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> Ask a Theist Anything, An Experiment
Guest_Herohito_*
post Jul 14 2013, 09:11 PM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Jul 14 2013, 02:06 PM) *
Question stemming from my simple ignorance of the Bible: Does a literal interpretation of Genesis actually mean that the Earth is 6,000 years old? I know Genesis says the Earth was created in six days. And I know some people back in the Renaissance era calculated the age of the Earth at 6,000 years. But I don't think - and correct me if I'm wrong - that the Bible ever actually says "Earth was created x many years ago."

From what I've heard, there's a timeline from Adam and Eve all the way through Jesus, mostly documenting noteworthy individuals and their genealogy. If you count it up, that's somewhere around 6000 years.
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Guest_wutherering_*
post Jul 14 2013, 09:54 PM
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QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Jul 14 2013, 09:36 AM) *
4. These genre points don't resolve every single supposed contradiction, I'm sure, but as far as I'm familiar with the common claims, they resolve a large number of the central ones. I don't take it to be the case that the Bible is mistaken or mistranslated; apologists will tell you that we have far more early copies of the Bible, each confirming the other with 99.5+% accuracy than we do any contemporary texts, and that many of these copies are from far closer in time to the events the Bible speaks of than other writings which we use (Aristotle, Livy, Socrates, Tacitus). If these Bible scholars and historians are right, then it seems to me the radical thing about the Bible is the content of its claims (Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is he really the son of God?) than whether the text itself can be trusted as having been translated properly and accurately.

It seems super reasonable to assume that contradictions would happen, given that what we now see as the bible took a long time to finalize, and there are apocryphal gospels floating around, and just general human error.
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Guest_AK_WDB_*
post Sep 19 2013, 04:10 AM
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So obviously I need to read more stuff by actual theologians, which I have never done apart from a couple of college classes that required stuff by Augustine, Aquinas, and/or Martin Luther. However, I'm going to rephrase one of the oldest and most hotly debated theological questions for you guys in terms of a story I once heard.

At a church service during Lent, a formerly homeless man was giving a speech about how he got back on his feet. I was especially struck by his description of the psychological debilitation that accompanied homelessness - he found himself trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and depression that left him unable to contact his own family, even though he knew perfectly well where to find them. Having much more experience with depression than with financial hardship, I found this part of the story made it easier to relate to him. But in describing how he finally broke the cycle, he then said, "I thought my life was over, but God had other plans for me."

I found myself wanting to respond, "What about the homeless people who do end up dying in the streets? What was God's plan for them?"

Of course that would have been rude to ask him, so I pose it to the good theists of ADT instead.
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Sep 20 2013, 01:45 AM
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I apologize in advance for the length of this response.

QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 18 2013, 11:10 PM) *
So obviously I need to read more stuff by actual theologians, which I have never done apart from a couple of college classes that required stuff by Augustine, Aquinas, and/or Martin Luther. However, I'm going to rephrase one of the oldest and most hotly debated theological questions for you guys in terms of a story I once heard.

At a church service during Lent, a formerly homeless man was giving a speech about how he got back on his feet. I was especially struck by his description of the psychological debilitation that accompanied homelessness - he found himself trapped in a cycle of self-loathing and depression that left him unable to contact his own family, even though he knew perfectly well where to find them. Having much more experience with depression than with financial hardship, I found this part of the story made it easier to relate to him. But in describing how he finally broke the cycle, he then said, "I thought my life was over, but God had other plans for me."

I found myself wanting to respond, "What about the homeless people who do end up dying in the streets? What was God's plan for them?"

Of course that would have been rude to ask him, so I pose it to the good theists of ADT instead.


This is a great question. As I understand it, this question is roughly the same as the problem of evil/suffering. If you don't agree, let me know. But J.L. Mackie (1955) formalizes the problem as such:

Premise 1. If an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God exists, then evil/suffering does not exist.
Premise 2. Evil/suffering exists.
Conclusion. Therefore, an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God does not exist.

My response will go as follows. I will offer three different types of response to this question. The first will focus solely on the question as a problem of suffering. In this first section, I will offer three different approaches. The second type of response will focus on solely the question as the problem of evil. The third will focus on the question as a general problem of both. It's important to note that this response is largely one regarding the logical problems of evil and suffering. There are non-logical (emotive, evangelistic, etc.) problems that are somewhat interconnected (and somewhat connected to the logical problem), but I think that those are best dealt with by someone who has more experience in matters relating to pastoral care. I ruefully confess that this is not my expertise. In other words, I take everything I say below to have some logical force, but very little to be of any use in matters of personal counsel for someone who is going through suffering. Hopefully this caveat makes sense.

Taking this as a problem of suffering

For simplicity's sake, let's call someone who believes in an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God can omni-theist. Let's take the suffering part of the example. So Premises 1 and 2 are about suffering. The Evil part will come later. Now the argument is of course valid, insofar as if the premises are true, then conclusion follows. Premise 2 seems to be pretty indisputable. So the omni-theist is only going to have room to argue Premise 1.

To do this, it might be helpful to ask first, why we would believe Premise 1 is true. We might believe it is true because we believe that suffering is bad, and if suffering is bad, then it is good to prevent suffering where one is capable. From this, it seems to follow that if one is perfectly good, one will prevent suffering in every case where one can. If we are omni-theists, then we believe that God *can* always prevent suffering. Thus, if God is perfectly good and perfectly powerful he will prevent suffering wherever he sees it. If he is perfectly knowing, then he will know every instance of suffering, and thus prevent all suffering. Thus, we might think that Premise 1 is true.

Different theologians have offered different solutions to the problem of suffering. However, the general form of the response is to deny that suffering is always bad.

Probably the clearest theological impetus for this occurs in Romans 5:3-4, where Paul says, "[We] know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Thus Paul does not take suffering to be absolutely evil. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists three things which "remain in the end" -- faith, hope, and charity -- which have been further interpreted by theologians (most formally, Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica I-II, q. 62) as the three theological virtues. So, if one thinks that hope is a virtue (and, as such, a kind of excellence), and one believes that suffering might produce hope, then one might deny that suffering is absolutely bad. If suffering is not absolutely bad, then Premise 1 falls out.

There are other reasons to believe that suffering is not absolutely bad. Let's imagine two people, A and B who are identical in every single way, except one. A is able to bench press 300 lbs because one day God blessed him with a natural ability to bench press this amount. B is able to bench press 300 lbs because he went to the gym on a regular basis for years, working diligently and yes, suffering, for the sake of being able to lift this amount. One might think that even though A and B are identical in every way except one, B's unique journey to being able to bench press 300 lbs has some real value that A is missing. One need not affirm that B's life is commensurably better than A's, all one has to affirm is that B's life contains some good that A's is necessarily missing. In this case, the suffering of B uniquely produces in him a kind of good that no other states of affairs could produce. And if that's the case, then suffering cannot be absolutely bad.

