Kai-man Kwan         

The problem of evil is a favourite topic among the philosophers of religion & it has been (rightly) regarded as the biggest intellectual problem for the theist.  It may also be expected to be an exciting problem by the students of philosophy.  However when he plunges into the literature on this problem by the analytical philosophers, he surprisingly finds a lot of technicalities: analysis of freedom, possible worlds, modal logic, etc. which smothers his original excitement.  I have no intention to devalue the intellectual side of the 'problem' of evil.  However the common discussion of the problem is woefully inadequate because  the real force of this 'problem' is rarely grasped or brought out.  In this paper I would argue that properly understood evil is not just an intellectual problem or puzzle; it is an existential mystery.  Perhaps here I could draw on the distinction between 'problem' & 'mystery':     "A problem is a challenge to the intellect, eliciting a detached objectivity by means of which it can sooner or later be solved.  Problems are posed, & formulated, by the human mind itself & made manageable to its cognitive premises.  A mystery, however, cannot be approached in this way.  It cannot be "solved."  It demands recognition, & it elicits personal involvement in an encounter that brings the person face to face with its presence. ...  The idea of mystery implies the notion of power.  It is related to the idea of value.  Mystery poses itself: it touches the human being.  It belongs to the sphere of the Thou."(Pruyser, 98-9)  Certainly I think EVIL is a mystery that confronts us & calls forth response from our whole being.  Let us look at some cases of evil.

The Case of the Moors Murderer
           Ian Brady & Myra Hindley, known as the Moors Murderers, lived in Wardle Brook Avenue in Hattersley, near Manchester.  They tortured & murdered a number of children & then buried them in the Saddleworth Moors, 8 miles away.  Robert Wilson, a journalist, wrote of the trial of this couple: "I'd expected to see a couple of monsters, & here was a perfectly normal looking young couple, just looking around the court as if they'd been accused of nothing more serious than riding a bicycle without lights.  ...  She (Myra Hindley) seemed to have an attitude of 'what am I doing here?- I've done nothing wrong', & that is where the real evil lay. ... Ian Brady also had this air of evil around him.  The impassive way he sat throughout the proceedings without seeming to give a damn as to what was going on around him- that, I think, was possibly the most frightening evil aspect of it all.  ...  tape recordings of Lesley Anne Downey, one of the victims, & her last screams for mercy, her last appeals for help, before they murdered her.  Myra Hindley was heard saying, in a very matter-of-fact way, 'Shut up, or I'll hit you'.  The little girl was appealing to the maternal instincts of the couple, even referring to them as 'mummy & daddy', but it fell on deaf ears.  I don't think the sound of those tapes will ever leave me.  Again, even while the tapes were being played, Brady & Hindley kept up the same poker-faced facade. as if it was nothing.  They had no sort of remorse"(20)  Instead "while the tapes were being played to a hushed court-room, the couple were seen to be passing sweets to each other, disturbing the solemn silence with the crackling of the wrappings." (Babuta & Bragard, 22) 
           "Almost everyone connected, even distantly, with the case feels compelled to use 'evil', either as a noun ('I felt that I was in the presence of real evil'), or as an adjective ('The pair of them were truly evil').  In the case of many individuals & families whom we interviewed, it was clear that they would often search for an alternative word, but would invariably return to 'evil', sometimes in exasperation, as if forced to use it, vs their better judgments."(20) (Italics mine)  Another journalist wrote, "There was an aura of evil about the couple which is very difficult to put your finger on. ...  There was a general presence of evil around Brady & Hindley that transferred itself to everyone in the court-room.  There was this aura that was almost demonic about them." (quoted on p.22) 

