How Story Informs our Apologetic for the Problems from Evil

How Story Informs our Apologetic for the Problems from Evil

Story is an undeveloped apologetic tool. It might even be one of our best.

This paper was written for PhD seminar “The Problem of Evil” (2023) at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. It was presented at the Defend apologetics conference (2024).



When addressing problems from evil, defenses and theodicies are a necessary part of apologetics. Many of these responses are founded on fact and logic and historic events, of which, as it is often noted, Christianity has in abundance.1 As will be defined below, the aforementioned approaches to apologetics may be described as primarily incorporating “propositional” tools or elements. But if these propositional tools are all the apologist uses, then something is missing. Narrative, or story, brings an additional element into our apologetic: it helps our dialog partners to understand a different perspective in a way that propositional approaches often do not. In the first section of this paper, I will look at the characteristics of story, what makes it unique from proposition approaches, and why it is persuasive. Then, in the second section, I will show how it can be used apologetically to respond to the problems from evil. Throughout, my position is not that story is necessary but that it is (usually) helpful.

For the purpose of this paper, I am using the term “story” to denote a  theory and practice, while “narrative” is reserved for specific examples. The difference is not critical, and I could have just as easily swapped the two. I am only making the distinction here for clarity.2 This leads to the natural question of what exactly I mean by story. It is helpful to begin with a contrast from “proposition.” Simply put, a proposition is a statement. “There are clouds in the sky” and “I see clouds in the sky” are two examples. Story then is a series of propositions arranged in a specific way. More specifically, Mark Turner defines story as “complex dynamic integrations of objects, actors, and events.”3 Moreover, a story elicits an emotional reaction. For example, “a man shot a gun” is not a story, but “a man shot a gun at me” is.4 For the purpose of this paper, it is important to note that story is often able communicate something beyond what the propositions alone can; that is, when placed within a story-framework, propositions have a synergistic effect.5Added to that, this “something beyond” is often hard (if not impossible) to articulate.6

Throughout this paper I contrast “propositional” approaches (or elements) against a story approach. However, these are not meant to be mutually exclusive (I will discuss this more below). Rather—and very generally—a propositional approach to apologetics can be understood as the approach that relies primarily on logical proofs or historical facts to make its case. For example, Gary Habermas’s “Minimal Facts” approach to the resurrection and Richard Swinburn’s probabilistic response to the problems from evil would both be propositional, as they do not rely on any particular narrative framework, nor do they need story-components to make their case.7 First: Why Story?

I. Why Story?

If Christianity really does have the “embarrassment of riches” that is sometimes claimed, then why bother with story? The purpose of this paper is to show that the value we often place on proposition-heavy approaches rarely provides as full an apologetic as our confidence in these facts would lead us to believe. This is not to say we have a problem with our facts. Rather, this is about the apologetics effect. In this section, I will look at four reasons we should consider story as a part of our apologetic.

1. Emotions Weigh Facts

The idea of the cool detective cleanly solving a mystery from logic alone is a largely disregarded picture. The reality is that our brains do not have a compartmentalized “logic center” shut off from the rest of ourselves, but rather, our brains work as a whole, with our emotions affecting our decision-making. Neuroscientists Antoine Bechara and Antonio Damasio have put forward what they call the “somatic marker hypothesis,” which charts the critical effects emotions play in decision-making.8 In a series of neuroimaging studies, Natalie L. Denburg et al has shown how the prefrontal cortex “is critical for bringing emotion-related signals to bear on decision making.”9 This is a part of a growing pool of empirical evidence that shows how relevant our emotions are to decision-making.10 And this is exactly what story does for us. As Harold Scheub puts it: “Story is nothing if it does not contain and channel emotion.”11 Story then becomes a possible, if not likely, vehicle for affecting our decision-making.12

2. Story and Neural Processing

Story is easier for our brains to process than propositional information, making it (in some ways) a more efficient means of communication.13 “Processing fluency” is the psychological mechanism that makes narrative a more comfortable way to digest new information. “When information feels like it is processed fluently, or easily, the information comes to mind quickly and is accompanied by a positive affective experience.”14 Neuroimaging studies have shown that our brains actually react differently to stories.15 Story is often, by default, relegated to campfires, day-cares, and non-serious forms of entertainment. But a growing body of research is showing that story is both a legitimate and effective means of communication—perhaps more effective than propositional forms of communication. As apologists and evangelists—that is, those carrying the only true message of hope—we should be on the leading edge of this.

