Evil and suffering in a morally good world

[This was originally supposed to be a single article but it ended up growing uncomfortably long. There is a series of follow-up articles that consider various objections to this line of reasoning.]

The question of why God allows evil and suffering is, not surprisingly, a question as old as the hills upon which people have committed evil and have suffered. To presume that I can answer the question in any kind of final authority would be the highest form of a delusion of grandeur, but hopefully this little article may shed some light on the fact that a world in which moral good is even possible must be a world in which evil and suffering are also possible. In fact, challenges of some sort must exist for certain virtues to even possibly exist. Of course God’s reasons for making this world are probably infinitely more complex than we can imagine, but I hope I can unpack one of his countless reasons for certain features of our world. Even if I succeed this will hardly be an exhaustive account of God’s intentions for our world.

As you may know from my recent blog posts, my wife spent some time in the hospital after her cardiac arrest in April. For a few days we weren’t actually sure she was going to make it at all. The experience was terrifying as we watched her on the brink of death followed by weeks of recovery from brain damage. During our time in the hospital I got a glimpse of the various other medical challenges that people face. I saw part of the face of suffering; by no means all of it. It was personal. Given all my years of experience in Apologetics, and given the virtually constant barrage of “God is a horrible monster because people suffer” message that I’m used to hearing, I had that context floating around in the back of my mind the entire time. I was expecting to have to deal with a serious crisis of faith as I began facing, in a deeply personal way, the very feature of our universe that so many Atheists claim makes belief in God inherently irrational. I have to admit that I kind of assumed that my relatively sheltered and comfortable life had insulated me from the harsh realities of the world and that faith could not stand in the winds of real life.

Instead, I found a completely different response. The suffering that our family went through, and the suffering that I saw other people go through, made me realize something very important. For all my talk with other people about the subject of suffering, I hadn’t really faced a lot of it. It was easy to speak of suffering in abstract terms, but once I was actually in it – once it became a real part of my life – the entire picture changed. I saw suffering, yes, and it was horrifying. But I saw something else that is virtually never discussed when folks dialogue about evil and suffering. I saw something so beautiful that was born out of suffering that it stunned me that I’d never noticed it before. Something that not only happened to come out of suffering, but could only, even in theory, come into being through suffering. I saw a flower once I stopped staring at the dirt. A hypothetical world devoid of any hardship of any kind would mean losing a very magnificent baby as we threw out with the bath-water.

So let’s put our thinking caps on. Let’s start by imagining a world without one of the most common causes of suffering; pain.

No pain, no gain

Surely a pain-free world would be better than a world with pain, wouldn’t it? Imagine if you stubbed your toe and you didn’t feel any pain? I stub my toes a lot so I have to agree that, at first glance, a pain-free world sounds pretty good. What possible reason could there be to maintain the reality of pain in our world? What possible good could it serve?

To answer that question we can ask those with congenital insensitivity to pain, a condition that prevents some people from ever experiencing pain. Wouldn’t that be nice?

While at first the inability to feel pain may sound like a gift, the opposite is true. When babies grow, they experiment with their surroundings. When they feel pain, they learn that something is bad for them and stop doing it.

Not these children. Examples for what these babies/kids do to themselves include biting themselves deeply, breaking bones without feeling they did, poking their eyes with their fingers, biting their own tongues.

Oh my. That doesn’t sound so good after all. As I explored this subject on the internet I also discovered some further drawbacks to a lack of pain sensitivity. If people with this condition survive to adulthood (most don’t) and if they also happen to contract some other disease they probably will not know about it until it is too late. For instance, if a person gets cancer they may know that something is wrong because they feel an unusual pain in a certain place on their body. If caught early enough – in other words if they experience the pain early enough – many forms of cancer can be treated. Somebody with no ability to feel pain would never know they had cancer until it had spread too far to be treated.

When we pop some pills to alleviate pain what we do, practically speaking, is temporarily silence the alarm that is telling us that something is wrong. Silencing the alarm is a very good thing, but if we never had that alarm in the first place then we would never be aware that something was wrong. Indeed, a great deal of medical diagnosis involves questions like, “where does it hurt?” and “can you describe the pain?” The types and magnitudes of pain all mean something; they are like instruments in our body. Lacking a pain alarm would be (and for some people, it is) catastrophic. Generally speaking, pain is something we should be grateful for, not something we should want to get rid of. When pain functions properly it both enhances and lengthens human life.

