Assessing Atheism and Its Problem of Evil
August 23, 2019 (Transcript)
How can a good God exist in an evil world? This question addresses the problem of evil. What’s important for every Christian to understand is that the problem of evil is a serious problem for everyone, regardless of your views on God, religion, and the world. Atheists have a problem of evil, as we’ll see in a moment. So, I want to take several videos to address this complex issue from a variety of worldviews. Only Christianity provides a perfectly consistent foundation or grounding for morality in the world, because God has created the world to function in a certain way for His glory and for our good.
Today, I want to examine atheistic naturalism. This view is popular in our culture. In our nation, you often see atheistic naturalism in pop-culture or hear it in the classroom. I’ll aim to show that the atheist’s problem of evil ultimately shows the moral bankruptcy of naturalism. Christians must address the assumptions that atheists make. They make lots of assumptions! And many of their assumptions are actually borrowed from Christianity. Atheistic naturalism generally argues this idea: all humans are simply a result of billions of years of random chance and mutations. There is no Creator, the Big Bang simply happened (how it happened we have no idea—atheists trust evolution by faith). After many years of evolution, we’re here. The natural world is all there is to know and to see. There’s no God in the heavens.
It’s often the case in my life that this kind of atheist is the first person to say after a tragedy or disaster, “how could a good God let this evil happen?” Now, that atheist assumes a moral standard by which he judges the world. In asking the question of “how could God let this evil happen,” the atheist is making a moral judgment—this disaster or tragedy is morally evil or wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. The atheist then turns around and accuses God on the basis of that moral judgment. But what moral framework or moral standard does atheism provide? If we assume, for a moment, the atheistic worldview that we’re all just products of cellular mutation and evolution, there is no evil. Life happens. Natural selection happens. Chance, randomness, and chaos are what drive the universe. A child dying of cancer is terrible, but it’s survival of the fittest. Life stinks. Evolution provides no meaningful purpose for your life. More complex than an amoeba, but not more valuable.
Now, the atheist will often reject these ideas, but he’s simply living in conflict with his own worldview. An atheist can call something “evil” but just because you call something “evil” doesn’t make your judgment morally binding on me. In fact, atheists will often borrow from the Christian worldview, our understanding of good and evil as revealed by God in Scripture, and then use our worldview to judge us and God. Why? Because billions of years of evolution doesn’t give you a moral framework or standard of good and evil. If I steal an atheist’s wallet and his car, why does he consider my action unjust? The laws of naturalism don’t give you good or evil, they give you strongest and weakest. The strong take from the weak because it’s survival of the fittest. Again, the atheist may come back and say, “you can’t steal my wallet and car because it’s against the law.” It’s inescapable that every law is an expression of someone’s morality. If our nation didn’t outlaw theft, would me stealing your wallet and car be morally evil? Why or why not? Is the standard for morality based upon our civic laws or government? Many actions that are generally considered evil aren’t outlawed—in most situations, it’s legal to commit adultery. Does that mean that adultery is morally good? In some nations, good actions are outlawed—it’s illegal to homeschool in India and Germany. Does that make homeschooling morally evil? Many nations united against Nazi Germany and morally condemned their actions in the Holocaust. But if morality is based upon civic law and government, how can anyone judge the Nazis for doing what their laws allowed? Is it only because we had a stronger military that we can say that what they did was morally wrong?
Another pushback I hear from atheists is “your action is morally wrong if it hurts others or it hurts a majority of others.” The Christian response to that is two-fold: 1) again, there is no good or evil in an atheistic universe. There is only life and death. No action is morally right or wrong because there’s no just standard that’s bindingon anyone; and 2) why is something wrong simply because it hurts someone? On what basis is something wrong because it harms someone else? You’re assuming a moral standard to make that statement, but that standard isn’t inherent to the world of naturalistic atheism. In our world, predators eat the prey. Lions don’t care if an antelope has a family. The lion wants to eat. That’s naturalism. Why are we different? Random chance and mutation don’t give any human being any meaningful purpose or value—you’re a collection of cells and chemicals. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Christians, however, have a reasonable defense for why we shouldn’t harm others: people are made in God’s image and are worthy of respect and dignity. God created the world, ordered it, and His character provides the moral framework and standard by which humanity ought to live. While naturalistic atheists don’t have a compelling case for a binding moral standard for humanity, Christians do have an answer to the problem of evil—in fact, Christian Scripture provides us the only framework that makes sense of the world in which we live.
In the videos to come, I’ll unpack the Bible’s argument that our Triune God provides the only sufficient ground for morality and ethics in the world He created and He has revealed that moral standard to us in His Word.