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What is the Evidential Argument from Evil?

Why Horrible Suffering Does Not Disprove God's Existence

Editor's Note: There has been rising interest in the "problem of evil" in our comment boxes, and many atheist commenters requested a stronger engagement with the so-called "evidential" version of that argument. So on Wednesday we featured a defense of the "evidential" version from atheist Brian Green Adams. Today, Catholic author Trent Horn offers a critique.

 

Once my wife and I attended a baseball game where our home team was ahead by eight runs in the top of the ninth inning. We then decided to leave so we wouldn’t get stuck in the parking lot during the mass exodus after the game. When my wife’s mother called and asked if our team had won, we said it had but we didn’t know the final score, since we had left early. She then asked, “Well, how do you know for certain they won?”

She had a point. It was possible that the opposing team had come back to win the game, or that the players on the home team had suffered a freak dugout accident that had forced them to forfeit. It was possible, but extremely improbable. Since it was so improbable, we felt that it was a safe bet to say our team had won.1

Atheists advance a similar argument from evil against the existence of God. This argument rests its case on the extreme unlikeliness that God exists in the face of tremendous evil or suffering.

The Evidential Argument from Evil

The philosopher William Rowe—who incidentally passed away this week—admits, “There is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God.”2 However, Rowe claims that while it is logically possible God has good reasons for permitting evil in the world, it seems incredibly unlikely there exist reasons that justify the huge amount of suffering we observe.

As a result, this suffering seems more compatible with an absent God than a purposefully inactive one. Rowe calls this the “evidential argument from evil,” because, rather than the mere presence of evil making it impossible that God exists (i.e. the logical argument from evil), the evidence of large amounts of evil makes it unlikely God exists. Rowe’s version of the problem of evil proceeds as follows:

  • P1. If pointless evils exist, then God does not exist
  • P2. Pointless evils do exist
  • C. Therefore, God does not exist

According to Rowe, although God may tolerate some evils because they serve a greater good (like allowing humans to have free will), there are other evils that seem to serve no greater good. Some of these are called natural evils, and they include things not caused by humans, such as hurricanes and cancer, that kill millions of creatures every year. Rowe provides one specific example of such a natural evil:

"In some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering."

Rowe argues that evils like this serve no greater good and are therefore more compatible with the non-existence of God. Even though Rowe cannot prove these evils are pointless with the same certainty we can prove 1+1=2, he maintains that the evidence makes it highly probable the evils are pointless, and therefore it is extremely unlikely that God exists.

How Could a Theist Respond to this Argument?

There are several ways a theist could respond to this argument. One less-popular approach is to deny P1, or claim that there is no contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evils that serve no greater good (i.e. pointless or gratuitous evils). The philosopher Peter van Inwagen defends this approach and argues that the concept of “gratuitous evil” is a fuzzy one. He writes:

“[God] cannot remove all the horrors from the world, for that would frustrate his plan for reuniting human beings with himself. And if he prevents only some horrors, how shall he decide which ones to prevent? Where shall he draw the line?—the line between threatened horrors that are prevented and threatened horrors that are allowed to occur? I suggest that wherever he draws the line, it will be an arbitrary line.”3

So, according to van Inwagen, just as a judge must draw a line and impose a sentence that is not necessary for carrying out a goal like “effective deterrence” (e.g. a prison sentence of 9 years and 364 days would be just as effective as a ten year prison sentence when it comes to deterring crime), God has to “draw a line” and allow some evils that are not strictly necessary for attaining a greater good.

Is There Pointless Evil?

In contrast to van Inwagen, most theistic philosophers prefer to challenge P2, or the claim that pointless evils exist. They ask, “How do we know there are some evils that don’t serve a good end?” After all, we can at least conceive of some good reasons God would have for allowing natural evil to exist.

Natural evils may, for example, serve to build our character and help us develop virtue (this is also called a “soul-making” theodicy). Think of the people who selflessly donate time, money, and even things like blood to help with disaster relief projects. We recognize that such acts of compassion are intrinsically good, and when humans freely choose to perform such acts, their choices gradually change their characters and can lead to the great good of their becoming virtuous people. In fact, many of the virtues that make the world a better place are practiced in response to some evil. Consider:

  • Courage: Doing what is right in the face of danger.
  • Compassion: Suffering alongside someone.
  • Love: Putting another person’s needs ahead of your own.

Moreover, natural evils may be an acceptable consequence of living in a world governed by natural laws that lacks gratuitous miraculous interventions (e.g. the fire that warms us can also kill us unless God always intervenes miraculously when fire gets out of hand). Such a world may be an ideal place for embodied, moral agents to live, grow in virtue, and ultimately come to know their creator. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

“But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.”4

Skeptical Theism and “No-see-ums”

Of course, an atheist could say that even if good reasons exist to justify natural evil in general, that is not the same as proving God has good reasons for allowing specific instances of natural or allegedly pointless evil (e.g. the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Holocaust, etc.). The problem with this approach, however, is that it concludes that there are no good reasons for these evils just because those reasons are not immediately apparent to us.

But consider the phenomena of “no-see-ums,” which is a term used by the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga. It refers to insects you can’t see with the naked eye but have painful bites. The lesson to be learned from no-see-ums is that just because you can’t see something that does not mean the thing in question does not exist.5

Granted, when I stand in my backyard and don’t see any elephants I am justified in saying, “There are no elephants in my backyard.” But if I say that “I don’t see any fleas in my backyard,” I am not justified in saying, “There are no fleas in my backyard.” After all, there might be fleas in my backyard, but because they are so small, I am not able to see them. When it comes to the good reasons God has for allowing particular evils to exist we must ask, “Should those reasons be as obvious as elephants, or be as imperceptible as fleas?"

This approach to the evidential problem of evil is also called skeptical theism. It argues that since human beings are limited by time and space, we are no more in a good position to see how seemingly pointless evil can lead to greater goods in the future than we are in a good position to see fleas in a yard from the seats on a typical backyard porch. The sheer number of possibilities that can be generated by seemingly inconsequential events is simply “beyond our ken.”

For example, I sometimes ponder in astonishment the effect my wife’s great-grandmother had when she refused to let her daughter travel on the Titanic. It’s amazing to think of all the effects in the future (such as the birth of my son) that could have been drastically different were she to not have made such a simple choice. And this is just one example, but it is enough to show that an evil that exists in the present can have good effects hundreds or thousands of years from now that we are unable to fathom or predict.

To summarize, the evidential argument from evil relies on the atheist being able to prove that it is very unlikely there are “good reasons that justify serious evils." But human beings are not in a good epistemic (or knowledge-gaining) position to know those reasons do not exist. Therefore, the evidential argument from evil can’t prove that God probably does not exist.

The Reversal Approach

Finally, a theist could reverse Rowe’s argument in the following way:

  • If pointless evils exist, then God does not exist.
  • God does exist.
  • Therefore, pointless evils do not exist.

Because the evidential argument from evil only tries to show that God’s existence is improbable (and not impossible), then it is only fair that the evidence for the existence of God be factored into the discussion. One important piece of evidence would be the very concepts of objective evils, objective goods, and the moral truth that one may only allow evil in order to obtain a greater good or prevent a greater evil (a premise that lies at the heart of the evidential argument from evil). A successful moral argument for the existence of God could show that the very moral framework that the evidential argument from evil relies on in order to make its case is only consistent within a theistic framework.

Conclusion

In closing, please consider this to be a general introduction to this topic from a theistic perspective. The space required for a short article does not permit me to address objections raised by atheistic philosophers like Paul Draper and Erik Wielenberg, which I hope to address in a future post. For now, if you want to learn more about this argument I recommend the following resources:

Overview of the Argument

Defenses of the Evidential Problem of Evil

Critiques of the Evidential Problem of Evil

Debates

 

This post was adapted from chapter seven of Trent Horn's book, Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity (Catholic Answers, 2013).
 
 
(Image credit: DavidLaw.com)

Notes:

  1. Michael Murray uses a similar example to this in his book Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering. A real-life example did occur in 1998 when eleven members of a Congolese soccer team were all killed by lightning while the opposing team was left unharmed. See “Africa Lightning kills football team.” BBC News, October 28, 1998. Available online at: http:// news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/203137.stm
  2. See William Rowe. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (4): 335–41, October 1979.
  3. Peter van Inwagen. The Problem of Evil (Oxford University Press, New York, 2006) 104-105.
  4. CCC 310
  5. Alvin Plantinga. Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000) 466-467.
Trent Horn

Written by

Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • We have some theodicies advanced here, one is that natural evils are character building. This takes the position that millions, billions of people many children will suffer and die so that it builds character in those who have to deal with this tremendous horror. I do not see this character building as justifying the slaughter and anguish. Not to mention that for many people these disasters are not only hurt but are permanently damaging causing mental disorders and more suffering. None of us would ever take this approach with respect to this kind of suffering. We would never agree to withhold a cure for disease or disaster safety measures because we know that dealing with these harms would build character.

    • Doug Shaver

      We have some theodicies advanced here, one is that natural evils are character building.

      Whenever I hear this one, I can't help thinking that headaches must be good because if we didn't get them, we might never have invented aspirin.

    • Robert Macri

      Character building is but one possible benefit to the existence of certain evils. No one would suggest that character building alone is the justification for every evil. The main point is that we, though finite, can imagine the possibility that good can always be nurtured forth in the wake of evil; it is NOT that we should be able to clearly discern in each instance what that good must be. Thus, even from our limited perspective, we can understand (in principle) the position that no "pointless" evils exist.

      To prove that pointless evils exist, you must demonstrate that no explanation could be found even in principle; it does not suffice to show that one or several explanations are unsatisfactory, or to play "gotcha" by presenting an example of evil that is difficult to explain from the limited human perspective.

      That is precisely why the weaker form of the argument (to demonstrate the unlikelihood of God's existence rather than proof of his non-existence) is proffered in the first place. It shift from "proof" to "likelihood". Thus, it is eminently subjective.

      Why? Because to demonstrate likelihood is to place bounds on what is possible in order to estimate the relative weight of one position with respect to another. If I posit the existence of a God who is infinite in all perfections, how can anyone logically circumscribe his possible motives and powers?

      It is not reasonable to deny the existence of an element of an infinite set by bounding it with a finite measure.

      • I can grant that the nurturing of positive activity and character is a mitigating factor of evil/suffering, but not a justifying factor. And there is abundant human-caused suffering with which we can nurture good. Why need there be natural suffering and on such an epic scale?

        'To prove that pointless evils exist, you must demonstrate..." the evidential form of the argument concedes that this cannot be proven. This is why it is changed from the logical form of "gratuitous suffering exists" to "gratuitous suffering seems to exist". The inference being that since there is so much suffering for which we cannot even imagine any moral justification.

        I disagree that the evidential or weaker form is subjective, depending on how you are using this term. But who cares? do you or do you not agree, subjectively, if you like, that there is enormous suffering in this world that seems to have no purpose? Unless you can come up with a compelling theodicy, I think it is reasonable to conclude it seems gratuitous.

        Your appeal to the existence of an infinite deity or perfections would work if there was any good reason to believe such an entity exists, there isn't, and this argument identifies some evidence that no such being exists.

        • Robert Macri

          You wrote: "Your appeal to the existence of an infinite deity or perfections would
          work if there was any good reason to believe such an entity exists,
          there isn't, and this argument identifies some evidence that no such
          being exists."

          OK. Let's see if I've got this right:

          #1) No good reasons for God exist. Therefore, theistic explanations of evil should be eliminated.
          #2) It is likely that gratuitous evil exists. (Remember, we eliminated any explanations to the contrary in step #1, so it's not just "likely"... it's all we're left with.)
          #3) Because gratuitous evil exists, God cannot exist. (Which can be used as evidence that we were right in step 1.)

          Um... a little circular, maybe?

          Anyway...

          Any appeal I made to God and his perfections in previous comments was to illustrate the possibility (that's it, just the possibility) that no gratuitous evil exists, not to mount a proof for God's existence. Why do I have to come up with "a compelling theodicy" in order to do that? You're flipping the tables. The prosecutor cannot demand that the defense prove who REALLY committed the crime; it is enough for the defense to establish reasonable doubt. But with this weaker form of the argument from evil you are in effect trying making "reasonable doubt" part of your prosecution, and demanding that the defense solve the case!

          And besides, in going from the traditional argument from evil to the weaker form, how does one determine what is or is not considered "likely"? What calculus is used here? Are explanations involving God automatically eliminated (which is what you seemed to be suggesting above)? Or are we to suppose that the average atheist weighs all the "god arguments" against the "no god" arguments and counts them up to see which has more votes? I think it more likely that the atheist dismisses the contrary arguments and rests satisfied that the remaining logic supports his original premise. (But who was trying to convince who in the first place?) To stick with my legal theme, you can't point to the fact that you've eliminated suspects from an investigation to prove their guilt.

          Finally, of course there are good reasons for believing in God. That's why I believe in God. If I seem like an irrational sort of person to you, you might be justified in saying that my reasons are suspect, but otherwise blanket statements such as "no good reasons exist" (as I stated above) only serve as an attempt to turn the tables (because we weren't talking about reasons for belief, we were discussing the merits of the argument from evil).

          You can't prove that God doesn't exist by demanding the theist to prove that he does, no matter how unconvincing the theist turns out to be. That would be a proper response to an argument for God, but it's not a proper defense of an argument against God.

          • No, you've not got my position correct. I would state it as follows:

            1) there are no reasons to accept a god exists.

            2) this leaves us in a default position of negative atheism: it is not reasonable to believe in any gods.

            3) we observe something that is inconsistent with certain kinds of gods (gratuitous suffering or evils)

            4) it is reasonable to believe those kinds of gods do not exist.

            I think you should recognize how weak appeals to "possibilities" are. It is possible that we are in the matrix, that the pope is the devil, that Obama is a secret Muslim. A possibility so weaker than a probability. You need to demonstrate that it is probable that a god exists. I grant it may be possible. (You actually have not demonstrated that it is possible, we don't have enough information for that. What you really are saying is that my side has not demonstrated that it is impossible, a point which is conceded.)

            You need to come up with a reasonable theodicy if you want to contradict the premise that it seems there is a least some suffering that is not gratuitous.

            I am not raising a reasonable doubt about the existence of god, nor would I hold theists to demonstrate the existence of a god to that standard, I would hold theists to a balance of probabilities. As noted above, natural theology, arguments from scripture, moral arguments, the ontological argument all fail to meet that threshold. The problem of evil goes a step further and provides evidence to believe there is no such god. The situation here is that I have demonstrated it is more likely than not that there is no such god, because there is more likely than not gratuitous evil. You are not able to provide any evidence that this evil is not gratuitous, but are arguing that my case fails because I haven't disproven the existence of reasons which you speculate could possibly exist. But you can't even hypothesize on what these reasons might be.

            I am fine with ignoring the burdens of proof here and both sides advancing arguments for and against the existence of gods. I don't find any of the theists arguments meet the burden and I think some of the positive atheist arguments are in fact evidence that certain kinds of gods do not exists.

    • It also totally ignores the fawn-in-the-forest example

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        Also known as the Disney-fication of the Zeitgeist.

      • Robert Macri

        The fact that no one can answer every such objection is not evidence that no explanation exists.

        I recently saw a nature documentary about Pacific salmon. Driven by instinct they leave the salty ocean and swim upstream in fresh water, where they cannot survive for very long, slowly getting sicker and sicker while they strive towards their goal. They fortunate ones (those that aren't eaten by bears and birds) ultimately die after spawning. They die by the multitude, having suffered their long trek and associated illness.

        But this crazy run of theirs serves more than just the propagation of their species. Those bears I mentioned would starve without them, and the dead bodies of the rest bring much needed nutrients to remote parts of the American northwest, supporting plant and animal life of all kinds. They are a "keystone" species for the areas. Estuaries wash their nutrients far and wide, and even the bears drag their carcasses about (not to mention excreting nutrients after a meal) which provides a huge amount of nitrogen and other elements for the growing trees... and on and on.

        Can we say with certainty that the death of a fawn is not also part of some larger purpose? (The fire certainly serves a purpose in the health of a forest.)

        What if that fawn would otherwise have survived and grown into a stag, and a Navajo hunter tracking that stag slipped over a precipice and died, leaving his mate and three children behind to starve?

        We have no way of knowing what purpose an individual instance of suffering might serve, but we cannot declare it impossible that a purpose exists.

        From chaos theory we can even understand (fancifully, I admit) how the mere flapping of butterfly wings could affect weather patterns. Who are we to say that anything at all happens without purpose?

        Note: I have purposefully attempted to supply on "natural" benefits here. But who is to say that only natural effect matter?

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Don't forget the Copernican principle.

    • Phil

      Hey Brian,

      We have to remember that just because we can't figure out, with our limited intellects, how a greater good could come from some evils it doesn't then necessarily follow that there are evils that take place where a greater good cannot come from them.

      The truth of the matter is any evil that God allows (i.e., which actually takes place) a greater good can always be brought about through it. Some may rack their brain trying to figure out how good can be brought about through some specific evils, but many times the only way to understand evil is to enter into prayer and allow God to reveal the truth of the matter to us.

      While the problem of suffering is not truly a logical argument against the existence of God, but rather an argument against the existence of a truly loving and good God, it is the greatest challenge of faith for many. This is because at the very root of all reality is Love. All persons desire to be loved and have an infinite capacity for love. Suffering and evil creates a storm cloud that covers over the truth that the sun--i.e., love--is shining to an infinite degree upon us all.

      • David Nickol

        In fact, the truth of the matter is any evil that God allows (i.e., which actually takes place) a greater good can always be brought about through it.

        In fact, the truth of the matter is . . . .???

        How do you know? You can't know. If you want to say, "I believe with all my heart and every fiber of my being . . . " go right ahead. But please don't lecture about fact and truth based on faith.

        • Phil

          Hey David,

          Something is not true because I, or anyone else, believes it with every fiber of their being. We must have some sort of good reason to believe something is actually true. (Of course, good reason can then lead us to believe something with "every fiber of our being".)

          If we do actually have good reason to believe that God revealed his very self in the person of Jesus and was revealed as a loving Father, then we must face the issue of suffering.

          So in a sense, Christianity created the problem of evil by having reason to believe that a loving God actually exists and then understanding that suffering still exists.

          In all, when faced with the choice between either holding that Jesus was not God revealing himself as love or holding that a loving God can bring good out of any evil that takes place, I believe, along with many others in the intellectual history of Christianity, that it is more reasonable to hold the latter.

          (The spiritual history of the Catholic tradition supports the latter as well when we read the lives of the saints up and down the centuries.)

          • David Nickol

            I do not object to you believing Christianity to be true. I objected to this particular sentence, the original version of which you have edited slightly:

            In fact, the truth of the matter is any evil that God allows (i.e., which actually takes place) a greater good can always be brought about through it.

