The Great Courses

The Official TTA Response to The Christian Post

Jan 28, 2011 at 1:58 PM
6 years ago

On Friday January 21st, my update of “The Story of Suzie” video was the subject of an article in the religious publication, The Christian Post. For reference, here’s the link:

The day before the article went live, three hours before her publication deadline, the article’s author Katherine T. Phan sent me an email request for a phone comment. Her initial email was intercepted by my SpamArrest service, and she did not complete the verification process so that the email would arrive promptly in my inbox. I happened upon the request while cleaning up the SpamArrest “unverified emails” folder on the server yesterday...more than 24 hours after publication.

It’s interesting that Ms. Phan sent me an eleventh-hour request to comment on my own work, yet somehow found time to locate and interview a religious author, philosopher and apologist, Dr. Norman L Geisler, for an 18-paragraph article. (I chuckled when I noticed that the reporter misspelled Geisler’s first name in the piece, calling him “Normal.”)

But for the moment, let’s assume The Christian Post and its staff were working in good faith on a rushed piece and didn’t understand the email verification process. Fine.

Geisler’s very first claim refutes an argument that “The Story of Suzie” never makes: that natural disasters are a sinister force: "You look at all of that [and] you sympathize with Susie because you think they (disasters, illnesses, etc.) are evil.”

Not one frame of the video (or any of my work) postulates or infers that hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, diseases, freak accidents, etc are evil. I attach no consciousness or agenda to them. As naturally-occurring phenomena explainable by science, they simply are.

But Dr. Geisler’s tactic is to turn these events into a Janus mask, a Yin and Yang, their negative force requiring and proving a countering positive force. And he finishes this apologetic back flip with a line of reasoning that threatens to break the poor guy in half: “But if it's evil, then there must be a standard for good. If there is a crooked line in this world then there must be a straight line. If there is a straight line then there must be God."

I haven’t read Dr. Geisler’s recent work, “If God, Why Evil?”…but I’m guessing it’s on the clearance aisle at Costco next to the 33-cent pantyhose.

Phan asserts that my video paints a “limited picture of God’s presence” in Suzie’s life. This is accurate. It’s a 3-minute satire, not a character study. It demonstrates absurdity by being absurd and is nowhere near the length and depth to address all of the nuances in a religious life.

But from my experience as a former Christian, “Suzie” does accurately portray (albeit with a wink) the mindset of the religious in the broad sense. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve met dozens of people like Suzie. Perhaps you used to be her.

Dr. Geisler’s quaint rebuttals aren’t described by Phan as limited, even when Geisler plays meteorologist for the Garden of Eden. Or blames sinful man for the next F5 twister that reduces homes and families to splinters. Or lets God off the hook for allowing evil to exist so that He, in his infinite goodness, can produce good (ask the next 9-year old boy sodomized by a paroled sex offender about that one).

Dr. Geisler and I agree about the good work done by many faith-based charities and relief organizations. Despite their overt religious overtones, it cannot be denied that, every day, religious people and organizations make significant sacrifices and often place themselves in harm’s way to assist the needy. We must give credit where due.

The difference is, I see their humanitarian effort as exactly that. And while they may be delivering food, building shelters, doctoring the sick and defending the oppressed in the name of their deity, the actual difference made is uniquely human. It is a triumph of the human capacity for compassion and charity. There are also many, many secular organizations that accomplish similar triumphs without any god or religion in the equation.

Finally, I’m convinced that the article is actually more convincing for atheism without my participation. The good Dr. Geisler attempted to make his own case, but actually made mine with “crooked line /straight-line” whiffs and cheap references to World Vision. He stands as a clear example of what religion’s experts truly bring to the table: degrees and initials, some flowery speech and what Christopher Hitchens often refers to as “wish-thinking.”

Ultimately, I’m glad that a religious publication has taken notice of my work. Our arguments for reason are useless if they exist only within our walls.

The controversy has already been picked up by the science blog at The Guardian , and in PZ Myers’ blog

And it is my hope that “The Story of Suzie” continues to stir the cauldron of debate at the Post and elsewhere, challenging all readers to look at our world honestly and to live our lives truthfully.

My thanks to Katherine Phan and The Christian Post. And Ms. Phan…if you’d ever like to reschedule an interview, you know where to find me.


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