31 comments on “Join the Conversation: The Existence of Evil

  1. The existence of evil is not a valid reason for not believing in God. It’s quite the opposite. Without God there would be no definition for evil. All you could call it would be the hindering of the wellbeing of conscious creatures, not evil. Evil is the corruption of good. Without a coherent idea of what is good, there is no way to define evil. One of the basic descriptions of God is a maximally great being which includes being greatest good (or having the quality of infinite goodness). Therefore, evil is actually understood by knowing the character of God, the good that he created, and identifying the corruption of that good. Just observing the material world, we cannot see evil. All we see is what is, what exists. We must look through the material world to find what should be or what ought to be. That is something science is unable to tell us.

    (As a side note, I’m glad to finally be able to comment on this site. Usually, I’m busy doing other things around the time comments are permitted.)

    • Hey Daniel,
      Thanks for finally being able to stop by. You can always go to the Rabbit Room at the top of the page to view and participate in previous conversations. We’re always looking for ways to improve the site for the ease of our readers.

  2. Pingback: Ye Olde Viral: What Can Stop Evil? « The New Inklings

  3. The word “evil” suggests that some other worldy force is behind whatever bad deed, or unfortunate event we’re talking about. I’ll contend that “evil” doesn’t even truly exist, except as a religious concept, which was created to provide the balance for whatever it is that opposes the moral guidance of religions. our society flippantly uses the word evil to explain everything from natural disasters to health problems. None of it is evil, its just inconvenient.

    Aaron, I agree with The Andrew. I’m pretty sure that the devil, or any other religious boogey man causes hurricanes or tsunamis. It’s intellectually dishonest to think that that’s a possibility. I also agree that there’s no evil force behind cancer, or Aids or the common cold. Those are naturally occuring illnesses that humans get because it’s almost impossible to avoid other humans who carry these diseases, so we catch a germ from someone from time to time.

    I always find it laughable that believers deny that God created evil. He is the creator of all things, so they say. If he isn’t blamed for creating it, then he must be blamed for creating the beings who created it. He is at least guilty of allowing it to be in existance, in any case.

    • Justin,

      You say the word “evil” suggests some other worldly force is behind whatever bad deed. That’s quite a statement to make without something to back it up. I’m a Christian and I don’t believe that. I believe evil is best explained as the corruption or perversion of good.

      You say that bad things that happen aren’t evil, they are just inconvenient. I don’t think you really believe that. Is a man who rapes a 5 year old girl just doing inconvenient things? Is a priest who molests little boys just committing a social blunder like the man who belches loudly at the dinner table?

      Also, I don’t find you use of fantasy jargon like “boogey” to add anything intellectual to the discussion. It indicates an unwillingness to meet the concept of God and evil on a legitimate foundation.

    • Justin,
      While I agree that nonpersonal things such as storms or disease may not be classified as evil in and of themselves, the results certainly can. As a hospice chaplain, I happen to find death and it’s consequences more than simply “inconvenient”. I see and hear the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual pain death causes. Watching the most costly tornado in US history wipe out 30 percent of Joplin, MO with death from the storm and now from disease is not just “inconvenient.” To say that evil doesn’t truly exist flies in the face of all suffering in the human experience. Believers and nonbelievers alike see suffering as evil. The question is how we know what evil is. Simply explaining evil away as not truly existing except for religious control completely ignores the emotional, mental, and physical suffering of people around the global who are victims of illness and natural disaster. That isn’t intellectually honest.

      Most do not see evil as something that was created. Rather (and in a general sense), it’s the absence of good. What kind of world would it be if God created beings without the ability to choose? It may be one without evil, but it would also be one without love. Love without a choice not to love isn’t love at all.

  4. As always, I must clarify a mistake. The evil does NOT cause natural disasters or health problems. I’m pretty sure of it.

  5. @Andrew
    A well-written, insightful first piece for NI.

    I find the Buddhist concept of detaching oneself from the supposed illusion of our preconceived or preconditioned notions about things (in the case of this conversation, one’s anger or sadness or depression over death, illness, or wrongdoing) to be, for lack of a better term, somewhat dehumanizing. Emotions are part of the human experience. Seeing death on almost a daily basis in my job, I see the process people and families go through. The preconditioned response to death in our culture comes in several forms: sadness, denial, anger, relief, even joy (it depends on the person or circumstance). While some of these emotions can be detrimental at times, they’re part of the process. To say those preconditioned/preconceived reactions are really just illusion and that we must seek freedom from those things seems to short-circuit a vital part of what makes us human and part of what makes us created in God’s image, for the Christian God has emotions, and he created us with them.

    As to the notion that God using evil to combat evil, I freely admit that God using violence as a form of judgment on evil doers isn’t something I accept blindly. It is difficult for me to swallow. It’s more difficult, however, for me to accept many unbeliever’s approach is the “heavy-handed Old Testament Yahweh” is all they see of God, especially in the Old Testament. Yet, the Old and New Testaments are filled with God calling people back to him (both Israel and foreign nations), to change their ways, to stop sin, to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, and to worship Him as the one true God. God is not a God who picks on people, who flies off the handle, or who judges in rage. There’s always a time given for people to change, often a lengthy amount of time (sometimes hundreds of years). His judgement is always a result of his holiness, and he always gives time for people to repent. As my post points out, people don’t like how God issued justice. They think he should have dolled out justice without consequence.

    In any case, the Christian’s response to evil is to meet evil with good (something we can actually agree on with Buddhists). We’re not perfect at it, but it’s something we strive to do.

    Again, excellent first piece. Looking forward to more contributions from “The Andrew.”

  6. Daniel, I can’t say the Devil is a “boogey man” because it’s not intellectually suiting, but you can suggest the existance of a magical sky daddy that created the entire earth, then sent himself here to earth to convince himself to sacrifice himself for the bad things I do, and that’s intellectually superior? I’m afraid I fail to follow your logic. Christians continually credit their god for the tgood things that happen to them, but they blame evil things for the unfortunate things.
    To be completely honest with you, I am completely unwilling to meet the concept of God. The entire idea of a religion is silly and intellectually dishonest. BAd things are out there, really bad things that affect us either minimally or greatly, but it’s still not “evil”. “Inconvenient” is certanly not a blanket word to use for all of it, so I retract it and replace it with unfortunate, or any other word tha means bad, but I still say that “Evil” is only a religious concept.
    Aaron, again, teh aftermath of a tornado is unfortnate, but not evil. If its evil, then god is evil for either making it happen or allowing it to happen. He’s either pulling the strings or he isn’t. He’s cranking out tsumanis in his tsunami machine or he’s not. But if it happens, and He allows it to, then he is responsible for the “evil” aftermath.

    • We may have a slight issue of semantics brewing here, which is fine. Evil or bad (or really bad), we’re still labeling the same circumstances. I could just as well say that the concepts of “good” and “bad” are religious concepts. Again, how does one know what is good and what is bad? Without an Ultimate Lawgiver (regardless of whether it’s the Christian God or not), there’s still the problem of determining what exactly is good or bad. Part of Andrew’s posts sums that up well. Without an absolute standard, there’s moral relativism. What one calls good, another calls evil…but it really doesn’t matter if determining good or bad is up to each individual. No matter what you call it, there’s still the same issue. Thus I still maintain that our ability to see that there is good and bad is a possible hint that there could be a God (but, as with everything else here that we converse about at NI, I could be wrong).

      Now we get into the topic of theodicy–the issue of whether God is really omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient as we look at the problem of evil. I know this is an issue for many agnostics and atheists, but I have no problem with the view that free will is needed in order for created beings to truly love the God that created them. Did God know evil was a possibility? Yes. Is he powerful enough to have created a world without evil? Yes. Did he do so? No. Why? So that those he created could truly love him and each other. He was not satisfied to create a bunch of fleshly robots.

      There has always been a lot of debate about natural evil and what causes it. God has used natural disaster in the past. He has also allowed Satan to use natural disaster. Does that mean one or the other causes every single instance of natural disaster? Not at all. The world was set up with natural laws, some of which result in what we see as natural disaster. I don’t quite see eye to eye with your notion that God would be responsible for the evil aftermath simply because he allows it to happen. This would be fodder for a new conversation, but in short, according to Scripture it is mans’ sin that ultimately lead to the world we experience now. If one still wants to blame God for his creation of free-willed creatures, so be it. I’m content with it.

      Good exchange, buddy. Keep it coming.

  7. Aaron, you said, God did not stop evil from happening, “So that those he created could truly love him and each other. He was not satisfied to create a bunch of fleshly robots.” I wholeheartedly disagree. God wants you to be a robot. You do not have free will at all. God says you have the free will to worship hi, or burn in hell forever tortured by a fire tha burns, but does not consume.

    Friends, that is not free will no matter how you spin it.

    • I don’t know of any parent who raises their kids like that, that they don’t have a free will simply because we warn them of the consequences of disobedience. My kids are messy–I tell them all the time they have a choice: clean their rooms or accept certain consequences (loss of TV, computer, or something along those lines). They still have a choice to make, and sometimes its the consequences. They don’t like it, but they made that choice.

