How would you answer this (discussion of evil)?


#1

I have a family member who is an athiest. When we have talked, he often says he doesn’t believe in God because evil exists. I have brought up free will, people’s free will allowing them to choose evil which then affects the innocent, and other points like that. Someone here had suggested this resource:
mustardseed.net/html/toathiests.html

I tried this using point 2 in the article. Here is an excerpt:

(2) “I don’t believe in God because there is so much evil in the world.” Many atheists consider the problem of evil an airtight proof that God does not exist. They often say something like: “I know there is no God because if He existed, He never would have let Hitler murder six million Jews.”

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: “Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil
and other things not to be evil? By what process do you distinguish evil from good?” The atheist may hedge and say: “I just know that some things are evil. It’s obvious.” Don’t accept such an evasive answer. Insist that he tell you how he knows that some things are evil. He must be forced to face the illogical foundation of his belief system.

After he struggles with this a few moments, point out to him that it is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good. Otherwise one is like a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a
compass (i.e., there would be no way to distinguish north from south without the absolute reference point of the compass needle).

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of “absolutely good.” If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the
right to judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.

The trouble is, in this sort of discussion, he always says something like this, “Well, society determined what is good collectively.” Or “People as a group decided what are the standards for moral behavior.”

How do I answer this? I become very muddled trying to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in a higher authority, that a higher authority set down what is good and evil.

Thanks, Aunt Martha


#2

Get her to read the book by Peter kreeft Called “Making Sense Out of Suffering” It truely helped me out.

God Bless, Kerri


#3

I would NOT attempt to refute or “answer” an atheist except for this:

Where did the atoms come from that make up the earth and all the objects we find in the universe? What was the source of the atoms?


#4

[quote=AuntMartha]I have a family member who is an athiest. When we have talked, he often says he doesn’t believe in God because evil exists. I have brought up free will, people’s free will allowing them to choose evil which then affects the innocent, and other points like that. Someone here had suggested this resource:
mustardseed.net/html/toathiests.html

I tried this using point 2 in the article. Here is an excerpt:

The trouble is, in this sort of discussion, he always says something like this, “Well, society determined what is good collectively.” Or “People as a group decided what are the standards for moral behavior.”

How do I answer this? I become very muddled trying to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in a higher authority, that a higher authority set down what is good and evil.

Thanks, Aunt Martha
[/quote]

Ask which society and during what era. Society’s moral convictions change constantly. Hitler had the backing of the people he did not just say, “I’m in charge.” Even 100 years ago in America, divorce was looked down upon. Today it is accepted and even encouraged if one does not get everything that they want out of a relationship. In the example, you cited from the website, they compare knowing good to a ship at sea on a cloudy night without having the benefit of a compass to guide them. Society is like a broken compass because it does not always point north (toward good). If society’s morals change and they do, how can one base their direction on something that does not remain constant?
Good luck and God bless.


#5

[quote=AuntMartha]I have a family member who is an athiest. When we have talked, he often says he doesn’t believe in God because evil exists.
[/quote]

Ask him how he can believe in evil if God doesn’t exist.


#6

[quote=AuntMartha]I have a family member who is an athiest. When we have talked, he often says he doesn’t believe in God because evil exists. I have brought up free will, people’s free will allowing them to choose evil which then affects the innocent, and other points like that. Someone here had suggested this resource:
mustardseed.net/html/toathiests.html

I tried this using point 2 in the article. Here is an excerpt:

The trouble is, in this sort of discussion, he always says something like this, “Well, society determined what is good collectively.” Or “People as a group decided what are the standards for moral behavior.”

How do I answer this? I become very muddled trying to explain to someone who doesn’t believe in a higher authority, that a higher authority set down what is good and evil.

Thanks, Aunt Martha
[/quote]

If he doesn’t believe in any higher authority, then what is the basis of his claim to any right? Maybe Hitler was “right” to kill those six million Jews? Do his fellows have the “right” to hold him to account as other nations had the right to punish Hitler?


#7

Ask if there is any source for Absolute morality then. As many have already posted, societies morals change over time. Without some source of absolute morality (ie God) relativism rules and morality eventually devolves to a ‘might makes right’ mentality.


#8

[quote=Isidore_AK]Ask if there is any source for Absolute morality then. As many have already posted, societies morals change over time. Without some source of absolute morality (ie God) relativism rules and morality eventually devolves to a ‘might makes right’ mentality.
[/quote]

The problem is better framed as “The problem of suffering”. If God is loving and wishes his creation well, why is there suffering in the world? No moral terminology need be introduced. (Though ‘morality’ can be defined naturalistically just as easily as it can be defined with reference to God.)

