More from A Christian & an Unbeliever discuss: Life, the Universe & Everything
‘Well, you have said that there is evil in the world, but I just wanted to know what exactly you meant by that and by which ethical standard you are judging what is and what isn’t evil,’ I said.
‘Oh, come on,’ he said. ‘There are murders, genocide, rapes and all sorts of things going on all the time. Are you denying that these things are evil?’
‘Not at all. I just wanted to define our terms before I begin answering the question, just to make sure that we are in the same ballpark. You see, one problem we have is that my ethical standard,’ I said, pointing to the Bible, ‘goes a little bit beyond murders, genocide and rape in its definition of what evil is. As well as these things, and in no particular order, it says that the following things are also evil: denying the true God, lying, theft, covetousness, hatred, idolatry, adultery, dishonouring parents, deceitfulness, ingratitude, homosexuality, bitterness, divorce, unfaithfulness, strife, anger against another without a cause, blasphemy, drunkenness, withholding good from others, fornication, divination, pride, gossiping, lust, envy, etc. So if you’re asking me to tell you how God can allow evil in the world, I first wanted to know whether we are singing from the same ethical standard and if you would include all of these things.’
‘No, I wouldn’t include all of them,’ he replied. ‘Especially not things like blasphemy. How can it be evil to blaspheme something that I don’t believe in?’
‘Well, this is the whole point,’ I replied. ‘The reason you don’t believe that blasphemy is evil, and I guess a number of other things on the list I mentioned, is because you don’t really have an absolute ethical standard by which to judge things. So all your views of what is and what isn’t evil will be completely arbitrary, and you can no more say that murder is right or wrong than you can say that blasphemy is right or wrong.’
‘Well, it’s pretty obvious that murder is wrong, isn’t it?’ he exclaimed in a rather irritated voice. ‘And it’s not very obvious that blasphemy is wrong, is it?’
‘Is it?’ I said, sounding surprised. ‘Go on.’
‘Oh, come on,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have to believe what is written in your book to see that murder is wrong. It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’
‘Well, if I really believed that you and I were nothing but a couple of bundles of assembled atoms, I wouldn’t think that this was so obvious at all. On the contrary, if I truly believed this, I would rather think that it was pretty obvious that “murdering” people is neither wrong nor right. It is as neutral as any other act involving bundles of atoms—say eating a bar of chocolate, for example. And the consequences arising from both actions would be roughly the same.’
‘What on earth do you mean by that?’ he asked.
‘Well, let me put it this way,’ I replied. ‘Suppose we lived in the godless universe you claim to believe in, where we are all annihilated at death. Say I decided to kill you. In the grand scheme of things, the act would have precisely no consequences whatsoever; you would simply go from being animate dust to inanimate dust. And as for me, I would face no ultimate justice for my “crime” and would myself go from being animate dust to inanimate dust in due course as well. In terms of consequences, in the universe you claim to believe in, there would be no more ultimate difference between one of us killing the other and eating a bar of chocolate; both acts would be entirely insignificant.’