Definition Of Good And Evil Essay, Research Paper
Throughout human existence, questions have arisen concerning the nature of good and evil. Many scientist, philosophers, and theologians have been intrigued by these questions. Through Augustine’s Confessions and E. O. Wilson’s In Search of Nature, one is accessible to two distinct perspectives concerning the nature of good and evil.
Augustine sets up an argument in his Confession that attempts to define evil. God is the author of everything. Augustine says, “nothing that exists could exist without You [God]” (Book I, Chapter II). Nothing in this world exists apart from God.
For Augustine, God is good because everything He made is good. Everything about God is good. No aspect of Him is lacking, false, or not good. However, the question of evil and from where it came still remains.
Augustine then asks himself where it was that evil came. Evil could not have come from God; it must have come from another source other than God. Because we clearly see evil in this world, did God allow it to enter? This would seem that God is not omnipotent.
Originally Augustine believed that evil had substance. However, his views changed later where he says, “If they were deprived of all goodness, they would be altogether nothing; therefore, as long as they are, they are good. Thus whatsoever things are, are good; and that evil whose origin I sought is not a substance” (Book VII, Chapter XII). Under this definition, Augustine is saying that evil has no substance. Instead, evil is the result of a removal of good until there is nothing left at which time the object or person would cease to exist in the physical realm.
Augustine approaches this issue from an entirely different perspective. He asks: Do we have any good evidence that God exists? If He does, is He good? Since all that God created is good and evil is not good, then evil is not something that God created. This was Augustine’s solution, but the question still remains: What is evil?
He observed that everything God made is good and when you take away from goodness from something God made, we call that condition evil. Another way of putting it is that evil is the lack of good. In this solution, good has substance whereas evil does not; it is merely good that is missing. If it does not have any substance, then it does not require a creator. To say that something is evil is a shorthand way of saying it lacks goodness. Augustine goes on to explain how such a thing can be, and gets into a discussion about free will.
E. O. Wilson’s In Search of Nature, specifically “The Serpent”, displays evil in terms of the Serpent. “The snake’s image enters the conscious and unconscious mind with ease during reverie and dreams. It appears without warning and departs abruptly, leaving behind not a specific memory of any real snake but the vague sense of a more powerful creature” (Wilson 5). One may observe that evil can slip into man at any given moment without man’s knowledge of it. Before man senses that the evil is there, the evil departs abruptly; therefore, the man is left without recollection of it, but a sense of something more powerful.
Wilson builds upon the idea that evil is the accretion of fear and beliefs when he describes the wonder the Serpent invokes stating, “even the deadliest and most repugnant creatures are endowed with magic in the human mind” (Wilson 6). He proceeds to describe the wide variety of snakes throughout the world and emphasizing their important role as an image of evil when he says, “around the world serpents and snakelike creatures are the dominant elements of dreams in which animals of any kind appear” (Wilson 9).
One can sense that Wilson’s said characteristics of snakes, “slyness, deception, malevolence, betrayal, the implicit threat of a forked tongue”, can be compared of those of evil. When one thinks of evil, does one not think about being sly, deceptive, malevolent, or betrayed?
Wilson creates a scientific picture introducing the Serpent as the “bridge” between “biology and culture” (Wilson 5) and thus a permanent depiction of our worldly view of evil. It is through our myths and legends together with fear of the unknown beyond our deaths, Wilson argues, that we as humans concoct a tangible depiction of evil. Augustine offers a different perspective referring to Christian doctrine, finally concluding that evil exists only as the absence of good or absence of God, stating “to Your [God] whole creation likewise, evil is not” (Book VII, Chapter XIII). Although the theories seem essentially divergent, it is clear throughout both narratives that evil is intrinsically unknown, that it is our own fears that proceed to make it into a power or substance and yet we as human beings have no way of proving or disproving its being.