XV. The Problem of Good and Evil

If God exists, and he created everything, then that means he created Evil. The Bible, if you believe it to be the word of God, even backs this up: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7). If God does exist and he created the Universe, then he had the chance to NOT include evil, but did it anyway. Therefore he also created the painful life and death struggle that all species on planet Earth have to suffer through. Ouch. Real douche-bag move there, God. Most religious people make themselves feel better about all of this by claiming that, if we do the things that the ancient Holy books tell us to and suffer through this life, we will be rewarded by God with something much better in the Hereafter. Again, great system you came up with there, Big Guy.

This is just one of the many reasons that I don’t believe in God. He Himself cannot be moral and the books written in His name teach horrible lessons on morality, even condoning and commanding actions of pure evil…but that’s only if you consider murder, torture, stealing, plundering, rape and animal cruelty evil.

The fact is that we pretty much all consider those acts Evil. Humans have a common knowledge and culture of morality that has been evolving for thousands of years and is continuing to evolve even now and will continue to do so in the future. It all basically comes down to suffering. We each know from our own experience that suffering, whether mental or physical, is painful and an unpleasant experience. We consider people who intentionally cause suffering on other conscious creatures to be Evil, and those acts of caused suffering to be Evil acts. It is a perplexing and unfortunate fact that this morality, at least in humans, can be extremely flexible depending on the situation and the circumstances. Scientists have shown in highly publicized research studies that good people will do evil things given the influences of authority and peer pressure. We have seen this countless times outside of the lab though, not only in men like Hitler, but in the good men under his regime who somehow committed horrible atrocities, or the millions of people in the world who choose to rob, oppress, or kill to survive on a daily basis.

But nonetheless, our sense of morality and ethics is improving. Less than two hundred years ago slave labor was perfectly acceptable to most people. Less than a hundred years ago, it was perfectly moral to treat the decedents of these slaves with cruel oppression. Less than 50 years ago, it was perfectly natural to regard women as being inferior to men. We are learning. Statistics even show that the body count of wars has been on a steady decline for a long time, although wars still rage on and our weapons are becoming even more deadly by the minute. We are getting better, but we have a long way to go. Why is it so hard and a constant struggle to be Good? What is this temptation and proclivity that we all have towards evil thoughts and deeds? Where does Evil come from?

I present 5 general sources of “evil”:

1) Faulty Wiring. Due to either genetic predisposition or physical trauma in life, sometimes brains go haywire and make people do crazy, violent things. Sometimes even the stress of life itself can trigger psychotic behavior in otherwise functioning adults. Flawed thinking also comes into play here, where a person’s thoughts can become so distorted that they see evil acts as rational and justified.

2) Basic Instinct. We developed the instincts of being territorial, violent, aggressive and wary, and these instincts have helped us to survive up to the present moment. But unfortunately these instincts can be overemphasized or counterproductive in far too many situations. The bottom line is that we have developed and evolved in a world of scarce resources. This is THE basic reason for all wars, struggles and conflicts. This mentality presents itself through beliefs like “this is MINE, not yours, because I need it to survive.” “ME and MY people are the same. You are different.”  “This is OUR land, not yours.” “MY god is better than your god, or MY god is the ONLY god.” These beliefs lead to acts of evil committed by people who are just trying to survive in a world they perceive to be “us against them”.

3) Childhood. Let’s face it. All parents screw up their kids in some way. Most parents try to do the right things, but many parents lack the knowledge or resources to care for their children responsibly. What’s worse is that some parents simply don’t care. What’s evil is that some parents intentionally abuse their children, both physically and emotionally (almost always continuing the cycle of abuse inherited from their parents). Abuse or lack of proper care in childhood has created some of the world’s most evil people, and has made the lives of many more completely miserable.

4) Peer Pressure. Never underestimate the power of the mob, authority figures, propaganda or your friends to convince people to do evil things. Of course the ones doing the pressuring were either pressured themselves or flawed in their thinking, perhaps from the negative influences of faulty wiring, childhood or religion, for example.

