A Problem Of Evil: Did I Violate Omni-Benevolence?

I’m one of those people who thinks the Problem of Evil is far from solved. I know, I know… the audacity, right? Skeptics and atheists claim the Problem of Evil logically disqualifies certain definitions of God, specifically the Omni^3 God typically advanced by Judeo-Christian monotheists. I concede that this polemic has been commonly repeated in philosophy circles for over 2,000 years now, but is it true? I cannot consider the Problem of Evil any problem at all sans a reasonable explanation of when and why the allowance of suffering constitutes a genuine breach of omni-benevolence, and I maintain that the burden falls back to the skeptic to demonstrate how or why this is so. Earlier this week, a real-life scenario recalled this question to mind.

I sometimes work in a publishing warehouse where customers can ring a doorbell to signify their presence at the Western entrance. Late one evening this week, somebody rang the bell. I opened up the window and stuck my head outside, where I saw a man and a woman with a baby. I knew instantly that they weren’t our customers, and I made the reasonable presupposition they were here to see a tenant in the residential part of the building. So, being in “work-mode,” I initially ignored them and was about to go “back to work” when the human factor kicked in. Just because they weren’t our customers didn’t mean they didn’t need help, so I returned to the window. My next intuition was to immediately engage them, but that curiously gave way to a competing intuition suggesting I merely observe for a moment, remaining watchful to ensure they got whatever it was they needed, but still granting enough confidence in their independence to assume they can solve their own problems without my meddling. A brief moment passed.

I noticed the Bay cold along with their momentary uncertainty was causing the woman to suffer. The cold itself had been causing me to suffer all day long, and I was certain where I was – inside the warehouse with a hooded sweatshirt on! No sooner than I could ask myself another question or respond to another intuition, a tenant let them inside of the building, and they were once again happy and warm.

Although it’s certainly nice that this story has a happy ending, did I violate the principle of omni-benevolence in that brief moment of observance?

*See Also:

PE/QS vs. O^3 God, I

What Do You Mean By God?

42 Comments

  1. Lifeguard says:

    Did you violate omnibenevolence?
    I don’t know… are you CLAIMING omnibenevolence? LOL.
    Seriously, I’m not sure how to answer your question, but I’m inclined to wonder whether or not you should be judged by a sightly different standard than a being who, in addition to being omnibenevolent, is also supposed to be all knowing and all powerful.
    Or are you claiming those characteristics as well?!

  2. cl says:

    Lifeguard,
    I’m inclined to wonder whether or not you should be judged by a sightly different standard than a being who, in addition to being omnibenevolent, is also supposed to be all knowing and all powerful.
    That’s a valid question, and we can certainly discuss it, but unless I’m just giving it short thrift, the question appears to have nothing to do with whether I violated omnibenevolence. Your ball, and it’s nice out here, so I probably won’t be back for a while. I just wanted to get this quick comment out in case you came back today.

  3. Pine says:

    I hate this question because we could write volumes and not begin to cover this one. To keep it short I made a list (and trimmed it down) to the reasons I believe suffering is necessary and perfectly reconcilable with God’s character.
    1) Suffering provides the opportunity for character development and more accurate self-evaluation.
    2) Suffering serves as a clear indicator that something is ‘broken’. Imagine if broken legs felt like pleasure… we might all be very sadistic… and very broken…
    3) The amount of suffering Jesus was willing to endure for people who He allowed to slip so far into sinfulness better displayed His love than any ‘pleasurable’ act towards ‘good’ people could have.
    4) Examples of suffering are permitted and rightly justified in every society on earth I know of (IE: the punishment of pedophile rapists).
    5) There are no ‘innocent’ people, no matter how much we want to believe that. The idea we are individuals is great in terms of culpability and personal justice; however our modern day society forgets family and national responsibilities which link us with unbreakable ties to those who live around us. Despite popular notions, we do not live in cocoons.
    6) I’ve not been shown one solid argument which commits God to any one action towards any one of us. I’m not saying I don’t think God loves everyone, but that He is justified doing whatever He wants with His creation. Whether I make a garden tool or a toilet plunger out the a wooden dowel, I haven’t changed, but my purpose for the tool I’m making is what is different. I don’t see why people feel God must make us all have perfect happy lives in order to Be Who He Is.
    7) Last one for now… and I’m trying to keep the list short… what is best? I mean, if you love something you want the BEST for it, right? Since God is above all, wouldn’t His purpose be best? So then, whatever God’s purpose for us is, if He works to accomplish His purpose through us, then He is at all times doing what is “best” for us, isn’t He?

