The Problem of Evil: One Way To Use People’s Suffering For Argumentative Purposes

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Prerequisites:

First, read about the Problem of Evil

Here is one statement of it which seems typical of non-theists:
Atheism: Proving The Negative: God And Suffering

Note the language used in these excerpts:

“Suffering is deserved [part of an enumeration of theodicies]. Perhaps
the most widespread view, on this account when people suffer it is because
they are wicked, sinful, and deserving. They’ve done something that is so
evil that they now deserve to have awful things happen to them. They’ve got
slow starvation, cancer, drowning, dismemberment, or painful disease
coming to them.”

[...]

“Suffering is transient. No matter how profound or deep suffering
may be for a person here and now, it all vanishes into insignificance
when framed against the backdrop of eternal life and joy with God.
The suffering may seem awful now, but it will be nothing in the
cosmic scheme of things, and the full breadth of God’s plan.”

[...]

“The point is: how could a good and powerful God who loves you stand aside,
unmoved to action, while such things happen?”

[...]

“It’s a simple matter to see that suffering is not justified in any of
these cases. Imagine a kind and loving parent who infects her child with
polio for some rule violation leaving her crippled for life. We would even
balk at the cruelty of giving polio to a convicted serial murderer. We
would never tolerate that sort of maliciousness, yet God, if we are to
believe these justifications, is more cruel than any human who has ever
lived. Suppose a sadistic kidnapper defended his actions by arguing that
in fact the cruelties that he inflicted on his victims actually had a
redemptive effect by getting them to turn their lives around. And imagine
that his victims really had benefited in some small way in the end from
his tortures. Would we accept that as absolution for what he did to them?
Would his actions be morally justified by the redemption of his victims?
Imagine Michael Jackson, after engaging in abusive acts with a child for
a night, justified the suffering he has caused by lavishing gifts and a
comfortable lifestyle on the child to balance it out. Does transient nature
of his crime make it seem less like a crime now? Imagine parents abandoning
a child to an awful group of criminals, rapists, murderers, and abusers,
but promising that they will be back in a few years to straighten it all
out to everyone’s satisfaction. Would we insist that they really are
loving parents as long as they fixed it all later?”

It seems the force of this writing comes from an assumption shared by
theist and non-theist that suffering is outrageous. I think the force
of the writing, the emotional attitude beneath the writing is: “God is not
only imperfect, he’s unforgivable.” And it’s the unforgivability of it, not
the simple imperfection, that makes him unacceptable to believe in, because
dystheism is always a possible way to believe in a personal God, if he’s
simply morally imperfect, an alternative which most problem-of-evil
non-theists don’t seem to think about. (In fact, in a way, how are you
supposed to distinguish a devout dystheist from an orthodox Christian who
loves God despite not understanding his morality, at least as far as theodicy
goes?) So the force comes from the outrage.

———-

Next, read this short story (perhaps you might call it a poem?): “The Scythe”

(I wrote it myself and assure you that it is very pertinent.)

———-

Now:

The question is not whether the problem of evil argument is logically valid –
its conclusions may even be true. The question is: if you use it, what are
your motives?

Following the short story, it appears that it probably isn’t because you
hate suffering deeply or have compassion on other people. If “God messed up”
(evil is so outrageous) by making you live a horrible life, well, you still
haven’t “undone his creation” and killed yourself. Life isn’t *that* bad,
after all. If, instead, “God messed up” by allowing just anybody to suffer,
well, you can do something about that, mass euthanasia.

(Note: I don’t believe suicide or mass euthanasia are valid options.)

If you appear to be outraged by evil, is this really so, or is this just a
pose?

If a pose, what are your real motives? I can only guess. You must examine
yourself. Here are two guesses:

1. You don’t like the idea of God or something his existence would entail.
Maybe if he were to exist, you would be embarrassingly wrong in action and
attitude. You don’t even understand why someone would want to believe in him.

So you are not a reliable thinker. You have a bias. All the times you look
at a sunset and think “Nope, I don’t see God in this”, it’s because that’s the
convenient thing to think, the comforting thing, because at least, say, God
isn’t going to ask you to do embarrassing things, because he doesn’t exist,
because you’ve never felt him or had him form the thoughts in your mind that
he exists… because your mind has never been open to such thoughts.

2. While you don’t really care about anybody’s suffering (not even your own),
you do care about the truth. You have certain rules for thinking, and
belief in God does not follow from the right kind of thinking. You know
these rules because they work. You consider them to work because they lead
to an outcome you either like rationally or like subconsciously, possibly
having to do with passing on your species’ genes.

