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How an Imperfect World Produces Unconditional Love


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.

In philosophy, agape is one of the highest forms of love. For our purpose here, suffice it to say that agape is a gift of self which is frequently expressed in self-sacrifice. It is grounded in empathy with the other which makes transparent the unique and intrinsic goodness, worthiness, and lovability of that other, which creates a unity with that other whereby doing the good for the other is just as easy, if not easier, than doing the good for oneself. As such, agape arises out of a desire to give life to the intrinsically valuable and lovable other. That other could be a stranger or a friend.

Furthermore, agape seeks no reward – neither the reward of romantic feelings intrinsic to eros (romantic love), nor the reward of reciprocal commitment and care intrinsic to philia (friendship), nor even the feelings of love and delight intrinsic to storge (affection). In agape, it is sufficient to see the other as valuable and lovable in him or herself. The well-being of the other (in him or herself) is a sufficient reward for the commitment of one’s time, future, psychic energy, physical energy, resources, and even self-sacrifice. The well-being of the other in him or herself is its own reward.

As can be seen, agape begins with empathy, a feeling for another, or perhaps better, a feeling with another. That produces a recognition of the unique and intrinsic goodness and lovability of the other, which produces “caring for” and “caring about” the other (in him or herself). Finally, that leads to unity with the other whereby doing the good for the other is just as easy if not easier than doing the good for oneself.

Most of us would agree to the proposition that this “feeling for and with another” is quite natural. We can meet another for a few moments and get a sense of the goodness and lovability of another from that other’s mere benevolent glance. We can see another in need and intuit the worthiness of that other by merely looking into their eyes. We can meet our students on the first day of class and intuit from the ethos exuded by them that they are worth our time and energy. Mere presence, mere tone of voice, mere benevolent glance engenders a recognition of unique and intrinsic goodness and lovability which causes us to care about the other, to protect the other, to attend to the other’s needs, to spend time with the other, and even to sacrifice oneself for the other – even a total stranger. It is as if we have a receptor, like a radio antenna, which is attuned to the frequency of the other’s unique and intrinsic goodness and lovability, and when the signal comes, whether it be from a smile, an utterance, a look of need, we connect in a single feeling which engenders a gift of self.

Yet, even though most would agree that empathy is natural to us, we must hasten to add that our own desires for autonomy and ego-fulfillment can block our receptivity to the other’s “signal.” We can become so self-absorbed or self-involved that we forget to turn on the receiver, and even if we have turned on the receiver, we have the volume turned down so low that it cannot produce adequate output in our hearts. It is at this juncture that suffering – particularly the suffering of weakness and vulnerability arising out of an imperfect world, proves to be most helpful.

This point may be illustrated by a story my father told me when I was a boy. I think he meant it more as a parable about how some attitudes can lead some people to become believers and other people to become unbelievers and even malcontents. But it became for me a first glimpse into the interrelationship between suffering and compassion, love and lovability, trust and trustworthiness, co-responsibility and dignity, and the nature of God.

Once upon a time, God created a world at a banquet table. He had everyone sit down, and served up a sumptuous feast. Unfortunately, He did not provide any of the people at the table with wrists or elbows. As a consequence, nobody could feed themselves. All they could do was feel acute hunger while gazing at the feast.

This provoked a variety of responses. At one end of the table, a group began to conjecture that God could not possibly be all-powerful, for if He were, He would have been all-knowing, and would have realized that it would have been far more perfect to create persons with wrists and elbows so that they could eat sumptuous feasts placed before them. The refrain was frequently heard, “Any fool can see that some pivot point on the arm would be preferable to the impoverished straight ones with which we have been provided!”

A second group retorted, “If there really is a God, it would seem that He would have to be all-powerful and all-knowing, in which case, He would not make elementary mistakes. If God is God, He could have made a better creature (e.g., with elbows). If God exists, and in His omniscience has created us without elbows or wrists, He must have a cruel streak, perhaps even a sadistic streak. At the very minimum, He certainly cannot be all-loving.”

A third group responded by noting that the attributes of “all-powerful” and “all-loving” would seem to belong to God by nature, for love is positive, and God is purely positive, therefore, God (not being devoid of any positivity) would have to be pure love. They then concluded that God could not exist at all, for it was clear that the people at the table were set into a condition that was certainly less than perfect (which seemed to betoken an imperfectly loving God). They conjectured, “We should not ask where the banquet came from, let alone where we come from, but just accept the fact that life is inexplicable and absurd. After all, we have been created to suffer, but an all-loving God (which God would have to be, if He existed) would not have done this. Our only recourse is to face, with authenticity and courage, the absence of God in the world, and to embrace the despair and absurdity of life.”

A fourth group was listening to the responses of the first three, but did not seem to be engaged by the heavily theoretical discourse. A few of them began to look across the table, and in an act of compassion, noticed that even though they could not feed themselves, they could feed the person across the table. In an act of freely choosing to feed the other first, of letting go of the resentment about not being able to “do it for myself,” they began to feed one another. At once, agape was discovered in freedom, while their very real need to eat was satisfied.

This parable reveals a key insight into suffering, namely, that “empathy has reasons that negative theorizing knows not of.” The first three groups had all assumed that weakness and vulnerability were essentially negative, and because of this, they assumed that either God had made a mistake or He was defective in love. Their preoccupation with the negativity of weakness distracted them from discovering, in that same weakness, the positive, empathetic, compassionate responsiveness to the need of the other which grounds the unity and generativity of love. This lesson holds the key not only to the meaning of suffering but also to the life and joy of agape.

The experience of the fourth group at the table reveals by God would create us into an imperfect world – because the imperfection of the human condition leads to weakness and vulnerability, and this weakness and vulnerability provide invaluable assistance in directing us toward empathy and compassion, and even in receiving the empathy and compassion from another.

As I've noted in past posts, weakness and vulnerability are not required for empathy and compassion, for many people will find empathy and compassion to be their own reward. They will see the positivity of empathy and compassion as good for both others and themselves.

Again, I must repeat that this was certainly not the case for me. Even though I saw the intrinsic goodness and worthwhileness of empathy and compassion (for both myself and others), my egocentricity and desire for autonomy created such powerful blocks that I could not move myself to what I thought was my life’s purpose and destiny. I needed to be knocked off my pedestal; I needed to be released from the spell of autonomy and egocentricity through sheer weakness and vulnerability. This happened to me – the weakness and vulnerability of an imperfect genome in imperfect conditions in an imperfect world.

Like the fourth group in the parable, my imperfect condition gave me a moment to reconsider the entire meaning of life – what really made life worth living, and it was here that I discovered empathy, love, and even compassion. The process was gradual, but the “thorn in the flesh” gave me the very real assistance I needed to open myself to love as a meaning of life.

Is suffering really necessary for agape (empathy, the acceptance of love’s vulnerability, humility, forgiveness, and compassion)? For a being like God, it is not, for God can, in a timeless, completely transparent act, through His perfect power and love, achieve perfect empathy, perfect acceptance of love’s vulnerability, perfect humility, perfect forgiveness, and perfect compassion. I suppose angelic beings could also do this in a timeless and transparent way.

There are some people who can easily move to this position without much assistance from suffering. But for people like me, suffering is absolutely indispensable to removing the blocks to agape presented by my egocentric and autonomous desires, my belief in the cultural myth of self-sufficiency, my underestimation of the goodness and love of other people, and all the other limitations to my head and heart.

God allowed an imperfect physical nature and an imperfect world for people like me not only to actualize agape freely (at least partially), but also, and perhaps more importantly, to even notice it. God asks people who are better than me in love to patiently bear with the trials that are indispensable for people like me to arrive at an insight about empathy, humility, forgiveness, and compassion. But then again, they already have the empathy, humility, and compassion to do this, so God’s request is truly achievable.

God works through this suffering. He doesn’t waste any of it. For those who are open to seeing the horizon of love embedded in it, there is a future, nay, an eternity for each of us to manifest our own unique brand of unconditional love. Without suffering, I do not think I could have even begun to move freely toward that horizon which is my eternal destiny and joy.

Next week, Fr. Spitzer will finish our series by exploring why God provides room to build a better world.
(Image credit: Vew Online)

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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  • Let us then hope that there is great suffering in the new heavens and the new earth. Otherwise, those living on the new earth may forget to love one another.

    • Loreen Lee

      If there was unconditional love, there would not be the great schism that currently exists between so many strange and estranged notions. I have recently followed a link to this site again, only to find myself attempting l: to defend Brandon Vogt against what I now deem to understand as interpretations based on feelings of self-defense. Please search out the site for the comments if you are interested. But then it would seem that such defense can be attributed to parties on both sides of the argument.

      As I have already stated I do not want the position of being the mediator. It is not my jurisdiction, and in keeping with Brandon Vogt's judgment, I too soon found myself in a similar position that possibly motivates his action with respect to the comments directed to my opinion. Yet, I can see the 'truth' in each side's position with respect to the other party in the conflict.

      How does this relate to Adam and Eve and unconditional love. In a way, I am no longer looking for any 'reason' within mankind, per se, that will steer the focus from what I considered to be the 'desire'/concupiscence' of 'original sin'. in a former article. Indeed, although I see the truth both in Christianity and Buddhism, I also more readily respect the explanation offered by the 'atheists' or 'evidence minded scientists' and their objections, that an explanation of a universal fall from grace is not the only explanation.

      Buddhism encourages compassion, for instance, because Samsara is the result of some natural law and thus mankind, unlike Christianity is 'not responsible' for his limitations, although he/she is responsible for developing the necessary awareness needed to reach a nirvana.. In Christianity the proceeding state is necessary for the fall to occur, through which mankind is determined to be responsible for the limitations found within nature. Personally, I believe the Christian 'story' is both far more challenging, and at the same time a greater source of hope.

      In keeping with the Aesthetic Proof, based on Kant's Power of Judgment, it has become much clearer to me during this dialogue with those who feel estranged, that mankind generally is susceptible to what we call 'poor judgment', and that this is not necessarily based on the desire I have attempted to analyze. Psychologists, rather than exorcists, may I suggest might be better equipped to handle the apparent low self-esteem, the needs for self-defense, the interpretations of what other's say according to their limited perspective.

      And yes I do buy Kant's Copernican revolution - that we see the world, and as the Old Testament gives evidence, even God, within the limitations of our own perceptions/rationale. To be a realist in the modern sense of the world, and not base my perceptions of the world on the naive realism of Aristotle, I don't believe that the examples I have encountered over the last days indicate to me that any degree of 'unconditional love' has been established, either through God's love, or through love of neighbor as self for the love of God. If anything is true, Nature remains an insurmountable 'condition'. which require us to adopt religious myths and/or scientific explanations for our condition, each having it's own particular benefits and limitations.

      And in Christianity,we have the 'idea'. And I do not think it is a delusion to 'believe' in the possibility of a new world, nor a heaven on earth. If we didn't have such a 'rational' goal or purpose, even if unattainable, why would we attempt to achieve it. Thank dog/god for the beauty and sublimity we find within our present world and yes, even if we look for it, without our communication with our fellow man.

      May we all find the unconditional love of a world of agape in which we can indeed see through the looking glass clearly instead of darkly. But to do so, we need first to 'see' our selves. We need the awareness of a Buddha, the love of a messiah, and the psychologically detailed analysis of the science we call 'mental health'.

    • TomD123

      I understand what you are saying but I think that your comment confuses the nature of this world and the next according to Catholic teaching.