  4. Brad says:

    “the question [of judgment relative to attributes accompanying omnibenevolence] appears to have nothing to do with whether I violated omnibenevolence”
    What does whether or not you violated solely omnibenevolence have to do with your opening subject of evaluating an “Omni^3” deity? Your anecdote is not congruous to the theoretical predicament – you are not O^3 – and so is utterly unhelpful. (Though maybe interesting on its own terms.)
    Say I’m an invariantly generous and helpful person. I also have unfailing superstrength. I come by an innocent person trapped under a car. Now – whereas any other generous and helpful person would have to simply call 911 and allow the person’s suffering to continue – I can walk over there and lift up the car with ease. So no, allowance of suffering is not alone sufficient to posit violation of benevolence, but in conjunction with the ability and knowledge to terminate or prevent it, you’re probably not so benevolent.
    The supposition of an O^3 deity directly implies that this world is in the greatest possible accord with benevolence. Now, precisely what is “benevolence”? It is fundamentally defined in terms of “good”: in other words, it’s subjective. Still, I happen to think that if there is an O^3 deity it must not share my version of benevolence, because I think the world could be drastically better with the intervention of all-powerful forces, and yet I’m not seeing this supernatural betterment.
    To be fair, there are a lot of variables that I can’t possibly compute on my own: what would happen if one more fact were known? or one less day depressing? or one less relationship riven? or one less gun crafted? or one less child molested? or one less teenager misunderstood and suicidal? or just one less drop of tear or one less of blood formed in the monstrous ocean of them? Could any – no, literally every single one of these apparently simple alterations of the course of existence backfire and make the sum total of history worse than before? (I do recognize a tangent on afterlife and eternity could be developed here.)
    I see three possibilities at this point: (a) one must abandon O^3 theology, (b) the just-mentioned Molinistic belief must be held alongside an O^3 theology, or (c) one must support a moral code that involves a different set of weightings of happiness, sadness, freedom, and other subjective quantities present in the world than those codes which see this planet as an imperfect place. Path (b) involves a massive plethora of assumptions, namely one for ever single countable instance of good or bad in the world, exponentiated by base 2, in that changing any combination of these instances would do no help. By epistemic parsimony, I refuse to go the route of (b). To discern between paths (a) and (c) I only have a finite, cross-sectional, intuition-based impression of the world to rely on. By this I choose (a), but there are two notes worth remarking upon: I do not know with what confidence I can hold to my choice of (a), and this logical setup has not outruled an O^2 being that isn’t quite benevolent in the way I’d want [it?] to be.
    Those are my thoughts on the subject.

  5. Brad says:

    In response to Pine’s list:
    (1) What about hurricanes and tsunamis? Deficiencies in our human capacity? Sheer bad luck? Furthermore, do these opportunities that arise out of suffering fully outweigh the costs of suffering for them?
    (2) Is suffering the only way? And to the degree it is present? Why is ‘brokenness’ necessary in the first place?
    (3) Was this display worth it? Big question.
    (4) Do any of these instances of suffering not already presuppose suffering? (To avoid circular reasoning.) Rapists and murderers cause pain to begin with. Pain on them fulfills the double duty of satisfying our urge to reciprocate as well as attempting to prevent them from further hurting others.
    (5) Is suffering as it exists in the world fairly distributed and proportioned in people’s lives? Does not your mitigation of our suffering based on our sinfulness oppose the sentiment in (3), where our sinfulness is disregarded by Jesus’ / God’s divine and omnibenevolent mercy?
    (6) I see we’ve flung the topic of omnibenevolence out the window for this one. There’s nothing committing me to help any other person on the planet, but if I’m nice I’d help others when given the opportunity, wouldn’t I?
    (7) Good, bad, and all derivative labels are subjective. So there’s no objective truth to this query at all. Secondly, you can’t simply define God’s will as “best” – what rule allows you to do that? Doesn’t that beg the question?
    It’s quite a difficult task bringing together facts and reasons to satisfactorily answer many of these questions. As you said, Pine, volumes could be written on the subject.

  6. Lifeguard says:

    Cl:
    I apologize, as it appears I made the mistake of treating this post as one in a series that have appeared on this blog that relate to Omni-3 claims and/or our capacity as human beings to judge the benevolence of an all knowing, all powerful being. My mistake. That being said, I do think my question has some relevance and I think Brad hit upon if I read his comment correctly.
    Basically, the issue of whether or not you violated omnibenevolence (or just plain benevolence as we’re only talking about one instance here) has to do with your degree of knowledge about the circumstances and your capacity or power to do something about it.
    Given the circumstances, I would say you probably didn’t do anything to violate omnibenevolence. Since you knew something about the building– namely that it was occupied by other tenants– you had a reasonable basis for believing something would be done about the situation you observed. In fact, I’d wager part of the reason you didn’t do anything is you maye have suspected that someone might have let them in before you would have a chance to get the door open for them.
    If the circumstances were different, however, my opinion might change. For instance, what if you knew the building was otherwise empty? What if you had a buzzer within arm reach that could have remotely opened the door for them? Or, how about this? How about you saw them being robbed at gun point and you were the only witness?
    As you correctly pointed out, the issue is not whether there’s a happy ending or not, and I assume your post intends to generate a discussion about how we can evaluate benevolence or omni-benevolence. As I see the issue, it boils down to this:
    Given your level of awareness of the crisis, the availability of possible solutions, and your capacity to effectuate change, what is your responsiblity to actually do something about it?

  7. Pine says:

    Brad:
    When my car was designed there were certain gauges included to help me out. When the fuel gets low, a light comes on. If my oil gets low, a different light starts to flash. There’s even an indicator to let me know whether or not the others in my car have their seatbelts on.
    I believe when God created the world He built in indicators to let us know if things were starting to go wrong. Just as the lights in my car warn me that something is wrong and if I don’t do something I’ll cause serious damage to my car, I believe that pain and suffering are indicators that something has gone wrong and that we must take steps to correct it. Is suffering necessary? What other indicator would you have, which would be equally effective at communication the danger, and which still allows for choice?
    If you believe in God and eternity, then isn’t it fair to state that any temporal suffering is justified if it brings about eternal good? Presumptous yes, but in line with what I believe the Bible teaches.

  8. Brad says:

    Pine,
    You’ve totally dodged my thrust and repeated the exact same thing as before. Let me hash out my thoughts again.

    When my car was designed there were certain gauges included to help me out.

