The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil has been one of the most debated, as well as one of the most popularized, issues in philosophy. It concerns the existence vs. the nonexistence of god and the necessity of evil. It can be broken down logically, but it is better displayed with an example. The problem of evil can be seen represented in the 1947 poem “Who But the Lord?” by Langston Hughes.

I looked and I saw
That man they call the Law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.

I said, O, Lord, if you can,

Save me from that man!

Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!

But the Lord he was not quick.
The Law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!

Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.
Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?

We’ll see.

In that second stanza, the two lines “O, Lord, if you can, Save me from that man!” in poetry this is known as an apostrophe. That is a device when a character calls out to a being that is not there, such as a dead person. In this poem the character calls out to God, and God does not answer. The character calls out to God for the very reason that he needs to be protected from evil, but even then he is still beaten in the end.

While the focus of Hughes’ poem is more on racial injustice than religion, it illustrates the point well. One of the many variations of the problem goes as follows: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” This is often contributed to the philosopher Epicurus, summarized by the theologian Lactantius. However the actual authorship remains debated.

The point remains, if God is an omnipotent being, then how does evil exist without God himself being at least in some form evil? Philosophers and theologians have debated back and forth about this issue for centuries. The first argument being that of course evil is a subjective term, so something is not inherently evil in itself but only evil depending on who is viewing it. This is a largely amoral argument, and doesn’t sit well with many people. This sort of attitude leads to the justification of some evil acts on the basis that they cause good, another point used when discussing the problem of evil.

The second issue is that many people claim free will, or more simply any human action at all, creates this evil. This is a sort of pessimistic view, but still a valid one. It claims that as humans have the ability to choose their actions, the result of those actions create the very evil itself, not god. I always found this argument to be curious just based on the fact that it uses free will to justify both evil and God. The discussion of God and free will has had an odd history, and for many people the Doctrine of Predestination pops up in their heads, but nevertheless it is a valid argument. To me it seems in many ways the existence of free will negates the omnipotence of God, and therefore changes the entire essence of God for so many defending it.

Another point when discussing the problem of evil is that our definition of evil may not be the same definition used by God. It can follow that many goods follow up from evil, and therefore are justified in their existence. For instance, compassion towards a person in need is one good, or people coming together to form strong bonds after a tragedy. While this makes sense, it still doesn’t negate that God must be partially evil, or at least not powerful enough to prevent the force of evil in the first place.

The last issue that will be addressed here is one often used in dinner-table discussions of the problem of evil. That God allows evil to test his followers. This argument has been used in many of the worlds religions, and by many individuals to justify their own suffering. How many people will say to themselves “This evil is God testing me and in the end I will be rewarded” and what is the basis of it’s logic? This answer is sufficient for some people, and for others it is not. It is very easy to say the suffering one is currently feeling is only a superficial evil to eventually reach God’s greatest good.

The reason I appreciate Hughes’ poem quoted above is that it marks the era leading into the civil rights movement, it’s a statement saying “God won’t fix our problems, only we can.” And the very same is true today. There have been many people to respond to all sorts of statements, my goal was merely to summarize the issue and give some personal input on them. In the end the problem of evil really does come down to a stalemate, the problem can be debated all day, but only to reach a brick wall every time.

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86 thoughts on “The Problem of Evil

  1. This subject is close to my heart because I was a Christian at 19, but when I saw a lot of suffering around me I got mad at God. I couldn’t see how he could allow such suffering in the world. I believed Satan (Lucifer) was the author of suffering, but still, God allowed it. I was also suffering from having an abusive childhood. I had a mental breakdown and clinical depression for years.

    I quit praying, and then read every book I could find about why God allowed suffering. I did this for five years and then returned to God. I’m glad I did. I need him, and he has shown himself to me in many ways and has been my comfort and helper. I realize now that he suffers with us.

    The books that helped me the most were: “The Problem of Pain”, by C.S.Lewis, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, and most of Philip Yancey’s books.

    I remember when I went to university and learned about Determinism, which says there is no free will. But as I listened to the Prof I realized Determinism is correct except for one thing – we have freedom of will to give our lives to God. Jesus said we are slaves to sin. That goes along with Determinism very well.

    Knowing whether there is a God or not and knowing what that entails is the most important question of a person’s life. The answer is worth a lifetime of searching. Think if it would be possible for you to live eternally in great happiness with people you love and a worthwhile job of some kind. Also, think of what it is like to know you can talk with the God of the universe now about anything and he hears you and will teach you his ways, which always end in goodness for you and all the people you know.

    Never believe what people say about God. Some people believe he puts people in hell to torture them forever. I don’t believe the Bible says that, but because the Catholic Church decided it long ago and people have believed it for years, it is taught as if it were true. The Bible calls death a sleep. Even Jesus did. Most people will be wakened when Jesus returns. That is taught many times. I could never love a God who tortured people forever.

    If you want to know the truth about the universe, give God a chance and study the Bible. Read the whole thing and take notes. Start with the life of Jesus. See what you decide in the end, and also remember it was written in a different culture using different words. Don’t give up because of one sentence or paragraph you think sounds awful. Finish what you started, and then if you don’t believe it at least you understand what the hoop-la was all about. I’ll be praying for you.

