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Gospel Hypothesis 10: Evil

There’s lots more we could say about the Gospel Hypothesis and the Myth Hypothesis, but I’m going to wrap up this series with the big one: sin and evil. If the Myth Hypothesis is true, then there’s no reason to expect the universe to be particularly concerned about our well-being and happiness. As material beings, we’re going to be subject to the same limitations, weaknesses, and life expectancy of any other material organism. We’re going to depend on—and compete for—material resources like food and shelter, and sometimes those things are going to be lacking. A certain amount of suffering is going to be normal, but we’re going to care about it and want to avoid it, and so we’re going to identify it as “evil” or some similar concept.

“Sin,” in the sense of offense committed against a deity, won’t exist per se, but offenses against people will. To the extent that we identify certain behaviors as socially unacceptable, we’ll have what you might call sins, even without any gods. And to the extent that people are willing to forgive us for our offenses, we’ll even have forgivable sin, repentance, and redemption, all without God. People may forgive sin, or not, but there won’t be any gods to do so. Thus, there won’t be any divine punishments for sin either. There will, of course, be natural disasters, which superstitious people may arbitrarily attribute to God, but God Himself won’t ever show up and say, “This happened because I was angry about such-and-such.” It will all be superstition.

But now let’s think for a moment about what the world would be like, given the premise of a perfectly loving, perfectly good, perfectly wise, and perfectly powerful Creator. Nothing will ever exist except the things He creates, and since He is a perfect Creator, nothing He creates will ever be flawed. Everything He makes will turn out exactly the way He intended it to, and will behave exactly as He intended it to behave. People will still have free will and freedom of choice, but they’ll develop their free agency by choosing between a range of options, all of which are good.

The Gospel Hypothesis, in other words, implies a world without sin and evil. This is the part of the Gospel’s conflict with reality that believers have never been able to work their way around. They have tried to suggest that evil is required in some way in order to achieve some good goal that could never be achieved without it. But think about that that implies. Not only does this mean that “the end justifies the means” and that it’s ok to resort to evil as long as you have good intentions, it also implies that evil has a greater power to produce goodness than perfect goodness alone. Or in other words, goodness alone isn’t really perfect goodness, because without evil, it falls short of ultimate goodness.

What we’re saying, therefore, is that God cannot be perfectly good unless He is also evil. You cannot achieve the full perfection of goodness unless evil is present to do what goodness alone cannot. Goodness, apart from evil, is incomplete, and inadequate. It must be, because if it were possible to achieve the perfection of goodness without resorting to evil, then there’s no reason for creation to contain any more evil than the Creator does.

The existence of a world in which sin and evil exist, therefore, leads to a logical self-contradiction in the Gospel. If sin and evil are necessary in order to achieve ultimate goodness, then God Himself cannot achieve ultimate goodness unless sin and evil are eternally present in His own nature. The original source of evil has to come from within God Himself. Otherwise, if we agree that evil is not required in order to achieve ultimate goodness, then we’ve agreed that no logical necessity can force the Almighty to incorporate evil directly or indirectly into His plan for the ages. And since He neither needs nor wants to resort to sin and evil, no sin and evil will ever exist.

This is perhaps the clearest and most incontrovertible difference between the Myth Hypothesis and the Gospel Hypothesis. The Gospel Hypothesis is not only starkly incompatible with conditions in the real world, but even the rationalizations are feeble and self-contradictory. The believer’s only recourse is to ignore the facts; they cannot be reconciled with his or her faith.

The Myth Hypothesis has no such problem. Once again, real-world conditions are exactly what we would expect to find as a result of the Myth Hypothesis being true. There are no excuses that need to be made and no inconsistencies that need to be explained. Everything just fits, as is.

People sometimes ask, “How can you know there is no God? Are you omniscient?” But we don’t need to be omniscient to know that 2+2 equals 4 and not 17 or 33 or “purple”. We do not need to know everything that is true in order to recognize the flaws and inconsistencies when people tell us things that are not true. There may be, on some distant planet, some multi-legged, multi-eyed being that in some limited sense is some kind of “god” completely unlike anything any human has ever imagined. But the impossible, unrealistic, self-contradictory God that people do imagine is a God who does not exist and never has. And you and I can know it.

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for this series DD – it’s a perfect template for anyone willing to think their way through *any* hypothesis that competes with a “Reality Hypothesis”. Just compare what the world would look like if “Superstition X” is true against what the world really looks like. Then apply Occam’s Razor, and view the results. No muss, no fuss, no nasty toilet bowl ring.

