The rationality of theism and the problem of evil

Posted on 01/21/14 135 Comments

As I noted in the comment thread of “Is belief in God rational? My Reasonable Doubts Debate with Chris Hallquist,” my contribution to the debate has received a vicious and ill-informed response from commenters at “Reasonable Doubts”. However, one commenter named Michael did offer a courteous and thoughtful comment in response to my article which I find deserving of a reply. Let me begin by quoting Michael’s comment in full:

I listened to your debate and read the comments. It is unfortunate that somebody used that kind of invective, which is out of place. To be fair though, most of the comments were more thoughtful and related to the actual content of the debate.

During the discussion, Chris asked several times for your explanation on how the rape and murder of a five-year old girl was consistent with your view of an all-loving and all-powerful god. In my view, you evaded the question in favor until the end, at which point you listed a number of possible objections. I don’t have recall them all, but at least one seemed irrelevant, such as the chaotic explanation of natural disasters (?)

In your closing, you provided a response for what you seem to suggest is a parallel problem, that of a son dying from some disease. You quote the mother’s justification, in part by saying “how could we be expected to know?” If you are willing to answer related but easier questions, why not address the one posed by Chris?

I don’t see the question as a cheap dramatic debating trick. I think it is exactly the kind of challenge to theism which helps keep me as a non-believer.

Perhaps you could take this opportunity to share your point of view. What are the best arguments for explaining how a loving god would allow this kind of rape / murder, which by the way is not a unique event but replicated on a massive scale across the world and throughout history?

If you think this kind of act is actually evidence for god, as I think you suggested, I would be interested to hear your views on that as well.

I think many of the listeners at Reasonable Doubts, and perhaps your own blog followers, would rather hear your answers to this than some of the more narrow arguments which occupied much of the debate.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts. I hope you find this respectfully offered.

Michael is asking about the problem of evil. However, if we are going to address the problem of evil, it should be with reference to the topic of debate, viz. “Is belief in God rational?” I was arguing that belief in God can be rational while Chris Hallquist was arguing that it cannot be rational.

Unfortunately Chris offered no definition of rationality, so I stepped in and noted in my opening statement (which, as per the instructions of Reasonable Doubts, was in fact written as a rebuttal to Chris):

We can define rational belief negatively and positively. Negatively we can define a rational belief as a belief the holding of which violates no epistemic duty. If Chris wants to claim that all theists (or a defined subset of theists) violate some particular epistemic duty, perhaps he can explain what that duty is in his rebuttal.

In our present context, Chris would have to demonstrate that the problem of evil is such that it renders any theistic belief the violation of an epistemic duty. Chris provided no such duty that is being violated.

Next, I noted that rational belief can also be defined positively:

Positively, a rational belief is any belief that is either properly non-basic or properly basic. A properly non-basic belief is a belief that is held appropriately in light of supporting evidence. A properly basic belief is a belief that is held appropriately but which does not require evidence.

I went on to demonstrate in the debate that Chris had not defended the claim that no theist could believe in God either as a properly basic or non-basic belief.

And please keep in mind that the burden of proof here is borne by Chris and that by his own choice since he and/or Justin Schieber selected the debate topic. Chris was the one who wanted to shoulder the burden of demonstrating that all theists are irrational, and so it was his obligation to demonstrate this. Failure to do so would warrant the conclusion that at least some theists are rational in their theism which is consistent with my position.

But wait, doesn’t the problem of evil provide a defeater to theistic belief? And specifically, doesn’t the rape and murder of a child constitute a great evil and so a defeater to God’s existence? And that, I take it, is the substance of Michael’s question.

First off, in the debate I pointed out that there is no logical contradiction between God’s being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and the existence of evil. All one needs to recognize is that God would have a morally sufficient reason for allowing any evil that occurs. Thus, the onus is on Chris to demonstrate that no rational person could believe that God has such reasons. But he didn’t even try to argue that position. And yet it is precisely his burden in the debate to do so.

What Chris’ approach overlooks, is that people have multiple reasons for being theists (a point I made several times in the debate). Life is full of examples of rational belief that are held despite anomalies (or putative defeaters) to those beliefs because the sheer weight of evidence for the belief is seen as being greater that the weight against it. So for a Christian who believes God exists due to the cumulative case of cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, arguments from miracles, and arguments from personal religious experience, Chris would have to demonstrate that the problem of evil as he has stated it is sufficient to outweigh that entire cumulative case of arguments for God’s existence. Again, he didn’t even attempt to do this.

Now consider how things look if one turns the tables on the atheist. There are at least two very serious problems for atheism in the same vicinity as the theist’s problem of evil. You see, the problem of evil is motivated by the perception that some events are objectively evil. They are not merely evil relative to the subjective opinions of particular human beings. They are objectively evil, irrespective of the opinions of any human beings. This leads to these two problems for the atheist.

Problem 1: the ontological problem of moral value and obligation: in virtue of what does objective good and evil consist in a universe of blind, purposeless indifference?

Problem 2: the epistemological problem of moral perception: assuming that objective moral values and obligations do exist, if human cognitive faculties were produced by an undirected process merely to produce survival value, how is it that we have a faculty of moral perception that provides justified moral beliefs about those objective moral values and obligations which serve as the very basis for the atheist’s problem of evil?

These are both serious problems for atheists, and there is a vast literature arguing on both sides of each problem. Now imagine if I argued that all atheists everywhere are irrational based upon problem 1 and/or problem 2. Such a claim would be the worst kind of naïve triumphalism. These are both serious problems and the atheist needs to wrestle with them. But there are also evidences that seem to support atheism and if the atheist believes those evidences are sufficient in strength to outweigh these putative defeaters, it is proper to conclude that one can continue rationally to be an atheist.

However, the very same logic applies to the theist as regards the problem of evil. Chris’ whole appeal to evil to justify the conclusion that all theists are irrational is itself a wholly irrational conclusion based on the evidence. (Not surprisingly, when I made that point in the debate it drew the outrage of the Reasonable Doubts mob.)

Finally, what about the problem of evil apart from the debate? This is an important topic and I’ve addressed it in God or Godless and The Swedish Atheist, the Scuba Diver and Other Apologetic Rabbit Trails. But I’m a mere dabbler. There is a vast literature by eminently rational theistic philosophers and theologians addressing the topic. I’m just now writing a review for this blog of Christian philosopher Eleonore Stump’s magisterial 650 page book Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford, 2010). If I may quote the blurb from Paul Draper on the back cover. Keep in mind that Draper is arguably the leading philosopher in the world who argues against the existence of God based on the problem of evil. And yet he writes of Stump’s book:

“a must-read for philosophers of religion and a very beneficial read for other philosophers and for other scholars of religion. It is without question a highly nuanced and philosophically deep book.”

That’s high praise and it comes from one of the world’s leading atheological philosophers of religion. The contrast with Chris Hallquist’s juvenile triumphalism and the nasty reception I received at Reasonable Doubts couldn’t be greater.

For all those interested in the problem of evil, keep tuned to my forthcoming review as well. And also check out my podcast interview with Paul Copan which will be released later this week.

And thanks to Michael for his courteous statement of the question.

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  • Kerk

    You may disagree with this, but I always believed that in case of at least some beliefs, practicality equals rationality.

    I once constructed a hypo in order to demonstrate this point and posted it here about a year ago. I’ll allow myself to repeat it here and submit for everybody’s approval:

    Imagine, you’ve been hit by a car on a street. You end up in a coma, and wake up at a hospital after some time. But you don’t just wake up on your own – you are awaken by the fire alarm and terrible stench of smoke. You quickly realize that the entire building is on fire and you need to get out as quickly as possible. You run down a corridor and end up in a room with two windows. There is no way out of it, as the fire is gaining on you, and it’s so strong that you would not be able to just dive through it to get out of the room. Your only choice is either jump out one of the two windows, or let the fire consume you. Keep in mind that because the smoke is so thick, you cannot see what is down there. You can’t even be sure what floor this is. It may also be that whatever is down there may kill you much slower and more painfully than the approaching slow fire.

    Will you take the chance and jump into the unknown, or will you let the certain death claim you? I submit that the practicality of the first choice is rational, and any rational human being ought to jump.

    And just in case someone didn’t catch it — this is an analogy to theism vs atheism.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Echoes of William James in your illustration.
      I don’t think your example supports the conclusion that “practicality echoes rationality”. I think in this case given the certainty of death following option 1 and the higher statistical possibility of survival given option 2, that it is wholly reasonable to believe “I ought to jump out the window”.

      • Kerk

        But isn’t practicality just an assessment of what is best for you? It is in our interest that God exists because he is the only one who can offer life, happiness and justice. If he doesn’t exist, we won’t get those things for sure. Thus, no matter how small the chance of God’s existence may be, it is still preferable for us to take it.

        • Derek

          “It is in our interest that God exists”

          I guess you want to say that it is in your interest to believe because it is practical, also that it is impractical not to believe.

          • Kerk

            no, that’s not it at all.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          There are a couple issues here. The first is your jumping out the window illustration. In that case it seems to me that one can rationally believe they ought to jump out the window for the reason I gave.

          The second is your prudential argument which echoes aspects of both a Pascalian wager and an existential argument. I agree with your general point here.

          • brad lencioni

            I think there are some major absurdities in Kerk’s “prudential argument” here. But I want to highlight the problem in a fun way. Let’s all assume we are pirates! And before we head out on our next conquest, we stop at a black market pirates trading post to pick up a new map for our voyage. Here we see a number of different maps, some very plain and others more exciting and claiming to be treasure maps. Now our captain, Captain Kerk, argues as follows:

            (God=treasure map; exists = is true)

            ” It is in our interest that [the treasure map is true] because [it] is the only [thing which] can offer [us treasure]. If [it isn't true], we won’t get those things for sure. Thus, no matter how small the chance of [the treasure maps being true] may be, it is still preferable for us to take it.”

