January 2010 Exam Question with Answer

2(a) (i) What may the problem of suffering signify to a religious believer. Examine one solution to this problem. [21]

The problem of evil and suffering is a major stumbling block to any person of faith but particularly to a member of the Abrahamic faiths. Since a key belief is that God has three main characteristics: omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence it would seem illogical that this kind of God and evil could both exist. Indeed even Aquinas regarded it as completely logical that ‘there is evil in the world; therefore God does not exist,’ even though he didn’t believe this conclusion he could see how others could. Or as David Hume suggested: ‘either God is not omnipotent or he is not omnibenevolent or evil does not exist’; evil does exist therefore God cannot, in his opinion. To put it simply the problem is this: how if God is good can he possibly allow suffering to occur?

One of the solutions put forward to attempt to explain how God and evil can both exist was put forward by St Augustine. In his theodicy he argued that the world must have been created perfectly since after each day of creation ‘God saw that it was good.’ In his view therefore evil must have come about through that first act of disobedience of Adam and Eve and as a result all suffering stems from that ‘original sin.’ In addition he suggested that evil wasn’t so much a thing as an absence of something, in this case, of good.

He went on to say that man had been created ‘in the likeness’ of God [Gen 1:27] but that like God he had been created with autonomy i.e. the freedom to make choices; his desire to choose wrong and continue to choose wrong is what has lead to all evil whether it be moral or natural. Fortunately for mankind God foresaw this possibility and gave man a second chance by sending his son Jesus to redeem us from our sins therefore all who accept Jesus’ sacrifice, and gift, can gain access to heaven, while those who reject this final offer will go to hell.

While there are strengths to this solution for example the idea that we are responsible for our own destinies or that suffering is a direct consequence of someone’s sin, even if not our own, and it does seem to make the presence of evil not an original part of God’s creation, overall it does not answer some of the most basic questions. Such as: evil clearly occurs and is not simply a matter of something good not happening, so where did this come from if not from God? Also we know that natural evil has been occurring since the creation of the earth and to blame it on Adam and Eve’s sin is unscientific. Also although the idea of Jesus’ sacrifice is generous of God what about all those who died before or without knowing of this gift of salvation? Plus what kind of God not only punishes those who committed that first sin but every generation thereafter or creates a place like hell for the irredeemable to go to?

So if this isn’t a good solution is there a better one?

(ii) Comment on the view that an alternative solution to that examined in part (i) offers a better response. [9]

Another famous attempt at a solution is that proffered by Irenaeus. Living in the second century AD his theodicy seems rather more modern. He suggests that although God created man in his ‘own image after [his] likeness’ [Gen 1:26] what this meant was that man had the potential to grow into God’s likeness but that he had to have true autonomy and make the right choices in order to grow and develop into his potential like a musician has to practice to become great. Irenaeus regarded earth and life on it as a ‘vale of soul making’ wherein like a good sword is refined in the heat of the fire, so humans must become great and noble through hardship, suffering and practice. Because of this Irenaeus’s solution is a developmental or evolutionary one since it allows for both the natural and moral evil to be forces for good in the end; encouraging moral fortitude, charity and altruistic characteristics. And ultimately, in his view, the reward is that everyone will go to heaven even those who may not at first seem worthy of the gift, they may have to refine their souls in purgatory but in the end all will be rewarded. After al he said ‘how if we had no knowledge to the contrary could we have instruction in that which is good?

One of the most understandable aspects of Irenaeus’s idea is that of the ‘epistemic distance’ that God is honour bound to keep. This is the fact that God cannot intervene in mankind’s history in order to prevent even the worst atrocities because he has given man true free will. This then makes us all responsible for doing the right thing and makes us more accountable for evil doings by everyone. No longer can we stand by and let others do or say something, we must all accept our collective responsibilities. As Swinburne put it ‘a situation of temptation with infinite chance sis no situation of temptation at all.’ Things have to be allowed to go wrong.

However although this theodicy has many merits such as the value of free-will and an understanding that evil does indeed have a purpose which can even lead to good, one can wonder if the ends really do justify the means? And can the suffering of so many e.g. in the holocaust, really be a lesson to learn from? Plus there are many who seem not to suffer at all despite long lives of crime. How can a good God allow these miscarriages of justice to occur? Even the idea that evil can lead to good is misguided because as many are embittered and dehumanised by their suffering as are refined and learn by it.

