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Why Virtue Requires an Imperfect World

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NOTE: Today we continue our four-part series by philosopher Fr. Robert Spitzer addressing the question, "Why Would God Allow Suffering Caused by Nature?" Instead of focusing on the existence of moral evil, or suffering caused by the free choice of humans, he examines why an apparently good God would create an imperfect world replete with natural disasters, physical disabilities, and unavoidable heartache. The series will continue on each of the next two Fridays.
 


 
Weakness and vulnerability (arising out of an imperfect natural order) are the conditions necessary for two of the cardinal virtues – courage and self-discipline (the so-called “stoic virtues”). Notice that these virtues define our character precisely because they are chosen in the midst of adversity. They define our ability to “pay a price” for our principles and ideals. This “price” gives existential weight to our principles and ideals, for we cannot hold them cheaply.

This is particularly evident with respect to courage. The principles of love and truth and justice are good in themselves, and they are honorable in action, but when I have to choose them in the midst of the possibility of injury, embarrassment, mortification, or death, then I am not merely admiring them for their intrinsic goodness; I am truly making them my own. The greater the price that I must pay to live the principles and ideals that I admire and honor, the more they become part of me, the more they define my being by the “hard choice” I make. If I choose an honorable thing because I honor it, it speaks only partially to who I am; but if I choose an honorable thing not only because I honor it, but because I want to live it even at the cost of injury, embarrassment, or death, then it truly defines me. Ironically, an imperfect natural order (which gives rise to the real possibility of injury or death) not only gives rise to the possibility of courage, but also to that courage lending existential weight (and therefore dignity) to my choice of the honorable thing.

Is it worth it? Is it worth injury and death to choose the noble thing in the midst of adversity? Only the reader can answer for him or herself. Would you rather have a very, very safe world where you can only be a bystander? Or would you rather have an unsafe world where you can enter into the fray and see who you truly are – how you truly embrace the honorable – even at the cost of injury or death? What would you want for your children – a safe world without the possibility of challenge or self-sacrifice? Without the dignity and self-definition of challenge and self-sacrifice? Or an unsafe world, holding out the possibility and actuality of that ultimate dignity?

I know many atheists are reading this article, but let us presume for a moment that you have faith in an unconditionally loving God who wants to share that love with you for all eternity. If so, then you cannot limit the project of self-definition through suffering and sacrifice to this life alone. The suffering you endure for the sake of the noble, for the sake of love, and for the sake of the kingdom of God defines your being into eternity. It is an indelible mark of who you are forever; your eternal badge of courage. Therefore, the religious perspective goes far beyond the stoic one because it sees eternal consequences and eternal self-definition in acts of self-sacrifice.

Now, ask yourself the above set of questions once again, through this eternal perspective: Would you rather have a very, very safe world where you can only be a bystander? Or would you rather have an unsafe world where you can enter into the fray and see who you truly and eternally are – how you truly and eternally embrace the honorable – even at the cost of injury or death? What would you want for your children – a safe world without the possibility of challenge or self-sacrifice? Without the dignity and self-definition of challenge and self-sacrifice? Or an unsafe world, holding out the possibility and actuality of that ultimate and eternal dignity?

We now move to the second stoic virtue, namely, self-control or self-discipline. It is like the obverse of courage. While courage is the pursuit of virtue over against the possibility of pain, self-control is the pursuit of virtue through the avoidance of pleasure. Many philosophers have recognized that an unmitigated pursuit of pleasure can interfere with, or even undermine the pursuit of what is most noble, most pervasive, and most enduring. Yet, these pleasures cannot be said to be intrinsically evil. Food is obviously a good to human beings seeking nourishment; but an unmitigated pursuit of food (to the point of gluttony) will likely undermine (or at least slow down) the pursuit of the noble. A glass of wine may be good as an element of a convivial meal; however, a half-gallon of wine is likely to result in a fight where once there was friendship, and a rather unproductive morning. The same holds true for most sensorial pleasures.

Similarly, ego-satisfactions can also play a beneficial part in life. Success in a speech might encourage one to do more speaking. Achievement in studies might encourage one to pursue a Ph.D. Praise from others could build up self-esteem. But an unmitigated pursuit of success, achievement, and praise (as an end in itself) will produce unmitigated egocentricity with its consequences of jealousy, fear of failure, ego-sensitivity, blame, rage, contempt, inferiority, superiority, self-pity, and all the other negative emotions which accompany these unmitigated pursuits.

Both sensorial and ego pleasures are a mixed blessing – in their proper perspective they can bring happiness, conviviality, and encouragement toward certain forms of achievement; but pursued as ends in themselves, they will very likely interfere with, and even undermine the pursuit of what is noble, pervasive, and enduring (what is most meaningful and purposeful in life).

This gives rise to the question of why God didn’t create a more perfect human being in a more perfect world. Why didn’t God just give us an “internal regulator” which would not allow us to eat too much, drink too much, desire too much? Why didn’t God put us in a world with just enough resources to satisfy our sensorial and ego-longings just enough for health but not enough to undermine our deepest purpose in life? We return to the same words we have seen time and time again – “choice” and “freedom.”

Choosing to delimit pleasure can be as challenging as choosing pain. Yet one does not have to look very far to see that the delimitation of pleasure for the purpose of the noble is just as self-definitional as choosing pain. There is a definite cost to delimiting pleasure – sometimes it comes in the form of saying “no” amidst an irresistible urge which has taken over the imagination; sometimes it means dealing with an addiction (a habit of overindulgence); sometimes it means feeling profoundly unfree because I deny myself what I am free to pursue; sometimes it makes me look like a “prude” (delimiting pleasure when my friends are not); etc.

The key difficulty with self-control (delimiting pleasure for the sake of the noble) is that it lacks the intrinsic rewards of courage. Courage looks difficult while self-control seems relatively easy; courage seems heroic while self-control seems ordinary – so much so that when one lacks self-control, one is criticized for being immature or sub-par; courage looks like it goes beyond the call of duty while self-control seems to lie perfectly within the call of duty. Seemingly, there is nothing really special about self-control. But this lack of intrinsic reward makes it all the more difficult.

