Some perspective on the problem of pain

This world is pretty messed up, isn’t it? Corrupt governments. Warzones around the world. Murder, rape and even genocide fill the nightly news. That doesn’t even cover natural disasters like floods, fires and hurricanes. Yep, the world is a pretty messed up place.

Of course, it is also a very beautiful place. People get married every day. Children play in the park. The sun shines, rain nourishes the earth and trees are filled with delightful fruit for our enjoyment. Yeah, the world is a pretty great place. And it is messed up.

As with several of my recent blog posts this one has also been inspired by my wife’s recent brush with death and her subsequent recovery and rehabilitation. In this article I want to consider how our perspective on pain and suffering influences the conclusions we draw from it. Having your heart stop without any warning, having your chest pounded on for roughly an hour in an attempt to restart it, having shocks of electricity forced across your torso several times, being medically paralyzed and sedated as your body temperature is forcibly lowered several degrees Celsius and then having to recover from all the above constitutes, in my humble opinion, a reasonable dose of suffering.

When considering the prevalence of suffering in the world many people wonder where God fits into all of that. It seems to me that is a perfectly legitimate question. Indeed I wonder, sometimes, why so many Christians seem to have a theology of “God wants me to be happy all the time” when the Bible is replete with examples of people suffering specifically as a result of their willingness to obey God. Does God tend to bless those who trust in him? Absolutely, but that is far from the whole story. Sometimes he puts his loved ones in harm’s way for very specific reasons; either personal growth through trial or for the betterment of somebody else. Suffering is unquestionably a facet of the reality we find ourselves in and we ought to take it seriously.

But not too seriously. Suffering should be treated with a seriousness that is proportional to its place in the world. We should not try to sweep it under the rug, nor should we try to stick it behind a magnifying glass and blow it out of proportion. Indeed, while some Christians may downplay the reality of suffering our world I dare say there are others who see nothing but horror and tragedy everywhere they look. The earth, we are told, is blood-soaked; a melodramatic representation of reality if there ever was one.

This tendency to misrepresent the scale of suffering was made all the more apparent to me as I watched my wife emerge from her medically induced “coma” (I’m not a medical person; that may not be the technically accurate word) and start to re-engage the world. As a result of her cardiac arrest she suffered some minor neurological damage and, in all likelihood, some parts of her brain were still experiencing some excess pressure which distorted her innate perspective on life. When she awoke from her coma there was an undeniably negative tone in her response to the situation she found herself in. Was such negativity understandable? Yes, but it was still out of character for her.

Let me give an example. Several days after she came to, she started walking. At one point the physiotherapists were doing various tests on the state of her recovery. They had her walk to the window in her room, look out, and tell them what she saw. I’ll give you a sneak peek. From that particular window the edge of the hospital property was almost a stone’s throw away. There was some kind of mechanical building slightly to the right side and another hospital tower a little further to the right. In the center and to the other side the terrain opened up to a wide valley that had been carved by the river that flows through our city. Trees covered the earth as far as we could see. In the distance the other side of the valley rose, but not so high as to block the Rocky Mountains that capped the horizon. It was a sunny day, but with a few clouds; the kind of day that beckoned one outdoors for some walking and biking.

What did she see? “Hospital stuff,” she said, with a slightly disgruntled tone.

Seriously? You’ve got the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, trees blanketing the landscape, the Rocky Mountains framing this entire picture and all you can see is the hospital stuff in the foreground and to the side? This is an example of what we might call “selection bias.” When a person is expecting to see something they tend to find it wherever they look. While Denise’s brain was recovering it went through a stage where she was unnaturally pessimistic and frustrated with everything. In that state even the most glamorous piece of heavenly artwork, that we call our beautiful city and the surrounding countryside, is drowned by the horror and ugliness of a little bit of hospital architecture in the foreground.

