Natural evil and moral evil
… To address this, I must first take a few paragraphs to make a distinction between two types of evil: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is something that is physically unpleasant, possibly extremely and excruciatingly so. This could include pain and disease, hurricanes, floods, famines, parasites, etc. All these types of things can happen to us independent of any moral choices that humans make. We might make them worse by bad moral choices, but they would exist anyway.
Moral evil involves a decision by a being with moral ability. Much has been written on how to define moral evil: some hold that it is fundamentally relational, as a rebellion against God. If we use this definition, then clearly it is impossible for God to do evil. But that makes it seem as though good and evil are arbitrary: we just define whatever God does as good and not evil. But if we believe that God is eternal and unchanging in his character, we would like an absolute standard for good and evil, which we believe he follows consistently.
Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century pointed out that the good and evil are not symmetric. Good can exist in itself, while evil involves the destruction of the good. This makes defining evil much easier. “Good” is hard to define: it involves every good thing such as beauty, order, existence, life, meaning, etc. To make an exhaustive list of good would be a lengthy task. But assuming we have some intuitive sense of the good, we can define moral evil as that which seeks to destroy the good.
Here we have to be careful to use some nuance. Is evil that which destroys any good at any time? If so, then anyone who wants anything to change, ever, is evil, because a change involves some good thing ceasing to exist, being replaced by something else. As we have seen, it can be good to replace some good things with other, greater, good things. Pleasant feelings can be replaced by the temporary pain of exercise which is replaced by good health and strength. More.
Of course, a naturalist atheist cannot make a genuine distinction between natural and moral evil. That fact is a key structural support in his worldview.
See also: Abstracts for the What Is Information? meeting, November 13-14, 2015, Seattle
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