            Now this was a bit of a stretch–but it was enternaining and I think made clear the obvious flaw in Kerk’s argument: the utter disregard for truth and the devastating effects this can create.

            • Kerk

              No, this wasn’t a bit of a stretch, this was a misrepresentation.

              • brad lencioni

                How so, Kerk? If there is no Christian God, then activities such as memorizing the Bible is a complete hindrance to one attaining his desired ends of life, happiness, and justice. Rather, one should be studying biology, psychology, sociology, etc. If one is entirely mistaken about what is true, then so will he be about what he ought to do to achieve his desired ends.

                So I disagree with you: If God’s existence is very improbable, then we should be seeking other means to fulfilling our lives.What is important is the truth of our situation.

                • Kerk

                  I may have been careless with wording. As I just said to Randal, I’m not arguing, unlike Pascal, that believing is better than not believing. I’m arguing that we’re better off if God exists, than if he doesn’t exist. Thus, hoping that there is God is just as rational as hoping that I will survive the jump out the window.

                  ADDED. This argument only aims to prove rationality of basic theism, not any particular religion.

                  • brad lencioni

                    Okay, that sounds less problematic to me :) thanks for the clarification Captain Kerk.

                  • R0c1

                    It is rational to strive to win and it’s rational to have beliefs that track reality. Sometimes these are at odds with one another, and when they are, I’d rather win.

                    • Kerk

                      I don’t understand the Newcomb’s problem in that guy’s introduction. Do I know that “everyone who took only box B has found B containing a million dollars”? Or don’t I? Cause that’s kind of important.

                      But it doesn’t really matter for my scenario. In mine, you get all or nothing, in Newcomb’s, you get something or more.

                  • Derek

                    “Thus, hoping that there is God is just as rational as hoping that I will survive the jump out the window.”

                    I was hoping that I won’t get in this predicament in the first place, being in a fiery place :)

          • Kerk

            Fine, we may dispense with practicality, and call that argument purely rational. That’s even better.

            And I see you recognize that I’m not saying that believing is better than not believing, rather that world with God as a matter of fact is better off than without God.

            I’m pretty sure I saw you make the same point somewhere.

  • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

    All one needs to recognize is that God would have a morally sufficient reason for allowing any evil that occurs. Thus, the onus is on Chris to demonstrate that no rational person could believe that God has such reasons. But he didn’t even try to argue that position.

    William Lane Craig has argued that same position. It appears bullet-proof, because since no one has direct, objective access to the mind of God (assuming God exists!), certainly no one can disprove that God doesn’t have some justifiable reason for allowing evil. Whatever the reason might be doesn’t matter; all that matters is that God could have some reason.

    But, that position has never persuaded me because I think the whole point is that God cannot in principle have a morally sufficient reason. All you have to do is ask “could God have achieved those ends without the suffering?” If yes, then he is evil for not doing so. If not, then he is impotent. Simple as that.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “I think the whole point is that God cannot in principle have a morally sufficient reason.”

      Based on what do you make this claim?

      • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

        Based on the logical observation that if God can achieve his ends without suffering, then he is evil to allow it. If he cannot achieve his ends without suffering, then he is impotent – why call him God at all?

        It behooves me to point out that you have actually admonished WL Craig for ducking these exact sorts of questions with regard to evolution, though you didn’t really give an answer of your own:

        http://randalrauser.com/2013/01/william-lane-craig-god-and-evolution/

        Could God have created evolution so that there was no suffering in the process? If so, he is evil to allow it. If not, why call him God? Quoth Randal:

        I have no problem at all conceiving of a world in which animals all live
        in perpetual bliss, eating peppermint flavored grass and lapping up
        nourishing sugar water from clear bubbling springs
        [...]
        If I can envision it, why didn’t God create it?

        Why not, indeed? Because he wanted to make creatures suffer, or because he was powerless to make it without suffering?

        • Tim

          “If he cannot achieve his ends without suffering, then he is impotent – why call him God at all?”

          This is much too quick. What if God allows some people to suffer so as to facilitate their maturity as spiritual beings. Or what if God allows some people to suffer so as to reveal his redemptive love to them. In both cases, God’s reasons for allowing at least some people to suffer cannot be achieved apart from the fact of their suffering, God’s omnipotence notwithstanding.

          • Derek

            Then you allow your children to get flu just to flaunt your love by giving them antibiotics, even if you knew very well how to stop your children from getting flu?

            • Tim

              Derek,

              First of all, as a real life parent, I am not exactly in a position to prevent my child from getting the flu, that just sort of happens. So, not a good example. In any case, the kind of redemptive love I had in mind was a bit more sublime than giving someone antibiotics.

              • Derek

                Yes, it’s not a good example. God was in position to prevent the sin by not planting the flu, I mean the tree, for being reached.

                You can or you cannot prevent your child getting the flu, but preparing your child to reach the flu then flaunting your love by giving antibiotics, is divine. That’s why I don’t like divinity :)

                • Tim

                  Derek,

                  Here’s another example for you.

                  At one time, I allowed someone to stab my infant in the thigh son and cause him to experience considerable pain and suffering. I could have prevented it from happening, but I didn’t. Was I a bad parent for allowing this to happen? No, because the relevant context was my infant son getting vaccinated at a pediatrician’s office by a nurse. The pain and suffering that he experienced was necessary for the development of his immune system, however, it was perfectly impossible for me to explain this to him at the time it took place.

                  But then that example invites the following question: If at one time we experienced pain and suffering for good reasons that we could not possibly comprehend then why not think that something like this is still the case? Maybe there are good reasons for the pain and suffering we experience that transcend our particular earthly lives and are, therefore, beyond our comprehension.

                  • Nate

                    The vaccine response really kind of bothers me. You are talking about minor, short lived pains where the child will soon forget. The rape of a five year old is just (in a Moorean sense) so strongly disanalogous that I can’t imagine what morally sufficient we could ever have for allowing it to occur to a young child — even if we only have finite knowledge. Can you honestly say to yourself that you wouldn’t intervene to stop something equally egregiously horrific to happening to a young child, even if you KNEW a greater good resulted in the end? I have to think there are limits to strict utilitarianism in cases like these.

                    • Tim

                      Nate,

                      I am not so sure about that. The relevant context vis-a-vis what a morally perfect God might allow would involve the future eternity of people’s lives. Maybe something as horrible as a rape is just as much a blip on someone’s radar in this wider sense. Indeed, this is exactly what is claimed in Isa 65:17.

                      In any case, the analogy wasn’t intended to be a perfect one, but only as a proof of concept as in the second paragraph.

                  • Derek

                    “Maybe there are good reasons for the pain and suffering we experience
                    that transcend our particular earthly lives and are, therefore, beyond
                    our comprehension.”

                    “Unknown are the ways of the Lord”… until I am asked to reason and provide evidence, but I won’t. Why should I be a spoiler alert?

                  • Felipe Fernandes

                    But you only let your child be stabed in the thigh because you are not able to make your son immune system develop the protection without the vaccination. If you are able to make your son immune system develope the protection without the pain of a vaccination shot and you still make he suffer that pain you are a bad parent.
                    If god can’t make me comprehend something without making me suffer his is not omnipotent.

          • R0c1

            This is much too quick.

            It’s probably not too quick if your prior for “there exists a God of moral perfection” < 0.9

            • Tim

              Robert,

              Disagree. For me, this line of argument is nothing more than a dead end and a distraction that atheists can’t let go. Whether or not such a being as God could possibly have good reasons for allowing the level of suffering we see in our world is not the sort of thing we can determine.

              • R0c1

                Tim, Can you determine how much God agrees with St. Paul or if God has reasons to deceive us using the Bible? Skeptical theists are selectively skeptical, I suppose we all are.

                • Tim

                  Robert,

                  No, the general lesson here is that statements to the effect that something could not possibly be the case are difficult to argue for in the absence of an analytic proof.

                  • R0c1

                    Oh, I completely agree, but in the absence of proof, a rational person will update on evidence.

                    I’m willing to do that. Is there evidence that God agrees with St. Paul? Is that evidence available to all of us or only a select few?

                    • Tim

                      Robert,

                      Yes, there is evidence available to all but it’s defeasible and, therefore, subject to doubt. Those who are inclined to dismiss it can easily do so.

                    • R0c1

                      1. Paul’s letters were believed to be authoritative and true by people in a position to know (other early Christians).
                      2. Paul argues for the truth of his message, and his arguments are good.
                      3. Paul had enemies who would have wanted to debunk his message if they could, yet we have no record of them doing that.
                      4. The Holy Spirit convicts me that it is true.

                      Those are the lines of evidence I’ve heard about. Anything else?

                    • Tim

                      Robert,

                      - Many people from practically every walk of life across many centuries have testified that God has revealed to them the truthfulness of Paul’s message concerning Jesus Christ. The breadth and nature of this testimony is such that it cannot be easily dismissed.

                      - Paul along with the other early Christians believed that people from every tongue, tribe, and nation would respond to his gospel by repenting of their sins and trusting in Jesus Christ for their salvation. And, moreover, that this incredible feat would be accomplished by the power of God working through the ordinary preaching of the gospel and not by more straightforward political means. The fact that this has actually happened (more or less), and that people are trusting for their salvation in a lowly itinerant preacher from nowhere circa 1 CE in accordance with the message of a radical Jewish sect is quite remarkable and continues to impress. Indeed, it is all the more remarkable when one reflects on the fact that some of the mightiest empires of human history have tried to prevent this sort of thing from happening (e.g., the Roman empire before Constantine, the Soviet Union).

                    • Walter

                      Many people from practically every walk of life across many centuries have testified that God has revealed to them the truthfulness of Paul’s message concerning Jesus Christ. The breadth and nature of this testimony is such that it cannot be easily dismissed.

                      That a lot of people believe something is no indication that it is actually true. A lot of people across many centuries can testify that God has revealed to them the truth of Muhammad’s message as well.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          “if God can achieve his ends without suffering, then he is evil to allow it. If he cannot achieve his ends without suffering, then he is impotent”

          I agree with the first sentence. So does every theodicist. But you need to establish your basis for thinking that God cannot achieve the particular goods that he does achieve apart from the suffering and evil he allows.

