Monday, August 16, 2010

The Social Benefits of Evil

The Non-Problem of Evil

In philosophical discussions on the existence God the issue of the 'problem of Evil' often arises. When it does it is most often presented as a challenge to the believer, usually in the form of something along the lines of 'if God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why does suffering exist?' The implication being that if God were all-powerful and all-loving he would necessarily see to it that suffering was eradicated from this existence.

I don't see any reason that this should be the case. Clearly this argument presumes to know what God knows (which we don't know), and presumes that the optimal world is necessarily one where no suffering is permitted to exist. There simply exists no reason to believe that this is the case, given our limited human knowledge. Perhaps, for all we know, the salvation of a single human, through an act of his own will, is a good that outweighs every ounce of suffering and evil that has ever occurred. We don't have the means of adjudicating God's righteousness, so 'the problem of Evil' for the believer is no problem at all. At least not in the sense of being a legitimate objection to the merits of the Christian faith. Evil is, of course, a problem in another sense. That being that it is, well, evil, and as such is the enemy of God. But this is not what is meant by 'the problem of Evil' when brought up by skeptics and critics of faith.

The real question seems to be how does the the materialist, the rational scientific modernist, the secularist account for the existence of evil? And, if they recognize its existence at all, what means do they have for addressing that problem?

Like the Christian the committed nihilist is faced with no real problem. 'Evil' is merely a human delusion, just like 'goodness', 'truth' and 'justice'. So the nihilist seems to be off the hook. However, very few non-believers are avowed nihilists, and even some of the ones who claim to be hold beliefs and values that run contrary to their nihilism. But for the true nihilist 'Evil' is easily and fully explicable.

Thus it seems that the 'problem of evil' is really only a 'problem' for one specific group of people: atheists who affirm the existence of virtues, vices, rights, wrongs, good, evil, oughts and ought nots. They must account for how anything could possibly be evil (or 'good') rather than just be. One would think that after Nietzsche rightly deduced that nihilism is the logical consequence of atheism over a century ago moralizing atheists would be in the minority. It turns out this is not the case. Most atheists exist in just this state of flagrant, unreflective self-contradiction. Very few heartily embrace all the consequences of their unbelief. Others at least attempt to address the problem by accounting for 'the problem of Evil' on materialist grounds.

So how does the strict materialist account for the existence of 'evil'? They recognize evil to be real, they simply define it as aberrant behavior from particular socio-biological, mutual-benefit norms that have arisen in nature. That is to say that they believe that we, highly evolved primates that we are, don't murder each other as a norm because we realize that if we murder someone, someone could then justify killing us. So in our own self-interest we make decisions that will more likely be beneficial for ourselves individually, and then for our tribe, and then for our species. These social norms and aberrations somewhere along the line became our 'morality', which was then codified in various tracts of religion. So then, the materialist has accounted for 'evil'. 'Evil' is: individuals who behave in unfashionable, socially unacceptable ways. The ultimate 'evil' in a materialist calculus appears to be akin to being a geek in high school.

Clearly this distinction is meaningless and the materialist has no means by which to construct a system of ethics or morality that aren't ultimately wholly arbitrary. For a moment let us ignore the inherent vapidity of the materialist account of evil and grant their social conception of it. If 'evil' is a collection of aberrations to social norms then what is 'good'? Society itself, of course. Which is the history of the 20th century, as a response to this conception of good and evil; Totalitarianism, Marxism, Communism and various social utopianisms attempting to fashion society to their various whims, at any cost--including the cost of the sanctity of human life. Society owes no allegiance to individual human life, society exists only to serve itself and its own ends, whatever they may be. Society itself is the end game. And, working within this framework, this is the exactly correct, logical conclusion to draw.

Which is not to say that other worldly systems of belief are not without their own flaws. Certainly not. As much as we cherish our liberal democracy our ultimate 'good' is really pure, unadulterated choice. While freedom is certainly something worth defending and a solid foundation for a system of government, in itself it is not an ultimate good because it includes the freedom to make poor decisions. And often it includes the freedom of insulation from criticism of poor choices. However, this democratic notion of society supports other important, legitimate values, such as the value of each individual, justice and charity. While the social utopianisms squelch such notions, and impose hierarchal structures of worth on society. The state itself is the ultimate end and not the individuals who comprise it.

