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Evil

Why Do We Call It Evil in the First Place?

Why Do We Call It Evil in the First Place
Image Credit: Yogendra Singh from Pexels

Three centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, Greek philosopher Epicurus posed an enduring question related to the existence of God: “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?”[1] Two thousand years later Epicurus’ words still resonated and influenced the writings of atheist philosopher David Hume. (Hume 1779, 186) A 2018 Barna study showed that this question is still important today; the “problem of evil” is the highest barrier to faith for members of Gen Z and second highest (after Christian hypocrisy) for Millennials. (Barna 2018) The 'problem of evil' is the highest barrier to faith for members of Gen Z and second highest (after Christian hypocrisy) for Millennials. Click To Tweet

The question as originally posed appears on its face to be a logical proof, suggesting God must be either unable to prevent evil, unwilling, or a combination of the two. This line of reasoning rests on the idea that an all-loving, all-powerful God could not have a reason to choose to allow evil to occur. However, this conclusion does not necessarily follow: it is possible that such a God could exist and choose to allow evil for some unknown reason, even if this possibility initially seems unreasonable. It is not logically impossible for God to allow evil, regardless of personal opinions as to the reasonableness of such a God existing. Christian philosopher Peter John Kreeft makes just such an argument, stating, “Even David Hume… said it’s just barely possible that God exists… there’s at least a small possibility.” (Strobel 2000, 33) Christian philosopher William Lane Craig points to the limited knowledge of humanity, stating, “We are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur.” (Craig n.d.) If God’s existence is possible even in light of His nature and the existence of evil, then God cannot be ruled out, particularly if different lines of evidence exist to support His existence.

One such line of evidence is the existence of evil itself. While the presence of evil is pointed to by some as a reason to believe there is no God, Christians have long pointed to the presence of evil as evidence for God’s existence. To call anything evil, whether one is discussing the behavior of mankind or the “unwillingness” of God to stop human suffering, is to accept that some objective moral standard must exist. However, if an objective moral standard exists, one which would apply to all times, places, and cultures, then the moral standard needs to be accounted for. Where would such a moral standard come from?

Some philosophers have attempted to answer this question by appealing to naturalistic functions to explain moral laws. One such argument appeals to the idea of “human flourishing,” that is, “a life that could be objectively determined to be appropriate to our nature as human beings.” (Hill 2009) Two main problems exist with this type of argument: 1) that “human flourishing” is not specific enough to measure. Simply put, humanity does not have enough knowledge to determine what behaviors meet this definition and making moral judgements in the here-and-now would be difficult, if not impossible, using this definition. 2) Intrinsic to the claim that “human flourishing” ought to be used to measure ethics is a moral claim: that “human flourishing” is objectively good and any other standard would be morally wrong. This moral claim must be accounted for; according to what standard is human flourishing morally good? Rather than answering the question of the origins of moral laws, appealing to “human flourishing” (or other, similar concepts) does not actually answer the question. As a result, some atheists have simply accepted that good and evil do not exist in any objective sense. Richard Dawkins writes, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” (Copan 2004, 116) However, if there is no objective moral law, then there is no “problem of evil” by which God could not exist.

Christians have long argued that moral laws come from a moral law-giver: God. Scripture teaches that God is the all-powerful, all-loving creator of humanity. Further, scripture insists that God created humanity with a specific purpose. Christian Richard G. Howe explains, “This end or goal toward which all things aim is called good… the capacity to choose for or against God’s good is what makes our actions moral.” (Howe 2006, 86) The Christian worldview can ground the existence of moral laws and explain their existence in a way which an atheistic worldview cannot. Non-theist philosophers have long struggled with this fact; philosopher Paul Draper, an agnostic, states, “A moral world is… very probable on theism.” (Copan 2004, 115) If moral laws exist, it is more reasonable to believe that a God exists than that one does not.

The problem of evil, pain, and suffering is difficult to bear on a personal level. Christians should be careful not to too-quickly dismiss the concerns of people who have experienced these very-real realities. However, the presence of these in our world does not rule out the existence of God. In fact, the presence of evil only makes His existence more likely. One may not understand why God chooses to allow evil, pain, and suffering to occur now, but scripture makes it clear that one day all pain will end and God’s ultimately justice will be accomplished.

For more information about the scientific and philosophical evidence pointing to a Divine Creator, please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. This book employs a simple crime scene strategy to investigate eight pieces of evidence in the universe to determine the most reasonable explanation. The book is accompanied by an eight-session God’s Crime Scene DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

 

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[1] This argument was first attributed to Epicurus by the 2nd-3rd century Christian author Lactantius in his work A Treatise on the Anger of God.

Bibliography

Barna. “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z.” Barna, last modified January 24, 2018. https://www.barna.com/research/atheism-doubles-among-generation-z/ 

Copan, Paul. “A Moral Argument.” in To Everyone An Answer, edited by Francis J. Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J.P. Moreland, 108-123. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Craig, William Lane. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Faith, accessed August 31, 2021. https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/the-problem-of-evil/.

