Discussion of evil has historically taken place within religious traditions, where the "problem of evil" has been principally a theological issue, namely how to rationalise the belief in God with the existence of evil in the world. This issue is only important to believers in God, however, and today believers in God must accept that there are many who do not use this concept (including the followers of many religions, such as key schools of Buddhism). This does not invalidate theology, it merely recognises its scope, and explains why theology is now excluded from science. Attacks against God as a concept, however, are also theology – and oddly, these are frequently tolerated in otherwise scientific discussion.
What is needed for a thorough discussion of evil suitable for anyone and everyone is to separate the metaphysical issues of theology and its rivals from the ethical issues of morality. Moral philosopher Mary Midgley has suggested this is possible by accepting a concept of natural evil, namely evil considered quite apart from any supernatural or metaphysical interpretation. Religious people can accept natural evil without giving up their personal beliefs, since these beliefs provide supplementary understandings that should not contradict the facts on the ground, and may even support them. We can judge an act evil independently of our specific beliefs concerning God, souls or immortality. Since beliefs on these topic differ so wildly among both believers and non-believers, focussing on natural evil facilitates a more productive discussion.
Tackling the modern problem of evil presents a special challenge, requiring discussion of science, history, philosophy and religion. It will involve exposing some of the problems inherent to the ideologies of certain infamous scientists, and in so doing I risk being labelled an enemy of science. Because I also support religious freedom and appreciate the value of spiritual traditions, I am liable to be dismissed as an enemy of reason. This situation is itself an interesting phenomenon, and a scientific understanding of how and why people declare others with different beliefs "enemies" is an important part of the story of morality that this serial explores.
Part 1 of 23 in the Pentenary series.