Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

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Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Problem Of Evil Solved In Four Paragraphs

The Problem Of Evil Solved In Four Paragraphs
Will G
1/28/08
Edited 1/30/08 in response to a comment
Edited 1/31/08 clarifying argument
Edited 2/2/08 reference to the discussion
Edited 2/8/08 significant revisions

According to philosophy God is the greatest possible being, but even he cannot do some things, like make two plus two equal five or tell a lie. Are there any other limits to God's power? I would add that it's only God who can be totally perfect, and that anything created by God has to be intimately sustained by him for that thing to exist at all. I would argue that these two extra limitations are probably acceptable as they are found by making our concept of God even greater than previously thought. If they are accepted, then there is not necessarily any problem of evil, as this essay will attempt to show. The reason for this is that these two extra limitations imply by careful reasoning that God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment, and that during this delay these imperfect people must necessarily experience a lot of evil due to their imperfection, which means that a perfect reality cannot be made without a delay of at least one moment. And the nature of this explanation can potentially justify God taking more time to create this perfect reality.

The first step explaining why God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment: if it is accepted that only God can be perfect, then by creating beings independent of him to love him it then follows that God would have to create those beings necessarily flawed to some extent. This would not, according to Christian theology, greatly hinder God in creating perfect beings, because he could then use his Holy Spirit to help the spirits of created persons to allow them to draw on his perfection forever, bypassing this problem. However, since these persons would first have to accept the Holy Spirit in order to be made perfect, then logically this could not be at a time when they were already perfect, which means that there has to be at least one 'felt', or 'experienced' moment when people are imperfect while they accept this choice. This imperfection as I conceive it is in everyone equally, and is the capacity in all of us to think of bad actions as reasonable (it's that good people reject making these bad choices, whereas evil people choose wrongly); in heaven we won't be able to choose wrongly, like God can't, because we will never, like God, be able to conceive of a wrong action as reasonable in any circumstance (this is based ultimately on a Kantian argument regarding the nature of morality).

The next step explaining how the existence of these imperfect people brings about evil while they are imperfect: because God is the ground of all being, it then follows that he has to sustain any world he creates very intimately. The sustaining required is so intimate that apart from God and the universe being separate entities, and the proviso that what affects the universe does not affect God but what affects God affects the universe, the universe effectively IS God for the purposes of this argument. This is how I interpret the limitation of God having to be the ground of all being and needing to sustain everything to the greatest degree for anything else to exist at all. Therefore, as a result of the closeness of this sustaining, the people in any universe are effectively residing in God's being, and thus it seems reasonable to think that their broken relationship with God as a result of any temporary imperfection they have would rebound on them to make them suffer evil while they (effectively) reside in God, given the nature of such an environment and their damaged relationship with God. Imperfect people in any reality must therefore constantly experience evil, which can plausibly be interpreted as involving a fixed ratio of evil to good moments over people's experiences, which God can distribute out, not necessarily dividing the evil equally, nor, if there is more than one moment, dividing it equally among all the moments (distributing evil doesn't appear to involve a contradiction so God should be able to do it, which would help explain why everyone doesn't experience the same amount of evil). And since the concept of evil incorporates more than just an experience of pain, truly terrible things must happen over the average moment. Within a religious framework, the creation of this evil can fit with what we see in our world if one says that God distributes this evil in a way consistent with natural laws and physical appearances, to make our world understandable, but that this evil is ultimately not caused or experienced physically but caused because of these ontological relations I have described and experienced not by brains but by souls whose experiences are made to deliberately mirror the state of their brains. Thus, God under this model still retains complete power over the physical world, it's just that this doesn't help him reduce the quantity of evil as something experienced by non-material souls. Although regarding this evil it is important to note that God can still perform miracles related to evil, but only through redirecting evil from one person to another (and also to note that after people have been made perfect then all these problems disappear.) In any case, what follows from all this is that there must be at least one moment of evil.

Now the question is: why does God take so long? - there has clearly not just been a single moment of evil. Well, this ratio of evil to good that applies to any reality with imperfect people, although the evil moments involve great suffering, is still one with many more good moments to evil moments, and is the same regardless of whether God takes one moment or a billion years. And taking a long time wouldn't affect or diminish from a future for (potentially) everyone incorporating an eternity of perfect happiness. Thus, it makes sense that God might delay in creating this perfect world if he had a reason for doing so, a reason the belief in which is rational enough to allow the rest of this argument to largely defuse the problem of evil.

Note: After posting this a visiting philosopher, Lamar, and I had a long and varied discussion about this topic and this theodicy. I thought this discussion was of an unusually high quality and very engaging and that readers should take a look at it. Lamar's blog is here.

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39 Comments:

Blogger Lamar said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/29/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Sorry about that. Here we go again.

"The goodness in our world is taken away in proportion to our own imperfection."

This seems to me to be an outright attack on the integrity of those who have been abused, raped, suffered and died of cancer and so on. Most people who suffer do so NOT in proportion to their own imperfection at all. Furthermore, you seem to be saying that we are imperfect because God has not created a perfect reality but that God cannot create a perfect reality because we are imperfect, which is circular.

The passive tense is very convenient. I used to use it in school essays (especially history) when I was too lazy to figure out, or simply did not know, who was performing the action. So who or what, exactly, has delayed God in creating a perfect universe? To claim that he is delayed in creating the perfect reality is simply to acquiesce to the conclusion that God is not all-powerful. (Or, if you think he delayed himself then you acquiesce to the conclusion that God is not all-good.) So, rather than spending too much time trying to debunk you, I will just nod and murmur a quiet "thank you" for failing to solve the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is thus: If God is all-good and all-powerful, how can evil exist? Wouldn’t he just stop the evil? (Saying that he has to preserve the free-will of man and could thus not have stopped the BTK killer or Hitler is no good since a direct consequence of this would be that we, as mere mortals, shouldn’t try to stop serial murderers. That is an absurdity.) He clearly doesn’t (or isn’t right now) so he is either (1) not all-powerful and thus cannot stop the evil, which I thank you for conceding to already, or (2) he is not all-good.

1/29/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Sorry about that. Here we go again.

"The goodness in our world is taken away in proportion to our own imperfection."

This seems to me to be an outright attack on the integrity of those who have been abused, raped, suffered and died of cancer and so on. Most people who suffer do so NOT in proportion to their own imperfection at all.


Hi lamar. This is not what I actually theorise about the relationship between our imperfection and human suffering, which is understandable because I didn't make this point clear in the article. I don't mean to say that if a person suffers, it is due to their *own* imperfection, but that there is a certain amount of 'total suffering' allocated to the 'total good and bad experiences of the 'sum total' of humanity. So an individual suffering something would not have any link to their own imperfection depending on how God structures things. God allocates these 'bad moments' into humanity, but does not allocate it to everyone equally. Sometimes God allows good people to suffer hugely more than they contribute in terms of their own imperfection, and allows evil people to suffer comparatively little for what they contribute. That seems unfair, but it is a bullet that theism has to bite, and God can presumably alleviate the injustice in the afterlife. But I do not mean at *all* that any person who suffers in this world is suffering in response to *their* imperfection.

Furthermore, you seem to be saying that we are imperfect because God has not created a perfect reality but that God cannot create a perfect reality because we are imperfect, which is circular.

The reason why we are imperfect is because it is only God who can be totally perfect, and therefore any person God makes outside himself has to be made slightly imperfect. You are right though in the second part, because I say that God cannot create a perfect reality while we're imperfect. This is the whole reason for the 'only God can be totally perfect' limitation.

So who or what, exactly, has delayed God in creating a perfect universe? To claim that he is delayed in creating the perfect reality is simply to acquiesce to the conclusion that God is not all-powerful.

At the start of my post I mentioned some things God cannot do, such as lie or make two and two equal five. Whether that makes God 'not all powerful' depends on your perspective. Due to the limitation of being the *only* perfect being, therefore having to make imperfect people to then make perfect, God is limited in creating imperfect people. Then, because they have to accept the Holy Spirit to be made perfect, he is limited in having them experience a moment of imperfect existence. Then because of the 'he has to sustain everything intimately' limitation, his ability to sustain a perfect universe is hindered by the people's imperfection he has created, for the moment that they make in choosing to accept the Holy Spirit. Therefore, he has is delayed, as you point out. Whether this implies God is not all powerful depends on your perspective.

BTW, I will edit the article to make the point that people do not suffer in proportion to *their own* imperfection.

1/29/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

"I don't mean to say that if a person suffers, it is due to their *own* imperfection."

I have a hard time believing that an all-powerful, all-good God would let people suffer due to other people's actions. Actually, what you're admitting is exactly what creates the problem of evil. I would much rather believe that God lets us experience evil to the extent that we are evil, individually. Not to the extent that someone else is evil. Why doesn’t he just stop the evil form occurring? To concretize: imagine a scenario in which a man wielding a gun decides to kill a baby (this indeed happened in the My Lai Massacre). Since God can obviously perform miracles, he could just as well cause a bolt of lightning to strike the evil-doer at that moment—not killing him, but at least preventing him from committing the egregious act. He might even decide to pull a “road to Damascus” and yell at the baby killer for awhile, scaring him out of his wits. Yet, we know, as an empirical fact, that God did not do that and the baby needlessly died.

In fairness, you do acknowledge that God distributes pain in an absurd way. But to defend this utterly barbaric divine act of foolishness you simply say that we must bite the bullet and wait for justice in the afterlife. Afterlife or no afterlife, what kind of person with even the slightest amount of ethical intuition would let millions of babies and defenseless women needlessly suffer for thousands of years in childbirth, war, famine and so on, when he very well knew what was going on and had the power to stop it, or at least allocate the pain where the pain was due? We would rightly call this person evil. So it seems that, rather than acquiescing to the claim that God is not all powerful, you are actually saying that God is not all good!

“The reason why we are imperfect is because it is only God who can be totally perfect.”

This is blatantly begging the question. Let me draw out the logical structure:

P1. Only God can be totally perfect.
P2. We are not God.
Conc. Thus, we are not perfect.

This may seem very straightforward to you, however, in order to accept the first premise, you must first accept the conclusion. In other words, in order to believe that only God can be perfect, you must already believe that we are not perfect. Clearly, we cannot be perfect if only God can be perfect. So, your explanation of why we are imperfect is simply of no use to me. Perhaps it’s not the case that only God is perfect. Indeed, suggesting that we can be perfect is essentially the same as questioning whether or not God is the only being that can be perfect, so you can’t defend one claim with the other. Both claims are essentially the same and both are under dispute here.

All of these metaphysically unwarranted claims, which find no support from the Bible I might add, about the nature of God’s creative abilities is beside the point anyways. Why doesn’t God just intervene on his own system and stop the evil from happening? If, as I have heard many times before, you are wont to claim that God must preserve our free will, then I will take you to your own logical conclusions and say that whenever we come across evil that we can stop, we shouldn’t stop it because we shouldn’t intervene on the free will of others.

1/30/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

By the way, you can visit my blog and comment. I'm looking for in depth conversations about religion.

lhiii.blogspot.com

1/30/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

I have a hard time believing that an all-powerful, all-good God would let people suffer due to other people's actions. Actually, what you're admitting is exactly what creates the problem of evil. I would much rather believe that God lets us experience evil to the extent that we are evil, individually. Not to the extent that someone else is evil
...
In fairness, you do acknowledge that God distributes pain in an absurd way. But to defend this utterly barbaric divine act of foolishness you simply say that we must bite the bullet and wait for justice in the afterlife.


My argument, if successful, shows why God would create a world with the amount of evil in it as our world currently has. According to this idea, *whatever* God does, God cannot avoid the amount of evil that is in our world whatever he does in trying to create a perfect future world for us. The question should be: why doesn't God direct this evil that we see in our world *only* to bad people. On this point I don't have a clear answer, although I might point out that my theodicy if successful, would get the theist at least as far as explaining the quantity of the evil in our world, just not why only evil people don't suffer. That's a much better position than before. And also, since the evil has to happen to someone, the idea justice (and happiness) can be obtained in an afterlife is a worthwhile point.

Why doesn’t he just stop the evil form occurring? To concretize: imagine a scenario in which a man wielding a gun decides to kill a baby (this indeed happened in the My Lai Massacre). Since God can obviously perform miracles, he could just as well cause a bolt of lightning to strike the evil-doer at that moment—not killing him, but at least preventing him from committing the egregious act. He might even decide to pull a “road to Damascus” and yell at the baby killer for awhile, scaring him out of his wits. Yet, we know, as an empirical fact, that God did not do that and the baby needlessly died.

According to my theodicy, a certain amount of evil has to happen in our world regardless of anything God can do. The reason for this is that we (humanity) have to be imperfect for at least one moment, and that this imperfection, since it temporarily damages our relationship with God, also causes suffering for the one moment (that God has extended, see the end of the OP for details.) This is because God has to sustain everything to an incredibly intimate degree, and by damaging our relationship with God our temporary imperfection also causes problems for our relationship with a universe sustained by God, in the sense that good moments are replaced by evil moments. So back to your question: whatever happens, a certain amount of evil has to happen. Now, I do believe God can avert any specific or individual act of evil in the world, but if he does so he has to allow for that evil to happen somewhere else or at some other time. The basic fact of the matter is that, to use a thought example, a hundred turps of evil have to happen, and it's unfortunate if it happens to you, but it has to happen. I might also point out here that I don't conceive of evil being the same as suffering, and that genuinely horrible things have to occur.

This is blatantly begging the question. Let me draw out the logical structure:

P1. Only God can be totally perfect.
P2. We are not God.
Conc. Thus, we are not perfect.

This may seem very straightforward to you, however, in order to accept the first premise, you must first accept the conclusion. In other words, in order to believe that only God can be perfect, you must already believe that we are not perfect. Clearly, we cannot be perfect if only God can be perfect.


Your point would be valid if I was trying to argue that Christianity was true, to someone else, but that is not the point of the OP. The problem of evil is mounting an attack on Christianity, and by doing so is assuming that Christianity is true, and is seeking to point out that it doesn't make internal sense. Therefore, as the defender of Christianity I am allowed to assume all points of Christianity are true, or at least a Christianity that I interpret and believe in, and will therefore try and defuse the internal attack. So it's not circular to claim that only God can be perfect within the framework of my defense.

ll of these metaphysically unwarranted claims, which find no support from the Bible I might add, about the nature of God’s creative abilities is beside the point anyways

It's an interesting point that my ideas about only God being totally perfect is not within the Bible, although I'm not sure that some quotes couldn't be found somewhere to justify it. But as skeptics are fond of pointing out, neither is the trinity, but that's a pretty integral part of most people's understandings of Christianity. Evidence for my theological beliefs will come from the idea making sense of God's actions and nature, and from it not undermining any Biblical texts. Also I might note that the idea about God sustaining the universe intimately is probably a scriptual one, see Acts 17:28 and Colossians 1:15-17.

By the way, you can visit my blog and comment. I'm looking for in depth conversations about religion.

I will certainly be reading your blog from time to time, from now on.

1/30/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

I would much rather believe that God lets us experience evil to the extent that we are evil, individually. Not to the extent that someone else is evil

I also should mention that I don't conceive of a person's 'imperfection contribution' being based on the extent to which they themselves are morally bad. That is to say, I believe that the thing which in all persons contributes to the 'sum' of imperfection, while it gives rise to varying levels of moral badness in people, is not itself moral badness. Rather it should be thought of as some kind of fundamental disconnect from the creator, in all people, good and bad, that equally contributes to the imperfection sum, and which generates differing levels of moral failings in every person. I will mention this in the OP.

1/31/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Forgive me for pushing points too far, but this is turning into, I think, and interesting conversation. Several points:

1) You make the assumption that evil is a zero-sum game, i.e., no matter what, there is a certain amount of evil/unpleasantness in the world and someone’s got to take the heat. This seems unwarranted and nonsensical; God could easily just intervene and stop any evil action from taking place no matter the state of our imperfection (whatever you take imperfection to be). Is a man about to kill someone? A little bolt of lightning should do. Is a woman beating her baby? How about a “road-to-Damascus” revelation? Or do those not happen anymore? If God did this for everybody, he wouldn’t be clearing up our necessary imperfections, but he would be stopping senseless evil. And there seems to be no limit to how many times God can do this. Thus, it is not a zero-sum game. Please clear this up for me. Why, exactly, must there be a certain amount of evil in the world? I can understand why you claim humans have to be necessarily imperfect at least for a while. But I’m not so clear on the logical connection between our necessary imperfection and the necessary amount of evil in the world, especially if you consider that God could at any one time intervene and stop an evil doer in their tracks.

