Theologians explain the suffering caused by Hurricane Sandy

Natural disasters are a field day for the faithful. They either explain why we deserved these “natural evils”, or desperately rationalize why they happened in a world supposedly supervised by a beneficent and omnipotent God. If that can’t provide a good explanation, they appeal to the inscrutability of God, or say that everything will be set right in the afterlife.

This, of course, gives atheists the chance to once again note that natural evils don’t comport with most people’s idea of God.

Hurricane Sandy has inspired an orgy of agonized self-examination at PuffHo this week. The biggest piece is by Jaweed Kaleem, “Hurricane Sandy presents complex questions about God for clergy and the faithful as victims cope.” (Kaleem should learn to write more concise titles.)

He notes that some clergy have already claimed that the hurricane was a punishment from God, but we needn’t detain ourselves with that kind of idiocy. Let’s look at the More Sophisticated Responses.

But many Christians and people of all faiths would ask why, if God is all-knowing and created the Earth and life, he would cause the kind of suffering a hurricane or any natural disaster is bound to create. It’s a question Rabbi Harold Kushner, the former head of Temple Israel in Natick, Mass., has spent decades exploring.

“How do you understand what is happening to you?” said Kushner, who wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People after the death of his son from a premature aging disease. Speaking from his home, where the electricity had just gone out and more storm-related problems were likely to come, Kushner, 77, said he had come to understand “God as moral,” but “nature as not.”

But nature is a product of God’s will. It’s like saying that somebody kills you with an axe, and then excusing the incident by arguing that “the axe is not moral but the murderer is.”

“Nature is value-free,” said Kushner, a rabbi of the conservative Jewish tradition. “It can’t tell the role between the deserving the undeserving. God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is. God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes. God is found not in the problem, but in the resilience.”

I am so glad that Rabbi Kushner knows exactly what God is up to and where He is found, given that many other theologians claim that God is inscrutable. Sadly, the “resilience” entailed by forecasting hurricanes occurred only in the last few decades, after God had already killed lots of “unresilient” folks.

Kaleem gives other examples of Hurricane Apologetics:

Similar stories of difficulty and perseverance can be found in the Quran, said Yasir Qadhi, a Muslim cleric and dean of academic affairs at Houston-based AlMaghrib Institute.

“How does one explain evil? If God is all-knowing and all-just and merciful, why are there murders, rapes and typhoons? Philosophers and theologians of all stripes have grappled with this,” said Qadhi, who lives in Memphis, Tenn., and regularly teaches on the East Coast.

“In Islam, there’s no such thing as pure evil. Every action of God may be pure good or may have some good and negative, but there’s always a benefit to every action of Allah, whether we understand it immediately or not,” said Qadhi. “It is by combating evil that we show goodness. Were there no poor people, how could people show their mercy? Were there no hurricane, how could we come together to help each other and be neighbors?”

Were there no Auschwitz, then. . . what? If my cousin hadn’t gotten cancer and died at 14, then. . . what?

Qadhi’s argument that evils are there to give other people the chance to shine is reprehensible. He continues:

“Somebody might ask, ‘Why would God do that?’ Firstly, we cannot understand God’s wisdom. Allah tests us in this world to give us positions in the next. It is by answering those tests that we prove our faithfulness,” said Qadhi, who added that the Quran says “Allah never burdened the soul with more than it can bare [sic].”

This shows nothing about God, but something about the deviousness of the theological mind.  Don’t ask questions—God forbid that we ask whether Allah might not exist—but shut up and suffer.  The more you accept your lot, the more faithful you are.  Can anybody with rationality and empathy buy such tripe?

In another PuffHo piece, “Where was God when Hurricane Sandy Struck?“, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach prefers to ignore the hard questions and spout some platitudes:

What was G-d thinking when he sent Hurricane Sandy and what could have been its purpose?

In truth, I don’t much care, because our role as humans is not to understand G-d’s plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that human life always be protected and preserved. . .

The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

Ours is not to reason why, but to watch folks die—and try not to comply.

But why are we supposed to challenge G-d’s unknowable plan? Presumably G-d knows better than we why good people suffer, so shouldn’t we go along with what He wants?  Or does G-d want us to challenge him: that is, perhaps our suffering is part of an even more devious plan in which G-d tests us to see if we’re gutsy enough to stand up to his manifestly ridiculous actions?

The good rabbi, of course, doesn’t consider the more parsimonious alternative to the suffering of innocents: G-d doesn’t exist, and the suffering is simply what one expects when evolution creates creatures in an unstable world.

More evidence for that parsimonious hypothesis: also at PuffHo, Rev. James Martin, S. J.(a Catholic) offers “A Christian hurricane prayer,” part of which is this:

Creator God, we ask you to calm the wind and the waves of the approaching hurricane, and spare those in its path from harm. Help those who are in its way to reach safety. Open our hearts in generosity to all who need help in the coming days. In all things and in all times, help us to remember that even when life seems dark and stormy, you are in the boat with us, guiding us to safety. Amen.

