Accounting for Natural Evil (part 3)

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 17, 2011 in Guest Post,Problem of Evil

Guest blogger John D of Philosophical Disquisitions summarizes contemporary articles in philosophy of religion in plain talk so that you can be up to speed on the God debate as it ensues at the highest levels of thought. Visit John’s blog for more helpful summaries of contemporary philosophical works.

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This post is the final part of my series on Nick Trakakis’s article “Is Theism Capable of Accounting for any Natural Evil?”. In the article, Trakakis presents the following basic argument:

(1) The existence of an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god is incompatible with the existence of evil, unless that evil is necessary in order to achieve some higher order good.

(2) No amount, instance or distribution of natural evil is necessary in order to achieve some higher order good.

(3) Therefore, an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god is not compatible with the existence of any amount, instance or distribution of natural evil.

As noted in earlier parts, the critical premise here is (2). No positive justification is offered for it. Instead, Trakakis defends it by way of elimination: if none of the leading theodicies can explain why natural evil is necessary for higher order goods, then the premise will be deemed acceptable. In previous entries, we’ve looked at and dismissed the challenge posed by Hick’s soul-making theodicy and Swinburne’s free will theodicy. In this entry, we’ll look at Bruce Reichenbach’s natural law theodicy.

Reichenbach’s Theodicy

Reichenbach argues that natural evil is an unavoidable by-product of the laws governing God’s creation. As such, they are essential in order for any goods at all to be realised. His argument can be presented in the following manner. (Again, numbering continues from previous parts):

(19) God could have created either:

  • (i) W1: the actual world that we inhabit with its natural laws;
  • (ii) W2: a world in which he regularly intervenes in order to prevent natural evil;
  • (iii) W3: a world with natural laws that never produce (through their operation alone) human and animal suffering.

(20) It is unreasonable for God to regularly intervene in a world with natural laws because constant intervention would make rational decisions, predictions and calculations impossible.

(21) Therefore, only W1 and W3 were viable options for God.

(22) A world like W3 would be worse overall than W1.

(23) Therefore, God could only have created W1.

(24) W1 necessarily contains natural evil.

(25) Therefore, natural evil was unavoidable for God.

(26) One cannot be accountable for something that is unavoidable.

(27) Therefore, God cannot be accountable for natural evil.

There’s an obvious point of criticism here in the shape of premise (22), but let’s talk about some other aspects of the argument first.

In particular, lets talk about Reichenbach’s dismissal of W2. Why would a world of this sort be such an unreasonable thing for God to create? The answer has to do with the necessary preconditions of moral agency. Being able to predict the outcomes of your actions and being able to meaningfully decide between different options are necessary for moral agency. But both of these things require reasonably stable natural laws. Constant divine intervention would negate that stability. So W2 is not a viable option.

Trakakis thinks this chain of reasoning is strong — perhaps the strongest part of Reichenbach’s argument. I’m not entirely sure. I feel like someone could argue that post-facto intervention would, in at least some circumstances, be compatible with moral agency. Like maybe if it only happened in the case of particularly severe forms of natural evil. Let’s leave this to one side though and focus on the more important stuff.

 

Why is W3 worse than W1?

As noted above, the main bone of contention here is premise (22). What possible reason do we have to accept it? To answer to that question we must direct our attention to the counterintuitive features of a world without natural evil. Reichenbach argues that if there were no natural evils there would also be, much to our chagrin, no sentient creatures capable of exercising free will. This is to be contrasted with W1 where such creatures do exist. And since the existence of such creatures is a great good, it follows that W3 is worse overall than W1. We put this as follows:

(28) Sentient and free creatures could not exist in W3 but could in W1.

(29) A world with sentient and free creatures is better than a world without such creatures.

(30) Therefore, W3 is worse overall than W1.

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This argument, valid as it is, only suffices to push the point of critique back from premise (22) to premise (28). So we ask a new critical question: Does Reichenbach provide any justification for (28)?

Following Trakakis, it seems like Reichenbach offers the following justification. First, he argues that sentient and free creatures must necessarily be bound-up with nature. That is to say, they must experience nature and they must act upon it. Second, he argues that any creature which existed in a world without natural evil could not be bound-up with nature because nature is always going to be a source of some discomfort, pain or suffering. Thus, the conclusion is that sentient and free creatures cannot exist in W3. Reichenbach adds to this the obersvation that finitude is an essential part of being a natural entity. So in addition to be disconnected from natural laws, creatures in W3 would have to live forever.

There are several difficulties with this argument. Trakakis mentions two. I’ll mention one other: the problem of heaven. On most traditional accounts, heaven is a place devoid of suffering, free will and finite lives. So are we to believe that W1 is better than heaven as well? That seems like a reductio to me and there’s a very good discussion of the issue in Graham Oppy’s book Arguing about God which I recommend to your attention. Anyway, back to Trakakis’s two criticisms.

The first is that Reichenbach’s argument rests on an unwarranted inference. There is no reason to think that nature must necessarily adversely affect the beings who are bound-up in it. It could be the case that the laws of nature have only benign affects without negating the fact that there are creatures who experience its effects and act upon it. And remember, this doesn’t mean that there will be no suffering or no room for moral growth (or decay). Trakakis has defended the possibility of those things in a world without natural evil already when discussing Hick and Swinburne.

The second problem with the argument has to do with Reichenbach’s discussion of finitude. Trakakis isn’t persuaded that finitude is a source of evil. He thinks it is and agent’s finitude in combination with how they exercise their free will that leads to negative experiences.

 

The Skeptical Challenge

This second point seems a bit weak to me, but it leads into a more interesting discussion of skeptical theism. I’ve discussed this at length on my own blog, in case you are interested. It crops here because Reichenbach retreats to it in defence of his argument. More precisely, he claims that even if his positive arguments are unsuccessful, the burden of proof doesn’t fall on him to show that W1 is better than the alternatives; instead, the burden of proof is on the atheologian to show that W1 is worse than the alternatives.

The burden-shifting is justified by the lack of specificity in Trakakis’s claim that there could be a world like W3. If Trakakis thinks that W3 is a real possibility, and that it really would be better than W1, then he better put up or shut up: he better describe the existence of such a world with sufficient vividity and precision so as to make it seem like a real possibility. Until he does so, the theist can fall back on the skeptical proclamation: “For all we know, this world is as good as it can be!”
Trakakis thinks it is possible to rise to the challenge and describe, in sufficiently vivid detail, the genuine possibility of a world without natural evil. He spends the last few pages of his article trying to do this. I can’t summarise his attempts here since the whole point is that summaries are unhelpful in making this kind of case: we need the detail. I leave it the interested reader to see for themselves what Trakakis has to say.

 

Conclusion

Unfortunately, that brings us to the end of this series of posts. What can we take away from it? Personally, I think Trakakis’s argument is a pretty strong one. Like him, I can’t see why moral evil alone isn’t enough for soul-making; or why natural evil (of the volume we see in this world) is a necessary precondition for free will. That said, I think his response to Reichenbach is probably the weakest aspect of his article. Whether a world devoid of natural evil can really be conceived in sufficient detail is up for serious debate. Trakakis’s attempt at the end of his essay certainly makes such a world seem really strange. But, then again, maybe that’s the whole point.

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{ 81 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris June 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

I’m confused about (19) and (20) in Reichenbach’s Theodicy. Isn’t there a sliding scale between regular (like: daily) intervention and no intervention at all? He/she could intervene a little. And why would people stop to make rational decisions, if they knew such a god-like being would interact with their world? A lot of people seem to like the idea of unexplainable, supernatural causes anyway, rather than that of a deterministic, mechanical universe.

As an naturalistic atheist I personally wouldn’t like to live in a universe with any supernatural intervention, but theists can’t really have a big problem with this. And of course god could also intervene in the world without telling anyone. In that case you could ask, why so many people are still suffering. A little bit less suffering wouldn’t hurt us, would it? So either god doesn’t want to, or he/she isn’t trying hard enough.

Assuming a god who is a little bit sadistic or who doesn’t really care about our suffering, would make much more sense here. The ancient Greeks didn’t need to think about this question, because their gods were pretty much like that.

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Peter Hurford June 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

Theodicies like these seem easily disarmed by the fact that:

1: Having certain knowledge (the ability to build levees, knowing when hurricanes will occur, being able to measure for earthquakes, germ theory of disease) can massively reduce suffering.

2: By virtue of being all-knowing, God possesses the knowledge entailed by 1.

3: By virtue of being all-good, God would want to give humans the knowledge necessary to reduce suffering.

4: It is not the case that God has given us the knowledge necessary to reduce suffering.

5: Therefore, from 2, 3, and 4, God is not all-knowing, not all-good, or nonexistent.

-

Also,

6: If it is the case that God is not reducing suffering because of a higher good, then it is the case that humans ought not to reduce suffering would it would reduce this higher good.

7: It is not the case that humans ought not to reduce suffering.

8: Therefore, from 6 and 7, suffering does not exist because of a higher good.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) June 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm

“(20) It is unreasonable for God to regularly intervene in a world with natural laws because constant intervention would make rational decisions, predictions and calculations impossible.”

Doesn’t make sense. God could simply declare when he’d intervene in advance (he is omniscient, isn’t he?) and there would be an obvious pattern to when he intervenes. After all, all those signs showing that an earthquake will occur will be sure-fire way of knowing God will intervene to stop something. God could have given us absolute knowledge of how natural law works and then given us the capacity to know when he’d intervene. Besides, doesn’t natural evil imply anything NOT caused by moral agents? So what does divine intervention to protect sloths from forest fires have to do with my rational ability to know grabbing a hammer and using it to smash Lucy’s face will cause devastating damage?

I also don’t understand how no natural evils leads to a loss of free will. How does having a world were organisms are self-sustaining and don’t depend on slaying each other to survive have to do with my supposed ability to choose between killing my sister or giving her a hug?

Also, isn’t God the one deciding what natural laws exist in the first place? So why can’t God just change them to something that doesn’t involve natural evil? And again, what does consuming a sloth to stay alive have to do with sentience?

Am I missing something? Because this argument makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

I just saw what soul-making theory is. I still don’t get that argument either. What’s the point of courage or patience? The only reason they’re valuable is in a world full of evil. It’s like saying that harmful bacteria are useful because they make your immune system stronger. That may be, but the only reason a strong immune system would be useful is because

Furthermore, the reasons given for epistemic distance also make no sense. How does knowledge of God somehow impede upon my autonomy? Just because I have even more reason to behave one way than another does not mean that all of a sudden, I can’t make a decision. Or God could just have changed human psychology so that epistemic closeness doesn’t affect us in such a way as to affect our autonomy.
—-

In short, I’m not getting any of these theistic arguments. They seem like absolute nonsense to me.

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Esteban R. (Formerly Steven R.) June 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm

* That may be, but the only reason a strong immune system would be useful is because harmful bacteria exist in the first place.

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Chris June 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm

@Peter

Well, I happily agree with your fifth point.

But I am not really sure about your objection either. What if we would take that argument and put it into the context of, lets say, all-good, friendly, highly developed aliens that are around somewhere out there. I’m really not trying to mock your argument, just to look at it from a different perspective. Let’s assume these aliens exist, then:

1: They really could help us here with their technology.

2: They are smart, so they know we are here and they know about Point 1.

3: They are all good, so they want to give us their technology and their help.

4: They didn’t do it yet!

5: So either they don’t exist in that way (which is by far the most likely), or they don’t know about us, or they are evil, obviously, by refusing to give us their help and their tech!

Also,

6: If they didn’t do it yet because of a higher good (e.g. keeping us from spreading across the milky-way like weed after, we destroyed our own planet by global warming), then we should conclude that it’s better to not reduce suffering here on earth.

7: But not reducing suffering here on earth is wrong. [Or considered as socially unacceptable behavior and most certainly not all-good.]

8: So obviously no one here on earth is really suffering.

Given the assumption, that I understood your argument, I believe the wrong assumption here is, that it’s evil of supreme beings not to help us. They might tell us our lives wouldn’t improve by that. Tech to deflect asteroids could be used to kill each other, which was most likely since a lot of our inventions were made to

a) kill other people (using gunpowder) or

b) find new killable people (using telescopes).

