Does the existence of God mean there should be no suffering?

According to the argument from evil, the existence of evil/suffering means the Christian God could not possibly exist.  Yet then what are we to make of the following famous quote?

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

I happen to think Kubler-Ross is on to something.  And if no suffering is supposed to exist, would that not also mean such “beautiful people” should likewise not exist?

In fact, try to imagine what human beings would be like if they never once suffered. Would they have empathy?  Would they have courage?  It would seem to me that someone who never once suffered would be rather shallow.

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61 Responses to Does the existence of God mean there should be no suffering?

  1. Shecky R says:

    tell that trite rubbish to the parents of a 5-yr.-old girl who is kidnapped at 3am. from her bedroom, assaulted, raped, dismembered, doused in gasoline and set afire… just the first in a series of 5 victims

  2. dognillo says:

    When I have problems reconciling a loving Christian God with suffering, I am thinking about the millions of children born every year into the most deplorable situations imaginable. Children that will never know what it is like to have enough to eat, or that suffer in pain every day of their short lives with horrible diseases. It’s a legitimate concern of atheists.

  3. Michael says:

    dognillo,

    Indeed. But that does completely sidestep my point and leaves it unanswered. And it brings up many other questions which we could get into a little bit later.

  4. Michael says:

    Shecky R,

    Indeed. But that does completely sidestep my point and leaves it unanswered. And it brings up many other questions which we could get into a little bit later.

  5. Ilíon says:

    According to the argument from evil, the existence of evil/suffering means the Christian God could not possibly exist.

    And the “solution” to this asserted dilemma is what? It is that there are actually no such things as right or wrong, moral or immoral, should or should not!

    In other words, this whole line of argument is self-refuting.

  6. Doug says:

    Perhaps sensing the logic of the O/P, atheists usually take the stance that evil and suffering could have value, but gratuitous suffering precludes the existence of the Christian God. That is, their sensibilities are offended by the (usually edge) cases that they discover and keep in their pocket. It isn’t the “statistical thinking” of a scientist. Rather, it is the “categorical thinking” of a fundamentalist. But its success depends entirely on emotion — because they have no other criteria to determine that a case falls in the category of “too evil to permit the existence of God”. Arguments from emotion are famously weak, and this one is no exception.

  7. Ilíon says:

    Indeed, the argument from evil/suffering, such argument as there is, is emotion, top to bottom.

  8. Doug says:

    Riffing on the O/P only slightly:

    It would seem to me that someone who never once suffered would be rather …insufferable.

  9. Dhay says:

    For an atheist, suffering must have value — survival value. It has evolved in a very wide range of species, including ours, and presumably we have suffering because it improves our chances of surviving and reproducing.

    Heck, suffering must be a positive boon to us, and the evolutionary argument for that is that suffering has evolved.

    I’m not a YEC myself, but would point out the obvious — that if suffering is a boon for us in an evolutionary scenario, it is equally a boon for us in a Creationist scenario.

  10. Ilíon says:

    Speaking only for myself, I can tell you that it is only because I am so keenly aware of my own sinfulness that I am not a self-righteous prig.

  11. Doug says:

    @Dhay,
    Sorry — “suffering has evolved”? Is there a genetic predisposition to suffering?
    The “value” that is “survival value” should not be confused with a “moral” value (i.e., one that has any weight toward commenting on the existence of God) — and I’ve never met an atheist who entertained that confusion…

  12. George says:

    The argument from evil usually talks about gratuitous suffering, not necessary or beneficial suffering. It’s easy to understand suffering for the purpose of some greater good. But what, for instance, is the greater good being served by 21 children dying each minute from preventable illnesses like diarrhea? Is this happening in order to teach them empathy and courage while they suffer before their deaths? That is a mountain of 30,000 dead children each day. Very few of us would wax poetic about the mountain of “beautiful people”.

  13. Ilíon says:

    George:The argument from evil usually talks about gratuitous suffering, not necessary or beneficial suffering …

    I won’t re-ask Doug’s question of what is the rational criterion or criteria by which you propose to determine whether any apecific instance of suffereing is ‘gratuitous’.

    Rather, I will point out that when someone claims that something is ‘gratuitous‘, what he is saying, at the very weakest, is that it is unnecessary, that it is over-and-above what is called for or what is appropriate in context. So, even at its weakest, the claim that some suffering is ‘gratuitous‘ contains some component of a moral assertion about the suffering and about reality.

    BUT, if atheism is the truth about the nature of reality, then there is no such thing as “the way things ought to be” — there are no “oughts” under atheism.

    My point is this, as I made reference in a previous post in this thread — the only way that the so-called “argument from evil” even makes sense is if atheism is not, after all, the truth about the nature of reality. The only way that the so-called “argument from evil” can even get off the ground is if its conclusion is false.

    In other words, far from being an argument *for* atheism, the so-called “argument from evil” is actually an argument *against* atheism.

    But, the above is a rational and logical argument … and, as has been pointed out already in this thread, the appeal of the so-called “argument from evil” is in its appeal to emotional.

  14. George says:

    Dhay — so what’s the answer to the question? What is the greater good being served by 21 children dying each minute from preventable illnesses like diarrhea?

  15. tildeb says:

    Suffering is a condition. The religionist attempts to misrepresent it in the hopes of making it a moral issue on which the religion can then try to exert an authority, only to then be improperly imposed on those with the condition as if there were a divine connection only they can ‘translate’.

