Suffering and Evil – Causes & Responses
This is a very important Chapter because The Path of Continuing Creation, like all religions and spiritual paths, must account for suffering and evil, and must help its followers deal with them in their lives. In this chapter, we take up the natural, evolutionary explanations for suffering and evil. These explanations are supported by science. We go on to offer practical physical and mental solutions to suffering and evil.
Why is there suffering and evil in our world? People who have been raised in the Christian religion have great difficulty accounting for this, because they believe that God is completely powerful, completely present, and also completely good. But if God is Good, why does he allow suffering and evil to exist?
A follow-on question is why do bad things happen to good people? It presents the same conundrum as “Why is there evil and suffering in the world,” but states it on the personal level.
How Judaism and Christianity Account for Suffering and Evil
In our next Chapter, we discuss how many of the Old Religions, including Judaism and Christianity, created convoluted and bizarre myths to try to account for the logical impasse between Good’s assumed goodness and the existence of suffering. These myths were designed to accomplish two goals: 1) Help people mentally endure their suffering, and 2) justify the existence of religion when suffering was actually not being relieved. Some of these myths are major distortions of evolutionary principles, and most of them have spawned convoluted reasoning and logical contradictions in the doctrines of the Old Religions. The next Chapter also looks at theology’s formal arguments about suffering and evil.
But we need to say something about the myths of Judaism and Christianity right here in this Chapter, to provide contrast for our own science-based explanation for suffering and evil.
The book of Exodus tells us that suffering is God’s punishment for Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But if God himself knows about both good and evil and yet remains good, why
did God not design humankind to be the same way? Because God wanted humans to have “free will” – the power of choice. So, God created an evil serpent in the Garden of Eden who conned Eve (being of weaker mind than Adam) into eating the fruit of the Tree. Since Eve made the wrong choice, and since the whole human race, being descendants of Eve, would inherit her malfunction (her “original sin”), God decided to punish the entire human race, down through all the generations, with the burden of Earthly suffering.
As we say in our Essay, Forerunners to Our Spiritual Path, God in the Old Desert Religions is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnibenevolent (always and everywhere good) and omnipresent (always everywhere at once). Suffering cannot exist unless one of these four powers is not “omni-.“ In Judaism, God either relinquishes his power to cure mankind’s sin, or God does not have enough benevolence in his heart to do it.
In Christianity, God changes his mind and decides to forgive mankind. So, as Christians like to say, “the punishing God of the Old Testament” becomes the “Loving God of the New Testament.” With Jesus, everyone can get into heaven, as long as they recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their deliverer. And if bad things happen to someone after he or she has “been saved?” Well, it must be because God has some “plan” for that person’s life that we just don’t understand, or the person has committed some new sins “post-saving.” (See our Essay, Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching.)
But even if we accept the serpentine reasoning of these tall tales for human sin, how does that explain the suffering of creatures like white-tailed deer, who have parasitic worms infesting their eyeballs, or who die from Chronic Wasting Disease? What sins did Bambi commit? Are we to concluded that deer “don’t count?” That God doesn’t love innocent, peaceful, and beautiful Bambi?
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). TSEs cause brain degeneration in deer, elk and moose. The symptoms include a change in the animal’s natural behavior, emaciation, excessive salivation, lethargy, stumbling and tremors. The disease is always fatal to the infected animal, but symptoms can take months or years to appear. 1
Charles Darwin asked and answered the same question after regarding the parasitic wasp that lays its eggs inside a caterpillar, so that the hatched wasp larvae can feed on the living bodies of the caterpillars. “Why the misery if everything is ordained?” he wrote in a letter to a friend. God ordained the laws, he concluded, but left the details to be worked out by chance. 2
How the Book of Continuing Creation Accounts for Suffering & Evil
In contrast to Christianity, the Path of Continuing Creation has little problem accounting for suffering, and only a somewhat greater problem explaining the existence of evil. Simply put, the Processes of Continuing Creation, which includes biologic evolution, animates many different competing “teams” (species) and releases them all onto the “playing field” of the biosphere. There, they may compete, may attack, may hide, may find special niches of their own, and may join with other species in symbiotic cooperation.
So, when Nature’s germs infect a human, Nature is blindly trying out some new combination of amino acids and genes. Sometimes a new combination, a new mutation, leads to something we humans like; and sometimes it leads to something we don’t like – such as the Ebola virus or mosquitoes. (We could stretch and argue that those things make humans tougher, less populous, and produce good defensive changes in the humans that remain.)
Before we explain how evolution produced suffering and evil, we need to define both those terms.
What is Suffering? How Does it Arise?
Suffering is the experience of pain. It includes the physical pains of open wounds, diseased organs, burn damage, fatigue, hunger, and thirst, to name a few. There is also psychological pain, including unrequited love, frustration, anxiety, fear, and social rejection.
Plants and viruses can surely be damaged by natural processes and by other living things, but they likely do not “feel pain;” and so it is questionable whether they “suffer” when they are damaged. But Humans are hardly the only creatures that experience pain and suffering. All animals, even lowly bacteria, experience suffering.
As we describe in our Essay, Overpopulation Threatens Continuing Creation, Earth’s biosphere and its Processes of Continuing Creation itself are damaged by pollution and destruction from excessive and careless human activity. Do Earth and the biosphere suffer? Yes, they do, and they express it through the cries of the animal and human voices that are parts of both the biosphere.
How Does Physical Suffering Arise?
Entropy, which in daily life means “wearing out,” is responsible for a great deal of pain. An example is arthritis, where a lifetime of repeated flexing thins out the cartilage in our joints, causing pain and decreased mobility.
In physics, entropy is the measure of a system’s disorder. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the disorder of a system always increases unless new energy continually flows into and through the system, to keep it in good repair. Left unrepaired, all systems, including roads, bridges, computers… and human knees, all wear out over time.
Human knees, backs, and other body parts are poorly “designed.” Human knees would be stronger and last longer if they bent backwards, like a dog’s hind leg, rather than forward. 3 Why are they so poorly designed? Because they weren’t designed, they were evolved, and evolution entails a lot of chance, trial-and-error, and unexpected outcomes.
We also have the cruel genetic diseases, by which a hidden inner time clock triggers some malfunction of the human body starting in the prime of life. In the cases of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, the malfunction is in the brain. These two terrible diseases are slowly yet severely debilitating and frequently fatal.
If we think about it, all suffering and pain can be seen as the result of our continual battle against entropy in all its various forms. Pain and suffering are “signals” telling us that our body and/or minds are being abused or over-used.
Natural disasters also cause pain: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, ice-ages, and floods; along with smaller natural disasters such as when a running child knocks his father off a ladder.
A giant meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. Maybe they would have developed intelligence (instead of us) or maybe not. On the large scale, it’s as if Continuing Creation “places bets” on many galaxies, planets, comets, and moons… and then spins the probabilistic wheel of evolution. Maybe another meteor will wipe out us humans, and the insects will become the dominant, maybe even intelligent, creatures on Earth. 4 In the long view, humans may be best remembered as the creators of the intelligent machines which go on to create far more culture, science and technology than humans ever did.
Competition. In the biosphere, pain is caused by the competition for food – for example, different bird species compete for seeds and insects. Or, one species is itself food for others, afflicting victims (including humans) with the suffering caused by predation, disease, and pestilence.
In fact, all species are food for other species. The mouse is eaten by the lion, the lion is eaten by the buzzards; even the buzzards are eaten by the worms. The worms are consumed by the soil bacteria, the nutrients in the soil are consumed by the plants, the plants are eaten by the mouse. The cycle goes around and around.
Famine can be the result of either competition for food, or from natural disaster (drought, pestilence). In Human biology, the competitions of war, crime, bullying, theft, and slavery all cause great pain, generation after generation.
Western science and reason have taught us to see more and more bad events as natural, and fewer and fewer are perpetrated. Sickness is not caused by evil spirits, it is natural. Hundred-year storms and floods are not caused by Poseidon and Thor, but by rare “tail events” in the bell-curved probability distribution that graphs the severity of storms….or by accelerating Global Warming.
What constitutes suffering for humans may not be suffering for the Earth; e.g. a plague which could help the biosphere survive by reducing the excess human population that currently infests the Earth.
The Growing, Organizing, Direction is more invested in cosmic creation than in providing humans with lives that are free of suffering. From the widest galactic point of view, humans are just one species on one planet among billions of planets.
Continuing Creation (and common sense) tells us — Everything does not happen for a reason. God does not have a plan for each person. Is Continuing Creation even aware of each of us? No, not in the usual, person-to-person sense. There are strong forces of creative evolution at work, but the specific path it will take is, to a great extent, random. Continuing Creatrion doesn’t even have a design plan for each species. That is why deer antlers and peacock tails are too big; so huge they are non-adaptive…. or more adaptive than they need to be, and in danger of becoming non-adaptive very quickly if the environment changes.