There is another aspect of this whole situation that led to Denise’s negative perspective. When she collapsed from her cardiac arrest she was clinically dead. That is a terrifying thought when you let it sink in. Many factors weighed against her recovery – the odds were not in her favour – but she unexpectedly pulled through and appears to be on the road to more or less a full neurological recovery. Whether that is a miracle or not in the technical sense of the word is a topic for a future post, but suffice it to say that all of us – family, therapists, nurses and doctors – are stunned with not only the fact of her virtually perfect recovery, but the speed at which she is racing toward it.

But not her. When she first woke up she had short-term memory issues. Sometimes I would have to tell her several times a day that she had a cardiac arrest, I would have to remind her about the CPR, the ambulance ride, ER and so forth. She will never remember the actual events, of course, but she was having difficulty remembering that I had described the events to her. She kept forgetting why she was in the hospital in the first place.

When she looked at her situation – she cannot walk, she cannot feed herself, she cannot write coherent English – she did not see that through the lens of “I was technically dead just last week.” She would see it through the lens of “I never used to have any of these problems.” Her memory did not include the valley she had just passed through, because of her short-term memory problems she could only remember where she used to be before all of this happened. Her mind was constantly hitting “reset” so she kept comparing her immediate state to her normal state without taking into consideration what she just went through. From that perspective she was experiencing a constant deficit of sorts, and that’s all she would see at first. The rest of us constantly compared her current progress to the state when she was in when she arrived in the ER. When seen through that lens we were in a constant state of joy and excitement at her progress. Bewildered at our enthusiasm, she only saw through her lens and lived in a virtually constant state of frustration and pessimism because of everything she could not do.

For two reasons – neurological damage to the brain interrupting her normal personality, and short-term memory issues giving her a unique frame of reference – she tended to see her situation in a far more negative light than any of us around her. We were delighted, she was aggravated. She was experiencing selection bias with respect to her circumstances; she was unable to see the whole picture.

All too often those who shake their fists at God because of all the suffering in the world are exhibiting symptoms of selection bias similar to what Denise went through. I am well aware that some people have had a really rough go at life – they have suffered far more than the rest of us could possibly imagine – but even in those situations it is not necessary that one must see the world through the eyes of pessimism and frustration. For the most part we choose our lens unless, like Denise, we are dealing with neurological issues. Of course there are certainly some forms of suffering so extensive and so severe that it is virtually impossible for any person to maintain a positive disposition. But how many of us are in that boat?

What I have found interesting over the years of observing people is the inconsistency of responses that people have to their own suffering. There are those who develop a negative outlook on life as a result of their suffering, and this would seem to be the most understandable response. But there are so many exceptions. Others who suffer do not exhibit that tendency at all. Some swing in the opposite direction as they begin to marvel at the wonder of life from fresh eyes. At the very end of the book “The problem of pain” by C.S. Lewis there is an appendix by a medical doctor based on his observations of those who have endured various forms of pain. He ends his insightful little commentary with the note, “Pain provides an opportunity for heroism; the opportunity is seized with surprising frequency.” Some who suffer interpret their suffering through the lens of negativity, but others who suffer rise to the occasion and set an example for the rest of us.

While I find the responses of those who suffer fascinating, what I find even more amazing is how many people get so remarkably hung up on the suffering in the world while they live in relative comfort. They have their health. They have their sanity. They have the financial means to meet their needs and many of their desires as well. They live in middle- to upper-class houses. They are nowhere close to a warzone and there is no volcano or hurricane zone within a day’s drive of where they live. They get to choose their government and will not be sent to jail without due process. They are free to express themselves without fear of police intervention.

Yet they see the world through the lens of negativity. They see the suffering of others and it becomes their frame of reference for all of life. Because other people suffer they shake their fists at God. Where is he? Why does he not fix the world? Why do so many bad things happen? All fair questions, absolutely, but the persistence with which they ask their questions often reveals more about the questioner than it does about God, the only one qualified to answer them. Like my wife who gazed upon a serene image of natural beauty in the distance but could only see the hospital property at the end of her nose, many people choose the lens of negativity as their frame of reference for the world around them and refuse to see all the splendour and majesty that engulfs us daily.

