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.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Approach to the Problem of Evil in a Nutshell

365 words

Say, first of all, that God originally makes everyone perfect and free, and this means giving people the freedom to sin.

If they choose to sin then they have to go through a laborious process to be made perfect again. Next go around they're perfect as long as they make a certain choice.

Think of this choice as a 'deep' choice that should be made over a long time, kind of like the choice to be a good person. This means that God has to let people who are imperfect be imperfect for a while.

Now, with the problem of evil, just find a way to 'make stuff up' or 'insert theology' into the idea of God so that people being imperfect = people suffering. Just make stuff up so that while people are in the 'choosing stage' there has to be a whole lot of suffering that God can't stop.

What's some stuff you can insert into your theology to make people being imperfect = people suffering? You could say that as long as people are imperfect they have to suffer a little bit from their sin... a small amount of suffering every minute, and not even God with all his power can stop this.

But this doesn't fit with science, which sees no reason for us having to suffer. Well then say that the physical world is like a 'veil' in front of us, and we're really spiritual beings in spiritual space, who have to suffer, and God makes us only see the physical world.

But then how come no one experiences suffering like this? Because God passes the suffering around from person to person and sometimes focuses it in really intense bursts. He makes suffering happen in really random, unfair ways, and makes us see it in terms of bad physical stuff (I believe God has a reason to hide the spiritual world).

But isn't this unfair distribution a serious problem? It's hard to know why God does this... but the necessary suffering has to be felt by someone, and we all contribute to it equally by existing as imperfect people. Maybe there's a reason, so this can be a decent defense.

Added Note 10/3/08 about God's redistribution of suffering (for those interested)

Maybe part of the reason God distributes suffering in our world so unjustly is that making evil people suffer uses up hardly any suffering, because they're evil.

In other words, an innocent person suffering a given horrible event might use up 10 units of suffering, whereas an evildoer suffering the same thing would only use up 1 or 2 units of suffering (or even none at all if they really deserved it.)

This could be because evil people deserve to suffer from their evil actions, regardless of whether they are physically brought to justice by a court of law or other people, because of their evildoing.

This could help explain God's distribution of suffering in our world. In this theory, making evil people suffer gets rid of hardly any necessary suffering... so even if you make every evil person in the world suffer you still have to dispense the vast majority of suffering to the innocent.

The question then becomes: is it better to have a system where some evil people live happy lives, and the vast majority of suffering goes to the innocent, or is it better to have a system where all evil people suffer terribly, and the innocent suffer a tiny bit less?

Well, given the almost insignificant contribution the suffering of evildoers makes to using up the total amount of suffering, then maybe it's OK to let evildoers be happy. This could give them a chance to repent. Meanwhile, good people in this plan who have to suffer a little bit more could be rewarded with happiness beyond their ability to imagine in heaven.

Also, truly good people on this model would enjoy heaven or a happy afterlife regardless of how much they suffer in this life, but the truly evil may never experience joy again after a brief interlude of momentary good feelings in this life (i.e. they'd be stuck in humanity's current situation, in a world full of evil, which could be thought of as hell, instead of moving on to heaven.) So maybe it's nice of God to allow them to enjoy some genuine happiness in their existence.

If this theory makes sense, then you could explain God's seemingly unjust distribution of suffering in our world a lot better.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Problem Of Heaven

Suppose that there are two stages everyone has to pass through before they can go to heaven, a first stage and a second stage. In the first stage people are flawed, in the second stage people are perfect.

Let's say that everyone has to start off flawed, so everyone has to start off in the first stage.

Let's say that to get to the second stage, people need to make a choice; they need to say to God 'I want to be perfect'. Then they enter the second stage and become perfect. After people become perfect they can go to heaven.

Suppose that the choice that gets you into the second stage is something more than just saying to God 'I want to be perfect'. Suppose that it's equivalent in some way to the choice to be a good person.

That kind of choice can only be made over many years of life.

This means that God has to let people spend a lot of time in the first stage before they can go to the second stage. This means that God has to let people spend a lot of time flawed.

Suppose that there is a lot of evil in the first stage as an unintended byproduct of this system. This is because there has to be evil when people are flawed. Not even God can stop this. This is unfortunate, but doesn't really relate to why God made the world.

This shows how there can be a heaven where no one does evil, and yet a long-lasting world where people are flawed.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Theoretical Solution to the Problem of Evil, Logically

A Theoretical Solution to the Problem of Evil, Logically
Will G

This is my attempt at explaining in logical form why I think God allows suffering. It doesn't add a whit of evidence to the claim that God exists, but if you already believe in God, and want to defend your belief against the declaration that it doesn't make any sense, then this argument could be useful. I think that the assumptions work and if you're a Christian I think they should be fairly acceptable. It might be a bit impenetrable to the casual reader but at least it brings out into the open some of my assumptions in dealing with suffering...



