The Problem of Evil


Is there a “Problem of Evil” when there is no God? i.e. Is there evil in the world? Can any act be said to be evil, the concept being completely subjective? Do people who do evil agree that they are doing evil? Why then do they do it? What does evil mean?

David Hume, the eighteenth century British philosopher, attributing it to Epicurus, stated the logical problem of evil in the following inquiry about God?

Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?

How do you measure evil?

If free will is an illusion then so is evil. They are both the result of natural process in the individual experience. See God Determines





10 responses to “The Problem of Evil”

  1. In a review of the book, “The Ethical Brain” by M.S. Gazzaniga, Dana Press entitled “Brain-Based Values” which appeared in American Scientist p.356 July-August 2005, Patricia S. Churchland writes:

    Gazzaniga, like many a philosopher, realizes that it would make a mockery of the criminal justice system if the accused could escape punishment simply by pleading that the brain is a causal machine and hence he or she lacked free will. So when and how ought we to hold people responsible for their behavior?

  2. observer

    Another quote from the same Churchland article is:

    “From the time of Socrates to the present, people have sought to give a natural basis for morals—that is, to understand how a moral statement about what ought to be done can rest on hard facts, albeit facts about conditions for civility and peace in social groups. How can ethical claims be more than mere conventions? How can such claims be rooted in facts about human nature but have the logical force of a command?”

  3. In a review of the book, “The Ethical Brain” by M.S. Gazzaniga, Dana Press entitled “Brain-Based Values” which appeared in American Scientist p.356 July-August 2005, Patricia S. Churchland also writes:

    The most fundamental neuroethical issue is free will and responsibility. The mind is what the brain does, and the brain is a causal machine. Consequently, deliberations, beliefs, decisions and ensuing behavior are the outcome of causal processes. Typically, the causal processes leading to awareness of a decision are nonconscious. The “user illusion,” nevertheless, is that a decision is created independently of neuronal causes, by one’s very own “act of will.”

  4. Seems to me that the goal behind prison is (or should be) reform: fixing the mechanical brain such that it is compatible with society.

    Claiming, “my brain is broken, it’s not my fault” begets a response, “Well fine, let’s fix your brain.”

  5. How about a democratically agreed upon social contract.

    Obviously there are all sorts of problems with it such as representation for the minorities.

    It seems like beyond that the issue we face in todays democracies are issues of people not making time to participate and that there is no solid platform for open minded debate.

    An ideal democracy may yield a solid social contract. My question is: is it possible to produce a democracy based on informed and active participation or is so out of step with human nature that we will always be destined to be ruled?

    What is an ideal democracy? It’s not 100% clear in my head.

  6. @designisinfo
    Whoo! Would you have people who are convicted of crimes be sentenced to ‘brain alteration’?

    In the Soviet Union – a regime of despotism – dissidents were imprisoned and sentenced to psychiatric rehabilitation on the grounds that their resentment of the regime proved them mentally impaired.

    I can imagine enormous abuse with such a penal system.

    In some sense crime is a chemical problem with no conceivable satisfactory chemical solution.

  7. Ha! So literal.

    I’m not literally proposing brain alteration. I’m suggesting that “Correctional Facilities” (prisons) are designed to be correctional in nature.

    Through out history and even today, there has always been debate and confusion about the purpose of prison. There are those that posit that it is a place for retribution, and others that look to it as a place for education and social integration.

    When I wrote “fix the mechanical brain” I really was referring to education and social integration.

    Of course this concept of social integration can be and always has been abused. I don’t pretend to know how to avoid that abuse. But then any aspect of civil society has been and will be abused. Even the most well intentioned rules can be subverted.

  8. I expect there are incorrectibles: people who are dangerous to society and must be removed but are too damaged to be corrected.

    How is ethical behavior to be rooted if there is no religion? The church offers absolute morality and free will to choose. But science says nothing about morality and that there is no free will – you are a product of your genetics and your environment.

  9. charris

    I thought I might add, the Hume quote is also very similar to one made by Epicurus.

    1. Hume is responsible for making Epicurus’ “Problem of Evil” widely known. I believe he credited Epicurus for it.