If we have grounds to shake our fist at God because of what is wrong with the world, should we not (to be consistent) embrace him when we stumble upon all that is right with the world? If we have good reason to conclude God does not exist because there is pain, do we not have equally good reason to conclude that God does exist because there is pleasure? We are moved to tears and anguish when we hear about injustice and heartache but are we equally moved to tears of joy and delight when the beauty of the world and the love of humanity overwhelms us? Or, for some people, do they even allow the beauty of the world to touch them in any meaningful way? Perhaps the only emotions they experience are emotions of horror and anger. More selection bias.

To properly tackle the problem of pain and all of its philosophical implications, it seems to me, one must be prepared to dedicate equal time and attention to the problem of pleasure and follow that evidence where it leads. One must consider the whole picture, not just those parts of the picture that we see because of the lens we have chosen to look through. The world is broken – absolutely and unequivocally broken – but it is also very beautiful.

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About Paul Buller

Just some guy with a variety of eccentric interests.
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35 Responses to Some perspective on the problem of pain

  1. Don Severs says:

    Sure, there is much beauty in the world. But a million good deeds don’t justify one bad one. If a saint murders one person, they go to jail. God’s good works are irrelevant to his guilt for his bad ones. And the state of mind of atheists or your wife are irrelevant, too.

    Sure, it’s possible to give God the benefit of the doubt. But this can simply be selection bias in the other direction. At some point, to be moral people ourselves, we have to hold God accountable for his actions. If we don’t, we are following mere power and abandoning the least among us.

    If God could do better and doesn’t, he’s not as loving as he could be. This follows from definitions.

    • Paul Buller says:

      Just a quick technical note, Don. For some reason that I have not been able to remedy about half of your comments end up in the “spam” folder. I have told WordPress every time “not spam” and I think it is supposed to learn for future comments. It does not appear to be learning. If your comments do not show up immediately, that’s why. I don’t always check the spam folder every day, but when I do those comments of your that end up there will be put through to publication.

      I seriously don’t know why this is happening and I apologize for it.

  2. Don Severs says:

    Sure, there is much beauty in the world. But a million good deeds don’t justify one bad one. If a saint murders one person, they go to jail. God’s good works are irrelevant to his guilt for his bad ones. And the state of mind of atheists or your wife are irrelevant, too.

    We can give God the benefit of the doubt. But this can simply be selection bias in the other direction. At some point, to be moral people ourselves, we have to hold God accountable for his actions. If we don’t, we are following mere power and abandoning the least among us.

    If God could do better and doesn’t, he’s not as loving as he could be. This follows from definitions.

    • Paul Buller says:

      Thank you for providing such a graphic illustration of my thesis. Even if the pleasures in your life outweighed the pains by a million to one you would still choose to shake your fist at God for the one and refuse to thank him for the million. My point, precisely; beautifully illustrated.

      With respect to the idea that God is the cause of evil, I hope no Christian gets fooled into that theological naivety. Allowing morally free agents to make choices and live with the consequences of their choices (a necessary condition for authentic freedom) is a far cry from actually causing their evil choices. Naturally the anti-Christian will embrace such error, but I hope Christians are a little more nuanced in their theology.

      With respect to the possibility that this world could be better, I’ve got an upcoming blog on that so I’ll leave it for now.

  3. Don Severs says:

    To properly tackle the problem of the holocaust and all of its philosophical implications, it seems to me, one must be prepared to dedicate equal time and attention to the problem of Hitler’s contributions and follow that evidence where it leads. Hitler gave us the Volkswagen and the autobahn, and he gave millions of Germans hope, pride, purpose and economic recovery. So let’s get some perspective on Hitler’s accomplishments. One must consider the whole picture, not just those parts of the picture that we see because of the lens we have chosen to look through. Hitler’s reign was awful – absolutely and unequivocally awful – but it was also very beautiful for millions of Germans.

