A specific instance of the problem of evil

This is The Skeptical Zone, so it’s only fitting that we turn our attention to topics other than ID from time to time.

The Richard Mourdock brouhaha provides a good opportunity for this. Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate from the state of Indiana, is currently in the spotlight on my side of the Atlantic for a statement he made on Wednesday during a debate with his Democratic opponent:

You know, this is that issue that every candidate for federal or even state office faces. And I, too, certainly stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view but I believe that life believes at conception. The only exception I have for – to have an abortion is in that case for the life of the mother. I just – I struggle with it myself for a long time but I came to realize that life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen. [emphasis mine]

Mourdock’s comment has created a political firestorm, and debate is raging about what he meant by it, exactly. Did he mean that God intended for the rape to happen, or merely that God intended for the pregnancy to happen once the rape had been committed? While Mourdock’s intended meaning is an interesting question, I’d like to concentrate instead on the scenario he mentions and what it says about the God that Mourdock believes in.

Mourdock is a non-denominational evangelical Christian. As such, he presumably believes in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. How do Mourdock and other theists who share that belief reconcile their God with the fact that rapes happen? An omnipotent God could intervene to prevent rapes from happening, but he does not. Why not? He could also presumably have created a universe in which rapes don’t happen, but he did not. Why not?

One common Christian response is that free will is very important to God. If God intervened to prevent bad things like rapes from happening, according to this argument, then he would be denying us our free will. Similarly, if he created a universe in which rape never happened, it would require turning us into robots who were incapable of doing bad things, also denying us our free will.

Setting aside the issue of whether free will exists, this argument has always seemed bogus to me. Suppose that tomorrow I decide to blow up the entire earth. Does the mere fact that I’m incapable of carrying out my plan mean that my free will has been denied? I don’t think so. If it did, it would mean that God is constantly denying our free will, because there are always things that we want to do but can’t. If that’s permissible, then why isn’t it okay for God to prevent us from raping?

And what if I were capable of blowing up the earth, but God intervened at the last moment to prevent me from succeeding? Would that constitute a denial of my free will? Among humans, intent is enough to convict (cf the recent case of a man who thought he was detonating a bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). Why isn’t free intent good enough for God? Why does he insist on allowing us to go through with our evil acts?

Comments are welcome, particularly from theists who believe in an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good God.

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82 thoughts on “A specific instance of the problem of evil

  1. Mourdock’s comment has created a political firestorm, and debate is raging about what he meant by it, exactly. Did he mean that God intended for the rape to happen, or merely that God intended for the pregnancy to happen once the rape had been committed?

    It is a common view among evangelicals, that everything that happens was foreordained (or predestined) by God.  And therefore everything that happens is God’s will.

    I’m remembering back to my theist days.  His position is standard Calvinism.  For myself, I never could accept Calvinism.

    The funny thing, though, is that if a pregnant woman has an abortion, then the same predestination thesis says that the abortion, too, was predestined by God.

    It is my impression that many evangelicals would accept that predestination for the rapist, but perhaps not for the woman who has an abortion.

    Setting aside the issue of whether free will exists, this argument has always seemed bogus to me. Suppose that tomorrow I decide to blow up the entire earth. Does the mere fact that I’m incapable of carrying out my plan mean that my free will has been denied?

    I’m not sure here, because I have never been part of it.  But I gather that the “free will vs. predestination” debates in theology have paralleled the “free will vs. determinism” debates in secular philosophy.

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  2. I too would love to see a response from a theist as your argument seems pretty watertight to me.

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  3. Neil,

    My understanding is that Calvinists believe we have free will, by which they mean that we freely choose our actions based on our natures. Our natures are ultimately determined by God, however, so in that sense everything is preordained by God, including our free choices and actions. The plot is predetermined, but we are freely choosing our actions within it.

    It’s reminiscent of the concept of compatibilism in secular philosophy.

    The problem, in my opinion, is that the Calvinists want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to believe that God has preordained every event, yet they want to place the blame for evil on humans, because humans have free will and are thus morally responsible for their evil actions. But if God is responsible for creating us, then he is responsible for our natures, and he is thus responsible for our choices and actions. I’ve never heard a convincing Calvinist argument for why God should be let off the hook.

    Imagine that a father deliberately hires a known, unreformed serial killer to babysit for his child. The serial killer murders the child, and the mother is furious with the father and holds him responsible for the child’s death. Who could disagree with her? The father’s behavior is morally reprehensible, and he can’t get off the hook by saying “well, the serial killer freely chose to murder my daughter; I didn’t force him to do it, so I’m not responsible.”

    The case against God is even stronger. Imagine that the father in my story had actually created the serial killer, knew in advance that the killer would murder his child, and still chose to hire him as a babysitter. How could anyone possibly argue that the father is blameless in that scenario simply because it was the killer’s choice to murder the child? It’s absurd.

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  4. Siding with Karl Marx that “religion is the opium of the people” (in the sense of an effective way to keep people compliant), I find the views of ex-smokers*  much more interesting than non-smokers (one can only take so much agreement without boredom setting in) or smokers. If you have never seen the point of and cannot grasp the concept of religion except pragmatically as a useful tool for organising people into larger social groups than extended family groups, analysis from those who have beaten the habit, like Keith and Lizzie, is fascinating.

