In the history of philosophy of religion, one of the most unyielding points of arguments inimical to God’s existence is the existence of evil. Across sacred texts and cultures of theistic beliefs, the essential quality of the being called ‘God’ is almost indistinguishable. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Nonetheless, the existence of evil itself directly contradicts all three qualities of God aforementioned (Speaks, 2008). “If God exists, why is there evil?”, this complex yet simple question that have been perplexing thinkers are labelled as “the problem of evil”. The only solid reaction to this problem by far is probably “the free will defense”, another concept in philosophy which is to be discussed timely (Plantinga, 1977).
The most precious gift a being can ever be granted with is the ability to decide and choose, in other words, free will. It is priceless for it is what makes us, us. “A Clockwork Orange” (1962) is a controversial literary work by Anthony Burgess known for its brutal imagery and ingenuous yet baffling questions on morality and free will. The raison d’être of this writing, is to expound the necessity of evil, with Burgess’ controversial work as an illustration. Though ‘evil’ in the question of “the problem of evil” were discussed in very broad context for it comprise of evil that is caused by human (e.g. murder and rape) and nature (disease and other natural disasters), this essay on the contrary, will discuss ‘evil’ in a specified context i.e. moral evil.
Consequently, my first point of argument supporting the necessity of evil is that evil brings balance to the cosmos. Evil, exists in a contradictory manner to good, comparable to those of hot and cold, day and night, man and woman, life and death et al. In discussing evil and its correlation to good, we surely have to go beyond physical theories and this takes us back in time to the pre-Socratic era of Heraclitean thoughts. Heraclitus was the first philosopher to assert that nature can be dissected in terms of continuous struggle between opposite pairs (Miller, 1981). These pairs, though exist in a separate form, are unified as one e.g. life and death are merely the extreme aspects of the same thing (Levene, 2010).
Also, Heraclitus asserted that one cannot exist without the other as they are defined by the other such as ‘cold’ is defined by the absence of heat (hot) and night is defined by the absence of the Sun (day). This is analogous to that of good and evil. Evil, is “the other” of goodness or vice versa. Otherness is a fundamental category of nature, including the nature of our thought (Beauvoir, 2004). In her essay The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir (2004) argues “Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself” (p. 52). This statement asserted by the French philosopher, firmly supports my argument that evil brings balance to the cosmos for goodness cannot and never will exist without evil.
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is a fifteen year old boy in which ‘evil’ is the perfect vocabulary to describe the fictional character, rather than ‘naughty’. Though at such a very young age, Alex commit crimes that are repulsive even for the fully grown adult: he robs, rapes and assaults the innocence. These actions are made worse by the fact that they are done solely for the purpose of his self-entertainment, in his own words “ultraviolence”. Alex, unlike conventional antagonistic characters in other literary works, are intellectually and morally conscious concerning his criminal acts in the dystopian society. Alex knows that what he does is morally wrong, using his own words from the novel, “I see what is right and approved, but I do what is wrong”.
His consciousness goes beyond the stratum of only identifying the morality of his choice, but also his role as the agent of cosmic balance and justice. In the fourth chapter of the first part of the book, Alex notes that “you can’t run a country with every chelloveck comporting himself in my manner of the night” (p.45). This conspicuously portray that Alex is aware with the fact that his behaviour defies the conventional ethics of the society. However in the following page he mentions:
But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick (boy). They don’t go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop? If lewdies (people) are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop (evil). And I was patronizing the other shop.
Here readers will understand that Alex have the capability to understand the moral law, however chooses with free will to defy it. It can be interpreted as if Alex understands the Heraclitean struggle between opposite pairs of nature (good and evil). Alex discerns why people wants to be good and respects their opinion, but he prefers to turn to “the other shop” just because it brings balance to the society for (as I mentioned before) goodness cannot exist without “the other”. In other words, Alex is the agent of “the other”, that is daring enough to harmonize the eternal cosmic balance.
Evil in “the problem of evil” is seen as both, part of God’s creation, and a flaw in part of God’s creation. Either way, they argue that it must not exist, for if evil exists, God must not exist. Those that argue supporting the cogency or soundness of that statement have forgotten the fact that we are granted with the ability to choose, free will. Hence, God is not the sole being (if I may call Him a “being”) to be blamed for the suffering of mankind. Therefore, this leads to my second argument, that evil is necessary for it undergirds free will. As mentioned in earlier paragraph, free will is by far the most robust counter-argument detrimental to “the problem of evil”.
