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Kaarle Olav Varkki

Theory of Culture, Ba
2014

On the Problem of Evil


Introduction
For millennia man has believed in different supernatural phenomenona and entities both
good and evil. However, a significant problem originates from the monotheistical worldview
of Christianity the problem of evil. While one can empirically experience both good and
evil, what is the relation between God and these principles? Can God in fact be good if there
is seemingly so much evil in this world that was created by him? Where does evil originate
from? Is it mans fault or Gods punishment? Can Gods motives even be understood? These
are more or less the questions that I subsequently try to answer by analysing the philosophy
of evil as seemingly manifested through a conscious choice. I will be refering to the works
of Immanuel Kant, and Saint Augustines theory that evil is the turning away from God from good to the lack thereof. I will point out what seems illogical and unreasonable in their
description of the world and offer my opinion which I try to base on reason and not faith.

On freedom and free will


Both St Augustine and Kant have somewhat similar views on the nature of evil. Both believe
that man was created good and he was supposed to live his life in Gods light. However, as
God gave man free will, it is up to man himself to choose whether to live life in God or
choose the alternative and get punished for it.

Kant states that the predicates natural and moral are opposites the first involves some deep
fundamental instinct or quality that we cannot have control over and which determines
whether we are good or evil. The second moral implies that there is no uncontrollable
push characteristic to humans that makes us inclined towards one specific action. But in fact

we have a ground for adopting the maxim for either action (good or evil) and the end result
depends on our free will. However, Kant proceeds to argue that as for the adoption of every
maxim there must be another maxim declaring why this aforementioned specific maxim
should be adopted and not the opposite. Because of this, there must always be a higher
maxim which in turn also needs a maxim to decide its adoption - this chain of reasoning
could become infinite if followed. Kants logic assumes that the adoption of a maxim is
mans freedom, but as we can never reach the original first ground for adopting it, the idea
seems far-fetched and unrelieable. As Kant himself writes: For if this ground were
ultimately no longer itself a maxim, but merely a natural impulse, the entire exercise of
freedom could be traced back to a determination through natural causes and this would
contradict freedom (Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason 1998: 6:21).

Therefore, it could be argued that there is no freedom in what appears as free will. After all,
God is said to be omnipotent which implies that he is able to control actions so as to achieve
the reaction that is both desirable for him and good in every single aspect. If God had,
however, given man free will that is uninterrupted by divine action, it would mean there
exists something in this world that God has no power over. If something of the kind is
possible, and God really cannot interfere with mans decisions, God would not be
omnipotent. But if God does indeed have control over everything and if he executes this
power, it cannot be said that mans will is free. Everything would be predetermined by God
and man could not be either blamed or punished for his choice of turning away from the
light of wisdom (St Augustine On Free Will 2003: 421) or choosing to adopt the evil maxim
which would indeed turn out to be the deed of God just like a puppeteer controls
marionettes, God would be in control of man.

God as the author of all evil


As Saint Augustine affirms, God [...] created all things of nothing (On Free Will 2003:
409). God created everything that came into being during the six days of creation. But as I
am sure can be agreed upon a lot of development has been going on ever since. In order
for that to be possible, God must have also created the laws that govern progress (and
regress). Moreover, God created laws to govern everything in our reality, e.g. the

fundamental laws of physics, society and moral. These laws have been necessary for man to
create everything that we have created so far everything from our own laws to art,
technology and different cuisines. God made all these things possible with his laws and
mankind has realized the potential, bringing the possibilities to reality.

