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Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801486869
ISBN-10: 0801486866
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Editorial Reviews


"It is her own dissatisfaction with the usual strategies that philosophy and theology have adopted in the face of evil―strategies that she feels underestimate either the horror of evil or the goodness of God―that led her to mount her own philosophical alternative. . . . She proposes an entirely different approach. Instead of seeking reasons why a good God might permit evil, philosophy should seek an explanation of how God might 'make good' on evil."―Peter Steinfels. New York Times Book Review, 10/13/01

"In this post-Holocaust world, much that passes for philosophical analysis of the problem of evil seems beside the point, if not culpably irrelevant. It is to Adams's great credit that in her often insightful discussion of the issue, she puts the emphasis where it belongs: on the victims' point of view. . . A provocative book."―T. Michael McNulty, S.J., Marquette University. Theological Studies, December 2000

"It would be difficult to take offense at a book which is so manifestly honest in its search for the truth, and which so clearly expresses a deep awareness of, and compassion for, the suffering and moral frailty of human beings. . . . Whatever their own views on the problem of evil, most readers will find insights here that they will want to hold on to."―Patrick Shaw, Glasgow University. Religious Studies, Vol. 37, 2001

"This book is based on work on God and evil that Adams did over a period of more than a decade. . . . But the book is by no means a mere collection of previously published essays. . . The book integrates them into a unified whole that highlights their coherence and displays connections among them. So even those who are very familiar with her earlier work on God and evil will profit from reading the book carefully. . . . This is a brave book. It has something fresh to say on a difficult and important philosophical topic. It deserves readers who will debate its challenging claims."―Philip L. Quinn, University of Notre Dame. The Philosophical Review, Vol. 110, No. 3, July 2001

"Adams argument is an important contribution to recent philosophical and theological discussions on the problem of evil. . . . Whether one agrees with . . . Adams' answer to the problem of evil, it is hard not to think that we are better off for the ways that her attempts to think about evil encourage and challenge us to take evil seriously."―Jennifer L. Geddes, The Hedgehog Review. Summer 2000

"Marilyn Adams . . . makes a compelling argument at several levels."―First Things, August/September 2000.

"By focusing on horrendous evils, Marilyn McCord Adams has transformed the way we formulate and discuss the problem of evil. All too often philosophical theism ignores the actual core of Christianity, the crucifixion of Jesus as a sacrifice. She has shown its relevance for philosophers of religion as they go about their business."―Diogenes Allen, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God is a terrific book. This important and highly original contribution to the discussion of the problem of evil should interest philosophers and non-philosophers alike."―William J. Wainwright, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"If you thought nothing new could come of the stalled, stale debates in analytic philosophy over the problem of evil, think again. With characteristic elegance and precision, Marilyn McCord Adams decisively advances the discussion by including overlooked problems―notably, the horrendous evils of her title―and overlooked resources―from the Bible and the history of Christian thought."―Kathryn Tanner, University of Chicago

About the Author

Marilyn McCord Adams is Regius Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. She has published extensively in academic philosophy and theology.

Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (September 29, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801486866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801486869
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #942,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Marilyn McCord Adams takes on some of the ugliest theologico-philosophical tangles known to man - and does so very courageously. The fundamental dilemma, Does the believer in God commit himself to a logically untenable position when he posits the existence of an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful deity, and yet acknowledges the presence of evil in the world? I.e. is there a possible world in which such a situation manifests itself? Of course, these issues have been debated to death by analytical philosophers (and some have concluded that believing in such a God is inconsistent with the existence of evil).
Dr. Adams moves away from the traditional formulations of this question within analytic circles, which makes use of the utilitarian pain/pleasure calculus type approach to morality (championed by philosophers such as Bentham and Mills). Instead, she offers alternative approaches by examining the works of various theologians throughout the ages. Among the approaches considered are purity/defilement (cf. Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy), the honor code, and aesthetics. She examines the most horrible of horrors encountered by man, and uses them to show how her God can overcome these horrors despite their apparent intractibility. Among some of the more interesting ideas suggested are the notion that God indeed suffers along with us humans and that even Christ (as God) had to experience abandonment by God, in order to fully participate in the human condition (even though these have been originally suggested by others).
While I will not comment on the validity of her arguments (I think the difficulties are too great for me), I do think that she offers profound insight into the nature of God (whatever such an entity might be). It is nice to know that someone still has faith in an all-loving merciful deity, despite the fact that we live in a post-consumerist, post-industrial, post-Marxist, post-Auschwitz world.
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The literature in contemporary analytic philosophy devoted to the problem of theodicy is vast and deep, but among the numerous books and articles, this one stands out to me. Adams admits at the end of the book that she has written enough that all readers will likely find something to be offended by in the text, but I believe it is also true that anyone who reads this book will find something of value in it.

A particular strength of the work is that instead of only thinking about how to justify God and his allowance of evils in the world in the abstract (e.g. Plantinga's free will defense, Hick's "soul-making" theodicy), Adams focuses upon the problem of evil from the perspective of the victim, and in doing this, comes across as being more sensitive to the sheer awfulness and horror that participants of horrendous evils experience. Adams defines "horrendous evils" as "evils that participation in which (that is, the doing or suffering of which) constitutes prima facie reason to doubt whether the participant's life could (given their inclusion in it( be a great good to him/her on the whole" (26). In providing a response to the problem of horrendous evils, Adams is concerned not with a global or generic explanation to the problem of evil, but wishes to show how God can make each individual participant's life a great good to him/her on the whole. If God is to be considered good to all, God must restore meaning to the life of the individual who has been a victim of horrendous evils.

Another positive in Adams's treatment of theodicy is her use of Christian resources in addressing the problem.
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Format: Paperback
This was a very very painful book to read. The author when at the height of her career was a brilliant logician, and all aspiring medievalists from far and wide marvelled at her investigations into William of Ockham's thought. But now, alas, those days are over and the author has overextended her talent by attempting to take on the problem of evil (something she has engaged in before, if only qua editor) but this time by using obsolete, archaic theories of anthropology. Where did her degree in anthropology come from? There is no degree. Where are the references to contemporary anthropology? Not in this book -- in fact it seems like the author didn't bother to even read anyone whose written later than 1980! Good grief! What kind of book is this? Many of her colleagues and former students probably have tremendous sympathy over her loss of faith in analytic philosophy and all its false promises to truth and certainty. But just as many are probably chuckling at this ham-handed attempt to start anew, as if one could invent a discipline of anthrology ex nihilo. This book, as the Magistra would say if she knew any better, " is totally underwhelming."
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Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion)
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