Yesterday I discussed one attempted solution to the problem of evil that students wrestled with, taking J. L. Mackie’s classic article, “Evil and Omnipotence,” as their starting point, together with the Book of Job and an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov.
Today I would like to focus in on another, the argument that good cannot exist without evil, since it is only by way of contrast that we perceive things to be good or evil, better or worse than one another. On this view, evil and good are not absolute existing things or characteristics, but terms of comparison.
Here too, there is something to this. If we always had the taste of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies in our mouths, presumably actual freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies would simply seem tasteless. It is the absence of those delicious flavors during most of our experience that makes each bite from a really good cookie so delectable.
But here’s the question that struck me as I thought about this topic yet again. If God alone exists eternally, then prior to creation, presumably there was no good or evil.
Is this a logical corollary of this view of good and evil, and if so, should it be acceptable to theologians?
Alternatively, is God not infinite, so that the not-God has also always existed? That viewpoint may be reflected in the Biblical creation account, with God taking that eternal chaos and imposing order upon it.
Stephen Law recently offered the “Evil God Challenge” which explores the alternative scenario that an evil God created the world, and free will explains why sometimes good happens in an evil universe.
The truth is that the universe doesn’t look like one optimized either for evil or for good, depending on how one understands those things. But if evil is the torment experienced by sentient beings, then the relative dearth of them in the observable cosmos suggests that evil is not the aim.
Presumably the take-away is that it makes no sense to think that humans having a pleasant life is the central aim of the entire cosmos. But that represents a challenge to our anthropocentrism, not to the existence of God per se. If it is possible to question the competence of a Creator who made our universe supposedly aiming for perfection, it is even easier, I think, to question the competence of a Creator who was trying to maximize unhappiness and made our universe. But I suspect one’s view on this depends on one’s own life experience.
Be that as it may, the main thing I should end with is that there is another solution – one older than the Bible – namely, that God is not all that exists, and never has been.