“Soul-Making Theodicy” by John Hick

Introduction

Either today or during ancient times, people always want or wanted to know why something evil happens to them. They developed different theories, approaches, and concepts to justify their statements. This course contains several tasks where readings enhance students’ understanding of the philosophy of religion. The problem of evil and the role of God are properly discussed within the frames of John Hick’s article “Soul-making theodicy”. People use the concept of theodicy as an explanation of why limitlessly good, kind, and powerful God allows evil happening to humans in the world He created. God’s actions have to be analyzed and proved as correct ones, and Hick is one of the philosophers who used Christian theology and two approaches (Augustine’s and Irenaeus’). In both aspects of this theodicy, God is a supernatural creature that created humans and the environment around them. The worth of soul-making theodicy presented by Hick is an idea of continuous development and free choices. In this paper, the summary and assessment of Hick’s article about soul-making through the prism of Christian theodicy will be introduced to prove the value of God.

Summary

There are no clearly defined sections in the article written by Hick in the middle of the 1900s. Still, several issues discussed by the author remain impressive because his approach and explanations deserve attention and recognition. In the beginning, Hick mentions that many people, either believers or non-believers, face certain challenges in their intention to understand a variety of existing evil.1 Even though God is introduced as a loving and supernatural being, He cannot get rid of illnesses, early deaths, insanity, natural disasters, and other accidents that challenge human life.2 To find a solution to existing controversies and answer such as philosophical question as to the role of God regarding the problem of evil, Hick writes an essay with two main hypotheses that “a specifically Christian theodicy” to be “internally coherent” or “consistent with the data both of the religious tradition”.3 The author explains that human nature is sinful, and the evolutionary process is a source of evil, not God.

As soon as the goals of the project are identified, the evaluation of two approaches of Christian theology is given. On the one hand, there is the Augustinian approach that is based on the idea of the free will defense.4 According to this idea, God exists and possesses unlimited powers and kindness to His people. Still, along with a variety of opportunities and good living conditions, God cannot neglect the idea of free will, which makes people vulnerable to external temptations and poorly recognized sins. Any person can sin, and as soon as he or he falls into sin, evil is born, and God plays His role in this process, but never directly.

Another approach was introduced by Irenaeus in cooperation with several Christian writers. They explain the necessity of another explanation due to the lack of plausibility in the Augustinian thought.5 A new framework was directed to prove the need for a theodicy that “does not depend upon the idea of the fall, and which is consonant with modern knowledge concerning the origins of the human race.”6 The strength of the Irenaean statement is the possibility of looking to the future and respect the idea of evolution by the human mind and body.

Modern people cannot reject the fact that the world where they live is constantly developing. God creates all people purely good but not perfect because of different reasons. Hick admits that God’s idea of imperfect creatures is justified to “attain to the more valuable kind of goodness through their own free choices as in the course of their personal and social history”.7 The chosen article proves the possibility of the co-existence of God and the imperfect (evil) world based on human freedoms, moral and spiritual development, and interrelationships. Pain and suffering have different sources, and people should deal with them either relying on their knowledge, experience, or attitude toward God.

Assessment

Soul-making theodicy is a complex religious and philosophical concept with the help of which people can improve their understanding of theistic God. Hick used theodicy as a hypothesis that there is a reason to believe in God and accept actual evil in the world.8 Compared to an ordinary defense that aims at identifying some reasons to justify God, theodicy contains enough arguments to prove the existence of God as an omnipotent creature that could allow evil to happen. Therefore, Hick’s reading is contributing to both defining the quality of the relationships between humankind, evil, and God and discussing the types of evil, virtues, and human development.