Of course, that isn’t an argument for atheism unless one insists on defining God as BOTH omnipotent AND perfectly benevolent.


#9

[quote=AuntMartha]I have a family member who is an athiest. When we have talked, he often says he doesn’t believe in God because evil exists. I have brought up free will, people’s free will allowing them to choose evil which then affects the innocent, and other points like that. Someone here had suggested this resource:
mustardseed.net/html/toathiests.html

[/quote]

Personally, I find these “how to debate an atheist” guides a neverending source of amusement. The one you linked to is titled “Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists”, but more honest title would be “Fallacious Proselytizing Guide”.

You quoted this section:

A good approach to an argument like this is to say something to this effect: “Since you brought up this issue, the burden lies on you to prove that evil actually exists in the world. So let me ask you: by what criteria do you judge some things to be evil and other things not to be evil? By what process do you distinguish evil from good?”

Among other things, this is a blatant attempt to shift the burden of proof. It is not up to the atheist to prove that evil exists, but up to theist to show why.

The tone of this guide is so insulting towards unbelievers that I would not remain on speaking terms with a family member that tried to use it on me.


#10

eptatorata

It is not up to the atheist to prove that evil exists, but up to theist to show why.
But of course the theist has shown why. The atheist just doesn’t get it, because the answer is free will and most atheist don’t believe in free will either.

*Moreover, the atheist who believes in the existence of evil without ultimate Good to compensate for evil actually seems to believe in a universe in which frequently enough evil must triumph over good. Believing in such a principle is a short way from being seduced to being on the side the the army with the greatest number of divisions, rather than on the side of good for its own sake, regardless of the consequences (even martyrdom).


#11

If God is on your side then you have a better chance of ultimately winning than you would if you were on the side of the army with the greatest number of divisions. What’s so noble about martyrdom if you really believe you are going to heaven? A lot of people who didn’t believe in an afterlife have died for causes they did believe in. All things being equal, aren’t they more admirable than the believing Christian martyrs, for whom death is just a doorway to bliss?


#12

[quote=eptatorata]Personally, I find these “how to debate an atheist” guides a neverending source of amusement. The one you linked to is titled “Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists”, but more honest title would be “Fallacious Proselytizing Guide”.

Among other things, this is a blatant attempt to shift the burden of proof. It is not up to the atheist to prove that evil exists, but up to theist to show why.

The tone of this guide is so insulting towards unbelievers that I would not remain on speaking terms with a family member that tried to use it on me.
[/quote]

Well, then what would you say in answer that doesn’t sound “insulting” and will show why?

I wasn’t saying that answer was perfect - obviously it’s not, which is why I asked the question in the first place.

I’d like to hear what you would say to an athiest who brings up the issues my relative has.

Aunt Martha


#13

Extreme evil is the price we pay for being free creatures.

Someone might say, "yes, but why does evil have be so extreme? Could not a God of love stop the most horrible forms of evil? No, not without destroying our freewill.

Look at it this way, if God were to stop the most deplorable act of evil and make them never exist then the next most deplorable act would be the most evil act.

Then someone would say that that act then should be stopped, and the next, and the next, and the next…etc.

Ultimately it would come down to the point of a paper cut or a white lie being the most deplorable evil act and God would have to stop those as well.

We would end up having our freewill removed in order to keep us from commiting whatever evil acts remain, no matter how small or benign.

Hope this helps.

Peace


#14

[quote=AuntMartha]I’d like to hear what you would say to an athiest who brings up the issues my relative has.
[/quote]

Pleading ignorance is an answer that I personally respect. I have heard many theists trying to solve the problem of evil and their answers invariably resemble pounding a square peg into a round hole.


#15

[quote=dennisknapp]Extreme evil is the price we pay for being free creatures.

Someone might say, "yes, but why does evil have be so extreme? Could not a God of love stop the most horrible forms of evil? No, not without destroying our freewill.

Look at it this way, if God were to stop the most deplorable act of evil and make them never exist then the next most deplorable act would be the most evil act.

Then someone would say that that act then should be stopped, and the next, and the next, and the next…etc.

Ultimately it would come down to the point of a paper cut or a white lie being the most deplorable evil act and God would have to stop those as well.

We would end up having our freewill removed in order to keep us from commiting whatever evil acts remain, no matter how small or benign.

Hope this helps.

Peace
[/quote]

Even if you do believe in incompatiblist free will (very dubious notion I think), God need not deny it to prevent most if not all suffering in the world (assuming he is omnipotent). There are several options that he has, just off the top of my head:

  1. Allow the action to be initiated, but prevent the results of the action from occurring. (He could still scold the actor for what he tried to do, just as you can scold a child for trying to get into the cookie jar.)