The first part didn’t work, for God didn’t guide the hurricane away from the east coast of the U.S. or Caribbean islands. Our loving God has once again killed lots of people (132 by the last count). I suppose Sophisticated Theologians™ would explain hurricanes as the inevitable and unavoidable result of the salubrious way that God has arranged the weather, but couldn’t he have steered those winds in another direction? Was he really in our boat?

Not one of these theologians has suggested that the historical difficulty of explaining certain evils as part of God’s plan may suggest that God doesn’t exist at all.

128 Comments

  1. Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Today’s SMBC (a webcomic) has the real answer to why there are hurricanes (link)

  2. TJR
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    We are all Job.

    Natural disasters are clearly all the result of a bet between God and Satan.

    The K-T asteroid must have been a case where God went double or quits and lost.

    • Dominic
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:52 am | Permalink

      KoT – by analogy with G-d!

  3. Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    As we all know, God was tied up helping Arsenal get back from a 4-0 deficit to 4-4.

    I think God was also busy helping out on some touchdown passes. I’m not sure, but he often spends his Sundays at the game.

    • pilgrimpater
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

      I thought god was a bit mean allowing Theo’s goal to cross the line and not give young Jenks his first senior goal for the Gooners.
      You do realise it’s all part of god’s plan just so that Arsenal can get knocked out by lowly Bradford in the quarter finals.

    • Sunny
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      I suppose Tebow in New Jersey escaped unscathed.

  4. Donkeyotee
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Whenever I read an argument like this:

    “Firstly, we cannot understand God’s wisdom. Allah tests us in this world to give us positions in the next. It is by answering those tests that we prove our faithfulness,” said Qadhi@

    I hear this:

    “We cannot comprehend God. Now I’ll just go on to explain what he’s all about.”

    So … hurricanes and suffering: Very Mysterious. Submission for special treats in the afterlife: Obvious To All.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:36 am | Permalink

      Word.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:41 am | Permalink

      If we can’t “comprehend” god, how do we know he actually cares about us at all? How do we know he’s not actually evil, or raising us for food, or using us merely to cultivate his chosen race, E. coli?

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        The obvious question. Only a fabricated, imaginary entity can survive with this contradiction. Example: Santa Claus. He has this very limited sleigh…we’ve all seen pictures of it. It could hold gifts for mebbe twenty, thirty kids, tops!!! Yet there is no discussion about the contradiction between the size of the sleigh, and the number of children receiving the largess of Santa.

        We cheerfully ignore that, because Santa is 100% fabricated, and doesn’t exist. Same as all religious supernaturals out there.

        • Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

          Your assessment of Santa is consistent with known physics.

          Cheers,

          b&

        • mandrellian
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Feh! Everyone knows Santa is a Time-lord and his sleigh is a TARDIS. That explains how he can fit so much in it, AND how he can deliver billions of gifts in only one night.

          • Scott near Berkeley
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

            Where was I wrong??

            “Time Lords” are also imaginary characters.

            Just the idea of time travel is one of the great contradictory fantasies throughout human existence.

            …and we all dream it!!

            One of the great turn-offs within recent “Dr Who” episodes, was the climactic “all the stars are going dark”. Knowing that it takes light multi-millions of years to travel to earth, it was ridiculous to see the stars blinking off like so many lights on a Christmas tree.

            • gbjames
              Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

              “Time Lords” are also imaginary characters?

              Come on, Scott near Berkeley! You don’t expect us to believe that.

            • E.A. Blair
              Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

              I wouldn’t want to see a movie or watch TV with Scott near Berkeley – he wouldn’t let me suspend my disbelief.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

              An interesting illustration of the inconsistencies in our scepticism. Since you evidently watch the series, you’re (apparently) okay with the Tardis time-travelling, and being ‘bigger on the inside’, but not with all the stars going out in real time. Surely the one violates physics exactly as much as the other?

              But yes, I know we all do it. My own example is when the Doctor was at the end of a rope in an enormously deep shaft in darkness, so he just let go and dropped – and only fell a few feet. That struck me as ridiculously improbable. Yet it’s orders of magnitude less unlikely than a Tardis.

        • Posted November 5, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          God IS Santa… the Santa for so-called grown-ups/adults: the Santa you don’t have to abandon when you get to the point of intellectually knowing better.

  5. Gretchen Mattison
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    Just for the record re JWs – The event only proves that the time is approaching for Armageddon. They believe that God is presently having his “day” of rest and will not intervene with anything, however destructive, that is happening on earth at this moment. This way, he wants man to realise that they cannot cope without him.

    • Sagra
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      Typical godlike behavior. He schedules millions of church services for Sunday and then takes the day off.

    • M
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      You are so right on!! :-)

    • John K.
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      Wow. What an evil, self centered, monster.

      • gbjames
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

        And mysterious, too!