So, why didn’t God just create us with a behavioral governor inside our brains? Why didn’t God create a better human in a better world without the possibility of unmitigated desire for pleasure? Why didn’t God just create us like cows – when we’ve had enough, we just stop? Because God wanted us to define ourselves in terms of ordinary, non-heroic choices. God wanted us to choose the noble in utterly ordinary circumstances, but with a cost – to choose the noble over against another scotch; over against another amusement; over against another material purchase; over against anything else which would undermine our pursuit of the noble. In the day-to-day, ordinary, non-heroic choices we make, an essence (self-definition) begins to form, etched in our character beyond mere thought and aspiration, through the constant pursuit of the little things that enable nobility to emerge from our souls.

We might fail in this pursuit countless times, but our perseverance in struggle, our perseverance in the midst of failure, can be just as effective in etching self-definition into our eternal souls as perfect control and perfect success. In God’s logic of unconditional love (which includes unconditional forgiveness and healing), our acts of contrition, our hope in forgiveness, our perseverance in the struggle for self-control, and our undying desire for the noble are all “part of the cost” of virtue, which makes that virtue more than a mere thought or aspiration. This struggle is the cost which etches that virtue into our very eternal souls – the precious cost of self-definition.

For this reason, God has created us with the capacity for all seven “deadly sins” (gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, anger envy, pride) and a capacity to desire more than we need even to the point of undermining a good and noble life. God has done this to give us the privilege and freedom to choose the noble over against the possibility of the ignoble so that our virtue (or at least our struggle in pursuit of the virtuous) might be our own; so that it might be etched into our eternal souls; so that it might be part of our self-definition for all eternity.

Next week, Fr. Spitzer will explore how an imperfect world produces unconditional love.
 
 
(Image credit: Daily Mail)

Fr. Robert Spitzer

Written by

Fr. Robert Spitzer, PhD is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order, and is currently the President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center. He earned his PhD in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and from 1998 to 2009 was President of Gonzaga University. Fr. Spitzer has made multiple media appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, and Deepak Chopra on God and modern physics), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” and a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth." Fr. Spitzer is the author of five books including New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010); Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011); and Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life Issues (Ignatius, 2011). Follow Fr. Spitzer's work at the Magis Center of Reason and Faith.

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  • Tim Dacey

    I was looking forward to this one. I agree that at least one good answer to problem of evil/suffering is that only in a world with evil/suffering can virtues (like the ones listed) be maximized. However, this creates some serious issues for agents which *cannot* maximize or even demonstrate these virtues. For example, suffering is not limited to just human agents; what about other creatures who experience suffering but do not demonstrate virtue? Or what about human agents which, for some reason or another, cannot demonstrate any virtues? For this Theodicy to be successful I think these questions will need to be answered.

  • Babies die without the opportunity to exhibit the virtues of bravery or self-control.

    • Susan

      Babies die without the opportunity to exhibit the virtues of bravery or self-control.

      According to Spitzer's angle, nearly every earthling that has ever suffered horribly at the hands of natural selection did so in order to give us the opportunity to develop virtue. And somehow, that is good.

      A parent who tortured animals in order to potentially develop my character if I lived long enough is not good. That seems straightforward. What am I missing?

      How many nervous systems were tormented in the history of life on this planet? If you have zero compassion for other earthlings (which seems to be the case here at SN, as their suffering is not even taken into account) how many homo sapiens babies perished from disease, famine, drought, genocide, injury... etc. etc.?

      Human suffering is an eye blink in the context of the suffering of life on this planet. All for us. Thanks but no thanks.

      Any agent who could conjure up reality out of metaphysical nothingness, who had unlimited power and knowledge and decided on natural selection as a means to deveop my moral character is NOT good. There is no excuse.

      Also no evidence for this agent.

      It is an utterly inadequate explanation in the face of the evidence AND it's morally appalling.

      • Michael Murray

        It's interesting to compare theodicy with the kinds of things some women and children say in the face of an abusive male they can't escape from: "He does it because he loves me", "It's my fault I do the wrong thing", "He's promised not to do it again" ...

      • MattyTheD

        In what way is it morally appalling? I mean, by what standard? Are there other worlds that you are comparing this one to?

        • It is morally appalling to kill a baby in order to teach someone a moral lesson.

          • MattyTheD

            Well, I'm not sure that "killing a baby" is the best analogy to "creating a world in which babies are killed".

          • Kyle S.

            I'd imagine the flood God used to kill almost every human and animal on Earth in Genesis 7 killed an awful lot of babies. Also recall that God ordered the killing of men, women, and children in 1 Samuel 15.

            It's no analogy; according to the Bible, God has killed babies or ordered the killing of babies to teach moral lessons.

          • "...and then choosing not to save them."

          • Susan

            Well, I'm not sure that "killing a baby" is the best analogy to "creating a world in which babies are killed".

            I didn't read it as an analogy. I don't see why it's not literal.

            An omnipotent, omniscient agent that created a world from metaphysical nothing in which babies are killed is ultimately culpable for killing babies.

            N'est-ce pas?

        • Susan

          by what standard? Are there other worlds that you are comparing this one to?

          Almost ANY possible world that an omnipotent, omniscient agent would conjure up out of metaphysical nothingness.

          • Michael Murray

            Very sorry to see you go Susan. You will be a great loss. I should also note the banning of Ben Posin a week or so back.

            Susan and Ben can be found feasting at Andrew's table with other atheists who have been banned in battle.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I think this would be one of the best justifications for atheism possible except that it is a strawman argument.

        Spitzer is not arguing that natural selection exists so that we can be better moral agents.

        He is not trying to justify the suffering of innocent persons.

