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Why Evil and Suffering Don’t Disprove God

Suffering

NOTE: Today's post is in response to Steven Dillon's post, "Why I Don't Think God Exists."


 
I’d like to begin responding to Steven Dillon’s guest post on God’s existence by complimenting his thoughtful and candid writing. I especially appreciated his opening paragraph where, with great vulnerability, Steven acknowledged that he wished God existed.

Some atheists desire just the opposite. The philosopher Thomas Nagel admitted in his book, The Last Word:

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

By admitting his preference for an all-loving, all-powerful Father who brings life and order to the universe, Steven implicitly confirms his openness to God’s existence, a sign that he hasn't a priori rejected the possibility of God.

But as we all know, wishing something to be true doesn’t make it true. Steven offers what he considers a strong argument against God, one that presumably prevents him from believing. He outlines it this way:

Premise 1: If God exists, there are things that he will have had to have done.
 
Premise 2: God would not do at least one of these things.
 
Conclusion: God does not exist.

After offering this syllogism, Steven moves on to defend its two premises. Regarding the first, he states:

“God is traditionally conceived of as being perfectly good and the ultimate source, ground, or originating cause of everything that can have an ultimate source, ground, or originating cause. . .
 
Moreover, nothing that has happened will have happened without his permission. Each of us would be under his care as he chose to sustain us in existence from moment to moment.”

I commend Steven for accurately defining God as “perfectly good” (though classical theists would likely prefer “the Perfect Good”) as well as “the ultimate source, ground, or originating cause of everything that can have an ultimate source, ground, or originating cause.” No problems there. Moreover, Steven rightly notes that “nothing that has happened will have happened without [God’s] permission.” This aligns with Christian's affirmation of God’s ultimate sovereignty.

However, it’s difficult to see how the above points support or are even relevant to Steven’s first premise. Claiming there are things God “will have had to have done” is to assume some binding duty outside of and above God—some requiring authority which assigns duties to God (like a mother mandating her child to perform certain tasks). Yet this contradicts Steven’s own description of God as “the ultimate source, ground, or originating cause.” God can’t be the ultimate ground of morality and responsible to a higher moral authority. That’s a self-contradiction.

On the other hand, if Steven simply means that God has to perform or refrain from certain moral acts because of his nature (e.g., that God has to love his creation because he is all-loving), then that’s an obvious and unhelpful tautology. It’s difficult to determine which of these two scenarios Steven meant, but it doesn’t seem either supports his first premise.

The real crux of Steven’s argument, however, begins in his defense of his second premise. There he claims:

“If God exists, then due to his role as the ultimate cause, he will have had to have given his permission for every single thing that has ever occurred, including . . . the Holocaust . . . [and] every heinous count of abuse that children have been subjected to. But, this seems beneath God and more like the track record of a morally impoverished deity.”

This is, of course, all true. If God is all-powerful, and if nothing occurs without God’s permission, he will have had to permit these heinous and seemingly indefensible tragedies. It also might seem, from our limited perspective, that permitting such acts would be “beneath God.”

But from there it does not follow that God has no good justification for permitting them.

Christians have consistently pointed out that because of God’s unique, metaphysical position, beyond space and time, he can have morally justifiable reasons to allow certain acts of pain and suffering—reasons that we're just not privy to. Just as we allow our children to experience darkness and hurt sometimes when we know it will bring about a greater good, God could have good reasons to permit apparently heinous acts. (Note: I’m not arguing here that God necessarily does have good reasons in any specific case, only that there’s no logical reason why he couldn’t have good reasons to permit evils in general, reasons we're just not aware of.)

Steven goes on to say:

“Typically, you should not allow children under your care to get beaten and molested. Perhaps there could be an exception to this rule, probably in what I’m guessing is a farfetched scenario. But, it is still a rule, and it thus expresses what is normally the case. To argue against this is to adopt the disturbing position that it is usually not wrong to allow children under your care to get beaten and molested.”

The first two sentences are true and agreeable, but the third does not logically follow. To claim that in some cases it might be possible for someone to have a morally justifiable reason for permitting an evil like child abuse does not necessitate believing that “it is usually not wrong to allow children under your care to get beaten and molested.” That’s simply a non sequitur.

It should be pointed out here that, once again, Steven has failed to provide any support for his second premise. It’s not clear how he supports the claim, “God would not do at least one of these things [that he has to do].” Steven never explains why it’s logically impossible for God to have morally justifiable reasons to allow suffering in one, many, or all cases.

Moving on to his conclusion, Steven acknowledges that his argument isn’t airtight, and thus not logically stable. He candidly admits:

“For all its beauty, our world just seems too ugly to include God in it. I certainly won’t pretend like this is a rationally undefeatable argument, but I also don’t think it’s anything like a pushover.”

I agree with Steven that his argument is not “anything like a pushover.” I agree with Thomas Aquinas who famously concluded that the “problem of evil” constitutes one of only two serious arguments against the existence of God.

I also agree with Steven that his argument is rationally defeatable. For example, Steven claims “our world just seems to ugly to include God in it.” Besides the fact that ugliness in the world is not incompatible with God—Christians have a perfectly logical explanation for moral ugliness: Original Sin—there’s a large difference between what seems to be true and what really is. For example, it may seem to be a remarkable stroke of luck that I was dealt two royal flushes in a row. But as my perspective widens and I’m given more background information, I learn the deck was stacked beforehand—a fact I wasn’t in position to previously know. Thus my perception changes: an apparent truth becomes, in fact, an illusion.

The same holds in the case of evil. Neither Steven, nor I, nor anyone in this world are in the privileged epistemic position to determine whether God has good reasons to allow evil. We simply can’t see the entirety of space and time (past, present, and future) the way God can. We can’t perceive the “butterfly effect” of events that may emerge out of a tragic event. Therefore we must acknowledge, in humility, that we can’t necessarily suppose “what seems to be the case” regarding the moral permissibility of allowing evil may, in fact, not be the case. We must acknowledge that God could have good reasons for allowing evil that we're just unable to glimpse.

Before wrapping up his article, Steven asks:

“How shall a theist respond to this argument? Is it not normally wrong to allow children under your care to be abused? Are we not under God's care? Or perhaps she will simply say the arguments for God’s existence are just too strong.”

To answer Steven’s three questions in turn: it is normally wrong to allow children under your care to be abused (note: God normally does not allow the children under his care to be abused); we are under God’s care; and it’s true that other arguments for God’s existence (like the arguments from contingency, fine tuning, first cause, etc.) are very strong.

Yet none of those three questions reveal how most Christians would answer Steven’s primary argument. The simplest and strongest response, as I’ve noted above, is this:

There is no logical contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God who permits evil in the world. To deny this, an atheist would have to show definitively that God could not have morally justifiable reasons for permitting evil in any circumstance. And since we’re in no position to judge whether God has such reasons, the existence of evil (i.e., pain, suffering, abuse, etc.) simply does not pose a strong argument against God’s existence.

In Steven's final paragraph, he writes:

“However we might respond to [the problem of evil], keep in mind that it won’t do to argue that God might allow things like the Holocaust, or human trafficking, or that God could have good reason for doing so. No has said that he couldn’t, that’s not the issue at hand. What needs to be shown is that God would allow these things, theists will need to take the risk of identifying the reason why God would allow the Holocaust, or human trafficking, and seeing whether that identification can stand to reason.”

I'm happy that Steven concedes that God could have good reasons to permit certain evils. But then he makes a subtle, yet significant move in his final sentences. He attempts to shift the burden of proof onto theists, challenging them to disprove his argument against God, instead of assuming the burden himself—instead of marshaling his own evidence in support of his own claims.

But the theist is under no such responsibility. If Steven claims that the existence of evil is logically or evidentially incompatible with God’s existence, he needs to show why. It won’t suffice simply to demand that theists show how God and evil co-exist. To say it another way, it’s fallacious to make a positive claim and then demand others disprove your claim—you have to provide evidence yourself! This is precisely why atheists won’t allow Christians to say, “God exists! And if you don’t agree, you have to show why he doesn’t exist!”

In the end, the honest theist can respond, “Look, we don’t know why God chose to allow the Holocaust. We also don’t know why he chooses to allow human trafficking. We can point to some obvious goods that result—like the gift of free will, a good that would be undermined if God stepped in, usurped human action, and disallowed the Holocaust. But in the end, we’re just not in a position to judge whether God has morally justifiable reasons to allow these things."

That admitted ignorance, a result of our limited knowledge and perspective, does not imply God’s non-existence. It’s simply a fact that we’re in no place to judge the moral permissibility of God’s actions.

For all of the reasons above, Steven’s argument fails. He does not provide substantial support for either of his two premises, and he does not show why evil logically contradicts God’s existence.

(For a longer response to Steven’s claim, I suggest reading Alvin Plantinga’s groundbreaking book, God, Freedom, and Evil. That book has caused many well-known atheists like J.K. Mackie to say, “We [atheists] can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically contradictory with one another.” I also highly recommend chapters six and seven in Trent Horn’s new book, Answering Atheism.)
 
 

(Image credit: Earthy Mysticism)

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • Kevin Aldrich

    When I read Premise 1 ("If God exists, there are things that he will have had to have done") I assumed Steven meant God would not act against his own nature. So, if God is really all-good, Steven would argue, God would always act in an all-good manner. Steven thinks permitting an innocent person to suffer when you can prevent it is not acting in an all-good manner.

    Brandon is saying permitting the innocent to suffer when you can prevent it is consistent with goodness if there is a good enough reason. Brandon argues God has a good enough reason but we just don't know what it is.

    That might be worth exploring. Is it true we don't know why God permits the innocent to suffer?

    • David Nickol

      Is it true we don't know why God permits the innocent to suffer?

      If Catholicism maintains that God sometimes intervenes to prevent evil or suffering (and certainly Catholicism does maintain that), then it is obviously the case that sometimes he doesn't intervene. Consequently, no generalized explanation seems possible for the problem of evil. It must be explained why he sometimes does intervene and other times doesn't.

      If God does not intervene in human affairs because that would diminish human free will, then it seems to me it is a very weak argument to say, "Well, admittedly he does intervene occasionally, and that diminishes free will. We don't know why he chooses to diminish free will in those cases, but since he is God, we trust he has a good reason."

      • David Nickol

        Let me add one thought. If you have a general rule that you follow the majority of the time, but you occasionally make exceptions, it seems to be there is an overarching goal that can only be fully understood if you know the reasons for the exceptions. "God does not intervene because he wants human beings to have free will and its consequences" is the general rule, but since it has exceptions, it seems we don't know what the overarching goal is.

        • Andrej Tokarčík

          According to my understanding, no statement along the lines of "God does not intervene because he wants human beings to have free will and its consequences" was suggested as a "general rule" in the article. Neither was free will taken to be the sole good that necessarily gives meaning to all evil and suffering. Instead, free will was mentioned in rather a colloquial manner as one possible reason why God could allow evil within His creation.

          As I see it, it wasn't even Brandon's intention to give a specific reason why God allows evil. He just wanted to demonstrate that evil is not incompatible with the reality of God. Since the problem of evil is usually raised as an intellectual objection to (classical) theism, I think it is useful to point out -- precisely as Brandon did -- that unless the critic shows that there could not possibly be a reason for God to allow evil, the presence of evil in the world poses no problem inasmuch as the consistency of theism is concerned.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Well yes. As long as theism is permitted to be inconsistent, the POE is no problem at all. But Brandon doesn't actually address that. He merely engages in Skeptical Theism, which just defines the issue out of existence. "well, you can't prove there ISN'T a good reason for harlequin babies, so you're wrong."

            Hardly satisfying, intellectually, don't you think?

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            I'm wondering how You've managed to read that theism is permitted to be inconsistent from my previous comment.

            The presence of evil in the world would have some relevance to the discussion only under the assumption that the existence of God is taken to be provable at most as a probable hypothesis. However, that is not the case. The historically most influential theists have held that the existence of God can be demonstrated via a philosophical argument, which if sound settles the issue definitively. You may of course disagree that there is any such sound argument, but none the less it is obvious that the problem of evil (with its limited probative force) would pose no challenge in that context. In order for the problem of evil to properly disprove the conclusion of such a definitive proof, one would have to show that goodness of God is necessarily inconsistent with His allowing of any suffering whatsoever.

            As per intellectual satisfaction, I accept that I cannot know everything -- but it would be erroneous to insist that from this follows that I cannot know anything. I can very well accept the conclusion of a sound demonstration (that God exists and is good as well as that the positive charge of an atom is concentrated in the atom's nucleus, cf. the Rutherford gold foil experiment), even when I'm not in a position to answer all kinds of possible questions related to the conclusion (why God allows this or that evil? or why hasn't Nature preferred, say, the plum pudding model over this one?). In both examples, my intellectual curiosity may remain unsatisfied. Yet still, unless another demonstration of at least the same degree of certainty with results undermining the previous conclusion is given, it is reasonable to stay with the previously achieved conclusion. One's personal intellectual satisfaction plays no role in the process, sound arguments do.

      • fightforgood

        Interesting. It would be great to get a graph together of all the interventions and instances of need, and see if we could find the difference.
        My first guess- where God did intervene, he was asked each time. So free will was used to request help.
        Of course this does not conclude where he did not intervene, he was not asked. Which is where a graph would be nice.
        Perhaps something like this is true (if God exists) -
        God (if exists) loves
        Love by definition can't force a response
        Therefore, free will exists as a necessary part of creation because the creator can't force the creation to love in return, due to love itself.
        God, being perfect, can't go against Himself in contra-love.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I can somewhat readily arrive at reasons why God would allow the innocent to suffer, but I have a hard time guessing at reasons why He would allow them to suffer so much and with so little understanding.

      If it is God's most fundamental nature to give of himself, then the only way that we can actively participate in God's nature is to give of ourselves. Any true gift involves self-sacrifice, so it would make sense for God to force us into a degree of self-sacrifice, just as I might force my kids to share their jelly beans. I have no problem with forcing them to suffer a bit in order to participate more fully in the divine center of reality.

      Still, I would concede that it is a long way from forcing someone to share jelly beans to forcing someone to live his or her entire life with a debilitating disease, or be abused by cruel people. It quickly gets to a point where I am not comfortable being God's cheerleader.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I can easily imagine a state of affairs in which we would all be perfectly self-giving and find that perfectly fulfilling, but that is not the usual state of affairs in this world. In this world, self-giving is often hard and requires, as you point out, self-sacrifice.

        I think all kids of good can be drawn from innocent suffering and we can list them if necessary, but I don't think any of them justify the innocent suffering. None of them make it right. It is morally wrong to be responsible for inflicting innocent suffering on another and a physical evil to suffer innocently.

        This is why I think we must maintain as the Catholic Church does that God is completely opposed to evil and does not do it.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          I think we are in agreement here, but just to clarify what I meant ...

          I certainly agree that God is opposed to evil, but I don't think it would be correct to say that God is opposed to suffering. It seems to me that the crucifixion was a revelation that BEING (a.k.a. God the Father) and LOVE (a.k.a. God the Son) are the same thing. Love by definition involves self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice by definition involves suffering, so it cannot be the case that God is opposed to suffering. Suffering and love and being are three words for the same thing.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thank you for saying this. I'll just try to reply as I think New Apologetics (and Catholicism) would.

            > God is opposed to both moral evil (sin) and physical evil (suffering)
            > Self-sacrifice is not intrinsic to love but it is necessary in this (fallen) world. It did not take any self-sacrifice for God to create being out of nothing and to sustain it in existence.
            > When God became man in the Incarnation, he simply kept doing what God does (loving perfectly) and for this was put to death.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks Kevin. This is a good point:

            Self-sacrifice is not intrinsic to love but it is necessary in this (fallen) world.

            That much sounds right to me. I got a bit carried away with my writing when I claimed that suffering and love are the same thing. Highly related, but not the same.

            I also accept this next point, though it obviously requires quite a bit of elaboration:

            God is opposed to ... physical evil (suffering)

            Briefly, it seems to me that can only be true in this sense: suffering is one aspect of our separation from God. God does not want us to remain forever separated from Him, so in that sense I can see that God is opposed to physical suffering. On the other hand, God created this journey for us. He created a degree of separation between Himself and His creation, and that separation is suffering. He wants us to participate in the movement back toward him, but there is no way that we could participate in a movement toward Him if there weren't some separation from Him in the first place. So, to the degree that God wants us to experience the joy of moving back toward Him, I think one would have to say that God wants there to be some separation from Him (and separation from Him = suffering), at least as long as we exist in time.

            Does that sound right to you?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know, Jim.

            There has to be some separation or difference between real things, otherwise they would be the same thing. There has to be an ontological separation between God and us. Does there need to be pain in that separation?

            My understanding of what the Church calls "original holiness" means that we were meant to be in a relationship of friendship or communion with God. It seems to me that when you are in friendship there is not suffering in being separate, whereas when there is enmity there is. I think an awful lot of the pain in living the Christian life is in not wanting or only half-wanting what God wants, because to do what God wants in this life can mean suffering.

