David B. Hart and the problem of evil

Why do evil and suffering exist if the world is presided over by a God who is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfectly loving? That is the “problem of evil” in a nutshell.  In an earlier post (and in the comments) I explained and argued against two common theistic responses to the problem of evil.  Now I’ll tackle a third response from Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart.

In the aftermath of the horrific Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Hart addressed the problem of evil in a widely-read Wall Street Journal article, Tremors of Doubt: What kind of God would allow a deadly tsunami? He later expanded his argument into a second article, Tsunami and Theodicy, and a short book entitled The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? Because so many Christians have quoted Hart with enthusiasm (including Barry Arrington and Vincent Torley of UD in recent posts), it’s worth taking a closer look at his argument.

Hart emphatically rejects the idea that God sets out to use evil or suffering as necessary means to a greater good:

There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of what Aquinas calls secondary causality—in nature or history—is governed not only by a transcendent providence, but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But consider the price at which that comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of—but entirely by way of—every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines. It seems a strange thing to find peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

He sees evil and suffering as things that God works around, not through. They emanate entirely from the “powers” and “principalities” to which our fallen world is in thrall:

The Christian understanding of evil has always been more radical and fantastic than that of any theodicist; for it denies from the outset that suffering, death and evil have any ultimate meaning at all. Perhaps no doctrine is more insufferably fabulous to non-Christians than the claim that we exist in the long melancholy aftermath of a primordial catastrophe, that this is a broken and wounded world, that cosmic time is the shadow of true time, and that the universe languishes in bondage to “powers” and “principalities”–spiritual and terrestrial–alien to God.

And:

In the New Testament, our condition as fallen creatures is explicitly portrayed as a subjugation to the subsidiary and often mutinous authority of angelic and demonic “powers;’ which are not able to defeat God’s transcendent and providential governance of all things, but which certainly are able to act against him within the limits of cosmic time.

This raises an obvious question: why would God create a world in which the Fall, and the resulting evil and suffering, are possible?  Hart says:

God has fashioned creatures in his image so that they might be joined in a perfect union with him in the rational freedom of love. For that very reason, what God permits, rather than violate the autonomy of the created world, may be in itself contrary to what he wills.

But if God chooses to permit evil and suffering, how does he evade responsibility for them?  Hart writes:

But there is no contradiction in saying that, in his omniscience, omnipotence, and transcendence of time, God can both allow created freedom its scope and yet so constitute the world that nothing can prevent him from bringing about the beatitude of his Kingdom.

In other words, as long everything ends well, God is off the hook for permitting temporary evil and suffering.  Yet Hart also wants us to believe that God hates evil and suffering, even of the temporary variety:

…when I see the death of a child I do not see the face of God, but the face of His enemy.

So in Hart’s bizarre world, we have a God who supposedly hates evil and suffering, yet chooses to permit them — and somehow this is all okay because it’s only temporary.  Good will triumph in the end.

Hart continues in this bizarre vein:

And while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed. Until then, the world remains a place of struggle between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death;

What sort of omnipotent and loving God, having already “won the victory”, would fail to end evil and suffering immediately?  It makes no sense, and neither does Hart’s argument.

The problem of evil remains as much of a problem as ever for Christians.  Yet there are obvious solutions to the problem that fit the evidence and are perfectly reasonable: a) accept that God doesn’t exist, or b) accept that God isn’t omnipotent, or c) accept that God isn’t perfectly benevolent.  Despite the availability of these obvious solutions, most Christians will choose to cling to a view of God that has long since been falsified.

135 thoughts on “David B. Hart and the problem of evil

  1. Of course there are other possibilities, such as Hinduism or some of the other pantheons of deities that have been a part of human mythology.  Humans are just caught in the middle of a cosmic battle among deities and have little or nothing to say about it.  At least polytheism has roots in trying to make sense of the universe; even though it does so by projecting internal human feelings onto nature.  What else could early humans do?

    It is primarily the monotheistic religions, like Christianity, whose adherents purport to know something about the characteristics of their deity, and who also claim that their deity cares about humans, that will have all these issues with theodicy.