        He's just showing how mature-enough persons can become more noble through exercising the stoic virtues in a way that is only possible in an imperfect world. I think a pagan like Cicero would entirely agree with him.

        I think that is what you are missing in this OP.

        • David Nickol

          I think that is what you are missing in this OP.

          I think you are missing the fact that Spitzer is arguing that God made the world the way he did so that humans would be weak and vulnerable, and his argument is that that is better than if God had made a world in which humans would not be weak and vulnerable.

          I think everyone can agree that adversity (when overcome) may make a person more courageous or more virtuous. But Spitzer is arguing that it is really better to have adversity than not to have it. He ignores the fact that many people fail to overcome adversity, and many people are crushed by adversity through no fault of their own.

          Spitzer's message is that God made the world "imperfect" so people would develop courage and virtue, but the Catholic Church teaches that God did not make the world imperfect at all. God created Adam and Eve under conditions that Spitzer would have to argue (or so it seems to me) were not conducive to developing courage or virtue. Spitzer's whole argument seems to imply that the "preternatural gifts" allegedly given to Adam and Eve, if not lost, would have stood in the way of their moral development.

          • GCBill

            I think everyone can agree that adversity (when overcome) may make a person more courageous or more virtuous. But Spitzer is arguing that it is really better to have adversity than not to have it. He ignores the fact that many people fail to overcome adversity, and many people are crushed by adversity through no fault of their own.

            You're spot on with this observation. In fact, you've stumbled across one of the strongest variants of the argument from evil; one which focuses on the "flourishing and languishing of sentient beings."

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree with your reading of this OP but I think the OP must be terribly wrenched out of its context.

            The fact that he ignores points you think are essential (like people who fail to benefit from adversity) is probably not attributed to him but to the way his material has been cut up.

            The whole "God did it" aspect also must be skewed because no way would he not take God's good creation and the preternatural gifts into account. He's not dumb and superficial.

            Fr. Spitzer should answer these objections, though.

          • David Nickol

            You can read the entire piece in context here. I have only scanned it and searched for a few words (Adam, preternatural, fall, fallen—not found). It looks to me like what we have read so far is not taken out of context at all. In the first part Spitzer said, "Death might be the best gift we have been given . . . . " You yourself recently gave us this quote:

            Gaudium et spes 18

            It is in the face of death that the riddle a human existence grows most acute. Not only is man tormented by pain and by the advancing deterioration of his body, but even more so by a dread of perpetual extinction. He rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and repudiates the utter ruin and total disappearance of his own person. He rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which cannot be reduced to sheer matter. All the endeavors of technology, though useful in the extreme, cannot calm his anxiety; for prolongation of biological life is unable to satisfy that desire for higher life which is inescapably lodged in his breast.

            The whole "God did it" aspect also must be skewed because no way would he not take God's good creation and the preternatural gifts into account. He's not dumb and superficial.

            I am sure Fr. Spitzer is not dumb and superficial, but it certainly seems like he wrote a fourteen-thousand-word essay about why the world is imperfect without referring to Good's initial creation before the fall, the story of Adam and Eve, and the doctrine (dogma? I presume) of the fall. He may not be dumb and superficial, but neither is he infallible.

            Of course, I would say the story of the origins and fall of man as "conservative" Catholics understand it . . .

            390 The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.

            . . . is no longer credible. Perhaps Fr. Spitzer believes some other explanation for an "imperfect" creation is necessary.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think you are right (up until your CCC 390 comment).

            I guess I don't see anything wrong with what Fr. Spitzer says. He is showing good reasons for an imperfect world.

            The problem is in what he does not address. He does not provide justifying reasons for the terrible consequences for an imperfect world. I think that is the gist of what atheists here are attacking him for.

            And, as you point out, he is not accounting for any of the basic doctrine of the Church about original holiness and justice, the Original Sin, and the consequences of Original Sin.

          • Susan

            no way would he not take God's good creation and the preternatural gifts into account.

            What good creation? Hundreds of millions of years of suffering before the laser point in a continuum of life on this planet was(allegedly) offered preternatural gifts which they (allegedly) gave away under circumstances that are incredibly vague and make no sense.

            Very importantly, there's not a speck of evidence for it ever having happened.

            Even if it were all true, how do you explain an all-knowing, all powerful being who could invent anything whole cloth from metaphysical nothingness, deciding to develop nervous systems on one planet in an unfathomably huge cosmos just to torture them for hundreds of millions of years to teach a bit of dust on one single fingernail (in timespace) courage?

          • Bill

            Did God not create a world of which he knew every decision to be made and every outcome? He therefore knows that creating a world with suffering creates a better outcome. He would also know that it is valuable into eternity to demonstrate virtuous courage. God knows, that struggling for self control, has eternal value.

          • David Nickol

            Did God not create a world of which he knew every decision to be made and every outcome?

            No, I don't think so, for two incompatible reasons. First, God may not have created the world. Second, it seems to me that if God can know beforehand that if he creates World A, the outcome will necessarily be X, if he creates World B, the outcome will necessarily be Y, and if he creates World C, the outcome will necessarily be Z, then it is his choice, and his choice alone, what happens if he creates World A, World B, and World C. For example, if he knows that in World A, Judas will betray Jesus, in World B, Judas will not betray Jesus, and in World C, Judas will be the preeminent Apostle whose successors will be popes, if he creates World A, he guarantees that Judas will betray Jesus.

            It is argued that God is outside of time, and therefore his "foreknowledge" doesn't determine what happens. However, if he has the choice of creating an infinite number of different worlds, and he chooses one particular world, then he has indeed chosen exactly what will happen in that world.