Defensible Genocide

Genocide can have demonstrable, obvious social benefits for those members of society who aren't themselves exterminated. For example, if there is a shortage of food or housing and you murder 10% of the population there should be a certain amount of higher available resources for there are fewer people consuming things, and whatever the dead had possessed now get distributed to their families which increase their own situation in life. If the genocide is of, say, the elderly or newborns then their deaths will also lighten financial and other types of burdens on their families. Not to mention that if the genocide is of those with 'inferior' genome sequences, then the remaining members of society will have better genes and thus be more suitable for all survival, procreation and societal functions.

Perhaps some materialist moral utilitarians would object on the grounds that those benefits derived are not worth the cost of human lives taken. Not to mention the psychological costs incurred by the family members of the dead. Even if they agreed fully that the act would be a boon to themselves in terms of their own comfort, and of remaining society at large, most would still prefer that such a vile and wicked act not take place. But such an objection--while certainly understandable given the outcries from a God-authored conscience--is not rational given the framework it is working within. Which is to say that utilitarianism makes no sense within a materialist framework. Clearly nature doesn't strive to make everyone happy all--or even most--of the time, and if we can only construct our morality as a reflection of our material, social 'nature' as is, then happiness can not be the point. Propagation of the species is the point. Society is the point.

Advocates of abortion often turn to evidences of the social benefits of abortion in order to attempt to justify the practice. Some such evidences are real, others are fiction. But even if 100% of the supposed social benefits were real and legitimate, the abortion advocate often proceeds completely unaware that one could advance the exact same argument in favor of infanticide, or really of any kind of genocide. Clearly the relevant issue is at what point an embryo constitutes a human life--if we believe in the sanctity of human life--but the fact that many abortion advocates feel that their strongest argument is a social one reveals the vapidity of that argument. Either social ends can be a legitimate justification of mass murder or they can not. If you don't believe that abortion constitutes murder, then you should make that argument and realize that the social benefits are entirely irrelevant even if you can prove that they exist.

Whether an act of genocide produces a net social benefit or a net social loss is immaterial when we recognize the sanctity of each individual human life. The sanctity of human life takes precedence over any particular social outcomes or configurations that we might desire. So even if the defense of life yielded particularly dire consequences for society, life still must be defended, because an individual's right to life trumps society's 'right' to construct itself as it sees fit. This seems obvious and intuitively true. Indeed, the vast majority of atheists would agree with this assertion when presented in such a way, or they implicitly affirm it in the way they live and the values that they actually hold. The problem for them is that they have no means for affirming the sanctity of life. Clearly 'nature' does not recognize the sanctity of human life, as death and extinction are the rule rather than the exception in nature. And if nature does not affirm it then neither can the atheist because nature is all that there is, and it is from nature that we must derive our 'morality', in their view.


It seems peculiar then that so many atheists should feebly cling to notions of the sanctity of human life, the value of the individual, justice and so on and so forth, while they recklessly attempt to undermine the foundations of all such notions. Society as an end in itself, the devaluation of humanity and the individual, nihilism; these are the proper, logical ends of a materialist scientific rationalism. Either embrace them or reject them. But if you reject them, realize that the alternative--the sanctity of human life, the value of the individual, equality, justice; the goods of compassion, charity and love; the evils of collectivism, hatred and murder--can only be properly understood and accounted for within a (minimally) theistic worldview. Realize that you are not only rejecting God but you are rejecting all of the associated concepts, values and ideals that were birthed and given meaning through a particular theistic worldview. Realize that you are, in fact, rejecting the sanctity of human life and the value of the individual as mere human delusions. Realize it and trumpet it proudly. Or realize that there are very good reasons that you aren't rejecting all of these things, even though such rejections are logical corollaries of your unbelief.

1 comment:

  1. It might dawn on you that you are mistaken about atheists, rather than millions of atheists are mistaken and you are somehow right.

    For example, why do you expect atheists to listen to Nietzsche? He's just one person, like any other atheist. His opinion has no more weight than any other.