Negative things such as dark, chaos, cold, and emptiness don’t - in the strictest sense – exist. These things simply represent a lack of positive things such as light, order, heat, and substance.
In the same way, Atheism is not actually a positive theory of reality. It makes no statements about law, reason, philosophy, science, hope, or meaning. It simply states that a particular concept – God – is false.
The concept of atheism is entirely dependent on the concept of a God. If the concept of God had not arisen, there would be no atheists.
While atheists of one sort or another have, no doubt, existed since the dawn of humanity, it is significant to note that purpose, meaning, and morality have always been closely tied to religion – even those religions, such as Buddhism, that don’t admit to a personal God.
Divorced from the concept of God and the practice of religion; a vacuum occurs, within which purpose, intelligence, and morality must find some other meaningful grounds.
In his 2010 paper “Morals Without God,” Frans de Waal, who is an atheist as well as a primatologist and ethologist, says this on the subject:
“We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.
“Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over thecenturies, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately. It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.” (Morals without God, Frans De Waal, 2010)
There is a famous religious argument - “Euthyphro’s Dilemma” - which essentially asks whether morality has authority over God or God has authority over morality. The Christian response to this problem is that morality is an essential part of God’s nature. Morality only exists if God exists.
When an atheist raises the problem of evil, they invoke the same dilemma.
In order to prove that reality is incompatible with a perfectly good and all-powerful being, the atheist must somehow conjure up some standard of good and evil which would necessarily apply to God if he existed.
This standard of good and evil against which they judge God would either be essential or non-essential.
Either “right” and “wrong” are real, absolute, verifiable laws that actually exist; or they are arbitrary, made-up standards conjured up by the human mind and subject to change.
If the assumption of the atheist is that Right and Wrong are real properties of the universe, and that God does not exist; then they must argue why and how these properties would apply to God if he did exist. If good and evil can exist with or without God, then God does not necessarily have any direct relationship or obligation to such laws.
If, on the other hand, Good and Evil are as imaginary as God himself, then they must argue that these imaginary properties are inconsistent with an imaginary being; a ridiculous argument if ever there was one.
Perhaps another way to ask this question would be: “What would the universe look like if there was a God?”
On the face of it, this seems like a ridiculous question. What would the world look like if unicorns existed?
How would you know other than just guessing?
But if the argument from evil is a legitimate argument against God, then this is a real question.
The atheist is saying that if God existed, things would be different than they are. So the question becomes, how would things be different?
If “Right” and “Wrong” are made-up things, then there is really no way to tell what they would look like if a made-up God were suddenly real. Since God is imaginary, and the qualities of “right” and “wrong” are imaginary, then one could easily argue that these things could look exactly like the imaginary God of the Bible. If “Good” and “Evil” exist independent of God, then presumably adding God to the equation would back these pre-existing standards with some kind of absolute power. Now, not only does “Good” exist, but it also has the power to enforce itself absolutely.
And what would this look like? Would people and things still die or would they live forever? Would human beings still have the ability to choose between right and wrong? Would the pain reflex still exist to warn a person away from harm, or would the entire earth be baby-proofed?
The atheist has no real answer to this, except to say that “it definitely wouldn’t look like it does now.”
The critic can point out all kinds of misery and suffering that wouldn’t have happened if God had been at the wheel, but they have yet to construct a model of reality with a God.
If they had such a model, they could use it to predict what life would be like with a God, and then point out that life doesn’t meet that standard.
Since they don’t have this model, they can’t say for certain that life wouldn’t look exactly the way it does now.
So to make this argument stick, they’ve got a simple job to do:
· Prove logically that good and evil absolutely exist with or without God.
· Prove that God would have to be “good” (based on the previous standard they have already logically established) if he existed.
· Prove that this hypothetical God doesn’t act “good”.
And viola’! God doesn’t exist.
The atheist’s dilemma is that an objective standard of good and evil needs to exist in order to leverage this against God.
However God – or at the very least, some kind of transcendent, non-material reality – needs to exist in order to have a transcendent, non-material standard of good and evil to wield as a sword against him.
The best they can hope to do is to prove that Christianity (or any form of theism that admits morality) is internally inconsistent. Since, within Christianity, God’s nature is the standard of good and evil, the only thing they can feasibly do is to show that God’s words and actions are inconsistent or self-contradictory, and even this doesn’t necessarily disprove God’s existence.
Though emotionally powerful, the argument from evil is not a strong argument against the existence of God; at most it amounts to a complaint about God.