    We see this happen time and again in all kinds of areas of human concern. Probably the most notable and recent ‘champion’ of suffering was Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, or Agnes anglicized… known to most as Mother Teresa… who called suffering the ‘kiss of Jesus’ as if only a truly loving parent would bestow such a virtue.

    And that’s the problem.

    To justify global daily suffering in a world supposedly organized by a divine agency of love and benevolence and power, the religionist must make a virtue out of a vice and pretend that a prey/predator biosphere predicated on mutual suffering magically becomes a inevitable product of love, benevolence, and power taken to its omni- level.

    That’s why the religious argument that attempts to turn suffering into a virtuous moral consideration rather than a brute fact of reality over which we have some measure of control and therefore responsibility (Mother Teresa occasionally handed out some Aspirin for those dying people who made a lot of noise… even after making many millions of dollars from her RCC branding campaign) is as absurd as it is fatal to those who attempt to use theodicy (problem of evil) to comport an omni-God with reality… a divine critter with less moral consideration, and less power to influence the very real and often tragic suffering in our shared world, than any of us reveal and demonstrate by our superior compassion and real efforts made to address real suffering.

    A God who would has the power but not the will to allow what Sheky points out in the first comment to happen is not a God worthy of human worship but an inept and cruel agency due a significant measure of criticism and rejection as a qua moral agent.

  16. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    So: please tell us — by what criteria do you determine that suffering enters the category of “gratuitous”?

  17. Doug says:

    …reproducing an argument offered elsewhere on this site…

    Let’s construct a “tree” out of every possible world, with “morally insignificant increments”.

    Universe#0: — Everyone lives until they are eighty. They die on their eightieth birthday. No other suffering.
    Universe#0,1: — There is a distribution of sudden death with a mean around eighty years old.
    Universe#1,2: — The standard deviation of that distribution is slightly larger than in U#0,1.
    Universe#0,2: — Folks get colds and flus. Some suffer more than others for it.

    Universe#N,M: — the universe we find ourselves in.

    Would anyone claim that the suffering in U#0 precludes God? Let’s proceed assuming the answer is “no”. How about U#0,1? U#0,2? At which U# would such a preclusion magically appear? Why that one? Why not more or less? If you don’t have answers for those questions, you don’t have grounds for the claim that the suffering in U#N,M precludes God in the first place!

    If God can be good in the context of U#0, and God can be good in the context of U#i,k given that God can be good in the context of U#i, then “by mathematical induction” ;-), we have proved that God can be good in the context of any U#!

  18. John says:

    ”That’s why the religious argument that attempts to turn suffering into a virtuous moral consideration rather than a brute fact of reality over which we have some measure of control and therefore responsibility”

    Doesn’t this entail that humans have the capability to stop ”gratuitous” suffering?

    Last time I checked,Americans throw more money away when it comes to gambling and buying ridiculous accesories for their pets,than would be needed to solve world hunger right now.

    So isn’t it kind of our own fault as well that such ”gratitous” suffering occurs?

  19. tildeb says:

    @ Doug

    I have said nothing about ‘gratuitous’. I have no need to produce a criteria for you. Feel free to go the dictionary to find a definition or, if you’re more like JMSmith, find some medieval definition that will allow you use it contrary to its common meaning today.

  20. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Fine: please explain by what means or at what threshold suffering magically acquired the attribute of “God-preclusion”? Does all suffering? Does just some? What is the essence of the difference between the suffering that does preclude God and that which does not?

  21. tildeb says:

    I’m not talking only about gratuitous suffering; I’m saying the entire biosphere is predicated on it. That’s rather a strange system to put into effect if one is morally concerned about suffering, wouldn’t you say?

    We really do live in world where most life operates under the prey/predator system. That’s a brute fact. Suffering is ubiquitous. What I am saying is that we do recognize and can empathize with the suffering of other (usually) sentient critters and we (often) do intervene to reduce this suffering… sometimes for no other reason that we can. To what extent or scope or motivation isn’t really the issue here (other than reaffirm that religion has as much monopoly on moral considerations as does the local Plumber’s Guild… but the Plumber’s Guild doesn’t organize, operate, and protect an international pedophile ring… their rings of concern are usually more bowl and behind oriented); that we sometimes respond to reduce this suffering if it is within our power indicates a moral consideration that seems of a ‘higher’ level (perhaps a more pronounced sense of moral obligation) than some supposed benevolent and loving and powerful omni-God that is apparently neither capable nor willing of doing even that much (almost as if He wasn’t even there… perish the thought, of course!).

  22. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    Perhaps you weren’t aware, but that God you mention became one of us, and suffered crucifixion at the hands of people like you and me — in order to demonstrate love and to blaze the trail for us beyond suffering by being resurrected from the dead (i.e., conquering death – the ultimate suffering — once and for all).
    It puts things in a slightly different light than you seem to be projecting on matters.

  23. Ilíon says:

    Perhaps you weren’t aware, but that God you mention became one of us, and suffered crucifixion at the hands of people like you and me — in order to demonstrate love and to blaze the trail for us beyond suffering by being resurrected from the dead (i.e., conquering death – the ultimate suffering — once and for all).

