The Obligatory Bloody Nose

Many years back when I was not yet in high school, I used to get in fights with my cousin every so often. Since we were young, they were never really real fights, more like little skirmishes that most similar-age family members can identify with to one extent or another. I mean yeah, we got physical, but it was usually just your average preteen headlock with a few wild punches thing. The obligatory bloody nose was the worst it ever got.

One day when we got into another skirmish, my dad got sick of it and decided he was going to teach us a lesson. He said something to the effect of, “You guys wanna hurt each other? You guys think it’s cool and tough to beat up on each other. Okay then, get your shoes on and come with me.”

He then proceeded to take us out to the garage, where he said, “Go ahead! But if you fight, you’re going to fight until one of you can’t get up.”

Needless to say, my cousin and I exchanged quite the bewildered look. After that, I think I gave my dad some choice words, then ran out the side of the garage to the end of the alley, where I sat thinking about what had just happened. It is because my dad did this that I truly understood what “wrongness” or “evil” was. Yet, those times when the adults told us not to fight, all we could think about was fighting more. In a way I can only explain as weirdly ironic, by allowing us to really hurt each other, I realized that, well… we could really hurt each other. I understood the ramifications of physical violence more deeply than I ever had before.

I’m not quite sure how this story is relevant to the POE yet, but I feel like it is. Perhaps readers can elaborate if they see any potential connections.

39 Comments

  1. Zeb says:

    I sort of see a connection. I have a vague sketch of a multifaceted theodicy in my mind that I hope to write one day, and pain as a lesson teacher is part of it. Your story also points to a theme of interconnectedness, which is something I had not really thought about in the context of theodicy before.

  2. @cl and Zeb:

    I don’t want to drag the emotion into the Problem of Evil, but unless you’re dad is forcing you to starve to death or raping you repeatedly, I don’t think you’re really having pain as a lesson teacher.

    @cl:

    What do you think your Dad would have done if you said “Ok” and proceeded to beat up your cousin until he started bleeding?

  3. cl says:

    Zeb,

    Makes sense. Keep me posted…

    Peter,

    …unless you’re dad is forcing you to starve to death or raping you repeatedly, I don’t think you’re really having pain as a lesson teacher.

    Apparently you’ve never been punched in the nose. I assure you, it hurts.

    What do you think your Dad would have done if you said “Ok” and proceeded to beat up your cousin until he started bleeding?

    I think he probably would have reprimanded me, like God did to Cain.

  4. cl,

    Apparently you’ve never been punched in the nose. I assure you, it hurts.

    I’ll assume you’re trolling on this one and give it a pass.

    I think he probably would have reprimanded me, like God did to Cain.

    So reprimands are a part of what we would expect a loving God to do?

  5. cl says:

    I’ll assume you’re trolling on this one and give it a pass.

    Well, then I guess I’ll assume you’re one of those who presses the troll trigger much too fast, and cut it short here. I was being dead-serious, but I’ve got no tolerance for those who quickly press the troll trigger. Too bad, as you really do seem like a thoughtful and capable interlocutor. If you want to try again, with some charity, then I’m down. But if not, well then… yeah, write me off as a troll.

  6. My sincere apologies, cl. I understand that a lot of people in the past have unreasonably written you off as a troll, and I don’t want to do that. I’m still interested in your continued comments, and I thank you for the compliment.

    But seriously? Maybe I didn’t apply the due interpretive charity that you deserve, but my reading suggested that you thought being raped and getting a bloody nose were of equal consequence.

    Surely I don’t have to elaborate on how much more physically and psychologically painful rape is? Do you see why I thought you were trolling in your response?

  7. Matt says:

    “I’ll assume you’re trolling on this one and give it a pass.”

  8. “I’ll assume you’re trolling on this one and give it a pass.”

    Speaking from experience… it hurts, but you go inside, get a bag of peas, and sit down with your brother to watch a Giants game.

    Starving African children, and especially those that are also victims of violent crime, don’t exactly get that chance.

  9. Ronin says:

    Matt wrote:

    Speaking from experience… it hurts, but you go inside, get a bag of peas, and sit down with your brother to watch a Giants game.

    In other words, it takes time to heal but it heals none-the-less, and hopefully some sort of life lesson was learned.

    Matt also wrote:

    Starving African children, and especially those that are also victims of violent crime, don’t exactly get that chance.

    They don’t get a chance at what? Healing? Life? What do you mean?

  10. @Ronin:

    In other words, it takes time to heal but it heals none-the-less, and hopefully some sort of life lesson was learned.

    Really? Instead of pointing out how callous it sounds to suggest that brutal rape persists so people can learn some sort of lesson, and in some cases it never heals, I’ll just ask this:

    What lesson do babies learn when they suffer from birth defects?

  11. cl says:

    Peter,

    My sincere apologies, cl. I understand that a lot of people in the past have unreasonably written you off as a troll, and I don’t want to do that.

    Fair enough. I reacted the way I did because I have zero tolerance for so-called “rational” thinkers who demonize honest dissent as trolling, and it seemed that you were plunging headlong into that category. But apparently not, so on we go, and thank you for the good words as well.

    …my reading suggested that you thought being raped and getting a bloody nose were of equal consequence.

    How so? My only point was that getting punched in the nose hurts, such that lessons can be learned.

    Do you see why I thought you were trolling in your response?

    No, I really don’t. First off, I define “trolling” as leaving inflammatory comments solely for the purpose of getting other commenters riled up. My reply, albeit certainly rhetorical, was not inflammatory, and I didn’t want to get you riled up. Lastly, it doesn’t seem to me that my response can only entail a comparison between a bloody nose and rape.

    Ronin,

    They don’t get a chance at what? Healing? Life? What do you mean?

    I read Matt as saying the person with a bloody nose heals up quickly and life goes on. He seems to be implying that “starving African children” or victims of violent crime “don’t get that chance.” Now, while I’ll certainly grant that the latter crimes generally leave deeper scars, it seems to me that Matt’s made a hasty generalization in the interest of magnifying the emotional response to suffering. For example, a significant subset of Southern Sudanese have risen above the suffering they grew up in, and a significant subset of violent crime victims eventually heal, so I don’t think we can make the across-the-board generalization that “starving African children” and “victims of violent crime” don’t get a chance to heal.

  12. Ronin says:

    Peter wrote:

    Really? Instead of pointing out how callous it sounds to suggest that brutal rape persists so people can learn some sort of lesson, and in some cases it never heals…

    Um, are you not taking me out of context here? My reply was towards Matt’s punch in the nose comment. Did you want to answer the questions I posed to Matt so we can proceed accordingly, or are you replying to me with another purpose?

    Instead of bringing out these “hypothetical situations,” why don’t you tell me how you define evil and why? On what grounds do you come to assert there is such a thing as evil? And, I actually have a life experience that does not deal with a “birth defect,” but it’s certainly along the lines the problem of suffering and evil. However, I am not going to get into that right now. Rather, I will wait and see what you have to say before I continue to comment on the matter.

  13. Ronin says:

    cl,

    I just read your reply. You especially get an “Amen” from me when you wrote,

    …so I don’t think we can make the across-the-board generalization that “starving African children” and “victims of violent crime” don’t get a chance to heal.

    That’s what I would want us to get away from, but we’ll see.

    BTW, it’s nice to see you blogging again.

  14. cl says:

    Ronin,

    I just think it’s important to dissolve the heavy emotional / rhetorical elements that tend to come in POE discussions. Matt DeStefano seems to be taking the Luke Muehlhauser approach: appeal to people’s soft spots by invoking imagery of starving African children. No offense to him, it just doesn’t seem very rational. It seems like an emotional approach. And, in this instance, it certainly overlooks the fact that many people do heal. I’ve met and talked with some Southern Sudanese, and on top of that, I’m willing to bet that most adults — possibly even all — have lifelong scars. You don’t have to grow up hungry on a war-torn battlefield to have scars that don’t heal. You don’t have to have been raped to have scars that don’t heal.

    BTW, it’s nice to see you blogging again.

    Hey thanks. It’s like most anything, for me at least: intermittent periods of burnout and bliss. Glad to have you back.

  15. @cl:

    Fair enough. I reacted the way I did because I have zero tolerance for so-called “rational” thinkers who demonize honest dissent as trolling, and it seemed that you were plunging headlong into that category. But apparently not, so on we go, and thank you for the good words as well.

    That’s a good policy to have, especially when people can so often throw the “troll” label around so they don’t have to seriously consider your comment. I was mistaken about using it here.

    Me: Do you see why I thought you were trolling in your response?

    cl: No, I really don’t.

    I thought you were trolling because it seemed to me like you were dismissing my comments not in good faith by asserting that being punched in the nose “hurts”. I interpreted that as being punched in the nose hurts just as much as getting raped, and therefore you have suffered just as much.

    But nevermind that, I admit “troll” was a bad term to use, and I was mistaken about you not acting in good faith here.

    How so? My only point was that getting punched in the nose hurts, such that lessons can be learned.

    So, on this theodicy, suffering exists to teach people lessons and make them better people?

  16. @Ronin:

    Um, are you not taking me out of context here? My reply was towards Matt’s punch in the nose comment.

    Perhaps I failed a second time at properly applying interpretive charity. I’ll cool down and stop throwing emotional accusations.

    Did you want to answer the questions I posed to Matt so we can proceed accordingly, or are you replying to me with another purpose?

    If someone is both raped and murdered, they don’t get a chance to learn any lessons — they just suffer and die. Babies who have birth defects, sometimes very painful defects, aren’t old enough to have learned any lesson from them. Furthermore, quite often there is suffering that no one ever heals from, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer.

    Even so, I don’t think we have basis to say that suffering is okay as long as they can heal from it. In absence of an agreed upon moral theory, I’ll just have to point to an intuition that it is immoral to go up to someone at random and shoot them in the arm, even though it will later heal.

    Instead of bringing out these “hypothetical situations,” why don’t you tell me how you define evil and why? On what grounds do you come to assert there is such a thing as evil?

    Fair enough.

    I define evil as “needless suffering”, and then further define needless suffering as “any suffering that does not exist because of a higher good”. A higher good is something we would admit we would have even if it means we will suffer, such as free will, or life lessons.

    So when I say there is needless suffering, I mean there is suffering that is not necessary — it could go away and we could still have free will and life lessons. In many cases, such as polio, this needless suffering has gone away, and we’ve been fine without it.

    For examples of this needless suffering, I point to birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation. You can see more in this comment to cl and in my essay “The Great Problem of Evil”.

  17. cl says:

    Peter,

    I thought you were trolling because it seemed to me like you were dismissing my comments not in good faith by asserting that being punched in the nose “hurts”.

    The problem is, that says more about your opinion of me, than me. The minute you say “not in good faith,” you are making an assumption that would require knowledge of either intellectual negligence or intent to proceed in bad faith. That reminds me of a certain character who pops up here on occasion, always accusing me of arguing “in bad faith,” as if this person is privy to my motives. Well, let me tell you… that gets really annoying, really fast!

    If there is uncertainty, you can always ask something like, “Hey cl, I don’t see what you’re getting at here, can you elaborate?” A response like that would suffice to clear up any issues, with the added bonus of *NOT* making any assumptions as to my motives or abilities. If, after two or three responses of that nature, I still act obstinate, then, yeah… you might be warranted to pull the, “I think you’re trolling” trigger. At least, that’s how I see it.

    I interpreted that as being punched in the nose hurts just as much as getting raped, and therefore you have suffered just as much.

    I understand, but as I said, that is certainly not the only possible interpretation, and in fact it is a misinterpretation. So your “trolling” remark was, in full reality, based on your own misinterpretation, not my intent or inability to grok what you said. But, it’s no big deal. I’m not trippin’ off it, I’ve [so far] got about 80 times the respect for you that I have for others who pull the troll trigger. I’d like to move on and forget all about it, actually, in the interest of the arguments — as it seems you do, too.

    So, on this theodicy, suffering exists to teach people lessons and make them better people?

    I offer no theodicy here. I simply brought up this experience from my past because I think it ties into the POE somehow, and I want to be able to articulate precisely how, so I was asking for suggestions. In fact, I didn’t really have any intention of getting into POE arguments in this thread, but I don’t mind if we do.

    That said, I *DO* think that knowledge of evil is the switch that makes new Earth flip. It seems to me that the existence of evil and suffering is a gathering of empirical, irrefutable data, which God will use to rightfully judge evil and rightfully award good — and without which, God could not rightfully judge evil or reward good. Surely you agree that a robust dataset must precede any reliable conclusions, right?

  18. cl,

    If there is uncertainty, you can always ask something like, “Hey cl, I don’t see what you’re getting at here, can you elaborate?” A response like that would suffice to clear up any issues, with the added bonus of *NOT* making any assumptions as to my motives or abilities. If, after two or three responses of that nature, I still act obstinate, then, yeah… you might be warranted to pull the, “I think you’re trolling” trigger. At least, that’s how I see it.

    You’re absolutely right; I will do this from now on. Thanks.

    And keep in mind I do have a lot of respect for you too. You seem to be a very intelligent and thoughtful individual with a knack for getting to the bottom of a problem, cutting through all the bullshit rhetoric on the way down.

    The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    I offer no theodicy here. I simply brought up this experience from my past because I think it ties into the POE somehow, and I want to be able to articulate precisely how, so I was asking for suggestions.

    I’m interested in you precisely formatting it too, because it looks like it has a better shot than other theodicies I’ve heard, especially if you find some way to show that all objections to it are purely emotional rather than logical.

    I really can’t offer my best logical objections to this theodicy until you fully format it as a logical argument (and I look forward to you doing so), but right now I think there is a lot of suffering that does not teach life lessons, and a lot of people could be taught the same life lessons while still having a higher quality of life.

    I remember a few years back I had accepted God because I thought I was truly living in the best of all possible worlds, and authentically saw the short amount of sufferings I endured as being optimized to teach me lessons about being a better person, lessons I thought were successful.

    However, I now have come to realize that there are many people who do not live the great life I do, and instead suffer on a constant basis, almost with no breathers to feel loved or fully form lessons from their suffering, because they’re too focused on their next meal. When I realized the magnitude of this, I became convinced of the Problem of Evil.

    (It wasn’t my initial rejection however; I left Christianity because I became skeptical because of what I perceive to be the less than optimal quality of the Bible, not because of evil.)

    That said, I *DO* think that knowledge of evil is the switch that makes new Earth flip. It seems to me that the existence of evil and suffering is a gathering of empirical, irrefutable data, which God will use to rightfully judge evil and rightfully award good — and without which, God could not rightfully judge evil or reward good. Surely you agree that a robust dataset must precede any reliable conclusions, right?

    But why is that necessary for a God who is said to be omniscient and capable of foreknowledge? And what of the evils that are completely unconnected to the actions of people, such as hurricanes or disease?

    In fact, I didn’t really have any intention of getting into POE arguments in this thread, but I don’t mind if we do.

    I’ll keep pressing my case until I’m proven wrong or until I stop getting responses, but I agree — maybe it would be more efficient if we made our five discussions of evil (three on your site, two at CSA) into one discussion?

