Tuesday, March 4, 2008

God: Master of Evil

Hope the title caught your attention.

Lots of my classes lately have been discussing the problem of evil in theology, which has got my wheels a-turnin'. Here's the run-down:

The traditional view of God states that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. God, with all of these traits, created the universe. We see that the universe has evil in it, which poses a few problems. 1) How can God, being all good, create a universe which contains evil? and 2) How can God, being all good and all powerful, see evil in creation and do nothing about it? It seems like there are some inconsistencies.

For starters, it's probably best to take an almost agnostic stance towards the whole thing and say, "Well, we'll never know God's intentions and so maybe what we think is evil really isn't evil but part of a greater good." I have a major problem with that. If you're going to take an agnostic stance towards the problem of evil, you must also take an agnostic stance towards the very nature of God. The only solution is mysticism. It just doesn't make sense to put forth premises about the nature of God and, seeing that they lead to an inconsistent conclusion, appeal to ignorance and say that we'll never know the will of God.

I think I have a more coherent view of God that might help solve this issue. What if God is not perfect in the sense that God contains absolutely no concept of evil, but instead God contains evil and is the perfect master of evil. In this way God is perfect and it isn't incoherent to see that God's creation contains evil. I also believe this idea solves the problem of evil's continued existence in the world, but it might be a bit of a stretch. Here goes.

When you think about the perfect person, that concept doesn't entirely exclude notions of what is wrong and the capability to do it. That person had to learn not to do wrong and learn to love what is right. Seeing as we are reflections of God and made in God's image (from a Christian perspective), it would make sense that we are striving to be more like God, who also has a concept of evil but loves good so much that God never commits acts of evil. So much in the same way that our idea of the perfect person knows what is evil and has the ability to commit evil acts but does not, so too does God.

Perhaps God sees a greater purpose for allowing bad things to exist within the world. A perfect person would have no conception of "right vs. wrong" if the two did not coexist and contrast each other. If evil did not exist, there would be no great challenges in the world to help develop character and allow humankind to reach its full potential.

I've still got a lot of thinking and developing to do with this idea, but I kinda like it. It answers a lot of questions for me. This is also the first time I've tried to express it in any solid fashion, so there are sure to be a few major kinks. Critiques? Ideas?


PeterAtLarge said...

I wonder if this is different from Manicheism? (Have I spelled that right?)

Mark said...

I think it is, seeing as Manicheism believes that there are two gods: one evil and one good. I am still talking in terms of monotheism, but I don't think of God as not containing any evil at all. God is just the supreme ruler of evil and has conquered it, using it for God's own purposes, but I know I still have a lot of clarification to do here. Thanks for the comment, Peter.

Anonymous said...

You've got a good idea going, and I can see how yours classes (especially Confucian Virtue Ethics) have helped you arrive here. We talked about this a little bit, and I'd like to put forth something you said to me in person. It basically restates what you've said here, but I think it was a nice, spur-of-the-moment flash of eloquence (don't we all wish we had more of them!).

"It's like God has possessed evil from the beginning, but has since been able to completely reign in his desire to commit evil acts. Thus we, who are created in His image [from a Christian perspective], commit evil acts, because we haven't yet mastered the evil in ourselves like God has."

The only problem I have with it is that I feel about I'm reading about a "continently virtuous" God. This is probably just because you're still working out the kinks, so I would make sure to spend some time explaining why he's not just continent. :)

Anonymous said...

Another thing: I think the agnostic argument can be used that way, but I don't think it holds true to the spirit of an agnostic argument.

When arguing, there are two ways of using agnosticism. The first is where your position from the beginning is that you can't know to know the answer because of epistemological problems, but you'll go ahead and argue anyway, sort of like entertaining a "what if?" situation. The second is where you start with an argument (for relevance, let's say for God's existence), then when your arugment has been weakened, you fall back on agnosticism, saying that neither viewpoint can be proved true or false, because of x,y,z…

This former is the right way to go about agnosticism. The latter is not only the wrong way to go about agnosticism, but the wrong way to go about honest argumentation at all. Check my blog for a post that elaborates this.

Anonymous said...

I think agnosticism makes sense in terms of our inability to really know/prove the existence or lack of existence of a god. But it is a little unsatisfying, because I think as humans we are meaning-makers and want to find explanations for our experiences. I call my self a nontheist rather than an atheist because I don't feel I can say defnitievly that there is no God, but I truly don't find the concept a necessary one. When you start trying to conceptualize an anthropomorhic God, you run ito some problems. Unless you stre-e-e-e-tch the meaning of "God" - Love, perhaps? Then I can buy that we all contain God within us, and that a good life involves working to express that of God in you through compassion, tolerance, peace, and the like.

rob winger said...

but what if...
God knew that someday, there would be someone like mark and thought, "maybe what he needs is for me to reveal who i am, since that brain of his is so finite..." where can you find evidence of this God revealing the essence of who God is in a way we finite-minded humans could understand?