Why Evil Exists

Course No. 6810
Professor Charles Mathewes, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course No. 6810
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Course Overview

Why do humans do evil? What is behind "man's inhumanity to man," the troubling fact of human actions that produce suffering and destruction? Is it ultimately a spiritual or cosmic problem? Is it a consequence of social systems or power structures? Or is it some inner deficit of human nature, lurking in the shadow world of our psychology? Why, in the end, does evil exist?

The "problem of evil" is one of the oldest and most fundamental concerns of human existence. Since ancient times, questions surrounding evil have preoccupied every major religion, as well as many of history's greatest secular thinkers, from early philosophers to contemporary social theorists.

Whether we view it in theological, philosophical, or psychological terms, evil remains both a deeply intriguing question and a crucially relevant global issue.

From organized terrorism to genocidal conflicts, from environmental destruction to the ongoing nuclear threat, human actions that most of us would consider evil play a central role in the dialogue between nations and peoples, affecting not only our well-being, but the very survival of our civilizations. No single aspect of human life is more relevant to the question of our social evolution—to the goal of a healthier, more humane world.

Finally, what we call "evil" touches every human being on the planet. It's a matter each one of us must face, both as it may affect us individually and as members of our larger communities, and it may demand a response from us on the personal and the communal levels.

Now, in Why Evil Exists, award-winning Professor Charles Mathewes of the University of Virginia offers you a richly provocative and revealing encounter with the question of human evil—a dynamic inquiry into Western civilization's greatest thinking and insight on this critical subject.

A Question at the Heart of Human Existence

Covering nearly 5,000 years of human history and invoking the perspectives of many of the West's most brilliant minds, Why Evil Exists probes intimately into how human beings have conceived of evil, grappled with it, and worked to oppose it.

With Professor Mathewes's inspired guidance, you engage with how both individual thinkers and larger trends of thought have faced evil, studying the work of major theologians, philosophers, poets, political theorists, novelists, psychologists, and journalists.

These 36 lectures offer you the unique chance to approach the subject of evil through numerous lenses and to refine your view of this central question of human life, giving you a broad and deep resource for your own thought and action.

Insights from the West's Great Minds

In this multilayer survey, you first examine accounts of evil in the ancient world, in Greek culture and the precepts of early Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. With this base, you engage with history-making thinkers whose views have shaped Western conceptions of evil, including these major figures:

  • St. Augustine: Grappling with this vastly influential theologian, you contemplate Augustine's core equation of being with goodness, and his view of evil as a "privation" of being, a turning toward ultimate nothingness.
  • Thomas Aquinas: One of the greatest intellects of medieval scholasticism, you study Aquinas's brilliant elucidation of the mindset—the inner logic and rationale—of the evildoer.
  • Thomas Hobbes: Considered the first modern philosopher and "social constructivist," you examine Hobbes's proposition that good and evil are invented constructs of human language.
  • Immanuel Kant: The work of this philosophical titan included highly influential observations on evil, resting on his conception of morality as located in the depths of the human will itself.
  • Sigmund Freud: You track the complex ruminations on evil of the founder of psychoanalysis, including his hypothesis and exploration of the "death drive," an innate, destructive force of the psyche.
  • Hannah Arendt: Perhaps the single greatest commentator on human genocide and totalitarianism, Arendt analyzed the "moral inversion" of Nazism, which profoundly affected modern understandings of political evil.

Theology and the Imperative of Evil

Across the arc of history, you explore the nature of evil in Western religious thought.

In the Enuma Elish of ancient Babylon and the biblical book of Revelation, you find early conceptions of the universe as a battleground between good and evil cosmic powers. In the ancient Hebrew interpretation of Genesis, you see how Adam and Eve actualized an already inherent potential for evil. You study the psychology of Satan in Islamic theology, as well as in the weighty meditations of Anselm of Lyon and Martin Luther.

In our own time, you encounter Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr's challenging view of sin as rooted in resistance to our "hybrid" condition as both matter and spirit. And, in the wake of the Holocaust, you grasp Jewish thinker Arthur Cohen's extraordinary reformulation of faith in a God whose reality "is our prefiguration"—the promise of what we may become.

Philosophical and Literary Visions of the "Human Malady"

Parallel with the theological accounts, you study primary currents of Western secular thinking on evil in the work of key philosophers and social theorists, observing also how religious and secular thought on evil influences each other. In this area of the course, you devote separate lectures to the insights not only of Hobbes and Kant, but of philosophical giants such as Machiavelli, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Early in the lectures, you see how Plato and Aristotle defined a debate on evil that stretched across millennia, between a dramatic, cosmic conception of evil and a view of evil as a human matter of this world. You investigate Hegel's grand philosophical system, locating evil as a necessary element of a larger, universal process of maturation, and Nietzsche's demand for a new "language" of human actions in Beyond Good and Evil.

In American history, you study Abraham Lincoln's searing, theological interpretation of slavery and the Civil War, and his bold vision for healing the wounds of both North and South.

In the work of poets and novelists you find visceral and knowing evocations of evil—pointing us, through their reflective power, toward clearer views of our world.

Beginning with the Inferno, you travel with Dante into the self-delusion of the damned, in his timeless revelation of Hell as an existential prison of the evildoer's making. In Paradise Lost, you study Milton's invocation of Satan as a human archetype, despairing in his futile rebellion against God and his own nature.

