Able Dilettante and Moxie Keener walked into the brand new Grand Oak University Bookstore already quite impressed by the size and selection. It was, indeed, an academic marvel for this moderately sized institution, something for which the entire region could, and should, justly be proud. Immediately, Able headed down the wide center aisle, dividing the left and right quadrants, toward two young men quite evidently engaged in lively but gracious dialogue. Moxie followed, already knowing Able would probably not see most of the bookstore this go-round. Thanks to their friend, Blue Poorman, he now had a penchant for dynamic conversation on significant subjects. If he knew very little, then Able would typically be quiet, and just listen and learn … and Moxie couldn’t fault him for that; it was all good. Besides, she was ultimately responsible for bringing this bright and handsome young man out of his shell in the first place!
When they reached the spot, Moxie already knew… The two students were engaged in an age-old, conversational debate about the existence of God, and Able was hooked. Moxie turned his head slightly, kissed him on the lips and smiled. Able smiled back kind of sheepishly. “Have fun, Mr. Dilettante.” She hugged him tight. “Just remember, lunch at 12:30 at the University Grill. O.k.?” Able ran his hands down her smooth, strong arms and, still sheepishly smiling, said, “O.k. Promise I’ll keep up with the time.” Moxie laughed as the two students were now paying attention to them instead of continuing their tête-à-tête. “I’ll have to come and get you, I know, but right now I think the employee standing just behind you three would really like to get through and down this aisle.”
“Oops, sorry,” the two young men offered and moved to the side while Able took a couple of steps back, right in to Moxie’s arms. She laughed again, but the employee only offered an almost inaudible “thank you,” followed by, “There are plush chairs around a nice table in the center of the back right quadrant.” Hint, hint. Moxie’s eyebrow’s shot up as she looked at Able. “Well, I believe you gentlemen have just been invited to take your most erudite dialogue elsewhere.” They chuckled and nodded in agreement. One of them, with curly reddish-brown hair replied with a slightly terse tone, “Yeah, I guess that’s clear enough, but I bet we won’t be nominating her for employee of the month! Sheesh … talk about lack of courtesy.” All agreed, but they moved toward the plush chairs anyway, except for Moxie, who was genuinely more interested in the bookstore. “See ya’ round, baby… Don’t get yourself into trouble, o.k.? I don’t feel like playing Wonder Girl today.” She winked and Able sniggered, waving her on.
After the three sat down in the cushy chairs surrounding the nicely varnished circular table, they made their proper introductions. The two students had each just finished his junior year, with Randall Darwin Huxley majoring in the Philosophy of Science with a minor in Anatomy, and Isa al-Hassan Kalaam majoring in Physics with a double-minor in the History of Science and Anthropology. Obviously intelligent young men and ones to be taken seriously. When it came Able’s turn he rather shyly said, “Well, my beautiful companion and I attend Splinterbit College, where we’ve both just finished our sophomore years. I’ve focused on art from the get-go, but I’ve broadened my major to Aesthetics with a double-minor in Philosophy and Sociology.”
“Oh, well, welcome then,” Randall smiled genuinely. “We need a breath of fresh air in our ongoing discussion that never seems to end … especially since my dear friend, Isa, simply will not let go of his God-crutch.” Isa just smiled and laughed. “So by all means, Able, jump in … anywhere. I’m sure it’ll be o.k. because in all likelihood we’ve swum in that part of the pool many, many times!” They all laughed now.
“Well, thank you for the invitation, and since I don’t have long before my Moxie comes to take me away for lunch, then I’ll waste no time,” Able began. “First, I would like to be rude and sidetrack your discussion a bit.” Randall and Isa both chuckled and said, “O.k.,” so Able continued, “Thank you both; you’re very accommodating. In what we might call this new thread of discussion, not wholly unrelated to what you were discussing, I would like to forbid the mention of God or, really, of anything having to do with the supernatural, as that would seem to muddle our discussion now more than help.”