            My question is how do you know that? In what sense is it a fact? How do you measure the quantity of an evil that is permitted to happen, and how do you measure the quantity of good that God must bring out of it in order for the good to be greater than the evil? Assuming there is a God, how do you pretend to know how he accomplishes his ends? Can you give three good examples of when God has allowed an evil and then brought greater good from it?

            If you want to say you know as a fact that Jesus rose from the dead, that's something that we can discuss as potentially a matter of fact. But the sentence I quoted above is purely a matter of belief.

            So in a sense, Christianity created the problem of evil by having reason to believe that a loving God actually exists and then understanding that suffering still exists.

            The Jews were grappling with the problem of evil long before the birth of Christianity, as were other pre-Christian religions. The Book of Job was not written by Christians.

          • Phil

            It sounds like part of the reason you had an issue with the statement was its perceived confidence. Part of this may simply be perceived on your end, and part of it is my actual small bit of confidence that is only thanks to God. In other words, please don't take that sentence as saying that "everyone is stupid who doesn't believe this". I have no desire to force anyone to view reality exactly as I do.

            Now, why am I personally so confident with what I said about God and suffering? In short, here are several things that I have have very good reason to believe beyond a reasonable doubt:

            1) God has created us each out of love, and desires us to be united with him for all eternity.

            2) Suffering and evil actions still exist (along with the Evil One and his minions still prowling trying to slyly entrap us)

            3) Every action of God is always directed towards bringing us to union with himself in heaven. Therefore he never allows us to go through anything that does not have the possibility of helping us get to heaven. This includes suffering and evil.

            4) Because this life is finite, and union with God, i.e., heaven, is infinite, we could suffer horribly our whole life and the greater good would always be eternal life. (Just read St. Faustina's diary.)

            -----

            I know very well that a person that has not much experience with faith may be slightly miffed at these statements. Again, this is simply a witness to my personal experience of what the Catholic church teaches.

            (As a quick side note, the reason for the edit was I realized that the original was a bit redundant. One of my weaknesses is writing.)

      • Galorgan

        But just because God could make a greater good come from evil, doesn't mean there aren't still problems. If God is omnipotent as claimed, then he could also make a greater good come from good. There is no reason for the evil (or suffering), given his omnipotence. He created the universe and his laws under your view, and therefore the system in place that makes it so that greater good came from evil is his creation, and thus choice, as well. The system could have been created so that evil (suffering) didn't occur, or was lessened and yet we still had the same amount of good (or "greater good"), if he was truly omnipotent.

        The conclusion must be that God, assuming existence, chose suffering for its own sake and not for the good that can come out of it (again because any greater good that could come from evil could also come from good if the system was created differently).

        • Phil

          Hey Galorgan,

          If God is omnipotent as claimed, then he could also make a greater good come from good. There is no reason for the evil (or suffering), given his omnipotence.

          A very good point you bring up! The key point for us to understand is that evil/suffering is a privation of a good that ought to be present. Evil cannot be created in and of itself; evil is like the hole in a sock. The answer to this is that God has not, and never can "create" evil/suffering. God can, and does, bring out a greater good out of good, and he can bring out a greater good out of evil. That he can bring such good out of evil speaks even higher to his glory, power, and majesty!

          But to go back to the idea of the origin of suffering and evil--since God does not create it but merely allows it, from where does it come? All evil and suffering ultimately comes from our desire to turn away from God. God so loves us that he will not take away the option that we can freely choose to turn away from him (of course, this doesn't end up well us when we do this!).

          Now some bring up the idea of natural "evils", such as earthquakes, floods, etc. How does our free choice to turn away from God cause these things; why are natural "evils" present in the first place? There isn't anything actually evil about an earthquake. The earth is simply doing what the earth and rocks do. So either we allow ourselves to suffer because of it, or we allow God to transform that suffering. We need look no further than the saints. As this relationship with God was repaired in the life of the saints, ultimately through their cooperation with God's grace in them, suffering took on a sweetness. Suffering from natural evils was even transformed! That is the ingenuity of embracing "the cross", no matter how much we suffer in this life, it could never equal the peace and joy that eternal union with God is!

          We can also speculate about the idea that before original sin, when we were united very closely to God, that even these natural evils were not present. But again, this is pure speculation.

          The conclusion must be that God, assuming existence, chose suffering for its own sake and not for the good that can come out of it (again because any greater good that could come from evil could also come from good if the system was created differently).

          Then to answer your conclusion, we freely chose suffering through our inheritance of original sin, and continue to choose to suffer when we turn away from God. So God does not choose suffering. He allows it because of our free will, and in his omnipotence he is able to bring a greater good out of any evil!

          • Galorgan

            Many of these points have been answered elsewhere in this thread and the previous ones. For instance, natural "evil" occurred before Adam and Eve unless you are a young earth creationist. If we take the appropriate scientific view of an old universe using evolution by natural selection, then we see the suffering of animals for millions of years before "the fall." So no, we cannot, in good faith, speculate that before the fall these natural evils were not present.

            I can't say much about your paragraph about the saints without being harsh. However, it still goes back to my point. If God is omnipotent, he could create the universe in such a way that the suffering wasn't necessary to obtain that "sweetness." Again, the conclusion must be that he wants suffering for itself. Finally, any pain and suffering isn't undone or erased by eternal peace and joy. If god is proposed to be perfect, maximally good, and omnibenevolent, then even the slightest amount of unnecessary pain and suffering would negate that. The argument must be that all pain and suffering is necessary - which is what I'm attempting to argue against in the rest of this post.

            God created everything other than himself. Again I contend that he did create suffering as per the first paragraph. In regards to "evil," if he didn't create it directly, he created the system in which there would be much of it, knowing there would be much of it. Given his omnipotence, I don't see how he couldn't have made a system where there was less of it (no natural disasters) and instead made the same "greater good" come from elsewhere. Free will would be completely intact and the "greater good"/sweetness could come from another source that he created.

          • Phil

            The simple answer is that there was no true suffering, even from natural causes/disasters before the fall. What exactly that means we don't know. We understand that there was some sort of protection that the human person enjoyed because of her relationship to God before it was broken off through original sin.

            Remember, we are both working from the assumption that all power comes from God, and so if he wanted to keep us safe from natural suffering, he could very well do so.

            As you mentioned, we can't go back in time and figure this out exactly, but it is definitely not logically impossible for this to have been the case.

            This is so hard for us to understand with natural reason because we live in a state where we feel the effects of original sin every day. God will grant us "tastes" of the joy and peace he desires for us as we enter into relationship with him though.

            The argument must be that all pain and suffering is necessary - which is
            what I'm attempting to argue against in the rest of this post.

            So then the rebuttal to this point would be that suffering is not necessary because if we (as a human race) would not have sinned, we would not suffer even from natural "evils".

          • Galorgan

            So you discount animal suffering altogether (regardless of how sentient the animals are)? Whether it be neanderthals, homo erectus, or something earlier, there has to be a point before the fall where we had some fairly intelligent primate suffering, unless you don't accept any of those creatures existing.

          • Phil

            Even if "we" (2 people in the distant past) chose to disobey him, he chose the immense suffering "we" (everybody in addition to those 2 people) have to endure as a result. He's still
            responsible.

            It seems like you are proposing that when we choose to separate ourselves from Goodness and Love itself, that there would be no lessening of goodness or love? This doesn't seem like it would rationally follow. If God respects our free will, including our ability to separate ourselves from Love and Goodness, then with we do so there will be a lessening of Love and Goodness. We experience this as the effects of original sin.

            In addition, you blame all "true" suffering on the fall, but God chose the punishment for the fall.

            Yes and no. Of course God knew what the punishment would be if we chose to turn away from him (i.e., sin). But he also would know from all eternity that any of those punishments could be turned into a greater good.

            So while he didn't desire that we would sin, it must be an option for a truly free being. And when we did sin he desired to repair that relationship with him through offering himself as a sacrifice on the cross to redeem us and also show us what true love is.

            So you discount animal suffering altogether (regardless of how sentient the animals are)?

            We couldn't call it "suffering" in the proper sense. We understand that one of the things separates the human person from other animals is that the person is self-conscious; it is aware, that it is aware, that it is aware, etc. Other non-human animals are merely conscious.

            This means that a non-human experience of suffering is going to be radically different from our own. So much so that we can't even conceive of it because self-conscious conceptual reflection as such is only possible in a self-conscious being. So we would have to get rid of our ability of self-consciousness to know what it is like to be a monkey. But then we couldn't be reflecting anymore, because that is a purely human ability.

          • Galorgan

            No, these are two different things. You gave the possibility that natural disasters didn't occur before the fall. Thus you implied that natural disasters occurred because of the fall. Lessening"goodness and love" and having a tsunami come and kill hundreds of thousands of people are two different things. There are also direct punishments listed in Genesis for the fall, such as the pain of child birth. These are active punishments chosen by God, not passive ones that occur from lessening goodness and love. (There is also Noah's Flood, where God purposely sends the flood to kill those deserving. Once again, this is a direct punishment, not a passive result of lessening goodness and love.)

            Again, as I've stated. If God is omnipotent, then that "greater good" could have come out of instances of goodness just as easily as suffering. He created a system that included suffering.

            First, I think you are underestimating the suffering capabilities of some of apes. Moreover, you must consider our closer ancestors like homo erectus. Regardless, you realize that it is possible for animals to suffer in some sense (even if it's not your "proper" sense) without having original sin. This, itself, goes against the idea that God is maximally good. These animals suffer in some sense and without the free will to choose it. Once again, God created a system that included suffering.

          • Phil

            You gave the possibility that natural disasters didn't occur before the fall. Thus you implied that natural disasters occurred because of the fall.

            Not necessarily. Note that I said that true suffering did not exist before the fall. It could have been the case that natural disasters did occur, but true suffering was not present before the fall. There is no logical connection where: if natural disasters, therefore true suffering.

            I will separate out a kind of wrap up comment on the middle part above.

            -----
            (I won't comment directly on non-human animals, but I will address it in my "wrap up" comment. It is also possible that animals did not suffer before the fall either. This being because there is the idea that the human person is who creates to the break in relationship between God and material creation. I also don't doubt that non-human animals suffer, it is just a very different experience from human animals that we can never know exactly.)

          • Galorgan

            Ah yes I did misread that. Still, I think the point stands, regardless. God created the system in place whereby people would be suffering after two of them disobeyed him. If he had natural disasters in place beforehand and then let them feel the full effects of them, not much has changed because he both created those disasters in the first place and created the punishment of feeling those disasters in the second.

          • Phil

            Again, as I've stated. If God is omnipotent, then that "greater good" could have come out of instances of goodness just as easily as suffering. He created a system that included suffering.

            To provide a sort of wrap-up summary--it seems like the main underlying theme of this is that you hold that a loving God ought to have created material reality so that suffering was not possible (speaking directly about natural disasters and non-human animals).

            This is a question for you to ask God since no person could possibly have the answer for why God created material reality specifically as he did!

            But the fact remains that it does not logically follow that since we live in this kind of a material reality a loving God can't exist. So if a person doesn't like how God created, that is something to take to prayer, seriously!

            If you look at a weird building I constructed, you could possibly reason about why I built it as I did, but you could never know exactly my personal reasons for building it that way without asking me directly. So I encourage you to ask the Creator of all material reality why he "built" it as he did!

            [This is a reason why Satan loves suffering. It covers over the fact that a loving God does exist. This is especially relevant to the situation in our modern world.]

          • Galorgan

            I do not think that the PoE (or whatever we want to call it) is a proof against the tri-omni god's existence because I don't think that's possible. What I do think it is is a pretty compelling argument against it.

            Thank you for your time, and to condense my points into something small: If the tri-omni god exists and is the creator of reality, then he chose all of the systems in place. So he is still responsible for the suffering people feel today even if two people chose to disobey him. He created the system, and thereby its punishments, to where two people disobeying him would result in the suffering we have. This seems like a contradiction of being maximally good, to me. Thus, it leads me to believe that the tri-omni god does not exist.

            Finally, I understand that you're being kind-hearted when you tell me to pray and ask, but since I don't believe, it comes across as preaching. Furthermore, if those answers were attainable through prayer, apologists would be offering them already.

            Enjoy the rest of your Sunday and take care.

          • Phil

            Thank you as well! I hope you enjoy your day as well! A couple of final comments:

            1) The key point to remember is that there could be a very good reason that God actually allows suffering in "the system". He doesn't desire suffering for its own sake, so why would he allow it is the big spiritual question to ponder. But you are exactly right, suffering does make it harder to believe in a loving God.

            2) On the topic of prayer--God does reveal why he allows suffering in prayer. Part of it has been weaved into some of my answers, and some of it would be more a part of a spiritual intensive investigation of suffering and evil. (It would normally not be fruitful for someone to respond on here with, "God revealed this to me". It is something that every person has to experience on a personal level individually. That is why the lives of the saints are so invaluable!)

            But believing on an intellectual level that God allows suffering for good reasons is very different from God infusing that knowledge into one's heart through prayer as one grows closer to him.

          • Phil

            I just had to pass this along to you. As I was reading a little bit before attempting to take a power nap this afternoon, here is what I read from St. Faustina's Diary:

            St. Faustina--
            "Great love can change small things into great ones, and it is only love which lends value to our actions. And the purer our love becomes, the less there will be within us for the flames of suffering to feed upon, and the suffering will cease to be suffering for us; it will become a delight."

            So it is possible that the best way to teach us how to love as God loves--as that is what will bring us the true joy and peace we desire--is to allow the suffering we see. In that sense, God may have created the best possible physical reality, even though it doesn't seem like it at first glance!

          • Galorgan

            In addition, you blame all "true" suffering on the fall, but God chose the punishment for the fall. He was not playing by somebody else's rules. Even if "we" (2 people in the distant past) chose to disobey him, he chose the immense suffering "we" (everybody in addition to those 2 people) have to endure as a result. He's still responsible.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            ...The answer to this is that God has not, and never can "create" evil/suffering...

            Who was it, I wonder, who invented the concepts of evil and suffering? Who was it that forged into the metaphysical laws of the cosmos the rules allowing (requiring) suffering and evil to exist from the nothingness before creation?

          • Phil

            Who was it, I wonder, who invented the concepts of evil and suffering? Who was it that forged into the metaphysical laws of the cosmos the rules allowing (requiring) suffering and evil to exist from the nothingness before creation?

            We need to draw proper distinctions here:

            Evil is not a thing with existence in and of itself, it's a privation of a good that ought to be present. It is like a hole in a sock. Is the hole itself in the sock a thing? It is not; it is a lack of something.

            So when we understand this, creating evil doesn't make much sense. So God has allowed his creation to develop "holes", a privation of goods. Why, specifically, he has allowed this is part of the mystery.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            Evil is not a thing with existence in and of itself, it's a privation of a good that ought to be present.

            uh, huh.

            You are welcome to call Earthquakes "not-not-Earthquakes" and Malaria "not-not-Malaria" if you like; it is all the same to me.

            I still maintain that, had I been creating the cosmos, I would have left out the not-not-cancer.

          • Phil

            Let's take cancer for example--

            Why do we say cancer is actually bad? If we take cancer by itself we can't call it bad. It's just cancer. It exists and therefore its ontological nature is good. The only reason we can say that cancer is bad is when it takes away health from the body. The good of the body is health, and cancer creates a lack of health.

            Cancer can only be said to be "bad" insofar as it takes away from something that is good--namely health.

            So again, we can't point to something and say "bad" or "evil" without referencing a good that ought to be present. Therefore, evil is "parasitic" upon a goodness that ought to be present.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            Why do we say cancer is actually bad? If we take cancer by itself we can't call it bad. It's just cancer. It exists and therefore its ontological nature is good.

            OK. I seem to have exceeded my commenting budget for the day. Thanks for the discussion and best regards.

          • Phil

            I seem to have exceeded my commenting budget for the day. Thanks for the discussion and best regards.

            Thank you as well, Darren!

            Don't worry, you should be able to get some more "commenting tokens" from Brandon Vogt (the webmaster of this site). I've heard he is generous with them!

            (As a side note--I highly recommend checking out the chapter entitled "Evil and Being" in W. Norris Clarke's book linked below. He does a much better job explaining what I am attempting to explain!

            http://www.amazon.com/One-Many-Contemporary-Thomistic-Metaphysics/dp/0268037078/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1441133423&sr=8-1&keywords=norris+clarke+the+one+and+the+many)

          • Darren

            Tis my day job that interferes.

            Thanks for the book link.

          • Breezeyguy

            But earthquakes are good.

      • Yes Phil, obviously. The question is. If you cannot fathom any possible reason for the God you believe in to allow such suffering, do you not agree that the suffering seems gratuitous? If so, the evidential argument is evidence against the existence of tho definition of a god.

        • Phil

          If you cannot fathom any possible reason for the God you believe in to allow such suffering, do you not agree that the suffering seems gratuitous?

          Seems gratuitous is the key phrase. Yes, I would agree there is some suffering that truly can appear, that seems, to be gratuitous. But it only appears that way. It is not actually gratuitous.

          • Then we agree! That is the conclusion of the evidential problem of evil. Please seem my article last wee where that is specifically the the conclusion. It is up to theists to then find other evidence to back up your claim that although it seems no such god exists, one does anyway.

          • Phil

            Sure, one can ask a person to provide evidence to show that suffering is not actually gratuitous, but it may very well be the case that there is no evidence that is able to be discovered through pure human reason. And even if this is the case it doesn't mean that a loving God doesn't exist. It just makes it harder for a person to come to understand that a loving God does exist. Suffering is the cloud that covers over the rays from the sun of God's love for many people.

            In reality, I believe that the only truly satisfactory answer to the problem of evil can come from growing in relationship with God and allowing him to personally reveal his plans for the suffering that takes place.

            The more I've studied, prayed, and reflected, the more I am coming to the conclusion that absolutely everything about the reality we inhabit is about bringing us into a personal relationship and communion with God. This would make sense then that the only real solution to the "problem of evil" is a personal relationship with God.

            This is also the reason that I believe that the problem of suffering is the toughest objection, both on an intellectual and emotional level, to the existence of a loving God.

            (Though as I mentioned, it isn't an issue of logic but of understanding why God would create this type of a reality where suffering is possible.)

          • I agree that there existence of suffering that seems gratuitous does not prove with certainty that the suffering is gratuitous. But given the volume of such evidence and the complete inability to even hypothesize or speculate on justifications that make sense within moral intuitions, the jump from "there is enormous suffering on a global scale which we cannot fathom why perfectly loving god would allow" to "at least some of this suffering seems gratuitous, because it is" is a reasonable one.

            We do this all the time, we have no choice. We can't know the sky is blue or the ocean is watery, all we can say is that it seems that way. It is reasonable to infer that there is such overwhelming evidence of it seeming that way, because it is that way. It doesn't necessarily mean it is that way, we could be in the matrix, I could be a brain in a vat. But, it is reasonable to make these inferences.

