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It’s All About the Definitions

4 June, 2008

Over at the Spanish Inquisitor’s site there has been a spirited conversation (well, not a conversation, just some well- (and nost-so-well-) thought-out comments rocketing back and forth.  The whole line of comments (now (as I write this) up to 119 comments) argues whether the existence of evil precludes a benevolent and omnipotent god, or if the grant of free will to humanity necessitated the existence of evil.  There have been plenty of tangential ideas:  what is evil?  does evil actually exist?  what is god?

I put my two cents in a few times asking more questions than I can answer.  My biggest concern is definitions.  How can I argue a point if I have difficulty with the definition of some of the words involved.  The Exterminator posits that an absolute definition of ‘evil’ is only necessary at a philosophical level, and I can see his point.  Stealing a line from Supreme Court Justice Stewart, “I may not know what evil is, but I know it when I see it.”

On the other hand, as can be seen reading through all of the comments, different definitions of seemingly simple words (god, evil, suffering, etc.) can really muckle up the discussion.  If one commenter writes from the idea of an omnipontent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god who can do away with evil and suffering, while the next has a more limited view of god as the concept relates to the conversation, misunderstandings are pretty much gauranteed.

So far, I’ve been lucky.  Very few of my posts have elicited the spirited discussions that SI seems to attract (among others).  At the same time, though, I have found myself tossing around words for which I do not have a simple coherent definition.

I hereby apologize in advance if my definitions do not agree with yours.  If, during a spirited discussion, you think that we may be arguing at cross definitions, please let me know.

This also may help.  It is a guide to Christian cliches and phrases.  Well, its not real helpful, but it is enjoyably snarky.

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6 comments

  1. I don’t think that atheists need to define “Evil” with a capital E. We don’t see it as the antithesis of “Good” in the Platonic Forms sense, because we don’t believe in those Forms.

    For most atheists, suffering, particularly that caused by natural disasters, is obviously not part of the concept of evil. Inflicting suffering, on the other hand, is evil. So maybe evil is the infliction of suffering upon other living things. Or, to be more specific, other mammals. Or, even more specific, other humans. But even there, freethinkers would have to examine the particular circumstances.

    Is the death penalty an evil? I think so; other reasonable people may not.
    Is aborting an eight-month-old fetus an evil? I think not; many freethinkers may disagree.
    Is murder in self-defense an evil? I think not; but it’s a cloudy area for me. I’d need to know even more details.
    Is shooting deer for sport an evil? I think so; but I’m probably in the minority.

    We have enough specific instances to debate, Billy, without locking ourselves into a definition that rigidly covers all contingencies.

    By the way, the Supreme Court Justice was Stewart, not Steward.


  2. I must suggest Christians and Atheist to read this book “The End of Reason” by Dr. Ravi Zacharias. This book forces the reader’s mind to do the critical thinking that is so lacking in Christianity today. It should also be considered required reading for the atheist who has never really looked at a logical argument for the existence of God, or the Christian who has never really critically analyzed his own faith. Check out more information on The End of Reason here


  3. Ex: Corrected.

    I agree that we don’t need to define capital E evil, but I do think that, for the purposes of a discussion, it helps if, at some point, the conributors can agree on the working definition in use for that debate. No definition works in all circumstances. But, when two people argue/discuss/debate using different definitions of the same term, intentional or not, it is counterproductive.


  4. Of course if everyone doesn’t agree on what the points are in an argument, the whole thing is a waste of time. Furthermore, as Ex found out recently, it’s impossible to argue points when your opponent simply has his own definitions for the words in play.

    What’s also VERY difficult to overcome in a discussion is when one side repeatedly avoids carrying his share of the load. There needs to be some mutual respect, or at least a respect for the process of discussion and argumentation first before all other things. If you have that, then you will make sure everyone is on the same page with definitions, that you will address questions and challenges directly and with no obfuscation and fully expect that from everyone else as well.


  5. Philly: Do I need to find a link to the old Monty Python Department of Arguments sketch? And as for the obfuscation, changing definitions, and lack of respect? I think that may be a conscious tactic.


  6. I found a book at Amazon God vs. Satan : The Untold Story which claims to be the Little Book predicted to explain God’s Mystery to mankind in Rev. 10. Even explains why he went into hiding, and when he would surface again, and why.

    My family didn’t believe it, but we read it anyway. And it is true. I understand everything Jesus said. EVERYTHING! Even know where he left out information on purpose because his generation wasn’t ready for the truth.

    I understand souls, God, how Satan’s Kingdom is divided, and how God and Satan fight in the world today. Except the actual truth is different from what anyone expects. It explains all the crime in our urban cities. And how to change it.

    It is a small book, as predicted in Rev. 10, every page is packed with new ideas. The words draw pictures, making the understanding easy. Even how creation started. And what the Holy Ghost is made out of.

    It was written in the Bible that it would come in the hands of an angel to the world from God. I read it, and I don’t believe any human mind could have that much new information by itself. A thousand geniuses couldn’t have written that book. Or this
    Einstein of religion kept himself hidden from the world for a long time.

    The fact that book is here today amazes me. We must be in end times for it to exist. I need an expert on Revaluations to comment on the book.

    I understand now why God went into hiding. Once you understand his mystery, what he really is, his early involvement in world affairs, and his absence later on becomes obvious. So does his return and when and why.

    No one religion captured the truth. But many got pieces of it. But the real truth makes complete sense of reality.



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