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Wow, it’s been a while . . .

Okay, so I suck as a blogger. (Of course 60 hour work weeks in the spring semester and 5 classes in the 10 week summer semester had nothing to do with it, I’m sure.)

Anyway, if there’s still anyone listening, it’s my intention to do better. Of course, I hear that intentions are good paving material.

So much to talk about, so little time. My thoughts of late have been on the problem of evil, so I think we’ll talk about that for a while.

So, Evil and it’s problems. A quick overview might help.

This is a uniquely theistic problem, in other words, we Muslims, Jews, and Christians all face the issue (if we allow ourselves, anyway.) It’s that question that wakes me up at night. Along with other things, of course, but it’s the one issue that I keep coming back to. It’s like that missing tooth that your tongue keeps reaching for. What are we to do with the presence of bad things that happen in our lives?

The philosophical rendition of the issue goes something like this:

God is all loving, and

God is all powerful, but

Evil Exists.

This is the conundrum, for if God were all loving, God would want to eradicate evil. Furthermore, if God were all powerful, God would be able to eradicate evil from our world. And yet, evil continues to exist. Thus, either God isn’t all powerful and cannot eradicate evil, or God isn’t all loving and won’t eradicate evil.

This is the problem.

I’ve struggled with this problem since college, and it became real shortly thereafter. Over the past 20 years, it’s never left me, but I think it’s time to expose it to the light of day.

So, I’ll post it here. I’ll think about it out loud. I’ll write about it. I’ll read about it. I’ll hopefully discuss it with you (supposing of course that you’re still out there to discuss stuff with after a half a year break).

More to come soon.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

36 Comments

  1. You’re right, it has been a while. And we need to fix that. Both of us.

    But you’ve got a basic fallacy in your logical argument. It’s been 20+ years since I took logic, so I don’t remember all the names but you’ve set up is this.

    A is B
    A is C
    Therefore A is D.

    It doesn’t work.

    God is loving, this is a basic tenant of our theology. I can accept that without question.

    God is all powerful. I’m not sure I’m 100% on this one, but I’ll accept it for now.

    However an all loving all powerful God does not logically imply that such a God wants to eradicate all evil. So it may not be that God isn’t loving or God isn’t all powerful. Your conundrum may be that God doesn’t want to eradicate evil.

    Now that puts a new kind of light on your argument, doesn’t it? Instead of looking at two options (God is not loving or God is not all powerful) you’ve got to look at three (God doesn’t want to eradicate evil).

    So what does that mean? I’m not sure. But it seems to me that the fundamental point of theology isn’t to resolve if God is all loving, and I’m not sure that the question of God is all powerful is that important. But why God doesn’t want to eradicate evil… or why he allows evil to exist at all… is the key purpose of theology throughout time.

    Just my $.02.

    1. You’re asking good questions, Mike.

      My intent was to simply lay out the basic idea of the problem of evil to start with. Yes, there are problems with the problem.

      But, it seems to me that your third option is captured in the first two. Maybe I can show what I mean with a question: If God doesn’t want to eradicate evil, doesn’t that raise questions about God’s goodness?

      Traditionally, that’s where your question comes into play in the discussion. I think I see where you’re going with it though. There’s the idea that “the fall” or Judas, or evil are all necessary. They are all required for human life to exist and grow. The Matrix made this “soul-making” argument when the robot masters told Neo that they had made a paradise that the human mind quickly rejected.It’s part of Irenaean Theodicy. John Hick updated it as his central response to the issue as well.

      The basic idea is that God doesn’t eradicate evil because God knows that humans only grow through suffering. This is a “soul-making” world, and evil is therefore necessary. (I’m not saying that I buy this as a solution, BTW.)

      Anyway, I think that you’re on to something with the question of why?

  2. Yes, that’s one way to go with the question… the “soul making” route. But no, that wasn’t really where I was heading exactly.

    At least, I don’t think so. And no, I don’t think that God’s inability or unwillingness to eradicate evil raise any kind of question about God’s inherent goodness. I still can’t follow that logic. I can’t equate goodness with a desire to eradicate evil.