How Does Psychic Pain (Mental Distress) Arise?
Psychic pain happens when a person remembers pain (be it physical or mental) that happened in the past, or anticipates pain that could happen in the future. We are either reliving an old wound, or we are worrying about some possible future wound. Psychic pain worsens to the extent we mentally repeat, and even obsess, over remembered or anticipated sufferings.
Creatures experience psychic pain in proportion to their intelligence. Dogs easily feel conflicted over whether to obey their master and obtain her approval, or go ahead and eat the butter sitting on the kitchen table. But dogs to not agonize over whether it is “better” to become a lawyer or a professor, because their abilities to remember and plan are not as developed as these abilities are in humans. As a result, few members of species other than humans ever commit suicide.
Animal nervous systems run the gamut from primitive reflexes, to awareness, consciousness, intelligence, and language. In order to experience psychic pain, a fairly sophisticated nervous system must exist. Creatures without complex nervous systems are not able to worry. Single-celled bacteria, for example, can have reflexes, e.g. to sunlight, but they do not remember sunlight hat happened in the past. Nor do they have a sense of future time, so they cannot worry about future sunlight.
Social animals, particularly mammals that communicate and care for their young, can surely experience psychic pain. Thus, monkeys, elephants, and dolphins feel rejection, anger, fear, grief, depression; but bees likely do not. The display of grief by elephants is visible and ritualized. If an elephant death results from an attack, the killer may even be seen as “evil.” Perhaps nesting birds seemingly perceive egg-eating tree snakes as something akin to “evil.” 5
Our human brains’ abilities to remember and anticipate, to communicate with language, are remarkable tools for survival (“Don’t go in those swampy reeds, because your brother was bitten by a jaguar in there last year”). Memory and anticipation are also remarkable tools for planning, discovering, and creating.
However, in the complexity of modern human life, memory and anticipation too often give us psychic pain – fear, worry, anxiety, angst, depression, anxiety, escapism, and addiction. Fifty-percent of all people contemplate suicide at some point. We evolved to be hyper-vigilant, to see dangers around every corner, because “it is better to be safe than sorry.” Today, this evolved hyper-vigilance causes psychologists to spend countless hours helping people deal with worry and anxiety.
The practice of mindfulness is an effective mental discipline for reducing unnecessary worry. Mindfulness trains a person to stop worrying and “live in the now.” For more a more complete discussion, see our Essays, Meditations for Co-Creators and Leading a Fulfilled & Happy Life. That second Essay also has an Addendum on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a type of Cognitive Behavior Therapy which can be thought of as “mindfulness backed by psychological research.”
Buddhists say that dukkha, meaning suffering (possibly better translated as “psychic suffering” or “dissatisfaction,”) permeates human life because it permeates the human mind. It results from mental “attachment,” which means dwelling on painful past events and anticipated future painful events, i.e. to worry. The traditional Zen Buddhist story of “Crossing the River” illustrates this principle:
Crossing the River (A Zen Story) http://www.katinkahesselink.net/tibet/zen.html
“Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out.
“‘Brother,’ said the brooding monk, ‘Our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!
‘Brother,” replied the monk who helped the woman, ‘I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.'”
The Practice of Continuing Creation says that dukkha is indeed a fundamental part of human nature. It is the price we pay for our ambition and for our progress. Our big brains make us effective in the world, but at the price of psychic pain. However, we must not abandon our efforts to build and create worldly progress – just so we can avoid psychic conflict and pain!
Is Death a Type of Suffering?
Death itself is not suffering. As Herodotus of Ancient Greece wrote, “When the dead give up their lives, they give up their pain.”
Death is good and necessary from the biosphere’s point of view and from Continuing Creation’s point of view. The death of individual organisms makes room on Earth for the lives of young individuals, some of whom will benefit from mutations in their genes that give them a competitive advantage allowing them to pass that advantage on to their progeny and thereby “improve” the species.
Deadly diseases also help keep an ecosystem’s portfolio of species in balance. But why do so many of those diseases entail suffering and pain? Why not a quick and easy death for everyone, for every creature? Clearly, avoidance of pain is not dominant in Continuing Creation’s “list of optimization subroutines.” The elimination of pain is a job left for us Humans. And in fact, humans have eliminated a lot of pain through technology and medicine.
For a more complete discussion of death, see our Essay, Dealing With Death on the Path of Creation.
What is Evil?
Evil is not the same as suffering. Suffering can occur via impersonal force; whereas Evil requires an Evil-perceiver and almost always an Evil-doer. Moreover, the evil-doer is usually required to have evil intent.
Definitions of evil vary, as does the analysis of its root motives and causes; however, evil usually features conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, discrimination designed to harm others, humiliation of people designed to diminish their psychological well-being and dignity, destructiveness, motives of causing pain or suffering for selfish or malicious intentions, and acts of unnecessary or indiscriminate violence.
Evil is also not the same as “immoral.” Pretty much everything that is evil is also immoral, but not everything that is immoral is also evil. For example, it is immoral in some doctrines (not Ours) for a woman to uncover her hair in public, but it is not evil. Committing negligent manslaughter may be illegal, and may be immoral, but it often isn’t evil.
Evil depends on one’s point of view. Evil is a construct of the mind — especially the mammalian and particularly the human mind. Single-celled bacteria experience illness, pain, and death, but they do not experience evil because they are not conscious. They have no mind. They may reflexively sense danger, but they do not even experience the emotion of fear.
We might think that all plants are good. But from a human gardener’s point of view, bamboo is a notoriously invasive species. So is kudzu – an invasive vine that envelops trees and even entire houses in the southern U.S. From the viewpoint of a tree whose light is being blocked by kudzu, kudzu causes suffering and often death. However, a tree being covered and “choked” by a kudzu vine does not have a nervous system elaborate enough to attribute cause to anyone or anything, and certainly does not have the ability to judge and to assign evil. Even an observing humans might well say that the kudzu is “bad,” but probably not “evil.”
Murder is perceived as evil by nearly all humans, but not by black widow spiders or praying mantises. The female black widow spider eats her mate after he has fertilized her eggs. Baby praying mantises eat each other as soon as they are hatched. Neither species has any perception of evil. After all, mantis cannibalism nourishes the surviving baby mantises. Mantis-ness is forwarded, at the cost of the consumed individual mantises. Science has taught us that mantis cannibalism is “an adaptive reproduction strategy” in Continuing Creation’s processes of Evolution.6
Clearly, Continuing Creation (CC) does not prize individual praying mantises. CC prizes the continuation of the mantis-pattern and that pattern’s potential for further change and evolution. Even more than the mantis-pattern, CC prizes the continuation and elaboration of the dynamic pattern of life in general. So, can we say that CC is amoral? At the mantis-level it is; but at the biosphere-level, it is not.
Seen through the “eyes” of Mother Nature, plagues might be an efficient way to reduce the exploding population of human beings now weighing down the carrying capacity of Earth. Some scientists foresee that overpopulation itself may cause so much starvation through desertification that huge numbers of people will die, bringing human population down to a more reasonable number.
Interestingly, there are parallels between runaway population growth and the disease of cancer. Here’s how oncologist and Pulitzer-prize-winning author Siddhartha Mukherjee described it in his book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer:
“Unlike other diseases, cancer does not attack from the outside, but comes from within. Cancer happens when the body’s own cells start multiplying uncontrollably. You own body has gone haywire, and is killing itself. Normal cells divide into two new equally-sized cells. Cancer cells divides rapidly, and repeatedly into 3 or 4 unequal cells, each of which divides into 3 or 4 more. The cycle proceeds uncontrollably, crowding normal tissue aside, disrupting the function of organs, and consuming more and more of the body’s nutrients and energy.
“The spread of cancer in a person is very like the spread of the human population across the Earth. The growth is exponential and (so far) uncontrollable. In both cases the drive of survival and replication has gone haywire. Cancer cells attack and destroy normal body organs and systems; populations attack and destroy other species and ecosystems. Cancer finds a way to mutate around therapies; the human population finds ways to cure the diseases that work to limit population growth. The cancer cells say, ‘nothing in the body is more important than us;’ and humans say, ‘nothing on Earth is more important than us.’
“Indeed, along with war and famine, disease may be Mother Earth’s (Gaia’s) defense against unconstrained population growth. And Cancer, as the most complex and difficult of all disease, is Mother Earth’s last line of defense. It’s as though Cancer and Mother Earth had a diplomatic conference and jointly declared that ‘Humanity — the enemy of my enemy — is my friend.’ The cancer cells are using their population explosion to fight our human species population explosion.”
(Above quotations are from “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” a Television program on PBS, April, 2015, by Ken Burns. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, 2011, Scribner.)
