Chapter 6: The Problem of Evil

One who went to the truth by mere impulse would be a holy animal, not a true man. Relations, truths, duties, are shown to the man away beyond him, that he may choose them and be a child of God, choosing righteousness like Him. Hence the whole sad victorious human tale and the glory to be revealed. – George Macdonald

            The problem of evil is, I do not deny it, a real problem. I think I see where the medieval tradition of calling evil a privation comes from; indeed, I think there’s probably some truth to it. I am legally blind in my left eye, with no present possibility of correction either with glasses or with surgery. I do not feel comforted by the fact that this natural evil is simply a privation; it does not really make my experience of the evil any more palatable. I would certainly like to end this whole discussion at the previous chapter. It seems to hang together plausibly; I rather like it, and could be content with it. But the problem of evil, as I have said, is a real problem. As C.S. Lewis put it, with his characteristically acute insight, “Pain hurts. That’s what the word means.” So, like Lewis in his far better book on the subject (I do recommend reading The Problem of Pain at your nearest convenience), I do not claim that this chapter will make pain hurt any less than it already does. I wish I could. My purpose here is simply to mount a defense against the use of it to undo the arguments I have made.

Now, notice that the problem of evil does not immediately contradict what I have argued. I have argued that human reason can be supposed to be successful if and only if something like reason had already been present in the world. I have further argued that since science cannot answer the first question, Why is there anything?, we can assume that science doesn’t have a grasp on the whole of truth. To get at that thing which began the universe and which has been involved with it ever since, we must take an interdisciplinary approach. What I have suggested is a picture of something very much like a mind, the imagination of the very universe which holds within it the whole of abstract truths and dynamic power, showing why I think belief in such a mind is not wholly implausible, and showing too, I hope, why such an image should be compelling; and also mounting, I think, a reasonable defense against the psychoanalytical argument that it is all merely my feverish projections into the cosmos which results in this picture, in my chapter on subjectivism. As far as I can tell (and I may be missing something, though I don’t believe I am), the problem of evil doesn’t really contradict this conceived cosmic mind. That is, perhaps, because I have not yet ascribed to it the sort of qualities of being which are susceptible to the argument. The problem of evil is simply than an all powerful, all good God would remove evil from the world. I haven’t quite called the cosmic mind all powerful or all good, in any sense. Though I think that positing such qualities to this being, at this point, might seem less far-fetched, now that its more general existence has been made more conceivable, if my attempt has been successful at all.

First, let me say that I do ascribe to this being the qualities of being both all good, and all powerful. Let me tell you why. I did not discuss, to begin with, moral knowledge in the previous chapter. And this is for a very good reason: I was saving it for this chapter. It will be argued, I expect, yet again that morality is a subjective, perspective-bound concept. For that, I turn you back to chapter four. If chapter four does not do it for you, then I have a couple of other suggestions. As usual, C.S. Lewis has something a lot smarter to say about it than I do in Mere Christianity. I won’t attempt to reproduce his argument, because I’ll probably just botch it by comparison. But let me say it to you this way: Some things are just bad. Saying that it is bad for an innocent person to be killed because of some sort of social contract theory or appeal to the scientific nature of humans fails, which I will demonstrate with the following illustration. Let us say that there are two men on an island. They have enough food for the present time, but if they are not saved, they will probably run out of food eventually. Further, there is a third person, a woman, on the island. Let us say that help never arrives, and that one of the men kills the other to keep the food supply going. Further, he asks the woman to be his mate, and she refuses, and so, he rapes her. Now, I do apologize for this sort of blunt discussion, but this is the problem of evil we’re talking about here, and that is, I think it will be agreed, a pretty evil situation. Now, this man has defended his biological need for food and his biological desire to reproduce, and the constraints of society are removed from him. Eventually the woman dies, and he is left alone; and eventually he dies as well, never repenting his actions, never feeling sorry for them. Is he a good man? Or is he a bad man? I think I am brave enough to venture and say that he is a bad man, in some objective way, and that no discussion about anthropological studies can really satisfy the badness of his character. But if we are to say that, somehow, there’s a reality to the badness of his behavior, we are further saying there is an ought to his behavior. He ought not have killed his friend or raped the woman; he ought have tried to built a boat or a smoke signal or whatever, or perhaps nobly abstained from eating and let his two companions have the food. There’s no reason to suppose this on any grounds science as shown me that I can think of; from an empirical position, I can’t see why this other mode of behavior is in any way “better” than the one I have described. So, I think that within the “ought” of his behavior, there exists something like moral truth. If that is so, then moral truth, how we should treat other human beings, how we should treat animals, how we should take care of the environment, and whatever other moral “oughts” there are, have, in some sense, their reality apart from the human mind. The human mind, though, as we have already said, is made up of the same swirling atoms in the cosmos; our moral consciousness comes to us, somehow, through that cosmos, and so I think that we can say that moral truth is as much a part of the cosmic imagination described in the previous chapter as science or math. Indeed, morality seems, to me, more a product of philosophy and imagination than anything else, and perhaps to some degree of emotion as well; morality is, in some sense, itself a sort of interdisciplinary concept. If we can accept that morality has reality apart from human consciousness, then it must, in its reality, have a whole reality. That is to say, the moral truth is totally good, and that is why all evils are evil; because they do not totally conform to moral goodness. And if the moral truth is totally good and, in some sense, exists objectively, then it, too, must have its origin in that strange, wonderful place before the universe began, as part of the divine imagination. In a similar way, if the energetic truths of science were all present within that cosmic mind before the universe began, we can also posit absolute power to it. Now we have qualified this divine imagination to the point where it does, I think, become susceptible to the problem of evil. And so, what follows is one argument to suggest why this divine mind, called by people on earth God, should allow evil at all.

