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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Atheism, Evil and Ultimate Justice

Tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America. This attack shook the world. It abruptly ended nearly 3000 valuable lives and destroyed countless others. It forced people to recognize evil, ask if justice could ever be served, and challenged our ability to move on.

As a Christian it pains me to see such evil in the world. It hurts worse to see atrocities committed in the name of a religion. Many atheists share my feelings and have even become militant against all forms of religion because of it. They claim that there is no way religion can possibly be true if it causes such needless pain and suffering in the world. I want to take a few moments to discuss evil, justice, and forgiveness in the context of the events from a decade ago within both the Christian and atheist worldviews.

Atheism has no place for evil or good to even exist on an ultimate level. The worst that atheism can say about the events of 9/11 is that "organisms are no longer breathing". Atheism does not support the value of human life beyond what another person places on it. If I were to say that "no person who was killed had any value, and I am indifferent to the whole thing," my opinion would be just as "right" or "good" as someone who lost a loved one and would passionately disagree. In reality, though, most sane people would recognize that my "opinion" would be atrocious, insensitive, evil, and even wrong. Even atheists would be outraged at such a callous statement.

In atheism the only ground for good or evil is in the person or society. One person or society may posit that one this is good, while another posit that it is evil. There is no way to break the tie. There is no grounds that one can actually call what happened ten years ago "evil".

Only theism offers a solid foundation for establishing what is truly "good" and "evil". Christian theism, specifically, holds that all people are created in the Image of God, thus possess intrinsic value. According to atheism, there is no difference between a common house fly and a human that gives it intrinsic value. In Christianity the events of 9/11 can be condemned as truly evil acts. In atheism the events of 9/11 can be opined as being "evil", yet they can also be opined as being "good". Only does Christianity have available what we know to be true about reality.

Atheism also holds that there is no life after death; there will be no judgment for evil acts in this life. If a person commits a crime, then commits suicide, punishment is escaped. The family of the victims of 9/11 have no hope of ever receiving justice if atheism is true. The killing of Usama bin Laden is only one death...for approximately 3000 lives? Atheism has no grounds to say that it is not. Since atheism cannot ground value or evil, it cannot justify the pursuit of justice. The fact that bin Laden was killed was just a coincidence that anyone can call whatever they wish...so can the events of 9/11 be labeled what fancies any person.

Atheism believes that mourning is simply a foundationless psychological process that humans must perform to move on with our purposeless lives. Moving on may include the search for revenge, but due to the death of those responsible, it will never be realized.

Christianity states that such evils (that it has a foundation to determine) will be punished. Justice will be served. Those who lost their loved ones may mourn the loss of a person of the highest true value, who also had purpose. They may then raise their heads in confidence that the next step (justice) is in the hands of One who is capable and will execute it regardless of the current biological status of those responsible.We need not feel compelled to seek "justice" or revenge. We can continue to fulfill our life's purpose without such a compulsion to weigh us down.

Finally, many people wish to move on by offering forgiveness to the perpetrators. Many recognize that this would be the "high road" option compared to seeking revenge. Atheism is indifferent to such a distinction. Christianity not only encourages the offer of forgiveness to help us resume completing our purpose in life after such an evil tragedy, but it sets the standard for it.

Christianity holds that every person is inferior (sinful) when compared to a perfect God, and even the slightest blemish prevents us from being in His presence. The Christian God is a God of justice, but is also a God of forgiveness. His justice was satisfied by Jesus Christ's death on the cross; His mercy and forgiveness are offered by Jesus Christ's death on the cross. In order for forgiveness to take effect, it must not only be offered, but also accepted. If we wish to be in the presence of and have a personal relationship with the ultimate Essence of good, justice, and mercy, we must accept the offer of His forgiveness; otherwise we will face His justice in the absence of His forgiveness.

All those who were responsible for the events of 9/11 and did not accept God's offer of forgiveness will face His justice, for their sin, on their own. If you were hurt by the events of 9/11, I encourage you to accept Christ's sacrifice, so that you may receive forgiveness, and have a foundation and assurance that you do not have to seek revenge to satisfy justice. In Christ, we have a model of forgiveness that we may lean on to help us continue to fulfill the purpose that God has given our lives, in the face of such evil in the world.

Recommended Reading Regarding The 9/11 Attacks


  1. Luke, please consult an atheist you know (surely, you have a friend or two who are atheist) before writing up what is or is not an atheists point of view, no need to warp it up.