            If there is a way to know this god directly and distinctively, please share it. Stay tuned for the divine hiddeness argument for atheism! Which should go on the podcast tonight. Which I think is even more powerful than the POE.

            Good for you that the more you study the more you are convinced a god exists. The more I study, the more bible I read, the more I steel man theist arguments, the more I pray and nothing happens, the more I hear about actual personal experiences of god from theists (extremely vague), the less convinced I am that any such entity exists.

            So, yeah.

          • Phil

            I completely agree with the sentiments behind many of the comments you made on this topic. They are something many people have to struggle with when they decide to ask the "big questions" about reality.

            But as you implicitly mention, the fact of evil or divine hiddeness don't make great intellectual proofs for the non-existence of a loving God. (They are very good emotional proofs though, which is why these are the two things that normal everyday people struggle with the most.)

            The reason for this is that evil and hiddeness are not in direct logical contradiction to God as properly understood. To make these solid intellectual arguments, one would need to defend that claim that God cannot allow evil or that God cannot be hidden. Neither of these can be defended well because God could allow evil or be hidden without directly contradicting his nature.

          • "don't make great intellectual proofs for the non-existence of a loving God"

            Depends what you mean by "intellectual" and "proof". I say they are empirical evidence supporting the non-existence of the god advanced by Christianity and other religions.

            Conversely, a cosmos with no deities is also not a logical contradiction, despite what you might claim Aquinas has demonstrated, but we can save that for one of the many Aquinininian cosmological argument posts.

            As I have noted, neither argument suggests that God cannot allow evil or be hidden. However, it is a logical contradiction for an omnibenevolent, omnipotent deity to allow gratuitous evil or non-resistant unbelievers. If either of these exist they would be a logical contradiction of ominpotence or omnibenevolence.

          • Phil

            I definitely agree with the gist of what you are saying.

            So the reason why I would hold Aquinas' arguments to be potentially stronger intellectual arguments is that if one comes to agree that the general outline of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is correct (i.e., formal, final, efficient, and material causality; and act and potency), then it necessarily follows that what we classically call "God" exists.

            Obviously, one first has to discuss whether the underlying metaphysics of reality is correct and much of modern culture does not know how to properly do the study of metaphysics. So that obviously creates a very big challenge!

            So, as I mentioned above, to make the argument from evil or divine hiddeness have the possibility of being as strong of an intellectual argument, one would need to include the premise that God cannot allow evil or that God cannot be hidden. Therefore, one could conclude that God necessarily does not exist, which would equal the force of Aquinas' conclusions that God must necessarily exist.

            I don't think that either of those premises could be defended well because God could allow evil or be hidden without directly contradicting his nature. So where Aquinas argues that if reality exists as we experience it, then God necessarily exists, the evil/hiddeness argument would have a hard time saying the alternative (that because of how reality exists, God necessarily does not exist).

            A side note is that I am not a fan of using the word "proof". I would much rather use "argument". The reason being is that when a modern person hears "proof" they think of something like a geometric or mathematical proof. Well, the physical sciences and philosophy cannot provide "proofs" in the way that geometry or mathematics can. A metaphysical argument has some aspects of a geometrical proof, but it starts from the experience of the outside world like the sciences do. Whereas science simply starts from the experience of physical reality. So philosophy is a blend of scientific and geometrical type of argumentation.

          • Yes, if Aquinas is correct he is correct. But he isn't. But that is a different issue. Again, if Aquinas' deductive argument is correct, it could not be overcome by any contrary argument even the logical problem of evil. Both could not be correct. Both are valid so at least one of the premises would have to be false. In this case either Aquinas', his statements about metaphysics, more likely the premise that a first cause would be omnibenovolent or ominopotent would be good candidates for being wrong. (I am not even sure these are included in Aquinas, if not them there would be no conflict, but if a god exists it could not be the Christian version.)

            On the other hand it could be that the logical argument's premise that there is gratuitous evil is false.

            In any event, we are not in a position to defend either on a standard of absolute certainty. Even on Aquinas, it has never been demonstrated that his metaphysics is correct to such a standard, the best you can say there is that it seems that way to you. Just as in the evidential argument we ask theists to admit it seems to them that some suffering is gratuitous.

            But I do not grant that Aquinas' metaphysics reflect what the universe seems to be. I would and have disputed this. But we can save the debate about his arguments on their own. My position is that none of the logical or natural theism arguments succeed, with the exception of the so-called fine tuning teleological argument, which then is marginalized in the context of other teleological counter apologetic arguments.

            At the end of the day my position is that we are left with insufficient evidence for the existence of any gods, and there are a few good arguments which show that the reality we experience is not what we would expect if the god of Christianity existed. The evidential argument from suffering is one of these.

            If you don't like the word proof, don't use it.

          • Phil

            My position is that none of the logical or natural theism arguments
            succeed, with the exception of the so-called fine tuning teleological
            argument, which then is marginalized in the context of other
            teleological counter apologetic arguments.

            Actually, this very interesting. Which specific fine-tuning argument are you referencing?

            I only find Aquinas' teleological argument a truly solid argument. The other fine-tuning arguments only lead to probabilities, as they are more "scientific" arguments. While as with Aquinas' other arguments, it is a metaphysical argument, and this means it has the possibliity of being a much more solid argument. His teleological argument leads to the necessity of God's existence if the premises are correct. Of course this means one must defend formal and final causality of A-T metaphysics.

            As we have discussed before, if the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics is not correct, in general, then the modern sciences don't have any intellectual solid ground to stand on.

          • I am talking about the Fine Tuning from cosmological constants argument for the existence of God. The extreme precision of many of these constants is what we would expect to see in a designed cosmos. This is some evidence of favouring a designer with a goal of human life. But this must then be considered along with all of the evidence that contradicts such a conclusion, the vast vast size of the cosmos the vast vast majority of which is utterly hostile to life. Which I would say is strong evidence that if the cosmos was designed it was not designed as a home for human life. Rather it suggests is something that managed to happen despite the odds. There are other criticisms.

            And no, in it's deductive form would be absolute proof of at least an intelligent designer of the cosmos. But all such deductive arguments suffer from the same problem, the soundness of their premises.

            In the case of the Fine Tuning it is the premise that the so-called cosmological constants could not be necessary or have been arrived at by chance. If this were the case, it necessarily follows that they were designed.

            In Aquinas' case it is the premise that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. But an infinite regress is not a logical contradiction. We don't know if the cosmological constants are necessary or there is a multiverse or if they were chosen by a mind.

          • Phil

            I gotcha--I did read a very good book on that subject of fine-tuning by Fr. Robert Spitzer, a physicist, philosopher, and priest.

            Your thoughts above show forth exactly what I would comment about. I think they definitely show forth the fascinating fact that some values are so fine-tuned for the possibility of life that it makes you wonder. But as you mention, it wouldn't be very conducive to a solid deductive argument. (Fr. Spitzer does offer a fantastic metaphysical cosmological proof that has been written about in some length here on SN.)

            In Aquinas' case it is the premise that there cannot be an infinite regress of causes. But an infinite regress is not a logical contradiction. We don't know if the cosmological constants are necessary or there is a multiverse or if they were chosen by a mind.

            I want to note that not all of Aquinas' ways have a premise which argues for the impossibility of an infinite regress of a per se casual series (which is a series of causes which does not go back in time, but is a series that must be happening simultaneously).

            His teleological argument simply relies on the fact that inanimate objects are oriented towards certain actions rather than others, which references final and formal causality (science relies on this being true, or science's underlying assumptions fall apart). So how can an inanimate object be oriented towards one thing and not something else? Obviously, the object is not consciously choosing certain things. So Aquinas concludes that there must be something outside of all physical reality upholding the fact that objects are oriented towards X and not Y.

            The scientific person may respond with the fact that the object is simply acting in accordance to laws. But this same person wouldn't believe that the laws are conscious either (if they do, then they are talking about God!).

            This is actually one of my favorite of his arguments because of how intrinsic this belief is to science. So to undermine his argument for God would be to undermine the ultimate rationality of science at the same time.

          • At the end of the day Aquinas accepts that some reality just "is" the way it is. In the theist case this "is" is the existence and nature of god which simply is as a necessary brute fact. But I see no reason why material reality and its nature cannot be this necessary brute fact, rather than positing an additional layer.

            It is up to the Aquinas supporter to justify this.

            For me these are questions I think we are not justified in claiming to have solved.

          • Phil

            At the end of the day Aquinas accepts that some reality just "is" the way it is. In the theist case this "is" is the existence and nature of god which simply is as a necessary brute fact.

            Aquinas actually doesn't accept any "brute facts". A brute fact would be something that exists and can't be, even in principle, fully explained.

            Aquinas doesn't accept the nature of God as a brute fact, that would be closer to an ontological argument for God which may start with some definition of God. Remember that Aquinas' arguments start from the world and reason about what must be necessary for the world to exist as it does right now.

            So Aquinas argues to God. So he doesn't assume that God completely explains Himself, the existence of the world as we experience it requires it.

            But I see no reason why material reality and its nature cannot be this necessary brute fact, rather than positing an additional layer.

            I was actually working on an essay on this topic ("why anything with a material nature cannot be non-contingent").

            If we take all of material reality, whatever that may end up being, it always has the potential to exist in some other way. Because this is the case, we know right away that nothing material in nature could be non-contingent.

            This means we must go outside of material reality to find the non-contingent reality that can explain contingent reality.

            Again, this will become much clearer with a more complete understanding A-T metaphysics (actuality and potentiality is very important here). I would love to send the chapter or 2 on it. I don't know if there is a junk email address you have I could send it to you through, or Facebook possibly?

          • You need to justify the premise that material reality has the potential of existing some other way. Or are you proposing this as a brute fact?

          • Phil

            You need to justify the premise that material reality has the potential of existing some other way.

            This comes from reasoning about the nature of material reality. To do metaphysics is to reason abstractly about our empirical experience of reality. (This is why metaphysics, as a study, has a method that is smack dab between geometry/mathematics and the natural sciences. It reasoning abstractly like geometry, but it uses empirical experience like the sciences.) There are two ways to go about this:

            1)Think about a material being itself. Let's take material reality as a whole. Let's take this to the extreme then from a scientific point of view.
            Let's say in the distant future we come up with a single unified
            theory/formula that provides an explanation of reality and it as simple
            as it could be (this could even be a single number). Say we have completely explained the essence, the nature, of reality. Even once we have done this, we still have the question of why reality exists at that very moment as it does. This is the distinction between essence and existence. Just because we could explain fully what something is (its essence), doesn't mean that it necessarily exists.

            -----

            2)The other way to view this is simply from the fact that things that have some sort of material nature have a potency to exist in some other way. This is simply based upon what it means for something to be material. In Aristotelian-Thomistic terms, matter is potency to take on different forms. In other words, we could not say about any material entity, "this is necessarily the only way it could have existed".

          • 1) No question. An explanation of A is not an explanation of B.

            2) I do not say that "this is necessarily the only way it could have existed". Nor do I say that for it "things that have some sort of material nature have a potency to exist in some other way". Both are logically coherent options. The question is whether we are warranted to believe one or the other.

            You are relying on the premise that "things that have some sort of material nature have a potency to exist in some other way". And you have justify this premise if it is questioned. You describe it as a "fact". Is it a brute fact? Are you going on intuition? Or are you saying that because you define material reality this way that it is reasonable to believe material reality is that way?

          • Phil

            1) So I think the essence/existence distinction is the easiest way to see that material reality still needs an explanation for its existence, and therefore it cannot ever completely explain itself.

            This is getting at the fact that there is a potency in the essence/existence distinction. The essence of something can exist in potency, but it need not exist in reality (for example, unicorns have a perfectly reasonable essence, but they do not exist in actuality right now). The physical cosmos as a whole could exist in a potentially infinite amount of ways, and each way would be an individual essence/nature. This would even include a physical cosmos that had an infinite number of universes. One would still need to explain how and why this kind of cosmos does exist in actuality, and not simply in potency, like the unicorn. To answer this question, one necessarily needs to go outside the physical cosmos itself.

            The pithy way of putting this is essence does not necessitate existence. Put another way, we can explain the way in which something exists, but this does not explain why it exists as it does and why it exists in the first place.

            --------
            2) In 2, this distinction is really getting at the potency of all material entities. So while there is a potency/actuality distinction for existence, there is also a potency/actuality distinction in regards to matter/form.

            Matter (meaning anything that is not immaterial) can take on many different forms, also known as natures. For example, the matter of a rubber ball has the potency to become a liquid puddle if it is heated enough. So while the form/nature of this object has changed, the underlying matter is still present in both the ball and the puddle.

            This is the case for every single material entity. This is most easily seen through the changes we experience. As long as we admit that at least one change has happened, we cannot say that the physical cosmos as a whole is completely static. Therefore, the physical cosmos as a whole has existed in many different ways in the past and will continue to exist in different ways in the future. In fact, there is a potentially infinite amount of ways that the physical cosmos could exist in the future. This is not proposing this as a brute fact, unless one calls empirical observation, "brute fact".

            This all tells us that the physical cosmos itself is contingent. Something cannot have the potentiality to exist in another way and be non-contingent at the same time. That is why, put in the terms of A-T, a non-contingent entity must be pure actuality with no potency.

            This is one way where scripture and philosophy converge in a most extraordinary way. When Moses asks God for his name, when God is present in some way in the burning bush, God responds, "I AM, WHO I AM".

            "I exist, who is existence itself!" That is the essence/existence distinction from above! There is no distinction between God's essence and existence because there cannot be any potency in the non-contingent being.

            (This scripture passage was written at least 1000 years before anyone even formulated the essence/existence distinction!)

          • "the essence of something can exist in potency" I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by essence or potency here.

            The material universe can exist in different ways? I have no reason to believe that. There is a difference between something being logically coherent and being possible. It may be impossible for the cosmos to exist in different ways. After all isn't that what you believe? Don't you believe that it was perfectly designed by a perfect designer? If that is the case it was never possible for it to exist or unfold in any way different than it did.

            Your distinction between essence and form is vague and subjective. The rubber ball's "essence" could be described in a number of ways. For example we could say its essence is its chemical make up. It is a melange of various chemicals. So if I took these and placed them in a pile I would not have the essence. You may say that its essence is that it is rubber, meaning it was grown in a tree. Does that mean than a synthetic bouncy ball has the same essence? What about "ball" does a "rubber ball" not need to be in a ball to have the essence of a rubber ball? We could go in like this for hours...

            Anyway my meetup is starting so I can't respond to the rest of your comment now.

          • Phil

            "the essence of something can exist in potency" I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by essence or potency here.

            Think about the essence of a unicorn. It is a horse-like entity with a horn. But this type of entity doesn't actually exist right now (it is possible that a horse with horn could exist in the future though). So the unicorn doesn't have to exist in reality for us to be able to contemplate the essence, the nature, of what a unicorn is. Therefore, the essence of unicorn exists only in potency. To exist in actuality would mean that unicorns actually exist. The essence has been joined to existence if unicorns actually existed.

            Another example--let's assume that intelligent aliens existed before we humans came to be. Before we humans existed, the aliens could have easily thought about the essence of a human being (what a human being is). But no human being existed; therefore the essence of "human being" existed merely in potency.

            This all means that just because we could explain the essence of what something is doesn't mean that it explains the existence of it. Essence doesn't necessitate existence.

            Therefore, we could know everything about the essence of the physical cosmos, and the question of how/why existence would still be open.

            Your distinction between essence and form is vague and subjective. The rubber ball's "essence" could be described in a number of ways. For example we could say its essence is its chemical make up. It is a melange of various chemicals. So if I took these and placed them in a
            pile I would not have the essence. You may say that its essence is that it is rubber, meaning it was grown in a tree. Does that mean than a synthetic bouncy ball has the same essence? What about "ball" does a "rubber ball" not need to be in a ball to have the essence of a rubber ball? We could go in like this for hours...

            Yes! You're getting to the key, everything in reality at every level is a distinction of essence/existence and form/matter!
            Everything at every level, from the macro to the micro can be broken down in these ways.

            That is why metaphysics is the study of being as being itself. Metaphysics doesn't study only what applies to a single being, it studies what applies to being itself.

            So, the rubber ball is a form/matter and essence/existence composition. The chemicals are a form/matter and essence/existence composition. The atoms, the neutrons, the quarks are all form/matter and essence/existence compositions!

            There is a difference between something being logically coherent and being possible.

            Here is the key: For a person to show that the physical cosmos is necessary and completely internally self-explanatory, they would have to show that for the cosmos to exist in any other way is logically incoherent. This means that all it takes is one example of showing that it is logically coherent for the universe to have existed in some other way to know that we need to look outside the physical cosmos to completely explain it.

            -----
            If it is logically coherent, then it could have been possible. Now, because reality exists as is does that places limits on what is possible. For instance, God could have created us in such a way that we were capable of greater intellectual abilities. It was very possible for God to do so. In fact, everything that can be done, God could have done. But he chose to create in the certain way that he did.

            It may be impossible for the cosmos to exist in different ways. After all isn't that what you believe? Don't you believe that it was perfectlydesigned by a perfect designer? If that is the case it was never possible for it to exist or unfold in any way different than it did.

            It is very much possible that God could have created it in a potentially infinite amount of ways. God could have created the universe in every possible way, but he chose to create it as it is right now. Every universe that God would create would be "perfect". (Perfect is actually a bad word to use, because we set the terms of what we think perfect should be.)

          • No no, the essence of a unicorn is silver blood that has healing properties and can artificially keep a body alive. The horse and horn are secondary. And it is utterly impossible for one ever to exist. Obviously I am talking out my ass, but so are ÿou when you make claims about what the essence of unicorns is, or whether they are possible. Why not say the essence of a unicorn is beautiful, horned horse, with one horn. Or a beautiful and good horned horse. And so on, there is nothing objective here. These categories are artificial constructs assigned by humans. Not anything objective.

            With respect to the aliens, you are wrong to say that the essence of humans exists in potency. In this hypothetical the concept of the essence of humans is held in the brains of aliens. There is no potency at all.

            You can say you explain what an essence is but there is no objective standard. This concept of essences is utterly subjective.

            But I am not trying to show that the material reality cosmos is necessary. I am pointing out that your premise that it is contingent is unjustified. I don't know nor do I see any way to assign probability to one version over the other much less proof.

            You are simply wrong to say that what is logically coherent is possible. A universe of a single quark is coherent, but it is impossible, as we know there is more than one quark. You have to take into account the actual facts about reality when you say something is possible. If you know I have two dice, but cannot see them and I ask you is it logically coherent that I roll a total of nine. Certainly yes, but not a three. Is it possible that I role a nine? You don't know, you need to know whether I have four, or six-sided dice.

          • Phil

            But I am not trying to show that the material reality cosmos is necessary. I am pointing out that your premise that it is contingent is unjustified.

