The Darwinian Problem of Evil

Charles Darwin laid out what I call The Darwinian Problem of Evil. In his autobiography he wrote:
That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create this universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? This very old argument from the existence of suffering against the existence of an intelligent First Cause seems to be a strong one; whereas…the presence of much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.

39 comments:

Questeruk said...

How would you prevent evil in the world?

Even if you only look at mankind, you immediately hit a problem.

If you were a powerful god, you could prevent ‘evil’ deeds by one individual against another. For example, you could stop a thief stealing an elderly person’s money. It could be done by preventing the thief taking the money, indeed it could be done by removing the actual thought of doing the deed from the thief’s mind.

However by taking that one action, you have also taken away something. You have taken away freedom - the freedom of action from the thief, or even the freedom of free thought.

Basically you cannot have complete freedom, without allowing for the possibility of evil.

By allowing complete freedom, evil doesn’t have to happen, but it allows the possibility of evil. And like most possibilities, on a world scale it is going to happen, to a greater or lesser degree.

I suggest that a supreme being has given mankind freedom. The freedom is a freedom to do good, but it is also a freedom to do evil. Doing good or evil interacts with others, and they become the receivers of both the good and the evil.

While we may not want evil to happen, the vast majority of people do want freedom – freedom of action, and freedom of thought.

Freedom is a quality that we would not want to lose. The existence of evil is the price we must pay for that freedom.

Rob R said...

The theistic evolutionist (ID and non-ID) and progressive creationist (who does not subscribe to the gap theory which could link all suffering to the demonic revolt which would've had fall out in nature) could make two suggestions. One, suffering of animals just simply isn't on the same ontological moral dimension as humans (and this is probably very likely true given that for example, an animal that loses it's young hasn't been dealt the scar of it's life on anywhere near the same level as a human). And secondly, suffering in animals is not useless but extremely important for the very reason Darwin was well aware. Suffering keeps animals alive by providing a strong motivation not to get into lethal and damaging situations. And why should God have used this method instead of an instantanius creation without any suffering and pain? Because in this method, God works through creation which is as we see throughout scripture very consistent with his character.

Rob R said...

I take that back about progressive creationists. That is the last part would not help them.

Anthony said...

I love reading these justifications. To keep intact in their mind the existence of an omnipotent God, they continually diminish his power. How would I stop evil in this world? I don't know, but I'm not omniscient and omnipotent. If I were endowed with those characteristics, I'm quite certain I could come up with something. And if I couldn't, I still have a solution. I wouldn't have created sentient beings in the first place.

And this business about free will has to stop. It is certainly possible to influence people to not take courses of action that would cause them harm without abrogating their free will. Why would it be wrong for God to impinge upon our free will for our own benefit? Why do so many Christians think that's an immoral action? What is so absolutely sacred about free will that it justifies the intense suffering the world? (check out what's going on in Haiti right now, and tell me that free will justifies that) Humans do it all the time, and often, especially in the case of a parent, to not impinge upon the free will of those around for their ultimate benefit is considered wholly wicked. Why would it be bad for God to impinge upon my free will, again, were it for my ultimate benefit?

The free will defense is just smoke and mirrors. It sounds good, but it's all fluff and no substance, and Christians implicitly admit it. During their testimonies, they will invariably say things like, "if not for the grace of God, I'd still be sinner." I say, if God was able to influence you without eradicating your free will, than it's nonsense to tell me he can't change everyone, given his omnipotence and omniscience. Darwin was right. Only the explanation according to evolutionary theory clearly answers the problem. We, along with the rest of the sentient beings, suffer because it's just how the world work and there is nothing above us to stop it. Nothing.

But, keep on rationalizing god however you will, because everytime you limit his power, it makes him that much easier to refute and debunk. At least my old church members had the stones to say that god could completely eradicate suffering, but he chose not to of his own volition. They didn't try to rationalize this nonsense; they just avoided it; like real men.

beowulf2k8 said...

How would you refute a system in which the Demiurge (Creator of this world) used evolution to create life on this planet. Yet there is a higher God above him, more powerful and moral, who had nothing to do with creating the world nor the Demiurge, and this God is the God of morality. Where would you begin refuting this?

nearenough said...

Haiti is taking the spotlight right now. Is the Red Cross explicitly non-religious? Is there an atheist charity anywhere?

John Loftus, please write an opinion on that disastrous situation and what non-believers can do.

Josh said...

I can't speak for anyone else, but personally, I would gladly give up the freedom to spread infectious disease, eat poisonous foods, be born with crippling genetic defects, or suffer a random natural disaster.

That's a price I would be willing to pay.

Of course, since I don't have the freedom to pay that price, I suppose it's a moot point.

Rob R said...

I love reading these justifications.

who's justification? Mine?

To keep intact in their mind the existence of an omnipotent God, they continually diminish his power. How would I stop evil in this world?

My answer essentially made the case that the suffering of animals isn't necessarily evil given it's role for survival.


Why do so many Christians think [removing/altering free will is] an immoral action?

I certainly don't. I just think it would be inconsistent with God's original plan in creating us to be deeply personal beings capable of a type of love that only free will makes possible. And free will also powerfully shapes so much else of our humanity that is sacred and reflects God such as a type of consciousness, creativity, and sovereignty that is modeled after God's sovereignty. All of this contributes to a creature that is so deeply sacred that it was worth the risk of evil.

During their testimonies, they will invariably say things like, "if not for the grace of God, I'd still be sinner."

it is perfectly coherent that free decisions have necessary conditions. What is not coherent is that they should have sufficient conditions. And only a Calvinist would say that the grace of God was a sufficient condition for their salvation.

I say, if God was able to influence you without eradicating your free will, than it's nonsense to tell me he can't change everyone,

Influence and determination are two different things. You can resist an influence. Of course God can influence everyone and yet many people will resist that influence. And that is exactly what I believe.


of course, this is, it seems to me all a red herring introduced by the first commenter.

