Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mabel and the City of God

My last post featured a woman named Mabel, who suffered immensely for several decades. She was blind, nearly deaf, and horribly disfigured. Yet through all of this, Mabel’s faith in God was unshaken, and she praised Jesus for being so good to her.

The first response to this post was enlightening. An atheist reader complained that the purpose of my post was to appeal to my readers’ emotions (as if atheists would never appeal to emotion when discussing the Problem of Evil—laugh, laugh). The real purpose, however, runs much deeper than emotion.

Consider the following propositions, both of which are true:

(1) Mabel suffered horribly, far more than most human beings will ever suffer.

(2) Mabel was a Christian, who believed in an all-powerful, wholly good God.

According to the Argument from Evil, intense suffering and theism are incompatible. But this raises an important question. If suffering and theism are incompatible, why didn’t Mabel question her belief in a God of love?

The most obvious atheist response would be that Mabel never thought about the problem. This is absurd, however. She was alone for twenty-five years, with little to occupy her time except her thoughts. Surely the question of why God would allow her to suffer surfaced at some point. Thus, this response is too superficial.

Next, an atheist might respond that Mabel simply wasn’t sophisticated enough to notice that God’s goodness and power are incompatible with intense suffering. If this is true, we have to wonder why Mabel never recognized the incompatibility, when it seems so obvious to atheists. (I would add that the world contains people who are sophisticated and who agree with Mabel that God and suffering are compatible.)

Third, one might argue that Mabel needed a “crutch” to help her through her suffering. (This was John Loftus’s response to the post. He said that people like Mabel are better off believing in God.) Yet Mabel seemed to exhibit tremendous joy in the midst of her suffering, joy beyond what we might expect from a placebo-God. In other words, if mere belief in Jesus is able to sustain a person through decades of intense pain and loneliness, and in the end the person is more joyful than ever, couldn’t we argue that this is at least some evidence that Jesus really is helping the person? Regardless, this isn't the reason Mabel's faith was unshakable. There's nothing about a "crutch" that would keep a person from recognizing some inconsistency during twenty-five years of thinking, and, again, there are plenty of people who don't need a "crutch" who find the Argument from Evil unpersuasive.

These responses are insufficient. But to turn the tables, let’s ask a different question. How might a theist account for Mabel’s faith? Tim sent a quotation from Augustine, which gives one theistic response:

Wherefore, though good and bad men suffer alike, we must not suppose that there is no difference between the men themselves, because there is no difference in what they both suffer. For even in the likeness of the sufferings, there remains an unlikeness in the sufferers; and though exposed to the same anguish, virtue and vice are not the same thing. For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odor. (Augustine, City of God, Book I, chapter 8)

But is it sufficient to say that Mabel remained faithful to God because she was good, while someone who turns away from God is bad? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t argue that because Elie Wiesel declared that his first night at Auschwitz destroyed his faith, he must therefore be bad. One could argue, however, that in such a situation, Mr. Wiesel wasn’t in any condition to properly examine the soundness of an argument against God’s existence. (Before anyone accuses me of belittling Wiesel’s suffering, may I point out that I’m doing exactly the opposite. Due to the intensity of the suffering, it would be impossible to be cold and rational as he lost his faith.)

Nevertheless, we could hardly deny that an atheist sitting on his couch and pondering the suffering of Elie Wiesel may be able to soberly examine the premises of the Argument from Evil. And, of course, such an atheist may conclude, based on the suffering of Holocaust victims, that God does not exist.

Yet this leads us to the same difficulty. For theists can also soberly examine the Argument from Evil, and theists find the argument unconvincing. Further, the difference cannot be a matter of intellectual ability, education, or anything of that nature, for people of comparable stature have taken different stances on the issue. Thus, we must agree with Augustine that the difference lies in the person who is suffering, and not in the suffering itself. Or, more accurately here, the difference lies in the people examining the argument, rather than in the argument. But if our response to evil is not a matter of premises and deduction, the difference between theists and atheists on this issue must be found among our values.

But if the atheist’s argument depends on his values, how can he be sure that his argument even works? To put it differently, Mabel had a system of values, and apparently these values prevented her from rejecting the existence of God because of suffering. The atheist has a different system of values, and he rejects God based on these values. But how can the atheist say that his values are right and Mabel’s values are wrong?

77 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

There are people all over the world that suffer just as much as Mabel who maintain a different faith than she does. So what does this prove? Without belittling her suffering or others with a different faith, maybe it just proves "ignorance is bliss."

Earth and All Stars said...

Instead of "ignorance is bliss" if you believe in a higher calling or power, maybe an atheist could have a sense of joy as well. Perhaps an atheist could take solace in the fact that oblivion was right around the corner and would take away all pain to the point that it couldn't even be remembered.

From a Christian's perspective the atheist is the ignorant one for not knowing that an afterlife is waiting for them. So it seems the ignorance argument leads to an impasse.

Perhaps what Mabel's story proves is a world view can bring one comfort.

The discussion then is not if a world view bring comfort, but if a particular the world view is warranted and true.

David Wood said...

Did either one of you actually finish reading the post? I concluded that the Argument from Evil doesn't work if a person has certain values. This would apply to a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Christian, or even an atheist. In other words, if a person has a certain set of values, the Argument from Evil will not affect him.

So yet again we have a situation in which atheists miss the point:

DAVID: I say the Argument from Evil is based on certain values, not on certain premises.

JOHN: What about Muslims?

DAVID: ???

John W. Loftus said...

Funny, David. Surely you would be the first person to say that one's values can be wrong, so that's the perspective I was commenting on. And I can surely compare Mabel's values with the so-called values of the God she believes in and find them contradictory, even if she (and you) will disagree with me.

David Wood said...

You know what values I'm talking about, John. Here's just one example. Atheists often think of good and evil in terms of pleasure and pain. That is, to say that God is wholly good is to say that God is wholly dedicated to maximizing our pleasure and minimizing our pain. Pleasure is either the highest priority, or at least among the highest priorities. Theists, however, would reject this view (ideally, at least). Indeed, if I were to make a list of things that are important, pleasure and pain would be quite low on the list (so long as I am in my right mind). One result of this difference is that theists are able to appeal to greater goods, i.e. things that are more important that suffering. Atheists who consider pain/pleasure to be the highest priority will, of course, not see anything as a greater good.

For you to say that Mabel's values are inconsistent with the values of the God she believes in (which is what you just claimed), you would have to say that the God Mabel believes in holds pain/pleasure to be his top priority.

Let's face it, John. The God you're criticizing is a projection of yourself. The God you're criticizing has YOUR values, not the values theists ascribe to him. The God you're criticizing is a God who's primary focus is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. He is a God who owes us something because we are so good. He's a God who rewards rebellion with heavenly bliss.

So here's what we have. You take your own values and project them onto the God of theism, and you base your Argument from Evil on the fact that our world doesn't match up with what we would expect from such a God. Hence, this God doesn't exist. Well, I agree with you, John. The God you're criticizing doesn't exist. But that's just not the God I believe in.

So much for an internal critique. (BTW, is there still anyone in the world who thinks you're offering an internal crtique?)

mrieder said...

David Wood,

That, sir, was a very compelling post. I particularly like your comment regarding the appeal to emotion. I also think you have a very good point about placing a premium on pleasure/happiness/comfort. It is no surprise that those who base their concept of good and evil on pain/pleasure would equate a God who allows suffering with evil. Very good point. I will extend your point to arguments against the Bible. Criticisms against the Bible frequently reveal much about the critic.

Have a nice day!

M.

John W. Loftus said...

For you to say that Mabel's values are inconsistent with the values of the God she believes in (which is what you just claimed), you would have to say that the God Mabel believes in holds pain/pleasure to be his top priority.

Not at all David. All I have to do is to press you to explain the higher goods you believe exists. What are they? Spell them out for me. Where are they to be found? Are they rational to accept in light of other things you believe? I will then argue that these higher goods and not goods at all from within your set of beliefs. I'll claim you hold to a set of beliefs that you should reject, because taken together they are implausible to hold them all at the same time and in the same sense.

Of course you won't accept my pushing you in the direction your beliefs warrant, but that's what I'll do. It's clearly internal to what you believe, for I could believe there is nothing evil at all, that everything that happens does so by chance in the race for survival, and still push you in the direction I am. I'll push you to explain the internal plausibility of the things you believe. Think about it if YOU were an atheist and rejected the internal consistency of your former Christian faith.

This, by the way is your weakest argument. Even if you're correct it makes no difference, but you aren't correct at all.

Tim said...

It might be interesting to try to collect some credible first-hand accounts of people who, like Mabel, suffered intensely over the course of decades yet found their faith unshaken, even strengthened. Outside of Christianity, where such cases are pretty fully documented, I'd guess that the most promising place to start looking would be within Judaism. Does anyone have any sources on this?

David Wood said...

As I said John, you are projecting your own values onto theism. Pain and pleasure are nowhere near the top of theism’s priorities. Love, truth, justice, doing God’s will, learning that God doesn’t owe us anything—all of this is higher on our list of priorities than pain or pleasure. Morality is far more important. Free will is far more important. Loyalty is far more important. Virtues like patience, humility, courage, fortitude—these are more important. But you look at all of this and say, “No. As long as there is suffering, who cares about all these other things? Pain and pleasure are what matter most, and if God doesn’t give us lots of pleasure and take away our pain, then I refuse to worship Him.” Indeed, you've even argued that God should give the worst of criminals a hedonistic paradise. But what is that argument based on? It’s based on what you think is most important, not what theists think is most important. Now if other things really are more important than pain or pleasure, then perhaps an evaluation of suffering isn't the best way to determine whether or not God exists. To put it differently, if you say, “Look at all the suffering in the world; this proves that God doesn’t exist,” why can’t the theist say, “Well yes, there’s lots of suffering, but there are more important things in life than suffering”?

I already know what you’re going to say, John. “But why is free will so important? Why did God create anything at all? What’s the point of virtue?” And here you’re simply saying, “David, I don’t share your VALUES, so what you’re saying doesn’t make sense to me.” But that’s exactly my point. This doesn’t make sense to you because you have a “Pleasure-First” mentality, which theists don’t (or at least shouldn’t) share. But since your Argument from Evil is based on your Pleasure-First mode of thinking, anyone who has a less hedonistic set of priorities will not accept your argument.

