Friday, August 17, 2012

Human benevolence and the problem of evil

A redated post.

As for how it is possible to believe that humans ought to alleviate suffering but God may be justified in permitting it, it is to be remembered that humans have a far narrower purview of considerations than God does. We do the best we can with no knowledge, for example, of how our actions will affect the free choices of people living 50 years from now, but God knows how those choices will be affected and may choose to do something that seems bad now in order to improve the situation with respect to the situation 50 years from now and 100 years from now.

If we eliminate certain diseases, we cannot be absolutely sure that they will not make the world a worse place in the long run. But to the best of our knowledge, they will cause an improvement of human life. Would you cure smallpox if you knew that if you didn't cure it, Hitler's mother would die of smallpox and the world would be spared the Holocaust? You don't have those things to think about, because you are a human with limited knowledge. God's knowledge is not limited (unless you're an open theist, in which case God's knowledge is still a whole lot less limited than yours is!)

64 comments:

Steven Carr said...

God allows 250,000 people to die in a tsunami,because he knows that letting them die makes things better in 50 years or a 100 years time?

Does God have the right to play God like that?

Doesn't natural justice cry out that God has to come down and explain what those people died for?

People are not pawns, to be sacrificed for a long term positional advantage.

Anonymous said...

Does God have the right to play God like that?

By definition, yes, he does have the right.

People are not pawns, to be sacrificed for a long term positional advantage.

You and I can dream up any number reasons why God would allow such an event to occur. Whatever the reason I have to ask you "How will you know it's a good reason or a bad reason?".

It may seem wrong to let this happen, but how can we know this from our limited vantage point? Maybe it's a good thing and we humans are just mistaken.

You and I are fixated on the life/death of the physical body, whereas God is fixated on the life/death of the soul. Is it wrong to allow 250,000 physical bodies to perish if it results in the saving of twice as many souls?

Perhaps this is what is going on. Perhaps in God's economy this is good, very good.

John W. Loftus said...

Let's say the 1918 Spanish Influenza, which killed up to 120 million people, and the 2004 tsunami which killed 250,000 people were some form of population control. There were just too many people.

Aren't there other ways to accomplish this? Couldn't God just close women's wombs like he did long ago?

God could have stopped both of these things from happening from your perspective...easily. And we would not have known that he did anything, either. From our perspective life just went on without these events.

Either there is an moral reason why God did not do anything here that can equate with our own moral reasoning, or he's a bastard of a God. So, what moral reason did he have for allowing them? From this side of eternity we want to know whether there is a good God. So there ought to be some hint at a moral reason for why he did nothing when we would be morally obligated to stop a disater from happening if we could.

Just ask yourself, if you could have stopped both of these disasters with just a snap of your fingers, would you be morally obligated to do so? If not, why not? If yes, then why didn't God act at least as morally as you would? Are you a better person than God?

Furthermore, specify what possible reasons you might have for not stopping these two disasters from happening. What could they possibly be, even if you had complete forknowledge of the future? And how likely is it that any possible reason for allowing these disasters would over-ride saving these lives?

And lastly, is it okay that God "plays God" with us, unless there are morally acceptable reasons for what he does? If there are no morally acceptable reasons, then it just makes God bigger than us. He's the biggest bully on the block. And we may fear him, but he is only worthy of our disgust, if he even exists.

Steven Carr said...

'Is it wrong to allow 250,000 physical bodies to perish if it results in the saving of twice as many souls?

Perhaps this is what is going on. Perhaps in God's economy this is good, very good.'



Didn't Victor once post on his blog a confession to being horrified that the suggestion that the deaths of many could be for the long term benefit of humanity?

If Eric Pianka is right, and diseases like the Ebola virus end up killing 90 percent of the population, what can we do except praise God for his providential intervention , in his bestowal of such a favour on humanity?

Mike D said...

John,
It seems unfair to "win" the point on the problem of evil by setting up an impossible standard. You seem to require special revelation of God's single suffient reason for each and every identifiable disaster. There are likely thousands or millions of outcomes from a tsunami. How can these be identified, quantified, and evaluated for sufficiency?

Some bad things have an obvious and satisfactory explanation. Why did God allow my daughter to fall down and scratch her nose? Because a little scratch and pain is worth her future ability to walk.

If you require God to prevent evil on a large scale, he is then obligated to prevent pain and injustice on every scale. This is completely contrary to the world of consequences that we live in. God must allow pain and suffering for world as we know it to operate. I don't always like it.

This whole discussion seems to boil down to the issue of whether the reason God has for evil is sufficient. For many people of faith, God's goodness is sufficient. However, for the skeptic, there is no possible reason they would consider sufficient. This sets up an impossilble standard of proof, but it does not settle the issue.

Anonymous said...

This whole discussion seems to boil down to the issue of whether the reason God has for evil is sufficient. For many people of faith, God's goodness is sufficient. However, for the skeptic, there is no possible reason they would consider sufficient. This sets up an impossilble standard of proof, but it does not settle the issue.

I ask myself, "Sufficient according to who?". It's an impossible question for me to answer as a human. Even if I could answer it, does my answer trump God's?

Suppose God told me everything and all my questions were answered. I still would have to decide if he was justified and therefore 'good'. What criteria would I use to determine this?

Steven Carr said...