Imagine if, tomorrow morning, every human on the face of the earth stopped sensing pain. Children would rarely grow to adulthood. Adults would die off far more rapidly than we presently do. Civilization as we know it would cease to exist in one, may be two generations. Should we dream of a pain-free world? Not if we have any moral sanity. Wave good-bye to the very prospect of octogenarians and, eventually, the very prospect of the human race in any form. No, a world lacking any pain of any kind (assuming it is still possible to be harmed) is an objectively horrifying world relative to our present world.

Pain, it turns out, is an unexpected blessing. More unexpected results ahead…

I’m invincible!

But, it could be objected, what if we never felt pain AND we never got diseases and could never be hurt and could never die? No starvation. No gunshot wounds. No suicides. No decapitations. In other words, what if we were invincible? In that case there would be no need for pain and we would also never be injured or die. That sounds like a pretty good alternative, right?

Indeed a world in which we could never be even slightly injured does sound appealing. As well as the advantage of a total lack of self-inflicted (and nature-inflicted) suffering there is the added advantage of a total lack of evil-inflicted suffering. So many human tragedies come to mind. If humans could neither be injured or killed we would have had no holocaust. There would be no 9/11. No terrorist attacks. No murders, rapes, mothers drowning their children, boyfriends beating their girlfriends, abortions or any other of a host of evils that plague our day and age. Indeed it would be absolutely impossible for any person to harm another person.

This all sounds like an unqualified blessing until we consider that we have been stripped of our moral freedom. You see, moral evil is but one side of the two-sided coin we call moral freedom. If I follow the logic of Henry Ford who once quipped that his customers could have a car in any color they wanted so long as it was black, and I say that people can make their own moral choices so long as they are always the morally right choices, then I have, practically speaking, eliminated their choice. Without the ability to do moral wrong we would not have true moral freedom.

Thus, in a world devoid of pain, harm and death, moral evil is impossible. Without the possibility of making a morally evil choice, morality itself is rendered meaningless. The upside to that, of course, is that there would be absolutely no moral evil. But is there a downside?

[There is another element to all this I’m skipping over for this article; the ability to emotionally / psychologically harm a person. I am only considering the physical aspect of this for now, but a similar line of reason would apply to non-physical forms of moral choices.]

Evil-free world – the fine print

Surely we can all agree that an inability to do moral evil would be fabulous, right? I mean honestly, if we could only ever be kind to each other wouldn’t that be a good thing? Indeed, in such a world everything we ever did would be good because bad could not exist, even in principle. Perhaps we should gladly hand over moral meaning if that would result in a complete avoidance of evil. Indeed the very concept sounds like a blissful utopia until we think a little further about the implications of all that.

Would it be morally evil to withhold food from a person? Of course! They could starve. Feeding them, though, is a moral good. What about in a world where starvation was impossible? Not only was starvation impossible, no person could ever, even theoretically, experience the discomfort of hunger. We would neither feel the need to eat, nor would there be any consequences if we did not eat. You could either withhold food or you could shower them with food; either way your actions are irrelevant. Is it possible to be evil? No. Is it possible to be good? Also, no.

Or suppose you shoved a blind old woman in front of a moving vehicle. What a heinous act! Instead of shoving them in front of a moving vehicle you should help them cross the street so they do not accidentally get struck by a careless driver. But in a world without danger or death would it matter either way? You could push as many people as you wanted in front of vehicles, there would be no consequence. And if you helped the blind person avoid a collision that would serve absolutely no purpose; it’s not like they could ever be injured.

In a world where I am unable to physically hurt somebody (moral evil) then nothing I do could physically benefit them either (moral good). In a world without danger or death we lose the ability to hurt somebody, but we also lose the ability to help them. Without moral meaning we lose not only evil, we also lose good. Vice is gone, but so is virtue.

Where have all the heroes gone?

