bookmark_borderMarilyn McCord Adams on Horrendous Evils

Marilyn McCord Adams is a Christian philosopher and a former Episcopalian priest who has thought deeply about so-called horrendous evils.

I define ‘horrendous evils’ as ‘Evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which gives one reason prima facie to doubt whether one’s life could (given their inclusion in it) be a great good to one on the whole.’ Such reasonable doubt arises because it is so difficult humanly to conceive how such evils could be overcome. …
I offer the following list of paradigmatic horrors: the rape of a woman and axing off of her arms, psychophysical torture whose ultimate goal is the disintegration of personality, betrayal of one’s deepest loyalties, cannibalizing one’s own offspring, child abuse of the sort described by Ivan Karamazov, child pornography, parental incest, slow death by starvation, participation in the Nazi death camps, the explosion of nuclear bombs over populated areas, having to choose which of one’s children shall live and which will be executed by terrorists, being the accidental and/or unwitting agent of the disfigurement or death of those one loves best. I regard these as paradigmatic, because I believe most people would find in the doing or suffering of them prima-facie reason to doubt the positive meaning of their lives. …
For better and worse, the by now standard strategies for ‘solving’ the problem of evil are powerless in the face of horrendous evils. …

Source: Marilyn McCord Adams, “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” The Problem of Evil (ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 211-12.
Adams is to be commended for her non-partisan approach to the philosophy of religion; she has articulated a particular instance of evil far better than many atheists who run an argument from evil against theism! She proposes her own theistic response to horrendous evils which I can’t do justice to here. Interested readers should consult her own book-length treatment of the issue.