          • fightforgood

            A couple corrections, I don't want folks to be confused...
            Your last line is incorrect Catholic teaching. You just turned the crucifixion into an ordinary execution vs a sacrifice. Jesus freely gave his life for you, it wasn't taken without him allowing it to happen. Even the guards who took him knew this as he healed one of them physically before *telling them* to do what they must. Imagine being those guards? That said, he was also human and sweating blood the night before because he knew what he was about to go through the next day. He was giving for us, they were not taking anything.
            Your observance on suffering (physical evil) can be construed incorrectly, if you are trying to give Catholic teaching. In the most simple form - The point we take away from Jesus, apostles, saints, all examples of extreme suffering, is that there must be value to suffering. And when approached with the right mentality, in a relationship with God, physical harm can be avoided illogically to the human mind. (smiling while being burned, walking out of boiling oil as if it was a nice bath) Some saints needed to be beheaded to finish the job because torture wasn't working.
            If there is value to suffering, it is valuable all the time, not just for Catholics as God is the God of All people.
            Don't mistake this for God encouraging suffering, look again at Jesus before the passion, he was not looking forward to suffering.
            God just wants us to know that if you are suffering, it is not in vain, and if you seek him, you will be comforted through it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you want to correct those three statements, I think you need to rewrite your comment, because it is not clear what you are trying to say.

          • fightforgood

            I don't do this enough to figure out how people space their stuff nicely either. I bet that would help too! Let's try again...
            Catholic teaching is that Jesus' crucifixion was a sacrafice. Lot's of people are put to death. He was giving his life. That's the teaching, for clarity sake perhaps more than correction. Also, He wasn't put to death because he loved, he was put to death because of blasphemy, or so they thought.
            Catholic teaching is that suffering has value. 'Opposed' seemed like a confusing word to use since - if there is value to suffering, being opposed doesn't seem logical. Not that the opposite is true because 'opposed' doesn't work. As I said don't be confused thinking God encourages suffering - his human side didn't want it at all prior to the event... Just that if suffering exists and has value, then we must learn how to best go through it and use it for the positive that would exist because of 'value' existing.
            I hope that helps a little.

        • Loreen Lee

          I am in agreement with the definition of evil as a 'lack' and therefore the conclusion made from this that 'evil does not exist'. That's pretty hard to reconcile with the idea of pride associated with Satan, and even perhaps our 'ego's' inability to reckon what constitutes good within a context of our goals as individuals, as set against 'others' in the world. In any case, this is consistent with a definition of God as a Perfect, All Good Existent.

          You may be aware that I'm still interested in exploring more thoroughly the concept of 'blame' when it comes to assessing what is held to be good and evil within human associations, and the 'meaning of the Atonement'. Thanks.

        • Tyler Janzen

          A child dies from malaria every minute. What possible purpose could this serve? How much good could possibly arise from this constant stream of dead children? There is no proving or disproving God, in that I would have to agree with the title of this article but to think that there is some reason God needs to make a child suffer and die every minute or that there is somehow a positive that comes out of this happening is quite a stretch. Its certainly true that we can't know what motivation a (potentially existing) God may or may not have for anything, but this does not make the idea of an all knowing and loving God any more rational or logical given the evidence. It is clearly a matter of choosing to believed despite the evidence. What evidence do we really have that God is good or opposed to evil or that he loves us if he exists? If there is a God I would be inclined to believe that the opposite is true. The nature of evolution and natural selection, where-by those who lose the genetic lottery simply die, suffer, or fail to procreate, and those who succeed generally do at the expense of others ie. Malaria) would be the greatest evidence for this that I can see.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You say "God needs to make a child suffer and die every minute." I say God does not in any way "need" anyone to suffer and die.

            You say "There is
            somehow a positive that comes out of this happening." God would not permit any evil unless he could draw a greater good from it.

            I believe God is good because this is what Jesus Christ taught and confirmed through his miracles and his rising from the dead.

          • Tyler Janzen

            You said "...good can be drawn from innocent suffering and we can list them if necessary" and I was responding to that idea, asking for you to demonstrate the truth of your statement. God doesn't need us to suffer and die, but he permits it because he can draw some greater good? Think about those statements. What possible good could come of what I described? Surely an all powerful God would not need us to suffer for his gain, so who is to benefit? Not me I hope. Where is the greater good? Simply believing because it is comforting doesn't work for me. You believe God is good because of what Jesus taught, or so you say/believe, but we don't really know what he taught or who he was or how the story has changed over time. It can perhaps teach us something but it is not a reliable source for any absolute knowledge. It has clearly been manipulated by men and there's no way to know if it is genuine, and to what extent. Who knows if it was ever anything more than a manipulation of the story of a man who perhaps influenced a lot of people, or just a story, a tool to control the masses. If Jesus lived, was he the son of God? If someone claimed to be the son of God tomorrow, you would likely demand more evidence than a book of unknown origins. We can never really know, and so how can we use this as a tool to ascertain whether or not something is true?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You said "...good can be drawn from innocent suffering and we can list them if necessary" and I was responding to that idea, asking for you to demonstrate the truth of your statement.

            It wasn't clear to me that this was what you wanted me to write about. I'll respond to you after this weekend.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You wrote:
            You said "...good can be drawn from innocent suffering and
            we can list them if necessary" and I was responding to that idea, asking for you to demonstrate the truth of your statement.

            I answer:
            Here are some ways good can be drawn from innocent suffering.
            > If a person causes innocent suffering in another he can repent that evil and become a better kind of person.
            > Many virtues can be acquired by struggling against unjust situations.
            > Some people can appreciate the good they took for granted by having endured evil.
            > The world of innocent suffering creates the world of benevolence as people respond to persons' suffering with compassion.
            > In heaven, God can reward innocent sufferers in a way that astronomically compensates for the suffering endured.
            > Suffering person become co-redeemers with Christ and their suffering is the very means of the eternal salvation of many persons.

          • George

            As to your second-to-last point, wouldn't we have to die to confirm that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes.

      • fightforgood

        Great post. I think this is why God became man and went through Good Friday.
        It seems quite humanly logical to ask why we suffer when God is there, and well, can seemingly do Godly actions to stop suffering.
        However, then when we consider that God chose to suffer in a very extreme human suffering way with Jesus. This is information that allows those on this world who are going through hell to see that their God loves them and to give them strength in their difficulties.
        For those of us who are not suffering much, it is easy to dismiss Jesus and not see the purpose.

      • Michael Murray

        It quickly gets to a point where I am not comfortable being God's cheerleader.

        I often think we shouldn't be asking why is there suffering but why is there so much suffering. Particularly if you add in the suffering that is intrinsic to nature in natural selection. So the question isn't why can't we have a world without suffering but why can't we have a lot less than what we do.

        • Andrej Tokarčík

          The question then would be what scale ought to be used to measure and determine how much suffering amounts to "too much" as well as how much suffering is, You know, still actually acceptable. At the end of the day, wouldn't any -- whatever small -- amount of suffering be sufficient to dismiss the existence of the Supreme Being? In that case though, there is no real distinction between "why is there suffering at all" and "why is there so much suffering", and thus no reason for You to prefer the latter over the former. The claim beneath both of them remains the same: God would be bound by His goodness and omnipotence in such a way that suffering is altogether prevented. But of course, that claim is no trivial to prove and is usually stated as a mere assertion.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            So you would not agree that goodness involves preventing unnecessary suffering?

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Why wouldn't I? Why do You think that God does allow unnecessary suffering?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I don't. But then, I don't believe god exists.

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Why bother disproving God's existence when one can simply assert the opposite, right? ;)

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            But I didn't assert the opposite. And given the vague, fuzzy, generally incoherent definitions of god being bandied about, I don't think it's possible to disprove god. The POE only demonstrates that a particular definition of god is incoherent.

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Let's reveal an implicit assumption of Yours. You said: "The POE only demonstrates that a particular definition of God is incoherent." However, this is true only if the evils that are discussed as part of the POE are objective and unredeemable. I'm not aware that You or anyone else would have proven that this assumption does actually hold, though, so the accusation of incoherence is unjustified.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Not at all. And what do you mean by "objective and unredeemable" in this context?

            The POE simply points out that a particular definition of god (a sloppy, nebulous, inherently incoherent one, but let's let that pass) is logically inconsistent with the real world.

            Theists try to grapple with this problem in various ways: they sometimes claim things aren't evil (suffering is good; natural evils aren't really evil; etc.); they sometimes claims that there is an explanation - but we can't ever know what it is; or they adjust what is meant by omnipotent or omnibenevolent or omniscient.

            None of these are particularly useful rejoinders. But then, neither does the POE disprove ALL definitions of god. Just some.

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Well, in that case the issue becomes clear: the particular definition of God that You're talking about is obviously not the one that most theists (including Catholics) adhere to, You just think it is. Perhaps if You actually laid out rather than just kept mentioning a single incoherence (and even inherent one for that matter) within the notion, we could have some constructive debate. :)

            And what do you mean by "objective and unredeemable" in this context?"

            In order to show that the presence of some evil in the world cannot be reconciled with an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Creator of the very same world, the evil must be (quite obviously) demonstrated to be:

            a) objective, because any subjective concern (however prevalent one) cannot by itself be used to express nothing more but an opinion, in which case the POE may only feel to be a problem, while it is not necessarily so in reality;

            b) unredeemable, because even an objective evil may be redeemable, in which case if God exists, then He will certainly redeem it in accord with His utter goodness: that is to say, if one has arrived at the existence of God that is omnipotent and omnibenevolent via a reliable means (an independent philosophical argument), the experience of redeemable evils is not incompatible with the thus achieved conclusion.

            (Note that to argue that no evil is redeemable because God does not exist, and God does not exist because of the problem of evil, is to argue in a circle.)

            To reiterate, You personally don't have to think that there are in fact sound demonstrations of the existence of God, yet it should be clear anyway that for someone who thinks there are, the presence of subjective or redeemable evil, which is usually meant under the problem of evil, is an emotional rather than an intellectual issue. (That is not to mean that evil should be ignored or approved of, just that to abandon belief is not a proper reaction.)

    • Kevin Aldrich

      The "classic" reason why God would permit evil (including innocent suffering) is that he would not permit it if he could not draw a greater good out of it.

      It seems to me that this requires a life in addition to this life, because so many who suffer innocently do not receive that greater good in this life.

      • Susan

        The "classic" reason why God would permit evil (including innocent suffering) is that he would not permit it if he could not draw a greater good out of it

        Your deity is supposed to be omnipotent. It could draw a greater good out of its ear without being subject to any conditions.

        It seems to me that this requires a life in addition to this life, because so many who suffer innocently do not receive that greater good in this life.

        Most of those who have suffered have no hope of receiving a greater good as they are mere non-humans, quite capable of suffering, but with no reward waiting at the end.

        The evidence does not support "a life in addition to this life". It is just an assertion like a perfectly "good" being. .

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I feel very confident that if God exists he does draw abundant good out of evil and rewards those who suffer innocently maximally.

      However, this does not explain at all why the state of affairs are such that God chooses to permit evil, even evil that destroys innocence.

      I will try to offer some ideas I have learned from New Apologetics.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        One is that God has created persons (angels and human beings) and gives them real importance and power. He does this out of love.

        If God has really entrusted the development of the universe to angels and if some of them refuse to do the parts they were created to do, God respects the freedom he has given more than the right of innocent persons not to suffer. That is terrible if not for the fact that God can bring about a greater good in the end than would have obtained if all the angels had done their parts.

        This could be the explanation for the existence of "physical evil" in creation. Some of the angels abused their freedom and power and so we have the law of tooth and claw.

        If God knew that fallen angels (and human beings) would do evil, why not *not* create them? Why not create other angels and men who would always do the right thing or why not just not create at all?

        The answer that New Apologetics gives if I understand it correctly is that if God held back his love (which is his only reason for creating) because persons would abuse freedom and power, then evil becomes the first principle, not love. Prevention of evil become the basic rule of creation, not love and freedom.

        • David Nickol

          If God has really entrusted the development of the universe to angel . . . .

          This seems to me to be an idea invented out of whole cloth. What possible reason is there to think that God subcontracted out work on the "development of the universe." You can't invent new "revelation" to explain away problems. Even if one believes everything the Catholic Church has taught for the past two millennia, angels working on "the development of the universe" is baseless conjecture. (And what is the "development of the universe"?)

          And if there were bad or incompetent angels, who made them that way? How can the "free will" of an angel reflect anything other than the state God created that particular angel in? There can be no nature-nurture debate about angels. It seems to me that any being that chooses must make its choices based on the sum total of what it is. God would be totally and completely responsible for the sum total of what an angels was. If an angel is arrogant, stubborn, or stupid, it can only be because God made it that way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks, David.

            As for your first point, let's start with the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

            306 God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it
            out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan.

            Next, I'll quote from New Apologetics and let that stand.

            How can the Christian view of the world be true if suffering and death preceded the appearance of man in the world?

            Answer: Evidence suggests that suffering and death pervaded the natural world before man arrived in creation. In the material order, there is both tremendous beauty and artistry combined with a horrendous cruelty and disregard for life. The order of the animal kingdom follows the pattern of the strong victimizing the helpless, and (even though it involves non-personal creatures) it is difficult to reconcile this with the intentions of a good God.

            In accord with the delegation of power given in divine chastity, authority concerning the unfolding of the material order was given to the angels. With power over the material world, the fall of the rebel angels would necessarily register in the material order in serious ways. God’s will is to create life, but the will of the rebel angels is to countermand this at every opportunity. Hence, there is an interplay between life (which is facilitated in obedience to God by the good angels) and death (through the work of the evil one and his allies).

            Ultimately this discord (through the mechanism of survival of the fittest life forms) was directed providentially (through the guidance of God under the co-operation of the good angels) towards the creation of more advanced life, and ultimately the body of man emerged despite the best efforts of the evil angels to destroy life absolutely through mishap and omission.

            Possibly, as the union of matter and spirit, it was man’s role to redeem the material world from the effects of the angelic fall. Though the material order was good in itself, it seems that man (through the use of preternatural gifts) was originally commissioned to subdue and reorder the world in a way that would cause it to reflect the glory of God more perfectly.

            Quote: “Notice also that the world is out of joint before man arrived in it. Somewhere in God’s universe there is a crack, a fissure. Something has gone wrong, and it has gone wrong because someone did not use freedom rightly. Someone used freedom in thesense of ‘the right to do whatever you please’. Look back over the evolution of the universe. See all of the prehistoric animals that have come into being and passed away. Everywhere in the unfolding of the cosmos there have been biological sprouts that came to dead ends. Everywhere, there are blind alleys. But you ask, “Why should the sin of the angels affect the universe?” Well, one reason might be that lower creation was put under the supervision of some of the angels. And when they rebelled against God, the effects of it in some way registered in the material universe. Nature became dislocated. Look at a complicated machine: Disturb one of the big wheels, break a cog, and you will also disturb all of the little wheels. Throw a rock into a pond, it will
            affect, in some way, through ripples, even the most distant shore. It could be, therefore, the fall of the angels accounted for maybe the chaos that was on the earth as described in the Book of Genesis. There is every indication that something went wrong before man was made.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Original Sin and Angels)

          • David Nickol

            Well, one reason might be that lower creation was put under the supervision of some of the angels. And when they rebelled against God, the effects of it in some way registered in the material universe. [Emphasis added.]

            One bit of pure speculation, even by Archbishop Sheen, does not make this a teaching of the Church. In 12 years of Catholic schooling and almost a half century of reading, I have never come across the idea that "lower creation was put under the supervision of some of the angels."

            This bit of pure speculation—"one reason might be"—has been elevated to the status of fact by New Apologetics: "In accord with the delegation of power given in divine chastity, authority concerning the unfolding of the material order was given to the angels."

            Can you give any other Catholic source for this idea of fallen angels sabotaging the material world that doesn't come either New Evangelization or Archbishop Sheen? I can't find one. In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of the Creation and Fall by Benedict XVI (writing when he was Cardinal Ratzinger) doesn't even mention angels.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I would not call it pure speculation but an attempt to understand how the goodness of God and physical evil can be reconciled rather than just saying it is a mystery.

            There is an opening for this kind of speculation in the quote from the CCC: "For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan."

            I first heard of this kind of thinking in Tolkien's creation myth in the Silmarillion (of all places).

          • David Nickol

            Genesis 1:31:

            God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.

            Even taking as a given the Christian concept of the Fall, the Bible is clear that creation is good at least until Adam sins. It doesn't say, "God looked at everything he personally had made, and found it very good, but there were serious flaws in what had been delegated to the angels."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You don't get theologically nuanced claims in Genesis. That is not its genre.