5) Desperate Times. They call for desperate measures. Millions and millions of people all over the world feel that they are forced to steal and murder just to feed and protect their families. Would you kill to keep your family safe? Does that make you an evil person, or is the system that causes and contributes to these acts of desperation itself flawed or evil? I believe the responsibility falls on both the individual and the social constructs.

If my claim is that immoral and evil acts all basically materialize based on flawed thinking, you have probably guessed that I do not believe that there is such a thing as “Absolute Evil”, nor do I believe that Evil is the result of the misunderstood fictional character of “Satan”, nor do I believe that any “God” has anything to do with it.

But if I don’t believe in Absolute Evil, how can I believe in Absolute Good? Well, I don’t believe in either. Such notions are impossible. Morality simply cannot be imposed from an outside source or from the top down. Trickle-down Economics didn’t work, and neither does “Trickle-down Ethics”.

Humans  just do what they do and we ascribe these labels of Good and Evil to them. But if we are asking questions about how to best treat each other and what we should be doing with our lives, and if Evil is the intentional application of suffering, then I propose that ideas of “Good” should be based on minimizing suffering and maximizing happiness and thriving. This could be done, I propose, by working to eliminate the 5 sources of evil that I mentioned earlier through education and dialogue. Now of course one person’s happiness can directly cause another person’s suffering, so what in the hell do we do with that? The fact is, this is an extremely complicated problem, which is why I reject religion and its harmful and simplistic notions of morality. As a Humanist, I believe that we CAN work together to figure this out, but I don’t see how we can do that if people are still killing, condemning and judging each other in the name of imaginary Gods.

Prev: What Happens When You Die?                                          Next: There Is No Spoon

~ by christhehumanist on February 4, 2012.

17 Responses to “XV. The Problem of Good and Evil”

  1. “As a psychologist, I learned early in my career that clients can never heal unless the spiritual nature is addressed wholeheartedly in psychotherapy. Traditional psychotherapies, lacking the inclusion of Spirit, simply slap on a band-aid without addressing the true origin of the wound. The Soul is the ultimate Healer of life’s traumas…not the Mind or the Ego. The mind spends tales of intellectual mumbo-jumbo to keep us confused. The Ego digs its tentacles into the whims of the personality to defend its territory. Further, tracing all our traumas back to Mama and Daddy who defiled our childhoods with their ignorance and stupidity is NOT the answer either. As in my own case, my trauma began with a god who did not exist and with false and deceptive doctrines supporting that delusion. Our woundedness goes much deeper than our minds and personalities. Those are just the vehicles of misguided information that get us to our core injustices. We need to reverse the process. Our Soul Source is the instrument that heals the mind and personality….not the other way around. The chitter-chatter of the mind and shallow personality synthesis act as deflectors to keep our attention off the Psyche/Soul/Spirit altar where our sacredness sits as the holy grail” ……….. From “Orphaned By God” by Michelle Mills

  2. you make this so hard ……..


    so, throw out the Bible and the church and, and, and ……..anything else that gives you discomfort and keep what’s left

    a Higher Power will connect with you ….. if you let it…..

    no name for he/she or it ……. just the gut knowing that you are on
    a fantastic journey …. with no holds barred ……that never ends ……..
    take it or leave it ….. and be as happy as you can be with what you
    have left …….

    you never answered my questions about why you are doing this (in the context of my questions ) … why?


    • Lois, you know that I respect you and your beliefs, but I do not believe in a higher power. I believe in the power of humanity to be great without a higher power. As to why I am writing, I don’t know how many times or in how many ways I can possibly say it. Hear me now…humanity is in trouble. Our species WILL become extinct if we don’t change. The things that i speak against in this blog are directly contributing to our decline. Maybe I’m crazy, but I would like humanity to keep going even after I’m gone, because I think we are a pretty cool biological phenomenon and I would like us to keep evolving. I think it would be a shame if we died out now, though if we did, likely another species would take our place. I’m just for keeping the game going as long as possible. What’s wrong with that?

