Does Evil pre-date Mankind?
I have seen Evil….close up. As I lay bleeding and cut on my Father’s porch one evening, after two older teenagers had beaten me badly, it showed clearly through his eyes when he said, “ If they used their fists then you must get a stick. If they used a stick, then you must find a knife. If they had a knife then you must find a gun. But somehow you must find them and then………in the dark of night…….. when least expected……..you must exact a full and final retribution.”
Evil was reflected in my first wife’s eyes when the doctor told her that at age 28, she had no time left. It dogged her as she took several years to die. It took my relationship with her down a dark path which left me at its end, gasping for breath, unsure of myself, my life, what it had done to me and what I had done……to her.
It is there in the memories which shall remain nameless, hidden and shameful, of my darker sins. My human foibles and mistakes of purpose, my sins of omission and commission, some dark enough to render me helpless to ask forgiveness of my victim and terrified to ask forgiveness of God, as I sense my lack of worthiness of this thing called forgiveness.
Am I so uniquely evil?
There was evil in the teachings of my grammar school nuns and priests who taught me that God must be feared and that His punishment for sin was damnation for eternity. They would not have called it that. They would have called it something like “goodness” or doing God's work. But it was evil nonetheless, in its effect on a young boy, who found no love for God without attendant fear.
I am a simple man whom some call a “Christian”. What does that mean to them I wonder? Are they as I am? Are we, all mankind, sinners, carrying such a load of guilt, acts that need be hidden lest we show our awfulness in a cruel light of day, and public flogging? Evil?
It took my father into the darkened corners of the living room late at night, alone, with his full 12 ounce glass of bourbon; a cheap whiskey, no ice. Evil was his companion in these evenings, as palpable as the smoke from the glowing end of his cigarette as he smoked silently alone. It was clearly evil that took him there…alone with his devils in the corner of the darkened room late at night; estranged from his family and his life. His employers would not promote him in the end. They would not say why. He had worked his adult life for them. He knew nothing else but that company, that job. But they would not promote him any further. The bottles piled up behind the storage bin. Most smuggled out to the grocery store’s dumpster so the neighbors would not know. Never see. Were they evil? Was he?
How do we define evil? Sin? “The mass of men have committed adultery so often in their own mind, the fact is simply a matter of circumstance.”
Some say the absence of good; or the absence of God defines evil. Who created evil? Did God?
My theologian colleagues may cite three main possibilities:
a God created evil for some purpose. ( Probably to test us; an Augustinian view)
b Evil has always existed as an opposing force to God (Dualistic View)
c. Evil was created by Mankind through its sinful ways.
There seem to be no other reasonable possibilities.
Of the three main possibilities offered, Dualism offers the least substance. The idea that there is a dark force as powerful as God and opposing Him, was long ago, dismissed by most legitimate western theologians, but not all western philosophers. Eastern philosophies would have a much harder time dismissing this idea as it offers a “yin” to the “yang” and an eternal cycle of conflict, both of which appeal to eastern philosophies.
“In the west, the more modern versions of dualism have their origin in Descartes' Meditations, and in the debate that was consequent upon Descartes' theory.
Descartes was a substance dualist. He believed that there were two kinds of substance: matter, of which the essential property is that it is spatially extended; and mind, of which the essential property is that it thinks. Descartes' conception of the relation between mind and body was quite different from that held in the Aristotelian tradition.
For Aristotle, there is no exact science of matter. How matter behaves is essentially affected by the form that is in it. You cannot combine just any matter with any form — you cannot make a knife out of butter, nor a human being out of paper — so the nature of the matter is a necessary condition for the nature of the substance. But the nature of the substance does not follow from the nature of its matter alone: there is no 'botttom up' account of substances. Matter is a determinable made determinate by form. This was how Aristotle thought that he was able to explain the connection of soul to body: a particular soul exists as the organizing principle in a particular parcel of matter.
There is an argument, which has roots in Descartes (Meditation VI), which is a modal argument for dualism. One might put it as follows:
It is imaginable that one's mind might exist without one's body.