Later, you taste Joseph Conrad's unforgettable portrayal of moral disintegration in Heart of Darkness, revealing the psychic self-betrayal of "civilizing" imperialists in the Congo. In the 20th century, you dig into Albert Camus' allegory of a city besieged by evil in The Plague, caught in a cycle of avoidance and denial of its own vulnerability to—and tendency toward—evil.

A History of Passionate and Penetrating Thought

Professor Mathewes, recently honored with the celebrated Mead Endowment Teaching Award —one of the University of Virginia's highest honors—brings to these lectures his own considerable insight, compassion, and flair for getting to the essence of complex ideas. Throughout the series, he illustrates humanity's clash with evil as both a hugely rich field of thought and a thoroughly engrossing story, inviting you to question your conceptions of humanity's dark side, and to imagine yourself and the world in new ways.

Among many keenly provocative perspectives, you contemplate Martin Luther's warning that direct resistance to evil amounts to a collapse into evil itself, and philosopher Blaise Pascal's demand that we must recognize our own habitual avoidance of confronting our propensity to evil. You see how Hobbes's influential notion of human action as based in "rational self-interest" translates into modern game theory and nuclear strategy. And you hear Professor Mathewes's own call for a new way of approaching evil in our time—one that avoids the pitfalls of either demonizing others or internalizing the causes of "evil" acts in the world.

In Why Evil Exists, Professor Mathewes compellingly suggests that by living in the depth of the question of evil itself, we find resources in ourselves that are more powerful than any given theoretical answer.

