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A “Good” Problem for Atheists

Article ID: JAFE325 | By: Elliot Miller
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Many atheists and Christians alike believe the problem of evil to be the biggest obstacle to Christian faith. The dilemma of how a good God could create a world in which evil not only exists but thrives is considered even more problematic than the alleged evidence for macroevolution, the alleged discrepancies in the Bible, and the alleged irrationality of doctrines such as the Trinity.

Throughout our mortal lifetimes the existence of evil will present a challenge to belief in God, but it is not an insurmountable challenge. As a magazine devoted to Christian apologetics, we have demonstrated this to be the case many times,1 and we expect to do so many times more.

What people who stumble over the problem of evil on their way to faith in God often fail to notice, however, is that the existence not only of evil but also of good logically poses a far more serious obstacle to reaching the opposite conclusion of disbelief. In other words, the fact that morality is an inescapable dimension of the human experience (even when people choose to do evil) does not seem to square with a randomly evolving godless universe, but it fits perfectly within a purposeful universe created by a moral God.

In this issue of the JOURNAL two feature articles depict the struggle of the nonbeliever to find a basis for the universal sense of morality in something other than God, and other articles touch on the same topic. In each case the solutions proposed are similar, and this similarity was not highlighted in the articles by design. We assigned one of our feature articles to deal with the philosophy of utilitarianism and another to address the evolutionary ethics of Richard Dawkins. The remaining articles were to cover unrelated topics of apologetic concern. It was only in editing the articles that I noticed the pattern.

Utilitarianism is a modern form of an ancient approach to ethics called hedonism. In both systems good is defined as pleasure or happiness and evil is defined as pain. Whereas hedonism maintains that the greatest good occurs when the individual achieves pleasure, utilitarianism holds that the greatest good occurs when the greatest number of people achieves happiness.

It turns out that Richard Dawkins’s evolutionary ethic, in its most noble formulation (at times it is quite ignoble), is essentially utilitarian. Furthermore, popular motivational speaker Anthony Robbins, who is neither a philosopher nor a professing atheist, nonetheless grounds his message of personal power in a hedonistic ethic of pleasure as good and pain as evil. Finally, our review of the book Naturalism parallels these feature articles in its discussion of problems that occur when atheists attempt to ground morality in nature or evolution.

From different places in the magazine, therefore, distinct criticisms are voiced that complement each other. Together they resoundingly refute hedonism, utilitarianism, and evolutionary ethics. Atheists for whom truth matters should be troubled by the inability of these prominent representations of their worldview to do justice to one of the most fundamental and important attributes of human nature.

However, the problem of good and evil is a good problem for those atheists who have followed their belief system to its logical conclusion of nihilistic despair and are seriously ready to consider evidence for the existence of God. I should know. Decades ago, at the beginning of my spiritual journey, I was one of them.

—Elliot Miller


1 See, e.g., Lee Strobel’s “Why Does God Allow Suffering?” published in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in vol. 24, no. 1, http://www.equip.org/ articles/why-does-god-allow-suffering-Elliot Miller