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    • I am picturing your perspective and I can imagine a lot of people struggle with the thought of why we have so much evil when God exists. Evil exists because of our greediness, prejudices, injustices, and bad experiences not recovered from, each person’s action reflecting their world view and actions taken for reasons best known to each individual. Please pray for the helpless, the orphans, and peace in war ravaged countries. I feel pained when people think and write on a topic and it is interpreted in another way. Like the first commenter who asks if the writer is saying God doesn’t exist. Whereas the writer hasn’t said that, and even if he did, there could be many perspectives to the piece. Hence, Let us all Pray for the world and Act in a manner reflecting goodness towards one another.

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  2. I greatly enjoyed reading this commentary and it brought back many of my philosophical debates from my college years at Taylor Christian University. Thank you for those wonderful memories!

    On a larger note, however, I must point out that, while you mention in passing the fact that other religions treat the problem differently, you still work within the basic assumption that something resembling most the Christian God is the basis for all such argument.

    I would argue that any answer that can be obtained to this discussion will, at its heart, depend upon the assumptions made about the godhead with which each individual identifies. That being the case, I feel that evil is not, perhaps, the objective matter that the argument assumes, but is rather subjective to the ideals and inherent beliefs of the individual.

    If this is so, the ideal of freewill is satisfied by the individuality of each persons self-identified deity. This also reconciles the ideal of determinism, in that, each person carries out the determined will of the deity in whom they place their belief.

    This can be applied equally to any religious belief, to atheism, and to pantheism, as well as any agnostic paradigm. It has even been stated in many forms throughout history by leaders in many different faiths, doctrines, and ideologies.

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  3. Free will is a difficult subject to reason about because the way we have to think about it superficially conflicts with the way it needs to be analysed. I disagree with what you say here that it would give a coherent answer to the problem of evil. This only seems so when you think about it naturally without fully analysing what it would mean. But if I were to explain properly why I disagree, that would be around as long as this text. So I think I’ll write my own blog post in response (some time soon) and link that here.

    Aside from this one thing, you’re thinking about and presenting the question very lucidly.

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  4. The phrase God won’t fix our problems..only we can. Can be seen from many perspectives but it speaks volumes…Too much greed, dishonesty, selfishness, hate, etc in the world, all evils hindering us from fixing our problems…there is enough in the world to go round but we just would never understand that.

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  5. Very, very good presentation of an awfully difficult subject. Obviously, it strikes a chord with many people, who have differing perspectives; that’s to be expected. Excellent article, all the same; thank you for being so clear and thorough! All the best to you!

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  6. P. S. The idea that God is willing to stop evil but not able may be closer to the truth than many believe. Omnipotence as an attribute of God is a decidedly Western, Judeo-Christian (and Muslim) concept. The counter-idea is that God created a sort of Frankenstein monster s/he was then unable to completely control, (and the same could be said for creation in general, i.e. that it all got out of hand, the divine hand.) Another possibility is that God is an impersonal, supramundane Being ~ Spinoza’s “god” ~ neither benevolent or maelvolent. In other words, “God” is the Spirit of Life that permeates the whole of the cosmic order, but really has little, if anything, to do with the goings-on of humanity. Just a couple of thoughts.

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    • That’s an interesting thought, the idea that God is “willing to stop evil but not able.” To me, the opposite is true. If I take the story of the flood and Noah’s Ark, it seems God is perfectly capable of stopping evil, but is unwilling to intervene any further in a “fallen” world since that attempt did not work.

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      • Well, now you’ve put forward an equally interesting thought in the Flood Story; however, if we (for the moment, at least) simply take that story as it’s told, would that not be an example of God’s willingness to stop evil, his subsequent attempt (via the Flood), followed (quite obviously) by his failure to do so (i.e. evil survived)? One could then go on to say that God’s next attempt was made by way of radical co-operation in the Incarnation ~ that is, God literally entered in upon the scene of humanity and the world to ontologically “join forces,” as it were, in order to ultimately ~ in “the fullness of time” ~ overcome all evil and re-establish/redeem the world to its previous, paradisical state. This scheme would show God’s willingness, but make his (her) ability contingent upon humanity’s willingness and effort.

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        • Evil survived, true, perhaps because the potential for it lives in all of us. That’s where the seven deadlies come in; envy is not a sin on its own, the sin is what people do when driven by it. I like your idea of cooperation. Is that another way of saying that God — whatever we call him — will not directly intervene, but will, through his teachings, inspire people to take up the fight?

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          • I think you’ve hit close to the mark on what I meant by cooperation, although I would enter in a spiritual component. However mysterious and, thus, inexplicable, the Spirit of Life lives in us and through us, yet does not control or coerce… I suppose it’s a bit like a spot of cream in your coffee: The coffee is still very much coffee ~ full and robust ~ but the cream is thoroughly mixed in to enrich and sweeten just a bit. But yes, of course, there are also the divine teachings, as you point out… Thank you for your erudite reply, and all the best to you w/blessings!

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  7. You may be interested in a previous post of mine which relates to the questions you presented. While the poem suggests an innocent calling out to God to protect him from a rogue cop. sometimes you have to wonder why, if he was a bird and chose to land where he landed in the first place. This problem is not new in history as the bird proverb was written three thousand years ago in relation to wisdom which the poem does not address.

    https://rudymartinka.wordpress.com/2015/06/24/king-solomon-on-why-evil-and-free-will/.

    Regards and goodwill blogging.

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  8. Evil is extreme cases where an individual or institution acts outside of humanities natural social instincts for purely personal gain or out of malicious indifference. Whether or not God exists, we are capable of, and subject to evil acts. Evil is not a metaphysical force. Evil is a social pathology.