2) I think you try to answer my question here: “This is because God has to sustain everything to an incredibly intimate degree, and by damaging our relationship with God our temporary imperfection also causes problems for our relationship with a universe sustained by God.”

However, does our necessary, temporary imperfection cause God to not be able to intervene on his creations to stop the evil? Allow me to restate your argument: we are necessarily imperfect because only God can be perfect and thus we are necessarily not going to be able to have a perfect relationship with God and the universe he created. But does this prevent God from simply intervening and stopping evil in its tracks? If so, then why?

3) Concerning the circularity of your argument that we are necessarily imperfect: if you beg the question, you beg the question. It is true that some times a Christian is allowed a certain amount of speculation in the premise section of any argument, insofar as he or she is trying to merely point out that there are no internal inconsistencies within Christianity. However, my point still holds: the claim that only God can be perfect and that anything else is imperfect is essentially the same claim. I guess I should not have called your argument circular—it’s not really an argument. It would be like saying: this bottle is full of water because it’s not not full of water. No matter what the context, it’s not an argument. It’s simply a restatement of what you are trying to prove. So, in challenging the claim that anything other than God is necessarily imperfect, I am also—at the very same time—challenging the claim that only God is perfect because they are simply the same claim. Again, you can’t defend the one with the other; from the viewpoint of logic, they are the same statement. But this is good for you. If you can defend one of the claims you can defend both. I guess I want an argument for why Christians think that only God is perfect. Or do you take this on faith? (You might consider posting an explanation of this.)

4) To quote you: “I believe that the thing which in all persons contributes to the 'sum' of imperfection, while it gives rise to varying levels of moral badness in people, is not itself moral badness.”

I believe I’m warranted in asking you for a concrete example. Give me an example of someone’s not-immoral imperfection (necessary disconnect from God) contributing to the sum of evil in the world. So for example, if I’m not truly connecting with God in prayer because of the way that I’m necessarily made, then how could this add to the sum of concrete evil events like rape, sectarian violence etc…

5) Correct me if I’m wrong but there seems to be three distinctions to be made:

(i) evil actions of people (e.g. murder),
(ii) pain caused by the natural world, which has nothing to do with our actions (e.g. disease) and
(iii) our necessary imperfection.

It is not as hard to explain away the effects of the evil actions of other men as it is to explain away the pain and suffering caused by natural events, because God created nature. We have no say on nature, but God does. So why does he let natural disasters happen? Does our necessary imperfection cause this? Why?

The evil actions of men, who cause pain and suffering to innocent people, can almost be explained by the fact of our necessary imperfection, but again, why doesn’t God just intervene? If he could, why wouldn’t he? If he can’t, why can’t he?

As to our necessary imperfection, what exactly is that? How can a human be “imperfect” and contribute to the sum of evil without actually being immoral? (You seem to suggest this.) Furthermore, where does free-will come in on all of this? How are we necessarily imperfect if we have free-will? (I’m not so concerned with that last question, so don’t feel the need to spend too much time on it.)

1/31/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Forgive me for pushing points too far, but this is turning into, I think, and interesting conversation.

I agree, and I believe you'll have your wish, as this reply is a long one.

2) I think you try to answer my question here
...
However, does our necessary, temporary imperfection cause God to not be able to intervene on his creations to stop the evil? Allow me to restate your argument: we are necessarily imperfect because only God can be perfect and thus we are necessarily not going to be able to have a perfect relationship with God and the universe he created. But does this prevent God from simply intervening and stopping evil in its tracks? If so, then why?


I suppose a way of conceptualizing it might be a person holding up an object, and not just holding up the object, but also by the very act of holding it up sustaining it in its form and allowing it to continue to exist. The most intimate kind of sustaining by someone of something imaginable. Now, as I believe, when for the at minimum single moment we are accepting the Holy Spirit, we are imperfect, in a very fundamental way and a way that is, for the part of us that is imperfect, totally antithetical to God, in the strongest way something can be antithetical to some other thing (as incompatible perhaps as light is to darkness). This imperfection only has to go for the single moment it takes to accept the Holy Spirit but it has to be for at least one moment.

Now there are a couple of ways to explain how what I have written above would lead to a universe that necessarily has a lot of evil in it. In both explanations, because of this essentially antithetical slice of imperfection in every person, our relationship with God, for the at least one moment where we accept the Holy Spirit, is very seriously damaged.

The first explanation and the one in my OP is that the sustaining by God of the universe is a very close kind of sustaining that would essentially carry something that affected God over to the universe and how the universe functioned. In other words that way God sustains things is so intimate that it's essentially transitive. If something affects God, then because of the closeness of God sustaining everything, it also affects the thing God is sustaining in the same way adjusted for the different nature of the object. As you can see, this is an extraordinarily close kind of sustaining for it to work like this, for it to be transitive. But it does carry over. And just as our relationship with God is temporarily broken, so by this connection it kind of makes our world a reflection of this brokenness, of a disconnect from the source of all goodness. So bad things just 'happen' apropos of nothing (though God distributes the evil.) They just 'happen', I suppose. As to why God doesn't just stop it, the answer is he can't, due to the transivity of the relationship.

A second explanation, and one which I think you may find clearer if that sounds a little mystical, would be panentheism. This doctrine is in my opinion satisfactory but in the opinion of other Christians is either satisfactory or somewhat out of the mainstream. I wrote about that approach in a good section in this article here. See under 'A Possible Mechanism: Panentheism'. As I said I find the idea acceptable and even Biblically supported in a couple of places, but I'd prefer to use an alternative explanation. I think panentheism would surely work to explain this.

It is true that some times a Christian is allowed a certain amount of speculation in the premise section of any argument, insofar as he or she is trying to merely point out that there are no internal inconsistencies within Christianity.

That will be the extent to which I will assert God's characteristics in this article.

I guess I want an argument for why Christians think that only God is perfect. Or do you take this on faith? (You might consider posting an explanation of this.)

I have written an enthusiastic article on my site about it, here. The evidence for the idea comes from a few things: 1. It is a very useful theological belief, from my perspective and I'm sure for others as well, for making the ways and actions of God easily understandable in our world, regarding evil, the doctrine of hell, free will issues, and I'm sure other questions in Christianity. As a Christian I therefore will choose to adopt it because it helps me understand these things in a very clear and if I even say so, fulfilling way. 2. There is no Biblical evidence it is not true, and in addition to this, it does not undermine the theological framework that has been constructed around Christianity, to my knowledge, at all. 3. It has a ring of plausibility to it, in my estimation, compared to a 'convenient theological belief' created and afterwards dispensed with the moment a defense is needed to a given philosophical problem.

It is possible that there are Biblical passages that can fairly be taken to imply this view, I suspect there may be, on the other hand it's possible there aren't, and I haven't had the opportunity thus far to make a study of this.

I believe I’m warranted in asking you for a concrete example. Give me an example of someone’s not-immoral imperfection (necessary disconnect from God) contributing to the sum of evil in the world. So for example, if I’m not truly connecting with God in prayer because of the way that I’m necessarily made, then how could this add to the sum of concrete evil events like rape, sectarian violence etc…

This isn't a software problem, so to speak, it's a hardware problem. It's a structural thing, built into people. A structural disconnect from God, that in a very sad and unfortunate way in various people causes them to be morally bad (as I'm sure it has other negative side effects.) You can't 'do' anything to make it greater or lesser, apart from becoming perfect, and the *only* way to do that is through God's help. After death God will make everyone perfectly good who accepts the Holy Spirit (although I personally believe there are unsaved my defense can be universalistic as well). And of course, this will entail a world with no evil, and perfect happiness forever for everyone, which is the whole point of creation.

It is not as hard to explain away the effects of the evil actions of other men as it is to explain away the pain and suffering caused by natural events, because God created nature. We have no say on nature, but God does. So why does he let natural disasters happen? Does our necessary imperfection cause this? Why?

Continuing on from my response to your second question, there has to be a certain amount of evil, the way God is 'frustrated' or 'blocked' coming down to the specifics of each explanation.

Now, suppose the evil has to happen, although it's distributed - so God cannot intervene to reduce the amount of evil that's in our world. Let's look at the three classes of evil, as I would divide them up into these three classes. The fourth class might be hell or soteriological evil, but that's irrelevant to this discussion, since my defense is compatible with universalism.

The first class of evil might be evolutionary evil. This is evil that occurred before any humans came onto the scene. This presents a very specific problem to Christianity because according to the Book of Genesis evil is a direct result of human sin, and therefore since there were no humans before Adam and Eve (or the first full humans) there would it seems have been no evolutionary evil. Yet obviously there was.

The first class of evil will be dealt with in my defense by saying that since humans *start off* imperfect instead of 'falling from grace' like in the traditional interpretation of the Genesis story (I have another interpretation based on the word 'know' in the Hebrew text not meaning knowledge of but acquaintance with evil) then at the very least the world starts off imperfect (in a moral sense, I don't mean it's not a nice place to live aesthetically). Now of course, it is not a huge stretch to say that since God had to create our world starting off morally imperfect (in terms of evil events) that there might be *something* like evolutionary evil, defined as suffering before humans. Now obviously God took a fair amount of time before creating people, but I theorised a number of reasons for this (see this article on evolutionary evil here). So that might deal with that class of evil.

Next natural evil. Now, whether or not we have a system of laws and a readily understandable universe is irrelevant in my defense to whether the evil in our world will happen. Because the evil isn't based on the natural laws ultimately, but on those relationships argued for in the article, and is thus not contingent on any particular form our natural laws take, or even that the laws of, or appearance of, our natural world is understandable. As it happens, God has laid out this suffering in a way according to natural laws, so when someone has a heart attack, we can know it was because he had a bad heart condition, or for other scientifically knowable reasons.

Regarding moral evil, you mentioned previously the free will defense/theodicy. I think it's a very interesting theodicy and in many ways well worth discussing. But I'm not using it in the slightest in my defense here. People do have free will (although this needs to be clarified, see my article An Essay On Free Will from the sidebar) but although that's important for human happiness and dignity, and a critical part of our eventual new life in heaven, it's not what justifies evil. What justifies evil is the relationship I outlined in my article. I believe this is an important point.

1/31/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

"As to why God doesn't just stop it, the answer is he can't, due to the transivity of the relationship."

I guess my problem with your explanation is that we have not agreed on the exact way in which the problem of evil is a problem for Christianity. Most view God simplistically. That is, He can do whatever he wants and also he is all good. However, you suggest here that God cannot do certain things, due to the "transivity of the relationship." (Between us and Him?) I'm curious if you could expand on this point a little, as I believe it is the definitive point in this discussion.

As for the concrete example, I still think you owe one. You have claimed that the imperfection which contributes to the sum of evil in the world is not necessarily an imperfection of immorality.

To quote: "I also should mention that I don't conceive of a person's 'imperfection contribution' being based on the extent to which they themselves are morally bad. That is to say, I believe that the thing which in all persons contributes to the 'sum' of imperfection, while it gives rise to varying levels of moral badness in people, is not itself moral badness.")

In what sense, then, could there be an evil caused by virtue of a not-immoral imperfection?

1/31/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

As for the concrete example, I still think you owe one. You have claimed that the imperfection which contributes to the sum of evil in the world is not necessarily an imperfection of immorality.
...
In what sense, then, could there be an evil caused by virtue of a not-immoral imperfection?


I see what you mean, which is that the transitivity of the relationship between the universe and God, from our side, when it comes to the universe, manifests itself in evil, and yet the cause of that evil ultimately is not evil or even something intrinsically moral (being imperfection, which then goes on to generate immorality to varying degrees.)

The question is, how does it work for a characteristic of ourselves to relate to God and cause evil? I presume that if a person commits some horrible crime, then that is reflected in the relationship between him/her and God. Therefore the relationship would be damaged. But if that damaged relationship then goes on to generate evil by transitivity, the direct cause of this, ontologically speaking, is the relation between the creature and his creator being a certain damaged way. It's possible therefore to imagine other moral or non-moral facts about the world generating this relation, or in a more general sense objects generally creating strange relations that are different somehow from the characteristics of an object that created them, although presumably this would only happen under special philosophical circumstances.

The problem here apparently is that since the universe manifests evil, ontologically it makes sense that if a person does something bad, then that generates a flawed relationship to God - a relation - then transitivity transfers that to the universe adjusted for the nature of the object in question - that it's a universe - and then the characteristic comes up at the end as evil. So what started it off was evil, and it comes out at the end as evil, which would seem to be the intuitive thing. Now if what I'm saying is true about it being a structural-hardware 'imperfection' basic to all people that isn't intrinsically moral or immoral, then why is the characteristic at the end evil, if the characteristic at the beginning was a non-moral fact about people? There must be something either about the non-moral fact, or about the transitivity, to do this, it seems.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to say (at this point, because this is the limit of my understanding) that the imperfection in every person, which is not intrinsically moral or immoral, is the kind of characteristic or thing in us that, after generating its relation to God that transfers to the universe, leads to characteristics of the universe being evil although the original characteristic itself was not intrinsically moral. I suppose then the answer is that it's a special kind of characteristic that although it is a non-moral fact about people it generates a relation which, after going through transitivity with the universe, generates a characteristic in the universe, out the other side, that is a moral fact (the universe has evil in it).

An alternative answer is to say that actually our imperfection *is* a moral fact, which would entail the strange conclusion that everyone is morally the same. This seems absurd, as the good people in society do not seem at all to be as bad as the reprehensible individuals in society. This explanation could work, but it would need to explain how it is that all people have essentially the same 'evil' in them but behave in such better or worse ways than each other morally. I do not have such an explanation or account of human morality and evil, although it would be an interesting question if it could be made to make sense.

I guess my problem with your explanation is that we have not agreed on the exact way in which the problem of evil is a problem for Christianity. Most view God simplistically. That is, He can do whatever he wants and also he is all good. However, you suggest here that God cannot do certain things, due to the "transivity of the relationship." (Between us and Him?) I'm curious if you could expand on this point a little, as I believe it is the definitive point in this discussion.

It is definitely true that many Christians believe God to be capable of anything in the highest way they conceive, capable of giving us free will while also controlling us completely, perhaps. But obviously most or all philosophers of religion who are Christians will endorse the idea that there are some things God can't do, such as make two and two equal five - the 'logical limits' limitation.

When Alvin Plantinga proposed that God was logically limited (I think it was him) the philosophical world pretty much allowed him to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak, to say that God couldn't do everything while he also used the words 'all powerful' when he referred to God. The reason why is that philosophers understand better than most people why God not being able make two and two equal five is not a real limit, and thus not a point to contest. When someone says something that is logically impossible, according to the theory of language, they are not making a statement that has any real meaning. When a person demands that God make something both to be itself and something entirely different, not itself, at the same time, they're not actually expressing a demand of God. To express a demand of God, you have to say something that makes sense, and demanding that God break the law of non-contradiction literally doesn't make sense, so people who ask God to do the logically impossible are not actually saying anything meaningful. So it's not a big limit on God for him not to be able to do things which cannot even be articulated into a language or thought, because they don't make any sense. Now there are Christians who will go around and say that 'their God should be able to make two and two equal five', but actually everyone's God, the God of Islam, and the God of any religion, cannot make two and two equal five, because the proposition doesn't make sense. The only reason why the Christian would say that is because either of our poetic faculty which allows us to kind of hold in our mind the images of the absurd, or because he or she lacks understanding of the way something is a contradiction or doesn't make sense. I have done mathematical problems in my life and gotten the wrong answer, but I could have sworn that I had the right answer until I realised my mistake. It's really the same thing with someone who says God can do something logically impossible.

So not being able to do something logically impossible isn't a real limit, and shouldn't be seen as such.

Now the question is, and this is where the real controversy comes in - limits that are more than the limit you cannot do anything logically impossible. This is usually what separates the orthodox Christian philosophers from those Christian philosophers with answers to the problem of evil that stray too far out of the mainstream and which do not become widely accepted because of this. Can you ever limit God more than logical limits?

In my defense, I would say no, which is why I think that my defense can be legitimately regarded as being in the orthodox category, and thus an answer to the problem of evil which is well worth discussing.

But you might point out, that some of my limits don't appear to be logical limits, in fact, three out of the four don't appear to be logical. It is impossible for God to lie, impossible for God to make another perfect being outside of himself since only he can be perfect, and impossible for God not to sustain everything in an incredibly deep way. These don't appear to be logical.

But actually if I bring in my wider theology on these issues I actually do think they are, and maybe now I can think of defenses as to why they are logical. I'll start with the 'lie' one.