Greg said...

Questeruk -- Since your god is apparently capable of anything, including, say, making the color blue the galactic prime minister of ice cubes, couldn't it create a freedom that doesn't allow for evil? Or are this god's hands tied by some higher reality? If that is the case, why isn't your god more accepting of the evil that human do? Your god makes normative distinctions, and experiences anger at disobedience (which your god would have been ultimately responsible for), so it seems that your god is not a creator of reality, but a being that is as temporally stuck as we are.

One would assume a creator being would have created emotions suitable to the reality being created, yes? So that being would not have the same emotional needs, so probably wouldn't have the same emotions as temporarily stuck beings like us.

Sort of like the conception of Brahman. I'm not Hindu, but the idea of the creator of ultimate reality being completely alien to our petty normative concerns makes a hell of a lot more sense that an angry, jealous, loving god that apparently only has limited control of his creation.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

When one gets caught up in another's perspective it is easy to be caught up in their focus. But to look at animal suffering as a justification that there is no God comes from a skewed perspective - animals do not ordinarily abuse one another -- so the amount of time spent in pain before dying is somewhat small compared to the amount of time spent in the activities of living. Also, if evil is so prevalent, then I am almost certain that the human population should not be what it is today. I would say that life is more prevalent and our focus can be more balanced in viewing the ratio of pain/evil/suffering versus life/creation.

Also, God's grace allows for enmity to exist -- He acknowledges enmity and evil as suffering but He does not annihilate that which it infects - living beings.

3M

Questeruk said...

The point I am making is that if you have a creator who does not allow his creation freedom, then the decisions that the created make, and the interaction between each other is in effect programmed into them, they have no choice.

Without this freedom they would not have an option to go against their creators desires. In effect they would be rather like robots, in that they have no choice but to do things the way their creator had decided they should.

I believe that mankind has true freedom. That mankind has the freedom to follow moral precepts but also the freedom not to do so. To me it’s not a weakness for such a creator to allow his creation to go against his wishes, but a strength.

It means that ultimately individuals in his creation who make positive choices make them because that is what THEY want to do, not because their creator forces them to do so.

After all, this is what happens in the human family doesn’t it. A parent can teach all sorts of moral values to their children, and encourage them to follow a positive way of life, but as the child develops into adulthood the parent cannot enforce how their offspring will ultimately behave.

Just about every parent wants their children to be successful and happy. But they cannot enforce the child’s behaviour as the child becomes independent. The child has freedom – and freedom means that they make choices, and some of the choices are going to be bad choices.

Would a loving parent have it any other way?

Someone commented earlier “Why would it be wrong for God to impinge upon our free will for our own benefit?”

The answer should be obvious. Imagine the parent of a teenage child – everywhere the child went, every action they did, on their own or out with their friends, there was the parent tagging along, checking they didn’t get into trouble of any sort, grabbing the cigarette out of their hand, smashing the bottle of alcohol they just bought, monitoring every activity the did.

The frustration this would bring on the child – and what would happen when they finally did break free of this dominating parent?

Kel said...

pfft, Dembski already solved this in his new book (according to him). It's because of the fall of man. If mankind didn't eat from the tree of knowledge, then evolution would produce all rainbows and bunnies - no cancer or parasites or tyrannosaurus. And the most amazing thing? The whole cool time paradox in there. The old earth creationists can relax because God's creation was corrupted by a creation yet to happen, and theistic evolution is cruel for the same reason.


Bill Dembski - writing science fiction that puts the original Terminator to shame!

busterggi said...

Of course all the free will arguments crumble once your postulate that god is omniscient.

Because an omniscient god knows ahead of time what a person will 'choose' to do therefore the 'choice' is preordained and the freedom of it is just an illusion.

Unless god is wrong in which case god isn't god.

Anthony said...

Rob R, Questeruk...

Your views are so woefully limited. You make the analogy that a parent can teach their kids, and the kids may still choose to disobey, but the parents teaching their childen to are imperfect teachers. They may not get the message across as clearly as it needs to be. But God would be the perfect teacher. And according to your testimony, he's been able to teach you. Paul called himself chief among sinners, and yet God was able to teach him. Why can't God teach everyone? What is stopping God? Certainly you don't think people's decisions to rebel are stronger than 1) God's desire to save them and 2) God's ability to show them that his interests for them are what they desire most. (Isn't that what Christians say: we were born with a desire for God; I'm sure I've heard that before) Read some of Thomas Talbott. He outlines this idea much more eloquently than I ever could.

Either God is all powerful or he's not. we have humans have devised almost innumberable whereby we can help people see that the path they are is destructive, without turning them into robots. God, being perfect, omnipotent and omniscient would certainly have no problem influencing us without effecting our free will one bit.

As far as the "tagging along" parent, it's a flawed analogy. If the parent were able to get it across to their children through the initial teaching that drugs/alchohol/insert vice here was ultimately not in their best interest, the parent would not need to tag along, and the child would make free choices that ultimately benefit him (I always lament that I didn't listen to my mother years ago when she vehemently warned me not to become a Christian; she knew me pretty well, and she knew that it would eventually cause me suffering, but she, in her imperfect nature, was unable to "show me the light"...God would not be so limited, except if you're a Christian) God would not have to abrogate our free will to have us follow him, if he were truly omnipotent.

It is remarkably amazing to me that Christians will claim in one breath that god created the entirety of the universe ex nihilo, and is cognizant of the actions of every atom within, yet, in the same breath, he is unable to influence the decisions of his creations.

Teaching and influence are not the abrogation of free will.

But if Hell is involved in any sense, then we don't have free will, for if at the end of my life, were I to choose that I didn't want to go to Hell, your god would tell me that I had no choice. If you want to use the free will defense, it cuts both ways.

J. Quinton said...

The free will is morally superior to evil arguments negate the existence of any sort of heaven or hell.

If it's more morally correct for a being to have free will, then there has to also be free will in heaven. If god can prevent evil/suffering/death in heaven without negating free will, then the "free will is necessary argument" superfluous.