3. Story Elements Help Organize Our Thoughts

Story in general—and narrative in particular—help us categorize and mentally organize facts better than propositional knowledge.16 One way to understand this is to see story as a sense-making device. Working in the field of childhood development, Gordon Wells finds story to have a “pervasive significance,” noting that “each act of recognition, whether it be of objects in the external world perceived through our senses or of a conceptual relationship ‘seen’ through an act of the mind, involves a sort of inner storying.”17 This is inherently practical, he continues, due to the fact that we never have an exhaustive set of information in front of us; yet, we still must interpret and make decisions. But this is not simply restricted to children in developmental phases of their lives. Studies have documented how social workers making decisions on behalf of children,18 police officers facing unexpected situations,19 and employees going through difficult changes20 each use story to help guide their decision-making process.

4. Story is Compelling

Narrative is compelling in ways that proposition is not always. This is often seen in complex fields, like science, where specialists are seeking the attention of a popular-level audience. Julie Downs writes that a narrative approach can help when confronting long-held beliefs, which can “captivate the audience, driving anticipation for plot resolution, thus becoming a self-motivating vehicle for information delivery.”21 In a similar context, Michael Dahlstrom even considers the use of story as “more important” than a more technical approach when it comes to communication.22 Another example of this is the pervasive use of personal testimony in court cases, including murder trials, where testimony can sometimes play a decisive role.23 Eyewitness testimony is nothing more than a (hopefully true) story, told first-hand.

A natural concern here is the misunderstanding that can happen when we attempt to simplify complex topics. But this is not what a story or narrative approach is doing. Rather, as noted in point three points above, a story approach provides a mental framework for how to process this new or difficult information. It is not designed to supplant propositional detail (more on this below), rather, it is meant to appropriate it.

II. Narrative Responses to Evil

The task of apologetics should never seek to deny the work of the Spirit in drawing a person to himself. Nor should apologetics ever be considered a substitute for the gospel. Yet, the business of apologetics is inherently persuasive. In Corinth, Paul “tried to persuade the Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4), and then later at Ephesus, he was “reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). The previous part of this paper looked at how story is a viable mechanism for this kind of persuasion. This present part will now look at narrative responses to the problems from evil. In this section I will look at biblical examples as well as a philosophical defense.

Biblical Examples

This section will look at a few biblical examples that use story to address problems from evil. In this case, it becomes particularly helpful to distinguish between “story” (as a framework or mechanism) and “narrative” (a specific story or history). Here I will look at how story is used in several different literary genres: historical narrative, fiction, parable, exposition, and apocrypha.24

The first example comes from Joseph (historical narrative). In Genesis 45, Joseph has just revealed himself to his estranged brothers. The narrative begins in Genesis 37; out of jealousy, his brothers sell him into slavery. Following that, he had significant ups and downs. Ultimately, he ended up second-in-command in one of the most powerful nations of the time. By now, his brothers likely assumed he was dead. They came to Egypt to negotiate for food supplies for the ongoing famine. But unbeknownst to them, they had been dealing with Joseph directly, the entire time. When he could not hold back any longer, he revealed his identity to them, saying: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). What ultimately explains the narrative—making it a story rather than just a series of historical facts—is Joseph’s thematic statement in Gen. 45:5 (quoted above). The problem from evil in this story is the injustice Joseph experiences. But, as he shows his brothers, it was all part of God’s plan to bring about a greater good.

