Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Sudanese girl crawls to relief station while vulture bets she doesn't make it. Photojournalist Kevin Carter wins Pulitzer in 1994 for this, then kills self.

Conservative, and atheistic, writer Heather MacDonald on God and evil

Luke Ford: "Could you marry someone who believed in God?"

Heather MacDonald: "It would depend on how much they in-sisted on seeing the world through that lens. If they were con-stantly attributing certain outcomes to divine intervention, I would then want to know why other hor-rific daily outcomes should not also be at-tributed to divine in-tervention or divine indifference. That's a fundamental differ-ence in worldview. If it were somebody who was willing to joke about either his faith or my atheism, it's possible. If it were a regular demonstration of piety, I would find it difficult. I don't under-stand how people of intelligence can re-concile what I see as constant proof of divine indifference to human outcomes with a reverence for God. To me it's a mystery."

Samantha Runnion


Alejandro Avila


Jacqueline Marris and Tamara Brooks

Roy Ratliff

Not Even a Good Neighbor, Let Alone Worthy of Worship

A Letter to The Tablet on What is Worse than a Tsunami for Classical Theism, Namely, Its Problem of Evil


August 6, 2002

Dear Ms. A------,

It is always of great interest to me when philosophy shows up in the popular press.  On your way to making a conservationist plea in your recent column (The Tablet, Aug. 2), you ventured into philosophy.

You consider “the beauty and complexity of the natural world and the order of the universe” to be “a compelling proof of the existence of God.  It’s all too complex and ordered to be accidental or coincidental.  There are just too many beautiful colors, complex life forms and intricacies to be explained by chance.”

You also say you have “never been able to comprehend atheists.”  Of course, the incomprehension goes both ways.  If your inference from natural beauty, complexity, and order were in fact a compelling proof, then it would compel (unless “proof” means “the marshalling of favorable evidence for a conclusion to which one is already committed”).  In fact, it does not compel all rational minds.

Before I am misunderstood, let me make clear that I agree with you: there is nothing accidental or coincidental about the cosmic order.  It has a personal, creative, divine source.  I don’t believe, however, that theism can be read off the surface of things.

If polled, “billions of people” will no doubt claim that they “believe in a powerful, loving and merciful God who created and sustains the universe.”  But are they “thinking outside the box,” or just repeating what feels comfortable and familiar?  I am fairly certain, however, that thinking outside the box is what some young adults do on their spring break when they question their inherited theism – a “box” if there ever was one.

For nature exhibits a great deal of disorder as well as order, and ugliness as well as beauty.  It inflicts at least as much pain on sentient creatures as it induces pleasure in them. There is much more cold, black emptiness in the cosmos than beautiful colors, complex life forms, or intricacies.

Even so, if the existence of evil and ugliness count against the existence of the God of classical theism, then the existence of goodness (and truth and beauty) should count for that God’s existence.  Not many atheists will accept this goose-and-gander proposition.  Unfortunately, neither will many theists I have known.

The problem lies in a concept of God to which most theists are uncritically committed.  It is the idea of God as omnipotent, as all-controller.  According to this conception, God sheerly caused them to be and sheerly sustains them in existence.  He created them out of nothing.  He is the ultimate reason why anything is the way it is.  God is firmly in control of all things.

To worship such a being, however, is to worship sheer efficient causality, than which nothing should be less inspiring, at least for one who takes his cue about the nature of God from Jesus.  As Whitehead put it, God’s power is the worship he inspires.

Popular religion to the contrary notwithstanding, pushing gross matter around is not what God’s power consists in.  Never has been, never will be.  Rather, God’s power is attractive: it influences the growth of beings that partially determine their own course.  That’s why the cosmos has the order it has, but not yet all the order or the kind of order God wants it to have.  That fundamental entities have self-determining power is an ultimate metaphysical fact, not a result of divine gift-giving.

Only such a theistic scheme gets God off the hook for the existence and occurrence of excessive, nondisciplinary evil with which the world is teeming. Theists who insist that God can but, for some mysterious reason doesn’t prevent such evil should not be surprised when others tune them out and regard talk about natural beauty to be a change of subject.

The so-called free-will defense of the traditional God’s goodness is fatally flawed.  Even if, for example, Alejandro Avila raped and murdered Samantha Runnion a few weeks ago “of his own free will,” any decent human being, of his or her own free will, would have forcibly prevented Avila from doing the same, if they could have.

Police officers of their own free will prevented Roy Ratliff from murdering those two teenaged girls last week of his own free will.  God may have respected his free will, but they shot him to death.  If they could have done so before he abducted and sexually assaulted those girls, they would have.

God also has free will, yet he did not prevent those teenagers from being raped or five-year-old Samantha from being raped and killed.  He would have if he could have.  If he wouldn’t have, then he does not even qualify as a good neighbor, let alone a being worthy of worshipBut he couldn’t.

You say you cannot comprehend atheists, yet many who identify themselves as such are simply accepting a certain theistic conception of God and drawing a different conclusion. Both groups hold that the traditional concept of God is a “package deal”: God is both the source of order and beauty and the one who could, but doesn’t, save the two-year-old who is dying horribly from Tay-Sachs in Evanston, Illinois as I write this.

Traditional theists prefer to live with the inexplicability of evil given God’s existence; atheists, the inexplicability of goodness, truth, and beauty given God’s nonexistence.  This dichotomy, however, is fortunately not necessary.

We cannot continue teaching children that God can do anything (logically possible), but that God also imperially chooses not to do, without risk to himself, what anyone of us would be morally bound to at least try to do, even at some risk to ourselves (e.g., saving a child from a careening car or burning bus).  A religion that acquiesces in that conception of God is held together only by social and psychological, i.e., nonrational, bonds.  Once reason breaks those bonds, atheism looms as an option.  College kids prove that every year.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  For reasons of length and content, it is inappropriate for The Tablet.  I am open to any correction you think I deserve and wish to give me.


   Anthony Flood


The Tablet is the weekly newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.  This letter received no reply.