A program of the Center for Inquiry
For Immediate Release: January 6, 2016
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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Despite humanity’s progress, billions still endure untold suffering from disease, starvation, disaster, and our own violence and cruelty. What does this say about the existence of a just and all-powerful god? Susan Jacoby, Edward Tabash, Anthony Pinn, and other leading lights of secular thought come together in a special issue of Free Inquiry magazine to take a comprehensive look at what is perhaps religion’s greatest stumbling block: theodicy, “the problem of evil.”
Theodicy—the defense of a good and omnipotent god’s existence despite the existence of evil and suffering—is thoroughly refuted in this collection of essays, but the authors also deftly explore, from various angles, the personal and cultural implications of the impossibility of such a benign overseer.
Susan Jacoby , author of books such as The Great Agnostic and Freethinkers, notes the vacuum left when God’s plans can no longer explain away great tragedies, forcing human beings to look to themselves for answers. “Even though atheists have no theodicy problem,” she writes, “we are left with a moral duty and a moral challenge that never go away—the imperative to do right when we are strongly tempted to do wrong.”
Veteran civil rights attorney Edward Tabash reaches into his own childhood to tell the deeply moving story of his mother, a Holocaust survivor, and the devastating effect her time in Auschwitz had on both her sanity and his faith. Tabash denies that her suffering could have been part of any divine plan. “She did not emerge with greater courage, resilience, strength, or will power. If God wanted her to develop any of these qualities, she could have been placed in some kind of boot camp instead of a concentration camp.”
Rice University’s Anthony Pinn takes a bold step beyond theodicy, urging nonbelievers to engage in what he calls “anthropodicy,” a critical examination of human beings, rather than God, in light of the suffering and misery we visit on each other. Philosopher Stephen Law, meanwhile, reverses the usual theodicy puzzle to speculate on the existence of an evil god, and finds that the same arguments for and against a benevolent supreme being to be equally absurd.
Also in this special feature, contributions from David Koepsell, Shadia B. Drury, and James A. Metzger, as well as a robust defense of an ongoing confrontation of theodicy from Tom Flynn and Judy Walker. Noting the pervasiveness of belief in “God’s plans,” Flynn and Walker tout the importance of embracing both reason and passion in the struggle against evil and injustice. “Secularist expression has tended to be bloodless,” they write. ”But why should we settle for that? Do we not bleed?”
Plus: Faisal Saeed al-Muhtar , an atheist refugee from Iraq, weighs in on the Syrian refugee crisis to remind us that “refugees can be victims and oppressors at the same time.” Also, Mandisa Thomas of Black Nonbelievers and Ed Buckner, formerly of American Atheists, caution the freethought movement against turning on each other over political differences, and focus on the task of criticizing religion’s harms.
Look for the February-March 2016 issue of Free Inquiry on newsstands, or visit www.secularhumanism.org/fi.