And probably any kind of power or knowledge (from aliens or a god) can in principle be used to do harm to yourself or others.

Or we would get to dependent on help, would not learn to find solutions for our own problems, and couldn’t properly develop to the noble race we might be one day.

I’m no cultural relativist, but I’ve heard that many philosophers are. They might argue we shouldn’t intervene to much with these primitive stone-age cultures around the amazon river to preserve their culture and their way of living.

To conclude, I guess the basic idea behind this argument of the theists is to say: Having the freedom to do good and bad things to yourself and to others, as opposed to having a god who makes good things unnecessary, to nanny you and “protect you from doing bad things”, is (somehow) fundamental for living in a great world. I’m still an atheist, and as I said before: they/he/she/it could maybe reduce suffering here just a little bit without getting in our way, but I also believe the theists might have a point here.

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JS Allen June 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm

This is great. The skeptical version of Reichenbach’s argument is the response to PoE that I currently find most interesting. It seems possible to develop further, to lend plausibility to the idea that this is, indeed, a Panglossian best of all possible worlds.

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Patrick (Christian) June 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

John D: “On most traditional accounts, heaven is a place devoid of suffering, free will and finite lives. So are we to believe that W1 is better than heaven as well?”

It’s not at all clear that heaven is a place devoid of free will. From 2 Peter 2,4 one can draw the conclusion that beings in heaven do have free will. But one can also draw the conclusion that if they choose to commit sins in such a state, their fate is sealed. That may be the reason why God chose to let humans in a state in which committing sins doesn’t result in the ultimate loss of eternal life. Support of such a view may also be found in Genesis 3,22. The withholding of the tree of life may not be seen as a punishment, but as a protection of man.

To be in a heavenly state also means that one is fully aware of God’s existence and nature. If in such a state one nevertheless chooses to act against God’s will, such a decision may result in the ultimate loss of the relationship with God. That this may not only apply to the heavenly state might be seen from Hebrews 6,4-6: The meaning of this passage seems to be that turning from God despite being aware of His nature and supernatural powers results in the loss of the relationship with Him. This could be the reason for divine hiddenness. If God’s existence were too manifest, this might cause more harm than good.

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Patrick (Christian) June 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm

The following points may provide a justification for the existence of natural evil:

- Looking at a person who will never accept God’s salvation, the more sins this person commits, the more severe his or her punishment in the afterlife will be. Therefore the earlier this person dies, the better for him or her. Natural evil obviously is a very effective means to this end.
- For such a person it would be the best thing to die before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16). In such a case the person would face no punishment at all in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins.
- A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
- A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
- One cannot rule out the possibility that if all men lived according to God’s will, God would prevent all suffering caused by natural evil.

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Bret June 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

(Patrick(Christian) said)- Looking at a person who will never accept God’s salvation, the more sins this person commits, the more severe his or her punishment in the afterlife will be. Therefore the earlier this person dies, the better for him or her. Natural evil obviously is a very effective means to this end.

If god were aware of the sins an individual would choose to commit if that individual were allowed to continue to live, then god is aware of the decisions people have yet to make. If the decisions we have yet to make can be known then free will is illusory.

If free will exists in heaven then time in heaven would be spent trying to convince those in hell to join god, as those in hell also have free will. Christians inject free will into hell so they can justify punishment to say it is chosen freely. As Keith Parsons pointed out to WLC, any person who would freely choose eternal torture over bliss would be a madman, and would require mercy, and treatment, as opposed to punishment.

It seems like nearly all Christian Problem of Evil defenses rely heavily on free will. Even if free will exists I don’t think they work. But if one could remove the possibility of free will from the table, Christianity as well as most religions would follow.

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Peter Hurford June 17, 2011 at 10:06 pm

@Chris:

Thank you for thoughtfully responding to my argument, but I don’t really understand what you are saying. The way I interpret your double-argument is as such:

R1: Any and all technology that can ameliorate the suffering due to natural evil could also be used to create suffering via its misuse at a much greater degree.

R2: From R1, therefore, there is no technology God can provide us that would ameliorate net suffering.

R3: From R2, therefore, God is excused in not giving us technology to ameliorate suffering.

R4: If God were to provide us with technology to ameliorate suffering, for every possible technology or method of revelation, we would be dependent upon his further revelations and be unable to develop additional technology on our own.

R5: An all-good God would want us to be able to develop additional technology on our own more than he would want us to live in a state of less suffering but dependence on his revelations.

R6: From R4 and R5, therefore, God is God is excused in not giving us technology to ameliorate suffering.

-

Correct me if I am wrong, but R1 is unproven — it is the case that there exists some technology that would ameliorate suffering and be unable to be misused to create more suffering than would be eliminated. For example, malaria nets or penicillin. Both of those would be extensively difficult to construe as leading to much more suffering down the line.

R4 is also not true — instead of just saying “penicillin, here you go”, God could extensively explain how bacteria are a part of his creation, and explain exactly how penicillin works. God would thus be advancing science. We could then work off of his work like we work of the works of any other scientist. It is not necessarily true that we would be dependent upon his revelations.

If you know exactly how to create a technology that could save millions of lives and could teach it to someone perfectly at no cost to you, not doing so would be worthy of condemnation, making you evil. God isn’t off the hook on this one.

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Peter Hurford June 17, 2011 at 10:19 pm

@Patrick (Christian):

You outline four points that may provide a justification for evil. I don’t think any of these work, for the following reasons:

Your first point seems to suggest that natural evil exists so people who will never accept God’s salvation (for whatever reason) have a means of dying. This is not a good justification, for natural evil also kills many people who have accepted God’s salvation, or those who would have accepted God’s salvation, had they lived to think about it longer. Natural evil has very bad aim. Furthermore, it is odd relative to this justification that earthquakes strike not specifically at the sinful, but only those on fault lines.

Your second point seems to suggest that natural evil exists to kill people before they reach the age of accountability. However, this is also not the case, because natural evil again has bad aim, and kills many who have reached the age of accountability. Furthermore, if dying before the age of accountability is a good thing for everyone, we should kill everyone as they are born, to save them from possibly rejecting God and suffering in Hell. The more one thinks we shouldn’t murder every baby, the more one ought to think this justification fails.

Your third point seems to suggest that suffering in this life is made up by less suffering in the afterlife. However, I have been told that there isn’t any suffering in Heaven, so it’s hard for someone to suffer less in Heaven, relative to others. Even if I have been misinformed, this justification still fails because it doesn’t explain why people have to suffer needlessly in this life at all. Also, as the story of the Good Samaritan points out, justice delayed is justice denied.

Your fourth point seems to suggest suffering is good because it draws people to God. However, if this is the case, we ought not ameliorate suffering, for we risk drawing people away from God, and furthermore we ought to make others suffer because it will bring them to God. This justification fails to the degree that this is not the case. Furthermore, suffering also strangely seems to lead people *away* from God — namely, those convinced by the Problem of Evil.

Your fifth point seems to suggest that suffering only exists because we don’t live according to God’s will. While I cannot rule this out, it does not justify the existence of the suffering, because the suffering is clearly not distributed according to those who deserve it. If this were to be an actual justification, people would suffer to the degree they are sinful. Yet, this is not the case.

If I have misinterpreted your five justifications, I apologize, and let me know. However, I don’t yet think God is off the hook.

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Peter Hurford June 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm

Lastly, I’d like to present an argument that we are not in the best possible world.

A1: If we are in the best possible world, there are either no worlds that can be considered better or all worlds that can be considered better are impossible.

A2: A better world is conceivable (a world in which God prevented suffering by being crystal clear in the Bible that he really was against slavery, a world in which God revealed life saving technology, a world in which God made his existence more obvious so more souls would be saved, etc.)

A3: A better world is possible (all the worlds I mentioned in A2 have no obstructions to them having been realized).

A4: From A1, A2, and A3, therefore we are not in the best possible world.

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Chris June 18, 2011 at 8:56 am

@Peter

Agreed.

Would that same argument also apply to people then? This might be a silly question, but I’d like to see your thoughts on something like the Prime Directive from Star Trek.

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mpg June 18, 2011 at 9:44 am

I think, a possible response, to your argument against our world as the ‘best-possible-world’ is that, we don’t have information to know whether or not a better world is metaphysically possible (a sort of skeptical theodicy for the best possible world). Like you, I assume, this would not be convincing, but I anticipate orthodox theists to make such a move.

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Patrick (Christian) June 18, 2011 at 10:17 am

Peter Hurford: “Your first point seems to suggest that natural evil exists so people who will never accept God’s salvation (for whatever reason) have a means of dying. This is not a good justification, for natural evil also kills many people who have accepted God’s salvation, or those who would have accepted God’s salvation, had they lived to think about it longer. Natural evil has very bad aim. Furthermore, it is odd relative to this justification that earthquakes strike not specifically at the sinful, but only those on fault lines.”

I’m not suggesting that natural evil only kills those people who have not accepted God’s salvation, but it often does and, as I pointed out, it is better for them. It may also be better for those who have accepted God’s salvation, as an early death spares them the suffering they would endure would they continue living and it enables them to enjoy the heavenly bliss sooner. Finally, as for those who would have accepted God’s salvation had they lived longer such a case may only apply when the respective person hadn’t so far had any opportunity to hear the gospel. But one cannot rule out the possibility that God may prevent these persons’ death.

Peter Hurford: “Your second point seems to suggest that natural evil exists to kill people before they reach the age of accountability. However, this is also not the case, because natural evil again has bad aim, and kills many who have reached the age of accountability.”

As most people who have ever lived have died as infants or earlier, to a large extent to natural evil such as disease, natural evil may have had the effect of enabling the vast majority of people to be in Heaven.

Peter Hurford: “Furthermore, if dying before the age of accountability is a good thing for everyone, we should kill everyone as they are born, to save them from possibly rejecting God and suffering in Hell. The more one thinks we shouldn’t murder every baby, the more one ought to think this justification fails.”

First of all murder is a sin and therefore not allowed for a Christian. Furthermore, one not only has to have the respective person’s well-being in mind, but also the well-being of those who in one way or another could benefit from this person’s acts later.

Peter Hurford: “Your third point seems to suggest that suffering in this life is made up by less suffering in the afterlife. However, I have been told that there isn’t any suffering in Heaven, so it’s hard for someone to suffer less in Heaven, relative to others.”

This argument doesn’t apply to those who end up in Hell, if we assume that suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the suffering in the afterlife. For those who love God according to Romans 8,28 all things, including suffering, benefit them.

Peter Hurford: “Even if I have been misinformed, this justification still fails because it doesn’t explain why people have to suffer needlessly in this life at all. Also, as the story of the Good Samaritan points out, justice delayed is justice denied.”

God’s perfect justice prevents Him from helping sinners (Isaiah 59,1-2). Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help sinners. So, the story of the Good Samaritan applies to them but not to God.

Peter Hurford: “Your fourth point seems to suggest suffering is good because it draws people to God. However, if this is the case, we ought not ameliorate suffering, for we risk drawing people away from God, and furthermore we ought to make others suffer because it will bring them to God. This justification fails to the degree that this is not the case.”

By helping sinners Christians may make the respective persons receptive of God’s salvation (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife. The good works accomplished by Christians may be more effective in bringing people to a saving faith in God than any suffering may do.

Peter Hurford: “Furthermore, suffering also strangely seems to lead people *away* from God — namely, those convinced by the Problem of Evil.”

My impression is that natural evil is more likely to draw men to God than to estrange them from Him. But if that is the case, this kind of suffering might result in less suffering in the afterlife, and therefore God might have morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering.

Peter Hurford: “Your fifth point seems to suggest that suffering only exists because we don’t live according to God’s will. While I cannot rule this out, it does not justify the existence of the suffering, because the suffering is clearly not distributed according to those who deserve it. If this were to be an actual justification, people would suffer to the degree they are sinful. Yet, this is not the case.”

My suggestion does not apply to individual suffering, but to suffering in general. It may be that the greater God’s beneficial power due to His love is, the greater is God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible – also for those who reject Him (Ezekiel 18,23) – God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it. The beneficial power necessary to relieve suffering may have to be so strong that the respective destructive power would cause much harm.