            One then needs to give evidence that the material cosmos is necessarily and non-contingent.

            I have worked to show that when we look at the material cosmos we can see that there is nothing that says that it must exist as it does right now. In fact, I have gone further to argue that the very nature of a material being shows us that it cannot be non-contingent.

            No no, the essence of a unicorn is silver blood that has healing properties and can artificially keep a body alive. The horse and horn are secondary. And it is utterly impossible for one ever to exist.

            It doesn't matter what we conceive the essence of a unicorn to be, all we need to realize is that we can coherently and reasonably conceive of a unicorn, but that doesn't mean it exists. So again, essence does not necessitate existence.

            Just because we can conceive and understand the essence of something, whether it exists or does not, doesn't mean we understand its existence. The distinction between essence and existence become clear.

            With respect to the aliens, you are wrong to say that the essence of humans exists in potency. In this hypothetical the concept of the essence of humans is held in the brains of aliens. There is no potency at all.

            If there was no potency (i.e., potential) for the human person to exist before the human person existed, then we wouldn't exist right now. Since we do exist right now, that means that there was a potency for the human person to exist before we did.

            You can say you explain what an essence is but there is no objective standard. This concept of essences is utterly subjective.

            It wouldn't matter even if essences were completely subjective (we can show that if they were completely subjective then interpersonal human language would be impossible). Even if essences are completely subjective, the distinction between a thing's essence and existence is still valid.

            You are simply wrong to say that what is logically coherent is possible. A universe of a single quark is coherent, but it is impossible, as we know there is more than one quark. You have to take into account the actual facts about reality when you say something is possible. If you know I have two dice, but cannot see them and I ask you is it logically coherent that I roll a total of nine. Certainly yes, but not a three. Is it possible that I role a nine? You don't know, you need to know whether I have four, or six-sided dice.

            If you read through again what I said above, I noted that because we exist in this specific material cosmos, some things may no longer be possible, as you note. But it could have been the case that God created in any way that is logically possible.

          • I am saying that something existing in potency is meaningless.

            At time A before humans existed, (meaning before certain matter became arranged in a form later classified "human"), but humans did not exist, other than the matter and energy that would later be arranged in what we label human existed in a different arrangement. We now know it was possible, probably, and perhaps necessary for humans to exist at time B. But saying humans existed in any sense at time A, is a misleading use of language. It is more clear to say, time A no humans existed. No humans existed in potency, rather it is a fact that at time A is was possible that they could later exist.

          • Phil

            I think there is a disconnect in what is meant by "potency".

            Aristotle's insight is the fact that "potency" is a real state of existence.

            Let's take a simple example, we have a rubber ball in a box in front of us. 5 minutes later we have a puddle of melted rubber in the box. If the ball could not have potentially become a puddle of melted rubber before it was actually a puddle of melted rubber, then it could not have become a puddle of melted rubber in actual reality. The melted rubber existed in a state of "potency" while the rubber ball existed. It existed in the nature of rubber ball as a type of thing that can be potentially melted.

            Let's say now that there is something that can't be melted (it is irrelevant whether this is part of the physical cosmos we live in or not). This entity have no potency to be melted.

            Therefore we can say with 100% certainty that before humans existed if there was never a time that humans could potentially exist, then humans would not exist right now.

          • I agree that a rubber ball could potentially be melted, but I don't see why you say it "exists" in that potency. It exists as a rubber ball that can be melted. The thing that cannot be melted does not exist in impotency of melting. It is what it is.

            I don't see any indication from material reality as a whole that suggests if could not exist.

          • Phil

            I agree that a rubber ball could potentially be melted, but I don't see why you say it "exists" in that potency. It exists as a rubber ball that can be melted. The thing that cannot be melted does not exist in impotency of melting. It is what it is.

            We have two options here: (1) either the rubber ball actually has the potential to be melted or (2) the rubber ball does not have the potential to be melted. In the first case, the potency exists in the ball in some way, though it has not been actualized yet. In the second case, the potency does not exist in the ball, and therefore could not be actualized (the ball could never be melted).

            That is why when the Greeks were trying to figure out change, the one extreme said that change didn't actually exist and the other extreme said that permanence didn't exist (even down to fractions of a second). Both of these went against what we experience, and good philosophy needs to account/explain for what we experience, not try and get rid of it. (E.g., You have both changed over your lifetime as you've grown older, yet there is also something that has stayed the same over your life; some sort of permanence is the reason why we don't say you are a completely different person than yesterday. In short, you are not going out of existence and then coming into existence at each separate momenta.)

            Aristotle realized that there was a middle ground, a way to account for both change and permanence--actuality and potentiality (also known as "act" and "potency"). Things exist in an actual way which also have certain potencies based upon their nature. And these potencies exist in some way even before they've been actualized (like how the rubber ball has the actually existing potential to be melted before it is actually melted).

            I don't see any indication from material reality as a whole that suggests if could not exist.

            What evidence have you found that it necessarily must exist exactly as it does right now? (This will end up being a philosophical argument you will have to make.)

          • This is descending into a discussion of semantics. We agree that it is a fact that a rubber ball may melt. But it is not a fact that before it has melted its melting exists in any way. "Melting" is an abstract concept referring to a vague class if physical events. I don't accept this terminology of "existing in potency" before it happens. What exists is the matter itself in the form at a certain time, it is misleading to say the melting exists in potency. The ball is the kind of thing that may melt. Water, is not the kind of thing that may "melt" because it is already liquid, but actually, it can, because it can be frozen and heated and melted. What becomes evident is that this "potency" is not something that exists in the way an atom exists, we talk about this potential as a shorthand for the chemical composition of water, that has certain attributes. And this chemistry is a shorthand for something else and so on.

            For the last time I take no position in whether the material universe is necessary or not. I don't really care. It is like trying to guess what shape an ice sculpture was from a puddle. There just doesn't seem to be any way to figure it out. You on the other hand maintain that you have determined that all material reality as a whole, is contingent. To justify this you seem to keep referring to the fact that material things in this cosmos change in time. That doesn't tell me anything about their origins. It tells me they change. So what? What about material reality, as a whole, shows you that it is contingent.

          • Phil

            I don't accept this terminology of "existing in potency" before it happens. What exists is the matter itself in the form at a certain time, it is misleading to say the melting exists in potency.

            The ball is the kind of thing that may melt. Water, is not the kind of thing that may "melt" because it is already liquid

            Yes--And what you have just described is potency! Though you may think it is only words at this point, it is not! Either the ball has the real potential to melt or it does not. So we have to account for why the ball has the potential to melt. That means that the potency must exist in some way, it can't just be an illusion. If it is just an illusion, there is no way for us to say why the ball has the potency to melt and water does not.

            The only way to rationally account for this is to say that the ball has the nature (or "form") with the potency to melt, while the water does not.

            What becomes evident is that this "potency" is not something that exists in the way an atom exists, we talk about this potential as a shorthand for the chemical composition of water, that has certain attributes.

            Yes, and actuality and potency underlies what we describe via chemistry. When we ask, why does a certain chemical compound have the properties and the potentiality to exist in this way rather than that way, we are describing the chemical compound's nature (also known as "form"), which is the way that it exist in actuality. But the ways that it can exist in potentiality are also present based upon the nature of that chemical compound. Where chemistry, as a physical science focuses in on the physical nature of things, metaphysics looks at both the physical, in general, and goes beyond that to the immaterial structure underlying all physical objects.

            Remember, when we are talking about metaphysics, we are talking about the underlying structure that applies to every single material being in reality. Our modern mind is so tuned towards the scientific that we don't know how to do metaphysics (when in actually the ability to do coherent science relies upon a proper metaphysics). We need to get it out of our modern mind that the physical sciences is the only way to come to truth about reality.

            You on the other hand maintain that you have determined that all material reality as a whole, is contingent. To justify this you seem to keep referring to the fact that material things in this cosmos change intime. That doesn't tell me anything about their origins. It tells me they change. So what? What about material reality, as a whole, shows you that it is contingent.

            Yes, we must look at the evidence (material realities as a whole) and ask, "do these material realities explain their own existence, and is it even possible for material realities to explain their own existence".

            With good reasoning we can conclude that, beyond a reasonable doubt, it is true that material realities cannot explain their own existence. This means that the explanation for the material cosmos must come from outside the material cosmos.

            I am more than willing to be persuaded of a different view, but one would need to provide good evidence.

            [Just a clarification, the easiest evidence to see the
            necessity to go outside the material cosmos to find the explanation of the cosmos is most primarily composition, all material objects are a composition of form (what it is) and matter (whatreveals this), (Change also does points us towards our conclusions.)]

          • Well, yes, obviously I accept potency, I don't accept the terminology of "existing in" potency. This seems to be a linguistic trick to get me to accept that of something exists now it must have existed prior "in potency", that would be silly.

            This idea of potency is conceptual, it is the thoughts we are having about facts of the cosmos as we observe them. It exists in that sense, but I don't agree with saying that this potency exists in the way a neutron exists. The neutron is not an illusion, nor are our concepts, but the potency does not exist independently of our thoughts.

            I am not asking whether material reality can explain its own existence, I am asking why you think you are warranted in excluding its existence as a necessary fact of the cosmos. I disagree that we can show BARD that material reality cannot explain its own existence. But explaining its own existence is not the test for whether a reality is necessary or contingent. Being dependent on something else will show that something is dependent.

            You have pointed to nothing in material reality as a whole that shows it depends on something non-material. All you have done is point to examples of arrangements of parts of material reality and agreeing that they can change in some ways. To demonstrate material reality itself is somehow contingent I think you would need to point to some attribute as a whole that shows dependency on something else. You would likely need a grand unified theory of physics, and scientific answers to things like, what dark energy is. And this is not me favouring science over metaphysics, this is me saying "before we can make metaphysical statements on the origins and absolute nature of anything, we have to first know what we are talking about" we would then have to have some understanding of what the cause is, this could arise out of a complete understanding of material reality, but who knows?

            But that is where I am at with this stuff, understandably the bar is very high, but we are tailing about the complete origin and nature of all forms of reality here. It would not be surprising if many of the fundamental facts we would need to understand in order to take a position on such things are beyond our ability to comprehend. Things like 11 dimensions, the b-theory of time, if true, and there is good support for such things, would through your intuitions about causation out the window. Even relativity and the fact that that there is no privileged "present" or chronology, call such intuitions into question.

            I criticize and call out this simplistic syllogism of contingency as justifying a confident position that the material reality we seem to observe is contingent. We are just beginning to even have some understanding of what we mean by material reality. It is wrong to take a position on its origin or nature.

          • Phil

            This idea of potency is conceptual, it is the thoughts we are having about facts of the cosmos as we observe them. It exists in that sense, but I don't agree with saying that this potency exists in the way a neutron exists. The neutron is not an illusion, nor are our concepts, but the potency does not exist independently of our thoughts.

            Just a final thought on potency--

            If you are looking for a physical part within an object that is "potency", you aren't going to find it. Potency isn't a part, but rather underlies the entirety of a physical entity. Potency is part of the underlying metaphysical nature of all objects. Metaphysics studies the underlying structure of things.

            If one truly wants to argue that potentiality doesn't actually exist apart from our mind as a part of material beings, then one has to admit that water has as much of a potentiality to melt as a rubber ball does. There is nothing in the ball that gives it the potentiality to actually met. There is nothing in the water that makes it not have the potentiality to melt.

            But obviously, this is not the case. There is something real about the water and a rubber ball where one has the real potentiality to melt, while the other does not.

            To demonstrate material reality itself is somehow contingent I think you would need to point to some attribute as a whole that shows dependency on something else.

            It would not be surprising if many of the fundamental facts we would need to understand in order to take a position on such things are beyond our ability to comprehend.

            The key again is to go back to an original point of even if we understand the essence of all material reality, this will not explain the existence of reality.

            Let's just reflect for a few minutes about our knowledge of reality. We are discovering the structure of reality through the sciences. We are not discovering while all this exists in the first place. This fact points us towards understanding that an explanation of the whole of material reality must ultimately come from outside of material reality.

            But explaining its own existence is not the test for whether a reality is necessary or contingent. Being dependent on something else will show that something is dependent.

            There actually is a connection between the two that might have been missed. If something is dependent on another for its existence, it is not self-explanatory. If something is not dependent on another for its existence, it is completely self-explanatory. Only something that is the complete source of its own existence is perfectly self-explanatory.

          • Phil

            Is seems like one of the simplest ways to understand that the physical cosmos can't be necessary and completely self-explanatory is that for this to be possible, the entity must be completely simple; that is, being composed of no parts.

            If something is composed of parts, then an explanation for the composition of those parts is necessary.

            We look around and see that the physical cosmos is composed of at least 2 parts. Therefore we can conclude that this physical cosmos is not self-explanatory and necessarily existing.

          • Phil

            For further clarification on form/matter--

            How do we know that "form" is a real thing? How do we know that it simply isn't matter which exists and "form" is something we throw on top of it?

            The simple answer is that the same exact matter can take many different forms. If matter was all that existed, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the rubber ball, and the pile of melted rubber. The underlying matter has stayed the same, but the form has changed. This means it is not the specific matter that makes something a ball, but the form that that matter has taken. And we can easily recognize this.

            Once the ball melts, we don't say that the previously existing ball was an illusion. Both the ball and the melted rubber are real. They just have a different form and that is why we do rationally call them something different.

            Also, if there was absolutely no difference between a ball and the particles that make up a ball, we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between the two. That is why we reasonably call a "ball" something different from an "electron". They are objectively two different forms.

            Secondly, another clue that points to this fact is that we can conceive of the form, the concept, of "ball" without having a physical ball in our mind. So it is not merely the matter that makes something a ball, it is combination of the matter and form of "ball".

            -------

            Another important point is matter does not exist as "pure matter". It always exists in some form. That is why we rationally say that all material entities are a combination of form and matter.

            Materialistic reductionism wants to figure out what is the most basic part of reality and then reduce all of reality to that one thing. Say we discover the most basic part of matter. We couldn't say that this most basic part doesn't have a form. It would have the form/nature of whatever kind of thing it is.

            But it would be very wrong to say that cars, people, and buildings don't actually exist because we know the most basic particle out of which everything is made. Both the basic particle and cars and people and buildings exist. They are just matter in different forms and it so happens that there is a form of matter that is the basic building block for all other forms of material entities.

          • Phil

            Just stumbled upon Feser's discussion about the topic that is relevant to our current discussion:

            http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/08/science-dorks.html

          • The problem I have with Feser, and certainly I have not studied this in detail, is that the concepts he applies are entirely foreign to me outside this context. I honestly don't know what he means by things like "potency" and "actualization", these terms seem to be extremely vague and when real world examples are given they fail to provide any assistance.

            So I cannot accept that his principles are logical because I don't actually know what they are. When they are re-phrased in terms that are more intelligible to me as is done by apologists like William Lane Craig, they break down.

            This leads me to question whether there might be some equivocation going on.

            Would you be up for a discussion on one of Aquinas' arguments on my blog? You can set it out and we can discuss it in the comments.

          • Phil

            Ah, potency and actuality are keys to A-T metaphysics (along with the 4 "causes".) So this may be one of our main disconnects, since all our discussion revolves around some underlying personally held metaphysics (whether we are conscious or unconscious of our underlying metaphysical assumptions).

            So it would be important that we both at least understand A-T metaphysics, even if we wouldn't completely agree with it.

            I am more than willing to create a PDF with Feser's excellent explanations of A-T metaphysics. (I believe his defense is actually relatively compact.) Just let me know if there is a way to send you a PDF that you are comfortable with.

            Would you be up for a discussion on one of Aquinas' arguments on my blog? You can set it out and we can discuss it in the comments.

            The key is if we did this, we would first need to establish a complete understanding of A-T metaphysics. This would include formal, final, material, efficient causality, actuality and potentiality (potency) as the underlying metaphysics of all material reality. Because if one doesn't understand A-T metaphysics, they will not properly understand Aquinas' 5 ways. (This is the reason why many modern people can end up looking a little bit foolish when addressing the 5 ways.)

            But this would be something I would be up for during summer break. Since classes have started, I have about 300 pages of reading a week along with other school commitments and work. So I probably wouldn't be able to do a good job with it right now.

      • Darren

        Phil wrote,

        The truth of the matter is any evil that God allows (i.e., which actually takes place) a greater good can always be brought about through it.

        You appear to be saying there are some Goods that God is incapable of accomplishing without a foundational Evil with which to work. Else what does “greater good” mean? A greater good than what? (EDIT to remove last sentence)

        J. L. Mackie said it well, IMO,

        It is sometimes suggested that evil is necessary for good not as a counterpart but as a means. In its simple form this
        has little plausibility as a solution of the problem of evil, since it
        obviously implies a severe restriction of God's power. It would be a causal law that you cannot have a certain end without a certain means, so that if God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to at least some causal laws. This certainly conflicts with what a theist normally means by omnipotence. This view of God as limited by causal laws also conflicts with the view that causal laws are themselves made by God, which is more widely held than the corresponding view about the laws of logic. This conflict would, indeed be resolved if it were possible for an omnipotent being to bind himself, and this possibility has still to be considered. Unless a favourable answer can be given to this question, the suggestion that evil is necessary as a means to good solves the problem of evil only by denying one of its constituent propositions, either that God is omnipotent or that 'omnipotent' means what it says.

        • David Nickol

          You appear to be saying there are some Goods that God is incapable of accomplishing without a foundational Evil with which to work.

          I would make what I think is a related point, and that is that Phil's statement implies that there are some evils that God must prevent—evils from which he cannot bring a greater good. So it is as if God is monitoring the evils of the world, and if an evil looms that he cannot bring a greater good from, he will then prevent it.

          If it is said that "any evil that God allows . . . a greater good can always be brought about through it," this strongly implies that God allows some evils but prevents others. He prevents those evils from which he cannot bring a greater good. But if there are evils from which he cannot bring a greater good, he must not be omnipotent. If he is omnipotent, the point should be that there is no evil from which God cannot bring a greater good.

          It seems to me that one of the conclusions one might reach is that the more evil there is, the better. Good will always come from evil, and so the more evil there is, the more good will come of it. Also as a moral agent, anything I do is for the greater good. While I may condemn myself in the process, I know that no matter how much I steal, torture, and kill, God will always bring a greater good from what I do. Everything works out for the best!

          According to Catholic teaching, we may never do evil that good may come of it. However, whatever the evil we do, God will make good come from it.

          • Phil

            This is a question I've wrestled with, David. Is there truly any evil that could happen that God couldn't bring any good from, and therefore might stop it? In one sense, it seems that answering in the affirmative limits God's power. But on the other hand, much of this talk of "omnipotence" comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what omnipotence means.

            Omnipotence means in the classical tradition that (1) all power comes from God and (2) that God can do all that can be done. To say that God can do what can't be done makes no sense at all and is no limit on his power--God can do all that can be done.