    Well of course. The car is a marvelous construction for our limited resources, the bindings of physics, and the finite minds that have designed it. If someone finally came across a concept car, feasibly economic, which was virtually indestructible and had nigh infinite energy storage and 100% efficiency, what would be the better choice in your opinion: upgrade and get rid of brokenness altogether, and thus also rid the need for any indicators at all, or keep the old cars with all the ‘brokenness’?

    I believe when God created the world He built in indicators to let us know if things were starting to go wrong.

    And why make a world that bobs between fixed and broken if you’re all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good? This train can go farther yet…

    What other indicator would you have, which would be equally effective at communication the danger, and which still allows for choice?

    Well, presupposing the need for indicators in the first place as you do – thus allowing parasites, viruses, genetic deficiencies, the whole works – I would (a) have the pain proportioned to the importance of the ‘brokenness’ being indicated, (b) not make it faulty or exploitable, and (c) have greater conscious information alongside the pain as to what is specifically broken and how. (Like a car, eh?) I surmise this is what an O^3 being would do, but I’m just guessing.

    If you believe in God and eternity, then isn’t it fair to state that any temporal suffering is justified if it brings about eternal good?

    Although I don’t believe in God or eternal life (you’d probably call me agnostic), I would answer ‘yes’ to your conditional. However, bear in mind it is a conditional statement. The Bible also teaches that few will choose eternal good. So you’d have to believe God either couldn’t or wouldn’t have made the turn-out any better, which to my mind rules out O^3 as either unparsimonious or unharmonious with my conception of benevolence. If we’re taking what the Bible says as true, then my line of reasoning directed at cl with the ABC trichotomy is up for discussion.

  9. Pine says:

    Brad:
    You asked:
    “If someone finally came across a concept car, feasibly economic, which was virtually indestructible and had nigh infinite energy storage and 100% efficiency, what would be the better choice in your opinion: upgrade and get rid of brokenness altogether, and thus also rid the need for any indicators at all, or keep the old cars with all the ‘brokenness’?”
    The answer to that question depends on what the end goal of the person making the car is. If the goal is to end up with a perfect car… then yes. What if you’re goal was to show how great a repairman you were? Then the uglier and more ‘broken’ the car you start with the better. Anyone can start with a brand new car and have something ‘nice’, but if you restore something that was nothing more than rust and junkyard filler to a machine envied by your neighbors… then you have done something much more worthy of note.
    Often these arguments get one sided and only focus on the sufferer and not people in this world who cause suffering. God is patient and benevolent even towards those who sin against Him. If God destroyed those people immediately then one could aruge He was not benevolent towards them, no?
    Also, God is not a fool. You can’t rebel against His Sovereignty without consequences. If you could then people would mock God. When we think of Omni- traits we often tend to think of them as overriding characteristics. God is not unbalanced consisting of all love and no justice. Allowing rebellion allows for the possibility of punishment in additional to consequence.
    In my car example I highlighted why you could better ‘prove’ or display your skills as a car repairman through the broken car. In this world God displays all His traits better (I believe) through a broken world. We see His love in that He does not instantly destroy sinners, but sent His Son to die for them. We see His patience more clearly because of all He is willing to forebear. When we die we’ll know more clearly God’s justice as He deals perfectly with imperfect people. We’ll also better understand God’s power, as we see the ‘finished product’ and compare the people we were to what God has made us… all while allowing us the ability to choose.

  10. Brad says:

    … then you have done something much more worthy of note.
    Subjective. Plus, what would you say if the repairman chose for all cars to stay as rusty piles, and was only able to improve a select few and allow the rest to get trashed?
    If God destroyed those people immediately then one could aruge He was not benevolent towards them, no?
    I agree. But I don’t see how this changes anything that’s been discussed. Elaborate?
    You can’t rebel against His Sovereignty without consequences. If you could then people would mock God.
    Those are two interesting statements. Do not people mock God for this as it is? Anyway, are you alleging about afterlife consequences? Because in the present world as I observe it some evils can surely be gotten away with.
    In this world God displays all His traits better (I believe) through a broken world.
    Does his ability to showcase himself outweigh the otherwise non-emergent suffering he doesn’t actually fix? What if this theatrical message turns out to lead more people to eternal suffering than not? Can any thoughts on these matters be sufficiently backed up?

  11. Brad says:

    Err…, sorry, I could have swore I blockquoted that one.

  12. cl says:

    I’m not sure what’s up with TypePad, guys. Sorry about the blockquote problems, I’ve noticed them too. It’s actually all HTML that’s acting up…
    Pine,
    I tend to agree with you. Ocsar Wilde says some pretty interesting things in de Profundis regarding your argument in 3)
    Brad,
    Thanks for comin’ by. It’s been a while…
    So no, allowance of suffering is not alone sufficient to posit violation of benevolence, but in conjunction with the ability and knowledge to terminate or prevent it, you’re probably not so benevolent.
    Now to me, that’s an interesting statement. Also, in the example, I had the ability and knowledge to terminate it and prevent it. I could have instantly screamed down at them, and I could’ve put a better sign on the door, for example. Even so, I tend to agree with you that, “allowance of suffering is not alone sufficient to posit violation of benevolence.” I disagree that the other two factors change anything. I don’t see anything in omniscience or omnipotence that should preclude the allowance of suffering.
    The supposition of an O^3 deity directly implies that this world is in the greatest possible accord with benevolence.
    I disagree. This doesn’t take into account all the things people do that negate benevolence.
    Still, I happen to think that if there is an O^3 deity it must not share my version of benevolence, because I think the world could be drastically better with the intervention of all-powerful forces, and yet I’m not seeing this supernatural betterment.
    I agree the world is jacked, but I don’t think it has anything to do with God’s failings of benevolence. I think it has to do with people. As far as the three possibilities, I still don’t agree that we have to abandon 0^3 theology, because the existence of suffering doesn’t entail a deficit of omniscience or omnipotence.
    Also, I think your question to Pine about brokeness deserves to be treated. Although it’s reasonable that God might do away with brokenness altogether one day, but this is deeper than I can really get into right now.
    And Brad, I think at least a few of your response to Pine presuppose that God should have created us with better equipment, so to speak. I can see good reasons not to make that presupposition.
    So you’d have to believe God either couldn’t or wouldn’t have made the turn-out any better, which to my mind rules out O^3 as either unparsimonious or unharmonious with my conception of benevolence.
    But this presupposes that only God’s actions control reality, and this is not the case. Humans also effect reality, and I think it’s a bit unfair to blame God for evil and/or suffering.
    Also, I’m not so sure we can chalk Pine’s “old beater” analogy as “subjective.” I say it’s an objective claim that a running car is more worthy of note – or, worth more – than a pile of rust. Then again, along comes an art collector, and out goes that argument. But it’s worth something, right?
    Lifeguard,
    Basically, the issue of whether or not you violated omnibenevolence (or just plain benevolence as we’re only talking about one instance here) has to do with your degree of knowledge about the circumstances and your capacity or power to do something about it.
    I’m not so quick to accept this. Because if I was omnipotent or omniscient, I could have prevented their suffering? Is that what you mean?
    ..I assume your post intends to generate a discussion about how we can evaluate benevolence or omni-benevolence.
    Really, I’m just looking for a valid explanation of how the existence of suffering precludes an 0^3 God. I don’t see anything in allowing sentient, conscious beings to experience the consequences of their own actions. Suffering that is not brought about by one’s own actions is a different story.

  13. Pine says:

    Brad:
    I said: “If God destroyed those people immediately then one could aruge He was not benevolent towards them, no?”
    To which you replied: “I agree. But I don’t see how this changes anything that’s been discussed. Elaborate?”
    If God is Omnibenevolent then I believe this applies both to the believer and the non-believer. To the righteous and to the unrighteous. When God delays punishment I believe He allows sin to continue for a time (depsite the suffering it will cause) because He is exercising great benevolence towards the sinner.
    In the Bible Christians are instructed to forgive, love their enemies and to know that there will be suffering in this world. The fact that God is willing to let others suffer for the potential eternal salvation of a sinner is remarkable.
    Because I believe in eternity, I am satisfied that much of the injustice and sins which are ‘gotton away with’ in this world will be set right in eternity.
    The Bible does seem to imply that most of the people in the world will not experience eternal life with God. What I argue is that the current suffering God has allowed has made available eternal life to all, which is worth it even if only a few find it. Also, I do not believe that saving all of mankind is God’s highest priority. While I know as humans it’s hard to believe, this universe was not created for man, it was created by God and for God.
    To one last time revist the car example in case we hadn’t killed it yet… If every rusty car had the opportunity to be repaired, and the repairman was able and willing to repair every car that was willing and restore it to new condition… then yes it would speak more highly of the skills of the repairman than had he maintained a bunch of new cars who merely wanted the repairman to help them maintain their newness.

  14. Lifeguard says:

    Cl:
    1) You wrote: “Because if I was omnipotent or omniscient, I could have prevented their suffering? Is that what you mean?”
    I’m arguing that one’s degree of moral responsibility can be measured by degree to which you are aware of the moral dilemma and it’s implications and your capacity to actually do something about it. Obviously omniscience and omnipotence would change one’s degree of responsibility. As a side note, I believe possession of those characteristics would put such a being beyond our capacity to judge on a cosmic scale. And by “judge” I mean any determination of that being’s benevolence or malevolence with regards to us or anything else in the universe.
    2) You wrote: “Really, I’m just looking for a valid explanation of how the existence of suffering precludes an 0^3 God.”
    I’m not sure such an argument exists– one that PRECLUDES an O^3 god by necessity based on human suffering. I do think there are reasons to call the existence of an O^3 god into question based upon the existence of suffering in the world, and the fact that there may be good reasons to allow suffering doesn’t PRECLUDE the possibilities that there is no god, or that god, if he exists, is an amoral or even malevolent being who simply “allows good to exist” because he finds delightfully cruel to implicate us in our own plight.

  15. cl says:

    So then Lifeguard, what’s your opinion of the POE as a logical argument? I seem to completely concur with every single word of what you just typed. You’ve already seen this, but that’s what came immediately to mind while reading your first paragraph.
    Do you deny that the POE “PRECLUDES an O^3 god by necessity based on human suffering?” Otherwise, I’m having a hard time distinguishing the level to which you are persuaded by the POE argument.

  16. Lifeguard says:

    Here’s what I think:
    Assuming that god exists and is all knowing, the existence of human suffering is insufficient on its own to preclude the possibility of an omnibenevolent god, because we could not possibly judge such a being given that we don’t know whether human suffering is necessarily bad for us. You and I agree, however, that our inability to judge god’s action also precludes a judgement that god is good.
    What, then, is my opinion of the POE as a logical argument? Do I deny that POE precludes an O^3 god?
    I think the POE is a perfectly logical objection to the existence of an omnibenevolent god for which there is a perfectly logical retort. That retort, however, strikes me as a little evasive since, rather than squarely confront questions like “What’s so good about genocide and child rape” or “Why would a god gratuitously create lives that will fall victim to such calamaties if he didn’t have to,” it offers what strikes me as little more than an intellectual pat on the head along with the admonition that “These are things for omnipotent beings to worry about.”
    Given our inability to pass any judgement one way or the other on the god we’re assuming exists and the shortcomings I find in the retort to the POE, although I’ll concede the retort is logical and doesn’t preclude the possibility of an O^3 god, I am not persuaded by it that such a god exists.