          Colin McGinn, an atheist, has made a plausible case that it may be beyond the human mental capacity to understand how the brain produces mental events.
          It is quite reasonable to believe that McGinn is right about this.

          Now we have the question of why God would allow the degree of suffering in the world. If we can’t currently see how the brain could produce mental events, and yet we accept that it does, what gives you the confidence that you can see that an infinite God could not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evils he allows?

          In short, your position lacks epistemic humility and is crippled with epistemic hubris.

          As for your second sentence, it is absurd to claim that God is impotent because he uses evil to achieve greater goods.

          And through it all you have ignored (overlooked?) the two arguments I presented for the atheist.

          Rather than worrying about alleged problems with theism, perhaps you should deal first with the problems in your own atheistic position.

          • Derek

            “As for your second sentence, it is absurd to claim that God is impotent because he uses evil to achieve greater goods.”

            I think you misread the second sentence. It says: “If he cannot achieve his ends without suffering, then he is impotent”.

            Mike actually said: God cannot achieve his ends (not “greater goods”) because he is impotent in impeding evil.Where does Mike says that “his ends” is to achieve “greater goods”? “Greater goods” would be if he can stop evil, which he cannot for he is impotent.

            In short you impose your interpretation on what Mike said and complain that atheists have problems. Atheists should worry about the problems with theism, for when atheists give an answer to according to theistic understanding, theists either move their God on another fabricated epistemic plane, or just misinterpret what atheists are saying.

            When an atheist says that “God is just a figment on theists imagination”, atheists are damned just because they said “God is”. Theists rejoice because atheists uttered “God is”. Sure, atheists are as confused as are the theists, but why blame atheists for the fact that theists cannot substantiate their claims?

            Randal, what is the difference between “You are an idiot arrogant” and “Your position lacks epistemic humility and is crippled with epistemic hubris.”?

            I don’t think there is any difference, in both cases the utterer admits defeat. I am not complaining about that.

          • Derek

            But you have to admit that Mike is more articulate than you :)

          • R0c1

            It is hubris if Mike intended to say, “…then he is impotent, and that’s a fact.” But maybe Mark was making a lesser claim, that more than likely “…then he is impotent.”

            We all reach conclusions based on evidential arguments, (successful logical arguments are rare). If some evidence seems very strong, I don’t see a need to qualify my conclusion with “I think” or “of course, I could be wrong.”

            Even if theists do not think evidential arguments from evil are successful, they know it takes a strong prior conviction to maintain roughly the same level of belief in the face of gratuitous suffering.

          • Nate

            Randal, I just have two questions for you:

            1) Your response seems to suggest to me a kind of “skeptical theism” where the fact that we lack of cognitive access to morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil in this context does not support an “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” rule, unlike in other contexts with different background beliefs. So we don’t need a theodicy at all. Is that the position you adopt? Like a lot of other atheistic philosophers of religion, I find a lot problematic with this view but I won’t launch into an essay here.

            2) I may have asked this awhile ago, so I apologize if that’s the case. But if God needs to permit evils to achieve some greater good, doesn’t that suggest he is a kind of “ultra-utilitarian”? To my thinking, a meta-ethical utilitarianism only seems appropriate to finite beings who have to mini/max or find optimal distributions of good and evil in the world, whatever goods those are. But since God isn’t limited in his power, my (admittedly weak) intuitions are that God would follow a deontological ethic instead. (And to me the Ten Commandments and teaching of Jesus’ Golden Rule seems to have a lot more in common with Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative). The apparent need to make God a utilitarian, and that this seems… I don’t know, “out of character” with his alleged nature (?) has always been a big stumbling block for me when it comes to theodicies.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              I’ve got to run shortly, but if I don’t get to this later today or tomorrow I’d appreciate a friendly reminder.

              • Nate

                Hey, friendly reminder! I teach a class this evening and am watching my daughter all day so I probably won’t be able to see your response right away but I will look out for it.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  It will probably be tomorrow morning. I’m in the midst of my six hours of Thursday lectures and I suspect I may be reduced to drooling and mumbling incoherently by dinner time. Thanks!

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              I’ll respond to your second point here. I’m also posting an article shortly to The Atheist Missionary who has been like a broken record the last day repeating the conclusion of an argument from Stephen Maitzen. Hopefully that will prove relevant to the rest of your question. If not, please express your dissatisfaction!

              So on the question of utilitarianism, I think it is reasonable to think of God as a sort of rule utilitarian. As such, his moral nature does determine that, for example, there are many things God would never command. I have argued, for example, that God would not command a father literally to sacrifice his child with the intent that the father in fact believe God had asked him to sacrifice his child. But at the same time, God allows all the things in the world for morally sufficient reasons.

              I don’t find this problematic and so our intuitions seem to part company at this point. Given that God brought creation into existence out of nothing and sustains it in being every moment, and intends to bring it into a shalom of maximal flourishing in the future through all that it experiences now, it seems to me perfectly justified for God to act accordingly.

              I’d be interested in a rich narrative description of the way you think God ought to be as a deontologist.

              We could then hold those stories up side by side and see which one strikes us as more plausibly true.

              (You could do that in two ways. Actual world scenario: explain how God is a deontologist in the actual world, a position consistent with theism.

              (Possible world scenario: explain how, if God had existed, he would have been a deontologist and the world would have been like this…)

              • Nate

                Perhaps you can see why I gave up… (P) just brings up all of the traditional questions of theodicy, and gets me arguing in a circle (with myself) to stalemate. I do however think its the entire lynchpin of the project of theodicy. Unless I am wrong (and please let me know), God couldn’t be a utilitarian if P is false.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  If we define utilitarianism as “the greatest good for the greatest number” then God isn’t utilitarian, at least on the view of many theologians and philosophers (e.g. Eleonore Stump, Marilyn Adams). On their view God only allows individuals to suffer if it will bring out a greater good for that individual.

                  • Nate

                    Then maybe we agree that God (if he exists) couldn’t a utilitarian, the way I’m understanding utilitarianism. But the problem is, it seems to me that any theodicy requires that he either engage in or allow evil for the benefit of others and not for the person suffering — i.e., he *is* a utilitarian, if any greater goods theodicy is true.

                    I am coming from a framework where pastors in my Church (especially my mother) would say things like, “the death of a young child might lead the parents of said child into a redeeming relationship with God, in their need to find an ultimate cosmic justice.”

                    (Psychologically, I believe this is unrealistic but I would love to see some data on this if anyone knows of any out there. My admittedly biased intuitions tell me that the experience of a severely traumatic event either moves people towards faith or away from it, but the balance would go in the latter direction; I think it is a lot easier to say “there must be a reason this happened” and to not question God when it didn’t happen to you).

                    Suppose this happens: a little girl is rescued from a fire, but dies after months of agony and suffering because the doctors aren’t able to fight off the secondary infections that result from such severe burns. The parents do come to “know Christ as their Lord and savior” after a friend invites them to Church and the pastor tells them that their daughter is in heaven, and they can go to be there with her, too. All will work out in the end. That scenario seems metaphysically possible, and (trivially, from my own case) at least *some* Christians believe God works in this way. I think I’ve seen this in print as the “soul-making” defense where tragedy befalling loved ones can strengthen character in the individual not personally affected (but I forget where). The justification I always heard was “the girl isn’t *really* harmed, because while *taken alone* it is evil to permit the suffering she endures on Earth, the eternal reward she enjoys in heaven infinitely outweighs that evil. Furthermore, the fact that the parents are saved is an additional infinitely greater good.” But, the girl is harmed. Yes, in transfinite arithmetic, (infinity – any finite number) = infinity. But this *still* violates the principle that God wouldn’t allow even a finite amount of harm to befall a person unless it directly benefited them.

                    Of course, God seems to be using the little girl as a mere means in this case. If there has been at least one case in the entire history of the universe where the little girl did not herself *benefit* from the suffering — even if she was compensated — then God used her pain as a means to benefit others exclusively. And that seems to me both horrific (because *we* would never do such a thing) and inconsistent with the nature of God for the reasons I spelled out in the second argument.

                    Have you heard this line of defense before (where the beneficiary isn’t the one harmed), and what is your response?

                    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                      I’ll write a blog article response.

  • Tim

    Randal,

    Are you sure the vicious, ill-informed responses weren’t coming from the commenters at “Reasonable Doubts” and not “Reasonable Faith?”

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      oops! Ha ha! That’s what happens when I take fifteen minutes to write an article before class.

      • R0c1

        Freudian slip. :-D

    • RonH

      And to be fair to the Doubtcasters, they deserve a better quality of commenters. It really is a good podcast. The ‘Casters are smart, funny, thought-provoking, and I actually agree with them a lot of the time. I’ve been yelling at them a lot lately with the whole Luke Galen “we have studies that show religious people are dumber, meaner, more gullible, and prefer authoritarianism” stuff. But on the whole I enjoy the show, which is more than I can say for most atheism podcasts.

      Their blog commenters aren’t on the level of the program, unfortunately.

  • Alejandro Rodríguez

    Very good article. If I had been in that debate by response would have been that I don’t know completely how to resolve the problem of evil, but that I do know that we can hope based on the evidence that God is still good and will satisfactorily answer why he allows evil.

    • Derek

      The old adage that solves nothing: “Unknown are the ways of the Lord”

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        Derek, please don’t deny them free play of their handy dandy mystery card.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Care to reduce your argument to numbered propositions so we can marvel at your logic?

          • TheAtheistMissionary

            I am referring to Stephen Maitzen’s Moral Objection to Skeptical Theism
            Don’t marvel at my logic – marvel at his.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              I didn’t ask you to provide a link. I asked you to summarize your reasoning. Please do so.