Hill, Thomas E. “Happiness and Human Flourishing in Kant’s Ethics.” Social Philosophy and Policy, Vol. 16, Iss. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy/article/abs/happiness-and-human-flourishing-in-kants-ethics/E8B74EF98A1E0413FDB2336096DC0E6F.

Howe, Richard G. “What Are the Classical Proofs for God’s Existence?” in The Harvest Handbook of Apologetics, edited by Joseph M. Holden, 83- 87. Eugene, Harvest House Publishers, 2018.

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Hume, David. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. London, 1779.

Lactantius. A Treatise on the Anger of God. Sydney: ReadHowYouWant.com, 2006.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. 

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Shaun Carney

    September 25, 2021 at 4:48 am

    I’ve come to the conclusion that evil, with regard to man, is allowed to exist because of two things: free will and we are all God’s children.

    God granted us free will. To say that He should stop evil would be to ask Him to subvert the free will He gave us. God won’t so that; He rarely,
    If ever, changes His mind.

    The movie, “The Shack,” shows my second point. Why would God choose between any of His children? How could He? Could you? He loves us all, and surely it pains Him to see His children hurt each other, as it does when our own children hurt each other.

  2. John William

    September 25, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    The word Dichotomy originates from the Greek word dichotomia, it means “To divide into two parts.” It is a word often used to represent something like a fork in a road dividing something into two, but then also into two contradictory parts or ways, or into two opposing groups, objects, or ideologies. Some examples of a dichotomy would be: good vs. bad (real or something imagined) heaven vs. hell, satan vs. god, or criminal activity (bad or not acceptable) vs. civil activity (good or acceptable). In today’s society also Black vs White.
    Biblically speaking a dichotomy can be seen with the Biblical Cain vs. Abel story or Eve vs. the Nachach (falsely called Serpent). The Nachach named “Satan or Devil” was a literal snake (as some believe), but logically he was a two legged “life of the field” humanoid, a member of a pre-Adamic race who it is believed spoke to Eve and deceived her in the garden called Eden. The simple point is – all throughout the Biblical record we see the conflicting influence of good vs. bad, and righteousness vs. wickedness, or those who are opposite in belief, which all appears to have been predicted in Genesis 3:14-15. We can see that the existence of the dichotomy between good vs. bad has had a significant effect upon all of our society throughout history, and none of it appears to have been good or beneficial for anyone.
    The historical events on our planet seem to indicate an on-going struggle between the elements of good and bad, between good people and bad people, and even people with strong political differences or viewpoints. Even in our current times we see very few changes from our past recorded history or from all the known recorded events on our planet. The struggle for power, control, influence, and for wealth still remain, and seems to be endless, with no changes on the horizon. Conflicts among countries do not appear to have changed very much either and we still have on-going wars of destruction and death perpetrated by some upon the masses of others, often on their own neighbors or race. History has also shown that conflicts most often come from religious convictions established by culture and custom, or traditions, usually coupled with a convoluted but deeply held primitive ideology that also contributes to the destruction of nonconformists and often upon the weaker or disadvantaged in society.
    Many well meaning religious folks often blame this bad influence on the Devil or a Satan. They have been led to believe that a Devil or a Satan entity fell or got kicked out of its original position of authority or power from a place called heaven, recognized as the abode of the Creator. It is thought by many, that the Devil or the being called Satan had turned wicked after it somehow gained the power to challenge its own Creator in the attempt to become the ultimate authority over all of the Creator’s own Creation. This understanding is of course completely absurd. Common sense is only needed to tell us that there can be no such created entity, or the Creator himself would have become very weak, or even worthless. If such were the case, the Creator Himself could even be the root cause of wickedness in His universe, if He actually allowed Himself to be challenged or usurped by an entity He had created. How can there even be an Almighty or a Sovereign Creator Power, a Life-Force Essence, or an Original Originator (a God) in existence if He has no control over what He has created? Would this mean that the Creator made a big mistake? Logically then, the belief in a created entity that can challenge its own Creator is complete foolishness. A created entity must always remain subservient to his Originator for (its) his own existence, the one that created him. For this simple reason, the Creator must obviously always be in complete control of His creation at all times, (See Isaiah 45: 5-7). Yet, we know by what we experience, that wickedness does in fact exist and so do wicked people.
    This document is intended to shed some light on our studied Biblical understanding of the dichotomy of this on-going conflict resulting in these two completely opposite paths. We will focus on the Dichotomy of Good vs. Bad. In order to do so, we will also establish definitions for common English words used in this document.

