Ruse On the Problem Of Evil

Over at The New York Times, Gary Gutting has an interview with philosopher Michael Ruse. It is part of a series on philosophy and religion. There are several interesting nuggets in the interview, but I just want to discuss this one:

G.G.: Do you think that evolution lends support to the atheistic argument from evil: that it makes no sense to think that an all-good, all-powerful God would have used so wasteful and brutal a process as evolution to create living things?

M.R.: Although in some philosophy of religion circles it is now thought that we can counter the argument from evil, I don’t think this is so. More than that, I don’t want it to be so. I don’t want an argument that convinces me that the death under the guillotine of Sophie Scholl (one of the leaders of the White Rose group opposed to the Nazis) or of Anne Frank in Bergen-Belsen ultimately contributes to the greater good. If my eternal salvation depends on the deaths of these two young women, then forget it.

This said, I have never really thought that the pains brought on by the evolutionary process, in particular the struggle for survival and reproduction, much affect the Christian conception of God. For all of Voltaire’s devastating wit in “Candide,” I am a bit of a Leibnizian on these matters. If God is to do everything through unbroken law, and I can think of good theological reasons why this should be so, then pain and suffering are part of it all. Paradoxically and humorously I am with Dawkins here. He argues that the only way naturally you can get the design-like features of organisms — the hand and the eye — is through evolution by natural selection, brought on by the struggle. Other mechanisms just don’t work. So God is off the hook.

That first paragraph is pretty good! I agree completely that philosophers of religion have not been successful at defusing the problem of evil, and I also agree that there is something a bit tawdry about the whole enterprise of theodicy.

But that second paragraph is not correct. It is way too facile. And if you’re inclined to absolve Ruse on the grounds that this was just a short interview, then I invite you to consult his book Can A Darwinian Be A Christian?. He floats the same argument there, but is no less facile in his presentation.

First, we need to make a distinction between the logical and evidential forms of the argument from evil. The logical form of the argument asserts there is a contradiction entailed in believing both that God exists and evil exists. In this form, it takes only a single evil act to get the argument going, and the argument gains nothing in force from running up the tally of evil events. This form of the argument has had some powerful defenders over the years, and there are some strong arguments to make on its behalf, but most philosophers nowadays regard the argument as overly ambitious. I agree with that consensus.

The evidential argument claims merely that the massive quantities of evil and suffering in the world constitute strong evidence against the proposition that there is a just and loving God in charge of it all. This is a stronger argument in my view, since it places a far greater burden on the theist. Refuting the logical argument only requires the bare possibility of a reason for God permitting evil. That’s a mighty low hurdle. Defusing the evidential argument, by contrast, requires a compelling reason for God permitting evil, or perhaps a compelling reason why finite human beings are incapable in principle of understanding the reasons for evil. Here, theists have been entirely unsuccessful.

Once it is clear that we are talking about the evidential argument, we see that evolution plainly exacerbates the problem of evil. This was well-put by Philip Kitcher, in his book Living With Darwin:

Many people have been troubled by human suffering, and that of other sentient creatures, and have wondered how those pains are compatible with the designs of an all-powerful and loving God. Darwin’s account of the history of life greatly enlarges the scale on which suffering take place. Through millions of years, billions of animals experience vast amounts of pain, supposedly so that, after an enormous number of extinctions of entire species, on the tip of one twig of the evolutionary tree, there may emerge a species with the special properties that make us able to worship the Creator… Moreover, animal suffering isn’t incidental to the unfolding of life, but integral to it…Our conception of a providential Creator must suppose that He has constructed a shaggy-dog story, a history of life that consists of a three-billion year curtain-raiser to the main event, in which millions of sentient beings suffer, often acutely, and that suffering is not a by-product but constitutive of the script the Creator has chosen to write…Indeed, if we imagine a human observer presiding over a miniaturized version of the whole show, peering down on his “creation,” it is extremely hard to equip the face with a kindly expression.

Well said, though Betrand Russell said it even better in Religion and Science:

Religion, in our day, has accommodated itself to the doctrine of evolution, and has even derived new arguments from it. We are told that “through the ages one increasing purpose runs,” and that evolution is the unfolding of an idea which has been in the mind of God throughout. It appears that during those ages which so troubled Hugh Miller, when animals were torturing each other with ferocious horns and agonizing stings, Omnipotence was quietly waiting for the ultimate emergence of man, with his still more exquisite powers of torture and his far more widely diffused cruelty. Why the Creator should have preferred to reach His goal by a process, instead of going straight to it, these modern theologians do not tell us. Nor do they say much to allay our doubts as to the gloriousness of the consummation. It is difficult not to feel, as the boy did after being taught the alphabet, that it was not worth going through so much to get so little.

