My Answer to the Problem of Evil
This is a polished version of the text I sent to everyone who was interested. I have received some wonderful feedback and criticism, which is shifting my views on the subject; this, however, is where I stand at the moment.
It has been noted by a particularly wise and insightful thinker that this is more an answer to the problem of IMPERFECTION, rather than an answer to the problem of EVIL- it addresses why God would allow there to be pain in life, rather than why God would allow individuals to behave evilly. This is true, and so far as it is true my title is misleading; but, as it seems that “Evil” generally connotes not only personal evil but social and political evils, and in general all things of this universe which cause suffering, I have faith that the general public will sufficiently understand and agree with my points and naming.
The Problem of Evil says that God cannot exist because there is evil in the world, and an all-powerful, all-benevolent god would not allow evil to exist in a world of his creation. Therefore God cannot exist. It has historically been thought of as the most powerful argument against the existence of a god. Essentially, if God is perfect, why did he not create the universe perfect?
At one level, he did. The Laws of Nature, the basic principles which move the universe, are unbreakable. Everything that exists is subject to them, and nothing is outside their dominion. That sounds fully consistent to me, and if perfection were to be defined merely as consistency in following the rules, then this universe would indeed be perfect. But we humans, possessing a moral sense, see clear imperfection in the world, in that those perfect laws result in a cracked and brutal universe where poverty exists beside affluence, war beside peace, chaos beside order, evil beside good. If one were to analyze solely by material mechanistic values, the world would be perfectly run; but as we humans invariably analyze by sentimental values, and see mortality as an imperfection, we clearly perceive a higher standard than simple mechanism.
Why, then, would an all-powerful, all-loving god create a universe who inhabitants perceived it to be painful and imperfect?
That little slice of heaven within us which sees the evil alloyed with good and strives to right it drives us to action. Driving us to action, it impels us to improve, to make cracked entities less cracked, more perfect. And thus you have the various drives for personal improvement and social improvement that have characterized human civilization over the ages, at times becoming formalized into religious, ethical, and philosophical systems. Are these at times based less upon a will to improve and more upon sheer practicality? Certainly. We do live in the physical universe. But practicality does not necessarily eradicate all possible sentimentality.
So seeing imperfection, people strive to improve. They work on their various faculties, improve their moral sense, strive for greater harmony, seek higher knowledge and deeper happiness, drive to create, drive to preserve, and drive to conquer the eternal questions of mankind. In short, they strive to become more like the omnipotent and benevolent god who created them, though not necessarily consciously. But by striving to become the best possible versions of themselves, they attain higher and higher levels of consciousness and self-realization, clear marks of a greater understanding and higher quality of life.
It should be noted that none of these accomplishments are eternal. No one can solve a single problem Mankind faces forever. Everyone can alleviate Mankind’s problems some small amount; everyone can make advances in their personal life, or in the lives of others. But those advances either die with them, or die with the wear of time. Those which do not die and instead contribute to something truly progressive (such as advances in governance or technology) are invariably two-sided swords, with both good and evil characteristics. The person does not liberate mankind by becoming the best possible version of themself.
But they do free themselves- they do attain a higher understanding of life- they do live life to the fullest- they do die with fewer regrets- and, it would seem, they do use their god-given gifts upon this earth, and become individuals with higher chances of entering the kingdom of heaven, for they have known what life is about.
Therefore, I’d say the purpose of the world’s imperfection is simple- it creates a necessity for improvement, which drives individuals to become the best possible versions of themselves, which is ultimately what god wants them to become. It is not pretty- the history of the world is steeped in blood and tears- but there has forever been opportunity for individuals to improve themselves, help others, and attain higher understandings.
Just as loving parents employ both discipline and rewards to help their children grow, so a loving god provides challenges as opportunities for his children to flourish.
It is very much like the Forbidden Fruit- before it had been consumed, humans lived in a perfect world, where they were nothing more than mindless tools content to live as they were programmed. They were like the cells of the body, each with a specific purpose but no will of its own. When the Forbidden Fruit was consumed, Adam and Eve learned of evil, and evil entered their lives, with all its pain and sorrow; but so, too, came the possibility of knowledge, of improvement, of redemption. The serpent was right- in consuming the Forbidden Fruit, and attaining the full humanity of those who live in a world alloyed with good and evil, Adam and Eve entered the race to become the best possible versions of themselves, and therefore became like God.
tl dr, The universe is imperfect and evil exists to present a necessity for improvement, which, as humans strive to fulfill, causes them to become the best possible versions of themselves, which is what God wants us to become in this life.
Man as an Analogue to the Universe, the Reason for the Imperfection of Man and the Universe, and the General Purpose of Life
When posed the question “Why is this Universe imperfect? How could a perfect God do such a thing, as create an imperfect Universe?” I must first refer back to my thesis expressed some years ago, that the selfsameness of our universe implies a series of fundamental principles by which it runs, writ by some divine hand for purposes unknowable to Man.
A Paradox in American Politics and Society
I have been reading much more on domestic structural politics these days, and in many ways, things are looking grim. Yet every problem brings with it countless opportunities, and in many more ways, the future of America looks to be brighter than ever before, should the American people rise up to the challenge.