David B. Ellis said...


As I said John, you are projecting your own values onto theism. Pain and pleasure are nowhere near the top of theism’s priorities. Love, truth, justice, doing God’s will, learning that God doesn’t owe us anything—all of this is higher on our list of priorities than pain or pleasure.


You list love as a priority. By definition (surely we can agree), a person who loves another desires their well-being and does not want them to suffer unnecessary extreme pain.

If God shares this value then we are right back into the POE and are there exclusively by reference to an internal critique of your beliefs.

The only way to make these compatible with your beliefs is, since you say avoidance of suffering, even extreme suffering is not the HIGHEST priority of your God-given system of values, is if there is some reason why this sort of suffering is necessary to the achievable of goals dictated by those higher values.

Of course, one option available to the theist is to say "I don't know what the reasons are why such suffering is necessary. It's a divine mystery but I have faith that there IS such a reason".

At which point discussion is at an end because you are presenting an article of faith rather than an argument---we are then no longer participating in a philosophical discussion.

Or, on the other hand, you can present some reason, some higher goal, and also present an argument as to why this goal cannot be expected to be achieved without such suffering.

I have yet to hear anything plausible along these lines---from you or anyone else. But, who knows, maybe you'll be the first in history to find the solution.

Not holding my breath though.

David Wood said...

Ellis,

Thank you for proving my point.

I said that love is higher on theism's list of priorities than pain/pleasure. You immediately defined love in terms of pain or pleasure (i.e. to love someone is to desire that they have lots of pleasure and not much pain, since well-being is based on pain/pleasure). In other words, you brought in pain/pleasure as the top (or pretty high, at least) priority of love.

But this is what I'm questioning. I might agree that in loving someone you want what's best for them. But I would completely reject the idea that what's best for people is a world with lots of pleasure and no (or very little) pain. What's best for a theist would be other things on the list of priorities. That is, if you love someone, you want them to freely choose what is good, you want them to have a choice in what they do, you want them to learn about justice, you want them to be virtuous, etc.

Somewhere on this list we might add, "and you want them to have pleasure." But for the theist, this just wouldn't be nearly as important as other things.

Again, thanks for helping me prove my point. (John would have said something similar, except he would have added, "And what about hell?")

David B. Ellis said...


I said that love is higher on theism's list of priorities than pain/pleasure. You immediately defined love in terms of pain or pleasure (i.e. to love someone is to desire that they have lots of pleasure and not much pain, since well-being is based on pain/pleasure).


This is incorrect. I did not DEFINE love in terms of pleasure and pain. I pointed out an inevitable response associated with genuine loving feelings for another person.

Or perhaps you think a person can, for example, love their child and be willing that they suffer preventable agonies that serve no necessary purpose?

No, I think not.


I might agree that in loving someone you want what's best for them.


Naturally. And exactly my point.


But I would completely reject the idea that what's best for people is a world with lots of pleasure and no (or very little) pain.


Excuse me. But that isn't the issue. To return to the example of a loving parent:

I would like my child to have a happy life but one with struggle and effort and obstacles to overcome. These are all character-enriching things. I wouldn't want a world of pampered playboys and playgirls.

But I still wouldn't want a life of agonies and horrible pain for my child either (nor, presumably, would you).

A christian parent who had a child dying of cancer would not refuse to give their child pain medication to ease their agonies. They may not prioritize pleasure and pain but they still recognize that love involves saving others from unecessary agony when we are able.


What's best for a theist would be other things on the list of priorities. That is, if you love someone, you want them to freely choose what is good, you want them to have a choice in what they do, you want them to learn about justice, you want them to be virtuous, etc.


Yes, and the POE, as it relates to this fact asks the question "what plausible reason is there for setting up the rules governing the world such that they involve extreme suffering which is unavoidable if we are to serve virtues of more importance than the prevention of great pain coming to others out of love and compassion for them."


Somewhere on this list we might add, "and you want them to have pleasure." But for the theist, this just wouldn't be nearly as important as other things.


Moving the goalposts yet again. The POE concerns extreme suffering. Not pleasure.

Its the christians who believe in a heaven of unalloyed and unending joy. This bit of hedonism lies at the heart of your faith so, besides being irrelevent to the POE, it seems a bit disingenuous to criticize others for wanting a world where happiness rules and all tears are gone.

So, to return to the important issue, the religious apologist needs to give a reason why the apparent unnecessary extreme sufferings of the world are ONLY apparent and prove to be necessary suffering when understood in the proper light.

He needs to show a reason why goals dictated by the values he holds to be higher than the prevention of agonies to other living beings cannot be served without those agonies.

Quite a task and one at which no apologist has yet succeeded.

John W. Loftus said...

David, but what about hell? ;-)

David Wood said...

Ellis,

I did not DEFINE love in terms of pleasure and pain. I pointed out an inevitable response associated with genuine loving feelings for another person.

So love "inevitably" leads to an effort to protect people from suffering. How is pain/pleasure not part of your definition, then?

Or perhaps you think a person can, for example, love their child and be willing that they suffer preventable agonies that serve no necessary purpose?

The parent analogy doesn't quite work here, Ellis, which is important because you always use it. Certain goods in our world (free will, morality, etc.) cannot exist if God is present. Hence, to have certain goods, God has to be away from us, not obvious, and so on. To put it differently, a parent doesn't destroy anything by running to help a child when the child falls. God running to help a child when the child falls would require a completely different type of world. Of course, you can return to your "forcefields" argument, but even this would require a different kind of world. And I don't think your world would be better.

Moving the goalposts yet again. The POE concerns extreme suffering. Not pleasure.

You consistently pretend that your particular argument from evil is common to all atheists. Have you read what atheists are demanding? (I'll give you a hint: It involves quite a bit of pleasure.) Besides, think about it. Pleasure is the opposite of pain. Pain is evil. So pleasure is good. God is all-good. Hence, God would give us nothing but pleasure. Don't try to ignore the values you're advocating just because they make you sound like a hedonist.

Its the christians who believe in a heaven of unalloyed and unending joy. This bit of hedonism lies at the heart of your faith so, besides being irrelevent to the POE, it seems a bit disingenuous to criticize others for wanting a world where happiness rules and all tears are gone.

Notice that the Christian view is unending joy, not unending pleasure. And there is quite a difference. A person can have joy even in the midst of horrendous suffering (think about Mabel). To say that we will have eternal joy is not hedonistic, for the emphasis isn't on pleasure.

I would like my child to have a happy life but one with struggle and effort and obstacles to overcome. These are all character-enriching things. I wouldn't want a world of pampered playboys and playgirls.

Excellent! Then you're already far more noble than many of the atheists making the argument. But think of what you said and apply it to all humanity and not merely to a single person. For humanity as a whole to have struggle and obstacles and other "character-enriching things," we need a certain type of world. Look around you. This is the type of world we live in.

I have a simple request for you. Please give me a description of the world you would design if you were God. I'll tell you now, it had better not involve forcefields. And you can't interfere with morality, free will, or virtue. And you have to consider something like the fall. Now, tell me about your world. Paint me a picture.

David B. Ellis said...

I'd like to ask a question of David which, hopefully, will shed light on his position (either clarifying why his position is plausible or showing how implausible it is, as the case may be):

Imagine that you are observing God as he creates the cosmos. Imagine him considering the nature of the pain response in the living beings he will create (whether by guided evolution or special creation, whatever your position on that issue happens to be). He considers the possibility of giving all living beings the natural ability to override their pain response. That is, upon experiencing something that would cause agony to be able ramp down that pain response, making it strong enough that the person (or animal too) is aware of injury and the need to avoid actions that could aggravate it but which are not so strong as to allow living things to be forced to suffer horrible and prolonged tortures.

Please explain how, in the service of priorities he holds to be more important than whether his creatures suffer extreme prolonged pain, it was necessary to design the pain response as it is rather than this hypothetical alternative.

I confess, my imagination has been entirely insufficient to come up with a plausible reason. I invite you to do what I could not.

David Wood said...

Ah, the old "Why didn't God design us with a pain-relieving switch" objection.

(1) Problem: We'd flip the switch at all times, and this would be bad. You allow that we would need some indicator that tells us to remove ourselves from harm. Like it or not, pain serves this purpose quite well. If my hand lands on a stove, I don't want to think to myself, "Oh, my nerves are giving me a gentle indication that I should probably remove my hand at some point." No. I want excruciating pain, for my own good.

(2) The natural response here is, "But what about excruciating pain that doesn't help us in some way." Well, that's a product of being in a world without God's full presence. It's also a product of a world that can be arrived at via certain theodicies. But to stick with the fall for a moment, I'd say this. God gives us the pain response to protect us. But in a world without God, this pain doesn't always serve its purpose. But you're saying that God is somehow morally obligated to make sure that pain only serves it's purpose. You're saying, in effect, "God should be in our world making sure everything goes right." Or, in other words, "God should be here protecting our pleasure and minimizing our pain no matter how much we spit in his face." This goes back to values, my friend. The theist simply disagrees with your view of rebellion.

BTW, now your two recommendations are: (1) forcefields, and (2) a pain-reducing button. This sounds quite silly to me. Do you have any realistic suggestions?

David Wood said...

John,

It's good to see you in a good mood.

David B. Ellis said...


So love "inevitably" leads to an effort to protect people from suffering. How is pain/pleasure not part of your definition, then?


Apparently you aren't clear on what a definition is.

Ice is defined as the water
molecule in a solid state.

It evitably forms under certain conditions. But those conditions are not necessary to its definition. One does not have to know the freezing point of water to know the definition of water.


Certain goods in our world (free will, morality, etc.) cannot exist if God is present. Hence, to have certain goods, God has to be away from us, not obvious, and so on.


Two problems with this.

One: it is contradicted by christian theology. According to christians, angels are moral agents with free will (else how could Lucifer rebel and become evil). So, obviously, according to your own religion free will and morality are possible in the presence of God.

Two: even if point one did not hold, the issue is not whether God is present but whether he MUST set up the world in such a way as to require extreme suffering in order to serve important outweighing priorities (see my "God designing the pain response" though experiment of my previous post).