One might retort, "can't God create B such that it was *as though* he suffered to be able to bench press 300 lbs? If he could, then B would get all of the unique goods in the previous example without the suffering." This is a question of what omnipotence entails. My own (admittedly underdeveloped) theory of omnipotence is that it does not include such things. I can say more about this if people are interested, but the brief response is this: if we say that some goods can only be achieved under a set of circumstances, it becomes logically impossible for the goods to be achieved without said circumstances. I do not think God can do logically impossible things (creating square circles, or make evil things good, for example). I think that omnipotence entails something more modest, though I don't know that "the ability to do everything which is logically possible" is quite what we are looking for. There are theists who disagree. But there are other theists who agree with what I've said. At very least this seems a prima facie plausible definition of omnipotence.

Let us return to the question at hand. We now have two reasons to think that suffering is not absolutely bad. There is another reason to deny premise 1, even if we take suffering to be absolutely bad. This point will require a brief theological move. Most Christians will affirm that there is sin in the world dating back to a cosmic fall (regardless of one's position on what to do with the Genesis narrative). Most will affirm that humans have some measure of will in sinning. If that is the case, then suffering that extends from the consequences human action is going to fall into the realm of "bad things that God must allow if he is to preserve a measure of will." Note that this need not be completely free will. One might think that will is less "good" than suffering is "bad." But at least this is going to be incredibly difficult to show. It seems more likely to me that the bad of suffering is incommensurate with the good of will. If this is true, then the argument goes like this:

1/ A measure of will is basically good.
2/ A measure of will entails some human-induced-suffering, which, admittedly is bad.
3/ Because this measure of will is basically good, we must allow some human-induced-suffering for its preservation.
4/ Thus, an omni-God could allow for human-induced-suffering for the preservation of the basically good item that is human will.

This argument is valid insofar as if 1,2, and 3 are true, 4 follows neatly. But not all suffering is human induced. What do we do about natural disasters, limited resources, sickness, and the like? Alvin Plantinga poses a response in "Free Will Defense" (1965) that goes like this: Satan also has a measure of will. Though Satan's will is not good in the same way as human will is, God allows Satan's exercise of will for a time. These natural evils may be the extension of Satan's acting according to his will. Thus, an omni-God could allow for Satan-induced-suffering for a time. If an omni-God could allow for human-induced and Satan-induced suffering, then he can allow for all kinds of suffering. If an omni-God can allow for all kinds of suffering, then we have a third reason to believe that Premise 1 in Mackie's original argument (if we take the 'suffering' form) is invalid.

To recap, I have offered three basic arguments against Premise 1 in the suffering form:
1. The Pauline argument
2. The Narrative argument
3. The argument from Will

The first two argue that suffering need not be understood as absolutely bad. The third argues that even if suffering is absolutely bad, there may be reason for God to allow it. Different theologians have articulated different forms of these (and completely different arguments) throughout history, but these three in the most general forms, I believe, cover the majority of the bases, so to speak.

Taking this as a problem of evil

But this doesn't answer Mackie's stronger claim. Let us take the original argument in the 'evil' form, rather than the 'suffering' form.

Premise 1. If an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God exists, then evil does not exist.
Premise 2. Evil exists.
Conclusion. Therefore, an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God does not exist.

It is clear that for this form of the arguments, the first two cases I offered will not stand. This is because even though one might think that suffering is not absolutely bad, it is very difficult to think that evil is not absolutely bad. This seems to be the precise definition of evil. So the Pauline and Narrative arguments will not work here. It is important to note, however, that Plantinga's argument from Will still stands. We can substitute the terms "evil" for "suffering" in his case and still get an account that allows for all human-induced evils and all Satan-induced evils (and thus, all evils) that is valid.

However there is an altogether different kind of argument against the evil form of the argument that actually accepts Premise 1 to be true in a formal way, but denies that Premise 2 is true. I will not be able to make this argument in full detail. Formally, however, it goes like this:

Evil is nothing but the negation or privation of good, in much the same way as a hole is nothing but the negation of matter and sickness is nothing but the negation or privation of health. Thus, evil is a term with descriptive content, but cannot refer to anything that *actually exists.* In other words, the sentence, "State of affairs X is evil" has meaning, but not because the predicate term refers to a feature that objects/states of affairs can possess, but because it describes the lack/privation of a feature that objects and states of affairs can possess. The sentence, "State of affairs X is evil" thus means something close to "Goodness has been so privated in state of affairs X that our moral sensibilities are rightly outraged/offended/indignant." This is not completely counterintuitive. One might think that darkness is not so much a feature as it is a description of the absence of light. And if not, one might at least think that hole-ness is not so much a feature as it is a description of an absence of matter (strictly speaking, not an absence of matter, but an absence of matter continuous with the object surrounding the hole). Thus, a hole in the ground is an absence of earth, and a hole in my shirt is an absence of polyester/cotton/whatever. Nevertheless, this position is controversial. One might think good and evil just don't work this way. Note that this is a metaphysical argument about the kinds of things good and evil just are, rather than a purely-ethical one. The theologian I am most familiar with who deals with this topic is Augustine. He talks about it in On the Nature of Good, particularly in chapters 4 and 6.

What bearing does this have on the evil form of Mackie's argument? If Augustine's metaphysics of good and evil is right, then Premise 2, "Evil exists" is formally wrong. Of course we can describe states of affairs, people, thoughts, etc. as evil, but evil doesn't exist anymore than holes do. Because evil is taken just to be a privation or incompleteness or negation good, what we really mean when we say "evil exists" is "not every state of affairs, person, thought, etc. is as good as it could be." But it doesn't seem to be the case that if we change the argument to account for this, it is as intuitively strong as it was in its original form.

Premise 1. If an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God exists, then all states of affairs, people, thoughts, etc. would be as perfect as they could be.
Premise 2. Not all states of affairs, people, thoughts, etc. are as perfect as they could be.
Conclusion. Therefore, an all-good, all-knowing, all-loving, all powerful God does not exist.