    I can dismiss religion logically (at least it makes sense to me) by noting that almost all human societies have a religion and they are all different and mutually exclusive in their claims. Also people make stuff up. Conclusion: religion is made up. I can see it had a major part in developing social cohesion of society into “civilisation”. What I can’t comprehend is the emotional appeal which I am sure must be powerful in many, never having felt the need of this particular emotional crutch, and wonder whether, as this emotional need is evidently variable, a heritable factor may be involved. Dawkins said something about gullibility in children being advantageous as unquestioning response to instructions from an adult (pre civilisation, almost invariably a close relative) would confer a survival advantage over scepticism.

    I wonder if it is possible to persuade a person who has deep emotional attachment to their particular faith is illogical any more than it would be possible for anyone to convince me that there were any substance to some religious dogma by appeal to my emotions.

    This is why the goal for anyone who respects freedom of the individual should should be secularism. Freedom for the religious to believe and practice limited only at the point when it begins to limit the freedom of others and the  right to be free from religion and religious prejudice.

    *of religion, not opium, obviously! 

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  5. I’ve always felt that the problem of evil is really the problem of authorship, especially if you subscribe to the notion on an atemporal God.

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  6. keiths: The problem, in my opinion, is that the Calvinists want to have their cake and eat it too.

    Yes, I agree.  And that is why, back when I was a theist teenager, I never could accept Calvinism.

    You use the term “morally reprehensible” in your example.  And that is how I see the God of conservative Christianity.  In fact, that had a lot to do with why I tossed religion.

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  7. Alan Fox:

    What I can’t comprehend is the emotional appeal which I am sure must be powerful in many, never having felt the need of this particular emotional crutch, and wonder whether, as this emotional need is evidently variable, a heritable factor may be involved.

    Twin studies do suggest a large heritable component to religiosity.

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  8. While we await comments from theists, let me tackle another explanation that is commonly offered by Christians to explain why God allows evil to happen.

    I often hear that God allows evil things to happen as a way of teaching us important lessons such as being humble or having compassion for our fellow man.  This makes no more sense than the other arguments I’ve discussed in this thread, for the following reasons:

    1. Why would God force some of us to endure horrendous evil in order to teach us these things?  He creates people who are naturally humble and compassionate, and others learn to be that way without undergoing extreme suffering.  Why not make everyone that way?

    2. Some people who need the lessons never get them, and others who don’t need the lessons get them over and over.  Why is God so bad at delivering lessons to the right people?

    3. What important lesson is being taught to a two-year-old dying in the gas chamber at Auschwitz?

    4. Was it really necessary for 6 million Jews to die in the Holocaust, or for 250,000 people to die in the 2004 tsunami? 

    5. Did all 250,000 people who died in the tsunami really just happen to need the same lesson at the same time?

    The idea makes no sense.  It’s ridiculous.

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  9. It says something about the people who believe it. My personal WTF moment was about age 11or12, thinking about Abraham and Isaac.

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  10. I still remember a picture from one of my Sunday school books that showed Abraham about to plunge the knife into Isaac, with the angel intervening at the last second.

    Besides being creepy, the story makes no sense.  An omniscient God could have sensed Abraham’s loyalty directly without needing to test it, and a benevolent God wouldn’t have put father and son through that hellish experience.

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  11. I understand Mourdock’s comment to mean that all successful conceptions are wonderful, all pregnancies are gifts of God, because these blessed events bring a new human life into the world, which is never a bad thing.

    I do NOT think he’s saying that rape is a recommended or approved way of achieving this holy goal — in fact, he calls it a “horrible situation”. I would draw a parallel to a shipwreck or plane crash where some of the people survive. We can focus on the gift of survival and praise God for that much, and not bother ourselves with why the initial misfortune took so many other lives or whether God intended the accidents or whether such an intention is ‘evil’ or other deeply imponderable matters.

    So Mourdock’s message is simple — here is a new life, new life is good, priase God for creating it. We can’t know why God chose to do it this way, but we DO know that new life is good, praise God, etc. I suppose if it were Mourdock’s wife or daughter, he might think a little harder about the overall fact situation, but his purpose here was to cement his political position opposing abortion under any conceivable circmstances.

    (And I’d bet good money that if it HAD been his daughter, her pregnancy would have been kept as quiet as her abortion…) 

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  12. Flint:

    I do NOT think he’s saying that rape is a recommended or approved way of achieving this holy goal — in fact, he calls it a ”horrible situation”.

    Yes, and immediately after the debate he said:

    Are you trying to suggest that somehow I think God ordained or pre-ordained rape? No, I don’t think that anyone could suggest that.

    The point of my OP is that Mourdock’s theology suggests exactly that. God knows prior to creation that the rape is going to happen. He has the option of creating a different world in which the rape doesn’t happen. He fails to do so. Then when the rape is about to happen, God has the option of intervening. He doesn’t.

    If Mourdock believes in an omniscient and omnipotent deity, then he has to come to grips with the fact that every rape, along with every other occurrence of evil or suffering, is fully intended by that deity.

    Flint:

    I would draw a parallel to a shipwreck or plane crash where some of the people survive. We can focus on the gift of survival and praise God for that much, and not bother ourselves with why the initial misfortune took so many other lives or whether God intended the accidents…

    It’s bizarre, isn’t it? Two hundred people die in a plane crash. Two passengers survive because of some fluke. The two that survive are seen as evidence that a benevolent God intervened, while the two hundred who died are just swept under the rug.

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  13. I’m disappointed that no theists have shown up here to defend their God.

