Afternoon Inquisition 10.20

I’m too depressed about not making it to Boston for Rebecca’s Rockin’ Birthday Blowout Bonanza Bash ’08 to think of a question today, so I’m outsourcing. Today’s AI is brought to you by the good folks at Mr. Elyse’s office (by “folks”, I mean Bill) who want the skeptics, (and by “skeptics”, I mean YOU!) to weigh in:

Good vs. Evil: who wins in the end?


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Well, “good” and “evil” are pretty big words for such little words… Lots of emotional weights gets tied onto both of them, and people are willing to argue or fight over what either on means. Still… Off the top of my head: we made nukes and didn’t kill ourselves off; life expectancy continues to increase; computers keep getting smaller and faster; most people still get immunized; new cures and treatments are more or less in constant development for every ailment we face… Well, I’m thinking that “good” is doing pretty well.

  2. Well the good side wins. And that’s us. Duh.

    Unfortunately, that means to a large number of people, evil wins. So I guess it’s a matter of perspective.

  3. Evil wins…
    “Because good is dumb”
    ~Dark Helmet

    The problem we run into in this discussion is that you rarely encounter evil that is complacent… Part of being evil is being actively evil. People can be indifferently good and that is all that is required for evil to triumph.

  4. I think this has already been conclusively settled… to quote a certain movie from the ’80s:

    “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb.”

    Not that I actually BELIEVE in either Good or Evil…I just had to say that first because I KNOW someone else will have thought to do the same, and the first rule of nerdiness states that getting your reference on the table first makes you the coolest (also known as the “Han Quoted First” rule).

  5. @thundergod I’m not sure I agree. Some of the biggest jerks I know are lazy, I would call them inactively equal.

    I’d think that the activity level of good and evil probably would be around the same, good/evil and lazy seem to me to be mutually exclusive properties in a person.

    All this is assumes that you believe in good and evil as absolute concepts, which I don’t.

  6. I see two outcomes:

    1) Evil wins. Eventually, some lunatic will annihilate humankind through a nuclear war, or releasing a weaponized plague, or a flesh-eating nanite swell, or some damned thing.

    2) Neither wins, because of some natural astronomical event that wipes out humanity before we get around to it.

    I’m not sure which of those is more likely. The chances of either increases over time, but, over time, the odds of our spreading to other planets also increases, thereby making either scenario less likely to completely get rid of us.

    Of course, both options presume we’re the only sentient species capable of morality…

  7. I think the whole “Good” Vs “Evil” thing is a false dichotomy. There are no metaphysical “good” or “evil” out there, but rather there differing perspectives on actions in terms of what one understands to be benifical to oneself. Hitler et al thought themselves to be the heros in a “race war” (and had they won, we might too)

    However, taking my pedantic hat off, viewed through the christianised prism of western culture, which does include well defined actions and behaviours associated with “good” & “evil”, I would have to say that “evil” wins in the end.

    Why? Well “evil” is certainly cooler, dresses better, expresses it’s desires fully (e.g. female villians in popular culture are usually sexually liberated) and generally isn’t hamstrung by the nihilistic christian self-denial we have come to associate with “goodness” (e.g. Joan d’Arc, Grace Darling etc etc)

  8. In order to answer the question one must properly define what one means by “winning” in a particular confrontation.

    As I understand the concepts of “Good” and “Evil” I would surmise that the goal of Evil would be to eradicate Good and establish total dominance over all by any means necessary. In this respect, I believe Evil has an edge.

    Good on the other hand, at least my interpretation of it, would be more concerned with upholding higher ethics/humanistic values and preserving life and quality of life where possible, even to the point of sacrificing itself up to the hope of a better future. In this respect Good may be seen on triumph even if it is defeated on Evils terms, should it knowingly and willfully lose (sacrifice itself completely) in order not to sacrifice its ethical principals.

    To go further, should Good give up its ethical position in order to defeat Evil then it would cease to be good and become evil therefore evil would triumph.

    …So, I have no answer to your question, just thought i would confuse the hell out of it a bit :).

    First time poster, but I love the blog.
    Happy b-day Rebbeca.

  9. Well since evil depends upon the existence of stupidity, selfishness, and fear, I’m afraid the balance tips in favor of evil winning.