On the new metaphysics, Premise 2 is valid, but Premise 1 has lost some of its luster. Why assume that an omni-God would make everything as perfect it could be? It seems far more intuitively strong to say that an omni-God would prevent evil things if evil referred to a metaphysically independent feature, but if evil is just imperfection of another feature, then the argument is no longer intuitive. We may just as well argue, "If an omni-God exists, then everything capable of knowing things would know everything" or "If an omni-God exists, then everything capable of doing would be omnipotent." And yet these do not seem right. Thus, Premise 1 becomes very untenable under this new metaphysic.

Taking this as a problem of both evil and suffering
Here is a third kind of way one could reject Mackie's argument. This third objection involves an objection to the general form of the argument, not the specific forms where we took the terms 'suffering' or 'evil' to be operative. It involves the meaning of the terms 'good' and 'evil.' Its form is going to be similar, but not identical, to the Narrative argument in the problem of suffering subheading.

One might think that if there is a God is and he is an omni-God, he would maximize all of the good in the universe. And one might think that the presence evil and suffering means that the good in the universe is not maximized. But this requires a suppressed proposition about what kinds of things are good. Within the Reformed Protestant tradition, there are those who hold/have held that the only basically good thing in the universe is the glory of God. The argument for this is theological and philosophical. I do not have space to go into it here, but for reference, consider Jonathan Edwards' essay, "A Dissertation Concerning the End for which God Created the World" (1765). His argument is from the Bible and from philosophy, but there really is no use in me trying to reproduce it in short form here. Part of the reason is that that would take an explication of what "God's glory" is, and that in itself is going to be long and difficult, aside from the trouble of reproducing the form of the argument he gives itself. Thus, let us just take his conclusion to be true, to work at the response to the evil-argument. If people have questions about his case after reading it, I can do my best to answer them, though I am by no means an expert on Edwards.

1/ If the only thing in the universe which is absolutely and intrinsically good is God's glory, then the way in which things that are not God's glory can be good is if they participate in the good of God's glory.
2/ A thing participates in the good of God's glory by glorifying God. This good, of course, is instrumental, rather than intrinsic.

If 1 and 2 are confusing, note that this is analogous to saying, if the only intrinsically and absolutely good thing in the universe is money, the way that non-moneys are going to be good is if they participate in the good of money. And a thing participates in the good of money, if it, for example, generates money. Thus, jobs can be good, for example. But the good of jobs are instrumental, rather than intrinsic. In other words, if they were to *not* produce money, they would no longer be good.

3/ Insofar as things are different, things participating in the good of God's glory do so in different ways.

This should be trivially true: Bach glorified God in his music, other Christians glorify God when (according to Jesus in Matthew 5:16) other men "see [their] good works and glorify [their] Father, which is in heaven."

4/ Anything which can glorify God can be instrumentally good.

5/ Anything can glorify God.

6/ Thus, anything, including suffering, or evil, etc. can be good.

Though this argument is valid, its most contentious premise will most likely be '5.' But it seems that Biblically, there is reason to believe that this is true. Consider the story of the blind man in John 9. To summarize, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who had been born blind and lived blind for his entire life. The disciples ask, "what did this man/his parents do wrong so that this would happen to him?" Jesus' response in John 9:3 is basically, "No one did anything wrong. His blindness happened so that God might be glorified in his life." Jesus goes on to heal him and the healing becomes a testimony to Jesus' power. Thus, even a suffering like blindness could glorify God. This example seems valid to me, but I'd be interested in whether others have competing intuitions.

There are two things to note about this new argument. First, it should look like the Narrative argument from the first subheading, which denied that all suffering was bad. But this argument denies that evil is prima facie bad in the sense that Mackie means it, because it binds up the properties of goodness and badness in qualities about God and argues that anything (including what we take to be evil) can be good if, for example, it generates glory for God.

Second, we should note that this argument has somewhat unfortunately led to reductive propositions like "His ways are not our ways" because it binds the net goodness/badness of the situation with God's 'ways' (which look like a stand-in for God's means of achieving his glory -- which is taken to be the only intrinsically and absolutely good thing in the universe). I suspect that reductive propositions like this are both a) true and b) unhelpful without context and c) even with context, not helpful in many cases of grave suffering. Hopefully, however, the Edwardsian argument helps provide some context to propositions like these, even if it doesn't actually provide any help in alleviating immanent suffering.

Apologies, again, for the length.

This post has been edited by TheAwesomeKid: Sep 20 2013, 02:04 AM
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Guest_AK_WDB_*
post Sep 20 2013, 02:11 AM
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QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 19 2013, 04:45 PM) *
As I understand it, this question is roughly the same as the problem of evil/suffering. If you don't agree, let me know.

Yes, exactly - I intended it as a rephrasing of the classic problem. smile.gif

Will now read.
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Guest_michelangelo_*
post Sep 25 2013, 07:31 AM
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QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 19 2013, 08:45 PM) *
There are other reasons to believe that suffering is not absolutely bad. Let's imagine two people, A and B who are identical in every single way, except one. A is able to bench press 300 lbs because one day God blessed him with a natural ability to bench press this amount. B is able to bench press 300 lbs because he went to the gym on a regular basis for years, working diligently and yes, suffering, for the sake of being able to lift this amount. One might think that even though A and B are identical in every way except one, B's unique journey to being able to bench press 300 lbs has some real value that A is missing. One need not affirm that B's life is commensurably better than A's, all one has to affirm is that B's life contains some good that A's is necessarily missing. In this case, the suffering of B uniquely produces in him a kind of good that no other states of affairs could produce. And if that's the case, then suffering cannot be absolutely bad.

One might retort, "can't God create B such that it was *as though* he suffered to be able to bench press 300 lbs? If he could, then B would get all of the unique goods in the previous example without the suffering." This is a question of what omnipotence entails. My own (admittedly underdeveloped) theory of omnipotence is that it does not include such things. I can say more about this if people are interested, but the brief response is this: if we say that some goods can only be achieved under a set of circumstances, it becomes logically impossible for the goods to be achieved without said circumstances. I do not think God can do logically impossible things (creating square circles, or make evil things good, for example). I think that omnipotence entails something more modest, though I don't know that "the ability to do everything which is logically possible" is quite what we are looking for. There are theists who disagree. But there are other theists who agree with what I've said. At very least this seems a prima facie plausible definition of omnipotence.


This is basically the conclusion I've reached in thinking about forms of the question asked above. As a tangent, this reasoning goes further than just answering "Why would an omni-God allow suffering?" and implies that Earthly suffering is a necessary condition for heavenly exaltation. Of course, the question posed in the second paragraph (i.e. why can't God create person B such that they hold all the qualities that only suffering can bring) is the natural follow-up - but the answer given here doesn't quite quench my thirst. Generally, it seems to me that we're forced to accept certain bounding conditions for God's omnipotence, and that's both counter-intuitive and unsatisfying. Simply-put, I don't want that to be true. But it seems to be. For example, why is it that an infinite Atonement is necessary for man's salvation? (i.e. Why is an omni-God bound by the laws of justice?)