    In your paragraph on evil you assert that "Atheism does not support the value of human life beyond what another person places on it." This is fallacious. In fact, atheism has nothing to do with evaluating morality of acts. You trying to say otherwise is like asserting that the only thing vegetarianism can say about 9/11 is "yay, less meat eaters", i.e. irrelevant. Atheism is merely a position when a person refuses to derive or supplement a persons life's worth from what a skygod would say it is.

    In the same section, "There is no way to break the tie." injunction is truly laughable. There is a straightforward way to ascertain whether an action is bad or good - analysis of resulting change in well-being. With this in mind it is beyond doubt that many people suffered and it would have been better for them not to suffer. You hurry to label 9/11 as intrinsically bad, but you might be setting yourself up for a fall - what if hundred years from now a young man is inspired specifically by 9/11 to stand up against terror and saves, say, 5000 lives. Now a "really obviously bad" event has caused considerable good, so it wasn't bad after all? Well-being analysis suffers no such turnabout, since it can be conceived how 9/11 could have been averted and the young man inspired somehow differently. But that would be too much work for a deity.

    Lastly, still seeing the incompatible duality of justice and mercy is an eyesore. How can you make it work in your mind is beyond me. Imagine yourself to be a judge (I pray to God, you aren't one(and I am not actually praying)) with a serial killer on the trial. The evidence is rock solid, his DNA is all over the place, he has even confessed and warned that he will surely kill again if and when possible. Are you just or merciful? What would these two options even entail? What would be your ruling on what to do with this gentleman? (Ad I am not interested in what you think will happen to him after death, just Earth will suffice.)

  2. Augusts, thank you for your comments. We obviously agree that the events of 9/11 were wrong, many people suffered greatly, and it would be best had they never happened.

    As an atheist, you believe that human life derives its value from some source outside of God. What is that source of value?

    In order for a change in well-being to be the foundation of what is good or bad; it, itself, must be good or bad. According to your comment, you believe that it is good. How do you ground the "goodness" of well-being?

    Unless you can provide a foundation for the value of human life that is not based on humans, it is the same level of value of any other organism. If the death of 3000 house flies led to the inspiration of another house fly to save 5000 house flies, does that mean that the death of the initial 3000 was good or bad? My point is that number make no difference unless objective value is present.

    Also, you make the mistake of thinking that the *only* way the 5000 could be saved was via the death of the 3000. The 5000 could have been saved another way. The death of the 3000 is evil regardless of its consequences.

    Regarding the killer: The analogy to Christianity that you put forward is not valid for two reasons. First, God shows mercy to those who are truly repentant. The killer in your story is not. Second, there is no one in your story who is willing to take the punishment of the murder. When you include these two parts, then we have a valid analogy to Christianity.

  3. 1. I find your treatment of atheism to be naive.

    2. You did not understand the thrust of the just/merciful comment. Or at least you did not actually address it.

    3. As an atheist, at least I know the difference between a callus and being callous.

  4. Mike, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

    1. What part specifically do you find naive and why?

    2. The just/merciful comment is missing two vital components to be analogous to Christianity (see previous comment). My answer would serve no argumentative advantage to the atheist against Christianity.

    3. I know Christians and atheists who are both. But what does that have to do with the validity or truth of my statements?

  5. Well said, Luke. Have you read Christopher Hitchens' recent "Simply Evil" article? (http://www.slate.com/id/2303013/). He expresses that "evil" is really the only fitting way to describe the events of 9/11. An atheistic worldview can't defend the concept of evil and the universal moral truth it implies, but absolutely everyone lives as if there is moral truth, and even an outspoken atheist can't find a better term for... well... evil.

  6. Luke,

    1. This is going to seem evasive, but answering why and how atheists can properly use the terms of this article is more complex than I really want to do in a comment thread. I also think it's not necessary to make the argument. It's an argument against internal coherence, so it only matters what you're definitions are - not mine.

    2. If I'm reading Augusts correctly, then he's trying to make some kind of incompatibility point. I think he's saying that you cannot be all just and app merciful because they are definitionally incompatible. I know Dan Barker is a fan of this point, but I don't know of much treatment of it in philosophical literature. I'm not sure why he brought it up, but I do think that's the point.

  7. Oh yeah, sorry. I forgot 3. It was just a joke. You used "callus" when you should have used "callous."

  8. mikeoramy,

    Thanks for the link. It is nice to hear Hitchens make such an assessment. But regardless of how "nice" it is, if it has no foundation, it loses all actual value related to reality.

