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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Satan personifies evil in Judeo-Christian doctrines.

Evil is defined as something that is immoral, causes pain or harm, is offensive, or threatening.[1] In many cultures evil is a broad term used to describe what are seen as subjectively harmful deeds that are labeled as such to steer moral support. Evil is usually contrasted with good. In some religions, evil is an active force, often personified as an entity such as Satan or Angra Mainyu.



The modern English word "evil" (Old English yfel) and its cognates such as the German Übel and the Dutch euvel are widely considered to come from a Proto-Germanic reconstructed form *ubilaz, comparable to the Hittite huwapp- ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European form *wap- and suffixed zero-grade form *up-elo-. Other later Germanic forms include Middle English evel, ifel, ufel, Old Frisian evel (adjective and noun), Old Saxon ubil, Old High German ubil, and Gothic ubils. The root meaning is of obscure origin though shown to be akin to modern English "over" and modern German über (OE ofer) and "up" (OE up, upp) with the basic idea of "transgressing".[2]

Philosophical definitions

Western philosophy

In Western philosophy, evil is usually limited to doing harm or damage to an object or creature. Socrates (in Plato's early work) argued that which we call evil is merely ignorance.

Some authors have divided evil into moral evil, or harms perpetrated by some agent; and natural evil, harms resulting from natural disasters, disease, or other agentless causes. Natural evil has particular import to theodicy, as it cannot be simply explained as the result of an agent's free will.


Benedict de Spinoza said that the difference between good and evil is merely one of personal inclinations: "So everyone, by the highest right of Nature, judges what is good and what is evil, considers his own advantage according to his own temperament... ."[3]

The duality of 'good versus evil' is expressed, in some form or another, by many cultures.[citation needed] Those who believe in the duality theory of evil believe that evil cannot exist without good, nor good without evil, as they are both objective states and opposite ends of the same scale.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung, in his book Answer to Job and elsewhere, depicted evil as the "dark side of God". People tend to believe evil is something external to them, because they project their shadow onto others. But from a psychological point of view to be evil is to refuse to acknowledge the weaknesses in one's own personality.[citation needed] Jung interpreted the story of Jesus as an account of God facing his own shadow.[4]

Philosophical quandaries about evil

Is evil universal?

A fundamental question is whether there is a universal, transcendent definition of evil, or whether evil is determined by one's social or cultural background. C. S. Lewis, in The Abolition of Man, maintained that there are certain acts that are universally considered evil, such as rape and murder. On the other hand, it is hard to find any act that was not acceptable in some society. Less than 150 years ago the United States of America, and many other countries practiced brutal forms of slavery. The Nazis, during World War II, found genocide acceptable, as did the Imperial Japanese Army with the Nanking Massacre and the Hutu Interhamwe in the Rwandan genocide.[5][6] Universalists consider evil independent of culture, and wholly related to acts or intents. Thus, while the ideological leaders of Nazism and the Hutu Interhamwe accepted (and considered it good) to commit genocide, the belief in genocide as "fundamentally" or "universally" evil holds that those who instigated this genocide are actually evil.

Views on the nature of evil tend to fall into one of four opposed camps:

  • Moral absolutism holds that good and evil are fixed concepts established by a deity or deities, nature, morality, common sense, or some other source.[citation needed]
  • Amoralism claims that good and evil are meaningless, that there is no moral ingredient in nature.
  • Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice.
  • Moral universalism is the attempt to find a compromise between the absolutist sense of morality, and the relativist view; universalism claims that morality is only flexible to a degree, and that what is truly good or evil can be determined by examining what is commonly considered to be evil amongst all humans. Author Sam Harris notes that universal morality can be understood using measurable (i.e. quantifiable) metrics of happiness and suffering, both physical and mental, rooted in how the biology of the brain processes stimuli.[7]

As Plato observed, there are relatively few ways to do good, but there are countless ways to do evil, which can therefore have a much greater impact on our lives, and the lives of other beings capable of suffering. For this reason, some philosophers (e.g. Bernard Gert) maintain that preventing evil is more important than promoting good in formulating moral rules and in conduct.[citation needed]

Is evil a useful term?

There is a school of thought that holds that no person is evil, that only acts may be properly considered evil. Psychologist and mediator Marshall Rosenberg claims that the root of violence is the very concept of "evil" or "badness." When we label someone as bad or evil, Rosenberg claims, it invokes the desire to punish or inflict pain. It also makes it easy for us to turn off our feelings towards the person we are harming. He cites the use of language in Nazi Germany as being a key to how the German people were able to do things to other human beings that they normally would not do. He links the concept of evil to our judicial system, which seeks to create justice via punishment—"punitive justice"—punishing acts that are seen as bad or wrong. He contrasts this approach with what he found in cultures where the idea of evil was non-existent. In such cultures, when someone harms another person, they are believed to be out of harmony with themselves and their community, they are seen as sick or ill and measures are taken to restore them to a sense of harmonious relations with themselves and others, as opposed to punishing them.

Psychologist Albert Ellis makes a similar claim, in his school of psychology called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy or REBT. He says the root of anger, and the desire to harm someone, is almost always related to variations of implicit or explicit philosophical beliefs about other human beings. He further claims that without holding variants of those covert or overt belief and assumptions, the tendency to resort to violence in most cases is less likely.

Prominent American psychiatrist M. Scott Peck on the other hand, describes evil as "militant ignorance"[8].The original Judeo-Christian concept of "sin" is as a process that leads us to "miss the mark" and fall short of perfection. Peck argues that while most people are conscious of this at least on some level, those that are evil actively and militantly refuse this consciousness. Peck characterizes evil as a malignant type of self-righteousness which results in a projection of evil onto selected specific innocent victims (often children or other people in relatively powerless positions). Peck considers those he calls evil to be attempting to escape and hide from their own conscience (through self deception) and views this as being quite distinct from the apparent absence of conscience evident in sociopathy.

According to M. Scott Peck an evil person[8][9]:

  • Is consistently self deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self image of perfection
  • Deceives others as a consequence of their own self deception
  • Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else ("their insensitivity toward him was selective" (Peck, 1983/1988,p105))
  • Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self deception as much as deception of others
  • Abuses political (emotional) power ("the imposition of one's will upon others by overt or covert coercion" (Peck,1978/1992,p298))
  • Maintains a high level of respectability and lies incessantly in order to do so
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat)
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury

He also considers certain institutions may be evil, as his discussion of the My Lai Massacre and its attempted coverup illustrate. By this definition, acts of criminal and state terrorism would also be considered evil.