    On the other hand, defending the goodness of your God is easier when a monster storm isn’t bearing down on the eastern seaboard of the US.

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  14. Yeah, everything’s bigger in the US!

    Hope things don’t turn out as bad as some predict. Best of luck to all those who may be affected 

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  15. The good news is that a couple of theists have finally responded to my post.

    The bad news is that they are Mung and Joe.

    Mung, not surprisingly, pretends that he doesn’t understand what the issue is, even though the OP explains it explicitly.

    Mung,

    Here’s a hint. Read through my OP, looking for the sentences that end in question marks. Those are known as questions. See if you can answer them.

    Mung:

    His OP has the title A specific instance of the problem of evil. But where does he say what that specific instance of the problem of evil is?

    In the OP, of course. Don’t pretend that you haven’t read it:

    Mourdock is a non-denominational evangelical Christian. As such, he presumably believes in a God who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly good. How do Mourdock and other theists who share that belief reconcile their God with the fact that rapes happen? An omnipotent God could intervene to prevent rapes from happening, but he does not. Why not? He could also presumably have created a universe in which rapes don’t happen, but he did not. Why not?

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  16. Joe at least tries to address the issue, though he repeats one of the more ridiculous rationalizations that Christians offer for the problem of evil:

    But anyway, being brought up in a Christian family and having attended catholic schools, it is clear to anyone with an IQ over 50, that pain and suffering are the result of the fall of man. We brought it upon ourselves, with a lttle help from below. Now we have to deal with it.

    Joe,

    Do you really believe that Adam and Eve sinned, therefore earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes? Can you explain the mechanism by which sin caused the tectonic plates to start moving?

    What about all the earthquakes that happened before there were humans? Dembski at least saw the problem and proposed, naively, that the Fall was retroactive. But if the Fall was retroactive, why wasn’t the redemption also retroactive, and why isn’t the second coming retroactive?

    What purpose does all the suffering serve, and why doesn’t God prevent it? Why should animals have suffered for millions of years for the sins of a couple of humans? Why should an innocent baby die slowly and painfully under earthquake rubble because of what Adam and Eve did?

    Who designed the malaria parasite? Who gave the lion sharp teeth and claws for ripping its prey to shreds? If God did it, then why did he so deliberately design things to cause such suffering? If Satan or demons did it, then why did God allow them to do it? If neither of the above, then how did those things come into existence, and how did Adam and Eve’s sin cause it to happen?

    And the most interesting question of all: How can anyone take this idea — that the Fall is the cause of all of the suffering and evil in the world — seriously?

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  17. Joe:

    Earthquakes haven’t killed me. Tsunamis haven’t killed me and hurricanes haven’t killed me. So what’s the beef?

    Yeah, who cares about those other people?

    More people survive those then doe from them.

    And as long as less than half of the people “doe”, then God is still perfectly good, I guess.

    And with earthquakes we can actually study the earth.

    Yeah, it would take all the fun out of it if God simply told us about the earth instead of killing people and wrecking their homes so that we can study it.

    Tsunamis we can prevent and with hurricanes we can move.

    All those Bangladeshis living on $2 a day — why don’t they just move? What’s wrong with them? If they don’t move, it’s a good thing when God kills them.

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  18. I have to think a bit about the OP to come up with a decent response, but I’ll give you my problem with evil in general and conservative Christianity in specific: the worthlessness of the instruction. See, the issue I have is that all the belief, all the worship, all the “doing good” and “avoiding bad”, all the free will, all the 10 commandments*, and all of Paul’s admonishments, all of it is a waste of time unless we get to relive our lives here, on this very Earth, with these very memories, all over again and again and again. Clearly that doesn’t happen. No one out there has ever said, “oh yeah…I was a trolley engineer in my last life in the late 1800s and that’s when I learned how to really be humble. Before that, I was on a merchant ship in the 1700s, but I was a bit of pirate, so I learned how stealing affects others. Waaaay back when I was a lawyer in Rome and boy…talk about bearing false witness!” See, unless these supposed “lessons” are carried over, there’s no such thing as justice, judgement, salvation, rebirth, etc. All of it is a crock without whole-cloth reincarnation with memory.

    But instead we get threats of punishment without any actual evidence. Bah…Eternal flames in lakes of fire? Yeah riiiiight! That still doesn’t explain the need for evil and it further makes evil redundant since it doesn’t actually do anything for the victims.

    The whole thing is just a really badly thought out game system. I’ll stick with Fallout 3.

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  19. Robin,

    Let me play the devil’s advocate (or in this case the believer’s advocate). This is how I imagine a Christian could respond to your objection:  Even without reincarnation, the lessons learned from suffering may be useful during the rest of one’s life. And if a person dies, the lessons learned during his suffering may contribute to his sanctification, increasing the holiness of his soul and making it more suited to a life in heaven.

    The obvious objections are that an omniscient, omnipotent God could find other, less cruel ways to teach lessons and achieve sanctification, and if a person’s nature is such that he needs an extreme experience in order to achieve sanctification, then why did God create him that way?

    The objections I raised in an earlier comment apply:

    1. Why would God force some of us to endure horrendous evil in order to teach us these things? He creates people who are naturally humble and compassionate, and others learn to be that way without undergoing extreme suffering. Why not make everyone that way?

    2. Some people who need the lessons never get them, and others who don’t need the lessons get them over and over. Why is God so bad at delivering lessons to the right people?

