The Devil Made Me Do it – or – Who is Responsible for the Evil Men Do?

Continuing on from my previous post, I want to delve into the issue of responsibility.

In that post I stated the following:

“Let’s say you are an architect and you build a beautiful theater for the purpose of housing the world’s most beautiful works of musical, dance, and theatrical arts.  It is gorgeous and perfect for its purpose – the best sight lines, the best acoustics, the best of everything.  But you design into it one simple flaw – the doors open inward instead of outward.  When a fire starts, and 2,000 people are trapped inside to burn alive, who is responsible?  Did they die because they chose to go to the theater?  Or did they die because the designer created that theater with a fatal flaw?”

Obviously a conversation of this sort tends to bleed over into other topics, such as hell, eternal punishment, free will, and the like.  We’ll get to those.  I want to keep it narrow in the interest of keeping the blog posts down to a reasonable length.

The question I hope to address is – continuing the conversation referenced above, who would then be responsible for the evil men do?

The Christian theology states that man is responsible for his own sin (do I have to say that I use man in the universal sense of mankind?  I hope not – gratuitous gender switching in non-fiction writing drives me batty.)  More specifically, it is taught that we are born sinners due to the original sin of Adam, and that we commit our own sins anyway, so we are doubly responsible for sin and in need of redemption.

The punishment for sin is death, and after judgment, eternal torment.  God cannot tolerate the presence of sin, etc.

Now, also in the previous post on the genesis of Evil, we discussed the concept that evil can only exist if God first conceptualized and therefore created evil.  He had to create the concept and the possibility of every possible evil in order to build said possibilities into the fabric of creation.  Had he not done so, no evil could ever be committed, because God could not have created something that existed outside of himself.  Remember, he created everything ex nihilo, out of nothing.  There was no other place for the evil to come from.  If you need a refresher, go back to the “Dr. Evil” post and read through it, as well as the comment section, which features a couple threads that contain a lot of important fleshing out of ideas.

So, having created evil, he then created a flawed humanity, apparently in the interest of Free Will (a later post.)  When he created humanity, he knew they would sin, because they were designed to fail, and would indulge in the evil he created out of nothing.

It’s his design.  It’s his creation.  It’s his evil.  Who’s responsible?

If you have a swimming pool, you leave it uncovered, you leave the gate and the doors open wide, and you send your toddler out to play, who’s responsible when he drowns?

The standard answer is that the toddler doesn’t know better, but we do.

Wrong.  Biblically speaking, Adam and Eve had no concept of Good and Evil.  They didn’t have the capacity to reason between their choices.  Their choice was to obey.  They didn’t, because they had no understanding of the consequences.  They apparently didn’t even know what “die” meant.  They weren’t equipped to avoid their fate.  Much like a toddler on the precipice of a swimming pool.

Interestingly, the (awful) swimming pool analogy is very apt, because in that case, it’s the ill-equipped toddler who pays the ultimate price for the parent’s folly.

Sad, too, that one small indiscretion, from the God of all Mercy and Forgiveness, would condemn all of humanity to eons of pain, torture, sin, and death.  Demographers estimate that somewhere between 69 and 110 billion people have lived on earth since the very first humans.

That’s a lot of death for one piece of fruit.  But I’m digressing.  The issue at hand is responsibility.

Obviously, my assertion is that if the Biblical God actually created everything, according to Genesis, then he is responsible for the evil and sin in the world.

Another fascinating (to me, anyway) aspect of responsibility is the glaring biblical contradiction in which God says clearly that each person will be responsible only for his own sin, not that of his ancestors (Ezekiel 18:14-24, Romans 2:6-9).  Well, that surely blows the whole Adam & Eve thing out of the water, doesn’t it?  We’re still paying for that pomegranate.

It also blatantly contradicts Moses, who allegedly wrote in Number 14:18 “The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

So not only am I responsible for Adam’s sin, I’m responsible for my Dad’s, his father’s, his father’s and his father’s sin?  I don’t know much about my great grandfathers, but my grandfather did some pretty bad stuff, and my dad has a pretty long slate too.  I mean, isn’t my slate long enough on its own?  Not sure I’m looking forward to paying for any of that!

The bottom line is that the issue of responsibility for evil/sin in the Bible is as convoluted as the men who wrote about it and the times in which they lived.  Ezekiel surely said what he said because at the time it made sense, as did whomever told and retold the oral tradition of Numbers eventually recorded around 600 BC.

Next we’ll delve into the Tempter himself, Ol’ Scratch, the Devil… Satan.


16 thoughts on “The Devil Made Me Do it – or – Who is Responsible for the Evil Men Do?

  1. We should point the readers to the great concept of Theodicy: ‘That part of theology concerned with defending the goodness and omnipotence of God in the face of the suffering and evil of the world.’ And btw, note it was the great philosopher and thinker Gottfried Leibniz who created this great concept and idea of “Theodicy” (Greek, theos, god + dike, justice), again.. a system of natural theology aimed at seeking to vindicate divine justice in allowing evil to exist.