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Peter Hurford June 18, 2011 at 11:00 am

@Chris

It’s not a silly question, it’s a good point. I’m not sure if the Prime Directive is immoral, but there are some key differences between the Federation and God — namely God is all-knowing and all-powerful whereas the Federation isn’t. This means the Federation has a good chance of screwing things up whereas God does not. Likewise, cultures might freak out about encountering aliens when they’re not ready, but cultures would not freak out about encountering God. Additionally, for God to work with a culture takes absolutely no effort, but for Star Trek people to work with a culture properly could take years, and presumably they don’t have the resources for all of these cultures.

However, to the best of my knowledge, the Prime Directive was invented as an excuse to explain the Fermi Paradox, namely why no aliens have come to meet us on Earth yet. We assume that they know about us; they just don’t want to intervene.

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@mpg:

A world in which God had penned a much clearer bible is metaphysically possible, and we can know this to the same reasonable degree of certainty that we can know anything else is metaphysically possible. Even so, the idea that God is all-powerful should cause us to err on the side that he can realize these states rather than to assume he’s so constrained that he can’t even communicate effectively.

To put a Bayesian slant on it, a Bible that did not communicate God’s will effectively and thus caused suffering is far more likely on the hypothesis that humans wrote it than on the hypothesis that God wrote it.

Secondly, doesn’t the idea that we’re in the best possible world mean that it’s impossible to make the world better, which is clearly not the case for our world? I’m not sure what exactly the philosophical meaning of “best possible world” entails.

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Peter Hurford June 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

@ Patrick (Christian)

You say: “I’m not suggesting that natural evil only kills those people who have not accepted God’s salvation, but it often does and, as I pointed out, it is better for them. It may also be better for those who have accepted God’s salvation, as an early death spares them the suffering they would endure would they continue living and it enables them to enjoy the heavenly bliss sooner.”

Firstly, this does not excuse why natural evil has such horrible aim, or why death could not occur through other means, such as permitting people to commit suicide.

But more importantly, this makes the case that absolutely everyone is better off dead, and it is only the sinful nature of murder and suicide that prevents us from doing what we want — to kill everyone to end their suffering. But why would God make us go on like this, and not let us do what is better for us?

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You also say: “Finally, as for those who would have accepted God’s salvation had they lived longer such a case may only apply when the respective person hadn’t so far had any opportunity to hear the gospel. But one cannot rule out the possibility that God may prevent these persons’ death.”

God has not prevented these people’s deaths, so I can rule out the possibility. People have indeed died without hearing God’s gospel. As one example, consider everyone who died because of Mt. Vesuvius.

Also, if people absolutely have to hear the Gospel, then why hasn’t God just communicated the Gospel to everyone directly? Why does he need fallible, sinful humans who can’t teleport around the world do it for him?

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You suggest: “As most people who have ever lived have died as infants or earlier, to a large extent to natural evil such as disease, natural evil may have had the effect of enabling the vast majority of people to be in Heaven.”

But this is silly, for if infants can easily go to Heaven, why can’t everyone just go to Heaven? What is the point of actually living this Earthly life then, if we can still access Heaven without needing to make a choice to accept or reject God? (And if God can predict whether infants would have eventually accepted or rejected him, why can’t he do that for everyone?)

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You say “First of all murder is a sin and therefore not allowed for a Christian. Furthermore, one not only has to have the respective person’s well-being in mind, but also the well-being of those who in one way or another could benefit from this person’s acts later.”

But, according to what you suggest, those people who are affected by those persons actions are also better off dead, so it’s kind of pointless.

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You say “This argument doesn’t apply to those who end up in Hell, if we assume that suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the suffering in the afterlife. For those who love God according to Romans 8,28 all things, including suffering, benefit them.”

I can’t make sense of this argument, and I think I might be misinterpreting it. Suffering, by definition, doesn’t benefit us. So either things which don’t benefit believes benefit believers or believers are incapable of suffering.

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You say “God’s perfect justice prevents Him from helping sinners (Isaiah 59,1-2). Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help sinners. So, the story of the Good Samaritan applies to them but not to God.”

If I get this straight, perfect justice implies that one cannot help sinners. So, if we aspire to have perfect justice ourselves, shouldn’t we not help anyone?

It is the case that either sinners are getting the exact punishment they deserve or sinners are not getting the exact punishment they deserve. If it is the first case, it would be immoral for anyone to intervene. In the second case, it would be perfect justice for God to intervene. Otherwise, this smells like special pleading.

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You also say: “My impression is that natural evil is more likely to draw men to God than to estrange them from Him. But if that is the case, this kind of suffering might result in less suffering in the afterlife, and therefore God might have morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering.”

But I still don’t quite get how suffering now results in less suffering in the afterlife. Additionally, it is quite possible for God to bring people to God without needing them to suffer — a personal revelation, for example.

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As for your last point about God’s beneficial love power versus his destructive justice power, this falls to the same perfect justice dilemma I outlined earlier. If God can’t intervene, why should we? Also, the fact that God doesn’t even strive to prevent as much suffering as possible to those who do accept him seems to indicate that something is off here.

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Peter Hurford June 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm

@ Patrick (Christian):

One last thought: how would your justifications explain something like birth defects?

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Patrick (Christian) June 18, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Peter Hurford: “Firstly, this does not excuse why natural evil has such horrible aim, or why death could not occur through other means, such as permitting people to commit suicide.”

Death does occur through other means, including suicide.

Peter Hurford: “But more importantly, this makes the case that absolutely everyone is better off dead, and it is only the sinful nature of murder and suicide that prevents us from doing what we want — to kill everyone to end their suffering. But why would God make us go on like this, and not let us do what is better for us?”

Most people obviously don’t think that they are better off dead and don’t want to kill everyone to end their suffering, either.

Peter Hurford: “God has not prevented these people’s deaths, so I can rule out the possibility. People have indeed died without hearing God’s gospel. As one example, consider everyone who died because of Mt. Vesuvius.”

We simply don’t know whether or not those people who died because of Mt. Vesuvius would have accepted God’s salvation had they heard the Gospel. Moreover, for those people who would not accept God’s salvation even if they were aware of it it may even better if they haven’t heard the Gospel (see Luke 12,47-48).

Peter Hurford: “Also, if people absolutely have to hear the Gospel, then why hasn’t God just communicated the Gospel to everyone directly? Why does he need fallible, sinful humans who can’t teleport around the world do it for him?”

Again, people’s sinfulness might prevent God from acting on their behalf.

Peter Hurford: “But this is silly, for if infants can easily go to Heaven, why can’t everyone just go to Heaven? What is the point of actually living this Earthly life then, if we can still access Heaven without needing to make a choice to accept or reject God? (And if God can predict whether infants would have eventually accepted or rejected him, why can’t he do that for everyone?)”

As infants are not able to commit sins there’s nothing to be punished and consequently nothing that prevents them from going to Heaven. This doesn’t apply to those people who are able to discern between good and evil.

Peter Hurford: “But, according to what you suggest, those people who are affected by those persons actions are also better off dead, so it’s kind of pointless.”

As I pointed out above most people obviously don’t see it this way and clearly appreciate good works done to them.

Peter Hurford: “I can’t make sense of this argument, and I think I might be misinterpreting it. Suffering, by definition, doesn’t benefit us. So either things which don’t benefit believes benefit believers or believers are incapable of suffering.”

For all I know there is a general agreement that at least some kinds of suffering benefit the sufferer, e.g. the pain caused by the act of vaccination.

Peter Hurford: “If I get this straight, perfect justice implies that one cannot help sinners. So, if we aspire to have perfect justice ourselves, shouldn’t we not help anyone?”

Unlike God, who is perfectly just, we have no duty, in fact not even a right, to judge people (James 4,12), so, again unlike God, we are free to help people without being concerned with their righteousness.

Peter Hurford: “It is the case that either sinners are getting the exact punishment they deserve or sinners are not getting the exact punishment they deserve. If it is the first case, it would be immoral for anyone to intervene. In the second case, it would be perfect justice for God to intervene. Otherwise, this smells like special pleading.”

Why should God help a sinner in this life and punish him in the afterlife? Wouldn’t the sinner interpret God’s help as an approval of his way of life?

As I pointed out earlier, a Christian’s good deeds may make the sinner receptive of God’s salvation, so it wouldn’t be immoral for him to intervene on the sinner’s behalf. For a perfectly just being like God, however, it may only be possible to help a sinner after his sins have been dealt with legally.

Peter Hurford: “But I still don’t quite get how suffering now results in less suffering in the afterlife.”

I think we can leave this to God. Being omniscient He can distribute the appropriate amount of suffering.

Peter Hurford: “Additionally, it is quite possible for God to bring people to God without needing them to suffer — a personal revelation, for example.”

From the Bible as well as from people’s testimonies throughout history one can see that personal revelations or other supernatural events don’t necessarily bring people to repentance and a loving relationship with God. As I pointed out in my first comment, a person rejecting God despite such experiences may be worse off than if he hadn’t had it.

Peter Hurford: “If God can’t intervene, why should we?”

I don’t see how another personal agent’s inability to do something can be a reason to fail to do it as well if it’s in your power.

Peter Hurford: “Also, the fact that God doesn’t even strive to prevent as much suffering as possible to those who do accept him seems to indicate that something is off here.”

Also a Christian may have committed sins that prevent God from acting on his behalf. Or it could be that the suffering serves some purpose or that God’s intervention would do more harm than good, either for the Christian or for someone else.

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Hermes June 18, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Side note: I’m very happy to see that Person Who Shall Not Be Named is not trolling CSA anymore, and asking for answers to questions that have been answered so many times as to become a trope unto itself. With that, attack dog mode is off.

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JSA June 18, 2011 at 9:10 pm

@Hermes – LOL!

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MikeN June 19, 2011 at 4:47 am

I find it strange that a Christian insists that a W3 could not exist, when the Bible tells us that a W3 did exist, i.e. the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve had free choice; they could have freely chosen not to eat of the forbidden fruit. In that case, evil and suffering would not have come into the world, and all would have lived happily ever after. (Genesis 1:30 specifically says all animals were vegetarians)

IIRC, in “The Problem of Pain” C.S. Lewis uses banging into a table corner as an example of how our world must contain natural evil: hard objects that we will bang our soft bodies int. His own unFallen world of Perelandra is one of floating islands made of plant mats- everything is soft.

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MikeN June 19, 2011 at 5:03 am

Let’s look at two worlds, one with only moral evil and one with natural evil.

W1: A young girl in Myanmar is kidnapped from her village, beaten, raped and forced into prostitution, and becomes pregnant by one of her rapists; she and the child are infected with HIV and die miserable deaths.

W3a : A young girl in Myanmart is kidnapped from her village, beaten, raped and forced into prostitution and becomes pregnant by one of her rapists, but HIV doesn’t exist.

So Reichenbach is arguing that either

a) W1 is a better place than W3, or

b) Sentient beings can’t exist in W3a.

But of course up until the last few decades sentient beings did exist in W3a; in this one aspect the world has gotten worse.

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Larkus June 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm

@Patrick (Christian)

Peter Hurford: “I can’t make sense of this argument, and I think I might be misinterpreting it. Suffering, by definition, doesn’t benefit us. So either things which don’t benefit believes benefit believers or believers are incapable of suffering.”

Patrick (Christian): For all I know there is a general agreement that at least some kinds of suffering benefit the sufferer, e.g. the pain caused by the act of vaccination.

It is not the ‘pain caused by the act of vaccination’ that benefits the recipient of the vaccination, but the vaccination. An act of vaccination without pain is always better that an act of vaccination with pain (all else being equal).

It is surely within the power of an omnipotent being to invent a vaccination, that is just as potent as the vaccinations invented by us limited mortal beings, but doesn’t involve any pain (alternatively, such an omnipotent being could just wish infections out of existence or even better: make sure, that his creation doesn’t contain infections in the first place).

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Peter Hurford June 19, 2011 at 9:18 pm

@Patrick (Christian):

Ok, I must admit that you have got me thoroughly confused, and I apologize for not being able to understand what you are saying.

There are five types of people: (1) Those that have accepted God’s gospel, (2) those who never will accept God’s gospel, (3) those who have not yet accepted God’s gospel but will, (4) those who currently accept God’s gospel but will later recant, and (5) those who are below the age of accountability.

