A while ago, William Crawley discussed an exchange (video) between theist Alister McGrath and atheist Richard Dawkins, recorded in a TV interview. During the exchange, Dawkins asked McGrath about the problem of evil: why would God not protect people from tornados?

(Or, better yet, I’d add, steer the tornados away, or, better still, not invent tornados in the first place?)

Dawkins posed the question in this manner: A tornado occurs and a hundred people die. One little girl in the eye of the storm is alive and relatively unscathed by the storm. Was God responsible for saving her? (That is, did he intervene?) If so, why did he not save the one hundred others? If not, how can he be thanked for her survival?

It reminded me of this great letter posted to Viz magazine:

“A woman whose daughter was hospitalised in a U.S. tornado told ITV News that God would make her better. Presumably that’s a different God from the one that almost killed her with a tornado.”


A comment I read recently made the point that religious people praise God when things go right (and beg God for help when it’s needed) but don’t blame God when things go wrong. If God is not to blame for the bad, how can he be to praise for the good? Assuming the existence of God, to what degree does God intervene? Is he a kind of cosmic puppet master? If so, why does the world look arguably almost exactly as it would if there were no strings being pulled?

The first problem with assessing the value of prayer is that for every ‘answer’ that can be attributed to the supernatural activity of God, there are other answers that can usually be even more easily attributed to natural causes. Of course, that fact contributes nothing toward proving that God doesn’t exist, as atheists would like it to do, but it does suggest that we’re not dealing with a God who likes to intervene.

A second difficulty is knowing how to reconcile the fact that most prayers will be contradicted by the prayers of others. If a high school student asks God to let her be top of the class, and God answers that prayer, must he then ignore the prayers of the others in the class who wanted the same thing for themselves? Why would he favor one student over another in offering them a supernatural advantage? To reward faith or loyalty? In that case, should we then find a correlation between Christian faith and success?

Or perhaps such help comes in the form of a sort of paranormal mental viagra, providing an intellectual boost equally to those who seek it? Might it therefore, in any of these cases, be prudent advice to a student that they spend time praying for divine help that they would otherwise be spending studying alone?

Or perhaps competing prayers would cancel themselves out and result in natural – as opposed to supernatural – ends? Perhaps, then, all prayer is self-canceling and God just allows things to be?

So many questions, so few answers – ever – from my fellow faithful.

It’s this kind of reasoning that, after partaking in it for many years, leads me close to deism. In many practical respects, I am a deist. That’s interesting to me as a libertarian, because some of the libertarian champions of history have been deists, including many of the founders of the United States – Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine – people who desired freedom from oppression and freethought, and used it to create the philosophy of a new society. They did not represent the Christian majority on an interventionist God.

Franklin had this to say:

“Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle’s lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”

I laughed when I read this, because I can think of many books which I’ve read with that exact result: the opposite of what the author intended.

In any case, this got me thinking:  Is there some unconscious reason why deism and libertarianism would find themselves such comfortable bedfellows?