Wednesday, February 06, 2013

God and the Problem of Pain

Jeffrey Shallit is making a heroic sacrifice. He's attending a series of lectures on God and Reason. This is a legitimate dichotomy, either you believe in God or you accept reason. You can't do both.

Unfortunately for Jeff, he is being subjected to a bunch of lectures from real Professors on how to rationalize belief in God with being reasonable. The latest was a lecture on God and Reason - Lecture 3 - John North - The Problem of Pain.

The argument goes like this ...

1. Assume (withou any evidence) that god(s) exist.
2. Assume (without evidence) that your favorite god is good and wouldn't allow pain.
3. Since pain exists then ...
  • god is mysterious and we don't understand her motives OR
  • god wants us to have free will and be capable of voluntarily choosing pain and suffering OR
  • temporal pain is transitory, we will be free of pain once we reach heaven
This is an example of Christian reasoning? Jeff, you have my sympathies ... and thanks for reporting on the best that sophisticated theology has to offer.


68 comments:

  1. Alvin Platinga has dealt with this. Take time and read his work. WLC also spanked Alex Rosenberg on this very same suffering problem the past weekend here is a link to see how stupid atheism really is!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhfkhq-CM84

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    1. I've read lots of stuff by Alvin Plantinga. He is a Christian apologist. Do you know what that means? It means that he begins with the assumption that his particular version of god exists and goes on from there to argue that the properties of his god are consistent with science and rational thinking once you accept the premise(s).

      I don't accept the premise. There is no god as far as I can tell. I really don't care whether Plantinga wants to defend the existence of pain because he believes in an evil, masochistic, Satan or whether he wants to explain it away because he believes in a kind. loving, version of the god who destroyed almost all of humanity in a giant flood.

      The problem of evil is only a problem for theists, not for atheists.

      Concerning Plantinga's latest book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, I was going to write a scathing review but Maarten Boudry beat me to it [Boudry vs Plantingua]. Here's a teaser from Boudry's review ....

      if the bar for rational belief is lowered to mere logical possibility, and the demand for positive evidence dropped, then no holds are barred. Evolution (or gravity, plate tectonics, lightning, for that matter) could as well be directed by space aliens, Zeus or the flying spaghetti monster. (I was going to include the devil in the list, but then it turns out that, on page 59, Plantinga has no qualms at all about treating the horned one as a serious explanation. There goes my reductio.) ...

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    2. That's a problem that religious apologists rarely address, if they are even aware of it. Questions like the "problem of evil" are only problematic if one has a prior commitment to the position that a particular god exists. Once you allow for the likelihood that no god exists, then the problems disappear.

      Apologetics remind me of the convoluted models of planetary motion that early astronomers had to construct in order to account for their observations while, at the same time, maintaining their belief in a geocentric universe. Once the commitment to geocentrism was dropped, it became much easier to explain the observations.

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    3. Prof Moran

      Pain and suffering and evil really is not a problem for theism, when I was an atheist it was a perfectly good question on why would a good God allow pain and suffering? I saw the problem in the same way as you did!

      To be a true moral free agent you will have to be able to understand good and evil and your choices around them. Do you understand the problem of a perfect world and its implications on free will? Let me give you some examples. They are menial but give it some thought.

      1.) In a perfect world, your favourite team will always win in every match it plays. ALWAYS!

      2.) In a perfect world you cannot murder or be murdered.

      3.) In a perfect world every person will win the lottery every single week.

      4.) There will never be any accidents ever!

      5.) It will be impossible in a perfect world to show any emotion because you will only have one. Happiness because everything is always perfect!

      6.) How will love work in a perfect world?

      My question to you is this. How will the world function if it is full of free agents that are unable to ever make a choice because the environment and world they live in through its perfection has made it impossible for them to exercise that fee will?

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    4. Andre

      assuming heaven exists &
      assuming heaven is perfect

      Doesn't your reasoning lead to the conclusion that the inhabitants of heaven are not true moral free agents?
      Or perhaps it implies that in heaven there is no wants or desires ~ that heaven is a totally inhuman place we should avoid if possible?

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    5. Yes correct, there will be no free will in heaven. You will not be able to choose evil.

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    6. @ Andre Gross

      Here is what doesn't add up to be me about the "free will" argument. There are many things that we have the "free will" to do, but which we almost never choose to do. I have the "free will" to jab a fork into my eyeballs, but I have never come close to doing it because it would be too unpleasant for me to do so.

      So even if we assume that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent god exists, and that it is a necessary part of this god's plan that humans have free will, this still does not explain why he has adjusted free will in such a way that humans so commonly choose to commit reprehensible acts. I see no reason that a god could not have created us so that we all have the free will to murder, steal or rape, while at the same time creating human nature so that such acts are so repugnant to everyone that no one ever commits them. Or, at least, people who do commit them could be as uncommon as those who willingly jab forks into their eyeballs.

