The Problem of Evil

New Philosophical Directions

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Benjamin W. McCraw, Robert Arp
  • Lanham, MD: 
    Lexington Books
    , December
     206 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


In this collection of ten essays, the contributors examine the problem of evil from various philosophical vantage points. From the question of the possibility of “pure evil” to the problematic nature of discourse about the problem of evil, The Problem of Evil: New Philosophical Directions ranges widely across the theoretical and historical landscape. Included are focused analyses of major figures such as Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Shelling, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hannah Arendt, John Hick, Alvin Plantinga, Marilyn McCord Adams, and others, as well as forays into narrow conceptual problems such as the doctrine of hell. While all of these essays make contributions, three stand out: “Evil by Nobodies” by Jennifer Mei Sze Ang (51-67), “What the Hell is God Up To?” by John Shook (127-140), and—a real gem—“Redemptive Suffering” by Neal Judisch (161-176).

The sheer variety of essays in this volume demonstrates the plethora of entry points into approaching the problem of evil in contemporary philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, resulting in an increase in specialized studies on particular theoretical and historical aspects of the problem of evil. Nearly gone are the days of ambitious meta-theodicies such as the free will theodicy, soul-making theodicy, process theodicy, protest theodicy, and others that dare to make bold, global arguments. For better or worse, in academic discourse on evil—especially in the philosophy of religion—we are in an era of singles, not homeruns. This book’s eclectic collection of essays reflects this reality. The kaleidoscopic construction of the volume, however, tends to dizzy the reader more than it dazzles, bereft as it is of a guiding theme or approach to give it shape—other than “new directions.” Perhaps this is an inevitable outcome of scholarly hyper-specialization.

Philosophical treatments of the problem of evil take the reader into deep and sometimes difficult waters. Often philosophers will transpose theodical discourse into symbolic equations: “Pr (OOMP/Evil > Pr (OOMP&C [where C=Creator of the world]/Evil” (86), which translates roughly into the assertion that it is more probable (=Pr) that an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect God (=OOMP) would allow evil (=/Evil) than that an expanded conception of God (=OOMP&C) would allow evil. One can only hope to have a symbolic logic calculator within reach at such moments. At other times however, the contortions of the prose makes one wish for more equations, for example: “The undifferentiated qua undifferentiated becomes differentiated, and it is in virtue of its differentiation that it is truly undifferentiated” (42). Now, on the one hand, fine distinctions, nuance, grammatical precision, and conceptual rigor are the hallmarks of philosophy, and it should not apologize for or shy away from them. These are the tools of the trade which enable philosophers to probe deeply into these foundational questions. On the other hand, rarefied philosophical subtleties risk incomprehensibility and soporific homage from the uninitiated reader. In the process of bringing the trees—or sometimes the ants scurrying along the branches—into focus, the forest fades from the horizon. So the philosopher must strike a balance between conceptual clarity and depth on the one hand, and apprehensibility and relevance on the other.

A less sympathetic reader would decry the inordinate amount of grammatical and typographical errors, the uneven quality of the essays, the structural problems, and would uncharitably declare: “This is no The Problem of Evil (Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, eds., Oxford University Press, 1991) redivivus,” and might thereby miss the many contributions of the volume, and the many interesting threads of analysis. Without a doubt the best part of this volume is the Introduction by editors Robert Arp and Benjamin W. McGraw. Together they ably survey “the landscape of philosophical (or religious, theological, etc.) thought about evil” (17). In particular, Arp and McGraw detail “The Nature of Evil” (1-6), “The Problem of Evil” (6-10), “Responses to the Problem of Evil” (10-15), and “The Meta-Problem of Evil” (15-18). These pages cover the main theoretical issues concisely and would serve well as an introduction to the problem of evil in philosophy courses. Overall, The Problem of Evil will appeal to specialists on the problem of evil and theodicy, and especially to philosophers.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Mark S. M. Scott is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Thorneloe University at the University of Laurentian.

Date of Review: 
September 9, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Robert Arp is a research analyst for the US Army.

Benjamin W. McCraw teaches philosophy at University of South Carolina Upstate.




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