  19. cl says:

    The fact that many other atheists seem to unreasonably despise you bothers me a lot, because I think that maybe they aren’t acting in good faith.

    Honestly, I think for the most part, said atheists just can’t handle it. In my experience, many atheists, especially deconverts, have this uppity, “more rational than thou” type of attitude, and I think much cognitive dissonance ensues when they encounter a capable theist. This is odd, because these same people often have no complaints when atheists act much worse. For example, I’ve been banned at blogs for being “offensive,” while atheists at the same blogs make comments rife with profanity and personal insults, and the owner says nothing. But, don’t mistakenly think I don’t screw up here and there, because I assure you I do. Sure, I speak brashly to people at times, but that’s only because I’m a human being. I mean, one has to get a little brash to swat down constant accusations of “trolling” and “bad faith,” and personal insults like “fucker,” “douche,” “jackass,” and many, many more that I’d care not to repeat. Anyways, dead topic. I’m over it. Thanks for the fair shake.

    However, I now have come to realize that there are many people who do not live the great life I do, and instead suffer on a constant basis, almost with no breathers to feel loved or fully form lessons from their suffering, because they’re too focused on their next meal. When I realized the magnitude of this, I became convinced of the Problem of Evil.

    I understand, and the magnitude bothers me. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. However, I’m not implying that suffering occurs only so those who suffer can learn life lessons. To me, that would be an obviously problematic position. After all, as you ask, do babies learn life lessons from birth defects? No, I don’t think they do. Does an innocent woman learn a life lesson because some scumbag raped her? No, I don’t think she does.

    I left Christianity because I became skeptical because of what I perceive to be the less than optimal quality of the Bible, not because of evil.

    I’m game for commentary on those issues as well, and I apologize for not having looked at your blog in greater detail yet.

    But why is that necessary for a God who is said to be omniscient and capable of foreknowledge?

    Because humans are neither omniscient nor capable of foreknowledge, and they can actually be quite stupid and stubborn.

    And what of the evils that are completely unconnected to the actions of people, such as hurricanes or disease?

    On my view, those are a necessary result of humanity’s collective sin. Sin begets death; death requires means; and objections from “unfairness” seem to reduce to emotion. Is it fair that we’ve marred God’s beautiful world to the extent we have? This world deserves judgment, and frankly, I think we’re getting off light so far.

    I’ll keep pressing my case until I’m proven wrong or until I stop getting responses, but I agree — maybe it would be more efficient if we made our five discussions of evil (three on your site, two at CSA) into one discussion?

    Well, how about this: I’ll go back to other ones [as time allows and interest dictates, of course], and where they seem to have died out, I’ll say something like, “Peter and I have continued this discussion here,” or something like that. I agree that it would be most efficient to keep things to one thread; that’s just not always possible given the blogging structure. And sometimes, I stop responding because I intend to address points in an upcoming post, or because I just want to spend due time thinking about the arguments before proceeding.

  20. @cl:

    However, I’m not implying that suffering occurs only so those who suffer can learn life lessons. To me, that would be an obviously problematic position.

    Just so I interpret your emphasis correctly, are you saying that suffering in some people exists to teach other people life lessons?

    I’m game for commentary on those issues as well, and I apologize for not having looked at your blog in greater detail yet.

    That’s good to hear. I haven’t written out the Bible issues yet, though, but I will. And I’ll accelerate my time table now that I know people are interested.

    cl: That said, I *DO* think that knowledge of evil is the switch that makes new Earth flip. It seems to me that the existence of evil and suffering is a gathering of empirical, irrefutable data, which God will use to rightfully judge evil and rightfully award good — and without which, God could not rightfully judge evil or reward good. Surely you agree that a robust dataset must precede any reliable conclusions, right?

    Peter: But why is that necessary for a God who is said to be omniscient and capable of foreknowledge?

    cl: Because humans are neither omniscient nor capable of foreknowledge, and they can actually be quite stupid and stubborn.

    What I thought you said was that God was using this data to judge people. My understanding of your view is that God wouldn’t need this data.

    If you also meant that humans need to empirical, irrefutable data to realize “Oh, yeah, I guess I was evil there” and wouldn’t trust God, then that is workable.

    However, I think it makes less sense on a view that God, having future knowledge of people’s evil, could have just not created that person in the first place.

    Peter: And what of the evils that are completely unconnected to the actions of people, such as hurricanes or disease?

    cl: On my view, those are a necessary result of humanity’s collective sin. Sin begets death; death requires means

    Firstly, the idea that sin, no matter what the sin or who caused it, begets *death* for people unrelated to that sin seems rather immoral. I would point to babies who die because of birth defects as the “collateral damage” in this system.

    Secondly, this doesn’t fully justify natural disasters because some merely cause suffering for individuals instead of outright killing them.

    While we could take the position that people deserve to suffer from natural causes in direct proportion to how much they are sinning, this doesn’t seem to happen.

    and objections from “unfairness” seem to reduce to emotion.

    Maybe some objections from “unfairness”, but unless your moral theory is going to be strictly non-cognativist, I think some “unfairness” causes needless suffering and therefore deserves condemnation. Unfairness is also grounded in inconsistency and hence hypocrisy, something God is not supposed to be.

    Is it fair that we’ve marred God’s beautiful world to the extent we have? This world deserves judgment, and frankly, I think we’re getting off light so far.

    But this is still a group punishment, where we are all being punished for the deeds of our bad apples.

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re suggesting here, because the idea that “Well, we’ve marred God’s beautiful world, so now we deserve to have a random subsection of us contract dehabilitating disease” doesn’t follow for me. Especially if some people aren’t marring God’s world on purpose.

    Well, how about this: I’ll go back to other ones [as time allows and interest dictates, of course], and where they seem to have died out, I’ll say something like, “Peter and I have continued this discussion here,” or something like that. I agree that it would be most efficient to keep things to one thread; that’s just not always possible given the blogging structure. And sometimes, I stop responding because I intend to address points in an upcoming post, or because I just want to spend due time thinking about the arguments before proceeding.

    That sounds great and makes a lot of sense. Thanks and no worries.

  21. cl says:

    Peter,

    Just so I interpret your emphasis correctly, are you saying that suffering in some people exists to teach other people life lessons?

    I’m saying there are lessons for all in suffering, and evil, and that suffering and evil make God’s judgment irrefutable and empirical. Suffering and evil also give the redeemed what they need to truly know the difference between right and wrong.

    If you also meant that humans need to empirical, irrefutable data to realize “Oh, yeah, I guess I was evil there” and wouldn’t trust God, then that is workable.

    Yes, I did mean that, and I agree that it makes sense.

    …I think it makes less sense on a view that God, having future knowledge of people’s evil, could have just not created that person in the first place.

    But since all people would eventually accrue some degree of evil in this world [as opposed to the new Earth], then no people would ever have been created.

    Firstly, the idea that sin, no matter what the sin or who caused it, begets *death* for people unrelated to that sin seems rather immoral. I would point to babies who die because of birth defects as the “collateral damage” in this system.

    That’s fine. All I ask is that you admit this is an argument from emotion and/or intuition. On my view, we are all related to each other, and we are all related to each other’s sin. No man is an island. That sort of thing.

    Secondly, this doesn’t fully justify natural disasters because some merely cause suffering for individuals instead of outright killing them

    But eventually, we all die from something [unless God intervenes otherwise, i.e. the rapture or some similar event]. That’s the point here. The question, “Why are there natural disasters” gets the answer, “Because sin put humanity under a death sentence.” Sin entails death, death requires a mechanism. On my view, God would be unjust if people were granted eternal life with the ability to sin.

