t For Atheism That You Have Read. What Is Your Response?A person who believes in the existence of God, does so not because there is concrete fact to suggest that God does exist, but because they have a feeling, or a need to believe. Their faith can neither be proven correct nor incorrect. It is therefore difficult to persuade a believer not to believe, typically no argument can ever sway the opinion of someone who has unquestionable faith in the existence of God. As an atheist I feel just as strongly about my own beliefs. I cannot believe in something/ someone who to my mind has never physically appeared. It might be argued that Christ was God, but Jesus himself only claimed to be the Son of God.
So for me the greatest argument for the non-existence of God is the lack of his physical presence or even any evidence that he exists. I favour this argument not because it is strong, or even particularly well thought out, but because I firmly believe that there is no Deity. I believe this based on the same gut feeling that most religious people would base their faith. People who believe in the existence of God have many proofs, ranging from the proof by design (it is too much of a coincidence that the world is perfect), to the miracles of Jesus. Equally I have many arguments for the non-existence of God. A good example being: God is considered to be immutable, unchanging, equally God transcends time and space. If we accept these factors to be true then how is it that the world was created. For creation to have taken place then God would have to have changed from a non-creator, to a creator, thus there is a contradiction. My most favoured argument for atheism however, concerns the presence of evil.
There is one further point that I would like to make before discussing the argument in hand. For many years scholars have debated the question of the existence of God, offering proofs for and against his being. However, the whole concept seems floored. For if we are to understand God as being the supreme being then we must surely see him as being above the rationality of mortals, and yet we discuss things that he may or may not have done, and should and shouldnt do, justifying them using our own codes of morality, rationality and ethics. By definition Gods actions cannot be rationalised as we rationalise our own. The analogy that immediately springs to mind is that of a court minus the defendant. It would seem foolish to us for a lawyer to defend a man, never having met him, or had a chance to discuss his MO. Applying ones own rational to another is foolish, because typically another person will justify their actions differently, i.e. they will have another motive for doing something due to the fact that people think independently, and not as a group. Our actions and reasons are personal, perhaps influenced, but unique a benefit of free will. So, it is not only arrogant, but foolish to try and argue for or against the existence of God based on nature, natural events, emotions, states of being, circumstance or situation. Therefore the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproved and the result is that belief comes down to a simple choice, you either do or you dont and your reason can be no more than a feeling, and cannot be based on physical evidence.
The Presence of Evil
In its most basic form the problem is:
1. God is perfectly good and so does not wish suffering to take place.
2. God is omnipotent.
3. God is omniscient.
4. Evil exists.
This poses a clear contradiction, for if God is all the things that we listed above, then evil could not exist. If God is omniscient, God must know that there are instances of evil in the world; if God is omnipotent then God must be able to prevent these instances from occurring ; if God is perfectly good, then God must want to prevent occurrences of evil. But there are instances of evil in the world, so God must either not exist, or does not have the character traditionally ascribed by theists. Equally if God is not all of these things, then he is not really God, because he is not perfect, leaving room for a God above God.
It is important to discuss here what we mean by evil. There are two forms of evil: moral and natural. Moral evil is the evil brought about by human beings, and includes phenomena such as war, torture, physical violence, poverty, injustice and political oppression. Natural evil includes all those things that cause suffering but which are not brought about by human agents for instance, disease, famine, earthquakes, hurricanes, death.
These are some of the justifications put forward to defend God and the presence of evil, in their most basic form. I will go on to discuss them in more detail later. Augustine would argue that evil is the privation of good, so that evil does not really exist it is simply less good, an imperfection such as blindness would therefore be an evil, because man is meant to see. However, Ivan Karamazov states that evil does exist and can most easily be seen in the suffering of innocent children. Ivan argues that the suffering of the innocent, i.e. children (babies) negates the reason for creation. Creation is not good and Ivan accordingly rejects the world that God has made. The free will argument suggests that evil exists because if we are to be truly free then God needs to allow suffering to occur. Natural evil can be explained by the need for natural laws to operate regularly and to provide the forum in which human beings learn to cope with their environment and to surmount the challenges with which they are faced. Finally, evil exists perhaps because if it didnt then we could not properly appreciate good, in other words it is a necessary opposite to modify a quotation, If evil did not exist than man would create it. Something always has to be better than something else, so that which was not quite perfect would cease being “good/ OK” and become evil. The words good and evil simply describe opposite ends of a spectrum.