'This is completely contrary to the world of consequences that we live in. God must allow pain and suffering for world as we know it to operate.'

Didn't the resurrected Jesus walk the Earth, immune to pain and suffering?

So God can create conditions where people can be immune to pain and suffering, while still being in a world operating as it does now.

So why can't God rescue children from burning houses? (Mr. Incredible would...)

Mike D said...

There is no single reason why God does not rescue us from every pain. Interestingly enough, we might not be aware of a myriad of disasters that God has rescued us or prevented. We don't know if there are billions of God rescues or none since they would be events that did not happen.

We can only seek answers (or not) for the events we know about. It is a natural but sometimes unhealthy quest for an answer. I am around families in grief a lot. Some jump quickly to a trite answer that assuages their pain. It is an answer that seems to satisfy them but seems trivial or inadequate to me. "He is in a better place." Some create national organizations to prevent their type of tradgedy from happening to others. There is seldom a single reason sufficient to explain the loss.

According to the Jesus of the Bible, God does create conditions where there is no pain or loss. Jesus' resurrection body was consistent with this promised place. Heaven is not here and now yet Jesus' challenge and our opportunity for greatness is to seek God's "will on earth as it is in heaven." You are right to yearn for those conditions and expect that a painless existence without evil is more in line with what we expect from God's character.

John W. Loftus said...

Mike, It seems unfair to "win" the point on the problem of evil by setting up an impossible standard. You seem to require special revelation of God's single suffient reason for each and every identifiable disaster.

Not in the least! Why do you say that? That's absurd. I mentioned two disasters...just two. What are the sufficient moral reasons for these two disasters?

There are likely thousands or millions of outcomes from a tsunami. How can these be identified, quantified, and evaluated for sufficiency?

Presnt the most likely ones. Go ahead. What do you think is the most likely scenario? Spell it out. And then answer the question whether or not one may use another human being for alternative ends? Kant argued that we cannot use human beings for any means-to-an-end. Utilitarianism is what you end up with. What do you think of utilitariansim as applied to God?

Some bad things have an obvious and satisfactory explanation. Why did God allow my daughter to fall down and scratch her nose? Because a little scratch and pain is worth her future ability to walk.

We are not talking about scratches here. Why did God allow a pregnant woman in 1918 to have her lungs, like sponges, fill up with water and suffocate to death ending her unborn child's life?

If you require God to prevent evil on a large scale, he is then obligated to prevent pain and injustice on every scale.

If you think that, then you need to get an education. Pain, in every case, is not bad. But the kind of suffering I am referring to is bad....it's evil!

This whole discussion seems to boil down to the issue of whether the reason God has for evil is sufficient.

And can you at least give me a hint at what God's reasons might be....just a hint is all....a REASONABLE HINT.

For many people of faith, God's goodness is sufficient.

But I'm asking if your God is indeed good when he sits by and does nothing while you or I would be obligated to do something about these disasters. You can believe God is morally good, but it does not match what we see in this world. You believe contrary to what we experience everyday. You can do this if you want to, but the price of such a belief is that you can no longer call yours a REASONABLE FAITH.

However, for the skeptic, there is no possible reason they would consider sufficient. This sets up an impossilble standard of proof, but it does not settle the issue.

This is only because Christians like you cannot even propose a sufficient reason for us to consider why God allows/causes such suffering. So on the contrary, there is the possibility that we could believe your God is good if and only if, 1) this world was quite different, and/or 2) Christians will step up an actually propose a reasonable answer as to why God allowed the Influenza and the tsunami from happening which does not violate other known and acceptable morals.

Now, you could still believe your God is "good" here, but the term "good" no longer has any meaning whatsoever to us. It would only be a word. It would be like saying God is "k4hd8sahwj*, which has no meaning at all.

Mike D said...

I wonder what would constitute a legitimate reason? What is the criteria for this reason? The only one you have provided is that God should act to prevent evil if he is able. But this is self-refuting. If God exists, we know quite clearly that he does not prevent all evil. Even if he does prevent some evil, we can't document it because the act of prevention would mean the event never happened. How many evils have not happened?

Does God allow too much evil? It seems so but how do we know? When is a parent too protective? to permissive?

Do we really want to live in this world where God prevents evil? You seem to be able to quantify the difference from the pain from a scratch from death in a Tsunami. In a world where the greatest evil God allowed was a scratch, wouldn't we still abhor this great tradgedy? Would we miss all those activities that permit us to break a bone?

Tom Gilson said...

So, how much evil is too much?

Let's consider a thought experiment on that. Suppose the evil and pain the world were, from deepest history until now, just half of what it is now. How would we view ourselves in that situation? Would that be little enough pain that we would all freely acknowledge that God had done a good job of constraining it? I don't know how we would come to that conclusion, for lack of a standard to compare it to. We certainly wouldn't know that God had cut it by half. We would know that much of life was wonderful, and that some of it was awful, and there would likely be the same objections to the awful part as we have here in this world.

Suppose it were cut again by another half, in another possible history. Would we then say, "This amount of pain and suffering is just fine. Thank God he's restraining it." How would we know?

Now, suppose there were twice as much pain and suffering in the world as there is now. Surely we would object to it being so much higher than it ought to be--if we could see the comparison.

How, then, do we know we are not in the world where God has already reduced the pain and suffering by half or three quarters or more? There is no standard by which we could know that. The only possible source of that information would be revelation from God (the kind of revelation Mike pointed out would be necessary to meet John's challenge).