If there's no free will in heaven so that people can't do immoral acts in heaven, then being in heaven in morally inferior to being on earth.

Either free will is good or it's not. You can't have both.

Greg Mills said...

Questeruk -- You're missing my point entirey. Since your god is responsible for the fabric of reality, it created the concepts of freedom, evil, love, fear, hot dog, etc.

Your god could create a freedom that disallow evil (something else presumably created by your god). Since it is all powerful, we can assume it can create an infinite variety of realities, with different blends of stuff, including realities where perfect good and perfect freedom coexist. Is it a paradox? I dunno. It is an all-powerful creative being we're talking about. An all-powerful creative being would never have the dilemma of choice, because it would be the fount of ALL possible choices, the vaste majority of which wouldn't make sense to you or I, because we live in this reality (one chosen for us. Some freedom, eh?)

For whatever your god has seen fit to put us in a universe of suffering, where freedom and goodness are not compatible.

Your god, since it it the inventor of material reality, could make greed a positive, satan an angel... and gives our freedom. It sets the rules.

If it is not setting the rules (example: disease is the result of the fall, NOT because of god's intent) than it is not all powerful. Or it is all powerful, and is either psychotic for giving us the ability to enter an eternity of torture based on conditions created by it, or it is not very interested in our existence, or, we are not apart from it and our normative morality is our invention and it does not share it.

(You start to be bump against the Ontological argument here. Can there be a being that transcends created cataegories like existence? )

openlyatheist said...

"John Loftus, please write an opinion on that disastrous situation and what non-believers can do."

I just got my Secular Student Alliance e-newsletter. Here are recommendations from the Foundation Beyond Belief, based upon Charity Navigator's ratings:

Foundation Beyond Belief writes: "MADRE is a small organization with a high efficiency rating and a good track record in disaster relief that does not mix worldview with its charity. ActionAid International is an outstanding organization that is efficient, non-sectarian, and works with a small budget. International Relief Teams, AmeriCares, Doctors Without Borders, and Partners In Health all receive high ratings for the secular charitable work they do."

Rob R said...

The topic has been completely ignored... even by the atheists.

Free will is not the answer to the problem of the suffering of animals unless you are a young earth creationist. John's dilemma is clearly not aimed at them.

And hey, I was happy to indulge this red herring, but that is what it is and as of now, the last substantive word on the actual topic was mine. Does any one want to deal with John Loftus' actual topic?

course, I'll continue to indulge the red herrings for now.


Rob R, Questeruk...

Your views are so woefully limited.


I don't fully agree with questeruk (for one thing, free will without evil is perfectly coherent... it just wouldn't be moral freedom).


Why can't God teach everyone? What is stopping God?

According to Paul in Romans, God does teach everyone through general revelation thoughn some are unwilling. According to Paul in acts 17, God has made himself universally available.

Certainly you don't think people's decisions to rebel are stronger than 1) God's desire to save them and

No, salvation is intrinsically an act involving a free response thus God's desire to save them by definition cannot gaurantee their salvation.

God's ability to show them that his interests for them are what they desire most.

Desires are variable and our decision making process cannot be reduced to a matter of weighing the intensity of desire.

Read some of Thomas Talbott.

I'm sure it's all thought provoking as i have read talbot on some issues and I have explicitely told you that I found his thinking in a specific matter extremely powerful. But I'm discussing things with you here.

Either God is all powerful or he's not. we have humans have devised almost innumberable whereby we can help people see that the path they are is destructive, without turning them into robots. God, being perfect, omnipotent and omniscient would certainly have no problem influencing us without effecting our free will one bit.

but of course, and God's principle way of interacting with his creation is through his creation and through the church.

But if Hell is involved in any sense, then we don't have free will, for if at the end of my life, were I to choose that I didn't want to go to Hell, your god would tell me that I had no choice.

I have no clue how this follows. That the consequences of our free actions are also freely choosen by us is perfectly coherent.

Rob R said...

I have no clue how this follows. That the consequences of our free actions are also freely choosen by us is perfectly coherent.

typo here.

What I meant to say is that the consequences of our free actions are NOT freely choosen is perfectly coherent.

dguller said...

Rob:

<< suffering of animals just simply isn't on the same ontological moral dimension as humans (and this is probably very likely true given that for example, an animal that loses it's young hasn't been dealt the scar of it's life on anywhere near the same level as a human).

First, why does suffering have to be on the human dimension in order to matter to God?

Second, if the suffering of animals is unimportant, then does that mean that it is okay to torture animals? If it isn’t okay for humans to torture animals, because of the pain that it causes, then how is it okay for God to torture them by creating an environment full of pain and suffering as the context of their lives?

Third, Darwin’s point does not require the complex human emotions of grief and mourning in order to validate his point. The simple and basic experience of physical pain is ubiquitous in the natural world is sufficient to refute the argument that an all-benevolent deity is guiding our world on a benign and positive course.

<< Suffering keeps animals alive by providing a strong motivation not to get into lethal and damaging situations. And why should God have used this method instead of an instantanius creation without any suffering and pain? Because in this method, God works through creation which is as we see throughout scripture very consistent with his character.

That’s just silly.

First, there are many ways to get organisms to behave in certain ways. Bacteria and viruses are able to avoid “lethal and damaging situations” without any experience of suffering due to the utter absence of a central nervous system. They simply respond to the chemical gradient of their external milieu.

Second, why couldn’t God just create us with unconscious instincts to avoid “lethal and damaging situations”? An inner sixth sense, if you will. There is no good reason for pain and suffering to be the only way to get complex organisms to avoid harmful situations. That happens to be how life evolved, and it is a mechanism that works very well, but it is just lazy to say that this is the ONLY way harm avoidance can possibly occur. I think that you belittle God’s creative capacity by saying that the best that he can do is to create organisms that a blind, stupid natural process could have created, as well.

