The Evolution of Evil by Timothy Anders

The problem of the ultimate causes of evil, especially human strife and suffering, has agitated people’s minds from the beginning of history. The problem was particularly acute for the Christian tradition, with its faith in an all-loving and all-powerful God. A whole branch of theology, ‘theodicy’ (, developed to deal with this problem.

Good recommendations to follow up here would be Evil and the Love of God (1966) by John Hick (, The Problem of Evil (1990) by Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert M. Adam ( and The Problem of Evil (2008) by Peter Van Inwagen (

Listen, also, to the BBC Radio 4 In Our Time podcast of the discussion on evil with Jones Erwin, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Limerick; Stephen Mulhall, Tutor in Philosophy at New College, Oxford and Margaret Atkins, Lecturer in Theology at Trinity and All Saints College, Leeds. (

In the modern scientific worldview, various specific evils are ascribed natural origins, but contemporary habits of thought are still governed by the premise of a fundamentally beneficient Providence. With the acceptance of Darwinian natural selection, ‘evolution’ has been equated with Providence: It is widely supposed that evolution always does what is best, and always in the most efficient way. The term ‘evolution’ has even come to be synonymous with progress or improvement to this popular notion by suggesting that natural selection operates always and wholly for the good of each individual organism.

In The Evolution of Evil  Timothy Anders takes issue with this popular prejudice, and suggests that it is based on wishful thinking and anthropocentric bias. As Anders sees it, the process of evolution is neither progressive nor benign. At its every turn, evolution creates new forms of suffering, hardship, and conflict, which the organisms produced by it are obliged to endure. The processes of nature are entirely oblivious to the sufferings which they engender. Anders describes the human organism’s inherent physical defects, the serious disadvantages of reliance on intelligence and learning, the anti-human traditions prevalent in all human cultures, the atrocities of the ignoble savage, and the biological roots of interpersonal conflict. This is a hugely refreshing and challenging read. I commend it to you.

400 pages in Open Court Publishing paperback edition

ISBN 978-0812691757

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