Thus there is no logical place from which one can say God is to be blamed for not reducing the evil in the world. We have no independent means of knowing, apart from revelation, that he hasn't already done so.

(Originally posted here.)

John W. Loftus said...

Mike, thanks for your comments, but until you propose a moral answer for the events I specified, I have nothing more to say to you.

Tom, Let's consider a thought experiment on that.

Okay.

This sounds a whole lot like Zeno to me-- is there motion if we define motion this way? Given your fallacy of the beard type of a response (how many whiskers can one have and still have a beard?) I don't see how this answers my specific cases of horrific human suffering.

I am asking for an answer to two specific instances of human suffering here--one was a pandemic which killed millions of human beings--many whom were surely innocent persons.

You are suggesting that I might eventually offer the same objections if I received a scratch. But surely the answers you could give me if I recieved a scratch would be quite acceptable to me, whereas I haven't found anyone suggesting why God allowed/caused the Spanish Influenza of 1918, and the Indonesian Tsunami or 2004.

Do you disagree that God could've stopped both disasters from happening with the snap of his fingers? And do you agree that if you could do that you would be morally obligated to do that? Deal with these specific cases. Do not suggest hypotheticals about the possibility that I might eventually see evil in a scratch. Is one scratch or one whisker a beard? Hardly. I only mentioned two such instances of great intense human suffering. You do realize, don't you, that the same areas affected by the tsunami of 2004 have now received earthquakes killing even more. It seems God just isn't please with these people for some reason. And now seismologists are predicting an earthequake "any time now" which will throw Los Angeles into the Pacific ocean, while others are predicting that with the Asian Bird Flu up to 360 million people could dies (National Geographic, October 2005). Do you wnat me to continue? Or do you want to continue speaking about the fact that I should be happy, like you, that at least God has staved off greater evils?

Mike D said...

Darn. I knew there is no such thing as an original thought (especially on this subject). The worst part is, I probably read it somewhere, forgot about it, then thought it was my idea. sigh

The ugly way this works in my life is I watch the news or Funniest Home Video, see there is a lot more pain out there than I have and feel pretty smug err.. greatful that things are not worse (for me). Fulfillment in life comes a great deal from helping others through their pain.

"Sometimes God calms the storm, other times God calms His child."

Anonymous said...

Tom,
I remember reading that on your blog. Good stuff.

The question that I always come back to in these discussions is the question I asked earlier:

Suppose God told me everything and all my questions were answered. And suppose that I decided he was bad/evil/wrong/mistaken (pick a word) and should have done it differently. On what basis could I (or anyone) make this bold claim? In other words, God is wrong according to who?

Frankly, I don't see anything that I can hang my hat on. There can only be one 'final judge', and I'm pretty certain it's not me or any other human. So it must be God. If God says I'm the one who is mistaken, not him, then where can I go to argue my case? In my mind I have nowhere else to go, because the Judge has spoken.

John W. Loftus said...

The so-called Judge must judge by moral standards, otherwise he's not a good judge. now what moral standards do you think he has for not doing what we are morally obligated to do?

Mike D said...

John,
I don't think there can be a single sufficient reason for a mass tradgedy like a tsunami or a flu epidemic. These events are composed of thousands of individual lives, each with a multitude of factors. It is a huge task to try to explain the resasons for the events in one person's life after multiplying all the relationships and interconnectedness with others. If no single reason for a flu epiemic is sufficient for you, would millions of reasons suffice?

John W. Loftus said...

Mike. Give me one REASONABLE answer that the person(s) in question would say, "yes, I'm glad this happened." "I'm glad I lost my leg, or lost my child, or mother, because life is much better than it would have been without these things--for everyone involved.

Hint: Bring up heaven and hell and you've lost your whole case. Do you know why?

Mike D said...

John,
In understand your standard that you want to apply: If a person is able to prevent an evil from occuring, he is morally obligated to prevent the evil.

There are several reasons why this standard cannot be used.
1) It does not permit the question, "At what cost?" If the person acts, will it create a greater wrong? How are we expecting God to act regarding the Tsunami? Prevent the earthquake? Install an early warning system? Provide indivudual force fields to protect people from the force of the wave? What would this do to the fabric of reality as we know it?
2) Can the moral obligation to prevent evil be delegated? Did Jesus enlist us to make God's will happen on earth as it is in heaven? If God delegated Tsunami defense, can he be held responsible if we fail to install the wave detectors or permit habitation of low areas?
3) If God is obligated to prevent evils, which evils is God obligated to prevent? Evils where more than 1 million are killed? 1 thousand? 100?
4) Is God morally obligated to violate his own principles of engagement in this world? It appears that miracles are exceptions to the natural order. The world you are demanding would mean the mircacles would be the rule. Science would cease to exist as we know it because of all the divine interventions required.

Mike D said...

"Mike. Give me one REASONABLE answer that the person(s) in question would say, "yes, I'm glad this happened." "I'm glad I lost my leg, or lost my child, or mother, because life is much better than it would have been without these things--for everyone involved."

Too easy. I know of great ministries started by ugly divorces, parapalegia, firey plane crashes, SIDS deaths. Great good has come from people working through the losses and then creating a ministry to others who have felt the same pain. They became heros of faith with significant lives.