So you are not a reliable thinker. You have a bias.

People suppress the truth, although fortunately not all the time.

I think.

Maybe the fact that you turn to the problem of evil indicates that there
is a conflict in you. It makes sense to you because you *are* outraged by
evil, so outraged that you don’t want God in your life, so you banish him
even from your belief systems. You’re outraged, but at the same time, you’re
addicted to living (your species would pass no other genetic and cultural
imperative to you), so you live somewhere in the middle of true nihilistic
compassion and narrow-minded personal comfort. Note that the desire for
objective truth is an evolutionary imperative… either that, or a divine
imperative, take your pick — mind control is inevitable.

The alternative is 1. or 2., that you don’t care about people’s
suffering, you just use an imitation of caring to heartlessly disbelieve.

(PS: This is dark and one-sided. As I implied above, I don’t advocate
mass euthanasia or suicide. Don’t try these options based on what I said.
And some may accuse me of making ad hominem or straw man arguments.
As far as straw men go: well, I’m just responding to the Problem of Evil as I
understand it, so I think straw manning it is inevitable if you don’t
understand it the same way. As to ad hominem: with your permission,
that’s kind of the point. In this case, I think it’s valid. If I *combine* ad hominem
with straw man, i.e., I accuse you of being someone you are not, then so be it,
my deconstruction is invalid for you.)

 

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42 Responses to The Problem of Evil: One Way To Use People’s Suffering For Argumentative Purposes

  1. Valerick80 says:

    Is this a late April Fools post?

  2. disorient says:

    Endless responsibility is a nice description to describe this defeatist determinism.

    The idea of endless responsibility is an interesting feature of puritanical protestantism. Your analogy resembles early American literature which is romantic about tragedies ending in the deaths of children, who died under the age of accountability without the chance to sin against God or experience a lifetime of suffering.

  3. John R says:

    I remember sitting in philosophy of religion class hearing about this “argument.” This side gets mad that despite being affluent white professors their lives aren’t perfect. The other side chalks it up to “free will.” This side is so comfortably removed from evil that the best example it can come up with is the movie Bambi. The other side tries to explain it’s all good in the end because of “soul-making.”

    Right. Are these actual ways of dealing with evil? No. Even once they banish all the gods out there these folks haven’t done anything to really engage evil. They’ll just need new scapegoats — redneck Glenn Beck watchers or whatever — since they haven’t really reflected seriously on evil.

    Why do you think the problem of evil doesn’t become a big deal until 18th century dandies got mad that the world wasn’t quite an controllable by science as they had hoped? Were the collapse of Rome and the Black Death insufficient suffering to merit a serious response?

    Why did the greatest statement of the problem of evil in history comes from a *Christian* — Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor? And why do anthologies not continue the Karamazov excerpt to include Zosima’s response? Because we’re not actually interested in the answer. We’re just outraged that our narcissism is challenged.

    • CubaLibre says:

      So what is the answer? That the mind of God is unknowable? Lots of people seem to think they know the part that wants them to wear special hats and not work on Saturday. Doesn’t that seem like a much more weirdly specific thing to know about a deity than why and to what extent He approves of pediatric cancer?

      • John R says:

        The answer to the problem of evil is to ask a better question.

        It’s like this. Say you read some facebook status that says, “__generic Apple product___ launch date was delayed? How am I going to live until then?!?!” What’s the answer? The answer is, either you’re just kidding around or you need to ask a better question.

        So if the question is, How do I come up with some tidy logical system that’s going to destroy the reality of evil? you’re asking the wrong question. (Hint: “Evil” is a codeword for “human suffering” that doesn’t sound so narcissistic.) There’s a reason that people have been writing about living with death and suffering for as long as there has been writing, and that reason is that the way to respond to death and suffering is *not* to come up with the right syllogism. To use Heidegger’s term, that’s inauthentic.

        • John R says:

          Maybe that sounded one-sided. Theodicies are just as horrible. The problem is that both think of the world within the metaphor of machine optimization. One says, the machine isn’t optimized, so the designer must have made an error. The other responds, the designer didn’t make an error; the machine is optimized, just in a more complicated way than you realize.

          But I’m saying the baseline problem is that assumption that the world is “designed.” Designed for what? Like I said in the other thread, the quintessential example must be Descartes: He’s right there making the shift, and for him God the Designer is needed specifically in order to help *him* to have a world *he* can grasp and control. Insofar as we think of the world as an optimized machine we’re already thinking in narcissistic terms. So that’s the baseline problem.

  4. Psychohistorian says:

    This seems, to put it bluntly, stupid.