    I ain’t got all your fancy learning, and will have to look up half of what you said, but right now I just don’t follow the logic.

    1. “all your fancy learning” — WHATEVER. 🙂

      Yes, terms need to be defined. Evil, Good, Omnipotence are just a few of the ideas that need clarification.

      But having said that, if you or I wish to claim the adjective “good” for ourselves, and we saw a suffering child but did not stop to help, could we do so? Don’t we call the Samaritan “good” for stopping to help? Wouldn’t we say that the Samaritan was evil if he failed to stop? Isn’t his stopping, an attempt to eradicate evil?

      If so, then isn’t there a connection between begin good and wishing to see an end to evil?

  3. Finally, you guys came to my playing field. The “theodicy” has been with us for centuries. Mike, I think that you might want to ponder a bit more on your position. However I do affirm the limitations of God’s power. I have to disagree that God is in the “soul-making” business with suffering being one of His tools. If that were the case, the abused child would be better than most, not the repeat offender that we often find.

      1. Your Part III. “However an all loving all powerful God does not logically imply that such a God wants to eradicate all evil.” Unless of course you view suffering as punishment, otherwise, what parent allows a child to suffer. There is suffering that comes as a natural consequence ie smoking/cancer. But there is also suffering that comes because of gravity (natural laws that God estb) and pure, senseless evil (Dahmer/Hitler/etc).

        1. While it is true that a parent doesn’t want a child to suffer, I’m not entirely sure that God’s love for us is exactly parallel to the love between a parent and child.

          With that said, can their be a world where there is no suffering because of evil yet there could be suffering because of natural consequences or natural laws?

          Does the child know the difference to her suffering? If the child breaks her arm because she fell out of a tree (i.e. Gravity) or because a bully pushes her down a flight of stairs (Evil) does the fact that one is evil make it different somehow?

          But no, I’m not suggesting that God allows suffering to punish us. Instead, I believe that a loving God doesn’t wish to eradicate all evil because in doing so, he would also eradicate the one thing that a loving God wants for us above the idea of a universe without evil… and that is a universe populated with people who choose not to do evil.

          Maybe it’s childish, but I don’t think free will, something I do believe God wants us to have, can exist in a world without evil. And by definition, all powerful or not, God had to choose between giving us free will or giving us a world without evil.

          Simplistic? Perhaps.

          1. Mike, you’re joining together the soul-making argument and the free will argument into a single theodicy, which is very close to what Hick does as well. (Yes, I will actually post more about that in the future.) It’s not simplistic at all. Your right that a metaphor like God is a Father/Mother/Parent is not exactly parallel, but then no metaphor ever is. (Nor is it intended to be, I would argue.) The purpose of a metaphor is to bring light to an object that is hidden in the shadow of our understanding. So while you’re right to say that it’s not an exact parallel, it does illuminate the being of God in ways that other metaphors do not.

            (Be careful on this topic. Next thing you know I’ll be posting my thesis! :))

            Anyway, I think that Howard is right when he draws a line in the sand on the issue of suffering.

            No loving, sufficiently powerful parent would allow their child to suffer when they could stop it. We as parents don’t face the dilemma of trying to decide how much suffering is necessary for a child to grow or for a child to make alternate choices because we’re often not powerful enough to stop the suffering of our children anyway.

            But we theists like to say that God is powerful enough to stop all suffering. So then we must come up with a reason why God chooses not to. One response is that free will requires that God stay out of human affairs to allow us the opportunity to choose for ourselves which way we shall go. Another response is that often times children only grow in wisdom and knowledge when they suffer.

            We’ve all known people who seemingly travel throughout their lives without suffering. We typically don’t like being around those people. So, in order to avoid the world as a whole becoming those people, God allows suffering (evil) to continue.

            The problem is that when we look at events like the holocaust, this defense of God’s purpose tends to fall apart. If the suffering is such that free will is eradicated, if it is such that the soul is eradicated (as opposed to built), then this answer breaks down.

  4. I can not accept that God allows suffering. That is just a miniscule of a step from saying God condons it. Perhaps not even a step. God has no part in producing suffering. Nor do I accept that God is all powerful. Free will, a gift, neccessitates a limited God. Also, in creation, God prescribed certain laws which H/she will not violate. Thus, planes fall out of the sky without God’s intervention. Mike, even if we eliminate free will, there would still be suffering so I would not say that God allows suffering so that we will have a “universe populated with people who choose not to do evil.” Free will and evil are not twins. Free will does not produce sin/evil, it allows for it. So then sin is not mandantory, but it is inevitable.

    1. I agree Howard, there’s no step between the two at all. For God, allowing and condoning are exactly the same thing. I agree with you that free will is a self-limitation on God, but I’m not sure that resolves it for me. If God is powerful enough to create a stone God cannot lift, isn’t it conceivable that God is also powerful enough to create a world where there is free will and, at least, less suffering than there is right now?

      Why, for example, do children suffer? We as human parents limit a child’s free will for their own good. Why doesn’t God do the same, at least, for a child?

      See, for me, this is part of the problem: the problem of evil is typical written as a logic problem. (That’s how I wrote it, too.) But logic and suffering are not compatible. Logic is a game that humans create when they’re not actually suffering. Logical solutions to the problem of evil fail on this count because logic fails in the face of suffering.

      As I read over this, I’m really not sure what it means, but something about it feels right to me. Can anyone help me make sense of it?

  5. After talking to you over coffee this morning, I’m even less sure that we significantly disagree, Howard. You’ve placed the creation/allowance of evil on us, as free willed beings. I think that evil is a byproduct of free will. Not sure we’re that far removed.

    Perhaps we need a better starting definition of evil. Because I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that is “evil” and is natural.

  6. Perhaps I misstated. Not all suffering is the result of evil. Tornadoes and any number of diseases comes to mind. And there is sffrg that comes from bad choices as in smoking or suicide. Then there is evil: Hitler kind of stuff.

    R

  7. R – limitation of free will in part is to limit it in whole. I agree logic is limited here because, I think, of the Mystery. We are finite. Free but finite.

  8. Howard, I would argue that suffering is evil, and that all things that cause suffering are also evil. Thus, tornadoes are evil. Natural evil, a different form to be sure, but still an evil.

    The only response that I’ve ever considered a valid response to suffer is the soul-making argument. The best response might be something like, “have you ever met a human being who hasn’t suffered?” While I doubt that I have, I know I’ve met human beings who haven’t suffered much, or who haven’t learned any sense of compassion for others who are suffering from the suffering they’ve endured. They are, to be kind, people that I do not care to be around.

    And so, it would seem that I’m of the opinion that suffering is evil but also necessary. And maybe I am, except it breaks down when we raise it to God’s level.

    We, after all, believe that God can do anything, and that God created the world out of nothing. So the conception question comes to mind: Can I conceive of a world where people could be free from suffering and not become assholes?

    In the words of Phineas, “Yes, yes I can.”

    Thus, if I, a finite being, can conceive of a world where human beings could lead suffering free lives and still be decent, then does it make sense to say that God, who is infinite and has created a world–out of nothing to start with, could not have created it?

    This is part of what I was trying to say when I was talking about their being limits on free will.

    While I agree logically that a limit on free will eradicates free will, I think we’re making a mistake to limit ourselves to logic. And I come back to the conception question again:
    Can I conceive of a world where contradictions are possible? Well, yeah.

    If God is light, and light is both particle and wave (a logical contradiction that none the less exists) then God is also contradiction. (And yeah, I know that “God is light” is a metaphor, but that doesn’t lessen the truth that at the heart of theism there is also a contradiction.)

    In short, and maybe this is why this keeps me up at night when I should be sleeping; logic falls apart when it comes to suffering, love, and God.

  9. If all suffering is evil, then I think we’ve hit a semantic point were we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    I don’t know about soul-building, but I can tell you about character building. Or at least my father’s version of it. And his sending me, actually driving me to two-a-day practices in full pads. And running up that damn hill. Over and over again. Puking up a lung afterwards. I don’t care what you want to say about it, I was suffering. I’d gladly have my kidney surgery over again before enduring that.

