What is Evil?

We’ve been having a very spirited debate between atheists and Christians on this blog on another thread that has arrived at a fundamental question.  What is evil?  Specifically, what is evil ontologically?

In order to get the discussion going, I’ll offer an insight from Augustine.  He said that evil was not a thing in itself, but a lack in good.  Evil is like rot in a tree; if you take away all the rot you have a better tree, but if you take away all the tree you have nothing.  We could say that evil is like rust in a car.  You take away all the rust and you have a better car.  But if you take away all the car, you have nothing.

If Augustine is correct, then an ultimate being (i.e. God) could not be evil because evil is not a thing in itself.  It only exists as a kind of parasite in a good thing.

I appreciate your comments and respectful dialogue.

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92 replies
  1. CT says:

    Maybe some prototypical examples of evil might help to define the subject here. Any suggestions?

    You ask, “What is evil ontologically”? To help us understand what an acceptable answer would be, can you say what a reason is “ontologically”?

    Reply
  2. matt garwood says:

    I agree with Augustine on this one – evil is the absence of good. Darkness is the same: absence of a positive force; light. God is not the author of evil, as it is not a thing. God however wields it to His glory, as a blacksmith who uses a nasty old black tool hanging on his wall to create something beautiful as a result. So does God remove His hand of restraint, allowing hearts to harden (Pharaoh, Saul, etc) to accomplish His purposes – be they disciplining His people in order to turn their hearts back, or punishing the wicked by bringing another wicked kingdom against them.

    That’s the testimony of the Bible, and I find it acceptable. Any other thoughts?

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  3. Tim D. says:

    I’ve already answered this question in another topic, but since that answer was rather long-winded, I’ll try to cut it down a bit here for easy reference (and probably grave misinterpretation):

    First and foremost, I find that people confuse their own personal definitions with the idea of some kind of “objective” representation of “evil.” Most people will classify basic concepts that they encounter into categories of “good” and “evil” without even having to think about it (i.e. genocide = evil, feeding the homeless = good, etc.). As far as this personal definition* goes, there is no real “correct” answer, because this definition of “evil” does not expand beyond the realm of individual perception; this definition of “evil” is no more objective than an individual person’s taste in music, or favorite flavor of ice cream. It is simply inconsequential in and of itself….and so if we are ever trying to prove that we think something is “good” or “evil,” we can’t just cite that because it means nothing to someone who does not agree; it does not move the discussion (or accusation, or inquisition, or what-have-you) in any direction. We are forced to use rational, real-world “logical landmarks” to prove our case (such as, “this is evil because it causes X to happen, which we can agree is always detrimental.”) The problem being that there is no one thing that people will agree is universally detrimental on the same principles, Christian or no.

    Now….as for an “objective” definition, this is much more difficult to reach. For it’s commonly observed that humans simply do not have the moral authority to declare something as “evil” or “good.” No matter what you or I might say about something being “good” or “evil,” as long as it is possible for myself or someone else to say something that is equally provable/disprovable, then it is impossible to really hold to an “objective” definition of evil. Think of it like this:

    ME: “Genocide is evil!”
    OTHER DUDE (OD): “No it’s not, it’s good!”
    ME: “Why would you say that?!”
    OD: “Because it thins out the population and makes room for people who aren’t disabled or less ideal than people like us.”
    ME: “That’s terrible! You shouldn’t say that!”
    OD: “Why not? The truth hurts?”
    ME: “It’s not the truth.”
    OD: “Says who?”
    ME: “Says me, and most people.”
    OD: “Oh, so might is right?”
    ME: “That’s not why it’s not true—”
    OD: “Then why isn’t it true?”

    At this point it is impossible to answer correctly — not because it “is true,” but because there is no way to unilaterally denounce it except by offering reasons, each of which can be challenged (i.e. “life is sacred,” followed by, “says your Bible, which I don’t accept.”). But even if I were a Christian, and at this point I chose to follow the line of questioning that goes, “Because it is against the strict rules placed in the Bible,” it is very easy to challenge anything I might say.

    The bottom line being….there is no such thing as objective evil or good in a strict secular sense, because there is simply no way to judge such a thing. Humans do not possess the cognitive ability to detect such a thing, even if it does exist, thereby rendering it ultimately useless even if it does. It’s like a bottle of water that is impossible to open; if you’re thirsty, you might as well just look somewhere else instead of trying to get to something that cannot be “gotten to.”

    The religious solution to this dilemma is to say that God exists, and that He sustains a series of moral absolutes that exists in some kind of extra spacial dimension, a dimension that humans cannot perceive, and that God delivers messages from this realm of morality for humans to comprehend. There are problems with this, too, but that is a discussion for another post; for the time being I’ll simply say that this supposition is completely unnecessary in a non-Christian worldview; the criticism of “you have no way to objectively claim something is evil” holds no real weight against people like myself, because I will say, “Of course not, because there is no such thing!” It makes little sense to criticize another worldview for not adhering to a standard that was essentially constructed to justify your own view.

    So, for those of you who plan on “tl;dr”ing me, here’s the recap:

    1.Subjective evil exists, because it is defined by human judgment
    2. It is impossible to know if objective evil exists; therefore, there is no harm done by assuming that it does not, because even if it does, assuming that it does will not make it any clearer or accessible. Either way, we cannot judge it correctly.
    3. Secular worldviews do not require a standard of objective good and evil, because they see the world as more grey than black and white.

    And now I shall stand back and await the flood of criticisms to follow~

    Reply
  4. matt garwood says:

    (and probably grave misinterpretation):

    Don’t be so cynical – that post was impossible to misinterpret. Argue against, sure, but not misinterpret.

    I agree that we are at a stalemate in this area, but that is because we are asking the wrong question. To you evil doesn’t exist because there is not ultimate, transcendent reality with real concrete right/wrongs beyond what our human brains have developed pragmatically to fit our needs, correct? Then the question should be “Is there a God”. As I see it, without answering that question in the affirmative, “What is evil” is useless – there is none without God. Do I understand your position?

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  5. Tim D. says:

    To you evil doesn’t exist because there is not ultimate, transcendent reality with real concrete right/wrongs beyond what our human brains have developed pragmatically to fit our needs, correct?

    Well naturally, this is an assumption; it’s not so much a statement of what “is” as it is a statement of what we’re capable of knowing, granted current dimensions. But essentially, yes.

    “What is evil” is useless – there is none without God. Do I understand your position?

    Essentially, yes; assuming that we define “God” as this extra dimension. Keeping in mind that I do not necessarily except the Christian God as the only possible bearer of this dimension — that is, were we to assume such a dimension did exist, that in itself would not necessarily prove the existence of the Christian God.

    It’s kind of awkward, really, because Christianity is one of the only few major religions that attempts to personify elements of morality (thus “fusing” the ideas of God and morality). So it’s often difficult for me to have this discussion without having to distinguish between the concept of objective morality and the concept of God.

    Reply
  6. Andrew Ryan says:

    Even positing a God reduces evil to ‘Our opinion of God’s opinion of what is bad’, or ‘What God tells is he thinks is bad’, when you’ve no way of telling whether or not he’s lying to you or not.

    Asserting that God is good is just that – a simple assertion. It’s like Nixon’s statement that the President can’t break the law, because anything the POTUS does is by definition not illegal. Therefore it’s meaningless to talk about either the President being just or God being good.

    Reply
  7. Frank Turek says:

    Andrew,

    I think we have a confusion here of epistemology and ontology– how we know a fact with the nature of a fact. You seem to be saying that everything is reduced to opinion because we are limited beings, and therefore, there is no objective truth. Is that your position?

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  8. Andrew Ryan says:

    No. But If I say 2+2= 4, it is something that I can demonstrate to you. The same cannot be done for ‘evil’. We can discuss which out of Hitler or Stalin caused more misery and murder, and the unspoken agreement is that we agree on an axiom such as ‘causing murder and misery is evil’. But if someone asks us to demonstrate THAT axiom, then it’s not something one can prove in the way that one can the value of pi.

    Reply
  9. Frank Turek says:

    Andrew,

    Yes, I agree that no one can “prove” that murder is wrong, but that’s because it is a first principle. That’s why the founders of this country called the right to life “self-evident.” The law of non-contradiction (LNC) cannot be proven either because it is a first principle as well. It is what you use to discover everything else.

    But that doesn’t mean the LNC is subjective. It is objective because it is outside of me, the subject. Likewise, the right to life is outside of me and you as well.

