Friday, February 20, 2015

The Non-Existence of Evil


Evil does not exist.

“What?!?!” you say.  “How could a conservative Catholic ever truly believe such a thing?”

Good question.  Glad you asked!

When I say that evil does not exist, I do not mean that it doesn’t exist in some progressive morally relativistic way.  I mean that evil, in and of itself, does not exist.  It is not the equal and opposite of good.  In fact, evil requires good in order to define itself, whereas good does not.  You see, evil is actually the absence of good, whereas good is not the absence of evil.  Evil is something contrary to God.  It is an absence of God, who is goodness itself.

“T. Paine, what have you been smoking?  I thought you were against illegal drugs!”

Hold on, a minute.  Let me explain.  And yes, I am strongly against illegal drugs, but that is a topic for another post.

Let me use an analogy.  Let’s take light and dark.  Dark only exists in the absence of light.  Its very dependence counts upon there being no light.  If you light a single candle in a massive warehouse, it is no longer completely dark.  Light and dark are not equal and dualistic opposites.  Light actually exists in the world.  Dark does not.  Without darkness, we could still scientifically analyze light.  We know its speed, its wavelength, and its particle-like properties.  What is the speed or wavelength of dark?  We cannot tell you because it does not exist.

“Huh?”

Still not buying this?  How about another analogy then?

The same is true for hot and cold.  Cold is merely the relative or perhaps complete absence of heat.  It does not exist unto itself.  Heat actually exists.  We can measure heat’s temperature, which is a function of its molecular energy.  When molecular motion ceases completely, that is what we call “absolute zero”.  There is, however, no maximum temperature where “cold particles” no longer exist.  There is no “smoking hot” converse to absolute zero, with the possible exception of my beautiful wife.    

The same concept can be applied for evil.  As I said previously, evil is metaphysically dependent upon good.  It, like dark and cold, does not actually exist itself.  Evil is an absence of good.  Indeed we cannot understand the very concept of evil without understanding good.  The reverse of this is not true, however.  We do not do good things because we seek evil.  Conversely, we do not need to understand the concept of evil to understand and do good in the world.  Evil is not the opposite of good, any more than light is the opposite of dark.

“Whoa, T. Paine!  That is heavy, man!”

Lightness is not the opposite of heaviness; it is a lack thereof.

“Stop that, dude!”

Okay, sorry.  Back to our discussion on evil not existing.

As I was saying, evil is an absence of good… an absence of God.  As a “thing” in and of itself, it does not exist.  We can see the actions, the results, of this lack of good in the world though, just as we can see the darkening results as we extinguish more lamps in a room.  We can see what happens when we remove ourselves from goodness.  It is through that drawing away from good that we become selfish, greedy, and narcissistic.

Ironically, evil actually pays homage to good, not only in its very definition, but in the actions of it.  Evil is always perpetrated in the pursuit of some real or perceived good.  Someone may commit an act of evil in pursuit of a good such as pleasure, honor, love, etc., that they think will come from that act.  For that person, the ends justify the means.

Let me give you some examples.  Abortion is an evil that is unfortunately chosen for the perceived good of the mother sometimes.  The destruction of God’s creation in the environment is often done under the perceived good of economic development.  ISIS and other similar Islamic terrorist organizations see their acts of evil as necessary in order to convert the world to their perverted brand of Islam.  All of these acts of evil are paying homage to perceived goods.

And while evil actions and unspeakable atrocities occur daily throughout the world, the fact of the matter is that evil only exists in the world because of a consciously chosen decision to turn away from goodness.  It is through the misuse of our God-given free wills to turn away from Him… to turn away from good… that allows evil to exist.  It does not exist on its own.

5 comments:

Tim McGaha said...

It's been a long time since I read Aquinas, but this seems like a fairly accurate summary of his argument.

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Questions/god-evil.html

http://www.quodlibet.net/articles/king-aquinas.shtml

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/probevil.html

T. Paine said...

Great links, Tim. Thanks for sharing.

John Myste said...

Theodicy is an interesting word. It sounds like a hybrid of theo, meaning god and idiocy, meaning idiocy.

Of course, I don't see it this way. I just think the sound of the word is somewhat ironic.

Though I appreciate your argument, I find that "good" could not exist without evil, merely because "good" is a measurement, though an imprecise one. If all things were infinitely good, then "good" would simply describe a state that has no alternative state. The term would be meaningless and incomprehensible.

One could argue that it would be incomprehensible, but not meaningless. Don't do that. You are a free agent capable of not making this argument. Please do not not not make this argument.


To be honest, I find the whole discussion completely theodical.

T. Paine said...

Mr. Myste, I admit that I had to chuckle at your take on the logical roots of the word “theodicy” in spite of myself.

That said, I humbly disagree with you regarding “good” being simply a measurement. It is no more a measurement than “light” is a measurement or “heat” is a measurement. These things actually exist and are tangible in their own way. They can be qualified, and not simply quantified as a mere unit of measure.

While I understand and can follow the logic of your argument, it is not really accurate… and certainly not from a theological perspective.

Without evil, goodness still exists. That doesn’t mean that without the existence of evil, all things are infinitely good though. Only God is infinitely good. Only He is eternal. Imperfections, mutations, and entropy, etc. may cause His creation, in whatever guise it takes, to vary in its degrees of goodness. That doesn’t mean that evil has corrupted goodness. That simply means that goodness in creation, in acts of will, in acts of nature are finite and thus will vary in goodness. One can still understand “good” though without having a concept of evil at all. Good exists and can be found everywhere in God’s creation. Evil does not exist. It only seems to do so when one intentionally turns away from good.

John Myste said...

“It is no more a measurement than “light” is a measurement or “heat” is a measurement. These things actually exist and are tangible in their own way. They can be qualified, and not simply quantified as a mere unit of measure.”

“Good” -- abstract, intangible and un-quantifiable. Other than that, though, I see your point.

“Imperfections, mutations, and entropy, etc. may cause His creation, in whatever guise it takes, to vary in its degrees of goodness.”

Well, that’s because His creation is flawed. I could make a better pizza, and I claim no divinity at all.

We all accept axiomatically that good is “a thing.” I see it as a thing much in the same way the number 2 is a thing. You see it as a thing, much in the same way that heat is a thing. Whether good is more akin to heat or the number 2, when you and I reference it, we are typically pointing to the same concept, and it is to that concept that we all bow down, whether in the name of God, in the name of utilitarianism, or in the name of some other Moral Sense we wish to satisfy.

I do not see how good could in any way be synonymous with a God, if there be such a Being, because we then have to make the assumption that said God was all-good, which would be unknowable if true, so should be nothing we would ever assume.

I do think Dionysus was a Good One, though, but perhaps not All Good, which is a tall order. From the lens of my worldview, I am just not prepared to declare that Dionysus is all good, or that evil is the absence of Dionysus. I am prepared to concede that when we measure goodness, Dionysus may far over on the good side of the Goodness scale, and that’s not too bad.