When you think about evil, what images flash through your mind? Barbed wire, concentration camp? Ash coming out of skyscrapers, planes hitting twin towers? A child dying with cancer? Or suffering with hunger? Hello welcome to God & Science Foundation, the preaching ministry of physician and author Dr. Paul Kattupalli. In today’s lecture, Dr.Paul argues that our perception of evil depends on the worldview we espouse. He presents to us the three dominant worldviews of our time – Theism, Pantheism and Atheism and addresses how each worldview deals with the problem of evil.
Does Evil really exist?
Let us think about this question for a few minutes. I don’t have to tell you there are a lot of painful things in this world. As I write these words, two stories are dominating the newscasts around the world. One is about people panicked and ran out of their offices from tall buildings in New Delhi, India after a major earthquake hit the Indian subcontinent that killed over 35 people in Pakistan and made thousands of people homeless. The other story is about a bomb explosion that killed three young people in the city of Boston, in the United States. I was watching the news, a grandmother of one of the victims was saying, ‘every time I see my granddaughter on the television, I want to hug her. Her memories are killing me inside’. Why would innocent people have to suffer the consequences of human evil like terrorism.
Philosophers classified evil into two categories or kinds. One is natural evil, like the earthquake that happened in the Indian subcontinent, the second is human evil, like the terrorist attack that happened in Boston.
Natural evil and human evil: We see lot of natural evil in this world: Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, volcanoes, tidal waves, avalanches, lighting bolts, radon leaks, wind storms, screwflies, hookworms, cane toads, piranha fish, kudzu; diseases like HIV, sickle cell anemia, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, polio and countless other maladies that afflict humanity. Recently I heard a story of a man who bought a new car, while driving it home, he got a seizure and crashed head on with an oncoming truck.
Then we have human evil. Evil acts committed by human beings.
Hitler comes to mind immediately; the man who killed more than 10 million people due to a hateful vendetta.
Stalin and Mao who killed millions of their own people in Russia and China to launch their socialist utopia
Charles Manson (b.1969) and his ‘Helter Skelter’ murders he committed in the late 1960s.
Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994), the cannibalistic serial killer who murdered 17 people between 1978 and 1991
Ted Kaczynski (b.1942), the Unabomber, who carried out a nationwide bombing campaign against modern technology, killing innocent people with homemade bombs.
Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden.. the list is endless. We can think of lot of evil in our own communities that may not even make news.
In spite of all these things I listed, there are people who do not like to hear the word, evil. Several years ago, when US President George W.Bush used the phrase ‘axis of evil’ to describe nations that engage in terrorism, many intellectuals excoriated him. Similarly, when President Ronald Reagan called Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’ he was severely criticized, just for using the word ‘evil’. The critics’ objection was not about whether those nations were evil but against using the word ‘evil itself. There are people who do not believe in the existence of evil.
III. Does Evil Exist?: Atheistic, Pantheistic, or Theistic
On the other hand, among the people who believe in the existence of evil, the word ‘evil’ is used in many different contexts. If you look into history, philosophers filled countless volumes in probing the nature of evil. In our own time, atheists often disparagingly challenge us, ‘Given the reality and actuality of so much evil in this world, how can you believe in the existence of a good God?’ They argue that from the occurrence of evil in the world we can infer the non-existence of God. But, before we consider the question, ‘why is there evil?’ we need to answer, ‘Does evil really exist?’ or is it just a mental construct?
Now, please listen to me carefully because I am going to present my central argument in a nutshell here:
- Your perception of evil is based on the cosmological worldview you espouse.
- And when you make arguments from evil inconsistent with your worldview, you commit logical errors.
- Your perception of evil is based on the cosmological worldview you espouse.
There are three dominant cosmological worldviews in our society:
- Atheistic worldview
- Pantheistic worldview
- Theistic worldview
In atheistic worldview, as the name suggests, there is no God. The universe is everything. It started 14 billion years ago in a Big Bang and is progressing into a purposeless future. Does evil exist in atheistic worldview? When we pose this question to atheists, they answer with either a positivistic or nihilistic response.
First, let us talk to positivists, who believe in the existence of evil. Usually their first argument against God is that is there so much suffering in this world that a loving God should not be existing. It follows with a tear-jerking illustrations like a child dying of a cancer in the hospital. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a British philosopher, mathematician and an atheist. In his book, ‘Why I am not a Christian’, Bertrand Russell put it this way, ‘I would invite any Christian to accompany me to the children’s ward of a hospital, to watch the suffering that is there being endured, and then to persist in the assertion that those children are so morally abandoned as to deserve what they are suffering. In order to bring himself to say this, a man must destroy himself all feelings of mercy and compassion. He must, in short, make himself as cruel as the God in whom believes.’