<< According to Paul in Romans, God does teach everyone through general revelation thoughn some are unwilling. According to Paul in acts 17, God has made himself universally available.

This response basically blames the victim, and implies that God desperately wants humans to learn, but is simply overwhelmed by the power of their obstinacy. This appears to conflict with his alleged omnipotence. This also conflicts with the bible, which has a number of examples of God directly softening the hearts of obstinate individuals in order to communicate a divine message to them. So, it appears that God CAN force his revelation upon human understanding, HAS done so in the past, but REFUSES to do so on a vast number of occasions. Hard not to blame him in this matter instead of the victims of his design, right?

dguller said...

<< No, salvation is intrinsically an act involving a free response thus God's desire to save them by definition cannot gaurantee their salvation.

I’m sorry, but this simply does not make sense. Christians believe that God became human, was tortured and died on the cross, all in order to eliminate the impossible debt that humans accrued due to original sin. It appears that God can do far more complicated interventions in the world than simply changing the hearts of individuals from within, and so what stops him from doing so for everyone? Furthermore, the fact that he HAS intervened to soften the hearts of individuals implies that he CAN. If he truly wanted human beings to be happy, because he is such an infinitely good deity, then he could do so for everyone. The fact that he does not implies the class Epicurean response to the problem of evil.

<< God's principle way of interacting with his creation is through his creation and through the church.

This is incredibly ambiguous. What do you mean “through his creation”? Do you mean via exclusively natural phenomena? That would exclude miracles, right?

P.S. What happened to the other thread?

Rob R said...

post 1 of 3


dguller


First, why does suffering have to be on the human dimension in order to matter to God?

who says it doesn't matter to god? My suggestion only points out that it is functional.

Second, if the suffering of animals is unimportant, then does that mean that it is okay to torture animals? If it isn’t okay for humans to torture animals, because of the pain that it causes, then how is it okay for God to torture them by creating an environment full of pain and suffering as the context of their lives?

torturing animals is an abuse of the system that is created for their survival.

Third, Darwin’s point does not require the complex human emotions of grief and mourning in order to validate his point.

We aren't dealing with the human problem of suffering here. here are dealing with the natural problem of evil which has to do with animal suffering. Human grief and suffering serves to highlight the sacredness and incredible value of that which is lost or broken (as in our view, creation is indeed broken) A more conventional approach to the problem of evil works better in that matter as I have described here.

Second, why couldn’t God just create us with unconscious instincts to avoid “lethal and damaging situations”?

Better yet, he could create a paradise for humans in which such situations wouldn't occur. But we aren't talking about us. We are talking about a way to make God's benevolence with an aspect of the natural view of history regarding animals.

Course you could just ask that about animals and I have two responses. One, I don't know why he used pain and not another system, but pain works. 2, it isn't clear that pain in general is evil with regard to animals.

The fact is, we do treat the suffering of animals to be morally differently than we do for humans. Atheists who are relatively normal humans do as well. You see, atheists (of the humanist sort) often share a general eschatological aim that is largely due to (and probably invented by) Judeo-Christian theism, which is the idea of a just world where suffering is reduced to our best abilities (though eventually eliminated in Christian theism by an act of God, reduced by psychological, social and medical advances by atheists (though that isn't an either or matter for Christians as God works through his creation as well as through intervention)).

Our current approach to this involves social reforms. Yet, while those informs may involve a more humane approach to animals, no one imagines that we should reform animal society so it is less brutal. No one is going out to picket lions for attacking gazeles, nor are we going to council sharks to be kinder to seals. The idea is absurd because their actions that cause suffering just aren't immoral.

There is no good reason for pain and suffering to be the only way to get complex organisms to avoid harmful situations.

Your speculations on alterntives just don't amount to a good reason on why their is no good reason for his current method.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3

but it is just lazy to say that this is the ONLY way harm avoidance can possibly occur.

Okay, I won't say it. I don't need to. I only need to show that it isn't clear that it is evil.

I think that you belittle God’s creative capacity by saying that the best that he can do is to create organisms that a blind, stupid natural process could have created, as well.

On the contrary, I don't belittle God's creative capacity in this way. I actually don't know what the truth of God's creation method is. For all I know, the young earth creationists are correct and that'd be fine with me. But I don't have much confidence in their science while I (having a good deal more scientific training than the typical college grad with a bachelors in a non-scientific field) know that I am very limited in my capacity to judge that. Thus I welcome all options (though I am disgusted at the typical creationist divisiveness on the matter though all positions are guilty of that as well).

You actually are belittling God's creative activity to say that this can't be an option for him to work through nature in the way described by theistic evolution.



Kudos for treating the topic as if it was worth discussing.

Now to the tangent,

This response basically blames the victim,

that's a piece of question begging to imply they are God's victims.

and implies that God desperately wants humans to learn, but is simply overwhelmed by the power of their obstinacy.

God accepts the consequence of their obstinancy which is their judgement. describing this as being overwhelmed is your loaded description. And that they are obstinant is their fault and responsibility.

This appears to conflict with his alleged omnipotence.

God's omnipotence is the ability to do all that is logically possible. It is not logically possible for God to override their responsibility while remaining faithful to his original intentions in creating them as free responsible creatures.

This also conflicts with the bible, which has a number of examples of God directly softening the hearts of obstinate individuals in order to communicate a divine message to them.

Hardening or softening hearts doesn't guarantee a response and remove the ultimate responsibility of the person. In exodus, God once hardened the hearts of both pharaoh and his officials, but his officials relented and counseled pharaoh to do the same while Pharaoh continued in his rebellion.

So, it appears that God CAN force his revelation upon human understanding,

You are reading your epistemic situation into scripture. Our quintessential problem with God is not epistemic but it is that we are in rebellion. For each person, the nature of that problem is different (for some such as atheists, it involves an obstinate overly restricted epistemology that isn't necessary). Just because someone recognizes a revelation from God doesn't mean that they obey God and are right with him. Our situation is far more complex than that. Scripture does not clearly presents any intellectual atheists (you can see John Loftus' posts of recent that speaks precisely to some controversies on that). But there is a heck of a lot of rebellion.