  22. Ronin says:

    Peter wrote:

    If someone is both raped and murdered, they don’t get a chance to learn any lessons — they just suffer and die. Babies who have birth defects, sometimes very painful defects, aren’t old enough to have learned any lesson from them. Furthermore, quite often there is suffering that no one ever heals from, such as Alzheimer’s or cancer.
    Even so, I don’t think we have basis to say that suffering is okay as long as they can heal from it. In absence of an agreed upon moral theory, I’ll just have to point to an intuition that it is immoral to go up to someone at random and shoot them in the arm, even though it will later heal.

    So, you are choosing not to answer the questions I posted to Matt. You are just continuing on with your hypothetical cases. I am still trying to get a firm grasp at what those people (who ever they are) don’t get a chance at. Point being, we might have to do this example by example and not by over reaching generalizations. Moreover, my comment in regards to learning “lessons” had to do with the post where Matt responded to cl, which you have now turned into something slightly different due to your “caveats.” Yet, getting into a fist fight can teach us lessons as to how to avoid them and why. True, not everyone “heals,” but someone can and do learn to deal with “suffering or pain” as well as help others from their suffering. For example, my father had a brain tumor. The experiences we (my family) had caused and continue to cause suffering, but from those experiences my mother became a better caretaker with regards to sick people. She now takes care of sick people as well as the elderly. She is able to comprehend their pain by experience and not just by hypothesizing, but more importantly, she actually does something about those people she sees in pain and/or suffering. I as a human service worker feel better equipped to assist my clients with their circumstances because of my experiences. In other words, we would both say in an ironic fashion our painful circumstances enable us help other people. I might share more—I’ll see how this goes.

    Let me get this straight, you are saying that your “intuition” gives you some sort of assent into morality where you can assume to yourself it is “immoral” to “shoot” someone at random “in the arm.” So, according to you it is immoral to do X on your intuition?

    You wrote:

    I define evil as “needless suffering”, and then further define needless suffering as “any suffering that does not exist because of a higher good”. A higher good is something we would admit we would have even if it means we will suffer, such as free will, or life lessons.

    So when I say there is needless suffering, I mean there is suffering that is not necessary — it could go away and we could still have free will and life lessons. In many cases, such as polio, this needless suffering has gone away, and we’ve been fine without it.
    For examples of this needless suffering, I point to birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation.

    How do you assume there is such a thing as needless suffering, though? Do you do so by your intuition? And, who said suffering had to be necessary? Please keep in mind that in the Christian worldview humanity is fallen. I am asking you for your alternative.
    So, if God does not exist the problem of evil does not exist either, right? In a nut shell, you don’t think there is evil you just make up what is evil as your intuition tells you?

  23. @cl:

    I’m saying there are lessons for all in suffering, and evil, and that suffering and evil make God’s judgment irrefutable and empirical. Suffering and evil also give the redeemed what they need to truly know the difference between right and wrong.

    Right. The more and more I think about this, the more and more I start thinking that the “Problem of Evil” may actually just reduce to an argument from poor design.

    It seems that for every theodicy offered, I can think of suffering that is inconsistent with that theodicy. For instance, people who suffer all alone and don’t have contact with others don’t seem to teach anybody lessons.

    I also think that for every theodicy offered there is a way that the theodicy could be true with less suffering. I don’t know what lessons I’m supposed to learn from the millions of deaths attributable to the Spanish Flu, but I’d wager that I could have learned that lesson without the Spanish Flu. When I look at suffering in the universe, it seems arranged due to mindless natural laws devoid of any purpose.

    Maybe this is too vague of a response, I don’t know. I’m commenting more off the cuff right now. It’s interesting, to be sure.

    Peter: If you also meant that humans need to empirical, irrefutable data to realize “Oh, yeah, I guess I was evil there” and wouldn’t trust God, then that is workable.

    …I think it makes less sense on a view that God, having future knowledge of people’s evil, could have just not created that person in the first place.

    cl: But since all people would eventually accrue some degree of evil in this world [as opposed to the new Earth], then no people would ever have been created.

    To me, this seems to assume some sort of “all sins are equivalent”, and that the person who lied only once and the serial murderer are both equally deserving of death. I think this reduces to two questions: “Why does God create people he knows won’t go to Heaven?” and “Why does God create psychopaths?”

    Peter: Firstly, the idea that sin, no matter what the sin or who caused it, begets *death* for people unrelated to that sin seems rather immoral. I would point to babies who die because of birth defects as the “collateral damage” in this system.

    cl: That’s fine. All I ask is that you admit this is an argument from emotion and/or intuition. On my view, we are all related to each other, and we are all related to each other’s sin. No man is an island. That sort of thing.

    I’m not ready to concede a “this is an argument from emotion and/or intuition, therefore it is to be dismissed” because I’m not convinced of either the premise or the conclusion here.

    We clearly haven’t stipulated an objective, moral theory here, but I don’t think our notion of fairness is arbitrary. I think calling God “good” specifically entails that he wouldn’t cause suffering upon people who don’t deserve it. If it turns out that when you utter the word “good” you aren’t implying this notion of fairness, then I don’t know what you mean.

    This is something I definitely should have asked from the beginning: when you say that God is good, what do you mean by “good”?

    But eventually, we all die from something [unless God intervenes otherwise, i.e. the rapture or some similar event]. That’s the point here. The question, “Why are there natural disasters” gets the answer, “Because sin put humanity under a death sentence.” Sin entails death, death requires a mechanism. On my view, God would be unjust if people were granted eternal life with the ability to sin.

    But, as I asked before, why do natural disasters cause people to suffer *without* killing them?

  24. @Ronin:

    So, you are choosing not to answer the questions I posted to Matt. You are just continuing on with your hypothetical cases. I am still trying to get a firm grasp at what those people (who ever they are) don’t get a chance at.

    I’m sorry for the miscommunication, I thought I did answer your questions. It certainly wasn’t a deliberate attempt to derail you, so don’t assume bad faith on my part. To make it more specific, these people don’t get a chance to recover and just laugh it off. They don’t get a chance to reflect on their suffering and internalize it into lessons. They’re on the run their whole life.

    Like I said before, somewhere, if everyone were able to live my life of comfort and reflection marked by occasional suffering from which lessons could be learned, the kind of suffering this post by cl seemed to initially refer to, I would find that to be very convincing for theism.

    Let me get this straight, you are saying that your “intuition” gives you some sort of assent into morality where you can assume to yourself it is “immoral” to “shoot” someone at random “in the arm.” So, according to you it is immoral to do X on your intuition?

    In absence of stipulating to an objective moral theory, yes, that is an intuition. Do you find that relevant? I think everyone is better off if people don’t go around randomly shooting others, and think we all have extensively good reasons to say that randomly shooting others is a bad thing, not do it ourselves, and prevent others from doing so. If that’s not the notion of “immoral”, I’d have to ask what you think “immoral” means.

    I think I definitely should have asked this earlier: when you say God is “good”, what do you mean?

    You wrote:
    I define evil as “needless suffering”, and then further define needless suffering as “any suffering that does not exist because of a higher good”. A higher good is something we would admit we would have even if it means we will suffer, such as free will, or life lessons.
    So when I say there is needless suffering, I mean there is suffering that is not necessary — it could go away and we could still have free will and life lessons. In many cases, such as polio, this needless suffering has gone away, and we’ve been fine without it.
    For examples of this needless suffering, I point to birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation.

    How do you assume there is such a thing as needless suffering, though?

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I assume there is needless suffering whenever I see suffering that could go away without any further suffering caused. I know you don’t really want me to use examples, but they really help my point, which is why I pointed to polio — polio went away, and we didn’t lose any free will or lose out on any opportunities to learn lessons.

    Do you do so by your intuition?

    No, for the reasons I’ve said above. Sorry for not being clear on that.

    And, who said suffering had to be necessary?

    Anyone who is applying the word “good” to something. If you think God is good but causes unnecessary suffering, then we have different definitions of good.

    Please keep in mind that in the Christian worldview humanity is fallen. I am asking you for your alternative.

    I understand that humanity is fallen, somehow, though I think the historicity of Genesis is in question and punishing people for the sins of others does not fit the definition of good.

    To clarify my understanding of your point, does the idea that humanity is fallen mean that suffering is meant as a punishment for the sins of the person suffering?

    So, if God does not exist the problem of evil does not exist either, right?

    If God does not exist, suffering still, obviously exists. And the abstract philosophy of the “Problem of Evil” still exists. I don’t see what you are saying.

    In a nut shell, you don’t think there is evil you just make up what is evil as your intuition tells you?

    Notice that I try my best not to use the term “evil” but to instead use the term “suffering”. Suffering exists, and it’s not based on my intuition.

    I think that needless suffering is morally wrong and we’d be better off without it, but I don’t think bringing morality into the Problem of Evil is necessary.

    If you want to say that God is fine with the existence needless suffering, then fine — that’s really all I’m setting out to prove.

  25. Ronin says:

    Thanks for you reply Peter. You wrote,

    To make it more specific, these people don’t get a chance to recover and just laugh it off. They don’t get a chance to reflect on their suffering and internalize it into lessons.

    First, I would appreciate it if you would drop this sort of tactic (“laugh it off”). You certainly did not read something from me where I said people who suffer “laugh it off.” Second, your claim that they “don’t get a chance” to “recover” or “reflect” is false. Since, I know of one person who had cancer and was more at peace while dealing with cancer than prior to having cancer. I know of another person who while dealing with cancer and the after effects of the disease was wholly at peace with his circumstances. I spoke to both of them extensively and we had the talks about “life” and such. You are being rather general and loose by making such claims, as such, I don’t put much stock into your overreaching assertions because of personal experience and what I do every day.

    Now, I am not opposed to the idea that some do suffer and do not get a chance to reflect or internalize their suffering into lesson(s). Though, I would use caution assuming the variables included in the scenario.

    They’re on the run their whole life.

    You are better off telling me that for the rest of my life I am on the run from death.

    Like I said before, somewhere, if everyone were able to live my life of comfort and reflection marked by occasional suffering from which lessons could be learned, the kind of suffering this post by cl seemed to initially refer to, I would find that to be very convincing for theism.

    Thanks for giving me your opinion on this.

    In absence of stipulating to an objective moral theory, yes, that is an intuition. Do you find that relevant?

    The problem is you are making an objective claim not a subjective one. You are trying to mask it as subjective (your intuition) but you are making a universal claim (“everyone is better off if people don’t go around…”). I find it very relevant, in fact.

    I think everyone is better off if people don’t go around randomly shooting others, and think we all have extensively good reasons to say that randomly shooting others is a bad thing, not do it ourselves, and prevent others from doing so.

    All you are doing here is trying to make an argument to have your “intuitions” enforced, but you are not the only one who has intuition, how do we know which intuition trumps the other? And, are you saying human intuition is reliable?

    More as time permits…

  26. cl says:

    Peter,

    I’ll probably weigh in with some more detailed comments later, but for now, I’d like to examine this:

    I define evil as “needless suffering”, and then further define needless suffering as “any suffering that does not exist because of a higher good”. A higher good is something we would admit we would have even if it means we will suffer, such as free will, or life lessons.
    So when I say there is needless suffering, I mean there is suffering that is not necessary — it could go away and we could still have free will and life lessons. In many cases, such as polio, this needless suffering has gone away, and we’ve been fine without it.
    For examples of this needless suffering, I point to birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation.

    This is exactly what I meant when I said, “In the end, all variants [of the POE] I’ve encountered reduce to incredulity: reasoning from premises derived at via conceptual analysis and intuition, the atheist disbelieves that a morally sufficient reason can exist…” Your position reduces to incredulity, possibly even ignorance: “I can’t see how this suffering has any higher good, so I’ll say it’s needless.”

    Surely you see the problem, right?

  27. If an infinitely wise and powerful God could have a morally justifiable reason for suffering X, couldn’t he have proved the point without suffering X? Even in modern human societies, physical punishment is deemed barbaric. You would be outraged if someone cut your hand off just because you stole something. I dare say that people who do not advocate stealing would even be upset for you.

  28. @Ronin:

    You certainly did not read something from me where I said people who suffer “laugh it off.”

    You’re right, and that’s not what I was implying. I was specifically referring to Matt’s example of what happens after you fight with your brother… “it hurts, but you go inside, get a bag of peas, and sit down with your brother to watch a Giants game.”

    Second, your claim that they “don’t get a chance” to “recover” or “reflect” is false.

    Just to clarify, do you believe that everyone who suffers gets a chance to recover and reflect?

    The problem is you are making an objective claim not a subjective one. You are trying to mask it as subjective (your intuition) but you are making a universal claim (“everyone is better off if people don’t go around…”).

    My concept of needless suffering is indeed “suffering we are better off without”, so it’s a tautology to say “everyone is better off without needless suffering”. The disagreement between us seems to be whether needless suffering exists.

    Also, I’m not saying that if X is unnecessary suffering, it must make everyone who has it worse off. All it has to do is make one person worse off to be unnecessary suffering.

    When you say “evil”, what do you mean by it?

    Peter: I think everyone is better off if people don’t go around randomly shooting others, and think we all have extensively good reasons to say that randomly shooting others is a bad thing, not do it ourselves, and prevent others from doing so.

    Ronin: All you are doing here is trying to make an argument to have your “intuitions” enforced

    It is an objectively true fact of our world that we have reasons to prevent other people from randomly shooting us. It is also an objectively true fact of our world that I have reasons not to randomly shoot others (harming people makes me unhappy, I don’t want to go to jail, etc.).

    This isn’t an argument from intuition anymore than me saying “zebras are black and white” is an argument from my intuition of zebras. What do you mean when you say “intuition”?

    More as time permits…

    I look forward to it.

  29. @cl:

    This is exactly what I meant when I said, “In the end, all variants [of the POE] I’ve encountered reduce to incredulity: reasoning from premises derived at via conceptual analysis and intuition, the atheist disbelieves that a morally sufficient reason can exist…” Your position reduces to incredulity, possibly even ignorance: “I can’t see how this suffering has any higher good, so I’ll say it’s needless.”
    Surely you see the problem, right?

    That’s why I’m asking people “does this instance of suffering have a higher good?” and analyzing their defenses. I think that everyone should share in my incredulity, and if they do, then saying God is good is meaningless. I think that’s as far as the Problem of Evil can go.

    Also, you’re forgetting that I have mentioned an argument for the existence of needless suffering on my blog and in earlier conversations with you, though it’s excusable because I haven’t specifically mentioned it on this thread:

    N1: Needless suffering (aka “unnecessary suffering”, “evil”) is suffering that doesn’t exist because of a higher good.

    N2: If an instance of suffering that is necessary (because of a higher good) were eliminated or prevented, then that higher good would also be eliminated or prevented.

    N3: Therefore from N2, eliminating or preventing necessary suffering makes us worse off.

    N4: There are some instances of suffering that were eliminated or prevented where we did not become worse off.

    N5: Therefore from N1, N2, N3, and N4, needless suffering exists.

    What do you mean by “good” when you call God good, cl? Also, what do you mean by “evil”?

  30. Ronin says:

    Peter thanks for your replies and attitude.

    You had written,

    If that’s not the notion of “immoral”, I’d have to ask what you think “immoral” means.

