Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Problem of Evil: Top 12 Arguments

Via the Friendly Atheist, a list of the top 12 "excuses" for the existence of evil in a world created by God, created by August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists and Atheist Alliance International. I find the problem of evil to be the most compelling argument against (a personal) God's existence as it's pretty much the only one that doesn't depend on Occam's Razor. I cannot reconcile the existence of natural disasters and other evil "acts of God" with any God I'd want to worship.

Anyway, here's the list:

If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, then why is there evil in the world?

For the sake of argument, I will concede the harm that humans do is a misuse of our free will, for which God cannot be blamed (although a good case can be made that a loving god would have stopped Hitler).

That still leaves us with genetic birth defects, genetic and acquired diseases, and natural disasters.

Here are “The Top Twelve Excuses” religious people use to attempt to explain away the horrible behavior of their god.

(1) Unknown greater good - The first excuse is that God must commit or allow some evil to occur to accomplish an unknown greater good.

But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power? Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than torturing innocent people?

(2) Evil is really God’s love - The second excuse is that what we perceive as “evil” is really an example of “God’s love.”

However, this is a definition of love we cannot comprehend because it is exactly the opposite of what we define love to be. Therefore we can’t know that “God’s love” is really love – we have to take someone’s unconvincing word for it.

If disease is an example of God’s love, shouldn’t we all try to get as sick as possible? Are doctors violating “God’s will” when they try to cure disease?

(3) Evil is needed to appreciate the good - The third excuse is that without evil we wouldn’t appreciate what’s good.

But couldn’t a god just give us an appreciation of what’s good? Why should we have to be tortured to appreciate the good?

Disease and natural disasters seem like wanton cruelty on the part of God. Without disease and natural disasters we could still be left to struggle with good and evil in terms of moral dilemmas and human actions.

(4) Blame the ancestors and blame the victim - The fourth excuse is that all evil that happens to us is our fault, either directly, or because of Adam and Eve.

This is known as “blaming the victim.” Typically, a victim of abuse believes that the more he or she is punished, the more he or she is loved.

But what did an innocent baby ever do to deserve a birth defect?

And what kind of justice is it that blames children for the sins of their long-dead ancestors?

(5) Evil is necessary for free will - The fifth excuse is that without evil we would have no free will and would be robots.

But what do birth defects, disease, and natural disasters have to do with free will? Do sick people have more free will than healthy people?

God has supposedly created a heaven where there is no disease. Are the people in heaven robots?

(6) The devil did it - The sixth excuse is that God isn’t really responsible for evil in the world, a devil is.

But who created the devil? And isn’t God supposed to be all-powerful? Can’t he stop the devil?

(7) Evil doesn’t last very long - The seventh excuse is that our miserable time on Earth is brief compared to an eternity in a wonderful heaven.

So what? Is that any excuse to torture people?

(8) Evil is necessary for compassion - The eighth excuse is that evil is necessary for us to learn compassion.

But if God wanted us to be compassionate, why didn’t he just make us that way? Why this sadistic scheme of torturing innocent babies to instill compassion in their parents?

(9) Suffering builds character - The ninth excuse is that suffering builds character.

While building character may sometimes require effort – such as helping others, studying, and sportsmanship – none of these threatens our lives.

And what kind of character is a baby supposed to be developing, who is born with a birth defect so severe that she will only live a few days?

(10) God is testing our faith - The tenth excuse is that evil is God’s way of testing our faith, like Job was tested in the Old Testament.

If this is true, what sense does it make to impose a “loyalty test” on an infant who dies from disease or natural disaster?

(11) The Creator is always justified - The eleventh excuse is that God is morally justified in tormenting people because he created them.

But this confuses the right to torture someone with the power to torture someone.

Do the parents who create a child have a right to torture that child? Does might make right?

(12) Evil necessary to prove God’s existence - The twelfth excuse is that the existence of evil proves the existence of God, that without a God-given sense of good and bad, we would not be able to identify some things as evil in the first place.

But can’t an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god come up with a better way to prove his existence than by torturing us? Why not just reveal himself?

Conclusion - God has run out of excuses. He is either incompetent, indifferent, or cruel. Another way to reconcile the facts is to conclude that gods don’t exist at all.

Additional comments - If you had the knowledge and power of a god, would you have created birth defects, disease, and natural disasters? If not, then you are nicer than the god you believe in. This god should be praying to you for moral advice, rather than the other way around.

Would you take a syringe full of malaria and inject it into someone you love? And yet that’s exactly what God does to people he claims to love, using a mosquito as the syringe.

We humans spend a lot of time mopping up after God’s mistakes. Some say that God works through us. But the reason we have to do “the Lord’s work” is because “the Lord” isn’t doing it himself. And if we’re doing the work, shouldn’t we take the credit?

There is much unnecessary cruelty in nature. For example, when one male lion replaces another in a pride of lions, he kills the cubs of the previous male lion. Yet this type of behavior does not occur in other species. Thus, if a god designed this system, he is not above a little wanton cruelty from time to time.

Yes, many religious people do kind acts of charity. But why? Too often the answer seems to fall into three categories, which turn out not to be altruistic at all:

1) To use the recipient of aid as a pawn to bribe the helper’s way into heaven or avoid hell (or to achieve a higher reincarnation).

2) To use kindness to convert more people to the helper’s religion, because religions cannot be sustained by evidence and thus need as many like-minded people as possible to prop them up and quash self-doubt.