Rob R said...

post 3 of 3


I’m sorry, but this simply does not make sense.

On the side, if your primary interest is in finding problems with Christian explanations instead of learning how those problems may be solved, understanding will not easily present itself to you.

Christians believe that God became human, was tortured and died on the cross, all in order to eliminate the impossible debt that humans accrued due to original sin. It appears that God can do far more complicated interventions in the world than simply changing the hearts of individuals from within, and so what stops him from doing so for everyone?

If your view of essential Christian theism is Calvinism, then I think your question is absolutely right. But you're dealing with a view that makes free will necessary in terms of God's intentions for his creation. What stops God from determining everyone's salvation is God's intentions for the working of salvation which is in line with his original intentions of creating us free. I linked you to a blog post of mine above that outlines several reasons why God would want to make us free.

Furthermore, the fact that he HAS intervened to soften the hearts of individuals implies that he CAN.

right, but whether he will depends upon how it works with his plan of salvation of the world which involves working through his creatures.

This is incredibly ambiguous. What do you mean “through his creation”? Do you mean via exclusively natural phenomena? That would exclude miracles, right?

I didn't mean God exclusively works this way. He most often works in that way. He uses both miricles and the more conventional workings of creation. That God became incarnate was due to his principle method of working through creation to save that creation.

P.S. What happened to the other thread?

I have every intention of getting back to it.

dguller said...

Rob:

<< who says it doesn't matter to god? My suggestion only points out that it is functional.

Umm, you did. You indicated that the fact that animal suffering is different in important respects from human suffering was a potential response to the Darwinian problem of evil. The implication is that because animal suffering is different, then its proliferation in the world is not an argument against God’s goodness since only human suffering is a genuine evil. If you are simply saying that suffering is functional, then who cares if animal suffering is different as long as it functions to avoid harm? Your point becomes completely irrelevant.

<< torturing animals is an abuse of the system that is created for their survival.

I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean. So, the problem with torturing animals is not that it causes them to suffer, but that “the system” is abused. Wow. How very compassionate of you.

<< We aren't dealing with the human problem of suffering here. here are dealing with the natural problem of evil which has to do with animal suffering.

Then why did you bring human suffering up?!

<< One, I don't know why he used pain and not another system, but pain works.

Sure, it works, but is it the ONLY way that God could have created beings who avoid harm? Surely, you can conceive of beings who avoid harm due to an unconscious mechanism that never enters into the phenomenal awareness? And if God COULD have created beings that avoid harm without having to feel pain and suffering, then he cannot be considered all-benevolent and all-good.

<< 2, it isn't clear that pain in general is evil with regard to animals.

It is evil if it was wilfully intended by a divine creator as part of the design of animals when alternatives were available that did not include pain. It is not evil if it is a byproduct of impersonal and blind natural forces, though.

<< no one imagines that we should reform animal society so it is less brutal. No one is going out to picket lions for attacking gazeles, nor are we going to council sharks to be kinder to seals. The idea is absurd because their actions that cause suffering just aren't immoral.

No, it is absurd, because to “picket lions” and “council sharks” WILL NOT WORK by virtue of how they have evolved. They do not respond to protest and counselling, for God’s sake. THAT is why it is stupid to try. It has nothing to do with whether their actions are immoral, which is a red herring.

<< Your speculations on alterntives just don't amount to a good reason on why their is no good reason for his current method.

Sure, they do. They show that it is possible for him to have created a world in which there was no suffering and yet still have harm avoidant behaviour. That would be like me designing a prison that contained beds with electric shocks to wake prisoners up for breakfast, and declaring that, lo and behold, I am a benevolent architect. Sure, that is an effective way to wake people up, but there are alternatives that do not involve electric shock and torture. It is because there are those alternatives that my claim to be benevolent is falsified. Instead, I am shown to be callous and malicious.

<< that's a piece of question begging to imply they are God's victims.

Nope. They are victims, because they suffer by virtue of forces beyond their control.

dguller said...

<< It is not logically possible for God to override their responsibility while remaining faithful to his original intentions in creating them as free responsible creatures.

Fair enough, but he chooses to intervene to either clear the way for some or block the way for others. This significantly influences the free choices of individuals to the point of coercion. Yes, we always have choice, but there is such a thing as being forced into a situation in which one choice becomes overwhelmingly essential.

For example, if a father was told to kill one of his children, or else all of his children would be killed, then he would likely kill one of his children. It wouldn’t be fair to condemn him afterwards for murdering his child, despite it ultimately being a free choice by virtue of the coercion factor.

Similarly, the fact that God smoothes the way for some and places obstacles in the way for others introduces an element of coercion that affects the responsibility of individuals for their ultimate choices, despite their being fundamentally free. It isn’t fair or just for him to judge ANYONE, because he COULD have intervened to make the right path easier, and since he HAS done so in the past, then he basically sat by and watched someone make a choice that would lead to eternal damnation. That seems supremely dickish behaviour to me.

This is all I have time for now.

Maybe more to come!

Greg said...

Rob-

>>It is not logically possible for God to override their responsibility while remaining faithful to his original intentions in creating them as free responsible creatures.

You kept letting god off the hook! God, in being the source of all reality, could have optimized to the universe to allow freedom AND goodness. God is setting the rules, right? For omnipotent being, one doesn't have to cancel out the other, and if they do, that being is not omnipotent.

If that being is capable of optimizing for a maximum outcome set by whatever parameters that being decides, and it doesn't, uh, then WTF?

Where did god get his values, anyway? How did he decide that good is good? Or is he locked into a value system? Is he not capable of evil?


He makes choices, evidently. So he has a personality, and has preferences. Can an omnipotent being HAVE a personality?