  3. I find nothing wrong with wanting the species to progress but I am hard put to see why and for what purpose if we are not part of a bigger plan and a continuing future. If we die and that is it …. what REAL difference does that make to me and my children and the future of the planet?

    and do you suppose that if you actually shift everyone to your viewpoint that it will make them happy and change how they interact ….. that integrety will return to the land, that all evil will be no more?

    we have evolved …. like here in the States ….. progress has been ongoing forever and if you take our nation as an example, it is evolving with awesome space journeys and wealth for the few and health cures and and and ………………
    and in theft in high places, murder, loss of ethics, a growing racism and war on the poor ….. loss of integrity in high and low places …. poisoned waters from a greed for oil……disrespect for Mother Nature, and survival of the fitest…. actually the world of today should welcome your philosophy ….that would certainly end all of the above for individual lives if not for the future generations.

    I think one might consider that the opposite of progress is regress
    and this nation could flip over to the other side very easily now.

    How many of us do you reckon would live more fruitful lives and find happiness in the world embracing your message and how many would fall into the “devel may care” attitude of folkes who feel disengranchized already? That train of thought has already invaded our land ….”.what the hell … do what you please ….chuck it … who cares ….what the hell you live a few years and you die ….with no consequences to you …….. yahoo …. let’s party.

    you have given your reasons why we are in trouble …. I hope we have an article on how to improve, who to look to, how to begin, what you would call the leaders of this new “religion” …… yeah babe ….. if anyone does and many have tried it is another form of religion with a different name.

    okay ….I wll be quiet now …….. just sayin …….

    • Lois, all good points. To respond, I don’t believe in a “bigger plan” that anyone other than us has come up with. I believe that we are making the plan up as we go. This blog is a criticism of what I perceive to be the harmful and incorrect parts of the current plan, and towards the end of this 21 part series, I will present my suggestion for an alternative plan for humanity’s future.

      I really don’t believe that changing the world makes any “difference”, if by that you mean a significant difference that any deity or higher power or the Universe as a whole would be concerned about. Again, I just think, given the choice, I would rather help our species survive and thrive in happiness and knowledge, as opposed to living in suffering and facing extinction.

      To answer your next question, yes, I do believe that the plan that I will be suggesting will have the potential to change the way people interact and begin to rid the world of evil and spread happiness. That’s why I’m staking my public reputation on this.

      Yes society has improved over time and has become very dysfunctional in some ways too. You mentioned space exploration…NASA is loosing funding to explore space, which is crucial to the survival of our species, and yet we are spending Trillions of dollars on a Holy War. More government spending goes towards inventing more efficient ways of killing people than is spent on cancer research. We even cut government funding for stem cell research because some Christians believe that souls can live on petri dishes. Give me a break, America!

      You bring up an excellent point about apathy, which I will be addressing in an upcoming post, I promise. And I will also be giving suggestions on how to improve, who to look to and how to begin. I will also give an alternative idea for leadership. But my ideas cannot, by definition, be a religion. Religion is about humanity’s relationship with the supernatural. I don’t believe in the supernatural anything. Just the plain ol’ natural. And I realize many have tried and many have failed and some have succeeded. I really believe in my ideas and I think they can work. I know they can’t hurt. Please keep reading and commenting. Cheers.

  4. then why do we have to go through this drawn out process of blame peppered with facts some of which are questionable to me and some we already know …… cut to the chase and get this show on the road …. the repitition is killing me …….

    have a good day …. xoxox

    • Lois,
      Tough criticism, but fair. I could have put all of my ideas into one blog post, or a few. But I would not have had the chance to fully describe the details of my arguments. You would have had more questions that I could possibly provide answers in the space allotted. I also wanted to put each piece out there one at a time for peer review, so the readers could have their questions fleshed out in the comments section. These comments also help me to design the upcoming posts. There may be some repetition and overlap, but each post has addressed an entirely separate issue, and I felt that each one has been important enough on its own to discuss. That’s why I just can’t “cut to the chase.” Remember, you have very advanced beliefs compared to many people who may read this blog, and I am speaking to them too. I refer you to blog post VII: “The Big Picture”.

      Finally, I am writing these posts in the order that I discovered these truths, and that journey has taken decades. All I’m asking is for 21 posts, and we’re on 16. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. Thank you.

      Have a great week!

