Tag Archives: Free Will Defense

Jim Spiegel: the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy

Here’s an interesting post about two of the better known defenses to the problem of evil, from philosopher Jim Spiegel.

Here is his introduction:

The evidential problem of evil presents the theist with the burden of explaining why an almighty and all-good God would permit evil. Many such reasons, known as theodicies, have been proposed as solutions to this problem. Two of the more promising among these are the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy. While each of these approaches has strong proponents, rare are those who advocate the use of bothin response to the problem of evil. In fact, it is often the case that defenders of one are strong critics of the other. Given that theists, and more specifically Christian apologists, share the conviction that the evidential objection from evil fails and that theism is quite reasonable despite the reality of evil, it is curious that there isn’t more interest in embracing both of these theodicies as helpful responses to the problem. In what follows I want to offer a comparative analysis of these two theodicies in hopes of both understanding the divide between their proponents and making the case that the two are best used in tandem when dealing with the problem of evil. Towards the latter end I hope to show that these theodicies have more in common than has been traditionally thought and that their differences have more to do with their divergent aims than their relative merits as potential solutions to the problem of evil.

I am not going to be able to summarize his entire case in this post, but I at least wanted everyone to know what the two theodicies were. In the case of the free will theodicy, evil is permitted because without it we could not have free will. And free will is necessary in order to achieve certain higher moral goods.

Dr. Spiegel explains:

First, this theodicy places the blame for moral evil entirely on human beings. God did nothing wrong in creating us with the capacity to sin, however much he might have anticipated our rebellion. Second, notice the high premium that is placed on self-determination. Proponents of the free will theodicy typically assume that personal autonomy is so valuable that it makes the risk of moral evil worthwhile. But it is not really self-determination itself that is of ultimate value. The ultimate good for which such autonomy is a critical means is genuine loving relationships between persons, whether between humans or between God and humans.

And here is his explanation of the soul-making theodicy:

Defenders of the soul-making theodicy point out that there are numerous moral virtues that cannot be achieved except by struggling against or in the midst of evil. These “second order” goods include patience, courage, sympathy, forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, overcoming temptation, and much greater versions of faith, hope, love, and friendship. What sense could be made of the trait of courage in a world in which there was no danger and nothing to fear? How could one show sympathy if there were no sorrow or affliction with which to sympathize? How might one forgive where there has been no offense? And how can one be said to “persevere” through perfectly pleasant circumstances? These characteristics-courage, sympathy, forgiveness, perseverance-are not just good traits. They are, among the greatest of all character traits. And, according to Hick and other proponents of the soul-making theodicy, it is worth God’s permitting evil in order to realize these goods.

I’m going to confess my ignorance and say that I always used both of these when discussing the problems of evil and suffering. It never occurred to me that they would be in conflict. So I enjoyed reading the rest of the paper where Dr. Spiegel argues that far from being in conflict, the two are actually dependent on each other! The discussion of the two kinds of theodicies is actually really good for understanding the details of them. I think it’s going to be worth for me to read it over a few times and then explain it to someone else, so that I really get it straight. I just have to find a willing victim to listen while I work it through.