Monday, January 2, 2017

Why God Allows Pain

I have seen so many answers to the problem of evil (POE) or the problem of suffering in God's creation that I can't enumerate them.  One thing that seems clear from the very existence of all these theodicies is the fact that Christians recognize that they have a real problem that merits a serious answer, even if they try to minimize that problem or even deny that it exists.  But the simple fact that this problem has been addressed by many Christian philosophers, such as Plantinga, is an acknowledgment that it can't be overlooked.  The problem of evil is often cited as one of the most serious challenges to the logical coherency of Christian belief.

According to the IEP, the problem of evil may be stated this way:
(1) God is omnipotent (that is, all-powerful).
(2) God is omniscient (that is, all-knowing).
(3) God is perfectly good.
(4) Evil exists.
It is noted that these four propositions appear to present a logical contradiction, since an omnipotent God should be able to prevent evil (or suffering), an omniscient God should know how to prevent evil, and a good God should want to prevent evil, yet evil remains.

The task of the Christian, then is to create a theodicy that somehow explains away the logical discrepancy.  Many theodicies are based on the idea that the existence of evil is somehow necessary in order to achieve God's desired outcome.  And there are numerous approaches to explaining why this necessity exists.  But all such explanations fall short of providing a solid basis in reason.

Hinman has presented his own answer to the problem here.  It is ostensibly an answer to Paul Draper's statement of the POE, but it might just as well be an answer to most any version of the POE.  Hinman's argument rests on the idea that a Moral Universe is the primary and over-arching goal of God's creation.  I will try to summarize his argument succinctly:
(1) God's purpose in creation is to create a Moral Universe, that is one in which free moral agents willingly choose the Good.
(2) Moral choice requires absolutely that choice be free (thus free will is necessitated).
(3) Allowance of free choices requires the risk that the chooser will make evil choices.
(4)The possibility of evil choices is a necessary risk resulting from free will.
(5) Life is a "Drama" not for the sake of entertainment, but in the sense that a dramatic tension exists between our ordinary observations of life on a daily basis, and the ultiamte goals.
(6) God remains hidden to us because he wants us to seek him and his goodness,
(7) If God was not hidden from us, our obedience would be merely "lip service".
(8) Therefore, God wants a heart-felt response which is internationalized value system.
The first thing I should note about this argument is that it is one of the more cogent arguments that I have seen from Joe, so let me acknowledge that up front.  But that doesn't mean that it provides a satisfactory answer to the POE.

The first, and perhaps most obvious issue with Joe's argument is that he has completely ignored the broader problem.  Draper points out (and so do many others) that pain is experienced not only by humans, but by all manner of sentient beings.  Yet Joe's theodicy paints the problem as a "human drama".  It is an issue of humans making moral choices in order to achieve the goal of a moral universe.  Why, then, should animals be made to suffer?  I have never seen a good answer to this question, and Joe provides none at all.  In fact, the history of our planet includes suffering on a massive scale by countless billions of creatures for many millions of years, before the first human came along.  Surely, all this suffering contributes nothing to the drama of our human lives, and so it can't be seen as necessary.  An animal being eaten alive, even today, in some remote and unseen place, has no bearing on the moral choices that I make.  For this reason alone, Hinman's argument fails to answer Draper, and in a broader sense, falls short of addressing the real problem of evil.

But there is another sense in which the problem remains unanswered.  And this is one that I have never seen addressed by any theodicy.  If we take Joe's first four premises seriously, we may note that there is nothing in them that entails any physical existence at all.  Humans are supposed to die, and their immortal soul goes on to abide in a spiritual realm for eternity, where they will either achieve the ultimate goal of being in the presence of God, or fail to achieve that goal.  The ultimate goal is not one of physical existence at all.  The physical world is nothing more than a proving ground of some sort.  But is that physical proving ground necessary? 

Can a spiritual being have free will and make moral choices?  Apparently so, according to most versions of Christian theology.  God already has other beings to keep him company.  There are angels and demons.  A demon, of course, is regarded as a fallen angel that has made bad moral choices.  What was that again?  Yes, angels can be sinners, and this concept has support in the bible, as in 2 Peter 2:4.  Apparently, roughly one third of all angels turn out to be bad.  And not only that, but these demons go on to torment and ruin the lives of us poor humans on earth (apparently for entertainment purposes).  So when a human makes a bad moral choice, can we say that it is from free will, or is it the coercive influence of a demon?  The answer to that is not at all clear.  But one thing is sure.  If God wants us to freely make our own choices, why would he plague us with these demons at all?  Just as he remains hidden from us so as to not unduly influence our choices, so too, he should keep demons from influencing the moral choices we make.