      It seems to me that would be a very simple solution to the problem of having to create a world in which human free will coexists with a minimum level of suffering, and I wonder why an omniscient god could not think of such a solution.

      Your argument about a "perfect world" is a red herring. The questions of pain or evil would not arise if we existed in a world that was not perfect, one in which most people never win the lottery, in which your favourite sports team often loses, in which love affairs don't usually work out as you would have liked, etc., yet also one in which earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, famines and genocides never occurred. There is a vast range between a world that is "perfect" and one w/ the amount of suffering that exists in the world as we know it. And I fail to see why a supremely benevolent god would deliberately choose not to have created a world that was closer to the "no suffering" end of the spectrum than he did.

      Surely there are theologians that have attempted to address this issue, but I am not aware of any. Perhaps you are?

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    7. @Lutesuite
      The Gnostics had a view which goes some way to resolving your issues. As best I remember, it is that this world was actually created by a demiurge and not the God of light who is separate from the world except from that part of Him which is within us and has been trapped within matter. There's more to it than that of course, but that was their answer to the problem of evil and suffering, fwiw.

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    8. FWIW, indeed. And WIW is precisely zero.

      All that does is refute any arguments for God as an omniscient, omnipotent being. It doesn't help those who are arguing from the position of any of the mainstream Abrahamic faiths.

      It's also a pretty pointless approach to pile more made up stuff on top of the original made up stuff to counter the argument that the made up stuff is just, well, made up.

      (Your post seemed to make a valid point, so I'm hoping Larry will let this pass.) :)

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    9. @Lutesuite
      Refuting omniscience and omnipotence is not it does at all - it also blows your argument from evil out of the water as an argument against God.

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    10. Sounds to me you want free will but also with some sort of a safety switch, just in case, btw the pain you get from stabbing yourself in the eye is a good pain, it actually acts as a survival mechanism. But back to the point, anything that prevents you from doing good or evil is interference and thus no free will, your choices will always be your own.

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    11. @Luther Flint

      The argument from evil is not an argument against any and all conceptions of God. It is, rather, an argument against conceptions of God that define it as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. One response to the argument, of course, is to simply drop one of the "omni's" from the description of God and the argument no longer applies. But that response is not available to most current day theists, including the one's under discussion in Larry's OP.

      @Andre Gross,

      Yes, the pain from stabbin one's eye is a "good pain." That is irrelevent to my argument. The point is that this pain prevents pretty well everyone from actually stabbing themselves in the eye. Yet the fact remains that we still have the "free will" to stab ourselves in the eye should we so choose, for some reason. So we could have a similar device that makes it highly unpalatable for us to commit "evil" acts, and that would largely eliminate "evil" from the world. Yet we would all still have the "free will" to do evil if we choose. Otherwise you would have to argue that we do not have the "free will" to stab ourselves in the eye, which we obviously do.

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    12. I would also like to know whether the pain experienced by a child dying of leukemia is a "good pain", and what survival mechanism it serves.

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    13. @Andre Gross

      there will be no free will in heaven

      So one has free will and is not a meat robot on earth so that one can go to "heaven" and become some sort of (ectoplasmic I assume) robot.

      For eternity.

      If nothing else, you need to come up with a better marketing strategy, this is never going to sell.

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  2. Jeffrey Shallit has my sympathies for having to deal with TTC, who is on his usual Darwin condoned eugenics therefore Hitler schtick, but if nothing else that should give him some first hand experience with pain.

    Since he seems to be in a masochistic mood perhaps we can send Gross, Luther and Byers over there.

    On the other hand a scatological Luther/TTC deathmatch would be a very ugly thing so perhaps not.

    Which begs the question, why would a good god allow for the existence of Luther Flint ?

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  3. @Larry
    You say, "there is no god as far as I can tell", which would mean something if you'd gone any distance to try to tell, but you haven't, so it isn't. A bit like saying there is no evidence for God/evolution as far as the average baby can tell. But wait, there was that time in 1974 where you thought about it for 15 minutes and then brushed it off.

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    1. Speaking for myself, I don't have to go out myself and look for the evidence for evolution. There are a bunch of very smart scientists who have done that for me, and I just have to familarize myself with their work to know that evolution occurs.

      I suppose theologians could do the same for God. But, for some reason, they never seem to produce anything resembling evidence. I'm not sure what the problem is there. It could be that no evidence for the existence of God actually exists. Or it could be that people like Craig and Plantinga are considered among the world's most brilliant theologians, and yet each of them are clearly blithering idiots. So maybe what we need are actual smart people to go into the field of theology, and they can find the evidence for God.