    Moreover, Christ’s Incarnation (and all that followed from it) was the particularized demonstration of what the Second Person of the Godhead has *always* been doing — God, in the person of the Son, has *always* been living our lives with us. Even had teh Son never been sent to live with us and suffer with us as one of us, he has *always* been living with us and suffering with us right alond with us, “closer than a brother”.

    To put it another way: much as Abrahams sacrifice of Isaac is a type of the Father’s sacrifice of the Son, the Son’s redemption-of-the-world-in-time is a type of the Son’s eternal creating-and-upholding of the world.

    God is “the ground of all being”, as the philosophers say; in God (the Son specifically) we “live and move and have our being”, as the Bible says. When we do good, God the Son is doing it right along with us. When we suffer evil, God the Son is suffering it right along with us. When we *do* evil, God the Son is doing it right along with us — this, by the way, is why sin is so wicked, for in choosing to sin, we choose to drag the Sinless One through sin.

  24. Ryan Shue says:

    Tim Keller has pointed out that philosophers no long consider the “argument from evil” a strong argument against God. It ASSUMES that there must be no greater purpose for the suffering in the world. That is, it ASSUMES the suffering is “gratuitous”. It says in effect, “Since I can think of no purpose for this suffering, there is therefore no purpose for it.” To assume that mere humans (who spend a couple decades walking this planet) can plumb the depths of the purposes of an infinite God (if one exists) is silly.

    There are many questions that cannot be answered, but nonetheless do have an answer. Christian theology has generally taken that stance with this question, i.e. there IS some greater purpose for it, but we may not be able to comprehend it, at least not in this life. I do think, however, that Michael’s point is close to the truth.

  25. Andrew says:

    Lots of abstracts and hypotheticals. Let’s start with a more practical example: you. Is a “good” and “moral” God justified in bringing suffering on *you*. And why?

  26. R.E says:

    Why can’t God stop the negative aspects that would come with a life without human suffering? Surely God would be able to create a world without suffering that would also be free from a need for empathy or courage? You seriously don’t think as hard as you should be.

  27. FZM says:

    Lots of abstracts and hypotheticals. Let’s start with a more practical example: you. Is a “good” and “moral” God justified in bringing suffering on *you*. And why?

    The Christian God is usually considered to have created the universe and everything in it ex nihilo : I guess this includes whatever moral laws and norms we perceive the existence of as well as everything else. I think it’s hard to think of a creator God like this as a human moral agent; for example, what kind of judgement might be made about God’s decision to bring human morality, as well as everything else, into existence in the first place?

    Traditionally Christians have also tended to see God as completely perfect and completely unchanging; God therefore doesn’t create to fulfil any need that he has or to make up anything lacking in his own nature. So it seems hard to identify what kind of reasons God might have for choosing to do certain things or not.

    God chooses to make a range of various creatures of differing levels of perfection (again, in traditional Christianity there are all the kinds of angelic beings and intelligences between God and the physical universe), some sometimes less perfect than they might be, and some of these creatures can only realise their goodness at the expense of depriving others of it. God also makes a morality for some of these creatures (humans like me) and their particular goodness is realised by acting in line with it. Again, in this sort of context I think it’s difficult to see what meaning asking whether God aught to be considered ‘moral’ and ‘good’ in human terms for having done this stuff really has.

  28. Andrew says:

    FZM: my question is primarily directed at those who argue that the “problem of suffering” creates a reason to doubt God’s goodness, morality or existence. Rather than start with the suffering of some “innocent”, start with the person you (as in “one”, not FZM specifically) know best. Do you think that your own suffering is grounds for a moral charge against (hypothetical) God? If so, on what basis do you bring this charge? If not, why not?

    You (“FZM”) seem to be saying that for both the specific and general case that we humans have neither the understanding nor standing to bring such a complaint against God. As such, you’d dismiss the argument from suffering at both the individual and general level. Have I understood you right?

  29. Michael says:

    Shecky R: tell that trite rubbish to the parents of a 5-yr.-old girl who is kidnapped at 3am.

    dognillo: When I have problems reconciling a loving Christian God with suffering, I am thinking about the millions of children born every year into the most deplorable situations imaginable.

    George: The argument from evil usually talks about gratuitous suffering, not necessary or beneficial suffering.

    tildeb: Suffering is a condition. The religionist attempts to misrepresent it in the hopes of making it a moral issue on which the religion can then try to exert an authority, only to then be improperly imposed on those with the condition as if there were a divine connection only they can ‘translate’.

    Andrew: Lots of abstracts and hypotheticals. Let’s start with a more practical example: you. Is a “good” and “moral” God justified in bringing suffering on *you*. And why?

    RE: Why can’t God stop the negative aspects that would come with a life without human suffering?

    Hmmm. So many responses, but not one of them even tries to answer the questions I posed.
    Let’s try again.

    1. And if no suffering is supposed to exist, would that not also mean such “beautiful people” should likewise not exist?
    [“beautiful people” are defined as “those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”]

    2. In fact, try to imagine what human beings would be like if they never once suffered. Would they have empathy? Would they have courage?

  30. tildeb says:

    I’m pointing out the absurdity of assuming suffering is only a human condition – the incredibly myopic view that a divine agency designed and allowed a system of suffering that you suggest can help produce ‘beautiful’ people and so has some ‘higher’ value.

    Rubbish.

