The Problem of Evil: Augustine and Irenaeus

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a) Explain how the theodicy of Irenaeus differs from that of Augustine.

One of the main arguments used by non-believers against the existence of God is the presence of evil and suffering in the world. The term ‘evil’ is often used to describe something that is morally wrong. Philosophers make a distinction between moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil results from human actions that are morally reproachable, and Natural evil results from the malfunctioning of the natural world, which produces entities such as disease and famine.

St Augustine (354 – 430CE) based his arguments on the Bible, especially the accounts of the creation and the fall in Genesis. His influential theodicy rests upon two major assumptions; evil did not come from God since God’s creation was faultless and perfect, and evil came from elsewhere and God is justified in allowing it to stay. Augustine started from the assumption that God is wholly good and that God created a world free from faults. Following the teaching in Genesis 1, Augustine emphasised that ‘All God has made pleased Him’; suffering and evil were therefore unknown. He made the logical point that it is not possible for God to be responsible for evil since evil is ‘not a substance’. Instead, evil refers to what is lacking in a thing; it is a ‘privation of good’. Augustine used the analogy of blindness, which is not an entity in itself but an absence of sight. If God cannot have created evil, Augustine traced its origin to those areas within the world that have free will; specifically, angels and human beings. These abused God’s gift of freedom and chose wilfully to turn their attention away from God, the supreme good, and to idolise instead ‘lesser goods’. In keeping with the story of the fall in Genesis 3, he argued that the desire for power proved too much for Adam and Eve, who were tempted by Satan, a fallen angel, to break God’s command and to eat the forbidden fruit. Having explained the origin of evil, Augustine went...
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