    Many people have a belief in an omnipotent and loving God. The argument from evil indicates that such a being probably or definitely does not exist (or, that to the extent that we call God “good,” “good” is meaningless; if I behaved like God, I’d be labeled “sociopathic”).

    The problem of evil has nothing whatsoever to do with my personal attitudes towards evil. I could be a complete sociopath, or I could dedicate my life to helping orphans with diseases, or I could be your average Jane. The argument that employing the argument from evil indicates I have some internal conflict is a complete non-sequitur.

    It has nothing to do with whether I like or dislike the idea of God, anymore than Einstein’s theory of relativity was based on his affect for Isaac Newton. The argument from evil shows that there is overwhelming evidence that, to the degree that God exists, he is either malevolent or largely indifferent to human suffering. This view of God contradicts almost all major religions, which indicates that they are wrong, in just the same way that they would be wrong if their holy texts said the moon is made of green cheese.

    • Psychohistorian says:

      Actually having read that story, I think I may see where your thinking gets a bit… loopy. The failings (or nonexistence) of God have absolutely to do with whether life in general is worth living, just as you should not kill yourself because the barista gave you a medium coffee instead of the large you paid for.

      Claiming suffering disproves an omnibenevolent God and claiming suffering is THE ULTIMATE EVIL !!!1!!1!!! :( are two very different claims. A human designer can design an imperfect automobile, one that breaks down easily and could have major improvements made in its design so that it would last longer and function better. An omnipotent, omnibenevolent God cannot reasonably design such a vehicle. If you were a human engineer and you designed a car that would kill people, when you could just as easily create a perfectly safe car, that would be evil. If you designed a thing for the express purpose of killing people, or, knowing that such a thing exists, allowed its existence to continue, you’d be a monster. Holding God to the same standards, he’s a monster or totally apathetic. Many diseases and natural phenomena are presumably in his power to prevent, but he chooses not to do so.

      It does not in any way follow from the fact that there is not an omnibenevolent God that *existence itself* is evil. No one is arguing that the existence of suffering is somehow a tremendous evil, only that the existence of *easily preventable suffering* is a tremendous evil. It does not follow that life itself is a bad thing because it could be better. It follows that, if life has a creator, and that creator failed to optimize life when He could have easily done so, then that creator is, at the very least, not good.

      There is no logical connection between the argument from evil (and the non-existence of God) and the destruction of life. Suffering is bad, but that doesn’t mean existence is more negative than non-existence, because there are also many good things in the world as well. On the other hand, the failure to maximize the latter and minimize the former is a damning indictment of whoever designed this place, if it were indeed designed.

      • Let’s say you can reasonably expect yourself to experience any kind of suffering in the future… which you can. There’s a good chance you’ll die a painful and to some extent humiliating death of some disease. Just an example. Wouldn’t it be very easy to prevent that suffering by killing yourself? But you are not evil in letting yourself suffer (or we could extend this argument to people you love, over whom you have care) because there is a greater good; as you mention, life is better than non-life (maybe you can reasonably expect some very rewarding times as well… I’m optimistic, I think you can). Any argument you use for reconciling your acceptance of easily preventable suffering — to the extent that you can do something to prevent suffering, and to a significant extent you can — is one that, to be consistent, you should offer God as well. I’m not arguing that God will appear good from human standards of morality — because he doesn’t, apparently (this is an incorrigible situation, if it appears to appear, it does) — but that in the absence of knowledge that God is good by our standards (whether through accepting the (quasi)theodicy of Job — [Job: God, why? / God: Job, don't ask questions, look at me. / Job: Now I have seen you] or through out-and-out God-is-bad-but-I-love-him-anyway dystheism) we still forgive and accept him, as difficult, or perhaps, given our “anthropodicies” (an abuse of etymology, I concede) not so difficult after all.

  5. Alex says:

    Very provocative – but I do think that the people above point out that both the logical and the evidential argument from evil don’t depend on personal attitudes – but depend on talking about actual states in the world and comparing them to ways in which one would expect it to be for the traditionally theistic God.

    But more importantly, I think your argument breaks down insomuch as the two scenarios you describe: first, that the user of the problem of evil doesn’t like the idea of God existing so deploys the argument, so uses the argument, second that you are concerned more with logical inconsistencies than suffering.