        • I would agree that these stoic virtues would not be possible in a perfect world. But Spitzer's thought here:

          I know many atheists are reading this article, but let us presume for a moment that you have faith in an unconditionally loving God who wants to share that love with you for all eternity. If so, then you cannot limit the project of self-definition through suffering and sacrifice to this life alone. The suffering you endure for the sake of the noble, for the sake of love, and for the sake of the kingdom of God defines your being into eternity. It is an indelible mark of who you are forever; your eternal badge of courage. Therefore, the religious perspective goes far beyond the stoic one because it sees eternal consequences and eternal self-definition in acts of self-sacrifice.

          doesn't seem to work because suffering is not always connected to self-definition. There are many examples of valueless suffering.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think Fr Spitzer would say that there is no such thing as valueless suffering, even if it looks that way to us. God can reward or payback suffering infinitely.

          • If I imagine a world where Spitzer were right, it would be a world where everyone would grow to adulthood, experience suffering based on their decisions and convictions, participate fully and bravely in life, making real decisions, with those who make wise decisions developing the character of courage and moderation. This is plainly not the world we live in. There is a lot of valueless suffering, from this vantage. A lot of people who suffer terribly and gain nothing from it. It seems obvious to me that Spitzer is wrong.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think everything Spitzer states is correct. An imperfect word does provide all those opportunities. He is describing the real world but only a slice of it.

            The problem as I see it is in everything he leaves out and which is begging to be addressed.

        • Susan

          it is a strawman argument.

          Really?

          From his article:

          The brief answer lies in the fact that a perfect natural order would leave no room for weakness and vulnerability; yet weakness and vulnerability induce many positive human characteristics, perhaps the most important human characteristics, such as (1) identity transformation, (2) stoic virtues, (3) agape, (4) interdependence and community, and (5) building the kingdom of God.

          I think that's exactly what he's arguing. I read the OP. I am not looking for a strawman to beat up. I am responding to what I read.

          Can you show me in the OP or in the extended article where (what I read as) his main point isn't found in the paragraph I quoted?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You wrote, "According to Spitzer's angle, nearly every earthling that has ever suffered horribly at the hands of natural selection did so in order to give us the opportunity to develop virtue. And somehow, that is good."

            This is a strawman argument because he never argues this. It is your extrapolation from what is not in his argument. Where does he say the opportunity for human beings to develop virtues justifies innocent suffering? He simply does not deal with it in this article or the longer one it is drawn from.

          • Susan

            This is a strawman argument because he never argues this.

            From the OP:

            Would you rather have a very, very safe world where you can only be a bystander? Or would you rather have an unsafe world where you can enter into the fray and see who you truly and eternally are – how you truly and eternally embrace the honorable – even at the cost of injury or death? What would you want for your children – a safe world without the possibility of challenge or self-sacrifice? Without the dignity and self-definition of challenge and self-sacrifice? Or an unsafe world, holding out the possibility and actuality of that ultimate and eternal dignity?

            He seems to be framing the "unsafe world" i.e. a world full of the suffering and death of the innocent as the preferable one. I still don't see the strawman.

            He simply does not deal with it in this article or the longer one it is drawn from.

            Exactly.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If he were to say 'innocent suffering is the justified price of adults being able to actualize themselves', I'd agree with you.

            Come to think of it, that an argument that radical feminists use to justify abortion.

          • Susan

            If he were to say 'innocent suffering is the justified price of adults being able to actualize themselves', I'd agree with you

            R.S. writes: A perfect world might leave us content with pure autonomy and superficiality, and would deprive us of the help we might need to deepen our virtue, relationships, community, compassion, and noble striving for the common good and the kingdom of God. The “perfect world” might deprive us of the impetus toward real perfection, the perfection of love, the perfection which is destined to last forever.

            He then goes on to discuss the five "purposes" of an "imperfect world" (a term which I find grossly inadequate for the problem of suffering).

            Then, his conclusion from the link David gave:

            Why would God create an imperfect world? In a word, for the sake of love; for the sake of people like me; for the sake of love manifest as life transformation, virtue, empathy, compassion, humility, agape; love manifest in creating a better world and even building up the very kingdom of love – the kingdom of the unconditionally loving God. As we have seen, every one of these reasons not only gives noble purpose to this life, but carries forward to its fulfillment in an eternal and perfectly loving life. It is the noble purpose which lasts forever. Temporal imperfection, in the logic of Unconditional Love, leads to eternal perfection.

            How is that NOT saying that innocent suffering is the justified price of adults being able to actualize themselves?

            Come to think of it, that an argument that radical feminists use to justify abortion.

            I've never heard anyone use that argument. It's a cheap shot and an actual strawman. It's also off-topic.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'm a half-decent critical reader and I don't see how you have shown Spitzer approves or justifies innocent suffering. He is completely silent on it (why I don't know).

            Is it impossible to say, "Spitzer is right about how suffering can ennoble people but that in no way justifies the suffering of the innocent"? If you did, I would agree with you.

            The connection to abortion is not a cheap shot but a valid insight on the subject of using adult self-actualization to justify innocent suffering (which is what you think Spitzer has done). Radical feminists do use that line of argument. Even the Supreme Court has:

            The Roe rule's limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to
            participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed. (PP v. Casey)

            There you have it--adults ordering their lives around their liberty to kill their unborn children.

            I don't even know why you consider it a "shot," since atheists don't have any particular view on abortion and I don't have any reason to think you are a radical feminist.

          • Susan

            I don't see how you have shown Spitzer approves or justifies innocent suffering.

            What exactly do you think he is alluding to when he is trying to coax us to choose an "imperfect world" over another one? Why do you think he spells out five "purposes" for an "imperfect world"? Please explain his conclusion.

            I keep linking you to Spitzer's writing and asking you to respond to HIS points and you're not doing that. You're just stating that the case he seems to be making is not the case he is making.

            I am NOT addressing the off-topic comment. I would be happy to address it elsewhere if it is on topic.

        • Susan

          I think this would be one of the best justicifications for atheism.

          No. The best justification for atheism is that I have never seen a theist carry their burden. Atheism is a null position on a single subject. It is fully justified until the claims of theists (of any persuasion) are demonstrated.

          I don't believe you. You have never explained why I should.

