The Holocaust Argument for God's Existence
An argument with added bite given the Islamist barbarism on display the last few days
Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing, Nelson, 2016, p. 231:
There are people who say that an evil as great as the Holocaust is proof there is no God. But I would say the opposite. The fact that it is so great an evil, so great that it defies any material explanation, implies a spiritual and moral framework that requires God's existence.
I've had a similar thought for years.
One can of course argue, plausibly, from the fact of evil to the nonexistence of God. From Epicurus to David Hume to J. L. Mackie, this has been a staple in the history of philosophy. There is no need to rehearse the logical and evidential arguments from evil to the nonexistence of God (See my Good and Evil category.) But one can argue, just as plausibly, from the fact of evil to the existence of God. I envisage two sorts of argument. One type argues that there could be no objective difference between good and evil without God. The other type, an instance of which will be sketched here, argues from a special feature of the evil in the world to the existence of God. This special feature is the horrific depth and intensity of moral evil, a phenomenon which beggars naturalistic understanding. This second type of argument is what Klavan is hinting at.
How might such an argument go? Here is a sketch. This is merely an outline, not a rigorous development.
I should also say that my aim is not to sketch a rationally compelling argument for the existence of God. So I do not maintain, with Klavan, that the depth of evil “requires” God’s existence. On my meta-philosophy there are no rationally compelling or rationally coercive arguments for substantive theses in philosophy and theology.* My aim is merely to neutralize the atheist arguments from evil by showing that the tables can be turned: evil can just as easily be marshaled in support of God. Further, I have no illusions about neutralizing atheist arguments from evil in the eyes of atheists. The purpose of the following is to show theists that their position is rationally acceptable and thus rationally defensible. A secondary purpose is to show those who are inclined to accept theism may embrace it while remaining within the precincts of reason.
A. Consider not just the occurrence, but also the magnitude, of moral evil. I don't mean just the ubiquity of moral evil but also its horrific depth. Fidel Castro, for example, that hero of the Left, did not merely imprison his political opponents for their dissent, he had them tortured in unspeakable ways:
Mr. Valladares and other prisoners who refused ''political rehabilitation'' were forced to live in the greatest heat and the dampest cold without clothes. They were regularly beaten, shot at and sometimes killed; they were thrown into punishment cells, including the dreaded ''drawer cells,'' specially constructed units that make South Vietnam's infamous tiger cages seem like homey quarters. Eventually, together with several others, Mr. Valladares plotted an escape from their prison on the Isle of Pines. But the boat that was to pick them up never arrived. He and his accomplices were brought back to their cells and given no medical attention, though Mr. Valladares had fractured three bones in his foot during the escape attempt.
The retribution was swift. Mr. Valladares writes: ''Guards returned us to the cells and stripped us again. They didn't close the cell door, and that detail caught my attention. I was sitting on the floor; outside I heard the voices of several approaching soldiers. . . . They were going to settle accounts with us, collect what we owed them for having tried to escape. . . . They were armed with thick twisted electric cables and truncheons. . . . Suddenly, everything was a whirl - my head spun around in terrible vertigo. They beat me as I lay on the floor. One of them pulled at my arm to turn me over and expose my back so he could beat me more easily. And the cables fell more directly on me. The beating felt as if they were branding me with a red-hot branding iron, but then suddenly I experienced the most intense, unbearable, and brutal pain of my life. One of the guards had jumped with all his weight on my broken, throbbing leg.''
That treatment was typical. In the punishment cells, prisoners were kept in total darkness. Guards dumped buckets of urine and feces over the prisoners who warded off rats and roaches as they tried to sleep. Fungus grew on Mr. Valladares because he was not allowed to wash off the filth. Sleep was impossible. Guards constantly awoke the men with long poles to insure they got no rest. Illness and disease were a constant. Even at the end, when the authorities were approving his release, Mr. Valladares was held in solitary confinement in a barren room with fluorescent lights turned on 24 hours a day. By then he was partially paralyzed through malnutrition intensified by the lack of medical attention.
B. What explains the depth and ferocity of this evil-doing for which Communists, but not just them, are notorious? If you wrong me, I may wrong you back in proportional fashion to 'even the score' and 'give you a taste of your own medicine.' That's entirely understandable in naturalistic terms. You punch me, I punch you back, and now it's over. We're even. That may not be Christian behavior, but it's human behavior. But let's say you steal my guitar and I respond by microwaving your cat, raping your daughter, murdering your wife, and burning your house down. What explains the lack of proportionality? What explains the insane, murderous, inner rage in people, even in people who don't act on it? What turns ordinary Cubans into devils when they are given absolute power over fellow Cubans? There is something demonic at work here, not something merely animalic.
Can I prove that? Of course not. But neither can you prove the opposite.
Homo homini lupus does not capture the phenomenon. And it is an insult to the wolves to boot who are by (fallen) nature condemned to predation. Man is not a wolf to man, but a demon to man. No bestial man is merely bestial; he is beneath bestial in that he has freely chosen to degrade himself. His bestiality is spiritual. Only a spiritual being, a being possessing free will, can so degrade himself. Degrading themselves, the torturers then degrade their victims.
Now, dear reader, look deep into your own heart and see if there is any rage and hate there. And try to be honest about it. Is there a good naturalistic explanation for that cesspool of corruption in your own heart, when you have had, on balance, a good life? What explains the intensity and depth of the evil you find there and in Castro's henchmen, not to mention Stalin's, et al. What explains this bottomless, raging hate?
As a sort of inference to the best explanation we can say that moral evil in its extreme manifestations has a supernatural source. It cannot be explained adequately in naturalistic terms. There is an Evil Principle (and Principal) the positing of which is reasonable. The undeniable reality of evil has a metaphysical ground. Call it Satan or whatever you like.
C. It is plausible, then, to posit an Evil Principle to explain the full range and depth and depravity of moral evil. But Manicheanism is a non-starter. Good and Evil are not co-equal principles. Good is primary, Evil secondary and derivative. It cannot exist without Good. The doctrine that evil is privatio boni, a lack of good, does not explain the positive character of evil. But if there is an Evil One as the source of evil, then the positivity of evil can be charged to the Evil One's account. The positivity of evil would then consist in the existence of the Evil One and his will; the privatio boni, lack of good, in the Evil One's malevolent misuse of his free will. Satan is good insofar as he is: ens et bonum convertuntur. He is the ultimate source of evil in that his exercise of free will is malevolent.
D. If the existence of evil presupposes the existence of good, and evil exists in its prime instance as as an Evil Person, then good exists in its prime instance as God.
This sketch of an argument can be presented in a rigorous form with all the argumentative gaps plugged. But even then it won't be rationally compelling. No naturalist will accept the premise that there are some evils which require a supernatural explanation. He will hold to his naturalism come hell or high water and never give it up no matter how lame his particular explanations are. His attitude will be: there just has to be a naturalist/materialist explanation whether we are able to find it or not.
And so I say what I have said many times before. In the end, you must decide what you will believe about these ultimate matters, and how you will live. There are no knock-down arguments to guide you. And yet you ought to be able to give a rational account of what you believe and why. Hence the utility of the above sort of argument. It is not for convincing atheists but for articulating the views of theists. The articulation is for the purpose of reinforcing theists in their belief, but also for persuading open-minded fence-sitters for whom the God question is a live doxastic option.
*It follows, of course, that there are no rationally coercive arguments for my characteristic meta-philosophical thesis. I accept this consequence with equanimity. I claim merely that my characteristic thesis is rationally acceptable.