1. In the Michigan Quarterly Review (Vol. L. No. 1, Winter 2011), Miah Arnold wrote an article, “You Owe Me,” about being a teacher of poetry and prose to dying children at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. It will rip your guts out.

                “The children I write with die,” she begins, “no matter how much I love them, no matter how creative they are, no matter how many poems they have written, or how much they want to live.”

                Almost every line is a zinger.  Considering the topic, kids and the cancer that kills them, how could her prose be anything but? In the context of these suffering and dying children, one line really caught me: “I was, like everybody else, trying to make sense of what is nonsensical.”

                Nonsensical.  That is, none of it makes sense. It cannot be rationally explained. There’s no good reason for it. And yet isn’t it better that evil (and children dying of cancer is evil) be nonsensical and not rational, logical, or explicable?  Otherwise, what?  Good, logical and harmonious reasons exist why these kids lose limbs, suffer the trauma of chemo, endure horrific pain, sit in the hospital for years, and then die?  Please—if there were good reasons, I’d be afraid to know them.

    However bad these tragedies, it would be worse if there were sense to them.  But there’s not. That’s why it’s all nonsense.

    Ellen White wrote: “It is impossible to so explain the origin of sin as to give a reason for its existence…. Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it, is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin” (Great Controversy 492-493).  Replace the word “sin” with “evil” and it works just as well.  It is impossible to so explain the origin of evil as to give a reason for its existence…. Evil is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it, is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be evil.

    When tragedy strikes, I hear people say or myself think, I don’t understand this.  It doesn’t make sense. Well, there’s a good reason that we don’t understand it, and that’s because it’s not understandable.  It’s nonsense.  If we could understand it, if it made sense, if it fit into some logical and rational plan then it wouldn’t be that evil, it wouldn’t be that tragic because it serves a rational purpose, and who dares, for instance, to lessen the evil and tragedy of children dying of cancer?

    But what about text, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28)?  What about it? All things working together for good doesn’t mean all things are good.  All things are notgood. Loving God, believing that He’s in ultimate control of the universe, and trusting in His love and His promises to “wipe away all tears” (Revelation 21:4) doesn’t mean that (to quote Alexander Pope) “whatever is, is right.” How could a six-year old child, head shaved, leg amputated, sick and scared and waiting to die—be right?

    In the end, in light of cross, in light of the fact that the Creator of all that exists, the Lord Himself, entered humanity and in that humanity bore our sin in our stead—in light all this, the goodness and holiness and justice of God will stand vindicated before men and angels, and “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:11).  But theodicy, a theological term that means the justification of God in the face of evil, is just that: the justification of God, not of evil. 

    I no longer try to understand evil and tragedy; it’s like trying to square a circle. It’s maddeningly futile.  Instead, I focus on the cross, and on what it reveals about the goodness of God in a world of gut-ripping nonsense.

     
  2. Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide To Reality has to be the purest, most fundamentalist tome on materialistic atheism that I have, or that anyone else ever has, read or will probably ever read. Nothing, I think, has been written like it since Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things (50 BC), a middle-of-the-road yarn compared to Rosenberg’s book, which makes today’s new atheists—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and the late Christopher Hitchens—look like compromising, waffling, and dithering sell-outs.  

    It’s not just his absolute faith in scientism (the belief that the methods of science are the only means to knowledge) but it’s his incorrigible pushing of every position to its outrageous (but, arguably, logical) conclusion that makes this work so over the top.

    Reality for Rosenberg, from the composition of the sun, to the composition of Rome and Juliet in Shakespeare’s head as he wrote it—is simply the interlay of subatomic particles, period.  “All the processes in the universe,” he writes, “from atomic to bodily to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.”

    Our existence began, he assures us, with “molecules randomly bouncing around a region of space” (after the Big Bang, obviously).  Though most fell prey to disorder, some over eons managed to randomly “result in a few stable and replicating structures.”  These structures, surviving the vicissitudes of time, morphed by chance into “really big assemblies of stable and replicating molecules—for instance RNA and eventually DNA sequences and strings of amino acids.”

    Voila!  “The rest,” he wrote, “is history.”

    The whole process is, of course, without design, goals, or purposes.  “What is the purpose of the universe?” he asks.  “There is none. What purposes are at work in the universe? Same answer: none.”

    If, though, the meaningless and purposeless of the universe makes you depressed, Rosenberg warns against taking your “depression seriously.”  Why?  Because our emotions, including depression, are nothing but specific arrangements of neurons and chemicals, and what’s so serious about that?

    Rosenberg, however, does have an answer for those discouraged by the meaningless of their lives.  Because depression is merely a particular configuration of neurons, simply rearrange the neurons—and you can do this with pharmaceuticals.

    “If you don’t feel better in the morning … or three weeks from now, switch to another one. Three weeks is often how long it takes serotonin reuptake suppression drugs like Prozac, Wellbutrin, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, or Luvox to kick in. And if one doesn’t work, another one probably will.”

    This isn’t satire; he’s serious, and his take-a-pill-and-call-me-in-the-morning response, however unsatisfying, is a logical answer for an atheistic materialistic world-view.  The difference between him and most other atheists is that most of others try to find some meaning amid a godless, purposeless cosmos. Rosenberg crassly, even harshly, not only denies the possibility, he mocks any attempt to, which is (he argues) like “trying to build a perpetual motion machine after you have discovered that nature has ruled them out.” He’s merciless, for instance, toward Richard Dawkins, a Grand Poobah of atheism, for trying to find a meaning to life. 

    How seriously should Rosenberg be taken?  I’d assume that most atheist scientists, especially physicists, however sympathetic to premises, would find many of his bold conclusions about how subatomic particles just kind of turned into DNA and other self-replicating molecules nowhere near as simple and matter-of-fact as Rosenberg claims.  And, too, his quick jump from research on sea slugs nerves to human consciousness is one of many wild extrapolations he makes.  A New York Times book reviewer wrote: “much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts.”  

    His hard-nosed materialism, too, comes at a time when, as one scientist (in a book called The Waning of Materialism) wrote that “there is no good reason for any strong presumption in favor of materialism; and the main materialist view fails to offer any real explanation of a central aspect of mental states, namely their conscious character, meaning that there is no good reason to think that it [materialism] is correct as an account of such states.

    Despite Rosenberg’s scientific leap and bounds—given his atheistic and materialistic premises (common in science), his horrific conclusions are the logical end of the road he’s taken.  He’s just a rare voice that admits it.