Indeed. It seems Russell experienced the same frustration as I have. Theologians, and philosophers like Ruse, like to toss off the possibility that God was for some reason constrained to create through a process of Darwinian evolution, but they seldom get around to telling us why. What are those good reasons for thinking that God had to do everything through unbroken law? The relentless suffering of the evolutionary process (not to mention the fact that evolution is hardly guaranteed to actually go anywhere) seems like a very good reason not to create in that way. And we know that God does not always feel constrained to act through unbroken law, since He is also said to perform miracles and answer prayers. So why must His creating be done through unbroken law, when his subsequent interactions with humanity are not so constrained?

Theologian John Haught has attempted to put meat on the bones of this idea. I will leave you with a quote from his book God After Darwin, just to show you the sort of argle-bargle you will encounter in seeking an answer to this question. I will leave it’s refutation as an exercise to the reader. (For the really curious, I give a fuller discussion in my book Among the Creationists.):

In fact, an evolutionary theology might agree…that the idea of an instantaneously complete creation is theologically unthinkable. Any universe that might conceivably burst into being fully formed could never have become truly differentiated from its creator. It would not have had the time or opportunity to become a world that stands out distinctly in dialogical relationship to God. Such a “world” would be a purely passive mirroring of the divine will. Indeed, it would not be a world at all, but instead an eternal dimension of God’s own being. A universe sculpted to finished perfection in the first instant of its existence would be frozen in place forever. It could not give rise to beings endowed with freedom or even with life, since by definition living and freedom-endowed organisms are inherently self-transcending realities whose very nature is to move beyond their present state of being.

I dare you to make sense out of that.

Comments

  1. #1 eric
    July 16, 2014

    Ruse says:

    If God is to do everything through unbroken law, and I can think of good theological reasons why this should be so…

    But according to standard Christian theology, he doesn’t do everything through unbroken law. The OT and NT are full of miracles – interventions, divine “breaks” of law.

    So that is a really lousy defense on a christian theist’s part, and for the skeptics, it is perfectly reasonable to ask “if God broke natural law to mitigate some suffering, why not more? Why allow any more than some de minimus amount of suffering at all?”

  2. #2 Tulse
    July 16, 2014

    the idea of an instantaneously complete creation is theologically unthinkable.

    Clearly that’s false, since various theologians have made precisely that claim.

    Any universe that might conceivably burst into being fully formed could never have become truly differentiated from its creator. It would not have had the time or opportunity to become a world that stands out distinctly in dialogical relationship to God.

    Apparently Haught’s god is not omnipotent, and thus is unable to “differentiate” from what is created without the passage of time. Doesn’t that make time itself more powerful than his god? And doesn’t that suggest that time exists independently, and thus prior to, his god?

    Honestly, I don’t know why people take the Sophisticated Theologians to seriously.

  3. #3 Alan Feuerbacher
    Manchester, NH
    July 16, 2014

    When I speak about the problem of evil with non-young-earth-creationist Christians who are convinced that God is the embodiment of love (“God is love”–1 John 4:8), I find that it’s fairly easy to show them why the Christian God does not exist.

    Both Old and New Testaments contain much material claiming something like “God is love”, yet describing horrendous actions by him. The history of life, irrespective of its evolution by purely naturalistic means or by divine tinkering, shows a Creator unconcerned with the extreme suffering of his creatures. Since reality cannot contradict itself, the existence of suffering disproves the claim that “God is love”, and thus of the existence of this God, since he is defined by the Bible and only by the Bible.

    I’ve not found any non-YECs able to get around this fatal problem.

    YECs have no problem with this since they claim that suffering did not exist until Adam and Eve sinned.

    AlanF

  4. #4 Reginald Selkirk
    July 16, 2014

    More than that, I don’t want it to be so.

    What a terrible, awful reason to favor an argument. Michael Ruse is the poster boy for the type of philosophy which Neil deGrasse Tyson views as obsolete.
    Jerry Coyne has plenty to say about Ruse’s performance, all of it bad.