What is the basic premise in this argument? Why they always put children in their arguments? The assumption is children are innocent. Children are innocent? According to whom? In naturalistic, materialistic worldview, no one is more innocent than the other; no one is more evil than the other. The next claim is: innocent should not suffer. Innocent should not suffer? According to whom? Who is the source of such a moral claim? Atheists say we are the source of our moral laws, based on their pragmatic and utilitarian value. This is called utilitarian positivism.
The positivistic atheist must answer three questions:
- The question of Existence: Do moral laws really exist?
- The question of Enforcement: Even if the moral law does exist, why should we enforce it?
- The question of Essence: Why the moral law applicable only to human beings?
- Do absolute moral laws really exist? If we agree that human beings are the source of moral laws we find in our society, who are the source?
Nuremberg trials were a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces of World War II between November 1945 and October 1946. The most perplexing problem in the trials was, ‘how are you going to prosecute these criminals who killed more than 10 million people? You see, the Nazis did not break laws of the land. Hitler was a democratically elected leader and his ‘Jewish problem and Final Solution’ was written in a mathematical format and was made a law by legislators who were democratically elected. What Nazis did in Germany was legal when they were doing it. You cannot prosecute them under German laws? You cannot prosecute them under American law or British law or French law because those laws do not apply in Germany. At that point, the jurisdiction came to the conclusion to invoke natural law and the indictments referred to ‘crimes against humanity’. In the lawlessness that ensued after Second World War, all over the Federal Republic of Germany, the courts repudiated legal positivism. They upheld, ‘the necessity of universal higher standards of objectively valid suprapositive principles for the lawmaker’. The accused physicians defended their killing of prisoners in medical experiments on the basis of the authority given to them by the laws of the Third Reich. In rejecting that defense, one court said, ‘the accused may not justify his conduct by appealing to an existing law if this law offended against certain self-evident principles of the natural law’. What are they saying? Our laws are not really laws if they are against the self-evident natural law.
On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, an argument brewed between a bus driver and a female passenger. The bus driver, James Blake ordered Rosa Parks to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus to a white passenger. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. The bus driver told her, ‘you are disobeying the law’. He was right because she was really disobeying the law of the land. The legal positivist sitting in that bus would have told Rosa Parks to just follow the law enacted by the majority in the country. Rosa Parks did not want to follow the law of the land, she wanted to follow the eternal natural law. And we know the rest of the story, the unfolding of Civil Rights Movement.
In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail. He wrote these words, ‘A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God….An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law’. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas: ‘An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law’.
How can atheism explain the existence of eternal natural law that we invoke when we face injustice in this world? How can our universe which is an ephemeral entity produce eternal natural law? If we are the source of absolute moral law, how can subjective beings be the source of objective laws? An objective law could have not come from a subjective source.
Atheist has to take one of the two roads: Evil exists, I determine what is evil and what is good based on the moral law. We as human beings can determine what is moral and what is immoral. But by taking that road he is walking into a minefield full of logical contradictions. The whole Nazi enterprise and Segregation system were the result of laws designed by democratic methods. In both historical dramas, justice was served by raising against the laws of the majority and invoking the eternal moral law. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) was a British philosopher and was regarded as the founder of modern utilitarianism. When he founded the modern utilitarianism, the first thing he did was to deny the existence of natural law. Why did he do it? Otherwise, his philosophy makes no sense. If absolute moral laws do exist, you have to abide them, whether something has pragmatic or utilitarian value, it does not matter. Jeremy Bentham had no choice except to deny the existence of natural law. Thus, pragmatism or utilitarianism and the moral law are two irreconcilable positions. You can derive one from the other. What is morally right may have no pragmatic or utilitarian value, like abolition of slavery. What is pragmatic or has utilitarian value, may not be morally right, like the sugar industry born out of slave labor. Thus, if human beings cannot be the source of absolute moral values, then who?
- The question of Enforcement: Let us say, no matter what is its source, moral law does exist. Then we need to answer: Even if it does exist, why should we obey? Who can go to Hitler and say, ‘Adolf, you are persecuting millions of people based on their ethnicity. It is against absolute moral values’. Hitler might look at you and say, ‘I don’t care’. You might say, ‘You must care, absolute moral values do exist?’. He might say, ‘Even if they exist, why should I follow them?’
