The Problem of Evil
You state that “an atheist is a person who believes that the murder of a single little girl -- even once in a million years -- casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God.” This sounds reasonable. Many Christians have similar doubts when faced with tragic events in the world or in their own lives. You comment, “It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Hurricane Katrina struck shared your belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, and compassionate God.” While obviously an exaggeration, apparent gratuitous evil is witnessed during natural catastrophes and begs for an explanation. Unfortunately, you will not accept the explanation Christians usually proffer, since it assumes the existence of God. Nevertheless, I will address this issue for the reader’s benefit.
We do not contest the existence of evil in the world. Yet, what is evil? In simplest terms, evil is to good as cold is to heat. Heat is a form of energy. The lack of heat energy we experience as cold. Similarly, evil is a privation of good. In order to create a world that would allow humanity the freedom to choose between good and evil, God had to allow the consequences of those evil actions to ensue. An example of this would be the 2001 drought in Sudan. The Khartoum government interfered with UN relief efforts so as to result in a higher rate of death among their own people. While a natural disaster initiated the problem in the Sudan, human choices led to unconscionable consequences. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans you wrote “God told no one of his plans.” Yet you have no way of knowing the truth of your statement. God very well may have worked instrumentally in the lives of many of his people to lead them to avoid this catastrophe. What God did not do was interject a spot on the five o’clock news warning the world of His plans.
While some cataclysmic events in nature may be direct, causal “acts of God,” others very well may be necessary by-products of the creation of a world suitable for life. Plate tectonics, while resulting in earthquakes and volcanoes, also play a role in the development of petroleum deposits. The water cycle brings us flash flooding and storms, but also distributes water to crops and cattle. The assumption that God could have created a world free of natural catastrophes if truly benevolent requires a level of omniscience only properly His.