Intense Suffering and a Moral Kindergarten

Over at professor Victor Reppert's blog here, he challenged atheists to come up with a specific version of the argument for evil, which spilled over into a further discussion here, where I asked this question: "Has someone actually shown that moral choice-making is qualitatively different in times of intense suffering over normal choice making?" What do you think? What is there about intense suffering or horrendous evils which purportedly improves or enhances or strengthens moral choice-making such that without this suffering we might be moral pigmies living in a moral kindergarten? Anything?

5 comments:

exbeliever said...

I posted something related here and on Victor's blog.

It's not my usual method to write these kinds of posts, but I did so anyway. Let's see how it turns out.

samskeptic said...

One of the last straws of my faith broke when I rejected the idea of suffering as a moral training ground. Take the example of kindergarten that was used in the post. If I had a son who was in kindergarten, I might allow that child to experience suffering in order to "toughen him up" - that is, to prepare him for the challenges of the world. But why would I invest in preparing him for the challenges of the real world? Because I will not always be there to protect and guide him. Eventually, one day I will go away and he will have to make his own choices and defend himself; therefore, it is only good for me to prepare him for those moments by withdrawing my hand occasionally.


However, with God that rationale disappears. God is supposedly always with us and always there to guide and protect us. So why should God remove his protection? The only reason I can think of is so that we will be ready for. . .the next time when he removes his protection. And then the next time. All he is preparing us for is for him to be an absentee parent. So if God uses suffering to train us, he must not be good, for his only reason could be to prepare us for the next time he again fails to intervene.

DavidD said...

"So if God uses suffering to train us, he must not be good, for his only reason could be to prepare us for the next time he again fails to intervene."

1) How much suffering? Does God need to create any suffering for this or is there already plenty of suffering to learn by, existing for other reasons? How good? Could it be traditionalists are not right in saying God is utterly good? Are there in fact tradeoffs necessary so that God can be more loving or something else rather than perfectly good? Is it worth it if God is still better than any human being? Does even the slightest suffering to teach someone mean God is not at all good?

2) Does God ever fail to intervene or is He limited in how He can intervene, unable to tear apart the physical universe to intervene physically, unable to tear apart the mind of someone closed to Him or only a little open to Him?

It regularly amazes me how both atheists and traditionalists will make absolute claims without looking at the possibilities that are contrary to such a claim. If you prove your position is better than every possibility, fine, but is it so hard to consider other possibilities?

Regarding the question of intense suffering, I did my internship at a Jewish hospital many years ago. There was a noticeable difference in my patients who had concentration camp numbers on their forearms. They were less afraid. They were usually more open to me personally, though maybe some were more withdrawn. Was their suffering good for them? A little bit. It couldn't justify the Holocaust, but people had learned something. I look at suffering in my own life and could say a similar thing. One reason I volunteer at a charity in my retirement is my own suffering - I know that people suffer when they're in need, not just from the material need. Often the anxiety over what to do is worse than the material deprivation. Some learn to trust others this way, that it's impossible not to need anything from anyone. Some learn to trust God the same way.

Everyone must suffer some to learn empathy. Everyone must suffer some to break their pride down to a healthy level. It doesn't take much to do that. Traditionalists or others who say that all the suffering in the world is necessary are insane, in my opinion.

So what does that have to do with God? It means He's not the all-powerful, all-good God tradition says He is. David Hume said this almost 300 years ago. Some say Hume is wrong, that somehow there's a good reason the world is the way it is with a traditional God, overcoming sin slowly perhaps, for reasons unknown to mere mortals. I ask God about it, and He says, "No, tradition is wrong." Next question.

John W. Loftus said...

Regarding the question of intense suffering, I did my internship at a Jewish hospital many years ago. There was a noticeable difference in my patients who had concentration camp numbers on their forearms. They were less afraid. They were usually more open to me personally, though maybe some were more withdrawn. Was their suffering good for them? A little bit. It couldn't justify the Holocaust, but people had learned something.

This is very lame. Ask these same people if their lives are better off because of their suffering, that they are glad it happened, and that if they had it to do all over again they would. Go ahead. Ask them. Then get back to me.

Plus there are people who are not alive anymore precisely because of those concentration camps for you to even ask....most of whom are purportedly in hell.

Everyone must suffer some to learn empathy. Everyone must suffer some to break their pride down to a healthy level. It doesn't take much to do that. Traditionalists or others who say that all the suffering in the world is necessary are insane, in my opinion.

What about the Christian God and/or angels? Then suffering is not necessary, as you admit.

But the suffering I'm talking about is the kind that will turn your stomach, that reduces a man to nothing, that provokes people to commit suicide, that causes them to abandon all hope of life, that crushes bones, breaks wills, that is unbearable, gratuitous, and completely undeserved.

DavidD said...

I spent a career in medicine. I volunteer now at a charity where the clients are quite needy. I know suffering very well, Mr. Loftus. I'm sorry you don't read well enough to read what I wrote instead of what you assumed I wrote. I said two ways that while suffering can be helpful, that cannot justify how much suffering there is.

You asked about intense suffering. I gave you what I know, my real world experience. Now apparently you are more interested in wordy fantasy that agrees with you completely. What not just make up your own comments then?