    I am not saying your example does not present an example of a moral imperative, actually. In fact, I agree with what you are trying to imply. I’ll go even further to say morality is closely tied to relationships with regards to how we relate to each other, but more importantly how we depend on God. For example, I have been given a dilemma where a father needs to feed his child, but the only way to feed his child is by stealing from someone. My reply would be thus,
    1.) In most if not all my interactions with non-believers there is this assumption that the human race is “innocent” somehow. Yet, the Bible claims that is certainly NOT the case. That is, the Bible claims God’s creation was in harmony at some point in time (literalist or not that is the basic idea), but now God’s creation is no longer in harmony (humans want to be the creators themselves).
    2.) It is NOT okay to steal from someone in order to feed the child. Rather, the Bible claims the individual is to depend on God (see Jesus’ temptation and the Ten Commandments).
    3.) Stealing from someone to take care of your own supports the “fallen” cycle we currently live in since the individual is affecting someone-else in a negative manner.
    4.) The Bible alludes to some sort of redemption and justice. For God will judge every single act that went unpunished in this world; if such is the case only then is there true justice and a non-illusion justification for a moral code.

    What I cannot fathom is how you have come to ground your morality since there is no ultimate sense of meaning in your worldview. I mean, you certainly don’t think you were made with a purpose do you? In ethics as well as morality one presupposes some sort of meaning, I think. You do this how?

    I’ll go head and address this,

    I was specifically referring to Matt’s example of what happens after you fight with your brother… “it hurts, but you go inside, get a bag of peas, and sit down with your brother to watch a Giants game.”

    Okay, but I don’t agree with that caricature of an example, because a punch in the nose does hurt and fighting with ones brother is no laughing matter.

    I’ll also address this,

    Just to clarify, do you believe that everyone who suffers gets a chance to recover and reflect?

    I thought I was covered when I said, “Now, I am not opposed to the idea that some do suffer and do not get a chance to reflect or internalize their suffering into lesson(s). Though, I would use caution assuming the variables included in the scenario.
    Let me know if you want me to elaborate more, but I think that pretty much covers your question.

    That’s all I can muster since I am busy with work, wife, kids, and school. I’ll try to continue this as time allows. Thanks for having this discussion with me.

  31. Ronin,

    Hello there. Hopefully I don’t piss you off this time. I’ll try to be more charitable. You made some points that I can’t help but address.

    What I cannot fathom is how you have come to ground your morality since there is no ultimate sense of meaning in your worldview. I mean, you certainly don’t think you were made with a purpose do you? In ethics as well as morality one presupposes some sort of meaning, I think. You [Peter Hurford] do this how?

    Sure, there’s no “cosmological significance” in atheism as there is in theism, but that doesn’t destroy significance or value of any kind. It’s also totally possible to believe, as an atheist, that you were made for a purpose: after all, your mom and dad didn’t just have you for the sake of procreation. Also, for more talking of “purpose of life” and such, I’d just respond with the premise of existentialism: existence precedes essence. In your ethics, I would argue that you presuppose the veracity of Christianity and all, most, or some of its containing doctrines. After all, your ethical framework follows from Christianity.

    I appreciate the thought you responded with in your hypothetical “starving son” scenario. I don’t find any of those points compelling, however.

    Assuming God may allow or invoke suffering for the cause of some greater good, why are humans forbidden to? Why the double standard? This shouldn’t be an issue since God is God and humans are humans, but the problem is that a Christian’s morality comes from God: the putatively “perfect” being.

    I would also like to note that even though taking what isn’t yours is usually condemned in every ethical system, I do not think stealing a few pieces of bread or something like that is going to cause any suffering upon the person(s) it was stolen from. All you’re doing is violating one of God’s laws in order to save your beloved son; who is not only your beloved son, but he is a gift from God.

    Off-topic, why can’t the father nicely ask someone to lend him some food? Or why can’t he work for someone in return for food and shelter? There are numerous ways around this situation that don’t involve an irrational faith-based wait that could kill both of them or stealing.

    Also off-topic, to address this whole issue of whether or not being hit in the nose “hurts.” Back in eighth grade, this kid and I once got in a fight over a misunderstanding. I had changed my mind about wanting to fight him, but he still wanted to go through with it. I got beat up badly; I left with a black eye and a bloody nose. Blood was all over the chest of my shirt and was dripping down on my shoes. There was so much blood that the shirt was ruined. To be honest, I came home, sulked over my loss, and took a shower. The only pain I remember was a slight headache (probably due to the adrenaline of being in a serious fight). Neither my eye nor my nose hurt. The embarrassment of losing and being emasculated was far more hurtful than any physical pain.

    Oh yeah, and for the lesson I learned: don’t start shit with someone if you don’t want to finish it, and fighting is a foolish way to resolve problems.

  32. I didn’t initially want to reply, because I wanted to wait and give you some more time to come back and finish your response, but since “Thinking Emotions” added onto the conversation, I’d like to make sure you know how my view and his view interact.

    What I cannot fathom is how you have come to ground your morality since there is no ultimate sense of meaning in your worldview. I mean, you certainly don’t think you were made with a purpose do you? In ethics as well as morality one presupposes some sort of meaning, I think. You do this how?

    I agree a lot with Thinking Emotions on this. I have studied morality a lot, and obviously it’s a complex topic with a lot of debate, and a lot of bullshit to cut through. While “Thinking Emotions” has demonstrated that meaning is perfectly available on atheism (and I offer my own ”Purpose in the Machine” essay to show my agreement with him), I also would like to disagree that ultimate meaning is even required for ethics.

    My ethics comes in two parts – a grounding in virtue ethics and a grounding in utilitarianism. I think that we have game theoretic reasons to be compassionate to everyone, because compassion makes us happier individuals, compassion allows us to have better social interactions, and showing compassion makes it so you get compassion in return.

    In order to be happy you must oppose the “enemies of happiness”, such as those who lie, steal, cheat, and are generally anti-compassionate. This means that if you lie, steal, cheat, and act anti-compassionately, you will become who you hate, and are forced to, on some level, hate yourself. Since this is not the life I want to live, I have reason to be compassionate. As far as you value your own happiness, value having social interactions, and value other people acting compassionately toward you, you have reason to be compassionate too.

    But what does it mean to be compassionate? Here’s where the utilitarianism angle comes in – a compassionate person will act to provide the most benefit to the most people. Any compassionate person would not only be aware of needless suffering, but actively desire to ameliorate this needless suffering.

    I have similar worries as “Thinking Emotions” to your view of morality, where calling God is tautological if goodness is what God does. However, such a discussion, I think, is also off-topic for this discussion. What “Thinking Emotions” says aside, all I need to know is whether on your definition of “good” you think a good God would want to ameliorate needles suffering. If we agree on that, all that remains is a discussion of whether needless suffering exists and whether God is able to ameliorate needless suffering in some way.

    Peter: Just to clarify, do you believe that everyone who suffers gets a chance to recover and reflect?

    Ronin: I thought I was covered when I said, “Now, I am not opposed to the idea that some do suffer and do not get a chance to reflect or internalize their suffering into lesson(s). Though, I would use caution assuming the variables included in the scenario.”

    This sets up the Problem of Evil, however, for why does God not ameliorate the suffering that doesn’t teach people lessons?

    That’s all I can muster since I am busy with work, wife, kids, and school. I’ll try to continue this as time allows. Thanks for having this discussion with me.

    No worries, I understand that people are busy. I also thank you for continuing to discuss in a constructive manner that makes me think. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of this Problem of Evil, or at least come away with some more understanding of why the other person thinks how he does.

  33. Ronin says:

    TE,

    Hey there!

    I guess, I’ll ask you to expand on what you mean by “cosmological significance.”