3) To attempt to maintain credibility in their religion by covering up the embarrassingly poor job done by their god, by claiming they are agents of God.

For those religious people who are kind for the sake of kindness, without reference to a god, that’s exactly what secular humanism is.

Bible Quotes - “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38)

“When disaster comes to a city, has the Lord not caused it?” (Amos 3:6)

96 comments:

asher said...

The arguement is:

A believer must explain the existence of evil in the world.
A athiest simply has to explain everything the existence of everything else.

How simple

Orthoprax said...

The best answer is simply that God has His reasons which man is not privy too.

If you are presuming that God exists and has all the basic traditional qualities attributed to Him then aren't you a bit arrogant demanding that God explain Himself?

Jewish Atheist said...

The best answer is simply that God has His reasons which man is not privy too.

That either falls under #1, Unknown greater good, or God's reasons are not good, in which God is not good.

beepbeepitsme said...

If the premise is that god's actions can only be by default, good - then all actions of said god are automatically good; even if he, she or it kills off the majority of human inhabitants.

Amazingly, this concept works for any dictator who demands compliance, either earthly or otherwise.

That kind of thinking works for many people who confuse "love" with terrorism; can't say I am a fan of it though.

intuitor said...

The quotations in the end from the Bible are the clearest proof that originally God was not thought of as all good but only as all powerful and fearsome. According to Jewish mysticism too God is neither all Good nor all Severe nor any of the other qualities. He is the unknown which sometimes appears to us as Good and sometimes as Severe, ie (Chesed, Gvura etc.) But that falls under Unknown. Then if God is Unknown how am I supposed to believe in something that's unknown and unknowable. Any conception of God I would have then is false. And when I believ in the God according to my concept of Him I am not believeing in Him at all. And if God is unknown then he can't be called Good either because what we call Good is only the knowable Good. Then why am I supposed to serve Him. If He is not Good perhaps He is also a liar, and lies to humans and punishes the ones that serve Him even more than the ones that don't serve Him. Also if He is not All Good then He can also be a liar in respect to His omnipotence.

littlefoxling said...

i find it interesting that the old testimant really makes no mention of the after life but yet it is pivotal in rabbinic literature. my understanding is that the OT tried very hard to deal with these issues (Job, and others) and failed so the rabbis came up with the after life as a cop out. I've posted on that before
http://littlefoxling.blogspot.com/2007/01/cons-of-oj-post-2.html

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"That either falls under #1, Unknown greater good, or God's reasons are not good, in which God is not good."

And? I don't find his counterargument very compelling.

'But doesn’t that limit God’s knowledge and power? Doesn’t that say that God couldn’t think of a better way to accomplish his goals other than torturing innocent people?'

Better way? Better for whom? The question is full of holes. Perhaps it is the 'best of all possible worlds.'

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: If you are presuming that God exists and has all the basic traditional qualities attributed to Him then aren't you a bit arrogant demanding that God explain Himself?

Since when is it arrogant to ask pertinent questions of Authority?

Orthoprax said: Perhaps it is the 'best of all possible worlds.'

If *this* is the 'best of all possible worlds' then what must the rest be like? Is *this* as good as it gets? You're having a laugh... right?

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Since when is it arrogant to ask pertinent questions of Authority?"

Asking is different from demanding.

"If *this* is the 'best of all possible worlds' then what must the rest be like? Is *this* as good as it gets? You're having a laugh... right?"

The rest of what? There's only one world as far as I know.

CyberKitten said...

Orthoprax said: Asking is different from demanding.

Maybe we deserve an answer either way.

Orthoprax asked: The rest of what?

The rest of the 'possible worlds' you mentioned.... Is the world we live in the *best* of the (presumably infinite) possibilities? I will hazard a guess and so 'No'. Of course things could be worse... but they could be a lot better too - don't you think? If this world is the best that Providence can accomplish... I think we should be looking for a better understand of why things ended up the way they have.

Orthoprax said...

Cyber,

"Maybe we deserve an answer either way."

Maybe. Or maybe not. In the Bible, at least, there seems to be a fairly consistent theme where God denies such requests.

"The rest of the 'possible worlds' you mentioned.... Is the world we live in the *best* of the (presumably infinite) possibilities? I will hazard a guess and so 'No'."

Well, you're just guessing. It very well could be that this is the best of all possible worlds.

I think Leibniz successfully defends the idea fairly well.

Jewish Atheist said...

Well, you're just guessing. It very well could be that this is the best of all possible worlds.

I haven't read Leibniz, but how could this world be better than, for example, the exact same world but with one fewer child rape? Or one less father dropping dead of a heart attack while driving?

Orthoprax said...

JA,

I responded on my blog, but the answer is basically that you don't know what kind of effects that might have. Ever seen the Butterfly Effect?

Jewish Atheist said...

I responded on my blog, but the answer is basically that you don't know what kind of effects that might have.

But God, being omnipotent, could both foresee and intervene in those effects. Are you saying God is incapable of creating a universe like ours with one fewer childhood rape or heart defect and no adverse consequences?

Orthoprax said...

JA,

"Are you saying God is incapable of creating a universe like ours with one fewer childhood rape or heart defect and no adverse consequences?"

That's exactly right. In Leibniz's view, in the type of world that God wants, it would be impossible to solve those problems without causing bigger ones.

Jeremy said...

