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Religious Studies

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From, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

A defense of the justice or goodness of God in the face of doubts or objections arising from the phenomena of evil in the world (‘evil’ refers here to bad states of affairs of any sort). Many types of theodicy have been proposed and vigorously debated; only a few can be sketched here.

1. It has been argued that evils are logically necessary for greater goods (e.g., hardships for the full exemplification of certain virtues), so that even an omnipotent being (roughly, one whose power has no logically contingent limits) would have a morally sufficient reason to cause or permit the evils in order to obtain the goods. Leibniz, in his Theodicy (1710), proposed a particularly comprehensive theodicy of this type. On his view, God had adequate reason to bring into existence the actual world, despite all its evils, because it is the best of all possible worlds, and all actual evils are essential ingredients in it, so that omitting any of them would spoil the design of the whole. Aside from issues about whether actual evils are in fact necessary for greater goods, this approach faces the question whether it assumes wrongly that the end justifies the means.

2. An important type of theodicy traces some or all evils to sinful free actions of humans or other beings (such as angels) created by God. Proponents of this approach assume that free action in creatures is of great value and is logically incompatible with divine causal control of the creatures’ actions. It follows that God’s not intervening to prevent sins is necessary, though the sins themselves are not, to the good of created freedom. This is proposed as a morally sufficient reason for God’s not preventing them. It is a major task for this type of theodicy to explain why God would permit those evils that are not themselves free choices of creatures but are at most consequences of such choices.

3. Another type of theodicy, both ancient and currently influential among theologians, though less congenial to orthodox traditions in the major theistic religions, proposes to defend God’s goodness by abandoning the doctrine that God is omnipotent. On this view, God is causally, rather than logically, unable to prevent many evils while pursuing sufficiently great goods. A principal sponsor of this approach at present is the movement known as process theology, inspired by Whitehead; it depends on a complex metaphysical theory about the nature of causal relationships.

4. Other theodicies focus more on outcomes than on origins. Some religious beliefs suggest that God will turn out to have been very good to created persons by virtue of gifts (especially religious gifts, such as communion with God as supreme Good) that may be bestowed in a life after death or in religious experience in the present life. This approach may be combined with one of the other types of theodicy, or adopted by people who think that God’s reasons for permitting evils are beyond our finding out.

"theodicy." The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Credo Reference. Web. 04 November 2011.

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