Listing entries tagged with evil


posted on 11.23.2006 at 10:59 AM

This from the New York Times account of that recent conference on science and religion in California:

Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects -- testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)

God Loves You?

posted on 07.05.2006 at 4:16 PM

Can belief in a god be logical? There are a number of ways of approaching this question. Some having to do with the importance of "flaws" (if you're perfect you can't overcome and therefore you aren't perfect) and the contradictions inherent in the various omnis -- potent, present, etc. -- which we've already touched on a bit.Paul_Simon.jpg

Here's another approach: Paul Simon, in his new album (which I seem to be more or less alone in more or less really liking) raises the question: "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?" And then seems to answer: "God will, like he waters the flowers on your window sill."

My question: What exactly might this mean? Does God still find the wrinkled hot? Does He find all six billion of us humans (not to mention all the animals and flowers) special? Is this heavenly love just another way of saying that we all are, presumably, unique and of value -- a nice, humanistic notion? How does God get to know all of us? Is it something like the chess master who can beat a room full of people, each playing a different board? Doesn't it then have to depend on omnipresence and various kinds of omnipotence? Does God take to us from birth, or does He have to hang out with us for a while first? Does he go for looks or brains? Or is it all about goodness or saying prayers or believing in the Koran? Does playing hard to get help? Or is He above all that? If He loves us so much, why doesn't He help us out a bit more (the old problem of evil)? Any chance God just doesn't care for short guys from Queens who break up with their long-time, sweet-voiced, curly-haired partners? Sometimes, after all, the flowers on the window sill die.

Doesn't the issue become what we mean by "love"? And is it possible that God, as he often seems to, drops out of the equation?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 4:16 PM | Comments (32)

Religion and Soldiers in Iraq

posted on 05.29.2006 at 11:21 PM

For those who cling to the belief that when faced with life at its most intense atheists inevitably will waver, here's the Iraq veteran and American military chaplain Major John Morris, interviewed on the public radio program, Speaking of Faith (thanks to Robert Schwartz):


"It's not true. There are atheists in foxholes."

Indeed, war, as the thoughtful Major Morris acknowledges, can intensify disbelief::

What I saw in Iraq....on the battlefield: a third of the soldiers were men and women of faith, growing in their faith or coming to a new understanding of their faith; a third of the soldiers were indifferent or fatalistic...; the other third were either indifferent or jettisoning their faith..

War does what life can do, only faster:

Many would say to me very bluntly, "I've lost my faith. I saw my buddy get blown away," or "I was involved in a firefight that killed innocent people. And if there's a good God, he would not have let that happen, so I do not want to believe anymore."

This is, of course, the classic "problem of evil" -- one of the more compelling arguments against the existence of God. Major Morris attributes another related argument to some of the soldiers in the irreligious third -- the often unavoidable apprehension that "the center cannot hold":

...War is chaos. You can do everything right and still die.... That chaos seems to...harden people into saying, "I can't think about transcendent things. Nobody's in control. ...Whatever is, is. And whatever will be, will be. ...So don't bother me with anything transcendent or eternal."

And this particular war -- unlike the two World Wars or Korea or Vietnam -- adds one more reason to reject religion, as Major Morris reports:

Now the thing that really throws a wrench into all of this is being shot at by people who were praying a few minutes earlier in a sacred place... That really hardens people to say, "I don't know what kind of God you all are talking about, but I don't want to have anything to do with any kind of God that uses the sacred to condone this. So I don't want to deal with any of you people who have anything to do with religion, cause you guys are causing the wars of the world."

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 11:21 PM | Comments (2)

The Devil

posted on 03.13.2006 at 11:30 AM

newhart_devil.jpg Atheists use evil almost as much as the religious do. It becomes -- the evil of those God fearing, decent people drowning in their houses in New Orleans, for example -- a powerful argument against the existence of God.

But what might a nonbeliever make of the devil?
-- Is he a general in a war with God? Is this a struggle the angry nonbeliever might want to join? Or is it a dualistic, obsessive death match, which the thoughtful nonbeliever is happy to rise above, a war to which the atheist conscientiously objects?
-- Is the devil just more supernatural hokum, which ought to be purged from our cultures? God and the devil walking side by side. Dream and nightmare. One no more real than the other.
-- Or is he -- why always he? -- a Promethean figure, standing up for humankind against autocratic deities? I've heard that some form of the name Satan means in some form of Hebrew: the advocate. Might atheists have some sympathy for the devil (as myth, as literary character) as the being who makes the case against God?

Is there some sort of "principle of evil" in the universe which nonbelievers must acknowledge, not just use against their opponents?

I keep waiting for the devil to show up in my readings on the history of disbelief. So far, except for some talk of Milton, he's been conspicuous in his absence. Am I reading badly or does the devil really not fit, even as an object of scorn, in the atheist's cosmos?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 11:30 AM | Comments (5)

The Problem of Evil

posted on 12.29.2005 at 12:13 AM

As I stroll through the history of atheism in this book, I hope to peek in on all the major arguments against belief in gods. One of them -- the problem of evil -- recently received an energetic workout on the Web courtesy of Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith.

It's an old argument. Cicero makes much of the existence of evil in his seminal dialogue, The Nature of the Gods -- asking how, "if God has made all things for the benefit of mankind," it is possible to explain "mice or cockroaches or snakes." Cicero then provides a dozen examples of virtuous men whom the fates treated unkindly.

Harris, writing two thousand years later, turns for one of his examples of inexplicable evil to "those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters" of Hurricane Katrina "for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there."

Both Cicero and Harris apply a little logical analysis to the situation: "Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot," is how the Roman puts it, "or he can do so and is unwilling." Harris suggests that "God, therefore, is either impotent or evil." Cicero quotes a poet: "If gods did care, the good would prosper, and the bad/Would suffer; that's not the way of things."

Theistic responses to this argument usually boil down to "it's humans not gods who have mucked things up" or "gods work in mysterious ways."

Cicero seems to back down at the end of his powerful dialogue -- saying he endorses the religious position. Harris does not. "Only the atheist," he writes, "has the courage to admit the obvious: these poor people [who prayed to God in New Orleans then died] spent their lives in the company of an imaginary friend."

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:13 AM | Comments (2)