    3. What important lesson is being taught to a two-year-old dying in the gas chamber at Auschwitz?

    4. Was it really necessary for 6 million Jews to die in the Holocaust, or for 250,000 people to die in the 2004 tsunami?

    5. Did all 250,000 people who died in the tsunami really just happen to need the same lesson at the same time?

    The idea makes no sense. It’s ridiculous.

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  20. This candidate made the better moral position and attacks against him are by bad opponents in the media etc.
    God did not want the rape to happen.
    This is a careless way of saying things.

    God does no evil.
    If evil happens its from Satan’s prompting and mans consent.
    If God could stop evil he would not have died on a cross.
    There is a bigger problem.

    in reality God is always stopping evil but sometimes he doesn’t because his justice means he can’t interfere with the world.
    That we die is not much different then rape.
    Its a evil that simply this time was not interfered with.

    The book of Job should of settled these issues.
    It explains everything.
    Satan is after us and god is always stopping him.
    When he allows things its because his holiness demands punishment for evil mankind.
    If god could control evil why would the cross of been needed?
     

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  21. I have a feeling he was talking about mitigation, not prevention.  But with Joe, you can never be sure…

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  22. Hi Robert,

    Welcome to TSZ.

    You wrote:

    If God could stop evil he would not have died on a cross.

    That makes it sound as though you don’t believe that God is omnipotent.

    The book of Job should of settled these issues. It explains everything. Satan is after us and god is always stopping him.

    The book of Job makes the opposite point. God not only doesn’t stop Satan, he encourages Satan to go after Job, allowing him to do everything short of killing Job. He even allowed Satan to kill all of Job’s children. (What did they do to deserve a painful death under the rubble of a house just so God and Satan could resolve what was essentially a bar bet?)

    Job is not the book you want to cite if you’re trying to show that God is a good guy.

    in reality God is always stopping evil but sometimes he doesn’t because his justice means he can’t interfere with the world.

    In the Bible, God continually interferes with the world, causing the Flood, confusing the people who are building the Tower of Babel, causing plagues in Egypt, sending his own son into the world, responding to prayer, etc. If “his justice means he can’t interfere with the world”, as you claim, then why does he interfere with the world over and over in the Bible?

    When he allows things its because his holiness demands punishment for evil mankind.

    When a baby antelope dies in the jaws of a lion, how does that punish “evil mankind”? Why is the antelope being punished for sins that neither it, nor any member of its species, committed?

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  23. Keiths: The idea makes no sense. It’s ridiculous.

    Technically, it “makes sense” because, technically, it’s one of an infinite number of logically possible explanations for all of the “evils” you referred to. Joe essentially appeals to this in his reply. “That is an explanation. Duh!” As such, we cannot merely say “it’s ridiculous”.

    However, it’s a bad explanation because it is shallow and easily varied, which is an objective and rational criticism. This is in comparison to good explanations, which consist of long chains of independently formed, hard to vary explanations. 

    The former doesn’t actually solve any problems. Nor does it allow us to make progress. We have no choice but to throw up our hands because it merely pushes the problem into some inexplicable realm. 

    So, while it technically is an explanation, it represents a form that is at odds with our best, current explanation for the growth of knowledge. For example, Joe appeals to the authority of Biblical scripture, which is also at odds with our best, current explanation for the growth of knowledge. 

    IOW, it doesn’t make sense when we take into account our best, current theory of the growth of knowledge. The very idea of an infallible book conflicts is at odds with the fact that all ideas contain errors to some degree and are incomplete. We make progress by discarding errors. 

    It is only ridiculous when we criticize it from the perspective of epistemology and philosophy.  

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  24. critical rationalist:

    Technically, it “makes sense” because, technically, it’s one of an infinite number of logically possible explanations for all of the “evils” you referred to.

    The reason it doesn’t make sense is that it clashes with the evidence. If God were using suffering to teach humility and compassion, then tragedy should befall the arrogant and heartless more than it does the humble and compassionate. We don’t see that.

    Mass tragedies don’t make sense either under this hypothesis. Did all 250,000 who died in the 2004 tsunami just happen to need a lesson in humility and compassion that day? And is drowning people a good way to teach that lesson?

    The salient epistemological issue here is the refusal of believers to heed the evidence.

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  25. Mung: “If he knew his Scripture, he’d know having the desire is as good as having done the deed. “

    So, if God actually exists, and asked you to sacrifice your son, would you do it?

    I’ll answer first to pay for my responses.

    I would say no to God.

    What would you do?

    I’d really like to hear from StephenB on this one too.

     

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  26. Mung pretends that there isn’t an argument to address:

    Poor keiths. Having given no definition of rape he thinks he’s made an argument.

    I also didn’t give a definition of ‘God’, ‘evil’, ‘tsunami’, or ‘the’. Yet Joe, Robert and everyone here at TSZ managed to understand the argument. Stop pretending that you don’t, Mung.

    Mung then proceeds to respond to the supposedly nonexistent argument:

    But he asks us to suppose that tomorrow he decides to blow up the entire earth. If he knew his Scripture, he’d know having the desire is as good as having done the deed. So if he desires to rape a woman, it’s no different than if he had raped a woman. And we wants to blame God for not preventing the action, when the thing that needed preventing was the thought.

    Wait — I thought you were supposed to be defending God, not indicting him.

