Friday, July 15, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The incoherence of arguments from evil


The distinction between good and evil is a moral distinction. The problem I see with the argument from evil is that it's hard to account for objective moral values in the absense of God. Here's the deductive argument again:

1. If God exists, then evil would not exist.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

This argument works only if the second premise is true. Evil must exist. But before evil can exist, there has to be some kind of moral standard by which to distinguish between good and evil. The distinction between good and evil is a value judgement, and value judgements can only be made by sentient beings. If there were no sentient beings in the universe--neither human, angel, alien, nor God--then it doesn't make sense to say that anything is good or evil. Things *just are*. If good and evil depend on people, then they are merely relative, and there's no reason to question God. If good and evil are to be objective, in the sense of being true whether we believed them or not, then they would have to depend on some kind of transcendent being--a being who stands over and above humanity.

The conclusion of the argument from evil is that God does not exist. But that conclusion seems to contradict the second premise. Remember the distinction I made between being implicitly contradictory and explicitly contradictory? Well, "Evil exists" does not explicitly contradict "God does not exist," but they ARE implicitly contradictory, and that can be shown by adding a premise that is necessarily true. Here's how that would be done:

4. If God does not exist, then evil does not exist.
5. Evil exists.
6. Therefore, God exists.

Since "God exists" contradicts "God does not exist," it follows that "God does not exist" is inconsistent with "Evil exists." The argument from evil is incoherent because it affirms a contradiction--an impossible state of affairs. It's impossible for evil to exist if there is no God.

The way deductive arguments work is that if both premises are true, and the logic is valid, then the conclusion must also be true. The only way the conclusion can be false, and the logic valid, is if one of the premises is false. If we grant that "Evil exists" is true and that "God does not exist" is false, then we must reject, as false, the first premise in the argument from evil, which says, "If God exists, evil would not exist."

Remember that this premise is based on the assumption that a good God is inconsistent with the existence of evil. God and evil cannot coexist. There's a contradiction between "God exists" and "Evil exists." But since this premise is false, it follows that there is no contradiction. There is no inconsistency. Far from disproving God's existence, evil proves just the opposite. If evil exists, then God exists.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Arguments for the goodness of God


At 7/16/2005 3:22 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Good observation. :)

At 7/16/2005 7:35 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Hey Dale! I didn't know you were still around. Good to see you again. :-)

At 7/16/2005 5:33 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well, in this scenario it does follow that evil implies God. I think you do an excellent job of pointing that out.

However, when it comes to evil, why is it that God created the serpant (Satan), created the tree and its apples, and created within Adam and Eve the desire to be tempted by those apples? And yet it is man, not God, who is guilty for this crime?

And further, why are the sins of our ancestors passed onto us in the form of evil? I mean, my ancesotrs had paradise, but I am to live in a life of pain, because of what someone in the past did? That seems like ancient/medieval Roman logic to me, as debts pass down the family line.

I see no reason that a kind and loving God should put the sugar so close to the ant and wonder why the ant runs over to it, and further, punishing him/her for doing so!

I think evil poses more problems for the existence of God, or at least our conception of God, than simply "God is good" so why is there bad!

At 7/16/2005 6:15 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

Hi Sam. Of course I'm here! I could never stay away from your blog for that long.. ;)

At 7/17/2005 3:14 AM , Blogger A better man than you said...

Evil is a word. Pouring gasoline on someone and lighting them on fire because I feel like it, that--I would say--is evil. It's bad. It's bad because it causes another person pain and ends a life which is not mine. It doesn't mean anything, though. It's just bad.

Bad and good are not relative. Some things are just inherently bad, like the above demonstration. Anyone who doesn't think that is bad, or "evil", is a sociopath.

A lot of what people believe is evil, however, is just something that they decided is evil. A simple example is cussing. The F-word is not bad. As language evolves, some people simply decide that some words are bad and become offended at hearing them. That may be a poor example, but I'm just saying there are certainly examples of relative "evil" or bad things. A better example would probably be homosexuality. A lot of people believe that is evil, but you can't give me a good example of why. Although I believe the Bible is clear on God's stance on it, There are a lot of things that God is not ambiguous about that every single person does almost every single day. Who are we? God gives free will, but some people don't? You can tell me it is unnatural, fine. So is the car you drive to work, probably your job and almost ever other part of your daily life. This is not something that is inherently evil, it is evil because you believe in God already, and God say's it is wrong. It means nothing. I hope my point is being made...