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    • An interesting analysis, but one must wonder what is meant by “extreme?” Extreme judging by what standard? Also, what are “humanity’s natural social instincts,” and could these “natural instincts” not include that which is aimed at “purely personal gain?” Finally, how can evil be a purely physiological, social pathology? That is, what is the impetus toward evil, as it is commonly conceptualized, if not the mental and/or spiritual?

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      • What is extreme is judged so by majority social norms. It usually includes loss of personal liberty, loss of life, loss of bodily functions or any outcomes that stresses the survival chances of others. Nothing too subtle here.

        Personal gain is, by definition, not social. It’s personal. This isn’t to condemn personal gain which has an important and positive role in a well functioning society. It is meant to point out that acts undertaken for personal gain can also undermine societies well being. It can exploit and harm other individuals who are supposed to be under societies protection. We generally refer to such acts as evil, especially when they happen on a larger scale.

        Our social instincts are not easily identifiable by naming specific attributes. They are, nevertheless, in effect and evident all around us. They are generally characterized by our natural tendency to form emotional and social bonds, to coordinate actions with others for mutual benefits and to assent to the formation of a social order. It is characterized by the formation of complex social networks and a high degree of inter-dependency. But it is also evident in every inter-personal level. Most people have a sense of right or wrong behavior regardless of whether or not they do the right thing. This isn’t learned behavior, but it is subject to social ambiguity and degradation under certain conditions, hence the reference to social pathology. We have a tendency to act in our own self-interests AND we have a tendency to act socially for the good of the group (family, tribe, nation.. pick your scale). These are often in conflict.

        And so: “Evil is (what we call it when there are) extreme cases where an individual or institution acts outside of humanities natural social instincts for purely personal gain or out of malicious indifference.”

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  9. An interesting read, thanks for sharing. Very thought provoking. I must admit that I personally believe in no higher power, and that good and evil are human constructs. I do however, respect the right of others to believe as they wish and to express those beliefs in a non-harmful way. It seems to me, however, that more often than not, this is not the case.

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  10. Not to tout my own less-than-philosophic thoughts, I did recently pen a blog article that parallels yours above. I hope you (and others) will consider my point that God actually, quite possibly took responsibility for the evils of the world and, more than this, was tried and convicted by humanity. The title of my article is, appropriately, “Father, Why Are You Angry With Me?”

    https://ignoblereligiousramblings.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/father-why-are-you-angry-with-me/

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  11. People have been arguing these theses for centuries. I doubt that any valid conclusions have come about in all that time. Those who claim valid solutions also claim a need to believe in “god” and what manifesto is being put forth. If we look at this problem of good and evil, god and devil, we can see an attempt to rationalized these ideas, find an excuse for events that happen. Humans love cause and effect and so why not cite god’s will or satan has me by the heel? It puts the blame on something other than ourselves. At the time that Langston Hughes wrote that poem much of the black community tended to believe that god would intervene and save the faithful flock. Other religions will use good and evil as a balanced relationship, that yin and yang of life.

    As far as free will goes, yes, we need that aspect in religion elsewise what would be the point of prayer? If we are all going to heaven then what does it matter what we do on earth? Remember, heaven is for the worthy few, not the unworthy many. And it suits our sense of justice, that the just shall be judged worthy of heaven and those who are unjust shall be consigned to hell. Funny thing is that this is all about group behavior. Read Rupert Brown.

    By the way, Hughes also wrote some interesting short stories, one collection was called “The Ways Of White People”.

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      • I really have no idea what you mean by behavioral judgment and how it relates to our social and personal well being. We define good and evil by our own biases as shaped by our experiences with religious and political ideology. As to philosophic layering, I am not familiar with that term. Of course not everything can be empirically justified assuming you mean statistical proof, but that would imply that we can quantify all ideas and actions. What matters to the individual is whether he or she actually believes some god or gods to be the source of all good and evil or some part thereof. That is what belief does, it constructs a world or understanding around us. And whether we empirically justify anything (I don’t know too many people who bother the run the numbers) is an individual assessment. Once we merge ourselves into a group we take on the goals and ideas of that group in whatever alignment we choose. Our beliefs become less individually centered and more group oriented. I think that was the point of the article and the point Hughes was trying to make.

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  12. That god allows what we call “evil” is proof of free will, in my reality. Each participant in a struggle, such as the one above, has a choice about how to behave in that situation, and the chance to learn from mistakes. For god to interfere would restrict those choices such that neither participant learns anything.

    Also, what we describe as “evil” may be misunderstanding or moral weakness. For instance, the notion that the ends justify the means. Woodrow Wilson’s “war to end all wars,” World War I, for instance. Wilson believed he was heaven sent to bring peace on earth, according to biographies I have read, but he did the opposite.

    I believe the means justify the ends. You don’t stop war by hating war but by loving peace, but that takes enormous courage in this day and age. Pacifists like me are considered weak or idealistic. I paid to have bumper stickers printed: “Support our troops. Bring them home.” But those are fighting words in this military town.

    Too many people go along to get along, even though they know better. They look the other way and allow it to continue. That, on a large scale, translates into the kind of evil the poem describes. The policeman is a symbol of the abuse of power that has become so rampant today, because so many people are afraid to challenge false authority.

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  13. Interesting thoughts. I count myself as a religious person, though I don’t ascribe to one of the major world religions, and my spiritual path doesn’t have much to say about good vs evil as that isn’t part of the paradigm. My best friend, however, is a devout and practicing Christian and we’ve had the discussion about evil a few times.