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  10. Andrew Ryan says:

    Then we’re agreed that it depends on an axiom. A useful discussion of evil depends on us all agreeing on a number of axioms, and pretty much we all DO agree on those axioms. However, these are man-made axioms. The value of pi would exist even if we did not. The same cannot be said of the assertion that ‘murder is wrong’. That is not to belittle the assertion. And by calling it ‘man-made’ I don’t mean that any man sat down and created it. But it springs from man nonetheless. It is still not something that can be ‘proved’. You cannot ‘prove’ that it is a first principle. LNC is simple logic, ‘murder is wrong’ is not.

    Reply
  11. Andrew Ryan says:

    “That’s why the founders of this country called the right to life “self-evident.””

    They also held it self-evident that women couldn’t vote and that black men were worth less than white men. ‘Self-evident’ still means ‘self-evident’ to whoever is declaring it so.

    Reply
  12. matt garwood says:

    I will add (again) that the failings of the followers of a system do not negate the truthfulness of said system. This proves nothing positively in this discussion, but should disarm the “there were also elements of racism in the men who believed in the first principle of right-to-life, so right-to-life must be man-made” Eventually, with that logic, we know nothing, as there are no men who believe anything who are not also buffeted by sin and the effects of a fallen world. If I wait to find a man in the 21st century who hasn’t done anything wrong before I believe anything, I’ll be waiting a long time… oh wait – the idea of right and wrong are also on the chopping block 🙂 Guess we can’t know anything, including your statements on not being able to know certain stuff 🙂

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  13. Andrew Ryan says:

    I’m saying that you can’t show that something is self-evident just by declaring it to be so. You can provide mathmatical proof for some things, but not for ‘murder is wrong’. It is an agreed-upon axiom.

    Reply
  14. matt garwood says:

    Andrew, you said:
    I’m saying that you can’t show that something is self-evident just by declaring it to be so. You can provide mathmatical proof for some things, but not for ‘murder is wrong’. It is an agreed-upon axiom.

    Mathematical proof is NOT, I repeat, NOT necessary to prove something is true. You employ logic, believe in certain metaphysical principles necessary to even COME to mathematics (the first ones off the top of my head is that there exists a world outside of your imagination, that you can trust your senses about the world outside of you, that there was a past and will be a tomorrow with similar laws and rules governing that day.)

    Even science has to assume science to prove itself, correct? – this is my understanding. I’m willing to discuss it, but Dr. Turek’s right – the foundation of our differences lies less in fossils and test tubes, and more in ontology – admitting our presuppositions which we may not be aware of yet, and how they guide our “knowledge”.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  15. Andrew Ryan says:

    Who decides he is perfect? Himself? Why don’t I declare myself perfect? And given that no-one can agree on what this perfect man actually said, what value does your assertion have? All I see is many people quoting a ‘perfect man’ to justify terrible things that they could never otherwise justify. See we’re back to square one.

    Reply
  16. matt garwood says:

    Andrew, I mean this in all seriousness and love: do you know anything? By your own stringent definitions of what is required before one can know something… is anything certain?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    Reply
  17. Andrew Ryan says:

    “the first ones off the top of my head is that there exists a world outside of your imagination, that you can trust your senses about the world outside of you, that there was a past and will be a tomorrow with similar laws and rules governing that day.”

    If you want to get down to one level Matt, it’s impossible for you to prove you’re not just a brain in a jar receiving a bunch of stimuli through electrodes. You can’t prove you’re not 10 minutes old, born with all the memories you believe actually happened.

    And it’s not me trying to reduce everything the other person says to ‘but that’s just your opinion’, which is what happens to me whenever I try to explain my ideas of right and wrong to Christians on this board.

    Reply
  18. Andrew Ryan says:

    “Andrew, I mean this in all seriousness and love: do you know anything?”

    Matt, that question is a bit rich given that YOU are the one who thinks that a flood could explain why fossil records suggest that the earth is hundreds of millions of years older than you think it is.

    Reply
  19. matt garwood says:

    If you want to get down to one level Matt, it’s impossible for you to prove you’re not just a brain in a jar receiving a bunch of stimuli through electrodes. You can’t prove you’re not 10 minutes old, born with all the memories you believe actually happened.

    And the person that says this is, in my opinion, wholly incapable of making any statement worth listening to. By your own admission, we can know nothing – so why speak of anything? What meaning does life have? Anyone willing to accept this shouldn’t waste his/her time battling the forces of Christianity and their ilk, because it might not even exist! If we might not know anything, then we know nothing. Discarding virtually every first principle (to borrow Turek’s term here) does exactly this – you know nothing, by virtue of your own contrived standards. What proof do you have that anything not mathematically or scientfically proven is false? And can you even be sure that’s true? This is where I’ve been hoping the discussion would get to – we see that youre arguments against how Christians “know” there is a God with demands on their lives, a well-documented man claiming to be God’s son died, etc… it all results in the cutting of your own legs! You have nothing to stand on in order to criticize us – a man saying you can know nothing with certainty is telling me that he has a good point…

    Andrew, my heart breaks for you. Gotta run to a baby appointment. May God melt your heart that you would know the truth and it would set you free.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  20. matt garwood says:

    Matt, that question is a bit rich given that YOU are the one who thinks that a flood could explain why fossil records suggest that the earth is hundreds of millions of years older than you think it is.

    Andrew, quote my WHOLE comment, unless you plan on deliberately misleading folks. I’m not challenging your intellect. My whole quote was:

    Andrew, I mean this in all seriousness and love: do you know anything? By your own stringent definitions of what is required before one can know something… is anything certain?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    p.s. there’s a lot of fossil evidence that CAN’T be explained without a flood… reversal of where you expect to find critters in certain layers, fish on mountain tops (that supposedly evolved after the mountains were formed,) etc… gotta run. Thanks for engaging me – I mean it.

    Reply
  21. Frank Turek says:

    Can we stay on topic? I don’t know what the fossil record and a brain in a vat has to do with this discussion other than to divert the issue.

    Andrew, Can we assume for the sake of this discussion that the world we perceive really exists and that we can learn about this world through the first principles of logic, the laws of reason and our five senses?

    Reply
  22. matt garwood says:

    Just wanted to clear that up – sorry if I helped lead it astray 🙂

    I would have to say yes we can learn about our world through those first principles, because when we deny those, we lose our ability to comment positively or negatively about everything. If we can’t trust those first principles, we need to go headlong into that camp that says we can know nothing.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  23. Tim D. says:

    Wow! It’s only been a day since I last checked in, and yet I’ve missed so much….where to begin?

    For the record, I’m skipping responses to arguments that do not concern myself or my views~

    The law of non-contradiction (LNC) cannot be proven either because it is a first principle as well. It is what you use to discover everything else.

    Well, that’s debatable; the law of non-contradiction is not something that, in itself, is “true,” per se; rather, it’s the name we’ve given to a collection of ideas that are demonstrably true, rather than referring to them individually or by name — the fact that one thing cannot be two different things (because it is, by definition, one thing), or the fact that two opposite states cannot exist in the same medium. These things can be explained, and to say that LNC is somehow a “first principle” that cannot be explained is really just word-play, as far as I’m concerned.

    But that doesn’t mean the LNC is subjective. It is objective because it is outside of me, the subject. Likewise, the right to life is outside of me and you as well.

    It’s statements like these where you lose me; I see that you’re trying to make a point, but it does not follow that because you can mention something that you see as “objective” (i.e. LNC), this automatically points out that life, specifically, is also objective. There’s a missing link here that I’m not inclined to take your word for, with all due respect.

    Self-evident’ still means ’self-evident’ to whoever is declaring it so.

    I agree; stating that something is self-evident requires that it actually be self-evident; and unfortunately, self-evidence is relative. Like the word “obvious.” What is “obvious?” It’s something that is easily recognized, or easily ascertained. However, something that I find “obvious” as a professional in a particular field* might not be obvious to someone with less knowledge.

    However, if there is such a way that this “rule” or “law” binds someone, then that way must be detectable in some way, or else it can be said to have no physical or mental effect. And if it has no recognizable effect, then what does it do, exactly?

    *=not to imply that I am such a professional; just a hypothetical situation.

    I will add (again) that the failings of the followers of a system do not negate the truthfulness of said system.

    I say this in all honesty, and I really am not being sarcastic….please, remember what you’ve said here the next time you say that Hitler somehow represents any “direction” of evolution or any field of genetics.