Let’s take a closer look at the concept of moral good. What are some characteristics that people intuitively recognize as virtues? Love, courage, kindness, patience, self-sacrifice, integrity, a passion for justice, personal discipline and many more. These are the kinds of things that define people of honour, of dignity. In many cases we call people who exhibit these traits “heroes.” They often sacrifice their own comfort, resources and sometimes even their safety and life for the sake of others facing personal hardship. In other cases a “hero” is somebody facing personal hardship themselves who endures that hardship with honour; their head held high and their dignity in tact. They grab life by the horns and make the most of whatever hand they have been dealt. These are the people we look up to, that we respect. These people represent the pinnacle of what it means to be human. They are role models for the rest of us.

These heroes, I came to realize, are the people who saved my wife’s life. The 9-1-1 operator who coached my wife’s colleagues through CPR. My wife’s colleagues who were scared out of their minds but dove in and administered CPR on their colleague, their friend! The paramedics and firemen who responded to the call. The doctors and nurses in the ER who dedicated the better part of an hour doing everything they could to restore her heart functioning. Other doctors and nurses who worked to restore her to full health.

I cannot imagine the picture that my wife’s colleagues stared at as they pounded on the chest of their technically dead friend. Fear must have gripped them, but they heroically muscled right through the fear and horror. The medical staff and paramedics have accepted careers with lousy hours (shift work), insufficient pay in some cases, high stress, emotional trauma associated with watching people die on a regular basis and a host of other difficulties and hardships. But they chose these careers. They signed up. They go to their jobs day in and day out, sometimes sacrificing their personal sanity for the benefit of others. Can any reasonable person look at these magnificent people and not agree that they represent the best of what it means to be human? These people, dozens of them, who saved my wife’s life have characters of nobility and beauty. These are the flowers that sprout from the dirt that was my wife’s cardiac arrest.

The thing with heroism (being a person of virtue) is that we are not born with it, we grow it over the course of our lives. Indeed it would be logically impossible to be “born a hero,” it simply takes time and experience. Let me illustrate. Enduring personal hardship is the only logically possible means by which one could develop the virtue of perseverance. One does not “persevere” in a setting of absolute bliss, the very idea is irrational. Courage is only possible in a world occupied with real dangers that one might fear. Personal discipline is impossible if everything we desired was available without any effort at all. It is logically impossible for a person to become the kind of hero who places themselves in harm’s way in a world absolutely devoid of harm. These are simple definitional matters; no fancy philosophy here. Many virtues are logically impossible in the absence of any challenges or hardships.

A world without moral good – a world without danger or suffering as I described earlier – is also a world without heroes. It becomes a world without honour, without dignity; a world within which no human possesses any of the virtues that represent the pinnacle of human potential. In what some might consider to be the “perfect world” (I’ll take a closer look at this concept in one of the objection articles) no human could possibly ever develop any character of any kind, good or bad. Everything that makes the human experience a rich, meaningful, experience would be absolutely impossible in such a world.

We would have no epic tales of soldiers defending their homeland in the face of insurmountable foes. We would never be inspired by the bravery of our police as they face a lone gunman with deadly aim. We would have no folklore of brave knights and damsels in distress. Romeo and Juliet? Gone. War and Peace. Never heard of it. All the great dramas of the world – indeed much of what makes the human experience a rich tapestry – would be completely absent. I’m not terribly well versed in the arts, literature and music but a friend of mine more acquainted with these assured me that many of the finest examples of human expression would never have been expressed in a world devoid of evil and suffering. The richest examples of human imagination become conceptually impossible.

Even the more every-day examples of self-sacrifice on a smaller scale – spouses that commit to relationships built on compromise (i.e. it’s not always about me anymore), and parents that feed, bath and clothe their children to keep them alive, healthy and warm – would all be rendered either pointless or would disappear altogether. After all, if a newborn infant could not possibly starve to death, contract a disease due to unsanitary conditions, or freeze to death – indeed the child could not even possibly experience discomfort – what’s to stop a parent from abandoning their child? Indeed, what possible motive is there to “care for” the child in the first place? Every possible form of heroism, even down to the overlooked heroism of parenting as we understand it, would become logically impossible in such a world. As a world without lines cannot possible have triangles, so a world without challenges cannot possibly have heroes.