    • Recon5

      Which has inspired men and women possessed of courage and discipline to search for ways to stop that from happening. They've done it with medicine, instituting moral codes and developing justice systems to enforce them, and fighting wars.

      • So loving of God to slaughter babies in order to inspire such courage and discipline in others.

        Other gods have inspired greatness in the same way! Saturn, for example, inspired great art:

        http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dd/Rubens_saturn.jpg/320px-Rubens_saturn.jpg

        • Recon5

          Next time He tells you not to eat the tree, listen. Don't eat the tree. It was good *and evil, remember?
          And free will was exercised in the eating of the fruit.

          • If he ever tells me that, I'll happily listen. So far, he hasn't. He hasn't told anyone alive that. I don't believe he's told anyone that at all.

            Besides, if God really was good, how do you explain Brazil's 1-7 loss to Germany? Checkmate, theist!

      • Max Driffill

        That seems kind of a cavalier attitude to the people who suffer and die, so that other people get to demonstrate this virtue. About 24,500 children under five will die today. That is nearly a 100,000 every four days. They will live short Hobbesian lives, but they will not be the only ones who suffer. Their parents, grandparents and other loved ones also get to go on this journey of suffering with them. Do you think, they will feel better or worse that members of organizations like the WHO, Doctors without Borders, will get to exhibit wondrous virtue? Will they take comfort from the fact they and their families have been given a greater opportunity than most to get stoic in the face of crushing misery?

        What are we to make of a god who would allow that kind of suffering, simply for the demonstration of positive emotional states? Why not create a better world than this? Surely that would be within the compass and any competent omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent god?

        • Recon5

          "That seems kind of a cavalier attitude to the people who suffer and die, so that other people get to demonstrate this virtue."

          "Demonstrating" these virtues are the tools we were given to overcome pain and suffering. Or you could hang out here a little longer and whine about how unfair it all is. Your call.
          Free will. You can haz it.

          • Max Driffill

            Recon5,
            I'm not whining. This is a discussion and we disagree. I'm just pointing out what I see as shortcomings in the idea in OP.

            Your appeal to free will is a non-sequitur by the way.

  • Max Driffill

    Um, wasn't the Garden of Eden a place with out any of this virtue then? Wasn't that the kind of world, one with out adversity, Yahweh created in the story? If it was, how could Yahweh hold its first couple responsible for any action they took, seeing how they had no knowledge of good or evil prior to being tricked, gullible as they absolutely had to be?

    • Recon5

      "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eatof it you shall surely die.”
      Gen 2:17

      Pretty straightfoward warning, there.

      • Max Driffill

        I don't think it is when you consider that the people to whom the warning was given had no knowledge of "good and evil." It certainly isn't there fault that they ate the fruit. They were manipulated by the a fairly savvy persuader, equipped with no guile of their own. I'm not sure they are anymore blame worthy than toddlers lured to a car of a predator by the promise of candy and games and fun.

        • Recon5

          That sidesteps the point that Adam, Eve, and toddlers are given instruction for a reason. As are adults, for that matter. It isn't necessary that the consequences be fully understood, it's necessary that you follow the instructions given to avoid them, whether it's "stay in school" or "don't eat the tree".

          • Michael Murray

            When some of us raise children we try to explain when we can the reasons for our rules.

          • Max Driffill

            Actually, I haven't sidestepped the point. The couple in the myth are incapable of adequately understanding the depth of their transgression. They were not sufficiently armed with knowledge that would allow them to reason through the problem presented to them by the talking serpent. The punishment applied to them is not only disproportionate to the crime, but also deeply unjust. In the first place it rather harshly attacks people ignorant of wrongs and rights (they are not capable of really understanding remember-they have no knowledge of good and evil) and in the second it applies the punishment to people (everyone who came after) for a crime in which they had no part. Not very clever for an omniscient being it seems to me.

          • Recon5

            Says who? You? Based on what evidence, Max?

            "The couple in the myth are incapable of adequately understanding the depth of their transgression. They were not sufficiently armed with knowledge that would allow them to reason through the problem presented to them by the talking serpent."

            Is that a fact, Max? It was *original sin*, Max. Their sin convicted an entire race and got it evicted from the Garden and the utopian existence free of pain and suffering *you people are insisting would have been provided to us if only God *reallllly loved us. He bloody well DID.

            Again you implly ignorance where it doesn't exist. Whether exposed to good and evil or not, they very clearly knew wrong from right, as evidenced by their guilt at the transgression. Regardless of whether you believe the punishment "harsh", the crime was great, and they were perfectly cognizant of what the punishment would be.

            "it rather harshly attacks people ignorant of wrongs and rights (they are not capable of really understanding remember-they have no knowledge of good and evil) and in the second it applies the punishment to people (everyone who came after) for a crime in which they had no part."

          • Max Driffill

            Indeed says me and any careful reader of the text who isn't interested in making excuses for the character of Yahweh.

            "Is that a fact, Max? It was *original sin*, Max."

            Adam and Eve's culpability for their actions has to be judged against their ability to understand the nature of right and wrong. It is clear that they didn't know much about right and wrong. They don't even notice that they are naked, or that nakedness in public might be an issue until after they eat the apple. They behave as children behave. No objective reader could say they were well equipped mentally to engage in any kind of sober deliberation about the nature, right or wrong, of their actions. They were ready made to be manipulated by the serpent. They don't even know to hide until after they eat the magical fruit. Their behavior before and after after the eating event demonstrate clearly they didn't know what they were doing morally prior to the event. How did the character of Yahweh, in all his 3-O magnificence miss this terrible turn of events? He seems in the text as shocked as the reader by what has transpired.

            This is their first error by the way. The punishment, especially for poor Eve is deeply unjust. Where is the correction, where is the explanation? There is none, and I foresee trouble brewing owing to a lack of instruction.

            "Their sin convicted an entire race and got it evicted from the Garden and the utopian existence free of pain and suffering.."