  5. a dictionary definition of fanatisism: “false fire of an overheated mind”
    (William Cowper)

    • Lois, the most common definition I could find was “Fanaticism is a belief or behavior involving uncritical zeal, particularly for an extreme religious or political cause or in some cases sports, or with an obsessive enthusiasm for a pastime or hobby.” If you are insinuating that I am a fanatic (please tell me if that’s not what you meant), then I would reject that based on the “uncritical” part. I have critically looked at the evidence and arguments for and against the ideas I have presented, and I simply stand behind my findings. I suppose I could agree with “obsessive enthusiasm” for this particular hobby of blogging. I do blog quite frequently and I spend long hours thinking about these things.

  6. I see a fanatical bend in you that won’t be happy until we all think like you do ……and that is just another superior way to say if we don’t we are going to hell or that we are stupid, not unlike some church doctrine I have read.
    I understand that is not what you would be saying but that a lot of folkes would interpret it according to their own prejudice… even as I do.

    By the way … what are your thoughts on ignorant or malicious actions … how would your philosophy dispose of them.

    You might want to change your tactics a bit ….. we already know you have a good head on your shoulders and are smart …. maybe not wise yet …. but smart….. the quotes and pictures are interesting but are still just someone elses opinion …. what you say cannot be proved any more than mine can …. so tell me …..what is really going on with you?

    (keep in mind that the proof of scientific offernings has been blown out of the water many, many times when new light is shed on an old belief. Maybe as many times and ways as the organized church is guilty of )

    I know what you are saying ….but I tend to put more stock into my little grandmother, long gone, died when she was one hundred ….she heard about the man who landed on the moon, she died not believing that to be true, said it was a government plot to scare us ….so that shocking news did not change her mind or life one whit and in essense her earth was still “flat” when she died…..(metaphorically) ..but she was a hard working farm woman who gave love and nurtured anyone who needed it , she reared seven children and benefitted the world she lived in ……. so who really cares what she chose to believe about God in specific terms …. she just let Him llve in her.

    p.s. as far as I know she never set foot in a church. As far as I know she simply spent 100 years traveling on her gut feellings and that is what I call God ….. an inner knowing for her particular life ….. God incarnate.

    okay, now I am ready for your “yes but” …. so fire away….. do not discount or “yes but” Harriet Elizabeth Trimmer for living her life wisely but not like you would have done …….

    I will also add that if she were to meet you or read your words she would likely say it was a government plot to mess with our minds….:>)

    • Okay, Lois….here go my “yes, buts!” hahaha

      It’s not that I won’t be happy until everyone thinks like I do. I won’t be satisfied until everyone is happy and thriving. That’s it. That’s all I want, for us to not kill ourselves over religion or ideology, to keep exploring the Universe, and to get everyone to the point where they can live a happy, healthy life. If people interpret me as saying the equivalent of “you’ll go to hell if you don’t believe this”, then they have not been reading carefully and for comprehension. I don’t doubt it. Education is a big problem that I am going to be addressing after this initial series is over.

      My thoughts on ignorant and malicious actions are as follows: remove the reasons these ignorant and malicious ideas got started…namely, the five sources of evil that I wrote about in this post. I think it is more efficient to stop treating the symptom and eradicate the cause. For instance, if you want to diminish theft, work towards diminishing poverty. More about all this later.

      As for my tactics, this is a blog and this is what blogs do. I try to pick pictures, videos and quotes that express my ideas in a neat way, or ones that paint a cool story, like the Morality blog with the Fall of Adam and Eve. I love that picture, and the humans’ expressions say SO much.

      Thank you for saying I’m smart, but wisdom is defined as “having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment”. I guess I’ll leave that up to the reader.

      When you say “what you say cannot be proved any more than mine can”, I disagree. Most of the things that I have talked about in this blog HAVE been proven. The things that I can’t prove wrong and you can’t prove right have a significant amount of doubt cast on them based on observation of how the Universe works. For instance, you believe in a higher power. I don’t. I cannot prove that there is no higher power, but you cannot prove that there is. However, if the Universe was designed by a Higher Power, that brings up a problem of who created the creator, and why it created the Universe. Also, if this Higher Power is so wise, why did it do such an inefficient job of designing the Universe and the way that Truth is revealed by it? It just doesn’t make logical sense. My version of what’s going on here in the Universe is more plausible and backed up by science. We can still debate it, and should, but it’s the best story we’ve got going. This story is what my next post will be about.