    With regard to the first, let me flip it around – religious people don’t like thinking about the problem of evil, or confronting its consequences, because they don’t like the idea of it pushing them to somewhere uncomfortable, changing their belief systems, questioning the underlying rationale of their thought processes – that is to say, the exact same biases that you claim the atheist has to deploy the question but for the opposite reasons. This is not some abstract discussion, I have heard as much reported from religious believers themselves more than once, in fact, the huge majority of times I have talked to people about this – “I don’t like to think about that sort of thing”. Moreover, I think you are forgetting that the primary people who lose religion through this argument are religious themselves. Stating that arguments for the existence of God are not accepted for reasons of underlying moral failing is such a common argument that even though your formulation is startling, it still is all too common. To again flip it – the atheist could equally reply that your belief in God is a result of a moral failing to accept the world and more importantly, mortality as it is.

    With regard to the second, I think, even in the light of your story, I am not sure what you are getting at. Surely the whole point of this argument is that the parameters of rationality for theism cannot sustain its input. Which is to say: While you don’t really care about anybody’s suffering (not even your own),
    you do care about the truth. You have certain rules for thinking, and belief in God is central to the right kind of thinking. You know these rules because they work, they form the patterns of your daily life. You consider them to work because they lead to an outcome you either like rationally, the idea the world has a loving creator or like subconsciously, that you need the comfort of this reality, possibly
    having to do with not wanting to confront reality.

    This is not, as you have done, to speak for the validity or otherwise of the argument simply to observe your reasoning is so easily reversible that

    Consider also: the twisted logics that attempt to solve this argument and make evil not a problem for God – theodicy. Those too are as important in the argument as the positive one. Theodicies provided are often manifoldly ridiculous, absurd and depend far more even on loving suffering – that it is for the greater good and so on – than an admittance that they do not hold weight – in a sense the suffering is a mystery camp are at least more honest (a common Roman Catholic view). So much so that theologians, who are religious believers have stated the work of theodicy itself is sick and evil playing with people’s suffering for scoring, precisely using people’s suffering for argumentative purposes – Ken Surin is one, repeated by Stanley Hauerwas. As one (believing) theologian said, if people in general knew the arguments surrounding the problem of evil given by theists, they would literally be out on the streets – Richard Swinburne humming that, probably, the Holocaust was okay, being one particularly example.

    The question of whether life is worth living is separate from the question of if God exists. They are related in some ways, but only if you admit first that in the lack of the latter, the former is not worth it you are still beholden to a perspective that states that things only have value if valued by God – you still believe in the latter. Hence with no God, no value and hence nihilism – a perspective that assumes the existence of God as the source of all value.

    PS As a point, it is not actually all that surprising that believers have formulated the problem and a response the best – after all, they should be thinking about it the most.

  6. Joe says:

    “And some may accuse me of making ad hominem or straw man arguments. As far as straw men go: well, I’m just responding to the Problem of Evil as I understand it, so I think straw manning it is inevitable if you don’t understand it the same way.”

    If you understand it incorrectly, then you’re proceeding from a false premise and your entire argument is unsound. You might not be straw-manning because you may not have deliberately constructed an argument which is easy to refute. Either way, it’s irrelevant because you’re not actually addressing the real argument. The real argument, which is is based on logic, usually goes something like this:

    1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
    2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
    3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
    4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
    5. Evil exists.
    6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
    7. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

    Note the definition at the beginning; that’s why non-theists don’t talk about the “dysthestic” God you mention when using this argument. It’s not relevant to the argument.

    “As to ad hominem: with your permission, that’s kind of the point. In this case, I think it’s valid.”

    Argument ad hominem is a logical fallacy. Logical fallacies, by definition, are never valid.

    • foxfire says:

      I have a problem with #4.

      Which is a higher moral imperative? Letting free will exist or destroying evil? What if eliminating all evil requires the destruction of free will?

      • mwigdahl says:

        Who says free will and lack of evil are necessarily incompatible? You are not free to levitate at will or teleport; the actions you can effect through the exercise of your free will are constrained by physical laws already. It’s at least conceivable that an omnipotent, omniscient God could create a world with some sort of structural constraints such that everyone always freely chose the good.

        • jordxn says:

          I humbly submit that if God were to make a world in which we ALWAYS choose good, we would not have free will anymore. We would either be a) brain washed or b) influenced enough to always choose good.

          • mwigdahl says:

            That’s Plantinga’s Free Will defense. It’s a strong argument, but there are a number of rebuttals to it.

            This article discusses it in some detail, along with the counterarguments. To sum up, it’s not clear that many standard points of Christian dogma can hold unless it is possible for beings (either deceased humans in heaven or God Himself) to have morally significant free will and also always freely choose the good.

  7. vprime says:

    That “story” was a melodramatic, didactic and boring rip-off of Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake.”

  8. DJames says:

    In a bit of a rush, but… as John R. said, it seems like we’re asking the wrong question.