      When it comes to God, there’s still a choice for us to make. And every person capable of making that choice makes it (there are people who lack the mental abilities to make such a choice), whether they hear about Jesus or not. Scripture reveals that mankind has a choice to worship the creator (all that is required is to honor Him and give thanks) or that which is created. Without fail, everyone chooses to worship something created. In our culture, everything boils down to worship of self. Just because there is a consequence we know of doesn’t mean we don’t have the choice. We’ll just have to disagree on this one.

      This sounds like good fodder for a future conversation here at NI on several fronts–free will, heaven and hell.

  8. Justin,

    You’re very insistent on giving evil attributes like that of a person. To “blame evil” is to think that evil is an entity and can be held responsible. Again, this view is untenable. There is no evil entity. In fact, humanity has no real experience in pure evil, that is, evil for the sake of evil. If humanity commits evil acts it’s in pursuit of something good, they just get the good the wrong way. Humanity’s experience in evil is found throughout history in criminal acts. The thief, the murderer, the drug addict, and the rapist; they are all trying to fulfill a want or a need, whether it be power, sexual gratification, material things, pleasure, an adrenaline rush, satisfaction, or any number of reasons not listed here. These objectives in of themselves are good. However, the pleasure, or release experienced in attaining them the wrong way is mixed with pain. What you have done stays with you, causing whatever good you may experience to be tainted, and you may have to change your morals to justify your actions.

    So we understand the evil nature of men, but they cannot be totally evil. However, we can only judge the murderer as evil if we have moral absolutes; otherwise it falls to each man’s or society’s definition, and each definition is different. Whose definition, then, should we use? Using men as our yardstick isn’t useful, especially since evil (corruption) is within every man.

    Justin, I find that you and many of the New Atheists are addicted to “sound bites” which act as a sufficient substitute for a real intellectual discussion. When atheists refer to religious people and use sound bites like —the fantasy based community and refer to God as an invisible sky daddy and a wretched ghost, and then attribute religious experiences to a lack of oxygen in the brain, and refer to prayer as a form of black magic and spell casting and an idle act of narcissism , and say religion is imaginary and a death cult, and ask if religious folks left out any milk for faeries— then I conclude they are unwilling deal with the issues at hand or meet the religious person on equal footing with mutual respect. Justin, if you unwilling to give the issues any legitimacy, then all you are doing is spouting propaganda and this thing you’re doing here isn’t really a discussion.

    • @Justin and Daniel

      Pub Rule #3, fellas. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Let’s not make it personal. Many thanks.

  9. Daniel, I give no legitimacy to the bible, except as any other set of fables. No evil entity? Awesome! Now I don’t have to fear any devils. If devils don’t exist, then neither do any gods, and no heaven.

    Addicted to soundbites? Yeah, I’m guilty of that. But, it’s not like I’m quoting Mickey Mouse, although it’d be just as believable as quoting a god. At least, I’ve been to Disney World and seen Mickey.

    Believers say things like, “My God exists because He says he does” and, “You just don’t understand the nature of God.” Right on, huh? I don’t understand Him because religion has made him too complicated to understand, so that they can continue to manipulate people because religion is a business. It’s a handy political card, and it’s an easy way to get better parking spots at hospitals. People with no hope will throw their money at a televangelist. Good people are convinced they have to give ten percent of their earnings to the church so their loving god will bless them. It’s a scam, Daniel, and it’s duping the masses on an epic scale. Blind faith is the absence of critical thinking, and that is extraordinarily bad…not evil.

    As far as evil is concerned, since I got off the subject a bit, it’s a still religious word. Aaron, I don’t think its a matter or semantics at all. I wish it were as simple as calling it by just another name, but the concept of evil does not cover all negative things. Evil isn’t just “bad”. It does come with specific, other worldy connotations.

    • Justin,

      While you and I don’t agree on a lot of things, we can agree on one thing you said in this comment: “Blind faith is the absence of critical thinking.” While I don’t buy into the need for 100 percent proof that God exists, I also don’t buy into the “don’t question, just believe” rationale that many believers buy into and blurt out to other believers who do go through periods of questions and doubts. While you won’t agree with me on this at all, I do think the Christian faith is reasonable. Christians should know why it is they believe what they believe.

  10. Geez, you take one week off from blogging and one of my favorite blogs explodes with awesome conversations. I’m gonna add my two cents and see if it stirs up any conversation.

