Do Tummy Aches Disprove God?

Apologetics, Worldviews — By on July 1, 2008 at 1:14 am

My tummy hurts. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument may be absurd but it is not intended as a reductio ad absurdum. Although a very simplistic form, this enthymeme encapsulates one of the primary atheological arguments — the argument from evil.

The structure of the argument becomes more obvious once we include the unstated premises:

1. Tummy aches are a form of harm being done to the physical and/or psychological well-being of a sentient creature.
2. Harm is evil.
3. God–an omniscient, wholly good being–would prevent evil.
4. God did not prevent my tummy ache
5. Ergo, there is no god.

This argument is a type known as the evidential problem of evil, the primary remaining form since the logical problem of evil has been solved.*

The evidential problem of evil is the problem of determining whether the existence of evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God. As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains, “Evidential arguments purport to show that evil counts against theism in the sense that the existence of evil lowers the probability that God exists.”

One of the strongest and most famous examples of this type of argument can be found in William Rowe’s 1979 paper, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” Rowe outlines his argument as follows:

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being. (Rowe 1979: 336)

I contend that Rowe’s argument is precisely the same as my Tummy Ache formulation.

Not so, you say, for Rowe has added the qualifier intense suffering. To which I’d respond: My tummy hurts intensely.

Actually, I would say that my construction is more solid. By sneaking in the adjective “intense” Rowe attempts to give the premise an emotional resonance, but merely succeeds in weakening his premise. The inclusion of the adjective shifts the premise onto subjective ground. After all, how does “intense” suffering differ in any meaningful sense from mere suffering?

Let’s imagine that all suffering could be converted to a single unit of measurement, say Tummy Aches (TA). Let’s also say that the range of suffering goes from .001 TA to 100 billion TA. At what level does suffering become “intense”? 10 TA? 100 TA? It would depend on the context. In the life of a single human, 100 TA of suffering might be considered intense. But what if we are talking about an amount that would disprove God shouldn’t we consider the entire universe? Would 100 TA be a lot then? Would even 100 billion TA be a considerable amount within the vast expanse of the cosmos?

Besides, what does it matter if we are talking about 100,000 TA or merely 1 TA. If God is omnipotent then he should be able to prevent my tummy ache. For the premise to support the conclusion it should discard all qualifiers and state its point more directly: “An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any suffering…”

Stated in this way, most people would abandon this Tummy Ache argument. Some would still contend, though, that an omnipotent wholly good being would indeed prevent all tummy aches and that stomach pains are indeed evidence against the existence of God. To which the proper response is to ask, “Are you omniscient?”

The reason this question is relevant is because premise #1 can only be judged by an omniscient being. When faced with the fact “Suffering occurs” we are left with the question, “Could the suffering have been prevented without losing some
greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse?” Only an omniscient being could know for sure, yet Rowe’s premise begs the question by assuming that the answer is “yes.”

Those of us that are not omniscient, however, should be hesitant to conclude this is damning evidence without knowing all the facts. By remaining agnostic about premise #1, we have no reason to believe the argument is sound. It becomes apparent that the mere existence of evil has no bearing on the probability that God exists. The evidential problem of evil is a non sequitur.

This is not to deny that evil is a problem. It is, just not a logical or evidential problem. As Alvin Plantinga contends, evil is a religious problem:

The theist may find a religious problem in evil; in the presence of his own suffering or that of someone near to him he may find it difficult to maintain what he takes to be the proper attitude towards God. Faced with great personal suffering or misfortune, he may be tempted to rebel against God, to shake his fist in God’s face, or even to give up belief in God altogether… Such a problem calls, not for philosophical enlightenment, but for pastoral care. [emphasis in the original]

*Most philosophers (including William Howe who is mentioned later) would admit that Alvin Plantinga has solved the logical problem of evil. In his brief and masterful God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga concludes that it is at least possible that God could not have created a world with moral good but no moral evil.



  • Coleman

    Well put. I’d be interested in a Part 2, in which you address specific examples that would seemingly qualify for premise #1 and explain why they do not, in fact. Logically, it’s not necessary – you don’t claim to be omniscient, only that your opponents aren’t omniscient. But specific examples of WHY suffering is necessary, I think, hold more emotional sway than the (true) statement that “God knows better than you.”