      The issue is that the next world isn't merely a continuation of this world albeit much happier. It is more like the experience of our love that we build in this world. Also, there is probably some great change in terms of time as we know it (if it exists at all in the afterlife) so it is not as though we will be continually making decisions to love one another in the face of difficulty. Rather, we continuously experience the choice which we made on this earth to give of ourselves for the sake of others

      • And God is not powerful enough to bring about this last and perfect state without having terrible suffering beforehand?

        • TomD123

          God cannot cause a contradiction. If God wishes to bring about the kind of perfect state that is perfect due to people's love, then I would say that the argument of this series of articles is that suffering plays a key role in love. Of course, suffering is a result of sin, but the point is God allows it to remain so that He can bring good out of it...and perhaps that good, namely, the "last and perfect state" exists on account of that love which developed in a fallen world.

          There may be other states of existence that are perfect in some sense, maybe in our world, maybe in entirely different worlds. These however would not have the same type of goodness that heaven is supposed to have.

          • Michael Murray

            God cannot cause a contradiction.

            Why not ? Who are we to tell God what He can't do ?

          • Loreen Lee

            I came to the conclusion long ago that 'God' had to be a contradiction!!!!! Some kind of unity of opposites.

          • TomD123

            Well if He can, then the problem of evil is not an issue for Him now is it? I mean, if God can make contradictions true, He can make it that evil in the world disproves His existence or goodness BUT at the same time it doesn't!

            More seriously however, the reason that God can't make contradictions true is that contradictions aren't really *things* at all. Concepts in contradictions negate each other. So a square-circle isn't some type of thing that God can't make. Rather, a square-circle isn't even a coherent notion. Simply stringing words together doesn't make God capable of producing the effect. You might as well ask "Can God adkflsjf;dlsfj?" The point is that this question is meaningless because that list of characters has no meaning. Likewise, square circles and other contradictions have no meaning and asking God to produce them is asking a meaningless question.

          • I cannot imagine a contradiction involved in starting from the last state, exactly as that state will be, foregoing this earlier state altogether. Maybe I lack imagination. What possible contradiction would this involve?

          • TomD123

            Well, this perfect state is supposed to be dependent on charity in some sense or to some degree. Hence, since it is part of the essence of this state (i.e. heaven) that it exists because of charity, it would be metaphysically necessary that charity exists in order to have this final state. Hence to have heaven without charity would, according to Catholic theology, be a contradiction. This does not mean that happiness or anything good full stop cannot exist without charity, only that heaven as understood by theologians as the perfect union of a rational creature (in this case, man) with God, could not exist without charity.

            In order to have the virtue of charity, we must first choose to be charitable, in other words, chose to love God. In order to experience the fruits of this love, we first must obtain this virtue. Hence, if heaven is the state of the enjoyment of the fruit of the virtue, there must be a state beforehand which involves choosing to be charitable. So to have heaven without this previous state involves contradiction because it amounts to heaven without charity.

          • Max Driffill

            How can charity exist in a place, heaven, that doesn't require it?

          • TomD123

            Heaven does require it. It requires it by necessity, that is my point, maybe I was not clear enough.

            Heaven however is distinguished from this life in that it is not the place or state in which we choose to be charitable. In other words, this state of existence is the period when we become charitable, heaven is the state where we experience the fruits of charity

          • David Nickol

            Don't those in heaven (saints) choose to perform charitable acts when they intercede with God on behalf of people who pray to them? Or do they have no choice and intercede because in heaven they can't help it?

          • TomD123

            I think that we can't just look at this from the perspective of heaven being merely more time in a better place. It is an altogether different type of reality.

            In answer to the first question, I would say yes. They do choose to intercede for us. But I would qualify this by saying that I think it is better to understand this choice that exists from the first moment we exist in heaven and then throughout. Part of the reason is that our experience of time in heaven and the experience of how we know and will things will be very different than what we experience now.

            In answer to the second question, I think it is not entirely clear. On the one hand, I think that the choice is free. But the reason I think that it is free is because I think that it is a result of being a charitable person which is a result of choosing good instead of evil in this life. In the next, no one will be free to choose evil.

          • Max Driffill

            I don't think we can actually say anything about heaven, or hell at all until we possess some evidence that they exist. But this is what comes from reasoning so far ahead of the evidence.

          • TomD123

            This is the common claim that atheists make and it really really misses the mark. Christians do not believe in heaven without evidence. Now, maybe you think that the evidence that us Christians put forward is insufficient, but that does not mean that we are thinking "I believe this without evidence no need for evidence cuz I am dumb enough not to even think about evidence!"

            Christians believe that the evidence for the truth of heaven is God's revelation of it. This of course raises the question of how do we know God has revealed anything. Christians would appeal to a number of different pieces of evidence for this, for instance, miracles. But that is another debate, that is a debate about whether God has revealed Himself not a debate about the nature of heaven.

            So we can say things about heaven. We can reason about heaven based on what God has revealed and based on what we can reason philosophically about the nature of the soul, God, and that kind of thing.

          • Max Driffill

            We can also reason about what takedowns Odysseus used to topple Ajax the Tall at the funeral games for Patroclus. It might be a fun endeavor too, but I'm not sure it could tell us much about reality.

          • TomD123

            This in now way addresses what I said. I said we can reason about heaven (meaning the alleged reality of heaven) because we have reason to believe that it exists. That reason is the revelation of God. There is evidence in my view to show that God has revealed Himself through Catholicism. You disagree. But to say that a Christian just believes things without evidence is just a straw-man. Most Christians have reasons for what they believe. I believe that my reasons are sufficient to convince me. You would disagree, but I certainly have what I hold to be evidence.

          • David Nickol

            In the next, no one will be free to choose evil.

            So all those who go to heaven without making a free choice on earth—say, small infants baptized before they die—will never experience free will. They had no choices to make, and not ability to make them, on earth, and they will not be free to choose evil in heaven.

            As Michael Murray and I have been discussing elsewhere, it is the nature of human reproduction that 60% to 80% of conceptions result in pre-embryos that die within a few days, without ever implanting. And pregnant woman (in whose wombs embryos have implanted) have a miscarriage rate from 10% to 15%. Assuming all of those unborn infants go to heaven (the Church can't say positively that they do) it would seem that most people in heaven will never have exercised free will or made a choice of any kind.

            It seems to me that having vast numbers of people go to heaven without making a choice is exactly the kind of thing apologists for the necessity of an "imperfect world" claim God can't, or doesn't want, to do. God gives us free will so we love him freely, and he gives us life on earth so we can make a free choice for or against him. And yet it appears in the majority of cases—if life (personhood) begins at conception—that the majority of people never choose God.

            Meanwhile, the minority of us who have the alleged benefit of life on earth, with the "gifts" of weakness and vulnerability, are in danger of eternal punishment. It seems to me anyone who had a rational choice to make between, say, dying the day of his or her baptism or living a long life on earth would choose dying in infancy. What you have to gain on earth is perhaps a higher place in heaven, where even the lowest enjoy eternal bliss. What you risk losing by living a life on earth is of such magnitude that it would be insane to take the risk, if you had any choice (which of course you don't).

            So if life (personhood) begins at conception, the whole system needs to be explained. Why do so many people (the majority) die so early that they never exercise free will to make the choices it is claimed God wants us to make freely? Those who die before birth (or before the age of reason) simply have no place in the whole scheme of things in which free will is so highly valued that suffering and evil must be permitted by God.

          • TomD123

            (1) It is true that those who die before the age of reason had no ability to chose evil. As rational creatures they are capable of experiencing the beatific vision although they never had the ability to chose for or against God, hence never the opportunity to grow in love of God and gain supernatural merit.

            (2) The statistic is contraversial for a number of reasons. This is why estimates often range as low as 30% and as high as 90%...in other words, it is difficult to do effective research in this area. Secondarily, this is only problematic if the embryo has an immortal soul. This is a different issue from the purposes of this present series and actually different than the problem of evil altogether. Further, it isn't even clear that it is Catholic Church teaching that every embryo has a soul, although it is Church teaching that destroying an embryo is wrong (the CDF issued a document on this in the 70s I believe. I could find it if you want). Finally, even if the soul and body are joined at conception ordinarily (which I do hold as would most Christians) it could still plausibly be the case that in many instances of the embryo failing to implant, no soul was present. This would be because no human body was present either---some have such bad abnormalities that is probably better scientifically to describe the life as not a human organism but some sort of malformed egg-sperm combination. I see no reason why we must assume that simply because sperm and egg combined that they combined in such a way to produce a human organism unless those traits characteristic of a human organism are present.

            (3) "God gives us free will so we love him freely, and he gives us life on earth so we can make a free choice for or against him." This is true. Hence there are creatures like us. It may also be true that there are some creatures that God does not give an opportunity like us. This would be those who die before the age of reason. Would this negate the fact that he values beings like us who have the power to chose for or against Him? Of course not. Would it mean that having creatures like us are superfluous? No. The reason is that our ability to chose for or against God is unique. The fact that we can chose against God means that choosing God is especially virtuous. Essentially, this is necessary for the kind of union God wants to have with us. That doesn't mean that He can't create humans who never chose against Him...i.e. those who die before age 7 or so. It would just mean that they would not be capable of the same kind of happiness--but at the same time they couldn't end up in hell.

            (4) "What you have to gain on earth is perhaps a higher place in heaven, where even the lowest enjoy eternal bliss." I get what you are saying here. But I think there are a few problems: first of all, it treats the heaven/hell choice as if it were a random lottery. I would agree with you if that were the case, but it is a choice. Second, we do not know what a different degree of eternal bliss is like. St. Theresa said she would gladly suffer 1000 years on the earth in order to gain the extra degree of happiness in heaven for saying one Hail Mary. She was supposedly a mystic. Third, even if that is what you would chose, it doesn't mean that's what God ought to give you. God gives people different degrees of happiness, different oppurtortunities for grace, etc. For instance, Mary was given the greatest gift of anybody and has the greatest happiness of anybody. This is because God singled her out....God can do that, I don't see how that is in any way unjust.

            (5) Side note: The vast majority of miscarriages would mean no suffering for the embryo/fetus.

          • Max Driffill

            How can charity exist when there is no need for it? How can I choose to be charitable in a place that doesn't require charity. If heaven is a perfect place, absent woes and strife and needs of any kind, in what sense can charity exist in any meaningful way. Telling me that it will exist by necessity isn't explaining anything by the way.

          • TomD123

            I don't think there is no need for charity in heaven. There is need for it, in fact, heaven could not exist without charity. The very foundation of heaven is experiencing the fruit of charity, namely, perfect union with God.

            You aren't really making a new choice to be charitable. The basic way I look at it is that in this life we make choices and become a certain type of person- a charitable one or an uncharitable one. After this life, if we are charitable, our wills are likewise charitable (where charity is understood as a habitual state of the will- i.e. a virtue). So in heaven, it is not as though we have more opportunities to exercise charity, rather, we are there because we are charitable people.

            Charity exists in a meaningful way not because people repeatedly have chances to do the charitable thing (e.g. give to the poor) but because we have made ourselves into charitable people. In other words, in virtue of the fact that a person in heaven is charitable, she also continuously wills what God wills and wills the good of those on earth.

            I know that obviously saying something exists by necessity doesn't explain anything okay? I was responding to you saying "how can charity exist in a place that doesn't require it?" To which I said heaven does require it not to prove to you that it does, but because it appeared as though you were under the impression that I thought it did not. Hence I said not only do I think heaven requires it, but it requires it by necessity, an even stronger claim.

