Response to "Soul-Making and Suffereing"


John Hick’s paper on "soul-making and suffering" is one of the response to the challenges of the atheists. In the following, the basic challenges raised by them will be introduced first. Then, the possible responses will be discussed as well. Finally, the role and value of John Hick’s soul-making theodicy will be discussed.

The Challenge of the Atheists

When the problem of evil is discussed, it is necessary to narrow down what the evil is. In fact, there are different kinds of classification of the evil and there are different responses correspond to the problems as well. In the following, the classification of evil will be introduced. The key issue of the formation of the problems will be mentioned. Then, the corresponded responses will be explained.

Classification of the Evil

Three different kinds of evil can be classified according to the nature. There are moral, metaphysical and physical. For example, cruelty is a moral evil, blindness is a metaphysical evil and earthquake is a physical evil. The moral evil is commonly caused by the human choice or inaction. Killing an man is a human choice of moral evil while showing indifference to one’s suffering is a human inaction of moral evil. On the other hand, the cause of the metaphysical evil and the nature evil are not related to the human choice. This classification facilitates the further discussion as it helps to fabricate the correspond answer.

Formation of the Problem

There are three kinds of evil and different challenges are made related to the problem. The typical challenges can be classified in deductive and inductive form. Before further discussion of the problem, the common ground of the problems will be discussed first. Both of them may try to reject the existence and the good attribute of God in the Christianity. Their formation of the argument is that:

God does not Exist ------ Hypothesis

God Exists ------Null hypothesis

God has no Good Attribute ------ Hypothesis

God has Good Attribute ------Null hypothesis

It can be found that the formation of the argument is valid. In fact, this kind of formation is a common accepted way. The atheists first form their hypothesis that ‘God does not exist’. However, the collection of data supporting the hypothesis is only an induction method that cannot lead to the necessary truth. Therefore, they form the null hypothesis and change the format of the argument to the deductive way that can lead to the necessary truth. In the further discussion, one can identify easily that the atheists assume God existence and the good attributes of God first. Then, they attempt to use either the deductive and inductive method to reject the null hypothesis in order to prove that God does not exist and/or has no good attribute.

Plantinga’s work may be helpful to understand the challenges of the atheists. He calls the basic proponent of God as the theistic set which conations the followings:

    1. God exists
    2. God is omnipotent
    3. God is omniscient
    4. God is omnienevolent
    5. God created the world and
    6. The world contain evil

Atheists like J.L.Mackie and H.J McCloskey suggest that believing in the theistic set is illogical, as the propositions in the set are not coherent and even have contradictions. However, one should wonder why the contradictions are found within the theistic set. In fact, there are some additional premise assumed by the atheists leading the set to the contradiction. The basic premise assumed is that an exist and/or omnipotent and/or omniscient God should express his power to abolish the existence of evil in the world. Thus, the statement 6 has contradiction with the statement 1~5 in the theistic set. It can be re-formulated into:

If God is exist and/or omnipotent and/or omniscient, he should create a world without evil/ abolish all evil

The world contain evil

God is not exits and/or omnipotent and/or omniscient.

The deduction of above argument is correct. However, one should aware some possible problems in the first statement. It has been assumed that the act of ‘creation of a world without evil’ is ‘logical possible’. If we can show that the act is ‘logical impossible’ or a paradox, the first statement is invalid as it is commonly accepted that God does not act in a logical impossible way.

On the other hand, there is other form of the challenge of induction. The focus of deductive challenge is the logical inconsistent of the theodicy set while the focus on the inductive one is the evidential form of evil that happen actually in the world. When one is in the suffering, one may wonder if the God with omnipotent and/or omniscient exists. In fact, when the evidence is accumulating, the belief of God seems to be weakening.

In my opinion, both forms of the challenges are not necessary separated but complementary to each other. The evidence collected in the induction is used to support the statement in the deduction.

In the following, the above challenges will be criticized and the value of ‘soul-making’ will be demonstrated.

Response to the Challenges

Regarding the first statement in the deductive challenges, one should reflect if " ‘a world without evil’ is an ‘evil’ itself". If so, God cannot not create world that is ‘logical impossible’ because whether he create a world with evil or not, it may be an alternative evil to some people. If the theist can state that there is no necessary contradiction between the goodness and evil but even some goodness can be revealed beyond the evil, it will implies that ‘a world without evil’ will be another kind of ‘evil’. It is because man will lose the chance of getting the goodness. In the followings, there are three possible theodicies to the inductive challenges, the actuality of evil. If we can show that there are some goodness of the ‘evil’. The theodicies can be further used to support our argument of the response to the deductive challenges. The theodicies are the free will theodicy, the natural law theodicy and the soul-making theodicy of John Hick. The theodicies are always attacked by the atheists in order to show the contradictions in the theistic set. Fortunately, they are responded properly.

Free Will Theodicy

Free will is considered as one of the goodness in this theodicy. The possibility of moral evil is a necessary condition for a complete or real free will. In other words, without the possibility of moral evil, there will not have the real free will. The cost of the free will is that a man can choose the moral evil. However, the atheists like Mackie and Antony Flew argue if God can create a free will creature but only able to choose the moral good (if God is omnipotent). One should to identify the implication behind the statement. It implies the determinism of God. Plantinga responds that one can be said to have the free will if and only if one can do A or not to do A at the same time in the decision moment. There is no real free will if there is no ‘actual’ choices. In other words, the free will is incompatibility with the determinism. One should reflect if it is worth facing the possibility or actuality of evil in order to enjoy the goodness of free will and not to be a puppy.