When it comes to morality, I'm a Kantian, so I believe morality comes necessarily from being rational beings. I wrote an interesting article on this in the sidebar on Why God Must Be Good. Because morality comes necessarily from rationality, then God, who is totally rational, necessarily has a perfect idea of right and wrong. But also, because God isn't the product of a competitive evolutionary environment where he was struggling for survival, God also doesn't have any of the selfish desires or motivations that all biological organisms have. Therefore, there are no obstacles to God perfectly carrying out this rational understanding of morality (note, the rational understanding comes in a large part from not having any selfish desires and also wanting to do stuff, to 'act', and make rules for how you would act around others, that is to say, from never having biologically selfish desires God never has a reason to restrict peoples' free will and his sense of justice and fairness comes from this understanding of how he would always act.) Indeed, it is logically impossible for there to be any obstacles, because God is defined, and would have to be, someone who would never have any such selfish reasons/motivations to do things. Therefore this limit of 'no lying' which people may have thought was not a logical limit, actually turns out to be a logical limit, and so not a real limit.

Take the limit that only God can be totally perfect. I actually do believe there is a way of logicalizing this. In the Gospel of John it starts off by saying 'In the beginning was the Rationality, and the Rationality was with God, and the Rationality was God.' This is a legitimate translation of the word 'Logos' which is translated as 'Word' in most Bibles. So clearly God is the ultimate rational being, who existed before all things and is in essence a personification or 'agentification' of rationality, logic, reason and mathematics. And as I just tried to show, any such God is by definition perfectly good and cannot lie, morality being a rational enterprise, and selfishness being a biological or empirical/contingent enterprise, and has a perfect understanding of right and wrong. Therefore it's fair to say God is totally perfect.

Now, this God is 'all himself', that is, everything from the very beginning that was rational and aware of itself was God. There was just God in the beginning. So clearly, to make other creatures God will have to create something outside of himself, otherwise it would always have been with God and always been God. But, and this is what I will be proposing, if God is also the source of rationality, like some vast ocean of reason, then creating beings outside of himself to some extent might be creating beings that are by definition not as rational, if indeed everything rational is God, and has always been a part of God. If God is all consciousness that has existed forever, then if something else is conscious how can it possibly be God? And if God is the only source, and IS, rationality, then how can something not God be rational? And if something is not rational, how can it be good? Therefore we are partly part of God (enough to know good and evil), partly sustained by God, but that distance from God necessary to make us separate from him condemns us by logical necessity to be less rational than him and therefore evil to some extent. Evil as a violation of rationality.

The last limit, that of sustaining everything, can be explained from this. If God is the source of all being, by definition, then it seems likely that if God were to make something outside of him then he would have to support it pretty intensely. Therefore he has to support all the things he makes outside of himself to a very close degree for them to exist at all, which then creates the transitivity relation we discussed.

2/01/2008  
Blogger macguy said...

The question should be: why doesn't God direct this evil that we see in our world *only* to bad people.

This really depends on how one defines a "bad" person because according to Scripture, none are good which is made quite clear. Under your theodicy, wouldn't this be easily answered? Imperfection is a result throughout all of nature and for God to direct evil only to bad people would be contradictory (it seems). Even those you would define to be "good" would by necessity be sinful so for God to only direct this evil to the presently "bad" people would appear to be unfair. After all, at some point in our lives we were unsaved as well but there's also the chance that the evil brought upon them would either make it more likely for them to be saved or not. Perhaps this is mere speculation but is it not possible? Thus God would distribute the evil in a diverse manner to various people so that we can share the same struggles. This may actually be a better alternative than simply invoking all the evil on a given "bad" person.

In essence, those who are good would also experience such struggles but in the process this would bring them to a closer relationship with God. They could also relate more to the sinner and this may just increase the amount of saved. If God simply took out all of our troubles, we wouldn't be reminded of the constant grace that He has provided in our lives so we'd end up becoming spoiled brats. It must be remembered as well that both the evil and good people share this world. I think the question would be like asking "Why didn't God just place the evil people in another planet and the good people on earth?". Also, it does seem possible that the evil is great enough that the "bad" person alone couldn't account for. We have to remember that Christians have also done wrong things and to this would bring evil effects... Are we then going to have God place our sin on people who never committed it?

I'm sorry, I guess this is probably too simplistic but I hope my thoughts would contribute something (if little) to your articles and discussions. My thoughts are a bit mixed so hopefully you'd be able to understand the point I was arriving at. Thanks for your continuous input in articles such as these.

2/01/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Hey macguy; Lamar seemed to me to be raising that objection, although actually I don't think that's necessarily the case. I was wary in responding that Lamar might have different 'values' about evil distribution fairness, and so arguing about values wouldn't work; but on reading your post I think that against such any such position your reply would be excellent and states the case well.

2/02/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Forgive me for taking so long to reply but I have been busy this weekend. Lot's of homework.

1) Allow me to straighten a few things up a bit. Before we go any further, I’d like you (Will) to explain what you mean by transitivity; I’m having a hard time understanding what you mean when you speak of the “transitivity” of the relationship between us and God, or the universe and God and so on. Often times you will say, “because of the transitivity of the relationship etc…” as an explanation, and it is very unsatisfying.

2) Now I’d like to address some of the statements made by macguy:

“Thus God would distribute the evil in a diverse manner to various people so that we can share the same struggles.”

This would be, quite literally, an evil thing to do. If an all-powerful being were to do this, we would rightly chastise it, and I am not going to let such a statement gain merit without the author earning it. Allow me to digress a little to make my point. Imagine that there is a little girl, aged 11, who is very talented at the violin. Indeed it seems that God has blessed her with the talent necessary to praise His name in music. However, since she is only 11 she is dependent on her mother to take her to violin practice everyday. Her father is too busy and must pay the bills in order to pay for her lessons. Consequently, he cannot take her. Now, one-day the little girl’s mother is driving along a highway, following all of the rules of the road, when a drunk driver runs into her and kills her. The little girl thus must stop playing the violin, as no one is available to take her to lessons. She never learns how to play the violin and she spends years mourning the death of her much-needed mother. This surely is an evil thing to happen in the world. It is at least something that an all-powerful and all-good creator—who, no one has yet denied, has the power to have stopped this travesty—would let happen. To say that God must spread the evil around because the 11-year-old was also a sinner is perhaps the most perverse thing I’ve heard in all my life.

3) Will, you have yet to offer me a concrete example of the kind that I have asked of you. A concrete example is a real-world example, like the one I have given above about the 11-year-old girl. In philosophy, it is impossible to generalize on an example. But, it is also true in philosophy that when you make a general statement you MUST be able to take an example. Otherwise, what you’re saying simply does not hold. So please, give me one concrete example of a non-moral imperfection in humans contributing to the sum of evil in the world. It is time now that we took this circumlocution out of the abstract and into the legitimate.

4) As a last point, I’d like to stress that the idea that evil is somehow a zero-sum game is nonsensical. I see no reason why God can’t simply stop all of the evil from happening case by case. (Nor have you offered a good reason.) Take the example of the little girl: God could easily have used his powers—the ones he must have if he is indeed the maker of the universe—to prevent the car accident from happening. Voila! The girl can now play the violin and there is no senseless evil. Notice that in this example no evil was shifted around; God did not have to direct evil elsewhere and he did not interfere on anybody’s will. He merely prevented needless suffering. In fact, we would rightly call anyone who could do this, but didn’t, evil. So is God evil, or is he just not there? For your response to this, Will, I’d like you to utilize the concrete example of the violin-playing girl to explain the following in plain, everyday, concrete language. (None of this abstract business.):

1) Why didn’t God stop this from happening? (This was a true story, by the way.)
2) If it is because he couldn’t, then why couldn’t he?
3) If by stopping this unnecessary evil God would only have to then shift evil to somewhere else (which is something you’ve implicated) then explain how this would have had to have happened in the context of this real-world, concrete example.

So in sum:
1. Explain transitivity.
2. Give a concrete example.
3. Answer my three questions in the context of the real world example I have provided. (If what you are saying in the abstract is indeed true, then this should present no problems to you whatsoever.)

As a philosopher, I will not give up until my demands are met.

-LH3

2/04/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

1) Allow me to straighten a few things up a bit. Before we go any further, I’d like you (Will) to explain what you mean by transitivity; I’m having a hard time understanding what you mean when you speak of the “transitivity” of the relationship between us and God, or the universe and God and so on. Often times you will say, “because of the transitivity of the relationship etc…” as an explanation, and it is very unsatisfying.

The way I'm using the word 'transitivity' is based on how I think it's used referring to ordinary concepts, in science it could have a slightly different meaning (I'm not sure.) Basically it means that because of a certain relationship that holds between A and B, what affects A also affects B, adjusted for the nature of B. An example would be if there was a 'live' electrical wire, and I grabbed hold of it while my feet were on the ground. Electricity is going through the wire, but because of the 'transitivity' between me and the wire, the electricity also affects me, but not in the same way as the wire. Because I'm a person, not a wire, and my feet are on the ground, the electricity goes through me and adjusted for the nature of a human, electrocutes me (possibly even killing me.) So in my usage, transitivity would apply in this sense between the wire and me, in regard to the electricity, while I am touching the wire.

So in reference to God, because God is the sole ground of all existence and therefore that upon which everything must be built, for him to create something outside of himself that isn't part of himself in some way involves an incredibly intimate degree of sustaining (the greatest/most intimate you can imagine). God could be considered the electrical wire, our broken relationship with him the electricity, and the orderly and good operation of the universe towards its inhabitants could be considered the person in the example with their feet on the ground (not just the universe, because nothing in the universe would be evil without the presence of beings.) This electricity or in this case broken connection with God, as a relation, goes through to God, and then because of his incredibly intimate (transitive, in fact) relationship sustaining the universe and how the universe functions in terms of its inhabitants, causes his ability to uphold our happiness and contentedness to be interfered with by the 'electricity' (the brokenness) adjusted for the nature of the universe. The brokenness then gets fed back into our 'daily lives' as good things/experiences in our lives being taken away because God must work 'around' the electricity. But this doesn't imply limits beyond logical limits to God's power, because the situation exists as a result of the nature of the participants in the situation and so cannot be changed without changing the nature of the participants, which logically cannot happen (I wrote more about this aspect of things in the previous reply.)

This would be, quite literally, an evil thing to do. If an all-powerful being were to do this, we would rightly chastise it, and I am not going to let such a statement gain merit without the author earning it.
...
This surely is an evil thing to happen in the world. It is at least something that an all-powerful and all-good creator—who, no one has yet denied, has the power to have stopped this travesty—would let happen. To say that God must spread the evil around because the 11-year-old was also a sinner is perhaps the most perverse thing I’ve heard in all my life.


I think possibly we're still talking past each other about what this argument theorises about the relationship between evil and God's power. Take that situation you mentioned about the girl and her mother. This is an evil thing to happen, no doubt. Now I want you to reread your situation, and when you reread it, try and form a 'gut instinct' or 'gut feeling' about the evil in that situation, assuming you can put a kind of 'intuitive rank' on it compared to other evil events. It would be a quite hard to try and put any kind of numerical value on 'how evil' an event is, so all we can do is have a gut feeling in our minds about how 'truly evil' some happening is. Now, with that gut feeling about the evil in that situation, I want you to try and divide that feeling into tenths. Then with a tenth of that estimation, imagine giving each of those tenths to ten other people, so each person experiences (about) 1/10th of the evil that happening to the girl and her mother, and all those affected. Now, in addition, assume that nothing ever happened to the girl and her mother, but 1/10 of your estimation of the evil involved in that happened to 10 other people. I understand that it's very wrong for such things to ever happen, but would the situation really be dramatically improved if 10 other people suffered 1/10 each the evil in her situation? I don't think, at least, that it's a huge objection to God considering the exact same amount of evil in our world happens whatever he does, although certainly it's a tragedy whenever it happens to anyone.

In philosophy, it is impossible to generalize on an example. But, it is also true in philosophy that when you make a general statement you MUST be able to take an example. Otherwise, what you’re saying simply does not hold. So please, give me one concrete example of a non-moral imperfection in humans contributing to the sum of evil in the world. It is time now that we took this circumlocution out of the abstract and into the legitimate.

To give an example about non-moral facts contributing to evil 'generally' or evil in people individually, take a propensity in a person to fly into a rage at almost no provocation. This is not a moral fact about someone. The fact someone has an urge to fly into a rage over the slightest wrong, and this rage is incredibly strong and intense, is not actually saying anything necessarily about whether they're a bad person. It's possible for someone with incredibly bad anger management issues to be a perfectly good person, only they need to struggle mightily to contain themselves, but of course they have the freedom to act how they ultimately wish. But at the same time, it can't be denied that this non-moral fact about people does, in a lot of people, contribute to a MORAL fact about them, which is that they have done seriously bad things. Not everyone who has serious anger management issues does something very wrong, but some do. So this non-moral fact (some people have serious anger management issues) contributes to a moral fact about people, when combined with their free will (since although we all have freedom, those with self-control and anger management issues are more likely to do something wrong at some time than very calm and even-tempered people, so their temperament has some influence) leads to a moral fact about people (there are some people who are morally bad partly as a result of having a propensity to serious anger management problems.) So in the same way, the fact that any person God creates is imperfect to a degree, as a kind of structural imperfection, present in all people equally, is not a moral fact. We have to wait until how people act and what their character is like before we can call people evil, not just because they have structural imperfection in them. But this non-moral fact contributes certainly to moral badnes in some people, like the way it is plain to see non-moral facts about anger management, self-control etc. contributes to moral badness in some people, although it is of course not a moral fact about any of these people that they have anger management or self-control issues.

So in reference to my theodicy, we all have a core of imperfection, which causes the broken relationship that causes ultimately, evil. This imperfection is not a moral fact about people any more than people having a propensity to anger management problems is a 'moral' fact about anyone, since it doesn't have to result in any bad acts. The imperfection in us doesn't have to result in any bad acts, but it's an extremely strong pressure on people to be bad, which for some people results in really evil acts, but for all of us results in a failure to be as good as our conception of good demands we should be.

Now on the other hand you probably mean, give me an example of a non-moral fact about someone contributing to evil in the world, not like in what I've provided then but as a result of a transitive relationship between someone and something else, that contributes to evil in the lives of people as a result of a transitive relationship. I think I can come up with a philosophical analogy.

"Suppose that there was a community of telepathic beings who lived together, and as a way their biology was set up, derived all of their happiness from their communal link with each other, from the joy they experienced at communal thought. But then disaster struck, and a virus infected everyone in the community which damaged the part of their brains that handled the telepathy. As a result they cannot derive much of their former happiness from their link with each other, because their connection is worse, and so suffer greatly as a result; a great evil."

Just like them, we gain happiness and contentedness from God, he is the source of it all (from the Gospel of John: 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men'.) But this virus, this in-built necessary imperfection, which is not a moral fact about people but which leads to moral facts as earlier talked about, hurts us by cutting us off from this God, this source of all happiness and contentedness. For the alien community, there is transitivity between the virus, between what happens to their brains, and between what happens to their brains and their ability to experience happiness. For us, the virus is the broken connection with God, the virus working in the aliens brains is the transitivity between God and the experience of being in this universe, and the unhappiness of the alien creatures is our unhappiness at being in a universe for which good things cannot always be sustained.

4) As a last point, I’d like to stress that the idea that evil is somehow a zero-sum game is nonsensical. I see no reason why God can’t simply stop all of the evil from happening case by case. (Nor have you offered a good reason.) Take the example of the little girl: God could easily have used his powers—the ones he must have if he is indeed the maker of the universe—to prevent the car accident from happening. Voila! The girl can now play the violin and there is no senseless evil. Notice that in this example no evil was shifted around; God did not have to direct evil elsewhere and he did not interfere on anybody’s will. He merely prevented needless suffering. In fact, we would rightly call anyone who could do this, but didn’t, evil. So is God evil, or is he just not there? For your response to this, Will, I’d like you to utilize the concrete example of the violin-playing girl to explain the following in plain, everyday, concrete language. (None of this abstract business.):

I think we're still not reading from the same script here. The whole theodicy demands a certain way of thinking about evil that rejects a non-zero sum conception at its core, and says that despite appearances, what you say that would seem reasonable is actually not the underlying situation. God cannot literally intervene to make reality always go well for people because of our brokenness and transitivity etc... So on the one hand you have your very reasonable sense that, well, if YOU, with a shotgun, can take out someone about to commit a massacre, then surely God can. I'm saying that there's something about that view of reality and the way things work that isn't actually the case, and actually 'things are not what they seem' in regard to reality. You'll have to accept that what seems very possible on the surface is not actually possible actually; that God CAN stop any individual act of evil - but reduce the overall level of evil below what it is now? No, he cannot do that. The reason why is due to laws not of physics, or nature, but higher laws of 'being' in relation to sustaining the universe, broken connections with God, etc., that trump easily breaking those laws of physics you are referring to when it comes to God reducing evil in the world below the level it is now. God can easily break the laws of physics, but he can't break these laws of transitivity and being because they are ultimately a result of the 'actual' (not apparent) nature of everything involved and to break them would be self-contradictory in some sense, as earlier referenced.

