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Module VPR-2200:
The Problem of Evil

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Toby Betenson

Overall aims and purpose

The problem of evil is the most significant challenge to religious belief. How can belief in a good and powerful God be reconciled with the terrible evil in the world? If God is good, He must need or want to prevent evil; if He is powerful, then He has the power to do so; yet He does not. Is there a contradiction here? This module will introduce the problem, discuss the various solutions that have been offered to it (called ‘theodicies’), and discuss the contemporary development of ‘anti-theodicy’.

Course content

This module will outline the problem of evil, both in its historical forms (Epicurus, Hume) and its more modern presentations (J. L. Mackie, William Rowe). It will discuss the major solutions that have been offered to the problem of evil (free will defence, soul-making theodicy), along with the major thinkers who have contributed to the contemporary discussion of these solutions (Alvin Plantinga, John Hick, Marilyn Adams). Finally, it will discuss the recent development of ‘anti-theodicy’, through the work of Kenneth Surin, D. Z. Phillips, Nick Trakakis, and Toby Betenson (i.e., the convener of this course).

Assessment Criteria


(C- to B+) Work in this band will demonstrate good knowledge and understanding of the philosophical debate concerning the problem of evil, and (for the higher grades) will be able to apply that knowledge and understanding to the construction of an argument relevant to the content of this course. This argument might show some minor misunderstandings, or might not be presented with impeccable structure, but will nonetheless demonstrate the student's knowledge and understanding of the subject area, and will show that they are capable of constructing a logical and coherent argument.


(A- to A*) Work in this band will demonstrate comprehensive and very detailed understanding of the philosophical debate concerning the problem of evil, based on extensive background reading, and will demonstrate an outstanding ability to construct a logical and coherent argument relevant to the content of this course.


(D- to D+) Work in this band will demonstrate a cursory knowledge of the philosophical debate concerning the problem of evil, but might show a lack of understanding, and will not demonstrate an ability to analyse or evaluate the arguments within this debate. Work in this band will fail to develop a successful argument relevant to the content of this course.

Learning outcomes

  1. To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the proposed solutions to the problem of evil.

  2. To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the problem of evil.

  3. To analyse, research, and construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Essay 50
ESSAY essay 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 11
Seminar 11
Private study 178

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
  • The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.


Talis Reading list

Reading list

(1) D. Z. Phillips, The Problem of Evil and the Existence of God (2) Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (3) Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (4) John Hick, Evil and the God of Love (5) J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (6) Nick Trakakis, The End of Philosophy of Religion

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: