Evil (but Not Good) As an Illusion

Well, isn’t suffering real? Don’t we feel pain? Of course, but evil is not defined as merely privation of good but as privation of good that in some sense “ought to be there,” a corruption of nature. The standard example is that blindness is an evil in a man but not in a stone, because the stone is not supposed to see in the first place.

But for any instance of evil, whether physical, moral, or metaphysical, it may be asked: “Why should the opposite to it good be?” “Who promised you a happy life?” “Who breaks his contract with you, if you suffer or die?” “Who except you is responsible, if you are a vicious person?” Good has no reason to exist, unless you bring it about.

Who is prepared to command God to create?

Thus, is poverty an evil? But it is not written anywhere or ordained from above that man ought to be wealthy. It seems that poverty is not an evil, though wealth is good.

Whether Animal Suffering Disproves God?

Let me add some thoughts to the idea Fred Reed expressed in “Lost in Space Without a Clue.”

Nor is there support for the Christian notion of a loving God in the natural world. When a young giraffe is attacked by hyenas, disemboweled and bled until it collapses and the hyenas begin eating it while it is still alive, I for one cannot see much loving kindness in it. Just a giraffe, you say. It probably seems otherwise to giraffes, agreeable creatures who eat leaves.

But then, what choice do the hyenas have?

Question: What’s the alternative? Would it be better if the giraffe lived to a ripe old age and died of a heart attack? I’m sure that is unpleasant, too. Death is death.

It seems that Fred would prefer a world without death or pain.

In the first place, such a world, call it ND, would be so different from our own that it would be hard to pronounce a definite judgment which world — ND or ours — would be “better.”

For example, without death, there would probably be no births, else the world would become overcrowded rapidly.

There would be no balanced or evenly rotating complex “ecosystems.”

There would be no evolution, such as it is.

There might not be much of an interaction between our immortal and impassible animals. What could they possibly want from one another?

As I am writing these down, our ND comes more and more to resemble a paradise for herbivores. A vast variety of giraffes and antelopes and bisons walking around, grazing mindlessly. But that’s just crazy. Of what use is such a realm, this perfect zoo, to God?

Further, animals are of numerous uses to humans. “Heavenly” animals would probably be useless. Humans would then be hardly to blame for destroying these useless hordes to make space for cities, for example. Whatever is not valued is often an economic bad, like trash. We get rid of trash, and you can be sure as day we’d get rid of those “perfect animals,” as well.

Even if they could be useful, the fact that in this peculiar paradise they would not procreate would mean that they would be destroyed without a trace quickly.

Chickens are not an endangered species, precisely because we kill and eat them in billions and they do reproduce.

Another possibility would be for God not to create animals altogether.

First of all, it stands to reason that our giraffe enjoyed a chance to live, however briefly. In its mind, it may have given praises to God for this despite the suffering it underwent. It was worth being born even if death came so quickly and painfully.

Second, the universe is sort of without “gaps.” There is every manner of creature in it, from ants to angels, from prime matter to God. A world without animals would not be representative of God’s abundant creativity; it would be an unfitting creation.

Third, there may be salvation for animals who are pets! Some near-death experiences feature animals, for example. Animals would not attain the beatific vision but they are capable of enjoying natural happiness. Cats and dogs may go to heaven after all. At the same time, no wild animal could possibly be “saved” in this manner, no matter how immortal. Pet are humanized animals, members of people’s families. This is the only thing that might (I don’t really know) qualify them for real heaven.

Thus, a world without animals would be seriously impoverished.

Unless Fred then can come up with a full-featured description of a better world than ours, I don’t think his case against the existence of God from “animal suffering” can be sustained.

Problem of Evil Sliding into Pessimism

No sane person can fail to detect an abundant amount of evil in and around him.

Evil in the world of various kinds does constitutes a problem for theism, but it is surmountable.

The real problem arises when a person decides that the amount of evil outweighs the amount of good; or that life is not worth living; or that he would prefer never to have been born.

This attitude is called pessimism, namely, “a : the doctrine that reality is essentially evil; b : the doctrine that evil overbalances happiness in life.”

Interestingly, pessimism would seem to lead to suicide which reduces the number of pessimists in the world and prevents them from reproducing, thus perhaps stopping their children from inheriting a pessimistic temperament. The “problem” fixes itself, really.

Atheism Dissolves the Problem of Evil

There are 2 antonyms to the word “good”: bad and evil. Bad would mean “I wish the situation were different.” Evil means absence of some good that somehow both can and ought to be there. The very conception of evil is a profoundly religious notion.

That it ought to be “on earth as it is in heaven” but is not presupposes a good God who mysteriously permits us to live in a non-heavenly environment.

Suffering for an atheist is merely bad not evil. An atheist is like a diseased dog, suffering dumbly without trying to discern any higher purpose to the suffering.

As a result, atheism does not solve the problem of evil; it merely dissolves it.

Original Sin May Explain Gratuitous Evil

Another perennial problem is of compatibility of evil and God’s goodness. But formidable though it is for a theist, evil is not necessarily better evidence for naturalism than it is for theism, because theism, too, predicts a battlefield Earth, a bleak yet full of potential, vast but finite world suspended between heaven and hell, in which human souls are forged.

This fairly standard soul-making theodicy explains evil. But does it explain all of it? In psychology there is the notion of “optimal frustration,” an obstacle for a person to overcome that is neither too easy, such that no growth or skill acquisition occurs, nor too hard, so that one quits in despair and self-loathing, but one that engenders, as a result of the person’s overcoming it, some form of personal improvement.

But surely, a great deal of suffering and pain and sin in this life is hardly optimal. The world seems full of suffering that’s pointless and suffering that’s too intense to be useful or redemptive. This is called sometimes “gratuitous” evil. Now this is just a hint. I may be wrong. But an argument can be made that the world could contain less pain and sorrow and still conduce to creating human beings in all their glory.

If so, then there is some evil in the world that soul-making does not account for. The idea of Original Sin is especially well-suited to explain gratuitous evil and defend theism and goodness of God.

Original Sin claims something like the following. However it was actually contracted, there was a time when “Adam and Eve,” our first parents, lived in pretty decent conditions. At some point, however, Adam decided that he wanted to personally experience, both by himself and through his descendants, a full gamut of sin and evil, perhaps to be able to choose between good and evil intelligently. He wanted to taste the poison of sin, to drink freely of it, and still hopefully barely survive in the end.

If it were just some evil Adam wanted to feel (rather like the Most Interesting Man in the World “once having an awkward moment, just to see how it feels”), that could’ve been dealt with by God giving Adam a knife and telling him to cut his finger. Then God would go, “Do you like that? Unpleasant, isn’t it? Let me heal it for you real quick, and I trust you won’t want to experience pain, etc. again? I’m glad we have an understanding.”

Unfortunately, Adam was apparently interested in all manner of super-sophisticated evil, and God had no choice but to grant his perverse desire. Evil in the presence of a good God is now explained as Adam getting exactly what he wished for, with the overarching purpose perhaps to enable man to choose between good and evil with full experiential knowledge of both.

A Theistic Tu Quoque

Atheists are often found arguing like this:

(1) If intelligent design is true, then there must be a designer.

(2) But ID is actually creationism in a cheap tuxedo. (self-evident)

(3) So then, the designer is the Christian God. (from (2))

(4) But a Christian God would not design a world with so much evil. (self-evident)

(5) Hence the designer does not exist. (from (4))

(6) Hence no design. (by contraposition, from (1))

This argument can, of course, be challenged at (4). But the main problem is (2) and its corollary, (3). A supporter of ID may in the privacy of his heart believe that the designer of biological systems or physical laws is, in fact, the Christian God. But ID as such does not support this conclusion. If we use it to do natural theology and at the same time adopt some form of scientific realism, then we might be able to conclude that the designer is an immensely intelligent and powerful being; but it is easily possible that we will not be able to advance much beyond that. In other words, ID as a science is compatible with a designer (or designers) with many different sets of attributes. It does not give us the Christian God but only a fairly thin slice of something intriguing and curious beyond.