Natural Law Theodicy

Having the regular natural law is considered as goodness as well. However, some atheists challenge if the natural law can be changed in order to minimize the evil (if God is omnipotent). For example, the gravitational law can be changed to save one’s falling from the high and the hard ground may become as soft as a sofa in order to minimize the pain of falling. In the natural law theodicy, it states that the world will become a chaotic and unpredictable if the natural law is changing unpredictably. One may feel frustrated to live in such world as one cannot predict the effects of his decisions and actions. Is it an another kind of ‘evil’ if the natural law is changed unpredictably in order to minimize other evils? On the other hand, the atheists may argue if the natural law can be modified in a little and predictable way. For example, the nervous system can be modified to transmit the signals of pleasure only but no pain. Unfortunately, it brings another problem. The natural order is existed in a system but not separately. Can one sure that the ‘little’ changes will not bring more problems? For example, if the fire can only happen in the kitchen but not in the forest, the automatically regulatory mechanism of the forest may be lost as it is necessary to have some hill fire in some times. Moreover, a naughty boy may be in serious bleeding but does not aware it if he does not have the sensations of pain. Thus, it is suggested that the atheists need to show a complete picture how a ‘modified’ natural world may be better than the present one. The natural law theodicy has shown that it is a goodness to have the regular natural law.

Soul Making Theodicy

The soul making theodicy gives the meaning of the suffering. John Hike may develop this theodicy form Ireaean idea. As a man is not only an animal, one’s character needed to be developed into a more prestigious one. The actual hard, difficulty and challenging difficulties are the necessary condition for the development of one’s character and moral. Moreover, the pain may be necessary for the final pleasure acquired. For example, in the evil situation of famine, one can develop the moral character of helping others and learn not to be selfish. Without the reality of the evil situation, the discussion of the moral character may only be limited in the theoretical level. Moreover, without the hard time of playing and practice of a ball game, no one can feel the actual pleasure of winning a game. Is it a better world with greater number of moral virtual but with evil than a world with lesser number of moral virtues?

Comment on Soul-making Theodicy

Challenges to Soul-making Theodicy

In John Hick’s paper, all the above theodicies are grouped in the category of soul-making only. In my opinion, it has the disadvantage that the structure of the paper may be not clear but it has the advantage that it put all theodicy in his implicated assumption. The assumption behind his argument is that there is God who has special purpose on the lives of men. The ultimate meaning of suffering, the soul-making theodicy, is ineffective if God is not exist that can be used as the ground of the theodicy. In the followings, it will be demonstrated that the assumption provides the grounding for the responses to the challenges.

Firstly, it is argued what the suitable amount of suffering (of the three kinds of evil) for the soul-making is. It seems that the amount of the suffering may be too much. John Hick admitted that it is a secret but it is necessary for the ‘development of God’s children’. In my opinion, the clever and kind God is the ground providing optimum amount of challenges (evils) for the soul-making purpose. Secondly, it is argued that some people may not gain anything (e.g. the suffering of famine in Africa) and even fail in the suffering. John Hick responds that there is no ‘total failure’ or ‘total loss’ in the end of the game. Finally, it is argued if any evil is gratuitous. It is responded that soul-making by God provides the meaning to the suffering. All evil still has the meaning.

Someone may argue if the assumption of the existence of God in John Hick’s argument weaken the arguments as it brings a new statement of God that may need further discussion. However, one should aware that the basic ‘null hypothesis’ raised by the atheists throughout the discussion is that God exist. In other words, the soul-making theodicy contributes to show that it is more meaningful to have the belief of the existence of God. Thus, the assumption behind the soul-making theodicy does fit into the argument of this context.

Responses to the Problem of Evil in General

It has been shown that the free-will, natural law and soul-making theodicy are the goodness for the existence of the evil. It can help to solve the problem formulated in the inductive way. These arguments can be used in the deductive formulation as well. It shows that the existence of evil does not have any contradiction with the attributes of God in the theistic set. Moreover, God cannot do the ‘logical impossible’ of the paradox of "‘creating a world without evil’ but itself is an evil". Thus, the theodicies raised can respond the inductive and deductive challenges well. On the other hand, the free will theodicy can tackle the problems of the three kinds of evil as well.


To conclude, the problem of evil in general cannot weaken the statement of the existence of God. In fact, the existence of God may be the ultimate ground of providing the good reasons including the free will, natural law and soul-making theodicy for the existence of evil. In other words, the existence of evil may even be a pointer to a clever and reasonable God who allowing free-will, natural law and soul-making on man.

For one making decision of choosing the most appropriate explanation to the problem of evil, there is no one absolute answer. One needs to compare the different world-view provided. Does the soul-making theodicy provide a better explanation than those in the Naturalism, Hinduism, Marxism and many other philosophical explanations? This should be left for further studies.

* * * * *



Work Cited:

Geisler, Norman. Philosophy of Religion. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974.

Nash, Ronald H. Faith & Reason. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988.

Peterson, Michael Reason & Religious Belief. Oxford: OUP, 1991.


John Hick. "Soul Making and Suffering" 255~61 & 318~36 from John Hick Evil and the God of Love. rev. edn. (New York: Harper & Row, 1978) (quoted from Dr. Kwan’s Notes (source unknown))

 Search: Enter keywords... logo