    Seems like we’re making “God” awfully linear and mortal-minded here. Wouldn’t it be better to view, say an abused kid (who’s clearly suffered what most folks would call evil) and look at his/her life when that person becomes a much-loved therapist for abused children?

    It seems like a truly good God, no matter what evil that others freely choose to do to me, would always be able to “bend” it toward good. Though perhaps not in the timing and method I would prefer at the time I actually suffered.

    The only time we are ever truly atheists, then, is when we declare that an evil act can never be overcome by good.

    If you think a perfectly rational/moral/logical God can only judge/punish/overcome evil with your own method, timing, and logical outcome, then the problem isn’t God—the problem is you.

    • mwigdahl says:

      This is effectively Leibniz’ “best of all possible worlds” argument. It’s interesting, but I don’t find it very convincing. It assumes that the abused child could never have chosen to become a much-loved therapist for abused children without experiencing the pain of abuse, when we see every day that people do exactly that. If it were possible for a person to choose to do the good they do later after having experienced even marginally less of the original evil, this argument falls down.

      Or you can go the route of Plantinga and say that any given world would be better with one more morally upright person in it, so it’s ridiculous to say that the world we live in is the best of all possible worlds.

      • foxfire says:

        No one is saying you have to be abused as a child to be a good child counselor, but it is quite possible that the experience would make a person who would have become a medocre child counselor into a really good one.

    • MattK says:

      Voltaire’s Candide is a great read and a very good response to Leibniz, written at the time. Plus it is absolutely filthy. Do check it out!

  9. vprime says:

    “God” is a convenient fiction that doesn’t explain why bad things happen, so we had to invent Ahriman/Satan/free will and so on to supply that explanation. It seems like where the monotheists inadvertently shot themselves in the foot, so to speak, in in making their god omnipotent and omnibenevolent. If god loves all, then he/she must not have the power to prevent our pain. If he/she has the power and does not use it (even if for some unforeseeable parental reason of imparting lessons or a grand scheme we are too temporally stuck to envision), then that does not appear benevolent. Before theists decided to split the good from the evil at least the local priest could say you deserved your suffering because you’d pissed off the guy in charge.

    I must agree with John R. above that the way we approach evil, suffering, whatever you’d like to call it is profoundly narcissistic. When you think about it in logical terms, there’s no compelling reason why we should be exempt from suffering. There are ways humans can and should address what can be done at a social level to mitigate suffering. Looking to god really has no place here.

    “Maybe the fact that you turn to the problem of evil indicates that there
    is a conflict in you. It makes sense to you because you *are* outraged by
    evil, so outraged that you don’t want God in your life, so you banish him
    even from your belief systems”

    So your beef is that I can shed the need to believe in God and not kill myself? That makes massive assumptions about the quality of my life.

    • John R says:

      I don’t know if I would go with, “we had to invent Ahriman/Satan/free will and so on to supply that explanation.” That works in SOME soteriologies/ontologies, but is unnecessary in others. (Or at least, is thought to be unnecessary.) For instance, Buddhism: Break free from the wheel of life, and, liberated from suffering, we ascend to nirvana; the answer to suffering is to be emptied of Desire. Christianity: God becomes human so that we can be united to God; the answer to suffering is the self-sacrifice of the crucified God. We can go on down the list, Islam and the will and mercy of God, technological civilization and the proliferation of comfort through technical mastery, etc. There are dualistic treatments of evil, of course, but the point is that that’s not the *only* way to look at it.

      These are the real “answers” to evil that folks have provided. The problem of evil and its theodicies are predicated on the metaphor of the world as optimized machine. I don’t regard that metaphor as a particularly good one, so I’d rather broaden the search for answers.

  10. I guess my main point is that people don’t just find God imperfect, they find him unforgivable. If they merely found him morally imperfect, (or morally incomprehensible), they would become some kind of dystheist. The barrier to devout dystheism is unforgivability. But people forgive themselves for tolerating evil. And the fact that people are so insincere on that count shows that people are unreliable thinkers.

    Of course, I am (almost?) in the same boat. My thinking is also convenient. As a human, I can *never* escape this and can never know the truth on my own. If a caring and powerful (or even morally perfect/omnibenevolent and omnipotent) God wants me to know the truth, then I can know it, otherwise all my religious arguments are just as self-serving as the use many people put to the problem of evil.

    • vprime says:

      “But people forgive themselves for tolerating evil.”

      What’s the alternative? Are we all supposed to become Batman? Each of us has a very limited sphere of influence.