    A water buffalo stuck in a mud pit being eaten alive by hyenas while it screams in agony in no way helps create ‘beautiful’ people but reveals a biosphere (that includes people) that is system of ubiquitous suffering for which this supposed divine creator not only allows to happen but designed it this way… a system that by no stretch of the imagination can be seen as loving or kind or benevolent but twisted and perverse, one that produces unimaginable pain and suffering as regular as clockwork.

  31. Doug says:

    @R.E.,
    Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where there was no conflict (setting aside the episodes of the Smurfs you watched when you were three years old)? Was it enjoyable? Fulfilling? Entertaining?
    Perhaps your line of thinking isn’t particularly appropriate to the topic at hand.

  32. Doug says:

    @tildeb,
    You aren’t addressing the O/P fairly. To focus (as the O/P does) on one aspect of suffering is not to disregard (as you allege) other aspects. Nor is it being “myopic”. Not any more than it is being “obtuse” to pretend that the aspect in question is not a challenge to the particular “problem of evil” that so many atheists bring up.

  33. Ilíon says:

    Andrew:Lots of abstracts and hypotheticals. Let’s start with a more practical example: you. Is a “good” and “moral” God justified in bringing suffering on *you*. And why?

    FZM:The Christian God is usually considered to have created the universe and everything in it ex nihilo : I guess this includes whatever moral laws and norms we perceive the existence of as well as everything else … Again, in this sort of context I think it’s difficult to see what meaning asking whether God aught to be considered ‘moral’ and ‘good’ in human terms for having done this stuff really has.

    Is a “good” or “moral” Author justified in bringing suffering on Frodo? And why or why not?

    Does Frodo have any ground on which to charge his Author with being “bad” or “immoral”?

  34. Ilíon says:

    R.E.:Why can’t God stop the negative aspects that would come with a life without human suffering? Surely God would be able to create a world without suffering that would also be free from a need for empathy or courage? You seriously don’t think as hard as you should be.

    Surely, God would/should be able to create a world in which if I fall off a cliff, or I jump off a cliff, or you push me off a cliff, I am protected from suffering. Since he *could* have created such a world did he exist and had he created the world, and *should* have created such a world were he good and had created the world, that he didn’t create such a world means either that he is not good or that he did not created the world, and likely doesn’t even exist.

    The reasoning is awesome, isn’t it?

  35. SteveK says:

    Here’s a video that I think is worth 5 minutes of your time. I particularly like the story Ravi tells @4:50 about so-called good luck & bad luck. I’m able to see suffering in a similar way. In the moment all suffering seems morally unjust, but like a “bad luck” event that you’re certain is “bad”, how do you know it’s morally unjust?

    “Why doesn’t God stop rape or those who hurt the innocent?”

  36. George says:

    Michael, I directly addressed your point. It is predicated upon “if no suffering is supposed to exist”, which is a false premise. Virtually nobody claims that — virtually nobody takes issue with with necessary suffering or beneficial suffering.

  37. Doug says:

    @George
    I directly addressed your point (in advance! 🙂 )
    https://shadowtolight.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/does-the-existence-of-god-mean-there-should-be-no-suffering/#comment-11682
    Could you please explain to us by what criteria you determine that suffering does not fall into the “necessary” or “beneficial” categories?
    Yes: I understand that examples can be found. That isn’t helpful. I’m asking about the threshold beyond which we can claim “not necessary or beneficial”. What defines that threshold, please?

  38. Michael says:

    tildeb: I’m pointing out the absurdity of assuming suffering is only a human condition

    Can you quote where I assumed suffering is only a human condition? I only wrote eight sentences, so it should be easy for you to find it.

    Also, I take it you don’t want to answer my questions.

  39. Michael says:

    George: Michael, I directly addressed your point. It is predicated upon “if no suffering is supposed to exist”, which is a false premise. Virtually nobody claims that — virtually nobody takes issue with with necessary suffering or beneficial suffering.

    Rather than address me “point,” how about answering the questions? Are you acknowledging that humans would have no empathy or courage if they never suffered, but insist we instead talk about different types of suffering?

  40. TFBW says:

    George has offered a fair answer, but it is incomplete. It addresses the OP by rejecting a premise of the OP (“if no suffering is supposed to exist”). It does so by subdividing suffering into that which is “necessary or beneficial” (call it “positive suffering”, or “+suffering”) and its alternative (“negative suffering”, or “-suffering”). In this way, the benefits of +suffering can be admitted while retaining the “problem of evil” aspect for -suffering.

    Of course, this distinction begs a criterion. It’s all very well to assert that suffering can be divided along positive and negative lines, and that the negatives are an indictment on a good God, but it remains to show that suffering can actually be so divided in a non-arbitrary way. If the distinction is purely based on variable outcomes of suffering, then the difference is not in the suffering itself, but in how the sufferer deals with the affliction. After all, two people faced with the same painful circumstances may respond very differently: one may despair, the other may overcome. A distinction based on outcomes fails to meet the needs of the argument.

    On the other hand, we already have a few examples that people have offered which are supposed to be clearly and unambiguously negative suffering. The criteria for making the distinction remain unstated, however: the examples appeal to an emotional response of, “such an appalling thing could never be positive.” If objections raised along these lines are to be taken as serious intellectual challenges, they need to rise above appeals to emotion, and we’ve yet to see such a challenge here.

