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St Augustine's Problem of Evil + Free Will

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The existence of evil is one of the world’s most vexing challenges. Most Christians agree on the existence of an omnipotent God, however like Augustine, we struggle to understand how evil comes into being. Evil corrupts our free will and enables us to sin, but if God is all-powerful and all good, how can he allow this to happen? “Whence comes evil? Was there a certain evil matter out of which he made these things? Did he form and fashion it, but yet leave within it something that he would not convert into good? Why would he do it? Was he powerless to turn and change all this matter so that no evil would remain in it, even though he is all powerful?” As these questions found their way into Augustine’s mind, they also manage to exist and remain unanswered for most people today. However Augustine addresses these questions by justifying evil in this world with God’s creation of free will. By granting us free will God makes us responsible for our wrongdoings, as a result of this we can knowingly choose either right or wrong. In the infamous biblical passage on the creation of original sin, God accommodates men by giving Adam and Eve all the necessities of life: partnership, water, food and land. However, despite God’s warning Eve chose to eat the fruit from the tree of life. The serpent persuades Eve who later convinces Adam to eat from the tree. From this persuasion and act from men, original sin is born. Men are now born with a predisposition to sin; in other words, they can knowingly choose what places them further away from God. Choosing the lesser good, in Adam and Eve’s case eating from the forbidden tree, explains the nature of evil as a hierarchy of goods. Augustine’s response to theodicy is heavily influenced by the Neoplatonic view of evil not existing in itself but in relation to other goods, a hierarchy of goods. Despite knowing that a perversion of will is the cause of evil, Augustine still could not decipher where evil was born, or even if it exists as a “thing”? For Augustine, evil exists as a nonbeing and thus it cannot be completely known or understood. “What is nothing cannot be known.” In Augustine’s mind there are two main explanations for evil in this world. One explanation is how it exists as a nonbeing and privation of the good. The other is of evil as the lesser good (hierarchy of goods). Throughout his works, Augustine argues in favor of the idea that God creates all that is good but not evil. Therefore the fact that he creates “free will” or gives us the ability to freely choose suggests free will in itself is good, because God only creates good. God creates free will intentionally, there is a purpose for free will to be granted to each and every man. “The fact that man cannot lead an upright life without it is sufficient reason why God should have given it [free will.]” To my understanding, throughout Augustine’s confession, the necessity of free will becomes very evident. The choices that Augustine makes through his adolescence up to his conversion truly makes Augustine find the righteous path to infinite happiness, in other words, God. If God had not granted Augustine free will to choose to look for God, Augustine may have not found Him. Free will is the means by which Augustine understands that things in this world would only give us momentary, finite satisfaction. If not for his many struggles and the experiences that shaped his adolescent years Augustine would not have embarked in the journey to find God. Augustine makes the bold statement that his journey in The Confessions of Saint Augustine can be considered the “struggle” of all Christian men. Free will along with God’s Divine Providence plan would eventually, lead to the greatest good of all, God, despite men’s sinful disposition. Augustine’s theodicy can be summarized as human’s abuse of free will by seeking to find true and infinite satisfaction in the materialistic world we inhabit.
Augustine feels that those people or things that choose to move away from doing good create evil. Free will is the key factor in determining whether you want to be good or evil. It is one person’s choice to diverge from the “right” path, that being goodness. Throughout history many examples can support this idea of evil being created by individuals who decided not to follow the “right way” whether it maybe religiously, politically, or socially. But as Augustine mentions throughout his text, you must start at the origin of good or evil. The creation story, which can be found in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, is the most well known story of “Original sin” where original sin is created by Adam and Even’s disobedience to God. While reading this text, the reader can see how Augustine’s philosophies connect to the story. The creation story is a prime example of how God creates good while man decides to create evil by not following the right course determined by his creator. In the beginning of the passage, the Bible describes the creation of Earth and heavens and how it took place.
“Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
In this passage, God is creating the major components of life on Earth by producing water, plants, and most importantly man, himself. The reader would be able to view these things as good because without them man would never had been created nor would the Earth be able to exist. God is viewed as good for originating the existence of man. However, nowhere in this story is of creation does God create evil.
In the next passage, God gives instruction to Adam, whom he has created, to follow his rules so that he may be able to live in the Garden of Eden.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