Rob R said...

dguller,

Umm, you did. You indicated that the fact that animal suffering is different in important respects from human suffering was a potential response to the Darwinian problem of evil.

That it functions for the survival of the animal means that it does matter to God.

The implication is that because animal suffering is different, then its proliferation in the world is not an argument against God’s goodness since only human suffering is a genuine evil.

yes.

If you are simply saying that suffering is functional, then who cares if animal suffering is different as long as it functions to avoid harm?

I just don't see how this follows. It's function (for a specific good) demonstrates that it is not an example of evil. It is part of the motivation for something that is good, survival. It keeps them from becoming broken. Now human suffering points beyond mere survival. Our suffering stems from our sense of the value of other people. Again, I doubt that an animal suffers very long after the death of offspring (some of them eat their own young). This contrasted with humans who suffer the ongoing wound of their life in such a situation demonstrates that our suffering goes beyond mere survival. It serves to demonstrate the intrinsic worth of others.

Then why did you bring human suffering up?!

I didn't bring it up as a problem to be solved. It's a problem that I've dealt with elsewhere. I brought it up to highlight that that instance that we recognize as evil isn't the same as the alleged natural problem of evil. The fact that John Loftus posted this at all was because the natural problem of suffering is different from the human problem as the typical Christian for one who accepts the history according to the predominant interpretation of natural history, the answer cannot be the same, and so my answer wasn't the same. We can and do discern a difference especially for the sake of clarity. To any other extent that I addressed human suffering, it may have been along tangents that others brought up.

if God COULD have created beings that avoid harm without having to feel pain and suffering, then he cannot be considered all-benevolent and all-good.

I just don't know why I have to agree with this. That there are other concievable methods just does not go far enough to the demand that other methods should have been used and would have been better. The idea that other methods would have been better is a subjective judgement on a matter that we have no direct access, the subjective experience of animals.

No, it is absurd, because to “picket lions” and “council sharks” WILL NOT WORK by virtue of how they have evolved. They do not respond to protest and counselling, for God’s sake.

Obviously, and this doesn't contradict my point one bit. Right, they do not respond to moral progress because the ontological status of their moral nature is different (perhaps non-existent). And I am well within reason to suggest that that status effects the significance of their suffering.

Sure, they do.

so you say, and your say so isn't good enough.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 3



That would be like me designing a prison that contained beds with electric shocks to wake prisoners up for breakfast,

Prisoners have a different ontological moral status from animals. It would not be like that at all and to assert that it would be is to beg the question I have raised as to whether the moral ontological status of animals is the same as humans.

Nope. They are victims, because they suffer by virtue of forces beyond their control.

This does not deflect that accusation of begging the question and it is also an example of loaded language.

Fair enough, but he chooses to intervene to either clear the way for some or block the way for others.

God's interventions in scripture are in the grander context of advancing his plan for salvation. I suppose that some people may have more of a chance at salvation because they were selected for the plan of calling out to others which is essential to God's plan of working through people to reach people. It's essential to his salvation plan because salvation isn't just about rescueing individuals from hell. It isn't even just about restoring a relationship with God. An essential part of human brokenness is that there is a rift that divides humans from each other, not just between us and God. So for God to heal the rifts not only between himself and us but between us and eachother by using human relationships kills two birds with one stone. His plan is to heal relationships through relationships.

As for those he "blocks" this is always in response to an obtinance that was their to begin with and not originally instigated by God.

As for the example of the father who has to choose one of his children or lose all, I don't understand how that was relevant.

It isn’t fair or just for him to judge ANYONE, because he COULD have intervened to make the right path easier,

How difficult or hard the path is is relative to our own cooperation. And yet, difficulties that persist are their because of the depth of commitment that is their to enable the deepest of relationships. The following example isn't exactly of the path of decision about becoming a Christian but it demonstrates that difficulties in life do lead to a deeper relationship. Christian Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff found it repugnant and rejects the idea that God is specifically responsible for the death of his son (I agree with him on this) and yet he says he would not trade the closeness with God that he has gained through the turmoil for anything (on the side, the suffering of God (for us and with us) that scripture attests was also instrumental in sustaining Wolterstorff.

Rob R said...

Greg,

God, in being the source of all reality, could have optimized to the universe to allow freedom AND goodness. God is setting the rules, right? For omnipotent being, one doesn't have to cancel out the other, and if they do, that being is not omnipotent.

I agree with this. But that freedom would not have enabled the same kind and depth of love and goodness that moral freedom does. And that of course, logically speaking would not have been moral freedom. Freedom as free will theists define it is merely the absolute ability to choose or refrain from an action (by of course a conscious responsible being... freedom is not just a random event after all) and of course, not all actions are morally relevant. Freedom is part of what establishes responsibility which contributes to a more vivid individuality as part of the increased significance of some events is that their ocurence ultimately resides in the free being. God could have made us without that level of significance. He could have created us to love him, but that love would have been necessitated by him and would not have the same quality of singificance and quality as from beings for whom it is possible not to return that love. Freedom also makes possible creativity, a certain flavor of consciousness and it mimics God's sovereignty to a greater degree (all of this plays a role in our reflection of the image of God).

Also. Freedom isn't the only consideration as to the nature of evil. There is also the depth of love that God created us for. Love opens us up to vulnerability and pain and suffering, if it is a very deep love as well as the quality of love that needs freedom or responsibility. This is why our rebellion is is grievous to God who has invested himself deeply within us. And it is related to why their is so much human suffering in the world.

Where did god get his values, anyway? How did he decide that good is good? Or is he locked into a value system? Is he not capable of evil?

Ultimate morality, goodness, sacredness is not created by God (which is divine command theory). But it is rooted in personhood and God is the ultimate personal being. Consider animals which are not fully personal. They rape and kill, even their own young, and while it may not be pretty, it is not the moral horror and outrage when humans do it to each other. Animals do not bear the pattern of the sacred and uncreated God and so morality hardly applies to them.

However, there is some degree of maliability of morality in that God decided how and to what extent we would reflect him.

