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?

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.

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