The next example comes from the prophet Nathan and King David (fiction). David began his reign in stark contrast to his predecessor, Saul—a fact he was most certainly aware of. However, as time moved on and his kingdom grew, some of David’s standards for holiness began to slip. So much so that he had an affair with a married woman and covered it up by having her husband killed. The evil here is obvious: David was one of the good kings; will this abuse of power and privilege really be the way God’s leaders are allowed to rule? On God’s prompting, Nathan visits David to confront him. And though it would have been well within his rights, he chooses not to lay out David’s sin propositionally. Rather, Nathan tells him a story about a rich man who selfishly stole a poor man’s lamb, a lamb the poor man even treated “like a daughter” (2 Sam. 12:1–9). Though David did not know it, the facts of this story were a fiction. But its message was true. When Nathan saw that David was appropriately outraged, he revealed to him: “you are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). As a result of allowing David to experience in a fresh way the real problem—a problem that he had likely rationalized in his head many times over—Nathan was able to help David see what he needed to do: repent.

The third example comes from one of the stories Jesus told: the wheat and the weeds (parable). Parable is a method Jesus used to teach the crowds, as a way of separating those from whom the Spirit would draw to himself and the rest who would remain in their rebellion (cf. Matt. 13:10–13). In this particular parable, he describes two groups of people. They live and die in a way that is hard to clearly tell which side they are on. Yet there is a fundamental difference between the two groups: one is good while the other is evil. The problem of evil here is implicit: Why does God not step in and expose those evil-doers who are pretending to be godly? Jesus’s answer is that God will expose their evil, but he will do it in his time (Matt. 13:24–24, 38–43). Here Jesus is teaching a spiritual reality that explains that not is all as it seems.

The fourth example of how, through using story, the Bible addresses problems from evil comes from Paul’s advice to the Roman church (exposition). In Romans 8 he is encouraging them to live their lives in reliance on God’s spirit. The natural problem with this can be encapsulated in the “already, but not yet” idea some theologians have used to describe the current state of God’s Kingdom. Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom here on earth, but he has not yet come back to right all the wrongs—wrongs that still very much exist. Being in the middle of those two points, we, as his followers, must deal with the tension brought about by a rebellious world (and, not to mention, by our own disobedience). Quoting Psalm 44, Paul writes: “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). If we are to understand story as being synonymous with the narrative genre, then this quotation would not belong in an analysis of story. However, if we see story as a mechanism or framework, as I have been using it here, then we can see a new dimension to what Paul is doing. He is using the well-trod metaphor of sacrificial animals—which has now taken on an even more potent image, with Jesus as the lamb of God (John 1:29)—and he is giving the church a picture of how they are to see themselves. Just as Nathan helped David see himself in a fresh (and more accurate) way, so Paul is helping the church to do the same.

The fifth and final example for this section is John’s vision into heaven, when God unseals his scroll (apocalyptic). John writes: “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Rev. 6:9). Throughout church history (and before, as well) many have been oppressed, tortured, and killed simply for their allegiance to the true King. In the twenty-first century, we still live in a time when the martyrs the apostle John had in mind two millennia before have not yet been vindicated. With David, we too cry out: “How long, O Lord?” (Ps. 13:1). What God showed John (and the rest of us) through much imagery in the book of Revelation is that all of the world will one day be put right.

In Philosophy

One of the most famous treatments of the problem of evil is found in the book of Job. Yet, when we get to the end of the story—after Job has point-blank asked God why—and in one of the longest direct responses from God recorded in Scripture, God does not give Job an answer. At least, not in the propositional way a Westerner may expect. Instead, what God does give to Job is himself. He reveals to him his character. To the apologist looking for answers (or to the hurting soul, for that matter) such a response may seem disappointing on the surface. In Wandering in Darkness, Eleonore Stump looks at the biblical story of Job, and builds a defense based on Thomas Aquinas’s theodicy. Stump makes two moves here. First, she highlights the second-person relationship between God and Job, arguing that God giving Job this part of himself was better than any propositional response. And second: narrative is critical for sharing this second-person experience beyond the direct relationship between God and Job. It is this second point that I will focus on here.

