Thursday 10 February 2022

Where does evil come from? A simple answer is needed

"Where does evil come from" is a simple question, and an obvious question! 

Christians ought to be able to answer the question, in the same simple and obvious terms it is stated - without recourse to vast, complex and soaring abstractions - and would-be-profound discourse on the nature of 'infinities'! 

And answered without recourse to statements that "Men cannot know", such things - or that they are divine-mysteries... 

Why? Because the question is obvious, reasonable, real, serious; and therefore will (deservedly!) block conversion unless answerable in the same terms it has been asked.  

The basis of the question is that there are obviously evils in this world; and Christians also know that God - the creator of this world - is Good: So where do these evils comes from?

The proper answer - the answer demanded and deserved - should be short, concrete and to the point; or else it is not a real answer 

...and will be recognized by most people as not a real answer. 

If God is supposed to have created everything except Himself (i.e. if God is an Omni-God) and is also supposed be wholly Good (i.e. if the real Christian God was also the Omni-God) - then where does evil come from? 

It's a valid question. And there is no coherent answer: If God is Omni then he cannot be wholly Good, and if wholly Good then he cannot be Omni. 

A Christian God and Omni-qualities are incompatible

And this incompatibility has always been obvious to most people in the world; including, I would guess, many Christians.

One attempt at arguing the compatibility of Omni-God and Christianity is to insist that evil and Good are actually, ultimately, the same and indistinguishable aspects of God's will - that both apparent-Good and apparent-evil come from God; and it is only our erring, limited human minds who cannot see this oneness. 

Indeed, taken one at a time - any proposed evil can be reframed as potentially an aspect of Good - in some larger sense.

However, even though individual instances of putative evil can be put-in-doubt, to insist on the oneness, inseparability of Good and evil-as-such is Not to be a Christian. If there is no evil, no 'sin' - if all is an equal expression of oneness - then there is no point to Christianity. 

So that kind of argument does not work. 

If evil is really-real, and God is really Omni - then evil must come from God, evil must be located-in God, ultimately. 

The usual Omni-God answer is that God gave some creatures - including Men - agency, or free will; so that Men can choose to oppose God and creation. 

Okay - but where does that motivation to oppose God and creation come from? 

If every Man was wholly-made by God (as the Omni-God concept insists); then - even if agency-within-omnipotence was granted - where does the motivation to evil come-from? It has to come from God, ultimately, because (with an Omni-God) there is nowhere else for motivation to come-from. 

In more general terms, all evil motivations, indeed the whole possibility-of-evil, would need to be baked-into the created world by the Omni-God - because the Omni-God ultimately created every-thing. 

Evil is best understand as opposition to God and to God's creation... So how can there be opposition to God and creation from some being who is created by God?  

One answer is to regard evil as a kind of insanity: something that doesn't make sense. 

For instance, Satan is described in terms of knowing that he was created-by God, but (for some crazy reason!) hating and resenting this fact; and therefore hating himself - along with the whole of creation.

Okay - but where did such insanity originate - if not the Omni-God Himself? 

How was it possible that one of God's creatures could develop this kind of pathology of insane self-hatred, resentment - pride? The only ultimate answer is that God-made-him-that-way - because, with Omni-God, that is eventually the answer to all questions...

For Omni-Godites; God made Satan that way - for reasons we cannot comprehend, but which God comprehends - therefore, the duty of all good Christians is submission, obedience to God's will... 

...But wait a minute! Uncomprehending submission to God's incomprehensible will... That sounds very much like another religion; but it is not Christianity - it is not the kind of thing that Christ would teach in the Gospels, and of course there is no essential role for agency. 

And this not Christianity; because this argument means that Christians are regarded as incapable of personally recognizing and rejecting evil...

The Omni-God answer to any version of the question: "Where does evil come from?" can only either be God - or else, the denial that evil really is evil.

And either or both of these lead either to a God beyond human discernment, a God to whom we must submit without understanding; or else the denial that evil really is different-from Good.  

Both of which are incompatible with Christianity. 

