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Upholding The Light Of Jesus In A Dark World

Evil And Who Knows It

Gen. 3:4-5 ~ “4-And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5-For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

The Atheist Bus Campaign proudly hails that humanity doesn’t need to worry because there is” probably no God”. The American Humanists claim that we don’t need God to be good and that individuals can just “be good for goodness sake”. These statements assume that belief in God is nonessential to life and that an individual can discern and know what is good on their own. The problem is that in order to be good one must also know what is bad or evil and be able to distinguish the difference.

The focus of this article is to examine the human epistimeology of good and evil. This is better stated as how and on what basis do individuals know what is good or bad. This atricle will look specifically at the knowledge of “evil” and how evil is discerned both in the life of the Christian and in the life of the unsaved or atheist. 

I intend to ask and answer the following questions in this article:

1- What is evil and where does it come from?

2- How does one come to identify what is evil?

3- Can them that are lost confidently know what evil really is?

4- How is the Christian concept of evil superior to the atheistic concept of evil? 

 I: What Is Evil And Where Does It Come From?

In many philosophical circles, evil is defined as morally objectionable behavior or that which causes harm destruction and/or misfortune. For many, it is said that evil emanates from immorality which is the quality of not being in accord with standards of right. Evil is equavalent to being wicked or posessing iniquity.

Throuought history, it has been thought that unpleasurable things are evil. In fact the Plato’s (428-347 B.C.E.) view of evil which was gained from his teacher Socrates (470-399 B.C.E.) he stated that the only reason why the pleasures of food and drink seem to be evil is that they result in pain and deprive us of future pleasures. {Plato Progaras, 353e}

 Socrates (in Plato’s early work) argued, that which we call evil is merely ignorance and that good is that which everyone desiresBenedict de Spinoza said that the difference between good and evil is merely one of personal inclinations:

“So everyone, by the highest right of Nature, judges what is good and what is evil, considers his own advantage according to his own temperament… .”

If you are careful to notice, the term “evil” is normally used as a descriptive based on concepts of relativistic or subjectivistic thought. In other words “evil” according to most, is only “evil’ as it relates to its relative position to an individual, culturally acceptable standards of the community or personal moral assessments. In other words “evil’ as it is described in modern society is nothing more than a figment of the imagination.  

Philosophically Speaking:

There are generally three types of evil pointed to in most circles:

1- Moral Evil ~ Evil as a result of choice of moral agents

2- Natural Evil ~ Evil that occurs as a result of natural circumstance beyond our control

3- Nonmoral Evil~ Evil that occurs as a result of accident or neglect.

Augustine To The Rescue:

St. Augustine, in his defense of the faith “On The Morals Of The Manichaens, [5.7]” set forth the concept that evil is not the absence of good, as is commonly taught in philosophical circles, but the corruption of good.  His argument is summarized as follows:

1- Corruption is a general definition of evil.

2- Corruption, which is not a substance, does not exist by itself but in what it corrupts.

3- Corruption is only identified when whatever is corrupted by it looses integrity and purity.

4- That which has no integrity or purity cannot be corrupted.

5- Therefore for anything to suffer corruption or perversion implies the presence of integrity, purity and ultimately good.

In the Christian worldview evil is better stated as being the corruption of good or of what has integrity and purity, not the absence of good. In other words evil cannot be identified unless it is set against a standard that is not corrupted to begin with.

In some cases evil is the lack of an inappropriate relationship between good things. Example, Boots are good, a persons face can be and is generally good, but a boot on a face is an inappropriate relationship especially when there was nothing done to deserve it.

Evil can also be the lack of something that should be there in relationship between good things. For example, the husband that mistreats his wife or father that abuses his children. He does so because he lack the love that he should have for his spouse and children, while at the same time he may either love someone else or love some other activity that assists him eliminating or lowering his love for his family. The problem is not that there is no love, love exists, but there is a serious lack of love or maybe even hatred for what should be loved.  

II: How Does One Come To Identify Evil?

The Philosophical Dilemma

I point out yet another philosophical dilemma regarding evil. This deals with both the ethical view of evil and the epistimological understanding or awareness of evil. That epistimological understanding of evil  simply asks or seeks to find out how one knows or identifies evil.