              • TheAtheistMissionary

                I can certainly understand why you would prefer to engage with someone who has no formal philosophical training (how about challenging me again to provide a bullet proof theory of epistemology?) rather than engage with the argument Stephen has presented in that paper. If you ever decide to undertake the latter, it would definitely be worth a Kiva donation.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  Like a true village atheist, you love to talk about “reason” and “evidence” … until you’re asked to reason and provide evidence.

                  • Derek

                    “Village atheist”!

                    I hope you are not grouping atheists into “villages” then burn them :)

                  • TheAtheistMissionary

                    Please don’t dismiss village atheists. Sometime they come up with gems like this 8 word tweet (pause to bow) that nicely sums up the problem of evil: “Dear God. Thanks. Baby Born Without a Brain”.

                    • RonH

                      That’s cute. Did the parent tweet that?

                • LukeBreuer

                  I think Randal would prefer to engage with a person than a text, if he’s participating in the blog comment section and not writing a blog post. At least, that would be my attitude. Otherwise people would just inundate me with papers and books written by others and it’d be defeat by avalanche.

                  Ostensibly, you’re here to learn. Why not do your best to wield the arguments of others? That’s what most excellent philosophers do most of the time—stand on the shoulders of giants. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, why ought Randal?

            • LukeBreuer

              First, it’s not clear that Randal adheres to skeptical theism. If you aren’t careful, you’ll be like the creationist/ID advocate who points at something, claims it’s irreducibly complex, and therefore evolution is false. The following dichotomy is false:

                   (1) either you can explain all instances of evil
                   (2) or the evidential problem of evil obtains

              Instead, the sensible thing to ask the theist is whether he/she is making progress on the problem of evil. Can he/she explain how more and more evils can be turned into greater goods? If so, then unless you can place a firm upper bound on what can be explored (something akin to moral irreducible complexity), then perhaps there is no upper bound.

        • jonP

          Randal, perhaps I can try to explain the logic?
          1. At least one 5 year old has been raped and murdered.
          2. God knows everything that happens (omniscient).
          3. God can do anything (omnipotent).
          4. God has morally sufficient reasons for everything that happens, such that everything that happens is ultimately for the greatest possible good. (omnibenevolence).
          5. Therefore god wanted that child to be raped and murdered, and it was perfectly moral and good for god to not allow anyone to intervene. It may appear tragic to us, but god is mysterious and has reasons beyond our comprehension.

          • LukeBreuer

            Ostensibly, you believe that God is the first-cause for at least some things. Do you believe that God can give first-cause power to created beings? If so, do you believe that God can still control what precisely those first-cause beings do? Your answers to these questions would at least help me to answer the above. Maybe they would help @Randal_Rauser:disqus as well. (I called him out because your response was to TAM, not RR.)

            • TheAtheistMissionary

              LukeBreuer, although jonP can speak for himself, I don’t think he is suggesting that God can control the will of a being who has “free will” (leaving aside the debate of whether free will exists). What he is suggesting is that God, who as traditionally defined by theists has the ability to intervene in our worldly affairs, has the power to intervene and prevent the rape/murder.

              • LukeBreuer

                C.S. Lewis talks about God being able to turn baseball bats into chunks of moss or something, every time someone attempts to use a baseball bat for evil. What that be a good world? What jonP is suggesting seems to be something very much like it, even if it is the brain that is tweaked at the appropriate moments. I believe that this would cause a permanent barrier to us understanding the world as it is. We would be restricted to understanding some part of reality. Is that better than the alternative?

                We should also consider that our ‘moral motions’ are heated much hotter by actual evil, than imagined evil. What you’re suggesting seems to be precisely the thing that would prevent us from developing strong morals that would allow us to do what you’d have God doing before we are ‘ready’. But would we ever by ‘ready’ before then, or would God have to permanently be pulling our strings whenever we got too close to danger?

                In my experience, arguments like jonP’s work well until you imagine how they would be implemented. It is really there that you see what would be lost. You’re welcome to say that it is worth losing, but that should be explicitly noted, instead of implied (“whatever the cost for my suggestion, it is worth it!”).

                • JonP

                  “What you’re suggesting seems to be precisely the thing that would
                  prevent us from developing strong morals that would allow us to do what
                  you’d have God doing before we are ‘ready’. But would we ever by ‘ready’
                  before then, or would God have to permanently be pulling our strings
                  whenever we got too close to danger?”

                  God could certainly pull our strings when we get to close to danger (omnipotence), and he would have justification for doing so (omnibenevolence). I was not the one who created the problem by introducing the morally sufficient reasons assumption.

                  • LukeBreuer

                    Given that you seem to think God can violate the laws of logic, we might not be able to discuss further. I think the kind of world you’re suggesting verges on a nonsensical world, where whenever we attempt to do evil—or is it think evil—things just… change. It’s not clear that such a world would even be rationally understandable. Perhaps you think God would just give us understanding by fiat, even if we couldn’t understand how it happened?

                    • jonP

                      Well, since you mentioned it, yes god can violate laws of logic (I’ve actually heard a muslim make this argument). Not being able to would violate the omnipotence assumption. God could give us understanding by fiat. In fact, would know if we were in a non-understandable universe in which we were just given understanding by fiat?

                    • LukeBreuer

                      Be careful of assuming you know what the Bible means when it talks about God being all-powerful. There has been a ton of discussion of what ‘omnipotence’ means in philosophy. You seem happy to have settled on a definition that requires the contradiction of logic; there are others, which are arguably consonant with all relevant passages in the Bible, which do not require logic to be broken.

              • jonP

                “I don’t think he is suggesting that God can control the will of a being who has ‘free will’”

                Assuming omnipotence, then yes, god can control a being’s will. The solution is that we do not have free will, because that was not an assumption, and it contradicts omnipotence.

            • JonP

              “Do you believe that God can give first-cause power to created beings? If
              so, do you believe that God can still control what precisely those
              first-cause beings do?”

              If we assume an omnipotent god, then yes and yes, because he can do anything without restriction.

              • LukeBreuer

                This is a logical contradiction. There are views of omnipotence that don’t care—they say that God could create a stone so heavy he couldn’t lift it, and then he’d go on to lift it—but I do not buy into such a conception of God. If you do, then we have to stop the conversation, here.

                • jonP

                  “This is a logical contradiction.”
                  Perhaps you begin to see my point? Evil is a problem, because it can’t be solved if we assume that god is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. At least one of the assumptions is violated, and we can’t determine which one(s). Even when we start to add in more assumptions to try to solve the problem, i.e. objective morality, free will, sufficient moral reasons, etc. We end up violating other assumptions. Something is wrong with the assumptions. If the facts contradict the assumptions, then the assumptions are probably wrong.

                  • LukeBreuer

                    You have a view of God’s attributes which I do not share; if you insist on your view, our conversation must stop here. You think God can violate the laws of logic; I disagree there, as well. At least, should God do that, he would create an irrational world that e.g. cannot be fully explored by science. I believe this to be a bad thing.

                    • jonP

                      Well, perhaps you would like to share with me your view on god. I don’t want to speak for you, but if I may have a guess. Your god does not seem to be omnipotent. He has limits. He can’t violate laws of logic, he can’t create stones that he can’t lift (or he can create it, but not lift it), he can’t control our behavior. There are a few things that you admit that he can’t or won’t do, like save us from imminent danger. Perhaps we should be debating the limitations of god.

                      How would you know what god’s attributes are? Because the book says so? Do you believe the book is truthful because the book says it is? Do you believe it because other people believe it? How would you objectively determine whether your claims are true? What are the rational reasons for believing the book, and people’s claims about god?

                    • LukeBreuer

                      Well, perhaps you would like to share with me your view on god.

                      God is omnipotent, whereby he can do all logically possible things. Whether or not he can do logically impossible things is irrelevant on two counts: (1) doing so would make God irrational; (2) rational minds, which we generally consider to be good, would be unable to understand logically impossible actions. This is bad.

                      God is omniscient, whereby he can know all knowable things. This excludes knowing what created first-cause agents will do; he cannot choose which first-cause agents to create based on what they would choose, because that by definition means their actions were conditioned on something he controls, which means they wouldn’t actually be first-cause agents.

                      God is morally perfect, whereby any evil he permits will ultimately lead to a greater good which could not have been obtained any other way.

                      God values beings created in his image; this means several things, one I’ll mention is that we can know all aspects of reality, at least as t → ∞. I believe the ability to “know all aspects of reality” is a greater good than the cost of not putting bumpers on the bowling alley, as it were. One of those aspects is the existence of first-cause agents, and the inevitable choice of evil. Another is the option for first-cause agents to listen to God, and thereby learn the easy way instead of the hard way.

                      How would you know what god’s attributes are?

                      An omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect being who creates beings in his/her/its image, beings who are to be knowers and experiencers of reality, would reveal himself to these beings in some way. In my view, the Bible is a candidate for this such revelation. It is not a perfect book in the way some wish, because I believe perfection cannot be captured with finite text. Instead, the Bible contains stories of God drawing people closer to him, with the promise that this can happen forever. Partly due to it capturing quite a few important aspects of human nature and how societies do and can work, I see the Bible as something special—as possibly being such revelation. These aspects, by the way, are eminently testable in reality. Among other things, they lead to better prediction of the results of the Milgram experiment than first-year psychiatry students and senior-year psychology students.

                      Another way to understand what God might be like is through the ontological argument of his existence—of thinking of the greatest possible being. I don’t find the ontological argument particularly convincing, but I find the thinking of what the greatest possible being would be like and how such a being would operate to be quite productive. A resultant challenge, of course, is to try to become more like that being. “Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect.”

                      What are the rational reasons for believing the book, and people’s claims about god?

                      Every set of fundamental presuppositions guides how you interpret observations and how you ought to act in the world. Nobody is without these, and there is no such thing as making raw observations without them (see W.V. Quine, for example). Christianity provides one such set of presuppositions, and I find my ability to understand the world and act in it to be quite powerful when I use those presuppositions. No other set of presuppositions I have come across has as much power. Now when I say ‘presuppositions’, I don’t necessarily endorse foundationalism; I could easily mean a system for continually refining one’s presuppositions, a la coherentism. Indeed, Gödel’s second incompleteness theorem makes coherentism more attractive to me.