Orthoprax, then God's will is evil. Because of his free will God chose to want a world where evil was neccessary. Thus this world is not the best of all possible world but only the best of all the evil worlds. Like saying that God hands out the best of all possible terminal tumors.
Anyway, God is absolute and the word 'good' is relative. So God can't really be good. God can be some abstract quality X but I don't give a damn about X. I'm only impressed by genuine human goodness, and not the kind that includes letting 6 million jews die. Calling God good is a play on words. It's like saying God is blue or God is long wet polka dots hanging on a tree. It don't make any sense.

Orthoprax said...

Jeremy,

"Orthoprax, then God's will is evil. Because of his free will God chose to want a world where evil was neccessary. Thus this world is not the best of all possible world but only the best of all the evil worlds. Like saying that God hands out the best of all possible terminal tumors."

No, the alternative would be _no_ world at all. Would you be willing to make this world cease to have ever existed if you were given the option? Or is it really the benevolent option to allow it to exist even with a minimum of evil?

"Anyway, God is absolute and the word 'good' is relative. So God can't really be good. God can be some abstract quality X but I don't give a damn about X. I'm only impressed by genuine human goodness, and not the kind that includes letting 6 million jews die. Calling God good is a play on words. It's like saying God is blue or God is long wet polka dots hanging on a tree. It don't make any sense."

No, this 'good' was meant from a human perspective. As I explained elsewhere, in this theory, God had to let the Holocaust happen because if not then some other greater harm would happen.

Jeremy said...

I can accept the idea that God's 'options' are limited with respect to the laws of human logic, and that he is omnipotent only in things that are logically consistent. God can't make 2+2=5. But a world without suffering doesn't contradict any known laws of logic. If you say that God is limited by divine logic and that a world without suffering is a logical contradiction in Godly intelligence we are back to long wet polka dots hanging from a tree. I am not accepting such a notion of God as omnipotent in the human sense of the word, neither omnipotent nor omniscious. I don't care for a God with psychological problems. I am rational, God better be too. Maybe in His logic 1 God = 1,000,000 Gods of India. Should we become Hindu according to His logic? Also why should I believe in the existence of this Divine Logic. Are there now 2 things to prove, that God exists and that His logic is correct?

Orthoprax said...

Jeremy,

"But a world without suffering doesn't contradict any known laws of logic."

But it wouldn't be an optimum world. For example, hardship can make the best in people. If children needed no protection would the parent-child bond of love exist? If there was nothing to fear, would courage exist? And so on.

God, in Leibniz's view, is an optimizer of all possible worlds. And a world without evil but without many other positive qualities is a worse world than one with evil.

There is no way to prove this though.

"Are there now 2 things to prove, that God exists and that His logic is correct?"

Any theodicy already assumes that God exists and is always correct.

beepbeepitsme said...

Get with the program. Gawd's actions are benevolent, loving and good even when he kills every first born son in Egypt. (If your premise is that gawd's actions can ONLY ever be categorized as good.)

"So Moses said, "This is what the LORD says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be loud wailing throughout Egypt—worse than there has ever been or ever will be again." - Exodus 11:4-6

Basically some people feel the same way about any dictator they have decided to hero worship. That is - whatever they do, it can only be viewed as good.

Think I'll pass.

Jeremy said...

Orthoprax, I really have no idea what you're talking about. The perfect world would be statically infinitely blissful.

If evil makes the world a good place to be then there should be nothing but evil. Evil is not what makes the world a good place, it's the good.

That people can't appreciate certain good things without contrast is nothing more than another one of the evils of this world that God supposedly created. If there were God human nature would be maximally appreciative of the maximal good of the world.

Orthoprax said...

Beep,

No, a clear part of the argument is that God sometimes either does or allows evil as a necessary condition for optimum existence, hence producing the greater good.

Just because one can use the argument to falsely defend dictators doesn't mean that it is not true for God. Again, as a theodicy the assumption is that God is good.

This post is about theodicy, not about every other characteristic attributed to God. And as a theodicy I think Leibniz's argument does quite well.

Orthoprax said...

Jeremy,

"Orthoprax, I really have no idea what you're talking about. The perfect world would be statically infinitely blissful."

Well, there are two choices there. Either you are wrong and that wouldn't be perfect at all or such a world is just not possible.

"If evil makes the world a good place to be then there should be nothing but evil. Evil is not what makes the world a good place, it's the good."

No, that's nonsense. The argument is that _some_ evil is necessary for the world to exist. Nothing would exist otherwise. Argue against the argument, not some strawman.

"That people can't appreciate certain good things without contrast is nothing more than another one of the evils of this world that God supposedly created. If there were God human nature would be maximally appreciative of the maximal good of the world."

Maybe. Or maybe not. From your limited perspective it's easy to pretend you know what would make the world better, but from God's perspective it isn't that simple.

jeremy said...

Leibniz is the strawman. If a mixture of good and evil in the world seems to be good it's not because of the evil but despite of it. I know what would improve the world from experience; it has been improved upon by man, and God should do even better than man. 'God's perspective' is unintelligible and requires better interpretation by Leibniz.

Orthoprax said...

Jeremy,

"I know what would improve the world from experience; it has been improved upon by man, and God should do even better than man."

So your critique of Leibniz is basically that you know better than God. Gotcha.

Keebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beepbeepitsme said...

ORTHO:

re: "No, a clear part of the argument is that God sometimes either does or allows evil as a necessary condition for optimum existence, hence producing the greater good."

Huh? And the bible says this where?

The passage I quoted is an action of supposed gawd from the bible. Any dictator either natural or supernatural, who did such a thing, would not receive either my vote, my respect or my worship.

It's that simple.

Anonymous said...

I found this post quite interesting, especially as it came only a few weeks after the equally interesting post about single loop and double loop learning which (as I understood it) challenged us not just to challenge the facts of a debate but also the underlying assumptions we were using to interpret them, especially when such assumptions may go so deep that we don't even realise we hold them.

With that in mind, it struck me that there is a howler of an underlying assumption here that has not been challenged. The atheist viewpoint here is essentially saying "there is no intellect or consciousness in the universe greater or higher than mine" and that this must be true even if God exists (heck, it's still a pretty arrogant assumption even if He doesn't, but then we are talking about someone who thinks he can reduce thousands of years of theology down to twelve bullet points and not lose any of the essential substance of the debate).

The atheist of course is entitled to think this way - it is a fairly logical consequence of his viewpoint that God does not exist after all - but what he is not entitled to do is to assume that God does exist but that this assumption remains valid. Either the assumption that the atheist's intellect is the highest there is available is valid or the assumption that God exists is valid - to try to act as though they both are valid for the purposes of examining God's motivations is a fundamental category error.

Or to put it another way, the problem of evil may only be a problem because our intellects (perceptions, instincts, imaginations, call it what you will) are incapable of perceiving the wider picture, which presumably encompasses the universe as a whole.

To use an analogy - I assume the author quoted here regards himself as a reasonably decent human being. I also assume that if he were to become sick he would have no moral qualms about taking penicillin, even though this would cause the avoidable deaths of probably millions of bacteria. How would he answer a streptomycin theologian (humour me for a moment in postulating such a creature) who argued that the existence of penicillin proved that he (the author) either did not exist, or if he did he must be evil? And how would any of the arguments he would use differ from those being discussed?

Random

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "The atheist viewpoint here is essentially saying "there is no intellect or consciousness in the universe greater or higher than mine"

As an atheist, I can tell you what this atheist thinks. I can't speak for all atheists. I don't believe there is a consciousness/intellect that is independent of matter.

This means that I don't believe that there is an incorporeal consciousness. As I don't believe that there is an incorporeal consciousness, I don't believe in the existence of a god or gods.

It is a strawman argument to suggest that an atheist believes that an atheist's intellect is the highest there is. As an atheist, I don't believe that there is an intellect which exists outside of matter.

This is not the same as saying that this makes my intellect, or the atheist intellect, the most superior intellect there is as there may be intellects on at least one of the billions of planets in the universe which displays a keener intellect than any human.

RE: " the problem of evil"

Obviously as an atheist I also don't believe in the existence of supernatural evil. I don't believe in supernatural evil as this would also require belief in a mind or minds which exist without matter.

However, I do acknowledge that human beings attribute the word "evil" to circumstances or behaviours which they believe adversely effect them either individually or as a group. But I think that human beings decide what is evil and what is not, and that human beings have behaviours and actions which human beings either collectively or individually, describe as being bad or evil.

I don't understand your analogy. Perhaps someone else will have an answer for you.

Anonymous said...

Beep,

Actually, I have no problems with your point of view - you are explaining why, to you, atheism is a valid and sufficient philosophical position. This is actually fine by me (apart from the fact I believe it is erroneous, of course) - the point of my post was to demonstrate that the original author seemed to be under the impression that an atheistic viewpoint would remain valid in a theistic universe. If God does exist then the author's key assumption - that everything should or can be understandable in his terms - is erroneous.

The point if my analogy of course is that God would surely be far further ahead of us intellectually than we are ahead of a unicellular micro-organism. We would feel it absurd (if not impossible) to restrict ourselves to the worldview of a streptomycin when discussing moral philosophy, so why does it become a legitimate debating tactic to assume that God can (or should) be restricted to our worldview?

Anonymous said...

Oops - "anonymous" then was of course me, Random. I really must get google/blogger sorted:-/

cipher said...

I also find it impossible to reconcile the idea of a personal, benevolent creator with the enormity of the suffering of sentient beings, but I seem to see it differently from the way in which most people do. I can forgive God for the natural disasters - he sets up the natural order, goes out for coffee, etc. - it's the evil brought into this world by human beings for which I can't forgive him. Whether or not we have free will is, for me, irrelevant - even if we do have it, we shouldn't have been entrusted with it. We clearly don't know what we are doing, and we obviously can't solve our problems. It's like letting a child play with dynamite, then, after he blows himself up, saying, "It isn't my fault; I didn't light the match."

Jewish Atheist said...

The atheist viewpoint here is essentially saying "there is no intellect or consciousness in the universe greater or higher than mine" and that this must be true even if God exists

I don't think that's true. You're basically arguing #1 above, unknown greater good, and it's true that God would have a better idea about that than I would. However, the idea that (e.g.) the Holocaust or child sex slavery are somehow necessary for the greater good is absurd. If God is God, He could accomplish the same greater good without the Holocaust or child sex slavery.

I also assume that if he were to become sick he would have no moral qualms about taking penicillin, even though this would cause the avoidable deaths of probably millions of bacteria. How would he answer a streptomycin theologian (humour me for a moment in postulating such a creature) who argued that the existence of penicillin proved that he (the author) either did not exist, or if he did he must be evil?

