The Dark World Challenge

When we atheists argue with believers there are many challenges they will make to us.  Some of these are outright silly and clearly the result of wish thinking or the lack of an incredulous mind to guard against bad ideas.  Pascal’s Wager leaps inescapably to mind here, but sometimes they make good points, although they may not understand why exactly.  One of the most powerful points a theist may make is asking how exactly a nonbeliever may tolerate the intolerable in this very dark world.  This is not to reference more childish arguments about God offering hope or consolation, neither of which any mind other than a profoundly infantile one would have the arrogance to insist humanity is owed by a creator deity, but to reference God providing justice and order.

The thesis is a simple one.  Terrible evils exist in the world, and if you believe in a deity of some kind, those who perpetrate those evils will be held accountable in some way, or, at the very least, there is a cosmic order beyond the capacity of any ordinary mortal to grasp and when terrible evil happens it’s all ultimately okay in some kind of cosmic sense.  No such provisions exist for atheists however.  Some evils happen in the world with no one knowing but the victims, who often do not survive to tell the world.  Perpetrators of those evils are not held accountable for what they did on Earth, and Earth is all there is, so they well and truly get away with their crimes.  Depending upon their particular pathology, they may not even feel any guilt from which to suffer, and, in fact, may even get a rush out of having gotten away with something even if they haven’t managed to utterly delude themselves that something evil and contemptible is good and laudable.  Villains can and have died as heroes and heroes can and have died as villains without us ever knowing the correct version of events and we shall never, in many of these cases, know the correct version of events.

Now, can you handle that thought?  No karma, no hell, no cosmic plan, no reincarnation, and no security camera in the sky watching every moral move of every mortal man.  He doesn’t see you when you’re sleeping, he doesn’t know when you’re awake, and doesn’t know when you’ve been bad or good because he doesn’t exist for reason’s sake!  What all this grim reality means is that atheists are forced to deal with the world as morally grown-up persons.  The fact that people get away with evil is part of the natural world and reconciling oneself with that fact is part of it too.  That’s actually a pretty positive thing.  When you don’t expect prayer to do anything, God to do anything, or any consequences for increasing the suffering of conscious creatures with the capacity to suffer to arise out of anything but the direct intervention of other conscious beings, you tend to want to actually be one of those conscious beings.  It is probably impossible to completely eliminate evil from the experience of human existence, but the passion for doing so is probably one of the best things about said existence.  So the answer to the question at the beginning of this paragraph is ultimately, “Yes, but it ignites a fire in me to fight tooth and nail for justice and compassion.” A certain amount of evil will always be gotten away with, but that fact doesn’t mean any given evil needs to happen on any given day.  There are six billion human beings on this Earth and most of us are basically good persons.  As the ancient cliché goes, all that evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  Nothing encourages one to do something if they believe with every fiber of their being that, if they don’t, if they can’t, no one will, no one can.

  • Trixie Goforth

    That’s real, real good.