Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

That Problem of Evil Thing

Scott Carson has a pair of posts that deal with the problem of evil, the second part being here, in specific answer to a commenter. SF Matheson refers to the first of these, and has some good thoughts of his own, over at Quintessence of Dust.

All three of these posts are thoughtful and worth reading, and it's on a topic which I often feel myself to be peculiarly ill-suited to address. You see, perhaps I'm a terrible, heartless sort of person, but the "problem of evil" doesn't necessarily bother me much. Sure, there are things that have happened in my life that I have desperately wished, as I saw them coming or once reality sprung them on me, would not come to pass. I'm sure all of us have experienced things we wish hadn't happened, and have heard about things elsewhere in the world that we wish were not the case.

And yet, I must say I don't quite get the mentality which sits back and demands, "Why didn't God step in and stop this, if there is a God? Why does God let children starve in Africa? Why does God let people get leprosy? Why does God let children be born to families that can't afford to feed them? Why does God let hurricanes wipe out people's homes?" And so on, and on.

I guess the idea of God as super-nanny who steps in and fixes everying, "Oh, I'm sorry, did that tsunami knock your house over, I'll put it back together." "Oh, did you have a car accident and crush your leg? Okay, here it is back." very attractive. In fact, I actually find it rather repulsive.

According to Christian belief we are each possessed of an immortal soul which is capable of living forever in union with God, should we so choose to do. (Or living forever in howling solitude, should we choose that instead.) We are made in the likeness of God.

So I guess for me the rather obvious answer to the question, "Why are we allowed to suffer?" is: "Because God respects us."

But given the volume of writing on the topic, I'm not exactly the common man in this respect. So go read the linked article, they're really good.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

And yet, I must say I don't quite get the mentality which sits back and demands, "Why didn't God step in and stop this, if there is a God? Why does God let children starve in Africa? Why does God let people get leprosy? Why does God let children be born to families that can't afford to feed them? Why does God let hurricanes wipe out people's homes?"

In a roundabout way the problem of evil is what got me to believe in God firmly. Anyway, I had a thought about those questions. I suppose I could ask the questioner, "Why do YOU let children starve in Africa? Why do YOU allow people's homes to be destroyed without rebuilding them? Why do YOU allow people to die of diseases which receive no funding for research?" Perhaps part of the existience of evil is it is an opportunity for us to do God's work of good. And we certainly see plenty of that from believers and kind-hearted unbelievers. Perhaps it's atheists who have to face "the problem of good".

-Gavin

Darwin said...

Yeah, the other thing that often strikes me (though it's not an argument so much as an emotional reaction) is: "Okay, so you're right. There's no God. Exactly how are starving and homeless people better off now without immortal souls or any chance of happiness in the next life?"

John Farrell said...

An excellent way of putting it, Brendan...and I always have to stop myself whenever I see the usual ranting about this at various atheists' blogs. They presuppose materialism and then rant incoherently asking why God didn't create a world without any pain at all....

Jocelyne said...

I'm with you on this one. My faith has taken many twists and turns over the years, but I have never, ever looked at some tragedy and asked why God didn't stop it from happening.

I also think it's sort of funny that people who never think to ask why so many amazing and good things exist and happen, are the first ones to start whinging and wailing when anything bad happens.

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

My parents died when I was young. I never yelled at God "Why did you let this happen to me?" But I did yell out to God for help after the events. And am still not sure God did help, (but then I am seeing the issue very much from my human perspective.)
Maybe I will see in some eternal time that I grew more compassionate as a result of my parent's early deaths. But meanwhile, it makes it harder to believe in a loving God, who perhaps didn't really seem to help me a lot at the time.

Darwin said...

But I did yell out to God for help after the events. And am still not sure God did help, (but then I am seeing the issue very much from my human perspective.)

I think that's a very important and very human point. I suppose the only question is (and it's a hard question to know a good answer to): What sort of help do we look for from God?

I'm not sure.

And to be honest, at the harder parts of my life (when my youngest brother died when I was seven, or when my father died a few years ago), I'm not exactly sure whether I asked for help. My person approach to things tends to be rather stoic: Things make sense because God is there, an in the meantime we just need to get through and survive somehow.

But I know that a lot of Christians would say that is not the right way to behave, that we should ask God for consolations, and that they are provided when asked for.

A Philosopher said...

Perhaps a useful way to think about the argument from evil is the following. There are plenty of situations in which, if I had certain knowledge or capacities, I would be morally obligated to act to prevent the occurrence of some evil. If I were witnessing the commission of a murder, and were able to act to prevent the murder from occurring, I would be obligated to do so. If I knew that someone was about to step onto a bridge that would collapse under their weight, I would be obligated to tell them.

God, presumably, is always (or perhaps almost always, but at least sometimes) going to meet both the knowledge and the capacity criteria. He is thus in a position such that, if I were in it, I would be morally obligated to act. The moral obligations appear to be universal, so we conclude that God, too, is morally obligated to act. But we observe that God does not act (it doesn't suffice here to say that God acts in *some way* -- the moral obligation was for a rather precise action). On the further assumption that God fulfills all of his moral obligations, it follows that God doesn't exist.

I don't claim to be deeply emotionally gripped by such an argument, and there are certainly things that can be said in response to it, but on the whole, I guess it looks pretty convincing to me.

Darwin said...

A Philosopher,

Yeah, I get the "guilty through inaction" element of the argument, it's just that I have trouble taking it seriously because the idea of a world in which God did step in and alleviate every loss and bit of suffering strikes me as deeply repulsive at a human level. I'm as glad to get out of a bad situation as the next fellow, and on the occasions where another person has stepped in to help me out in a bad situation I've been intensely grateful.

But the idea of God effortlessly alleviating every instance of difficulty or suffering seems intensely unappealing to me.