Now, presuming that God is omnipotent ([...] Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent
reigneth. (King James Version, Rev. 19.6)) and that evil in itself is a principle or a thing,
God must have been able to foresee the different options that would arise from the
environment he has created just as he saw the possibility that Adam and Eve might eat
from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and warned Adam of the repercussions: in
the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. 3.17). Therefore, God knew that
evil would exist in this world and so he continued with Genesis, creating everything there is,
including evil. However, both St Augustine and Immanuel Kant agree that God should not
be blamed for mans sin (and evil in general). Kant argues that [...] no guilt may be ascribed
to God, for God has merely tolerated [evil] for just causes as a deed of human beings: in no
way has he condoned it, willed or promoted it (1998: 8:259), whereas St Augustine claims
that If you want to attribute his sin to the Creator you will make the sinner guiltless because
he has simply obeyed the laws of the Creator (2003: 413). Despite offering similar views, I
agree with St Augustine a bit more than with Kant. As I believe I sufficiently reasoned that
God created evil, he has in fact willed it. St Augustine in his City of God writes that God is
called omnipotent on account of His being able to do all He will (1887: XXI.vii). This
means that God does what he wills to do and cannot do anything he does not will - and he
has therefore willed for evil to be. Although God might not be the author of the specific evil
act that a man does, God is the author of evil as a principle and therefore the author of every
evil that is brought about in deeds done by man. So, man does simply obey the laws of the
Creator when he executes the power of free will. God gave man a tool with two modes of
operation and expects him to only apply the tool in one certain mode. Why then, did the tool
have the other mode in the first place? If God is perfect he could surely have devised a better
device. From a rational point of view it seems unjust that God has put man to live in such a
dilemma whereas harsh punishment is inflicted upon those who choose one of the options.

Now let us presume, however, that evil in itself is not a thing but merely a name given to the
lack of another concept, namely good. St Augustine writes: []Their foolish heart was
darkened. Whence came this darkness, if not from turning away from the light of wisdom?
(2003: 421). This should be taken quite literally: darkness is the lack of light and not itself
an active force that can overcome its opposite a single candle will light up a whole room,
whereas a single dark corner will not darken the room. Similarly, St Augustine proposes that
evil is the privation of good. Some evils are greater than others because they just have less
good. Man therefore sins not by choosing to be evil (as there is no such thing as evil), but
by turning away from what is good his God. I cannot, however, agree with this theory. St
Augustine is just trying to find a loophole which exists only seemingly no matter if one
describes darkness as lack of light or a separate concept, it still exists and therefore in the
bigger picture it does not make a difference. If God were truely good would he have not
made all things as good as everything else? Why would he allow for things to exist that are
less good? Those very things (either evil or the lack of good) that are considered to be
against the moral law still result in suffering and pain. And as God has allowed for this result
to manifest - for darkness to be or for man to choose evil I do find him responsible.

On the divine wisdom


Immanuel Kant has written that divine wisdom makes judgement [] according to totally
different rules that are [] incomprehensible to us. Therefore where we might consider
something to be [] reprehensible with reference to our practical reason and its
determination [it] might yet perhaps be in relation to the divine ends [...] (1998: 8:258).

As briefly mentioned before, the [...] ways of the most high are not our ways [...] (Kant
1998: 8:258). This implies that man would never be able to understand the motives of God.
To use this as an argument to explain why dreadful things happen and fend off all
accusations that do not fit the description of God as good, can be utterly devastating.
Although I agree that some accidents and catastrophies are so horrible and defy all
explanations, the argument of divine wisdom can in some other instances lead to mental
surrender and loss of motivation. People will stop fighting and analyzing what and why

happened and instead take things for granted. They might become subject to manipulation
and ignore the reality with infallible denial.

Also, if we cannot know the bigger picture, it can be said that there is no evil, as absolutely
every single evil deed could be reinterpreted through the argument of divine wisdom. If a
man is pushed off a cliff to his death it might have actually been that God saw it fit that the
mans family should learn of dealing with grief; if a girl steals a piece of jewellery from a
market stall maybe God found it necessary for the merchant to learn how to overcome
anger and reach forgiveness; if a child sets fire to a strangers house maybe God thought
this man should learn not to be so keen on his earthly possessions. However, if we were to
take into account how St Augustine rationalizes that God is not the author of the evil a man
does though he is the author of the evil a man suffers (2003: 408), it would seem that all
these evils were done by man and not done by God and therefore could not be considered
lessons by God. But if we were to hypothesize a situation where none of these wrongdoers
were caught and all instances were to seem as (self-caused) accidents, firstly, none of the
sinners would find earthly punishment (one should only think of all the confessions heard on
deathbeds to realise how much in life goes undiscovered), and secondly, it would seem clear
to everyone that these events were in fact done by the hand of God and were therefore
lessons to be learnt from. Yes, pain has been caused and perhaps a few innocent people have
died, but as Augustinus states in the case of a similar and dreadful event of the death of an
infant: Who knows what good compensation God has reserved in the secrecy of his
judgments for the children themselves who, though they have not had the chance of living
righteously, at least have committed no sin and yet have suffered? (2003: 420). This seems
to be enough reason for people to make the calamity acceptable and. As we cannot possibly
know neither the divine motivation nor every detail of every event, we of course might find
solace in the argument for divine knowledge, but that is all we get. By accepting this
argument we lose all grounds for reasonable discussion as it can disconfirm all arguments
with its finality. As Kant begins: [...] God has put us here on earth for the sake of a future
happiness, hence out of his goodness; yet an arduous and sorrowful state in the present life
must without exception precede that hoped-for superabundant blessedness a state in which
we are to become worthy of that future glory precisely through our struggle with adversities
(1998: 8:260), he finishes: [] this way one can indeed cut the knot loose through an