    So having multiple deities or none seems to get around the problem of evil.  A more humble position would be for sectarians to simply admit that there are no humans that can demonstrate any knowledge of a deity; yet these sectarians never do that.  That raises the question about why they would continue to claim they know what a deity is like and how it thinks.  How could they know; what is the mechanism for actually knowing?  Why do they claim to know?

    My suspicion is that such deities are simply the projections of the desires of humans that are used to scare other humans into submission to their will.  There is plenty of historical evidence that religions were used by rulers to control the behaviors of those whom they ruled.  After a time, people simply began to believe their own concoctions about these deities; and, given time, a sufficiently powerful ruling class can create an entire story that justifies these beliefs.

    The problem with such stories is that they tend to fall apart in the light of new knowledge such as science.  Preserving power then means doubling down on the stories and propping them up with pseudoscience in order to discredit the template of skepticism that science provides. 

    The problem of evil is primarily a problem of some people not getting what they want rather than their facing up to the fact that we are fragile creatures that came about by natural processes and who live within a very narrow energy range, the extremes of which lead to our destruction.  Facing up to that fact doesn’t make life any less remarkable or interesting; and it also removes a lot of stifling, unnecessary guilt.  People can and do learn how to live together while accepting their own mortality and fragility. 

    Maybe it is only a few who need to have the hell scared out of them in order to prevent them from destroying society.  The price for that is pretty steep; it comes not only with the problem of evil, but with warring sectarianism and sectarian wars on secular societies that are mature enough to figure out how to get along without sectarians.  Much of the evil in the world is a result of people who claim they know how a deity thinks and what it wants, and who claim themselves to be the enforcers of that deity’s will.

  2. Perhaps Dembski is right. His version of Last Thursdayism posits that the Fall had retroactive effects, altering history as well as the future. Dembski’s god apparently forgot to apply this retroactive power in the redemption.

  3. Another approach is that since we humans ARE protected from evil and always have been, we cannot know what the REAL evils are. We only look at the details of our daily lives and, all unknowing, decide that this is evil or that is not evil. God, heroically protecting us from the soul-eaters of the 9th dimension (or whatever), regards us as living in the land of milk and honey.

  4. 🙂

    That makes us like the spoiled children of generations of unearned wealth; with God protecting our money.  Hoi polloi of the 9th dimension are just those jealous free-loaders trying to live off our magnanimity. Evil is blood, sweat, tears, pain, and disappointment; not getting all the gratification, toys, and power we want instantly when we want them.

  5. The point is, we can’t know this. Sure, you can make up something that sounds good to you, or strokes your preferences,or whatever. But maybe there truly are evils beyond our imagination. Beyond even yours.

    (I don’t take the problem of evil any more seriously than you do.) 

  6. The thing about the problem of evil, is that it seems to have very little traction in persuading Christians to question their faith.  So it seems to me that Christianity has successfully deflected this problem.

    On a related note, I see there’s a new post today on The Problem of Evil on a blog authored by a somewhat conservative Christian.

  7. This author makes the similar caricatures of the secular world as do many other conservative sectarians. These sectarians are operating from a script that emerged from a long and brutal history of human development.

    One of the problems with sitting all day in one’s comfortable chair, while being fed and protected by a functioning society, is that one begins to lose touch with the continuous feedback we get from reality. The much harsher realities of hand-to-mouth survival, living on the edge of death, and requiring the cooperation of others to acquire food and resources and to reproduce are all pretty compelling teaching environments that few philosophers have experienced. That humans even came through some of the bottlenecks they did is nothing short of dumb luck.

    Plato, Aristotle and other philosophers were able to philosophize because they were fed and supported on the backs of slaves or other laborers who faced far harsher realities than those philosophers ever did. They accepted slavery as the normal state of affairs. Many of those harsh realities suffered by slaves and laborers involved their exploitation by crafty and politically powerful rulers who were able to enforce their will with armies, death to the rebellious, and by threatening with fear of deities and painful afterlives.

