When we are angry at evil, we are acknowledging that life has purpose. We are recognizing that there is a difference between good and bad. We are affirming that bad should be punished. But what does that mean for my bad actions? And from where did my sense of justice come in the first place? If life is the result of an accident, how can life have a purpose? And if life has no purpose, why am I angry at what I think is unfair?
My sense of oughtness is an indication that I believe in a standard of life. But what standard, an arbitrary one set by changing cultures driven by natural selection or a transcendent one that never changes even though societies might? Mankind’s sense of justice can point them to the good Judge.
The nonexistence of God is nothing more than a nonsense option. The categories of good and evil themselves require some sort of transcendent standard. What makes things good? What makes things evil? Atheists have, by and large, given up on the idea of an absolute standard of morality. After all, spiritual emptiness and the nonexistence of anything outside of the simple material universe is no way to come up with an ethical system. Morality is cultural preference (which cannot be said to be right or wrong) and fundamentally relative. It takes on (to be generous) the same authority as Wisconsin speed limits on a Nevada highway at night.
People are raped in this world, and rape is evil. Because evil exists, there must be no God. Because there is no God—no authoritative standard over creation—the badness of rape downgrades to a mere matter of societal taste. Ethnic cuisine, ethnic ethics. In God’s absence rape is no longer fundamentally evil. In our country, you’ll get confined to a cell (if caught and convicted), but that just means we enforce our taste, not that our taste has any real authority over anyone else. In other societies, girls have been passed around and traded like baseball cards. Is that right? Is that wrong? You like exploitation; I like apple pie. The two discussions exist on the same plane. There’s no such thing as moral and immoral. In this country, we eat gyros. In this one, we eat pizza. And we’ll give you a ticket for jaywalking. . . .
I’ve watched the Discovery Channel. I’ve enjoyed the Discovery Channel. But in that world, if I want to reproduce with you (or tear you limb from limb) I just need to be bigger and stronger than you are. You look pretty small and a little sickly. Shall I feed you to my young? Why not? Cannibalism might not be condoned in your culture, but it has a long and storied tradition in mine. Are you saying that your culture is superior, that it is somehow right while mine is wrong? You’re being a racist, but likely you’re still small, and even racists taste good in casserole. . . .
True atheism is nonsense. If there is such a thing as beautiful, such a thing as good, or even such a thing as bad, then there is a transcendent standard that determines which is which. An atheist can say that society prefers mothers to murderers, but he cannot say that this is as it should be. Tell us what is, by all means. But without God, you cannot tell us what ought to be.
An atheist can tell us that he is a good person. I believe he has never stolen a lawn mover or murdered his wife. I believe him. What he cannot tell me is what is fundamentally wrong about lawn mover theft and wife killing. He will try, but he can’t change the fact that in his world there is no such thing as fundamental wrongness.
Let the man with the biggest armies and booming voice make the rules. Jews and gypsies and homosexuals be damned.
I don’t like that picture. I look at the world and I see beauty. I see love and loss, birth and death, joy and sorrow. I see a world where color exists, and in enormous generosity we were given eyes to see it. This is a world where bread makes a smell as it’s baked, and we just happen to have noses to smell it. Color, smell, sound, taste—these are things that could have gone unnoticed; we could have been senseless in this reality, careening around like so many spattering particles. Were our noses invented first, or the smells? Our eyes, or the sights? Breasts, or desire?
We have been created as recipients. I look at the stars, at the stars, at the grass, at my fat-faced children, at my fingernails, and I am oppressed by gratitude.
I have been given a belly so that I might hunger. I have been given hunger so that I might be fed.
I look in the atheist’s mirror. I look at his faith in the nonexistence of meaning. I look at this preaching and painting. I see nothing but a shit-storm.
Why should I walk through that door? Why would I live in your novel?
Some time ago I was speaking at a university in England, when a rather exasperated person in the audience made his attack upon God.
“There cannot possibly be a God,” he said, “with all the evil and suffering that exists in the world!”
I asked, “When you say there is such a thing as evil, are you not assuming that there is such a thing as good?”
“Of course,” he retorted.
“But when you assume there is such a thing as good, are you not also assuming that there is such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to distinguish between good and evil?”
“I suppose so,” came the hesitant and much softer reply.
“If, then, there is a moral law,” I said, “you must also posit a moral lawgiver. But that is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. If there is no transcendent moral law giver, there is no absolute moral law. If there is no moral law, there really is no good. If there is no good there is no evil. I am not sure what your question is!”
There was silence and then he said, “What, then, am I asking you?”
He was visibly jolted that at the heart of his question lay an assumption that contradicted his own conclusion.
You see friends, the skeptic not only has to give an answer to his or her own question, but also has to justify the question itself. And even as the laughter subsided I reminded him that his question was indeed reasonable, but that his question justified my assumption that this was a moral universe. For if God is not the author of life, neither good nor bad are
This seems to constantly elude the critic who thinks that by raising the question of evil, a trap has been sprung to destroy theism. When in fact, the very raising of the question ensnares the skeptic who raised the question. A hidden assumption comes into the open. Moreover, as C. S. Lewis reminds us, the moment we acknowledge something as being “better”, we are committing ourselves to an objective point of reference.
The disorienting reality to those who raise the problem of evil is that the Christian can be consistent when he or she talks about the problem of evil, while the skeptic is hard-pressed to respond to the question of good in an amoral universe. In short, the problem of evil is not solved by doing away with the existence of God; the problem of evil and suffering must be
resolved while keeping God in the picture.
Copyright 2000 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM)
From the time that I could think rationally on the subject, I did not believe in God…
What made me consider God’s existence a real possibility? The Lord of the Rings. I was a young teenager when I first read the Tolkien tomes, and it immediately captivated me. The fantasy world of Middle-Earth oozes life and profundity. The cultures of the various peoples are organic, rooted in tradition while maintaining a fresh, living energy. Mountains and forests have personalities, and the relationship between people and earth is marked by stewardship and intimacy. Creation knowing creation. Tolkien describes these things with beautiful prose that reads like its half poetry and half medieval history. Everything seems “deep” in The Lord of the Rings. The combination of character archetypes and assertive “lifeness” in the novel touches on an element of fundamental humanity. Every Lord of the Rings fan knows exactly what I’m talking about.
In my narrow confines of scientism, I had no way of processing what made Tolkien’s masterpiece so profound. How could a made-up fantasy world reveal anything about the “truth”? But I knew it did, and this changed my way of thinking. Are good and evil merely social constructions, or are they real on a deeper level? Why am I relating to ridiculous things like talking trees and corrupted wraiths? Why was I so captivated by this story that made fighting evil against all odds so profound? Why did it instill in me a longing for an adventure of the arduous good? And how does the story make sacrifice so appealing? The Lord of the Rings showed me a world where things seemed more “real” than the world I lived in. Not in a literal way, obviously; in a metaphorical, beyond-the-surface way. The beautiful struggle and self-sacrificial glory permeating The Lord of the Rings struck a chord in my soul and filled me with longing that I couldn’t easily dismiss.
On atheism, there is no objective standard of good or evil, because atheism declares that the natural world is all that exists, and the natural world is valueless: There is no such thing as a good or bad bird, or a good or bad tree, etc. Therefore, one cannot use the study of the natural world (science) to determine right and wrong. As Albert Einstein put it:
“You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”