                      You might think that science is the ultimate method for discovering what is true, but all it can actually do—by construction—is model the world increasingly well. It always approaches from bottom-up, working with minimalist systems which match reality sufficiently well for some purpose. Imagine trying to get to know another person solely through the scientific method: that person would probably leave quickly, growing tired of being poked and prodded. So what is the process by which we come to know another person, if it isn’t through science? We “go through life together”, working on common goals, sharing joys and sufferings, and engage on both a rational, intellectual level, as well as a non-rational, emotional level.

                      Somehow, and this is mysterious to me, I feel like I have a relationship with a noncorporeal being that matches what relationships are like with standard human beings in all the general ways. Maybe it’s just a voice in my head that I ‘tune’ to match God’s portrayal in the Bible. Or perhaps what I’m tuning is an antenna, to properly capture the kinds of messages God sends. I feel like I experience something here with my introspective senses (contrast to the standard five extrospective senses), and the more I read about God and Jesus in the Bible, the more I can make sense of those introspective senses. Interpreting them properly is tricky, just like interpreting our extrospective senses properly can be tricky. I believe that once enough of the ‘fuzz’ (think ‘snow’ on a TV) is removed, somethign—or more properly, someone—is there.

                      I return to my bit about how well I can “understand the world and act in it”—that is the ultimate measure of any epistemology and metaphysic. As best I understand, there’s no other way to evaluate an epistemology. None.

                    • RonH

                      Somehow, and this is mysterious to me, I feel like I have a relationship with a noncorporeal being that matches what relationships are like with standard human beings in all the general ways.

                      That’s nice, dearie. But don’t worry, Doctor B is going to fix you right up. Hold still… you might feel a little pinprick…

                    • LukeBreuer

                      Doh, I forgot about my little Golden Book of Atheism, which states that in any world where non-corporeal beings interact with humans, scientists are able to poke and prod those beings like lab rats. My bad!

                    • jonP

                      This was very well articulated. I really appreciate that. I do disagree on several fundamental points regarding god’s characteristics.

                      First omnipotence. Your solution adds the assumption that god is rational. This violates the omnipotence assumption. I am not arguing that god is impotent, but he can’t be omnipotent either. Maybe we should assume that god is just potent. That would be consistent with a god that is limited by rationality, logic, and whatever other limits god has. Determining god’s limitations is a fun debate.

                      Second omniscience. Your solution adds the assumption that he can’t know what “first cause beings” will do. This violates the omniscience assumption. Of course, this also assumes that there exists things that can be described as first cause beings. If we reject that assumption, then we can’t reject the omniscience assumption for that reason.

                      God is morally perfect. I think this is the most difficult assumption to avoid rejecting. This is on topic with this blog post. Your solution, which is related to Randal’s solution, is to add the assumption that god always has “morally sufficient reasons”. This rejects the assumption that there is suffering in the universe. Rejection of this assumption contradicts the assumption that there is an objective morality, and rules that we are obligated to follow. Whatever happens, whatever we decide to do, is perfectly fine because it will ultimately serve the greatest moral good, even if we are not aware of it. The divine master plan is perfection. Anything goes; we can do whatever we want, because it will always be for the greatest moral good.

                      I do not see how it is possible to keep all of your assumptions regarding god’s characteristics, at least without contradicting facts and other assumptions, thus rejecting the rationality assumption. Rejecting just that one assumption causes all these theological problems to go away.

          • TheAtheistMissionary

            Thanks jonP but Randal already knows all too well the logic. He also knows that Maitzen’s article nicely explains that, if God has mysterious reasons for allowing the rape/murder (as a skeptical theist holds), a skeptical theist should be left in a moral paralysis as to whether they should personally intervene to prevent any particular incident of “God-permitted” suffering.

            • jonP

              “Randal already knows all too well the logic.”
              Well, he did ask for it to be explained. I like to believe that people are honest, and that he either didn’t know, or he wanted it clarified for his audience.

              He may also be interested in learning about some criticism of the arguments that he makes. For example, this morally sufficient reasons assumption violates the assumption that there is objective moral goodness.

              If god always has a morally sufficient reason to allow anything to happen, then we are not morally obligated to intervene on someone’s behalf. This is because god knows which decision we will make, and whether we decide to intervene or not, the outcome will always be for the greater moral good.

          • Derek

            “It may appear tragic to us, but god is mysterious and has reasons beyond our comprehension.”

            Unknown are the ways of the Lord. All we can do is read the Bible, quote where God says “Don’t be stupid” or “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph 5:17)’

            Problem solved.

            Wait for the next allowed rape, catastrophe, murder, etc. repeat reading the Bible and clean up your mind.

            Sound mocking? Read Poe’s Law

      • LukeBreuer

        Let’s try your logic. Because evolutionists cannot provide a compelling theory of abiogenesis, evolution is surely false.

        Translation: Because Christians cannot provide a compelling explanation for e.g. natural evil, Christianity is surely false.

        As long as Christians can make sense out of some evil, learning to redeem it, and can progress in doing so, there is no guaranteed upper bound to what evil can be made sense of. Perhaps there is more order to the moral world than you suspect, just as we know there is more order to the physical world than our ancestors suspected.

        Mystery is not bad, unless you:

             (1) claim it is impenetrable
             (2) claim it is mere randomness

        Some theists do (1), and thus give up in trying to make more sense of things. Some atheists do (2), declaring that if they cannot understand it, nobody can!

        • Derek

          You used “some” logic. The problem with “some” logic is that you can be right, while you can be wrong… or vice versa.

          Yes, some people use the adagio “Unknown are the ways of the Lord” that can be translated to some atheists as (2). The difference being “God knows, even if I don’t know” vs. “I don’t know”

          So, your point is:
          “What if some theists use “Unknown are the ways of the Lord?. Are not some atheists using the same adagio, albeit differently expressed?” ?

          • LukeBreuer

            You used “some” logic. The problem with “some” logic is that you can be right, while you can be wrong… or vice versa.

            Please support your point with examples. As it is, I hardly understand it.

            So, your point is:
            “What if some theists use “Unknown are the ways of the Lord?. Are not some atheists using the same adagio, albeit differently expressed?” ?

            That’s not at all my point. I criticize those who do (1) and (2). Let me focus on Christians for a bit. Isaiah 55:8 is too often quoted out of context:

            “Seek the LORD while he may be found;
                call upon him while he is near;
            let the wicked forsake his way,
                and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
                and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
            For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
            For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                so are my ways higher than your ways
                and my thoughts than your thoughts.

            This passage clearly has the wicked person forsaking his way and the unrighteous man forsaking his thoughts. What way and thoughts do these people adopt after they’ve forsaken their own? God’s, of course! Not perfectly, but increasingly good approximations, just like how science increasingly well-models reality. Passages like Phil 1:9-11 and 1 Thess 4:9-10 make it clear that the task of better loving one another never ends.

            To drive my point home, Christians who say that they just can’t know what God is up to are fools:

            Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph 5:17)

            No, we cannot know everything immediately. That doesn’t mean we cannot learn, and learn without bound. Anyone who puts up a barrier to further knowledge is doing a shameful thing. Anyone, not just Christians, not just atheists.

            • Derek

              “Please support your point with examples. As it is, I hardly understand it.”
              —-
              You wrote: “Some theists do (1)” and “Some atheists do (2)”. That’s what I call “some” logic. “Some” logic is part of fuzzy logic.

              “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph 5:17)’

              The verse solves nothing. It is very easy to say: “Don’t be stupid”, or “Don’t do that”. A negation is like destroying, and constructs nothing. For example, seven of the ten commandments are negations, then one is just a statement, one is just for Jews and one is relative (respect your parents, maybe even when they rape you for example?)

              So bottom line, trying to get out of “Unknown are the ways of the Lord” by reading the Bible is exercise in futility and give way only to fights inside the faiths.

              • LukeBreuer

                You wrote: “Some theists do (1)” and “Some atheists do (2)”. That’s what I call “some” logic. “Some” logic is part of fuzzy logic.

                I don’t understand what your criticism is. I cannot use “all” logic, because not all theists do (1), and not all atheists do (2). Some treat mystery with reverence, while not treating it as permanently impenetrable.

                A negation is like destroying, and constructs nothing.

                You seem to have focused on the first clause without the second: “but understand what hte will of the Lord is.” What can that mean, but to pierce the mystery? Paul talks about some of that mystery being pierced for him in Eph 3:1-6, but who is to say that’s the end of it? Rom 12:1-2 speaks as if “discern[ing] what is the will of God” is an ongoing task. More evidence of this can be found in Phil 1:9-11 and 1 Thess 4:9-10. And then there’s Is 55:6-9, which I quoted above.

                So bottom line, trying to get out of “Unknown are the ways of the Lord” by reading the Bible is exercise in futility and give way only to fights inside the faiths.

                What can “ways of the Lord” possibly mean, other than his will? I have clearly demonstrated that Christians are called to understand the will of the Lord and do it.

                (respect your parents, maybe even when they rape you for example?)

                Now you’re just spouting nonsense. Do you really want to drag the conversation down like this? I’m inclined to just stop replying to you if that’s the case; the path you’re running along here leads nowhere interesting or edifying.

                • Derek

                  If you stop replying I will not know what are the ways of the Lord :)

                  • LukeBreuer

                    Give Isaiah 58 a shot. You might be surprised at what you find.

                    • Derek

                      If it is the God will, I must obey :)

                    • LukeBreuer

                      Only if the God is a God of compulsion. Jesus and Yahweh are not: (1) “love does not insist on its own way” (2) “God is love”.

        • TheAtheistMissionary

          LukeBreuer, your analogy fails. The problem of evil is far more damning to the truth of Christianity than the inability of “evolutionists” (what a funny term – why don’t we call people who believe they can’t fly “gravitationists?) to provide you with a recipe for abiogenesis. The reason for this is due to the fact that the problem of evil strikes at the core of how Christians define God.