    The challenge to George (and similar arguments) is to show that positive and negative suffering are real, distinct things (inherent in the suffering itself, not the outcome of it), and that positive suffering could exist without negative suffering.

  41. tildeb says:

    @ Michael

    I can’t believe I have to explain this to you: the topic about suffering and your God deals with suffering only about the making of ‘beautiful’ people… as if this ‘product’ in any way ameliorates suffering as a condition. You are offering an excuse for the condition and grasping at what is obviously an anthropocentric example (this is confirmation bias). What you omitting is suffering outside of the human condition… and I’m pointing out that the world is actually a system predicated on suffering, a system that includes humans.

    If you’re going to explain how suffering – and not just the selected examples of some human suffering that leads to the creation of ‘beautiful’ people – then you have to tackle suffering as a fundamental component of life and then figure out how it has to be rather than mitigated or ameliorated or even avoided by a God… something each of us automatically try to reduce with our loved ones, with those over whom we wish to demonstrate love and benevolence. If we can do it, and even feel compelled to try to do it, then why doesn’t your God? Why not a shut off valve to the nervous system, for example, for that suffering water buffalo being eaten alive? Why must it endure such suffering when any veterinarian with the limited means to end such suffering has the moral gumption to do exactly what your God seems incapable of doing? This is the argument you have to tackle – about suffering – and not the ‘beautification’ of some individuals who have suffered? I will bet not a single human being screaming in agony has ever become more ‘beautiful’ when being eaten alive by a carnivore. Suggesting that the suffering itself is somehow good, somehow intentionally worthwhile in itself, is truly perverse and twisted. And that means a God that imposes such suffering, allows it to continue unabated and without intervention when it has the power to do so, is equally perverse and twisted.

  42. Michael says:

    I can’t believe I have to explain this to you: the topic about suffering and your God deals with suffering only about the making of ‘beautiful’ people… as if this ‘product’ in any way ameliorates suffering as a condition. You are offering an excuse for the condition and grasping at what is obviously an anthropocentric example (this is confirmation bias). What you omitting is suffering outside of the human condition… and I’m pointing out that the world is actually a system predicated on suffering, a system that includes humans.

    You are arguing with ghosts inside your head. My blog entry has a measly eight sentences and four of them are questions. No where am I making any excuse or trying to omit the suffering outside of the human condition. You posture as if I had posted a 1000 word essay claiming to have rebutted the argument from evil. Er,…I didn’t. The questions I ask are worth pondering in of themselves.

    Look, according to atheists, the evil that exists in this world is incompatible with the existence of the Christian God. I am not rebutting that argument (at least not now). I am exploring. I’m trying to get my mind around What The Theistic World Should Look Like according to atheists. I am taking the argument from evil at face value and assuming we are supposed to strip away the evil to make it compatible with God’s existence. So I am trying to imagine that we do this and then…….see what is left. There is a time and place for water buffalo arguments, but not now.

    Your refusal to answer my questions, and instead posture with the standard old formulation that we have all heard hundreds of times before, clearly tells me you have no desire to aid in my exploration (which could, BTW, last months or even longer). In fact, it comes across as obfuscation. My patience was worn thin, so off to the moderation queue you go.

  43. TFBW says:

    @tildeb:
    Michael has a point. You are having your own little private rant, or addressing the subject as you imagine it to be framed, rather than paying attention to reality on the page in front of you (not for the first time, I might add). The key question in the OP is, “if no suffering is supposed to exist, would that not also mean such ‘beautiful people’ should likewise not exist?” You neither reject the premise, nor show that the consequence does not follow from the premise, nor accept the statement as true. In other words, you’re blathering off topic.

  44. John says:

    ”Your refusal to answer my questions, and instead posture with the standard old formulation that we have all heard hundreds of times before, clearly tells me you have no desire to aid in my exploration (which could, BTW, last months or even longer).”

    Wait,so this means you are finally going to tackle the Problem of Evil yourself on your blog?

    I remember you once had a debate in the comments of a blog post and talked about how you destroyed the need for evidence/argument from lack of evidence and can happily move on to destroying the Problem of Evil.

    If that is the case,then I can’t wait for it.

    Especially how you said it may take you months in exploring all avenues and variations of the Problem of Evil.

  45. FZM says:

    Andrew,

    You (“FZM”) seem to be saying that for both the specific and general case that we humans have neither the understanding nor standing to bring such a complaint against God. As such, you’d dismiss the argument from suffering at both the individual and general level. Have I understood you right?

    I think so. I think I would tend not to accept this kind of argument because of ‘understanding’ problems and problems with the limits of human moral judgement in dealing with exceptional and highly unusual cases (e.g. the kind of God I was referring to in my post other has done things that have no possible counterpart in human experience).

    In relation to Michael’s O/P, it struck me that humans who could not suffer may not even count as humans at all; beings like this would seem to have another and distinct nature. Another point about arguments that are based on suffering and the moral goodness of God is that it can seem God would be worth calling a morally good/perfect God if he decided not to create anything at all in the first place (no suffering), to create only inanimate or unconscious objects (no suffering) and things like that.

  46. Michael says:

    I remember you once had a debate in the comments of a blog post and talked about how you destroyed the need for evidence/argument from lack of evidence and can happily move on to destroying the Problem of Evil.

