Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Evil and the problem of good.

Lately, I've been thinking and reading a lot about the classic question of God and the problem of evil. In essence, the question goes, "How can a good God allow evil and suffering to exist?" Attempts to answer this question result in what is called a 'theodicy'. (That's my seminary training paying off, right there!)

There are lost of answers spanning the centuries, falling into categories such as solution by universal order, solution by autonomous freedom, solution by dialectical reasoning, and on and on. I find them all to be unsatisfying, however, because they all just don't seem develop a robust enough way of justifying God in the face of evil. As a result, my mind has been working overtime to bend around this issue and come up with better way of thinking about it.

As I've been mulling it over, it occurs to me that my default state is selfish. My default state is to eat the last donut, or zip through the yellow light even though I know it is going to turn red before I get through. My default state is to despise people who hurt me, punish people who wrong me. My default state is to be lazy and just do whatever the heck I want. And if that bothers you, well, that's just your problem.

Here is where evolution can help us. While I have no intent to debate evolution on my blog (and truthfully, I don't care about it one way or the other), it seems to get us out of a jam in this case. In evolution, there is no good or evil, just, as Richard Dawkins puts it, "blind, pitiless indifference." So, when a cat eats a mouse, it's not that the cat is evil, it's just being a cat; it's indifferent to the suffering of the mouse. Or, when a new alpha male gorilla takes over a harem and kills all of the nursing offspring of the previous alpha male, it's not that the gorilla is evil, it's just being a gorilla; it's indifferent to the suffering of the baby and mother gorillas. Ultimately, evolution says that nature is selfish and indifferent. Just like my default mode.

If we follow my proposal here, it seems that humans should be selfish, pitiless, and indifferent. Our motto should be "if it feels good, do it." We shouldn't feel bad when we cut people off in traffic or people we aren't related to die of cancer. That's not our problem because it doesn't affect us. Here's the kicker, though. Humans, for the most part, are NOT that way. Humans, for the most part, break from the cycle of selfishness and pitiless indifference. In this way, it isn't evil that's a problem, because evil is easily explained as inherited indifference; instead, the problem is why good keeps breaking in on our selfishness. How can we explain good?

For those who believe, God is the explanation for good. Despite our selfish attitutes and tendancies, the goodness of God keeps breaking into our lives and causing us to care, to take pity, to not turn a blind eye, but look and listen and change in response to the suffering of others. When God breaks in, the selfish gene no longer holds the sway it logically should, but instead our capacity to love is invoked. And if we follow "God with us" all the way to the cross, we find that the good life happens when so many of our selfish tendancies get turned on their head. Good breaks in, it interrupts our pitiless indifference, it convicts us to care by way of the pangs of guilt that defy selfish logic.

For me, this is the way God seduces me. He whispers the good that could be in my ear when I want to be selfish, or I want to ignore the pain of others. He causes me to have a bold vision of the future in which people put aside selfish behaviors of petty things like singleness vs couplehood, or rich vs poor, or evolution vs creation and instead engage each other as equal partners in pursuit of a common vision of good. Wouldn't such a future essentially be the kingdom of God, in which people love each other, take care of each other, and get their needs fulfilled not because they selfishly take what they need, but because others see their need and want to fulfill that need in love, by freely giving of themselves. In such a place, God's will would constantly be done not by decree, but by desire.

Call me crazy, or idealistic, or naive, or even selfish, but if the problem of good can make a future like that, then I want to be seduced.


alethia said...

ok, i have no desire to have a debate about this w/ you as i know i am not nearly as brainy as you. don't you think though that the reason we feel bad when we hear about someone dying of cancer or getting killed in an accident truly is slefish? i don't think it is consciously that way, but if i had to be honest the real reason that makes me sad is i think, wow what if that was my husband who was killed in that accident or my mom who died of cancer and those are really the thoughts that make me sad. what do you think?

knelson said...

Ben - i must make a confession. I will have to read your blog a second time, because I thought the picture you posted was a shot of some infected, open sore that you were going to use as an illustration. LOL After the hairy armpit - I just expect anything....
Now I'll go back and read.

Benjamin said...

I think you have a point, Alethia. Some people think that we feel sympathy and wish to help others because we want others to help us in the same sitations, so our actions are therefore selfish. In other words, the pity we take on others has an ulterior motive of selfishness. (In this view, could there ever be good? Dawkins would say 'no'.)

But something about this idea doesn't wash with me. Maybe I should post another blog about this when I have it worked out better, but some of the good I've tried to do in life has backfired. I've been robbed, persecuted, cursed, and caused to suffer because some of the good I've tried to do. But even though I know I'll get ABSOLUTELY nothing out of some of the good I try to do, I still do it. I can't explain this by selfishness. Something else compels me, something I can't put my finger on. For me, something I can't explain is a problem. In this case, a problem of good.

I'll think about it more and post a coherent blog on it sometime.

Ms. Kathy:
A guy posts a picture of one hairy armpit and all of a sudden pictures of far away galaxies look like oozing sores.

Sigh, there's no one to blame but myself.

Amy said...

Something interesting to think about! YAY! All I do all day is "is she poopy? does she need to nap?" Although, I do love it.

Stacy said...

haven't you solved evil and the problem of good yet??? your hungry public awaits its ben fix...

alethia said...

i think ben has been kidnapped by someone evil, not good, and that is why he is posting.

alethia said...

i meant "isn't posting"