  17. cl says:

    Lifeguard,
    Our views on the POE seem to be near-identical. Curious: What type of event or argument would persuade you that such a God exists?

  18. Lifeguard says:

    I’m not sure an argument or event could convince me an omnibenevolent god exists. Assuming some event or argument one day convinced me any god existed, I would obviously be open to the possibility that he is omnibenevolent, but if I ever came to believe that about god, it would just that– a belief or a faith I would have about that god. I could see myself putting that kind of trust in god rather than seeing or hearing something that convinced me of it.

  19. cl says:

    So, you’re more open to willful faith than coercion of will via argumentation?

  20. Lifeguard says:

    I can’t tell if you’d make a good lawyer or if I’m being too much of a lawyer, but here’s my answer:
    When it comes to the benevolence of an all powerful, all knowing being, once one believes in such a being, I don’t see how there’s an alternative to willful faith that such a being is omnibenevolent, omnimalevolent, or anything in between since as human beings of limited knowledge we have no basis for passing judgement.
    Given our agreement on that, do you think there’s a convincing argument or a kind of event that could convince you of such?

  21. cl says:

    You know, when I was 14 the local police nicknamed me “the lawyer” because of the things I would say to them when they’d kick us out of empty parking lots for skateboarding. One time, as I was cuffed in the back of the car for said offense, I heard news of a heroine overdose on their radios. I said something like, “Why don’t you guys go deal with something real, like that.” They took me home and lied to my parents, saying I took a swipe at one of them. Anyways…
    I’m a little confused what ‘such’ represents in your closing question. Are you asking if I think there’s a convincing argument or a kind of event that could convince me of an 0^3 God? Or, are you asking what I suspect you’re asking – if I see a way we might offer a reasonable argument for an omniscient, omnipotent being’s degree of benevolence – an argument that is not tantamount to willful faith?
    And essentially, you were answering the question in my comment 19 affirmatively, correct?

  22. Lifeguard says:

    Regarding comment 19, I don’t think it’s accurate frame it as a question of what I’m more or less “open to” in this context, since I don’t think anyone could have anything other than willful faith in god’s goodnes– in the sense that faith is an act of will rather than rationally coersed.
    You asked: “Are you asking if I think there’s a convincing argument or a kind of event that could convince me of an 0^3 God? Or, are you asking what I suspect you’re asking – if I see a way we might offer a reasonable argument for an omniscient, omnipotent being’s degree of benevolence – an argument that is not tantamount to willful faith?”
    The latter, although I’d be just as interested in your answer to the former.

  23. cl says:

    Regarding the former, a better way to put it would be, “I’m looking for a convincing event or argument to convince me there’s not such a God.” However, given that I really am not sure whether a successful ontological argument exists – in the sense of an argument that could prove God to unaided reason – I am equally unsure whether its converse exists. That’s part of why I even blog – to critique atheist arguments which are supposedly of a much higher caliber than believers’, to practice different styles of writing and written communication, and to test my ideas by searching for such an argument.
    As far as the latter, I’m not so sure – testing God’s goodness in any sort of reliable way seems to entail the same set of epistemological weaknesses we’ve already discussed, no?

  24. Lifeguard says:

    Fair enough.
    Sometimes I wonder if we’re pretty much in agreement on most things philsophically except that I conclude there’s no good reason to believe in god and you believe there’s no good reason to believe there isn’t a god.
    At the very least, we agree the discussion is interesting and worth having.