I have examined the proof for the non-existence of God, but the proof means nothing without first looking at the arguments from the other side. It is important to look at the arguments that those who advocate the existence of God put forward to contradict the presence of evil, and show them to be incorrect.
The Augustine Tradition
Augustine rejects the idea that there is one principle for good (God) and one principle for evil (the devil); such a dualistic distinction of these powers threatens the sovereignty of God. This might seem to suggest that God is the fount of all things even evil. Augustine, however, wants to deny that this is the case. Instead he argues that it is wrong to think of evil as an active principle; evil should be understood as non-being. It is a lack of goodness. Evil is a privation, anon-entity, the name for nothing but the want of good (Augustine City of God).
While Augustine solves the problem of the sovereignty of God and Gods goodness, the question of accounting for the presence of evil in the first place remains. Augustine turns to the Bible account of the Fall of humanity given in Genesis as the source of all evil Genesis 3. Evil enters into the creation because human beings deliberately turn away from the good which is God. All evil both moral and natural is thus the result of human sin.
There are many problems with the Augustinian point of view. Firstly, if God created a perfect universe, how could evil have arisen? The idea of a perfect universe going wrong is self-contradictory. Secondly, for modern people the account of the Fall seems out of step with the ideas of natural scientists. Far from falling from the perfect state of Eden, there is good evidence to suggest that human beings developed from primitive life forms. Human beings are heading towards perfection rather than away from it.
Irenaean Theodicy and Free Will Defence
Irenaeus (ce c.130-c.202) is the first to propose the free will defence, recently his ideas have been popularised by John Hick. Irenaeus sees two stages in human creation. All human beings are created in the image of God. However, this does not mean that they are perfect; rather they are immature creatures capable of spiritual and moral growth. The second stage necessitates the free actions of those human beings. Through their own free actions they can be transformed into the children of God; that is they can become the likeness of God.
In both the Augustinian and Irenaean accounts much emphasis is placed on the idea of free will. According to Augustine, human freedom results in the Fall. According to Irenaeus, human freedom is necessary if human beings are to become the kind of creatures God wants them to be. The free will defence thus tries to remove the blame from God for the presence of evil, by focusing on the wilful turning away from good to evil by free human agents.
Some scholars have gone further; if human freedom is to be a reality, evil is a necessary part of the moral universe, for it presents us with real choices about how we are to live. Just as we can freely choose to do good, so we can use our freedom to do evil. Richard Swinburnes theodicy provides a good illustration of this kind of approach. According to Swinburne, evil is necessary for the creation of greater goods. These greater goods are defined in two complimentary ways. The main emphasis lies with the will of God. God wants human beings to know and love him freely. In order for this to happen, we have to be confronted with the choice between good (God) and evil (that which is not God). Human freedom lies in the ability to choose between God and that which is not God. Freedom is the crucial issue here. For Swinburne, there has to be a real risk involved if human beings are to learn to act responsibly ; if God simply created human beings who were free but incapable of evil actions there would be no real responsibility. If evil did not result from wrong choices, then human life would be akin to a video game. If I crash a car whilst playing a computer game, no one is injured; there is no cost to my mistake. Swinburne argues that in order for us to become mature and responsible adults we have to be in a position to see the results of a wrong action.
