From Evil

I do quite sincerely believe in the existence of evil. I don’t merely mean the existence of unpleasant things, or the existence of things that I dislike, but rather that some things are genuinely, objectively evil. I therefore have some interest in the various arguments and counter-arguments concerning the compatibility of the existence of God with the existence of evil. However, it never occurred to me until today that the existence of evil might be the basis of an argument that actually supports theism; from Alvin Plantinga’s lecture notes:

Many philosophers offer an anti-theistic argument from evil, and perhaps they have some force. But there is also a theistic argument from evil. There is real and genuine evil in the world: evil such that it isn’t just a matter of personal opinion that the thing in question is abhorrent, and furthermore it doesn’t matter if those who perpetrate it think it is good, and could not be convinced by anything we said. And it is plausible to think that in a nontheistic or at any rate a naturalistic universe, there could be no such thing. So perhaps you think there is such a thing as genuine and horrifying evil, and that in a nontheistic universe, there could not be; then you have another theistic argument.

How to make this argument more specific? “what Pascal later called the ‘triple abyss’ into which mankind has fallen: the libidinal enslavement to the egotistical self: the libido dominandi, or lust for power over others and over nature; the libido sentiendi, or lust for intense sensation; and the libido sciendi, or lust for manipulative knowledge, knowledge that is primarily used to increase our own power, profit and pleasure.” Michael D. Aeschliman “Discovering the Fall” This World Fall 1988 p. 93.

How think about utterly appalling and horrifying evil? The Christian understanding: it is indeed utterly appalling and horrifying; it is defying God, the source of all that is good and just. It has a sort of cosmic significance: in this way it is the other side of the coin from the argument from love. There we see that the deep significance of love can’t be explained in terms of naturalistic categories; the same goes here. From a naturalistic perspective, there is nothing much more to evil–say the sheer horror of the holocaust, of Pol Pot, or a thousand other villains–than there is to the way in which animals savage each other. A natural outgrowth of natural processes.

Hostility, hatred, hostility towards outsiders or even towards one’s family is to be understood in terms simply of the genes’ efforts (Dawkins) to ensure its survival. Nothing perverted or unnatural about it. (Maybe can’t even have these categories.) But from a theistic point of view, deeply perverted, and deeply horrifying. And maybe this is the way we naturally see it. The point here is that it is objectively horrifying. We find it horrifying: and that is part of its very nature, as opposed to the naturalistic way of thinking about it where there really can’t be much of anything like objective horrifyingness.

In Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels, around page 53, there is an argument that certain kinds of human wickedness are so appalling that they require something like hell.

The thing to do here: take an example of some really horrifying evil– the Dostoyevsky thing from one of the visual aids.

On a naturalistic way of looking at the matter, it is hard to see how there can really be such a thing as evil: (though of course there could be things we don’t like, prefer not to happen): how could there be something that was bad, worthy of disapproval, even if we and all other human beings were wildly enthusiastic about it? On naturalistic view, how make sense of (a) our intuition that what is right or wrong, good or evil does not depend upon what we like or think and (b) our revulsion at evil–the story the prophet Nathan told David, at the sort of thing that went on in Argentina, Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany (Sophie’s Choice); the case mentioned in Surin’s book about the young child who was hanged and remained living for half an hour after he was hanged; the fact that the Nazis were purposely trying to be cruel, to induce despair, taunting their victims with the claim that no one would ever know of their fate and how they were treated; the thing from Dostoyevsky, who says that beasts wouldn’t do this, they wouldn’t be so artistic about it. Compare dying from cancer to the sort of horror the Germans did: the second is much worse than the first, somehow, but not because it causes more pain. It is because of the wickedness involved, a wickedness we don’t see in the cancer. An appalling wickedness.

There seems to be a lot more to it than there could be on a naturalistic account of the matter. So the naturalist says: evil is a problem for you: why would a good God permit evil, or all that evil? But evil is also a problem for him: There really isn’t any evil, (or isn’t any of a certain sort, a sort such that in fact we think there is some of that sort) on a naturalistic perspective. (This needs working out, but I think there is something to it.)

— Alvin Plantinga, Two Dozen (Or So) Theistic Arguments, online

I found those notes by following a link from Dr Vallicella’s blog article: Russell’s Teapot: Does it hold water?

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Published in: on April 11, 2010 at 10:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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