Freedom, Responsibility & Causal Explanation
           When people are confronted by such evil, quite often there is the enigmatic feeling that these evil people are at once possessed by a malevolent force & yet being fully responsible for their actions.  However these two are hard to reconcile.  If they were mad, perhaps we would feel that at least there is an explanation of their actions.  But they are not & hence the insanity defence & explanation can't be invoked: "The cold calculation with which the victims were chosen by Brady & Hindley (they kept a notebook detailing the time & the location where potential victims could be picked up); the pleasure they derived from the actual process of torture & murder (in addition to the tape recording of the victims' pleas, explicit photographs were taken, a grim memento of the killings); the precision with which the burial spots were chosen: each of these seems to suggest not the actions of automata, compelled by any force, but rather a premeditated & considered strategy, carried out for perverse pleasure."(23)  What then accounts for their actions? 
           It looks as if the most promising line is to offer scientific explanations for these events.  We can try to investigate into the neurological basis of their behaviour, their psychological histories & their sociological environments, etc.  Their behaviour is then located within this web of causes & effects & in this way rendered 'intelligible'.  I certainly agree that there are a lot of influences on them either from their nature or nurture.  Perhaps one day criminology will be subsumed under biology & made an exact science.  This is certainly possible.  However I have to point out that the explanations so far offered are only sketchy & the above research programme still has a long way to go.  However the more serious problem is that it seems to explain away evil rather than to explain it.  In the above model the evil is intelligible only in so far as it is part of the naturalistic order.  The evil-ness does not appear in either the explanandum or the explanan.  So in the end what is the difference between the torture of a child & a mother's loving caress?  They are just diferent physical events produced by different patterns of neurological activities.  Evil does not belong to the fabric of our 'world' & at most it is only our projection onto a certain kind of physical events. 
           The other problem is the ascription of moral responsibility to these murderers.  Although they are not mad, it seems that their abnormal desires & mental disposition must have been shaped by their special circumstances.  If this shaping is deterministic, in what sense we can blame them for their evil deeds?  Perhaps at least the verdict of 'manslaughter due to diminished responsibility' (Homicide Act 1957) is better than that of murder?  (cf. the case of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper)  This is the issue of whether responsibility is compatible with fully deterministic causal explanation.  If we do not adopt compatibilism[1], then the stark choice is shown clearly here: either affirm that these people are really responsible & hence free or that they are not responsible for their 'evil' deeds.  In the latter case we can only 'blame' the 'defectiveness' of the natural laws. 

Remorse & Moral Perception
           If we look deeper, it seems that the above approach is not really addressing our experience of evil.  Gaita writes: "A French woman was interviewed in a television programme called The World at War.  She had witnessed, over a long period, a young Nazi officer sending trainloads of (mainly) children to the death camps.  She said that every day since then she had asked herself how it were possible for him to do it.  Hers is not a question which invites an answer.  It expresses a sense of mystery at that kind of contact with evil, & that sense of mystery is connected with a sense of the reality of evil as something sui generis."  We can bring out this point by considering the place of remorse.  What strikes us in the above case is the lack of remorse in this couple.  It seems so unacceptaple, outrageous, & puzzling.  "They at least should show that they recognize the seriousness of their crimes & feel ashamed of themselves!"  This may be the gut feeling of many in face of their callousness.  But why insist on their remorse?  Isn't it sufficient to inflict the heaviest penalty on them?  After all, whether they feel remorse or not does not have much utilitarian consequence. 
           This insistence seems to base on a perception that these people are not only bad but they are actually violating the sacred.  "Hampshire is right to dwell on 'epithets usually associated with morally impossible action, on a sense of disgrace, of outrage, of horror, of baseness, of brutality, &, most important, a sense that a barrier, assumed to be firm & almost insurmountable, has been knocked over, & a feeling that if this horrible, or outrageous, or squalid or brutal, action is possible then anything is possible & nothing is forbidden & all restraints are threatened'.  ...  They are not merely natural reactions from which reflection may distance itself & to which it may even condescend: they are reactions which provide the basis for the most serious kind of reflection & they condition some concepts from which reflection cannot distance itself without losing its subject matter."( Gaita, 34)   What is this 'sacred'?  It seems to be the sacredness of the Other.  Remorse is a form of the recognition of the sacred reality of the others[2]- those we have wronged.  A complete lack of remorse after committing such horrendous evils against the others bespeak a absolute refusal to recognize the reality of the others.  This is what make us outrageous- & also terrified: "spiritual evil is not a matter of doing bad things, it is a matter of being without any meaning whatsoever.  The evil person is still responsible for his actions, since he is not mad; but being evil makes his responsibility empty.  He does not care one way or the other.  It is the very indifference to his own wrongness that so terrifies us about the evil person; & that terror is not directed toward what he may do to us, but rather what we may ourselves become."(Gelven, 246)  Isn't it the reason why we are fascinated by evil when at the same time repelled by it?

