Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Defining "Evil" on My Own Terms, and Using it Against God: Part II

In Part I, I described the video I had shared which made a logical case against denying God’s existence simply on the basis that “evil” exists and discussed a definition of evil which excludes God and relies on our own subjective opinions.

It’s worth repeating that, without an objective definition of “evil”, all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.


And this is where the dialog with “MC” comes in.  I had addressed this to another friend of mine [Jay], but it was “MC” who replied.
 
Dave:  God’s existence can’t logically be denied just because there is evil in the world.  In fact, wouldn’t you agree that the existence of evil implies that there is a way things are “supposed to be” (a.k.a. “good”)? 
 
And if there is a way things are supposed to be, that implies a plan [for how things are supposed to be], which implies a planner (God), who can redeem us from evil so that we can live our lives the way things “are supposed to be”.  Evil, then, serves as indirect evidence for God. 

Even [Jay’s] claim that God must be evil or sadistic requires that you accept a “way things are supposed to be”, except you don’t have an objective basis to say how things should be.  What would be your evidence that God’s actions were evil or sadistic?  That they went against His own plan of how things “should be”?  Or are you basing this on a subjective opinion of an act being good or bad?
 
MC:  Gotta say that the logic of "if there are bad things in the world, God is implied" is completely illogical, and is a HUGE leap of faith.  The concept of evil is more easily defined as the things we don't want done to us, or others.  The worse the indiscretion, the more evil we perceive it to be.  Those ideas can and do exist without God.  To say that I need God in order to know that killing, stealing, etc, is bad is to give away your common sense to a man in the sky.  We know it's bad because we can see the effects it has on people everyday.  They're tangible.  They affect us.  To accept that there is a "way things are supposed to be" is incredibly naïve.  People shouldn't hurt each other because people know what it feels like to be hurt.  That's logic.  Anything else is just arbitrary reasoning for things you don't, or can't understand.
 
Dave:  It’s a huge leap of faith to say that the presence of evil implies that there is a way things are supposed to be [where there is not evil]?  And if there is a way things are supposed to be, it’s a huge leap of faith to say this implies a plan for the way things are supposed to be [which implies a planner]?  I don’t see that as a leap of faith.  To me, that’s simple logic.
 
MC:  "You consider your beliefs, of which you have NO proof, more logical than to just believe that conscience, or lack of conscience dictates behavior?"
 
*After this point, “MC” stated he was not interested in continuing.  While I proceed as though it were a continued discussion, it should be noted that I have no expectation for him to respond, and this is more for an example of how to respond to such comments as above. Had we continued, I would have addressed his comment on “proof” and then gone back to discuss his previous comment more in depth, like this:*

 
It’s interesting that you mention “proof” in regards to belief.  I would say that you have no “proof” for what you believe either.  You only have “evidence”.  For example, do you believe that genocide is wrong, and can you give me the scientific “proof” that genocide is wrong?  While I agree that Hitler’s choices were evil, I don’t think you can give any “proof” for that.    
 
As to the existence of God, there are actually 5 philosophical proofs that Aquinas put forward.  But there is another argument used by John Henry Newman that you actually bring up in your own argument.  You said that “conscience…dictates behavior”, as though all humans share in this moral arbiter.    I happen to agree.  I define conscience as the compelling inner voice of God…His moral law written into the hearts of all men.  You might define it as some abstract notion that all men happen to share in, but if the conscience is not objective in what it tells us, then it means nothing at all.  A subjectively defined “conscience” need not conform one’s conscience to anyone else’s (same as a subjective definition for “evil”).    
 
You said, “To accept that there is a "way things are supposed to be" is incredibly naïve”.  Okay, then on what basis do you complain against evil?  If there isn’t “a way things should be”, that means that the evils of the world are no less natural than anything else in the world; so on what basis can you complain against it?  You might as well complain against the sun rising too late in the winter.
  
People shouldn’t hurt each other because people know what it feels like to be hurt”.  So, if I don’t know what a specific hurt feels like, it’s not evil?  Each kind of evil doesn’t exist until each of us feels the hurt of each evil act? 
 
