In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who does the existence of Evil cause a problem for?

Through the years I've had various agnostic and atheist friends and acquaintances ask me the same question: How can an all loving God allow evil to exist?

I believe that on a deep level we all question why there is evil.

Every single person who is reading this can think of tons of examples of horrific human suffering that has happened in history, that is currently happening, and that has even touched their own, or the life of someone they know & care about. In the face of this there is something within each of us that cries out in anguish - it's not right, it's not fair - I don't want it to be this way.

The explanation I find in the Christian Bible, and the answer I always give, is that we live in a fallen world. When the first humans chose to disobey/sin, the garden of Eden was lost forever to us all. Each person born from that point on had a sinful nature.

Someone I know just pointed out today that she remembered when this truth hit home for her - it was when her son was very young. She'd asked her son if he'd taken the cookies which he was not supposed to have from the jar, to which he'd replied no - even though his face bore all the traces of the cookies he'd consumed. She pointed out that he was so young that she knew his every move and that they didn't lie in her home; yet here was her son, all on his own, lying. She explained that was when it really hit her that we do not have to teach our children to do wrong, it comes naturally, it's human nature.

The entire Bible explains how sin separates us from God, and what God's done through sending Himself, His son, Jesus, to provide a way back to Himself.

Whenever I share this with my atheist or agnostic friends and acquaintances, invariably someone will bring up the point that if God is all knowing, then He must have known that Adam and Eve would choose to disobey and bring sin into the world and then evil would exist and people would suffer - so why'd He make it this way instead of some other, seemingly better, way.

I can not really say why God let us have free will instead of making us robots. But I do know that having a relationship with someone who had no choice but to love me, would be different than having a relationship with someone who chose to love me.

About a month ago I read a really interesting post from Matt over at the Church of No People where he gave his thoughts on The Problem of Evil.

Today I heard a fascinating lecture where the speaker turned the question around in a way I'd never considered previously. He asked that if someone believes that this world is all there is, and that humans are just a more highly evolved species, then, given this world view where does evil come from?

Or, if one really believes in survival of the fittest making a stronger species to carry on, why is it evil for the strong to prey on the weak? Isn't that just natural selection? Where does the judgment, or moral imperative, that some things are evil come from?

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought the fact that we as humans even have moral notions, to be proof that there is more going on than only the physical world we see. That there must be some kind of higher power.

What about you, why do you think evil exists? Do you think the fact that we have moral notions is evidence of a moral god?

15 comments:

Denise said...

I do think God is moral.

Coffee With Marty said...

Very good post. I know a few people I'm going to send this link to. :) They've been asking me similar questions.

Blessings,

Marty

May said...

Great post; I think it is man's abuse of free will that bring about evil.

GCT said...

Well, you know I couldn't resist this dangling carrot, right?

"The explanation I find in the Christian Bible, and the answer I always give, is that we live in a fallen world."

This doesn't explain natural evil or why god would allow it in the first place.

"I can not really say why God let us have free will instead of making us robots."

This is a false dichotomy. There's no logical necessity for such a black and white scenario. In fact, there's quite a wide range of varying degrees of free will. Of course, I've yet to hear how it could even be possible to have free will with an omni-max deity to begin with.

"He asked that if someone believes that this world is all there is, and that humans are just a more highly evolved species, then, given this world view where does evil come from?"

Evil is not a thing. It's not something you can walk into a cave and find. It's a human concept, just like the number 3. Evil doesn't "exist" at all, per se, but only as a descriptor for events/people/etc of our world.

"Or, if one really believes in survival of the fittest making a stronger species to carry on, why is it evil for the strong to prey on the weak? Isn't that just natural selection? Where does the judgment, or moral imperative, that some things are evil come from?"

This is a misunderstanding of what evolution entails. We, humans, have evolved as a social species. In fact, we see morality in other animals, which directly points to a evolutionary component. So, we consider it evil for the strong to prey on the weak, because we've evolved to do so.

Mike said...

GCT, you know I couldn't ignore the dangling carrot either, could you?

You said "We, humans, have evolved as a social species. In fact, we see morality in other animals, which directly points to a evolutionary component. So, we consider it evil for the strong to prey on the weak, because we've evolved to do so."

Haven't the animals had equally as much evolutionary time (in your view) to evolve into social creatures just like we have and view the strong preying ont he weak as evil? Why haven't they done so over the last quadrillion years?

I usually give you a lot of credit for making some pretty good points, but this one is inconceivable.

While it is extremely difficult on our end of eternity to solve the problem of evil, evolution seems to offer no viable explanation for it at all.

GCT said...

Mike,
"Haven't the animals had equally as much evolutionary time (in your view) to evolve into social creatures just like we have and view the strong preying ont he weak as evil? Why haven't they done so over the last quadrillion years?"