It is conceivable that one's mind might exist without one's body.
It is possible one's mind might exist without one's body.
One's mind is a different entity from one's body”.1
“Our belief in the existence of other minds is an inference from their bodies. Consequently the denial of an external material world involves the rejection of all evidence for the existence of other minds, and lands the idealist in the position of "Solipsism".
Physical science once assumed the existence of a material world, existing when unperceived, possessing various properties, and exerting various powers according to definite constant laws. Thus astronomy describes the movements of heavenly bodies moving in space of three or four dimensions,attracting each other with forces inversely proportioned to the square of the distance.
It postulates the movement and action of such bodies when they are invisible as well as when they are visible through long periods of time and over vast areas of space. From these assumptions it deduces future positions and foretells eclipses and transits many years ahead.
Observations carried out by subsequent generations verify the predictions. Were there not an extramental world whose parts exist and act in a space and time truly mirrored by our cognitions and ideas, such a result would be impossible. The branches of science dealing with sound, light, heat, and electricity are equally irreconcilable with idealism.
The teachings of physiology and psycho-physics become peculiarly absurd in the idealist theory. What, for instance, is meant by saying that memory is dependent on modifications in the nervous substance of the brain, if all the material world, including the brain, is but a collection of mental states?
Psychology similarly assumes the extramental reality of the human body in its account of the growth of the senses and the development of perception. Were the idealist hypothesis true its language would probably be meaningless. All branches of science thus may be said to presuppose and confirm the dualistic view and what is euphamistically called common sense.
Ahriman is the principle of darkness and of all evil. In the third century after Christ, Manes, for a time a convert to Christianity, developed a form of Gnosticism, subsequently styled Manichaeism, in which he sought to fuse some of the elements of the Christian religion with the dualistic creed of Zoroastrianism. A good God and his evil Twin.
Christian philosophy, expounded with minor differences by theologians and philosophers from St. Augustine downwards, holds generally that physical evil is the result of the necessary limitations of finite created beings, and that moral evil, which alone is evil in the true sense, is a consequence of the creation of beings possessed of free wills and is tolerated by God. Both physical and moral evil are to be conceived as some form of privation or defect of being, not as positive entity. Their existence is thus not irreconcilable with the doctrine of theistic monism”. 2
In RELIGIOUS Dualism, Evil, to have a chance at triumph, should be equal to God. Some might think of Satan, but Satan, in most western theology was:
Created by God
Has lesser powers than God.
Cannot ultimately win the battle.
True Religious Dualism does not exist in most Western Theology and offers little to our understanding of evil.
What are Evil’s attributes? Evil is/has;
Probably finite and not eternal?
Probably created by Mankind or God.
Many of us reject the idea that God created evil. We find it hard to use the words “God” and “Evil” in the same breath. We cannot conceive that a GOOD God could create evil.
Yet, if God is all powerful it is possible.
The Biblical version of evil has God creating the beasts including the serpent and concluding that “it was good”. He then creates Mankind and gives him dominion over the beasts. The serpent, “was the most subtile” of beasts, but is still a beast over which Mankind has dominion. It is the serpent/beast which tempts Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus introducing evil into the world. One asks, “was good also introduced at that eating”? Presumably not, except perhaps as counterpoint to evil. It is safer to assume that good has always existed as God has always existed.
Adam hides due to his “nakedness”. God sees him and asks, “Who told you that you were naked?” Gen 3:11
The biblical version seems, at first glance, to put evil into the purview of Man as creator and architect.
But consider the following.
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Clearly…US…already knows both Good and Evil.
We can conclude, biblically;
a. Evil predates Mankind
b. At Least God knows Evil
c. It is implied someone or something else knows evil. ( The Angels? ?)
Biblically then, evil is not from Man.
Why then would God create evil? To test us?
