(1) Is evil an essence?
fleetmouse wrote:I've seen a few posts recently where Christians point at horrible acts and imply that a nontheistic worldview is inadequate to explain them. Metacrock briefly alluded to this recently in another thread on Doxa regarding a little girl who was sold into prostitution by her mother and ended up dead in a ditch.
So I would like to explore this - is the existence of acts that we would call evil a problem for naturalism, and why?
Before the ball gets rolling, we should discuss whether evil is an essence or simply an adjective. I think this is the crux of the matter.
Well first of all, I think it's too narrow and simplstic to say it's either an essence or an adjective. I am not an essentialist. I don't believe women are women because their spirits are the essence of female or that men are male because their spirits are the essence of male. I do have Platonic tendencies (which I've tried to keep under control but the non Plato patch just doesn't work, the gum tastes horrible). But my Platonism is augmented by Augustine, so I'm not actually a full no Platonist.
I do think evil is more than just a word we use to describe stuff we don't like. But I supposes what you really mean is "is it satan or is it us?" right? I don't believe in little guys with pointed tials sitting on your shoulder encouraging you to do stuff.
I do think evil is a value judgment, but it's also more than that. It's a real tendency but not a positive essence, but rather the lack of the good. Being an Augustinian like Augustine I see evil as the absence of Good, and by "good" I mean "love." The illusion of a positive force of evil is created by positive actions that ensue from the lac of love. The analogy would be the way cold is seen as a positive force by people who don't know physics. Of cousre we (us educated types) know that there is no force radiant cold, it's all a matter of lack of heat, but the blowing of cold air gives the illusion of radiant cold. Cold does not radiate like heat. you can sit front of an ice cub and get cool, unless you blow air over it (which is the basic principle of an air conditioner) but then it's the heat being absorbed by the vacuum of cold that makes the air feel cool. It's not a force of cool blowing on you.
So it is with evil. It's the acts of evil that make it appear to be a force. It's actually the lack of love (which is synonymous with the good).
(2) Would a non theistic world be evil?
A world ran by Dawkins would be evil. A world ran by half the people on CARM would be very screwed. But then I wouldn't give much for the chances of a world ran by Mat Slick either!
I have always contended (I don't know what I said on the thread you talk about) that atheists can be good people, and many are, but they are coasting on Christian memories in the culture (meaning values). That does not men they are evil people it just means they have to get their ethical norms from some place and they usually get them from a culture that is working on the fading values of a Christian past. That's our measuring stick in this country and in the West for ethical norms.
The problem with atheists ethics wise is their inability to ground their axioms, not the inability of individual atheists to be moral. Now here's another paradox that is apt to cause misunderstanding. All have sinned and fallen short of ht Glory of God. that means Christians sin, atheist sin, everyone sins. So when atheists sin we say "see atheists can't be moral." But we forget to point out, "O yea, Neither can we!"
Paul tells us (Rm2:6-14) the moral law is written on the heart and that Gentiles not born under the law do actually keep elements of the law because they follow the moral law on their hearts. That has to mean that atheist also can be moral and have an innate sense of what is moral. But we all sin, we all fail at some point so atheists will sin and when they do there will be certain one's there to point it out, and go "ah ha" but those guys are strangely silent when their own sins are apparent.
So the ethics front is a matter of academic involvement. you have to think critically and understand the conversation among professional ethicist to really get what ethics is about. But if you do that I think it can be demonstrated that Theistic ethics is superior in terms of grounding axioms. But that has nothing to do with the rubber and road in terms of individual failings.
I think what I was getting at in that other thread is just that people tend to cover up the concept of sin nature. We don't like to think of ourselves as sinners. So when horrible things happen naturalistic types don't' want to face that something in all of us could lead any one of us to do that same kidn of thing at some point.
that does not mean that those naturalistic types aer not just as good as am I, or just as fallen as am I.