Monday, July 18, 2011

How Do We Know God is Not Evil?

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I've seen atheists ask this in various forms. The most recent I've seen is "prove God isn't evil." I answered that with three arguemnts only to find the atheists pulling the old relativism thing. How do we know good and evil even exist at all they said? Well, first of all, in answering the question about "prove god is not evil," the challenge was in reference to Christian ideas. To even ask the question assumes a Christian framework. You can't say on the one hand "God might really be evil," then say "but there's no such thing as evil." That would have no meaning. God might really be this thing that has no meaning and doesn't exist? What kind of meaning does that have? One get's the feeling of being set up for a cheap trick. Like we say "ok so God is evil ni the sense that there is no such thing as evil. so what?" they say "O you admitted it, God is evil you said it ok that's the end of Christianity!" Those are two completely different questions to answer the one you must bracket the other. first I will present my arguments to prove that God is not evil, and to do that assume the Christian framework for good and evil. Then I will deal with the relativistic stuff (that there is no good or evil).

I am assuming there is such a thing as good and we all have a general idea of what that is. Now I also noted that many atheist in the discussion I allude to above (where the challenge was made "prove God is not evil") were assuming a contradiction in the Bible where on the one hand God says "love your neighbor" and on the other hand he says "slaughter the Amelekites kids." So there's the problem of a contradiction between the values God expresses and the behavior God exhibits. Thus we assume the values expressed are true values of good, and that is a meaningful term, but the question is does God seem to betray the very values that he instigates?

Before giving three positive reasons to think God can't be evil, (that is a logical impossibility) we have to deal with the seeming contradiction in the Bible. In the discussion on a certain message board aluded to above, a friend of mine who is an atheist said this:

Originally Posted by mikey_101 View Post
No genocide isn't evil, killing children and homosexuals isn't evil, eternal torture for not believing in one particular religion out of thousands isn't evil, slavery isn't evil. Actually you're right, God isn't evil because God is a reflection of OUR evil.
Those are based upon bible verses and bible verses are not creeds, they are not dictum they are not decrees. In short we don't have to bleieve them.


There is NO official Christian doctrine or document or creed or council that say "you must believe every verse in the bible." The fundies say it but they didn't exist until the 1820s. They are merely late commers in Christian history.Each one of those passages must be analogized in the original language and discussed according to the history and culture and textual evidence to show it really belongs in the Bible or not.I can tell you now there is evidence Amalekite passage is added in latter.



The text of 1 Samuel is one of the most heavily redacted in the Bible. As we will see, it's very presence in the canon has been brought into question, but the version we have is probably a corrupted second rate copy, and the LXX is closer, and Q4Sama at Qumran closer still, to the actual original.

Institutte Bibilcal Scientific Studies:

Biblical Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls and OT


"1&2 Samuel"

"For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8).

Redaction of Infant Slaughtering Passage


Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible on 1 Sam 15:1-35

"Another story of Saul's rejection: The late source. Compare this section with 13:7-15, Samuel, not Saul is the leading figure once more."

This is the very passage in which Samuel relays God's command to wipe out the infants. So even though I still need to find more specific evidence for that very passage, there is a good chance of proving redaction. While its true that I can't produce an actual MS showing no infant slaughter command, the passage in which that command is given has been redacted. The odds are very high that this command was not part of the original passage, or we can regard it as such. We know that slaughtering infants in evil, and we have no obligation to accept a command as divine that we know to be totally at odds with God's law and God's moral code.

All the other verses must be dealt with in similar fashion, one by one, and an overview entailing a theory of inspiration adopted so that one knows how to approach scripture. For an example on this one might consult my page on the nature of Biblical revelation as an example.

Now I present the three arguments that prove God is not evil:

I. Being is good.

Being is not evil. We are all part of being, we all engage in the act of being. We know from our existence that existing is good and it's not evil. There's no reason to think it is. It's hard for a lot of people to get thier minds around the idea of God as being itself. I've certainly spent a lot of time blogging about the concept. I wont go into it here. It can be found on Doxa in several pages. I'm also just finishing my second book which is on the subject. Wait a couple of years and it will be out.

syllogism:
*God is being itself

being is good.

therefore God must be good.

One objection to this is that some atheists tried to evoke the notion that life is not good. One cna mean this either in terms of "my individual life sux," or in terms of amorality or some form of relativism. That would be cheating the issues here becuase I explain above the original challenge assumes Christian categories of good and evil. Moreover, one can condemn the concept of life itself by one's own experiences. I can have rotten life (to some extent that's what I make it) that doesn't mean all life is rotten. There is a goodness about life itself. Here I take life as a pragmatic form of existence. Existence in and of itself is "good," if not in a moral sense (which is one confussion of the argument--the mixing of senses between moral and pragmatic) at least just in the sense of the (apparent) goodness of open ended possibility.