    Mike Gage,

    3. LOL My bad! :) I will get that fixed.

    1 and 2. It is necessary to make the argument. If a worldview can be shown to be internally inconsistent, then it needs to either be adjusted (to make it consistent) or be abandoned altogether. Reality does not tolerate contradictions, which inconsistencies are. Sometimes, definitions can remove the inconsistency; however, there must a foundation for any definition. Without a foundation for a particular definition, then we must go with the one that has a foundation (even if it results in an inconsistency). If a worldview has an internal inconsistency, it does not describe reality.

    This is exactly what Augusts was attempting to do by asking me about the killer. He was attempting to show an internal inconsistency with Christianity. If the inconsistency holds and does apply to Christianity, then Christianity cannot be the true worldview. However, I demonstrated how it does not apply to Christianity. I will readily admit that it does apply to any theistic religion that posits that God is merciful and just, yet does not require genuine repentence *and* have a volunteer willing to take the punishment for the crime. Christianity has both of those, while Augusts' story did not, so it does not apply to Christianity.

    In Christianity, the person must be genuinely seeking forgiveness. This includes a change in our lives. A murderer who says that they will murder again is not genuinely seeking forgiveness; he is seeking a way to get out of punishment so that he may murder again. The judge (God) knows this. If the murderer is genuinely seeking forgiveness (their heart is set on never committing the crime again), then God knows, and mercy may be given.

    In Christianity, justice must also be served. If the murderer got mercy, yet punishment was not given, then justice is not served. In Christianity, Jesus Christ voluntarily took the punishment for our crimes against God. Justice is served by the punishment being carried out on Jesus.

    Mercy is given to those who are truly repentent; and justice is carried out on Someone who volunteerd to take it. Mercy is given, while justice is served. It is only through the Cross that the two may be reconciled and not be contradictory.

  9. Great post Luke. And have no fear, your logic is sound. I think some of your commenters have not thought their positions through.

    The issue is not can an atheist act morally or justly. This issue whether they can explain a foundation for these values.

    Keep up the good stuff!

  10. I think perhaps people are mistaking atheism with atheists. I believe what are you doing is trying to force atheism to its logical conclusion. At the same time, not every atheist would hold to all these views. As a former atheist, I never doubted evil, I just never tried to make it consistent with a philosophical view of atheism. Just as not every Christian believes everything that we apply to the Christian religion. I agree with you that theism has much better answer to this tragedy. By the way, feel free to add the Hope's Reason Blog (www.1peter315.wordpress.com) and Hope's Reason Journal (www.apologeticsjournal.com) to your apologetics links. Keep up the good work!

  11. Luke,

    No, atheism needs no definition of the term to make the argument. Imagine you are reading a work of fiction and you spot something inconsistent. Nothing requires you to think the contents of the book are real. It only needs to be compared against itself. So, if Christianity supplies a definition, then that definition is used in the argument - not one supplied by atheism (at least not by anyone properly doing an inconsistent properties argument).

    Let's do an example (don't get hung up on specifics because I'm only going after validity here):

    1. Christians believe that killing children is a sin.

    2. God cannot sin.

    3. God kills children in the Bible (via the angel of death).

    So 1, 2, and 3 are inconsistent if they are all correct. None of them require me personally to believe anything. The way to properly counter the problem of evil is not this attempt to say atheists cannot use the terms involved in the argument. Rather, the way to counter it is to question the premises.

    This really ought to be uncontroversial. But what do I know? Apparently I haven't thought through my position, according to Scott.

  12. I should have read your article more closely the first time. This will be my last comment, as I was right to categorize your treatment of atheism as naive. Lines like this one are priceless: "Atheism believes that mourning is simply a foundationless psychological process that humans must perform to move on with our purposeless lives."

    It must be some kind of joke, right? It's nice to know that you actually understand the position you criticize. I won't be responding further.

  13. Stephen,
    Thank you for pointing out that distinction. That is very important, and one that I failed to make clear myself.

    You are correct that I am speaking to atheism as a consistent worldview in my article. As you pointed out, evil is inconsistent with consistent atheism. However, many atheists readily accept the existence of and recognize acts that are authentically evil. This is done at the cost of consistency. My point is that, with consistency being a test for the truth of a worldview, we must be willing to alter or completely abandon a worldview when an inconsistency is found. In the case of the atheist who recognizes authentic evil, they must find a way to make it philosophically consistent or disavow authentic evil's existence. It depends on which idea they are more committed to: the existence of authentic evil or atheism. Committments do change over time (some become weaker and others stronger), so one cannot necessarily expect someone to abandon an inconsistency as soon as it is brought to light.