Join a deeply insightful teacher in facing this fascinating, primordial question—a chance to bring your own most discerning thought to a crucial challenge for our world.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Nature and Origins of Evil
    Consider the range of human thought across history, which has sought understanding of evil. First, examine three dominant historical views of the nature of evil. Then, grapple with the key questions of abstract theory versus concrete description, the transcendence or mundaneness of evil, and evil's function in nature and civilization. x
  • 2
    Enuma Elish—Evil as Cosmic Battle
    In the Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation myth, see how the dualism of good and bad divine powers locates evil as an innate structure of reality. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, probe one of the earliest recorded attempts to understand suffering and to find meaning in the face of death and evil. x
  • 3
    Greece—Tragedy and The Peloponnesian War
    This lecture explores contrasting views of evil and suffering in ancient Greece. In Greek tragic drama, trace the cruel paradoxes of fate and responsibility, under divine governance, that afflict the characters. Conversely, uncover the historian Thucydides' linking of evil to "accidents" of circumstance and chance in his account of the Peloponnesian War. x
  • 4
    Greek Philosophy—Human Evil and Malice
    The inquiry continues with the seminal views of Plato and Aristotle. Follow Plato's developing views of evil as "miseducation," a political fact of human society and ultimately as metaphysical revolt. Then ponder Aristotle's "mundane" vision of malice and evil as akrasia, weakness of will, and a misordering of fundamental human drives. x
  • 5
    The Hebrew Bible—Human Rivalry with God
    The Hebrew Bible roots evil in various forms of rebellion. In the Hebrew book of Genesis, see how the Fall actualizes an intrinsic potential for evil. Then consider three faces of rebellion: the rejection of God's plan (the Fall), interhuman strife (Cain and Abel), and direct rivalry with God (the Tower of Babel). x
  • 6
    The Hebrew Bible—Wisdom and the Fear of God
    The Hebrew Bible also offers a contrasting view of evil and suffering—as phenomena reflecting the mysterious will of God. Explore the implications of the covenant between God and Abraham, and Abraham's mandated sacrifice of Isaac. In the book of Job, see how Job's faith is established through determined acceptance of suffering. x
  • 7
    Christian Scripture—Apocalypse and Original Sin
    This lecture addresses the New Testament heritage on evil. Uncover the early Christian view of a cosmic struggle between God and darkness in the Gospels and the book of Revelation, noting numerous references to demonic powers. See how the doctrine of original sin is linked to the very goodness of Jesus. x
  • 8
    The Inevitability of Evil—Irenaeus
    The early Christian theologian Irenaeus of Lyon proposed an important "theodicy" or theory of evil. Discover the tenets of Irenaeus's thinking, based in his view that the descent into sin is necessary for the fulfillment of human destiny. Study his conceptions of natural and moral evil, and the redemptive "tutelage" of suffering. x
  • 9
    Creation, Evil, and the Fall—Augustine
    Saint Augustine propounded another seminal "theodicy" of evil. Contemplate his two foundational claims: evil as "privation" of fundamental good, and evil as perversion of human nature toward the meaningless. Consider also his views on the rationale for evil, evil's ultimate mysteriousness, and its interior implications for the doer. x
  • 10
    Rabbinic Judaism—The Evil Impulse
    Rabbinic Judaism resists the Christian "cosmic drama" of sin and redemption. Study the rabbinic conceptions of tov (goodness/conscience) and ra (badness/self-interest), as each functions in human nature. Also grasp the notion of ra as a practical challenge of will and responsibility and an ultimate gift from God to mature humanity. x
  • 11
    Islam—Iblis the Failed, Once-Glorious Being
    Islam locates the origin of evil precisely in the rebellion of Iblis, the fallen angel. First, define the relation of the Qur'an as a sacred text to the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. Then probe Iblis's fall through his "misappropriation" of faith, and the paradoxical dimensions of evil as both personal and impersonal. x
  • 12
    On Self-Deception in Evil—Scholasticism
    The monastic tradition of Christian scholasticism offers compelling views of satanic psychology. In the thought of Anselm of Lyon, explore the "logic" of Satan's rebellion against God, rooted in bottomless, unspecified desire. In Thomas Aquinas, trace the psychology of Satan to a self-deceptive motive to become what God is. x
  • 13
    Dante—Hell and the Abandonment of Hope
    Dante's Inferno poetically elucidates Christian thinking on evil. In his observation of the damned, see how the literary "Dante" learns the meaning of both pity and piety. Then grasp the nature of Satan's punishment, revealing Hell as a self-made crucible where the damned become what they internally want to be. x
  • 14
    The Reformation—The Power of Evil Within
    This lecture investigates the pivotal thought of reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin. In Luther's works, discover his view of Satan as a subtle, inner force, working to induce delusive thought and action. Also study Calvin's core conceptions of moral predestination and the innate depravity or corruptibility of the human spirit. x
  • 15
    Dark Politics—Machiavelli on How to Be Bad
    Niccolò Machiavelli's writings are often read as a nihilist sanction for wickedness in government. Push beyond that view to a deeper understanding of his thought, suggesting practical means for dealing with the inevitable "dirty work" of politics, with the determined aim of the stability and good of the polity. x
  • 16
    Hobbes—Evil as a Social Construct
    Hobbes, considered the first modern Western philosopher, proposed a hugely influential understanding of good and evil. Study his conception of innate human savagery, amoralism, and self-interest in the "state of nature," and his theory of compensating social contracts, suggesting that moral distinctions themselves are invented constructs of language. x
  • 17
    Montaigne and Pascal—Evil and the Self
    Philosophers Montaigne and Pascal offered sharply contrasting, "interior" accounts of sin. Evaluate Montaigne's view of zealous extremism as rooted in pathologic denial of the "disorderliness" of human nature, against Pascal's contention that that very nature requires spiritual zealotry to counteract and heal it. x
  • 18
    Milton—Epic Evil
    Milton's Paradise Lost is another deeply influential literary meditation on evil. Here, travel deeply into the psychic agony of Satan, in Milton's complex portrait of temptation, choice, rebellion, and futility. Conclude with reflections on the distinction between satanic and human sin, and the Fall's significance in God's plan. x
