Posts Tagged ‘origin of evil’

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Can Atheism Make Sense of the Problem of Evil?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

British philosopher, mathematician, social critic, and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, “No one can believe in a good God if they’ve sat at the bedside of a dying child.”  Without a doubt, the image that Russell paints with that statement is one that grips all of us emotionally.  It is, of course, one thing to suggest that Christianity cannot adequately explain the problem of evil (which it can, by the way).  It’s quite another thing to offer a better, more plausible explanation based on atheism.  This is a very important point because most people these days act as if Christians are the only ones who have an obligation to respond to the question of evil, but that is not the case at all.  Every one of us has a worldview, and every worldview is equally obligated to address the problem of evil.  Atheism, as a worldview, shares the same responsibility to answer this question or to explain it from their perspective.  In doing so, atheism must be prepared to not only define evil and to explain the origin of evil, but they must also respond to the problem of evil in a way that is consistent with their worldview.

A few years ago, as I was working with some of our high school students, a young lady came up and asked me if there was any scientific evidence that pointed to God’s existence.  As I was responding to her question, another girl disrupted our conversation by coming up to us and saying, “There is no God!  He doesn’t exist!  I believe in science!  I believe in evolution!  I believe in things that I can see and prove!  I don’t believe in some imaginary being called ‘God’!”  She stopped her salvo of comments for a moment, and we just stood there looking at each other in silence.  After a while, she broke her silence by saying something that spoke volumes about why she had come to such a conclusion.  She continued, “A few years ago, my father was sick and I begged God to heal him, but he died anyway.  A couple of years later, my sister was involved in a horrible accident and, once again, I pleaded with God not to let her die, but she died anyway.  That’s when I knew that God was a myth-  He doesn’t exist.  That’s why I believe in evolution instead.”

As I responded to her, I said something that must have shocked her because it was really harsh, but it was intentional because I wanted to make sure that I had her attention-  and I did.  I said to her, “Look, I don’t know why you’re telling me all of this stuff about losing your father and your sister.  I mean, you act as if it’s some big deal or that there’s something actually wrong with what happened to them.  But if what you’re telling me is true- if there is no God, and if evolution is our ‘creator’- it certainly sounds to me as if natural selection did exactly what it’s supposed to do.  After all, isn’t that nature’s job?  Weren’t you about to tell me that natural selection is supposed to ‘weed out’ that which is unfit in order to make room for that which is more fit to survive?  Apparently, neither your father or your sister were fit enough to survive, so nature simply  ‘weeded them out’.”

I waited for a moment to let my words sink in (and prepared to duck, just in case she took a swing at me!)  I then said to her, “To be perfectly honest, I’m actually very, very sorry – deeply sorry- that you lost your father and your sister.  I lost my mother in ‘93 and my father in ‘04 and I still haven’t gotten over it.  I just wanted to make sure that you clearly understood that you cannot have it both ways.  If you’re going to say that there is no God, you cannot say that what happened to your loved ones is ‘bad’, or that it’s ‘wrong’.  You can’t say that it’s ‘tragic’ or that it’s ‘not right’, or ‘unfair’, or ‘unjust’, or that it’s ‘not supposed to happen’, because in a godless universe where evolution is the ultimate reality, that IS what’s supposed to happen.  Death is a good thing- a beneficial thing- because it eliminates the weak, making room for that which is more fit, mentally and physically.  So, in an evolutionary world, there can be so such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ events-  it’s just ‘stuff that happens’.”

That really is the point to all of this.  Given an atheistic worldview, not only is there no objective standard of right or wrong, good or bad, and just or unjust,  it is also devoid of any objective foundation on which to build the idea consistently that life has any real purpose, meaning, or value.  Given that starting point, there can be no significant difference between a natural disaster that wipes out thousands of people, and a guy using heavy equipment to remove an acreage of trees in order to make room for something that is coming along at a later time.  By the way, it’s important to keep in mind that I am NOT claiming that all atheists feel this way.  I’m simply pointing out that, given their atheistic worldview, it would be both hypocritical and inconsistent for them to disagree with my illustration or to object to it.

Atheists such as Bertrand Russell may claim that Christians have nothing worthwhile to say to a dying child.  But then, what would Russell have said to that child under the same circumstances-  Tough luck, kid?  Hey kid, isn’t natural selection great? Too bad for you? That’s just the way it goes?  Life stinks and then you die?  Such answers will never do.  But, like it or not, that is precisely where atheism leads us.

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