      Yes, science has changed over time. It was designed that way. We scientists go with the best evidence available at the time. As we get better evidence, we get closer to the truth. Sometimes we have to refute earlier claims that we have made. That is okay. We acknowledge that we were doing the best we could at the time, and so we surrender to new truth. Religion, though it has evolved over the millennia, is guilty of rarely changing its doctrines, and when it finally does, it does so begrudgingly.

      Thank you for sharing the story of your grandmother. I’m sure I would have enjoyed her conversation too. I will speak no ill towards her. But we did go to the moon. And this is not a government conspiracy. Or is it….? (It’s not.)

  7. I will be soooooo glad when you get to the “how” to cure all of these gross errors in religious thought … a first time ever idea on how to “fix” entrained prejudices, desperate, dying ignorant humanity whose hungry belllies will accept or deny anything and everything ……..what has to be “fixed” before your theory can take hold?

    have you read the Gnostic Gospels the Nag Hammadi Schriptures .??
    Elain Pagel explains your distrust on religion vs Spirituality …….makes a solid case against religion and for spirituality ……many believers in the self as the portal to a Higher Power do in fact make a good case for it….

    will your case entail the changing of the hearts and minds of all who disagree with you ….belly up to the bar …. I really want to know how you plan to do that ……especaily for those of us who enjoy an argument and are as committed to their own experiences as you are..

    my grandmother was pretty typical of the women of her day and time …..no big deal …. ignorance can be bliss if truth is hard to swallow I think it is called denial ….her world was small, but at least it was a benign one …..but know it or not .. there was as much by way of every element of what we have in today’s society, then, as there is now …….more people …larger output, more scarey, but in essence the same.

    good book for you ….. “Embracing Mind” ….(common ground of science and spirituality) by B,Alan Wallace.

    I love what you want for the world ….. I love the idea of it …..I love you
    but not more than my own Truth ….. oxoxo to you.

    • I’m glad you’re looking forward to the conclusion of this first series, Lois. I’m excited (and impatient) too. But that will really just be the beginning.

      I have read much of the Gnostic Gospels. I suggest that anyone interested in the story of Jesus should read them. Nonetheless, I still see them as documentation of the belief in a man who was not the Son of God, as most believe. I like what Pagels and Wallace have to say. I will be presenting some new thoughts on spirituality in one of the upcoming posts.

      Thanks for hanging in there with me.

  8. Hi, Chris,

    I am enjoying the conversation and have posted on several of your blogs recently. Thanks for the opportunity.

    On this one:

    You write that you are working to eradicate religion because you fear for the survival of the human race. You want humans to continue to evolve and thrive. That may or may not be admirable depending on one’s perspective.

    From the standpoint of evolution, I can see no moral imperative to prevent our self-destruction.

    Is it possible that our evolutionary development to the point of annihilating the entire human species is actually what evolution has designed us to do? It is quite often that species’ become extinct merely because they are no longer viable. They have out-lived their usefulness in the evolutionary chain. What if evolution has determined that nature no longer wishes to support an over-populated, over-consumptive species and has programmed us to terminate our collective existence? Why would we try to prevent our extinction any more than we would try to prevent salmon from dying off after spawning?

    Further, might not evolution pre-destine a species that has caused the extinction of so many other species to become extinct itself? After all, doesn’t every other species have an equal right to it’s space on this planet as we? Why should we survive? What if we are nature’s way of bringing an end to this edition of the Cambrian explosion? Wouldn’t a general nuclear immolation give the planet a way to begin in a brand new way just as the end of the dinosaurs allowed the rise of mammals and birds? What if evolution is preparing earth for a leap into another unimaginably wonderful new age? Whether or not any species arises with consciousness like ours is just the luck of the genetic draw and may not be what nature wants again anyway. It hasn’t apparently turned out so good this time around, the world being so bad and all.

    Lastly, what if our self-destruction is nature’s way if ridding the earth of evil? Humans are apparently the only species afflicted with this particular defective gene and ridding the world of the human race would eliminate that particular affliction.