    • Paul Buller says:

      I’m sincerely confused about this response. Are you agreeing with my point and illustrating it, or are you attempting to undermine it? Are you suggesting that the experiences of the average human on the planet today are roughly on par with the Jewish experience during the holocaust? Life today in your house is pretty much the same as life in Auschwitz? Or are you suggesting, through irony, that if something bad happens anywhere that we should willingly close our eyes to any good that may have happened along side it. Are you endorsing self-imposed selection bias?

      Based on the tone of this comment and your other one it seems as though you are disagreeing. What, exactly, is your point with this illustration? I really don’t know.

      • Don Severs says:

        The point is that we just don’t count good deeds when we evaluate bad deeds. Hitler’s contributions are not what’s at issue when we’re looking at the holocaust. They are irrelevant, just as God’s good deeds are, when we are talking about his misdeeds.

        • Paul Buller says:

          Well a big part of the problem in all of this is the apples-to-oranges comparison you are attempting to make between Hitler and God. Hitler was the cause of evil, God merely allows people their moral freedom. God does not cause evil. Please get that straight for the remainder of our dialogue.

          • donsevers says:

            > God merely allows people their moral freedom. God does not cause evil.

            Ok, that’s a key point. My point is that God DOES cause evil. We know he does because horrendous, pointless animal suffering existed before humans existed.

            Even if you say pre-human animal suffering had a point, or deny it and say that lions ate grass before The Fall, we still have Natural Evil today. Not all suffering is due to man’s choices. Some of it is a result of the way God set up natural law.

            And even if you say ALL the suffering today is the result of man’s choices, it isn’t Just that an infant suffer a heart defect for the sins of others.

            If you say it is Just, no matter what happens, then Just loses all meaning.

          • donsevers says:

            > God merely allows people their moral freedom. God does not cause evil.

            Ok, that’s a key point. My point is that God DOES cause evil. We know he does because horrendous, pointless animal suffering existed before humans existed.

            Even if you say pre-human animal suffering had a point, or deny it and say that lions ate grass before The Fall, we still have Natural Evil today. Not all suffering is due to man’s choices. Some of it is a result of the way God set up natural law.

            And even if you say ALL the suffering today is the result of man’s choices, it isn’t Just that an infant suffer a heart defect for the sins of others.

            If you say it is Just, no matter what happens, then Just loses all meaning.

            God made choices in Genesis after The Fall. He determined the consequences of Adam’s sin. It seems he could have been harsher, and he could have been kinder, especially to future children.

            • Paul Buller says:

              “My point is that God DOES cause evil.” Ok, then your discussion is with somebody else who actually holds to that theology. That is not mine. I will not clarify that point again.

  4. Yes, there is much beauty and joy about the world, but this beauty and joy is not equally shared among us, and not by choice either. There is a huge world out there that most of us do not see but the smallest fraction of. Given this, your view on pain and suffering seems very myopic, as someone dies from starvation every 4 seconds or so (a huge portion of that being children), a not exactly pain free way to go. Much pain and suffering is also experienced by animals.

    And on top of this, I always cringe when this type of thinking crops up: “Sometimes he puts his loved ones in harm’s way for very specific reasons; either personal growth through trial or for the BETTERMENT OF SOMEBODY ELSE” (emphasis mine) Really? God has someone else have pain so that I can be a better person? ( I’m assuming you are speaking to ‘compassion’ in this case) What… Do we need to be tested for compassion? Why? Is heaven (the ultimate destination in most religious minds) a place where compassion will be needed?

    • Paul Buller says:

      Two comments. With respect to the fact that the resources necessary for life are not equally distributed, many time the reason for that is human depravity like warlords who hog the food for themselves and withhold it from the masses. In other words, the problem is not with the world God has given us (there is plenty of food for all) the problem is with what we have chosen to do with our world. And even in those cases where some parts of the world may experience drought, for instance, that provides an opportunity for humans to exhibit moral goodness by helping their neighbour. Many humans take up that call with an enthusiasm that matches, or exceeds, the depravity of the warlords.