At an even more basic level no human would have any need whatsoever to go to work. If I eat or if I do not either way I experience no pain and I never die. If I have a house or if I do not, either way I will never freeze to death in winter nor overheat in the sweltering summer. In fact, I would never even feel discomfort from hot or cold. Followed to its logical extreme it would be unfathomable that human civilization as we know it would possibly have emerged. Even if some small handful of humans felt unusually inspired to study science, for instance, who would be bothered to build their scientific instruments? The entire infrastructure of science, medicine, art, economics, governments, literature, education, nations and so one would be completely absent. Humanity would be reduced to a featureless blob of homogeneous inactivity.

Those who would rid the world of pain, suffering and the possibility of evil – those who demand that God should have made the world a “better” place – are implicitly seeking a world without heroes. A virtue-free world. But is that really better? Maybe they never realized that before, but now that the costs have been laid on the table, surely we all instinctively understand the gaping absence that would characterize such a world. Moral good, after all, is not merely an abstract concept, it is a life-defining experience. Hopefully we all know people in our lives, usually the elderly, who are profoundly mature. They are the deep souls, the sages. They have a maturity about them that is not measured in years and a beauty in their being that defies their wrinkles. Talk to such a person. Ask them about their lives. Many of them have faced hardship. Many of them have made a life of helping others. Ask them what the most formative events in their lives were and you will probably hear stories of difficulty and challenges. They have faced the ugliness of life and have turned that external ugliness into an inner beauty that outshines its source. Like a fire that burns brighter than the spark that ignites it, the tragedy of all that is wrong with the world is easily surpassed by the magnificence of those who have become the greatest souls our race has ever seen. You can be one of these honourable pinnacles of humanity too if you choose the right attitude toward the hardship you see in your own life and the lives of those around you. Will you rise to the occasion or descend into self-pity? Tragedy can make a person better or bitter, but a total absence of hardship of any kind, even an unwillingness to dedicate yourself to helping others through their hardship, binds you in a state of existential irrelevance.

In a “perfect world” you could never grow into what these heroes have become. In a “perfect world” these heroes of our race could not possibly have become the honourable sages they are. Sit down with such a person, treat them to coffee and learn about their lives. Really get to know them. If you say the world is better off without evil and suffering then you are also saying that the world is also better off without them. I cannot bring myself to say that.

In conclusion

Thus we find:

  • A world where humans have the opportunity to become heroes is superior to a world where heroism in humans is logically impossible.
  • Heroism, and moral good in general, is only logically possible in a world where moral evil is logically possible.
  • Moral evil is only possible in a world where harm and suffering are possible.
  • In a world where harm and suffering are possible, pain generally improves and protects life.

Thus it seems to me that pain, suffering and evil must all necessarily be real possibilities in a world where moral virtue, and moving toward the fulfillment of the human potential for heroism, is logically possible. Though there may be some who believe God, in his divine omnipotence, can just get rid of pain as easily as we pop a couple of pills, such dream-worlds are inherently simplistic. God certainly could do that, but getting rid of pain – though it seems trivially simple – entails a wider array of unintended consequences that would reduce the entire human experience either to an unimaginable horror or utter irrelevance. Those who make such demands are inadvertently asking for a world devoid of any real significance or meaning. No civilization. No work. No virtues. No character. No dignity. No honour. Nothing but the most horrifying display of unadulterated hedonism we could possibly fathom. It comes down to a choice between heroism or hedonism. Selflessness or selfishness.

The wisdom of G. K. Chesterton comes to mind, “Meaninglessness comes not from being weary of pain, but from being weary of pleasure.”

Or, in the wisdom of Pixar, perhaps this is your dream world,

[In researching this article a fellow Apologist pointed me to John Hick’s book Evil and the God of Love. In it was found the concept of “soul making,” an idea obviously similar to what I have described. While he and I arrive at a similar conclusions, I think the phrase “soul making” makes the entire process sound like a manufacturing factory instead of the awe-inspiring and deeply spiritually rewarding process it really is. Also, I should point out that I deeply disagree with Hick on various other issues (like Universalism) so this may be one of the few places where our thoughts overlap.]


