“The Science of Evil,” by Simon Baron-Cohen, seems likely to antagonize the victims of evil, the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, at least a few of the dozens of researchers whose work he cites — not to mention critics of his views on evolutionary psychology or of his claims about the neurobiology of the sexes. “The Science of Evil” proposes a simple but persuasive hypothesis for a new way to think about evil.
“My main goal is to understand human cruelty, replacing the unscientific term ‘evil’ with the scientific term ‘empathy,’ ” he writes at the beginning of the book, which might be seen as expanding on the views on empathy expressed in his 1997 book, “Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind” (Bradford). Evil, he notes, has heretofore been defined in religious terms (with the concept differing in the major world religions), as a psychiatric condition (psychopathology) or, as he puts it, in “frustratingly circular” terms: “He did x because he is truly evil”). [...]