Evil is Not the Absence of Good

by Godlessons on March 22, 2010

I have been seeing the argument lately that God did not create evil, because evil does not really exist, but is instead the absence of good.  This is used to argue against things like the problem of evil.  While sometimes this argument is said to have been made to an atheist teacher by Albert Einstein, that is instead an urban myth, and seems to have never happened.  Even if Einstein did make the argument, it doesn’t make it true.

The way that the argument goes is that things such as cold and darkness do not actually exist.  Cold is the absence of measurable heat and darkness is the absence of measurable light.  Evil is the same, where evil is the absence of good.

When we say that something is cold, it is merely our perception of a lack of measurable heat.  Heat is the thing that is measurable.  Heat is actually the movement of matter at a subatomic level.  If there is no movement, we don’t have really have cold, we have a lack of heat.  The same works for darkness.  The same doesn’t work for evil though.

Now, let’s see how evil would have to work in this type of situation where evil doesn’t really exist, but it is merely the lack of good.  Most of us would say that the act of murder is evil.  If evil is the absence of good, either the act of murder does not exist, or the act of murder is not evil.  Well, if you consider murder to be evil, that must mean that the act of murder does not happen.  The act of murder does happen though.  The act of murder is a measurable thing that can be shown to exist.  So, if you are to hold that evil is the absence of good, and that the act of murder happens, the act of murder must not be evil.

This is the problem with the statement that evil is the absence of good.  If you hold that to be true, you can’t condemn any action as evil because if evil is merely the absence of good, evil does not exist.  If we were to condemn things that are the absence of good, we would be stuck condemning all those things that are neither evil nor good, since there is no necessity of good for acts like moving my keys from one hand to the other for example.

Good and evil are totally separate concepts.  Good acts are those acts that are beneficial, while evil acts are those acts that are detrimental.  Absence of beneficial acts does not necessitate evil any more than absence of evil acts necessitates good.  That is why we can have an untold number of benign acts.

  • Neko

    The act of murder in itself is not evil, it is the person who carries out this act who is evil. This conforms with the belief that evil is the absence of good, because when you see comeone carrying out this act, you don’t see evil, you see the their lack of goodness. Any act considered evil is just the privation of good in the person who committed the act. By the way, it was St. Augustine who first argued this idea. I would’ve thought you’d know, seeing as you claim to be a religious website. Maybe you should read On Free Choice of the Will by Augustine.

  • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

    First of all, this is not a religious website, it is an atheist website. As an atheist, I am not religious. Atheism has no code of rules. It has no deity. It is merely the lack of belief or disbelief in a god or gods.

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to bolster the evil is the absence of good thing or not, as all it seems you are doing is repeating what I have already said about what people think about it. You don’t seem to offer any counterarguments to my objections.

    As for it not being St. Augustine who first argued this, I am fully willing to be wrong, but from everything I have read, this particular theodicy was developed by Augustine. If he wasn’t the person that developed it, he sure gets credit from many many sources. On the other hand, where I may have been willing to read another religious writing a year ago, I have enough on my plate right now that not only does reading religious philosophy not interest me anymore in the slightest, I wouldn’t have time to read it anyway.

    • james

      You are stupid!

  • Damien

    “Most of us would say that the act of murder is evil. If evil is the absence of good, either the act of murder does not exist, or the act of murder is not evil. Well, if you consider murder to be evil, that must mean that the act of murder does not happen. The act of murder does happen though. The act of murder is a measurable thing that can be shown to exist. So, if you are to hold that evil is the absence of good, and that the act of murder happens, the act of murder must not be evil. This is the problem with the statement that evil is the absence of good…”

    While good may or may not be the absence of evil, either way there seems to be a flaw with the reasoning above.  If you were to follow the same argument and apply it to say, cold, it would look something like this:

    “Most of us would say that an ice cube is cold. If cold is the absence of heat, either the ice cube does not exist, or the ice cube is not cold.  Well, if you consider the ice cube to be cold, that must mean that the ice cube does not exist. The ice cube does exist though. The ice cube is a measurable thing that can be shown to exist. So, if you are to hold that cold is the absence of heat, and that the ice cube exists, the ice cube must not be cold. This is the problem with the statement that cold is the absence of heat…”

    See the problem?

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Let’s look at the similarities and differences and see if we are speaking apples to apples.

      An ice cube is an object that can be weighed.  If we say it has a property, such as cold, and we determine that cold actually doesn’t exist, that does not negate its other properties.

      Murder in the moral aspect can not be weighed.  If we say that it has a property, such as evil, and we determine that evil actually doesn’t exist, that does not negate its other properties, but as it has no other properties, we have removed its essence by removing the property of evil.  A thing with no properties doesn’t exist.

      So, we are not discussing apples and apples here.Now, if you want to say that there are no such things as moral aspects to things, then I would be forced to agree.  Evil does not exist, but then neither does good.

  • Cantbelieve u popup1 on google

    Wow I’ve never read such a flawed argument in my entire life. Murder itself is not evil but the consequence so your argument don’t make sense.

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Murder is not evil? At best, the two are inextricably intertwined. The act of murder is where the evil happens. If the murder never occurs, there is no victim, and therefore no evil.

      If the two are not the same, that would mean you can have murder (evil) separated from murder (action). Each should be able to exist separately, and one not be the other. One could commit the act of murder without committing the evil of murder. One could commit the evil of murder without committing the act of murder.

      I see no way that this can be the case. Unless you can demonstrate how this could be so, we must assume they are one in the same.

  • Pookie

    Just like I can say that the night is dark or the room is cold, I can say that murder is evil. St Augustine came up with the privitio bono argument. If you are a Christian, Genesis 1 supports it.

    • http://godlessons.com Godlessons

      Why do you post nonsense that doesn’t address the problems that were brought up?

  • John Lawless

    The argument postulated by Augustine was not directed to the act but the cause of the act. Murder is evil because the cause of murder is the absence of good…

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