    I doubt I used the word “destroyed,” but yes, the demand for evidence has been neutered. We have seen that for many atheists, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. That exposes the demand as empty posturing. For others, the evidence is supposed to be a Gap, thus the demand is premised on the validity of God of the Gaps reasoning. Since most atheists reject that line of reasoning as invalid, it would mean, for them, the demand for evidence is built on an invalid line of reasoning.

    As for the problem of evil, there are many facets to explore. We saw that the demand for evidence entailed a masked subjective dimension. But with the problem of evil, it looks like the problem that is saturated with subjectivity.

  47. Michael says:

    In relation to Michael’s O/P, it struck me that humans who could not suffer may not even count as humans at all; beings like this would seem to have another and distinct nature.

    Indeed. In addition to lacking courage and empathy, it would seem such creatures would never be sad or depressed. Also, I’m not sure such creatures would experience forbearance or have any wants. What’s more, just how intelligent would they be? Much of our intelligence is connected to problem solving and most of that problem solving is connected to preventing or alleviating suffering, personal and for others.

  48. Doug says:

    Even though tildeb is fixedly off topic, his framing of the problem of evil is incredibly shallow. Without predation, the biosphere might not function at all. And yet he postures as if God could have created a functioning biosphere without predation. How does he know that such a thing is even possible?
    When (human) intervention has attempted to tweak the biosphere (Mao’s 1957 campaign against sparrows; introduction of Canadian beavers into Tierra del Fuego; rabbits into Australia; etc, etc), it inevitably suffers from “unintended consequences” triggered by the absence of predation. For example, Wikipedia tells us that “the effect of rabbits on the ecology of Australia has been devastating.”
    I wonder if tildeb would be willing to sacrifice the entire biosphere in order to assuage his delicate sensibilities toward water buffalo…

  49. tildeb says:

    @ TFBW

    Let’s consider the two responses to the hypothesis (not a premise), “if no suffering is supposed to exist, would that not also mean such ‘beautiful people’ should likewise not exist?”

    Answer # 1. Yes: but justified by pure conjecture because it’s entirely hypothetical and divorced from reality. The condition of suffering can no more be eliminated by a thought experiment than the removal of all the properties of matter itself and still think we’re talking about reality. We are not.

    Answer # 2. No:.but justified by pure conjecture because it’s entirely hypothetical and divorced from reality. The condition of suffering can no more be eliminated by a thought experiment than the removal of all the properties of matter itself and still think we’re talking about reality. We’re not.

    Neither answer is in any way useful. Why? Well, in part because of the poor formation of the hypothesis itself… a means to divorce the hypothesis from reality but pretend it is somehow descriptive of it. It’s not.

    We are considering the hypothesis as an If… Then proposition. This has a form we must follow if we wish our ‘then’ response to be linked to the ‘If’. This hypothesis fails to do so: If no suffering is SUPPOSED to exist, then no ‘beautiful’ people are SUPPOSED to exist. But obviously this isn’t what the author wants to suggest here. The author is trying to suggest that an absence off suffering would have a cost. Furthermore, this cost is a consideration that is SUPPOSED to reflect on helping us answer the post’s title question, namely, “Does the existence of God mean there should be no suffering?”

    This question rewords the fatal criticism that demonstrates the incoherence between the existence of an omni-God of love, benevolence, and power with the existence of ubiquitous suffering by then substituting an imaginary cost for the hypothetical absence of suffering.

    My approach is to first understand that suffering is not something that can be taken off the table if we’re talking about reality but is a ubiquitous aspect of life in reality, part and parcel of the very fabric of life itself. By hypothetically removing suffering, one is hypothetically altering the very fabric of life we wish to consider. To then be asked to consider life so radically altered as to be unrecognizable and then associate a cost to this alteration that is itself part of the fabric of life (finding value and meaning through compassion) is equally incoherent. You cannot talk about life and remove suffering and have it still be talking about life.

    As a end-around means to defend the hypothesis for an omni-God and ubiquitous suffering, this hypothesis fails.

  50. tildeb says:

    @ Michael

    We have seen that for many atheists, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. That exposes the demand as empty posturing. For others, the evidence is supposed to be a Gap, thus the demand is premised on the validity of God of the Gaps reasoning. Since most atheists reject that line of reasoning as invalid, it would mean, for them, the demand for evidence is built on an invalid line of reasoning.”

    No it’s not, Michael, and you know it.

    But I see you’re sticking to this misrepresentation you favour. No surprise there. But I have specifically pointed out that empirical claims made by theists about their God (its supposed properties, nature, abilities, concerns, interests, preferences, demands, and so on that they pretend to know something about) require empirical evidence. You can’t make an empirical claim and then wave away the need for empirical evidence as if this is rational (compounded by asserting that those who ask for the empirical evidence for an empirical claim are somehow at fault). It’s not rational. Substituting belief in place of necessary empirical evidence for supporting empirical claims is not rational. It is textbook delusional thinking.

  51. Doug says:

    My apologies to tildeb. In fairness, he did write (higher than I was looking earlier):

    I’m saying the entire biosphere is predicated on it. That’s rather a strange system to put into effect if one is morally concerned about suffering, wouldn’t you say?

    I’ve met (and know) people who have suffered (and are suffering) from all manner of ills. Without exception, they have always told me that to be alive is a greater good — that it more than makes up for the pain. Perhaps the same is true for the biosphere as a whole: the good of its existence more than makes up for the challenges that that existence is predicated on.

