The Christian God and the Problem of Evil

Both Mung and KeithS have asked me to weigh in on the question of whether the existence of evil counts as a good argument against Christianity, as KeithS has maintained in a recent post, so I shall oblige.

It is important to understand that the problem of evil is not an argument against the existence of God or gods, but against what KeithS calls the Christian God (actually, the God of classical theism), Who is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. KeithS succinctly formulates the problem as follows:

Let’s say I claim that an omniGod named Frank exists — omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Suppose I also claim that Frank regards seahorses as the absolute height of evil. The world contains a lot of seahorses, and Frank, being omnipotent, has the power to wipe them off the face of the earth. Why doesn’t he? Why does he countenance a world full of seahorses?

KeithS emphasizes that it is not enough for the Christian to show that God is on balance benevolent. Rather, the Christian needs to defend the claim that God is omnibenevolent:

The Christian claim is that God is omnibenevolent — as benevolent as it is logically possible to be. Finding that the items on the “good” side of the ledger outweigh those on the “bad” side — if that were the case — would not establish God’s omnibenevolence at all.

Finally, KeithS provides his own take on the problem of evil:

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.

He even suggests how he would resolve the problem if he were a theist (emphasis mine – VJT):

Suppose God hates evil and suffering but is too weak to defeat them, at least at the moment. Then any such instances can be explained by God’s weakness.

It addresses the problem of evil without sacrificing theism. I’m amazed that more theists don’t seize on this sort of resolution. They’re too greedy in their theology, too reluctant to give up the omnis.

I think KeithS is onto something here. In fact, I’d like to ditch the conventional Christian views of God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. It’s time for an overhaul.

Why a God Who constantly watches His creatures cannot be omniscient

First, the conventional notion of God’s omniscience needs to be jettisoned. As I argued in an earlier post on the problem of evil, the problem of evil depends on the assumption that God’s knowledge of our choices (and of Adam and Eve’s choices) is logically prior to those choices. In that post, I upheld the contrary view (defended in our own time by C.S. Lewis), that God is like a watcher on a high hill: He timelessly knows everything that we choose to do, but His knowledge is logically subsequent to the choices we make, which means that He doesn’t know what we will do “before” He decides to make us. I have to acknowledge, however, that this is very much a minority view among the Christian Fathers and/or Doctors of the Church, and I can only think of two who argued for this view: namely, the somewhat heterodox theologian Origen (185-254 A.D.) and possibly, the Christian philosopher Boethius (c. 480- c. 524 A.D. – although his own personal views on the subject remain in dispute, as he elsewhere seems to reject the “watcher on the hill” analogy which he develops in Book V, Prose 6 of his Consolation of Philosophy, in which he declares that God “sees all things in an eternal present just as humans see things in a non-eternal present.”) Whether they be predestinationists or Molinists, the vast majority of Christian theologians who are orthodox – and I’m not counting “open theists” here – maintain that God’s knowledge of our choices is logically prior to those choices. I haven’t taken a straw poll of lay Christian believers, but judging from Christians I’m acquainted with, the “watcher on the hill” view of God remains a popular way of reconciling His foreknowledge with human free will, to this day. I believe the common folk are wiser than the theologians here.

Why are theologians so reluctant to accept the Boethian solution? In a nutshell, because they see it as detracting from God’s sovereignty, as it makes Him dependent on His creatures for information about what is going on in the world. God has to (timelessly) observe us in order to know what we are getting up to. I have to say I don’t see the problem here, provided that God freely and timelessly chooses to rely on His creatures for His knowledge of what they do. If He wants to impose that limitation on Himself, who are we to stop Him?

But if God’s knowledge of our choices is (timelessly) obtained from observing those choices, then we can no longer say that God knows exactly what I would do in every possible situation. On the Boethian account, God does not possess counterfactual knowledge: He knows everything I do, but not everything I would do, in all possible situations. Why not? For one thing, in many situations, there simply is no fact of the matter as to what I would do. What would I do if I won $10,000,000? I don’t know, and neither does God. Nor is this a bad thing: after all, if God knows exactly what I would do in every possible situation, then it makes no sense to say that in a given situation, I could have acted otherwise. (That, by the way, is why I find Molinism utterly nonsensical.)

And what about mathematics? Does God know the answer to every possible mathematical problem? I would argue that He doesn’t, as there are many branches of mathematics where the “rules of the game” are determined by the mathematicians theorizing in that area. In a different world, we would have had different mathematicians, and different branches of mathematics, with different rules. I see no reason to suppose that God knows all possible choices that could be made by all possible (as well as actual) persons.

