Why are we Evil?

evil-insideFor the seventh and strongest of Smalley’s points in his “Top Ten Reasons Why I’m an Athiest”, he defers to Epicurus:

7. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” – Epicurus

And it’s easy to see why; this is a classic challenge to theism. (At least, it is a challenge to monotheism. Most forms of theism claim neither omnipotence nor goodness of their gods.)

But, formidable as it seems, it is based on no less a misunderstanding of Christianity than Smalley’s earlier points. To start, I find that most of those repeating this argument don’t actually know what omnipotence is.

That is, omnipotence is the ability to do anything that actually is a thing. Self-contradictions aren’t things that could ever be done, no matter how much power one has. Creating a married bachelor or a square circle aren’t tasks. They are simply meaningless arrangements of words.

This is significant because it is a self-contradiction to make someone freely do something. God creates people to be free creatures, meaning that we choose whether or not to do evil. No amount of power, not even omnipotence, can make someone freely be good.

And, when one thinks about it, this is also misunderstanding of evil. Goodness requires freedom. An act taken by a machine isn’t good or evil; only the actions of people free to choose have  a moral dimension to them. So, to rid the world of evil though forcing people to behave in certain ways is to simultaneously rid the world of good.

So, is a world with both good and evil in it (not to mention free will) superior to one with neither? I’d say so. And it definitely seems hard to prove that a good and omnipotent God would disagree.

There are many other answers that could be given to the problem of evil, but I’ll close with this:

If one agrees that evil does exist, and that it is something that a good God should stop (as opposed to simply being a matter of human opinion), how do we explain that? Really, if there is some absolute standard of morality, by which one presumes to indict God (who is neither human, nor a part of our culture), what is the basis of that morality? Answering that question, it has been shown, will lead one to postulate a good God.

Thus, it turns out that Smalley’s best reason to be an atheist is actually a reason to believe in God.

18 responses to “Why are we Evil?

  • john

    Nice post. As Francis Bacon said, “There is no such thing as good or bad; but it is thinking that makes it so.” The moral of the story is that the whole debate about good and evil and the existence, or non-existence, of God is doomed to failure. As the Pascal Wager stated, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible” because how can man ever hope to comprehend the Absolute with his finite mind. As for science, they will be of little help as they can not observe what lies beyond space and time.

  • Arkenaten

    If you remove your god, Jesus, from the picture, it is simplified even more and then one doesn’t even have to worry about whether a god/any god is omnipotent or not or whether it should or not intervene.

    I like simple. Religion and god belief merely complicates things.

  • paarsurrey

    A misunderstanding of both Epicurus and Smalley; Debilis has cleared it well, in my opinion.

  • violetwisp

    Just hoping to have time to read and comment on John’s latest post, which is relevant to this question of allowing evil/good.

    • Debilis

      If you’d like my response, the basic thrust of it would be as follows:

      I agree that arguing for the existence, or even the goodness, of God based on a survey of the good things in the world would be completely wrong–and I don’t know of any theist who has ever done so.

      As to the parody of Plantinga’s Ontological argument, I’d say that I’ve never been attracted to ontological arguments. I find them suspicious. But I think there are much better objections than the one John uses. I’d outline why I don’t find that one moving, if you’d like, but (as I don’t accept the argument anyway), that seems moot.

      That’s my initial reaction, anyway. But, mostly, I hope things are well for you out there.

      • violetwisp

        Thanks, that was kind of you to take the time. You could have commented directly on the post, but as you didn’t I’ve pasted it over. I agree that as you don’t accept the argument there’s no point in pursuing it. I’m kind of disappointed to be honest, because I like to see a strong challenge to John’s posts, I think they merit much deeper discussion, and these days the only Christian who jumps in is Silence of the Mind, who’s not very coherent (he may be a troll).

        • Debilis

          I’d actually much rather have interchanges with yourself. I find you very thoughtful and interesting. John seems like a decent guy, but my interchanges with him have left me with the impression that he’s more interested in winning arguments than discussing truth.

          I don’t claim immunity from that bug (working on that), but I tend not to be very interested in starting conversations with him for that reason.

          I hate to hear that he’s being trolled, though. I completely agree that his statements deserve better than that.

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