Views on the nature of evil tend to fall into one of four opposed camps:

  • Moral absolutism holds that good and evil are fixed concepts established by a deity or deities, nature, morality, common sense, or some other source.
  • Amoralism claims that good and evil are meaningless, as there are no deities, no moral ingredient in nature. Amoralists tend to apply a homo economicus style of making decisions in their lives.
  • Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice.
  • Moral universalism is the attempt to find a compromise between the absolutist sense of morality, and the relativist view; universalism claims that morality is only flexible to a degree, and that what is truly good or evil can be determined by examining what is commonly considered to be evil amongst all humans.

The view that something is either good or bad of itself is called intrinsicism. Intrinsic values are nonderivative values. In other words something is either good or bad without regard to who or ewhat it is good or bad to or for. There is a problem with intricism. Anything good on its own has nothing to compare itself to. In other words there is no contrast offered by which something that is truely good without respect to whom it’s good to can really be assessed as being good. Therefore intrisic worth is a circular argument in many cases.

This is where it gets interesting. For one to identify evil, one would also have to assign or have assigned a set of values as a contrast to the assessment being made. Those values may be based on subjective or objective means, but there is a value relationship and value assertion nonetheless, otherwise there can be no identification of anything evil or corrupt. Current philosophical understandings of intricism do not address this particular issue and fail to account for initial value judgements and assertions. This is done primarily due to the belief that community in many cases, is responsible for value judgements. This thought is probably one of the worst of all arguments and certainly has shown not to be the case. Why? First, because nearly all cultures, varying as they may be, and in some cases not in touch with either at all, hold to certain standards and values in high esteem that are seemingly universal, such as charity, selflessness, nurturing of others etc. These standards are always held out as being virtuous from culture to culture without having been derrived from any particular culture or social setting.

Secondly, value assessments and judgements are made regularly regarding these matters outside of community from culture to culture and third, if one says that good values are learned from family and maternal “passings on”, then one is right back where we started asking for the first cause of the value judgement ie: where did your mommas, mommas, momma get that from and then where did they get it from. A trail of infinate regression that leads back to a beginning either way where a standard was set forth.

Fourth, the bible accords that God is the only intrinsically good being.   For something to have intrinsic value means that it can be valuable or not, good or bad, without reference to who it is good or bad for, and without reference to the reason it is good or bad. Although this statement for a philosopher is a self-defeating, in our current condition, we can identify good when we identify evil since evil is the corruption of what is good.  In the case of God he is self-ascribed as the self-existent one who is good.

Exodus 3:14 ~ “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

III: Can Them That Are Lost Confidently Know What Evil Really Is?

Everything in the natural world (HIS creation) only has extrinsic value and goodness as declared by God himself. This is called a metaphysical value statement. Extrinsic values are derivative values, therefore intrinsic values preceed extrinsic values. This is the problem with idol worship or any exaltation of “things” above God, as those “things”, idols or whatever they may be have no intrinsically good value. Their value is only given and accounted for based on subjective ascriptions of value. This concept should also give additional insight into the writings of Paul in Romans 1:25 when he said:

“Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

The “creature” here represented men and mankind as well as the pleasures of this world. In reference to natural things one does not normally say that there is an “evil” tree or an “evil” rock. Once again, the identification that a tree or rock is not evil in and of itself is an ascription of value to that object. The rock or tree only becomes evil when their use is perverted or corrupted in some manner.  For the Christian this is confirmed within the creation when God said this:

Gen. 1:31 ~ “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”

God declared that everything that he had made was good from the time that he made it. By declaration of God this is an example of the creation being declared extrinsically good. This is called an extrinsic value declaration.  

What is unaccounted for by the philosophical crowd is the difference that came into existence after the fall:

Genesis 3:17-19 ~17-And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18-Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19-In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” 

The very creation that God had made and called good, had been cursed. Please note extrinsic value of the creation changed so much that even the creation itself cries to be redeemed as noted by Paul in Romans:

Romans 8:22 ~ “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

Spinoza Unraveled:

In Spinoza’s understanding as referenced previously within this article, “evil” would only be applied to something after the consideration of the benefits to which those actions are applied. Corruption of what is good was not a consideration for Spinoza. All was purely based on a persons relationship to what was done. For example,  killing, though generally held to be “evil”, under certain circumstances may not be “evil” because it may be for self-defense or self preservation. Therefore the concept of klling may not be thoroughly or absolutely evil.

