Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Problem of Evil, pt. 2

What we call homicide or rape or, in fact, even infanticide is very, very common among different types of animals. Lions, for example, commit infanticide on a regular basis because they want to make sure that the little offspring that is being raised by the lioness is their own and not someone else's. Now, are these kinds of acts to be condoned? I don't even know what that means because the lion doesn't understand what morality is, that's for sure. Morality is an invention of human beings. (Massimo Pigliucci)

Napalming babies is bad.
Starving the poor is wicked.
Buying and selling each other is depraved.
Those who stood up and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin, and Pol Pot-and General Custer too-have earned salvation.
Those who acquiesced deserve to be damned.
There is in the world such a thing as evil.
[All together now:] Sez who?
God help us.
(Arthur Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”)

As you may imagine, last week’s article provoked responses from several atheists. Below are excerpts from my exchanges with them.

My detractors’ words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.


“If an atheist says ‘I don't believe in evil as thing in itself’ and you say ‘then how do you account for evil?’ it doesn't make sense.”

Yes, if that’s what I was saying, it wouldn’t make sense. But that’s not what I’m saying.

I’m saying that the atheist who denies true moral evil cannot be rid of his own judicial sentiment. In other words, there is a disconnect between what he professes to believe and his own personal experience of the actual world and his interactions with it. (This is what is meant by: Atheism is unlivable.)

“We can restate the problem as ‘the problem of suffering.’”

Is this all it amounts to? “Restating” things? Is this only semantics then? Are you making a distinction with no real difference? Are you saying that “suffering” is synonymous or univocal to moral evil?

If so, then the problem remains (nothing has changed but the label). If not, then we are speaking of two different things and it’s a non sequitur.

“You seem to be labouring under the assumption that everyone shares the same semantic content when using the word 'evil'.”

I do? Then why do I state in my article:

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?

Why would I write such a thing if I was “laboring under the assumption” that atheists use the term “evil” similarly to theists?

Let me try this again. If in fact the “problem of suffering” is synonymous to “the problem of evil” then nothing but semantics has changed. We have a distinction without a difference. However, if “the problem of suffering” is truly a different matter than the “problem of evil” then it’s a non sequitur. You are now speaking of that which I am not addressing.

“I say executing people for adultery is evil, and a muslim [sic] cleric says that failing to execute those who commit adultery is evil. Why are we doing anything other than applying our subjective morality as absolutes, as part of a general human tendency?”

Here you are demonstrating my point for me. Morality, and therefore moral evil, is subjective to the atheist. The atheist has no basis to say that anything is truly, morally evil. At best, all the atheist can offer is, “Well, I personally don’t like such an action.” Hence morality, to the atheist, is little or nothing more than personal preference. Nothing is truly morally evil to him.

The atheist is on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand he cannot honestly deny his judicial sentiment; and yet on the other hand, if he is to be intellectually consistent from within his own worldview, he cannot affirm that that which is horrific to him is truly morally evil. That is, he does not live or experience that which he claims to believe.

Thus, no matter how loudly his heart screams: “This is wrong!” his head must counter-argue, “Morality is subjective. ‘Wrong’ is in the eye of the beholder. I feel this is wrong but my rational mind must always remember: ‘True moral evil’ doesn’t really exist.”


The entire discussion can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/2204753469/10151065815818470/?notif_t=group_comment


  1. I do see the irony of atheists using the term "evil". It does seem that those that reject the idea of moral absolutes don't have much to stand on when trying to defend certain morals.

    At the same time...the issue of suffering and evil and the character of God in the Bible is what drove me away from Christianity. The more I read the Bible on my own, the more I realized that I didn't believe God worked in that way.

    1. Thank you for reading and thinking with me.

      The Bible certainly contains passages which are difficult to understand. Thus, reading the Bible in isolation can lead to misunderstanding. It is my prayer that God will bring wise Christian influences into your life to help you better understand God's character as revealed in His scripture and in His Son, Jesus Christ.

      Only by viewing "suffering and evil" and God's love through the lens of the Cross can we begin to make sense of God and His world.

      Thank you again for reading.

  2. Just for clarification, how does a theist define 'evil' and how do you define a 'moral absolute'?