Mark Twain on the Problem of Evil

Mark Twain and Intelligent Design

“Little Bessie,” The Myth of Providence by Mark Twain

“In His wisdom and mercy the Lord sends us afflictions to discipline us and make us better…All of them. None of them comes by accident; He alone sends them, and always out of love for us, and to make us better, my child.”

“Did He give Billy Norris the typhus, mamma?”


“What for?”

“Why, to discipline him and make him good.”

“But he died, mamma, and so it couldnʼt make him good.”

“Well, then, I suppose it was for some other reason. We know it was a good reason, whatever it was.”

After a pause: “Did He make the roof fall on the stranger that was trying to save the crippled old woman from the fire, mamma?”

“Yes, my child. Wait! Donʼt ask me why, because I donʼt know. I only know it was to discipline some one, or be a judgment upon somebody, or to show His power.”

“That drunken man that stuck a pitchfork into Mrs. Welchʼs baby when…”

“Never mind about it, you neednʼt go into particulars; it was to discipline the child - that much is certain, anyway.”

“Mamma, Mr. Burgess said in his sermon that billions of little creatures are sent into us to give us cholera, and typhoid, and lockjaw, and more than a thousand other sicknesses and, mamma, does He send them?”

“Oh, certainly, child, certainly. Of course.”

“What for?”

“Oh, to discipline us! Havenʼt I told you so, over and over again?”

“Itʼs awful cruel, mamma! And silly! And if I…”

“Hush, oh hush! Do you want to bring the lightning?”

“You know the lightning did come last week, mamma, and struck the new church, and burnt it down. Was it to discipline the church?”

(Wearily) “Oh, I suppose so.”

“But it killed a hog that wasnʼt doing anything. Was it to discipline the hog, mamma?”

“Dear child, donʼt you want to run out and play a while? If you would like to…”

“Mamma, Mr. Hollister says there isnʼt a bird or fish or reptile or any other animal that hasnʼt got an enemy that Providence has sent to bite it and chase it and pester it, and kill it, and suck its blood and discipline it and make it good and religious. Is that true, mamma, because if it is true, why did Mr. Hollister laugh at it?”

“That Hollister is a scandalous person, and I donʼt want you to listen to anything he says.”

“Why, mamma, he is very interesting, and I think he tries to be good. He says the wasps catch spiders and cram them down their nests in the ground - alive, mama! - and there they live and suffer days and days and days, and hungry little baby wasps chew the spiderʼs legs and gnaw into their bellies all the time, to make them good and religious and praise God for His infinite mercies. I think Mr. Hollister is just lovely, and ever so kind; for when I asked him if he would treat a spider like that, he said he hoped to be damned if he would; and then he…”

“My child! oh, do for goodnessʼ sake…”

“And mamma, he says the spider is appointed to catch the fly, and drive her fangs into his bowels, and sucks and sucks and sucks his blood, to discipline him and make him a Christian; and whenever the fly buzzes his wings with the pain and misery of it, you can see by the spiderʼs grateful eye that she is thanking the Giver of All Good for…well, sheʼs saying grace, as he says; and also, he…”

“Oh, arenʼt you ever going to get tired chattering! If you want to go out and play…”

“Mamma, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they canʼt do it by just scolding and whipping, for that wonʼt answer, it is weak and no good - Providenceʼs invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away; and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and tuberculosis, and…
Dear mama, have you fainted?”

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