            This of course is the most immoral part of the whole tale. Why should any of the descendants of the characters of Adam and Eve share in a punishment for crime in which they took no part? Would you punish the wife and child for the crimes committed by the husband and father? How about the criminal's grandchildren, or great-grandchildren? Would you consign them all to prison, or to the gallows? Hopefully you wouldn't. But if you would such actions would not be just, logical or kind.

            *you people are insisting would have been provided to us if only God *reallllly loved us. He bloody well DID."

            I don't think Yahweh's behavior is at all consistent with anything like healthy love, or affection. It is not behavior consistent with any of those things.

            "Again you implly ignorance where it doesn't exist."
            Their ignorance of right and wrong, clearly does exist. They don't engage in guile, or subterfuge until after they gain a knowledge and understanding of right and wrong after they consume the fruit of knowledge. They don't take the fruit and try to conceal their actions. They eat it right in the open, after a dialogue worthy of children. Then they notice they have genitals. I would say not noticing that you are naked, or that nakedness might imply things or stir up emotion is the very definition of ignorance. They don't cover up their bits until after they eat.

            "Whether exposed to good and evil or not, they very clearly knew wrong from right, as evidenced by their guilt at the transgression."

            They don't know right from wrong until after they eat and gain a knowledge of good and evil. Prior to that, they existed in a state of innocence. The couple hides because of their nakedness.

            "Regardless of whether you believe the punishment "harsh", the crime was great, and they were perfectly cognizant of what the punishment would be.

            For a first error, given their ignorance and innocence (I'm referring to their childlike understanding), and the added insult of punishing all their descendants yes I have no problem saying the punishment was harsh and deeply unjust. Nor was the crime great. They ate some fruit, and didn't understand the gravity, that is to say the rightness and wrongness of what they were doing. It was neat fruit to be sure, but it was still just fruit, and the people who ate were tricked into the action by the most competent deceiver in the book. And that deceiver's marks were mental toddlers. So yes, harsh and unjust.

      • Michael Murray

        I missed the bit about the punishment being heaped on your children and your children's, children all the way down to 1 AD.

        • Recon5

          Read up. Unleashing evil on the world carries consequences.

          • Michael Murray

            The quote you gave was that eating from the tree of knowledge would cause certain death. Nothing about unleashing evil on the world. Nothing about suffering for generations upon generations.

            In most civilised countries we expect people to be able to know what kind of punishment their crimes will bring and we expect the punishment to be proportionate to the crime.

            Your God however reminds me of my late father's favourite joke when he was a high school principal. "We don't have any rules at my school. But God help you if you break them"

  • mriehm

    Now, ask yourself the above set of questions once again, through this eternal perspective: Would you rather have a very, very safe world where you can only be a bystander? Or would you rather have an unsafe world where you can enter into the fray and see who you truly and eternally are – how you truly and eternally embrace the honorable – even at the cost of injury or death? What would you want for your children – a safe world without the possibility of challenge or self-sacrifice? Without the dignity and self-definition of challenge and self-sacrifice? Or an unsafe world, holding out the possibility and actuality of that ultimate and eternal dignity?

    The use of the word "eternity" here is interesting. Arguments like these illustrate that the notions of Eden and heaven are illusory. A life without challenges and risks would be an empty one indeed, whether it is in the here and now, or in eternity.

    We live in the natural world, products of evolution through eons of hardscrabble competition, tooth, claw, hunger, and disease. Courage and a modicum of self-discipline are survival mechanisms.

  • Luke Everett O’Brien

    If a good God actually exists may he bless the atheists that are destroying this thing (and obviously if there is a good one it won't be whatever one is being discussed here)

  • David Nickol

    This gives rise to the question of why God didn’t create a more perfect
    human being in a more perfect world. Why didn’t God just give us an
    “internal regulator” which would not allow us to eat too much, drink too
    much, desire too much?

    According to the Christian story, God did. "Our first parents" (Adam and Eve) initially lived under the kind of "perfect" conditions that Fr. Spitzer apparently would have us celebrate the loss of. God did give the first humans an "internal regulator"—integrity, which is an exemption from concupiscence—the prevent them from desiring too much. Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

    IV. MAN IN PARADISE

    374 The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.

    375 The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original "state of holiness and justice". This grace of original holiness was "to share in. . .divine life".

    376 By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice".

    377 The "mastery" over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self. The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.

    378 The sign of man's familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives "to till it and keep it". Work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation.

    379 This entire harmony of original justice, foreseen for man in God's plan, will be lost by the sin of our first parents.

    Furthermore, it would seem from the Catholic understanding of life after death (for those who are "saved") that existence—for all eternity—will unfortunately not involve "weakness and vulnerability."

    As one or two others noted concerning the first part of this series, Father Spitzer's views do not seem to be in accord with Catholic thought. It would seem that for him, the hero of the creation story is not God, but Adam, whose actions enabled us all to experience weakness and vulnerability.

  • So God made sure to create a world in which millions and millions of children will die because of disease, so we can exercise courage and self-discipline?

    He made sure to create us with the urges to eat more and desire all kinds of unhealthy and deadly excess so that we can know the wonderful virtue of self-discipline?

    No, I utterly disagree that we would be virtueless bystanders if he created a world in which tsunmamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, fatal disease, and statues of the pope crushing the faithful never happened.

    And no, I do not think that courage and self-discipline are terribly good things in and of themselves. I do not spend any time wishing that a war would break out so that I can demonstrate courage or that I would develop more urges for unhealthy things so that I can exercise self-discipline.

  • I think most Christians share the view that it is possible to have perfect world in which sin and suffering are impossible, in which existence is also perfectly meaningful and all individuals have free will.

    It is called heaven.