As with the creation of Earth and Heavens, God has given man guidelines on how he must act to do well in the eyes of his creator. God informs man that he may eat from any tree from the Garden of Eden but not the one tree of knowledge. However, man is not informed on any other details of why, what, when, and how, rather he must simply obey and not argue against these directions. God’s warning is clear, if man decides to eat from the tree, he will suffer the consequences. Education and communication is key in this example because Adam is instructed not to eat from the tree but is never given the reason why. Without enough knowledge of the situation, he may decide to go against his creator because he has “free will” as his own being. As the passage continues, God creates man a helper, which is later called a woman, Eve. As the man’s helper, she must help man survive in the Garden of Eden. During her time in the Garden of Eden, Eve meets a serpent that manipulates her will to act against God.
“The woman said to the serpent, We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die. You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Within this passage, the serpent is influencing Eve to think of the possibility of actually eating from the tree that God had instructed both Adam and Even to eat from because her understanding of everything is mysterious to her way of thinking. The serpent, in essence, makes her believe nothing will happen if she decides to eat from the tree because God created her to be good in his eyes. After speaking with the serpent, Eve decides to eat from the tree of good and evil because she does not know what could possibly happen and her free will decided to go ahead with the decision-making. Not only did Eve end up eating from the tree but also Adam did too. Both of God’s two first creations decided with their free will to go against “being good” and diverging towards evil. After the action of original sin, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
Throughout this story, Adam and Even did not make the decision to eat from the tree for any specific reason; rather they proceeded with the action because they did not know better. The action of eating from the tree was not to gain anything rather they want to see what would happen. Their free will enables them to freely choose to eat from the fruit, even though God has told them not to. They were curious to why they were not able to eat from this one tree. Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God from creates original sin. Whatever the reason was for Adam and Eve to disobey the creator God, whether it was curiosity, ignorance or simply the serpent’s ability to persuade and turn their will against them, the fact that they did it initiates original sin. Augustine struggles, just like Adam and Eve, by constantly being persuaded to turn away from God. The materialistic nature of this world turns him away from God multiple times, especially in his teenage years. Evil corrupts his free will and enables him to sin. His group of friends, his desire for success and other It is not until he turns to the Catholic Church that Augustine realizes the power of free will in guiding him into attaining the greatest satisfaction, God. Augustine evolves throughout The Confessions but it is not until Book 7 that he truly embraces faith and changes his outlook on Christianity.
In book 7 of the Confessions, Augustine finds himself transitioning into early manhood. As he grows knowledgeable, he comes to understand the difference between the Manicheans’ materialistic nature and the faith necessary to understand the Catholic Church and it’s teachings. More importantly, in this book, Augustine realizes that God was impossible to imagine in human corporal nature but that he exists outside the time and space of this world. “Hence, although I did not think of you as being in the shape of a human body, I was forced to think of you as something corporeal, existent in space and place, either infused into the world or even diffused outside the world throughout infinite space.” This quote shows how Augustine’s materialist outlook to life makes it difficult for him to envision God. Understanding the strength and existential nature of God while rejecting his materialistic approach to God influenced by the Manicheans, made it possible for him to actually reach God. Prior to this book as well as book 6, Augustine rejects faith as the means to understanding the church’s doctrines. Despite his mother, Monica, and her devotion to the religion, Augustine during his early, rebellious years finds no answers in the Catholic Church and its teachings. It is not until Augustine comes to understand the deeper meanings embedded in the bible’s text that he considers faith as the means by which he can live the happiest, most satisfying life. Additionally he is first exposed to the philosophies of the Neoplatonism during these years. He embraces their theories and finds in Neoplatonism a way of reconciling faith and reason. It is a turning point in his life as well as in The Confessions. Augustine turns away from the Manicheans and finds their materialist approach of no use in understanding the nature of God. He rejects the Manichean dualist religion, which for many years he followed, finding that their arguments in favor of the existence of evil weaken the power of God. Augustine diverges from this religion, which during his early years he found to have strong, rational theories to support their beliefs, for two main reasons. The religion portrays God as weak and vulnerable to evil. Additionally, it makes God and his weaknesses to this “thing” called evil, responsible for our wrongdoings. Augustine strongly disagrees with their theories and explanations for the existence of God. In this manner, Augustine turns away from them and finds faith along with the Neoplatonic thought as a better means to understanding evil. In a Neoplatonist universe, things are not of evil nature and everything is good in so far as it exists but things lower in the scale have a less complete and perfect being. Along with this, Augustine belief in the necessity of free will in order to find a life that embraces God’s divine plan. His own experience, particularly in his early years and up until Book 7, testify the importance of God’s created free will in guiding our ascent to him. It was the mere creation of free will that allows Augustine to choose the “things” that places him either closer to God or away from God. When he sins however, he is completely aware that despite knowing what was right, he chooses the “wrong.” No one forces him, except his will. In book 7, Augustine is able to understand the role free will plays in our decision-making process. More importantly the role free will plays in our ascent to God, “But this raised me up towards your light…”