1) Why didn’t God stop this from happening? (This was a true story, by the way.)
2) If it is because he couldn’t, then why couldn’t he?
3) If by stopping this unnecessary evil God would only have to then shift evil to somewhere else (which is something you’ve implicated) then explain how this would have had to have happened in the context of this real-world, concrete example.


God didn't stop this from happening as a result of 1. Our broken relationship with God for the at least one moment we're imperfect, 2. In line with the explanation in this post, transitivity between God and the universe re: this broken relationship, so that the experience of the universe is morally imperfect.

Why couldn't he? Because of the nature of the players involved in creating the situation, including his nature, none of which can be changed without contradiction (see further my earlier post on this before this reply.) Whether this involves limits, see that reply as well.

Regarding a real world example, let's first take the 'justness' of this theodicy, since a lot of theodicies don't work when transferred to real world examples.

I think an example could be a group of people at a hospital, who have a horrible illness that causes suffering. The sicker they are the more they suffer, and some people are in a worse state of the illness than others. Unfortunately, there is not enough medicine to make no one suffer, and the more medicine you have, the less you suffer. To give people in the worst state a huge amount of medicine would thereby, although a very good thing to do, have to mean that either someone else who suffers as much wouldn't get that medicine, or that a lot of people who suffer less than them wouldn't be made temporarily better (only temporarily as the illness will eventually return to the same intensity.)

Let's say that we are struck with an illness, in the sense of being totally dependent on medicine from the hospital, from the fact we are totally dependent on all our happiness and good things in our life on this great Being, this God who is the source of all life and being. So we need, every moment, enough goodness in our lives and happines from this good sufficient to make us, for that moment, a happy, content, or otherwise flourishing person with many good things happening in our lives. But due to our broken relationship with God, and God sustaining the universe incredibly intimately, and therefore God's ability to sustain all these good things we should have being damaged as a result of the inherent and necessary nature of the participants in the situation, there are less 'good things' or 'good moments' that can be parcelled out to the inhabitants of our world than we need. There is less goodness to go around that would make all of us not only happy but with all of the good things in our lives we should have. Therefore the situation is like the hospital with only a limited amount of medicine to go around yet more need for it than there is supply to make all well.

2/05/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

I’d like to forget about the whole concrete example thing because I fear I have misunderstood you. (Nonetheless, you must admit that it was pretty hard to squeeze it out of you.) You are essentially speaking of natural evil: it isn’t really evil per se that we are imperfect; but these imperfections can and do lead to evil by causing us to do evil. To continue summarizing your view, we are imperfect because God can only create imperfect beings. I understand all of this.

However, I’d like now to center the conversation around this concept of the “non-zero sum-ness” of evil. There is a certain amount of evil, you say, and if God tries to stop one evil thing from happening, he will only have to spread it in smaller bits to ten, twenty, or even thirty other people. This, I fear, doesn’t make any sense.

Consider the example of the little girl’s mom again. God indeed could have intervened and stopped the car wreck. If he created the universe, it seems nonsensical to think that he couldn’t control the physical aspects of his own universe. And, if he stopped the car wreck, there would be no need to spread the evil of the car wreck around to ten other people—none at all. All that God would have to do is stop the car wreck and then move on to the next tragedy and prevent that one from occurring. There is no quantitative amount of evil in the car wreck itself. In fact, the only thing that makes it evil is the subjective observance of the little girl and the people around her. If there were no one around and two cars, with nobody in them, collided, it wouldn’t be evil. Yet, God could easily stop two cars with nobody in them from ramming without having to spread “car ramming-ness” around the universe. If he can do that, then why is it any different with two people in the cars?

But alas, you have an answer. You say that there are meta-rules that apply to the beings in this horrific game of life and death (due to the transitivity of the relationship?) that actually prevent God from intervening on his own creation. However, this is little more than random conjecture. You cannot explain away a problem by positing rules that prevent God from intervening on the physical world. Not only is this cheating in any argument, it would not hold sway with ANY religious person I know. They all believe in miracles of some form or another. In fact, if you are Christian, miracles are a central tenet of your belief: Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. If you’re Catholic, then you believe a miracle must happen at every mass. This would mean thousands a day. In other words, the first and strongest thing that can be concluded on the basis of what you are saying (that God cannot intervene on his physical creation) is that there are no miracles. I completely agree that there are no miracles, but I think this severely weakens then entire case for Christianity or the divine in the first place.

You say that the relationship between God and us is transitive and that this explains the meta-rules that God must follow. (By the way, there needs to be three agents or logical atoms in any transitive relationship: “If one is two, and two is three, then one is three” marks a transitive relationship between ‘one’ and ‘three.’ This is the meaning of transitive in logic and math.) To quote you:

“So on the one hand you have your very reasonable sense that, well, if YOU, with a shotgun, can take out someone about to commit a massacre, then surely God can. I'm saying that there's something about that view of reality and the way things work that isn't actually the case, and actually 'things are not what they seem' in regard to reality. You'll have to accept that what seems very possible on the surface is not actually possible actually; that God CAN stop any individual act of evil - but reduce the overall level of evil below what it is now? No, he cannot do that. The reason why is due to laws not of physics, or nature, but higher laws of 'being' in relation to sustaining the universe, broken connections with God, etc., that trump easily breaking those laws of physics you are referring to when it comes to God reducing evil in the world below the level it is now. God can easily break the laws of physics, but he can't break these laws of transitivity and being because they are ultimately a result of the 'actual' (not apparent) nature of everything involved and to break them would be self-contradictory in some sense, as earlier referenced.”

Allow me to analyze. On the face of it, this reasoning is mere conjecture. What laws of transitivity are you talking about? But deeper down, it is actually contradictory. On the one hand you are saying that God CAN stop any individual act of evil. You are also saying that he CAN intervene on the physical world. But then on the other hand you say that God could NOT stop a man about to perform a massacre. (To quote you: “I'm saying that there's something about that view of reality and the way things work that isn't actually the case.”) You tried to bridge the logical gap earlier by saying that, while God could intervene on the universe and stop any particular act of evil, the laws of transitivity would force God to spread the evil around. So, God can perform miracles, but they’re not really miracles because other people will have to suffer more because of the miracles. (And this, again, is all because of the laws of transitivity.)

But as I pointed out before, if you believe that God can intervene on his physical creation (which you clearly do), the laws of transitivity don’t really matter. This is because it would only a take an abridgment of the laws of physics to stop the evil; all you have to do to stop a car wreck is intervene on the laws of PHYSICS. Nothing more. And all it would have taken to prevent the evil that occurred when the girl’s mom died was to stop the car wreck. You do the math. So, if God can indeed intervene on the laws of physics, then the laws of transitivity (whatever they happen to be) don’t matter when it comes to reducing the amount of evil in the world. After all, all it would take to stop evil in any scenario is an abridgment of the laws of physics. So you are left with only one of two options:

1. God cannot intervene on the laws of physics and thus cannot stop evil. Or,
2. God does not wish to stop the evil from occuring in the world and we an rightly call God evil.

These are the only two possible conclusion that you can make. Forgive me for repeating myself but this is because what we preveive of as evil events occur, and can be stopped from occuring, in the physical world. There is nothing, IN PRINCIPLE, stopping some superhuman from going around the world stopping every evil event. In fact, to say otherwise would mean that there wouldn’t be MORE evil if we hadn’t stoped Hitler. Clearly, there would be more evil if we had not stopped Hitler. But we did, so the amount of Jews he could kill was truncated by WWII.

When you say that evil is non-zero sum, you are saying, not only that God can not prevent the total amount of evil from happening in the world, you are also saying that we could not have stopped evil in the past. Thus, you are saying that there would not be MORE evil had we decided not to stop certain evil people from doing evil deads. And again, if God can intervene on the physical world then this is all he needs to do to stop evil activities from occuring. (Evil occurs IN the world, in physical space and time.)

So let me end with a true/false session. This will move the discussion further:

(T/F) God can interveve on the laws of nature/physics.
(T/F) There is a certain amount of evil in the world. No more. No less.

My thesis: these two statements are mutually exclusive. However, since your argument apears to accept both, your argument is necessarily contradictory and hence, it does not hold water. Moreover, the claim that there is a certain amount of necessary evil in the world is not only manifestly false, but can be reduced to absurdity. I will happily prove my thesis in my next post.

2/06/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

After writing my last post, my examples actually made my argument more clear to me. What kind of connection are we really talking about if God is a wire and we're the people holding on to it with electricity running through it (electricity being our imperfection)?

Essentially what I'm saying is that, with a few caveats, we should essentially think of the universe and God as the same thing, with the caveats being that they're technically separate objects, and that what affects the universe doesn't affect God, but what affects God has to affect the universe. Consider a metal bar that was welded together from two smaller bars. There is a 'line' across the middle of the bar showing where they were welded together, but other than that you couldn't tell them apart. I'm saying that God is sustaining the universe so intimately that for anything that affects God, God IS the universe.

Note I'm also being orthodox and saying that the universe and God are separate, which is indeed right, and also that the relationship is strictly one-way, only from God to the universe, and never from anything in the universe to God. But other than those caveats, an easier way of perhaps conceptualizing this would be to just say God is the universe and we're living in God. That's how close the relationship is in terms of sustaining.

Now, we have clear examples of people affecting natural environments they're in which rebounds on them in negative ways, in terms of a relationship; obviously fewer with people living in organisms in terms of everyday life. If a community has a bad relationship with their environment in terms of dumping toxic sewage into their water system, that will rebound to hurt them.

I'm saying our imperfection is basically like a community ruining their natural environment (through no fault of their own or God's) and thus having damaging negative effects rebound on us through us living in this environment. I think this has been for me a more helpful way of thinking about this problem. On to your post...

You are essentially speaking of natural evil: it isn’t really evil per se that we are imperfect; but these imperfections can and do lead to evil by causing us to do evil. To continue summarizing your view, we are imperfect because God can only create imperfect beings. I understand all of this.

It does make sense to make the 'evil generator' in terms of the relationship between God and the universe our moral crimes, but I would say it's the imperfection itself - although it's not a moral fact.

There is no quantitative amount of evil in the car wreck itself. In fact, the only thing that makes it evil is the subjective observance of the little girl and the people around her. If there were no one around and two cars, with nobody in them, collided, it wouldn’t be evil. Yet, God could easily stop two cars with nobody in them from ramming without having to spread “car ramming-ness” around the universe. If he can do that, then why is it any different with two people in the cars?

I would like to add that apart from preventing evil, God can do absolutely everything that isn't *logically* self-contradictory (although I should note I actually think eliminating evil while we're imperfect and accepting the Holy Spirit is also logically self-contradictory). If it didn't affect the amount of evil in the world, God could transform us all into giant ants, could make everything outside our atmosphere (including empty space) into unfathomable numbers of jelly beans, with absolutely no side effects for us, and could even, if he really wanted, have a game of tennis using black holes.

But alas, you have an answer. You say that there are meta-rules that apply to the beings in this horrific game of life and death (due to the transitivity of the relationship?) that actually prevent God from intervening on his own creation. However, this is little more than random conjecture. You cannot explain away a problem by positing rules that prevent God from intervening on the physical world.

I think there's a plausible pathway to what I'm saying. Assume God is rationality as an agent (which the Gospel of John implies 'In the beginning was the Rationality, and the Rationality was with God, and the Rationality was God, also see earlier post.) So if God is rationality as an agent, then everything rational has to be God - right? So how can there be any other beings? The answer is to differentiate those beings from God by making them slightly less rational than he is, thus they weren't always with him and weren't always God. But unfortunately, that would mean that, since goodness is a rational enterprise, that they're less good (in terms of actions, not their conception of good.)

Now, if God is everything and the foundation of being, then I think it's plausible that God has to support that which he creates pretty intensely. He supports it so closely the universe effectively is him, except what affects the universe doesn't affect him (only what affects him affects the universe) and the universe and he are actually separate, though the closest they can be while being separate.

Now, the core irrationality in our beings is totally anti-God like darkness is to light in a room. You turn the light on, the darkness goes away, turn it off, the darkness comes back. You don't have both at once. So this core irrationality in us, which comes out as varying levels of evil in people, has a very damaging effect on our relationship with God. And if you have this conceptualization of God and the universe's relationship being like we're living inside this God, then this means with those caveats the universe effectively IS God, so it makes sense that our bad relationship with God can affect us in our universe. The concept of a relationship necessarily implies that both people have that relationship to each other, so what from us goes to God comes from God to us. We have this broken relationship with God, we're living in God's being, therefore, this relationship comes back to us through people in God's being having evil experiences (see a clarification on the relationship between evil experiences and physical laws down in this post.)

Not only is this cheating in any argument

What do you say to the explanation above? If it's kind of plausible or has a ring of plausibility is that not legitimate? Also, as you said earlier I'm allowed some speculation in the premise section of my argument.

it would not hold sway with ANY religious person I know. They all believe in miracles of some form or another. In fact, if you are Christian, miracles are a central tenet of your belief: Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. If you’re Catholic, then you believe a miracle must happen at every mass. This would mean thousands a day. In other words, the first and strongest thing that can be concluded on the basis of what you are saying (that God cannot intervene on his physical creation) is that there are no miracles. I completely agree that there are no miracles, but I think this severely weakens then entire case for Christianity or the divine in the first place.

But I don't agree that my argument says that. As I said earlier on, God can play tennis with black holes if he wants to, and do anything at all in this universe that doesn't involve reducing the quantity of evil suffered over all history. So, I mean, I think it would be perfectly fine for God to give everyone, for example, advanced intergalactic space flight through the power of praying to him, or the ability to move mountains into the sea by the same way, as long as it didn't reduce the quantity of evil in the world.

But on that evil comment, I need to clarify regarding what you said. I do believe in miracles - also of the kind that relieves evil - because that is clearly in the Bible, but I just don't think it can happen in a way that reduces the quantity of evil that will be suffered throughout history. So when God does any miracle, he has to allow someone else to suffer evil. This actually helps me, because it explains why, even though God can do miracles to heal the sick and make the lame walk, which he did in the Bible, he doesn't do it very often because it just shifts evil around; it doesn't get rid of it entirely; and what will get rid of it entirely will be making people perfect in the new heaven and the new earth.

But to make us perfect, first God has to get people to accept the Holy Spirit, which didn't need more than one moment of imperfect people, but which God has extended because it makes no difference in the proportion of evil to good in the world and for other reasons of his.

So, remember those caveats.

This is because it would only a take an abridgment of the laws of physics to stop the evil; all you have to do to stop a car wreck is intervene on the laws of PHYSICS. Nothing more. And all it would have taken to prevent the evil that occurred when the girl’s mom died was to stop the car wreck. You do the math. So, if God can indeed intervene on the laws of physics, then the laws of transitivity (whatever they happen to be) don’t matter when it comes to reducing the amount of evil in the world. After all, all it would take to stop evil in any scenario is an abridgment of the laws of physics.

I think an analogy might be provided by the game of chess. Now, chess obviously goes according to certain rules; you can only move pieces in a certain way. Now, when I'm playing chess on a physical board, I can do whatever I want with the chess pieces. I can put my pawn from the starting rank on to the other end of the board and say to my opponent 'Queen me', in one move, if I want to. I can even throw the board off the table if I want to, unhappy at how the game is going. But all of these physical things I can do are totally irrelevant to the rules of chess. The moment I do something illegal the game as a game of chess essentially stops, and it won't start again until I put the board back into a legal position (within the rules of chess, what I've done is contradictory.) I think it would help to conceptualize God and evil like that. God is no more stopped in intervening in nature than I am in throwing the chess board out the window or giving myself 10 Queens. But if you're playing a non-self-contradictory game you have to play according to the rules of chess, so God has to play according to the rules of ontology/being mentioned about earlier in this post. I think this is a good way of conceptualizing things.

