3.2.6 The Argument from Moral Evil: The Problem of Morality

Munch: Golgotha

The argument from moral evil attempts to use the existence of moral evil to disprove the existence of God. If there were a God, it is argued, then he would prevent such evil; that he does not do so therefore proves that he does not exist.

An increasingly popular response to this argument is to turn it back against the atheist, arguing that moral evil not only does not disprove God’s existence, it in fact proves it. The very existence of a moral standard, this argument runs, presupposes the existence of God. There can only be moral evil, then, which involves the violation of a moral standard, if there is a God.

The argument from moral evil is thus taken to be self-refuting. Though it concludes that God does not exist, it is suggested, it tacitly assumes that he does, and so contradicts itself.

Just as the theist faces the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of God, the “problem of evil”, then, so the atheist faces the problem of reconciling the existence of a moral standard with the non-existence of God.

There are several reasons for thinking that there can be no moral standards without God. These are set out in the section on the moral argument for God’s existence.

It is worth noting that it is not only theists that have thought that morality is dependent upon God.

Jean-Paul Sartre, for example, the atheist existentialist, quoted (or rather misquoted) with approval Dostoyevsky as saying, “If God did not exist, everything would be permissible.” In Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre expresses his dismay at the secular moralists who reject God but leave morality unchanged; much of Sartre’s philosophy, in fact, is about working out the consequences of the denial of God’s existence and the lack of objective values that, in his opinion, that entails.


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