Some atheists reject the claims of Christianity because the God they read about in the Bible seems harsh. Implicit in such a step, however, is that the Bible must be the word of God. Otherwise, the logical thing to do would be to reject the Bible as being authoritative about God; not to reject God. A person in this position is not really criticizing God. He’s criticizing people (the writers of the Bible) for making up a God they disapprove of. It makes no sense to say that the Bible is God’s word, and at the same time say there is no God.
Materialist Doctrine on Evil
An important reason to make this distinction is that if you just say “I don’t accept what the Bible says,” you tend not to get to the next question, which ought to be: If there’s no God at all, then how do I explain evil and bad things then? Because that takes us to a strange place.
If there is no God, then there is no purpose to anything. Everything that happens is just the result of all the past movements of matter in time; we do things solely because of the combination of influences on us right up to the moment we do them. There is no basis for calling those things bad or good, because there is no real decision-making about them, they just are. (Philosophers would say “no moral agency”). There is no shame or blame or honor or altruism or respect because how can we be faulted (or credited) for simply acting in the way pre-determined by all those movements of atoms from the big bang to this moment?
Basis for Morality
And if there is no bad or good, just things that happen, who are we to try to say some of those things are bad; others good? How is it possible to evaluate the existence of God on the basis of Him doing good or bad? How can a person reject God on the grounds that He does something we think is bad? Talking of God doing bad or good gives the game away, doesn’t it? Isn’t it more rational to try to reconcile the fact of bad things happening, with the fact of God’s control even over those bad things?
We have an innate sense of good and bad because God placed that sense in us. Indeed, the conscience that we each feel, and the near-universal moral sense that people share, is proof of the existence of God. There is a moral law. There has to be a moral law-giver.
God and the Fact of Evil
God is (or, an atheist might say, God is conceived to be) all-powerful, so the existence of any bad thing anywhere happening to anyone indicts God, if we are going to put him in the dock like we would a person. God is the ultimate moral agency, after all. But it is a mistake to do this. We’re looking at the whole thing upside down if we look at it this way. God is not a person like us, who sometimes does good, and sometimes does bad. God defines what is good. It is good if God decrees it. That’s what it means to be God.
Besides that, people are not innocent. Their own moral failings mean that they’re not in a position to say that what happens to them is somehow wrong. Certainly it does not put them in the position to say that what God does is wrong.
We All Die
People are harmed by natural events, like earthquakes and tsunamis, and also by human evil. Where is the justice in that? But before we accuse God, or conclude that He doesn’t even exist, we should pause and consider something. We all die. We can say that some deaths are less just than others, but that again asserts a moral prerogative that we don’t have, if there is no God.
How is any death justified if God is good? Is He toying with us? Squashing some and leaving others alone, on a whim? No. We all die. There is purpose even to a tragic young death; one purpose being to recall us to our own mortality in the body. We’re human, we have no conception, really, of immortality. Life is fleeting. It is so brief, compared to endless time, and death is so certain. The big lesson, the one that God is screaming at us, is that this life has meaning for eternity, not just for itself.
Evil and Materialism
If there is no God (so He can’t be responsible for evil) then what do we say? How does an atheist explain evil? Well, bad things just happen, if there is no God. There is no purpose to any of it. There is no reason to say something is evil or it’s good. You were born with a tendency to high cholesterol, so you have a heart attack and die young. Too bad. No one to blame. No one to get mad at. But also no point to any of it. No purpose to dying, but no purpose to being born and living, either. No one to blame for the heart attack, but no one to be grateful to for the life that you did have.
Desire for Truth
That’s the world without God. Now if there’s no God, tough. We don’t wish God into existence because it makes us feel better about things; so that we can attach bogus meaning to meaningless events. We must have the truth. We feel it necessary to human dignity. Insistence on truth is planted in us by God, too, though. Atheists desire the truth, but deny God. What they believe to be true doesn’t even explain the desire for truth.