Let’s look back at stealing, killing, etc.  You said, “Those ideas can and do exist without God.  To say that I need God in order to know that killing, stealing, etc., is bad is to give away your common sense to a man in the sky”. 
First of all, I don’t believe in a “man in the sky”.  If you want to set up strawmen so you can pretend to make a good point, go for it.  But if you want to have a rational and logical discussion, you should address what I actually believe.  But in case you were not resorting to fallacy:  is your only problem with God that you believe Him to be “a man” who “lives in the sky”?
 
For the actions of stealing and killing, etc., you are saying that the morality of these acts is based on individually held feelings, (…because people know what it feels like).  If they are, then your definition of evil means nothing because many different people have many different definitions/examples of/feelings about things they “don’t want done” or that they DO want done.  Your definition of evil can change from person to person, from era to era, from culture to culture…and it therefore means nothing
 
We know it’s bad because we see the effects if has on people every day”.    Maybe you didn’t realize it, but you just said that something isn’t evil until someone recognizes it as evil.  Until we see the effects is has, it’s not evil.  Taken to the logical end, I could use your definition to exclude myself from any guilt by simply not seeing the effects that my actions have. 
 
The concept of evil is more easily defined as the things we don't want done to us, or others.  The worse the indiscretion, the more evil we perceive it to be”.  So, if I don’t want something done to me, it’s evil.  But if you do want the exact same thing done to you, it’s not evil?   And if I perceive something to be a worse indiscretion, it is more evil…but only to me, not to you who DOES want the same thing?  Again, your definition of evil doesn’t actually mean anything. 
 
And finally, you began with, “Gotta say that the logic of "if there are bad things in the world, God is implied" is completely illogical, and is a HUGE leap of faith”.  I gotta say that the misrepresentation of what I actually said is a huge strawman, but let’s go with.  [What I actually said was, “…the existence of evil implies that there is a way things are “supposed to be” (a.k.a. “good”)…And if there is a way things are supposed to be, that implies a plan [for how things are supposed to be], which implies a planner (God)”.]
 
So, in short form, I said, “x implies y”.  And your position is, “x implies not-y”.  What does “not-x” imply?  Do you believe that if there was no evil in the world, that this would be evidence for God?
 
So, what is “evil” and why doesn’t it disprove the existence of God?  Evil is, to quote Thomas Aquinas, “the privation of good”.  It doesn’t disprove God for the reasons noted at the beginning of this article.  But more to the point in this article, it actually implies God, because it implies the way things should be [without evil], which implies a plan for the way things should be, which implies a planner (God).  Take away that logical implication, and all you are left with is a mish-mash of subjective opinions that don’t mean anything at all, and then “evil” can’t even logically be said to exist because it has no meaning.

Defining "Evil" on My Own Terms, and Using it Against God: Part I


It began with a video posted to a friend’s FB wall.  https://www.facebook.com/joshua.feuerstein.5/videos/549242585178428/?pnref=story
In this short [scripted] video, a young lady demonstrates that evil and suffering in the world are not sufficient evidence to deny the existence of God (logically).  One might as well not believe in dentists because of all the tooth problems, she claims.  The dentist remarks that he can’t help those who don’t come to him for help, and thus the analogy is made that evil is simply the result of people not turning to (or turning away from) God.

Obviously the analogy falls short, because analogies tend to do that.  She couldn’t really deny the existence of the dentist because she’s at his office.  (Though, that wouldn’t stop someone who has never experienced a dentist from not believing.)  But the point is a logical one.  Denying God’s existence because of the evils of the world is fallacious because 1) it presumes that man has no free will to choose against God and 2) it presumes that God, if He exists, must necessarily force His help on people who don't want it. Denying God because of evil also presumes that there is no good effect of suffering, if “evil” is defined to include all suffering.  These premises are false.
 
There is another reason that “evil in the world” cannot disprove God.  That reason is that, in order to make a logical case for this, we have to objectively define “evil”.  Objectively defining “evil” presumes objective Truth…absolute Truth.  Take God or Truth out of it (i.e. something is evil because…[some reason other than objective truth]…) and all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.  Take the following definition for example, offered by a friend I’ll call “Pat”:

Pat:  To define “evil” is childishly simple: “to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them”.  Pat continued by explaining that the ideal, (the “way things should be”, as I had put it) was simply “the lack of unnecessary harm”.