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com Matthew Goggins

    So God does not care too much about tummy aches and other kinds of suffering. It all fits into his divine plan, one way or another.
    So what does God, in his boundless power and wisdom, actually care about?
    He cares about redeeming our immortal souls from their sinful nature so that we can avoid hell and enjoy heaven.
    And why is the world, and the afterlife, and the church, all set up and enmeshed in this special way?
    God only knows.
    From tummy aches to the Holocaust, God likes to hold his fire. But he loves each of us to pieces, and if only each of us would just realize that, everything will be just great for us forever.
    Yes, Dr. Plantinga has certainly solved the problem of evil. All my questions have been answered.
    Now I would like to know more about voodoo.
    I understand that there are no a priori metaphysical reasons why voodoo should not work as advertised, you know with the dolls and the pins and all that.
    It’s actually kind of neat that we live in a cosmos where the magic powers of voodoo are placed at our disposal. It does pose some interesting questions about the hierarchy of spirits and their relation to God, but certainly nothing that the good Dr. Plantinga can’t figure out and settle once and for all.
    I look forward to reading what he has to say about it.
    [ Sarcasm off. ]
    Joe, evil is not a philosophical problem. It is an existential problem. They’re not the same thing.
    You can’t reason your way out of an existential problem. When you stand on the edge of the yawning abyss of evil in our world, you can either accept God as the author of creation or you can’t.
    Splitting metaphysical hairs about probabilities and logical proofs just doesn’t cut it, my friend.

  • http://honest2blog.blogspot.com Baus

    Joe, Roy Clouser writes in Knowing With The Heart “It’s worth noting that if the existence of undeserved suffering really entails that God doesn’t exist, then even a single instance of the slightest disappointment would yield that conclusion. The argument is tantamount to insisting that either everyone’s life be one of uninterrupted bliss or belief in God is irrational. That alone should be sufficient to show that the argument does not attack a biblical idea of God.”
    See Clouser’s book pages 141-151 where he explains that the argument from evil is based upon the false assumption, among several others, that the biblical God is obligated by an abstract conception of “moral perfection” outside Himself, apart from His will.
    Clouser explains that those who believe the argument from evil refutes the existence of God do not have an understanding of who the Scriptures actually claim God is.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.net/blog/ The Uncredible Hallq

    >Only an omniscient being could know for sure, yet Rowe’s premise begs the question by assuming that the answer is “yes.”
    It’s ironic to see you declaring, on this basis, that the argument from evil is a non-sequitur. What’s a non-sequitur is jumping from “premise not absolutely certain” to “premise question begging.” Lots of good arguments use premises not absolutely certain. Similarly, there seems to be an equivocation in your talk of “knowing all the facts.” Normally, we think this is important, but only because we use it to mean “know all the facts that seem to have a significant chance of being relevant.” Your objection requires using it in a more absolute, literal sense.
    On a slightly more interesting point, your generalization from intense tummy aches to intense suffering in general seems to have clear counter-examples from human morality: there’s a moral difference between failing (as a human) to cure someone’s intense tummy ache and failing to prevent them from being burnt alive.
    Note that none of this is to say that the tummy ache objection doesn’t work against versions of the argument from evil that actually require God to prevent all tummy aches.

  • Victor

    A poor cop-out. Given that God is omnipotent, the answer to the question, “Could the suffering have been prevented without losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse?” is by definition a yes.
    If God cannot prevent suffering without losing some greater good or permitting greater suffering, then he is not omnipotent and unworthy of the appellation of “God”.

  • http://TheEverwiseBoonton.blogspot.com Boonton

    I find it very difficult to believe that the universe could not afford to lose a single tummy ache without having to accept something worse.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
    Interesting claim to omiscience there.
    Anyway, I’m pretty much shaping my objection to the problem of evil as the necessity of evil in a fallen world. Imagine a fallen world with no pain. It would get ugly quick.

  • ex-preacher

    I’m trying to figure out the last sentence: “Plantinga concludes that it is at least possible that God could not have created a world with moral good but no moral evil.”
    Does the “not” belong there?