  • 19
    The Enlightenment and Its Discontents
    The Enlightenment fostered several critical arguments on the problem of evil. Track the debate questioning the limits of reason in dealing with evil between Pierre Bayle and Gottfried Leibniz and later between Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Then follow David Hume's incisive critique of both religious and atheistic thinking. x
  • 20
    Kant—Evil at the Root of Human Agency
    Kant's extraordinary insights revolutionized Western philosophy. Grapple with key elements of his thought, including his view of all arguments for and against an omnipotent God as essentially indeterminate, morality as located in the human will, and "radical evil" as the tendency of that will to privilege itself above the general good. x
  • 21
    Hegel—The Slaughter Block of History
    Hegel was the architect of a global philosophical system encompassing the realities of evil. Study his conception of original sin as a condition of alienation rooted in the human impulse to reflective self-consciousness, and his grand vision of history as the intelligible working out of the problem of evil in time. x
  • 22
    Marx—Materialism and Evil
    What is the relation of human social systems to evil behavior? Explore Marx's legendary analysis of material circumstances as the source of both thought and action, material inequalities as the wellspring of evil, and his determined view that transforming social conditions would erase the motive for human oppression. x
  • 23
    The American North and South—Holy War
    Two American voices spoke poignantly of the evils of slavery. In Huckleberry Finn, see how Twain portrays the agonizing moral double bind that afflicts Huck in his friendship with the slave Jim. Contemplate Lincoln's distinctly theological interpretation of the Civil War, and his visionary conception of healing for both North and South. x
  • 24
    Nietzsche—Considering the Language of Evil
    In imagining humanity's future, Nietzsche urged a profound rethinking of morality. Probe his view of the duality of good/evil as a structure that constrains and punishes, his "challenge to truth," and his proposal of a "pragmatic language" focused on the fruitfulness or healthiness of action and the cultivation of human creativity. x
  • 25
    Dostoevsky—The Demonic in Modernity
    Dostoevsky's novels were driven by an obsession with Western intellectual movements that attacked traditional morality. Observe his portrayal of nihilist revolutionaries in Demons, undone by their failure to understand evil in their own nature, and of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, as he rejects moral structure, destroying his own soul. x
  • 26
    Conrad—Incomprehensible Terror
    Conrad's writing is perhaps the most profound modern literary representation of evil. In Heart of Darkness, sense the white colonials' corrosive moral rot, revealing a savagery greatly exceeding that of the "primitives" they claim to civilize. In The Secret Agent, witness Conrad's prescient evocation of the desire to destroy civilization itself. x
  • 27
    Freud—The Death Drive and the Inexplicable
    In Freud's psychoanalytic picture of evil, study his notion of the pleasure principle and the roots of pathological behavior in the conflict between human desires and constricting cultural roles. Then follow his later delineation of the "death drive," a core, destructive force of the psyche in eternal struggle with Eros. x
  • 28
    Camus—The Challenge to Take Evil Seriously
    Two novels by Camus speak deeply to post-war thinking on the phenomenon of evil. Examine The Plague as an allegory for a society possessed by evil, resistant both to confronting evil and to recognizing its eternal recurrence. Contrast this with Camus' depiction of a "prophet" whose only prophecy is our own fall. x
  • 29
    Post–WWII Protestant Theology on Evil
    Three challenging perspectives: Explore Tillich's conception of the demonic as human "possession" by dimensions of reality beyond the personal self; Barth's vision of Das Nichtige ("the nothing"), a force opposing creation, to which God says "no"; and Niebuhr's "diagnosis" of sin as rooted in the desire to escape our condition as both matter and spirit. x
  • 30
    Post–WWII Roman Catholic Theology on Evil
    In modern Catholicism, grasp theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar's nuanced spirituality of hope, based in the conviction that God's providence is so powerful that salvation is a possibility for all humanity. Then study Pope John Paul II's precise delineation of "objectively" evil actions as a resource in the church's larger public discourse. x
  • 31
    Post–WWII Jewish Thought on Evil
    The Holocaust radically challenged Jewish conceptions of evil, faith, and identity. Grapple with four major Jewish thinkers, confronting the apparent death of the God of the covenant, as they urge profound questioning, new understandings of faith, and a turning to fellow humans to find meaning in healing the world. x
  • 32
    Arendt—The Banality of Evil
    Hannah Arendt's writings provide critical insights into modern political evil. Look deeply into the totalitarian mindset and its intent to control and transform human nature. In particular, grasp the singular "moral inversion" underlying the genocidal actions of Nazi bureaucrat Adolf Eichmann, which "justified" history's darkest hour. x
  • 33
    Life in Truth—20th-Century Poets on Evil
    Three 20th-century poets responded powerfully to political oppression. Hear Paul Celan's evocation of the annihilation of meaning, continuity, and time itself in the death camps. Follow this with Czeslaw Milosz's searching words on the legacy of past suffering, and Zbigniew Herbert's vision of the power of art and beauty in opposing totalitarianism. x
  • 34
    Science and the Empirical Study of Evil
    Contemporary psychologists have attempted to measure human tendencies toward what we may call "evil" behavior. Examine three landmark experiments studying obedience to authority and willingness to participate in cruel acts, and review the troubling evidence suggesting that human actions are driven much more by context or situation than by innate "character." x
  • 35
    The "Unnaming" of Evil
    This lecture proposes serious reflections on humanity's current capacities to respond to evil. Grapple with highly relevant issues, including the question of whether our past resources of understanding are equal to current challenges, a possible template for anticipating genocide, and our tendency to "serially" forget the lessons of the past. x
  • 36
    Where Can Hope Be Found?
    Professor Mathewes reviews the many themes and "layers" of thinking that articulate humanity's struggle with evil. Conclude with thoughts on what a workable present stance may be, balancing the intractable challenge that evil presents with the affirmative sense of the world revealed in our resilient will to face it. x