  25. Brad says:

    “Also, in the example, I had the ability and knowledge to terminate it and prevent it.” [cl]
    You’re right. The relevant idea I failed to communicate to my keyboard was that you would also have to have knowledge of all possible futures and what actions of yours they all correspond to for your personal situation to even begin to apply to the O^3 situation. You’re position was one of uncertainty, while under the O^3 position we figure that God knows all the outcomes and what he needs to do to effect any set of circumstances.
    So, yours is still an analogy that doesn’t truly touch on the discussion in any significant way.
    “I don’t see anything in omniscience or omnipotence that should preclude the allowance of suffering.”
    I’m not talking about OS + OP, I’m talking about OS + OP + OB. If I didn’t include the OS and OP factors then I wouldn’t be talking about O^3, which is the subject of discussion here isn’t it? I never posited that OS + OP alone are sufficient to preclude allowance of suffering (pay close attention to my words), because obviously benevolence must enter the mix, and also because my personal surmise is that the “best” possible world(s) would include some degree of suffering, just not so prevalent that suffering so greatly overwhelms goodness as much as it does in this world.
    “This doesn’t take into account all the things people do that negate benevolence.”
    False. It does take that into account. I predicted this exact response because I’ve seen it in the discussions millions of times. It’s why I said in “greatest possible accord” with benevolence. In retrospect, however, I realize it is the subtle and perhaps technical interpretation of the word accord that is truly a crux here. I can explain myself further if anybody desires.
    “As far as the three possibilities, I still don’t agree that we have to abandon 0^3 theology, because the existence of suffering doesn’t entail a deficit of omniscience or omnipotence.”
    One: could you specify or elaborate upon a specific gear in my argument that was faulty – invalid, unsound, ambiguous? Two: I’m not making any deductions upon OS or OP!! Just because I haven’t attacked those two at all doesn’t mean OB gets to stay in one’s theology as a free card.
    Suppose someone came to you with three propositions – A, B, and C. You attack the first proposition, A. Then that someone retorts – “well, since my propositions B and C haven’t been attacked at all I’m going to keep believing all A, B, and C!” To me, that sounds like what you just said.
    “And Brad, I think at least a few of your response to Pine presuppose that God should have created us with better equipment, so to speak.”
    No, my questions don’t presuppose it as a given, they presuppose it as a possibility deserving consideration, as I think it should be. Pine went and presupposed the opposite (that we’re fine as is) in the first place, while many (perhaps most) atheists tend to presuppose or sometimes argue that we’re not made good enough. This being the case, I thought it was unfairly impatient to just skip over this dissonance. My questions force Pine to establish this belief that we’re good as is instead of allow him to simply assume it as a given in his reasoning. You say, “I can see good reasons not to make [“the atheist’s”] presupposition,” and that’s exactly what I was trying to get out of Pine.
    “But this presupposes that only God’s actions control reality, and this is not the case.”
    The concept of “control” can be tricky sometimes, especially when you have the word “only” and you forget the word “choice.”
    In line with my interpretation of OS + OP (which I’ve left open for criticism this entire time and have yet to receive any), God can see all possible worlds before actualizing or creating any of them. So now I think it’s time for one of my allegories.
    Picture God at his office desk, and here there is an infinity of screenplays before him. He didn’t write the scripts himself; these scripts correspond to all possible worlds, so they arise simply by their nature of being logically possible. In each script, there are people, people who make choices, people who experience agony and ecstasy, misery and joy, contempt and contentment, people who go through every run of situation possible. In each individual script, the people make their own choices – not God. (Okay, obviously there’s shades of gra/ey, but I think my point is clear.) In half the scripts, God even gets his own part (or parts) to play in the story. Yet, in the end, or rather in the beginning, God is the one burdened with the task of deciding which script(s) will make it past the cut and be bloomed into existence.
    Here’s where I agree with Pine and you cl (I think you said this somewhere), in that the best course of action for God would be to evaluate the scripts over eternity. So, out of all possible ultimate storyline turn-outs for souls, God gets to select which one(s) are to be fact. Thus we arrive at the dichotomy I arrived at earlier: either God couldn’t make (or “select,” I should say) the turn-out to be any better, or he wouldn’t. The second case rules out OB under my conception of omnibenevolence. The first case depends crucially on the grand assumption that no alteration in the storyline of the universe would have made the turn-out any better, which (by parsimony) puts me in the camp of preferring to abandon O^3.
    “Also, I’m not so sure we can chalk Pine’s “old beater” analogy as “subjective.” I say it’s an objective claim that a running car is more worthy of note – or, worth more – than a pile of rust. Then again, along comes an art collector, and out goes that argument. But it’s worth something, right?”
    First off, I didn’t mean to say the whole analogy was subjective, just the specific statement “more worthy of note.”
    Second, any appeal to “worth” is, by definition, subjective, because it depends on the dispositions of a subject. Even if everyone on the planet were to agree to a certain subjective statement, because we all share one set of dispositions relevant to it, it wouldn’t change the very category of the statement. You’ve probably heard similar sentiments from me in regards to morality.
    Third, I’ve been trying to escape the narrow Repairman analogy this entire time. Like I said before, this at face value presupposes that God should make a world he will later fix. Pine has argued, basically, that this is so God will look better, because repairing something broken is, uh, good or cool or “worthy of note” or whatever. To which I respond, is God’s showmanship really more important that our fates if God is omnibenevolent?
    “Really, I’m just looking for a valid explanation of how the existence of suffering precludes an 0^3 God. I don’t see anything in allowing sentient, conscious beings to experience the consequences of their own actions. Suffering that is not brought about by one’s own actions is a different story.”
    Woah, woah, WHHOOAAHH. Did you clearly make this distinction in your original post?!?! My arguments here have been in the absolute general, so narrowing the scope puts my arguments in need of transformation. Can you please clarify cl? The POE / QOS is typically as general as I’ve been assuming thus far in my comments, and I’m only now realizing this doesn’t seem to be the traditional parametrization of the POE / QOS here.
    Pine,
    First off, when I asked “Elaborate?”, I meant something like explain how your words were relevant to the discussion. You had first popped up with “Often these arguments get one sided and only focus on the sufferer and not people in this world who cause suffering” – in other words, you were going off on your own tangent, and then making a conclusion in that tangent that never redirected back onto the main discussion we were having. Although now I realize I was probably in the wrong, because cl has now explicated we were only ever supposed to talk about allowing the choice for evil, not just suffering in general, which means I was going off on a tangent to the over-general. Oh well.
    Second:
    “While I know as humans it’s hard to believe, this universe was not created for man, it was created by God and for God.”
    Look, I think this is the second time I’ve had to answer this. (Excuse me again for impatience. This is the third time I’ve had to write this comment in the past week because my browser keeps getting closed out by my family before I finish.) I’m not making a moral judgment of the alleged God; that would be way out of my league and subjective to boot. I’m attempting objective conclusions about God: I’m trying to make deductions about his personality, his disposition, his level of benevolence. So please don’t imagine me with sad, wide eyes whispering to myself “Why would God do this?” – because that’s not where I’m coming from here.
    Third:
    “… then yes it would speak more highly of the skills of the repairman than had he maintained a bunch of new cars who merely wanted the repairman to help them maintain their newness.”
    I should have clarified. I was wondering if it was better if he had only repaired a select few cars (as analogous to the Bible’s words) instead of repairing more of them in the end. See my reasoning towards cl and you about end times soul turn-out. (I know it’s complicated. Sorry. I’m a bit windy and fancy with my verbiage.)
    And really, my most important question was “How is his showmanship of God’s more important to him than our ultimate fates if he is truly omnibenevolent?”
    And now back to cl.
    “What type of event or argument would persuade you that such a God exists?”
    Hehe. Any sound one will do, and any cogent one that appeals to me. Other than that there’s nothing specific about an argument I’m looking for.