  • Rw

    To me these kind of arguments are why isn’t God a better nanny!
    To be omnipotent and part of our lives, God must only allow good things to happen. If there is a God, the vagaries of life would not happen. Really? I don’t find that to be biblical. Where is that claim in the Bible? Would it be Abraham being called out of his native land and lying his way to safety? How about the story of Isaac and Jacob and Esau? How about all the trouble Jacob had with his family? Joseph and his dream and his brothers? Samuel? Saul? David? Babylonian captivity? Assyrian captivity? John the Baptist? James (brother of John)? Jesus? Seems like things didn’t go quite right for Him. One thing the bible story is not is propaganda. It does not present everyone pretty and perfect, but in fact many times the opposite way; in all their ugly humanity. And God loves us despite our own ugly humanity; he has provided a path back to him through his Son. God’s love does not describe the omnipotent nanny, but the omnipotent reconciler. God is not the God of a fairy tale, where all is sugar and spice and everything nice, but the God that ultimately brings His justice to bear upon a fallen world.
    It seems to me, the logical end to the argument if there is a God there would be no suffering, is that if there is that kind of God, we would all be the same. We would have the same experiences, same successes, no disappointments, no death, no scrapes, bumps, or bruises. In other words, if there was that kind of God, we would already be perfect and life would be one magical trick after another. Got cancer? Instantly cured! Crash you car into a train? Not a scratch on you or the car! Car? Who needs a car? You’re perfect. You are instantly transported everywhere!!! And nobody ever gets mad at you, and you never say something really stupid. God doesn’t let bad things happen.

  • http://morphed2fly.blogspot.com/ Nancy

    Decerning between true good and true evil is simply beyond the mental capascity of man because we are NOT omniscient. Left to his own intellect, without the guidance of the Living Word of God and the Indwelling Holy Spirit, who is the Author of that Word, man would consistantly choose death. Our Heavenly Father, who loves us has given us the standard for choosing life in His Living Word and then calls from His Father’s Heart…Choose Life!
    Ref:Proverbs 14:12;John 3:19;John 8:12

  • pentamom

    I don’t understand why this is an argument against theism in the first place. It may be an argument against every version of theism that states that God is good, but equating theism with good theism concedes half the argument to theism already.

  • http://theinterface.blogtownhall.com The Interface

    “To show that the fact of evil is inconsistent with the omnipotence of God, one would have to show that a world in which evil could not come into actuality would be richer in moral and spiritual values than a world in which moral freedom may actually be exercised and the exceeding sinfulness of sin may be known in the concrete.”
    J.O. Buswell, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, page 63, Zondervan Publishing House, 1962

  • Mark B. Hanson

    C. S. Lewis, in struggling through this after the death of his wife, wrote in A Grief Observed, “The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For not even a moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.”
    He goes on elsewhere, “What do people mean when they say, I am not afraid of God because I know He is good.’ Have they never been to the dentist?”
    A good God, like a good dentist, may inflict pain, even horrible pain, if it is necessary for the cure. If we trust our dentist, we will bear the pain (or the prospect of it), knowing it is coming. But this requires a prior knowledge of the dentist, or at least understanding his credentials.
    This is why the Christian doesn’t struggle too much with pain as a problem (although we do struggle). We have a prior commitment to the surgeon, who has promised us suffering, persecution, and ultimately death in this life. This is also why suffering is an insurmountable problem for the athiest – because they have no basis to believe that the pain will cure anything.
    The good thing is that life doesn’t end with death – Christians also believe that every pain and suffering in this life will be made right in the next – that “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” It is immensely difficult to see from this vantage how that can be so, but it is one of the great promises that Christians cling to.
    And the athiest? From his viewpoint, pain only ends with nothingness. The tears don’t go on forever, but neither are they healed. And if they are wrong about life’s end…