According to you, the people described by #1 are better off dead, because they would escape the suffering of Earth and enter Heaven. The people described by #2 are also better off dead, because they would escape the suffering of Earth having committed less sin, and therefore would receive less punishment in the afterlife. The people who are described by #4 are also better off dead, so they won’t live to recant the gospel. The people described by #5 are also better off dead, so they won’t live to commit sin. Only the people described by #3 are better off alive, so they can live to accept God’s gospel.

You cite natural evil as a means of killing off everyone except those described by #3, and furthermore assert that those described by #3 *never* die.

Yet, this runs into quite a few problems…

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THE PROBLEM OF BEING BETTER OFF DEAD:
Your theodicy indicates that a lot of people are better off dead. But yet you say “[m]ost people obviously don’t think that they are better off dead and don’t want to kill everyone to end their suffering, either.” But why would they think this? Are they irrational? Do you think you’re better off dead? If so, why do you think that? Since you are either a person described by #1 or #4, aren’t you better off dead?

Moreover, according to you, all infants are better off dead, since this means they won’t live to commit sin. It is only for the fact that murder and suicide have sinful natures that we ought not to do these things, and we should be very unhappy God is forcing us to live in this life, making it so we’re only in a worse position.

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THE PROBLEM OF MT. VESUVIUS:
You say “[w]e simply don’t know whether or not those people who died because of Mt. Vesuvius would have accepted God’s salvation had they heard the Gospel. Moreover, for those people who would not accept God’s salvation even if they were aware of it it may even better if they haven’t heard the Gospel.” This may be true, but it doesn’t take much imagination to assume that out of the millions of people who died without hearing the Gospel, one of them would have accepted it. Which is more likely? Absolutely no one accepting the Gospel out of these millions, or at least one person accepting the Gospel?

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THE PROBLEM OF NEEDLESS PAIN:
Your argument is also undermined by the fact that suffering does not always entail death, but any undesired physical or emotional state, such as excruciating pain. Moreover, not all of this pain is for the benefit of the sufferer, and as Larkus pointed out, an all-powerful God could make it so that people can get the benefit without the pain.

Why does God, for example, inflict painful birth defects on babies that don’t kill them, but just make them suffer? Why not just kill them painlessly?

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THE PROBLEM OF THE JUSTICE DILEMMA:
You also mention that we have the ability to help sinful people, while God, despite being all-powerful, somehow cannot. But you fail to adequately address the dilemma here: if we help a sinful person, we are undoing their God-given punishment, and this is a *bad* thing, which entails we should never help a sinful person.

You mention “[w]hy should God help a sinner in this life and punish him in the afterlife? Wouldn’t the sinner interpret God’s help as an approval of his way of life?” This is true, but why should *we* help a sinner in this life if God is just going to punish him or her in the afterlife?

I also don’t get this idea that God can simply have nothing to do with sinful people, but we can. You say that “[f]or a perfectly just being like God, however, it may only be possible to help a sinner after his sins have been dealt with legally”. However, if we can reform a person, why can’t God? Wouldn’t this reformation be perfect justice? If not, wouldn’t this mean that imperfect justice is better than perfect justice? This seems to be both ad hoc and special pleading.

You also mention that you “don’t see how another personal agent’s inability [God] to do something [ameliorate suffering] can be a reason to fail to do it as well if it’s in your power”. But just because it is within my power, doesn’t mean I *ought* to do it. I assume God *could* ameliorate suffering if he wanted to, unless I am actually more powerful than God. If God has a good reason (maybe even a perfect reason) not to ameliorate the suffering of people, why do I have a reason to? Why does anyone who believes in your theodicy?

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THE PROBLEM OF NO PERSONAL REVELATIONS:
You mention that “[f]rom the Bible as well as from people’s testimonies throughout history one can see that personal revelations or other supernatural events don’t necessarily bring people to repentance and a loving relationship with God.” However, from the same testimony, we also know of people who have personally seen God (those who have encountered Jesus) who did indeed flock to the Church. Unless you are saying that absolutely no one alive would benefit from a personal revelation, why don’t people get any?

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THE PROBLEM OF INEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF SUFFERING:
I stated that “the fact that God doesn’t even strive to prevent as much suffering as possible to those who do accept him seems to indicate that something is off here.” You replied by saying “[a]lso a Christian may have committed sins that prevent God from acting on his behalf. Or it could be that the suffering serves some purpose or that God’s intervention would do more harm than good, either for the Christian or for someone else.”

But this is clearly contradicted by the existing evidence, namely that good things do indeed happen to bad people, and bad things do indeed happen to good people. If suffering in this life is supposed to be proportional to sin, why is that not the case?

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msironen June 19, 2011 at 11:23 pm

(Patrick(Christian) said)- Looking at a person who will never accept God’s salvation, the more sins this person commits, the more severe his or her punishment in the afterlife will be. Therefore the earlier this person dies, the better for him or her. Natural evil obviously is a very effective means to this end.

If god were aware of the sins an individual would choose to commit if that individual were allowed to continue to live, thengod is aware of the decisions people have yet to make. If the decisions we have yet to make can be known then free will is illusory.

If free will exists in heaven then time in heaven would be spent trying to convince those in hell to join god, as those in hell also have free will. Christians inject free will into hell so they can justify punishment to say it is chosen freely. As Keith Parsons pointed out to WLC,any person who would freely choose eternal torture over bliss would be a madman, and would require mercy, and treatment, as opposed to punishment.

It seems like nearly all Christian Problem of Evil defenses rely heavily on free will. Even if free will existsI don’t think they work. But if one could remove the possibility of free will from the table, Christianity as well as most religions would follow.

Very much the same occured to me. Specifically

“(28) Sentient and free creatures could not exist in W3 but could in W1.”

fails if we were to determine that there’s no free will.

But I’m a bit uncertain how effective this approach is. It seems a like a powerful argument/evidence against free will should be a powerful argument/evidence against theism, but also it seems like the theist could just bundle theistic free will into theism (and assert that the intuited illusion of free will IS free will) and accuse the interlocutor of begging the question.
The situation is a bit similar to the evolution vs design argument. Evolution soundly trashes design and most theists handle that by jettisoning design, which of course they’re free to do. Giving up free will should be a far harder bullet for a theist to bite, but I’m still not sure how to counter the hypothetical response that free will is necessarily an illusion only under naturalism.

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Patrick (Christian) June 20, 2011 at 3:59 am

Peter Hurford: “THE PROBLEM OF BEING BETTER OFF DEAD:

Your theodicy indicates that a lot of people are better off dead. But yet you say “[m]ost people obviously don’t think that they are better off dead and don’t want to kill everyone to end their suffering, either.” But why would they think this? Are they irrational? Do you think you’re better off dead? If so, why do you think that? Since you are either a person described by #1 or #4, aren’t you better off dead?
Moreover, according to you, all infants are better off dead, since this means they won’t live to commit sin. It is only for the fact that murder and suicide have sinful natures that we ought not to do these things, and we should be very unhappy God is forcing us to live in this life, making it so we’re only in a worse position.”

If one takes into account only one’s own well-being, you are right. But being a Christian one should not only think of one’s own well-being but also of that of other people. The apostle Paul expresses this very well in Philippians 1,23-24: “I’m torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (NIV)

Peter Hurford: “[I]t doesn’t take much imagination to assume that out of the millions of people who died without hearing the Gospel, one of them would have accepted it. Which is more likely? Absolutely no one accepting the Gospel out of these millions, or at least one person accepting the Gospel?”

You may be right. In fact, in Matthew 11,20-24 Jesus Himself seems to suggest that there are people who would have accepted the Gospel had they been given an opportunity to do so. But this passage also makes clear that those who have failed to accept the Gospel due to a lack of opportunity are much less severely punished than those who have had such an opportunity. The same idea can be found in Luke 12,47-48.

From this one might draw the conclusion that apart from (involuntary) suffering in this life lack of knowledge of God’s salvation reduces the amount of suffering in the afterlife. One cannot rule out the possibility that with respect to someone who has never heard the Gospel it may be the case that his lack of knowledge of the Gospel together with the suffering he endures in this life reduces the amount of the suffering in the afterlife to such a degree that the respective suffering he would deserve due to his way of life is neutralized by it. Consequently, like the person dying before the age of accountability, he would be saved without having to accept the Gospel.

Peter Hurford: “THE PROBLEM OF NEEDLESS PAIN:

Your argument is also undermined by the fact that suffering does not always entail death, but any undesired physical or emotional state, such as excruciating pain. Moreover, not all of this pain is for the benefit of the sufferer, and as Larkus pointed out, an all-powerful God could make it so that people can get the benefit without the pain.
Why does God, for example, inflict painful birth defects on babies that don’t kill them, but just make them suffer? Why not just kill them painlessly?”

If the sufferer reaches the age of accountability he will benefit from the suffering anyway, at least if he hasn’t accepted God’s salvation. However, looking at 1 Corinthians 3,10-15 it seems that even among those who go to Heaven some may be better off there than others, and suffering in this life may play a role in this respect. This may also apply to people who die before they reach the age of accountability.

Peter Hurford: “But you fail to adequately address the dilemma here: if we help a sinful person, we are undoing their God-given punishment, and this is a *bad* thing, which entails we should never help a sinful person.”

I’m not suggesting that God fails to help sinners in order to punish them, but because He, being perfectly just, is unable to help a sinner without acting against His own moral principles. But even if He could, God may not be inclined to help a sinner if we assume that the sinner’s suffering results in a decrease of his suffering in the afterlife.

Peter Hurford: “You mention “[w]hy should God help a sinner in this life and punish him in the afterlife? Wouldn’t the sinner interpret God’s help as an approval of his way of life?” This is true, but why should *we* help a sinner in this life if God is just going to punish him or her in the afterlife?”

I don’t think that a sinner would interpret the help he receives from Christians as an approval of his way of life, so the situation here is quite different. Moreover, as I pointed out earlier, the help he receives from Christians may make him receptive of God’s salvation, which clearly is a strong motivation for Christians to help sinners.

Peter Hurford: “I also don’t get this idea that God can simply have nothing to do with sinful people, but we can. You say that “[f]or a perfectly just being like God, however, it may only be possible to help a sinner after his sins have been dealt with legally.

[…]

I assume God *could* ameliorate suffering if he wanted to, unless I am actually more powerful than God. If God has a good reason (maybe even a perfect reason) not to ameliorate the suffering of people, why do I have a reason to? Why does anyone who believes in your theodicy?”

I think that God’s nature is in a decisive way entirely different from ours, as He is a morally perfect being. This certainly means that for Him it is entirely impossible to act against His moral principles, and helping a sinner may go against His perfect justice. So, paradoxically there are things we can do that are impossible for God. But this limit to God’s power is not to be put down to a lack of power.

An analogy from our own experience may help to understand this point. If we say that we cannot do something it can be because we are not powerful enough to do it or because the act would violate our moral principles. This can have the result that, comparing two persons, the less powerful person with hardly any moral principles is able to do things that the more powerful person with strong moral principles is not.

Peter Hurford: “However, if we can reform a person, why can’t God? Wouldn’t this reformation be perfect justice? If not, wouldn’t this mean that imperfect justice is better than perfect justice? This seems to be both ad hoc and special pleading.”

According to the Bible God can indeed reform a person (Ezekiel 11,19-20, Romans 8,29, 2 Corinthians 5,17, Galatians 5,16-18). But the person must consent to such a reformation (Romans 6,11-14, 12,2, Galatians 5,16-18, Ephesians 4,17-24).

Peter Hurford: “Unless you are saying that absolutely no one alive would benefit from a personal revelation, why don’t people get any?”

From Exodus 20,18-19, Isaiah 6,1-7, or Acts 9,1-9 one can see that for sinful people a revelation from a holy God can be quite a painful experience. Moreover, if someone despite such a revelation refuses to repent, he may be worse off than if he hadn’t had it (see Hebrews 6,4-6).