If we look at creatures with more highly evolved nervous systems, we can see the beginnings of morality, and therefore the beginnings of its obverse, “evil.” Clearly, mammals exhibit more love and care for their young than do insects and amphibians, and from our human view this is an advance in morality. Certain social mammals – elephants, great apes, dolphins and whales, often demonstrate grief.
Still, a male lion will sometimes kill his own cubs. Mother lions likely feel particularly wronged when the father of her cubs decides to kill one or two of them to reduce his later competition for food and for females. The lioness may well regard her mate as something akin to “evil,” but the feeling does not appear to persist in her memory for very long.
Humans rarely kill their young as male lions sometimes do. The reason is that humans became able to hunt more effectively when they evolved the intelligence and communication allowing them to hunt in a team. The bigger brains that housed this increased intelligence required larger heads, heads so large that they could only fit through women’s birth canals if the babies were born early. Women’s suffering at childbirth meant that early birth required a longer out-of-womb maturation period; i.e. a longer childhood. Longer childhoods require a very large investment of parental suffering, time and resources in each child; and these large investments would be lost if children were eaten or even neglected. Continuing Creation guarded against parental neglect by evolving parental love.
For centuries, it was reputed that the Spartans of ancient Greece routinely threw newborn babies with birth defects over a designated cliff on the outskirts of the city, so that Sparta’s resources would only go to children who could grow up to be strong, athletic warriors and physically robust, capable wives. However, after a five-year study of the land at the bottom of that cliff, medical anthropologists announced in 2007 that there is no evidence of infantile human remains.7
Chimpanzees are very tribal and will make war on each other. Parties of males will patrol the areas and kill any males they find from other tribes. The bonobos, a species of ape closely related to chimpanzees, are much more peaceful. In the wild, bonobos are separated from chimpanzees by the Congo River. Bonobo groups still have conflict with each other, but it is usually solved by having inter-group sex. Researchers point to bonobos as evidence that sociopathy may one day be eliminated from human behavior.8
Human Evil May Result from Uncontrolled Selfishness
In his book The Social Conquest of Earth, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson makes a strong case for the concept that selfishness and altruism in humans – in all humans — result from the dual nature of human evolution. On the one hand, human bodies and minds evolve from competition among individuals. On the other hand, human bodies and minds also evolve from competition between groups of humans.
Competition between individuals favors the physically strong and the mentally dominant, cunning, and efficient and selfish. More of these individuals will survive to reproduce than will the weaker, less intelligent and more passive individuals.
At the same time, groups or tribes of humans are competing with other groups and tribes. Here again, the more efficient, cohesive, stronger, and cleverer group will prevail, by out competing or even annihilating the weaker group.
However, for a tribe to be dominant, quite a few of the individuals within it usually need to be cooperative, respectful, detail-oriented, and caring. In other words, the winning tribe needs not only the best warriors, but also the best arrow-head makers. Individuals that have these social strengths and social skills are naturally selected, because they contribute to group strength. A group composed of only selfish, over-bearing people would be more inclined more toward theft and defection than they would be toward duty. Such a non-cooperating group would soon fall apart or be conquered. The most effective tribe of all would include both fierce warriors, and also detail-oriented arrow-makers and wise counselors who solve intra-group conflicts. As in the realm of economics, specialization plus cooperation wins the game.
The Way of Continuing Creation says – Humans have a very advanced nervous system (we hesitate to say the “most” advanced). If a human mother were to kill and eat her mate or feed her mate to her children to sustain them, we humans would rightly see that as evil. And since humans are an advanced product of Continuing Creation, we can well argue that Continuing Creation does prize human morality. In other words, it can be argued that through human evolution, Continuing Creation itself has evolved – maybe still is evolving – a higher form of morality. Similarly, we can say that in and through mammals and mankind, Continuing Creation has evolved the ability to love – in the traditional human sense of having sympathy, empathy, and care.
For Humans, Evil Clearly Exists
The Processes of Continuing Creation created mammals and humans by accident in part due to good luck. Without the giant meteor that slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula and caused the extinction of the dinosaurs,9 Earth might now be populated by cruel, amoral velociraptors. And, it could turn out down the road that humans go extinct and cruel insects become the dominant life form. Does that mean that the human standard of good and evil are all just relative?
Looking at the earliest Humans, we find that in early tribal cultures, killing another human was not seen as murder if the victim was a member of another tribe. It was viewed as an act of war. In some of tribal societies, it was also moral to enslave captives and eat the slain people of other tribes. Does that mean that human standards of good and evil are all just relative? Not absolute?
The Path of Continuing Creation answers, No! We have a right and a duty to protect and defend modern human civilization against the rise of another “Dark Age.” We hold that that for our species and civilization, there are moral absolutes and there are fundamental human rights. These moral absolutes and human rights exist independent of religion.
The Path of Continuing Creation also says – However, Old Religion is not required to tell us what is “good” and “bad,” nor to give them their moral force. Good and bad have naturally evolved, and are likely to continue evolving on into the future. We Followers of Continuing Creation: The Growing, Organizing, Direction should try to make the Direction move toward mammalian/human values of justice, compassion, and love; but never at the neglect of progressing Continuing Creation; nor at the neglect of Earth’s biosphere.
In human culture, morality becomes explicit. It is encoded in tribal custom and tradition. The invention of language and writing permit morality to be recorded, distributed, and read. In such societies, when a person’s natural selfishness and natural competitiveness are too high, or become too reinforced by the person’s social environment, evil can be the result. Such persons can become criminals or sociopaths.
Have no doubt – true evil does exist today in humankind. Just to mention a few varieties of evil, we have serial killers, people who torture others for fun, child abusers, tribes who sexually mutilate adolescent girls, African generals who persuade children to kill their own parents, and diplomats who, under protection of diplomatic immunity, enslave foreign workers in their households.
However, despite humankind’s capacity for evil, explicit morality had clearly evolved within human society – first within the family unit, then within the tribe, and then within the nation state. Humans don’t always follow the moral path, but it is there. Therefore, by definition, the Process of Continuing Creation has produced increasing morality. In human civilization, Continuing Creation becomes moral. This evolutionary milestone is perhaps the key argument for Process Theology – the doctrine that is not yet fully-formed but is emerging from Continuing Creation.
Most modern humans understand that Evil cannot be done by impersonal natural events – like hurricanes and earthquakes. However, in primitive animist societies, hurricanes and earthquakes were often seen as living entities, or they were often seen as the actions of evil super-persons (e.g., Satan, demons, evil spirits). In such societies, a hurricane could be seen as “evil” or as an act of “evil.”
Alas, if people mistakenly believe in a Person-God that intends everything, then for those people, suffering is evil, or it is at least a severe punishment for some real or imagined transgression. In this way, the anthropomorphic Old Desert Religions actually increase human mental suffering by making it seem that every natural disaster is the result of some evil – either God’s evil, or an evil done by a human that is being punished by God for “Original Sin.”
Usually, evil is the intended infliction of suffering on other living things when there is little or no chance of thereby achieving a greater good. So, poking my cocker spaniel with a needle is evil; unless the needle delivers rabies vaccine.
To have intention, a person must first have consciousness, volition, choice, and means. Those things all require the development of a brain. A single-celled amoeba does not have sufficient consciousness, volition, or choice to be an evil-doer; the worst the amoeba can be is a cause of suffering. Of course, primitive, uneducated, myth-making humans may well attribute evil to an amoeba, a spider, or even to a tree or a rock. Or those things may be said to be inhabited or controlled by invisible “evil spirits.”
Note that if evil requires consciousness, intention, choice and means, and maybe even moral knowledge, then God, who has all those qualities must be evil. Therefore, a God with all those qualities would be directly causing the spider’s poison bite that kills a tiny child. But we Followers of Continuing Creation know that the Interacting Processes of the Universe do not directly cause, do not intentionally cause any events in indinviduals’ lives.
Do we humans always need to have evil intention for an act to be evil? No, not always. Evil can be well-intended and still be evil. The sick and evil mind of Adolf Hitler well-intended for the extermination of the Jews to “purify the Aryan race” and thereby accelerate human progress.
Normal people (who are certainly not fanatical racists) routinely argue in criminal courts over an accused’s “degree of criminal intention.” Extreme liberals say that most crimes are almost all the fault of society (e.g., “how the accused was raised,” or the accused’s degree of socio-economic suffering). Conservatives argue that most crimes are fully the responsibility of the individual criminals, regardless of their family backgrounds and environmental conditions.
