– Written 7th Febuary 2010
I’ve heard a lot of questions people ask to try to point out flaws in the idea of God. And we get pretty used to a lot of them, even bored of them (I know I do). But there’s one question I occasionally hear which is just an odd question, really. Here it is:
Let’s assume God exists.
He created everything, right?
And evil exists, therefore God created evil.
So doesn’t that mean God is evil?
Now I know that technically and grammatically, questions can’t be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but seriously, the question is wrong! On many, many levels it is wrong and I honestly find it odd that it still gets asked.
The first thing is pretty simple. The question half-defeats itself with its bias. It says God created evil, but forgets that God must have created good as well. So it would be better to say, after all the question’s premises, that God is half evil, half good. Or he is not completely good. That just makes a lot more sense than, “he’s created a little bit of evil therefore he is completely evil”.
But if we let that slide, we get to the second level of wrongness – and the textbook answer to this question. That answer in a nutshell is that in the way that darkness is the absence of light, and cold is the absence of heat, evil is simply the absence of good. So God created good, and evil is in all the places where good isn’t. Therefore God didn’t actually create evil. I like the elegance and simplicity of this answer. And I think the answer is mostly right, but when you really think about it, even this answer is being pretty generous to the questioner.
Because there’s a really fundamental problem about this question which totally neutralises it, but that for some reason, I have never heard raised before. And for that reason, I’m gonna raise it.
I would want to ask the questioner how they define the concept ‘evil’. What they think evil is. What is it really? The best answer they, or anyone, will be able to come up with is “absence of or opposition to good”, which I would agree with. But then you must ask – is that really something that one could create? I mean, think of all the things God created: atoms, stars, planets, oceans, rocks, trees, animals, people. And then you’re trying to say God created “the opposition to good”. You soon realise that this whole thing doesn’t make any sense, and the atheist’s entire question has fallen apart.
It’s because we’re treating the word wrongly. We’re treating ‘evil’ as an object, which it clearly is not. Evil doesn’t fit into the same class as stars or trees. So in defining ‘evil’, we really need to step back and look at what type of thing evil is: not an object, but a characteristic. Evil is a characteristic, not a thing in itself. Things in themselves can have the characteristics of good or evil. So the noun, the concept of ‘evil’ is really subsequent to, and derived from, various things having been described by the adjective ‘evil’.
It’s similar to ‘yellow’. God didn’t so much create ‘yellow’ as he created things that are yellow. And according to the way the laws of logic and reason work, ‘yellow’ naturally formed itself into a concept as well. But the concept is secondary. The concept of yellow doesn’t really exist. It’s not actually independently there.
So in the same way, there is no actual creation called ‘evil’, but there are creations, things, that are evil, or that perform actions that are described as evil.
And THAT is why the answer to the question really lies in free will. God didn’t create evil. In fact, to take the last few paragraphs to their logical conclusion, God didn’t create good either. He didn’t. What God did was he created the Heavens, the Universe, and us. And to us he gave purpose and preference. God gave us the ability to act in any way we choose. But he told us how he would prefer us to live, and the purposes he designed us with. It is these preferences that are definitionally good – they are the desires of God. And all the different ways we can choose to act that oppose his preferences are definitionally evil.
That is the true origin of good and evil.