Queerness of Evil & Moral Philosophy
           There is a popular argument against moral objectivism by Mackie: the argument from queerness.  Objective values are just too queer to be in the "fabric of the world".  Obviously this argument, if valid, will also apply to the above description of evil: such evil is even more queer!
           But what is queerness?  Queerness means a kind of unfit between two things.  No single thing can be queer in itself.  Consider a universe consisting of only one steel ball.  What is the sense of calling it queer?  It seems that X is queer means that X does not fit well with an assumed context.  We say that Jones is a queer person: his behaviour or ideas are strange, surprising, unintelligible ...  These comments make sense against a understood framework of normal behaviour, acceptable/ reasonable ideas, etc.  "Queer" can also be applied in an epistemological context.  ESP is queer in our world- that means it is unusual & also it ought to be suspected.  But why this latter implication?  A lot of things are unusual, say one person winning a lottery several times.  But nobody calls this event queer.  ESP, on the other hand, is queer because its happening is not explicable in terms of our currently acceptable concepts (mostly scientific & materialistic).  This unfit is deemed by many to be an argument against the veridicality of these alleged phenomena.  Similarly, the occurence of religious experience, the existence of moral facts, free actions, etc. are regarded by many as queer, unintelligible & for this reason they should be rejected. 
           However, many scientific concepts now acceptable are actually regarded as queer in earlier times, e.g action at a distance, random decay of radioactive nuclei, nuclear force.  It shows that queerness is not a decisive argument against any "fact" or concept.  As the facts accumulate or the concepts prove to be extremely fruitful & powerful, sometimes the queerness is removed by adjusting the context, its assumptions & presuppositions instead of impugning the "fact" or concept.  So any allegation of queerness should be spelt out clearly: what are the assumptions which make the "fact" look queer?  Are these assumptions well-founded?  Can there be slight adjustment of either the "fact" or the context to remove the unfit?  These are the questions that should be asked before the "queerness" be regarded as decisive.
           Now if we think of the queerness of "moral facts", it does not seem to consist of the unfit of these "facts" with scientific knowledge as such.  Let us assume scientific realism here.  It tells us about the quarks, the electrons, the forces of nature, etc.  Nowhere it seems to me these knowledge implies any prohibition of any other kind of fact.  "Moral fact" only becomes suspicious when it is further assumed that science tells us all we can know or what science tells us to be out there is the only kind of reality, etc.  So this queerness is a result of taking scientism for granted.  Acknowlegment of moral facts in itself does not in the least mean disrespect for science.  However if the scientific picture is well-regarded, for the sake of simplicity or economy, it may be argued that it is unsatisfactory to leave some "moral facts" out there as nomological danglers.  The temptation to eliminate these may be irresistible for some. 
           But now this argument is repeated again & again: elimination of moral facts, religious experience, aesthetic reality, mind, freedom, meaning.  (cf. Strawson, Skepticism & Naturalism)  This procedure seems dubious then.  When all known swans are white, a single sighting of a black swan is too queer to warrant acceptance.  It founders on the rock of a well established generalization: "All swans are white".[3]  But suppose such sightings continue to be reported.  The earlier argument can be repeated against each single report, it is true.  But it is obvious that such argument can't be used to overturn the whole collection of such "aberrant" sightings.  (cf. Kuhn's account of scientific revolutions: accumulation of anomalies can overturn an accepted paradigm.)  There comes a point when the collective weight of black swan reports simply force us to abandon the earlier accepted generalization.  In this simple enumerative induction, the abandonment of a generalization is a more straightforward matter.  However, it is not so simple to abandon a higher level theory even though there are quite a few anomalies.  Many philosophers of science would say that the abandonment of the old theory is only justified when a new theory seems to work better.  I think that is the reason why there is a strong resistance to abandon scientism even if moral facts are acknowledged to be irreducible: there is no explanation within the framework of materialism why there are such facts.  But there may be explanations outside this narrow framework.
           Evil is indeed very queer within the world of the materialist.  But why assume it is the whole of reality?  This has never been demonstrated.  On the other hand, the evil we have just considered just stares us in our faces & we may be tempted to say, if we know anything, we know that Brady & Hindley's torture of the children is evil.  Why not use this as a foundation to find out what is the fabric of the real world? 