About Paul Buller

Just some guy with a variety of eccentric interests.
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26 Responses to Evil and suffering in a morally good world

  1. donsevers says:

    You make God too small. He could accomplish all that with less suffering than we observe.

    No pain, no gain, even for God? That’s hard to believe. There’s no contradiction in ‘gain without pain’, so God should be able to do it.

    In fact, we know he does do it. He did it for you. He gave pain to your wife and you benefited. You got the flower, and your wife was God’s dirt. Dostoyevsky noticed this, wondering “Why have they also ended up as raw material, to be the manure for someone else’s harmony?”

    Even if it was all worth it (I think your wife should get to decide that), why weren’t your roles reversed? How does God decide which 5 year olds to sacrifice to the greater good? Kant said humans are ends in themselves and it was evil to use them as a means to an end. I agree with him.

    The issue is not whether God has reasons for suffering, it is whether he could get by with less of it. For any response to the argument from evil to help theists, there would have to be mysterious necessary conditions that bind even the Creator. It is reasonable to conclude this is incredibly unlikely. And the theist has the burden of proof to show what these conditions are.

    So, the informed theist lives in a fine-tuned world, full of interlocking events, the worst of which are, through unknown entailment relations, necessary for some reason, even for God. There is nothing in theology, logic or physics that points to such necessity. Theism like this is based on giving God an unreasonable benefit of the doubt. It is a view of a God so constrained that he appears dreadfully weak and incompetent. Even if it’s not his fault, what good is a God who can’t help a kid breathe when trapped under a wall in Oklahoma City?

    With great power comes great responsibility. It is embarrassing when theists, who should be telling us how great their God is, are forced to say it’s not impossible that God is constrained in precisely the right way such that he could not reduce each instance and gradation of suffering the world has ever seen.

  2. donsevers says:

    Note: CORNEA doesn’t help.

    If atheists can’t be sure God can’t accomplish a good without a particular evil, then the theist can’t be sure that he can detect God’s goodness at all. Such goods might really be evil. God could have a good reason for making evil things appear good.

    Without some epistemic access, we don’t know if God is worthy of our devotion. And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we don’t have access to God’s reasons for Evil while saying we do have access to his reasons for Good.

    • Paul Buller says:

      So my article essentially explains why certain virtues are impossible without some kind of hardship (suffering, evil, etc). I provide my line of reasoning and I support my conclusion with evidence and examples. You reply that we “can’t be sure God can’t accomplish a good without a particular evil.”

      Did you even read the article or did you just start shooting from the hip again?

      • donsevers says:

        As Creator, God could create any virtue out of nothing. Think of it this way:

        We need to exercise to build muscle, because God set it up that way. Well, he DIDN’T set it up so that we had to shed blood to build muscle, but he could have.

        So, he could have made the virtue of muscle-building harder to attain. Likewise, he could have made it easier, or simply granted it to us, as he has granted countless things like the ability to breathe, walk and blink, etc.

        So, to exonerate God you have to say he COULDN’T do any better. His reasons are irrelevant if he’s doing his best. Your wife didn’t suffer so that some good could come of it. She suffered because there are mysterious entailments in any universe that even God is bound by. Saying there is a good that comes from it is post hoc rationalization.

        If you back up and say, “No, God COULD do better, but that wouldn’t result in the greatest good”, that’s just another way of saying God couldn’t do any better because of his nature as a wholly good being.

        I don’t see a way out. God is locked-in, weak, incompetent, evil or indifferent.

        • Paul Buller says:

          “God could create any virtue out of nothing”

          I wrote an entire article explaining why this is not the case but you have yet to seriously engage the content of the article. Your counter-examples (shedding blood to build muscle) reveal that the alternative universe you have in mind are characterized by illogical and incomprehensible causal connections. It is a universe of capricious magic, not science. God is incapable of creating a universe that is illogical and incomprehensible but such limitations are not problematic vis-a-vis his omnipotence.

