The Problem of Evil Examined

In my previous post on this subject, I conveyed two points. God cannot create evil since God creating evil would be considered a logical contradiction. I then stated that God does create evil(assuming He exists). Either God is doing the logically impossible, or He does not exist. I would say that the latter is more likely, and not even modal logic can show otherwise.

This blog post garnered interest from another blog called The Aristophrenium. He copied, and pasted our little discussion we had concerning this, and I conceded as I needed to start making blog posts. But for now, I will respond to some points he made concerning my formulation. I presented my argument like so:

  • P1:  If evil exists, then God created it.
  • P2: By simple assertion,  it is at the very least considered a sin.
  • P3: God cannot sin.
  • C: Following premises 1-3, God cannot create objective moral values since this would include making evil.

The first obvious response to the first premise is that evil is not an ontological term. Meaning that it is not something that can be created, and rather a moral term. God’s morality is grounded and He cannot do what is contrary to His nature. I do not think I am treating evil as an ontological term, but lets explore what the bible says about this issue. As Isaiah 45:7 states:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the lord do all these things.

As this quote states, God did in fact create evil. So this passage does treat evil like an ontological term. I still do not see the difference if evil were an ontological term, or a moral one(or even both). As I feel they all come to the same conclusion: evil was created. Perhaps I should reformulate my syllogism to help people better understand:

  • P1:  If evil began to exist, then God brought it into existence.
  • P2: By simple assertion,  it is at the very least considered a sin.
  • P3: God cannot sin.
  • C: Following premises 1-3, God cannot bring evil into existence.

Ryft attempts to rebut my point by stating the passage was referring to “disaster or calamity”. Perhaps he is correct in this, but I still fail to see how this is an objection. It seems like it is helping my point if anything. As not only are calamity and disaster both ontological terms, but they also include morality. A commenter on my previous blog post made some points regarding his rebuttal.

First notice that Ryft does not explain what exactly is the relevant difference between “disaster or calamity” on the one hand, and “moral evil” on the other. He says that “moral evil” cannot be created because it’s moral, not ontological. But it is not clear how this is supposed to follow. Also, however Isaiah 45:7 is translated, it needs to refer to something which can, on Christian grounds, be created, since it portrays its god as the one which does create it. “Disaster or calamity,” on Ryft’s view, must be ontological in order to fit the bill as he has informed it. What is ignored here is the fact that both “moral evil” and “disaster or calamity” threaten and/or destroy human values. Since morality is concerned with values, this is important to keep in mind.

Ryft is treating disaster, calamity and moral terms as mutual terms. If a terrorist suicide bombs a preschool, is this not considered disaster, calamity AND evil? Why is this any different from God when He creates a plague that kills millions? Why is this any different from God when He develops a hurricane that kills thousands, and leaves millions homeless? I can think of dozens of examples in my head. But I don’t see how creating disaster and calamity CANNOT be considered evil.

After exploring this issue, I still conclude that my argument still stands.

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9 Responses to The Problem of Evil Examined

  1. Very simply, if the Christian god created the world and everything in it, and there is evil in the world, then the Christian god is responsible for it. To contest this is to shirk responsibility. Moreover, as I mentioned in my previous comments, it is absurd to blame the pot instead of the potter for failing to hold water.

  2. You’ll see that Ryft has posted another response on the problem of evil on his website (here). He addresses his post to Justin (the author of this blogsite) but pretends that he is responding to my points (though he never quotes anything I have written). The first third of Ryft’s blog entry is a display of his arrogance, as it is preoccupied with insults and condescension which do nothing to move the discussion forward in understanding.

    Next he assigns categories to the concepts ‘calamity’ and ‘moral evil’ (namely “descriptive” and “normative”), which is a red herring – Ryft is essentially trying to reload the problem so that he can turn the tables on Justin (and any atheist) and avert an internal critique. This doesn’t work, especially if Ryft cannot define these terms from a specifically Christian perspective (and when he did do this in the case of the concept ‘evil’ we saw that it boils down to the subjectivist account of morality, which has no philosophical value in the first place, something Ryft has not addressed). Besides, nowhere has either Justin or I stated anything which denies the appropriateness of these categories.

    Then he gave a restatement of Justin’s argument. Ryft wrote:

    So if he wants to show that God creates evil using this sort of reasoning—

    (P1) God creates calamities. (From Isaiah 45:7)
    (P2) Calamities are evil. (From where?)
    (C1) Therefore, God creates evil. (From P1 and P2)

    —then he must prove (P2) under the Christian moral theory, i.e., that calamities are contrary to the nature or will of God.

