Monday, August 3, 2009

Atheists and Evil


Every once in a while I get the email with the atheist philosopher who is humiliated by his Christian student when he tries to show that since there is evil in the world there must be no God. The Christian student says that evil is the absence of God and presents a pretty traditional answer that many Christians have given. At the end of the post we are told that this Christian student was Albert Einstein.

First of all, Einstein was not a Christian. Einstein believed in an impersonal god but not the Christian God. Trying to add credibility to an argument by adding some well-known genius to it when that person never really said these things only detracts from the credibility of the argument and leads atheists to believe that Christians are gullible idiots who believe any crazy thing they are sent via email. If you are one of those people who believe that everything that comes to your email box must be true, give me your email address and I will give you a great deal after you send me your bank account and credit card information.

The old evil therefore no God argument is a real argument that atheists use on a pretty frequent basis. The argument presented in opposition to the atheist is just as old as Augustine of Hippo. But is it the best answer? I don't think so. What the student should have asked is, "If there is no God, how can there be evil?" If there is no God there can really be no moral absolutes either. "Evil" is something which can only be defined by my experience. If I kill my neighbor and take all his stuff, that might be evil for the neighbor but good for me. I could even be considered to be doing the human race a favor by getting some of the weak people out of the gene pool. At least Nietzsche owned up to this basic idea in his atheism and opposed morality.

The evil therefore no God argument is really just a projection of the individual atheist. If you got a group of atheists into a room to discuss what is good and what is evil in order to try to figure out the proper way that God should operate if He existed you would never reach a consensus. You would always end up with a couple guys claiming that something is good which other guys in the room are claiming to be evil. What the atheist demands is a god that is created in the individual atheists own image--perhaps absent some of the flaws that he recognizes in himself. In order to satisfy all the atheists you would need a pantheon of different gods for them all and then they would still be arguing that the gods created in the image of the other atheists do not really exist.

But pretend you are a worm for a second and you hear something about these mythical supernatural creatures called human beings. Some of your worm friends believe in them but you are skeptical. The greatest thing that you can conceive of is some giant super-powerful worm and certainly if humans really existed they would not allow you to be eaten by birds. If there is an all-powerful God who created all things, wouldn't the difference between Him and humans be far greater than that between worms and humans? How could we expect Him to behave according to our rules? The only way that we could possibly understand anything about Him would be for Him to tell us about Himself. Even then we are limited. Just try to explain to a worm how a toilet works next time to you see one--you could give them a ride I suppose but their toilet experience would remain far different from yours.

God's ways are not are ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. God did the unthinkable. There's absolutely no possible way you could convince me to become a worm. If a worm were to tick me off, I would have no problem feeding it to my frog. But there's no way that you could convince me to become a worm and have all the worms who hate me place me on a hook and feed me to a fish in order to save those other worms. You can't make stuff like that up. Nobody creates religions as crazy as that. People certainly wouldn't be willing to die for a story like that if they made it up. But that's essentially what happened. We hated God and wanted to kill Him. God did not annihilate us as any reasonable god would do. Instead He loved us and sent His only-begotten Son to earth so that we would kill Him and in exchange receive eternal life in communion with God. Praise be to the Triune God for not acting reasonably.

8 comments:

Greg said...

Kudos to you for dispelling the Einstein myth. Those and Darwin deathbed conversion stories are quite annoying to say the least.

Interesting analogy, but your logic is quite flawed.

By your argument, wouldn't the claims of radical Islam also be true? I remember 19 hijackers who died for some pretty crazy ideas. And according to you:

"You can't make stuff like that up. Nobody creates religions as crazy as that. People certainly wouldn't be willing to die for a story like that if they made it up."

Sadly they are. ALL of them are.

Evil/Good are simply labels that we assign to actions that either conform to or go against society. These labels are clearly relative to the time period they are in. (read some of Abraham Lincoln's writings on emancipation or common writings in the early 1900's when antisemitism was commonplace)

I will leave you with a verse on the nature of evil from what I would assume would have to be your perspective, Isaiah 45:7.

Chuck Wiese said...

Greg:

Thank you for your response. My post was not directed to the audience of atheists or I would have worded things differently. I was particularly addressing Christians and the ways in which they attempt to dialog with atheists.

But I think to compare the Apostles to the hijackers on 9/11 is a bit like comparing all surgeons to psychopathic murderers just because they might both use knives to remove organs.

There is no doubt that religion can be used to get people to do wacky things just as the god of "scientific evidence" or the god of "the state" or the god of "political ideology" or the god of "atheism" or whatever else can be used to manipulate people to do some pretty nutty things. Christianity is certainly not exempt. It has been used throughout history for a variety of different political purposes and to manipulate people.

But it's one thing for someone to convince others to do something with the promise of future reward like the tele-evangelists do and like the leaders of the hijackers did (Bin Laden wasn't on the plane and Mohammed seems to change his position towards other religions pretty frequently in the Qur'an when it's beneficial for him to do so).

The Apostle's are a different story. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. They were all mourning his death and not sure what to do and stayed in hiding out of fear that they would be killed next. Mass hallucination seems a bit absurd. And they knew that making up a story that Jesus was resurrected wouldn't win them any points with society. All but one of them was martyred. If they made it up I could see them going out and trying to make buck off of it and maybe some of the people they told being so convinced that they would be willing to die for it. But if they themselves knew it was all a lie, it wouldn't make much sense for them to all be willing to go out and die for that lie even when given opportunity to fess up. There's quite a difference between being willing to die for a story you made up yourself and being willing to die for a story somebody else made up and you were duped into believing.

