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Continuing Controversy for Theological Philosophers: Problem of Evil

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The problem of evil has been a continuing controversy for theological philosophers. There have been many propositions which have attempted to explain the notion of evil, and how it can exist in a world which was created by an omniscient and an omnipotent God. It has been the topic of discussion for hundreds of years because this is the key point of contradiction within the Bible. Perhaps it is its biggest downfall so many western philosophers have all put their own ideas for why evil exists and thus trying to prove the existence of God himself alongside it. Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was a late 18th, and early 19th-century German philosopher, who reinvented the notion of theodicy by expanding on Spinoza’s pantheistic approach. This allowed Schelling to create a romantic mythological view of God being involved in his creation.

Schelling was partly inspired by the widely critiqued work of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza, a 17th Century idealist philosopher, came up with his own idea of God. Spinoza was a pantheist, this was the belief that God intervenes with his creation and continuously lives alongside it. It is a monist approach in which includes a ‘one-all’ motion, implying that God is not separate to his creation. This differs from both Descartes and Kant as they were dualists, believing that God was separate to creation. The infinite and the finite, are both separate. The dualist perception implies that since God created the world, he could have left it to run its course as both the divine and the world are separate. Descartes agreed with the teleological argument which William Paley likened to the watchmaker who revoked. 

Schelling believed that God was still involved with his creation and although the monist approach was difficult to argue from, Schelling gives it a go. Both Schelling and Spinoza believe that we are united with God. Schelling, despite agreeing with Spinoza’s pantheistic approach, disagrees with Spinoza’s idea of fatalism being a consequence of pantheism. Spinoza explains how pantheism leads to God being all knowledgable of his creation and therefore leads to determinism. Fatalism is determinism. We cannot be free if God intervenes with his creation too much. Spinoza explains this with reification and the connection between ‘modes’ and ‘substance’. There can only be one substance and everything else in the world is apart of that one substance, claiming that “besides God no substance can either be or be conceived”, therefore placing God as the one substance. Spinoza then continues to explain how we, as creatures, are ‘modes’, implying that we are apart of God. William Charlton explains that “Spinoza thinks the finite modes depend casually on the one substance”, which infers that us humans (the finite modes) depend on God and therefore God is apart of us and us in him. Charlton continues to talk about how there must only be one God as there can only be one substance, whilst everything else must be ‘modes’ to that one substance. Since there are many “individuals of the same nature”, humans cannot be substance and must therefore must be ‘modes’. Since everything is apart of this one substance, Spinoza, therefore, believes that the substance is omniscient and therefore his work falls into fatalism.

Many philosophers heavily criticized Spinoza for the flaw which is fatalism. Pitkänen goes on to explain;

“according to Spinoza, all beings belong to God, and because God is the highest totality of everything. Everything derives from God with absolute necessity. It was claimed that pantheism is actually equivalent to atheism because in pantheism there is no difference between God and created beings. This in turn leads, it was argued, to fatalism because nature is causally determined, and without. Spiritual source outside it man as a part of nature would be reduced to its casual mechanisms”.

This, therefore, allowed Schelling to explain a pantheistic approach to God without dipping into the realm of atheism and defeating its whole purpose. Schelling, therefore, presents to us a pantheistic view of God and nature and is still in line with the scriptures. This is a reason for why Schelling would want to reinvent the notion of theodicy as he would be able to explain God and the problem of evil from a monist approach. As previously mentioned, monism was far harder to defend God in terms of evil so it shows Schelling doing the impossible task and making it possible. Schelling admits that “most … would confess that …, individual freedom would seem to them to be inconsistent with almost all the properties of the highest being” and carries on to say that it is “unthinkable” to think outside of that. Suggesting that Schelling is trying to set himself an extremely difficult task but to overcome it as well. It presents to me a certain level of motivation as Schelling bravely associates himself with Spinoza to explain a pantheistic view which works without fatalism. To show nature as unfree, you are depriving God of his rationality – therefore going into base-level atheism. This prompted Schelling to reinvent the notion of theodicy as he wanted to explain how pantheism can exist without fatalism.