      Secondly, with respect to why God would allow pain and suffering in the world, that’s the subject for another blog post. In the mean time, though, if you don’t like the idea of somebody being put in harm’s way for the sake of somebody else then you probably shouldn’t join the military. The entire purpose of the vocation of a soldier is to place themselves between human depravity and your freedom to express your opinions as you have obviously chosen to do. They die so you might live, and not only live, but live a life of relative freedom and comfort; the same comforts that they freely reject so that you may enjoy them.

      You might also want to avoid joining the police force. Or becoming a firefighter. Or a paramedic. Or, in fact, any of the many other vocations that call humans to rise above themselves and think of others first. Most of the vocations that inspire the greatest awe and respect from humanity are the very vocations that demand that people sacrifice themselves (or their comfort, etc) for the sake of somebody else. That moral good – which rises far beyond any of the more mundane examples of moral good – is something that is only logically possible in a world where sacrifice is possible.

      • Don Severs says:

        Paul, those are all good examples, but no one is arguing that pain is at a maximum. We are saying it is not at a minimum. We know it isn’t, because humans reduce suffering with Tylenol. If we can do it, God could do it.

        Suppose there is plenty for everyone if everyone cooperated and played fairly. So what? Infants are still innocent victims. God could have set things up so that they didn’t starve due to the bad actions of others. He really could have. There is no contradiction in it.

        Cycles of plenty and famine are part of the natural order and existed before man existed. If God set up this world, this way, and had any choice in the matter, it appears he is a sadist:

        From Richard Dawkins:

        The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.

        • Paul Buller says:

          Oooohhh, Richard Dawkins. Jeez, that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel. Even the academically respectable Atheist philosophers (not just Theists) find him embarrassing.

          You comment, “no one is arguing that pain is at a maximum.” I know that. I never said they were. I never even introduced or alluded to that concept. What exactly are you responding to?

          • donsevers says:

            >As with your comments about God causing evil I have no idea where you got this theologically bizarre notion

            It follows from the fact of horrendous suffering, God’s omnipotence and his role as Creator. If he had any choice in how he set up creation, it seems he could have created a kinder world.

            Sure, evil is necessary for moral good. But then there won’t be any good in heaven. And God could allow for moral good with less suffering than we observe.

            >Oooohhh, Richard Dawkins. Jeez, that’s scraping the bottom of the barrel.

            I’m not arguing from authority, I just like the passage. Ideas stand on their own. When Hitler said 2+2=4, it was still correct. Even if someone is wrong all the time, if we’re after the truth, we still have to evaluate each claim individually. Idiots and children can speak truths, and sages can speak falsehoods.

            > You comment, “no one is arguing that pain is at a maximum.” I know that. I never said they were. I never even introduced or alluded to that concept. What exactly are you responding to?

            You’re right. Withdrawn.

            You’re arguing that suffering allows for heroism. When a human sets up opportunities for heroism we call it Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. If God sets up dangers so that some of us can be heroes, we are lab rats in a grotesque experiment. I know 2 families with kids with cancer. Is this part of God’s plan? If so, he should be tried, not praised.

      • Paul, this may be true of starvation (It was the first thing to come to mind) however there’s a litany of diseases that can be listed that humans aren’t responsible for (and bringing up the ‘fall’ to explain this really doesn’t cut it) that brings unwarranted pain and suffering.

        As for your take on the compassion thing, I believe I misread you, so my apologies. I thought that you were saying that god would allow others to be in harms way so that other people could ‘come to the rescue’, not that god allows pain to me if I should come to the rescue of someone else. Or am I reading that incorrectly too?

        The notion of moral good coming from sacrificing oneself for others IS a good, but god does have the capacity to end at least some pain, does it not? (We certainly can) Plus all this still doesn’t answer to the ultimate question as to WHY, if the end result is heaven for believers? Is sacrifice possible in heaven? If so, how? Why not just ‘plop’ us in heaven and forget all this ‘testing’ of morals?

        • Paul Buller says:

          You have some excellent questions and I hope I can address some of them. However, as I have alluded to elsewhere, I have a blog entry coming up that will more fully dive into the subject so this will be brief.