Here again we may have the idea before us that God doesn’t intervene in this world more conspicuously, as such interventions may cause more harm than good. Apart from Matthew 13,27-29 2 Peter 3,9 may be supportive of this idea. As I pointed out earlier, it may be that the greater God’s beneficial power due to His love is, the greater is God’s destructive power due to His justice. A good illustration of this principle may be found in the description of the church in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. Here God’s beneficial power was so great that it could heal a crippled beggar (Acts 3,1-10) yet at the same time His destructive power caused the death of two persons who committed what might be regarded a minor sin; they had been cheating (Acts 5,1-11).

Peter Hurford: “If suffering in this life is supposed to be proportional to sin, why is that not the case?”

What I suggest is that suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife is supposed to be proportional to sin.

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Larkus June 20, 2011 at 8:38 am

@Patrick(Christian)

Peter Hurford: “If suffering in this life is supposed to be proportional to sin, why is that not the case?”

Patrick(Christian): What I suggest is that suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife is supposed to be proportional to sin.

You seem to not have thought that through. This contradicts what you argued for earlier.

You argued that persons before the age of accountability are not able to commit sins.

1. The amount of suffering in this life plus the amount of suffering in the afterlife that persons dying before the age of accountability experience is proportional to the sin, that persons dying before the age of accountability have committed.

2. Persons dying before the age of accountability have committed no sin.

Therefore
3. no person dying before the age of accountability experiences any amount of suffering.

But
4. some persons dying before the age of accountability experience some amount of suffering (For example babies dying in a house fire).

So one of your propositions is false. Either it is false, that ‘suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife is [...] proportional to sin’ or it is false, that ‘a person [...] before he or she reaches reach the age of accountability’ is ‘not [...] able to commit sins’.

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Patrick (Christian) June 21, 2011 at 12:28 am

Larkus

According to Luke 19,11-26, 1 Corinthians 3,10-15, and 2 Corinthians 5,10 even among those who go to Heaven some are better off than others, obviously by receiving a greater reward. From this one can draw the conclusion that those who suffer more in this life than they deserve will receive a reward in compensation for it. As the suffering a person has to endure in this life is to some extent beyond God’s control it can indeed be the case that a person has to endure more suffering than he or she deserves.

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mopey June 21, 2011 at 3:01 am

Patrick (Christian) wrote:
even among those who go to Heaven some are better off than others, obviously by receiving a greater reward. From this one can draw the conclusion that those who suffer more in this life than they deserve will receive a reward in compensation for it.

Just my luck. I’m from a privileged family and I haven’t suffered a day in my life. So, I’ll probably wind up cleaning toilets in heaven while all the earthly sufferers live the Heavenly Life of Riley up there. My only hope is that there is another heaven after the first one that rewards those who suffer in heaven1 with a better deal in heaven2. But then I’m totally screwed in heaven3.

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Peter Hurford June 21, 2011 at 7:01 am

@Lorkus; Patrick (Christian):

I like your argument Lorkus, but I would also offer something like this:

N1: The amount of suffering in this life plus the amount of suffering in the afterlife experience is proportional to the sin of that person.

N2: Helping people in this life will reduce their suffering now, but if N1 is true, will only cause an increase in the suffering they endure during the afterlife.

N3: From N2, therefore personally ameliorating suffering in this life is pointless.

N4: Personally ameliorating suffering in this life is not pointless.

N5: From N3 and N4, N1 is not true.

This is more of a dilemma, you can either affirm N1 or N4, but not both.

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm

@Patrick(Christian)

From your answer, I can only guess that you are proposing that the baby in the example (burning to death in a house fire) isn’t really suffering, because in exchange for bad experiences in the past it will have good experiences in the future? Am I interpreting you right?

Let’s look (again) at the example of a baby dying in a house fire:

You claimed, that for every person suffering and sin are in a proportional relationship.

(1) suffering = k*sin

You also claimed, that for every person dying before the age of accountability

(2) sin = 0

Let’s insert (2) into (1):

(3) suffering = 0

But we also know, that for some persons dying before the age of accountability (for example for a baby dying in a house fire)

(4) suffering > 0.

(3) and (4) can’t both be true. Something has to go. How do you resolve this obvious discrepancy? What do you propose to rescue (1) resp. (2)? Please be specific. And please refer to my example in your answer.

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Peter June 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm

@Larkus:

(1) is an incorrect formulation of Patrick (Christian)’s argument, at least how I understand it. On his theodicy, total suffering = k*sin = suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife. (I’m calling this the suffering equivalence principle.)

If you plug that in with (2)…
k*0 = suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife…
suffering in this life = -(suffering in the afterlife)…

So any suffering the baby undergoes is allegedly perfectly counterbalanced by additional good (negative suffering) experienced in the afterlife.

His theodicy fails my dilemma, though — he must either affirm that his suffering equivalence principle is not true or affirm that it is pointless to act to help others.

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 2:55 pm

@Patrick(Christian)

From your answer, I can only guess that you are proposing that the baby in the example (burning to death in a house fire) isn’t really suffering, because in exchange for bad experiences in the past it will have good experiences in the future? Am I interpreting you right?

Let’s look (again) at the example of a baby dying in a house fire:

Let suffering be the total amount of suffering that a baby dying in a house fire experiences in this life and the afterlife.
Let sin be the total amount of sin, that a baby dying in a house fire commited.
Let k > 0 be a constant.

You claimed, that for every person suffering and sin are in a proportional relationship:

(1) suffering = k*sin

You also claimed, that every person dying before the age of accountability is unable to commit sins:

(2) sin = 0

Let’s insert (2) into (1):

(3) suffering = 0

But we also know, that some persons dying before the age of accountability experience some amount of suffering (for example a baby dying in a house fire):

(4) suffering > 0.

(3) and (4) can’t both be true. Something has to go. How do you resolve this obvious discrepancy? What do you propose to rescue (1) resp. (2)? Please be specific. And please refer to my example in your answer.

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Peter June 21, 2011 at 3:01 pm

@Larkus:

I’d first like to issue a word of caution, because you’re responding to me, Peter, rather than Patrick. I’m merely defending what *I* interpret *his* theodicy to be against your specific attack. This is still a theodicy I think fails, for different reasons. Don’t worry about misidentifying me, though, our names both start with “P”, so it’s an easy mistake to make.

As for your reply, I don’t personally get it — I just mentioned that my interpretation of Patrick’s theodicy is that there is some sort of “better than absolute lack of suffering” that takes place in the afterlife that cancels out any suffering that occurs due to the house fire.

I think you can rightly attack the “better than absolute lack of suffering” as being incoherent, though, because someone who commits 0 sin deserves the absolute best life possible, and it is impossible to do that if they already suffered.

I suppose I’d have to let the real Patrick weigh in on this one.

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm

@Peter
I thought about negative suffering, too. But I’m not sure, whether you can count good experiences as negative suffering. But if you do, then what about a baby, that had lots of good experiences in this life, but no bad experiences, and then dies a swift and painless death before the age of accountability. What has this baby to expect in the afterlife? Does this baby has to suffer in the afterlife for compensation? I’d say, this can become absurd fast.

total suffering (suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife) = k * 0
sin = 0
suffering in this life = -(suffering in the afterlife)
if suffering in this life 0 !

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

@Peter

I’m not confusing you. I was sending the (nearly) same comment twice. :)

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm

This message board really needs an edit function (stupid tags). Correction of my post before the last:

total suffering (suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife) = k * 0
sin = 0
suffering in this life = -(suffering in the afterlife)
if suffering in this life is less than o then suffering in the afterlife is more than 0 !

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 3:50 pm

@Larkus:

Ok, then. I get it. I agree it would be nice to be able to edit comments.

I also agree this becomes absurd quite quickly — I think that the Problem of Evil, properly formatted, goes completely unchallenged by objections. I’ve personally formulated the Problem of Evil and then defended it from fourteen different common theodicies here: http://www.greatplay.net/essays/the-great-problem-of-evil-part-i

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Patrick (Christian) June 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Peter

You fail to take into account Christ’s work of redemption and its effect on a person’s overall amount of suffering. N1 only applies to those who don’t accept God’s salvation. With respect to all the other people Christ’s work of redemption decreases the amount of the suffering they would deserve due to their sins. As for N2, according to Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2 helping a sinner may result in his accepting God’s salvation and consequently in a decrease of his suffering in the afterlife. Therefore N3 is not correct.

You wrote that someone who commits no sin deserves the absolute best life possible. I don’t think so. It’s better if one not only commits no sins or as a consequence of having accepted God’s salvation has no unforgiven sins, but in addition to this also does works of righteousness. In fact, when the Bible speaks about reward in Heaven it is usually the consequence of such works. As a person who hasn’t reached the age of accountability is unable to do such works, undeserved suffering may count as a substitute for it.

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Larry June 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Side note: I’m very happy to see that Person Who Shall Not Be Named is not trolling CSA anymore, and asking for answers to questions that have been answered so many times as to become a trope unto itself. With that, attack dog mode is off.

Isn’t that trolling by definition? It’s like I was reading all this really awesome, thoughtful dialog about PoE and then BLAM! Somebody starts whining about something totally unrelated, and obviously the result of personal vendetta. Anyways, after reading this thread and series, it’s occurred to me that PoE is basically the same discussion as “the glass is half empty” vs. “the glass is half full.” Some people look at suffering and see it as necessary. Others see it as evil. Neither can prove their case, so, what to do? If the case can’t be made, how can the charge stick?

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Larkus June 21, 2011 at 6:40 pm

@Patrick (Christian)

You fail to take into account Christ’s work of redemption and its effect on a person’s overall amount of suffering. N1 only applies to those who don’t accept God’s salvation.

I repeat an earlier exchange between you and Peter for reference:

Peter wrote: THE PROBLEM OF INEQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF SUFFERING:

I stated that “the fact that God doesn’t even strive to prevent as much suffering as possible to those who do accept him seems to indicate that something is off here.” You replied by saying “[a]lso a Christian may have committed sins that prevent God from acting on his behalf. Or it could be that the suffering serves some purpose or that God’s intervention would do more harm than good, either for the Christian or for someone else.”

But this is clearly contradicted by the existing evidence, namely that good things do indeed happen to bad people, and bad things do indeed happen to good people. If suffering in this life is supposed to be proportional to sin, why is that not the case?

Patrick (Christian) answered to that: What I suggest is that suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife is supposed to be proportional to sin.

You could have saved yourself, Peter and me some time, if you would have mentioned that right from the start, or at least in your answer to my comment. So after all ‘suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife’ is not proportional to sin, unless you add important qualifications.

Nonetheless, I’d still like to read your thoughts on my points.

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Larry June 22, 2011 at 11:22 am

I also agree this becomes absurd quite quickly — I think that the Problem of Evil, properly formatted, goes completely unchallenged by objections.

You didn’t properly format it, though. Why is suffering needless? Don’t you need to show the truth of that premise?

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Peter June 22, 2011 at 11:36 am

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
E1: God, as described by the major religions, is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, and created the universe and all of its features.

E2: Any all-knowing entity would know of all the needless suffering that takes place, if there is any.

E3: Any all-powerful entity would be capable of ameliorating needless suffering greatly, if not outright eliminating it.

E4: Any all-good entity would desire to eliminate needless suffering to the best of its ability.

E5: Any all-good entity would not create needless suffering in the first place.

E6: Our world contains needless suffering.

E7: From E1, God created our world with needless suffering.

E8: From E5 and E7, God is either not all-good or did not create our world.

E9: From E2, E3, E4, and E6, God is either not all-good, not all-powerful, or not all-knowing.

E10: From E1, E8, and E9, the God as described by the major religions does not exist.

-

Of course, I assume that E6 is the premise that requires the most defense, so:

E11: Suffering is either needless or necessary for a higher good.

E12: It is immoral to reduce suffering that is necessary for a higher good, because this would reduce the higher good.

E13: Therefore, from E11 and E12, if there is no needless suffering, it would be immoral to reduce suffering.

E14: It is moral to reduce some suffering.

E15: Therefore, from E13 and E14, needless suffering exists and E6 is true.

-

Also, to defend E3 from the free will defense:

E16: While God cannot or is justified in not wanting to defeat free will, God can still influence people’s actions through divine punishments or through presenting people with evidence of the negative effect of their wrongdoing.

E17: Natural evil is not caused by free will.