    The points I raised in my comments on Justin’s blog (see here) specifically preempt precisely the shenanigans that Ryft is trying to pull here, for I addressed exactly this interpretation of calamities. No one is saying that calamities per se are evil (at least on a naturalistic conception), and I pointed this out specifically. Does Ryft not read? The issue is that an omnipotent being has *chosen* to send calamities. Ryft’s misstated version of the argument would be improved if it reads as follows:

    (P1a) God creates calamities *by choice*. (From Isaiah 45:7)
    (P2a) Creating calamities *by choice* is evil (for this is volitional action which results in the destruction of human values).
    (C1a) Therefore, God commits evil.

    As I pointed out, a Christian’s attempt to defend Christianity against the problem of evil provides an autobiographical glimpse into the Christian’s psychology. In this case, Ryft does not want to address the issue of his god choosing to send calamities which result in the destruction of human values; he won’t touch this issue with a ten foot pole, for to address it, he would betray the fact that his worldview’s morality is, in the final analysis, opposed to human values and unfit for man’s life. That is why he finds it necessary to throw insults at critics. What’s ironic is how uncritical Ryft is in dealing with the matter, the very charge he lays out against critics.

    In spite of his efforts, Ryft has not made any progress in challenging the problem of evil. He has not shown that the god he worships is even capable of discerning the difference between good and evil. I’d say that’s a big problem for the Christian. So it’s no wonder that Ryft would prefer to have this discussion in private.

    Regards,
    Dawson

  3. A couple further points if I may:

    Since Ryft concedes that his god creates calamities and disasters, activities which result in the destruction of human values, he needs to explain why his god’s choice to do this is good rather than evil. He needs to explain how any chosen course of action which results in the destruction of human values, whether small in scale or large, is not evil. He has not done this, and yet it is the focal point of the problem of evil as I have pursued it. But let him go ahead and try to justify the willful destruction of human values. Let him state plainly that he believes the destruction of human values is a good thing. As I indicated earlier, this will tell us more about Ryft himself than any supposed flaws in non-Christian reasoning.

    Moreover, Ryft does not address the broader issue in which the problem of evil is merely one component, and that is the problem of imperfection. I raised this problem in my comments, but Ryft pretends it does not exist. He has to, because he has no answer to it.

    Ryft says that my comments have been “embarrassingly weak,” but he does not even interact with what I have written. He stands afar throwing stones that don’t even make it to the pond. If my points are so “embarrassingly weak,” why not interact with them directly and show them to be such, rather than simply asserting that they are without argument?

    Finally, on the problem of evil, some Christian apologists have had the good sense to admit that they have no alternative but to throw up their hands in ultimate defeat. Take for instance John Frame, who writes:

    “Is there an answer to the problem [of evil]? That depends on what you mean by an answer. If you are seeking an explanation that will vindicate God’s providence in every instance of evil, I certainly cannot supply that, and I doubt if anyone else can, either. Nor, I think, can we supply a totally satisfying theoretical reconciliation between divine sovereignty, goodness, and evil. The mystery of God’s relation to evil is one that will, I am convinced, never be completely dissolved in this life, and I am not sure whether it will be in the next.” (Apologetics to the Glory of God, pp. 150-151).

    If Ryft thinks he can do better than Frame, let him try. So far, he’s not come close (and that’s an understatement).

    Regards,
    Dawson

  4. A commenter over on Ryft’s site (see here: http://aristophrenium.com/ryft/another-problem-of-evil-examined/) made the following statement:

    “As God is the Creator of everything—people included—his prerogative as Creator enables him to do many things that would be considered sin if they were done by pretty much anyone else.”

    This does not solve the problem of evil, for it does not explain how the actions which Christians imagine their god has chosen are good rather than evil. In fact, it is an admission of the subjectivity inherent in Christian morality: it depends who’s doing the action that determines whether or not it is good or evil, which is an attempt to shift the problem (from whether or not the action is evil to who performs it). This is precisely the type of reasoning that any Saddam Hussein would endorse: since he’s the dictator, he has rights over everyone under him, and he can do what he wants (such as gassing the Kurds and feeding his political enemies into the meat grinders).

    Any steam that this so-called rebuttal (which Ryft endorses as an “excellent point”) is supposed to have, is taken out of it by the open admission that the same things that “the Creator” does “would be considered sin if they were done by pretty much anyone else.”

    It all goes to demonstrate the veracity of my earlier point: that not only can Christians not solve the problem of evil, their attempts to do so show that they personally have no problem *with* evil. And I think that’s the larger lesson to be learned here.

    As Justin stated in an earlier blog (here: https://consideratheism.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/god-is-an-asshole/), “The more I think about God, the more I think He doesn’t care about us.”

