Quentin Smith relates a story that once during a hiking trip he

was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones, [etc.]

It seemed to me self-evident that the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive was an evil natural law and that the obtaining of this law was sufficient evidence that God did not exist. (235)

We’ll go in some detail on his argument in a later post. For now I want to convey my amusement at the last sentence of the paper: “What I experienced was a brief and terrifying glimpse into the ultimately evil dimension of a godless world.” (248)

Smith never condescends to define the word “evil” for us in this paper, so let me do it for him: (physical) evil is absence of some good that ought to be there.

One might be able to prove, and Smith attempts just that, that given that God is good and by that fact creates the best possible world, a world with predation is inconsistent with such goodness, because at the very least it is worse than the world of tofu-eating tigers.

But without admitting theism, there is no way at all to demonstrate that “a vegetarian world ought to be.” For Dawkins’ sake, why? Who guaranteed that you, Smith, should be born in such a world? Who are you to demand to be born in such a world?

Thus, predation can in no wise be called evil, because it’s not the case that its absence objectively ought to be. Nobody, on atheism, viciously failed to do his obvious duty.

Note that of course even an atheist can philosophize on ethics and argue (correctly) that, say, torturing the cat is wrong and ought not to be done. But this evil is a human action within human control. Which universe one is born into, and the laws that bind and define it, on the other hand, are hardly a moral choice exercised by an individual.

As a result, it cannot reasonably be said that “Smith perceived evil in a godless world”; only that “An atheist saw something he for mysterious reasons personally disliked.”


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