Why Does God Allow Suffering?

It’s a question that’s been asked time and time again.

Peter Singer takes the common responses and rebuts them in The Guardian (UK):

Christians usually respond that God bestowed on us the gift of free will, and hence is not responsible for the evil we do. But this reply fails to deal with the suffering of those who drown in floods, are burned alive in forest fires caused by lightning, or die of hunger or thirst during a drought.

Christians sometimes attempt to explain this suffering by saying that all humans are sinners, and so deserve their fate, even if it is a horrible one. But infants and small children are just as likely to suffer and die in natural disasters as adults, and it seems impossible that they could deserve to suffer and die.

Once again, some Christians say that we have all inherited the original sin committed by Eve, who defied God’s decree against eating from the tree of knowledge. This is a triply repellent idea, for it implies that knowledge is bad, disobeying God’s will is the greatest sin of all, and children inherit the sins of their ancestors, and may justly be punished for them.

Even if were to accept all this, the problem remains unresolved. For animals also suffer from floods, fires, and droughts, and, since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin.

And, for good measure, Dinesh D’Souza must be taken down a few notches:

Next, D’Souza argued that since God gave us life, we are not in a position to complain if our life is not perfect. He used the example of a child born with one limb missing. If life itself is a gift, he said, we are not wronged by being given less than we might want. In response I pointed out that we condemn mothers who cause harm to their babies by using alcohol or cocaine when pregnant. Yet since they have given life to their children, it seems that, on D’Souza’s view, there is nothing wrong with what they have done.

Are there any arguments for why God allows suffering that you have not been able to respond back to?

For anyone who’d like to play Devil’s Advocate, where is Singer wrong in his rebuttals?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I was an atheist before I heard “the argument from evil,” but I have to say that this remains one of the most compelling reasons to abandon god-belief (aside from the whole lack of evidence issue). I have read many responses to this argument by various Christian theologians and philosophers but have not found one I would consider satisfactory in explaining why the Christian god allows suffering.

  • Grimalkin

    I quite like that rebuttal. I hadn’t heard that before.

    Anyways, I’m pretty sure that there is no satisfactory explanation for bad stuff in the world. If there were, the question wouldn’t keep coming up. My religion prof in university called it “the great mistake of monotheism.” At least in polytheism, you can just say that another god (perhaps a god who isn’t as nice as your god) did it.

  • Kevin L.

    I don’t know if I would say that the argument from evil is a compelling argument against the existence of gods in general, but where specific theologies are concerned, not least of all Christianity, it does often leave the theists to stick a foot in their mouth when they claim omnibenevolence or what have you.

    The best – and worst – response that I’ve ever heard to the argument from evil is that all the suffering in the world is a test of one’s faith. It sounds good on paper, but consider: if a husband sliced off his wife’s fingers to test her love for him, we would frown upon his actions. Just because he’s “lord and saviour” doesn’t mean that this god fellow is getting off any easier.

  • Grimalkin

    Kevin L. – It’s true that it doesn’t, in and of itself, mean that god doesn’t exist. What it says specifically is that the Christian image of god doesn’t exist. In other words, either god is not all-powerful, not all-good, or doesn’t exist. None of those choices is very palatable to the Christian.

    The “test of faith” issue is the one I have the most trouble with. I have a very religious sister-in-law who uses that to explain away everything that doesn’t make sense in her world-view. Why are there fossils? Because god is testing our faith. Why is there suffering? Because god is testing us. Why doesn’t god just show himself and prove that he exists? Because he’s testing us.

    The image I get of her god is a really whiny/needy little brat who needs to go so far as to actually harm others to make them prove that they love him. If he were human (or “one of us,” to quote that song), we wouldn’t just frown on this behaviour – we would severely medicate it and possibly lock him away in a mental hospital.

  • Julia

    I don’t see a logical problem or obvious horribleness associated with the idea that “disobeying God’s will is the greatest sin of all,” which Singer cites as one of the three reasons original sin is a terrible idea. Yes, it seems ludicrous that knowledge would be an inherently evil thing. Yes, it seems ludicrous that infants would be blamed for the actions of ancestors far removed, or even that children would be blamed for the actions of their parents. But as long as you accept the premise that there is a god and that he fits the Judeo-Christian description, what is so terrible about making disobedience to God the number one sin? What should be a higher priority? (Many possible suggestions are actually covered because God did tell us not to kill people, etc.) Seriously, do any of you have a better understanding of what he’s trying to say here?