          With respect to the concept of being put in harm’s way all I intended to convey was the idea that the knight who chooses to stand between the damsel in distress and the dragon is a hero because he is accepting the possibility of risk that was initially destined for somebody else. If he fights the dragon well, no harm. However, harm is certainly possible. No hero can exist unless the possibility of harm and/or death was a serious possibility. We may have been speaking past each other, I hope not. Does this clarify what I was getting at with those comments about soldiers, fireman and so forth?

          Your other questions, again, will have to wait. Great questions – in fact questions I wish more Christians would wrestle with – but I cannot properly address them in comment boxes. I hope you will offer some feedback on my blog about why evil and suffering are inevitable in a world with moral good. I look forward to your comments.

  5. Don Severs says:

    >Allowing morally free agents to make choices and live with the consequences of their choices

    But this is not all that God does. He allows innocent people to suffer from the consequences of others’ choices. This would never be necessary for God. He could have set things up karmically, so that the consequences of sins accrued to each sinner. Really, he could have. He’s very clever and has a good memory.

    There’s more. We say we have free will, yet we can’t kill with our thoughts. God did not give us that power, yet we have free will. Likewise, he could have made it a little harder for drunken boyfriends to beat little kids to death without reducing their free will.

    Finally, there is natural evil. Animals suffered horrendously for eons before man appeared on the scene. This suffering could not make us more compassionate because we didn’t exist yet.

    In Genesis, God sets the penalty for The Fall. He multiplied pain in childbirth, but he didn’t make women explode. He could have been harsher, and he could have been kinder.

    I’m a former Christian, but I can’t find a way out for God. He’s like a manufacture of unsafe toys. You can try to shift blame, but it always returns to his choices. He could have done better.

    • Paul Buller says:

      I’m starting to get the sense that you haven’t really thought about this very much. Even in a Karmic system a person is made to pay for their bad karma because of bad things they have done. To others. Even in such a system innocent people would suffer. You offer an alternative but it does not do anything, at all, to address what you claim is the fundamental problem with God’s system. A Karmic system does not get rid of evil, it just deals with it differently. Besides, if you are really all that passionate about alleviating suffering in the world, Eastern religions are not the kinds of worldviews you want to bring to the discussion table.

      I can’t really make heads or tails of the rest of your comments. You make observations and then you throw out conclusions without explaining why the conclusion follows from the observations. It gives the distinct impression of being a string of non-sequitors. If these are the reasons you rejected Christ then you need to give the entire matter some serious thought. As a very good start you may want to ditch Dawkins and get some academically respectable material on these subjects.

      • donsevers says:

        >You offer an alternative but it does not do anything, at all, to address what you claim is the fundamental problem with God’s system. A Karmic system does not get rid of evil, it just deals with it differently.

        I didn’t claim that karma would eliminate evil. I am only pointing out that it would be more fair than God’s system. In both systems, people can hurt people. But in God’s system, future infants pay for Adam’s sin, rather than the effects of Adam’s sin being confined to consequences for Adam only.

        >I can’t really make heads or tails of the rest of your comments.

        Yes, you can. I’m only saying God could do better. That’s it.

  6. donsevers says:

    It can be very hard for believers to imagine that God could do evil. God is repeatedly presented as the source of all good, so it seems like a contradiction. But God is also presented as Creator, and this lead to problems for him.

    If he had any choice in how he set up creation, it seems impossible he could not have set it up to be kinder than he did.

    • Paul Buller says:

      You are assuming that God’s primary purpose in Creation is to make the equivalent of a Cosmic petting zoo where we, his pets, would have food effortlessly brought to us, where the cage we are in would protect us from any outside danger and we could live out our lives without the slightest hint of danger, pain, suffering, inconvenience, or challenge. As with your comments about God causing evil I have no idea where you got this theologically bizarre notion but I guarantee it wasn’t from the Bible. Whatever form of Christianity you rejected is appearing to be less and less Biblically based. In other words you rejected something, but it certainly was not Christianity.

      I’ll dive into this more when I put the finishing touches on my blog entry about why evil, pain and suffering are inevitable in a world where moral good exists. No promises on timing, but it’s coming.