    • eric
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

      This way, he wants man to realise that they cannot cope without him.

      Yeah, I do the same thing to my kids. Let them starve for a while so they’ll know how much they need me.

      NOT.

  6. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    “Not one of these theologians has suggested that the historical difficulty of explaining certain evils as part of God’s plan may suggest that God doesn’t exist at all.”

    Of course not; they’d be out of a job.

    • M
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      I have a question. If we are to never be harmed, then man the world would be so overpopulated!! and thats where the real answer lies…FEAR of DEATH…if we just don’t look at it too closely, it just won’t happen! :-) Bah humbug!

      • gbjames
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:52 am | Permalink

        And what was the question?

        • M
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:04 am | Permalink

          The question is WHy should we humans never be harmed. So much prayers, so so much…for what? We have to die, just as all species. Why not be worm food. Frankly, I would be very tired of living “forever” and don’t wish to.

          • Greg G
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

            To paraphrase Alex Trebek, “Your questions must be in the form of a question.”

            To answer one of your question-mark-less questions “Why not be worm food.” I quote the Outlaw Josey Wales, “Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms.”

    • Sastra
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Sometimes theologians do suggest that the Problem of Evil (as it’s called) does indeed suggest that maybe God doesn’t exist at all. But they don’t really bring this up as a serious possibility, an option that needs to be considered and weighed rationally. It’s introduced, rather, as a challenge to faith, a question in the same category as whether or not we should persist in the face of obstacles or try to love one another despite our misery.

      Questioning God’s existence, then, is still framed and approached as if God does exist and we know it. The real problem is remaining loyal and true to our values, even when it’s hard. Will we abandon God when things are not going the way we want? Can we not resolve to wrest good from evil?

      That line of argument is so smug, so self-congratulating, and so intellectually dishonest (and clueless) it always pisses me off. I suspect they have little to no idea of how this looks to a nonbeliever. Nor would they care.

  7. Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    I did a post similar to yours about several days ago, right before I lost power (I’m in NJ). Here is the link:

    http://www.paleolibrarian.info/2012/10/malevolence-of-god-belief.html

    What amazes me, is that even with all this technology, we really are only about a week way from returning to the Bronze Age once the electricity goes out. Perhaps not so much in the way we think but in the way we act.

    It is also important to note how we have used science to positively change our world. Not too long ago, electricity was the stuff of gods, not science, and our science has made the world a better place.

    Thanks for all you do for the cause of reason and rationality.

    Cheers,
    David

    • pilgrimpater
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      Yes obviously god assumed that all those it (he???)killed via Sandy/Katrina etc were all gay, in pact with devil, causers of Jewish settlement withdrawal, had aids, abortionists, racists & evolutionists (some combination).
      Trouble is that god couldn’t see off all the gays, devil worshippers, enforcers of settlement withdrawal, those with aids, abortionists, racists & evolutionists who reside outside areas prone to natural disasters.
      Seems like god can only operate within the confines of Nature. I wonder why. Could it be that it doesn’t exist?

  8. eric
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret.

    Holy crap! Meant both in the expletive and descriptive sense.

  9. coozoe
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    That line “we aren’t supposed to understand why God does this or that” is always the one they use as a trump card. How can any adult believe that crap?

  10. Austin Lazzell
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    God doesn’t send random things to buffet people. All the things He does are for a reason. They’re not part evil part holy, though. God Is all loving, but our sins keep us from Him and Heaven. We can’t truly see the real bright aspects in tragedies until we are forgiven of our sons and God transforms and gives us a new mind, a new outlook on everything with Him in perspective. Was Sandy bad? Yeah! Does that mean God doesn’t exist? Not at all. God works on multiple levels using the same tool in many cases. Take the hurricane for example. There are many believers praising The Lord for the protection in the midst of such an immense storm. There are many unbelievers though that are now seeing just how small we all are and even when we’re on our feet there are things stronger than us that are out of our control. God can work in their hearts through this experience to see a broader scheme of things. I’m sure even death was wondered about; what exactly would happen to them if they died. I’m a Christian, and I thing while the other people quoted had a few Good points, they miss the target with most of what they said. If you read all this, thank you, and I hope I was some sort of help in coping/understanding God’s use if Sandy that we rarely think about.

    • gbjames
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Yes, you are a Christian. Nothing you said makes a bit of sense.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      Since you’re a first-time poster here, I’ll ask you to answer this question for the rest of us (this is customary): What, exactly, makes you so sure that God exists as opposed to no God?

      Is there anything that could happen in the world that is so horrible that it would shake your certainty that God exists?

      And what, pray tell, is the “bright aspect” of the Holocaust? Are you sure there is one? If you think God permitted that for a reason, then your religion is truly screwed up.

      • Gretchen Mattison
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        Austin – I hoped you ticked the “notify me of follow-up comments…” box so you can read all the responses and we are waiting eagerly to your response to “the cat in the ceiling’s” question. However, for myself, I am also interested in your believes in evolution. For me, it’s one step at a time.