  2. Let people sin, but only in ways that don’t cause other people harm. Let them break the Sabbath, eat forbidden fruit, etc…

  3. If they really are necessary, we can probably deal with the paper cuts and white lies. Just spare us the stomach cancer, fatally malformed children, starvation, sadistic murders, rape, etc… If God were concerned that we would contenue to complain, he could just show us that with any less pain, we would lose our freewill. (For my part, I’d trade incompatiablist free will for virtue and happiness any day)


#16

[quote=MichaelLewis]Even if you do believe in incompatiblist free will (very dubious notion I think), God need not deny it to prevent most if not all suffering in the world (assuming he is omnipotent). There are several options that he has, just off the top of my head:

  1. Allow the action to be initiated, but prevent the results of the action from occurring. (He could still scold the actor for what he tried to do, just as you can scold a child for trying to get into the cookie jar.)

  2. Let people sin, but only in ways that don’t cause other people harm. Let them break the Sabbath, eat forbidden fruit, etc…

  3. If they really are necessary, we can probably deal with the paper cuts and white lies. Just spare us the stomach cancer, fatally malformed children, starvation, sadistic murders, rape, etc… If God were concerned that we would contenue to complain, he could just show us that with any less pain, we would lose our freewill. (For my part, I’d trade incompatiablist free will for virtue and happiness any day)
    [/quote]

#1.
Stopping an action from happening is not freedom. In order for me to be free I have to have the ability to choose between a and b and to do a and b. Freewill is more than just intent, it is action.

There would also be no growth in the child or actor if there were no consequences.

#2.
All sins are harmful no matter how small, because all sin stems from selfishness. Putting the I before the You.

#3.
You don’t understand, the paper cut and the white lies in my example are the greatest evils, all other evils don’t exist.

We would be storming the gates of heaven to have the horrible pain of a paper cut removed so that we could experience real happiness.

If we are to have great virtue the possiblity of great evil must exist.

Peace


#17

[font=Times New Roman][size=3]#1.

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Stopping an action from happening is not freedom. In order for me to be free I have to have the ability to choose to between a and b and do a and b. Freewill is more than just intent, it is action.
There would also be no growth in the child or actor if there were no consequences.

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I’m not talking away action, just the consequences of action (and this need only be removed for the potential victim, the actor could still be punished; there could still be consequences for him).

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]#2.
All sins are harmful no matter how small, because all sin stems from selfishness. Putting the I before the You.

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Ok, but let the harm be between the perpetrator and God. There is no reason to make the innocent suffer. And even the suffering of the guilty (if it is necessary at all) would be for the sake of reform, not retribution, if God is benevolent.

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]#3.
You don’t understand, the paper cut and the white lies in my example are the greatest evils, all other evils are gone.
We would be storming the gates of heaven to have the horrible pain of a paper cut removed so that we could experience real happiness.

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I do understand. I’m saying that God need only show us that this is the minimum pain required for us to have your incompatiblist free will. Not wanting to give it up, we would accept a small amount of pain as a necessary evil. (He could also show us how valuable it is. Especially people like me, who can’t distinguish it from randomness.)

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]If we are to have great virtue then there will be great evil.

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All I mean by ‘virtue’ is having a good character; such that I am honest, just, and sincerely wish others well (In a more ideal world, I’d just be helping them to avoid paper cuts :slight_smile: ). Let this come naturally to me, without any temptation at all to act contrary to virtue. Challenges are good, but that’s what rewarding work and play are for.


#18

Ok, we are just splitting hairs here.

I do not see how your examples has people being truely Free. Actions without consequences?

Who is more innocent then God? The greatest evil ever commited by humans was the brutal death of Christ. Who was more innocent than him, nobody! And if you take what Christianity says about Christ (that he is God incarnate) then the greatest evil happened to God.

“All I mean by ‘virtue’ is having a good character; such that I am honest, just, and sincerely wish others well (In a more ideal world, I’d just be helping them to avoid paper cuts :slight_smile: ).”

But in this ideal world paper cuts would be the great most possible evil and you would be questioning God’s existence because of them.

“Let this come naturally to me, without any temptation at all to act contrary to virtue. Challenges are good, but that’s what rewarding work and play are for.”

In a real world, what would this look like? What do you mean by virtue? How could anyone develope virtue in a world were the worst that could happen is a paper cut?

Peace


#19

Dennis wrote:

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]I do not see how your examples has people being truely Free. Actions without consequences?

