evil with the existence of God. The philosophical problem of evil has blocked more inquiries into theism than all other philosophical problems combined. Countless thinkers inquiring into the rationality of religious belief have foundered on the existence of evil, and have concluded a good God does not exist. And it is not merely agnostics and atheists who Logos 2:1 Winter 1999 128 Logos are troubled by the philosophical problem of evil. Believers, too, are perplexed, and sometimes so deeply troubled by the problem that faith dissolves into doubt, and doubt into disbelief. The problem ofevil has exercised so many philosophers and theologians that a technical term has been introduced to label attempted solutions: they are called theodicies. In this essay we want to describe a new strategy for thinking about the philosophical problem of evil, a new approach to constructing a theodicy.We develop this new strategy by adopting the perspective of a philosophically inclined nonbeliever, an agnostic interested in assessing theism, and particularly Christianity, but bothered by the problem of evil.1 In Section I we examine the standard philosophical approach to theism and theodicy and indicate , through the eyes of our Inquirer, what we take the limitations of the standard approach to be. In Section II we explain our new strategy. I.The Standard Philosophical Approach to Inquiry Argumentsfor God in Traditional Natural Theology What route should be taken by an Inquirer of the sort we're imagining—a philosophically inclined nonbeliever, sincerely interested in investigating theodicies and theism? Pick up an armful of textbooks on the philosophy of religion or philosophical theology, peruse the topics discussed and the sequences of discussion, and it's likely that the broad path will seem obvious. First, it looks like an Inquirer needs to investigate the divine attributes and make an assessment of the coherence of the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God. If the concept turns out to be coherent—that is, if it looks like it's possible, not self-contradictory, that there might be a good God—then one can turn to philosophical arguments that actually try to establish the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient being. That accomplished, one can turn to Evil, God, and the Agnostic Inquirerj tq the problem of evil, and argue that the omnipotent, omniscient being is perfectly good. And then the argument that a good God would give a revelation to his people, would announce the terms of salvation, can be scrutinized. Eventually one may be entitled to ask more specifically what kind of revelation a good God would give, and finally to identify a particular revelatory claim made by a particular church as best satisfying the description. Minor variations in the prescribed route will be encountered. Maybe one is initially directed to look at the proofs for God, and then focus on the internal coherence of the concept of God, rather than the other way around. But all of the paths recommend leaving to the very end of the investigation examination of the aspect of religion that first intrigues many interested nonbelievers: a particular message, a revelation that promises bread more nourishing than the loaves fashioned by human hands, and medicine for the soul that the world cannot provide. Let's consider in some detail just how our Inquirer might proceed if she decides to follow the standard ordering protocol. We may easily imagine that it makes good sense...


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pp. 127-152
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