The problem of evil/Talk

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Interesting article, Larry. I too believe that God is much more interested in our character than our comfort. However, I do find your concept of Natural Evil a bit puzzling. A tornado may be disasterous and horrible, but calling it evil seems a bit strange to me. And where do you draw the line? Does a tornado have to take a life to be evil, or can it simply destroy some property? What if it never touches down - is it still evil? I dunno, I just don't think I buy into this.

Terrible things happen to good people, and these events you call evil. But often these people can overcome these events and eventually become a much better person than they ever would have if the event had never happened. I've seen it happen dozens of times. So was the event really evil, can a thing that is evil result in something that is good? Can it do so if God does not really exist?

The small little community I live in just recently was devistated when three high-school aged girls were killed when the mini-van they were riding swerved off the road and rolled over. There was no alcohol involved, it appears they hit a pothole and lost control of the vehicle. All three girls were very active in their respective churches, we know that they were all Christians. I do not wish to diminish in the least the amount of grief that their families and indeed our entire community went through. But I will say this, that our community pulled together around these families, and absolutely outpoured our love onto them. Hundreds of families got involved in bringing whatever comfort we could to the grieving families, and as a result of their testimonies many kids who were making bad choices for themselves have decided to start making better ones. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot see the pothole as evil.

The premises of the argument seem to have the bent that if God truly existed we would live in a environment where nothing ever went wrong. No one would ever get hurt regardless of the circumstances, and everyone would have enough to eat and drink. Why that does sound a lot like the Garden of Eden, doesn't it? It also sounds a lot like we would have very little freedom there - all of our choices would be between things that were already pre-ordained to be good for us. God never promised us smooth sailing, it simply isn't how the world works anymore. He did, however, promise us comfort in our times of sorrow and I can tell you from personal experience that he does deliver.

--RaviDesai.


Ravi - One of Webster's definitions of the noun "evil" is something that brings sorrow, distress or calamity. That leaves plenty of room for Larry's natural evils. If you read the next to last paragraph of his essay/lecture, you see the outline of your own argument above. You will also see that his conclusion is that the argument claiming that the existence of evil disproves God, fails. A conclusion which you obviously share. In very dry and "clinical" terms, he has actually made the same argument to which you bring a wonderfully huma perspective, above. I think you'll agree his article is not in itself defective, and deserves a careful reading to the end.


AyeSpy, I did read his article carefully, I don't disagree with the result all. It is quite clear to me that we share quite similar views. What I disagreed with is calling a natural phenomenon "evil". However, by your Webster's definition, perhaps I need to recant that. But for me, evil was not the result, but the intent. In other words, you could do evil by intent, even if the result was "good". The reverse also true. Since a tornado cannot show intent, I have a difficult time labelling it evil.

At the beginning of my post I indicated that I agreed with Larry that God is more interested in our Character than in our Comfort. I said I agreed with him because, while he did not use those exact words, that is essentially what the result of his argument is. That which does not kill us outright makes us stronger, and gives us more moral character. In general, this is quite true, as the example I gave indicated as well.

However, I don't think we need to view everything bad that happens to us as something evil that God passed our way in order to grow our moral character.


Just so. One needs to take care to distiguish the moral concept of evil, which implies intent, from the generic evil as a noun, which is basically "something bad." When you look at evil in the dictionary as an adjective, all the value judgement stuff is included.

There are gobs and gobs of different conceptions of even the one Christian God, from person to person and sect to sect. Some will tell you that an anthropomorhic God, possessed of human-style motivations while being omniscient and omnipotent, has the time, attention and resources and what's more the will, to attend to each and every one of His children on earth, map out a specific plan for them, and then watch and judge each individually moment-to-moment as to whether that individual accepts and follows God's plan for his life, or rejects it and strays. Theoretically, those disposed to go along with the program get to heaven. In such a scenario, literally everything which happens to one is directly and literally part of God's plan, and how one responds to the various tests presented help determine his worth as a potential heaven-dweller. For the sake of economy, God could test hundreds or thousands at a time by smiting them with a tornado or a tsunami.