Evil Usually Betrays Shared Moral Standards
An intended infliction of suffering on others usually violates some common human moral standard. Some would say that Evil cannot even be perceived, and therefore may not even exist, unless the victim also has consciousness; and particularly the advanced social consciousness required to understand moral standards, and to believe that the perpetrator should share those standards. Here are two examples:
- Example: If Thor, the Storm God of Norse mythology, sends down a lightning bolt because the land below needs rain, and by accident that bolt happens kill an innocent human bystander, that’s not seen by humans as being very “evil,” even if those people believe it was Thor who did it. But if Thor violates some human moral convention, say by targeting a particular human out of petty jealously or revenge, that would be perceived as evil. Any act, good or evil, can have unintended consequences. But an act is not usually judged by their accidental outcome, it is judged by its reasonably expected outcome at the time the act was done.
- Example: If a Blue soldier kills a Gray soldier in battle, the Blue soldier is usually not seen as “evil.” However, if the Blue soldier captures and disarms the Gray soldier, and then Blue kills unarmed Gray just for convenience, that would be an evil killing, because it betrays the moral code of war, as presently expressed in the Geneva Conventions. Of course, it is common for members of each opposed “tribe” to attribute Evil to all the members of other “tribe.”
In stark contrast to soldiers on a battlefield, a sexual predator or a cannibal surely is perceived as evil in almost all societies, because they betray moral norms common to both the perpetrator and the victim (and both their families and societies as well).
Can evil be done through negligence? For example, if a parent fails to protect a child from a cousin who is suspected of molesting people outside the family, is the parent evil? This is difficult to answer, and depends on circumstances. Thus, the law distinguishes between “negligence” and “gross negligence.”10
Human perception of evil is species-centered and family-centered; but since humans were soon living in tribes, tribe-centered as well. This continued on between larger city-states, which for the most part preserved a tribal orientation – e.g. the Athenians versus the Spartans, the Israelites versus the Philistines. Even today, human tribal conflicts — such as the Hutu versus the Tutsi in Rwanda — can be extremely cruel and bloody. But the Tutsi would regard the killing of anther Tutsi as more “evil” than a Tutsi killing a Hutu. 11
Psychopaths and Sociopaths
People who have no (or almost no) empathy can be psychopaths or sociopaths, and they can be capable of vicious killings. They may give lip service to their culture’s set of common moral values, but they can casually
violate those norms because they are unable to identify with or have sympathy for the pain of other people or other creatures.
- Psychopath = a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, failure to learn from experience, etc. They often carefully plan their behavior. Serial killers can be excellent examples of psychopathy.
- Sociopath = a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience. Their behavior is often disorganized and unplanned. Bernie Madoff, the “investment manager” now serving time for using a Ponzi scheme to bilk millions of dollars from his clients, is said to be a sociopath, because he continues to show no real concern or regret for his past behavior. 12
Of course, there are definitional nuances between all these psychological terms. A continuum of evil behavior exists between the simple cruelty done by a schoolyard bully, and the heinous torture perpetrated by violent sadistic serial killers.
Both liberals and conservatives may argue that psychopaths (and possibly sociopaths) have evil intention, but “they can’t help it because they are born that way.” Their brains exhibit dysfunctional patterns and structures. The Book of Continuing Creation is amenable to this point of view, as long as such individuals are identified, legally prosecuted and/or medically treated, and separated from society.
Many psychopaths are also violent sadists. Violent sadism, perpetrated against an unwilling victim, is an evil even beyond psychopathy. The criminal sadist not only has no empathy for his victim, but also perversely enjoys the pain endured by his victim.
The Path of Continuing Creation reserves the worst corner of our metaphorical “hell” for extreme sadists who perpetrate their evil on the most innocent and vulnerable among us – the children, the aged, and the disabled.
Do Humans Have Free Will? Are We Responsible for Our Evil Acts?
Sometimes, the “no-responsibility” argument applied to psychopaths is over-generalized to include everyone. This extreme argument says, “Aren’t we all just “born the way are? And if so, no one can ever be blamed for anything, because none of us have any ‘free will.’“
Our Practice rejects the universal form of the no-responsibility argument, and comes down firmly on the side of responsibility – both individual responsibility and societal responsibility, as they are measured out according to the circumstances of each crime.
We Builders of Continuing Creation weigh our choices as best we can, and our whole decision process is too complex, with too many variables, for anyone to predict what our choices will be. Over hundreds of thousands of years, humans have evolved a degree of choice that is tantamount to “free will.”
We say that while God did not “give” humans “free will,” the Processes of The Growing, Organizing, Direction did evolve so that we do have a significant and growing degree of choice in our lives. Choice, action, and creation – none of these would not even be possible if there were not good and evil, differences, contrasts. There is no freedom of action without some uncertainty of outcome. There is no creativity without a tension between possible alternatives.
A Question for further thought: If a person withdraws from the world, seeks Nirvana, seeks to merge with the Godhead, hopes for the bliss of Paradise through God’s grace, and then in fact attains it — would he or she still have the power of choice? Maybe not!
The Path of Continuing Creation also says that love and justice are not the only good things we should be choosing with our considerable degree of free will. We also have the ability and responsibility to choose progress (which is good) over regress into a new Dark Age (which would be bad); and these choices are vital.
Can the Cruelty of Nature be Called Evil?
We know that cruelty (and something close to sadism) are not just human practices, they also exist in nature.
Among most mammals, who evolved later than the insects, mothers love and nurture their offspring, demonstrating care for each other and implying the existence of a moral code. Nevertheless, male polar bears and male lions will kill and eat their own offspring, to reduce competition for food. House cats will “toy” with a mouse before killing it – a practice which looks very much like sadistic torture to us human beings. House cats repeatedly trap and release the mouse before finally killing it. In the 1980’s, the author of this book watched videotape on television, recorded and narrated by a field zoologist, showing a male silver-back gorilla alternately beating an old female and having sex with a young female, (and doing chest-thumping in between) until he had beaten the old female to death.
The mouse and the female gorilla clearly experience cruelty, but do they experience “Evil”? Likely the mouse does not, because the cat and the mouse do not share a common morality calling for a quick kill. The male and female gorillas, however, intelligent social animals, do live by a moral code. Moreover, the two gorillas in the described incident were not only members of the same species, they likely shared years together as members of the of same troop and even the same family unit.
So, the Path of Continuing Creation judges that intelligent social animals can, in fact, commit Evil.
The sacred books of the Old Desert religions, written before people had much knowledge of biology, usually portray humans as the only living things that have ever been “given” morality and the only creatures who can commit Evil.” This is incorrect, and it is a major reason why the Old Desert religions have become outdated. Still, such cruel/evil acts when done by animals do not seem to be as cruel/evil as similar acts done by humans against humans. The more advanced the consciousness and socialization of a species, the more heinous the cruelty/evil can be. Human cruelty/evil is more cruel/evil than house cat or gorilla cruelty/evil.
Where Do Human Cruelty and Evil Come From?
The Garden of Eden story, with the snake and the apple, taken as literal truth, is a ridiculous fairy-tale. But as a poetic metaphor, the Garden of Eden story is a memorable fictional dramatization of the fact that human nature evolved the capacity for both good and for evil. Evil is not a feature of the relationship between God and Mankind. It is a product – maybe a by-product or a side effect — of Continuing Creration’s evolution of humankind.
The Garden of Eden story was likely written between 1000 BC and 500 BC. Around 700 BC, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod wrote an 800-line poem that contains the story of Pandora’s Jar (today called “Pandora’s Box.”) It begins when Prometheus steals fire from the Greek Gods. As a punishment, Zeus instructs his fellow Gods to build an “evil” for men, and so they create and send the first woman, Pandora, and “the tribe of women” to be a plague upon man. Before Pandora’s arrival, man had lived free from evils, toil and illness, but she had been given a jar which contained all these curses. Pandora opens this jar, releasing all its contents but Elpis (“Hope” or “Expectation”). 13
However, our neglect of Earth’s biosphere is not the same as the overt cruelty that we so often see in individual human beings. Where do cruelty and evil in humans and in mammals come from? How do they arise in the processes of evolution? It happens when the competitive forces of evolution swamp the cooperative forces of evolution.
Evil can also result the other way around, when cooperation swamps individual free action. No one would want to live in a highly regimented lockstep of complete cooperation – as a worker in a bee colony, or as a half-human and half-machine member of “The Borg” in the science fiction television series, Star Trek.
In nature, we see many evolutionary adaptations “go overboard.” Behaviors and creature features will evolve to excess, for a time, if there is nothing in the environment to oppose their happening. Examples include the huge antlers of elk and the overblown displays of feathers by male peacocks. Both of those examples have to do with the contest for power, sex, and procreation.
Similarly, human cruelty and evil could be a perversion or an exaggeration of the drives for sex or dominance, the drive to pass on one’s own genes, or maybe of the hunting/survival instinct. In humans, evil may particularly emerge when behavior draws on primitive reproductive and survival drives, and then our human brains get pathologically obsessed within them, replaying them over and over in our minds.