          Given that Randal and others dislike my penchant for referring to articles, I’ll reproduce out William Rowe’s classic argument:

          1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

          2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

          3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

          To my (albeit limited) knowledge, the only ways around Rowe’s argument are either skeptical theism or open theism. If Randal or anyone else has another, I’m all ears.

          • LukeBreuer

            “Evolutionist” is a convenient term, because it covers all who argue for evolution. I can use the expanded version if you insist, but it makes conversation clumsier.

            I would reject #1, and dispute the claim that this forces me into skeptical theism or open theism. Why must they? What a priori reasoning can you provide that forces me to understand some particular evil you point out, on pain of being a skeptical or open theist?

            What is your response to the following?

            As long as Christians can make sense out of some evil, learning to redeem it, and can progress in doing so, there is no guaranteed upper bound to what evil can be made sense of. Perhaps there is more order to the moral world than you suspect, just as we know there is more order to the physical world than our ancestors suspected.

            • TheAtheistMissionary

              My response would be that the suggestion that there is no guaranteed upper bound to what evil can be made sense of (do you mean “God-permitted”?) comes pretty close to what I would consider to be a textbook definition of skeptical theism.

              • LukeBreuer

                Woah, what? You seem to have things inverted.

                skeptical theism: some evils will never be understood by finite minds
                no upper bound: all evils can ultimately be understood by finite minds

            • TheAtheistMissionary

              Please explain why you reject premise #1 without relying on a mystery card.

              • LukeBreuer

                Premise #1 is tantamount to a claim of irreducible complexity: since you cannot explain how, on your explanation a given system evolved—right now, not after some more research—your general theory fails. That’s what a gratuitous evil is: an evil that, right now, the theist cannot explain as leading to a higher good. As long as the theist can explain how more and more evils can lead to a higher good, why doubt that the theist will be able to explain some particular evil? If the argument from irreducible complexity fails—and I think it does—the argument from gratuitous evils is in peril.

                Stated differently: premise #1 claims that at least one example of gratuitous evil is known to exist. How is this different from the claim that at least one irreducibly complex biological system exists? The only difference I can see is if there appears to be an upper bound to the evils a theist can explain, and the only way to justify an upper bound is to point to some asymptotic limit of what the theist can explain, evidenced by the theist explaining fewer and fewer new evils as time progresses.

                The ‘mystery card’ is only invalid if it is permanent mystery. Otherwise, it is merely the admission that the current system doesn’t explain everything. That shouldn’t be a problem, because we don’t understand everything. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

                • TheAtheistMissionary

                  Regardless of whether you think your mystery will never be solved or just remains unknown for the time being, your rejection of premise #1 results in your refusal to conclude that any particular act is one of gratuitous evil (I prefer the description “unnecessary suffering”). So regardless of whether we are talking about the rape/murder of a child or a tsunami snatching a baby from the arms of its mother, you say (please correct me if I’m wrong) that we can’t currently know whether a greater good would be prevented if God intervened to stop it.

                  The result of the above, I submit, is to leave you in a state of moral paralysis. If God doesn’t intervene to stop the child rapist/murderer, why should you?

                  • LukeBreuer

                    Why does moral paralysis result? I don’t see why the introduction of the concept of a gratuitous evil changes things. Because some philosophers talked, now there is moral paralysis where there wasn’t any before? Or was there some before, of which I am not aware?

                    • TheAtheistMissionary

                      I hate repeating questions but I’ll succumb to the impulse: If God is prepared to stand by (presumably in furtherance of a greater good) and permit the rape/murder of a 5 year old, why should you intervene to stop it? More to the point, if you intervened to stop it, how could you know whether that act prevented a greater good from happening than if you had just looked the other way and permitted the evil act to continue, as it would have if you had not had the opportunity to intervene?

                    • LukeBreuer

                      This is nonsensical: whatever God allows me to do is something he will ultimately be ok with, when all the chips are down. The only question is whether I will turn out to be the kind of person who could live forever in community, or whether I would ultimately cause more harm than good in such a community. If permit the rape/murder, I make myself more likely to fall into the second category. If for some reason that rape/murder is required for a greater good—and this I highly doubt—then I won’t be able to stop it. This being said, I find it extremely hard to believe that a rape/murder would be required; instead, it would be the result of humans failing to (a) call the precursors to it ‘bad’, and/or (b) be willing to pay the requisite cost to preventing even the precursors from happening.

                      After writing the above, I read Randal’s post today, Does Greater Goods theodicy undermine moral action?. The above seems to agree pretty well with his last paragraph.

                      P.S. What’s wrong with re-asking questions? Sometimes it’s good to do that, after chasing a tangent or three.

          • jonP

            “Given that Randal and others dislike my penchant for referring to articles,”

            That’s odd. I’ve seen Randal do this several times. This is what brought me to this article, and he did it here to. I felt that he wanted to share something important, so I followed that links and read what he wrote there too. I don’t think he would be hypocritical and complain if you did that as well.

            • TheAtheistMissionary

              It is odd and I wish he’d respond to Maitzen’s article (link above) instead of kicking sand in the face of philosophical laymen by challenging them to provide bullet-proof theories of epistemology.

  • Michael

    Hello this is Michael whose question you addressed in this blog. Thanks for taking up my question.

    I want to make sure I understand your response. To be clear, I was not looking for a proof which would convince all rational atheists or all rational Christians (whatever that may mean). Also, to separate this from the debate, I grant that belief in god is rational for at least some people.

    The standard I had in mind is an answer which would be meaningful to a smart, well-read lay person. In my field of finance, I used to imagine that I was writing for my grandmother, a smart woman not educated in finance.

    Your answer to how a loving god could permit the rape and murder of the girl seems as follows:

    1) It is logically possible that a loving omnipotent god could allow this to happen. That seems mostly irrelevant to my hypothetical lay person, who probably was not thinking in logical absolutes.
    2) In citing the multiple reasons people are theists, you seemed to implicitly acknowledge the problem of evil is a challenge for belief, but is not a defeater because the other sources of belief are more compelling.
    3) You seem to imply that theists are not even obliged to answer direct questions about the problem of evil, since atheists have what you consider parallel challenges.
    4) Despite being a (professional) Christian apologist, or at least an enthusiastic amateur and published author, you seem to feel yourself inadequate to respond directly to the question in a blog post I thought was in part dedicated to that topic. Rather, you refer to books you have written or will soon review.

    I understand this is a difficult topic which is challenging to answer. I obviously think it is difficult because there are few, if any, responses which would satisfy a reasonable, open-minded person without resorting to professional-level philosophy. It is not as if other people don’t attempt to specifically answer the problem of evil, pointing to the requirements of free will or the teaching of some greater moral lesson. I assume you didn’t offer these because you don’t think they are particularly strong.

    I am still personally curious what your best idea is on what would justify the rape murder in question. Why not take a stab at a specific reason or set of reasons? Again, I grant that there could be a reason in principle. I just can’t think of one. But I don’t grapple with these issues like you do.

    Thanks for your response, and let me know if I’ve missed your answer somehow.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “I was not looking for a proof which would convince all rational atheists or all rational Christians (whatever that may mean).”

      That’s good, because in this article I point out that both atheists and theists can continue to be rational despite unresolved anomalies, paradoxes, antinomies, etc. in their respective positions.

      “Also, to separate this from the debate, I grant that belief in god is rational for at least some people.”

      Great! Especially since that was the topic of debate!

      “The standard I had in mind is an answer which would be meaningful to a smart, well-read lay person.”

      I’m not sure what you *mean* when you say *meaningful*. You obviously don’t mean to refer literally to semantic content. Do you mean *existentially meaningful*? Or *relevant*? Or a combination thereof?

      “That seems mostly irrelevant to my hypothetical lay person….”

      Well we may have very different hypothetical lay persons. One may be disinterested in the question of logical consistency but the other may indeed be concerned by that question. So rather than “hypothetical lay person” I’d prefer to hear you speak about yourself and why you find an answer satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

      “you seemed to implicitly acknowledge the problem of evil is a challenge for belief, but is not a defeater”

      I went further than that. I was explicit in acknowledging the problem of evil. I say more about that here:

      http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Facing-Evil.aspx

      “You seem to imply that theists are not even obliged to answer direct questions….”

      I’m not sure what you mean by “obliged”. Rationally obliged? The point here is simply that the theist’s recognition of objective moral value and moral perception provide her with reasons to think theism is true, and these reasons can outweigh for her the putative defeater of the problem of evil.

      As to the question of why God would allow a person to be raped.

      Possibly, not allowing the rape would result ultimately in a course of events that would culminate in the individual raped and several other people choosing self-destructive paths which culminate in their rejecting the love of God and other people in an eternity of self-willed loneliness and misery; allowing the rape would
      result ultimately in a course of events that would culminate in the individual raped and several other people choosing paths of, healing and reconciliation which culminate in their being united to the love of God and other people in an eternity of joy.

      I would encourage you to think about the two atheist problems I identified briefly in this post so you do not fall victim to confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

      • Michael

        Thanks for directly answering the question towards the end of your post. I agree it is possible, in the abstract, that the rape and death by beating and strangulation of the five-year old girl led to some greater good somewhere down the road. Why an omnipotent god couldn’t change the will to murder, or physically stop the murderer, or reveal himself convincingly to the murdered and explain the evil of what he was about to do, or cause a miracle to happen, or alter the likely abusive childhood of the criminal, or arrange to have the girl be somewhere else during the time of the original crime makes me assign a very low probability that your explanation is true, as would most people I think not already committed to the idea of an omnipotent loving god. Other examples are harder to explain away (the suffering of animals outside the perception of any living person) but really your objection could apply to any scenario — namely it’s possible some good came from the evil.