E18: Therefore, from either E16 *or* E17, God can reduce suffering without defeating free will and E3 is true.

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Peter June 22, 2011 at 11:39 am

@Larry:

The above post provides my justification for why suffering is needless presented as a logical argument, which is also elaborated in the essay I linked to, under the heading “Is Any Suffering Needless?”

Any notion that suffering exists for some greater good is a notion that crippling polio and smallpox was necessary, and that the world is now worse because we eradicated these diseases.

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Larkus June 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm

@Larry

I’d like to point out, that in this very series a properly formatted argument is offered. Do you have any objections to Trakakis’ argument?

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Patrick (Christian) June 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Larkus

Looking at your suggestion that according to my viewpoint a happy baby dying painlessly before reaching the age of accountability would have to be punished for his or her happiness it can be argued that if such happiness is not acquired by sinful means – which certainly is not the case here – there is no reason why the baby should be punished for it. But I wonder if there is really a baby to whom this applies, as even the happiest baby has moments of pain.

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Larry June 22, 2011 at 4:06 pm

I’m confused. Are “Peter” and “Larkus” the same person?

The above post provides my justification for why suffering is needless presented as a logical argument, which is also elaborated in the essay I linked to, under the heading “Is Any Suffering Needless?”

No, you don’t. E11 is a false dilemma. Most theists, especially Christians, would deny E7. Etc.

I don’t have much to say about Trakakis, at least not regarding this installment.

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Peter June 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

@Larry

Why are you confused? I can assure you that Larkus and I are different people, and I don’t know why you would think that we are. We even argued with each other earlier in the comments.

If E11 is a false dilemma it isn’t obviously so — how could suffering be necessary if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose?

E7 may be denied by Christians, but that doesn’t make it false. At minimum, God created the world with suffering of some type — whether or not it is needless I suppose hinges on the truth of E15. Regardless, E7 is not necessary to complete the Problem of Evil, as E9 does not rely on it. I do notice that I made a typo, though: E10 should read “Therefore, from E1 and either E8 or E9, the God as described by the major religions does not exist.”

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Larry June 22, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I’m confused because Peter responded to me when I thought I had critiqued a comment that you made. Who is the author of the essay on greatplay.net? Peter? Anyways.

If E11 is a false dilemma it isn’t obviously so — how could suffering be necessary if it doesn’t serve a higher purpose?

Well that’s a matter of subjectivity I suppose. It was pretty obvious to me. A commenter addressed this in one of the other parts by introducing the idea that moral evil necessarily entails natural evil. If that’s true, the game changes.

E7 may be denied by Christians, but that doesn’t make it false.

Certainly, but if you want to refute Christianity with the PoE, you need to refute premises actually held by Christianity. Hence, E10 is false, because the Bible doesn’t teach that God made a world with suffering.

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Larry June 22, 2011 at 5:23 pm

PETER:

Son of a bitch. That should have read, I’m confused because YOU responded to me when I thought I had critiqued a comment that LARKUS made.

Are you the author of said essay?

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Larkus June 22, 2011 at 5:26 pm

@Patrick (Christian)

do you remember what you claimed? You claimed that

(1) total suffering = (suffering in this life plus suffering in the afterlife) = k * sin

which Peter named the ‘suffering equivalence pinciple’. This should apply to persons dying before the age of accountability, since they belongs to the persons, who haven’t accepted Jesus as their saviour.

We also know, that in the case of persons dying before the age of accountability

(2) sin = 0.

plugged into (1):

(3) total suffering = (suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife) = k * 0

Now you proposed (if I understand you right), that there exists negative suffering.

From this it follows, that any person dying before the age of accountability with a negative amount of suffering in this life (i.e. having recieved more good experiences than bad experiences) will recieve a positive amount of suffering in the afterlife.

(4) If suffering in this life less than 0 then suffering in the afterlife greater than 0

This doesn’t depend on whether you think, that for ‘a happy baby dying painlessly before reaching the age of accountability [...] it can be argued that if such happiness is not acquired by sinful means – which certainly is not the case here – there is no reason why the baby should be punished for it‘, it is the case that (4) necessarily follows from what you claimed earlier.

If the baby from the example would not be ‘punished’ the ‘suffering equivalence principle’ would be violated.

It is not relevant for the argument I gave whether even the happiest baby has moments of pain. As long as the ‘happy’ experiences outweigh the ‘painful’ experiences, the total amount of suffering in this life is negative, and (4) applies. Do you want to claim, that there has never been a person dying before the age of accountability that did have more happiness than pain in his life? This would be an extremely implausible claim.

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Peter June 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm

@Larry:

“”I’m confused because Peter responded to me when I thought I had critiqued a comment that you made. Who is the author of the essay on greatplay.net? Peter? Anyways.”"

Ah dang!

I get it! I accidentally wrote Larkus as my name, linking to my website, with my essay. It as a slip, because I was just about to write “@Larkus” and had that on my mind.

My doing; my fault. Sorry. That Larkus that links to http://www.greatplay.net was supposed to be me, Peter.

“”Well [E11 being a false dilemma is] a matter of subjectivity I suppose. It was pretty obvious to me. A commenter addressed this in one of the other parts by introducing the idea that moral evil necessarily entails natural evil. If that’s true, the game changes.”"

I still don’t quite get how moral evil *necessarily* entails natural evil (or even how the two are related, unless you postulate demons as the cause of earthquakes), but if so, the game changes to whatever is preventing God from interacting with moral evil, be it some deployment of the Free Will Defense as a higher good or something else.

“”Certainly [E7 may be denied by Christians, but that doesn’t make it false], but if you want to refute Christianity with the PoE, you need to refute premises actually held by Christianity. Hence, E10 is false, because the Bible doesn’t teach that God made a world with suffering.”"

I’m still confused on this, though: Did God create the loa loa, the guniea worm, smallpox, and birth defects? If not, where did they come from? (As this is perhaps more of a conclusion than a premise, I’m willing to abandon the “God created suffering” part of the argument.)

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Larry June 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Ah, that makes sense. I thought something seemed weird. No worries though!

I still don’t quite get how moral evil *necessarily* entails natural evil

The Bible paints a picture of humans created to live eternally without sin (which is why E7 doesn’t work). But humans chose sin. A just God could not allow this without consequences. A just God couldn’t allow a sinful race to live eternally. Death is the necessary “wages of sin” as the Bible describes it. If sin entails death, then death entails a means of dying. Hence natural evil. It makes sense to me. That doesn’t make it true of course, and like I said, I don’t think the PoE can be proven as a deductive argument.

if so, the game changes to whatever is preventing God from interacting with moral evil, be it some deployment of the Free Will Defense as a higher good or something else.

I’m not quite sure what you mean there. It’s mostly the “whatever is preventing God from interacting with moral evil” part that’s tripping me up.

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Patrick (Christian) June 24, 2011 at 1:16 am

Larkus

Your point is very interesting and challenging. Trying to reply to it I’m going to present an example of an application of the “suffering equivalence principle” which may even be more challenging to this principle than yours.

Think of a person who has accepted God’s salvation and who experiences less suffering in this life than he would deserve due to his acts. According to the “suffering equivalence principle” he would have to be punished in the afterlife for his lack of suffering. But being a redeemed person Christ’s work of redemption prevents such an outcome, as Christ bore the punishment he deserves. In the same way one can think that with respect to the case of a baby who hardly suffers Christ’s work of redemption has the same effect.

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Larkus June 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm

We seem to agree at least on one point. That there is a contradiction in the claims you made. You seem to haven chosen to resolve this contradiction by dropping the “suffering equivalence principle”, at least with respect to persons dying before the age of accountability.

I agree that this is an option (with some caveats). The way you did it is of course not without its own problems.

And of course it still doesn’t mean, that the claims you made are true. ;)

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Patrick (Christian) June 25, 2011 at 10:18 am

It is by no means clear that the “suffering equivalence principle” doesn’t apply to people who die before they reach the age of accountability. It can be argued that these people, being sinless, deserve nothing less than heavenly bliss; for them a lack of heavenly bliss amounts to undeserved suffering. Yet, none of these people experience heavenly bliss. Therefore, it is not possible that they experience too much happiness, for which they would have to be punished.

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Larkus June 25, 2011 at 4:28 pm

@Patrick (Christian)
Are you trying to pull my leg? What you write contradicts your previous post.

Concerning your ‘heavenly bliss’ idea:

I assume, that by ‘heavenly bliss’ you mean some amount of negative suffering in the afterlife.

Take a person dying before the age of accountability that experiences a total amount of suffering in this life of exactly 0 (exactly as much ‘happyness’ as ‘pain’) or for example (for people, that believe that embryos are persons) an embryo, that dies before developing a nervous system).

You claimed that the ‘suffering equivalence principle’ does apply to persons dying before the age of accountability. Hence

(1) suffering in this life + suffering in the afterlife = k * sin.

We know, that

(2) sin = 0

and that

(3) suffering in this life = 0.

Inserting (2) and (3) into (1) gives us

(4) 0 + suffering in the afterlife = k * 0

which is nothing else than

(5) suffering in the afterlife = 0.

But you also claim, that “[i]t can be argued that these people [persons dying before they reach the age of accountability], being sinless, deserve nothing less than heavenly bliss; for them a lack of heavenly bliss amounts to undeserved suffering. Clearly, the person in our example is not experiencing heavenly bliss, which according to your argument means, that the person in our example is experiencing

(6) suffering in the afterlife > 0.

But (5) and (6) can’t be both true.

Proposing that persons dying before the age of accountability, being sinless, deserve nothing less than heavenly bliss conflicts with the suffering equivalence principle. One or more of your claims must be false.

You didn’t solve the old problems but did instead create new problems.

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Patrick (Christian) June 27, 2011 at 7:20 am

Larkus: “Take a person dying before the age of accountability that experiences a total amount of suffering in this life of exactly 0 (exactly as much ‘happyness’ as ‘pain’) or for example (for people, that believe that embryos are persons) an embryo, that dies before developing a nervous system).”

Judging any amount of a lack of heavenly bliss as undeserved suffering, it is not possible to experience a total amount of suffering in this life of exactly 0. This also applies to an embryo dying before developing a nervous system, as without a nervous system one is not able to experience any amount of happiness and this clearly is a state which can be described as a lack of heavenly bliss.

You seem to hold the view that what such people deserve in the afterlife is a neutral emotional state which is neither suffering nor happiness and which can best be described as apathy. But this is hardly Heaven, which these people deserve.

It may be better to replace “suffering” by “lack of heavenly bliss”. Lack of heavenly bliss includes suffering but also the highest degree of happiness that we can achieve in this life.

Larkus: “But you also claim, that “[i]t can be argued that these people [persons dying before they reach the age of accountability], being sinless, deserve nothing less than heavenly bliss; for them a lack of heavenly bliss amounts to undeserved suffering. Clearly, the person in our example is not experiencing heavenly bliss, which according to your argument means, that the person in our example is experiencing
(6) suffering in the afterlife > 0.”

The sentence “Yet, none of these people experience heavenly bliss.” refers only to this life and not to the afterlife. I should have expressed myself more clearly.

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Peter Hurford June 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I’ve thought of a new angle that attacks any formulation of the suffering equivalence principle:

K1: God uses the afterlife (some concept of Heaven and Hell) to cause everyone to suffer exactly the amount they deserve (no more, no less).

K2: The goal of human constructed prisons and a human constructed justice system is to punish people (cause them to suffer the amount they deserve) and to confine people (preventing them from causing others to suffer more than they deserve).

K3: If K1 is true, then we have no need to punish people, since everyone will eventually suffer exactly the amount they deserve (receive punishment in the afterlife).

K4: If K1 is true, then we have no need to confine people, since the victims will eventually suffer exactly the amount they deserve (receive rewards in the afterlife).

K5: Therefore from K2, K3, and K4, if K1 was true, we would have no need for human constructed prisons or a human constructed justice system.

K6: We do have a need for human constructed prisons and a human constructed justice system.

K7: Therefore from K5 and K6, K1 is false.

-

K1 can only be true if God allows people to suffer *more* than they deserve (and then a justice system would help to counteract this) or if we don’t truly need prisons or a justice system. While God may have a different morally justifiable reason for allowing suffering, K1 isn’t it.

