The Johnson Mistake: Misapplication of Good and Evil

Posted by on July 9, 2011

“Mad mobs rape innocent”, “Men, Boys Burned Alive with Tires holding Arms Down”, “Soldiers toss Babies to be speared on Rifles”, “Mothers forced to wear children’s severed body parts around neck”, “Men Forced to witness daughters, wives raped”.  Evil may be seen as an act as petty as stealing the purse of an old lady on the street or as severe as genocide.  Morally wrong or bad, this is the way in which we describe the essence of evil.  The existence of such a phenomenon cannot be grasped by our minds.   When evil becomes as severe as the possible headlines above, one’s mind enters denial or chooses the route of ignorance, rather than confronting “reality”.  This is where the fundamental problem of evil unveils itself, for if a “good” God is to exist then certainly logic would make obvious that the aforementioned evil not be allowed to exist.  This leads us to the philosopher B.C. Johnson, who expounds on the problem to the extent that eventually claims, “The problem of evil triumphs over traditional theism”; boldly making the claim that God does not exist.  Through this work, I will illustrate how Johnson’s claim is misguided, not necessarily because of his ignorance, but because of society’s general ignorance of good and evil with its application to God.

Johnson begins his claim by stating that any reason we deduce to explain a world with a good God and evil present, the same theodicy we could reverse to describe a world with an evil God.  Just as we could state that God created such a beautiful, marvelous, important thing as free will so that we may have the virtuous opportunity to do good, we could also say God created such a horrendous, immoral, important thing as free will in order for us to have the vicious opportunity to commit evil.  For example, God caused hurricanes Katrina and Rita to occur so that men who own hotels and motels could be given the opportunity to be greedy and selfish by overpricing homeless families in order to satisfy their un-fulfilling hunger for material wealth.  Using these arguments, Johnson claims any legitimate reason for a good God could be altered to portray God in an evil light as well.  From the conclusion he draws, we are given three possibilities for God’s morality.  The first possibility is that “God is more likely to be all evil than all good”; secondly, the exact opposite of the first argument: “God is more likely to be all good than evil”, and thirdly the likelihood that God could be just as likely to be all evil as all good.  It is then followed that the first and third possibilities have a likelihood of being true due to examples earlier mentioned, while the second possibility could not be true due to the extremities of evil having been presented.  If the third possibility is true, then an all good God cannot exist because an all good God would not allow for the existence of the real evil that is apparent in our world.  Additionally, since our world is a mix of good and evil, and according to the earlier deductions that a good God would not allow for evil to exist, Johnson concludes: God does not exist.

The arguments presented by B.C. Johnson lead to a conclusion that would seem very true to the careless mind, though if examined with caution the underlying problem that exists in the arguments is his assumption that the ideas of good and evil exist universally and so must be applied to God as well.  Step back for a moment, with a clear mind free of distortions or prejudices and imagine a society that could be considered just as or more intelligent than us, existing independently on a distant planet in a distant galaxy where the societal standards of good and evil are different from those we presume.  On this planet, the intelligent species has been designed in such a way that any act that we presume to be good is in fact ideologically to them a vicious and evil act; any act which we presume to be evil, this species presumes as a virtuous and heavenly act.  Most importantly, they also believe in God.  Whereas we may presume the torture of a baby as an evil act, this other intelligent species may view it as good act, through whatever system of thought that they may have.  Now, if an individual from our species and an individual from the other intelligent species were to sit in an isolated room and attempt to explain to each other what is good and what is evil, how will either ever accomplish this feat without being horrified at the ignorance of the other being?  Beings from both species will ponder how another intelligent species could be so ignorant, vicious, and demonic in its views?

Ideas such as good and evil only make sense in the view of the societal construct to which they apply.  They are necessary ideas to uphold reason and responsibility as viewed by a particular society, and only in that particular society; if applied to the view of the universe, these ideas might as well not exist for there may be contradictions of what we view as good and evil in different societal constructs of different species spread out in the vast universe.  For that matter, the simple contradictions of what we view as good and evil may just lay in the laws which govern the universe, of what may seem evil to us in our microscopic position on Earth, whether it be a moral or natural evil, it may in fact be beneficial to the universe at large.  To give an example, a large asteroid may hit planet Earth and cause extinction of life on the planet; the hard contact causes the earth to split into pieces that go flying off in space and a large piece of Earth collides into another much larger planet. The impact of that large piece of Earth is like the impact of a small meteor hitting what is now Earth but this contact causes for presence of new elements to be introduced to this larger planet which interact with elements on this planet which were not found on Earth; the interactions eventually lead to a new form of life that is more complex, diverse, and in some forms may even be better than what had existed on Earth.  Now would one declare this an act that was good or evil?

To justly answer the question asked above, we must take the view two angles; one is the human being, and the other the universe.   If human beings were asked whether the act was good or evil, one human being would logically answer it was evil because human beings were killed and forced to suffer.  Human beings will always answer in this way due to their preformed ideas of good and evil in society.  Another human being, such as Richard Swinburne, might object and say, “being allowed to suffer to make possible a great good is a privilege, even if the privilege is forced upon you.” But, now if asked to the universe, the universe may say that the questioner is a mad man who makes no sense, for it was just an action, there was no such thing as good or evil, it was just something that was meant to happen in order to give rise to something else.

Having sufficiently proven that good and evil have no place in the view of the larger picture of what is the universe, which has been created by God, I have demonstrated to you how B.C. Johnson was misguided in making the bold statement that God does not exist.  This is so because God is responsible, not just for the creation of the Earth, but also for the creation of the entire universe.  Also God is the creator of free will, not good and evil.  What is good and evil in the human mind is the construct of and applies only to the society in which human beings reside.  Free will enables choices that influence actions, not specifically choices of good or evil.  Good or evil are important ideas created by mankind that are essential in maintaining reason and responsibility in society.  Since these ideas only apply to human society itself, and not to the larger universe, we cannot judge God’s actions by our own ideas, for God is the creator of the universe, we are not the creators of God; therefore it is proven Johnson was misguided to believe God does not exist just because of the problem of evil, since fundamentally the idea of good and evil cannot even be attributed toward God.  May I be as bold as to say it would be sheer ignorance and arrogance to claim God does not exist just because God does something that our minds perceives to be evil?

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