Actually, we know that our common ancestors (with apes, for instance) were also social animals. Mammals have been social animals for a long time, including all the societal aspects that come with it. Societies don't survive without rules and a shared sense of right and wrong.

So, why haven't they? Who says they haven't? Other animals are social creatures and do exhibit morality. I don't see your objection is valid, so I'd ask that you please clarify.

"I usually give you a lot of credit for making some pretty good points, but this one is inconceivable."

I don't see why. We have observed instances of moral behavior in animals as Sam Harris points out (starting fifth paragraph from the end).

"While it is extremely difficult on our end of eternity to solve the problem of evil, evolution seems to offer no viable explanation for it at all."

No offense, but isn't this a bit non-sensical? Without the addition of a supposedly omni-benevolent god, there is no "Problem of evil." And, it's not simply "extremely difficult," considering that this question has plagued theologians for at least since Epicurus argued it (which predates Jesus BTW). There are no satisfactory answers to this problem. Simply saying that you can't understand it with your limited human understanding is giving up and no longer allows you to claim that evil must exist for a good reason. You can't very well claim that you don't have the ability to understand the existence of evil, while simultaneously claiming that you understand it and can claim that it's not a problem.

Michelle said...

Hey Tracy! Out of blogging retirement to visit you! This is whre I find my answer to why does evil exist?

Isaiah 45:7 "I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things."

Amos 3:6 "If a trumpet blow in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?"

Job 2:10 "...You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?"

Many times calamity and adversity are very much evil. Many times calamity...is the murder or rape of a child or whatever evil thing may be. I believe according to scripture we must understand our depravity but also understand God's sovereignty in it all. How all things...even evil...works for God's glory even if we can't understand it. Even in Genesis 20:6 we see God telling Abimilech he did not sin because God did not allow it...had God's hand not been on him...he would have. How God, while He cannot sin b/c He is beyond judgement...created the very thing that allowed for sin. He allowed it all for His glory because and all things and our very purpose is to glorify Him.

GCT said...

So, the question, Michelle is why would an omni-benevolent god create evil (the translation of the word "ra" fits with evil better than calamity in Isaiah BTW)? Are we to believe that a god that supposedly is the author of morality thinks that the ends justify the means? And, why would an omni-max deity need to create evil in order to bring his plans to fruition instead of finding a better path that doesn't involve evil?

photogr said...

Animals do have social interaction with their own species and many are highly social in their own ways. I can't read their minds but I do think they may have moral and ethical values with in their society structure and thinking.

I really don't know if God created evil. I would have to believe it was Satan or a demon cast out of Heaven to the earth that got the evil thing going by the temptation of Adam and Eve.

For some reason we do have a choice of what ideaology to follow. Evil or Godly, dark or light. It is up to us. One theology promises eternal life in Heaven if we repent of our sins and believe in Him. Other ideaologies offer some form of diety for their salvation while others offer nothing but death and darkness.

That is the thing about us in general. We do have a choice and even though God may not like our choice, it is up to us to decide what we want to follow. However making the wrong choice might have some consequences.

GCT said...

photogr,
"Animals do have social interaction with their own species and many are highly social in their own ways. I can't read their minds but I do think they may have moral and ethical values with in their society structure and thinking."

It's been empirically shown. The link I provided also has citations with empirical studies.

"I really don't know if God created evil."

The Bible says he did.

"Evil or Godly..."

I'm calling false dichotomy on this. What is "godly" is not always good. In fact, we don't need to look very far to see people acting in accordance with god's wishes (in the Bible no less) in ways that we see today as evil. Unless you are willing to defend genocide and slavery, I think you would have to agree with me.

"One theology promises eternal life in Heaven if we repent of our sins and believe in Him. Other ideaologies offer some form of diety for their salvation while others offer nothing but death and darkness."

Yet, which is actually true? People can promise you all sorts of things, but if they are unable to follow through, then what?

"However making the wrong choice might have some consequences."

I don't see how if salvation hinges completely on whether you have the right beliefs. Salvation through faith alone leads to the absurdity that what you do (in a moral sense) really has no bearing on whether you'll end up in heaven.

photogr said...

GCT:

"The Bible says he did."

Show me where?


"Yet, which is actually true? People can promise you all sorts of things, but if they are unable to follow through, then what?"

Are we refering to people or a diety?

"Unless you are willing to defend genocide and slavery, I think you would have to agree with me."

I do not defend genocide or slavery but that does not mean I agree with you. It depends how you interpret a book based on your thoughts.

Just as you find these atrocities in a book, I find a loving grace for those that believe in Him.

Just as I cannot find Exianism a reliable ideaology, I would not call it a flase dichotomy because I do not believe in that. But it is what you choose to believe. There fore I have to respect your beliefs and treat it with due respect.

"I don't see how if salvation hinges completely on whether you have the right beliefs. Salvation through faith alone leads to the absurdity that what you do (in a moral sense) really has no bearing on whether you'll end up in heaven."

