My last post in this series dealt with the issue of logic and the problem of evil. This post will examine morality and the problem of evil.
The Problem of Evil: Part 4
Atheists rightly observe the immense pain, suffering and injustice in the world and deem it evil or morally repugnant. So, when atheists proclaim the evil of rape, murder and thievery, theists can agree. But only from a theistic worldview can someone observe all that takes place in the world and deem it genuinely evil in any meaningful, objective sense. Any statement declaring some action or activity as “evil” assumes some standard by which good and evil can be judged.
This is problematic, because atheism reduces morals to either personal preferences similar to enjoying one flavor of ice cream over another, or to cultural constructs reflecting the cumulative preferences of a given people group. In either case, a blatant fact remains: morals are entirely subjective. This fact produces a bleak situation aptly described by Win Corduan. He writes,
“Without a God behind the world, suffering and evil can be no more than painful indicators of the futility of a meaningless life.”
The effect that this has upon morality is stunning. If all morality is ultimately subjective and rooted in subjective, finite structures (be it individually or collectively), then nothing can be deemed truly evil. This is especially troubling when considering human rights and the value of life. As Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith point out,
“The notions of human respect and dignity depend on the existence of moral truth.” If one removes the objectivity of truth and the binding nature of logic, then the only conclusion one can arrive at is that “…nothing has transcendent value, including human beings.”
When atheists object to the existence of God based upon the existence of evil, apologists must respond by addressing their false assumptions. Certainly, evil exists; that is not in dispute. However, the recognition of evil from the atheistic perspective is in dispute. The reason for this disputation arises from the fact that, in order to object to God’s existence based upon the existence of evil, one must assume a degree of objectivity in proclaiming that which is undesirable is actually evil. The problem this assumption presents for the atheistic worldview is manifold. The issue at hand is primarily this: Can anything be described as objectively, morally evil from the materialist perspective? The answer is no! Philosopher Chad Meister points out this dilemma when he writes, “One cannot consistently affirm both that there are no objective moral values, on the one hand, and that rape, torture and the like are objectively morally evil on the other.”
Nothing can be called objectively good or evil unless trans-cultural, objective moral values by which we assess moral particulars actually exist. Given the “matter only” claims of atheism, immaterial, binding laws which provide the framework for moral decisions and assessment simply cannot exist. The only genuine “out” for the atheist is to claim that when a culture comes to a consensus regarding that which it calls evil, then that action or condition is actually evil. Taking this position raises a serious problem; namely that might makes right. The strength of the will of the masses dictates that which could be called good or evil. Therefore, the actions of a given people could never be objectively deemed as immoral. Thus, the Holocaust was little more than the cultural out working of the consensus of a people group and cannot be objectively identified as immoral.
A problem further resides in the assumption that cultural consensus may identify that which is good or evil apart from objective moral values. How does one assess what constitutes cultural consensus for the definition of good or evil? Is it a simple statistical majority or is it a two-thirds majority? What statistical requirement could be deemed as the moral or good rule to which all cultures should adhere
Additionally, how does one define cultural consensus when even the very definition of a culture or people group could be questioned? For instance, it is recognized that within every nation exists sub-cultures. At what point should it be considered morally good to allow subcultures to dictate for themselves that which is good versus that which is evil? How could anyone objectively identify the activities of a sub-culture of necrophiliacs as genuinely evil in such a world? The answer is quite obvious: it would be impossible apart from moral tyranny (which would be logically permissible).
Furthermore, individuals do not live in the real-world in such a manner as to remain consistent with this subjective moral proposition. If morals were simply cultural constructs, when the atheist hears news of genocide or ritualistic mutilation of female reproductive organs, they would not respond with, “That is evil!” No! Instead, they would reply with, “Well, that is not my moral taste but to each his own.” Yet, time and time again the leaders of modern atheism exclaim in horror at the atrocities carried out around the world. This is especially true when the atheist believes that they or their interests have been wronged. As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, even those who deny the objectivity or absolute nature of the Law of Nature (moral absolutes) assume these absolutes when they or their interests are wronged. This sentiment goes beyond frustration with some outside force infringing upon their preference or happiness. What does occur is a negative reaction at the thought that those harming the atheist or their interests violated some standard the atheist assumes to be binding, and that should be obvious to the outside agent.
In an ultimately self-defeating way, the cultural “out” for the atheist leads to absurdity. This fact leads Greg Bahnsen to the following assessment:
“On the one hand, he [the unbeliever] believes and speaks as though some activity (e.g.’ child abuse) is wrong in itself, but on the other hand he believes and speaks as though this activity is wrong only if the individual (or culture) chooses some value which is inconsistent with it (e.g.’ pleasure, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, freedom). When the unbeliever professes that people determine ethical values for themselves, the unbeliever implicitly holds that those who commit evil are not really doing anything evil, given the values which they have chosen for themselves. In this way, the unbeliever who is indignant over wickedness supplies the very premises which philosophically condone and permit such behavior, even though at the same time the unbeliever wishes to insist that such behavior is not permitted–it is “evil.”
It is one thing to assert that an action, situation or condition is evil. It is an entirely different issue to justify one’s belief that an action, situation or condition is evil. Only by assuming the very same conditions they are denying (objective, transcendent moral values) can an atheist make any definitive moral judgment.
 Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1997), 128.
 Gregory Koukl & Francis Beckwith, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 21.
 Ibid, 22.
 William Lane Craig & Chad Meister, ed. God is Good God is Great (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 109.
 C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HaperOne, 2007), 15. Lewis goes on to argue that despite varying cultural interpretation of the Law of Nature, it is nevertheless, universal. So, while some may argue that a man can only have one wife and another argues he may have many wives, both assume that it would be absolutely wrong to take any woman a man pleases. This is especially true if that woman (via a marriage covenant) “belongs” to the man from whom she is taken.
 Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2009), 170.