            Why can't you interpret "good" and "very good" as ontologically good? The problems in physical reality would be lacunae, not positive evils.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            David,

            Have you come across any Catholic thinkers (defined as broadly as you like) who you think offer reasonable theological explanations of physical evil? I am curious what BXVI said about it, if you would be willing to summarize.

            It has just come to my attention (per my exchanges with Kevin, above) that my own way of thinking about physical evil was problematic, so I am shopping around for new ways of thinking about it :)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The second point, about angels, I'm not saying they were incompetent but that they rebelled and refused to serve. If angels have free will, they can choose to serve God or not, right?

          • Susan

            The second point, about angels, I'm not saying they were incompetent but that they rebelled and refused to serve. If angels have free will, they can choose to serve God or not, right?

            Do you have any evidence for angels?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A woman I know told me this story. I have never known her to lie and I know she is not crazy. She was walking in downtown Chicago. Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder that stopped her in her tracks. Just as suddenly, a huge chunk of concrete smashed onto the sidewalk right were she would have been. It fell of the facade of the building. When she turned around there wasn't anybody there.

            By the way, here is another attribution of a miracle.

            http://www.josemariaescriva.info/article/alvaro-del-portillo-to-be-beatified

          • David Nickol

            It seems to me the more cases of divine intervention to ward off or mitigate evil, the more puzzling the remaining cases of divine nonintervention. If it is claimed God wants human beings to experience all the consequences of free will, why are there exceptions? And if there are lots of exceptions, how seriously are we to regard the "rule"? God apparently wants human beings to live with the consequences of free will . . . except when he doesn't.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In principle, God does *not* want people to live with the consequences of free will. Otherwise, he would not have redeemed us!

            So, I would not claim that God wants human beings to experience all the consequences of free will.

          • David Nickol

            So, I would not claim that God wants human beings to experience all the consequences of free will.

            So you are saying that God does not intervene to prevent the consequences of people using their wills freely, but he doesn't want them to experience the consequences? How can that possibly work? Free will seems to be of the utmost importance, and the primary explanation for why God doesn't intervene to prevent evil is that God has given everyone free will, so how can you say he doesn't want people to live with the consequences of everyone having free will?

            Free will, Catholicism claims, is so important that God allows people to go to hell rather than deprive them of free will. How can you say he doesn't want people to live with the consequences of free will?

            I suppose you might argue that God gives free will with the intention of everyone using it do do only good, and he considers it unfortunate if people use free will for evil. But if he doesn't interfere to prevent the consequences of the use of free will to do evil, then in a very real sense he wants people to live with the consequences.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the crux of this mini-discussion is whether God wants us to experience "all" the consequences of free will.

            My opinion is this. God, being good, wants us to benefit from the good consequences of a good use of free will. I can't say he actively desires us to experience "all" the bad consequences of a good use of free, like people killing us for doing what is right. Non-intervention is not approval.

            On the other hand, I think God, being good, desires that we experience "some" of the consequences of a bad use of free will--enough for us to see the futility of doing what is wrong. But if he wanted us to experience "all" the consequences of a bad use of free will he would not have intervened in the world through salvation history.

          • Susan

            She was walking in downtown Chicago. Suddenly she felt a hand on her shoulder that stopped her in her tracks. Just as suddenly, a huge chunk of concrete smashed onto the sidewalk right were she would have been.

            An anecdote is not evidence. Kevin, I have had experiences in my life where I felt someone tap me on the back, where I've heard a voice say something and there was no one there. They were always in mundane circumstances. Was that a bored angel just looking for something to do or could it have been my brain playing tricks?
            So bad angels are responsible for the horrors of natural selection and a good angel saved your friend?
            Where were the good angels during the Holocaust? During floods, droughts, famines, disease?
            You are saying it is because of ANGELS that there has always been incredible suffering on this planet? And your evidence is your friend's story?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You asked if I had any evidence of angels and I gave you the first example that came into my head.

            You *didn't* ask for a comprehensive treatise on angels, including a complete accounting for their activity in human history.

          • Susan

            You *didn't* ask for a comprehensive treatise on angels, including a complete accounting for their activity in human history.

            I did ask you for evidence for your claim that angels exist. You gave me an anecdote.

          • David Nickol

            Do you have any evidence for angels?

            I am answering this in the hopes that someone will correct me if I am wrong and expand on what I say if I am right. As far as I know, there is no narrative about angels being created good and then some angels (Lucifer/Satan) rebelling and being cast into hell in the Bible. The Christian idea of Satan and the angels comes from post-Old-Testament (and therefore noncanonical or apocryphal) Jewish literature. Christianity absorbed some of these Jewish ideas, but they don't seem to have survived in Judaism. There are a few OT references that are misinterpreted to be about fallen angels, and there are some NT references inspired by Jewish apocryphal literature, but basically the story of the fallen angels seems to come from "Tradition," with no significant biblical information.

            There are plenty of references to angels in the OT and NT, but Satan in the OT is not a "fallen angel." He is in the NT, but not because of OT stories about him, but because of noncannonical Jewish literature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The angel Raphael in the Book of Tobit?
            Here is about 50 more:
            http://www.raphael.net/Scripture/angels.htm
            And at least 50 references in the New Testament.

          • David Nickol

            Kevin, please note that I was talking about references to fallen angels. I am aware, and said, "There are plenty of references to angels in the OT and NT."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry, I missed your point!

            The NT (including the Gospels) is full of references to evil angels (demons). However, you assert that they are there because of non-canonical Jewish literature (what you refer to as "Tradition," meaning not what the Catholic Church means by Tradition but some Jewish non-canonical tradition?).

            Are you saying that the NT accounts of demonic activity are just fantasy literature elements written into these books?

          • Charles Breemer

            The Gospels and Acts contain references to "unclean spirits" and also use the term daimonion (demon, a term also found in other Greco-Roman contexts). Acts even refers to a "spirit of python." There is no indication that these beings are angels,"evil" or otherwise.

          • Susan

            Are you saying that the NT accounts of demonic activity are just fantasy literature elements written into these books?

            Demons were the go-to explanation in those days, weren't they? People believed they existed because they didn't know about germ theory, tectonic plates, mental illness and all kinds of other things.

            Also, people told great big stories as they do today. Back then, it was probably easier as we knew so little about the universe and about our inclination to believe things if they are uttered with enough confidence by other humans.

            Why not just call it metaphor and escape the implications?

          • fightforgood

            " As far as I know, there is no narrative about angels being created good and then some angels (Lucifer/Satan) rebelling and being cast into hell in the Bible. "
            .
            In response to David's question about the 'great battle' in the bible - yes it is there -
            Revelation 12: 7-9
            http://usccb.org/bible/revelation/12

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the reference. That is more than I thought was in the Bible, but still I would say it falls short of a "narrative" of the creation of good angels who rebelled and were cast out. It seems more to me like a reference to a story already believed and a capsule summary of it rather than the origin of what Catholics believe about Satan. But I would agree that it solidly confirms what Catholics believe. It is just not the source of what Catholics believe.

          • fightforgood

            Revelation is an odd one to handle because most people think of it as 'future', or like you say something that happened and then believed.
            .
            They forget the time element, or better, lack thereof. I like to ask people to reread the book with the mentality of that stuff is happening, aka, being revealed as happening, not happened or 'future'.
            .
            I think it helps bring a more accurate sense of 'is', since we live in time and can be caught up in was or 'going to happen'.
            The first thing people tend to notice is the Mass.

          • fightforgood

            Thought this might be of interest as well, seems like a great list of 'In the bible' on the angel subject.
            .
            http://www.maryourmother.net/Angels.html

          • fightforgood

            Your last part is interesting.
            .
            Forgive me if you've been asked this a million times, but what is your position on (if God exists) does he create because he wants to or feels a need?
            .
            And since I can't guarantee a return timely... your position on the following...
            .
            If he exists, and God creates because he wants to, could that be considered out of love, or want for the creation by God? Might he want what he creates?
            .
            And if God loves, how can he create in love and yet force an outcome (arrogant, stubborn, or stupid)? This doesn't seem to jive with what seems to be the definition of love and with whom might be the most perfect lover.
            .
            Love can't force a return, if God loves, there must be freedom for creation to choose to reflect that love. No?
            .
            Why not angels as well?
            .
            If because angels are outside of time - how much time does one need when staring into the face of God to make a decision to reflect that love?
            .
            Thank you

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      The problem is that given omnipotence, there is NEVER a good enough reason.

      And claiming that god has a reason but we don't know what it is is sterile speculation: it tells us nothing and cannot be verified; it's only satisfying to those without curiousity and who already believe in god.

      • David Nickol

        I think this goes too far. As I recall, C.S. Lewis explains some suffering reasonably well in The Problem of Pain. (I was going to give an example, but I have decided not to, but I'll leave the reference to the book, since it is a classic and does make some good points.)

        I think it doesn't make sense to say there is never a good enough reason for suffering, otherwise people would never inflict suffering on themselves for things such as bodybuilding. "No pain, no gain."

        I remember once being sad because a family we were friendly with moved away because the father got a better job in another city. And I remember thinking to myself that even in a world without evil, there would still be this kind of pain. I think it happens all the time that there is the pain of separation when someone takes advantage of a great opportunity that will take him or her away from friends of family. It would be a strange world if opting for or achieving one thing never entailed leaving something else behind.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          I haven't looked at it recently, but it seems to me that it played games with the concept of god's omniscience and omnipotence. Part of that, of course, is bound up in the kind of world the christian god has made. It may be that there is no logical way to eliminate pain within this particular world, but then, the creation of this particular world is exactly the problem.

      • Andrej Tokarčík

        Of course it's good enough only for those who already believe in God. Recall that the title of the article mentions "disproving God". It doesn't make sense to attempt to disprove what is not believed in the first place. Even an atheist who considers the problem of evil to be her #1 reason for not believing that God exists must assume the existence of God as a hypothesis in the first place (and thus pretend/imagine being a believer for the sake of the argument), because the problem of evil can lead to the non-existence of God only by the means of reduction ad absurdum. Brandon's point is that, upon analysis of common presuppositions involved in formulating the problem of evil, an absurdity is not necessarily obtained.

        • Susan

          Brandon's point is that, upon analysis of common presuppositions involved in formulating the problem of evil, an absurdity is not necessarily obtained.

          "Disprove" was an unfortunate term.

          We are talking about "goodness", not an unmarried bachelor. It is a term that is often alluded to, but rarely defined in any intellectually honest way. It's a very sneaky and sticky word.

          What do we mean when we say "good"? What would "perfectly good" mean? We are relying on our emotional responses.

          I would say that natural selection shows two things:

          1) That no deity is required. There is no need for that hypothesis.

          2) That there is no love there. It really doesn't care what happens to sentient beings. It never has. There is no rationalization that a human-centred religion can offer that makes natural selection OK.

          From an agent who meant well but was limited, sure. From an agent who didn't care but could do anything. Why not? From a hyperdimensional life form who got a C+ on its project and regretted the consequences later and meant to get back to it but got busy, sure.

          There all sorts of immaterial beings we can make up that would be more consistent with the reality we encounter than the triomnical catastrophe that doesn't sit right with the evidence or any solid moral arguments. If "goodness" can be asserted without definition and "perfect goodness" can square that without support, then we might as well not even talk about goodness.

          "My deity tortures kittens but it is for a greater goodness".

          (Fake quotes. Nobody actually said that but I'm not sure how else to interpret the apologetics I've encountered here on this subject.)

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Hello, Susan!

            "Disprove" was an unfortunate term.

            No, it was not. Arguing from the problem of evil always involves accepting that God exists for the sake of argument and a consequent exposition of what the state of affairs would be if a Supreme Being existed, during which a contradiction with God's attributes is said to be obtained, which effectively leads to the conclusion that the initial claim of God's existence cannot hold. In this sense, God's existence is indeed "disproven".

            (I argue that the contradiction is obtained only with additional assumptions, which are, however, implicitly taken for granted and not defended.)

            ["Goodness"] is a term that is often alluded to, but rarely defined in any intellectually honest way.

            I thought it is only charitable to presuppose that theistic philosophers have come up with at least an attempt of a honest definition of good, as they are able and willing to conclude that God is omnibenevolent. Of course, You could say none of them did actually ever define good in an intellectually honest way, but such a wide-sweeping response would be just begging the question: it moves us nowhere, as if I said that all atheists are intellectually dishonest because they think it's okay to dismiss an argument before they really understand its terms. Right? ;)

            What do we mean when we say "good"? [...] We are relying on our emotional responses.

            Are You saying that good is exclusively subjective/relative? If so, isn't evil as well? But then, the only manner in which You could use the problem of evil is to point out a purported contradiction within the doctrinal system of, say, Christanity, which contains that both good and evil are objective. You cannot say "I don't believe in God because of all the objective evil in the world" -- precisely because You don't believe in the objectivity of evil! The only thing You could say is: "I don't think Christians are right because their God is supposed to be objectively perfectly good, while they admit lots of objective evil in the world at the same time, which is self-contradicting".

            Now, it is still possible to arrive at the existence of God as the all-powerful sustainer of the universe. But since one could be agnostic about the objectivity of goodness at this point as You are, she might simply give up on demonstrating that God is also good. But then possibly later, when accepting a religion to deepen and expand her merely philosophical theism, she might accept that God is objectively also Goodness Itself as a de fide truth divinely revealed.

            What would "perfectly good" mean?

            No one's implying that we can trivially understand, imagine or feel what Goodness Itself is supposed to mean. Perhaps absolute goodness is like when I've just finished eating that tasty pizza, just, You know, infinitely better.

            No. The only way we could comprehend these matters is by relying on our intellects entirely. Many doctrines of classical theism are too weird to be approached "intuitively" (divine simplicity is perhaps the most known example), we must resort to careful manipulation with terms properly abstracted from observations of the extra-mental material world and derive knowledge about the reality applying the rules of logic to the ontological terms. That's why, for instance, Aquinas spends so much time with the philosophy of nature and the analysis of language.

            I would say that natural selection shows two things:

            1) That no deity is required. There is no need for that hypothesis.

            2) That there is no love there. It really doesn't care what happens to sentient beings. It never has.

            Ad 1): I wouldn't say that the existence of God is to be approached exclusively as a mere hypothesis, for theists have very often emphasised that the existence of God can be known with certainty by the light of unaided natural reason (which is also a dogma of the Catholic Faith affirmed at Vatican I, FWIW). As such, I'm wondering why You'd presuppose that the certainty with which one could accept the existence of God is only hypothetical/scientific.

            Not even the Ancients have taken advantage of the God-of-the-gaps arguments such as "we don't how we've come to be, so it must have been God who created us, and certainly not a natural mechanism". It has always been the miracle of existence itself or the natural order or other fundamental aspects of the world that aren't of themselves self-explanatory which ultimately led people to believe in God.

            You are thus admitting too much force to natural selection with respect to the discussion of God's existence.

            Ad 2): Could You prove that there is no love beneath natural selection? Or is that just an opinion or a feeling of Yours? If to love is to will the good of another, may we be completely certain (or even "extremely confident" for that matter) that God, if exists, could not possibly will some good for all His creatures throughout all this? That He is unable to outweigh all the hardships and pains and difficulties that we have encountered and are to encounter so fantastically that we would love to endure it all once again for Him? If He wills us to learn to have faith and trust in Him, which is obvious from His not being constantly revealed to us, is there a reason why suffering shouldn't be part of it?

            Now, one might of course reply that since God does not exist, there is no one or nothing to outweigh the evils. But then she should have another justification for thinking that God does not exist than the problem of evil. Saying that evil cannot be redeemed because there is no redeemer, and there can be no redeemer because of all the evil that cannot be redeemed, is arguing in a circle.

            Also, it has been said that it is fallacious to proceed from "God could do this" to "God would do this". With no background information, it naturally is. However, we have some background data -- we have already established/accepted by a different means that God is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. If we then observe in the world that God allows some evils, then by virtue of God's being God and having the divine attributes which we know He has for reasons independent from observation of independent evils, we can proceed from "God could produce some good out of the evils" to "God would".

            The aforementioned appears to be the crux for many: The life is so hard to bear, that it's easier not to add a relationship with God so mysterious to it. I'm the first to admit that life is hard, and even harder so without God from my experience. But the problem of evil still remains emotional rather than intellectual. There is no inconsistency in admitting the reality of suffering and God's omnipotence and omnibeneveloce.

            "My omnipotent deity tortures kittens but it is for a greater goodness".

            This would hold only if God were necessarily the genuine cause of all (or any) suffering. Which is not the case, since, as I mentioned elsewhere, one does not have to adhere to occasionalism in order to be a theist.

          • Susan

            Arguing from the problem of evil always involves accepting that God exists for the sake of argument and a consequent exposition of what the state of affairs would be if a Supreme Being existed

            Or there's induction. I'm not very interested in ill-defined, unevidenced claims of "a greater good". I don't have to accept that your deity exists for the sake of argument. You are claiming an omnibenevolent agent is behind it all and it is up to you to support that.

