Last Wednesday, the Wire covered a theological debate between Andrew Sullivan and Jerry Coyne over the age-old problem of evil. Does the presence of suffering in the world disprove the existence of God? Sullivan said no, and Coyne, yes. Recently, three more contenders--including Russell Blackford, the debate's instigator--have joined Coyne's side, but with but each offering a slightly different take on the flaws of theism.
- Suffering, Suffering, and More Suffering Jason Rosenhouse of Evolutionblog agreed with a Daily Dish reader who pointed out that "the argument from evil is
based on reason, while Sullivan's answer seems based on faith." Thus, "nothing in these posts ... suggests a well thought-out answer to the question of why an
omnipotent, omnibenevolent God allows such ceaseless suffering and
pain." Suffering, as Rosenhouse explained in another post, was the sticking point. "Why four billion years of suffering, death and extinction, when God
could have created everything ex nihilo precisely as the Bible says He
did? Why the riot of awfulness that is evolution by natural selection?" This, remember, is from an evolutionist.
Sullivan thinks we can see some higher purpose to the relentless awfulness of nature and the world generally? ... I can not fathom what it is. As an atheist I explain pain and suffering by the time-worn adage that excrement happens ... Sullivan obviously thinks I have missed something, but I would like a clear statement of what that could be. I still would like to know how I will understand the situation better by making God a part of my considerations.
- Anthropocentric 'Priestly Vocabulary' "Andrew Sullivan," began Ophelia Benson Butterflies and Wheels, paraphrasing the opening of John Milton's Paradise Lost, "justifies the ways of god to human beings (though decidedly not to other animals)." She referred to Sullivan's talk of the "unique human capacity" to transcend suffering; "there's some priestly vocabulary that's supposed to make the things
sound deep ... but priestly vocabulary
is just that, and the sonorities remain just sonorities." Fundamentally, she wrote, though Sullivan went through trying times and emerged triumphant,
[H]e doesn't know it was God that lifted him. He knows that something did ... Leaving people free to think it was god if they wanted to and free to think it was human resilience if they wanted to ... might not sound as poetic, or even as consoling, but it would sound more possible.
- What's God's Motivation? Russell Blackford from Metamagician and the Hellfire Club just didn't think things added up. "There is no reason why an omnipotent God had to do things this way, and no plausible reason has ever been given, by Sullivan or anyone else, as to why a loving and benevolent God would be motivated to do so." He suggested Sullivan was attempting to ditch "intellectual rigor" with talk of his own trials.
- A Reader Responds "Intellectual rigor?" Asked a Blackford reader named David. "There hasn’t been any on the part of either you or Coyne [the earlier debater]. Again, all you are saying is what Christians already know and what the bible teaches: that God is not 'omnibenevolent'."