Then what do you believe will grant an opportunity in Heaven? Why do you think the concept is absurd?

GCT said...

photogr,
"Show me where?"

Michelle already did earlier in this thread. Isaiah 45:7 is pretty clear on this. The other verses mentioned are also good support for the idea.

"Are we refering to people or a diety?"

Both.

"I do not defend genocide or slavery but that does not mean I agree with you. It depends how you interpret a book based on your thoughts."

Then, perhaps you are guilty of something I heard Steven Weinberg talking about yesterday. He said (paraphrasing) that people don't use their religion (what is godly) to define what is moral, but use their morality to define what is godly. You are taking your own morality to input, after the fact, back on to events to claim they are godly or not. Hopefully you can see what is wrong with that.

"Just as you find these atrocities in a book, I find a loving grace for those that believe in Him."

A loving grace? What is even close to loving about a god that kills people and then sends them to hell?

"Exianism"

Please explain this term, I'm not familiar with it.

"There fore I have to respect your beliefs and treat it with due respect."

As weird as this may sound, I don't believe this is true. Are we really obligated to give respect to beliefs? Are we obligated to respect the beliefs of white supremacists, for instance? I don't think so. I think we are obligated to respect individuals (to a point) and respect their rights, but not beliefs. Beliefs must be supported before they merit respect.

"Then what do you believe will grant an opportunity in Heaven?"

I don't believe in heaven. I think the Bible is actually contradictory on the point as well, which is why there's been such a schism amongst Xians over salvation by faith alone and salvation through works.

"Why do you think the concept is absurd?"

Because if god is simply concerned with whether you believe the right thing or not, then morality has no place in it. It reduces god to big brother.

photogr said...

GCT:

Isaiah 45:7. Got me on that one.
So you do read the bible. You might also read Isaiah 45:5-6.

"You are taking your own morality to input, after the fact, back on to events to claim they are godly or not. Hopefully you can see what is wrong with that."

I do not see following what the scriptures say has any thing to do with morality based on what man thinks is moral. I have never believed in slavery or genocide period. Man does base many morality issues on what is stated in scriptures and you have to agree the ten commandments are a good example to follow whether you ar a believer or not.


"As weird as this may sound, I don't believe this is true. Are we really obligated to give respect to beliefs? Are we obligated to respect the beliefs of white supremacists, for instance? I don't think so. I think we are obligated to respect individuals (to a point) and respect their rights, but not beliefs. Beliefs must be supported before they merit respect."


Respecting established faith based beliefs GCT. Not hate group or cult beliefs.

"Because if god is simply concerned with whether you believe the right thing or not, then morality has no place in it. It reduces god to big brother."

No. God gives you a choice with out the big brother lable. You can choose what ever you choose to do. Big brother ( government) steps in if you violate the laws set forth by man.

Thanks for the debate.

GCT said...

photogr,
"So you do read the bible."

I have read it and am familiar with a large portion of it.

"You might also read Isaiah 45:5-6."

I've always wondered why god is so hell bent (no pun intended) on making sure that the Jews don't worship all those other gods out there. It's quite possible that the early Jews recognized the existence of other gods, but felt their god was the most powerful and the only one they should worship.

"I do not see following what the scriptures say has any thing to do with morality based on what man thinks is moral. I have never believed in slavery or genocide period."

But, you prove my point for me. Following what the scriptures say doesn't lead one to not "believe in slavery or genocide period." Our culture has developed these values and then people go back and impart them upon their scriptures.

"Man does base many morality issues on what is stated in scriptures and you have to agree the ten commandments are a good example to follow whether you ar a believer or not."

I don't have to agree with that at all. Only 2 of the 10 commandments are still laws today. The first 4 deal with making sure you obey the one true god, which is irrelevant to morality. The only 2 that really make sense as laws are not stealing and not murdering, which were part of many cultures independently of the Bible anyway, as these types of behaviors arose as part of humans being a social animal.

"Respecting established faith based beliefs GCT. Not hate group or cult beliefs."

That's better, I suppose, but I still have to disagree. First off, I don't have a faith based belief for you to respect. Secondly, I still would say that beliefs need to be supported, regardless of whether one says the belief is part of their religion or not. I don't think slapping the label of religion on something automatically elevates it to the level of requiring respect. Remember that some hate groups claim that their views are part of their religion (curse of Ham for instance).

"No. God gives you a choice with out the big brother lable. You can choose what ever you choose to do. Big brother ( government) steps in if you violate the laws set forth by man."

OK, that's valid, although I think the intent behind what I was trying to convey still stands.

"Thanks for the debate."

And you. Thank you for remaining calm and more rational than some others.

photogr said...

GCT:

You are welcome. I can perceive some of your points to have a valid argument and some I just cannot agree with. That just makes a good debate I think.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin