Tom Gilson

A Conversation On the Problem of Evil

A couple of weeks ago I got an email with an extended question on the problem of evil. The sender and I worked it through some over email, and then I asked if I could move it here to the blog, to which he said yes.

The conversation so far is presented here with the sender’s question in black font, and my answers interspersed among his words in a brown font, beginning here:

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[E-mailer] Hello, Tom. I am a non-believer and have been for some time. I used to discuss religion with my teachers at the Catholic high school I attended, but since graduation several years ago I have found that I’ve been largely surrounded by like-minded people. While this situation is certainly a happy one in some ways, one thing I have missed is having people to provide intelligent alternatives to my own views, and a foil against which to test my thinking.

Recently I stumbled upon your website and after reading a few of your pieces was pleased to find that you seem like an intelligent person, dedicated to the rigorous treatment of topics of theology. Very shortly, I decided to ask you something. About a year ago I constructed an argument which seemed to disprove the existence of an all-powerful, perfectly good deity. It’s essentially a rephrasing of Epicurus’s argument in the form of a logical proof. I thought it unlikely, however, that it actually applies to the belief of a thinking religious person, as it seemed too simple. The deduction itself is trivial and I think correct; I suspect that any problem must lie either in the premises, or in the actual meaning of the conclusions.

I have discussed the so-called problem of evil with others, including my former teachers and various semi-anonymous denizens of the Internet, and have read a few theologians’ attempts to address it, but I have not yet heard a satisfactory rebuttal. So I have decided to ask you. You’ve probably seen this argument before in some form or another, and since you’re a Christian presumably you do not accept it as valid. Why is this? Specifically, which of the premises do you disagree with, or which of the conclusions do you think is/are irrelevant to your beliefs?

I understand that there is a risk that this could be interpreted as an attack, but I assure you that that is not the case. I’m not trying to convince you of anything. I’m trying to understand your beliefs, and through that, perhaps those of other theists as well. Below I have presented the argument as I constructed it, as well as rebuttals to two of the most common counter-arguments I’ve seen. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Let x be any element in the set of all possible beings.

Let the following statements be defined:

B: If something has power over a being, that being is not all-powerful. Therefore, an all-powerful being is influenced only by its own will, it does whatever it wants since it cannot be coerced or externally influenced.

E: A perfectly good being is one that will maximize good and minimize evil to the best of its ability.

G: From the definition of omnipotence, an all-powerful being can eradicate evil and create infinite good. These first three are evident from the definitions.

I hold these [THE ABOVE] to be true.

[Tom] Omnipotence does not imply the ability to create infinite good as creation, for that would mean creating an infinite creation. Infinite goodness exists already in God’s character. Goodness is a communicable attribute of God, meaning that his creation has the ability to share in, to participate in goodness. But there is no associated entailment that creation’s goodness be infinite. It would be possible to take a converse view of it, and to say that God could have created a finite creation with zero evil, but on that see below.

[E-mailer]:

X: x exists.

A: x is all-powerful.

D: x is perfectly good.

These three are not necessarily true or false. I hold that these are to be determined.

(A and B) implies C: x does whatever it wants.

(D and E) implies F: x will maximize good and minimize evil to the best of its ability.

(G and A) implies H: x can eradicate evil and create infinite good.

(H and F) implies I: x will eradicate evil and create infinite good.

(I and X) implies J: evil is eradicated. Evil does not exist.

I think these implication statements are fairly clear. Just in case, though: The first three simply go from general statements about a class of things to particular statements about a member of that class. “If all p’s are q’s, and x is a p, then x is a q.” The fourth follows from the fact that ability and intention lead to action. The fifth is essentially the same thing, if a being will take a certain action, and that being exists, then that action will be taken.

So we’ve established that the following statements are true:

B and E and G (A and B) implies C

(D and E) implies F

(G and A) implies H

(H and F) implies I

(I and X) implies J

If evil exists, J is false.

Therefore, (I and X) is false, in other words, “not (I and X)” is true.

Therefore, not I or not X.

Not I implies not H or not F.

Not H implies not G or not A.

G is true, therefore, not H implies not A => x is not all-powerful.

Not F implies not D or not E.

E is true, therefore, not F implies not D => x is not perfectly good.

Therefore, not I implies not A or not D, and conversely, (A and D) implies I.

I and not J implies not X => x does not exist.

Therefore, if J is false (ie. if evil exists) then the statement “not X or (not A or not D)” = “not X or not A or not D” is true.

In other words, evil’s existence implies one of three things – for any being x, either x is not all-powerful, x is not perfectly good, or x does not exist.

One counter-argument is that it may be impossible to maximize good while eradicating evil, on the claim that some evil is required to give rise to the greatest possible good. This implies, however, that the being in which they believe is not, in fact, all-powerful, because by definition an all-powerful being can do anything, and has power over reason itself. If there is an all-powerful being, and some evil is necessary for maximum good, this is only because the all-powerful being has made this the case. Such a being, then, chooses a greater amount of evil over a lesser amount, and so is not perfectly good.

[Tom] There is a problem with your definition of “all-powerful” here, at least as it applies in biblical theism. God’s omnipotence is defined as his being able to do anything that is consistent with his own character. One implication of that is that he cannot contradict himself, and as a corollary, he cannot defy the logical law of non-contradiction. In other words, if by “power over reason itself” you mean he can make anything whatever to be true, that is not the case of the biblical God. He cannot, for example, make 2+2=5, and he cannot make himself to be faithless. Omnipotence does not mean God can do just anything that can be stated in a grammatically correct sentence.

Your position presumes that the greatest possible good is equivalent to the least possible evil, and that a condition of maximum good obtains where zero evil exists. But this is far from obvious, for there are goods involved in things like courage, love, sacrifice, giving, resistance of temptation, and so on; and it is hard to see how those goods could exist without something against which they are tested. Courage in a world with no difficulties or conflict would mean nothing whatever; and I think you can see how it would be similar for the other virtues mentioned. Further, without the existence of evil in the world it would be impossible for God to have demonstrated his own character of love, forbearance, patience, sacrifice, caring, forgiveness, etc., as he did through Jesus Christ on the cross; and this demonstration of his own character is in fact a great good in itself.

[E-mailer] Some counter by saying that evil is the result of human imperfection, which is a necessary consequence of free will, which itself is necessary for maximum good. Ignoring that this argument is just a special case of the previous one, if free will and ethical perfection are incompatible, then, necessarily from B, no being that is perfectly good can be all-powerful, and vice versa. To affirm the existence of an all-powerful, perfectly good being is to assent that free will and perfection can exist in the same being.

[Tom] B states that x can do whatever x wishes; but from what I have written above, B’s scope is limited by x’s (God’s) inability to wish that which would be contrary to his own character, and by God’s inability to create a self-contradictory reality. God cannot create a reality in which creatures having free will and moral responsibility are unable to make morally significant choices by their free will. Therefore free will coupled with moral responsibility entails that creatures have the ability to make evil choices.

Free will coupled with moral responsibility is also necessary for love. God’s omnipotence does not imply his ability to create creatures who freely love and freely do good to others without actually possessing freedom to choose good. The freedom to choose good entails the freedom not to choose good. Thus if God had reason to create a universe where creatures genuinely loved one another and himself, then God had reason to create creatures with free will.

God has free will and ethical perfection, but his freedom is such that every choice he makes is entirely consistent with his ethically perfect nature. Humans were created morally innocent, but not morally perfect in the sense that they had no capacity to choose evil. Your claim that free will and perfection can exist in the same being is certainly true. They co-exist in the one necessary Being, God, who chooses according to his nature in every choice.

Humans are created beings. Let us imagine a world of created beings with no capacity to choose the evil, and no ability to do harm. Let’s take a non-ethical case to begin. Suppose Adam had invented a saw and was cutting a tree branch, not knowing Eve was walking underneath. The branch falls, and whoosh, it magically takes a 60-degree turn to miss her. Adam cannot harm her. The tree cannot harm her. Nothing can create harm.

Now, suppose Adam’s cutting the tree branch was a mistake in the first place. He may have intended to prune the tree for its own good, but by a lack of perfect technical (botanical) knowledge he chose to cut the limb two inches too far from the trunk. But he cannot do harm. Does his hand automatically move two inches closer to the trunk? Does the saw refuse to cut? Does God shout “NO!” and frighten him into doing right? Where is the freedom there? It’s perfect freedom to do that which cannot affect anything in the real world; it is the freedom a computer program has to do that which is programmed into it (less the quantum uncertainties and the bugs). It’s no freedom at all.

Or is Adam omniscient, so that what he chooses could never be technically mistaken? But what if Adam were omniscient but lacked the physical abilities required to work to perfect tolerances? He would have to be perfect in that sense, too. Adam’s freedom would be perfectly constrained in that case, constrained, paradoxically, by perfection.

How is this different from God being constrained by his own perfection? For God, his perfection is necessary. For humans, this kind of perfection is puppetry; for humans, unlike God, are created beings. If God wanted a relationship with humans other than that of puppetry, he had to allow humans freedom to make morally significant choices. Even his omnipotence could not overcome that constraint, and it is no contradiction to biblical theology to acknowledge that constraint.

[E-mailer] Finally, one argument is made from the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve, stating that humans were perfect but introduced evil into the world by disobeying God, bringing about their own imperfection. This does not actually address any of the points of the proof, so it is not surprising that it does not survive close scrutiny. The fact that they erred in the first place, in disobeying God, proves that they were already imperfect, since by definition a perfect being is incapable of error. They were therefore created by God to be imperfect, which means either he could not make them fully perfect (and therefore is not all-powerful) or chose to make them imperfect, knowing that this might introduce evil into the world (and therefore is not perfectly good).

[Tom] They were created morally innocent but not morally perfect, because only God is perfect in the sense of being free, yet always freely choosing that which is good. This is acknowledged, and it is not a contradiction of his omnipotence rightly understood. I think I have explained already why moral perfection in humans would have amounted to being created as puppets, lacking the capacity for morally significant choices, and lacking the ability to love.

The question comes down to this: is it possible that a world where creatures have freedom to make morally significant choices could be the world that expresses maximum (not infinite) good? This is at least conceivable, if the possibility be admitted that virtues already named like love, sacrifice, courage, patience, justice and so on have positive qualities that outweigh the negative circumstances in which they must exist. And really, would a world without morally significant human love be the perfect world? Is a dollhouse or a puppet show the perfect world?

If the circumstance so described is possible, then it is possible that an omnipotent and all-good God would have made such a world.

Finally, you speak of God eradicating evil. He is in the process of doing that, and the process will be completed in the final state toward which history is heading. At that time, those who have chosen to follow him, whose hearts have been set toward the desire to be complete in their moral goodness, will be granted their chosen desire, and they will live eternally with the good fruit of the choice they have made. Justice will be accomplished with respect to all human and natural hurts and ills, and good will prevail completely. To view the current world’s circumstances without that end in view is incorrect and misleading.

I hope this addresses your questions. Thanks for asking!

Tom

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147 thoughts on “A Conversation On the Problem of Evil

  1. One thing that I think people forget in the problem of evil discussions is that God’s nature is not the same as human nature and that there are realities that flow from that fundamental difference.

    Like ought to be considered as like and different ought to be considered as different. Because we are different than God at the most fundamental level, we ought not expect God to consider humans like himself in every way. I think that difference helps explain some, if not all, of the perceived problems.

  2. Tom:

    The error this guy makes is in the very first premise “x exists.” One cannot correctly speak of God as if He’s just another existent among existents. God is Existence itself. Rigorously speaking, God is not all good—He is Goodness itself. God is not all powerful—He is Omnipotence itself. God is not all-knowing—He is Omniscience itself. Even the word “attribute” is not quite correct: these “attributes” are, when properly applied to God, NAMES of God: refer to the “titles” (names) of God in Scripture and you’ll see. (Hence, the strength and incredible implication behind why God is termed LOGOS.)

    If we cannot speak of the color red as existing independently from any substance (we can put a red ball in our pocket, we can even put an unspecified ball in our pocket, but we cannot put “red” in our pocket), then the mode of existence of “redness” is different from the mode of existence of the substance (say, a ball) in which it inheres. The existence of redness depends upon the existence of the ball, but not visa versa. Similarly, this should provide a small insight into existence of all things in the world: existents in the world (including the world itself—a synonym for “universe”) exist in dependence upon a First Cause of their existence. And, quite importantly, that dependence is not causal merely in the sense of efficient causality.

    Seriously, you should not permit this person to go beyond his first premise. And, if he was educated in a Catholic School, then either (1) his teachers weren’t able to put across this fundamental philosophical and theological point, or (2) they did but he chose (a) to ignore it, (b) missed it altogether.

  3. A different take on the problem of evil (and I’m presenting it here as simply that, a problem, not a argument in and of itself):

    Given the amount of apparently pointless, incredibly intense suffering in the world, what reason is there to worship the being who created and rules this world (assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a being exists)?

    Shouldn’t a person of good will require a sound theodicy before he consents to give such a being his devotion and worship?

    I have never encountered a theodicy that worked. The best answer I’ve ever heard from believers is that God has a morally sufficient reason that is unknown to us but will be revealed in time.

    But without a very good explanation we don’t, it seems to me, have any grounds for considering God worthy of worship. To give that worship before we have that morally sufficient reason seems grossly premature.

    And it seems to me that any truly just God would recognize this fact.

  4. In reverse order…

    But without a very good explanation we don’t, it seems to me, have any grounds for considering God worthy of worship. To give that worship before we have that morally sufficient reason seems grossly premature.

    There are others, but what reasons do you need besides these: he gave you life, he created you for worship and relationship with him, he redeemed you, he loves you, he is just, he will conquer evil and he wants to commune with you?

    It’s as if you are staring at your mother struggling to think of reasons why you should think she is worthy of a certain amount of love and respect for being your mother and raising you as a child simply because some bad things happened to you along the way and she didn’t let you do everything you wanted.

    Given the amount of apparently pointless, incredibly intense suffering in the world, what reason is there to worship the being who created and rules this world (assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a being exists)?

    I would answer this two ways, both of which have consequences. First, you should because it shows that you desire to know and to be in communion with the Good that is the character of God. The consequence is that you eventually get what you desire. Second, you can desire the opposite. The consequence is that you eventually get what you desire.

  5. Actually, David is looking at it (not arguing it) backwards: theodicy presumes an understanding (at least partial) of what and who God is. You don’t judge God (!) based on evil in the world–you judge evil (the privation of good) given God. What other possible objective means could there be for judging evil… or good, for that matter? If one asks about the existence of evil, one should equally ask about the existence of good: (1) the birth of Beethoven to a family with a history of poverty, miscarriages, birth defects; (2) the beauty of a sunset on a beach formed in the wake of a devastating hurricane; (3) the conversion of a non-believer after witnessing martyrdom that ended up saving the non-believer’s life; (4) the greatest gift of good (salvation) offered to us through our committing the greatest possible evil–deicide; etc., etc.

    A wise Frenchman said, “what man seeks in woman is what God alone can give.” The man who seeks happiness (good) in his life may find it in a woman who directs him beyond himself to the ultimate happiness found in God alone. Similarly (but with less “umph”), The man who seeks the good in his life may find it in proximate goods that direct him beyond himself to the ultimate good (the summum bonum) found in God alone. Evil (again: the privation of good) by itself leads to no-thing–ultimately to non-being. (It is, to intentionally belabor the point, a privation of being.) Only God can use the evil we do (or the natural evils in a world that was also broken by original sin) to bring about a greater good.

    To seek God–or to seek an understanding of God–in evil per se is to look in the wrong place, and to a significant extent it is self-centered. It is not merely our understanding He wants; it’s us He wants. That’s why the correct approach is faith seeking understanding: through the eyes of faith we seek understanding… and ultimately contemplation of God through the beatific vision. David is implying the opposite: first understand, then believe. It is an incorrect vision in the sense that the proper distinction between natural reason (and its limitations) and revelation is blurred and hence not correctly ordered to the truth of reality.

  6. Thanks very much, Tom. If you wouldn’t mind, there are a few points I’d like you to clarify:

    Omnipotence does not imply the ability to create infinite good as a creation, for that would mean creating an infinite creation. Infinite goodness exists already in God’s character. Goodness is a communicable attribute of God, meaning that his creation has the ability to share in, to participate in goodness, but there is no associated entailment that creation’s goodness be infinite. I suppose it would be possible to take a converse view of it, and to say that God could have created a finite creation with zero evil. On that please see below.

    By this do you mean to say that God is incapable of creating an infinite creation?

    There is a problem with your definition of “all-powerful” here, at least as it applies in biblical theism. God’s omnipotence is defined as his being able to do anything that is consistent with his own character. One implication of that is that he cannot contradict himself, and as a corollary, he cannot defy the logical law of non-contradiction. In other words, if by “power over reason itself” you mean he can make anything whatever to be true, that is not the case of the biblical God. He cannot, for example, make 2+2=5, and he cannot make himself to be faithless. Omnipotence does not mean God can do just anything that can be stated in a grammatically correct sentence. He cannot (to answer a famous old question) create a rock too heavy for him to lift, and this is no contradiction to his omnipotence.

    This occurred to me as a possible explanation after I sent you the email. As you say, we’re using slightly different definitions of the term. I had always taken it to mean that reason – the nature of truth – is itself subservient to an omnipotent being. But by omnipotent you seem to mean all-powerful within the context of existence.

    In that case the answer seems to be that, no, God is not omnipotent in the sense that I defined the term, so strictly speaking the proof holds – but it doesn’t matter, because he is nonetheless still omnipotent in a theologically meaningful sense which does not imply any contradictions.

    Tangentially, I think this suggests interesting theological questions on a non-ethical axis, but I would concede this point as a sufficient rebuttal of the argument from evil. Am I correct in thinking that it’s the one you’re giving?

    God has free will and ethical perfection, but his freedom is such that every choice he makes is entirely consistent with his ethically perfect nature. Humans were created morally innocent, but not morally perfect in the sense that they had no capacity to choose evil. Your claim that free will and perfection can exist in the same being is certainly true. They co-exist in the one necessary Being, God, who chooses according to his nature in every choice.

    I don’t see how free will can be said to be consistent, entirely or at all, with a nature that defines the outcome of all choices. Doesn’t that directly imply a lack of free will? But granting that it doesn’t, why may these two things exist only in one being?

    How is this different from God being constrained by his own perfection? For God, his perfection is necessary. For humans, this kind of perfection is puppetry; for humans, unlike God, are created beings. If God wanted a relationship with humans other than that of puppetry, he had to allow humans freedom to make morally significant choices. Even his omnipotence could not overcome that constraint, and it is no contradiction to biblical theology to acknowledge that constraint.

    I didn’t quite follow your route to this point. Why does a being having been created make its perfection puppetry, while the same is not true of an uncreated (logically necessary?) being?

    Finally, you speak of God eradicating evil. He is in the process of doing that, and the process will be completed in the final state toward which history is heading. At that time, those who have chosen to follow him, whose hearts have been set toward the desire to be complete in their moral goodness, will be granted their chosen desire, and they will live eternally with the good fruit of the choice they have made. Justice will be accomplished with respect to all human and natural hurts and ills, and good will prevail completely. To view the current world’s circumstances without that end in view is incorrect and misleading.

    Very well, but if a created being must have a chance of doing evil to be free, would not then these saved people then be deprived of free will in this coming paradise if it is to last forever?


  7. Actually, David is looking at it (not arguing it) backwards: theodicy presumes an understanding (at least partial) of what and who God is.

    A telling admission. Theodicies assume from the start what they’re setting out to demonstrate.

  8. David:

    I’m continually amazed by your seeming inability to draw careful distinctions: to presume an understanding is NOT to willy-nilly assume something is true or false–the latter which you intentionally impose on what was said. There is no problem in what was stated (a telling demonstration that you can’t properly identify a fallacy) simply because a syllogism or dialectical wasn’t presented in the first place! In fact, the fallacious reasoning is on your part: YOU don’t believe in God, so stating you don’t accept any theodicy arguments (which are NOT arguments for the existence of God, by the way–they are attempts to answer the evidential problem of evil) is, well, an empty “duh!” assertion. Would you like to try again… and then try to address the substantive criticism of your errors, which you seem to have conveniently ignored.

    A:

    You note: if a created being must have a chance of doing evil to be free, would not then these saved people then be deprived of free will in this coming paradise if it is to last forever?

    No, not at all. The final goal and purpose of human life is loving contemplative union with God–technically called the Beatific Vision. Anyone who has fallen in love knows the joy that they have just sitting there, not saying anything, staring into the eyes of the beloved. You know that two people are in love because they just sit there and enjoy one another’s presence. They enjoy gazing upon one another. In Heaven, we will be so filled with joy and love and rapture looking upon God’s infinite goodness and God’s infinite beauty that we will have attained finally an end—the summum bonum. (To be rigorously correct, we will be so filled with joy and love and rapture looking upon Goodness and Love and Beauty itself…)

    That’s anything but a loss of free will: it is our will having achieved and forever resting in the ultimate purpose of our existence.

  9. The final goal and purpose of human life is loving contemplative union with God–technically called the Beatific Vision.
    ….
    In Heaven, we will be so filled with joy and love and rapture looking upon God’s infinite goodness and God’s infinite beauty that we will have attained finally an end—the summum bonum.

    Yep…

    John 17:1-5

    1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

  10. Holupupenko:

    Alright, but in that case, you’re claiming that they would indeed both have free will, and have no chance of doing evil, thus acknowledging at least one case in which those things can exist in at the same time in a human (presumably without amounting to “puppetry”). So why weren’t we there in the first place? Do you believe that the process of mortal existence is necessary to reach this state, and that God can’t change that fact?


  11. based on evil in the world–you judge evil (the privation of good) given God.

    Evil, as the term is used in the problem of evil, refers to unnecessary and extreme suffering.

    Which, of course, is not simply the absence of good.

    Nor, for that matter, is Augustine’s definition of evil (in the moral sense) as the absence of good one that makes any sense in the first place. Malevolence and cruelty are not simply the absence of benevolence and kindness. They are an active will to do harm.

    Defining evil as simply an absence of good is one of the least useful definitions of the term I’ve ever encountered.

    And you have not actually addressed the point I raised. What reason is there to think God, if he exists, is worthy of our worship?

    Surely you would agree that someone who allows babies to be born with congenital defects which cause them weeks of enormous agony followed by death when they could have, quite easily, prevented it would need a very good reason indeed to justify that.

    And we would need a very good explanation indeed to not draw the sensible conclusion that such a person was lacking in benevolent intentions.

    It seems rather implausible (to say the least) to say it was for “the greater good”. What reason is there to think this is the case? What morally sufficient greater good is served by the tortuous agony of an infant.

    And you do realize, don’t you, that the “greater good” theodicy is a utilitarian argument? Most christians I’ve encountered disagree quite strongly with utilitarianism (as do I).

  12. A:

    You’ve set up a false dilemma (which is a fallacy) based on a kind of mechanical separation of the human will from the human capacity to reason: “you’re claiming that they would indeed both have free will, and have no chance of doing evil”. (The intellect is ordered to truth; once we come to know the true good and the will is spontaneously drawn toward it as delectable, it is delightful.) If you, having the capacity of a free will animated/informed by your capacity to reason, are faced with Love and Beauty and Goodness itself, you will not desire to do anything but abide and rest in God—you will be “delighted” abiding in the presence of God. Why would you desire to do any evil when resting in and contemplating and glorifying Infinite Goodness? You have (to use your words) “no chance of doing evil” because you will not desire to do evil. That’s not denigrating or destroying your nature (which, again, includes the capacities for reason and free will): God’s grace builds upon, perfects and elevates our nature—grace never destroys nature. You are more free when you choose good; you are most free when you choose the Good.

    Similarly, it seems you don’t understand by what exactly it is that we do when we willfully offend God and why it is evil to do so. Without using any references, I’d be interested in seeing whether you can complete the following sentence: “God is offended by us only when we act against _______.” This is not a trick question.

    David:

    I remind you again: you haven’t addressed the criticisms of your errors.

    Anyway, indeed you are flailing at a broad definition of evil that cannot be denied. Of course there is much more to be said about evil, but you’re focusing (for some strange reason and at the exclusion of other evils) on a narrow aspect that suits your purposes. (Whether the definition fits the personal “useful” purposes you seek is irrelevant: the point is whether the definition correctly reflects what evil is.) It is, in fact, quite true that evil is essentially negative and not positive: it is not done to acquire something per se but to deprive the object of something necessary for its perfection… and this applies to natural, moral, and metaphysical evils.

    You’re also putting God in the dock for a broken world which OUR original sin (and continued sinning) broke in the first place: you want your cake and you want to devour it as well. God created us with the capacities of reasoning and free will: one cannot correctly assert that we are not “free” because we can’t jump off a 100 meter cliff and not be injured. Why? Because, it’s not within our human nature to be able to do so. On the other hand, we are free within the context of our natures to choose between evil and good. Evil, which IS a privation of good, when chosen and acted upon literally begins to destroy our nature… and the more we do it, the more habituated to evil we become. The more habituated (the habit of evil is called a “vice”), the more it becomes “second nature”: we literally become less and less free to choose good over evil.

    The point is you’re screaming at God for creating us with the capacities for reason and free will, and the upshot is you want Him to intervene to make us “unfree,” in other words, you want God to solve the problem of evil by making us other than what we are—literally to make us inhuman. The irony is that we are the ones who, by sinning, make our own selves inhuman. And, just to make sure you understand, original sin broke the entire world—naturally, morally, metaphysically: in the original state of grace our Parents were in harmony with the world… and now, that is broken. It is not that our faculties for reason and free will were destroyed by original sin, it is that original sin is the privation of sanctifying grace (death is the privation of life; original sin [resulting in damage to our faculties for reason and free will, if you will] is the privation of sanctifying grace), which is, by the way, why Baptism is so crucially important. In such a state of original sin, the results are suffering, loss of control of our lower sense appetites, death, etc. You are, in a sense, blaming God for BOTH giving AND for US taking away the very gift of grace we undeservedly had.

    Of course, the topics of free will, original sin, evil, etc. are MUCH more robust than my two paragraphs can cover. (And, as Tom has aptly reminded us, this is a blog—not a book.) But, please, don’t think you’ve disproven God simply because He doesn’t fit into the narrow confines of your preconceived notions and criticisms. He’s offering you a way to break free of those strictures; in effect, you’re responding to your creator “I’m fine—leave me alone”… which is what Hell is: chosen utter loneliness. He’s not offering you an answer: He’s offered HIMSELF to you on the Cross. He’s not playing a zero-sum game in which you can decide to believe or not believe depending on whether your personal opinions end up negative or positive: He’s opening His arms to embrace you. I’m not saying your concerns about evil are unjustified—quite the contrary: Aquinas himself noted the question of evil was the hardest challenge to faith. What I am suggesting is you’re using the wrong eyes by which to see. If you choose to refuse His embrace, then… well… your free will be done.

  13. You’ve set up a false dilemma (which is a fallacy) based on a kind of mechanical separation of the human will from the human capacity to reason: “you’re claiming that they would indeed both have free will, and have no chance of doing evil”. (The intellect is ordered to truth; once we come to know the true good and the will is spontaneously drawn toward it as delectable, it is delightful.) If you, having the capacity of a free will animated/informed by your capacity to reason, are faced with Love and Beauty and Goodness itself, you will not desire to do anything but abide and rest in God—you will be “delighted” abiding in the presence of God. Why would you desire to do any evil when resting in and contemplating and glorifying Infinite Goodness? You have (to use your words) “no chance of doing evil” because you will not desire to do evil. That’s not denigrating or destroying your nature (which, again, includes the capacities for reason and free will): God’s grace builds upon, perfects and elevates our nature—grace never destroys nature. You are more free when you choose good; you are most free when you choose the Good.

    I think you might have misunderstood me. I wasn’t attacking your belief in the union of free will and perfect goodness. Granting what you’ve said, it still doesn’t answer my question to you. Again: Why weren’t we there in the first place? Do you believe that the process of mortal existence is necessary to reach this state, and that God can’t change that fact?

    Similarly, it seems you don’t understand by what exactly it is that we do when we willfully offend God and why it is evil to do so. Without using any references, I’d be interested in seeing whether you can complete the following sentence: “God is offended by us only when we act against _______.” This is not a trick question

    If by God you mean the God of Christianity in particular, then I suppose he would be offended by people only when they acted against his commands.


  14. You’re also putting God in the dock for a broken world which OUR original sin (and continued sinning) broke in the first place:

    It is obviously inconsistent to say that a person is loving but allows others to undergo extreme, unnecessary suffering he could easily prevent.

    If you think human sin in some way reconciles these two things you are welcome to explain why you think so. You have not even attempted to do so yet.


    Evil, which IS a privation of good, when chosen and acted upon literally begins to destroy our nature… and the more we do it, the more habituated to evil we become. The more habituated (the habit of evil is called a “vice”), the more it becomes “second nature”: we literally become less and less free to choose good over evil.

    Will it help you to understand what the problem of evil is about if we call it the problem of unnecessary suffering? Because all your talk about human moral evil is beside the point if you don’t explain how it fits into an account which reconciles God’s loving nature with his willingness to let apparently unnecessary suffering of the most terrible sort continue without his aid.


    You are, in a sense, blaming God for BOTH giving AND for US taking away the very gift of grace we undeservedly had.

    The idea of grace is your doctrine. It plays absolutely no part in my own views about the world. I’m talking about suffering. Not grace. If you think this doctrine has some role in explaining why God orders our world in such a way that children are born with terrible congenital defects I would be glad to hear it.

    But nothing you’ve said even addresses the problem.


    He’s not playing a zero-sum game in which you can decide to believe or not believe depending on whether your personal opinions end up negative or positive: He’s opening His arms to embrace you.

    Thanks for the altar call but I’m interested in hearing a substantive answer to the problem of unnecessary suffering.

  15. Oh, and I’m still curious as to whether you’re a utilitarian. Your statements concerning suffering being for the greater good seem to imply that you’re endorsing some variety of utilitarian theodicy.

  16. And you have not actually addressed the point I raised. What reason is there to think God, if he exists, is worthy of our worship?

    I did that here.

  17. A (May 23, 3:43 pm):

    We’ve been re-roofing our patio this weekend. Always something to keep you going…

    By this do you mean to say that God is incapable of creating an infinite creation?

    Certainly. He can create a potential infinite, in the sense that he has made a creation that will extend forever into infinite time. But he cannot create another God.

    Tangentially, I think this suggests interesting theological questions on a non-ethical axis, but I would concede this point as a sufficient rebuttal of the argument from evil. Am I correct in thinking that it’s the one you’re giving?

    If I have the correct antecedent for your “this” in mind, then yes. If your argument depends on God being able to do anything that can be stated in a grammatically correct sentence, then I can answer your argument just by saying God’s omnipotence is not of that sort. He cannot make the contradictory non-contradictory (at the same time and in the same relationship).

    I don’t see how free will can be said to be consistent, entirely or at all, with a nature that defines the outcome of all choices. Doesn’t that directly imply a lack of free will? But granting that it doesn’t, why may these two things exist only in one being?

    God’s nature is free by virtue of his being God, pure volition and pure wisdom; but at the same time he is pure goodness.

    Are his decisions “determined” by his nature? You must recognize you can’t ask that question the same way that you might ask it of any creature; for in the case of any creature, the question amounts to this: “of the various causal influences streaming toward some agent’s action, including (possibly or possibly not) the agent’s own free choice, which causes actually determine the action taken by said agent?” With God, there is no multiple causal stream. He freely decides that which he decides, consistent with his nature; but it is not as if it is his nature that determines his decision, as if his nature were something separate from his being.

    And I think this ought to help answer why this may be true of one Being and one only. Where there are multiple beings, either some are dependent on the One (as is the case, on theism), and the creatures do not have that simple, unitary cause in themselves influencing all their actions; or there are something like two gods, in which case neither of them has that single source of causes within themselves, but both of their actions are influenced from without as well as within. Of course the second case is far from anybody’s beliefs, especially Christians’.

    And I hope that answers your next question, as to why an uncreated Being (God) is not a puppet to himslef. (Note, by the way, that your question there treated “perfection” of created things indiscriminately, whereas I said it was a certain kind of perfection that would lead to a puppet state.)

    Very well, but if a created being must have a chance of doing evil to be free, would not then these saved people then be deprived of free will in this coming paradise if it is to last forever?

    I think I addressed this at the end of my post. Those who have chosen to follow God and to do good in this life still struggle with sin and error. God will grant them an end to their struggle, which is by their choice, and grant them their chosen desire to live free of the possibility of sinning.

  18. David,
    Regarding the appearance of unnecessary suffering, I think what I said here addresses that question. The bible often talks about this in terms of the potter and the clay.

  19. A:

    We were there “in the first place.” We chose to reject God, and the result is empirically obvious. (See my response to David.)

    As for the second point, you answered incorrectly—and that error sets up a huge deviation from what Christianity and Christian moral life are really about. By your very response “[H]is commands” you’re looking upon God as an imposer. Wrong answer. God is not offended by us only when we act against His will or against His laws or against His commandments. In fact, God is offended by us only when we act against our own good.

    All God wants for us is our happiness: the Commandments are a means for obtaining happiness—they themselves aren’t the happiness we seek as our summum bonum (which is what you incorrectly imply). The first letter of John says, “That your joy might be full, I’m writing these things to you.” God wants us to be perfected and full and integrated and happy. God is offended by us only when we act against our own good. But that, of course, requires that we know what human beings are.

    Consider just one (albeit theological) example: we are human beings in a hylomorphic combination (not meant in the sense of “parts”) of body and soul. The soul by itself is NOT a human being, and neither is the body by itself a human being. It’s the soul’s “perfection” (meant in the philosophical sense) to be united with the body. It’s God’s perfection to be Spirit. Hence, for Christians the belief in the resurrection of the body is vitally important.

    Our bodies have passions, appetites, inclinations, etc. that are biological as well, and these are apart of our nature. We have an appetite for food, but if we act against our nature and gorge ourselves on food, we do damage to ourselves biologically but also spiritually: gluttony is a deadly sin, and too much food will kill us. Since we have the capacity for reasoning and free will, we can (in fact, we ought to) control our appetites. To not control our appetites (which, by the way includes, our sexual appetites) we will not be acting in accordance with our natures, and hence we will not be acting in perfection. Our appetite for food is good, as is our appetite for sexual relations. BUT, appetites, if permitted to overcome our reasoning (and hence our reasoning capacity incorrectly presents to our wills sexual or culinary desires as goods in and of themselves or elevates proximate goods to ultimate goods), we will no longer be acting according to our natures as rational creatures with free wills but as slaves to our passions, appetites, and inclinations.

    Laws are a creation of a rational being. The laws that we legislate here on earth (human laws) ARE an ordinance of human reason—a directive of human behavior—which enables us to achieve the goal that we have chosen for ourselves (traffic laws are in place not to limit us but to make us free to arrive at a destination safely and efficiently).

    The Eternal Law is God’s law as directive of everything—including the inclinations of tigers to hunt their pray. The Natural Law is the rational creature’s conscious participation in the Eternal Law. Our simply having the dispositions, the inclinations, and appetites are expressive of God’s creative intellect and will. We can come to know and understand the ends toward which those inclinations are ordered, so we are able to share in God’s providence, in God’s direction, and the ends for which God has created us. We can say that when we are acting in accord with our reason, we are acting reasonably. When we are making the kinds of choices which are appropriate to helping us attain our end that we are pursuing, then we can say that we are acting in accord with the natural law… and hence with our natures as human beings.

    Now, what about the fourth kind of “law”—the laws of nature (as opposed to the Natural Law)? A pencil, when it falls, is not “obeying” anything: there is no “law” in the real sense, but only in an analogous sense, for a pencil is not conscious and hence has no choice but to fall to the ground because the force of gravity acts on it. A pencil certainly can’t direct its own actions in accord with a directive of the intellect, which is what law is. When we use the term “laws of nature” we are merely describing something that happens over and over again. And, so, it happens with such regularity and such predictability that it appears that the thing is following a law. Therefore, the laws of nature are merely descriptive (how rather then why): they describe what takes place over and over again. A real law isn’t descriptive but rather prescriptive. A true law prescribes what actions we are to take. The laws of nature are descriptive but the Natural Law, the moral law, is prescriptive. It prescribes certain actions to do or to refrain from doing so as to aid us in attaining the end of human happiness which we are seeking in its various manifestations. Moreover, we have to see that we seek (or “will”) not just any end but rather a good end. And this is where the intellect helps us to distinguish between what might be simply a false good attracting us or a true good.

    Now, you may ask “what use is God?” if we can know what is good without Him. Well, that’s what separates moral philosophy from moral theology. Moral philosophy reflects upon human acts in the context of the natural end of man as the virtuous life—well integrated, happy, harmonious, living in peace and charity with others in a life of justice and good order—which was understood by the Ancient Greeks. By our use of our capacity for reasoning (our intellect), we can come to know that kind of life… in varying degrees. (All cultures throughout all times in history in all situations, for example, view murder as evil and courage as a virtue.) But, we never achieve its perfection: we can never become perfectly good or just or courageous or prudent. In fact, we always fall short of the mark of the natural end we can know through our capacity to reason. We need more.

    Believers in Christ have a goal that far surpasses the natural end of man: a union with God in the Beatific Vision. This end is not ours by nature: we will never be able to attain it on our own power. No philosopher in any age or situation would ever be able to achieve the end of the Beatific Vision—to look upon the face of God. The Beatific Vision is an end and a goal given to us by God in Jesus Christ and which, frankly, we simply do not deserve as a complete and thorough gift. But once we have that goal in mind, then we must perform certain actions which will help us attain that goal, because it is not enough simply to avoid doing evil. Now we must go beyond to engage in actions with a love for other people and a love for God which truly surpasses what natural man is capable of doing. God has also given us great assistance and help in coming to know what we have to do in order to come to him. He has given us knowledge in what is called revelation, and He has given us the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Moral theology is a reflection upon human actions in the context of salvation and our ultimate goal in Christ Jesus.

  20. David (May 24: 8:39 am)

    Evil, as the term is used in the problem of evil, refers to unnecessary and extreme suffering.

    Which, of course, is not simply the absence of good.

    Nor, for that matter, is Augustine’s definition of evil (in the moral sense) as the absence of good one that makes any sense in the first place. Malevolence and cruelty are not simply the absence of benevolence and kindness. They are an active will to do harm.

    Wow. Let’s beg the question, shall we: “Evil… refers to unnecessary and extreme suffering.”

    The question at hand is whether suffering is unnecessary, or whether God has some morally adequate reason to permit it. You’re defining the question right out of existence. Either God has no morally adequate reason to permit suffering, and you’ve won by definition (i.e. by assuming the consequent) or else theists win by retorting, “But there is no unnecessary suffering!” Now, I don’t think either of those answers is very satisfying. Do you?

    As to evil not just being a privation of the good, first, you have not argued against that view, you’ve only voiced your objection without reasons for your position. So I reject your position on the basis of your not having stated any, other than as an apparently emotional argument, as far as I can tell.

    And although we’ve been around the block on the question of metaphysics and ontology in a prior discussion, I have to bring it up again: do you suppose that evil has its own independent existence? In what? That’s not as easy as what you’ve presented it to be here. Theism proposes that good exists in God, and that a privation of that good is at the source of evil.

    What reason is there to think that God is worthy of our worship? David, as I write, I haven’t read ahead to see how others have answered this. My answer is that if God exists, and he does, your standing in judgment on him in this way is the height of foolish pride. He is worthy of our worship just because he is God your creator, and if he’s not good enough for you, then you will find out in the end that your conception of good is completely wrapped around itself the wrong way and distorted.

    God has no objection to our seeking out what his goodness means, and even what it means with respect to the very hard questions of evil existing in the world. But he didn’t ask us to decide for ourselves whether he’s good enough to worship.

    And is the “greater good” theodicy a utilitarian argument? Goodness gracious, David. Sure, you can find some aspects of the two in common. Sure, Christians object to utilitarianism. But what Christians object to in utilitarianism has no overlap with that which is seemingly utilitarian in this theodicy. What’s wrong with Bentham-Mill-etc. utilitarianism is that it lacks the ability to compute the maximum utility, it lacks a decent definition of what real ethical utility is, it doesn’t know which creatures to include in the equation, it’s unconnected to any other transcendent good, and probably other things I can’t think of right now. God’s balancing of suffering and good has none of those flaws.

    “What morally sufficient greater good is served by the tortuous torturous agony of an infant?”

    Your thoughts are limited by what you can see. God’s thoughts are not so limited. I don’t know in the case of any particular infant what the answer may be, but I know that suffering in general produces proven character, perseverance, hope, patience, trust, in those who will let it do so; and it shows the difference between those who will allow God to work in their hearts that way and those who will rebel against him. If an infant suffers agony, it is really for an eye-blink of time compared to eternity, where God will make all things right. And the same is true for adults who lean on him for his grace.

    I support Holopupenko’s response to you at 1:32 pm, by the way, having just read it now.

  21. David, at 4:30 you wrote:

    It is obviously inconsistent to say that a person is loving but allows others to undergo extreme, unnecessary suffering he could easily prevent.

    I hope by my last response you see how you are begging the question with this. And that you will also see how this is completely the wrong question:

    Will it help you to understand what the problem of evil is about if we call it the problem of unnecessary suffering?

    To reiterate what I said before: if the problem of evil is “the problem of unnecessary suffering,” then you define the question out of existence. There is no question. Because on our conception, there is no unnecessary suffering. On yours, there is. But the very question is whether suffering that seems unnecessary is possible in a world with a good God. The question could as well be cause the problem of necessary suffering.

  22. It seems the rain has quit and I can go finish roofing the patio. That means I’ll have another few hours to fall behind on this discussion… y’all have fun. (And David, please try not to beg the question.)

    (Edit: or maybe not, about the rain that is. The radar isn’t looking too good.)

  23. David:

    Tom’s response to your question-begging was on the mark, and I would only diminish that response if I tried to add anything.

  24. If I have the correct antecedent for your “this” in mind, then yes. If your argument depends on God being able to do anything that can be stated in a grammatically correct sentence, then I can answer your argument just by saying God’s omnipotence is not of that sort. He cannot make the contradictory non-contradictory (at the same time and in the same relationship).

    Yes, that’s about what I had in mind. Thanks!

    He freely decides that which he decides, consistent with his nature;

    This seems to be the central difference we have. That statement looks to me like a contradiction.

    If we do not consider his “nature” as a distinct entity from the whole, at least conceptually, then all we mean by “God’s nature” is “God”. Saying that all his decisions are consistent with himself is not particularly meaningful or interesting, though it’s as true of a god as of any acting entity.

    There may not be a multiple causal stream, but there remains a single causal stream: that from his nature to his actions. If his nature is indeed unchanging (which I assume you take it to be, but correct me if I’m wrong), then all his actions are set out from the beginning of time – whatever he does, he could have done no different. He is not free to perform any action.

    But perhaps I’m just not understanding you. Could you tell me what your definition of free will is?


  25. Wow. Let’s beg the question, shall we: “Evil… refers to unnecessary and extreme suffering”…..The question at hand is whether suffering is unnecessary, or whether God has some morally adequate reason to permit it.

    Indeed it is. I was not proposing that you assume that I’m right in the suffering being unnecessary (though it certainly seems to be). I’m asking both what the reason is for thinking it necessary or, if unknown, why we should regard God as a benevolent being regardless of this fact. And so far I have seen no good answers to that question.

    The answers so far proposed:

    From Holo: That the suffering accomplishes, in some way unexplained, a “greater good”.

    Which is just an admission to not having any idea (besides being a utilitarian argument—utilitarianism not being something most christians endorse).

    From Steve K: “Because we are different than God at the most fundamental level, we ought not expect God to consider humans like himself in every way. I think that difference helps explain some, if not all, of the perceived problems.”

    Which doesn’t really tell us anything. In what way is he different which makes his loving nature consistent with unnecessary extreme suffering he could easily prevent?

    Or is the suffering not unnecessary? In which case the comments don’t even address the central issue—why is it necessary?

    Any other “explanations” I’ve missed? So far they’re pretty thin.

    It seems pretty clear to me that no adequate theodicy has ever been proposed. Many theologians, in fact, admit to this.

    The central issue, if they are correct in this opinion, comes down to the question of whether we have other reasons for thinking God morally good that are strong enough to outweigh the apparent implausibility of the claim that there could be a morally sufficient but unknown reason for God allowing the sort of extreme suffering we find in the world.

  26. To Steve, since you seem to be presenting the commonly heard argument when the POE (or POAUS) is presented that we are in no position to make moral judgments about God’s actions:

    A. Do I characterize your position correctly? Do you think we can’t make reasonable moral judgments about a deity?

    and

    B. is there anything God could do which would cause you to decide he was evil?

    Anything at all?

  27. A question: in the opinion of each of the christians here (at least those with an opinion on the issue), what is the best work by a christian philosopher on the POE? I’d like to examine for myself the best arguments that christianity has on offer on this question.

  28. David,

    One of the books I’m currently reading is Encountering Evil edited by Stephen T. Davis. I don’t know if it’s one of the best works because it’s the first one I’ve attempted to read. I’d also like to know if there are any other good works on the subject.

  29. We were there “in the first place.” We chose to reject God, and the result is empirically obvious. (See my response to David.)

    We were there in the first place, and we chose to reject God. What is there, do you believe, to prevent us from doing so a second time when we return to that state?

  30. A. Do I characterize your position correctly? Do you think we can’t make reasonable moral judgments about a deity?

    I think we can, and do, make reasonable moral judgements about God.

    B. is there anything God could do which would cause you to decide he was evil?

    Yeah, if he tortured babies for fun, or forced people to worship him, or sent to hell those who put their faith in Christ, or let injustices prevail…to name a few.

  31. In the Garden of Eden, while man was created innocent and good, evil came from without (the Serpent). Moreover, our Parents weren’t always in the presence of God (as witnessed by their trying to hide from God as well as the incident with the Serpent).

    The Beatific Vision is a whole other thing. It is the immediate knowledge of God (by direct intuition, clearly and distinctly) which the angelic spirits and the just enjoy. It is specifically called “vision” to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life:

    Here on earth we have no immediate perception of God; we see Him but indirectly in the mirror of creation. We get our first and direct knowledge from creatures, and then, by reasoning from these, we ascend to a knowledge of God according to the imperfect likeness which creatures bear to their Creator. But in doing so we proceed to a large extent by way of negation, i.e., by removing from the Divine Being the imperfections proper to creatures. In heaven, however, no creature will stand between God and the soul. He himself will be the immediate object of its vision. Scripture and theology tell us that the blessed see God face to face. And because this vision is immediate and direct, it is also exceedingly clear and distinct. [Catholic Encylopedia]

    So, if you recall my earlier response, God is the Lover, and by abiding directly in His presence (Infinite Love, Goodness, Beauty, etc., etc.) you will freely choose to love Him for eternity. Your speculation about “there [being something] to prevent us from doing so a second time” is without merit: there is nothing created (i.e., contingent) compared to the Infinite Necessary. Moreover and quite interestingly, you’ve asked the question those in Hell will wrestle with forever: instead of focusing on Him, they will focus on themselves and their own self-centered desires. Why? Because they want to. (As I mentioned earlier, the doors of Hell are shut from the inside.) Why don’t you ask yourself the very question you pose to me but assuming another state: “What is there, do you believe, to prevent us from desiring and seeking God if we are in the state of Hell?” The answer is, only ourselves… which is the same response (in two words) to the question you pose. (Please read the short allegorical account by C.S. Lewis The Great Divorce.)


  32. Yeah, if he tortured babies for fun, or forced people to worship him, or sent to hell those who put their faith in Christ, or let injustices prevail…to name a few.

    How about if he ordered you to torture babies but refused to explain why?

    Is there anything he could do (without explaining his motive for) that would be sufficient for you to call him evil?

    Is there any point at which you would balk at the plausibility of the the idea of the unknown but morally sufficient reason as an adequate explanation?


  33. One of the books I’m currently reading is Encountering Evil edited by Stephen T. Davis.

    Let us know what you think of it when you finish. If you don’t mind.

  34. The classic on the problem of evil is Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil. It’s the book that settled the logical/deductive question in most philosophers’ minds. It’s on my purchase list. He covered it somewhat in God and Other Minds, which I’ve read (that section at least, I’m not done with the book yet), but that was an earlier book, and he expanded on it in the later one. It also comes up in his Warranted Christian Belief as a minor topic.

    Recently arrived here in the mail: Evil and the Justice of God by N.T. Wright. It’s on my “guilt shelf” (the books I know I should be reading but can’t get to yet). I’ll let you know when I’ve read it.

  35. Thanks, if anyone has any more suggestions I’d be glad to hear them. I think I saw GOD, FREEDOM AND EVIL on the shelves when I was looking for books on the POE a few months ago. I’ll look into it.

  36. Hi Tom,
    I read the N.T. Wright book. You will love it and at under 200 pages won’t take you long.
    His treatment of forgiveness as the only antidote to evil and as a way of being for Christians is excellent. As is his discussion of Jesus taking all the evil that exists, political and cosmic, and defeating it without becoming infected by it.

    He also recommends reading Miroslav Volf, L. Gregpry JOnes and Bishop Desmond Tutu on the subject. The only author he mentions here that I have read is C.S. Lewis. Wright discusses The Great Divorce, but of course The Problem of Pain is classic as well.

  37. In doing some web research on theodicies and the problem of evil I came across an article which mentions Immanuel Kant’s work on this subject:

    http://science.jrank.org/pages/11434/Theodicy-Early-Modern-Theodicy.html


    As an endeavor fusing theoretical and practical reason, philosophical theodicy for Kant represented a particularly dangerous form of pretension: it threatened to blunt the sense that defined the human ethical vocation—that the world of our experience is not as it ought to be. In his mature philosophy of religion, Kant was particularly attentive to insincerity and saw philosophical theodicies as a key example.

    In his essay “On the Failure of All Philosophical Efforts in Theodicy” (1791), Kant likened theodicists to Job’s comforters. By contrast, Job, whose faith in God was firmly rooted in the moral law rather than in the claim to be able to understand God’s ways, was able to stand fast in his piety despite his “counterpurposive” experiences. In the place of the hypocrisy of “doctrinal” theodicy Kant recommended Job’s “authentic theodicy”: “honesty in openly admitting one’s doubts; repugnance to pretending conviction where one feels none” (p. 33).

    I haven’t been able to find the essay online but I’m sure my library will have it. Sounds interesting.

  38. Yes, but it’s too bad Kant was an idealist of the worst sort— the culmination of the worst errors of Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and others. (He is, in fact, the father of modern Idealism—the notion that we only know the ideas in our mind.) His theory of knowledge locks any observer within his own mind—never permitting the observer to know anything about the extra-mental world. That which man must know, do and believe finds its justification not in reality existing in itself—noumenon—as traditional metaphysics held, but in the theoretical, practical and aesthetic faculties of man, i.e., what we know is wholly dependent on our “internal” thinking about the inaccessible real world.

    In other words, according to Kant, we know absolutely nothing about noumenal reality, and we can make no exception for our own conscious experiences. But if we know nothing about noumenal reality, then we can’t reason to the existence of God… or the immortality of the soul. Moreover, objects of the external world are not objects of sensible intuition, and hence are not objects of that knowledge which is proper to the intellect.

    The consequences for science are devastating: if objects cannot be properly known, then there is no way Kant can convince anyone that our ideas of the extra-mental world actually correspond to extra-mental objects. Hence, Kant’s error with respect to theodicy flow directly from his Idealism: if we can know nothing about extra-mental objects (and hence science is impossible), then of course we can know nothing about spiritual verities. Kant turns thousands of years of philosophical wisdom on its head by contradicting the principle that while all knowledge comes through the senses, not all knowledge is sensible knowledge. An idea is not (in Kant’s misunderstanding) that which we know (except as a second intention, i.e., reflecting back upon the idea) but that by which we know real things.

    David is drawn to Kant’s idea against theodicy not because he understands Kant’s errors, but simply because Kant’s conclusion dovetails into and supports David’s presuppositions.

  39. How about if he ordered you to torture babies but refused to explain why?

    Given what I know about God, I don’t think this this would ever happen. But if it did then I would judge it as evil at the same time trusting that his grace is sufficient to forgive me if I am wrong. There’s a big difference between one isolated incident that has me scratching my head wondering what’s going on, and a reoccuring pattern of evil.

    Is there anything he could do (without explaining his motive for) that would be sufficient for you to call him evil?

    Is there any point at which you would balk at the plausibility of the the idea of the unknown but morally sufficient reason as an adequate explanation?

    I thought I answered that in my previous comment – yes.

  40. It seems to me atheists believe that Christians live in an isolated world–intentionally ignoring evil so as to buttress a 2,000 year old myth. Of any group, it’s arguably Christians who think about evil, weep over it, and try (with God’s help) to overcome it on a day-to-day basis. The existential reality of evil is so palpable, so close to a Christian’s heart that it is indeed a Cross for us–especially when we see and experience it in fellow believers.

    We see it in society (abortion, slavery, homosexuality, pedophilia, atheism, etc.); we see it in nature (genetic defects, horrendous natural disasters, accidents, etc.); and we see it generally in an imperfect, broken world. One would think Christians would be the first to abandon ship. We cannot, for we also see Christ on the Cross (Paul preaches Christ crucified AND risen), suffering with and for all of us… and forgiving us. To me, the Cross is the most powerful witness that Good will triumph.

    There is no argument against God’s existence through the existence of evil because He Himself took it all upon Himself. He is not an abstract God; He is not a distant God; He IS God–nails (a mockery of his Omnipotence), crown of thorns (a mockery of His claim of kingship and authority over us), His humanity degraded through nakedness on the Cross, His goodness mocked by being crucified between two thieves, etc., etc. Why is it that atheists never ask about and face the evil imparted upon and accepted by God himself by His own creatures? What other God has condescended to such a level?

  41. Ironically, the unbeliever thinks they are a good person, despite the evil they know they’ve committed, whereas God is thought to be evil because they think he has committed evil. Double standard? Yes.

  42. @david ellis:

    You referred to:

    As an endeavor fusing theoretical and practical reason, philosophical theodicy for Kant represented a particularly dangerous form of pretension: it threatened to blunt the sense that defined the human ethical vocation—that the world of our experience is not as it ought to be. In his mature philosophy of religion, Kant was particularly attentive to insincerity and saw philosophical theodicies as a key example.

    That’s very theoretical, isn’t it? If it were actually true, one might expect that Christians would live as if they had a blunted sense that the world is not as it should be. There would be little or no Christian activism, no Christian mission, no Christian hospitals, no Christians standing against slavery or genocide, no Christians volunteering in their communities, no Christians contributing to disaster relief; or if I’ve overstated it, then at least there would be less of this among Christians than among those who hold other views of the world.

    Kant’s theorizing is disproved empirically, for Christians’ participation in these things actually exceeds that of other worldview proponents. (I can dig references on this if you wish.)

  43. Skeptics, you should be aware that all Christians do not speak with one voice. In the discussion above I see Christians commenting on the uses of suffering. However, I see all suffering as a consequence of evil. What they are getting at is the idea that God can bring good results from any bad happening, which is something I agree with, and the toughening/testing/refining outcomes of suffering are part of this. However, God does not desire our suffering. Rather, he uses the suffering that comes to us because the world is a fallen place (and we experience suffering as a consequence of our own sins and the sins of others).
    In the beginning of this topic a logical construct was presented in which an inference was drawn that should have been called out by the Christian readers. It was re-stated a couple of times in the discussion. My paraphrase: “How can a loving God exist, if He permits unnecessary extreme suffering that he could easily prevent?”
    I wonder why none of the Christians here have cited the parable of the wheat and the tares (from Matthew Ch. 13). From it we see that getting rid of evil is possible for God, but He has a good reason not to do it; it would require the end of the world.
    God made the world to be perfect, including our “First Parents.” They were perfect, but made “in the likeness of God,” which included the ability to make choices. Unfortunately, they chose disobedience, and thereby allowed sin to contaminate them and their entire world. Since the whole of creation was made according to God’s holy and perfect nature, its corruption by sin is devastating, and is the source of the evils that God did not intend for it. Rather than eliminating it all and starting over, He has chosen to allow creation to continue for a time, for purposes that He has not explained (we probably could not understand). He sent that part of Himself that He calls His Son to redeem the fallen creation, and He saves as many as will allow Him to.
    Some things He has not explained, so Christians may speculate and disagree upon. However, we all agree that He is holy, and He is the only thing worthy of worship, and that He demands our worship. As to why it would require the end of the world to bring about the end of evil, we can ask Him after we get to heaven.

  44. @SteveK

    Ironically, the unbeliever thinks they are a good person, despite the evil they know they’ve committed,

    This individual sounds like a fascinating person. Perhaps you’re referring to my buddy Hank? That guy is such a hypocritical dink sometimes.

    whereas God is thought to be evil because they think he has committed evil.

    Well, if there were a God, and he had at one time commanded his followers to murder the infants of an enemy nation, that would, at the very least, make me go “huh?“. At face value, it would certainly look worse than that one time Hank kicked a donkey in the head during a drunken bender in Tijuana. I mean, Hank even felt bad about it after we showed him the polaroid.

    @Holo

    we see it [evil] in nature (genetic defects, horrendous natural disasters, accidents, etc.); and we see it generally in an imperfect, broken world.

    Really? You think of those things as evil? I vaguely recall Tom mentioning that he holds, as a Christian, that there is no unnecessary suffering. I came away from that with the impression that your team thinks of the suffering that those things cause as serving a higher purpose, and thus not evil.

    But hey, I could have misunderstood, or not have taken note of something, and I mean that with not a trace of sarcasm.

  45. In the Garden of Eden, while man was created innocent and good, evil came from without (the Serpent). Moreover, our Parents weren’t always in the presence of God (as witnessed by their trying to hide from God as well as the incident with the Serpent).

    Well, then they weren’t in the same state as the end state your proposing at all, now were they?

    The first, unfallen humans were in a given state, A. The final, restored humans will be in a given state, B. You said:

    We were there “in the first place.”

    In other words, you claimed A = B. However, you also claimed that in state B, there will be no chance of restored humans becoming fallen again (and you’ve explained your reasoning for that quite well, several times, thank you). But we know that, in state A, there is a chance of becoming fallen, because it happened. This proves that A =/= B.

    So my question remains: Why do you believe God did not put us in state B to begin with? Why did he put us in state A? If the difference between the two states is a serpent, why did he allow a serpent into the garden, and why do you think he will not do so again? And of course: Do you believe that the process of fallen, mortal existence is necessary to reach state B? A simple yes or no on this one will suffice. I’ll even take an “I don’t know”.

    And as for you, Tom: It’s been a pleasure. 🙂

  46. @Fortuna:

    Well, if there were a God, and he had at one time commanded his followers to murder the infants of an enemy nation, that would, at the very least, make me go “huh?“.

    I’ve never written at any length on this issue, I’ve always relied on others’ writing. I can see I need to put up a blog post about this pretty soon. The short answer is, this is not what it appears to be at first. The rest of the short answer is, I recognize that’s not much of an answer and I’ll be working on it soon.

  47. @Fortuna:

    I came away from that with the impression that your team thinks of the suffering that those things cause as serving a higher purpose, and thus not evil.

    Whoa, now! 🙂 There’s a huge difference between “serving a higher purpose,” and “not evil.” If I obscured that difference by what I wrote earlier, then I miscommunicated badly. It’s been known to happen often enough, so I’ll take responsibility for that.

    First of all, evil needs to be defined. In Christian theism, evil is understood to be a privation of the experience of that which is good, which in turn is defined with reference to the character and goodness of God. That’s the ontological background which I do not need to spend much time on here. More simply, presented as we experience it, evil is that which stands against the perfectly good character of God.

    And evil exists, to be sure. Sin exists, and sin causes huge suffering. I don’t know how to quantify it, but I would guess that a very large majority of human suffering is directly traceable so some definable person’s or persons’ self-centeredness, pride, greediness, lust, intemperance, lack of self-control, etc. Sin is evil. Suffering is the experience of the consequence of evil, and it is not intrinsically good.

    God did not make us for the purpose of suffering; it was not the original intent or purpose.

    But God is greater than evil and suffering—this is one bright shining aspect of his glory. The greatest example of this is the cross of Jesus Christ. He was hung there by men doing evil, goaded by spiritual powers of evil, having been mocked and tortured. He suffered massive physical pain and unimaginable spiritual pain. It was evil’s greatest moment of victory: the Son of God humiliated, beaten, cut off, and finally dead.

    This was an evil act, and the suffering was not intrinsically good. The suffering that you and I experience is not good in itself. But Jesus Christ overcame it: he called for forgiveness for those who executed him, and then he transcended it all by rising from the grave; and not only that but by his death, he died for the sins of all, thus paying the penalty required of all humans for our sin and opening the door for us to be accepted by God and to live eternally in his love.

    He defeated evil. He overcame it. He took its twisted purpose and he straightened it out.

    Human suffering is not in itself a good. Death is considered a passageway into the presence of God, for those who have accepted his offer to come, but even so it is considered an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26) to be overcome.

    The theological word behind this is “redeem.” It means to buy back, primarily; but in this usage it means to overcome that which is bad and to bring good results from it. Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-4 are core passages on this. Suffering is not the good in these passages, but the character that it produces is good: a good result being drawn by God out of the bad circumstance.

    I look back on 30+ years of following Jesus Christ, in which I’ve experienced two national disasters (a very strong earthquake and a hurricane), deaths in the family (some of them violent), severe personal health problems, financial stresses, relational problems, disappointments, job issues—the usual, in other words, for my stresses have not been out of the ordinary for Americans. I look at the person I am now, the strengths that I value the most, and I know for certain they grew out of the exercise produced by suffering. This is God’s way of redeeming the bad and making good come of it. It’s not making the bad good, it’s making good come from the bad.

  48. @A:

    I did not intend to say that A = B, as I think you have correctly understood. State A was untested innocence. State B is a perfected state, in which a person has chosen righteousness through a relationship with Christ, and in which that choice has been granted.

    Why did God not put us in state B to begin with? I don’t see how he could have done that. State B is a state the person freely desires to enter. Had God just put us in that condition to begin, there would be no free will involved.

    Why will he not put a “serpent in the garden again”? There are so many reasons! One is that God is preparing a future in which righteousness reigns and evil’s defeat is final. Humans’ choices will have had the opportunity to have been made, and there will be no more of that kind of testing.

    Do I believe the process of fallen, mortal existence is necessary to reach state B? A simple yes or no cannot be sufficient for this, even. I’m sorry about that :). Here’s the other thing about State B that is different from State A: the glory of Christ has been shown through his incredible loving sacrifice for us on the cross. I do not know how to convey this adequately; the great hymn writers have done it best (Isaac Watts: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” for one). This aspect of State B is a great good that was not possible without our going through a period of sin and suffering.

    I do not know what would have happened if Adam and Eve in State A had never chosen sin. I can’t speculate on the eternal result of such a what-if. But I do believe that the free choice granted to humans from the beginning has been essential from the beginning; that moral freedom is of the essence of humanness. To have been placed directly into State B would have been a negation of moral freedom.

    God took a risk (anthropomorphically speaking) in giving us that freedom, but he was prepared to redeem that risk through Christ, and to cause an even greater good to come out of the evil humans have chosen.

  49. Words to that hymn (public domain):

    When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

    When I survey the wondrous cross
    On which the Prince of glory died,
    My richest gain I count but loss,
    And pour contempt on all my pride.

    Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
    Save in the death of Christ my God!
    All the vain things that charm me most,
    I sacrifice them to His blood.

    See from His head, His hands, His feet,
    Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
    Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
    Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

    Were the whole realm of nature mine,
    That were a present far too small;
    Love so amazing, so divine,
    Demands my soul, my life, my all.

    To Christ, Who won for sinners grace
    By bitter grief and anguish sore,
    Be praise from all the ransomed race
    Forever and forevermore.

  50. Tom:

    Actually, I think it was to me A was addressing the questions. Your responses were excellent, and I can’t add to them for fear of detracting from them. Thanks for the heavy lifting, and thanks for humbling me.

    Sure, I could provide some philosophical reflections upon theological issues, but I must also admit my responses to these folks will not address the yearnings (admitted or not) of their hearts. I must trust in His Grace, for what I provide will never satisfy those yearnings.

    For me personally, “I am the Lord your God” is enough—even if I don’t understand some things. I have no choice but trust… but I do know that trust is not empty for many, many reasons—including all the unmerited things He’s done for me and others. I must rely on Joshua 24:15, on Isaiah 55:8-9, on Proverbs 3:5-7 and on I Corinthians 1:27-30. Of course, I do ask myself a question regarding the greatest evil perpetrated: “Why did God permit such a horrible deicide?” The response to that questions is not an “answer”—the response is Love. It’s at that point—the point of surveying, gazing and pondering upon The Wondrous Cross that Love brings me to tears of joy because of John 3:16.

    But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

    “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)

    God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30)

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

    Here I stand. I can do no other.


  51. David is drawn to Kant’s idea against theodicy not because he understands Kant’s errors, but simply because Kant’s conclusion dovetails into and supports David’s presuppositions.

    Again with the mind reading.

  52. I simply agree with Kant that philosophical theodicies don’t work. Whether my reasons for thinking so are at all like Kant’s remains to be seen. I haven’t read the essay yet. And I go further than him. I don’t think Job’s theodicy works either(though it really isn’t a theodicy—just the willingness to trust without a theodicy).


  53. From it we see that getting rid of evil is possible for God, but He has a good reason not to do it; it would require the end of the world.

    It would not require the end of the world for no child to be born with congenital defects.

    It would not require the end of the world for no child to be swept to his death in a tsunami.

    It would not require the end of the world for no child to be buried under rubble during an earthquake and die a slow agonizing death.

    It would only require the exercise of a modicum of his infinite power.


  54. ….by his death, he died for the sins of all, thus paying the penalty required of all humans for our sin and opening the door for us to be accepted by God and to live eternally in his love.

    This simply makes no sense at all. Why must a sinless individual be tortured in order for humanity to “be accepted by God and to live eternally in his love”?

    Its one of the most bizarre and, frankly, monstrous doctrines I’ve run across in my study of the religions of the world.


    To have been placed directly into State B would have been a negation of moral freedom.

    Fine. Could God not then have put Adam and Eve (do you really believe this myth is historical fact?!!) into state A, explained state B to them, and then given them the choice of entering state B of their own free will?

    It seems that this would preserve free will and get people to state B without the thousands of years of suffering.


  55. Here’s the other thing about State B that is different from State A: the glory of Christ has been shown through his incredible loving sacrifice for us on the cross. I do not know how to convey this adequately; the great hymn writers have done it best (Isaac Watts: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” for one). This aspect of State B is a great good that was not possible without our going through a period of sin and suffering.

    There’s nothing wonderful about a man being tortured to death. Its noble that one is willing to do that. But its simply masochistic to act it out when there’s no good reason to have done so in the first place—and there isn’t one.

  56. Well, David… then you do agree with Kant in spite of his errors and in spite of the damage these errors do to his position. Thank you for the candid admission. As for the mind reading: no… it’s simply that you’re pretty transparent at this point.


  57. As for the mind reading: no… it’s simply that you’re pretty transparent at this point.

    If I am then why do you so consistently get my views wrong?

    I’m no fan of Kant but that doesn’t mean we can’t agree on some things. As I said, I don’t know yet whether his arguments against most theodicies are good ones or not—I may completely disagree with the way he arrived at his conclusions despite the fact that we may have reached the same (or, actually partially the same) conclusion. I haven’t read it yet. We’ll see.

    Have you read the essay in question? If so, what did you make of it?

  58. @Tom Gilson (and perhaps Holopupenko)

    I get what you’re saying about suffering not being intrinsically good, as an end unto itself. My point, hopefully stated more clearly, is that you (Christians) don’t consider things such as natural mishaps, which, as mere humans, I think we can all agree suck abominably, in isolation. It’s all supposed to be part of the greater plan, nay? A plan which is as good as a good God could possibly make it. Fair, yes?

    So while I’ll happily grant, for the purposes of conversation, that Christians think of a great many things as evil by the definition you’ve elucidated, in an ultimate sense, you don’t think of them as objectionable. That would be to pass your personal judgement on the wisdom of a being that you stress(?) is not to be judged by human standards, lest we get all arrogant and suchlike.

    In the final analysis, you get it all back in the end, and more. So while there’s plenty of evil in the Christian sense of a deprivation of God’s groovy vibes, you have nothing to object to, ultimately (which is the sense of the word “evil” that I was using; stuff that your average human would have emotional or practical reasons to object to in the strongest possible terms.) Is that a fair characterization of your position?

    As an aside, if you think it is a fair characterization, I won’t hold it against you, or Holopupenko for that matter, to whom my original question was partly addressed. It’s not a trick question. It merely puzzled me to see Holopupenko refer to natural disasters and such as if he really objected to them, in a thread where (if I recall) various commenters point out that you believe it’s not yours to judge, and it’s all for good reason.

  59. Fortuna:

    If there is any place where I was unclear, I apologize. But surely, you cannot accuse Christians of thinking evil is “not objectionable.” I think Tom answered quite clearly that Christians have contributed more to establishing and maintaining hospitals, charitable organizations, etc., etc., etc., than any other religious movement faith in history. If we thought evil was “not objectionable” or that “we get it all back in the end and more,” then what possible justification and inspiration would we have to do those goods? Moreover, I think you may have misunderstood an important point: we do object to evil because, among other good reasons, we know, admit, take responsibility for, weep over, and try to overcome with His grace the general cause of evil: our falleness.

    You do, albeit I suspect unknowingly, touch upon a very important aspect of morality from the perspective of Christianity: teleology. Christian morality/ethics is (1) eudaemonistic in that it is motivated by the pursuit of happiness and the desire for happiness. It is (2) ontological in that it is rooted and grounded in being itself (where the transcendentals good, beautiful, true, one, etc. play a key role): there is an objectivity deeply permeating Christian morality because it is grounded in the nature of human beings; and since God is creator of us, morality finds its ultimate objective in Him. Finally, it is (3) teleological in that Christian morality has to be understood as human behavior ordered to and directed toward ends–not just any ends, but ends which are perceived as goods. Ends, the possession of which will bring human flourishing, which will bring about happiness.

    Christian morality rejects in whole or in part moral relativism, situational ethics, consequentialism, utilitarianism, legalism (especially positivism in the juridical sense), and deontological (obligation) morality. We look to the Bible as the Word of God, but it is not a “rule book” that holds the rule is more important than the rule-giver (Christ had something to say to the Pharisees on this): we don’t see the “rules” as deriving their force simply by the fact that they are there. God has forbidden certain things because they are wrong–wrong in the sense that they go against our natures as God created us and hence to not lead to ultimate happiness. If we reflect on an action and we can see that it doesn’t conform to human nature, it’s not going to bring about human flourishing and human happiness.

    Take homosexuality: biologically we know such actions are extremely dangerous, and this feeds our understanding from the perspective of the Natural Law that homosexual acts are evil. It is also evil because it goes against our human natures as fecundal creatures. But the Natural Law is the participation of human reason in the Eternal Law of God. Hence, it is evil in the eyes of God because it goes against human beings (their nature) as created by God. Finally, the Scriptures back this up as Revealed Knowledge.

    With respect to natural disasters: they DO suck, and we brought that brokeness into the world as well. If this were all an academic exercise in reasoning about morality, I’d be on your side in a heart beat. But it’s not, is it? It’s about a relationship: it’s not so much about “answers” as it is about trust, love, faithfulness, brokenness, sorrow, etc., etc.,… all those things that true lovers know all too well. It’s about seeing God not as some distant rule-giver or arbitrary moralist, but as one who hangs on the Cross with forgiveness even as I cry (for example) “where is God in concentration camps or in tsunamis or abortions or earthquakes?!?” He’s on the Cross sharing in our sorrows and pain… even as He triumphs over death.

  60. Indeed, my questions were directed at Holu, but he seems to agree with your answers, Tom, so thanks. I suppose he mispoke himself when he earlier stated that the early humans were in the same state as the final ones.

    Two final questions, then: Why do you think that all of humanity has to suffer for the choice of a small subset of humans? And, do you believe it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and die for humans to be redeemed, or could God have done it without that, and simply did it as a demonstration of love?

  61. But surely, you cannot accuse Christians of thinking evil is “not objectionable.”

    I don’t wish to accuse you of anything. All I’m saying is that it strikes me as difficult to reconcile these propositions;

    a.) Everything that God introduces into the lives of his followers, or permits to happen to them (or however you wish to look at it) is ultimately for their own good (Tom’s “taking the good from the bad”) or doesn’t ultimately matter (infinite rewards at the end.)

    b.) Natural mishaps are evil (evil in the common, everyday sense of the term, not the “deprivation of God’s awesome nature” sense.)

    I only bring it up because it seemed to me you were using the term evil in the sense that I, heathen that I am, might have used it, to refer to things that have no apparent redeeming qualities and make a negative difference in the world that no higher power is going to set right, in the end.

    If you weren’t, or didn’t intend to, then let’s all have ale and biscuits, I guess.

    If we thought evil was “not objectionable” or that “we get it all back in the end and more,” then what possible justification and inspiration would we have to do those goods?

    Weeeeeeeell……..I dunno….maybe the same ones non-believers use? I’m slightly gobsmacked that you asked that.

    If this were all an academic exercise in reasoning about morality, I’d be on your side in a heart beat.

    Whatever do you mean by that?

    Aaaand, on to the homosexuality. This is gonna be ugly in the extreme, I just know it.

    Take homosexuality: biologically we know such actions are extremely dangerous,

    Actually, the evidence available to us suggests that homosexual behaviours are adaptive or neutral (for the individual and their kin) in most circumstances in the animal kingdom, including our species. If you have online access to peer-reviewed scientific journals, you could look it up, if you feel so inclined.

    Oh, and in case you were going to launch into a ream of statistics illustrating the higher prevalence of HIV infection in the gay community, don’t bother, I’m aware of it. All one has to do is apply the appropriate safe-sex attitudes and practices, and bam, the dangers of “such actions” are indistinguishable from those associated with hetero-sex.

    and this feeds our understanding from the perspective of the Natural Law

    I laughed out loud at this in particular, and the rest in general. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, so to speak. Nature’s a sprawling, messy, complex, riotous place, and the same goes for human nature, and neither take any account of what one thinks “contradict” them.

  62. A:

    The “no-difference” is in the state of grace, the “difference”–as Tom correctly notes–is between the created initial innocence and the chosen perfection through redemption. I apologize for not making that clear, and thank Tom for his clarification.

    With respect to your other questions, the doctrine of original sin is a nuanced one for which I will not the time to cover here. Also, the suffering and death of Christ WAS an act of love: why do you pit these against each other? Redemption before God (via Justice) demands a perfect sacrifice (via Love).

    Fortuna:

    You do not understand the distinctions between the “laws” of nature, human laws, the Natural Law, and the Eternal Law. You also do not understand what is being stated here in regards to human nature. I’m not asking for agreement, but I think it’s fair to ask for understanding and then arguments to oppose my point. Regarding your other points, I have no comments. (By the way, and apologizing for the graphic terms, biology alone attests to the fact that–speaking scientifically–plunging the organ meant for the propagation of life into the orifice meant for the expulsion of death and decay is exceedingly dangerous… and borne out by scientific data.)

  63. More books.

    As noted above it’s generally agreed upon that Alvin Plantinga effectively ended the argument that a good God and evil are logically incompatible. There are a number of books which contain his “Free Will Defense.” If just want that particular piece a nice collection of his writings are found in The Analytic Theist. Plus you get some other nice arguments like “On Ockham’s Way Out” which deals with human freedom and Gods foreknowledge.

    The Evidential Argument from Evil, is another nice collection containing “both sides” of the debate. Basically, since the above “Free Will Defense” is taken as valid, the atheologist next route seems to be to argue about the quantity of evil in the world weighs in favor of there not being a God.

    I too have been wanting to read Wrights “Evil And the Justice of God” but so much sitting on my shelf right now that I haven’t got to yet .

  64. @david ellis:

    Thank you for your opinion. Short, pithy, and like too much of what you have written here, full of hubris and sadly lacking in any pretense of substance.

    Tell us, please, to what is it a “completely inadequate defense”? The logical/deductive problem of evil? The evidential or probabilistic problem of evil? (Can you distinguish between the two problems?) And on what grounds do you consider it inadequate?

  65. @Holopupenko

    You do not understand the distinctions between the “laws” of nature, human laws, the Natural Law, and the Eternal Law. You also do not understand what is being stated here in regards to human nature.

    I’ll cheerfully grant that I don’t much care for theology, and that I probably know zip about Eternal Law. But I think you are assuming far, far too much to say that I don’t understood the distinction between the first three.

    On reviewing what you said, I’m satisfied that I understood it, and I still find it risible. But hey, I could be wrong. Enlighten me, if you care to.

    By the way, and apologizing for the graphic terms,

    Don’t apologize. My constitution is not delicate. Besides, you’ve already claimed atheism is an evil on par with pedophilia or slavery. That was as repugnant as could be.

    biology alone attests to the fact that–speaking scientifically–plunging the organ meant for the propagation of life into the orifice meant for the expulsion of death and decay is exceedingly dangerous… and borne out by scientific data.)

    We have this thing called the “condom”. I also hope you’re not under the impression that gay sex is limited to anal intercourse.

  66. …or that hetero sex does not include anal intercourse.

    And, Holo, what about lesbian sex? No “organ meant for the propagation of life” going into the “orifice meant for the expulsion of death and decay” in that. And, in fact, lesbian sex is safer, in regard to HIV and other STD’s, than hetero sex.

  67. Tom writes,
    “I would guess that a very large majority of human suffering is directly traceable so some definable person’s or persons’ self-centeredness, pride, greediness, lust, intemperance, lack of self-control, etc.”

    In my experience, interpersonal “evil” is the result of individuals having experienced significant trauma (when it’s not the result of certain types of mental illness, which we don’t yet understand) that often manifests through generations. The solution is not self-control but treatment.

  68. Interpersonal “evil” is interpersonal evil. It’s real, in other words. Trauma enters in to the way it’s experienced and expressed, certainly. But children have a way of being self-centered, dishonest, and so on in the best of circumstances, so I don’t think your explanation tells us anywhere near enough.

    The solution is not self-control but a thorough application of the multi-faceted grace of God. Treatment can be one form in which that is delivered.


  69. Tell us, please, to what is it a “completely inadequate defense”? The logical/deductive problem of evil? The evidential or probabilistic problem of evil? (Can you distinguish between the two problems?) And on what grounds do you consider it inadequate?

    Obviously, because it leaves half the problem unaddressed.


    “I would guess that a very large majority of human suffering is directly traceable so some definable person’s or persons’ self-centeredness, pride, greediness, lust, intemperance, lack of self-control, etc.”

    As is typical of religious people, one factor is left unmentioned which is, arguably, one of the greatest sources of human-induced suffering: irrationality.

    A prime example being Catholic policies on condoms and the AIDS epidemic in Africa.

    Or the tragic consequences of a fanatical devotion to ideologies (both religious and secular) over human well-being.

  70. So the chief cause of the spread of AIDS is Catholic policies? I think there’s a more immediate cause in most cases…

    Your final sentence is problematical. Define human well-being without reference to any worldview, please. (I chose the word “worldview” rather than “ideology” as a more neutral term.)

  71. The chief cause of the spread of AIDS is non-monogamous unprotected sex. I’m pointing out that the Catholic Church is massively contributing to its spread with well-meaning but misguided policies that do little to stem non-monogamous sex but is doing much to contribute to the sex that is occurring being unprotected.

    Why should we waste time defining something that isn’t, in any substantial way, unclear or in dispute? I mean by human beings what we normally mean by a human being—members of the human species. I see no need to bring up any particular worldview in using the term in that sense.

    Unless you bring up some disputed question in which any differences in our conceptions of humanity or human nature are relevent.

  72. Tom,

    In paragraph one you simply strawman what DE said.

    Why does regard for our fellow human beings have to be grounded in an ideology? Why can’t concern for the welfar of my fellow humans, and other beings who can suffer be (to borrow a phrase) properly basic?

  73. OT “typical unmentioned factor” check on AIDS and “irrationality”:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/2009/03/aids_expert_who_defended_the_p.html

    William Crawley: What’s the evidence that you are appealing to that condom distribution has made things worse in Africa?

    Edward Green: Because we have for a number of years now found the wrong kind of association between condom-availability and levels of condom use.. You see the wrong kind of relationship with HIV prevalence. Instead of seeing this associated with lower HIV infection rates, it’s actually associated with higher HIV infection rates. Part of that is because the people using condoms are the people who are having risky sex. It’s just like there is more bed nets in use in countries with malaria than in countries without such high levels of malaria.

    William Crawley: So it would be a mistake to draw any causal connection between an increase in the use of condoms and an increase in HIV prevalence. That would be a mistake, wouldn’t it?

    Edward Green: We don’t have any proof. The closest thing we have are some prospective studies that follow the same populations. There was one where–Norman Hurst of the University of California was one of the authors, it was published in the journal Aids–where they followed two groups of young people in Uganda, and the group that had the intensive condom promotion–and they were provided condoms after three years–they actually were found to have a greater number of sex partners. So that cancels out the risk reduction that the technology of condoms ought to provide. That’s the phenomenon known as risk compensation.

    But in the generalised epidemics of Africa–well, there was a UN Aids study done in 2003 by Hearst and Chen, it was actually published in the peer-reviewed journal Studies in Family Planning in 2004, and they conclude that there is not a single country in Africa where HIV prevalence has come down primarily because of condoms.

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2007/mar/07030610.html

    http://wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=927020

    Dr. Edward C. Green, director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, told National Review Online last week that despite AIDS activists and media outlets pounding the pope for downplaying the effectiveness of condoms, the science actually supports the Catholic leader’s claim.

    “The pope is correct,” Green told NRO, “or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments.”

    “There is,” Green added, “a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.”

    “The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV-infection rates,” Green said.

    In Uganda, according to a report in Science magazine, teaching about AIDS and promoting monogamy has led to a dramatic turnaround in the country’s AIDS epidemic.

    “Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is preventable if populations are mobilized to avoid risk,” states the report’s summary. “Despite limited resources, Uganda has shown a 70 percent decline in HIV prevalence since the early 1990s, linked to a 60 percent reduction in casual sex. The response in Uganda appears to be distinctively associated with communication about [AIDS] through social networks. Despite substantial condom use and promotion of biomedical approaches, other African countries have shown neither similar behavioral responses nor HIV prevalence declines of the same scale. The Ugandan success is equivalent to a vaccine of 80 percent effectiveness.”

  74. @Tony Hoffman:

    Why does regard for our fellow human beings have to be grounded in an ideology? Why can’t concern for the welfar of my fellow humans, and other beings who can suffer be (to borrow a phrase) properly basic?

    @david ellis:

    Why should we waste time defining something that isn’t, in any substantial way, unclear or in dispute? I mean by human beings what we normally mean by a human being—members of the human species. I see no need to bring up any particular worldview in using the term in that sense.

    The question is not whether concern for human welfare should be properly basic. The question is, what constitutes human welfare? What is good? I can think of lots of differences in the way different worldviews regard this, and frankly if you haven’t thought of them yourself, you’re not trying hard enough.

    What is it to live a good life as a human being? Is it to be free of pain, to have everything easy? That’s the sense I get from david, who would have all suffering be eliminated. Or is it to build a soul for the sake of eternity, compared to which the sufferings we experience now are next to nothing (Romans 8:18)? Or is it the elimination of desire (Buddhism)? Or what?

    David spoke of “the tragic consequences of a fanatical devotion to ideologies (both religious and secular) over human well-being.” He wants us to value human well-being over our ideologies. But he has an ideology (or worldview) to which he is utterly (fanatically?) devoted, which defines for him what human well-being actually means. His opinion on what constitutes human well-being is inextricably tied to his ideology. There is no worldview-free definition of human well-being. That’s why that statement is, as I put it, problematic.

    Tony, you added “and other beings who suffer.” Which other beings? What does suffering mean? How do we balance their sufferings and human suffering (in animal medical experimentation, for example, or the protection of endangered species)? To what economic lengths do we go? Now, I’m not asking you actually to answer those questions. What I want you to think about is whether you can answer those questions without taking a worldview position defining the relative value of animals and humans. You can’t. It’s not, as you suggested, “properly basic” in any sense whatsoever.

    Sometimes I’m surprised at the kinds of things that need to be explained.


  75. The question is, what constitutes human welfare?

    My mistake. I thought you said “human being” rather than “human well-being”.

    As to what I’m talking about when I use the term I have in mind the rather uncontroversial things most people would agree on: health and access to health care, a reasonable degree of safety, financial security, significant familial and other human relationships, psychological health and the other uncontroversial factors involved in thriving as a human being.

    I’m sure people of various ideologies will have additional elements particular to their views (such as Christians thinking we need a relationship with Jesus, Scientologists thinking we need to become “clear”, etc). But what I have in mind are simply the normal things largely accepted across ideologies as elements of human well-being.

  76. One additional thing I would say in regard to ideology and human well-being is that when our ideological commitments are resulting in genuine human suffering there is an urgent need to step back and reassess, in the most rigorous manner, those commitments.

    Perhaps in some cases they justify the suffering they cause. But more often than not I suspect we’d find they don’t.

  77. David, pardon my being flabbergasted, but you missed everything I said, and I really can’t believe it. I am flummoxed. You seem to think that you can settle this by “the normal things largely accepted across ideologies as elements of human well-being.” Amazing. I don’t mean to be too critical, but what can I say? You tell us you have argued the problem of evil on many other blogs. Did they let you get away with this kind of sloppiness?

    Let me make it simple.

    First question: Does human well-being consist in (a) being free of pain and suffering or in (b) things like seeing the goodness of God, being prepared for eternity, growing in virtue (including the hard virtues that are only meaningful in the context of difficulties)?

    Second question: Can you answer the first question without committing to some ideology or worldview? Recall that that’s the question we’re working on (see also here).

  78. The question is not whether concern for human welfare should be properly basic. The question is, what constitutes human welfare? What is good?

    Tom, I believe that the urge to prevent a child from being tortured to death in front of his mother of behalf of an ideology, for instance, requires no reference to a worldview. It is wrong, and should be stopped. In other words, I think I would be obligated to reject an ideology that ran counter to such a basic feeling of revulsion over such an act. Contrary to your assertion, I believe I can arrive at this conclusion without an ideology instructing me on my course.

    Tony, you added “and other beings who suffer.” Which other beings? What does suffering mean?

    I think it’s interesting how strong our feelings of empathy for animals who are clearly suffering. We recognize their experience of pain, isolation, anguish, and must be de-sensitized to it in order to create or allow it.

    My basic concern for humans and creatures with whom I feel empathy is a guide I start with, and from there I build my ideology. I am equally perplexed that you seem to feel that you would not, for instance, find human or animal suffering to be wrong without first establishing or finding a “worldview position.”

  79. Tony, please read what I’ve written. I was writing about what constitutes well-being. Do I find human or animal suffering to be wrong? I don’t prefer suffering, and I take it to be one of the effects of the Fall. It is certainly not a good, not something to be desired in itself. But nothing exists in itself. Suffering is not an isolated phenomenon. It’s part of a web of causes and effects that come from and lead to other things. So why insist on taking it as if it were the only issue in question? Again, it’s not a matter of whether x or y is wrong, or bad, or undesirable, or even evil. It’s a matter of what constitutes human well-being?

    To the extent that you simplify it to just one issue, to that extent you ought to be suspicious that you have over-simplified and not addressed it with good thought.


  80. David, pardon my being flabbergasted, but you missed everything I said, and I really can’t believe it. I am flummoxed.

    I understood everything you said. What you said was simply irrelevent to the point I made.

    There are elements to human well-being that pretty much anyone of any ideology can agree on. It was such elements I had in mind when I made reference to human welfare.

    That you seem to find this difficult to comprehend leaves me more than a little flommoxed myself.

    But I’m getting used to it.


    Let me make it simple.

    First question: Does human well-being consist in (a) being free of pain and suffering

    Depends on the kind and degree of suffering. The muscle ache after a long game of basketball is, quite obviously, no obstacle to human well-being in any reasonable sense. The pain of having chronic kidney stones or a severe untreated hernia or a serious back injury is.

    Which is all just common sense. If you would apply it in interpreting others comments some of the more needless sidetracks in this discussion might be avoided.


    or in (b) things like seeing the goodness of God, being prepared for eternity, growing in virtue (including the hard virtues that are only meaningful in the context of difficulties)?

    The first two of those are clear examples of things that are only considered elements of human well-being in some ideologies and not others.

    If you have something in mind which might relate your comments to the topic under discussion I would welcome your stating it.

    In regard to any disagreement we might have over human well-being it would seem likely that you share most of what I would consider elements of human well-being (the ones I mentioned that are common to almost everyone whatever their ideology). The only substantive difference is that you’re likely to have things to you consider elements of human well-being which seem probably fictitious to me (like whether one is “saved” or not).


  81. Suffering is not an isolated phenomenon. It’s part of a web of causes and effects that come from and lead to other things. So why insist on taking it as if it were the only issue in question? Again, it’s not a matter of whether x or y is wrong, or bad, or undesirable, or even evil. It’s a matter of what constitutes human well-being?

    Feel free to tie this in to the POE any time you get ready.


  82. First question: Does human well-being consist in (a) being free of pain and suffering.

    A point I failed to make previously: there are several elements of human well-being. Health and freedom from serious pain are just part of the equation.

  83. Since the issue of animal suffering has been brought up I think it appropriate to address how their suffering in justified in your approach to theodicy. Most of the theodicies leave it entirely unaddressed. The free will theodicy is irrelevent to it. I don’t see any way their suffering can serve “soul building”.

    What greater good is served by animal suffering?

  84. David, re: your 6:50 pm comment:

    The current discussion (trace the links, they’re clearly provided) is over your statement earlier that being fanatical about ideologies was a major part of the problem. You didn’t directly address the second question, so I’ll do it for you: the definition of human well-being cannot be made without reference to some worldview (loaded term “ideology”). We have extremely, not superficially, different views of human well-being, because I view human well-being as a matter of being related to God and being prepared for eternity. Your ideology leads you to believe differently. You are not free of ideology. No one is. Though that’s a loaded term; better to say “worldview” unless your purpose is propagandizing, but I used it here because you brought it up first. And the question of human well-being is not free of worldview considerations.

  85. @david ellis: 7:08 pm:

    You keep asserting that the free will theodicy is irrelevant to this or that. Kindly explain. I asked you to do that a day or so ago and you just said, “It only addresses half the problem.” That’s less than half an answer. I asked you to present some evidence that you understand what the free will defense is, and how it relates to the logical problem of evil, and the evidential problem of evil, and you ignored that part of my question entirely.

    I’ve done my part, linking previously to this. I’m doing it again. Your turn.

  86. Here’s an interesting hypothetical: would a person thrive or decline if he or she never experienced suffering? On what foundation does your opinion rest?

  87. Tom,

    I have followed your links as well and I have to add that I am not following your line of thinking on this one either.

    Speaking of not reading, you continue to assert that the question of human well-being is not free of worldview considerations. But DE is offering a list of things that would be ostensibly, basically positive without regard to a worldview, and I have listed things that could be considered basically negative. I believe that some cases of suffering are basically wrong regardless of worldview considerations, and these cases must be explained by a theodicy.

    Are you asserting that there are no kinds of suffering that are basically contemptible, that in every case a worldview is what determines our near universal responses to alleviate certain kinds of suffering? Because that’s the only way that I can see your recent posts as being relevant to the topic at hand.

    Suffering is not an isolated phenomenon. It’s part of a web of causes and effects that come from and lead to other things. So why insist on taking it as if it were the only issue in question?

    I insist because suffering is often chiefly the issue by which the POE is framed. And with regard to animal suffering it brings to question what kind of God would create a universe with so much animal suffering when, according to Christian believes, there is no preparing of their souls for eternity. They simply suffer because God does not care, or God feels it is instructive for our souls, or for some reason that must be explained by any theodicy should it be persuasive.

    It looks from the above that you are about to make an argument that suffering is the result of a web of causes and effects, and thus “deserved” in a way that is unknowable. I think you realize, though, that this is not an explanation worthy of a theodicy, so I simply remain perplexed as to why you would bring up the web of causes and effects.

  88. David said:

    The free will defense does nothing to address natural sources of suffering. Its a completely inadequate defense.

    Wa-wa-what? Have you even read it? Cause the title for part VII says “Is God’s Existence Compatible with Natural Evil.” So pray tell, how is it completely inadequate as a defense?

  89. Luke,

    The moral choices required for free will have no connection with cancer, birth defects, etc. I will leave it to you to explain how it is that natural evils such as these are necessary for free will to exist. Please, feel free to cite from part VII.

  90. I’m tempted to call a moratorium on this discussion of the free will defense, because there are so many of these highly confident pronouncements being made by people who don’t know what it says.

    Tony, thank you for following the link. If my brief explanation there was inadequate, I can certainly see why that would be so. It seems like you might be a bit more cautious about your pronouncements, though, in view of the fact that pretty much the whole philosophical world has agreed with Plantinga on this one.

    David, my logs indicate you haven’t even bothered to look at it yet. At least not lately; the logs only go back so far.

    I don’t know if I have the energy right now to try to explain it more fully. Luke or anyone else, you’re welcome to.

  91. Brute animals are ruled by instinct–not intellect. The reason why we should minimize or try to eliminate the sufferings of brute animals whenever practical and possible is not for their good, but for the good of our souls. There’s a great line from near the beginning of the movie The Emperor’s Club when one of the students is running across the grass of the campus rather than on the walkway. The teacher tells him: “Follow the path where great men before you have tread.” The student responds, “Oh yeah, it’s good for the grass.” The teacher follows with, “No, it’s good for you.” You either see that, or you don’t.


  92. The reason why we should minimize or try to eliminate the sufferings of brute animals whenever practical and possible is not for their good, but for the good of our souls.

    I’ve heard that one before. And it never fails to make make me wonder how someone who believes in a religion that spends so much time talking about compassion and lovingkindness can say something so cold-blooded.


    he current discussion (trace the links, they’re clearly provided) is over your statement earlier that being fanatical about ideologies was a major part of the problem. You didn’t directly address the second question, so I’ll do it for you: the definition of human well-being cannot be made without reference to some worldview (loaded term “ideology”). We have extremely, not superficially, different views of human well-being, because I view human well-being as a matter of being related to God and being prepared for eternity.

    I made a simple statement concerning “the tragic consequences of a fanatical devotion to ideologies (both religious and secular) over human well-being.”

    By which I meant that when ideological commitments directly and tangibly cause suffering and death, loss of property, damage to people’s health, and the like that we need to reassess those ideological commitments carefully.

    This was not an unclear statement and it is not one which requires further elaborate nor explication of my worldview.

    Yes, your worldview (and other religious ones) have elements in your idea of what constitutes human well-being in addition to the tangible kinds I had in mind.

    Which doesn’t in any way change the point I was making. What I meant was clear from the start and has been further explained to a level which should make my meaning understood to anyone with a basic competence in the english language. I will explain it no further.


    You keep asserting that the free will theodicy is irrelevant to this or that. Kindly explain.

    I already explained that a free will defense cannot resolve natural evils (and also explained why I don’t think they even are adequate to reconcile human moral evil with God’s benevolence).


    Paul: Here’s an interesting hypothetical: would a person thrive or decline if he or she never experienced suffering?

    I don’t think its disputable that people can and do thrive without having to experiencing major suffering. Bruised knees are not considered an obstacle to belief in a loving God.


    And with regard to animal suffering it brings to question what kind of God would create a universe with so much animal suffering when, according to Christian believes, there is no preparing of their souls for eternity.

    I think the following brings up a serious problem for attempts at theodicy:


    As William Rowe points out, when a fawn burns to death in a forest fire and no human being ever knows about it, this apparently unnecessary evil neither preserves human free will nor builds the character of human beings.
    —“The Evidential Problem of Evil” by Keith Augustine

    I’d be interested in hearing how defenders of theism respond (Holo’s already given his—a chillingly heartless response that only serves to make the christian position sound monstrous).


    Wa-wa-what? Have you even read it? Cause the title for part VII says “Is God’s Existence Compatible with Natural Evil.” So pray tell, how is it completely inadequate as a defense?

    If you’re referring to Plantinga’s book I haven’t yet had a chance to read that book. I’ll simply second Paul’s comment:


    The moral choices required for free will have no connection with cancer, birth defects, etc. I will leave it to you to explain how it is that natural evils such as these are necessary for free will to exist. Please, feel free to cite from part VII.


    It seems like you might be a bit more cautious about your pronouncements, though, in view of the fact that pretty much the whole philosophical world has agreed with Plantinga on this one.

    David, my logs indicate you haven’t even bothered to look at it yet. At least not lately; the logs only go back so far.

    That I haven’t looked at what? I don’t recall you linking to an essay on the free will defense. I only recall someone asking if I’m familiar with the difference between the evidential and logical problem of evil. I am. But if you have a post on Plantinga’s version of the free will defense (or the free will defense in general, he’s hardly the only one to have employed it) I’d be glad to read it.

    Though I doubt its likely to say anything that I’m not already familiar with. But I could be wrong.

  93. Tom’s link in post 88 doesn’t distinguish between different kinds of evil (human, natural; animal suffering), and the argument is much different for these kinds of evil. The one example of the fawn that dies in a fire that no one ever knows about is not covered by the arguments in the link in post 88, as far as I can see.

    The only way out for the theist is to blame it on the Fall. But who was responsible for the details of how the world is fallen – not for *whether* the world is fallen, but the particular manner in which the world is fallen. I presume God is responsible for the details of our fallen world (as opposed to Adam and Eve). So why couldn’t God have made a fallen world in which the fawn would not die in the fire with no human knowing about it?

  94. @Tony Hoffman,

    In response to what you wrote,

    . But DE is offering a list of things that would be ostensibly, basically positive without regard to a worldview, and I have listed things that could be considered basically negative. I believe that some cases of suffering are basically wrong regardless of worldview considerations, and these cases must be explained by a theodicy.

    Sure. I agree. That’s what this whole thread has been about, really. But there was a context to my question about a worldview. He had written about “the tragic consequences of a fanatical devotion to ideologies (both religious and secular) over human well-being.” I asked him to explain how one might define human well-being apart from a worldview (ideology being the loaded synyonym for that).

    And that led us into what turned into a confusing side path. I brought up the worldview issue for that reason and that reason only: to get that one question answered. But it didn’t get clearly enough delineated as a side path. In retrospect, if I could have chopped off that one question and treated it separately from the rest of the discussion, that would be what I could have done better.

    The end of that question has to be this: it is impossible to make a wordview-free statement of what constitutes human well-being. This comment yesterday should make that clear.

    But the question didn’t get chopped away so cleanly from the rest of the discussion; so while that’s what I’ve been talking about for the last day or two on this thread, you and David have been talking about something else, and we’ve been talking past each other.

    But yesterday afternoon I did acknowledge that human suffering is not good in itself. Any good associated with it or attached to it can only come from its fitting into a larger web of causes and effects. The particulars within that web, including human suffering, are not what needs to be evaluated. It is the overall web of reality that needs explaining under a theodicy. I don’t think I’ve really ducked that issue, even though I’ve been talking more about the other one.

    To tie some strands together, I’ll answer this question:

    Are you asserting that there are no kinds of suffering that are basically contemptible, that in every case a worldview is what determines our near universal responses to alleviate certain kinds of suffering?

    There is more than one issue contained in here. I don’t view any suffering at all as “contemptible.” To experience suffering is not something for another person or myself to hold in contempt.

    But can we say that to cause another being certain kinds of suffering might be contemptible? I’m cautious about holding anyone in contempt, since that’s a judging stance. But I certainly do think that to cause certain kinds of suffering can be absolutely wrong, cruel, horrible, and worthy of judgment by God. Any time one person causes another person to suffer without some morally worthy reason for it, it’s wrong. Surgery is a good example of a morally worthy reason. Discipline, correction, and training are other good examples. So obviously there can be morally worthy reasons to cause suffering. But just as obviously (or more so!) there’s a lot of suffering caused from motives of anger, greed, selfishness, hatred, and so on. This is wrong.

    By the way, the same standard divides actions that don’t cause suffering. Are you familiar with the literature on dysfunction and enablement? Suppose there’s an overbearing, demanding mother with an enabling adult daughter, who lets her mother run her life. Typically the reason the daughter lets her mother do that is because it would cause her mother pain if the daughter told her no; and that, in turn, would cause the daughter pain. So the daughter complies, and the mother’s suffering is averted. But the mother’s personal character growth is hindered thereby, and the same for the daughter; and psychologists and spiritual guides largely agree that the better, more loving thing in some cases may be for the daughter to act the adult, accept some pain in her own life, and make her own decisionss—and let that be a point of character growth for the mother.

    Dan Allender speaks of “offering the gift of consequences;” that people who are acting harmfully or foolishly need it for their own growth in wisdom, maturity, or character.

    So you see there is still no simple context-free answer to the question you are asking, is there? The context is in the heart of the person who causes the suffering (or not-suffering).

    The question in theodicy, then, is whether this principle can be taken to the ultimate large scale. Given that there can be morally adequate reasons to cause another person pain on a human scale, can there likewise be morally adequate reasons for God to allow pain on a worldwide scale?

    It looks from the above that you are about to make an argument that suffering is the result of a web of causes and effects, and thus “deserved” in a way that is unknowable.

    For humans, it is deserved because of our rebellion from God. But it is not just that it is deserved as punishments, for humans. It is also part of God’s surgery on our souls for their good; it is correction, discipline, and training. It is necessary for the development of certain virtues that have meaning only in the context of difficulties, and it gives us opportunities to see God’s ability to overcome evil.

    For animals, it is a result of the Fall. See here on the thread parallel to this one for a discussion on the universal impact of humans’ decisions. If God can redeem humans’ suffering, though, it is no particular stretch to suppose he can do the same for animals’. I don’t know how that happens; their story is not our story and he hasn’t told it to us.

  95. It seems like you might be a bit more cautious about your pronouncements, though, in view of the fact that pretty much the whole philosophical world has agreed with Plantinga on this one.

    Actually, I don’t think that pretty much the whole philosophical world agrees with Plantinga. For instance, on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/evil-log.htm#H10 ) there’s this:

    There may be ways for Plantinga to resolve the difficulties sketched above, so that the Free Will Defense can be shown to be compatible with theistic doctrines about heaven and divine freedom. As it stands, however, some important challenges to the Free Will Defense remain unanswered. It is also important to note that, simply because Plantinga’s particular use of free will in fashioning a response to the problem of evil runs into certain difficulties, that does not mean that other theistic uses of free will in distinct kinds of defenses or theodicies would face the same difficulties.

    And the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/ ) link is filled with conclusions like these:

    The problem, then, is that Plantinga not only started out by focusing on very abstract versions of the argument from evil, but also maintained this focus throughout. The explanation of this may lie in the fact that Plantinga seems to have believed that if it can be shown that the existence of God is neither incompatible with, nor rendered improbable by, either (1) the mere existence of evil, or (2) the existence of a specified amount of evil, then no philosophical problem remains. People may find, of course, that they are still troubled by the existence of specific evils, but this, Plantinga seems to be believe, is a religious problem, and what is called for, he suggests, is not philosophical argument, but “pastoral care”. (1974a, 63-4)[1]

    Plantinga’s view here, however, is very implausible. For not only can the argument from evil be formulated in terms of specific evils, but that is the natural way to do so, given that it is only certain types of evils that are generally viewed as raising a serious problem with respect to the rationality of belief in God. To concentrate exclusively on abstract versions of the argument from evil is therefore to ignore the most plausible and challenging versions of the argument.

    The proposition that relevant facts about evil do not make it even prima facie unreasonable to believe in the existence of God probably strikes most philosophers, of course, as rather implausible.

    And it makes similar conclusions about other versions of the argument:

    The conclusion, in short, is that there are very strong reasons for holding that the story that van Inwagen sets out in an attempt to answer abstract versions for the argument from evil that focus upon human suffering is a story that is improbable in the extreme.

    The conclusion, accordingly, is that the story that van Inwagen offers to deal with the suffering of non-human animals is very unlikely to be true.

    So I don’t think this is as much and open and shut question for most of the philosophical world as you have concluded it to be.

  96. OK. I’ve read it. And, as I thought, its completely irrelevent to the discussion we’re having (as no one here is defending the logical problem of evil and all that article addresses is Plantinga’s objections to the logical problem).

    I have always been addressing the plausibility of the claim that God has morally sufficient reasons.

    However, if you wish to discuss Plantinga’s objections to the logical problem of evil, I will.


    But what about the second assumption, that if God is omnibenevolent, then he prefers a world without evil over a world with evil? Again, such an assumption is not necessarily true.

    The problem of evil (in any form I’d defend) is not simply about whether any suffering at all is consistent with the existence of a loving God. It concerns whether the amount and kind of suffering in our actual world is such that there is no logically possible morally sufficient reason for allowing it.

    I do not think it can be shown that any morally sufficient reason for the sort of suffering in our world is actually a logical possibility. And if not the logical problem has not been shown to be invalid.

    Let us look carefully at this crucial comment by Plantinga:


    Thus it is possible that every world feasible for God which contains free creatures is a world with sin and evil.

    I think there’s some equivocation on the meaning of “possible” in this statement.

    An atheist, for example, might consent to say its possible that “every world feasible for God which contains free creatures is a world with sin and evil” in the sense that its unknown whether or not its a logical impossibility for a world to exist with free agents and no one choosing sin.

    But “maybe” in the sense of “we don’t know” is not the same as consent to it being a logical necessity that in a world with free agents some must choose sin—and this is what he must achieve to show the logical argument invalid through the free will defense.

    Much the same goes with the second section regarding whether “God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the amount and kinds of evil that exist”.

    Plantinga says:


    But it is again not clear that this assumption is necessarily true.

    But for Plantinga to show the logical POE invalid he must do more than simply raise the issue of it not being known that this idea is necessarily true.

    It can be necessarily true without our being certain that this is the case. Not being omnipotent we cannot know for certain that there is no logically possible morally sufficient reason for God’s allowing such suffering—but it might, in fact, be that there really are none—in which case it would be true that the logical problem of evil is valid.

    But, again, he must do more than simply raise the the fact of our inevitable uncertainty over this issue to invalidate the logical problem of evil.


    There is no “wiggle room” around a deductive conclusion.

    No, but one may question the premises. And when one raises the question of whether there are morally sufficient reasons one is not invalidating the logical argument. One is questioning one of its premises (at least if the argument has been well-formulated).

    Plantinga has not, at least in anything you quoted (I haven’t read the whole book yet, so I can’t say that of all of it), shown that its logically possible that a morally sufficient reason exists. He’s simply done some sly equivocation around the usages of the word “possible”.

    Nothing you quoted indicated to me that the logical problem of evil has been overcome. We are still simply left with objections to its premises.


    “The logical challenge can and has been answered decisively, starting with Alvin Plantinga in his famous book, God, Freedom, and Evil.”

    This is no small claim to make. The question goes back at least as far as Epicurus, and was famously re-stated by David Hume, and recently by J. L. Mackie. It suggested that the existence of a good, powerful God is deductively disproved by the following argument….

    All logical arguments are open to question in regard to their premises. A logical argument only constitutes absolute proof if all the premises are themselves logically necessary. This is, of course, rarely the case in any logical argument. Few philosophers defended an argument from the problem of evil are claiming that its premises are beyond question. The arguments, if logically valid, stand if the premises are true and fall if the premises are false.

    Such arguments have not been shown invalid. They have simply had their premises questioned. That being the case I don’t think the distinction between the logical and evidential arguments has the importance so many have conceded to it. The only usefulness of the distinction is in the question of whether the premises of the various forms of arguments from the POE to God’s nonexistence are logical necessities.

    And the fact is that its hard to be sure. This seems to be the fundamental error made by those who conceded that Plantinga overcame the logical problem of evil: they conceded that it was logically possible that unknown morally sufficient reasons exist and that its logically possible that God could not have made a world with free agents would never sin when what they should have conceded is simply that we don’t know for sure.

    A simple error but a crucial one. And when recognized it takes the air out of Plantinga’s objection to the logical POE.

  97. @david ellis:

    I’ve heard that one before. And it never fails to make make me wonder how someone who believes in a religion that spends so much time talking about compassion and lovingkindness can say something so cold-blooded.

    The “good of our souls” to which Holopupenko refers is our growth in compassion and the reduction of cold-bloodedness. You could only say what you did about it if you misunderstood what he was saying.

    I made a simple statement concerning “the tragic consequences of a fanatical devotion to ideologies (both religious and secular) over human well-being.”
    By which I meant that when ideological commitments directly and tangibly cause suffering and death, loss of property, damage to people’s health, and the like that we need to reassess those ideological commitments carefully.
    This was not an unclear statement and it is not one which requires further elaborate nor explication of my worldview.

    That is an incredibly naive view of things, David. I keep asking you: When will you start thinking?!

    Let me try one last time. If your ideological commitment causes someone to lose their eternal salvation, that is a tragic consequence of your devotion to your ideology. It is the most severely, permanently damaging and devastating thing that could ever happen to a person; it is the most reprehensible act any person could ever commit.

    If the loss of property causes someone to gain eternal salvation, the loss is meaningless compared to the gain they get in return.

    And that is not an unclear statement. But it most assuredly does require further elaboration or explication of your worldview, because you cannot contradict it without bringing your worldview into your explanation.

    I already explained that a free will defense cannot resolve natural evils (and also explained why I don’t think they even are adequate to reconcile human moral evil with God’s benevolence).

    No, you didn’t already explain. You stated. You did not explain. Explanation would require you to say something about what the free will defense is about, and how it fails to account for natural evils. I’m going to come back to that in a subsequent comment.

    I don’t think its disputable that people can and do thrive without having to experiencing major suffering. Bruised knees are not considered an obstacle to belief in a loving God.

    I stand with people of many, many philosophical and religious traditions, not just Christianity, in saying that people cannot develop the full range of human virtues without having them tested through suffering. A baby whose every want and desire is met, who never encounters any resistance in life, is going to grow up to be a horrible adult, if he or she grows up at all. Physical suffering is in fact essential to physical growing up. Ever heard of exercise? Ever heard of trying something and failing, and trying again until you succeed?

    As William Rowe points out, when a fawn burns to death in a forest fire and no human being ever knows about it, this apparently unnecessary evil neither preserves human free will nor builds the character of human beings.

    That requires a longish answer. I’m going to abbreviate it, and I’m sure it won’t be adequate. But here I go anyway.

    God set up a world to operate by causes and effects. Without cause and effect, there would be no morally significant action possible, because there would be no possible linkage between what I think, what I do, and what happens as a result.

    So when things get hot enough in the presence of oxygen, that combination of causes results in the effect of fire. When it happens around people or animals, suffering results, because of cause and effect.

    I have these questions for William Rowe: Can you describe a world for me in which cause and effect do not operate that way? How would you re-engineer the world otherwise? How do you know it would be better? And on what basis do you assume that God cannot redeem the animal’s suffering?

  98. Here’s my follow-up that I said would go in a subsequent comment. You say you understand the free will argument. Could you summarize it for us in a paragraph or two, please?


  99. The “good of our souls” to which Holopupenko refers is our growth in compassion and the reduction of cold-bloodedness. You could only say what you did about it if you misunderstood what he was saying.

    I would have had no problem with it if he had said that both were important. But that’s not what he did. He explicitly said that ending the suffering of the animals was not a concern in and of itself.


    The reason why we should minimize or try to eliminate the sufferings of brute animals whenever practical and possible is NOT for their good, but for the good of our souls.

    He even put emphasis on it being NOT for the good of the animals.

    So I stand by my response.


  100. hat is an incredibly naive view of things, David. I keep asking you: When will you start thinking?!

    Let me try one last time. If your ideological commitment causes someone to lose their eternal salvation, that is a tragic consequence of your devotion to your ideology. It is the most severely, permanently damaging and devastating thing that could ever happen to a person; it is the most reprehensible act any person could ever commit.

    My statement did not deny that you, of another worldview, may consider some things to constitute harm that I don’t.

    It was simply a statement that we should think carefully about why we believe an ideology when that ideology results in us inflicting harm on others. And the intent of that statement is not changed by recognizing that you may believe in souls and an afterlife and think about them when thinking of well-being. I fully recognize that—but one can believe in souls and their role in well-being and still question that ideology when (and if) the ideology causes one to kill, injure or otherwise cause tangible harm or suffering to others. So your comment regarding worldviews and what constitutes well-being are, in fact, well understood and acknowledged by me but simply do not alter in the slightest the point I was making nor its relevence.

  101. I do not think it can be shown that any morally sufficient reason for the sort of suffering in our world is actually a logical possibility. And if not the logical problem has not been shown to be invalid.

    Wrong. The logical problem is not a proof offered by theists, for which we need to find an airtight chase. It is offered by atheists, and if they offer it as an airtight case, then they must make it so. The burden of proof is on the atheist, not on the theist. So for the atheist to say, “You haven’t proved your point,” or even, “You haven’t proved your point is possible” is not sufficient. The atheist must prove that the theists’ point is impossible. And as Plantinga has shown, as long as the Free Will Defense is possible, then the logical argument from evil fails deductively.

    The same applies to this:

    All logical arguments are open to question in regard to their premises. A logical argument only constitutes absolute proof if all the premises are themselves logically necessary.

    And it also applies to the other places where you spoke of questioning the premises. You seem to have forgotten that the problem of evil’s premises come from those who want to use it to disprove God. Question those premises all you want!

    (When will you start thinking?)

  102. Your last sentence in comment 105, taken in context of the prior discussion, is sufficiently self-refuting not to need further rebuttal.

  103. In every long discussion, there comes a time for an ending, when I realize I should take my leave of it. It happens when things get repetitive, or when it seems to be producing no forward motion. We’ve reached that point here, I think, and I’m done with this one now.

    See also here on the parallel thread.

    Y’all are welcome to have the last word.


  104. Physical suffering is in fact essential to physical growing up. Ever heard of exercise? Ever heard of trying something and failing, and trying again until you succeed?

    Ever tried bothering to read what the opposing position actually says.

    I have not argued, nor do I think, that the existence of a loving God is incompatible with scraped knees and the sore muscles of a good game of basketball.

    In fact, I explicitly stated otherwise.

    So when you get done punching that strawman I’m ready and waiting for you to address my actual views.

    And now to where you deal with my real position:


    I have these questions for William Rowe: Can you describe a world for me in which cause and effect do not operate that way? How would you re-engineer the world otherwise? How do you know it would be better? And on what basis do you assume that God cannot redeem the animal’s suffering?

    A. God is capable of miracles. So he is able to save that fawn at will. Or is a fawn’s suffering too insignificant to bother?

    As to redeeming the animals suffering: I simply reiterate my original position. It seems almost certainly an example of gratuitous suffering. I have no reason to favor a mysterious, unknown morally sufficient reason of dubious plausibility to the simple straightforward explanation I have available and which perfectly fits the evidence: a loving God would come to its aid, but it can’t because its fictional.

    Again, for me this comes down to one prime question: how one makes judgements about the plausibility of claims for an unknown but sufficient explanation which is supposed to reconcile two seemingly incompatible things.

    The position of the theist who claims we can’t have any reasonable basis for saying that we should be confident that there is not some unknown reason is sometimes called “defensive skepticism”.

    I think its probably the most reasonable position a theist has available—though still not a good one.

    Which is why I framed the POE the way I did in one of my first comments on this issue:


    Given the amount of apparently pointless, incredibly intense suffering in the world, what reason is there to worship the being who created and rules this world (assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a being exists)?

    Shouldn’t a person of good will require a sound theodicy before he consents to give such a being his devotion and worship?

    ….without a very good explanation we don’t, it seems to me, have any grounds for considering God worthy of worship. To give that worship before we have that morally sufficient reason seems grossly premature.

    And I don’t think any theist here has yet answered that question.


  105. And as Plantinga has shown, as long as the Free Will Defense is possible, then the logical argument from evil fails deductively.

    The problem is that we do not actually know that the free will defense involves something that is a logical possibility.

    There may be a logically possible world where all free agents choose not to sin. If this is the case the free will defense fails. Or maybe not, in which case it succeeds.

    But we don’t seem to know one way or the other. And nothing in what you quoted indicates that Plantinga resolved that question. In which case he has not eliminated the logical problem of evil from consideration after all.


  106. In every long discussion, there comes a time for an ending, when I realize I should take my leave of it. It happens when things get repetitive, or when it seems to be producing no forward motion. We’ve reached that point here, I think, and I’m done with this one now.

    Or when people start to become uncivil. I think we’re both getting to that point. So I will probably call this the stopping point for me as well (though if someone posts something that brings up substantial new points I may come back to the issue).

  107. One last point that I meant to make before: it would seem that if Plantinga is right (though I don’t think he is) then we are living in the best of all possible worlds.

    Do you disagree that his position entails this?

  108. @Holopupenko

    Brute animals are ruled by instinct–not intellect.

    What would be your opinion of more sapient animals, like parrots, or our primate cousins, that can comprehend abstract concepts and make decisions that aren’t dictated purely by instinct?

  109. Brute animals cannot comprehend abstract concepts: they are remarkably adept at learning to ASSOCIATE symbols with certain IMAGES (not CONCEPTS), but that’s not reasoning. (The example of monkeys putting boxes on top of each other to reach a banana is a non-starter, by the way.)

    Here is a simple test: place a bowl of food before any hungry parrot, primate, dog, whale, or animal of your choice and convince them they will receive twice that amount of food at every meal from then on if they simply wait until tomorrow to eat. “Tomorrow” is a very simple abstract concept (much simpler than “love”, by the way, to which symbols have been attached but understanding has not been demonstrated), so per your presumption they should be able to master it in no time. We’re waiting…

    Also, don’t forget to explain (pardon the pun) the 800-lb gorilla in your thinking: it is HUMANS that bring brute animals out of their natural environment and introduce them into unnatural–literally pathological–states where they’re trained to act like, well, monkeys. Does ANY other animal do something even remotely similar?

    Do orioles come together to discuss how to improve (either aesthetically or structurally) the design of their nests? Some chimpanzees in the wild will insert a reed into termite nests to obtain the juicy critters for lunch. But has anyone ever demonstrated that there is an abstract concept of “tool” in the mind of the chimp… or if the chimp merely images the reed as an extension of its fingers? The answer to both these is no.

    The difference between brute animals and rational animals (1) begs an understanding of what reason IS, and (2) is one of kind–not degree… a gap that is insurmountable BECAUSE of what REASON is. Finally, brute animals cannot act “inhumanely.” Why, because they’re not human: they act out their instinctual natures… but nothing more.

    They have no “rights” in the univocal sense because that presumes they understand the concept of justice. They don’t kill their own unborn animated by the disordered concept of “choice,” they don’t murder out envy or rage, they don’t paint or design anything, they don’t bury their dead with anything remotely resembling a ceremony. If abstract reasoning was by degree, then surely someone can show me a continuum of drawings from the Sistine Chapel by humans to at least a rudimentary concept of perspective drawings in chimpanzees to stick figures by lemurs.


  110. They have no “rights” in the univocal sense because that presumes they understand the concept of justice.

    By this reasoning infants and the severely mentally handicapped do not have rights.

    Surely you do not want to defend such a position?

    How does it follow from a lack of comprehension of the concept of justice that an entity has no rights? There is no clear logical connection between the two.

    Would it not be more sensible to say that all extreme and unnecessary suffering is to be avoided when possible—whether it be for rational agents or dumb brutes.

    The right to be free of suffering should be extended, to the degree it is feasible to do so, to all beings with the capacity for suffering and not only to ones with the ability to comprehend abstract concepts.

  111. You’re wrong again David. (It’s pretty clear you did not understand why I specifically used the word “univocal.”) Neither can a brute animal reason abstractly, nor has it any potential whatsoever to reason abstractly. A human being has that capacity from the start and develops it throughout his life. Neither size, location, environment, dependency, disposition, nor time period matter. Even if the capacity to reason is damaged (we’re talking biological damage), it makes no difference (the repugnant support for infanticide of Peter Singer comes to mind) because it’s an ontological distinction, not an accidental one. Rights are grounded in the nature of a rational animal (what we are) and dignity is in grounded (ultimately) in the Creator from where our nature arises (who we are) as made in His image and likeness. Try again.

  112. If you wish to regard the natural potential of members of a species, when undamaged, as a crucial matter then I can accept that distinction as involving no contradiction in that you don’t regard infants and the mentally impaired in the same light as brute animals.

    But it seems an arbitrary distinction. Why does a being have no rights simply because its species has not the natural capacity to reason?

    And what of a species which has, through generations of selective breeding, been brought to human level intelligence?

    What if this eventually happened with dogs or dolphins or elephants or any other species?

    It does not seem to me that the capacity to reason (or the lack thereof) is an essential feature of a species.

    Suppose, for example, that these enhanced versions of an animal species could still interbreed with the “brute” versions of their species lacking in the capacity for abstract thought?

    This does not seem a logical impossibility. And if this is the case would the capacity to reason not be an accidental feature of the species and not one which is essential or fundamental to its nature (forgive me if I use these terms in a way you dislike—but I trust my meaning is clear and if not you can ask for clarification; on the other hand, if I have misunderstood your usage of “accidental” and “ontological” in your statement then feel free to clarify).

    But that’s a rather peripheral issue. The important point to be made is in explaining why the suffering of a being that lacks the capacity for abstract thought is not morally important while that of one who can is.

    It does not seem at all obvious that this is the case.

    Even if one thinks that the suffering of a brute animal has lesser importance than that of a sapient being, such that it would be wrong to save one’s dog in favor of a human child or a sapient alien (and I would agree with that), it does not seem to me that they are lacking in moral importance at all. It seems to me that one should want to minimize the suffering of an animal simply because its a bad thing for any living being to be in agony. Not only, or even primarily, out of concern for one’s own soul.

    Are there not any theists here who take issue with Holo’s claim that “the reason why we should minimize or try to eliminate the sufferings of brute animals whenever practical and possible is NOT for their good, but for the good of our souls.”

    I find it hard to believe that only the atheists in the room care about animals in and of themselves. If so, the damage done to one’s moral sense by some religions may be even greater than I feared.

  113. David:

    At base, your problem is an assumed (somewhat emotional, I might add) ontological equivocation between rational and brute animals. This leads, to among many other errors you repeatedly (albeit at times indirectly) make. This example is so emotionally-driven, so lacking in support and so wrong, my mouth dropped open when I read it, and I refuse to spend time commenting on it: It does not seem to me that the capacity to reason (or the lack thereof) is an essential feature of a species. So, really then, there is no essential difference between a plant or rock (neither of which is a rational being), right?

    As another example, consider this fallacious appeal: Why does a being have no rights simply because its species has not the natural capacity to reason? Well, for one thing, you’ve never tried to explain what the capacity for rational thought is. Second, if we take your example of a non-rational being, just how would it ever know what justice is… and by extension when an injustice is perpetrated against it? Third, why does it’s happiness depend on our external defense of its alleged “rights”? Would it not make more sense (from the perspective of Natural Law) for this to depend on its nature, i.e., why should I take on the role of imposing unjustified “rights” on a thing? You, after all, are so, so opposed to God as Creator of natures to “impose” commandments that lead to our happiness. Fourth, can brute animals even experience “happiness” or “suffering” in the univocal sense that we rational animals do? That’s HUGE question-begging on your part. After all, given that a brute animal is not capable of rational, abstract thought (your posit, by the way), then how can it ever know whether it’s suffering. Could you please point to ONE example where ANY brute animal has EVER not only expressed sorrow over suffering, but tried to rally its fellows in a movement to stop it? Once a chimp has been shown (after many repeated efforts) to identify a heart symbol with a hug, why doesn’t that chimp (or ANY chimp) not spread that wealth of knowledge? Answer: because it DOESN’T know.

  114. I have always thought that Christians believed that humans were intended to be the caretakers of the earth and its beings. If this is not true, please correct me. If it is true, then I am completely stunned by Holo’s attitude toward the suffering of animals.


  115. At base, your problem is an assumed (somewhat emotional, I might add) ontological equivocation between rational and brute animals.

    No, I simply think that the primary concern in regard to suffering is how much of it is being undergone. Not how smart the being undergoing it is.


    It does not seem to me that the capacity to reason (or the lack thereof) is an essential feature of a species. So, really then, there is no essential difference between a plant or rock (neither of which is a rational being), right?

    You misunderstand. I meant simply that having the feature of sapience or “bruteness” may not necessarily be an essential feature of membership in a particular species. If, for example, one breeds dogs with human equivalent intelligence (and I’m not implying that this could be done quickly or easily) this breed of intelligent dogs might be fully able to interbreed with normal dogs and not be a separate species.

    But, as I said, interesting as that issue is, its peripheral to this discussion.


    Well, for one thing, you’ve never tried to explain what the capacity for rational thought is.

    I am accepting, at this point, your descriptions of beings with the capacity for abstract thought as opposed to “brute” animals.


    Second, if we take your example of a non-rational being, just how would it ever know what justice is…

    A being does not have to know what justice is for it to be unjust to to place no intrinsic importance on the fact that it is suffering and to not think that this suffering should be assuaged for the animals sake rather than just our soul’s sake.


    Third, why does it’s happiness depend on our external defense of its alleged “rights”?

    No such claim has been made.


    Fourth, can brute animals even experience “happiness” or “suffering” in the univocal sense that we rational animals do?

    It seems clear that animals can suffer. Whether they do so to the same degree is difficult to ascertain. But I see little reason to dispute based on their responses that many kinds of animals can suffer agony. Do you think we have good reason to think the contrary is more likely or even close to being equally likely?


    After all, given that a brute animal is not capable of rational, abstract thought (your posit, by the way), then how can it ever know whether it’s suffering.

    I grew up in a rural area and have seen predation and injuries to animals first hand. I see little reason to think howls of apparent pain are other than what they seem. Certainly it seems sufficiently plausible that animals can suffer than we should take the issue seriously. There is no obvious reason why capacity to suffer should be thought limited to beings with the capacity for abstract thought.


    Could you please point to ONE example where ANY brute animal has EVER not only expressed sorrow over suffering, but tried to rally its fellows in a movement to stop it?

    The reactions of animals being attacked seem enough to strongly imply suffering. Have you never seen an animal in apparent pain? Why would they have responses so markedly like our own outward responses to pain if they aren’t suffering?

    Do you really have strong doubts that animals suffer?

    I find it difficult to believe you’re actually that obtuse.

  116. OS:

    You really did NOT read what I wrote, and are putting words in my mouth. We are stewards (which is not quite the same thing as a care-taker), by the way.

    David:

    Again, you deflect and intentionally (it appears) disregard what I wrote. On one point: by now it is VERY clear you don’t understand the difference between univocal, equivocal, and analogous language and how these important distinctions have been made. Of course animals suffer: but I asked you specifically, do they KNOW (abstractly) that they suffer, and yet the best you have to offer, rather than a sound argument, is “it seems,” “it’s implied,” “it seems plausible,” “there is no obvious reason,” etc. This is emotional desire driven by anthromorphic projection upon brute animals. Moreover, you assert but never demonstrate that we only differ in degree rather than in kind… which is linked to not understanding what the capacity for rational thought IS. If a brute doesn’t know, but simply reacts with howls of pain to physical stimuli, then it doesn’t know the way we know. If it doesn’t know, HOW can it suffer the way we suffer? Finally, I provided loads of examples of differences in degree between the brute and rational animals… none of which you’ve touched.

    A being does not have to know what justice is for it to be unjust to to place no intrinsic importance on the fact that it is suffering and to not think that this suffering should be assuaged for the animals sake rather than just our soul’s sake. Emotional reaction of little substance and no demonstration of its veracity. Your MO, David.

    Your inability to draw ontological distinctions is philosophically obtuse.

    I’m about to have a very tasty hamburger, by the way.

  117. Just to add what Holo stated, we are stewards, not caretakers. The Dictionary of the Christian Church defines stewardship as “The management of property by a servant on behalf of the owner, and more particularly in modern times, the organized pledging of a specific amount of money to be given regularly to the Church, often designated ‘Christian Stewardship.'” In this instance, we’re concerned with the first part of the definition. This is not the same as caring. The care of something falls to the owner, not the steward.

  118. @Holopupenko

    Brute animals cannot comprehend abstract concepts:

    Alex, an African Grey, understood the concepts of quantity, qualitative difference and relative size, and could apply them in novel situations without coaching from his trainer.

    I’m about to have a very tasty hamburger, by the way.

    Hey, whaddya know, I had hamburgers tonight too. I like seasoning the ground beef with salt, pepper, oregano and onion, and melting some blue cheese on the patty.

    @david ellis

    I find it hard to believe that only the atheists in the room care about animals in and of themselves.

    I get the impression that some theists, though by no means all or even a significant number, have lost the capacity to care about anything purely for its own sake. It all has to come back to God, somehow or other.

  119. Forgive me, Holo–you are right, I did not read all of what you wrote. I rarely do. Frankly, you go on and on (I know you know this about yourself because on your website you say something to the effect that you can say in whole paragraphs what takes others one sentence) and you are often rude and offensive, to the degree that at times when I have read your comments I have stayed away from this site for days. The solution I have found for myself is to avoid what you write, only going back and reading what I need to when others refer to what you’ve written.

    That said, I understand the difference between caretaker and steward, and it seems to me a poor moral choice to be the latter (but hey, that’s just my personal, subjective morals speaking.)


  120. Moreover, you assert but never demonstrate that we only differ in degree rather than in kind.

    I made no such assertion. Feel free to quote me doing so if you disagree.


    Of course animals suffer: but I asked you specifically, do they KNOW (abstractly) that they suffer

    My mistake. I thought you said how can WE know.

    As to whether they know (abstractly). I don’t care so long as they are actually EXPERIENCING suffering.

    If you think that the distinction between abstract knowledge that one is suffering as opposed to simply experiencing suffering is morally relevent then please explain why you think so.


    Emotional reaction of little substance and no demonstration of its veracity. Your MO, David.

    Its interesting how, when the subject of suffering as a problem for theism comes up, the theists accuse atheists of “emotionalism” simply for expressing the morally appropriate emotional reactions of a compassionate person to suffering.

    When it comes to issues of morality there ARE, indeed, appropriate and inappropriate emotional responses.

    In large part the problem of pain (I like CS Lewis’ term, its far clearer than POE) and how one reacts to it in assessing its relevence to the question of God’s existence comes down, in my opinion, to the theist suppressing the appropriate emotional responses of human beings to suffering.

    Which is why its so difficult to “solve” this problem as simply an intellectual exercise. Understanding what a wholly benevolent and wise being would do involves sympathetic and emotional insight as much as anything else.

    And that’s not something that can be communicated in a syllogism.

    In large part that’s why I think the theists I’ve discussed this issue with, almost without exception, want to keep the problem as abstract as possible—its easier to handwave the problem away with blatant rationalizations when the discussion is kept very abstract and unemotional.

    And with that I think I’m going to, like Tom, call my part in this discussion quits at this point. I think I’ve expressed my position as well as I can and I don’t think there’s much more for me to add at this point without simply repeating myself.

    Good day to all and may you discover in your lives more fruitful paths to growth than suffering and loss.

  121. Let me begin by saying the only reason I posted my first comment (other then just being a casual observer — I really don’t have much time to read AND post in these long discussions) is because david e said:

    Thanks, if anyone has any more suggestions I’d be glad to hear them. I think I saw GOD, FREEDOM AND EVIL on the shelves when I was looking for books on the POE a few months ago. I’ll look into it.

    As I was trying, apparently in a failed attempt, to point out that the logical problem of evil (explicitly attempted by the anonymous emailer) has been effectively put to rest by Plantinga’s “Free Will Defense” and that another good source of reading was the followup book because it delves into a different route that atheologist end up having to take since the FWD has been so effective. Needless to say, david, your followup response left me totally flabergasted as it seemed to indicate that you (1) didn’t read or get why I had posted, and (2) for all semi-authoritative ways you presents yourself on the topic you hadn’t read or grasped what is a fairly common presentation in most philosophy of religion books.

    With that said I will try and give a run down of a few things as I see them and as I am not a professional philosopher and just enjoy reading the subject as I can fit it in, take this as it is. Also, since I don’t have too much time to devote to this topic I’ll probably just leave it to this one post — as I agree with Tom that at this point things are basically becoming circular. (wwoo)

    To begin I want to point out that the anonymous E-mailer is proposing a positive case as to why god doesn’t exist. She apparently thinks that there is some incompatability between there being an omnipotent, perfectly Good God and evil existing. This right here is the classical Problem of Evil, that these things are logically incompatable thus god does NOT exist. I’ll quote another often quoted example from Hume:

    Epicuru’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?

    This is the Logical Problem of Evil. Now as Tom pointed out earlier, all Plantinga needs to do is show that the premises are not nessicarilly true. If the premises aren’t true then the conclusion isn’t true. That’s it, end of story, game over. Even the link to the IEP that Tony gave says:

    Does Plantinga’s Free Will Defense succeed in describing a possible state of affairs in which God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing evil? It certainly seems so. In fact, it appears that even the most hardened atheist must admit that (MSR1) and (MSR2) are possible reasons God might have for allowing moral and natural evil. They may not represent God’s actual reasons, but for the purpose of blocking the logical problem of evil, it is not necessary that Plantinga discover God’s actual reasons.

    […]

    Since (MSR1) and (MSR2) together seem to show contra the claims of the logical problem of evil how it is possible for God and (moral and natural) evil to co-exist, it seems that the Free Will Defense successfully defeats the logical problem of evil.

    From the same link we have Mackie himself saying:

    Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.

    From Tony:

    So I don’t think this is as much and open and shut question for most of the philosophical world as you have concluded it to be.

    Well, you may feel like there was some slight of hand done here but that’s just too bad… as far as the logical POE is concerned and that’s what we are dealing with as far as the initial blog post is concerned. What you’re failing to grasp is that the POE is more then just the logical problem BUT most people try and present the POE as ONLY just the logical as if they’ve somehow proven some inconsistency when there really isn’t. What most people tend shift to (as I was saying with my initial post) to something like the probabilistic or evidential POE — but that’s not what the anonymous E-mailer was arguing.

    david e says:

    OK. I’ve read it. And, as I thought, its completely irrelevent to the discussion we’re having (as no one here is defending the logical problem of evil and all that article addresses is Plantinga’s objections to the logical problem).

    and within 5 paragraph you say:

    I do not think it can be shown that any morally sufficient reason for the sort of suffering in our world is actually a logical possibility. And if not the logical problem has not been shown to be invalid.

    You baffle my mind. You’ve never been arguing for the logical POE yet you say that by showing that God doesn’t have morally sufficient grounds for allowing evil somehow the logical POE is not invalid… how does that work out?

    And David concludes his criticism of Plantinga with:

    This seems to be the fundamental error made by those who conceded that Plantinga overcame the logical problem of evil: they conceded that it was logically possible that unknown morally sufficient reasons exist and that its logically possible that God could not have made a world with free agents would never sin when what they should have conceded is simply that we don’t know for sure.

    A simple error but a crucial one. And when recognized it takes the air out of Plantinga’s objection to the logical POE.

    Guy, it’s no error at all (and again I’ll harp on your lack of understanding that there are multiple area’s for the “logical” POE)… you’ve just stumbled across what I would guess most people just grasp as being the main part of Plantinga’s arguement or as Daniel Howard-Snyder puts it in his article called “Transworld Sanctity and Plantinga’s Free Will Denfense” it’s the bare Plantinga-style epistemic defense.

    God has a reason for permitting evil that we do not know of; and, were God to permit evil for that reason, evil would result.

    And we could simply end the “logical” POE with saying that God and evil are compatible, and knowing this you can’t say that God and evil are incompatible “as you — the proponent of the logical argument from evil — do.” So no, the air is not taken out of the objection to the “logical” POE. Now if what you say is true that:

    I have always been addressing the plausibility of the claim that God has morally sufficient reasons.

    Then you’re not defending the “logical” POE (I suggest you stop pretending that you are) “– one which says that evil per se is incompatible with theism — to another version.” So let’s look at your problem that’s not an argument.

    Given the amount of apparently pointless, incredibly intense suffering in the world, what reason is there to worship the being who created and rules this world (assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a being exists)?

    Shouldn’t a person of good will require a sound theodicy before he consents to give such a being his devotion and worship?

    I have never encountered a theodicy that worked. The best answer I’ve ever heard from believers is that God has a morally sufficient reason that is unknown to us but will be revealed in time.

    But without a very good explanation we don’t, it seems to me, have any grounds for considering God worthy of worship. To give that worship before we have that morally sufficient reason seems grossly premature.

    And it seems to me that any truly just God would recognize this fact.

    Why, you’re making an assumption that you’d even understand God’s reasons for allowing what you view as pointless evil. No matter how many times I’ve told my two year old to obey me because I’m trying to train her in the ways of the world and what’s safe (randomly running into the street is dangerous because a car could hit you) she always ends up disobeying me and not fully understanding me. To require all the Reasons of God (Omnipotent and Omniscient) before you’d worship him seems very presumptuous. So in essesence to fully understand all the intrinsic goods require one to be omnipotent and omniscient and yet you’re complaining that you don’t understand all the intrinsic goods because you lack the properties of being God and that God should recognize this fact.

    The Book of Job was basically about this very point and the words of Isaiah say:

    “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
    “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    So are My ways higher than your ways,
    And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

    Basically the POE, for you, is not that it disproves the existence of God (logically) in some way, it’s all emotional — that regardless of Gods existence and the possiblity that he does have reasons for allowing evil — you’re going to reject him because you’re not of the same level of understanding as him? As this discussion has already moved on (and died) on the very point I was going to make I’ll leave with the Christian understanding that God is good and loving and cares for us. As articulated by Plantinga:

    As the Christian sees things, God does not stand idly by, coolly observing the suffering of his creatures. He enters into and shares our suffering. He endures the anguish of seeing his son, the second person of the Trinity, consigned to the bitterly cruel and shameful death of the cross. Some theologians clam that God cannot suffer. I believe they are wrong. God’s capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours. Christ was prepared to endure the agonies of hell itself; and God, the Lord of the universe, was prepared to endure the suffering consequent upon his son’s humiliation and death. He was prepared to accept this suffering in order to overcome sin, and death, and the evils that afflict our world, and to confer on us a life more glorious that we can imagine. So we don’t know why God permits evil; we do know, however, that he was prepared to suffer on our behalf, to accept suffering of which we can form no conception.

    He bore the weight of the suffering of the entire world upon himself so that you may live.


  122. You baffle my mind. You’ve never been arguing for the logical POE yet you say that by showing that God doesn’t have morally sufficient grounds for allowing evil somehow the logical POE is not invalid… how does that work out?

    I hadn’t been discussing the logical problem previously (recall that I discussed the implausibility, not impossibility, of a morally sufficient reason). And recall that my primary position was that we have no justification for worshipping God, supposing he exists, unless and until he reveals his morally justifying reason.

    But since Tom brought up the issue I gave my reasons for thinking Plantinga’s argument a bit of philosophic sleight of hand and explained just where I think that sleight of hand comes into the argument (an equivocation on the meaning of the word “possible”).


    And we could simply end the “logical” POE with saying that God and evil are compatible….

    Saying it doesn’t make it so.

    “I have always been addressing the plausibility of the claim that God has morally sufficient reasons.”

    Then you’re not defending the “logical” POE (I suggest you stop pretending that you are).

    As I stated already, I wasn’t defending it prior to that point. But when I read Tom’s article I gave my criticisms of Plantinga’s defense and my reasons for thinking the logical POE may not have been defeated after all—subject to a more complete examination of Plantinga’s argument which, of course, Tom’s short blog entry may not have captured every relevant nuance of—I got Plantinga’s book yesterday and am now working my way through it.


    Why, you’re making an assumption that you’d even understand God’s reasons for allowing what you view as pointless evil.

    Not necessarily. But if the reasons are beyond our understanding then we are left in the position of being intrinsically incapable of ever knowing whether God is worthy of our worship or not—for I do not think I (or anyone) can justifiably worship a being that stands by allowing such suffering without knowing why.


    To require all the Reasons of God (Omnipotent and Omniscient) before you’d worship him seems very presumptuous.

    It merely seems cautious and prudent to me. I value compassion too highly to worship a being when all the available evidence points to either his indifference or nonexistence as the most plausible explanation.

    And, I think, a just and compassionate God could appreciate and respect that position—even if you fail to.


    So in essesence to fully understand all the intrinsic goods require one to be omnipotent and omniscient….

    That has not been shown to be the case. You have simply raised the question of whether the reason might be beyond our understanding. We do not actually know this to be the case. It is far from clear that we would need to be omnipotent or omniscient to sufficiently grasp God’s reasons, if he explained them to us, to warrant giving him our worship.


    Basically the POE, for you, is not that it disproves the existence of God (logically) in some way, it’s all emotional…

    Refer to what I said earlier about theists wanting to keep the POE as abstract as possible and the legitimate role emotional response has regarding moral questions. Particularly the necessity of emotional insight being required to understand what a wholly benevolent being would and would not regard as a morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering—the whole question of the POE comes down to what a being of perfect compassion, knowledge and wisdom would and wouldn’t do if he had infinite power—and that’s something that requires emotional insight as much as, or more than, skill at juggling syllogisms.

    If there is no logically possible world where a being with these properties would allow the sort of suffering seen in our world then the logical POE stands.

    The problem here, both for theist and atheist, is that its pretty much impossible to KNOW, with certainty, whether this is the case or not—Plantinga’s equivocation over the meaning of the word “possible” notwithstanding.

    We would have to see inside the mind of God and understand it fully to be CERTAIN whether the logical POE stands or fails.

    And as you yourself pointed out. We can’t do that.

    But I DO think we know enough to judge it implausible that such a morally sufficient reason is logically possible. Even if we aren’t in a position to prove it one way or the other.

    Which is why, even though the logical POE may be valid, we must still focus on plausibility….and why the sympathetic understanding of the mind of a being of compassion and love is as relevant here as syllogisms. Ultimately, understanding such a mind is what the POE comes down to (regardless of which side of it you’re trying to defend).

    And that’s why these protestations against emotion are so laughably out of place.


    He bore the weight of the suffering of the entire world upon himself so that you may live.

    The atonement. We’ve touched on that a bit but I think it would be a worthwhile topic for much more in depth discussion.

  123. I can’t help it, I have to jump back in here.

    david, you wrote,

    and explained just where I think that sleight of hand comes into the argument (an equivocation on the meaning of the word “possible”).

    But have you responded to my answer to that yet? Recall that I pointed out you had rebutted your own position. Quite confidently, in fact, you did that. That’s the kind of thing that Luke was pointing to when he said,

    for all semi-authoritative ways you presents yourself on the topic you hadn’t read or grasped what is a fairly common presentation in most philosophy of religion books.

    And it’s the kind of thing I’ve been saying: you act as if you understand and as if your answers have some authority behind them, but in a case like this one you show quite the opposite.

    And we could simply end the “logical” POE with saying that God and evil are compatible….
    Saying it doesn’t make it so.

    Saying that doesn’t make it not so. Can’t you see that?? It’s another example of your billboard-slogan style of argumentation. Luke developed his point. You just shot at it with a slogan.

    So in essesence to fully understand all the intrinsic goods require one to be omnipotent and omniscient….
    That has not been shown to be the case.

    But at least it has been argued to be the case. He developed that point, too. But you just wipe it away with “this hasn’t been shown.” Now, if there’s any point that ought to need little by way of argumentative support, it’s this one: that to fully understand all the intrinsic goods would require omnipotence and omniscience. If anything that would need to be argued, it is that ordinary humans could understand this without omniscience.

    So you went on to say,

    It is far from clear that we would need to be omnipotent or omniscient to sufficiently grasp God’s reasons, if he explained them to us, to warrant giving him our worship.

    Which God are we talking about? Luke and I (and others) are not postulating or defending the reality of a God whose ways are so simple that humans could grasp them. Frankly if there were such a being, whose ways we could fully grasp, then it wouldn’t be a god at all. It would be more fitting that it would worship us! Go ahead and rebut that kind of god all you want, but the discussion will be more fruitful and interesting if we actually talk about the same God—whether you believe in him or not.

    Refer to what I said earlier about theists wanting to keep the POE as abstract as possible and the legitimate role emotional response has regarding moral questions.

    Now you’re eliciting an emotional response in me. How could you have read this and said that?! Or this comment, where I wrote,

    That doesn’t mean emotional arguments are out of court in a discussion on suffering. Far from it. But emotional arguments lead to different ends than logical arguments do. They lead to “what do we do about this?” or to “whoever or whatever let this be this way, I think it stinks!” or even to, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” But they do not lead to “There is a logical incompatibility between this suffering and the existence of God.” That takes a different kind of argument. If you have presented one and I’ve missed it, please show it to us.

    And then you wrote:

    If there is no logically possible world where a being with these properties would allow the sort of suffering seen in our world then the logical POE stands.

    You do recognize, don’t you, where the burden of proof for that lies, and why?

  124. Luke and I (and others) are not postulating or defending the reality of a God whose ways are so simple that humans could grasp them.

    This creates a problem, though. How can one offer a rational explanation of such a God if, at any point, it would be proper to say “We can’t understand the ways of such an immense Being.” Any argument can be so saved and justified, which makes it no justification.

    The other side of this contradiction is that any being capable of creating the universe would be beyond our rational understanding. We might be able to rationally *hypothesize* such a being, but it could not be rational to justify, prove, explain, support, etc., that hypothesis if it can properly include throwing our hands up at an irrationality and saying that His ways are mysterious.

    You can’t have a rational argument that includes a get-out-of-jail-free card of “we can never [rationally] grasp that.” It seems like such a hypothesis would have to forever remain at a hypothesis.

  125. @Paul:

    How can one offer a rational explanation of such a God if, at any point, it would be proper to say “We can’t understand the ways of such an immense Being.” Any argument can be so saved and justified, which makes it no justification.

    You can’t get out of just any jail with this card.

    It’s not that we know or affirm nothing about this being, but that we cannot know or understand everything this being understands and knows. There’s a whole lot that we do affirm about God, and there’s plenty there that can be subjected to inquiry.


  126. Saying that doesn’t make it not so. Can’t you see that??

    Yes I can. As was abundantly clear when I said, in that same post:

    “If there is no logically possible world where a being with these properties would allow the sort of suffering seen in our world then the logical POE stands.

    The problem here, both for theist and atheist, is that its pretty much impossible to KNOW, with certainty, whether this is the case or not…”


    But have you responded to my answer to that yet?

    in which answer you said:


    Wrong. The logical problem is not a proof offered by theists, for which we need to find an airtight chase. It is offered by atheists, and if they offer it as an airtight case, then they must make it so. The burden of proof is on the atheist, not on the theist.

    But, in fact, much of what I said DOES address this. Like where I explained that I think:


    We would have to see inside the mind of God and understand it fully to be CERTAIN whether the logical POE stands or fails.

    And as you yourself pointed out. We can’t do that.

    But I DO think we know enough to judge it implausible that such a morally sufficient reason is logically possible. Even if we aren’t in a position to prove it one way or the other.

    Which is why, even though the logical POE may be valid, we must still focus on plausibility….and why the sympathetic understanding of the mind of a being of compassion and love is as relevant here as syllogisms. Ultimately, understanding such a mind is what the POE comes down to (regardless of which side of it you’re trying to defend).


    Now, if there’s any point that ought to need little by way of argumentative support, it’s this one: that to fully understand all the intrinsic goods would require omnipotence and omniscience.

    But we don’t need to understand ALL intrinsic goods. We simply, as I said, need to sufficiently grasp God’s reasons well enough to be warranted in accepting them. No one, at least no one rational, expects one to be omniscient to be warranted in assenting to a proposition.


    If anything that would need to be argued, it is that ordinary humans could understand this without omniscience.

    Did you not yourself claim to have examples of morally sufficient reasons for God to allow suffering? You did not seem to think at the time that you proposed this to be the case that you had to have omniscience to be reasonable in thinking so.


    Luke and I (and others) are not postulating or defending the reality of a God whose ways are so simple that humans could grasp them.

    I am not proposing that God’s mind would, in every respect, be comprehensible to us. I am simply proposing that morally sufficient reasons for allowing people to suffering are not beyond the grasp of a sapient being—even one’s who aren’t gods. There is no particular reason to think that they would be.

    But since neither of us can prove this one way or the other I’m not going to go back and forth on it with you.

    And I’m not going to elaborate any further regarding your criticisms since most of them would simply consist of quoting where I’ve already addressed them to the best of my ability.

    You may strongly disagree with those points but they’ve already been made and I don’t see much use in repeating myself anymore. I am content that my position, and yours, has been expressed to the best of both of our abilities at this time. Each may judge for himself whose position he regards as the more plausible.

    Though at some point I may write an essay, for my own blog, about the issue of logical possibility and a being’s emotional disposition and character(that is, involving questions like “is it logically possible for a COMPLETELY compassionate and loving being to do X”) This seems to me an area that has not been explored much in the philosophical literature (at least not in those parts of it I’m familiar with).

    A final thought: I am getting a bit tired of being accused by you of such things as a “billboard-slogan style of argumentation”.

    I have explained my position at great length over the course of these discussions. I would expect a little better from you than this constant accusatory manner. When I have been asked for further clarification of my position I’ve often taken great pains to do so—despite the fact that I am one person carrying on a discussion with several people on the other side of the issue at once, which makes it often difficult, and despite the fact that many of the things I’m accused of not addressing I have, in fact, already explained my thinking on, often in great detail.

    If you can not acknowledge that, and that I am discussing these issues in good faith to the best of my ability, then so be it. I will simply continue to discuss the issues and try my best to remain civil despite the frequent jibs being made by you, and even more so, by Holo.

    And with that I conclude my comments on the POE. I’m pretty well fed up with this discussion and am going to avoid giving in to the temptation to respond to any further comments. The rest of you are welcome to have the last word. No matter how many accusations, misrepresentations, misconceptions or outright insults may be directed my way.

  127. (Edit: I had most of this composed when I had to go run an errand. After I posted it was when I saw David’s most recent comment. I have decided to leave it here even though in hindsight it doesn’t fit in the context of his most recent reply.)

    Further to David on this:

    It is far from clear that we would need to be omnipotent or omniscient to sufficiently grasp God’s reasons, if he explained them to us, to warrant giving him our worship.

    David is right: we don’t need to be omnipotent or omniscient to understand the reasons God has explained to us for worshipping him. He is our holy, wise, all-good, omnipotent, omniscient, sovereign, creator, who loves us and who sacrificed his Son for us. That much is certainly understandable, and it is sufficient reason for worship.

    But he said that in response to this from Luke:

    So in essesence to fully understand all the intrinsic goods require one to be omnipotent and omniscient….

    And that sentence came from a paragraph that Luke began this way:

    Why, you’re making an assumption that you’d even understand God’s reasons for allowing what you view as pointless evil.

    Which is to say, he challenged Luke’s statement that omniscience and omnipotence are required to understand the intrinsic goods in what God does, such that one can actually see whether any act of evil is or is not pointless.

    David, what I want to point to you is how utterly silly and nonsensical it is for you to take the position you’ve taken, and to challenge that statement of Luke’s. You say we ought to be able to be told enough about evil so we can decide for ourself whether it makes sense. But how much do we understand even of what’s halfway obvious about the good or the bad in our lives?

    Let me give you an example. This actually happened. The other day I was driving to work on the Colonial National Parkway (one of the privileges of where I live and work—it’s a beautiful drive). Most of that road has a 45 mph speed limit and no passing allowed. I was going about 47 or 48 mph, and there was a driver behind me who obviously wanted to go faster. I could easily imagine him thinking, “This is a real pain in the you-know-what! I wish this slowpoke wasn’t in the way.” The reason I can imagine that is because I’ve felt that way myself often enough before.

    So I decided to let him pass. I thought it would make both of us happier. There are a few scenic pullouts on the Parkway, and I took a quick turn into one of them and let him by, sincerely thinking, “I hope that makes him happier.” If it had been me, I know that’s what it would have done if someone moved out of the way for me like that. He was soon out of sight ahead of me.

    So we might well imagine that this changed his commute from worse to better, more frustrating to more free, less satisfying to more satisfying.

    Three or four miles further up the road, however, I saw him parked in the grass on the side of the road, with a police car behind him and the officer just walking up to talk with him. He really did want to go faster than I was going, apparently. Too fast.

    Now, when I was in his way, was I making his drove to work more miserable or less? If I had stayed in his way I might have cost him two or three minutes of travel time, but I would also have saved him an expensive ticket.

    Or think of it this way: the next time you’re behind a slow driver, thinking how much nicer it might be if they weren’t in the way, will you know what that slow driver might be preventing for you? An accident, possibly?

    This is such a simple question: does a slow driver in front of me cause me harm or not, in the long run? We can’t know the answer to even something as simple as this. Imagine God answering every question for us: does this do me good or evil in the long run? Does this do person y good or evil in the long run? (For what David is calling for is an explanation for all “pointless” evil.

    And finally, considering that in God’s economy “the long run” includes eternal outcomes, if it were explained to David, would he even believe it? Because he has apparently rejected as much as we actually have explained to him about the importance of eternal outcomes.

  128. In actual response to your most recent, David,

    You say you made it clear that you had an argument to go with “Saying so doesn’t make it so,” but the argument you tell us now that you had presented was separated from that statement by 12 or more paragraphs, and the connection between the two is tenuous at best. Not to mention that you cut Luke’s sentence right in half. (I continue to regard that as billboard-style, by the way, even though I do acknowledge that your approach has not been as uniformly characterized by that as it was a while ago, and that you have been offering more actual reasons for your positions since then.)

    You repeated this statement from an earlier comment:

    We would have to see inside the mind of God and understand it fully to be CERTAIN whether the logical POE stands or fails.

    And as you yourself pointed out. We can’t do that.

    But I DO think we know enough to judge it implausible that such a morally sufficient reason is logically possible. Even if we aren’t in a position to prove it one way or the other.

    Which is why, even though the logical POE may be valid, we must still focus on plausibility….

    Maybe you really meant to say that “even though the logical POE may be invalid rather than valid; because if
    A. The logical POE is a deductive argument (which it is) and if
    B. The burden of proof is on the atheist (which it is, since it is an argument presented by the atheist), and if
    C. We can’t demonstrate that the deductive argument succeeds, which you have just admitted, then
    D. Then it does not succeed; for a deductive argument that cannot be demonstrated to have succeeded does not succeed as an argument. That’s the nature of a deductive argument.

    And I thought you were still arguing that the logical POE might still be valid. If that was a typo and you meant to say “invalid,” that I can understand. If you really are holding out hope that it might be valid, then in that case you are (as almost everyone who has studied it agrees) you’re holding on to a false hope; you’re just wrong.

    Further, and tied in to my last comment also on this same issue, which I posted before I read this from you:

    Now, if there’s any point that ought to need little by way of argumentative support, it’s this one: that to fully understand all the intrinsic goods would require omnipotence and omniscience.
    But we don’t need to understand ALL intrinsic goods. We simply, as I said, need to sufficiently grasp God’s reasons well enough to be warranted in accepting them. No one, at least no one rational, expects one to be omniscient to be warranted in assenting to a proposition.

    Pardon me, but I really think all along you’ve been saying that you won’t accept there is no such thing as a pointless evil unless God were to explain to you the point of every suffering on the planet, even that of a deer caught in a fire in the woods. Let’s take the word “omniscience” and whittle it down to “knowledge that is orders of magnitude greater than any human ever has had, or even all humans in the history of the world combined.” Practically speaking, that’s the kind of thing you’ve been asking for.

    We’ve been telling you all kinds of general goods that can come out of suffering. I don’t think I need to rehearse them here. These are the kinds of things we can know, that our minds are equipped to grasp. But you reject them. You keep presenting particular conditions of suffering and demanding to know the particular reason those particular sufferings are morally justifiable. If that’s not a demand for omniscience, then it’s a demand for the whittled-down version of a wholly unreasonable expectation for explanation.

    Did you not yourself claim to have examples of morally sufficient reasons for God to allow suffering? You did not seem to think at the time that you proposed this to be the case that you had to have omniscience to be reasonable in thinking so.

    Yes. I gave the reasons, as I just noted here. But you were asking for something a whole lot more particular than that, as I have also just written.

    I am not proposing that God’s mind would, in every respect, be comprehensible to us. I am simply proposing that morally sufficient reasons for allowing people to suffering are not beyond the grasp of a sapient being—even one’s who aren’t gods. There is no particular reason to think that they would be.
    But since neither of us can prove this one way or the other I’m not going to go back and forth on it with you.

    There’s that burden of proof thing again: you claim that the POE gives you reason to disbelieve in God. But you can’t prove that you have such a reason; your reason, to the extent that it is based in the POE, is under-supported at best. I don’t have to prove that I have a reason based on the POE to believe in God; I only have to prove that the POE does not stand as a defeater to the many other reasons I have for believing in God (for that is how the POE is intended to function, and how it stands logically: as an alleged defeater to theism). And I think you’ve actually just conceded that, because you have allowed that your position lacks proof.

  129. Tom, your point is well taken. But on what criteria would we judge the mysterious ways card to be played so many times, or on such a crucial point, that the rest of the edifice couldn’t stand? That, I guess, is where the next step is.

  130. Tom:

    The shallowness of question-begging assertions (“Evil, as the term is used in the problem of evil, refers to unnecessary and extreme suffering”) with little or no backup reflects opinionated ignorance. The sloganeering and bill-boarding (repeatedly referenced) has gotten old. The emotional appeals (“Its one of the most bizarre and, frankly, monstrous doctrines I’ve run across in my study of the religions of the world.”) are empty of substance and bigoted. Ignorance of important philosophically-nuanced points (repeatedly referenced) is ubiquitous and obtuse. Missing the point that theodicies are not proofs for the existence of God is weird. The stand-alone opinions projected as authoritative (“The free will defense does nothing to address natural sources of suffering. Its a completely inadequate defense.”) are comical. Repeated deflection to avoid addressing “arguments” clearly identified as fallacious is annoying. The arrogant hand waving (repeatedly referenced) is insulting. The shallowness of the view of Christ’s redemptive act is breathtakingly desperate: “There’s nothing wonderful about a man being tortured to death. It’s noble that one is willing to do that. But it’s simply masochistic to act it out when there’s no good reason to have done so in the first place—and there isn’t one.” The general “just so” silliness of the positions presented is a waste of time. The imposition of opinions masquerading as arguments (“the normal things largely accepted across ideologies as elements of human well-being”) is bullying. And, to then have the chutzpah to try to turn these problems against those who highlight them in the first place betrays disrespect and fear.

    I think it’s a good thing that David is tired of discussing the issues raised in such a manner.

  131. @Paul:

    The “mysterious ways card” is “played” for a number of reasons. Really, most often it’s used by believers to believers, not as an apologetic argument but as a way of understanding life in its, well, mysteriousness.

    It’s not used as an apologetic argument for Christianity here, in fact, but as a defense to an atheistic apologetic. Here’s why that’s important: you and I can both agree that as a positive argument for Christianity, it isn’t worth much. It’s not being offered as one, though, so that’s not a problem. As a defense to a negative argument (an atheistic apologetic), however, it’s perfectly appropriate, because the kind of God we’re talking about is necessarily a God whose ways are not totally comprehensible.

    One way to view the Logical Problem of Evil is that it could only be valid if an additional premise were added to it: We understand everything that a God might hold as a potentially morally adequate reason to allow evil and suffering, and we have examined all of it and found it all wanting. This is the point of Plantinga’s counter-argument: that the LPOE is invalid deductively if there is even the possibility that the Free Will Defense is correct. A leaky deductive argument is an invalid deductive argument; so unless atheists think they can plug every potential hole—which would require that full comprehension of the God who is under discussion—they can’t make the LPOE stand.

    I want to re-emphasize that this applies strictly to the deductive or logical argument from evil, abbreviated as the LPOE. The evidential or probabilistic argument from evil is not subject to that severe condition or restriction. For it, too, though, the “mysterious ways” card is legitimately playable (if used in the appropriate contexts), not as a positive apologetic for God but as a defense to atheistic apologetics; for it is not ad hoc, it is central to our understanding of God, and it provides a reasonable answer to questions that are otherwise unanswerable. Not total, not complete, not exhaustive; but reasonable nonetheless.

  132. @Holopupenko:

    You know my long-standing objection to making personal statements about commenters’ motivations, so I would respond to your most recent comment by expressing caution about these words in it:

    “bigoted”
    “betrays (disrespect and) fear”

    I do think a person can be persistently wrong without being bigoted. I also think bigotry does in some cases lead to being persistently wrong. I don’t know if the word properly applies or not, so I wouldn’t have used it myself. And I don’t know that David is fearful. Maybe so, maybe not, that’s a mind-reading issue. There’s no denying the disrespect he has expressed, however, at least toward God and I believe also toward the arguments that he has treated so cavalierly. If he has as much wherewithal to address arguments as he says he has, then he hasn’t bothered to bring it to the table with him. If he doesn’t have that level of ability, he has tried to act as if he did. Either way, that’s disrespect.

    I think it’s worth pointing out to others what Holopupenko has done here. With that exception (and another possible one below), what he has done has been to express his opinion of the arguments, and to describe the effect those arguments have had on him (they’ve “gotten old,” are “annoying” … ). His comment was overwhelmingly negative but not (with the possible exception[s] noted) ad hominem, because it was about the arguments not about David. (In fact Holo applied the term “bigoted” to the argument and not to David, but that gets into a level of ethical nuance that I think is unhelpful to discuss.) Further, it’s a summation of what has been said before, and the negative impact it has comes from putting it all in one place, with statements about his own reactions, rather than having it spread out among various arguments and points in the discussion.

    Therefore if someone is thinking of asking me whether it meets the criteria of the discussion policies, there’s my answer. Is there some ad hominem in there? Some. Most of what Holopupenko wrote was directed toward the relevant and accessible substance of what David has written, however.

    Now, I might also object to “reflects opinionated ignorance.” I don’t know if David really has studied these issues as he says he has or not, so that involves a smidgen of mind-reading, perhaps. He might know more than he has successfully expressed here. But your example is a point well taken, and Luke and I have already noted his failed attempts at acting authoritative with incomplete or invalid arguments. In other words, it seems to me he is representing himself as having some knowledge and authority on these subjects, but the substance does not support the assertion. I might have expressed it differently than you did, but not much.

  133. I should really refrain from saying I’m finished participating in a discussion—I just never know that something worth responding to won’t be said or, for that matter, that I won’t have another idea I want to bring up.

    I’m going to ignore the ridicule and jibes that in the preceding comments with only the comment that a greater effort at civility would be appreciated.

    That out of the way, I think the logical problem of evil deserves further discussion.

    There are many forms such an argument can take. I’m going to propose a simple, clear version below:

    1. If a perfectly loving, omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise God exists then there is no extreme gratuitous suffering in the world.

    2. Our world contains extreme gratuitous suffering.

    3. Therefore no God of the above description exists.

    This argument takes the logically valid form of modus tollens. That is if P necessarily implies Q and Q is false, then P is false. Or:

    If P, then Q
    -Q
    Then -P

    This is, of course, an incompatibility formulation ( or logical or deductive formulation; whichever term you prefer) and not an inductive formulation.

    As James Beebe says in his article for the logical problem of evil on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy “a set of statements is logically consistent if and only if it is possible for all of them to be true at the same time.”

    On my formulation of the logical problem of evil an incompatibility is said to exist between the following claims:

    A. A god exists who perfectly loving, omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly wise.

    B. Extreme gratuitous evil exists.

    Do you think these two claims can be reconciled? That there is any situation in which both could hold true?

    I don’t think so. But I would welcome your best arguments to the contrary.

  134. Further, though I think all the premises in the logical problem of evil I presented are true one cannot prove this decisively.

    So one is still left with presenting inductive arguments for the plausibility of these premises.

    Which is, of course, why I focused on the plausibility of these claims, and the contrary claims, from the start.

    In the end, one cannot prove, deductively, either of the premises.

    But from this it does not follow that there actually is any logically possible situation in which both hold true.

    And that must be the case for the logical POE to be decisively eliminated from consideration (and I don’t think it is even possible to prove this is the case).

    So, while Plantinga may not have done to the logical POE what you claim, we still have to address the question of which of the following positions is more reasonable:

    a)the belief that God doesn’t exist,

    b) the belief that there is some unknown morally sufficient reason for allowing suffering,

    or

    c) the belief that some particular theodicy reconciles God’s loving nature with the suffering in the world

    But that question wasn’t the one I was dealing with in the discussion of the logical problem of evil. I was simply arguing against the claim that Plantinga successfully refuted the idea that there is no logically possible world in which God allows the kind of suffering we find in the world.

    And I don’t think that has been accomplished. I don’t think the contrary is provable either (but remember, I haven’t been saying it was).

  135. Leaving Plantinga’s supposed elimination of the logical POE behind, we are still left with one central issue of contention:

    Is there extreme gratuitous suffering is the world?

    Its not in dispute, presumably, that the world has extreme suffering.

    But is it more likely than not that at least some of that extreme suffering is gratuitous?

    It seems implausible that some varieties of suffering (like the scenario described by William Rowe) are not gratuitous.

    But ultimately we come up against bedrock premises about whose plausibility one cannot further argue but, rather, which one’s judgment on is inevitably derived from the total background of one’s experience, knowledge, and, all too likely, personal biases.

    And that’s why there will always be disagreement because, as Mark Vuletic said in his TALE OF TWELVE OFFICERS, “I have found that religious believers are often conditioned to accept trite solutions to the problem of suffering, and that it is all but impossible to shake that conditioning through dry analysis. The temptation to offer to an entity a moral blank check simply because it sports a nametag with “God” written on it, is overwhelming in our theistic culture.”

    His short but incisive tale can be read at:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/mark_vuletic/five.html

  136. David, re: your 6:04 pm comment:

    No, I do not think A and B can be reconciled.

    So what? What’s your point? You yourself said later,

    Further, though I think all the premises in the logical problem of evil I presented are true one cannot prove this decisively…. In the end, one cannot prove, deductively, either of the premises.

    That’s Plantinga’s point. The argument leaks. A leaky deductive argument is an invalid deductive argument. That was my point. An invalid deductive argument is, well, invalid. It’s wrong. It’s of no force. It’s useless. It’s not worth bringing up in discussion. Yet you keep trying to hold on to it by a thread:

    But from this it does not follow that there actually is any logically possible situation in which both hold true.
    And that must be the case for the logical POE to be decisively eliminated from consideration (and I don’t think it is even possible to prove this is the case).

    This is sad. The effectual rebuttal to this has been explained so many times….

    But at least you are (you say) “leaving Plantinga’s supposed [!] elimination of the logial POE behind.” But you say,

    And that’s why there will always be disagreement because, as Mark Vuletic said in his TALE OF TWELVE OFFICERS, “I have found that religious believers are often conditioned to accept trite solutions to the problem of suffering, and that it is all but impossible to shake that conditioning through dry analysis. The temptation to offer to an entity a moral blank check simply because it sports a nametag with ‘God’ written on it, is overwhelming in our theistic culture.”

    No. Read Psalm 42 or Psalm 44 sometime. Just as examples. Read Lamentations. Read Jeremiah. Read Ezekiel. Read Job. Read the story of Joni Earickson Tada. Read the story of Brother Andrew. Read the story of Richard Wurmbrand.

    Read your own inability to respond to “dry analysis,” which has rendered the logical POE invalid.

    There will always be disagreement because, as I would say (I don’t know who Mark Vuletic is anyway), “I have found that disbelievers in God are often conditioned to deny the deep intellectual, emotional, and moral richness to be found in a God who can and does redeema and overcome evil; and so accept trite solutions, handing their skepticism an intellectual and spiritual blank check with which to deny the reality of God.”

    I’m actually quite offended that you have so callously disregarded what I wrote here about my own experience of suffering. Do you really think I’ve been able to live this life on trite answers?
    Do you really think God is such a shallow, empty concept as that?
    Do you really think that’s how the believers in Rwanda overcame their hurts and suffering?
    Do you really think that explains why the church has thrived for centuries in spite of intense persecution in many places?
    Do you really think that helps explain why Christians opened up inner Africa for medicine and education?
    Do you really think that helps explain why Christians run rescue missions in virtually every city?
    Do you really think that helps explain why so many hospitals in the U.S. have the names “Methodist,” “Presbyterian,” or “St. … ” on them?
    Do you really think that explains anything at all?

    Trite? Conditioning? Do you know any psychology? What shakes conditioning more effectively than hard encounters with contrary reality? But guess what: hard encounters with reality tend to strengthen the church. It’s because hard encounters with reality support the real reality that God is real, and that he really does overcome evil.

  137. Since we can’t make headway on our bedrock disagreements I propose that we examine the thinking of the opposing positions for inconsistencies.

    With that in mind, consider the following thought experiment:

    A cult leader has sex with the children of the members of his cult.

    The cult leader claims to have been told by God to do so.

    According to certain Christians, we have not the cognitive capacity to assess whether God does or does not have morally sufficient reasons for doing , ordering or allowing any event X (on the grounds that we aren’t omniscient).

    If they are correct, we have not the cognitive capacity to assess whether the cult leader does wrong.

    But, in fact, they do judge, with a high degree of confidence, that the cult leader does wrong.

    Therefore, they do not actually hold to the third statement above.

    Possible objection:

    We don’t think we can judge, with a high degree of confidence, that there are no morally sufficient reasons why God would allow the sort of suffering we find in the world (on the grounds that we are not omniscient) but we DO think we can judge, with a high degree of confidence, that there are no morally sufficient reasons why God would order a man to have sex with young children.

    But to this objection I would raise the following question:

    You are still not omniscient. What reason is there for thinking that your objection in the first case, if valid, does not apply to the second case?

    2nd possible objection:

    it is more likely that a man is motivated by pedophilic impulses and only claims that God ordered him to have sex with children than that God actually did order any such thing.

    My reply: but if its impossible to judge, with any confidence, if God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for something how is it you are able to judge, with any confidence, the relative plausiblity of one explanation over the other.

  138. @david ellis:

    According to certain Christians, we have not the cognitive capacity to assess whether God does or does not have morally sufficient reasons for doing , ordering or allowing any event X (on the grounds that we aren’t omniscient).

    They’re wrong. God does have morally sufficient reasons for permitting (not ordering!) such evil as exists. We do have capacity to know that he does. If some Christians think otherwise, they’re wrong and your point is irrelevant. If you think this is something I have affirmed, you’re once again not reading carefully enough.

    The rest of your argument collapses on the same irrelevancy.

  139. The reason we can know God has morally sufficient reasons (very briefly) is because he has revealed himself to us as being all-wise, all-good, all-powerful; and because he has shown us how he enters in personally to experiencing and then defeating evil through the Cross. He has revealed his character clearly, and by this we know that he would not do what is not right.

    If you don’t accept the Cross, then you miss it. But it’s there.

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