Moar Grayling: the evils of earthquakes

March 14, 2011 • 12:26 pm

Looks like it’s going to be an Anthony Grayling kind of week.  We’ve had some words from him and Richard Dawkins today, he’s written a response to my post that I’ll put up tomorrow morning, and I’ve just found a nice short piece he’s written for the Dawkins website, “God and disaster.” It deals with why people pray after physical disasters like the Japanese earthquake, and the ludicrous ways that the faithful rationalize such “physical evil”.  Here’s a snippet, referring to people who prayed after the New Zealand earthquake:

Indeed, were they praising and supplicating a deity who designed a world that causes such arbitrary and sudden mass killings? An omniscient being would know all the implications of what it does, so it would know it was arranging matters with these awful outcomes. Were they praising the planner of their sufferings for their sufferings, and also begging his help to escape what he had planned?

Perhaps they think that their god was not responsible for the earthquake. If they believe that their god designed a world in which such things happen but left the world alone thereafter and does not intervene when it turns lethal on his creatures, then they implicitly question his moral character. If he is not powerful enough to do something about the world’s periodic murderous indifference to human beings, then in what sense is he a god? Instead he seems to be a big helpless ghost, useless to pray to and unworthy of praise.

For if he is not competent to stop an earthquake or save its victims, he is definitely not competent to create a world. And if he is powerful enough to do both, but created a dangerous world that inflicts violent and agonizing sufferings arbitrarily on sentient creatures, then he is vile. Either way, what are people thinking who believe in such a being, and who go to church to praise and worship it? How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help – help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it – can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

This—the presence of horrible things caused not by humans, but by other features of nature—is the Achilles heel of theistic faith.  Indeed, it even impugns deism, for it’s hard to imagine any kind of benevolent God who would create this kind of world.  (And if you respond that “we can’t fathom God’s nature,” then why assert that he’s benevolent?)

The response that “God made the physical universe to operate freely,” does not explain why God couldn’t have tweaked it (or set it up) to prevent earthquakes, especially since religious scientists like Simon Conway Morris and Kenneth Miller claim that God did tweak it (or set it up) to make the appearance of humans inevitable. Why one tweak but not the other?

83 thoughts on “Moar Grayling: the evils of earthquakes

  1. Great question to finish with. As hard as I try to understand, I can’t understand why man would be created into such mystery. Even that goes back to Genesis when god tells Adam, “See that tree over there? It will make you understand the world. It will give you knowledge. Touch it, and I’ll kick your ass!”

    That’s a direct quote, btw. 😉

    1. It’s worse than that. God didn’t tell Adam that the tree would give him knowledge. That was the serpent. God said it would kill him.

        1. And in fact the motif of prohibition -> temptation -> breach -> punishment runs through centuries and across cultures. Here in New Zealand, the priest Ngatoroirangi told his followers not to eat while he climbed Mt Tongariro alone, or he would freeze. They did of course, so he had to summon his sisters from far Hawaiki with baskets of fire, all but one of which they left on the way as the Thermal Region.

          Cinderella’s midnight curfew’s another.

          1. Um…hello? Pandora? And the parallels with Prometheus are pretty obvious, too; Prometheus stole fire from Olympus and was punished; A&E stole knowledge from Heaven and were punished.

            The thing is, Pandora held on to Hope, and Prometheus is a hero. A&E just get all of the blame and no acknowledgement for their heroism.


  2. Let us not forget two most important points:

    A) Stemming the tide of evil would be trivial for any god worshipped today — or, indeed, any god of any significance throughout all history. The same YHWH who parted the Red Sea could just have easily diverted the tsunamis. As lowly a figure as a Greek muse could have inspired Hitler to become the greatest of German Expressionist painters, thereby keeping him out of politics and averting WWII and the Holocaust. A civilization that has harnessed all the energy output of its star could do all that and more; how could an entity that created all the stars possibly be less capable?

    ii) Fighting evil is the raison d’être of all modern gods. According to theists, it’s What They Do™.