Moving the goalposts yet again. The POE concerns extreme suffering. Not pleasure.

You consistently pretend that your particular argument from evil is common to all atheists. Have you read what atheists are demanding?


Feel free to quote any formal statement of the POE given by an atheist philosopher which requires a world of unalloyed joy. I have yet to encounter one.


Notice that the Christian view is unending joy, not unending pleasure. And there is quite a difference. A person can have joy even in the midst of horrendous suffering (think about Mabel). To say that we will have eternal joy is not hedonistic, for the emphasis isn't on pleasure.


Joy isn't pleasurable. Yet again we enter the Bizarro world of the apologists mind.

Let me ask a question. If God granted you the power of healing would you have healed Mabel's physical illnesses and disabilities?

And, was Mabel in physical agony while she was filled with joy? You say see was immobile, blind and nearly deaf. You also say that see had cancer. But did you say she was in physical agony? Did she not receive pain medication if she was?

And, most importantly to the issue of the POE, would you not have been furious with the staff had they withheld pain medication from cancer patients in great pain?

What would you have said if they said they served values more important than the patients suffering and that that suffering was necessary to serve those higher goals?


For humanity as a whole to have struggle and obstacles and other "character-enriching things," we need a certain type of world. Look around you. This is the type of world we live in.


Again, I refer you to my "God mulling over the design of the pain response" thought experiment.

David Wood said...

But those conditions are not necessary to its definition. One does not have to know the freezing point of water to know the definition of water.

Now you're just nit-picking. You know completely well that an extended definition of water would include all sorts of things. You could, of course, define love as "something good." But if you're saying that love entails certain things, don't try to get all technical when I say that you're incorporating these things into your definition. This is boring me.

One: it is contradicted by christian theology. According to christians, angels are moral agents with free will (else how could Lucifer rebel and become evil). So, obviously, according to your own religion free will and morality are possible in the presence of God.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Listen to my second debate with Loftus. I already corrected this flawed view. The angels who rebelled were never in the full presence of God.

Two: even if point one did not hold, the issue is not whether God is present but whether he MUST set up the world in such a way as to require extreme suffering in order to serve important outweighing priorities.

Please tell me how much pain is "just right" if you put your hand in a fire.

Feel free to quote any formal statement of the POE given by an atheist philosopher which requires a world of unalloyed joy. I have yet to encounter one.

I'm not referring to what William Rowe puts into his premises. I'm saying it's always in the argument. I'll say it again. Pain is a great evil. This would make pleasure a great good. God is all-good. Therefore God should only give us pleasure. Which part of this do you disagree with?

Would I cure Mabel? Sure. As long as it didn't destroy quite a few other things that are more important than an individual's suffering. And provided all of humanity hadn't rebelled against me, and I was infinitely just and actually took rebellion seriously. Ellis, you think of God in strictly human terms. It never occurs to you to think that certain infinite attribues might make someone act just a little differently from you.

Now are you actually going to answer the question I asked? Tell me about your world.

John W. Loftus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John W. Loftus said...

I have a simple request for you. Please give me a description of the world you would design if you were God. I'll tell you now, it had better not involve forcefields. And you can't interfere with morality, free will, or virtue. And you have to consider something like the fall. Now, tell me about your world. Paint me a picture.

You mean, what kind of world would I create if I were omnibenelovent? Easy. A heavenly world with creatures in my direct presence having imperishable bodies.

That wasn't difficult, now was it?

Oh, and what about hell? ;-)

David Wood said...

Whoa!!

You're saying that Mabel wasn't really suffering because she may have been on pain medication? She was alone, blind, and nearly deaf in a filthy hospital for twenty-five years! She was being eaten-away by cancer.

But joy in spite of this doesn't count?

And you don't think there's a difference between pleasure and joy? What sort of sense does that make? Read about the Apostle Paul. Read about the rest of the Apostles. They took joy in their sufferings. Does this mean their suffering was pleasurable? Hardly. Now you do sound like a hedonist.

Take certain people who's lives were filled with pleasure--Elvis, Anna Nicole Smith, Madonna. Do any of these people have joy? No. Then are pleasure and joy the same thing? No.

Can a person be filled with joy and yet be enduring horrible suffering? Absolutely. So is the Christian's concept of a world with complete joy hedonistic? Only in your mind.

David Wood said...

John,

I specifically said that free will, morality, etc., couldn't be interfered with. And you just ruled them out of your world. This is part of the reason I've never seen anything in your argument that would impress a theist. All of the things you're willing to sacrifice on the altar of pleasure are things that are extremely important to other people.

David Wood said...

I've got some work to do now. I'll catch up with you guys later. Have fun building your imaginary worlds of mindless robots, forcefields, and pain-relieving buttons. I'm sure that sort of world really appeals to you.

John W. Loftus said...

To my knowldege, David, you have never specified exactly why you think free will is an important value, especially when compared to the suffering that would result from God having supposedly given it to us.

John W. Loftus said...

David, answer me this when you come back. How much pain would you like for your future children to have in this world? How much pain do you want your dog fluffy to have in this world? Isn't your goal as a good father and dog owner to keep any pain they experience to a minimum, even if you know you cannot shelter them?

Stunney said...

Two questions arise:

1) Is there a preferable alternative physical nature available to God to create?

2) Even if there isn't, is God still justified in creating this one rather than none?

To show that the first question must be answered, “Yes, there is an alternative physical nature available to God”, one would have to specify a alternative physical nature (in all detail), and then demonstrate a) that it is possible, and b) that overall, it is preferable. No-one has ever come remotely close to accomplishing either of these tasks.

And it is very hard to see how anyone could.

To show that the second question must be answered, “No, God is not justified in creating this world” one would have to deal with a fairly obvious fact: namely, that most people are glad they exist. They'd rather live than die, upon reflection. They're glad the universe exists with its nature and with them in it, upon reflection, and all things considered. Suicide is a distinctly minority taste.




If an alternative set of physical laws is logically possible, then one can wonder whether it would have been better for God to instantiate that alternative. But a) we don't know if there is such an alternative that is also consistent with the evolution of human life; and b) we don't know if there is such an alternative that would produce overall
less natural harm for sentient beings than the actual set produces. Only something approaching an omniscient
mind could make the necessary calculations.

Suppose an omniscient mind did make the calculations, and concluded that in order to create a physical universe inhabited by rational beings capable of moral goodness, the least harmful set of laws permitting their existence and evolution of such beings, would be the ones that actually obtain in our universe. Then it would not be surprising or objectionable if the laws of physics are as they are.

As many physicists have noted in recent years, even miniscule changes in the values of physical magnitudes involved in the laws of physics would render life impossible.

It is easy to imagine that changing the laws of physics in such a way as to rule out the possibility of cancer, burning to death, or drowning might simultaneously
give rise to the possibility of other hitherto unimagined great physical harms--such is the sensitivity of matter to
tiny changes in its microscopic properties.

Would we welcome the impossibility of burning to death if the
alternative physics required for that to be the case meant that there was a good chance that the earth's atmosphere would then be highly unstable and much more frequently liable to penetration by harmful cosmic rays which caused intense pain and a slow lingering death? Would we welcome the impossibility of drowning if the alternative physics needed to yield that impossibility also so affected the nature of H2O that being splashed with too much H20 caused a painful and fatal skin disease? (This is assuming that changing the nature of H20 was logically consistent with there being humans in the first place, which is a doubtful assumption to make in any case.)

John W. Loftus said...

Stunny, we're not talking here just in terms of what God could or could not create, although it seems clear as the creator of the laws of nature he could've done anything he wanted to do. Besides, if God made an axe head float he could've saved the Titanic; if God brought the people of Moses through the Red Sea on dry ground he could've stopped the Indonesian tsunami; if he fed them for forty years with manna he could feed the hungry around the world.

Is your God lazy? How could he be? He's supposedly omnipotent. Then he doesn't care. Admit it.

Stunney said...

John Loftus,

I don't know what God could or couldn't have done among all logically possible options. But that's irrelevant.

What you need to do is a) come up with an alternative physics, and b) calculate the totality of its consequences if instantiated, and c) show that your alternative physics would be preferable to the actual physics, all things considered.

Unless you or someone else does this, I don't see how the problem of evil even gets off the ground as a philosophical argument.

Come up with the alternative physics and its underlying mathematics. Ensure that the alternative physics you come up with would not cause a worse balance of total good and harm for sentient creatures, if any, in your alternative universe than the actual physics does in the actual universe.

Please submit your proposal to a refereed academic journal. I'd like to see it published, along with your detailed computations.

You're obviously smarter than God if there is such a thing as God, so this should be most interesting if you can do it.

We have to get the question of what laws of physics, if any, ought to obtain dealt with first, before we can decide what, if any, 'miracles' ought to be performed by God, if God exists.

John W. Loftus said...

What you need to do is a) come up with an alternative physics, and b) calculate the totality of its consequences if instantiated, and c) show that your alternative physics would be preferable to the actual physics, all things considered.

Let me turn this around on you, okay? Two can play this game. You show me that this is impossible for an omnipotent God who created this world ex nihilo to do, okay? Anything less than an impossibility and I will blame your God for not having done better than he did.

But my argument doesn't depend upon God creating a different world anyway. Can he do miracles? Can he do perpetual miracles? Yes or No? Answer the question. Your God, if he exists, could make amputeed limbs grow back miraculously just like broken bones heal themselves now. If he consistently did that then we wouldn't know any different. Your God could miraculously sustain all of our bodies so that we wouldn't even have to eat, and thus eliminating the law of predation in our world which hourly causes so much suffering in the animal world, as well as when we humans fall prey to hungry bear, lion or a shark.

Stunney said...

Let me turn this around on you, okay?

I'll take that as a "No, I can't come up with a preferable alternative physics."

Can he do miracles? Can he do perpetual miracles? Yes or No? Answer the question.

If by 'miracle', you mean something with very low probability relative to human expectations where the latter depend upon observed regularities in nature, then it seems to me that 'perpetual miracle' is a contradiction in terms. If something counts as a miracle at all, it must be something rare. That's one reason we don't count the normal healing of broken bones as miraculous.