I don't mean to hijack this post or steer it in a different direction, but the idea of limiting God's omni-status to certain set conditions is of much interest to me.
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Sep 25 2013, 01:59 PM
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QUOTE (michelangelo @ Sep 25 2013, 03:31 AM) *
QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 19 2013, 08:45 PM) *
There are other reasons to believe that suffering is not absolutely bad. Let's imagine two people, A and B who are identical in every single way, except one. A is able to bench press 300 lbs because one day God blessed him with a natural ability to bench press this amount. B is able to bench press 300 lbs because he went to the gym on a regular basis for years, working diligently and yes, suffering, for the sake of being able to lift this amount. One might think that even though A and B are identical in every way except one, B's unique journey to being able to bench press 300 lbs has some real value that A is missing. One need not affirm that B's life is commensurably better than A's, all one has to affirm is that B's life contains some good that A's is necessarily missing. In this case, the suffering of B uniquely produces in him a kind of good that no other states of affairs could produce. And if that's the case, then suffering cannot be absolutely bad.

One might retort, "can't God create B such that it was *as though* he suffered to be able to bench press 300 lbs? If he could, then B would get all of the unique goods in the previous example without the suffering." This is a question of what omnipotence entails. My own (admittedly underdeveloped) theory of omnipotence is that it does not include such things. I can say more about this if people are interested, but the brief response is this: if we say that some goods can only be achieved under a set of circumstances, it becomes logically impossible for the goods to be achieved without said circumstances. I do not think God can do logically impossible things (creating square circles, or make evil things good, for example). I think that omnipotence entails something more modest, though I don't know that "the ability to do everything which is logically possible" is quite what we are looking for. There are theists who disagree. But there are other theists who agree with what I've said. At very least this seems a prima facie plausible definition of omnipotence.


This is basically the conclusion I've reached in thinking about forms of the question asked above. As a tangent, this reasoning goes further than just answering "Why would an omni-God allow suffering?" and implies that Earthly suffering is a necessary condition for heavenly exaltation. Of course, the question posed in the second paragraph (i.e. why can't God create person B such that they hold all the qualities that only suffering can bring) is the natural follow-up - but the answer given here doesn't quite quench my thirst. Generally, it seems to me that we're forced to accept certain bounding conditions for God's omnipotence, and that's both counter-intuitive and unsatisfying. Simply-put, I don't want that to be true. But it seems to be. For example, why is it that an infinite Atonement is necessary for man's salvation? (i.e. Why is an omni-God bound by the laws of justice?)

I don't mean to hijack this post or steer it in a different direction, but the idea of limiting God's omni-status to certain set conditions is of much interest to me.


Hey! I don't have time for a full response right now, but maybe I can get the ball rolling by asking you what you'd "want" to be true about God's omnipotence. Would you want for God to be able to...

1. Act out of accordance with, or against his nature?
1a. Render himself not-omnipotent?
1b. Limit his own knowledge?
1c. Kill himself?

2. Do logically impossible things?
2a. Square circles?
2b. Make that which is good evil?
2c. Make it such that 1+1 = 3?

3. Do logically possible (but pretty strange) things?
3a. Create a boulder so heavy he can't lift it?
3b. Lie?

The important thing is that category '3' is stuff that humans can do *very easily* but many people would say God can't do. That's why I've split it from category '1'

Okay, got to go, but I'm just trying to see where your intuitions lie so maybe we can talk through some of them together.

This post has been edited by TheAwesomeKid: Sep 25 2013, 02:52 PM
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Guest_AK_WDB_*
post Sep 25 2013, 11:40 PM
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This is far from a complete response to what you've said, TAK, but I've never found the "God allows suffering to build perseverance and character" argument very persuasive. In my example, that would imply the suffering of all homeless people would eventually allow them to realize "God's plan" of getting them out of homelessness, like the guy I saw at church. In reality, of course, that is not the case. Lots of people suffer for no reward at all.

An argument that I do find somewhat more persuasive is one built on free will, to wit, that a world in which God simply manipulated human beings like marionettes would not be worth creating in the first place. I saw this in an excerpt of C. S. Lewis. If one accepts that evil and suffering are the results of humans' misuse of free will (which is often, though perhaps not entirely, true) then I suppose one can start to build a case for a loving, omnipotent God who allows them to persist.
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Guest_TheAwesomeKid_*
post Sep 26 2013, 02:03 AM
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QUOTE (michelangelo @ Sep 25 2013, 03:31 AM) *
QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 19 2013, 08:45 PM) *
There are other reasons to believe that suffering is not absolutely bad. Let's imagine two people, A and B who are identical in every single way, except one. A is able to bench press 300 lbs because one day God blessed him with a natural ability to bench press this amount. B is able to bench press 300 lbs because he went to the gym on a regular basis for years, working diligently and yes, suffering, for the sake of being able to lift this amount. One might think that even though A and B are identical in every way except one, B's unique journey to being able to bench press 300 lbs has some real value that A is missing. One need not affirm that B's life is commensurably better than A's, all one has to affirm is that B's life contains some good that A's is necessarily missing. In this case, the suffering of B uniquely produces in him a kind of good that no other states of affairs could produce. And if that's the case, then suffering cannot be absolutely bad.

One might retort, "can't God create B such that it was *as though* he suffered to be able to bench press 300 lbs? If he could, then B would get all of the unique goods in the previous example without the suffering." This is a question of what omnipotence entails. My own (admittedly underdeveloped) theory of omnipotence is that it does not include such things. I can say more about this if people are interested, but the brief response is this: if we say that some goods can only be achieved under a set of circumstances, it becomes logically impossible for the goods to be achieved without said circumstances. I do not think God can do logically impossible things (creating square circles, or make evil things good, for example). I think that omnipotence entails something more modest, though I don't know that "the ability to do everything which is logically possible" is quite what we are looking for. There are theists who disagree. But there are other theists who agree with what I've said. At very least this seems a prima facie plausible definition of omnipotence.


This is basically the conclusion I've reached in thinking about forms of the question asked above. As a tangent, this reasoning goes further than just answering "Why would an omni-God allow suffering?" and implies that Earthly suffering is a necessary condition for heavenly exaltation. Of course, the question posed in the second paragraph (i.e. why can't God create person B such that they hold all the qualities that only suffering can bring) is the natural follow-up - but the answer given here doesn't quite quench my thirst. Generally, it seems to me that we're forced to accept certain bounding conditions for God's omnipotence, and that's both counter-intuitive and unsatisfying. Simply-put, I don't want that to be true. But it seems to be. For example, why is it that an infinite Atonement is necessary for man's salvation? (i.e. Why is an omni-God bound by the laws of justice?)