  • havoc164

    OK, so I can kind of get some parts here. There's suffering to teach a
    moral lesson. Or there's suffering and adversity so you can learn from
    your mistakes. It helps you define yourself. It helps you cultivate a
    sense of self determination. Maybe there's all the horrific things that
    we do to each other out of irresponsibility, ignorance, negligence, or
    just plain spite so we can learn how to be better to each other. Fine,
    this can make sense (though it kind of sounds like someone saying
    "Suffering builds character"), but it does not address any of things
    outside of human control.

    Why all the disease? The famine? Natural disasters? What moral lesson is learned from cancer? Don't get cancer? Seriously?

    I can understand all the suffering brought on by humans themselves. If
    god doesn't want to intervene on that, fine. This melds into the concept
    of "free will" (even though many scientists and philosophers now think
    the concept is bogus). But there is the myriad of causes of suffering
    that are completely out of the control of people. So then, if god does
    exist, it is the thing creating all this extra suffering. Is this what a
    moral, just, intelligent creator would do?

  • Tim Dacey

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZfU4d76btY

    Some good stuff here. I think it should be mentioned as well that there are plenty of Theists (myself somewhat included) who disagree with Fr. Spitzer's argument above and who may disagree generally with the ways to respond to the problem of evil.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think Fr. Spitzer's arguments make complete sense, but only in a specific and limited context. That context is maturing human beings living in an imperfect world. He describes how people like have the opportunity to grow in beautiful virtues in a way we never could if our world were not so imperfect.

    These virtues would be no use to us in a perfect world like the Garden of Eden or in heaven, as far as I can see.

    His argument here does nothing to justify innocent suffering. He is also not justifying animal suffering or the suffering of children too young to grow in stoic virtues.

    • Luke Everett O’Brien

      I think this is approving of detriment as a means to an end 101 here, so whatever god this is, its compromising big time, similar concept as the last article.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        I don't know what your comment means.

        • Luke Everett O’Brien

          it is approving that humans experience some lack for the reason that some good is the end result

          and the intention is a compromise with human well being. It is also not in accordance with Catholic teachings

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Can you demonstrate from Catholic teaching that it is wrong to permit or approve some privation for a good end result?

          • Luke Everett O’Brien

            Do you believe that God is good?

            "The end does not justify the means" is a vital part of Catholic thought that athiests seem to get more then Catholics

            do you think God is perfectly opposed to any kind of deminishment to fellow humans or don't you? If you don't think he is then he is not a very huministic god is he, no reason for humans to care about a god who does not care about them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Luke,
            Aquinas said that God would not permit evil if he could not bring a greater good from it. That is the only sense in which Fr. Spitzer could be speaking.

          • Luke Everett O’Brien

            The "permit" would only be due to inability to negate it due to inability to compromise at a more fundamental level, however this does not equate to he "approves" of it or does not oppose it.

            The interpretation of this statement as God "approving" of evil as a means to an end, would be a misinterpretation, and not in accordance with other doctine

          • Susan

            Aquinas said that God would not permit evil if he could not bring a greater good from it.

            Aquinas said lots of things. That doesn't mean he was correct. Without resorting to a priori reasoning, there is no argument that says that even if there could be an immaterial mind that it is necessarily good.. Nor that defines goodness in any adequate way. Aquinas began with the assumption that good and "God" are indistinguishable. That's just (to quote a recently banned member) silly pants.
            If a hyper-dimensional alien created our universe, there is no reason to think it shares our morality or gives a hoot about any of us.
            I see no reason to call it a "god" but I see no reason to call anything a "god". I'm just interested in the claims you're making and your ability to support them.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You reject deductive rationality?

            Using deductive reasoning Aquinas both established that God exists, there can be only one, and many, many aspects of God's being, including his goodness. I think the "realist" philosophical tradition has defined all the terms you want defined adequately. Aquinas did not begin with an assumption that God and good are synonymous. He demonstrated it rationally.

            If a hype-dimensional alien created our universe, how could xe have created it except from the resources xe possessed in ximself, including xis morality?

          • Susan

            You rejective deductive rationality?

            It's only useful where it can be applied. It is only as useful as its premises. If its premises can't be shown to be necessarily true, there's no reason to think it's not make-believe. We can invent an infinite number of deductive proofs for things that don't exist. .

            Aquinas both established that God exists

            No. He didn't.

            If a hype-dimensional alien created our universe, how could xe have created it except from the resources xe possessed in ximself, including xis morality?

            He could have had external resources and been amoral. How would you know?

            Anyway, you missed the bigger point, that even if you could demonstrate that mind proceeds matter, which you never have, that there's no reason to think that mind is talking to you or your church or that it has anything to do with human claims.

            No justification of omniscience, or omnipotence or any kind of moral authority.

            You'd just have a mind that made something. And you have never even shown you have that.

          • Max Driffill

            This is exactly true. Telling people that Aquinas said X, as if that formed some kind of evidence for a case is useless. It may be an interesting thing that he said, or it may not be, but all you are doing is appealing to an authority, and this we all know is a logical fallacy. Unless you can demonstrate that Aquinas' arguments are sound then it is not very useful to throw what he said around.

  • Loreen Lee

    I find it much more logical to argue that an imperfect world requires the development of virtue, than what is presented here: i.e. that virtue requires an imperfect world. I think this reversal develops from placing the argument within the context of theodicy. It has allowed me to see clearly Bertrand Russel's objection to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, i.e. putting the cart before the horse: i.e. theology before natural science or philosophy within the context of examining 'facts'. The examination of ideas themselves however, is needed as we have to examine correspondences between them even though as I learned from a previous post, it may not be possible to find such correlations within the 'natural world'. For my part, I have no difficulty accepting that I do not live in a perfect world. I do believe it is fundamental to Christianity to believe in the divine perspective that the 'universe' is good. It is a sad thing, in this regard, that in 'eating the apple' Adam and Eve could see only their 'shame' and the need to develop 'virtue'. .

