Is Atheism Irrational?

The New York Times has begun a series of articles in which journalist and Professor of Philosophy, Gary Gutting, interviews prominent religious thinkers and philosophers.   I am intrigued to see how the series progresses, but this first interview with Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is excellent and well worth a read.

There are many aspects to the interview that are worth dwelling on; you will enjoy learning about (and dismissing) the idea of ‘teapot-ism’ and ‘a-moonism’ I’m sure!  But Plantinga’s response to the so-called ‘problem of evil’ is particularly striking.  Asked if the concept of a perfect (divine) being is necessary in an imperfect world, Plantinga responds as follows:

I suppose your thinking is that it is suffering and sin that make this world less than perfect. But then your question makes sense only if the best possible worlds contain no sin or suffering. And is that true? Maybe the best worlds contain free creatures some of whom sometimes do what is wrong. Indeed, maybe the best worlds contain a scenario very like the Christian story.

Think about it: The first being of the universe, perfect in goodness, power and knowledge, creates free creatures. These free creatures turn their backs on him, rebel against him and get involved in sin and evil. Rather than treat them as some ancient potentate might — e.g., having them boiled in oil — God responds by sending his son into the world to suffer and die so that human beings might once more be in a right relationship to God. God himself undergoes the enormous suffering involved in seeing his son mocked, ridiculed, beaten and crucified. And all this for the sake of these sinful creatures.

I’d say a world in which this story is true would be a truly magnificent possible world. It would be so good that no world could be appreciably better. But then the best worlds contain sin and suffering.