Does “Evil” Exist?

On a couple of blogs I visit, there has been extensive discussion on the word “evil” and whether or not it played a role in the recent school shooting.

On one of these blogs, the owner asked where the idea of good or evil comes from. Although I knew the answer he was looking for, I decided to do a little research. Following are some of the things I learned.

For many, the concepts of “good and evil” are essentially moral standards derived from the bible. As one source put it, “… it is His holiness that defines it” (evil). Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland noted that “Evil is a lack of goodness” (i.e., Godliness). Moreover, the bible says God is love (1 John 4:8); thus, one would assume the absence of love in a person is un-God-like — and therefore “evil.” Simply put, to the Christian, the word “evil” is associated with morality and ethics (i.e., whether something is “right” or “wrong”) and this is determined by bible teachings.

Probably the most defining concept of evil is related to the belief in Satan, who many see as the epitome of evil.  Consequently, if we take the word evil literally, it means the work of Satan (or the dEvil). As one source put it, “Those who practice evil are in Satan’s trap and are slaves to sin.”

Some who use the term ‘evil’ are implying that evildoers are “possessed, inhuman, or incorrigible.” This is unfortunate because when the word is misapplied, used perniciously, or used without sensitivity, it can be harmful … even dangerous.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the concept of evil should be abandoned because it has a negative effect on human potential and vitality and contributes to an unhealthy view of life. Other philosophers feel the concept involves  unwarranted metaphysical commitments to dark spirits and the supernatural.

Interestingly, the word “evil” is not defined the same in every faith:

  • To the Bahá’í, evil is a concept for lack of good (e.g., cold is the state of no heat, darkness is the state of no light, forgetfulness the lacking of memory, ignorance the lacking of knowledge, etc.).
  • To the ancient Egyptians, it was simply a lack of order.
  • To the Buddhist,  evil means whatever harms or obstructs the causes for happiness in this life.
  • In the Islamic Faith, things that are perceived as evil or bad are either natural events (natural disasters or illnesses) or caused by humanity’s free will.
  • In Judaism, evil is not real since it is not intrinsically part of God’s creation.

Hence, the next time someone asks you if a particular act was “evil,” your best response might be … “It depends.” 🙂

One final thought (from the study I reference below):

The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

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For anyone interested, further information on the topic of evil (from an academic perspective) can be found here.

36 thoughts on “Does “Evil” Exist?

  1. I’ve always had strong feelings about this word, Nan and I refuse to use it. Even when I was a churchgoer, I didn’t use it. Neither did the church I belonged to (nor did any of our ministers use the term ‘Hell’ very often). I am in full agreement with Nietzsche. I think each of us is capable a range of behaviours, and it depends on our circumstances. Unfortunately, for many people their choices as to whether or not to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are dependent upon their circumstances. I can think of many situations where I might not behave in an acceptable manner if I was faced with many of the limitations others experience. As you might have noticed, I don’t do well arguing with those who insist on labelling people evil. To me, it is virtue signalling.

    Liked by 7 people

    • You’ve been much more active on the blogs the past few days. Love it! Your zingers are unmatched. 🙂

      Yes, I think Nietzsche is right on. I also felt the final quote in my post was quite good. Fortunately, the one who argues from a place of nonsense is unable to comment, so perhaps we’ll have a good discussion on the subject. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • I’ve been doing a quilting project so I prop the ipad right next to me. . . Usually I’m tramping around the house and not stationary! Don’t worry, he’ll soon be banned at Dani’s spot, too. She will only be able to stand his incessant insults for so long. He’s blathering at the mouth while he gets an unfettered lead. .. he probably knows he’s not long for that blog, either.
        Yes, another good quote at the end. And then there’s that pesky fact that Satan killed less people in the Bible than Yahweh. .. . So who’s the ‘less evil’??

        Liked by 3 people

    • I completely agree, Carmen. When I get into debates with people who insist that evil actually exists, I ask them this question: “If human beings had never existed on this earth, would evil still exist?” The typical answer is: “No, but…” There are no buts about it. Evil does not exist outside of the human construct.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Are brain dysfunctions ‘evil’? Are droughts? Is cancer, or Parkinsons? Where does ‘evil’ reside?

    The apologist loads the word with so many religious presuppositions (nonsesne that can’t be defended) that it quickly becomes pointless even talking them about the broader (more accurate, tangible) subject of right and wrong.

    Liked by 5 people

    • John, I REALLY like your questions and perspective on the subject of “evil.” It certainly seems that when the mainstream public (particularly Christians) define evil, everything that we humans perceive as bad, negative, harmful, lethal, unjust, et al, are labelled “evil,” the works of Satan. Yet, when sufficient time has allowed science or the improved understanding of Nature to take place, the perceived evil turns into something quite manageable or to be cured or harnessed!!!

      And regarding human-to-human behavior, as Nan pointed out, it truly does “depend“!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. There are some people in society who seem to lack empathy. Call them sociopaths maybe. It tends be such people who can (but not necessarily do) act in a way that we might see as evil.

