Tag Archives: Evil

From Here to Eternity

Deborah-Kerr-and-Burt-Lancaster-in-From-Here-To-Eternity-19531In discussing the problem of evil, Mackie touches on the fact that those who experience the most evil and suffering in their lives seem to be the most religious. Mackie, of course, makes the very reasonable point that this is not a logical answer to the problem of evil.

It is, however, a significant issue.

That is, those who are most familiar with evil seem to be aware that religion is the only way to explain the existence of evil at all. Atheists, after all, dismiss the matter as merely subjective, simply denying any ontological truth to evil.

As such, evil really seems to be evidence in favor of theism, not against it.

Of course, the materialist can go on denying the existence of evil as such, but this puts him/her in an awkward position in presenting the problem of evil. Of course, I’ve just addressed Mackie’s attempt to show that it is an inconsistency within theism–without claiming that evil actually exists.

And that seems the only alternative to presenting a secular explanation for real evil (and not simply subjective evil).

But, Mackie, in seeking a contradiction within theism, questions whether or not religion can point to genuine goods which both require and outbalance the evil in the world. But this is trivially easy.

Mackie has already agreed that humans would have no concept of good were it not for our experience of evil. So, it seems that he implicitly agrees that humans would have no basis for choosing goodness (which is, on the theist view he’s considering, synonymous with God) if we had no experience of the difference between good and evil.

Of course, Mackie ostensibly insists otherwise–that God’s omnipotence would allow him to do this. But this is far too glib. Not only does it take back, without explanation, the concession that was just made, but it seems to require forgetting an earlier issue.

That is, Mackie agrees that omnipotence does not entail the ability to do the logically impossible. And it is a logical contradiction to make someone freely do something. As such, omnipotence is of no help to God in creating a world where we choose him without any real, existential concept of what choice we’re making. We need to experience “not God” before we can rightly be said to have a reason to choose God freely.

And this more than answers Mackie’s question.

If one is asking about the internal consistency of traditional theism (which is, again, the only challenge a relativist like Mackie can make), it is no small point that choosing goodness (which, given theism, is God) would be an infinite good, stretched over infinite time.

It seems very straight-forward that this would counterbalance any evil in the world as it is (as that evil is finite). And it seems that only a very short-sighted perspective, like the child who can’t see what good doing homework could possibly bring about, could keep one from seeing that the value of a religion can’t be entirely judged by this-world thinking.

This is the truth that those who suffer greatly can see, and far too many (comfortable in our wealth) cannot. We, it could be argued, so rarely think about eternity because we simply don’t want to see it.

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.

Religion and Evil

On the intellectual edge of the current debate over religion, but very near the emotional core of it, is the claim that religion is not only false, but evil.
There are a number of objections that may be raised to such a vast condemnation. Only very rarely, however, do I see the most obvious. One would think, given the ethos of science with modern atheists, that theists would be faster to point out the lack of evidence for such an assertion – or the evidence to the contrary.
This is not to say that I am terribly proud of the evidence. The correlation between religious commitment and altruism should be much stronger than it is. But, if sociologists and anthropologists have established that believers need to be better at practicing the truths we claim, they’ve completely undermined the idea that religion is a cause of great evil.

For myself, it is this evidence (and not perpetual references to the crusades and atheist regimes) that settles the matter. What is more interesting is the shyness of both sides to actually engage with the data. But one should think that those who reference science so frequently on the issue of God’s existence would be interested in science on this point as well.
While I have my suspicions about the reasons for this omission, it does not do to dwell on them. But I think it fair to conclude from this that, whatever is said, the current anti-theist movement is grounded on something other than science.
Nor is it grounded on history. Only the most sophomorically Manichean understanding could lead one to the condemnation of religion as some singular force of evil in history. Or, for that matter, to any conclusion about religion as a singular force of any sort. Any critique of religion which begins under the assumption that all religions can be spoken of in the same breath is bound to fail – yet, this is only the first in a long series of factual errors leading to these conclusions.
But I find some solace in that the deepest problem with condemning religion as evil has been pointed out. This is the simple question of the basis for such condemnation. The pagan can understandably condemn Christianity for upsetting the divine order, the Muslim may do so for it’s rejection of Allah, and the Platonist for rejecting the universal good. Whatever we may think of these views, they are consistent with themselves.
The modern critic of religion en masse, however, is almost universally a moral relativist. And one cannot, if she is rational, summon moral outrage at religion while simultaneously claiming that morality is simply a matter of social convention.
Oddly, most atheists with whom I have debated answer this by pointing out that they are not wholly rational. That such morals are simply a matter of their cultural background. How much such morals are owed to Christianity is a matter for another time. Still, the sting seems here to be gone. If I am being asked to believe in something (all religion is evil) on the grounds of a standard that is admittedly irrational, I see no reason why I should be expected to produce a rational defense of my own moral system (God is the source of good). Much less do I see why I should abandon God on the grounds of culturally relative ethics when the majority of people in my culture claim that belief in God is a good thing.
In the end, we are both proselytizing. It is a matter of no small debate whether my theistic beliefs are rational. It seems, however, to be a settled matter that the current secular position, insofar as it makes a moral claim against religion, is irrational.
The last thing I desire, however, is for atheists do abandon their ethics in favor of pure rationality. Quite the contrary, it seems to me that ethics are both as undeniable and unprovable as the physical universe. Rather than crying foul for want of proof, let us look to the most rational (that is, the most consistent) explanation for morality and the universe.
In my view, that would be the divine maker of all ethics, and all rationality.