Did God Create Evil?

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One of the most common arguments against God is the existence of evil and suffering in the world. “How could a loving God have created a world with such evil and suffering?” they ask.

The answer is simple. God didn’t create evil. Evil is not the presence of something created. It is the absence of something good.

God created everything and everything He created is good. But he also gave us free will (which makes love possible). But inherent in that free will is our ability to reject His goodness. Evil exists because we have rejected God. And he allows evil to continue because he respects our free will. To suspend evil and suffering would violate the free will of the human person.

This video presents a couple of the classic analogies supporting this explanation of the existence of evil:

17 comments Add comment

Mary October 5, 2009 at 8:01 pm

So where does Satan fit in all of this? Seems to be conspicuously absent.

Also, I’m not following the logic ‘A created B, C results from B, but A is not responsible for C’. A being God, B being freewill, C being evil.

Matthew Warner October 5, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Satan was created good and through his free will chose to reject God in eternity.

Evil is not a something, it’s a nothing. Nothings are not created. They are the absence of somethings.

If I turn off the light, I didn’t really create “darkness” – although we might speak in those terms inguistically. But scientifically speaking…I didn’t create anything. I can’t look under a microscope and find “darkness particles.” I just won’t find light. I removed something – I removed light. But I didn’t create anything.

Mary October 5, 2009 at 8:39 pm

I agree with that concept as it applies to light/dark, but I fail to see how it is a good analogy for good/evil. I could just as easily argue that evil and good are both somethings, just with opposing polarities. Much like -1 and +1 … Both are nonzero.

Who’s to say which analogy is correct?

Jesse October 6, 2009 at 2:56 am

If evil is the absence of something.
And evil is the absence of good.
Then, thus good is something?

Matthew Warner October 6, 2009 at 3:47 am

Mary – the point of the post was not to proof why evil is the absence of good. It was to give an analogy that helps us grasp this particular understanding of it better.

That said, I don’t think you can “just as easily argue that evil and good are both somethings.” At least not if you believe, among many other things, that God is Love. And not if you believe that God is not the arbiter of truth and love, but that He IS truth and love Himself. This is the Christian understanding of God. So explaining evil as the absence of good not only fits experiencially, but philosophically as well.

“Who’s to say which analogy is correct?” Well certainly not either of us. But it’s not a matter of somebody “saying” which is correct. It’s a matter of which one actually is correct.

I’d be interested in hearing your arguments that evil and good are both created “somethings” and how you reconcile that with your understanding of God. Always open to learning!

Mary October 7, 2009 at 2:32 pm

I’m having trouble seeing how your conclusion of “evil is the absense of good” follows logically from the premise that “God is truth and love”. Perhaps because the argument connecting the two is missing entirely from your response. Not to mention that your premise itself is unsupported by logic alone and ought to be proven before being used as a premise. Can you shed some light?

In general, I am wary of arguments that require the redefinition of common and otherwise universal words (such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’) in such a way as to strengthen legitimacy of the logical conclusion. Throughout the history of human civilization, the concept of evil has been undeniably regarded as a force in opposition to good, not merely the absense of good. This relationship appears again and again across multiple cultures and across multiple time periods. A redefinition of ‘evil’ as the absense of good is, in my opinion, modern rhetoric crafted to simply skirt the problem of evil altogether.

Churchgoer April 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm

This has always been the Catholic understanding of evil. Lack of good IS in opposition to good. Think of darkness and light; darkness is merely absence of light, but you’d still consider darkness light’s opposite right?

Dave October 6, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Sorry, but the video is a dramatization of an urban legend:
http://www.snopes.com/religion/einstein.asp
I do agree with the argument, it just shouldn’t be attributed to Einstein.

Matthew Warner October 6, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Yeah, I didn’t believe the Einstein part either. But, as you said, the argument is the same no matter who said it. I wish people wouldn’t exaggerate or falsify like that…it ends up discrediting the stuff that is actually true! It’s not even necessary. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.

Thank you for the snopes link though! Always good to keep the facts straight!