    Much of the “morality” of earlier cultures would be objectionable today because our relatively well-oiled systems of food, resource, and energy distribution make the much of the ruthlessness of earlier generations unnecessary. Even the brutalities of our own “gilded age” of ruthless monopolies, put in place by ruthless industrialists competing with each other, came at a terrible price for millions of others; a price that eventually came back on the industrialists themselves in the form of laws and regulations that we had to learn and to fight for. Those were “moral” lessons we as a society had to learn; and they become accepted and enforceable only when there were enough well-fed people who were able to make their objections to exploitation felt by their ability to unite in a common cause.

    And much of what those industrialists did came as a result of their exploitation of the talents of far more intelligent people who made the scientific and technological breakthroughs that gave those industrialists their enormous fortunes and political power.

    Feedback; we learn from continuous, relentless feedback throughout human history. People who pay attention to that feedback try to teach those who don’t learn. Those who don’t learn put a drag on the rest of society. In most cases it has taken thousands of years for humans to learn what works; and in nearly all those cases, what turns out to be “moral” was not obvious in the beginning. “Morality” does not emerge from minds of people who are out of touch with reality.

    But we still aren’t learning rapidly enough. We have enough information at hand to know what is happening to the climate on our planet and how human activity affects that climate. We have known this information for nearly 50 years now. We know the effects of overpopulation; but we don’t know as a society what the “moral” thing to do is. There are still powerful political alliances that prevent us from making the necessary adjustments to head off devastating consequences. In most cases, what are “right” or “moral” for some are in direct conflict with what are “right” and “moral” for others.

    Evolution is still the best explanation for the emergence of “morality.”

  8. Still not a problem for me.

    And I still have God’s omnipotence/benevolence intact after reading the Op.
    What am I missing?  

    If I put myself in the mindset of an atheist, pain and suffering still exists, plate tectonics tsunamis still occur and yet we chose to live by the sea, the word evil still exists, people still bring babies into the world….WAIT!

    Why would an atheist bring a child into the world where real suffering exists?    

  9. Lion IRC,

    Why would an atheist bring a child into the world where real suffering exists?

    Humans aren’t omnipotent. Unlike God, we can’t banish suffering and evil from our lives. Even so, we still think they are (in most cases) worth living, because there is also pleasure, fulfillment, and love in the world. We make the best of our imperfect situations.

    Humans can’t banish evil and suffering from the world, yet your omnipotent God presumably can. Why doesn’t he? Why must some children die painful, early deaths from cancer, for example? What does a loving God accomplish through the suffering of those children and their parents?

    Hart’s answer would be “nothing”. If so, why does God allow it to happen, particularly when “the victory over evil and death” has already been won, as Hart says?

  10. Lion IRC sneers:

    If I put myself in the mindset of an atheist, pain and suffering still exists, plate tectonics tsunamis still occur and yet we chose to live by the sea, the word evil still exists, people still bring babies into the world….WAIT!

    Why would an atheist bring a child into the world where real suffering exists?

    What could you possibly know about “the mindset of an atheist” other than the demonized caricatures of them that you constantly hear from your fellow sectarians and from the pulpits of your church?

    Non-religious people or people who don’t hold your sectarian beliefs aren’t human beings to you are they? They don’t love, laugh, experience joy and wonder, or weep over the suffering experienced by others. To you, apparently, they are only heartless monsters with no interest in life, others, and the universe around them.

    Religion is a fact of human history. For many people it is a source of community and tradition; not an ideology for engaging in tribalism and bigotry, or for demonizing, dehumanizing, and condemning others.

    Not all people choose religion; it is not required in order to be a decent human being and a contributor to society. Not belonging to a religion doesn’t make people the demons your religion apparently teaches you that they are.

    Seriously; does that obnoxious, bigoted “argument” of yours really fill you with smug satisfaction over your certainty of your own unique, sectarian moral superiority?

  11. Mike,

    Of course there are other possibilities, such as Hinduism or some of the other pantheons of deities that have been a part of human mythology. Humans are just caught in the middle of a cosmic battle among deities and have little or nothing to say about it.

    Even in the case of polytheism, it depends on the presence or absence of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence. If there is one god with all of the omni-qualities, then the problem of evil resurfaces, despite the existence of other gods. Anything the lesser gods do is by permission of the omnigod.

    It’s interesting that so many theists are insistent on the three “omnis”. I think of it as “greedy theology.” It’s not enough for God to know more, love more, and have more power than anyone else around — he’s got to know everything, have every possible power, and be perfectly loving.

    I wonder if this omni fetish has its roots in polytheism. When you were arguing over whether your tribal god could beat up the neighboring tribe’s god, the trump card would have been to say “Oh, yeah? Well my god can beat up everyone else’s gods. In fact, my God can do anything.”

  12. Flint,

    Another approach is that since we humans ARE protected from evil and always have been, we cannot know what the REAL evils are. We only look at the details of our daily lives and, all unknowing, decide that this is evil or that is not evil. God, heroically protecting us from the soul-eaters of the 9th dimension (or whatever), regards us as living in the land of milk and honey.

    Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t work for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, whose god explicitly tells us that certain things are evil. Murder is evil, for example, yet their god permits it to happen. Ask why, and David B. Hart can only respond that “while we know that the victory over evil and death has been won, we know also that it is a victory yet to come, and that creation therefore, as Paul says, groans in expectation of the glory that will one day be revealed.” Why, if God is omnipotent, are we still waiting?

  13. I wonder if this omni fetish has its roots in polytheism.

    I doubt it.

    We see the same thing in secular literature.

    Sherlock Holmes is never able to deal decisively with professor Moriarty;
    Superman never finishes of Lex Luthor;
    Batman never finally vanquishes The Joker.

    And, in like manner, super hero God never finally destroys evil (or Satan, the promoter of evil).

    It’s all about what makes for a good story.

  14. But those are examples of non-omnis.  Sherlock Holmes is smart but not omniscient.  Superman and Batman are powerful but not omnipotent.

    If God vs. Satan makes for a good story, why the insistence on giving God the three omni-qualities?   

  15. Neil,

    The thing about the problem of evil, is that it seems to have very little traction in persuading Christians to question their faith.

    Reason and evidence in general have very little traction with Christians. Most of them don’t notice, or try hard not to notice, the inconsistencies and absurdities of their faith.

    So it seems to me that Christianity has successfully deflected this problem.

    Only if you set a very low bar for success. Apologists like Hart want to make an intellectually respectable case for Christianity. For them, the problem of evil remains a serious (and I would say insurmountable) challenge.

  16. I guess we’re back where you started. Omnipotence is a self-contradictory thing. The question of whether an omnipotent god can create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it remains unanswered. Has Hart’s god created evil so pervasive he can’t extinguish it? If he has, he’s not omnipotent. If he has not, he’s not omnipotent. We are still waiting because if Hart’s god could eliminate evil, he wouldn’t be able to create evil so powerful he couldn’t defeat it.

    This is what happens when we make up gods who are so powerful that they are more powerful than themselves! We have crossed a logical threshhold. 

  17. Perhaps we should ask Barry if an omnipotent being can choose to exist and not exist at the same time.

    My own take on the Fall is that it is a metaphor for  the consequences of free will (whatever that may mean). Extending the metaphor, we speak (in the theater) of the willing suspension of disbelief. Genesis speaks of the willing suspension of control, per mankind’s request.

    Hence the indeterminate nature of nature.  Bad things happen not because they are caused by the deliberate actions of an evil entity, but because they are possible. Cue the creationist version of 2LOT. The struggle against evil is the struggle against dust bunnies and the general tendency of things to go to hell.

  18. Flint,

    Omnipotence is a self-contradictory thing. The question of whether an omnipotent god can create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it remains unanswered.

    Most theologians and theistic philosophers are content to define omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is logically possible. They don’t insist on God’s ability to supersede logic itself.

    Their version of omnipotence survives your objection, but it doesn’t solve the problem of evil.

  19. So which limitation is the logically impossible one –  creating the rock or lifting the rock?

    I think the problem hasn’t been weaseled around. Either it’s logically impossible to allow for evil, or logically impossible to prevent what is allowed.

    The problem of evil, I think, IS a problem of logical impossibility. God cannot allow and disallow evil at the same time.

  20. I hear there’s a T-shirt that says “Truth + God = Life.”

    Do the math. Truth = Life – God.

  21. Flint:

    So which limitation is the logically impossible one – creating the rock or lifting the rock?

