How Can We Make Sense Of Evil?

How Can We Make Sense Of Evil?

There seems to be evil all around us, but what is it really?
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Just over a month ago, 59 people were murdered in Las Vegas. And this past week, another 26 people (mostly young children) were murdered at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church in Texas. Nonetheless, less than a week before the attack in Texas, a man driving a rental truck purposefully drove into pedestrians in Lower Manhatten, killing 8.

There is Orlando, Paris, Belgium, London, Manchester, and San Bernadino. These are just a small number of evil acts that have occurred in the past two years. And with these attacks come debates on guns, immigration, and Islam. It must be said that none of these things are evil; they cannot be evil by definition. So what is evil? Let us think it out.


My dog chewed a hole in my mother’s bed sheets. I woke up to her screaming at the dog; she told her how bad she was. I attempted to explain to my mother that her efforts to scold the dog were pointless.The dog had only done what her nature had made her do. No choice was ever presented to our dog; she could only follow through on what she instinctively felt.

I then proposed that the being truly responsible for the hole in the bed sheets was, in fact, my mother. That proposal prompted her to kick me out, but I digress. The point I attempted to tell my mother was that her choice to allow our dog on the bed was the cause of the hole. My mother made the decision to allow the dog on the bed with the knowledge that the dog has chewed numerous holes in numerous bed sheets. This illustrates the overall problem of evil.

Humans, beings with rational minds, are presented with a lot of choices in which they could to give into their instincts or to choose against it. The issue arises when humans accept this freedom; they accept that both the good and bad can come from it. Without this idea of freedom, humans exist as robots, living no more than an insect lives.

So what is freedom?

In this instance, “freedom” is “free will”. So what is “free will”? There are two paths one can take when it comes to “free will”: libertarian or compatibilism. Within the concept of “libertarian free will”, all free actions are that which are “uncaused”. This libertarian point of view is very much like “the principle of alternative possibilities". The PAP formulated by Robert Kane and defined by Harry Frankfurt is that “a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise". This means a person is only morally responsible for his/her actions if there is no causal determinism.

However, the premise, that actions that have causal determination cannot be free, is false if you understand free will differently. To a libertarian, free will was the freedom to act in any way without coercion. Instead, I propose that free will is the freedom to do what one wills and to do what one could if he willed it. By defining free will as such, I am postulating that someone’s will is not necessarily his own.

It is possible for one’s will to be the culmination of past events. And yet, this does not mean that one does not have free will. Harry Frankfurt said, “A person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he did it only because he could not have done otherwise.” Thus, moral responsibility requires both the will and the liberty to follow through on that will.

So why does compatibilism hold up over libertarian free will and determinism? To paraphrase A.J. Ayer, if one’s choice is not determined, it is an accident. If this is true one’s choice only happens by chance, thus s/he cannot be morally responsible for it. If one’s choice is not an accident then there must be a cause, thus the choice was determined, and again the person cannot be held morally responsible.

In these two cases, the problem of evil cannot exist because if moral responsibility does not exist, neither can good nor evil. Compatibilism is the only logical solution. Compatibilism says one is morally responsible as long as the liberty to do otherwise is possible, even if the will to do otherwise is not possible within a person’s human behavior.

So let’s use the example of my mother and dog to imagine these possibilities. My mother chose to allow our dog on her bed. If my mother’s choice was determined by events years or millennia ago, the hole in the bed sheet is not inherently evil. If libertarian free will exists, it is possible to say that my mother is morally responsible for the hole only because she had the ability to choose not to allow our dog on the bed.

She didn’t kick our dog out because she loves our dog. However, our dog is actually required to sleep in my mother’s bed for medical reasons. So, in this case, is my mother still responsible for the hole? We can presume that she is because her will and love of our dog predated the need for the requirement for our dog to sleep in her bed.

So our will is determined or, as Schopenhauer said, “A man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” The question that then arises is, where does this determination of will arise from, and what does this say about the problem of evil? In order for our will to be truly determined, it must predate human existence. Using the analogy of Plato’s cave, this will must be something that exists outside the cave in the form of good.

Another way to look at this is to say that God himself set forth the desires of man. So the question that arises is, why would an all-powerful and all-loving God allow such evil or even set in motion this evil? This is where the theodicies come into play. In particular, two theodicies can be used to solve this problem: the Augustinian and the Irenaean theodicies.

The Irenaean, or “soul-making theodicy”, states that humans are still in a stage of moral development. God first created us in his image and then his likeness, and it is the latter part that has yet to be finished. The Augustinian theodicy states that instead of God being responsible for the incarnation of evil in the universe, it is mankind’s original, sin that was responsible for the evil. To Augustine, evil was the corruption of the good he created.

So why would God allow evil and/or why would God purposefully create evil? It's the solution that relies solely on the redemption of Jesus’ sacrifice of the crucifix. God wants to give his creation the choice of accepting redemption because of his want to create true perfection.

I believe there could be another solution to this preexistence of our will. This solution lies in the Nietzsche idea of eternal return, to “will backward” as Nietzsche said in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra". This would seem to answer how free will exists in the past. However, the issue with Nietzsche is his belief that none of this was really truly possible because he ultimately believed that natural state of the world was meaningless.

To summarize the problem of evil is this: our misuse of free will to choose to follow through on our will. Our will is not our choice, and all we can choose is either to follow our will or not to follow our will. There is no choice to do the opposite of our will, no matter how hard we try. And it is God himself that set our will into motion as his ultimate plan, as John Hick would say, “for the greater good”.

