Remember when you were a kid riding your BMX bike down at the old quarry? You were bold, if a bit foolhardy at times. But regardless, you were always willing to try jumping your Kuwahara over just about anything. And then there was that kid Duane. Remember how he taunted you? “Try to jump the old oil drum,” he says. “Sure, why not?” you replied. And you made it over. Well sort of anyway. Perhaps there was room for debate on that one. But you emerged on the other side in one piece, and save a few more scratches, your bike was not really the worse for wear.
But that didn’t phase Duane. Instead of acknowledging the effort he immediately offered all sorts of advice on how bad your jump was and how he’d do it differently. “Oh, yeah?” you finally snapped. “So do it then.” And with that you shoved your bike at him. (Duane still rode his older brother’s banana seat bike.) But instead of taking you up on the offer Duane suddenly fell silent.
“Duane’s so lame,” you grumbled on the way home.
“Awwh, forget him,” your best bud replied. “Let’s go play with G.I. Joes.”
Fastforward thirty years. I was thinking of Duane today as I read The Atheist Missionary’s incredulous response to my attempt to jump the oil drum. That oil drum, in case you didn’t know, concerned the problem of evil and suffering in the world. And The Atheist Missionary was incredulous, even indignant, at my efforts.
Clearly The Atheist Missionary was being driven by a deep moralistic impulse that somehow the intense suffering of the innocent is a fundamental offense to the basic structure of the universe. I agree. Wholeheartedly.
But I was puzzled. How does he explain his own sense that evil is an offense against the fundamental structure of the universe? After all, on his view human beings are the purposeless by-products of a blind process unfolding in one insignificant corner of a universe that doesn’t give a damn about our insigificant existence. The human species is a momentary froth on a wave in the midst of a millennia old storm on a vast sea. So what’s the objective source of this deep moral indignation? I’m still awaiting an answer. You see, I have a real suspicion that The Atheist Missionary is going to have a much harder time clearing that drum.
I don’t mean to be picking on The Atheist Missionary mind you. If it’s any consolation, there are a lot of atheist Duanes out there. The problem of evil is their trump card. They love to play it as they complain about theists attempting to jump the drum. And they frequently issue their criticisms with a sense of indignation that would make the Moral Majority blush. “How dare God allow that! God’s monstrous. I’d rather party with Bon Scott in hell than worship your deity.” And yet when it comes to providing a robust account of the objective status of those deep moral intuitions, they fall strangely silent.
Come on Duane. Get on the bike. We’ll wait.