Sunday, 19 May 2013

Definition of Evil?

I have just finished the book "Belief in God in an Age of Science" by JCP. I was impressed and I concur that scientists and theologians should interact more.

I want to introduce myself and then write some comments on "The Definition of Evil" that I have been working on. First the introduction. I ...was born in 1927 so I am of similar vintage as JCP. I received my Ph. D. in Physical Chemistry in 1954 from ...While I was writing my Ph. D. thesis, I made the discovery that...My fellow graduate student .. pointed out that... Our major professor... developed an equation that fit the curve and gave the physical interpretation of what it meant. [He] was lavish in the credit he gave his grad students so the paper was published in the Journal of 1955. The authors were [me], [fellow student] and [Prof], so the equation is called the XXX equation.

At the age of 11 or 12, I professed faith in Christ as my savior and joined a southern Baptist church. In high school, I got interested in science and graduated from college with a B.S. in Chemistry. I found that I could not believe in the world being created in six days and I couldn't accept the story of Adam and Eve as literal truth. So I became a Presbyterian. My faith has matured as a Presbyterian. ... After retiring from research on... I became interested in the problem of evil. I have read the following books" (1)" Evil and the God of Love" by John Hick (2) "God, Power, and Evil" by David Ray Griffin, (3) "Evil after Postmodernism" edited by Jennifer L. Geddes, (4) "A Philosophy of Evil" by Lars Svendsen and (5) "The Groaning of Creation" by Christopher Southgate.

What I find lacking in them is a precise definition of evil. To develop that definition, I did a thought experiment ala Einstein. Suppose I have a problem which requires action on my part to solve it. I can imagine a series of possible actions which might solve the problem. How do I evaluate them to help me make a choice? I certainly need some yardstick or criterion or criteria so measure them by. If I plot my possible choices on that yardstick, what is the zero point, i.e. which actions are positive and therefore "good" and which actions are negative and therefore "evil"?

 I can think of two. One is faithfulness to the commandments of God. Jews have the 600 plus commandments in the Torah and Muslims have the "sharia" established by Mohhammed. I must confess that I have not read or studied either set. However, I doubt if they agree in every particular. Therefore, it is entirely possible that a Jew might follow the law of the Torah and find his action good while a Muslim might consider the same action according to "sharia" and consider it evil. And vice versa. Therefore this definition of a zero point cannot have general applicability.

My second definition of a zero point is this"" An action is evil if it intentionally causes harm to somebody else or to myself"

I am still working on this one but there are some ideas that follow from that definition. First, natural disasters bring harm to lots of people but they aren't evil. Second, accidents bring harm to people but if they aren't intentional then they aren't evil. Third, evil depends upon both the action and the intent.

Now I have a problem. My actions aren't always preceded by thought. Sometimes my emotions rule and I say things without thinking about the effect it has on others. It turns out that effect produces harm. it was not intended deliberately but it caused harm none the less. Do humans do evil consistently? Yes. When my children were smaller, I taught them obedience by spanking them. When my son taught his son obedience, he put him in "Time Out" or otherwise deprived him of something he wanted. That was evil according to my definition but it was done for a good purpose. One could argue that any time anyone is denied something they want, the denial is evil. Yet I certainly don't believe that everybody should get everything they want because we don't have enough to satisfy everybody. So there are some problems with my definition.

Response from John:  "I'm glad you find my Belief in God helpful. It is not easy to define evil. I doubt that intention is a necessary part - there are sins of omission as well as sins of commission. There is also physical evil (disease and disaster) as well as moral evil. Christopher Southgate is good on this."


"Sehnsucht represents thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. It has been referred to as “life’s longings”; or an individual’s search for happiness while coping with the reality of unattainable wishes. Such feelings are usually profound, and tend to be accompanied by both positive and negative feelings. This produces what has often been described as an ambiguous emotional occurrence"

Is there something about Heaven we can deem to be 'beyond words', that we cannot imagine right now? There is a deep seated human desire for something that appears to be ineffable. No matter how much we trail after it or seek to satisfaction, it eludes us. I, for instance, know what things I enjoy and appreciate...perhaps these things are, indeed, a pointer to that great 'something else'...but though the ultimate 'happiness' might be connected to Worldly matters, I cannot place my finger upon exactly what it is my desire entails.