"Hint: Bring up heaven and hell and you've lost your whole case. Do you know why?"

Heaven and Hell are much more thornier problems than evil. How do you imagine worlds where evil is no longer a threat or redemption is no longer an option?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

Three points:

1) One should speak not only of God "allowing" suffering, but also of God "designing" it.

2) Hitler's atrocities are nothing compared with nature's/God's. The figures aren't even comparable worldwide when it comes to nature infecting, crippling, and killing people day by day, year by year in numbers to boggle the brain.

(Meanwhile the Bible brags about God killing every breathing thing on earth, sans the pairs of creatures preserved in an ark. [sic] Nor does the Bible deny that God Himself sends or directs major disasters from plagues, famines, armies invading nations, and the Flood of Noah. Nor does the Bible say such things are sent by God due to His foreknowledge of the dangers of "overpopulation" [sic] which you mentioned.)

3) If overpopulation concerns you, then maybe mankind ought to grow mature enough to admit we ourselves need to limit the numbers of our own species via birth control and family planning. That would mean taking self-responsibility.

Instead, the Catholic Church (the largest single Christian denomination equal to all the Prots put together) continues to denounce the use of condoms, and uses all of its leverage in the U.N. to try and restrict condom use and other family planning methods worldwide.

Victor Reppert said...

If there is an afterlife, then that afterlife is going to last a whole lot longer than this life. That being the case, if we don't know what the afterlife is going to be like, we might be able to get some idea of what morally sufficient reasons there might be for an actions, but we could reasonable expect to be in the dark about a lot of things.

thesocialistesq said...

If this is being advanced as an out-and-out solution to the problem of evil, it would seem to fail pretty quickly in my mind....

An omnipotent and omnibenevolent God would be obliged by his omnibenevolence to use his omnipotence to eliminate all suffering and evil immediately. Or simply not create those two things when he created the rest of the universe.

If God's ability to eliminate evil is somehow by human free will, this argument is still void. If people are able to chose between good and evil, and the erred chosing of some human beings allows evil to exist, God couldn't possibly predict what would happen in 50 or 100 years, because not all of the applicable moral choices have been made yet...

Tom Gilson said...

John, it does not appear to me that the fallacy of the beard type applies to discerning whether God has constrained evil in this world. But you didn't elucidate it, so I don't know what you had in mind. The point is that we have no grounds from which to say that God has not (appropriately) constrained evil.

Steven Carr said...

Tom raieses an interesting point.

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, perhaps God made sure that the Amalekites committed only the very minimum amount of evil necessary.

God knew it would be wrong for the Amalekites to have committed any less evil than they did.

The amount of evil that they did was just right , in God's eyes.

Or else God would have constrained them to do less evil.

Steven Carr said...

Victor says ' That being the case, if we don't know what the afterlife is going to be like, we might be able to get some idea of what morally sufficient reasons there might be for an actions, but we could reasonable expect to be in the dark about a lot of things'

Perhaps we could reasonably expect to be in the dark about how cutting flesh leads to the sensation of pain?

Victor chides naturalists for not being able to explain what they can see happening in front of their eyes (physical processes being followed by the sensation of qualia), while Victor also claims it is very reasonable for theists to be unable to explain why an all-loving God allows children to be tortured.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes. And there's nothing wrong with it.

Mike D said...

Steven Carr said,
"Or else God would have constrained them to do less evil."

This assumes that God is morally obligated to constrain evil that passes a certain threshold. This has not been establshed. The biblical answer to the problem of evil contained in exceptional events such as the flood story and the Ban, seems to be that even in these extremes, (and the Bible presents them as extremes, not as norms) God is justified to take these actions or no action. We are not happy with the level of evil that God allows. For some, the level of evil permitted is an indication that a good God must not exist. But what is an acceptable threshold?

The challenge in explaining the problem of evil is to posit an answer that satisfactory and sufficient to explain the level of evil present. This discussion is valuable in that it suggests that things could be worse. Those that object to the apparent level of evil should offer an acceptable level of evil conducive to a loving God. How much can a loving God permit natural forces to impact invididual lives? Is he always responsible to prevent harm to the innocent? Is he mandated to allways prevent unnatural death?

Steven Carr said...

'This assumes that God is morally obligated to constrain evil that passes a certain threshold.'

One theist says that God constrains evil. Another says that God does not constrain evil.

Theology is the process of finding arguments that you can sell to yourself.

Imagine a being who loves you totally, but does not life a finger to help you, because he is not obliged to do so.

He only does what he is obliged to do, but still claims to love you.

True love does more than obligation. True love does things voluntarily, rather than out of a sense of obligation.

Mike D said...

"True love does more than obligation. True love does things voluntarily, rather than out of a sense of obligation."

"Love" is a key term that requires definition when the Problem of Evil is stated. As stated above, if God fails his obligation to prevent harm to those he loves, he falls short of our expectations for a "loving God." Not only that, if he fails to voluntarily do something nice to me, he also fails this definition of "loving God." God, as a parent, is in the same situation I was in with my teenagers. Even if I make decisions with my children's best interests at heart, I will be accused of being unloving. I think we need a better definition of "love" for this discussion to get anywhere.

Steven Carr said...

'Even if I make decisions with my children's best interests at heart, I will be accused of being unloving.'

Allowing your children to be ripped from their mother's arms by the force of a tsunami is in their best interests?

Mike D said...

It is obvious that terrible events happen to individuals. No single reason can justify any single event. It is not possible to give a plausible, satisfying reason for the tragic death of an infant in a Tsunami or any other means. The mother won't hear it and neither will any compassionate by-stander. This does not mean there is no possible sufficient collection of reasons why God would
a) cause this
b) allow this
c) create a world where this is possible
d) fail to stop it

For me to defend that it is in a baby's best interest to die an early tragic death, is too tall of an order for me. But maybe we jump too quickly to the conclusion that, "It would have been better if she had never been born." I don't want to go there either.

Rasmus Moller said...

Sorry to barge in, and so late, too, but I think Carr, Loftus and others are much too modest in their attack on God. They blame him for natural disasters etc.

But what about the much bigger ongoing disaster of natural death?

Almost a million people die every day and many more suffer from age-related ailments! We try in different ways to avoid thinking too much of it, but we hate the gradual loss of health and abilities due to age, yet we cling on to even the last threads of life.

Billions and billions of people have already died ; many in pain, almost all wishing they could go on living just a little more.

How come you don't blame God for natural death? It doesn't feel natural at all to most of those it happens to. And it should be possible for an all powerful God to create limitless life space for immortal humans.

Do naturalists have any reason to avoid pressing _this_ charge against God?

Ilíon said...

"... God's knowledge is not limited (unless you're an open theist, in which case God's knowledge is still a whole lot less limited than yours is!)"

Whether or not God's knowledge is limited has nothing at all to do with whether anyone, or even everyone, asserts the small-god absurdity of "open theism", but rather with whether "open theism" is:
1) not actually absurd, after all, and
2) the truth about God's nature.

Jim S. said...

Steven Carr: "Didn't the resurrected Jesus walk the Earth, immune to pain and suffering?"

Are you serious? "A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death", "They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again," "And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit," etc.

It sounds like you don't know enough about Christianity and the Bible to justify even having an opinion, much less expressing one so vociferously.

Ilíon said...

"It sounds like you don't know enough about Christianity and the Bible to justify even having an opinion, much less expressing one so vociferously."

So long as a person refuses to acknowledge the fact that atheism is false and is easily seen to be false, then he rightly has no place in any of these sorts of discussions.

When a person asserts "God is not", he is *also* asserting "I think/reason not" ... and, ultimately, "I am not".

It's not that so-called atheists are ignorant, it's that every ladt one of them is intellectually dishonest. That some are more rabid than others in their dishonesty, that some almost, or most of the time, approximate a rational (and civil) being, does not change the fact that with respect to the question upon which all other questions depend, every single 'atheist' refuses to reason.

BenYachov said...

God is not a moral agent. God is metaphysically and ontologically good & thus can be the ground of all the goodness in existence but God is not morally good. God has no obligations to us. God given His nature of being ipsum esse subsistens cannot coherently be conceived of as being a moral agent with moral obligations to His Creatures. We might conceive of God as being metaphysically & ontologically perfect but it doesn't follow that God can coherently be seen as having perfect muscle tone.

The Fundamentalist Theistic Personalist "deity" Loftus, Carr, Babinski, etc disbelieve in is as waste of time and a distraction.

A Classic Theist needs a modern Theodicy like a fish needs a bicycle.

BenYachov said...

All modern Theodicy presupposes God is a moral agent and tries to justify or excuse God on moral grounds for allowing evil. Modern Theodicy tries to claim there are goods that can only be enjoyed if God allows evil and thus morally vindicate God for doing so.

But if God cannot be coherently conceived of as a moral agent in the first place then the whole problem of evil dissolves into a psuedo-problem.

At best one is left with the mystery of evil but not the problem.

im-skeptical said...

This is a little difficult for me to understand. God is perfectly good. All of God's creatures derive their goodness from God, but those creatures, for some reason, are not perfectly good. God himself is not a moral agent, so whenever he intervenes in the affairs of the world, he is free to perpetrate all manner of vile acts. Everything we can observe in our world indicates that there is nothing we could describe as perfectly good. Still, by some logical contortion, we are to conclude that God is perfectly good. I may be obtuse, but it's not for lack of trying to understand.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

You don't understand because you equivocate between radically different philosophical god concepts of which you are profoundly ignorant.

Specifically in the area of Theistic Personalism vs Classical Theism. You have no concept of philosophy of being or ontology or general metaphysics. I doubt you have much of a knowledge of Atheist philosophy either or theories of ethics.

It is not offensive to be merely ignorant. But it is a offensive to act as if you know what you are talking about while ignorant.

Here get up to speed so you don't bore the shit out of me challenging me to defend a Theistic Personalist "deity" whose existence I am a strong Atheist toward.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2012/07/classical-theism-roundup.html

With emphasis on these links.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09/classical-theism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-man-and-classical-theism.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/10/god-obligation-and-euthyphro-dilemma.html

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/07/does-morality-depend-on-god.html

Now do your homework.

BenYachov said...

Questions you need to answer for your own understanding.

>God is perfectly good.

What does it mean to be Good? Regardless of religion what is the philosophical & metaphysical meaning of goodness?

>All of God's creatures derive their goodness from God, but those creatures, for some reason, are not perfectly good.

What does the adverb "perfect" mean here relative to the adjective "good"?