    I like the overall message and clarity with which Singer goes about making his arguments. This was the one thing that stood out to me as odd, though.

  • Ron in Houston

    Well some Christians have made Satan into a sort of anti-God. However since they believe that God is stronger than Satan, I’ve never really understood how they reconcile an all loving God allowing some evil angel to torture his creation.

    The problem of suffering really is a problem for Christian theology. Bart Ehrman’s newest book talks about it. The title: God’s Problem.

  • Grimalkin

    Julia – I agree with you that this sort of “ultimate sin” fits in with the environment where the Judeo-Christian religions were born. The clan was very important. The individual’s obligation to the clan was the single most important thing because it ensured survival. If we accept the understanding that religion originated as a projection of clan identity onto the universe, we can see how that would translate into the individual’s obligation to the clan’s deity.

    If we look at it this way, we can see how the story of Adam and Eve might have originated. It explained the beginning, certainly. It also asserts the clan as better than all others (think of the fanaticism that surrounds football teams, for example). And finally, it reinforces the importance of clan loyalty, using god as both a symbolic stand-in for the clan and as a mascot for it.

    Fast forward a few thousand years and we see that our clans have mostly dissolved (they still exist in the form of nationalism or football teams, but they certainly don’t remain in the West in the same way as they once did). What we have left is the symbol that we’ve forgotten to look at as just a symbol. The mascot has become the team. So the rules that were set up for the functioning of the clan now remain only in respect to the god.

    So yes, Julia, you are correct that they make sense within the community of believers. But for those of us who have shed this last remnant of clan identity, it just doesn’t make much sense. And so I agree with you that this cannot be used as an argument against Christians because, as you say, it makes no sense to them why we wouldn’t approve. We must use common language if we are to make any headway. That’s why I focused my last comment purely on the good/evil issue because that’s something a Christian can understand if she/he chooses to acknowledge that the issue exists.

  • http://madmansparadise.blogspot.com Asylum Seeker

    Julia: I see what you are saying, in that being punished for disobedience is not an inherently repellant idea. But, I guess the problem is that God lends disproportionately severe punishment merely for being defied on trivial matters (e.g. eating an apple, “refusing” to believe in him, etc.) whereas he could care less about anything beyond the scope of that simple obedience and loyalty. I think that it may also tie into the Christopher Hitchens perspective of God, i.e. invisible totalitarian dictator beyond space and time. If you don’t do what God says, despite Him being all good and all loving, He will torture you in this life, and, if you do not submit, he will continue to torment you for all eternity for the high crime of not listening to the whispers in the clouds. It seems rather unjust and puts undue emphasis on submissiveness and blind loyalty, and I assume that is what Singer is reacting to. Of course, I could just be reading in (tee hee).

    So, although people who subscribe to the idea of a Judeo-Christian already may not see the problem, and will see no negative implications behind the one true God (who obviously exists) punishing infidels for divine treason, it still reeks of injustice and intolerance for anyone willing to give it a second glance,

  • Grimalkin

    Asylum Seeker – I love your point. I also wonder how the whole Jesus thing fits into that. What was the point of him being sacrificed to save us from the punishment that comes with original sin if babies are still dying by the millions of disease and natural disasters – supposedly due to the inherent evil of humanity?

  • The Reverend

    Being 1 creates being 2, whose sole purpose is to worship being 1. Being 2 disregards the edicts of being 1 and is condemned to suffering for all eternity. I don’t see a problem there.

    I am sure many of you have seen or heard this:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent.
    Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent.
    Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”– Epicurus

  • Grimalkin

    Reverend – but doesn’t that, in itself, destroy the idea of god? If god is nothing but some self-obsessed, insecure little child who needs to actually go and create friends to play with him and to be cooler than (I knew kids like that in school, they’d use their stuffed animals), is he really worth worshipping? Seems to me that a more appropriate response would be to shake our heads and walk away.

    Aren’t we just playing right into a sick child’s hands? Aren’t we just encouraging a frame of mind that is harmful not only to us, his victims, but also to himself?

  • Chris in Columbus

    Julia I noticed the exact same thing! It seemed to really water-down the purpose. The rest of the article was great, and the other two reasons were certainly repellent, but that one really did not seem so bad.

  • The Reverend

    Grimalkin,

    That is the exact point I was trying to make. Sometimes my sarcasm doesn’t translate well to print.

    BTW, I like your point about the sacrifice of the christ.

