The 9/11 terrorist attacks instigated a turning point in the overall tone of international conversations about religion.
Almost immediately, outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet and the late Christopher Hitches attracted a following from critics of all religions. Even though most of their anger was directed toward Islam and Christianity, their public lectures and debates often attacked the Christian concept of God, particularly in light of the presence of evil and suffering.
What do we need to know in order to better engage a skeptical culture—especially when so many people say the existence of evil disproves the existence of God? In an episode of the Table Podcast called, “Challenges to the Existence of God,” Dr. Darrell Bock, Dr. Glenn Kreider, and Dr. Doug Blount show us how to engage objections popularized by the New Atheism, focusing on the problem of evil.
This article begins a series of two blog posts on engaging the New Atheism. First, let’s define the New Atheism and then let’s look into the question “Why does God allow evil?”
What is the New Atheism?
When you hear “The New Atheism,” think of atheists like Dawkins and Harris—people with an affinity for the views of Friedrich Nietzche. These atheists don’t just believe that God does not exist, but they actually celebrate the idea. The New Atheism is really a movement which continues in the spirit of Nietzsche. Dr. Blount explains:
Prior to Nietzsche, the atheist attitude was typically one of regret. The view was, ‘Well, there isn’t God, and that’s unfortunate. [It] would be nice if there were [a god].’ What you have with Nietzsche is a view according to which God’s non-existence is actually a good thing. Something, in fact, to be celebrated...I think you also have a level of vitriol and anger and criticism from the New Atheist directed toward people of faith—particularly Christians—that has seldom been seen in the past.
Why Does God Allow Evil?
Besides condemning religion in general, the New Atheism primarily targets the Christian conception of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God. To do this, one of the main challenges they often bring up is the problem of evil.
In this video clip, Dr. Bock shows how the New Atheist version of this classic objection often carries a note of sarcasm. Afterward, the conversation turns to answering the question “Why does God allow evil?” while noting the role of human finiteness in understanding why God allows evil.
Additionally, the atheist alternative itself seems to undercut the objection as soon as it is expressed. That’s because, on a naturalistic worldview, there’s no basis for objective moral values and duties. And if everything is ultimately reducible to physical processes, it seems difficult to build a moral foundation that does not end up in subjectivism. As Dr. Blount notes:
To the extent to which you deny that there is a God, you’re not entitled to the very notion of evil which is brought to bear in the argument typically from evil against God.
But even more than this, the atheist position has another problem to deal with: The Problem of Good. In other words, naturalism has the challenge of providing a sufficient moral grounding for goodness itself—in addition to making sense of evil in the world—a tall order for a philosophy with no room for God.
This is just one of the key points explored in our podcast on The New Atheism. In the second installment of this blog series, we will consider how to best engage with a skeptical culture which often lumps Christianity in with Islam and other world religions. Check out the full-length podcast episode: “Challenges to the Existence of God.”