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Your professor

Charles Mathewes

About Your Professor

Charles Mathewes, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Charles Mathewes is Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, where he teaches religious ethics, theology, and philosophy of religion. He earned his B.A. in Theology from Georgetown University, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion from the University of Chicago. From 2006 to 2010, Professor Mathewes served as editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, the flagship...
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Why Evil Exists is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Got It: Evil Exists Because... Of several wonderful GC profs whose course I have enjoyed, Professor Mathewes is the best. With brilliant control of the content, blessed with a sense of humor and irony and extremely comfortable talking to "me" without notes, he packs 30+ minutes in a coherent, exciting fashion. Each lecture's final 30 seconds is a seamless summary and a suggestion of what lies ahead. His eyes twinkle throughout. At my age, post-70, I find myself yearning for a deeper insight into how we have come to understand ourselves, why we think (and act) as we do.
Date published: 2020-05-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Pretends to be scientific, assumes God exists When you begin with a false premise - "God exists" - your conclusions are logically false or, at the very least, untenable. Modern science has revealed the true nature of evil, and it has nothing to do with God and everything to do with brain chemistry and the influence of one's environment, especially in early childhood. Temptation is an existential reality; we are programmed to survive and procreate, therefore we are prone to temptation. Given the opportunity to eat as much as they can, starving people would not eat just enough to feel sated - they would gorge themselves out of fear that this meal may be their last. Evil is not an absolute. It means different things to different people. Each human culture and subculture has its own precepts for deeming things "good" or "evil", and individuals within those subcultures subsume the concept of evil to conform to their particular circumstances. Pass on this course. Read Ernst Becker's "Escaping Evil" (after reading Becker's "The Denial Of Death", which serves as a prequel and is a phenomenal book in its own right.)
Date published: 2020-04-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well organized. The course was put together well and covered almost every notion of what evil is to Western civilization. I was particularly fascinated with post Shoah theology. However I was a bit disappointed that it did not branch out into cultures that most people in the Western world know little of and what they do know, they misunderstand.
Date published: 2020-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Transformative Certainly, the best book that I have ever read or listened to as an adult. A profoundly, intelligent and intelligible, theological, philosophical and scientific review (6000 BC to the present) of the (1) nature of evil, (2) its origin and (3) how best to resist it. A useful primer is: if the “good will” is “benevolence aimed at union” and I believe it is a definition of love: the complete giving of oneself to God, to one's neighbour and to one's higher self (as understand as the person you are intended to be), then the “evil will” is “malevolence aimed at non-participation, isolation and annihilation”. Read and profit.
Date published: 2020-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title reveals the implications of evil ways. This is a very interesting series of lectures regarding the subject of evil. I am constantly reflecting on the lectures, because it bring the past experiences to the conscious mind . Thereby, re-evaluating your actions and experiences. Evil can be very basic actions and deviation from the norm. The deferent perspectives on the existence of evil makes it even more revealing. I am learning more about human nature due to the excellent lectures on , Why Evil Exists.
Date published: 2019-11-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comprehensive Survey Without Much Payoff This course surveys various explanations and approaches from many sources over many centuries. Undoubtedly one could make a different selection of representative contributors, but for most Western listeners this seems like a decent catalogue. Mathewes often gives a new slant on what they might be after, such as Dante's "All who enter here give up hope." Not, per Mathewes, what it looks like prima facie. For someone who likes listening and learning about various writers from antiquity to the present, and how they generally flow along the general themes that Mathewes uses to give coherence, this would be a reasonable course. And here's the "but." The flaws are too numerous for me to recommend this course, especially as one that actually intends to give us some understanding as to how to live in a world that seems so adverse much of the time. I didn't find any guidance in that regard. As is the case with many philosophical courses, the lecturer lays out a number of perspectives with no real conclusion, just "you be the judge." I don't think Mathewes used that terminology, but that's the general tone. Some specific deficits: Mathewes' repeated locution "in some important way." You hear this a dozen times in a lecture, lecture after lecture, and it gets annoying. People like me who are sensitive to lecturers' mannerisms will have trouble with this class. Also, he repeatedly refers to the people he lectures about as "thinkers." I know this is trade jargon for "philosopher" or "theologian," but hearing it so frequently, especially when it seems the thoughts aren't so profound, leaves me cold. It's as if other people don't think, only these people do. Mathewes' grasp of biblical theology and interpretation is mostly derivative and promulgating a theology distinctly mythological. The first sentence of the Bible is indeed creation "ex nihilo"; if it weren't the Bible would be in the same category of all the other creation myths that start off with some kind of cosmogony and/or theogony. This is clear from the Hebrew syntax, the structure of opening chapters, and role of Genesis as a whole. Genesis1:1 establishes a supreme God, which is essential for monotheistic theology. Mathewes makes a big deal of pronouncing "Adam" as it would be in Hebrew, with accent on the second syllable (a-dahm), but refers to Eve as "Eve," whereas in Hebrew her name is much more different (chavah, with a guttural "ch") than a-dahm is from Adam. All the other biblical figures are called by their anglicized names. This gives me the impression that Mathewes knows no Hebrew but learned how to say something and he wants to us know that. He clearly misses the point of the garden account, but so do most people. Briefly, if there is a supreme creator God, then people are not god. They had to learn the lesson of relationship through the fact the God can make "rules" (e.g., don't eat) and they can't. They are created, dependent beings. The state of world, in a broad sense, follows from their failure to appreciate that relationship. Because the humans thought they could make their own rules as to what is good for them, they end up in a world where now they would learn the lesson of dependence through what they would suffer. That's the main theme; it's far more nuanced of course. But in a real sense that is the origin of evil. Job is another place where Mathewes, and I think most people, just don't see the book's internal structure and learn what's there. It's not all about a man who suffers unjustly, can't figure out God, and has to accept that fact by faith. It's again about relationship and God using suffering to teach the creator/created dynamic. Mathewes doesn't, as I remember, explore the notion that on an atheistic account of the universe there can be no evil, because there is no morality: just matter in motion. To be consistent, atheists cannot talk about evil. They can talk about what hurts, but an atheist account cannot accommodate non-material entities such as evil, good, justness, etc. On