  7. Paul Buller says:

    Don, here’s a hypothetical scenario I’d love to hear your comments on.

    Imagine a world with no evil, no pain, no suffering, no danger, no hardships, no challenges or inconveniences of any kind. God has removed our moral freedom, precluding the possibility of any evil. In this world disease and death are unimaginable concepts. There is no pain of any kind; no human ever stubs their toes or even experiences mild irritations. There is no hunger because food and water miraculously (and safely) float down from the heavens and land directly in each person’s mouth.

    In fact, not only is there a complete absence of pain, pleasure is continuously and effortlessly maximized. Without us ever having to move a muscle every pleasure sensing nerve in the human body is perpetually stimulated to the maximum possible degree and every pain sensing nerve atrophies from absolute lack of use.

    Is this the only morally justifiable world God could have created? If, for instance, one human being in the entire history of the human race were to momentarily (say, one second) experience slightly less than maximal pleasure on a single nerve in their body, then that world, by the standards I believe you are working with, would be less than maximally perfect. God could have made it “better” as you have so frequently pointed out. And any “god” who could have done better is a moral monster worthy of nothing but our derision and rejection. One second of slightly less than absolute pleasure would render God a horribly immoral beast of a being who refused to provide the absolutely ideal world. As you say, he was the creator and he is omnipotent and obviously he “is clever” so there is absolutely no contradiction with a world without that second long duration of slightly less than maximal pleasure on that single nerve on a single human in the entirety of human history.

    Is that the only morally justifiable world? Would God be a moral monster if he created a world that contained a single moment of non-maximal pleasure on that single nerve ending on that single human being?

    • Paul, I realize your response was meant for Don, so forgive my intrusion (I sometimes suffer from SIWOTI 😉 ) But you say:

      “Imagine a world with no evil, no pain, no suffering, no danger, no hardships, no challenges or inconveniences of any kind. God has removed our moral freedom, precluding the possibility of any evil. In this world disease and death are unimaginable concepts. There is no pain of any kind; no human ever stubs their toes or even experiences mild irritations. There is no hunger because food and water miraculously (and safely) float down from the heavens and land directly in each person’s mouth.

      In fact, not only is there a complete absence of pain, pleasure is continuously and effortlessly maximized. Without us ever having to move a muscle every pleasure sensing nerve in the human body is perpetually stimulated to the maximum possible degree and every pain sensing nerve atrophies from absolute lack of use.”

      This place already exists in your religion… It’s called heaven, is it not?

      • Don Severs says:

        > It’s called heaven, is it not?

        That was my first thought. If God is eventually going to gather the favored and lucky into heaven, what is he waiting for? If he could do it a second sooner and doesn’t, it seems he is a sadist.

        But the ‘pure bliss earth’ question is a good one, and I’ll think about it. It’s just not what I’m proposing. Paul, here’s one for you to ponder:

        Could God have created a world just like the one we have, but without Late Infantile Batten disease? It’s awful. It slowly turns bright little kids into vegetables, then kills them. If this disease was optional for God, then God seems to like suffering. But we already knew that: God gave us the food chain. It’s hard to imagine a greater engine of suffering than that. I guess Batten disease was just an extra, diabolical flourish:

        http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/batten/detail_batten.htm

        • Paul Buller says:

          Isn’t that Heaven? Absolutely not! That kind of ill-informed theology is far too frequent not only in anti-Christian circles but within Christianity as well. I was never taught about Heaven until I had to go and research it myself. Once I did, man, my understanding was totally out to lunch.

          Very briefly (comment boxes are so limiting) Heaven will include, if nothing else, work. In Genesis 1:28 clearly shows that God assigned them responsibilities and Revelation 21:24 alludes to the idea that there will still be nations and these nations will still work in order to produce “riches.” Somehow, of course, pain, suffering, evil and death will not be present, but it will hardly be a matter of lying around and having all of our pleasure sensors effortless stimulated for all eternity. I don’t even find that concept remotely appealing which is why I created that argumentum ad absurdum for Don to consider.