Schelling claims that fatalism is not a direct consequence of pantheism and introduced his own theodicy in which allowed God to be connected with his creation without falling into fatalism. Schelling states that “the fatalistic sense may be connected with pantheism is undeniable, but that this sense is not essentially connected with it is elucidated by the fact that so many are brought to this viewpoint through the most lively feeling of freedom”, implying that fatalism is not a direct consequence of pantheism. Schelling goes as far as to state that “his arguments against freedom are entirely deterministic, in no way pantheistic”, Schelling does not accept that nature contains no freedom. He goes on to explain this by demonstrating an analogy to the human body; “an individual body part, like the eye, is only possible within the whole of an organism; nonetheless, it has its own life for itself, indeed, its own kind of freedom, which it obviously proves through the disease of which it is capable”. This analogy shows us that we as humans can still be free despite believing in pantheism. Schelling explains that even with Spinoza’s proposal of substance and us as modes, it doesn’t mean that God is completely in control of us, it just means that we are operating apart of him, but still have our own individual purpose. We, therefore, do not fall into determinism.

However, here still lies the problem of evil. Despite the notion of free will being in place, this still doesn’t explain how God can allow evil to happen. Schelling, therefore, begins to talk about two kinds of evil. The first is fundamental evil and the second is ontological evil. Fundamental evil is the evil carried out by mankind on a daily basis. Similar to Immanuel Kant’s ‘Radical Evil’, this is where one puts themselves above the universal, meaning that they are not thinking about anyone or anything other than their own self desires, despite being morally wrong. Schelling’s fundamental evil was based all around this idea. It is when one is particularising rather than universalizing. Kant explains this by stating “if he were at the same bad in another way, this would involve him having a maxim that creates exceptions to his universal maxim about obedience to duty; and that’s a contradiction”, thus showing that he who breaks the moral universal code, is entering radical evil by focusing and particularising the will of themselves above others.

Schelling agrees with Kant and then begins to talk about Ontological Evil. Ontological Evil is evil that Schelling has postulated to explain how we as humans can do evil despite having an omniscient and omnipotent God. Schelling does this by explaining Ground and Existence. Existence is the world we as creatures live in. It is God’s creation. Ground, in contrast, is what God was doing before his creation. It is the dark abyss of chaos and irrationality. Schelling explains how God needed his creation to become himself. Schelling states that everything must have a ground for its existence, even God, “since nothing is prior to or outside of, God, he must have the ground of his existence in himself”, therefore suggesting that “because God’s actual ordered existence is necessarily preceded by his dark and unruly ground, there is always the possibility of evil even in God”. This implies that the ground before creation had irrationality and a God who was not omniscient and omnipotent. Schelling talks about the existence of time before God, his mythology turns into a theogony. This constant struggle of entropy is what is responsible for evil in our world. God needed his creation, he needed to create something perfect to be who he is. However, surely the world around us is not perfect since there is evil? Leibniz would support Schelling in this as he claims that the world is the most perfect world that God could have possibly have created without taking away the notion of free will. We need the struggle in life to be able to know what is morally right and wrong and how we should live our lives without doing evil. Evil is important and was “present as a possibility already at the heart of existence” which supports that God needed his creation to break away from this chaos which is ground. However, God is in a constant struggle between the ground in which he has tried to leave behind and existence. It is a romantic picture of God-centered between the two opposing wills and thus helps to explain how God allows evil to happen in our lives since evil has pre-existed creation itself. It is the constant desire for rationality and morality that we as humans face as well. Therefore presenting a God who is not so indifferent from us yet is still infinite. This evil is compatible with Kant’s radical evil as God is allowing the ground to particularise him rather than universalizing him. God is being dragged towards the ground, the chaos and irrationality that man would do when they act through radical evil and their own self desires.

Schelling reinvents the notion of theodicy by expanding on Spinoza’s original idea of pantheism. Schelling does this by completely disagreeing with his proposal that God intervenes in the world to a point of fatalism. Schelling links Kant’s idea of radical evil as well as adds his own romantic ideas about God’s will. God was not himself before creation, he was trapped by the ground, the evil and chaos from within. By creating the universe, God, therefore, allowed himself to break away from this and to become himself. God has this constant predicament of being pulled back to the ground but having to constantly rely on existence to pull him away from it. God relies on existence to stay away from evil and therefore created the most perfect world he could have. Schelling explained all of this because he agreed with pantheism and had his own theodicy on the problem of evil and free will. Schelling introduced a romantic idea of God and his creation yet stayed clear from the controversy Spinoza bought with fatalism. Schelling articulately explains his romantic thought process in the light of German idealism and Western philosophy. 

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Continuing Controversy for Theological Philosophers: Problem of Evil. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
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