Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Existence of Evil and the Non-Existence of God

In a recent debate with the Christian apologist William Lane Craig, the atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg put out a challenge:

  • “If Dr. Craig could provide me with any kind of logical, coherent account that could reconcile the evident fact of the horrors of humanity…with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent agent, then I will turn Christian.”
While Craig expressed delight at the possibility of Rosenberg’s conversion, I fear that reason has little to do with it. We believe what we want to believe! Besides, it seems that Rosenberg has set the goal-posts unreasonably high. To what extent can he expect anyone to “reconcile…the horrors of humanity…with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent agent?”

Of course, we can’t do so completely. I can’t understand why my parents died without having come to a faith in Christ, despite our prayers. I don’t understand why my God allowed hurricane Sandy to devastate so many homes or the Asian tsunami to kill so many hundreds of thousands. I don’t know why He allowed Hitler, Lenin and Stalin to kill their millions.

However, I know that there is much that I don’t know. Nor should I be so presumptuous as to dismiss God because I can’t understand Him completely. After all, we can’t understand even the basics of science. We have only the most rudimentary knowledge of time, space, matter, and the laws of science. However, we don’t reject science because we lack exhaustive knowledge of these things! Consequently, Rosenberg unjustifiably rejects the idea of God because he has encountered a perplexity that no one is able to completely reconcile.

Rosenberg is also committing a logical fallacy in his challenge. He must rely on the existence of God in his attempt to deny Him. What’s the matter with “the horrors of humanity?” What makes them horrors? Is there any problem with genocide? Perhaps this is just a more advanced application of the principle of survival-of the-fittest? Instead, we can only conclude that genocide is wrong if there is an unchanging good – an objective answer-sheet – against which we can measure the validity of certain conclusions.

I like apologist Frank Turek’s illustration of this principle. If students draw maps of Norway, the teacher can only correct them if she has the absolute standard - an absolutely correct Norway map.

Without God, there is no Norway map or any basis to have objective moral standards. Without God, each one of us becomes “courts of last resort.” Without objective, transcendent, universal moral standards, it’s impossible to rationally talk about evil or “horrors.” Without God, these are merely concepts we invent to give a “meaningless life” the semblance of meaning.

Instead, if Rosenberg is truly concerned about “the horrors of humanity,” he needs to find the ultimate map – a rational basis by which he can speak and act coherently about these horrors. Denying God, he leaves himself with nothing more than moral relativism, and this posture condemns all of his moral judgments as arbitrary and subjective.

Perhaps Rosenberg needs to understand that he depends upon God more than he now imagines. Perhaps that might be the best proof of all.

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