A1. God is all loving, all knowing and all powerful.
A2. The definition of an all loving God is that God tries to prevent suffering as far as he can, unless allowing suffering in a specific case is necessary to creating an even greater good.
A3. The definition of an all knowing God is that God knows everything that it is possible for any one being to know (i.e. if some knowledge requires you to be someone, and some knowledge requires you to be someone else, then God doesn't need to know to know all that stuff, only the most that any one being can know.)
A4. The definition of an all powerful God is that God can do anything that can be translated into a language or thought. This excludes some actions that cannot be translated into either mathematics or logic, for example, God cannot make a true major premise, a true minor promise, with valid syllogistic logic, lead to a false conclusion. This is because that cannot be translated properly into language or thought - only 'rigorously analysable tasks' can be done by God.
A5. God really wants to make other people apart from him, and will do so if it's morally justified.
A6. God is morally justified in creating a world with terrible suffering as long it is a necessary step to creating a perfect world with happiness for everyone or almost everyone (note: selectivity in salvation not mentioned to simplify things.)

Assumptions specifically for the argument:

A7. God is infinite.
A8. Only God can be infinite.
A9. God can create finite beings.
A10. All finite beings must be created with the desire to do evil in at least one hypothetical situation.*
A11. Every intelligent being must be made in God's image, to a greater or lesser extent.
A12. Any being made in God's image who would do evil in at least one hypothetical situation must suffer terribly. This is not anything inflicted by God, but must happen from the nature of the 'soul'. God cannot stop it as long as the person is disposed to act wrongfully in even one situation.
A13. God cannot remove the suffering 'due' to a person as long as they might do evil. So the total amount of suffering in the world depends on the number of beings with flawed desires and cannot be reduced except by changing the number of morally flawed people. However, he can move suffering around, i.e. move suffering due to person A to person B, ensuring person A experiences less suffering and person B more. He can also transfer suffering between people who are alive at different times.
A14. The number of situations a person would act wrongfully in doesn't affect the amount of evil 'due' to them. That is, a person who would act wrongfully in just one situation is still due the same amount of suffering as someone who'd act wrongfully in almost every situation.**
A15. God regularly transfers suffering due to some people to other people.
A16. Assumption 15 is somehow compatible with God being good (perhaps from rewards in the afterlife?)
A17. Assumption 15 is somehow compatible with suffering seeming to come from physical things, like hurricanes, diseases, and people inflicting evil on one another with physical weapons. It's compatible because we live behind a 'veil'. Behind the veil we're spiritual beings who suffer. In front of the veil we see the physical world. What goes on behind the veil is the true cause of suffering and happiness, and what goes on in front of it, in the physical world, is only meant to go along with what has been decided upon for the world behind the veil, the spiritual world.
A18. God can change finite beings so that they would never want to do evil in any situation, even though they don't start off that way.
A19. God requires finite beings to accept something before he can make that happen.
A20. God must honour people's free will when he offers to do something to them that makes them never want to do evil. There is absolutely no coercion of any kind possible.***
A21. It is logically impossible for someone to accept something without experiencing a moment of thought.
A22. If someone is accepting a change to their situation, which needs to be accepted before the situation changes, then the change cannot yet be in effect while they are accepting it.
A23. To accept the benefits of perfection offered to us by God, we have to make a choice equivalent to 'I choose to be a good person.'****
A24. A choice like 'I choose to be a good person' is better made over many moments rather than very quickly, since it's a long-term kind of choice.*****
A25. Even an all knowing, all powerful God must work within what these assumptions say he can and cannot do. To go against these assumption would be like saying two plus two equals ninety-nine - to say such a thing is not to make sense. So it's not surprising that an all powerful God has these limitations. If I haven't illustrated why a given limitation applies to an all powerful God, then it's OK to believe it does regardless of the lack of further explanation.

The argument:

1. From A7, A8, A9, A10, A18, A19, A20, A21, A22, if God chose to make anyone, he had to make them morally flawed for at least one thought.
2. From A11, A12, A13, as long as there are a lot of morally flawed people then there must be terrible suffering.
3. From (1), (2), if God to chose to make anyone, then there would have to be terrible suffering in the world for at least one thought.
4. From (3), A23, A24, if God chose to make anyone, then there would have to be terrible suffering in the world for a long time, not just one thought.
5. From (4), if God wants to make a perfect world for people, where people can be truly happy forever, he has to make a world where people experience terrible suffering for a long time.
6. From A5, A6, if God exists then he will make a world with terrible suffering that goes on for a long time as long as it is a necessary step to creating a perfect world.
7. From (5), (6), if God exists then he will make a world with (possibly) as much suffering as our world, where the suffering goes on for a long time like in our world.
8. From (7) and A13, A14, A15, A16, A17, our world can be made to look like this hypothetical world that God is justified in creating. This is because first of all, the fact that different people suffer differently can be explained by God taking evil from some people at various times and giving it to other people at other times. Secondly, God is somehow justified in doing this. Thirdly, the seeming fact that what happens physically appears to relate to evil is an illusion because we only see in front of the 'veil' when we see the physical world, and suffering is really determined in the world of spirits.
9. From (7), (8), A25, the evil in our world is not evidence against the existence of an all loving, all knowing, and all powerful God because if such a God existed then he could have very well created a world exactly like our world.