    • eric
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      Take the hurricane for example. There are many believers praising The Lord for the protection in the midst of such an immense storm.

      “Thank you, Lord, for only killing my neighbor, and not me.”

      I hope I was some sort of help in coping/understanding God’s use if Sandy that we rarely think about.

      Not really. The first part of your post argues that we can’t understand God’s use of Sandy. The second part of your post argues that he killed people so that some unbelievers will have second thoughts.

      The two arguments are obviously inconsistent. You can’t claim its inexplicable in one breath, provide an explanation in the second, and expect to be taken seriously. And that explanation – its realy not a moral action. Its highly immoral. Did you think about that?

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        It’s OK to have arguments/statements that are contrary to each other, if the subject of your statements are imaginary entities: Paul Bunyan, Santa Claus, Thoth, Zeus, Mercury, Angels, and all the supernatural Gods and folk heroes that ever existed.

        The setting of arguments and statements, side-by-side, that are obviously and inherently contradictory, are the footprints of imaginary entities.

        Can Zeus make a rock so large, even he cannot lift it??

    • truthspeaker
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      You do realize this hurricane killed people, right? Killed. Dead.

      Think about that, and then go read what you have written.

    • Greg G
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      God doesn’t send random things to buffet people. All the things He does are for a reason. They’re not part evil part holy, though. God Is all loving

      If God is powerful enough to send a hurricane, could he not do something else for the same reason that would achieve the same ends without causing suffering? A powerful god does not need to cause suffering – it’s optional. Therefore, your “all loving” god chose to cause unnecessary suffering. So if God isn’t sending “random events to buffet people”, we must conclude that the reason he does those things is to cause unnecessary suffering.

      • Scott near Berkeley
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        Heck, why not create a “superstorm” and get everyone on the planet involved?? Just like sunlight, a storm everywhere on the planet would be a “super-LOVE” event.

    • Karl Withakay
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      “There are many believers praising The Lord for the protection in the midst of such an immense storm.”

      That’s the sharpshooter’s fallacy. Shoot randomly at the broadside of a barn and draw a circle around any cluster of hits and claim that’s where you were aiming.

      Draw a circle around a bunch of people not killed by the storm and claim they were protected by God. Brilliant!

    • Notagod
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Another christian telling their god what Its done.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      What edifying is possibly accomplished, for example, by a toddler getting cancer in both eyes and having to have both eyes removed?

    • John K.
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Was Sandy bad? Yeah! Does that mean God doesn’t exist? Not at all.

      It means god is unable to prevent it, or does not care enough to prevent it even if he could. If he was willing and able it would not have happened. I expect he was unable, being non-existent and all, but if you want to go on thinking he just doesn’t care it is up to you.

    • Dan L.
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      There are many unbelievers though that are now seeing just how small we all are and even when we’re on our feet there are things stronger than us that are out of our control.

      I’m well aware of how small I am; I’m well aware of the fact that almost everything that happens in the universe is beyond my control.

      On the other hand, you believe that the entire universe was created solely for the purpose of housing homo sapiens. You think we are, metaphorically speaking, quite big.

      Always amazes me how incredibly arrogant Christians are.

      • llavila
        Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Yes, this is such a stupid statement to make. Most unbelievers are very scientifically minded and realize all to well how small and powerless we are in relation to the universe.

  11. John K.
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Let us not forget the twisted Catholic viewpoint: Suffering is good for your soul! It will help you get into heaven!

    From here we get the suffering barns called hospitals from Mother Teresa. It is pretty ironic that the refusal to accept the logical conclusions from the problem of evil is the cause of so much real evil in the world.

  12. Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    But nature is a product of God’s will. It’s like saying that somebody kills you with an axe, and then excusing the incident by arguing that “the murderer is immoral but the axe is not.”

    Not to pick nits, but wouldn’t it be more like saying the axe is immoral but the murderer isn’t?

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      That was an error, now fixed. Thanks.

    • Greg G
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      I was going to pick that nit, too, but after I clicked through so I could get to the comments, the quote was different. I didn’t know if I was going crazy or if I had too much blood in my caffeine stream.

      I would also suggest the axe be a home-made machete.

  13. Aj
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    It’s like saying that somebody kills you with an axe, and then excusing the incident by arguing that “the murderer is immoral but the axe is not.”

    I think I get what you were trying to say here, but I’m not sure that your example works.

    It’s perfectly possible not to ascribe immorality to the axe, since the axe has no agency.

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

      Well then is would also be perfectly possible not to ascribe immorality to nature. But this is what Kushner did not do (instead he DID ascribe immorality to nature), and that is what is being replied to. (What’s with the convoluted negative phasing, anyway?)

    • Sastra
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Rabbi Kushner is famous for promoting the view that God is not omnipotent. He is limited; there is only so much He can do.

