Is Evil Objective?
Evil has been a problem for all human history. The presence of pain, suffering, loss, death, disappointment, mistreatment, and injustice have always been a part of the world we experience. Anyone you talk to, if they were honest, would agree that there is something not right about the world. And for many, this gives them reason to not believe in God. Especially in Western Civilization, where Christianity has been the foundation of society for 2,000 years, people find it at least difficult and often impossible to believe that the good, loving, merciful God spoken of in the Bible can exist simultaneously with the darkness, pain, and evil that we see all around us. However, according to Tim Keller in The Reason for God, even many secular philosophers have conceded that the presence of evil is not a good argument against God’s existence.
So what if we were to view these two realities in a different way? What if one could argue that evil doesn’t disprove God’s existence, but rather is more evidence for His existence? This is what will be attempted in the next 3 posts. In this series, it will be argued first that evil is objective. Secondly, our understanding of objective evil comes from an objective morality. Finally, it will be concluded that the existence of God best explains the existence of objective evil.
What is Evil?
If one is to argue that evil is evidence for the existence of God, the first step is to show that evil is objective. This means that people can ultimately find a way to distinguish good and evil, right and wrong. To do this, we must define what “evil” really is.
Richard Gale would define “evil” as “an ought-not-to-be.” He considers things such as physical and mental suffering, immoral action, and bad character as things that “ought-not-to-be.” This is the definition that we will use for evil. Almost anyone can agree that, at its very core, this is what we mean when we describe something as “evil.” Any pain, suffering, injustice, or wrong that we experience, we believe is something that should not exist.
Although evil has now been defined, the question remains: Is evil objective? Is there some kind of standard that exists for the universe to decide what is evil and what is not? Is it possible to definitively say what ought not to be and what ought to be? There are numerous worldviews that attempt to explain the presence of evil in our world. Some of them view evil as subjective. Others view evil as objective. However, the views that are subjective attempt to make arguments that do not provide a sufficient explanation for the evil that is present in our world. This is why evil must be viewed as objective, because it is the only way to provide a sufficient reason to why it is here.
There are two primary worldviews that try to explain away evil as an objective reality.
The first attack from science, or at least the most famous, was when Charles Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species and his theory of evolution. To many people, this was the first gigantic step in science making the conclusion that God did not exist and was not necessary.
As the theory of evolution began to take foot in the minds of many in Western society, philosophers began to infiltrate its ideals into their work. This lead many to think that if our biology has evolved, then perhaps our morals have as well. Many philosophers today have embraced this idea, including Christopher Hitchens who believes that our morals evolved just as science says our bodies did.
The belief that morals can be traced back to the evolutionary process presents a few conflicting beliefs about the world. First, the very essence of evolution itself is the idea of “survival of the fittest.” It is a very self-centered view of the world and teaches that only the strong survive. Therefore, one must focus on making himself as strong as possible in order to survive. Tim Keller writes, “People, we believe, ought not to suffer, be excluded, die of hunger or oppression. But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, or unjust?”
The problem with this view is that the discussion and focus of much of morality is very altruistic. That is, one of the core focuses in moral argument is how a person ought to behave toward other people. This is not at all the focus of scientific evolution. Therefore, these two ideas seem to be in conflict with one another and cannot, then, provide a good explanation of morality. Because of this, it cannot tell us that evil is objective and cannot tell us why it is here.
If morality has evolved, then what is to keep it from evolving further? If it has evolved, can it really explain evil and what ought-not-be? And if morals are evolving, how can we be sure that we are actually making progress? If morals truly evolve over time, then so does evil. And if evil changes, then we cannot truly define it as evil. The things that “ought-not-be” become merely things that “ought-not-to-be-right-now.” It may be inconvenient for the time we live in, but what’s to say that centuries from now the “evil” we are talking about would not be considered good?
Naturalism is another worldview that attempts to explain evil in light of a subjective morality. But again, this makes evil subjective; and a subjective evil does not provide a sufficient explanation for why it is here.
Naturalism, like evolution, finds its grounding in science. It is a philosophical belief that everything in the natural world is all that there is, and therefore provides all the answers that we need. By doing this, naturalism very willingly submits to the idea of a subjective morality. And by doing this, it disqualifies itself from not only explaining the existence of evil, but from even defining the term at all.
Like evolution, naturalism presents many problems in explaining evil and what ought-not-to-be. First, naturalism only adheres to science. According to science, the universe is governed by Newton’s law of physics. Immanuel Kant, who also believed in a “moral law within,” concluded that because of Newton’s laws, everything in the universe was deterministic, even humans because they are composed of the same matter as the rest of the universe.
This belief in a scientifically determined reality presents the first problem of morality and evil as found in naturalism. If everything is determined by Newton’s laws, including humans, then how are humans free? Even if morality and evil are subjective in nature, how is a person going to be held responsible by a thing he was determined in theory to do by nature?
More to the point, if naturalism is true, then there can be no morality, and there can be no evil. David Hume attempted to discover the truth of morality by applying the scientific method. He concluded, “vice and virtue are not discoverable merely by reason, or the comparison of ideas.” This was so because science can only deal with the physical world; it is only concerned with what we can detect with our senses. For example, many people believe that lying is wrong. Although we can observe the action of lying, we cannot observe by science whether or not it is wrong. That is, whether or not it ought-to-be.
This is the ultimate problem with naturalism. It’s ultimate reliance on science cannot help us explain things that are not a part of the physical world. Therefore, it cannot define or explain the nature and presence of evil.
Ultimately, if naturalism is true, then morality does not exist. If morality does not exist, a person cannot say that evil exists. Therefore, if a naturalist was to attempt to make any sort of moral argument, it would only be an argument from personal preference. He would have no grounding or backing for his view, because he would have no moral law or code as a guide or standard. After all, can there be laws without a Lawgiver? And if there is not moral law, then there will be no consistent stance by humanity on the basis of morality, and we therefore cannot identify something as evil.
Yet we still believe that there are things in the world that ought-not-to-be. We still believe that there is something wrong with the world. People believe in evil. If subjective evil cannot be proven or provide a sufficient answer, then we must turn to an objective view of evil. If the process of evolution or nature itself cannot explain the evil that is present, we must look elsewhere outside of both science and nature.
The views of evolution and naturalism leave too many questions unanswered. The arguments have too many holes. Subjective evil cannot be defined and therefore does not make sense. By this, we must conclude that it makes more sense to believe that evil, and morality in general, is an objective reality.
 Keller, Tim. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Penguin Group. 2008. pp. 23.
 Moreland, J.P., Chad Meister, Khaldoun A. Sweis. Debating Christian Theism. New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. pp. 197.
 Stokes, Mitch. How to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway. 2016. pp. 169-170.
 The Reason for God. pp. 26.
 How to be an Atheist. pp. 170.
 Ibid. pp. 152-153.
 Ibid. pp. 153.