    Indeed, a being with the nature which Christians imagine their god has would have no basis for valuing anyone or anything. At best it could be merely indifferent to anyone else’s plight. And that’s what we find in reality: the universe doesn’t care about your nutritional needs, your shelter, your family relationships, your CD collection, etc. Do you think the Christian god does? But I’m sure you do. That’s because you’re able to identify values and determine the proper course of action needed to acquire and preserve them. If it existed, the Christian god could not value anything.

    Regards,
    Dawson

  5. Gil S. says:

    Dawson,

    You do not seem to understand the nature of morality. Moral values are imposed on our actions and intentions as a guide for how one “ought” to act. Evil is not some THING to be created, it is just an action of an intentional being. We could not define evil as the color black or as a tree because it has no concrete or physical existence. Evil then is something that’s done by an agent, not created. The original argument needs to be dropped as the one you are now defending (the argument from calamity) is a different argument altogether.

  6. Gil S. wrote: “You do not seem to understand the nature of morality.”

    I notice that there is no argument to this claim. In fact, it implies that Gil S. has not been reading what I have stated.

    In my 22 July comment to this blog (see here: https://consideratheism.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/the-problem-of-evil/) I defined morality as a code of values which guides man’s choices and actions. This definition comes from the objective theory of morality.

    A common theme throughout Ryft’s weak attempts to defend Christianity against the problem of evil, is his conspicuous failure to relate concepts of good and evil to human values. He thinks his god’s actions are good regardless of their destructive impact on human values. I have pointed this out repeatedly, since it is a significant part of the problem.

    Another part of Ryft’s problem is the fact that the moral view which informs his worldview is a species of the subjective view of morality, specifically one which bases concepts of good and evil on an invisible magic being’s commandments and pleasure. He thinks morality is based on someone’s *will* – i.e., on some being’s conscious intentions. You can’t get more subjective than that.

    A related problem, which I have also pointed out (in the comments thread linked above), is the fact that Ryft attempts to base morality on the nature of a being which could not value anything or anyone if it did exist as described by his worldview. The Christian god does not face a fundamental alternative, so it has no objective basis for choosing one course of action as opposed to another. I explain all this in my comments. No Christian has interacted with it to show that it is wrong.

    Gil S. writes: “Moral values are imposed on our actions and intentions as a guide for how one ‘ought’ to act.”

    It’s not clear what you mean by “moral values are *imposed* on our actions and intentions…” What specifically do you mean by “moral values” (perhaps you could give your definition here?), and what specifically do you mean by “imposed on our actions and intentions”?

    So far, it seems that Gil S. is the one who lacks an understanding of morality.

    Gil S.: “Evil is not some THING to be created,”

    Actually, I’ve not argued that “evil is some THING to be created.” Nor I am not the author of Isaiah 45:7. Also, even if we agree that evil is not a “thing” that can be “created,” this in no way takes away from the arguments which I have presented. Take a look and see for yourself. My arguments do not depend on the view that “evil is… some THING to be created.” Notice for instance my proposed revision of Ryft’s syllogism. I specifically replaced his C1 (“Therefore, God creates evil”) with my own C1A (“Therefore, God *commits* evil”). This is entirely compatible with the statement you made next:

    Gil S.: “[evil] is just an action of an intentional being.”

    I have challenged Ryft – and am happy to challenge you, too – to explain how the choice to send calamities to destroy human values can be rationally evaluated as “good.” If you don’t think it’s good, then you may very well find yourself on board with me: the choice to send calamities to destroy human values is evil.

    Gil S.: “We could not define evil as the color black or as a tree because it has no concrete or physical existence.”

    I have nowhere defined evil as “the color black” or “as a tree.” I have been very specific: evil is chosen action which results in the destruction of human values. If you haven’t grasped this, you haven’t been reading very carefully.

    Gil S.: “Evil then is something that’s done by an agent, not created.”

    And my argument is entirely compatible with this. In fact, if you examine my comments in the previous blog, you’ll see that I stated this explicitly as a component in my overall argument.

    I have also proposed that the concepts ‘good’ and ‘evil’ denote types of conditions. I know that I create conditions which are good, such as that in my home and in my business, as well as on my blog and elsewhere. I see no reason why conditions that are evil cannot be created. In fact, I’ve experienced such situations myself. There’s no question that good and evil can be created. However, I have not defined either ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as a physical concrete. To insist that I have, is simply caricature.

    Gil S.: “The original argument needs to be dropped as the one you are now defending (the argument from calamity) is a different argument altogether.”

    I will not be dropping my argument. Why not try to interact with it directly? Go ahead: defend the view that sending calamities to destroy human values is good. If you don’t, then my argument stands without challenge.

    Regards,
    Dawson

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