    Eventually, with that logic, we know nothing, as there are no men who believe anything who are not also buffeted by sin and the effects of a fallen world. If I wait to find a man in the 21st century who hasn’t done anything wrong before I believe anything, I’ll be waiting a long time…

    Really, we can’t truly know anything (or if we can, then we can’t know that we know that, because we don’t know if it’s real). Operating as a human is based much less on what we “know for real,” and much more on what we can make use of. For example, the earlier examples I referred to in another topic about how to determine that a speeding car will kill you on impact, and why that knowledge is useful, and how it can be applied elsewhere. It’s not an assertion of what is “real” one way or the other; it’s completely devoid thereof, because in the truest sense — if we are seeking true, unfiltered-by-human-thought-and-sensory-processes “truth” — then we can’t ever truly know anything. That’s why any worldview that lacks humility with respect to “ultimate truth” is, in my view, unreliable (and why a part of me cringes whenever I hear statements about “the way the world is” and “what we know”).

    … but what if a perfect man gave us a perfect revelation of how one should live? would it be acceptable then?

    I’m actually glad you brought that up….if it were self-evident to me, or to any particular non-Christian, that this man (I assume you mean Jesus) was perfect (notwithstanding the validity of his existence from a historical standpoint), then this would be a moot point. The problem is, the statement that a “perfect” anything has ever existed calls into question a lot of things — a lot of things — that are not easily explained away. A lot of these questions — such as, “How do we know he was perfect?” or even better, “How can we be sure that he is accurately represented where he is represented?” are difficult to phrase from a defensive standpoint (i.e. myself defending my worldview) because they are not, in and of themselves, the foundation of a worldview that excludes Jesus as a “perfect savior” man. They are simply hypothetical questions that are posed by students of reason to show why the claim that “Jesus was perfect” is, itself, just as challengeable as any of the statements he may have made….and thus, when one or more such statement is challenged, it makes little sense to regress to, “well, he was perfect! What do you say to that?”

    Mathematical proof is NOT, I repeat, NOT necessary to prove something is true. You employ logic, believe in certain metaphysical principles necessary to even COME to mathematics (the first ones off the top of my head is that there exists a world outside of your imagination, that you can trust your senses about the world outside of you, that there was a past and will be a tomorrow with similar laws and rules governing that day.)

    Won’t speak for anyone else, but as I’ve said, my own principles of reason come from the basic idea that it’s either choose something or choose nothing. And since choosing nothing results in a complete inability to function at all (I can’t operate by refusing to trust any thing or concept in my life, such as my senses), I simply place trust in that which can guarantee consistency and reliability — and the most consistent forces in the universe (to which I have access as such tools of interaction) are my senses, and logical reasoning (i.e. accepting things which are easy to demonstrate and understand, and using those things to infer other things). Does that make sense?

    Even science has to assume science to prove itself, correct? – this is my understanding.

    Here’s why this question is often not taken seriously, if you ask me….science is not really a school of thought in the sense that it’s based on something that isn’t provable, like the supernatural. It’s a school of thought in that it’s based on the verifiable, but even that definition of “verifiable” is based on an accepted definition of “reality.” This is a liberal* definition at best, though, because in a strict philosophical sense, it’s basically impossible to know what “true reality” is (are we just motes in the eye of a greater being? Are we really here at all? Is this a dream, or something like the Matrix? Are we the product of another being who is itself the product of many other such beings? The possibilities are literally endless once we step past the boundaries of physical existence). So really, science only concerns itself with that which can be proven using the means that humans are able to access. We can’t truly comprehend things that are beyond physical measure, and it’s debatable whether we can comprehend things that are within physical measure….but the catch is that physical measure is pretty consistent. So if we are on the wrong track from a physical standpoint, it seems odd that such fields as modern medicine and astrophysics are so precise in so many ways (granted they are not perfect….not that I believe anything really is).

    By your own admission, we can know nothing – so why speak of anything? What meaning does life have?

    Do you remember that scenario with the robot I mentioned off-hand in the other topic? Well, there was another character in that same series that made a statement very similar to this: the theme in question was fog; fog, and truth. This character, he used fog as a metaphor for the human race’s inability to truly understand the reality around them. He said:

    “This world is filled with thick, heavy fog….why do you try to pursue any kind of truth? Why do you subject yourself to the endless torment of trying, knowing that you can never know? Lie to yourselves….live in ignorant bliss. It is….a much smarter way to exist.”

    Again, with all due respect….this sounds a lot like what you are saying to Andrew right now. I will not answer for him, but I will answer as though you asked me, because I like this question~

    I “speak of anything” and seek significance in my own life because I have to be honest with myself. If there is any shred of doubt in my heart about what I know or do not know, I have to admit it — whether that is God, or science, or physics, or human relationships, or good and evil, or ontology….I have to ask myself, “Do I know this? Or do I believe this? And why?” It’s a difficult question to ask, and it’s the kind of question that is easy to avoid — it’s easy to “live in ignorant bliss” and “lie to yourself,” whether or not you mean to. But admitting that we can never truly know if anything means anything (to put it simply) does not automatically have to lead to despair. To me, it means facing reality: We can’t know. That’s the harsh reality that I feel. And I feel stronger for facing that reality than I would if I hid behind a facade of knowledge and claimed that I am certain about things in this world that are easy to claim certainty about.

    To me, my “self” is a lot like a really nice carpet; if there’s something that might be under there that might be ugly, that you might not want to deal with (some doubt, perhaps), and you just shove it under the rug….it will start to poke up in other places. Kinda like those old cartoons, where the character tries to hide stuff by pushing it under the rug, and it just makes little bumps and hills appear somewhere else on the rug. Because see, there’s a limited amount of space under that rug, and eventually you’re going to have to figure out what to do with all that stuff you keep hiding under there….so in order to keep things clean and orderly and pretty, you have to look at the stuff you find, and decide what do to with it. Leaving it there is kind of like avoiding the decision; you’re not throwing it away, but you’re not keeping it either. You’re just, well, leaving it there.

    [metaphor rant]

    I know, I know, I hate metaphor rants, too. But it’s my favorite subject, so I couldn’t resist~

    Andrew, Can we assume for the sake of this discussion that the world we perceive really exists and that we can learn about this world through the first principles of logic, the laws of reason and our five senses?

    Again, can’t speak for Andrew, but with an issue so precisely ingrained into such assumptions, I think it’d be a bit dishonest to assume those things, in that they should not be challenged during this conversation. If you feel differently, however, please feel free to disregard…you know, my entire post here 0_0

    Reply
  24. Andrew Ryan says:

    Great, so we’ve established that we’re all assuming that our senses can be trusted. [We have a lot more than five, BTW, but that’s by the by].

    Frank, just asserting that ‘murder is wrong’ is an indivisible principle is problematic in itself. Murder is whatever 12 jurers decide it is. Even if we know ‘who did it’, we can still decide that it was manslaughter. Then there’s the caveat that if the state puts a man to death then it isn’t murder, it’s execution. Except you and I might agree that, for example, a communist state has ‘murdered’ a man when they call it ‘execution’. Murder is in itself a subjective term.

    Now, you and I can have a good discussion about whether Hitler was more evil than Mother Theresa, and we’ll come to agreement on the issue because we unspokenly agree on a number of principles. [This is true with or without God. Positing a God just shifts the question back a step – who is more evil, God or Satan. And answering that requires exactly the same assumptions as the other question]

    The fact that we can come to agreement that Hitler was worse doesn’t make our conclusions ‘objectively right’ in the same sense that it could be said that our conclusions on a discussion of maths are ‘objectively right’. That’s because there are lots of assumptions implicit in our former discussion. However, it doesn’t make our discussion on Hitler v M Theresa meaningless or pointless. The assumptions we make our useful to us. It’s true, GIVEN those assumptions. It doesn’t even matter if we reach those assumptions through different methods.

    Similarly, we all agree to asign value to money, even though the paper has no INTRINSIC value. But it’s useful to us all to give it value. That my £20 note has no OBJECTIVE value is not a problem – it has the value that society judges it to have.

    Reply
  25. Frank Turek says:

    Murder is the taking of an innocent human life by another human being without justification. Whether juries recognize that is irrelevant.

    Human life is valuable regardless of whether you or anyone things so. That’s what we mean by objective. It’s is outside of us, and not dependent on us.

    When you say we can decide who is more evil, you are begging quesion. Again, what is evil? Do you agree with Augustine who says it is a lack or privation in Good?

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  26. Tim D. says:

    Murder is the taking of an innocent human life by another human being without justification. Whether juries recognize that is irrelevant.

    Do you mean to say that you, without the help of some kind of assumed supreme being, are capable of making the judgment of what encompasses that definition on your own? Because if you are, I have a few interesting questions for you~

    What are you using to debate if not the LNC?

