Tag Archives: Evil

The problem of evil? Part 3…

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.

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The problem of evil? Part 2…

Please read part 1 to get the general idea of the “problem of evil.”  Various philosophers/theologians have offered different “solutions” to the “problem” of evil.  In this part, I’m going to explore various proposed solutions…saving Augustin’s view, and free will for a bit later.

I want to say right off that I don’t agree with all of these positions, but will try to remember when to point that out, and/or provide my readers with scripture that backs up or rejects these ideas.  Also, I’m not covering every single proposed “solution” here, nor am I including a lot of detail.  I’m simply giving a very brief overview of some of the more “miscellaneous” proposed solutions, and will cover the “major” ones a bit later.

First, there is a “catch-all” idea; God is transcendent, His ways are inscrutable.  God is not bound by space and time, and He is the sum of all perfections…therefore, we can’t understand with our limited human brains and experience how God can be both all powerful and all loving and not instantly do away with all evil, pain, suffering, etc…

This “solution” has it’s good parts, and it’s holes.  Yes, God is indeed light years beyond us as far as power, understanding, knowledge, etc…  There is no doubt about it, even by sheer definition.  Scripture backs this up as well.

Isaiah 55: 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

And there is the “litany of questions” God demands of Job to highlight God as being far beyond humans, here is a small sample; Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

So, yes, God’s ways are not to be judged by us, nor can they be fully comprehended.  However, that misses the point that God has indeed revealed certain aspects of existence to us…He has taught us, like we would teach children (or dogs 😉 ).  He has taught us about our world, about ourselves, about the world to come, and about His nature.  Within this sharing of knowledge, He has also taught us about evil, and where suffering comes from, so I do not find the “solution” of God’s ways being inscrutable to completely answer the problem of evil within a Christian framework, though I can see where it could cover it from a general POV.

Second, there is a “solution” that says to look to the overall goodness.  That the totality of existence is weighted to the the good, not to evil.  Well, I can see this if the future is included from a Christian perspective, and there is a small piece of truth to the idea.  However, if I was approaching this from a general perspective, this “solution” wouldn’t convince me.

There is too much evil and suffering in this world for the “goodness of the totality” argument to really be effective.  All of us humans have gone through horrible, miserable, and painful times.  We’ve also been the cause of horrible, miserable, and painful times.  That kind of personal experience with evil shows us that it is indeed a problem, even if goodness outweighs it…we still want to know “why?” and where evil comes from.

The third idea is that it is logically impossible to have a world without evil, since God’s own character is being defined as “without evil.”  His creation, so this “solution” goes, would have to be lesser; therefore, a world without evil is logically impossible because of God’s own definition.  This one I personally don’t buy at all.  Why?  Because it is true that God is utterly Righteous, but that does not preclude His creation having that righteousness as well.

That aspect of God is only one of the aspects that makes Him, or defines His as…God.  We Christians believe we “participate” in God’s righteousness through Christ, but that does not make me, a mere created being, equal with God, nor would it make a created world without evil on par with God.  In short, I don’t see the logic in this proposed “solution.”

And finally, there is one “solution” that says that all evil is simply a by-product of nature.  There are some (I repeat some) theistic evolutionists that tend toward this solution (by no means do I mean to imply all theistic evolutionists do; there’s so many different beliefs under that umbrella).

The idea here that “evil” is a necessary by-product of nature, that laws such as gravity are set up and through natural processes, that evil will happen.  Again, this idea could be worked into a Deist position, or a theistic evolutionary position.  If God did indeed use evolution as the tool to create mankind, then it follows that the death, disease, and suffering that drives evolution would be a by-product.  So too would moral evil, since the physicality of humans, and our inherent weaknesses would be a logical outcome of this approach.

I don’t buy this explanation either.  Yes, once the fall of mankind happened, then natural laws do have a very real effect on us…for example, if we trip and fall, gravity pulls us down and we can indeed become hurt.  However, I do not believe this would satisfy the skeptics would tout the “problem of evil” as a real problem.  It simply begs the question; why did God choose evolution as the tool of creation?

More on the problem of evil later.

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The problem of evil? Part 1…

I’ve gone over some of the arguments for the existence of God, now I’m going to turn to the one major philosophical argument against their being of God.  Please hang in there with me; I’m doing this in several parts since I’m trying to fight off a lovely illness, and I don’t feel like typing for long periods of time at the present. 🙂

This argument against God is often called “The problem of evil,” though even more often people just ask it as a question, such as, “If God exists why is there evil in the world?”

The philosopher Hume put it this way; “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Some other vocabulary will suffice in this introduction; the difference between natural evil and moral evil.  Natural evil is that evil that occurs because of nature, or the natural world; if I trip and fall, gravity will pull me down.  Sometimes when we trip, we break a bone, which leads to suffering…that is one example.  Also things like starving, or drowning.  Anything that is a result of a natural law, or an effect can be considered a natural evil.

Moral evil is much more “personal” to humans.  This evil springs from human will.  Anything we do to ourselves or others falls in this category; murder, torture, rape, abuse, etc…. are examples of moral evil.

So, evil is present in our world, not many people dispute that.  Most don’t dispute that it is a bad thing either…especially moral evil.  In my next few posts I’ll be looking at different responses to this idea of “the problem of evil,” including mankind’s free will, and also asking if it is even a logical argument against God.

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