Stealing from God: Evil

In chapter five, Turek repeats some of the points he made on morality. Nonbelievers are being inconsistent, he says, when they complain about evil, since on the atheist view there is no evil. His argument for the latter is simple, and can be restated this way:
1. Evil only exists as a lack of something – it is a deficiency of good.
2. So evil only exists if good exists.
3. But good only exists if God exists.
4. Therefore, evil only exists if God does.

I’ve already criticized the third premise a couple of posts back. The other premise this argument depends on is the first one. But this premise Turek simply asserts. Like many theists, he seems to think it’s just obvious. I personally don’t think it is obvious at all — and certainly not any more so than the opposite claim, that good is the lack of evil.

Having made his case that evil is actually evidence for, rather than against, God, Turek then proceeds to the actual problem of evil. For, even though he maintains that evil cannot count against God’s existence, he does admit that there is still a puzzle as to why a perfectly good and all-powerful being would allow it in the first place — as well as why he would issue what appear to be evil commands, like the slaughter or the Canaanites.

Unfortunately, Turek’s excuses for Biblical evil are so bad, they're laughable. Among other things, he points out that Yahweh didn’t merely order the deaths of Canaanites, “but also of thousands of Israelites for idolatry.” In other words, the fact that God was willing to have many of his own chosen people slaughtered too shows that he wasn’t as bad as all that! Turek also informs us that “people never go out of existence, they just change locations” and so God is “perfectly just to move you from this life to the next life at any age he chooses.” This, of course, raises the question why murder is wrong. Turek doesn’t address that, however, other than by claiming that we aren’t allowed to “play God.”

As to the evils in this world, such as disease and natural disasters, Turek argues that “in our fallen state, communing with God and becoming more like Jesus often requires pain… Some people will never lay down their arms and surrender to Christ unless they are first awakened by pain and suffering.”

Notice the reference to our fallen state. We live in “a fallen, broken world where bad things happen.” And why is that? Because of “a freewill choice of Adam,” of course. This is supposed to get God off the hook: it’s all really our fault. Or Adam’s fault, perhaps. But what this still leaves unexplained is why sin should lead to a “broken world.” That it does so is God’s choice, and fault. So as a solution to the problem of evil, this one fails miserably. (I also wonder why it is Adam’s sin, and not Eve’s, that led to our fallen state. Fundamentalists don’t deny that Eve was every bit as sinful, so they’re not in any way making excuses for her. What they implicitly deny is that her sin counted the way Adam’s did. But this is just sexism. Eve sinned first, but since she’s just a woman, it’s not as important.)

Toward the end of the chapter, Turek makes the surprising claim that “Christianity has a reasonable explanation for evil and a solution to it. Atheism has neither.” But why should atheism need an explanation (much less a solution) for it if given atheism there is no such thing as evil? Which, after all, was the point Turek made earlier. This echoes the mistake in the previous chapter, where he argued both that according to atheism, nothing is right or wrong, and the killing of mentally handicapped people is right.

An earlier blog post on the reverse problem of evil:

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.