The Road That Leads to Me

The Problem of Evil:In Defense of a Theodicy
August 25, 2008, 4:49 am
Filed under: Christianity, philosophy | Tags: , , , , , , ,

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni benevolent, and yet evil exists in the world. Is it possible for both premises to be concurrently true? This seeming paradox has plagued the minds of theologians, philosophers, and great thinkers of the times. Multiple responses have been made to the stated problem of evil, including a theodicy developed by John Hick referred to as “soul-making”. Hicks concludes that were evil to be non-existent, a form of higher good could not be achieved. It is to this end he infers, that God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being can justify the presence of evil in the world. However, many find fault in Hicks’s line of reasoning, presuming that the prevention of evil would not preclude ultimate goodness. The question of a solution is irrelevant. For it is not in the answer that we come to appreciate and develop our beliefs of God, but in the search.

In a world without evil and suffering, man could not truly understand good. If man’s true purpose is to grow in their relationship with God, he must undergo moral development. In order for humans to grow spiritually, they must live in an environment in which they are forced to make moral decisions. If God were to prevent evil from occurring, He would concurrently be preventing man from true free will. In a situation in which one does not have freedom to choose to do evil, he can never truly experience good. In this situation, man is under compulsion to do good, since he is prevented from doing otherwise. Therefore, the very notion of a moral and spiritual development of any type requires the presence of evil. In keeping with the notion of the necessity of evil in the world, one must consider the notion that one must feel adverse to evil in order to be a truly good being. How can one seek to avoid evil and fight against it when it has been prevented from existence? The God of the Bible seeks followers who are committed to Him, His cause, and in doing good. This type of follower could not be possible if humans had no conception of that which they were to stand against. Additionally, no human could possibly conceive of God’s greatness if he had nothing to contrast it with. God is worthy of human praise because He is holy and set apart. If humans existed in a world free of evil, God would no longer be set apart, ceasing to be above human nature, stripping Him of deity. It is to our advantage to understand God’s holiness and purposes for our lives. The greatest gift a human could receive is the personal relationship with God. This relationship would not be necessary if we had nothing to stand against. The role of the Christian is to be different. Therefore, it is to the greater good that evil exists. It is in this way that God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being can be justified in allowing evil to exist in the world.

While it is commonly accepted that a world void of all evil would prohibit a true understanding and existence of good, it is arguable that the prevention of some seemingly unjustifiable acts of evil would in no way cause the world to be void of all evil entirely. Many evil acts occur presumably randomly, affecting the innocent. Is it just for innocent lives to be harmed for the sake of moral development? Certainly, one cannot argue that acts of detestable violence and cruelty achieve a greater good. It is true that men must undergo moral development in order to experience life’s greatest happiness. To undergo moral development, evil must exist to allow man to make moral decisions. However, it does not make sense to say that an omni benevolent God would allow innocent lives to be unduly altered due to evil when preventing such acts would in no way cause evil to cease to exist.

The very notion of God implies something of a mystery. God’s ways and thoughts are above our own. It is towards this end that He is God, and we are not. It is ostentatious to say that certain acts of evil can be prevented while still being able to achieve a greater good. To say this would suppose knowledge of God’s plans and ultimate will. How can we as humans attempt to understand the mind of a holy being? It is in fact ridiculous to blame acts of evil on God. God in His goodness created a human race free to choose. Not desiring robotic followers, acting under compulsion, God created man with a free will to choose as he pleases. We as humans are free to follow God or to reject Him. While many people refrain from acts of raw evil, it would stand in the way of God’s plan of free salvation to prevent people from choosing to do so. People make their own choices. While God’s will for those people is not to do evil, it is in His will to give everyone the choice to choose Him or reject Him. It is towards this end, that evil acts are not to be blamed on God, for they do not conflict with His nature. Rather, they can serve as a testament to His nature. He is not a God of force. Instead, He is a God who seeks those who truly seek Him. The choice is ours. He does not make our choices for us. Therefore, it is perfectly rational to hold that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and that evil exists.