      It gets out of one theological problem by introducing another.

  14. Notagod
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Three gods in one post, maybe f-ur. God fits in a very small b-x.

    Reverend to Rabbi to Reverend: “What did you do regarding hurricane Sandy? I played God for my sheep. Why, so did I! See, we Gods aren’t so different, you and I.

  15. Mattapult
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    If God doesn’t control nature, and therefore isn’t responsible for hurricanes, then the Christians should stop posting pictures on Facebook praising God for beautiful sunsets.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      +1

  16. Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    So, do all theologians fall into one of these two categories: deserved these “natural evils”, or desperately rationalize why they happened in a world supposedly supervised by a beneficent and omnipotent God. ?

  17. Occam
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    What a bunch of monotheistic malarkey!

    Poseidon the Earth-Shaker, King of the Sea, appeared to me in a prophetic vision last night.

    Unless, so warned Poseidon, mankind renounces the single-deity abomination (or the 3-in-1 discounted special offer) and reverts to the pious worship of the rightful Olympians, the floods shall rise again. The winds shall blow. The ground shall shake. The ice shall melt at the poles. The Great Salt Lake shall evaporate.
    Thus spake the mighty Poseidon unto me; and who’s to say it ain’t so?

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Diagoras of Melos:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagoras_of_Melos

      Same arguments back then we are hearing now, except it was Poseidon and not the trinity-god. Seafarers would -not- carry Diagoras on their ships, because Poseidon would find out, and sink their ship as a result!!

  18. peter
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    “She notes that some clergy…”
    I’m pretty sure “she” is a he. It would be nice to think that no woman would write such a pile of crap, but unfortunately that’s unlikely.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Yep, you’re right. I corrected it.

      As for no woman writing such stuff, I point to Karen Armstrong.

  19. Roux Brownwell
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    There are many unbelievers though that are now seeing just how small we all are and even when we’re on our feet there are things stronger than us that are out of our control.

    I am one of them. I now see a
    broader scheme of things. It includes me
    with a generator on my back porch.

  20. Scott Reilly
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Same old Spiel. When something wonderful happens to people, they say “God is good.” When something bad happens, “God is mysterious.”

    Rabbi Boteach is a fool. Watch a debate that he and two other apologists had with Sam Harris, Hitchens and Dan Dennet. He spouts all kinds of nonsense about evolution and Darwin.

    Hardly a debate really, more like an execution. Boteach, in particular, is difficult to watch. Hitchens was some legend, though. The discourse just isn’t the same without him.

    • Filippo
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      Boteach’s (and D’souza’s) motto apparently is, “When in Doubt, Shout!”

  21. unapologist
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Honestly give me the Fundamentalist explanation of God’s punishment for sin over this moderate rubbish. At least the Fundamentalist will acknowledge that god can be an ass sometimes and wipe people out because he’s pissed off.

    The moderates always play the same game of semantics, “God is in the response,” “God is mysterious,” or “God is using the storm so we can go out and show his love for others.”

    I’ll take the old fashioned, “God is an angry tyrant that hates you and wants you dead,” any day over what moderates offer as explanation.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Semantics??? More like abuse of language. “Language Abuse”: setting up sentences that seemingly make sense, yet have no real meaning… e.g., “North of the North Pole”.

  22. deadweasel
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    My heart is gladdened when theists tell me the purpose of suffering on earth is to show compassion and bring others together. I’ll be sure to remember it the next time they try to throw the atrocities of Stalin the Atheist in my face.
    “Tell me, UNBELIEVER: Stalin the Atheist killed millions of people. What say you to that, INFIDEL?”
    I reply, “Like your unknowable god, Stalin brought the victims together in suffering, and taught them compassion. He gave millions the opportunity to show their goodness by fighting his evil. He taught them to live, to laugh, to love! And unlike your god, he actually existed! All praise to Stalin the Atheist!”

    • Tulse
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      That’s brilliant.

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        +1

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          You forgot the preface, “..from his years of study in the Eastern Orthodox seminary, Stalin knew…”

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      Wow, that’s a good one. Thanks, will be using that analogy every chance I get.

  23. jimroberts
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    sub

  24. jose
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    These theologians are complicating things unnecesarily. The Truth is simpler:

    Manwe was angry.

    Occam’s razor strikes again. I win.

  25. jeffery
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Comedian (I forget his name): “When I was a boy, I prayed for a bicycle. When I didn’t get one, I realized that I hadn’t known how God worked, so I stole a bicycle and prayed for forgiveness!”

    Richard Pryor (commenting on getting burned while freebasing cocaine): “Some people say that my getting burned was God’s way of punishing me for freebasing- if God had wanted to PUNISH me, He’d a burned mah dick off!”

    I read, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” years ago, being interested in what it would have to say on the subject. What I found was a collection of whiny drivel that never came close to answering the title’s question.