          You may think that a universe that is inherently illogical and incomprehensible is superior to our universe, but if you ever find such a universe please don’t invite me to it!

  3. donsevers says:

    Your ‘virtue argument’ seems to be a version of a Greater Good argument. All GG arguments rely on constraining God in some way. Crucially, there must be things even God can not do, typically logically impossible things.

    But there is nothing logically contradictory about endowing humans with virtues.

    So, I’m not sure what parts of your article you’re referring to.

  4. donsevers says:

    I like your ‘being born a hero’ point. Good one. But we just don’t value heroism so much that we place people in harm’s way to get it. It is only something we resort to when we have no better options. God always has better options.

  5. Paul Buller says:

    “…we just don’t value heroism so much that we place people in harm’s way to get it” – What you fail to appreciate is that many humans exhibit such heroism that they volunteer to be placed in harm’s way without anybody placing them there. Soldiers. Police. Doctors who work with contagious diseases. When you say “we” don’t value heroism so much, I cannot help but think what you really mean is “I” don’t value heroism so much. Heroes, on the other hand, make a point of self-sacrificially giving of themselves; something that may seem perplexing and paradoxical to others. Even those who suffer through no choice of their own will often speak of how the experience (even if they end up dying early) gave them a new appreciation of life and made them a better person. Again, non-heroes will never get it but their lack of comprehension does not prove the heroes wrong.

    • donsevers says:

      >many humans exhibit such heroism that they volunteer to be placed in harm’s way without anybody placing them there.

      Yes, but you’re misplacing the cause. Healthy people don’t place themselves in harm’s way IN ORDER TO become heroes. They are willing to take risks, yes, but that is not their aim. Their aim to achieve an end when there is no better option available. God always has better options.

      If he doesn’t, then he is constrained in some mysterious way. Theists have the burden of proof of showing why God could not achieve his ends any other way.

  6. donsevers says:

    D Z Phillips points out that heroes don’t do what they do to become heroes. Here’s the problem:

    Say God allowed your wife’s heart to stop so that doctors could exhibit heroism. This is a genuine theodicy, as opposed to a mere defense, because it purports to explain God’s reasons, not just show that he could have some. HIs reason is to provide opportunities for heroism.

    So, upon seeing your stricken wife, do the doctors’ hearts leap, grateful for the chance to grow their character and exhibit heroism? Well, if they do, they’re not being heroic, are they? They are being self-aggrandizing.

    This is a general problem with Heroism theodicies. They fail to match what moral agents really do in difficult situations. They are self-refuting due to the fact that, if we seek hero status, we fail to be hero-like. Real heroes don’t seek hero-dom. They exhibit courage, but only to help a person, not to help themselves.

    For hero-making to work, no human should know that being a hero will build their soul. So, God should keep his hero-making aims secret. But oops, John Hick spilled the beans.

    • Paul Buller says:

      “…heroes don’t do what they do to become heroes.”

      Agreed. I never said they did and nothing in my argument assumes that their motives must be the pursuit of heroism. Heroism entails doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. End of statement. You conclude,

      “For hero-making to work, no human should know that being a hero will build their soul.”

      You assume that knowledge of heroism and heroism itself are mutually exclusive. If that were the case then there would only be three kinds of people. Non-heroes who did nothing virtuous when they ought to have. Non-heroes who did something virtuous, but possessed knowledge that what they did was virtuous, thus disqualifying their hero status. Or heroes who did something virtuous and were too stupid to know that what they did was morally virtuous. Well if they were too stupid to know that what they did was virtuous, why did they do it? Most people (yes, there are exceptions) do the right thing because they know it is the right thing to do. They must possess moral knowledge in order to behave morally. To then suggest that their moral knowledge disqualifies them from being authentic heroes is like saying that the only people who can compete in a running race are the people who don’t know how to run.

      There can be, and certainly are, many heroes who act virtuously, know that their actions are virtuous but don’t let that knowledge drive them or inflate their ego. They do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. End of statement. They remain heroes, despite their knowledge. These are precisely the kind of people who make this entire system worthwhile.

      I see no problem at all here.