    The Reverend

  • natalie

    I also wonder how the whole Jesus thing fits into that. What was the point of him being sacrificed to save us from the punishment that comes with original sin if babies are still dying by the millions of disease and natural disasters – supposedly due to the inherent evil of humanity?

    Romans 8:18-25
    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we want for it patiently.

    Hi, as a Christian, this is my understanding of why there is still suffering, despite Christ having died for my sins. (it’s my understanding and not intended to offend)

  • Mark

    All the arguments above seem to stem from the idea that God owes you a favor – that God is responsible for providing you a problem free, suffering free, evil free life. Perhaps you have understood it wrong all your life. Could the Christians who have told you this be lying to you? If God doesn’t owe you a problem free, evil free life then all the arguments above would be moot.

    Go back and read the initial post and all the comments and notice how many of them basically say “I don’t believe in God because God clearly doesn’t do me (us) enough favors.

    Perhaps we should stop thinking of God as a vending machine where we can just pull the knob and get a candy bar whenever we want it.

    If you don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine but shouldn’t you have a better reason than saying its because he doesn’t do you enough favors?

  • Escualidus Arrechus

    If you don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine but shouldn’t you have a better reason than saying its because he doesn’t do you enough favors?

    And if Christians want me to worship their god, shouldn’t they have a better reason than “he gave you this half-baked, shitty life”? ;)

  • js0476

    God is basically a sadistic child with a magnafying glass and a watering hose. He uses the magnifying glass to burn the ants, then he uses the watering hose to drown them. God takes great delight in the death and suffering of the world. It makes god feel strong and powerful. Any time god starts to feel insecure god tortures and kills tens or hundreds of thousands or millions.

  • http://pastorwick.blogspot.com WICK

    no well thought out, witty responses here. I don’t know why He allows some horrible things to happen either. I think to try and explain it theologically would be, and is, offensive to those who suffer (pretty much everyone). Any Christian who doesn’t seem frustrated by all this going on in the world, you should probably be weary of.

    And yet….Hope exists.

  • Aj

    Julia,

    I don’t see a logical problem or obvious horribleness associated with the idea that “disobeying God’s will is the greatest sin of all,” which Singer cites as one of the three reasons original sin is a terrible idea. Yes, it seems ludicrous that knowledge would be an inherently evil thing. Yes, it seems ludicrous that infants would be blamed for the actions of ancestors far removed, or even that children would be blamed for the actions of their parents. But as long as you accept the premise that there is a god and that he fits the Judeo-Christian description, what is so terrible about making disobedience to God the number one sin? What should be a higher priority? (Many possible suggestions are actually covered because God did tell us not to kill people, etc.) Seriously, do any of you have a better understanding of what he’s trying to say here?

    a) It does away with the free will defence and sets up God as a divine dictator. God doesn’t want you to be good, he wants you to bend to his will, that sounds repellent to me. Singer is a strong advocate of liberty.

    b) God has never told me not to kill anyone, I haven’t been contacted. Religions rely on the revelation of others with no rational basis to choose between one prophet or another. That’s a problem for religious belief, but it’s also a problem because it would seem as if God expects people to follow rules that they were not given.

    c) The many suggestions are not covered. If God tells you to kill is it the right thing to do? There’s an obvious disconnect between what’s right and what God tells you to do. Authority, even the highest, is not justification.

    Mark,

    All the arguments above seem to stem from the idea that God owes you a favor – that God is responsible for providing you a problem free, suffering free, evil free life.

    That’s what Singer is responding to, he makes it quite clear in the first paragraph.

    If you don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine but shouldn’t you have a better reason than saying its because he doesn’t do you enough favors?

    This is only meant to refute one type of God, put forth by Christians. We don’t have to have a better reason to not believe in God, because there is no reason to believe in God. We’re just pointing out that this type of God isn’t logically consistant, or that the God Christians love so much is a jerk.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    js0476 said,
    God is basically a sadistic child with a magnafying glass and a watering hose.

    That is the only explanation I can think of either. References to God’s benevolence is greatly exaggerated. God basically hates everybody. That explains evil pretty nicely…. and Hell too.

  • Darryl

    It is possible to be some kind of deist, I suppose, and deal with the problem of evil that way: God exists, but he doesn’t give a shit about what we think of as suffering. The only remaining problem is our discontent with what we think to be injustice. Such a god doesn’t care about our sentiments or categories; this is how things are, and we had better just resign ourselves to it.

    To Natalie I would say that the passage you quoted from Paul raises more questions that it answers. What is the “frustration” of the Creation, and does that include our suffering? Why did god subject the Creation to this frustration–was that necessary, and why? How can it be that the Creation was subjected to this frustration “. . . in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage . . “? Who is doing the hoping here? God? If god is hoping, then it’s not controlling. If it is not god that is hoping, then the syntax makes no sense.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Answers to the problem of evil are usually all over the place. Some involve metaphysical entities such as “original sin” or “satan”; some say evil is required for happiness, or is otherwise required for the greater good; some deny the existence of certain types of evils, or perhaps simply deny that it is evil; some insist that we humans cannot possibly understand. And there’s plenty more varieties.

    This is why I find the problem of evil to be a frustrating argument. There are so many possible answers, and you can’t refute all of them. And you know, some of those answers are self-consistent. Just enough for people to convince themselves. It’s a nightmare of an argument.

  • http://badidea.wordpress.com/ Bad

    “Julia: But as long as you accept the premise that there is a god and that he fits the Judeo-Christian description, what is so terrible about making disobedience to God the number one sin?”

    Because it doesn’t really mean anything. An ethical reason would state why something is wrong, not cite merely who said it was wrong. Disobedience is one of those sort of “immoral by proxy” things that implies that there is some other, yet unstated reason why something is wrong. It can’t sensibly stand alone as a moral wrong in and of itself.

    “Mark: “If God doesn’t owe you a problem free, evil free life then all the arguments above would be moot.”

    This basically dodges the whole question. It’s not simply that life isn’t perfect, but that if God created the world, then there are a lot of very specific decisions made not only to cause suffering, but to cause a very particular amount of it, often in absurd degrees, and often intricately designed. If we have to explain the existence of malaria, for instance, in terms of the design of a creator, then that creator seems to have very specifically crafted an engine of torture: not merely failed to make everything “perfect.”

    Furthermore, we are told that God is all powerful and all benevolent. Like it or not, that puts significantly higher burden on what we’d expect God to be like, and what we’d expect his creation to be like, than the sort of “well you can’t help or improve everything” attitude you describe.

    One of the points I always bring up in this discussion is the difference between impoverished civilizations ravaged by disease and famine vs. ones that, while they have their problems, are not. A hypothetical God has choices to make as to where he wants any given person to be born into. If he wanted, no one would be born into the former type of civilization. So why is that not the case?

    Pretty much all the objections to the problem of evil fail against this comparison. I think that, for instance, “free will” is a nonsensical concept and meaningless in this context. But it doesn’t matter if it is or if it isn’t: people in the “ok” civilization live and grow and die just fine without famine and disease, and without that lack of extreme misery in some way restricting their free will. In fact, there seems to be a lot MORE potential for whatever free will is in the “ok” society than in the famine and disease ravaged one, mostly because people have some time to think about things other than merely starving to death. And so we already know that the “ok” society can fulfill whatever mysterious theological particulars God wants from lives lived, since plenty of Christians live and die and are accounted good believers in those societies. People there aren’t perfect, but they also seem to get along just fine without abject misery. So why do the former, miserable civilizations societies even exist? Why have a world in which those conditions can and do exist?

  • Jen

    Even if were to accept all this, the problem remains unresolved. For animals also suffer from floods, fires, and droughts, and, since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin.

    I think I know why Christians will argue this. It is likely most Christians think that people are souled and animals are not. Now, Singer has always impressed me with his arguments for vegetarianism, which talk about how animals should not be forced to suffer because we should reduce suffering- period, people or animal. Most people in this world don’t care about animal suffering (unless it is a fuzzy pet) and would not be swayed by this argument, though.

    Next, D’Souza argued that since God gave us life, we are not in a position to complain if our life is not perfect. He used the example of a child born with one limb missing. If life itself is a gift, he said, we are not wronged by being given less than we might want. In response I pointed out that we condemn mothers who cause harm to their babies by using alcohol or cocaine when pregnant. Yet since they have given life to their children, it seems that, on D’Souza’s view, there is nothing wrong with what they have done.

    For the record, I am not sure we should condemn mothers whose children are born with problems relating to the pregnancy. Here are two reasons: while I am uncomfortable with drug use in general, and I would not recommend it, I don’t think we should start trying to police pregnancy, which is a sticky business that almost surely will punish lower class women who don’t have access to doctors and drug abuse help. Second, unless we absolutely can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman was intentionally trying to harm the fetus, it seems unlikely that the problem pregnancy can be only based on drug use- what if it is based on genes, disease, lack of healthcare, or some other unknown?

