lecturing in Uppingham school: details to follow but, meanwhile, here are some pictures of Peter Vardy, Iris Murdoch and Parmenides! Parmenides provides the inspiration for Plato’s theory of the unchanging “One”, the Good.
Peter Vardy adapted Iris Murdoch’s views on the Ontological argument, but more on that one later!
I gave a talk yesterday about various aspects of Philosophy of Religion.
One of the points I made was about the Problem of evil. This is advanced first by Epicurus, but essentially asks how a Good God who also created us can allow the existence of evil, or indeed whether he might be held responsible for this. The traditional approach is to invoke one of two “theodicies”, that of Irenaeus and that of Augustine. Augustine’s defence of God rests on the value placed on our free will- that, in other words it is better for us to be free and have the opportunity to select an evil action, than for us to be automata that can only select and do good things. In addition, is the idea that evil and particularly the natural evils of ill-health, and natural catastrophes were brought on ourselves by the original sin of adam and eve or by the fall of the angels.
What I was interested in, however, was whether under British law, God might be held responsible for our evil actions. I imagined that there was a teacher in the audience who might murder me, and in the run-up to his actions, that he might confide in a pupil who was sitting fairly close. While there would be no question at all about the teacher’s guilt, we looked at the law regarding the guilt of the student- whose name was Will. (Apologies to Will for picking on him!)
This is some of the talk:
“it makes you an accomplice in the law and section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors act of 1861 (the bit that was not repealed in the criminal law act of 1967) means you are also likely to be charged
because you shared his counsel and you didn’t stop him, or didn’t alert anyone else.
It is a difficult case to prove- The actual law states: “Whosoever shall aid, abet, counsel, or procure the commission of any indictable offence, whether the same be an offence at common law or by virtue of any Act passed or to be passed, shall be liable to be tried, indicted, and punished as a principal offender.”
So if I am a good lawyer, you are also guilty of murder
this is actually a development of the old ancient roman law that would hold all my slaves responsible for my death- if you didn’t stop the assassin, then you effectively enabled him, and tomorrow morning, you would all be crucified in the gardens of your respective houses. So sorry about that.
Let’s just check the details of the modern law:
What constitutes abetting can be complex. It can be anything from presence at the scene of the crime to encouragement. After a 1971 case, merely being present at the crime, however is not enough (Clarkson) but being in a crowd can abet an offender (1951: Wilcox vs Jeffrey)
Now, the 1951 case established some guidelines- you can also abet by omission if 3 conditions are present-
- you have knowledge of the actions of the murderer
- you have a duty or the right to control the murderer
- you deliberately do nothing.
Now I think your teacher has a position of authority in the school and as you, Will are a pupil in the school, we could make a convincing case to a jury that you are not guilty of abetting- because you do not have the right to control or to stop the teacher without risking an early morning detention-
So now we have had the pleasure of that salacious and purely hypothetical spectacle, let’s apply the idea to God.
Because if God knows everything, he knows about the evil that will happen, he knows about my murder. God is either the accomplice to the teacher or he’s an enabler. Either way, he should be charged and held to account for his failure to take action to stop it. God may be a good God, but if I am murdered, he has been an accomplice to a crime and he should go to gaol. Stephen Fry, formerly of Fircroft house would now be very proud of us for reaching the conclusion that, if God exists (which Mr Fry believes is seriously in question), then he is a criminal.
This is a way to embellish and flesh out the ideas in the Problem of evil. We should not rely solely on the text book to give us the answers to these issues. We also have to use our common sense and our own specific interests.”
I also sketched in very quickly the background to Plato’s theory of forms, with reference to Parmenides and Heraclitus.
This was really an excuse to bring Philosophy down a level and point out that the central idea of Heraclitus, “You can’t step in the same river twice”, is quoted at the beginning of the Disney film “Pocahontas”. Here is a link to a youtube version! When we stop to think that this central plank in Western Philosophy is passed off as entertainment for 6 year olds, then we get things into perspective.
One thought on “Uppingham and the problem of evil”
You come across very compelling. I wonder if I could counter with one or two questions?