Stump is an analytic philosopher. Any survey of the philosophical discussion around the problems from evil will quickly show that very little of it deals with narrative or story.25 However, Stump’s goal is not simply to use narrative in an illustrative manner (an approach which would “demean the role of narrative”26), but to use it centrally. Narrative provides “some cognitive content, which is explicable less well [sic] or not at all by non-narrative philosophical prose.”27 In other words, some things can be understood by narrative that cannot be understood through analytic philosophy.28 Her goal is to examine just enough of the story to “illumine the relations between God and other persons in the story.”29

Understanding the point of Job, per Stump, is to see that Job actually did get what he wanted from God, “namely, an explanation for why he suffers.”30 How does this happen? It is through the second-person answer from God, “not by giving him knowledge that, but by giving him” what Stump calls “Franciscan knowledge,” which “like knowledge of persons, is non-propositional.”31 “Franciscan knowledge” is Stump’s term for the kind of knowledge we get from knowing others directly. Stump believes this conclusion is confirmed by Job’s own response, when he says, “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). The story of Job shows us the “fractal nature” of God’s love for all of us, by drawing attention to the “many stories we are not being given.”32

As shown from the biblical responses surveyed here, as well as Eleonore Stump’s philosophical defense: Story can play a vital part in our apologetic. It is not only persuasive in its own right, but it taps into God’s design for the very way in which we process information. As people, our entire worldview is simply a story that describes how the world is and what’s true. As such, story gives us a vehicle to interact with people who hold very different worldviews, that is, those to whom we are seeking to reach for the King.

Concluding Thoughts

For as helpful as story is to our apologetic, there is an important caveat: Story is often best used in conjunction with propositional facts. Why? Because a story with no relevant truths gets us no closer to the truth. Consider the story of the resurrection. Shortly after his crucifixion and burial, the disciples began to spread the story that Jesus was alive again. Yet, it wasn’t simply the story that moved people—as if none of it needed to be actually true to affect the subsequent billions of lives that would be changed by this story. Rather, it was the story in conjunction with certain, true facts. Of course, some may respond that these true facts (e.g. Jesus raised from the dead, etc.) were powerful enough on their own. That is, we are back to the same question from above: Why bother with story? One of the difficulties of studying story is that it can be deceptively pervasive. Consider again the example of the resurrection. In such a case the facts the disciples were spreading were the story. The character, Jesus, who predicted his own return from the dead, has now done the one thing no one else in history ever has: he has resurrected. But not only that, this story is wrapped into a larger story-world: God’s mission to redeem his wayward children.33

The point of Christian apologetics is to defend the objective truth of Christianity. Story provides a compelling way of doing this. But it should never be done apart from fact. That is: The choice is not a narrative approach or a propositional approach. Rather, narrative is best used in tandem with the facts and logic and historicity of Christianity.


Appendix I: The Non-Trivial Cumulative Value of Story

As noted above, a story is a series of related propositions strung together in a specific order. What I want to first argue is that the sum is greater than the parts, which creates a cumulative effect. Consider the example of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.34 The story is built around several thematic elements: choosing good is (morally) better than choosing evil; family and friends are a very important part of life; and loyalty and courage are character traits to be desired.35 A brief synopsis may read something like: After being orphaned as an infant, Harry Potter was raised by his somewhat-abusive relatives. Upon turning eleven he learned several things which changed his life: he was a wizard, which was also true of his deceased parents, and he had just been accepted to a secret school, called Hogwarts, for other wizards his age. Throughout his first year at Hogwarts, he uncovers a plot by an evil wizard, he develops deep friendships, and he learns to navigate a demanding load of schoolwork. It can be argued that everything else in the story fall into the category of supporting detail. Yet, this three-sentence synopsis above is no substitute for the full novel for at least two reasons. First, the “supporting details” of the novel give the reader a much fuller picture of the world and characters than does the synopsis. But second, and more important, upon reading Harry Potter—or countless other novels, for that matter—one is left with a certain sense or emotion, which can itself feel similar to an experience.36 For instance, we do not have to somehow believe this fictional novel is actually true to experience real emotions from, say, the outrage in the final act as Voldemort taunts Harry about killing his parents, or the injustice of Snape taunting Harry in his class. Yet, every writer (and reader, for that matter) knows that it is not enough to string together seventy-something-thousand words to produce a story. There are certain elements that separate a story from a list of facts. And what I am arguing is that when these facts, or propositions, are put into a story form, there is a synergistic outcome that is greater than its parts. We can see this plainly in the popular story, Harry Potter. But why exactly does this happen? I believe an important factor is found in the role of our emotions.