    Otherwise, I find the arguments convincing.

  • Sea

    One of the more reasonable reasons I’ve heard for the existence of suffering is that suffering causes people to learn and grow, and without suffering humans wouldn’t actually get very far. My response to this is that if this is the case, then the question is why God would create a world in which we have to suffer to learn. I haven’t gotten an answer to this one.

  • Anfractuous

    Okay, I’ve got it all figured out. See below:

    God: Hi Guys! God here. Welcome to My world. I made it just for you, so you better be damned grateful. Everything you like about it – I did that. Everything you don’t like about it – well, you chose that yourself. Your fault. You just didn’t worship me right.

    Now, I’m not seeing any fatted calves toasting around here. So… whammo! Flood time! See, shouldn’t you have believed in Me more? That’ll learn ya!

    Human: But God, I believed as hard as I could. I did everything you wanted. I gave you my life. I gave you my money. I gave you my kids. Nobody does burnt offerings anymore, but I’ve done everything else you asked. Didn’t you dig my my psalter and harp numbers?

    God: Nope, not good enough. Psalter and harp — just not cool these days. Whatsamatter? You never heard of rap? Besides, I never actually said you could give up the burnt offerings. So whammo! Hurricane! Wow! I managed 380 miles per hour there over that swamp. Impressive, huh? Now, go ye and do some better worshipping.

    Human: But You promised You’d take care of me like the lilies of the field. You said You’d keep good track of every hair on my head (which, by the way, is kinda grey these days and getting’ pretty thin. I’m just sayin’…) I sent that preacher guy on TV $4000 yesterday for a vial of holy water to heal my “flesh cravings,” even though I couldn’t pay my mortgage last month. What more do You want?

    God: Heh! Heh! That’s for Me to know and you to find out. Psych!!!!!!

    Human: Hey, that’s not fair. You promised.

    God: Aw, quit whinin’! I gave you butterflies didn’t I? I gave you rainbows every once in a while. What more do ya want?

    Human: Well, to start with, I’d like a little guidance here. If You’d just tell me what it is You want, I could do that.

    God: Nope. Figger it out for yourself. Builds character.

    Human: Yeah, but roasting in Hell doesn’t do a lot for my character. It just makes me flambé. Besides, if it’s forever, what’s the point? It’s too late for character anyway, if it’s forever, isn’t it?

    God: Well, okay. I’ll let you off the hook if you wander around in the wilderness for a half century or so and then settle down in your favorite sand dune. But you gotta kill everybody that gets in the way or there’ll be another smack-down! How’s that for a deal?

    Human: We already did that once. You mean we hafta do it again? Does Iraq take care of it? No? How about Iran then? Syria maybe? We can’t do North Korea, You know. They already have nukes up there.

    God: Look here, you do what I say or I’ll show ya who’s boss. Take that, Myanmar! So, now are you ready to do what I say?

    Human: Yeah, really, we’ll do it. All You have to do is tell us exactly what it is You want from us.

    God: I told you – worship, sacrifice, misery, fear, money. See, not so hard, is it?

    Human: We’ve been doing that stuff for centuries now. How come it’s never enough? How come it’s never right?

    God: Well, if you must know, (God beckons us closer and whispers…) It’s s-e-x. You guys are just having too much of it. Wrong people, wrong time, wrong techniques. Just Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! You keep doin’ it and I’ll keep doin’ what I’m doin’ to you.

    Human: But God, if we don’t “do it” you get mad ‘cause we’re not making enough replacement units. Besides, didn’t You make us with these “yearnings?”

    God: Yeah, but you have to learn to control those urges. And you should NOT be enjoying it. Besides, I already showed you how to do it with virgins didn’t I? You too dense to figger that out? Virgin is the only way s-e-x- should be done.

    Human: Huh?

  • bernarda

    One of the funniest explanations for god creating evil is in this video by catholic crackpot Father Corapi.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2PsB5T5Ndo

    According to him, evil exists to bring about a greater good.

  • cipher

    D’Souza got hit with the Jesuit stick as a child, and now we all have to hear about it.