I will argue the theodicy that God is morally required to allow evil in order to make moral excellence possible. This requires that the evil actions be possible so that one might demonstrate in acts of free will one’s moral standing. If the possibility of evil is necessary for the highest good, that is, moral free will which chooses to do good, then God cannot intercede last-minute to stop evil, but must allow it. Two strong objections are: one, that there is no free will, and two, that if morality must preclude the ability to do evil, then God must be able to do evil, or he is therefore morally neutral. I will use Aquinas’s Five Ways to consider an argument for free will, and inquire into the nature of God to offer speculation on how we could view his moral nature.

These are the premises of my argument. (1) Moral goodness from free will is the highest good. (2) One should want to achieve the highest good, and do what is possible to do so. (3) Moral evil must be possible, or humans cannot be morally good. (4) God, all-good and perfectly moral, must allow evil so that moral good can be possible.

Our morality is ethical decisions which come from our free will: moral good is done freely, and moral evil is done freely. We intuitively praise as highest goods which come from free will, such as the good of love, or of charity, or of friendship. It is my understanding that for one to be morally good, it must be possible for moral badness. For example, say that it is morally repugnant for a human being to sprout wings and fly (setting aside for the moment the demand for a clear cut definition of good and evil). If someone were to come to you and say, “My, what a splendid human being you are! You did not sprout wings and fly! You are a morally excellent creature!” odds are good that such a statement, if made in any seriousness, would be the object of ridicule. Obviously, since it is not in one’s power to do such an action, it cannot be considered moral. Therefore:

(1) To be a relevant moral law, it must be conceivably breakable.

(2) If an action is impossible, even if it is conceivably evil, one is not morally excellent for not committing it.

For example: I have never murdered anyone in China. I am not a good person for this: I have never been to China, nor do I have the resources to get there, so my omission of such an action is irrelevant to my status as a moral being. Assuming a God in the conventional sense, one who is loving and thoroughly righteous, it is understandable that despite his presumed perfect goodness and omnipotence, he would be morally required to allow the very worst of evils to be done. In fact, to allow for the true status of moral excellence, God would have to make it possible for free wills to choose evil, or else they would not be free, and therefore he would be preventing the highest good. And it is not enough that God only allows a smaller degree of evil. The very worst evils result, ostensibly, from the breaking of the highest moral laws. For if it is not possible to break the highest of moral laws, then it is not possible to be the most excellent of moral creatures. Suppose that:

(A) is a trivial moral law.

(B) is an important moral law.

(C) is the greatest moral law.

If I was able to conceivably break laws A and B, but was physically restrained from breaking C, then I am not morally excellent for adhering to C, and am in no way responsible for upholding it. For me to be at my moral best, I must uphold moral laws A, B, and C, while being fully capable of breaking them all. So, if God were to make the greatest moral good possible, he would have to create a moral free will capable of committing the greatest of evils, or the will is not truly morally free, and therefore not as excellent as possible. And we have agreed that we intuitively hold things in highest esteem that result from our free will, such as love, and in this case, morality. And since God is perfectly good, his desire is to create a world in which the highest moral excellence is possible, so he must create creatures both capable of upholding all moral laws, from trivial to great, and of breaking them as well.

