“There is too much evil in this world; therefore, there cannot be a God.” How would you respond to such a statement? After delivering a lecture at the University of Nottingham in England, Ravi Zacharias was confronted with this very thing when a student shot up from his seat and angrily posed this challenge. In his brilliant book, Can Man Live Without God, Zacharias shares his response. Here’s an excerpt of the exchange in his own words:
I asked him to remain standing and answer a few questions for me. I said, “If there is such a thing as evil, aren’t you assuming there is such a thing as good?” He paused, reflected, and said, “I guess so.” “If there is such a thing as good,” I countered, “…you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when you admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver. That, however, is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. For if there is no moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. What then is your question?”
There was a conspicuous pause that was broken when he said rather sheepishly, “What, then, am I asking you?” There’s the rub, I might add.
In part 1 of this series, I argued that one way we know God is real is through His revelation of Himself to us through the created order. A 2nd way we know God is real is through our conscience. Ravi Zacharias’ exchange with the university student is a case in point. This young atheist, in his concern about there being “too much evil” in the world is an example of how we all intuitively know there is right and wrong, good and evil.
Intellectually and logically speaking, atheism should lead away from objective moral absolutes and towards subjective moral relativism. It makes more sense for an atheist to express a personal opinion or a distaste about a certain behavior than for him to condemn anything as universally and objectively evil. Where does objective morality come from without a source outside of ourselves? On what objective basis can we condemn slavery, abuse, or murder? How do you determine whether the slave trader or the abolitionist is morally superior if we are all simply the byproduct of blind evolutionary processes and we are simply a collection of cells that climbed out of the primordial soup eons ago? Where is the final court of arbitration when there are moral disagreements? Surely everything in the end would come down to relativistic subjectivism. What’s right for me may or may not be right for you. As Ravi explained: If there is no moral lawgiver, there can be no moral law.
But here’s the rub. No one really believes in moral relativism. C.S. Lewis makes this point in his book, Mere Christianity.
Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining “It’s not fair” before you can say Jack Robinson. A nation may say treaties do not matter; but then, next minute, they spoil their case by saying that the particular treaty they want to break was an unfair one. But if treaties do not matter, and if there is no such thing as Right and Wrong–in other words, if there is no Law of Nature–what is the difference between a fair treaty and an unfair one? Have they not let the cat out of the bag and shown that, whatever they say, they really know the Law of Nature just like anyone else? It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table.
On the one hand atheist scholar Richard Dawkins may claim there is no objective good and evil, but on the other hand he declares that religion leads to evil deeds. How does that make any sense? When a tragedy like the school shootings in Newtown, CT happen, you’ll see Christians and Muslims and Jews and Atheists coming out of the woodwork declaring this act to be morally evil and demanding justice. I can understand a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew stating that such a thing is certainly evil, but it is interesting that the atheist feels compelled to agree with them. It seems that for an atheist to be consistent with his atheism, the most he can say is “I personally find the school shootings distasteful. Personally it’s wrong for me and I don’t like what the perpetrator did.” Without a moral lawgiver, there is no moral law.
Yet when the atheist is moved to condemn school shootings, slavery, and child rape, we all know he’s not saying, “Well, for me personally, I don’t like child rape and would prefer it if rapists changed their preference.” Heaven forbid! What they are really saying is that such activity is universally and categorically wrong, no one should do it, and justice should be administered to those who commit such acts. And they have an assumption that we all know this to be true and self-evident. In other words, they are positing an objective moral law outside of ourselves and therefore they are unwittingly testifying to a moral lawgiver outside of ourselves. They are, in essence, demonstrating what the Bible said long before Ravi Zacharias or Richard Dawkins were even born :
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Romans 2:14-15 ESV)
Paul here is speaking of the fact that even though the Gentiles did not have the Scriptures like the Jews did, they still intuitively recognize there is right and wrong, good and evil. And with a moral law, there is a moral lawgiver. The Bible says this lawgiver is God, who has written his moral law on the hearts of every man. But if things are so obvious, why are there atheists?
Let’s revisit what I said in part 1 in this series. We learned, through the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, that the truth about God is evident through the external created order. The problem, however, is that humans are united in a global conspiracy to suppress the truth about God. We do not want to be held accountable to this God and so we reject Him. This is why people either invent deities or they become naturalistic atheists. Either way, things that are created become the center of their world instead of the Creator.
In Romans 2 Paul says that our conscience testifies to an objective moral law. But just as sin warps our interpretation of and response to the created order, it also warps our conscience. In fact, the Bible elsewhere speaks of our consciences being defiled and seared due to sin. (1 Tim 4:2 and Titus 1:15) This is why humans can disagree on what is right and wrong. This is why sometimes sinful man can call evil good and good evil. (Isa 5:20) This is why the Pharisees looked right at Jesus, the most righteous Man that ever lived, and said He was of the Devil. (Matt 12:24) But while flawed sinners can come to wrong moral conclusions, they nevertheless continuously demonstrate their belief in objective morality because they are made in the image of a lawgiver.
The university student that challenged Ravi Zacharias proved in his very attempt to disprove God that God is real. His words betrayed the fact that there is indeed a God who is a moral lawgiver. Even men who deny God and shake their fists at Him cannot completely hide the fact that they are made in the image of God and their very actions end up testifying that He is real. When atheists demand justice, they are showing they are made in the image of a God of justice. When an atheist feels compelled to help the poor and thinks we all should join him, he is showing he is made in the image of a God who has compassion on the needy. When the atheist condemns racism and fights for the equal rights of blacks and women he shows that He is made in the image of a God who declares that all people are of significant value and created equal. Those moral compulsions don’t come from a vacuum and are not the byproduct of random, blind, evolutionary forces. They come from God Himself, who has written His law on our hearts, and even the atheist cannot totally get away from his conscience without denying a significant aspect of his own humanity. We don’t call people who ignore and destroy their consciences “enlightened” or “highly evolved.” We call them sociopaths.
So the next time you feel a tug in your conscience, recognize that it’s not just a function of a bunch of purposeless chemicals in your body moving around in a way that is dictated by blind evolutionary processes. It is, rather, a reminder that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and not simply an amoeba or an antelope. You are something much more precious and special than the animals. You have God’s very own image stamped on you and you have a specific meaning and purpose in your life which revolves around your Creator.
While Scripture teaches that abundant evidence is everywhere for the existence of God, the Bible also tells us that we need something more than just the witness of creation and conscience to fully know Him. In part 3 of this series I will discuss the most important way we can know God is real. That is through the person of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned.
Grace and Peace,