Presence of Evil
Presence of Evil -- A Problem for Worldview Concepts
The presence of evil in the world has been the basis of intellectual debate for many centuries. While scholars have developed countless theories to explain the reality of the phenomenon in connection with the existence or non-existence of an all-powerful God, it is often difficult to reconcile the presence of evil with our worldview beliefs.
Presence of Evil – What is Evil, Anyway?
In order to understand how the presence of evil poses a problem under the magnifying glass of a particular worldview, let us first define evil. The Encarta Online Reference Dictionary provides the following:
Evil (adjective)-- (1) morally bad: profoundly moral or wrong, (2) harmful: deliberately causing harm, pain, or upset, (3) causing misfortune: characterized by, bringing, or signifying bad luck, (4) malicious: characterized by a desire to cause hurt or harm, (5) devilish: connected with the devil or other powerful destructive forces (such as spirits), (6) disagreeable: very unpleasant
Evil (noun)—(1) wickedness: the quality of being profoundly immoral or wrong, (2) a force causing harmful effects: force believed to bring about harmful, painful, or unpleasant events, (3) something evil: a situation or thing that is unpleasant, harmful, or morally wrong
Genocide, rape, and murder would be characterized as moral evils, while typhoons, earthquakes, and disease would be examples of natural evils. In some instances, natural evils are the direct result of free action based upon bad moral judgment, such as sexual promiscuity in direct correlation to sexually transmitted disease. In this case “the two categories [of evil] overlap into what some call mixed evil”.2
Even with clear definitions and examples, how one approaches the presence of evil is another matter entirely.
Presence of Evil -- Atheism and the Problem of Evil
The atheist, in true empirical fashion, wishes to logically compute the presence of evil into its simplest, rational form. Just like the belief in the null-existence of God, there is no such thing as evil. Conversely, anything identified as good is reciprocal to the concept of evil. Take, for example, the following statement by David Hume concerning both good and evil:
The more exquisite any good is, of which a small specimen is afforded us, the sharper is the evil, allied to it; and few exceptions are found to this uniform law of nature. The most sprightly wit borders on madness; the highest effusions of joy produce the deepest melancholy; the most ravishing pleasures are attended with the most cruel lassitude and disgust; the most flattering hopes make way for the severest disappointments. And, in general, no course of life has such safety (for happiness is not to be dreamed of) as the temperate and moderate, which maintains, as far as possible, a mediocrity, and a kind of insensibility, in every thing.3
Unlike atheism, which asserts that we do not know what we do not know, agnostics believe we just don’t know. Since we don’t know, we cannot have any knowledge of God. The agnostic believes it absurd to put stock in any notions of such a being or the hope that stems from it. At best, the agnostic faces a pessimistic, disheartening, hopelessness when facing the presence of evil. “The question of evil and its significance must—practically does for the agnostic, boil down to the refuge of what is called, in our stoic American slang, ‘making the best of a bad job.’”4
Presence of Evil -- Theism and the Problem of Evil
In Judeo-Christian societies, the presence of evil has been explained in a few different ways. There is the “free-will defense,” which proposes that in order for God to abolish evil, He would also have to revoke man’s free will to choose to love or reject Him. “Certainly, God is capable of destroying evil—but not without destroying human freedom, or a world in which free creatures can function.”5 These believers would also contend that evil (pain, suffering, and natural disasters) brings them closer to God, which is the ultimate goal. Psalm 90:15 tells us, “Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.”
The theistic worldview also maintains that everything works for good in the end, as in the specific case of the riches-to-rags-to-riches story of Joseph in the Old Testament. In the big picture, evil is real and terrible, but the reason for its existence and the plan for its ultimate demise is all figured out. This is noted by Phillips, et al., as they echo the sentiments of Prager and Telushkin, “The believer in God must explain one thing, the existence of sufferings; the nonbeliever, however, must explain the existence of everything.”6
Presence of Evil -- Pantheism and the Problem of Evil
For worldviews influenced by Eastern, pantheistic, or transcendental doctrines, the presence of evil and suffering is innately tied to one of two sources: (i) evil and suffering are merely illusions created by the human mind, or (ii) evil and suffering are tied to unwholesomeness, impurity, or impiety of character. Buddhist teachings contend that all evil is a direct result of nescience –unknowing or original ignorance.7 Accordingly, consistent refining of the self through knowledge and enlightenment will eventually yield positive results and the ultimate end of transcending the oppressions of life in this material world. Unsuccessful attempts at transcending evil and suffering allow for future attempts through the doctrine of reincarnation.
Phillips, et al, point out two failures related to the illusory theory of suffering and its ability to solve the problem of evil. First, it simply “does not fit with the actual experience of the world or of evil.” Second, “the problem of evil is not answered by identifying it as illusion.” Furthermore, what of evil defeated? “Whenever evil seems to be properly dealt with, is the satisfaction of seeing justice triumph over evil not also an illusion?”8
From the second perspective of human unwholesomeness, impurity, or impiety, “any evil that one experiences in life is the result of negative energy from former incarnations” or from negative “deed” or action performed in this life. The problem, as Phillips, et al. allude to, is that this view assumes that pain and suffering is deserved as a result of actions you have performed prior to your current existence. Among other issues, this belief ultimately “discourages acts which would help to alleviate the suffering of others.”9
Presence of Evil -- Conclusion
The presence of evil in the world poses a potential threat to the foundations of any worldview. Even those of us with the greatest philosophical answers and strongest core beliefs, whether natural or spiritual, find it difficult to reconcile the existence of evil with logic and reason (atheism/agnosticism), or spiritual necessity (theism); or self-actualization/illusory concepts (pantheism). Even for some who plead passive ignorance, the presence of evil still remains a huge problem that ultimately challenges the human mind and heart.
Compliments of Leandrea Davis Rodriguez
1 Phillips, W. G., Brown, W. E., & Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Second Edition ed.). Salem: Sheffield Publishing Company, p. 147.
2Ibid, p. 148.
3 Hume, D. (1757/1777). The Natural History of Religion. (A. Merivale, Ed.) Retrieved March 22, 2011, from DavidHume.org: http://www.davidhume.org/texts/?text=nhr. 1757/1777.
4 Harte, B. (1883). Overland Monthly and the Out west Magazine. In Topics of the Time: Questions of Belief (pp. 553-556). New York: G.P. Putnam's Son's, p. 556.
5 Rood, R. (1996). The Problem of Evil: How Can a Good God Allow Evil. Retrieved March 21, 2011, from Probe Ministries: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/evil.html
6 Phillips, W. G., Brown, W. E., & Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Second Edition ed.), p. 151.
7 St. Zieba, M. (2005, October 4). Philosophy: Problem of Evil, laws of manu, eastern philosophies. Retrieved March 22, 2011, from All Experts: http://en.allexperts.com/q/Philosophy-1361/Problem-Evil.htm
8 Phillips, W. G., Brown, W. E., & Stonestreet, J. (2008). Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Second Edition ed.), p. 152.
9 Ibid, p. 153.
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