Is evil good?

Anton LaVey, the late founder of the Church of Satan, asserts that evil is actually good (an often-used slogan is, "evil is live spelled backwards"). This belief is usually a reaction to evil being described as destructive, where apologists claim that definition is in opposition to the natural pleasures and instincts of men and women.

Even Martin Luther allowed that there are cases where a little evil is a positive good. He wrote, "Seek out the society of your boon companions, drink, play, talk bawdy, and amuse yourself. One must sometimes commit a sin out of hate and contempt for the Devil, so as not to give him the chance to make one scrupulous over mere nothings... ."[10]

It is not uncommon to find people in power who are indifferent to good or evil, taking actions based solely on practicality; this approach to politics was put forth by Niccolò Machiavelli, a sixteenth century Florentine writer who advised politicians " is far safer to be feared than loved."[11]

The international relations theories of realism and neorealism, sometimes called realpolitik advise politicians to explicitly disavow absolute moral and ethical considerations in international politics in favor of a focus on self-interest, political survival, and power politics, which they hold to be more accurate in explaining a world they view as explicitly amoral and dangerous. Political realists usually justify their perspectives by laying claim to a "higher moral duty" specific to political leaders, under which the greatest evil is seen to be the failure of the state to protect itself and its citizens. Machiavelli wrote: "...there will be traits considered good that, if followed, will lead to ruin, while other traits, considered vices which if practiced achieve security and well being for the Prince."[11]

Sociological views on evil

The view taken by Walter Wink, the Christian theologian of non-violence, is that such acts are "evil".[citation needed] In 2007, Ph.D Philip Zimbardo suggested that people may act evil as a result of a collective identity. This hypothesis, based on his previous experience from the Stanford prison experiment, was published in the book 'The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil'.

Religious concepts of evil

Islamic theology

Judeo-Christian thought

Christian Theology

Christian Theology draws its concept of evil from the Old testament and New Testament. Generally in the Old Testament evil is understood to be an opposition to God as well as something unsuitable or inferior.[12] In the New Testament the Greek word poneros is used to indicate unsuitability while kakos is used to refer to opposition to God in the human realm.[13] French-American theologian Henri Blocher describes evil, when viewed as a theological concept, as an "unjustifiable reality. In common parlance, evil is 'something' that occurs in experience that ought not to be."[14]

Jewish theology

In Judaism, evil is the result of forsaking God. (Deuteronomy 28:20) Judaism stresses obedience to God's laws as written in the Torah (see also Tanakh) and the laws and rituals laid down in the Mishnah and the Talmud.

While some forms of Judaism, do not personify evil in Satan; these instead consider the human heart to be inherently bent toward deceit, although human beings are responsible for their choices, whereas in Judaism, there is no prejudice in one's becoming good or evil at time of birth. In Judaism, Satan is viewed as one who tests us for God rather than one who works against God, and evil, as in the Christian denominations above, is a matter of choice.

The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.

—Isaiah 45:7, NASB

Some cultures or philosophies believe that evil can arise without meaning or reason (in neoplatonic philosophy this is called absurd evil). Christianity in general does not adhere to this belief, but the prophet Isaiah implied that God is ultimately responsible for everything including evil (Isa.45:7).

Non-Trinitarian theology

In Latter-day Saint theology, Mortal life is viewed as a test of faith, where our choices are central to the Plan of Salvation. See Agency (LDS Church) Evil is that which keeps one from discovering the nature of God. Temptation is the constant desire to "force" others to do what we want.

Christian Science believes that evil arises from a misunderstanding of the goodness of nature, which is understood as being inherently perfect if viewed from the correct (spiritual) perspective. Misunderstanding God's reality leads to incorrect choices, which are termed evil. This has led to the rejection of any separate power being the source of evil, or of God as being the source of evil; instead, the appearance of evil is the result of a mistaken concept of good. Christian Scientists argue that even the most "evil" person does not pursue evil for its own sake, but from the mistaken viewpoint that he or she will achieve some kind of good thereby.

Zoroastrian theology

In the originally Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, the world is a battle ground between the god, Ahura Mazda (also called Ormazd), and the evil spirit, Angra Mainyu (also called Ahriman). The final resolution of the struggle between good and evil was supposed to occur on a day of Judgement, in which all beings that have lived will be led across a bridge of fire, and those who are evil will be cast down forever. In Iranian belief, angels and saints are beings sent to help us achieve the path towards goodness.

Guanche theology

Guayota was the principal malignant deity and Achamán's adversary. According to Guanche legend, Guayota lived inside of the Teide volcano (Tenerife, Spain), one of the gateways to the underworld. Guayota was said to be represented as a black dog, and he was accompanied by demons, also in the form of black dogs, known as Tibicenas. Guayota is the king of evil genies.[15]

Evil in business and politics

Recently, the term "evil" has been applied much more broadly, especially in the technology and intellectual property industries. One of the slogans of Google is "Don't be evil," and the tagline of independent music recording company Magnatune is "we are not evil," referring to the alleged evils of the RIAA. Applied to organizations operating in legal frameworks, the evil, in the form of administrative evil, is often not self-evident, often even appearing as good by the people involved.[16]

The term "evil" has been controversially used politically by several governments. In recent times it has been used in describing:

See also


  1. ^ "Evil definition". Retrieved 2010-02-17. 
  2. ^ Harper, Douglas (2001), Etymology for evil, 
  3. ^ Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, translated by Edwin Curley, Penguin Classics, 2005, ISBN 0140435719, ISBN 978-0140435719, p. 135
  4. ^ Stephen Palmquist, Dreams of Wholeness: A course of introductory lectures on religion, psychology and personal growth (Hong Kong: Philopsychy Press, 1997/2008), see especially Chapter XI.
  5. ^ Gourevitch, Phillip (1999). We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With our Families. Picador. ISBN 0-31224-335-9. 
  6. ^ "Frontline: the triumph of evil.". Retrieved 2007-04-09. 
  7. ^ Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03515-8. 
  8. ^ a b Peck, M. Scott. (1983;1988). People of the Lie: The hope for healing human evil. Century Hutchinson.
  9. ^ Peck, M. Scott. (1978;1992), The Road Less Travelled. Arrow.
  10. ^ Martin Luther, Werke, XX, p58
  11. ^ a b Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Dante University of America Press, 2003, ISBN 0937832383 ISBN 978-0937832387
  12. ^ Hans Schwarz, Evil: A Historical and Theological Perspective (Lima, Ohio: Academic Renewal Press, 2001): 42–43.
  13. ^ Schwarz, Evil, 75.
  14. ^ Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994): 10.
  15. ^ Guanche Religion
  16. ^ Review of "Unmasking administrative evil"