Also, I think there is an important point here that we've both temporarily forgotten. Remember in an earlier post I alleged that evil has to happen but that the physical laws through which this evil happens are only God trying to make this evil happen in a rationally understood way, and that the evil would still happen even if there were *no* laws of physics at all. So I don't see how any of your points about God stopping the car, or someone stopping Hitler physically would necessarily affect the amount of evil. Suffering, pain, grief, evil equivalent to all of these things would still happen, but in this world, they wouldn't make any sense and wouldn't fit in with our understanding without physical laws - God gives us physical laws partly to calm us down and give us order in our lives given all this horrible stuff has to happen one way or another.

So since evil is not necessarily the same thing as any physical accident, I don't see how the fact God could stop anything physically would have much relevance to whether in the subjective experiences of his creatures great evil occurred. People could still suffer just as much apropos of no apparent event, and indeed, would certainly do so.

2/06/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

I don’t even know where to begin. But I must, so here goes nothing.

Allow me to refer back to this one concrete example of the little girl’s mother. Now, you take it as a truth that God very well could intervene on the car wreck and make it not happen. Indeed, if God can turn us into giant ants, then he surely can stop two bulky objects like cars from ramming into one another. Now, I assume that you also take it that stopping two bulky objects like cars from ramming into one another is nothing more than an abridgement of the known laws of physics. So, God would only need to break the laws of physics to stop two cars from ramming into one another.

Now, let’s just say that in one of these two cars is the little girl’s mother. The evil that occurred when the mother died IS that the two cars rammed into each other and the mother died. So, to stop that evil would be to stop the two cars from ramming into each other. If you can stop the two cars from ramming into one another, then you can stop the evil from happening. Now THIS is a real example of transitivity. You stop the cars from ramming, then you stop the evil. In order to stop the two cars from ramming, all you need to do is break the known laws of physics. Thus, by mathematical transitivity, you can stop the evil by only breaking the laws of physics. There is no analogy to get you out of this one. This is real logic:

P1. For all x, if x is a physical event then God can stop it.
P2. Two cars A and B ramming is a physical event.
P3. Two cars A and B ramming caused evil.
4. If two cars A and B ramming is a physical event then God can stop it. (1)
5. Thus, God can stop two cars A and B from ramming. (4, 2)
6. Thus, God can stop something from causing evil. (3,5)

This is a childish logical proof. Not accepting it based on an analogy would be an illegal move. (This is why philosophers typically like to stay away from analogies.) Nonetheless, let me tell you why your analogy is in fact wrong. You invoke the idea of a chess game to explain that, yes, while God can do anything he wants to, just as a chess player can do anything he wants to, God, and the chessmaster, must follow the rules of chess, or of transitivity, if his move is to be… What? Meaningful? This analogy proves too much. It seems to suggest that God can’t even intervene on regular physical events because otherwise, his move wouldn’t be meaningful.

If God can intervene on the physical world, then he could have stopped two cars from ramming, case closed. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. What force is stopping God from stopping two cars from ramming? What force is causing evil to spread around when God intervenes in one local area and stops evil? In chess, the force keeping a chess player from being able to move his pawn over to kill the queen in one move is nothing more than the predefined, arbitrary rules of the game. The chess player can’t do this simply for the trivial fact that he wouldn’t be playing chess if he did. But this is not the case with God and the physical laws of the universe. There is nothing preventing God from stopping two cars from ramming. But for some reason, you seem to suggest that when a little girl’s mother is in the car, God is all of the sudden unable to stop the car from ramming. This is, again, mere conjecture backed up by a bad chess analogy. You are systematically refusing to explain, in detail, why God cannot intervene on his creation and stop two cars from ramming and thus preventing a grave evil from occurring without having to spread the evil around.

1. A woman is in a car.
2. A car is about to hit the woman’s car.
3. God stops it because he can do whatever is logically possible.
4. An evil was prevented.

There is NOTHING in this sequence that you have legitimately shown to be impossible. I have searched vain throughout your jumbled circumlocution for a reasonable explanation but all I have gotten is analogies and abstract conjecture about the meta-rules God must follow when dealing with evil. You agree that God can stop two cars from ramming, but only in the event that it doesn’t also happen to stop an evil from occurring. Why?

2/06/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Now, let’s just say that in one of these two cars is the little girl’s mother. The evil that occurred when the mother died IS that the two cars rammed into each other and the mother died. So, to stop that evil would be to stop the two cars from ramming into each other. If you can stop the two cars from ramming into one another, then you can stop the evil from happening

We'd better stop here, as I don't agree. Look again at the tail end of my previous post where I said that the physical laws of the universe are just something God has arranged so that when evil happens, it is understandable. The physical laws of the universe, and physical events in the universe, in no way cause evil. From a post earlier on:

"Next natural evil. Now, whether or not we have a system of laws and a readily understandable universe is irrelevant in my defense to whether the evil in our world will happen. Because the evil isn't based on the natural laws ultimately, but on those relationships argued for in the article, and is thus not contingent on any particular form our natural laws take, or even that the laws of, or appearance of, our natural world is understandable. As it happens, God has laid out this suffering in a way according to natural laws, so when someone has a heart attack, we can know it was because he had a bad heart condition, or for other scientifically knowable reasons."

Also look here at your proof:

P1. For all x, if x is a physical event then God can stop it.
P2. Two cars A and B ramming is a physical event.
P3. Two cars A and B ramming caused evil.
4. If two cars A and B ramming is a physical event then God can stop it. (1)
5. Thus, God can stop two cars A and B from ramming. (4, 2)
6. Thus, God can stop something from causing evil. (3,5)


I don't agree with P3 as I don't agree that the crash caused the evil. What caused the evil was the ontological relations of being I've been explaining - if God had stopped the crash, then what then? The evil would still have happened, it just would have had nothing physical to go along with it and everyone would be scratching their heads as to why everyone is suffering so much.

These nuances are very important, and if you can overcome them your argument will be that much stronger.

1. A woman is in a car.
2. A car is about to hit the woman’s car.
3. God stops it because he can do whatever is logically possible.
4. An evil was prevented.


Again, I'd disagree with 4, as above.

To restate the original ontological relations, we have a necessarily bad relationship with God because we're imperfect, we are IN God presently (in a way explained earlier), therefore we suffer pain and evil from the effects of this damaged relationship, and this pain isn't necessarily connected with anything that happens in terms of what we observe or any law of nature but which God has decided to connect thereto. So I'd invite you to reformulate your argument taking into consideration this objection.

2/06/2008  
Blogger macguy said...

Lamar,

This would be, quite literally, an evil thing to do.

A distribution of evil, is certainly not an evil thing to do when we consider that God didn't cause that evil to begin with. The only decision for which you may plausibly argue is evil was God's initial inclination towards creating free rational agents even though He was aware of the limitations (e.g, God couldn't have created perfectly good beings for reasons which Will notes). Even that, however, seems to require quite a defense. But yes, there is no doubt in my mind that what occurred is evil, rather than good. Upon reading your example, I find it emotionally driven to the point where I'm not seeing much of a refutation to my initial argument. If you take offense to this, I apologize but I'll nevertheless attempt to argue against your point.

It is at least something that an all-powerful and all-good creator—who, no one has yet denied, has the power to have stopped this travesty—would let happen.

Allow me to provide an alternative example, that would suite my purposes of explaining this to you. Let's suppose that I could control the location of natural evil and the extent of it that may be inflicted on that geographical area. However, I'm not able to prevent the TOTAL amount of evil in it’s entirety, but am only allowed to control it to wherever I so please. For the sake of this hypothetical situation, if I were to prevent the fire this would meant the definite increase of an ice age which would still be considered detrimental to the species. The point I'm arriving at is that it would depend on how one looks at this. This world may only include fires so I would have the natural tendency to prevent this. If I decided to prevent fires, it would seem like good news to the species until we see the cons of such. As a result, I would evidently decide to distribute the fires and ice ages either equally or unequally (regardless as both are natural evils) to other areas so that one location could support them for food, whereas the people suffering very cold weather would provide water.

Given my inherent inability to prevent this evil without some cons, would I be considered evil for it's distribution? I think not, only if we can argue that I am the direct cause for such things... It is certainly within my ability to destroy the world to rid of these creature's misery but that again, is only a one-sided outlook. Certainly we can expect that there are areas of beauty and if I were to rid of this, would this make me evil? I just destroyed a planet for the reason that there is evil, but in the process I also did away with the good. For destroying the good, what would I be considered? Evil? Good? In either case, I believe you would be looking at it from a subjective manner but you could argue I was neither. In this case, what would make God evil? The only difference in the planet’s nonexistence compared to it’s existence is a matter of existence along with the continuation of good and evil. Would this continuation make God evil? It seems not as there good and evil are only allowed to exist further so the only option under the “neither” explanation, is logically a neither. Thus it would appear that you can’t argue that God is evil for allowing evil along with good to exist... The essential argument now seems to be within the premise of whether God creating such a world was evil or good as I noted in the beginning paragraph. May I carefully also note that this example excludes the “creation” as a means of providing clarity to a specific issue of God’s distribution being “evil”. You’ll also notice two things: 1) I was speaking from a holistic perspective rather than looking specifically AND 2) My argument also deals with the problem holistically by destroying everything.

P1) World X’s evil can be controlled from location Y to location Z as well as the degree of it.
P2) If evil XY (fire) is prevented, it would simply cause evil YX (cold)
P3) To prevent ALL evil would require me to destroy World X.
4. Consequently, both evil and good would be destroyed to accomplish p3.
5. Either this action is evil or good.
6. If neither, I am not evil for allowing and distributing evil.
7. Therefore, the question relies on subjectivity to have any basis.

Now, to address your specific example, God may have been ABLE to prevent it in the same way that I could’ve stopped natural evil but this only deals with the result, not the fundamental problem. This being that God would have to create perfect creatures (impossible) or fix ALL of their imperfection to solve the rest of the results. God would have this limitations in the way described by Will in this blog post (e.g., He cannot create a square circle as it is nonsensical). You continue by noting the pain that this has been brought upon the girl and emotionally focus on this issue. However, you don’t seem to understand that to do so would require another person/s to experience this amount of evil and God may just not be willing to do so. Surely it is possible for God to prevent that accident but this doesn’t constitute that He MUST do so or He would be evil; which I’ve already addressed. We are by very nature imperfect and this brings evil throughout our entire world so God in the least can only distribute to what He sees fit. If He destroyed our imperfection, we would no longer be free beings and to begin with, He wished to honor the being’s free will and their wish to be happy but this had some effects that He must bypass using methods such as the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.

To say that God must spread the evil around because the 11-year-old was also a sinner is perhaps the most perverse thing I’ve heard in all my life.

Whether you find it perverse or not isn't the issue here. Evil is a necessity if we were to grant the given conditions for which God wished to accomplish but was limited in doing. Are we then going to have God place our sin on people who never committed it by punishing only those who are bad? Using your specific example, I think it can easily be extended holistically to say that all evil should be stopped but this has already been answered. To conclude, I don’t find your argument convincing against Christianity (at least) but then again I’m very open to the possibility of being incorrect which may be the case. Will G can note of any misrepresentations I’m making of his work; in fact, I’d very much welcome such corrections. Currently I am learning philosophy in my spare time, considering that I am a 16 old student who is busy with various other tasks. Hopefully I am making coherent sense here and thank you for the response.

2/07/2008  
Anonymous Dr. Withenburough Silious McGonnigus IV said...

I feel like a student among professors here, but I thought I would at least comment on this post. Will G, you say that there is a set a amount of evil in the world (so exact, apparently that it can be mathematically broken down). I'm going to pursue one of the fallacies in this argument:

1. There is a set amount of evil.
2. Little girl must take her share.
3. God delegates the evil by not stopping the tragedy of a car crash killing her mother.
4. God is evil.

My main question is, why would God not intervene in an evil act, even though he can intervene when the act is neutral (like 2 cars ramming into each other). Breaking the laws of physics is somehow impossible when evil is in the mix? But then, this begs the questions, how much evil must be taking place?

If I were to go back in time, and murder Hitler and Stalin, would it be a good act? Even today, if a US marine were to come across Osama Bin Laden and shoot him on sight, as he saw him about to perform an evil act, would that be considered a good act? But that grants humans a power that apparently God himself does not have!

Answer me these questions as you please, I check this blog often.

2/07/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

My main question is, why would God not intervene in an evil act, even though he can intervene when the act is neutral (like 2 cars ramming into each other). Breaking the laws of physics is somehow impossible when evil is in the mix? But then, this begs the questions, how much evil must be taking place?

I think we need to think about cart before the horse type mistakes here in interpreting the argument. The laws of physics in no way cause evil, nor any physical happening like the two cars crashing; the laws of physics could be nonexistent and there would still be evil. God could easily stop the two cars from crashing, the mother could be perfectly safe, and all of history could have taken place without any such incident to any of them, but, assuming God didn't redirect the actual evil, they would still suffer terribly.

The physical stuff that gives rise to the evil, in terms of appearances, for us in our world, can be gotten rid of or changed completely; the evil cannot be.

If I were to go back in time, and murder Hitler and Stalin, would it be a good act? Even today, if a US marine were to come across Osama Bin Laden and shoot him on sight, as he saw him about to perform an evil act, would that be considered a good act? But that grants humans a power that apparently God himself does not have!

An interesting objection here that you are the first to bring up, is that it might be argued that people shouldn't even *try* to prevent evil as the same amount of evil will happen anyway. It's a clever objection, because although it probably doesn't defeat the argument, it makes it encourage wrong acts, in the sense of encouraging people not to intervene to stop evil, and thus makes the argument to some extent absurd.

A response could be that the evil that will occur within our history is distributed out not only over people, but also over time. So it's possible for the vast majority of the evil that will happen in our history to have happened 'early on'. In fact, it's even possible that humanity is destined to enter an era of much less evil and suffering, since humanity has already suffered the vast brunt of this evil (I don't know.) A lot of Christians would say that the Bible says that the state of the world will get immeasurably worse before the end times; whether this is true, might be up to interpretation, and is not necessarily a part of my theodicy. So it's possible humanity will enter an era of less suffering in our world, which precedes a neat and orderly ending of our world and entrance, for all (or some, depending on soteriological beliefs) into a life of perfect happiness forever.

Therefore, based on the above paragraph, I think that any person who sees a potential evil, or something that could be prevented that rightfully should be, could *never* say 'God wishes me to allow this evil' or 'I should just sit back and allow evil to continue to occur'. Because for all you know, God is making us enter an era of less suffering, and therefore wants, very much, for you to intervene to stop the evil, and moreover you should think that you can make a real difference to the state of the world. So people should be constantly working towards improving the world, because they don't know that a much better world isn't around the corner and is achievable and which God wants them to work towards, and indeed, God has created us in a way that we will always work towards that world.

2/07/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Which is to say Withenburough, that for anyone in the position where they could prevent great evil by taking out an evil person, then in their position it would be a good idea to do so in order to prevent evil, because they can't assume that the world is not going to get better and humanity's condition will not be improved. But if some evil was not prevented in the past then we can know that evil had to happen to someone, and therefore although it is highly unfortunate for it to happen to any specific person, we know it had to happen to someone in the same quantity; either to them or some other person, or to lesser degrees many people. So God's decision to allow it to happen to any individual is one that would be incredibly hard for any being to make, but which he has to make, just as we would have to make it in his shoes.

2/07/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

The conversation has gotten out of hand. I now have macguy accusing me of the fallacy of using emotion over reason. I have not done this. Macguy has simply used the fallacy of mere conjecture. You cannot just assert,

“However, you don’t seem to understand that to do so would require another person/s to experience this amount of evil and God may just not be willing to do so.”

without defending it. My question is, why would preventing one instance of evil require God to spread the evil around? It makes abslutely no sense whatsoever. All God would have to do to stop the evil of a car wreck is stop the two cars from hitting eachother.

“Surely it is possible for God to prevent that accident but this doesn’t constitute that He MUST do so or He would be evil; which I’ve already addressed.”

Actually, it would. God would be performing an egregious, cosmic form of the so-called “sin of ommision.” If you come across a baby drowning in a small pool, you should stop it if you can. Otherwise, your being evil. Now, if God could drain the pool in which a baby is dying (which, as of yet, no one has denied) he definitely should. Again, I see no reason why God can’t just drain the pool’s water when a baby is about to drown. I also see no reason why God’s doing this would cause more evil to spread.

“If He destroyed our imperfection, we would no longer be free beings and to begin with, He wished to honor the being’s free will and their wish to be happy but this had some effects that He must bypass using methods such as the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.”