If amputated limbs normally grew back, that wouldn't be deemed miraculous. Likewise if human bodies could normally sustain themselves without eating.

Hence it doesn't even make sense to say that God could ensure that such things happened habitually by means of miracle. If they happened habitually, we wouldn't call it a miracle. We would just call it a law of nature.

So really what you're asking me is, "Could God have had the world operate according to different laws of physics from the ones that actually obtain?" Well, that was what I was asking you to answer affirmatively by specifying an alternative set of laws of physics. You didn't give me an answer.

As for myself, I honestly don't know. Someone with an authoritative scientific mind might know. I don't know myself what differences from the actual laws of physics would be needed for it to be possible for human bodies perpetually to sustain themselves without eating. My guess is that there are no scientifically conceivable differences from our actual physics that would ensure both the existence of human bodies and their sustaining themselves routinely without eating. But I really don't know.

I presume that if the Christian doctrine of bodily resurrection is true, then there must be a way for resurrected bodies to be sustained. But I doubt very much that that way is scientifically conceivable by us at the moment.

Of course, theism being true is logically independent of the truth of that Christian doctrine. But you might ask a Christian why did not God simply create us in resurrected bodies from the get-go.

Well, of course, they wouldn't be resurrected in that case. But still, why not create us in some such supernatural bodily form?

I presume the Christian answer would see supernaturally paradisal states for morally autonomous creatures as requiring that they be the result of prior choices. The Christian would go on to say that our earthly life is the realm and period of choice for humans, and that our bad choices have significantly worsened the conditions of our earthly life.

John W. Loftus said...

Stunney, I'm stunned. There is no question that you participate in logical gerrymandering. Can God do perpetual miracles or not? Yes or No? I don't care if after doing them you no longer want to call them "miracles." At that point all we're dealing with is nomenclature.

David B. Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...


You're saying that Mabel wasn't really suffering because she may have been on pain medication? She was alone, blind, and nearly deaf in a filthy hospital for twenty-five years! She was being eaten-away by cancer.

But joy in spite of this doesn't count?


Try responding to the actual question rather than distorting it. I am not questioning the idea that a person can experience joy while being physically disabled or in some physical discomfort.

I do, however, question the idea that a person can be filled with joy while in physical agony.

David B. Ellis said...


I have a simple request for you. Please give me a description of the world you would design if you were God. I'll tell you now, it had better not involve forcefields. And you can't interfere with morality, free will, or virtue. And you have to consider something like the fall. Now, tell me about your world. Paint me a picture.


I already gave you an example of a world which would involve vastly less suffering than this one and which would not interfere with morality, free will or virtue. AND one which would only involve the most minor modification from the world we actually inhabit:

A world were all living things were provided the ability to consciously dampen the pain response to a managable level when they suffer an injury that, without it, would cause prolonged agony.

Now its up to you to give a plausible reason to expect that such a world would interfere with higher priorities like those you mentioned (free will, virtue, morality).

David B. Ellis said...

Oh, and as to the fall, since we would still be separated from God the Fall is still in place.

So? Now its up to you to point out why this small modification interferes with higher priorities.

Stunney said...

John Loftus,

Your question, for reasons I've already given, amounts to whether there is a logically possible alternative physics that would produce a significantly better balance of good over harm, all things considered, than does the actual physics.

I've already answered that question--I simply don't know if there is.

But you are confident that there IS such an alternative physics (which you idiosyncratically term 'perpetual miracle').

Fine. Simply specify the alternative physics and its underlying mathematics, and by detailed computation actually demonstrate that the alternative physics you come up with really would cause a better balance of total good and harm for sentient physical creatures in your alternative universe than the actual physics does in the actual universe.

Please submit your proposal to a refereed academic journal. I'd like to see it published, along with your detailed computations.

You're obviously smarter than God if there is such a thing as God, so this should be most interesting if you can do it.

If not, then I think we should regard your confidence that there really is a preferable alternative physics as unwarranted.

David B. Ellis said...


Fine. Simply specify the alternative physics and its underlying mathematics, and by detailed computation actually demonstrate that the alternative physics you come up with really would cause a better balance of total good and harm for sentient physical creatures in your alternative universe than the actual physics does in the actual universe.


Stunney, I managed to propose a change in our world in my previous post that reduces suffering vastly without even having to alter the physics of our universe.


Any response?

Stunney said...

A world were all living things were provided the ability to consciously dampen the pain response to a managable level when they suffer an injury that, without it, would cause prolonged agony.

David B. Ellis,

This scenario describes an outcome of some putative physical biology, which you claim is both feasible and preferable to the pain outcomes associated with our actual physical biology.

But the scenario does not specify the alternative physical biology or explain why or how it would produce the outcome described in your scenario.

A child might claim that the World Trade Center towers would not have collapsed if they had been made of some hypothesized but unspecified material. For example, the child could claim the towers would not have collapsed if they had been made of gingerbread which had been reinforced by kryptonite.

All that's going on in such a case is that some imaginary but unspecified stuff is being hypothesized as having the power to produce a better outcome.

That's all that's going on in your example too.

In neither case is any real-world feasibility demonstrated.

One thing to keep in mind is that everything we know about physical things is based on very sophisticated mathematics. Well-defined, coherent, consistent mathematical relationships lie at the heart of matter, energy, space, and related physical concepts.

Rather than asking theists to imagine hypothetical 'stuff' that produces better outcomes vis-a-vis pain, non-believers should be asking theoretical physicists, biochemists, evolutionary biologists, physiologists to come up with an alternative feasible physics, an alternative feasible biochemistry, an alternative feasible physiology etc that can be coherently described in the appropriate mathematical and scientific language, and which is such that a sufficiently powerful being could instantiate it in physical reality, and which is such that it would produce overall a better set of outcomes than the actual physical world produces.

In the absence of such a superior and specified blueprint for physical biology, the non-believer is like the child who proposes that gingerbread reinforced by kryptonite would have saved the twin towers had it been used in their construction.

David B. Ellis said...


But the scenario does not specify the alternative physical biology or explain why or how it would produce the outcome described in your scenario.


Let us just suppose, hypothetically, that this scenario would be within the power of an omnipotent being. I know. That may be difficult for you to imagine.

But suppose, unlikely as it sounds, that it were within God's powers to do.

Would it interfere with any of the higher priorities that David Wood mentions?

Please do not be deliberately obtuse (tempting as that seems to be for you) and note that the question does not require the precise biological mechanism to be described in order to be answered.

Stunney said...

David B. Ellis,

I really, honestly, truly do not know whether exercizing the hypothetical option you envisage would interfere with Woods' higher priorities.

It does strike me that pain intensity is not commensurable in any obvious or straightforward way with something like free will, or the virtue of patience.

How much pain should an evil person be allowed to inflict? Any? If some, then how much? How much is too much?

These strike me as genuinely difficult questions. As something of a Kantian, I think that insofar as I will the free exercize of my own moral agency---and I do---I am also committed to willing the same for all other rational beings. Hence I'm committed to some extent to the real-world possibility of inflicting pain, both for myself and for others. But I also will that there be limits to the amount of pain that can be inflicted by one moral agent upon other such agents or upon other living things.

It appears to me that there are such limits. I just do not know if the re-drawing of those limits in the fashion you envisage would seriously compromise any 'higher priorities'.

One set of intuitions I have is that evil moral agency should, to the extent it exists, fully appear as such, and that for this to happen, genuine and significant pain potential is needed and that, as constituted, our world does a very good job on this score. But whether the amount of pain is significantly more than is required to show forth moral agency, that's something I really don't know, and something that I doubt I can have any way of being sure about in this life.

Let me add one additional thought to my previous post.

It seems quite possible that humans already have a pain-modulation capability.

Certain people can walk over hot coals (e.g. in India), endure crucifixions (e.g. in the Philippines), and even suffer rape and self-immolations without displaying signs of agony (e.g. Bhuddist monks protesting the Vietnam War, plus I read one account in the New York Review of a young Salvadoran girl who calmly sang Catholic hymns while being raped to death during the massacre at El Mozote).

This pain-modulating capability may have been damaged severely by the psychological consequences of sin, and for most people it may only be vestigial. But perhaps it can be strengthened by the committed practice of virtue, spirituality, and asceticism.

There are also many pain killers supplied by nature, and by science.
But perhaps much more needs to be done by way of understanding and enhancing the power of the human mind itself to consciously exercize a modulating power of pain.

So perhaps God did do as you suggest God should have done, but we through our own fault failed to reap the benefit.

mrieder said...

Stunny,

I am really glad you brought up the points that you did. So often people expect that God could simply change one aspect of reality without altering anything else. This would fall under the classification of "omnipotent" but perhaps it would be analogous to God creating a rock so big that he could not lift it, or creating a square circle. Perhaps it would be logically meaningless and contradictory for God to simply alter one aspect of reality, sort of like making a 3-d mobius strip. You think very quickly and express yourself well. I respect that. I also think it is interesting that most people assume that God automatically knows the outcome of everything. Perhaps this is his first time creating a universe and it is proving to be quite tricky, even for a being of such immense ability as God. Or perhaps this is how it has to be in order for things to turn out well and for things to be just. I have always supposed that reality as we know it is a perfect place for us to decide whether we want God to exist and to decide whether or not to love said God. Here there is no coercion because those who do not like God simply stop believing and continue on with life, quite well in some or even most cases. It seems that there is just enough evidence for God and just enough ambiguity for someone to really go either way based on what he or she wants to believe. The POE definitely provides ambiguity, but I also think that it is not a "clincher" against the possibility of God. I think it is just part of the deal. What do you think? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.


Cheers,

M.R.

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

You wrote"A world were all living things were provided the ability to consciously dampen the pain response to a managable level when they suffer an injury that, without it, would cause prolonged agony."

I agree with Stunny that such a thing does exists. Do you remember the story of the hiker whose arm became lodged and he had to cut it off in order to keep from dying of hunger (or thirst or exposure). Somehow he was able to actually amputate his own limb with a utility knife.

As a matter of fact, the thalamus in the brain is responsible for modulating the pain response. Additionally, according to the gate-theory of pain, the body has the ability to "shut off" pain receptors in the spinal cord when other sensory receptors such as touch and proprioceptors. This is why rubbing a sting will reduce the pain.

If you are suggesting that it be possible that all pain could be consciously willed away, then I say that this is not a practical idea. Suppose that a professional football player was able to will away the pain of an injured muscle or ligament. He would continue to play until the muscle or ligament ruptured. You cannot tell me that he would not. I know people who have done such things even with pain. I knew a master sergeant in the army who ran approximately 60 miles on a severely injured ankle. And that was with pain . Imagine what people would do to themselves if they did not have pain to stop them.

Pain serves a very functional purpose. It keeps us from destroying ourselves. Individuals without pain sensation are at high risk because they are not aware when they become injured. This is a severe problem in the late stages of diabetes. Diabetes causes a condition called peripheral neuropathy. Basically the peripheral nerves die and the person loses sensation in the extremities. These people are at higher risk for infection because when they hurt their feet, they do not have pain to alert them. It can be days before they notice the injury. This leads to an increased incidence in infection and amputation among diabetics.

Pain is not bad. It is good. Your solution to the POE would entail dire consequences for humans.

Now, let us consider animals who do not possess the cognitive capabilities to realize the severity of their injury. If they did not have pain to tell them to stop they would most certainly die. As it is I am sure that animals do not feel pain as acutely as humans. Animals continue to function despite greivious injuries. I could give some examples, but I am sure you are aware of the incredible toughness of animals. They truly seem immune to pain sometimes.

I think a better approach is not, let's get rid of pain. You should say something like, why is there a reason that we need pain to tell us about injury? That is a better question. Of course, then you have to face Stunny's challenge of developing even a basic concept of an alternative reality which is noncontradictory and plausible.

In actuality, this reality may be the only meaningful one possible. Either way, doing away with pain in our current reality would cause far more harm than good.

Cheers,

M.R.

mrieder said...

Addendum to my previous comment:

The master sergeant was not in a combat or life-or-death situation, he was competing in a 100 mile race. He injured his ankle at mile 27. I do not remember if he broke it or just severely sprained it.

Cheers,

M.T.

Amy Sayers said...

Greetings! I find myself posting on a blog--something I never thought I'd do--because I find your discussion so engaging! Well done, David and all you who seem to be regulars.

The set-up here is a bit long, but stick with me, please, as I conclude with a sincere question for the skeptics:

I find the skeptics' challenge from "pleasure as the anti-pain" line very sympathetic. In practical terms, it registers. I have a young child who has suffered very, very little so far in her life. And yet it still kills me to see another child treat her unkindly. Something as small as snatching a toy from her hand causes my blood to rush.

What would I do if she ever encountered real pain? What if she fell ill with a debilitating disease? Or were kidnapped and tormented? Geez. I am starting to panic just from the thought of it.

I know that my first (nor second, nor third. . .) reaction would NOT be, "Painful as it is for her, and me and my husband, and her grandparents (and on and on). . .God is allowing this because it is necessary for a greater good." And if someone were to try to comfort me with this truth (which I can call "truth" when I'm currently on the "comfortable" end of the pain spectrum because it's an easy statement of faith to hold onto when comfortable) I'd probably see it as a platitude of no comfort at all.

So, if any of the skeptics are asking the question-behind-the-question of, "Do you REALLY believe this????" there's an honest answer from one believer. I don't think I would believe it if my own feet were ever held to the fire.

Except.

Except that there are many verses in the Bible that promise comfort, joy and a "peace of God that transcends all understanding" in times of great trial. And many who have walked through the valley of pain have come out the other end to testify of God, and not against God.

So I have to change my answer above: In my own human strength and with my own feeble intellect, I couldn't will myself to be anything other than terribly hurt and deeply angry. But with the Holy Spirit as my Comforter, I could be brought to a place of real belief in the same statement that--sans the Holy Spirit--would be just a platitude.

And likewise for every other type of evil, there is an answer internal to Christianity that explains how that evil exists along with the Christian God.

This leads to my question for skeptics: What criteria are you using to determine which elements of Christianity you allow, and which are off limits to appeal. You allow the element of an omni-good, -powerful and -knowing God. You allow the element of that God's on-going involvement in His creation.

But on what grounds do you disallow the other elements central to Christianity? For instance, if you are allowing God, why disallow the Holy Spirit and His divine comfort? Why disallow the "ranking" of values--e.g. pleasure behind free will--David has been suggesting?

- AS



- AS

David B. Ellis said...


Pain serves a very functional purpose. It keeps us from destroying ourselves.


To return to your example:

is it better that we have extreme pain so that, very occasionally, football players don't foolishly aggravate an injury.

Is that really so important that millions upon millions must suffer horrible agonies?

What happened to that highly important value of free will? Should football players be prevented from their own foolish choices?


I think a better approach is not, let's get rid of pain.


Do not alter the scenario. It was not that pain be eliminated (as I said, there should remain enough pain to serve the purpose of limited the use of an injured bodypart). But that pain could be far less and still serve this function. Extreme pain is not necessary to this end.


Your solution to the POE would entail dire consequences for humans.


You have given us no reason to think so. Your only example was of aggravation of injuries. A problem my solution already addresses.


You should say something like, why is there a reason that we need pain to tell us about injury? That is a better question.


apparently my scenario is effective since you are forced to alter its parameters to be able to think of any criticism of it. My scenario, again, does not involve eliminating pain. only of reducing it. The functional service of pain, to make us avoid aggravating injuries, does not require agonies.

If it did, why would we give people pain medication?


Of course, then you have to face Stunny's challenge of developing even a basic concept of an alternative reality which is noncontradictory and plausible.


My scenario did not involve altering the physics of our universe. Stunney's objection is inapplicable. Its already been admitted that what I describe is possible (and already existent in rare individuals through special sorts of training).


Either way, doing away with pain in our current reality would cause far more harm than good.


I point out again the fact that you have been forced to alter my scenario in order to find fault with it (my scenario does not involve the elimination of pain).

David B. Ellis said...


But on what grounds do you disallow the other elements central to Christianity? For instance, if you are allowing God, why disallow the Holy Spirit and His divine comfort? Why disallow the "ranking" of values--e.g. pleasure behind free will--David has been suggesting?


Hello, Amy. Welcome to the discussion.

The answer to your question above is:

we don't disallow these things.

Even granting them, however, does not help your position.

As already pointed out, free will is irrelevent to much if not all suffering, that is, we can have just as much free will and have far less suffering (examples: God could have made our immune systems sufficiently strong that viruses don't kill off our children, or the though experiment I proposed in which we are given the ability to dampen otherwise agonizing pain to manageable levels).

And, as to the comfort of the Holy Spirit, I'm afraid that it seems to be rarely applied to help the christians case. Take my previous example of the infants suffering from congenital deformities so extreme that it suffers agonies lasting weeks before dying. There are far too many innocents who experience no such comfort for it to be a credible objection to the POE.

I would also like to point out a misconception you seem to have:


I find the skeptics' challenge from "pleasure as the anti-pain" line very sympathetic.

and your comment concerning the ranking of values:

pleasure behind free will




It is the THEISTS, like Wood, how have been claiming that the position of the atheists is one of the ranking of pleasure/hedonism above higher values.

This is not the case. Our objections have concerning EXTREME SUFFERING. Not pleasure. That is a distortion of our position.

So it would be more accurately asked: where does COMPASSION FOR SUFFERING (not hedonism) lie in respect to the ranking of other values (like free will). And does the achievement of goals dictated by values held to be more important REQUIRE that agonies be suffered by millions to acheive them?

again, the important questions you need to answer are:

Would it interfere with free will (or any other higher value) if, for example, humans had a better immune systems and our children didn't die ravaged by plagues?

and, if your comment concerning the comfort of the holy spirit is a valid objection:

Why is it not provided to infants, toddlers and young children suffering and dying in agony?

No, I'm afraid these two things do nothing to help the case against the POE. So it seems to me, you may think differently. In which case, I invite you to explain your position more fully.

Amy Sayers said...

Ellis wrote:
As already pointed out, free will is irrelevent to much if not all suffering, that is, we can have just as much free will and have far less suffering (examples: God could have made our immune systems sufficiently strong that viruses don't kill off our children, or the though experiment I proposed in which we are given the ability to dampen otherwise agonizing pain to manageable levels).

I think the answers to these proposals have been good, and the discussion of them is on a different track than mine. What I want to point out here is an example of how you aren't really granting that God is all-knowing. If you were really allowing this, you wouldn't have grounds to say, "God should have known better than to create our immune systems this way/allow certain viruses/fail to create a pain-dampening mechanism."

Earlier, then, I was in error when I said that you "allow" an all-knowing God. I should have written that the POE as generally stated posits an all-knowing God. But the way skeptics on this blog have been arguing, you clearly re-describe this God as "The God who should have known better."


Also, I am not arguing that the free will defense works to answer every type of "evil." That is, a child's suffering of disease doesn't seem to be related to the possibility of free will. But a child's suffering at the hands of a kidnapper is.

This is why I included the comment, "And likewise for every other type of evil, there is an answer internal to Christianity that explains how that evil exists along with the Christian God." The Holy Spirit defense works for some examples. The free will defense for the others. The Fall for still others (e.g. natural disasters). And so on.

My point is not just to credit the Holy Spirit as the all-time hero of the discussion, but to say that Christianity has a complete answer to all the problems of evil.

It's obvious that parts of this answer are not satisfying to skeptics. (For example, there is God's famous answer to Job where, when all other explanations available to Job fail, God simply says, "I'm the One who knows everything and you're not. Can you be humble enough even in your pain to believe this and trust that I am still all-good?" (from the paraphrased edition :)

Like I said: no doubt unsatisfying to those outside the Christian house. But it still is an important answer within that house. So my question remains: on what grounds do you allow or disallow elements of the whole Christian answer to POE? (Here I am assuming that you know the whole Christian answer to POE.)

David B. Ellis said...

So, basically, you accept as an article of faith that there are good reasons for God's allowing terrible suffering and not set up conditions in ways (like those I proposed) that would greatly reduce suffering without interfering with free will and other other important things even though you have no idea what they are.

All I can say to that is:

an article of faith is not an argument and so, if that is your position, then discussion is at an end.