          • Max Driffill

            How would you express it? If it just is? How could you you be said to express anything? Heaven seems, on this view, spectacularly boring. unemotional, and deeply without meaning.

          • TomD123

            I am not sure how we would express it. Maybe simply through the continuous act of our will in which we will what God wills.

            Maybe we don't really express charity in the sense that we do now. Remember, heaven isn't for growing in charity, it is for experiencing the unity that charity brings about, with God and neighbor.

            Well I don't know if "boring" can apply to anything in the afterlife. Boring implies many things (e.g. time as we know it) in order to even make sense. Unemotional: that seems unfounded. If in heaven we see the good effects of our works on earth, how is that unemotional. If heaven is a continuous union with those we love and a God of love, I don't see it as unemotional. And very meaningful: the experiencing of the fruits of our charity. That seems meaningful to me.

            There is a lot we do not know about heaven. So we can say some things, but still, a lot is speculative. That said, I think we can say for sure its a very different type of reality than this one.

          • Why couldn't each of us be given the choice for God from a state without suffering? We could all have grown up until 7 years of age or whatever without any pain, and with only joy and love shown to us from God, the angels, or whoever. Quite a few people live lives full of suffering, and never get to choose God.

          • TomD123

            The point of this post series I think is to argue that a world with suffering is a world that allows for such a choice to be made.

            If the arguments of this series is correct, then it would follow that a world with suffering is also a world which allows for the cultivation of virtue (maybe a world without suffering would as well but perhaps that virtue would be not as great or would be harder to attain. Or simply different).

          • The God that could only work out the perfect world starting out like this is not impressive enough to entice me to worship him. If he wants to bring about good things, but is not strong enough to do so in a better way, I'll be happy to help him and to be his friend. But I will not worship such a being or call him Lord.

            If this is world the best that any being can possibly do, then no possible being is worth worshiping, in my opinion.

          • TomD123

            Well there are some perfect states for some beings that do not involves suffering. For one, there may be other physical beings in this world. Maybe there are other universes. I will say for sure I believe in angels. Angels did not suffer (presumably although I guess I am not sure) except if they were damned. So it is incorrect to say that any perfect state involves suffering. The question is for human beings, is there a perfect state which would require suffering? The point of the series I think is to say that this is the case.

            Using modal language (because I think it makes things easier to talk about): there are some possible worlds in which there are goods that exist as a result in some way from suffering. Presumably, there are some possible worlds which have goods that are a result of suffering that are unique to that world or similar worlds with suffering. There are some possible worlds without suffering but without these goods. God's omnipotence means He can actualize any of these worlds. I think that this is true by definition.
            God's infinite goodness means that He would not actualize any possible world in which the suffering was superfluous (no greater goods out of it). This seems pretty non-controversial. It does not follow from either of these that there are no possible worlds of the type I described at the beginning of this paragraph. It would follow then that there is no logical contradiction between an omni God and evil in the world.

            Now which of the possible worlds is the actual world? Obviously one with suffering is this actual world. There may be other actualized worlds or other parts of this world which would involve goodness without suffering although not the same kind of goodness...or to the same degree that this world can produce because of the suffering.

          • I think that the modal language does help, and I can use it to emphasize my dilemma:

            1) "God's infinite goodness means that He would not actualize any possible world in which the suffering was superfluous"

            2) There seems to be superfluous suffering.

            Therefore it seems as though God did not actualize this world.

          • TomD123

            Well from this argument, you seem to concede that the logical problem of evil does not work...is that correct?

          • Yes. I think it's logically possible for God and evil to coexist, even for an arbitrarily great amount of evil. But the ideas gets harder and harder to buy the more evil there is. So it's possible, but I don't think it's very likely. And the various explanations for superfluous suffering, like the one in this article, are not all that convincing.

          • TomD123

            So that makes sense. I think that the logical problem of evil simply doesn't work. As for the evidential problem of evil I think that argument has a little more going for it.

            Still, I would disagree with your premise 2 on two counts:
            (1) It seems as though we have no way of knowing when evil would be superfluous. There are too many unknowns. This series and others like it aren't attempts to explain every evil or show why no evil is superfluous, only to give a possible explanation for some of the evil. I think that it works for some evils. There are other explanations that might work for others. Still, since there are so many unknowns, the premise seems to be hard to establish. That said, I think it still has some force because I do not think this objection is fatal. I just think it undermines the premise.

            (2) The more evidence we do have for God (as understood as omnipotent, etc.), the more counter evidence we have for premise 2. The reason is that if premise 1 in the argument is true, and God did actualize this world, it would follow that "there is not superfluous suffering." So evidence for God counts as evidence against 2. I think there are very strong arguments, essentially demonstrations, for the existence of God. So this is why I discount premise 2. Not because I don't think it has some foundation in its own right but because I think there are counter reasons to believe God did create the world.

          • R1) Some guy walks down the street and stabs another man. The guy is arrested. He argues "I had good reasons to stab this man, but I can't explain them to you, you wouldn't understand." I don't know whether this guy did have good reasons or not, but lacking any evidence that he did, I'm going to assume that he didn't have sufficient reason to stab the man. And the case for the man is far better than the case for God. Because I could imagine a great number of ways in which the man would have good reasons for stabbing someone: the other person was a terrorist, the man's a time-traveller and went back in time to stop a crime, the man who the guy stabbed was really an evil robot, etc.

            There's no good reason I can even imagine for how the world would be worse for saving one extra child from cancer. An all-powerful God, if one exists, would seem to me even more deranged and less believable than the guy who stabs someone and refuses to say why. And explaining how some of the bad things are necessary is unhelpful. Spitzer's article accomplishes as much for solving the problem of evil as throwing a thimble of water on a burning man.

            R2) If God did actualize the world, then maybe premise (1) is wrong, and God simply doesn't care about human suffering. Maybe evidence for God counts as evidence against (1).

          • TomD123

            R1) The difference is that with God, there are many more considerations. I think the analogy fails. (assuming God exists) God has infinite knowledge, the man does not. God is concerned with the entire history of the world for every human and other rational creature, that man is not. God is infinite, that man is not. The point isn't that no case can be made for superfluous suffering, it can be. The point is that since God's perspective is infinitely different than our own, there is reason to believe that if God does exist and suffering does, we wouldn't in fact know what all of the suffering is for.

            I think Fr. Spitzer's article does help to some degree because it helps explain the role of suffering in producing love. It isn't a complete answer though and I don't think a complete answer is possible.

            R2) The arguments which I think make the strongest case for God's existence entail that God is perfect. So I think that it couldn't discount premise 1...that's my view at least

          • RRR1) I have found no convincing reason to think God exists, possesses infinite knowledge, or is good. So the claim is, from my vantage, on a worse footing than the man with the knife. At least I know the man with the knife exists and can imagine reasons for him doing what he does. Of course, depending on how compelling you may find different arguments for God, you may find different results.

            RRR2) I'm interested to learn more. What arguments do you find convincing? How is perfection defined in these arguments, and would perfection necessarily entail concern over the suffering of humans? Would it entail similar concern over the suffering of monkeys, or cows, or sea lions?

            Thanks, by the way, for taking the time to answer my questions and address my concerns.

          • TomD123

            1) It doesn't matter how much evidence there is for God when considering this reason. This is because the point of the original problem of evil is based on the concept of an all powerful, all-good God. To say that evil is evidence against this God, we would have to have a concept of God. It wouldn't matter if there was evidence for or against Him. So given the definition of God as an infinite all-good, all-powerful etc. being I am arguing that we should expect to find evils that we do not know the good which can be brought out of them. Again, there is the trouble that there are so many horrible evils. I admit that this appears to be evidence against the existence of God.

            2) I find Bernard Londergan's proof for God found in His work "Insight" and a version of it found in Father Spitzer's "New Proofs for the Existence of God." convincing. I do not fully understand all of the details, but as far as I can tell, it is convincing.

            I also think that St. Thomas's argument in his work on "Being and Essence" works, especially if rephrased a little bit.

            Possibly, although I am not certain, a Gale-Pruss cosmological argument and the first way of Thomas Aquinas work...as for the first way, I think it needs some revisions but still.

            I think that there are intuitively strong points in favor of design in the order of nature and the beauty of the laws of physics. Similarly, the existence of an immaterial soul seems to be evidence for God. Both of these considerations however are at the moment more intuitive for me than fleshed out arguments.

            Perfection is along the lines of being complete as a certain type of thing. So a perfect being would be the necessary being. According to these arguments, perfection easily follows.

            As for God's perfection in His will, there is no short answer. I would start by saying that since God has no defects (defects are a form of non-being or incompleteness) then His will could not fail to be rational. So in this sense it is perfect. Also, God wills that each thing which He has created become good in a way that is proper to it. To humans, this is happiness...but most especially perfect happiness in heaven. So God would not will suffering for its own sake, but I see why He would certainly allow it to exist for the sake of us attaining happiness. Although, this does not mean He does not care about our happiness here and now- because that is still a good proper to us as humans, it is just that it is not the ultimate good and therefore it is secondary.

            Since to will suffering for suffering's sake is irrational (as suffering is not the perfect state of anything, i.e. the inherent purpose or goal to which anything is directed), it follows that God would not will animals to suffer for suffering's sake. Beyond that, I don't know how God's love would apply to animals.

            No problem!

          • Never mind...

          • TomD123

            I basically agree with this. The only thing I would say to qualify it is that determining the strength of the evidence from evil seems difficult given the many unknowns involved.

          • A response to your point (2), thanks for sharing what you find to be convincing arguments. Since you mentioned Pruss, have you ever seen http://necessarybeing.net/ ? It takes your answers and gives you what you would find to be the most compelling argument for God's existence, if any. The best argument for God's existence, according to my answers is linked here on my webpage: http://www-star.st-and.ac.uk/~pr33/nb-Rimmer.html

            Do you know of a good modern rephrasing of Aquinas's arguments? Esp. the one you mention in Being and Essence?

            Thanks again.

          • TomD123

            I have never seen that website. Very interesting! It seems like your answers lead to a kind of Gale-Pruss like argument because it uses Axiom S5. So that is interesting.

            I do not know of an especially good rephrasing of Aquinas's arguments. I know of a number of philosophers who have discussed these issues, but often times they end up using Aquinas's exact terms and they seem especially wed to the Aristotelian philosophy in full.

            Actually, I haven't really found much on Aquinas's argument on Being and Essence at all anyway, it seems pretty obscure. The way I understand it though is that it is along the same lines of a cosmological argument based on the contingency of things but with a specific metaphysical outlook.

            A lot of what Aquinas says in "on Being and Essence" is not especially relevant to his argument for God. The main concepts that are relevant are just "essence" and "act of existence." As far as I can tell though, Aquinas's understanding of essence-along the lines of Aristotle's realism about essences is unnecessary to make the argument work. The way I see it is basically for the sake of this argument in particular, when Aquinas says "essence" this can mean any form of description of the thing- even if that description isn't a "form" or "essence" as Aquinas would have understood.

            On a side note, I think for this specific argument, it is simpler to bypass the deal about infinite regress and all. I consider the "sum of all contingent things" itself a contingent thing for various reasons (NB- sum of all contingent things is not synonymous with the universe). When I use the term contingent as applied to Aquinas's argument, I mean that something has an essence distinct from its existence. Which basically I understand to mean that the description of what it is does not entail that it exists.