      • The bleak alternative is what the narrator in my “story” (I guess it really might be a poem after all…) didactically, melodramatically, and possibly even boringly chose, mass euthanasia and suicide. The hopeful alternative is to forgive God and oneself and even one’s species in its most heinous examples — admittedly a tough bullet, but I’ll do my best to bite it. (Mass euthanasia is, admittedly, pretty hard to pull off, but so are a lot of our technologies and I’m sure if we put our minds to it, we as a species could do it, technically. I’m sure we couldn’t get everyone to agree with it, but in the world of the story, that doesn’t matter. After all, in the story there could be some deceived Christians who don’t realize just how bad their God really is and how awful the suffering of children is, and there’s no sense letting *them* prolong their suffering, if suffering is really that bad.)

        Or is there another hopeful alternative? Perhaps it’s okay that we tolerate evil or suffering in the short term because even though there is no God to sort everything out there are some people (like present company, definitely, of course, look how much I put my compassion in action!) who are going to get some good out of this whole mess and alleviate some suffering here and there. But that’s exactly like a theodicy — it says that there’s a greater good that makes our state of suffering acceptable, some sort of compensation, a rationalization. And if it’s okay for us to rationalize our response in that way, I don’t see why not to rationalize God’s behavior — thus, he is acceptable to me, and I do not resist his appearances to my mind (at least, not as many of them).

        • vprime says:

          “Or is there another hopeful alternative? Perhaps it’s okay that we tolerate evil or suffering in the short term because even though there is no God to sort everything out there are some people (like present company, definitely, of course, look how much I put my compassion in action!) who are going to get some good out of this whole mess and alleviate some suffering here and there.”

          Pleasure/pain are part of the package of existence. I live with that without needing the imaginary presence of a supernatural playground monitor.

          “But that’s exactly like a theodicy —it says that there’s a greater good that makes our state of suffering acceptable, some sort of compensation, a rationalization.”

          Your entire thesis is overly focused on a concept of fairness that just isn’t applicable to the process of existence. There’s no greater good, no master plan. Humans are responsible for the social relations we make to one another. I don’t see how the presence of suffering in the world should or even is balanced by good. The whole worldview here seems to be striving to make the scales balance, and that’s not a reachable goal. Also the focus on the suffering of children is getting pretty Blakean. I half expected a dying chimney sweep to figure into your story. The example reeks of sentimentality. Everyone suffers. No one is exempt.

          I understand that god’s purported indifference to our suffering is not a reason to disavow belief in him/her. The atheist argument is not “God is a jerk, so let’s not believe in him,” it’s “God cannot be both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, therefore the theist concept of him cannot be accurate.” It seems like what you’re saying is “Humans are just as bad as God is, therefore why not believe in him?”

          • Obviously there is no such thing as “the atheist position”, but look back at the language of the post originally cited, or William Rowe’s burned fawn… why the emotional, or let’s say, sentimental language if the point isn’t to get theists to think, hey, I’m wrong to like God and therefore I should give up my allegiance to him? (That *is* my straw man parody of the problem of evil argument, but why do so many theists buy it, skipping dystheism and going straight to atheism or an agnosticism that in practical matters is atheist?) Do atheists have a bracing unsentimental language to use with each other but a sentimental one to use when they talk to theists, playing on theistic emotionality? (To return things to more proper Partial Objects grounds.)

      • ThomasR says:

        If I may restate the issue.

        Suffering exists. There is God or there is no God.
        If there is God, then he is not Omnipotent or he is not loving or he is beyond human comprehension.
        If there is no God, then suffering is our fault (mostly), and we are responsible or there is no responsibility.

        A person can choose any of these options and be logically consistent. But, only the last choice absolves us of “evil.” If you choose any of the other options, then logically, you absolutely should work to alleviate suffering.

        “What’s the alternative? Are we all supposed to become Batman?”

        Of course not…necessarily. Butt could you not do more than you are now?

        • MattK says:

          Suffering exists.
          Therefore God is not Omnipotent, Omniscient, All-Loving and Understandable.
          If I choose to believe in God, I must pick one of those 4 characteristics to disbelieve – but why would I choose “Understandable”? It seems like a sucker’s choice.

          What if God were merely very powerful and very knowledgeable and had fallen out of love with humanity after it broke His heart? How would we be able to tell the difference?

  11. Neex says:

    If God exists than anything is possible. It’s possible that anything is possible and there is no God. It’s possible that everything is possible. We tend to think that if there is a God, it fits with the Christian definition of “one being that created all, is all powerful, in omnipotent”

    In many other religions there are many gods. A god that created, a god that manages death, a god that manages suffering, various gods that help and hinder human beings, various gods in other realms that have nothing to do with humans etc etc.

