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Experimenting With Evil

Evil is seemingly easy when a person in authority says you can do it.

That was the chilling result of a social experiment conducted nearly 50 years ago. People were brought in and told to electrocute a person sitting in the chair. Since the person in authority told them to do it, they did.

Half a century later, Eli Roth — creator of some of the most violent movies ever made — has found the same results. The “victims” were actors, just as they were in the original experiment, but the test subjects didn’t know that. Out of 13 people brought in for the test, only one refused to follow the command.

It’s a terrifying result, no doubt, but Roth’s take on it is also troubling.

I don’t think there is an actual thing that is ‘evil,’ and I do not believe ‘evil’ exists and it’s completely your point of view. To one group, a suicide bomber is the anti-Christ and to another group, they’re a hero and a saint…. There are certainly acts that are unquestionably evil acts, but the reasons most people do them is that they truly believe that they are right, and it is for some kind of greater good, or they feel totally justified doing it.

His quote brings a couple of thoughts to mind. While, yes, the people seem to be OK with the act as long as it’s socially accepted, he’s missing the greater point, which is, the implication of having no accountability. The test subjects were being ordered to make those decisions, so they knew they wouldn’t get in trouble. And we are all capable of terrible things when we know we won’t be held accountable for them. When you take away accountability, you take away the moral compass.

With regards to the other issue — whether evil exists or not — he’s incredibly wrong. In fact his quote defeats itself. He says evil doesn’t exist because we’re all operating from different points of view. He tries to separate the outcome from the reason. It’s Machiavelli all over again.

But if there is no evil, then he cannot even make his follow-up statement, which is that there are still “unquestionably evil acts.” He uses a standard he just said he didn’t believe in. If there is no standard by which to define good and evil, then he can’t even say anything is evil.

Evil only exists if objective moral values exist, and objective moral values can only come from God. The minute you try and make values just a product of your culture, as he is doing, then you have to throw out the entire notion of evil.

And when you do that, anything goes.

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About the Author

Nathan Zacharias

Growing up, Nathan always had a passion for media, and he believes in its ability to shape a culture. A good word, a good image or good music can help people think, feel and change. Though he’s spent most of his years in Atlanta, he’s also lived in Colorado Springs and New York City. He and his wife, Sarah, married in 2011. They live in Atlanta with their dog, Belle.


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