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    2. @Lutesuite
      So you'd look at the evidence if it was offered to you? That is, you wouldn't just be pretending you wanted evidence such that when it was offered you'd run away or something and refuse to actually look at it. Just checking.

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    3. You're not following. It has been offered, I've looked at it, and it was obviously not something any objective rational person would accept as evidence. Philosophy is not evidence; it's argument, and theology even moreso.

      If you've somehow got something that has eluded humankind for its entire existence, which is to say actual evidence that God exists, as opposed to the convoluted apologetic nonsense that you usually passes for evidence, then don't waste your time giving it to me on this blog. Alert the media and tell the world. And congratulations in advance on your Nobel Prize.

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    4. @Lutesuite
      Eluded humankind - lol! Anyway, now you appear to be backing off such that you're not going to look at the evidence even if I do tell you where you can find it.

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    5. OK, I'll bite. Where can I find this evidence?

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    6. @Lutesuite
      In silent darkness, with five dried grams.

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    7. Been there, done that. Sorry, nada.

      Low as my expectations were, Luther, you still managed to disappoint me. Quite an achievement, you should be proud.

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    8. @Lutesuite
      You've been nowhere near there.

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    9. @lutesuite

      Where can I find this evidence?

      @Luther

      You've been nowhere near there.

      Lucky for you lutesuite considering the source of Luther's "evidence".

      Reminds me of something a friend who smoked Camel cigarettes once said, "it's the only brand that has a picture of the manufacturer on the package".

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    10. @Oberski
      What's your objection? None. What a surprise. What know you of such things? Nothing. What a surprise. Will you investigate the evidence? Not a chance. What a surprise.

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  4. Luther, if you've got evidence, actual evidence, not just "it's logically possible", then bring it. I'd like to see it.

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    1. @Rumraket
      I just did (see above). But you won't be willing to look at it.

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    2. Let's hear your objection then you clown. This is the most tried and tested method in the history of humanity,, and yet you, who knows nothing of it, already knows it's nonsense because a whole load of people who likewise know nothing about it told you so.

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    3. I find that you've presented no evidence in this thread. What have I missed?

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    4. Nothing much, Rumraket. A troll on a mushroom trip.

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    5. @Piotr
      No doubt you're an expert as well who's investigated this thoroughly and has decided that there can be nothing to it. Tell me, what did you make of time stopping?

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    6. In a way, though, you can admire Luther for his honesty. His "evidence" for God is really no different than that of noted theologian William Lane Craig, who says God can only be apprehended thru the "witness of the Holy Spirit", which is probably much like a shroom trip. Yet Craig tries to gussy his fantasy up with a bunch of pseudointellectual flapdoodle to give it a veneer of intellectual respectability. At least Luther is above all that. He flat out admits he has no argument or evidence.

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    7. @Lutesuite
      There's plenty evidence. You obviously didn't do it properly. So let me ask you what I asked Piotr: what did you make of time stopping?

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    8. @Lutesuite
      And since you won't be able to answer that question, let me ask some others. You say you won't accept direct experience, and you say you won't accept argument, so what will you accept as evidence? And what evidence is there that does not have to be experienced?

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    9. Luther, no matter how much you polish your turds, they are still shit.

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    10. @Oberski
      Back to your favourite subject, my turds. What's your obsession? Anyway, the fact is that entheogens have a historical usage dating back tens of thousands of years and yet you, without the slightest knowledge of them either personally or through science (because there is no science on them to speak of), have manged to conclude that there is nothing to it. That would appear to be a simple armchair rejection based on prejudice and not any serious opinion to even be considered at greater length that this post here. You are dismissed until you have at least some idea what you're talking. Bye.

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    11. luther asked:

      "...so what will you accept as evidence?"

      Hmm, one of the things I would accept as evidence of "God" is a talking snake.

      Another would be a T-Rex delivering my favorite kind of pizza to my door within the next 30 minutes.

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    12. Luther, time stopping? When did time stop?

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    13. @TWT
      You want to talk to snakes - ayahuasca.

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    14. @rumraket
      Yeah, time stopping. I'm asking what these experts made of it when time stopped. Simple enough question for anyone with the experience Lutesuite say he has (but which he hasn't).

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    15. It has been hours and still no T-Rex with a pizza for me. I got tired of waiting for evidence of "God" so I nuked and ate a TV dinner.

      Of course I could still be convinced of the existence of "God" if someone would turn up a talking snake.

      I just thought of something else that I would accept as evidence of "God". Some sheep or goats born with stripes, speckles, or spots, just because their parents mated in front of some striped branches. Should be a cinch for "God".

      http://www.illustratedbiblestories.ca/genetic_eng_comm_3.htm

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    16. @TWT
      You've just been told where/how you can talk to a snake.

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    17. @Rumraket
      It happens all the time - very common actually. Anyway, the question was addressed to the experts so that I could see how it is that they've got the expertise they say they have and yet still say the things they do.