When innocent blood was spilt for the first time on this earth, God came down and asked Cain, who killed his brother, ‘What did you do to your brother?’ Atheists might consent to the existence of absolute moral values, but they have no explanation for why we should obey them. George Washington, the first President of the United States very clearly stated this fact in his farewell speech. He said,
‘Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports’ He goes on to say, ‘Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle’
Please note those words, ‘Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ?’ Atheism does not explain why we are obligated to follow the universal moral values even if they exist.
- The question of Essence:
Thirdly, atheism does not answer the question of essence. During the heydays of Khmer Rouge, the atheistic ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot killed his own people even for wearing eye glasses, which he considered a mark of erudition that might result in disobedience to his totalitarianism. Over 3 million people were killed during 3 years of his premiership, that is 38% of Cambodia’s then population (8 million). Sensible people from all around the world called it ‘evil’. But if Pol Pot had killed 3 million chickens, we would not call it ‘evil’, because we kill chickens every day by millions for our sandwiches and other food supplies. Most of us do not respond with the same moral outrage to the killing of chickens, that we would show to the killings of human beings. Why? Because human beings are different from animals in ‘essence’.
Going back to Bertrand Russell: remember his criticism of Christian God who let little children die in the hospital. Now, imagine I walked into one of those rooms in Pediatrics section. There is this little boy dying with an infectious disorder. I looked at Mr.Bertrand Russell, ‘Mr.Russell, I am the physician here, to save this child, I need to use very powerful antibiotics. But the problem is the antibiotics are going to kill millions of innocent bacteria which are taking shelter in his body. He also need a bone marrow transplant and for that I need to kill a few mammals just to make sure that the method is safe to use. Is it ok with you?’
Mr.Russell would probably raise his eyebrows and say, ‘Why do you worry about bacteria and mammals, save the little boy’.
The point is even an atheist would not equate the life of a little boy with the life of a bacterium or a few mammals. We would be willing to save one human life at the expense of millions of bacteria which co-evolved with us, according to Darwinism. If somebody harms little children, we say it is immoral.
If it is immoral to kill human babies, why is it not immoral to kill the babies of bacteria?
If it is immoral to discriminate two human beings based on their skin color, is it also immoral to discriminate two dogs based on their skin color?
That is the question of essence. If God had not created human beings specially, we should not be discriminating any being in this world, including bacteria and viruses. Atheism has no answer to the question of essence. The Bible says, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27). Human beings are made in the image of God, that is the core of their essence. That is why we see a difference between cutting down a tree and cutting down a human being. Atheism has no answer on how human beings are different from other animals or trees in their essence. Off course, we have ideologies like environmentalism that scorn the idea of special creation of man and put him or her on the same plane with a dog or cat or a tree. But can we really live out the worldview in which the suffering of a child is equivalent to the suffering of a tree or an animal or bacteria?
Nihilism and Emptiness:
The other road an atheist takes is the road to nihilism.
As human beings it is natural for us to look for any purpose in the larger scheme of things. Because we do most of our activities in our daily lives with a purpose in mind. Please listen to what Benjamin Franklin told the 1787 Constitutional Convention when he requested it to pray for America.
“ I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel.”
Those are the words of Benjamin Franklin, the great scientist-statesman. Now listen to Richard Dawkins, the most prominent atheist of our time. This is what he wrote in his book, River Out Of Eden: A Darwinian View Of Life
“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
In Richard Dawkins’ worldview, dinosaurs can disappear for no purpose. In Benjamin Franklin’s worldview, even a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without God’s notice, let alone the rise and fall of empires. In Franklin’s worldview, at the bottom of all, there is design, there is purpose, there is evil, there is good and there is a difference between good and evil. He wonders whether there is any divine purpose even in such a trivial matter like the collapse of sparrow to the ground.
Richard Dawkins described the logical conclusion of Darwinian worldview. In that worldview, there is no such thing as evil. Please note those words: The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
In atheistic worldview you cannot even reasonably complain about the existence of evil. Then how can you turn around and cast aspersions on Christian God for all the evil in this world? In Darwinian worldview, the great force of nature is struggle for the survival and the survival of the fittest. In such a worldview, there is no such thing as evil.
There was a brief intersection between the lives of Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russell. When Darwin died in 1882, Russell was a 10 year old boy. While Bertrand Russell revolted at the suffering of children in his imagination and responded with disbelief in a good God overruling the world, sadly, Charles Darwin went through grief first handedly as his little children were succumbed to deadly infectious diseases.
