_A Shot of Faith To The Head_: Bad Title, Great Book: Part 3: “Evil and Suffering Show There’s No God”
“Many of the atheists’ grievances are moral ones, founded upon an acute sense of ethical superiority,” says Stokes. Sometimes it’s not about science at all, or at least not primarily. Sometimes it’s about the heart. Atheists have decided that the world is not to their liking, and that it is either God’s fault, or he’s not real to begin with.
[See the last post on whether science proves God doesn’t exist]
The old argument goes like this: If God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, there is no way he would let evil exist. Therefore, he does not exist.
But the old solution also exists: God created a being with a will like his own, one that can and did choose to let evil in. Evil, then is a result of sin. God allows it continue because he is ultimately in control, and because he can show his love and glory even in a world fraught with evil. Stokes affirms this solution. In the Bible, we are shown examples (Joseph, Jesus, etc.) in which evil is done, but good shines out of it. We only need these glimpses in order to understand the concept. In the book of Job, we are reminded, as Job is, that a God who exists outside of our cosmos does not have to explain anything to us, because we would be overwhelmed by the full explanation of all things. The glimpses he gives us allow us to understand in part how he could allow evil to continue trying to do its thing in his cosmos.
If you’re familiar with the rest of the Christian story, you know that God laid out a plan for good to ultimately triumph evil, and that this response to evil comes at a great personal cost to God himself, the originator of the cosmos. The power of this story is central to what not only compels belief, but love and worship to this creator. But we’re not done yet.
The Problem of Evil for Atheism
So if an atheist is going to acknowledge evil exists, then he or she must answer for evil as well—that is, what defines evil. After all, evil is an eternal, transcendent, non-physical concept that cannot be proven with physical evidence, kind of like God. How can one account for one’s belief in evil, but scoff at another’s belief in God?
Like the question Dostoevsky once posed, Stokes asks, “if humans are the ultimate standard, then who’s to say what’s questionable?” If evil is not transcendent, as some atheists claim that it is not, then it is merely something our species as a whole finds distasteful. In that case, “evil” is nothing more than a matter of taste. A taste that often differs from person to person, as well as from culture to culture, and doesn’t really matter in any meaningful way.
Fact vs Value
So if you believe there is an evolutionary explanation for every phenomenon of human behavior, you need to explain why our species disapproves of rape, for example, if such an act is beneficial to survival. And even if you explain away behavior all day, you can’t use science to determine what we ought to do. At some point, you end up basing your conclusion on a value science can’t prove.
Some thinkers, like Dawkins and Hitchens, have proposed that since we share a lot of values in common, that our solidarity as a species is just as good a reason as any to have moral values. Would he have written the same argument, asks Stokes, if Hitler had won WWII and the Third Reich taken over the population of Europe? In other words, if an entire culture were to say that rape was okay, would it be okay because we all said it was okay? Is Hitchens’ “zeitgeist” argument not an inflated version of the bandwagon fallacy? And how is it at all scientific?
Consider the very unscientific statement by scientist Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion: “There seems to be a steadily shifting standard of what is morally acceptable… Something… has shifted in all of us, and the shift has no connection with religion. If anything, it happens in spite of religion, not because of it.”
Steadily shifting? What defines steady? Was there never an unsteady shift in human morality? How do you measure this, Mr. Dawkins? How does one measure this shift that seems—keyword: seems—to be a shift? More importantly, how can you then scientifically prove that religion and/or spirituality in no form whatsoever had any effect on this moral “shift in the spirit of the times”?
And if more people believe in God than not believe in God, wouldn’t that mean we should believe in God? For solidarity’s sake? Even if evolution could explain why we have ethical beliefs, Stokes further argues, we still would be left unable to explain whether those ethical beliefs are truly right or wrong.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center census survey, self-identified Christians and Muslims make up over half the world’s population. Lesss than 17% of the world’s population claims to be unaffiliated with religion (including not just atheists but agnostics and other non-atheists). If there is a shifting zeitgeist in any part of the world, odds are much more in favor of religion having some influence over it. Interestingly enough, the study also found that the most evenly dispersed religion in the world is Christianity. So, for Dawkins to say that shifts in solidarity over morality occur in spite of religion is to tug his own rug out from under his feet. The man has certainly put some expensive toilet paper on the world’s book shelves.
Or you could just say that there is no such thing as evil. Then you can’t propose the problem of evil to theists. If that makes it easy for you. Walk around and live your life believing in no evil. Might as well throw out belief in good while you’re at it.
And as for Christians, it is part of our belief that we identified the problem of evil before any human ever considered atheism. We were also given a solution for it as well. To Christians, God is the standard for good, he created us to do good, we chose to rebel and receive evil, and he in his wisdom, love and power has a plan to maintain good. Good was once historically perfected in the flesh and underwent the torture of evil, out of love. For ages people who have believed such were willing to be tortured and killed before denying this perfect good, and their belief has continually maintained, though in the broadest of terms, a presence in a large bulk of the world’s population. Don’t tell me they have had no positive effect on the world’s shifting moral “zeitgeist”.
We shall finish up in the next post.