The Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil

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Chad Meister, Paul K. Moser
Cambridge Companions to Religion
  • Cambridge, England: 
    Cambridge University Press
    , June
     282 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Chad Meister’s and Paul Moser’s Cambridge Companion to the Problem of Evil [CCPE] aspires to illuminate the most important contemporary strategies that a philosopher or a theologian might employ in the attempt to deal with the problem of evil [PoE], presents insightful overviews of the traditional answers that the proponents of the Abrahamic religions offered in defense of God’s omnibenevolence, but also, without any bias, puts forward the atheologians’ views that challenge the viability of a classical monotheistic faith.

CCPE is divided in two parts. The first one bears the title “Conceptual Issues and Controversies,” and is comprised of seven chapters. John Cottingham (chap. 1) essays to demonstrate that the instances of distress and anguish are not posing a detrimental threat to meaning and value of life, on account of suffering’s redemptive power. Charles Taliaferro (chap. 2) ruminates on the role of beauty and ugliness in the exploration of PoE, and concludes that the theistic worldview is compatible with the human quest for goodness and beauty. Graham Oppy (chap. 3) argues that the logical argument from evil, which many consider to have been overturned already by Plantinga’s free-will defense, may be still recast in a form that will prove instrumental in pursuing the atheologian’s cause. In chapter 4, Paul Draper makes a strong case against classical theism by resorting to a novel version of the evidential argument from evil. Timothy Perrine and Stephen Wykstra (chap. 5) elaborate on the response to the evidential PoE known as skeptical theism, which is largely based on the principle of epistemic humility. J. L. Schellenberg, in chapter 6, explores the relation between the problem of divine hiddenness and PoE, and concludes that the former is different, more fundamental, and potentially even more damaging for the theistic position than the latter. N. N. Trakakis (chap. 7) underlines some possible backlashes of theodicean reasoning and defends the theistic position of anti-theodicy by falling back on a pastoral response to PoE.

Part 2 of this book, entitled “Interdisciplinary Issues,” includes six chapters. Christopher Southgate (chap. 8) addresses the issue of natural evil and proposes a cosmic theodicy which views suffering as a necessary concomitant of the created goods and values. In chapter 9, Margo Kitts discusses the Ancient Near Eastern literary and artistic perspectives on the concept of evil in its narrow sense of maleficent actions, performed by superhuman and human agents. Lenn Goodman (chap. 10) offers a concise, but rather comprehensive, account of Judaism’s answers to PoE, and the same goes, mutatis mutandis, for Timothy Winter’s exploration of the Islamic perspectives (chap. 12). Paul Fiddes (chap. 11) considers the intersection of the free-will defense and the christological notion of atonement as a plausible response to PoE. The book ends with Michael Ruse’s emphatic claim that the presence of evil is detrimental to the Judeo-Christian worldview (chap. 13).

Now I shall take the liberty to indicate several opportunities for further improvement of this fine volume. 

Both in this book and in most of the general debate, only two items of the Leibnizian taxonomy of evil survive; the metaphysical aspect seems to have slipped out of the picture. However, the notion of metaphysical evil, if understood in the sense of the creation’s innate imperfection, could serve as a useful tool in confronting certain questions, like, for example, those raised by Southgate in chapter 8. 

In their “Introduction” (2), Meister and Moser mention that PoE also pertains to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism—although I tend to agree with Ruse (266) that it does so in a much less potent form—but then the reader could feel slightly disappointed upon realizing that no essay in the book actually engages with the Far Eastern philosophies.

Cottingham (chap. 1) makes a strong case for the inseparability of morality and meaning, and manages to demonstrate that perpetuating evil dissolves meaning and that for evil doers suffering may be redemptive, but not that the Christian worldview protects the meaning of life even against horrendous suffering (especially when endured by infants, pre-Christian, and non-Christian peoples), which, I believe, was the essay’s primary goal. Similar criticism can be leveled against Fiddes’s contribution, as he himself seems to acknowledge (chap. 11, p. 229).

Taliaferro’s essay (chap. 2) could benefit from references to Plato’s and Plotinus’s Aesthetic solution to PoE (Leges 903 b4-c5; Ennead III.2.2.24-31), and their statements concerning the overall beauty of the world (e.g. Timaeus 29a 87c4-5 92c5-9; Ennnead II.9.4), which so profoundly influenced St. Augustine.

Despite his obvious mastery over the subject and the well-argued case, Oppy (chap. 3) does not manage to resurrect the logical argument from evil (as he himself seems to admit on p. 63), on account of the same ole simple reason: the logical argument sets the bar too high, and all one needs to do to refute it is to demonstrate that logical consistency between the statements of God’s existence and the datum of evil is possible.

It could be also worth mentioning that “the only way strategy” elaborated on by Southgate (151-52), but also his cosmic theodicy as a whole, bear striking (and unacknowledged) similarities with the Platonic and Stoic explanation of natural evil as unavoidable consequence of purposeful action aimed at a higher good (Timaeus 75 b-d; SVF II.1078, II.1170). Furthermore, by using the phrase “necessary concomitant” (155), Southgate directly mimics the Stoic kata parakoluthēsin idiom.

To conclude, CCPE is a well-written book; the contributors did a good job in clearly presenting their ideas and convincingly arguing for their positions, as far as possible. An added value for the reader is the aesthetic pleasure that some of the essays offer (especially chapters 4, 9, and 12). Thus, the present volume is a valuable addition to the existing compendiums on evil, and a helpful guide for both students and scholars in the field of philosophy of religion. It successfully fulfils the main task set by the editors, which is not to solve PoE, but to generate new insights by highlighting some of the key points of the continuous debate between atheologians and theologians.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Viktor Ilievski is a Research Fellow in Ancient Philosophy at Autonomous University of Barcelona.

Date of Review: 
November 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Chad Meister is Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Bethel College, Indiana, where he received the Professor of the Year award for teaching excellence. He is the author of Evil: A Guide for the Perplexed, 2nd edition (forthcoming), and co-editor of Five Views on the Problem of Evil (forthcoming), The History of Evil (six volumes, forthcoming), and the award-winning God Is Great, God Is Good (2009).

Paul Moser is Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University, Chicago. He is the author of The God Relationship (Cambridge, forthcoming) and the award-winning book The Elusive God: Reorienting Religious Epistemology (Cambridge, 2002). Other publications include The Evidence for God (Cambridge, 2009), The Severity of God (Cambridge, 2013), Knowledge and Evidence (Cambridge, 1991), Philosophy after Objectivity (1993), and Theory of Knowledge (1997). He is the editor and co-editor of Jesus and Philosophy (Cambridge, 2008), The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology (2005), and The Wisdom of the Christian Faith (Cambridge, 2012). He is the co-editor, with Chad Meister, of the Cambridge Studies in Religion, Philosophy, and Society series.


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