Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Animal Suffering and the Fall of Man (Part Two)

Progressive creationists maintain that God created the world in six days, but that there were millions of years between each of the days of creation. Hence, God created some things on one day, then millions of years went by, and God created some more things on a new day, and millions of years went by, and so on. Theistic evolutionists accept the general account offered in biology classrooms, adding only that God was somehow involved in the process, either by programming the system so that evolution occurred, or by helping the process along the way.

These views entail that the Fall of man was preceded by millions of years of death, disease, and bloodshed. It would therefore seem that animal suffering has little to do with the Fall, since suffering came first. Nevertheless, I think there are some plausible models that would relate animal suffering to the Fall.

Most obviously, one could argue that God had foreknowledge of man’s rebellion, and that God therefore created our world apart from his full sustaining presence from the beginning. In other words, God knew that we would rebel, so he never fully engaged the world, until the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At the resurrection, God completely upheld and sustained a physical being, which foreshadows the resurrection of all things at the end of the present age. Thus, this world, from it’s creation, because it was a place where man would rebel, was a place that needed to be redeemed.

Alternatively, we might focus on the Genesis claim that man was given dominion over the world. Theistic evolutionists have a difficult time reconciling their view of origins with certain details in the Bible, but they can nevertheless agree with the broad picture presented in Genesis. Here’s the broad picture. God first created a shapeless, formless, chaotic mass. Then he proceeded to organize that mass into an ordered whole by a process of separation (light from darkness, land from sea, etc.). The natural state of the created world was chaos and disorder. Order comes only by an ordering principle which God imposes on the world. (Note: the Greek term for “ordering principle” is logos.)

Because of this ordering principle, matter was organized into life, and evolution occurred. Eventually, man came on the scene, and here’s the key: God gave authority to man to take part in the process of completing the creation. This point can be made clearer by considering free will vs. determinism. Let’s say that nature functions according to mechanical laws, and that nature will carry on according to these natural laws unless something interferes. What could interfere? Only one thing—the decisions of free beings. And these free beings could be God, angels, or men.

Hence, man has the power to alter the course of the world. He does this by his will, just as God could order the universe according to his will. So God gave us dominion over the earth, to play a creative role in shaping it for the good. But our first order of business as rulers over the world was to declare that we didn’t need God’s help. We rebelled, and God withdrew. The world as it now stands is an unfinished product, groaning until God completes the work that he started.

The obvious question here would be this: Why did God create through evolution, a process that relies on death, disease, and bloodshed? One might respond, along with John Polkinghorne, that a world that “creates itself” to some extent is better than a world whose construction is the product of a divine Monarch. I’m not convinced by this, however. I think it would be more important to argue that a world in which man is able to participate in shaping the world is better than a world in which man plays no such role. And if man is to play a role in shaping the world, the world can’t come from the hand of God as a finished product.

On the whole, I think that the “Suffering before Sin” views need to be combined with various theodicies, such as the free will theodicy, soul-building theodicies, the informed consent theodicy, Kant’s argument for divine hiddenness, and so on. For the question of why God wouldn’t skip the process of evolution will always come to the surface, and theists who want to give explanations will have to bring in certain aspects of our world that could only exist in the sort of world we live in.

But where does animal suffering come in? The Bible devotes little space to God’s motives in creating the world, so we may have to engage in a little speculation whenever we think on this topic. Keeping the doctrine of the Trinity in mind, we could postulate a reason for the creation: God made man because he wanted to create a new type of love. In the Trinity love is, so to speak, obligatory, because it is God’s nature to love and because each person of the Trinity is infinitely lovable. In forming man, God created a being who doesn’t love of necessity, but by choice; and, because man would fall into sin, creation also allowed God to love someone who would be inherently flawed. Hence, creation produced the possibility of freely given love from both man and God.

But man, as a free being, requires a certain type of world. To have free choice, God cannot be fully present, because God’s presence would overwhelm our free will and lead to utter coercion. Free beings develop morally only in the presence of hardships, so hardships are a significant part of our world. We must learn that we are dependent on God, so we must have some knowledge of what it’s like to live apart from God. In short, we must learn the difference between good and evil.

All of this happens in our world. As I have argued in previous posts, a world with animals is better than a world without animals. But if animals are going to be a part of our world, this means that they are going to be a part of a world with suffering, hardships, etc. How is this related to the Fall? God knew that man would rebel. And this world was designed to give us an opportunity to develop morally and return to God. Hence, the world is the way it is because of our nature as free, fallen creatures.

For more on “Suffering before Sin” views, see:

“Evil and Suffering in Light of God’s Power and Love” (Hugh Ross)

Why Would a Good God Create Parasites? (Hugh Ross)

Video: John Polkinghorne on the Problem of Evil

37 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Why does God need an ecosystem?

Stunney said...

Why does God need an ecosystem?

Your question can be generalized to, 'Why does God need nature?'

The short answer is, 'Because in the Fall, humanity rejected supernature.'

But behind your question lies another, which is, 'Why is nature the way it is, and not some other way?'

Why are we made of atoms? Why is there DNA? Why don't strips of scotch-tape fall in love and have children? Why don't brains spontaneously form in pots of paint?

There are scientific answers to these and similar questions. If you can specify a complete science for a different and better nature, be my guest.

At this point, I feel like repeating a couple of my previous posts. Here they are:

#1
Why couldn't the father say, "You can leave if you want to. But the cat stays here where I can feed and house it"?

How would God manifest such a decision? It seems as if manifesting it would compromise human freedom---the freedom to be cruel to animals, the freedom to be an atheist, and so on.

So if God did decide on such a course, God would have to do it secretly. In which case, for all we know, God is preventing great animal pain.

As fallen, sinful beings, we want nature, and we also want supernature (when it suits us). If God is to give us what we want, it will necessarily be a tricky, ambiguous business.

#2
I don't think it's the concept of omnipotence that's the main issue, per se.

It's that we don't have perfect knowledge of what is, and what isn't, logically (or metaphysically) possible when it comes to mental states in relation to physical entities.

Can a piece of glass be in love? My intuition says no, and says, hence God cannot make a lovesick piece of glass.

My intuition also says that it might well be impossible for any physical things to be conscious unless they're endowed with brains like those of humans or animals, and it might well be impossible for such brains to exist unless the laws of nature are as they are in our world.

Electrons can't understand quantum mechanics, and pieces of glass can't be in love because they don't have brains. I think that's plausibly a necessary truth. And if so, it's possibly because it's also a necessary truth that all brainless matter can't, and only living brain matter can, possess mental states [in the domain of material being]. And it's possible that living brain matter cannot exist unless the physical laws of our universe obtain.

If non-brain matter can be conscious, then this is a) something that no-one has ever shown, and b) far from obvious.

Similarly, if living brain matter can exist with different physical laws in place, then this is a) something that no-one has ever shown, and b) far from obvious.

Given that we really don't know what is the case about this modal landscape, appeals to omnipotence by the POE proponent are beside the point.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...

"Why does God need an ecosystem?"

God doesn't need an ecosystem. Biological organisms need an ecosystem.

Amy Sayers said...

Whoah!

Well done, David! Before reading, I thought, "Good luck with the pre-Fall-animal-suffering line," because I am pretty much in the camp of no-Pre-Fall-Suffering-ers. But you've made this other position very attractive.

I wonder, though, whether it contradicts Scripture. The one example I think of is the state of animals in the New Jerusalem/in the age after this one. No predation there, as the lion lays down with the lamb and the child can play in the viper's nest and come to no harm. Commonly, we think of this age as the "restoration" of what the world looked like before the Fall. I guess I'd have to re-conclude on that one, as it might be more of an assumption than doctrine. Good food for thought. And if my theology does end up corrected as a result of this, good example of how pursuing these questions can be an edifying practice, and not a vain one.

-AS

Amy Sayers said...

Stunney said:

"How would God manifest such a decision? It seems as if manifesting it would compromise human freedom---the freedom to be cruel to animals, the freedom to be an atheist, and so on."

Good point. This, combined with David's comments on how we (should)) define 'justice' internal to Christianity answers the Appeal to Justice regarding animal suffering, to my satisfaction, at least.

Stunney also writes:

"As fallen, sinful beings, we want nature, and we also want supernature (when it suits us)."

But here I object--that it would be "supernature", and to David above, too, when he says that "protecting Bambi" would be a "miraculous" world that he (rightly) prohibits skeptics from demanding. I don't think it would "miraculous" for God to have prevented SO much falleness in the animal kingdom such that wolves would rip out the innards of a doe while it still lives. (And other animals kills in other painful ways--though the observations of several so far that we don't actually *know* the degree of pain animals endure is an important one to settle. I don't know either. But it sure looks like it would hurt.)

After all, it's the Christian position that animals--nor humans--are NOT enduring the "full effects" of disobedience. We believe things could be much, much, much worse. So we can't argue that it would have been "miraculous" for God to have designed all predators to make instant kills before taking meat. Predation, we can handle with the Fall defense. But I still don't see how the *extent* of animal pain is explained by it.

I think David's second post works better for this objection, and it's probably the reason I like it so much.

Finally, Stunney concludes:

"If God is to give us what we want, it will necessarily be a tricky, ambiguous business."

True. And important to bear in mind.


I'll add to this that "what we want" regarding the animal kingdom is wildly variant among cultures and time. I think I'm leaning towards the theory that animal pain does not really bother God, and that this does not reflect on His goodness.

The suggestion that it "should" if God is "Good" stems from a generation that grew up with "Bambi" as a household name. Let's face it, when the voice-over content of "March of the Penguins" can describe the mating ritual and saga of penguins as a "Love Story" and not get a single chortle out of the movie-going audience, it's time to think that contemporary Westerners have anthropomorphized animals to a degree that's made us hyper-sensitive to animal pain.

Internal to Christanity, anyway, how do we see God's regard of animal pain?

-AS

mrieder said...

David,

Very good post. I rather enjoyed it. I must express my surprise that you actually took the time to develop a theodicy to explain animal suffering. Perhaps I am callous, but I just do not consider animals to be on par with humans. I think of them as fancy machines. If I am to begin to empathize with animals in any serious way, then I will have to stop eating them, swatting them when they bite me, make a concerted effort not to step on them and so forth. Furthermore, I am not sure where we draw the line. Do we extend the suffering to plants. No one can argue that plants are not alive. Plants certainly react to the environment through the release of chemicals.

I guess it is hard for me to take animal suffering too seriously when I have spent my entire life eating and wearing animals.

Good post.

M.R.

mrieder said...

Stunney,

You make a very convincing argument regarding the feasibility of these "proposed blissful realities". The only question that keeps popping into my mind is how you reconcile your solution to the POE with any potential paradise that God has promised those who love him.

I have always figured that this imperfect reality is somehow necessary for the following perfect reality. I also have considered that if God did make the current reality blissful and people never died, things would be pretty tough. Sometimes it is helpful when certain exceptionally evil people die. I suppose that God did not want to entrust perfection to untested beings. What do you think?

Good comments. I like to read them.

M.R.

Stunney said...

So we can't argue that it would have been "miraculous" for God to have designed all predators to make instant kills before taking meat. Predation, we can handle with the Fall defense. But I still don't see how the *extent* of animal pain is explained by it.

What counts as miraculous is a function of what is non-miraculous, i.e., natural. And what counts as miraculous must be rare, relative to the natural.

So really what you're asking is why God didn't make nature different in this regard.

The drawn-out kind of killing by some predators is natural, and so we expect that there is a scientific explanation for it, in principle. Something in this explanation would have to not be the case in order to make drawn-out killing not occur in nature. But if that something were not the case, there might be other bad consequences.

What, of course, is objected to is not the duration of such killings, but the duration and intensity of the pain we instinctively believe must be a concomitant. We don't, however, know for sure what it's like for the prey.

We can suppose it's horrendously painful, or would be as a matter of nature. But God might permit this if:

1) changing natural laws to avoid this pain would have other, even worse consequences, such as extinction

and

2) it's better overall to have animals species even with this pain potential than not to have these species at all

Stunney said...

The only question that keeps popping into my mind is how you reconcile your solution to the POE with any potential paradise that God has promised those who love him.

If the bliss of heaven for rational creatures is mainly a function of love, and if it's essential to love that it depend on the exercize of creaturely freedom, then we have a good reason for why God cannot just create us in a state of heavenly bliss from the get-go.

However, this still leaves many questions about life in heaven unanswered.

We're told we'll not be marrying. Some would say that's one big improvement right there.

Perhaps the only way God can improve upon nature is to be an infinite energy source for creaturely life in such a direct way that it would feel heavenly already, but would negate the freedom that creaturely love must spring from.

Once that love is properly formed, then God can act directly and immediately in us, and we'll live from God inexhaustible energy (aka eternal life).

Amy Sayers said...

Stunney (and John Loftus, too, as I invite your comments as to whether I'm understanding your position well),

I do appreciate your thorough efforts to answer my objections/questions. This last post of yours along with all the others you've used to flesh out the "We don't know that a different world that produces the same goods without producing different or more evils can exist" argument seems to boil down to this (and forgive me if I've boiled it incorrectly):

There are things God knows that we do not and cannot. (This is stipulated with the POE asks about an all-knowing God.)

You are arguing that the world could not have been created differently and could not have been allowed to "Fall" differently and still produce the world that God wants. You don't have all the physical details for this, as those details are among the things God knows that you don't. (Call these details P). That is, you are suggesting that P is in the set of things that an all-knowing God knows that humans do not.

The POE-ist argues that an all-powerful God could have made the world differently while maintaining the same goods and limiting the evils enough to decrease extreme suffering. And HOW to do so (call this H)is something God knows but humans do not.

So both the theist and the skeptic here maintain a belief that the key ingredient to his argument lies in the set of things God knows that people don't. For the theist, it's P. For the skeptic, it's H.

How does either one avoiding being in a "faith" position of believing something to be in a set of things only an omniscient God knows?

Obviously, I can see how a Christian has an internal-to-Christianity reasonable claim to this faith position. But I don't know what a skeptic can do about his.

I may have boiled too much and reached the wrong summation. I'm completely open to the possiblity that I've missed something relevant here. But something about the POE has always niggled me and I think I've finally put my finger on it here.

-AS

Stunney said...

How does either one avoiding being in a "faith" position of believing something to be in a set of things only an omniscient God knows?

I would put it a little differently.

The POE proponent claims to know that there is a better alternative world that would be creatable by God if God existed.

The anti-POE response is simply that the POE proponent doesn't know this.

And the argument doesn't go through unless we know (or at least have good evidence) that there is a better alternative world that a God could bring about (including a 'no creature world' in the set of better worlds).

Notice that you don't have to believe in God to reject the POE argument on this ground. So "faith" per se is irrelevant to my position. An atheist might reject the POE argument as unsound because it makes a claim that there is a possible world that's better than this one, and an atheist might believe, or think it reasonable to suppose, that there is only one logically possible physics consistent with the evolution of intelligent life---the physics of the actual world. A number of physicists (e.g. Frank Tipler) have actually speculated that this might well be the case.

Steve said...

The problem with your argument is the same no matter what angle you look at it from: God knows best, and we can't possibly be smart enough to know what he does.

The problem lies in this: Anyone can claim to know God or even to be God.

For instance if I say I am God, then you would probably disagree. Then I would just say that you are a fallen man and that you are under the influence of a devil. There is no logical argument against this, simply because it presupposes that I am God, so therefore everything I say is true. So, when using an argument to prove the existence of God, you must be able to prove the basic premise, which is that God exists and that he knows more than we can know, which you can't do, at least as far as you have argued. So my question is: Why have a blog on the problem of evil, if you aren't going to answer the questions from a rational standpoint? You might as well have a blog on "Sin and the Fall of Man"

steve

Stunney said...

The problem with your argument is the same no matter what angle you look at it from: God knows best, and we can't possibly be smart enough to know what he does.

The problem lies in this: Anyone can claim to know God or even to be God.


Two atheists could disagree over whether there could be a better world.

One is a determinist and holds that the laws of nature couldn't have been otherwise than they are, but exist of necessity. The other holds that another universe, with better laws of nature, is possible.

How could this argument be settled?
At the very least, the supposed better laws of nature would have to be specified, and their consequences calculated. But even this wouldn't be enough to settle the issue of whether a better world is possible, because to compare the two worlds, we'd have to know much more than we do about the actual world. It might be the case that our universe contains billions upon billions of planets inhabited by trillions of tremendously happy beings.

Darren said...

I've enjoyed these blog entries, David, but I'll admit that this one caught me a bit off guard. Scripture does not seem to support theistic evolution as the language "there was morning, and there was evening" to qualify each day of creation is fairly specific and would be a very odd choice of words for anything other than a literal 24-hour day. It's also worth noting that the "day/age" theory is a recent addition to Christian theology and was not a traditional view held by the early church.

How would your argument take this into account?

David B. Ellis said...


The short answer is, 'Because in the Fall, humanity rejected supernature.'


How can the misdeeds of the individuals involved in the Fall (whether Adam and Eve if you are a literalist or.....well, whoever the heck you believe first sinned if you arent) constitute rejection of God by individuals not even born?

David B. Ellis said...

Not really related to animal suffering (which I don't feel the need to comment on since nothing in Woods post seems to make it any less problematic, IMHO):

in regard to external vs internal criticism, I think an external criticism, in regard to christianity and most other religions, is ultimately the only kind possible. The reason: because religions tend to include a "get out of jail free" doctrine. The idea that any apparent contradiction in their beliefs is only apparent and not real---that there is some divine reason beyond human understanding or comprehension which fully explains it. There are different variants, of course, of this doctrine but the thing they all have in common is that, by adding it to the sum of beliefs the believer is able to dismiss anything which appears, even to him, as contradictory or problematic.

And, of course, with such a doctrine in place an external criticism is the only one possible.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"in regard to external vs internal criticism, I think an external criticism, in regard to christianity and most other religions, is ultimately the only kind possible. The reason: because religions tend to include a "get out of jail free" doctrine. The idea that any apparent contradiction in their beliefs is only apparent and not real."

Sounds like the way Dawkins argues for evolution. He, too, plays the get-out-of-jail-free-card.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"in regard to external vs internal criticism, I think an external criticism, in regard to christianity and most other religions, is ultimately the only kind possible."

Is so, then that commits you and your fellow unbelievers (e.g. Loftus) to defending a secular version of alethic realism as well as moral realism before you apply your external standard to Christianity. We look forward to hearing your arguments.

John W. Loftus said...

Steve, if we accept what Ellis said, and I don't, then you are never offering an internal critique of my beliefs either. At least, you try, but nothing you've said quite understands what I believe and how I reconcile what I believe in my life.

steve said...

John W. Loftus said...
"Steve, if we accept what Ellis said, and I don't, then you are never offering an internal critique of my beliefs either. At least, you try, but nothing you've said quite understands what I believe and how I reconcile what I believe in my life."

A Christian can critique secularism either internally or externally. That's been done on a regular basis.

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Stunney said...

How can the misdeeds of the individuals involved in the Fall (whether Adam and Eve if you are a literalist or.....well, whoever the heck you believe first sinned if you arent) constitute rejection of God by individuals not even born?

I interpret the Fall philosophically rather than historically, in the manner of Karl Rahner.

Human nature on its own is incapable of achieving salvation. Its purely natural fate is selfishness, misery, and death.

But human nature is, at all times and places, not actually on its own. It's always in an encounter with divine grace, which flows from Christ's atonement both back and forwards in time.

The Fall is what human nature would be like if it were not in receipt of God's offer of saving grace---sinful, death-bound, and without hope.

"Grace, in light of Christianity, is a constitutive element in man's existence. For this reason, Rahner doubts the real possibility of a state of pure nature (natura pura, human existence without being-involved with grace), which for him is a mere counterfactual."

Stunney said...

Human nature, on its own, only wills the natural world. God grants this wish, and so we get our purely natural wish--a natural world, a world apparently without God, a world operating by blind, ruthless material necessity.

But God at the same time offers grace, the possibility of a world with God.

God so arranges things that both worlds are available for us to experience---the hellishness of a world without God, and the joy of a world with God---but doesn't coerce our decision.

David B. Ellis said...


Steve, if we accept what Ellis said, and I don't, then you are never offering an internal critique of my beliefs either.


How can one internally critique a belief system that includes the belief "all apparent contradictions in the rest of my beliefs have a mysterious reconciliation which is beyond human comprehension"?

Its true that one can point out contradictions between their beliefs all day long. I am not denying that. But for the criticism to be effective one must criticize their overarching "get out of jail free" belief. And that cannot be done internally.

One must argue for the implausibility and arbitrariness of this belief that all contradictions in one's religious beliefs have mysterious solutions. And that's an external criticism.

Thats no real problem though, for any person capable of viewing these beliefs with any objectivity, the external critique is by far the most powerful. After all, an internal critique and only point out contradictory opinions. THE LORD OF THE RINGS is not internally contradictory....which of course is irrelevent to whether its factually true.

David B. Ellis said...


Human nature, on its own, only wills the natural world. God grants this wish, and so we get our purely natural wish--a natural world, a world apparently without God, a world operating by blind, ruthless material necessity.


Nothing could be further from the truth. The natural world is hard and indifferent to human welfare. Human nature desperately desires a supernatural world. That's why religions, for all their variety, are ubiquitous and share the same couple of central features---belief in an afterlife and belief in a "higher" force that cares for us and which will make all wrongs right in the end.

David B. Ellis said...


I interpret the Fall philosophically rather than historically, in the manner of Karl Rahner.

Human nature on its own is incapable of achieving salvation. Its purely natural fate is selfishness, misery, and death.


So, do I understand you correctly, you don't actually believe humanity ever was in an unfallen state? If so, then you don't believe in a Fall.....just imperfection....but imperfection from the start isnt a fall.

steve said...

David B. Ellis said...

"How can one internally critique a belief system that includes the belief 'all apparent contradictions in the rest of my beliefs have a mysterious reconciliation which is beyond human comprehension'?"

And what belief-system would that be? Have either David Wood or I ever played that get-out-of-jail-free-card?

"Its true that one can point out contradictions between their beliefs all day long. I am not denying that. But for the criticism to be effective one must criticize their overarching 'get out of jail free' belief. And that cannot be done internally."

I never said otherwise. You are shadowboxing with a chimera.

"One must argue for the implausibility and arbitrariness of this belief that all contradictions in one's religious beliefs have mysterious solutions. And that's an external criticism."

To do this you must do three things:

i) You must argue that there are at least apparent contradictions, not merely assert apparent (or actual) contradictions.

ii) You must argue that your Christian opponent subscribes to the arbitrary belief you impute to him.

iii) You must argue for your external criteria.

We're still waiting for you to make good on your claims. When are you going to redeem these verbal vouchers?

Stunney said...

Human nature desperately desires a supernatural world.

That desire is an effect of grace. Human nature is never found in its 'pure' state, a state in which grace is not also at work. But by itself, abstracting from the concrete workings of grace, human nature can only will a world of natural beatitude.

do I understand you correctly, you don't actually believe humanity ever was in an unfallen state?

As I said, human nature is never concretely found in its 'pure' state. Grace is always present, available, offered.

Fallen-ness, our need for grace, is also always present. That is to say, the fact that without grace we systematically screw up is also always present.

So understood, grace and fallen-ness have been ever-present dynamics in the human condition.

David B. Ellis said...


"Its true that one can point out contradictions between their beliefs all day long. I am not denying that. But for the criticism to be effective one must criticize their overarching 'get out of jail free' belief. And that cannot be done internally."

I never said otherwise.


I agree, you didn't. That comment was a reply to a post by John Loftus. Since I quoted his comment that should have been clear.


"How can one internally critique a belief system that includes the belief 'all apparent contradictions in the rest of my beliefs have a mysterious reconciliation which is beyond human comprehension'?"

And what belief-system would that be? Have either David Wood or I ever played that get-out-of-jail-free-card?


If you don't hold as an article of faith that God's reasons are beyond human understanding then this point doesn't apply to you. I didn't claim ALL christians hold this position....only that its one of the most common ones I hear from them.

If you aren't in that crowd then GREAT! In that case both an internal and external critique are applicable--in other words we can examine whether your position is internally consistent and whether its plausible.....if you actually present a theodicy which you think fully accounts for the suffering we see and why God both allows it and set up conditions to make it inevitable.

I don't recall you presenting any such theodicy yet.

I've heard quite a few from various christians. Most fall into one of the following categories (not mutually exclusive of course):

1. The one you say you dont use. The "get out of jail free" theodicy....that God has valid reasons but they are beyond our comprehension.

2. the justice theodicy. Which claims that suffering is deserved for whatever reason (man's wickedness and rebelliousness usually).

3. eschatological theodicy. that the suffering of this world is ultimately insignificant compared to the life beyond this one.

4. the greater good theodicy....that the suffering is inevitable to achieve a "higher good". In which case one must be able to state what higher good is served by any particular example of suffering or else this theodicy just reverts to No. 1

5. the free will theodicy....which, even if valid (which I don't think it is) is inapplicable to natural evils and therefore incomplete by itself.

Anyway, I could go on with a few others. But you get the idea. I wonder what your position is. Are you willing to actually tell us what your theodicy is? What you think it is which makes God's caring nature consistent with the world of suffering we observe. So far you seem to have mainly defended the 'greater good' theodicy claiming that suffering was inevitable for God to achieve his ends. But if you dont explain why this had to be then you revert to position No. 1 which you claim not to hold.

steve said...

"I don't recall you presenting any such theodicy yet."

That's because I've done so on my own blog. This isn't the place to do so. I'm not going to hijack David Wood's blog and turn the combox into my own soapbox.

"What you think it is which makes God's caring nature consistent with the world of suffering we observe."

We've been over the way you tendentiously rig the definition of God's "caring nature" multiple times.

"But if you dont explain why this had to be then you revert to position No. 1 which you claim not to hold."

A theodicy doesn't turn on what *had* to be, absolutely speaking. Rather, it denies gratuitous evil, and proposing a greater good or alternative good or second-order good which was otherwise unobtainable apart from evil.

What *had* to be given certain ends. A conditional necessity.

And it still grounds culpability in the fallen agent.

Those are the conditions which must be satisfied, and not the necessity of the world as we know it.

Amy Sayers said...

I've been away for a few days, but I do want to offer just a few follow-up thoughts on what has turned into the "get-out-of-jail-free-card" discussion.

1. We should be calling this card a "trump." That is, there are several others cards in the game that will win the trick before a trump has to be played. Steve (and others), if the POE can be answered in total with no appeal to faith claims, then. . .you know. . .great. I have reason to think that finding/developing such a total answer isn't possible.

This doesn't mean that I would play that trump card in response to every objection the POE posits. Other cards--like David's animal suffering theodicies--work just fine. And we shouldn't think of "appeals of faith" (both the theist's and the skeptic's) as an all or nothing course of action.

2. But being aware of when that trump card is actually being played is pretty important. For instance, it seems like skeptics play that card when a theist like Stunney challenges them on HOW the world could have been made differently. (This was what I was going for in my original post.)

The skeptic does not answer rationally--on this blog, at least, no skeptic has actually answered Stunney's request for the details--the skeptic only says, "An omnipotent God could've done better" (to quote John Loftus himself). That "could've" is nothing more than an appeal to God's omnipotence, with no further argumentation or "rational" discourse.

3. David Wood is hosting this blog to plumb the depths of the POE. I'm hoping he's finding a lot of great fodder for his dissertation as he does so. (And given the richness of the contributions here, he's no doubt already done so. You all should ask him to buy you a drink when he matriculates!) It seems like a small but valuable piece of that fodder is recognizing the limits of possible answers--if there are limits--and the limits of the POE itself.

4. I will not ask again the question about appeals to what we cannot know. :)

AS

John W. Loftus said...

You all should ask him to buy you a drink when he matriculates!

Hear hear!

Yes, indeed. Next time we meet up, he owes me a couple, over a game of pool!

Stunney said...

Some interesting stuff on how good the genetic code turns out to be...

http://www.thedesignmatrix.com/content/genetic-code-gets-more-sophisticated/

nanoman said...

You mentioned that "...To have free choice, God cannot be fully present, because God’s presence would overwhelm our free will and lead to utter coercion. Free beings develop morally only in the presence of hardships, so hardships are a significant part of our world."

I don't see how God's presence should inhibit free will. If anything, God perfects our freedom. Both the story of Adam and Eve and teachings regarding Lucifer refer to beings that despite being in the presence and grace of God decided to turn away. Perhaps instead of questioning the Creator's decisions we should moreover question what might cause a being in the context of perfection to turn away from God, despite our rationality? (in facy, perhaps 'because' of our rationality)