How will these resources help you? 

The 'problem of evil' is an age-old philosophical question dating back to Epicurus, and remains a prevalent concern for humankind, featuring in a great many Religious Studies curricula. The resources in this list have been selected with the aim of covering some of the breadth and historical scope of this topic and include examples of the more recent evidential approach, as well as some of the classic core texts that refer back to thinkers across the millennia. They lend themselves to reading and research tasks, student discussion and evaluation, and to contextualisation and consolidation of knowledge, and may also be of use for other philosophy topics. 

The logical problem of evil

Summary of J.L. Mackie’s “Evil and Omnipotence”

published by Philo-Notes, (2022)

This article provides a student-friendly, accessible yet thorough summary of Mackie’s classic text. It examines Mackie’s inconsistent triad formulation of the logical problem of evil, followed by his rejection of traditional defences of the God of classical theism on the grounds that they raise the paradox of omnipotence. Teachers could use this resource to support with GCSE and A-level specifications concerning the problem of evil, to prompt discussion and debate, as a flipped learning or homework task, or as an aid to Mackie’s original text (available online). 

The evidential problem of evil

Theodicy’s Problem: A Statistical look at the Holocaust of the Children, and Implications of Natural Evil for the Free Will and Best of all Worlds Hypothesis

by Gregory Paul, published by Philosophy and Theology 19 (1-2): 125–149, (2007)

In contrast to Mackie’s logical problem of evil, Paul presents a modern and unique challenge to the existence of the God of classical theism, on the basis of statistical evidence. Paul responds to traditional defences of God such as the 'free will' defence and the 'best of all possible worlds' hypothesis, arguing that over the course of human existence (circa. 300,000 years), the suffering of the 350 billion (approx.) humans or human conceptions that failed to reach an age of maturity and free will cannot be justified by the 50 billion (approx.) humans who survived to maturity. Further, the fact that children’s survival rates have increased so dramatically in the last century demonstrates that for the vast majority of human history, the world could not have been ‘the best possible’. Paul’s use of statistics and what he refers to as ‘The Holocaust of the Children’ has made a significant contribution to modern discussions regarding the problem of evil and prompted equally thought-provoking responses. Selected extracts from the article could be used with KS5 students as a way to engage with primary scholarly texts and link the curriculum with contemporary philosophical thought. Students could also consider counter arguments and religious responses in light of Paul’s challenge. 

The statistical evidence

Mortality in the past: every second child died

by Max Roser, published by Our World in Data, (2023)

This website provides students with the opportunity to explore for themselves quantitative data that relates to world problems, and illustrates aspects of the evidential problem of evil, such as the historical and geographical inequalities in life expectancy, child mortality, poverty, war, living conditions, natural disasters and causes of death. Some of the articles contain interactive options for students to compare data themselves, while others, such as this article, provide an explanation for the statistics we have today but also explain how we can know statistics for times past. This resource can be used for a homework or research task, where students have the chance to experience the link between philosophical ideas and their basis in real life and human experience for themselves. 

In defence of God

Evil and the God of Love

by John Hick, published by Palgrave Macmillan, (2010), 9780230252790

There are many editions of this classic text which is an absolute must-read for any teacher or aspiring student of the problem of evil. Hick thoroughly explores the problem of evil, presenting and evaluating the traditional Christian defences of God according to St Augustine and St Irenaeus before arriving at his own proposal, building on what he terms 'the Irenaean theodicy'. Within this hugely influential work, Hick is credited with collating and formulating the ideas of St Augustine and St Irenaeus into the theodicies as we understand them today. Teachers could select extracts of this text for students to facilitate discussion, to improve evaluation and understanding of the finer details and context of the traditional Christian theodicies, and to serve as a counter argument to Mackie’s logical problem of evil. 

Audiovisual clip

God on Trial - Good and Evil

published by BBC One, (2018)

A group of Jewish prisoners held in a concentration camp evaluate their beliefs in God and renconcile why concepts of good and evil exist.

Further materials

Episode 10: The Problem of Evil (Parts I, II and III), published by The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast, (2017) Listen to this podcast
Evil: Parts 1–5 by Clare Carlisle, published by The Guardian, (2012) Read this article
The Problem of Evil: Crash Course Philosophy #13, published by CrashCourse, (2016) Watch this video
Rebecca Neale is a teacher of Religious Studies with over a decade of experience, an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has an MSc in Teaching and Learning from the University of Oxford. Rebecca has several years’ experience as a senior examiner, is currently a Principal Examiner for Religious Studies, and is a published author of Religious Studies resources and textbooks.

Text © Rebecca Neale, 2023