appeal to the highest wisdom which willed it, but one cannot untie the knot, which is what
theodicy claims to be capable of accomplishing.

On God having made man in Gods image


So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and
female created he them. (Gen. 1.27)
God condemns mans endeavour towards divinity despite having made man with the
potential and drive for it. [] man, whose good God is, willed to be his own good and so
to substitute himself for God (St Augustine 2003: 421). I find it obvious that man wants to
be his own god (deliberately uncapitalised). Firstly, there is no definite proof about the
existence of neither God nor even his benevolence, and, secondly, man being a creature of
reason cannot find much solace in the hope for posthumous reward and happiness in the
light of the calamities he must suffer throughout his life. Especially in todays world one has
only themself to trust as success is mainly dependent on individual effort and egocentrism.
Therefore man relies on himself to overcome hardship.

Nowadays, almost on a daily basis new discoveries are made that advance our medicine and
science, enabling better education and conditions of life for future generations by giving
man more and more control over the incertainties in life and our surroundings. We were
created in the image of God and we were given dominion over everything on this planet
(And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have
dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over
all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. Gen 1.26). The
amount of control we have received either by it having been given to us at first (over all of
fauna) or later (over flora and many physical phenomenons like electricity, combustion
engines, medicine) by having reached out for it with progress of science and technology, has
only further encouraged us to find our limits (and finding our limits is a perfectly human
thing to do striving to get a full experience of our human condition). When a baby is born
that is exactly what they start doing testing their limits, finding out how loud and for how
long they can cry, how far they can crawl and whether they can stand up and walk, if they

can fit different toys in their mouths and if they can repeat words after their parents. So by
turning away from the light of wisdom man has not got lost in darkness but rather
obtained enlightenment in the possibility to explore his full humanity and his full nature.
Mankind has set a course for not a religious good but a different one a human good.
Whether man should be judged for this is dependent on ones opinion on the meaning of life.
If God truely created us and we are living in sin, finding God would be the meaning of our
lives. If there is no God, the meaning is entirely up to us.

Conclusion
In conclusion, I believe the problem of evil is very difficult to take a stance on due to the
amount of faith that is necessary to accept some premises. By applying logic and
temporarily accepting some ideas for the sake of argument, I have analyzed the problem of
evil with the aid of the philosophies by Immanuel Kant and Saint Augustine. I have reached
the conclusion that it is uncertain whether man has any free will as Gods omnipotence
implies total control of everything. I have also realised that evil might have become a part of
this world either by God having indeed created it or through him having let it become
manifest by providing the conditions for it. The final answer depends on how exactly evil is
defined. The question of whether God is good or evil is left unanswered, but approaching
this problem empirically, it seems that as through his experience man has become to know
evil such a thing must exist. Whether it is purely mans inability to grasp divine wisdom
with his lesser mind that prevents us from comprehending the true nature of things, or there
genuinely is no such thing, we cannot know. But I would not consider this argument a valid
one as it can render basically any sensible discussion useless. Man lives in uncertainty and
tries to find comfort in supernatural explanations but by surrendering to the finality of divine
wisdom man is bound to miss out on a lot of valuable experience of the human potential by
restraining himself. I agree that some things do lead to chaos and destruction, but
categorically announcing all deeds of a certain nature, say, all acts of lust a sin and therefore
evil cannot be sensible as lust is an important part of love and if considered in the broader
meaning of desire, it is a vital impetus for progress. Thanks to such development mankind
on its own has already accomplished so much in striving towards a better life without evil.