    Put the two together, and the situation is exactly as absurd as AC observes.



    1. Yeah, if mere doctors and nurses can cure most infectious diseases, it really wouldn’t seem all that hard for an actual “god” to prevent or cure all of them. Or if a mere teacher can help turn an abused child into an adult who can choose a positive life instead of perpetuating abuse or crime, it wouldn’t seem difficult for a “god” to help prevent abuse and crime completely.

      It wouldn’t have hurt “god” to have mentioned the germ theory of disease instead of letting humanity wallow in needless misery for thousands of years until we eventually figured it out for ourselves.

      Or how about giving people some advanced warning before earthquakes and tsunamis, o Lord? An hour or two heads up would save countless lives.

  3. Indeed. And why create a Universe that ages 9 billion years before the world is even formed? And 4 billion more before human like creatures arise? Not to mention one that extinguishes 95% of all life on this planet?

    Just so that a cornerback can score that important touchdown, I guess.

  4. I’m beginning to grow weary of having to make the same arguments over and over and over again:

    “Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”

    –Epicurus, about two-and-a-half thousand years ago.

      1. Yeah, it’s a great quote, especially the last line –

        “Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

        He’s either malevolent or impotent. I don’t see an intermediate option (though I suppose the impotence could explain the need for a virgin birth…)

        1. Can you please supply the ref? I only know this from Hume’s paraphrase in Dialogues. Never found Epicurus’s original.

          1. If you ever do manage to find the original, be sure to let the rest of the world know.

            Best I know, the oldest extant reference is by Lactantius, an advisor to Constantine, in his treatise, Of God and His Affections, in Chapter IV. There’s even suspicion that the original source wasn’t Epicurus but that it was a way of tarring him with that dreaded “atheism” brush. Even in his text, Lactantius relates that Tullius said that Posidonius said that Epicurus said it.

            Considering how Lactantius was himself writing several centuries after Epicurus’s death, any hope of finding the original is pretty damned futile by now.

            Regardless, the best defense to date offered by the believers is the “Free the Willies” argument; the believers merely hope that you’ll be so bedazzled by their brilliance to forget to ask, “Is Jesus unable to end evil while keeping the Willies Free, or does he prefer evil to captivating the Willies?” That is, all the believers do is attach a name to the incompetence and / or malevolence of their gods, never admitting that labeling the failings of their gods does nothing to lessen the failings.



            1. Yeah, that’s the trouble with Epicurus — when you manage to piss off both the pagans and the Christians, your works tend to disappear from the record.

              ISTR that one of the best records of Epicureanism in practice is not found in scrolls or texts, but in grafitti on the wall of some ruined Hellenic town in Turkey.

        2. How about incompetent as a third option? God screws up in the first place and allows evil to enter the world, then tries twice more to fix it, first by drowning the world, then by sacrificing himself to himself. God could just be the universal bungler.

  5. I find it fascinating how can a theist believing in a benevolent God can reconcile this sort of natural disaster with a loving deity, who is off the hook from other human-inflicted devastation.

    So much so, that I asked my Catholic colleague (a scientist, who decided to emblazon her faith, quite literally, on her forehead on Ash Wednesday). Her answer was that God *is* the volcanoes and the laws of thermodynamics. For her, there is no need for explanation or reconciliation – natural disasters are just a consequence of His design.

    This occurred to me as a wonderful cop out – ‘it is because it is’. I pointed out that you can say that with or without the existence of God, the latter only raising complications that need further explanation. The crux of the issue I realized seemed to be that the absolute a priori assumption of God was critical. Perhaps this is obvious for many readers of this blog, but I hadn’t really entertained the notion that the ‘God’ axiom wasn’t at least theoretically open to rational thought. Indeed she failed to give me an example of evidence which would cause her to question the truth claims of her religion. I find that absolutely extraordinary, especially in light of her profession.

