Tag Archives: Atheism

Atheism, Christianity and the problem of evil and suffering

In Christian theology, a classical definition of evil is found in the work of Augustine of Hippo. He states that the evil is not a thing itself, and therefore is not brought into being by God. Instead, evil is the privation of right order. Or, to put it more simply, evil is the state of affairs when things are the way they ought not to be. So, if a mugger mugs you and steals your money, that was evil, because humans ought not to do that. And if a tsunami leaves thousands of people homeless, that’s evil, because the world ought not to be like that. (Let’s bracket why God might allow natural evil, such as the latter example, for another post).

The point is that when you talk about evil and suffering, it pre-supposes that the world is not the way it ought to be. But that means that the world ought to be some way. If the world “ought to be” any way other than it is, then that pre-supposes a designer, who had a purpose for the world, i.e. – a way the world ought to be.

But that’s not my point today. My point today is that atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God until they define what they mean by evil.

It seems to me that there are 2 choices for what evil could be on atheism. What is NOT open to atheists is the solution above, namely, that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Because the universe is an accident on atheism – it is purposeless – there is no way the universe ought to be. We are accidents on atheism. There is no way we ought to be.

So evil must mean one of two things on atheism:

  1. Evil means something that the atheist finds personally distasteful. It is a subjective preference that each person decides for themselves. Just as some people don’t like broccoli – some people don’t like murder or tsunamis. It’s up to each person. But that cannot be used as an argument against God, because who says that God’s moral purposes ought to be connected to the personal moral preferences of atheists? It won’t work.
  2. Evil is what society says is counter to the social conventions of a particular time and place. If we decide that murder is against our society’s conventions today, then for that time and place, murder is “evil”. But then, not signaling when you turn right at a stop sign is also “evil”. It’s all just made-up conventions. And again, it is difficult to see why God should be bound by a society’s conception of good and evil, they are just conventions of accidental people, on an accidental planet, in an accidental universe. (Again, we will bracket the problem of deciding what a society is for this discussion).

So, now I am going to ask you atheists. When you say that there is gratuitous evil in the world, (i.e. – a state of affairs that is apparently pointless, apparently without morally sufficient justification for God to permit it), what do you mean by evil? Does not the invocation of a standard of right and wrong that applies to God himself imply an objective morality? (a moral standard that is independent of personal or cultural preferences) And if there is an objective moral standard like this, where does it come from, on your atheistic worldview?

It seems to me that pressing the problem of evil is inconsistent on atheism. There is no moral standard to hold God accountable to in an accidental universe. You have to pre-suppose an objective moral standard, and a designer of the universe who makes that standard and makes it applicable, before you can proceed to hold God accountable to that standard. But then, you have already assumed God in order to argue against him.

Here is a short paper that contains a summary of everything I know about the problem of evil, (deductive/ logical, as well as inductive/ probabilistic). If you can only read one short paper on the problem of evil/ suffering, this is what you need to read. Do not pass this paper up – it is pure wisdom and will make you effective on this issue in the public square better than anything else out there.

Also, to see these arguments in action, check out the debate here, with William Lane Craig and Kai Nielsen.  If you want a book, here is one between William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, published by Oxford University Press, 2004, (audio of one of their debates here). One of my favorite scholars on this topic is Doug Geivett. If you can listen to the audio from his lecture on evil, that is pure wisdom. It’s up on the Academy of Christian Apologetics, (audio). I love the use of “noseeums” in his examples.

UPDATE:

I was over on triablogue.com, and they were commenting on a post over at Victor Reppert’s blog C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, on the topic of morality on atheism. Also, there this debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens is fantastic for understanding why morality is irrational on an atheistic worldview.

The war between science and atheism, part one

Note: Part two of the series on the fine-tuning argument is here.