    As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:

    Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

  52. Michael says:

    tildeb: No it’s not, Michael, and you know it.

    Huh? But we have seen that for many atheists, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. That exposes the demand as empty posturing. For others, we have seen the evidence is supposed to be a Gap, meaning the demand is premised on the validity of God of the Gaps reasoning. For a Gap can only be evidence for God if one assumes the validity of the God of the Gaps approach. Since most atheists insist that line of reasoning is invalid, it would mean, for them, the demand for evidence is built on an invalid line of reasoning.

    But I see you’re sticking to this misrepresentation you favour.

    Where is the misrepresentation?

    No surprise there. But I have specifically pointed out that empirical claims made by theists about their God (its supposed properties, nature, abilities, concerns, interests, preferences, demands, and so on that they pretend to know something about)

    But I see you’re sticking to this misrepresentation you favour. As pointed out to you, I’m not pretending to know things I do not know. In fact, you are the one who comes to us with the absolute sense of certainty.

    require empirical evidence. You can’t make an empirical claim and then wave away the need for empirical evidence as if this is rational (compounded by asserting that those who ask for the empirical evidence for an empirical claim are somehow at fault). It’s not rational. Substituting belief in place of necessary empirical evidence for supporting empirical claims is not rational. It is textbook delusional thinking.

    More misrepresentation. I never waved away the need for empirical evidence. The issue is not about the need for evidence, as we both agree on that. The issue is what shall count as evidence. For many atheists, nothing is allowed to count as evidence. For other atheists, nothing less than a Gap would count, but then Gaps don’t count.

    You seem unwilling to acknowledge what atheism is – a subjective opinion. But just because tildeb sees no evidence for the existence of God does not mean there is no evidence for the existence of God.

  53. tildeb says:

    @ Michael

    You say But we have seen that for many atheists, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. That exposes the demand as empty posturing.

    The misrepresentation you make is that because some atheists supposedly insist that “nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God” (I don’t know of any who would agree with that characterization of their position), the demand for empirical evidence by all non believers (and not just those few) is therefore empty posturing (a demand all of us make for almost every claim made about reality).

    No, it’s not empty posturing.

    Asking for empirical evidence for empirical claims (whether by an atheist, a midget, or a Polynesian) is an essential component for justifying any empirical claim. It’s not a posture whatsoever and representing this request to be empty – but only when asked by a non believer to justify an empirical claim made by a believer – is ludicrous. You are conflating the supposed position by perhaps a few entrenched atheists (again, I know of none) to excuse your inability to produce any compelling empirical evidence whatsoever. This is what I call ‘waving away’ the very reasonable request for empirical evidence.

    What you continue to do is divest yourself of any responsibility to justify your empirical belief claims and then, when questioned or criticized, try to call into question the reasons and motivations or the style or tone or even character of any non believer who does not accept your empirical belief claims. That’s an avoidance technique.

  54. Ilion says:

    Doug:Even though tildeb is fixedly off topic, his framing of the problem of evil is incredibly shallow. Without predation, the biosphere might not function at all. And yet he postures as if God could have created a functioning biosphere without predation.

    Actually, the problem is deeper than that — and you seem to have fallen prey to it too (both puns semi-intended). Consider this —

    tildeb:I’m saying the entire biosphere is predicated on it [suffering]. That’s rather a strange system to put into effect if one is morally concerned about suffering, wouldn’t you say?

    Doug:I’ve met (and know) people who have suffered (and are suffering) from all manner of ills. Without exception, they have always told me that to be alive is a greater good — that it more than makes up for the pain. Perhaps the same is true for the biosphere as a whole: the good of its existence more than makes up for the challenges that that existence is predicated on.

    Now, what Doug says here is true; I am certainly not denying that. And, in the right context it is a good point to make. But *this* is not that context.

    In *this* context, tildeb is asserting, at minimum, these two false premises:
    1) that the supreme criterion to differentiate the immoral from the immoral is “suffering”;
    2) that persons have moral obligations to non-persons (*).

    (*) how much do you want to bet that according to tildeb, persons don’t owe moral obligations the (de-humanized) “products of conception”?

  55. Doug says:

    @Ilion,
    Quite right: presumably, a dying bacterium’s “suffering” is closer to that of a crystal (i.e., “none”) than a human. But where on the “continuum of suffering” do we put (for example) a water buffalo? Why there? Why not closer to a human? Why not closer to a bacterium? We have no answers for these questions.
    But those questions are just the beginning. As you correctly point out, there is no grounds to claim (as it would appear that tildeb is assuming) that morality is primarily a matter of suffering. There is no objective mapping between the two, and as has been pointed out above (by TFBW), the outcome of suffering seems not to be entirely correlated with the degree of that suffering.

  56. TFBW says:

    @tildeb:
    I read your response to me, twice, and I’m still not sure what point you’re trying to make. If your point was, “I refuse to consider the possibility of a world without suffering because it would be divorced from reality, and we could say nothing meaningful about it,” then you could have done so in far fewer words, sparing us all the editorialising about the author’s motives and other such irrelevancies.

  57. FZM says:

    But I have specifically pointed out that empirical claims made by theists about their God (its supposed properties, nature, abilities, concerns, interests, preferences, demands, and so on that they pretend to know something about) require empirical evidence.