    The existance of a God as creator does not dictate that God would be capable of intervening after the creation process. The whole, “set things in motion” idea. The universe was floating around as one big/small/sizeless/whatever you want to imagine universe and then it wanted to see itself so it shattered into infinite pieces. (It was lonely and it wanted to know love! I love reading my personal narrative into the purpose of the universe…you do it too, ya know.)

    Perhaps in such theories— the universe didn’t know what would happen. It’s finding out along the way. The disovery of suffering would be something the universe laments in it’s quest to know. It may be discovering there are things it wishes it didn’t know. But it still maintains the order it set out to create.

    But the order within the universe is a comfort. Even within suffering, the order is still not undone. Which allows us to rest safely in reality. However if we happen to be in suffering, this may not feel like a comfort at all, but it is, in fact better than the alternative.

    If there is a God at all, I wonder why there is suffering. If there is life after death than it changes everything. Or does it? If there is a God who plots all our suffering than fuck that. Show yourself God, I’ll take you on! If God is a God of compassion s/he’ll laugh at my indescretion or ache for my pain. And if there is a God who is not a God of compassion, then we’re all fucked no matter what we do. I hope there is a God and somehow all of this has a purpose. I like to think there are all kinds of things happening in “the spirit world” but that the only way they can directly intervene is through entities with bodies that can manipulate this physical reality. But I just like to think that because it’s fun and it let’s me believe (sort of) in magic and that our human powers can be enhanced by connection to the spirit realm. Harry Potter forever!!!!!!!!!!! Also I’m prone to think all of my (and everyone elses) ideas are nonsense so I just pick the ones I like for health benefits. Since I don’t really know, I prefer to think maybe there’s a heaven, maybe there are magnificent forces of goodness. Ah, that feels nice.

    Somehow no matter what the world keeps turning. Somehow we get by without ever learning.
    It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not cause
    some things are better left without a doubt and
    if it works then it gets the job done
    Somehow no matter what the world keeps turning.
    (Sorry someone posted an opivy song on facebook and now I’m nostalgic for highschool punk rock)

    • vprime says:

      “The universe was floating around as one big/small/sizeless/whatever you want to imagine universe and then it wanted to see itself so it shattered into infinite pieces. (It was lonely and it wanted to know love! I love reading my personal narrative into the purpose of the universe…you do it too, ya know.)”

      So you read Starhawk too?

      • foxfire says:

        “If God exists than anything is possible. It’s possible that anything is possible and there is no God. It’s possible that everything is possible. We tend to think that if there is a God, it fits with the Christian definition of “one being that created all, is all powerful, in omnipotent”

        This is pretty close to what I consider the “most rational” stance. We do not have the technology to disprove God’s existance(we cannot search the entire univers across every possible dimension). If God’s does exist, then it is quite possible that he does not want anyone know for certain that he does exist(Doing so would eliminate the need for faith). Thus, there is a probibility greater than 0% and less than 100% that God in some form exists.

        I choose to believe in God based on my very personal and subjective life experiences. I can and will tell people what I believe, but at the end of the day, faith and belief are choices that each of us made. This is why I get annoyed with the hardcore believers on both the Atheist and non-Atheist side. They project a certainty about their beliefs that they simply don’t have the data to prove.

  12. sconzey says:

    Interesting post. Being a pentecostal Christian, I at least have a name and description of my cognitive bias :P

    The problem with a lot of the rational arguments for atheism is that they only work if you assume religion is a human invention. One can easily shred any man’s conception of God with the burnished blade of rationality. To the atheist this is sufficient, because the conception is all there was. To the theist this is insufficient, because the conception was an imperfect attempt by an imperfect being to understand a perfect one.

    To the atheist, finding contradictions in someone’s beliefs is like finding contradictions in a witness’ alibi. The only evidence for their innocence is the alibi; which is contradictory, therefore they are guilty. To the theist finding contradictions in someone’s beliefs is like finding contradictions in quantum theory. All it proves is that the theory is an imperfect description of the underlying reality; it doesn’t invalidate the existence of the reality itself.

    • MattK says:

      I like this quite a lot. I have to think about this.

      From our side of the fence it is hard to understand why “Because I know it to be true in my heart” is good enough.

      I have been wrong so often and certain so often that I try to confirm.

  13. vprime says:

    “why do so many theists buy it, skipping dystheism and going straight to atheism or an agnosticism that in practical matters is atheist?”

