Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This fully online unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities within online LEO modules, and some synchronous webinar classes. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. 

Unit rationale, description and aim

The reality of evil in the world is a major issue and point of reflection for any religious tradition, but especially for monotheistic faiths that have an all-powerful and all-good God at their core. It is clear that the Christian tradition places innocent suffering at the very centre of its focus in the figure of the crucified and risen Messiah. But to what extent can theological responses to evil be understood in rational terms accessible to people of different faith traditions or none? This unit in the philosophy of religion provides an extended reflection on the problem from various different perspectives, leading students through a variety of questions such as the meaning of evil; the particular problems raised by different ‘types’ of evil; arguments against religion on the basis of evil; the concept of ‘theodicy’; and a range of historical and contemporary theistic responses to the problem of evil. The unit aims to provide students with a broad understanding of the key debates in this field, while also enhancing their critical thinking skills and helping them develop their philosophical acumen. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Identify and analyse the key concepts and issues raised by the problem of evil for monotheistic religious belief (GA4; GA5);

LO2 - Critically evaluate a range of scholarly arguments made by philosophers of religion on this issue (GA4; GA5; GA8); 

LO3 - Demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and clear use of philosophically effective English expression GA4; GA5; GA8; GA9

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will be drawn from among the following:

  • defining evil as such, and ‘categories’ of evil: moral, natural, metaphysical;
  • models of Divine interaction with the cosmos (including the issue of miracles, and the problem of Divine hiddenness);
  • arguments against religion on the basis of evil: logical, evidential and existential arguments;
  • the concept of ‘theodicy’;
  • evil in contemporary literature (e.g., Dostoevsky, Camus, etc);
  • natural disasters;
  • animal suffering;
  • Augustine and recent free will defences;
  • Irenaeus and recent teleological or ‘soul making’ defences;
  • Leibniz and ‘the best of all possible worlds’;
  • contemporary theological responses to the problem of evil (including the suffering of God and understandings of providence);
  • moral evil and human psychology;
  • the problem of religious violence;
  • recent ‘theistic anti-theodicy’ and ‘sceptical theism’.

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This fully online unit involves 150 hours of focused learning. The total includes formally structured learning activities within online LEO modules, and some synchronous webinar classes. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment. As a fully online unit, it has been designed principally as a blend of self-directed activity-based leaning and project-based learning. However, there are also opportunities for collaborative and discussion-based learning. Accordingly, there is an allocation for synchronous meetings in webinar mode several times during semester to enable some live discussion of the material. Further, LEO forums provide a constant opportunity for collaborative discussion of the material from each unit module, providing students with the opportunity to interact with one another, developing skills in dialogical debate and critical reflection. The project-based aspect relates to the research project on which students work throughout the second half of the unit, culminating in their research essay.

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit has been designed to examine students’ understanding of the philosophical issues and theories under consideration, as well as their ability to critically analyse those issues and theories. Participation in LEO forums is an integral aspect of the unit, and the first task examines students’ capacity to respond consistently and critically to the unit material in dialogue with others. The second task requires the students to respond, in a structured way, to key readings in the unit. These first two tasks prepare students for the third and principal task of writing an extended research essay. This examines their capacity to conduct their own research, and their ability to develop and defend a coherent position of their own in a formally structured argumentative essay.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Participation in LEO forums

Requires students to demonstrate skills in dialogical discussion.


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8 

Short written tasks

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates. 


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8 

Research essay

Requires students to analyse an important philosophical issue, and argue for a coherent position.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Feinberg, J.S. The Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

Hick, J. Evil and the God of Love. London: Macmillan, 1985/2010.

Howard-Snyder, D (ed). The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

McBrayer, J.P., and Howard-Snyder, D. (eds). The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil. Malden: Blackwell, 2013.

Phillips, D.Z. The Problem of Evil and the Problem of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

Schellenberg, J.L. Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Swinburne, R. Providence and the Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Trakakis, N.N. (ed.). The Problem of Evil: Eight Views in Dialogue. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Van Inwagen, P. (ed). Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004.

Wynn, M. God and Goodness: A Natural Theological Perspective. London: Routledge, 1999.

Have a question?

We're available 9am–5pm AEDT,
Monday to Friday

If you’ve got a question, our AskACU team has you covered. You can search FAQs, text us, email, live chat, call – whatever works for you.

Live chat with us now

Chat to our team for real-time
answers to your questions.

Launch live chat

Visit our FAQs page

Find answers to some commonly
asked questions.

See our FAQs