The incompatibility of the Omni-God with Christianity is indeed very easy to see and impossible to deny without redefining Christianity; or else moving to a level of uncomprehended-abstraction piled-upon uncomprehended-abstraction that makes coherent thinking impossible - and seems intended to stun all opposition into silence!

And this is why all honest defenses of a Christian Omni-God always end-up with putting 'incomprehensible mystery' at the very heart of the Christian religion - and the Christian is required simply to accept that. 

Which is hardly a satisfactory state of affairs. Especially not for someone considering conversion to Christianity, or to a Christian who wants a proper answer to an urgent question. 

So if the question is "where does evil come from?" - then what would I personally regard as an answer that is short, concrete and to the point - and true?

My answer is that:

God the creator is indeed wholly Good, however God creates using already-existing Beings - such as Men. It is these already-existing Beings that are the source of evil.

In other words, God's creation includes evil because it is made from beings that were already-evil; in different ways, and to different degrees. 

Or, God is wholly Good, but Men are - and always have been - partly evil. 

Therefore; evil really is evil; and God the creator really is Good - but the Christian God is Not an Omni-God. 

Now - of course! - such an answer raises further questions; and invites expansion. 

So much for this mortal earth; but can we not look-forward to inhabiting a wholly-Good world? What about Heaven the wholly-Good place, for example? 

How can Heaven be really-real and wholly Good - when the beings in God's creation contain evil?

It's another question; and it needs another answer. 

A short answer to this question is: that is where Jesus Christ comes in. 

This world contains evil because men brought evil into it; but for those who follow Jesus Christ, the next world can be wholly Good...

Because after death, and through resurrection, Men can choose to leave all evil behind and take-forward into Heaven only that which is Good.  

Note: Whether or not you regard my short, simple and to-the-point answers as sufficiently correct (given that all possible answers are bound to be incomplete and biased, and especially short answers!) - I hope they at least illustrate the kind-of-answer that is required to this question. And that the above suggested answers may demonstrate, by contrast, the kind-of-answer that is not suitable to the question. 

Further note: Those seriously interested in agency, which itself is the other side of the coin of evil - and in the Omni-God (aka Supergod) in relation to Christianity - should read William James Tychonievich's superb essay, published today


Nathanael said...

What do you mean by Evil?

I often wonder, that the most suffocating/claustrophobic evil is proliferated by a do-gooder who believes a lie to be true.

My short answer to the question.
evil arises from lies taken as truth and this *possibility* is created by God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@N- I define evil in the post: "Evil is best understand as opposition to God and to God's creation." Plus many other discussions elsewhere on this blog.

Nathanael said...

It's a great question.
Just pondering this.

Genesis 6:5-7
"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Todd said...

Dr. Charlton:
Thank you.
How would you respond to the idea that some evil is meant to teach us something? Or is this true of all evil. That is, can any "evil" action be used as a lesson, if approached properly?
How does the fact that evil events can cause people to believe in God and Christ, or become better morally, affect the approach to the existence of evil?
I guess I'll just assume that:
1) Evil exists and is really evil
2) You can learn from almost any evil event, but that doesn't make it good.

KatM said...

As a Christian, I find that the belief in an Omni-God is a convenient way to tell ourselves that we have no responsibility for evil, and that Super God is responsible for eliminating it while we sit back and wait, or are "Raptured" as some Christians believe.

"Why doesn't God DO something about all the evil in the world?" Well, why aren't WE stopping any personal cooperation with evil? Why aren't we just saying NO to evil in the ways we can? I can think of one small way we can stop cooperating with evil that you have mentioned in your writing: we need to stop lying to ourselves and others.

We are workers in the vineyard. We choose to cooperate with God's Divine will. Or we can try to destroy the vineyard and cooperate with evil.

Dave Bagwill said...

A bridge too far, and flimsy at that:

"If evil is really-real, and God is really Omni - then evil must come from God, evil must be located-in God, ultimately."

I think the caricature of god as no more than a demiurge does lead to the above mistaken idea.
Since time is not infinite, and the universe did originate at a point in time, then the real God is truly a Creator, not a skilled craftsman. If so, I see no logical reason at all for attributing evil to him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DB - I'm not clear about what you are saying - you are aware that this is not My view?