Forgiveness, Harmony, & Ivan's Protest
           Is it possible to frogive these torturers & murderers of children?  Here we seem to be in a dilemma.  If we allow the possibility of forgiveness, are we not taking these evil too lightly & are we not doing injustice to the victims?  On the other hand, if we absolutely discount this possibility & refuse to forgive even penitent sinners, are we not being controlled by  similar barbarous desire to revenge & inflict harm?  The difficulty to forgive is well brought out by this testimony of Anne West, the mother of Lesley Anne: "To me, it's as though it happened yesterday, not twenty years ago.  It is with me each & every day, every hour of the day, & it's got to be kept fresh in people's minds because it was so horrific, to torture young people, children the way they did.  People have got to remember, got to. ... I've been fighting for eighteen years by petition to keep them where they are, & I'll still carry on.  I cannot forget.  The last time I saw my little girl, she was a happy little girl.  I hygged her goodbye before she went to play.  She gave me her love; & then she lay in a cold slab in a morgue.  Only half of her- not her full body.  That is why I can never ever forget.  I can never sleep at night unless I have a handful of sleeping pills, because that's all I see- Lesley lying in the morgue."(Babuta & bragard, 130)  Similar protest has been voiced by Ivan in Dostovesky's The Brothers Karamazov: "I do not want the mother to embrace the torturer who had her child torn to pieces by his dogs!  She has no right to forgive him!  If she likes, she can forgive him for herself, she can forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering he has inflicted upon her as a mother; but she has no right to forgive him for the sufferings of her tortured child.  She has no right to forgive the torturer for that, even if her child were to forgive him!  And if that is so, if they have no right to forgive him, what becomes of the harmony?  Is there in the whole world a being who could or would have the right to forgive?" Ivan's last two questions are directed to Alyosha.  Here is another eloquent speech of his: "it is not God I do not accept, but the world He has created. ... I'm convinced, like a child, that the wounds will heal, & that their traces will fade away, that all the offensive & comical spectacle of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful image, like a horrible & odious invention of the feeble & infinitely puny Euclidean mind of man, & that, in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will happen, & come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, that it will allay all bitter resentments, that it will atone for all men's crimes, all the blood they have shed.  It will suffice not only for the forgiveness but also for the justification of everything that has ever happened to men. Well, let it; let it all be, & come to pass, but I don't accept it, & I won't accept it... 
           A father & a mother, 'most respectable people of high social position, of good education & breeding,' hated their little five-year-old daughter. ...
This poor five-year-old girl was subjected to every possible torture by those educated parents.  They beat her, birched her, kicked her, without themselves knowing why, till her body was covered with bruises; at last, they reached the height of refinement; they shut her up all night, in the cold & frost, in the pirvy because she didn't ask to get up at night, ... they smeared her face with excrement & made her eat it, & it was her mother, her mother who made her!  And that mother could sleep at night, hearing the groans of the poor child locked up in that vile place!  Do you realize what it means when a little creature like that, who's quite unable to understand what is happening to her, beats her little aching chest in that vile place, in the dark & the cold, with her tiny fists, & weeps searing, unresentful & gentle tears to 'dear, kind God' to protect her? ...  Can you understand why all this absurd & horrible business is so necessary & has been brought to pass?  They tell me that without it, man could not even have existed on earth, for he would not have known good & evil.  But why must we know that confounded good & evil, when it costs so much?  Why, the whole world of knowledge isn't worth that child's tears to her 'dear, kind God'!  ...
           I must have retribution or I shall destroy myself.  And retribution not somewhere in the infinity of space & time, but here on earth, & so that I could see it myself.  ... Surely the reason for my suffering was not that I as well as my evil deeds & sufferings may serve as manure for some future harmony for someone else.  I want to see with my own eyes the lion lie down with the lamb & the murdered man rise up & embrace his murderer.  I want to be there when everyone suddenly finds out what it has all been for.  All religions on earth are based on this desire, & I am a believer.
           ... Tell me frankly, I appeal to you- answer me: imagine that it is you yourself who is erecting the edifice of human destiny with the aim of making men happy in the end, of giving them peace & contentment at last, but that to do that, it is absolutely necessary, & indeed quite inevitable, to torture to death only one tiny creature, the little girl who beat her breast with her little fist, & to found the edifice on her unavenged tears- would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?  Tell me, & do not lie!"
           "No, I wouldn't', Alyosha said softly." (quoted by Babuta & Bragard, 175-7) 
           Any theodicy seems pale & unbelievable before such accusations.  Perhaps "Silence is very likely the only appropriate response, a silence that shares in the suffering, & which signals its readiness to live without the consolation of having an answer to the problem of evil." (Kenneth Surin quoted by Babuta & Bragard, 181)  However, perhaps we are still permitted to speak if we speak out of respect for the victims & not for the sake of ideological rationalization.  Now let us consider again the terrible evil that befalls that five-year-old child & let us suppose there is neither God nor any transcendent realm.  We can't help asking, 'What then is the meaning of this evil?'  None at all: there is just the gratuitous cruelty of this amoral (not immoral!) Universe.  Why then we protest?  To whom we can protest?  This is just another physical event in this amoral Universe: nothing more & nothing less.  Our moral protest itself becomes absurd.  What about her sufferings?  They have occurred & have been registered eternally in the unalterable past together with the evil.  What about her mental anguish?  She wanted to ask for an explanation.  Now she is gone forever, together with her question.  What about the evil parents?  They should be confronted with their evil squarely & uncompromisingly & exposed to a holy judgment.  They should be held accountable to the poor child.  Now they are also gone forever & it is a perfect escape.  Is this a more desirable state of affairs? 
           Consider a comment of Horkheimer: "The thought is monstrous that the prayers of the persecuted in their hour of greatest need, that the innocent who must die without explanation of their situation, that the last hopes of a supernatural court of appeals, fall on deaf ears & that the night unilluminated by any human light is also not penetrated by any divine one.  The eternal truth without God has as little ground & footing as infinite love; indeed, it becomes an unthinkable concept.  But is the monstrousness of an idea any  more a cogent argument agasinst the assertion or denial of a state of affairs than does logic contain a law which says that a judgment is simply false that has despair as its consequences?" (quoted by Peukert on p.210)  Well, this may not be an cogent argument.  But Ivan's protest does not belong to the realm of arguments either: it is a judgment of value.  He thinks that those sufferings are unredeemable.  But is this a demonstrable certainty?  Consider Frankl: "During the discussion of the meaning of suffering I asked the whole group whether an ape which is punctured many times in order to develop poliomyelitis serum is able to grasp the meaning of its suffering.  Unanimously the group replied, "Of course it would not!  For with limited intelligence it cannot enter the world of man, i.e., that world in which its suffering would be understandable."  I then pressed on with the following: "And what about man?  Are you sure that the human world is the terminal point in the evolution of the cosmos?  Is it not conceivable that there is still another dimension, a world beyond man's world; a world in which the question of an ultimate meaning to man's suffering is answered?" "(Heaney, 222)  Should we not allowed to hope, out of our respect & love for the victims, that this is a genuine possibility?  In the end, the last word should be left to the victim: the five-year-old girl. Ivan himself has no right to speak for her (unless it is assumed that she can never speak again)! 

