Handout - Theodicy and Free Will in Augustine 

I. Problem of Evil (Theodicy) and its Relation to the Problem of Free Will Described

A.  Why is there evil if God is all powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and completely just/benevolent (omnibenevolent)?  (Popularly: Why do bad things happen to good people?) If God is all-powerful and omniscient and creates or permits evil, how can God be just? If God is just and all-knowing and evil exists, then does God have the power to prevent evil?  See Solomon and Martin, pp.164 and 176 and Angeles, "evil, theological problem of".

B. If God is omniscient and all powerful, how can humans have free will? (See Cicero's argument, Augustine, City of God, Book V in Solomon and Martin, pp. 164-165). If God knows what choices humans will make, how can humans really make choices?    See Solomon and Martin's discussion on pp. 176-177 and Angeles, "free will problem, the (theology)

C. The first two problems are connected because of omniscience. If God knows that humans will sin, why does God permit it or as Creator allow the possibility of sin?  Further, if God has foreknowledge and consequently humans have no freedom or moral responsibility, then God is the author of evil.

II. Augustine's Solutions

A. Evil as the absence of good and human responsibility.  God did not create evil. Human beings were created good, with a good will.  Evil comes from disordered/misdirected love. Original sin is misdirected love. Humans made what was good evil by turning contingent things into the supreme good - wanted to be God. Sin = pride.  (See especially Augustine's discussion of the fall, etc. in Solomon and Martin, pp. 170-76; for example:  "For defection from that which supremely is, to that which has less of being--this is to begin to have an evil will.  Now, to seek to discover the causes of these defections--causes as I have said, not efficient, but deficient--is as if  some one sought to see darkness, or hear silence [175-76].)

B. God's prescience and free will compatible.  Augustine says," . . . we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it." (in Solomon and Martin, 165 ). He "embrace[s]" both God’s prescience and free will (in Solomon and Martin, 168). There are certain necessities such as human death that are not under our control, but "it is manifest that our wills by which we live uprightly or wickedly are not under such a necessity; (in Solomon and Martin, 167). God can know all things without undermining free-will, because the free wills themselves are causes. God knows about these causes. God's knowledge of a thing gives it a "being" - existence and its nature. God's knowledge of human free will means it exists and makes it free - God knows it as free not determined. Freedom does not mean uncaused, but means self-caused. God knows that people will sin, not that they will be forced to sin. "...for our wills themselves are included in that order of causes which is certain to God, and is embraced by His foreknowledge, for human wills are also causes of human actions; and He who foreknew all the causes of things would certainly among those causes not have been ignorant of our wills (in Solomon and Martin, 166.)." "For a man does not therefore sin because God foreknew that he would sin. Nay, it cannot be doubted but that it is the man himself who sins when he does sin, because He, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew not that fate, or fortune, or something else would sin, but that the man himself would sin, who, if he wills not, sins not. But if he shall not will to sin, even this did God foreknow ( in Solomon and Martin, 168)."

C. God's grace brings good from evil. God "comprehends" all time. 

Works Cited

Angeles, Peter A.  The HarperCollins Dictionary of Philosophy.  2d ed.  New York:  HarperPerennial, 1992.

Augustine, City of God. trans. M. Dods. Excerpts in Morality and the Good Life:  An Introduction to Ethics through Classical Sources.  4th ed. Boston:  McGraw-Hill, 2004, 149-176.

Solomon, Robert C. and Clancy W. Martin, Morality and the Good Life:  An Introduction to Ethics through Classical Sources.  4th ed. Boston:  McGraw-Hill, 2004, 148-78.

For more information see also the article by Leroy E. Loemker on "Theodicy" in the on-line Dictionary of the History of Ideas located at the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia at http://etext.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv4-50

For a modern non-theological view that holds free will compatible with determinism see Michael McKenna, "Compatibilism" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/  McKenna defines free will as "the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in a manner necessary for moral responsibility."  (accessed 2-10-08-09)