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Frank June 27, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Well, I think that #1 is already way off. Just because God is perfectly good, doesn’t mean that evil can’t exist. That’s putting a limitation on God by saying that He can’t make something knowing it will become evil. He didn’t make anything evil. The creation, primarily satan, chose to become evil and God knew it ahead of time.

I try to answer this and other questions in my blogpost

http://dontaskthatinchurch.blogspot.com/2011/06/top-50-questions-christians-cant-answer.html

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Peter Hurford June 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

@Frank:

Well, you have an odd idea of perfect good. Any meaningful concept of a perfectly good agent is an agent that strives to ameliorate or eliminate all unnecessary suffering. Even if God didn’t create suffering, it’s definitely within his power to ameliorate it.

God can make something knowing it will become evil, but if he did so, he would no longer be all-good. This isn’t a physical limit on an omnipotent being, it’s a defining convention — a being only deserves to be called “all-good” if it never does anything to cause suffering.

Since God cannot mess with the laws of logic (he can’t create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it) he can’t mess with the law of non-contradiction and manage to somehow be all-good without also satisfying the definition of all-good.

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Larkus June 27, 2011 at 6:11 pm

@Patrick

It is false, that not experiencing ‘heavenly bliss’ equals experiencing suffering.

The example of the embryo dying before developing a nervous system demonstrates that. The embryo in the example doesn’t experience any ‘heavenly bliss’, but it doesn’t experience any suffering either. It doesn’t experience anything! At least in this life. In the afterlife, God may give the embryo a nervous system, so that it can experience suffering, but in this life it can’t.

This example alone falsifies your claim, but let’s additionally take an analogy:
If I have no assets, that doesn’t mean I have any debts, and vice versa. Even if I deserve to have assets, but don’t have any, that still doesn’t mean, that I have debts.

What about babies? If they are suffering, they cry. But some babies are very happy babies, all things considered. Is lack-of-heavenly-bliss some sort of ‘suffering’, that doesn’t make babies cry?

1) If lack-of-heavenly-bliss doesn’t make babies cry, then lack-of-heavenly-bliss is not suffering.
2) Lack-of-heavenly-bliss doesn’t make babies cry.
Therefore
3) lack-of-heavenly-bliss is not suffering.

Now you might say: “But lack-of-heavenly-bliss does make babies cry!” Okay. But we have been at this point before:

Larkus wrote: “It is not relevant for the argument I gave whether even the happiest baby has moments of pain. As long as the ‘happy’ experiences outweigh the ‘painful’ experiences, the total amount of suffering in this life is negative, and (4) applies. Do you want to claim, that there has never been a person dying before the age of accountability that did have more happiness than pain in his life? This would be an extremely implausible claim.”

Likewise, the claim there has never been a person dying before the age of accountability that did have exactly as much happiness as pain in his life is an extremely implausible claim, too, and it is a false claim, if you consider embryos without a nervous system to be persons.

The rest follows.

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Patrick (Christian) June 28, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Peter Hurford

Whether or not K1 is correct does not depend on whether or not there is a justice system. As for the perpetrator, if there is a justice system, he is punished for his crime in this life, if there is none, in the afterlife. (If the punishment in this life produces less suffering than deserved, he is punished in this life as well as in the afterlife.) As for the victim, it doesn’t make any difference whether or not there is a justice system. He or she benefits from the suffering caused by the crime in either case to the same extent.

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Peter Hurford June 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm

@Patrick (Christian):

You just admitted that there is no need for a justice system. Any victims will receive compensation in Heaven and the perpetrator does not need to be punished in this life since she will be fully and properly punished in the afterlife. According to you, we have no need for any justice system, and everyone who has advocated for a justice system has simply been mistaken. Is this correct?

If you’re willing to concede that all prisons and courts are completely unnecessary, I’m willing to concede that you’ve defeated the Problem of Evil, and that while God may be an incompetent designer for needing things like birth defects despite being all-powerful, he is not morally culpable.

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Patrick (Christian) June 29, 2011 at 5:14 am

Peter Hurford: “You just admitted that there is no need for a justice system.”

Whether or not there is a need for a justice system with respect to the Problem of Evil depends on whether or not the lack of such a system diminishes the overall amount of suffering in this life and in the afterlife. If it does, there is indeed a need for it.

In my view it is extremely difficult if not impossible to arrive at a conclusive answer to this question. The following points may show that with a justice system there is less suffering than without it.

- A stay in prison or the prospect of being sentenced to death may make a criminal think about his life and eventually accept God’s salvation, which decreases his suffering in the afterlife and causes him to do good works on behalf of other people, which may make those people accept God’s salvation as well and consequently decrease their suffering in the afterlife.
- The deterrent effect of a justice system keeps people from committing crimes, which results in them experiencing less suffering in the afterlife.
- An efficient justice system is supportive of the propagation of the idea that justice is an important value in a society. Holding justice in high esteem certainly decreases one’s suffering in the afterlife more than failing to do so.
- In a society in which the club-law rules unscrupulous people and those who adapt themselves to them flourish, whereas people who speak out against violence and injustice are likely to be eliminated. This means that the number of people who have to expect a greater amount of suffering in the afterlife increases, whereas the number of those who have to expect a smaller amount of such suffering or even heavenly bliss in the afterlife decreases.
- In such a society more people are killed. This also applies to Christians. The loss of Christians results in a loss of opportunities to make people receptive of God’s salvation and thereby decreasing their suffering in the afterlife.

The objector may have to show that these points are not likely to be correct and in addition to this to provide arguments for the view that the lack of a justice system diminishes the overall amount of suffering.

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Larkus June 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

@Patrick (Christian)
Do you have any comments on my last post?

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Patrick (Christian) June 30, 2011 at 5:56 am

Larkus: “It is false, that not experiencing ‘heavenly bliss’ equals experiencing suffering.
The example of the embryo dying before developing a nervous system demonstrates that. The embryo in the example doesn’t experience any ‘heavenly bliss’, but it doesn’t experience any suffering either.”

I’m not sure if I understand your argument correctly, but to me it seems fallacious. This may become evident if one replaces “heavenly bliss” by “happiness”. The fact that an embryo without a nervous system is unable to experience neither happiness nor suffering certainly doesn’t mean that one cannot define “suffering” as “lack of happiness”.

Whether or not “lack of heavenly bliss” equals “suffering” depends on the answer to the question if there is a clear borderline or a smooth transition between happiness and suffering. There are degrees of happiness and degrees of suffering. Based on this fact the following questions can be asked: Is it appropriate to regard “less happy” as “more suffering”? Is apathy an emotional state between happiness and suffering or is it something else? If the latter is the case, what exactly does it feel like if suffering = 0?

Larkus: “If I have no assets, that doesn’t mean I have any debts, and vice versa. Even if I deserve to have assets, but don’t have any, that still doesn’t mean, that I have debts.”

In my view the analogy of the relationship between a creditor and a debtor is not appropriate here. Instead one may think of the relationship between parents and their children. Parents are expected to care for their children and to provide them with at least a minimal amount of goods, even if the children are not able to compensate them for it.

Larkus: “What about babies? If they are suffering, they cry.”

Do babies always cry when they suffer or are they able to endure some degree of suffering without crying? Apart from this just like adults babies certainly can experience different degrees of suffering and different degrees of happiness. But then the questions asked above also apply with respect to babies.

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cl June 30, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hermes,

Side note: I’m very happy to see that Person Who Shall Not Be Named is not trolling CSA anymore, and asking for answers to questions that have been answered so many times as to become a trope unto itself. With that, attack dog mode is off.

You could get a job as the editor for Spin magazine with crap like that! Presuming you had me in mind, show me the answers. I must have missed them. Here, we’ll start with what should be a few easy ones: where is the empirical evidence that supports desirism as the best moral theory? Where is the empirical evidence for Alonzo’s claim that “we” would be “better off” without reality TV and spectator sports? If you’re not just trolling for a reaction, you should be able to provide answers to those questions — unless of course, you are just trolling for a reaction. So, Hermes, put your money where your mouth is, and I’ll issue a public apology for my persistence. Prove me wrong, you of superior intelligence and intellect!

Larry,

A commenter addressed this in one of the other parts by introducing the idea that moral evil necessarily entails natural evil. If that’s true, the game changes.

Not sure if you were alluding to me, but I was definitely amongst those who argued that moral evil entails natural evil. Thus far, I’ve not seen a solid argument showing why this can’t be the case, but as you say, the so-called “Problem of Evil” is much like the glass half full / glass half empty thing. Good analogy. I also agree with your criticisms of Peter’s article.

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Peter Hurford June 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

@Larry:

I missed this and cl just reminded me of it. You said that:

The Bible paints a picture of humans created to live eternally without sin (which is why E7 doesn’t work). But humans chose sin. A just God could not allow this without consequences. A just God couldn’t allow a sinful race to live eternally. Death is the necessary “wages of sin” as the Bible describes it. If sin entails death, then death entails a means of dying. Hence natural evil. It makes sense to me. That doesn’t make it true of course, and like I said, I don’t think the PoE can be proven as a deductive argument.

Firstly, this doesn’t * necessarily* entail natural evil, for people can die strictly through moral evil or by God smiting them directly.

Secondly, at least as far as I know, this theodicy leaves a total mystery why death and destruction are distributed randomly rather than bad things happening specifically to sinful people. For example, if the wages of sin are death, why babies are born made to suffer with dehabilitating birth defects? Why do babies even die at all?

One could say that the baby is born responsible for the sins of all of humanity, and thus has to die. But if this is the case, then people are responsible for sins they did not commit, which would yet make God unjust.

I think the Problem of Evil does make atheism more likely, but may not definitively prove atheism. It usually just entails a very ad hoc formulation of a very complex web of theodicy to explain how birth defects are a part of a perfect design.

I would personally much rather make the case against Christianity on the argument from divine hiddenness, the argument from biblical defects, and others.

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cl June 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Peter,

I see that you’re talking to Larry, but let me know if you’re interested in hearing my response.

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Peter Hurford June 30, 2011 at 3:18 pm

@cl:

Sure; I’d be delighted.

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cl July 1, 2011 at 12:31 pm

There is only one Peter on this thread, correct? As in, “Peter” and “Peter Hurford” are the same individual? At any rate…

Peter Hurford,

Firstly, this doesn’t * necessarily* entail natural evil, for people can die strictly through moral evil or by God smiting them directly.

Well, on my view, a subset of people do die strictly through moral evil, and there are also instances where God seems to smite a subset of people directly. It seems to me you’d have to demonstrate that those two methods of death are fair, whereas death via natural evil is not. Which leads to the question, who is the arbiter of fairness, and how do we know?

I think the Problem of Evil does make atheism more likely, but may not definitively prove atheism. It usually just entails a very ad hoc formulation of a very complex web of theodicy to explain how birth defects are a part of a perfect design.

That’s only a problem for people who insist that birth defects *are* part of a perfect design. I’m not one of those people. The design has been imperfect since the fall — which was humanity’s doing, on my view.

I would personally much rather make the case against Christianity on the argument from divine hiddenness, the argument from biblical defects, and others.

If you’d like to elaborate on anything specific, I’m interested. On my blog, on your blog, or even right here where it’s semi-off-topic. I’m not really interested in trying to prove you wrong or anything, I’m more interested in explaining how I process the various objections.

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Peter Hurford July 1, 2011 at 12:53 pm

cl,

There is only one Peter on this thread, correct? As in, “Peter” and “Peter Hurford” are the same individual?

This is correct, in addition with my mistake where I also said my name was Larkus. (I am not Larkus.) The one consistent link is that all my names link to my website. In any case, I will work harder to be more consistent in my naming.

Well, on my view, a subset of people do die strictly through moral evil, and there are also instances where God seems to smite a subset of people directly. It seems to me you’d have to demonstrate that those two methods of death are fair, whereas death via natural evil is not. Which leads to the question, who is the arbiter of fairness, and how do we know?

I wouldn’t say that death through natural evil is necessarily unfair, but that the way it currently exists is unfair. What is unfair is that people are made to suffer (not die) through natural evil and moral evil, and this suffering is often needless (does not exist due to a higher good).