        As for your two objections, I would need further clarification to understand your points. What kind of objective moral values are you referring to? My understanding of the word objective implies a universal (or near universal) agreement on a proposition. For example, a square objectively has four sides with 360 degree of included angles. But it seems harder to find moral questions where even a substantial majority of people are in agreement. Is it OK to kill in war? Many say yes, Quakers say no. Is it moral to bomb an abortion clinic? Some Christians feel it is. Is it moral to exterminate an ancient civilization if they are “wicked” in the eyes of god? If you are committed to the truth and goodness of the old testament, you may say yes, while many others would disagree. Is it moral to use contraceptives? Catholics might disagree with me.

        Is it OK to kill apostates? Many Muslims seem to believe it is.

        Or take the common experimental test of moral sense. Is it OK to push a person in front of a train to save five people down the line? There is no universally offered (objective) answer.

        Is is moral to allow people to starve while others enjoy more wealth than they could spend in 100 lifetimes? Jesus would seem to say no, but many atheists and theists see nothing immoral about great wealth.

        Since I do not see a basic consensus on most moral questions, much less established “objective” morality, even among Christians, I do not need to create a god as an explanation.

        I do not, as you suggest, want to fall victim to motivated reasoning. So if you could provide some examples of objective morality shared my all (or almost all) people, and which further are not easily explained by natural selection (which would exclude the moral sense that killing is wrong) I will certainly think more about your two atheist problems.

        Thanks in advance.

        • R0c1

          You probably already know that morality is a philosophical mine field. People use words like “good” and “moral” to refer to the output of mental processes that are poorly understood. If God also has a way to take in information and output a moral judgment, then he has “an algorithm” too. Should my judgement defer to whatever His algorithm (or nature) is? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question, in part because I’m not sure what “should” refers to if not to something I already value.

      • jonP

        Randal, your arguments appear all over the place; literally spread out across multiple posts, websites, books, podcasts, etc.

        I don’t understand why the problem of evil is a problem for atheists.

        From: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Facing-Evil.aspx?p=2

        “Allen’s worldview runs directly into the problem of evil in two ways. To begin with, there is the shattering offense
        of evil. It seems to me that the breathtaking revulsion we experience when seeing Jeff Bauman being wheeled through the streets of Boston, his legs blown to ribbons by the unspeakable actions of terrorists, signals something about the perceived worth of human beings. We recognize at that moment that this is an objectively evil act, one that has marred a valued and loved creature of God. In Judeo-Christian theology we capture this sense of the worth of human beings with the declaration that we have been made in the image of God. Consequently the victimization and
        violation of a human being in a terrorist attack constitutes an offense against God and the universe he made.”

        Whether by bombs, starvation, cancer, heart disease, etc, eventually we will all develop a life terminating problem. There is literally no escape for this. It will probably be painful. We will all eventually be marred.

        Pain and suffering take time to experience; they do not occur instantaneously with the cause of pain. If his head was blown off, then the bomb would not cause him suffering. If we live a complete life with no suffering, and no damage to our biological organism, and die painlessly, then are we not marred? Is that the only way to avoid being marred?

        Is the solution that we don’t really die, because god decides whether to send us to heaven or hell? How would we objectively determine if there is life after death? Because the book says so? Would an all loving god who loves all of us equally let people suffer for eternity in hell? Would it even need to create a hell? Does god not know in advance who is going to hell? Would he create people destined for hell because he wants to, is unable to prevent it, or doesn’t know if it will happen? Is the universe a sorting algorithm to determine where everyone will eventually spend eternity?

        The problem of evil is only a problem because it violates the just world hypothesis.

        You wrote:

        “Boston bombing is merely one more momentary, inconsequential occurrence in an overwhelming, violent universe.”

        This is objectively true. We find ourselves in a universe in which we are constantly surrounded by life-threatening danger. For example, we are completely surrounded by pathogenic bacteria. These facts are simply not consistent with your uber powerful, omni-everything god. Perhaps killing other people is bad, but it’s morally good when god does it.

      • john (adj)

        Randal, you write in answer to God allowing the rape and murder of a 5 year old that “Possibly, not allowing the rape would result ultimately in a course of events…”

        I’ve read and heard this explanation numerous times and it continues to feel empty. Aside from simply being a mystery-card type of reply, it also seems to suggest that God’s future actions are constricted by his current action in question. It not allowing the 5 year old to be rape might result in a worse outcome, how would god then not be able to intervene to prevent THAT outcome. Just how interventionalist or providential is he? As such, his omnipotence is still in question. Any thoughts?

      • TheAtheistMissionary

        Randal, if God exists and chooses not to intervene (because of the furtherance of a greater good) and “God-permit” the rape/murder of a child, why should you intervene to stop the evil act? If you choose to intervene, how do you know that you have not prevented a greater good from happening? That is precisely the conundrum I see Maitzen raising is his article and your silence in response is deafening.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/hallq/ Chris Hallquist

    First off, in the debate I pointed out that there is no logical contradiction between God’s being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and the existence of evil.

    This is irrelevant, because claimed this during the debate. I did quote David Lewis saying that, but only for the sake of pointing out that theistic philosophers claiming a “consensus” on the problem of evil are claiming something contrary to fact. Even if Lewis were wrong on that point, the problem of evil is still devastating on much weaker assumptions.

    (I won’t waste time repeating my actual arguments, since anyone who’s interested in them can listen to the debate, and I’ve lost all hope of getting Randal to accurately represent my arguments.)

    So for a Christian who believes God exists due to the cumulative case of cosmological arguments, teleological arguments, arguments from miracles, and arguments from personal religious experience, Chris would have to demonstrate that the problem of evil as he has stated it is sufficient to outweigh that entire cumulative case of arguments for God’s existence.

    As I explained during the debate, popular cosmological and design arguments don’t even try to argue for theism–they argue for much weaker claims. Randal conceded this. He said, “oh, well they can be combined with these other arguments…” then that makes the “cumulative case” entirely dependent on those other arguments working–if they fail, you can’t fall back on, “well, I’ve still got the cosmological and design arguments!” because those don’t even try to argue for the desired conclusion.

    As for “arguments from miracles, and arguments from personal religious experience” these are obviously terrible arguments, and are recognized by Christians as such when claimed in favor of non-Christian religions. It’s irrational to treat the arguments one way when they support a claim you accept, and another way when they support a claim you reject.

    Now consider how things look if one turns the tables on the atheist. There are at least two very serious problems for atheism in the same vicinity as the theist’s problem of evil. You see, the problem of evil is motivated by the perception that some events are objectively evil. They are not merely evil relative to the subjective opinions of particular human beings. They are objectively evil, irrespective of the opinions of any human beings. This leads to these two problems for the atheist.

    Problem 1: the ontological problem of moral value and obligation: in virtue of what does objective good and evil consist in a universe of blind, purposeless indifference?

    Problem 2: the epistemological problem of moral perception: assuming that objective moral values and obligations do exist, if human cognitive faculties were produced by an undirected process merely to produce survival value, how is it that we have a faculty of moral perception that provides justified moral beliefs about those objective moral values and obligations which serve as the very basis for the atheist’s problem of evil?

    These are both serious problems for atheists…

    No they aren’t. They’re only problems if you assume “God did it” is the default explanation for any unanswered philosophical questions–which is just “God of the gaps” reasoning applied to philosophy.

    • jonP

      Randal’s “logic” appears hopelessly convoluted. The problem is the insistence on this omni-everything super god. If the solution to the problem of evil is that god has morally sufficient reasons to allow suffering, then the solution is that there is no objective moral evil.

      I will explain this again so I don’t get accused of not explaining myself, as justification for dismissing my argument. If everything that happens is ultimately morally justified, even if we don’t understand why, then it doesn’t matter which decisions we make or what happens to us, because no matter what happens, it’s always for the greatest moral good. This solution is that there is no evil; that the divine master plan is perfection (borrowed from Tori Amos). This is not different from atheist problem 1.

      That is, an atheist universe without “objective” evil is not distinguishable from a theist universe in which omnibenevolent god always has sufficient moral reasons to allow suffering for the greatest moral good.

      Problem 2 disappears when we reject the “objective moral values and obligations” assumption, which also disappears in omnibenevolent god universe with sufficient moral reasons assumption.

    • Derek M

      This is irrelevant, because claimed this during the debate. I did quote David Lewis saying that, but only for the sake of pointing out that theistic philosophers claiming a “consensus” on the problem of evil are claiming something contrary to fact. Even if Lewis were wrong on that point, the problem of evil is still devastating on much weaker assumptions.

      (I won’t waste time repeating my actual arguments, since anyone who’s interested in them can listen to the debate, and I’ve lost all hope of getting Randal to accurately represent my arguments.)

      Having listened to the debate, I heard no such arguments that are devastating in regards to the problem of evil. Leaving the consensus aside I have two questions:

      1. Do you hold that there is an inconsistency in the theistic set that the deductive PoE reveals?

      2. If so, why? If not, what form of the PoE do you hold is devastating to theism?

  • RonH

    How do we know a world without suffering is even possible, let alone desirable?

    How about a thought experiment? Let’s create a perfect world…

    • Derek

      “How do we know a world without suffering is even possible, let alone desirable?”

      I may think about a world without suffering, but how do we know an eternal world is even possible, let alone desirable?

    • jonP

      Well, wait a minute. Isn’t heaven supposed to be an eternal world without suffering? That sounds awesome! Why didn’t omni-everything god create us in that world? Oh yeah, never mind. /snark

      (I know this is bad taste, so I apologize.)

      • RonH

        FYI, I enjoy good argument, which is why I’ve put you on the troll list next to Derek. I wanted you to know, so you wouldn’t misunderstand my silence going forward.

        • jonP

          Although I do believe my point was legitimate. I do admit that this specific comment was rude. I understand. I expected no obligation to engage me in discussion, and it was nice of you to go this far. I don’t think this would have been a productive argument anyway.