    You’re reinforcing a point I made in the OP:

    And what if I were capable of blowing up the earth, but God intervened at the last moment to prevent me from succeeding? Would that constitute a denial of my free will? Among humans, intent is enough to convict (cf the recent case of a man who thought he was detonating a bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). Why isn’t free intent good enough for God? Why does he insist on allowing us to go through with our evil acts?

    If the desire to rape is all that matters, then why does God allow the rapist to go through with the act? Why subject the victim to that horrifying experience?

    Thanks for supporting my argument, Mung, but I was actually hoping that you’d try to come up with a counterargument. Want to give it another shot?

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  27. You are missing the forest for the trees.

    “Teaching people compassion and humility” is just one of many logically possible “good reasons” for why these people suffered.

    Specifically, theists retreat to the idea that, as finite beings, we simply cannot conceive of the “good reason” behind their suffering. This is similar to the idea that the designer was under some sort of constraints.

    As far as we are concerned, there is no “good reason” for why a designer would be under said constraints. This is because we know that ideas can be mistaken. This includes Biblical scripture, which is authoritative in nature. Nor is the idea that it would be constrained an explicit claim of ID. 

    However, for those that do believe in the infallibility of scripture, some “good explanation” must exist because the Bible says God is both in control and perfectly good. They “solve” the problem by merely pushing the problem into some unexplainable mind that exists in some inexplicable realm – then claim we cannot know anything about it.

    However, this does not survive rational criticism, as it fails to meet the definition of a good explanation as defined in our current, best explanation for the universal growth of knowledge. 

    IOW, theists cannot recognize good explanations because they hold a pre-enlightenment, authoritative conception of human knowledge. We make progress because “that’s just what God must have wanted”. If not for God, there would not be any knowledge, rationality, etc. But, again, this is part of their pre-enlightenment, authoritative conception of human knowledge. 

    For example, it is believed that God revealed to us that he made regularities in nature, which supposedly is the foundation of science. But all ideas contain errors to some degree and are incomplete. We make progress by discarding errors. Yet, theists cling to this sort of epistemology and conclude the errors must be somewhere else.

    So, technically, it is an explanation of sorts and Joe’s response is to merely point this out. However, all they have done is push the problem into some unexplainable realm. It doesn’t actually solve any problems (with the exception of how they can reconcile what we observe with scripture).

    Essentially, this is a claim that we cannot make any progress on the matter, so we must throw up our hands and resign that the entire issue is beyond human reasoning and problem solving.

    However, this is parochial in that one could make the same claim about anything else, including atoms, the motions of objects, etc. The claim could just as well be made that atoms were created in such a way that makes atomic theory impossible or GR impossible, etc.  

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  28. critical rationalist:

    “Teaching people compassion and humility” is just one of many logically possible “good reasons” for why these people suffered. Specifically, theists retreat to the idea that, as finite beings, we simply cannot conceive of the “good reason” behind their suffering.

    Those are two different explanations. In the first case, a specific justification of suffering is given. In the second, no reason is given, but one is assumed to exist.

    As far as we are concerned, there is no “good reason” for why a designer would be under said constraints. This is because we know that ideas can be mistaken.

    That’s not the reason. The fact that “ideas can be mistaken” applies to all ideas, including those in which we have great confidence. The real reason for rejecting the idea that the designer is under a specific set of constraints is that there is no independent evidence for it.

    However, for those that do believe in the infallibility of scripture, some “good explanation” must exist because the Bible says God is both in control and perfectly good. They “solve” the problem by merely pushing the problem into some unexplainable mind that exists in some inexplicable realm – then claim we cannot know anything about it. However, this does not survive rational criticism, as it fails to meet the definition of a good explanation as defined in our current, best explanation for the universal growth of knowledge.

    I agree that the explanation is poor, but I disagree with the reason you give. In my opinion, the problem is that theists approach the problem the wrong way. They’re theists, they want to remain theists, and so they try to come up with an explanation for evil that is compatible with their theism, no matter how outlandish. What they should be doing is asking themselves which hypothesis fits the evidence best. 

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  29. Keiths: Those are two different explanations. In the first case, a specific justification of suffering is given. In the second, no reason is given, but one is assumed to exist.

    Are they? Note that the explanation did not specify exactly who needed to be taught “compassion and humility”. It could be you and I, who do not realize how good we have it, etc. Again, this is a bad explanation because it is easily varied. It can be distilled down to “some good reason for what we observe which we cannot comprehend”. Only God knows why and how it will turn out for the better. The issue is beyond human reasoning and problem solving. 

    I’d also note that we are both looking for a long chain of hard to vary, independently formed explanation for what we observe. The difference is, I’m doing so explicitly, while you are doing so intuitively. IOW, I’m not suggesting something new here. I’m merely making it explicit. 

    From the following TED talk by David Deutsch…. 

    “[…] What were people now doing for the first time that made that difference between stagnation and rapid, open-ended discovery? How to make that difference is surely the most important universal truth that it is possible to know. Worryingly, there is no consensus about what it is. So, I’ll tell you. But I’ll have to backtrack a little first.”

    Here, Deutsch is referring to our current, best explanation for the universal growth of knowledge.  

    “So what was wrong with that myth, and with all pre-scientific thinking, and what, then, made that momentous difference? I think there is one thing you have to care about. And that implies testability, the scientific method, the Enlightenment, and everything. And here is the crucial thing. There is such a thing as a defect in a story. I don’t just mean a logical defect. I mean a bad explanation. What does that mean? Well, explanation is an assertion about what’s there, unseen, that accounts for what’s seen.”