            For example--It seems that God would not allow us to blow up the earth with nuclear weapons before the time when he decides that the second coming of Christ will happen. It is very clear that we have the power to destroy all of human life right now.

            So one could say that God shapes human history in a sometimes mysterious way so that it does not come to a close before the appointed time.

            So if there is any evil that could happen to us out of which a good can't be brought out of it seems it would be because of our personal inability to freely respond to God's grace, not because of God's lack of power. (Obviously obliteration of the human race before the appointed time could ruin many person's ability to respond.)

            But to be clear, I'm still up in the air on this one.

          • Phil

            So I was reflecting upon some of my own experiences lately and the idea of suffering from evil, but then also suffering from natural causes. I had this sudden insight and if it has any truth to it, it is definitely an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I remembered we had been discussing this some time ago and wanted to pass it along.

            The simple realization is that all of the physical cosmos is "perfect". Now let me clarify what "perfect" means. Let's assume that what God revealed through the Judeo-Christian people is correct--that God's whole purpose in creating physical human creatures and a physical world was so that we could be in relationship with Him and trust completely in His care for us. Anything apart from a perfect relationship with God will leave us restless and not completely fulfilled.

            So if we look at all of the material cosmos through the lens that it is perfectly created so that it can most perfectly bring us back to God, then things start to make sense! All of material reality is created for us to realize that we are not in control and can't do it by ourself (God trying to invite us to trust in Him and not in ourselves). Everything in the material cosmos is trying to get us outside our own ego, selfishness, and desire of control.

            Think about suffering of any kind, including natural disasters and such. It invites us to realize that as much as we like to pretend that we are in control...we actually aren't. This is all inviting us back into relationship with the one who created us to be in perfect relationship with Him, and therefore to be perfectly happy! That is just so ridiculously crazy!

            A side note--material reality was created in such a way that when we turned away from relationship with God in original sin, chaos and disorder of ourselves and creation was brought about. So the very effect of our sin is the antidote to that sin...crazy. The Divine Plan truly is perfect if we only being to see with the eyes of God slowly and clumsily day by day!

        • Phil

          You appear to be saying there are some Goods that God is incapable of accomplishing without a foundational Evil with which to work.

          Some thoughts:

          It is key to understand that it does not make sense to speak of "foundational evil". This is because evil has no existence in and of itself; evil is a privation of a good that ought to be present. Evil is like a hole in a sock.

          Therefore all that God creates is good at an ontological level. Evil is introduced when beings with free will choose to turn away from God (i.e., sin).

          So I guess the simple answer would be, God have brought about a great good if the human person had never sinned--sure. Will God bring about a great good through us human beings who have sinned--absolutely.

        • Phil

          To state this in an even more succinct way--God could have created reality in a potentially infinite amount of ways. The problem of evil seeks to understand why God created this reality that does exist right now where God does allow suffering.

          So the problem of evil is not a logical problem that limits God's power or goodness in any way. It is a mystery that we must enter into by coming into relationship and communion with God. Only when that begins to happen will we begin to "understand" suffering and evil.

          That God would allow himself to enter the depths of suffering on the cross only goes to show that God understands what perplexes the human person the most, and he went right to the heart of it and conquered it.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            To state this in an even more
            succinct way--God could have created reality in a potentially infinite amount of ways. The problem of evil seeks to understand why God created this reality that does exist right now where God does allow suffering.

            So the problem of evil is not a logical problem that limits
            God's power or goodness in any way. It is a mystery that we must enter into by coming into relationship and communion with God.

            The first part of your reply shows that you and I are not so far apart, we both agree that God could have created different than he did. Creating different than he did, then some of those creations could have had less evil, some a great deal less, some perhaps even none.

            I believe, however, that you confuse the Problem of Evil
            with theodicies attempting to defend against the Problem of Evil.

            The Problem of Evil does not seek to understand why God created the reality that exists, the Problem of Evil seeks to divine, from the evidence of the reality that exists, what sort of God or gods could be responsible for it.

            You and I appear to agree, though, that using evidence and reason, the God of classical theism is not reconcilable with the reality that exists (“…it is a mystery…”). Where we disagree is in whether or not it is valid to assume the answer and then hang our hats upon some as-yet-undiscovered extra-rational dénouement to bridge the ontological gaps.

          • Phil

            ...using evidence and reason, the God of classical theism is not reconcilable with the reality that exists (“…it is a mystery…”).

            Not at all. As I stated in the second paragraph of your quote, there is no logical contradiction between holding that suffering/evil exists and also that an all-loving good God exists.

            In other words, if evil exists, therefore a loving God does not exist is not a logical necessity. There is nothing intrinsic to evil or a loving God that makes it irreconcilable.

            -----

            Now, do I believe that we cannot know completely, through reason alone, the specific reasons for God allowing the type of suffering that he allows in the type of created reality he has brought about.

            As I posed to someone above, it could very well be the case that the created reality we inhabit is one in which the least amount of evil/suffering is present in which the free will of creatures is completely respected.

          • Darren

            Phil wrote,

            Not at all. As I stated in the second paragraph of your quote, there is no logical contradiction between holding that suffering/evil exists and also that an all-loving good God exists.

            Now, do I believe that we cannot know completely, through reason alone, the specific reasons for God allowing the type of suffering that he allows in the type of created reality he has brought about.

            heh, heh. You will notice that you state first that we do not agree (that using reason and evidence we cannot reconcile the God of Theism with the reality we inhabit), then you go on to agree with me that, using reason and evidence _alone_ we cannot reconcile the God of classical theism with the reality we inhabit ("Now, do I believe that we cannot know completely, through reason alone...").

          • Phil

            I think you're missing the distinction--we can know through reason that a loving God and evil is not logically irreconcilable. But this is very different from giving a complete positive account of evil through reason alone.

            This is called coming to knowledge via negativa.

            Does that make better sense?

          • Phil

            Hey Darren--

            So I was reflecting upon some of my own experiences lately and the idea of suffering from evil, but then also suffering from natural causes. I had this sudden insight that if it has any truth to it, it is definitely an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I remembered we had been discussing this some time ago and wanted to pass it along.

            This realization was simply that all of the physical cosmos is "perfect". Now let me clarify what "perfect" means. If God's whole purpose in creating physical human creatures and a physical world was so that we could be in relationship with Him and trust completely in His care for us, then anything apart from a perfect relationship with God will leave us restless and not completely fulfilled.

            So if we look at all of the material cosmos through the lens that it is created so that it can most perfectly bring us to relationship with God, then things start to make sense! All of material reality is created for us to realize that we are not in control and can't do it by ourself (God trying to invite us to trust in Him and not in ourselves). Everything in the material cosmos is trying to get us outside our own ego, selfishness, and desire of control (i.e., all that is contrary to love).

            Think about suffering of any kind, including natural disasters and such. It invites us to realize that as much as we like to pretend that we are in control...we actually aren't. This is all inviting us back into relationship with the one who created us to be in perfect relationship with Him, and therefore to be perfectly happy! That is just so ridiculously crazy!

            A side note--material reality was created in such a way that when we turned away from relationship with God in original sin, chaos and disorder of ourselves and creation was brought about. So the very effect of our sin is the antidote to that sin...crazy. The Divine Plan truly is perfect if we only begin to see through the eyes of heaven slowly and clumsily day by day!

  • ClayJames

    Trent, I thought this was a very well written piece and you did a great job succinctly answering this argument.

    I think the best summary of the problem with the argument is the following:

    To summarize, the evidential argument from evil relies on the atheist
    being able to prove that it is very unlikely there are “good reasons
    that justify serious evils." But human beings are not in a good
    epistemic (or knowledge-gaining) position to know those reasons do not
    exist.
    Therefore, the evidential argument from evil can’t prove that God
    probably does not exist.

    • David Nickol

      But human beings are not in a good epistemic (or knowledge-gaining) position to know those reasons do not
      exist.

      But neither—it would seem to follow—are human beings in a good epistemic position to know those reasons do exist. If you begin with the assumption that God is all-good, then you are bound to conclude that there must be a way to reconcile all the suffering in the world—no matter how random, gratuitous, or senseless it may appear—with the goodness of God. But that is purely a matter of faith.

      I do not scoff at the faith of those who believe that ultimately all suffering must be explicable, but it seems to me to have no more support than the belief that there is meaningless and gratuitous suffering in the world.

      I challenge anyone who maintains that there is not gratuitous or unbearable suffering in the world to argue for, and steadfastly maintain, that position while being waterboarded. It is easy enough to find meaning in suffering when you are not suffering!

      • ClayJames

        But neither—it would seem to follow—are human beings in a good epistemic position to know those reasons do exist. If you begin with the assumption
        that God is all-good, then you are bound to conclude that there must be
        a way to reconcile all the suffering in the world—no matter how random,
        gratuitous, or senseless it may appear—with the goodness of God.

        Correct, it also follows that we are not in an epistemic position to determine that any event is actually not gratuitous. So if I were trying to show that an evil act is not gratuitous simply by saying it doesnt appear to be gratuitous in my view, then that statement would be wrong for the same reason.

        I do not scoff at the faith of those who believe that ultimately all
        suffering must be explicable, but it seems to me to have no more support
        than the belief that there is meaningless and gratuitous suffering in
        the world.

        It has no more support based on how it appears to limited minds, but who is trying make an argument based on the premise that evil is not gratuitous simply because it doesn´t appear gratuitous to us?

        I challenge anyone who maintains that there is not gratuitous or
        unbearable suffering in the world to argue for, and steadfastly
        maintain, that position while being waterboarded. It is easy enough to
        find meaning in suffering when you are not suffering!

        This just means that the problem of evil is not a probabilistic or logical problem but an emotional one, which most theists would accept.

        • David Nickol

          . . . . but who is trying make an argument based on the premise that evil is not gratuitous simply because it doesn´t appears gratuitous to us?

          Unless I am totally missing something, this seems to be one of the major theistic responses to the evidential argument from evil! "You say it's gratuitous evil, but you really don't know it is." No-see-ums!

          • ClayJames

            The thing you quoted and the thing you said are not the same.

            There is a difference between evil not being gratuitous simply because it doesn´t appear gratuitous to us (what I said is not the response to the argument from evil) and not having the necessary epistemic warrant to claim that a certain evil is probably gratuitous (a response to the argument from evil, No-see-ums).

          • Jonathan Brumley

            The post explicitly answered the No-see-ums objection.

    • What epistemic warrant do you have to to claim any certain knowledge of such a god? For example, that he really offers immortality to some subset of homo sapiens?

      • ClayJames

        Divine revelation and reasonable arguments.

        We are not saying that we have no epistemic warrant to know anything about god. You are confusing complete skepticism (which I am not using to invalidate this argument) with the definitional problem of a limited mind trying to determine the motivations of an omniscient mind.

        Here is my response to another poster regarding this confusion:

        You are taking a completly skeptical position when that is in no way
        what the response against the evidential problem of evil is trying to
        do. We are not saying that you shouldn´t believe that there is
        gratuitous evil because we are not omniscient and can´t have certainty
        of anything. We are saying that you shouldn´t believe there is a
        gratuitous evil because it makes no sense for a limited person to come
        to a probabilistic conclusion about the intentions of an omniscient
        mind. Do you see the difference?

        • >Divine revelation

          God could have reasons beyond your understanding to cause or allow you to believe false things, for a greater purpose.

          • ClayJames

            Yes, he could. So what?

            My belief in the validity of divine revelation is still in no way analogous to the belief that evil is gratuitous. If we assume that god does reveal himself to us, we are warranted to believe in this revelation without becoming a complete skeptic because of other possible explanations for this revelation. Similarly, we are warranted to believe that the world exists as we observe it even if it is possible we are in the Matrix and can´t prove one from the other.

            The statement ¨God revealed X to us¨ is perfectly within our epistemic warrant. The statement ¨It appears that an omniscient god has no good reason to allow evil¨, is not. Your question regarding whether we can trust that revelation has nothing to do with us being able to conclude that the revelation actually took place. I am not saying that you have no epistemic warrant regarding gratuitous evil because you cannot trust what you experience. I am saying that your exprience cannot give you the information necessary in order to conclude that an omniscient god probably has no reason for allowing evil.

  • The next theodicy is that god is constrained by the laws of nature in terms of what kinds of suffering to prevent. God is constrained by the laws of nature? I thought God designed these for his purposes? This is a defence of suffering on naturalism, not theism. God can design whatever laws of nature he wants. Moreover, the bible and Catholic tradition is replete with examples of the laws of nature being suspended for God's purposes. The waters of the Red Sea part, people are healed miraculously.

    • Robert Macri

      God is not constrained by the laws of nature any more than the author of a play or the inventor of a video game is constrained by the very rules he sets down.

      The playwright modifies the play at his will, according to his purposes. The video game designer programs "cheats" into his code, also for his own purposes. Does the play constrain the playwright, or the game the designer?

      It is a fallacy to say that because God sometimes suspends the laws of nature* to eliminate some evil that he MUST therefore always do so.
      Indeed, THAT would constitute a constraint on his freedom.

      *(or seems to suspend--we don't know ALL the laws of nature)

      • David Nickol

        There is a question in my mind why an omniscient and omnipotent creator would ever have to "intervene" in his own creation.

        • Robert Macri

          Well, what is the opposing view: "An omniscient and omnipotent creator is not allowed to participate in his own creation"? Where would such a restriction come from?

          On the rare occasions that I cook dinner for my family, I don't just dump a bunch of ingredients in a bowl at time=0 and then wait for a meal to emerge from the oven. There are certain things that I do along the way, when the time is right.

          Even if I possessed the power to have a fully-cooked meal appear at the snap of a finger, wouldn't I be free to choose to accomplish my plan in the more "mundane" way (particularly if I wanted to share the experience of making a meal together with my daughter, in the only way she could reasonably participate.)?

          • David Nickol

            Well, what is the opposing view: "An omniscient and omnipotent creator is not allowed to participate in his own creation"? Where would such a restriction come from?

            I said nothing about restrictions. My question is this: "Why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent not be capable of creation that does not need his intervention?" Suppose God were a clockmaker and created a clock that needed resetting once a month. Why couldn't he just create a clock that keeps perfect time?

            I don't know what kind of a cook you are, but I am betting you are not an omniscient and omnipotent cook. So I don't see how we can compare you as a cook to God as a creator.

            There is also a major problem that no one has mentioned yet (unless I have missed something). According to Catholic theology, God is not within time. He is not like NASA scientists watch a space probe and periodically deciding it needs a course correction. So God is not watching the unfolding of human history and periodically saying, "Oops, that's going to cause more harm than I can bring good out of, so I have to step in and work a miracle."

            It is very difficult to talk about God existing and acting outside of time. (I wonder sometimes if the concept makes sense at all.) But in any case, God knew from all eternity (according to Catholic theology) how his creation was going to unfold and what his creatures were going to do. The only way it would seem possible for God to "see" human history is all at once.

          • Robert Macri

            Yes, it is indeed very difficult to talk about God existing and acting outside of time. We're just not equipped to think in those terms. And yes, the Catholic view is that God "sees" human history all at once. But in that view He's also creating it all at once, and in every instant... holding everything in existence. Unlike the clockmaker, who builds, winds, then walks away (the deist approach), with God (in the Catholic view) the building is continual. It's much like the way a dance only exists while the dancer spins and twirls, or the thinking only exists while the thinker ponders. (This is not unique to Catholicism. Unless I am mistaken, the Hindus speak of creation as a kind of dance.)

            And if that view is correct, than God would never have to say, "'Oops, that's going to cause more harm than I can bring good out of, so I have to step in and work a miracle.'"

            Consider an artist. If the he were anything like your clockmaker, he'd just apply globs of paint to the top and watch them run and channel down the canvas, occasionally causing him to panic and act to stop a dribble here or there.

            My Catholic view is somewhat different. The "artist" sees all the canvas at once, adding color where he pleases, all at once. It is only our experience of that canvas (one step at a time, from one side the other) that causes us to sometimes be surprised when we encounter his brushstrokes. What seems like the correction of a mistake to us was always there, existing at the artist's whim and pleasure.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            "Why would an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent not be capable of creation that does not need his intervention?"

            That was exactly Aquinas' point in his Fifth Way.

      • You seem to agree with me then, that God would not be constrained by the laws of physics, or indeed anything.

        This would then deflate the counter that he does not intervene to prevent or alleviate suffering because he cannot do anything about the laws of nature.

        • Robert Macri

          Yes, I do agree that God is not constrained by the physical law he created. Who said he does not intervene because he "can not"? I would say that he is free to choose when he does or does not intervene in the affairs of men. I have that freedom. You have that freedom. Why wouldn't God?

          The fact that he is not always seen to intervene does not contradict his benevolence... it may just mean that we don't know or understand his reasons. That's why the weaker form of the argument from evil was proffered in the first place.

          • Trent said it in this piece.

            "...natural evils may be an acceptable consequence of living in a world governed by natural laws..."

            "it may just mean that we don't know or understand his reasons. That's why the weaker form of the argument from evil was proffered in the first place."

            Yes exactly.

          • Robert Macri

            I notice that you left off an important part of what Trent said:
            "Moreover, natural evils may be an acceptable consequence of living in a
            world governed by natural laws that lacks gratuitous miraculous
            interventions (e.g. the fire that warms us can also kill us unless God
            always intervenes miraculously when fire gets out of hand). Such a world
            may be an ideal place for embodied, moral agents to live, grow in
            virtue, and ultimately come to know their creator."

            He did not say that God is limited by natural law, but that he may have good reasons to avoid "gratuitous miraculous interventions". (A world without gratuitous intervention "may be an ideal place for embodied, moral agents to live, grow in
            virtue, and ultimately come to know their creator.")

            So, again, as to your initial statement:
            "This would then deflate the counter that he does not intervene to
            prevent or alleviate suffering because he cannot do anything about the
            laws of nature", there never was such a counter to be "deflated". It wasn't that he "cannot" do anything about it, but that he may well have good reasons not to.

          • So if Trent is not saying that god is constrained by the laws of nature, then my comment is misplaced. But then this is not a theodicy. There is no explanation for suffering advanced, we are again left with skeptical theism.

          • David Nickol

            I would say that he is free to choose when he does or does not intervene in the affairs of men. I have that freedom. You have that freedom. Why wouldn't God?

            It seems to me that given the Catholic conception of God (as elaborated by Aquinas and later theologians), it does not make any sense to say that God "chooses." A choice requires looking at alternatives and deciding between them. God is not only omniscient, but outside of time. To choose requires a before and after, but there is no before and after for God. To choose implies (at least to me) a moment of not knowing what comes next. If you already know what your choice will be, in what sense can it be called a choice? How can you say an omniscient being, outside of time, decides?