Evil Can Be Institutionalized and Made to Seem to be Banal
When human evil is made official policy, organized, bureaucratized, and inculcated, it can be made to seem banal. As Nazi guards who participated in the Holocaust would say on the witness stand at Nuremburg, “I was just following orders.” In recent decades, we have seen horrible examples of institutionalized evil, including liquidation of Native Americans in the United States, Nazi gas chambers, Stalinist death camps, the killing-fields of the Khmer Rouge, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.
Hannah Arendt (1906-75) first described the “banality of evil.” Arendt described how Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, insisted he was not the “monster” as the Israeli prosecutor described, but just a thoughtless bureaucrat, passionate only in his desire to please his superiors.14
In 1887, Lord Acton wrote his famous dictum: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This principle of political science explains how a “failed painter like Adolf Hitler and a failed seminarian like Joseph Stalin could end up with the blood of millions on their hands.” Without the rule of law, independent branches of government, checks and balances, fragmentation of power, individual rights, and an independent press, then “widening spirals of license will lead to degradation and corruption.” 15
In the famous “Stanford Prison Experiment,” wholesome upper-middle class Stanford Students assigned to act as “prison” guards rapidly descended into inflicting cruelty on the students assigned to be “prisoners.” This experiment demonstrated that holding organized positions of power and authority can cause people to become cruel.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is a negative example of what psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls “hive behavior” in human groups. Like ants or bees, propagandized humans can be regimented into disciplined, military behavior that is markedly different from individual moral behavior. Survival of the group overtakes the survival and the individual rights of individual “soldiers.” Soldiers will perform heroic acts of self-sacrifice for their comrades-in-arms, their “band of brothers.” The downside is that “hive” mode can devolve into blood lust and war atrocities. 16
Through propaganda and control of the media, human thought can be controlled; and then evil deeds can be inspired. Evil can be made to seem as “serving the greater good.” The jihadist Islamic terrorism of ISIS is another good example. So is the complete mind-slavery imposed on the people of North Korea by the dictator Kim Jong-Un.
The social psychologist Dr. Roy F. Baumeister has written that violence and cruelty can arise from four causes:
- high self-esteem, and
- moral idealism
Baumeister says that the widest and deepest swaths of human evil – e.g. large-scale ethnic cleansing — result not from #1 and #2, but from #3 and #4.17
Denial of Human Rights is Evil
Modern civilization has created a category of suffering (experienced both physically and mentally) that can be called socio-political suffering. This is the suffering caused by the denial of basic human rights. Human rights can be denied by individuals (e.g. a wealthy family keeping an unpaid housekeeper in confined servitude), and on a larger scale by governments through means of totalitarian rule, including the use of propaganda, secret police, religious police, thought police, and “re-education.”
The Way of Continuing Creation holds that it is evil to deny people their basic human rights, which are many. These rights include the freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, religion, self-defense, travel, and the pursuit of happiness. Also included are the rights to freely seek and negotiate place of residence, occupation, and spouse, and the time of one’s own death. (Go online to see the full text of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Practitioners of Continuing Creation say that basic human rights also include the Right to Truth, which is ensured by a free press, universities practicing scholastic integrity, our shared belief in the rule of law, and by dedicated investigators and prosecutors. Most of all, Truth is ensured by a basic societal belief in, love of, and dedication to Truth itself. (For more discussion, see our Essay, Leading a Moral Life.)
Is Warfare Evil?
Warfare is present all over the Earth and at all levels of biological life. Plants have been at war with insects for hundreds of millions of years plant species have been at war with insect species for 400 million years, as geo-biologist and Professor Hope Jahren writes in her best-selling memoir Lab Girl. 18
The wars waged by our own human immune systems, where our T-cells routinely attack and destroy invading bacteria, are certainly not evil – at least not from the whole-body’s point of view.
From the view of the biosphere as a whole, bacteria invading humans could be interpreted as Earth’s ecosystem trying to stay in balance by reducing human over-population – just as wolf packs help preserve the balance of nature by keeping the deer population in check.
In the animal world, some species make war (ants, chimpanzees, humans). Other species, such as bears, elk, sea elephants, and Humans) conduct individual combat between dominant males — sometimes to the death and sometimes ending after physical dominance has been sufficiently displayed.
Competition and Cooperation – The Two Processes of Evolution
There are two main processes in evolution: competition and cooperation. Both are present in Continuing Creation, both are present in all living things, and both are present in every individual human. They were present in the apes that were our human ancestors, and in the monkeys and the mammals that were their ancestors’ ancestors. We humans are capable of evil, because we are parts of The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos, and that Grand Set of Processes can and does inflict great suffering, some which we humans perceive as evil.
The set of evolutionary processes created both the peaceful bonobos, and their cousins, the warlike chimpanzees. The bonobos live in enclaves shielded by natural geographic barriers. If they had had to compete with the more aggressive chimpanzees for food and territory, the bonobos likely would have been exterminated by the chimps, or have become warlike themselves.
Human groups (tribes, religious sects, nations) compete and make war over land, religion, and ideas. With the rise of democracy, trade, and technology, it may be possible to eliminate war. On the other hand, global warming could exacerbate it, as some global regions lose water and crops. Over the centuries, Humans have evolved “rules of war” that attempt to avoid cruelty and minimize harm to non-combatants.
Do the Processes of Continuing Creation favor war over peace? Not always. The Processes of Continuing Creation favor survival, which can be won through aggression, escape, or through cooperation, depending on the particular “eco-scape” in question. Female lions survive by fighting any teams of hyenas that may attack them; mice survive by running down tiny holes and escaping their predators.
However, if we look only at human tribes and nations, history says that the group with the best war weapons and war skills, and the best economies and governments to sustain them, usually win out over groups that are less effective in these areas…. other things being equal.
- In his work, The City of God, St. Augustine presented his case for the idea that some wars are justified under God’s law. He asserted that peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense of one’s self or others could be a necessity, especially when authorized by legitimate temporal and ecclesiastical authority.
- Similarly, the Koran says: “To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged.” (22:39)
Our Practice Says – Humanity’s ability and propensity to make war could actually turn out to be a good thing. If the day comes when Earth is attacked by murderous aliens, we will need our human traits of war. Many scientists believe that life forms on other planets would likely be based on carbon, oxygen, and water as is life on Earth, because those substances have unique abilities to combine, change form, and transport other elements. If so, then any distant species taking the time and trouble to come to Earth would most likely be seeking resources and room to sustain their own kind. Of course, we humans may well kill off each other long before aliens arrive from other planets.
War is inherent in Nature. Species, nations, tribes and gangs compete, fight, and kill. There are winners and losers. But the ecosystem as a whole, the evolution of Continuing Creation as a whole, has advanced over the centuries. Has it advanced in spite of or because of competition, aggression, and war?
Clearly, both competition and cooperation have advanced the Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos. We know that Competition (including aggression and war) is a strong process, because all individual organisms and most species have in fact died, at least so far. So, the “components” of biological evolution, i.e. the individual and the species, are all ‘expendable,’ but the underlying pattern of Continuing Creation grows and elaborates. Similarly, in technological evolution old technologies also die when they are out-competed by new technologies. This is the now famous principle of Creative Destruction, as originally described by the economist Joseph Schumpeter. 19
Of course, while evolution’s processes of creative destruction are going on, the biosphere can be upset when a cosmic or geologic disaster wipes out entire sets of species (as happened when the giant meteor struck the Yucatan peninsula, killing off most of the dinosaur species.)
Is There Progress Away from Violence and Toward Peace?
Steven Pinker, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, argues that Earth is becoming more peaceful over time. He presents a great deal of statistical evidence to show that both war and crime have been declining as human civilization has progressed.20
Pan-en-theism and Pantheism
- Pan-en-theism says that God (or G.O.D. in our case) is all-good and works toward perfecting everything.
- Pantheism says that God (or G.O.D. in our case) is itself both good and bad, and already is in everything.
The Book of Continuing Creation concludes that Panentheism is wrong and pantheism is right. It is up to us humans to bring mammalian and human goodness into the Processes of Creation. We humans have demonstrated some progress at increasing the score of goodness (for example, slavery is less common than it used to be), but evil still remains in our mental makeup and we still see it emerge on our Earthly affairs. (see the Chapter on Theology)
Our Practice also says – Given our present state of knowledge, some of us (including the author of this Book) provisionally conclude that competition, and also violence, are part and parcel of Continuing Creation. Other Followers of Our Way have the right to provisionally conclude that human efforts are clearly moving the Process of Continuing Creation away from violence and toward peace. In Process theology, these latter folks say that The Growing, Organizing, Direction is presently imperfect, but is moving toward a climax, an “Omega Point” of perfect peace. 21
The phenomenon of blood lust can arise in an individual, and perhaps more often in a group when warriors are closely bonded. Blood lust is a frenzy of excited, excessive killing. It often happens when a band of brothers-at-war cohere to revenge the death of one of their own at the hand of the enemy. It has been portrayed in such motion pictures as Platoon and Braveheart. War crimes, such as the murder of civilians, can take place.