    Science cannot just be about making empirically testable predictions because It doesn’t fit our current, best expansion for the growth of knowledge. The Greek myth of the seasons was testable, yet it could be varied in such a way that they would not have made progress. Nor am I suggesting that we haven’t make progress. So, there must be some implicit criteria that allowed this progress to occur that need to be made explicit. Hard to vary explanations are just such a criteria. 

    “This easy variability is the sign of a bad explanation, because, without a functional reason to prefer one of countless variants, advocating one of them, in preference to the others, is irrational. So, for the essence of what makes the difference to enable progress, seek good explanations, the ones that can’t be easily varied, while still explaining the phenomena.”

    Sound familiar? There is no functional explanation as to how the God determines who to save vs. who should be allowed to perish. Yet, it is implied that some decision was made at each point because God is supposedly in control. 

    Good explanations are part of our best, current explanation for universal theory of the growth of knowledge. But theists do not subscribe to the idea that this kind of knowledge actually can grow. This is because they hold an pre-enlightenment, authoritative conception of human knowledge. 

    Specifically, the fundamental flaw in creationism (and its variants) is the same fundamental flaw in pre-enlightenment, authoritative conceptions of human knowledge: its account of how the knowledge in adaptations could be created is either missing, supernatural or illogical.

    In some cases, it’s the very same theory, in that specific types of knowledge, such as cosmology or moral knowledge, was dictated to early humans by supernatural beings. In other cases, parochial aspects of society, such as the rule of monarchs in governments or the existence of God, are protected by taboos or taken so uncritically for granted that they are not recognized as ideas.

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  30. keiths:

    Those are two different explanations. In the first case, a specific justification of suffering is given. In the second, no reason is given, but one is assumed to exist.

    critical rationalist:

    Are they?

    Sure. Here’s an example of the former:

    What is God telling us here, folks? He’s telling us that the way He produces compassion in us for others is by sending — verse 3 — trouble into our life, suffering into our life, difficulties into our life. Why? Because as one friend of mine used to say, “Suffering burns out shallowness.” Suffering teaches us how to connect with people in pain, how to connect with people who are weak and needy and helpless, because in our troubles, we have been weak, needy and helpless.

    The author of that passage is definitely not throwing up his hands and saying “there’s some good reason for suffering that we, as humans, can’t comprehend.”

    critical rationalist:

    I’d also note that we are both looking for a long chain of hard to vary, independently formed explanation for what we observe. The difference is, I’m doing so explicitly, while you are doing so intuitively.

    I’m quite explicit about it. I don’t know if you’ve been following this thread, but in it I’ve been arguing that ID is inferior to evolutionary theory precisely because it requires ad hoc (i.e. easily variable) assumptions in order to match the evidence for common descent.

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  31. Job really is the end of the conversation if one believes in the bible.
    It shows how things really happen.
    Satan, all by himself, organizes all evil on earth.
    God alone stops him.
    Yet not always as there is a curse on the world.
    So jesus came to destroy the curse/death.
    yet thev future is needed to finish it.
    Gods justice/righteousness demands the present death situation. 

    The only reason we avoid any trouble is because of Gods love and giving us time to get to heaven.
    However the curse is making us sick, dead, and so on.

    The world misunderstands God because it presumes death/decay is natural and evil is a strange aberration.  
    All is evil and its strange to be protected by God.
    Jesus coming showed a deep problem here.
    Withouit gOd interfering everyone would today have been killed , by Satan, in car accidents and the planet leaving its orbit. 

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  32. So, God couldn’t have brought about compassion for others in us via some other means? Or did he randomly choose this particular way? Is this the most moral way merely because God chose it over all others? This is an example of easy variability. 

    Again, “[…] without a functional reason to prefer one of countless variants, advocating one of them, in preference to the others, is irrational.” 

    Only God knows why suffering is *necessary* to teach us compassion for others. We must throw up our hands as the issue is beyond human reasoning and problem solving. It is not an idea that it subject to criticism, etc. 

    But, all this does is push the problem into some incomprehensible mind that exists in some incomprehensible ream. It doesn’t actually solve any problems. And, in doing so, it is in opposition to our ability to make progress.

    They think no progress can be made unless God choses to give us “scraps” of knowledge that we can somehow comprehend. But we are universal explainers. We can conceive of and create explanations. To think otherwise is in conflict with our best, current explanation for the growth knowledge. The idea that the world is “querier that we can suppose” is just a different degree of the same assumption. 

    Merely saying something is justified by evidence is not a valid criticism because “Idea X is not justified” can be applied to any idea, including itself. 

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  33. keiths:

    If the desire to rape is all that matters, then why does God allow the rapist to go through with the act? Why subject the victim to that horrifying experience?

    Mung:

    Why does God allow the desire? Surely it’s the desire that is the root cause of the act itself.

    According to your coreligionists, it’s because free will is important to God, and if God forbade the desire, he would deprive the rapist of his free will. But that leaves my question unanswered: If the desire to rape is all that matters, then why does God allow the rapist to go through with the act?

    Do you have an answer?

    Define rape. You won’t. So you really don’t have an argument. So don’t expect me to address myself to your non-argument.

    You mean the non-argument of mine that you’re already addressing? Too funny.

    You prefer a god that controls all your thoughts and desires?