          • To elaborate on why I wouldn't worship such a being. This being can only bring about the perfect world by starting with a world with childhood cancer.

            This is the only way he can make sure everyone can make a free decision to love.

            But he can't even make sure everyone gets the decision, since many people suffer terribly and die, but are never capable of making the decision.

            There is no way he could have spared one person from this terrible death, except for some reason when he performs miracles through his prophets or when he's Jesus. Not one extra kid could have been spared from cancer.

            We humans, however, have developed treatments for some kinds of cancer. Our activities cannot mitigate God's plan.

            So we are capable of doing good that God cannot do. We are in some ways more powerful than God.

            When evolved apes become more powerful than God, more capable of doing certain kinds of good, then whatever kind of person that God is, he's not worth our prayers or our praise.

          • TomD123

            I think that my response below basically suffices for the main point of this. God has the power to eradicate the cancer. The question is this: is there some good that both (1) can only exist as a logical consequence of the cancer remaining and (2) outweighs the cancer?
            If the answer is yes to both of these, then I see no reason why we should expect God to eradicate the cancer even though He can. We ought to try- maybe that is part of God's reason for letting it remain. But I don't think there is a strictly logical problem of evil.

            This is why many take the evidential problem of evil to be the route against theism. There are different problems with this argument.

          • Max Driffill

            This seems, I must say, spectacularly cruel to the people who must suffer through cancer themselves or watch their loved ones wither and die from it.

            Would you torture a little girl to death, if it meant that some greater good could, and absolutely would come from it? Perhaps the whole world enters a great utopian phase for 10,000 millennia. Set the reward at whatever great good you think might out weigh the lesser evil if a perfect world is too much for you to imagine. But you would have to build the foundation of that greater good on the screams and tears of that little girl.
            Would you do it? If you would not, or would not see it done, why do you think it is okay for your god to do it?

          • TomD123

            I would not torture a girl. No one claims that God does so. The Christian claims that God has made a good world and that sin has brought about suffering. God must then choose to allow it or get rid of it.

            If the end result is both eternal happiness versus temporal suffering, at least in terms of the duration of the suffering, the goodness outweighs the suffering.

            Also, saying what I would do versus what God would do seems problematic. God sees things from the perspective of all of eternity and everybody for starters. Second of all, I have certain moral duties as a human being. Third, I cannot bring about any good out of any evil. I could go on, the point is that saying what I should do versus what God should do is not a good way of approaching the problem of evil.

          • Max Driffill

            I claim that your god does so. He is all powerful, he set the system up in perfect knowledge of how it would play out. There is no other responsible party.

          • TomD123

            There is a difference between doing and allowing.

          • Max Driffill

            Not in the case of an allegedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being who actually did the creating of the system which was, from the start doomed to fail.

            According to the mythology this god has tortured once person via schemes to death already. But this is only one among many deaths we must place under his responsibility.

            The roots of this dilemma were identified by Epicurus and crystalized by Hume.

            "Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?"

            God did by creating the system (in perfect knowledge of its inadequacies) in the first place.

          • Danny Getchell

            OK - going back to the hypothetical posted by Max, would you, Tom, permit someone else to torture a child to death in order to achieve some immensely great good?

            Or would you intervene, on the ground that the price is too great?

          • TomD123

            I would intervene. But the question I said is a bad one for examining the problem of evil. The reason is that I am not God nor do I see things from God's perspective. I do not have the power to bring about good from the evil. I am a moral agent with moral duties because of my human nature. God is not. I play a role in God's plan, I do not make the plan.

            So the question is a bad one because God's nature and role in creation is a lot different than ours. So I cannot say what God should do. I can say what I should, but that is because I am a human

          • Danny Getchell

            If what you are saying is that the concept of what is "good" exercised by God himself is different from the concept of "good" that God desires humans to operate under, then I agree that that is a model into which both Christian doctrine and the observation of the world as it is can be fitted.

          • TomD123

            I would say that "good" is analogous with us and God but not exactly the same. That is because what is good for a human depends on our nature as human.

          • Max Driffill

            Your inability to grasp the problem of evil stems largely from the fact that won't face certain facts about your god. There is a tendency to keep two sets of books in the case of many theists and you seem to be doing the same trick here. We see many praise their gods for curing there eczema, or helping them get a car loan, or sparing them a nasty bee sting, but fall silent when a hundred and fifty thousand people are killed in a tsunami. Its the same god responsible (in the case of the Abrahamic traditions anyway) for both types of outcome.

            Anyway, lets return to that little child who you, yourself wouldn't allow to be murdered if you had it in your power to stop. You demonstrate that you are more moral than the god you worship.

            Its all very well and good to say gods allow these things to happen, but your god in particular has no business allowing any such thing to happen. It is alleged to be all powerful, all knowing and all loving. It could spare a child, a family enormous pain by finding another way to bring about its eventual utopia. That is within its power to do. This does't happen though, a fact to which thousand of milk cartons attest. What good can come of this terrible death? Your god is not limited by any factor at all. There would be no contradiction in acting to save the life of a child, it fits perfectly within the scope of a god for whom perfection in every quality we value is the absolute norm. It is in consistent to allow it.

            If I am in a room in which a child is murdered and tortured by another, and I do nothing to try to stop the act (I am under no duress, no fear for my own life), I make no effort to call the police before or after the crime. I will very likely be charged with a crime, perhaps even accused of abetting the murder, certainly criminal negligence. If I offer in my defense, well, I allowed it to happen because it would further a much greater good in the neighborhood, omelets, eggs, you understand prosecutor, I will no doubt likely find myself in prison for a while. The law would say, hey dumby, your plans be damned, you should have acted at some point to stop this horrible act. The god of Abraham is all of us in those situations because he is present and has the power according to the stories theists tell, to stop it. He is not limited by anything. Saving innocent lives is fully consistent with his alleged characteristics.
            Of course the problem of evil simply vanishes in a world with out such a being. I just don't think you are facing the problem of evil very honestly.

          • TomD123

            I grasp the problem of evil and am facing it honestly. Just accusing me of being dishonest is not the way to show you are right.

            I think that using the analogy with people and what we ought to do has a flaw in that we are limited beings with specific moral obligations based on our human nature, God is not.

            Further, I would not interefere with something horrible being done if my interference resulted in something worse. From God's perspective, maybe this is the case. I have independent reasons for believing God exists and is all good...so even if I can't see specific reasons for God allowing certain evils, I see the general picture.

            Finally, it is not "your god." That is a mistaken way of putting it. God is understood by Catholics and by those who hold to the philosophy of classical theism to be the metaphysically fundamental being. He is not "ours" or our specific version or anything like that.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm suggesting that you are not examining the problem in an intellectually honest way, hence all the contortions to avoid the parameters of, and I will continue to use this, your god, for it isn't my god and I have long stopped granting the capitalized form any deference. It is one god among many gods. In any event I am not accusing you of outright dishonesty, but just the same kind of lack of intellectual rigor I demonstrate when I get overzealous and try to claim that everything Bruce Springsteen wrote has been great or better.

            The following is an example of the contortions of which I speak:

            Further, I would not interefere with something horrible being done if my interference resulted in something worse. From God's perspective, maybe this is the case. I have independent reasons for believing God exists and is all good...so even if I can't see specific reasons for God allowing certain evils, I see the general picture.

            The character of Yahweh can act in any fashion he likes, within the limits of his nature I guess (limiting his power I think but lets leave that aside). Omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Is this god perfectly just? I imagine you and many people here think this character is. He is not limited by making a thing worse, to make a thing better. Being a 3O creature permits certain moves in the process of expediting moral action not available to the rest of us. This is not the Tyrant god of Dune, who was bound by such limitations. If he must work within a certain set of parameters he is not, cannot be, a being who is 3O.

          • Michael Murray

            try to claim that everything Bruce Springsteen wrote has been great or better.

            Well not everything but surely Thunder Road ...

          • Max Driffill

            Thunder Road is surely one of the great American songs.

          • TomD123

            (1) He is not one god among many gods. The reason is that other gods are different types of beings. They aren't candidates for metaphysically the most fundamental beings. So it is an equivocation to understand God and these gods in the same way---even if none of them or all of them exist.

            (2) I am trying to be intellectually honest here. In a comment above I stated the problem in a modal way and I think it is quite logical to say that there is no inherent contradiction between a good God and Him actualizing a possible world where some goods result from suffering.

            (3) About the natures- I am bound certain moral obligations based on the fact that I am human.So the analogy with me and God is very weak.

            (4) It is still possible that God could actualize a certain world with less suffering but overall that world would be a worse world than this one.

          • Max Driffill

            It is still possible that God could actualize a certain world with less suffering but overall that world would be a worse world than this one.

            God is limited then? He couldn't create a world in which there was vastly less suffering and that would be better than this one?

            I would contend that a world with less suffering is actually better than the one we currently have . Our lives are not made any better for it. I do not lament any long stretches of my life in which I lacked turmoil, or heartache. Indeed, all that represents is a very serious obstacle toward my life's goals, and the quality of my existence. I would happily trade all those woes for better times with out them. I don't feel any better for having developed a reasonable stoicism in the face of this. I would be much happier to have avoided the need. I am sure most people would agree with me. No, again, you are failing to appreciate the 3O god.

            Also, when I say your god is one god among many, I simply mean he is one mythology among a great many from which to choose. You may demur that your god is different in so many ways from a god like Zeus, but from the standpoint of evidence there really isn't much difference.

          • TomD123

            (1) God is not limited. He could create a world which there was less suffering but worse overall in some other sense.

            (2) I would disagree that less suffering is actually better. We do not have any grounds to claim this. We would have to know the past and future of the other possible worlds. It is entirely possible that all of the evil on the whole in this world is used to bring about a greater good, even if we do not know in each instance what that good is.

            (3) I don't ask for "evidence" for God. As a philosophical question, we must ask if there are good arguments for His existence. It's not fair to the philosophical tradition to say that the arguments either aren't there or are just obviously flawed. At least have the respect to say that you disagree with them but they are serious.

          • Michael Murray

            At least have the respect to say that you disagree with them but they are serious.

            I have enormous respect for someone like Aristotle. He clearly had a much better brain than I do. But it would be silly to suggest that his ideas about physics are serious. Serious when he made them but not serious now. They are just wrong now.

            The philosophical arguments for God that I have seen are likewise flawed. Often for the same reason that they are based on wrong ideas about how the physical world works.

          • "But it would be silly to suggest that [Aristotle's] ideas about physics are serious. Serious when he made them but not serious now. They are just wrong now."

            That's certainly true. We would all agree that some of Aristotle's physics have since been refuted.

            However, his *metaphysics* have not. We must be careful not to confuse the two, otherwise we'll be no different than the man who dismisses Darwin's theory of evolution because Darwin had faulty theology. Just as Darwin's theology is independent of his genetics, so is Aristotle's physics distinct from his metaphysics.

            "The philosophical arguments for God that I have seen are likewise flawed. Often for the same reason that they are based on wrong ideas about how the physical world works."

            Although this assertion is somewhat vague, and therefore I'm not sure which particular arguments or which "wrong ideas" about the physical world you're referring to, on the surface it displays a deep confusion about the classical arguments for God.

            Arguments like the contingency argument are independent of how the physical world "works." Instead, they concern meta-physical questions like, "Why is there a physical world at all?"