If anyone would like to present an argument for their position, either a reason(s) for allowing evil that explain the problematic cases or at least an argument as to why such a reason is likely to exist (even if its nature is unknown) then I'd be glad to debate the matter. But one cannot debate articles of faith.

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

I see how I did change your argument. I recognize my mistake. Even with a remaining "manageable" level of pain, the scenario falls prey to the same problems. Perhaps if you defined "manageable" in a more explicit way. If you have already done so, and I missed it, I apologize, I did not see it in the posts.

I say again, if people are able to consciously manage their pain, they would continue to do things that are detrimental to their bodies even with a "manageable" level of pain. A "manageable" level of pain is just that- manageable. It is not sufficient to change behavior. There are undoubtedly some people who are disciplined enough to stop detrimental activities but the uneducated and undisciplined would suffer functional loss because they did not know any better. Pain tells us 1) that we have been injured, and 2) that we are still injured. I cannot emphasize enough that the ability to control pain to a "manageable" level.

In addition, it is possible that perspective of pain would be lost altogether and "manageable" pain would become the worst pain imaginable and inflict psychological suffering equivalent to what you consider "unmanageable" now.

The whole problem is that for pain to be effective it has to be uncomfortable. Its effectiveness is directly proportionate to its level of discomfort. If humans could consciously keep it at a moderate level, it would be only moderately useful.

Regarding the current pain modulation systems in our bodies, those are not part of conscious control. They happen automatically. They help us perform in emergency situations, but when those situations are over, the pain comes back and we know that we need to heal. This is very different from your proposal.


Now, I know this does not solve the POE. That was not my point. I am trying to show you the fact that in our current reality, pain that cannot be consciously controlled serves a good function.

Cheers,

M.R.

Amy Sayers said...

You've skated over a lot of ground to sum up my position as, "Well, I just believe."

God's answer to Job, I say again, is just one element of the *complete* (I say again) answer Christianity poses to the POE.

I'm not sure why you haven't answered my question of which elements internal to Christianity you are willing allow. It really is a sincere question.


You say you allow for the Holy Spirit's work in terms of comfort. OK. So that answers the suffering of believers. Do you allow for the Fall? If so, this takes care of suffering caused by natural disasters and the suffering of animals caused by other animals. Do you allow for the Flood and the following Noahic covenant? If so, this answers the suffering of animals when humans eat them.

Again, all of this is internal to Christianity.

Do you allow that God is all-knowing? If so, and if you also allow that you are not all-knowing, then it is logical to suppose that the thing God knows about free will in relation to extreme pain, for instance, falls into the set of things you do not know that God does know.

Is it "faith" to believe that things do exist in such a set? By positing that there is an all-knowing God, you yourself are creating that set. And as far as you are willing to posit that God for the sake of argument, you are also positing that set. I am just appealing to that very set as one of several elements of the Christian answer to the POE.

We could draw a Venn diagram and label the set of things God knows that you don't Set A. You are saying, "We can't have a discussion about the things that exist in Set A unless you are willing to explain/defend those things in terms that are not exclusively internal to Christianity."

You can say this, of course. But it affects the rules of engagement here. Namely, that the Christian can use some answers internal to Christianity but not others. And my original question asks what criteria you are using to allow or disallow various internal answers.

Do you WANT the Christian answer to the Problem of Evil? Or do you want an answer to the POE that can work outside of Christianity?

Stunney said...

David B. Ellis wrote:

All I can say to that is:

an article of faith is not an argument and so, if that is your position, then discussion is at an end.


Couldn't it be argued that it is an article of faith for the non-believer that there is an alternative physical nature that an omnipotent God could have instantiated with a better total outcome (across a range of values) than the actual physical nature has?

I have frequently seen such a belief assumed to be true, but never demonstrated to be true.

The non-believers never come up with the alternative math, physics, chemistry etc that would have to be involved. They never come up with the detailed computations and rankings of values.

They simply isolate one or other area of disvalue and imagine it didn't exist. Or they isolate one or other item in the world and imagine that it worked better.

And then they take their imaginary scenarios and treat it as an article of faith 1) that they could have been realized and 2) that they would have produced a better total outcome.

Imagine a better immune system. Imagine we could easily modulate our own pain. Imagine sharks had plastic teeth. Imagine there was no war. Imagine you could do a space-walk without a space-helmet. Imagine there was no global warming. Imagine Hitler was a devout rabbi. Imagine trees grew on the sun. Imagine I was made of iron. Imagine everyone loved everyone else all the time.

We can imagine things all day long.

But, you know, specifying a preferable alternative physics is very hard. Ditto specifying a preferable alternative biochemistry, specifying a preferable alternative set of physical-mental interactions, etc.

David B. Ellis said...


The whole problem is that for pain to be effective it has to be uncomfortable.


Utterly agonizing pain, however, is almost always NOT effective. Just the opposite.

Which is exactly why practically no one (you included, I suspect) is opposed to pain medication for those in agony.


I am trying to show you the fact that in our current reality, pain that cannot be consciously controlled serves a good function.


It really doesnt matter whether this modification of the human pain centers is consciously controlled or not. For example, an even simpler and probably better way is for the level of pain possible for the pain centers of the brain to be set lower. Capable of quite severe pain....but far from utter agony.

This would not harm our ability to heal by making significant numbers of us cause ourselves significantly more injury (as is amply demonstrated by the fact that people in this country routinely take medications that greatly dampen pain and manage to avoid aggravation of injuries just fine).

And since this is the only reason you have given why the current design of the way humans experience pain is the optimal one you have, as of yet, no credible objection to my proposal.

David B. Ellis said...


Couldn't it be argued that it is an article of faith for the non-believer that there is an alternative physical nature that an omnipotent God could have instantiated with a better total outcome (across a range of values) than the actual physical nature has?


Not credibly, I think. As I said in my previous post. We already have the ability to consciously modify the experience of pain through drugs and all of us consider it a great boon to humanity. To claim that if God made this ability one natural to our brains (for example, by automatically generating better natural pain killer during extreme agony than the ones our bodies currently have) that this would significantly harm us is simply reaching.


They simply isolate one or other area of disvalue and imagine it didn't exist. Or they isolate one or other item in the world and imagine that it worked better.


Again, the invention of pain medication amply demonstrates how the ability to dampen agonizing pain affects us.....and we are all agreed that its for the good. Making it natural to the brain doesn't significantly alter the scenario.....it just makes the boon of reducing human suffering more reliable.


Imagine a better immune system. Imagine we could easily modulate our own pain. Imagine sharks had plastic teeth. Imagine there was no war. Imagine you could do a space-walk without a space-helmet. Imagine there was no global warming. Imagine Hitler was a devout rabbi. Imagine trees grew on the sun. Imagine I was made of iron. Imagine everyone loved everyone else all the time.

We can imagine things all day long.

But, you know, specifying a preferable alternative physics is very hard. Ditto specifying a preferable alternative biochemistry, specifying a preferable alternative set of physical-mental interactions, etc.


Let me cut through what seems to be more smokescreen than substantive objection with a simple question:

If there was a gene in the human population which allowed exactly the sort of pain reduction I describe, would you prefer your child inherit it or not? If not, why?

When we have your answer to the question we can then address whether such a capability would be possible (though the answer to that seems rather obvious).

Rich said...

If I understand you correctly, D Ellis, you basically want suffering to go from utter agony, to extreme? say a child dying of a disease would suffer a little less on the agony scale but would still suffer extremely and still die. So that makes it better to suffer a lesser pain before dying? While this may be a possibility for God to have created within us as you say I don't see it really accomplishing much because then we still suffer to the extreme instead of utter so that now extreme becomes the most pain we suffer. To be honest I don't see that even makong God better in your eyes. If someone was dying in your new scenerio you could tell them that al least they are only extremely suffering instead of utter agony, I'm sure they would feel much better. I think you don't like the answers about your scenerio you have here but they are good ones.

Stunney said...

To claim that if God made this ability one natural to our brains (for example, by automatically generating better natural pain killer during extreme agony than the ones our bodies currently have) that this would significantly harm us is simply reaching.


I don't think it is.

People can easily become dependent on artificial pain-killers, and/or the pain-killer becomes less effective over time. What this shows is that pain, and the intensity of pain, have irreducibly subjective and variable components.
Thus whatever level of pain one subjectively experiences has the capacity to be experienced as moderate or as intolerable. It doesn't seem to matter if the modulating mechanism is natural or artificial. Some young children scream bloody murder upon receiving an injection. Other children of the same age and with the same injection assure mommy that it didn't hurt a bit.

I agree with mrieder that what you're calling 'manageable' pain now would be called 'unmanageable' if it were the worst pain anyone ever experienced.

An analogous remark may be made about the quantity of suffering. I see 200,000 people perishing in a tsunami, it looks a lot worse than one person perishing in a car accident. But suppose that the latter happened against the background of a prior total planetary population of only 10 people (the car having been produced by robots). It might then appear as if 'one person dying in a car crash' ranked as an epochal tragedy.

I suspect that what you might deem a moderately bad toothache would be deemed horrendous suffering if it was the worst possible pain experienceable. And I would probably regard the ordinary discomforts endured by an average Eskimo as unendurable. Indeed, I'm sure I would never stop complaining about my great-grandparents' living conditions to the point where they would be rolling on the floor with laughter.

In short, there is no objective measure of pain. So whatever limit God set on experienceable pain, that limit would be subjectively experienced as so horrifying by some that for them it would call into question God's existence or benevolence.

Indeed, the intense and unending drive to produce artificial painkillers can be seen as evidence for the truth of this proposition. There is no reason to suppose that this drive will ever end.

Let's supose for a moment that all physical pain could be and was easily eliminated. The non-believer would then demand to know how God could possibly exist when there were people in the world who had been sad FOR A WHOLE WEEK!
Wouldn't a loving God have made it impossible to be sad for longer than 24 hours? Then one day a new pill is brought out that ensures that one can't be sad for longer than 24 hours and the non-believer cites this as evidence that God could have, but cruelly failed to make the mechanism of this pill part of human nature.

If there was a gene in the human population which allowed exactly the sort of pain reduction I describe, would you prefer your child inherit it or not? If not, why?

I would prefer that there was such a gene. And I would prefer that there was an anti-sadness gene too.
But what I prefer just tells you something about me. I don't think it tells you anything about God.

