In my last blog entry I mentioned the debate between atheist Alexander Rosenberg versus William Lane Craig, the debate topic being “Is faith in God reasonable?” Alexander Rosenberg denies the existence of objective moral values but in the debate he had with William Lane Craig he argued the problem of evil. Yet without belief in an objective moral standard (as of what is morally good) the argument from evil shoots itself in the foot, because it removes all grounds for attacking even a trivial theodicy (where a theodicy is an alleged reason of why God allows evil).
Suppose for example a theist named Theophilus replies that the reason why God allows horrible things to happen is that in God’s eyes it is good for us humans to try to overcome and wipe it out (by advances in medical technology, learning to share our food with the hungry, etc.) with the limited abilities we have, and that it’s better for humans to do this than God doing it for us. And so with this view of what is good God does not intervene, because the existence of this suffering cannot be removed without also destroying the greater good of us humans trying to overcome the evil that causes it. Like any good theist, Theophilus believes that God’s view of goodness is correct (since an omniscient God believes only what is true) and better than any competing view of moral goodness.
The atheist could reply saying that Theophilus’s view of goodness is incorrect and that it would be better (for example) to give humans superpowers that would enable them to easily eliminate the evil that causes suffering, rather than limiting humanity’s ability in the way that Theophilus thinks is good. But if the atheist replies that Theophilus’s view of moral goodness is wrong and that a perfectly good being would not behave in the way Theophilus thinks, for this reply to be successful the atheist would have to believe that his own view of moral goodness is objectively better than Theophilus’s view, and the atheist will have to say that Theophilus’s moral standard (which he thinks a perfectly good God would have) is objectively incorrect as opposed to just not liking it very much.
Why does a successful argument from evil requires the existence of an objective moral standard? I think it becomes clear when we reflect on the following question. For the atheist who denies the existence of objective moral values, how could an atheist reasonably respond to Theophilus’s claim about it being good for God to allow evil? Say “I don’t believe an objective moral standard exists, but if did exist, it would be my standard and not yours”? Without conceding the existence of an objective moral standard, the atheist doesn’t appear to have any grounds for thinking that if God existed he would adopt the atheist’s moral standard instead of Theophilus’s. So without conceding the existence of an objective moral standard, the atheist is powerless to attack even facile reasons for why a perfectly good God would allow evil, at least when such reasons are consistent with the theist’s view of moral goodness.
This raises another point: even if the atheist has no grounds for thinking that God (if he existed) would adopt the atheist’s standard of goodness when deciding what evils to permit, couldn’t the atheist at least criticize the theist for having an inconsistency in the theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil? That depends on the theist, but it’s relatively trivial to construct a view of goodness that is consistent with a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, as the case of Theophilus illustrates. Even if Theophilus’s view of goodness is mistaken, it isn’t self-contradictory. Similarly, even if my own view of moral goodness is mistaken, I doubt very much there is anything self-contradictory about it with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, in part because I don’t claim to have a complete picture of what moral goodness constitutes (though I’m pretty sure we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves), and I concede that there might be goods I am unaware of that constitute at least part of the reason for why God allows evil.
But even if I were to have an inconsistency in my own personal view of moral goodness, without an objective moral standard the atheist doesn’t have a good argument from evil that is reasonable for him to accept. Without an objective moral standard, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, in which case there would be no objective fact of the matter about whether God would allow evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil collapses under its own weight