Response:  CS Lewis wrote a lot about this – he called it “joy”. His early autobiography was called “Surprised by Joy” – and then, to his great surprise, he married late in life someone called … Joy

Jesus and the Gentiles

I often wonder about the meaning of the passages in the Gospels where Jesus states that he only came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Is it possible that St. Paul invented the notion that Jesus's message was universal and ought to be spread to the Gentiles as well? Especially given the pervasive theory that Paul's visions were the result of epileptic fits, is it possible that Jesus never actually saw himself as the proclaimer of a universal message, but rather simply as a Jewish sage? My main question is what evidence do we have that the notion that the Gentiles ought to be evangelized was not simply invented by Paul, and that passages such as John 3:16 and Matthew 28:19 were not simply written as a reflection of a Pauline view of Christ, rather than as an accurate description of how Jesus himself viewed his mission.

Response:  There are so many instances in the Gospels of Jesus reaching out beyond the Jews that it is impossible to (sensibly) believe that they are all fabricated. Consider the Woman of Samaria for example.

Personalities in Heaven

I am a big 'Dr Who' fan and assume two things...
a) there's nothing wrong about liking daleks...they're fictional and I won't exactly 'copy' them.
b) I have made many good friends through my love of the program and share it closely with my brother.

You might think this has hardly anything to do with God and, yes, maybe this IS an unusual question but questions like these have bugged me since I was a kid...

 Q. Can I like Daleks in Heaven (or the 'New Creation')? In fact, if a passion of music, art etc. can be 'met' in some ultimate perfection in Heaven...can these enjoyments (even if they are nothing akin to the stereotypical notion of what is 'good'- such things are surely an un-sinful part of our being? Surely huge fans of Dickens won't have to 'give up' enjoying Fagin (if such books exist there, in memory or otherwise) and revert to loving only nice 'sweet' characters like Oliver? I am not a unusually bad man (I hope not) but I always tend to prefer 'baddies' in fiction, though, of course, in 'real life' I am fervently against acts of evil.

Response:  No-one on earth knows the details of heaven. All we know is that God is Love, so he wills what is best for us.

Either you will be able to like Daleks (or whatever) in Heaven/the new creation – or there will be something even better and more wonderful.

We can only love, and trust.

Do we immediately go to Heaven?

I read an article from a prominent Christian (ironically can't remember his name!) who says we won't go to the Christian ideal of Heaven right away but that we'll have a period 'resting' before, waiting for the New Creation. Is that so? if so, how long do we suppose the wait will be and won't it be dull? I am half aware of what the answers might be but just want to 'check' that I haven't got it entirely wrong!

Response:  Our hope is of Resurrection into a New Heaven and a New Earth, with Resurrection bodies. This is not exactly “going to heaven” in the traditional mythological sense.

What I suspect is that the first thing we will know after our death is our resurrection, and that the time between we will have been “asleep” as the Bible says.

On the other hand Jesus tells the “thief” (actually probably a brigand) “this day you will be with me in paradise”.

Human nature as regards heavenly perfection

If humans fear stagnation, enjoy anticipation and the journey towards a goal, then 'Heaven' might not sound that pleasant being a perfect realm. However a journey without a finite end or a happy, exciting finale seems utterly pointless as well, so hopefully it IS a complete and perfect realm with no room for endless improvement! I am a theist, I believe in Heaven...but, help! This seems a paradox for the human condition to me! (Or at least for me!)

Response: But it’s the nature of love and of knowledge – at least of the best that we can experience here on earth – that it is a journey in which each place you reach is wonderful but there is always more to learn and more to love. In heaven we are immersed fully in the knowklegd and love of God (and of his Son) through the Spirit – but knowledge and love are dynamic and God is inexhaustible.

It will be more wonderful than we can possibly imagine.

No toys or movies in Heaven?

I read on a Christian site
1. That there are, most likely, no movies in Heaven
And on a children's one...
2. That there are no toys

 Surely that can be contested? We are told in the Bible that there will be music in Heaven and many of us assume great artists will create art and authors write. Surely film and action figure making are both arts and the above two assumptions are based on subconscious snobbery rather than logic? Jesus said there would be no ownership in Heaven and materialism is a big no, no. But when a child (or, indeed, an adult) loves their Star Wars toys or adores watching Dr Who (just for instance), surely we cannot just ASSUME that these parts of their personality are irrelevant mistakes, thoughts God equipped us for to just to kill time or are a form of temptation and sin? Surely? On a separate note, I think it's unkind to tell kids on Christian sites (there are a few ones for children that state this...) that you can't have your toys in Heaven. Adults often talk about continuing their loves in Heaven and I think it's sad to forget that, as a kid, it is not greed or material want that drives your affection for 'teddy' or 'wind up robot' but a true form of love, as true as any painter towards his masterpieces.

Response:   I agree they sound like silly sites. It’s more likely that the toys and movies in Heaven are so much more wonderful and glorious than the toys and movies on earth that it would be potentially misleading to call them by their earthly names