I further hold that God could ameliorate or eliminate this suffering through a variety of ways (by nature of being all-knowing and all-powerful), most easily by giving us the technology needed to cure disease and detect natural disasters, and by providing education to those who are immoral and/or allowing us to perfectly identify and capture those who need to be confined. I do elaborate on this a lot in my essay linked to above.

One way to get around this is to create the massive web that Patrick did and assert some sort of suffering equivalence principle as well as hold that God somehow cannot intervene directly to educate people. (But the second is more an argument from hiddeness than an argument from evil, and I don’t want to get off topic.)

That’s only a problem for people who insist that birth defects *are* part of a perfect design. I’m not one of those people. The design has been imperfect since the fall — which was humanity’s doing, on my view.

I’m not yet convinced about how this solves any problem, since God, by virtue of being all-powerful, should be able to fix his design.

The babies that suffer due to birth defects definitely didn’t consent to such a design, so removing birth defects is not a violation of their free will, and the babies haven’t sinned (yet), and either way compassion (entailed by goodness) would dictate that such a retributive punishment (rather than a corrective one) is evil.

If you’d like to elaborate on anything specific, I’m interested. On my blog, on your blog, or even right here where it’s semi-off-topic. I’m not really interested in trying to prove you wrong or anything, I’m more interested in explaining how I process the various objections.

I’d be happy to find some venue to talk to you about these topics. I don’t want to get off topic here, so I’ll keep my comments here to the problem of evil only. I don’t know if you have any blog posts regarding these topics — from what I have read of yours, you hold God to be an unfalsifiable construct regardless. We could also email, I suppose.

Right now I have formulated an argument from hiddenness http://www.greatplay.net/essays/where-is-god and an argument from evil http://www.greatplay.net/essays/the-great-problem-of-evil-part-i, both of which are in need of update.

I also intend in the future to formulate an argument from the failure of prayer, an argument from divine foreknowledge, and three arguments from biblical defects (textual, scientific, and moral).

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cl July 1, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Peter Hurford,

I think Patrick made some good points, but I do not share all of them. Also, you can find a short series of my posts on the so-called Problem of Evil, here. Mind you, they’re a few years old, and the series could probably use another installment to better express my thoughts on the matter, since those thoughts have surely evolved over the past year or two. Feel free to comment there or anywhere else on my blog. As for the side stuff, perhaps I’ll respond to your “12 objections to the supernatural” post, as that caught my interest when I briefly perused your blog.

What is unfair is that people are made to suffer (not die) through natural evil and moral evil, and this suffering is often needless (does not exist due to a higher good).

As Larry pointed out, and I concur, you simply assert that the suffering is needless, and you simply assert that it is unfair. How do you know the suffering which exists is either needless or unfair? I think this is where the “glass half empty / glass half full” thing comes into play. Should I simply accept that suffering is both needless and unfair, because you say so? If not, why should I accept that?

I’m not yet convinced about how this solves any problem, since God, by virtue of being all-powerful, should be able to fix his design.

According to the Bible I read and believe, God *IS* in the proccess of fixing this design. The Bible states that God is in the process of weeding evildoers out of His kingdom. So God is able to fix this design, and God is in the process of fixing it. No disagreement there.

The babies that suffer due to birth defects definitely didn’t consent to such a design, so removing birth defects is not a violation of their free will, and the babies haven’t sinned (yet), and either way compassion (entailed by goodness) would dictate that such a retributive punishment (rather than a corrective one) is evil.

It seems to me you still have to answer this question: who is the arbiter of fairness, and how can we reliably know that which is fair from that which is unfair? Is it unfair simply because it violates your intuitions about fairness?

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Peter Hurford July 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm

cl,

Also, you can find a short series of my posts on the so-called Problem of Evil, here. Mind you, they’re a few years old, and the series could probably use another installment to better express my thoughts on the matter, since those thoughts have surely evolved over the past year or two. Feel free to comment there or anywhere else on my blog.

When I get some more spare time I’ll rifle through your blog some more and actually make some constructive comments. I do intend to eventually engage other blogs more thoroughly through comments and maybe even response essays on my site, but I’ve been resistant right now because I haven’t finished making my case yet.

As for the side stuff, perhaps I’ll respond to your “12 objections to the supernatural” post, as that caught my interest when I briefly perused your blog.

That would be wonderful. It was one of my first essays and it’s definitely an intro level post that doesn’t engage with all the material, but I’d love for someone to see if they can conclusively knock it down.

As Larry pointed out, and I concur, you simply assert that the suffering is needless, and you simply assert that it is unfair. How do you know the suffering which exists is either needless or unfair? I think this is where the “glass half empty / glass half full” thing comes into play. Should I simply accept that suffering is both needless and unfair, because you say so? If not, why should I accept that?

These are definitely key points, but I feel as if neither of you have actually looked at my answers for these questions, which at least exist and merit some sort of response.

My argument for why suffering is needless is that there exists some suffering that we can easily do without, such as the smallpox and polio we did eliminate and the many more diseases and crime we intend to further eliminate. This suffering is of course entirely distinct from the suffering I endured running around the track this morning, or the suffering I endured during my vaccinations a few months ago.

What this boils down to is that if we can do things to make crime rates and disease go down and we can do things to make literacy go up, there exists some suffering that we are better off without. God, by virtue of being all-knowing, knows exactly how we can do these things, and could give us some advice — he could tell us how to cure cancer and save millions of lives, and even win millions of souls. Why he would not want to do this is endlessly puzzling, and I would say any morally good person (let alone someone all-good) would not keep a cure to cancer to himself.

Now for the second question: what makes the elimination of this suffering morally good, or what makes God withholding his divine knowledge so morally evil? This requires a theory of morality and also introduces a great source of error in people talking past each other.

Right now, I’d be happy to dodge this, concede this point, and say that since my moral theory isn’t fleshed out or defended (it’s a variant of virtue ethics), I don’t have grounds to call God evil, but I will be justified in calling God uncompassionate. But I think nearly any moral theory that has been formulated does entail that acting uncompassionately is acting immorally, and saying that God is all-good and all-loving also entails him to be very compassionate.

Thus my arbiter of fairness in this case is the application of definitions for “compassion”, and is the same arbiter as whoever determines which animals are cats and what constitutes the color red, i.e. anyone properly using the English language. It doesn’t have anything to do about my intuitions per se.

According to the Bible I read and believe, God *IS* in the proccess of fixing this design. The Bible states that God is in the process of weeding evildoers out of His kingdom. So God is able to fix this design, and God is in the process of fixing it. No disagreement there.

But why does an all-powerful God with literally unlimited resources need to go about it so slowly? He should have been able to prevent birth defects not even seconds after they were introduced.

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Larkus July 1, 2011 at 3:59 pm

@Patrick(Christian)

I)

Defining suffering as lack of happiness is nonsense.

You already wrote: “The fact that an embryo without a nervous system is unable to experience neither happiness nor suffering certainly doesn’t mean that [...]”

Paraphrased: For an embryo without a nervous system

(1) suffering = 0.

You wrote: “[...] you can define suffering as a lack of happiness.”

We can express this as:

(2) If x lacks happiness, then for x suffering > 0.

(2.1) If an embryo without a nervous system lacks happiness, then for embryo without a nervous system suffering > 0.
(2.2) An embryo without a nervous system lacks happiness.
Therefore
(2.3) for an embryo without a nervous system suffering > 0.

(1) and (2.3) can’t both be true.

The same happens, if you replace ‘happiness’ with ‘heavenly bliss’.

The reason for that is that (2) is false.

If my right shoe lacks happiness, then my right shoe suffers.
My right shoe lacks happiness.
Therefore my right shoe suffers.

Instant nonsense.

II)

You wrote: “Whether or not ‘lack of heavenly bliss’ equals ‘suffering’ depends on the answer to the question if there is a clear borderline or a smooth transition between happiness and suffering.”

It doesn’t. In section I) I have already shown, that ‘lack of heavenly bliss’ does not equal ‘suffering’.

To get back to the example of an embryo without a nervous system. This embryo neither feels negative suffering (for example ‘happiness’) nor positive suffering (for example ‘pain’) nor apathy. It feels nothing at all. It has no emotional states. Because it lacks a nervous system.

III)

You wrote: “In my view the analogy of the relationship between a creditor and a debtor is not appropriate here.”

You completely missed the point. I wasn’t refering to a relationship between two persons, I was just refering to my bank account.

I’ll formulate the argument more neutral:

If I don’t have a positive number of x, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily have a negative number of x. It is possible, that I have neither a positive number of x nor a negative number of x, but that the number of x that I have is exactly 0. Whether x means money, suffering, happiness or shoes is completely irrelevant.

Even if I deserve to have a positive number of x, but don’t have it , it doesn’t follow that I have a negative number of x, the number could still be exactly 0.

IV)

You wrote: “Do babies always cry when they suffer or are they able to endure some degree of suffering without crying?”

I was expecting a response like that. So what is your answer to your own question? Is there anything, that you and I would agree constitutes suffering, but does not make babies cry if they experience it? Do you refer perhaps to an experience, that is below the crying threshold for babies, but if it intesified, would make the baby cry? Like maybe the very beginning of a feeling of hunger? With what justification can such an experience be called suffering? What argument can be made, that such an experience counts as suffering severe enough, that an equivalent amount of negative suffering (= ‘happiness’) cannot even out the scales of suffering and negative suffering, that a total amount of ‘suffering in this life’ of exactly 0 results.

Please be specific and please give examples…

…provided that you can show that, contrary to my arguments, ‘lack of heavenly bliss’ actually is some sort of suffering.

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Patrick (Christian) July 2, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Larkus

It seems to me that we talk past each other. Whether you regard “lack of heavenly bliss” as “suffering” or as a “lesser degree of happiness” is quite irrelevant with respect to my theodicy. If you think it isn’t, tell me please in what way this is the case.

With respect to people who are unable to commit sins, I’m suggesting the following points:

- People who don’t commit sins are entitled to have a relationship with God.
- Such a relationship produces heavenly bliss.
- If people who don’t commit sins experience less than heavenly bliss in this life, be it some lesser degree of happiness or even suffering, they are entitled to be compensated for their lack of heavenly bliss in the afterlife.
- If people who don’t commit sins are not able to experience neither suffering nor happiness, they only deserve heavenly bliss in the afterlife, without some additional compensation.

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Larkus July 3, 2011 at 3:34 pm

@Patrick (Christian)

What are you actually claiming?

Do you still claim that ‘lack of heavenly bliss’ equals ‘suffering’ or did you drop the claim that ‘lack of heavenly bliss’ equals ‘suffering’?

Do you claim , that the terms ‘lack of heavenly bliss’, ‘suffering’ and ‘lesser degree of happiness’ are interchangeable? Do you claim, that a lesser degree of happiness than heavenly bliss equals suffering?

With respect to people who are unable to commit sins, I’m suggesting the following points:

-People who don’t commit sins are entitled to have a relationship with God.
-Such a relationship produces heavenly bliss.
-If people who don’t commit sins experience less than heavenly bliss in this life, be it some lesser degree of happiness or even suffering, they are entitled to be compensated for their lack of heavenly bliss in the afterlife.
-If people who don’t commit sins are not able to experience neither suffering nor happiness, they only deserve heavenly bliss in the afterlife, without some additional compensation.

So you dropped the suffering equivalence principle, after all. Good.

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Patrick (Christian) July 4, 2011 at 4:29 am

Larkus

As a more appropriate name of the principle underlying my theodicy I suggest “law of conservation of justice” (by analogy with the law of conservation of energy in Physics). According to this principle the overall amount of injustice must be equal with the overall amount of punishment of injustice.

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Larkus July 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm

@Patrick (Christian)

I was just pointing out that there was an inconsistency among your claims (most importantly the claims that ‘suffering in this life together with suffering in the afterlife is [...] proportional to sin’ and that ‘a person [...] before he or she reaches reach the age of accountability’ is ‘not [...] able to commit sins’) and your idea of an afterlife.

Since I finally got through, I’ll drop out of the discussion, unless you bring up some new argument. It took long enough. I think, that your theodicy that you presented in your comment before the last still has problems, even without the ‘suffering equivalence principle’, but that would be a discussion for another day.

Best wishes,
Larkus

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