Anyway, the fact that bad things happen in the world, and that we are capable of making bad things happen, does not in my opinion mean anything whatsoever. It is the way things are, and it is very, very simple.

At 7/17/2005 3:00 PM , Blogger Steve said...

Better than You - I would contend that such an action is not evil.

My justfication for such a belief is that evil requires something more than an "evil" act, it requires a higher law of morality, which can only really exist if God is holding the moral compass steady.

If there does not exist some higher law of morality, then evil acts are heinous, disgusting, wrong, terrible, and they make you want to throw up, but they are not evil.

Good and Evil, to me, is like a baseball game. You have two teams, and each point goes for either one team or the other. Neutral acts i guess would be foul balls, but no example is perfect.

Nevertheless, there must exist that "evil" team for an act to be scored under the "evil teams" scoreboard. Which seems confusing because, as Sam and others have been discussing, both the Evil and Good baseball teams have the same owner, which makes it sound like the owner (god) has a conflict of interest. He wouldn't make it in the Major Leagues.

I contend that people are out there playing baseball, but there aren't teams, no owner, and there's no scoreboard. As such, the plays still happen like we all say they do, still great home runs and dirty plays, but the formality and "institutional" aspects of the game are removed.

Empircally, there is no difference between your world and mine...

At 7/18/2005 1:36 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I'm not sure how much of a response I should give right now, because some of the issues you guys are raising are discussed in blogs to come.

You raise a good point, though. How is it that man is guilty for his sin when it was God who provided the opportunity for it? Or how do you reconcile God's sovereignty with man's responsibility? This is something that I think requires a blog entry of its own.

I'm not sure if I completely understand your baseball illustration for good and evil, but if I'm understanding it correctly, it sounds like you think good and evil are equal and opposite somehow. If there's a distinction between good and evil, then you must have good "stuff" and evil "stuff."

My concept of good and evil is a little different, and this will come up in blogs to come. I agree with you that before you can have such a distinction, you first have to have some sort of moral law. But evil isn't something that's equal and opposite to good. Rather, evil is a departure from good. Good is the standard set forth in the moral law. Evil is a violation or deviation from it. So evil doesn't stand on its own. In fact, it's possible to have good without evil, but it's not possible to have evil without good. You can have a standard for goodness without having a deviation from it, but you can't have a deviation from a standard without the standard itself.

Greg Koukl, from Stand to Reason uses a couple of analogies to illustrate the same thing. First, he compares good and evil to donuts and donut holes. Ontologically, donut holes don't exist; they're just where the donut is not. Donuts exist, though. In the same way, evil doesn't exist ontologically. That is, it doesn't have being in itself; it's just where good is not.

Another illustration he uses is between light and shadow. Shadows don't have ontological existence; they're just where the light is not. Good and evil are the same. Good has ontological status, but evil is just where good is not.


At 7/18/2005 1:48 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well i dont know that evil should simply be regarded as the absence of "good." I mean, thats kind of Puritan in a sense. Like, sitting on the couch is not "good" so is it evil? Anything which is not helping an old lady cross a street is evil? That seems to be too broad a definition of evil... to mix those kinds of things with child molestation. There becomes no distinction between evil acts.

The baseball example was meant to talk about evil in the context of a universe with formal rules and rights/wrongs, with one where everything is apparently relative. In the structured baseball game, you keep a score, and you pay attention to who is doing what. In a street game, with players switching sides and doing all sorts of sloppy plays, with some great ones... you no longer have the same kind of game.

In a world without God, nobody is keeping score of the child molestors, and the murders, and the charity donations... they just happen without the structure of an ordered universe overseen by god.

At 7/18/2005 1:55 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Well, that's not exactly what I meant (though I think you point out a weakness in Koukl's illustrations). By "good" I mean some kind of standard--some standard that prescribes the way things ought to be. Evil is a deviation or violation of that standard. If there is some situation, like sitting on the couch, that is morally neutral, it isn't evil, because it doesn't violate any standard.


