GOD & EVIL
Written by "Jay"
“If there is a God, whence proceed so many evils? If there is no God, whence cometh any good?”-Boethius
A lot of people have asked themselves why is there evil in the world if God is so good? This question comes up in philosophy and ethics classes frequently. I will attempt to answer this complex question, but first, some definitions are in order.
Terms and definitions:
Good-Everything in existence in its natural state that’s functioning properly as appropriate to its nature, role, and design. i.e. a man is a good, a fish is a good, a tree is a good, a chair is a good, a hose is a good, everything that exists as it should be is a good.
The 2 types of evils:
Physical evil-lack of good that should naturally have or posses it, i.e. A soldier steps on a land mine and gets his legs blown off, the whole man is a good and his proper working function as designed, is having two legs. Now, the lack of the two legs are physical evils, the lack of the (particular) good, which are the legs in this case
Moral evil- an act against virtue and justice that is against the good based on what a human chooses to do with his free will. i.e. a cashier is casually slipping a few bucks into his pocket without anyone noticing, the money is not his, he is stealing. The act lacks virtue and unjust, justice and virtue are moral good, the stealing is a moral evil…and evil is lack of good.
**It’s crucial to understand that evil is not a being; it’s a lack of being, namely, evil is a lack of good, but not just a pure lack. It is a lack of good in a being which SHOULD have that good.
Potentiality-the ability to gain something a being did not have before. i.e. the ability to gain strength, health, etc. by eating good and going to the gym
Act/actuality-possessing perfections a being did not have before, going from potentiality to the state of actuality, i.e., going from not knowing a language to speaking it fluently by learning it through taking classes, practicing, etc. (God is always in actuality in every way)
Agent-the being that is the source of action, i.e. the knife cutting an apple is the agent.
Objection 1. It would seem that God is not omnipotent and lacks the capability to intervene to stop any course of action, good and evil, for if indeed He was all powerful He would surely intervene to stop evil.
Obj. 2. Further, that God is not omniscient, ignorant, and has no knowledge of the course of events concerning good and evil, for if He did, He would intervene to stop evil.
Obj. 3. Further, that God is not omni benevolent for if He were all good He would surely prevent all evil from taking place so He is not all good in Himself.
Obj. 4. Further, it is wrong for mankind to judge evil since the world is God’s creation.
“Any argument in which lies the claim that God exists and Evil exists must accept one of the above refutations.. To argue that God has the 3 traditional characteristics (All powerful, all knowing, and all good) then such a God could not create a world in which evil exists; for if He did, then He contradicts the [His] absolute good, which is impossible for a being constituted of the 3 traditional characteristics”
On the contrary, God lacks none of the divine attributes for He MUST posses ALL of them to be His own divine essence, and God is incapable of contradicting Himself.
I answer that, even though it is written, “with God all things are possible” (St. Mat, xix, 26). God is only capable of anything that is possible absolutely and since He is always in the state of pure actuality, He cannot contradict Himself.
Reply, obj. 1. The creator is immovable, the first cause of all, as Thomas Aquinas calls Him “the first principle in order of efficient cause” which is his first of five arguments in his Proofs of the existence of God treatise, that there must be an origin of creation, a creator must have always existed that is the cause of Himself, for existence and non-existence simultaneously is absolutely impossible (violates the principle of non-contradiction). We speak of power, there are two types, power is either passive, which is not of God, or active power, which is of God.
Everything in the state of absolute act is perfect, as God is. It is the active principle of something unlike passive power, which is defective, (as pertaining to God) and always in potentiality, which is imperfect. Aquinas says that God is omnipotent in respect to His active power, not to passive power and the fact that He is immovable or impassible “is not repugnant to His omnipotence”, (Summa Theologica). Active power exists in God according to the measure in which He is actual. God’s very existence is infinite; it’s not limited by anything or anyone who it reaches. Aristotle teaches (Metaphysics. v, 17), a thing is said to be possible in two ways, first in relation to some power, thus whatever is subject to human power is possible to man.