           Evil is a mystery.  Its nature is enigmatic & its source seems unfathomable.  It also threatens our sense of meaning.  Its reality, in its starker forms, also seems to stare us in our faces.  Perhaps it is just an illusion, either enculturated by our upbringing or endowed by our 'selfish' genes (Dawkins).  It must be an illusion if materialism is true.  There is no place for such absolute conception of evil in the fabric of the world of the materialist.  (Remember we cannot just assume that this world is the whole of reality.)  It is the epistemic decision which we have to make: is this an illusion or not?  There is also an existential choice we have to make: either identify with the victims or not.  If we choose the former, then we may well listen to the words of Hugo Gryn (witness of the horrors of the concentration camps, now a rabbi in London): "Part of the duty of the survivor is to bear testimony to what happened, to speak about it, because that may well be the only memorial to those who did not survive.  And you have to warn people that these things can happen, that evil can be unleashed.  Race hatred, violence, idolatries- they still flourish.  Now the survivor, he says: 'Stop, hold back; you don't know, once you embark, what dreadful consequences this will have.'  ... Evil- it is when the principle of evil is harnessed to the most up-to-date technologyg.  When people dethrone God, & put into the place of God an idol, or a series of idols, then I think we have almost the ultimate in evil." (Babuta & Bragard, 29)
Subniv Babuta & Jean- Claude Bragard, Evil
Raimond Gaita, Good & Evil: An Absolute Conception
Michael Gelven, Spirit & Existence
John Heaney (ed.), Psyche & Spirit
Helmut Peukert, Science, Action & Fundamental Theology
Paul Pruyser, Between Belief & Unbelief

[1] The position of compatibilism is difficult to adopt here unless we are ready to be radically changed.  Just suppose that Brady & Hindley are determined 'freely' (in compatibilist sense) to torture & kill those children.  It might be the case that we still can ascribe 'responsibility' to them for utilitarian reasons.  However it is difficult to justify our moral feeling of  outrageousness & indignation.  Perhaps it is not a problem because anyway we are determined to feel this way!
[2] cf. "Remorse often presents itself in the accents of a horrified discovery of the significance of what we did but it is trivialised if we express a murderer's horified realization of what he did in terms such as these: 'My God what have I done.  I have been a traitor to reasons.  I have violated rational nature in another!'  And of course it is not only the Kantian account that comes out as absurd on this test: 'My God what have I done.  I have violated my freely chosen & universally prescribed principle that one shouldn't kill people under circumstances such as these!' (Gaita, 33)

[3]  Actually if this sighting is well-corroborated, a single report is sufficient to overturn the generalization.  So it may be the case that the weight of moral facts is so heavy that scientism can be overturned by them alone.