    Looking through the comments under Singer’s article, I’m struck by the number of wannabee apologists. I’ve been under the impression that Europe is far more secular than we are, and that they regard our Christian fundamentalism with amused contempt. Although, I suppose an article like this brings out the relatively few they have left.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    OK, I have to wade into this one. Let’s play the devil’s advocate if I can by presenting a Christian viewpoint.

    There is something in Christian theology sometimes called the Angelic Conflict. (I know that any time I bring this up, some Christians start yelling that its non-sense or they never heard of it – well, I can’t help what is taught church to church) The short and dirty explanation of this theological concept is this:
    Sometime in an unknown eternal past, god created angels. The highest ranking and closest to God, Satan, rebelled because he wanted to be like god himself. (According to this theory, the original sin was pride.) Satan rebelled and 1/3 of the angels followed him into rebellion. God defeated them and threw them out of heaven and condemned them to eternal separation. Satan basically appealed his sentence and God created mankind as the appeal trial. Satan won round 1 when he caused the fall in the garden and even since he has been in charge of the world, trying to make it into a place as perfect as God could but without God’s help.
    So according to this theory, evil exists in the world not by Satan’s intention but because of his inability to match God. Basically, this theology says that the thousands of free wills and the forces of nature work as they work and the land lord can’t handle it.
    This is the Christian viewpoint I was raised with and though I don’t like it very much (I don’t like being a pawn in anyone’s game) it at least takes into account most of the aspect of reality.

    One thing that I have a problem with in all of the counter or not Christian arguments is that there seems to be an assumption that god/God/any god is obligated to alter weather patterns or interfere with free will. What I mean is that someone always brings up something like the floods in Bangladesh, the Typhoon in Myanmar or the earth quake in China as examples of evil. How is this evil? These are acts of nature. Because people suffer as the result of living in a poorly built shack in a flood zone or from a lack of re-bar in a earthquake zone or in a poorly built shack in the beach in a typhoon prone area is not the fault of any deity. Perhaps you can’t expect people to be able to move or build a better houses but you can and should expect them to learn. They don’t. I see this a failure of societies and governments not gods. The government repress the people and the economies for their own power madness. The people can’t afford to build better, safer buildings and the governments fail to impose proper building codes and standards.
    I know this is a divergence but I don’t think that suffering and evil are related. Evil is the willful intent to do harm or even (can’t leave my ex out) the persistent self-deluded attempts to do good that cause harm in the end.
    I find the idea of an involved god inadequate to reality. The things people claim to be the positive answering of prayer, a 60 year old cancer patient being put into remission, and the failure of a god to free a 15 year old Vietnamese sex slave from her torments… well you get the idea.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    One more thing, Singer says “some Christians say that we have all inherited the original sin committed by Eve”… Not so, let’s be accurate, Christians say that we all inherited the sin of Adam, ‘In Adam we all die” – 1 Cor 15:22′ Adam’s sin is believed to be done in knowledge while Eve’s was in ignorance.

  • David D.G.

    Escualidus Arrechus said,

    If you don’t want to believe in God, that’s fine but shouldn’t you have a better reason than saying its because he doesn’t do you enough favors?

    And if Christians want me to worship their god, shouldn’t they have a better reason than “he gave you this half-baked, shitty life”?

    … and that he will torture you for eternity if you don’t?

    ~David D.G.

  • Interrobang

    Perhaps you can’t expect people to be able to move or build a better houses but you can and should expect them to learn.

    Considering that the weather can kill you no matter where you live, where do you propose people move to? If the hurricanes don’t get you, tornadoes, earthquakes, forest fires, floods, volcanic eruptions, blizzards, heat waves, tidal waves, khamsins, or lightning strikes just might.

    Also, you seem to be rejecting the “all-powerful god” notion right out of hand. If God is all-powerful, how come it lets Satan do what Satan wants? How come Satan even has a chance of “winning one round”? That seems to also defeat the “all-knowing god” argument, too, because God would either have to know it was going to happen, and have let Satan win, or else have not known, which latter case defeats the “all-good god” notion. And if God isn’t all-powerful, all-knowing, or all-good, is it really God?

    I really don’t think you can actually make this stuff make sense. Great geniuses like Augustine wasted their entire lives trying, and never managed it.

  • http://feveredintellect.blogspot.com Viggo the Carpathian

    Interrobang,

    I was not defending the stance, I was just putting it out there as one perspective. I am familiar with this mind set and I can tell you that those who believe this do not see it as a violation of the “all-knowing God”. The theology separates the omniscience of god form the fore-knowledge of god. They say that god knows all that is potential and what will be without conflict.
    I know that this makes your head hurt but there it is.