    As to the existence of evil. I don’t think anyone on any side of the spectrum can deny we live in a world full of pain and suffering. There is something ‘broken’ about the world we live in and whether we want to call it evil, bad, inconvenient, whatever, it’s there and it’s real. Justin seems loathe to admit that there is a ‘boogey man’ behind it all, and who can blame him? After all, if the existence of God is absurd, so would be the existence of the Devil. And let’s face it, it’s scary to think that there might be some intelligent force out there that is behind the pain and suffering of the world in which we live. But the problem remains of how can we call anything ‘bad’ if there is nothing that we can rightly call ‘good.’ The burden of proof is upon the non-theist to show why suffering is bad. Why is pain ‘inconvenient’? Why is the death of a child tragic? If there is no God, no ultimate standard of good, then the atheist is forced to approach the world with the cold-hearted logic of a Vulcan. Don’t use suffering as a proof against God because suffering is neither good or evil (can something morally neutral disprove the existence of something that is morally good? Where do morals come from? Why discipline my children if their actions are neither good or bad? What makes something good? What makes something bad? Says who? )

    But this doesn’t let the Theists in the room off of the hook. We have our own burden of proof. If good and evil exist, then why does a good God tolerate evil? (to which I would say that justice delayed does not equate a lack of justice) Justin posited a very good question, if God created everything, did He create evil? Of course the answer to that gets us mired into the whole free will of man argument which I have a feeling will start to crystallize over the summer and will be published in the fall (as I rub my hands together grinning like a mad scientist).

    I hope both sides can agree on one thing, there are holes in each side of the argument. It’s just the Theist has a ‘skydaddy’ (loved that quip) that fills the holes, but in doing so leaves a host of other questions that need to be answered, and those questions require more than ‘Sunday School’ answers or ‘sound bites’ which we Christians are just as prone to use.

    I look forward to some more conversation!

    • Dprichmond,

      You said the non-theist should show how pain is inconvenient. I do not think he can even do that. As Benjamin Franklin said, “There is no inconveniency without conveniency.” http://www.franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedMorgan.jsp

      For example, the scolding wife is inconvenient at times but her convenience is shown in her rigorous activity in the business of family and in her carefulness in her husband’s interests. A driver who cuts you off in traffic finds himself conveniently in the position he wants while you are inconveniently taken advantage of. A young boy being forced upon sexually by a priest may find the physical and psychological damage overwhelmingly inconvenient, but the priest finds convenience in sexual release or satisfaction of his sexual addiction or the advantage of power he has over the boy. The atheist may cry “inconvenient”, but someone on the other end is claiming convenience. Whence then is the evil?

      Drawing upon our shared human nature and our experiences, the nature of the activity between the priest and the young boy strikes us as more than just “inconvenient”. We intuitively feel there is more to it than that, something insidiously evil about what’s going on, something that the word “inconvenient” dismally fails to describe. I believe this atheistic view of convenience is a denial of the reality of our experiences. We don’t have to painstakingly analyze a situation afterward in order to know that an evil has been done to us. The atheist may wish it was as simple to call it by another name, (as stated in another comment above) but whatever word they substitute it with is simply not the reality we experience.

  11. If a star goes super nova and ignites, thus vaporizing all life and its host planets in the process, is that dying star evil? Another one. If a lion hunts down a zebra, is it considered evil? Does the zebre view the lion as evil? In both cases a natural, predictable and recurring event occured. In both cases, life ended at some point and produced pain and suffering. But was it evil?

    What if that same star explodes and wipes out the planets, only this time there was no life. Is that same star evil?

    Several of you have mentioned the relational status of good and evil as one being unknown unless there is the existence of the other. In the same case, there is this concept of a “yardstick” by which good is established. Here’s a question: before humans existed, before consciouness or life existed, did good and evil exist?

    The concept of good and evil are “evident,” in my opinion, not because a divine being created the yardstick, but because we are self-aware, conscious beings who imagine it to be so. We image that we have an independent self, filled with desires and concepts of “I” and “me” and “mine.” This moral measure that appears to gives us transhuman ideal of good is, like the communcating network of neurons which make us self-aware, simply our species veiwing patterns of corporate “self” and voting on common selfish desires. These desires being life and relative freedom. In the end, it’s all about what we individually want, and want comes from the illusion of seperate self.

    Ever since life encapsulated itself in a fatty acid membrane, we have fallen into “us” and “them,” …what’s good for me and you and if enough of us agree, then that’s our unifying force and therefore because we mostly agree upon it then there must be something that authored our ability to agree.

    However once the illusion of self vanishes…all selfish concepts of good and evil also fade away. And once these fade away, there won’t be any problems to debate or condemn in the first place.