From the point of view of the streptomycin, he would be evil. To make your analogy hold, we'd have to assume that the streptomycin are sentient (my criterion for what we treat as human) and that the human knows this and could cure himself without the streptomycin (since God is omnipotent.) In that case, it would be evil even from my perspective (as opposed to the streptomycin's.)

Jewish Atheist said...

(Oops, I realized I confused the disease with the medicine there. Killing the disease is an interesting case, but an omniscient being would be able to make it so that both the bacteria and the human could thrive.)

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "If God does exist then the author's key assumption - that everything should or can be understandable in his terms - is erroneous."

I don't meet many theists who believe that god exists and then go on to say that they have no idea of what god wants of them or of the world. The majority of theists do NOT assume that the mind of god is unknown to them, in fact, they seem to be continually telling whoever will listen, exactly what it is that god has on his incorporeal mind.

A deist, on the other hand, does not suffer from this apparent contradiction.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think that's true. You're basically arguing #1 above, unknown greater good"

Not really. It's more that I'm arguing that the problem is one of limits to our understanding. We're simply unable to see the big picture and think that the fine detail at our level of perception is all there is. To shift metaphors, we're in the situation of a fly crawling across the Mona Lisa - all it will be aware of is a rough surface with some treacherous footholds, it will have no comprehension of the most famous smile in the world.

Random

Jewish Atheist said...

Random:

If you're not arguing for the greater good, then you are arguing what? That the holocaust and child slavery are actually good things, but we are too puny compared to God to understand it?

jewish philosopher said...

"But what did an innocent baby ever do to deserve a birth defect?"

Buddhists, Hindus and most Orthodox Jews believe in reincarnation, so this is not problem. My son may be a cripple because of a sin in a past life.

Think in terms of karma, as many religions do.

jewish philosopher said...

About charity, it can be given simply because I love God who commanded me to give it.

Orthoprax said...

Beep,

"Huh? And the bible says this where?"

Um...it doesn't. Why does that matter?

"The passage I quoted is an action of supposed gawd from the bible. Any dictator either natural or supernatural, who did such a thing, would not receive either my vote, my respect or my worship.
t's that simple."

Ok...so the only conception of God you think is worth considering is one facet found in the Bible?

I think your focus is a bit narrow, eh?

Keebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
beepbeepitsme said...

ortho

RE: "I think your focus is a bit narrow, eh?"

I don't make up words for god as you appear to do.

Example: "No, a clear part of the argument is that God sometimes either does or allows evil as a necessary condition for optimum existence, hence producing the greater good."

This is your argument, and yet you attribute it to god. Shameful.

jeremy said...

Othoprax,
"So your critique of Leibniz is basically that you know better than God. Gotcha."

I never said I knew better than God. I never said that God doesn't know something that I know. You on the other hand seem to think that God is incapable of something that an all powerful being is capable of doing, given the laws of logic and causation.
Can anything be inconsistent with Leibniz's definition of God. That's a God nobody would want to believe in. There is no solace in such a being. In addition you arbitrarily assign possibility to knowing that God exists and impossibility to knowing that he is capable of doing a better job. You admit that it's possible to arrive at the idea that God made the best of all possible worlds but don't allow that same faculty of reason to establish what possible is. The idea of possibility you seem to be talking about is not known to human beings. Of course I can't know what is possible if I don't know what the word possible in its Divine sense means. Lebniz confused himself with the concept of possibility. He magically skips from human possibility to divine and back whenever it suits his purpose and pretends to be in both places at the same time.

Orthoprax said...

Beep,

"I don't make up words for god as you appear to do."

Make up words? What are you talking about?

"This is your argument, and yet you attribute it to god. Shameful."

No, it's Leibniz's argument. I have no idea where you're coming from. I don't get what your problem is. Aren't you an atheist?


Jeremy,

"You on the other hand seem to think that God is incapable of something that an all powerful being is capable of doing, given the laws of logic and causation."

That's simply the argument. It would be a fallacy to think that omnipotence means that one can do the impossible. It only mean that one can do anything possible. One cannot do what one cannot do.

"Can anything be inconsistent with Leibniz's definition of God. That's a God nobody would want to believe in. There is no solace in such a being."

Hum? I don't see a problem with solace. God's doing the best He can.

"You admit that it's possible to arrive at the idea that God made the best of all possible worlds but don't allow that same faculty of reason to establish what possible is. The idea of possibility you seem to be talking about is not known to human beings. Of course I can't know what is possible if I don't know what the word possible in its Divine sense means. Lebniz confused himself with the concept of possibility. He magically skips from human possibility to divine and back whenever it suits his purpose and pretends to be in both places at the same time."

Wha? I'm afraid that you're not making any sense. Leibniz spoke of mathematical possibilities.

You may disagree with his argued conception of God, but I fail to see you actually arguing against it. I'm sorry if his argument limits God too much for your taste, but what argument can you offer to prove him wrong?

Anonymous said...

Hello Im new here, can I suggest a possible theory assuming there is a god and he is benvolent why evil exists.

