Can we talk about a recent Answers in Genesis article about the problem with pain? The piece was written by Avery Foley and published earlier this month. It read as follows:
One of the most common arguments atheists challenge Christians with is the so-called “problem of pain.” If there’s an all-powerful, loving God, why do bad things happen? Well, the believer can turn right around and challenge the atheist: “In your worldview, by what standard do you define good or bad things?”
Of course, Foley’s argument is that there is pain in the world because of sin. That doesn’t address all of the myriad problems with the conservative evangelical understanding of sin and how it got into the world. Somehow disobeying a single command—a command that was never explained or justified, I might add—was a horrific enough crime to justify unleashing death, disease, and evil on the world. This seems a bit out of proportion, to say the least, and this isn’t even addressing why a loving and all powerful God would set up such a system in the first place.
But let’s turn to the second part of the passage quoted above—the question of how the atheist defines good and bad. Foley states it as though it’s a “gotcha” question when in fact it’s not—at all. Rather, it’s a question with very real answers. Whether they’ve spent much time on philosophy or not, every atheist adheres to one moral system or another. I find some of these moral systems abhorrent, I might add, but then I don’t subscribe to those ones (and most other atheists don’t either).
But what about absolutes, you ask? Any moral system developed by humans will have its weak points, after all, or a certain level of ambiguity as we work things out. But this isn’t a problem, because there is no actual workable absolute alternative. Let me ask this—does the Bible condemn rape? No, it does not. All those lists of sins that will prevent people from entering the kingdom of heaven? Yeah, you’re not going to find rape in those lists. But let me ask this—would it be acceptable to lie if a Nazi asked if you were hiding Jews? Suddenly the moral prohibition against lying doesn’t seem so absolute, does it?
Here’s another question. When God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, was it moral for him to murder his son? When God commanded the Israelites to kill the men, women, and children of neighboring groups, was that moral? I know plenty of Christians who would answer yes, and would say that God sets the moral rules, so whatever God commands is moral. I’m not sure I can think of a more blatantly relativistic system. And if the answer is no, those things were not moral—how do we explain those passages?
The supposed absolute morals of the Bible are a myth—a smokescreen. Every Christian I’ve ever met has had to work out their own moral system, using the Bible perhaps as a starting point, but little more—and I’m talking about Christians on all sides of the conservative/liberal divide.
But let’s look at another section from Foley’s article:
Now, in the evolutionary tale death is the hero of the plot. In this view, humans are on this planet because of millions of years of death, extinction, disease, carnivory, and suffering. By evolutionary estimation, 99.9% of all the species that have walked, swam, or flown on Earth are now extinct. Many of these creatures died in the supposed five major extinction events, each of which is assumed to have killed at least three-quarters of the species on Earth at the time. These extinction events, and extinction in general, are thought to have allowed new species to dominate the globe for a time. So in an evolutionary view of life, death and extinction really are responsible for the arrival of mankind. So rather than shun death, we should thank death for getting us here.
Evolution supposedly progresses by the death of the less fit and the reproduction of the most fit. So, if this the case, why should we help the old, sick, infirm, and disabled? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as less fit? After all, in the world ofevolution the strong survive, and tough for you if you’re born weak or less fit. According to an evolutionist’s own worldview, how can death, disease, suffering, cancer, and disabilities really be “bad”? In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive, passing on their good genes to the next generation—this is how evolution supposedly progresses. Death and weakness from disease and mutations is a must for “bad” genes to die out. So by what standard do evolutionists call these things bad? Certainly not by their own standard! To claim a standard for good and bad, they have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.
Foley needs to stop assuming that evolution is a religion. It’s not. Just because someone accepts the theory of evolution as an explanation for our origins does not mean they make a scientific process the basis for their system of morality. Why would we assume that they would? Just because natural selection gives the old, the sick, the infirm, and the disabled the short end of the stick doesn’t mean we should. Besides, there is some reason to believe that evolution is responsible for moral systems based on altruism, or on protecting those in our families and communities, because there is some reason to believe evolution selects for those genes. Foley is flat wrong that evolution suggests that humans should eliminate their old, sick, infirm, or disabled. That is not how it works.
Of course, Foley also claims that atheists “have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.” This is nonsense. For one thing, there is no one biblical worldview. The Bible is a diverse book written from multiple different perspectives. The worldview of the author or Ecclesiastes is not the same as the worldview of the author of James. Not surprisingly, Christians of various stripes have developed a variety of different worldviews, each group claiming their worldview is drawn from the Bible. To speak of a single biblical worldview is extremely misleading.
But there’s more at stake here. Five centuries ago, most European Christians believed in the divine right of kings—in other words, they believed the biblical form of government was that of a king imbued with power by God and followed by loyal and obedient subjects. Two centuries ago, many American Christians believed that slavery was ordained by God. Over time, Christian moral systems have changed, and today it is rare to find Christians who believe that dictatorship is a form of government favored by God, or that slavery is biblical and morally justified. Christian moral systems have changed in part because they have been influenced by secular moral systems, and not the other way around.
The idea that secular moral systems are borrowed from a biblical worldview is utter nonsense. Even concepts like loving your neighbor or doing unto others as you would have them do onto you, ideas which Christians frequently claim come from the Bible, are in fact far older, and are borrowed from previous moral teachers. I suppose we can take comfort in the fact that as long as Foley and others at Answers in Genesis so misunderstand atheists—and, frankly, anyone who is not a young earth creationist—they will have limited success in spreading their misinformation to them.