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On Free Choice Of The Will: St. Augustine’S View On Evil

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On Free Choice of the will: St. Augustine’s View on Evil

This paper examines St. Augustine’s view on evil. St. Augustine believed that God made a perfect world, but that God's creatures turned away from God of their own free will and that is how evil originated in the world. Augustine assumes that evil cannot be properly said to exist at all, he argues that the evil, together with that suffering which is created as punishment for sin, originates in the free nature of the will of all creatures. According to Augustine, God has allowed evil to exist in the world because it does not conflict with his righteousness. He did not create evil but is also not a victim of it. He simply allows it to exist.

It is impossible to deny the existence of evil in the world as human beings experience pain and suffering every day. It is generally accepted that there are two different types of evil: natural and moral. Moral evil is caused by human beings and occurs when humans inflict suffering on other people, animals or the environment. Natural evil is not caused by humans and occurs naturally in the world, such as earthquakes, droughts and cancer. It is apparent that not all evils can be easily separated into these categories as humans can contribute to natural evils such like cancer, although cancer is a naturally occurring disease, humans often do things which bring it about.

The problem is not the evil itself but the fact that it exists in the first place. The problem of evil is a problem caused by the nature of God. If we believe that God created everything then he has total responsibility for the existence of evil as he must have created it. This provokes the question: why did God create evil or why does he allow evil to exist?

The classical God is an all-good and all-powerful God. This suggests that he would want to remove evil for the good of the human race and is able to do so. Therefore, if God is all good and all-powerful then there should be no evil in the world. However, there clearly is evil in the world. This brings about the following possibilities and questions. If God is not all-good, is he a malicious God? If God is not all-powerful, is he worthy of worship? And finally, does God not exist?

This is the problem of evil. Augustine summed it up most effectively when he said, “Either God cannot abolish evil or he will not. If he cannot then he is not all-powerful. If he will not then he is not all good.” Augustine viewed evil as merely the absence of good just as dark is the absence of light, a non-being “a name for nothing but the want of good”. He looked to the Bible for an explanation for the existence of God and believed that the fall of humanity from grace, as shown in Genesis, showed the origin of evil. He believed that evil came into the world because human beings had deliberately turned away from God and his goodness. This suggests that both moral and natural evil is a result of original human sin.

The problem of evil questions the nature of God and threatens his status as a figure worthy of worship. Surely human beings would not wish to worship a God that is neither all good nor all-powerful? The figure we call God is seen to be entirely perfect and flawless in every way. The problem of evil also questions God’s omniscience, in respects that he is all knowing. If God is omniscient then he must know the harm that evil does and the suffering it will cause. The attributes in question are the essence of the nature of God and without them he becomes more like a human than a God. If any of God’s characteristics are omitted, he ceases to be a perfect being.

Augustine, defines evil simply as a privation of good. He believed that evil is not an entity in it’s own right but merely the absence of good. He claimed that when humans do evil they are falling short of perfection and that nothing can be pure evil as anything that fell short of it’s nature would not exist. For example, Stalin and Hitler are good to the extent that they existed but evil in that they acted against their nature and fell short of perfection. God cannot be evil because he is infinite and unchangeable, and therefore it is a logical contradiction to say that he is evil. This statement is validated by the fact that most religions believe in an omnipotent, benevolent who is entirely good.

Many attempts have been made to overcome the problem of evil and perhaps the most famous is the Free Will Defense theory which attempts to overcome the problem at the same time as defending God’s goodness and omnipotence. Saint Augustine put together an argument in defense of God’s goodness despite the existence of evil to try and overcome the problem of evil. Augustine, a Christian, based his arguments on the Bible, especially the accounts of the Creation and the fall in Genesis. It claims that God gave humans free will so they could choose to have a loving relationship with him and not be forced into doing so. Therefore, by giving humans the free will to love him, God also gave us the ability to inflict pain and suffering on others and ourselves.

He claimed that God is perfect and created a world free of flaws. He believed that God could not be blamed for creating evil because evil is not a substance; it is simply the absence of good. He suggests that evil comes from human beings who chose to deliberately turn away from God. Augustine also believed that the possibility of evil in the world is necessary as created beings are susceptible to change and only God can be perfect and unchangeable. Augustine believed in original sin because everyone was originally created out of Adam and Eve and therefore everyone deserves to be punished. He claimed that natural evil is a fitting punishment and came about because human action destroyed the natural order. Moral evil flourished and spread in this new, damaged environment. He believed that this meant God is right not to intervene and that God shows that he is merciful as



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