a theistic account, there is God and there are humans. Mathewes, like so many people, read demons, devils, warring forces of the universe, etc, into the Bible. The Bible does use figures of speech, but it most definitely does not support the mythology of God vs. devils or other supernatural forces. It's about God and humans. Humans account for evil. Too many Christian expositors import pagan and mythological ideas into a book that from the beginning is about God and humans. Lastly, but not leastly, there's a huge philosophical problem when it comes to the lectures on Post WWII and post-Holocaust approaches to evil. Granted that it was suffering and vile crime, but it's an insult to anyone before WWII to somehow imply that THEIR suffering didn't count. History has scores of examples of horrible events, by any human standard. There's nothing qualitatively different about our times that calls for a different theology or calls of "God must not exist." Moreover, what would be the criterion by which we would say that a certain genocide or earthquake is acceptable to allow the existence of God, but another is "too" horrible? We see this outcry after ever major event or disaster. God doesn't come in or out of existence because of our personal encounter with a given amount of evil. Evil exists because people are mortal and have free will. Atheistic accounts cannot even allow for the topic to get started because there is no evil in a purely physical universe. Theistic accounts want a God who will make a perfect world, and that is the world the Bible promises: "Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven." Until then we live in sadly painful world. This message was lacking in the course, probably because it would have been considered too "religious." So don't look to this course for theological or philosophical guidance to help you in your daily struggle to live in far from perfect world. If you want an historical survey of what various people, mostly in the Western tradition have thought about the problem, then you might find this useful. I didn't.
Date published: 2019-11-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Religious. Why Evil exists: I listened to half of this, but not more. It has a very Western Christian view on Evil. If one is not a believer or Christian or if one is not interested in specific history of Christianity regarding Evil, it not a helpful course & most of it, is only mythical discussions, between Christian thinkers. A few initial chapters, are about earlier civilizations, though. It also needs significant concentration, as it becomes too theological at times & if one is not motivated to listen to such discussions, it becomes even harder to focus.
Date published: 2019-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Exploration of a Complex Issue Great, thorough, balanced presentation to a very complex and controversial topic. Professor Mathewes explores to complexity in a well structured, logical, and objective manner. He presents the differing points of view without appearing overly biased to a particular view, although his background can be seen. Each point is backed by examples from historical figures, religious texts and other sources as appropriate. This is truly an outstanding course to introduce tge student to the very complex topic, and one in which almost have have their established viewpoint. I usually spread my viewing over a long period of time, however the interest generated by the professors makes it both hard to put down, but also developed a desire to learn more, through more research.
Date published: 2019-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting material, engaging instructor I purchased this course some time ago. I am now going through it again. These lectures provide an insight into human nature from variety of philosophical thought and religious doctrine. It has helped my own understanding of philosophy and the "evil" that persists in our nature.
Date published: 2019-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Coverage of Different Views on Evil I never thought much about why evil exists. And without this course I probably would not have gone down the thought trail of why it exists. And I certainly would have never known how the eras in human development would look at the topic with such variability. Enjoyed the course tremendously and now have much more to think about.
Date published: 2019-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wicked Good I love these lectures they are interesting and informative and totally engaging
Date published: 2019-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course. This is a great course. I recommend it for anyone, especially any who has recognized the dilemma of "how can a loving God allow evil?". It discusses the subject from all perspectives, theological, philosophical and historical, but dose not take a doctrinal stand on any one of them. I recommend it. It has even made me plan to reread some books and take or retake some other courses, such as one on the Devine Commedy.
Date published: 2018-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teachers and Masters What drew me to the course initially was the subject matter regarding the origin of evil. A subject I personally believe everyone should be captivated by. The information presented and sources sited are many and will not disappoint. But what intrigued me most was how Professor Mathewes presented that subject matter. People learn differently. What helps me to learn and to retain the information is my perception of how intrigued the presenter is with that subject matter. Professor Mathewes has a gift of not just presenting an idea or a fact, but allowing the words just presented to "hang in the air" for a brief moment for your consideration, your pondering. To me, that is a hallmark of a deep, deep thinker. One who does not take lightly what he has just said. I have over 50 Great Courses. And this course is by far the most revisited course in my library. Once again, not just because of the subject matter, but because of how it's presented. There are teachers, and there are masters. I believe Professor Mathewes is one of those rare masters. I would highly recommend this course and other courses presented by Professor Mathewes.
Date published: 2018-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Religious title Great source of biblical information on the Bible. Very impressed.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing scholarship It’s obvious that the presenter did not understand even the rudiments of biblical interpretation or even secular hermeneutics. This important topic needs better scholarship.
Date published: 2018-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why evil exits The esteemed Professor give adept insight to the metaphysical.
Date published: 2018-02-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Profound and thought provoking Just to see what the detractors disliked about this course, I looked at the 1 star reviews. To say the least, they really missed the point. I have read a lot of the sources which are the subject of the lectures, and the professor does a great job of pulling out key points and weaving them together in a very thought provoking and challenging manner. Yes, he does talk about religion, but after all, this is a course on evil -- one of the key problems religion is concerned about. I'm not particularly religious myself, but I don't see how you could leave that part of human thought out of this discussion. But this is hardly the centerpiece of the course. It is wide-ranging and covers a great deal of secular thought. There are many highlights, but I was particularly impressed by the consideration of the holocaust from multiple perspectives. The bottom line is that as a discussion of a key philosophic problem which examines the perspectives of many centuries of thinkers, this is really an excellent, and even profound, course. I plan to listen to it again.