The upshot of all this is that while God knows everything there is to know about His creatures, He is not omniscient. There are many counterfactuals that He doesn’t know, and there are many possibilities that He never contemplates, either. All we can say is that God knows everything about what we do (past, present and future), and that we can keep no secrets from Him.

Why God is a lot less powerful than many Christians think

Second, the traditional notion of God’s omnipotence needs to be discarded. On the classical view defended by St. Thomas Aquinas, God can do anything which it is logically possible for Him to do, as God. In recent years, however, the classical view has come under fire, from the Reformed theologian Alvin Plantinga, who refuted it using the humorous counter-example of a being whose nature allows him to do nothing but scratch his ear (which he does, making him omnipotent) in his book, God and other minds (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), and also from the Catholic philosopher Peter Geach, who sharply criticized the traditional view in an influential article titled “Omnipotence” (Philosophy 48 (1973): 7-20 – see here for a discussion). In his article, Geach argued that God is not omnipotent but almighty: since He maintains the world in existence, He has power over all things, but He does not have the power to do all things.

What relevance does this have to the problem of evil? On the traditional view of God’s omnipotence, God could have preserved each of us from sin throughout our earthly lives, without violating our free will, as he did with Jesus and (according to Catholics and Orthodox) the Virgin Mary: we would still have possessed full libertarian freedom when choosing between alternative goods, but not when choosing between good and evil. And there are many Protestants who believe that individuals who are “born again” are infallibly elected by God, so that even if they sin, their final salvation is Divinely guaranteed. Why, one might ask, didn’t God make us all like that? The Catechism of the Catholic Church attempts to resolve the problem by appealing to the “greater good” of the Incarnation and Redemption – a response which I find unsatisfactory, since (as Blessed John Duns Scotus argued) there was nothing to stop God from becoming incarnate even if Adam had never sinned.

For normal human beings, their personal identity is determined by their parentage, and by the gametes from which their bodies were created. (I would not be “me” if I had had a different mother or father, or if I had been conceived from a different sperm or egg.) But what if God’s act of specially electing a saint to glory also determines that individual’s personal identity? In that case, there is no way that God could have refrained from electing that saint without making him or her a different person. And if I am not elected in this fashion, but possess the power to choose between being saved and being damned, then I cannot coherently wish to have been predestined for eternal life without wishing myself to be a different person. It follows from this that while God could have made a world of human beings who were all preserved from sin, or who were all infallibly elected, not even God could make a world in which each of us is preserved from sin or infallibly elected. In that case, God is significantly less powerful than Christian theologians like to imagine.

In recent years, New Atheists have argued that the designs we find in living things are inept, and that if a Creator existed, He could have done a much better job of making these creatures. Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates reply that living things are subject to numerous design constraints, and that just because we can imagine a more elegant design does not mean that it is possible to create such a design. Picturability does not imply possibility. Recent scientific discoveries regarding the vertebrate eye (see here and here) have done much to vindicate this line of argument. (The same goes for the laryngeal nerve in the neck of the giraffe.) We are a long way here from the traditional view that God can make anything, as long as no logical contradiction is involved. Physical and nomological constraints (relating to the structure of matter, and the laws of Nature which obtain in our cosmos) also need to be taken into account.

An additional reason for rejecting the traditional notion of omnipotence is that it commits one to maintaining that God can bring about states of affairs which are not properly described. When someone claims, for instance, that God could make a horse capable of flying, like the mythical Pegasus, what, exactly, are we supposed to conceive of God doing here? And how would Pegasus fly, anyway? Are we supposed to imagine God working a miracle, by raising a horse in the air? But in that case, shouldn’t we really say that the horse is not flying (by its own natural power), but rather that God is holding it up? Or are we meant to imagine an alternative world, where the laws of Nature are changed so as to allow horses to fly – in which case, should we call the creature in this alternate world a horse, or should we rather call it a shmorse? Or are we to suppose that God could come up with a physical design for a horse that would enable it to fly, even with the laws of Nature that hold in this world? But in that case, how do we know that such a design exists? There is not the slightest evidence for such a design, and aerodynamic considerations suggest that the enterprise of attaching natural wings that would allow an animal with the dimensions of a horse to fly, would be altogether unworkable.

