As a social primate species we’re hardwired to act in ways that conform to group norms, whatever they happen to be. The notion of “good” and “evil” is largely irrelevant because as abstractions they have little or no bearing on everyday life. Furthermore, as the famous Trolley Car thought experiment demonstrates, there’s no such thing as absolute morality. And without absolute morality there can be no fixed definition of “good” or “evil.”

Instead what we see are primate behaviors evolved over millions of years of selection pressure. Other primates share most of these behaviors without recourse to vague and misleading abstractions. So what is “good” in one scenario can be “bad” in another. That’s why all mythologies end up either confusing their adherents or simply being so trite as to be worthless.

And finally there is now a wealth of evidence to show that we usually act and then our brains create “reasons” post-hoc to explain our behavior to ourselves. This is because our notion of a “conscious self” is an illusion, and we’re actually unaware of many of our deepest hardwired motivations. But feeling out of control would be maladaptive so instead our brain fabricates just-so stories that are comforting. Thus “acting with intention” is to all intents and purposes infeasible for nearly everyone nearly all of the time.

Two hundred years ago we didn’t have the empirical knowledge we have today and so vague concepts were the best anyone could do. Today however we can do better, and it is worthwhile making an attempt to understand the reality of our species rather than attempt to utilize unsatisfactory frameworks that were the consequence of lack of real knowledge.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.