I don't mean to hijack this post or steer it in a different direction, but the idea of limiting God's omni-status to certain set conditions is of much interest to me.


Okay -- now that I have a bit more time. It seems to me that omnipotence -- in conjunction with other omni-properties of God -- is going to entail some constraints. For example, it seems that God must be the kind of being who is necessarily good. So it seems that omnipotence couldn't, for example, allow God to turn himself evil. That would upset the tradition of philosophy of religion that posits God as being necessarily good. Same thing with features like necessary power and necessary divinity. I don't think that God could make himself such that he were not transcendent (which is why the tradition has to posit Jesus as both fully human and fully divine). At least one needs these constraints, yes?

Then it seems that there's reason to believe that there are necessary constraints. Let us define task Y as "a task that God cannot fulfill" and task X as "creating task Y." One might believe that there are no tasks Y that exist. But then we can ask, can God do X? It seems that one has three possible responses:
1) Answer "yes" -- in which case you admit there are tasks God cannot fulfill (i.e., Y)
2) Answer "no" -- in which case you admit there are tasks God cannot fulfill (i.e., X)
3) Say that the question is nonsense/not-truth apt, like "Can God bibble a bobble?"

The problem with '3' is that it doesn't seem like the question is nonsense/not-truth apt. After all, if we switch out the subject and maintain the predicate task, we get a perfectly sensible question. "Can Billy build a structure he can't lift?" and "Can Jill write a math problem she can't solve?" are perfectly reasonable questions. So it seems prima facie unlikely that "can God do X?" is a nonsense question.

At least then it seems that there are two kinds of constraints on omnipotence. First we need constraints that will not allow God to confute his own necessary nature. Second, we need the kinds of necessary constraints that arise as a result of tasks being materially impossible.

As I've said, I think other constraints are necessary. But I'd be interested in seeing what you at least think of these.

This post has been edited by TheAwesomeKid: Sep 26 2013, 02:04 AM
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post Sep 26 2013, 02:13 AM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 25 2013, 07:40 PM) *
This is far from a complete response to what you've said, TAK, but I've never found the "God allows suffering to build perseverance and character" argument very persuasive. In my example, that would imply the suffering of all homeless people would eventually allow them to realize "God's plan" of getting them out of homelessness, like the guy I saw at church. In reality, of course, that is not the case. Lots of people suffer for no reward at all.

An argument that I do find somewhat more persuasive is one built on free will, to wit, that a world in which God simply manipulated human beings like marionettes would not be worth creating in the first place. I saw this in an excerpt of C. S. Lewis. If one accepts that evil and suffering are the results of humans' misuse of free will (which is often, though perhaps not entirely, true) then I suppose one can start to build a case for a loving, omnipotent God who allows them to persist.


I mayn't have been clear on what I think Paul means when he says that suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope. It's not necessarily going to be the case that people "get out" of their suffering. This proposition doesn't entail the proposition that someone "gets out" of their suffering. That's because the "plan" as you put it (I'm not so in favor of this term) is for the manifestation of endurance, character, and hope, *not* "getting out" of homelessness. So it shouldn't be so mysterious under this way of thinking about it that some people don't "get out." Indeed, the goods of endurance, character, and hope can be realized regardless of material reward. So sociological stasis becomes immaterial for the purposes of the logical problem. Of course, one might not be comforted by this. But that's why I tried very carefully to pose my response as one to the logical problem of evil, avoiding other questions which one might reasonably ask (e.g., "why does my particular suffering seem to entail my perpetual homelessness, whereas for another person, it was just for a time?"). I think that some of those questions can't really be answered, but I remain convinced that to the logical problem there are reasonable responses.

As for the second part of your paragraph, I think this is the very reason Plantinga poses Satanic free will as well. He thinks that evil and suffering are also due to Satan's free will (he thinks that's where tornadoes, tsunamis, disease outbreaks like black plague, etc. come from). That -- he thinks -- takes care of the other side -- the non-human caused side -- of the cases of evil and suffering that we see in the world.
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post Sep 29 2013, 04:48 AM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 25 2013, 06:40 PM) *
This is far from a complete response to what you've said, TAK, but I've never found the "God allows suffering to build perseverance and character" argument very persuasive. In my example, that would imply the suffering of all homeless people would eventually allow them to realize "God's plan" of getting them out of homelessness, like the guy I saw at church. In reality, of course, that is not the case. Lots of people suffer for no reward at all.


I don't think it's important for one to escape his or her suffering before death in order to reap the rewards of the suffering. Instead, I think the reward of suffering is in the contrast it offers to the heavenly salvation everybody (yes, everybody) eventually attains. And this seems to be the purpose of Earth: to leave God's presence, experience evil and suffering, experience the contrast between good and bad, and eventually be able to truly enjoy the mansions of heaven more than we could have otherwise. In this sense, it isn't important at all for a homeless man to die suffering since the lessons he ought to learn from the suffering aren't of a worldly nature. In the end, he'll receive his reward.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question of why one individual might suffer more/differently than another, and I can't answer that question. I have no idea why individual A suffers through life X and individual B suffers through life Y. But I also don't believe that's an important question to answer. It may seem "unfair" to us, but in the grand scheme of things it's probably not that big of a deal. Eventually we'll all end up in a great place, and whether this life was lived homeless or driving a Maserati won't matter at all.
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post Sep 29 2013, 05:43 AM
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QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 25 2013, 09:03 PM) *
Okay -- now that I have a bit more time. It seems to me that omnipotence -- in conjunction with other omni-properties of God -- is going to entail some constraints. For example, it seems that God must be the kind of being who is necessarily good. So it seems that omnipotence couldn't, for example, allow God to turn himself evil. That would upset the tradition of philosophy of religion that posits God as being necessarily good. Same thing with features like necessary power and necessary divinity. I don't think that God could make himself such that he were not transcendent (which is why the tradition has to posit Jesus as both fully human and fully divine). At least one needs these constraints, yes?

Then it seems that there's reason to believe that there are necessary constraints. Let us define task Y as "a task that God cannot fulfill" and task X as "creating task Y." One might believe that there are no tasks Y that exist. But then we can ask, can God do X? It seems that one has three possible responses:
1) Answer "yes" -- in which case you admit there are tasks God cannot fulfill (i.e., Y)
2) Answer "no" -- in which case you admit there are tasks God cannot fulfill (i.e., X)
3) Say that the question is nonsense/not-truth apt, like "Can God bibble a bobble?"