Appendix II: Evil in Popular Literature

The problems from evil—that is, the critiques—are often specific defeaters for belief in God. But it is impossible to consider this topic without also considering the larger issue of evil itself. With this in mind, we can learn from instances of evil that do not have an explicit theodicy or defense attached to them. When broadened like this, we can see that most of life has something to say about evil.37  For this reason, we can understand more about how to respond to these problems from looking at instances of evil, even if a theodicy or defense is not explicitly present. Narrative (almost by definition) includes evil, be it in some unmet desire or the harsh threat of a villain. In such cases, the response to evil is often implied in the themes the author writes. Consider J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The evil—as seen from the point of view of the hobbits (which is the central point of view of the entire story)—is Sauron’s desire to destroy the good life of the hobbits, the way of the Shire. In this case, we know this from two different angles. First is the overall structure of the story. It begins in the Shire, the Shire comes under threat, and it ends with the hobbits (and their friends) protecting the Shire. Secondly, however, we have Tolkien’s somewhat more direct address of evil in Silmarillion:

Then Iluvatar spoke, and he said: “Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Iluvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.”38

The hobbits are quite improbable heroes. Bilbo and Frodo are uncommon exceptions in that they are drawn toward adventure. But nothing about them lends toward heroism. They are small, not built for fighting. And their greatest physical advantage is that they have an uncanny knack for slipping away unnoticed. It was not a happy accident that Frodo and his companions saved the Shire. In the Silmarillion quotation above, Iluvatar (comparable to God in Christianity39) is telling the evil one that he (Iluvatar) is ultimately in control, no matter how it may appear. Everyone acting against his will “prove[s] but mine instrument” in bringing about a greater good.

Contemporary and friend of Tolkien, C. S. Lewis has written much about the problems of evil and pain in nonfiction.40 However, in his fiction, he too has written a story-world that revolves around the question: Will evil prevail? In The Chronicles of Narnia, children sheltering from the Axis bombing raids in World War II discover a secret world. They learn about this new world (and their own selves) as they take part in the struggle to help good overcome evil. But when asked if Lewis wrote with the intention of making a Christian story (or even an allegory), he responded that the idea was “pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all . . . At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about [the stories]; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”41 That is, his worldview infiltrated his story. This worldview included much pain and much struggle, but ultimately, it culminated in God redeeming his soul. The worldview of an author, such as the case of Lewis (and Tolkien) have a way of providing a kind of response to problems that arise from evil. And as readers, their stories and articulations help us deal with our own questions and doubts.

Many more examples can be given. Harry Potter (from above) could just as easily been used in this section. Story is one of the most potent grounds for dealing with the problem of evil, because, as Lewis wrote, “The story does what no theorem can quite do. It may not be ‘like real life’ in the superficial sense: but it sets before us an image of what reality may well be like at some more central region.”42


Selected Bibliography

Adams, Marilyn McCord, Robert Merrihew Adams, eds. The Problem of Evil. Oxford University Press, 1990.

Adorno, Theodor W. Aesthetic Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Alter, Torin, Sven Walter, eds. Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge. Oxford University Press, 2006.

Aquinas, Thomas. On Evil. Edited by Brian Davies. Translated by Richard Regan. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Balfour, Dylan. “Second-personal theodicy: coming to know why God permits suffering by coming to know God himself.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 88 (2020).

