It’s Not Me That’s Evil – I Blame God!

September 5, 2009

I was enjoying a slow sunny stroll through the streets of my beloved Adelaide only to be harassed by one of those screeching born-again-on-a-milk-crate Christians excitedly warning me to renounce all evil or his loving God would send me to the pits of hell to suffer eternal torment. Pondering his charitable concern, I was struck by the thought that if this God created everything then it was him who was to blame for the existence of evil to begin with and, as such, surely it was him, and not me, who should be descending into this happy hell which he himself must also have created.

 I’m not the first to muse on these matters. Some of my favourite philosophers, Hume, Locke, Mackie, McCloskey and Dawkins have written about the existence of god, the concepts of good and evil and lots of other very silly stuff which religious zealots poison their minds with.

 But let’s get back to this business of evil and the ranting of my new milk crate chum. I asked him if he was troubled by the fact that the existence of evil threatened the very basis of his Christian beliefs. He gave me that strange blank-eyed look of confusion you get from people not used to thinking for themselves and asked me what I meant. So he stepped down from his milk crate and I sat down on it while he stood listened intently and keenly waiting for his God to give him the inspiration he needed to procure my conversion.

 I said something like this – You, your fellow Christians and other theists tell me that your god created the universe, the world and all life-forms. You tell me that your God is omnipotent, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good and all-loving. This is an ambiguous claim when you consider that even a sneaking glance at the world around us floods our vision with a healthy dose of depravity, hatred, cruelty and evil.

 This creates a big problem. Put simply: If God is entirely good he would not want evil to exist and if he is all-powerful he would be able to create a world without it. We know there is evil in the world so how could it have been created by a god who is both all-powerful and wholly good? If you are unable to find a rational explanation for this contradiction then your beliefs cannot and should not be taken seriously.

 So let’s start to have a wee peeky peeky at how the Christians try to defend the problems of evil, however before that I think we need to think about evil in two distinct categories. Borrowing from the philosophers of the past, let’s think of them as being either “natural” evils or “moral” evils. “Natural” evils are all the nasty-pasty evils for which nature is responsible and which are not the result of any particular moral decisions. These are evils such as floods, droughts, plagues and pestilence. The term “moral” evils refers to evils resulting from moral decisions and accounts for evils ranging from social injustice to the terror of Idi Amin’s reign of terror in Uganda and many other examples of genocide such as Rwanda and Sudan. These two types of evil are considered separately as they each pose different problems for advocates of God.

 Christians try to account for moral evils in terms of freewill. Humans were given freewill and evil now exists because of the way this freewill has been exercised. But how can we accept this proposition? You We must ask ourselves how an all-good god could create and/or allow the incredible amount of physical evil which exists in the world. How could an all-good god sit back and choose to watch thousands of innocent people be killed in an earthquake? How could an all-good god happily sit back and watch the suffering faces of millions of dying children? Surely, your all-powerful god would be able to do something about it?


 Yes – several attempts have been made by your fellow theists to explain the problem with this argument. In essence, they attempt to make the problem go away by claiming that evil is either necessary. or that the good which comes from having evil in the world outweighs the evil itself.


 You argue that if there were no evil in the world then we wouldn’t be able to understand what good is. You argue that if there were no evil then we wouldn’t be able to choose goodness. You build this argument in the sense of not being able to appreciate happiness without knowing sadness or not being able to appreciate pleasure without knowing pain. It is a claim that good and evil are logical and necessary opposites.

 There is a basic and some might suggest, rather offensive, flaw in this argument. The philosopher McCloskey posed the example of a person who has been born severely crippled and deformed and has never experienced pleasure. If this person has never experienced pleasure does it then make sense to say they will never have experienced pain? Pain can be both physical and emotional and, of course, they will have experienced pain and probably more than their fair share of it. So, if pain can exist without pleasure then it doesn’t make sense to argue that pleasure can’t exist without pain.

 OK – just for a moment, and just for the sake of the argument, let me temporarily concede that it may be necessary to have some evil to create a contrast with goodness.  Even after this concession, we are still left with the question of how much evil is required to create a sufficient contrast. For example, if we accept that to appreciate pleasure we must know what pain is, then surely we would only need to know a small amount of pain to ensure our understanding. How do you justify the horrific extremes of pain and suffering which occur in our world, in these terms? The hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in third world countries is surely a rather excessive way for the rest of us to learn goodness? Logically, this suggests a god who is sadistic and not a god who is all-good.