In summary, maximum evil must be possible, or a person cannot prove maximum goodness. As the perfectly moral being, God must create beings fully capable of doing moral evil and moral good, for if he did not, he would be creating a world in which the highest moral good is not possible, which as the perfect moral being he cannot do, for he must allow for the greatest of goods.

A strong argument against this is simply determinism. If determinism is true, then there is no free will, and talk of moral excellence is nonsense. Determinism states that everything happens as the result of a cause: our actions are the results of causal reasons, which can be traced down a causal chain without ever needing to mention free will. And for any free actions, it seems that one cannot have a reason for acting, or that reason is the determining factor and therefore it is not free will. But I think consideration of Aquinas’s proofs for God could yield something of an argument for free will. In the universal causal chain, there is either an infinite regression, or there is not. If there is not, there is an uncaused cause. The person who rejects infinite regressions is not considered irrational, even though one is possible, because though we cannot disprove one, an uncaused cause may appear more rational to that thinker. God, of course, is assumed to be this uncaused cause. Now certainly, Aquinas’s proof does not prove God, but it demonstrates that an Uncaused Causer is rational. With this in mind, we could inquire into what motivates the Uncaused Causer. Why does it cause things? Randomness? Surely not, or randomness would be causing it, and then it would not be uncaused. Other factors, reasons for action? Again, no causes can be moving God: he is uncaused, either by ordinary causes or by randomness. So, he must move somehow, and that is by a sort of eternal motion of will, what I will call Uncaused Causality. In this sense, God’s will is the most free. It is caused neither by randomness nor other causes. As is famously said, I postulate that God created people in his image. An aspect of this, the Free Will Defender says, is Uncaused Causality. Now, this free will is not nearly as dynamic as God’s. We are limited by our bodies, by our talents and by our environments in the realm of physical possibility. But what we are not limited by is our ability to choose our actions freely, from inside our determined system. The determinist will argue that our Uncaused Causality is irrational, but my reply is: But the ultimate Uncaused Cause is acceptable to anyone considering the universal causal chain. So our wills can be said to freely make new moral causal chains, and when we move to do so, we have neither ordinary causes nor randomness moving us, but the third force, Uncaused Causality, our limited version of what God instances most perfectly.

The second, equally strong, objection is that if moral evil is necessary, and God is all-good and so incapable of evil, he cannot be moral by this theodicy, which most theists would be disturbed by. When God acts, classically he can only do good, and therefore is not moral, since he cannot freely choose otherwise. Now, I have argued for Uncaused Causality as the root of free will, and God is completely uncaused, but invoking this doesn’t seem to get us out of the problem. My reply is that God is the supreme instance of morality; he is the standard Being and isn’t separable from moral law. It’s not that he causes morality or that it causes him, but that morality is in the very essence of God, so he cannot deviate from it. God is not the exception to the rule; he is the rule by which free wills measure themselves. So, moral laws A, B, and C cannot be broken by God, anymore than I can choose to stop being a human being. My moral free will has parameters of my physical person; God has the parameters of being the morality to which one ascribes. We might not like limiting God in this way, but likes and dislikes are not philosophical arguments. The objector may reply: But why didn’t God simply make more free wills that were perfect instances of morality? Because you can’t duplicate a standard. The standard is itself. If God is the standard, he must be the only instance of it. We cannot be the standard; we can only try to emulate it. You cannot have more than one of a standard; you can have multiple things which fit a standard, but those things can deviate or return to it without changing the standard itself. So with God. He is the spiritual incarnation of the standard of morality: we can emulate it, maybe even perfectly, but we cannot ourselves be the standard. According to the standard, we must choose to ascribe to it freely, so must be able to deviate from it; but a standard cannot deviate from itself.
I have argued that for humans to be moral, we must be able to choose the highest of moral evils in order to perform in moral excellence. I have noted two objections; from determinism, and concluded that our free will is a miniature form of Uncaused Causality; and from God’s morality, and replied that God is the only standard of morality, so does not need to measure up to himself to be himself. This is my theodicy for the problem of evil.

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