Stunney said...

D. Ellis wrote:

My scenario did not involve altering the physics of our universe. Stunney's objection is inapplicable.

Hold on, hold on. I think you face a dilemma.

Are you saying that pain experiences is independent of bodily states? Surely if the physics of our universe was unaltered, the range of experienceable bodily pain would also be unaltered?

A materialist would say that pain experience supervenes on bodily states. I.e., you get no difference in felt pain if there is no difference in bodily state. So, in that case you would have to have a different physics, and again, I would again ask that you specify the alternative physics.

If, however, the nature of human mind is such that its experience pain can vary without there being any physical variation required, then we're in the situation outlined in my previous post, to the effect that pain intensity is intrinsically subjective.

Stunney said...

One reason I'd like non-believers actually to specify in some detail the putatively possible and preferable alternative physics that ought to have been instantiated if theism were true is that I've been impressed by thoughts like these I've excerpted below:

The inflationary multiverse scenario, widely considered the most physically viable, provides a good test case of this line of reasoning. The inflationary multiverse-generator can only produce life-sustaining universes (or regions of space-time) because it has the following "components" or "mechanisms:"

1) A mechanism to supply the energy needed for the bubble universes: This mechanism is the hypothesized inflaton field. By imparting a constant energy density to empty space, as space expands the inflaton field can act "as a reservoir of unlimited energy" for the bubbles (Peacock,1999, p. 26).

2) A mechanism to form the bubbles: This mechanism is Einstein's equation of general relativity. Because of its peculiar form, Einstein's equation dictates that space expand at an enormous rate in the presence of a field, such as the inflaton field, that imparts a constant (and homogenous) energy density to empty space. This causes both the bubble universes to form and the rapid expansion of the pre-space which keeps the bubbles from colliding.

3) A mechanism to convert the energy of inflaton field to the normal mass/energy we find in our universe. This mechanism is Einstein's relation of the equivalence of mass and energy combined with an hypothesized coupling between the inflaton field and normal mass/energy fields we find in our universe.

4) A mechanism that allows enough variation in constants of physics among universes: Currently, the most physically viable candidate for this mechanism is superstring or m-theory. Superstring theory might allow enough variation in the variations in the constants of physics among bubble universes to make it reasonably likely that a fine-tuned universe would be produced, but no one knows for sure. (4)

Without all these "components," the multiverse generator would almost certainly fail to produce a single life-sustaining universe. If, for example, the universe obeyed Newton's theory of gravity instead of Einstein's, the vacuum energy of the inflaton field would at best simply create a gravitational attraction causing space to contract, not to expand.

In addition to the four factors listed above, the inflationary multiverse generator can only produce life-sustaining universes because the right background laws are in place. Specifically, the background laws must be such as to allow the conversion of the mass-energy into material forms that allow for the sort of stable complexity needed for life. For example, without the principle of quantization, all electrons would be sucked into the atomic nuclei and hence atoms would be impossible; without the Pauli-exclusion principle, electrons would occupy the lowest atomic orbit and hence complex and varied atoms would be impossible; without a universally attractive force between all masses, such as gravity, matter would not be able to form sufficiently large material bodies (such as planets) for complex, highly intelligent life to develop or for long-lived stable energy sources such as stars to exist. (5)

In sum, even if an inflationary multiverse generator exists, it along with the background laws and principles have just the right combination of laws and fields for the production of life-permitting universes: if one of the components were missing or different, such as Einstein's equation or the Pauli-exclusion principle, it is unlikely that any life-permitting universes could be produced. In the absence of alternative explanations, the existence of such a system suggests design since it seems very surprising that such a system would have just the right components as a brute fact, but not surprising under the theistic design hypothesis. Thus, it does not seem that one can completely escape the suggestion of design merely by hypothesizing some sort of multiverse generator. ....


.....Examples of such principles are the principle of conservation of energy and the gauge principle (that is, the principle of local phase invariance), the principle of least action, the anti-commutation rules for fermions, and the correspondence principle of quantum mechanics. These are regulative principles that, when combined other principles such as that of choosing the simplest Lagrangian, are assumed to place tight constraints on form that the laws of nature can take in the relevant domain. Thus, they often serve as guides to constructing the dynamical equations in a certain domain. Finally, at level 4 is the basic mathematical structure of current physics, for example, the mathematical framework of quantum mechanics, though there is no clear separation between much of level 4 and level 3. Finally, one might even want to invoke a level 5, which consist of the highest-level guiding metaphysical principles of modern physics - principles such as that we should prefer simple laws over complex laws, or that we should seek mathematical explanations for phenomena.

Now, this simplicity with variety is illustrated at all levels, except perhaps level 5. For example, although the observable phenomena have an incredible variety and much seeming chaos, they can be organized via a relatively few simple laws governing postulated unobservable processes and entities. What is more amazing, however, is that these simple laws can in turn be organized under a few higher-level principles (level 3) and form part of a simple and elegant mathematical framework (level 4).

One way of thinking about the way in which the laws fall under these higher-level principles is as a sort of fine-tuning. If one imagines a space of all possible laws, the set of laws and physical phenomena we have are just those that meet the higher-level principles. Of course, in analogy to the case of the fine-tuning of the parameters of physics, there are bound to be other sets of laws that meet some other relatively simple set of higher-level principles. But this does not take away from the fine-tuning of the laws, or the case for design, any more than the fact that there are many possible elegant architectural plans for constructing a house takes away from the design of a particular house. What is important is that the vast majority of variations of these laws end up causing a violation of one of these higher-level principles, as Einstein noted about general relativity. Further, for those who are aware of the relevant physics, it is easy to see that in the vast majority of such cases, such variations do not result in new, equally simple higher-level principles being satisfied. It follows, therefore, that these variations almost universally lead to a less elegant and simple set of higher-level physical principles being met. Thus, in terms of the simplicity and elegance of the higher-level principles that are satisfied, the laws of nature we have appear to be a tiny island surrounded by a vast sea of possible law structures that would produce a far less elegant and simple physics.

As testimony to the above point, consider what Steven Weinberg and other physicists have called the "inevitability" of the laws of nature. (For example, see Weinberg, 1992, pp. 135-153, 235-237). The inevitability that Weinberg refers to is not the inevitability of logical necessity (1992, p. 235), but rather that the mathematical structure of the laws of nature are encompassed by a few general principles. The reason Weinberg refers to this as the "inevitability" of the laws of nature is that the requirement that these principles be met often severely restricts the possible mathematical forms the laws of nature can take, thus rendering them in some sense "inevitable." If we varied the laws by a little bit, these higher-level principles would be violated.

This inevitability of the laws is particularly evident in Einstein's general theory of relativity. As Weinberg notes, "once you know the general physical principles adopted by Einstein, you understand that there is no other significantly different theory of gravitation to which Einstein could have been led." (1992, p. 135) As Einstein himself said, "To modify it [general relativity] without destroying the whole structure seems to be impossible." (Quoted in Weinberg, 1992, p. 135.)

This inevitability, nor near-inevitability, is also illustrated by the gauge principle,...


Full article at
http://home.messiah.edu/~rcollins/finetune/stanford%20multiverse%20talk.htm#_1_5

David B. Ellis said...


If I understand you correctly, D Ellis, you basically want suffering to go from utter agony, to extreme?


No, I'm talking about going from pain that is mindblowingly agonizing to strong but manageable. Give someone in agony the ability to cut the intensity of pain in half or more and I'm sure they won't call it an insignificant improvement.

Of course, that's only one example of something that would greatly improve the world and a very small example. The point here was not to imagine a perfect world but one which would dramatically diminish suffering while not interfering with any significant higher value Wood makes so much of (free will, for example).

I would also thing it would be sensible, if a god was actually existent and caring, that it eliminated congenital defects like the one I described concerning infants slowly dying in agony.

Such would easily be in the power of an omnipotent being and would greatly diminish suffering while not interfering with any higher value.

One can give such examples endlessly. And no plausible reason can be given why a loving deity would, instead, set up the cosmos to be a torture chamber for many of the beings born into it.

David B. Ellis said...


Hold on, hold on. I think you face a dilemma.

Are you saying that pain experiences is independent of bodily states? Surely if the physics of our universe was unaltered, the range of experienceable bodily pain would also be unaltered?


Stunney, do you honestly mean to say that you don't realize that the brain chemistry of a species could be altered without having to alter the laws of physics governing the cosmos as a whole?

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

You Wrote "It really doesnt matter whether this modification of the human pain centers is consciously controlled or not. For example, an even simpler and probably better way is for the level of pain possible for the pain centers of the brain to be set lower. Capable of quite severe pain....but far from utter agony.

This would not harm our ability to heal by making significant numbers of us cause ourselves significantly more injury (as is amply demonstrated by the fact that people in this country routinely take medications that greatly dampen pain and manage to avoid aggravation of injuries just fine).
"

Ok, now that is more reasonable. I am still not convinced that it is workable since pain is based partially in perception so that the maximum pain experienced is automatically the maximum pain imaginable. When people experience severe pain, then experience lesser pain, they are able to tolerate it because they have a reference. If you simply "dial down" the amount of pain people can feel, I am not sure that would actually decrease the perception of pain. It might, but I am not wholly convinced that it would make much of a difference.

The challenge we face here is the subjectivity of pain. Even clinicians such as Doctors and Physical Therapists use a subjective scale of 0-10 to rate how much pain the patient is feeling. There is no objective measure of pain, it is entirely subjective.

I think that any pain will cause suffering if it is the worst pain anyone has ever experienced. I really do not think that "lessening pain" is going to solve anything.

I suppose you have a point with regard to bizarre disorders such as Fibromyalgia and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome where the body appears to simply malfunction and hurt for no reason. Those disorders could be done away with. Is this closer to what you had in mind? Do away with "non-beneficial" pain? If so, then I think I could possibly agree with you. I would have to think about it for awhile.

Cheers,

M.R.

Stunney said...

brain chemistry of a species could be altered without having to alter the laws of physics governing the cosmos as a whole?

Blogger ate a longer reply to this.

I was using 'laws of physics' in a broad sense to cover everything dealt with by the physical sciences, which I presume includes brain chemistry.