After reading the article by Hick, several conclusions about the quality of the work done can be made. First, one should admit that Hick performed several tasks at a high level. The initial part of the work focuses on the discussion of the reasons why theodicy is required in the evaluation of the problem of evil.9 Then, as well as any properly structured theodicy, Hick’s argument contains two approaches and hypotheses that formulate further explanations. The success of his discussion lies in the possibility to explain the worth of each statement and the conditions under which an assessment is developed. Many people, either theists or atheists, admit Christianity as one of the theologies that are frequently used and developed in the modern world.10 Therefore, it is reasonable to use it as a background for soul-making theodicy. As well as any group of beliefs, Christianity may have several contradictory opinions and evaluations. So, Hick made another serious step and explained the presence of two approaches to the creation of his credible theodicy.

Even though both ideas were well developed at the beginning of the article, there was one wrong decision made by the author. He shared an opinion about the ineffectiveness of the Augustinian thought even without allowing the reader to weigh all its pros and cons. It seems that Hick did not even want to believe in the Augustinian type of theodicy. The use of such phrases as “logical possibility” is “fatally lacking in plausibility” or “doubtful whether their argument is sound” decreases the desire to accept the possible correctness of the thought. In other words, although Hick recognized the concept of free will and independent spiritual development of humankind, he deprived a reader of the idea of personal freedom and imposes his subjective opinion. In addition, there is the Irenaean position to the exploration of which Hick used a considerable part of his essay.11 Its main idea that the problem of evil should be understood as God’s intention to develop people spiritually and morally into virtuous creatures that understand the importance of following his will.12 This approach serves as a solid basis for soul-making theodicy.

Talking about the role of the Irenaean type of theodicy, Hick succeeded in presenting several rather strong ideas. First, the author stated that “there is no evidence at all of a period in the distant past when humankind was in the ideal state of fully realized ‘child of God’”.13 It turns out to be possible to believe that the reality in which every person lives should never be considered as a perfect creation, and the possibility of evil must be admitted. Besides, any person is free to decide either to follow the correct way of living or to use some evil actions to prove his or her right to existence. It is wrong to question the level of God’s powers, but it is obligatory to pay more attention to the nature of human beings. They can develop spiritually or morally in any way they find normal, and God is not responsible for their growth but for the conditions that are present to every person from his or her birth.

Another strong point of the article under analysis is the discussion of the essence of evil, either it is moral or physical (including pain and suffering). Selfishness is defined by Hick as the background of the evil problem.14 It is human nature as an example of an animal organism in the ecology of life to strive for survival by any possible means.15 Some people consider such actions as murders, wars, or other cases of violence as an evil that has to be eradicated by God. However, one should recognize all these behaviors as those of animals. Sometimes, it is possible to control them, but all these are unconditional reflexes, the necessity of adaption, intuition, and inherent qualities. They are neither good nor bad; they just exist and determine the way of life people, animals, or other living beings like to cherish. Hick did a good job of giving such examples and explanations to the decisions made by people, the conditions offered by God, and the relationship between opportunities and desires.

In total, the article written by Hick in the 20th century turns out to be a credible and helpful resource in understanding the problem of evil in the 21st century. For a long period, millions of people strived for recognition of their freedoms and organized multiple debates to prove the worth of the free will defense. They believed that this is what could make them happier and more successful. As soon as many nations supported the idea of personal freedoms and human rights, they raised another urgent topic, the presence of evil in their lives, and questioned the role of God. Instead of focusing on their virtues, qualities, and actions, it is in human nature to search for some outside sources of their problems and dissatisfaction. Either natural, physical, or moral evils exist because of humans and their selfishness, and Hick, as no one else, gave several reasons to prove this truth. His soul-making theodicy is a new powerful weapon in the field of philosophy and religion. Although it has certain weaknesses, it has to be taken into consideration in God-human relationships.

Bibliography

Hick, John. “Soul-Making Theodicy.” In Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 5th Edition, edited by Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, 357-364. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Footnotes

  1. John Hick, “Soul-Making Theodicy,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 5th Edition, ed. Michael Peterson et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 357.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 358.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 359.
  7. Ibid., 361.
  8. Ibid., 358.
  9. Ibid., 357.
  10. Ibid., 358.
  11. Ibid., 358.
  12. Ibid., 361.
  13. Ibid., 359.
  14. Ibid., 362.
  15. Ibid., 361.