    Both. It’s logically impossible for the rock to exist, which means it’s logically impossible for God to create it. It’s also logically impossible for him to lift a rock that doesn’t exist.

    I think the problem hasn’t been weaseled around. Either it’s logically impossible to allow for evil, or logically impossible to prevent what is allowed.

    The problem is not that omnipotence per se is incoherent. It’s that the combination of omnipotence and perfect benevolence is incompatible with the existence of evil and suffering.

    Hart’s position is logically inconsistent. His God hates evil and does not use it to achieve a greater good. Given that, there is no reason for him to allow evil at all. Hart’s rationalization — that the victory has been won, yet it is “a victory yet to come” — is clearly bogus. If God cannot consummate the victory right now, then he is not omnipotent. If he chooses not to, then he is not perfectly benevolent.

    Others, however, claim that God uses evil as a necessary means to achieving a greater good. For them, the problem of evil is not a logical problem, but an evidentiary one. They usually end up appealing to divine mystery: God allows suffering and evil for some reason that is inscrutable to us mere mortals. 

    It is logically possible that evil and suffering serve some greater purpose that could be achieved in no other way, but I have yet to see any evidence for this claim.

    The best explanation, given the evidence, is that God either isn’t omnipotent, isn’t perfectly benevolent, or doesn’t exist at all. 

    To continue believing in thier omni-God, Christians must sacrifice their rationality. 

  22. Yikes; they don’t even have the same units! 🙂

    We get the same conclusion as we do from

    c2 = a2 + b2

    where

    a = weight in pounds,

    b = energy input in calories,

    and c = Intelligence Quotient (no units; just a number).

  23. The best explanation, given the evidence, is that God either isn’t omnipotent, isn’t perfectly benevolent, or doesn’t exist at all.

     I’ll take that as an inclusive OR, since all three are probably true.

  24. @keiths

    You say (atheist) humans arent omnipotent but they ARE sufficiently powerful to do what biblical theists otherwise account to God – namely the optional procreation of human life.

    The atheist parent who is akin to a creator ‘god’ cant escape the problem of suffering accusation, (levelled by their own suffering child,) by saying…oh well you see I’m not responsible for your existence therefore dont blame me for your suffering.

    The created suffering child asks an identical theodicy question of their creator as the accusation made by counter-apologists against a Creator God. Why did you bring me into a world where I have the sensory ability to differentiate between pleasure and non-pleasure?         

  25. Here is what keiths wrote:

    Humans aren’t omnipotent.

    Here is what Lion IRC claims keiths wrote:

    You say (atheist) humans arent omnipotent …

    Why the difference? This looks like a double-down attempt to demonize “atheists.” Where did Lion IRC learn to do this? Why the attempt to force the word “atheist” into keiths’ statement?

    Here is more attempted demonizing by Lion IRC:

    The atheist parent who is akin to a creator ’god’ cant escape the problem of suffering accusation, (levelled by their own suffering child,) by saying…oh well you see I’m not responsible for your existence therefore dont blame me for your suffering.

    Where does Lion IRC get the notion that “atheists” treat their children like this? Where does he get the idea that an “atheist” would say such a cruel thing to a child? Just what the hell is the purpose of this innuendo?

    This is a thread discussing the logical issues of theodicy. It is bringing up the problem in the context of the history of religion and how it appears in different religions and sectarian beliefs about deities.

    Lion IRC – who appears to be a sectarian who wants to make known his disapproval of those people who don’t belong to his religion (i.e., “atheists”) – seems to be insinuating that “atheists” are heartless brutes, full of evil, having no reason for existing, and are cruel to children.

    I would like to hear Lion IRC’s excuse for his own existence. What makes his “religion” so special? What does he hear in his church every week about people who don’t belong to his religion nor have his sectarian beliefs?

  26. I’m surprised to see my post accused of demonizing atheists.

    All I’m doing is asking atheist parents why they knowingly procreated a being that WILL suffer.

    That is a legitimate question for atheists to ask about God. And it is a legitimate question to ask of those who assume the absence of any creator (other than themselves as parents.)