The problem with '3' is that it doesn't seem like the question is nonsense/not-truth apt. After all, if we switch out the subject and maintain the predicate task, we get a perfectly sensible question. "Can Billy build a structure he can't lift?" and "Can Jill write a math problem she can't solve?" are perfectly reasonable questions. So it seems prima facie unlikely that "can God do X?" is a nonsense question.

At least then it seems that there are two kinds of constraints on omnipotence. First we need constraints that will not allow God to confute his own necessary nature. Second, we need the kinds of necessary constraints that arise as a result of tasks being materially impossible.

As I've said, I think other constraints are necessary. But I'd be interested in seeing what you at least think of these.


It's not important to me for God to be able to create a square circle, and I think a discussion on whether or not he can build a stone he can't move isn't that important.

Here's some of my thinking on the subject:

We believe it's impossible for human beings to return to heaven because of our inherently flawed nature. Original sin aside, one mistake and we're rendered completely unworthy to ever stand in God's presence. But God wants us to return, so he paved a merciful way for that to happen through the Atonement of Christ. Christ comes to Earth, dies for our sins, and as long as we jump on board with the whole thing (define "jump on board" however you'd like, according to your faith/tradition) we're good to go. This is basic. But then I wonder why it was necessary for Christ to suffer so intensely - why couldn't God exercise His mercy on us flawed humans without the Atonement?

And the answer seems to lie in the idea of justice. That is, since we're all screwed up, we would have to pay some tremendous amount of suffering after we die to pay for our sins in order for justice to be served - but instead of that, Christ did it for us (and that's the mercy part of the plan). I don't think anything I've said here is novel, but it leads me to my question: Why is it necessary for justice to be fulfilled? Why could God not decide to bypass "justice" and exercise mercy without Christ's atonement? To me, this implies that God is bound by some universal law which is higher than himself: the law of justice. I wonder what the implications of that are on absolute morality. If God is bound by justice, is he bound by some higher universal code? Does this code include morality? For example, is adultery immoral because God said so, or did God say so because it's inherently immoral? Does God behave according to that which is good, or does good exist as a function of God's behavior?

These are all more or less ways of framing the same question, but it's curious to me that God would be bound by a higher law of justice. To be honest, I don't have much of a problem with that, but I'm sure there are many theists who would be offended by my suggestion that God is not the end-all be-all of everything which has ever existed, even if He is the end-all and be-all of our particular universe.

Here's a link to an talk on the subject given by the late Brigham Young University scholar, Cleon Skousen. By no means should this be considered LDS doctrine, but it's certainly very interesting. In it, he takes a stance much different from the one I've outlined here, rejects that justice played any part in the Atonement and posits instead that it is an act of mercy alone. But he also dives into the discussion of why it was necessary.

It's covered in Book of Mormon references, so if you take the time to read it, these may be helpful:

Online Book of Mormon:

http://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm?lang=eng

Online Doctrine and Covenants (D&C):

http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc?lang=eng

And here's the talk itself:

https://soundcloud.com/8cab5e5b/the-meaning-of-the-atonement

If you have the time, I recommend reading it. I'd love to hear your thoughts as he discusses the razor-thin edge God walks in maintaining his status as God.
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post Sep 29 2013, 05:15 PM
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QUOTE (michelangelo @ Sep 28 2013, 07:48 PM) *
I don't think it's important for one to escape his or her suffering before death in order to reap the rewards of the suffering. Instead, I think the reward of suffering is in the contrast it offers to the heavenly salvation everybody (yes, everybody) eventually attains.

That makes sense, although please elaborate on "everybody" - I thought it was generally accepted in Christian circles that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.

QUOTE
And this seems to be the purpose of Earth: to leave God's presence, experience evil and suffering, experience the contrast between good and bad, and eventually be able to truly enjoy the mansions of heaven more than we could have otherwise.

This strikes me as slightly unorthodox. While the Earth surely contains both good and bad, the idea that the *main* purpose of the Earth is to experience evil and suffering is too close to the dualist idea of a "good" spiritual/heavenly realm contrasted with a "bad" physical/bodily realm.
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post Sep 30 2013, 08:29 AM
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QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 29 2013, 12:15 PM) *
QUOTE (michelangelo @ Sep 28 2013, 07:48 PM) *
I don't think it's important for one to escape his or her suffering before death in order to reap the rewards of the suffering. Instead, I think the reward of suffering is in the contrast it offers to the heavenly salvation everybody (yes, everybody) eventually attains.


That makes sense, although please elaborate on "everybody" - I thought it was generally accepted in Christian circles that faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation.


At the most general level, faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for salvation, but within the Mormon tradition the "Plan of Salvation" is a little more nuanced than that. I'll elaborate as concisely as I can without ignoring important details.

The "Plan of Salvation" refers to the general timeline of our existence from spiritual creation in the pre-existence to the final judgment/end fate of our souls and everything in between. For the purpose of this discussion, I'll focus on only what happens after we die. When we leave this physical world, our spirit departs from our body and we head to the "Spirit World", which is divided into two pieces: Spirit Paradise and Spirit Prison. These should not be confused with Heaven and Hell, and I'll get to that. (Note: I don't think the words "paradise" and "prison" are great choices, but I'll use them throughout as convention would dictate.) Spirit Paradise is reserved for those who have had all ordinances completed for them on Earth - these ordinances include baptism and eternal (temple) marriage, among a few others. They are what I believe the NT means by "works" when it teaches that "faith without works is dead." Spirit Prison, on the other hand, is for those who did not have their ordinances fulfilled while on Earth. They may have been tremendous people, and that's great, but for now, they're in Spirit Prison. This is where a unique practice of the Mormon faith comes into play: we perform ordinances by proxy for the dead. That is, in our temples, volunteers perform literal baptisms in the name of people who have died without being baptized. When this happens, the spirit up in Spirit Prison has the choice to accept the ordinance or reject it. If they accept, they are welcomed into Spirit Paradise. If they don't, I guess they get to kick it in Prison for a while longer.