    This is an assumption, and therefore cannot be answered. It assumes most atheists starts from the position that god is real and then look for reasons to disbelieve. In my experience and that of many atheists I’ve read and spoken to, the lack of belief stems from the theist side just not making a strong enough case for their claims.

    “Do atheists have a bracing unsentimental language to use with each other but a sentimental one to use when they talk to theists, playing on theistic emotionality?”

    Belief in god is emotionally based. A common atheistic aphorism is that you can’t reason people out a belief they didn’t reason themselves into. Arguing from the problem of evil isn’t an argument that god doesn’t exist, it’s an argument that he/she is not as the theist concept presents. It opens a crack. This: “point isn’t to get theists to think, hey, I’m wrong to like God and therefore I should give up my allegiance to him?” Is misapprehending the matter. The message isn’t “God is bad,” which still depends upon acknowledgment of there being a god, but “Maybe other things you believe about him/her should be examined.”

    I do think that now that atheism has become more accepted, the arguments surrounding it proceed not from the position that god is a given that must be disproved, but more from the position that the claim of the existence a god is a statement with no positive evidence. In short, when atheists set the terms of the debate, yes, it tends to proceed on a more logical basis.

    • I think you misread me. I said “why do so many theists buy it”. Of course they’re starting from a position of belief in God, by definition.

      I think the message *is* “God is bad” because that’s what the theist hears and that’s what the language promotes. Of course that would undermine the non-theist position, so they don’t officially acknowledge that, but the language (of children or fawns) speaks for itself. Either non-theists do this on purpose (use an imitation of caring to heartlessly disbelieve) or they too instinctively buy into the outrage and this comes out in their writing.

      Now. I know that being accused of using an “imitation of caring to heartlessly disbelieve” need not move you, if you are callous, and being called callous need not not move you, if you are really callous, so I can see that any moral or emotional line of argument will not persuade you if you fall in that category. However, a logical argument will not do so either, because the process of thinking is moral (like your rule not to answer assumptions) and emotional (you like logic because it works, your methodology is such because it works, and it works because it gets you an outcome you like). So I don’t know what I’ve been doing, after all. I suppose that may signal victory.

      • philtrum says:

        I’m trying to understand where this assertion of heartlessness comes from, and I don’t get it. What’s heartless or callous about doubting the existence of God?

  14. GregorSamsa says:

    I find these sorts of arguments tedious, because they assume so very, very much about the nature of “God”. That, for example, God’s idea of evil is the same as our own. God, by definition, is a postulated being quite outside of our power to comprehend (i.e., omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent – existing outside of space, time, and matter as we know them, and therefore utterly beyond any mental model we can construct).

    If you choose to believe in God, that is a choice – you cannot prove he exists. If you choose to believe there is no God, then you are in the same position. In my own philosophical schema, God would not force anyone to believe in him because that would remove free will, which he explicitly imparted. So blaming God for evil (or, paradoxically, using the existence of evil as a reason to disbelieve in him) is akin to a child either blaming his invisible friend for breaking the lamp on the end table, or using the broken lamp as proof that he has no invisible friend.

    Eh? It’s nonsense either way.

    I choose to believe in God because I think he has touched me in some fundamental way. But if that’s a delusion, and if, when I die, the lights go out and I just cease to exist, then I have lost nothing.

    At its worst, a belief in God is just another excuse to slay infidels and get your jollies doing terrible things in his name. But at its best, a belief in God can truly motivate an individual to help make the human condition a bit more bearable. A positive belief in a positive model of God can drive people to perform great humanitarian and charitable acts. By only focusing on the negative aspects of religious belief, and not the positive, you reveal your bias. It has been amply demonstrated that no belief in God is needed to perform great evil or great good.

    So, in the end, it’s a choice like any other, whether to believe in God, and you bring to it your own predispositions. I choose to believe.

    • MattK says:

      This seems very honest, if a bit of a mischaracterization of the atheist positions.

      At the end, I try to look at your actions, given that I may be so wrong about so many of my own beliefs.

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  16. heysherri says:

    Christianity already has an answer for why suffering exists and it’s what they teach at bible “colleges”. I know because I’m an atheist who’s ex-husband went to bible “college”. We are separated from God due to our original fall from grace when we ate an apple. We were the first of his creations to have free will, we messed it up, so now we are on our own. We are “beyond the veil” of grace. It sort of seems reasonable. If I told my boyfriend not to eat the last apple I had in the fridge for my lunch, and he ate it, I’d break up with him too.

    God is all good, and all powerful, but if you are separated from God, you are no longer his concern. BUT he loved us SOOOO much he sent us his only son to… you know the story! And then, magical Happy Ending. Just BELIEVE.

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