    You haven’t thought this through. An omniscient and omnipotent God could prevent rapes from happening, and he could even prevent the desire to rape from happening, all without controlling anyone’s thoughts and desires.

    Here’s how it would work. Suppose God creates each person with free will, so that everything he or she does during life is freely chosen. If God is omniscient, he knows what all of those choices will be before the person is even created. If God simply chooses not to create the people who will go on to commit rape (or even experience the desire to commit rape), then he has prevented those things from happening without depriving anyone of their free will.

    If you object that selective creation would deprive the uncreated people of their free will, then you run into a big problem: There are already zillions of uncreated people for every person who is actually born. If leaving a person uncreated violates his or her free will, then God is already massively guilty of denying free will to zillions of uncreated people. The objection thus undermines the assumption that free will is important to God, which is the basis for the whole argument in the first place!

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  34. critical rationalist:

    Only God knows why suffering is *necessary* to teach us compassion for others. We must throw up our hands as the issue is beyond human reasoning and problem solving. It is not an idea that it subject to criticism, etc.

    But this is not what all theists are arguing, as the quote in my previous comment shows.

    They think no progress can be made unless God choses to give us “scraps” of knowledge that we can somehow comprehend.

    Again, not every theist believes this (in fact, I don’t think very many do).

    Merely saying something is [not] justified by evidence is not a valid criticism because “Idea X is not justified” can be applied to any idea, including itself.

    I’m not sure why you think this is a problem.

    Suppose idea X is justified. Then “Idea X is not justified” is not justified.

    Now suppose instead that idea X is not justified. Then “Idea X is not justified” is justified.

    What’s the problem?

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  35. Mung:

    Your latest god is not the christian God that your OP is intended to mock.

    Of course not, because my “latest god” prevents rape, unlike the Christian God. In other words, I have shown that it is possible for an omniscient and omnipotent god to prevent rape (and even the desire to rape) without depriving anyone of their free will.

    That means that the excuse you’ve been giving for the Christian God — that he allows rape because he values free will — is bogus. He can value free will and prevent rape at the same time.

    You need to come up with another excuse for your God. Can you?

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  36.  

    Keiths: But this is not what all theists are arguing, as the quote in my previous comment shows.

    Where does the quote address why it is *necessary* for God to teach us compassion and humility using suffering, rather than some other means? Note: this is a claim about the growth of human knowledge in regards to compassion and humility. Apparently, if God wants us to make progress in this area, then it must be though suffering. This is parochial. 

    CR: They think no progress can be made unless God choses to give us “scraps” of knowledge that we can somehow comprehend.

    Keiths: Again, not every theist believes this (in fact, I don’t think very many do).

    Theists do not claim God dictated morality to us? And, even then, can we know how everything God does or allows to happen will result in some morally better outcome, rather than some other choice he could have made? What about all of the moral issues that didn’t even exist when the Bible was written, but we face today? Apparently, God knew they were coming as well, but chose to not to reveal those issues to us for some good reason. 

    Also, can make progress about the designer? Namely, why he made the specific biological complexity we observe, rather than some other biological complexity he could have made instead? For example how does all of the specific, concrete suffering in nature end up better off in the long run? 

    In addition, couldn’t God easily reveal how to cure cancer?Apparently, there is some good reason why it is better not to, even thought there would still be other suffering as we grow older, experience accidents, etc.  

    It seems to me, we just have to accept all of these parochial assumptions as any functional reason is simply behind human reasoning and problem solving. God doesn’t function in explicable way. 

     

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  37. And now Mung’s reply demonstrates how perverted christians can be.  Now Mung states:

    If I were to make some sort of assertion, it would be that God allows rape because there’s nothing evil about it. So now what?

    Nothing evil about rape? Jesus fucking christ, what kind of human can even type the words “nothing evil about rape” without gagging. What a sick piece of work Mung has shown itself to be.  

    It would be the duty of all decent human beings to resist the domination of a purported deity that sees “nothing evil about rape”.  And those freaks over there think we’re supposed to worship that tyrant!  

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  38. Mung:

    If I were to make some sort of assertion, it would be that God allows rape because there’s nothing evil about it. So now what?

    So if some stranger overpowers and forcibly penetrates your mother, your sister, or you — you don’t think they’ve committed an evil act?

    What about murder? God allows it. Would you argue that it’s not evil?

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  39. critical rationalist:

    Where does the quote address why it is *necessary* for God to teach us compassion and humility using suffering, rather than some other means?

    It doesn’t, but that’s beside my point, which is that the following are two separate arguments:

    1. The reason God makes us suffer is to teach us humility and compassion.
    2. The reason God makes us suffer is beyond our ability to comprehend.

    The former is falsifiable but the latter is not.

    CR:

    They think no progress can be made unless God choses to give us “scraps” of knowledge that we can somehow comprehend.

    keiths:

    Again, not every theist believes this (in fact, I don’t think very many do).

    CR:

    Theists do not claim God dictated morality to us?

    You were talking about “knowledge”, not “moral knowledge.”

    I agree with the rest of your points.

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  40. hotshoe,

    You are sorely tempting me to break my streak of not giving any traffic to UD.  Could you please confirm the context in which Mung made this statement?  I find it difficult to imagine any circumstances in which it is anything other than grossly offensive, but I find it equally difficult to imagine any human being making that statement seriously.
     