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As I said, there could be consequences for the perpetrators. Just don’t let the innocent suffer.

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]Who is more innocent then God? The greatest evil ever commited by humans was the brutal death of Christ. Who was more innocent than him, nobody! And if you take what Christianity says about Christ (that he is God incarnate) then the greatest evil happened to God.

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First of all, at least God chose to suffer. He didn’t have to 1) Create the human race, 2) Give them your incompatiblist free will, 3) Die on the cross for them.

Secondly, I’d rather be God incarnate and die on a cross for a short time, then go back to heaven and be in omniscient, omnipotent bliss again then—well, just about anything else I might do. (And if he were really omnipotent, he wouldn’t have to endure his death on the cross eternally as a negative experience.) It’s not that I envy God or resent his status. If he exists I appreciate his efforts, even given the world’s imperfections (though I don’t believe he is both perfectly benevolent AND omnipotent), but it seems rather silly to pity him.

Third, even granting that the crucifixion was the worst injustice ever, it doesn’t somehow make other, lesser, injustices ok. It’s not as if a perfectly benevolent God is going to say to the innocent: “So what if you’re suffering, look at how much I suffered.”

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]But in this ideal world paper cuts would be the great most possible evil and you would be questioning God’s existence because of them.

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No I wouldn’t. As I said, God can show us how they are necessary for us to have incompatiblist free will, and also show us the value of incompatiblist free will. Then we would be happy to have them.

[size=3][font=Times New Roman]In a real world, what would this look like? What do you mean by virtue? How could anyone develope virtue in a world were the worst that could happen is a paper cut?

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As you have implied, in a world where paper cuts constitute the worst suffering, we would take them more seriously. By virtue I mean nothing more or less than being inclined to do what is right. Virtue in such a world would still consist in being honest, just, and wanting others to be happy. Granted, we probably wouldn’t think much about virtue in such a world, (if everyone were virtuous) but we would still be exhibiting it. Remember, just because there would be no suffering wouldn’t mean that we would have everything we might want just handed to us. We could still have the joy of steady achievement and personal improvement.


#20

[quote=MichaelLewis]Dennis wrote:

As I said, there could be consequences for the perpetrators. Just don’t let the innocent suffer.

First of all, at least God chose to suffer. He didn’t have to 1) Create the human race, 2) Give them your incompatiblist free will, 3) Die on the cross for them.

Secondly, I’d rather be God incarnate and die on a cross for a short time, then go back to heaven and be in omniscient, omnipotent bliss again then—well, just about anything else I might do. (And if he were really omnipotent, he wouldn’t have to endure his death on the cross eternally as a negative experience.) It’s not that I envy God or resent his status. If he exists I appreciate his efforts, even given the world’s imperfections (though I don’t believe he is both perfectly benevolent AND omnipotent), but it seems rather silly to pity him.

Third, even granting that the crucifixion was the worst injustice ever, it doesn’t somehow make other, lesser, injustices ok. It’s not as if a perfectly benevolent God is going to say to the innocent: “So what if you’re suffering, look at how much I suffered.”

No I wouldn’t. As I said, God can show us how they are necessary for us to have incompatiblist free will, and also show us the value of incompatiblist free will. Then we would be happy to have them.

As you have implied, in a world where paper cuts constitute the worst suffering, we would take them more seriously. By virtue I mean nothing more or less than being inclined to do what is right. Virtue in such a world would still consist in being honest, just, and wanting others to be happy. Granted, we probably wouldn’t think much about virtue in such a world, (if everyone were virtuous) but we would still be exhibiting it. Remember, just because there would be no suffering wouldn’t mean that we would have everything we might want just handed to us. We could still have the joy of steady achievement and personal improvement.
[/quote]

Could you please define what you mean by incompatiblist free will?

“As you have implied, in a world where paper cuts constitute the worst suffering, we would take them more seriously. By virtue I mean nothing more or less than being inclined to do what is right. Virtue in such a world would still consist in being honest, just, and wanting others to be happy.”

I am not saying that the ideal world would be one where the worst evil is a paper cut. I am saying that if God where to remove the potential for evil He would have to remove our freewill.

This He will not do because He wants us to love Him freely and completely.

The only world without evil is a world without freedom. Can you even imagine a world such as this?

I would say that the ideal world is the one we exist in now, for it could be even worse.

God’s grace interacts with our freedom and holds back even more evil in our world. How many stories have you heard or read about good triumphing or evil? Look at the life of Pope John Paul II and tell me this world would have not been worse off without him?

Freedom comes with a price.

Peace


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