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Providence and the Problem of Evil 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0198237983
ISBN-10: 0198237987
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Editorial Reviews


`The endeavor to take each kind of evil and relate it to some good is more complete than any I have seen in any contemporary work. Especially interesting here is the discussion ... of just how surprisingly valuable our natural disposition to sloth may be. Perhaps the most important novelty of the book, though, consists in its emphasis on the value of being of use. The ramifications that this oft-overlooked value has on theodicy are substantial, and Swinburne does a real service in pointing them out.' The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1

`This book, the fourth in a tetralogy on philosophical questions raised by Christianity, is of the quality that readers expect of Swinburne, and will undoubtedly command the same degree of respect and attention as have his earlier works.' The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1

`the value of this book should not be underestimated. It provides a philosphically informed, comprehensive theodicy, sensitive to the concerns of Christian tradition, proving that the problem is not so intractable as it may first appear. This book should be required reading for all serious students of apologetics and philosophical theology.' Patrick Richmond, Themelios Vol 25:1

`Swinburne's procedure is to examine one by one the various goods that the world promises, and then to argue, with his customary care and rigour, that none of these goods can logically occur without the possibility of the related evils which in fact we experience.' Church Times

About the Author

Richard Swinburne has been Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at the University of Oxford since 1985; he is a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 5, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198237987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198237983
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.5 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #407,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jason A. Beyer on February 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
In Providence and the Problem of Evil, Richard Swinburne, one of this century's best Christian apologists, finally gives us a full-length treatment of evil. Swinburne presents us with an explanation of evil that focuses not just on our free will, but on the importance of mutual responsibility as a prerequisite of free will. One place where this stands as a stark improvement over previous accounts is that it does not simply take for granted the value of free will; rather, it places the value of free will within the context of moral responsibility. Admirably, Swinburne attempts to integrate an account of natural evil into his account of moral evil. Natural evil is ultimately the result of a law-governed world, a prerequisite for the operation of morally significant free will. Despite the usual intellectual rigor and vivacity of his work, there are some significant problems which Swinburne has left unresolved. (He had been making revised versions of his works recently; hopefully these will be addressed in a future edition.) First, his account of evil often falls flat in the face of concrete evil, requiring that we see such things as childhood cancer as ultimately a good thing because of the opportunities it affords us to be caring. It rings especially hollow, if not sounding positively perverse, in the face of tremendous evils like the Holocaust. Second, Swinburne does not fully treat a relevant problem raised by J.L. Mackie some 30 years ago--that every opportunity for higher-order good (such as caring, sympathy and the like) are also opportunities for higher-order evil. If Swinburne follows his current strategy, we stand in risk of an infinite regress of higher-order goods.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Being familiar with some of Swinburne's other work, I was expecting first rate scholarship and was not disappointed in that regard. However, the scope of the book is limited and readers should be aware of this. Swinburne does not set out to describe how providence works or how it is administered. Nor does he explicitly consider specific arguments against evil put forth by particular atheologians (such as Mackie, Rowe, or Draper). Rather, Swinburne dedicates this book to depend Christian theism against his own formulation of the problem of evil while providing a great conceptual framework for further work in this area.

In part I of the book, Swinburne argues that theism needs a theodicy and constructs an argument from evil to the conclusion that God does not exist (p.13). The argument is of the evidential type--arguing that there exists a certain type of evil which is incompatible with the existence of God. He also takes note of the various types of theodicy that the Christian tradition has utilized in the past. He then spends the next 75 pages--part II--describing various states of affairs which are good, including things like beauty, action, worshipping, being of use to others, etc. Part III of the book is the largest part and contains his extended argument that many of the goods described in part II cannot come about except by allowing some sort of evil. (For example, in order to be of use to others, abilities and talents must vary from person to person.) Much of what he says has been said before, but Swinburne's discussion is exhaustive and contains many interesting points (for example, the usefulness of sloth [156-8]).
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Format: Paperback
Swinburne developed in this book a traditional christian theodicy, i.e. an explanation why there is no contradiction between the existence of God and the tremendous amount of Evil in this world.

He described the theological and philosophical concepts neccessary to grasp the christian image of God very concise and easy to understand. This alone makes this book a good read.

But there are also drawbacks:

His assumption that a omniscient God doesn't know the future of sentient agents with free will shatters the whole concept of God's omniscience (to be fair, Swinburne recognizes this to some extent in citing a different view on this topic). But his free will thesis is a building block of his theodicy and runs into the question whether Swinburnes presupposed image of God is compatible with the christian image of God at all.

Furthermore, Swinburne failed in conclusively showing that the Good outweighs the Evil in the world and that it is morally permissible for God to let an individual agent suffer in order to obtain a "greater" Good not connected to this agent.
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Format: Paperback
In "Providence and the Problem of Evil", the fourth book of his tetralogy on Christian doctrine, philosopher and theologian Richard Swinburne argues that God's existence is compatible with the various types of evil in the world. In this academic treatment of the Problem of Evil, Swinburne attempts to categorize each type of evil and demonstrate that there are potentially justifying reasons why God may permit that kind of evil. He contends that two characteristic human vices- short term thinking and short distance thinking- compel us to view the Problem of Evil as more threatening to rational Christian belief than it really is. Moreover, our culture predisposes us to underestimate the great values of free will and being of use, and to overestimate lesser values like the goodness of mere pleasure.

Unlike many contemporary Christian theologians, Swinburne argues strongly for the need for a Christian theodicy (defense of God's existence despite the evil in the world). Swinburne has famously advocated the Principle of Credulity- which states that we must accept as true what initially seems to be the case, all things being equal. Therefore, we cannot hide behind ignorance of God's ways to allay the Problem of Evil, because without a theodicy it does seem, on the face of it, that the world is full of unjustified evil.

In the second chapter, Swinburne looks at different strains of theodicy in Christian tradition. He argues that two very important ideas here are the free will defense and the Fall. While he does not take a strong stand concerning original sin, and denies that any subsequent generations can actually be guilty for Adam's sin, he does defend an historical Fall.
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