This is utter nonsense. To say that God must allow evil to respect our free will insults anyone who has ever been degraded by the evil of others. Should we have not entered the war effort to stop Hitler in order to respect the free will of Hitler? No. The free will argument ultimately fails to explain why there is evil because a direct consequence of the free will argument is that WE (being mere mortals) should not intervene on the wills of other evil doers, which is absurd. Furthermore, God would not even have to intervene on the free wills of others to stop evil—it is not ruinous to the free will of a wrongdoer to prevent him from doing wrong.

“Whether you find it perverse or not isn't the issue here. Evil is a necessity if we were to grant the given conditions for which God wished to accomplish but was limited in doing. Are we then going to have God place our sin on people who never committed it by punishing only those who are bad?”

You are confusing two arguments. Will is argueing that God can’t stop evil because there is a necessary amount of evil in the world. This is because there are meta-rules of transitivity at play preventing God from reducing the net evil. You are argueing the already-proven-wrong point that God has to respect our free will and thus cannot intervene on his creation to stop the evil. (Get up to date!) This Augustinian argument, as I have already argued, can be reduced to absurdity simply by noting that a direct consequence of it is that we should thus not intervene on evil whenever we see it happening. After all, we need to respect the free wills of others, don’t we?

Furthermore, when you say that what is perverse to me has no say in this argument you are contradicting yourself. What is evil is objective. I’m not a relatavist. So, if God fits the necessary and sufficient conditions for being evil, then he IS evil. So, if I conclude that God is evil based on what you are saying, I am making an objective claim that you must defend against. It is not a matter of opinion. Indeed, this whole argument assumes objective criteria for evil. Thus, in saying that my claim that God seems to be evil according to what you are saying, you are simply contradicting yourself because it is assumed that evil (perverseness) is an objective thing. The point of the debate about the problem of evil is that Christians need to explain why God can be both good and all-powerfull and yet let evil happen. The conclusion that God is not all-good (i.e., perverse) is the claim that you must defend against, not just brush off as a non-issue. It is THE issue.

Macguy, you also make the distinction in your argument between the holistic view of evil and the individual view. You say that I am ignoring the fact that you are looking at evil holistically and that one individual case fails to prove that there isn’t a necessary amount of evil holistically. What you need to prove is your dubious claim that even though God can stop all of the individual cases of evil, he would not stop the holistic amount. In short, I’m not ignoring your holistic view. I’m rejecting it.

My advise to you is to not fear rejecting Christianity, if this is what you happen to conclude in your lifetime. Do not be afraid to let go of what you have been taught by your elders, for the truth is far more important than the defense of an age old tradition.

Now, on to Will G’s comments. I’d like to comment on your response to the guy with the weird name:

“Therefore, based on the above paragraph, I think that any person who sees a potential evil, or something that could be prevented that rightfully should be, could *never* say 'God wishes me to allow this evil' or 'I should just sit back and allow evil to continue to occur'. Because for all you know, God is making us enter an era of less suffering, and therefore wants, very much, for you to intervene to stop the evil, and moreover you should think that you can make a real difference to the state of the world. So people should be constantly working towards improving the world, because they don't know that a much better world isn't around the corner and is achievable and which God wants them to work towards, and indeed, God has created us in a way that we will always work towards that world.”

The professor’s argument is good and I’m glad you see that. Though, I’m not glad that you didn’t see it when I made the same argument before. (“Thus, you are saying that there would not be MORE evil had we decided not to stop certain evil people from doing evil deads.”) But there is something more devious here then I thought. We should try to reduce the amount of evil in this world whether or not we think there can be a perfect world and indeed, whether or not there even CAN be a perfect world. But this is just a difference in principles. However, I think that tt really hurts your enterprise when a mere epistemilogical quirck is the only thing keeping society from diving into existential oblivian. What would you say if we somehow found out that a much better world wasn’t around the corner? Should we then NOT try stop evil from happening? You seem to suggest this.

Now on to the serious stuff. I am glad we have fleshed this whole thing out. We have come a long way since we began the discussion and we have finally found the ONE premis that we disagree on. So from here on out, it seems, we will focus on this topical issue. If it turns out that P3 is true, my argument necessarily follows. If it turns out that “not P3,” then your argument follows.

So P3 is the claim that the evil that occurred when the two cars wrecked (to continue the example) is, quite literally, the two cars wrecking. The reason I say this is that, had the two cars not wrecked, the little girl’s mom would have lived and thus, the little girl would be able to continue her praising of God with the violin. She would also have her mom back, which is important in any child’s life. You, on the other hand, claim that the mom and the girl would still suffer even if God had stopped the car wreck. This is simply not true though. Suffer from what, exactly? If you claim that they would suffer from some other evil that occurred in the world, then I can counter simply by saying that God could stop that evil, and so on to infinity. If you asked the girl what she was suffering from, or what evil had been done in her life, she would tell you that her mom died. Her mom’s death was a physical thing, in space and time, that occurred BECAUSE of the car wreck. So, if there had been no car wreck, then there would have been no evil. But there was a car wreck, so there was evil.

So, I think you need to explain why the little girl would still suffer even if her mom had not died.

“If God had stopped the crash, then what then? The evil would still have happened, it just would have had nothing physical to go along with it and everyone would be scratching their heads as to why everyone is suffering so much.”

Okay, so let me start off by saying that this is really a strange position to take. It ignores a lot of facts about Neuroscience and pain. Not to mention, I don’t know of any other Christian who would take this position. And, I have a strange feeling that you are contradicting yourself. In what sense would we be suffering? To you, it seems, evil is some kind of abstract cloud of…stuff that floats around waiting for God to find some physical event to put it in. It arises out of our imperfection, but our imperfections are physical things. For example, you gave the example of our natural tendencies to be angry as an imperfection that could lead to evil. These natural tendencies can only be understood as physical events in the brain.

Look, if evil for you has nothing to do with the physical world per se, then I can’t really argue with you. I’d like to consider myself as someone who has at least a semblence of understanding about the real world. When I get punched randomly by a bad guy, it was that punch that I didn’t want to have happen. If it had not happened, then I would not be in pain.

What we choose can cause evil. This you will not deny. But our choices only cause evil insofar as they are manifested in the real world. You can’t punch someone but with the laws of physics. Two cars cannot ram but with the laws of physics. If you took those things away, you would take away the evil.

I want to end by pointing out that your argument is comepletely circular. (I’ll try to develop this in my next point, because I’m running out of time for now.) You claim that evil can be explained even in light of the fact that God is all-powerful and all-good because there is a necessary amount of evil in the world caused by our imperfections. Yet, whenever I bring up a case in which God could stop evil, you shrug it off saying that since there is a necessary amount of evil in the world, it would do God or us no good for him to stop it. I can’t argue with this because it is set up such that it cannot be wrong.

A: “There is a necessary amount of evil, thus God can’t stop it.”
B: “But what about X, Y, Z etc…”
A: “God can’t stop those because there is a necessary amount of evil in the world.”
B: “But that’s what you’re trying to prove.”

So two things to discuss:

1. Premise three’s soundness.
2. The circular nature of your argument.

2/07/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

I'd also like to point out that your response to the professor missed the point. His point wasn't that since there is a certain amount of evil in the world we should thus not even try to stop it--the moral existentialism of Nietzsche. (That was actually mine from a couple posts ago.) His was the more profound point that since, emperically, we DO seem to be able to stop evil and have seemed to stop evil in the past, we-- according to you--must have a power that God doesn't have:

"But that grants humans a power that apparently God himself does not have!"
-The Dr.

2/07/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

His was the more profound point that since, emperically, we DO seem to be able to stop evil and have seemed to stop evil in the past, we-- according to you--must have a power that God doesn't have:

Given a case where evil was stopped, then wouldn't it be the case that the evil was stopped not because humanity has a power that God doesn't have, but because in that instance God didn't have to distribute the world's necessary evil into that case? If so, wouldn't it really be the case that it is God who gave us the ability to stop it, at least insofar as in that case he didn't have to distribute the evil out?

What would you say if we somehow found out that a much better world wasn’t around the corner? Should we then NOT try stop evil from happening? You seem to suggest this.

I think an interesting science fiction story could probably be written about what people would do and think if this theodicial situation occurred, perhaps in a virtual world they inhabited... Nevertheless, no one could reasonably act differently than God if they were in his shoes, so the facts of the case still justify him.

If you claim that they would suffer from some other evil that occurred in the world, then I can counter simply by saying that God could stop that evil, and so on to infinity

The subjective experience of the world in our minds is not necessarily reflective of what goes on outside of them. We could subjectively, in a scientific experiment perhaps, be disconnected from the physical world (but only in our minds) and experience all kinds of weird things. Moreover, a scientist, with sufficient technology, could probably make us feel the most hopeless feelings of unhappiness and despair without necessarily anything changing in the world apart from some brain chemistry.

But on the subject of brain chemistry, my beliefs about this (working within a Christian framework) are that our brains mirror our souls in some way, which explains why what affects our brains affects our souls, in terms of pain and so forth. But the thing 'in us' that in us is our person, ourselves, although mirrored by what goes on in the brain, is really not our brains but our soul or 'image of God' self. Not this physical stuff. My brain will decay into the ground, but my soul will continue forever. So it seems reasonable that what goes on even physically in our brains could be disconnected from our experience as human souls, and we could still therefore suffer as a result of our imperfection.

Okay, so let me start off by saying that this is really a strange position to take. It ignores a lot of facts about Neuroscience and pain. Not to mention, I don’t know of any other Christian who would take this position.

Well, I'm sure that a lot of people would probably agree with you. But then again, sometimes strange things are true. As a Christian I find this theodicy to be acceptable, but I can only do as much as to present what to me sounds like a good defense against the problem of evil, and hope others who read it find it to be a good one.

And, I have a strange feeling that you are contradicting yourself. In what sense would we be suffering? To you, it seems, evil is some kind of abstract cloud of…stuff that floats around waiting for God to find some physical event to put it in.

See above, evil is demanded not physically but ultimately in human experience; in our 'souls', which in this world mirror our physical brains, but which are not necessarily the same thing as our brains. Moreover it all happens due to these ontological relations in my theodicy, an explanation that has not yet been shown (although admittedly it is quite abstract) to not work.

It arises out of our imperfection, but our imperfections are physical things. For example, you gave the example of our natural tendencies to be angry as an imperfection that could lead to evil. These natural tendencies can only be understood as physical events in the brain.

A person's tendency to have no self-control or have serious anger management issues is an imperfection of the brain; our imperfection that cuts us off from God is an imperfection of the soul. An analogy might be from an imperfection of the physical to make clear what an imperfection of the spiritual is like.

Look, if evil for you has nothing to do with the physical world per se, then I can’t really argue with you. I’d like to consider myself as someone who has at least a semblence of understanding about the real world. When I get punched randomly by a bad guy, it was that punch that I didn’t want to have happen. If it had not happened, then I would not be in pain.

What we choose can cause evil. This you will not deny. But our choices only cause evil insofar as they are manifested in the real world. You can’t punch someone but with the laws of physics. Two cars cannot ram but with the laws of physics. If you took those things away, you would take away the evil.


I think you're looking at it from, I'll admit, what could only be described as the normal way of looking at the universe, pain, physical laws, and a naturalistic ontology. My argument on the other hand speaks to more than what the average belief describes of those things, but seeks to go beyond it in a more elaborate ontology within a Christian worldview geared specifically to answering the problem of evil - and within my premises what I say is coherent, I still think.

I want to end by pointing out that your argument is comepletely circular. (I’ll try to develop this in my next point, because I’m running out of time for now.) You claim that evil can be explained even in light of the fact that God is all-powerful and all-good because there is a necessary amount of evil in the world caused by our imperfections. Yet, whenever I bring up a case in which God could stop evil, you shrug it off saying that since there is a necessary amount of evil in the world, it would do God or us no good for him to stop it. I can’t argue with this because it is set up such that it cannot be wrong.

I think this sounds like a repeat of the earlier discussion we had about whether my argument was circular, and you ultimately agreed that against an internal attack on Christianity the Christian defender is allowed a certain room to maneuver in terms of coming up with premises or understandings of Christianity that defuse the internal attack. Now, I don't think what I have said is circular, but if you want to prove it is you'll need to be careful about where I get to in my argument from what premises, as I don't start off with this, but proceed to my conclusions through carefully laid out premises and argument within those premises. So that's an important point about these complicated arguments.

2/07/2008  
Blogger macguy said...

I now have macguy accusing me of the fallacy of using emotion over reason. I have not done this.

Yes, in an argument a variety of accusations are made against an opponent's arguments but I did not leave this without providing reasons. You did the same by saying that what I was arguing is the "most perverse thing" yet I cannot make comments of my own? There is no need to take this personally as I was simply talking about your argument and I even apologized if you took any personal offense.

I'd very much appreciate if we don't make an issue out of this and continue with the discussion. It seems I'm just being a burden here so I will allow you and Will to continue even though I wish to respond. BTW, I really don't mind but your grammar usage addresses me as if you're speaking to Will rather than directly to me. He is not responsible for any ignorant remarks on my part or comments. I'm just taking some precautions to clarify incase of some misunderstanding. Last comment:

My advise to you is to not fear rejecting Christianity, if this is what you happen to conclude in your lifetime. Do not be afraid to let go of what you have been taught by your elders, for the truth is far more important than the defense of an age old tradition.

True enough, and I don’t necessarily fear this as I was pretty much born with an atheistic Mom and a Christian Father so I literally have nothing stopping me from rejecting the religion from a socialistic perspective. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind as I continue to evaluate the arguments! Thanks again for your comments.

2/08/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

“If He destroyed our imperfection, we would no longer be free beings and to begin with, He wished to honor the being’s free will and their wish to be happy but this had some effects that He must bypass using methods such as the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.”

This is utter nonsense. To say that God must allow evil to respect our free will insults anyone who has ever been degraded by the evil of others. Should we have not entered the war effort to stop Hitler in order to respect the free will of Hitler? No. The free will argument ultimately fails to explain why there is evil because a direct consequence of the free will argument is that WE (being mere mortals) should not intervene on the wills of other evil doers, which is absurd. Furthermore, God would not even have to intervene on the free wills of others to stop evil—it is not ruinous to the free will of a wrongdoer to prevent him from doing wrong.


I think I need to note here, that I think MacGuy is accurately reflecting my understanding of free will (his other points defending my argument are already subsumed within our current discussion; it's that this comment merits special defense).

What I mean is, that we are created imperfect, and then God does... something, to make us perfect. This something is God offering and us accepting the Holy Spirit, and after we have accepted it we are connected with God and as rational persons can be as perfect (with God's help) as he is morally, through us having perfectly good inclinations with regard to our choices. And I think it is this perfecting of our inclinations that repairs our relationship with God entirely. I now think that it is probably our flawed inclinations that damage our relationship with God from the start, not our bad moral choices that flow from them.

But what do I mean by inclinations? And how can moral inclinations be shared by everyone to the same degree, as I earlier argued regarding the structural thing that damages our relationship with God, since people are both good and bad? And how can inclinations like poor self-control or something like that be an inclination of the soul, not a physical inclination in an earlier point?

What I mean by bad inclination is not a bad physical inclination but a bad rational inclination in the sense that, when it comes to the faculty of our free will, we all have the exact same ability to make an evil choice. For some it would be this situation, for another person another. For some there would be many situations, for others very few. But we all have equal freedom with respect to doing the wrong thing. It's just that others use their free will to almost always make good choices instead of less good ones (why they deserve to be called good people) whereas others use their free will to do evil, and thus deserve to be called bad people.

This is not how it is with God, who can never even conceive of a reason to do something wrong (although he is aware of our rational deficiencies, they couldn't ever apply to how he would think about himself.) What I'm saying here is in line with (my interpretation of) Kantian ideas of the morally perfect person as a purely rational agent - which don't imply a limit on God at all for the same reason (see the sidebar on Why God Must Be Good.)

The theodicy arises because logically, in order to accept the Holy Spirit to then be made perfect, you'd have to be accepting it at a time or felt moment when you're imperfect. So you'd have to experience a felt moment or experiential time at which point you're accepting the Holy Spirit while being imperfect (the 'one moment of imperfection' limitation).

God *cannot* force the Holy Spirit on persons to make them perfect without their consent, because such a thing is literally self-contradictory. The reason for this is that what will fix our relationship with God is us having perfect inclinations to make perfectly good choices, and to have any such inclinations given our necessary imperfection would either be impossible, or require a person to be constantly in a state of accepting the Holy Spirit, as only through the Holy Spirit can it be done. Thus to repair the relationship, you'd need to have perfect inclinations for choices, but this would only exist in someone who's already and continuously accepting the Holy Spirit. Therefore you'd have to have accepted the Holy Spirit to then have those inclinations, and this 'felt/experienced moment' of choice can't be skipped, because if you skipped it then you wouldn't have experienced making any such choice that you have made. So you have to experience a time at which the choice is being made and thus a situation for which that can be true; viz. the choice is not made already, and thus you have to experience, during making this choice, a moment of imperfect existence. In other words everyone needs to accept the Holy Spirit as an imperfect person.

