Tuesday, 19 November 2013
On Evil (Part 2)
Pain and suffering as necessary biological mechanisms
As I said in Part 1, if you're considering evil, you have to consider pain as well, since evil is most readily identified through the suffering it causes.
The question 'Why does pain exist?' is basically a biological one. Pain is a necessary biological mechanism that warns an organism that it is being damaged. Without pain, there would be nothing to stop a creature from headbutting a wall or walking across sharp rocks. The damage sustained would severely risk its ability to mate and pass on its genes. Thus pain is an essential system born of evolutionary necessity.
This can be applied to other forms of pain as well. Grief could well be an evolutionary spur to keep your loved ones (especially offspring) safe. Shame is a mechanism by which we are taught not to do wrong.
I think that often when people discuss 'evil', they are thinking of natural disasters, such as the recent hurricane in the Philipines, or of famines and droughts. Why would God allow people to suffer is these ways?
Again though, it seems to me that this 'suffering' is merely a biological mechanism. Hunger is that system that tells an organism that it needs food. If there is no food around, that message becomes stronger and more unbearable, until the creature is suffering from it, but if it didn't, the drive to find food, the drive to survive would be that much less. Exactly the same is true of thirst, or cold.
To deliberately hurt someone, or to deprive them of food or drink, is definitely evil. The fact that pain exists can't really be said to be evil in and of itself.
Righ then. 'But then,' we are asked, 'isn't God directly or indirectly depriving people of food, water and shelter by allowing disasters to occur to innocent people, and by allowing evil people to exist?'
Evil as the absence of Good
This isn't a new point of view, but as far as my thinking on evil goes, there is no such thing. That's not to say that there isn't a condition that we call evil, but rather than being a thing in its own right, the word 'evil' denotes the absence of something else, in the same way that ‘hole’ denote a place where the ground isn’t, or ‘gap’ is what we call the part of a wall where the wall is not. It is also true of coldness and darkness. They are not things in and of themselves, as heat and light are forms of radiation. They are the words we use to describe the situation in which there is no (or comparatively little) heat or light.
To say that there is no such thing as evil might seem to trivialise it, and be rather wishy-washy. It could be seen as an excuse to do nothing about it. However, just because I know that technically there's no such thing as cold doesn’t mean I don’t turn on the radiator, or try and steal my wife's hot water bottle. Humans can only exist within an incredibly tiny band of heat. Too cold, or too hot and it could kill us in seconds, or less. I believe that there are flames of goodness, and a burning, scorching Sun. There may also be absolute zeroes of goodness, but I do not think any human has ever achieved that.
My point then is that I believe that God has not created evil, but He has created a world in which we may not always be as good as He might like, and that is what I will try and ponder next.