 To suggest that your God is unable to create a world in which there is only good is to deny that he is all-powerful. However, Christians do claim that God is all-powerful and do credit this God with creating a world in which pain, suffering and evil quite clearly exist. How then can he be all-good? An all-good god would not willingly create a world in which people suffer.

 Your defence is that the physical evils in this world are necessary because of the physical constraints of the universe and the laws of nature. Your fellow theists  say that physical evil exists in the world as a result of the causal laws of nature and overall we live in the best world possible. But, if it was necessary for God to create some evil in order to obtain an overall good then God must also be subject to some causal laws. If God is limited by some causal laws then how can he be attributed with creating those laws in the first place? Is that an egg of God or a godless chicken?


 You are attempting to justify the problem of evil by suggesting that there are some very good reasons for evil to exist. I’ve heard this type of argument before. It tends to go something like this – all people and animals experience pain and this pain can be necessary for their survival. The pain serves as a warning system against hunger and danger. But isn’t it also true that, there are many examples of people who are motivated to act in a particular way because it gives them pleasure? So how can it be that pain is a necessary evil? Why didn’t this god of yours choose to create a world in which all animals are motivated to act by a desire for increased pleasure rather than because they are experiencing pain?

 Your fellow theists also claim that evils are a necessary tool to foster greater goods. They argue that human qualities of goodness such as bravery and sympathy, can only develop from an overcoming of physical evils. Moral qualities which have been developed through hardship and struggle are, they claim, worth far more than those which have developed without trial. This argument is ideological and conveniently ignores the wider implications. If we accept that physical evils can promote moral goods such as bravery and sympathy we must also acknowledge that physical evils can also promote moral evils such as greed and hate. This means that there can not be a guarantee that physical evils will result in moral goods. Surely, an all-good god wouldn’t want to create a world in which there were evils which lead to even greater evils.

 Let’s explore this a little further. What about problems such as incurable mental illness and painful deaths amongst infants. Exactly what good can these unfortunate people gain from their suffering?  You are asking me to believe something I find morally offensive. That is, that a person who develops a good moral quality such as sympathy from witnessing another’s suffering justifies the existence of that suffering. I cannot possibly accept this.

 An all-powerful god would be able to create humans with a measure of goodness already of the quality which is supposedly achieved by overcoming evil.

 The English philosopher, John Hick noted the theological conception of a world without evil, a world of pure goodness, being a world without order. It would be a world in which people would never have to work, worry about being harmed in an accident or fear becoming a victim of violence because there could never be anything but good in their lives. The suggestion is that in a world such as this nothing would ever be achieved. People wouldn’t waste their time working, keeping themselves fit or inventing things to help others. Life would be so safe and comfortable that such things would be unnecessary. Sounds alright to me J . Yet, you Christian’s enthusiastically talk of Heaven, and the Heaven you talk about is supposedly a place of pure goodness. If you deny the possibility of an all-good Earth then you must also deny the possibility of an all-good Heaven for the very same reasons.

 There is no logical reason why an all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful god would create a world with any evil in it at all. Whichever way you look at it, whether we are discussing physical or moral evils there certainly seems to be a gross excess of evil in our world.


 Your Christian belief is that God created humans in his own image, and according to that image, gave the gift of freewill. Freewill gives people the ability to choose either good or evil and beer and pizza. The evil that humans choose is justified by the importance of having freewill. Theists argue that the immense value of freewill outweighs the extraordinary degrees of evil that are made possible by its existence.

 Let’s play with opposite ends of this moral spectrum. Given that man is free to choose between good and evil it is conceivable that we could end up in a world which is totally evil. Not sure about you, Mr. Milk Crate, but I’m struggling to believe that a world which is totally evil would be better than one in which men were created only able to make good choices. The immense suffering which would occur in a totally evil world would never be able to justify freewill.

 The theists claim that the ability to choose good, to create good in the world and, ultimately, to be accepted into Heaven justifies the moral evil in this world. But how do we measure the amount of good and evil in the world so that we can compare them. How do we prove that the amount of good which comes from having freewill outweighs the amount of evil which accompanies it. Given your own screechings at me today, Mr Milk Crate, I am apparently living a life of evil and therefore your Heaven is out of reach for me. It seems, for me, and millions of others, eternal Hell is the price we will pay for merely exercising our ‘gift’ from God. Your loving, all-good God gave us this gift when he knew that many people would choose evil and that he would then choose to condemn them to an eternity in torment. Thanks, mate! This means that by making the decision to give man complete freedom to choose between good and evil, God willingly allows people to be tempted and willingly created a world in which he knew people would suffer. A God who makes this choice cannot possibly be all-good.