The little trick here deals with the “own temperment” part of Spinoza’s statement. This rests upon a persons basis for carrying out the action. Using killing as an example again, under Spinoza’s construction, “evil” would not be applied to killing if killing were in line with the killer’s own standard of moral justification no matter what suffering results from the action. In fact in war killing is praised as long as the enemy is the one killed. Therefore, the act of killing takes on a relative and subjective position and moral value under certain circumstances.

Another example may include a person who steals out of what they think is necessity for their family to eat. Although thievery is wrong in some cases it may be looked upon as a noble and sincere action to prevent further uncomfort or evil from occurring .

The Christian must admit that these statements seem to be a highly plausible statements and ones that appear to have validity. God who abhors murder also told the children of Israel to possess the land of promise and in many cases kill or destroy all the inhabitants of the land.

Deut. 9:3-4a ~ “3-Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD hath said unto thee. 4-Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: “

The critic happily assesses that even God’s moral values are subjective and based on his whims, but is that really the case?

First, God has declared that he is the Lord and he changes not:

Malachi 3:6“For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

Heb. 13:8 ~ “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

His steadfastness is clear. God’s nature remains the same. God’s intents remain the same. What the critic misses is that God has also said that  he abhors evil and the sin that man continues to choose. Remember, God had a disdain for sin before sin even existed. The people in Caanan were idolotrous and full of all the sins that God said he despises. The elimination of sin, would not have been a violation of God’s nature or a subjective value change of God’s nature but was fully in accord with the nature of God. Look at what he said in the same verses of scripture regarding Caanan’s destruction:

Deut. 9:4b-5 ~”For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. 5Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

God’s righteousness cannot be separated from his nature. He has eternally set forth the standard of righteousness and his “temperment” is made known from the beginning. Therefore he is consistent in demanding justice for sins committed and that consistency overrides what men call moral subjectivism.

So the view of the world regarding “evil’ is all based on concepts of subjective rationalism and those concepts do not and cannot apply to God as his standards have been set much further than what men have traditionally given him credit for. As you can see, to not have an understanding of the objective nature of the morality of God only leads to blatant absurdities.

Possibility vs. Actualization:

The duality of ‘good versus evil’ is expressed, in some form or another, by many cultures. Those who believe in the duality theory of evil believe that evil cannot exist without good, nor good without evil, as they are both objective states and opposite ends of the same scale.

In the Christian worldview evil exists as an exercise of the human agency of free-will. This thought is highly effective when one realizes first that freedom is not about having unlimited choices. Freedom is about having the unfettered ability to make a choice. God made man free moral agents and beings. via that process he also extended to man the opportunity actualize do evil. Therefore God by creating free moral agents also created the possibility of evil, however man made the actuality of evil by the exercise of his free-will. For God to have created without the ability to do evil would have been manipulation plain and simple and would have destroyed free-will and freedom alltogether.

God could also not have created anything, however that sentiment completely overlooks the fact that what god did create was good and without corruption. In short, God certainly created the possibility of evil, however man made evil the actual reality and his choice even effected the echosystem in which we live.

Summary:

I propose that evil exists in our world today and that we recognize that evil as either corruption or perversion of what we view as good.

I propose that “evil’ cannot be distinguished as ‘evil’ in an of itself without the light of God through the inner conscience indicating what is good and without corruption.

It is evident that the world has labeled and branded actions as either “evil” or “good”. However, many of those standards are only  subjective and do not address the intrinsic nature, value actions or essence of what is being observed.

The atheist has been blinded to the fact that the only way he/she can recognize evil is because of the recognition of the effect of evil upon what is good and pure.

I propose that since evil does exist, only the religious and expecially Christians can know it. Why?

1- Because he has provided an objective standard whereby evil is judged and

2- There is no objective standard whereby anything can be said to be absolutely evil  outside of God and his communicable objective moral values.

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