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."

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