    With regard to your comment regarding mom and dad giving significance to “insert here” I will ask the following: What happens if the couple was only having intercourse for the sake of satisfying their desires, which having a kid was not one of them, does the child entail purpose? And/or does he or she get to assume that since he or she exists he or she has some sort of purpose? And/or did you mean something-else?

    You wrote,

    Assuming God may allow or invoke suffering for the cause of some greater good, why are humans forbidden to? Why the double standard? This shouldn’t be an issue since God is God and humans are humans, but the problem is that a Christian’s morality comes from God: the putatively “perfect” being.

    Lack of knowledge (omniscience) on our part?

    I would also like to note that even though taking what isn’t yours is usually condemned in every ethical system, I do not think stealing a few pieces of bread or something like that is going to cause any suffering upon the person(s) it was stolen from. All you’re doing is violating one of God’s laws in order to save your beloved son; who is not only your beloved son, but he is a gift from God.

    1.) The individual stole something which was not theirs. 2.) How do you know the act won’t cause “suffering” to the other person? The fact is you don’t.

    Regarding this,

    The only pain I remember was a slight headache (probably due to the adrenaline of being in a serious fight). Neither my eye nor my nose hurt. The embarrassment of losing and being emasculated was far more hurtful than any physical pain.

    Perhaps your experience shows you can take a punch in the nose and it won’t hurt much. Regardless, if I was not clear before I am not limiting a physical altercation to the physical; I would include the possible psychological ramifications as well.

  34. Ronin says:

    Peter,

    Thanks for reply. I’ll try to get to it later…

  35. Ronin,

    Hey there! Glad to see a swift response. I know you are very busy with your personal life, so I really appreciate your thoughts.

    Perhaps your experience shows you can take a punch in the nose and it won’t hurt much. Regardless, if I was not clear before I am not limiting a physical altercation to the physical; I would include the possible psychological ramifications as well.

    Oh, absolutely! If you ask me, this experience taught me a lot of good despite being no fun. I do not consider this experience as an example of “suffering.” I just wanted to have some say in the “whether or not being punched in the nose hurts” discussion. :P Getting hit in the nose, when not expecting it, hurts. I probably did not feel it due to adrenaline, as I noted.

    Now, you asked me to explain what I meant by “cosmological significance.” Perhaps if I said transcendent significance was a synonym, that makes it more clear? You said there is no ultimate sense of “meaning” in atheism. Of course, there is no transcendent value in atheism, no intrinsic values, and no objectively meaningful things; however, does this rule out subjective valuing and personal meaning? Not at all! If you’re tempted to respond that human attachment is just a product of psychology or evolution on my view, therefore an illusion, I want to share a metaphor that Shelly Kagan, professor of philosophy at Yale, used against WLC in a debate over morality.

    Kagan said (note this is paraphrased from memory), “Just because you know that a rainbow is simply a refraction of light doesn’t take any of the beauty away from it.”

    What happens if the couple was only having intercourse for the sake of satisfying their desires, which having a kid was not one of them, does the child entail purpose? And/or does he or she get to assume that since he or she exists he or she has some sort of purpose? And/or did you mean something-else?

    You said that people are not made with a purpose. I argued counter to that, and indeed it is very possible to be made with a purpose. Of course, coming into existence without a purpose via unplanned pregnancy does not make the being “purposeless.” There I would respond with existentialism: existence precedes essence. One must establish purpose to themselves as it is not inherent. You were just talking about being made with a purpose in mind, such as a divine purpose i.e., life is crafted by God or something like that. Although there is no such thing in atheism, that does not mean children are just brought into this world because we are procreative machines.

    On an existential worldview, being made with a purpose and achieving a purpose are separate.

    Lack of knowledge (omniscience) on our part?

    Deontologically speaking, or disregarding the consequences and greater good, the acts are equal regardless of omniscience: breaking a law and/or behaving immorally.

    1.) The individual stole something which was not theirs. 2.) How do you know the act won’t cause “suffering” to the other person? The fact is you don’t.

    Granted, and I made note of this by saying stealing is usually condemned in every ethical framework. For the record, I do not condone stealing, although in a case like this I might be more sympathetic to it. 2.) How do you know stepping on an ant won’t cause a chain reaction that will end the world? How do you know that taking a neighbor’s pie won’t cause the neighbor harm in some way imperceptible to you at the current moment?

    You are right: I lack absolute knowledge of the consequences, but this is the case in every situation we are in. It is reasonable to assume that the consequences of stealing a few slices of bread from someone that has more food than just a few slices of bread will not cause any egregious harm, even if the act is “immoral” in the intention.

    Peter Hurford,

    I agree a lot with you, but we do differ. Your thoughts on morality are well considered. From what I have been reading of it, moral skepticism seems to be the way to go, in my opinion. Do not ask me for a defense of it just yet: I intend on reading J.L. Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong” for a comprehensive understanding. I still have much thinking to do on the subject of moral epistemology as it relates to the formulation and plausibility of ethical theories.

  36. @Thinking Emotions:

    While we wait for Ronin, I guess we can have a bit of cross-talk to get our story straight.

    I agree a lot with you, but we do differ. Your thoughts on morality are well considered. From what I have been reading of it, moral skepticism seems to be the way to go, in my opinion. Do not ask me for a defense of it just yet: I intend on reading J.L. Mackie’s “Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong” for a comprehensive understanding. I still have much thinking to do on the subject of moral epistemology as it relates to the formulation and plausibility of ethical theories.

    I’ve read Mackie and I think he’s actually right in what he says — a categorical imperative will always fail, and cannot be used as a grounding for morality. I agree that there is no sense in which we can say “No matter what you desire, you ought to be moral”.

    But I disagree with Mackie in that second respect — he says morality can only be grounded in a categorical imperative, and I disagree. I ground my morality in hypothetical imperatives: “If you desire X, you ought to do Y”.

    This is why my morality is first and foremost grounded in Virtue Ethics — I would consider myself a virtue ethicist when asked what my moral theory is. On Virtue Ethics, morality is the kind of character you ought to develop if you want to be happy — “If you desire happiness, you ought to adopt character A, which implies actions B”.

    On my specific formulation of Virtue Ethics, I see only one virtue: compassion, in the utilitarian sense. I think all other virtues that have been suggested reduce to this compassion. I have oodles upon oodles more to write about this, and why moral discourse has failed so epically these thousands of years, but I haven’t written it up yet. I’m glad to have people like you as a preliminary sounding board.

    Oh, absolutely! If you ask me, this experience taught me a lot of good despite being no fun. I do not consider this experience as an example of “suffering.”

    While I generally don’t like debating definitions because it’s a waste of time when we can all just agree on definitions that work for the purposes of a conversation, you may want to consider calling this “suffering” as in “it caused me pain that all else being equal I would rather not have”, but agree that it is not “needless suffering”, also called “gratuitous suffering”, or suffering that is not due to a higher good (such as the lessons gained from the suffering).

    Of course, there is no transcendent value in atheism, no intrinsic values, and no objectively meaningful things

    I’d have to caution you here, because people mean many different things by “objectively meaningful”. In some cases, it is synonymous with transcendent value (which I agree doesn’t exist), but in other cases it is synonymous with “values everyone ought to have” or “values that we can rationally have and defend”, and I think those last two exist. We may just disagree on that, though.

    Why I think it’s important to be cautious about this is that many people see “no objective meaning” and think that is the same as “no meaning we can rationally have”, or “all meaning is an illusion”. As you said, that’s a fallacy.

    You said that people are not made with a purpose.

    I honestly don’t think being made with a purpose matters for sentient creatures. Even theists admit that if God made us to live boring lives of drudgery, this ultimate purpose would not be worth having. A purpose that matters is the one that you come up with for yourself, as you have said.

