Evil exists

25 Nov

Apparently this is a Creole saying.

It could seem like a totally superfluous statement of the blindingly obvious, but to some theologians eg Leibnitz, this is a highly contentious opinion.

The widespread perception that a lot of really bad things happen in the world is the basis for Theodicy, which started as an attempt to reconcile the apparent existence of evil with  faith in a deity who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

Basically the problem is that if there is evil in the world then there are three possible conclusions that follow from this fact. 1/ God does not exist. 2/ God chooses to permit evil. 3/ God is unable to prevent evil.

If you don’t want to accept one of these three options, then you have to deny the existence of evil.

If you want to deny the existence of evil, then you have to assert that what we perceive to be evil is not actually evil at all. That it is, in fact, good.

Obviously, it’s going to be hard to argue that events like the Holocaust are anything other than utterly evil, but attempts have been made.

For example, ‘ The Holocaust was actually a good thing because it provided humanity with opportunities to demonstrate virtues like compassion, courage, etc.’

In other words if the Holocaust had been even worse, then this would in fact have been better since it would have allowed greater opportunities for humanity to demonstrate its finer qualities, and if you can live with this argument then can I suggest you seek professional help as a matter of urgency.

Another example would be, ‘The Holocaust was really just an inevitable consequence of God allowing us all to have free will’.

If the price of free will is the death of six million Jews and a similar number of non Jews including pacifists, Gipsies, gay men, trade unionists etc etc. then that price is too high. Incidently, the people who suffered and died in the Holocaust were denied their opportunity to exercise free will. Besides, not all the suffering in the World is the result of human free will eg natural disasters.

Suffering is a punishment/suffering purifies.

The trouble with this argument is that it only applies to those of us who are moral agents. Animals also suffer, but they are not moral agents, therefore they can’t sin, therefore there’s no point in trying to punish them or to purify them. (And that’s even if you accept that suffering does purify, in my experience it just hurts).

I could go on, but why bother?

Either you agree with me, or you don’t. You can fill a small library with the writings of people better versed in the subject than me and I don’t think anyone’s made any fundamental change in their beliefs as a result of any of it.

Let me offer a different perspective.

Whether or not you call it evil, the world certainly is full of suffering. The natural world also contains a remarkable degree of inefficiency eg the eyes of all land animals have a network of blood vessels between the retina and the lens which has the effect of significantly reducing the sharpness of the image. (octopi and squids have the blood vessels behind the retina giving them much sharper vision)

It’s also incredibly beautiful and fascinating.

Anne Rice coined the phrase ‘the savage garden’ and I think this sums it up very well.

Now if you consider that the World is the product of Intelligent Design, you’re stuck with the fact of this suffering and inefficiency and you have to find some explanation for it. And the problem is that much more acute if you believe that this Designer is also benign and omnipotent.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the world and all the living things on it are the end result of a series of natural processes, then you can accept the beauty and wonder of the world and the flaws and failings are really just part of the whole thing. You don’t have to agonise over it.

So you either have the surprisingly flawed work of the omnipotent, or you have the amazing product of natural processes.

I know which I prefer and which I find more comfortable to live in.


One Response to “Evil exists”

  1. Edward Fraser 25/11/2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Great post. I always find it a little worrying when people try to say that the Holocaust was anything other than a tragedy. As if it was in some way deserved. Appalling.

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