Bechara, Antoine, and Antonio R. Damasio. “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision.” Games and Economic Behavior, Special Issue on Neuroeconomics, 52 (2005).

Brooks, Larry. Story Engineering. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2011.

———. Story Physics. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2013.

Bruner, Jerome. Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Harvard University Press, 1985.

Bullock, Olivia M., Shulman, Hillary C., Huskey, Richard. “Narratives are Persuasive Because They are Easier to Understand.” Frontiers in Communication 6 (2021).

Burley, Mikel. “Narrative philosophy of religion: apologetic and pluralistic orientations.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 88 (2020).

Crossan, John Dominic. The Dark Interval. Sonoma, CA: Polebridge Press, 1988.

Dahlstrom, Michael F. “Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (4).

Dawson, Patrick and Peter McLean. “Miners’ Tales: Stories and the Storying Process for Understanding the Collective Sensemaking of Employees During Contested Change.” Group & Organization Management38 (2).

Denburg, Natalie L. and William M. Hedgcock. “Age-Associated Executive Dysfunction, the Prefrontal Cortex, and Complex Decision Making.” Aging and Decision Making. San Diego: Academic Press, 2015.

Downs, Julie S. “Prescriptive scientific narratives for communicating usable science.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (4).

Fischer, John Martin. “Struggling with Evil: Comments on Wandering in Darkness.European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 4, no. 3 (Autumn 2012).

Franklin, Christopher E. “How Literature Educates the Emotions.” Philosophia Christi 25, no. 1 (2023).

Glaser, Manuela, Garsoffky, Bärbel, and Schwan, Stephan. “Narrative-based learning: Possible benefits and problems.” Communications 34, no. 4 (2009).

Gregory, Mark. “Story-building and narrative in social workers’ case-talk.” Child & Family Social Work, 28 (4).

Habermas, Gary R. and Michael R. Licona. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004.

Hasker, William. “Light in the Darkness? Reflections on Eleonore Stump’s Theodicy.” Faith and Philosophy 28, no. 4, October 2011.

Hick, John. Evil and the God of Love. Revised edition. San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publisher, 1977.

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

Jääskeläinen, Iiro P., Klucharev, Vasily, Panidi, Ksenia, Shestakova, Anna N. “Neural Processing of Narratives.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 14 (2020).

Jonas, Silvia. Ineffability and its Metaphysics. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016.

Kalderon, Mark Eli, ed. Fictionalism in Metaphysics. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Larrimore, Mark, ed. The Problem of Evil: A Reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.

Leibniz, G.W. Theodicy. Edited by Austin Farrer. Chicago: Open Court, 1990.

Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperOne, 1961.

———. The Problem of Pain. New York: HarperOne, 1940.

———. On Stories. New York: HarperOne, 1982.

McBrayer, Justin P., Daniel Howard-Snyder, eds. The Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2013.

McGrath, Alister E. Narrative Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2019.

McKee, Robert. Story. New York City: Regan Books, 1997.

Meister, Chad and James K. Dew Jr., eds. God and Evil. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Text of the New Testament, second edition. Oxford University Press, 1968.

Müller, Silke M., Magnus Liebherr, Elisa Wegmann, and Matthias Brand. “Decision Making – A Neuropsychological Perspective.” Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience, 2nd edition. New York: Elsevier Science, 2021.

Pavese, Carlotta. “Knowledge How.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Fall 2022. Edward N. Zalta & Uri Nodelman, eds. /fall2022/entries/knowledge-how/.

Phelan, James and Peter J. Rabinowitz, eds. A Companion to Narrative Theory. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1977.

———. Knowledge and Christian Belief. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2015.

Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997.

Schaeffer, Francis A. Art and the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

Scheub, Harold. Story. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Smith, Christian. Moral, Believing Animals. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Stanley, Jason, Timothy Williamson. “Knowing How” The Journal of Philosophy 98, no. 8 (2001).