    Surprisingly we both come to the same conclusion: evil is not a naturally occurring “element” (for lack of a better word) but a human construct and thus subjective. This does remove all theological argument from the scene, but despite our spiritual/religious differences we tend to agree on that front.

    To which I suppose one could pose the question: if good and evil are human constructs rather than naturally occurring elements, can/should they still be applied to human behavior and activity though we may not reasonably apply it to other creatures/events in nature? I don’t think so. I think it gets dangerous to ascribe certain behaviors as simply evil — it becomes too easy to then dismiss those things rather than critically engage with and learn from them. If we get comfortable with the idea that “evil” things are only done by “evil” others it becomes harder to hold one’s self accountable, or those one might identify with. It gets harder to remember that every human being bad the capacity for great cruelty and so we may not bother to check ourselves. Remembering that was all have the capacity for cruelty and it is that, not evil, which creates the space for horrible acts, may force us to strive rather to fulfill our capacity for good.

    Hopefully.

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  14. Great analysis. However, I believe that the probelm stems from a belief in absolutes. Evil doesn’t exist. Good doesn’t exist. There is no absolute good or evil. Because of those beliefs, we created a god and a devil to personify them. Those don’t exist either. We exist. We do good, or evil, by OUR OWN DEFINITIONS. So, really, it is up to us, all of us, to pursue what we agree is good, and reject what we agree is bad. That’s how a community, state or country, and our world can coexist in harmony. If we are unwilling to agree and live by certain agreed-upon concepts of good and bad, we’re fucked.

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  15. This is amazing. There seems to be a lot of room being made for people to jump in and swim in your ideas, very clear and poignant. The lines you draw between big ideas is interesting. Thank you! I am grateful to NOW be following your work. With Joy and Gratitude, Zach from StrengthsLife.com

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  16. It’s only a “problem” for those unwilling to reject any of the assumptions.
    For anyone else it’s simply a contradictions which proves that at least one of the assumptions must be untrue.

    I prefer to discuss this with “suffering” instead of “evil”; it’s what some of the people who’ve discussed “the problem of evil” have really meant anyway, and explicitly including things outside of human control separates it from the more complex “free will” issue.

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  17. This is an interesting essay. I want to read it again before I make a solid comment…I’ve heard evil described as willful ignorance…Evil is a moral construction based on the human ability to understand, but not always able to successfully control primitive impulses that have no survival value to an advanced social animal. I’ve bookmarked the essay and will read it again tomorrow. Thank you for posting it.

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  18. Being undecided about my religious beliefs, I, for one, can understand how evil can exist without putting the concept of ‘God’ into it. Evil does prevail in our world. Good is there, of course, but comes in moments while evil comes in large chunks of time. What I marvel at is how we continue to fight against it and insist on always looking for the good.

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  19. Maybe doing a miracle is like manually editing your windows registry. You CAN do it, but even if you know what you’re doing it isn’t always safe or advisable and it can have unintended consequences that crash the whole system.

    Or maybe God exists and intervenes constantly and this is just the very best that we can do.

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  20. I think that humans have to balance selfishness with what is good for their environment, including other living things. I see evil as when an individual’s excessive selfishness puts the equation out of balance, for whatever reason. I don’t see any compelling evidence for any God or Satan, apart from some old books that contradict themselves. I think we invented religions because uncertainty frightens us. There are some good guidelines in old books though. I’ve been reading one today about the length of trousers, so God can see that you are paying properly. I’m not convinced.

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  21. The problem with evil is not “a stalemate”. Stalemate only occurs win there is not a “victor”. When two kings are left standing on the chess board we get a stalemate. However, in life, two kings are not left. One has been vanquished and culmination of that act will be realized. Nicely written piece.

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  22. The co-existence of evil and God is as unsearchable as infinity or the beginnings of the Universe. Does the failure of such a minuscule existence as is mankind to grasp these otherworldly mysteries demand resolution in favor of atheism or agnosticism? I think not. Just as the atheist’s failure to explain away the First Cause demands faith in an unknown (how something can self-generate from nothing), a spiritualist’s failure to explain infinity, evil and omnipotence demands faith in unknowns. If the point is to disprove God by pointing to the mystery of evil, then I equally disprove atheism by pointing to the mystery of the First Cause. Then we have reached your stalemate by another route. At the end of the day, humans need to step out of their arrogance and bow before the unimaginable complexities of planes above the tippy-toes of man.

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    • You are begging the question. Your assumption that there was “nothing” and then “something” arose is unproven, and since your argument hinges on that it falls apart.

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      • No, my point is the atheist has to have faith in unknowns just as the Christian does. Whether the atheist believes in something from nothing or eternal existent, it makes no difference. Both beliefs get to a point where science no longer provides the answer.

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        • Talking about atheists as a group is always dangerous, as the only unifying factor among them is a lack of belief in religion (or, more broadly, supernaturalist thought). This category includes rocks and squirrels, so it’s not incredibly useful outside its scope.

          To speak more to your point, though, the fundamental difference between a religious person and an empiracist is that a religious person believes faith is necessary because the unknown is unknowable, whereas the empiracist believes in things that can be objectively proven, and is therefore compelled to revise beliefs in the face of new evidence. A person who trusts science does so not because they believe it has ultimate answers, but because they believe that the answers are always the best ones available, and that ultimately the goal is not to close a sales pitch in a stone age middle eastern desert, but instead to know as much as possible.