Darwin’s biographer Janette Browne wrote that Darwin buried his faith when he buried his little girl. I feel sorry for the loss but I would like to ask Darwin, What are you complaining about Charles? Your little girl had no chance of survival in the world you constructed? Is it not all about survival of the fittest? Isn’t her death consistent with the worldview you espoused? Richard Dawkins would have told Darwin, ‘
Charles, there is no point in complaining. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
So, Richard Dawkins rightly portrayed a worldview that is actually consistent with atheism. In that worldview, ‘at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good’….then, ‘nothing but pitiless indifference’.
No matter what our contemporary atheist positivists tell us, Richard Dawkins told us the reality of our situation once we disentangle our existence from a theistic guidance.
He summed it up in 4 simple words: Nothing but pitiless indifference. He rightly extended the logical conclusion of a godless worldview into a cosmos of indifference. But how do you address the emptiness that is characteristic of nihilism that pervades that indifference? When you pose the question of emptiness, you are surmising that there should not be emptiness. Why emptiness even became a problem?
The question of emptiness carries with it some smell of teleology.
Nietzsche: After God, there is no more moral law, there is no meaning.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was famous for his declaration, ‘God is dead’.
He made that pronouncement in his 1882 book The Gay Science. Nietzsche also told us what happens after the death of God?
Today all our high profile atheists would say, ‘after the death of God, man is free to bury all superstitious debris that religions fabricated down the centuries, and pursue reason, man is free to pursue science, man is free to pursue equality, man is free to define his own purpose and meaning’.
But Nietzsche gave an answer that you would not expect from our modern atheists.
He said with the death of God comes the end of a sense of cosmos. After the death of God comes the end of a sense of order.
“The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him-you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward,sideward,forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?Is not night continually closing in on us?”
What happens after the death of God? Just listen to the dreadful imagery Nietzsche swaddled into his words:
Sponge wiping away the entire horizon
Earth unchained from the sun
Away from all suns
Straying through an infinite nothing
Night continually closing on us.
Each of those metaphors speak volumes about human predicament after the death of God. Nietzsche says that Judeo-Christian ethic established a moral system similar to a harmonious and orderly cosmos, with the earth moving around the Sun in a fixed orbit. Then he says that with the death of God comes a loss of orientation: We are left with a sense of “chaos,” in a state of “nihilism,” a condition in which we realize that there is no ultimate order or meaning and, thus, no way to determine what is right or wrong, valuable or worthless.
Please listen carefully, these are the words of the most important prophet of atheism in 19th century.
So, for Nietzsche, the death of God is not primarily about the end of religion but about the beginning of nihilism: After God, after morality, after science, what can we affirm? After the death of God, it is the beginning of nihilism, it is loss of meaning,
Atheist who becomes a positivist must answer the question of existence, enforcement and essence.
Atheist who becomes a nihilist must answer the question of emptiness
Now let us look into pantheistic worldview.
- Can evil exist in a pantheistic worldview?
After 2004 Indian ocean earthquake and tsunami, I was visiting Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of mainland India. When tsunami struck that part of India, thousands of people were buried into a watery grave instantaneously. A 16 foot memorial was built on the shore as a tribute to the lives of thousands of people who perished when the giant waves of the Indian Ocean smashed the coast. Across the tsunami memorial, just off the shore, there was a memorial built for Swami Vivekananda, who is said to have meditated in that place. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) was an Indian Hindu monk and he was a crucial figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the West. Standing there, I wondered what would Swami Vivekananda have said had he been alive in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
Swami Vivekananda once said, “good and evil are but superstitions, and do not exist. The difference is only in degree. It is all a manifestation of that Atman; He is being manifested in everything; only when the manifestation is very thick we call it evil; and when it is very thin we call it good”
What he is saying is, ‘Good and evil are just different manifestations of same divine substance. If it is thick you call it evil, if it is thin you call it good.
In pantheistic worldview, the difference between good and evil is only a matter of thickness. Everything is divine, both Hitler and Gandhi they look different from outside in their appearance and deeds, but they are the manifestations of same divinity that pervades the whole universe. In pantheism everything is divine, and as you can expect, there is a plethora of gods and goddesses in pantheistic religions, not less than a few millions.