According to the vedic view point we are all souls that are eternal, naturally full of bliss and knowledge. That is why all living entities yearn for the above. However our position is that like of a fish out of water. No matter how much you give the fish it will never be satisfied but will suffer. The nature of matter is impermenant and unconcious. Our natural state is to serve (its better to give than to recieve) and thats how we get the most quality happiness. Our original position was in a concious fully spiritual world where we serve. However due to our free will we wanted to enjoy seperately from god. So this universe is our playground where we are existing life after life in an independent way. We sow in this life or next life what we reap. All happiness in this world is temporary as everything is taken away. Suffering is something we sow it comes as part and parcel of selfish enjoyment. The suffering is a reminder that we dont belong here and this isnt our real home. (like a fish out of water). For more details read a book by the hare krsnas they are the best guys I've heard on this topic.

beepbeepitsme said...

ORTHO

Even when I was a christian, I disliked people speaking for god. It always seemed to me that it was an exercise in excuse making for god. I could never understand how a supposedly omnipotent, omnicient being would need people to make arguments to support its actions or arguments in support of its existence.

And I still don't.

Of course if you are stuck for a suitable reply from the bible, you can always claim divine revelation - which in my language is - make up an excuse for god as you go along.

jewish philosopher said...

The proof from evil states “Such and such an event was unquestionably unjust. Therefore there cannot be a just God.” However, when one considers reincarnation as a possibility, how can anyone prove that any event was unquestionably unjust? Therefore this proof is invalidated.

I think the proof from ego works better and is probably the most popular basis for atheism. It states, “No one is more important than I am. Therefore God does not exist.”

Orthoprax said...

Beep,.

"Even when I was a christian, I disliked people speaking for god."

And? Where exactly did you see me doing that?

You seem overly protective of God's honor which you don't believe in.

cipher said...

The proof from evil states “Such and such an event was unquestionably unjust. Therefore there cannot be a just God.” However, when one considers reincarnation as a possibility, how can anyone prove that any event was unquestionably unjust? Therefore this proof is invalidated.

This is legitimate. I wouldn't necessarily say that it invalidates it, but it does open up a different set of questions.

However, you then go on to say,

I think the proof from ego works better and is probably the most popular basis for atheism. It states, “No one is more important than I am. Therefore God does not exist.”

You ALWAYS do this, Jacob. You always reduce the unbeliever's lack of belief to arrogance, hubris and self-centeredness. Your argument (insofar as I've been exposed to it over the past couple of years that I've been perusing the Jewish blogs) always comes down to this: "You just don't WANT to believe!"

This is why no one in these blogs takes you seriously. Also - and I've said this to you before - it's because of commenters like you and Lakewood Yid (before he got his own blog) that I stay away from these blogs for weeks, months at a time. I'm sick and tired of vitriol between Jews.

Honestly, do you think you'll ever get tired of roaming around the Jewish blogosphere, telling the rest of us how absolutely awful we all are?

beepbeepitsme said...

ortho:

RE: "And? Where exactly did you see me doing that?"

You were using an argument for your god which is not to be found in the supposed definitive text of this supposed gawd. Hence, any argument or excuse for gawd outside of the bible, is either an attempt to speak for gawd, or a claim of personal revelation from gawd.

I would suggest that should an omnipotent, omniscient being exist, it would not need puny humans to either argue its case or to presume to know what it is thinking.

Anonymous said...

"The proof from evil states “Such and such an event was unquestionably unjust. Therefore there cannot be a just God.” However, when one considers reincarnation as a possibility, how can anyone prove that any event was unquestionably unjust? Therefore this proof is invalidated."

Well I think evidence for reincarnation is a secondary issue. There is more evidence for reincarnation (eg Dr ian stevensons work and others) than any hell or heaven or adam and eve.

The main issue as far as I undderstand is that philosophically how can god be all good but allow evil. ANd the only explanation that is remotely possible is reincarnation.

If god is all good and fair and just. Then he must give humans exactly what they deserve as giving one person more or less is by definition unfair treatment.

Otherwise if this is our first appearance we all seem to start of on an unequal footing, some born in a chosen race and others not etc etc.

beepbeepitsme said...

Evidence of reincarnation? Only if you consider faith to be evidence.

Anonymous said...

Bah, been stuck in the real world for a few days. Anyway -

"If you're not arguing for the greater good, then you are arguing what?"

I thought it was obvious enough.I was arguing that we're not up to the job of seeing the big picture and we shouldn't get caught in the trap of assuming that what we can see is all the picture there is.

"That the holocaust and child slavery are actually good things, but we are too puny compared to God to understand it?"

No. But such things may be the lesser evil. For example, I take from the above that you do not approve of slavery. Yet do you not see that by demanding God prove he is good by suppressing human free will to the point that such events can no longer occur you are demanding that He enslave the entire human race? Is this really the lesser evil in your book?

Keebo:

"So, we are supposed to believe that the painter of that portrait, or, the grand personality, that has the ability to stand back and appreciate that smile, spends all his time worrying about the "sins" of the fly?"

If he had taken the trouble to incarnate himself as a fly so as to interact with the world at that scale, then yes I suppose we could assume something along these lines. An argument that is admittedly easier for Christians (or indeed Hindus) to make than some other faith traditions.

Random

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "Yet do you not see that by demanding God prove he is good by suppressing human free will"

Frankly I think the idea that people have freewill through the benevolence of a god smacks of every other claim made by a religion.

Humans have freewill because there isn't a god, would be more the way I see it.

I don't consider "turn or burn" to be evidence of freewill.

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Beep,

"You were using an argument for your god which is not to be found in the supposed definitive text of this supposed gawd. Hence, any argument or excuse for gawd outside of the bible, is either an attempt to speak for gawd, or a claim of personal revelation from gawd."