At any rate, there is a physical explanation of why human brains are the way are. And there is a physical explanation for why they don't have the superior brain chemistry you imagine them having.
And if you're a physicalist in the philosphy of mind, then something physical has to be altered to generate altered pain states.

But if pain experiences can be altered without a physical alteration taking place, then that certainly opens up interesting lines of thought about the problem of evil.

Stunney said...

if a god was actually existent and caring, that it eliminated congenital defects like the one I described concerning infants slowly dying in agony.

The materialist must suppose the congenital defect has a physical, scientific explanation. Why is that explanation suddenly not satisfactory if proferred by a theist?

The non-believer imagines a better world and assumes that it's realizable by God, if there is a God.

But what is the physical, scientific explanation of why such defects would not have occurred in the imagined world?

Alternatively, what is the scientific explanation for the non-existence of the imagined world?

And why doesn't the scientific explanation of the non-existence of the imagined world itself provide a good reason for God not to have created it? After all, scientific explanations are supposed to be paradigmatic forms of rationality.

David B. Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David B. Ellis said...


If you simply "dial down" the amount of pain people can feel, I am not sure that would actually decrease the perception of pain.


The above statement is contradictory. Pain IS a perception. You cannot dial down the amount of pain people can feel without dialing down the perception of pain. THEY'RE THE SAME THING.


Is this closer to what you had in mind? Do away with "non-beneficial" pain?


What I propose is the elimination of the capacity for extreme pain---or at least to limit it to a brief moment which is quickly dampened down by the automatic pain dampening response. Please don't try to claim such would be outside the capability of an omnipotent being. Its simply too absurd. Because we KNOW pain, subjective as it is, can be dampened. We do it all the time with pain medication.

David B. Ellis said...


The materialist must suppose the congenital defect has a physical, scientific explanation. Why is that explanation suddenly not satisfactory if proferred by a theist?


It is irrelevent whether eliminating congenital defects is done by altering human biochemistry to make it, within the natural laws governing phenomena, incapable of congenital defects or whether, instead, God simply issues an automatic miracle which corrects the congenital defect before it can have any observable effects.

If you reject the logical possibility of the first (absurd as that is), the second is untouched.



The non-believer imagines a better world and assumes that it's realizable by God, if there is a God.

But what is the physical, scientific explanation of why such defects would not have occurred in the imagined world?



None is required. If God is able to decree that all such defects that would have naturally occurred will not.....then, if he is omnipotent, they will not.

Rich said...

Maybe the real question is not wether God COULD do something, because its obvious that an omnipotent being could do anything, but wether or not he should. Hind sight is always twenty twenty and you may not be able to imagine anything dialing down the pain would affect but that doesn't mean there isn't an unrealized long term effect that later we would have wished we didn't change it. I'm not proposing I know of any, an I would rather not have any pain, birth defects, ect. either but I accept them as part of this world and deal with them as they come. That really does nothing to answer your question but it seems that we will never reach a satisfactory response here.

David B. Ellis said...


Maybe the real question is not wether God COULD do something, because its obvious that an omnipotent being could do anything, but wether or not he should.


The question, more obviously, since a caring person (by definition, I think any sensible person can agree) doesnt want an infant to suffer agonies is:

why shouldn't he?

Rich said...

You always appeal to one aspect of his being and fault him for lack of caring. How do you really take all three omnis and be sure your perspective of what should and shouldn't be is right? Who says he wants suffering to occur? You conclude that because there is suffering and god supposedly does nothing then he is uncaring. But another conclusion is that he expected us to suffer and wanted us to turn to him for help, which may or may not include the suffering to end, hence the mabel story, and let us know that there was a better life beyond this one free from said suffering. It may not help resolve anything in the mind of someone struggling to understand how God can allow such things but thats where faith enters in. There is nothing from either side so convincing to end this debate but its still good thought exercise:)

David B. Ellis said...


You always appeal to one aspect of his being and fault him for lack of caring. How do you really take all three omnis and be sure your perspective of what should and shouldn't be is right?


When did I fault him for lack of caring? All I have done is point out what response is normal for any caring person, by the very definition of the word---that they would not want an infant to suffer.

Which creates the dilemma for the believer: since God doesnt WANT an infant to suffer agonies then he either must, if he exists, have some morally justified reason for allowing it.

But is that really plausible.

Suppose you were a christian missionary going to a remote tribe which practices human sacrifice.

They claim they do it because God told them too.

You, naturally enough, say "God would not order human sacrifices. Its evil and God wouldn't order evil".

And they respond, the same way you christians do in regard to the POE:

"Yes, God is good and would not order or commit evil. But he must have some morally justified reason that we simply, as humans, are unable to comprehend. One cannot claim to know the mind of God. He is beyond our comprehension".

David B. Ellis said...

The point is:

anyone can claim God allows, commits or condones a particular apparent evil and say "God has some morally sufficient reason beyond our comprehension".

It's a universal "get out of jail free" card for any religious doctrine or claim....including ones you would judge to be impossible to be Gods will on the basis of it being obviously morally reprehensible.

But if you are to use that card with the POE you cannot consistently claim God would not order human sacrifices on moral grounds because you have admitted its impossible for you to know God doesn't have morally justifying reasons for things that seems obviously evil by your own standards.

Stunney said...

It is irrelevent whether eliminating congenital defects is done by altering human biochemistry to make it, within the natural laws governing phenomena, incapable of congenital defects or whether, instead, God simply issues an automatic miracle which corrects the congenital defect before it can have any observable effects.

If you reject the logical possibility of the first (absurd as that is), the second is untouched.


I don't know if the first is logically possible or not. But it is far from obvious to me that it is logically possible.

It's far from obvious that one can simply wish or imagine away the scientific explanation of certain physical phenomena in our universe without risking alternative great harms or perpetrating scientific and/or logical absurdities.

As for 'perpetual miracles', I've already argued that if this is not a self-contradictory notion, then it's merely a circumlocution for alternative physical laws.

And I would again point out that no complete science of an alternative physical universe has been scientifically specified, nor been shown to be free of alternative bad consequences, nor been shown to be free of mathematical or logical absurdity.

A number of leading scientists such as Weinberg, Tipler, and Greene have expressed the view that it is quite likely that only one physical nature is, in fact, logically possible one consistent with the emergence of intelligent physical life.

Rich said...

"When did I fault him for lack of caring?"

When you claim he allows attrocities without stoping them. This brings you to the conclusion that he doesn't care. I do have to retract a statement I made that isn't true. I realize now that you don't actually appeal to one aspect of his being. I tried, unsucessfully, to post a reply earlier explaining better but I forgot all I said, but that was my mistake, admittedly.

"anyone can claim God allows, commits or condones a particular apparent evil and say "God has some morally sufficient reason beyond our comprehension"

Your right and lots of people do but that doesn't rule out the possibility of a morally sufficient reason. We are constantly learning also, wouldn't God allowing his son to be killed for the redemption of mankind qualify as ordering human sacrifice? Christ was sacrificed, killed, for our sins. the morally suficient reason involed, to satisfy the demands of justice over sin and allow for us to be forgiven and cleansed of the effects of sin to our eternal progression.

I realize what you do and don't believe to a certain extent but we are talking Christianity here.

David B. Ellis said...


A number of leading scientists such as Weinberg, Tipler, and Greene have expressed the view that it is quite likely that only one physical nature is, in fact, logically possible one consistent with the emergence of intelligent physical life.


Assuming theism there are a multitude of logically possible ways to create a universe with life.

God could have created a single solar system and created all life in a single act (much as most christians used to believe).

And, with that, Stunney, I am done commenting on your posts. They have been too utterly silly to warrant any further attention.

David B. Ellis said...


When you claim he allows attrocities without stoping them. This brings you to the conclusion that he doesn't care.


No, I dont believe he exists. Fictional characters can neither care or not care about us.

And, if he did exist, one can, as you do, claim he has some morally sufficient reason......as implausible as that is.



Christ was sacrificed, killed, for our sins. the morally suficient reason involed, to satisfy the demands of justice over sin and allow for us to be forgiven and cleansed of the effects of sin to our eternal progression.



How exactly does torturing someone to death for someone elses crime satisfy "the demands of justice"?

That sounds like a rather barbaric concept of justice.

And, that brings up another question, lets imagine Jesus DIDN'T die on the cross for our sins.....would infants die and go to hell (or, if you don't believe in hell, would they not go to heaven)?

Stunney said...

Assuming theism there are a multitude of logically possible ways to create a universe with life.

How do you know this if you can't specify even one alternative logically possible physics?

In fact, most physicists readily acknowledge that tinkering even a tiny amount with the fundamental properties of matter would render physical life impossible. The math makes it so.

One can imagine that something is water while simultaneously not being H20. But it's logically impossible for something to both be water and not be H20. God could not make such a thing.

Most of the time the non-believer is imagining what are logical impossibilities of essentially this kind without being aware of it. Nor can they specify alternative properties for matter that would guarantee more painless life.

Try creating more painless but still intelligent physical life. Try designing alternative laws of nature. The non-believer asserts, without a shred of evidence, that there is a logically possible way to do it. But how? Nobody knows. They can't specify a complete science whose instantiation would produce a better universe.

God could have created a single solar system and created all life in a single act (much as most christians used to believe).

But apparently chose not to.


And, with that, Stunney, I am done commenting on your posts. They have been too utterly silly to warrant any further attention.


Well, I'll take that as an irate admission that you can't come up with the alternative math, the alternative physics, the alternative biochemistry etc necessary for a better universe, that you can't show that these supposed alternatives are coherent and not teeming with logical and mathematical absurdity, that you haven't calculated the total consequences for pain and harm deriving from your imaginary alternative science if instantiated, nor shown that these consequences would be superior to those in the actual world.

But good luck with trying.

Meanwhile I'll leave you to throw tantrums at your infantile conception of God.

mrieder said...

David Ellis,

Pain is perception, yes, but suffering is a result of the perception. I think that suffering would be similar even if pain perception was reduced. This is because man is a system and tinkering with one part modifies the other part.

Regarding your remark on omipotence, I do not think that God can do logically meaningless things, like alter one part of an integrated system and maintain all other parts constant and have them work in the same manner.

M.T.