(from the Bakerís Encyclopedia of
Christian Apologetics, Baker, 1999)
The theist responds that evil is not a thing
or substance. Rather it is a lack or privation of a good thing
that God made. Evil is a deprivation of some particular good. The
essence of this position is summarized:
1. God created every substance.
2. Evil is not a substance (but a privation in a
3. Therefore, God did not create evil.
Evil is not a substance but a corruption of the good
substances God made. Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree. It
is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself. Evil
is like a wound in an arm or moth-holes in a garment. It exists only
in another but not in itself.
It is important to note that a privation is not the
same as mere absence. Sight is absent in a stone as well as in
a blind person. But the absence of sight in the stone is not a
privation. Absence of something that ought to be there.
Since the stone by nature ought not to see, it is not deprived of
sight, as is the blind man. Evil, then is a privation of some good
that ought to be there. It is not a mere negation.
To say that evil is not a thing, but a lack in
things, is not to claim that it is not real. Evil is a real
lack in good things, as the blind person knows only so well. Evil is
not a real substance, but it is a real privation in good substances.
It is not an actual entity but a real corruption in an actual entity.
Evil as privation comes in different kinds. There
are physical privations, such as mutilations and there are moral
privations, such as a sexual perversity. Privation can be in substance
(what something is) or in relationships (how it relates
to others). There are not only bad things but there are bad
relations between things. A relationship of love is a good one; hate
is an evil one. Likewise, when a creature worships its Creator, it
relates well; blaspheming the Creator is an evil relationship.
From this perspective, it follows that there is no
such thing as something that is totally evil. If it were totally
deprived of all good, it would be nothing. A totally rusty car is no
car at all. And a totally moth-eaten garment is only a hanger in a
closet. Evil, like a wound, can only exist in something else. A
totally wounded arm means the person is maimed.
In view of this, something cannot be totally
private, at least not in a metaphysical sense. A totally corrupted
being would not exist at all. And a totally incapacitated will could
not make any moral actions. One must take care not to carry human
depravity so far that one destroys the ability to sin. There cannot be
a supreme evil, for although evil lessens good, it can never totally
destroy it. Nothing can be complete, unmitigated evil. For if all good
were entirely destroyedóand this would be required for evil to be
completeóevil itself would vanish since its subject, namely good,
would no longer be there.
The fact that evil cannot be total in a metaphysical
sense by no means implies that it cannot be total in a moral sense. A
being can be totally (or, radically) depraved morally in
the sense that evil has invaded every part of being. But the moral
total depravity can only be extensive, not intensive. It can extend to
every part of a personís being, but it cannot destroy personal being.
If it destroyed oneís person, there would no longer be a person to do
evil. Total evil in this sense would destroy a personís ability to do
Classical theists described things in terms of their
four causes: (1) efficient; (2) final; (3) formal, and (4) material. A
human being has God as the efficient cause, Godís glory and
their good as final cause, a soul as formal cause and a
body as the material cause. However, since evil is not a
substance, it has no formal cause, and its material cause is a good
Efficient Cause-Free choice
Final Cause-None. Evil is the lack of order.
Formal Cause-None. Evil is the privation of form.
Material Cause-A good substance
The efficient cause of moral evil is free choice,
not directly but indirectly. There is no purpose (final cause) of
evil. It is lack of proper order to the good end. Evil has no formal
cause of its own. Rather, it is the destruction of form in another.
Its material cause is a good but not its own. It exists only in a good
thing as the corruption of it.
The Persistence of Evil.
There is another aspect of the problem of
evil. Why does God allow it? Even if he did not produce it, he does
permit it. Yet he is all-powerful and could destroy it. So why doesnít
he do so?
The classical way to state the problem of the
persistence of evil is this:
1. If God is all good, he would destroy evil.
2. If God is all powerful, he could destroy evil.
3. But evil is not destroyed.
4. Therefore, there is no such God.
Put this way, the argument leaves open the
possibility of a finite god, but theists reject such a concept. For
every finite or limited being has a cause. So a finite god is only a
creature that needs an infinite Creator. And since God is powerful,
then he must be infinitely powerful. Likewise, since he is good, he
must be infinitely good. So, a finite god is not an option for a
theist. God has both the desire and ability needed to do anything
Is it possible to destroy evil? The theist responds
1. God cannot do what is actually impossible.
2. It is actually impossible to destroy evil
without destroying free choice.
3. But free choice is necessary to a moral
4. Therefore, God cannot destroy evil without
destroying this good moral universe.
It is impossible for God to do what is
contradictory. He cannot make an affirmation to be true and false at
the same time. He can do nothing which involves such an impossibility,
such as, making a square circle or a stone so heavy he cannot lift it.
Even an omnipotent being cannot do anything. It can
only do what is possible. But it is not possible to force people to
freely choose the good. Forced freedom is a contradiction. Therefore,
God cannot literally destroy all evil without annihilating free
choice. The only way to destroy evil is to destroy the good of free
choice. But when there is no moral free choice, then there is no
possibility of moral good. Unless hate is possible, love is not
possible. Where no creature can blaspheme, no creatures can worship
either. Therefore, if God were to destroy all evil, he would have to
destroy all good too.
However, theism holds that even though God could not
destroy (annihilate) all evil without destroying all good,
nevertheless, he can and will defeat (overcome) all evil
without destroying free choice. The argument can be summarized as
1. God is all good and desires to defeat evil.
2. God is all powerful and is able to defeat evil.
3. Evil is not yet defeated.
4. Therefore, it will one day be defeated.
The infinite power and perfection of God guarantee
the eventual defeat of evil. The fact that it is not yet accomplished
in no way diminishes the certainty that it will be defeated. Even
though evil cannot be destroyed without destroying free choice,
nonetheless, it can be overcome.
An all-powerful God could, for example, separate
good persons from evil ones according to what persons freely
choose. Those who love God will be separated from those who do not.
Those who desire the good but are hindered by evil will no longer have
their good purposes frustrated. And those who do evil and are hampered
by good influences will no longer be nagged by the proddings of good.
Each, whether in heaven or hell, will have it according to their free
choice. In this way Godís victory over evil would not violate free
Not only can a theistic God defeat evil, but
he will do it. We know this because he is all good and would
want to defeat evil. And because he is all-powerful and is able to
defeat evil. Therefore, he will do it. The guarantee that evil will be
overcome is the nature of the theistic God.