          The obvious question, though, becomes why not just plop everybody in Heaven and skip this entire stage? Well, as Don and I had previously discussed, and Don agreed, without suffering there could not be any heroes. That was just one example. If those in Heaven never experienced Earth then Heaven would have exactly zero heroes. It goes beyond that. As I will elaborate in my next blog entry on this subject, this life not merely tests our character, it develops it. We are not born heroes, for instance, we become them. Heaven will be filled with people of great character precisely because they had an entire lifetime in which to become people of great character.

          There is no logically possible way for God to fill Heaven with heroes without having them live through our present Earth or something very similar to it.

          • Paul,

            Well, Genesis 1:28 doesn’t speak to the issue of pain, only to subdue and rule over earth. Since the concept of pain and sweat and tears doesn’t enter into the picture until god curses Adam and Eve with such things prior to the serpent/tree incident, I’ll assume these things didn’t exist. Plus Revelation 21:24 (The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.) has nothing in there that mentions work as we remotely know it. I notice you didn’t include Revelation 21:4-6 (he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.) which gets closer to your ‘argumentum ad absurdum.’. I hate to be a nag, but I’ll add another question to this mix: Why would heroes be ‘needed’ in heaven?

            Please though, don’t let this divert your writings on the blog. Just curious

          • Don Severs says:

            Genesis also says God created earth to be a paradise. All its present problems are due to The Fall. But God made choices. He made women experience pain in childbirth, but he didn’t cause their skin to be pulled and regrow every day for a million years. He could have been harsher, and he could have been kinder.

            > as Don and I had previously discussed, and Don agreed, without suffering there could not be any heroes.

            But that’s not the main issue. The issue is that there could be heroes with less suffering than we observe. God seems to use far more suffering than would ever be necessary for any reason. And IF he needs every last bit of it, then suffering is at a minimum. Why, then, can humans reduce suffering with Tylenol? Are we deviating from God’s perfect plan when we care for each other? When we use toothbrushes or wash our hands?

            We just don’t value heroism so much that we create problems so that we can have it. Heroism is response to suffering, not a reason to cause it.

            • Don Severs says:

              If soul-making (a la John Hick) is the reason for much of the suffering on earth, well, God is unfair and not very clever. He could have set things up so that we would have to exert ourselves to build our souls, but with less suffering. And he could have distributed the soul-making suffering more fairly.

              If suffering was really such a good thing, we would all be lopping our arms and legs off, pushing to be first in line to receive the most suffering. We would send congratulations cards to people in hospitals, and weep when our lives are pleasant.

              Soul-making is just suffering denial. It says “Suffering is really a good thing!” If that’s true, then God simply isn’t trying very hard. He could do better. Or he likes suffering.

              Of, of course, he’s not there. On naturalism, suffering is expected.

              • Paul Buller says:

                I’m having a tough time reading you. When you make statements like these do you actually expect us to take you seriously? Is this sarcasm? Some of the objections are trivially false and juvenile and others are just bizarre and outlandish. Is there a serious argument in there that you are hoping for some response to? Help me out here.

            • Paul Buller says:

              So I’m assuming you agree that the only morally justifiable world God could have created would have been the constant effortless pleasure world that I described?

              • Don Severs says:

                I don’t know. It’s an odd question, like “What is the best thing to do if we make contact with alien life forms?” It depends on God’s traits. If he is the Christian God, it’s hard to imagine how he could create any world with free will that is compatible with perfect Goodness.

                Many problems in philosophy are caused by their framing. They seem intractable, but only if you accept their assumptions. So, one resolution to your question is dissolution. In philosophy, this is known as quietism. Some problems result from looking at things the wrong way.

                If there is no God, then there is no problem. This position is unavailable to the theist, so they just have to live with the fact that God abandons billions of the least among us. And atheists have to accept that this one life is all we will get.

  8. Don Severs says:

    I sought God and found my neighbor. Jesus said (and my own observations confirmed) that I had to choose. I chose my neighbor.

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/animal-farm/10150692366329005

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