  26. Brad says:

    bradleyhorner@gmail.com
    I see that and don’t work. You’re right, cl, it’s all html.

  27. Brad says:

    Er, that’s Italics and Bold tags. Sorry for triple post.

  28. cl says:

    No worries Brad, TypePad is the one messing up, not you. Sorry for any confusion I may have inadvertently introduced; I’ll try to bring this thing back on course..

    ..yours is still an analogy that doesn’t truly touch on the discussion in any significant way.

    My goal for writing the post was to generate discussion over whether and when allowance of suffering violates OB. Both you and Lifeguard seem to think that whether or not suffering violates OB depends on OS and OP, which is presumably why you said:

    I’m not talking about OS + OP, I’m talking about OS + OP + OB. If I didn’t include the OS and OP factors then I wouldn’t be talking about O^3, which is the subject of discussion here isn’t it?

    Right? So, what I’m saying is, I don’t see why an 0^3 God cannot allow any suffering without a breach of OB. It seems to me that’s what atheists usually argue – including you and Lifeguard here – although Lifeguard also tends to view the entire POE scenario much like myself. Anyways, I don’t think that it is automatically a violation of OB to allow another being to experience pain. We have to be able to accurately judge the motives of the 0^3 God in question and that entails a mess.
    And, I now see what you meant by your “greatest possible accord” statement.

    ..could you specify or elaborate upon a specific gear in my argument that was faulty – invalid, unsound, ambiguous?

    I don’t agree that the allowance of suffering necessarily violates OB – whether an 0^3 God allows the suffering – or a warehouse employee.

    .. since my propositions B and C haven’t been attacked at all I’m going to keep believing all A, B, and C!” To me, that sounds like what you just said.

    That’s not at all what I’m trying to get across, for that would be an incomplete argument. I’m going to keep believing in A, B, and C because so far none of them have been successfully attacked. I see your argument against A as simply, “The world could have less suffering,” but that doesn’t really persuade me.

    ..many (perhaps most) atheists tend to presuppose or sometimes argue that we’re not made good enough. This being the case, I thought it was unfairly impatient to just skip over this dissonance. My questions force Pine to establish this belief that we’re good as is instead of allow him to simply assume it as a given in his reasoning.

    Makes sense.

    ..either God couldn’t make (or “select,” I should say) the turn-out to be any better, or he wouldn’t. The second case rules out OB under my conception of omnibenevolence. The first case depends crucially on the grand assumption that no alteration in the storyline of the universe would have made the turn-out any better, which (by parsimony) puts me in the camp of preferring to abandon O^3.

    How do we judge better, though? Are we to say the best possible world is the one with the least suffering? Because if that’s the case, God could’ve simply made people who couldn’t choose evil.

    Pine has argued, basically, that this is so God will look better, because repairing something broken is, uh, good or cool or “worthy of note” or whatever. To which I respond, is God’s showmanship really more important that our fates if God is omnibenevolent?

    I’m not sure what Pine meant to imply there, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for any believer to posit that we suffer so God can be a better repairman.

    My arguments here have been in the absolute general, so narrowing the scope puts my arguments in need of transformation. Can you please clarify cl?

    Sorry if I’ve been unclear, but this whole time I’ve been on the same idea, I thought. This is where I was ultimately going with the argument: “I’m just looking for a valid explanation of how the existence of suffering precludes an 0^3 God. I don’t see anything that violates benevolence in allowing sentient, conscious, moral beings to experience the consequences of their own actions.” And as noted, this doesn’t deal with natural actions.
    Again, sorry if I got confused or dropped the ball anywhere, and sorry that TypePad’s HTML is so quirky :(

  29. Brad says:

    My goal for writing the post was to generate discussion over whether and when allowance of suffering violates OB.

    If I were simply handed the data “Entity X allowed suffering in instance Y,” without any info about what X or Y mean, I would not be able to conclude anything about that entity’s benevolence. Is that all you’re asking? Because I think the POE / QOS involves more than this simple hypothetical. The POE / QOS is not a general case scenario, it’s specifically about this world. Cl: Are you talking about any allowance of suffering whatsoever, like a thought experiment, or are you referring directly to the suffering of this world? This all feels ambiguous to me. If I were told some kid punched another kid in my school, I can’t tell anything about it. But if I was there, and I knew the kids and the events that led up to it, I could make a judgment.
    I’m not the guy who points to some kid getting a scrape on the elbow and then shouts “Well, there must not be a God then!” from that singular incident, which does by itself count as an allowance of suffering. Simply “the existence of suffering” or “the allowance of suffering” aren’t good enough to work from. How about, “[Italics] the [/Italics] suffering”?

    How do we judge better, though? Are we to say the best possible world is the one with the least suffering?

    There are many more factors that I would involve in judging what would be a satisfactorily good world. Suffering is only one of them. I don’t see many of them at all fulfilled in this world.

    Because if that’s the case, God could’ve simply made people who couldn’t choose evil.

