Sunday, October 02, 2011

Why did God create evil?

If you remember, I decided to continue my series on the problem of evil and pain on Sundays.  Here is the next installment:

Where is God?
Questionable Explanations
What is evil?
Pain is not Evil
What is sin? 1
What is sin? 2
Does God tempt? 1
Does God tempt? 2

Why did God create evil?
Thus far we have made two basic claims.  The first is that evil in its most meaningful sense is a matter of intention.  Evil involves the intent of a thinking agent to do harm or to do wrong.  Pain and suffering, in that sense, are not technically evil, no matter how devastating they may be.

The second claim is that God never has an evil intention.  Justice is not evil and primarily involves withholding mercy.  God's dominant characteristic however is love.  God does not generally (and may not ever) direct the evil intentions of others.  Because he is in control of everything, he certainly must allow everything that happens in the world.  But he does not directly cause evil.

This line of thought leads us to what is perhaps the key question behind the entire debate. Why did God create evil in the first place?  If God created everything that exists out of nothing, then every single thing that exists in this realm is also God's creation.

First, it is important to recognize that, as we have been saying, evil is not a thing.  Evil is an adjective we give to certain intentions of moral agents like humans.  The question technically is not, "Why did God create evil?" but "Why did God create a world where moral agents could have evil intentions?"

Notice the wording: "... where moral agents could have evil intentions."  We are saying that, since God created everything, he must have created the possibility of evil.  To be consistent, we have to be able to say that a world in which the possibility of evil exists can be a good world.

In our opinion, it does not have to be the best world.  The philosopher Leibniz once suggested that God could not create a world that was anything less than the best possible world.  We are not arguing that.  We are only arguing that a loving and just God could create a world in which the possibility of evil existed.

The most frequently given answer is that a world in which we are free to choose God and the good is a better world than one in which we are forced to.  It seems hard to evaluate this statement, since we are in no position to know what other kinds of universes God might create.  Nevertheless, this explanation does seem to make some sense in this universe, and this is the universe about which we are speaking.

It does imply a rather high value on allowing human moral choice.  We have a tendency as humans to want to intervene, to want to stop evil.  It is hard after following this line of thought not to see God as often or more often leaving moral agents to choose, despite the ensuing consequences.

In the end, it is not so important that we can explain how it could be loving to create a world with the possibility of evil.  We only need to find it plausible that God, in his knowing of all things, could create the world with good intentions.  We do not have to know completely what those intentions were, only that it is plausible that they were good, despite the fact that he created the possibility of evil.

A key question for many Christians at this point is Satan.  One way those who have believed in a good God in history have accounted for the existence of evil is to see an evil power co-existing with the good one.  The Zoroastrians had their evil Ahriman whose power paralleled the good being Ahura Mazda.  The Gnostics saw the origins of evil in the material world that God did not create but that has always been.

These systems are not properly Christian, but have less difficulty accounting for evil. Satan for Christians is not powerful in any meaningful sense when placed next to God.  We thus cannot account for evil in the world meaningfully by saying that Satan motivates the evil intentions of humans because God created Satan.  The question is still, how could a good and loving God create a world in which the possibility of Satan existed.

And the best answers remain the same.  Presumably God did not create Satan evil originally but with the possibility for Satan to make evil moral choices.  Presumably it is good for moral agents to be able to make moral choices despite the fact that they may make evil choices.

Next week: Implications for Suffering


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Humans might not intend evil, but whenever they presume upon another life, by planning, that is an evil intention, BECAUSE it is focused on a certain outcome. It WATCHES or observes the other, in 'hopes' of the right choice! That means other humans are trying to co-ordiante outcomes, by only giving certain defined choices! There are many varibles that interfere with "perfect" choices and "perfect" outcomes"! Just look at the Middle East and the choice of the West to compensate for the losses of the Holocost!!!

No matter what our particular "goals" or visions are, the initial thought that one can determine another life through "plans" is EVIL. It is the moral right of the individual to choose his own life, as this is LIBERTY. And liberty is the only environment where choice has any value!! Otherwise, one enslaves another's life for certain "outcomes"! That is not holy, it is unjust!

This is why I don't think that "group" rights" hold value, in fact, they undermine moral value because they subvert individual responsibity. How can anyone be held accountable, if they are not solely responsible? This has been addressed by social psychologist in group behavior! No one is responsible because each indivdual within the group was just being compliant with his "role", not understanig the group dynamic upon those "left out"!!!

Groups use scapegoating means of attaining social cleansing, and furthering social cooperation, and fear to intimidate those that don't comply with the "social agenda". This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany under Hitler!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I might add that being a "biblical Christian" or an "incarnation of Christ" is an "evil" because it has a particular image, or representative goal in mind, (the real individual is invisible in this view!) without understanding that "biblical" is a false projection upon reality (the real person)! And "Jesus" is a mythlogical means of theological compliance to the Church's empowerment!

davey said...