“Well … that surprises me a bit, but … o.k. by me,” Randall responded.
“And so, too, for me,” Isa answered with a twinkle in his eye. Able thought Isa was on to him already. The young Middle-Eastern man seemed to know Able was at least a theist, if not particularly religious. For some reason, Able also thought Isa highly suspected that his friend, Randall, had no idea.
“Good, then, fair enough and again, thank you,” Able slightly bowed his head to his two compatriots. “Now, if you will allow, I would like to introduce my thread of discussion with a short statement followed by two or three related questions for consideration.” Both Isa and Randall acquiesced, so Able pushed on. “Not so long ago, in historical terms at least, the homo sapien was considered superior to all other creatures, or living organisms; either the pinnacle of creation or evolution. More recently, the homo sapien has been placed within the Animal Kingdom as one member among many with, perhaps obviously, some very unique and distinguishing characteristics that, in the minds of many, still make the homo sapien superior to all other members. One might justifiable argue, though, that to place the homo sapien within the Animal Kingdom is an insult to all other animals.”
“Look at the havoc wreaked by humanity: the bloody battles and wars, theft and murder; rape, incest and child slavery; verbal, psychological, physical and sexual abuse … and one could go on and on, of course. We know the record of humanity all too well, and the good we probably ought to mention scarcely outweighs the horrors or, more to the point, the evils. And here I must pause to offer an important definition, since it is, after all, necessary to define fundamental terms in discussions such as this, so I will propose an everyday, broad-spectrum definition for your acceptance or denial. Let us define “evil” as “that which is justly reprehensible; generally undesirable in behavior, in action; commonly considered and felt undesirable, and even intolerable … both by individuals but even more so in groupings (or society, if you will).”
“I believe this is about the best one could offer in terms of only or merely defining evil generally,” Isa answered first. “In fact, I might add ‘vague’ to your definition.”
“Not surprising at all!” Randall laughed. “Well, I’m not a lexicographer, so I’ll refrain from being persnickety and simply accept your definition. Bravo! On with your questions, my good man!”
“Very well, then; first off, when and how did evil arise, or originate, in the history of the world? Secondly, when and how did homo sapiens come to realize, or become cognizant, of evil? Thirdly, when was our commonly-accepted, general definition of evil largely, if not universally, accepted by humanity and, if this is not straying too far afield, how and why did this acceptance occur?”
“Ah!” Isa was the first to respond. “My answer, of course, is very simple and one well-known to my friend, so I will defer to Randall for the time being to hear what he has to say.”
“It’s not as if people have not had this discussion before, even Isa and I, of course, and the answer is really simple enough,” Randall smirked rather arrogantly. “In the course of the evolution of humanity, there occurred what some refer to as ‘the Dawning of Realization,’ when homo sapiens first became self-aware. This event was a tremendous leap in psycho-physiological evolution, of course, and with self-awareness eventually came the idea, embryonic at first, of evil. You see, the self-aware man was able to say ‘my house,’ and ‘my field’ and ‘my children.’ Consequently, when someone else burned his field, it was obviously detrimental … it hurt the man and his family as well, and so he naturally perceived this as an intolerable act, however he may have expressed it in his language. So too, if someone tore down his house, or murdered his children. These were intolerable, totally unacceptable acts that all self-aware humans could see and understand. This was the nascent beginning of the idea of evil.”
“Of course, there was no beginning, or birth, of evil, per se,” Randall continued. “These sorts of abominable actions had been happening for tens of thousands of years, at least. It was only when homo sapiens became self-aware that the idea of evil was birthed. Look! All throughout the Animal Kingdom we could point to ‘evils,’ but the animals, so far as we know, are not cognizant of having committed any wrong. The tiger that rushes into a village and snatches a baby child, tears it apart and eats it is said to have done something very wicked, something evil … but only by humans. For the tiger’s part, she has done nothing except that which is natural. For an extraordinarily long time, we lived the same way.”