    So, from that point of view, if it hinders evolution from taking its natural course, what if your attempt to make the human species more moral is actually evil?

    • Thank you Carson. I am definitely enjoying this too. I hope that other people out there are getting something out of this as well.

      You are right, from the standpoint of evolution, or anything in the Universe for that matter, there is no moral imperative to prevent our self-destruction. I simply see 2 choices: either let humanity destroy itself or try to help develop humanity so that it can survive and live sustainably. I could flip a coin, but I personally just think we should try to keep humanity going. Just an opinion. I hope I am not alone with this opinion.

      I feel the need to clear up a couple of popular misconceptions about evolution. Evolution does NOT design anything. There is no such thing as pre-destined species. Evolution is a process, not a conscious decision. Just like with my argument against God, if evolution IS, in fact, designing things, although it has produced many incredible things, it is utterly and extremely inefficient in many ways and would be a piss-poor designer if that were the case. Nature is not planning or programming anything, nor does it want or prepare for anything. There is no such thing as the “usefulness” of a particular species; species just evolve slowly over time due to random mutations of genes. New genes that work with what is already going on in the world tend to survive, and those that cause an animal to be less suited to their environment usually cause the animal to be less reproductively successful in passing these genes to its offspring. The species that do survive then compete for limited resources. If one species dies out, another species usually evolves and fills this resource niche, until it is replaced down the road.

      By the way, CO2-consuming plants are responsible for one of the biggest mass extinctions 2.4 billion years ago when they first released oxygen into the atmosphere, and they were not kicked off the planet by a divine force or evolution. And most extinctions have occurred due to climate change, geologic change, and objects from space.

      And again, I do not believe in absolute good or evil. Those are just labels we put on things. Evil is not due to a “defective gene”, unless you are talking about genetic-based disorders in the brain that cause people to do bad things. But some animals commit incest, eat their young, and murder their own kind for power, for instance, all of which we would call evil, so we are not the only species who does things that we would label evil.

  9. Yes Chris,

    I understand from an evolutionary point of view there is no such thing as destiny or design. These are useful terms to describe the process of evolution as it “picks” and “chooses” from among the species to survive and thrive or perish. By “defective gene,” I meant a particular weakness that tends toward our demise.

    We generally think of evolution as making progress to higher and higher life forms. But, evolution is just change and adaptation to the environment. Within evolution, there is also destruction and extermination.

    So, if a human trait like morality is the result of evolution, as you say, then so are hatred, anger, war, and our willingness to engage in mutual annihilation to the point of extinction. In other words, we may think we can keep our species from self-destruction, but we may be helpless to prevent it. World War II may have been the precursor to our end: the mass genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and others; the development of nuclear weapons; the development of rocket propulsion systems with their capacity to carry nuclear weapons globally; jet engines and universal air travel that makes world-wide spread of diseases possible; the rise of superbugs due to the overuse of anti-biotics (penicillin was first widely used during Word War II); and so forth. Finally our creation of increasingly intelligent computers, genetic engineering, cloning, and other “advances” have the potential to finish us off.

    So, if religion turns out to be the thing that causes the great human die-a-thon, as you fear, that, too, will be evolutionary. Because every human trait (ergo religion) is the result of evolution. So, “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (Isaiah 22.13).

    • Thanks Carson. I figured that’s what you meant, but many people have misconceptions about evolution, so I thought I would include that discussion for their sake.

      You make many good points about the uncertain future of humanity. And if all life is the result of evolution, and if the mental processes that undermine our survival are the result of evolution, then our extinction would indeed be a “natural” process. But if I believe that there is no grand plan and design to the Universe, then I have no allegiance to the natural laws and feel no need to surrender to them. To clarify, I DO believe that living by and working with the natural laws of our Universe is beneficial to our species and our happiness, but I do not view them as commandments or as being dictated by a God. I do not see any need to stop working towards the survival of humanity just because evolution has resulted in thought processing that can, at times, be detrimental to that survival. Natural laws dictate that if we don’t eat, we die. So every time we put food in our mouths, we are acting in direct defiance of our own inevitable destruction. I view life as a game where the outcome doesn’t really matter. I just want our species to be able to play as long as possible, so I have made it my life’s work to help with that.

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