ok here is this week's creators column, the occasion fot the c-span thing.
The Year in Atheism: 2005
By Crispin Sartwell
Every year is a good year for atheism, because every year brings with it a bumper crop of incomprehensible disasters, a spanking new set of illustrations of the obvious fact that suffering visits the guilty and the innocent alike, that the universe is morally arbitrary. Undeserved suffering is as repugnant to atheists as to anyone else, but at least we don't have to try to square it with God's will. No atheist hints with the vicious, annihilating darkness of believers that people get what they deserve.
But in the annals of universal indifference, 2005 was particularly impressive. It began just after the Indian Ocean rose up and washed away tens of thousands of people: people no better or worse than the rest of us, guilty only of living near the beach.
New Orleans has a Gomorrah aspect, but the hurricane seemed more intent on inflicting suffering on people in virtue of their poverty than in virtue of their decadence. And it's always interesting when an act of God blows churches off the map.
The earthquake in Pakistan killed sinners and saints; Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, and animists; newborn babies and their parents. If it didn't kill them quickly, it killed them slowly, and if there were an intelligence guiding the universe, one would say that it killed them with relish.
Indeed, the idea that someone is running the universe and wants all this to happen is the essence of nihilism: the only plausible response would be a hatred literally of everything.
The problem of evil - or more properly the problem of suffering - has for millennia been the primary argument against the monotheistic religions. To state it briefly: these religions teach that the world was created by an all-powerful and perfectly good being. But if God is perfectly good, he wants to prevent the suffering of people who don't deserve to suffer (small children, for example). And if God is all-powerful he can prevent the suffering of people who don't deserve to suffer. So, if God exists, there is no undeserved suffering. But there is undeserved suffering. Therefore, God does not exist.
This is an argument of remarkable clarity and power. But there are various possible responses.
It is often said, for example, that God's will is incomprehensible, that our finite minds are incapable of encompassing the infinite, and so that what we believe to be good reflects the limitations of our understanding. Tsunamis and earthquakes and the suffering they inflict might appear to our tiny minds to be bad: in infinity, however, they are compatible with God's perfection.
That is a terrible argument. If God's goodness has nothing to do with human ethical ideals, then it is surely idiotic to call God good. And if the claim is that, for example, it is compatible with goodness in the widest possible sense to crush babies to death, then I should think that it would be impossible to distinguish God from Satan. Once you've made God entirely incomprehensible, the idea that you should or even can worship such a thing becomes incomprehensible as well.
Of course God may, in eternity, recompense the undeserving for their suffering. That, however, does not make their suffering in time less real or any more sensible.
Perhaps the most famous theological attempt to deal with the problem of suffering is the doctrine of original sin, associated with St. Augustine, among others. Cutting to the chase, the idea is that we are all born already deserving to suffer and die, so that when the baby gets crushed, she's getting just what she deserves.
In that case, what is puzzling is that some people get better than they deserve, and indeed the problem of pleasure is the obverse of the problem of suffering: it often appears that the evil prosper. But in any case I would like you to try to entertain in all seriousness the idea that babies deserve slow, agonizing death. If you get that far, try to convince yourself that a universe in which this is so is the best possible universe: that is, a universe created by a perfectly good and all-powerful being.
If you merely tell me that despite everything 2005 threw at you, you have faith, and you cannot really explain in what or why, there is nothing I can say to stop you. There is something touching in the sheer perversity of your position.
And perhaps we can agree on this much: here's hoping 2006 nurtures faith more because it inflicts less, and less arbitrary, suffering.