          • Michael Murray

            Arguments like the contingency argument are independent of how the physical world "works." Instead, they concern meta-physical questions like, "Why is there a physical world at all?"

            There are two things I can see you doing with this kind of logical/philosophical argument.

            The first is to just "pure thought" or as I would call it "pure mathematics". You start with the some axioms and deduce theorems. No implications for the real world.

            The second is to try and say something about the real world. For the existence of God this is where you want to be. The first situation is useless unless you want a theoretical God not in the real world. If you want to say something about the real world then you need to make some connection between your pure thought and the real world. Your ideas of contingency for example or causality need to reflect how the real world behaves. So you need to have the best information on how the real world works to have a hope of making anything like a sensible argument.

            Me I'm a pure mathematician so I live and work in the first situation. Ironically you had many people posting here who where experts in the second situation and we could have had a really interesting discussion.

            But you banned them all.

          • Michael Murray

            (1) God is not limited. He could create a world which there was less suffering but worse overall in some other sense.

            Strange then that humans, vastly inferior though we are, have made a world with less suffering in the last few hundred years.

          • David Nickol

            (1) God is not limited. He could create a world which there was less suffering but worse overall in some other sense.

            How do you know this?

            After saying God is not limited, you strongly imply that if God had created a world with less suffering, it would be a world equal in imperfection to our own, with lessened suffering being balanced out by an increase in some other unfortunate aspect of life. Even assuming God created this world, and further assuming God could have created a different world instead of this one, how can you possibly know the nature of the possible worlds God did not create?

            I think the "theists" ought to keep in mind that at least part of their audience is made up of atheists and skeptics who often doubt, or disbelieve in, God, and are necessarily going to be dissatisfied by many of the assertions made here about God, not a few of which those of us who attended Catholic school learned in the lower grades. This is not to say, if Catholicism is correct, that what second-graders learn is false. But to an adult, what was taught in second-grade religion class is necessarily going to seem as inadequate as what was taught in second-grade science class.

          • severalspeciesof

            2) I would disagree that less suffering is actually better.

            From this one could definitely infer that heaven is a 'worse' place to be... BTW, IMO, this fixation on trying to rescue 'suffering' from its obvious detriment to the idea of an omnibenevolent god is, well, demeaning to the all the sufferers in this world, both human and otherwise. The desperation in clinging to the idea that suffering is somehow a means to a good is purely a human condition trying to come to terms with a reality that is unnerving at best.

            We are alone.

            and we can do better than this rescue attempt...


          • Max Driffill

            1. Then gods should create a world with less suffering. If this is a goal worthy of ourselves, then I see no reason to not apply the same expectations and more to a 3O god.

            2. We don't have to know anything about other possible worlds to make pronouncements about this one, and what sort of stimuli make us feel better. We have the immediacy of our own experience, the science of psychology etc, to inform us that suffering isn't really all that much fun, and that the valueless suffering is a blight on human existence. If gods are incapable of seeing that families ripped apart by tragedy is a bad thing, then such gods are not worthy of either our time, or our respect.

            3. I don't think that there are good arguments for gods. I don' think they are any longer serious. Though once such speculations may have been worthy and focused minds, they have also distracted from other more important matters. Furthermore, the question of whether or not gods exist is an empirical matter, it is an empirical question. The so-called philosophical arguments operate often by making false claims about what we do know about reality. They may once have been great speculations but those days are really long past. An argument is not a form of evidence for anything.

          • severalspeciesof

            we are limited beings

            yes, limited beings that will then be put to 'unlimited' 'suffering' if they 'reject' god in a very limited lifespan...

          • TomD123

            I was addressing the problem of evil. Not whether or not hell exists. It is logically possible that God exists, so does evil, and hell does not.

            Also, according to most Catholics these days, hell is a metaphysical necessity, not something a blood-thirsty God has set up unjustly

          • Michael Murray

            It's "collateral damage". Except that in this case God is unlimited in his ability to target the smart bombs so there should be no collateral damage.

          • severalspeciesof

            The Christian claims that God has made a good world and that sin has brought about suffering.

            I see this over and over and over... But no one has been able to satisfactorily answer this question for me: "If god created everything, from whence did sin come from?" Remember, according to christian tradition, before god created, nothing existed...


          • TomD123

            Sin according to the Catholic tradition is man turning away from God. God gave man free will and this free will can direct man away from his proper end (God) and towards some other lesser, i.e. created, good.

            God made the free will, man made the evil choice. Hence sin comes from man not God.

            Suffering is generally said to be brought about through sin because by sin man has distanced himself from God. In doing so, man drove God out of his life to an extent, and with God, came the preternatural gifts that God had given man like freedom from death.

          • severalspeciesof

            I just don't buy that. If the answer truly is that god made Adam and Eve (even if they are to be taken metaphorically) with free will, it was an imperfect one as it lacked knowledge and or a sufficient 'empathetic' notion that their actions would harm countless others. It's as though the only way god could have made a perfect world would be to have made Adam and Eve exactly like itself from the get go...

            Oh wait, according to Genesis, the gods were exactly afraid of doing just that as they banished them from the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life: "And the Lord
            God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and
            evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of
            life, and eat, and live for ever"

            This places culpability squarely into god's side of the net...


          • TomD123

            Well I do buy it, I think it is a good explanation. So we just disagree.

            Maybe Genesis isn't true. The problem of evil isn't a specifically Christian problem.

          • severalspeciesof

            The problem of evil isn't a specifically Christian problem.

            So what? It's still a problem for it.

            I have another way to look at this that puts evil squarely into god's domain. You have stated that god gave man freewill (a position that christians hold). It is also generally accepted that this 'freewill' has with it the ability to choose to do evil, i.e. 'create evil'. Christians also generally hold to the idea there needs to be a causal chain in all things, up until god... (how convenient for the believer)...

            So then we have god-man-freewill-evil.

            What created evil? Freewill.

            What created freewill? God.

            Touché... ;-)


          • TomD123

            "So what?"
            --Well since you were specifically citing and objecting to the Book of Genesis, I was commenting that the problem of evil is a different problem and that even if Genesis is wrong, the problem of evil and its various responses stand.

            "how convenient for the believer"
            --This subtle attack on Christians is unnecessary. Also, with regards to causal chains, there are good philosophical reasons for this claim. That's besides the point.

            "What created evil?"
            --Moral evil isn't so much a *thing* in the proper sense in need of being created. (see chapter 7 Book 3 Summa Contra Gentiles).

            Hence the argument needs some rephrasing on your part. There are other reasons as well.

          • severalspeciesof

            You seem to be cherry picking my response in order to avoid the important parts of what I've said. After "So What?" I added "It's still a problem for it." Michael Murray seems to have noticed this. Use of the Genesis story should be fair play. It's an important part of the christian tradition, for without the idea of original sin, Jesus' death becomes moot, and the whole catholic tradition comes crumbling down, does it not?
            The "How convenient for the believer" remark was meant to be an attack on the belief, not the believer. Sorry if it sounded like a personal thing.

            --Moral evil isn't so much a *thing* in the proper sense in need of being created.

            Whether moral evil is a 'thing' or not, it has to have existence in at least a conceptual manner, otherwise we could not even speak of it. Concepts still need a creator (even more so than 'things', but that's another subject).

            Beyond the misunderstanding of my 'convenient' remark I don't think rephrasing is needed. It's concise in my opinion...


          • TomD123

            (1) Use of Genesis just confuses things though. Suppose Genesis got it wrong (then yes, the Catholic tradition would be wrong). That would not tell us much about the problem of evil. In order to have an effective conversation on the PoE, we should set aside Genesis. Also, if you want to have an effective conversation about Catholicism, then we can begin to look at Genesis, but it would already be established that God exists.

            (2) I think that they don't As the reference to Aquinas's discussion points out, evil has no essence.
            I disagree about concepts needing a creator but that is going down another road.

          • severalspeciesof

            1) This is fine. I'll scratch Genesis from the table because yes, you are correct in that the problem of evil still exists if a tri-omni-god is posited as a reality. (An aside: IMO, the polytheistic traditions have a better time dealing with the conundrum of evil. Occam's razor comes to mind.) Plus my argument is from a position of the idea of an establishment of god and whether or not the problem of evil can be resolved with the concept of that particular god. Keep in mind the tri-aspect (All good, knowing and powerful) of the concept of your god.

            2) I'll quote the very first sentence of the chapter (from Aquinas) for others to see: "Evil is nothing else than a privation of that which a thing is naturally apt to have. But a privation is not an essense, but a negation in a substance." This would mean then, that the actions of freewill (between good and evil) must at some point or another have to be a choice of negation, because until that happens, the 'essence' of freewill is in a situation of privation.

            And once again god, since it instilled freewill, is ultimately culpable for the result of the non-privation of freewill...


          • Michael Murray

            The problem of evil isn't a specifically Christian problem.

            But it is a Christian problem.

          • TomD123

            If you were paying attention to the context, you would understand that I was addressing the "oh wait, according to Genesis..." part. Genesis is ultimately irrelevant to whether or not the problem of evil works against God.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Certainly God is powerful enough. Yet he permits things to be the way they are. Since he is also wise enough and good enough, he must have good reasons, but we don't know what they are, except in the limited ways we can see that suffering can bring about a good that would not otherwise be there.

          • Maybe.

            (2) Or maybe he's very wise and very powerful, but not powerful enough to have made a better world.

            (3) Or maybe he's very powerful and very evil, or maybe he just doesn't care about us.

            (4) Or maybe there's no god at all.

            Each of these four possibilities (your one and my three) seem to have the same amount of supporting evidence.

            Your possibility seems to have one big piece of conflicting evidence: the severe amount of suffering present in the world.

      • David Nickol

        Rather, we continuously experience the choice which we made on this earth to give of ourselves for the sake of others.

        What about those who made no choice, for example, infants who died after baptism (and maybe even those who died without baptism) without reaching the "age of reason"? Or the severely developmentally disabled?

        • TomD123

          They can experience the vision of God because they receive sanctifying grace which includes the infused virtue of charity...hence the habit of love in their souls enabling them to enjoy God who is love for eternity.

          That said, since they cannot freely develop this love in the course of life, they lack supernatural merit and would consequently not share in the same degree of "blessedness" (i.e. happiness) in the next life.

          • Michael Murray

            There is evidence from studies of hormone levels in women that the miscarriage rate for conceptions is as high as 40%. So more than 1/3 of souls in heaven probably correspond to very young foetuses. I take if from what you say they will be disadvantaged for all eternity. Why has your God chosen to do this to the souls He created ?

            I favour the Bilemma. Either God is nasty or doesn't exist. I am hoping it's the latter.

          • TomD123

            Let's suppose that your numbers are correct. Then it also follows that these souls did not have the possibility of choosing to reject God. Although they have free will in the sense that it is part of their natures (and consequently they are still humans capable of receiving grace and charity), they never have the ability to exercise this freedom in this life (presumably) because they never each the age of reason.

            So two points can be made:
            1) I think it is odd to consider experiencing the beatific vision in a less degree of blessedness to be "disadvantaged." The beatific vision is taught to be happier than anything we can even imagine. So since no one has a right to this happiness in the first place, we cannot say God is being unfair in giving it out to some in a greater degree.

            2) At the same time, although they are worse off in one sense than someone who has been able to merit in this life, they are better off too. This is because they did not have the possibility of rejecting God and going to hell.

          • David Nickol

            There is evidence from studies of hormone levels in women that the miscarriage rate for conceptions is as high as 40%.