    • Andrew, I am going to answer your questions from the perspective of a Christian Theist, which will make my answers religiously biased and exclusive, but since your questions are largely worldview based, I can’t really avoid it. As for a star going super nova, is that evil? I would say it is a side effect of evil. According to the Judeo-Christian worldview, we live in a world that has been broken by sin. What God had created perfect, has become corrupted with the taint of evil because of the whole incident in the garden of Eden. So that which was created to last forever now breaks down, wears out, and collapses in on itself, sometimes with catastrophic results. The same could be said of a lion eating a zebra (or me consuming yet another chicken wing at BW3s). These are not in and of themselves evil. They may even be attributed to some cosmic ‘circle of life’. But, to a Christian, they are side effects of evil. They are the aftershocks of a world that has been shaken by sin.

      Did good exist before humans? Absolutely, because God existed before humans. Your theory of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ originating with man and his own self-awareness, while appealing to the non-theists, really does nothing to help the world. If man created the concepts of good, evil, wrong and right then you either get ‘majority rules’ (a nice democratic thought from your western-oriented mind) or you get, as is more often the case, ‘might makes right’ where the ‘stronger’ of the species gets to oppress or even eradicate the ‘weaker’ or less desirable of the species. Can we say holocaust? genocide? racism? Are those things bad? Are they evil? Does any nation have the right to stand up and oppose those who would do such things? Granted, those are the extremes of the spectrum, so let me bring up something more practical. Should I support cancer research, after all, it is helping eliminate the weaker of our species? Should I stop an adult whom I know is abusing a child? After all, he is only seeking out what is ‘right’ in his eyes. Should I go and help rebuild the homes destroyed by flooding? Because who is to say that compassion is good and self-centered living is bad? Now maybe I am naive and simple-minded, but we need that ‘yardstick’ to help us learn to love and treat our fellow humans with the respect due them because they are made in the image of an Almighty creator. You take away the yardstick, you take the image of God out of a human, and what remains is an animal that you are free to treat however you want.

  12. Thanks for your perspective Dave.

    These sort of topics are always fun, but I think they distracts us from more important issues and reality itself. Whether good is derived from a divine source or from the surrender of the self, does it matter? It’s like looking a gift horse in the mouth. I like taking things to the lowest common denominator, and regardless of anyone’s point of view–atheist or otherwise–one thing remains: just don’t screw with people. Play nice, be nice, and tip your server well. If we all adhere to this principle, I think we’ll all get along just fine.

    • Andrew,
      I like the principle… it just doesn’t work out in everyday life because there are people on all sides of the conversation who screw with people, who don’t play nice, who aren’t nice, and who don’t tip well. Those who claim to be believers who do these things that are perceived as evil ignore the Ultimate Lawgiver’s revelation to love their neighbor, etc. Those who are atheist/agnostic (and thus have eliminated the divine from their worldview) who do these things must conclude there is no real standard to either ignore or live up to, and can only appeal to a majority-rules standard or whoever-is-in-power standard (both of which can easily change).

      I guess what I’m saying is there is always the question of “Why?” Why should I not screw with people? Why should I play nice? Why should I be nice? Why should I tip well? The Christian has that overarching standard (unfortunately, we don’t always live up to it). The agnotic/atheist honestly only has their own standard, which may be different from their neighbor, which can change, and which may be decided for them by the majority or those in power (and still be perceived by the atheist/agnostic as evil–such as the actions of the Hitler’s and Stalin’s of history).

      Excellent, intriguing conversation everyone. Keep it coming.

  13. Andrew,

    In your quest to sincerely, howbeit temporarily, adopt the religions of this age, I have a special request. If you will, I think it would be a good idea to keep a list of necessary illusions that each religion or non-religion reason to be. For instance, Buddhism contains the concept that self, and evil is an illusion. Atheists think that the tendency toward religion in the majority of the world population is an illusion for the purpose of survival. It would be interesting to see the different illusions adopted by the various worldviews.

    That being said, if we do not deny our properly basic beliefs founded upon our experiences, we must acknowledge some truths: we commit evil and good acts, we have an understanding of what good (righteousness) is, and we have a sense of objective judgment about those acts. If we accept what we experience as real, then an understanding of God is also a properly basic belief founded upon our experiences just like a belief in the reality of the external world is founded upon the experience of our senses. For evil, and good, and judgment, if they are real just as we experience they are, have no real foundation in reality unless grounded in something apart from humanity. Therefore, if our experiences are taken as real, belief in God is a properly basic belief. Either we are perpetually delusional and there is no God, or we are sane and God exists.