            I thought it is only charitable to presuppose that theistic philosophers have come up with at least an attempt of a honest definition of good, as they are able and willing to conclude that God is omnibenevolent

            I have not been uncharitable. I keep asking. What is it?

            Are You saying that good is exclusively subjective/relative?

            No. What does that question even mean?

            Now, it is still possible to arrive at the existence of God as the all-powerful sustainer of the universe.

            Maybe. I haven't seen an argument that got us there yet. Or evidence. Or the necessity of the mechanisms. Not even an explanation of the mechanisms.

            However, we have some background data -- we have already established/accepted by a different means that God is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent.

            We haven't even established that your deity exists, let alone established attributes for which we have no methods for determing "Omni" characteristics.

            The life is so hard to bear, that it's easier not to add a relationship with God so mysterious to it.

            No. Just no evidence.

            Got evidence?

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Dear Susan,

            I don't have to accept that your deity exists for the sake of argument.

            But what is Your argument then?

            We're discussing the problem of evil here, which in virtually all of its forms starts with "If God exists, then" or "Suppose God exists, then". In both the cases, the argument is about exposing what the state of affairs would be if God existed. As such, the argument does at least implicitly involve accepting God's existence and analysing its consequences for the sake of the argument, the aim of which is to point out an alleged "inherent incoherence" of theism, to borrow a phrase from another commenter.

            What does that question even mean?

            The question is concerned with Your way of determining what good and evil is, or whether it is at least possible for humans to be positive about the objectivity of some evil even if we wouldn't have to be able to determine which evil is actually objective. (I presume that nobody's ever argued that the evil of having to drink tea with no sugar in it disproves God.)

            If You think there is no objective evil, it should've become obvious at this point already that You cannot use the problem of evil towards the conclusion of the non-existence of all-good, all-powerful God.

            I haven't seen an argument that got us [to the existence of God] yet.

            Okay, Susan, though I hope You see that this is off-topic. It seems to me to be a common view that the problem of evil has such a force that even if an independent argument established that all-good, all-powerful God exists, then the problem of evil would still undermine His existence by pointing out an inconsistency. Which is, as I argue, not true. Therefore the problem of evil is absolutely irrelevant to whether God exists or not; it is nothing but arguments for God's existence and their soundness which matter. And You wisely ask for some such arguments, but still this is not an appropriate place to discuss them.

            Anyway, if You are interested in learning about arguments for God's existence on Your own, You may have a look at the respective section on this web site, or check some apologetics literature. I'm personally sympathetic to the Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and fundamental theology, and have attempted to defend the related arguments elsewhere on this site. Edward Feser's Aquinas is a good entry point.

            Remember that even if You don't find any of the arguments convincing, the reason for Your unbelief is to be based solely on this: that You don't think the arguments sound. The problem of evil plays no role whatsoever.

            [T]here is not a method for establishing Omni-attributes.

            Could You prove this assertion? Else Your epistemological/ontological presuppositions are simply begging the question.

            Cheers,
            Andrej

          • Susan

            As such, the argument does at least implicitly involve accepting God's existence and analysing its consequences

            You mean a thought experiment. I have to imagine what reality would look like if your claim was true.

            I don't have to accept anything. Sorry. Just in case. I get tired of the burden being shifted to the one who doesn't accept ultimate claims about everything based on "divine revelation" which just seems to be humans of all sorts claiming divine revelations... of all sorts.

            The question is concerned with Your way of determining what good and evil is

            How would it? What do you mean by good and evil? What aspects of morality are objectively real and what aspects are subjective? It's like you want to skip past all the hard work done in the field of moral philosophy and act like it's a choice between moral relativism and objective moral values. It's not that simple.

            Your question made no sense.

            Therefore the problem of evil is absolutely irrelevant to whether God exists or not;

            It is utterly relevant to whether an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient agent is consistent with natural selection. I'll ignore the word "God" because that sneaks in Yahwehjesus without justification. I'm addressing the triple-Omni being and nothing else.

            Remember that even if You don't find any of the arguments convincing, the reason for Your unbelief is to be based solely on this: that You don't think the arguments sound

            I don't.

            The problem of evil plays no role whatsoever.

            The problem of suffering seems insurmountable. Invoking unevidenced "greater good" in order to defend an unevidenced deity isn't very convincing.

            Could You prove this assertion?

            How would we know we have encountered omniscience unless we were omnisicient? What reliable method could we use to determine that a mind is omniscient? I didn't mean it as an assertion. It just seems obvious. By all means, show me how we could know that and I will retract it.

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            I repeat that You're going beyond the scope of the current discussion. What Brandon objected to is the claim that there is a necessary logical contradiction between the existence of an all-powerful, all-good God and the presence of evil in a universe created by Him. If You agree, there is no such necessary logical contradiction, then we are done, for that is all that I'm arguing for here. And agreeing to that much is possible and logical even for an unbeliever.

            Indeed, taking this statement of Yours,

            The problem of suffering seems insurmountable. [Emphasis mine.]

            You consider the problem of evil to be a strong yet still not necessary contradiction with the existence of God, which means I've been successful. :)

            It's like you want to skip past all the hard work done in the field of moral philosophy and act like it's a choice between moral relativism and objective moral values.

            Well, is it me or the proponents of the problem of evil? If there is no objective evil, then how could any other kind of evil be relevant at all to the existence of God (qua the sustainer of the universe, at the very least)? Once again, it would be of a great use if You laid out Your own variant of the problem of evil, for it really seems to go far beyond what the original article is about and also the usual presentations of the problem of evil.

            It is utterly relevant to whether an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient agent is consistent with natural selection.

            As long as You're not talking about logical consistency, implying that there is a necessary logical contradiction following from the existence of God and the reality of natural selection, I'm all right with Your statement, and I don't think I have ever claimed otherwise.

            Invoking unevidenced "greater good" in order to defend an unevidenced omnideity isn't very convincing.

            The existence of God may be without evidence for You, but You appear to be forgetting that the defenders of theism operate from the standpoint of having such proofs. Now, You don't have to accept any of them in order to see that invoking unevidenced "greater good" is quite reasonable and plausible, given that those who invoke it argue within the background of having established the existence of all-good and all-powerful God.

            In order to evaluate their argument as a whole, You would of course have to analyse the background demonstrations, and You could of course find them unconvincing, but then You'd dismiss the theists' argument not because invoking unevidenced "greater good" as such is unconvincing but because their presupposed proofs for the existence of God are.

            Which leads us to the conclusion, once again, that the problem of evil standing on its own is not substantial for the discussion of the existence of God and irrelevant at the end of the day.

            It just seems obvious. By all means, show me how we could know that and I will retract it.

            So You want others to have their claims justified when challenged but it's okay for You to have an "obvious" (by which You definitely don't mean self-evident) conviction, which You'd retract only if someone else actually showed that the opposite is true, do I understand it correctly?

            I get tired of the burden being shifted to the one who doesn't accept "obvious" claims.

            Cheers,

          • severalspeciesof

            It just seems obvious. By all means, show me how we could know that and I will retract it.

            So
            You want others to have their claims justified when challenged but it's
            okay for You to have an "obvious" conviction, which You'd retract only
            if someone else actually showed that the opposite is true, do I
            understand it correctly?

            I can't speak for Susan (so you may disregard this) but here she's asking about methods of knowing, not claims being justified...

            Glen

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Hi, Glen. The only statement that I reacted to -- perhaps too harshly, I accept -- is:

            [T]here is not a method for establishing Omni-attributes.

            As long as this is to be understood as a positive statement putting constrains on the possible extent of human knowledge, it is not unreasonable to demand a proof. And Susan didn't make it read as an inquiry in my opinion.

            From my experience, it is very important to clear up similar presuppositions, for it is impossible to have a genuine discussion about the existence of God or ontology in general if one's a priori convictions altogether preclude from reaching any conclusion.

            Now, I could of course refer to Summa Theologica I, Question 14, Article 1 as an instance of a demonstration of God's omniscience. However, the argument presupposes familiarity with a number of theses from St. Thomas's metaphysics as well as philosophy of mind, and ought not to be approached directly unless one doesn't mind running the risk of deliberately misrepresenting it. I would recommend Feser's Aquinas for an introduction into the context, as I already did in this thread.

            (For readers with vivid imagination and love for science-fiction stories, I would mention the notion of zero-knowledge proof, which is a method having emerged in the field of cryptography that allows for -- oversimplifying a bit -- demonstrations of being in possession of a certain ability/knowledge without exposing the ability/knowledge itself.)

            The point, nevertheless, remains that Susan's outright denial of the possibility of a proof of omniscience has been unfounded and thus could not be accepted even if there were in fact no counter-example (i.e., an actual proof of that kind).

            I didn't mean to be mean. Hope this helps.

          • Susan

            I repeat that You're going beyond the scope of the current discussion.

            You mean I can't demonstrate that unevidenced "greater good" doesn't exist, which means a premise is not necessarily true and I can't "disprove" a triple-Omni in a deductive argurnent.

            As the term "good" has not been defined, the premises are wobbly anyway So, what is "good"? I think we intuitively connect the word "good" in a moral sense to the idea that the flourishing of sentient beings is "good" and the the gratuitous suffering of sentient beings is very "bad". We have a long way to go from there but and least it's a beginning.

            This is why theologians push buttons with rape and genocide without having demonstrated in my experience that adding a deity is useful in any way.

            The existence of God may be without evidence for You, but You appear to be forgetting that the defenders of theism operate from the standpoint of having such proofs.

            I've seen an awful lot of proofs. I'm not forgetting anything. The proofs aren't proofs, in my experience. I keep encountering the same proofs. Can you choose the one you think is sound? One that is valid and which contain nothing but premises which are necessarily true?

            Which leads us to the conclusion, once again, that the problem of evil standing on its own is not substantive for the discussion of the existence of God and (logically) irrelevant at the end of the day

            Because the person who doesn't accept that an unevidenced omnideity exists can't prove that the suffering in the world doesn't have unevidenced "good" reasons is a necessarily true premise? You could have done that in one sentence.

            But you would have to define your terms and then all we would be left with is that we can't prove an unevidenced being doesn't exist who is really "good" despite the evidence available to us. Not very convincing. Deduction works for unmarried bachelors and triangles.

            Well, is it me or the proponents of the problem of evil?

            I don't know It would depend on which proponent of the problem of evil you're addressing.

            If there is no objective evil, then how could any other kind of evil be relevant at all to the existence of God?

            We are talking about moral agency and gratuitous suffering. All that is required to address "evil" is a moral agent who ignores, or even worse, creates gratuitous suffering.

            I'm not sure what you mean by "objective evil" as you haven't explained it or shown why it is the only relevant criterion by which we can evaluate an omnibenevolent being. I'm all ears.

            EDIT: Please check also my response to Glen

            I read it. Thank you. (And thank you, Glen.) I really am interested in methodology. That was my original point. No theist has shown that there is a reliable methodology for determining that there can be an omniscient being, but more importantly that any human has encountered one. I've thought long and hard about it but can't see one. My "it seems" was a plea for reliable methodology.

            Now, I could of course refer to Summa Theologica I, Question 14, Article 1 as an instance of a demonstration of God's omniscience.

            I am not going to read Summa Theologicae. I have read enough arguments from theists based on the arguments from Aquinas that I don't see how metaphysics based on physics that are just plain wrong can be philosophically useful. Feser's article that you linked (and I have read my share of Feser) has the same problem. He wants to keep the metaphysics alive by invoking analogies that he admits are just analogies because they do not match the real world, when probed. Other than that, it's assertions about the nature of an unevidenced being, using analogies.

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Indeed, as long as You agree with this statement from Brandon's article,

            There is no logical contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God who permits evil in the world.

            I've got nothing to add, for that's all I wished to defend.

            Since the beginning, my aim has not been to defend theism or the validity of its method, but merely its logical consistency. In order to do so I personally didn't have to specifically define "good", only to assume that the Creator is to be all-powerful and all-good (whatever it is supposed to mean) and that evil signifies an absence of good (rather than a positive reality), both of which are propositions of classical theism. My argument has been that the observed presence of evil in God's creation is not necessarily incompatible with the divine attributes in this context, implying that theism remains logically consistent.

            (Of course, "good" is defined within classical theism, but a proper comprehension of the definition requires prior understanding of the teleological account of nature, which is really intriguing although it would in turn demand a defence of its own since the common conception of the natural world is mechanistic.)

            It is naturally important to discuss soundness of arguments for the existence of God and the related means of reasoning, but I unfortunately don't have time to engage in such a debate here and now. If I were an atheist, I would make the same case for the logical consistency of theism as I'm making now, which is at stake for the time being, because the issue of whether theism is true or how it could be shown to be so is separate.

            Not to leave You empty-handed, though, allow me a longer concluding remark:

            Deduction works for unmarried bachelors and triangles.

            I'm not quite sure I get what You mean by this, but if my understanding is correct -- viz. that logically certain conclusions reached via deductive reasoning are to be restricted to a priori knowledge -- then I think You are wrong.

            There are some a posteriori data (conveyed by senses) that are to be held as certain, for instance that something is changed, that something is caused or that something exists, which form the base of the first three of St. Thomas's Five Ways. These data are known to be certain because their denial would amount to affirming the principal impossibility of any knowledge about the extra-mental world: for the senses themselves (that are the only means of acquiring information about the extra-mental world) must be stimulated/changed in order to properly perceive; must be caused to give a particular perception; and also make the opposition between existence and non-existence clear because they are never perceiving and not-perceiving at the same time in the same respect (cf. the ontological principle of non-contradiction).

            When such certain a posteriori data are used within deductive arguments, then -- given that the other premises are true and the argument itself is valid -- the respective conclusions are necessarily true.

            Best wishes,
            Andrej

  • Steven Dillon

    Thanks for the response Brandon! Let me just touch upon the most significant objections you raise to the premises:

    Premise (1):

    You interpret the first premise to say that if God exists, he has certain duties. But, all (1) is saying is that God's existence would entail that he has done certain things, such as create the universe. If you insert God into the picture, necessarily, he must have been the cause of things.

    Premise (2):

    The reason I argue that God would not allow children under his care to be abused is because usually, such behavior is wrong. It is then up to the theist to explain why God is exempt from this rule: it is not my burden to prove that this rule is in force. Since it usually is, I'm permitted to assume that it remains so until given good reason to think otherwise.

    How do you respond? Well, you concede that it is normally wrong to let children under your care get abused. But, you seem to argue that we are unable to say whether or not God has justifying reasons to let children under his care be abused. However, if we cannot say that God has justifying reasons, then we cannot say he is exempt from the rule. As such, we are permitted to assume the rule is still in force, and therefore that God would not allow children under his care to be abused.

    • TwistedRelic

      Instead of participating in the discussion engendered by
      Dillon's article....Brandon had to distance himself and write his own eclipsing article, quoting many of
      Dillon's main points etc... effectively
      ignoring what everyone else had to say in response to the article. Just an opinon for which I am sure I will regret making. let us not forget who controls this venue.

      • Twisted Relic, thanks for the comment. As I stated in my article, my goal was to respond to Steven's piece. Unfortunately, I just haven't had time to read and respond to all of the comments following his article.

        • TwistedRelic

          I was not implying that you had to address every comment, just that you never even put in an appearance...and felt you had to eclipse Dillon's article. Am not implying or stating whether you had a motive or not......is all.

          • Sorry. I wish I had the time! Unfortunately, after the birth of our fourth child last week, I only had time to read and respond to Steven's article.

    • "The reason I argue that God would not allow children under his care to be abused is because usually, such behavior is wrong."

      Sure, I think everyone would agree that in most cases, permitting pain or suffering is wrong. But I also think we'd all agree there are situations where, to bring about a greater good, we permit suffering.

      For example, the government could easily prevent almost every case of child abuse from occurring. All they would have to do is put a security camera in every room of every house and building--bedrooms, locker rooms, bathrooms, family rooms, classrooms, etc.--and have access to the footage 24/7.

      But while this would undoubtedly reduce the number of abuse cases, we wouldn't even consider this solution because it presents an egregious invasion of privacy. Therefore, the government doesn't take this specific action to prevent abuse because it honors a greater good, namely human freedom.

      It's at least possible that God views particular acts of suffering in the same way. He could usurp human free will and prevent a particular act, but he honors our freedom, even at the cost of permitting evil. But still more, he takes those evil acts and brings good out of them.

      "The reason I argue that God would not allow children under his care to be abused is because usually, such behavior is wrong. It is then up to the theist to explain why God is exempt from this rule: it is not my burden to prove that this rule is in force."

      The problem with this statement is that the rule "it's usually wrong to permit evil" does not lead to the conclusion "an all-loving, all-powerful God who permits evil is a self-contradiction." Your rule itself admits that in some cases it morally licit to permit evil (hence "usually"). But if that's the case, why can't it be possible that God has good reason to allow some evils?