    By the way, I’m glad to interact with you here, and you appear to be a very considered individual from what I have read so far. Even though we’re both atheists, we can still learn from our disagreements, which is cool.

  37. Ronin says:

    Peter wrote:

    I define evil as “needless suffering”, and then further define needless suffering as “any suffering that does not exist because of a higher good”. A higher good is something we would admit we would have even if it means we will suffer, such as free will, or life lessons.

    So when I say there is needless suffering, I mean there is suffering that is not necessary — it could go away and we could still have free will and life lessons. In many cases, such as polio, this needless suffering has gone away, and we’ve been fine without it.
    For examples of this needless suffering, I point to birth defects, loa loa, the guinea worm, smallpox, the Spanish Flu, cancer, and animal predation.

    And what I am saying is this thing you label as “needless suffering” was not necessary. Rather, the suffering is a result of free will, and it (suffering, evil, etc.) did not need to happen. The “needless suffering” occurs after humanity decided to do X. As I wrote before humanity is NOT innocent; so, let’s not pretend for the sake of argument that transgression(s) against an eternal being do not deserve punishment.

    Here are the definitions for evil that are used in the Bible,

    Evil has a broader meaning than *SIN. The Heb. word comes from a root meaning ‘to spoil’, ‘to break in pieces’: being broken and so made worthless. It is essentially what is unpleasant, disagreeable, offensive. The word binds together the evil deed and its consequences. In the NT kakos and ponēros mean respectively the quality of evil in its essential character, and its hurtful effects or influence. It is used in both physical and moral senses. While these aspects are different, there is frequently a close relationship between them. Much physical evil is due to moral evil: suffering and sin are not necessarily connected in individual cases, but human selfishness and sin explain much of the world’s ills. Though all evil must be punished, not all physical ill is a punishment of wrongdoing (Lk. 13:2, 4; Jn. 9:3; cf. Job). [“Evil.” New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed.]

    We can also include the following:

    The most common word for “evil” in the Old Testament is Heb. ra˓, which can denote sadness (Gen. 44:34), harm (cf. Lev. 26:6; Deut. 7:15), affliction (Eccl. 6:2; cf. JB “suffering”), or wickedness (1 Sam. 12:17; 1 Kgs. 1:52; JB “malicious”; Ezek. 3:19). Other terms include dibbâ “calumny” (e.g., Num. 13:32), ˒āwen (e.g., Job 15:35), zimmâ (e.g., Prov. 21:27), and rāšā˓ (Ps. 140:8).

    In the New Testament two Greek words in particular are translated as “evil”: kakós (or tó kakón) and ponērós (or hē ponēría). While the RSV weakens the meaning of epithymía at Rom. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 1:14 (“passions”; KJV “lusts”; NIV “evil desires”; JB “impulses”) and of tó kakón at 1 Cor. 13:6 (”wrong”; KJV “iniquity”; NIV “evil”; JB “sins”), it adequately represents the meaning of ponēría at Matt. 22:18 (”malice”; KJV “wickedness”; NIV “evil intent”) and Gk. kakopoiéō at Mark 3:4 (“do harm”; KJV, JB, NIV “do evil”). [“Evil.” The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary.]

    In fact, I am not sure why you would use the label(s) of needless suffering and/or evil on your view, because there is no sort of intentionality as to nature planning, anticipating, having in mind, or allowing suffering and/or evil. I would find convincing for naturalism to label deformities, rapes, crimes, etc. as a “natural” way of life. This labeling of “evil” from beings that came into existence by accident seems out of place to me (see below).

    Peter wrote:

    In absence of stipulating to an objective moral theory, yes, that is an intuition.

    I think everyone is better off if people don’t go around randomly shooting others, and think we all have extensively good reasons to say that randomly shooting others is a bad thing, not do it ourselves, and prevent others from doing so.

    It is an objectively true fact of our world that we have reasons to prevent other people from randomly shooting us. It is also an objectively true fact of our world that I have reasons not to randomly shoot others (harming people makes me unhappy, I don’t want to go to jail, etc.).

    This isn’t an argument from intuition anymore than me saying “zebras are black and white” is an argument from my intuition of zebras. What do you mean when you say “intuition”?

    It seems you are saying there is no objective moral theory, and that morality comes by way of intuition from each individual (in this case you are using yourself as a primary example). Perhaps we can start by looking at the definition(s) of intuition, which can be summed up as follows:

    1: quick and ready insight 2a : immediate apprehension or cognition b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intuition

    I really don’t think we all share the same “intuition” with regards to morality. Furthermore, talking about what makes you happy is really not all that compelling either, because harming people can make other people happy. Moreover, how people define “harm” could vary from person to person, and thus, what you define as harm might include more or less of what I define as harm.

    Finally, assuming we could come to this “knowledge” by intuition (not by rational thought and inference), how is it even possible to purport we have acquired the correct ethical standard? That is, considering how many mistakes we make even by trying to be rational, how do you suppose morality by intuition is even viable in your view?

    More later…

  38. More later…

    Ronin,

    Unless you want otherwise, I’m going to give you time to finish your response before I return with my comments; I don’t want you to get behind and lose the opportunity to continue to make solid points.

    But I do have a response in mind, and look forward to responding to your full response.

  39. Ronin says:

    TE,

    You wrote,

    Now, you asked me to explain what I meant by “cosmological significance.” Perhaps if I said transcendent significance was a synonym, that makes it more clear?

    Not really, but I think we can move the discussion forward by what you wrote after the comments I quoted above. You wrote,

    You said there is no ultimate sense of “meaning” in atheism. Of course, there is no transcendent value in atheism, no intrinsic values, and no objectively meaningful things; however, does this rule out subjective valuing and personal meaning?

    (Emphasis is mine.)

    There you go! There are no “intrinsic values” and no “objectively meaningful things”. Did I say subjectivity is ruled out? I think not—it’s actually my point. If I chose to give value to my future to be child I can do so, but if my wife and I want to use abortion as a way of contraception that’s okay too. Therefore, the fetus (which has the potential to be a human) has little to no value should we decide so.

    There is no ultimate purpose just as there is no “oughtness” in your view.

    You said that people are not made with a purpose. I argued counter to that, and indeed it is very possible to be made with a purpose. Of course, coming into existence without a purpose via unplanned pregnancy does not make the being “purposeless.” There I would respond with existentialism: existence precedes essence. One must establish purpose to themselves as it is not inherent.

    It should be obvious to you the baby more than likely has no idea what purpose is; if for some reason the parents did not plan nor want the child (in the case you think such is not the case read the news or do what I do for a living) the baby is purposeless (in your view). So it goes for people who are mentally unfit. They cannot will themselves to have purpose. Logically speaking they would not have a purpose; and so, I am saying as long as we acknowledge such is the finality for atheism, fine by me.

    Deontologically speaking, or disregarding the consequences and greater good, the acts are equal regardless of omniscience: breaking a law and/or behaving immorally.

    Um, perhaps I did not explain myself as I should have. God, being omniscient would have the benefit of knowing casual consequences of actions. I am not suggesting God break the law or behave immorally just because He has the attribute.

    You are right: I lack absolute knowledge of the consequences, but this is the case in every situation we are in.

    Great, we can agree on something.

    My thrust in all this is for one to live according to one’s worldview. It seems that on “practical reason” [ethics] atheism is inconsistent, then.

    But really, I just want to add this in passing,

    Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. [NASB, 1 Corinthians 15:12–14]

    &

    For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. [NASB, 1 Corinthians 15:16–19]

    That is, non-believers should pity Christians for believing in a worthless faith.

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