From childhood we’ve all been taught the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. However, it wasn’t until my adolescent years that the controversy for the existence for evil became personally troubling. Why did bad things happen to good people? Was everyone responsible for carrying mankind’s burden of sin? Belief of an all-good, ever-loving God was instilled in me from day one, yet no good explanation for the reason of evil in the world was ever presented. Philosophy 101 was the first forum where this topic was seriously discussed. No argument could shatter my faith in a God, but evil posed a more earnest search for reason.
Is evil necessary in the world? What is its purpose? With all these thoughts weighing on my mind, Hick and Johnson definitely shed some light on the issue. Scanning for a new piece to analyze, the argument by Fyodor Dostoevsky struck my attention. Taken from Dostoevsky’s The Brother’s Karmazov, this piece begins in a conversation between Ivan and Aloysha, brothers discussing God and the world He has created. Ivan begins with advice to his brother not to ever think about the question of God’s existence. Searching essentially for the nature of man and his belief system, whether God created man or man created God does not seem to much matter.
Because of his physical, earthly mind, Ivan cannot begin to conceive of God or attempt to understand a world higher than his capabilities allow. Therefore, he comes to accept the idea of God as well as “the underlying order and the meaning of life… and in the eternal harmony in which they say we shall one day be blended. ” The problem arises when contemplating the world of God. This he cannot accept. Simply put, Ivan’s refusal to accept the world of good and evil manifests itself in the innocent suffering of children. His point is made in this great statement: “Why should he know that diabolical good and evil when it costs so much?
Why, the world of knowledge is not worth the child’s prayer to ‘dear, King God’! I say nothing of the sufferings of grown-up people, they have eaten the apple, damn them, and the devil take them all! But these little ones! ” To him, the damage of children’s suffering far outweighs the eventual harmony of all mankind. Though mature peoples are responsible for their punishment of suffering from sin, youthful, inexperienced minds should not account for the burden of answerable others. Dostoevsky, using the character of Ivan, depicts a particular example of a child’s unjustifiable pain to further emphasize this point.
Back in the days of serfdom, a powerful man situated himself over acres of land, thousands of serfs, and hundreds of kenneled hounds. One day, a hound-boy playfully threw a stone, which accidentally injured the paw of his favorite dog. Upon seeing this, the master locked the boy up all night. The next morning, all serfs, including the boy’s mother, are summoned to watch as the boy is stripped of his clothes and attacked by the hundreds of hounds. In plain sight of his mother, the boy was ripped to shreds by the dogs and killed. Afterwards, the master was declared unable to govern his estates.
This example portrays the message that Ivan is attempting to expound. Incapable of understanding the logic behind this gruesome act, he proclaims that “absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities, and perhaps nothing would come to pass in it without them! We know what we know! ” It becomes beyond his comprehension why children are included in the suffering for eternal harmony. In response, some would say that sooner or later the child would have sinned. But the fact remains true that the child had not sinned and should not have been torn to pieces by the dogs.
His frustration is strengthened in his final queries of atonement of children’s tears: “It’s not worth it because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell of oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? ” His point is driven home in this sequence of questions. The price of harmony is much too high.
Blameless children are being wrongly tortured and the cost of their suffering weighs over the rewards of a Heaven. Ivan metaphorically “returns God his ticket” into paradise, refusing to accept the cost of suffering at innocent humanity’s expense. Initially, the first major flaw in this argument that stopped me in my tracks was the distinction between child and adult. Dostoevsky seems to believe in a large distinction between those irresponsible for the sin of man and those mature enough to contribute to the blame. When is the appropriate age or time to cut off a person from being classified as a child?
When is the innocence lost and responsibility of man’s burden of sin possessed? Defining a particular age of adulthood is a possibility to the solution. However, this presupposes that every individual matures at the same rate. Life experience teaches us that this fact is not true. Therefore, setting a certain age where a man crosses into an adult certainly isn’t a viable answer. How then could the separation be made? Would God create a precise “test” to prove one’s ability to knowingly make decisions? How would He ever create one that was suitable universally, without biases toward gender, class, culture, and genetic disposition?
Each single test for a person would have to be made unique to fit their unique specifications. All sorts of personal issues come into play and subjectivity would eventuate. Objectivity for this “test” would be close to impossible because of the variety of the world population. No clear-cut solution appears to solve the problem with identifying a person’s time of adulthood. The biggest flaw I realized in Dostoevsky’s piece was the conflict it posed against the idea of free will. Where does it fit into this argument? In creating humanity, God gave men the power of free will.
To choose good from bad, what was right and what was wrong. Free will can not be possible if children were exempt from evil choices. God cannot randomly interfere with the physical world in every case where child suffering is inevitable. For example, let’s examine the situation of the serf master. After making the decision to send the hounds after the boy’s accidental mistake, what if God suddenly rescued him from the attack, saving his life? The innocent boy’s life would be spared and no suffering would come upon him, just as Ivan would hope.
Doesn’t this action completely strip the master of his power of free will? His decision became totally devoid and the nature of man was violated. If God started making exceptions for children, the whole idea of free will would just become invalid. How could it be legitimate to say free will applies in every other situation except for this one? Simply stated, it is not. Removing free will against specific qualifications makes mankind merely puppets dictated by the hands of God. Because God would determine the outcome of human situations, the purpose of man’s existence would be lost.
The soul-making argument places into this criticism as well. Once God begins to interfere with man’s free will, our journey into the likeness and goodness of Him dissolves. Our life here on earth is a test to make us more like God. Does development into this righteousness include interference by Him? I think not. How are we supposed to reach the point of His likeness when our true judgments are overturned? It becomes an impossibility to arrive at that level on false effects played out by God. Free will and the soul-making argument obviously pose a problem for Dostoevsky’s argument.
In many ways, Dostoevsky’s argument appeals to my logic and much of my beliefs coincide with his. After careful review though, the faults discovered led me to disagreement with his viewpoint. Evil in the world must ensue for humanity’s sake. Suffering and pain are necessary in the growth and development of man, whether young or old. Setting distinctions between the two is near impossible and leaves no room for justifiable free will. Mankind needs to accept the state of the world and realize the intentions set by God are inconceivable to the physical world. Only after achieving His likeness will we realize His purpose and plan.