    What is obvious is that religion’s (the Judeo-Christian tradition in particular)current concept, their “hypothesis” of God simply does not work: it generates too many paradoxes and internal inconsistencies for it to possibly be an accurate and/or adequate explanation for the world and the way that events happen within it. For a Judeo-Christian to deny that their “God” never does anything bad is to ignore their own holy book- Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity (“disaster”, or “evil” in some translations); I, the Lord do all these things.”

    Further reading of the book of Job reveals the sick, ignorant outlook of the Babble: a juvenile bet between God and Satan, who is apparently under God’s control as God forbids Satan to kill Job. The “bet” is made even more meaningless by the fact that God, being all-knowing, already knows the outcome).

    An omnipotent being cannot help but to be involved in His creation: the very POTENTIAL for Him to be able to influence anything means that He influences it, even in deciding to NOT do something. The responsibility cannot be escaped.

    • truthspeaker
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      Emo Phillips is the comedian you’re thinking of.

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Like every imaginary, fabricated folk character, the inherent contradictions mean one thing: in the real world, with real people, a real planet, this character (Jesus, god, etc.) is imaginary, never existed, doesn’t exist, will never exist.

  26. invivoMark
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    What the hell? “G-d”? As if typing “God” is a bad thing and God will punish you for it, but he’ll totally be tricked if you omit the “o”? If I were God, I’d be ticked off at how insulting that is to my intelligence!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

      But Rabbi B-teach forgot to omit the ‘o’ on two occasions (this assumes CeilingC-t transcribed him correctly). So I guess that means the Rabbi only needs to be stoned to death twice.

      Obligatory Monty Python reference

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

        Link didn’t work, try again

  27. MAUCH
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    The purpose of massive natural disasters is to give the faithful the chance to know that if it were not for the goodness of god they would have died. They don’t seem to ask why god’s infinate wisdom ordained that their neighbor should not be so fortunate. Apparently it was the appointed time for all those other individuals to suffer a miserable death.

  28. Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Late to the party, so I’ll just ask a single question:

    Why doesn’t Jesus ever call 911?

    b&

  29. Dermot C
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Even later to the party, when the revellers are staggering semi-unconsciously bedwards or crsshing out on the nearest available ashtray: I thought these Jesuits were supposed to be top of the class in Divinity School (Loyola, Gerard Manley Hopkins).

    Does the Rev. Martin’s prayer make sense? God is in a boat in a hurricane, and we, on dry land, should be in the boat with Him? Eh?

    Mebbe he’s thinking of HMS Bounty, some type of lateral thinking about Fletcher Christian? Who knows? Jesuits think in mysterious ways.

    Send the metaphor back for a re-draft; must do better.

    • eric
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      I thought these Jesuits were supposed to be top of the class in Divinity School

      They are. Have you ever tried drinking a lemonade made with just lemons? Doesn’t matter how good the cook is, its awful. Sour all the way through.

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 2, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Bit unfair on Hopkins, I think, Eric. Rejected by his own side when he submitted his poems for publication:

        The Windhover

        I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin,
        dapple-drawn Falcon, in his riding
        Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
        High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
        In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,
        As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend; the hurl and gliding
        Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
        Stirred for a bird–the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

        Brute beauty and valor and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
        Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
        Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

        No wonder of it; sheer plod makes plow down sillion
        Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
        Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

        Not a lemon!

  30. Bonzodog
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Funny how that all loving god really hates poor people when natural disasters happen.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

      The 47% are all a bunch of sponges – natural disasters are God’s way of fulfilling Ayn Rand’s desires.

    • Tulse
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      If god didn’t hate them already they wouldn’t be poor.

      • Bonzodog
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

        If that is the case, he loathes me !

  31. Karl Withakay
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    “God’s role is not to decide where the hurricane goes and how severe it is.”

    God, as an all powerful deity, must had absolute control over the design and creation of the universe and everything in it, and must have been able to create any universe he wanted to. He absolutely decided where the hurricane would go and how severe it would be. Do hurricanes have free will? (Please, don’t anybody evoke “The Fall” to explain anything not rainbows and puppies in the universe)

    “God’s role is to motivate people to help neighbors and improve methods to predict hurricanes.”

    So God’s role is in interfere with the free will he supposedly gave to humans?

    “Every action of God may be pure good or may have some good and negative, but there’s always a benefit to every action of Allah,”

    See, babies dying of AIDS, children being raped by pedophiles, and people suffering lingering, painful bouts with cancer over periods of years are all beneficial. It must only be through our naivety and our ignorance of God’s great plan that any compassionate human being would alleviate such suffering if it was within their power to do with a finger snap. Maybe we should think twice before donating to the Red Cross. Presumably all the suffering is part of God’s plan, and who are we to defy God’s will?

    “It is by answering those tests that we prove our faithfulness,”

    Lucky are they who never face such tests; apparently that’s fair somehow.

    Since God’ knew where the hurricane was headed and what effects it would have, why would it be necessary for anyone to petition him to alter its course? Does he like his pets to beg and do tricks before he gives them a treat?