    I’m not sure what to take out of that statement. That sounds like you’re saying “Well the world isn’t like that, and God is OB, so obviously there’s something more involved in the best possible world.” Looks circular to me.

  30. Pine says:

    “I’m not sure what Pine meant to imply there, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for any believer to posit that we suffer so God can be a better repairman.”
    I actually meant it exactly that way. I believe that we must consider God’s purpose for creating a Universe at all, before we can ask why it is the way it is. If part of God’s purpose in creating the Universe were to display His attributes, then I would argue this world/universe is one of the best environments for Him to display them.
    For example: Two women love their husbands. Woman 1 has a perfect life and lives in perfect bliss with her husband. Certainly she has demonstrated her love towards her husband. Woman 2 is not so fortunate. Her husband gets very ill just a year into their marriage. The bills pile up and stress levels are high. I would argue that while both women display love towards their husband, woman 2 has been given an environment in which it is possible to display this love in a much deeper way.
    What I was arguing is that perhaps God allowed evil so He could display His love (and just and holy) nature towards people who are arguably more difficult to love. Also, the more dire the circumstances, the better the environment in which God can display His power and majesty when He sets things right.

  31. cl says:

    Brad I’m not sure really how we keep missing each other. Presuming my attitude towards the couple in the OP was one of omnibenevolence, what I wanted to know was if my hesitance to act constituted a violation of OB. To clarify: Can an OS and OP God allow real-world suffering in any degree for any duration without entailing a breach of OB? Why or why not? That’s the real issue this post distills to, at least on my end.

    **There are many more factors that I would involve in judging what would be a satisfactorily good world. Suffering is only one of them. I don’t see many of them at all fulfilled in this world.

    This is interesting to me. What are the other ones?
    And when I said God could’ve made people who couldn’t choose evil, it wasn’t a circular argument; it was in response to your position. I meant simply to say, If reduction of suffering is the criteria here, God could’ve made it so nobody is able to sin, hence nobody suffers, hence no need for death or natural disasters or any of that. This seems to not be the case, so, either there is no 0^3 God, or there is a logical reason for an 0^3 God to allow suffering. Right?

  32. cl says:

    Brad I’m not sure really how we keep missing each other. Presuming my attitude towards the couple in the OP was one of omnibenevolence, what I wanted to know was if my hesitance to act constituted a violation of OB. To clarify: Can an OS and OP God allow real-world suffering in any degree for any duration without entailing a breach of OB? Why or why not? That’s the real issue this post distills to, at least on my end.

    **There are many more factors that I would involve in judging what would be a satisfactorily good world. Suffering is only one of them. I don’t see many of them at all fulfilled in this world.

    This is interesting to me. What are the other ones?
    And when I said God could’ve made people who couldn’t choose evil, it wasn’t a circular argument; it was in response to your position. I meant simply to say, If reduction of suffering is the criteria here, God could’ve made it so nobody is able to sin, hence nobody suffers, hence no need for death or natural disasters or any of that. This seems to not be the case, so, either there is no 0^3 God, or there is a logical reason for an 0^3 God to allow suffering. Right?

  33. cl says:

    Pine,
    Knowing God’s purpose for creating the universe is certainly important to this discussion; problem is, none of us know!
    Your examples help explain your position and remove much of the negative context I initially viewed it in. Still, I’d say if you break that argument out on skeptics, be sure to frame it the way you did to remove as much as possible the “ego” angle they love to exploit, if you know what I mean. Indeed, the very idea of letting people suffer to be a better repairman is repulsive and reeks of narcissistic egoism when framed thusly. I can’t imagine that anyone will accept it like that.
    The way I see it, the decision to create imperfect beings entails the allowance of evil by default. Then again, the experience of suffering is also a strong deterrent to evil. Sure, we could simply take God’s word for it that evil leads to suffering, but the only way to know is to experience it firsthand. So I think we’re given the choice of how to be in life – omnibenevolence entails omnijustness, so if God is to let us sin, God must also let us suffer.

  34. Brad says:

    To clarify: Can an OS and OP God allow real-world suffering in any degree for any duration without entailing a breach of OB? Why or why not?

    I believe so. The reason is simple: in some cases, suffering is necessary for growth – similar to muscle tissue regenerating after exercise. However, such a reason does presuppose a state of affairs in which beings are delegated to personal spiritual journeys.
    Sorry for misunderstanding the point of the post. I thought this was a full-blown POE discussion, but really it discusses an auxiliary issue.

    Then again, the experience of suffering is also a strong deterrent to evil.

    It can also be a very strong motivator for it…

    Sure, we could simply take God’s word for it that evil leads to suffering, but the only way to know is to experience it firsthand.

    If that’s true, then how does God know?

  35. cl says:

    You said,

    I believe so. The reason is simple: in some cases, suffering is necessary for growth – similar to muscle tissue regenerating after exercise.

    I agree. And I agree that the desire to see another suffer can motivate one towards evil behavior.
    You asked,

    If that’s true, then how does God know?

    God could just promise us that evil leads to suffering, but how would we know until we really felt the effects? I don’t see how the capacity for doubt can ever be non-present in a conscious individual. I would say that if humans can know that experience must precede genuine knowledge, I’d say such is a given for God. No?

  36. Brad says:

    I mean how could God know that evil leads to suffering if he hadn’t “really felt the effects” or had to “experience it firsthand,” before making the decisions to create humans. If your “the only way to know” claim is correct, then either God doesn’t know or has an interesting backstory predating this universe. It was just an interesting observation is all.

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