I was recently reading over at Colliding Universes, and I noticed that Denyse O’Leary was commenting on this post by Christian apologist Frank Turek at TownHall.com. Turek recounts his experiences in his debate (audio, video), with atheist Christoper Hitchens on September 9, 2008 at Virgina Commonwealth University. In particular, Turek describes his use of cosmological argument, and the scientific confirmation of that argument provided by recent discoveries in astronomy and physics.

And suddenly it struck me: atheism is dead. The big bang has killed it. And it is safe to say that in this day and age, if you meet an atheist, then that person is either ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that). And I think that is worth talking about the discoveries that led up to this theory, since this theory is the most accepted theory of the origin of the universe in astrophysics today. All Christians should be able to discuss these discoveries and explain how God created the entire physical universe from nothing – and we can know this. The creation of the universe in the Big Bang is as confirmed as the theory that the Earth goes around the Sun.

First, here is the syllogism for the argument for a supernatural cause that brings the entire physical universe into being:

  1. Whatever begins to exist requires a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe requires a cause.

Second, let’s review the 6 fairly recent discoveries that confirm premise 2 with scientific observations. These discoveries reversed the atheism-friendly theory of an eternal universe, and led to the theory of the creation of the entire physical universe out of nothing.

  1. Einstein’s theory of general relativity
  2. the red-shifting of light from distant galaxies
  3. the cosmic background radiation (which also disproves the oscillating model of the universe)
  4. the second law of thermodynamics applied to star formation theory
  5. hydrogen-helium abundance predictions
  6. radioactive element abundance predictions

Why do atheists deny these findings? Probably for emotional comfort – they desire autonomy and so they invent a worldview that allows them to feel good about jettisoning moral constraints and accountability . But for those of us who do constrain our worldviews using scientific discoveries, I recommend the book “God and the Astronomers” by agnostic scientist Robert Jastrow. His book is the best introduction that I have seen on the 6 discoveries that led to the Big Bang theory.

Here is the best quote from the book, (p. 116 of the second edition), where Jastrow, the former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute, explains how atheistic scientists were forced, against their wills, to accept the big bang theory.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

The acceptance of the big bang is just another example of how the progress of science whittles away at the gaps in our knowledge. These gaps are leveraged by atheists in order to cling to the delusion that the material world is all there is. But we now know that the physical universe had a non-physical, supernatural, cause that brought it into existence, just like the Bible says in Genesis 1:1.

Turek unpacks how the creation of the physical universe is best explained by a supernatural creative act.

Why couldn’t natural forces have produced the universe? Because there was no nature and there were no natural forces ontologically prior to the Big Bang—nature itself was created at the Big Bang. That means the cause of the universe must be something beyond nature—something we would call supernatural.  It also means that the supernatural cause of the universe must at least be:

  • spaceless because it created space
  • timeless because it created time
  • immaterial because it created matter
  • powerful because it created out of nothing
  • intelligent because the creation event and the universe was precisely designed
  • personal because it made a choice to convert a state of nothing into something (impersonal forces don’t make choices).

Now, I would never take the faith of atheists away from them, because it gives them comfort, and hope that no one will ever hold them accountable. It is also important for them to have some privatized, subjective way of looking down on other people, so that they can feel better about themselves, despite their flight from science and reason. I really admire the way that by sheer force of will, they are able to believe things without a shred of objective evidence. But, when we discuss these matters in the public square, I think we should insist that we limit our discussion to the available public, testable evidence.

A research paper written by William Lane Craig, and published in a peer-reviewed journal of astrophysics is available here. This paper contains thorough refutations of all naturalistic rivals to the big bang theory.

UPDATE 1: Welcome, visitors from The Anchoress. Thanks for the link, Anchoress! 300+ hits and counting… WOW!!!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Triablogue. Thanks for the link, gentlemen!

UPDATE 3: Welcome, visitors from Post-Darwinist! Thanks for the link, Denyse. First-time visitors, please take a look around the blog. There are many varied topics here, and most of my posts are not nearly as snarky as this satirical one!

UPDATE 4: Part two in the series on atheism’s war against science has been posted here.