Chris Altieri October 7, 2009 at 11:34 am

Dear Mary,

I sympathize with the struggles evil poses to the mind, as the mind struggles to work through creation and arrive at knowedge of the creator.

The following consideration is one of the things I have found useful in my own struggles with the question: the “problem of evil” as it is called in philosophical circles, is a misnomer (at the very least, it is a misrepresentation of the way in which the best thinkers on the issue have really thought about and couched it).

Evil is not a problem: it is a mystery.

That we are capable of evil is not merely problematic: it is mysterious, and terribly so (I hope it is clear that I am choosing my words with scientific exactness).

It is not something we can “work out” (this is what the Greek word means, from which we have the English ‘problem’, i.e. “something to be worked out”), at least not in history.

Consider the following: in the Roman Canon, known today also as Eucharistic Prayer I, we pray God to give us every gift of grace. This means that we ask him to make us perfect in every way.

We still sin.

The same prayer, the words of which turn bread and wine into God, asks every grace for us, and yet we still sin.

Is it that the prayer does not obtain the graces, even as it turns bread and wine into the flesh of the Living God, or is it perhaps that we reject the grace that is given us?

Best,
LD

Mary October 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm

I appreciate the thoughtful response! Let me note that I am only struggling to understand the existence of evil in a world described by Christian theology. If I apply an entirely secular perspective (that which is revealed to us through our senses, reasoning capability, and scientific method), the existence of evil is not only understandable, it is entirely predictable and doesn’t require any logical leaps of faith. But that is another discussion! ;D

Matthew Warner October 7, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Mary – One very short point to your question would be that an all loving God who is all good is not capable of doing evil…nor creating it. This understanding of evil also springs forth from the notion that everything was originally created inherently good and was good.

This isn’t a “redefinition” at all. I’m sorry if it came off as something novel. But this is a very old and traditional understanding of evil.

In fact, the very definition of “evil” implies that it is precisely what I said…an absence or deprivation of a good.

Evil: The privation of a good that should be present. It is the lack of a good that essentially belongs to a nature; the absence of a good that is natural and due to a being. Evil is therefore the absence of what ought to be there.

That’s the Christian understanding of evil anyway. If you have a different definition, perhaps that’s why you would disagree.

And it doesn’t negate that there are “forces” in the world that act out evil things and oppose good things. That is true and this understanding certainly does nothing to oppose that. And it does nothing to “skirt the problem of evil” at all. It’s not trying to do that either. It’s just trying to understand this mystery (as Chris mentioned) a little bit better.

Chris Altieri October 7, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Dear Mary,

I am afraid it is too late on my side of the ocean for a longer response than the following: evil does not exist.

For now, try to think of it like this: chocolate ice cream without the chocolate (e.g. with some chemical substitute for cacao). You might describe it as “bad chocolate ice cream” but it wouldn’t be chocolate ice cream, at all, would it?

I will elaborate tomorrow AM (central European time).

Best,
C.

Chris Altieri October 8, 2009 at 2:56 am

Dear Mary,

I am back, somewhat refreshed and ready to dig into the issue a little further.

Thanks for being patient with me.

When you hear me say, “Evil does not exist,” I mean the following: what we call “evil” is neither a substance (a thing), nor an accident (by accident, I mean something that makes a particular something what it is, though is not an essential part of the thing – again the ice cream example: ice cream is the substance, while the various flavors, e.g. vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, will be what philosophers call “accidents”). Instead, what we call, “evil” is the lack of something that ought to be in a given thing. It could be a lack of courage, for example, in a cowardly soldier who runs from his post, leading to defeat. It could also be the lack of dynamic equilibrium among the forces holding a star together, so that it explodes, and passes out of existence (this example only works if you think that existence is, as such, good), and its opposite, as such, not).

I could go on and on here, but will wait for you to tell me if what has come thus far has been at all helpful.

Best,
C.

April Pisano April 1, 2010 at 5:17 am

I’ve felt evil as a definite presence in a room, and it wasn’t as if God wasn’t there–it was during Adoration.

Catholic debating pro-life April 28, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Possibly there was something happening that was blocking you from the good?

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