    So to think, under the definition that all suffering is evil, that I would have to ascribe that word to my father makes the whole concept fall apart for me. Cause I’ve never, even when he was pushing me up that hill, again, thought of my father as evil.

  10. This isn’t a situation where I would put the blame on your father or say that your father is evil.

    I think there is a distinction between suffering we choose and suffering that just occurs. I have little doubt that you were suffering.

    My point is this. If God can do anything, then God can create a world where you gain all the benefits of two a day practice without the suffering/barfing/etc.

    1. You’re bound and determined to drag me into a soul-building argument aren’t you?

      Let’s say that God did create such a world. It would be a world without a Tiger Woods.

      Yes, I know what all that implies. It would be a world without his excess and his bad habits, but also a world without his unique talents and abilities.

      I think that’s why I, I won’t speak for Howard, think that all suffering is evil. I think suffering at the hands of another free willed person… that is evil. Randomness, hard work, nature, and perhaps even a bit of soul-building… that’s not evil. That’s life.

      As to why God would set it up that way? Well, that really dwells in the realm of soul-building, I suppose. Maybe. But I know that I’m more proud of the set of Gillian because of how hard it was to build, and how much suffering, sweating and sacrifice I put into it.

      Had I drawn it out on paper, and handed it off to someone else, would I have been as proud? No, I wouldn’t. I’ve done that. It isn’t as satisfying.

      1. Sorry. I’ll leave the soul-building out of it for a while. . .

        I’m not sure that it would necessitate a world without Tiger Woods (Golf, absolutely! That sport is evil! :)) My point is that you can conceive of a world were you have unique talents and abilities without suffering. And if we can conceive of it, and if God *is* all-powerful, then such a world should be possible. If it’s possible, then you have to ask, I think at least, why is isn’t a reality?

        I agree that struggling against chaos is rewarding, but I don’t think that’s suffering. Perhaps suffering needs a limiter like “not rewarding” to make it clearer?

  11. Oh my. Where to start? I think I will pass till tomorrow. This itsy bitsy qwerty is too awkward. Here’s something to ponder (R) : Who sez God created frm nothing???

  12. H: oh, I don’t know, just at least about a 1000 years of Church tradition and a fairly strong interpretation of Gen 1:1.

    But point taken: yes it is a troubling concept. Feel free to take it out and leave only that God is powerful and my point remains.

  13. you need to catch up on you reading. The word “bara” defined as creating from nothing is passe. : – )

    You are still assuming that everyone buys into the idea that “God can do anything.” See above for my thoughts on that. I can’t dispute that suffering is evil, in and of itself. However I do hold back a bit and don’t accept it lock, stock and barrel. Evil has a bit of personhood attached to it in my theology. I’m not saying it is the devil (that’s another road). It would seem that evil would have to have some intentioinality about it to actually be evil. So then, the tornado in your point would cause suffering but would not necessarily be evil in and of itself so much as just some environmental equation gone haywire.

    A world free from suffering that yields good people? Absolutely. But that is not reality. Our debate shouldn’t go someplace that doesn’t exist. We have what we have and that is God’s good creation, with free wills, with natural laws, and a self-limiting God who desires our good at all times. Soul-making? That would make God cruel from my perspective. Also, see above on my thoughts about that.

    1. Not bored, otherwise, I wouldn’t still be posting articles. Just busy.

      I’m not assuming anything of the kind concerning what everyone thinks about God’s abilities. I’m basing my argument entirely on Christian and to an extent Jewish tradition. Ask anyone, what can God do? The most common answer you’ll receive will easily be, “anything” or some variation of that.

      Yes, when I finally get to the end of the postings and “reveal” my theodicy it will include a limitation of God’s ability. (It will also include the possibility of God not being nice . . . but now I’ve said too much.)