  5. #5 couchloc
    July 16, 2014

    I don’t want to derail this discussion but I disagree with Reginald Selkirk. You’re taking one comment of Ruse’s which is immaterial to his main view and fussing about it. Further, if you read Tyson, his concerns are focused specifically on the contributions of philosophy to the field of physics and not philosophy more broadly. He thinks there are plenty of areas for philosophers to usefully contribute in fact. I have read Ruse and think he’s helpful, even if I don’t agree with everything.

  6. #6 MNb
    July 16, 2014

    “I dare you to make sense out of that.”
    Thanks, but no thanks. This is what the word obfuscating is invented for.
    Just compare with that Russell quote. You missed a point I think crucial:

    “Nor do they say much to allay our doubts as to the gloriousness of the consummation.”
    Consummation refers to

    “man, with his still more exquisite powers of torture and his far more widely diffused cruelty.”
    Russell simply asks: why would an omnipotent, omnigood etc. god use a brutal process like evolution with the ultimate goal (assuming there is one) of producing a species (the so called “crown”) that behaves even more brutal?
    Haught doesn’t even provide a beginning of an answer.

  7. #7 Verbose Stoic
    July 17, 2014

    The evidential argument claims merely that the massive quantities of evil and suffering in the world constitute strong evidence against the proposition that there is a just and loving God in charge of it all. This is a stronger argument in my view, since it places a far greater burden on the theist.

    Funny, I’ve always found it to be a weaker argument because it places a far greater burden on the ATHEIST. The form of the logical and the evidential arguments from evil/suffering is the same for both and is basically this: We should not have the amount of suffering we have in the world if we had a loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God. While you can make a distinction between saying that it is actually contradictory to God’s nature to allow that amount of suffering or that we wouldn’t expect a God that has that nature to allow that amount of suffering, the big problem with the original argument is that it insists that there can be NO suffering in the world based on what God’s nature is purported to be … and that just seems unreasonable. So as you move on you move at least to the claim that we need not expect NO suffering, but that the suffering we have in this world is too much to expect.

    So, essentially, the evidential argument relies on saying that there can be some suffering, but not as much as we have. But since making this move implies that you can allow for at least some suffering, the onus is on the atheist to demonstrate with clear arguments that what we have is too much. After all, we can presume that since you aren’t pushing for the “no suffering” line that you accept that there is some reason to allow at least some suffering, and the world could contain a lot more suffering than it does. So, then, if you say that this world contains more suffering than we should expect God to allow, what is the amount of suffering that we should expect, and why do you think that what we have is over that line, if you aren’t pushing for “any suffering”?

    Thus, the atheist needs an argument that a) justifies saying that there is indeed too much suffering in the world for us to credibly believe that there is a tri-omni God and b) does that WITHOUT using a criteria that we can argue ends up requiring that there be no suffering at all (or else you ended up back at the logical argument again; no suffering is compatible with the existence of God). And I’ve never seen an argument on that that either worked or wasn’t an appeal to emotion rather than reasoning. For example, someone once argued with me that God could, at least, eliminate childhood leukemia. To which I replied what the justification was for saying that childhood leukemia caused more suffering than adult leukemia, and so that God wouldn’t be equally obligated to eliminate ADULT leukemia. For the most part, the examples of suffering I’ve seen have been ones that strike an emotional chord, but don’t have a strong philosophical reason to distinguish them.

    This is also why I don’t find the evolution argument any stronger an argument unless someone holds a VERY strong view of Utilitarianism that is pretty much philosophically bankrupt. If you have to rely on the evolution argument, we presume that you accept that the amounts of everyday suffering are either acceptable or that there can be a reason for them: that we experience pain, live, die, have species expire and emerge anew right now isn’t a particularly big problem for theism. But evolution is made up precisely those sorts of events; it’s nothing more than taking over every day current experiences and writing it large over millions of years (which is required to make the leap from micro to macro evolution, where you claim that the micro processes we see today are exactly the same processes that worked at the macro level to produce everything else). But if the amount of suffering in the short term is okay, why would extending that same sort and amount of suffering over many, many years suddenly be a problem? Even in your post, the quotes cited appeal to the total amount added up over all of those years, which means taking the total as the prime determinant of whether allowing that suffering is moral or not, which requires an EXCEPTIONALLY strong view of Utilitarianism to support that no human could ever actually comport to, and that can lead to nasty contradictions. So that’s not particularly strong.