      All the theist has to do to disprove your syllogism is show the possibility that God has good reason to permit evil. I provided several (e.g., God permits some evil because he honors our free will; he permits some evils in order to bring about a greater good.) On the other hand, to defend your syllogism, an atheist would have to prove, definitively, that God cannot possibly have any good reason to allow evil. I just don't think any of us--Catholic or atheist--are in an epistemic position to make that claim.

      Finally, theists have no problem with you assuming that your rule ("it's usually wrong to permit evil") is in force. That rule itself leaves open the possibility that God has good reason, in specific cases, to permit evil.

      "But, you seem to argue that we are unable to say whether or not God has justifying reasons to let children under his care be abused."

      This is not quite accurate. What I claimed was that we can reasonably suppose why God would permit evil in certain circumstances, but that we're in no position to suppose he has no good reasons to allow evil (which is what the atheist must suppose to employ this particular argument against God.)

      "As such, we are permitted to assume the rule is still in force, and therefore that God would not allow children under his care to be abused."

      This is a good summary of the misunderstanding which lies at the heart of your article. Your own proposed rule states that "usually" there are no good reasons to allow suffering. But "usually" only describes the typical case. It doesn't mean there are never good reasons to allow suffering. Therefore, Christians can both agree with your original rule and believe that God, in certain but rare circumstances, has good reason to permit evil.

      • Steven Dillon

        (Sent from phone)

        I guess I don't understand why the argument has to show that God can't possibly havea ggood reason for allowing child abuse. It isn't a logical problem of evil, it's not saying the co-existence of evil and God are contradictory. I concede that God could allow child abuse, I just don't think he actually would. It's a fallacy to infer that something would happen just because it could.

  • D. Havas

    Hi. I'm Dan. I've been reading Strange Notions for a while and figured I'd finally chime in. I tend to side with the nonbelievers, but not on this one. I think Brandon's logic here is consistent if you take his faith as granted, but it doesn't matter so much to me. That's because, to me, there is no "problem of evil". Free will (although I don't believe in it) does seem like a decent justification for the world we experience. See, if the only "bad" things that could ever happen had to be the direct result of human intentions, then what kind of weird-ass world would we live in? We'd have no struggle for survival, no need for anything, and so no ethics at all. We wouldn't even be, but we do be, so I'm ok with "evil". Life can still be worthwhile, even if there is no guy to make everything "right" in the end. And if there is some guy, I'm not worried about him being immoral for putting us through all this. I expect he really will make things right. In which case, maybe we'll all have learned something and no one will be burning forever.

    • Mike

      Hi Dan. Welcome, we're glad you are here.

      I've heard a number of times on here about people not believing in free will. I'm curious, how did you arrive at such a conclusion?

      • D. Havas

        I guess free will is supposed to represent some decision-making part of us that is neither random nor entirely consequential. Then what is it really? I don't know. Of course, I feel I have agency. I make choices and my choices have consequences, but how can I be sure that my choices are really free? Couldn't they be the product of everything that went into forming me? It seems like a matter of faith to me now.

        • Loreen Lee

          William James, in the same dilemna, finally said: My first act of free will is to believe in free will!!!!

          • D. Havas

            Thanks, Loreen. It's kind of a toughie. I can see pros and cons for believing in free will. I no longer feel I need to die with my mind made up about it, which is nice.

          • Loreen Lee

            It sounds to me that you 'mind' is much more 'free' than you give yourself 'credit for. Which is actually the case in point!!!!

          • D. Havas

            Maybe freedom is letting go of the notion of freedom. Words have their limits, don't they? Thanks again.

          • Loreen Lee

            Hi D. Haves. Wasn't going to respond, because I truly believe you have a great understanding. But then I saw a post by Guy Finley, (someone you might like) that seems to echo what you are thinking. ""No one is free who thinks that he is; he is free alone who no longer has any need to think about himself at all." ~ Guy Finley (Guy operates "A Life of Learning" a Christian/Buddhist blog. He sets a rather 'high bar' after both Jesus and Buddha!!!!! Enjoy..)...

          • D. Havas

            That quote puts it very nicely. I'll be sure to check out the Guy.

      • D. Havas

        And thanks for the welcome. I enjoy reading all the comments here. Not so sure I'll enjoy making them, though!

    • What kind of weird world would it be? It would be like the world of Eden, where there is no pain, want etc, but still the ability to sin. Or heaven where there is free will but no possibility of sin.

      • D. Havas

        Yeah, I'm not really down with eden or heaven. If I had very strong belief in those places, I wouldn't protest the problem of evil to the god that allowed it. I don't have that much integrity.

        • Loreen Lee

          I entirely agree with what I interpret you are saying. We should deal with the 'problem of evil' as it relates to humanity, i.e. in its concrete manifestation. Theodicy seems to me, anyway, like an abstract solution, or way out of the dilemna of not being able to recognize our own individual responsibility, and thus continually laying blame. Even on 'God'.

      • Steve Law

        "Heaven where there is free will but no possibility if sin"?

        Is that orthodox christian teaching? I'm wondering how such a state of affairs could ever be? Lucifer was kicked out for being evil/proud/rebellious, so he must have been able to do bad stuff while still in Heaven....

        • Loreen Lee

          My understanding is that Lucifer was not 'kicked out', but rather it was his self-absorption, i.e. pride, which alienated him from the heavenly hosts. This makes sense to me after a comment by Brandon below, where he discusses evil as being a privation. So I can learn the lesson, that if I'm so wrapped up in my 'own ego' I'm missing out on a lot. I can't for instance even attempt, (I don't want to) see anything that does not reflect my own opinion, for instance. So God's omniscience in contrast, would be Perfectly Open. Maybe that's what makes Him an All Knowing God. He's a 'Good Listener'!!!!

    • Thanks for the comment, Dan! Welcome to Strange Notions.

    • Hey Dan, thanks for your insightful comment - hope you do it more often!

      You rightly point out that evil is not a "problem" for atheism - it just is what it is - and that for theists, the problem of evil can be dismantled by emphasizing human freedom, both its risks and benefits. The logic is sound; but that does still leave the emotional component of the problem though...why here, why now, and why does it have to hurt so much? Dostoevsky (a Christian) made maybe the best case against God in "The Brothers Karamazov" by talking about the suffering of children. The character doesn't argue that God doesn't exist with a syllogism, but simply declares from the pit of his soul that it's not worth all the pain - that he would "respectfully return his ticket" for the ride of life.

      To see evil from our limited human side of things can be so difficult - that is one point I feel a profound kinship with atheists on - but I think we have the best emotional response to the emotional problem there is: we have the Cross, where God dies in solidarity with our human suffering out of love for us. Like Alyosha's kiss of his brother Ivan in the BK, it's a love that surpasses all understanding.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        But god doesn't die. Are you claiming suffering pain for a finite amount of time represents a sacrifice for god? Is it a sacrifice if I prick my thumb? Does that give recompense to myself for some action that I myself have taken against the characters in the book I'm writing?

        • D. Havas

          Let me know when you're finished writing your book. I'm just guessing things turn out fine at the end of it.

        • Hey M. - I think there's a misunderstanding there of who and what God is and what the drama of the Incarnation means. God has no need of human beings, the earth, or even the universe (or multiverse). God is, to borrow the opening words of the Catechism, "infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself." For this infinitely perfect and blessed one, who fashioned galaxies of quasars and pulsars out of a sheer proliferation of goodness, just taking on the form of a small, finite human being who has to eat to live and piss to relieve himself constitutes an infinitely greater sacrifice than anything we could imagine! But not only does the Creator become a creature, he goes to die a terrible, humiliating death for our sake (experts at cursing him and hurting each other), just to draw us into a sharing of that original state of perfection and happiness. Now if your question is "how" does grace work exactly...well, on this side of grace, your guess is as good as mine. But if your question is whether that constitutes a sacrifice, I think the confusion is definitional - because it is, ipso facto, a sacrifice beyond reckoning.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Hey M. - I think there's a misunderstanding there of who and what God is and what the drama of the Incarnation means.

            Possibly, but I think it's on the side of the Christians.

            God has no need of human beings, the earth, or even the universe (or multiverse).

            Given the Christian claim that god created them all, this would appear to be a correct statement.

            God is, to borrow the opening words of the Catechism, "infinitely perfect and blessed in Himself."

            Adjectives which seem remarkably inapplicable to the foundation of being. And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean? In what possible sense is god 'perfect' or blessed?

            For this infinitely perfect and blessed one, who fashioned galaxies of quasars and pulsars out of a sheer proliferation of goodness, just taking on the form of a small, finite human being who has to eat to live and piss to relieve himself constitutes an infinitely greater sacrifice than anything we could imagine!

            Why? And how could you possibly know? And how could the FOB do such a thing? What does that even mean?

            But not only does the eternal Creator become a creature, he goes on to die a terrible, humiliating death for our sake (experts at cursing him and hurting each other), just to draw us into a sharing of that original state of perfection and happiness.

            His death was no more terrible or humiliating that millions of other, mortal creatures who die for each other. And given that the world before and after looks pretty much the same, in what possible sense could it be said that he died for that cause? How can the FOB die to begin with? God (per you) cannot die. So let's drop all this talk about 'dying for our sins.'

            Creator to creature, perfection to imperfection, omnipotence to powerlessness, infinitude to finitude, peace to violence, eternal life to brutal death.

            None of which means a thing. A blip of time and sensation for the eternal, perfect, blessed FOB. Why is a momentary pain someone compensation of the near infinite pains of man? Why does god even have to 'sacrifice'? Man is as god created him to be - neither more nor less. As FOB, everything that man does is directly permitted - nay, willed by god.

            Now if your question is "how" does grace work exactly...well, on this side of grace, your guess is as good as mine.

            So you don't even actually understand how any of this is supposed to work? Why then should I accept any of these claims? Why is there any reason to accept this rather inconsistent story as true?

            But if your question is whether that movement of love constitutes a sacrifice, I think the confusion is definitional - because it is, ipso facto, a sacrifice beyond reckoning.

            How can it be a sacrifice? God, the FOB, gives up nothing, sacrifices nothing, and for what? Things to be the same.

            There are problems with that story.

      • D. Havas

        Thanks, Matthew. I appreciate your thoughts.

        So I was raised catholic. Desperate for understanding, I focused much of my frustration on myself and not a whole lot of it on the god I believed in. It just didn't make sense to. Absolutely, all of that frustration ended up undermining my belief in my god. So in that way, I can see that the problem of evil got to me even though I was never all that mad at Mr. Being Itself. I was filled with the "whys" you mentioned.

        What you say sounds nice. Emotionally, I'd really like the crucifixion as an "emotional response" to an "emotional problem", except that a much bigger problem comes with it. I alluded to it at the end of my initial rant: the problem of hell. This was the biggest "why" for me as a catholic. If there is a "love that surpasses all understanding", then why do I need to try to understand it? Because I'll burn forever if I don't? If there is anything like the hell I was taught, then it is an evil that does not allow for learning. It is an evil that I have no faith is justified.

        • Michael Murray

          Hi Dan. I was also raised a Catholic. You will be relieved to know that the burning part of Hell we got raised with has apparently gone. Hell now is "separation from God". Best of all as atheists we apparently desire separation from God so we get what was ask for and it's all good! I'm not sure what has happened to all the sinners being burnt when we where younger. Perhaps they have got remission and some burn cream.

          • D. Havas

            Yeah, I guess I'm glad the concept is changing, but it's still vague as hell and I think it's still supposed to be the worst thing ever. Actually, I'm sure there are plenty of believers who would say they'd rather endure endless physical pain than be without whatever it is their god represents. This might make hell even more ridiculous; it's eternal, it's not annihilation (that would be too humane... or inhumane... or something), and it's even worse than burning alive! This site is my "burn cream".

        • Dan - I think the idea of hell drives a lot of people away from the faith, but sometimes it's because what
          they were taught about hell was totally incorrect or misleading. On NPR, Stephen Colbert I think hit the true nature of hell on the head. He recalled how his son asked him what hell is. He told him: "Well, if God is love, then hell is the absence of God’s love. And, can you imagine how great it is to be loved? Can you imagine how great it is to be loved fully? To be loved totally? To be loved, you know, beyond your ability to imagine? And imagine if you knew that was a possibility, and then that was taken from you, and you knew that you would never be loved. Well that’s hell—to be alone, and know what you’ve lost." Also, the Church has never definitively declared how many people are actually in hell - or even if anyone is. Is that anything like the hell you were taught?

          Check out Fr. Barron's video on the teaching - why it exists and what it actually is. I think you'll find it illuminating:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8zhnooySk4

          • D. Havas

            I don't think a concept like "badness" (in this case, "to be alone, and know what you’ve lost") would exist perpetually in a mind without that mind also having the ability to conceptualize some solutions. If a torture lasts long enough, a mind will disassociate in order to survive. Just musing here: An actual physical hell could be filled with burning bodies, yet the minds in them could be chilling on a beach in a heaven far superior to one filled with a bunch of resurrected Padre Pio types. Anyways, I don't feel Colbert's hell is any more justified than Dante's.

          • D. Havas

            "Is that anything like the hell you were taught?"

            Yes. I was fed all sorts of ideas about hell. That was part of the problem.

            Colbert's quote reminds me of these lines:

            "'Tis better to have loved and lost
            Than never to have loved at all."

            Say Alfred Lord Tennyson didn't make the cut ("material that can be interpreted as homoerotic is widespread in Tennyson's work." wikipedia), I wonder if these words would comfort him.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            It's certainly not the hell of the bible - nor the hell as the church taught it for centuries. It's a modern attempt to come up with a more 'palatable' version of hell that doesn't sound quite so sadistic, and the leave the entire burden of damnation on the sinner, despite the fact that god - who is supposed to be infinitely loving - refuses to attempt to convince a sinner that he can and should be loved, despite not permitting the sinner actual knowledge of these possibilities until it's too late to act on it.

            Sounds a bit inconsistent.

          • Hey M. - Sorry for the delay in responding, it's been a hectic week! I did see your responses and have thought about them a lot. I've also had three (or four) drinks so bear with me...

            One thing I would point out is that Fr. Barron's views on hell are consistent with the thought not only of modern theologians like Von Balthasar (a favorite of Benedict XVI), but also Origen (184-253 AD). Both men are routinely called heretics, but my understanding is that this has long been an "open question" among theologians in the Church, precisely because the Church's official declarations on the subject are not as cut-and-dry as is commonly thought. (You mention the hell "the church taught for centuries". Are there particular Magisterial documents you have in mind?) Edith Stein, another one of my heroes, wrote eloquently about the idea that God's grace is so all-consuming as to "outwit" even the most hardened heart...maybe even at the moment of death? Lived, is it a moment, or thirty years, or 10,000 years? Who knows? I definitely don't!

            Whatever the truth, I think it's important to see the dynamism that exists within certain "non-neogitables" in Catholic thought. This "palatable" version of hell is perfectly consonant with Church teaching. It's also not new at all, and really, when you think about it, not very palatable either. The idea of non-stop pitchforks and flames seems, at first blush, like the height of terror; but Dostoevsky conceived of hell as being a dark, grimy basement with a few spiders busy in the corner...isolation, silence, and rage, all of it freely chosen. If God's most essential definition is love, why shouldn't hell be the inability to love? What's more hellish than that?

          • Danny Getchell

            Matthew,

            Go and study the tympanum of nearly any medieval cathedral. You will find a detailed carving of the Last Judgment in which (1) the damned usually outnumber the saved by a fair margin and (2) the damned are subject to many (and quite inventive) physical torments.

            Given that they were created at a time in which the scriptures and the writings of the church fathers were withheld from the laity, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that these carvings were intended as didactic lessons about the nature of God and of the afterlife.

            If Father Barron, (and most of the apologists here) are teaching a different lesson, so be it.......but you owe us the courtesy of at least admitting that the lesson has changed.

      • Susan

        Dostoevsky (a Christian) made maybe the best case against God in "The Brothers Karamazov" by talking about the suffering of children.

        simply declares from the pit of his soul that it's not worth all the pain

        That's simple. Stick around and do what you can to keep alleviate the suffering of as many children as you can. If Dostoevsky was worried about the suffering of children, he had every reason to do that. It's worth it by virtue of his argument. Existential crisis? Respond to the very idea that led you to it. No deities required.

        I think we have the best emotional response to the emotional problem there is

        With all due respect, I don't think you have. It doesn't respond on any level to my "emotional" concerns. Even if it did, that wouldn't make it true. Human emotional desires don't dictate reality. They just don't.

        we have the Cross, where God dies in solidarity with our human suffering out of love for us.