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Why Evil Exists Very comprehensive. Covers a lot of ground from earliest times to recent events. I think a course such as this should be a standard study course in universities and in high schools as well. It's important to understand why evil exists and how to recognize it early. The course doesn't pretend to offer a cure, that's not in the cards but we do need to think about it as something that is prevalent in all societies. Good course.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Superb overview of this penetrating topic I have completed only two of the chapters. So far I am pleased with the content and delivery. The added readings are well thought out and the questions are good to stimulate thinking. It is not an easy topic to approach and while the deeper questions such as theology of it all is avoided so far, perhaps to be picked up later.
Date published: 2017-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging, Interesting, Hopeful I got this because I was so queasy about the rise of hate during our last presidential campaign and having grown-up with the Holocaust still a recent horror. I was not disappointed. The course is fascinating and well-organized. Prof. Mathewes does a great job of providing perspective and a framework for many of the issues that are on my mind right now. I was amazed at how completely relevant the historical roots of this conversation are. Prof. Mathewes manages to be objective and still somehow personal in a great way. I'm very glad I bought and listened to this. course. Big recommend.
Date published: 2017-04-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evil: Do you know it, when you see it. Important topic ti help you sort out what is good and evil, what is virtue, what is ethics. Overwhelming topic, how people thought of their relations to each other, and relationship with God(s), over several thousand years. PROBLEM is teacher is limited in knowledge to Roman Catholic Aristotelian Scholasticism, and after the medieval times, he looses touch with social sciences and and medical research about how people are hard-wired to know good and evil.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Please allow me to introduce myself..." Maybe Mick had it right in the 'Stone's "Sympathy for the Devil " as he describes the devil's involvement in our human history. From Gilgamesh to Oppenheimer Dr Mathewes delves into the history of what we call evil...offering many examples both of famous evils in history as well as contemporary reflections. 'WHY EVIL EXISTS' could easily be renamed 'Why goodness exists' as it examines the qualities of good and evil through the eyes of some of history's best authors and philosophers. For those thinking of listening to this lecture series know that Dr Mathewes offers a well-organized, and very clearly presented set of lectures that are sometimes deeply philosophical, and, to some, spiritual, especially when he relates the thoughts of notable Christian writers. I found the lectures stimulating and far more interesting than I thought they would be. At this point I would love to dive into a very-much one sided discussion about the philosophy of evil (I would have loved to be in the classroom in which these lectures were presented) and how evil (and goodness for that matter) are manifestations of our individual minds...not a supernatural experience that is universal, but a personalized trait borne from our culture and nurturing. This could explain the great difficulty mankind has had in defining 'evil' with any degree of certainty. Sin, virtue, altruism, just like beauty, is in the eyes and mind of the beholder. Great lecture series...highly recommended, when on sale with a coupon.
Date published: 2017-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought-provoking. This is a philosophy course; it does not go into neuroscience. As a philosophy course, I found it intensely thought-provoking and engaging. Probably one of my all time favorite TGC lectures. Normally, I don't purchase courses that are rated this low, but I love this course so much that I am compelled to tip the balance towards the positive side.
Date published: 2017-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes you think Intense and deep. Get ready to ponder and think and rethink.
Date published: 2016-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Takes you on a rewarding spiritual journey I took this course because I am deeply troubled about the torrents of hatred swirling through our country and throughout the world today. How is it that some people identify certain behaviors as evil while others excuse them or even praise them? Can we ever agree on what is evil? Why do some people get consumed by hatred? The course didn't explicitly tackle my questions, but in the last third it did offer much extraordinary food for thought. The lessons on thinkers and writers who attempted to understand violence, war and destruction in the 20th century were very valuable. I agree with another reviewer that the two lectures on Abraham Lincoln and Hannah Arendt were more than worth the cost of the whole course. I am planning to read Arendt's "Eichmann in Jerusalem" and some works by Joseph Conrad to further my thoughts from the course. On the negative side, I have to say that Professor Matthews' teaching wanders a whole lot. In interesting ways, yes, but I would have preferred more focus. And it was short on intellectual rigor. For example, in the first lecture he gave a definition of evil that seemed to me bizarre, unintuitive and not clearly explained. Moreover, that very definition was undermined by many, if not most, of the later lectures. All in all, I would recommend this course to someone who wants to understand why there is evil in the world and who is open to all kinds of answers to this question - both theological (from multiple religions) and secular.
Date published: 2016-10-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but spotty in quality This course covers and interesting and diverse topic- why evil exists. More precisely it cover how people through time and different cultures have attacked this question. Because there is huge diversity in both the meaning of evil and the approaches to understanding why it exists, I can sympathize with the instructor for some confusion. The course is excellent in the early lecture on the Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Saga, and the Old Testament bog frequently bogged down after that exciting beginning.
Date published: 2016-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthy addition to my philisophy course library A topic on which I was long interested begins to make some sense with this professor. The linkeages and concatenations of of this topic with the study of different Western and Eastern schools of philosophy and moral principles are very meaningful.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Scary and informative The scary part of this course is summarized by Professor Mathewes in his wrap-up in the final lecture. Professor Mathewes states “Evil hasn’t gone away, nor is it likely to”. Professor Mathewes provides an informative description of the western civilization view of evil from ancient times to modern times. This course includes references and quotes to statements from many of the historians and philosophers of human history. Professor Mathewes states at the beginning of this course that his knowledge is based upon western civilization and that his course will be limited to concept of evil in only the western civilizations. It would be useful if The Great Course offered a course on the eastern civilization view of evil so that the eastern and western views could be compared and contrasted.