Are we talking about ontological goodness or moral goodness?

Example: This rootbeer is good but does it cease to be a good rootbeer because it didn't stop the holocaust?

Are we talking about Absolute Perfection or Relative Perfection?

>God himself is not a moral agent, so whenever he intervenes in the affairs of the world, he is free to perpetrate all manner of vile acts.

How does that logically follow? If God is not a moral agent it doesn't make him immoral. He could be in a sense A-moral. Things can be A-moral and good. For example science and evolution are both A-moral and good.

Of course are you making unequivocal comparisons of God to creatures or analogous ones? Because my Thomistic Philosophy tells me it is impossible to make an unequivocal comparison between God and creatures.

>Still, by some logical contortion, we are to conclude that God is perfectly good. I may be obtuse, but it's not for lack of trying to understand.

Unless you get off your arse & learn some philosophy your prattles will mean as much to me as the prattles of a YEC enthusiast with a 6th grader's understanding of biology waxing eloquent on evolution to someone who has at least a Junior College level understanding of science and biology.

Ya feel me bro?

So get to reading.

BenYachov said...

These additional links might help.


Aquinas and the Best of All Possible Worlds

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/boapw.html

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/probevil.html

What is the distinction between metaphysical goodness and moral goodness in the through of Thomas.

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Questions/goodevil.html

im-skeptical said...

You are correct. I am quite ignorant of philosophy, including atheist philosophy. As I said before, I'm no philosopher. So I'm sorry for that. I'm just trying to understand what I perceived you to be saying:

God is good (ontologically, if you insist).
God is not a moral agent. Why not? Isn't he responsible for his own creation?

This is to be understood in the context of other things I am aware of:

God's creatures derive their goodness from God. (This is a tenet of Christian theology, is it not?)
God's creation is in fact nowhere near perfectly good. This I can see for myself. Why not?
God's creation is everything we humans are able to observe. It's the invisible part that we debate about.
If we can't observe anything that is perfectly good, How can we rationally conclude that such a thing is out there? Even if there is a creator God, what basis do we have for saying that he is good?

I think Aquinas made statements like, "Goodness is being. Being is perfection." Such statements don't relate to things that I see or experience. They have no meaning to me. But such statements have been used to justify the answers to some fundamental questions, or fine points in theistic philosophy like "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

The question I have posed is pretty straightforward. The answers never are.

Patrick said...

In a paper entitled “Evil and Skeptical Theism” (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ryan_stringer/skeptical-theism.html) in the chapter “(2) Other Problematic Consequences of Skeptical Theism” Ryan Stringer gives explains why there may be cases when man is obliged to alleviate suffering, whereas God isn’t. The same conclusion can be drawn from the ideas expressed in points (1) and (2) of the theodicy outlined below called “Theodicy from divine justice”.

(1) God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
(2) Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
(3) The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
(4) Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
(5) A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
(6) A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
(7) There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48, John 15,22-25), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
(8) Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.
(9) As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.

Looking at points (1) and (2) of this theodicy the reason for such an asymmetry between human and divine acts lies in the different consequences of such acts. If a sinner received supernatural help from God, he certainly would interpret such help as an approval of his way of life and thus be encouraged to go on with it, but this certainly wouldn’t be the case if he received help from Christians.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

>You are correct. I am quite ignorant of philosophy, including atheist philosophy.

Socrates was the wisest man in antiquity because he knew that He did not know. You have the makings of a philosopher and you have the great potential to be a non-Gnu Atheist. A rational Atheist. Simply by admitting you do not know.

"I don't know" is the key to wisdom.

The question is are you willing to learn?

>God is not a moral agent. Why not? Isn't he responsible for his own creation?

What is a moral agent? What is moral goodness? God is not a being alongside other beings & thus can't be a moral agent.

>I think Aquinas made statements like, "Goodness is being. Being is perfection." Such statements don't relate to things that I see or experience. They have no meaning to me.

Then you should take the time to learn what they mean if only to know. If not to answer your questions about God & help you believe at least do it so you will have a stronger reason not to believe from a position of knowledge.

>But such statements have been used to justify the answers to some fundamental questions, or fine points in theistic philosophy like "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"

Bullshit! That is a myth on the level of Young Earth Creationists who run around claiming Darwin denounced his theory on his deathbed. Pure bullshit.

BTW FYI Angels are Subsistant Forms where as a needle is a composite of form and matter. Thus to speak of Angels "dancing on pins" makes about as much sense as saying "I examined the Andromeda Galaxy under my microscope yesterday".


>The question I have posed is pretty straightforward. The answers never are.

Then you must learn Thomistic philosophy otherwise your skepticism is just willful ignorance.

rank sophist said...

Pardon me, Ben, but I'm going to cut in on im-skeptical for second.

The question I have posed is pretty straightforward. The answers never are.

You could say the same thing about science.

"Why do I have mass?"
"*infinitely complex response*"
"That's too difficult to understand, so it must be wrong."

God's creatures derive their goodness from God. (This is a tenet of Christian theology, is it not?)
God's creation is in fact nowhere near perfectly good. This I can see for myself. Why not?


For the Thomist, God's "perfect goodness" (this is a misnomer) results from his infinity, indivisibility and simplicity. If creation was infinite, indivisible and metaphysically simple, then it could also be "perfectly good"--but then it wouldn't be creation, nor would it be separate at all from God. So, simply put, it's impossible for creation to both exist and be "perfectly good".