At 7/18/2005 2:47 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well then it seems that evil relates to "Good" in the sense that if there is a rule (standard) for what is Good, then anything else is in fact evil, as it pertains to that standard of "good" behavior or action. However it means there is a strong link between the two, because anything which "good" doesn't address cannot be evil because there's no standard for it.

But that creates a bit of a duality in existence which seems a bit Zoastrian!

At 7/18/2005 3:36 AM , Blogger A better man than you said...


Okay, I would concede that the presence of "evil" in the world would mean something. But I started out my last comment saying that evil is a word. In this comment I will say that evil is a concept. Keep in mind, I'm not saying that evil doesn't exist, I'm just saying that it's a concept. What is evil, then? I mean, that's not something you can necessarily define. To say that for evil to exist only if there is an arbiter is, in my opinion, not something that holds any weight to an argument. It's just the chicken & the egg, who's to say that we aren't the moral compass? I'm by no means saying that we are, I'm simply saying that it just goes round and round: If you believe there is evil, then you believe in a moral compass. If not, then--as you said--there are simply some horrible things in this world. So, it just comes back to your definition of the word "evil".

I'm not saying there is or isn't evil in this world or higher moral law. I'm also not saying that I haven't pondered endless questions without definitive answers. I'm just saying that I don't see how this particular train of thought is relevant to anything at all. Any answer to any of these questions is relative to the question itself (I hope that makes sense).

At 7/18/2005 3:54 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


The view I'm expressing is very different than Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrianism, good and evil are equal and opposites that both have equal ontological status. The problem with Zoroastrianism, is that there is no basis for preferring good over evil. There's no reason you couldn't just switch the lables and call good "evil" and evil "good." Neither is the standard of which the other is a violation. They both stand alone as polar opposites. In Zoroastrianism, it would be possible for good to exist without evil or for evil to exist without good.

But in my view, it's possible for good to exist without evil, because it's possible to have a perfect standard of goodness without anything violating that standard. But it's not possible to violate a standard if there is no standard to violate. So evil cannot exist without good. Evil doesn't stand alone with independent ontological existence.


At 7/18/2005 3:48 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well, i dont see how you can have a standard (like good) and NOT have evil.

For a standard to exist, it cannot be the only possibility, a standard only exists among alternatives.

Its like the legal code. Historically, we know if a law exists it is something the people did. There would be no reason to, for example, outlaw drinking if no alcohol and no drinking was done in a province. Indeed, it wouldn't make sense to make a law about something which cannot be violated, its useless paper.

In that same vein, what purpose would a standard have (good) if there were no alternative, or in your argument, evil? Why would God tell you that you HAVE to do something, if it did not need to exist or be done?

Similarly, even in the donut example, there is no donut shape except for the hole and the space around the donut, its merely a flat expressionalist circle without that which it is not.

Im sure you are familiar with Hegel on the subject of Dialectics. For something to be a chair, that necessarily implies a "nonchair," although he mainly referred to things like masters and slaves that are contradictions which necessarily explain each other.

I believe it is similar in the case with Good and Evil. Something isn't Good if it doesn't bring to mind also what it is not doing.

In that sense it sounds very dualistic.

And in Zoastrianism, Both Evil and Good are expressions of Ahura Mazda, with Good the Head of the god, and evil like the tail. Therefore, like in your example, I do not see how Good could exist without evil.

At 7/18/2005 4:01 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


It's possible for a law to exist without anybody actually violating. The fact that somebody could violate doesn't mean something is violating it. When I say good can exist without evil, I'm talking about the actual occurence of evil, not just the possibility of evil in the abstact.

You can't have a donut hole without a donut. (Hmm. On the other hand, a donut without a hole isn't really a donut; it's a danish.)


At 7/18/2005 7:21 PM , Blogger Steve said...

If I say, things exist. That doesn't mean things DONT exist, but if something cannot "not exist" then the statement "things exist" doesn't mean anything. For something to be... it must also not be. Something in your head has no meaning unless you can comprehend what it is, and is not. When someone shows you a chair, you know, thats a chair, but you'd also know what isn't a chair, by virtue of your definition of a chair. So by the creation of a standard (good) you must necessarily know what is not the standard (evil) or else you dont actually know what the "good" is!

In the case of a donut, you've already established that without the hole (evil) there is no donut (good). Without the space around the Danish, it has no boundaries, no definition. It is what it is, but also what it is not!


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