Stump, Eleonore. Wander in Darkness. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Swinburn, Richard. Providence and the Problem of Evil. Oxford University Press, 1998.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien, ed. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2013.

Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind. Oxford University Press, 1996.

van Hulst, Merlijn and Haridimos Tsoukas. “Understanding extended narrative sensemaking.” Organization30 (4).

van Inwagen, Peter, ed. Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

van Inwagen, Peter, Dean Zimmerman, eds., Persons: Human and Divine. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Wells, Gordon. The Meaning Makers. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2009.

Yorke, John. Into the Woods. New York City: Abrams Press, 2014.

All footnotes in the popups above are listed here:

  1. Textual critic Bruce Metzger writes: “In contrast with these figures [such as Homer, Euripides, and other great works of antiquity], the textual critic of the New Testament is embarrassed by the wealth of his materials.” (Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament, second edition [Oxford University Press, 1968], 34.) Others have said similar things, often shortened to an “embarrassment of riches.”[]
  2. An alternative labeling may be “story” with no article to represent the theoretical concept, and “a story” or “the story” to indicate specific instances. This requires a very careful reading, and the distinction can be easily missed. As apologetics is a discipline based on theology, and within theology “narrative” as a genre is already well established. With that in mind, my labeling seeks to preserve that.[]
  3. Mark Turner, The Literary Mind (Oxford University Press, 1996), 10.[]
  4. “Story” is a phenomenon that is both well-known (virtually everyone can give an example of a story) yet at the same time very difficult to define specifically. In my example, much of the story is left implied. Hemingway is reputed to have given the flash-fiction short: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” All of the elements of a story do not need to be present explicitly for a series of propositions to be a story. However, as noted above, a story must include some kind of emotional resonance.[]
  5. Of course, much more can be said about the definition of “story.” Most stories have a beginning-middle-end structure of some sort, with characters, tension, outcomes, and a story-world (either this world or an imagined one).[]
  6. This is the attempt of Silvia Jonas to describe non-trivial ineffable knowledge. See Silvia Jonas, Ineffability and its Metaphysics(New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016).[]
  7. Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2004); Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (Oxford University Press, 1998).[]
  8. Antoine Bechara and Antonio R. Damasio, “The Somatic Marker Hypothesis: A Neural Theory of Economic Decision” (Games and Economic Behavior, Special Issue on Neuroeconomics, 52, 2005), 336–72.[]
  9. Natalie L. Denburg and William M. Hedgcock, “Age-Associated Executive Dysfunction, the Prefrontal Cortex, and Complex Decision Making,” Aging and Decision Making (San Diego: Academic Press, 2015), 79–101. Much research in this area is empirical.[]
  10. Silke M. Müller, Magnus Liebherr, Elisa Wegmann, and Matthias Brand, “Decision Making – A Neuropsychological Perspective,” Encyclopedia of Behavioral Neuroscience, second edition (New York: Elsevier Science, 2021), 396–403.[]
  11. Harold Scheub, Story (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 22.[]
  12. Christopher E. Franklin writes: “the manner in which literature addresses us tends to be a more effective way of building habits of construals than nonliterary works. Whereas nonliterary works major in communicating propositional knowledge, literary works major in communicating construals.” (Franklin, Christopher E. “How Literature Educates the Emotions.” Philosophia Christi 25, no. 1, 2023.)[]
  13. An important caveat on this point is that it is not always easier to present information in a story/narrative form. It is much easier to list a series of bullet points. The point I am making here is that it is easier to receive information found in story/narrative formats.[]
  14. Olivia M. Bullock, Hillary C. Shulman, Richard Huskey, “Narratives are Persuasive Because They are Easier to Understand,” Frontiers in Communication 6 (2021).[]
  15. Iiro P. Jääskeläinen, Vasily Klucharev, Ksenia Panidi, Anna N. Shestakova, “Neural Processing of Narratives.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 14 (2020).[]
