Evil? Says Who?

Posted: September 13, 2011 in apologetics, atheism, god, history, justice, science

Consistent atheists recognize the nihilism and relativism demanded by their worldview.  However, they often “borrow” categories of ought from the theist that do not (logically) belong in their thinking.  As Doug Wilson recently put it:

You cannot throw away your suitcase at the beginning of your journey, and then, as you are nearing the end of the trip, pull out all the things that you packed in it. There may be shrewd ways of avoiding baggage handling fees, but that’s not one of them.

A common atheistic response to this line of argumentation is that “morality” is a construct of society, and that “good” and “evil” are determined by the collective whole.  This arbitrary decision to elevate the group above the individual leads to a subjectivism and relativism that most atheists have a hard time embracing.  What’s more, this worldview logically leads to accepting an “ends justifies the means” form of morality.  If “good” is measured by something’s positive impact on society, the harm of a few individuals for the sake of the group is, by definition, “good.”  But this of course leads the atheist into some uncomfortable water…

Which leads me to David Mills’ recent article at First Things entitled, “The Monster’s Story.”  In it, he writes about the recently deceased Dr. John C. Cutler:

Dr. John C. Cutler was a monster. A monster who died after a long and successful life in government and academia, with scholarships and lectures created in his memory. As readers may know, in the mid-1940s he experimented upon poor Guatemalans, including mental patients and orphans as young as nine, trying to find a cure for syphilis. The most horrifying example, already much posted on the web (I quoted it on “First Thoughts” a few days ago), is “that of a mental patient named Berta.”…

[She was] “first deliberately infected with syphilis and, months later, given penicillin. After that, Dr. John C. Cutler of the Public Health Service, who led the experiments, described her as so unwell that she “appeared she was going to die.” Nonetheless, he inserted pus from a male gonorrhea victim into her eyes, urethra and rectum. Four days later, infected in both eyes and bleeding from the urethra, she died.”…

And then Mills raises the crucial question (emphasis his):

What makes what Cutler did so wrong? The members of the commission pointed almost uniformly to his failure to get the informed consent of his subjects, but what makes experimenting on people without getting their informed consent wrong? What is the ground of the developed ethical system for experimenting on human beings—a system developed through the Nuremberg trials—that the commission invoked in condemning Cutler’s work?

That is the difficult, and for the modern mainstream ethicist with certain commitments, the dangerous question. The answer would seem to be an understanding of intrinsic human dignity and the absolute integrity of the human person: that men and women are creatures who must make such decisions for themselves. And that dignity is most secure when fixed in something transcendent, something eternal and ultimate. If it isn’t, men like Cutler will do what he did, for the greater good, as he (presumably) saw it then.

Later in the article:

But Cutler, and the consequentialists and utilitarians today, some of whom predictably pop up in our own comment section, would read the story differently, or perhaps tell a different one. He would have had to tell himself some justifying story, and I am fairly sure it would have gone something like this: syphilis is a brutal disease that had to be cured, because it caused so much suffering.

When society is deemed the arbiter of truth and morality, both truth and morality soon cease to have any meaning.  When God is displaced from His throne, man is soon lost in a sea of darkness and despair.

  1. As you didn’t respond before, and as it has valid points in response to this article, I will repost:

    “Within a Christian worldview, God’s actions as recorded in the Old Testament are entirely just”

    Which is why I’m morally opposed to the Christian worldview. At least that kind.

    “Again, as creator and sustainer, he gets to make the rules.”

    Which makes your morality completely arbitrary based on this creator’s whim. How is that objective? How is that even morality? That’s just doing what the stronger being tells you to do.

    “Additionally, just because the Bible records something doesn’t mean it prescribes it.”

    The Bible specifically states how you should treat your slaves, how to mark them as yours, how often to beat them, and under what circumstances you can keep Jewish slaves as opposed to non-Jewish slaves. That’s endorsement.

    Nowhere does it say slavery is bad, or that you shouldn’t have them.

    “A fair reading entails acknowledging the historical context in which things were written”

    Why? Was there ever a time that slavery or killing women and children non-combatants in a war was a good thing?

    • Matt Tully says:

      “Which makes your morality completely arbitrary based on this creator’s whim. How is that objective? How is that even morality? That’s just doing what the stronger being tells you to do.”

      We both have to affirm some sort of standard for morality. For you, it’s the consensus of a group of individuals. For me, it’s the transcendent and sovereign creator of the universe. Tell me, which of those two options seems most reasonable?

      If God is the standard for morality (as He must be as the creator), there can be (by definition) no higher standard than Him.

      Obviously, that raises the question of the existence of God. If He does indeed exist, your refusal to acknowledge His rule would be irrational and unwise. However, if He does not exist, I’m in the same boat as you: we’re left, in my opinion, without meaning, truth, or goodness. Just amoral existence.

      It doesn’t seem that our discussion is going to be very productive, so I will once again bow out. Feel free to leave a response.


      • “It doesn’t seem that our discussion is going to be very productive, so I will once again bow out. Feel free to leave a response.”

        What’s the point of trying to have a discussion if you’re going to just ‘bow out’?

        You can avoid discussions by just not allowing comments. Might be more up your alley.

  2. Matt Tully says:

    I have no desire to avoid discussions. As I have said numerous times already, I have appreciated your input. However, this discussion has become, in my opinion, unproductive. I’m not interested in getting into a heated argument, nor do I appreciate comments like, “Might be more up your alley.” That indicates to me that you are not interested in a respectful exchange.


    • ‘Unproductive’ in what way? Any discussion where people can better understand each other, even if they don’t convince each other, is a discussion worth having. My frustration comes from the fact that several of my questions went unanswered, and I viewed them as quite important.

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