Goodbye to omnibenevolence

Finally, the concept of God’s omnibenevolence needs to be tossed out, lock, stock and barrel. Theologians have always maintained, of course, that God could have made a world that was better than the one He did, simply by adding a few extra bells and whistles. There is no “best possible world,” as the philosopher Leibniz falsely imagined. But that does not prevent God from making a world which is free from all natural and moral evil – which raises the obvious question of why an omnibenevolent Deity would create such a world as ours. One traditional answer, given by St. Augustine in his Enchiridion, Chapter III, is that God allows evil for the sake of a “greater good”: “For the Omnipotent God, whom even the heathen acknowledge as the Supreme Power over all, would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.” I think its time to candidly acknowledge, as Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has already done, that this kind of talk simply won’t wash:

Being infinitely sufficient in Himself, God had no need of a passage through sin and death to manifest His glory in His creatures or to join them perfectly to Himself. This is why it is misleading (however soothing it may be) to say that the drama of fall and redemption will make the final state of things more glorious than it might otherwise have been. No less metaphysically incoherent – though immeasurably more vile – is the suggestion that God requires suffering and death to reveal certain of his attributes (capricious cruelty, perhaps? morbid indifference? a twisted sense of humor?). It is precisely sin, suffering, and death that blind us to God’s true nature…

I do not believe we Christians are obliged – or even allowed – to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery.

But as KeithS has pointed out, there are problems with Hart’s own resolution of the problem of evil:

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.

KeithS suggested that the problem of evil would be soluble if Christians simply acknowledged that God isn’t omnipotent or perfectly benevolent, but noted that Christians continue to “cling to a view of God that has long since been falsified.”

So I’d like to make a proposal of my own. In the first place, I’d like to propose that God is benevolent only in relation to the persons whom He decides to create. “Prior to” His act of creation, God is not benevolent at all. Thus when deciding what kind of world to create, God makes no attempt to choose the best one, or even a perfect one (i.e. one free from evil). Only after having chosen a particular world (for reasons best known to Himself) can we speak of God as being benevolent to His creatures.

In the second place, I’d like to propose that God’s benevolence to His sentient and sapient creatures is not unrestricted. After all, He allows His own creatures to be tortured to death, on occasion. Nevertheless, God is perfectly capable of setting limits to the amount of pain we have to put up with (thankfully, none of us has to suffer one million years of torture), of healing whatever wounds (physical and psychic) His tortured creatures have endured, and of bestowing the gift of immortality upon His sentient and sapient creatures (provided that they do not spurn it). Thus according to the picture I am sketching, God is ultimately benevolent, but not omnibenevolent. On this side of eternity, God’s benevolence is quite modest – but we can at least console ourselves with the thought that life could be much, much more painful than it is.

Finally, I’d like to point out that Christians have never referred to God in their prayers as omnibenevolent, but rather as all-loving. God loves each and every one of us with a steadfast, unshakable love which is greater than any of us can possibly imagine. The only kind of love we can compare to God’s love, in its steadfastness, is parental love. And most importantly, what God loves is we ourselves, and not our feelings. Thus God has no interest in maximizing the level of euphoria in the world – whether it be the aggregate level or the average level – because God’s parental commitment is to us, and not our states of mind. Being a loving Father, God naturally wants what is ultimately best for us, but He does not necessarily want us to enjoy a pain-free journey to our ultimate destination.

These proposals of mine have significant implications for the problem of evil. On the Judeo-Christian view, each and every human person is a being of infinite and irreplaceable value, loved by God. Two infinities cannot be meaningfully added to yield a greater infinity; hence a world with more people would not be a “better” world. What’s more, even wicked people are beings of infinite and irreplaceable value; hence a world with kinder people would not be a “better” world, but merely a world where people existed in a better state. Thus I would suggest that one reason why God tolerates evil acts (such as acts of rape or murder) is that there are some individuals in our world who would never have come into existence, were it not for these evil acts having been performed. The same logic can be applied to natural disasters: think of a man and a woman, living in neighboring towns, who both lose their families in a terrible earthquake, but are brought together in the aftermath of the quake, and who decide to get married, settle down and raise a family of their own. Such occurrences are by no means uncommon. Since the creation of any human being is good in an unqualified sense, God may decide to tolerate natural or moral evils, if doing so enables individuals to come into existence who would not have done so otherwise. Please note that I’m not saying He must, but merely that He may.

Fair enough; nevertheless, the skeptic might urge, the world is still a pretty awful place, and arguably much worse than it needs to be. Most natural and moral evils don’t result in the creation of new sentient or sapient beings, after all. There seems to be a lot of gratuitous evil in the world. Why is this so?