    Mike Elzinga wrote : Where does Lion IRC get the notion that “atheists” treat their children like this? Where does he get the idea that an “atheist” would say such a cruel thing to a child? Just what the hell is the purpose of this innuendo?

    Don’t verbal me with your paranoid insinuations about non-existent innuendos . I havent made any assertion of cruelty. The opposite. I’m equating atheist parents with God. Treat their children like what? The way a loving God would?

    Parents routinely allow their children to play on the swings and monkeybars despite the risk of them falling. Parents routinely warn children and make rules for them to follow (like brushing your teeth) and when the rules are disobeyed the parents understand the necessity of consequences.

     

    Mike Elzinga wrote : I would like to hear Lion IRC’s excuse for his own existence. What makes his “religion” so special? What does he hear in his church every week about people who don’t belong to his religion nor have his sectarian beliefs?

    WOW. An invitation to preach! Thanks. I’m new here.
    Is proselytizing OK ?

     

  27. I’m new here. Is proselytizing OK ?

    Don’t bother. We could see your taunting entrance coming a mile away. Nobody is interested; and you can’t demonstrate that you know anything about deities anyway. If you have to proselytize, you don’t have anything to sell.

    The topic of this tread is the problem of evil for people who claim to be spokesmen for a particular kind of deity. Given your remarks so far, you are not likely to be a spokesman for any kind of deity.

  28. What Christians proselytize doesnt cost money. It’s free.
    And you DID ask.

    Anyway, youre allowed to change your mind.
    (Free will being such as it is.)
    🙂

    But kindly do your fellow readers the courtesy of not speaking on everyone elses behalf.

    Mike Elzinga wrote : ”We could see your taunting entrance…”
    Mike Elzinga wrote : ”Nobody is interested…”   

    It’s bad enough when you verbal me with straw arguments but doing it to fellow members of the free thought community?   
        

  29. There is no problem of evil if one reads the bible. its spelled out clearly.
    Evil comes from Satan and from man being influenced by Satan and mans own motives.
    This was not original but a sudden thing on earth.
    Its not that things are okay except for our ideas of ‘evil”
    Everything is evil in Gods eyes now. 
    Man deserves, from Gods justice, being destroyed for evil thoughts and deeds but God in his love preserves us from evil for his own plans. he later brought Christ to deal with evil also.
    It simply is that God’s justice does allow him to pull back a little on his special love protection now and then.
    This is all spelled out in the book of Job.
    its not why evil happens but rather amazing it does not happen just a wee bit more. 
    the thinmg about evil/God is often just to deny their is a good God up there. 

  30. So far it seems you have nothing to contribute to the discussion; and you certainly don’t appear to know anything about the history of religion.  Why don’t you answer Robert Byers’ assertions?  Between the two of you he appears to have the superior intellect.

  31. Lion IRC:

    You say (atheist) humans arent omnipotent but they ARE sufficiently powerful to do what biblical theists otherwise account to God – namely the optional procreation of human life.

    The atheist parent who is akin to a creator ’god’ cant escape the problem of suffering accusation, (levelled by their own suffering child,) by saying…oh well you see I’m not responsible for your existence therefore dont blame me for your suffering.

    Lion, God is supposedly omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly benevolent. Humans are none of those things. That makes all the difference in the world. We justifiably expect far more from an omni-God than we do from mere humans.

    A human doesn’t know ahead of time what life will be like for his child. A human can’t banish suffering and evil from the world. A human can’t monitor her child 24/7 for the child’s entire life. A human can’t always be there when her child is in trouble or needs help. Your omni-God can do all of these things effortlessly. Why doesn’t he?

    The created suffering child asks an identical theodicy question of theircreator as the accusation made by counter-apologists against a Creator God. Why did you bring me into a world where I have the sensory ability to differentiate between pleasure and non-pleasure?

    There are plenty of answers available to a parent whose child asks him or her that question. For example, “I brought you into the world because I thought that you would likely find life worth living, as most of us do, despite the inevitable suffering.” That’s a perfectly legitimate reply for a human parent to give, since a human parent can’t snap his fingers and eliminate all suffering from his child’s life. But God, if he’s omnipotent, can eliminate all suffering. Why doesn’t he? Why does he insist on allowing children to be gunned down, or political prisoners to languish in North Korean labor camps, or people’s bodies to be ravaged by flesh-eating bacteria? Shouldn’t an all-loving, omnipotent God be able to do better?