    If by that you mean, using definitions is supporting the LNC, I would say:

    The reason that is debatable is because it’s uncertain whether the LNC is true because of its comprising factors, or if the comprising factors are true because of LNC. It’s impossible to know either way — is there a real literal law that, for lack of a better term, “magically” tests every possible situation that occurs in this universe to make sure that nothing contradicts? Or are things unable to do contradict because of factors that comprise their nature as we understand those things? i.e. Is it true that an object can’t be both red and blue because

    (a) The LNC is “just true”

    or

    (b) because the pigments that cause “red” are different than the pigments that cause “blue.” This has nothing to do with “could be” or “possible to be,” it simply is.

    Is the inherent assumed “truthfulness” of the LNC what causes these things to be so? Or is it that these things are so, that causes the LNC to be supposed by compiling instances of these things and explaining a phenomenon found in nature?

    It’s not necessary to assume LNC to argue any of these things; by defining them, we accept the given that they are true, whether or not it’s possible for them to be “not true.” And before you say “by defining them you incite LNC,” then I will say, “no; by defining them I am saying that they are one thing and not another thing.”

    Likewise, if something cannot be something else, it’s not because of some magic law; it’s because, by being one thing, it is intrinsically not being that other thing. It’s a phenomenon in nature.

    The point is this: LNC describes a phenomenon in nature, that the circumstances which cause things to be one thing cause them to be unable to be another; and that the circumstances which can be described as one thing cannot consistently be described as the circumstances which can be described as that thing’s opposite.

    So….is it the concept of the LNC that causes this? Or is it simply the fact that things cannot contradict, that we have observed? In the same sense that you claim LNC “transcends” reality somehow….would you also claim that mathematical laws transcend reality? In order to be consistent, you would have to say the same of mathematical laws. Because both are comprised of demonstrable factors, and yet both are claimed to be “transcendent” because they are too complex to immediately illustrate.

    Reply
  27. Tim D. says:

    I guess the clarified version would look something like this:

    Does LNC just describe a state of being (like the phrase “up” or “down” describes a type of direction)? Or is it a real, literal object that exists in some dimension, as has been claimed of morality?

    I believe the former; it is a man-made concept to describe the fact something cannot be both what it is, and what it is not (something that is exemplified in nature, and really seems like common sense — for anything to exist in the scientific sense, this must be true*). The sentence, “Two contradicting truths cannot exist,” is simply a poetic description of this. What is a “truth,” anyway?

    (cue long debate session)

    *=This is not true of the supernatural, however….the supernatural is, by definition, capable of breaking the LNC. God, for instance; something cannot be omnipresent according to the physical principles we accept that operate this universe. It’s simply impossible to be everywhere at once, because if you are in one place you are, by definition, not in another place. So then, it’s entirely possible for LNC to be “untrue” in the grand scheme of things (if indeed a reality beyond ours does “exist”), and yet still be used to describe our universe.

    [/rant]

    Reply
  28. Tim D. says:

    Addendum:

    God, for instance; something cannot be omnipresent according to the physical principles we accept that operate this universe.

    You know, those rules that make up the LNC?

    Reply
  29. Frank Turek says:

    Tim,

    Everything you say utilizes the LNC. Do you not see that? If not, the great Muslim philosopher Avicenna had a sure-fire way of getting people to realize it. He said, Anyone who denies the Law of Non Contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that being beaten is NOT the same as NOT being beaten, and being burned is NOT the same as NOT being burned!

    Not a tactic condoned by Jesus, but you get the point.

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  30. matt garwood says:

    Tim said:

    God, for instance; something cannot be omnipresent according to the physical principles we accept that operate this universe.

    You know, those rules that make up the LNC?

    Are we confusing “laws” here? Physics might be getting confused with metaphysics here… we’re talking about the law of non-contradiction (i THINK that’s the issue, here currently)… God IS God. God IS spirit. A spirit is not contradicting itself to be in more than one physical location, as it’s not OF the physical world… am I crazy here?

    -matt

    Reply
  31. Tim D. says:

    Tim,

    Everything you say utilizes the LNC. Do you not see that? If not, the great Muslim philosopher Avicenna had a sure-fire way of getting people to realize it. He said, Anyone who denies the Law of Non Contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that being beaten is NOT the same as NOT being beaten, and being burned is NOT the same as NOT being burned!

    First off, I’m well aware of the state of LNC.

    Second, there’s no need to talk about beating and burning folk 🙁

    Third, the point is that LNC describes a state of being, not a literal thing. Hence my clarification. Is “blue” a transcendent thing? Is “on” a transcendent thing? How about “full?” If you say “no” to any of these, then you can’t call LNC “transcendent.”

    Reply
  32. Andrew Ryan says:

    “Is “blue” a transcendent thing?”

    I’d say that ‘blue’ is a manmade idea. We call a certain spectrum of light ‘blue’. It’s arbitrary. Some cultures don’t have the same colours as us. Sounds odd, but they might have no word for purple. Just like we don’t have words for every single shade of the rainbow. However, just because ‘blue’ is a subjective, man-made concept, it doesn’t mean we can’t all have a useful discussion of what colour the sky is.

    “Murder is the taking of an innocent human life by another human being without justification. Whether juries recognize that is irrelevant. ”

    Define justification, define innocent. Frank, you’re still using subjective terms. Different people define these words in different ways. Some people say that if you break into their front room then they get to shoot you. They were guilty of burglary, but are they still innocent enough to live? When does the foce become excessive?

    “When you say we can decide who is more evil, you are begging quesion. Again, what is evil? ”

    I’ve already explained this Frank, I don’t know how much clearer I can make it. Evil is a concept. We can have a useful discussion of the word with people who share our basic assumptions of what a good or bad action is. Evil is what God says it is? Then your saying that Satan is more evil than God is simply a circular argument.

    The absence of good? I’d say that was indifference. I guess you could say it is evil for us to not spend every penny we have on food for starving Africans. But I’d reserve the word ‘evil’ for the warlords and dictators who push African nations into poverty.

    Reply
  33. Andrew Ryan says:

    “Human life is valuable regardless of whether you or anyone things so. That’s what we mean by objective. It’s is outside of us, and not dependent on us.”

    Define ‘valuable’. Another subjective term! Valuable implies someone or something to whom that thing is valuable. Do you mean ‘valuable to God’? Then you’re just using another example of defining ‘objective’ to be ‘something that God thinks’. That’s not the definition I’m using. It seems that even the word ‘objective’ may be subjective!

    Reply
  34. matt garwood says:

    btw, not being able to firmly ground human life AS valuable is a step one must take to abuse it or take it. It’s a “gloves off” step, methinks… Andrew, I don’t believe you feel this way – it is an attempt to be consistent to this atheist view. Do you honestly think you can say to your mother, wife, child, mirror, etc. that human life has no value?

    Reply
  35. Andrew Ryan says:

    It seems Frank that if your definition of evil is ‘something God doesn’t like’ then we’ve got something even harder to pin down as everyone believes in different Gods, with a wide variety of tastes. Some Gods think slavery’s OK and shellfish are bad, others think shellfish is OK but slavery is bad. With everyone saying ‘my God thinks this is evil’ to refer to different things, then they might as well just cut to the chase and say ‘I think this is evil’.

    The only difference is that saying it’s ‘God’s opinion’ rather than your own then makes it less necessary for anyone to have to justify their opinions. Everyone retreats into dogma. How much quicker might slavery have been abandoned if generations of men weren’t convinced it was their ‘God-given right’, another of those ‘first principles’ that don’t need defending because they’re ‘axiomatic’.

    Reply
  36. Andrew Ryan says:

    “Do you honestly think you can say to your mother, wife, child, mirror, etc. that human life has no value?”

    No Matt. Which is why I didn’t say it. Re-read my post.

    I value my mother’s life. And even if no-one else did, she would value her own life. All lives are valuable becuase we as a society have decided it is so.

    Frank said her life would be valuable even if SHE didn’t AND no-one else did. That’s a hyperthetical situation, because as I already said, we’ve agreed that our society runs on the basis that all human life has value. But we’ll allow Frank’s hyperthetical scenario. Now, the definition of valuable is ‘valued by someone’, right? If no-one values something, then by definition it has no value. If he just means ‘because God values it’ then he’s just adding another thing to value it. That doesn’t make it ‘objectively valuable’, that just makes it ‘subjectively valuable to someone’, that someone being God.

