By Alex McElroy
One of the most difficult issues to reconcile in life is the presence of evil. This is the case whether one has a theistic, agnostic or atheistic worldview. The existence of evil is undeniable both in our witness and experience but is evil objective in nature or merely an apparition. Even atheist J.L. Mackie recognized a dilemma. In one book, he writes, “There are no objective values.” Elsewhere, he writes, “We might well argue…that objective, intrinsically prescriptive features, supervenient upon natural ones, constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are most unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events, without an all-powerful god to create them.”
This poses a problem for the naturalist or the atheist because whatever evil does exist in people cannot be attributed to anything other than misfiring neurons. Well, known atheist Richard Dawkins has stated, “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.” However, if we are just dancing to our DNA, then no one can ultimately be held responsible for any actions, and evil becomes a term without an ontic point of reference. Ravi Zacharias wrote, “Atheists often blunder into the right by borrowing from assumptions that are not logically deduced from their own worldview. But their opinion is so strong that they straddle the two worlds and make up a bridge because they have reached an unbridgeable chasm, given their starting point.” That starting point of random, unguided natural processes is hardly the building blocks for a moral framework.
Sam Harris, an atheist who is both a philosopher and neuroscientist, has much to say on how humans can arrive at life-sustaining moral standards simply through biological evolution. He writes, “Many people imagine that the theory of evolution entails selfishness as a biological imperative. This popular misconception has been harmful to the reputation of science. In truth, human cooperation and its attendant moral emotions are fully compatible with biological evolution.” First, it should be noted that many scientists, most notably Biochemist Michael Behe, have shown a flaw in the premise being proposed by Mr. Harris in regard to the selfishness of biological evolution. With regard to the underlying theory contained within Harris’ assertion, Behe writes, in Darwin Devolves, about two groups of extended evolutionary synthesis scientists who propose a similar theory:
The first speculates that once master genes and their regulatory networks of connections were in place, perhaps novel complex features could be developed mostly by random changes that accidentally form new signature sequences near various genes….The second group…emphasizes the ease of deploying an array of machinery to different locations, which, like ectopic fly eyes, would generate a lot of variation much more easily than Darwin might have imagined. Maybe that would give selection more to choose from. If all that sounds distressingly vague, I’m afraid that is the gist of the argument…The unanticipated discovery of layers of control – master switches and the stunningly sophisticated genetic regulatory networks they activate – does not make the putative undirected development of life any easier to explain, evo-devo (Evolutionary developmental biology) enthusiasts seem to imagine. It makes it harder. The need for a foreman and subcontractors to coordinate construction does not make it easier to explain how unintelligent processes could make a building out of bricks and wood and pipes and wiring. It shows it to be impossible.
Behe is indicating that an external infusion of sorts, in fact, a number of external infusions would be required in order to advance biological evolution. Who or what could that provide that infusion? If not God, it seems unlikely that unintelligent and unguided natural forces could be responsible for natural evolution, not to mention moral evolution. Additionally, Sam Harris simply assumes that “human cooperation and its attendant moral emotions” would be natural outgrowths of a macroevolutionary process. But that’s a large assumption considering that one component of Darwinian evolutionary theory is survival of the fittest, not survival of the most cooperative.
Mr. Harris goes on to write, “The work of evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers on reciprocal altruism has gone a long way toward explaining cooperation among unrelated friends and strangers…Because moral virtue is attractive to both sexes, it might function as a kind of peacock’s tail: costly to produce and maintain, but beneficial to one’s genes in the end.” Even if we accept Harris’ premise that moral virtue is attractive or beneficial, it still does not allow us to assign an objective value to what morality is in its essence. How are we to know if what we are attracted to in another is being accurately perceived as high moral character? What standard are we comparing their moral virtue to in order to determine where they measure up? How do we define what is most beneficial to us or to humanity at large? These are metaphysical questions that cannot simply be reduced to physical or naturalistic foundations.
In reviewing the works of C.S. Lewis, David Bagget noted, “Moral language today is so peculiar, in fact, that Lewis suggests that this is why many people try to explain it away. Some attempt to reduce moral impropriety to an instrumental matter – as we do with a tree, for our purposes, does not shade us well and is, for this reason, and in this sense, a ‘bad tree.’” Terms such as good, bad, or evil simply lose all substantive value in a purely naturalistic worldview. This does not mean that an atheist cannot be a good person. Of course they can and most of them are morally upright. The issue is not that you cannot be good or do good things if you do not believe in God or the God of the Bible. The issue is that such a thing as good cannot objectively exist if God does not exist. If evil exists, good exists, and if good exists, God exists.
 J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1977), 15.
 Ravi Zacharias & Vince Vitale, Why Suffering: Finding Meaning and Comfort When Life Doesn’t Make Sense. (New York, NY: Hatchette Book Group, 2014)142.
 Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995)133.
 Turek, Stealing From God, ix.
 Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. (New York, NY: Free Press, 2010), 56.
 Michael Behe, Darwin Devolves: The New Science About DNA That Challenges Evolution. (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2019)118.
 Harris, The Moral Landscape, 56.
 Gregory Bassham, C.S. Lewis’s Christian Apologetics: Pro and Con. (Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2015), 127-28.
Recommended resources related to the topic:
If God Why Evil. Why Natural Disasters (PowerPoint download) by Frank Turek
Alex McElroy is an international speaker, apologist, leadership advisor, author of the book “Blueprint for Bible Basics” and writer for the blog “Relentless Pursuit of Purpose.” He is one of the founding Pastor of at Engage Community Church and formerly the Pastor of Education at New Life Covenant Southeast Church, led by Pastor John F. Hannah with 20,000 members. For over 14 years, Alex has served in both youth and adult teaching ministries. Alex has also trained hundreds of teachers and ministers, so they are equipped to deliver lessons in Biblical study, purpose, leadership, and Apologetics in order to maximize their effectiveness in and for the Kingdom of God. He is a firm believer that everyone is born on purpose with a purpose. He teaches people all over the world to find the purpose God has placed inside of them and to deliver it to the world.
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