On the other hand, the world has seen rule-bound, civilized warfare. The Geneva Convention and other rules of war attempt to outlaw the atrocities and cruelties of blood lust, ethnic cleansing, and torture. Still, even the most civilized warfare (picture British soldiers in a line, exchanging musket fire with French soldiers circa 1755) can easily devolve into cruelty and evil.
Is Crime Evil?
Crime is clearly illegal, usually immoral, most often unjustified, and sometimes evil. The degree of evil usually depends, once again, on the degree of intent, on the degree of premeditation, and on the nature and age of the victim. An impoverished father who steals food to feed his hungry children is not being evil.
Is Death Evil?
Death by murder is surely evil, but is death from simple old age? Most of us act as if it is – we worry about it and do nearly everything we can to avoid it. But there is no evil intent behind natural death from illness or old age. Death is a natural and (virtually) universal process of Nature.
In a New York Times Opinion, Dr. Haider Javed Warraich writes that, “…We humans spend much of our lives denying death. Death, however, is not the enemy. If there is an enemy, it is the fear that death arouses. 22
Interestingly, the human body’s cells can also die a natural death every few years from their own “old age” within the body. “Unnatural cell death is called necrosis, and occurs when a toxic injury causes the cell to spew its contaminated contents out into the rest of the body. A cell’s most natural death is called apoptosis. Unlike in necrosis, the cell doesn’t burst, doesn’t tax the immune system, but quietly dissolves. Natural cell death is central to the survival of the organism because it removes cells whose functioning is below par. Similarly, the organism as a while has to die the renewal of the society and ecosystem it inhabits. 23
Although Death itself is not evil or suffering, death is very much a type of creative destruction. Death makes room and frees up resources for the young. And those young may have evolved favorable new capabilities – quicker reflexes, greater senses, deeper reasoning, and even higher morality. As we discuss in our Essay Death on the Path of G>O>D>, any system (the biosphere, the human population, technology, every multi-celled creature) needs destruction to make space for and provide the materials for new construction.
How about suicide? Is it natural or unnatural? Moral or immoral?
The Weave of Continuing Creation says — If a person is left with only the barest dregs of health, and often racked with pain, he or she may elect to opt out of the expensive, “heroic” procedures that only prolong lives of very poor quality. People have the right to prefer a death without so-called heroic treatments, because they regard that death as more natural. They also have the right to elect to use a bit of “unnatural” technology (a high cliff, an overdose of opioids, a firearm) to hasten that natural death.
The Vikings believed that a man could not enter Valhalla unless he died with a sword in his hand. The American Plains Indians also believed that a warrior should die in battle. For these cultures, a “natural” or honorable death for a man was a fighting death. When a Plains Indian warrior concluded he was too old to be effective, he would dismount and “stake himself out,” i.e. tie his ankle to a stake. He would then fight (at great disadvantage) mounted enemy braves charging at him one by one… until he had been killed. 24
Action Responses that Combat Suffering and Evil
A weakness of all Old Religions is that they offer few modern, practical, science-based, action-based ways to physically deal with suffering and evil. Fortunately, this is not the case with the Path of Continuing Creation. The Processes of civilization provide many ways to prevent, fight, cure, and/or ameliorate both suffering and evil. And these ways are growing in number and efficacy. Here are some of them:
Nutrition, medicine, surgery, law, law enforcement, lawsuits, courts, imprisonment, psychology, crop improvements, crop rotation, flood control, dikes and dams, defensive forts and armies, family planning, pain relievers, anesthetics, wool and cotton clothing, modern heat and air conditioning, eyeglasses, prosthetics, education, special education, counseling, transportation for escape, and a hundred others.
The Way of Continuing Creation also says — Overpopulation and Global Warming now cause tremendous and rapidly increasing suffering. In fact, if we were to anthropomorphize Continuing Creation by calling it “Mother Nature,” we might say that Mother Nature regards overpopulation and global warming as evils. The suffering that results from them includes hunger, war, poverty, disease, violent storms, flood, and loss of species. The foremost practical solution to these ills is to stop having so many children. That is why our Essay on Leading an Ethical, Moral Life says that no person to biologically father or mother more than two children. Modern medicine provides the birth control technologies to accomplish this; but education and the cultural liberation of women are sorely needed. (See our Essay, Overpopulation Threatens Continuing Creation.)
In the coming century, we Humans may even be able to genetically engineer the violence out of ourselves. However, there could well be unintended consequences. Would we lose our creative drive? Would we even still be Human? Would we really want to become like the bonobos?
If we follow The Growing, Organizing, Direction, we and our progeny can lead lives of less and less suffering, more and more fulfillment. Our creative work can increase knowledge, cure disease, eliminate world hunger, invent new technologies, discover eco-friendly energy sources, and eliminate war. If the morality and spirituality of the Path of Continuing Creation grows while the suffering declines, progress will increase.
We Co-Creators say – The proactive, real-world responses to Suffering and Evil are central to the Path of Continuing Creation. In the Old Religions, this is not the case, because those religions were formulated before humans had any real success in science and medicine. This is a major reason why the Old Religions need to be updated or replaced.
Mental Responses to Suffering and Evil – Attitude and Perception
Many popular metal Responses are based on false logic, fiction, and mythology. But some Mental Responses are based on sound psychology. We will talk about both types.
Mental Strategy — “A Positive Attitude Produces Cascades of Positive Results”
The fictional stories of author Horatio Alger, written for American boys in the last half of the 19th century, painted sanguine stories about young men who overcome obstacles and succeed through honesty, pluck, and hard work. In a Horatio Alger story, the main character moves from success to ever greater success by dint of clean living and an optimistic attitude. He gets a great job, marries the perfect girl, and rises high in business. The hero’s virtues lead to a chain reaction of positive outcomes, each one triggering the next.
The Book of Continuing Creation says that such cascades of positive results can happen, but they are not the rule. Negative cascades of suffering can also happen, as we discuss later in this Chapter. However, we can choose to look for the positive. We can meditate on the positive side, be mindful of it, and work toward it. By doing so, we will see more positive things and we will start to chain them together to create networks of positive events in our lives.
Note: At the end of this Essay, we will discuss cascades of Negative Results.
Mental Strategy — “Everything Happens for a Reason, and Eventually Leads to a Good End.”
This Mental Response is similar to a “Horatio Alger cascade,” but it’s a bit more realistic. Things will turn out okay… but it may take a long time. Eventually, today’s bad news will be trumped by good news.
This version is often a variation of the idea that God has a plan for each of us. Thus, if something bad happens to me today, God will make it right somewhere down the road.
Alas, there are many followers of the Desert Religions who imagine that “God has a plan for my life,” and “Everything happens for a reason.” Ironically, this common religious belief causes unnecessary mental suffering. These believers strive, so that God will reward them; then they worry that He will punish them for their weaknesses. When success doesn’t appear, the believers fret that He doesn’t love them. Lastly, they agonize and mope over His unfairness.” So, believers in the Desert Religions often have doubts, even crises of doubt, about their faith, because the assertions they are asked to believe are so patently false.
The Discipline of Continuing Creation says — The reality is that since The Growing, Organizing, Direction of the Cosmos is not a super-person with human-like caring, but rather a set of interlocked developmental processes, tha Direction does not formulate individual plans for any of us individual humans.
The Way of Continuing Creation is a Spiritual Path without any of that manufactured hope and manufactured doubt. Our Path comes with questions built in, but we have no doubt about our method and direction. Our The Path changes as verified human knowledge changes. Therefore, the Path of Continuing Creation causes little or no psychic pain, no psychic suffering.
There are even versions of “Everything Eventually Turns Out Good” in which people have to wait until after they are dead for “good,” in the form of Heaven, to arrive. This is particularly important in Christianity, because it provides a way to explain why people who have been “saved” by accepting Jesus as Savior, and who are therefore guaranteed admission into Heaven, continue to suffer while they are still alive on Earth. (The myth of heaven is a wonderful theological invention, because no one who supposedly goes to heaven is ever available to tell us about it. For more, see our Essay, Dealing with Death on the Path of Creation.)
A bit less forgiving, less automatic, is the Hindu and Buddhist myth of reincarnation after death. In this fantasy, less-than-righteous people come back to Earth over and over, living life after life, until they “work off” the bad karma (bad deeds) of their previous lives. Eventually, if they manage to make up for all their bad acts in prior lives (which is not at all certain), they get to transcend to experience of Nirvana, a merging with the Godhead. We will discuss these myths further in the next Chapter.