  • Loreen Lee

    Just came across today's reading, after writing the above comment. It made me think that maybe the phrase: 'eating of the fruit' has something to do with being of the flesh, being of this world, what have you. (i.e. our relationship to the fruit of the garden of Eden) Just trying to 'figure this thing out'!!! Here's the Gospel that prompted this idea that it might be possible to make such a distinction.
    Brothers and sisters:
    You are not in the flesh;
    on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
    if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
    Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
    If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
    the one who raised Christ from the dead
    will give life to your mortal bodies also,
    through his Spirit that dwells in you.
    Consequently, brothers and sisters,
    we are not debtors to the flesh,
    to live according to the flesh.
    For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
    but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
    you will live.

  • Danny Getchell

    Based on prior articles and posts, it seems that William Lane Craig, although himself not a Catholic, is recognized by many Catholic apologists as a reasonably authoritative modern voice on the nature of God.

    Given that, I am surprised that there is not more consideration given here to Craig's well-known argument:

    "I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition. He can give and take life as He chooses. We all recognize this when we accuse some authority who presumes to take life as “playing God.” Human authorities arrogate to themselves rights which belong only to God. God is under no obligation whatsoever to extend my life for another second. If He wanted to strike me dead right now, that’s His prerogative."

    Found here: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites

    It seems to me that this position perfectly fits the facts of the universe as observed and requires no evasiveness whatever.

    • I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition.

      Positing such an evil God or a morally neutral God may be a logical escape hatch from the usual criticisms of the problem of evil, but it leaves theists who would take that tack with a concept of a God that we'd have to say looks more condemnable than praiseworthy.

  • So, why didn’t God just create us with a behavioral governor inside our brains? Why didn’t God create a better human in a better world without the possibility of unmitigated desire for pleasure? Why didn’t God just create us like cows – when we’ve had enough, we just stop? Because God wanted us to define ourselves in terms of ordinary, non-heroic choices. God wanted us to choose the noble in utterly ordinary circumstances, but with a cost – to choose the noble over against another scotch; over against another amusement; over against another material purchase; over against anything else which would undermine our pursuit of the noble.

    A: Why didn't God just do XYZ?
    T: Because God wanted UVW.
    A: How do you know God wanted UVW?
    T: I made it up because it sounded nice. Now I'm going to believe it anyway even though that's bonkers because I know it's my own baseless speculation.
    A: I feel like you're not really getting the point of asking yourself "How do you know?".

  • David Nickol

    Could a defender of Fr. Spitzer's views please define perfect or imperfect? It simply makes no sense to me to claim that an imperfect world is better than a perfect world.

    Implicit in Fr. Spitzer's view is the idea that life on earth is something like a test. Or perhaps life on earth is class and life ends with a pass/fail test. If things are too easy, nobody has to work, and everybody passes the test. But what if things are too hard? What if large number of people can't master the material and wind up failing? I don't believe the Catholic Church has ever speculated about the number of people who are "saved," but it seems to me there are hints in the New Testament that it's a minority. If so, it appears that God, who allegedly loves everyone and wants everyone to be saved, has designed a world in which most people are not saved.

    Whenever I think about this series, the thought runs through my head that we have to have a world in which torture is possible, otherwise no one could heroically hold up under torture.

    • "Could a defender of Fr. Spitzer's views please define perfect or imperfect? It simply makes no sense to me to claim that an imperfect world is better than a perfect world."

      I can't speak for Fr. Spitzer, but to me it seems clear that by "perfect" he means a world free of defect, suffering, hardship, or pain. An "imperfect" world would include those things.

      • David Nickol

        . . . . it seems clear that by "perfect" he means a world free of defect, suffering, hardship, or pain.

        Like the world as God originally created it—and meant it to be—before the fall? As I have argued over and over, Catholicism, as I understands it, maintains that God's creation was perfect, and that the sin of Adam and Eve seriously marred it. But it is clear that Fr. Spitzer maintains that God intended the world to be imperfect, otherwise there would be no virtue.

        In any case, although it is fairly obvious what Fr. Spitzer means by perfect, he is clearly using the word to mean something other than what it is commonly understood to mean, since his argument is that an imperfect world is better than a perfect one. Under what other circumstances could someone maintain that for X (anything at all imaginable) and imperfect X is better than a perfect X?

        Also, Fr. Spitzer comes nowhere near to demonstrating that this imperfect world is the best of imperfect worlds. I believe it is taught somewhere in Catholicism that God could indeed have made a better world than this one. Setting aside the obvious question ("Why didn't he?") one is still left with the question of where on the scale of imperfect worlds ours is. Is it not possible to think of a better world than this one that would still allow all the things Fr. Spitzer says are valuable? And even if you or I can't answer that question, isn't it putting a limitation on God to assume he couldn't have created a much better world than this one that would accomplish all his goals? Is what we experience really the best an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God can do?

  • severalspeciesof

    The suffering you endure for the sake of the noble, for the sake of
    love, and for the sake of the kingdom of God defines your being into
    eternity. It is an indelible mark of who you are forever; your eternal
    badge of courage. Therefore, the religious perspective goes far beyond
    the stoic one because it sees eternal consequences and eternal
    self-definition in acts of self-sacrifice.

    To what good is that in a 'world' (heaven) where supposedly time doesn't exist? This whole OP is suggesting that life here is one great big test, and depending on the grade we get, that will define us forever
    ____________________________________
    [An aside] I can see it now:

    Heavenly entity 1: "So, I'm an A+, what are you?"

    Entity 2: *holds head down (or whatever it would be)* "I'm only a C-"

    Entity 1: "Oh... that's too bad"
    ____________________________________
    Why?

    What's the point of a test if in the end one doesn't need it (what my son continually complains about regarding school ;-) )?

    That would be like building a car, testing to see if it will work under water, complain and get irate or sad when it doesn't perform well, all with the knowledge that the car will ultimately be used only on land.
    Sometimes I think that 'the problem of evil and suffering' via an omnibenevolent being is nothing once the idea of the 'eternity' of heaven (the supposed 'perfect essence') is introduced.