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      “God’s role is not…” the same as Paul Bunyan’s role in Hurricane Sandy…NOTHING!!! The role for imaginary entities in real time is not….anything!!

      • Karl Withakay
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Scott near Berkeley,

        Come one, man! Paul Bunyan is a far more plausible character than God.

        • Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          Indeed — I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and I’ve seen what Paul Bunyan’s axe can do when he’s not carful with it. Which is why we need to protect ourselves from this dire menace, lest his blue ox contribute even further to midwest flooding by walking around and creating even more lakes in Minnesota.

          b&

          • Scott near Berkeley
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            Where’s he buried? I want to worship at his tomb! Well, at least, visit the Bunyan Land. Mebbe he’s not even dead…didn’t consider…last confirmed sighting??

            A taco…an image of Paul Bunyan on a taco…

            The ox…last confirmed sighting of ox droppings? Certainly, musta made the news!!

            • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

              Actually, I hear he’s teamed up with Robin Hood and Elvis to fight zombies….

              b&

      • Karl Withakay
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        Upon re-reading my comment, I realize that I did not phrase it as hypothetically as I should hvae.

        “God, as an all powerful deity, IF HE EXISTED, WOULD HAVE had absolute control over the design and creation of the universe and everything in it, and WOULD HAVE have been able to create any universe he wanted to. He absolutely WOULD HAVE decided where the hurricane would go and how severe it would be.” etc, etc.

  32. Sastra
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret.

    Atheists ask more questions. And we ask BETTER questions than the few they do ask.

    This is an answer you’d give a two-year-old. “Hush, don’t worry.” Religion arrogantly infantilizes people — and then calls that humility.

  33. E.A. Blair
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Here’s what really happened: the gays and lesbians got together with the feminists, abortionists, climate scientists, evolutionists, Planned Parenthood and the former members of ACORN. Led by a polyamorous bisexual Pagan priestess they did a ritual dance dedicated to Zeus, Thor and Satan* to call up the storm and show the Republicans, the wingnuts and the goddies just what could happen when they got irritated. It’s a warning not to get them seriously pissed off.

    *The atheists backed out when the Pagans and their deities got involved. They are planning to send an unmanned probe into space to search for Russel’s Teapot.

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      What did they eat for dinner, the flying spaghetti monster?

  34. Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    The prevailing response today among Christian philosophers to the Problem of Evil is indeed skeptical theism, summarized in the sort of claim Jerry quotes, that we humans are not in a position to assess whether some instance of evil is ultimately a bad thing.

    In some respects, this is progress. Even Alvin Plantinga admits that attempting to provide a positive explanation for evil in general is probably a fool’s errand. But there are two big problems with skeptical theism.

    One is a problem Jerry himself mentions above, and other commenters allude to. Basically, if we can’t ever be sure whether some evil is overall a bad thing, why bother trying to prevent evils? Why should I prevent myself from killing innocent people, even?

    The second is one my colleague Michael Tooley has identified. Here’s a version of it: The theist insists that for all we know, evils in the world have unknown mitigating features, and are therefore not overall bad. But the atheist can point out that these evils might also have unknown aggravating features, features that make them even worse than they seem.

    There seem to be three possibilities: (1) unknown mitigating factors outweigh unknown aggravating factors; (2) unknown aggravating factors outweigh unknown mitigating factors; (3) the two factors cancel, perhaps because neither exists. But for two of those three possibilities, the evil is un-outweighed by good.

    From our position of ignorance, then, we should estimate that each of those possibilities is 33% likely to be true, for any particular evil. But of course only one of them allows God to exist: possibility #1. Therefore, for any particular evil, we should estimate that it’s 33% likely to be justified. Then given that there are (say) one million inscrutable evils in history, and that their justification is (for all we know) causally and epistemically independent, the maximum probability that God exists would be

    (0.33)^1000000,

    which is of course a very small number indeed.

    • eric
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

      That seems overly complex and brings in a fakey sort of math. You don’t know the likelihood of the three variants so assigning them equal probability is just a guess.

      Its much better to respond like this: we must make belief decisions based on the best information we have on hand. Sure, future hidden variables and unknowns could later demonstrate that our current belifs are wrong, but that’s true for anything, not just theodicy. The best information we have at hand says there is no benefit to (most of this) evil. Thus, we should tenatatively accept the conclusion that it isn’t good, and make belief decisions as if that were true.

      When new information comes along we can always revise our belief decisions. But until that new information actually appears, it is irrational and biased to give this hypothetical future information real weight.

      • Posted November 2, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        eric,

        You’re right that the Principle of Indifference is controversial. However, many theists accept it (when they offer the Finetuning Argument), and a case can be made that we normally apply it in our day-to-day reasoning, in which case it would be special pleading not to apply it here.