Further reading

  • Baumeister, Roy F. (1999) Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty. New York: A. W. H. Freeman / Owl Book
  • Bennett, Gaymon, Hewlett, Martinez J, Peters, Ted, Russell, Robert John (2008). The Evolution of Evil. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. ISBN 978-3-525-56979-5
  • Shermer, M. (2004). The Science of Good & Evil. New York: Time Books. ISBN 0-8050-7520-8
  • Wilson, William McF., and Julian N. Hartt. "Farrer's Theodicy." In David Hein and Edward Hugh Henderson (eds), Captured by the Crucified: The Practical Theology of Austin Farrer. New York and London: T & T Clark / Continuum, 2004. ISBN 0-567-02510-1
  • Oppenheimer, Paul (1996). Evil and the Demonic: A New Theory of Monstrous Behavior. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-6193-3. 
  • Vetlesen, Arne Johan (2005) "Evil and Human Agency - Understanding Collective Evildoing" New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521856942
  • A. B. Stapley, Elder Delbert L., "Using Our Free Agency". Ensign May 1975: 21

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

In religion and ethics, evil refers to the bad aspects of the behaviour and reasoning of human beings—those which are deliberately void of conscience, and show a wanton desire for destruction.



  • Every person has the choice between Good and Evil. Choose Good, and stand against those who would choose Evil.
  • Now you see, Lone Starr, that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.
  • One, who enters the places of evil repute has no right to complain against a man who speaks ill of him.
    • Ali, a hundred sayings
  • Jamais on ne fait le mal si pleinement et si gaiement que quand on le fait par conscience.
    • Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it conscientiously.
    • Variant: Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction (trans. W.F. Trotter)
    • Blaise Pascal, Pensées (# 894 or 895, depending on differing editions)
  • He who studies evil is studied by evil.
    • Ranjen Solbor, "The Changing Face of Evil", Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, inspired by the famous quote of Friedrich Nietzsche
  • There is Good and there is Evil and Evil must be punished. Even in the face of Armageddon, I shall not compromise in this.
  • Without followers, evil cannot spread.
    • Spock, "And The Children Shall Lead", Star Trek
  • Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good.
  • A thing may look specious in theory, and yet be ruinous in practice; a thing may look evil in theory, and yet be in practice excellent.
    • Edmund Burke, Impeachment of Warren Hastings, 19th Feb. 1788.
  • Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895)

Quotes reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895).

  • Many have puzzled themselves about the origin of evil; I observe that there is evil, and that there is a way to escape it, and with this I begin and end.
  • Nothing is to be esteemed evil which God and nature have fixed with eternal sanction.
  • The cardinal method with faults is to overgrow them and choke them out with virtues.
    • John Bascom, p. 213.
  • Nothing can work me damage except myself. The harm that I sustain I carry about with me, and never am a real sufferer but by my own fault.
    • St. Bernard, p. 213.
  • The best antidote against evils of all kinds, against the evil thoughts that haunt the soul, against the needless perplexities which distract the conscience, is to keep hold of the good we have. Impure thoughts will not stand against pure words and prayers and deeds. Little doubts will not avail against great certainties. Fix your affections on things above, and then you will less and less be troubled by the cares, the temptations, the troubles of things on earth.


  • All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
  • At least two thirds of our miseries spring from human stupidity, human malice and those great motivators and justifiers of malice and stupidity, idealism, dogmatism and proselytizing zeal on behalf of religious or political idols.
  • The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
  • But goodness alone is never enough. A hard cold wisdom is required, too, for goodness to accomplish good. Goodness without wisdom invariably accomplishes evil.
  • Everyone who is not understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey must be blind or wrong in his head.
  • Evil unchecked grows, evil tolerated poisons the whole system.
  • The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.
  • He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
  • I feel pity for those fools that prayed for the annihilation of evil, Their efforts are worthy but nonetheless still futile.
    • Alfredo Balgua
  • If your heart acquires strength, you will be able to remove blemishes from others without thinking evil of them.
  • It is always good men who do the most harm in the world.
    • Henry Brooks Adam
  • Monsters are bred of necessity, to do the things that men cannot.
    • Anthony Ryan
  • It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.
  • It is told that Buddha, going out to look on life, was greatly daunted by death. "They all eat one another!" he cried, and called it evil. This process I examined, changed the verb, said, "They all feed one another," and called it good.
  • The smallest grains of evil are our rude, careless touches on the sensitive, subtly organized soul of a child who, we think, doesn't understand anything, and therefore, will tolerate everything.
  • The moral sense reappears today with the same morning newness that has been from of old the fountain of beauty and strength. You say there is no religion now. 'Tis like saying in rainy weather, There is no sun, when at that moment we are witnessing one of its superlative effects.
  • No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.
  • Nothing worse than a monster who thinks he's right with God.
    • Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly
  • The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
  • Since boredom advances and boredom is the root of all evil, no wonder, then, that the world goes backwards, that evil spreads. This can be traced back to the very beginning of the world. The gods were bored; therefore they created human beings.
  • There surely is in human nature an inherent propensity to extract all the good out of all the evil.
    • Benjamin Haydon
  • They say, "Evil prevails when good men fail to act." What they ought to say is, "Evil prevails."
  • To do evil that good may come of it is for bunglers in politics as well as morals.
  • Truly, if there is evil in this world, it lies within the heart of mankind.
    • Yoshiharu Gotanda, Edward D. Morrison, Tales of Phantasia
  • We ought always to deal justly, not only with those who are just to us, but likewise to those who endeavor to injure us; and this, for fear lest by rendering them evil for evil, we should fall into the same vice.
    • Hierocles
  • What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
  • When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before.
  • When good people in any country cease their vigilance and struggle, then evil men prevail.
  • The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.
  • In a world were there is no evil, there can be no men.
  • Yield not to evils, but attack all the more boldly.
  • Kira: "That's what's so frightening. People can find a way to justify any action, no matter how evil"
  • Ziyal:"You think my father's evil?"
  • Kira: "I think... You can't judge people by what they think or say, only by what they do"
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine By inferno's light
  • The dark side retains its power by imposing a blackout.
  • His belief that evil was an illusion did not save him.
    • Vergere, on the death of Magister Hal, "Star Wars"