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          • See this is a Trumpian “huge” misperception about Christians. As you criticize use of a broad term atheism, so do Christians vary greatly in beliefs and thought. There is nothing inherent in Christianity that denies science. The fact that some Christians ignore scientific evidence in favor of literal Biblical interpretation does not demand thus to be true. I have seen nothing in all my Biblical studies to tell me to reject scientific methods or research. And here is where I think a true Christian has it right–many atheists and scientists have the objective of disproving or dismissing the supernatural whereas the true Christian seeks to reconcile faith and science. Many renown scientists have reached the conclusion that the complexity and orderliness of the cosmos screams for a creator. Yet that doesn’t stop them from searching for answers, nor does the progress of human intellectualism rule out a spiritual component. Nor are these particular scientists driven to disprove spirituality. To me many scientists, and philosophers for that matter, rule out spirituality simply because it is not provable which denies the very purpose of scientific research–to find out the truth. If you rule out a possible truth simply because it is not provable, then science is worthless. Science must always be the search for answers while at the same time not ruling out any possible truths regardless of provability. This is where modern science gets it wrong. Science should never be a quest to disprove God; neither should it necessarily be a quest to prove God. Science is merely the effort of man to use his limited knowledge and intellect to discover as much as possible about the cosmos. Similarly, religion should not be about disproving science, rather religious persons should analyze how science and their faith can be reconciled. The arrogance of man says that everything is knowable, therefore they rule out the unknowable even though the unknowable cannot be disproven. It’s a dishonest approach to truth. When did science become a study under a bowl? True scientific method should rule out nothing until something is definitively disproven. Otherwise, how is it a search for truth? And if it is not a search for truth, science is worthless.

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            • That’s a pretty good run down of God of the Gaps, but it still depends on semantic tricks for its veneer of logic. The unknowable can not be disproven->science can’t rule out something until it is disproven->if it does it isn’t a search for truth->science that isn’t a search for truth is worthless.

              Now, we all know that science isn’t in the business of proving negatives. While individual scientists might make bold statements about things, part of good experimental design is that you set out to test the affirmative truth of something. Science has no obligation to knock down every suggested answer, especially if the answer is based on inherently untestable assertions. The question to reconcile Religion and science always requires religion to retreat. The only other option for religion is to stand on assertion without support. If religion claims that Jesus existed and then science invents time travel and hundreds of scientists spend decades scouring the timeline but find no evidence for his literal existence, religion must retreat. Their options are to stand on an obvious untruth or to reinterpret their teachings radically. Because religion is, at its core, a list of answers to questions, this sets up the unintended conflict. People who do science are trying to answer questions. The questions they deal with are often the same ones that science claims to answer in their list. When the truth turns out to be something other than what the religion teaches, the religious person seems often inclined to react with anger.

              You speak of the arrogance of humans in regards to science because the people who do science are unsatisfied with filling the gaps with God. Perhaps you should search your eye for a plank before you throw that word around.

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              • I did not mean that as mean spirited toward the non-religious. I will be the first to confess that many Christians are guilty of the same arrogance. That is why I said “arrogance of man.” If you read the Bible, God makes this very accusation against all men, including those that follow Him. And my point wasn’t to criticize scientists for unwillingness to fill in the gaps with God. My point was that the purpose of science was to prove truth, not to dismiss the unprovable. I don’t expect scientists to proclaim that God must be responsible for X because science cannot discover the explanation for X. I’m simply saying that true science is the search for truth, whatever that truth may be. It shouldn’t be biased. It’s simply man studying the cosmos and learning about and explaining discovery. A man’s faith is what will lead him to conclude the existence or non-existence of God. Nothing in science has ever disproven the existence of God. Sure, the time machine example will be an interesting conversation if or when that ever becomes possible–but equally will be true that the atheist will be compelled to bend to truth if that time machine reveals the reality of Jesus as represented in the Bible. It works both ways. Which, again, works to my point–modern scientific bias against religion. Your time machine example presupposes that the Bible will be wrong as opposed to allowing for the possibility that it will be true. I will be the first to admit that scientific discovery has shaped how I interpret the Bible–go no farther than evolution. I don’t dismiss evolution (even though we don’t know all the details), but it doesn’t lead me to reject the Bible. It does affect how I interpret the Bible though–i.e., whether things are meant to be literal or figurative or poetic. And this is how a Christian should interpret the Bible–reconciling science and scripture.

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            • There’s an excellent article by Stephen Jay Gould which argues convincingly that Science and Religion can co-exist quite happily, provided Religion doesn’t try to make pronouncements about areas that Science works well in, and Science doesn’t try to address things not amenable to its methods.

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        • When I was young I had a dream that I was lifted up into the cosmos and given the privilege to see all the actual hidden connection by which all things are related to everything else. And for a brief moment I could see everything that exists all at once, It was ecstatic and intoxicating, but fleeting because then I fell back towards Earth. As hard as I tried to hold onto it, everything I had seen faded away. I landed back in the dark void of my bed. overwhelmed by grief for all the knowledge I had lost. I cried out, and a voice spoke to me. It said, “The universe is but an island of reason in a sea of infinite void. No matter which path our reason tries it lead us to the shore beyond which only faith can sail.”

          I awoke from my dream and immediately wrote down this message. It was just a scrap, a crumb of what I had been given to see, but I have never forgotten it. I was only 17 years old at the time. I can’t tell you that this experience was anything other than a dream. I am sure that is all it was, but the insight of that message seemed beyond me at the time.