The only way for God to bypass this is for him not to create persons at all, since all persons have free will (according to the way I define free will - see my sidebar article on free will as rationality) and instead to create robots, which of course then he could have do anything he wanted, like a programmer writing a computer program. But I think making persons as opposed to robots does make all the evil in our world worthwhile, so MacGuy is literally right in interpreting me, in the sense I'm defending, in saying that God ultimately has to allow all this evil for the sake of freedom, or rather, personhood.

2/08/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Macguy, when I said that you were making the fallacy of mere conjecture, I wasn’t referring to your claim that I was making an argument from emotion—that was a legitimate claim on your part, however, it was simply wrong. (The question of how an all-good and all-powerful God can allow evil to occur is the point of the debate. So, if my conclusion is that God must be perverse for some reason, i.e., NOT all good, then you need to defend it rather then brush it off as a fallacy.) I was referring to your claim that there is a necessary amount of evil, which as of yet, both you and Will have systematically decided not to support. Hence, mere conjecture. (Actually, Will has tried to defend it.)

Anyways, when I said that what you said was perverse, I was simply pointing out the flaw in the premise that Christians take for granted, namely, that God is all good. So in other words, I was saying that if God let evil happen without scrambling to stop it in any way he could, it would be perverse. Again, that is the thing Christians must defend against. That IS the infamous “problem of evil.” I have nothing more to say.

1) “Given a case where evil was stopped, then wouldn't it be the case that the evil was stopped not because humanity has a power that God doesn't have, but because in that instance God didn't have to distribute the world's necessary evil into that case?”

This is what I mean by “mere conjecture.” You can’t, on the one hand, argue that it is necessary that there is a certain amount of evil in the world and that even if God were to try to stop it in one instance it would only necessarily spread around according to some meta-laws you’ve not yet explained only to turn around and say that, on the other hand, well actually, there have been cases when God DID have the power to stop evil without having to spread the same quantity of evil elsewhere. What about the meta-laws of transitivity that you’ve been touting this whole time then? What happens to the chess game analogy then? You are simply contradicting yourself. Granted, this is allowable—if you have reasons. But you offer none here. Again, mere conjecture. So let me recap: God can’t stop evil because there is a necessary amount, and even if he did, he would only have to spread the evil around. But, since this suggests that even we (humans) couldn’t have stopped evil in the past, which we obviously have, you simply make up an explanation by saying that… “oh yeah, God can do that sometimes.” How convenient. Nothing proves you wrong.

2) “I think an interesting science fiction story could probably be written about what people would do and think if this theodicial situation occurred, perhaps in a virtual world they inhabited... Nevertheless, no one could reasonably act differently than God if they were in his shoes, so the facts of the case still justify him.”

This is not a legitimate response. If you listen to what I was talking about, then you’ll realize that I wasn’t talking about what God would do. I was talking about what we should do in the face of certain knowledge that the world will not get any better. You said to the Dr., who posted earlier, that we should still try to stop evil (even if your theology seems to suggest that we can’t stop it) because, after all, we never know if we are coming onto a better world or not. And, we just might be coming onto a better world. All I was saying is that this is a bad reason to try to stop evil. We should try to stop evil even if we don’t think the world will get better. Again, what do you think we should do if we found out that the world was not going to get better? Your response to the Dr.’s argument seems to suggest (actually, it logically infers) that we should NOT try to stop evil in that scenario. I was simply reducing your response to absurdity. Ah, but here you’ve defended it with an incoherent response about science fiction stories and justifying the behavior of God…What? That had nothing to do with what we were talking about.

3) “But on the subject of brain chemistry, my beliefs about this (working within a Christian framework) are that our brains mirror our souls in some way, which explains why what affects our brains affects our souls, in terms of pain and so forth.”

You mean, “what effects our SOULS is what effects our BRAINS,” not the other way around, right? Because, if it was the other way around, as you have suggested, this does not defend against that idea that God could simply change our brain chemistry and stop a needlessly depressed person from possibly committing suicide, etc… What you should be saying, which is what I have heard from other theologians, is that our souls can affect our brain chemistry. Because, if you say that our souls could NOT affect our brain chemistry, and that it was the other way around, then this could easily lead you in to determinism. (Note: NOT good for Christianity.) Neuroscientists are constantly chipping away at the chemical causes for our behavior and if they someday find all of the chemical causes, then unless our souls can affect the chemical reactions, we simply do not have free will. This is just a minor point.

My bigger point is that the argument of mine that you quoted was merely a safety, pre-response, if you will, to a possible claim that you MIGHT have made, namely, that IF you were to say that the 11-year-old girl would only experience evil elsewhere in her life even if God had stopped the car wreck from killing her mother then I could just say that God could also stop those future evils from happening, ad infinitum. In light of this, I have no idea how the response you made relates to what I was arguing.

4) “Well, I'm sure that a lot of people would probably agree with you. But then again, sometimes strange things are true. As a Christian I find this theodicy to be acceptable, but I can only do as much as to present what to me sounds like a good defense against the problem of evil, and hope others who read it find it to be a good one.”

Yes. I’d also like to point out that the Manicheans would gladly agree with you. You, of course, know about Manicheaism. It was rejected by Augustine and later called a heresy by the Catholic Church. My point is that no one has the views on evil that you do. Only probably Taoists or Buddhists. I can’t think of ANY Christians who would say what you are saying about evil. But, as you so intelligently pointed out, this does not make you wrong.

5) “See above, evil is demanded not physically but ultimately in human experience; in our 'souls', which in this world mirror our physical brains, but which are not necessarily the same thing as our brains. Moreover it all happens due to these ontological relations in my theodicy, an explanation that has not yet been shown (although admittedly it is quite abstract) to not work.”

Here’s why it won’t work:

1. You say that the evil that we think of in the world is not really the evil per se, but really just a manifestation of the evil necessarily in our souls due to our lack of a close and true relationship with God.

2. Thus, you say, we can deny P3 from before.

3. Thus, you say, God cannot stop the evil of, perhaps, a car wreck because even if he broke the laws of physics to stop it he would only be not letting the necessary evil occur in a meaningful way. We would still be feeling it in our souls and we would only be confused because we would not be able to make meaning out of it.

This line of reasoning (please correct any parts of it that you see are wrong) will lead you into conclusions that you do not want to go. For example, what if I decided to punch a baby. That surely is an evil act. I mean, you could quibble all day about ethics, but at the end of the day…no punching babies, right? Okay, so we know it is evil to punch a baby. But let’s say I did it anyway for no good reason other than that I’m mean. Surely it is the BABY, not me, that felt the affects of this evil. I mean the IMMEDIATE effects. There are all sorts of things that you could say that would convince me that I would be feeling some of the evil of my actions (guilt, anger at myself, etc…) also. But nothing could convince me otherwise of the fact that it was the baby that was harmed and felt the bulk of the evil, not me.

Now, based on your theology, we could conclude that even had I not punched the baby, the baby would still be feeling the evil. After all, if God had made me fall asleep until the mother came and got her baby (let’s say I was babysitting and I decided to punch the baby for crying) this would only get rid of the physical manifestation of the evil. It would simply make the evil less understandable/meaningful, but not, not there. But since it was of my own choice that this evil arose, how could the baby still be feeling evil? Furthermore, why would the baby be feeling evil that is a cause of my imperfection? You explained the comment you made before very well when you explained how an imperfection could lead to an evil. But that required, and assumed, a physical backdrop for the evil. Now you must explain why a baby should feel the evil of my punch in its soul because of MY imperfection. Once you take away the physical backdrop of evil, you take away the cause and effect action of the evil. Only in a physical scenario can it be such that a necessary imperfection in MY soul could cause another agent to experience evil. When you take that physical backdrop, that physical understanding of evil, away, you simply have an absurd scenario in which a baby feels the evil to the extant of my imperfection, which doesn’t make any sense.

Now, I already can feel your response. You will say that, of course we have a senseless scenario. That is why God needs to create a physical manifestation of the evil for it to make sense. But, I am saying that that very idea MUST lead to the conclusion I have made. In other words, unless the evil of me punching a baby IS indeed me punching a baby, then you have the absurd scenario, even if you acknowledge the physical manifestation, of another innocent agent feeling evil to the degree that I am imperfect. If the physical side of it is merely a manifestation, and not a reason, of the evil, then even in the meaningful physical scenario that we all experience, you still have the absurd conclusion that I have drawn from your theology. Moreover, the ONLY way to explain how one agent could experience evil caused by another agent’s necessary imperfection is to consider the physical effects of my imperfection as THE evil.

Moreover, what about evil that has nothing to do with the actions or imperfections of other people? For example, if there were an earthquake that killed lots of people, why wouldn’t God have stopped this? Since this natural evil has nothing to do with man’s imperfection, then why can’t God stop it? Or would you say that even if God had stopped the earthquake, millions of people would still be feeling the evil of the earthquake? However, this explanation does not cut it sense it does not get rid of the fact that God made the natural world and thus made it such that an earthquake would kill thousands. Why didn’t God just not make the natural world this way?

6) “My argument on the other hand speaks to more than what the average belief describes of those things, but seeks to go beyond it in a more elaborate ontology within a Christian worldview geared specifically to answering the problem of evil - and within my premises what I say is coherent, I still think.”

Great, now all you need to do is present your argument that you’ve been talking about for so long. All you have done is asserted that evil is not the physical thing happening. Offer me reasons to believe this. Do not simply claim that it is merely to be presumed in the Christian framework.

Evil is not a thing. To think that is to adhere to Manicheaism. Evil is what we call the physical events that happen to make us cringe. Two cars wrecking is not evil per se. But when there happens to be two people in those cars, we cringe because that (that physical thing that happened) is a bad thing to have happen to you. No one wants to be in a car wreck. No one wants to be punched. Thus, we call those events evil. So, evil can only be understood in light of physical events occurring in space and time. We say that the evil of a car wreck IS the car wreck. We label that physical event evil because it, for us, represents something that we all want to avoid.

Let me just point out that when you try to offer another view of evil, you must offer reasons for accepting it. You cannot just assert it because it happens to explain what you want to explain. I can easily assert that the sun god makes the sunrise everyday, and this would indeed explain why the sun rises every morning. But for my idea of the sun god to be a legitimate claim I need to give further reasons for accepting its existence. Likewise, you must give real reasons for believing that there’s more to evil than just what we experience as such in the physical world. (Mind you, it has been labeled a heresy to say that evil has some real existence in our souls or whatnot. This does not, as I have said earlier, make your claim wrong though.)

7) “I think this sounds like a repeat of the earlier discussion we had about whether my argument was circular, and you ultimately agreed that against an internal attack on Christianity the Christian defender is allowed a certain room to maneuver in terms of coming up with premises or understandings of Christianity that defuse the internal attack. Now, I don't think what I have said is circular, but if you want to prove it is you'll need to be careful about where I get to in my argument from what premises, as I don't start off with this, but proceed to my conclusions through carefully laid out premises and argument within those premises. So that's an important point about these complicated arguments.”

This is not at all like the argument about circularity we had before. Before, I was challenging an internal assumption of Christianity, namely, that only God can be perfect. I still hold this suspect because it doesn’t make much since in light of the fact that we have free will and, after all, I could just be a saint, right? (Let’s not comment on this more.)

Anyways, my claim to your circularity now has nothing to do an internal doctrine of Christianity. Right now I am saying that your argument for why the problem of evil does not represent an internal contradiction in Christianity is itself circular. You’re allowed to say whatever you want when it comes to what Christians believe. But, you are not allowed to make a circular argument for why there are no internal inconsistencies in Christianity. And here’s why you argument is essentially circular. (I even made the skeleton of it in my last post.):

1. You say that there is a necessary amount of evil in the world.
2. When I point out a scenario in which the evil does not seem to be necessary, you merely claim that, since evil must be necessary, it must be necessary there.
3. But, since this is what you are trying to prove, you beg the question.

My point is this, if your going to respond to every concrete situation I can muster by saying only that God could not stop it since he would only have to spread the same amount of evil around, you are being circular. You are trying to prove that there is a necessary amount of evil; you cannot use it as an explanation for why you are right.

Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you set up a line-by-line argument showing me why there is a necessary amount of evil?

Why can’t God just intervene on his creation and stop evil from happening?

How come God can stop two bulky objects from colliding, but he all of the sudden cannot when there happen to be people in them?

And remember, you cannot say that he cannot stop a car wreck, or that he would only have to spread the evil around, since this would be to already assume that there is a necessary amount of evil.

I’m attacking your claim that even if God stopped a car wreck, it wouldn’t matter since the evil would have to spread around. So, you must offer A reason using A concrete example for why the evil in this concrete example must be spread about, without recourse to the thing that you’re trying to prove in the first place, viz., that there is A necessary amount of evil!

2/11/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

This is what I mean by “mere conjecture.” You can’t, on the one hand, argue that it is necessary that there is a certain amount of evil in the world and that even if God were to try to stop it in one instance it would only necessarily spread around according to some meta-laws you’ve not yet explained only to turn around and say that, on the other hand, well actually, there have been cases when God DID have the power to stop evil without having to spread the same quantity of evil elsewhere.

My meaning was not that God can reduce the amount of evil, my meaning was that if we stop an evil (apparently stop, that is) then it's because God didn't have to or didn't see fit to spread the necessary quantity of evil to the incident we stopped, so that's why we could stop it. But if God didn't see fit to spread it to that incident, it doesn't mean that he gets out of having to spread it somewhere; it just isn't in that particular incident but it will be somewhere else, if not there. That's why humans don't have a power to do good that God doesn't have; we're not 'beating God', we're working within what God has to spread somewhere and what we can do.

Ah, but here you’ve defended it with an incoherent response about science fiction stories and justifying the behavior of God…What? That had nothing to do with what we were talking about.

I was trying to point out that if everyone believed in this theodicy then it wouldn't necessarily follow that we would all be nihilists or whatnot. I think humanity would find some way to cope without abandoning morality. And that even if it does lead to a bizarre situation for us, here on earth, then as long as God is justified in his actions the theodicy is OK, it just has some weird implications.

IF you were to say that the 11-year-old girl would only experience evil elsewhere in her life even if God had stopped the car wreck from killing her mother then I could just say that God could also stop those future evils from happening, ad infinitum. In light of this, I have no idea how the response you made relates to what I was arguing.

I think the point that we are our souls, and experience through our souls, and our souls are not the same as anything physical, adequately responds to what you said about evil having to be physical, by pointing out that the ontological relations that cause evil don't have to work on a physical level, only a 'soul' level.

Yes. I’d also like to point out that the Manicheans would gladly agree with you. You, of course, know about Manicheaism. It was rejected by Augustine and later called a heresy by the Catholic Church. My point is that no one has the views on evil that you do. Only probably Taoists or Buddhists. I can’t think of ANY Christians who would say what you are saying about evil. But, as you so intelligently pointed out, this does not make you wrong.
...
Evil is not a thing. To think that is to adhere to Manicheaism
...
(Mind you, it has been labeled a heresy to say that evil has some real existence in our souls or whatnot. This does not, as I have said earlier, make your claim wrong though.)


I don't think evil is a thing, I hold an Augustinian approach to evil where it is a lack of goodness, or a good thing being taken away. God can't sustain as much good in our experiences as we ought to have. (On this being a strange view of evil, on my restatement of the argument below, the theodicy only technically demands persons experience evil, not necessarily physical bodies.)

About the souls comment, because our souls experience evil doesn't mean they have evil in them, in the sense that the experience of evil crystallizes into evil being in our souls. It's just an evil experience. You can have a brain that suffers but it doesn't mean there's suffering actually IN the brain chemistry, as opposed to just an experience of suffering. So in the same way we have a soul, and that soul suffers, but the evil that is experienced doesn't have to be IN the soul as part of its makeup, rather it's an experience of the soul (I probably misunderstood you here.)

I also don't think souls have evil in them because they are imperfect either. Our imperfection is our irrationality which is our ability to seriously consider bad actions as worth making (good people reject such choices; evil people accept them). But this irrationality isn't evil in itself, it's a non-moral fact about people, one that tends to lead to evil because it's a very strong pressure to do wrong. The reason why it can't be evil in itself is because it's up to us and our free will as to whether we give in to the irrationality and make bad choices. We still have free will but a 'fallen nature'. No one starts off evil, we can become evil by choosing bad things.