External links

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

vil, in a large sense, may be described as the sum of the opposition, which experience shows to exist in the universe, to the desires and needs of individuals; whence arises, among humans beings at least, the sufferings in which life abounds. Thus evil, from the point of view of human welfare, is what ought not to exist. Nevertheless, there is no department of human life in which its presence is not felt; and the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be has always called for explanation in the account which mankind has sought to give of itself and its surroundings. For this purpose it is necessary (1) to define the precise nature of the principle that imparts the character of evil to so great a variety of circumstances, and (2) to ascertain, as far as may be possible, to source from which it arises.

With regard to the nature of evil, it should be observed that evil is of three kinds -- physical, moral, and metaphysical. Physical evil includes all that causes harm to man, whether by bodily injury, by thwarting his natural desires, or by preventing the full development of his powers, either in the order of nature directly, or through the various social conditions under which mankind naturally exists. Physical evils directly due to nature are sickness, accident, death, etc. Poverty, oppression, and some forms of disease are instances of evil arising from imperfect social organization. Mental suffering, such as anxiety, disappointment, and remorse, and the limitation of intelligence which prevents humans beings from attaining to the full comprehension of their environment, are congenital forms of evil each vary in character and degree according to natural disposition and social circumstances.

By moral evil are understood the deviation of human volition from the prescriptions of the moral order and the action which results from that deviation. Such action, when it proceeds solely from ignorance, is not to be classed as moral evil, which is properly restricted to the motions of will towards ends of which the conscience disapproves. The extent of moral evil is not limited to the circumstances of life in the natural order, but includes also the sphere of religion, by which man's welfare is affected in the supernatural order, and the precepts of which, as depending ultimately upon the will of God, are of the strictest possible obligation (see SIN). The obligation to moral action in the natural order is, moreover, generally believed to depend on the motives supplied by religion; and it is at least doubtful whether it is possible for moral obligation to exist at all apart from a supernatural sanction.

Metaphysical evil is the limitation by one another of various component parts of the natural world. Through this mutual limitation natural objects are for the most part prevented from attaining to their full or ideal perfection, whether by the constant pressure of physical condition, or by sudden catastrophes. Thus, animal and vegetable organisms are variously influenced by climate and other natural causes; predatory animals depend for their existence on the destruction of life; nature is subject to storms and convulsions, and its order depends on a system of perpetual decay and renewal due to the interaction of its constituent parts. If animals suffering is excluded, no pain of any kind is caused by the inevitable limitations of nature; and they can only be called evil by analogy, and in a sense quite different from that in which the term is applied to human experience. Clarke, moreover, has aptly remarked (Correspondence with Leibniz, letter ii) that the apparent disorder of nature is really no disorder, since it is part of a definite scheme, and precisely fulfills the intention of the Creator; it may therefore be counted as a relative perfection rather than an imperfection. It is, in fact, only by a transference to irrational objects of the subjective ideals and aspirations of human intelligence, that the "evil of nature" can be called evil in any sense but a merely analogous one. The nature and degree of pain in lower animals is very obscure, and in the necessary absence of data it is difficult to say weather it should rightly be classed with the merely formal evil which belongs to inanimate objects, or with the suffering of human beings. The latter view was generally held in ancient times, and may perhaps he referred to the anthropomorphic tendency of primitive minds which appears in the doctrine of metempsychosis. Thus it has often been supposed that animal suffering, together with many of the imperfections of inanimate nature, was due to the fall of man, with whose welfare, as the chief part of creation, were bound up the fortunes of the rest (see Theoph. Antioch., Ad Autolyc., II; cf. Gen. iii, and I Cor.ix). The opposite view is taken by St. Thomas (I, Q. xcvi, a. 1,2). [[Descartes, Ren� (Catholic Encyclopedia)|Descartes]] supposed that animals were merely machines, without sensation or consciousness; he was closely followed by Malebranche and Cartesians generally. Leibniz grants sensation to animals, but considers that mere sense-perception, unaccompanied by reflexion, cannot cause either pain or pleasure; in any case he holds the pain and pleasure of animals to be parable in degree to those resulting from reflex action in man (see also Maher, Psychology, Supp't. A:, London, 1903).

It is evident again that all evil is essentially negative and not positive; i.e. it consists not in the acquisition of anything, but in the loss or deprivation of something necessary for perfection. Pain, which is the test or criterion of physical evil, has indeed a positive, though purely subjective existence as a sensation or emotion; but its evil quality lies in its disturbing effector the sufferer. In like manner, the perverse action of the will, upon which moral evil depends, is more than a mere negation of right action, implying as it does the positive element of choice; but the morally evil character of wrong action is constituted not by the element of choice, but by its rejection of what right reason requires. Thus Origen (In Joh., ii, 7) defines evil as stéresis; the Pseudo-Dionysius (De. Div. Nom. iv) as the non-existent; Maimonides (Dux perplex. iii, 10) as "privato boni alicujus"; Albertus Magnus (adopting St. Augustine's phrase) attributes evil to "aliqua causa deficiens" (Summa Theol., I, xi, 4); Schopenhauer, who held pain to be the positive and normal condition of life (pleasure being its partial and temporary absence), nevertheless made it depend upon the failure of human desire to obtain fulfillment--"the wish is in itself pain". Thus it will be seen that evil is not a real entity; it is relative. What is evil in some relations may be good in others; and probably there is no form of existence which is exclusively evil in all relations, Hence it has been thought that evil cannot truly be said to exist at all, and is really nothing but a "lesser good." But this opinion seems to leave out of account the reality of human experience. Though the same cause may give pain to one, and pleasure to another, pain and pleasure, as sensations or ideas, cannot but be mutually exclusive. No one, however, has attempted to deny this very obvious fact; and the opinion in question may perhaps be understood as merely a paradoxical way of stating the relativity of evil.