  2. Brian M says

    I agree with Skepticali, this has been interesting. If anything, this “episode” was the strongest. I guess because, being a misotheist myself it speaks most strongly to why I am not a Christian. As well as the nonsense and lack of proof and all that, of course. :)

    Interestingly enough, there was a branch of “Christianity” which tried to deal with the Problem of Evil…Gnosticism/Catharism. The Gnostics (Cathars) were ultimately slaughtered en masse by orthodox Christians, but they posited a flawed creator of the physical universe that did indeed contain evil, or a flaw, within himself.

    This makes more “sense” than Orthodox Christianity. Even if it still remains a myth, a made-up story about the world.

  3. TriffidPruner says

    If sin and evil are necessary in order to achieve ultimate goodness, then God Himself cannot achieve ultimate goodness unless sin and evil are eternally present in His own nature. The original source of evil has to come from within God Himself.

    Extraordinary! Never seen it put this way, yet once seen, it seems inevitable. Is this conclusion ever admitted (or countered) in academic treatments of theodicy?

    • says

      @TriffidPruner – yeah, that statement is a deal-closer.

      Funny, I remember asking a Sunday School teacher if God created the devil, and probably got some vague “mysterious ways” response. I just never thought about it again seriously for a couple of decades. Seeing it phrased like Deacon has here resolves the question in a precise, accessible way that ought to be taught to children everywhere.

  4. Brian M says

    Since the Babble itself explicitly states that God created evil, this topic is not unknown. Just not….emphasized…in daily theology.

    If Jehovah ever existed, then the Gnostic definition makes sense:

    “Gnosticism presents a distinction between the highest, unknowable God and the demiurgic “creator” of the material. Several systems of Gnostic thought present the Demiurge as antagonistic to the will of the Supreme Being: his act of creation occurs in unconscious semblance of the divine model, and thus is fundamentally flawed, or else is formed with the malevolent intention of entrapping aspects of the divine in materiality. Thus, in such systems, the Demiurge acts as a solution to the problem of evil”. -Wikipedia

  5. hjhornbeck says

    Bravo, I’ve been loving this series, Duncan!

    If I have a complaint, it’s that I don’t think the Gospel Hypothesis makes any prediction. It says nothing about *how* a god must reveal themselves; perhaps he’s a massive skeptic, and has laid a false trail to see who’s worthy of his love. I also don’t see how “god cares for you” leads to “god reveals himself;” since this god knows far more than we do, perhaps they know that revelation would be a bad idea.

    This would mean an automatic loss when it challenges the Myth hypothesis, as it has no explanatory power.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I also don’t see how “god cares for you” leads to “god reveals himself;” since this god knows far more than we do, perhaps they know that revelation would be a bad idea.

      That same idea (or something similar) is raised fairly often by believers in God’s defense. The problem with this idea as a defense of the Gospel is that it eliminates all possibility of any revelation and/or relationship between man and God, which means that Christianity still ends up being man-made. It’s also inconsistent with the idea that a perfectly mighty and perfectly loving God is the Creator of everything other than Himself, because the only way it could be harmful for God to reveal Himself to His creatures would be if He designed His creatures to be harmed by knowing Him. I suppose if He were perfectly masochistic He might design creation in such a way as to make it impossible for Himself to achieve His own greatest desire, but if that’s the case then atheists are arguably the people most in harmony with God’s true will.

      • hjhornbeck says

        Yep, that’s a pattern I’ve noticed too. To protect their god from falsification, believers assert their god is unfalsifiable. There’s some phrase out there I’m reminded of, I think it involves fires and frying pans…

  6. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    The existence of a world in which sin and evil exist, therefore, leads to a logical self-contradiction in the Gospel. If sin and evil are necessary in order to achieve ultimate goodness, then God Himself cannot achieve ultimate goodness unless sin and evil are eternally present in His own nature. The original source of evil has to come from within God Himself. Otherwise, if we agree that evil is not required in order to achieve ultimate goodness, then we’ve agreed that no logical necessity can force the Almighty to incorporate evil directly or indirectly into His plan for the ages. And since He neither needs nor wants to resort to sin and evil, no sin and evil will ever exist.

    That’s very good. I’ve long stressed the “problem of evil”, but not seen that one could actually construct an argument that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with that of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god.

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