  10. Depends on the pronunciation of “evil”.

    If it’s simply pronounced “ee-vuhl”, then good wins easily.

    But if it’s pronounced “ee -vill”, then whoa, man. Look out, because there are going to be thin mustaches and goatees, and temptresses, and grunting little demons, and stinky things, and possible cheap booze at inflated prices.

  11. @ThickMcRunfast:

    Absolutely right. Good doesn’t kick anyone in the nuts, even when someone needs a good nutkicking.

    Martial arts movies notwithstanding, a kick in the nuts and the crowning of a fight’s winner are simultaneous events.

  12. Doesn’t the fact that there’s an end mean evil has won?

    Good generally doesn’t try to destroy the world (mileage of that argument may vary depending on the given religion / rapture ).

  13. @phlebas Martial arts movies notwithstanding, a kick in the nuts and the crowning of a fight’s winner are simultaneous events.

    Gosh, that’s never worked on any girlfriend I’ve ever fought with. Uhhhh … not that I’ve ever tried that on any exes …

  14. @Elyse:

    I think it’s the classic false dichotomy as it’s a choice between two options when, in my opinion, two black-or-white options doesn’t fully describe all the possible outcomes.

    In the end, universal indifference wins. If I have to choose which of the losing sides to be on, I choose the one that looks like it’ll be the most fun, Evil. Muwahahahaaaa

  15. @Elyse I guess I was assuming evil’s ultimate goal was to destroy the world, thus ensuring good wouldn’t return and happiness would no longer exist. To that end, evil would win if there was an end. But that may not be a fair assumption.

    But that brings up the completely un-interesting point of winning a battle vs. winning a war in the context of this purely hypothetical conversation where good and evil exist as absolutes. “In the end” I think would imply a war, but even I think I’m making a dumb point now.

  16. When I think of good vs. evil, I’m reminded of the wise words of Partners In Kryme from the soundtrack to the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie:

    …Since you were born you’ve been willing and able
    To defeat the sneak, protect the weak,
    Fight for rights and the freedom to speak.
    Now the villian is chillin’ so you take a stand.
    Back to the wall, put your sword in you hand.
    Remember the words of your teacher, your master:
    “Evil moves fast, but good moves faster!”
    Than light, shining from your illumination:
    Good versus Evil equals confrontation
    So when you’re in trouble don’t give in and go sour,
    Try to rely on YOUR…Turtle Power

    The obvious conclusion is that all that is necessary for the triumph of good is that good people act like turtles.

  17. Completely ignoring the fact that this question is designed to invoke silliness in all commenting*, I will say: what end?

    …Which is to imply: there will be no “the end”. So, neither will win.

    It’s a yin-and-yang kind of thing, neh? Where there is evil, good is the natural reflex, and arsy versy!

    That said, I think the fact that Republicans still have a nearly 50-50 hold on America is proof that evil isn’t going anywhere fast.

    * …and for being a very clear bait for people to overuse “false dichotomy”, much to my chagrin.

  18. @JRice:

    I’m sure there are people in American and around the world who think that a 50-50 hold on America by the Republicans is evidence that “good” isn’t going anywhere fast.

    For a lot of people in the world, for “good” to win in the end “The West” and Israel would have to be anihilated. Hamas and Al Quida think they are on the side of the angels.

    The whole Good Vs Evil thing is an example of Christianized, over-simplified, Bushian thinking. I’m suprised how many Skeptics think in terms of good guys and bad guys.

    One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

  19. @JRice: I’d say that the fact that people are still unwilling to look beyond party lines and see what any given candidate has to say rather than tarring whole parties with a brush that fits many, but not all, of its members, is just as sure a sign that “evil” is on the rise as the one you describe :-P

  20. Good will tend to win, using the definition that Evil is:

    1. in favor of destroying others.
    2. greedy.
    3. deceitful.
    4. self-aggrandizing/prideful.

    As long as it has any 2 of those traits, the “EEEEEVIL” side will always end up indulging 2 through 4 enough to get in its own way. See “Flash Gordon” for a demonstration.

    There might be some guy who was into #1 and totally indifferent about the rest, though. That doesn’t really qualify as capital-E Evil in my book; it’s just sociopathic.

  21. The audience wins!
    It’s like watching two of your favorite lust objects wrestling naked in Jell-O. You don’t care who wins, you just hope it lasts the full 12 rounds.