    Reply
  37. matt garwood says:

    Biblical slavery was NOT man-stealing. Man-stealers were not operating biblically. That’s not arguable, Andrew. And this is again getting off-topic, so let me say this again: can you know anything, based on your understanding of ontology? If you say yes, we can know truth, then we agree on that point. If you say no, then why should your logic persuade us? It’s probably not true 🙂

    This is the breakdown, I hope, where anyone following this thread sees how utterly consistent you and Tim are being. It breaks my heart for you, as I’ve grown quite fond of our discussion over these weeks… but at the same time I’m bittersweet – happy that many will see the logical conclusion of your view. IF there is nothing transcendent, then EVERYTHING is subjective – NOTHING is sacred/transcendent, NOTHING can be known, and as you said – not even human life is valuable, as life’s value is grounded in nothingness… preference, a god delusion, etc.

    Tim – great point showing me that I DID in fact use Hitler as a worst-case example of an ideology, which I stated should not be done. Thank you for pointing that out. We agree, then, that an abuser of a system does not necessarily make the system bad. It MAY, but it’s not an instant “is”.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  38. Andrew Ryan says:

    We’re back in the circular arguments we were in before Christmas, and I have to say it feels like I’m wasting my time explaining the same thing over and over.

    I think the problem here is that Matt and Frank think that something is either ‘objectively true’ or ‘completely false’. That’s not what ‘objectively true’ means, and until you realise that then you’re going to be continually confused and bewildered. I’ve explained this over and over. It’s equivalent to saying that either money is ‘objectively valuable’ or you might as well burn it. If you believe that then please be my guest and make a pyre of all your cash.

    Reply
  39. Tim D. says:

    Do you honestly think you can say to your mother, wife, child, mirror, etc. that human life has no value?

    I think you’re missing the point; when a person says that life does not have objective value, he/she is not saying that it’s not possible to place subjective value in things or people; for example, if you asked me what you just asked Andrew here, I would tell you that of course these things are valuable to me. But that’s the operative phrase — to me. The question nobody seems to be able to answer without retreating into “God logic” is, when does this very subjective idea of value become objective?

    The point is that the value we place in things — such as life, which our society has deemed importantly “self-evident,” in that it is not based on a higher judgment or calling but on itself as a factor that everyone must observe in order to participate in our society — is not the same thing as that thing or person having intrinsic value that is separate from subjective perception. Frank Turek saying that all life is valuable? That’s a subjective statement, because it was said by Frank Turek, same as if I would have said it (or Matt, or Andrew). Any time any person asserts the value of a person or thing, that is a subjective statement — “This is valuable” might as well be “I think this is valuable.”

    What makes something “objectively valuable?” The same thing that makes something “objectively desirable,” or “objectively preferable.”

    Reply
  40. Tim D. says:

    Also, when a person acts to defend something that is valuable, this action is based on subjective beliefs; cultures fight to defend the idols and rituals and customs that they believe are valuable, because they have a long history with these things, and they are significant to these people (and therefore valuable). Are these things, then, objectively valuable? What about in countries that worship non-Christian gods?

    This is the breakdown, I hope, where anyone following this thread sees how utterly consistent you and Tim are being. I

    This is a predominantly Christian mindset, I find; do you really need someone to “show” that you’ve “won” somehow, or are you not confident enough if your own case?

    In any case, I must ask: what is inconsistent, that I have said?

    Reply
  41. Andrew Ryan says:

    “I hope, where anyone following this thread sees how utterly consistent you and Tim are being.”

    Thanks. I am very consistent, as well as being very moral. I’m glad to be setting such a good example to you.

    “IF there is nothing transcendent, then EVERYTHING is subjective ”
    I’ve answered this so many times, that I feel I’m banging my head against a wall. The question you need to answer yourself is if you believe this is true, how come my philosophy leads me to being more moral than you? Yours leads to homophobia, mine doesn’t.

    Reply
  42. Andrew Ryan says:

    Tim, nothing is inconsistent in what you’ve said. Matt and Frank have been consistent too – consistently not reading our posts properly, consistently getting confused over what ‘objective’ means, and consistently constructing strawmen out of our words.

    Really, neither of us are going to come up with the magic sentence that ‘pings’ the light of comprehension in their heads because we’ve already made it as clear as it can possibly be made, re-stated 50 times in different words. I’m just about done.

    Reply
  43. matt garwood says:

    I said you’re being CONSISTENT – and showing the viewing audience, if indeed there is one – that a Christian MUST put value on life. An atheist does not. That sad distinction is clear to me now – nothing is evil in your world, because you are denying the ability to know anything. You feel like you’re beating your head against a wall? A guy (i’d call you a friend – I enjoy your virtual company, and you seem quite smart) who tells me there’s no REAL value to human life, just the individuals he values and society has agreed upon (presumably in some election I wasn’t aware of), is telling me that consistent with his worldview… there is no right/wrong, good/evil, except a subjective version of it.

    Do you see why I keep calling it out in black/white terms? Because if you’re right – you can’t be 🙂 Because if you’re right – there is no right. You can think you’re right, and I can think I’m right… but the (observable) law of non-contradiction says we can’t both BE right.

    What really gets me confused is how the law of non-contradiction is proven over and over by your senses, logic, and reason. Not ESTABLISHED, as other things are, but shown to be repeatably true. But you seem to use it and then dismiss it in your writing. That’s got me befuddled. There’s absolutely no absolutes 🙂 yeah…. Andrew, I’m praying you see what I’m saying – what God, His creation, and His son have shown. But unless that standard of proof (which is un-meetable) gives way, you can never know Him. And that makes me heavy.

    -Matt

    Reply
  44. Andrew Ryan says:

    “that a Christian MUST put value on life. An atheist does not. ”

    Great, that’s the exactly opposite of what I said. Congratulations Matt!
    As I said, consistently getting it wrong.

    And no, no-one’s reading this far apart from you, me, Tim and occasionally Frank.

    Reply
  45. Tim D. says:

    I just have one question that’s been bothering me for a couple of days. Try not to think of it as a “gotcha” question; it’s really just a musing. It doesn’t form the core of my case, it’s not some magic bullet I plan to use to slay the werewolf, so to speak; it just won’t click with me for some reason.

    Well, actually, it’s sort of two questions. I’d like to hear answers from both Turek and Matt, if possible.

    1) Do you believe that mankind is capable of discerning “goodness” without God? i.e., do you believe that “goodness” is apparent in nature, and that even if God didn’t point us to it (i.e. if we didn’t read the Bible or go to church) that the “truth” of this “goodness” will be self-evident and we will be able to understand it for what it is and obey it?

    The simple version: Do you think that we all feel “moral obligations” deep down, if obeyed, could lead us towards this “God of goodness” you say exists? I mean, even if it didn’t “make us Christian”….do you think that, if we obeyed this moral guideline, it would lead us to reflect Biblical values, whether or not we actually realized it?

    (I asked because something like this came up before, but I can’t recall who said it….)

    2) If you believe that man is capable of discerning this “goodness” without “turning to God,” If there is an objective moral dimension, and man is capable of discerning this on his own, then what is God necessary for? Perhaps He makes it easier….but couldn’t that be managed by earthly literature that managed to capture the essence of these values?

    If not — if you believe man is not capable of discerning true right and wrong — then how can you say that you “know” what is good and evil? You don’t know, you only believe, if that’s the case.

    So would you say that you objectively know right from wrong, or that you subjectively believe you know right from wrong?

    Reply
  46. Tim D. says:

    A guy (i’d call you a friend – I enjoy your virtual company, and you seem quite smart) who tells me there’s no REAL value to human life, just the individuals he values and society has agreed upon (presumably in some election I wasn’t aware of), is telling me that consistent with his worldview… there is no right/wrong, good/evil, except a subjective version of it.

    Now, now, I didn’t say that there is no real value to life. I said we have no way of realizing it, even if there is, and so it’s best to find ways to uphold the subjective value of life rather than try and seek out some kind of magical “objective” value that really and literally exists somewhere.

    It may seem petty to you, but there is a significant difference~

    Do you see why I keep calling it out in black/white terms? Because if you’re right – you can’t be 🙂 Because if you’re right – there is no right. You can think you’re right, and I can think I’m right… but the (observable) law of non-contradiction says we can’t both BE right.

    Exactly! Now you see. There is no “I am right, and that’s that.” Any time someone says that he or she is right, it helps to be able to say why, not just “well, he’s right. What can you do?” Or even worse, “Nuh-uh, you’re wrong!”

    When I say I accept things that are useful….listen, I value life as well as you do, just for a different reason. Your subjective value of life comes from the believe that there is an objective value thereof that your subjective value should reflect. My subjective value comes from the desire to value life of my own accord. That’s the only real difference there. We would both defend the lives that are valuable to us (at least, I would assume so).

