Are You Guilty of This Common Apologetic Error?
by Tom Gilson
Christian apologists often respond to the Problem of Evil by pointing out that atheism has its own problem of evil. There’s a good case to be made here. The problem is, frequently I hear Christian apologists making a bad one instead. So this is a bit of internal correction I want to offer my friends on a common apologetic error
The correct version of atheistic problem of evil is one that says atheism has no standard with which to judge anything as right or wrong. I’ll explain that further in a moment. The error comes when one says, “The atheist cannot charge God with evil, because atheism provides no standard from which to charge him with wrongdoing.” I’ll come back to that, too, in another moment.
Briefly on the Naturalistic Problem of Evil
When I speak of atheism, I mean the naturalistic/materialistic version, the worldview that says nothing exists but matter and energy, interacting according to regularities we call “laws of nature.” (Some atheists say abstract objects like numbers may exist, too, but that gets complicated and it’s not necessary for these purposes.)
Now, it’s impossible for mere matter and energy to make anything morally right or morally wrong. It can only make what is, not what should be or shouldn’t be; and in fact it cannot help but make what is, for it’s driven by physical necessity (natural law). Alexander Pope said, “Whatever is, is right.” That was bad thinking on his part, but I’ll borrow it anyway. Naturalism says, “Whatever is, is.”
So naturalism has a problem of evil: There’s no way to call anything wrong or right. Not anything at all, ever. If you want to call anything evil at all — child molestation, slavery, sex trafficking, racism, opioid dealing, whatever — naturalism can only get you as far as saying you don’t prefer it. Or your culture doesn’t prefer it, or it isn’t conducive to human flourishing. Either way, it can’t get you as far as saying any of that is either right or wrong…
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