In a recent series on his site, the atheist Jerry Coyne attempts to argue against the existence of God by citing the absurdity of believing in Him in light of the great evils that occur in the world. He cites rather weak arguments made by believing non-theologians have made as evidence that somehow this argument has the power to defeat the existence of God.
This seems to be a regular theme with Coyne. Michael Hawkins quotes him on his site in his ‘Thought of the day’ post as saying:
“Are we really such a weak and cowardly race that we must concoct these silly rationalizations to avoid admitting the obvious: there doesn’t seem to be a God, or at least one who is loving and powerful? Can’t we admit that bad things are simply bad things and not some manifestation of a tortured and incomprehensible divine calculus? When will our species grow up?”
Both points beg the question; one can see this when the argument is laid out as a logically:
1. Evil exists
2. If God existed, He wouldn’t allow evil to exist
3. God does not exist.
Obviously the first assumption is based on some moral system – a system which delineates certain human actions and behaviors as ‘evil’ (or ‘bad things’ as Coyne alls them). I would say this in and of itself defeats the atheist argument before it begins, for if atheism is true, there is no necessarily ‘evil’ behavior, only the behavior that is. One can see this by looking the animal kingdom. For example, chimpanzees, claimed by evolutionists to be our closest living relatives, are known to cannibalize chimpanzee infants, even within their own group . As well, male dolphins, often cited as very intelligent mammals, are known to aggressively coerce female dolphins to mate ; indeed male dolphins will often attempt to mate with non-dolphins species.
All these behaviors amongst humans are considered to be ‘evil’ – even by atheists. And yet, when we consider them amongst other species, we don’t consider them to be evil; why is that? To be considered evil, something must be contrary to an objective idea of ‘good’ – that is a standard by which our actions can be measured. Amongst animals there seems to be no objective measure of this sort; they record no laws, they do no delineate between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ societies, they do not hold up individuals as models of good behavior to emulate. Indeed, there seems to means at all by which there behavior is measured other than it allows them to survive and reproduce.
So when an atheist claims ‘evil exists’ he or she is making a tacit admission that a standard of proper human behavior exists. In other words, that there is a set of behaviors to which we ‘should’ conform. If no such standard exists, then of course the claim that ‘evil’ exists is absurd – we simply behave as we behave, and any claims that our behavior are wrong are mere opinions or illusions. In short, evil can’t exist, and the atheist’s first statement fails, as would the rest of the argument.
Indeed, there is some irony in Coyne’s lamenting question, “ When will our species grow up?” in that it assumes there is some place we ‘should be’, a way that we ‘should’ act, a set of goals that should be achieved that are aren’t at all evident from a wholly naturalistic perspective. Indeed, historically societies that have been intentionally made devoid of a belief in God are invariably are less free, less prosperous, and more deadly than almost any others, and so Coyne’s proscription for maturity seems misled.
Of course, if we believe that evil does actually exist, it has other implications – namely that an objective behavior exists, and we have fallen short of that standard in behaving contrary to it. So the very claim that evil exists is an argument for an objective, external standard of behavior, which of course a theist (or more particularly a Christian) would see as deriving from God. Indeed, Christians call the internal monitor of this behavior our conscience, which all men have, though few (conceivably none) obey.
I will try at a later time to deal with why God allows evil to exist, but I just wanted to point out that atheists lose this argument from the first statement of it.