    If the interested party does seek to defend his or her value of life….and even more importantly, if he or she believes that this value is objective….then you’d think he or she would try to find reasons to convince others to believe this way as well, don’t you think? Reasons that are not necessarily grounded in his/her religion….ways that can apply to people who don’t necessarily think the same way. The preaching approach is more like a baseball bat — “I’m right, and you should accept that” — whereas the reasonable approach is like, “hey, if you value life, then here’s why it ends up working out.”

    I hate that it has to be this way, though….society has kind of degenerated into this crude war, this race between reason and faith, to see which one can infect the most people the most quickly. Either that, or one has to absorb the other. It’s sad, really.

    Reply
  47. matt garwood says:

    *Caveat – this is in answer to Tim’s question above, and is almost certainly off-topic… but it does deal with the question of evil’s existence because it has to do with our ability to recognize good/evil apart from God

    Tim, to answer quickly (more tomorrow – baby bedtime 🙂

    1) yes men are able to perceive goodness. Read the first chapter of Pauls letter to the Romans. Paul makes the connection that we are all able to see the evidence of God and His plan, but the wicked suppress it. Based upon that (and my conversation with you which shows we hold many good moral values in common, though you without attributing it to God’s existence and orderly plan) I would answer yes off the top of my head. Maybe I’ll think more on it tomorrow. But for now, yes.

    2) God’s existence/postulation of his existence aren’t necessary to meet some end. His existence is not toward the end that everyone do moral things. If this is your understanding of the Bible’s position, it betrays your lack of knowledge on the subject. If it’s a curiosity, then I could answer and say a few things on it:

    – God’s existence is the glue that holds my logic together. You are right to think that if there is no God, most if not all of my views would need to change… all my “oughts” 🙂

    – When you say why then would God be necessary… it’s asking the wrong question. God doesn’t exist to meet OUR needs or to affect us… by definition, God is eternal and uncaused. The fact that men can often portray biblical morals (as I see you hold many) without pointing to God as the “why” just means that there is a commonality among men – a residue of our originally uncorrupt goodness. The fact that we are created in the image of God and God bestows “common grace”, that is, a guiding influence on all men’s lives (even those set against Him), is a fine explanation of why so many religions have such similar moral values. Even atheists like yourself can’t bring yourself to completely de-value life – because you are unable to completely suppress that image that you bear.

    The above paragraph is obviously relying very heavily on the biblical record. Did you know those things, or where to find those statements in the Bible? Are you, like Andrew, formally a Christian who has lost his faith? In the interest of keeping this thread clean and on-topic, let’s stick to the ontology of evil, but email me anything on this area you’d like. mjgarwood@gmail.com – I’d love to bounce some more things like this off of you. You have quite a mind, and are really closer than you think (in my estimation) to the Christian worldview…

    Thanks again,
    Matt

    Reply
  48. Frank Turek says:

    Tim, Because I, a subject, utter something, that doesn’t mean what I say is subjective. If that were the case, then everything you say would be subjective too. You think it is objectively true that there is no objective morality.

    You are confusing ontology and epistemology.

    Do you agree with Augustine who said that evil is a privation of good? (Maybe you answered this already, but I haven’t had time to read all the pages you have written.) A short answer would be appreciated.

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  49. Tim D. says:

    Tim, Because I, a subject, utter something, that doesn’t mean what I say is subjective. If that were the case, then everything you say would be subjective too. You think it is objectively true that there is no objective morality.

    The only way you can “demonstrate” a statement like “life is valuable” is by saying it to someone. Which means you cannot show that it is so; because saying it to someone is not the same thing as demonstrating it. Because I could say the opposite, and it would fulfill the same criteria. In the criteria of a debate, it doesn’t matter if something is true if you can’t demonstrate it.

    So really, it means nothing that you say something like “life is valuable.” Is it really so? Why, because you say it is? Because I could say just the opposite. How would you challenge that?

    You and others have played the card that “everyone feels these moral obligations,” but that is simply not true. I would agree that maybe I feel obligated to value life on its own as a principle, but that does not follow through to the other ‘values’ that you claim are Christian — such as opposing homosexuality, or feeling that there is a God. I honestly do not feel such things are true or necessary. I also do not feel that such values (life included) are “self-evident,” as there is no obvious “premise” on which I base these ideas that I could easily demonstrate to others; they simply occur to me.

    So no, these things are not “obvious” of “self-evident” to everyone. Because “obvious” and “self-evident” are subjective terms.

    And no, I don’t “believe that it is objectively true that there is no objective morality.” I believe I said that in the first sentence of a recent post. Not everything I say can be so easily conveyed in a sound-byte~

    BTW, here’s what I said:

    Now, now, I didn’t say that there is no real value to life. I said we have no way of realizing it, even if there is, and so it’s best to find ways to uphold the subjective value of life rather than try and seek out some kind of magical “objective” value that really and literally exists somewhere.

    Not the same thing as “there is no objective this-or-that” at all.

    You are confusing ontology and epistemology.

    Again with those words, and this assertion….

    Reply
  50. Matt Garwood says:

    Tim – did you get my response to your two questions? Make sense?

    Also, maybe Dr. Turek could define ontology vs. epistemology for all of us. Just like in court documents, defining the terms leads to less confusion. I think i know how he means them, but to be sure…

    Gracias,
    Matt

    Reply
  51. Tim D. says:

    Tim – did you get my response to your two questions? Make sense?

    In a way, yes. I think the most enlightening statement was that God is the ultimate end, rather than morality. I take issue with accepting that statement as fact, but one can’t really say that it isn’t represented in your view. It also clears up a number of other things….

    Also, maybe Dr. Turek could define ontology vs. epistemology for all of us. Just like in court documents, defining the terms leads to less confusion. I think i know how he means them, but to be sure…

    *Ontology*
    1) The branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being, reality, or ultimate substance
    2) A particular theory about being or reality

    Basically, what “reality” is.

    *Epistemology*
    The study or theory of the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge

    Basically, what we are capable of knowing (and possibly, how we know that we are capable of knowing it).

    I don’t believe this is any source of confusion.

    Reply
  52. Matt Garwood says:

    No – didn’t think it was, personally… but your definition is helpful nonetheless 🙂

    As to ontology and all the other ‘ologies – who are some classic examples of the discussion we’re having here? Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle are the big greeks I think of, but to be honest, I’m rather ignorant of what middle eastern, oriental, and other cultures’ views on knowledge and how we get to it (if it’s there at all)… Any of you guys up on that and can point me to ’em for some comparison reading?

    peace,
    -Matt

    Reply
  53. Emily Jean Smith says:

    I know what evil is. Evil people are for abortion, and if they are rich, and they don’t give to charity than they are evil. It mentions it in the Bible. God bless to all, and peace on earth.

    Reply
  54. Matt Garwood says:

    Emily, I could be wrong, but those are symptoms of evil, and a rather simplistic view of it. Evil itself can be defined, biblically, but it’s bigger and broader than that. Could be wrong 🙂 Often am – but as you mentioned, God blesses. And He has spoken to us by His Son – what a blessing! Be encouraged – dig deep.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  55. Tim D. says:

    I know what evil is. Evil people are for abortion, and if they are rich, and they don’t give to charity than they are evil. It mentions it in the Bible. God bless to all, and peace on earth.

    What if a rich man who gives to charity is for abortion?

    Reply
  56. Matt Garwood says:

    I’ve been thinking how to explain this best – evil isn’t what you DO it’s more metaphysical than that. For example, helping sick babies is important, but someone can do that for selfish gain – recognition, p.r. to change an image from a previous embarassing situation, etc. Therefor the same act, done from a different heart, can be evil or good.

    And this is also the tesimony of the Bible – don’t know how much my two atheist compadres on here know of the scriptures, but they repeatedly use outwardly religious people as examples in parables of how NOT to be… “On that day many will say to me, Lord Lord! Didn’t we cast out demons in your name? Didn’t we do great miracles? And God will say “depart from me, evil-doers… I never knew you”…

    So the testimony of the Bible, for clarity’s sake, is that we are all wicked, born with a sin-nature; a heart that rebells against God. Therefor all of our best attempts at being good are initially tainted. Hence the need for our “account” to be credited with the “account” of a blameless man. Our righteousness doesn’t come from deeds, but from Christ, who lived a blameless life, keeping every part of the law (even the heart parts which we ALL fail at daily) and dies in our stead.

    That’s the gospel – and it’s the ultimate answer to the evil question. Let’s all have eyes to see and ears to hear. God open our hearts to perceive the truth – the need for truth – and your Son who loved humanity enough to take upon himself our sins. Forgive us for when we make your good news an exercise in mental gymnastics. Reveal yourself to all who call upon your name – give us hearts of flesh so we desire to seek you.