“Until the great ‘dawning of realization,’ when humans became aware?” Able prodded
“Yes, precisely.” Randall answered. “And so far as our ‘commonly accepted, general definition’ of evil is concerned, I will first note that throughout history, across religious and cultural lines, there have been differences of opinion regarding what is to be considered evil and what is good, or at least tolerable. Having said this, I also admit that there are many universals that very well fit the definition of evil we’re using in our discussion right now. For example, it is generally unacceptable and thus considered evil, to rape a man’s wife and kill his children and burn down his home. All of those acts are horrible and considered wicked in every part of the world of which I’m aware. So, to answer when this commonly accepted, general definition of evil was more or less universally accepted, I will have to say I’m not certain. However, I would suppose that this is something that grew sociologically in a very natural way, and then was eventually juridically codified … along with other laws peculiar to whatever time, prevailing religion and culture. And why? Well … with regard to what we might call very basic moral standards, such as in the examples I’ve just given, it was eventually self-evident to thinking, rational humans that these sorts of things were evil. After all, who wants their house burned to the ground, or all of their food stolen?”
“Very true,” Able agreed, “so why did they do it?”
“Why did they do what?” Randall looked inquisitively.
“Why did one man choose to burn another man’s field and rape his wife and kill his children?”
“Well …” Randall paused and chuckled. “Why does anyone commit that sort of atrocity? Certainly you don’t expect me to explain every evil act ever perpetrated?” Randall sniggered this time. “Why does some man rape another man’s wife? Perhaps because she’s beautiful and enticing and he simply wants her. Killing the children? Maybe the man doesn’t particularly care for children…”
“Yet at some point, at least by what we refer to as the ‘dawning of civilization,’ humanity generally accepted the common, essential definition of ‘evil,’ and so accepting and inculcating this idea, came to believe, in the main at least, that it was something to be avoided,” Able pursued the subject further. “Besides, as you yourself asked, ‘Who would want their house burned to the ground, or all of their food stolen?’ So aside from evil being reprehensible and, thus, unacceptable on its own terms, it is also very counterintuitive. Far more rational and beneficial would be living in peace and harmony, in an environment of non-evil, which I suppose we could generally call ‘good.”
“Now, I would like to refer back to my opening statement, without giving the examples I then provided as I trust that’s unnecessary,” Able crossed his legs and leaned back a bit in his cushy chair. “Out of the entire Animal Kingdom, homo sapiens seem to commit the cruelest, most horrific acts imaginable, both upon one another as well as upon other animals and indeed the whole of the earth. Homo sapiens also seem to commit evil not only at far deeper and higher levels, but also with far, far more frequency. Finally, homo sapiens seem to display some kind of propensity toward evil over good, often times when the good would be just as beneficial, or at least make more sense. And all of this is, as I’ve said, very counterintuitive, which is quite shocking because it exists within the only species, as far as we know, that is self-aware. This is shocking … quite daunting, actually. Is there any reasonable explanation for this?”
“First of all, you may be making quite a few assumptions here,” Randall countered. “Do you know for certain that homo sapiens commit evil at far higher and deeper levels than any other member of the Animal Kingdom? Do you know for certain that homo sapiens possess a propensity toward evil rather than good?”
“Ah, my friend, if Able is wrong about the frequency of evil committed by homo sapiens as compared to other species, then we only have to go back to your own example of the tiger who tears apart and eats the child,” Isa jumped in. “For the tiger, as you pointed out, this is not evil; this is instinct. Thus, even if actions we consider horrendous are committed more often among some other species, it is only we who judge those acts as being wicked, evil. This makes the case worse still for the homo sapien, for the homo sapien is the only creature that is self-aware and, thus, apprehends and understands evil … yet commits evil knowingly and willingly. And these homo sapiens certainly do at an alarming frequency, whether or not there are other creatures that do so more often, and by this evidence alone, it would seem that homo sapiens do, indeed, have some internal propensity toward evil.”
“Yes, and the question still remains, to wit: Why?” Able asked again.