The Fall – and why it is needed to explain the mess we’re in

Traditionally, Christians have appealed to the doctrine of the Fall of our first parents at the dawn of human history, in order to explain why God allows these senseless evils to continue. John Henry Newman eloquently argued for this doctrine in his Apologia pro Vita Sua (Longmans, Green & Co., London, revised edition, 1865, chapter 5, pp. 242-243):

I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birthplace or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world;— if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

In their recent book, Adam and the Genome, geneticist Dennis Venema and New Testament scholar Scott McKnight have marshaled an impressive array of converging scientific evidence, indicating that the human population has probably never fallen below 10,000 individuals. That certain puts paid to literalistic interpretations of the Fall, but as Denis Alexander has described in his book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, one can still defend some notion of a Fall at the dawn of human history. Here’s how he outlines one possible approach to the Fall (although it’s not his favorite):

In the first type of approach (which has many variants), some people in Africa, following the emergence of anatomically modern humanity, became aware of God’s existence, power and calling upon their lives and responded to their new-found knowledge of him in love and obedience, in authentic relationship with God. However, they subsequently turned their back on the light that they had received and went their own way, leading to human autonomy and a broken relationship with God (“sin”). The emphasis in this type of speculation is on historical process – relationships built and broken over many generations.

My own belief is that God bestowed upon our first parents the responsibility for deciding the scope of Divine providence in ordinary human affairs. In their pride, our first parents chose personal autonomy, knowing that it would entail death and suffering for the entire human race: basically, they told God to butt out of everyday human affairs, leaving Him free to intervene only for very special reasons. To skeptics who would object that God should never have given such enormous responsibilities to our first parents in the first place, I would suggest that it is simply impossible for God to make intelligent beings without offering them an allotted sphere or domain in which they can legitimately exercise their freedom: that is what makes them who they are. As the first parents of the human race, our first parents had to have the responsibility for deciding whether they wanted the human race to be protected by God’s Providence or whether to reject God and go it alone.

As a Christian, I believe that God is just and merciful. I do not believe that it was unjust of God to test the human race at the beginning of human history; but I will acknowledge that in order to make sense of the terrible consequences of that fateful test, we need to maintain a view of history which sounds very strange to modern ears – instead of a gradual ascent to human self-awareness, as we might suppose, there was a First Contact between human creatures and their Creator. We need to envisage this as a cosmic, Miltonian drama, with our first parents as larger-than-life characters who enjoyed an intimacy and familiarity with God which we can only dream of, and who were given the enormous responsibility of custodianship over the lives of their future descendants. It may seem incomprehensible to us that they would give up their relationship with a God Who could satisfy all their needs, in favor of a death-and-violence ridden world like ours, but what they gained (in their own eyes) was the freedom to live as they chose. This, then, is why we’re in the mess we’re in. How long it will continue, I have no idea.

For those readers who would like a theological explanation of animal suffering, I would recommend Jon Garvey’s excellent online book, God’s Good Earth.

The problem of evil: A summary

We have seen that in order to make sense of the evil in the world, we need to abandon the notion of an omniscient God Who knows all counterfactuals and all possibilities, and Who knows what we do without needing to be informed by us. Rather, we should simply say that God (timelessly) knows everything we do, by constantly watching us. We also need to abandon the notion of an omnipotent God Who can do anything that’s logically possible. It turns out that there are a number of constraints which God is subject to, which prevent Him from creating any old world that we can imagine, and that prevent Him from having created us in a perfect world where no-one ever sinned. Furthermore, we need to abandon the notion that God is omnibenevolent. Christians have never worshiped an omnibenevolent Deity. Rather, the God they worship is a Parent Who loves us personally, and Who will never stop loving us. Such a God may however be willing to allow His creatures to be subjected to a great degree of suffering in the short term. He can only be called “benevolent” from a long-term perspective, insofar as He has prepared us for eternity with Him.

Finally, the sheer pervasiveness of the suffering in this world points to what Newman referred to as “some terrible aboriginal calamity” at the dawn of humanity, in which the entire human race paid the price for the proud decision made by our first parents to isolate themselves from God’s benevolent protection, for the sake of pursuing what they perceived as independence and freedom. God did not know that they would make that choice, but He gave them the power to decide the fate of the human race, and to “turn off the lights” in our world until God started turning them back on again, culminating in His Revelation of Himself to us 2,000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.

To sum up: the Christian view of history is capable of being cogently defended, provided Christians are willing to remove the theological barnacles that have attached themselves to its system of belief, and abandon the “three omnis,” in favor of a more intimate but less extravagant notion of God.

1,030 thoughts on “The Christian God and the Problem of Evil

  1. walto,

    I explained this already:

    walto,

    People who think that all such judgments are subjective have to be ok with the view that the Holocaust was a good thing is just as acceptable as the view that the Holocaust was a bad thing.

    Acceptable to whom? It isn’t acceptable to me, and in fact I regard the Holocaust as a great evil.

    That’s perfectly compatible with the view that evil is subjective.

  2. keiths: It’s his go-to strategy when he’s unable to present a persuasive argument.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Simple question #1: Is the argument you’re making deductive or inductive?

    Your failure to say which plays no small part in why theists here don’t find your “argument” persuasive.