  22. @rundlc:

    When comparing the battle between X and Y, it’s not a false dichotomy.

    If I say: Who wins next week- Phillies or Rays?
    Just because The New York Giants also play next week does not make the original question a false dichotomy.

  23. @Elyse I said nothing of false dichotomies. I think you were targeting someone else.

    Is now the wrong time to say that the Rays win next week, I hope I hope I hope :)

  24. @Darren: I don’t think it’s really a “false dichotomy” unless it’s being used as an argument. If the proposition was phrased as “if you don’t vote for good, you must want evil to win,” that would be a false dichotomy. As it’s phrased, it just lays out the parameters of the debate. It doesn’t favor one over the other, it just asks you to decide which one you think would prevail.

    Obviously, in any real world situation, there’s no clean division between “good” and “evil.” But as an intellectual exercise, what’s wrong with batting the extreme positions about for a bit? Is it any more pointless than wasting your time to point out that you don’t like the question?

  25. @LBB: Exactly. It’s like (to use a slightly more geeky example than Elyse’s above) asking “Who would win: Kirk or Picard?” Just because you think Sisko would pimp-slap them both, drawing forth a stentorian diatribe from Picard whilst somehow ripping Kirk’s shirt, doesn’t make the original question any less valid, though it does make it more geeky.

  26. @rundlc:

    If you kicked your girlfriend in the nuts and didn’t win the fight, then either I have underestimated someone’s toughness or I’m seriously confused. In either case, you don’t need to elaborate further :)

  27. I think Good and Evil is a inapplicable idea to global affairs and only slightly less applicable to personal interactions. Life is comprised mostly of a conflict of interests. There are rights and wrongs, but these are only used to support and vilify one’s good and another’s evil.

    Killing is a “wrong”, but many believe it can be used for “good”. However, even these type of situations are debated on their moral components.

    This is not a relativist position, I just think these issues are way more complicated than than we can be sure of, and 99.999% of the time, there isn’t a black and white answer.

  28. I would like to be the first to state for the record that tomorrow’s A.I. will be a False Dichotomy. I am indignant that you continue to present False Dichotomies to all of us, who are far to clever to be fooled by such shenanigans. I will not be lulled into a false sense of security and simply answer in the spirit of the question. I will not be mollified by, even by a kind, soothing request from Sam himself.

    Sam: “Please, Hedge, don’t stay angry. You can forgive us, can’t you?”

    Hedge: “Ha. Your trap will not work. Your request presents a False Dichotomy. I could forgive you and remain angry. Your implicit denial of this just demonstrates your unreflective submission to the ingrained power structures of society”

    I am a Hedge

  29. Well, according to the definitions set forth in my breathtakingly amazing theory of moral dynamics, good always triumphs but evil often ends up with the cake.

    Case in point: Credit Default Swaps are immoral, therefore unsustainable. However, the cost of that immorality has been magically moved off of the evil bastards who set up a corrupt and stupid system of wagers onto people who didn’t have a damn thing to do with it and blamed on the mortgage market–this is essentially equivalent to a bookie blaming the Red Sox for his inability to cover the book* and using that as an excuse to steal the needed money from people who don’t watch baseball.

    *The Boston Red Sox are an American baseball team who recently lost a game of some interest…

  30. I trust people. I know that seems like a weird quality for a skeptic, but I find a lot of people are like me.

    I have lent money to people I knew wouldn’t pay me back, and even to total strangers, I have given rides to people I don’t know, I have seen the true sides of friends. I know for a fact I have let people walk over me in the past, but I have found that I have a group of friends who are very close to me who would do the same for me. I know who I can rely on in my life before I need to rely on them.

    I know tomorrow, if a random stranger asks for my help, I will be compelled to help them to the best of my ability. I know that when I hear someone is dying, I will believe them without evidence, because I will first give them my trust. I know an evil person will be able to walk all over me, but only for as long as I let them. I have stopped helping a friend who wasn’t worth it, and at that point they weren’t a friend anymore anyway.

    After all I know, even as a skeptic, when I hear from someone that they have been cured of cancer, I want to trust them. I always assume they are deluded before they are lying.

    Evil will always be able to make a fast buck off of people like me, but they will never make the connections in life that I have. I am sad because I don’t know if any of them really know what they are missing in life.

