Most folks are willing to assume that there is such a thing as right and wrong. For the purpose of this discussion, it is not necessary to agree on what is right or wrong in every case, only that there is such a thing.1 Some will dogmatically assert that there are absolutely no absolute moral values or truths – a silly and incoherent notion, as that itself would then be an absolute – but most will eventually concede that in their normal experience they believe in such things as morals. Otherwise, I suppose there would be a lot more face punching and dinner stealing.
Taking a specific example, say “Rape is wrong,” we have stumbled upon a feature of reality that is rather easily explained by classical theism, but completely inexplicable in the atheistic worldview. As the profound philosopher and well-known atheist Juergen Habermas wrote,
For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk.2
We ask the rapist, “Why have you done this thing?” Suppose he responds in the words that famous atheist Richard Dawkins used to describe human behavior, “I was merely dancing to the tune of my DNA.” We are now forced to acknowledge three conclusions. Evil exists, we have no means of responding to it, and we have no grounds by which even to rebuke it. A male mammal having intercourse, even forcefully and degradingly, with a female mammal is of no consequence and can be judged by no cosmic standard. What is the importance of the suffering of one speck-sized biped on a pale blue dot circling an otherwise inconsequential yellow star?
The universe simply does not care, so why should I? Why are we distressed by the violent practices of one out of 7 billion homo sapiens? For that matter, why care about any of them or all of them?
Without the God who is so casually set aside by atheism, we have no basis even for disgust, other than our own personal “sense” of something other, a pull we are taught to dismiss as an inherited behavior that is no nobler than the rapist’s desire to satisfy his sexual urges.
In my opinion, this argument should always be mentioned when engaged in a discussion of the “problem of evil.” In this dilemma, the atheist asserts the existence of evil demonstrates an omnipotent, good God must not exist, or else he would banish all evil with his power, compelled by his infinite goodness. There are a variety of responses to this dilemma, but it is important to note that the argument is self-defeating. As C.S. Lewis explains, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? … If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?”3
If you believe in good and evil of any sort, why? If you do not believe in good and evil, hand over your lunch money and move on to the rest of the internet.
- A thing may exist even without my ability to correctly analyze it. The universe does not cease existing because people disagree on its size or age.
- Jurgen Habermas, Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 149.
- C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 41.