“Of course, I am neither a zoologist nor a psychologist,” Randall retorted. “It is beyond me, then, to provide intricate elucidation of the psychological inner-workings of human beings; however, one obvious answer is that homo sapiens, as all other creatures, evolved by the important principle of survival of the fittest, among other fundamentally important principles of growth and development.” Randall paused, looking somewhat ruffled. “Survival of the fittest meant, of course, an awful lot of what we now would consider cruelty. Certainly it was necessarily self-interested, first and foremost, and as humans gathered together in groups, whether nomadic or in villages, there necessarily existed the communal-interest as primary to communal survival, so… there you go. Homo sapiens have not completely evolved past this inherited, instinctive drive for sheer survival … Now, though, it displays itself very grossly as what we call ‘evil.’”
“Ah, but my friend,” Isa smiled at Randall, “what about the great ‘Dawning of Realization,’ and homo sapiens becoming aware of evil … accepting our common, general definition of evil, and generally agreeing that evil was something to be avoided and even condemned? How is it humanity could evolve so far, to such an intellectual extent and, dare I say, spiritual heights, yet continue living and acting in evil to such a far, far greater degree than in goodness?”
“Good observations,” Able remarked. “Reasonably speculating, I suppose, shouldn’t the ‘Dawn of Realization,’ the self-awareness of humanity, its apprehension and understanding of evil, with the attendant feelings of repulsion and consciousness of the negative outcomes of evil – shouldn’t all of this, I ask, have naturally led humanity to physio-psychically evolve further and further away from any propensity toward evil and, thus, further and further away from the commitment of evil? Shouldn’t we be able see in history humanity’s movement away from the vestiges of primordial evolution you just mentioned in defense of the continuance, prevalence and propensity toward evil?”
Moxie rounded the corner just then, smiled and winked at Able. “Have you guys got it all figured out yet?” Isa, Randall, and Able all laughed, with Isa adding, “You know, I don’t believe we will ever have it all figured out, but this has certainly been an interesting and enjoyable conversation we’ve had with your very learned companion. Moxie beamed and squeezed Able’s shoulder. “I have no problem believing that at all,” she said, “no problem whatsoever.”
“Well, it really has been enjoyable, and I wish we could continue … or, at least, I wish I could stay a bit longer. It seems this probing, iron-sharpening-iron dialogue is ending rather abruptly … for me, at least. However, I am now choosing the greatest good available to me, my new friends,” he said as he looked at Moxie, “and for that I am exceedingly thankful, and would certainly not even consider another choice.” Moxie side-hugged him, still smiling. “But may I now break my own rule, just before I leave your company … just to possibly give you something to ponder, or perhaps even to discuss as you continue enjoying your time together?”
“I think we can make that concession for a new and such intriguing friend,” Isa answered. Randall just sat quietly now, half-smiling, looking a wee-bit haggard. “By all means, Able.”
“One thought for your consideration: The existence of evil is actually an argument for the existence of God; without God, and the supreme goodness of God, evil would not be possible. Consequently, recognizing and appreciating the reality of evil, one must also reasonably and serious consider the very real probability of the existence of God.” Both young men nodded.
“Thank you, Able Dilettante,” Isa rose and shook his hand. “We certainly hope you and Moxie have an enjoyable lunch … and remainder of this beautiful day.”
“Yes, it was good meeting you and prattling over an age-old philosophical conundrum,” Randall said as he also shook Able’s hand … not quite as friendly as when they first met, but polite nevertheless. “Hope you both enjoy the grill and the rest of your day… Maybe we’ll met again someday in another bookstore.” They all laughed.
“Maybe so, maybe so,” Able answered. “It was good meeting and talking with both of you, too. Thank you for allowing me in on your conversation; it truly was enjoyable and inspiring.”
Moxie and Able then turned toward the front of the store and made their way out and down the sidewalk to the University Grill … where Moxie was bound and determined to prevent Able from meeting anyone new!