Earlier I mentioned Steve Jobs: how he was disturbed by the images of hungry children in Africa, confronted the pastor about the existence of a good God and abandoned his Christian faith and became a Buddhist. Steve Jobs embraced and lived a pantheistic worldview the rest of his life. I wonder whether Steve Jobs ever tried to frame the agony of those hungry kids within his pantheistic worldview. In pantheistic worldview, those hungry kids are just a manifestation of god, it is their karma and they are probably paying for the bad things they did in their past lives.
In pantheistic worldview, everything is divine. In atheistic worldview, everything is nature. Pantheist stands on one side and says, everything you consider as nature is divine; and atheist stands on the other side and says, everything you consider as divine is natural. Is there really any difference? Not really.
In his book God Delusion, Richard Dawkins described pantheism this way: “Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a non-supernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings……Pantheism is sexed-up atheism”. Even though he summed up his views of pantheism somewhat distastefully, he right observed that pantheism as a whole does not differ much from atheism.
In pantheistic worldview, everything is divine. There is no non-divine entity in this universe. How can you say certain things are evil and certain things are good in such a worldview?
In Darwinian worldview, everything is nature. There is no non-natural entity in this universe. How can you say certain things are evil and certain things are good in such a worldview?
So, both atheistic and pantheistic worldviews do not offer us a logical explanation for the existence of evil, ie. evil which is intrinsically evil. Now, let us turn to the third worldview: Theistic Worldview. Needless to say, there are many theistic worldviews in our world, but I would like to focus on Christian worldview here.
How does we recognize evil in a Christian worldview?
In Genesis chapter 3, we read the sobering conversation that occurred between God and Adam.
God asked a very moving question, ‘Where are you?
In Christian worldview, Goodness preceded man. As we read in Genesis account, God creates different things, and says it is good, it is good, it is good. Goodness is not a product of social evolution. Goodness is a moral value that existed before the creation of man. Even before man came on the scene, God already established what is good in this universe.
In Christian worldview, man has a special place in nature. The Creator has a special concern for the human beings. In Evolution, man is an accident. No God is searching for man.
Adam replied, ‘I heard thy voice in the garden’: In Christian worldview starts with man in a garden. The very word garden implies an orderly place. God planted a Garden and said it is Good. In Christian worldview, there is a God, there is a Garden, there is a Law, because there is a Law, there is Good and Evil. In Christian worldview, God decides what is right and what is wrong. Not man.
In Darwinian worldview, there is no God, it is all nature; there is no Garden, it is jungle
there is no Law, there are only feelings. There is no such thing as good or evil, there are only ‘tastes’ or ‘preferences’.
Without God, there is no Law, without Law, there is no such thing as Good and Evil.
Genesis 3:10; And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. God asked Adam a very loaded question: ‘Who told thee that thou wast naked?’ God asked very poignant question: Who told thee that thou wast naked? Look around, no animal wears clothes, no tree wears clothes, it is just nature, nature red in tooth and claw, as Tennyson put it in In Memoriam.
Christian worldview starts with God and Man in the Garden. Darwinian worldview starts with Nature and Man in the Jungle.
God, Garden, Good
Christian worldview starts with God and man in a garden, in the context of a moral law. God has put moral limitations on human beings. You might have been wondering why on a lecture on evil, I have been talking about moral law? Because there is no such thing as evil without a moral law, and there is no moral law without God.
God and Law are inseparable.
Let me summarize this section into two points.
- If you affirm the moral law, you have to affirm God.
- If you deny God, you have to deny the moral law
- If you affirm the Law, you have to affirm God.
Immanuel Kant: If there is moral law, we must accept the existence of God
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who was considered the most important Western thinker since Aquinas. He is famous for his radical claim that all knowledge is based on sense experience and it is not based in the passive reception of sense impressions but in the mind’s active organization of sense experience. Among others, he wrote two most influential works in the history of philosophy: The Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason. He died in the year 1804 and his tomb was inscribed with the closing words of his second Critique: “The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on.”
Kant is saying that two things fill his mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe:
The starry heavens above me and
the moral law within me
In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant says to act morally is to bind oneself to a universal moral law and to ignore all other incentives or motives to action, such as tradition, emotion, or self-interest. Immanuel Kant said that for universal moral values to exist, we must postulate the existence of God.
Kant then introduces us to the concept of Categorical Imperative. Reason gives the moral law to itself in the form of what Kant calls the ‘categorical imperative’, according to which one should always act in such a way that the principle of the act is one that can be universalized. We should act morally while binding ourselves to the universal moral law and we should ignore all other incentives or motives to action, such as tradition, emotion, self-interest,it’s pragmatic or utilitarian worth. Kant said that is where freedom of action is.