Connected to this point is Swinburnes account of the relationship between evil and virtue. According to Swinburne, evil and suffering give human beings the opportunity to perform at their best. A world without evils would be a world without forgiveness, compassion, bravery and self-sacrifice. In order for there to be such virtues there have to be evils which prompt people to behave in altruistic ways. In Swinburnes words: Evils give men the opportunity to perform those acts which show men at their best. Thus evil becomes necessary for the exercise of goodness. If human beings are to develop as persons, they must come into contact with evil and act against it. It is by acting against evil that goodness is generated. Whilst Swinburnes argument is clear, it is not altogether convincing. The argument rests upon the assumption that evil is necessary for good. Without evil, there would therefore be no goodness. Evil therefore becomes good itself, simply because without it there is no good. Such a conclusion is based upon a misunderstanding of the connection between suffering and goodness. Swinburne appears to be arguing that good can come out of human suffering. In a way he is right: often people will look back on the difficult times as the formative years of their lives. However some forms of suffering defy such categorisation. It is difficult to see what good came out of Auschwitz. Any good that comes out of such extreme suffering should not be understood as casually connected to the evil which preceded it. A casual connection would suggest that in order for there to be good there had first to be suffering. Perhaps we would be better advised to think of the good which comes out of such situations as a by-product of the initial experience not something that arose because of the suffering , but something that arose despite the suffering.
A further development to the kind of theodicy advanced by Swinburne is found in John Hicks writing. While broadly reiterating Swinburnes position, Hick develops this idea. Like Swinburne, Hick argues that human beings move through suffering and moral struggle toward perfection: the kind of goodness which…. God desires in his creatures, could not in fact be created except through a long process of creaturely experiences in response to challenges and disciplines of various kinds. The world is thus a place of soul-making, an arena where we have the opportunity to become the children of God. However, unlike Swinburne Hick accepts that the outcome of suffering is not always predictable. The kind of experiences people meet in life may be soul-breaking, rather than soul-making. How then can the idea of God as creator of the system and this kind of suffering be justified? Hick argues that if the work of creation is to be completed the process of soul-making must continue beyond the grave in a realm where the person is subjected to processes of healing and repair which bring it into a state of health and activity. In such a higher harmony, we will grow and develop; moreover, we will understand the meaning of the suffering endured in this world.
Whilst this argument is perhaps stronger than Swinburnes, it is not without its problems. According to such a view, the presence of evil in this world is justified by the righting of wrongs and erasing of suffering in a future world. If this is the case, the meaning of this world is to be questioned. If evil is to be righted in the future, why fight against present evils in the here and now? Such a view might lead to inaction in this life and apathy towards the suffering of others.
The final area that I want to examine is that of natural evil, i.e. evil that is not brought about by human action. The best example being children born with Spina-Bifida. This is a crippling and extremely painful deformity. The vertebrates do not properly form around the spinal column, leaving the nerves in the spinal cord exposed. In some cases the skin does not form around the spinal cord either, leaving nerves completely exposed. This results in paralysis loss of bladder control, and extreme pain. If doctors attempt to help the child then it will live a short and painful life. In the worst cases the course of action taken by medical staff is to fill the child with painkillers and allow it to die naturally. In other words the doctors do not attempt to treat the patient. There is no argument to my mind that can satisfactorily explain such an evil.
Random Acts Of Evil
A good example here is the murder of James Bulger, by John Venables and Robert Thompson. The murderers as children are considered to be innocent, and it shocked people at the time that these two children could be capable of murdering a complete stranger. James Bulger as a three year old child could not be seen to deserve to be murdered and there was seemingly no benefit to be gained from his death. Equally, it is clear that his murderers did not fully understand the implications of their actions. So, what could the motives of a benevolent God possibly be in such a situation. Murder in itself can generally be argued away using the free will argument, because in 75% of cases the victim knows the murderer. However, in the instance of serial murder the victim is not known to the attacker, the crimes are random, an example is Ted Bundy who murdered thirty or more college girls. The victims are not in any way connected with the killer, but are instead the innocent victims of random attack. How is it then possible to defend the existence of a God who allows such events to happen.
There are many good reasons to be atheist, the problem of evil is to my mind the best argument for it. However, as I stated at the start in this field, ones best argument is what one feels. If I felt that God existed then I would believe, as it is I dont and so I dont. One does not need an argument either way I believe what I want/need to believe i.e. if one feels that there is a God then one will want/need to believe in him. This is as far as I am concerned the only argument that one can use in this field of study. All other arguments seem futile because in the end you find that they are a mass of contradictions.