Tom Flynn

A special feature section coedited by Anthony Pinn, Judy Walker, and Tom Flynn.

Theodicy is defined by Merriam-Webster as the “defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” I won’t bother tracing the logic of the classical problem of evil here, as several of our contributing writers do so with great skill in their essays that follow. What I will do is twist theodicy back on itself like a Möbius strip, by way of introducing the concept of atheodicy.

If theodicy is defending God’s goodness and omnipotence—which believers in God do—then atheodicy is the marshaling of arguments rooted in the existence of evil to demonstrate that God as traditionally imagined does not or cannot exist. Atheodicy, therefore, is something that unbelievers do. In this issue, my coeditors and I have brought together six bravura practitioners of atheodicy. Following their essays, coeditor Anthony Pinn offers an argument for taking the next step past atheodicy. Then in an extended epilogue, coeditor Judy Walker and I suggest that some atheists and humanists may be more ready to take that step than others (among many other things).

“Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Theodicy Riddle?” by journalist and best-selling author Susan Jacoby sets the stage, offering a wide-ranging survey of the problem of evil, unbelievers’ responses to it, and their implications for the moral tenor of life as people actually live it. Philosopher Stephen Law presents “Evil God and Mirror Theodicies,” the latest installment in his extended consideration of how the problem of evil changes—and how it does not—if we imagine a deity who is not perfectly good but rather perfectly evil. Philosopher David Koepsell riffs further on this in “Evil Gods and Evil Men: Some Limits in the Debate,” remapping the problem of evil onto deities neither good nor evil but rather chillingly unconcerned for humanity in the way of the Old Ones in the iconic fiction of H. P. Lovecraft.

The next two pieces drill deeper into the moral side of atheodicy. Former professor of religion James A. Metzger asks, “Is It Wrong to Accept God’s Gift of Salvation?” In a world of great evils where not all are saved, is it morally contemptible to accept salvation for yourself when the gates of hell yawn wide to swallow many or most of your fellow humans? In “Auschwitz and Evil,” attorney and Center for Inquiry Chair Edward Tabash frankly discusses the horrifying toll that internment at Auschwitz exacted upon his mother and how his childhood experiences of his mother’s brokenness helped to solidify his own atheism. In “Why John Hick’s Solution to the Problem of Evil Makes God Monstrous,” Free Inquiry columnist Shadia B. Drury explores a newer twist on theodicy attempted by an influential theologian, the late John Hick. Can God’s goodness and omnipotence be squared with the persistence of evil if we surmise that the function of evil in the world is to give humans better opportunities to improve our characters? Drury is unconvinced.

If I began this special section by twisting theodicy like a Möbius strip, public intellectual Anthony Pinn takes it further. Think of warping theodicy into a Klein bottle and pouring it through itself. In “Is One Person’s Theodicy Another’s Anthropodicy?” he proposes the radically new concept of anthro­podicy—I’ll let him explain that in his own evocative words. Basically, Pinn is suggesting that it might be time for humanists and atheists to move beyond both theodicy and atheodicy and to frame their moral questions in a new register removed from old controversies about God.

In a concluding epilogue, independent scholar Judy Walker and I ponder the troubled relationship between reason and emotion in movement rhetoric, examine the differences between unbelievers who were never harmed by religion and those who have been, and suggest that “we, the damaged” might feel that more work remains to be done before we set down the tools of atheodicy.

As always, reader comments are welcome.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).

Opening a discussion of the problem of evil as a proof for God’s nonexistence.

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