Good, Evil and Energy

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION (Ed) The following article is reprinted here from, Hydroscope, November 22,1985 by permission of Ontario Hydro. In my estimation, though the article deals with energy choices, it also applies to the ethical issues within our own sphere of interest such as pre-natal diagnosis, abortion and third party conceptions. The Journal would welcome your views.

In this decade, religious statements on energy choices have been sprinkled with the principles of justice, participation, and sustainability-or their equivalents. The debate has focussed on nuclear energy, and all attempts to apply ethical principles have proven to be inseparable from, among other things, discussions of reactor safety and decommissioning, the production and storage of radioactive wastes, health and safety in uranium mines, and the capital costs of nuclear power.

This circularity has frequently led some frustrated engineers to complain that these are technical, not moral, issues. It has also led some frustrated moralists to say that energy choices are an ethical, not a technical, matter. If the ethicists sometimes find themselves confronted with contradictory technical information, and therefore assert that "the experts disagree," a similar problem confronts technologists faced with unclear, and sometimes contradictory, ethical principles and arguments.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the ethics and energy debate frequently ends in impasse; religious perceptions of nuclear energy have varied from seeing it as a gift of God to seeing it as inherently evil. Differing assumptions and processes have led to different conclusions.

Basis of Debate

The themes of good and evil are the basis of most ethical debate. It is frequently assumed that everyone knows the difference between good and evil, and that they can be separated in such a way that we can have one without the other. In practice, it has proven easier to talk of good and evil in the abstract than to get agreement on the moral choices of daily life.

The notion that good and evil are opposing forces in conflict and that we can have one without the other has led to many philosophical problems. If 2,000 lives are lost by the bursting of a hydro-electric dam, then the cause can be laid at the feet of human failure or folly. It is not so easy to provide an answer when 10,000 lives are lost as the result of a typhoon in the Bay of Bengal. Such events are frequently labelled "inexplicable acts of God."

It is the discrepancy between our everyday experience of good and bad as inextricably intertwined, and our assumptions concerning the absolute and opposing natures of good and evil, which lead to the question of the problem of evil. It is easy to overlook the fact that there are fundamentally different cultural ways of looking at good and evil.

Religions such as Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, see Good and Evil as opposing forces in conflict. Each of these religions has stories of a last great battle in which the forces of Good decisively and finally defeat the forces of Evil. Thereafter, Good exists alone, in isolation, without the presence of its opposite. These stories derive, ultimately, from Zoroastrianism. It was Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek) who portrayed Good and Evil as opposing forces in conflict. This notion has permeated our culture-religious and secular alike.

Seen as Opposites

There are other cultures which do not share these assumptions and have no notion of good and evil as forces, let alone as forces in conflict. A good example is the Chinese culture and associated religions in SouthEast Asia. This culture understands good and evil in the same way it understands male and female, or hot and cold. These are not seen as forces in conflict, but are seen as opposites more or less in harmony: you can't have one without the other.

Taoism, for example, understands nature as a creative union of opposites. …