The tu quoque mentioned in the title says that if a theist cannot use God in science, then neither can an atheist. In other words, an atheist cannot appeal to the problem of evil or to suboptimality of design in arguing against the possibility of design in nature, the methodologies of detecting design, or against any particular design inference.

Re: Don’t Panic, the Bishop Has a Plan

The proprietor of One Fewer God writes:

There’s been severe flooding here in Britain, Gloucestershire has been worst affected.

Don’t worry though, the Bishop of Gloucester has written a special prayer for the flood victims.

There’s 250,000 without clean drinking water, many thousands have had their homes and all their possessions ruined, but thanks to the quick thinking of the Bishop there are now some new words to say to your imaginary friend in the sky.

So, God has allowed great evil to happen to certain flood victims, thereby being guilty of parental neglect (and maybe even abuse). Maybe He just forgot about us. And now, having made so many people miserable, He is going to respond to our prayer by perhaps repenting, fixing His own error, and improving their conditions. “Sorry guys,” our author would have God saying, “just got sidetracked by this math puzzle… I’ll get you all back in business in just a second. Here are some Central Bank notes I’m going rain from the sky for ya.”

Clearly, there is something wrong with this concept of God. Hence God does not exist. Or, at least, prayer is useless.

Now I agree that God won’t do your work for you. In the face of the devastation of so many people, it’s up to us to render assistance (voluntarily, of course, and not through the state). But that does not make prayer useless. For that depends on what is being prayed for. And if we pray that, for example, neither the theoretical problem of evil, nor the actual misfortunes borne by these folks turn them bitter and away from God (e.g., by blaming Him) but on the contrary energize them to fight for their happiness and never give up, then that prayer may easily be granted, especially if you are ministering to them yourself.

Spiritual works of mercy, such as comforting the afflicted, are just as important as corporal works of mercy, such as feeding the hungry. Even Jesus, after His ordeal with the devil in the desert, had angels ministering to Him. And it is written that

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Lk 22:39-44)

So, attend that Jesus did not pray that God inject Him with some happiness serum or that He be spared His passion but so that He may endure and overcome it. That’s what our prayers for those who are suffering should be like, as well.

Problem of Evil Is Found in Part in Nature’s Ruthlessness

Those who are troubled by the theological problem of evil may not even realize the full extent and size of the difficulty.

If man is yang and the active force, then nature is yin, something to be subdued and shaped. Yet as I write in my book, the female archetype is not only receptive but also destructive in its various guises: e.g., if you do not take the opportunity to plant your crops in the summer when nature is pliable, the same nature will starve and kill you in the winter.

Now it would be wrong to suggest that because of this destructive aspect, nature hates us. Rather, nature is completely unforgiving of our mistakes, rather like its creator, God the Father.

In fact, the Father’s lack of interest in forgiving sins stems from precisely this aspect of nature and His mission.

That forgiveness of sins is nevertheless provided for through the solicitude of the Son is a miracle and incredible testament to God’s overflowing goodness.

Killing Animals Is Morally Permissible

Humans are enjoined to make each other happy, including by cooperating in accordance with the deliverances of economics; religion enlivened by the grace of God goes further and teaches that they ought to have charity for each other.

Now murder is a black sacrament of either (1) hatred or (2) madness, which is why it is forbidden.

Certainly, hatred for fellow man is a ticket to hell.

Assuredly, we also ought not to hate animals or take pleasure in their suffering. Even mosquitoes, though enemies of mankind to be exterminated en masse, should not be hated but killed dispassionately. But when cows are slaughtered, it’s pretty clear the farmers are not being sadists, so condition (~1), absence of hatred, is fulfilled.

But a man who kills another man even without any hatred in his heart (such as when Elmer murders his grandfather for the inheritance) still is a monster for failing to recognize a creature who benefits rather than harms him while alive for what it is. All humans are useful to each other according to natural law (and their mutual usefulness happens to be maximized under laissez-faire). To fail to grasp a fact so basic is to be insane.

(I am saying of course that the proposition “murder is wrong” can be rigorously proven by reducing something like a Crusoe-Friday relationship to pure self-interest. I do not mean that in daily life people decide whom to kill and whom to spare by calculating which of their fellows are useful to them at any given moment and which are not.)