    And Seth, the cake is a lie.

  31. @sethmanapio:

    I know not of this “team” you speak of. Baseball is dead to me.


    You can, and should, be both a skeptic and have faith in humanity. People are basically good. I even go as far as to argue that when people do bad (or “evil”) things, they do it only after justifying to themselves that they are right… even if they sort of know they are deluding themselves.

    I wonder if evil is sustainable.

  32. @Elyse: I wonder if evil is sustainable.


    No. Evil is not sustainable because evil does not create wealth. In moral dynamics, “evil” requires some level of coercive force, that is, moving the costs for one’s choices off of oneself and onto others without their consent. Actions that are evil incur moral friction. “Good” describes cooperative action, sharing the costs for choices with others in a way that decreases the impact of those costs and allows for the growth of wealth. Every person engages in good and evil every day, people can cooperate in the pursuit of an evil agenda, etc. Ethics is complicated. But a society that is incurring costs faster than it is growing wealth will collapse.

    Exhibit A: for those of you who didn’t believe me when I brought this up ealier, I give you the Credit Default Swap Market. I further predict that in the long run, the bailout will fail, we will see a recession and increasing inflation for many months.

  33. @Elyse:
    lol. But can’t they both lose? Besides I don’t think good or evil or right & wrong (in moral terms) even exsist, just perspective

  34. And how many Skeptics think good and evil really exsist! I’m shocked. Scrolling back up through some of the posts by people who think there is such a thing a “evil” has opened my eyes.

    If, in those posts where people written about good and evil as if they exsist, you swap “good” & “evil” for “god” & “devil” you could be reading postings from a christian website!

  35. @russellsugden:

    This might be an over simplification, but think of it like this;
    I’m sure you have things in your life experience that you consider good, right, just, or even moral. So things in direct opposition to these would be evil, wrong, unjust or immoral.

  36. Hi there!

    For a variety of reasons, I’m thinking that evil can win in the short run, but that good will eventually win out.

    We sad pathetic naked monkeys are social creatures, and we’ve defined “good” as meaning altruism, selflessness, and concern for the well-being of the group. “Evil” is selfishness and aggression, which is perfectly alright for the individual, but sucks for the rest of the species. Really evil people have a tendency to alienate the rest of us who are trying to make an honest living.

    I’m going to make a geek analogy here, so some of you might want to stop reading now. It involves Ewoks … just saying …

    But the weakness of Evil is that it tends to make enemies whereas Good accumulates allies. In Return of the Jedi, the Empire went around stomping Ewoks while the “Good Guys” actually made friends. The the Great Ewok Proletariat rose up against their Empirical Masters and helped win the fight for truth and justice and all that yada yada. And seriously, how would an “Evil” Empire like that sustain itself? I’ve put up with some really evil bosses in my time. Some of them just seemed to thrive on misery and heartbreak. But not one of them ever tried to strangle me from across the room. That’s just bad management skills.

    … Okay, geek analogy over, you can pick up this response down here! [waves arms]

    Anyway, yes. Evil favors the individual, but good favors the species. Hence … good eventually wins. [bows]

  37. @russellsugden:

    Yes, one could win, or they could tie. That is implicit in the question. In order for it to be a false dichotomy, I would need to be implying that these are the only two options available to you when there are many others. This is not the case. You just have to pick who comes out on top vs two competing concepts.

    False Dichotomies:
    – If not A then always B.
    – W. Great President or Greatest President?
    – Are you good? If not, then you are evil.
    – You’re either with us or against us.
    – If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.
    – Do you love Jesus or do you love Satan?
    – Do you vaccinate or do you love your child?
    – Are you coming to the next Skeptics in the Pub or do you hate your mother?

    Not False Dichotomies:
    – Good vs. Evil: Who wins in the end?
    – Red Sox vs. Yankees: Who wins in the end?
    – Chicago Cubs: will they ever win the World Series – Yes or No?
    – RSVP: Chicken or Fish?
    – Will you be paying with cash or credit?
    – Do you like baseball or football more?
    – If you had to choose, would you rather live in the past or the future?
    – Stare at the eye chart. Which is clearer: A or B?
    – Rebecca or Sarah Palin: who is hotter?