    English word definitions used in this document:
    Bad – is a word sometimes used as synonymous with the word “wicked” or “evil.” But it really means to deviate from acceptable standards of behavior and is the opposite of good. Bad, is a very subjective word since behavior or acceptable standards do change over time as well as cultural standards. An action may appear to be bad even though the action was intended for good. For example, punishment intended to correct unacceptable behavior may to the receiver appear to be bad, but by the administrator it may be done with good intention, for example to correct preceived behavior. There are places in the Hebrew Bible, where Yahweh (God) uses “bad” to correct or to redirect behavior.
    Good – is the antithesis to bad, something good is acceptable by nature; having desirable or suitable qualities; it is virtuous, pious, kind, and benevolent; something that promotes happiness, or sets good standards. A “good” apple passes an acceptable set of established standards. Good as an action can be developed or enhanced by learned behavior, therefore it is also a relative term, and is dependent upon bad that it negates or excludes.
    Evil – as commonly understood, is the antithesis of anything good or something of value. It is harmful, painful, undesirable, disapproved or contrary to any accepted purpose or ideal, especially to the moral or to the religious. Evil is wrong when it violates acceptable moral standards. Religious evil is sin when religious standards are violated. Evil however, is still a very relative term, because its meaning is dependent on the kind of good it appears to negate or to exclude. Evil by humans can be perpetrated by learned behavior and is therefore also a subjective term. To the theist (a believer in a righteous God), evil is thought to be a moral sin, and explained by man’s natural freedom to choose. To the atheist, moral evil may simply be a poor choice that violates moral standards.
    Evil – Hebrew, ((RGh) ac: Grieve co: Bad ab:RGh) – I. Bad: Something dysfunctional, wrong, evil or wicked. II. Shout: To shout an alarm, war or great rejoicing. [freq. 666] |kjv: evil, wickedness, wicked, mischief, hurt, bad, trouble, sore, affliction, ill, adversity, favored, harm, naught, noisesome, grievous, sad, shout, noise, aloud, {str: 7451, 7452}
    As can be shown from the Hebrew definition in the “Ancient Hebrew Lexicon” of the Bible, the root Hebrew meaning of the word “evil” found in many English Bibles actually means “bad.” Used however in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, and many other English translations, and many newer translations, we find the words: evil, wickedness, wicked mischief, hurt, bad, trouble, sore, affliction, ill, adversity, favored??, harm, naught, noisesome, grievevious, sad, shout, noise, aloud, are all “English” words used some 666 times to replace the Hebrew “root” word with the meaning of “bad.” We ask why is this?
    Sin – only as Biblically understood, is an act or attitude by which the reality of an Eternal Almighty Sovereign Creator Power is “assumed to be denied or violated.” Sin is religious because it is only valid within the content of offenses committed against the divine. However, sin has now also developed into an “established religious standard” even when not committed against the divine. These standards often include civil and accepted moral laws therefore sin appears to be greater when it is generated by the knowledge of religious standards and by the presumption of the existence of a divinity that can be violated by some act.
    Taboo – Although the concept of sin is “mostly religious” and generated by the knowledge and the presumption of the divine, ancient primitive people also had ideas similar to “religious sin” called taboo(s). A taboo is an act (and the prevention of an act or acts and/or activities) among primitive people that by learned behavior over many generations have proven to be dangerous. The danger could be to the perpetrator because of the action(s), or it could be that the action(s) can endanger the family, clan, or his tribe, resulting in an injury of even in death.
    Vice – is a disregard of established and accepted moral social and ethical standards both developed by a civil society into their laws.
    Wicked, Wickedness – is the on-going or the continual action, behavior, the practice of something that is bad by nature. Therefore the behavior of something that is wicked or wickedness is a violation of what would be considered a natural condition.
    Crime – is a violation of established and accepted civil and criminal laws.
    Does Isaiah 45:7 and other Bibles passages say that Yahweh (God) actually created evil?
    Isaiah 45:7 in the KJV reads, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD Yahweh do all these things.” So, is this passage correctly translated? NOT using the modern English definitions. Yahweh does not create “evil” (as commonly understood and defined in today’s English). Yahweh does however use, and did create “bad.” Please review the above definition of “Bad.” Notice how some of the newer English Bible translations have now rendered the word “evil” in Isaiah 45:7. For example, it’s now “disaster” in the NIV, it’s “calamity” in the NKJV, NAS, ESV, and it’s now “woe” in the NRSV.
    The Hebrew word ((RGh) can refer to a moral bad, (in proper context) and it can have this meaning in correctly translated Hebrew Bibles. Unfortunately, our modern English has developed over some 2,500 years after paleo Hebrew, and the older Pictographic Hebrew. The early languages were all very simple very basic Languages, with limited written words. Modern Bible translators have the option to use a dozen new words to replace the basic Hebrew root word “bad” and they do. Because of these many new possibilities, we should never assume that a translated word in any English Bible is “inspired” especially when it is confusing and does not appear to be reasonable. Yahweh “permits evil to exist” because He created man with the gift of a free will to choose, but it is man’s own developed heart that can use the gift of free will to choose the good or that which is bad.
    Isa 45:7 “I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create bad. I am Yahweh, who does all these things.”
    Isa 45:8 Rain, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Let the earth open, that it may produce salvation, and let it cause righteousness to spring up with it. I, Yahweh, have created it.”
    Isa 45:9 “Woe to him who quarrels with his Master” (the person to whom God brings “bad” and “disaster.”)

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