            The figure I usually quote is 60% to 80% early embryo loss (before implantation) with an additional 10% to 15% loss from miscarriage when the embryo has attached and the woman is pregnant in the sense that medical science defines pregnancies. I rely on a presentation from The President's Council on Bioethics titled Early Embryonic Development: An Up-to-Date Account from which this is an excerpt:

            PROF. SANDEL: Thank you. I have two questions about the rate of natural embryo loss in human beings. The first is what percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant or are otherwise lost? And the second question is is it the case that all of these lost embryos contain genetic defects that would have prevented their normal development and birth?

            DR. OPITZ: The answer to your first question is that it is enormous. Estimates range all the way from 60 percent to 80 percent of the very earliest stages, cleavage stages, for example, that are lost.

            PROF. SANDEL: Sixty to 80 percent?

            DR. OPITZ: Sixty to 80 percent. And one of the objective ways of establishing the loss at least as of the moment of implantation, well, even earlier, let's say as of five days because the blastocyst begins to make a chorionic gonadotrophin and with extremely sensitive assay methods, you can detect the presence of gonadotrophins, let me say, first around Day 7. That's the beta of human chorionic gonadotrophin. And if you follow prospectively the cycles that has been done on quite a few occasions in the Permanente study in Hawaii and so on, a group of women, of nonfertility, who want to conceive and you detect the first sign of pregnancy there of human chorionic gonadotrophin, about 60 percent of those pregnancies are lost.

            It is independently corroborated by the fact that the monozygotic twin conception rate at the very beginning is much, much higher than the birth rate and then if you follow with amniocentesis, the presence of the two sacs in about 80 percent of cases,the second sac disappears, one of the sacs disappears.

            One can argue that some of the "conceptions" don't count at all, because genetic material is missing, and some of the embryos probably shouldn't be counted because there are chromosomal abnormalities, although we count babies born with even the most severe chromosomal abnormalities as human beings. In any case, it would appear that the percentage of human beings conceived who do not implant, and therefore die within a few days of conception is (to quote Dr. Opitz) "enormous." Coupled with the number of miscarriage after implantation, it seems quite possible that the majority of human conceptions do not result in births, and so more than half of human beings do not experience "life on earth."

            If we look at life as a critical test which we must somehow pass to be "saved," with failure resulting in eternal punishment, it looks like perhaps more than half of "people" don't take the test, since they don't experience earthly life or even rudimentary consciousness before they die.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks David. I had misremembered your original post and was unable to find it. I'll bookmark it this time.

            That is a remarkable statistic. It would be interesting to see a theologist explore what they think it means.

      • David Nickol

        The issue is that the next world isn't merely a continuation of this world albeit much happier.

        Can you cite an authoritative Catholic account of what life after death will be like for those who are saved?

        The Catechism's section on the afterlife is here, and I think this is the key paragraph:

        1027 This mystery of blessed communion with God and all who are in Christ is beyond all understanding and description. Scripture speaks of it in images: life, light, peace, wedding feast, wine of the kingdom, the Father's house, the heavenly Jerusalem, paradise: "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him."

        What this says to me is that anything even the most faithful and knowledgeable Catholic theologian says about the afterlife is pure speculation. C. S. Lewis said the following, in A Grief Observed:

        Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions "on the further shore," pictured in entirely earthly terms. But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There's not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn't be like that. Reality never repeats. The exact same thing is never taken away and given back. How well the Spiritualists bait their hook! "Things on the other side are not so different after all." There are cigars in Heaven. For that is what we should all like. The happy past restored. . . .. . . Why should the separation (if nothing else) which so agonizes the lover who is left behind be painless to the lover who departs? "Because she is in God's hands." But if so, she was in God's hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here. Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body? And if so, why? If God's goodness is inconsistent with hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine. If it is consistent with hurting us, then he may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it.

        • TomD123

          The official teaching of the Church is that in heaven, our main happiness consists of the vision of the Divine Essence. This is a different kind of life than the one here on earth. When I said that the next life is not simply a continuation of this life, I was making the point that it's not just as though we go to a place with great music and great food when we die. We go to a place where we directly share in God's happiness.

          • Michael Murray

            Can you tell us where this teaching is given ? David always cites the Catechism and I get confused when you seem to disagree with him.

          • TomD123

            One example is that Pope Benedict XII taught this in his apostolic constitution in 1336 "On the Beatific vision of God"

  • jakael02

    Good read. I enjoyed the article.

  • Max Driffill

    I think the author means, "in theology agape is one of the highest forms of love." Its unclear to me though that agape exists.

    • It's a good question. I'm not sure what people mean by agape. Unconditional love can't be what it literally means, unless only God is capable of it. All my love is conditional. One condition of my love is, if nothing else, my existence. If I didn't exist, I wouldn't love.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        What was wrong with the definition Spitzer gave in the first paragraph?

        • I suppose there's not much wrong with it, as far as it goes. Does all empathy and self-sacrifice count as agape? If so, then I'm pretty sure it exists. And I don't think the degree of suffering we find in the world is necessary for its existence.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The experience of the fourth group at the table reveals [why] God would create us into an imperfect world – because the imperfection of the human condition leads to weakness and vulnerability, and this weakness and vulnerability provide invaluable assistance in directing us toward empathy and compassion, and even in receiving the empathy and compassion from another.

            I think it makes no sense at all to read this as Spitzer making the claim that the opportunity for personal growth justifies innocent suffering. I don't think he is making this claim. In fact I think such a claim would be shameful.

            Rather, I think Spitzer is trying to show how good--great good--can arise out of a world in which people suffer. I think this is absolutely true and defensible.

            One can ask, is it worth it? I don't think we have the calculator to calculate that. My Catholic faith assures me that it is, though: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him" (Rom 8:28).

          • I on the other hand am very confident that there is gratuitous suffering, that is, suffering that is entirely unconnected to any good, that could have been removed from the world without the loss of anything of value.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the final meaning or value of suffering can only be judged from outside this life, if there is an outside existence to make the judgment from and enough wisdom to make it. I can see that we can't help trying to make provisional judgments now. We have to try to make sense of everything.

          • David Nickol

            I think the final meaning or value of suffering can only be judged from outside this life, if there is an outside existence to make the judgment from and enough wisdom to make it.

            Perhaps Fr. Spitzer didn't intend to give the impression he has explained everything to the satisfaction of anyone who has the fortitude to read through his whole 14,687-word essay, but in my opinion, that is the impression he does give.

            The theist side of me appreciates what you say here, but the agnostic/atheist side reads it as, "We can't really explain it now, but when you're dead, there is at least a chance you will understand." One has to ask why God would put people in a position in which their choices and actions determine whether they will enjoy eternal bliss or suffer eternal agony, with the answers to crucial questions becoming clear only after it is too late. It makes life seem like a "final" exam in a course in which the exam comes first, and after you have passed or failed, you take the classes and learn the material.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            "One has to ask why God would put people in a position in which their choices and actions determine whether they will enjoy eternal bliss or suffer eternal agony, with the answers to crucial questions becoming clear only after it is too late."

            If the crucial thing is to be morally good and the really critical thing is to love others, why is it essential *now* to know why you have suffered what you have had to suffer?

          • David Nickol

            If the crucial thing is to be morally good and the really critical thing is to love others, why is it essential *now* to know why you have suffered what you have had to suffer?

            If you already believe, then it seems reasonable to me to say, "I don't pretend to understand human suffering, so I'll just put my faith in God and not even worry about trying to understand. God writes straight with crooked lines. Is it by my wisdom that the eagle soars?"

            On the other hand, if the extent of human suffering or the problem of evil stands in the way of belief, or seriously undermines it, then it is essential to arrive at some answers.

            For myself personally, I tend to lean toward just accepting human suffering as a mystery (or mostly a mystery). However, when I read what appear to me to be extremely inadequate attempts (like Fr. Spitzer's) to explain away the mystery, it begins to drive me into the atheist camp. I take Fr. Spitzer to be speaking for himself here, not for the Catholic Church. But to the extent Catholicism claims things are explicable, and then fails to provide convincing explanations, to that extent my confidence in Catholicism is undermined.

            I think it is fatal to try to explain too much. When you overreach, it seems to me you undermine your credibility and raise doubts about even your more modest efforts at explanation, which may have been right. Here's a case in point.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think many things about suffering are understandable and I think the things Fr. Spitzer asserts about the good that can come from suffering are insightful and correct. I don't think they would be offensive if the reader did not assume that he was providing a complete account of why God permits suffering. Fr. Spitzer leaves out the most important part, as if he is carving away everything that he can explain to expose what he cannot or has not yet.

            I have never heard an even somewhat satisfying explanation for innocent suffering and feel comfortable in holding it as a mystery. The reason for this is that my Lord suffered innocently, so somehow innocent suffering is part of the plan for the redemption of everything that needs to be redeemed. I am a participant in this because I have suffered innocently and have caused innocent suffering. I think everyone who has survived childhood in involved in this.

          • Michael Murray

            However, when I read what appear to me to be extremely inadequate attempts (like Fr. Spitzer's) to explain away the mystery, it begins to drive me into the atheist camp.

            They are feel good stories for Catholics or slightly wavering Catholics. Expanded Sunday homily's. That has been the problem with this site from day one. Far too much of the material is drawn from people who are writing for an audience that already believes. I don't mind that in principal. I read atheist sites that behave similarly. But it undermines the aims of the site not least because atheists are likely to view this material with derision and post accordingly.

          • severalspeciesof

            it begins to drive me into the atheist camp.

            Come drive on in... there are plenty of parking spaces available... ;-)


          • Michael Murray

            Atheists get parking !? That damned Satan knows all the tricks. Heaven you have to take a train.

          • Danny Getchell

            God writes straight with crooked lines.

            In much the same way, I'm quite sure that from time to time there were members of the cleanup crew at Aztec temples who expressed doubts about the whole system that made their jobs necessary.

            And I imagine they were told something like: "Hey, we work for Tezcatlipoca. He's THE BOSS and what he says, goes. So grab a mop and quit whining if you don't want to be the cleanee rather than the cleaner."

            Were I a Christian I think I would resort to the "He's THE BOSS" concept as the only way to make sense of the world.

          • David Nickol

            One more quick response. When you see someone broken by misfortune and suffering—someone who has a breakdown, or perhaps commits suicide—it is difficult not to ask why? The Catechism says,

            Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

            2283 We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

            This seems to me to acknowledge that a person can be broken by suffering, even to the point of suicide, and not be morally culpable for it, or at least not be guilty of a "mortal sin" and damnation. This, to me, rightly contradicts the old idea that God never burdens you with more than you can bear, or allows you to be tempted beyond your power to resist. So when you see someone broken by suffering, it makes it difficult to believe that that person's suffering served a purpose. I think Fr. Spitzer's view is somehow that every cloud has a silver lining. But clearly, sometimes a dark cloud is just a dark cloud.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The idea that God does not allow you to be tempted beyond your power refers to people in normal mental states.

          • David Nickol

            The idea that God does not allow you to be tempted beyond your power refers to people in normal mental states.

            Of course if you qualify a statement like that, it becomes essentially meaningless. What is a "normal" mental state? Strike grave psychological disturbances and torture from the list and what you have are "normal" mental states. It is (in my opinion) foolish to claim God does not allow you to be tempted beyond your power to resist. A more reasonable statement would be that God does not hold people responsible (or fully responsible) who are tempted beyond their power to resist.