  3. dazz: You missed the point that I was making, which is not about the problem of evil, but the implications of your defense against it

    I haven’t made a defense so there would not be any implications. .

    I’ve repeatedly said I trust God has a reason even if I don’t know what it is.

    and there is no reason for me to offer a reason since the logical problem is a dead horse.

    peace

  4. Pedant calls me a dimwit, but my ‘strategy,is faulty, because neither of you two understand what ‘subjective’ means– and he apparently didn’t read the (actually not terribly good) piece to which he linked?

    What the hell is wrong with you guys, anyhow? Why do you find it necessary to be nasty on every single fucking thread? Fwiw, keiths, I think that kind of trollish behavior os actually beneath you. Pedant, otoh, may just be as stupid as he seems here; I really don’t know.

  5. keiths:
    walto,

    I explained this already:

    Acceptable to whom? It isn’t acceptable to me, and in fact I regard the Holocaust as a great evil.

    That’s perfectly compatible with the view that evil is subjective.

    Acceptable to anyone who thinks that morals are just a matter of opinion, in principle. I think the misunderstanding here stems from the fact that even if we all know we need to parse morals through our own subjective moral compass, that doesn’t mean that morals are themself subjective

  6. fifthmonarchyman: I’ve repeatedly said I trust God has a reason even if I don’t know what it is.

    I can respect that. But I don’t know that I even go that far. If God didn’t have a reason to allow evil would it matter? I don’t even know if I’d go so far as to say that I needed to have faith that God has a reason to allow evil.

    I just know that Christianity claims to have a response to evil. Thus I find it extremely difficult to think that keiths has an argument from evil that leads to a conclusion that Christianity is false.

    It would seem to me that to show that Christianity is false would require demonstrating that the Christian response to evil is false. Not just futile, but false. Yet there’s no reason to think it even futile, much less false.

  7. walto: What the hell is wrong with you guys, anyhow?

    Don’t be so hard on them walto.

    quote:

    You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
    (Mat 7:16-18)

    end quote:

    peace

  8. walto,

    My statement wasn’t complimentary, but it is true.

    Example: Your “keiths doesn’t know his own name, har, har” trivialization of Cartesian skepticism.

    You can’t refute it, so you try to trivialize it.

  9. Mung: I just know that Christianity claims to have a response to evil. Thus I find it extremely difficult to think that keiths has an argument from evil that leads to a conclusion that Christianity is false.

    Good point. Christianity is all about how God deals with evil. If there were no evil Christianity would not exist.

    So it’s just silly to claim that Christianity is false because evil exists

    peace

  10. Mung,

    I just know that Christianity claims to have a response to evil.

    “A response to evil” is not the same as “a response to the argument from evil”.

    This is not difficult, Mung.

  11. walto: Pedant calls me a dimwit, but my ‘strategy,is faulty, because neither of you two understand what ‘subjective’ means– and he apparently didn’t read the (actually not terribly good) piece to which he linked?

    Objectivity. That’s one of those topics I always keep in the back of my mind for an OP here. So much seems to revolve around it yet I don’t know that it’s ever been discussed here.

  12. dazz: Can I please ask for a quick critique to it?

    I think the definitions he gives right off the bat are problematic. That something is made by a person and wouldn’t exist without him doesn’t make it subjective. It’s better to consider the propositions themselves and neither how they came into being or what our evidence is for them. E.g., is ‘I feel sick’ subjective or objective?

  13. keiths: “A response to evil” is not the same as “a response to the argument from evil”.

    This is not difficult, Mung.

    I didn’t say it was the same thing.

  14. Mung: Objectivity. That’s one of those topics I always keep in the back of my mind for an OP here. So much seems to revolve around it yet I don’t know that it’s ever been discussed here.

    It would be a lot of trouble. It’s pretty complicated.

    No doubt I’d just trivialize it, myself.

  15. walto: I think the definitions he gives right off the bat are problematic. That something is made by a person and wouldn’t exist without him doesn’t make it subjective. It’s better to consider the propositions themselves and neither how they came into being or what our evidence is for them. E.g., is ‘I feel sick’ subjective or objective?

    Thanks, I think I remember there was a debate about that here at TSZ, will look it up. And sorry for misrepresenting you when I suggested his definitions seemed consistent with yours

  16. walto: No doubt I’d just trivialize it, myself.

    I have Pedant on Ignore. Some people never have anything worthwhile to offer. Trivializing? Yes. But better than being sucked into responding to posts that aren’t worth the time to read, much less the time to respond to? Yes.

  17. dazz: Thanks, I think I remember there was a debate about that here at TSZ, will look it up. And sorry for misrepresenting you when I suggested his definitions seemed consistent with yours

    No problem. I see what he’s getting at and I think he’s on the right track. I would put things a bit differently, but would probably end up in a similar vicinity. This stuff is hard. Almost nobody agrees on everything.