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  41. Mung,

    Is that your definition of rape, finally? So rape is only an act committed by strangers?

    No.

    Define murder and put forth an argument as to why murder is evil.

    Your attempts at evasion are noted. That’s okay — I don’t think anyone expected you to be able to defend your theism against the problem of evil.

    Any theists out there who can do what Mung cannot?

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  42. Patrick,

    Here’s Mung’s entire comment:

    250 Mung November 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    keiths:

    That means that the excuse you’ve been giving for the Christian God — that he allows rape because he values free will — is bogus. He can value free will and prevent rape at the same time.

    Your problem, among other things, is that you don’t pay attention and you make things up.

    I never argued that God allows rape because He values free will. If I were to make some sort of assertion, it would be that God allows rape because there’s nothing evil about it. So now what?

    You need to define rape, and make an argument as to why rape is evil. You’ve done neither. You have no argument.

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  43. Patrick –
    Mung’s comment follows upon keith’s statement that god could prevent anyone living from having a desire to rape without depriving anyone living of their free will, that is, by selecting persons to live who simply don’t ever have that rape desire.  

    [Mung, entire post 249:]

    [Mung, quoting keiths]

    You haven’t thought this through. An omniscient and omnipotent God could prevent rapes from happening, and he could even prevent the desire to rape from happening, all without controlling anyone’s thoughts and desires.

     [Mung]You have not:

    1.)provided a definition of rape.

    2.)provided an argument for why rape is evil.

    It’s clear to me that you have no argument.

    So here’s what you have to do. Explain how you can make an argument about rape being a specific instance of the problem of evil without either defining rape or explaining why rape is evil.

    Then try to make your argument without begging the question of OUGHT and FREE WILL. You can’t. That’s why your “argument” is so obviously amateurish.

    Your latest god is not the christian God that your OP is intended to mock. He/she/it is an ad hoc god you invented to support your flailing attempts at reason, so I could care less about your special pleading. I could with as much force of reason argue that this latest ad hoc god you’ve described is not be compatible with the god in your OP.

    You need to meet your obligations with regard to your original claim. You haven’t. Until you do, you have no argument.

    This was immediately followed by keiths’ post above, and then the response from Mung which I already quoted – not out of context, I claim.  

    [Mung, entire reply 250:]

    [Mung, quoting keiths]

    That means that the excuse you’ve been giving for the Christian God — that he allows rape because he values free will — is bogus. He can value free will and prevent rape at the same time.

    [Mung]Your problem, among other things, is that you don’t pay attention and you make things up.

    I never argued that God allows rape because He values free will. If I were to make some sort of assertion, it would be that God allows rape because there’s nothing evil about it. So now what?

    You need to define rape, and make an argument as to why rape is evil. You’ve done neither. You have no argument. 

    Uggh. Christians can behave so pervertedly.

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  44. I think Mung is following the common line that atheists cannot say that something is ‘evil’, as they do not derive their ‘moral code’ from scripture or holy men. The fact that he wants people to ‘define rape’ first is hilarious. 

    The fact that atheists are as likely as anyone else (perhaps more likely than some…) to abhor behaviour that causes suffering to another person (or, for that matter, any sentient organism) is lost on them.

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  45. Allan,

    I think Mung is following the common line that atheists cannot say that something is ‘evil’, as they do not derive their ‘moral code’ from scripture or holy men.

    Perhaps. But if so, his counterargument falls flat, because my argument doesn’t depend at all on what atheists say or believe.

    The ‘problem of evil’ is a problem for anyone who

    1) believes that God exists;
    2) believes that he is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good; and
    3) believes that evil things happen in the world.

    Most Christians hold all three of these beliefs, so for them, the problem of evil is a major issue.  Atheists deny #1 and #2, so the problem doesn’t affect them. 

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  46. Going back to free will,  it seems to me that the problem for Christians is that the existence of an omniscient God would render it impossible. An omniscient God is one who knows all that exists to be known. If the future exists to be known then such a God must know it. Conversely, if such a God knew the future then it would already exist in order to be known, it would be pre-ordained and we would have no free will in the matter. We would all be like little trains trundling along our tracks until we each arrive at our terminus. The Bible, of course, has a number of instances where God is shown as having knowledge of the future which would rather clinch the matter as far as Christianity is concerned.

    The more interesting question is, can the future be known at our level? The answer is, yes, it can. We ourselves have some knowledge of it. Consider the 236 years between the outbreak of the War of Independence and today. Here today we have a wealth of knowledge of the events that happened between then and now. It’s not complete by a long way yet it’s still vastly more than we know about the next 236 years.

    No, it’s not our future but it was that of George Washington and his fellow revolutionaries in 1776. They knew nothing then about what was to happen – what we now know happened. The same is true of the next 236 years. We can make some tentative predictions or shrewd guesses but we don’t know what is going to happen. But 236 years down the line, assuming human beings are still around, will be descendants who do know. What is a mystery to us will be commonplace history to them.

    The raises the question, do we have any reason to think that our ‘present’ is any more real or privileged than George Washington’s was to him or our descendants’ will be to them? It is to us, of course, because we have known nothing else. But that’s just temporal parochialism. If we have no reason to think our present is special then we can infer from our knowledge of our past that our future is known – just not to us. It already exists. We just haven’t got there yet.

    What this says about the problem of evil is that it can’t be our fault. We have no choice in the matter. The responsibility lies with the author and creator of this whole mess – assuming there is one.

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