          • Robert Macri

            Yes, the language does get a little muddy when we speak of eternity, and perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of God "willing" a thing rather than "choosing" a thing in the limited sense we are accustomed to. ("Before and after" are concepts arising from our experience of existence, not his.) But whatever language we use, we are really speaking of his ultimate, unabrogated freedom.

            First, I think we have to distinguish between a thing which doesn't experience change the way we do, and a thing that is utterly static...

            Consider a hypothetical computer with unlimited memory, speed, and processing power. Given any solvable problem it could instantly compute an answer. There would be no need for "before" or "after", no step in its computations that must precede another... but, though it accomplishes all tasks at once, we cannot say that it does nothing, or that it is static in the strict sense of the word. The problem, after all, gets solved.

            (By the way, in case that example sounds absurd, this is what a quantum computer would, in principle, do. Without the unlimited memory and speed, that is, but it would "compute" infinitely many things in parallel.)

            It is in this sense that I understand God to be changeless: he accomplishes everything at once, in the "eternal now". This timelessness ("change-less-ness") does not suggest that he is "frozen", unable to give rise to anything that changes state (such as us). Rather, "timelessness" is a feature of his infinite nature.

            But what, as you point out, does it mean to say that he can "choose" if he lacks all uncertainty of what he will in fact do?

            Consider an expert juggler. He instinctively knows where each ball will arc and fall, and exactly when and where to move his hands. For a hypothetical perfect juggler, we could even say that he "knows" the future, at least with regard to the movements of his hands and the objects he juggles. (For the sake of argument, let's suppose that there are no external factors to upset him, and that he can rely upon physics to remain faithful!) But this knowing does not eliminate his free choice. He juggles for the delight of it, but he is at every moment free to stop, even if he knows from the very beginning precisely what he will do and for how long.

            Or consider an Olympic gymnast performing her floor routine. She knows her routine down to a fraction of a second, and knows that (barring error) she will not deviate from it. But in every instant she is still free. She has planned it all out in advance, and now she executes her will in accomplishing her plan. Even if there is never the slightest doubt that her will may change.

            God is free to plan AND accomplish his designs instantly, in a much more perfect way than the juggler or gymnast. But certainly doing so in an eternal instant (in the eternal "now") does not constrain his freedom. Nor does his perfect knowledge of the outcome and of his own will. His freedom is not lost because he is infinite -- how could the imperfect possess a good that the perfect does not have? In fact, not only must he possess such freedom, but he must possess it in a perfect and unlimited way.

            This is the closest I can come to "understanding" such things... which is to say that I do not understand them, but I can appreciate the possibilities.

        • neil_pogi

          God can't make circle into a square, even though God is all-powerful.

          • Michael Murray

            God can't make circle into a square, even though God is all-powerful.

            An omnipotent God who creates the whole universe but can't change something trivial like the laws of logic ? O ye of little faith !

            Any lowly mathematician can turn a circle into a square

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicab_geometry#/media/File:TaxicabGeometryCircle.svg

          • neil_pogi

            if he can turn a circle into a square, then,

            obviously, it is no longer a circle.. so in essence, there should be no more circle existing now because they turn into a square.. but circle still exists..

            then the Bible writers were telling the truth that the earth is flat (because you claim that a circle can turn into a square)!

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      a) There may be a perfectly natural explanation for the parting of the waters. For example, a meteor strike at the head of the Red Sea (if in fact it was the Red Sea) might create a tsunami, which is first evidenced by the waters withdrawing, then returning with a roar. The track of the falling meteor may look remarkably like a pillar of fire or, in other circumstances, a pillar of smoke. Now let people chatter about it for a few centuries and you get something like the story of the Navajo ambush of a Hopi delegations in the 1850s that eventually made its way into Hopi folklore. IOW, a miracle need no involve a suspension of the laws of nature, but rather a use of them.

      b) If the purported God intended a universe accessible to man's reason, then occasions when the laws of nature act against our sentimentality are a logical consequence. If fire can cook, it can cook Bambi. If gravity can hold an atmosphere around a planet, then it can cause an infant to plummet to his death through an incautiously open window. The appearance of magical fireproofing for Bambi or a magical pillow under the open window requires an irrational universe.

      • George

        "The appearance of magical fireproofing for Bambi or a magical pillow under the open window requires an irrational universe."

        If you lived in that universe and it was all you knew, would you still say it was irrational?

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Sure. Since rational means "reason," anything that happens for no reason is ipso facto irrational.

          Though I would not say it is unexpected.

    • neil_pogi

      origin of life on earth is considered to be a miraculous event, the laws of nature never did that, and that's why God intervened to create life..

      the parting of the Red Sea, either it was caused by a meteor or not, was a miraculous event, because the sea is suspended to 'idling' point for many hours so that the israelites would safely pass through

      • Michael Murray

        origin of life on earth is considered to be a miraculous event

        by who ?

        • neil_pogi

          since you are an avowed atheist, i will skip that 'God created life'

          then what caused life?

          can you explain further how life appeared on this planet?

          by means, or through natural processes?

  • The no see-ums approach is a misplaced analogy. We observe things like insect bites, but did not see an insect bite us. But we can easily speculate on a reasonable cause for these bites using our other information. We could suggest that there is an insect we did not see bit us. We then have a hypothesis we can test. When we do we discover that there is such an insect. (Actually you can see them with the naked eye, they are just really small.)

    The cae is completely different with God, we cannot even propose some reason God might have for failing to intervene. The conclusion is that it seems there is gratuitous evil, and therefore it seems no god exists.

    • Robert Macri

      We also do not observe what happens in a star in the far reaches of the universe (beyond our "horizon" of observation), but that we cannot then conclude that there is no such star, or that it does not emit neutrinos, or that it is not yellow...

      There are plenty of things even in this physical universe that we cannot yet know, or even test at the present moment. But they certainly exist.

      • David Nickol

        Isn't this an all-purpose argument against any possible position? "You don't know everything there is to know, so how can you be sure your reasoning, no matter how compelling it may seem, supports your conclusion?" As Donald Rumsfeld said, there are not just known unknowns, there are unknown unknowns.

        • Robert Macri

          Not at all. It simply points out that the subset of known truths do not establish the non-existence of unknown truths. I can conclude all kinds of things from the known truth (within human error), but I cannot conclude that any further knowing is impossible.

          The original premise was that the "no seeums" analogy failed because we can, in fact, observe things like mosquitoes if we look hard enough and follow the evidence. I was simply pointing out that even in the material universe there are things that we will never observe or test. Must everything be subjected to our observation to be true?

          • David Nickol

            Must everything be subjected to our observation to be true?

            No, but it seems to me that we can attack almost any argument as inconclusive based on the possibility that there are "unknown unknowns" that might undermine it were we to discover them.

            I think it is important that the"evidential argument from evil" (at least as I understand it) is not a proof. I am not even quite sure how proponents of the argument can conclude probabilities from it (i.e., that it is "more likely" that God doesn't exist than that he does).

            Believing (or disbelieving) in an omnibenevolent God in the face of human and animal suffering is not a matter of logical conclusion. There is no way to devise an "algebra of suffering" by which it can be shown that X units of suffering are outbalanced by Y units of good results. That strikes me as nonsense. It is a matter of "faith" in a large sense, which would include religious faith and unbelief.

          • Robert Macri

            I quite agree (mostly) with the sentiment of your last post.

            The "unknown unknowns" serve to illustrate the weakness of the argument from evil, not to prove the contrary.

            I certainly agree that faith (whether as a matter of belief or unbelief) is the final calculus here, not a mere measure of logic. BUT, I maintain we absolutely cannot dispense with logic.

            "It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being." (St. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Faith and Reason)

  • The reversal approach works. In fact is what I think most apologists do. The problem is that they cannot justify the premise that God exists. They also cannot justify the idea that there is absolute objective morality.

    To be clear the ultimate use of the evidential argument from suffering is that after demonstrating that the natural and scriptural arguments for the existence of god fail, we are not left with an even chance for gods existence.

    This argument, the argument from divine hiddeness, of non-god objects are arguments that provide a basis for concluding that the versions of the Christian God that define him as omnibenovolent and omnipotent, does not exist.

    • I jokingly made up my own response- On star trek, the holodeck only renders what is in the field of view of a conscious agent. In the same way, because god is good, actual suffering only takes place in the view of moral agents who can benefit and grow from it. Any suffering outside of that is simply simulated by god. Sounds like a combination of the reversal and the soul-making theodicy.

  • Doug Shaver

    Finally, a theist could reverse Rowe’s argument in the following way:
    If pointless evils exist, then God does not exist.
    God does exist.
    Therefore, pointless evils do not exist.

    OK. Any material implication "if A, then B" is logically equivalent to the disjunction "either B or not-A."

    it is only fair that the evidence for the existence of God be factored into the discussion.

    Very well, but the evidence I can observe is insufficient to overcome my intuition that pointless evil does exist.

    One important piece of evidence would be the very concepts of objective evils, objective goods, and the moral truth that one may only allow evil in order to obtain a greater good or prevent a greater evil

    Those concepts are human inventions. I see no epistemic obligation on my part to think they are anything else.

    • raystamper

      Doug,

      I enjoy reading your comments as they are dependably clear and to the point. However, you write:

      "Those concepts are human inventions. I see no epistemic obligation on my part to think they are anything else."

      Without entering into a discussion of the epistemic grounds for recognizing moral terms as conventional rather than natural, in the context of Mr. Horn's article, I take the point to be that the concepts in question are "at the heart of the evidential argument from evil". I am wondering how you square the notion that the moral concepts which underwrite the evidential argument from evil (EAE) are human inventions, with a notion that the EAE itself retains any putative force. Do you deny that the concepts in question are central to the EAE? If you do deny as much, then what concepts – if not those - “do” underlie the EAE? But if you acknowledge the centrality of those concepts to the EAE, then how would you go about affirming (if you do) that an argument whose force relies upon invented concepts may yet retain conclusory strength?

      Or perhaps you deny that the EAE, in fact, has argumentative force? I have been assuming that you find the EAE to have at least *some* persuasive value, since you write: “Very well, but the evidence I can observe is insufficient to overcome my intuition that pointless evil does exist.” But perhaps I have misinterpreted.

      Also, in your view, is “pointless evil” an invented concept akin to “objective evil”? If so, how can the existence of a “merely” invented human concept serve as the basis of an intuition capable of outbalancing a set of evidence for some other object or state of affairs? Finally, would the concept of an “epistemic obligation” be likewise a human invention?

      Cheers,

      Ray

  • Paul F

    There are many other premises to these arguments that affect the meanings of the words used. I have commented on several posts that semantics are at the heart of most philosophical arguments and I think that is the case here as well.

    For example, consider the two possible antecedents to this argument:
    1. In the beginning, God made heaven and earth and created humans to be His peons and His servants.
    2. In the beginning, God made heaven and earth and created humans in His own image.

    If an arguer believes either of these, then the one he believes will very much affect his notion of "pointless evil". In the first case, humans are powerless and, compared to God, mindless and foolish and many bad things. There would be very little point to any evil because humans aren't capable of much anyway.

    If, on the other hand, the arguer believes in the latter, then humans are "little less than gods" and very much is expected of them. They are expected to be suitable partners for God Himself. In this view, I can look at myself and see that very much suffering is required to attain the purpose of my existence.

    These are two possible theistic antecedents. A possible atheistic antecedent would be: "in the beginning, everything sprung out of nothing, and the only purpose anything has is the personal purpose it has to me." It would be difficult to give suffering any real purpose in this view. Evolution has proceeded through much suffering, but this does not make me want to suffer personally.

    So in the three examples, "pointless suffering" is equivocated but it actually has different meanings. In the first example, a lot of the suffering in the world would be pointless. In the second, almost no suffering would be pointless. In the third, almost all suffering would be pointless.

    In order to consider this argument without equivocation, it has to be specified at the beginning what type of universe we live in. We have to begin by saying, "If a benevolent God created the universe and created us to be His near-equals, then..."; or "If the universe had no creator and merely sprung out of nothing and humans are coincidental with the universe, then...". If we do not specify then we are not really arguing, least of all arguing to prove God's existence. Ergo, God's existence has to be a premise to any argument about God's existence and vice versa. (This is a generalization, I know, but I haven't found an exception to it.)

    The problem is that setting out these parameters takes all the fun out of arguing. I think what is happening underneath these arguments is one person saying "there is no God", while another is saying, "there is a benevolent God", still another, "there is a God but He doesn't care about us", and many other things.

  • By the way, 1+1= 2 is not an argument and it cannot be proven. It is a statement of equivalency. It is simply saying that instead of writing 1+1, we have another label which is "2".

  • Michel

    First we would need to define evil, is everything that bring us pain evil? I am bit with stoics here when they say that point less evil is not evil, just less desired states of nature,which at the end are irrelevant because we all will die anyway, the point here is not to ask why evil exist but why does life exist.

  • James Chastek

    @ Trent Horn,

    You do a very good job at giving a survey of present day Anglophone theodicy, but I'm an old crank who takes this as showing the relative poverty of that theodicy. Here are my idiosyncratic complaints:

    1.) Like all present day theodicies, you give no account why anyone claimed God was benevolent in the first place. Both the atheists and the theists tell us that "Christians say" that God is good, but the reasons they give for this may or may not make them open to a problem of evil. It's hard to see how the divine goodness described in Summa theologiae 1.6.1 or in De trinitate VIII.3 describe the sort of God that is critiqued by the POE, sc. one that is morally obliged to create Utopias. Related to this...

    2.) Like all present theodicies, you don't recognize the indefinite number of ways that God could be considered good. First off, not all goodness involves benevolence, but when we call God good we might mean:

    a.) God is the source of all goodness.

    b.) All goodness traces back to God but all evil to secondary causes.

    c.) God is what all things desire.

    d.) God makes all things work for the good of everybody.

    e.) God makes all things work for the good of those who love him.

    f.) The goodness God showed was superior to all other goods.

    g.) God does every possible good that can be done.

    h.) God does every good that good human beings do.

    I could go on like this for quite a while. Some of these accounts raise obvious questions for the POE (sc. d, g, and h) but not all of them do. It is therefore nonsense to claim, as some atheists do, that if we lose a vision of God as "morally good" we therefore lose any sense of what it would mean to call God good.

    3.) Related to this, there are a great number of problems with speaking of divine benevolence or moral perfection. Some obvious problems arise in trying to imagine what it would mean for the divine nature to be chaste or brave (the first requiring a body and the second fear), but the difference in nature between God and man compound the problem. We can't say much about a divine morality beyond the what we can determine about what he is - but modern theodicies tend to utterly leave this out. This is before we raise the more radical point (argued by both Aristotle and Brian Davies) that morality is essentially an action belonging to one midway between a beast and a god. If we took this step, the very idea of God's "moral perfection" is simply impossible, though we saw in (2) all sorts of ways in which he still might be good. (As a comment to specialists, I'd add that Draper's proof that God is "moral" simply means that he does whatever he does with a reason, which cannot in itself provide any content for a divine morality.)

    4.) There is the general problem of Anglophone philosophy of assuming that something is a real possibility if one can merely imagine it being the case. Knowing that God could create a world without suffering takes more than just closing ones eyes and imagining some zippedy-do-dah Disney world where there's no sickness or pain. All sorts of societies (I'm thinking particularly of the Greeks and the Vikings) saw creation as impossible without suffering and war; and the Jewish and Christian traditions believe in this impossibility at least in the world before the eschaton, which is exactly where we find ourselves. Speaking of all these traditions...

    5.) Notwithstanding a quotation from the Catechism, you do not allow your account of suffering - which needs to be rational and philosophic - to be illuminated by various longstanding wisdom traditions. Even after Adams explicitly addressed his POE to "Christians", you don't mention, say, the Christian belief in the redemptive value of suffering, its explicit denial of the possibility of attaining Utopia's before the eschaton, or even the mystery of the cross. The "Christians" who Adams claimed called God "benevolent" hardly did so in a way that had a naive view about the role of suffering and evil in the world.

  • David Nickol

    Say the suffering of a group of people (say those who die in a tsunami) be justifiable as a result of the good it allegedly engenders that involves others (rescue workers, people who contribute to charity, people who go to church and pray for victims)? In order to be justifiable suffering, don't those who suffer need to benefit from the consequences of their suffering?

    If God says, "I am going to let children starve in Africa to awake the compassion of people in the United States who will see the terrible suffering on television," that's fine for the people in the United States, but what do the starving African children get out of it? Is it acceptable that some people suffer so that good may come out of it for others?

    • neil_pogi

      man has his own responsibility to face problems. we are gifted with intelligence
      if i'm poor and can't even support my family's 3 times meal per day, i will use my decision-making strategy to control my family's population, expenses, and daily activities. it's up to me if i want my family to get what they want comfortably.

    • Rob Abney

      That is a very tough question. I hope you can help me work through this understanding based upon your Catholic background and your propensity to ask tough questions. I've recently studied more about the Church's teaching on purgatory, from that perspective many of those who die in the tsunami will join the Church Suffering. That doesn't sound like a good place from traditional descriptions but it is a place where final purification occurs and all past transgressions are resolved, that's a benefit. And many of those who die in the tsunami are now much closer to God where they can offer prayers for those who participate in evil here on earth. To be able to effectively pray for someone is a benefit.
      But to be able to see these as beneficial requires some belief in purgatory, prayer, the communion of saints, and of course the beatific vision. It also requires us as living creatures to believe that there is something greater than life on earth.

  • neil_pogi

    i think 'evil' has become part of natural laws, that govern and sustain our universe.
    consider these points:
    1. oxygen supports life (good), supports oxidation and combustion that destroy life (evil)
    2. water supports life, but it can destroy life too (drowning)
    3. pain - tells you that something is wrong in your body (good), but makes you delibitating, unfunctional (evil) in your daily activities

    evil promotes control and balance of eco-system.

    creation of prey and predator animals - it is impossible for chance and unguided processes to produce these organisms. therefore only a 'conscious and intelligent agency' can create these. they are designed for their specific functions.

    if we have no sensory perceptions of pain, can we really justify that evil really exists?

  • GuineaPigDan .

    I already saw this book excerpt on Catholic Answers a week ago. I was kind of hoping to see a new article written as a response to Brian. Oh well. Anyway, I was wondering what would Catholics say about Jewish perspectives on the PoE which say God is the creator of both good and evil, based on their interpretation of verses like Isaiah 45:7? Here's an example of one Jewish site I saw with this interpretation. http://www.beingjewish.com/faqs/conflict.html

    • Paul F

      As a Catholic I do not believe God created evil. God created only good things, and all things for a purpose. Evil results when good things deviate from their purpose. The link you provided accurately describes Chrisitanty as differing from the Manichees and others in that we do not believe God created evil. But it leaves you with the impression that evil is necessary for Gods greater glory. I do not hold to this belief. I think that creation could have existed eternally without evil, but at some point, one person chose evil and there has been a cascade of evil ever since.