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    18. I've talked to snakes lots of times, luther, but they never talk back.

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    19. @TWT
      As I said, ayahuasca's your best bet.

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    20. @Luther

      Who said I won't accept direct experience? Most evidence is based on direct experience of reproducible phenomena. And what you are describing is reproducible evidence of the effects of psychoactive substances on the human nervous system. Not of God or talking snakes or whatever you are claiming.

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    21. @Lutesuite
      You won't accept direct experience. When direct experience contradicts your religious views you explain it away as an effect of psychoactive substances - as if serotonin wasn't a psychoactive substance! Anyway, what did you make of it when time stopped?

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  5. So, "evidence" and "direct experience" of "God" is found by getting high on entheogens in silent darkness. Which "God"? Does the "evidence" and "direct experience" disappear if there's daylight or lights are turned on or if the entheogen ingester cuts a noisy fart?

    You're even crazier than I had thought, luther.


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    1. @TWT
      If you want to find out what happens - what disappears - the effects farts have - there's one sure fire way to find out, and one sure fire way to never find out. I know which route you'll take.

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    2. What do the snakes tell you Luther? Does it involve love, happiness and global peace?

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    3. From Wikipedia:

      Drug-induced hallucination
      Main article: Hallucinogen
      Drug-induced Hallucinations are hallucinations that are caused by the consumption of psychoactive substances such as deliriants. Along with deliriants, psychedelics, certain stimulants, and opiates are known to cause visual and auditory hallucinations. Some psychedelics such as Lysergic acid diethylamide, cannabis, and psilocybin can cause hallucinations that range from a spectrum of mild to severe. Opiates are also a popular drug used to induce hallucinations, especially in larger doses. This as well as other drugs that induce hallucinations can cause severe mental and physical damage. Some of the most common opiates are opium, heroin and morphine. Despite the addictive properties of some of these drugs (mainly opiates and mental dependencies in some cannabis users), others can be used in psychotherapy to treat mental disorders, addiction and even experiments.[26]

      And:

      SCHIZOPHRENIC HALLUCINATION Hallucinations caused by schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is when one is unable to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, accompanied by the inability to think logically, have contextually appropriate emotions, and to function in social situations.[42] Scientifically reviewed. 21 October 2012. Web. It has been found that when one experiences a hallucination induced by Schizophrenia, there are many abnormalities that are going on in the brain; Particularly in the region that processes voices in sounds (for those who experience auditory hallucinations) and visual processing. (visual hallucinations). According to studies and experiments conducted by researchers, it was seen that a possible cause for these hallucinations were abnormalities in gray matter and general functioning that combines interpreting sounds, voices and visuals, as well as regulating emotions.[43]

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallucination

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    4. @TWT
      Yeah, so what. We don't even have a clue yet what happens when we have normal conscious experience let alone what happens when we experience, eg, time stopping, or when, eg, the double helix shape of DNA is revealed to humanity by the "other".

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    5. @TWT
      The "other" is a general term for whatever/whoever humanity has been in touch with through the ages. That which we're not normally aware of but which we can become aware of through certain techniques which have been developed and used for millennia, but which you reject a priori because of your commitment to, for want of a better way of putting it, serotonin only.

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    6. Swami/Guru/Yogi Luther

      An interesting way of describing a commitment to reality.

      You're just a wannabe cult leader in the making, pissed off because nobody will drink your peculiar brand of kool aid.

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    7. @Oberski
      And you're just a know-nothing prick who's already been dismissed.

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    8. @oberski
      And it's not my brand, it's humanity's brand - and it's been humanity's brand for more than 20,000 years and counting. Bye bye.

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    9. The snakes Luther, what do the snakes say? Got any recordings of talking snakes? How does a snake convince a person reluctant to eat an apple, to eat it?

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    10. Also Luther, that thing about time stopping. Got any independently verifiable evidence that time stopped?

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    11. @Rumraket
      Yeah, you can do it yourself if you want, pretty much any time you want (as can anyone else who's interested). But you won't.

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    12. @Rumraket
      And if you don't believe me, just ask Christopher Mayhew.

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  6. God and suffering is always a good point for evangelical Christians.

    1) God is powerless to stop suffering or
    2) God is not good enough in morality to stop it or
    3)Something is stopping God.

    Of coarse we say the answer is 3) and explains the drastic deed of God being executed on earth.

    Why in the world would the issue of suffering be evidence against the Christian God?
    He suffered!

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  7. Please stop responding to Luther Flint and andyboerger unless, by accident, they make a valid point. I don't want to ban trolls but if the rest of you continue to feed them then I will have no choice. The comment sections of my posts are becoming polluted with meaningless garbage.

    There are now 59 comments in this thread and almost all of them are not worth reading.

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