        Why not in solidarity with all the suffering that your deity created right from the beginning? Most suffering has not been human. Respectfully, I'm completely unmoved by the story of "the Cross" when I put it in the context of the suffering and death stories that we KNOW happen on a daily basis and are just life and death for earthlings.
        I'm moved by the crucifixion of any sentient being by any state for "political crimes" or to appease any unevidenced deities. The sacrifice of sentient non-humans and humans by fire, by scapegoating, by crucifixion, by ritual slaughter is standard human fare. We've always believed a lot of things that were just wacky, based on bad data processing. Horrendous consequences. Not to mention natural selection. The nature of being an earthling.
        None of this is pleasing to my emotional concerns. But there's plenty of evidence to support it

        • Hey Susan -

          Stick around and do what you can to alleviate the suffering of as many children as you can. If Dostoevsky was worried about the suffering of children, he had every reason to stick around and do that. It's worth it by virtue of his argument. Existential crisis? Respond to the very idea that led you to it. No deities required.

          Yes - reminds me of Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. Strive valiantly up the mountain of absurdity, staving off suffering for other sentient beings, "raging against the dying of the light"; be a saint in this godless world as it fades. I know many a high-minded, decent atheist who talk this way, and wouldn't for a second scoff at that impulse. But regarding the question "why?", Christianity (setting aside the question of whether it's true or not) offers horizons of origin and destiny for the struggle, filling man's heart with value and joy in the midst of life's sorrows, even through life's sorrows, where Camus could only respond, with something of a helpless shrug: "the struggle itself is enough to fill a man's heart." But is it? 18,000 children died today from starvation-related causes. Was the struggle alone enough to fill their hearts?

          Of course, you're right; emotions don't dictate reality. Santa Claus made us really happy and really good, but that emotional heft doesn't make Santa real. (Saint Nicholas, different story.) The only reason to believe anything is because it's true.

          But a dramatic denial of the joy people derive from the news of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection strikes me as protesting too much. Whether the man was God or not, and whether their joy is unfounded or not, it seems impossible to deny that he brings immense peace to millions on a daily basis, giving them the strength to overcome countless obstacles. Difficulty in admitting that point may signal a voracious bias on your part that - when it comes time to examine the objective veracity of the key event Christians celebrate - leaves you holed up in a bunker miles away.

          • Susan

            Hi Matthew,

            Christianity (setting aside the question of whether it's true or not) offers horizons of origin and destiny for the struggle, filling man's heart with value and joy in the midst of life's sorrows

            Christianity and its influence on individuals,culture and politics throughout the ages has filled many with misery as well, and where one has a choice (not indoctrinated as a child, not vulnerable to its political power), plain indifference.

            I'm only interested in whether it can justify its claims. We have plenty of ways of filling our hearts (humanity, not man) with value and joy in the midst of life's sorrows that have nothing to do with beliefs in stories about Jesus.

            I'm not going to get into a discussion of Camus as comboxes are only so big and the patience of readers has its limits.

            I will say this. That Sisyphus had one task, to roll an enchanted rock up a hill that was supernaturally redirected as he neared the top. Feeding just one starving child is not futility. A child suffers. Fix it. Even if you can't fix it all. Though, if we reevaluated our approaches to reality based on evidence, we could, in theory, take measures to solve larger problems whose consequences mean children starve. Again, a combox is only so big.

            The only reason to believe anything is because it's true.

            Agreed.

            But a dramatic denial of the joy people derive from the news of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection strikes me as protesting too much.

            I've never denied that there are some people who find joy in those claims (not news, claims). I don't recall dramatically denying anything in my time here.

            Difficulty in admitting that point may signal a voracious bias on your part that - when it comes time to examine the objective veracity of the key event Christians celebrate - leaves you holed up in a bunker miles away.

            I'm unclear what you mean here. Is this an argument ad consequentiam?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_consequences

            Respectfully, I don't think you have data on the overall consequences of christian assertions in the world. Allusions to "joy" seem like cherry picking.

            That it brings some people joy is not a statement most non-christians would argue with. What does that have to do with the overall discussion?

            I've always found our exchanges respectful, Matthew and I'm saying this respectfully. I'm worn out with the unsupported modifiers I have to endure from the catholic side (snarky, constant, cranky, dramatic, angry ,voracious bias(ed)).

            I keep trying to talk about the subjects. It's emotional for all of us. I'm tired of unjustified modifiers. So would you be if I unleashed unjustified modifiers at catholic participants here without referring to evidence to support them.

            Let's get back to whether the claims are true or not.

          • Susan - Apologies, I read your comment and responded too hastily. I looked back and saw that you didn't refer to the emotional solace of belief in general, but only with regards to yourself. Sorry about that.

            I'm sure you're familiar with the standard theistic arguments against the problem of evil. I guess I'm more interested to know why, unlike Stephen Dillon, you don't regard God's existence as something that, if true, would give you immeasurable hope, strength, peace, and happiness (a paraphrase of his original article's opening).

          • Ben Posin

            The last paragraph of your comment is disrespectful and unwarranted. I'll tell you something I have been thinking at Brandon for some time: to the extent one of your goals is to convince people to join your fold, you should act in a way that makes them want to be a part of something with you.

            Moving on: I can't tell other people how to strongly to emotionally react to something, I guess, but to me part the Jesus story just isn't very moving. But then, my wife always gets on my case for being the guy who walks out of a movie and immediately starts listing all the things that didn't make sense. That same attribute limits my ability to be moved by Jesus forty hour or so' "sacrifice," given how contrived and unnecessary the whole set up seems. Real people go through a lot worse, as Susan notes, and they neither get to choose or come back. Also, true story: I remember a looooong time ago walking through a video rental place (remember those?) and seeing copies of a movie about Jesus under the heading "the greatest story ever told." My instant thought was that's ridiculous, Shogun was a much better story, heck, so was Dune. And now we have game of thrones!!

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm not sure any atheist I know has ever denied that people derive emotional satisfaction from their beliefs: whether those beliefs are Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, or UFO-ology. One of the reasons that religion persists is undoubtedly it's ability to make people happy.

            And frankly, I don't care what you believe; so long as you do not force others to accept those beliefs. But theists love to tell other people how to live their lives. Otherwise, they're mostly harmless.

          • M. - We do agree there. The didactic moralizing of many Christians is harmful and just plain counter-intuitive - they aspire to be less like their "King" and more like the very prigs he (literally) lambasted. Pope Francis wrote some great stuff on this in his exhortation, e.g.,

            Christian morality is not a form of stoicism, or self-denial, or merely a practical philosophy or a catalogue of sins and faults. Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to see God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others...if this invitation does not radiate forcefully and attractively, the edifice of the Church’s moral teaching risks becoming a house of cards, and this is our greatest risk. It would mean that it is not the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I'm talking less about moralizing, than the tendency of theists to try to enshrine their particular moral code into the civil legal system.

    • TwistedRelic

      Hi Dan. Anyone who has an interest in the topic of free will should see what the author Sam Harris has to say on the topic on YouTube, especially if one is interested in causal determinism....and if one is not interested, I guarantee that one will be interested after watching his talk on the topic of free will.on youtube.

      • D. Havas

        Thanks for the recommendation.

  • I think both authors accept that some suffering seems gratuitous.

    I think they both accept that it is not impossible that a god could have reasons for not intervening all the time or not intervening in the worst cases.

    What Steven says is that this puts the burden on the theist to come up with some plausible justification. I would say Brandon has not done so, but made the only move he reasonably can, which is to take the position of skeptical theism. I.e. we are in no position to know how this suffering can be justified. This does not rebut Steven's prima facie case that the state of affairs we observe is contrary to what we would expect if the God proposed actually existed.

    Skeptical theism accepts however, that the true morality, or the true state of affairs, is so unknown to us that it is somewhat morally paralyzingly. There is more to morality or there are facts unknown to us that makes it a perfectly good thing to decline the save every child, prevent millions of deaths, lessen all pain and so on. If this is the case, how could we say we are in a position to know if anything is moral?

    • Loreen Lee

      Wow. I once had the thought, that the 'real' deception that took place in the Garden of Eden, was that Adam and Eve merely 'believed' that they could distinguish good from evil. They merely thought they were being 'objective'. I think possibly that that was the meaning of Nietzsche's 'beyond good and evil'. Somehow we can be just too subjective about what constitutes either good or evil and look at situations and the behaviors of others merely from a perspective of self interest. (Would said self interest be a good or an evil!????) This comment of course is limited to issues of thought, word, and deed, exclusive of such things as disease, etc. which I would put under the category of natural manifestations, rather than a consequence of 'freedom of the will' which I take to be a 'metaphysical' or 'moral' concept. Thank you.,

    • Tim Dacey

      Hey Brian:

      Re: "If this is the case [i.e., if Skeptical Theism is true], how could we say we are in a position to know if anything is moral?"

      Skeptical theism wouldn't entail global skepticism, nor, as you ask, global moral skepticism. Of course, each ST may have her preferred degree of skepticism (just like any skeptic), though I think they would all generally agree that to know if something is moral is dependent on available known goods, which could be revealed to us through natural reason, revelation, etc.

      • I accept that. But it does show that we can never really know if our actions are "ultimately" morally good or evil. If I cure a child it feels good. If I let the child die, it feels wrong. But if I decline to cure the child, say because I am lazy, am I immoral? If the child dies, and God has not intervened, God has perfectly moral reasons for not intervening. The full state of affairs is ultimately just as morally good as if I had intervened, isn't it? If it was not, god would have saved the kid's life. In fact, how do I judge whether the good of me saving the kids life is better than the necessarily ultimate good of me not intervening and the child dying? We can't. We are left consequentialism and reference to non perfect non ultimate moral standards and our flawed understanding of the facts. In other words, some kind of secular morality.

    • Andrej Tokarčík

      Hello, Brian, long time no see!

      "the state of affairs we observe is contrary to what we would expect if the God proposed actually existed"

      Do we observe objective and unredeemable evil out of which no possible good could be produced? If not, what precisely does constitute the contradiction considering the existence of God?

      By the way, are You certain that objective morality is intelligible without affirming the existence of God? Aren't You also incorrectly thinking of God as yet another moral agent (a point addressed in the article)?

      • Do we see objective I redeemable evil? I don't know. I certainly observe terrible things that I cannot conceive of there being any justification for not preventing if one had the power. What I am suggesting and the evidential problem of evil argues is that it seems to be the case that at least one episode of suffering has been gratuitous. Since Christians maintain that the God they believe exists would allow absolutely no gratuitous suffering, this argument says that it seems like this proposed god does not exist. It is not a deductive argument.

        Depending on what you mean by objective, no I do not think that objective morality is intelligible. Not in any ultimate sense of objective.

        • Andrej Tokarčík

          I think we're in complete agreement on this one, Brian!

          It is worth noting, though, that the evidential problem of evil is no problem at all for those who have accepted the existence of God via definitive, non-probabilistic arguments. Moreover and more importantly, it does not point out a logical inconsistency within the system of theism, which is Brandon's main contention. As such, theism cannot be dismissed simply due to the observation of evil.

          The only justification a Christian has to provide is to present his case for the existence of God and consequently demonstrate the historical plausibility of Christ's resurrection. Afterwards, there is no burden on the theist to defend God's non-intervention in particular cases of seemingly gratuitous suffering.

          The debate should be properly focused on examining the proofs for the existence of God. If these fail, the problem of evil is superfluous. If they are successful, all evil must be somehow consistent with God's goodness.

  • severalspeciesof

    Christians have consistently pointed out that because of God’s unique,
    metaphysical position, beyond space and time, he can have morally
    justifiable reasons to allow certain acts of pain and suffering—reasons
    that we're just not privy to.

    That very idea can be used then for the argument that god is evil... i.e. 'We're not privy to its reason to be evil'. What I find particularly exasperating is this notion that an answer that really says "We can't know" is used to help 'explain away' the problem of evil as though the evasion of an answer is proof of an answer...

    Glen

    • Glen, thanks for the comment. Saying "we can't know" whether God has good reason to permit evil is not to "explain away" the problem of evil. It's simply to say that the problem evil is not a substantial argument against God. For it to be substantial, the proponent would *have* to be able to show that God cannot, in principle, have good reason to permit evil.

      The "we can't know" suggests that he is not in a position to prove that.

      • severalspeciesof

        Saying "we can't know" whether God has good reason to permit evil is not to "explain away" the problem of evil.

        I disagree. My comment wasn't about proof, but rather with my idea that "We can't know" (i.e. god is placed in this non-evidenced 'beyond space and time' jargon to help put to an end any further discussion, because why else mention it) is really just a 'get out of jail free' card statement when speaking about the problem of evil when it becomes evident that the alternate answer "God can't effectively deal with evil" becomes the 'reason'able answer.

        Glen

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Exactly. It's like the usual answer to "what caused god"; it resolves the issue by defining god as the one thing that doesn't need a cause. I suggest that "I don't have to answer that question" is unlikely to be emotionally satisfying.

  • TwistedRelic

    I feel that most of us atheists would admit to the seemingly, unlikely outside chance that it may be possible that there may be an intelligence behind the existence of the universe or multiverse....even though no empirical evidence for such exists and though an intelligent creator it is not a requirement for the existence of said universe or development of life. The only really honorable, fair and straightforward answer to the question of "is there an intelligent entity or creator involved in the origin of the universe and life"... for us, atheists...and theists and agnostics alike is "I simply don't know!"

    . However the question of "is Jesus god? and did he actually claim to be so... as the church and theists say, is an entirely different and separate question, one in which I don't blame anyone for their skepticism....for a variety of reasons....However,a simple "I don't know" is not a fair expectation for a theist to have of an atheist as an answer to the question "Is Jesus God?"

    Until an atheist can accept the possibility that a creator may exist, there is really no point for them to even seriously consider the question of Jesus as god... and given that point, it is a bit of a leap for theists to expect them to seriously consider Jesus as god .... The fact that there may well be enough evidence to show that he existed as a person is not enough to show that the church's claims about him and what he said and did are true....especially given the history of Christianity....and the experience of the human race and all life since we climbed out of the primordial slime.

    While it is true that suffering and evil do not in and of themselves...disprove the concept of a creator....there is nothing to suggest that that any creator is loving, or even cares about humanity.....
    Experience, history and nature suggest otherwise......that "though theuniverse/nature/god may not be...... malevolent... all indications to the casual observer are that IT is at best indifferent."

    • fightforgood

      That was great. Thanks for sharing.
      I agree on the premise of "I don't know" for all. with the caveat that the only way to 'know' is if God chose to reveal himself. Otherwise, it is all a guess. A creator must make himself known, to be known by creation.
      With regard to getting to accept a God exists before accepting Jesus is God. I think they kind of go hand in hand and that Jesus allows an atheist to logically work into 'God exists' because we get to work with our nature and history (and evaluate the way Jesus works around nature), rather than only a concept. I mean we get to follow Jesus' followers and see that they were even skeptical. We get to see that during a high point in the roman empire this guy, Jesus has more spilled ink about him than any king, military leader, etc.. It's very odd that a random person of humble origin without a publicist would garner so much attention, if he wasn't doing something special.
      With regard to God (if exists) not caring - this one is the slam dunk, I think. Do we ever do what we want to do because we don't want to do it?
      God of all creatures surely does what he wants to do for a purpose.
      If creation exists, the creator wanted it to exist, therefore the creator absolutely cares.
      Then we can walk back into Jesus and evaluate from a caring God perspective.

    • Peter

      "..though an intelligent creator is not a requirement for the existence of said universe or development of life."

      I beg to differ and strongly so. Even though cosmological models show a universe creating itself in one instant or in a continuous creation through a reverse arrow of time, there does need to be a blueprint which determines what kind of self-creating universe it is.

      The fact that our universe is profoundly rationally ordered from the very moment of its inception right through to the development of intelligent life can indicate nothing other than a rational mind which has configured it to be so.

      Your statement that an intelligent creator is not required is not grounded in evidence. In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, in favour of an intelligent creator.

      We do not create the rational order of the universe by our observation, but instead we observe that the rational order of the universe existed aeons before we evolved. Even the rational order we currently observe in our neighbouring Andromeda galaxy comes from a period before hominid species walked the earth.

      The rational order of the universe exists independent of man, independent of any sentient species which may evolve. It is not the imaginary product of our sentient brains, but the real product of a supreme mind which laid it all out in anticipation of our arrival so that we could comprehend it.

      • M. Solange O’Brien

        I beg to differ and strongly so. Even though cosmological models show a universe creating itself in one instant or in a continuous creation through a reverse arrow of time, there does need to be a blueprint which determines what kind of self-creating universe it is.

        Why? All that's needed are certain rules; that says nothing about a mind.

        The fact that our universe is profoundly rationally ordered from the very moment of its inception right through to the development of intelligent life can indicate nothing other than a rational mind which has configured it to be so.

        Define "rationally ordered"'; and explain why a "mind" is required to "configure it."

        Don't just make assertions - prove your case.

        Your statement that an intelligent creator is not required is not grounded in evidence. In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary, in favour of an intelligent creator.