      The notion of person is important to this understanding. Persons include God, Angels, and humans, though I cannot know if this list is exhaustive. Only persons are capable of evil, since only persons have free will. Persons are created in God'd image and our purpose is to participate in creation with God. Ergo evil is participation in destruction.

      That is the short answer. I realize that it needs much more explanation but that requires much more time.

      • GuineaPigDan .

        Thank you. And what about a Catholic interpretation of Isaiah 45:7? I notice some translations say calamity, disaster, woe, or similar terms rather than evil, although Jewish sites tend to stick with the term evil in that verse.

        • Paul F

          I don't take everything literally that is in the bible. I am not being dismissive, but to understand what Isaiah is saying you must understand the context in which he said it. I recommend finding a good bible commentary (there are many). You will find different interpretations for this verse. I can't say which would be accurate for Catholics, I just know that we do not believe God created evil so this passage would have to be interpreted or understood in that light.

      • Doug Shaver

        but at some point, one person chose evil and there has been a cascade of evil ever since.

        If this is true, does it not logically follow that there was no evil before that person made that choice?

        • Paul F

          Yes it does.

          • Doug Shaver

            OK. And was that person a human being?

          • Paul F

            Short answer: I don't know. We have the story of Adam and Eve being the first humans to sin. Again, I do not take this story literally, but the theology I get from it tells me that there was a first sin for humans and we have been plagued with sin ever since.

            We also have the legend of the fall of lucifer. In the garden of Eden, the serpent is often seen as lucifer, having already fallen, tempting Adam and Eve. So I don't know if there is a way to answer how it really happened or in what order it happened. But the important theology I get out of it is that God only made good things and they have rebelled against Him. Not because He caused them to rebel, but only through their own free will. The option was on the table to live forever in paradise and the opposite was chosen.

            What can seem so unfair is that we are all in this boat together. None of us has the option to be born into a world without sin, the way the first humans were. It was taken away from us. So the theology from this tells us that God will not sacrifice the sinner to save the righteous.

            I'm sorry for giving you theology on a philosophy website, just answering your questions. I suppose the moderator can choose whether it fits the medium.

          • Doug Shaver

            I'm sorry for giving you theology on a philosophy website, just answering your questions.

            I don't see to a problem there. For some people, their theology is their philosophy.

            But, I was asking about the origin of evil, and you've been discussing the origin of sin. Do you think they're the same thing?

          • Paul F

            Sin is a willful choice. Evil can be the state of mind that leads to sin or the suffering that results from it. The two are distinguishable but inseparable.

          • Doug Shaver

            or the suffering that results from it.

            So, any other suffering is not evil?

          • Paul F

            Some philosophers distinguish between moral evil and natural evil. I have been using 'evil' to mean only moral evil, which is why I defined it the way I did.

            I do not have a good sense of what is meant by 'natural evil.' I think it is defined as suffering that is not caused by sin, but then I don't understand the reason for that distinction. We could just call it suffering. To me the word 'evil' connotes sinfulness and willful harm.

            However, it is not really possible to talk about the causes of suffering without sin being a part of the equation. The state of the world is such that it would be totally different had sin never entered it. The theology from the Garden of Eden tells us that God created a place for humans to live forever in peace. We were thrown out, so nothing that has happened since has been according to the plan.

            Therefore, when a hurricane destroys people's houses, it doesn't make sense to ask if its evil. There is nothing in nature that is affected by sinfulness that causes hurricanes to form. And there is no sin that the victims of the hurricane are guilty of that has anything to do with it. But I think there was a way for us to live without being victims of hurricanes. Our far distant ancestors walked away from that peaceful life and we are stuck with the suffering.

          • Doug Shaver

            Some philosophers distinguish between moral evil and natural evil.

            Do you have any idea why they do that?

          • Paul F

            My sense is that they are trying to explain suffering in the apparent absence of sin. I think it is a misguided way of thinking where people try to come up with some formula for causal links between sins and suffering. This kind of thinking was pervasive in the Middle Ages when formulae were written for prescribing penances in confession (lying = one Hail Mary.) I think the problem is that this just isn't the kind of thing people can know.

            We know from revelation that sin causes suffering. We can see some examples of that in the world, but we can't see the extent of it. Eve bit an apple, and we get Hitler. This causes confusion to the point that people threaten each other with horrible consequences to sinful actions on one end, while others accept no responsibility for anything they do on the other.

          • Doug Shaver

            Eve bit an apple, and we get Hitler.

            Ironic, isn't it? As I read the story without any doctrinal presuppositions, the only thing she did wrong was fail to follow an order she had been given.

          • Doug Shaver

            when a hurricane destroys people's houses, it doesn't make sense to ask if its evil.

            I sort of agree. If anyone has to ask, then to them, evil must not mean what it means to me.

          • Doug Shaver

            I do not have a good sense of what is meant by 'natural evil.' I think it is defined as suffering that is not caused by sin, but then I don't understand the reason for that distinction. We could just call it suffering. To me the word 'evil' connotes sinfulness and willful harm.

            The distinction was made because of Christian attempts to restrict the notion of evil precisely as you have done. Sin is a theological notion that is inextricably related to people not doing what they have been told to do. To say that evil is all about human disobedience is to deny that suffering per se is a bad thing. Any suffering that is manifestly not due to some human's failure to follow orders thus becomes a moral irrelevance. The notion that this world would be as good as it needs to be if we all would just do what the proper authorities tell us to do is not an ethical position I will accept.

          • Michael Murray

            But I think there was a way for us to live without being victims of hurricanes. Our far distant ancestors walked away from that peaceful life and we are stuck with the suffering.

            Do you mean Adam and Eve ? They can't have been more than a few million years ago depending on what you want to deem is a human being. More likely a few hunder thousand years I would have thought. But before a few million then they would be homo erectus which I assume we can all agree are not homo sapiens. So are you saying that prior to two million years ago there were no hurricanes, tsunami's, volcanic explosions ? I would assume there is scientific evidence that rules that out. For example plate tectonics is being going on for billions of years. To say nothing of predation on humans by other carnivores.

          • Paul F

            The important distinction is person versus non-person, which we cannot learn by studying fossils. At some point the first persons walked the earth, and through them sin entered the world.

            I can speculate about how persons could have lived in regions without hurricanes, or migrated away from them seasonally, and innately known how to avoid predators, etc. I don't know how specifically it would have been, but I believe that it was for a little while and could have endured.

          • Michael Murray

            The important distinction is person versus non-person, which we cannot learn by studying fossils. At some point the first persons walked the earth, and through them sin entered the world.

            But we can distinguish homo-sapiens from non homo-sapiers. Or are you arguingg that the first persons might have been non-homo-sapiens ? Like homo erectus maybe ?

            I can speculate about how persons could have lived in regions without hurricanes, or migrated away from them seasonally, and innately known how to avoid predators, etc. I don't know how specifically it would have been, but I believe that it was for a little while and could have endured.

            Seriously ? That doesn't sound very plausible. We know that the natural world has always run on fierce competition. This sounds more like a Disney view of nature.

          • Paul F

            Any view where God exists sounds like Disney to you. Remember God's existence is a premise to all of my statements. I can imagine a world without God and empathize with your view. Can you imagine a world with God and imagine how he would create the world? This is the only way we can have true dialogue. You continually refute what I say based on the premise of God's existence. If I stipulate that God doesn't exist then this conversation will be very dull indeed.

          • Michael Murray

            Sure I don't believe in God but the Disney comment only applies to the idea that nature at some point time had some kind of harmony that is contrary to what we know about evolution and natural selection. That doesn't follow from just believing in God. It follows from a particular interpretation of Genesis as being real in a particular way. You could be ab theist and say that Genesis is metaphor and that everything science tells us about the natural world just reflects how God created it.

          • Paul F

            I am describing the God of Christianity who created the Universe through the Big Bang and evolution, but at some point intervened in history to create the first human persons. I'm not saying nature was in harmony at this time, rather these first human persons were not subject to it the way that we are. I think this follows from who Christians say God is and our understanding of sin and the fall.

  • Paul Brandon Rimmer

    The great thing about the evidential argument from suffering is that suffering is evidence against an all loving God. The more widespread and severe the suffering, the stronger the evidence. I don't think it is possible to rationally disagree.

    The problem with the evidential argument from suffering is that it is difficult to determine how convincing this evidence should be given the amount of suffering that we observe in the world and the limits of our knowledge. Does it make God 50% less likely? Two times less likely? Ten times? A thousand times? I have not seen a clear answer to these questions.

    It seems as though suffering caused by cancer is substantial evidence against an all loving God, given how, even with our limited knowledge and power, we have made strides toward curing and treating various cancers. God hasn't stopped us. Does this mean God was powerless to treat the cancers himself? Or that treating cancers used to be a bad thing, but now it's not? Or maybe that it's better for us to discover how to help ourselves?

    This, coupled with the extent of natural suffering, its apparent disregard for innocency or guilt, makes it very difficult to think that God is all loving, at least given how likely I think an all loving God would be before considering this evidence.

    The two answers Trent presents are unconvincing. van Inwagen does a better job of the two, I think, but this simply provides a metric for determining whether the suffering God chose to allow, however arbitrary, is minimal. Since this world has extremely painful suffering virtually everywhere, since no living person escapes this suffering, it would seem more probable that God did not choose a minimal amount, and that doesn't seem like the act of a loving God.

    The second answer, that all suffering does serve some purpose that we don't know, has no real affect on the evidence at all. If on the other hand, we had a good argument for believing that there could be no good reason for an all loving God to allow suffering, any suffering would be proof against an all loving God. It would make this God's existence virtually impossible to reconcile even with hangnails. Since, as Plantinga and others have convincingly argued, we don't have this sort of reason for dismissing unknown possibilities, we simply have to consider the evidence on its face. The evidence is nevertheless very strongly against an all loving God. At least until some real model is put forward to explain how this suffering (especially natural suffering) is necessary.

    • neil_pogi

      then why God allows His Son to suffer?

      and was nailed to the cross?

      to redeem us?

      • Doug Shaver

        then why God allows His Son to suffer?

        and was nailed to the cross?

        to redeem us?

        Why should I believe that any of those things really happened?

        • neil_pogi

          you believe that the universe started billion years ago, and yet you provided no witnesses, no evidences about it..

          and yet you denied vehemently, 2,000 years ago, that Jesus once walked the surface of the earth.. plenty of ancient manuscripts, beside the bible, have supported about it

          • Doug Shaver

            plenty of ancient manuscripts, beside the bible, have supported about it

            Name one of those manuscripts and we'll talk about it. Just one. I don't want a list. Just name one.

          • neil_pogi

            you didn't provide any evidence that the universe started billion years ago..

          • Doug Shaver

            you didn't provide any evidence that the universe started billion years ago..

            I don't recall saying anything about when the universe started. You're trying to change the subject again, like you did the last time I asked you to support something you said.

          • neil_pogi

            why not just answer it?i didn't change my subject. you ignored it

          • Doug Shaver

            why not just answer it?

            Because it is irrelevant to my question, and because it presupposes my having said something that I did not say.

      • Paul Brandon Rimmer

        Maybe he hates his kids?

        • neil_pogi

          maybe you have no answer about it.

  • Doug Shaver

    The lesson to be learned from no-see-ums is that just because you can’t see something that does not mean the thing in question does not exist.

    Sure, I believe lots of things exist that I cannot see. That is because, unlike the straw-man materialist targeted by some apologists, I have never believed that reality is limited to things I can see. I have other senses besides my eyesight, and I have my intelligence. I can discern reasons for believing in certain things that I cannot see. But those reasons do not include the mere possibility of their existence. I cannot and will not infer "probably exists" from "possibly exists."

    • neil_pogi

      but my brain, and my mind is dictating naturally to me that a 'Creator' exists..

      and i can't accept that 'i just pop' without any cause at all..

      • Doug Shaver

        but my brain, and my mind is dictating naturally to me that a 'Creator' exists..

        If that is how your brain works, then you naturally believe that a creator exists. My brain does not work that way, and so I do not naturally believe that a creator exists. One possible implication of this observation is that one of us has a brain that isn't working quite the way it ought to work.

        • neil_pogi

          because you think that you 'just pop'...

          • Doug Shaver

            because you think that you 'just pop'...

            I have told you that I don't think anything of the sort. Are you calling me a liar now?

          • neil_pogi

            i don't know if you're a liar or what..

            you didn't provide any evidence, or at least any reasonable theories why you exists, why the universe exists...

          • Doug Shaver

            i don't know if you're a liar or what..

            Then you don't know whether I'm telling the truth about what I'm thinking.

          • neil_pogi

            then you don't know consciously that you're telling lies..

  • Peter

    The presence of suffering is perfectly consistent with a Creator who designs an entropy-driven universe for the widespread creation of life. In a universe which creates local complexity to produce greater overall entropy, things are born and then die to contribute net entropy to their environment. This applies to stars, planets and life itself.

    Life has a built-in propensity to die and associated with that are natural weaknesses which can lead to death. These are the same natural weaknesses which give life the capacity to suffer. Without a propensity to die, life would have no natural weaknesses which enable it to suffer.

    A world (i.e universe) without suffering would mean a world without death, which would mean a world without entropy, which would mean no world at all, and therefore no need for a Creator to design it. It is ironic that atheists use the presence of suffering to argue against a Creator when it is precisely the lack of it which leads to that conclusion.

  • David Hardy

    Atheists advance a similar argument from evil against the existence of God.

    The baseball metaphor is poorly chosen. The problem of evil points to the evil that is occurring right now, not to whether good will ultimately prevail (your team will win, to use the metaphor). Predicting an outcome and observing a reality are different things. Also, the problem of evil is only an argument against certain forms of theism, such as Christianity, that propose an omniscient, omnipotent, morally perfect God.

    One less-popular approach is to deny P1, or claim that there is no contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evils that serve no greater good (i.e. pointless or gratuitous evils).

    One could do this, but is throws into question God’s morality (allowing it where any ethical person would intervene) or omnipotent (lacking the power to stop what even a human in the right time and place could stop).

    In contrast to van Inwagen, most theistic philosophers prefer to challenge P2, or the claim that pointless evils exist.

    I find this as well. In these cases, the standard used to judge that intervention is morally required is challenged.

    I will respond to the additional parts of this section with a metaphor. Suppose a father is in a mansion filled with his children. Some are well behaved, while others are destroying property, hurting the other children, or even killing them. Would any defense proposed as a response to the problem of evil be satisfying if given by this father? “It helps some of my children build character.” “They need to learn to be independent (free will).” “They were just born rotten (original sin).” "I just know better, who are you to judge since you haven't been in my house as long or seen all of the rooms?" None of these excuses excuse the non-intervention of evil if given by a human. In some cases of evil, there is literally no ethical defense for not intervening if one has the power.

    The problem with this approach, however, is that it concludes that it concludes that there are no good reasons for these evils just because those reasons are not immediately apparent to us.

    No, this approach points to cases where intervention, if a person knows of the evil and could stop it, is morally imperative, and no benevolent person would choose not to intervene. It also holds that, given the vast number of cases where this is true, it becomes increasingly questionable to proceed from the assumption that there is always a good reason for them, which is what those defending a morally perfect God from this position are implying by arguing that there are no “pointless” evils.

    When it comes to the good reasons God has for allowing particular evils to exist we must ask, “Should those reasons be as obvious as elephants, or be as imperceptible as fleas?"

    One can argue pretty much anything is, in principle, possible. What matters is whether it is plausible or likely. If one sees no reasons consistently in numerous examples, this challenges the plausibility and likelihood that good reasons exist. To use your metaphor, if, day after day, no fleas are seen, and no evidence for fleas are found, it becomes increasingly plausible and likely that no fleas are there. Beyond this, if we lack the ability to judge God as evil, we also cannot judge Him good. We are left to an agnostic position regarding God’s morality, which is not the Christian position.

    * If pointless evils exist, then God does not exist.
    * God does exist.
    * Therefore, pointless evils do not exist.

    This could be restated as follows: “All evils must not be pointless because I assume God exists and has a good reason for them.” It does not respond to the problem of evil, it just asserts that any evil in the world is irrelevant to determining if an all-knowing, all-powerful being, should one exist, is ethical.

    A successful moral argument for the existence of God could show that the very moral framework that the evidential argument from evil relies on in order to make its case is only consistent within a theistic framework.

    This statement ignores the atheistic moral frameworks that exist. Morality does not need to be divinely mandated to be meaningful or coherent.

    • neil_pogi

      the existence of evil doesn't prove that atheism is true..

      you have to prove first how the origin of life came into this planet by means of natural cause..

      you have to prove first how the universe came into existence by means of natural cause.

      supernatural cause precedes before natural cause

      • David Hardy

        I agree that the existence of evil does not prove atheism.

        As to the rest, I need prove nothing, only observe and conclude what is most plausible, just as you have, and has everyone else. You assume causation to be a paradox that requires God. I do not see this to be so certain.

        • neil_pogi

          then what's your proposal?

          atheists can't prove their theories.. in reality, all their theories are not subject to scientific inquiry, scrutiny and observations. for example, they said that the 'big bang' 'arrange' all matter from 'chaos, disorderly' to 'orderly',, what happens to the law of entropy? this law claims that 'every thing is subject to disorderly, no exemptions'

          • David Hardy

            Atheism is not a scientific theory, so I agree it is not proven. I propose that everyone examine the world around them, and come to an honest view based on what they observe. I also propose that we admit to the limits of our knowledge, and what that entails regarding certainty. Almost all atheists are also agnostic regarding God and gods, at least to a degree. In the lack of certain or even strong knowledge, atheists take a conservative position in what they believe. I propose that we look at what is not certain, and say "I don't know", rather than claim certainty about the nature and origin of the universe or our objective purpose, if any.

          • neil_pogi

            this is simple question for you: do you believe an 'unconscious' entity will create something that is very complex?

            only conscious agents, like human being, is able to create design in every things.

            it is debunked by science that 'non-iving' things won't evolve to 'living thing',, this is what atheists don't want to believe, despite the fact that it is proven right.

            well, so you can't declare to the whole worl that atheism is true, if you know already that 'Atheism is not a scientific theory, so I agree it is not proven'

            i will certainly believe that theism is true because intelligent beings exist in this universe.

          • David Hardy

            it is debunked by science that 'non-iving' things won't evolve to 'living thing'

            Evolution is the theory of how living things change, not how life began. Science has shown that some of the basic proteins necessary for life can develop from unliving matter in the right conditions, and those conditions happen to mirror early earth conditions. However, we do not yet know exactly how life began.

            only conscious agents, like human being, is able to create design in every things.

            Humans have only begun to design life, through genetic and viral engineering. Prior to that, intelligent beings were not designing life. Most natural things tend to form in stable patterns, because they are operating according to stable laws.

