Caleb’s Concepts: Why evil doesn’t exist


Caleb Garbuio, Editorial Page Editor

What if I told you the issue that has plagued humanity since its inception doesn’t exist? No, I am not discussing disease, war, or famine, since these all exist historically and persist to the present. I’m talking about evil as an abstract concept. It doesn’t exist. Here’s why.

In his 2012 book, “Righteous Mind” moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues humans are wired for religion because there are many documented benefits to a religious society. Religion has been shown to reduce stress and foster group cohesion which prompted neuroendocrinologist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky, an atheist, to conclude religion positively affects people’s wellbeing. As of now, this behavior appears to be uniquely human since our simian friends, chimpanzees, are spiritual, not religious.

Additionally, all known human societies have an element of religion to them, making religions a uniquely human concept. Thus, as a universally adapted cultural practice, religion must function within society, granting it an adaptive benefit. This function allowed early humans to explain the unexplainable. It would give peace of mind within a destructive universe since life expectancy was short and child mortality was high for most of history. Naturally, a supernatural explanation became appealing and defined the wrongness of the world called evil.

Yet, we now know that evil in its religious sense probably doesn’t exist. For example, take serial killers like Ted Bundy, a clear case example of a wholly evil person, right? Not exactly. Mr. Bundy suffered from a neurological condition known as psychopathy, meaning that he had a malfunctioning brain. Psychopaths have lower connections in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala, causing lower empathy, reduced fear and heightened aggression. Depicted below is a brain scan of a normal brain versus a psychopathic one.

While there is no excuse for Ted Bundy’s behavior, it would be wrong to label his actions as evil. Instead, his murder and rapes are a product of a maladaptive brain. Therefore, in the sense of human action, evil is not a substance. Rather, it is the absence of a properly functioning system.

This concept isn’t exclusively restricted to science. One of the arguments against the existence of a benevolent all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present God is the problem of evil. If evil exists, does that mean that God created it? If so, why would an all-good God do that? If evil is independent of God, then God couldn’t have mastery of it, meaning that God is not all-powerful. To answer this difficult question, North African philosopher Saint Augustine wrote in his book, “The City of God,” that evil is the absence of good. Since we understand what good is, the absence of its presence leaves a hole in our hearts. Thus, evil is merely a product of where the good we are endowed with should be.

Many people cling to antiquated notions of evil. We believe it as a force diametrically opposed to good, and any aspect of our life that isn’t perfectly chalked up is considered evil. Rather, our concept of evil is merely the absence of what we would like or the absence of a properly functioning universe.