"I see no logical reason at all for attributing evil to him." Surely that's a bizarre statement in context of what is written, and history?

This 'no more than a demiurge' statement may be the trouble. I can't see that God as creator of the universe in which all Beings dwell could be called that - and that is what we are talking about.

Dave Bagwill said...

Bruce - it could be we are talking in cross-purposes. If I am misreading you, forgive me.

It was this sentence among others that moved me to make my statement:

"If evil is really-real, and God is really Omni - then evil must come from God, evil must be located-in God, ultimately."

I took that at face value, but I see now that there are ambiguities - in my mind, perhaps not in your writing - 'from God' 'located in God' 'Omni God' - do seem to attribute evil to God, at least as Source.

Yours is a deep philosophy and I could be misunderstanding it.
As for creation at a point in time, and time being NOT infinite. once again I urge the reading of a difficult book but a profound one. Of course, there is not enough time left at my age to read everything I think I should. But this is imo pivotal.

New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy Paperback – Illustrated, June 29, 2010
by Robert J. Spitzer

Bruce Charlton said...

@DB - It seems you may have misunderstood. ""If evil is really-real, and God is really Omni - then evil must come from God, evil must be located-in God, ultimately.""

That sentence was not *my* opinion that God is evil - it is stating that IF evil is real and IF God is understood to be Omni - Then the evil must come from God (because there is nowhere else for it to originate). I am saying that the one is entailed by the other.

But the thrust of the post is that *I* do Not believe that God is Omni - therefore I do Not believe that evil is located in God: so the above is Not my view.

Nathanael said...

Bruce, what do you mean by Omniscient?

Are you saying for God to be Omniscient it means that God actually has to do everything that is done, and if he doesn't then he is not omniscient?

Why can't an Omniscient God simply *have the ability* to do all things that can be done, rather than need to actually do them?

Again, thanks for bringing these questions and challenging thoughts to the table as per!

Bruce Charlton said...

@N - Of course I used to be orthodox theologically - but you would be better reading whatever attributes of God your own denominations gives, rather than taking my word for it.

Nathanael said...

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

I think orthodoxy should always be tested, to make sure it's not 'shutting the door in our faces' so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Evil manifests in human brains and it extends no further than one's interiority. Like Lucifer attempting to usurp God, humans are ever in error in attempting to usurp who they are.

Brick Hardslab said...

Perhaps there is no predestination to free will. When God grants free will it is truly free and until the moment we, (I'm including thinking spiritual beings in this) exercise the free will granted, he does not know what we will choose because it is truly free and unencumbered by even God's certain foreknowledge of our choices.

Truly free will. So how could he know what our choices would be unless he chose to do so? I believe he is choosing to allow truly free will because anything else is a fraud.

fitzhamilton said...

You are preaching gnosticism here. Residual (?) Mormonism, I suppose?

God created us and the angels as intellects and wills apart from his own. He did this to allow us freedom freedom to love as he loves. Freedom entails the ability to refuse to love. That is why there is evil. Because there are angelic intelligences who rule this world (the powers and principalities) who "for a time and season" wreck havoc and tempt us to evil. We are free, in our fallen state and separation from God and heaven, to cooperate with evil, and we all do to greater or lesser degree. This is sin. We are also free to reject slavery to sin and satan, and repent by way of grace.

Christ, the Incarnate Logos, who shares in our human nature, has a will separate from the Father's. To assert there is only one divine will is heretical, monothelitism. We, made in his image and likeness, do as well. His will is in perfect accord with the Father's will. We are able by his grace to bring our wills into accord with the divine will as well, and by way of grace enter into communion in the divine life of the Holy Trinity and become holy as God is holy. This is why the Fall and sin are blessings, because they allow us to freely accept grace, and be saved.

All sin and evil must be understood as a necessary consequence of human dignity and freedom. Evil exists because we are free to reject the Good, just like the demons did. The solution to evil and suffering is grace, which is being in cooperation with the divine will and intimate communion with God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@fitz - Yes, Mormon theology.

But Gnosticism? Rubbish! This is almost the exact opposite of neo-platonic esoteric mysticism.