Atheism’s problem of evil

By Scott Youngren

If there is a God, and God is good, why is there evil? The existence of evil is frequently presented as a problem for theism, but in reality, it is a problem for atheism…and a devastating problem. Evil can only exist as a deviation from good, much as crookedness can only exist as a deviation from straightness. But what is the source of goodness, and who or what determines just what good is? C.S. Lewis points how the need for a source of goodness poses a problem for atheism:

“My argument against God [when I was an atheist] was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

Morality cannot be derived from science

On atheism, there is no objective standard of good or evil, because atheism declares that the natural world is all that exists, and the natural world is valueless: There is no such thing as a good or bad bird, or a good or bad tree, etc. Therefore, one cannot use the study of the natural world (science) to determine right and wrong. As Albert Einstein put it:

“You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”

Here, Einstein is reflecting the age-old philosophical problem of how an ought can be derived from an is. Science can tell us what there is (in the natural world), but science cannot tell us how we ought to behave. But not so fast Einstein! Morality can have its foundation in science! (At least, so argues popular atheist writer Sam Harris). In his book The Moral Landscape, Harris argues that science can give us moral guidance because that which brings about “the well-being of conscious creatures” (as defined in terms of positive states of mind) is morally good. Kwame Anthony Appiah responds in his New York Times book review of The Moral Landscape:

“But wait: how do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’s all-we-need-is-science argument must have nonscientific origins.”

Regarding Appiah’s above comments, one is inclined to wonder…


Atheism’s problem of evil – God Evidence