Nov 11, 2013 | Wes Hynd
Did you know evil doesn’t actually exist?
At least not on its own. Think about it. How do you know when something is wrong? Because it’s not what’s right. It’s a lack of goodness. Evil is not a thing. It’s the lack of a thing. It’s the same with any negative quality. Being a horrific athlete is not an attribute – it’s simply a way of describing that you are not something: in this case, a good athlete. Even cold doesn’t really exist. Cold is only how we describe an absence of heat. In the same way, evil utterly relies on good to exist as a concept.
So what? Who cares? Well, if we can only know evil because we first know good, this implies that there is such a thing as objective goodness. There must be a standard of perfect goodness by which we understand what good is. We know evil by comparing it with the standard of what is good, just like we know what a wrong answer on a test is by comparing it with the answer key.
This fact has certain implications for the things which we understand instinctively to be good and evil. For example, something within me tells me that stealing is wrong. I don’t really have to think about it, and neither does a teenager in India from a completely different cultural background. Somehow, deep down, we just know. This demonstrates that there is an objective standard of right in existence which affirms the right to have personal property and rejects taking what is not ours. Our collective belief that murder is objectively wrong (which for some reason we assume should be obvious) demonstrates that there exists an objective standard of right which leads us to value life and to reject eliminating life unjustly. It also gives us an idea of what “unjustly” means.
There are attempts to explain our sense of morality by naturalistic means, but there are significant problems with these explanations. Morals are not physical objects. They are not made of natural materials. Non-physical things (love, consciousness, thoughts, reason, morals) can be affected by physical things or produce physical reactions, but cannot be physical things. Therefore, they cannot be explained only by naturalistic causes. The very fact that non-physical things exist erases all hope of our universe, and us, being only material.
There is the possibility that morality is made up, but this explanation ignores the cross-cultural and time-pervasive nature of moral laws such as “Do not steal” and “Do not murder.” It also admits that morals don’t really exist, which is both troubling and does not explain why we have such deep-rooted convictions about things like murder that go to the core of our very beings. If this is the case, we must be ok with saying that murder is in fact not wrong, nor are rape, adultery or throwing acid on peoples’ faces. We then have no right to enforce our sense of morality on anybody else, and most certainly not on another culture. Hitler simply had a different perspective. Except that even evil men know to some extent that they are evil. Even psychopaths know right from wrong. They just feel no remorse.
The best explanation for good and evil is God. We know what a wrong answer is by comparing it to the answer key, but in reality, somebody wrote that answer key. The professor has the ultimate authority to call the answer right or wrong. For us to know good from evil, there must be an objective standard by which to compare all actions, attitudes, thoughts and motivations, and that standard must be God himself. Only a nonmaterial, timeless being who exists apart from the material universe could be the source of such a standard. And he must be a being indeed – not many lifeless objects are able to produce nonmaterial things like morals (read none).
God as the standard of morality is not a negative or scary concept, as some would make it out to be. On the contrary, this is enormously comforting. Knowing that God is the perfect standard of good and evil means that justice will indeed ultimately be satisfied (because he is perfectly just). It means evil does not prevail. The only reason it is scary is because we all know we fall short of the standard. It’s much easier just to decide that no such standard exists. Then we don’t have to change our lives. Then we’re off the hook.
Just to be clear, God as the standard of morality does not mean that someone who does not believe in God cannot act morally good. Of course he can! That is not the point here. The point is that good, and therefore evil, cannot even exist, much less be known, without the existence of a perfect standard of good. God is that perfect standard.
Ironically, the New Atheists want to simultaneously disbelieve in objective morality (because their prior commitment to atheism instead of evidence requires them to) and draw on morality in their very attacks on theism. After all, when Richard Dawkins claims that religion is evil, he is acknowledging that there is such a thing as objective moral goodness by which he can know what is evil. In his very claim, Dawkins wishes to impose his morality on all the world, the very thing he is so upset about religious people doing throughout history.
We know evil because we know good. The real question is: What do you like or dislike about the idea of God as the perfect standard?