        Absolutely false. There is no evidence of any "intelligence" other than ourselves and the various creatures on our planet. None.

        We do not create the rational order of the universe by our observation,

        False. Do a little research on quantum chromodynamics.

        but instead we observe that the rational order of the universe existed aeons before we evolved. Even the rational order we currently observe in our neighbouring Andromeda galaxy comes from a period before hominid species walked the earth.

        Sure. That doesn't demonstrate a "mind" was behind it all.

        The rational order of the universe exists independent of man, independent of any sentient species which may evolve.

        Sure.

        It is not the imaginary product of our sentient brains, but the real product of a supreme mind which laid it all out in anticipation of our arrival so that we could comprehend it.

        Prove it. Don't assert it, prove it.

        • Peter

          "All that's needed are certain rules;"

          Rules? What are they? Where do they come from?

          "Define "rationally ordered"'; and explain why a "mind" is required to "configure it.""

          Rational order comes from reason; reason is the product of reasoning; reasoning comes from thought and thought comes from a mind.

          "There is no evidence of any "intelligence" other than ourselves.."

          Who conceived the rules establishing the blueprint of the universe?

          "Do a little research on quantum chromodynamics."

          How is this relevant?

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Just once I wish you'd answer with something other than a direct repeat of things you've already said; it would make our discussions more productive.

            You once again failed to define rationally ordered.

            I don't know where the rules come from - but you can't even demonstrate they come from a mind.

            And rational order can be the product of basic simple rules. Gravity, for example, all by itself, produced the beautifully ordered solar system. No deity needed.

            Who says the rules had to be established by a mind? Who says the universe has a blueprint?

          • Peter

            If gravity created the solar system all by itself the universe would be full of identical solar systems. Gravity did not determine the unique low entropy configuration of the early universe which is responsible for the current order and variety we observe. In fact, the entropy of the early universe, low as it was, was even lower - more amazingly fine tuned - prior to inflation.

            I can only follow the evidence to where it leads. It is overwhelmingly in favour of an amazing fine tuner who has preconfigured the universe from its inception towards the creation of intelligent life which can comprehend and recognise the handiwork of the amazing fine tuner.

          • I prefer to remain agnostic about that initial state. Maybe God set it up, or maybe it happened on its own.

            But even if God set it up, I wonder how he set it up? How did he configure the states? Did he move particles about the phase-space with his fingers? Did his words vibrate through the initial instanton (or whatever it was)? What sorts of vibrations did his words produce?

            All said, I think it better to admit ignorance about the pre-inflation universe, and then to try to find out how it got set up, without starting with the answers beforehand.

          • Peter

            Only a big-bang creationist would argue that God intervened to manipulate the states and configure them in such a way as to set up the low entropy of the early universe.

            There will of course be a scientific explanation for the low entropy which we have yet to discover. But all that will do is reveal a background of greater fine-tuning, just as the fine-tuning of the post-inflation universe depends on the even greater fine-tuning of the pre-inflation universe.

            What is ironic is that all our efforts to establish a naturalistic universe lead us in precisely the opposite direction which is towards greater levels of fine-tuning. It is this trend, which we are only just discovering as we probe deeper into the origin of the universe, which points us to God.

          • For the theist, I would imagine that higher and higher levels of fine tuning correspond to greater and greater amounts of ignorance about how God works. This should be a source of frustration for physicists regardless of their religious beliefs. At least, this problem was frustrating for me when I was a theist.

          • Peter

            On the contrary. The revelation of higher and higher levels of fine tuning show in progressively greater detail how God has blueprinted the universe.

            If I were a creationist hoping to find an original point where God's hands-on intervention would have set things rolling, I would be disappointed at discovering instead continuous levels of progressive fine tuning.

            As a theist, I see God not in his hands-on intervention but in his blueprint for creation which becomes increasingly more apparent as we probe deeper into cosmic origins and discover in continuous stages how exquisitely fine-tuned that blueprint is.

          • Then where does God set the values and how?

            Until I know how the values are set, how do I know that the fine tuning won't just work itself out eventually? I understand we think very differently about this (and about most things involving science), but I'd be a lot more impressed with a God who didn't have things teetering on an edge. I'd like my house built upon a rock, not upon very well-balanced sand.

          • Peter

            I don't think fine tuning will ever work itself out because as we go back, fine tuning increases instead of decreasing, requiring progressively greater explanations only answerable by even higher levels of fine tuning.

            We're probably still a long way off from understanding God's blueprint for the universe, even though it is there to be discovered. Indeed we may have only just scratched the surface, but the human race is young and technology is in its infancy.

            The further back we go the more we will discover that reality is teetering on a edge which becomes narrower and narrower as fine tuning increases. This implies that our existence is crucially dependent upon the ultimate fine-tuner which is God.

          • That is wrong in every way you could possibly be wrong. The fine tuning is becoming less as our knowledge increases. It used to be that many things had to be fine tuned for electroweak theory. Now, it's only one constant. The more our knowledge increases, the less things become fine tuned.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            If gravity created the solar system all by itself the universe would be full of identical solar systems.

            Not in the slightest. Not unless the various particles that were absorbed into that solar system were exactly identical in configuration. And even then, quantum effects would cause enough variation that no two solar systems would ever be the same - and they're not. Do you actually understand how gravity works?

            Gravity did not determine the unique low entropy configuration of the early universe which is responsible for the current order and variety we observe.

            I didn't say it did.

            In fact, the entropy of the early universe, low as it was, was even lower - more amazingly fine tuned - prior to inflation.

            Completely false. Provide evidence that it was fine-tuned.

            I can only follow the evidence to where it leads.

            But you don't. You don't even start with the evidence. You cannot support any of your assertions with any actual science or evidence or logic. You just keep making the same claims over and over again without ever once offering anything more than, "I believe it."

            It is overwhelmingly in favour of an amazing fine tuner who has preconfigured the universe to develop from its inception towards the creation of intelligent life which can comprehend and recognise the handiwork of the amazing fine tuner.

            Either provide evidence for this assertion or stop making it. But you're giving me a 'faith position' - not a scientific one. You don't appear to be able to prove it, and I'm not entirely sure you even understand how to support it.

            But if you can produce an actual argument based on actual evidence, I'm willing to listen.

          • Peter

            "In fact, the entropy of the early universe, low as it was, was even lower - more amazingly fine tuned - prior to inflation."
            "Completely false. Provide evidence that it was fine-tuned."

            "To get inflation to start requires even lower-entropy initial conditions than those implied by the conventional Big Bang model. Inflation just makes the problem harder........The question is simply, why did inflation ever start? Rather than removing the need for a sensible theory of initial conditions, inflation makes the need even more urgent."

            Sean Carroll
            http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/eternitytohere/faq.html

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Did you actually read the article? Sean is pointing out that we don't have an adequate theory of the initial conditions in the cosmos - not that those conditions were "fine-tuned" by someone or something.

            Please try again. Make an actual argument. Use data.

          • Peter

            You claimed it was false that the entropy of the early universe was even lower prior to inflation. Sean Carroll has proved you wrong by explaining that it was lower.

  • Sqrat

    Brandon writes,

    I commend Steven for accurately defining God as “perfectly good”
    (though classical theists would likely prefer “the Perfect Good”) as
    well as “the ultimate source, ground, or originating cause of everything
    that can have an ultimate source, ground, or originating cause.” No
    problems there. Moreover, Steven rightly notes that “nothing that has
    happened will have happened without [God’s] permission.” This aligns
    with Christian's affirmation of God’s ultimate sovereignty.

    However, it’s difficult to see how the above points support or are
    even relevant to Steven’s first premise. Claiming there are things God
    “will have had to have done” is to assume some binding duty outside of
    and above God—some requiring authority which assigns duties to God (like
    a mother mandating her child to perform certain tasks). Yet this
    contradicts Steven’s own description of God as “the ultimate source,
    ground, or originating cause.” God can’t be the ultimate ground of
    morality and responsible to a higher moral authority. That’s a self-contradiction.

    That's an interesting argument, Brandon, but one which leaves you at risk of being hoist on your own petard. If God is the ultimate ground of everything, and if morality is part of "everything," then God is responsible for it. However, by the same token, evil would have to be part of "everything" also, and God would likewise have to be responsible for that. And that, surely, is Steven's basic point.

    Speaking of contradictions, while you are happy with the description of God as perfectly good (or "The Perfect Goodness"), you seem to be implying that God has no moral obligations. But to be "good", in a moral sense, means "to live up to one's moral obligations." If God has no moral obligations, it would be impossible for him to be either morally good or morally evil. It is a contradiction to assert, on the one hand, that God is perfectly good, and on the other that he has no moral obligations.

    But that, I suppose, provides another possible answer to the age-old "problem of evil": whatever suffering God allows to happen to someone -- indeed, whatever suffering God himself directly inflicts on someone -- he does that person no moral wrong, since if God has no moral obligations, he plainly has no obligation either to prevent anyone from suffering, or to refrain from inflicting suffering on anyone.

    • fightforgood

      Wouldn't the fact that obligations exist mean that perfection is missing? Thus I don't see the contradiction of 'perfectly good with no moral obligations'.

      Perfect doesn't become more perfect.

      • Sqrat

        That's because you don't see the contradiction in "always behaves in accordance with his moral obligations, even though he has none."

        • fightforgood

          Ah ok, I thought you meant brandon wrote that. I guess I don't know why you are telling him a contradiction that he didn't propose.
          He did write "God can’t be the ultimate ground of morality and responsible to a higher moral authority. That’s a self-contradiction."
          So I don't see a disagreement.

          • Sqrat

            In asserting that God is not "responsible to a higher moral authority." he implied hat God has no moral obligations. As he made clear in his response to me, that is indeed what he is asserting: God has no moral obligations. My point, with which he agrees, is that this means that we cannot say that God is "good."

          • "In asserting that God is not "responsible to a higher moral authority." he implied hat God has no moral obligations."

            Indeed. Because Christians hold that God simply is the Good. He is the moral standard on which our own moral duties and values are grounded.

          • Sqrat

            (Though to be clear, I mean that God has no external moral obligations. He's obligated to act in concert with his own nature, which is Goodness, but that's an intrinsic necessity--not an external responsibility. It's the same as saying a circle has an obligation to be circular or round.)

            What does it even mean to say that "God's nature is Goodness," given that God is not good?

          • fightforgood

            Just to be clear, the counter is not that God might be good or evil, the counter is that God is good in the sense that he can't be anything else. As Brandon just wrote - is Goodness, vs having a quality of good (that might lead one to think the quality could come and go)

          • Fightforgood, that's right. It appears Sqrat is arguing against something I never proposed or held. See my comment below for more explanation.

          • TwistedRelic

            You are fighting against yourself Brandon.....you are alienating the very people that you are trying to convert to Catholicism by being such a knob. Everyone knows that including many catholics.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It sounds like you have just come here to be inflammatory. You comment seems to be a personal attack.

            How is pointing out that evil is a privation of good and that God is not (just) good but the ground of goodness alienating and knobby (whatever that is).

    • "If God is the ultimate ground of everything, and if morality is part of "everything," then God is responsible for it. However, by the same token, evil would have to be part of "everything" also, and God would likewise have to be responsible for that. And that, surely, is Steven's basic point."

      Thanks for the comment, Sqrat! (Remind me again of your real first name?)

      It appears you're assuming that evil is a "thing". But the mainstream Christian tradition, dating at least back to Augustine, has seen evil as the privation of good. Just as "coolness" is not a thing, but the privation of heat, so evil is not a thing, despite what the limitations of our language might suggest.

      So when we say "God allows evil", we don't mean something like "he allows apples". We mean "he allows a privation of the good" (just as someone up North, by not monitoring their thermostat, might allow a privation of heat in their house).

      I'd also question the use of the word "responsible." If by responsible you simply mean that God permits evil, Christians would of agree. If you mean that he causes evil, we wouldn't.

      "Speaking of contradictions, while you are happy with the description of God as perfectly good (or "The Perfect Goodness"), you seem to be implying that God has no moral obligations. But to be "good", in a moral sense, means "to live up to one's moral obligations.""

      I totally agree. That's why, as I noted in my article, I prefer describing God as "the Perfect Good"--or "Goodness itself"--instead of describing him as perfectly good, like Steven does. Goodness isn't one quality that God has. It's part of his existence; he is Goodness. This understanding goes all the way back to Plato.

      "It is a contradiction to assert, on the one hand, that God is perfectly good, and on the other that he has no moral obligations."

      I agree, for the reasons I listed above. But this is not what I claimed: it's what Steven argued. I noted that I wouldn't describe God as being perfectly good. Steven is the one who described him that way and then insinuated he was under some moral obligated.

      • Sqrat

        It appears you're assuming that evil is a "thing". But the mainstream Christian tradition, dating at least back to Augustine, has seen evil as the privation of good. Just as "coolness" is not a thing, but the privation of heat, so evil is not a thing, despite what the limitations of our language might suggest.

        I'm not assuming anything. I'm suggesting that whatever reason entitles us to call goodness a "thing" would similarly entitle us to call evil a "thing." Of course, if evil is not a thing, then there is no such thing as evil, nicht wahr?

        Is there goodness on the surface of the moon? If there is a privation of goodness there, shall we characterize the surface of the moon as pure evil?

        So when we say "God allows evil", we don't mean something like "he allows apples". We mean "he allows a privation of the good" (just as someone up North, by not monitoring their thermostat, might allow a privation of heat in their house).

        Doesn't someone down South, by not monitoring their thermostat, allow a "privation of coolness" in their house?

        I'd also question the use of the word "responsible." If by responsible you simply mean that God permits evil, Christians would agree. If you mean that he causes evil, we wouldn't.

        If God has no moral obligations, then, just as he could not be good, he could not be evil. He could not commit good acts, he could not commit evil acts. The terms "good'" and "evil" simply would be relevant. They would still be his acts, but he would have no moral culpability for any of them. We would have to hold him as morally blameless for his acts that cause harm to others as we hold a mad dog morally blameless for infecting someone for rabies (if for a rather different reason).

        That's why, as I noted in my article, I prefer describing God as "the Perfect Good"--or "Goodness itself"--instead of describing him as perfectly good, like Steven does.

        Jesus is said not to have shied away, as you do, from calling God "good": "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." Theologically naive, was Jesus....

    • TwistedRelic

      "God has no moral obligations, he plainly has no obligation either to
      prevent anyone from suffering, or to refrain from inflicting suffering
      on anyone."

      That seems to say it all...you can slip out of it by saying that you were just quoting Sqrat..........at best the universe/god is indifferent.....at best. A good example for us all.....we have no moral obligation to help another person following that example....speak clearly instead of trying to present another person's words out of context!

  • wayne stahre

    Evil and suffering are evidence of a perfect God.
    God is perfect love.
    God is unique
    Love must create
    What God creates must be imperfect or else God would be duplicating himself.
    An imperfect creation leads to suffering.
    (This is an abbreviated version of the proof.)

    • David Nickol

      What God creates must be imperfect or else God would be duplicating himself.

      How in the world could a perfect physical universe be a duplication of God?

      • wayne stahre

        Your question contains the answer but he connection between the creation and humans is not the question posed by the post. The issue is suffering and God. The abbreviated proof I provided shows that the only way there could be no suffering is if there is only god. I use a small 'g' here since multiple identical gods would mean none would be God.

      • Andrej Tokarčík

        Even a perfect physical universe would be limited in its perfectness inasmuch as it does not exist necessarily of itself but receives its existence from another.

  • Danny Getchell

    Brandon,

    A well-crafted essay, but I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that:

    (1) every good thing that happens, happens due to God's desire to bring it to pass.
    (2) every evil thing that happens, happens due to God's desire to permit it to happen (for some reason we have not been vouchsafed to know).

    Therefore:

    (3) we live in the optimal universe. There is not one thing in our universe that could possibly be improved upon, from God's vantage point.

    Do you adhere to this Panglossian perspective? And if not, what have I missed???

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I can't speak for Brandon but I think all three conclusions are false.

      1. Not every good thing happens because of God's desire to bring it to pass, since countless good things happen because of the moral agency of other persons.
      2. Bad things don't happen because of God's desire to permit it to happen. God desires personal freedom and evil things happen usually because of the personal freedom the actors.
      3. There are many things in our universe that can be improved upon, like people not doing so much evil.

      • Danny Getchell

        (1) and (2) are premises, (3) is the conclusion.

        Brandon's article specifically endorses (2) at several points, including - "We must acknowledge that God could have good reasons for allowing evil that we're just unable to glimpse." "God could have good reasons to permit apparently heinous acts." "And since we’re in no position to judge whether God has such reasons, the existence of evil (i.e., pain, suffering, abuse, etc.) simply does not pose a strong argument against God’s existence."

        And I see no reason not to assume (from a Christian perspective) that all good done by man originates in impulses placed in his heart by God.

        So I stand by my post, unless you can show me that the conclusion is inconsistent with the premises.