    1. An argument that “answers” your question is: God is loving, but also demands justice. He can’t accept sin, so he needs to punish the wicked.

      OK, so be it, but didn’t he create hell for the wicked? Why punish someone while still alive? Isn’t [natural] death a punishment for sin? If we are all given a chance of a deathbed conversion, why kill someone “prematurely”? Such an illogic god…

      It’s much simpler to assert that there is no god.

  6. Sin…blahblahblah, Fall of Man….blahblahblah, End Times…blahblahblah, Seven-Headed-Ten-Horned-Dragons…blahblahblah.

  7. That’s pretty good.

    Brings to mind what you sometimes here theists argue about natural disasters. “God did it because he’s angry about all the [what ever they think is evil.]”

    If that’s the case, they need to acknowledge that even though you believe in their deity and follow his rules perfectly, he might still kill you horribly.

  8. You know, my cat likes to get to the edge of the patio and poke her head through the rails. Since we’re in a 4th story apartment, I consider this a dangerous condition and allow her outside only when I’m there and bring her back from the edge when she gets too close.

    When the weather gets nicer, I’ll be out there building a barrier out of mesh that will allow her to look out, but not venture into that dangerous territory. Because, of course, I care for her. Not as much as my daughters, but still…

    With this said, considering we’re supposed to be the reason for the universe… I am, once again, demonstrably more moral and ethical.

    Because, unlike ‘God,’ I do care about things beyond myself and my selfish pleasure. (I mean, really, we’re supposed to spend all eternity praising God in heaven? Like this? That’s pretty boring and self-centered. At least I think so…)

  9. Well the deistic god is not necessarily benevolent.
    Just an engineer with extended vacation time.

      1. Now, would such a religion based around a lazy, incompetent deity be better or worse than the eternal perfect gods we have now?

        At the very least, the old pagan gods did have better parties.

  10. People want to feel special, in the face of occurrences that quite clearly tell us otherwise. So they’ll let their God retreat back into volcanoes, tectonic plates, and equations, but still believe in him/it/whatever and rationalize away about how terrible tsunamis may happen, then slowly let him creep back into his throne in his sky castle, once their memories of their feeling of insignificance fades.

  11. I just want to add that from my limited experience, I doubt it very much that many Japanese people who have been praying following the earthquake have been doing so to a creator god or even a god capable of moving rocks.

    I think it is more likely that those Japanese who are praying are doing something like hoping things get better, being thankful for the good luck to have survived, wishing for a magical forest imp in the form of an animal or other part of nature to help them see the way out of a tough situation, asking a sort of spirit guide to help their loved ones find their way to the afterlife, or just going through a ritual grieving process without any solid beliefs one way or the other.

    I suspect that kind of distinction about what prayer actually is to most Japanese is lost on most Americans twittering about #prayforjapan.

    1. So praying to forest imps and spirit gods is better??

      Parenthetically, I’d like to say that I lived in Japan for 2.5 years, and whenever anyone I knew spoke of god, it was in the singular – as in, “the” god. I never detected anything animist in their conception of god.

      1. Not necessarily better, but it doesn’t fit with what Grayling is quoted as saying above. As for hearing “the god”, though there are some monotheist sects in Japan, you weren’t talking about hearing it from Christians, Jews, or Muslims, were you? I would guess that it means something more like “higher power” than Zeus, Jesus, Allah, or YHWH.

      2. Were the people speaking in Japanese? Japanese nouns don’t have specific singular and plural forms, so I don’t see how you could tell if they meant a single god or not. I’ve lived here thirty years, and as fluent in the language as I imagine I could be as a non-native speaker. When the Japanese talk about kami-sama, they aren’t talking in terms of a single god. It’s a much more ambiguous concept, “higher powers” rather than any kind of deity.

      3. My general impression is that traditional religion in Japan (Shinto, Buddhism) is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy. In other words, these are rituals that provide structure — “something to do” — rather than statements of belief. It’s a way of coping, and I begrudge no one a way of coping.