    One can counter that if it’s done just to produce humans, then surely God could have come up with a system that produced less suffering for things that aren’t human. This, however, is still countered by the fact that they suffer the pains of living in this world, and that if you don’t have a problem with that amount of suffering saying “Well, it’s too much to make them live (as a species) for millions of years!” doesn’t seem like any kind of objection at all. Essentially, you can’t complain about the suffering produced by their living for thousands of years if you see no reason to complain about the suffering produced by them living for one year. It’s still living, and is the precise same state (doing it over thousands of years does not make them suffer more individually, for example. It’s just a total over time.)

    On Haught, I think the argument is this: if God just created us directly, then all we’d be is what God conceived us to be, and we could have no distinction between what God conceived us to be and what we are. Placing us in an environment that allowed us to evolve allows us to separate ourselves from the conception and produce a being that is both related to God and his conception of us but also not identical to that conception. As an example, it’s essentially the difference between creating a clone of yourself and creating a child of yourself; the clone just IS you, but the child is you and themselves, is part of you and yet independent of you.

    How well the argument works is another matter. It sounds like it relies on a Ground of All Being God to work, but a Ground of All Being God would still have the problem that Haught talks about, or else that God would make us different by introducing weaknesses and imperfections in us, which doesn’t seem like a particularly good goal. “I made you different by making you flawed! You’re welcome!”.

    As for a reason to do things with natural laws, my answer is this: because doing things in a law-like manner allows us to do science on the world, and thus have a principled way to gain knowledge and thus to learn about and improve the world. Since challenging this means challenging the value of science, few science-oriented atheists should support challenging that, and so at best we’re back to “how much suffering is that worth”. This also answers why allow suffering at all, as suffering gives us the motivation to learn about the world and to improve it; we have no reason to improve a world where nothing bad happens. And this also deals with eric’s argument: God doesn’t interfere in cases where His interference would have to be a law, or a constant suspension of one, but can interfere when it is local, individual, not expected to be repeated every time, and in accordance with the intentional stance. In short, God won’t interfere when His interference would be expected to be a continuous or constant law, but can on an individual basis when it’s just a one-time event (which makes studying miracles scientifically difficult, to say the least).

  8. #8 MNb
    July 17, 2014

    “We should not have the amount of suffering we have in the world if we had a loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God.”
    I think Herman Philipse’s approach better. I paraphraze as he spends quite a few pages on the issue. Given the amount of evil in past (the suffering of dinosaurs for instance when they got exterminated) and presence atheism has more predictive power than theism.
    You’ll find it hard to argue against that one.

  9. #9 Verbose Stoic
    July 17, 2014

    MNb,

    I’m in the process of reading his book now, and haven’t gotten there yet, but I will say that talking about “predictive power” might be missing the point; it assumes a scientific epistemology that puts predictive power over explanatory power , and at least folk beliefs don’t need to do that (and probably shouldn’t).

  10. #10 Bjoern
    July 17, 2014

    Aha, an omnipotent god cannot create a world that is not a “purely passive mirroring of [his] divine will”. Makes sense.

  11. #11 Another Matt
    July 17, 2014

    In fact, an evolutionary theology might agree…that the idea of an instantaneously complete creation is theologically unthinkable. Any universe that might conceivably burst into being fully formed could never have become truly differentiated from its creator. It would not have had the time or opportunity to become a world that stands out distinctly in dialogical relationship to God. Such a “world” would be a purely passive mirroring of the divine will. Indeed, it would not be a world at all, but instead an eternal dimension of God’s own being. A universe sculpted to finished perfection in the first instant of its existence would be frozen in place forever. It could not give rise to beings endowed with freedom or even with life, since by definition living and freedom-endowed organisms are inherently self-transcending realities whose very nature is to move beyond their present state of being.

    I dare you to make sense out of that.

    I think I can make sense of it, though being an agnostic atheist I disagree with it. It’s a totally scholastic approach that relies on A-T principles. This theology conceives of God as “pure act” that has no potentiality — a god that can change state is no God at all. This is what is meant by “God is that whose essence is existence” — it means that there is no other state it can occupy.

    Haught is saying that a perfect world, being perfect, would also no longer have any potential to change, and could thus only properly be spoken of as a part of God. In such a world with no potentiality, there could be no life or freedom, because part of the essence of each of these is to change from one state to another — to metabolize in the former and to make contingent choices in the latter.

    However, a Christian needs to believe that the world will eventually be perfect (God will become “all in all”), and so the telos of the world we occupy is to slowly and ineluctably evolve toward that state — to become part of God. This is where it jumps the track, though, because a huge part of the theology says that it will become perfect again, implying a previous state of perfection of some sort that humans are responsible for making a hash of. One way out is via something like Milton from Paradise Lost (Book 12):

    …for then the Earth
    Shall all be Paradise, far happier place
    Than this of Eden, and far happier days.

    Here, Eden is a state of innocence rather than of perfection, in which case (if we squint our eyes and forget all of the natural evils prior to this state), we can conceive of as the “dawn of consciousness” or whatever the theologians are saying Eden is a metaphor for these days.

    So, plenty of problems, but I think Haught’s words make sense as English sentences.

  12. #12 Another Matt
    July 17, 2014

    Also, similar imagery in this stanza from Wallace Stevens’s Sunday Morning:

    Is there no change of death in paradise?
    Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
    Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
    Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
    With rivers like our own that seek for seas
    They never find, the same receding shores
    That never touch with inarticulate pang?
    Why set the pear upon those river banks
    Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
    Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
    The silken weavings of our afternoons,
    And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
    Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
    Within whose burning bosom we devise
    Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

    Paradise itself is not a place of beauty.

  13. #13 Pedr
    July 17, 2014

    Feb 5, 1943
    “Well, Rutka, you’ve probably gone completely crazy. You are calling upon God as if He exists. The little faith I used to have has been completely shattered. If God existed, He would have certainly not permitted that human beings be thrown alive into furnaces, and the heads of little toddlers be smashed with butt of guns or be shoved into sacks and gassed to death. … It sounds like a fairy tale. Those who haven’t seen this would never believe it. But it’s not a legend; it’s the truth.”

    _Rutka’s Diary_, Rutka Laskier, age 14,

  14. #14 Michael Fugate
    July 18, 2014

    If God is and God is good, then how much evil? I don’t know how anyone can answer that question.

    I would say that the best evidence against Gods is religion. If religious texts and theologians have some inside track on what God wants or can do, then, based on their output, God surely doesn’t exist.

  15. #15 Steven Carr
    July 18, 2014

    ‘The logical form of the argument asserts there is a contradiction entailed in believing both that God exists and evil exists.’

    Why is this busted?

    Believers claim their god is a necessary being and so exists in every single possible world – regardless of how much evil there is in that world.

    As believers also struggle manfully to try to show that their god and evil can both exist in just this one world, we can regard as busted their attempts to show that their hypothetical god can exist in *all* logically possible worlds, regardless of how much more evil there is in those logically possible worlds compared to ours.

  16. #16 eric
    July 19, 2014

    @7:

    So, essentially, the evidential argument relies on saying that there can be some suffering, but not as much as we have. But since making this move implies that you can allow for at least some suffering, the onus is on the atheist to demonstrate with clear arguments that what we have is too much.

    Some humans go through their lives happy, healthy, and prosperous until they die of old age surrounded by loved ones. Unless one is willing to say that they go to hell or suffer some other theological problem, then it must be theologically true that such people suffered enough – that any additional suffering beyond what they experienced is theologically unnecessary.

    So, the atheist is in pretty good shape. Since there is a variance in the amount of suffering endured by different humans, and since most theologies, at least, will allow the least-suffering humans to go to heaven, any amount of suffering more than that least-suffering human gets is theologically unnecessary, and therefore evil (or at least creates the “powerless, ignorant, or wicked” conundrum).

  17. #17 eric
    July 19, 2014

    Ack, html fail. The first paragraph is VS’. The next two are mine.

  18. #18 JimV
    United States
    July 20, 2014

    The bottom line I think is that pain and suffering make perfect sense in a world of natural laws in which things happen by a natural process of evolution. Pain evolved to keep your fingers off of hot stoves. I could give many more detailed examples but that should be clear. Pain causes suffering, as do deaths. Deaths happen because as I’ve said before (perhaps too many times) if death did not exist, evolution would have had to invent it – so it did. Again, I could explain that in more detail but it should be clear based on how evolution works.

    Whereas (the other part of the bottom line), the religion apologists have to invent epicycle after epicycle to justify undeserved pain and suffering from a god who could just take some mud, mold it into a bipedal shape and breath life into it. (Then take one of its ribs and turn that into a similar creature, explaining why, according to one of my Sunday School teachers, men have one less rib than women – except, wait, that turned out to be another lie.) You may say that’s just a metaphor, but you need to go much further and admit your god does not have that kind of power to evade my point. Do so and we’ll talk further. (What else can’t he do, this universe-creator?) Otherwise you’re back with the epicycles.

    Every day I see something which is well-explained by evolution. I have yet to see anything which is well-explained by the god hypothesis.

