Thursday, April 17, 2014

[PHI 3000] The Punishment Theodicy

A theodicy is an account that is supposed to show why God is justified in allowing evil in this world. One such account is known as “the punishment theodicy.” According to the punishment theodicy, God allows natural evil (i.e., the pain, suffering, death, and destruction that result from natural processes, such as earthquakes, storms, and the like) as punishment for sin.

Pereboom, 2005, "The Problem of Evil," The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Religion, p. 155.

Now, consider the fact that studies have shown that physical punishment is not effective and is actually harmful to kids. In light of these studies, and given that natural evil is a form of physical punishment (i.e., an action intended to cause physical discomfort or pain to correct behavior), it follows that God is allowing a discipline method that is not only ineffective but also harmful to us. That is:
  1. Natural evil is physical punishment from God. [the punishment theodicy]
  2. Physical punishment is an ineffective and harmful discipline method.
  3. Therefore, God is allowing us to be disciplined in an ineffective and harmful way.
This conclusion, namely, (3), seems to be incompatible with the concept of God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and benevolent being. Being all-powerful and all-knowing, God could surely come up with effective and harmless ways to discipline us, if he wanted to. Being benevolent, he would want to do just that. And yet, if the punishment theodicy is true, we are being punished by God in ineffective and harmful ways. Does this mean that the punishment theodicy must be false?


  1. God condoning and using physical punishment immediately conflicts with the definition of God, as God is defined as being all-good. This is because physical punishment is harmful to the individual, as it can result in death, disability, or psychological problems. None of these are good things, and they are not always effective. God being all powerful and all knowing, should know that it is not always effective, and should thus use different means if he was truly good. Therefore the punishment theodicy is false.

  2. One can come to understand God and his intentions for the world through his gift of free will. People have the power to make their own decisions, both good and bad. God is not the one that is bringing pain, punishment, and evil on one's self rather we bring it upon ourselves when we wrong. The idea of God using the natural disasters to punish humanity as a result of their sins is also off point. God made the world and nature will do its part for good or bad in keeping with its own design. Even if God did intend to physically punish how can one be so tied to the belief that this form of punishment is ineffective? That is very opinionated and debatable. Studies are easily subject to distortion and should not always be taken at face value no matter what they say. The child-spanking one is controversial in of itself and should not be categorized as the main premise for believing God uses an ineffective physical method of disciplining us. Many could argue that it also works. The premise as it stands in trying to support an already flawed conclusion to a theory just is simply not sound.

  3. Those arguments do not mean that the punishment theodicy must be false, because I view the repercussions of God's "harmful" actions differently than the way they have been explained here. It is absolutely true that the rape and beating of a five year old is a just punishment for what small sin they may have committed. That child will feel pain, and will suffer, but what about those around him? His mother, father, siblings, friends they will suffer as well. Maybe even a little bit more because they could blame themselves for their childs misfortune. So maybe in this case the horrible act of rape was not to punish the innocent child but rather deeply hurt those around him that are sinning. Sometimes you can hurt much more on the inside than you can on the outside. Thus, from my point of view I believe the theodicy can be held true. Also who are we to even question the " all-powerful, benevolent, and all-mighty?" We as regular mortals can not begin to fathom why God does what he does. it may all fit in a plan that we can't even wrap our head around, so who are we to question it? In conclusion I do not believe that the punishment theodicy must be false because while I may become physically hurt by punishment, my mother will hurt 10 times more for me on the inside. Sad and scary situations often drive people to go to God. Thank you!

  4. I believe that there is no true answer to whether or not the punishment theodicy must be false. To most people, God IS an "all-powerful, all-knowing and benevolent being."

    If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and benevolent, then yes, I think that He can come up with an effective and harmless way to discipline us for our sins. But if He can't do such a thing, then He isn't all-powerful and all-knowing, and a much powerful entity exists! This brings about a paradox by Epicurus we discussed in class. If God can think of a harmless way to punish us for our sins, but doesn't do so, then He is NOT benevolent but malevolent, but much like a sadistic creature resembling the Devil and the punishments are Hell on earth. But, if God cannot think of a harmless way to punish us for our sins, then He isn't omnipotent. Then there must be an entity much powerful than Him.

    If the punishment theodicy is true, then we are being punished by God for our sins in an extreme matter. So is our creator actually a sadistic being resembling the Devil? If the punishment theodicy is false, then what exactly is the cause for the natural evil in our world and why does it exist? Or is this punishment actually harmless in God's eyes, and we cannot possibly fathom what He would deem harmful?

  5. I don’t think that God wants to punish us by allowing the death/suffering of people during natural disasters. I think that creation and destruction are parts of life and that we, humans, become so used to existence being good that when an evil takes away life, some of us look at it in a bitter sense. Evil is not evil but rather a perceived evil. Some of us will blame God in light of the hard times and suffering and that is a reflection of their experience. We don’t understand evil fully but we feel we know God better since we look up to him in times of trouble. So, we choose to blame him because he is supposed to be all good and all powerful. When an earthquake comes along, it is bound to take away many people and some of us will see just that first: the deaths. Others will respond with an optimism and will be grateful that they are alive and will become stronger people.
    I believe that, for us, as humans, what we consider an “evil”/ “pain”/ “hurt” is deemed so because of our immediate perspective of the injustice being done on us. However, for God, there is a reason for inflicting all this pain on us, unaware to us. There must be some lesson to be learned and some improvement to be made in our lives, from the natural evils. Because God is omnipotent, all knowing, and benevolent, he has the better perspective on what happens to humans here and so he has the better judgment on what is the real pain and hurt. We have the limited scope of knowledge because we recognize and judge something like a natural disaster as “evil” through the types of experiences and interactions we have had. Being that God is the all knowing being, he must have the full vision and therefore, he would be able to see beyond what is immediate to us.

  6. Based on my understanding of the the punishment theodicy and idea of ineffective physical punishment, I would have to say that this theodicy cannot be held true. The punishment theodicy makes a claim that God allows evil in the world as a response or punishment to human sin. However, this does not support the idea that there are tons of innocent people who experience hardship and tradegy each day. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who act wrongly toward others who are never punished for their immoral actions. If you look at it on a more broad level and say that natural evil exists on account of an aggregate amount of sin, rather than on an individual level, you run into the problem that is expressed in the two articles. Studies show that physical punishment is not associated with long-term compliance and that children actually are more harmed than helped by being punished. Surely, if God was trying to display an effective form of punishment for human sin, He would have a better method than physical punishment. Another issue associated with the punishment theodicy is that it contradicts the concept of God being an all-powerful, benevolent being. If this theodicy is accepted as true, then it means that God is not as loving and benevolent as religion teaches Him to be. Overall, there are many flaws in the punishment theodicy that prevent it from being considered true. It is contradictory and imcompatible with humanity's concept of God.

    -Danielle McMullan


This is an academic blog about critical thinking, logic, and philosophy. So please refrain from making insulting, disparaging, and otherwise inappropriate comments. Also, if I publish your comment, that does not mean I agree with it. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.