To act according to the moral law is, for Kant, to act autonomously.
You see, even a person like Immanuel Kant, who proposed that there is no way we can know God empirically, is saying that when it comes to moral law we cannot escape God. So, If you affirm the moral law, you have to affirm God. To put it differently,
- Without God, absolute moral values cannot exist.
Nietzsche: After God, there is no more moral law.
Earlier I talked about Nietzsche and his book Gay Science. He said clearly after the death of God, we are ‘straying as though through an infinite nothing’ like ‘earth unchained from the sun’. The death of God is not essentially about the end of religion but about the beginning of nihilism. It is loss of meaning, it is loss of order.
In such a state, to quote Karl Marx, ‘man will come to revolve around himself as his own true sun’. So, we talked about Immanuel Kant and then about Nietzsche. Both philosophers told us the same thing in different ways.
Kant said, we need moral law to live a meaningful life. But moral law cannot exist without God.
Nietzsche showed it in a different direction: After we remove God, we cannot have any moral law.
Immanuel taught that one must act in accordance to the universal moral values, without any qualifiers or modifiers like their pragmatic or utilitarian value. He called it categorical imperative.There are atheists who contend that we can derive objective moral laws from a pragmatic, utilitarian philosophy. Pragmatic or utilitarian philosophies say that we should value things based on their outcomes.
Deriving Absolute Moral Values from Pragmatic or Utilitarian Means
Is it possible to derive universal moral values based on pragmatic or utilitarian approach to life? Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) were British philosophers who were considered to be the founders of utilitarianism. They both denied the existence of natural law. Why?
Because if we accept objective moral values you cannot even posit utilitarianism as a valid philosophical view because once we acknowledge the existence of objective moral values we are obligated to obey them irrespective of their pragmatic or utilitarian value. As Kant said, universal moral values are values that we adhere irrespective of their pragmatic or utilitarian rewards.
In many intensely moral dilemmas, objective moral values and pragmatism come as two mutually exclusive positions. For example in 1833, when British government wanted to abolish slavery, slave trade was very economically profitable business. Most people loved to have a slave and the products of their labor. But British government took it upon itself to scourge the evil of slave trade for once, and it went forward to bear the financial losses the slave traders would incur in the process.
Warren Hastings (1732-1818) was the first Governor-General of India, from 1773 to 1785. In 1787, Warren Hastings was impeached by Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797) for the crimes and misdemeanors he committed during his stint in India. The investigation went over a period of seven years. One of the Hastings argument was, ‘Yes, I abused my power, but moral rules we use in England are not applicable to things I did in India’. Edmund Burke objected to that argument, the so called ‘Geographic morality’. Geographic morality is the view that what is right and wrong in one place may not be applicable to other places. Edmund Burke opposed such a view and argued for universal moral values:‘What is right in England is also right in India, and what is wrong in England is also wrong in India’
Justice for all, abolition of slavery, equality for all… they are the fruits of adhering to the natural law or universal moral values irrespective of or often, instead of, their pragmatic or utilitarian or geographic consequence. So, to argue that we can derive universal moral values from our own experience is illogical.
Where does Evil start?
The question of evil needs to be answered within a framework of a worldview. In Christian worldview, evil does exist and it is defined as the violation of God’s law. The source of evil is our heart.
Jesus said in Mark 7: 21 – 23: For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.
We look in all wrong places while ignoring our own hearts. Jesus said, ‘all these evil things come from within, and defile the man’.
Our best social scientists tell us that we need to educate people to combat evil. But Jesus said, it is a heart problem, not the head problem.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was an English romantic poet. He wrestled with the problem of evil all through his life. After his famous work, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he wanted to write an epic poem on the origin of evil. He wrote to his brother, “I believe most steadfastly in the original sin. From our mothers wombs, our understandings are darkened and even when our understandings are in the light that our organization is depraved and our volitions imperfect”
Even when our understandings are in the light, still our organization is depraved.
British national newspaper, Times of London, once asked several of Britain’s leading intellectuals, ‘what do you think is the problem with the world?’. Intellectuals wrote back with tedious explanations, ranging from lack of education, poverty, inequality etc. British journalist G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) sent them the shortest reply on a postcard, ‘The problem with the world, sir, ‘I am’’
Chesterton was echoing what Lord Jesus taught. Eradication of evil starts with reformation of our own hearts.