          • RonH

            It is a reasonable question, under normal circumstances. But 1) you’re simply ignoring my question, and not at all responding to the essay I linked, which was the reason I commented in the first place; 2) You’re not even bothering to find out what my views are before caricaturing them; 3) while I enjoy a drive-by one-liner as much as the next guy, it should at least be funny if it’s not supposed to advance the conversation.

            It takes time to unpack these subjects. I’m interested in argument for the sake of learning (though I mean to have a good time about it). If you just want to pick a fight, I don’t have the time.

            • jonP

              “2) You’re not even bothering to find out what my views are before caricaturing them”

              It was a caricature of my views. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god could have created the world that I want, but it didn’t. It could have created a separate universe for each of us, and given each of us control to make it however we want. But we find ourselves in this world.

    • jonP

      I do apologize. I should not have made a non serious comment, especially since it was not meant to be funny.

      To answer your first question regarding whether a world without suffering is possible. I would argue no, it is not possible. There is a tautological reason:

      1. There is only one world, and whatever we observe will be the only way that this world unfolds.

      2. This world contains suffering.

      This assumption explicitly precludes a multiverse interpretation of reality. Since we observe suffering, a world without suffering is not possible. This argument is not interesting.

      This thought experiment does not necessarily describe the only possible world without suffering. It doesn’t describe my perfect world. I read the article, and using the same rules:

      “You have free rein-make it any way you like.”

      My perfect world without suffering would be exactly like my experiences in my dreams, but always completely within my control. I would exist in an environment that was organized however I want, and would contain whatever objects, people, animals, things, whatever that I wanted. If I wanted to fly, I could. If I wanted to experience what it’s like to be tortured and killed on a crucifix, I could. It wouldn’t matter because at the end everything could be changed, and I would be able to create any new experiences I want. If something was so traumatic that it left a bad memory, then I could forget about it if I want. It wouldn’t matter if by forgetting, I repeated the same experience, because I could forget again. If I wanted to spend my entire eternity with a specific person, I could. If I wanted new people I could have that.

      I would never get bored if I didn’t want to be. I wouldn’t even need sensory experiences to relieve my boredom, I could simply make it so I never felt boredom. I could make it so that I enjoyed pain instead of pleasure. It wouldn’t matter. It would be desirable because I could have it any way that was desirable.

      That is how I would answer this question. It would not be possible, but it would be desirable.

      • RonH

        Apology accepted, with gratitude.

        Perhaps I should clarify the context of my question. In essence, the problem of suffering gets its force from the assumption that if a good God exists, he could (and would) create a world that didn’t have suffering in it. We have a world with suffering, therefore a good, all-powerful God probably doesn’t exist. But I wonder if this is even a justifiable assumption. The essay attempts to illustrate this point by provoking the reader to imagine what a world where suffering was impossible would be like, and suggesting that such a world is less desirable than the one we’re in after all. In other words, God might indeed be able to create a world in which suffering was impossible, however even we wouldn’t care for that world, and have no reason to believe God would.

        As for your point about a dream world… I think the author is specifically talking about logical, hypothetically actualizable worlds. An actualizable world is more desirable than an unactualizable world.

        If we can’t know whether or not it’s possible for a desirable world without suffering to be created, then the simple fact that suffering exists gives us no clue as to whether or not God does.

        I discussed this question some more in another thread, including whether or not there’s reason to suppose God could have skipped all this suffering and just created a populated “heaven”.

        • jonP

          “…then the simple fact that suffering exists gives us no clue as to whether or not God does.”

          Yes, I agree. I think the problem is with the characteristics that we assume god to have. The problem is also with observations of the world in which we actually find ourselves.

          The only actualizable world that we can be certain of is this one. My best assumption is that no other possible world’s are actualizable. If god can not create an unactualizable world, then we have a violation of the omnipotence assumption. Perhaps we should reject that assumption. Perhaps we have a merely potent god limited by an inability to create
          unactualizable worlds, or whatever other limits god can be logically determined to have.

          An unaddressed issue is how we define suffering (e.g. do I suffer when I witness those around me dying? Do I suffer when I die? Do I suffer when my body gets damaged? Do I suffer by the knowledge that other’s suffer? Do I suffer by knowing that I am covered in pathogenic bacteria? Do I suffer when I get painful infections). I would argue that not only are we in a world in which suffering is possible, and that suffering actually happens, but that it’s guaranteed that all of us will suffer at least at some times in our lives.

          Bacteria do not need to be pathogenic. It usually is harmful to the bacteria when they kill or damage the host (except in some cases where the death of the host is part of the bacteria’s life cycle). I suppose I should start praising god for his omnibenevolence? Perhaps it’s rational to believe in a god who is not omnibenevolent.

          Maybe suffering is good. An omnibenevolent god only creates good things. He has sufficiently moral reasons for everything that happens. Suffering exists, therefore it must be for sufficiently moral reasons. We should just take it. Does it matter if this suffering is caused by people, or by bacteria, or fire, or whatever? It’s all for morally sufficient reasons.

          I do not understand why these omni-everything assumptions are necessary characteristics of god. Avoiding contradictions regarding the problem of evil requires us to add in additional assumptions regarding god’s characteristics (e.g. he can’t create unactualizable worlds). These assumptions contradict other assumptions (e.g. inability to create something violates omnipotence), or they contradict observable facts (e.g. suffering). Maybe we just need more assumptions. Or maybe we need to start rejecting the violated assumptions.

          I believe that the problem of evil is still an unresolved problem because we can not agree on the characteristics god has.

          • RonH

            My best assumption is that no other possible world’s are actualizable.

            I don’t know why you would assume this. But anyways if this is the only actualizable world, then God can’t be blamed for actualizing this one and not one with less evil.

            If god can not create an unactualizable world, then we have a violation of the omnipotence assumption.

            Depends on your definition of “omnipotence”. If you take it to mean something like: “For all X, the proposition ‘God can’t X’ will be false”, then yes. But that’s not typically the definition theologians use. They will agree that “God can’t purple” will be true. “God can’t make green ideas sleep furiously” is also true. Same with “God can’t make a four-sided triangle” and “God can’t make a perpetual motion machine governed by the laws of thermodynamics”. Being unable to actualize an unactualizable world is not a violation of omnipotence as it is typically defined.

            I believe that the problem of evil is still an unresolved problem because we can not agree on the characteristics god has.

            Well, this true in a sense. Any religion has to account for the presence of suffering in the world, given its assumptions about God. Since different religions may have different assumptions, they will have different accounts which may seem more or less satisfactory to you, depending. Sam Harris clearly rejects Christianity, but seems to have at least some sympathies with Buddhism.

            From my perspective, atheists have a problem of suffering as well. After all, suffering is just the teeth in the cogs of natural selection. Competition for resources will inevitably lead to suffering for someone. This is the only way for evolution to progress. That cheetahs kill baby gazelles, that wasp larvae eat caterpillars alive, or that young children are destroyed by flesh-eating bacteria is simply evolution in action. Recoiling in horror at any of the above or thinking of them as “evil’ is irrational — they simply are, and you are a product of the same natural processes that produced them. But if they are not evil, it is irrational to suggest that their existence constitutes evidence against God on the basis of their being evil.

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  • UWIR

    The two problems presented are simply problems of philosophy, not of atheism. There is no way to construct a worldview without having some axioms. Positing God just collects all of your axioms into one super axiom.

    If God presents us with an objective morality, so what? How can you go from the “is” of God having an objective morality, to the “ought” of it being morally imperative that one follow it?

    And how would we perceive that objective morality? It’s no good to say “God gives us the perception”. God’s objective morality can be a guide only if we can perceive that morality, and we can rely on that perception. So for theism to be a solution, God would have to give us the perception, and we would have to perceive that God gives us the perception. But how would we know that God has given the perception to perceive that God has given us the perception to perceive His objective morality? Answering “God” just puts us into infinite regress.

    Furthermore, it is empirically false that God has given us a reliable perception of an objective morality.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Positing God just collects all of your axioms into one super axiom.”

      You write as if simplicity is a bad thing. The scientifically minded think otherwise.

      “If God presents us with an objective morality, so what? How can you go from the “is” of God having an objective morality, to the “ought” of it being morally imperative that one follow it?”

      The question shows that you don’t understand what “objective morality” means.

      “And how would we perceive that objective morality?”

      Can an omnipotent being furnish us with the cognitive faculties to form true moral beliefs?

      Uh, yeah,

      “Furthermore, it is empirically false that God has given us a reliable perception of an objective morality.”

      False. It is indeed correct that human beings don’t have an empirically infallible moral perception. But so what? We don’t have infallible anything and still we navigate the world with many true beliefs.

      • jonP

        “The question shows that you don’t understand what “objective morality” means.”

        It might be easier for us to determine where the flaws in the arguments are, if you were to provide us with a definition for the term “objective morality.” This would help us to learn, and it would help us to avoid equivocating on competing definitions of this term.

        I am certain that you have defined this term somewhere else amongst your prolific books, lectures, and internet postings, but it would certainly help us here in this thread as well.

        You may be tempted to just post a link. But we don’t like it when people post links instead of providing a concise explanation, for the same reason that you don’t like it when people do that to you, as in your response to a comment posted above:

        “I didn’t ask you to provide a link. I asked you to summarize your reasoning. Please do so.”

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          An objective moral fact is one that obtains irrespective of the mental dispositions of any finite mind. The objector thinks that conceding God is the ground of objective morality would still leave us on the “is” side of an “is/ought” dichotomy. That’s precisely wrong. Objective moral facts just are ought facts.

      • UWIR

        “You write as if simplicity is a bad thing.”

        You write as if the sole measure of simplicity is number of axioms.

        “The question shows that you don’t understand what “objective morality” means.”

        So… if your claim depends on special knowledge of what you mean by “objective morality”, why bother present your claim, without presenting a definition.

        “Can an omnipotent being furnish us with the cognitive faculties to form true moral beliefs?”

        In the context of this discussion, no.

        “”Furthermore, it is empirically false that God has given us a reliable perception of an objective morality.”

        False.”

        So, killing six million Jews was not morally wrong?