Saturday, April 9, 2011

Paging Dr. Evil

Dr Evil2At the Sam Harris/William Lane Craig debate at Notre Dame the other night, Craig made a statement that I wanted to return to. I was so struck by it that I wrote it down verbatim in my notes, and then wrote it on my “To Write About” list so that I didn’t forget it. (I have little notepads and notebooks all around me. I try to keep them tidy, but they really are a necessity for me. I’ve got so many thoughts going through my mind that I have to corral them somehow!)

Craig’s statement was this: “Evil proves that God exists.” Nothing fancy there, just five little words, but said with great certainty. I knew that I needed to think about this.

I’m no philosopher, and have read very little of any of the great philosophers’ writings, so I can’t really approach this question from that sort of viewpoint. I was raised with religion and have done a lot of pondering through the years, so this will only be from my perspective. I can’t really make any of those sorts of philosophical arguments and back it up with data or references. This will be only my own questions and thoughts on the matter.

I suppose I could take the sarcastic viewpoint, and make the observation that because there has been so much misery in the world throughout the millennia, stating that evil proves that God exists makes a lot of sense, and places the blame entirely on God. (For the purposes of this entry, I will be capitalizing the word “god,” because Craig obviously intended it to mean the Judeo-Christian god, rather than any of a number of other gods, or a general descriptive term for a divine being.) But I know that wasn’t his intended meaning; no, he meant to say that the existence of evil in the world somehow proves that there must be a counter-force, and he says that counter-force is God.

I honestly don’t see the logic in that statement. Is he saying that God created evil? If so, why? What purpose would that serve? Was it to be a test for his creations, to see if we were tempted and succumbed? Isn’t that sort of like giving an alcoholic a bottle of scotch and telling them not to drink it or be damned? Isn’t that sort of sadistic?

If God didn’t create evil, did Satan? And if God is omnipotent, why did he let Satan do that? Didn’t he want to protect his creations from such evil? For that matter, didn’t he see it coming when Satan rebelled...and why didn’t he put a stop to it? Wouldn’t that have been better than unleashing such evil upon the world and the people he created?

If I recall, the whole concept of evil and misery goes back to Eve defying orders and eating the fruit that was forbidden to her, and then getting Adam to join in, all after being tempted by Satan. (Sure, blame it on the woman.) Again, this God seems like a rather malicious sort, one who would taunt his children by placing things within their reach and then telling them to not partake, or be damned. Again, if he is omnipotent, didn’t he know exactly what would happen? What sort of bizarre scenario did he set up in which he knew exactly how his children would behave, but then damn them and their descendants for the rest of time?

As for Craig’s original statement, that evil proves that God exists, I still don’t understand this logic. I could just as easily say that happiness proves that Bigfoot exists. Or that shame proves that unicorns exist. There is no correlation there. It is attributing the existence of some entity to a human trait, which seems completely arbitrary to me.

For that is what “evil” is: an entirely human trait and behavior. Some see a killer and say that they are evil. Chances are good that they are mentally ill. Some see genocide taking place in our world, and say that it is evil. It is a societal ill perpetrated by those in power upon others. Can people be evil? Of course. But how does the behavior of a madman prove the existence of God? How does the presence of one thing guarantee the existence of another thing? This makes no sense to me.


  1. Good thinking Beth. You don't have to be a philosopher to dispute that unfortunate and erroneous statement. People forget, or else they don't know and don't believe that the Garden Of Eden is a myth, to try to explain evil in the world. God did not create us sinners and then punish us for being sinners. Who wants to worship that kind of a sadistic, whimsical god? Up can prove there's a down. Dark can prove there is light. But evil which is not good may prove there is good in human affairs, but it does not prove the existence of God. "A house divided against itself cannot stand" Jesus said. If God was both good and evil It would cancel itself out.

  2. I would say that the assertion "Evil proves that God exists" proves that some people are so divorced from reason that they are susceptible to religious belief.

    The assertion "Evil proves that God exists" is a non-sequitur logical fallacy. A problem for reasonable people, but absolutely no obstacle for a religious individual.

  3. the fact that evil exists proves nothing more than evil exists. people made god up to control other people and to avoid having to admit that sometimes things in life are just beyond explanation.

    i've been holding my tongue on another fb thread that discusses why satan can't claim forgiveness from god. in my mind, if even one person is left out from being able to accept jesus christ as their savior and get forgiveness from sin than the entire deal is suspect because you can't go out of the way to marginalize one person, deny them forgiveness, continue to vilify them and still claim to be a christian......


  4. Craig makes the assumption that evil is not a human construct. We've evolved complex brains and social cooperation as a survival mechanism. That brings with it a set of criteria by which one judges if another human being is safe or unsafe. It's not surprising we've evolved a sense of morality.
    But the definition of evil changes. No one thought it evil when the King had men tortured, many insisted it was justified when Bush was President. Homosexuality was considered evil--now, not so much. Murder is supposed to be evil, yet chaplains serve in the army and speak of "just causes." Craig's argument is lame.
    Faith is only interesting because it is inherently full of doubt. NO ONE can prove the existence of non-existence of God. IT IS UNPROVABLE. Believers who acknowledge that might make much better arguments.

  5. Is he saying that God created evil? If so, why? What purpose would that serve? Was it to be a test for his creations, to see if we were tempted and succumbed? Isn’t that sort of like giving an alcoholic a bottle of scotch and telling them not to drink it or be damned? Isn’t that sort of sadistic?

    Yes, it's sort of sadistic, like putting two people in paradise and telling them they can do what they like as long as they don't eat the fruit of a tree that — if they did eat the fruit — would give them the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, not having that knowledge, they didn't know disobedience was evil...

    There was an interesting (but frustrating) discussion on "the fall" over at the Unbelievable? forum.

    As for evil proving the existence of God, I think this comes from Craig's moral argument: if you accept that objective moral values (knowing the difference between good and evil) provide evidence for a supernatural moral-law-giver, the fact that you can recognize evil when you see it means that God (the moral-law-giver) must exist. It's precisely because Craig can't untangle himself from this dependence that I think he completely misunderstands Sam Harris's thesis.

  6. Beth, I posted a comment here a day or so ago, but it hasn't appeared. It contained a link, so Blogger may have decided it was spam. If you find it and approve it, feel free to delete this one.


  7. Paul, thank you so much for leaving the comment asking me to check my spam folder. I didn't even realize that Blogger now had a spam folder, and found a couple of other comments that I approved! I will leave your second comment in case any of my Blogger friends didn't know about that.

    As to your comment, I agree. Craig firmly believes that atheists have no morals, because they have no law-giver, and stated as much in the debate. This is patently untrue, but he cannot divorce himself from this notion. I am honestly perplexed by anyone who thinks that. I suppose I could make a similar faulty leap in logic and look at people like Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, ad nauseum, and say that people who profess to be godly have no morals! Jeez, I may be an atheist, but you don't see me running around snorting blow off of a hooker's ass!

  8. Beth, you make some very good observations. I think he purposely made that statement that way because there is no correlation. You can't build an argument against it and if you were discussing the point it would be simple to lead parties off on tangents getting them further away from the question.

    I'm not a good person to ask about pure philosophy any longer either. What books I did read on the subject were read a very long time ago. I'd also be afraid that my own personal moral, spiritual, and philosophical constructs would interfere with pure philosophical argument. I'm out of practice and it takes prep and patience to keep your own beliefs from tainting a philosophical discussion.


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