Now, within the "Spirit World" there exists a small circle we could call "Hell", where the sinners who have not accepted Christ's sacrifice/not repented/etc will suffer an infinite amount for their sins. But it's extremely important to note that this infinite suffering occurs for only a finite amount of time. (This is why I don't like the words "paradise" and "prison"; it seems feasible that one could be baptized, fulfill all ordinances, and die an un-penitent sinner, thus damning himself a spot in this temporary "hell" while sitting comfortably in "paradise". Likewise, I have a hard time envisioning Mother Theresa paying for her sins in Hell, despite her probable place in "Spirit Prison".) Anyway, we exist in the Spirit World until the Second Coming of Christ, at which point the "good" will be resurrected (i.e. spirit and physical body will reunite) and live for a millennium with Christ on Earth and everything will be grand. At the conclusion of this millennium, the remainder of the souls in the Spirit World will be resurrected, and every person who every lived will have their body back and restored to a "perfect form", whatever that means. I'm not going to take the time now to study exactly who will be resurrected first and who will have to wait until after the millennium. The answer is somewhere in the scripture, and if you'd like to hear more about it I'll find it but for now I'll leave it out.

So at this point, we've reached the conclusion of Christ's millennium of rule, every spirit has returned to its body, and we're ready for final judgment. We believe that we will be sorted on judgment day into one of three "Kingdoms" of heaven: the first, the Celestial Kingdom; second, the Terrestrial Kingdom; and last, the Telestial Kingdom. Each kingdom has different "requirements", if you will, for entry. The Celestial Kingdom is the "highest" level of heaven, wherein we maintain family bonds, and receive God's glory upon our heads forever and ever. This is reserved for those who were truly penitent, lived good lives, accepted Christ, and had all ordinances fulfilled. This is the Kingdom all should strive for.

The Terrestrial Kingdom is next. This would be a place for those who lived decent lives but perhaps never accepted Christ and weren't penitent of their sins. (Note: I'm not in the business of guessing exactly where the lines between each of these kingdoms are. I can give a general estimate, but I don't know where anybody is going.)

And finally, the Telestial. The Telestial is described in scriptures (specifically, the Doctrine and Covenants) as a place for adulterers, thieves, murderers and all sorts of evil-doers.

What separates the LDS faith from conventional Christian view here is that we offer glory to all of these kingdoms. Since all of these kingdoms receive the glory of God, and all people fall into one of these kingdoms, all people receive the glory of God. And since receiving the glory of God is salvation, it follows that all humans will eventually receive salvation. Joseph Smith once taught that if we could taste even a glimpse of Telestial glory, we would kill to be there.

So the pathway to Heaven is a little more complicated here than it is throughout most of Christianity, I think. We have that added "Spirit World" between death and Heaven which sounds a little purgatory-ish, but is a little different (though I don't think I have the best understanding of purgatory anyway, so maybe I'm not the authority to speak on it.) What's important is that no matter what our route, eventually, we all receive God's glory and exist happily in Heaven for the rest of eternity.

QUOTE
QUOTE
And this seems to be the purpose of Earth: to leave God's presence, experience evil and suffering, experience the contrast between good and bad, and eventually be able to truly enjoy the mansions of heaven more than we could have otherwise.

This strikes me as slightly unorthodox. While the Earth surely contains both good and bad, the idea that the *main* purpose of the Earth is to experience evil and suffering is too close to the dualist idea of a "good" spiritual/heavenly realm contrasted with a "bad" physical/bodily realm.


I'll try to tackle this one as systematically as I can. While my response to your first piece is far more doctrinal in its nature, this next piece will come mostly from my own thoughts, derived from basic teachings I've heard since I was very young. Also, I don't want to get all reductio on this one - so let's just presuppose that we live in a universe ruled by the God of Abraham who loves us and wants us to return to Heaven. Let's also assume that we existed as spirits before we came to Earth. Those are core beliefs from which this argument is derived, and I probably won't be shaken from them here. For the rest of it, I'm all ears.

The fact that we exist on Earth is evidence that we had to come to Earth for some reason. God wants us to receive the eternal glory He can offer us in Heaven, but first we have to get there. Naturally, the question arises: why couldn't an omnipotent God just translate us into perfect beings? Why make us come to Earth if we could be saved without it? But we are here, so there must be something about Earth that only experience could teach us. So let's focus on experiences that are unique to existence in a physical world.

The first step in coming to Earth is receiving a physical body, and we can only do that by being physically born. The physical body is extremely important in the LDS tradition: we believe God has a physical body of flesh and bone, and the fact that we have them too connects us to Him in that vital way. It's also unique to this universe, since we didn't have a body in the pre-existence and won't have one after death until resurrection. So maybe the physical body is the point of coming to Earth. I've heard that taught throughout my life.

Let me interrupt myself for a second. I don't know what the conventional view on the fall of Satan is, but an understanding of it will help this discussion. A brief outline of my understanding is as follows:

Christ and Lucifer and God and everybody else are hanging out in Heaven when God asks for some ideas about how they should go about this whole "Earth" thing. Lucifer steps up and says, "We should send everybody down and they'll always do good because we won't give them the ability to choose bad. There will be no agency, no sin, no suffering, and everybody will be worthy of salvation after they die." Then Christ steps up and says, "No, no, that's no good. Let them choose, and yeah, they'll mess up, but that's okay. They'll suffer but the experience will be good for them and I'll offer myself as sacrifice for all the mistakes they'll make, and then they'll all get back to Heaven." God chooses Christ's idea, and Lucifer gets mad and becomes Satan. I dunno how close that is to the stories other faiths tell, but it's important for understanding here.

Back on track now. If the physical body was the only purpose for coming to Earth, then Lucifer's plan certainly would have sufficed. We would have come to Earth, received our bodies, lived in ignorant bliss, died, and gone to heaven. Easy peasy. But that plan wasn't sufficient - God chose Christ's, which included an immense amount of sin and suffering. This indicates that sin and suffering are crucial, crucial pieces of the puzzle. Since God seeks to maximize our happiness, it implies that we could not be as happy in the long-run (i.e. in the after-life) without sin and suffering here on Earth. Thus, experiencing suffering is a necessary condition for salvation. Pain is the point of life.

So I return to the original question on this subject: "Why would a benevolent God allow suffering?" God allows suffering because suffering is necessary for our salvation. Without it, we'd be ignorant like Adam and Eve in the Garden, and how happy were they? Obviously not too happy, since they chose to leave. And maybe that story - taken literally or not - serves as the best microchosm of all here: as ignorant, sin-less, sorrow-less beings, we could never be happy forever; Adam and Eve elected to walk out of their standing in a world like that. As such, they opened themselves up to sorrow and paved the way for all of mankind to suffer, but also to be happy. The contrast between good and bad is something we could best learn from experience, and that's why we're here. Because of that, we're able to truly enjoy salvation.

