Excursus: Evil, Part 2–Your Wicked Ways

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.  This is the very word of the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.–Isaiah 55:8-9, NEB

Last time, I discussed how I was rather taken aback by the following statement by A. Sinner in a discussion we were having at Vox Nova (given at greater length in the last post) regarding the Fall of man and evil in the world (my emphasis):

Earthquakes and animal bodies decaying and all the “chaos” you see in the world…are only evil inasmuch as Man constructs it as evil, only inasmuch as Man fears it, only inasmuch as Man has defined himself as self-contained and therefore mortal.

I want to discuss this at length.  To do so will require substantial unpacking. 

First, there are two things in which A. Sinner and I are in agreement on:

  1. It has been consistently taught by orthodox Christian tradition (it’s important to emphasize this point) that evil entered the world only after the Original Sin of Adam and Eve.
  2. Things that we now (this is important, too) describe as “evils”–earthquakes, floods, diseases, cancer, parasites, and so on demonstrably were present on Earth not only before the Fall, but before the human species existed at all.

At this point we diverge.  My perspective, stated less explicitly in previous posts, is that given number 2, orthodox Christian teaching must evidently be wrong, since evil obviously preceded Homo sapiens on Earth.  It had appeared to me that this was a self-evident conclusion.  I was wrong.

A. Sinner acknowledges 1 and 2, but by his definition “earthquakes and…’chaos'”, as well as the things I mentioned in the last paragraph, while extant, were not in fact “evil” before the Fall.  This is because there is no “evil” outside of human perception, and even then it is only fallen human perception that sees such things as “evil”.  Thus while acknowledging the existence of such things before the creation of humanity, he denies that they were evil at any time before the Fall; and thus he defends the correctness of the orthodox Christian teaching.

Now in one sense, this is obviously correct.  An earthquake is perceived as evil because it destroys homes, injures and kills humans, and disrupts their lives.  Seismic activity on Jupiter’s moon Io (which is also quite volcanic) is not evil, since there’s no one around to get hurt.  It is just something that happens.

Like some theologians and philosophers, I would allow that there is evil in the suffering of non-human sentient life–animals, or at least the higher ones.  Obviously, earthquakes, floods, disease, and predators caused them pain and suffering, sometimes to the extreme.  A. Sinner (like some other thinkers) disputes me here.  Holding to the Cartesian view that animals are in effect biological automata, he denies that they can suffer, since they lack souls and thus cannot be true subjects.  They have no awareness, just sensations–the same way a computer hooked to sensors has “sensations”; but like a computer, there’s “nobody in there”.

I disagree with this, too, but it’s not really essential for my argument.  My argument, such as it was, was as follows:  Even if we acknowledge, for the sake of argument, that animals aren’t relevant in this issue, we still have evil predating humankind’s existence.  After all, malaria, cancer, volcanoes, and such were already there, just “waiting” to inflict suffering, pain, and misery on humanity as soon as it evolved.  Thus, as soon as humans (truly ensouled beings, in this context) came into being, it would be correct to say that evil was present in the world, even though humans had not yet sinned.  Once more, this seemed self-evident.

But then, A. Sinner argues that even then there is no evil because an unfallen human, while he might experience such things, would not experience them as evil, as explained in his quote above and in the previous post, as well as on the original thread, for those who want to follow the whole discussion.

First, I have to say that there is definitely an internal logic to this perspective which I can admire and respect.  Second, A. Sinner has obviously thought this out in detail, and is absolutely sincere in presenting this view.  Third, I do admire the psychological insight here, which I think has a certain validity.  I also laud him on taking the findings of science seriously and not trying to deny evolution or the existence of “evil” things in the pre-human past.  That would be all too easy to do, and he doesn’t do it.

More importantly than all this, I have to say upfront that this view can’t be disproved.  It can’t be proved, either–but that’s of no help to me if I think it’s incorrect (which I do) and want to argue against it.

In essence, I will have to make an aesthetic and intuitive argument.  Not totally subjective, but not objective in the ordinary sense.  It won’t be so much an issue of trying to marshal evidence scientifically (which can’t be done in trying to demonstrate a theological point) or looking at Scripture and Tradition, since neither speaks directly, to my awareness, of this particular view.  It will be more a matter of looking at this perspective and trying to see how well it fits in with the nature and characteristics of God as I view Him and as Tradition has viewed Him, at least in my understanding of it.  That will be the substance of the next post.

Part of the series Legends of the Fall.


Posted on 18/05/2012, in Christianity, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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