Evil

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

What is it

Is there such a thing as pure evil in the world? How should we confront evil? Can evil ever be finally overcome? If the universe was created by a supremely good, supremely powerful, supremely loving deity, why is there evil in the world to begin with? On the other hand, if there is no God and everything is permitted, what distinguishes the truly evil from the purely good? John and Ken weigh good and evil with Peter van Inwagen from the University of Notre Dame.

Listening Notes

Why is there evil? Does the existence of God require there to be evil or vice versa? Evil seems to go beyond ordinary badness. Ken introduces the guest, Peter van Inwagen, professor at Notre Dame. John asks van Inwagen to reconcile the problem of evil with theism. Van Inwagen distinguishes two kinds of evil: radical evil and bad things. The problem of evil, as related to the existence of God, pertains to the latter. Some people argue that the existence of God implies there would be no evil. Why should we believe that is true? 

Van Inwagen distinguishes between evil, the concept, and evils, particular bad things. He says the latter is what bothers most people. Van inwagen says that one of the hardest arguments for the existence of evil for the theist to deal with is the argument from God's omniscience. How do philosophers explain the existence of radical moral evil? Van Inwagen doubts philosophers have much to say about it although he thinks religious believers can explain it easily. Can atheists believe in evil? If God planned out the universe, why would he leave part of his plans in the hands of imperfect beings like us? Van Inwagen says that free will might be good in itself.

Osama bin Laden called the US evil and President Bush called bin Laden evil. Is calling someone or something “evil” more than a rhetorical device? It is often misused to sidestep the issue. Van Inwagen thinks it is also used correctly on some occasions. We don't need to understand the inner life of an evil person, but we can understand what they did. He thinks this is needed to use the word correctly. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:28): Amy Standen interviews Cliff Harris, a detective who has worked on crimes against children and homicide. She also interviews a psychologist about what evil is.
  • Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:31): Ian Shoales gives the philosophical history of the problem of evil, from St. Augustine to Leibniz to Voltaire
 
 

Peter van Inwagen, John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

 
 
 

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