God's creation is everything we humans are able to observe. It's the invisible part that we debate about.
If we can't observe anything that is perfectly good, How can we rationally conclude that such a thing is out there? Even if there is a creator God, what basis do we have for saying that he is good?


There are degrees of every trait in nature. We say that things are "more" or "less" in certain ways. Things can be more good, more beautiful and so forth. However, by doing so we presuppose a maximum, and, as Aquinas argues, all maximums are the cause of lower degrees. It's a very Neo-Platonistic argument. When we say that a human is "more good", for instance, we are considering how well he lives out his nature as a "rational animal". However, even this goodness is based on a higher goodness (which, for Aquinas, is interconvertible with truth, beauty, nobility, etc.) still, which brings us to an infinite, all-encompassing goodness. We refer to this goodness as God.

Read this before you throw out a silly objection: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/the-thomism-of-richard-dawkins/

God is good (ontologically, if you insist).
God is not a moral agent. Why not? Isn't he responsible for his own creation?


God does not "make decisions" in the sense that you or I make decisions. Further, the very idea that God could be called "good" or "bad" is ridiculous under Aquinas's system, because it would put "goodness" on a higher ontological plane than God.

im-skeptical said...

BenYachov,

Thank you for bothering to speak to me. I really am trying to understand, and I appreciate the material you pointed me to. I will try to absorb as much of it as I can manage, considering that I don't do this for a living.

The remark about angels was off-base I guess, but unless I can discover the real meaning of statements like "Goodness is being", I'm afraid I will never be able to discuss these things in a satisfactory manner. I will try.

im-skeptical said...

And I now see additional words from rank sophist to ponder, which I will. And thanks. It seems part of my problem is that different people tell me different things, and I never know what beliefs people have. I thought it was axiomatic among Christian theists that God is perfectly good (along with omniscient and omnipotent), but perhaps that's not true, or perhaps this goodness is something that must be understood only in a peculiar way.

Ilíon said...

You know, it's really too bad that Son of Confusion wasn't available to school God that he isn't a moral being when Abraham asked him, "Will not the Sovereign Lord of the universe do the right thing?"

Think of all the misunderstandings that could have been avoided had Son of Confusion been able to get the point across to God that the correct response to Job wasn’t “You don’t understand enough of what’s going on to judge what I am doing … but, if you say you trust me, then trust me”, but rather, “Dude, seriously! I’m amoral, so I’m way beyond these petty concerns about right and wrong.”

Still, I can’t but wonder, how does Son of Confusion’s never-did-exist religion of “classical theism” differ in substance and theology from Islam?

rank sophist said...

And I now see additional words from rank sophist to ponder, which I will. And thanks. It seems part of my problem is that different people tell me different things, and I never know what beliefs people have. I thought it was axiomatic among Christian theists that God is perfectly good (along with omniscient and omnipotent), but perhaps that's not true, or perhaps this goodness is something that must be understood only in a peculiar way.

No problem. And the issue lies in the difference between two ways of looking at God. One is what Martin Heidegger called "onto-theology"--Feser calls it "theistic personalism"--which posits God as the "prime being" among "lesser beings". It was largely created by Duns Scotus, who lived around the time of Aquinas. This view is dominant among Protestants, and among most contemporary Christian philosophers.

The other view is the traditional one, which dominated for over 1,000 years. The Church Fathers were its main developers. (But it's likely that this view was in fact the standard interpretation of the Bible until relatively recently.) This is the "classical theism" discussed by Feser, Ben and I. A particularly important recent contributor to its revival is the Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, who had this to say about the alternative ("theistic personalism"):

"... the God thus described is a logical nonsense: a being among beings, possessing the properties of his nature in a composite way, as aspects of his nature rather than as names ultimately convertible with one another in the simplicity of his transcendent essence, whose being and nature are then in some sense distinct from one another, who receives his being from being as such and so is less than being, who (even if he is changeless and eternal) in some sense becomes the being he is by partaking of that prior unity (existence) that allows his nature to persist in the composite reality it is, a God whose being has nonexistence as its opposite.... This God is a myth, an idol, and one we can believe in and speak of only so long as we have forgotten the difference between being and beings."

Reppert, as much as I like his work on the argument from reason, falls into the theistic personalist camp. In fact, anyone who describes God as "omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good" is a prime suspect for belonging to that group. People like Platinga, Swinburne, van Inwagen and, to a large extent, William Lane Craig are all theistic personalists. Not that talk of "omniscience", "omnipotence" and "perfect goodness" is wholly alien to classical theists--the terms just mean completely different things to them. Hope this is helpful.

Crude said...

While I don't think Theistic Personalism is in nearly as bad a shape as others say, I lean classical theist myself, and would endorse the recommendations Rank is giving.

There are many intellectual approaches to God, being grouped under large categories. Learning about them was pretty helpful to me early on, and I'm lucky I stumbled on a lot of the resources I did, even if I don't agree with all of them.

BenYachov said...

@im-skeptical

No problem my friend. I don't care if you don't believe. Who am I to to judge. As long as you try to understand then I am happy. I leave judgement to God.

BenYachov said...

BTW thanks for the assist RS and peace out to you Crude.

Classic Theism totally rules!

