Evil, Suffering, Injustice and Jaywalking

Question from Vicky:
I cannot seem to find any credible sources where atheists define evil or at least how they view evil, injustice, and suffering. What is their solution to evil, suffering, and injustice?

Answer by SmartLX:
Atheists don’t define evil as being against a god’s laws or wishes, because they live and think as if there are no gods. Most atheists define evil in terms of more specific concepts like suffering, injustice and other harmful effects an action or attitude may have. Some atheists don’t think there’s really such a thing as evil, but that doesn’t stop them from wanting to combat suffering and injustice.

Suffering is an uncontroversial idea, because we all know what it looks like. Physical pain, mental anguish and financial hardship are easy to see in the world if we go looking for them. Our common empathy with all human beings (and other animals too) drives most of us to end and prevent suffering wherever we find it. (By “us” I mean everyone, not just atheists.) Any reasons we give for doing this tend to be rationalisations after the fact.

Injustice depends of course on the concept of justice, which can be far more widely interpreted than suffering. We all have an acute sense of reciprocity inherited from our social ancestors, and tend to react strongly when one party is clearly getting less out of a deal than another, especially if we’re in that party.

The solution to any of the above depends on the situation. There’s no all-purpose secular balm for humanity’s ills, or we would have cured them long ago. We just have to get stuck in and solve each problem practically.