There is practically a general agreement of authorities as the nature of evil, some allowance being made for varying modes of expression depending on a corresponding variety of philosophical presuppositions. But on the question of the origin of evil there has been, and is a considerable diversity of opinion. The problem is strictly a metaphysical one; i.e. it cannot be solved by a mere experimental analysis of the actual conditions from which evil results. The question, which Schopenhauer has called "the punctum pruriens of metaphysics", is concerned not so much with the various detailed manifestations of evil in nature, as with the hidden and underlying cause which has made these manifestations possible or necessary; and it is at once evident that enquiry in a region so obscure must be attended with great difficulty, and that the conclusions reached must, for the most part be of a provisional and tentative character. No system of philosophy has ever succeeded in escaping from the obscurity in which the subject is involved; but it is not too much to say that the Christian solution offers, on the whole, fewer difficulties, and approaches more nearly to completeness than any other. The question may be stated thus. Admitting that evil consists in a certain relation of man to his environment, or that it arises in the relation of the component parts of the totality of existence to one another, how comes it that though all are alike the results of a universal cosmic process, this universal agency is perpetually at war with itself, contradicting and thwarting its own efforts in the mutual hostility of its progeny? Further, admitting that metaphysical evil in itself may be merely nature's method, involving nothing more than a continual redistribution of the material elements of the universe, human suffering and wrongdoing still and out as essentially opposed to the general scheme of natural development, and are scarcely to be reconciled in thought with any conception of unity or harmony in nature. To what, then, is the evil of human life, physical and moral, to be attributed as its cause? But when the universe is considered as the work of an all-benevolent and all-powerful Creator, a fresh element is added to the problem. If God is all-benevolent, why did He cause or permit suffering? If He is all-Powerful, He can be under no necessity of creating or permitting it; and on the other hand, if He is under any such necessity, He cannot be all-powerful. Again, if God is absolutely good, and also omnipotent, how can He permit the existence of moral evil? We have to enquire, that is to say, how evil has come to exist, and what is its special relation to the Creator of the universe.

The solution of the problem has been attempted by three different methods.

I. It has been contended that existence is fundamentally evil; that evil is the active principle of the universe, and good no more than an illusion, the pursuit of which serves to induce the human race to perpetuate its own existence (see PESSIMISM). This is the fundamental tenet of Buddhism (q.v.), which regards happiness as unattainable, and holds that there is no way of escaping from misery but by ceasing to exist otherwise than in the impersonal state of Nirvana. The origin of suffering, according to Buddha, is "the thirst for being". This was also, among Greek philosophers, the view of Hegesias the Cyrenaic (called peisithánatos, the counsellor of death), who held life to be valueless, and pleasure, the only good, to be unattainable. But the Greek temper was naturally disinclined to a pessimistic view of nature and life; and while popular mythology embodied the darker aspects of existence in such conceptions as those of Fate, the avenging Furies, and the envy (phthónos) of the gods, Greek thinkers, as a rule, held that evil is universally supreme, but can be avoided or overcome by the wise and virtuous.

Pessimism, as a metaphysical system, is the product of modern times. Its chief representatives are Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann, both of whom held the actual universe to be fundamentally evil, and happiness it to be impossible. The origin of the phenomenal universe is attributed by Schopenhauer to a transcendental Will, which he identifies with pure being; and by Hartmann to the unconscious, which includes both the Will and the Idea (Vorstellung) of Schopenhauer. According to both Schopenhauer and Hartmann, suffering has come into existence with self-consciousness, from which it is inseparable.

II. Evil has been attributed to one of two mutually opposed principles, to which respectively the mingled good and evil of the world are due. The relation between the two is variously represented, and ranges from the co-ordination imagined by Zoroastrianism to the mere relative independence of the created will as held by Christian theology. Zoroaster attributed good and evil respectively to two mutually hostile principles (hrízai, or árchai) called Ormuzd (Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (Angra Mainyu). Each was independent of the other; but eventually the good were to be victorious with Ormuzd, and Ahriman and his evil followers were to be expelled from the world. This mythological dualism passed to the sect of the Manichees, whose founder, Manes, added a third, but subordinate principle, emanating from the source of good (and perhaps corresponding, in some degree, to the Mithras of Zoroastrianism), in the "living spirit", by whom was formed the present material world of mingled good and evil. Manes held that matter was essentially evil, and therefore could not be in direct contact with God. He probably derived the notion from the Gnostic sects, which, though they differed on many points from one another, were generally agreed in following the opinion of Philo, and the neo-Platonist Plotinus, as the evil of matter. They held the world to have been formed by an emanation, the Demiurge, as a kind of intermediary between God and impure matter. Bardesanes, however, and his followers regarded evil as resulting from the misuse of created free will.

The notion that evil is necessarily inherent in matter, independent of the Divine author of good, and in some sense opposed to Him, is common to the above theosophical systems, to many of the purely rational conceptions of Greek philosophy, and to much that has been advanced on this subject in later times, In the Pythagorean idea of a numerical harmony as the constitutive principle of the world, good is represented by unity and evil by multiplicity (Philolaus, Fragm.) Heraclitus set the "strife", which he held to be the essential condition of life, over against the action deity. "God is the author of all that is right and good and just; but men have sometimes chosen good and sometimes evil" (Fragm. 61). Empedocles, again, attributed evil to the principle of hate (neîkos), inherent together with its opposite, love (phília), in the universe. Plato held God to be "free from blame" (anaítios) for the evil of the world; its cause was partly the necessary imperfection of material and created existence, and partly the action of the human will (Timeaus, xlii; cf. Phaedo. lx). With Aristotle, evil is a necessary aspect of the constant changes of matter, and has in itself no real existence (Metaph., ix, 9). The Stoics conceived evil in a somewhat similar manner, as due to necessity; the immanent Divine power harmonizes the evil and good in a changing world. Moral evil proceeds from the folly of mankind, not from the Divine will, and is overruled by it to a good end. In the hymn of Cleanthes to Zeus (Ston. Ecl., 1, p.30) may be perceived an approach to the doctrine of Leibniz, as to the nature of evil and the goodness of the world. "Nothing is done without thee in earth or sea or sky, save what evil men commit by their own folly; so thou hast fitted together all evil and good in one, that there might be one reasonable and everlasting scheme of all things." In the mystical system of Eckhart (d. 1329), evil, sin included, has its place in the evolutionary scheme by which all proceeds from and returns to God, and contributes, both in the moral order and in the physical, to the accomplishment of the Divine purpose. Eckhart's monistic or pantheistic tendencies seem to have obscured for him many of the difficulties of the subject, as has been the case with those by whom the same tendencies have since been carried to an extreme conclusion.

