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For those of you playing along at home, what Jamie's talking about is theodicy (a.k.a. "the problem of Evil"), and the concept of a bastard God that he's proposing is something called maltheism.

I don't know if this is how everyone comes across the concept, but, to me, the idea of maltheism - before I even heard the term - popped into my head the first time I heard of Liebniz's claim that this is the best of all possible worlds (You may have seen it being lampooned in Voltaire's Candide). It occurred to me more or less instantly that things could just as easily be arranged in the opposite orientation, and that without another universe against which to compare our own, we cannot state with confidence that our particular universe is the best or worst or reddest or greenest.

If I'm going to talk about the concept of a benevolent God and the perfectness of the universe, I feel I kinda have to talk about Kirk Cameron and bananas.

You probably recall, a few years ago, Kirk Cameron and a guy named Ray Comfort put out a video in which they claimed that the banana was the "atheist's nightmare", because it was perfectly designed for human use. Of course, Kirk and Ray were robustly mocked, as they should have been, because even the most superficial research into the subject would have shown them that the fruit we know as the "banana" is the result of hundreds of years of human cultivation, and, indeed, it cannot survive on its own, and the wild equivalent is virtually inedible.

But more troubling than Kirk's ignorance of horticulture is his theology. Because, of course, the banana is a very unusual fruit. Most fruits are not the banana.

And if the banana is proof that God loves us and made the world for our benefit, what are we to learn from the fact that bananas only grow in tropical regions? What lessons are we to learn from the existence of inconvenient fruits like the pomegranate, the coconut, or the durian?


(Saturday morning, INT: MH's apartment)

JH: Somebody once said that "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy".
MH: That was Ben Franklin, I think.
JH: Really? Okay, whatever.
JH: Anyway, I remember I flipped out when I first heard that quote. I mean, if nice things happening is proof that God loves us, wouldn't bad things happening have to mean that He hates us? And wouldn't it follow that God loves some people a lot more than He loves other people?
JH: The standard response is that bad things happen so that He can "test" us, or build our character, or give us the opportunity to display altruism and sacrifice... with the implication that overall, evil only exists for the greater good, and that this is the best of all possible universes... which naturally leads one to imagine a universe that's the other way around.
JH: It suggests the possibility of a bastard God who would only permit good to facilitate the greater evil... with the further implication that, from the inside, we would be unable to determine which of those two universes we inhabit.
MH: With beer as proof that God wants us to drive drunk and kill a busload of orphans.
JH: Exactly.