Atheism & Evil
The biblical explanation of the cosmos is a theme emphasized in the opening verses of Genesis, where each day of creation is stamped with the words “it was good.” But can an unguided world governed by mere chance, as the atheistic worldview suggests, provide any sort of objective foundation or absolute definition of “good”?
If the world is a product of chance, is governed by nothing, and is heading nowhere, then how can we point to some overarching value of goodness? As the prominent atheistic ethicist Kai Nielsen once said, “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view. . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.”  And if we cannot get to the moral point of view from a purely scientific perspective, then how can an atheist use a moral point of view to reject the existence of God?
Many atheists would disagree with Nielsen’s statement. But the real test is whether they can provide an objective foundation for the morality they defend. They may be hanging on—mid air, white-knuckled—to a value system that lacks any sort of real grounding. In this way, their values are entirely wishful thinking. How can there be personal good and evil in an impersonal universe of mere matter and energy? If the universe doesn’t care, then why do you?
Consider two scenes from recent history. In January 2014 a New York based Satanist group submitted a proposal to build a seven-foot statue of Satan at the state capitol of Oklahoma in protest of a monument of the Ten Commandments displayed there.  A spokesperson described the statue as a place of serenity and contemplation where children could sit and find inspiration. I doubt I’m the first to regard the mental picture of this scene as over-the-top creepy.
It should be noted, however, that most Satanists, like the group lobbying for the statue, don’t really believe in Satan. Most Satanists are actually atheistic in their outlook, disavowing any spiritual realm. In fact, the group’s spokesperson described Satan as a literary construct and made it clear they don’t believe in some actual embodiment of evil in the world. They are more or less a political group using Satan as an icon to express their desired secularism.
Now, consider another scene that took place a little over a year prior to the proposal for this statue. Only eleven days before Christmas, twenty children lost their lives at gunpoint in a small northeastern town. On the morning of December 14, 2012, at 9:35, a twenty-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and went on a killing rampage before committing suicide at 9:40 a.m. In the five intervening minutes the horrors of hell were on full display in hallways and classrooms filled with teachers, administrators, and little sons and daughters whose parents would never hold them again, or tuck them in at night, or read them another bedtime story. Before these precious children left for school that morning, they likely had breakfast with their families in homes warmly decorated for the holidays. There were probably stockings hanging from the mantle and Christmas trees where gifts would never be opened. No one would have guessed that this day would end in bloodshed. Except for a young man who was busy finalizing his plans and loading his gun.
We all rightly call the act he committed “evil.” It was categorically evil. Psychobabble doesn’t capture our outrage. And even the most secular among us seem willing to adopt biblical terminology in the face of such an atrocity. Every fiber of our humanity screams “evil,” and for good reason. That’s why worldview discussions are not cute intellectual games. We are not playing around. We’re confronted with a real question, and it’s one every thinking person must consider at some point: What worldview can account for the human desire to classify certain actions as truly evil?
To go back to the capitol scenario, imagine if the group had succeeded in building its statue of Satan as a symbol of secularism next to the monument of the Ten Commandments. Two images, two contrasting worldviews. One monument representing a world free from religious explanations, and the other, a world ordered by a moral source. Which of the two gives the ethical framework needed to evaluate the events at Sandy Hook?