    I’m reminded of a story I heard about the trial of the Nazi generals in Germany. They were asked how they could commit such terrible atrocities to the Jewish people and the people of their own country. The Nazi generals would say that they were just following the laws of their own country. Indeed, they were lawfully killing and torturing many people. It was to these general’s replies that another question in the court was asked: Is there not a higher law they should have followed, a law they had known themselves all along, and indeed knew they should have followed wholly apart from the law of their land? Otherwise, to judge them based solely upon American values is to be guilty of an unjustified bias of the superiority of American values.

    If there is no real objective basis of evaluation when other countries moral systems meet in opposition, they should only be respectful of one another. You can say one is more beneficial than the other (in your own eyes), but you can’t call them wrong. That would be imposing your morality or your own understanding of evil on them.

  14. Aaron, in responce to the end of your first paragraph, I would argue that a person (atheist, theist, or otherwise) doesn’t need a majority-rule concept of morality to hinge their cocept of right and wrong from. I’m sure there were many atheists who thought the actions of the Church during the Crusades, the Inquisition, the forced conversion of native peoples, and the Salem Witch Trials were wrong. Maybe it had something to do with God, perhaps it didn’t, but the majority (who were Christian) didn’t not determine their actions.

    That being said, I believe we all have the right to express a moral guidepost and to declare morality from such. The Bible, or any other holy book, isn’t perfect in it’s instructions regarding morality. I remember examples such as “Do not suffer a witch to live” and Paul’s very own misogynistic tendencies, the Qu’ran’s often blatent instructions against the unbelievers, and many others. Does that mean they become unsuitable guides for morality? No, because no law is perfect, but an attempt at doing the best we can in the time we find ourselves in.

    Were arguments like these fall apart for me is in the following illustration: Two men, a religious man and an atheist, are in a poor country and standing next to a starving child. Both want to feed the child, however they begin to argue about their motivations. The religious man says he is doing good because God authored good and therefore instructs him to do so. The atheist says that he doesn’t need a god to tell him what good is. He is feeding the child simply because he is empathetic to the child’s suffering. While they argue over this esoteric subject, the child dies of starvation.

    That’s where I stand on arguments like this. Why is it so important to argue over something no one can prove or disprove when good can be argreed upon and acted upon regardless of the subjective origin? At the end of the day, there are starving children and it doesn’t matter whether you feed them because God told you to or because you have empathy for them. Just feed the starving kid.

    Daniel, there is a minor flaw in your concept of experience and reality. Good and evil are not experiences, they are man-made (or in your case, God-made) categories. We do not sense good or evil or even the idea of God with the 5 physical senses (except the folks who believe in miracles). This is why the concept of faith is so important. Faith is evidence of things not seen, remember? So you cannot use the experience of a sense-based reality in your argument for the existence of God. God is in the eyes of the beholder, which is why I think it’s foolish to argue over who or what God is.

    Because you hold a theistic bias and worldview, of course you will observe and interpret what you see in the world as having a divine hand, but that doesn’t make your perspective true (even though it happens to be for you). That’s why I love the middle of the road. I’m fine with you believing in God, I understand your argument, and I’m honestly fine with the possibility of both. I can be just as fierce a Christian as I can be a Buddhist, and two breaths later, an atheist. That’s because the mind is a malleable thing, and those who harness the power to bend one’s perspective at will see the world in all its colors and forms.

    • Andrew, I totally agree one doesn’t necessarily need a majority rule concept to hinge their own morality on. But if God doesn’t exist, what else explains how communities, cultures, and nations derive morals? Either majority rules or someone grabs power and imposes morality (obviously, not everyone would necessarily adopt it or agree with it).

      While I can agree that each person has the free will to construct their own moral compass, I question (obviously from the Christian perspective) the notion that there isn’t a universal standard. The whole argument for morality/good/evil apart from an Ultimate Lawgiver breaks down with what logically comes next from such a notion: if there is no universal standard, then each is free to do as he pleases. Yet, the simple fact that we can agree that there is good and evil in the world hints that this may not be the case.

      If I could, let’s add a third person to your illustration. A third man comes along and shoots the child in cold blood because he isn’t from the same tribe. That is this man’s idea of good, yet the atheist and theist would see this as a horrible evil. The atheist, theist, and this man would not have agreed on what was good for the child. I think that’s closer to what we really see in the world: good cannot be agreed upon by people left to construct their own moral compass. As Satre once said, if God does not exist, everything is permissible. To expand on that, if everything is permissible, then nothing is to be prohibited. If each person can determine their own good, then we should not correct, rebuke, or interfere with the actions of another… and yet that is exactly what we do, religious or not. That, from my perspective, points to a universal standard of good and evil.