  18. keiths:

    “A response to evil” is not the same as “a response to the argument from evil”.

    This is not difficult, Mung.

    Mung:

    I didn’t say it was the same thing.

    Mung, earlier:

    I just know that Christianity claims to have a response to evil. Thus I find it extremely difficult to think that keiths has an argument from evil that leads to a conclusion that Christianity is false.

  19. dazz,

    I think the misunderstanding here stems from the fact that even if we all know we need to parse morals through our own subjective moral compass, that doesn’t mean that morals are themself subjective

    There’s no evidence that objective morality (of either the theistic or nontheistic varieties) exists. If it doesn’t exist, it can’t be parsed through our subjective moral compasses.

    We’ve discussed this many times at TSZ. Here’s one thread:

    What’s wrong with theistic objective morality–in 60 seconds

  20. CharlieM: You have a skewed idea of free will. Free will does not involve making choices between various pleasures, it means acting out of our inner being without having either an inner or outer compulsion to do so.

    So, when I choose vanilla ice cream, that isn’t really free will? How about when I choose to prevent a homosexual student from giving a valedictory address? Free will? Or refuse to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple? Or force Jews into a “shower” in a German concentration camp? Another example of the gift of free will.

    Let’s be honest. Christians use the “gift” of free will to explain away “evil”.

  21. keiths: There’s no evidence that objective morality (of either the theistic or nontheistic varieties) exists

    I don’t even know what you mean by “evidence for objective morality” here.

    I’ll check out that thread for answers, thanks

  22. keiths: Mung, earlier:

    I just know that Christianity claims to have a response to evil. Thus I find it extremely difficult to think that keiths has an argument from evil that leads to a conclusion that Christianity is false.

    It’s not the same thing.

    This is not difficult, keiths.

  23. Mung:

    It’s not the same thing.

    Like I said:

    “A response to evil” is not the same as “a response to the argument from evil”.

    This is not difficult, Mung.

    Yawn.

  24. dazz,

    I don’t even know what you mean by “evidence for objective morality” here.

    Something that would support the hypothesized existence of objective morality.

  25. keiths:
    dazz,

    Something that would support the hypothesized existence of objective morality.

    Then we need to know what objective morality means, and what are it’s entailments. I simply think morals in general are objective by definition, although (some?) particular moral statements may be impossible to evaluate as objectively true or false

  26. But anyway, let me go through the 300 plus posts in that thread, I see Piotr was there at the time! Too bad he’s not active anymore

  27. CharlieM:

    Boehme was not making speculations about the nature of God, he came to God through experience.

    He was speculating that his religious experience was veridical.

    Notice that while you are fine with Böhme’s speculations, you object when someone makes a reasonable inference based on the amount and nature of the evil in the world.

    You are filtering the evidence in order to support your existing beliefs, rather than seeking a set of beliefs that best fit the evidence.

  28. keiths: You are filtering the evidence in order to support your existing beliefs, rather than seeking a set of beliefs that best fit the evidence.

    Is it your belief that you are able to recognize a set of beliefs that best fit the evidence?

    If so then seeking a set of seeking a set of beliefs that best fit the evidence is in fact filtering the evidence in order to support your existing beliefs.

    Did you see what I did there? 😉

    peace

  29. fifth,

    If so then seeking a set of seeking a set of beliefs that best fit the evidence is in fact filtering the evidence in order to support your existing beliefs.

    Um, no. Think, fifth.

  30. dazz:

    Then we need to know what objective morality means, and what are it’s entailments.

    You indicated that it was morality prior to being parsed through our “subjective moral compasses”.

    How would you go about establishing that such a thing exists?

  31. Does such a ‘thing’ as happiness exist? Such a ‘thing’ as pain? Are they subjective or objective? What about aggregations? Are they real, imagined, subjective, imaginary? What if good and evil are functions of things you believe are objective? Are they still subjective?

    Why must this be so simple (not to say trivial)? As dazz correctly points out, if you’re going to pontificate about whether morality is subjective or objective, first you have to know what the hell you’re talking about. Based on your Holocaust remarks, it’s pretty clear neither pedant nor you do.

  32. I didn’t think I’d have to spell this out, but apparently it’s necessary.

    Morality is about right and wrong, good and evil. If there exists an objective morality prior to parsing by our “subjective moral compasses”, as dazz suggests, then that means that there are objective truths about right and wrong, good and evil, independent of any particular individual’s take on those matters.

    How would you go about demonstrating that such truths exist? Could you identify any of them?

  33. keiths: How would you go about demonstrating that such truths exist? Could you identify any of them?