Greg said...

Whu, whu, whu...

"But that freedom would not have enabled the same kind and depth of love and goodness that moral freedom does"

My point is that god, as the fount of all reality, could create a moral freedom that is compatible with non-suffering. Are you saying he can't? Are you saying we are living in a panglossian universe with maximum and perfect moral freedom? We are living at the limits of god's ability and creative power?

Rob R said...

My point is that god, as the fount of all reality, could create a moral freedom that is compatible with non-suffering. Are you saying he can't?

I don't know what it means to suggest that God is the fount of all reality. Does that mean God is the creator of logic, math, moral goodness? I disagree. I don't believe God created any of those things which are part of his character any more than he created himself.

I suppose God could create moral freedom without suffering. It just wouldn't have the same depth and quality as that morality that we know. It would not be one in which God has deeply invested himself into because an intimate relationship for persons entails vulnerability (and relationship is what primarily matters here, not simply enabling morality), thus for God to invest himself to a free creation would open himself to suffering. So for what God intended, the risk of suffering could not be excluded.


Are you saying we are living in a panglossian universe with maximum and perfect moral freedom?

We are living in a broken universe where moral freedom has been abused and God is working out his plan of redemption to eradicate evil.

We are living at the limits of god's ability and creative power?

that sounds like pure speculation to me.

dguller said...

Rob:

<< I just don't see how this follows. It's function (for a specific good) demonstrates that it is not an example of evil. It is part of the motivation for something that is good, survival. It keeps them from becoming broken.

First, it is false that if X has a function F that is highly beneficial, then F cannot be evil. I gave you the example of the architect of a prison who placed electric shocks in the prisoners’ beds to wake them up for breakfast. This is a beneficial design in the sense that it serves the function of getting the prisoners up for breakfast, which is a good. However, I doubt that you would say that it follows that the design is good. It is clearly evil.

Second, you are not addressing the point that if there is an ALTERNATIVE way of designing organisms such that they could STILL avoid harm, but not experience pain and suffering, then the fact that God still chose the design with suffering leads to the conclusion that he is not benevolent at all, but rather malicious and cruel.

<< That there are other concievable methods just does not go far enough to the demand that other methods should have been used and would have been better. The idea that other methods would have been better is a subjective judgement on a matter that we have no direct access, the subjective experience of animals.

First, I do not need access to the subjective experience of animals to know that they experience pain and suffering, especially of mammals.

Second, my contention is that if an intelligent being had the goal of creating animals that avoided harmful situations to preserve survival, then there were probably a number of alternative designs available. The fact that he chose one that involved the subjective experience of pain and suffering rather than an alternative in which animals would have unconscious motivations shows that his primary concern was not the alleviation of pain at all. This appears to contradict his benevolence, because he intentionally created a world full of suffering when he did not have to.

>> Prisoners have a different ontological moral status from animals. It would not be like that at all and to assert that it would be is to beg the question I have raised as to whether the moral ontological status of animals is the same as humans.

The bottom line is that there exists a moral obligation to reduce pain and suffering in the world as much as possible. I believe that this applies to all living things. It does not follow that all living things experience the same intensity and types of pain and suffering, and it does not follow that our specific obligations are the same for all types of living things. However, none of that changes the underlying moral principle of suffering reduction.

Having said that, a deity that COULD have achieved the same purpose with an alternative plan in which pain and suffering COULD have been reduced or eliminated altogether implies that he is indifferent to pain and suffering, which contradicts with his infinite benevolence, in my opinion.

And you could easily change my thought experiment to involve animals. Imagine a human experimenter on lab rats who wants to move them from point A to point B. He chooses to achieve that goal by violently pulling their tails, causing them to cry out in pain. He then boasts about how humane and benevolent he is. It is obvious that he could have carefully moved them without causing them pain, and the fact that he could have done so negates his claims of benevolence.

You can see this, right?

dguller said...

>> This does not deflect that accusation of begging the question and it is also an example of loaded language.

Fine, you dislike my use of the word “victim” to describe those who have experienced pain and suffering by virtue of forces in the world outside their control. What word would you prefer I use to describe such unfortunate individuals?

>> How difficult or hard the path is is relative to our own cooperation.

Ahem. Book of Job, anyone?

>> that sounds like pure speculation to me.

Unlike the solidly empirical propositions that you stated earlier about how human is broken by virtue of misusing free will, requiring God to intervene with inspired individuals in order to heal relationships between God and humanity.

I wouldn’t play the “pure speculation” card, if I were you. ;)

Greg said...

"I suppose God could create moral freedom without suffering. It just wouldn't have the same depth and quality as that morality that we know."

Again, omnipotence. The cards aren't just dealt by your god, but he made the rules AND the cards. So you are your god has reached the limited of his invention? That's all he's got? In no way could your god create a deep morality of "quality" without suffering? What rules does your god work under?

"We are living in a broken universe where moral freedom has been abused and God is working out his plan of redemption to eradicate evil."

Did your omnipotent god foresee his invention would require repair?

Limited. Or insane. Or incompetent. Or cruel. Your pick.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2

dguller,


First, it is false that if X has a function F that is highly beneficial, then F cannot be evil.

It does negate that something is evil because it is unnecessary. You say that alternatives make it unnecessary, but I disagree that the alternatives are really are the best. Again, that it pure speculation.


Second, you are not addressing the point that if there is an ALTERNATIVE way of designing organisms such that they could STILL avoid harm,

Clearly, you share a bad habit that I have of answering a post without reading it all first.

The bottom line is that there exists a moral obligation to reduce pain and suffering in the world as much as possible. I believe that this applies to all living things. It does not follow that all living things experience the same intensity and types of pain and suffering, and it does not follow that our specific obligations are the same for all types of living things. However, none of that changes the underlying moral principle of suffering reduction.

I reject your bottom line applies to all pain sensing animals beyond humans and I don't think you've responded sufficiently to the consideration of the largely non-moral status of suffering that is just normal to the animal kingdom. You dismiss it with hand waving. I see a need to respond to that.

And in fact, I reject that even human suffering should always be reduced whenever possible. Human suffering again leads us to the truth of the value of other persons. It provides a context for deepening relationships. It tells us that the way that the world is and even the way we are is not the way things ought to be.

First, I do not need access to the subjective experience of animals to know that they experience pain and suffering, especially of mammals.

I didn't say that we didn't know that they suffer. But we don't know that the suffering has the same moral quality that human suffering presents to us.

And you could easily change my thought experiment to involve animals. Imagine a human experimenter on lab rats who wants to move them from point A to point B. He chooses to achieve that goal by violently pulling their tails, causing them to cry out in pain. He then boasts about how humane and benevolent he is. It is obvious that he could have carefully moved them without causing them pain, and the fact that he could have done so negates his claims of benevolence.

but here, the pain IS unnecessary. And you know, I still treat that as fundamentally different from human pain and not as immoral (though immoral still).

Fine, you dislike my use of the word “victim” to describe those who have experienced pain and suffering by virtue of forces in the world outside their control.

Actually, you didn't use "victim" originally in relation to the problem of suffering but to the question of God's choosen method's of delivering his message to an obstinate world.

If it is about suffering, I don't need to substitute the word victim just because it doesn't fit the situation.

Ahem. Book of Job, anyone?

The context from which you excised my comment to which the above was a comment had to do with the path from unbelief to belief. As believers we know that we may face terrible trials.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2


Greg,

Greg,

Again, omnipotence. The cards aren't just dealt by your god, but he made the rules AND the cards.

I've already explained omnipotence. If you can only repeat yourself without interacting with what I said, then you cannot advance the discussion.

In no way could your god create a deep morality of "quality" without suffering? What rules does your god work under?

I didn't say it couldn't be of quality and I don't even believe that God created a world with suffering (human suffering to distinguish our conversation from the other that is also taking place here).

Did your omnipotent god foresee his invention would require repair?

Why would he see something that wasn't true? God's creation was perfect and nothing about it led necessarily to its current broken state. Surely though God forsaw the possibility that was inherent though as much as he see the equally real (and perhaps more probable) possibility that the world would not have become broken.

dguller said...

Rob:

>> It does negate that something is evil because it is unnecessary.

This is just a red herring that has nothing to do with the fundamental point at issue here.

You wrote about the experience of pain and suffering: “It's function (for a specific good) demonstrates that it is not an example of evil. It is part of the motivation for something that is good, survival.”

The implicit argument was that since the experience of pain served a good function, then it cannot be “an example of evil”. I showed you a counterargument to this premise in the form of the prisoner electric shock scenario. In other words, there are examples of activities that serve good functions, but are nonetheless fundamentally evil.

This is especially evident when there are alternative activities that would serve the same good ends, but without the experience of pain and suffering. This shows that pain and suffering are GRATUITOUS additions that serve no essential purpose, which begs the question about WHY an all-good deity would include them.

>> You say that alternatives make it unnecessary, but I disagree that the alternatives are really are the best. Again, that it pure speculation.

First, provide me with some reasons WHY you disagree. Why would an all-good deity include pain and suffering when it is pretty clear that there are alternative designs that would serve the same ends without them?

Second, I strongly recommend that you avoid the “pure speculation” gambit. ALL religious discourse is just “pure speculation”, and so you undermine all your premises if you accuse others of “pure speculation”.

>> I reject your bottom line applies to all pain sensing animals beyond humans

Okay. Do we ONLY have moral obligations to human beings? Do you support the morality of torturing animals? If not, then WHY not?

>> and I don't think you've responded sufficiently to the consideration of the largely non-moral status of suffering that is just normal to the animal kingdom. You dismiss it with hand waving. I see a need to respond to that.

Okay, let’s just clarify something right now. Morality can only apply to beings who possess free will to make moral or immoral choices. As such, the behaviour of animals cannot be moral or immoral, because they lack the capacity to choose that is sufficient for morality to get traction. Now, that is NOT what we are talking about.

What we ARE talking about is whether the creation of pain and suffering in the animal world is moral for GOD to have done. In other words, the immorality would not be in the pain per se that animals cause in one another, but in the divine act of designing pain and suffering itself. Therefore, God would be immoral, but not the specific animals, especially since they lack free will to make moral or immoral choices altogether.

dguller said...

>> And in fact, I reject that even human suffering should always be reduced whenever possible. Human suffering again leads us to the truth of the value of other persons. It provides a context for deepening relationships. It tells us that the way that the world is and even the way we are is not the way things ought to be.

I hold a different view. I think that human pain and suffering are inevitable by virtue of how we are designed. The question is whether we can live lives that fulfill our values while minimizing the amount of pain and suffering we experience despite never altogether eliminating them. So, pain that serves the purpose of living a life of meaning and value is not something valuable itself, but is just something that we have to live with in order to get the lives that we want.

Sure, you can rationalize how the pain was good afterwards, but we didn’t act for the purpose of FEELING pain. We acted to behave in accordance with our values DESPITE the pain that went along with it. Now, I grant that for some people, masochists, for example, pain itself is a value, but for the majority of people this is not the case.

>> here, the pain IS unnecessary. And you know, I still treat that as fundamentally different from human pain and not as immoral (though immoral still).

So, you would not say that the human experimenter is immoral for needlessly tormenting his laboratory animals simply because their pain is “fundamentally different”? REALLY?

>> The context from which you excised my comment to which the above was a comment had to do with the path from unbelief to belief. As believers we know that we may face terrible trials.

Okay. Let’s unpack this. You said that “how difficult or hard the path [from unbelief to belief] is “relative to our own cooperation”. This implies that if someone is cooperative with God, then he will make the path to belief less “difficult or hard”. I gave the counterexample of Job, who was a paragon of piety and devotion, and God made his path very difficult. Therefore, your statement is false.