As long as time exists, the argument will exist. God will continue to be the subject of wars, debates, and endless theories. Logic and faith will continue to serve as springboards for responses. However, one must realize that God transcends logic, all human understanding, and the bounds of faith. We must be content with the search. There is no answer, only the questions.

Selfless Good Deeds? Psychological vs. Ethical Egoism

You may have heard it argued that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. This statement has served as the focal point of numerous books, lectures, and yes, even a Friends Episode (The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS) (I know…I draw from Friends a lot…I digress.) However, there are two main schools of thought on the issue; psychological egoism and ethical egoism.

Psychological egoism proposes that the individual does not choose to be self-interested. Psychological egoists claim that the human is inherently self-interested, and therefore cannot help being as such.

Ethical egoism on the other hand, does not deny that the individual is self-interested, but rather, states that the individual chooses to be as such. Any action, even if seemingly altruistic can be traced to self-interested intentions.

Typically, when presented with the basic description of each position, many find themselves quickly aligning with one side or the other. We identify easily with the notion of self-interest.  In every creature, there is an instinct of and for survival. Therefore the notion of being self-interested is biological. If one doesn’t look out for their own interest, who will? If one wishes to survive, he/she must seek to benefit self, even at the risk of hurting others. Thomas Hobbes even stated that “we would be fools if we didn’t look after ourselves.” Many may also conjure up parallels with social Darwinism and the survival of the fittest.

The ethical egoist may commit a seemingly altruistic act as well, however, the action is ultimately self-interested, in lines with the notion of “what goes around comes around.”

There are several major problems with the theory of psychological egoism. The first is that falsification is not possible. Psychological egoism always looks for selfish motivations and refuses to recognize any other kind. The nature of the theory cannot allow for any other motives. A good theory must allow for the possibility of counter-examples.  The second problem is it does not take motivation into account. Doing something to benefit oneself is not always selfish. It must be taken into account, what it is that the person seeks to gain, rather than just the notion of seeking to gain. Changing language from unselfish to less selfish is incorrect. Lastly, if notions such as true love, and genuine friendship exist, psychological egoism cannot hold true.

Ethical egoism has problems as well. Ethical egoism seems to be self-contradictory. There cannot be a moral theory that says that one’s duty should be something that conflicts with someone else’s duty, so ethical egoism is therefore inconsistent. Few ethical egoists find the above refute of their theory convincing. Ethical egoists don’t agree that we can’t have a moral theory which gives the green light to different concepts of duty. Altruism is inconsistent with egoism.

So where do you fall? Is altruism impossible? Are we hard-wired for self-seeking behavior, even at the expense/inability to perform acts not in our best interest? Do we choose to commit selfish acts or do they run rampant through our brains without any control? Can we live in a world where selfless good deeds are a fairy tale? Do we want to? Perhaps if that is in our best interest….

Throw down the facade

Hermann Hesse phrased it like this, “Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself.” It is on the journey towards finding one’s self that we must invert our eyes, and allow ourselves to see what it is we have been masking. Our mere apparitions of self must be confronted with reality. Idealism meets realism. We must face who we really are. Facades are much easier to maintain….they require no vulnerability, honesty, or original thought. To live as our “projected self,” allows us to blend…to fade into our surroundings as a chameleon; taking on the thoughts, habits, and attitudes that serve us best from moment to moment. I think Hesse understood that no man wants to truly see themselves for what they truly are….To do so would require a level of self-evaluation and change that most people aren’t comfortable with. I feel most of the time we become so used to living as our projected self, that we actually lose who we really are….So afraid that people would turn us away if they really knew….if they actually knew who we really were….We can’t allow ourselves to hide. We must be who we were created and meant to be. We must take the journey down the road that leads to ourselves, despite the hardships and brutal realities about our true self we will face. Throw down the facade. Be who you really are.