Theodicy and the praise of matter

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t like the “the free will” defense in theodicy since a free will cannot establish even the metaphysical possibility of moral evil. But there is nothing wrong, it seems to me, with an analogous argument applied to the cosmos which targeted not moral evils but bad luck. Evils little kids dying of cancer, a town destroyed by a hurricane or tornado, finding a job on the top floor of the Twin Towers, etc. are all cases of bad luck, and these make the most persuasive matter for the argument from evil. After all, we don’t wonder why moral evils happen – the maddening thing about them is the bad luck element in them, which seems to argue that the universe is an irrational place with no interest at all in us.

Bad luck is a sort of contingency, and so the bad luck defense is rests on the premise that contingent being is somehow a necessary good.  In fact, it is not just contingent being but precisely material being that can be lucky or not. Luck requires a common, homogeneous world with possible competing goals that just is existence in space and time.  It requires a world of goods that are not able to be shared, that is, goods that are beneath the common good. This alone is what allows for accidents to happen and for there to be irrational outcomes – the sort of irrationality that is so effective at making us raise the question whether there is any rational source of the universe. We didn’t need a free will defense so much as a defense of matter.

But then what can be said in praise of matter? Why not read Genesis as pointing to an original creation where we were preserved from bad luck?


  1. June 20, 2014 at 7:47 am

    I was thinking exactly this. I like both the basic parts of how you stated it here: this notion of a Luck Defense analogous to the Free Will Defense and the phrasing of corruptible and defectible goods as “goods that are not able to be shared”.

    This links directly (I suspect) with the kind of account of creation we get in Christian Neoplatonists like Origen — they take this issue of bad luck very seriously. (Which perhaps gives another reason why Boethius begins the Consolation with a discussion of it.)

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel said,

    June 20, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Very interesting. I haven’t thought about natural evil in terms of bad luck, yet you are right.

    What about someone who comes down with a terminal disease? Is this bad luck, too?

    Can you point me to your previous articles where you have discussed the free-will defense.


  3. vetdoctor said,

    June 21, 2014 at 10:15 am

    WordPress offered up this link also, good job WordPress

  4. June 27, 2014 at 10:39 am

    As I recall, Ludwig Ott, following Augustine, points out that the original gifts of immortality and impassability consisted in the possibility of not dying and the possibility of not suffering rather than the impossibility of dying and the impossiblity of suffering.

    • vetdoctor said,

      June 27, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Wow, thanks. I’ve often thought that seemed the best way to think of it but had never run across any commentary saying so.

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