Hunter, I have a few beefs with your beef with Heather Mac Donald. Let me say right off the bat that in my view, believing in God is a matter of faith, and some people simply aren’t ready or willing to take that leap of faith. Saying that we cannot understand the ways of God well enough to explain why bad things happen in the world is not a very useful way to assuage the skepticism of a nonbeliever. While the existence of Nazis does not automatically disprove the existence of God, arguing that the ways of God are sometimes incomprehensible does not prove God’s existence.
You write, “Mac Donald is a conservative with very definite ideas about freedom, justice, etc. Where do those ideas come from? She seems to expect that we would be persuaded to do things that are right and to abstain from things that are wrong. If there is no God, why care about any of that?”
This is the argument that was famously raised by Dostoyevsky through the character Ivan Karamazov, who postulated that if there is no God, all things are lawful. While it is undeniable that religion has made a major contribution to our concept of morality, it doesn’t mean that there is no justification for morality in the absence of religion. Morality is a guide for human action within a social setting. The secular defense of concepts such as freedom, justice, etc. is that they work. They maximize the ability of human beings to prosper and pursue happiness without impairing other people’s ability to do the same. A lawless society in which people lie, cheat, steal and kill doesn’t have much hope for long-term success.
You write, “She complains that someone kills a conversation when they say God wants something. But is it any different to say Justice requires it? She would complain about the first, but not the second. Why? The truth is that saying God wants something is not so different from saying Justice requires something.”
There is a difference between making an argument rooted in justice and making an argument rooted in God. The difference is that if a person doesn’t believe in God, or has religious beliefs that are fundamentally at odds with your own, making a God-based argument is a lost cause. However, by making an argument based on justice, you can still persuade those who believe in God, but also can gain the ear of nonbelievers as well people whose religious views are different than your own.