        Maybe Jerry the Cultural Jew could weigh in on atheistic Jews who keep kosher, observe the sabbath, wear the yarmulke and tallit.

        I think that’s a closer analogue to what you might be seeing among the Japanese.

      4. @Steven and Aratina: Yes, they were speaking in Japanese.

        I disagree with Steven’s assertion that ‘kami-sama’ usually or only refers to multiple beings. Or at least, I’m not convinced. It’s always been my intuitive interpretation of sentences involving ‘kami-sama’ (as opposed to just ‘kami’) that it was one being that was being specified. But, I could be biased by the fact that I’m an American, or I could just be wrong.

        So, for something more objective:
        1. The highly-respected Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC translates ‘kami-sama’ as ‘God,’ (note the capital G), and translates ‘kami’ as ‘god; deity; divinity; spirit; kami’

        2. ALC’s dictionary gives many usages of ‘kami-sama,’ the majority of which refer to a single entity.

        3. The Japanese Wikipedia page on the animist kami of the Shinto religion refers to them as ‘kami,’ without the -sama.


  12. Interesting to note how well the largely non-theistic Japanese are responding socially to this disaster. There doesn’t seem to be looting, murder, mayhem. I doubt the same would be true if such an event occurred here in the U.S.

    1. FWIW, the reports of widespread looting and mayhem following Katrina have been shown to be mostly media fearmongering. If our media tends to downplay isolated instances in Honshu and sensationalize isolated instances in New Orleans, that’s not a reflection of the reality of Honshu and New Orleans. That’s a message about the way media narratives override mere facts.

      The Japanese are polite and conformist to a fault, don’t you know? Nothing may be allowed violate this narrative. Why, I bet the emergency workers are wearing white gloves!

      1. In fact, I’m sure the Japanese are dealing with the loss of life in a stoic manner, in line with their general Oriental inscrutability. You know, seppuku, kamikazi, banzai, blah, blah, blah.

        And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to vomit bile until I fall into an exhausted sleep.

  13. Enjoy and contribute something positive(i.e. benefits your fellow creatures)each day until the one that kills you.

  14. Look, who said that god is benevolent? We can’t really fathom his nature, can we? This whole notion of benevolence stems from rather strange reading of the scripture. In the book of Isaiah, it explicitly says:

    “I form the light, and create darkness. I make peace, and create evil. I the LORD do all these things.”

    I think the assumption of benevolence is rather unwarranted.

    1. Quite true, but it’s not we heathens that are doing the assuming.

      As is SOP, the theists are playing Bible Smorgasbord: avoid/ignore/disavow/describe as “superseded”‘ any/all passages from Scripture that paint Yahweh as the vengeful, jealous, petty, murderous, micromanaging little fucker he is; magnify any/all references to the “Big Friendly Giant” who blows sweet dreams into your ear while you sleep.

  15. It’s only a puzzle if you think there is a deity.

    No deity, no puzzle. None whatsoever. The universe is blind and uncaring. We are one species of 10 million or so currently on the planet, and perhaps 100 times that many that have gone before and not survived the 3.7 billion year journey.

    Problem solved.

    It is our species’ peculiar narcissism and egocentricity that even creates this so-called problem. By having the entire universe created with US in mind, how could we possibly not be offended by the thought of a god who did not adhere to our wishes for comfort?

    Get over it people. We’re not that special in the grand scheme of things — the grand scheme of things being a universe 15 billion years old, 47 billion light years across, the vast majority of both time and space being completely totally and unreservedly hostile to our existence.

    1. “By having the entire universe created with US in mind… ”

      First time I read it as “By having the entire universe created with the US in mind…” which also quite often aligns with the view of Republican electorate.