II. Love can't be evil.

This is one of those mysterious points that of which atheists are most incredulous. Almost every time they will say "you are logic is so bad" on this point. When pressed they never say why. they can't give me a rule of logic that's violated, nine times out of ten it's a matter of rejecting the concept of a priori. That unusually happens becuase they have self esteem problems, as atheists are known to have.


The nature of love makes it the very definition of Good. What is the nature of the good, it's what love is, being kind, being gentile, caring about others, giving to others, living for others. How do we know this? First we have to realize we are not talking about butterflies in the stomach. Many atheists try to lose the concept of love in the emotions that go with it, which they sweep away as the side effect of brain chemistry. The kind of love experienced in romance, puppy love,infatuation, lust, sexual attraction and the like is what is meant here by "love." Here I speak of agape. This is "God's love" sometimes translated "charity." Although that is not a good translation. Paul Tillich defines it as "the will t the good of the other." I think that is a most apt decryption. The Greek does imply the willingness to assign to others the human dignity due them.

It is more or less an axiomatic tenet that love is the background of the moral universe (consult Saint Augustine, and Joseph Fletcher). I am not sure it can be proved, thus making it "axiomatic." Like most axioms trying to deny it would be absurd. This is certainly true in terms of Christian theology.

1 John 4:

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.


Don't even think about trying to argue that "you are trying to prove the Bible by the bile." I am not trying to prove the bible I'm demonstrating the Christian categories which the original challenge assumes (so I have to go by the to answer the challenge). This is exactly what atheists would do to try and prove than an idea was Christian. If we are considering Christian ethics then we must consider that love is the background of the moral universe. Love is the basis of God's character.

That either the issue becomes redundant if we consider the relativist position (which we will soon enough) or it rebounds onto the Christian categories and becomes a matter of what we think about the Bible. With a fundamentalist view of inerrancy it's hard to see how there is not a contradiction in the categories, what God says and what God does.
Yet of course that is not the only Christian answer; there are several other views that take up different approaches to the bible that serve as alternatives.


syllogism:

Love is not evil

God's nature is love and God is the original source of love

therefore God is not evil.


Thus, from the perspective of the Christian categories each of the above arguemnts individually prove that God is not evil and cannot be construed as evil.

III. Evil can't be the first thing.


Evil is the absence of the good. That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence. evil is rebellion against good. Evil is rejecting the good. all of this implies good is first.God is eternal so God has to be first. A lot of people reject the categories of good and evil becasue they don't like the way they are made. One of the major issues in atheism (even though many atheists don't realize it--a psychological problem) is self rejection leads to rejection of the idea that a loving God would make me the way I am. I was an atheist I know what it is to think that way. The old cliche "God is not finished with me yet" has it's uses and this is one of them.If you don't like the way God made you it's only becuase he's not finished yet. If you rebel against God you are not letting him finish you.

That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence.

Actual Atheist Objection:
"That doesn't follow. A hole is an absence of earth, the existence of a hole doesn't imply there was earth. Counter example to your premise." I this I argued "are you kidding? Isn't a hole defined by what's around it? That's like saying "I don't believe donuts exist, only the holes exist." A hole with nothing around it is nothing.



syllogism:

evil is falling away from, therefore, good is prior to evil

God is eternal and thus is prior to all things

therefore, God can't be evil.


Now we come to the issue of relativism. For those who do not hold to the Christian categories of good and evil but try to define them either by sweeping them away, or by using the terms relative to other standards, how does one come to ascertain the truth content of the Christian categories? The only way one can really do this is empirically. Of course this assumes there's a god. Though many atheists will try not allow such an assumption, it's pointless to ask about God's character if you don't assume there is a God, at least for the sake of argument. I have certainly spent enough time on this blog giving reason enough why one can assume God based upon any number of things. For those tempted to make comments and demand reasons I tell you now, see my 42 arguments, especially no 7 and no 8. I single out those two becasue they form the basis of the empirical approach. One might also see my essay on phenomenology and Method.