But there is one particular set of challenges which boggles my mind, appearing resolutely unsolvable. Two trends are speeding up in American political and social life, and two old ways of life are ending. It appears as though they may be joined at the hip; but the supposed policy solutions for them are quite contradictory, and it seems that nothing but the greatest amount of political creativity could bring them to workable solutions.
First, the old blue social model is breaking down and decaying. In a nutshell, this is a hybrid of what conservatives would call “Big Government” and what liberals would call “Big Business:” that sacred bond between regulatory agencies and government, and monopolistic national corporations, that for decades since the Great Depression has ensured the relative stability and tranquility of American life. Now of course, there have been tumultuous times this century, most famously in the late 1960s; but for the most part, the combination of ever-increasing wages and perpetually secure jobs, and generous entitlements and social safety net countermeasures, kept Americans enjoying a reasonably high standard of living for the better part of the Twentieth Century.
Now that model appears more at risk than ever before. Obamacare and the Stimulus Package, by some measures, represented the blue model’s dying furthest reaches, and prompted its dying gasps. For quite some time now it has been obvious that American demography cannot sustain the current design of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Most Americans reading this essay will not receive benefits from more than one of the above-listed programs, if that. Subsidized corporations and institutions have failed and failed again- witness the car companies of Detroit and the banks which fell in 2008- and while the sluggish titans of the last century fade into irrelevance, sustained only by public support, new, entrepreneurial upstarts competing with dozens of others are driving the advancement of civilization. The trend is clear- an almost libertarian spirit overtakes American politics as social programs shrink and private business booms, and corresponding political movements like the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party attain power they’d never known before. The old system’s fundamentals will be kept, but its spirit will die.
Yet simultaneously, the income divide and wealth gap are strung further apart than ever before, and rising levels of inequality threaten the institutions of our republic. It is not mere rhetoric to lament the influence of big money upon politics; ever since the reforms against corrupt political bosses made in the 1960s and 1970s, the time-old tradition of patronage has been subverted in favor of the ultimately more fair system of campaign fundraising- a fairness which has resulted in the victory in politics of consistently the most ideological candidates, who have in turn granted favors and concessions to those elites whose funds put them in office. The quality of statecraft has receded as the stain of money blotted out entirely the smear of favor.
But it is not only in high politics (and correspondingly, policymaking) that the ascendency of the elite is felt. For politics and policymaking tend to exert influences upon every aspect of society, from education systems to banking trends to zoning to foreign investment to civil rights, and there are those who dedicate themselves (wrongheadedly in my opinion) to seeking out all the invisible strings implicating the ultra-rich in the degradation of the environment, the erosion of civil liberties, the contamination of justice, and any number of other important and emotional issues. With these, I am not particularly concerned. What worries me is the increasing clarity that American politics grows more tumultuous, less predictable and homogenous; it is in periods of great tumult that new eras are forged, and with one faction of Americans demanding the heads of the rich, another singing the praises of elitism, the prospects are not good for the old middle-class lifestyle in which we all grew up. The problem is not so much that some Americans have very much and is getting more, while a great majority have less and are losing some. This is a basic fact of life. Rather, the problem lies in the fact that, as Madison counseled, these two kinds of factions are ever at arms against each other, to the detriment of the state and society as a whole.
The ensuing chaos must be managed so that class warfare does not spiral out of control. And it is quite clear how governments have, in the past, managed tensions between declining middle classes and decadent elites- through government interventions which some might call social engineering.
What a paradox, then! Let’s recap: On the one hand, an old way of doing things- the blue model- is ending, and the forces of innovation are rising to fill the gap. On the other hand, one of the results of that old way of doing things- the middle class- is also declining and being replaced by an incredible polarization of wealth, a problem which the government is best fit to remedy. Government activism must shrink to allow natural forces to do their work; government action must grow to prevent natural forces from upsetting the system. What madness hath Man wrought!
Truth be told, I have no idea how this paradox might be resolved. It will take a generation in office with greater political creativity than we have seen in any since the beginning of the Cold War to lay down a sufficient domestic strategy to overcome these challenges.
This is an example of our need to transcend bipolarity in politics and establish another bipartisan coalition or single-party dominance upon principles of vigorous, efficient government in pursuit of economic growth and physical security. America has seen her greatest eras of expansion under such governments, and the problems presently facing the republic would seem best resolved in that time-tried method.
Perhaps I ought not be so shocked that a paradox is evident here. For paradoxes and contradictions can, at times, be the most certain truths. The Paradox of Balance and Progress comes to mind; it is a truism that all things must be in their proper places and proper amounts, balanced each against all others and against itself, for the universe to know harmony; yet it is equally a truism that time wears down all things, including all orders, and that this process of continuous change is at work upon all things and against all things. Thus balance is eternally upset by progress, while progress is eternally contained by balance. These forces- forward and to the sides- counteract each other obviously, yet both exist in each other’s universe, in fullest harmony.
Just as the master priest- the prudent statesman- the wise individual- must invariably harmonize these opposing forces in his life and work in order to maximize success, so the statesmen of the upcoming generation must work with a reforming society with less a need for the institutions of the blue model, and a shrinking government, yet a polarizingly unequal society with a need for greater management and regulation in an uncertain era. This is one of many great dilemmas they will have to resolve, as they lead our country into its next exciting chapter as a nation.