  16. The various testimonies that religious people offer are not only inconsistent with each other, but also inconsistent with their own. Whenever religious people believe that their god has intervened in the world to benefit someone in some way (healing an illness, preventing some disaster, getting them a job, etc., etc.), they tend to publicly tout it as evidence to us atheists that their god exists, and is benevolent. They seem to be completely unaware that if their story was actually true, then their god just violated free will. When asked why the god does not do that for everyone all the time, we get told it would violate our free will. Did it not violate your free will though to do it on occasion? A god that does not intervene in our affairs, and thus preserves free will, is a deistic god, one that is “hands-off.” The Christian god is not a hands-off deistic god though.

    So on one day we are told that the god cannot intervene in human affairs. Then the next day we are regaled with stories of how the god just intervened in human affairs which proves its existence and benevolence. The day afterward we are again told that it cannot intervene in human affairs. Whichever story you hear depends on which theist you talk to and what day it is.


  17. No, no, no. It’s a fallen world, a fallen creation, because of Original Sin. The entire creation and everyone born since are paying for what two people did thousands of years ago. Now isn’t that fair and rational?

    And God is sometimes nice. After all, he saved that one 60 year old guy. The thousands of others, including children? Well, you know, the NCAA Tourney is starting up and God will be busy with that.

  18. The problem of evil. Yawn. It’s not like there isn’t a solution that preserves a theistic (intervening) god. A simple answer would be to say that for God to intervene and prevent the earthquake and/or tsunami would it self be an act of evil, since it would be a violation of the laws of nature, which he created.

    1. So, you’re claiming that an all-powerful god who loves humans so very much is powerless to do anything to help those it loves? Sure sounds more like “impotent and uncaring” than “all-powerful and loving” to me….

      Would you also claim that it would be an act of evil for a parent to prevent a child from chasing a ball into the street, or to put the child in a car seat? If not, how do you perceive this god of yours to be different? If so, why should we even pretend to respect this god or its worshippers?



      1. Powerless? Impotent? No, he is omnipotent afterall. One of the numerous assumption that the Problem of Evil makes is that if God has the power then he must exercise ALL THE TIME and that he must break the laws of nature. It really comes down to the old adage of: “with great power comes great responsibility”.

        As for how a benevolent and omnipotent being allows death and destruction such as what the recent tsunami wreaked, we do have to question whether God is benevolent, especially since his omnipotence means he is capable of evil. I would argue that the answer for that lies in God’s omniscience, since being FULLY informed on everything, including knowing all possible futures, would in theory allow any individual with that knowledge to make the right decision.

        In regards to your analogy Ben, are you saying that we humans are defenseless and innocent children to God the parent?

        By the way, it is NOT my god, since I am neither a theist or religious. This is all just hypopthetical. I’m just offering my answer, because as a thinking human I can criticise the Problem of Evil, especially if I percieve it as having problems.

        Let me ask a question: would anyone tolerate it if the government, after making a law went ahead and broke that law?

        1. But god’s already broken is own laws in the past (i.e. the various miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus).

          So clearly, if the breaking of natural law is a problem, it’s a recent policy change. One that, apparently, coincidentally was enacted when humans starting figuring out what natural law actually is. Funny how that is.

          1. Well, if the Bible is anything to go by, God did promise after the Deluge not to do it again.

            As for any other broken rules, I would point out that until we know everything there is to know, (until humans are omniscient) we can’t know what is possible and what is not.

            1. And according to the Bible, the Deluge was way before Jesus, Moses, and probably most of the other instances of god intervening in violation of natural law.

              As for what we know or don’t know, we do know that reviving people who have been dead long enough to being to stink isn’t possible today and was even less likely to be possible in the Bronze Age. So the resurrection of Lazarus by hand waving would certain count as a violation of natural law.

          2. “But god’s already broken is own laws in the past (i.e. the various miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus).”

            In addition to the miracles and godly interventions that are claimed to be occurring in our lives today. When a religious person heals from an illness, gets a job, has a bowel movement, finds a parking space, etc. that is because this god intervened. That violates free will. Every time someone makes a prayer for god to do something, and then god does it, that is violating free will.