  19. #19 H.H.
    July 21, 2014

    …the big problem with the original argument is that it insists that there can be NO suffering in the world based on what God’s nature is purported to be … and that just seems unreasonable.

    Why would that be unreasonable? God is incapable of eliminating suffering entirely, is that what you’re suggesting? It seems a strange thing to argue, considering Christian dogma explicitly holds that the faithful are rewarded with an eternal life free of suffering.

  20. #20 eric
    July 21, 2014

    @19: to be fair, that whole heaven concept is just flawed. Take me for example. I like to play cards. Now, when I lose a game, I’m unhappy. But if it were not possible for me to lose – if I knew it was never going to happen – I would also be unhappy. And if heaven is eternity with no card playing, I would also be unhappy. OTOH I guess God could just radically change my mind and my likes and dislikes, so that I never even missed playing cards. But that doesn’t sound good either. So, basically, I’m screwed, because it won’t be heavenly for me unless I have a real possibility of temporary unhappiness. :)
    Jason may be in the same boat with chess. He doesn’t like to lose, but he would probably dislike the thought of never losing even more, and never playing chess again even more than that! So there is no heaven without at least some minor suffering for him either. :)

  21. #21 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2014

    eric,

    Your argument is not a good defense for the atheist for a number of reasons:

    1) Since you base it on the suffering of humans, it eliminates the evolutionary argument, which is about the unnecessary suffering of animals.

    2) It tries to measure acceptable suffering by the suffering that happens to an individual human, and what it necessary for them to (presumably) get to heaven, but the theological points aren’t about what suffering an individual has to personally experience but are instead about what suffering an individual has to be able to cause or witness. For example, the free will defense says that people have to be able to choose to cause suffering to make their choice to not cause suffering meaningful. There is no Church of Ilmater outside of the Forgotten Realms [grin].

    3) The Problem of Evil is also not about the suffering of any particular individual, but about the global total of suffering, so to take the tack you do seems to result in abandoning the actual argument and creating a new one.

    4) And finally, it has the same result as the other arguments I talked about: it ends up arguing that there can’t be any suffering in the world. After all, you can’t just talk about the least amount of suffering that someone HAS experienced, but the least amount that they COULD experience and still get … whatever it is you say they can still get. And either there’s a principled limit that you can argue for, or else that limit is technically none. So, again, either you demonstrate what that limit is or you end up having to say that there is no limit and so there shouldn’t be any at all … which leads us right back to the logical argument. And pointing at someone who suffered less doesn’t establish that that’s the lower limit at all since someone may experience less than someone else but as long as the amount that the other person suffers doesn’t exceed the limit God would be safe. There is no reason to suggest that everyone would have to suffer exactly equally.

    I think the issue here is that you like the argument because it’s empirical, but overall it is philosophically weak.

    H.H.,

    The problem with the logical argument is that it is very hard to argue that a loving or good God MUST not allow ANY suffering or else can’t be loving or good, because there are many times where suffering can lead to improvements that are more valuable than preventing the original suffering, which is something that pretty much all parents learn or ought to learn: sometimes you have to let your kids fail so that they learn and progress, even if it makes them unhappy when you do so.

    eric @20,

    Maybe you just need to learn not to be unhappy when you lose, to enjoy the game itself and look on even a loss as the result of a fun, well-played game. You might want to think about what it is that makes you unhappy about losing. Is it ego? There’s no point to ego in heaven. Is it that you worry that you didn’t play as well as you could? Presumably you always do that in heaven. And so on and so forth.

    The argument you make here is more of a gotcha than an actual solid argument, although there might be a lot of interesting philosophical work to do on figuring out what heaven would have to be like and if, based on that, if a heaven is possible at all. But you getting miffed at losing at cards isn’t likely to be an argument that seriously challlenges the concept [grin].

  22. #22 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2014

    eric,

    Also, while it certainly wouldn’t be Christian canon, this strip does a good job of (jokingly) highlighting how infinitely satisfying encounters could work in a “happy” afterlife. And it’s in a good webcomic, too [grin]:

    http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0492.html

  23. #23 H.H.
    July 21, 2014

    The problem with the logical argument is that it is very hard to argue that a loving or good God MUST not allow ANY suffering or else can’t be loving or good, because there are many times where suffering can lead to improvements that are more valuable than preventing the original suffering, which is something that pretty much all parents learn or ought to learn: sometimes you have to let your kids fail so that they learn and progress, even if it makes them unhappy when you do so.