    But many of the atrocities of history seem to have committed by people who were from all accounts fairly normal. Robert McNamara who was instrumental in General LeMay’s saturation bombing of Japanese cities in World War Two reflected that if the US lost the war they would probably have been considered war criminals.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Evil is defined as anything “harmful, injurious, characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering; unfortunate, disastrous, marked by anger, irritability, irascibility, etc. “He is known for his evil disposition, or that which is evil” -intention, or conduct that causes harm. Sounds like “if” there was a creator this would be him.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I got into a long discussion/correction about this topic “evil” or “right and wrong” following the Stoneman Douglas H.S. massacre over on the “Pastor-Apologist’s” blog. He tried to reduce the entire incident to Evil and went WAY OVERBOARD in asserting it exists in the entire world, i.e. all the same from the same source! In trying to explain to him/Pastor that there are MANY complexities into explaining the atrocities, the whys and the causes to Douglas H.S. and America’s (not the world’s as he postulated) mass-shootings epidemic — currently average massacres every 64 days now — he refused to acknowledge anything other than ONE SOURCE: Satan and humanity’s choice to follow Satan. 😮

    I tried, but it all fell of naive eyes or deaf ears. (Smh) 😞 Meanwhile, while America doesn’t address the specific circumstances and many complex causes — stupidly offering “prayers” and vigils or philosophical debates about right-n-wrong, good vs evil, that rising trend of every 64-days goes to every 54-days, or 34-days while they continue praying and having philosophical debates. Unbelievable! We better start making crats of body-bags to store at school campuses, night clubs, HELL… even churches too across America!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I believe the concept of evil to be real … as a conception of human minds. Objectively through, one (meaning me) cannot find a clean dividing line between “evil” and just “bad.” I do not mind the use of the term but draw the line when people start talking about the source of evil as if it were created by natural forces or supernatural beings. Humans (meaning us) are always looking for others to blame, but if evil deeds are committed they come from within us … and I do not mean parasites, either real or supernatural.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Objectively through, one (meaning me) cannot find a clean dividing line between “evil” and just “bad.”

    IMHO, the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ boils down to intent — i.e., ‘bad’ describes harm due to carelessness, whereas ‘evil’ describes harm due to malice aforethought.

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  8. I tend to think of it like this. You can do something stupid, doesn’t mean you are stupid. Well some people are stupid though. I don’t think anyone is evil. Alright I’m flopping back, just like some people are stupid, some people are evil, but I don’t think that evil is some supernatural embodiment of evil. If the results of their actions cause great and needless harm, then sure I can say that person is evil. The way their mind works will cause them to continue to do acts of evil, and so they are evil. But one’s evil acts are consequence of biology (both their genetic nature, and the environment that impacted the development of their brain). This would be true for someone we might say as stupid. Someone who is evil may simply have a warped notion of what is good. So where did they get such a notion? Perhaps childhood trauma, perhaps a fucked up parent, perhaps both. I tend not to use the term evil, but as simply a word that might apply to the sum of a human’s actions, then I can say evil might be the best word. I don’t mind saying Hitler was evil, but given that it’s a biological problem and not a supernatural one, it’s conceivable that Hitler could have been made not evil through some sort of early intervention, or perhaps in the future we will have some sort of pill that impacts the relevant area of the brain. Very simply we don’t know everything about the brain, but we do know it is plastic, and so if someone is committing evil acts, it is in theory possible (if not now, sometime in the future) to fix that person.

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    • I tend not to use the term evil, but as simply a word that might apply to the sum of a human’s actions, then I can say evil might be the best word.

      I tend to think this is where we get into trouble. IS evil the best word? With all the religious connotations that accompany it, perhaps not.

      As humanists/atheists/non-believers, perhaps we should all try to find another word that describes actions that we find deplorable since “evil” has become so synonymous with morality. Perhaps despicable? Wretched? Vile?

      Liked by 2 people

      • You’re right…maybe not the best word…there are certainly others that fit. I guess all I meant is that we do use words frequently that originally had divine roots, but I think we’re smart enough to be able to separate the two. I still say bless you when someone sneezes. Certainly most people just take it as a polite thing to say rather than thinking that I am asking for divine blessings upon them, or asking for divine protection from the sneezing out their demons or whatever. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • Unfortunately, Wretched has already been appropriated by evangelical radio talk show host Todd Friel, who preaches the same heretical “Lordship Salvation” promoted by his former Way of the Master business partner Ray “The Banana Man” Comfort. (Him and Pastor Mel would have great fun denouncing each other’s hermenetical interpretations.)

        How about doubleplusungood? or is that too dystopian?

        Liked by 1 person

      • “Entropy” works for me.

        Not so much in the thermodynamics sense, but the Surakian which is “wasteful”. You can look at this on a universal scale, or a personal one, or anywhere between.

        For example, every time we do harm, willingly or not, we waste energy and potential. That is entropy.

        You could think of it as a science-y spin off from Zen Buddhism 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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