Disbelief in God, as John Hick argues his position on the matter, can not be justified by the problem of evil on Earth. That there are flaws and misfortunes which exist in a world assumed to be the best of all possible only by the men themselves—and at that, only some of but sundry men—who inhabit it does not denote the lack of a divine hand in its creation, nor an error on the part of that hand. It is this notion that summarizes Hick’s discussion of the necessity of evil in the world, and in so doing, indirectly proves the existence of God, though more along the lines of a Quaker theology, assuming that man himself has something of God in him, and that perfection might not be inherent, but that the ability to strive for it must be. Man is continually developing, and evil is not present to teach a lesson, nor to hinder man in the effort of attaining the form God has enabled him to attain, but rather to motivate him in the journey. Evil exists as a permanent sort of example of the stagnation of development, and therefore, is always visible, but none the more clearly than when it manifests in men who do not strive.
The most significant of the features of the Hick theory of evil and soul-making is contained in the title of the treatise itself, soul-making. From this appears the concept of man being able to control his destiny only with those tools God has given him, and encountering the evil necessary to develop and fine-tune the eagerness which pervades all human thought in seeking perfection. From this comes, too, all of the remaining points that Hick will make. The significant derivations of this tenet that come to flesh out the Hickian worldview are voiced as analogies, designed to dispel and extrapolate those posited by earlier thinkers. Hick lays the foundation presently for the development of thoughts past, to determine the future of Christian theology, and in so doing, perfects the analogy he has made in his own introduction to this very argument, that, “[i]nstead of regarding man as having been created by God in a finished state . . . the minority report sees man as still in the process of creation” (Hick, 165).
It is with this minority report, more aptly, the reports termed by theologians and philosophes majority and minority, that the polar ends of the Christian theological spectrum are located. These opposites are such in nearly every way, and none more so than chronologically; the majority report, Hick clarifies, is that stance long ago adopted by the Catholic Church, and rests on Augistinian notions of predetermined human ability and fate. Meanwhile, the minority report, that which rests on the theories of early Church Father Irenaeus, allows man a fighting chance to find a good fate on Earth and wherever one sojourns after his term within its realm. Each of these reports on evil in the world emerged at differing points in Christian history, and like Hick’s own interpretation of the matter, will depend on the syncretisation of many centuries’ conceptions of evil and man’s ability in order to answer the question. It seems, Hick says, that once one recognizes evil as being a seemingly limitless and ageless epidemic in the body of Earthly life, one must automatically acknowledge the equal timelessness of the human justifications for it.
However, in spite of the hope the Hickian summary promises through its soul-making, the most problematic feature of his position on the argument is the analogy of the veterinarian. While it can be assumed that God created us, which Hick does assume, and while it can be surmised that man is able to get back to God through an internal presence and ability to achieve the same, which Hick also ensures, that man can be viewed merely as a beast in God’s vast menagerie, dependent on his care, is rather contradictory. Hick changes cosmology and places God in the hearts of all men, so why would man need his divine care, when man himself, Hick would seem to say, is capable of guiding and mending himself? This deistic dilemma is the only issue I have with the treatise, and do not fully comprehend the underlying mystery of. To comfort my confusion, I would deign to beg of Hick whether or not evil even matters if God can not quash it, both through man and of his own volition.
Hick, John. “Evil and Soul-Making.” In Philosophy of Religion, edited by Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rea, 165-169. Belmont, California: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.