    …the extremely valuable ability to detect pain…

    Our ability to detect pain is valuable because it (sometimes) prevents us from harming ourselves. Pain would be unnecessary in a world where we couldn’t harm ourselves, or where any harm we did was instantly repaired by an omnipotent, loving God who looked after his creatures.

    All I’m doing is asking atheist parents why they knowingly procreated a being that WILL suffer.

    Because they believe that the good will probably outweigh the bad, and that their children will most likely be grateful to have lived. An omni-God can do much better than that. Why doesn’t he? Lion, it’s time for you to consider the possibility that your God isn’t so omni after all or that he doesn’t even exist. The world makes a lot more sense under that hypothesis than under yours.

    Parents routinely allow their children to play on the swings and monkeybars despite the risk of them falling.

    Because they judge that the benefits of play outweigh the risks. They would eliminate the risks if they could, but being finite humans, they cannot. God, on the other hand, could easily eliminate the risks. Why doesn’t he?

    If you saw a child about to suffer a horrible fate, and you could easily intervene at no risk to yourself or anyone else, then you would intervene, of course. Why doesn’t God? What sort of “loving” God would stand back and allow the Newtown gunman to pick off one child after another, when he could easily prevent it from happening?

    Parents routinely warn children and make rules for them to follow (like brushing your teeth) and when the rules are disobeyed the parents understand the necessity of consequences.

    That’s because they know that rotten teeth are dangerous, unhealthy and uncomfortable. They want to protect their children from this undesirable outcome, and they understand that this means forcing their children to brush their teeth even when they’d rather not. An omnipotent God, on the other hand, could create a world in which tooth decay didn’t exist, or was instantly healed when it did occur. Why doesn’t he? What is the purpose of tooth decay in God’s great plan?

    It’s clear that you haven’t thought these questions through, Lion. Take some time and really ponder them.

  32. Lion IRC

    You say (atheist) humans arent omnipotent but they ARE sufficiently powerful to do what biblical theists otherwise account to God – namely the optional procreation of human life. 

    The atheist parent who is akin to a creator ’god’ cant escape the problem of suffering accusation, (levelled by their own suffering child,) by saying…oh well you see I’m not responsible for your existence therefore dont blame me for your suffering.

    That is an odd way of looking at things. Atheist and theist parents have precisely the same control (or lack of it) over whether or not they procreate. As an individual capable of suffering, would I rather my parents had chosen not to have me? Hell no! So why whould I deny life to a child on those grounds? Of course, if my situation were a little more hand-to-mouth, I might not wish to subject a child to that lifestyle, and it might legitimately complain if I subjected it to an unbearable life. But I can provide, so long as current circumstances prevail, and do what I can to protect my kids from the undeniable horrors that lurk in the shadows. Horrors that I did not create.

    I am responsible for their existence only in the limited sense that I provided the gamete. Twice by choice, one an ‘accident’ (but no less loved). But I am responsible for their happiness and safe-keeping, to the best of my ability. They can blame me for any suffering I cause, or any I could have prevented that result from my inaction. But I’m not omnipotent.

  33. Seriously, the Afterlife is the ultimate vaporware. Long promised, a couple thousand years overdue, no one has seen it in operation, the maker cocked up version 1.0, but we are told to believe that all the bugs are fixed in the next version.

    And they call it Word. 

  34. I would suggest that the emergence of the ID/creationist movement, beginning back in 1960s and 70s, has exacerbated the problem of evil for the sectarians in this movement.

    The claim is that science – i.e., “science” as ID/creationists have reconstructed it – can be used to discover the attributes of a deity. By using the “Explanatory Filter,” it is asserted, one can eliminate “chance and necessity” and therefore conclude the handiwork of an intelligent designer (meaning Intelligent Designer).

    Given the nature of evil and deception – which has to be explained by postulating a bad deity that was created by the good deity – why couldn’t the “design” that one concludes from the Explanatory Filter be that of the bad deity? After all, the bad deity has been given the explicit reputation of making pretty things in order to deceive.