Major weakpoints. First of all, why is God limited in these ways? Why, for example, does being morally flawed generate suffering and why can't God get rid of the suffering without doing all this stuff? Also why can't God make finite beings who are morally perfect? These are the two biggest assumptions. They're important because it's not clear why an all powerful God must face these obstacles. So as long as they're not explained in more depth it's not clear that this idea of God is one that is all powerful. However, I think they could be better explained and justified, so this argument gives a good outline of my thinking on this.


*Note: Part of my understanding of original sin. I actually mean tempted to do evil such that they would actually do the evil if they could. If someone was tempted to do evil, but would never actually give in to the temptation no matter what the situation, then they would not suffer. I also mean evil in the sense of 'blameworthy'; sometimes people do 'technically' evil things that don't deserve a lot of (or any) blame (e.g. soldiers killing other soldiers in war.)
**Note 2: This assumption is meant to pre-empt the objection that if suffering is generated by people's evil choices, then it seems grotesquely unfair the way suffering is distributed so randomly. Because a really evil person would be responsible for a huge amount of suffering, while many people would be responsible for hardly any, or none. So it would seem really, really unfair for Hitler or other evildoers not to suffer their own evil. But by saying everyone contributes the same amount of suffering into the 'common pool' of suffering, if they are even slightly imperfect, it is made somewhat more possible to argue that God distributes suffering around in a seemingly unjust way. In this view, a bad evildoer and a pretty good person contribute the same amount to a 'common pool' of suffering, which makes redistribution a bit more possible to believe in.
***Note 3: This doesn't necessarily have to involve 'free will'. It could be choice in the sense of 'rational autonomy' which is compatible with the idea that free will is an illusion and what we're really talking about when we talk about free will is someone choosing in line with their desires. This means that God creates finite beings with a random distribution of good and bad desires in a deterministic fashion, which presumably means God can't only make people with good desires. But why can't God only make people with good desires? Well maybe there's some kind of 'you have to make a whole lot of them in a bunch with random personality attributes' quality to making people. Hey, it's possible. Or if you think 'free will' makes sense then God literally can't make only people who would choose to do good because people's personality characteristics are determined randomly after they've been created (that's the opposite of 'determinism' - randomness). And somehow the randomness is a good thing.
****Note 4: I technically leave it open as to whether everyone is saved or only some. If it's everyone then everyone eventually chooses to be a good person and so everyone is eventually saved. If not then not everyone chooses to be a good person and so not everyone is eventually saved. This would imply that God can't only make people who would choose to be a good person (as mentioned above) otherwise he wouldn't create 'un-savable' people, but I've left this further assumption out of the argument.
*****Note 5: This is quite different from the Christian idea of God who creates or requires, depending on your view, a 'real faith that produces works' before someone can be said to be saved. This makes it seem less plausible that God would take a very long time to bring in a perfect world, because he could create real faith in people very quickly and then bring in a perfect world very quickly. A compromise between the usefulness of this idea and the Christian view would be to say that we do have a hand in producing 'real faith' in ourselves, and that God needs Christians to choose to have real faith before we can be said to be saved, which (it seems) should also take place over a long time like the choice to be a good person. And he makes sure that all Christians who will be saved do make this choice before they die. So that would seem to require a bit of time to happen, so God would take a while before bringing a perfect world into being. One problem is that a pretty small number of people would end up saved relative to everyone, which would leave most people behind in a universe with some suffering (i.e. hell.) This might be OK if the universe with suffering a) Wasn't too bad and b) Was permanently adjusted for you depending on how bad you were in this life. So for example a really good person who never became a Christian would have a pretty good existence in hell, but someone like Hitler would have a terrible existence, since the suffering due to the really good people would be given to him, because Hitler is evil and the really good people are good. In other words really good people in this life are actually pretty happy for an eternity even though they're in hell/not in heaven. I think this is probably what hell is; exactly the same as this world except evil is distributed less randomly. So hell isn't a special creation of God to torment people, it's just another universe exactly like ours except the same amount of suffering as was present in our world is distributed according to moral goodness, to deal with the people who didn't or can't choose to go to the 'highest heaven' (to be with God.) This means we are already in hell in a sense; actually our world is probably much worse than hell because the distribution of (necessary) suffering in this world is so unjust.