  16. Manuela Glaser, Bärbel Garsoffky, and Stephan Schwan, “Narrative-based learning: Possible benefits and problems,” Communications 34, no. 4 (2009), 429–447.[]
  17. Gordon Wells, The Meaning Makers (Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2009), 215.[]
  18. Mark Gregory, “Story-building and narrative in social workers’ case-talk,” Child & Family Social Work, 28 (4), 949–959.[]
  19. Merlijn van Hulst and Haridimos Tsoukas, “Understanding extended narrative sensemaking,” Organization30 (4), 730–753.[]
  20. Patrick Dawson and Peter McLean, “Miners’ Tales: Stories and the Storying Process for Understanding the Collective Sensemaking of Employees During Contested Change,” Group & Organization Management38 (2), 198–229.[]
  21. Julie S. Downs, “Prescriptive scientific narratives for communicating usable science,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (4).[]
  22. Michael F. Dahlstrom, “Using narratives and storytelling to communicate science with nonexpert audiences,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (4).[]
  23. U.S. Department of Justice, “Eyewitness Evidence,” National Institute of Justice website,, accessed Nov. 30, 2023.[]
  24. Likely the most famous scriptural example addressing the problem from evil comes from Job. This will be addressed in a subsequent section.[]
  25. Cf. Adams and Adams, Howard-Snyder, Larrimore, and van Inwagen.[]
  26. Stump, Eleonore, Wander in Darkness (Oxford University Press, 2010), 26.[]
  27. Stump, Wandering, 25n6. Drawing on Bas van Fraassen’s critique of analytic metaphysics, Stump reflects on analytic philosophy: As “one of the pattern-processing arts, it will be incomplete at best when it comes to describing the parts of reality including persons” (Stump, Wandering, 38).[]
  28. Stump, Wandering, 26.[]
  29. Stump, Wandering, 181.[]
  30. Stump, Wandering, 184. She also looks at the stories of Abraham, Sampson, and Mary of Bethany. But for this paper, I will focus only on her treatment of Job.[]
  31. Stump, Wandering, 193.[]
  32. Stump, Wandering, 221.[]
  33. This story-within-a-story concept is extremely common (if not necessary) in longer-form stories. A novel, for example, is composed of acts or sequences; an act (or sequence) is composed of scenes. Each of these structural categories involves characters with some level of tension that moves the larger story forward.[]
  34. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (New York: Scholastic Press, 1997).[]
  35. “Theme” here is used in the technical sense, to denote the underlying meaning an author is communicating through a story. This is separate from the plot, which is the ordering of events.[]
  36. There is debate amongst epistemologists about whether experiential knowledge (knowledge-of) is a separate category or just a subcategory of propositional knowledge (knowledge-that). The purpose of this paper is not to argue for one position over the other, but simply to note the residual effect that a story delivers. For an introduction, see Jason Stanley and Timothy Williamson, “Knowing How” (The Journal of Philosophy 98, no. 8, 2001). For a case that (mostly) sees knowledge-of as a subset of knowledge-that, see Torin Alter and Sven Walter, eds, Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge (Oxford University Press, 2006). And for an argument that they are different kinds of knowledge, see Silvia Jonas, Ineffability and its Metaphysics (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016). What is clear in each case is that, even if knowledge-of is a subset of knowledge-that, it still has a certain unique quality to it.[]
  37. This is an important question that goes beyond the scope of this paper: If most of life does give us opportunity to reflect on evil, then what does that kind of pervasiveness tell us about our view of the way things should be? In other words, does evil then not become a pointer to truth?[]
  38. J. R. R. Tolkien, Silmarillion, Christopher Tolkien, ed. (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2013), 5–6.[]
  39. In interviews and elsewhere Tolkien was quite clear that he did not write an allegory. Iluvatar is not the Christian God of the Bible. However, in the story world of the Lord of the Rings, he plays a comparable role. He is the almighty and good creator, of which no others can rival.[]
  40. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1961); C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1940).[]
  41. C. S. Lewis, On Stories (New York: HarperOne, 1982), 69.[]
  42. C. S. Lewis, On Stories (New York: HarperOne, 1982), 21.[]