        Edit: Re my (2), do you believe that an evil thing can happen even though God does not desire to permit it to happen??

    • Andrej Tokarčík

      Hello Danny. I don't think that the conclusion follows from the premises. Namely, You appear to be implicitly assuming that what God desires, He desires necessarily. That is, there is something like a set of the best desires and God must desire these and only these. But the only thing that God wills necessarily is absolute goodness (which is Him). Besides that, nothing is sufficiently good to move the divine will with necessity.

      Further, it also seems as though You were presupposing that God is entirely responsible for whatever's happening, i.e. that His creatures cannot be genuine causes of their actions/effects, which is of course a claim that needs to be itself substantiated. This view is called occasionalism and You can read about it for example here (from a critical standpoint).

      • Danny Getchell

        Sorry, still not buying in.

        If God occasionally intervenes in the affairs of men, and if he is empowered to intervene whenever and wherever he chooses, then non-interference represents a choice on his part, whether or not that choice is exercised on a case by case basis or as a general principle.

        His creatures cannot be genuine causes of their actions/effects

        In the vast majority of human actions, of course they are such causes. As a believer in an impersonal creative force, I quite accept this. But it is Christianity that posits a God who on rare occasions steps in to alter that cause and effect relationship. Therefore, the Christian apologist is obligated to explain "why here, and why not there",

        • Andrej Tokarčík

          I don't see how these remarks are pertaining to Your original argument. Would You care to elaborate? What is the actual problem with God's intentional non-interference?

          I'll try to make my own critique more clear:

          It seems to me that You are implicitly assuming that God sees the possible universes as ordered with respect to their goodness as though they were in a chain, where it can be decided about each pair of elements from the chain whether one component of the pair is greater/better than the other or not (which happens to be the mathematical understanding of the term). The problem is that such a chain would also contain a maximum and as such it would put an obligation on God to create that maximum universe necessarily.

          Such a view is begging the question, though. All that we can say (and is defended as part of the Thomistic account) is that God does necessarily will only Goodness Itself (as the proper object of the divine will), which is His nature, which is His existence. Since God cannot be perfected any further, not even by creating, it follows that willing things apart from Him is not absolutely necessary. Any other things that God wills are thus willed inasmuch as they are a possible participation in His perfect goodness, allowing for the things' ultimate perfection. A possible world that is so bad that it cannot be willed by the divine will is one that cannot be conceived by the divine intellect -- and thus the world is not possible, contrary to hypothesis.

          Hence, it is incorrect to draw from Your premises the conclusion that God could not will a better universe or that this is the optimal universe. Indeed, God allows good things to happen in our universe, but it is not the case that He could not allow better ones, nor is He forced to realise the better ones.

          The following articles might be of interest:
          * Aquinas and the Best of All Possible Worlds
          * God, obligation, and the Euthyphro dilemma

          As a believer in an impersonal creative force

          I've always had questions about this view: If there is an impersonal creating force where do its tendencies to create come from? How come the force is directed to the particular ends it is (i.e., the universes/things to create)? Isn't only a self-sufficient being ultimately self-explanatory? If the force doesn't create because it freely wills to do so but due to a law of necessity, shouldn't a more fundamental law-giver be presupposed?

          Cheers,
          Andrej

          • Danny Getchell

            Andrej,

            My original term was "optimal" not "good" - and what I meant to convey is that given God's assumed puissance, there is no conceivable universe more in accord with God's will. Does that seem in any way more reasonable to you??

          • Andrej Tokarčík

            Nope -- I don't think that I have overly relied on "good" rather than "optimal" (although I admit that the terms have essentially the same meaning to me), and so I'd say my response still holds. You could perhaps add some details why You think that Your conclusion follows from the premises and also what the exact difference between "good" and "optimal" should be.

  • tz1

    I don't think "God is a bizarre and unintelligible entity, beyond even reason" is a satisfying answer. Islam at least holds that Allah can make it so A and not-A are simultaneously true.

    We have a lesser capacity, but are rational. Beating a dog over something he did yesterday is futile. Similarly with a toddler.

    Do remember that God is omnipotent. This includes the ability to explain or reveal the reasons action or omission X is truly good. Instead, God (apparently with intent) appears irrational, capricious, indifferent, or evil by any rational definition accessible by humanity.

    (Note that my earlier reversal of the question, which I will expand, is that God did exactly what was desired about the Holocaust to Sodom and Ghomorrah, to the earth in Noah's flood, and had a lighter touch with the Tower of Babel. Remember Egypt during the Pharoah-Moses conflict. "I can't believe he did that to Sodom" and "I can't believe he didn't do that to the Nazis" is that A, Not-A contradiction in their position).

    The answer is not to be found in cold reason, but hot passion. The Passion. The Passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The answer is "I allowed myself to be the victim of every evil you can imagine and worse, and I was completely innocent and even did more good than you can conceive of doing in your lifetimes". The Sorrowful mysteries. God did not merely permit them, he personally suffered them. Did what he could not have wanted, and declared such ("with you all things are possible ...let this cup pass from me").

    Why did God permit his innocent Son to suffer? That is the only way to put the question of suffering into perspective. From the Cross at Golgotha.

  • duhem

    you might be interested in my post on Catholic

  • Tim Dacey

    Brandon:

    Re: "That admitted ignorance, a result of our limited knowledge and perspective, does not imply God’s non-existence. It’s simply a fact that we’re in no place to judge the moral permissibility of God’s actions."

    I think this is right. What might be more attractive about this view (i.e., Skeptical Theism) is that it resists a detailed (and speculative) Theodicy, but it is still epistemically interesting.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      In what way is it interesting? It looks as if it is simply another "mysterious are the ways of god" defense: untestable; theologically simplistic; and fundamentally unsatisfying.

      • Tim Dacey

        M. Solange O'Brien:

        Re: "In what way is it interesting?"

        Here is a good link to begin with.

        http://www.iep.utm.edu/skept-th/

        BTW: "Theological Simplicity" is a good thing to aim for. Compare with "Scientific Simplicity"

  • Pieter Vermeersch

    There is often a confusion between Evil and Weakness. Weakness is the lack of (discipline of creating) heaven, it always creates a spiritual void in the weak subject, eventually filled with tempting new ideas. Evil battles this weakness through prosecution. The ultimate 'pure' prosecutionists are the criminals ('snakes') who eat weakness ('vermin') alive.
    Examples of weakness are cowardice, greed,...
    As a human, know that you know nothing and discover intellectual humility.
    Greetings from Belgium.

    • TwistedRelic

      Hi Pieter.....a bit off topic perhaps....but you are right in the sense that we as individuals really know nothing in the sense of the totality of reality, knowledge and or wisdom. I really think that most who participate on this site are aware of this fact......though we all have to be reminded of this from time to
      time:-).
      Though I think the topic of this article has almost run it's
      gamut.....this is a good site with ongoing interesting topics to discuss
      and comment on....please keep coming back. Greetings from a guy in
      Canada.

      • Pieter Vermeersch

        First of all, thank you for your kind comment. Rest assured, I will be coming back as long as people keep respecting eachothers opinions on this forum. For me, the rules of discussion are very important: exploring and searching for the truth, the facts at the middle of the table. This is what I'm looking for rather than cockiness in winning the intellectual 'fight', because judgement is not the monopoly of the strong.

  • David Nickol

    I would agree that evil and suffering don't disprove the existence of God. But I also believe the existence of God cannot be logically proved. It seems we are stuck without hope of proof (that is, deductive logical proof) one way or the other.

    It is often argued (correctly, in my opinion) that logical proof (inductive or deductive) and/or the scientific method are not the only routes to knowing. A frequent example is knowing your spouse loves you. This is not open to logical or scientific proof. But that, of course, does not mean the answer to "Does my spouse love me?" is always yes. It may be quite clearly no, in many cases.

    So while evil and suffering don't disprove the existence of God, they certainly aren't irrelevant to the question of whether God exist, any more than what your spouse says and does is irrelevant to the question of whether he or she loves you.

    It seems perfectly reasonable to me to set issues of proof aside and say to oneself, "I was taught that God is all-good and all powerful, and given the amount of suffering in the world, it's clear that something doesn't add up, so my conclusion is that God does not exist." This is not my own conclusion, but I don't see any way to argue someone out of it. If someone said to me, "My wife has had an abortion every time she got pregnant, she has affairs with other men, she told me a year ago to my face that she hated me, and she has not spoken to me ever since except to ask for a divorce," I wouldn't try to argue, "That doesn't prove she doesn't love you!" Proof in a situation like that is irrelevant, just as it may be in the case of someone who loses his or her religious faith over the problem of evil. It is a matter of what your heart (or your gut) tells you.

    Ironically, when a person loses his or her faith over the problem of evil, it is no doubt because of what they have been taught about God. He is all good, omniscient, and omnipotent. People who believe in God, and people who decline to believe in him, both agree on his superlative qualities. It is just that those who are driven to disbelief by the problem of evil cannot reconcile what they have been taught about God to what they see happening in the world. If they could divest themselves of some of what they were taught about God, the way would be open to hold onto the belief that he existed. But because they cannot give up on the idea that he is all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, they are led to the conclusion that the existence of a being with those qualities in irreconcilable with the suffering and evil they see everywhere in the world. In a very real sense, their conclusion is that the God they were taught to believe in turned out to be too good to be true.

    • M. Solange O’Brien

      I think a better way of looking at the POE is that it simply points out a logical contradiction inherent in particular definition of god. Certainly it can't be used to prove that no god exists, but it does point out that certain definitions of god are logically incoherent.

      • Peter

        There is nothing logically incoherent about God unless you fabricate some strawmen definitions of your own, both of God and of logic.

        • Ben Posin

          Despite Solange's wording, the contradiction being referred to is not an internal one in God's supposed nature, but between God's supposed nature and the reality we live in. The world doesn't look like what one would expect it to, were there an omnibenevolent God.

          • Peter

            If you want to criticise God for being incoherent you must approach him in his entirety instead of cherry picking bits at random.

            God created us to be eternal and, being utterly benevolent, wishes us to spend eternity with him in bliss. In order for us to achieve that blissful state we have to be purified. This occurs in two ways both of which are temporal: suffering during life and purgation after death.

            Although I cannot speak for the duration of purgatory except that it is temporal, I can say that our life on earth represents an infinitely small fraction of our eternal existence. Looked at in that light, suffering takes on a different meaning. Instead of being a source of despair, it is a sign that we are being prepared for a blissful eternity in the presence of God.

          • Ben Posin

            As I said elsewhere on this thread, one can try to come up with possibilities to reconcile the suffering in this world with the notion of a good god. These do start to sound like "just so" tales, however, and without good reason to think they might be true, I don't see why I should be swayed from the simpler solution.

            Your particular account doesn't make a lot of sense to me, or persuade me. How does suffering purify? What purification does a young kid need? Per Christian doctrine, wasn't the point of Jesus's sacrifice meant to atone for any of our impurities?

            I take your point about finite v. infinite spans, but if what happens to us while alive is so insignificant, why does God have us live down here at all? Why not just create us pure at his side?

          • Peter

            We need to acquire goodness in order to enter eternal bliss, and the only way for individuals to acquire goodness is to want to. That is why a short life of free will is necessary. It gives us the opportunity to want to be good. God wants heaven to be filled with individuals who have been good because they want to be.

            That's why he creates us free. Creating us good but not free will only achieve a heaven where individuals have had no choice but to be good. They have had no desire to be good in their hearts. That's not what God wants.

          • Peter

            Jesus' sacrifice, where his own suffering as a human was salvific, made it possible for all human suffering to be salvific. Because Jesus suffered for the salvation of others, so too does human suffering have the effect of being salvific not just for the sufferer but for all humanity.

            Evil did not stop after Jesus' sacrifice. What Jesus' sacrifice did was open up the power of human suffering to make it capable of atoning for the ongoing evil of the human race.

            In this respect, both individual and collective suffering takes on a different light. It acts as a continuous atonement for the sins of men made possible by Jesus' original atonement.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          I repeat, all definitions of god that I have been shown have been logically and semantically incoherent. The POE just extends that to the real world.

          • Peter

            Then obviously the definitions of God you've been shown are either wrong or, more than likely, incomplete.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            You got a better one?

    • Andrej Tokarčík

      Hi, David! Thank You for bringing the actual relationship between man and God back into the picture. Just a few thoughts:

      But I also believe the existence of God cannot be logically proved.

      Perhaps You're right. But on the other hand, I believe that You're aware that such a claim itself would also demand a proof.

      People who believe in God, and people who decline to believe in him, both agree on his superlative qualities.

      Well, that might hint on part of the problem: it is perhaps too common to think of God's attributes to be of the same kind as humans', just coming in much higher degrees (multiplied by infinity, so to say). However, God's attributes should be considered to be of a different kind (and not just degree) than humans' and approached by the means of analogy. Think of the difference in reference to goodness when we say "the pizza is good" in comparison to "the teacher is good"; the goodness in the two cases is neither completely identical nor absolutely incomparable. We have to speak of goodness of God in relation to goodness of man in the same analogical manner, where analogy constitutes a middle ground between the equivocal and univocal usage of terms.

      • Peter

        The claim that God's existence cannot be logically proved is in direct conflict with the Church's doctrine that the existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works by the light of human reason.

        Just as the Church has evidence to support her doctrine that reason leads to God, so too would any claim that reason cannot lead to God need to be supported with evidence.

        While plenty of evidence has been provided to show that reason leads to God, no evidence whatsoever has been provided to show that reason cannot lead to God. I would welcome such evidence.

        • Andrej Tokarčík

          I guess I was saying exactly the same thing, didn't mean to deny the doctrine at all. (Maybe You wanted to reply to David?)

          • Peter

            No, I was just reaffirming what you said.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          Actually, I do not see anywhere that anyone has provided evidence that reason leads to god. I see arguments being made for god, but they rest on unsubstantiated premises, logical fallacies, or equivocation of terms.

          • Peter

            The Church's credibility rests upon her doctrine. If it is proved to be false then Church teaching is false and we are all wasting our time as members. One element of Church doctrine is that the existence of God is known with certainty through his works by the light of human reason, as I said above. If this is falsified then Church doctrine is false.

            However, simply declaring that it is unsubstantiated, fallacious and equivocal is not a serious attempt to falsify this doctrine. The doctrine is there and it is a pillar of Church teaching. If you don't like it or don't agree with it, you must provide evidence as to why it is false. Without your evidence to the contrary, the doctrine still stands.

    • severalspeciesof

      This is a bit late for a reply, but have you read Bart Ehrman's God's Problem- How the Bible Fails to answer Our Most Important Question- Why We Suffer? It's a great read and it clearly shows some of the contradictions of the explanations of our sufferings...

  • Ben Posin

    A lot of people look into the world and see evil and suffering that, to us as humans living in this world, looks superfluous, not necessary to or justifiabile by any "higher" goal. Steve Dillon and I look at that world and say: huh, this isn't what we think a world run by a super powerful, super knowledgeable, super caring being would look like, so, to us, that's a strong indicator that there isn't such a being running the show.

    Your response seems to be that, perhaps because we're humans stuck in the midst of the world, we can't be sure that there isn't some net positive to all the suffering we're seeing, that it's not what a super powerful/caring being would do. And maybe as a purely logical matter, we cannot show "in principle" that God couldn't have a good reason to commit/permit/abide evil. I think that's a debatable point, given the suffering that occurs to the truly innocent, but let's say for argument that you (Brandon) are right. Where does that leave us? For me, it leaves me still thinking that the suffering we see is a pretty strong indicator that there isn't a super good/super powerful being running the show. Maybe there's some possibility that there is, but the suggestion that the evil we see in the world is actually part of something good without an explanation of how this could be the case or any reason to think it is actually the case doesn't move the meter for me much.

    So suffering is one of the reasons I don't believe in a triple omni God--and note that word believe, I'm not claiming knowledge, I'm telling you where the evidence weighs on my internal scale.

    The talk I see throughout in the comments where one resorts to God as the source and definition of goodness strikes me as not very helpful to Brandon's point. It seems to completely strip the ordinary meaning from the word "good" and replace it with an arrow that points at some aspect of God's nature, without explanation for how that part of God's nature is "good" as we normally mean it. But I've gone back and forth with people on this before in previous talks about the Euthyphro dilemma. Happy to explore it deeper with anyone if appropriate here.

  • Howard

    I argue that the world is surprisingly beautiful -- even suspiciously beautiful -- and that the evidence for this is the ease with which we imagine Hell and the difficulty with which we imagine Heaven. There are many depictions of Hell that, though usually theologically "lite", are at least comprehensible and clearly worse than the world as we know it. Depictions of Heaven tend to be either entirely incomprehenible or obviously shallow and unsatisfying. This shows that it would be much easier to work ruin on the world than to give it further perfection, which in turn indicates that the world, though flawed, is still very good indeed.