    • Andrew,

      You said, “Good and evil are not experiences, they are man-made (or in your case, God-made) categories.”

      Your statement contains a contradiction. If good and evil are man-made, we would still experience them. It would just be an illusory experience. And, the whole argument is about whether these things ARE illusory, which is to say man-made; or whether they are real, which is to say God-made. The man-made experience is subjective and does not correspond to independent truth. The God-made experience is objective and does correspond to independent truth.

      This line of thinking that we only have five senses and anything outside of that is meaningless is not adequate to describe all our experiences. For we also have a sense of acceleration, a temperature sense, a pain sense, a kinesthetic sense, and an aesthetic sense. The human experience also contains a moral sense, which is the sense of good and evil. And we have a sense of objective judgment about these moral acts. You need look no further for proof of this when you see one man telling another man what he “ought” to do.

      You cannot verify all of these with the basic five senses, and yet all of humanity lives as though these are real. We experience them on a daily basis. Someone may point to the sociopath or the deaf or the blind as an exception, but just because your sense doesn’t work doesn’t mean these senses are incorrect. You must come up with a solid “defeater” of these experiences of reality in order to categorize them as illusory. Without a defeater, I am just as warranted to believe in a real good and evil as I am to believe in the reality of the external world. And I do not suggest you select a few senses to be illusory based on your preference not to experience them as real. I admit, it is much easier to cop-out of the whole human experience and not deal with the “undesirable” parts of our humanity, like evil and suffering. But, if these things are not illusory, you are denying part of who and what you are. However, if we accept the fullness of our experiences as true, that is to say none of them are illusory, what does that do to Buddhism, to Atheism, to Hinduism, to Christianity, to all other “isms” and religions? Which ones will continue to stand after passing through this test?

  15. Aaron, on your question regarding how communities, nations, and even individuals derive morals, the answer goes back to one of my earlier posts. The notion of self. Again, these discussions are circular (as is evidenced here) because whereas the theist authors the world with proper nouns, the atheist (or non-theist) focuses only on the verbs and nouns.

    To answer your question. Because we have a sense of being, of “me or my,” we desire continuity. We also desire to live, and to have, and to own, to control, to be. I do not need God to have these sensations. What these sensations lead to, once we find ourselves in a community of similar species, is a cooperation. When it comes down to it, morals are not an underlying altruism but a social contract of mutual non-aggression. In other words, I know that I don’t want to be killed. My neighbor also does not want to be killed. We both understand that either one of us could kill the other and take their “property.” Because neither one of us want this result for ourselves, we agree to not mess with each other.

    Keep in mind that this argument does not attempt to “reason out” God, but only to demonstrate that it is equally possible that God is not needed for morality.

    Daniel,

    I don’t see the contridiction in my statement. We experience a tornado ripping apart our home, and then one might categorize that as good or evil. So if good and evil are simply categories, then the experience of good and evil does not exist, only our conditioned response to it.

    Another point of further exploration. In the Bible, it is never mentioned in the creation story that God created good. What we do see is that his creation is viewed by him as “being good.” In other words, we have two possibilities: either God is using a conditioned label (as we do today), or the men who authored the Bible are labeling what God did. If we assume the first, then it becomes a “Chicken or the Egg” paradox. In the second, if it took men to determine what God did was good, then why do we need God to tell us what is good if his laws only reflect what we assume for ourselves in the first place?

    Indeed, there are aspects of the mind which many claim glean some metaphysical realm of reality. But which is it? Reality, or a reaction in the mind that gives rise to what we call “consciousness.” Science is working on the answer, but the cop-out lay not in objectively viewing the world as it is and recognizing our habitual need to label it, but in surrendering to what we define as the limits of our understanding and labeling such mysteries as the realm of the divine. Every time we set up such a wall between us and the “unknowable,” humanity often breaks through, given enough time and effort, and the status quo of those who might limit us with the “divine unknowable” is thus broken, much like the sound barrier.

    • Andrew,

      Concerning your “chicken or the egg” paradox:

      Any moral direction coming from God is an extension of his character. He said to love one another because God is love, not because he chose love as the right way or because love is good. In this view, if you really know God, you understand where his direction to us comes from: It is part of his identity; who he is. There was no need to create good because good already existed in the person of God. He naturally created good things in the beginning because he himself is good.