Why does God allow evil?
Down the ages, the problem of evil has been one of the favorite darts for atheists to throw at believers. Two most common questions they ask us, are, Why did God allow evil? what about all the evil done by the Christian church?
The answer to the first question is, there is no highest good without freedom. There is no freedom without potential for good and the occurrence of evil. When God made us as volitional beings with free will, He gave us freedom to disobey Him. When God created this universe, He called it ‘good’ (Genesis 1). There is no highest good without freedom. There is no freedom without potential for and the occurrence of evil. Freedom comes with a potential for evil. A few days ago, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother detonated two bombs at the finish line of Boston Marathon and butchered three precious lives. The United States gave these two young brothers a refuge and a copious welfare as they fled their war torn region of Chechnya. It gave them freedom to pursue their dreams. As it gave them freedom in this country, the United States also took the risk of possible evil they could commit on its citizens. In the same way, when God gave us freedom, He took the risk of all possible evil we could commit. Just like the tentacles of US law enforcement besieged the fleeing brothers, God’s holy law will encircle sinners as they commit more evil, if not now in the future. As the great Baptist preacher Robert G.Lee (1886-1978) used to say, ‘there is a payday someday’.
The second question, what about the evil done by Christians?
The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Anti-Semitism, the Salem Witch trials, the child abuse by the priests?
Like all other people, Christians also were given the freedom to obey or disobey God’s commandments. Adam and Eve were the children of God. They committed evil when they violated the law of God. In the same way, Christians commit evil when they violate the commandments of Christ.
Please open your New Testament and see how Jesus lived, and what He taught to his disciples on how they should live. Christians made serious errors and committed heinous acts when they ignored or disobeyed the teachings of Lord Jesus Christ.
The first thing we should understand is, the founder of Christian faith, Lord Jesus Christ never taught violence as the means of achieving religious objectives. All one needs to verify this fact is to read the New Testament from cover to cover. Jesus in fact taught non-violence.
In Matthew 5: 39, Jesus said, ‘but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’. Jesus is saying, if somebody hit you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. When somebody knocks you with a few punches, you are not going to pummel him back, but forgive him and pray for him. Imagine what the world would be like if everybody follows Jesus’s commandment.
In John chapter 18:10, we read about the events happened when Jesus was arrested. Simon Peter, Jesus’ close disciple took a sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Peter took it on himself to save Jesus from His arrest and execution. But Jesus told Peter, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Matthew 26:52)
Jesus said explicitly, violence breeds more violence. But, the tragic truth of the Church history has been it followed the impulsive zealotry of Peter rather than the instructive restraint of Jesus Christ. With His teachings and actions, Jesus taught forgiveness. While hanging on the cross, Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Matthew 23: 34).
The difference between Christian violence and Atheistic violence
When a Christian commits violence, it is a direct violation of the commandments of Christ. Contrast that with the teachings of atheistic founders of communism. They actually recommended violence as one of the tools to launch the societal transformation. Karl Marx for example wrote that in order to bring the socialist utopia, violence is not only unavoidable, it is necessary. Average atheist who sips coffee in the Starbucks may not harm anyone, but he does not provide any rationale for why we ought to be nonviolent.
Evil: God’s Instruction and Man’s Instinct
We have a tendency to estimate the egregiousness of evil based on the amount of blood spilled in the point of interest. As a result when we think of evil, in our mind’s eye, we conjure up ghastly images like the barbed wire around the concentration camp,
the glass pieces of the kristallnacht,
the smoke from twin towers of World Trade Center
the skulls from Rwanda etc.
Those images churn our stomachs and we call it evil.
If it is pleasant to our senses, we call it good
If it is distasteful, we call it evil.
What are we doing exactly? We are judging by our feelings.
Let me illustrate this from Genesis chapter 3.
We read in Genesis chapter 3,
 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
Adam and Eve, our first parents determined what was right and wrong based on their feelings. Not surprisingly, humanistic philosophies stress on feelings rather than the law of God.
Adam and Eve looking at the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: that is a very profound moment in the formation of Christian view of morality and ethics. It is God who decides what is right or wrong. It is not Adam, it is not Eve, it is not Satan, it is not the nature.
The secular philosophers say, ‘what’s the big deal about a fruit?’ Pragmatism says first eat the fruit, see how it feels then we can decide whether it is good or bad. Utilitarianism asks, ‘if it is going to make you happy, you should eat the fruit’. In Christianity, before you eat the fruit, you need to ask yourself, ‘Is it acceptable to God?’ Because for the Christian, it is the law of God that determines the morality of an action, not its outcome or benefits or rewards.