          I don’t know if there is a God or an afterlife. I do believe we have reached a point in our knowledge and understanding of all things that we no longer require a divine force to explain existence. Still, no matter what we choose to believe, I think that underlying everything is an unknowable foundation upon which our faith abides.

          Brian Lynch

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          • I think I have touched on your comment somewhat in my reply to the immediately preceding comment. Only thing I would add is in response to your last statement: “underlying everything is an unknowable foundation upon which our faith abides.” That was my original point, even if it may have been inartfully stated. Whether one believes in the supernatural or not, either way one reaches a point where there is unknown to which one must put their faith. So believing in a supernatural is no more silly than ruling it out. I do find it interesting that you acknowledge the unknowable and yet seem (I could be misinterpreting) comfortable ruling out the supernatural. To me, as long as there is unknowable, the supernatural always remains possible. And if the supernatural is possible, the last thing I want to do is turn my back to it.

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            • I shared what I did to support what you wrote, which evoked my memory of the dream I had in my youth. I don’t rule out the possibility of God’s existence, but only point out that for the first time in human history there is a credible, non-theistic alternative to understanding creation.

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              • I’m curious what that “credible, non-theistic alternative to understanding creation” is? I’ve never seen it. For a simplistic example (and I know I am glossing over a huge amount of science here–not enough space in a reply thread), for decades the “Big Bang Theory” has been used as “proof” that supernatural forces were not responsible for the formation of the Universe. But no one has ever been able to answer why the Big Bang, if true, was not designed and triggered by supernatural activity? In elementary terms, what rules out the Big Bang as the mere snap of God’s finger (figuratively) in the chain of Creation? If, as one of the commentators stated above, the supernatural is ruled out because it cannot be proven, then science is a farce and dangerously leads mankind into ignorance. Science must always be the search for truth, whatever that truth may be. If science cannot disprove the supernatural, then it should never be used as evidence against the supernatural. Instead, science should be limited to what mankind can understand about the cosmos with our limited knowledge and experience. For example, science can teach us all the stages of development of a particular being (or species for that matter), from cells to cognizable life. But scientifically proving the development stages doesn’t disprove a creator. Same with the Big Bang–even if science proves the development stages of the cosmos,such stages do not disprove a creator. This gets back to my point that the modern approach to science–rejecting that which cannot be proven–is dishonest and dangerous. Science will always have the unknowable element and should be exercised in this light. Therefore, I don’t see the “credible, non-theistic alternative.” That is simply a matter of faith, not a matter of science.

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                • Before I can explain the “credible, non-theistic alternative to understanding creation,” I need to offer a more scientifically defined glimpse of creation. This is far too brief a sketch to do the topic justice, and I am not a scientist, so you may want to check me on some of these facts.
                  To begin, start by considering the extreme scales of the knowable universe. On the macro scale we have people, planets, solar systems, black holes, star clusters, galaxies, galaxy clusters and so on until you get to the edge of space/time, which bends back on itself such that there is literally nothing and no way to get beyond it. This is the Universe in which Einstein liked to play.
                  On the micro scale, again starting with people, we have single celled organisms, viruses, chemical compounds, molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles and, at the smallest level, or Planck limit, we have the frothy foaming fabric of the micro-universe itself. This is the quantum universe of Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and others (famously including Albert Einstein who wouldn’t play in this field he helped create).
                  To understand what this quantum foam is, think of the space between, say an electron and a nucleus of an atom. The space is so great that it compares to the space between planets and the sun. But this space isn’t perfectly empty. At a far smaller scale it is filled with particles and anti-particles winking in and out of existence so quickly they don’t even have time to annihilate each other. This blink of existence takes place so quick that is happens in Planck time, which is the limit of time/space measurement itself.
                  This, then, is our island of reason in a sea of infinite void. It is bounded at the macro-scale by the curvature of space/time itself. It is said that if you had a sufficiently powerful microscope (and could violate the speed of light), no matter where in the sky you pointed it you would see the back of your head. Are knowable universe is bounded at the micro-scale by the quantum limits of space/time, also known as the Planck scale. At this scale, for example, the limit of a measurement time is the time it takes a photon to travel a Plank Length, which is the smallest limit of measurable distance. Planck time, or the smallest possible measurement of time, is about 10-43 seconds.
                  The other limiting factor of human knowledge at the quantum scale is the role that probability plays in existence. At the atomic level, for instance, we cannot know precisely both the speed and position of an electron. To pinpoint one is to lose the ability to accurately measure the other. More interestingly, the orbital path of an electron around a nucleus is not fixed until we observe it. Before it is observed the electron is literately in all possible positions at once. So there is much that humans cannot know, and much that changes only because we come to know it.
                  This is just the entrance to the rabbit hole of quantum physics, where it is possible for a bowling ball to roll up hill and through a solid wall. It doesn’t happen not because it is impossible, but only because it is astronomically unlikely to happen. This is the world we inhabit. A world where time and space are relative and the fabric of space itself winks in and out of existence at the Planck scale. A world in which there is no simultaneity, where past, present and future are an illusion. A world where the what are senses detect is itself a holographic representation of what is real. What we can glimpse of what is real unveils a strangeness beyond our human grasp.
                  To offer at least one non-theistic alternative to creation we first need a few more strange facts about the universe in which we live. One of the strange discoveries in the quantum world in which we live is that space (all space) is not empty. At a quantum level particle/antiparticle pairs wink in and out of existence everywhere, any time, all the time. These particles wink in and out of existence faster than the time it takes to annihilate each other.
                  Occasionally these pairs of matter/antimatter particles blink into our world exactly at the event horizon of a black hole. Should one of the pair be within the event horizon, and the other particle outside the horizon, the pair become decoupled and a new speck of matter is added to the universe we know. This is matter, created out of nothing. It pierces the notion that there is nothing new in the universe. Creation is happening every day.
                  The size of these particle pairs that wink in and out of existence are almost always very small, closer to the Planck scale, but their size can vary. In fact, in some rare cases the particle pair size can be massive. So one non-theistic account for creation is such a massive particle pair separating and exploding into a pair of big bangs. This is just one theory I read about. It may not be perfectly explained here, but you can look it up for a better explanation. The fact is there are many such, non-theistic explanations for creation based on what we know about our very strange world.