Christian philosophy has, like the Hebrew, uniformly attributed moral and physical evil to the action of created free will. Man has himself brought about the evil from which he suffers by transgressing the law of God, on obedience to which his happiness depended. Evil is in created things under the aspect of mutability, and possibility of defect, not as existing per se : and the errors of mankind, mistaking the true conditions of its own well-being, have been the cause of moral and physical evil (Dion. Areop., De Div. Nom., iv, 31; St. Aug., De Civ. Dei. xii). The evil from which man suffers is, however, the condition of good, for the sake of which it is permitted. Thus, "God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist" (St. Aug., Enchirid., xxvii). Evil contributes to the perfection of the universe, as shadows to the perfection of a picture, or harmony to that of music (De Civ. Dei,xi). Again, the excellence of God's works in nature is insisted on as evidence of the Divine wisdom, power, and goodness, by which no evil can be directly caused. (Greg. Nyss., De. opif. hom.) Thus Boethius asks (De Consol. Phil., I, iv) Who can be the author of good, if God is the author of evil? As darkness is nothing but the absence of light, and is not produced by creation, so evil is merely the defect of goodness. (St. Aug., In Gen. as lit.) St. Basil (Hexaem., Hom. ii) points out the educative purposes served by evil; and St. Augustine, holding evil to be permitted for the punishment of the wicked and the trial of the good, shows that it has, under this aspect, the nature of good, and is pleasing to God, not because of what it is, but because of where it is; i.e. as the penal and just consequence of sin (De Civ. Dei, XI, xii, De Vera Relig. xliv). Lactantius uses similar arguments to oppose the dilemma, as to the omnipotence and goodness of God, which he puts into the mouth of Epicurus (De Ira Dei, xiii). St. Anselm (Monologium) connects evil with the partial manifestation of good by creation; its fullness being in God alone.

The features which stand out in the earlier Christian explanation of evil, as compared with non-Christian dualistic theories are thus

  • the definite attribution to God of absolute omnipotence and goodness, notwithstanding His permission of the existence of evil;
  • the assignment of a moral and retributive cause for suffering in the sin of mankind; and
  • the unhesitating assertion of the beneficence of God's purpose in permitting evil, together with the full admission that He could, had He so chosen, have prevented it (De Civ. Dei, xiv). How God's permission of the evil which He foreknew and could have prevented is to be reconciled with His goodness, is not fully considered; St. Augustine states the question in forcible terms, but is content by way of answer to follow St. Paul, in his refrence to the unsearchableness of the Divine judgments (Contra Julianum, I, 48).

The same general lines have been followed by most of the modern attempts to account in terms of Theism for the existence of evil. [[Descartes, Ren� (Catholic Encyclopedia)|Descartes]] and Malebranche held that the world is the best possible for the purpose for which it was created, i. e. for the manifestation of the attributes of God. If it had been less fitted as a whole for the attainment of this object. The relation of evil to the will of a perfectly benevolent Creator was elaborately treated by Leibniz, in answer to Bayle, who had insisted on the arguments derived from the existence of evil against that of a good and omnipotent God. Leibniz founded his views mainly on those of St. Augustine and from St. Thomas, and deduced from them his theory of Optimism (q.v.). According to it, the inverse is the best possible; but metaphysical evil, or perfection, is necessarily involved in the constitution, since it must be finite, and could not have been endowed with the infinite perfection which belongs to God alone. Moral and physical evil are due to the fall of man, but all evil is overruled by God to a good purpose. Moreover, the world with which we are acquainted is only a very small factor in the whole of creation, and it may be supposed that the evil it contains is necessary for the existence of other regions that are unknown to us. Voltaire in "Candide", undertook to throw ridicule at the idea of "best possible world"; and it must be admitted that the theory is open to grave objections. On the one hand, it is scarcely consistent with the belief in the Divine omnipotence; and on the other, it fails to account for the permission (or indirect authorship) of evil by a good God, to which Bayle had specially taken exception. We can not know that this world is the best possible; and if it were, why, since it must include so much that is evil, should a perfectly good God have created it? It may be urged, moreover, that there can be no degree of finite goodness which is not susceptible of increase by omnipotence, without ceasing to fall short of infinite perfection.

Leibniz has been more or less closely followed by many who have since treated the subject from the Christian point of view. These have, for the most part, emphasized the evidence in creation of the wisdom and goodness of its Author, after the manner of the Book of Job, and have been content to leave undiscovered the reason for the creation, by Him, of a universe in which evil is unavoidable. Such was the view of King (Essay on the Origin of Evil, London, 1732), who insisted strongly on the doctrine of the best possible world; of Cudworth, who held that evil, though inseparable from the nature of imperfect beings, is largely a matter of men's own fancy and opinions, rather than the reality of things, and therefore not to be made the ground of accusations against Divine Providence. Derham (Physico-Theology, London, 1712) took occasion from an examination of the excellence of creation to commend an attitude of humility and trust towards the creator of "this elegant, this well contrived, well formed world, in which we find everything necessary for the sustenation, use and pleasure both of man and every other creature here below; as well as some whips , some rods, to scourge us for our sins". Priestly held a doctrine of absolute determinism, and consequently attributed evil solely to the divine will; which, however, he justified by the good ends which evil is providentially made to subserve (Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity, Birmingham, 1782). Clarke, again, called special attention to the evidence of method of design, which bear witness to the benevolence of the Creator, in the midst of apparent moral and physical disorder. Rosmini, closely following Malebranche, pointed out that the question of the possibility of a better world than this has really no meaning; any world created by God must be the best possible in relation to its special purpose, apart from which neither goodness or badness can be predicated of it. Mamiani also supposed that evil be inseparable from the finite, but it tended to disappear as the finite approached its final union with the infinite.