I have often referred to Martin Luther’s Tower experience when Luther rages against the perceived “injustice” of God. God has stacked the deck against us, Luther surmises. We are created as imperfect sinning creatures and are then judged by our sins. How can we win? (In fairness to Luther he concludes that “God’s Justice” means something different to God than it does to us. It is not an active justice, judging “right and wrong”, but rather the actions by which we are justified, chiefly through faith.)
Biblically, God knows about evil before Mankind’s fall. If the purpose of evil is to test mankind, three questions remain;
1. Why test us when we are predisposed to fail?
2. If evil exists to test us, why did it pre-exist us?
3. What was the purpose of evil before Man existed?
One will not find easy answers to these questions.
Concluding that evil is the absence of Good/God solves some of this dilemma. In that where there is good, there must be bad. An all good God must know of or “have” Evil in order to offer Good. Good has no meaning without evil.
I would caution against any literal interpretation of Genesis. However, literally from Genesis. the Garden had neither good nor evil until the eating of the fruit, as far as Man was concerned. God knew about evil, but Man did not.
Biblically then, God created Mankind without knowledge of Good and Evil. Does that sound like heaven? Man discovers evil on his own without interference from God, although God has, presumably, created it.
One must, therefore, suggest Man is not the architect for evil. God is. His purpose is unknown. But evil predates Man.
What is particularly interesting, biblically, is the next line of scripture. Gen 3:22-24
22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
24 So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
For the Bible, for Religion, Evil is not just in us. Although it is there….hidden in our hearts; crouched in anticipation of our stumbling attempts at mercy and goodness. But it is also lurking there outside of us………in the bushes behind God’s back. He knows it is there. He will not stop it. It can become palpable….take form….take substance….and rise up in the darkness…..more powerful that we can imagine.
Apparently, the Tree of eternal Life also existed in the Garden, but Man had not been told to avoid it. God appears concerned that now, with Man as “one of US” possessing knowledge of good and evil, Man can also inherit eternal life by eating of this second tree. God wishes to prevent this and ejects Adam and Eve from the Garden and sets a guard at the east gate.
God wishes to prevent us from having eternal life if we possess knowledge of good and evil. Interesting. It is as though we cannot enter into heaven possessing knowledge of evil. How about knowledge of Good?
These scriptural passages seem to indicate that with eternal life there can be no knowledge of evil (or good). Mankind possessed no such knowledge of good and evil in The Garden of Eden until the serpent incident. Mankind was not created with knowledge of good and evil, but NOW POSSESSES IT!
Both good and evil predate Man. Good is explained by the presence of God. How is evil explained?
It is not explained scripturally other than the use of the word US in Gen 3:22. US knows evil. Is God using a “Royal US”? It would not seem so. In fact, the word SEE is used at the beginning of the sentence, clearly indicating that God is addressing someone other than Himself. Whom is He addressing?
We have no reference to the creation of Angels in Genesis 1, 2 or 3, but they clearly exist, as Cherubim were set to guard the east entrance to Eden after the fall.
God must be addressing angels as we have no other biblical indication of entities except beasts, which predated Man. It is unlikely beasts had knowledge of good and evil. Angels are the only reasonable possibility. Therefore, Angels possess knowledge of good and evil before Mankind, according to reasonable scriptural interpretation. Scripturally Satan, the Fallen Angel, looms larger and larger as the force of evil, if not as its creator.
There are 201 references for “Angel” in the King James Version, 11 in Genesis alone.3
There are 71 references for “Cherubim”. Some have concluded that Col 1:16 indicates angels other than Cherubim. A whole hierarchy of them classified as Thrones, Powers and Dominions.
16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
No matter what we choose to believe, Scripture clearly indicates that although Man may succumb to evil he is neither its creator, its benefactor, nor, perhaps, its sole agent. Man has knowledge of evil AND GOOD, and the free will to choose either.
What of taking Genesis metaphorically rather than literally? Well, we are then in a world of wonderful interpretation, where much is possible, but evil apparently still predates Man, no matter how we interpret Genesis.
I ask you. Does God have an Adversary? If so, WHOM?