  7. donsevers says:

    Good reply. It is possible for someone to act heroically, knowing they will be rewarded, but not doing it to be rewarded. I’ll think more about this point.

    But there is a problem in using innocents so that others can exhibit heroism. I have a problem with God using your wife so that others can exhibit heroism. First, it’s not necessary. We know this, because most people’s wives are not used that way. Second, it violates Kant’s categorical imperative to not use people as means to an end.

  8. donsevers says:

    Theodicists act as God’s defense attorney. And of course God deserves a good defense. But their aim is acquittal, not the truth. So, they often exhibit an an unsavory, detached confidence that the most grievous suffering, say, of a child who dies horribly, has a reason.

    Well, Hitler had reasons. Reasons are irrelevant. The issue is whether God could do with less suffering. And if he can’t, are his aims worth the tears of even one child? And if they are, can we ever countenance using kids in such a way?

    So, there are two options. One, he can do with less of it. Two, he can’t.

    Either option strips God of qualities essential to his nature. He is either disinclined to reduce suffering or he can’t. In the second case, we can preserve a careful version of omnipotence. It’s not God’s fault he can’t do logically impossible things. This is not a theodicy, only a defense, since it doesn’t specify what the constraints on God are. It only says it’s not impossible that they exist. This is a very weak position, like saying it’s not impossible that Bigfoot is real.

    Strangely, in this view, humans are more free than God. Because of their fallen nature, they can do evil. When those doctors helped your wife, it is possible they were doing evil. Without epistemic access, we humans are in no position to know that they were doing God’s work or the work of their own wills, which could be good, neutral or evil.

    If God works this way, we should welcome suffering for ourselves and others. We should never try to mitigate it lest we interrupt his scheme.

    • Paul Buller says:

      “But their aim is acquittal, not the truth.” – Right, and I’ll just assume that your role is prosecuting attorney, not interested in truth only getting a conviction. Come on, now. Let’s bypass these juvenile accusations of impure motives, assume everybody is sincerely interested in the truth and get back to the subject, ok? Enough with the condescending rabbit trails; stick to the subject instead of trying to make this personal.

      “Reasons are irrelevant.” – I’ve never heard such a blatant admission that one really doesn’t care what the reasons are, God is just wrong. Period. End of discussion. If your mind is truly that closed then why do you keep coming back here? You’ve already decided the reasons cannot possibly be sufficient so we don’t really have anything to discuss.

      And, like clockwork, you swing back to framing the question in such a way that the only way out is for God to be able to produce the logically impossible. If you insist on working with your unique understanding of Omnipotence (God must be able to do the logically impossible, which is hardly a quality “essential to his nature,” by the way) then there is no way forward in the conversation. Again, you keep coming back why? Don’t get me wrong, you are welcome to come back, it’s just that most people have conversations because they still have an open mind about the subject.

      And the whole “we should welcome suffering” is a stunning conclusion! One of the purposes of suffering is to provide us an opportunity to respond appropriately. Appropriately! Seeking it, or failing to eliminate it if we are able, is a sign of psychosis, not moral or metaphysical clarity. I thought I was painfully clear on that point. I’m not sure how I could have gone any further over the top to emphasize our moral obligation to respond to suffering by alleviating it at every opportunity. I spent paragraph after paragraph praising the heroes who fight suffering and injustice; I’m not sure how I could have been clearer. Help me out here, where is the ambiguity?

      • donsevers says:

        Reasons are irrelevant when a person uses suffering when they don’t have to. If they don’t have to use it, then it doesn’t matter what their reasons are. Serial killers have reasons. Just having reasons does not justify inflicting or allowing suffering. For suffering to be justified, it must be unavoidable.

        So, I’m not requiring God to do the logically impossible. I’m pointing out that the only suffering that a loving God can allow and remain loving is suffering that is logically necessary. Since humans can reduce suffering with Tylenol, we know suffering can be reduced and it is not logically necessary. At this point, the only way out for God is to say that the suffering that humans reduce is actually evil in some way, so God can’t reduce it because he can’t do evil.