We call God omnipotent because He is, He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying something is possible. You say something to be possible or impossible absolutely, “according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, (God can do all things) possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject”. (Aquinas, T., Summa Theologica).
For example, a circle is a square; a man is a horse, etc. The predicate and subject are not in relation to go together.
Mentioning the principle on non-contradiction earlier, it’s important to know the difference between contraries and contradictions. A contradiction is John Doe is dead and alive at the same time, an obvious impossibility. A contrary is different classes under different categories. Like a Mercedes Benz is not a contradiction of a BMW, it’s a contrary of, still in the automobile category, contraries agree under the same genus.
Everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms is numbered among those things which are possible regarding God’s omnipotence whereas whatever implies a contradiction does not come within the scope of God’s omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Here the principle of non-contradiction comes into play, the foundation of all philosophy, everything is possible unless it violates this one crucial law, which is nothing can be and not be at the same time in the same aspect and nothing can operate properly in contradiction. There are things that just cannot be done because of this universal principle; it’s more appropriate to put it that way than to say God cannot do them because He can’t because He would not be in the state of act and absolute perfection.
Reply, obj. 2. The knowledge of God is universal, not particular to different things. Being that God is always in the state of act, and never in potentiality because He is not of matter as I discuss below, God knows all particular forms of knowledge in one simple ‘act’ of knowledge. God understands everything altogether, unlike us where we have to observe, weigh the evidence, and come to the logical conclusion on an individual subject basis because our intellectual operation is limited to that, as Aristotle says “The intellect in act is it’s object in act” (De Anima, iii, 4).
God has no composition, He is not material, the old Greeks considered only the first material principle, (matter that can be sensed through our five senses) and the material principle is merely potentiality, which is imperfect.. The mind is material, matter, while the intellect is not, the intellectual operation of the mind is the human soul, as is God pure intellect and intelligence in actual perfection, as His divine design of the universe is.
Something can be known in two ways, in itself and in another. A thing is known in itself “when it is known by the proper species adequate to the knowable object; as when the eye sees a man through the image of a man. A thing is seen in another through the image of that which contains it; as when a part is seen in the whole by the image of the whole; or when a man is seen in a mirror by the image in the mirror, or by any other mode by which one thing is seen in another…so we say that God sees Himself in Himself, because He sees Himself through His essence; and He sees other things not in themselves, but in Himself; inasmuch as His essence contains the similitude of things other than Himself…Knowledge is according to the mode of the one who knows; for the thing known is in the knower according to the mode of the knower. If He did not know all He would not be perfect” (Aquinas, T., Summa Contra Gentiles).
God also knows the things that are not. We know that something can exist without us having knowledge of it, and if we can know that what is not, certainly God can on a divine cosmic scale. The things that are not, if one left their house just 2 minutes earlier, he would of got into a car wreck, but since he left the time he did, it was business as usual. God knows he would have been killed and it would seem possible that God intervened.
Reply Obj. 3. It is written, “God is love” (St. John, iv, 16). God is the supreme good and the cause of all being. God is perfect, always in the state of actuality. He created us as good in His design. God wills good to every creature that exists; He loves it, and love is the fundamental relation of God to the world. Love is contradiction of evil, which God is not evil as I go into below. Everyone is a good and has an appetite for love in some capacity. The lack of good, which God is not, cannot be. God is love and does love, as Aristotle says "God rejoices by an operation that is one and simple," (Ethics. vii)
Being that God is all good, this proposition begs the question, is God the cause of evil? Augustine said, "God is not the author of evil because He is not the cause of tending to not-being.” (QQ. 83, qu. 21)). Aquinas explains, “The evil that consists of the defect of the action is always caused by the defect of the agent, But God has no defects, He is perfect, the evil which consists in defect of action, or which is caused by defect of the agent, is not reduced to God as to its cause” (Summa Theologica).
Good may cause of evil, although we need to come back to the fact that the first cause of evil is good, not evil in itself. i.e. you’re building a log cabin, you look around the forest and see all the trees, they are good, you have to chop the wood for the logs for your cabin, the chainsaw is the agent doing the cutting, it’s a good, doing its proper function but the wood is being cut, the evil (the lack of something good), the inches of saw dust that were once there that make the tree steady and it falls is the [physical] evil.