  2. Toon — A major flaw in your logic… you said

    “God first conceptualized and therefore created evil”

    Conceptualization is not equal to creation. If I think of the concept of a sculpture and tell someone that they can build that sculpture, which they then do, I did not create the sculpture. Although it may seem like splitting hairs (and I don’t have many left to split 🙂 ), it is an important distinction. God did not create evil, but He did create a universe with the possibility for others to create evil. Although He had knowledge of the concept of evil and for now He allows it to exist, He did not create it.

    • You just went down the road that got Euthyphro in trouble.

      You might say God recognizes the concept of evil rather than creating it himself and being responsible for it. On that same note, good must then also be a concept that God recognizes rather than something he made and defines.
      This eventually leads to the conclusion that morality is a mindset outside of God that can be reached by any reasonable being.

      Slowly, God becomes unnecessarily to explain a lot of things Christians require his existence to explain. But, I think that was Toon’s point, so I think he’d be glad you noticed the flaw.

      • I think your argument is flawed. God just is good and the concept of good is simply defined as those things that are more like God and not those that are less like him. Because this is true, God is a measure of goodness as well as its embodiment, and morality is simply a measure of how like God a person is and acts.

      • My argument was flawed at the start because it was an extrapolation on someone else’s flawed beliefs.

        Either way, there is a flaw. You know this already, I see no point in saying more.

    • He didn’t just create a universe with the possibility for others to create evil. He created a universe in which he KNEW others would create evil. And he created those others in the full knowledge that they would do evil. Your argument is a bit like saying that you didn’t hammer the nail into the wood because the hammer hit the nail and you were just holding it at the time.

    • Pooskapop:
      *Toon — A major flaw in your logic… you said
      “God first conceptualized and therefore created evil”
      Conceptualization is not equal to creation. If I think of the concept of a sculpture and tell someone that they can build that sculpture, which they then do, I did not create the sculpture.*

      You sure about that?

      I could conceptualize having sex with a woman other than my wife. That’s not the same as actually doing it, right?

      Oh, wait, that’s not what Jesus said, is it? Matt 5:28 – “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

      Apparently it’s not all about commission.

      God created *everything* – being transcendent, outside of time, he created all from beginning to end. Before he created there was absolutely nothing but him. From that, all of creation, and all its potentialities, were created by him. Nothing can be but that he created it. Evil could not be done if he did not first create it. Evil would have to come from his mind, for there was no contrast to him prior to creation. Evil did not coexist with him, and nothing but him existed before creation.

      Evil is an invention of God. God could have defined the universe any way he wanted, right? He’s all-powerful, right? All the choices were his. He opted to create a universe that contains evil. No part of that came into being outside of his positive action.

      God is responsible for every element of creation, down to each little string. Nothing exists without his permission. Nothing is that he did not create. That includes evil.

      • I am not sure, but it seems like you are close, but not exact. Your example of adultery, for example…if I am aware of the concept of having sex with someone other than my wife, it is not the same as wanting to pursue that course of action. He said “anyone who looks at a woman LUSTFULLY” (emphasis mine), which means thinking about following through with the action. Again, a fine hair to split, but an important distinction. I can be aware that the possibility exists for a thought or action without thinking of ways to make it happen. Evil is not an invention of God, even though He knew it could happen once beings with free will were loose in creation. Now we are really splitting definitions down, eh? 🙂
        The real question is personal responsibility…am I answerable to anyone for what I do? I really only answer for what I do to those whom I choose as authority over me. You know I have chosen to be answerable to God (specifically the God of the bible), and you know that I believe He lives in me through His Holy Spirit. To whom do you answer for your actions? For your thoughts?

      • Again, Rick, I’ll make the point that conceptualization is akin to creation. An idea is an idea first, before it is an act or a product. The moral value of the act or product resides in the idea, whether or not it is ever carried out.

        As no action can ever take place outside the will of God, and as everything in the universe was created by God, and nothing is that he has not made, then even the ability to conceive of an evil has to come from God himself, He had to conceive himself of every possibility before the act of creation, and no aspect of that creation can exist outside of his volitional choice to make it so. We cannot supersede God’s will or creation. He may *allow* but he allows that which he created to actually be. That we are then wired to be capable of such evil is again down to his creative act and his idea that we be so capable.

        There is no escape from God, as described biblically, being the author of evil, because he is the author of all that is, and nothing is that was not made by him.

  3. I believe in the concept of God. I also believe there was at least one person, possibly more, who was able to genuinely touch God — and if we want to call that person “Jesus”, that’s fine with me. I believe that much of the writings contained in the NT came from the best attempts human beings could make at grasping what that person or those persons attempted to convey when it came to accomplishing the same goal — touching God, finding the God-within.

    The Bible, however, is simply translations from a flawed-humanity, filtered through politicization and power struggle, and born of the strong desire to capture God, place him in a jar and watch him light up in order to justify what we feel is “right.”

    God did not create. God simply is. Life is. Life is God and God is life.

    I have no problem accepting God, nor with seeking him, but I reject the idea that the words written in this translation or that translation of the Bible have much to do with God. And yes, I’ll follow the teachings of Jesus inasmuch as I can understand the scraps of what he taught that are present. Mostly, I just look to God to help me find my way. I refuse to put him into a jar.

  4. Pingback: Clear Reason | Why I No Longer Believe

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