Certainly we are talking about taking religious experience seriously. The same reasoning that would allow one to understand God as reality would also allow one to understand God's character as love. It makes no sens to take up a challenge or to even issue one about God's goodness then turn around and say "you can't prove that becuase you can't prove god exists." Ok so that what sense would it make to argue "god is fictional but he's really evil?" The realization that leads to faith is the same realiation that allows us to understand God's love. It's simply an empirical matter. We experince God's presence, swe sesne God's love. In a life of 30+
years that has never been disproved. Even in times when I lost faith and thought God was disproved, even in times when I lost everything and thought God was evil, he was neither evil, or absent nor unfaithful. (see part 2 here).

excerpt from those last two links:

Looking back on it things actually were better after we left the house. At the time, however, we couldn't see that. Then it seemed like the end. We were scared, we were homeless, we couldn't find an apartment because we had "financial leper" on our credit. Since 9/11 getting an apartment in Dallas was next to impossible. When I first moved away form my parents and went to New Mexico back in 80, no one cared who I was or what my credit was. I gave them money they gave me an apartment. By 2006, however, in Dallas, it was next to impossible even if your credit was good. It really seemed like the end. I began saying "I am dead, I died, they just haven't told the corpse to lay down yet." I also began to say "God has cursed me." "God loves to crush his own guys, this is what I get for caring about my parents." You know I was practicing for the glee club. I was a tower of faith. We did find an apartment, we had a couple of thousand dollars from the guy who bought the house (because he was a Christian he said) even though the mortgage company actually makes them promise not to help the victim, not to give more than the mortgage price in a short sale. It's set up so the the victim losing the house can't get anything for his/her hard earned ears of struggle to buy the house. He bought the furniture and car and then let us keep them.
God was faithful to me even when I was not faithful to him. I was calling him a lair and shouting at him and I said worse than that. I called him a monster and told him he loved to hurt people. He didn't care, he's heard it all. I didn't shame God into helping me, he was working to help me anyway, I only held up the process and made it take longer by not trusting and not looking to seek the spiritual instead of freaking out because things didn't look good. Easy to forget, we walk by faith and not by sight. That means its' going to look grim. That doesn't mean anything you just have to trust God. Cultivate your spiritual relationship with God. Cultivate our inner life! It's a life long project, work on it every day.

That requires a life of faith to understand. The first step is to seek. Then it will fall into place. It wont fall into place when you renounce God and make skepticism your watchword. If your principle is to see through everyging, as C.S. Lewis said, you wind seeing nothing.

27 comments:

Thesis Writing said...

Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us. I really love all the great stuff you provide. Thanks again and keep it coming.

Metacrock said...

Hey thanks. I really appreciate that! It's nice to know someone likes it.

Weekend Fisher said...

Those are some interesting angles on the argument. Nicely done.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Metacrock said...

thanks Weekend

Anonymous said...

Excellent article - from a Muslim!

Metacrock said...

excellent quip, from a dork!

Anonymous said...

However, I had one question, mainly about the final proof.

Couldn't you argue it the other way? Couldn't you say good is the absence of evil, and therefore evil precedes good?

Still, interesting article.

Metacrock said...

Couldn't you argue it the other way? Couldn't you say good is the absence of evil, and therefore evil precedes good?


I think I covered that in my piece. I talked why good has to be original. Good is constructive. You can't be destructive an original act becasue you have to have something to destroy.

Evil is selfishness, you can't be selfish in a vacuum. Selfish assumes others. So the original state is socially harmonious and selfishness is decline from that.

Anonymous said...

Good point. Thanks for the clarification.

whopa said...

How does that follow? God could have been evil, and constructed creation so that he could see if suffer. I am not referring to the Problem of Evil, I am simply saying that it is a possibility. Couldn't he still be evil as he was intending to build creation to e evil to?

Metacrock said...

How does that follow? God could have been evil, and constructed creation so that he could see if suffer.

that is an arbitrary assumption that ignores what I said. I gave a reason why evil can't be begin itself. It can't come first or be constructive. If one wishes to assume God is evil, one can always call good evil and evil good.I see now reason to make such an arbitrary move. that was would assume some kind of personal grudge.

Anonymous said...

But couldn't you be constructive in order to facilitate evil? MEaning an evil thing constructing for further evil?

Metacrock said...

I think you are missing the point about the fundamental nature of evil. Evil is a knee jerk reaction against good. Evil is not original becuase it assumes rebellion against something already established.

You can't have the selfish unless you first have giving. Being is giving. Love is giving. so the original impulse of being itself is to give, to love. That by definition is not the what we mean by "evil" nor can it be.

What we mean by the term predicates itself upon reaction against.

to say "create to destroy" assumes a prior of concept of create. It assumes some kind of cyclical life which is not evil in itself. Evil in the sense in which we use the term in the west is not about cycles of life it's about personal enrichment at the expense of others. It's about destroying the good. it assume the good is first.