Why is this important to understand? Why not live within a delusion that free will exists? Why not believe that life is all determined and that it is meaningless? Because it is without this soft determinism, the compatibility of free will with determinism, that the world will sink into total depravity. This is because of all other solutions to evil when followed through, logically lead to the concept of moral responsibility not existing, or that they lead to life itself not existing.

I propose the only solutions to defeating this evil are thus: (1) To give up your will and decide to choose nothing, (2) accepting God’s existence and his redemption, or (3) create a morality from which we as a society can choose when and when not someone’s will is virtuous. The only logical options are the second and third; the second is actually an answer to the third. The first option, if chosen, inevitably would lead the one that chose it to the conclusion that they themselves and the world they inhabit does not exist. Inevitably, this conclusion would drive one mad.


To conclude, these evil acts have no real solution to them. We won't be able to rid the world of them without causing serious harm to the good of humanity. However, we can possibly make sure there are fewer and fewer of these acts. But it will take hard work. We must change our culture, drastically.

Cover Image Credit: Yahoo

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I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.
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Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.

Why?

Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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Seize The Opportunity For A First Step Towards Criminal Justice Reform

The FIRST STEP Act, while limited in scope, has the potential to set a precedent for criminal justice reform across the United States.

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It's no secret that the United States' criminal justice system is a mess. Mass incarceration continues to fester throughout the system as a result of harsh sentencing laws that in many cases are especially punitive towards minorities, high rates of recidivism due to a lack of resources to help former inmates transition back into society, and a lack of legislation fix the flaws in the system to name just a few reasons.

But now, as the current 115th Congress enters its final few days of legislative work in Washington, there is an opportunity to make meaningful reforms to the American criminal justice system: the Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person (or FIRST STEP) Act. In its current form, the bill would allocate funding to increase the number of vocational training and rehabilitation programs in federal prisons as well as make it easier for inmates in federal prisons to earn more "good time" credits that would qualify them for early release. If passed, it would have immediate effects on the status of thousands of inmates' prison sentences.

The bill is also remarkable because it has a great deal of bipartisan support; numerous Democrats and Republicans are listed as sponsors, and the House of Representatives passed their form of the bill last May by a 360-59 margin. In an even more surprising turn of events, President Donald Trump announced earlier in the fall that he would approve the bill - an unusual move for somebody who ran on a tough-on-crime platform in the 2016 election - if it made it to his desk (a result that would require the bill's Senate form to pass in the chamber and be reconciled with the House's version). Trump's stance on the bill puts him on the same side as a number of organizations favoring criminal justice reform such as the American Civil Liberties Union.

Evidently, the bill has a wide appeal, but there are forces that could still stop this much-needed criminal justice legislation in the Senate. One powerful threat to the bill's passage is the possibility that it will not even reach the Senate floor for a vote as the chamber scrambles to address other legislation before Congress adjourns for the year. The FIRST STEP Act simply does not hold a high priority for some Senators.

Additionally, some Senate Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas have voiced heated opposition to the bill on the grounds that it treated some inmates too leniently by allowing them to be released early (a claim Senate Republicans who sponsored the bill reject, citing restrictions that allow only those who committed lower-level offenses to partake in sentence-reducing programs). On the other hand, some progressives have been hesitant to support the bill because they argue that it does not go far enough in addressing sentencing reform and that the sentence-reducing programs outlined in the bill would not accessible to enough inmates.

It is true that the bill will directly affect only a small portion of the federal prison population (which in itself makes up only a fraction of the number of incarcerated people in the United States, the rest imprisoned mostly in state or county facilities). It is also true that the bill mainly targets the symptoms of mass incarceration (such as inmate recidivism and overcrowding in prisons) and not the root causes (excessively harsh sentencing laws for low-level offenders); in fact, only the Senate version of the bill mentions anything about loosening of minimum sentencing laws, as the House version does not. Yet, despite these shortcomings, advocates for criminal justice reform should still support the FIRST STEP Act because it still has the potential to help thousands of inmates currently in federal prisons.

If passed, the bill would help inmates convicted of minor offenses achieve early release from prison by increasing the number of credits counting towards prison sentence reduction they could earn while in prison; it would also assist them with the transition back into society through job-training programs, which the bill incentivizes inmates to use since the programs count towards early-release credits and are shown to decrease recidivism rates by enabling former inmates to gain at least some stability once they are released. Admittedly, these reforms are fairly mild when compared to the enormity of flaws within America's justice system, but it is better to seize the opportunity to help at least a small fraction of America's incarcerated population re-achieve independence than to help none at all. Great reforms do not take place overnight; most have to start small.

It should also be noted that FIRST STEP does not preclude the possibility of more expansive criminal justice reform, but rather (as its name implies) lays the groundwork for Congress to pursue more solutions in the future. A bipartisan legislative victory in criminal justice reform could incentivize both Congress and the President focus more attention on the issue in a time when partisan gridlock is dominant in Washington.

Given both the immediate opportunity to improve the lives of many current inmates and the chance to start a long-term legislative push for criminal justice reform, the FIRST STEP act needs to be prioritized as it makes its journey through the Senate. The bill is small but could have lasting consequences if those who wish to change the United States' criminal justice system for the better push to make it a national priority.

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