Augustine’s theodicy is by far one of the best attempts at defining the root of evil. That being said there are still some unclear areas in his attempt in finding a solution to the problem of evil. Even Augustine himself cannot completely grasp how he can choose doing what is wrong “will evil”, when he knows the right path. “Whence then comes it, then, that I will evil, and do not will the good?” His argument and theory on the existence of evil is somewhat weakened by the mere fact that there is an evil will. To illustrate my point I will use disease or sickness. Sickness can be viewed as the absence of health, just like evil is the absence of good. But how is that such thing known as a disease can enter into your body and make you feel unhealthy? Wouldn’t you then proceed to protect your self from all diseases or anything that would negatively affect your health? Of course you would, however why does this absence of health exist, in the first place? This is the same criticism I have for Augustine’s theodicy. Evil is in fact the absence of good, the lesser good necessary to depict the highest good (God), however why is it even a part of our life? Why is willing evil even an option? I think Augustine would respond to this question by stating the importance of free will and our responsibility/duty to overcome temptation, pride and other things of sinful nature to find the righteous path to eternal happiness. For example, the sacrament of confession makes individuals stronger by placing them in a position to admit their wrongdoings, being able to stand true to your moral values and freeing yourself from sinful acts makes you just as strong.
In conclusion, I agree with Augustine’s understanding on evil and the role of free will. He supports his claims’ by writing his struggle to reach ultimate happiness throughout The Confessions. During his youth, Augustine thinks he has all the answers and lives the “perfect” life by enjoying great success and satisfying himself with the goods he possesses. However, there is something in Augustine that knows that all these things he possesses do not truly make him happy. Even if they make him happy it is only a temporary feeling. In his attempt to understand what was the cause of his indulgence in pride and lustful activities he realizes the importance of free will and the impact it had on the decisions he makes throughout his life. His ability to freely choose combined with his predisposition to sin play an important role in his eventual conversion. Evil exists as the result of original sin. However, it is only through free will and our acknowledgment of God’s divine plan that we may ascent to God. God illuminates us to reach him. God is with us even if we are not with him, but it is only by choosing the higher goods that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel and experience ultimate satisfaction. If we hold on to finite things as if they had an infinite nature and we seek to embrace those goods that place us further away from God, we will not be completely happy. Understanding the role of evil is more complex than that of free will.
Evil is created as a result of our mere actions because of free will. Adam and Eve’s story in Genesis explains how God is not responsible for the creation of sin; rather it is something created by us humans by choosing wrongly. The easiest way to understand evil and evil actions is by using an innocent baby. An innocent baby cries when introduced to its new baby brother. Jealousy (sin) attacks the baby and his mechanism of defense is crying because he/she knows this will attract attention. How can an innocent baby, that doesn’t even know how to speak, express such feelings of anger, jealousy and rejection to another child of God? This is proof that we are born with a predisposition to sin. The only way we can overcome our sinful nature is by living a virtuous life. A moral life guided by the four virtues: temperance, fortitude, justice and prudence will enable us to willingly make the right decisions that will guide to find eternal happiness in God.
Augustine encourages us to live his experience through his book The Confessions. From his prideful days to his conversion followed by his complete devotion to God in his later life, he wants us to make his experience our own so that we don’t waste time seeking ultimate happiness in things of this world. His experiences should serve as a guide for all Christians in how to deal with evil, temporal pleasures, pride and lustful desires. In the end, Augustine was able to learn from his mistakes and misinterpretations of what was true happiness. But because of Augustine’s teachings, we are able to skip the process of finding our true purpose in this life. As a matter of fact we should utilize Augustine’s experiences to guide us in utilizing free will to make better decisions. Free will can ascent us to God, only if we don’t dwell too much in the finite things of this world. By granting us free will, God enables us to freely choose the righteous path to him, making free will one of the greatest gifts of creation.