    I’d say a more interesting question is why many many years of iterative development cycles have not honed in on the exact shape of this objective morality?

    Or perhaps we have already done that and the current persecution of, for example, transgender youth in american schools is simply a reflection of the underlying object morality that has been derived through said process.

    To those who believe in such objective morality, what society on earth would you say adheres most closely to that objective morality?

  34. OMagain: I’d say a more interesting question is why many many years of iterative development cycles have not honed in on the exact shape of this objective morality?

    We don’t want too.

    If we honed in on the exact shape we would have to acknowledge how often we ignore and deliberately violate it’s precepts.

    As long as we can claim that there in no accessible objective morality we can try and make excuses for our own behavior.

    OMagain: To those who believe in such objective morality, what society on earth would you say adheres most closely to that objective morality?

    No society on earth adheres to it. It’s put there precisely to focus our attention elsewhere.

    quote:

    These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
    (Heb 11:13-16)

    end quote:

    peace

  35. OMagain: I’d say a more interesting question is why many many years of iterative development cycles have not honed in on the exact shape of this objective morality?

    WJM has been there, done that.

    While us lesser mortals are condemned to graze the gentler slopes of moral incertitude, the Great Murray long ago scaled the summit and beheld the way, the truth and the light.

    He still won’t share, though.

    Selfish bastard.

  36. walto:
    Does such a ‘thing’ as happiness exist? Such a ‘thing’ as pain? Are they subjective or objective? What about aggregations? Are they real, imagined, subjective, imaginary? What if good and evil are functions of things you believe are objective? Are they still subjective?

    Why must this be so simple (not to say trivial)? As dazz correctly points out, if you’re going to pontificate about whether morality is subjective or objective, first you have to know what the hell you’re talking about. Based on your Holocaust remarks, it’s pretty clear neither pedant nor you do.

    Folks here would rather persist in their confusion over basic issues than risk the realization that they don’t really understand what they assume they understand.

    If you haven’t figured out that there’s a fundamentally anti-intellectual bias to TSZ and there’s really nothing you can do to change it, you’re going to have nothing but frustration in your interactions here.

  37. fifthmonarchyman: If we honed in on the exact shape we would have to acknowledge how often we ignore and deliberately violate it’s precepts.

    Which are generally?

    As long as we can claim that there in no accessible objective morality we can try and make excuses for our own behavior.

    Is objective morality absolute,could some action be immoral for a human that still would be regarded as moral for God?

  38. newton: Which are generally?

    Like I said “generally” we don’t want to know so it’s hard to say

    newton: Is objective morality absolute,could some action be immoral for a human that still would be regarded as moral for God?

    Could some action be immoral for a panda that would be regarded as moral for a tiger? I’d say yes

    That is because tigers aren’t pandas.

    On the other hand if two identical individuals were in exactly the same situation then we would hold them to exactly the same standard,

    There is a difference between objective morality and rigidly inflexible dictates,

    peace

  39. fifthmonarchyman: newton: Which are generally?

    Like I said “generally” we don’t want to know so it’s hard to say

    Then how do you know what do you not want to know ?

    newton: Is objective morality absolute,could some action be immoral for a human that still would be regarded as moral for God?

    Could some action be immoral for a panda that would be regarded as moral for a tiger? I’d say yes

    For instance?

    That is because tigers aren’t pandas.

    True enough

    On the other hand if two identical individuals were in exactly the same situation then we would hold them to exactly the same standard,

    Is the reverse true? Non identical individuals shouldn’t be held to same standard.

    There is a difference between objective morality and rigidly inflexible dictates,

    Maybe they are the same is the reason why we find it hard to say.

  40. Objective morality is merely an excuse, to wit:

    If we honed in on the exact shape we would have to acknowledge how often we ignore and deliberately violate it’s precepts.

    Case closed. Excuses all the way down, piled on top of each other until the fact of what it is is obscured by distance.

  41. newton: Then how do you know what do you not want to know ?

    quote:

    For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
    (Rom 2:14-15)

    and

    Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
    (Rom 2:1)

    end quote:

    newton: For instance?

    I’m a Platonist and I generally hold to virtue ethics that means that think morality is bound up in revealed purpose.

    If a panda were to cripple a gazelle and then proceed to play with it I would tend to think that it was not acting according to it’s purpose.

    On the other hand if a tiger were to do that I would not be so quick to say it was acting in apposition to it’s purpose.

    newton: Is the reverse true? Non identical individuals shouldn’t be held to same standard.

    I would tend to say yes

    The extent that the individual and the situation is same then the action should be the same

    newton: Maybe they are the same is the reason why we find it hard to say.

    I don’t think so.