    Now, I do need to point out that Augusts did attempt to show an inconsistency in Christianity. Bringing to light an inconsistency within a worldview is one of the logical ways to show its incoherence. If that inconsistency was correct, I would be forced to alter my view or continue believing a worldview that could not reflect reality (reality is not in consistent). However, if it can be shown how the "inconsistency" is due to a misunderstanding, then it disappears and no action is required (which I did do above).

    If I have misunderstood the atheist (not atheism) in my pointing out of the "inconsistency", then all the atheist needs to do is show how evil is consistent with *their* atheism.

    Thanks again for that. I will attempt to be more clear in the future. BTW, I have added Hope's Reason Journal to the list of Apologetics Sites. I am having problems finding the RSS for the blog, though. I want to add it to the blog list in the toolbar.

  14. Mike Gage,
    I agree with you that we are looking at consistency within worldviews. The issue I take with your choice of the fiction story analogy is that we are not comparing our worldviews to a fictional story; we are comparing our worldviews to reality. Reality provides us with the definition of terms that our worldviews' definitions must match. If we recognize that objective evil exists in reality, we must see if our worldviews have the same definition of evil; if not, then we must alter or abandon our worldview in favor of one that does contain the definition provided by reality. Beliefs do not determine reality (we cannot use the definitions in our worldview to define reality). Reality can alter beliefs; we just need to be willing to allow it to do so.

    I apologize that you feel that I have misrepresented atheism. As Stephen Bedard pointed out above, there is a distinction between a worldview and its adherent. In my aritcle I was speaking to the logical conclusion of a worldview (atheism). If you do not accept the logical conclusion, I applaud you. That means that you have compared a key point of the worldview to reality and have recognized that key point in the worldview is wrong. It is now up to you to decide what you will do with that. This is all part of investigating our worldviews and reality, and being willing to make changes to our views to accurately reflect reality.

    Thus far, you have taken issue with my treatment of your worldview=- namely that atheism and authentic evil are incompatible. You have not provided a reason why I am wrong; you have simply stated that I am. Now you have changed the subject to another line in my article; but once again, you simply state that I am wrong but do not provide a reason why. I certainly don't wish to see our conversation end prematurely. I would really like to see the reasons behind the claim that I am incorrect. I want to know the most powerful argument against that view, so that I can deal with it, instead of the "naive" view that you say I address.

  15. It would be apt to not generalize atheists as people with no hearts or emotions. You are, consciously or unconsciously, insulting atheists, and if you believe that we don't deserve respect, despite what some atheists may have said or done, then you're missing the entire goal of Christianity and you need to take a closer look at your faith.

    Believe it or not, most of us are legitimately good people, and we don't need to do it to impress a higher being. We do it because it's the right thing to do. Believe it or not, most atheists are not bible-bashing rebels. What you have seen are the extremes of atheism. Many of us make great attempts to respect all religions. If we take shots at religion, it's usually because we're in a religious debate or because we've been disrespected on the grounds of our disbelief and feel the need to rebut, as many Christians do.

    Lacking religious affiliation does not hinder our humanity and sympathetic capabilities at all. It is ignorant to assume so, no matter what religion you are affiliated with.

    When my parents die, hopefully no time soon, I won't just say "minus one organism". I will cry. I will be heartbroken, maybe even (but hopefully not) depressed.

    When I hear about someone dieing on the news, I remark on the sadness of the event, even if I have no affiliation with the person.

    But please, don't do what some others do and call me a 'good atheist'. If you feel it appropriate to generalize everyone else who shares my views, then by all means, don't exclude me. If atheists are all heartless jerks, then I am a heartless jerk too. No taking it back now.

    Once again, please reexamine your faith and get back to me when your Bible says it's okay to bash people's views on religion.

    Good day.

    P.S. I'm 14, and was raised as a Christian. Became atheist when I was 13. Was I instantly a bad person? You decide.

  16. Kirby,
    Thank you for that comment. I have addressed similar concerns in other posts and their comments. You can find them at:

    Can We Be Good Without God?
    Atheistic Evangelism

    Please feel free to comment on these posts, if you'd like.


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