The Question of Evil

Figure 1.--

HBC has attempted to persue the consideration of the various world religions from a historical and sociological perspective and not a theological perspective. We have attempted to describe the basic theology of each religion, but not to evaluate the relative merits of each religious theology. Scholars have written lengthy theological studies and HBC sees no real need to repeat that academic inquiry here. We have, however, questions aspects of Islam more critically than other religions. And Muslim readweers have questioned this. And thus it is perhaps intelectually honest to explain our intelectual baggage from which the pages on Islam have been created. A Muslim reader has requested this and as part of our discussion the question arose as to just evil is. We are posting this discussion here. HBC readers are welcomed to paricipate in this discussion.

HBC and Religion

Our Pakistani reader began the discussion here by asking, "Please give me three reasons why you are not a Muslim." I replied: I note you ask me why I am not a Muslim. I'll be glad to answer that. Well it is the same reason that I am not a Christian. When I was about 12 years old and began to study history I learned about all the terrible things that have occurred. What first struck me was the NAZI Holocaust, but I could now list a virtually endless number of events such as the Mongol invasions, the dreadful inter-communal rioting in India and Pakestan (1948-49), the Rwanda genocide, the Arab genocide in Darfur, ect. The question occurred to me that if God is just and benevolent, why would he allow such terrible things to occur? And any God that would allow such evil must not be a benevolent diety worthy of my veneration and must therefore be an evil entity. My thoughts have not changed much since I first asked myself that question."

Islam and Evil

Our Pakistani reader responded, "You are perhaps the first person to reject God simply because God created Evil. First you criticized God for not intervening in the Holocaust to save the Jews from Hitler to which I think I have satisfactorially answered you. [HBC note: Our Pakistani reader did indeed provide an intelectually coherent answer, but certainly did not answer the question to my satisfaction.] I am interested to know what is the concept of evil in your mind."

God and Evil

Our reader adds, "As for your God-Created-Evil theory, yes I have read a thousand million times over the internet. these arguments are used by the atheists against the Christians all the time. What I didn't know or understand is what these people meant by it. Rejecting God because He created Evil, thats news to me!" Actually I would never describe this as my theory, although I am not sure what phiolspher has originated this opinion. Actually if you do an internet search on "God created evil" you will not find a lot of neferious atheists charging that God created evil, but instead aot of Christians attempting to explain this theological question. I assume Christian sites come up because of the prevalence of Christisnity in America. I'm not sure what would come up if you did the search in Arabic.

Christianity and Evil

I certainly am not the first person to argue that God created evil. It is a common argument in the Christian West, with our secular society. Christians of course would provide essentially the same arguments that our Pakjistani reader employs. In fact Christian theologians have puzzeled over this for centuries. Christian theologians contend that God created all things, but they do not accept that God created evil. St John the Apostlke writes, for example, "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1,5). When God finished his creation, he appreciated that "all that he had made was very good" (Genesis 1,31). God is declared to be all-powerful. St. John writes, "And I heard as it were te voiceof a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voive of mighty thinderings, saying Alleluja: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." (Revelation 19,6). To HBC and many other secular observers this makes no sence. There is obviously evil in the world. It is obviously illogical to say that if Gold is all powerful, all knowing, and the creator of the universe that he is not therefore the creator of all that exists in that universe. Christian theologians have devoted such energy addressing this questiin precisely because it is so illogical. The work of their weughty tomes, however, does not reverse the basic logic. It strikes us that Christian theologians like many men do not want to accept responsibility for what they have created. And Christian thelogians persue an even more illogicall position by saying God is all good, since as the creator of everything that he created evil. Christan theologians have devoted edless tomes struggling with these issues. One author summarizes, "From here arises a major puzzle: If God is all-good, he should want to stop evil; if he is omnipotent, he could stop it; but evil exists in the world, so God lacks either all-goodness (if he can stop evil but does not want to) or omnipotence (if he wants to stop evil, but cannot), or both." [Valea]

Intelectual Inquiry in the Muslim World

Given the many similarities between Islam and Christianity, we were surprised to read that our Pakistani reader had never heard the complaint that if God is all powerful, than he must be resonsible for evil and if so evil himself. It struck us that it may be the first time you have heard this argument because in Muslim countries a person that says this could be arrested, attacked, or at the very least shunned by the community. This limit on free speech and thought, and willingness to supress free thought through violence, is at the heart of my problem with Islam as it would be if the Christian Church attempted to limit free speech in America. Of course Christianity for many years did this, but since the Reformation the Church's ability to do so has ddeclines and since the Enlightenment the Church's inclination to do so changed. Comparable movements, however, have not occurred in the Islamic world.