Using this definition, a couple folks pointed out to Pat that, therefore, anything that someone doesn’t want done to them, that they believe is harmful, is therefore evil.  Inoculating children who don’t want a shot, punishing Hitler, disciplining children, capital punishment, abortion, etc…all “evil”.  It was also pointed out that having an ideal of “the lack of unnecessary harm” begged the question:  Who gets to decide what is “necessary” or “unnecessary harm”?  When this was pointed out, Pat clarified the definition:

Pat:  Not “WHO”, “WHAT”?  Reason and logic [decide this].  Inoculation [and discipline, etc.] causes temporary discomfort (pain) in order to achieve a ‘greater good’ – protection from a disease.  If the same result could be achieved without that pain, then it would be “evil”, because the pain would not be necessary anymore.

Dave:  So, what you are saying is that not all harm is evil, and that some harm can lead to a greater good [which happens to be the Catholic position]. 

But you also have not answered the question you begged, and you begged it again.  WHOSE reason and logic decides which harm leads to a greater good?  Some people believe that killing someone will lead to their greater good.  Some people believe that inoculations are more harmful than good.  Some Muslims believe it is harmful for someone to take their photo.  From either view, these are actions by another "to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them".    

Pat:  Logic and reason are not contingent upon who professes it.  There is no “whose”.

I am aware [of the above scenarios].  Do they have objective EVIDENCE to support their claim?  Just because they do not want to be inoculated it does not follow that the inoculation is harmful.  Fortunately there are protocols which can be used [to determine] if a procedure is harmful or benevolent.

Dave:  Then how does logic decide what is necessary vs. unnecessary harm?  I think you will find quickly that "who" plays the deciding role here, because ultimately, a "who" is going to have to interpret that logic and reason and apply it.  Or can "logic and reason" apply itself without a "who"?  And how exactly would that happen?

As for “EVIDENCE”, I would bet that they would say they have "logic and reason".  And since you think that "logic and reason" decide this, I wonder on what grounds you would disagree with them?

But you defined evil as "to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them". By your own definition, it's “evil” according to that person being acted against, regardless of whether someone subjectively uses evidence to show the act is beneficial.  To THAT person, it is "harm to him/her, who does NOT want it to be done to them".  Are you saying that people are not free to decide for themselves what is good vs. harmful to them?

As to “protocols”, whose?  And why do they matter?

Pat’s answers to my questions repeated the same thing over again:  irrational fears don’t constitute evil against a person.  Their fears must be evaluated by rational people to determine if the act is truly harmful.  Never mind who these “rational people” are, and who gets to decide which fears are irrational, and on what objective basis they decide.  Basically, “evil” is subjective until someone “rational” disagrees, and then their judgment supercedes someone else’s whom they deem less rational.  And if we’re going to narrow it down to a “who”, then Pat is it (in this case).    

Dave:  How are you going to reconcile your own definition of evil with the fact that you won’t allow it to apply when someone disagrees with you?  It is YOUR definition of evil that justifies their fears [of an inoculation, or a photo, or whatever] as a legitimate evil against them.

Pat:  The opinion of irrational people does not count.

Dave:  This means (logically) that your definition of "evil" is:  "...to volitionally and knowingly cause harm to someone or something (animals), who do NOT want it to be done to them, except when Pat determines on his/her own authority that the "someone or something" is irrational, at which point their opinions don't count".

This discussion with Pat was completely separate from the one with Jay and MC (discussed in Part II).  But in the end, Pat proved the point I made in the other discussion (which I had also brought up to Pat).

Dave:  Pat, your position is exactly what I contend.  You DO believe in a "god" to say what is really evil or not, and that the presence of evil [absence of good] really does imply a plan for "not evil" [good], which implies a planner.

The difference, from what you have been saying, is that you believe YOU are that "god".  I, on the other hand, believe God is.

...Unless, of course, you are going to stick with the "subjectivity" angle, and then admit that there is no longer such a thing as "evil", and therefore no reason to disbelieve in God on the mere basis that some people subjectively think that some things are "evil”. 

It’s worth repeating that, without an objective definition of “evil”, all you are left with is subjective opinion (…how I perceive something…which may differ from how someone else perceives the same thing).  Subjectively defining evil becomes a meaningless mash of opinions which destroys any definition of evil.

And this is where the dialog with “MC” comes in. Part II .