LOL! Hey, JA, what did I tell you once before about atheists sometimes being better literalists than theists? It's easier to put your opponent's views in a box than addressing them on their own merits.

"I would suggest that should an omnipotent, omniscient being exist, it would not need puny humans to either argue its case or to presume to know what it is thinking."

Naturally. So? You think I'm arguing for God's sake?

Keebo said...
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Keebo said...
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beepbeepitsme said...

ortho:

You miss the point. How do you know what god is thinking unless you refer to one of his supposed inerrant books on his wishes?

There are supposedly 2 ways that I am aware of to supposedly know what god wants:

1. Refer to the specific religious book of your religion.

2. Claim to have information which was personally revealed to you by god.

Anything else is just you or anyone else making up words, ideas or excuses for god off the top of your heads.

beepbeepitsme said...

To add to that, obviously I consider personal revelation to be the same thing as making things up about god off the top of your head, so that leaves your supposed holy book of preference.

So, what does your religious book of preference say about the problem of evil?

Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

"Look, you are the ones making outlandish claims about how the universe operates. I realize that you can't do it without getting really creative, but starting from a place that assumes outlandish things to be true in the first place, and then attempting to justify them, is NOT intellectually honest."

The nature of any theodicy is the assumption of certain characteristics for God and the universe. If you don't want to play by those rules and want to play a new game then go ahead, but this post is about theodicy.



Beep,

"You miss the point. How do you know what god is thinking unless you refer to one of his supposed inerrant books on his wishes?"

Who said anything about knowledge? Have you ever heard of philosophy? Lots of philosophers manage to compose whole metaphysical theories without depending on any theological scripture.

I think it's fairly obvious that you're stuck in a "fundamentalism vs. atheism" bubble and you can't see that there are plenty of religious views that fall somewhere in between.

As far as I can tell, you are nearly as dogmatic as any religious fundamentalist who I have ever run across.

Maybe you should go back to atheism school and consider some concepts of God that don't depend on Biblical inerrancy before spouting off again about 'gawd'.

beepbeepitsme said...

ortho

RE: "Who said anything about knowledge? Have you ever heard of philosophy? Lots of philosophers manage to compose whole metaphysical theories without depending on any theological scripture."

Glad to see that you recognize that philosophy is not knowledge. :)

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "As far as I can tell, you are nearly as dogmatic as any religious fundamentalist who I have ever run across."

Nope. I can quite honestly say that I might be wrong about many things.

How many theists do you know who will state that they might be wrong about their religious beliefs?

Fanatics are people who consider that they are right no matter what. Religious people make far better fanatics than those of us who accept doubt as healthy.

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Beep,

You're not addressing the point. Why are you so caught up in Biblical inerrancy when the topic is about God?

Keebo,

You're a moron. Get a hobby.

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Amazing discussion.

No one seems to have considered the Rambam's position on evil (see Morei Nevuchim). The basic path is this:

1. We know almost nothing about God other than that God is all that really exists and this temporary existence known as the world or the universe or this life is an expression of God's giving. Life therefore has a purpose - for God to give to us.
2. The greatest amount of good or pleasure that God could give to us is infinite; i.e., the greatest good available to us is some kind of connection to or relationship with God himself/itself.
3. This relationship is most beneficial or pleasurable to us (the recipients of the good) when we choose it. Therefore, the purpose of our free will is to enable us to choose the good and therefore enjoy it even more than if we had been programmed for it.
4. Free will implies the ability to choose between good and evil. Without the real possibility of evil, free will is meaningless.
The above explains human-created evil.
As for natural disasters, disease, etc:
1. It may very well be that karma explains much of it. However, not every sage in Jewish tradition agrees with reincarnation.
2. Regardless of your belief in reincarnation, even that doesn't explain why suffering often appears disproportionate.
3. Back to the purpose of life (above) - we are here to enable God to give to us, and the greatest thing he can give is a connection to God. The problem is that we are finite and God is infinite. How does a finite being connect to or relate to an infinite being?
4. Paradoxically, the more that I internalize God's inscrutibility, the closer I get to God. If God's justice were readily evident, then I would think that I "get" God, and that would be a mistake because God is infinite and therefore beyond my reach. But if I feel that I don't get God, then I'm actually closer to God, at least emotionally, and possibly also intellectually. Therefore, the more that things don't make sense - assuming that I am already seeking understanding of God - then the closer I will be to God.
POSTSCRIPT - this entire philosophy does assume that the reader assumes that God is real but just hard to appreciate. None of these points will help you believe in God; they only help you answer the question, Why does a just God allow some people to suffer disproportionate to their behavior?

Hope this is helpful. I think it is most related to point #2, and the full response to that is thus: No, it doesn't limit God's power, it proves the limits of our power to understand God. Is the doctor violating God's will, since God created the disease? That question was posed by a Roman to Rabbi Akiva. He replied that God set up the world as a partnership. Just like we don't eat raw wheat rather take it through a series of steps in order to make bread, so too God created a world where we could maximize our free will, a world that has opportunities to choose to do good or ill, a world that needs "perfecting" - and in this way it is "perfect" but not complete, like a ball of clay - it is a perfect ball of clay and yet it needs the lumps smoothened out and needs to be formed into a pot. By the way, this logic was one Jewish response to Hellenists and others who criticized circumcision as mutilation.

Orthoprax said...