          • neil_pogi

            quote: 'Evolution is the theory of how living things change, not how life began. ' - evolutionists said that 'non-living matter' evolved into living matter, hence the origin of life! i found contradictions in your statement/s!

            you can even perform experiment yourself, say, you chop a little protein from your flesh, and then leave it in an environment 'where right conditions' take place. i'll wait if your little protein survive!

            conscious agent is the 'prime mover'..

            without a 'prime mover' all things will undergo entropy. you leave your house, your car unattended, you expect they will rust and break apart

          • David Hardy

            i found contradictions in your statement/s!

            The theory of evolution is not the same as hypotheses about abiogenesis.

            i'll wait if your little protein survive!

            My flesh is part of an interdependent biological system, so of course it would not survive. The earliest life was probably closer to extremophiles: simple organisms able to survive in extreme environments.

            without a 'prime mover' all things will undergo entropy.

            I do not think there is any reason to believe this is true, but I will point out that everything does seem to undergo entropy. By your logic, this seems to disprove the 'prime mover'.

          • neil_pogi

            what's the difference bteween 'non-living matter evolved into living' and 'abiogenesis'? they are the same

            quote: 'The earliest life was probably closer to extremophiles: simple organisms able to survive in extreme environments.' - how did you know? you weren't there to observe it? atheists love more assumptions than facts!

            things will undergo entropy, without the 'prime mover's' intervention, things will run smoothly (ex: abandoned houses entropy until a 'prime mover' intervene)

          • David Hardy

            what's the difference bteween 'non-living matter evolved into living' and 'abiogenesis'?

            There is none. You, however, were not talking about that previously. Evolution is not Abiogenesis.

            how did you know? you weren't there to observe it? atheists love more assumptions than facts!

            Which is why I said "probably" and "closer". I do not assume it is true, only that it fits what the evidence suggests. However, by your own logic, how do you know I am not right? Were you there to observe it?

            things will undergo entropy, without the 'prime mover's' intervention, things will run smoothly (ex: abandoned houses entropy until a 'prime mover' intervene)

            I find it fascinating that you continue to argue that a lack of entropy proves a prime mover, but then point to examples of entropy.

          • neil_pogi

            quote; 'Evolution is not Abiogenesis.' -- then how come non-living matter becomes living matter. were you there to observe it happen? or even today?

            quote: 'However, by your own logic, how do you know I am not right? ..' - it's because your claim is not based on sciences

            quote: 'I find it fascinating that you continue to argue that a lack of entropy proves a prime mover, but then point to examples of entropy.' -- have you observe a house without its occupants, will still the same as, let's say, 50 years old? an empty or abandoned house, even after many months will undergo the process of entropy.

            entropy is the enemy of evolution. all things will be subject to disorders, no exemptions

          • David Hardy

            Again, by your logic, since you where not there, either, you cannot make a claim about how life began, which means you cannot refute a claim about how life began. I am not agreeing with your logic, merely pointing out why it is self-contradictory.

            Aside from that, things that evolve are subject to entropy - we all die.

          • David Hardy

            I just realized the error that you were making - I apologize for glossing over it previously. When you say "non-living matter evolved into living", you are using "evolving" in its colloquial sense, not the scientific sense. Many people use "evolving" interchangeably with "developing into". However, they are different things. Abiogenesis is the study of how life developed initially, and while there are hypotheses about it, it is not certain how life began. Evolution is the theory of how life changes across generations - it has been observed to occur. That is the difference between them - Abiogenesis refers scientists' best guesses based on the evidence as to how life initially formed, and Evolution refers to what scientists have observed about how life changes across generations.

          • neil_pogi

            whatever you say, they are just the same. no sciences support that a non-living matter becomes living matter. it only occurs in your imagination. and don't insists. you're just making yourself and your cohorts fool.

          • David Hardy

            I will not respond to you further, then. If you wish to learn more, I would suggest you study what the theory of evolution actually entails.

          • Phil Rimmer

            neil has been recommended the book,

            "The Vital Question," by Nick Lane.

            It is a recent account of the state of knowledge and theorising about abiogenesis by one of its leading researchers. Neil refuses to read it because Nick Lane was not there at the time.

            Being not there at the time is the single idea neil has to fend off the encroachment of science into one of his last little God Gaps.

            I think its time neil put in a little bit more effort here. Not being there is no real defence to the growing evidence that abiogenesis is starting to look increasingly easy.

            If he researched some, he might even find better God Gaps to defend in the transition to eukaryotes and to multicelled bodies of eukaryotes.

          • David Hardy

            He seems happy with his understanding of evolution and abiogenesis, despite repeated efforts to let him know that his understanding is flawed. The desire to challenge one's preconceptions and learn more generally must come from within, especially once one is an adult.

          • Phil Rimmer

            His understanding seems entirely constrained by the need to have atheists admit that they believe in life "just popping" on an act of faith. In one post he discounts all retrospective scientific accounts as worthless yet recently, in another, seems to allow them to be merely incomplete.

            I wonder if this is progress?

          • neil_pogi

            this is what happens when atheists have no more to say, no more to defend their evolution brohaha!

            you can't even explain evolution, much more endorsing it to me to read it/

  • neil_pogi

    God said to the first couple: 'you will surely die'

    so any form of punishments, be it done horrendously, lead to deaths.

    God had already pronounced it that 'death' is the eternal punishment, the consequence of sin. it prove that He does exists.

    • Doug Shaver

      God said to the first couple: 'you will surely die'

      So it says in a book written by a man we know nothing about.

      • neil_pogi

        you believe that the universe started billion years ago, and yet you provided no witnesses, no evidences about it..

        you believe that your LUCA has survived the hundreds of days in the wilderness, and it evolve endlessly, without any witnesses to prove that it really existed!

        • Doug Shaver

          You believe God inspired the authors of a book, without any witnesses to who those authors were, or the circumstances in which they did their writing, or to the content of the documents that those men themselves actually wrote.

          • neil_pogi

            i believe they were true because they were testaments.

            how about your LUCA? do you have any witnesses?

          • George

            they are hearsay

          • neil_pogi

            how did you know? were you there when they were written?

            how about your LUCA? were you there observing it 'evolving to other forms of life'?

          • George

            Were you?

          • neil_pogi

            the ancient israelites wrote these testaments and produced manuscripts and eventually became the Bible. thousands of artifacts, testimonies are produced

          • George

            But you weren't there, were you?

          • neil_pogi

            of course not, i was born in 1970.

            but these ancient israelites were witnessed to them.

            were you there, too when your LUCA was 'born'? no, you're not because you are one of its 'descendants'

          • George

            actually I was there, and you were't there, so you can't say I wasn't!

          • neil_pogi

            can you explain that?

          • George

            I was there, so you just have to believe me. :)

          • neil_pogi

            don't make a fool out of me

          • Doug Shaver

            they were testaments.

            What do you mean by that?

          • neil_pogi

            you don't know. or you don't want to know?
            ancient israelites have recorded their history, their 'face to face' communication with God..

            how about your LUCA? can you tell me if your LUCA was just an imagination? or if it's true, where's the evidence?

          • Doug Shaver

            you don't know. or you don't want to know?

            Do yo want to answer the question or do you wish to evade it?

            ancient israelites have recorded their history, their 'face to face' communication with God..

            That doesn't answer my question.

          • neil_pogi

            the answers were already above you, doug.. you just didn't accept them as facts

            how about this: 'how about your LUCA? can you tell me if your LUCA was just an imagination? or if it's true, where's the evidence?' -- seemed you ignore it.

          • Doug Shaver

            you just didn't accept them as facts

            What I'm not accepting is your pretense of infallibility. Nothing is so just because you say so.

          • neil_pogi

            all i presented to you are facts, supported by sciences..

            and yours, none

          • Doug Shaver

            all i presented to you are facts

            You say so.

          • neil_pogi

            yes, and you have no more to argue with me

  • There are at least two things I’ve learned from years of dealing with complex problems for a living that have helped me deal with the problem of evil. One is that the more you understand a problem, the better you can deal with it, even if you can’t necessarily solve it. Second, the data doesn’t always “fit”. Even after a complex problem has been long since solved, we can look back at some of the observable facts and see that they conflicted with our solution. Even so, we cannot discount ALL the data that DID fit and the thinking process we used. Some data points never make good sense, but don’t throw out everything else. Rejecting what Catholics call God and the ultimacy of Goodness, Beauty and Truth, solely because of the existence of evil, is somewhat like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  • Hyder Noori

    Could God have achieved (X) without allowing evil to exist altogether?
    (X) being whatever justification you may choose (building our character, helping us distinguish good from evil, Free Will...etc).

    I firmly believe that this is what the issue of evil should boil down to.

    Thank you.

    • Hyder Noori

      The question is for the theists to answer btw.
      Thanks again.

    • Phil

      Hey Hyder,

      I don't think God could have allowed us to have a true free will without also allowing us to turn away from him, which is what sin/suffering/evil is. So if God wanted to create creatures with free will, he also chose to allow the possibility of evil/suffering.

      There was no necessity for us to turn away from him, but we had to freedom to do so and we did. So therefore we have suffering and evil.

      • Hyder Noori

        Hi Phil,
        "I don't think God could have allowed us to have a true free will without also allowing us to turn away from him"

        Given his omnipotence...why not?

        • Paul F

          If God did not create the universe, then evil is a brute phenomenon of our mental states. If God did create the universe, does it make sense to wonder why he didn't first consult us on how to do it? Suffering is always bad; and sometimes it's really bad. It is foreshadowing death. So on the question of degree, the amount we need is enough to make us choose life over death. And only God knows how stubborn we truly are.

          • Hyder Noori

            Hi Paul,

            "If God did create the universe, does it make sense to wonder why he didn't first consult us on how to do it?"
            No it doesn't. And that wasn't what I asked for.

            " So on the question of degree, the amount we need is enough to make us choose life over death. "
            Would you please elaborate? I couldn't understand what you mean exactly.

            Thank you.

      • Hyder Noori

        Hi Phil,
        So in this case my question would be the following: Could God have made it so "turning away from him" would result in something much less severe without compromising our free will?

        Thank you.

        • Phil

          Could God have made it so "turning away from him" would result in something much less severe without compromising our free will?

          I think there are two key points that, if we begin to understand them, we can begin to make as much rational sense out of suffering that is possible through mere human reason:

          1) God is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself.

          2) Evil is a privation of goodness; a privation of a good that ought to be present.

          Conclusion) This means that any movement away from God will necessarily result in less goodness, truth, and beauty. Therefore it makes sense that suffering--which is a lack of goodness--should be present when we turn away and are separated from God who is goodness itself.

          Finally, I think that "less severe" is a relative term. It could be that the suffering we endure is much less severe than what it could be. In fact, it could be the least amount of suffering that is possible while still keeping our true free will in tact.

          • David

            1) God is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty itself.

            The problem is that there is absolutely no reason at all to think god exists let alone all this nonsense about goodness, truth, and beauty.

          • Phil

            Hi David,

            Since this discussion is on the problem of evil, if a perfectly good and loving God does not exist, then the problem of evil does not exist.

            In other words, to even discuss the problem of evil, one must start by either holding or simply proposing that a perfectly good/loving God does exist.

          • Hyder Noori

            Phil,
            I will attempt to reply to your comment in the form of a question if you please bear with me:

            Who dictated this dichotomy that the absence of "God's goodness" would result in, for example, thousands of children dying every hour-for as long as humanity have existed? Who set up this rule and who has the power to "tweak it" in favor of zero-children dying every hour WITHOUT compromising our free will NOR his grand plan?

            " I think that "less severe" is a relative term"
            Well...not in this case. You see, atheists like me have the option to resort to the "well, it could've been worse!" mantra because, as you know, we think the laws of physics are oblivious to our suffering...they don't owe us any compassion. But since you believe that the show is being run by a 100% benevolent deity it must be logical to expect evil to be minimal (or even absent) while (again) maintaining our freewill and his grand plan. Your God should be able to do this if he's omnipotent.

          • Phil

            Who dictated this dichotomy that the absence of "God's goodness".

            It doesn't make much sense to ask who says that if one is separated from goodness that less goodness will be present. It couldn't be any other way. If one separates oneself from goodness, less goodness will be present to them.

            The relevant question to ask is why is it possible to be separated from goodness. And this is where the discussion of genuine free will is relevant.

            But since you believe that the show is being run by a 100% benevolent deity it must be logical to expect evil to be minimal (or even absent) while (again) maintaining our freewill and his grand plan. Your God should be able to do this if he's omnipotent.

            Again, the relevant point is that if genuine free will is to be maintained, it must be possible for us to choose to do evil. Suffering will come about to ourselves and others when we partake in evil actions. The doctrine of Original Sin points us towards the fact that our relationship to God, including the relationship of all material creation to God, has changed. That is the reason we see the suffering we do.

            You are exactly correct thought, suffering was definitely not necessary. If we would not have chosen to sin, then true suffering would not have been present.

            So we cannot blame God for evil and suffering. We brought it about. If one wants to say that God should not have created a world where evil and suffering was possible, then true free will would not have existed. And without free will, true love is not possible.

            So in the end, if suffering would not have been possible, then free will and love would not have been possible either.

          • Hyder Noori

            Phil,
            Perhaps I wasn't clear enough on my dichotomy question...
            You said " If one separates oneself from goodness, less goodness will be present to them."
            Granted.
            My problem is who decided how the consequences of "less goodness" must look like?
            For example, the degree of one's punishment in the court of law is decided by our legislatures. Say, for car theft you get one year and for crime you get life. Similarly, who was the "legislature" that decided that the "less goodness" choice would result in, say, thousands of children dying daily from the Malaria parasite as opposed to the same number of children experiencing a non life threatening-harsh fever?

          • Phil

            My problem is who decided how the consequences of "less goodness" must look like?

            I think we could say that based upon the type of material and immaterial world that God created, that would dictate the type of suffering that was possible. So one might be tempted to ask, why did God not create a material reality where less suffering was possible if we did choose to turn away from his goodness?

            So we are led back to the question of why did God create exactly as he did, which I discussed with a couple people below. No one is going to have any real complete answer to that in this life, though through our own prayer and the prayer of some of the saints through the centuries you may be able to get some insights.

            In the end, we can only speculate that a different type of material and immaterial reality would have been better for us. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. No one can ever know for sure because of our limited view of the whole picture of history and reality. That type of speculation really gets us no where. The more fruitful question is ask what do we do with the suffering that is present.

            In the end, suffering only makes sense in light of the cross. That God would Himself enter into the depths of evil and suffering shows us that we need not be afraid of suffering, but embrace any suffering that comes our way because the resurrection is sure to follow if we embrace God and others in sacrifice.

            (Note that this does not mean we ought to cause suffering or should seek suffering. Chances for sacrifice and suffering happen naturally each and every day if we look at our life "through heaven's eyes".)

          • Phil

            What providence. A video just posted about Colbert, suffering, and Divine providence:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38greleOBYM

          • Phil

            Hey Hyder--

            So I was reflecting upon some of my own experiences lately and the idea of suffering from evil, but then also suffering from natural causes. I had this sudden insight that if it has any truth to it, it is definitely an inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I remembered we had been discussing this some time ago and wanted to pass it along.

            The simple realization is that all of the physical cosmos is "perfect". Now let me clarify what "perfect" means. If God's whole purpose in creating physical human creatures and a physical world was so that we could be in relationship with Him and trust completely in His care for us. Anything apart from a perfect relationship with God will leave us restless and not completely fulfilled.

            So if we look at all of the material cosmos through the lens that it is perfectly created so that it can most perfectly bring us back to God, then things start to make sense! All of material reality is created for us to realize that we are not in control and can't do it by ourself (God trying to invite us to trust in Him and not in ourselves). Everything in the material cosmos is trying to get us outside our own ego, selfishness, and desire of control.

            Think about suffering of any kind, including natural disasters and such. It invites us to realize that as much as we like to pretend that we are in control...we actually aren't. This is all inviting us back into relationship with the one who created us to be in perfect relationship with Him, and therefore to be perfectly happy! That is just so ridiculously crazy!

            A side note--material reality was created in such a way that when we turned away from relationship with God in original sin, chaos and disorder of ourselves and creation was brought about. So the very effect of our sin is the antidote to that sin...crazy. The Divine Plan truly is perfect if we only being to see with the eyes of God slowly and clumsily day by day!

    • Peter

      What you are asking is that if one man points a loaded gun at another man and pulls the trigger, not only is that man not killed but he isn't hurt in the slightest. You are asking God to suspend the laws of nature whenever an evil act is committed so that the consequences of such an act can be avoided. You are asking God to perform a miracle when a bomb goes off in a crowded place so that the victims aren't even scratched.

      If we were all impervious to evil acts, or to acts caused by stupidity or carelessness, we would be indestructible and immortal. We wouldn't need to have been born because we would always have existed, never having been helpless infants vulnerable to neglect. And the place we live in would also have always existed so that there was no need to create it in the first place. What need, then, would there be for a Creator?

      • Hyder Noori

        Hi, Peter...

        "If we were all impervious to evil acts, or to act...............there was no need to create it in the first place."

        I think you are appealing to extremes in here - a logical fallacy.
        For example: Having the level of evil dialed down so (for example) children and pregnant mothers would not be subjected to pain and suffering for as long as they're alive would NOT result in humans being immortal nor indestructible.
        How about dialing it back a little so that pregnant women and children would die painless death...would that be too much to ask as well?

  • Andrew Y.

    Personally I’ve never found any persuasion at all in the argument from evil (evidential or logical).

    First, what is evil? Mark 7:15, 21–23:

    "Nothing that goes into someone from outside can make that person unclean; it is the things that come out of someone that make that person unclean.

    For it is from within, from the heart, that evil intentions emerge: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, pride, folly.

    All these evil things come from within and make a person unclean."

    Suffering is often a result of evil, but suffering itself is neither good nor evil. Ultimately, good is that which brings us closer to God, while evil is that which separates us from Him. Pleasure, success, fortune, prosperity, wellness, etc are all good only insofar as they bring us closer to God. Likewise, pain, failure, disasters, and even human tragedies are only evil insofar as they separate us from Him.

    God wills first and foremost that we do not suffer in the next life. Pain we experience in this life is a prick in the finger compared to the horror of eternal damnation. God knows this and sustains our world not that we should feel no pain or anguish in this life (though apparently that was his original plan) but that there is always a path to eternal life should we choose to take it.

    The point of all evil is that it separates us from God. If it did not do this it would not be evil. The phrase pointless evil then makes about as much sense to me as say pointless momentum. It doesn’t need to have a point: it simply is what it is.

  • Hadie

    Perhaps I am ignorant here as to the purpose of this discussion on evil. I was under the impression that we chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of 'good' and 'evil'. So that now we not only recognize what a moral person would call good but also what can be recognized as evil and we know both as such.
    Second we live in a fallen world, we do not live in the Garden. We were kicked out of the place where baby deer do not die alone in fires. God is letting us live with our original choice until he chooses not to. Seems fairly simple to me.