Further, being the definitions defined above, we know that a ‘good’ is something in existence functioning properly, so all His creatures (every single thing that exists that is not God Himself is a creature) is a good, however a good that can have evils. If God is all good, how can evil exist? Well, the answer is twofold. As said above, God is not the author of evil, He is the supreme good, but here is the thing---WE HAVE FREE WILL.
What good is free will if we cannot choose right from wrong? The darkness or the light? To do virtuous acts or acts which lack virtue? With that being said, being that we are good in creation, with that free will, we can choose to do as we please, and when we choose to do an evil act, an act that lacks virtue and is unjust, we are deprived of that natural good by choice. We tend to do acts that lack virtue because we don’t do them enough, Aristotle and Aquinas teach the more one does virtuous acts, the more of a habit it becomes, reaching what Aristotle calls “the golden mean” (ethics, pt. I)
Second, God sometimes allows evil so that good may come of it, maybe sometimes not in this life but the next. God allowed T.J. Jakes to be in gangs, do drugs, and participate in violence. He injured people, corrupted neighborhoods, etc-both physical and moral evils, but good came from those experiences, he now travels to schools, prisons, and jails around the country inspiring people to do good and be virtuous and not follow the path that nearly destroyed him.
God permitted Ryan White to get HIV, a good that came from that was realizing that HIV could be transmitted through blood transfusions. God allowed Christopher Reeve to get injured on a horse riding accident. Since Reeves was admired as Superman, he inspired thousands of people and raised money for further research to help people with different ailments to hopefully one-day walk again.
By Washington’s life being spared, he led a revolution that would change world history forever, he became the father of the United States of America, our first president, and presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1789, which yielded the U.S. constitution, the most copied model for a government in the world.
Evil is not the cause of itself, it is the byproduct of choices we make, lacking goodness and virtue, things that happen in nature that cause physical evils such as cancer and heart disease. However, such evils are often caused by all sorts of bad habits and depriving the good of the body of proper nutrition, natural vitamins, etc which fight those evils.
From excavating the remains of ancient cultures since mankind first began domesticating animals and harvesting and growing his own crops over 11, 000 years ago, bio-medical and pathological anthropologists have been able to identify huge contrast of diets and diseases that have emerged over hundreds of centuries that weren’t around before based on diet and foods, such as diabetes. So, we cannot draw a line to blame God for defects in the agents.
Reply Obj. 4. We call an evil as it is, a lack of good; we call a good on what it is, that which is. We can make distinctions and judgments on good and evil acts. We can judge that a lady in Florida who drugged her young son up with Tylenol PM’s then smothered him to death did both moral and physical evils; the acts lacked virtue, justice, and decency for a vulnerable child who relies on his mother to live, not to kill him. We can judge that Jeffery Dahmer kidnapped people, drilled holes into their heads, and consumed their body parts; we can judge these acts as immoral and inhumane.
We can judge that Mother Theresa devoted her life to help the impoverished and sick children, that Bono goes around the world helping AIDS victims and children in 3rd world countries, we can judge these acts as good. We can judge because of the exclusivity of the traits of our species, that is, we can weigh evidence objectively, come to logical conclusions, only species capable of self reflection and awareness, and the only species that can purposely go against its own nature, hence, free will.
We don't live in a candy land, peaches and cream world, it's a world that is tough and can beat you down to your knees and can sometimes have little mercy. The evils of nature do not seem to discriminate and a terrible disease can strike an innocent child when it should strike an evil person who harms the innocent, but we'll never truly understand why some suffer more than others, it's just the way it is and we can't hate or deny God because there is suffering in the world. Nobody is ever born with a 'life is fair, you'll love it or your money back guarantee'. This essay on evil and God are just highlights of highlights of highlights, to go a bit further in detail I recommend the Web Philosopher's section "Aquinas on Evil" and Aquinas' monumental "5 proofs of the existence of God'.
Copyright 2008-2009, J. S.
Look on Page Aquinas on Evil