Edit: I don't want you guys to think this means I'm a depressed lunatic about my faith. In the words of Gordon B. Hinckley, former prophet and president of the Mormon church: "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." I don't think you'll make yourself better off by intentionally forcing suffering on yourself while on Earth; I just mean to argue that bad stuff happens because it has to and that's okay and consistent with a benevolent omni-God.

This post has been edited by michelangelo: Sep 30 2013, 08:32 AM
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post Oct 1 2013, 02:01 PM
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Disclaimer: I've only had a few minutes to read this so forgive me if I've missed something, or the point entirely.

QUOTE (TheAwesomeKid @ Sep 19 2013, 06:45 PM) *
QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 18 2013, 11:10 PM) *

I found myself wanting to respond, "What about the homeless people who do end up dying in the streets? What was God's plan for them?"


4/ Anything which can glorify God can be instrumentally good.

5/ Anything can glorify God.

6/ Thus, anything, including suffering, or evil, etc. can be good.

Though this argument is valid, its most contentious premise will most likely be '5.' But it seems that Biblically, there is reason to believe that this is true. Consider the story of the blind man in John 9. To summarize, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who had been born blind and lived blind for his entire life. The disciples ask, "what did this man/his parents do wrong so that this would happen to him?" Jesus' response in John 9:3 is basically, "No one did anything wrong. His blindness happened so that God might be glorified in his life." Jesus goes on to heal him and the healing becomes a testimony to Jesus' power. Thus, even a suffering like blindness could glorify God. This example seems valid to me, but I'd be interested in whether others have competing intuitions.

There are two things to note about this new argument. First, it should look like the Narrative argument from the first subheading, which denied that all suffering was bad. But this argument denies that evil is prima facie bad in the sense that Mackie means it, because it binds up the properties of goodness and badness in qualities about God and argues that anything (including what we take to be evil) can be good if, for example, it generates glory for God.


I think the refutation that all suffering is bad is wholly unsatisfactory in that it serves only a formalism that, to my mind, is designed only to obfuscate. If the answer to the question, "does the death of this homeless man glorify God?" is "no," then the question of "why?" remains. If the answer is yes, is that satisfactory without suggesting that God's valuation is distinct from our own? I would think not.

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post Oct 2 2013, 12:51 AM
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QUOTE (Research Monkey @ Oct 1 2013, 10:01 AM) *
I think the refutation that all suffering is bad is wholly unsatisfactory in that it serves only a formalism that, to my mind, is designed only to obfuscate. If the answer to the question, "does the death of this homeless man glorify God?" is "no," then the question of "why?" remains. If the answer is yes, is that satisfactory without suggesting that God's valuation is distinct from our own? I would think not.


I am not sure that I understand your response, but I'll try to respond in turn. Edwards' case is that something which might look bad, like "the death of this homeless man" can glorify God. Yes, this means that God's 'valuation is distinct from our own,' but this shouldn't be too troublesome. To get at why Edwards thinks that the fundamental good in the universe is God's glory you'll have to read the paper I mentioned earlier. But it's not so mysterious that God's 'valuation' of goods would be different from our 'valuation.' After all, most Christians will hold that God sees a lot of things differently from us. After all, God understands the entirety of creation, which we don't; God is perfectly good, which we aren't, etc. Thus it's not surprising that humans and God would have differing (though -- importantly -- not irreconcilable) visions of morality.
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QUOTE (michelangelo @ Sep 29 2013, 12:48 AM) *
QUOTE (AK_WDB @ Sep 25 2013, 06:40 PM) *
This is far from a complete response to what you've said, TAK, but I've never found the "God allows suffering to build perseverance and character" argument very persuasive. In my example, that would imply the suffering of all homeless people would eventually allow them to realize "God's plan" of getting them out of homelessness, like the guy I saw at church. In reality, of course, that is not the case. Lots of people suffer for no reward at all.


I don't think it's important for one to escape his or her suffering before death in order to reap the rewards of the suffering. Instead, I think the reward of suffering is in the contrast it offers to the heavenly salvation everybody (yes, everybody) eventually attains. And this seems to be the purpose of Earth: to leave God's presence, experience evil and suffering, experience the contrast between good and bad, and eventually be able to truly enjoy the mansions of heaven more than we could have otherwise. In this sense, it isn't important at all for a homeless man to die suffering since the lessons he ought to learn from the suffering aren't of a worldly nature. In the end, he'll receive his reward.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question of why one individual might suffer more/differently than another, and I can't answer that question. I have no idea why individual A suffers through life X and individual B suffers through life Y. But I also don't believe that's an important question to answer. It may seem "unfair" to us, but in the grand scheme of things it's probably not that big of a deal. Eventually we'll all end up in a great place, and whether this life was lived homeless or driving a Maserati won't matter at all.


So I disagree strongly with a lot of this post of yours, and your subsequent post, and I've been trying to decide whether/how to respond to your thoughts, Michelangelo, and what I've basically decided is that I won't, in this thread (sorry if that's disappointing). That's because I'm something like a thread originalist wink.gif and I think the purpose of the thread is for different kinds of theists to offer their own views on questions non-theists are asking, and that's what you've done. So rather than quibbling with you about different Christian theologies, I'm going to try and stick to responding to other peoples' queries.

Suffice it to say, however, that I think that a significant downfall of Mormon theology is that it commits to a metaphysics that the historical Christian tradition has largely disagreed with. A salient one : the notion of God having a body, which I find troublesome ("God is a spirit," and "For we know that spirit is without body" in the Bible). Another salient one: nowadays there are some Christian ethicists who will go in for a concept of true justice which is prior to or independent of God, but that sort of commitment seems to lead one to some modal moral problems (one can ask, is there a possible world where God is evil, and the answer you'd give seems like it's 'yes' whereas the tradition would say 'no' -- and there are philosophical arguments, too). A third salient one: the heaven/hell narrative that is difficult to ground in scripture or tradition, though this is less peculiar to me than the first two because doctrines of heaven are often speculative. A related fourth: the pre-temporal heaven narrative that is also pretty speculative. Now I admittedly know close to nothing about Mormon theology (and didn't get a chance to listen to the talk you linked to), but my (admittedly cursory) studies in the Eastern, Catholic, and Protestant traditions reveal nothing along the lines of some of the potential claims your theology requires you to make.

Generally, my approach to doing Biblical interpretation is that if hermeneutics are speculative and lead to non-traditional claims, especially metaphysical claims, then I'm less likely to jump on board. Not saying that the results of such inquiry are wrong, because I wouldn't know. But I just felt like it'd be good to explain where my skepticism comes from.
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Lo-Fi Version Time is now: 17th November 2018 - 05:01 AM