    I can know what I’m morally supposed to do in situation X but it might at times be hard to tell you what you are morally supposed to do is situation Y.

    That does not mean that there is not an objective morally correct thing for you to do.

    peace

  42. fifthmonarchyman: I’m a Platonist and I generally hold to virtue ethics that means that think morality is bound up in revealed purpose.

    Plato did not think that the virtues were bound up with “revealed purpose”. I’m sure you’re many things, but a Platonist is not among them.

  43. Kantian Naturalist: Plato did not think that the virtues were bound up with “revealed purpose”. I’m sure you’re many things, but a Platonist is not among them.

    quote:

    In Plato’s early works, the so-called Socratic dialogues, there are no indications that the search for virtue and the human good goes beyond the human realm. This changes with a growing interest in an all-encompassing metaphysical grounding of knowledge in Plato’s middle dialogues, a development that leads to the positing of the ‘Forms’, as the true nature of all things, culminating in the Form of the Good as the transcendent principle of all goodness. In addition, moral values presuppose an appropriate political order that can be maintained only by leaders with a rigorous philosophical training. Though the theory of the Forms is not confined to human values, but encompasses the whole of nature Plato at this point seems to assume no more than an analogy between human affairs and cosmic harmony. The late dialogues, by contrast, display a growing tendency to see a unity between the microcosm of human life and the macrocosmic order of the entire universe.

    Such holistic tendencies would seem to put the attainment of the requisite knowledge beyond the boundaries of human understanding.

    But although Plato’s late works do not show any willingness to lower the standards of knowledge as such, he acknowledges that his design of a rational cosmic order is based on conjecture and speculation

    end quote:

    from here

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato-ethics/

    peace

  44. fifthmonarchyman,

    But notice that Plato at no point appeals to “revelation” in anything like what one finds in the Abrahamic religions. It’s a strictly rational procedure. The “Forms” (in Greek, ideas) are posited in order to explain our capacity to engage in rational conversation.

  45. KN,

    Folks here would rather persist in their confusion over basic issues than risk the realization that they don’t really understand what they assume they understand.

    If you haven’t figured out that there’s a fundamentally anti-intellectual bias to TSZ and there’s really nothing you can do to change it, you’re going to have nothing but frustration in your interactions here.

    Did saying that make you feel better, KN?

    Now, back to reality…

  46. Acartia:So, when I choose vanilla ice cream, that isn’t really free will?

    No, not if the sole reason you eat it is because it gives you pleasure.

    How about when I choose to prevent a homosexual student from giving a valedictory address? Free will?

    No, then you are acting out of prejudice not freedom.

    Or refuse to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple?

    If issuing a licence breaks no laws, then it is the same as above, prejudice.

    Or force Jews into a “shower” in a German concentration camp?

    Forcing another person to do something against their will is not an act of love and so cannot be free.

    Another example of the gift of free will.

    None of these are examples of free will.

    Let’s be honest. Christians use the “gift” of free will to explain away “evil”.
    .

    Free will is not something we have been given, it is a goal we should aspire to.

  47. Kantian Naturalist: But notice that Plato at no point appeals to “revelation” in anything like what one finds in the Abrahamic religions.

    Of course that is because he was a Greek and had little or no knowledge of God’s special revelation. The revelation that he relied on is what we would call general revelation available to everyone everywhere .

    Kantian Naturalist: It’s a strictly rational procedure.

    Of course. Revelation is all about relationship.
    One person reveals his message to another person
    No relationship no revelation

    Kantian Naturalist: The “Forms” (in Greek, ideas) are posited in order to explain our capacity to engage in rational conversation.

    Revelation is all about rational conversation.
    The “Forms” are “ideas” in the mind of God that he in turn reveals to us.

    peace

  48. fifthmonarchyman: The “Forms” are “ideas” in the mind of God that he in turn reveals to us.

    That notion is crucial to Augustine’s “Christianization” of Neoplatonism, but it’s nowhere to be found in Plato’s own works. The Greek word idea is the word that Plato uses to refer to the ideal archetypes, perceived by the intellect, which allow us to conceptualize what we receive through the senses. Aristotle’s “forms” (morphe) are also not contents of the thought of the Unmoved Mover, since the Unmoved Mover is not thinking about anything except for thought itself.

    My point here is that the ideas themselves weren’t thought to exist inside any kind of “mind” until Augustine integrated Neoplatonism with Christianity. And it wasn’t until Descartes that anyone thought to use the word “idea” to talk about the contents of human cognition. Locke was (I believe) the first person to use the word “idea” in English, since Descartes wrote the Meditations in Latin (although his earlier Discourse on the Method was in French and he supervised a French translation of the Meditations).

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