Thoughts on Good and Evil

yin-yang.gif In my recent give and take with atheists and agnostics it is often the existence of evil in our world that is given as a rationale for the rejection of the existence of a supreme being…a God who has created and is still involved in the world. Considering the recent anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, that catastrophe will serve as an example.

 

“If there is a god,” it is argued, “why would he allow innocent people to suffer such a horrible tragedy?” Sometimes it is personal. “If there is a God, why did he allow my mother to suffer horribly and die with brain cancer?” How could a loving God allow such things to happen?

 

To those conversant with scripture, I would ask, “Where has God promised us a trouble-free life?” Man’s lot is to experience the full spectrum of life from ecstasy to abject grief. Jesus promised us that in the world we would have trouble, and lots of it. Thankfully, there is usually a good dose of joy mixed in. Removal from tears, pain, grief, sickness, etc., takes place in eternity, not time. But, when discussing suffering with an atheist, scripture is somewhat beside the point. So, let’s take a different tack.

 

In our universe, everything has a counterpart, at least for humans. There is light and darkness, wet and dry, cold and hot, up and down, right and left and so on. In between the two extremes or endpoints, everything has a spectrum, a scale by which we describe the intensity or amount of moisture, temperature, altitude and direction. There are all shades in between light and darkness. If there is good, then there is evil. Again we have a scale, a spectrum between terrible, horrible evil and stuff that is “not so bad.” Those endpoints must exist because without evil there’s no way to determine what is good. If all is good or all is evil, how would we know it?

 

It is ridiculous to say that atheists have no moral basis and therefore, cannot discern good and evil. In the absence of a god-given basis, humans simply adopt universals. I would, in fact, bet there are some atheists with higher moral standards than some who claim to be Christians. But the point persists…good and evil must coexist in order for us to understand either one. The existence of good does not prove there is a god and the existence of evil does not prove there isn’t.

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4 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Culture Wars, Good & Evil, morality, Religion

4 responses to “Thoughts on Good and Evil

  1. I’ve also heard it put that arguing there is no god because of evil in the world is not an argument for the existence of god, but for the existence of a good god. If we just say “God can’t exist because Hurrican Rita happened and all those people suffered,” we are assuming that the existence of God is based on goodness when (coming from an atheistic point of view) all that says is that God just may be evil.

    The statement of whether or not God exists based on tragedy is arguing two separate points.

  2. The existence of good does not prove there is a god and the existence of evil does not prove there isn’t.

    Well, there is really nothing that proves god doesn’t exist, as one can’t prove a negative. But the existence of evil gives one an excellent reason to disbelieve in an omni-benevolent, omnipresent, omnipotent god. Who wants to worship a god who gets credit for all the good things, but no blame for the bad, when he could do something about the latter, but doesn’t?

    And if you say that we shouldn’t give either credit or blame for either, then what’s the point in believing in god? For all practical purposes he doesn’t exist, even if he does.

    The Problem of Evil is the biggest problem theists have for the claim that god exists. Your argument doesn’t diminish it at all.

  3. Great thoughts. The previous issue of Christianity Today makes the observation that atheism is on the rise in our secularized culture. They recommend several books, written by atheists, in order to better understand this worldview.

    Spanish Inquisitor makes the classic (and logically valid from a human perspective) point that if God were all powerful he could never allow suffering to abide unless he had a major character flaw. If he does have a major character flaw then he is not all good but, rather, a tyrant and not worth being a god, much less the God.

    On the other hand, if God is all good but can do nothing about the evil and suffering in the universe then he is impotent to some degree and, again, not much of a god at all. And so we’re left with the conclusion: the God of the Bible is either (a) not all good and, therefore, really not worth elevating, much less worshiping; or (b) not all powerful and, therefore, not really worth worrying about.

    The ultimate end of this line of reasoning, however, leads us to the very heart of the problem: the center of the universe is humanity. Self-centered, egocentric, narcissim becomes god in such a place. The God (who reveals himself to be perfectly self-less, sacrificially devoted to others, pure love, etc.) is removed from the equation. And just as when all the heat is removed from a box it becomes “cold” (a freezer), so when all of God is removed from a creation it becomes “evil.”

    The advantage that the Christian worldview has, in my judgment, is that, while it does not answer the syllogism posed by Spanish Inquisitor directly, it does offer a coherent portrait of a God who is passionately in love with his creation. His way of dealing with things may not always make perfectly logical sense (I certainly would not do things this way) but, if they are allowed to speak for themselves, they do have a clear coherence to them.

    Instead of creating autobots (sorry, my kids are watching Transformers right now)—machines incapable of independent thought and real decision making—he chose to make us as free moral agents. And, even more astoundingly, instead of swooping down and cleaning up all of our messes like a histrionic super hero, he chose to quietly, subtly, humbly, and brutally participate in the suffering that we ourselves have caused by our expulsion of him from our world.

    Now that is a God worth getting to know!

  4. Now that is a God worth getting to know!

    Except for one small detail. You’re proving his existence by assuming his existence.

    Listen, I don’t for a minute deny the desirability of the type of god you want to believe in. But wishing he exists because your version of the universe only make sense with him as its creator, doesn’t make him exist.

    And what is this?:

    the center of the universe is humanity

    It looks like you are saying that if you believe that the Problem of Evil negates valid belief in a good god, then you have to conclude that humanity is the center of the universe, leading to “self-centered, egocentric, narcissim “. If true, you don’t understand atheism at all. If anything, atheists don’t think humanity is the center of the universe. Atheists realize that we are a small speck of biology on one small rock in one medium sized solar system, revolving around a small star in an average sized galaxy that shares the universe with billions of other galaxies. To say we are the center of the universe would be the height of egotism. The fact that it is physically impossible, and given known science, will always be physically impossible for humanity to reach even the next closest star, much less any other star or galaxy in the universe, makes the idea that we are the center of this untouchable universe preposterous.

    It is Christianity that seems to believe such nonsense. The Bible implies that the universe was created for us by god, thereby canonizing ignorance.

    Do you really think a god who creates a universe that is untouchable and unreachable by the very creation for whom it was made is a god worth knowing? He sounds incredibly inept to me.

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