            As I mentioned earlier, the same theist will give you different stories on different days. On some days, he/she will say that god cannot intervene and perform all these miracles because that would violate free will. On the next day, the theist will be jumping about how great their god is because it intervened and performed some miracle. Tomorrow though, they will go back to saying that this god cannot intervene and perform miracles because those would violate free will.


        2. “…would anyone tolerate it if the government, after making a law went ahead and broke that law?”

          If the government never, ever made a law that resulted, directly or indirectly, in human suffering, then, no, I would not tolerate the government’s going ahead and breaking one of its own laws. If the government is not capable of making laws that never, ever have intended consequences, then I might begin to suspect that the government is not perfect.

            1. Have you ever considered the possibility that with his omniscience, God knows what the consequences of ending all suffering will be, and that it’s because of that knowledge that he does not stop suffering?

              1. Of course I have. That’s what the “problem of evil” is. If a being can foresee suffering, but can’t prevent it, then said being is not omnipotent.

        3. I think that you are ascribing arbitrary significance to the “laws of nature”. They are not laws in a moral sense – they are merely the conditions that we, as human beings, have observed to hold. If a god chose to violate those laws (assuming for the sake of argument that such a violation is a logically coherent possibility), the violation would not be “immoral” in the sense that we are talking about here (the sense in which allowing people to suffer needless pain is “immoral”).

          1. Semantic quibbling. You can call it laws, rules, or even conditions, but there is an order and predictableness to the universe and everything in it; it is not all chaos and absolute randomness.

            So if one believes in a being that created it all, it stands to follow for the believer at least, that the creator designed the universe to operate with a certain regularity.

            Just because they aren’t laws in a moral or even legal sense, does not make it any more acceptable or moral for anyone to disrupt the order/regularity of the universe.

            1. So you are saying that “disrupting the regularity of the universe” is “immoral”? I don’t get it.

              1. Let’s try an analogy. If you had a computer that had nothing wrong with it, and that consistent with its design it changed and evolved resulting in things that you didn’t like that, and despite you having made the computer, would you try and fix it to prevent from happening what you did not like, in spite of the fact that it was working as it should?

              2. Response to Gibbon below:

                A) If the operation of a computer that I designed resulted in outcomes that I did not like, would I “fix” the computer in order to avoid the bad outcomes even though the computer was operating as I designed it to?
                Yes, obviously I would. Steve Jobs probably does this all the time! This must be where I’m missing your point – I can’t think of single reason not to fix the computer in your example. Maybe simple curiosity on my part would be a reason (let’s see what happens!), but that does not make my non-interference morally good (and could make it morally bad).

                Two questions for you:

                B) How could my decision to fix, or not fix, the computer possibly have moral implications in and of itself (without reference to the real-world impacts of my decision)?

                C) Does the fact that the computer I designed did not operate as I intended it to indicate that I am an imperfect computer designer?

    2. Stop yawning and go back one step: this god of yours created the very laws of nature that allow the planet’s tectonic plates (and climate) to operate with such extreme violence in the first place.

      Furthermore, the version of this god that we’re being sold is supposedly omniscient, meaning he had to have seen this coming.

      As this god’s also meant to be omnipotent, he could have prevented or stopped this disaster.

      This god is also meant to be omnibenevolent, which implies he *should* care about all the destruction and death his laws of nature inflict.

      Lastly, this god is also allegedly “perfectly good”. Surely a perfectly good creator-being wouldn’t put his creations in harm’s way so carelessly, would he?

      Should have seen it coming, could have prevented it, allegedly cares for us all – yet does nothing.

      Perhaps, though, this god has a Plan and his motives can’t be comprehended or even guessed at by mere mortals?

      Perhaps we shouldn’t attempt to impose our human morality on this god (leaving aside the fact that this god apparently imposed upon us that very same morality)?

      Perhaps this god is as he’s described in the Old Testament: a bad-tempered arsehole who’ll whip up a flood just to fuck with us.

      If that’s the case I fail to see how it deserves anyone’s allegiance.