 John Mackie, the brilliant 20th century Australian philosopher suggested that freewill didn’t necessarily mean that humans needed to be created with a complete freedom to choose evil. Humans could have been created with a nature which was destined to always choose good. He suggests that this is compatible with theistic teachings and that freewill is compatible with absolute goodness. That is, people could still need to face choices between good and evil, but they could be so constituted that they always choose the good over the evil. This would help to ensure that people gained the pleasure of Heaven and not the torment of Hell. But this is the choice your God made, Mr Milk Crate. There is also a bigger question we need to address – why do so many humans have such a strong tendency to choose evil. If God is all-good he would have wanted to create man with a tendency to choose what is good. It is very obvious when looking at the world to see that there are many people who have a very strong tendency to choose what is evil.

 Even if we accept the premise that your God gave us freewill and that people will either be rewarded or punished depending on their choices between good and evil, there is still the problem of the outcomes of those choices. Many millions of innocent people suffer, and often to violent, ugly extremes, because of the moral decisions of others. An all-powerful god would be able to protect innocent people. Clearly, innocent people are not being protected by God. Given this reality, it is illogical to conceive a god who is both all-good and all-powerful.


 Dear Mr. Milk Crate, I know this thinking for yourself business can be difficult to come to grips with, so let me spell it out: I have considered the evil you accuse me of and am forced to conclude that your arguments are poorly thought through and ultimately very silly. You see, even if you were able to account for moral evils in terms of freewill, you are still faced with the insurmountable problem of physical evils. An all-good god would not want innocent people to suffer the effects of earthquakes, droughts and cyclones and an all-powerful god would be able to prevent them. You and your fellow theists want an omnipotent and all-good God but are unable to explain how these qualities can possibly be compatible given the evil which exists in this world. The god you describe is illogical. If your not-so-good and not-so-powerful god exists then he is a rotten bastard who should go straight to his own personal hell.

 I hereby confiscate your milk crate.


Note: Thanks to my heroes Mackie, McCloskey, Hume, Hicks and Dawkins for their inspiration and challenging ideas…….

What’s wrong with the World?

August 10, 2009

It is somewhat annoying that millions of people have been murdered, tortured and abused in the name of a religion and/or tunnel vision political beliefs. It makes me feel a little upset and, at times, even puts me off my coffee.

This morning, while sharing my vegemite toast with the BBC website, I was forced to raise an eyebrow (or two) as I read about the ‘hard choices’ the UK government currently faces when needing to interrogate prisoners in far away places. I leaned into my first don’t-talk-to-me-yet sip of coffee and slurped and learned how:

“It’s very difficult to be firmly opposed to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

“There was ‘no truth’ in suggestions it was official policy to collude in, solicit, or directly participate in abuses of prisoners, but difficult judgments and hard choices had to be made and while anyone detained in the UK would be treated well, the same guarantee could not be made about those held by foreign authorities”

As the number of credible allegations of British complicity in torture continues to escalate, it seems we should relax and find comfort in the knowledge that so long as prisoners are taken somewhere ‘foreign’, and the crime isn’t committed within a British territory, we can contentedly do unto them such things which otherwise may have been “torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.”

My vegemite is finished and the rest of my coffee is unpleasantly cold. How very lucky I am not to be forced to sacrifice my principles and my humanity to justify the ‘hard choices’ that must be made in the interests of eliminating terror.


What is water-boarding?

Following are two interesting references for water-boarding which is reputed to be the preferred method of interrogation used during the growing number of  ‘credible allegations’.

Hitchins Interview
How does it feel to be “aggressively interrogated”? Christopher Hitchens found out for himself, submitting to a brutal waterboarding session in an effort to understand the human cost of America’s use of harsh tactics at Guantánamo and elsewhere. VF.com has the footage. Related: “Believe Me, It’s Torture,” from the August 2008 issue.
The video – http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/video/2008/hitchens_video200808

Wikipedia on Water-boarding