    Also “good” and “evil” can mean whatever you want it to. It could mean moral/ethical or immoral/unethical. It could mean the bad guys in your comic books. It could be the other team. It could mean the other political party/parties. It could be your girlfriend’s exboyfriend. It could be this question.

  38. Coincidentally, this morning I heard they have announced the cast for the next season of The Celebrity Apprentice. And it has Joan Rivers and Dennis Rodman.

    There is evil in the world. It sometimes wins. And we all pay.

  39. If you wish to remove the metaphysical aspects of the issue, and focus on a natural perspective, I think the question becomes simple. Every individual represents a particular set of genes, and particular alleles of those genes. If we define ‘evil’ as those things that ultimately result in a decreased number of your genes in circulation, and ‘good’ as those things that ultimately result in an increased number of your genes in circulation, then good will win. In fact, at any moment good must be winning. You are the result of billions of years of good winning.

    I am a Hedge

  40. @LBB: sorry, but I must disagree with you here. “Good vs. Evil” questions carry two implications: (a) that everything can be categorized as either good or evil [a dichotomy, and a false one at that], and (b) that such things as “good” and “evil” exist in some manner such that they can be pitted against one another.

    It’s important to point out that the question is pointless, because the cultural tendency we have to put things in the “good” or “evil” camp is ultimately dangerous. It is that type of thinking that has, in my opinion, led to the decline of discourse in the US.

    For example, it’s less often that I hear things like “I can understand why you’d want to vote for [Candidate A], I prefer [Candidate B] despite his/her bad points because…”, and more often hear “[Candidate A] wants to kill babies in Satanic rites to destroy Democracy, but [Candidate B] is the Hope and the Light and will bring only sunshine and unicorns.”

    There is no absolute Good, neither any absolute Evil. Therefore neither can “win”.

  41. @Darren: Okay, let’s throw this open to the panel. Did anybody else see this question as rigidly defining concepts of good and evil, to the exclusion of any other possibility, and feel that it applied to any facet of life beyond this little intellectual exercise?

    I doubt that most of the readers here are going to assume an inviolable bifurcation of the world into good and bad. In fact, a number of the people who bothered to answer the question chose an answer that fell outside of the binary options.

    I’m all for raising the level of discourse, but I don’t think that entertaining the occasional obviously oversimplified either/or question is going to blast away our collective ability to appreciate the moral and ethical continuum. It might be time to relax a wee bit.

  42. I think the degree to which you get a good answer is the degree to which you ask the right question.

    Mush in = mush out.

    Apatheism anyone?

  43. Well, just for consideration, can evil exist without good, or vice versa?

    I.e. If two polar opposites conflict and one is destroyed, does the other still exist with nothing left as its polar opposite? Does the survivor of the conflict merely cease to exist also?

    Good – evil = 0?
    Evil – good = 0?

  44. @wytworm….”apetheism?

    Worshipping apes?

    Worshipping King Kong?

    Not caring if God/Gods exist? (As opposed to not believing that they exist?)

  45. SOrry Fat-fingers today:

    Apatheism (a portmanteau of apathy and theism/atheism), also known as pragmatic or critically as practical atheism, is acting with apathy, disregard, or lack of interest towards belief, or lack of belief in a deity. Apatheism describes the manner of acting towards a belief or lack of a belief in a deity; so applies to both theism and atheism. An apatheist is also someone who is not interested in accepting or denying any claims that gods exist or do not exist. In other words, an apatheist is someone who considers the question of the existence of gods as neither meaningful nor relevant to his or her life; nor to human affairs.

  46. @russellsugden: If, in those posts where people written about good and evil as if they exsist, you swap “good” & “evil” for “god” & “devil” you could be reading postings from a christian website!


    ME: In moral dynamics, “evil” requires some level of coercive force, that is, moving the costs for one’s choices off of oneself and onto others without their consent. Actions that are evil incur moral friction.

    Using your filter: In moral dynamics, “the devil” requires some level of coercive force, that is, moving the costs for one’s choices off of oneself and onto others without their consent. Actions that are the devil incur moral friction.

    Hmm… that doesn’t make any damn sense at all.

    Moral dynamics views good and evil as measurable phenomena, that is, you can observe things happening, and you can describe those things consistently as good or evil without invoking supernatural or non-material ideas.

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