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  57. Frank Turek says:

    Tim,

    You said:

    “I also do not feel that such values (life included) are “self-evident,” as there is no obvious “premise” on which I base these ideas that I could easily demonstrate to others; they simply occur to me.”

    1. A self-evident truth IS the premise. There is nothing behind it.
    2. What is the difference between “self-evident” and “simply occur to me”?

    “So no, these things are not “obvious” of “self-evident” to everyone. Because “obvious” and “self-evident” are subjective terms.”

    1. Is that sentence subjective or objective?
    2. What is your answer to the Augustine question?

    Reply
  58. Matt Garwood says:

    Dr. Turek said,

    If Augustine is correct, then an ultimate being (i.e. God) could not be evil because evil is not a thing in itself.

    Believe it or not (shows how well I read) I JUST read that for the first time… I think that’s a great point, and one I hadn’t pondered. By definition, we can’t conceive, in any possible world, of an ultimate being being “evil” because it isn’t a thing – it describes an imperfection. So IF there is one ultimate being, it follows that it couldn’t possess evil. Brilliant point.

    I’m curious now as well – Tim and Andrew, and anyone reading – what do you think of Augustine’s definition and the points it raises?

    Peace,
    Matt

    Reply
  59. Matt Garwood says:

    btw, I think it’s still a brilliant point applied to what I read into it – namely that God created all things, but evil is not a thing, so God is not the author of evil. Pondering the impossibility of an ultimate being possessing evil is just awesome… great point. Was this Augustine’s conclusion/application or yours, Dr. Turek?

    -Matt

    Reply
  60. Tim D. says:

    1. A self-evident truth IS the premise. There is nothing behind it.
    2. What is the difference between “self-evident” and “simply occur to me”?

    1) I don’t think I spoke very clearly here, actually. When I say “I don’t think it’s self evident because there is no real premise to speak of,” the better word to use would have been “I don’t think it’s obvious.” In essence they are the same thing, but in this case there is a slight difference.

    The point I meant to make was that, in order for something to be obvious, it must have some clear presence that can be pointed to (i.e. the computer standing in front of me; its presence is obvious to anyone who can see it, such that most wouldn’t even feel the need to remark that “it’s there”).

    How this bears on its “self-evidence” is that, if indeed it is self-evident, then nobody has ever succeeded in showing what about it is self-evident, and how. Can you display this self-evidence somehow, in a manner other than simply asserting it? Citing consequential arguments doesn’t count, either, because that would be reasoning, and self-evidence is required as a predecessor to reasoning.

    2) As for “simply occur to me;” that’s somewhat of a poetic statement, which I made out of hand. I meant that the idea is present in my mind for some reason that is not based on reasoning (or some perceived duty to a higher power that may or may not exist); I simply feel it as a premise in and of itself.

    (WARNING: Tangent approaching…..)

    As such, when discussing religious holy law, I feel a bit of unease when someone remarks that enacting Biblical death penalty laws would be an “ideal” situation of any sort — because this shows an utter disregard for human life as something that is inherently valuable. This sort of view implies that there is some way to “diminish” or “tarnish” the value of a life such that it is no longer valuable and can be legitimately taken away. My view forces me to believe that there should always be a careful rationality involved with situations that center around the taking of a life — be it a criminal suspect/convict or someone else, and I question the legitimacy of any view which advocates killing people (or “executing” them, or whatever term pleases the court), or even the possibility thereof, based on something as consequentially meager as homosexuality.

    1. Is that sentence subjective or objective?
    2. What is your answer to the Augustine question?

    1) A useless question; you know the answer as well as I do. What do you think?

    2) I believe the Augustine question is the one that pertains to evil being the “absence” of “good” (as the relationship between light and darkness); am I correct?

    If so: For me to answer that question in the manner you desire would require that I acknowledge “good” and “evil” as some kind of tangible forces or states of being (such as light and darkness, which are arguably both forces and states of being, depending on what is referenced in comparison), which I do not.

    Do you understand what I said before, that I do not believe there exists a tangible variant of “good” and “evil?”

    By definition, we can’t conceive, in any possible world, of an ultimate being being “evil” because it isn’t a thing – it describes an imperfection. So IF there is one ultimate being, it follows that it couldn’t possess evil. Brilliant point.

    Well, that assumes:

    1) That good and evil do indeed possess such a relationship;
    2) That a deity is defined by this relationship;
    3) That such states do exist;
    4) That there is indeed one “ultimate being,” if any

    I’m curious now as well – Tim and Andrew, and anyone reading – what do you think of Augustine’s definition and the points it raises?

    It’s like this….once the existence of a God has been proven, these arguments will begin to have some significance to me. As it stands, they are to me as arguments about the properties of UFOs, yetis, and bigfoots are (I assume?) to you; they are arguments which presuppose the existence of something which has not been confirmed. In order for me to argue with you about what God is/would be like, I would first have to believe that God exists. Now, I can entertain the possibility for discussion’s sake in this particular case, but I don’t see a whole lot of reason to do that, as it does not solve any of the problems that come between such a worldview and mine.

    It would be like arguing with me about what kind of being the aliens that built the Egyptian Pyramids* are really like….I can assume you don’t believe they exist, or at least are not convinced that they exist, and so any argument as to their nature once their existence has been accepted is ultimately inconsequential.

    *=No, I don’t believe that aliens created the pyramids….it was an extreme example.

    In any case, what I mean to conclude is that there is no shortage of excuses as to how God could be perfect in spite of the inherent impossibility of that act. So the fact that one more excuse (which goes against or even contradicts some others) has been brought to the table is of little significance to a person like me~ Aside from the fact that it’s something to think about when I’m bored.

    Reply
  61. Frank Turek says:

    Tim,

    So far you say you don’t believe in the law of non-contradiction (despite having to use it to say anything), and you’ve denied any objective sense good or evil. There’s no way to continue any conversation if you don’t believe in the LNC, and your denial of evil seems similar to that of Buddhists (who often believe in logical absurdities).

    You say you might believe in good and evil if you had evidence that God exists. There is other evidence we’ve covered on this site before– including the Cause for the beginning and design of the universe and life– but when you deny the laws of logic (which are another evidence for God), you’ve prevented yourself from discovering anything else. And when you deny good and evil, you are denying one of the very arguments for God that is consistent with the others mentioned.

    Here’s a question that requires a short answer– and I mean no disrespect by this question– just the truth: If there really is a God, do you honestly want to know Him, or do you volitionally reject God? If it is the second, that’s fine. It’s your choice. But there’s no use trying to present someone evidence who is volitionally set against it. Someone said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

    Thanks for posting.

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  62. Emily Jean Smith says:

    Okay someone is evil if they are rich, and they don’ t give to a holy charity, and people are evil if they are rich and give to an unholy charity. I hope this clears up any confusion. Hi Frank Turek . I will invite many people to come to my church when you come, and I hope it there is a big turnout. I just handed a invitation to an atheist today, and I will know in a few minutes if he will come. I’ m praying for a lot of people to come, and I hope my prayers are answered. God Bless to you all, and peace on earth. Have a great rest of the day.

    Reply
  63. Tim D. says:

    So far you say you don’t believe in the law of non-contradiction (despite having to use it to say anything)

    Completely, 100% wrong:

    First off, I’m well aware of the state of LNC.

    Second, there’s no need to talk about beating and burning folk 🙁

    Third, the point is that LNC describes a state of being, not a literal thing. Hence my clarification. Is “blue” a transcendent thing? Is “on” a transcendent thing? How about “full?” If you say “no” to any of these, then you can’t call LNC “transcendent.”

    What this says, in case I wasn’t clear again, is that

    (a) The state of being that this law of non-contradiction describes is of course “real” in any sense that we are capable of understanding;

    (b) That I do not believe in the “law of non-contradiction” as a literal, present entity or object in any sense at all. The “law of non-contradiction” is no more a real, literal thing than the laws of physics are real, literal things; they are descriptions of the way things operate. You cite LNC as though it is a literal being that makes sure the universe is running, when in fact it is a sort of “default setting” by which systems in the universe must operate in order to have any meaningful….well, meaning (physically speaking, of course~).

    Does it make sense yet? If not, here’s the really, really simple version:

    1) I believe that two opposing things cannot be true; if there is a true reality that we are capable of grasping, then it follows that this reality must have a solid definition (and therefore not be able to contradict itself merely by existing) in order to function in any physically meaningful way.

    2) I do not believe that this state of being, described by the above paragraph, is sustained by some kind of magical, literal “law” that exists in another dimension. I believe this state of being is simply self-evident in that it just is, be that because it was made that way or simply because it can be no other way.

