Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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 .   

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