In this installment, I’ll look at another solution to “the problem of evil” discussed in part 1 and part 2. The reason I pulled this “solution” out from the rest is that it is a popular one to discuss, and in fact it resembles a story that often goes around the ‘net in forwarded emails.
St. Augustine was quite fond of this solution, and wrote quite a bit about it. The solution is that evil is the absence, or privation of goodness. What makes this a solution revolves around what God is directly responsible for in His creation.
What God directly creates, so the idea goes, He is responsible for. So, did He directly create evil? Well, that’s the catch. If one views evil as the privation of goodness, it was never “created” as such. Here are the popular analogies used to try to help explain;
First the matter of “cold.” Cold actually doesn’t “exist” as an independent thing. Rather, we define cold by heat; cold is the absence of heat. When you take the temperature of something you are actually measuring it’s heat, not it’s “coldness.” As we approach absolute zero, there is less and less heat measured. Cold is a term that we came up with to be able to communicate certain concepts. So, if I say, “it’s cold,” it is absolutely meaningful, though I’m really saying, “there is an absence of heat.”
Second, the matter of dark, or darkness. Darkness, as with cold, is completely dependent on something else; light. “Dark” isn’t made up of particles, or waves…darkness is merely the absence of light. Light waves exist certainly, but there isn’t “dark waves.” When we say the room is dark, we are actually commenting on the absence of light.
So, the same idea is applied to evil in this solution. God, so the argument goes, did indeed make all things good, but also “changeable.” Meaning He did not create a robot-like universe, instead, while not creating evil, He did create goodness and the ability for the corruption of goodness.
In On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine says this (emphasis added), “Every good is from God. There is nothing of any kind that is not from God. Therefore, since the movement of turning away from good, which we admit to be sin, is a defective movement and since, moreover, every defect comes from nothing, see where this movement belongs: you may be sure that it does not belong to God. Yes, since this defect is voluntary, it lies within our power.“
God wouldn’t be responsible for the non-being, or “non-thing” of evil. He didn’t create it, as it, by definition completely dependent on goodness, which God did create. When we see someone doing something “evil” we are commenting on the absence of goodness in that person’s actions.
This solution is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, we do know that God declared His creation “good,” in the beginning, so that would kind of flow with Augustine’s position. And secondly, it quite rightly shifts the responsibility to us when it comes to our actions. Oftentimes even believers look around and bemoan the state of things without wondering what we can do to make it better.
This sets up the discussion for part 4 of mankind and free will.