      My personal perhaps: the god we’re being sold is a dud and the planet does what it does; it’s up to us how we react.

    3. The problem of evil. Yawn.

      That is the spirit (of religion), because it is well known AFAIU even inside theology that there is no sensible solution to it.

      For an example among countless others, take yours. You suggest that your god of choice would create laws that constitutes a dangerous world. This is not an answer to Grayling, indeed it is the very question he asks, why would such a vile creature be worshiped? Not sensible.

      Already Epicurus:

      “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?”

      Question posed, ~ 2300 years and still counting. No, apparently christianity wasn’t able to provide a sensible answer…

      1. The problem of evil says: God is not omnipotent if he wants to prevent evil but can’t, that he’s malevolent if he can but won’t, and that there should be no evil if he is both able and willing. But there is a way around this. Since God is supposed to be omniscient he knows all possible futures, including those for all the universes he could possibly create. So, in light of that it is reasonable to argue that out of all the universes that God could have possibly created, the one that he did create, this one that we live in with all its evil and suffering, and in which Japan was just hit by a large tsunami, is the best of all possible worlds.

        1. This idea, that God has created the best of all possible worlds, is certainly self-consistent. The difficulty is that it is hard to swallow when you can imagine so many improvements so easily. From teratology to tectonics to human nature itself, it seems like it could have been done differently.

          On the other side one might try to imagine scenarios that actually make this cosmos understandable. Maybe we require punishment for bad karma, or retraining of a selfish nature chosen or sins committed in a prior existence. The retraining is by forcing us to choose whether to practice charity when we see pain. Maybe the actual pain and suffering will someday be shown to be partly an illusion, a dream or an artifact of our limited knowledge.

          Making up scenarios like this is easiest from a warm house far from any sort of actual suffering.

          Christians often give up on answering the question of just how this could be the best God could do–they say it is beyond human understanding and then council that we might do best to respond humbly. They also believe that God partook of the suffering in person. That seems to be comforting to some.

  19. Perhaps they think that their god was not responsible for the earthquake.


    they just want their god to save them from their own confusion.

    it won’t, but they have no choice, so they flail repeatedly in continued blind hope that someday their confusion will end.

    it’s rather sad, really.

  20. ” Indeed, it even impugns deism, for it’s hard to imagine any kind of benevolent God who would create this kind of world”

    Uh, I think that is overstating the case. There is nothing inherent in deism that requires a benevolent creator. Nor does the argument from ignorance (“it’s hard to imagine…”) make for a good argument against deism.

    I don’t think anything can disprove deism–it is too vague to be disproved, but it is also too vague to be necessary or relevant.

  21. This is why unsophisticated (read: most) believers are still polytheists in practice. When asked why bad things happen, they will first trot out original sin as a likely candidate, but if faced with other random nastiness of life, they will quite often point to the machinations of Satan or a host evil spirits that, like God, can influence our lives. The Catholics, with their army of Saints and Rome-appointed exorcists are even more brazen in their polytheism. There is little doubt that the unpredictability and seeming randomness of nature and her phenomena are at the root of the birth of the religious impulse. It is therefore striking how little religion has changed over the millenia. Most believers couldn’t care less about Grayling’s observation as this is not how they “live” their faith anyway.
    “Sophisticated” theologians are AJ’s target, but these people are by-and-large so thoroughly intellectually dishonest that I much doubt this move will persuade them to give up their well-paid augury.

  22. The universe is indifferent – why should any god be otherwise? I suppose an indifferent god would not be a god as the ‘people of the book’ would want to have it.

  23. To assign the problem of evil the role of theistic faith’s Achilles heel seems a bit… generous. It would seem that such faith is “all heels” so to speak.

  24. I wonder what Pat Robertson,Billy Graham and others of that ilk will tell us that some Japanese person did wrong causing THEIR GOD to kill so many inocent people. Hes the only God that putatively hss done things like this. Certainly not Buddha or the Emporer.

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