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                  • I truly do appreciate the time you put into that response. But what I am left with is none of that disproves a designer. In fact, it spectacularly points to a designer. A few quotes come to mind: Isaac Newton: “What we know is a drop, what we do not know is a vast ocean. The admirable arrangement and harmony of the universe could only have come from the plan of an omniscient and omnipotent Being.” Charles Darwin: “I have never denied the existence of God. I think the theory of evolution is fully compatible with faith in God. I think the greatest argument for the existence of God is the impossibility of demonstrating and understanding that the immense universe, sublime above all measure, and man were the result of chance.” Allan Sandage: “I was practically an atheist in my childhood. Science was what led me to the conclusion that the world is much more complex than we can explain. I can only explain the mystery of existence to myself by the Supernatural.”

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                    • I certainly have no intention of trying to prove or disprove God’s existence. Nor do I even take a position. This is beside the point. My only point is that in this age, human beings have an alternative way to understand creation without having to evoke a god. If it is impossible to know what lies beyond the limits of our universe then there is no way to prove or disprove there is a god. The other point is that whether your understanding of creation is based in science or belief in a deity, the foundation is still based on faith in the unknowable. Wasn’t that your original point?

                      A side point, which I find interesting, is that if you start with people and scale up to the macro reaches of the universe, then starting with people again you scale down to the Planck scale, you find that the orders of magnitude put man just about at the center of the scales. It puts us back at the center of the universe. How neat is that?

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                    • Either way, faith in the unknown. Yep, that was my original point. I got distracted by the other commenter who was expressing the common science disproves God bit and rejecting that which cannot be tested or proven. And, ha, yeah man loves to be the center of the universe.

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                    • I know you aren’t really following along at this pint but I have to say that the reason man is at the center of the universe in terms is scale is not because of arrogance but because of complexity. Intelligent life requires extraordinary Booz-chemical complexity which is only possible at the scale at which we find ourselves.

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                  • Sorry. Didn’t mean to come across as flippant. I am following you, and I appreciate your replies. And I wasn’t dismissing your man-in-the-middle-of-the-universe analysis. I was just being lighthearted that the truth of that statement would fall right in line with what man desires–to be central. But it also occurs to me, as we reflect upon the complexities of the cosmos, even to the point of time bending in on itself, that we truly have no idea where we fit in. With the possibilities of alternate dimensions and realities and so forth, while we might be able to find out a speck of info about our place in the immediate cosmos, we truly have no clue what else is out there, even beyond the cosmos. Man may think they can deduce the end of all things, but we really have no idea, and the majesty of what you described above highlights to me that there is infinitely more than we will ever know. But I was short also because I think we may have exhausted the space allotted for us on this thread, particularly since we have strayed from the main topic of the post–coexistence of Evil and God. If you want to continue this discussion, feel free to e-mail me. Or I wouldn’t be opposed to collaborating on a joint post. As I’m sure you have already determined, I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher, yet I do enjoy discussing such matters. And hopefully I do so respectfully.

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  23. I had never read that particular poem of Langston Hughes until now. Interesting and relative to the modern world if you consider today’s society, whether it be the 20th or the 21st century. The parallels with, as you write, the civil rights movement are also a shadow of the violence, which continues to this day. It leads on hand in hand with “evil” and it is the “evil”, which brings us into violence. Hughes’ poem is all about found hope, lost hope; faith in God, who can’t stop all evil and hope in something, whatever it is, better, lighter (in terms of goodness and mercy in the poem’s case). It is up to us, citizens of this world to fight the “evil” or as I describe it, the violence whether it be physical or psychological. It’s a never-ending trek but then again, I’ve heard that if life was perfect, where would we be? A morbid thought in every way you look at it.Yet, “evil”, or violence and antagonizing opposition, and God, or mercy and hope, coexist just as simply evil and good coexist. In society, especially since the mid-twentieth century, we have turned into social competitors without a clear goal of vengeance or conflict. All in the name of something but what and for what purpose?

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    • I still say the best way to understand evil is to treat it as patterns of behaviors that pose personal or systematic harm to others of an existential nature. Cut out all the black box speculation that can’t be empirically verified. Apply scientific technology and methods to gain insight into evil behavior. Treat it as a natural subject. The size of that black box grows smaller every year as our technology and methodology improves. If there is a spiritual or supernatural component to evil, this is how we will fine it.

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  24. Great poem! ….. a bug eats a plant and it good for the bug and evil for the plant; a chicken eats the bug and it is good for the chicken and evil for the bug; I eat the chicken and it is good for me and evil for the chicken; does anything eat us?