I'm glad that you are at least willing to be consistent in saying that evil and good are simply labels given by society. I've heard quite a few atheists still speak as if there are objective standards of good and evil. I've heard Dawkins speaking with great disgust at the Biblical God and heard him speak even more recently about why Darwinianism shouldn't be used to determine our morals. Of course he also thinks that we were created by aliens (where the aliens came from is a question he doesn't answer).

But I would argue that despite some differences there is a great deal more harmony in regards to moral standards between different societies throughout history. The problems you are pointing to don't have as much to do with what the moral standard is as much as who is to be regarded as human. We are still dealing with those same issues today--not much has changed. We're not arguing over the color of skin as much (although that still is an issue) but we're arguing over how old or young a person has to be to be considered human or what kind of brain capacity they have to have. Years from now we will probably bear the same collective shame that we do over slavery and eugenics is alive and well and living in the White House. But I do think that the general consensus against lying, murder, adultery, etc. even though they may not be applied consistently by society point us to the idea that there is an objective moral standard.

I do think that Isaiah 45:7 in context is not speaking of moral evil but of calamity but of course that get God off the hook. I would still chalk it up to the worm analogy.

Of course, if Christians reproduce and atheists use birth control and abort their babies even from a Darwinian perspective we will be shown to have better survival techniques.

Greg said...

Chuck:

Just a few points to clarify/address. I was drawing a parallel between "belief without evidence" in regards to radical Islam. I was pointing out the case of special pleading, the beliefs held by Christians are just as crazy as any other religion. And yes, people die for made up causes and ideologies all the time. The piece of logic that you use to justify the apostles in no way lends any credibility to the christian story. You make it sound like the divinity of Jesus was apparent and these events were all recorded in real time and documented as they happened. When you look at the time lines of when these books are supposedly authored, it becomes readily apparent that the divinity of Jesus emerged generations after the fact, well removed from any kind of eye witness accounts.

The foundations of Christianity are also as dubious as any other religion. Constantine converted the entire Roman empire from "eccentric cult" to major world religion in one fell swoop. Most of the holidays, celebrations were stolen from the populist pagan beliefs of the time to make conversions more easily acceptable.

A topic that I find fascinating along these lines is the subject of comparative mythology. The god that Jesus supplanted was named Mithras. If you go through the ages you will see that the modern Christian story is a patchwork of stories assembled together from all sorts of ancient myths. Right from the basic structure of hero stories, miraculous birth, the dying god, etc... the comparisons go on and on and are too apparent to ignore. To elevate one story on shaky ground above any other using the "well, why would they lie? or its too crazy not to be true" is just horribly flawed logic and reasoning.

Onto Dawkins ... yes, the biblical god horrifies me as well. In my casual perusing of the bible I find horrific atrocities sanctioned by a god, racism, war, conflict, animal/human sacrifice, incest ... sometimes I literally just sit and stare after reading some passages in pure shock that its 2009 and we still have god worshipers. It baffles me sometimes.

As for Richard's statements re: aliens, I believe that he states not that he BELIEVES that they came from aliens, but it is far more likely when held in comparison to the creation myths that every culture has created for themselves. And I agree, its far more likely, but still horribly improbable. Your rebuttal here might most likely involve some sort of statement that I believe all this was luck or chance, so I will proactively address that, the concepts of evolution, speciation, and natural selection have nothing to do with chance. Period. I am not sure if you are a creationist, proponent of ID or anything, I just felt that it should be addressed out front.

As far as birth control and abortions being confined to the atheist community, that is a pretty outlandish statement. While abortion is quite a hot topic, and I am not aware of any kind of correlation made between Abortion/religious beliefs many Christians (even dutiful Catholics) use birth control and family planning methods. Abstinence only education simply doesn't work. (see the Palin family)

Ciao 4 now.

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

If the "comparative theology" fascinates you, you might want to listen to the following podcasts from Fighting for the Faith:

http://podcast.fightingforthefaith.com/fftf/F4F072109.mp3
http://podcast.fightingforthefaith.com/fftf/F4F072209.mp3
http://podcast.fightingforthefaith.com/fftf/F4F072309.mp3

The first one especially talks about Mithras, et. al., and the third one talks about the veracity of the New Testament.

Chuck Wiese said...

Dan:

Thanks for posting the links. I listened to the programs recently and they were quite well done.

Greg:

Belief in resurrected Christ after you see the Christ die and buried and resurrected is hardly belief without evidence. The Gospels were written by people who were eye-witnesses so regardless of arguments over when they were written I find them more credible than documents written 2000 years later about the same event. The belief in the Divinity of Christ is pretty apparent in the writings of the Apostles. If Jesus was crucified around 33 and the earliest Gospels were written around the 50's that's hardly generations.

Constantine did not invent Christianity. Any holidays that were transformed into Christian holidays are irrelevant to the discussion of whether or not Jesus was God and rose from the dead. Whether or not these holidays are beneficial or detrimental can be debated but have absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Christianity is true. It's anachronistic to go on tirades about how Christianity is based on Pagan beliefs because of the possible introductions of pagan practices into Christianity well after Christianity existed. It would be like me claiming that the whole concept of atheism is based on the writings of Greg.

If you believe all that nonsense floating around the mithra cult and how Christianity is based on it you are acting just as gullible as the Christians who believe the Einstein email.

Chuck Wiese said...

Edwin M. Yamauchi is a professor of history at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio and spends some time dealing with mithraism in this article: http://www.leaderu.com/everystudent/easter/articles/yama.html From the evidence it appears that mithraism immitated some elements of Christianity rather than the other way around.

Greg said...

I never claimed Constantine invented Christianity. He converted the Roman empire TO Christianity after he was converted.

Anyways, good discussion Chuck. Thanks!

Chuck Wiese said...

Greg:
Constantine legalized Christianity. It's not as if everyone in Rome suddenly became Christian. But what Constantine did has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Christianity is true.