III. The third way of conceiving the place of evil in the general scheme of existence is that of those systems of Monism, by which evil is merely viewed as a mode in which certain aspects of moments of the development of nature are apprehended by human consciousness. In this view there is no distinctive principle to which evil can be assigned, and its origin is one with that of nature as a whole. These systems reject the specific idea of creation; and the idea of God is either rigorously excluded, or identified with an impersonal principle, immanent in the universe, or conceived as a mere abstraction from the methods of nature; which, whether viewed from the standpoint of materialism or that of idealism, is the one ultimate reality. The problem of the origin of evil is thus merged in that of the origin of being. Moral evil, in particular, arises from error, and is to be gradually eliminated, or at least minimized, by improved knowledge of the conditions of human welfare (Meliorism). Of this kind, of the whole, were the doctrines of the Ionic Hylozoists, whose fundamental notion was the essential unity of matter and life; and on the other hand, also, that of the Eleatics, who founded the origin of all things in abstract being. The Atomists Leucippus and Democritus, held what may be called a doctrine of materialistic Monism. This doctrine, however, found its first complete expression in the philosophy of Epicurus, which explicitly rejected the notion of any external influence on nature, whether of "fate", or of Divine power. According to the Epicurean Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, II, line 180) the existence of evil was fatal to the supposition of the creation of the world by God:
Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse creatum Naturam mundi, quæ tanta est prædita culpa.
Giordano Bruno made God the immanent cause of all things, acting by an internal necessity, and producing the relations considered evil by mankind. Hobbes regarded God as merely a corporeal first cause; and applying his theory of civil government to the universe, defended the existence of evil by simple assertion of the absolute power to which it is due--a theory which is little else other than a statement of materialistic Determinism in terms of social relations. Spinoza united spirit and matter in the notion of a single substance, to which he attributed both thought and extension; error and perfection were the necessary consequence of the order of the universe. The Hegelian Monism, which reproduces many of the ideas of Eckhart, and is adopted in its main features by many different systems of recent origin, gives to evil a place in the unfolding of the Idea, in which Both the origin and inner reality of the universe are to be found. Evil is the temporary discord between what is and what ought to be. Huxley was content to believe the ultimate causes of things are at present unknown, and may be unknowable. Evil is to be known and combated in the concrete and in detail; but the Agnosticism professed, and named, by Huxley refuses to entertain any question as to transcendental causes, and confines itself to experimental facts. Haeckel advances a dogmatic materialism, in which substance (i. e. matter and force) appears as the eternal and infinite basis of all things. Professor Metchnikoff, on similar principles, places the cause of evil in "disharmonies" which prevail in nature, and which he thinks may perhaps be ultimately removed, for the human race at least, together with pessimistic temper arising from them, by the progress of science. Bourdeau has asserted in express terms the futility of seeking a transcendental or supernatural origin for evil and the necessity of confining the view to natural accessible, and determinable causes (Revue Philosophique, I, 1900).

The recently constructed system, or method, called Pragmatism, has this much in common with Pessimism, that it regards evil as a actually unavoidable part of that human experience which is in point of fact identical with truth and reality. The world is what we make it; evil tends to diminish with the growth of experience, and may finally vanish; though on the other hand, there may always remain the irreducible minimum of evil. The origin of evil is, like the origin of all things, inexplicable; it cannot be fitted into any theory of the design of the universe, simply because no such theory is possible. "We cannot by any possibility comprehend the character of the cosmic mind whose purpose are fully revealed by the strange mixture of good and evil that we find in this actual worlds particulars--the mere word design, by itself has no consequences and explains nothing." (James, Pragmatism, London, 1907. Cf. Schiller, Humanism, London 1907.) Nietzsche holds evil to be purely relative, and its moral aspects at least, a transitory and non-fundamental concept. With him, mankind in the present state, is "the animal not yet properly adapted to his environment". In this mode of thought the individual necessarily counts for very little, as being merely a transient manifestation of the cosmic force; and the social aspects of humanity are those under which its pains and shortcomings are mostly considered, with a view to their amelioration. Hence, the various forms of Socialism: The idea conceived by Nietzsche of a totally new, though as yet undefined, form of social morality, and of the constitution and mutual relations of classes; and the so called ethical and scientific religions inculcating morality as tending to be generally good. The first example of such religion was that of Auguste Comte, who upon the materialistic basis of Positivism, founded the "religion of humanity", and professed to substitute an enthusiasm for humanity as the motive for right action, for the motives of supernatural religion.

In the light of Catholic doctrine, any theory that may be held concerning evil must include certain points bearing on the question that have been authoritatively defined. These points are

  • the omnipotence, omniscience, and absolute goodness of the Creator;
  • the freedom of the will; and
  • that suffering is the penal consequence of wilful disobedience to the law of God. A complete account may be gathered from the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, by whom the principles of St. Augustine are systematized, and to some extent supplemented. Evil, according to St. Thomas, is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature. (I,Q. xiv, a. 10; Q. xlix, a. 3; Contra Gentiles, III, ix, x). There is therefore no "summum malum", or positive source of evil, corresponding to the "summum bonum", which is God (I, Q. xlix, a. 3; C. G., III, 15; De Malo, I, 1); evil being not "ens reale" but only "ens rationis"--i.e. it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception; things are evil not in themselves, but by reason of their relation to other things, or persons. All realities (entia) are in themselves good; they produce bad results only incidentally; and consequently the ultimate cause of evil if fundamentally good, as well as the objects in which evil is found (I, Q. xlix; cf. I, Q. v, 3; De Malo, I, 3). Thus the Manichaean dualism has no foundation in reason.

Evil is threefold, viz., "malum naturæ" (metaphysical evil), "culpæ" (moral), and "paenæ" (physical, the retributive consequence of "malum culpæ") (I, Q. xlviii, a. 5, 6; Q. lxiii, a. 9; De Malo, I, 4). Its existence subserves the perfection of the whole; the universe would be less perfect if it contained no evil. Thus fire could not exist without the corruption of what it consumes; the lion must slay the ass in order to live, and if there were no wrong doing, there would be no sphere for patience and justice (I, Q. xlviii, a. 2). God id said (as in Is., xlv) to be the author of evil in the sense that the corruption of material objects in nature is ordained by Him, as a means for carrying out the design of the universe; and on the other hand, the evil which exists as a consequence of the breach of Divine laws is in the same sense due to Divine appointment; the universe would be less perfect if its laws could be broken with impunity. Thus evil, in one aspect, i.e. as counter-balancing the deordination of sin, has the nature of good (II, Q. ii, a. 19). But the evil of sin (culpæ), though permitted by God, is in no sense due to him (I, Q. xlix, a. 2).; its cause is the abuse of free will by angels and men (I-II, Q. lxxiii, a. 6; II-II, Q. x, a. 2; I-II, Q. ix, a. 3). It should be observed that the universal perfection to which evil in some form is necessary, is the perfection of this universe, not of any universe: metaphysical evil, that is to say, and indirectly, moral evil as well, is included in the design of the universe which is partially known to us; but we cannot say without denying the Divine omnipotence, that another equally perfect universe could not be created in which evil would have no place.

