Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Problem of (No) Evil

We all know that one of the strongest objections to any sort of theistic belief is the so-called "problem of evil". The gist is that if there is a good and omnipotent God, he would surely desire to end all evil, and would have the power to do so. Since evil exists, God is either not good, or not omnipotent, or not existent.

So much for that, and I don't intend to delve into the many defeaters that can be offered to this objection. The problem of evil is a serious one - the only serious argument against theism, I would suggest. But what about the problem of no evil? That is a serious problem for atheism, and one which I think destroys any form of "positive" or "optimistic" atheist philosophy.

Let me explain what I mean.

Over these last few weeks dreadful things have happened. I am thinking of several horrific murders, particularly the shooting of a young boy and the beating to death of a man who tried to defend his property from a gang of youths. Other horrible things have occurred, no doubt. Those are just the ones that made the news, and made an impression on me. Within my Christian frame of reference, I see these things as evil. The perpetrators of these acts have done something that is truly wrong, contrary to the will of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. They therefore deserve punishment from society, and unless they are repentant they will also receive punishment from God.

But what about those who have no room for God in their worldview? Judging by the media reaction to these killings, they still want some sort of justice, and demand punishment for the guilty and restitution for what has been done. But on what grounds? Why do atheists think that these things are wrong? Why shouldn't the strong beat up on the weak, if they want to?

Let me put the problem in the clearest possible way: If there is no God, there is no right and no wrong. Of course, you are free to construct your own value system and arrange it however you like, but I do not see why you should be able to impose it on anyone else. If you do, it is merely an arbitrary imposition - indeed, it is violence. You can sustain it for as long as you are the stronger party. As soon as someone else is stronger than you, their "values" will become the "right" ones. If, in my value system, it is okay to kill a young boy, then who are you to tell me otherwise?

Thus Nietzsche, the prophet of our age:

When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality right out from under one's feet. This morality is by no means self-evident... Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together.By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole. Nothing necessary remains in one's hands.

His conclusion is simple and accurate:

There are no moral facts.

I grieve for this sorry culture, where nothing is right or wrong. I grieve for those lost on a sea of moral uncertainty. But we have spent centuries - ever since the "enlightenment" - making this bed, and now I guess we have to sleep in it.

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