Larry's comments would fall right in line with that conception of God, or a very similar one.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a Christian theory that God is not matter but spirit, and when he created man in his own image, that was a siritual image and man is therefore a soul like unto God. This same God, omniscient and omnipotent, set up a universe full of traps once his children rebelled against him (ate of the fruit of the tree of knowlege of good and evil) and cast them out into it, knowing all the while that only those with a pure soul and loving heart would be able to escape it. Those who valued matter over spirit would be lost forever. His "plan" for salvation was general, not specific to this or that individual. When Man in his conceit strayed too far, He tried wiping them out and starting over with Noah, but material man was still too in love with the world. So, He sent His son (reduntant as all all men are his literal children, born of his will) to remind everyone, "Hey - love one another, and follow the path I set out, or you ain't never gettin' home. There's only one road back to the Father, and you're not on it." Then He went about His divine business, whatever that may be, checking in now and again to see how the kids are doing.

(These are not theories I made up, but I've had both of them preached to me)

Under the second theory, God is "more concerned about our character than our comfort," and has set out signposts to be followed. Those who follow the road get to come home and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This would be a God who would neither cause nor prevent tornadoes or eathquakes, but whose children would have an infinite variety of opportunities to learn from their lives and either move closer to Him or farther away. In either case he would love them all, and mourn the lost. Larry's argument still works under this scenario, but the literalness with which this or that person is "tested" would no longer apply.

However you believe is up to you, but you can look at Larry's article on its bare merits and then suggest or make changes which retain the arguments but perhaps open the way for a wider range of interpretation of the same Omniscient, Omnipotent, and All-loving God. No?


Hi, Ravi! Thanks for the thoughtful comments! You wrote:

However, I do find your concept of Natural Evil a bit puzzling. A tornado may be disasterous and horrible, but calling it evil seems a bit strange to me. And where do you draw the line? Does a tornado have to take a life to be evil, or can it simply destroy some property?

This isn't my concept; it's the way that natural misfortunes are referred to when philosophers and theologians discuss The Problem of Evil. Nothing hangs on our using that word, either. The so-called Problem of Evil is just as bad if you refer to "natural evils" (notice, this can take a plural) as "disasters," "misfortunes," or whatever. If you like, we can call it the Problem of Really Bad Things.

But often these people can overcome these events and eventually become a much better person than they ever would have if the event had never happened. I've seen it happen dozens of times. So was the event really evil, can a thing that is evil result in something that is good? Can it do so if God does not really exist?

This is one of the options you have in replying to the argument: you are free to deny that natural evil (misfortune, disaster) really is a bad thing. Maybe it's all a good thing and therefore perfectly consistent with God's being all-loving. Regardless of that, I don't see how God's existence would be required to have something good result from pain and suffering.

AyeSpy wrote:

If you read the next to last paragraph of his essay/lecture, you see the outline of your own argument above. You will also see that his conclusion is that the argument claiming that the existence of evil disproves God, fails.

Did I really say that? I shouldn't have, if so.

Ravi replied:

At the beginning of my post I indicated that I agreed with Larry that God is more interested in our Character than in our Comfort. I said I agreed with him because, while he did not use those exact words, that is essentially what the result of his argument is.

Again, did I really say that (so that you can agree with me)? I thought I was just explaining one point of view, not necessarily expressing my own.

Then AyeSpy:

However you believe is up to you, but you can look at Larry's article on its bare merits and then suggest or make changes which retain the arguments but perhaps open the way for a wider range of interpretation of the same Omniscient, Omnipotent, and All-loving God. No?

By all means, Ravi, if you wish to expand any particular point that I've made in the article, go for it. While you do it, however, please be sure to attribute your views to the person or people who hold them, rather than asserting straightforwardly that the views are correct. We want to retain a semblance of lack of bias here. :-)

-- Larry Sanger


"AyeSpy wrote:


If you read the next to last paragraph of his essay/lecture, you see the outline of your own argument above. You will also see that his conclusion is that the argument claiming that the existence of evil disproves God, fails.

Did I really say that? I shouldn't have, if so." -- Larry Sanger

I should put this differently: If you are persuaded, as I am, that premise (5) does not logically fit any known data, then the combination of an all.../all.../all... God is not disproven by the ProblemOfEvil argument, as one of its necessary premises fails. This, in combination with the second-to-last paragraph seem compatible with Ravi's stance, just not as emotionally so.

Obviously, if you believe an all-loving God cannot permit evil, then you must bow to the force of the original argument. But then you would also have to believe that a loving mother could not visit unpleasantness and therefore discipline upon her child, since the child obviously would not find discipline pleasant. A Christian believer already believes, likely, that scripture supports discipline as essential to love. For this reason, It would appear futile for an atheist to attemt to pursuade a Christian with the ProblemOfEvil. He might pursuade non-believers, but then what would be the point? He'd be "preaching to the choir." Heh heh ;^)