          • severalspeciesof

            One has to ask why God would put people in a position in which their
            choices and actions determine whether they will enjoy eternal bliss or
            suffer eternal agony, with the answers to crucial questions becoming
            clear only after it is too late. It makes life seem like a "final" exam
            in a course in which the exam comes first, and after you have passed or
            failed, you take the classes and learn the material.

            Nice way to put this... thumbs up!


    • Kevin Aldrich

      Certainly agape exists. When you act for the true good of another person you are exercising it. I'm certain you have exercised this act of the will yourself many times.

      • Max Driffill

        That isn't convincing.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is lacking?

          • Max Driffill

            You are trying to define one murky thing, agape with another murky concept, acting for the true good of another person. You also introduce more shakiness to this edifice by the act of will business.

            What is "true good?" How can the act of kindness be distinguished for things like empathy, compassion, camaraderie and all the other things we know motivate human action? How could you say that these other motivators aren't at play? I think that theological psychology, runs afoul actual evidence of human motivations found in psychological literature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think Fr. Spitzer does an adequate job defining agape in his first paragraph. I don't think there is anything necessarily theological about it, unless the person's motivation is to perform the action out of love of God. "True good" means what is objectively good for the other and "act of the will" just means you freely chose to do it.

          • Max Driffill


            As examples of clarity go, I don't think the following qualifies:

            In philosophy, agape is one of the highest forms of love. For our purpose here, suffice it to say that agape is a gift of self which is frequently expressed in self-sacrifice. It is grounded in empathy with the other which makes transparent the unique and intrinsic goodness, worthiness, and lovability of that other, which creates a unity with that other whereby doing the good for the other is just as easy, if not easier, than doing the good for oneself. As such, agape arises out of a desire to give life to the intrinsically valuable and lovable other. That other could be a stranger or a friend.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't see how it could not be more clear.

  • It is a nice parable, but it is not analogous to the situations humans face. In Fr Spitzer's story it is quite easy for all to to satisfy their hunger through cooperation. The momentary suffering is alleviated almost immediately. (I would note that even in this analogy, people are likely motivated by self interest, unless they cooperate they will all starve. This is precisely the theory of why empathy evolved, social animals who naturally help each other out succeed better. From rats to elephants all seem to have a natural tendency to empathize. I'd also point out that nowhere near all humans have empathy, a lack of it is an indication of psychopathy, of which apparently 1 in 100 of us are).

    But the world we live in is not a neat contrived puzzle for us to figure out and be happy and empathetic. When a tsunami wipes out a hundred thousand of us with virtually no warning, all of the charity and empathy in the world does almost nothing to mitigate the desperation and suffering of those who died, are injured and lost loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods. Thousands upon thousands if children suffer and die every day causing unbearable suffering to them and thousands more. It sounds harsh, but what this piece is saying to these parents is that their child's suffering and death is sad, but it is made up for by the opportunity for people to empathize and what? Make them some food, hold their hand? Pray? It doesn't make up for it, it is not the plan of an all loving and powerful god.

    It just doesn't add up. The suffering is enormous, it could be lessened in a multitude of ways. God could have prevented prions from existing and all the people who saw their loved ones brains slowly turn into mush and die because of spongiform encephalopathy would have been spared that torture, but we would still live in a world with devastating natural suffering and opportunity for "agape". He didn't. And not because he wanted us to experience the wonderful agape that a world with prions brings on, he didn't because he doesn't exist.

    • Loreen Lee

      I just read in a New Advent post that the reason spoke in parables went back to an OT prophet who utilized same in order to get around power. authorities. (As with Jesus and the pharisees). I was just questioning this in my head the other day, wondering why Jesus was holding back on telling his apostles things that he didn't think we were 'fit to understand'. Doesn't the interpretation one gives to things make all the difference. Yes. The world is 'as I see it' -

  • Also the title of this piece is misleading, the argument you need to prove is why a world with all suffering from disease and natural disaster is necessary for unconditional love.

    • Michael Murray

      Ask me ! Ask me ! (Waves hand in air desperately) Was it The Fall ?

  • Loreen Lee

    The Story
    of Adam & Eve's Pets

    Adam and
    Eve said, 'Lord, when we were in the garden, you
    walked with us every day. Now we do not see you
    anymore. We are lonesome here, and it is
    difficult for us to remember how much you love

    And God said, I will create a
    companion for you that will be with you and
    who will be a
    reflection of my love for you, so that you will
    love me even when you cannot see me. Regardless
    of how selfish or childish or unlovable you may
    be, this new companion will accept you as you
    are and will love you as I do, in spite of

    And God created a new
    animal to be a companion for Adam and Eve.

    And it was a good animal and God was

    And the new animal was pleased
    to be with Adam and Eve and he wagged his

    And Adam said, 'Lord, I have
    already named all the animals in the Kingdom and
    I cannot think of a name for this new animal.'

    And God said, 'I have created this new
    animal to be a reflection of my love
    for you, his
    name will be a reflection of my own name, and
    you will call him DOG.'

    And Dog lived with Adam and
    Eve and was a
    companion to them and loved them.

    they were comforted.

    And God was

    And Dog was content and wagged
    his tail.

    After a while, it came to pass
    that an angel came to the Lord and said,
    'Lord, Adam and
    Eve have become filled with pride. They strut
    and preen like peacocks and they believe they
    are worthy of adoration. Dog has indeed taught
    them that they are loved, but perhaps too well.'

    And God said, I will create for them
    a companion who will be with them and who will
    see them as they are. The companion will remind
    them of their limitations, so they will know
    that they are not always worthy of adoration.'

    And God created CAT to be a companion to
    Adam and Eve.

    And Cat would not obey them.
    And when Adam and Eve gazed into Cat's eyes,
    they were reminded that they were not the

    Adam and Eve learned

    And they
    were greatly improved.

    And God was pleased..

    And Dog was happy.

    And Cat . . .

    didn't give a !!!!! one way or the

    • Loreen Lee

      Perhaps the only example in this world of 'unconditional love'!!!! Dog/God!!!

  • I think that these essays on the problem of evil deserve a response from a capable thinker and writer. I vote for Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Simply copy the Inquisitor from Brothers Karamazov, publish it as an article here at Strange Notions, and let people respond to it. We may then discover that all present attempts to solve the problem of evil amount to so much straw.

    • No need for that, just get Justin Scheiber from Reasonable Doubts.

  • David Nickol

    It seems to me that today's lengthy post makes the same basic point as the first two lengthy posts in the series, and no doubt the fourth post will be just as lengthy and make the same point again.

    "This point may be illustrated by a story my father told me when I was a boy," says Fr. Spitzer. This 500-word "parable" may be suitable for a after to tell a boy, but as St. Paul said, "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." Fr. Spitzer apparently doesn't see "through a glass, darkly." Everything is clear to him. All suffering makes perfect sense. There is no mystery for him. "God works through this suffering. He doesn’t waste any of it."

    I have lead a relatively sheltered, comfortable life compared to many, but I have seen enough suffering to be have the conviction that most of it is "wasted." This is particularly true of the suffering of children, many of whom die as the result of poverty, disease, drought, and war, and many of whom are marked for life by their childhoods and carry on cycles of cruelty and abuse of their own children.

    I forced myself to read the first three parts of this series, but I will not be reading or commenting on the fourth part, since I believe the whole premise was set out in the first part, and I did not accept it then. I wouldn't call this series "philosophy." I would call it a very weak attempt at apologetics that no atheist would even begin to find a satisfactory answer to why—if there really is a God—the world is as "imperfect" as it is. I think this kind of "apologetics" is basically for "theists" who already know what they believe but appreciate a pep talk now and then to give them facile and superficial assurances that are justified in their beliefs.

    I can't imagine recommending this series to anyone who was seriously suffering from cancer, the loss of a spouse or a child, a serious disabling accident, a bitter divorce, or any other significant suffering of the kind that leads people to say, "Why me?" If there is an omniscient and omnipotent God, then anyone who tries to explain suffering in the world, in my opinion, has to acknowledge it is largely a mystery. There are no doubt things that can be said that will be helpful, but mysteries cannot be explained.

    • mriehm

      I think this kind of "apologetics" is basically for "theists" who already know what they believe but appreciate a pep talk now and then to give them facile and superficial assurances that are justified in their beliefs.

      Kinda sums up Strange Notions as a whole. Apologetics masquerading as philosophical "proof".

    • Loreen Lee

      From my own experience, it was only after overcoming the 'trials in my life', that I understood that I had benefited in a unique way from the experience. That understanding was not there during the 'suffering?'

      • David Nickol

        I would never deny that many people come through suffering and see it in retrospect as having in some way benefitted them. But I would never presume to say to a person experiencing extreme pain or undergoing some painful ordeal that they should be thankful God is allowing them to suffer, and they will be better people because of it.

        "Yes, young man, it seems like a terrible misfortune that you lost your arms and legs in the war in Afghanistan, but being a paraplegic is a blessing in disguise! God never allows suffering that he can't bring good from. Everything is for the best!"

        • David Nickol

          I am reminded of a George Burns and Gracie Allen show I saw decades ago in which Gracie was taking a painting class. She remarked that her feet hurt her, and when George asked what the problem was, she said she was wearing shoes that were too tight. He asked why she didn't change into shoes that fit, and she said it was because she had read that to become a great artist, you had to suffer.

          • Loreen Lee

            I learned from Nietzsche in his critique of Christianity, the fitting critique that one should never inflict shame or guilt upon another party. (But I got a response to my report on the 'debate' and it seems there is the opinion that my comment was rude enough to indeed cause some 'discomfort'!!! Obviously, I am right in my self-analysis that indeed I do not make a good mediator!!!!)

    • Michael Murray

      I think this kind of "apologetics" is basically for "theists" who already know what they believe but appreciate a pep talk now and then to give them facile and superficial assurances that are justified in their beliefs.

      Early on in the life of this site I tried to make this point a number of times in a genuine attempt to be helpful. The response was usually some snark like "you seem to come back a lot for someone who doesn't like the place".

  • Loreen Lee

    How conditional love produces an imperfect world.

    Dear Brandon Vogt: cc; Susan and M. Solange O'Brien. Please understand that my intuition regarding the continue protest in this matter may be due to the possibility that they are much younger than myself, and yes, even you. I realize that this is a big hypothesize and that they feel that things have been unfair not only to themselves but to others who have joined their site. My description of their lack of confidence, etc. is related to this intuition, but the main thing is that I feel they are terribly 'hurt'!! Thank you.

    Dear Susan and Solange O'Brien: cc. Brandon Vogt: I do not know to what extent you understand that there is an element of what is called power relations in this 'conflict'. It may not be evident to you that Mr. Vogt has responsibilities to others in the matter of discerning what can be accepted for publication on this site. Such power hierarchies are the norm in society, and if you have not met such a phenomenon before, please learn something positive and character building from this experience. Thank you.

    Addendum: There is not much else I can do. Unfortunately, I cannot get to the point where I can love both parties unconditionally, especially as this brief (and hopefully final) attempt at mediation is hopefully over.. Say positive things on both sites, especially regarding your perceptions of the other party. That may help if visiting is done between sites. I shall also in the future attempt to be more positive in my description of events, not in the capacity of mediator in this conflict, but that because a certain kind of mediation is something that we are all called upon to do in every passing moment..