Ultimately it is obvious that neither of these solutions really stands up to close scrutiny; both have strengths and both have their weaknesses but neither is of any comfort to someone who is actually suffering. In addition the faith of a believer is unlikely to be shaken even in the direst of circumstances like Job in the Bible who lost everything except his belief that God loved him. In such cases the problem is no longer a problem, but for the atheist the problem has not been surmounted. It has not been and cannot be, explained to his satisfaction – but then, this is the nature of faith.

To give Swinburne the last word ‘… a generous god will seek to give us great responsibility… to make our lives valuable… the problem is that he cannot… without allowing much evil on the way.

January 2011 Exam Question With Answer

Jan 2011

(b) (i) Examine three of the following in relation to the cosmological argument for the existence of God. [21]

  • Unmoved mover
  • Uncaused cause
  • Necessary being
  • Kalaam argument

The cosmological argument is the argument from cause; that everything that exists has been caused by something; the universe exists, therefore the universe too must have a cause; that cause is God. The whole argument rests on a rejection of the idea of infinite regress: the idea that there can be an infinite chain of causes and effects with no beginning or end.

One of the key proponents of this argument is Aquinas who formulated his Five Ways three of which are pertinent to this particular argument.

He posited in Way 1 that everything in the universe is in motion and that since nothing moves itself therefore it has to have been set in motion by something outside of itself. If you go back far enough he suggested, there has to have been a first mover, one thing which itself was not set in motion by anything outside of itself and from whom all things derive their motion. As he said ‘Now whatever is moved is moved by another… but this cannot go on to infinity… therefore it is necessary to arrive at a first mover, moved by no other; and this everyone understands to be God.’

He went on to explain that there was a potentiality and an actuality e.g. for the wood to burn there needs to be something which precipitates that change in state and ultimately he regarded that initiator as God. Even proponents of the Big Bang Theory are at a loss as yet to explain what caused it!

Aquinas’ 2nd Way goes on to express his view that as there cannot be an infinite chain of causes and effects there must be a First Cause and again this is what we call God. The important thing is that there has to be something outside the whole process which is not itself caused by anything else. This Aquinas calls a Necessary Being as opposed to beings like us i.e. contingent beings, dependent for our existence on something outside our control. This being is necessary to cause in all other things their existence. Which he expands upon in his 3rd Way: the way from Possibility and Necessity.

As John Hick expressed it ‘if everything can not-be then at one time there was nothing in existence… it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist and thus even now nothing would be in existence… therefore … ‘ he concluded there must be something which changed this situation; something whose existence is necessary; if there was no Necessary Being then there would be nothing here! As Copleston put it such a being is one which must and cannot not exist!

In summary what Aquinas was pointing out was the observation that the world is part of a process; there is a clear sequence of development and change but the point is that it needs explanation and this is what the cosmological argument does.

Opponents have pointed out that the third law of thermodynamics states that everything eventually falls into chaos or decay this is called the principle of entropy. And according to Newton’s first law of motion objects will either continue at rest or in motion until affected by something but that there is no explanation for what he calls ‘ultimate motion.’ In addition it is now known that down at the smallest level of creation [the atomic level] there are indeed particles which move or stop for no, as yet, known reason. Maybe our understanding of causes and effects is as Hume said, incomplete.

(ii) Comment on the view that the cosmological argument is open to debate and there are no firm conclusions about its success or failure. [9]


To include Sufficient Reason; nothing can be the cause of itself; Russell why look outside the universe for supernatural explanation; 2 possible states therefore for one to pertain there must be an initiator; God exempt from the very argument which attempts to explain the ultimate cause! Fallacy of composition i.e. assumption that what is true of the parts is equally true of the whole e.g. I have a mother, you have a mother therefore the whole human race has a mother! Likewise where it may be true that some individual things within the universe have a maker, it does not necessarily follow that the whole universe has a maker….. though this argument was regarded as a failure by Hume and others it nonetheless provides an answer to the question how did we get here. We need to remember that it presupposes faith; it does not lead to it!…