    I believe in the concept the law describes, and I believe the law accurately describes the concept. I do not believe the (man-made) law is something that really exists somewhere. Do you follow?

    You say you might believe in good and evil if you had evidence that God exists.

    It’s more than that, even; first you would have to prove that such a being exists that could exemplify the qualities of “God,” and in the process you would have to go above and beyond the mere idea that we could suppose His existence based on what we do or do not know right now. You would have to prove it as definitive, irrefutable fact, in spite of the fact that you seem to think you have already done this.

    Second, you would have to prove how this correlates with the existence of another dimension in which these “laws” of morality and logic somehow actually, literally exist.

    Then you would have to prove (a) what that dimension is and how the things inside it function, and (b) how you can know what that dimension is, and how the things inside it function.

    Then, after all that is said and done, you would have to begin the arduous process of tying all of this into your personal religious faith.

    Here’s a question that requires a short answer– and I mean no disrespect by this question– just the truth: If there really is a God, do you honestly want to know Him, or do you volitionally reject God? If it is the second, that’s fine. It’s your choice. But there’s no use trying to present someone evidence who is volitionally set against it. Someone said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

    Tell yourself whatever you must about my beliefs. If it’s of your belief that you can’t convince me because I’m somehow “biased” against a God in whom I do not believe, then by all means, go ahead, and I’ll make no real effort to stop you for fear of wasting any more of my efforts….however, if you’re interested in genuine conversation as you claim, then this sort of question is unnecessary, as you are making a trust statement by debating my points in the first place that I am open to such discussion.

    So it’s really up to you whether or not to continue this discussion; do you believe I’m lying when I say I’m making an honest effort, or not? And could it be that maybe there is nothing I could say to make you believe one way or the other in this sense, short of coming out and saying, “No I’m not honest about it,” which would only confirm your original accusation?

    And no, I’m not offended, before you say anything to that effect….just surprised.

    Reply
  64. Tim D. says:

    Addendum:

    Then, after all that is said and done, you would have to begin the arduous process of tying all of this into your personal religious faith.

    Keeping in mind, that all of these reasons why God could be this, or why it could theoretically make sense as to why God is all-good or whatever, are not reasons why they are so (assuming He exists); they are simply theoretical approaches to an issue that, frankly, can’t be truly approached.

    Reply
  65. Frank Turek says:

    Tim,

    We seem to be speaking past one another. In an effort to clear that up, let’s see if I can understand your underlying philosophical system. Which of these best describes your view:
    1. realism (universals, numbers and/or propositions exist objectively, apart from the human mind and distinct from any material or physical properties of the world)?
    2. nominalism (there are no universals)?
    3. conceptualism (universals exist but only in the human mind)?

    Blessings,

    Frank

    Reply
  66. Tim D. says:

    None of those three are very accurate. Close, but not 100%. I do not believe, as in 1, that numbers and propositions “exist” in any sense beyond the mind or the physical world; as in 2, I do not believe we possess the knowledge or authority to say, “There are no universals;” and 3 is closer, but still incomplete, being the opposite of 2.

    Mine would be an amended fourth choice; “It’s possible that universals might exist beyond the human mind, but we do not/cannot know if they do or how they do, if in fact they do, because of our inability to describe the dimension in which they exist.”

    See, if they “exist” in any way, then they have to (of course) exist in some way or another; which is to say, they must be defined. If it is not defined, then even the law of non-contradiction cannot be applied, because there is no definition to contradict. So if they do not exist in the physical world, then they must exist in some sense other than in the human mind as concepts, or else they do not really “exist” (any more than, say, hunger ‘objectively exists’). Which is to say, they must be an “object” of some sort. Which requires that we propose the existence of another sort of spacial dimension which accounts for this existence.

    Problem is, all of this paints a picture of a dimension that should be easily accessible, much like every other physical dimension, or time — even if not directly manipulable (such as time). There should be some definite way to define it in terms of this new dimension, should there not? Some set of terms by which the operation of this dimension can be essentially “tested” or at least observed? If not….then we must go back and ask again, in what sense does it exist — both the dimension itself as well as the objects within the dimension?

    Reply
  67. Coylh says:

    I see evil and good as descriptions of points on a scale. What the scale is, I’m not so sure. Perhaps I can describe it as a “mental sense”: an awareness without physical inputs. I can feel morally offended or pleased without understanding precisely why, comparable to how I can judge strawberry ice cream superior to raspberry.

    Reply
  68. Buddy Andrews says:

    For countless ages man has argued and posed debate for or against the existence of God and Satan, good and evil. In the simplistic and finite mind of man, an exact unveiling of this mystery can not be. I choose to believe this. You choose to believe that. I will never persuade you, nor you me. I believe this is the absolute truth applied to evil; evil is the absence of God. Evil is nothing of its own. I believe this the absolute truth applied to darkness; darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is nothing of its own. I nor you can prove or disprove either. Not then, not now an exact answer or solution as in the sciences will be found. Choice. I choose to believe God’s eternal Word, The Holy Bible is true and correct. Understand it all? No. The knowledge or wisdom to debate? No. That simple? Yes. Now God exist in my reahlm. Someday, I in His.

    Reply
  69. Tim D. says:

    Note: The Koran was written in the 7th century.

    Even taking that….still doesn’t answer the question. So there was no evil before the 7th century? Or in another poster’s case, before Lucifer fell from Heaven?

    Reply
  70. Katrina says:

    My comments are not as detailed and knowledgeable as some of these people. However, my theory is “without God, there would be no atheists.” I went through a Demonic haunting and it was Hell on Earth. Took two exorcisms to fumigate the infestation. I was raised Catholic and my Dad was Jewish, so needless to say religion wasnt a part of my life as an adult. I mean I believed in God, and prayed, but only when I needed him. I left the Catholic Church due to the abuse long ago. Evil to me, is a force, possibly an entity, but it is the lack of good. I think we all need to believe in something, because if not we become vulnerable to evil, as there is nothing to keep us safe, and “good.” Since the young age of 5, I have seen and heard from dead people, but no one believed me. As I got older it got stronger, so when I got a chance I would help someone who lost a loved one, and never did anything bad or charged, I just wanted to help others. Little did I know, being that open evil could creep in, just like good. Statistics show atheists are more apt to be stuck by evil forces than a Christain, they just dont recognize it. Spiritual warfare is nothing new, and lets look at this country of ours and see if good IS winning over evil, I dont think so. Women are killing their children, husbands are killing their wives, and or children, a child is not even safe in their own bed anymore, a woman is raped every 3 minutes, and 85% are under the age of 18, and a woman beaten every 5 minutes at the hands of the man who “loves her” and the number one cause of death in pregnant women is homicide. I wont even go into the war, or the war on crime and drugs, we have lost, there is no doubt in my mind. Believing in God, and praying for others, to keep us safe allows us to not become a statistic of an evil force. I didnt read too many of these posts, but someone sent this to me, and I felt compelled to reply. God Bless..katrina

    Reply
  71. Tim D. says:

    “without God, there would be no atheists.

    /soudbyte; almost quit reading there….

    Since the young age of 5, I have seen and heard from dead people, but no one believed me.

    Yeah, I quit reading here….

    Statistics show atheists are more apt to be stuck by evil forces than a Christain, they just dont recognize it.

    ….is what I’d like to say, but unfortunately, I read this as well. What statistics might those be?

    You know, 99% of statistics quoted in debates are made up on the spot. So you understand if I can’t trust your word on that~

    Reply
  72. Andrew Ryan says:

    “However, my theory is “without God, there would be no atheists.””

    How’s about ‘without aliens, you wouldn’t get people who didn’t believe in aliens’.
    Do you believe in Allah? Well by your logic, that proves that Allah exists.

    “Women are killing their children, husbands are killing their wives”

    Right, more of whom proportionately are Christians than atheists.

    Reply
  73. German says:

    so in simple terms what u r saying is that evil is the transgression of GOD ‘s law right?i guess u can compare it to temperature if there is no heat it gets cold

    Reply
  74. moose says:

    i know this is an old article–but to the question–what is evil?–here are a few thoughts

    a god who floods the earth thereby murdering thousands of innocent children and babies.

    a god who commands moses to stone a man to death because he commited the horrendous offense of picking up sticks on the sabbath day

    a god who says–worship me or i will sh– on your face and sh– on your food (malachi 2, 2-3).

    a god who creates imperfect beings (us) then brings us back to life after we die & sets us on fire–just for not being perfect–when it is that very god–the kind, loving god who created us as imperfect beings in the first place

    Reply

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