    As for the “all-powerful god”, it is seen as a test of man’s free will. Satan won because man chose him.

    Once again, not defending it – just throwing it out there.

    When I say that we can expect people to learn I was leading into the thing about the failure of governments and societies. I don’t think that you can escape the weather. If a hurricane hits southern California it may kill 5 or 6 people and do a lot of damage but the same storm hitting Myanmar will kill 10s of thousands. This is a failure of that society and government to create the infrastructure that the people need to live safely. We can argue endlessly about why it is as it is, that’s not my point. I was trying to draw a distinction between suffering and evil. The evil may be the motives of an oppressive government that fails its people. The suffering is the result of the weather.
    I would love to see the people throw off the oppressors and build a better nation – it can be done, look at Singapore or Taiwan.

  • David Crespo

    Viggo,

    Certainly no atheist will argue that it is the fault of god that poor people in Myanmar die in greater numbers due to natural disasters than rich people in California. Rather, I would think it should be the tendency of the atheist to try to attribute as many things as possible to human will or to a naturally deterministic sequence of events.

    Therefore, I think we should mostly agree with you that failure of infrastructure and economics is largely at fault. I would add, however, that the addition of a concept of evil is unnecessary, and the failure of government and humans to recognize things that must be done, combined with quasi-random chance, are sufficient to explain suffering.

  • False Prophet

    Concerning theodicy, lit. “divine justice”, which is the notion of trying to explain the existence of evil (including suffering from natural causes) with the existence of a benevolent deity, I consider only two philosophical arguments to be somewhat compelling in anyway (though as an atheist, I don’t accept either).

    The first is that the “inconsistent triad” describing the Christian God; ie, that God is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-benevolent, is exactly that, and God cannot be omniscient or omnipotent. The second is Leibniz’s argument that we live in the “best of all possible worlds”, and God’s perfection and benevolence manifest in that he chose the best possible world for us instead of a far worse one.

    Most other arguments for theodicy have pretty much been discussed by Singer’s article or other commentors, and rightly dismissed.

  • Pingback: CelticBear’s Musings » Blog Archive » The problem of evil, discussed.

  • John McLeod

    As a Christian, I think that one of the major differences I find with my own experience and the Christian theologies and Ideas being expressed here is that just as God allows for the free will of man he also allows for the free will of nature. Both of my parents are United Methodist Pastors and niether of them would say that god “wills” storms into affect or “causes” earthquakes. just as evil is a result of the injust actions of humans with free will, nature is free from Gods will also. I dont think that that disproves that god is omnipotent, just that he does not believe in interferring with free will. Many people say that this means that god is evil, but In the christian tradition, he allowed himself in human form to go through a long and torturous suffering for the salvation of mankind. If god was evil he would not have done anything by grace to save us at all from our sins and allow us to enter the kingdom of heaven. A lot of you also say you do not want to be a pawn, and excuse me If I am grouping the groups who say “god is evil,” with the groups who say “god is too controlling,” but if you want god to alleviate all human suffering, then you would be under his total and complete control. You cannot want god to fix the world and at the same time give humans free will. Certainly a human being cannot be a human being without free will. This is why god expects us to alleviate Human Suffering through good works toward our fellows and why he gave us the teachings of Jesus Christ who told us to love our friends our neighbors and even our enemies.

  • Darryl

    John McLeod, don’t you realize that you are reasoning and arguing in a box? You throw out terms like “God,” “man,” “nature,” “free will of man,” “free will of nature,” “evil,” “omnipotent,” and ideas like the autonomy of God, of man, of nature, the incarnation, vicarious suffering, salvation, grace, sins, and the kingdom of heaven. These are just metaphors of a myth. None of these has any meaning for me; none of them can be demonstrated. You have adopted a system of invented ideas, and are building logical arguments from them, and since the ideas are meaningless, so are the conclusions you make from them. It’s self-evident that if people can invent an omnipotent and good God, and other such things, they can surely concoct arguments to counter any logical inconsistencies arising from them.

    “. . . a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  • cipher

    So, God allows nature to screw us over. He allows us to screw ourselves over. It seems you’re saying that he only gets involved just long enough to pay the penalty for our state of “sin” – in other words, to assuage his sense of outrage so that he doesn’t have to torture us for all eternity for breaking the rules of a game that he forced us to play in the first place.