    That suffering can be instructive at times is not an argument for its necessity. Any “lesson” which suffering may impart could be apprehended through other means, especially by a deity with unlimited means. He could have simply imbued us with understanding, or run us through a simulator that would impart the same lessons without harming anyone.

  24. #24 Verbose Stoic
    July 21, 2014

    H.H..,

    That would be focusing too much on suffering. If suffering is a good and simple way to provide those benefits, you have to make goodness and loving ALL ABOUT avoiding suffering to make that work, otherwise you wouldn’t have shown that God is WRONG to choose the suffering path — even for reasons of efficiency — instead of one of the other alternatives, and so your argument wouldn’t be supported. Even your own examples demonstrate how problematic that is, as the first can’t allow us to actually learn — and would result in identical people — and the second relies on us believing that there is suffering (ie that we suffer or that others suffer) anyway, and so could very well be this world. Also note that the suffering I was talking about was about being able to fail, and you can only believe that you can fail if you, in fact, actually do fail, or are convinced by the simulator that you can fail even if you try your hardest.

  25. #25 eric
    July 22, 2014

    VS:
    1) Its simple enough to make a similar “least suffering raccoon” argument, and continue with that ad nauseum.

    2) Saying theodicy is a problem of putting to stringent a limit on the amount of evil a person is allowed to cause completely ignores the theodicy issues associated with disease, natural disasters, and other suffering not caused by human choice. So no, that’s not right.
    Secondly, the I have always found the free will defense to be inconsistenly applies baloney as it relates to Christianity. It works for deists, sure. But if you accept the miracles of the bible, then you have to accept that either everyone who witnessed them lost their free will and are in hell (that would include all the disciples, as well al the people who were converted by Jesus’ miracles…and all the hebrews crossing the red sea), or you must accept that people can witness godly miracles and still maintain a meaningful choice to believe, to have faith. And if the latter, the free will defense fails and there is no ‘free will’ reason why God can’t intervene today to alleviate suffering. If Thomas can maintain his ability to meaninfully choose faith after sticking his fingers in the bodily holes of a ressurrected Jesus, surely I can maintan my ability to make a meaninful choice after seeing malaria miraculously wiped from the face of the earth.

    3) IMO global suffering is simply the collective suffering of individuals and so I think this objection of yours is completely invalid.

    4) No, there is much pain that all humans experience or which is considered within the range of ‘normal’ human experience, given our biology. Pain associated with physical growth, development, and aging for instance. Psychological pains of living in a society, interacting with other people who have different interests. The psycological pain associated with a loved ones’ death. Little kids learning they aren’t the only important thing in the universe, that mommy and daddy care about other things too. I’m not claiming God could create us with no suffering and still have us be recognizably human; I’m claiming that there is no good theological reason why anyone should be more disease-ridden than Bill Gates. Unless you think that Bill Gates’ disease-free life will send him to hell, there is no reason why every human on the planet couldn’t experience the same lack of disease.

  26. #26 G
    July 22, 2014

    Verbose Stoic’s arguement boils down to:

    If God exists, there should be more love and less cruelty in the world.

    How can we tell if we live in a world with more love and less cruelty than some other hypothetical world that could be or could have been?

    Clearly we can’t, as we have no other world to compare.

    What that supports is agnosticism, rather than conclusive theism or conclusive atheism.

    Notice that I used “more” and “less” rather than “any” or “none,” but the “any or none” formulation is no more conclusive: there is both love and cruelty, so we’re back where we started.

    —-

    What I take to be evidence of God is the fact that so few people remember the nuclear war of 1982, or the asteroid strike of 1997. Each of these wiped out about 3/4 of the Earth’s population, but God stepped in and undid them, resurrected the dead, and erased peoples’ memories. That is, erased _most_ peoples’ memories, and even those erasures were not total, as some people can recall both events if they try hard enough.

    I trust y’all can see the point of that scenario. If not…

    First God eliminated smallpox, then a range of other horrific diseases, then gangrene and then broken bones and finally flu and the common cold. Eventually humanity, in the absence of painful and fatal illnesses and injuries, petitioned God with prayer: “Oh Lord, please eliminate stubbed toes and skinned knees, for they are the scourge of humanity and such evil that does not deserve to exist!”

  27. #27 see noevo
    July 23, 2014

    I don’t know if Ruse is an evolutionist or if he’s an atheist. Although I CAN say that IF he’s an atheist, then he is definitely an evolutionist. If he’s an atheistic evolutionist, he has no basis whatsoever for addressing “evil” or “good”. These are meaningless terms in evolution.