    How does one conclude on the basis of ID/creationist “science” that a “design” is the result of the good deity? How can one use ID/creationist “science” to attribute bad designs to a bad deity and good designs to a good deity?

    If the bad deity can use secular science to deceive, why couldn’t that bad deity also use ID/creationist “science” to deceive?

    The problem of evil is not solved by asserting the existence of a bad deity that was created by a good deity and who subsequently rebelled and became bad. When it is discovered that the “science” of ID/creationism contains boilerplate demonizing of secular science in the same pattern of the boilerplate demonizing of non-religious people or people of other religions, the question that naturally arises is just who is being deceived?

  35. Mike Elzinga wrote:

    How can one use ID/creationist “science” to attribute bad designs to a bad deity and good designs to a good deity? 

    Good question. You have had a proposal from one member of the Big Tent, Robert Byers, above: he asserts the existence of a “bad deity”, satan, and assigns the invention of evil to it. A better example of question-begging would be hard to find (what invented satan and imbued it with the ability to create evil sui generis).

    Let’s leave aside the definitional questions of what constitutes “evil” for a moment (though this almost amounts to an obsession with the UD sectaristas). 

    I have no trouble imagining how an injunction such as “do not kill” developed as a moral absolute in early human societies (properly interpreted as “do not kill members of your kin group”). Makes perfect kin-selection sense when “human” equated to that kin group.

    It seems to me that the moral status of the injunction becomes more ambiguous as the notion of “human society” has become more global, and the reality of society more globally interdependent. More moral ambiguities, not fewer, are thrown up, the more we know about the physical, biological and sociological intertwinings of the human condition.

    The ever more strident appeals to “objective morality” coming from religious fundamentalists express their alienation from society. Their motivation is truly “the cry of the oppressed, the heart of a heartless world, the opium of the masses”.

  36. I rather like the explanation deployed in the “Dark Materials” trilogy (Golden Compass, etc). Yahweh is more or less a contractor who built the universe and hung around to play with it. Not with good results.  The acronym MUNG comes to mind.

    At the end he is run out of town on a rail. 

  37.      Mike Elzinga wrote : So far it seems you have nothing to   
         contribute to the discussion;

    Hang on, first you said I would like to hear from Lion IRC, then you changed your mind and said no don’t bother nobody is interested now youre accusing me of not contributing enough. Make up your mind. 
     
          Mike Elzinga wrote : ”…and you certainly don’t appear to 
          know anything about the history of religion.”

    Hello!!!!! Thats because I havent written anything about the history of religion. Why are you trying to change the subject away from what I did talk about – how do atheists resolve the problem of suffering THEY create when they bring children into a world where there is suffering? 

         Mike Elzinga wrote : ”…Why don’t you answer 
         Robert Byers’ assertions? ”

    Answer? What assertions? 
    His position is supported by scripture.  

          Mike Elzinga wrote : ”Between the two of you he appears
          to have the superior intellect.”

    He certainly does.  I love his work. 

  38. Man, you just crashed through the gate and drove right past my post.

    You keep saying atheist humans arent omnipotent as if I need to be convinced of this.

    But I’m not talking about God’s power I am talking about something which is CERTAINLY within the power of an atheist parent – to procreate or not to procreate.

    And atheist parents do exactly what theodicy accuses against God – namely, the deliberate and optional creation of offspring into a world where temporary suffering exists…much/most of it self-inflicted and/or avoidable.
       
    And listen to yourself trying to offer the same excuse that theology does…
     

    ”…Because they believe that the good will probably outweigh the bad, and that their children will most likely be grateful to have lived.”

  39. …That is an odd way of looking at things. Atheist and theist parents have precisely the same control (or lack of it) over whether or not they procreate.

    Yes, but only the atheist parent needs to answer the problem of suffering because the buck, (which otherwise stops with God,) in this case, rests with them. They are, if you like, lower case ”g” gods who deliberately procreated a child knowing in advance that there is evil in this world. (Some atheists call religion evil.)   

     
      

          

  40. I have two children and am expecting a grandchild. I do not lie to them an do not offer them bullshit explanations. I do not require explanations for everything.

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