To my understanding Mani wasn't proposing this, but if you know he did then that would be an important criticism as I don't want to be proposing a heresy.

Now, based on your theology, we could conclude that even had I not punched the baby, the baby would still be feeling the evil
...
But since it was of my own choice that this evil arose, how could the baby still be feeling evil?


If you didn't decide to punch the baby, then the exact quantity of evil would still happen, but since there's no reason for God to distribute it out to the baby since you will not choose to punch the baby, God would distribute it out some other way (by natural evil I believe since the sum of evil choices would be less), not necessarily to the baby. Similarly if humanity was so bad as to try and inflict more evil than God has to distribute out, then God would deny those people the ability to do that, because humanity doesn't have to suffer any more evil than is in our evil quotient.

I think that God would rather distribute out evil in natural evil rather than moral evil, although he does allow us to do evil to one another if we freely choose to. The reason for this is that a society where no one would do evil to one another even if they could would be a loving and harmonious society, and that society would be preferable to a violent society even if as a consequence the harmonious society would have to suffer a lot more natural evil to make up the necessary evil quotient.

Moreover, the ONLY way to explain how one agent could experience evil caused by another agent’s necessary imperfection is to consider the physical effects of my imperfection as THE evil.
...
Moreover, what about evil that has nothing to do with the actions or imperfections of other people? For example, if there were an earthquake that killed lots of people, why wouldn’t God have stopped this? Since this natural evil has nothing to do with man’s imperfection, then why can’t God stop it? Or would you say that even if God had stopped the earthquake, millions of people would still be feeling the evil of the earthquake? However, this explanation does not cut it sense it does not get rid of the fact that God made the natural world and thus made it such that an earthquake would kill thousands. Why didn’t God just not make the natural world this way?


I think the argument below answers this.

Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you set up a line-by-line argument showing me why there is a necessary amount of evil?

I suspect this is really the heart and soul of the matter. You think that I'm being circular not because I'm arguing within Christian premises but because you think I'm arguing for things within those Christian premises without showing that they reasonably imply.

I think that it would be helpful for me to lay out the structure of my argument in a logical sequence. Rereading the original article might be helpful here, since I recently edited it to clarify things:

1. God is the greatest possible being.
2. We can increase the greatness of our concept of God by saying that only God can be totally perfect, and that God is the ground of all being so much so that he has to sustain anything he creates to the greatest degree for it to exist at all.
3. These two premises imply by careful reasoning that God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment, and that during this delay these imperfect people must necessarily experience a lot of evil.
4. God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment from 2, because he has to create people imperfect, and therefore to make them perfect would have to 'do' something to them to allow them to draw on his perfection. The most plausible way of seeing this would be to say that God's action would involve the free choice of the created creatures, in terms of them accepting some thing that God does to them. Therefore they would need to make a choice as imperfect people to be made perfect and therefore would have to experience at least one moment of imperfection while they make this choice.
5. From 2, if God sustains everything in the most intimate way that something can be sustained, then this implies the transitivity relations we discussed, by a reasonable inference as we discussed of what this sustaining would imply. This means that apart from God and the universe technically being separate, and the proviso that what affects God affects the universe but not the other way round, the universe effectively IS God. Therefore, since people are effectively dwelling in God's being, it is reasonable to think that their necessary imperfection and broken relationship with God would rebound on them to cause them to suffer evil while they are imperfect, like a community having a bad relationship with their natural environment.
6. Therefore from 4 and 5 it is reasonable to infer that there has to be a delay of at least one moment in creating perfect people, during which time these imperfect people would have to experience a lot of evil.
7. A plausible way of interpreting the experience of this evil is as a ratio of evil to good moments for people (evil in the sense we can't get as much good in our lives every moment as would be needed to avoid being deprived of goodness, from an Augustinian interpretation of evil.)
8. Although experiencing the evil is necessary, there doesn't appear to be a contradiction in the idea that God can distribute this evil out to people (also across time) which is why I say he can in terms of our discussions on this topic.
9. All that's required here is that persons experience evil, not necessarily persons-as-physical-bodies or brains, implying my response to the 'P3' question.
10. This gives us a good theodicy by laying the groundwork for a complete solution to the problem of evil if there is a reason for God choosing to delay making people perfect. On this, see here:

"Now the question is: why does God take so long? - there has clearly not just been a single moment of evil. Well, this ratio of evil to good that applies to any reality with imperfect people, although the evil moments involve great suffering, is still one with many more good moments to evil moments, and is the same regardless of whether God takes one moment or a billion years. And taking a long time wouldn't affect or diminish from a future for (potentially) everyone incorporating an eternity of perfect happiness. Thus, it makes sense that God might delay in creating this perfect world if he had a reason for doing so, a reason the belief in which is rational enough to allow the rest of this argument to largely defuse the problem of evil."

Thus the theodicy is implied by these two original principles of only God being perfect and God having to sustain everything intimately by being the ground of all being.

2/12/2008  
Anonymous Dr. Withenburough Silious McGonnigus IV said...

Let me start out by saying that in my last post, I did not use "breaking laws of physics", (as you pointed out) properly, because stopping a car crash would be possible without the laws of physics being broken (obviously). But my argument remains as this:

1. There is a set amount of evil in the world.
2. Some get more delegated to them than others (my mother and father are both alive, but obviously the young girl's mother is not).
3. God does not decide our future so we can choose to commit as much evil as we want.

This brings up a contradiction though. If there is a set amount of evil, then during, let's say, the holocaust (a very evil event in which over 6 million Jews lost their lives, but you know this already) was there a decrease in evil around the world to balance out the evil that Hitler showed with the lack of good? If not, then does less evil occur later in time?
If there is indeed a set amount of evil, then when major disaster strikes, killing hundreds or even thousands, wouldn't there be a guaranteed amount of peace to balance out the good-evil ratio?
The fallacy of your argument is that I could (hypothetically of course) join up with 1000 people and go on a shooting rampage all over the United States, and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and create far more evil than good. I, as a human, could upset the so-called balanced ratio, and God could do nothing to stop it! This is why your argument along with free will cannot work.

1. God lets us do what we want
2. He cannot intervene in evil, but somehow controls the ratio.
3. I could disrupt the ratio, and God could do nothing to stop it.
4. I, again, somehow have more power than God.

--Dr. W

2/12/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

3. God does not decide our future so we can choose to commit as much evil as we want.

God does not decide our future for us and we have free will, but he also knows infallibly what we will decide to do, as part of his omniscience. So although we have the freedom to choose to commit an evil act, God also knows whether we will do so, and thus is never in a position of having distributed the wrong amount of evil (which it is important to remember is also distributed over time.)

About the ratio, the ratio is always the same no matter how long imperfect people are in existence, and God cannot change the ratio. The ratio is an interpretation of how the ontological relations that generate evil would happen, that demand the experience of evil in persons while they are imperfect.

Whether the ratio matches the amount of evil in the world is meant to be an analytic truth, that is, it can't possibly be shown to be wrong because evil is distributed out over time as well. The only way we could know what the ratio was is if history had ended and we were in the new heaven and new earth, and could then look back at all the evil that had ever occurred in history. Then we could calculate the average amount of evil per moment, and this would have been the evil to good ratio. Under this, it is impossible to show that the ratio doesn't match with the evil in the world.

The fallacy of your argument is that I could (hypothetically of course) join up with 1000 people and go on a shooting rampage all over the United States, and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and create far more evil than good. I, as a human, could upset the so-called balanced ratio, and God could do nothing to stop it!

Under the view God is omniscient and can see our future choices, your act would have been foreseen and would have been incorporated into what the ratio required.

This raises the question of whether free will is compatible with omniscience. My view is that free will is basically people making choices using reason in line with a steady character or personality. 'An Essay On Free Will' from the sidebar gives a good statement of this view.

2/12/2008  
Anonymous Dr. Withenburough Silious McGonnigus IV (andrew) said...

1. If God knows the future, he knows what we are going to do.
2. We will, no matter what, do what God knows us to do, because he is infallible.

Let's replace an evil act with symbol (X).

Let's say, that since I was born, God knew I was going to commit act (X) when I turned 40 years old. Therefore, I would have no choice but to commit act (X), otherwise, God would be fallacious in his prediction.

I don't often understand the theists argument of free will and determinism (form of, at least). Maybe you could explain it more in depth?

2/13/2008  
Anonymous Dr. Withenburough Silious McGonnigus IV (andrew) said...

PS, if you would like to keep this debate localized on the problem of evil, we could take our free will/determinism argument elsewhere.

2/13/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Discussing omniscience and free will is not necessarily a bad idea here, if it is potentially a weakness in the argument. My idea of free will is argued for in the article 'An Essay On Free Will' available from the sidebar. I'll summarise the argument here:

Basically I think that we are determined, but it's not a physical kind of determinism, rather it's a rational kind. Under the view of free will as rationality, people make a free choice when they use their rational faculty to make a decision. This is rational determinism, because if you took all the reasons and rational goings-on in someone's head when they made a decision, and then recreated it in that person later on, then they would make the same decision, because the reasons and rational goings-on would be identical. So just like physical determinism is the idea that you could force someone to make the same decision by exactly recreating a physical situation, so rational determinism follows the same principle except with rational goings-on in people's heads. So people are rationally determined because choices are determined by the goings-on in the rational faculties of people's heads, and if they can be perfectly replicated in other situations, then decisions will always fall the same way.

As to what place physical determinism has in this, I conceive of our rational faculty and our ability to make choices based on reason to be a higher kind of determinism that physical determinism does not normally interfere with. We have our brain chemistry, but our brain chemistry is meant to always operate under and facilitate our rational nature and its rational determinism, which (as religions traditionally conceive) is not really a physical thing. (Note: I believe that an agnostic/atheist might say that rational determinism is really another way of looking at a specific aspect of physical determinism when it applies to brains. Whether this is false I don't mean to argue, but specifically I want to maintain that if it is true, then the physical determinism that corresponds to rational determinism in my argument, and only rational determinism, has to be completely dominant in people's brains for those choices to be free.)

As part of this idea it's very important that people's choices can't be highly predictable in the case of very questionable choices, or be completely predictable in the case of easy choices. The reason for this is that we have an intuitive sense for when someone's rational autonomy (free will) might have been interfered with, and people predicting other people's choices with too much accuracy, when our knowledge of other people's rational goings-on is always to some degree limited, can trigger this intuition since we then think that this knowledge had to be gained by compulsion or even (hypothetically) mind control. In the case of questionable choices, for example, if someone confidently predicts, that Mark will give Jack The Extortionist, his neighbour, all his money, one would think that was because that person knew Jack was threatening Mark, since otherwise Mark would have absolutely no reason to do this. Similarly, although the chance would be so small as to make it like a rounding error, you can't say with absolute certainty that Tom, an apparently normal guy, will choose to receive a million dollars rather than be murdered. I say this because it's possible, although incredibly unlikely, that Tom is actually such a weird guy that he will choose to be murdered rather than have a million dollars. So, because we don't have perfect knowledge of other people and their rational goings-on, perfectly predicting someone's rational choices is humanly impossible, for there's always the infinitesimal possibility they could really find certain things rational. Therefore, if a person ever knows with perfectly justified certainty how someone else will make a choice, then since that's humanly impossible we intuit, and indeed are right, that they must be controlling their choice in some way.

From this understanding of the role of unpredictability in making choices seem free, one can see how the idea of choosing other than we do isn't really an intuition about determinism at all; it's about unpredictability. It's an intuition about unpredictability in much the same way as it would make sense for me, after tossing a coin up in the air, to say 'It could land on heads or tails.' Whether it will land on heads or tails is determined by the laws of physics, but I don't know whether it will land on heads or tails, so to my mind it could go either way. So in the same way, choices are actually rationally determined, but we think they can go either way because we can't be certain of the outcome.

But put the idea of God into the mix and this whole intuitive system gets thrown into turmoil, as we then conceive of a person who can perfectly predict our every choice, and therefore since according to our intuitions knowing someone's mental goings-on is impossible, we can then 'know' that this person has to be constraining our choices, like with mind control or some 'force' or other. But this is really a mistaken intuition in an otherwise really good intuitive system for detecting when other people are being compelled, and this difficulty disappears when we interpret free will in the right way. So there should be no problem with the idea that our choices are (rationally) determined, free, and known perfectly well by God. We also have another intuition, that free will is a really fantastic and great to have, and I think that this intuition is true. The intuitions supporting libertarian free will are true as well, it's just that they can also be interpreted in this way.

2/15/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Wow, I'm in the dust here. Since I've been too busy with shool I was not able to respond. This month is really busy for me, so I think I'll have to take a break for awhile.

2/20/2008  
Blogger Lamar said...

Also, just a small comment. As far as free will is concerned, the claim you make is essentially that rationality is despositive (Kant), namely, that any act by a person was the result of what that person THOUGHT to be the most rational act at the time. (Though, it may not have been the most rational.) This seems very correct. For, even if one seeks to go against rationality on purpose, one is still doing it becasue one thinks it is the best thing to do at the time.

However, this leaves us vulnerable to what we happen to think is the most rational thing to do. Obviously, Hitler's actions were bad, and he shouldn't have done them. But since he thought they were the most rational thing to do, then how can we say that he shouldn't have done them?

Allow me to be more clear.

The central question in the freewill/determinism debate is this:

Do you think that if you rewound the tape of another man's life, another situation could have played out, assuming that the starting conditions his mind were identical?

You seem to suggest that things would have played out the same, which is determinism.

2/20/2008  
Anonymous Dr. W (andrew) said...

Alright, let's keep this debate centralized on evil for the time being, but I will make sure to comment on your post about free will/determinism.

2/21/2008  
Blogger Will G said...

Wow, I'm in the dust here. Since I've been too busy with shool I was not able to respond. This month is really busy for me, so I think I'll have to take a break for awhile.

Thanks for commenting, I thought our discussion/debate was very interesting.

However, this leaves us vulnerable to what we happen to think is the most rational thing to do. Obviously, Hitler's actions were bad, and he shouldn't have done them. But since he thought they were the most rational thing to do, then how can we say that he shouldn't have done them?

I think it's always an interesting philosophical question to ask 'Why should I be good?' People can be good and evil but all tend to do what seems to benefit them or if they are good what benefits others according to a rational kind of calculation. Of course, I may not find being a criminal rational, but a criminal would disagree. If goodness is about rationality - how can rationality tell us who is right? I and the criminal would have fundamental disagreements on what is rational!

The answer from a Kantian-Christian perspective would be that it's because of our flawed, fallen nature that we conceptualize rationality in a way that can lead to imperfect behaviour. Our minds are so 'messed up' by the Fall, that we might actually see it as rational to do something wrong, whereas an 'unfallen' mind like God wouldn't really 'get it'. It's a testament to how deep the effects of the fall are on our minds (and indeed that there is any effect at all) that we genuinely can't see how it would always be totally rational for each of us always to do what is right. Because if we could see that, we wouldn't ever do wrong. So a requirement of the fall having an effect seems to be that we take it as rational to act imperfectly towards others. But God isn't affected by this nor will people be in the afterlife.

Do you think that if you rewound the tape of another man's life, another situation could have played out, assuming that the starting conditions his mind were identical?

You seem to suggest that things would have played out the same, which is determinism.


In my view there are actually two competing determinisms at work - rational determinism and physical determinism - and essentially the answer is that you could perfectly predict the man's choices, but in a physical world you'd have to know both sets of determinism perfectly well. So for instance, if the man would always encounter the exact same physical stimuli the second time round, there's no reason, assuming a steady character and abilities, for him to choose or work out what to do differently. So he would decide the same way given the exact same physical stimuli. But if you changed the physical stimuli to any degree the second time round, you couldn't say that, because the man might be presented with different situations to rationally decide on. So the outcome would be different (one can see how predicting other people's choices would require not only complete knowledge of the physical universe, but also perfectly their personality/character/way of deciding as well.)

An atheist I presume would see rational determinism as a subset of physical determinism that applies to our brain region when it's working well. I don't feel any need to adopt this, preferring instead to think of rational determinism as an outworking of having souls and taking place according to laws that are laws of rationality, existing independent of physical laws. Rational determinism takes place according to character/personality interacting with rational laws like those of logic or mathematics for example, or 'laws of morality' like rights for persons (assuming these Kantian beliefs of mine.)

This determinism though has to be read in the context of my explanation as to what free will is, since determinism is usually taken to be against our free will intuitions, I would rather see these intuitions as possibly supporting a compatibilistic view as well.

2/21/2008  

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