BenYachov said...

@RS

>It was largely created by Duns Scotus, who lived around the time of Aquinas. This view is dominant among Protestants, and among most contemporary Christian philosophers.

I might quibble here with this. I seem to recall Feser referring to Dun Scotus as a Classic Theist. The deal with Scotus I believe was his idea you could make some unequivocal comparisons between God and creature in regards to being might have helped pave the way for TP.

The thing is the doctrine of the Divine Simplicity is key for classic Theism.

As too the Protestants any Protestant who considers himself a foe of so called Neo-Theism(their term for TP) is cool.

Also I believe Calvin for all his fault rocked the Classic Theist mojo. That is at least something.

BenYachov said...

David Bentley Hart?

I so have to read that guy!

rank sophist said...

I seem to recall Feser referring to Dun Scotus as a Classic Theist. The deal with Scotus I believe was his idea you could make some unequivocal comparisons between God and creature in regards to being might have helped pave the way for TP.

You could be right. Scotus has always struck me as doing all of the things that Hart was complaining about in that quote, though. But I doubt that Scotus realized that his views would result in theistic personalism.

Also I believe Calvin for all his fault rocked the Classic Theist mojo. That is at least something.

Wow, I had no idea.

David Bentley Hart?

I so have to read that guy!


Hart is pretty awesome. That quote is from "The Beauty of the Infinite", which is one of the most difficult books I've ever read. He's done a couple of other pretty famous ones--including one that attacks the Gnus--, too. He defends basically the same views as Feser, but from the perspective of continental philosophy. Feser's more of an analytic philosopher, even though he refuses to admit it. But yeah, by all means check out Hart. He and Feser are my two favorite contemporary Christian philosophers.

B. Prokop said...

I agree that The Beauty of the Infinite is a fiercely difficult read. I never managed to get through the whole thing, and gave my copy to Victor a couple of years ago. But what I did understand was well worth the effort!

I do have to admit that I find all this (virtual) ink spilled over classical theism vs theistic personalism to be more than a bit off-putting. As for myself, when I attempt to contemplate God, I stick to the principle "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" and leave it at that. I know - not very "philosophical" of me, but at least one cannot go wrong by following that rule.

B. Prokop said...

Yikes! It took me eleven tries to prove I was not a robot with that last posting. A new record!

im-skeptical said...

For Ben, I'm still trying to reconcile the concept of divine simplicity with Christianity, which seems at first blush to be utterly incompatible with it. I believe Feser says that the doctrine of the trinity must be accepted as truth, and therefore it must be compatible with divine simplicity. But the explanation for that is beyond human comprehension, so it is a mystery. My search for understanding continues.

For rank, the idea that God is not a moral agent is still troublesome to me. It's not as though he has nothing to do with our state of affairs. If the act of creation is continual, at any moment, the world is exactly what God makes it. Why, then, does he bear no responsibility?

grodrigues said...

@B. Prokop:

"Yikes! It took me eleven tries to prove I was not a robot with that last posting. A new record!"

That is precisely what a cunningly programmed robot would say in order to fool us into believing that it is not a robot!

I am on to you.

B. Prokop said...

Danger, Danger, Will Robinson!

Woody said...

I'm not a philosopher and if I may contribute something to the discussion, I would like to share the view of Greg A. Boyd a pastor and theologian, which i find very intersting, he argues that "We don’t need to believe that all things happen for a good purpose in order to believe that all things happen with a divine purpose. I submit that the ultimate reason why any evil event happens resides in the will of agents other than God. Yet, whatever free agents decide to do, we can affirm that the infinitely wise God has an eternally prepared plan in place as to how he will respond and bring good out of evil, in case it occurs. And if we remain confident in God’s unlimited intelligence, we can affirm that his plan to respond to bring a good purpose out of evil, in case it occurs, is as good as it would have been if he had allowed the evil event for the purpose he can bring out of it." also important point is "if one believes, as I do, that God has bound himself to work within the variables the condition free will. One of the most important of these variables, I believe, is prayer. As I argue in Satan and the Problem of Evil, because God wants a “bride” who co-rules with him on earth (Rev. 5:10), he has set up things such that, to some degree, his will shall not be done except when his bride aligns her will with his in prayer. Since he’s all good, God is always doing the most he can do to maximize the good and minimize the evil. But God’s involvement in the world is genuinely conditioned by the prayers of his people. When they prayer, God can do more than he was doing previously. This isn’t about him gaining more power. It’s about God creating a world in which agents genuinely share power and responsibility with him"

rank sophist said...

im-skeptical,

Hart wrote a book about this called The Doors of the Sea. In essence, it means that what God allows can be at variance with what he wills. The God of classical theism is intimately connected to everything, but he doesn't exert deterministic control. This other view is known as "occasionalism"--everything that happens is directly willed by God--, which is at odds with classical theism. It leads to a very Calvinistic view of the world, and it makes God responsible for everything bad that happens.

BenYachov said...

Well I salute you for trying to learn.

>For Ben, I'm still trying to reconcile the concept of divine simplicity with Christianity, which seems at first blush to be utterly incompatible with it.

Hmmmm....the doctrine has been confirmed by the Ecumenical councils of Christianity. Even Protestant Synods at Westminster endorsed it.

Denial of the Divine Simplicity is a modern phenomena and novelty.

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