      Anyway, the only limit that I’ve seen you posting above is the limitation to ensure free will. I responded to that limitation, at least after a fashion. If the only limit on God’s ability is a self-restriction to allow for free will, why couldn’t God create a world which allows for both free will and freedom from suffering?

      Why isn’t that a possibility? Is God also limited by logic in addition to free will?

  14. Ha ha. Guess I’m not old enuf to know that one.

    Not just limited by free will but His creation – but still self limited. I don’t understand your point of God being limited by logic. Our logic? That would be limits emanating from us??? Please explain.

    OK, I’ll yell “calf rope” on the “God can create anything he dang well wants to” argument. But God didn’t (that we know of anyway). Again, we have what we have and I thought our discussion was to find a path to understand suffering as we know it, not as it might be in Narnia or Oz are that rabbit hole Alice fell in.

    God’s not nice?! What are you smoking?

    Where did Michael go?

  15. Howard,

    But don’t you see that if God could have created a world that is free from suffering (and yet still a place where dedication and commitment are valued), but chose not to do so, that raises relevant and crucial questions concerning God’s goodness?

    I agree all we have is the world that God did create, but I have a sense that the world should be better (less evil, less suffering) than it is. The question that keeps me up is if I can conceive of a better world where you don’t have to suffer to make humans decent to be around, then why couldn’t God create that world?

    Fine, God is limited by free will, but why couldn’t God have made a world without suffering that still allowed for free will?

    My point about logic is this, is it possible for God to do something that seems to us to be logically contradictory? (Not simply miraculous, but logically impossible?) For example, could God create limited free will? If not, then is God limited by logic? If so, then why didn’t God do so?

    One response to the problem of Evil is to question God’s goodness. It is one logical response to the question of why there is suffering in the world: namely that God is not nice. Like I said, I’ll post about this later.

  16. There you go with that “not nice” stuff again. Stop it!

    OK, fine. God could have done some things better, maybe, with our limited understanding. But maybe, with us being in God’s image, maybe that resolution to suffering is our job. Yeah, that’s the ticket (Sat nite live ref.) We were created as loving, creative humanoids that needs to work on this house ourselves. God has given us the tools, free will included. What about that?

    On the logic thing, seems that would be our limitation, not God’s. Logic would be a human product.

  17. Okay, but then that raises the question about human ability. Can humanity conceivably end suffering? Isn’t there some suffering that is beyond our ability to affect? Even if God is not bound by logical restrictions, aren’t humans? We aren’t able to create a world where the benefits of suffering (at least some forms of suffering) aren’t still present without suffering, but does God have those same restrictions?

    Ultimately, aren’t you expanding the notion of imago dei to the point where humanity is no longer in God’s image, but actually becoming gods themselves?

  18. Again, sin is not mandatory but it is inevitable. There is less suffering than 200 years ago. Agreed? No not gods. But it seems we have the capacity to make things better.

    Brain running on empty. Another time.

  19. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make with the inevitable/mandatory distinction. If something is unavoidable or inevitable it might as well be mandatory . . .

    No, I’m not sure I agree that there is less suffering than there was 200 years ago. I think I could actually make a strong argument that suffering has increased in the world as a result of human advances in medicine and science.

    I could argue that a longer life allows more time for suffering. A larger population means that there are more people who can/will suffer. What used to simply kill us, now prolongs life often with more pain.

    So while I’m not as dark as the above paragraph implies, neither am I sure that suffer has been decreased as a result of human involvement in the last 200 years.

    I agree that humans have the capacity to make life better, but there are many things that we have no influence over. And it seems to me that we often, despite our best intentions to do the opposite, make life worse.

    “I never saw no miracle of science/that didn’t go from a blessing to a curse” (I like Sting, in case you didn’t know. 🙂

  20. What’s a Sting???

    Apparently you don’t watch the history channel. : – )

    Where would suffering be without penicilin? Without pasteurization? Without French roast coffee? You can’t be serious that suffering is greater? There is a very important difference between mandantory and inevitable: choice.

    I’ll let you hve the last word on this. I’m ready to move on. Start a new thread and let’s see what else you got in this genre????

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