According to the dictionary, evil is: 1. a morally objectinable behavior. 2. that which causes harm or distruction or misfortune. Various dictionaries may go further than this, but this is agood basic statement of the English language dictionary. I am not sure if the Arabic definition of the word "evil" is the same. Hopefully Arabic-speaking readers will enlighten us.


Our Pakistani reader writes, "Given these definition I presume the greatest of harm, the destruction, the misfortune, the only irrepairable loss in the world is DEATH. Do you mean to say that DEATH is Evil? Should God have not created Death? We all love sunshine but lack of it bring darkness to the land. We all love to be healthy (I do) but lack of it, brings illness. We all love to succeed in life, but those who dont end up failing. We all love to be loved but sometimes are hated by people too. We all love to be rich but not everybody is, some are poor and week. Do we not all want to be happy but don't we get depressed and sorrowful at times? Most of all - dont we all just want to live forever, but we dont, we die. Is that evil?" No we do not equate evil with death. Man can achieve fufillment in the 70 or so years that the average person lives.Birth and death are natural processes developed for all life forms through evolution. We do believe that the taking of some ones's life, however, is evil. Of course this is not an absolute. There are exceptions such as self defense.

Islamic Concept

Our Pakistani reader tells us, "When Man refuses to believe in God and His Divine Laws and rejects the very purpose for which God created him, evil is the natural outcome. Its like if you turn off the lights - darkness will prevail..." HBC in our discussions is constantly impressed with how much Islam and Christianity have in common. It has been somrtime since I read St. Augustine, but I believed that he made the same argument that separation from God was the ulimate disaster for man. [St. Augustine]

Power of Reason

Now as to our Pakistani reader's question. Just how do we define evil. This is not something we gave given great thought to earlier. Rather like Justice Potter Stewart explained for pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it." But our reader asks an important question and as HBC deals with a range of historical issues such as war, slavery, imperialism, genocide, ect. in which the question of evil arrises, I think it is necessay to define evil. We are somewhat disatisfied with the dictionary justification that evil is "morally" objectionable behavior. Morality is highly subjective and many of the world's great religions while setting up important moral systems, commonly condone imoral acts in the name of their religion, such as Islamic jihad and the Christian crusades of the medieval era. So what then is our concept of evil. We believe it is doing harm to others for ones own personal benefit or without reason. We believe reason is the ultimate arbitor. Here the intelectual inquiry must include the writings of the great religious teachers (Buddha, Confusis, Jesus, Mohammed, and others). But religious figures must not use interpretations of writings however sacred to stiffle intelectual inquiry. Of course reason can lead one to many different conclusions, but in an environment of free speech and intelectial honety we believe humanity can ultimately, after many wrong turns, arrive at truthful conclusions. This is why we are so concerned with the willingness of religious and political authorities armed with the belief that they possess ultimate truth to stifle or limit intelectual inquiry. It also strikes us that there is a theological argument for this point of view. After all what makes man human. There is only one characteristic that differentiates many from animals--the power of man's intellect and ability to reason. Thus it would seem evil to limit the exercise of the very capability that makes man human.

Divine and Man-made Law

Our Pakistani reader asks, "Do you think that man-made laws can save humanity from all the contemporary problems like rape, poverty etc? you yourself agreed that America is a violent country. How come with centuries of intellectual acumen, man-made laws still cannot protect a woman from being raped in your country? How come the richest and the most powerful country in the world cannot even feed its own people and save them from the evil of poverty? And they are out there to save the world from evil! These are not theological questions. it has a deeper meaning. By rejecting God you claim that man-made laws through his intellect and reason can suffice to save humanity from its destruction. The question is: has it been successful? we have in history a time during Muhamamd (pbuh) when the Divine Shariah was enforced down to the very letter and it produced a civilization which the non-muslim critics still laud. Michael Hart wrote a book on 100 most influential men of all times and being a christian, he declared Muhammad (pbuh) as the greatest and he gave his reason as follows: "He was the only man to have been supremely successful both on religious and secular fronts. This means that Muhammad was not greatest amongst religious men but even greatest than those who reject God and believe in secularism. Why? How? the question remains: is man-made laws better than divine-laws?" HBC of course believes that man-made law is superior. But rather than just state opinions, we believe the best approach is to compare countries where faith has been an influence in laws and society with secular socities where reason has been more important. Which socirties have better cared for their people and accomplished the most in art, literature, education, medicine, science, industry, and agriculture.


Saint Augustine. City of God.

Valea, Ernest. "The problem of evil in world religions" (1999). This is quite an interesting discussion of the topic, but for some reason the author does not include Islam in the discussion.


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Created: 11:41 PM 2/16/2007
Last updated: 7:42 PM 2/17/2007