        Without something like the Principle of Indifference, I don’t know how you could justify this:

        The best information we have at hand says there is no benefit to (most of this) evil.

        As Wykstra et al. have pointed out, it’s not initially obvious what justifies us in assigning any probabilities to whether some instance of evil is overall justified.

        Also, we may not need the Principle of Indifference itself to offer basically the argument I described. Isn’t there some intuitive sense to be made of the idea that the possibility of unknown mitigating factors “cancels” the possibility of unknown aggravating factors?

        • Tulse
          Posted November 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          “Intuitive sense”? I don’t have that intuition. I strongly suspect that those who do have such intuition believe that the universe is inherently just in some fashion, that there is some force that ensures justice and/or beneficence on a cosmic scale. We typically call such a force “god”, which means that your “intuition” is really just question-begging.

  35. marycanada FCD
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    “Damage control” a full-time job

  36. Mateus
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Those theologians have no idea what they’re talking about. Sandy was obviously a consequence of Cthullu rising up from the sea.

    ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

    • Scott near Berkeley
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      Careful.
      You translate that into English, and you’ll be burned at the stake!!

      Why aren’t all these theologians talking in Latin? That was the =only= language for the Bible and clergy, for over a thousand years, and no translating, please…then, like that (snap) Latin took a backseat.

      Bring back Latin!! We (conservatives) want our religion back!!

      • Dermot C
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        For the Roman Catholic Church, the 1,000 year Latin-only issue is nearly true, but not as monolithic as you’d think;even some early Middle Ages Popes promoted the Bible in the vernacular, as well as the likes of Wycliffe and, probably, the Cathars.

        What became Greek Orthodoxy, based in Constantinople, had far less of a problem with translations from the Greek.

        Sorry to be pedantic but facts is facts…Coptic, Syriac, Armenian, Gothic…

        • Scott near Berkeley
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

          Knowledge is good. Thanks!

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

        ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

        Careful.
        You translate that into English, and you’ll be burned at the stake!!

        Not burned at the stake, eaten. And isn’t that the point? To be amongst the first?

        b&

  37. Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    In the meantime those allegedly secular and self-proclaimed science supporters like Obama and MSNBC are bowing to the gods of oil and silencing climate change debates.

  38. Er
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Haredi Rabbi Blames Hurricane Sandy On Israel’s Subservient Relationship With the US.

    Amnon Yitzhak, the Yemenite ‘mega church’ kiruv rabbi, explained the meaning of Hurricane Sandy during a talk he gave in the Israeli city of Ma’ale Adumim earlier this week.
    Yitzhak went on to explain that the State of Israel’s dependence on the United States was the root cause of Hurricane Sandy.

    “God has no problem helping his sons [i.e., Jews in Israel], but the sons must recognize their father [and “rely on him rather than the US], Yitzhak said.
    http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2012/11/haredi-rabbi-blames-hurricane-sandy-on-israels-subservient-relationship-with-the-us-567.html

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      If the hurricane was a warning to the Jews in Israel, why didn’t it strike Tel Aviv? After all, god could do that if it really wanted to.

      • jeffery
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

        Just goes to show you that the Christers have no monopoly on crazy!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      We’d all noticed (yep, even the Palestinians) that Israel is *dependent* on the US, but I don’t recall ever seeing them show any signs of subservience to the US.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted November 2, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

        Yeah, really seems to be the other way around.

  39. Kevin
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    when evolution creates creatures

    When evolution does what?

  40. CJ
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    God sent Sandy to liberal northeastern U.S. to make voting inconvenient for them, and send a message to the superstitious folk to vote Republican.

    Had that earthquake hit San Francisco at the same time instead of the BC coast, the crazy fucks would probably be out shootin’ gays right now, praying for the rapture.

  41. shakyisles
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    The only gods who can make any difference to our own reality are us

  42. Posted November 3, 2012 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    One of the few pleasures of being an atheist is watching theists tie themselves in knots trying to respond to the world as everyone experiences it.

    One of the best examples is learning how Sharia compliant loans work. Under Sharia, interest is forbidden so giving people loans for houses involves working out the ‘cost of money’ over 25 years, adding that to the price of the house then saying ‘that’s the house price’. The lender then pays that up in monthly instalments – but no interest is included in the equation.
    This is the nonsense of religious thought over pure mathematics.
    Irrationality finding a way round rationality – and no-one seems to wake up in the middle of the night and think ‘who the hell do we think we’re kidding?’

    • gbjames
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      Wow. You just gave me an idea for how we can completely eliminate taxes! Have you mentioned this technique to Mitt Romney?

      • Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        I did mention it to Mitt but he didn’t understand the word ‘tax’.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 3, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      I thought the Bible had something about that too but I don’t notice the Christian right publicising it ;)

      • Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        When Christians and Muslims decided that only Jews should make loans, was that really a wise thing to do?

  43. Posted November 4, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I pray for The Rapture every night – then maybe all these Christian nuts can get the f*ck off my planet!


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