THE PROBLEM OF EVIL                                             

SYLLABUS                   Adam and Eve Cast Out of Eden                            


SCHEDULE OF CLASSES                                     ATTENDANCE POLICY



FINAL ESSAY questions  Due date: Monday May 17 by noon.


First exam: Monday March 29 questions



FIRST ESSAY  FIRST ESSAY TOPIC  Due date: Friday March 5

FIRST EXAMINATION:     Monday March 29






What is Evil?

Sharon Begley, "The Roots of Evil" (available at

Optional: Richard Moran, "A Typical Murderer,"

Evil and the Holocaust

Elie Wiesel, Night

The Fall of Man & Mythological Accounts of the Origin of Evil

1) Genesis, Chapters 1-3: The Fall of Man

2) Optional: Gilgamesh (

    Questions for Gilgamesh reading:  Gilgamesh is at bottom a story of the human quest for immortality, i.e. to be like the gods, and the failure to attain it.  In what way do you see parallels to the Eden story?  Note both stories include a magic plant (herb, fruit) that confers immortality.

3) James Frazer explanation of the Fall story here

Also recommended: the myth of Prometheus (various versions can be found online) 

Retributive Solution 

The Book of Job (from Old Testament): read Prologue (Chapters 1-2); the first or second of the three speech cycles (Chapters 3-14 or 15-21), and Chapter 29 to end.

Mill on the idea of God's incomprehensibility to man: here

Karma & Rebirth

Recommended: W. Kaufman, "Karma, Rebirth, and the Problem of Evil,", p. 19-28.

Afterlife and Teleology

David Hume, "On The Immortality of the Soul"

Free Will

-- Recommended: Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V Sections ii - vi.  (on freedom and foreknowledge) 

Autonomous Natural Order Argument: for critique see here

Holism and Dualism

Dualism: (Optional):

Evil as Illusion

The American Mind-Cure Movement

The Plenitude Solution

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle IV  (

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, XI here

Voltaire, Candide      (Note: this should be read as a critique of Leibniz's Plenitude Principle, that this is the "best of all possible worlds.")

Benjamin Franklin, An Arabian Tale

Further optional readings on Plenitude:

1) Link to Dictionary of the History of Ideas: "Chain of Being":

2) Arthur Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being

Definitions and issues

Moral evil: sin, deliberate wrongdoing; Augustine defines it as active evil.

Natural Evil: suffering, passive evil, the evils of nature (earthquakes, mudslides, etc.).  Note the ambiguous case: is evil suffered as a result of someone's sin a form of moral or natural evil?

Documentary Hypothesis: theory that the Bible is constructed from 4 different texts that were all combined together.  For our purposes, the important ones are the Priestly Source (P) and the Jawhist Source (J).    Genesis 1:1 to 2:4 is considered to be written by P; Genesis 2:4 to 3:24 is written by J.

       For a text of Genesis indicating the sources, see:

Hebrew words in Old Testament: for those interested in learning the Hebrew words in the Eden story, the Blue Letter Bible website is excellent.  It is made for those with no knowledge of Hebrew, & allows various ways of searching the text.  (one way of searching: go to a particular verse, then click on the blue letter 'C' for Concordance, and you will get the Hebrew original, transliterated into Roman letters).

Retributive Solution: all evil (i.e. all suffering) is justified punishment for one's sins.  (Does this mean all success is justified by one's virtuous actions?)

Direct Retributive Solution: each individual's suffering is due to the sin of that individual.

Indirect Retributive Solution: an individual's suffering may be due to the sins of others.  Examples:  the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah may bring harm to some innocents; the wickedness of a king may bring suffering on all his people; the wickedness of parents may bring suffering on one's children; Original Sin (sins of A & E).

This-worldly Retribution: punishment takes place in this world.  May be in this lifetime or another life (Karma).

Otherworldly Retribution: punishment will take place in the afterlife.  

Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, "Father, give me my share of the estate." So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men." So he got up and went to his father.
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." But the father said to his servants, "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." So they began to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. "Your brother has come," he replied, "and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound." The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, "Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" "My son," the father said, "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."