One of the greatest conundrums that religious skeptics have to deal with is how to rationally explain the existence of evil in a godless universe. The celebrated atheist Richard Dawkins acknowledges it is hard to explain. He says it is difficult to admit that there is no good or evil, that our world is simply “callous.” What he is acknowledging is that apart from a transcendent lawgiver, there is no real basis for moral law other than the law of the jungle.
This is how Adolph Hitler justified his enormous cruelty by reasoning, “Why should I not be crueler than nature itself?” He saw that nature was naturally cruel and that there was no reason for him not to unleash this cruelty onto the world.
For many years I have been fascinated by the life of C.E.M. Joad. He was a socialist, an atheistic professor of philosophy and a regular on the BBC wartime radio program “Brain Trust.” He had explained evil making reference to Marx and Freud. He saw evil as a psychological and sociological “maladjustment.” Within his intellectual circle of friends, words such as “evil”, “sinful”, and “wicked” were intentionally avoided in favor of descriptions such as “ill-adjusted behavior” or “aggressive instincts.” They all believed people’s behavior could be modified over time if you placed them in an approved environment.
Joad and his peer’s views were pervasive in the British intellectual circles. However, he said that none of them were prepared for Hitler and World War II. He said that his view of human goodness, reason and progress had been utterly shattered by the events of two world wars. Joad adds this reflection:
It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the Left were always being disappointed; disappointed by the refusal of people to be reasonable . . . by the failure of true Socialism to arrive, by the behavior of the nations and politicians . . . above all, by the recurrent fact of war.
This lead him on a spiritual search that eventually lead him to become a Christian. He wrote a book on his spiritual experience titled, The Recovery of Belief, which was published a year before he died. What was interesting is the reason he gave for this decision. He said it was the result of intellectual observation. After studying all the issues and all the evidence it became apparent to him that the Christian theistic view of life covered more of the facts of experience than any other. Therefore, he said, “I have been gradually led to embrace it.”
Joad came to see the contradictory nature of his atheistic beliefs. It is easy to claim to be an atheist, it is hard to live as if it were true. For him, the contradiction was a tension between logic and life. He had the intellectual integrity to make the decision to change his mind, because he recognized the massive contradiction of his atheistic worldview, and being an honest man, concluded it was not livable.
In the end, Joad concluded that evil was real, and that the reality of evil is a powerful argument for the existence of God.