St. Thomas also provides explanations of what are now generally considered to be the two main difficulties of the subject, viz., the Divine permission of foreseen moral evil, and the question finally arriving thence, why God choose to create anything at all. First, it is asked why God, foreseeing that his creatures would use the gift of free will for their own injury, did not either abstain from creating them, or in some way safeguard their free will from misuse, or else deny them the gift altogether? St. Thomas replies (C. G., II, xxviii) that God cannot change His mind, since the Divine will is free from the defect of weakness or mutability. Such mutability would, it should be remarked, be a defect in the Divine nature (and therefore impossible), because if God's purpose were made dependent on the foreseen free act of any creature, God would thereby sacrifice His own freedom, and would submit Himself to His creatures, thus abdicating His essential supremacy--a thing which is, of course, utterly inconceivable. Secondly, to the question why God should have chosen to create, when creation was in no way needful for His own perfection, St. Thomas answers that God's object in creating is Himself; He creates in order to manifest his own goodness, power, and wisdom, and is pleased with that reflection or similitude of Himself in which the goodness of creation consists. God's pleasure is the one supremely perfect motive for action, alike in God Himself and in His creatures; not because of any need, or inherent necessity, in the Divine nature (C. G., I, xxviii; II, xxiii), but because God is the source, centre, and object, of all existence. (I, Q. lxv, a. 2; cf. Prov., 26 and Conc. Vat., can. i, v; Const. Dogm., 1.) This is accordingly the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, and even for the suffering which moral evil has introduced into it. God has not made the world primarily for man's good, but for His own pleasure; good for man lies in conforming himself to the supreme purpose of creation, and evil in departing from it (C.G., III, xvii, cxliv). It may further be understood from St. Thomas, that in the diversity of metaphysical evil, in which the perfection of the universe as a whole is embodied, God may see a certain similitude of His own threefold unity (cf. I, Q. xii); and again, that by permitting moral evil to exist He has provided a sphere for the manifestation of one aspect of His essential justice (cf. I, Q. lxv, a. 2; and I, Q. xxi, a. 1, 3).

It is obviously impossible to suggest a reason why this universe in particular should have been created rather than another; since we are necessarily incapable of forming an idea of any other universe than this. Similarly, we are unable to imagine why God chose to manifest Himself by the way of creation, instead of, or in addition to, the other ways, whatever they may be, by which He has, or may have, attained the same end. We reach here the utmost limit of speculation; and our inability to conceive the ultimate reason for creation (as distinct from its direct motive) is paralleled, at a much earlier stage of the enquire, by the inability of the non-creationist schools of thought to assign any ultimate cause for the existence of the order of nature. It will be observed that St. Thomas's account of evil is a true Theodicy, taking into consideration as it does every factor of the problem, and leaving unsolved only the mystery of creation, before which all schools of thought are equally helpless. It is as impossible to know, in the fullest sense, why this world was made as to know how it was made; but St. Thomas has at least shown that the acts of the Creator admit of complete logical justification, notwithstanding the mystery in which, for human intelligence, they can never wholly cease to be involved. On Catholic principles, the amelioration of moral evil and its consequent suffering can only take place by means of individual reformation, and not so much through increase of knowledge as through stimulation or re-direction of the will. But since all methods of social improvement that have any value must necessarily represent a nearer approach to conformity with Divine laws, they are welcomed and furthered by the Church, as tending, at least indirectly, to accomplish the purpose for which she exists.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.
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Simple English

Evil means something which is morally bad or wicked.[1] It is the opposite of good. People may say that an action which hurts people or breaks certain rules is evil. A person or a group that does evil things may also be called evil.

In theology, there is a question: If there is a God, why does God let evil happen? Some think that evil proves that there is not a God. Others think that God lets evil happen so that people can choose not to do evil.[2]

The study of good and evil in philosophy is called ethics. Ethics tries to explain why some actions are good and other actions are evil. It attempts to give all kinds of answers for how to tell evil from good.

Logical problem of evil

A version of the problem of evil, perhaps by Epicurus,[3] goes as follows: [4]

  1. If a perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, a perfectly good god does not exist.

Another argument goes:

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
  3. A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
  4. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
  5. An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).[5]

Arguments such as these are about the logical problem of evil. They attempt to show that the assumed propositions lead to a logical contradiction and so cannot all be correct.

A common response is that God can exist with and allow evil in order to achieve a greater good. Some philosophers accept that arguments such as "God allows evil in order to achieve the greater good of free will" are logically possible and thus solve the logical problem of evil.[6] Since the aim is only to defeat the assertion that God and evil are logically incompatible, even a highly implausible instance of God's coexistence with evil is sufficient for the purpose.[7]

Philosophies of science have approached the problem from the angle of empiricism. For logical positivism the issue with God is the lack of any independent method of verification. In their view, this makes the proposition "God exists", not true or false, but meaningless.[8] A similar position points to the lack of any way the proposition might be falsified.[9]


  1. Concise Oxford Dictionary.
  2. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [1] The problem of evil]", Michael Tooley
  3. Perhaps wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. According to Reinhold Glei, the argument of theodicy is from a source which is anti-epicurean. Reinhold F. Glei 1988. Et invidus et inbecillus. Das angebliche Epikurfragment bei Laktanz, De ira dei 13, 20-21, in: Vigiliae Christianae 42 p47-58
  4. Larrimore M.J. 2001. The problem of evil. Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The evidential problem of evil Nick Trakakis
  6. Meister, Chad (2009). Introducing philosophy of religion. Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 0415403278. 
  7. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The logical problem of evil James R. Beebe
  8. Ayer A.J 1936 [2nd ed 1946]. Language, truth and logic. Gollancz, London.
  9. Lakatos, Imre 1976. Proofs and refutations. Cambridge.

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