Many say that the problem of evil is the strongest reason to reject a belief in God.
How can we better engage this skepticism, particularly when it seems that this evil has been propagated by religion itself? In an episode of the Table Podcast called, “Challenges to the Existence of God,” Dr. Darrell Bock, D. Glenn Kreider, and Dr. Doug Blount talk about engaging objections popularized in our culture by the New Atheism. In one section, they focus their conversation on religion and the problem of evil.
This post concludes a series of two articles on engaging the New Atheism. In the first article, we define the New Atheism and looked into the question “Why does God allow evil?” Here, you’ll discover one way to respond to skeptics who call religion itself evil and tend to lump Christianity with every other world religion.
Evil, Suffering and Religion
One of the challenges brought against people who believe in God is that throughout history, extremist groups of all stripes have violated human rights and liberties based on religious motivations. While this is true, Dr. Bock, Dr. Kreider and Dr. Blount caution against allowing a false dichotomy which downplays the uniqueness of Christianity.
When we allow the discussion to be about religion in general, we lose the ability to particularize about the differences between faiths as we talk about Theism versus Atheism. And that actually is a very important part of this conversation, to not lose that differentiation that exists within Theism on some of these themes.
Yeah, we don’t want to have the conversation in a way it’s Atheists against all religions. Christianity is not just one of many religions.
Evil in the Name of Atheism
But beyond this, an atheist who raises this challenge seems to ignore the corresponding self-referential implication. Indeed, Dr. Blount says atheism isn’t exempt from this charge as well. Totalitarian regimes have perpetuated evils in the name of atheism—unspeakable acts which are totally consistent with a naturalistic worldview which rejects the reality of objective good or objective evil. His point is that all kinds of people are capable of great evil, but this is especially obvious in the record of institutionalized atheism:
Let’s not pretend there haven’t been horrible things done in the name of Atheism. If what we’re concerned about is the potential wickedness and the potential horror of totalitarian regimes, let’s not pretend that religiously minded people have the corner on the market with respect to such regimes.
The holocaust was a product in which religion—if I can say it this way—was the victim. It took it on the chin in the holocaust because someone was a particular race and held a particular religion. The goal was to wipe them off the face of the earth. And that wasn’t religiously motivated, that was motivated by something else. If we’re going to rank the most horrific things that have happened in our recent memory, certainly the holocaust makes 9/11 pale in comparison
And most of these folks would agree with us on that and would repudiate very similarly. So it’s a place where in the midst of a vitriolic attack, in the midst of great conflict to say we’re on the same page here. So none of us wants to be a defender of the misuse of religion –any religion and so we do have some common ground here in which we can stand.
Maybe this common ground could serve as the beginning of a space for conversations on the nature and origin of morality, as well as the universal outcry against all kinds of injustice and oppression. In the end, religion itself isn’t evil. Furthermore, Christianity is unique amongst world religions. It recognizes the reality of evil and gives us a hope that looks forward to the final defeat of evil by a God whose very nature is the moral grounding for objective good.
This is just one of the key points explored in our podcast on The New Atheism. Check out the full-length podcast episode: “Challenges to the Existence of God.”
About the Contributors
Mikel Del Rosario (ThM, 2016; PhD, 2022) is a Professor of Bible and Theology at Moody Bible Institute. While at DTS, he served as project manager for cultural engagement at the Hendricks Center, producing and hosting The Table podcast. You can find him online at ApologeticsGuy.com, the Apologetics Guy YouTube channel, and The Apologetics Guy Show podcast.