Date published: 2015-12-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This course made me into a cynic No, not a religious cynic, I was that already, but a cynic as far as my ability to trust that a lecturer knows the material he teaches well enough. I'll give a few examples of why I say that: In chapter 2 (approximately 7 minutes) the lecturer says that "no self-respecting rabbi would say the world was crated ex nihilo" (I'm paraphrasing as I don't remember the exact words, but he did use the words "no self-respecting rabbi"). This is so incorrect. Just as a start, Maimonides I would think is a self-respecting rabbi, and that was his view, and it became the normative taught as Jewish belief., So that was a pretty strange incorrect statement. In chapter 3 (just before or around 15 minutes) - after WWII, to say that everything was God's will would be blasphemous for Orthodox Jews - of course this is not true. In fact - and it is one of the most compelling reasons to prefer the idea that there is no God - it is a very common view and frequently expressed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, i.e., it is God's will, and in fact, a punishment. This is why I used the title that I did. If in the material that I know well (religious Jewish literature and thinking) I see serious inaccuracies, how can I know if the other material, that I am not very familiar with, is presented any more accurately? I can't. I know have a rather disorganized bunch of comments and thoughts about this series. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to organize a proper essay. I was also quite disturbed by something the lecturer said in chapter 8 (approx 15 minutes) talking about gnostics and if the gnostic version of Christianity had become the orthodox Christianity, and teach that the Torah is from the devil (or something like that), then imagine what anti-semitism would have been like. And what was anti-semitism like because orthodox Christianity taught that the Jews killed Jesus, etc., etc.?! A picnic? Another serious difficulty I had with the course is that it really blurs the meaning of "evil" - if Adam and Eve don't listen to God, I'd not call that "evil". You could say they "sinned". That is very different. It was between them and God. Evil harms other people. Calling human suffering by natural causes, such as a tsunami, evil, basically means that it is evil inflicted by God, if one believes that God is behind the behavior of nature. I agree that if God is behind nature, then He is evil, but I'm not sure it is what the professor intends. Suffering caused by natural phenomena is, too, a compelling reason to prefer to think that there is no God. In fact, this is one of the issues that I thought I'd hear more about in this course. I wanted to see if there were any ideas that I hadn't heard yet to explain how on one hand a god can be all-powerful and loving and on the other hand there be events like an earthquake or ebola with many innocent victims. The blurring of suffering due to disease or death inflicted by God on people (like Job) and calling that evil, and also calling the behavior of humans as evil, as the modern Christian theologian (Niehbur?) did when he said that "original sin" is the one Christian doctrine that can easily be observed is problematic. There are really several different questions here - why does God inflict suffering on innocent people, or on people who don't deserve such a severe punishment, and why humans can be so evil. There is also the question of why certain people are the victims rather than others, even in the case of human-inflicted evil, I hate when I hear someone say something like "thank God I went to work that day, 9/11 - God saved me". Why you? Why did the next guy get to work on time and lose his life? Did God do that too? When discussing Job, those types of questions are relevant, but other selections are on other questions. I felt that all these questions were blurred together, and, even worse, some of the selections really did not address any question in the realm of "why evil exists" - especially a few of the lectures towards the end, such as the one on poetry. That seemed to deal more with how we write about evil events, but not about why there are evil events. Regarding chapter 10 on Rabbinic Judaism: he does a fairly decent job of presenting the concept of yetzer hara and yetzer hatov (evil and good "inclinations"), and even mentions that some people say that calling it an "evil" inclination is not so accurate and that it is better to call it the drive for "badness". It is natural to humans, because of their self-interest, which also drives people to marry, etc. All this is fine. But then he conflates this concept with suffering (actually uses the words together "evil and suffering" and of course they are two totally different things), and talks about how this traditional view of yetzer hara does not work post-Holocaust, but of course it has nothing to do with trying to explain the Holocaust, because the yezter hara and yetzer hatov do not explain what befalls a person, only what a person does, which sometimes brings harm on himself. He neglects the whole side of Judaism that talks about suffering as punishment. It is quite troubling that he does not see the difference between bad behavior and suffering from an outer force. No one thought to say that Nazis behaved as they did because of the yetzer hara, and a halakhic lifestyle (which he said is intended to help Jews control their yetzer hara, and that is fine) should have helped the Nazis. The following chapter is Islam, and I don't think I can trust his presentation of it, considering what he does with Jewish sources, and that is a shame, because I would like to understand Islam better. The lecturer's presentation of books is not always convincing. For example, Huck Finn - and of course he presents it as "the greatest American novel" - is overrated and to claim that it has the message as he states in the lecture, he needs to relate to the disappointing end of the book. Or, Crime and Punishment - maybe it is too complex (profound? - see further on) a book to try to summarize the way he did, but I was not pleased with his presentation of its message. Some of the material barely addresses the question the course is supposed to address: Why Evil Exists. For example, Chapter 30 presents von Balthasar and evil as the rejection of Jesus and God's love. So does that mean if a mass murderer, if a perpetrator of genocide then says he believes that Jesus sacrificed himself to save everyone, the murderer is "saved" from hell? This isn't addressed, and I didn't see a connection between this line of thinking and the events of the 20th century. I got the feeling - and this is true not just for this selection, but I brought it as an example - that there is only a very loose connection between some of the choices of literature discussed and the question on the table. The lecturer overall had a decent presentation style - not monotone and well-controlled. I lecture, so I know how difficult it is to speak with no interaction. But there was one thing that drove me nuts while listening: The lecturer uses the word "profound" (and "profoundly") profoundly too much - it becomes banal; not everything and everyone can be profound. There were times that within one sentence I'd hear "profound" and "profoundly. Lastly, less irritating, but still irritating: a frequent lisping "s". I couldn't decide if the lecturer often lisps or if there is a problem with the recording quality. Overall, though the lecturer was interesting enough in his presentation to keep me listening (maybe there is a pony in there), I'm left feeling I heard some interesting ideas, got a smattering of an exposure to a serious reading list, some of which I've already read and some of which I haven't yet, but I'm left with a skepticism about the accuracy of what was imparted, and I think that more critical thought is necessary in defining the question to be answered and in examining how the questions are answered.
Date published: 2015-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Perhaps Mis-named! First let me say that this is an excellent course and the professor presented this thoughts clearly and in an entertaining manner. The course certainly provides excellent secular and sectarian views on evil. I must say that this course provides some great information, certainly not at the 101 level, but much beyond that. When I first decided to take this course, I was intrigued by the title because I often wonder why there is so much apparent evil in the world. From my Christian perspective, I have often wondered why my Christian GOD, who I have been taught is, all good, omnipotent, and omniscient would find it necessary to create evil in the first place. I don't know what title I would give this course as my search for the answer to the "why" continues. Perhaps this is one of those fundamental philosophical questions like, "how do we know what we know". I highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2015-05-09
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