Why conservatives and the whole movement of conservatism are falling apart? Ohio senator Bob Putman recently said that we should legalize gay marriage because his son came to him and said he is a gay. That is feelings based morality: my son is doing it, that is fine, I change my position.It is deciding what is right or wrong based on how you feel about it. Our sensitivities are subjective while the scripture is objective.
Emblem of Evil in Christian Imagination
But what is the emblem of evil in Christian imagination? It’s a couple standing in the garden looking at a fruit. A Christian is called to discern even among the most charming things he or she encounters.
A couple looking at a fruit.
There was no barbed wire, no smoke, no blood, no skulls or bones.
A Christian’s perception of evil is determined not by what is obnoxious to the senses, but what is acceptable in the sight of God. In the Old Testament, we repeatedly read the words, ‘and he did evil in the sight of the Lord’.
While reading New Testament, I find many times Jesus praying to God before doing certain things. I used to wonder, Jesus is not doing anything bad now. Why does he need to seek the will of God even before He does good things?’ The point is, if it is important to seek the will of God even before doing good things, how much more pertinent to seek the will of God when we are faced with bad choices?
What can we do about evil?
Once we agree that evil exists, then we need to answer, how to respond to it? We need to focus on two things here, the Word of God and the Grace of God.
Word of God
Word of God instructs us how to respond to evil and the Grace of God preserves us in the face of evil. We are called to search our own hearts and to judge by the Word of God, not by our feelings.
Grace of God
From a theological perspective there are two kinds of evil: Natural Evil and Human Evil. Things like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, famines etc comes under natural evil. Things like Hitler’s holocaust on Jewish people, Stalin’s Gulags on peasants, Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare on Kurdish people, and the countless acts of violence we see and hear about in our daily lives come under Human Evil.
But it all – natural evil and human evil – starts with breaking the law of God.
All natural evil started when Adam broke the law. All human evil today is happening as a result of human beings breaking the law of God. Isn’t it unfair that we bear the consequences of natural evil that started with Adam did six thousand years ago? Well, we are bearing the consequences of all the human evil that is happening around us right now. At this moment, we are surrounded by both natural evil and human evil. We need God’s grace to survive from both natural and human evil.
God provided a remedy for both natural evil and human evil.
The power of God manifested even in the darkest moments of evil. What is the evilest act in human history? It is the murder of the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. God turned that evil act into the act of redemption. We are saved by the blood of Lord Jesus Christ.
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)
God provided a remedy even for human evil. Today, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in this world. Yet, God gives strength to persevere in the face of human evil and calls His people to be with Him when they end this earthly life.
What is the Cure for Evil that is generated from my own heart?
My heart is evil
My imagination is full of evil
My surroundings are evil,
how can I resist evil?
I John 1: 7
 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus wants to change us from within.
First we need to recognize the evil within our own hearts, then we need to ask God for forgiveness that He offers us in His Son, Lord Jesus Christ. Then we walk in His light doing His will. When we do His will, we do not commit evil. Human evil ends with the transformation of our hearts, the natural evil ends with the transformation of nature when Lord Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. Thus, God provided a remedy for both human evil and natural evil.
Because there is so much evil, there cannot be a God’ that is a common argument we hear against the existence of God. But, as Dr.Paul noted, our perception of evil depends on the worldview we espouse. All evil is a violation of the law of God. Our moral values should depend not on our feelings or opinions but on the Word of God. Evil starts in our own hearts and God in His grace provided a way to redeem us from the evil.
Have you realized that you are a sinner who needs forgiveness of your sins? If not, we encourage you to put your faith in Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord right at this moment and write us a note so that we can share your joy.
Born in India, Dr.Paul Kattupalli made his passion to discuss the critical issue of our time and to offer a message of hope that God gives us in the person of Lord Jesus Christ.
If you would like to listen or order more of his sermons, visit us online at www.doctorpaul.org
Please feel free to make copies of this sermon and distribute it among your friends or family members. May God richly bless you.
- Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian, p.30, Simon & Schuster
- 50 Questions on the Natural Law: What it is and why we need it by Charles Rice , Ignatius Press
Dawkins, Richard. River out of Eden,
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science
George Orwell’s ‘Reflections on Gandhi’, Partisan Review, Jan.1949
Paul Kattupalli MD is a physician and writer.