Anonymous said...

I think one thing you could include is the complete illogicality of any other possible situation i.e God is evil and is sending us all to hell/nothing happens. I think this will work some because it directly attacks the idea that the only logical possibility is that God is good and heaven and hell exist. If hell only existed, God's plan to make us suffer would be flawed because many still would have "good." So why have some people have any good if you only want evil? This is a flaw, and God cannot be flawed. Also, for nothing to happen raises the same question - many will die happy, so really nothing bad happened to them.

Also, if God was evil, who was he evil to before creation? He couldn't be evil to himself, so he was evil to nothing. If you are evil to nothing then you are not evil. You can say that he couldn't be good by the same logic, but that doesn't apply because he is being good to "himself" by doing what he wills. Also, assuming he had to create good to be evil to it assumes that he must do something against his own nature in order to do what he wants. How does that fit in the picture of God?

Sorry, Metacrock haha I went on a bit of a rant. I happened to check back on this ( I am the Muslim from above) and saw those comments.

I think the main difference is people who simply want logical clarification of God's goodness (like myself) and people who have gone through extreme pain that causes them to believe God is evil to them. To be honest, you can throw how much logic at them you want, but it is God that guides. I think it is evident that God isn't evil.

Thanks again for a great post. I am surprised that there hasn't been works on this subject before.

Metacrock said...

thanks for your comments

Matthew said...

Thanks for writing about this topic. It's something I've struggled with for many years. Just one question thought:

What if God wants to watch us suffer, and is only allowing us to experience goodness to make the future suffering worse (say hypothetically that Hell is in everyone's future)?

I know that must sound crazy, but it is difficult to disprove. I don't believe it, and desperately don't want to, but it is hard for me to trust God when I have nagging doubts (mostly brought on by natural evils such as earthquakes, and painful diseases).

Again, thanks.

Metacrock said...

Matthew the blog post itself proves that God is not evil. that answers your question. Only an evil entity would be unconcerned or would allow such suffering for no reason.

we know form Jesus Character and from what God reveals of himself in the Bible that he's into redeeming things. So his purpose for allowing pain has to be redemptive.

Matthew said...

Right, but what if His character is an intentional illusion? What if he's lying? I can't imagine why the creator of the universe would need or want to see people suffer, but I just wish I could shake the nagging thought.

By the way, have you written anything about the existence of natural evils? I'm reading Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis right now. I'm hoping he gets to that.

Metacrock said...

Right, but what if His character is an intentional illusion? What if he's lying? I can't imagine why the creator of the universe would need or want to see people suffer, but I just wish I could shake the nagging thought.

I made three arguments from deductive logic why God can't be evil. That's in addition to what we know of God form Jesus and from religious experience.

everything could be a lie. you could be a brain in vat being fed illusions. why aren't you freaking out of that one? Chances are the reason you are not is becuase life works well by assuming other wise. Life works so why assume it's a lie? It works better when we assume it's real. The same is true of spiriutal life. it works better when you trust God.

that's the bottom line. I don't mean to offend you if you are sitting fretting that God may be lying to you I suggest someone is lying to you but it's not God. you need to actively cultivate trust of God!


By the way, have you written anything about the existence of natural evils? I'm reading Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis right now. I'm hoping he gets to that.

The same arguments about the need for a world that is neutral in terms of being a dead give away also work for natural evil. That's part of the neutral look of the world. It facilitates the search.

Matthew said...

Thanks, I'm not offended. You're right, I'm just imagining worst case scenerios and allowing myself to worry about them. From now on I'm choosing to trust God, even at times when it doesn't feel comfortable to.

Metacrock said...

great glad to hear it.

Claire Rhodes said...

This is just kindof a neat thought question, partly from the perspective of Matthew, as I've been worrying about that sort of thing too; instead of evil being the rejection of good, what if good is just the rejection of evil?

Metacrock said...

right but that's my answer: I don't believe evil can come first because it requires good to rebel agaisnt and sometime to destroy.

Claire Rhodes said...

Guess someone asked that before, sorry ;p Though I wouldn't say it was impossible for God to choose to be evil, I mean how good could He truly be if He couldn't freely choose it, not to mention that the world would operate in a different way strange to us, like a complete opposite dimension.

Metacrock said...

Bible says it's impossible for God to lie. If he can't not be God he can't be evil.

that's the question to ask. Can god advocate being God?

Metacrock said...

I meant abdicate. sorry. not dyslexia that time just didn't think.

Claire Rhodes said...

Well that's just it, His rules & everything would be totally different if He had chosen evil just like you or I could.