But a cow is not useful to a man in the same manner that a fellow man is useful to him. Hence, the reasons why it is (even naturally without grace) rational to abstain from murder do not apply to killing a cow for its meat. Condition (~2), sanity, is also present.

Nor does it seem that more pain and suffering are created when animals are slain by humans, such as instantly by an electric shock, than when they are killed by predators or die from disease or by being slowly eaten alive in old age.

Consequently, it seems permissible by natural morality to kill animals for food, etc.

See also: Animal Are Fully at Our Mercy.

Whether God Is a “Hard Man”?

Jesus tells a fascinating (and terrifying) “parable of the talents” which concludes as follows:

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,

“Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.”

His master said to him in reply,

“You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?

“Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

“And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” (Mt 25:24-30)

One striking feature is how well this confirms the essence of the human condition: perpetual improvement in whatever each man is interested in, his soul included. This life requires one, as a rule, to strive for happiness and succeed. Mises puts it this way:

As long as a man lives, he cannot help obeying the cardinal impulse, the elan vital. It is man’s innate nature that he seeks to preserve and to strengthen his life, that he is discontented and aims at removing uneasiness, that he is in search of what may be called happiness.

In every living being there works an inexplicable and nonanalyzable Id. This Id is the impulsion of all impulses, the force that drives man into life and action, the original and ineradicable craving for a fuller and happier existence. It works as long as man lives and stops only with the extinction of life. (HA, 882)

I conclude my book with asking, “what is the universe for if not a process of its eternal self-improvement?”

But here I want to focus on another aspect of the parable, which is God agreeing that He “harvests where He did not plant and gathers where He did not scatter.”

This much is obvious, given the existence of nature and its secondary causes which interpose between the Father and His creatures. New humans themselves appear on earth through perfectly natural human reproduction and its genetic lottery. God does not determine the make-up of one’s body; nature does. God then must take humans as He finds them, with all the (random) defects of their nature, bodies, and — because of the intimate union of the body and soul — their spirits / personalities, as well.

So then, does God get what He can from nature and impatiently waves aside the failures? Is He a cold-blooded perfect utilitarian who ushers the successful into heaven and unceremoniously throws the human refuse that proves itself worthless into hell as irrelevant aborted “clumps of cells”? Is life survival of the saintliest?

Earlier I pointed out how unforgiving nature is, and how the Father reflects (or rather causes) this condition of our lives.

In an important book on the vitamins-as-treatment medical paradigm, Abram Hoffer et al. write:

[Bill Walsh’s] experiences led him to compare mineral levels in the hair of twenty-four pairs of brothers. In each case, one brother was a well-behaved member of society, while the other was a “boy from hell.”

The results were amazing. The hair analyses showed that well-behaved males had normal mineral levels, but the imprisoned delinquents all showed one of two abnormal patterns.

“Boys from hell” had either very high copper and very low zinc, sodium, and potassium levels in their hair or very low zinc and copper and very high sodium and potassium.

In addition, the delinquents also had lead and cadmium levels that were three times greater than those of their well-behaved siblings. (Niacin: The Real Story, Ch. 8)

If the behavior of these boys was influenced (though not caused) by their bodily chemistry, such as poisoning by heavy metals, it seems improper to condemn the boys from hell to hell for moral flaws that flowed from something as obviously irrelevant to the fate of their immortal souls as unusual mineral ratios in their systems. Can God really be so callous as to condemn to eternal horror people whom fully to cure physically and improve morally would take nothing more difficult than prescribing a cheap nutritional supplement?

Are we toys whom God casually tosses aside when they no longer amuse Him? It seems unbecoming of the goodness of God to give up on us so easily.

And that’s precisely why the history of the world from the point of view of God is incomplete without the other 2 persons of the divine Trinity, the Holy Spirit and the Son.

We can go even further and affirm that without these two, literally no one would get to the Father, who wants absolute metaphysical and moral perfection from us. The human project would be a 100% failure without (1) grace and progress in charity and (2) forgiveness of sins.