And if it is possible for spiritual beings to have free will, why is it even necessary to create a physical world in the first place?  Why couldn't God just create human souls and let them make their choices, just as the angels have done?  If angels can have free will and make moral choices, then it should be equally possible for human souls to do the same.  And if that's the case, then there's absolutely no need for billions and billions of animals to suffer in this physical world.  Which means that God fails to live up to the standard of being all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving.

There is no theodicy I have ever seen that addresses this issue.  Not by Hinman, or Plantinga, or any other Christian.  They all assume that this world is necessary.  They all assume that God has no choice but to make a world where there is untold pain and suffering.  But I don't see the logic of it.  The problem of evil remains a logical conundrum for theists, no matter if they think they've dealt with the problem in a satisfactory manner.  They haven't.  All they've done is to engage in rationalization.  The POE has not been answered.  If God allows pain in this world, as far as I can tell, it's because he's an evil son of a bitch.


  1. So Draper's argument is essentially this:

    O1 = moral agents experiencing pain and pleasure that have biological utility.

    O2 = non moral agents experiencing pain and pleasure that have biological utility.

    O3 = sentient beings experiencing pain and pleasure that are not known to have biological utility.

    T = theism

    HI = hypothesis of indifference

    Draper's argument:

    1. O1 is more probable given HI than T.
    2. O2 is more probable given HI than T.
    3. O3 is more probable given HI than T.
    4. If O1, O2 and O3 are more probable given HI than T, then if all else is equal then HI is more probable than T.
    5. All else is equal.
    6. Therefore, HI is more probable than T.

    If Joe's theodicy is successful, then it must demonstrate that at least one of Draper's premises is false. As far as I can tell, it does not address any of Draper's premises. I believe Joe is interpreting Draper as claiming that theism is logically incompatible with O1, O2 and O3, and therefore theism is false. That is not what Draper is doing. If Joe is to dispute premises 1 through 3, then Joe needs to show that either O1, O2 and O3 are equally probable given theism than naturalism, or show that one of them are more probable given theism than naturalism. His theodicy doesn't do that though. His theodicy, at best, explains why God would create a universe where humans can act freely. However, it doesn't explain why God would create a universe with natural evils. This appears to be his attempt at it:

    Joe's claim - [In order for humans to be truly free, they must exist in a creation ambiguous world. If a world is creation ambiguous then it must contain natural evils. Therefore, in order for humans to be truly free, they must exist in a world with natural evils]

    I think this is essentially Joe's explanation for natural evils, and people ought to challenge Joe as to how that would explain the severity of the various natural evils. Children can be born with their brains outside their skull, or be born with a disease that makes their skin fall off from slight contact. Does Joe's theodicy even touch upon why such suffering would exist, or why a fawn would experience excruciating pain while burning alone in a forest? I don't think so, and I don't think it even begins to say such suffering is more or equal probable given theism than naturalism.

    In addition, the theodicy as a whole might be flat out incompatible with the belief that theism, unlike atheism, is a rational belief. If Joe's theodicy is true, and the world ought to look ambiguous as to whether God exists, then it hardly seems the case that theism could be rationally believed. After all, if theism, unlike atheism, is rational to believe, then it would appear the world is not ambiguous. There is an obvious tension, I think, between the belief that the world must be creation ambiguous and the belief that there are good reasons to believe theism is true.

    1. Good point about the ambiguity of God's existence. I missed that one. Joe says "Mystical Experiece Provides both unshakable empirical evidence for the reality of God and for the love (compassion and concern) of God." And he plugs his book again. But this is in contradiction to his argument.

      Needless to say, I agree that he didn't adequately address the specifics of Draper's argument.

  2. Why God allows pain.
    Because he can, stupid. :0)

    1. I read an excerpt from David Hume that comments on the attributes of God, as Christians see it. He is good and divine and all that, but at the same time, he's spiteful and mean, and he does things that would land anyone else in prison. Christians must be terribly conflicted about this guy. If they're not, they must be oblivious to what goes on in God's world.