"Therefore, the more that things don't make sense - assuming that I am already seeking understanding of God - then the closer I will be to God."

Wow. Become a Scientologist or something then. It makes a lot less sense.

beepbeepitsme said...

orthoprax

Because how can one argue for the existence of something without a reference point? When you argue for the existence of a god, what is your reference? Are you jewish, christian, muslim, a deist?

Do you have a philosophical argument and if so, which philosopher? Otherwise it just seems to be that people can make up whatever they want, and ascribe it to this abstraction we humans call god.

beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "1. We know almost nothing about God other than that God is all that really exists and this temporary existence known as the world or the universe or this life is an expression of God's giving."

I don't know this at all. You may believe that this is so, but I certainly don't know it and neither do I believe it.

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

Beep, As I said, the entire philosophy begins with the premise that an infinite creator created the universe.

Rabbi Seinfeld said...

The existence or non-existence of an infinite creator is a separate discussion, but it seems to me not the present discussion.

Orthoprax said...

Beep,

"Because how can one argue for the existence of something without a reference point? When you argue for the existence of a god, what is your reference? Are you jewish, christian, muslim, a deist?"

That's absurd. Ideas are either logically consistent or they are not. Theodicies are only about the logical consistency of a typical theistic God with evil in the world. It doesn't matter what reference one is coming from unless that reference takes specific issue with some part of the answer one is offering.

Furthermore, even if one is coming from a specific tradition, that in no way implies that the individual is bound by every facet existing in that tradition or that they must refer to it at every step of the way.

"Do you have a philosophical argument and if so, which philosopher?"

I do believe I referred quite a few times to Leibniz. Or did you miss that? But again, that doesn't matter at all. Ideas are valid or invalid without any relevance to their source.

Keebo said...
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Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

Need I reiterate? You're a moron.

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Who are you talking to? Show me one example where I used _your_ brand of "logic."

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

I'm proposing an argument that deals with characteristics and observable facts. Obviously I have to make statements that involve characteristics and observable facts. Your point? At what point do I display any sort of fake logic?

Logic is a facet of math. In this argument there are certain axioms in play and the question is whether the axioms are logically consistent or not. You may take issue with the axioms, but that's not the point of the argument.

You can make an argument with Sally the cloud too, or Euclid's axioms - or you can take issue with either of those, but questioning the axioms isn't relevant to this type of argument.

Do you get that?

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

"Mathmatics is based on provable concepts."

Is it? Which one of Euclid's axioms do you care to prove?

"You may use your logic however you choose; I suggest that you are assigning characteristics and attributes to a fictional character, so your resultant theorem, or whatever, will be about nothing."

Suggestion noted. Oh wait, am I supposed to be surprised that an atheist would say that? Oh well.

Thank you Captain Obvious.

Keebo said...
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Keebo said...
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beepbeepitsme said...

ortho

Well, let me know when you make a valid argument.

Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

"I said that Mathmatics is BASED on provable concepts."

And actually, you're still wrong. Math is BASED on chosen axioms that cannot be proven and, indeed, may be false.

"There is not one single shed of provability regarding the existence of God."

Your point? The same can be said about science. What the hell is 'provability' anyway?


Beep,

"Well, let me know when you make a valid argument."

What's that supposed to mean? I do believe Leibniz's 'best of all possible worlds' argument is, indeed, valid.

Do look up the difference between validity and soundness. It is the soundness that you and keebo are attacking, but I'm not arguing for it.

I find the gymnastics of the two of you rather amusing.

beepbeepitsme said...

and ortho wants to play the game of "nothing can be proven so it is equally valid to believe in monsters under the bed."

Shame really.

Orthoprax said...

Beep,

Actually I had no intention of going in that direction.

I guess red herrings are all you've got when the issue at hand is too much to handle.

beepbeepitsme said...

There is no issue, I haven't heard an argument from you that was worth making a serious comment about.

Orthoprax said...

That's probably because you're not listening.

I guess you have a clever strategy there. Pretend there is no issue in the first place. Good show.

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

"He's playing games with the definitions of "validity" vs. "soundness." He's saying that he doesn't care that the argument is unsound."

I wasn't playing games at all. I was very upfront about it the entire time.

The point was that I was responding to JA's post from the start where he says, "I find the problem of evil to be the most compelling argument against (a personal) God's existence as it's pretty much the only one that doesn't depend on Occam's Razor."

But, in fact, as I argued - it does still depend on Occams' Razor (assuming of course that it's a correct use of it) because it is _not_ necessarily internally inconsistent to have a good God and evil in the world.

Naturally, though, I do have other arguments with regard to God's existence and so on, but they are little relevant here. Theodicy presupposes axioms just like figuring out that 2+2=4.

Defending given assumptions is an entirely different game as compared to seeing if the assumptions are consistent.

"(Regardless of the answer, I will, most likely, continue to live my life as if 2+2=4 is true. Things just work out better for me when I do.)"

LOL! Isn't that a fallacious argument based on consequences. Theists say that all the time too.

Keebo said...
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Orthoprax said...

Keebo,

Jeez, you're a moron. The argument was implicit in my post.

Talking to you is like talking to an obnoxious, sarcastic wall.

Keebo said...
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Anonymous said...

My view is that there is no good or evil "out there" or anywhere, in fact.

Actions primarily aimed at self-pleasure and satisfaction ultimately create conditions for evil---while actions primarily aimed at helping the "other" create conditions for good.