        • Paul Buller says:

          I have directly addressed this exact point of yours about pain meds in my article. If there is a flaw in my reasoning point it out, but simply repeating your objection over and over again after I have clearly addressed it does absolutely nothing to advance the conversation.

  9. donsevers says:

    I don’t know if it is the case that the only way out for God is to do the logically impossible. But if it is the case, I would have nothing to do with it. It wouldn’t be the result of how I framed the problem. If it is the case, it would be the case even if I had never existed.

    I think the Logical Problem of Evil allows God to exist. But this is a slim victory. It places Yahweh on the starting line with Bigfoot.

    The Evidential Problem of Evil means that Yahweh, if he is real, is locked in, unable to do any better.

    • Paul Buller says:

      “I don’t know if it is the case that the only way out for God is to do the logically impossible.” Well I have argued that this is the case so if you don’t know then perhaps you ought to take some time to think about it.

      “…unable to do any better.” And as we saw from your comments under the “perspective on pain” article, the only features of this world that you seem capable of seeing are the horrors and ugliness. I emphatically agree that this world contains innumerable instances of horror, and in no way do I wish to sweep them under the rug, but the beauty of this world far surpasses all of that. That beauty, though, is something you seem unable or unwilling to see which is a perception problem, not an ontological problem with the world. This is the best God can do, and it is pretty flipping amazing!

  10. donsevers says:

    >This is the best God can do, and it is pretty flipping amazing!

    Without some epistemic access to God’s reasons, you don’t get to say that the apparently beautiful things in the world are Good. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we don’t have access to God’s reasons for Evil while saying we do have access to his reasons for Good, or even which are which. The apparently good things could be evil deceptions that are a result of The Fall.

    • Paul Buller says:

      Ah, the old “heads I win, tails you lose” trick. I love it. When you speak of Evil then we all know what it is, there is no ambiguity and God’s reasons are irrelevant. But when I speak of Good then suddenly the entire picture gets really blurry, God’s reasons are suddenly very relevant to the point of being conspiratorial; it could all be one grand deception, etc, etc. Evil disproves God. Good, well, it’s so hard to say… It’s so confusing… It could mean any number of things…


      • donsevers says:

        Um, no, I’m allowing all the evidence, of good and evil. It’s just that God’s good works are irrelevant to his trial for his crimes. Sure, God has done lots of wonderful things. So what? He’s charged with crimes. Good things don’t count in a trial.

        My comment was directed at the idea that God could have reasons for suffering that are beyond our ken. This is a key piece in many defenses against the POE. The point is that if we don’t have enough information to know God is evil, then we don’t have enough to know he is good, either. CORNEA should make us agnostic, not atheist or theist.

        • Paul Buller says:

          You keep swinging back to this plea to ignorance, this “epistemic access” issue. You assume we know nothing about God and his reasons. I deny that. My article attempts to lay out a plausible set of reasons that I believe are within our power to deduce.

          I leave it to the reader to decide if we are as ignorant as you claim, or if reason and revelation are sufficient to fill in enough of the details for us to gain a general understanding even if details here or there may be missing.

          • donsevers says:

            Accounting for some evil isn’t enough. Your heroism and other arguments, even when successful, don’t get God off. You need to show that there has not been even one instance of horrendous suffering that God could have prevented. Swatting the easy ones doesn’t do you any good.

            I’d like to hear what you have to say about Bambi and Sue. Even van Inwagen admits he has no defense of God for a prelapsarian Bambi.

            • Paul Buller says:

              And, again, I’m quite happy to let the reader decide whether, as you propose, the only way we can possibly make any reasonable headway on this subject is if we have exhaustive knowledge of every single instance of evil and suffering that has ever occurred in the entire history of the created world (even prior to humanity) as well as having exhaustive knowledge of God’s reasons for every one of those instance, and having weighed God’s every reason to conclude that his reasons are morally justifiable. After all, there may be just “one instance of horrendous suffering that God could have prevented” nestled deep in the recesses of ancient time somewhere. Unless we are able to sweep out absolutely every single corner of the universe’s history we must remain agnostic.

              Or, if maybe that might be setting the epistemic bar just a WEEEE bit too high. I won’t argue with you on that one, other readers can draw their conclusions.

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