      Choice is the main ingredient in morality. Without it there are no morals, just behavior we emit. If reality is as you say, “the experience of good and evil does not exist, only our conditioned response to it”, humanity would be like a man sitting at a dinner table instructed to choose whichever plate he wants but then finding there are no plates on the table to choose from. This is not humanity’s experience. For the experience to be truly illusory as you say it is, the man would have to imagine plates on the table to choose from. But, we don’t imagine genocide. It exists. We don’t imagine rape. It exists. And, there is no sense in judging a man who has no choice in the matter. You cannot say his morals are bad. On the outside it may look that way, but if there was no choice, then there is no morality.

      Furthermore, if there is no good and evil, what’s the sense of getting outraged about a man murdering another, or someone raping little children? If my outrage concerning these things is just a conditioned response, I can just re-condition myself to respond the same as when I see a great white shark forcibly copulate with a female shark. He forcibly copulates with her, but he doesn’t rape her. A cheetah may kill a gazelle, but he doesn’t murder the gazelle. I can walk past rape and murder with indifference.

      Again, I think we are denying our basic human experiences when we say there is no good and evil. We do experience something. I mean, we aren’t talking about nothing here.

  16. This has been fun folks, but the circular nature of this topic is showing its ugly face, and thus I’d rather call it a day. Daniel, we agree that raping a little girl is a bad idea. You would call it evil, the Buddha would call it “unskillful”, I would call it F***ed up. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter, because we all agree for various reasons that it shouldn’t happen.

    In this way, does it matter that you think God created morality or that the humanist/atheist thinks that matual non-aggression creates morality? No. Theological discourse comes to a zero sum because all origins are subjective. You cannot prove God as author to anything anymore than the non-theist can prove otherwise. What it boils down to is what you believe based on the opinions of others(teachings you’ve been convinced of), your innate leanings, and your conditioned experience. If God is your motivator to feed the starving child or prevent the rape, so be it. If my motivator is the fact that I wouldn’t want to be raped or starving, so be it. What matters is that we come to the same conclusion. At the end of the day, who gives rip about the origination?

    • Andrew,

      What you say is in agreement with the Bible: “If one of you see your brother naked and destitute of daily food and you say unto him ‘depart in peace, be warmed and filled’ but you don’t give him those things which are needful to the body, what does it profit?” We are agreed about the action. So let’s assume for the moment that the child in your comment is fed and doing well. What, then, does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul?

      There is an underlying assumption in your argument that I agree with. Your philosophy assumes a morality common to all people, which begs the question: Where did that come from? Christianity has an answer for this which most modern Christians have forgotten. It’s called the Moral Law of Human Nature. C.S. Lewis dubbed it the Law of Nature. He says, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter, but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong- in other words, if there is no Law of Nature-what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else?”

      People who don’t accept the morality that comes from God, but do by nature the things that come from the morality dictated by God, only reinforce God’s law. They show that it is written in their hearts. Meanwhile, their thoughts are accusing or excusing themselves as if this law really mattered.

      If there is no commonly shared morality, things that we all know we “ought” to do, your call for everyone to help the starving child will fall on deaf ears. However, it seems both you and I agree. It does exist. So, let’s feed the children, but also discuss these important matters so that our hearts will be right with God. Otherwise, we lose our soul, even though we gained the world.

      (I do not mean to make the discussion laborsome. I just enjoy the interaction.)

  17. I consider “evil” a dysfunctional neurological/physics/biological/sociological process rather than “an evil person” that works for me.
    The concept “evil person” diminishes my awareness for example:
    Automated traffic lights can be dangerous and deceptive

    You might not want to trust those automated traffic lights when there is a high speed police chase you hear a Seiren. I was at a light the other day when I heard a Seiren the light was flashing red so I expected an emergency vehicle to pass through since there were a lot of buildings and ones view was obstructed. The noise of the Seiren was bouncing off buildings and it sounded some distance away. When sound bounces between buildings laws of physics can change the phase of the frequency so that the sound is self counseling making its source seem farther away. The red flashing light stopped flashing and the small red light above it also stopped the light switched to green indicating it was safe to proceed. My unconscious mind sensed danger ( don’t if one can do complex physics and intuition calculations in their head or not, might be a good reason to be super alert when one is driving- not drink or be distracted ) but there appeared to be no danger I took my foot off the brake and proceeded very cautiously into the intersection thinking their might be trouble. At that moment a police car flew through the intersection. Wonder how many people are killed and injured that way. Wonder it the city and cops would cover it up and if Facebook has the guts to publish this and save a life. Now I am going to do research to see how automated lights work.

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