Bibliography
• Ryan, John K., trans. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. New York: Doubleday Religion, 1960. Print.

• Genesis, The Bible. Online

• Plotinus. The Enneads. London: Penguin, 1991. Print.

• Augustine. The Free Choice of Will.…...

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...The most weighty of the arguments against God’s existence is the problem of evil. Of all the atheistic arguments, this is the one that has been around for longest, that has had the most words written about it, and that draws the most diverse responses from Christians. In brief, the problem is this: The traditional conception of God is as omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and benevolent. This implies that if God exists then he knows how to, wants to, and is able to prevent all suffering. If such a God existed, though, then he actually would prevent all suffering. Suffering, though, is a familiar part of the world around us; it has not been prevented. There is, therefore, no omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God. There are many different responses to the problem of evil. None of them is entirely satisfactory alone, but together they do cast doubt on whether the existence of evil disproves the claim that God exists. The first response to the problem of evil is the free-will defense. Much of the evil in the world occurs only because we choose to create it. The greatest evils in the world are those inflicted by man upon man. In making the world, God faced a choice: he could create free agents like us, or he could create automata, robots, without the ability to make choices of their own. God chose to create free agents, and he made the right choice; a world containing free agents is clearly more valuable than a world of robots. The......

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The Problem of Evil

...Short Essay on Topic Hamartiology: The Problem of Evil Evil and its’ affects our obvious in our world and lives. Everyone, regardless of beliefs, must at some point deal with the reality of pain, disease, and disasters that seem to flow from evil. Just being a Christian does not erase these realities or a need to find resolve. All of us must deal with these questions in a honest way, or be content to deny the understanding our minds wish for. This understanding must unify the basic beliefs we have in God: If God is all powerful and good then why would He allow evil to exist? Logic would take us to remove one of these characteristics of God. Either He is not really all powerful or good. This is where some might deny God’s sovereign power. How can He allow something bad if He is good and able to stop it? This leads us to see that it is not just one issue, but a host of questions pop up in this arena. We find ourselves faced with moral evil and natural evil, just to pick two of the issues. Moral evil is defined as “evil produced by the activity of moral agents” and natural evil as “evil that occurs...int the natural order” (Elwell). These are seen daily in our world. Moral evil shows up in murder, greed and in the hearts of us all. Natural evil are those catastrophic events that are outside a moral agents’ influence. Therefore moral agents consistently choose that which is contrary to God, and sin. This is because the first man and woman fell at the original temptation (Gen....

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The Problem of Evil: Free Will vs. Faith

...The Problem of Evil: Free Will vs. Faith Sheri Rinker Walden University 23-Mar-16 The Problem of Evil: Free Will vs. Faith "I don't understand why people believe in God when there is so much pain and suffering in the world." This is a statement often heard and often contemplated. We will look at the notion of the meaning of this statement and postulate from the Free Will View. This view states that evil and suffering are the results of the misuse of human free will. First, let us look at the statement that people believe in God whilst there is pain in suffering all around us. When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God, and the other is the problem of evil. For Aquinas, God's goodness is beyond all definitions of the good, and we cannot hold God to account by our moral standards. Aquinas's understanding of morality makes us absolutely responsible for our planned activities, and it allows no excuse regarding an evil force manipulating our wills (Kreeft, 2016).  Looking at the free will view, it states that evil and suffering are the results of the misuse of human free will. If according to St. Tomas Aquinas that it is us and not God because God gave us freedom of that will, then would that not mean that God is not omnipotent? It must be argued that it is better on the...

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Problem of Evil

...The Problem Of Evil There are many events throughout the world that occur, that we cannot explain. The evils that exist are moral and non-moral evils. The moral evils that exist are poverty, oppression, persecution, war and injustice. The non-moral evils that occur frequently but not usually on a daily basis are earthquakes, hurricanes, storms, flood, drought, and blight (philosophy. Lander.edu/intro/hick.stml). These evils happen with thousands of people dying daily for no reason. The problem of evil is a touchstone of any religion. The direct confrontation with evil results in suffering, and thus endless questions about the meaning of life. That is why all religions have to give a proper answer regarding the origin, nature and end of evil (www.comparativreligion.com/evil.html). Many people think these occurrences are evil and why does God allow them to happen. To believe in God is difficult because of all of the evil that he allows. This is because many evils (for example, the suffering of children) seem to serve no justifiable purpose. Therefore, these kinds of evils count against the existence of God. These evils are called gratuitous (or pointless) evils. (http://www.equip.org/articles/addressing-the-problem-of-evil-). The pointless evils that exist show that God may not exist. The different religions of the world justify that a God does exist. Many religions of the world believe that you cannot have good without evil because it helps to keep things balanced...

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