Mental Strategy — “Suffering Spurs ‘Personal Growth”
We often hear the argument that suffering is a spur to “personal growth.” The argument here is more realistic about hardship than are the Horatio Alger stories. With this approach, even severe hardship “builds character;” it makes us “grow” – if not in worldly success, at least in character.
German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was way too extreme when he wrote, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Shakespeare was more measured when he wrote, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
In fact, while traumatic suffering can lead to post-traumatic growth, it can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
It can lead to growth in three ways. First, it can reveal our hidden abilities and/or changes our self-concept for the better. Second, adversity can strengthen our relationships. Third, it can lead us to live (more) for today; or to live each day to the fullest. 25
However, we can all review our own lives and/or the lives of our friends and plainly see that bad things happen to good people all the time, and that sometimes the bad things will completely overwhelm a person’s life. Fundamentalist Christians like to say that “God never gives us more than we can handle,” and “It’s all part of God’s plan for me,” both of which are complete nonsense.
Mental Strategy — “Suffering Spurs Spiritual Growth”
A Christian saying that makes a bit more sense is that “suffering can be transformed by God’s “grace” into spirituality,” or the “spiritual growth” of a person. In contrast, however, Calvinist Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries thought that wealth and well-being, not suffering, were evidence of spiritual righteousness.
(The U.S. Marine Corps has a similar questionable saying which is so hardcore that it’s burlesque: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”)
The Book of Continuing Creation says that neither suffering nor well-being are evidence of spirituality or righteousness. The only evidence of spirituality and righteousnous are a person’s conduct and speech.
Mental Strategy — “Without Problems to Solve, there is No Progress.”
This is a mental strategy that is based in reality and which actually works.
First of all, we do know that there is no experience of wellness without experience of suffering. There is no white without black.
A “problem” is the presence of some kind of pain. In the 1800’s, it was hard to read at night using only candle light or oil lamps or natural-gas lamps. Plus, those technologies invited house fires. This problem spurred the invention of the electric light.
Of course, new technologies bring new problems. Electric light has been largely created by burning coal, which is producing global warming. But this spurs still newer technologies, including solar and wind power.
- In his play As You Like It (Act 2, Scene 1), Shakespeare called this spurring phenomenon “the uses of adversity.”
- The Roman Stoic philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC–65 AD) wrote, “Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
In the classic 1952 science fiction novel City, by Clifford D. Simak, nearly all the humans on Earth decide, one by one, to decamp to Jupiter and turn themselves into creatures called “Jovians.” Jovians spend their lives galumphing across Jupiter in carefree ecstasy, with all their needs abundantly supplied by the atmosphere and surface of Jupiter. They do no work and they experience no violence, no disease, no suffering, no worry.26
However, a terrible outcome flows from Human-to-Jovian conversion: The ex-humans no longer create anything – no culture, no knowledge, no science, no technology, nothing. And back on Earth, human civilization dies out.
The Path of Continuing Creation holds that suffering is necessary, to an extent. Modest problems and moderate suffering do lead to creative solutions and progress. Cold climates motivate us to devise technologies to spin thread and weave cloth. However, severe suffering can lead to societal collapse, disease, degeneration of the body, depression, insanity, and death.
Mental Strategy — “God’s ways are beyond our understanding.”
Back here on Earth, we often hear a Mental Strategy which argues that while God’s goals must be by definition good, His methods simply cannot be understood by us. This is usually a variation of “everything turns out for the best,” only here we poor Humans can’t see what “best” is. Only God gets to see what’s best. Thus, we have traditional sayings like “No one can know the Mind of God,” and that “God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform.” This idea is beautifully described in the Book of Job, which we talk about in a later Essay.
In past centuries, humans had no way to explain the existence of disease, volcanic eruptions, and other events that cause animal and human suffering. In those times, the ways of Continuing Creation were beyond human understanding. Today, we know that Continuing Creation populated the Earth with innumerable forms of life, all born out of the processes of evolution, (even though many scientific questions remain to be answered). Today, it is clear that the ecosystem of the entire Earth is just as important as, and in fact inextricably entwined with, each of our individual human lives.
Today, with our huge corpus of scientific and historical knowledge, humankind can describe how the Processes of Continuing Creation (the “mind of God”) works. And Our Book largely does explain it. We know that C.C. populated the Earth with innumerable forms of life, all born out of the processes of evolution, (even though many scientific questions remain to be answered). And we know that the ecosystem of the entire Earth is inextricably entwined with, each of our individual human lives.
Mental Strategy — “Change is the only constant.”
We know that things may turn out well…. And then later turn out bad… and then good again. Recognizing that simple fact is a mental strategy that has validity within the Practice of Continuing Creation.
We can illustrate this mental approach with the famous Taoist story about The Wise Farmer:
The Wise Farmer
There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
“Such bad luck,” the neighbors said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors offered congratulations.
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
We could easily add another verse to the Farmer’s Story in which thing go south again. But the Farmer, being wise, would say “Maybe” after every verse in an endless numbers of verses.
The Taoist Farmer’s Story says that good and bad – like Yin and Yang — never stop their interrelated dance of change and creation. Hindus call this The Dance of Shiva, the Dance of Creation and Destruction. Thus, Good and bad oscillate in an endless cycle; they are locked together in a dynamic unity.
Our Practice says — The moral of the Farmer’s Story is this: We can never know the full outcome or final outcome of a “bad” event. In the chaotic systems of human life, long-term outcomes are indeterminate – too many factors are at work. Since we simply never know what’s going to happen next, let alone further down the road, we should not allow our minds to dwell on (Buddhists would say “attach to”) today’s suffering. However, the long, long term trend is progression toward complexity. The purpose of our Human lives is to contribute to that trend. The more a person contributes to the progression, the more the progression is likely to provide good results within that person’s individual life.
Mental Strategy — “Evil must exist in order for humans to have free will.”
This argument says that if there were no evil, humans would not be able to make choices between bad and good. Therefore, humans would have no free will…. and that in itself would be bad, because people would be unable to achieve moral growth. People are supposed to take mental comfort from this “wisdom.” This mental stance is similar to the idea that problems produce progress. And our evaluation of it is also similar:
Our Practice agrees that evil (bad) in fact must exist for humans to have a choice between bad and good. Just as we cannot choose “up” unless “down” exists. And we agree that making those choices is what we call “free will.” However, some “downers” are a lot worse than others. Really bad evil leads to demoralization, slavery, destruction and death. We must not court the extremes of sadistic evil in an attempt to tell good from bad.
Many argue that there is no free will, because everything a person does is determined by his or her genetics and environment. Maybe so, if we could somehow track and plot the path of every neuron’s signal in the brain. But we cannot. Complexity science shows us that there are so many interacting variables that the final outcome – the choice — cannot be predicted. Therefore, humans feel they have, and do in fact have, considerable choice or “effective free will.”
Americans have more effective free will than North Koreans do. An ISIS fighter’s recently purchased Yazidi “wife,” living in captive sexual slavery in the city of Raqqa, Syria, has less effective free will than does Ms. Mary Barra, an American citizen and the highly effective CEO of General Motors.
But free will was not given to us by a super-person God living in heaven. Effective free will – the ability to choose, and the choices themselves – evolved.
Okay, so good and evil must both exist for humans to exercise effective moral free will. But what about suffering? Must suffering exist for humans to an exercise free will? The Book of Continuing Creation says — No, because suffering – physical suffering, at least – comes from outside of us.
We Know that Suffering and Evil Can Cascade, as Can Well-being
Earlier, we looked at Horatio Alger stories where positive things happen in a causal chain, and at the more realistic neutral Farmer’s Story where both positive and negative events come and go. Below is a third story – the centuries-old proverb, For Want of a Nail — to illustrate the possibility of Suffering as a causal chain of negative events.
“For Want of a Nail.”
For want of a nail the horseshoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
….And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Which of the three stories – Horatio Alger, Farmer’s Tale, or Want of a Nail – portrays everyday reality? They all do, to varying degrees.
The Book of Continuing Creation says — Do lives of nearly endless satisfaction and lives of nearly endless suffering really happen? Yes, they do, although they are not common. Most people live in the highly populated middle of a probability distribution, in the wide part of a bell-shaped curve, where we experience a mix of some good events and some bad events in our lives. A small set of “lucky and/or achievers” have lives on the far-right tail-end (the good end) of the distribution, and a small set of “unlucky and/or failures” have lives on the far left (bad) tail-end.