    No, thanks.

  • John McLeod

    Darryl

    well than why not look past the terms, and look at what I’m saying about the arguments being made. I did’nt mean to offend you by using terms, but I saw others using terms like God and angels to describe versions of christian theology and I thought that it would be ok for me to use terms that I use to describe my beliefs too. If you want fact in a religious disscussion you wont find it. Faith is necessary for any belief involving the existence of God, since he cannot be proven or disproven, and faith in the end is illogical and devoid of fact. I don’t see the harm in believing in god if he cannot be proven or dissproven. There is an old hebrew saying that says “it is better to believe in a god and find out that there isn’t one than to not believe in a god and find out that there is one.”

  • John McLeod

    Cipher

    when you talk about sin you may be thinking of the kind of sin that many fundamentalists think exists “just because,” things like homosexuality and birth control. I don’t believe these are sins, and I think you would agree God or no it is certainly evil to cause harm to another human being these are certainly sins. In the end god simply wants us to not harm one another and to do good to eachother. As for your other points you seem to be saying you don’t want to exist, and if you don’t wish to be alive and blame god for it, then that is certainly a quite suicidal view that you are entitled too. If you want to really live as a human being though who has feelings emotions and the free thought we are all enjoying expressing here, then how can you expect god to solve all your problems for you, then for what purpose would you have thought?

  • John McLeod

    about my last comment. It may seem like I’m implying that god is a constant and I know you don’t recognize that and that you don’t recognize sin. I don’t mean to offend anyone or force my beliefs on anyone I just wanted to state how I see the existance of god.

  • cipher

    John,

    when you talk about sin you may be thinking of the kind of sin that many fundamentalists think exists “just because,” things like homosexuality and birth control.

    You’re the one who said, “If god was evil he would not have done anything by grace to save us at all from our sins and allow us to enter the kingdom of heaven.” I used the term “state of sin”. In any case, I assume you were referring to substitutionary atonement; it would be difficult to read that sentence and not think that’s what you meant. However, you then go on to say, “In the end god simply wants us to not harm one another and to do good to each other.” In that case, why the necessity of Jesus? You seem to be saying two different things.

    As for the rest – that really has nothing to do with salvation. You’re arguing for the existence of a god who doesn’t get involved enough to prevent suffering, but does get involved enough to “save us… from our sins”. My point is merely that He creates us as vulnerable creatures, then holds us accountable for it.

  • John McLeod

    Cipher

    How does he hold us accountable if he dosen’t cause our suffering? I don’t think that innaction and action are the same thing. If you are dealing with a friend who is a drug addict, you may allow him to suffer when you practice the necessary type of “tough love”, which many people have to practice. Only his choices can save him from the addiction, in the end he has to choose to get help, whether you try to help him with an intervention or not it is still his choice in the end. If you want to bring other people into the picture too, say your friend then goes out and stabs someone in a drugged craze, or in trying to get money to feed their addiction, then are you responsible for that persons death, because you didn’t let your friend live in your appartment and snort cocaine all day. I think you also imply that the death of Jesus ties in with original sin, but not all christians believe in original sin. there are two lines of thought that I have heard of for such christians, the first is that Jesus’ death was neccessary to save people who are sinners, and that people become sinners later on in life. The second is the one that I think is holds more water and that is that the death of jesus was not necessary, but innevitable, as his teachings were against those of the time and challenged the power structure. In a sense jesus was going to die, but it is not his death, but his life that saves us. What he teaches us that is more important, then that his blood was ever spilt.

  • cipher

    The second is the one that I think is holds more water and that is that the death of jesus was not necessary, but innevitable, as his teachings were against those of the time and challenged the power structure. In a sense jesus was going to die, but it is not his death, but his life that saves us. What he teaches us that is more important, then that his blood was ever spilt.

    Then you aren’t really talking about “salvation from sin” and getting into heaven, in the conventional sense.

  • John McLeod

    well I think that Jesus did save us from sin in the sense that if we follow his teachings and form a relationship with god, then we will not lead a life that is sinful. As far as its conventionality is concerned that may define on what you consider conventional. there are many brands of christianity, and I tend to follow Arminian (Jacobus Arminius) and Weslyan (John Wesley) theology more closely because they are what I find makes sense to me. My pastor also espouses this theology and some people at my church do too. anyway I really am enjoying this conversation, but i am worried about how off topic this discussion is going, should we look for another place to discuss it, or just keep going on this page?


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