  28. #28 Michael Fugate
    July 23, 2014

    Or as Steinbeck said it through Jim Casy in the Grapes of Wrath,

    “There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing.”

    And yes, Ruse is both atheist and evolutionist.

  29. #29 Verbose Stoic
    July 23, 2014

    eric,

    Since these are still mostly point-by-point replies, forgive me for not directly quoting:

    1) The evolutionary argument relies on extra suffering over time, not comparisons of suffering. Also, you seem to imply that the suffering is supposed to be for a purpose, but theologically that would indeed only apply to humans and not animals (if that isn’t what you rely on with your comments about “enough”, then I’d appreciate you expanding on that). Finally, it is quite difficult to compare suffering of animals and humans. So you definitely, in all of these ways, seem to be abandoning the argument from evolutionary evil.

    2) The “For example …” part of that theodicy should have given you a big hint that I wasn’t reducing it all to the free will argument, but using that as an example of one theological argument that talks about there having to be suffering to others in order for US to properly develop. The argument I’ve given before about there needing to be suffering to motivate people to go out and do science to end the suffering of others is another example.

    Additionally, the argument was not talking about the free will to believe in God argument, but the, as I said, free will to cause suffering to others argument. So since you took the example as the whole and then STILL got the argument wrong, you didn’t answer this at all.

    3) That would be fine, if you were totalling up the suffering of individuals to get a total amount of evil, which would be an argument about the total amount of suffering in the world. But you aren’t. You are comparing specific individuals to specific individuals, and saying that since one specific individual suffers less than another then that other specific individual then all there is no reason for any individual to suffer more than the individual that suffers the least. That is, indeed, a different argument, and one that the total amount of suffering over generations over different individuals has no impact on … and that total amount is the heart of the evolutionary argument.

    4) And Steve Jobs died of cancer.

    Putting aside that since you don’t actually provide a criteria for deciding what should be considered a normal part of human existence and what shouldn’t, it would be quite reasonable for someone to deny that, say, the pains from aging would indeed be acceptable, you seem to be getting at a different argument here. I’m not sure that this is your argument, but it seems to me to be a better one than the alternatives if it isn’t: The natural suffering we have in this world is not just. It should be distributed justly and fairly if there really is a JUST God. So we can’t have a just God.

    The first thing we have to do is eliminate all differences in natural suffering that result from people’s actions. If someone, say, goes to the doctor frequently and eats properly, it’s only just that they, in general, are healthier and avoid more diseases than those who don’t. When you start comparing individuals based on ACCESS to those means, then things get a little trickier, because it isn’t as easy to determine what is really of their own actions and what is not.

    But fortunately we don’t need to look at that, because we have lots of examples of people with the same access to the means of avoiding natural suffering who, nevertheless, experience more suffering than those with the same access. This, then, on the face of it, looks unfair.

    The first reply to this is that if we were tying suffering to justice, then we’d want people who were less deserving — ie people who are more immoral, for example — to suffer more than those are more moral, and to die earlier than they do, and so on and so forth. But this would turn suffering into a punishment, and remove all motivation for us to, in general, seek to alleviate suffering. As Marcus Cole asked, what if life really was fair, and we experience the suffering we do because we really deserved it? Then we would have no reason to alleviate the suffering of others; after all, it’s what they deserve. So that wouldn’t produce a particularly good world.

    But it can be replied that we don’t need to demand THAT kind of just suffering. Instead. we can simply ask that everyone experience the same suffering. Which would indeed work. But in order to do that, we would actually want to INCREASE the overall amount of suffering, so that the suffering doesn’t fall into the “everyday aches and pains that everyone gets and we just have to put up with”. Also, it eliminates any reason I might have to try to prevent someone ELSE’S suffering, as I am suffering precisely as much as they are and while I would be motivated to end that suffering globally, I have no reason to try to ease one person’s pain from the thing that everyone gets. Plus that would leave one person suffering less than another, which would be unjust.

    So putting aside any potential reasons why random suffering itself might be good at motivating us to alleviate suffering, everyone suffering globally to the same amount seems to require more overall suffering and makes us less motivated to alleviate suffering, and so is not a particularly good argument.

    Now, again, this may not be what you meant. But if it isn’t, then if you could expand on what precisely your argument is and what criteria you are using to differentiate between human suffering and not, that would be great.