    ???

    In the context of Christian theism (I guess Islamic as well) most of these things don’t seem to involve empirical claims and most of the usual arguments for them aren’t empirical arguments either.

  58. Ilion says:

    Doug:presumably, a dying bacterium’s “suffering” is closer to that of a crystal (i.e., “none”) than a human. But where on the “continuum of suffering” do we put (for example) a water buffalo? Why there? Why not closer to a human? Why not closer to a bacterium? We have no answers for these questions.

    I believe we can answer the question. But first, we have to determine whether we are asking a moral question.

    If we’re not asking a moral question, if we’re merely asking a question about synapses and so forth, then in that context a water buffalo’s suffering — at any rate, its purely physical suffering as distinct from mental or spiritual suffering — is more nearly like that of a human than like that of a bacterium.

    We humans are animals, after all; but, contrary to what the ‘atheists’ need to believe, we’re not *merely* animals — and if God has moral obligations to us, then it is on the grounds that we are not *merely* animals.

    On the other hand, if we *are* asking a moral question when we say, “But what about the water buffalo being eaten alive by the tiger?”, then in that context a water buffalo’s suffering has no more meaning than the “suffering” of a bacterium.

    For a human being to torment (*) an animal is immoral not for the sake of the animal, but for the sake of the human — tormenting an animal doesn’t inflict meaningful suffering on the animal, rather, the act deforms the human.

    (*) notice, I didn’t use the word “torture”

  59. Ilion says:

    I just got home a few minutes ago (*). After unloading the truck, I went to inspect the garage I’d built last summer to see that the roof was keeping the water out (**). To be more precise, I was inspecting the planned apartment above the garage.

    When I got to the top of the stairs, right there on the top step was a pile of animal crap. I expect it was from a raccoon, though it may have been from a cat.

    Now, I *hate* raccoons, because they are *always* looking for a way to get into my house. Currently, one has found a way into the attic (above my living quarters).

    If I manage to trap either of those raccoons, I’m going to kill it, but I’m not going to torment it.

    (*) My work is a 1.2-2 hour drive away from home, so I stay over there during the week.

    (**) last autumn, after the roofing was completed, I had noticed some dampness inside; haven’t since

  60. Michael says:

    tildeb: The misrepresentation you make is that because some atheists supposedly insist that “nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God” (I don’t know of any who would agree with that characterization of their position), the demand for empirical evidence by all non believers (and not just those few) is therefore empty posturing (a demand all of us make for almost every claim made about reality).

    You are projecting, as the only one engaged in dishonest misrepresentation is you. I did not argue that because nothing counts as evidence for some atheists that the demand for empirical evidence by all non believers (and not just those few) is therefore empty posturing. Here is what I wrote:

    But we have seen that for many atheists, nothing can count as evidence for the existence of God. That exposes the demand as empty posturing. For others, we have seen the evidence is supposed to be a Gap, meaning the demand is premised on the validity of God of the Gaps reasoning. For a Gap can only be evidence for God if one assumes the validity of the God of the Gaps approach. Since most atheists insist that line of reasoning is invalid, it would mean, for them, the demand for evidence is built on an invalid line of reasoning.

    I am talking about two groups – those who would not count anything as evidence for God and those who will accept Gaps. Both of these groups have been explored on this blog over the past years. The former engages in empty posturing while the latter builds on a line of reasoning they deem invalid to begin with. Why would any sane person think such requests for evidence are sincere?

    Asking for empirical evidence for empirical claims (whether by an atheist, a midget, or a Polynesian) is an essential component for justifying any empirical claim.

    Yes, I am well beyond this basic point. As I told you:

    More misrepresentation. I never waved away the need for empirical evidence. The issue is not about the need for evidence, as we both agree on that. The issue is what shall count as evidence. For many atheists, nothing is allowed to count as evidence. For other atheists, nothing less than a Gap would count, but then Gaps don’t count.

    Here’s another way to look at it. You can demand empirical evidence for someone else’s belief, but if you demand they reply, then you need to first provide empirical evidence that your demand is rooted in an open- and fair-minded approach. No one is any under any ethical or epistemic obligation to appear before a kangaroo court. No one is under any obligation to spend time and energy on a hyper-skeptic obsessed with disconfirmation bias.
    So is there any evidence that tildeb can approach this topic in an open- and fair-minded manner? None. In fact, there is very little evidence tildeb actually reads the words of those he condemns. He’s got a looong way to go.

    What you continue to do is divest yourself of any responsibility to justify your empirical belief claims

    One can justify their empirical belief claims without having to respond to tildeb or any other New Atheist activist. I realize the whole movement is based around this aggressive notion that people have the responsibility to answer to you, but most of us don’t think the world revolves around tildeb and the New Atheists.

    and then, when questioned or criticized, try to call into question the reasons and motivations or the style or tone or even character of any non believer who does not accept your empirical belief claims.

    More dishonest misrepresentation. While all New Atheists are “non-believers” when it comes to religion, not all non-believers are New Atheists. I have no problem with non-believers. It’s the strident, self-righteous, closed-minded New Atheists that I question. And the reasons, motivations, style, and tone of the New Atheists is evidence their whole “demand for evidence” is just a propagandistic plank in their anti-religion obsession/agenda.

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