Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Problem of Evil

Morals arose in our species through evolution as a social species. Many other species, not just closely related primates, but even vampire bats, rats and mice display morality based on reciprocation. . . . There is no absolute morality . . . .

A possible atheistic definition of evil is one person causing unnecessary harm on another. As an atheist, I would abandon the word "evil" and just call it "unnecessary harm" to make the issue clearer.

Does the problem of evil require an atheist to actually believe in evil or to have a coherent definition of evil? No, absolutely not. . . . Atheists have no need of a definition of evil and we don’t even have to believe that evil is real.

There is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference . . . We are machines for propagating DNA . . . It is every living objects sole reason for being. ~Richard Dawkins
Cited in William Lane Craig, On Guard (Colorado Springs, CO: David Cook, 2010), p. 34. Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden: a Darwinian View of Life, (New York: Basic books, 1996), p. 133

Only hours before the “movie theater massacre” I was engaged in a discussion concerning God and evil. It has been said that reconciling an all-loving, all-powerful God with a world full of evil is the crux of all theology. Consequently, such discussions are rather commonplace.  

How many non-theists argue in some form or another: “I don’t believe in God because of all the evil in world”? Hence, we have the so-called “problem of evil.” But is evil a problem? Not for the Christian theist. The Christian theist can philosophically account for evil as evil. In the Bible we have the foundation and framework for absolute, objective morality.  

The atheist has no such thing. The atheist views morality as nothing more than social convention or herd instinct, an accident of evolution. The atheist knows no objective, absolute moral standard. Therefore all ethics are arbitrary, relative or subjective, and evolving. In other words, evil as evil—true evil—is a problem for the atheist. 

Because the atheist denies the existence of God he cannot affirm the existence of true evil. Thankfully, the atheist cannot suppress all the truth all the time. He cannot rid himself of moral motions, of judicial sentiment. He cannot disabuse himself of feeling: This is wrong! (As has been observed, atheists can be downright puritanical in their moral outrage…just listen to them attack biblical ethics.)  

And no amount of time spent in the contemplation of Chimpanzee compassion can relieve the atheist of the problem of evil. So the atheist lives in perpetual contradiction. He cannot possibly live what he claims to believe. On the one hand he is a highly evolved great ape with no moral law and no moral law-Giver; and on the other he is but a lowly man with nagging issues of conscience.

He has no foundation for moral absolutes but feels absolutely morally superior for being “good for goodness’ sake.” He denies the moral imperative but authoritatively preaches humanism in seemingly unavoidable terms of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “progress.” 

The atheist’s dilemma stems from his being a responsible moral agent all the while living in what he deems to be a finite, mindless, cosmic accident. Thus, from within the parameters of his own penurious worldview, it seems the atheist denies the existence of God due to all the non-existent evil in the world.  

Certainly, the atheist will use the term “evil.” But he does so with non-moral connotations.  “Evil” is not a moral term for him. “Evil,” to the atheist, has more to do with pragmatics than ethics. “Evil” for him belongs in the categories of evolution and/or emotion. Moral evil is problematic for the atheist, not the theist.

The existence of true, moral evil does not disprove Christian theism. Rather, Christian theism proves the existence of true, moral evil. The Christian theist has a basis to say that what happened in the Aurora theater is truly, morally evil. The atheist, at best, can say it is “evil” in the sense that he doesn’t think it is helpful for the propagation of the human species and it makes lots folks feel unhappy.


  1. A question I'd also like to ask atheists is this:

    Why do atheists fall short of their own moral standards?

    Surely most atheists would agree that lying and cheating is wrong (in the sense that they mean wrong). If so, why do they continue to do it?

    The Christian has an answer for this: because I'm a sinner with a fallen nature that is inclined towards sin.

    But what does the atheist say? Is he going to say that evolution has simply left us with a nature that is inclined towards falling short of whatever morality the society has currently set forth?

    1. I think that's an excellent question!

      Thank you for reading and thinking over these things.