Apart from the university lecturers amongst us whose job it is to be regularly marking student assignments, I expect this essay from one of Ian Elmer's theology students at ACU National, Daniel Gullotta, will be of interest to other readers of Catholica from two principal points of view. Firstly it enables us to see how a young person tackles one of the big questions for the first time. Daniel certainly has tackled a huge canvas for his first essay for Catholica and I think his condensation of the arguments into less than 1400 words is commendable. Secondly, and this is one of our main aims in encouraging the submission of these commentaries from younger writers, is it provides some insight into the broader perspectives of young people. _Editor
The cosmic battle of good and evil…
The cosmic battle of good and evil has been one of the biggest sources of fiction in history and over the centuries, millions of authors have written about the struggle between these two forces, classically always concluding with good triumphing over evil. Many of us link this battle of good and evil to our own lives and our own world. All of us would like to say that good always does prevail however, one only has to turn on the television at night, catch the evening news and in the first five minutes, we are already bombarded with headlines of enormous casualties and prodigious suffering occurring all around the globe. Closer to home, people around us are suffering or dieing in the most unthinkable of manners. Because of this, we know evil is no work of fiction, but a very real problem in our lives. Now the problem of evil has crossed the issue of God's existence and or goodness in religious philosophical discussions and many dismiss the existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil, others defend God's existence on their own arguments, while others argue God's love and goodness in the face of the evil in this world1.
This essay will explore the qualifications relating to the question of evil, the definition of evil, both natural and moral, how they relate to God's existence and goodness, and briefly explore some of the arguments made by different theists and in conclusion will state my own answer to the problem of evil.
Before one can assess the problem of evil however, we must consider the many terms and concepts that must be decided upon before the problem of evil may be sufficiently analysed. This is due to the complex nature of religious belief and definition of evil. Many of the questions asked by philosophers and theologians include who or what is God? What is evil? What is the nature of omnipotence? What is the nature of perfect goodness2? This essay will address God, as if we were speaking of God of Christianity, therefore will be speaking as if God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and benevolent, basically perfect in everyway possible.
Evil has generally been divided by philosophers into two distinct forms and they are called natural evil and moral evil3. Natural evil is the product of any event perceived to be morally negative and that is not caused by the action or inaction of an agent, such as a person, examples of natural evil generally used are natural disasters. Natural evil only has victims, is generally taken to be the result of natural processes and the evil thus identified is evil only from the perspective of those affected and who perceive it as an affliction4.
Moral evil on the other hand, is the result of any morally negative event caused by the intentional action or inaction of an agent, such as a person. While natural evil is the result of natural process, moral evils can hold someone responsible or culpable to the evil. Generally speaking, moral evil can be defined as people either doing something they ought not to do, an example being murder and rape, or not doing something they ought to do, an example being doing nothing to prevent a murder or rape5.
One must understand that the problem of evil is only really a problem to people who believe in God. The problem consists of three main points of view that relate to their argument.
With these viewpoints in mind, many theologians and philosophers have answered the problem of evil with their own arguments. Possibly one of the most famous of these arguments is the one made by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-271 BCE)[/span][span]7. Epicurus' formula is today called 'the inconsistent triad' stating that if God exists then there should be no evil in the world, however seeing as there is evil in the world, God does not exist8. Another famous view point is that of David Hume (1711-1776) who in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Reason questioned many of the aspects of God's attributes. He argued that that if God was willing to prevent evil, but not able then God was impotent, and if God was able, but unwilling then God was malevolent, however most controversial was his final claim arguing, that if God were both willing and able to solve the problem of evil, then God was evil9.
In spite and conflict of this approach however, some theists and theologians argue that God allows evil to exist so that humans can have the freedom of choice, the freedom to choose between doing good and doing evil, thus making them whole beings, rather then mindless machines10. The real defender of the free will argument is Saint Augustine of Hippo. He claimed that free will requires the potential to do anything that one chooses, thus someone with free will has the potential to do evil, and so removing the potential to do evil would remove the choice to do evil, thus removing free will11. Evil, both moral and natural, in Augustine's mind was seen as the absence of good and that the evil found within the world was merely a consequence of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:4 – 3:24), meaning rather than God inflicting it upon them, mankind had brought it upon themselves, as well as this, Augustine claimed the permissive will of God was accountable for the coexistence of God and evil within creation12. While a large majority of theists and theologians agree with Augustine's free will approach to the problem of evil, many today dismiss the idea of evil being a consequence of man's disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden and seek more logical explanations13.
In conclusion, there is no doubt in my mind that God exists and that He is indeed a good and loving God. While the problem of evil had plagued theologians and philosophers ever since the concept of God became an object of academic discourse and I am sure it will do so for centuries to come, I find the basis that the existence of evil disproving the existence of God to be one of foolish and narrow-minded nature. If we as Christians confess and believe that only God is perfect, then clearly, anything not God by definition is imperfect14.
As imperfect beings, we have our faults and many times we fall short of the goodness that God calls us to partake in but the fact that God calls us to goodness is a clear sign of his own goodness and perfection. While it seems that the world is full of evil things, evil acts, and even at times evil people, the truly amazing thing is that God calls people to rise above them, and even he calls people to greater and better things. As Christians we are called to continue the work of Christ in the world, following his example of healing, seeking justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, suffering with those who suffer so as to redeem the world from evil15. We are given a call and given a choice to answer or ignore that call. While the world isn't perfect, we must remember neither are we. Yet through God's perfection, we may be inspired to stretch out to that perfection and not just transform ourselves or the people close to us, but the very world around us.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?