"we have to be able to say that a world in which the possibility of evil exists can be a good world" - I'm more inclined to say the world is not at present good, but declared good at the beginning insofar as it was made so that it was heading towards when it would eventually be good.

"a world in which we are free to choose God and the good is a better world than one in which we are forced to" - There are maybe variants on 'forced to', such as made so that we couldn't by nature, which I suppose is the state we will be in in the coming kingdom. Or if we are still free to choose evil in the coming kingdom, what prospects for eternity does that suggest!!

"We only need to find it plausible that God, in his knowing of all things, could create the world with good intentions" - but what plausibility does it have further than that we determinedly decide God to be like that? It would be helpful to be explicit with the reasons.

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, the end of your philosophy is Nietzsche. If there is no God, then there is no good or evil, only pleasure and pain. If I can do something, then no one can tell me it is wrong. In your philosophy, if Christians can dominate and oppress you, you have no logical basis to say it is evil because there is no evil. So I will continue to oppress you with Christian thought to suit your own philosophy and mine ;-)

Davey, I was speaking in the first statement not so much about the current world but about its initial creation. It must have been created good even though it had the possibility of becoming predominantly evil. I must therefore insist that even though evil may seem to dominate, that the overall structure of the universe must still remain predominantly good, regardless of any fallenness.

Scott F said...

"The most frequently given answer is that a world in which we are free to choose God and the good is a better world than one in which we are forced to."

It seems that you have chosen the Free Will defense of God. You admit that the superiority of a world with Free Will is difficult to evaluate. In fact, as Davey points out, a pace without evil is imaginable. People call it heaven and expect it to exist. In the end, I think you will need flesh out this point or it will remain a weak link in your argument that dooms it to the shelf with all the other Free Will claims.

Scott F said...

As I observe your careful circumscription of this topic, carefully limiting it to a very particular (however well supported) view of evil, I am struck by the fact that modern debates doesn't often address "The Problem of Evil". The discussion has been shifted to "The Problem of Suffering".

By your definition, childhood cancer is not evil. Fair enough. But it and a thousand other calamities surround us that do not stem from any human intention or failing. They are "natural evils": tsunamis, diseases, accidents. Free Will does not apply to these and so discussions of evil intention fail to address the full tragedy of the human condition. Only if we push the focus back to include God's intentions or failings in creating and sustaining such a world can we find a non-trivial answer.

"We only need to find it plausible that God, in his knowing of all things, could create the world with good intentions."
If God created a world with the possibility for evil and then placed creatures in it that possessed not just the possibility of doing evil but, given numbers and time, the very likelihood of doing evil, does not he bear some degree of guilt. If I hand a known pyromaniac a box of matches and a can of gasoline, few are going to trust my judgement in the future. We humans have found it necessary to enforce the crime of Criminal Negligence. If I knowingly allow something to happen that I had the power and opportunity to prevent, I am guilty of this crime. God is omniscient and omnipotent. He possessed and possesses both the knowledge and ability. Surely, he must bear some responsibility.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, the natural world is fraught with many "disasters" that bring harm to humans. If God is omnipotent, then he either limits his ability to intervent for some "higher purpose" of giving opprotunity to humans to be "good"! That means he limits his power to humans and their ability to meet the need.

But, we still have problems with meeting all the needs. Is God, then not omniscient? Does he not koow that humans cannot meet the demands and yet, he allows the disasters to continue to plague the universe and men?

My arguement was based on the morality of liberty, allowing people to choose, makes for moral value. And our country allows for liberty of conscience in choosing, as this is what freedom/liberty is about!

Laws define what a particular culture values as a social norm. Our country doesn't define what the good is, as we allow indivduals the right to pursue their own interests! Interference is considered to be an illegitimate action, because consent must be granted by indivduals within a given government! We consent, but when we don't we have rights to petition, resist and protest!

So, I wasn't arguing apart from "law", but assuming a free society, where choice is of value

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, you might argue that even though God gives man stewarding responsibilities, and knows that man cannot meet the demands, this is the training ground to build character (because "in the end" one will be rewarded or punished accordingly)! Then I would answer that one minimizes another's tragedy to further a theological agenda, or a "virtue ethic"!

So, whether, like JOb's comforters, one suffers under the "judgment of God" due to sin, OR whether God is "using such painful tragic experiences" to teach/train you for higher purposes of trusting and obeying him, one STILL minimizes another's life and experience!

Human experience is tragic when there is no choice. Choice has to do with ownership and responsiblity, which the Founders undeerstood to be self-governance. Self governance IS character! That is a character that respects another's right to choice, as to values and purpose!

Martin LaBar said...

Are you sure that God did create evil?

Evil acts may be possible because humans (and angels) have some ability to create, or at least act, independently.

Or am I way off base? I'm no theologian, as you know.

Thanks for the series.

Scott F said...

@Martin - The big question would be who created angels and humans with the ability to create/decide/intend evil? If I built a car that had a 30% chance of exploding, I just might bear some responsibility.