  • Coleman

    Victor,
    You bring up a good point about God’s omnipotence. Are there things that an omnipotent God CAN’T do? I would argue that there are, in fact, and if that means you’re going to say God isn’t omnipotent, then so be it. From a Christian perspective, at least, God IS. There is no time with Him; He always has been, and always will be. Therefore, one of the things God CAN’T do is cease to exist. In addition, a Christian believes that God is love. He can’t stop being love, because He IS love, completely apart from space and time. The essence of love is to love others outside of oneself, and to desire to be joined to them and make them happy. Therefore, there must be creatures outside of God. Besides, these creatures must have free will to choose to be joined to God or not, because if they did not have free will, then they would not be outside of God, and God could love only Himself – which is contrary to the nature of love, and therefore, impossible for God to do, even though He is omnipotent. The necessity of free-will – which God, being love, cannot change – has led to the abuse of that free will, which leads to suffering. (I would add that natural causes of suffering are actually results of the spiritual reality of evil in this world, which is a result of human choice). And for God to intervene in certain cases of suffering would possibly take away freedom. It’s often very, very difficult to see how this could be true – but that’s where Joe’s argument about omniscience comes in. The point is, there are things that an omnipotent God can’t do, if they involve Him ceasing to be Who Is. It’s not that God has to play by somebody’s rules; he IS those rules.
    (Most of my argument is a feeble reconstruction of one Emanuel Swedenborg makes throughout his theological works, for example in the first chapter of True Christian Religion)

  • Victor

    Coleman,
    I do not deny the fact that there might be some things an omnipotent being cannot do, such as betray his inherent nature or perform logically impossible things. However, removing suffering from the world is not a logically impossible task, nor does it contradict God’s nature. In fact, the presence of immense suffering in the world contradicts God’s trait of benevolence.
    Now, as for your argument…
    First, love is an emotion, and to say that “God is love” is as intelligible as saying “John is hate” or “Sally is sadness”. You are making a category mistake here.
    Second, given that God existed since eternity past, while humans didn’t, then it follows that there existed a time – before humans were created – where God existed on his lonesome with no humans to love. Nonetheless, God managed to survive and did not implode in a vortex of self-contradiction.
    Third, God could have given humans a form of circumscribed free will that allows them to choose whether or not to join Him, but restricts them from causing suffering to others.
    Fourth, even assuming that free will is a necessity, that does not answer the question of why God created humans to be capable of evil in the first place. Humans are physically incapable of doing a lot of things, such as flying, breathing underwater, touching their left elbow with their left hand, etc. None of these are considered violations of free will by the Christian, so why can’t God make humans physically incapable of evil?
    Fifth, since God is defined as omnipotent, the default assumption should be that he is capable of intervening in cases of suffering without taking away freedom. To say that it is “possible” that the above cannot be accomplished – without giving any logical reasons why this would be so – is saying that it is “possible” that God is not omnipotent.
    Any one of the above rebuttals is sufficient to refute your argument.
    I also reject the nonsensical claim that natural suffering (e.g. famines, natural disasters, diseases) are “results of the spiritual reality of evil in this world”. Please explain what exactly is “the spiritual reality of evil” and show how it exerts an effect on the physical world. Otherwise, your assertion is nothing more than mumbo jumbo like “plane crashes are results of vibrating quantum energy emanating from our consciousness”. Anyone can construct a grammatically sound sentence that purports to explain a particular phenomena – but that doesn’t make your explanation true.
    I’m sorry if I sound harsh, but understand that I have encountered the same kind of incoherent, gibberish theodicies like yours throughout my years of debating Christians. The debates usually end with a cop-out on the Christian side with comments like “God is too advanced and superior to be disputed using mere human logic” – thereby forestalling further debate through definitional fiat.

  • pentamom

    Rather than saying that there are things God “can’t” do and that therefore He is in some sense not omnipotent, I would rather say that it is possible for us to form propositions about “things that God can’t do” that are actually meaningless — actually not “things that to be done” but simply strings of words that seem to describe a thing to be done.
    For example, “making a square circle” is a classic one. But that is not really a “thing to be done” — that is nonsensically stringing words together that cannot mean anything, as though it were a proposition, because of the grammatical structure of the sentence. As long as square means square, and circle means circle, not only can God not do it, it’s not a thing to be done.
    “God ceasing to exist” is similar — as long as the word “God” and the phrase “ceasing to exist” have the meanings normally attributed to them, that is not a reasonable proposition of something that God cannot do, because is not really a “something” at all — just a string of words that form a grammatically correct sentence.

  • pentamom

    Sorry, I shouldn’t have used the word “sentence” to refer to my two examples above. However, if you reformulated them into a sentence, e.g., “God cannot make a square circle,” the point still stands that you can utter a grammatically correct sentence that nonetheless has no meaning, but meaningless sentences containing verbs and objects upon which the objects act, are not the same thing as valid suggestions of things to be done.

