I attended a very good event this past Sunday afternoon and it got me thinking about the nature of evil (the event was not evil btw).
There was reference to the Epicurean philosophical discussion about the problem of evil and how it relates to God.
Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia describing the basic logic:
- If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent god exists, then evil does not.
- There is evil in the world.
- Therefore, an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God does not exist.
This argument is of the form modus tollens, and is logically valid if its premises are true, the conclusion follows of necessity. To show that the first premise is plausible, subsequent versions tend to expand on it, such as this modern example:
- God exists.
- God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
- An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
- An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
- An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
- A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
- If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, then no evil exists.
- Evil exists (logical contradiction).
While it flows reasonably well I cannot accept the argument right at the beginning because of a very basic question –
what is evil?
Oxford defines evil as:
Definition of evil in English:
1 Profoundly immoral and wicked: his evil deeds no man is so evil as to be beyond redemption
The problem with using evil to disprove the concept of God is that evil is dependent on, and from, human perspective while the concept of God is, by its nature, independent of human perspective.
Evil is only evil as it relates to humanity.
What is evil? It is that which harms people or that harm which people do.
It is evil for an adult to beat a child to death. It is evil for a person to steal the belongings of others. It is evil to imprison and starve a person or persons…you get the idea. We can agree on this.
We consider these things evil because these are things that harm us.
What about things that harm other beings however – are these things evil? Every morning when I shower I eradicate billions of small lives (microbes etc) from my body? Why is this not evil? Is it good because it benefits me? Is it not evil because these lives are not sentient? Is sentience the measure for evil?
How about when a lion kills a zebra? Is this evil? We don’t think so. This is nature? They do not know any better.
How about nature? The argument states that floods, tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes are manifestations of evil. But if lions killing zebras are not evil because they are acting according to nature why then are environmental disasters evil? They are simply mindless expressions of evil.
No – we consider natural disasters evil because of their effect on humanity.
Evil is dependent on human existence for its objective definition while God on the other hand is a concept that must be independent from human perception.
At this point some will say this cannot be because God is a human construct. Even if God were a human construct however the nature of God is that God would be apart from humanity.
According to the Epicurean argument God, unbound by all constraint, is somehow constrained by the existence of evil – a concept dependent solely on human existence.
The argument says that because people suffer God cannot exist. The argument is premised on an egocentric foundation and this is why I find it fails. To put it another way the argument requires God, an independent agent unencumbered by any constraint to be constrained by a concept the requires humanity for its existence.
What is evil? There is no absolute definition of evil based on a standard outside of human existence (think Plato’s cave metaphor for this one). There is no absolute definition of God either…there is only what we perceive.
Whether we like it or not, the existence of things that harm humanity is not a basis for disproving God. We may not like it but our limited perspectives cannot invalidate what, by its nature, would be limitless.
To put it another way – the fact that I eradicate billions of lives from my body every morning does not make me evil. It also does not mean I do not exist.
I know this is clunky – I will edit over time to smooth it out a bit and maybe make it elegant.