Picture a world without moral evil. Imagine every single human being work under the moral law with acquiesce. No assault or rape or murder or fraud et al. Imagine the world being morally perfect with the absence of the need to fight against crime or any form of moral evil. True, it would probably be safer than ever, but ponder upon it—there is something obviously wrong with it, something is deficient and lacking. If moral evil does not exist, this mean that all humans are either robots that work under instructions and commands or that humans do not have the ability to choose. In simpler words, if moral evil cease to exist, then so does free will. As an augmentation to this argument, I would like to quote Professor Alvin Platinga (1977) of University of Notre Dame in his book God, Freedom and Evil:
Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil.
Platinga have successfully compressed moral evil and its correlation to free will in the paragraph above. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is a free boy, in fact he is too free. He chooses to assault a bookish and defenceless person outside a library, murdered an old lady, attacked a married couple in their own home and all this violence committed by Alex finally stopped when he murdered a homosexual prison mate that tried to molest him—then the Ludovico’s Technique happened. Ludovico’s Technique is a fictional and experimental treatment created by Burgess in the seventh chapter of the second part of the novel. It is a form of therapy or treatment to avert a person from doing evil acts, in which the subject is injected and fuelled by drugs that elicit sickness while they are constrained to watch violent graphics. As a result of this treatment, Alex become grievously ill at the paltry thought of evil (violence), and this marks the interesting turning point of the novel.
The Ludovico’s Technique revoked Alex’s capability of moral choice. The treatment results in Alex being “impelled towards the good by, paradoxically, being impelled towards evil” (p. 137). The results of this treatment on him is celebrated by the Minister of Interior, for he and his ally, Dr Brodsky, claimed that Alex is the foundation of their bigger vision upon the dystopian state. However, the claim made by Brodsky and the Minister, were disputed by the prison chaplain, in his own words: “”He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” (p. 137).
This specific page in Burgess’ masterpiece, I can say is the most profound. It perfectly illustrates Platinga’s argument when he asserted that a world comprise of beings that are significantly free and has the capability of moral choice, are far more precious, all else being equal, than a world with no free beings at all (Platinga, 1977). To abridge the argument, evil is a concrete proof that we are granted with free will. If moral evil cease to exist, then free will is non-existent, and if free will is non-existent, then to question the existence of God and His authority is unthinkable.
The third and the final argument of this writing standing on behalf the necessity of evil, is that evil is a basic motivational force. Like “love”, evil too, motivate. It enhances the development of mankind in its own right. If, say, no one in the world commits crime such as robbery, then the effort of architects in designing building contraptions for the purpose of safety, is futile, for there is nothing to protect a building from. If moral evil does not exist, then the formulation of federal laws would be unnecessary. Does this not obstruct the creative development of mankind? Evil as a basic motivational force, goes beyond the material world. Picture a world without moral evil, and what do you see? I will tell you what you wouldn’t see: heroic acts, exoneration, and even justice.
The existence of moral evil, directly impel us towards the good. Through evil acts, acts of goodness are born. If there are no criminals (evil act), there wouldn’t be policemen to seize them (act of goodness) and vice versa. This final argument is simple yet conspicuous, the pattern is clearly to be seen. In A Clockwork Orange, the Ludovico’s Technique are introduced by Dr Brodsky and the Minister of Interior for the sake of “curing” the criminals, in which Alex is the first subject of the experiment (this took place in the fourth chapter of the second part of the novel). If criminals like Alex does not exist in the fictional universe, the Minister and his allies would not have invented the Ludovico’s Technique. The discovery of the treatment is in fact a positive development (at least to the fictional totalitarian government) for the dystopian state. It marks a new success for the State. And what gave life to this discovery? Moral evil.
Throughout the history of philosophy, diverse concepts of evil were introduced i.e. by philosophers such as Kant, Irenaeus, Hegel etc. Most of the philosophers that touches upon the topic of evil dealt with the “problem of evil” in their own ways. In present day, “the problem of evil” are not to be seen as a problem at all. The existence of evil does not expostulate or deprecate the existence of God, in actuality, it fortifies God’s existence. As a cessation, our capability to know evil can solely come from knowing the disparity between good and evil. Therefore, to know goodness, evil must exist. Above all, evil is necessary. As the German theologian, Meister Eckhart, once said “Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light”.
Photo: Danielle Buerli’s “Milk Plus” sculpture, Crazy 4 Cult NYC show.
Beauvoir, S. D. (2004). The Second Sex (pp. 51-54). In A. Easthrope & K. Mc Gowan (Eds.). (2004). A critical and cultural theory reader. Toronto and Buffalo: Univeristy of Toronto Press.
Burgess, A. (2012). A clockwork orange (Restored ed.). England: Penguin Classics.
Levene, L. (2010). I think, therefore I am. London: Michael O’ Mara Books Limited.
Miller, E. L. (1981). The Logos of Heraclitus: Updating the Report. Harvard Theological Review,74(02), 161-176.
Plantinga, A. (1977). God, freedom and evil. Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Speaks, J. (2008, February 21). The problem of evil [PDF].