Is Evil a Problem for Atheists?

In an interview with Justin Brierley, atheist Richard Dawkins claimed that our notion of good and evil has much to do with our evolutionary history:

Dawkins: My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past.

Brierley: So, therefore, it’s just as random in a sense as any product of evolution…Ultimately your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.

Dawkins: You could say that, yeah.

Dawkins may startle most of us with this response. Saying that the wickedness of rape is an arbitrary judgement sounds absurd, because it is.

Of course Dawkins doesn’t condone rape, nor is he saying we ought to be free to commit acts of violence. In fact, by and large atheists are people with morals. I have even met atheists with more morals than church goers.

Whether atheists are moral or immoral isn’t the issue.

The issue is what best explains our notion of good and evil? Why do we live like good and evil exist if they are just concepts we made up to benefit our survival? Furthermore, what would society look like if everyone believed that good and evil were strictly imaginary?

Yes, reconciling the evil and suffering of the world with a loving, all powerful God is difficult.

But the atheist has much more of a problem when it comes to the concept of evil.

The atheist typically chooses to say that good and evil do not exist. Or if they exist, they are consequences of evolution and social conditioning.

To say morality doesn’t exist seems immediately self-defeating.

For example, It would be hard to look at images of Holocaust victims and maintain that the murder of 6 million plus Jews was a matter of preference, not good and evil.

Furthermore, how could evolutionary processes produce our sense of morality? For one thing, morals don’t involve what is best for our survival (as evolution does) - There may be a case to sacrifice something beneficial to your survival for someone else. A good parent sacrifices time, money, resources, and energy to help prepare a child for the world.

Plus, evolutionary theories typically involve random mutations over a long period of time. The reason Dawkins says morality might be arbitrary is because random mutation over a vast time involves accidents.

Dawkins is in a sense saying that we have come to know good and evil by accident.

But what if we had accidentally come to think of rape as a good thing? Or what about those who tried to make a case for slavery based on what was good for the rest of mankind?

Would evolution deem these wicked acts as righteous? It's possible.

Who gets to make these judgements of right and wrong? Is it so illogical to think that there might be a being who created us in his image? Perhaps there is a mind behind all of this?

Maybe the reason we feel like good and evil exist is because they do.

Rape isn’t arbitrarily evil. It’s purely evil. And this evil places a bigger burden of truth on the atheist than it does the theist.

In his book Mere Christianity, the former atheist turned Christian scholar C.S. Lewis wrote,“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

For more on the problem of evil, stay tuned this month!

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