    • Loreen Lee

      Thank you M. Solange O'Brien for your comment. This is my response. I am giving up any further involvement with any possible conflict or resolution. You suggest there is no reason for meditation. I will concur with your judgment.
      The best to you in your future endeavors. I shall hopefully maintain good relationships for myself on this site. (Which includes the attempt at 'greater brevity and wit' grin grin)

  • Michael Murray

    God works through this suffering. He doesn’t waste any of it.

    When I read things like this and the rest of the theodic dross we have been recently blessed with I wonder if the writers are just unaware of the great depths of suffering built into their God's creation. But surely for an educated person in modern times that is not possible? Perhaps they are aware but actually have less empathy than the average atheist. Or perhaps they have the empathy but it is overwhelmed by their fear of what they think would be a desolate life if they face up to their God's non-existence.

    For me the Mystery isn't the suffering it's some of my fellow humans reaction to it.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Insult: "theodic dross."
      Sarcasm: "blessed with."
      Assigning unwarranted base motives: lacking in empathy, overwhelmed with fear.

      • Michael Murray

        Well at least there wasn't any snark.

        • Loreen Lee

          I admit to assigning unwarranted motives in my self-appointment as a mediator. Hopefully, my remarks were not 'base': just self-projections.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          What is there to respond to? You are making unwarranted negative speculations for people's motives. That is bigotry.

          • Max Driffill

            No fair minded reading of my comments would come to that conclusion. I am not making unwarranted negative speculations. I'm not impugning a group as a whole. I have, based on a raft of evidence noted some very clear differences in the handling of scandal and crime (both within the organizations themselves, and by investigative organizations) between religious entities with large histories and followings, and non-religious entities.

            My speculations are not unwarranted, because I have the evidence of what I am saying on my side. You are by passing my points and skipping straight to your own outrage. Well let me suggest that you direct your outrage toward the leadership of your very own Church, who elected to opt for opaqueness, subterfuge, and other forms of dishonest behavior in response to the nightmares occurring within its walls and under its umbrella.

            Again I am not saying that scandals don't rock other organizations. But when they do, they are investigated, and tried in courts of law, wholesale changes in leadership often follow, known offenders are reported to civil authorities not shipped to new places where they might re-offend. None of this means that the average priest, nun, or member of the Church is a bad person. But I must say, it might be indicative of a person who has not thought very deeply about the scope of the problem. And it has, historically, been quite a problem indeed. I would certainly ask myself if integrity would allow me to stay in an organization whose leadership has such a bad track record with transparency concerning the safety of its most delicate charges.


          • Kevin Aldrich

            My reply was to Michael Murray not to Max Driffill.

          • Michael Murray

            How so ? Like many non-Catholics and I expect Catholics as well I find any theodicy beyond "it's a mystery" makes me very uncomfortable. The reason is I find it very difficult not to read it as diminishing others suffering. I'm exploring possible psychological reasons people might feel motivated to take this position.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Okay, then I'll invite you to explore the psychological reasons that atheists disbelieve in God.

            Or do you assume that atheists have rational ground for disbelieving in God?

            You have indicated above that theists are lacking in empathy and can't even admit their fears. Hence they have psychological problems, you think.

            That is the bigotry.

          • David Nickol

            Okay, then I'll invite you to explore the psychological reasons that atheists disbelieve in God.

            Isn't there a difference between "disbelieve" and "don't believe"? From what I read and what I hear from people I know, many atheists hold the conviction that there is no God, that belief in God or the supernatural is foolish, and so on. But for many others it is not a matter of rejecting belief, but simply in not believing. And of course there are many people who are agnostics and simply say, "I don't know whether there is a God or not." And then there are a lot of people like me who sort of believe (at least some of the time) but have serious doubts.

            Or do you assume that atheists have rational ground for disbelieving in God?

            I would say a rational, intelligent, well educated Westerner can rationally not believe in God, but for me it is an open question whether he or she could disbelieve.

            Hence they have psychological problems, you think.

            That is the bigotry.

            There is a certain "nonreligious" sense in which everyone might be said to have psychological problems. And of course, for believers in Original Sin, it seems to me it is axiomatic that everyone, in a certain sense, has psychological problems. It would be better, though, not to call them psychological problems.

            Given the complexity of the mental processes of any individual human being, it seems to me impossible to explain with any degree of precision (except perhaps in the most extreme cases) why they believe or disbelieve in God. Something like psychoanalysis would have to be employed, but in my opinion, since psychoanalysis is deeply flawed and unreliable, the thing like psychoanalysis could not be psychoanalysis itself, and consequently it doesn't yet exist, if it ever will.

          • Michael Murray

            Okay, then I'll invite you to explore the psychological reasons that atheists disbelieve in God.

            If you can't see the rational reasons (hint: no evidence) then sure lead on with the psychological ones.

            I can't see the rational reasons for such complicated arguments supporting theodicy. So I look for psychological ones. Am I entirely rational? Of course not. In this particular argument I will definitely put my hand up to an emotional reaction to the idea that your God always brings forth good from hideous suffering. The idea disgusts me.

            You have indicated above that theists are lacking in empathy and can't even admit their fears. Hence they have psychological problems, you think.

            You are exaggerating. I am only talking about theists who sign up to the kind of theodicy I have described above. I said nothing about them not admitting their fears either.

  • Loreen Lee

    From 'Estranged Notions':

    Susan a day ago

    Susan. You are perfectly correct. My assessment of your 'reasons'
    was unfortunately merely my subjective projection on you of perhaps how I
    might feel. Thank you, and please let M. Solange know that I
    apologize. I guess I was just trying to 'make a case' for you, while
    appealing to a possible sympathetic nerve within BV. I really think,
    conscious or not, that that was my 'tactic', because I presumed that you
    wanted to continue with debates over the topics presented on SN, and
    that's why you have EN, etc. etc.

    I think I am re-experiencing my youth, often, with how I approach Catholicism now. Getting to know it on a new level, from inside out. I've had PTS therapy, and so I know this 'really works'. You gain distance (or at least you can) from
    reliving your past on a higher, (more cognitive) level. So the results
    of my anthropological studies may not be evident to any one else.

    I'm also always looking 'for connections', between the different interests I
    have had in my life. Like Buddhism. I just feel that if we didn't
    have need, as humans for the turtles and sticks we would not have
    developed the great comprehensive overviews of Yahweh et al. I don't
    feel these are going to 'die out' and indeed perhaps it is necessary to
    take the method I am using, if the ideas are going to be outgrown.

    I know I'm not able to comprehend the details of the cosmological
    theories for instance, but don't see how they are going to come up with a
    'turtle'. We can't explain the cosmos, so we come up with the idea of
    God, and then can't explain that!!!!

    I trust that you and M. Solange have pardoned me, then. On evidence, in a recent post, I attempted to find 'evidence' for such concepts as generosity, and Paul
    Rimmer demonstrated to me that my proposal could never become a
    scientific study because there were too many variations and a vagueness.
    I said that I thought it was still possible to make morality into a
    science!!!! Someday??????

    When I studied Nietzsche I was a Nietzschean. etc. etc. Except for Marxism. Although I married a 'commie', the conflict between it and my early Catholic upbringing was too much. Indeed, as far as religions go, I still hold that
    Catholicism has the most comprehensive approach to life issues. It's
    just too bad there's so much legalism, etc. etc. etc. and 'guilt'. So
    I continue to study, and rethink all I have read during my life.

    So time to carry on. Glad to find out that M. Solange is a female. I
    wouldn't have known. (This is true, is it not?) Thanks guys and
    girls. I would have felt hurt if I was dropped from SN. Hurt enough
    to feel 'estranged'!!! So we do 'read' ourselves into events and other

    Take care. Loreen.

    Loreen Lee

    This is good advice from an earlier comment of yours but I don't
    think I need it: I try to remember it in every discussion I have.

    Most others here need it even less:

    I also believe that an attempt to see the other's point of view and the
    restrictions of the discipline, is an essential component of 'rational'

    I agree. It's very important.

    My assessment of your 'reasons' was unfortunately merely my subjective projection on you of perhaps how I might feel.

    Terrible mistake to ascribe motivations that you think
    you might have to others, especially when they've explained clearly what their motivations are and they are nothing like yours.

    You need to take your own advice. Points of view have been spelled out in
    clear language for you and you've chosen to dismiss all those points,
    preferring instead your own "narrative".

    Nobody's hurt. I'm not. A little angry perhaps, but not nearly as angry as I was in the first, second and third purges. I don't like lying liars.

    By the time I was banned, it was just a matter of when. I was no snarkier there than I have been in my responses to you.

    I stayed there only because I think it's important when people try to
    rule the world by unjustified premises that people show up and demand
    that they justify their case. The banned can't and the many others who
    walked out in disgust did the right thing.

    You must have run into the idea of the "burden of proof" in all your university courses.

    The catholic church has had a couple of thousand years of not having to carry that burden.

    It's time they did.

    Lying and silencing become more and more obvious when they can't burn you at
    the stake or send you away for life to slave laundries so they can fill
    their coffers for "charity".

    If you were a real psychologist, you would know that there are liars and manipulators in the world.

    You're not. So, don't do psychology.

    • Michael Murray

      Hi Loreen, You could just link to


      and the rest of the conversation you have cut and paste would be accessible from the first post.

      • Loreen Lee

        Thanks Michael. You have done my 'work' for me then. I have been unable to make a cut and paste on that bar above the text with my mouse. Anyway. There were more conversations than this one. But this is one of many, and it is complete. There is also one with M. Solange O'Brien, which I could not find again, and many comments from others. Most characterize me as a Catholic, who merely says 'I am an atheist' - my interpretation.
        I believe I have indeed truly placed myself between Naturalism and Religion, and am not expecting comments in the future that are acceptable of my position.
        I have already posted in a combox to 'O'Brien' that I think it's time for me to return to my writing. If you are interested in this, and further critique of my positions, although this one is indeed a 'fictional' depiction, do Google PortalsofParadox, no spacing. I am sponsored by Webook, and this is a rewrite that I am finding it difficult to complete. But I believe the time has come for me to 'try again'. The best to all of you. I shall be following the dialogue, but feel far more comfortable to be writing and exploring life through and within the area of fiction. Thank you.

      • Loreen Lee

        Michael. I am posting this last one, which just turned up on my computer, because I hope this will encourage the end to this bombardment of messages I continue to receive.
        It is interesting that he talks of the suffering caused by rape. Please know that Portals is a story about sexual harassment of a person with PTSD who is in the situation of not being completely aware because of memory difficulties with a rape situation that occurred when she was a teenager. The cause of the difficulties, actually, could be traced by to an abuse of her mother by a priest in the 1920's. It is a tale of unjust imprisonment, incarceration in mental institutions, and the difficulty of finding out the truth, especially in circumstances where the evidence is difficult to find, and the 'story' of the protagonist is not believed. So much for evidence. I have concluded that despite all the failings of the Catholic church, that the 'ideal' if 'not the reality' of faith need a primary factor within a person's life. The protagonist throughout the experience, in jails, mental hospitals, etc. comes to peace through a reconciliation and acceptance of the limitations found both within the victimization by the state and science based ethics, with the norms learned and suffered within her childhood as a member of the Catholic faith.
        Please no more messages to me. If you want to hear the story, eventually, I am being encouraged the new version will within the years ahead be accessible on line, and possibly within print, as has been offered, but unable to accept because the book remain incomplete. And perhaps it will remain so. No further explanation or 'justification' will be given. None of you are under any obligation to have anything more to do with me. God bless.

  • Sean

    Love to you!