However, Our Book also says — we can and do partly direct our own lives and partly shape our own individual patterns of satisfaction and suffering. A major theme of this Book is that as a whole, life, culture, science, and technology on Earth are progressing. We also hold that If we can align our individual lives with that Continuing Creation, if we learn the right methods and habits, we can increase the chances that our individual lives will also be able to weave together a chain of creative achievements.
Mental Strategy — Acceptance
A widespread mental response to suffering and evil is to accept them. Unlike the mental strategies we have discussed above, Acceptance does not entail any false logic or self-delusion. Mental Strategies calling for acceptance are common across the world and throughout history.
Acceptance strategies are closely related to the idea that God is One, containing good and bad, satisfaction and suffering, yin and yang, white and black. However, there are two kind of Acceptance strategies – passive and active:
Mental Strategy — Passive Acceptance
Buddhism famously teaches that all life is suffering (dukkha), although a better translation of dukkha might read that “all life is dissatisfaction.”
Buddhism says that a correct mind that follows the Noble Eightfold Noble Path can transcend all Earthly suffering. Similarly, Zen monks will spend hours in daily meditation; Catholic monks will spend hours in daily prayer, Buddhist monks in an effort to achieve Satori or “know God.” Islamic Sufis lose themselves in a whirling dance. Many religious sects also adopt ascetic practices of self-denial to “mortify” the body and bend it toward spirituality. Usually, spirituality in these cases calls for a transcendence of daily life, a rejection of everyday reality.
Practitioners of Continuing Creation is opposed to the “way” of Passive Acceptance. We say that this choice too often leads to inactivity, cessation of material progress, and cessation of the growth of scientific knowledge. We note that its practices usually arose in societies and times marked by little material progress, restricted personal freedom (e.g. the caste system in India, slavery in Africa and the new world) and affliction by disease and famine. But in countries that have adopted some if not all of Western culture, we know that progress is possible.
However, Buddhist meditation and the Eightfold Path can be a constructive discipline within a Moral, Virtuous, and Fulfilled life in the Practice of Continuing Creation. For more on this topic, see our Essays on Buddhism and on Leading a Fulfilled & Happy Life.
Mental Strategy — Active Acceptance
The Book of Continuing Creation says —Active Acceptance is the Book of Continuing Creation’s Position on Suffering and Evil. Active Acceptance means taking action and accepting the outcome, then returning to take further action, again accepting the outcome if needed, and so on.
Humanity – with our highly developed consciousness, intelligence, language, and physical dexterity — is a kind of apex for the Processes of Continuing Creation. But nuclear war or a crashing asteroid could change that in an instant. Continuing Creation and human suffering coexist because C.C. is not primarily focused on Humans. Only Humans are primarily focused on Humans.
Continuing Creation is focused on millions of creative processes and formations on Earth, and likely on other planets as well. Continuing Creation casts a very wide net and goes down many avenues simultaneously.
C.C. in its creative frenzy generates many kinds of living things which, from our human point of view, are not the main branches on The Tree of Life. To us humans, many species seem to be evolutionary instruments of our suffering. Examples are mosquitoes bearing malaria, parasitical worms, and the polio virus. The parasitical worms strive to pass on their DNA just as we humans strive to do the same.
If Continuing Creation has suffering and evil within itself, how can we Human followers of C.C. dedicate our lives to its path? The answer is that we Humans should do more than blindly create and build. We should create and build while being true to our mammalian heritage and to our own Humanity.
Our intelligence (and maybe our ability to cooperate and care) place humankind at an apex of Continuing Creation… at least here on planet Earth. Yet the ultimate outcome of Continuing Creation on Earth is far from certain. Yes, our own species has the capacity for caring, but we also have the capacity for hate, cruelty, and war.
The Book of Continuing Creation concludes — When we use our degree of free will to make choices that are humanly ethical, which now includes the “eco-ethical,” we are choosing a subset of the Growing, Organizing, Direction we could think of as the Good, Organizing, Direction. In other words, we Human have the right and the ability to assert Human morality and Earth-centered morality within the sphere of Continuing Creation.
Followers of Continuing Creation can and must align their moral behavior toward all three constituencies or reference points of the Moral Triangle:
- Toward People: Family, Friends, Neighbors, Tribe, Citizens, Humanity
- Toward Earth, its Biosphere, and its Ecology
- Toward The Growing, Organizing, Direction of Creation
The Serenity Prayer and “Joie de Vivre”
Do Builders of Continuing Creation have trust or faith that the Processes of Creating will overcome all the prospects of nuclear war, climate change, giant crashing meteors, and the rest? No, “faith” is too strong a word. Do we have “hope”? No, that word is too desperate. What we have is reasoned optimism that the constructive and humanistic aspects of Continuing Creation will prevail.
The Book of Continuing Creation offers the Serenity Prayer (we call it the Serenity Meditation), written by the American Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) as the best “short-form” way to deal with Suffering and Evil:
May I find in the Flow of Continuing Creation
The Serenity to Accept the things I cannot change,
The Courage to Change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
As we describe in other Essays, this Serenity Prayer resonates with the old spiritual paths of Taoism, Stoicism, and Process Theology, all of which are forerunners for The Book of Continuing Creation. (See our Essay, Forerunners to Our Spiritual Path.)
Finally, Our Practice calls for us to follow the Serenity Prayer with a positive joie de vivre — a zest for life. This critical attitude is captured by a song from Fiddler on the Roof:
“To us and our good fortune
Be happy, be healthy, long life!
And if our good fortune never comes
Here’s to whatever comes
Drink, l’chaim!… to Life!”
Essay edited 12-18-17
- T.A. Campbell, and T. A., and K. C. VerCauteren, 2011, “Diseases and Parasites” in Biology and Management of White-tailed Deer, D.G. Hewitt, editor, CRC Press, pp. 219-249.
- Quoted in: Adrian J. Desmond & James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist, 1991, W.W. Norton, p. 479.
- S. Jay Olshanskey and Robert N. Butler, “If Humans Were Built To Last,” Scientific American, 2003, pp 95-100.
- In the classic science fiction novel City, by Clifford D. Simak, 1952, Gnome Press, industrialized ant cities do indeed take over the Earth tens of thousands of years from now.
- Carl Safina, “The Depths of Animal Grief,” Nova, Public Broadcasting System,7-8-15.
- Sexual Cannibalism is practiced by a number of species, including black widow spiders and preying mantises. See the Wikipedia entry for Sexual Cannibalism.
- “Study Finds No Evidence of Discarded Spartan Babies” (According to Athens Faculty of Medicine Anthropologist Theodoros Pitsios),”posted 12-10-2007, ABC News, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2007-12-11/study-finds-no-evidence-of-discarded-spartan-babies/983848.
- Frans de Waal & Frans Lanting, 1997, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, 1997, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-20535-2. See also Natalie Angier, Natalie (September 10, 2016). “Beware the Bonds of Female Bonobos,” 9-10-2106, The New York Times. Retrieved September 10, 2018.
- See Wikipedia entry for Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event
- See “A Full Guide to Negligence,” at www.Laws.com. Go to https://tort.laws.com/negligence.
- See the Wikipedia entry for Rwandan genocide. Also, “Rwanda: How the Genocide Happened,” BBC, 5-17-2011.
- A. Amiel, A. Goldberg, E. Avram and M. James, “Bernie Madoff ‘Can Live With’ Fraud Victims’ Anger, But Not Family Scorn, He Tells Barbara Walters Exclusively,” ABC News, 10-27-2011.
- Robert Lamberton, Hesiod, 1988, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-04068-7. Cf. Chapter III, The Works and Days, pp. 105–133.
- Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963, Viking Press.
- Mihaly Cshkszentmihalyi, “Lord Acton’s Dictum,” in This Explains Everything, John Brockman, editor, 2013, Harper Perrenial, p. 376.
- Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012, Pantheon Books, pp.232-244.
- Roy Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, 1999, Holt Henry.
- Hope Jahren, Lab Girl, 2016, Alfred A. Knopf.
- Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, 1994 (1942), Routledge.
- Steven Pinker, The Better of Our Angels: Why Violence Has Declined, 2011, Penguin Books.
- Teihard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, 1955, Harper & Brothers.
- Haider Javed Warraich, “What Our Cells Teach Us About a ‘Natural’ Death,” 3-13-2017, The Stone, A Forum in the New York Times.
- Interestingly, cancer involves to little apotosis, resulting in cells (cancer cells) that will not die. See Dr. Siddhartha Mukerjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, 2011, Scribner.
- This custom was described in James Michner’s novel Centennial. See also Evan Thomas, “A Good Day to Die,” 11-12-2010, Sunday Book Review of Thomas Powers’ The Killing of Crazy Horse, 11-12-2010, New York Times.
- Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Chapter 7: The Uses of Adversity), 2006, Basic Books.
- Clifford D. Simak, City, 1952, Ziff-Davis.