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  25. Not having read all the comments here, I don’t know if this particular perspective had been presented, but I have the feeling that Evil does not exist — just as Cold doesn’t exist. Cold is nothing more than the absence of heat. Evil, therefore, is merely the absence of Good (God). To vanquish Evil one must fill him/herself with Good. To the extent you are successful, your life will be without Evil.

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    • No, pretty sure that’s not it. Your model fails because evil is not some passive concept floating in a nebulous void. Evil is a rapist leaving someone with lifelong trauma for their own satisfaction. The selfish harm is the evil in that case. If we apply your model then rape is just the norm and we need magic to escape from it. But most people are not rapists. The assumption that evil is the default which we escape is nonsense, it begs the question and flies in the face of research about the repeated strength and appearance of cooperation and altruism in the natural world.

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      • I appreciate the way you are looking at the issue. You, however, seem to be misinterpreting (and misrepresenting) my simple observation. Evil is not “some passive concept”; Evil is not a concept at all; it is merely a word to represent the absence of Good, just as Cold is a word to represent the absence of Heat. You have made what I call Evil into a concept and have constructed a complex scenario involving rape and magic. Evil is, itself, the void — it doesn’t exist. “Cooperation and altruism” is the escape from Evil that you are looking for, and they are the Good which Evil lacks.

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  26. I think I have touched on your comment somewhat in my reply to the immediately preceding comment. Only thing I would add is in response to your last statement: “underlying everything is an unknowable foundation upon which our faith abides.” That was my original point, even if it may have been inartfully stated. Whether one believes in the supernatural or not, either way one reaches a point where there is unknown to which one must put their faith. So believing in a supernatural is no more silly than ruling it out. I do find it interesting that you acknowledge the unknowable and yet seem (I could be misinterpreting) comfortable ruling out the supernatural. To me, as long as there is unknowable, the supernatural always remains possible. And if the supernatural is possible, the last thing I want to do is turn my back to it.

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  27. The species has to evolve again from confrontationalism and coercion to a society that conducts in relationships in a democracy. The freedom to choice an experience is existential but there’s always the law that governs the choice. Can Evil be done away with it or its ramifications reduced? There’s no easy answer. Anand Bose from Kerala

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  28. Personally, I think that Free Will pretty well answers the question entirely. Much evil (and much good) is done by man, by individuals exercising their free will. If God considers Free Will to be the most important gift, then he must allow evil caused by man to exist. Evil of this form exists because it’s a consequence of giving people choice.

    And all the rest of the evil or good in the universe (however you care to define the terms), comes from the natural world, through chance and the operation of natural laws (like rain wetting soil and causing mudslides). And just as parents who try to protect their children from all form of harm or discomfort in the end do more damage to their children than if they let them suffer and endure and find their own strengths, a god who tried to shield humanity or individuals from harm caused by blind chance would do equal or greater harm. Except this time, the harm would not be done to an individual child but to an entire intelligent species. That people are at their best in the worst of times, and some tend to sink to their worst in the best of times, is often observed.

    Nor do I see why God, if she exists, needs to be omnipotent. I find it interesting that many of deep questions have been framed for so long within such imaginatively-limited philosophical underpinnings (like: God must be omnipotent) that the question appears unanswerable. (Or: if God allows evil, it means X, where X can be “there must be a devil”, or “he wishes to test us”, or…. As if one could enumerate all the possible causes for any big decision, and pin it down to a single simple reason.)

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  29. A good read after my thoughts about emotions and desires. Thank you. Helped me see things in another perspective. This is why I love writing!

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  30. I guess I have wimped out because I do not see God as being above bringing about events and circumstances that draw us closer to Him. This is not heaven; this is the life before the afterlife. God’s goal for this ‘boot camp’ life is our reconciliation with Him . I say more on this in my essay titled “Wending the Ways of Reconciliation” on TheViewfrom5022.wordpress.com . But that’s just me…I like things to be simple.

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  31. Mary Baker Eddy addressed this quite well I think in saying that God cannot be both good and evil and that the mistake lies in our perception of evil, which is error. If we understand the nonexistence of evil, the situation alters. God saves the man from being beaten. Seems paradoxical and lunatic? But we do know these days that what we are manifesting is our own consciousness and if we want to change our experience we have to change our consciousness. How is that done? With a great deal of struggle in that direction. I understands this sounds naive–and yet it’s the opposite of naive.

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  32. Perhaps what the problem of evil highlights is the pointlessness of god. So, he can’t protect us against things we don’t like happening, he doesn’t like to intervene on our behalf – all he offers is the chance to get into a good place after we die if we behave ourselves. But who has ever seen this good place? Better to believe in the Greek gods, who were just as bad as the next person but at least would stick their oar in for you if they saw fit.

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  33. Evil is indeed a mystery no human can fully understand. In the end, one’s own perspective will have to serve as an explanation at best. However, from a Christian worldview, there is at least hope that evil will be eradicated as a force against the Redeemed. For now, God does allow evil to persist to accomplish His purpose in culminating His final dwelling place among mankind. For God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day. But the God-inspired writings do declare a final victory over evil. “And the God of peace will crush Satan…” – Roman 16:20. Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:1-4

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  34. The problem of “evil” is that it is a very primitive and outdated social construct to explain why we still do bad things even when we want to do good things. It’s an ancient excuse for our neurological urges which we can hardly control. Urges aren’t triggered by, nor easily mitigated by reason, so they seem alien. We don’t need an evil spirit to explain bad behavior, either our own and that of others.

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