  • T

    We all die eventually. Where is the atheist outrage that God doesn’t prevent old age?

  • Robski

    “Where is the atheist outrage that God doesn’t prevent old age?”
    I can’t speak for all atheists, but I see such outrage as illogical; I can’t really be angry with a product of the imagination.

  • http://www.psonnets.org/ Michael

    “How can God exist when there is so much evil in the world?”
    This tells me that most atheists want God to be good. A god does not have to be good. There are many evil gods in mythology. In Christianity, there is Satan.
    If your tummy ache is caused by eating too much spicy or sugary food, then that proves that you do evil, not God. Is God evil for creating sugar and spice and everything nice? Or are you evil because you ate too much of it?

  • http://uncrediblehallq.net/blog/ The Uncredible Hallq

    I’m at a loss to understand the “omniscience” objections coming from ChrisB and Nancy. Knowing the premises of an argument against the existence of God are true (or any other argument) doesn’t require knowing everything–it just requires knowing those premises are true.

  • ElDuce

    Matthew Goggins writes: When you stand on the edge of the yawning abyss of evil in our world, you can either accept God as the author of creation or you can’t.
    Well said!

  • ElDuce

    Victor writes: First, love is an emotion…
    Not the Biblical understanding to the word love.
    Love is a decision not a feeling. Like is a feeling. When we say we love pizza, what we really mean is we really, really, really like pizza. We can also say we love our spouse and mean both that we really like that person and the we really love that person.
    Why do I say it is a decision? First, love is unconditional. I love my children. And no matter what they do I will love them. They sometimes do things that I don’t like, sometimes even to the point that I don’t really much like them. But I love them, and even when I can’t stand to be around them I love them.
    God commands us to love. Love your neighbor, love the Lord your God, love your enemies, etc. If love were a mere feeling there is no way that we could both love someone and call them an enemy.
    So what is this love that the Bible and God is talking about?
    http://thimblefulloftheology.wordpress.com/2007/09/23/the-christian-graces-definition-of-love/
    Not a bad place to start!
    As for the rest of what you wrote…I needed to get this off my chest before I looked at the rest.

  • http://homewardbound-cb.blogspot.com/ ChrisB

    Hallq,
    “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”
    This implies you know for certain that things could be better.

  • ElDuce

    Victor Writes (And ElDuce responds – and dumbs it down as much as is possible):
    “A poor cop-out. Given that God is omnipotent, the answer to the question, “Could the suffering have been prevented without losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse?” is by definition a yes.”
    Not really. That is to assume that you fully understand all possible outcomes. Could God have prevented Katrina and the destruction that followed? Yes. Could He have prevented it without losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How are we to say? Perhaps Katrina killed the next plane-ridding terrorist, or perhaps it drove hundreds if not thousands to fall to their knees in prayer. I don’t know all the variables that were in play, and I am pretty sure that you don’t either.
    On the other hand, God is a selfish God, and it is assumed that the suffering drives His creation in a direction that He desires. Everything He does is for His own good pleasure…not ours. This is not to say that we can’t apply logic to the situation, but it is to say that we do not currently understand every facet of our existence, and I doubt that we ever will.
    “Second, given that God existed since eternity past, while humans didn’t, then it follows that there existed a time – before humans were created – where God existed on his lonesome with no humans to love. Nonetheless, God managed to survive and did not implode in a vortex of self-contradiction.”
    I agree with you here, but am not sure how this would weaken a belief in God.
    “Third, God could have given humans a form of circumscribed free will that allows them to choose whether or not to join Him, but restricts them from causing suffering to others.”
    You either choose God – and righteousness – or you choose not God – and thus sin. Sin is selfishness and brings suffering!
    “Fourth, even assuming that free will is a necessity, that does not answer the question of why God created humans to be capable of evil in the first place. Humans are physically incapable of doing a lot of things, such as flying, breathing underwater, touching their left elbow with their left hand, etc. None of these are considered violations of free will by the Christian, so why can’t God make humans physically incapable of evil?”
    The choice is between God and Sin. Sin is evil, and if you eliminate evil, the choice is between God and God.
    “Fifth, since God is defined as omnipotent, the default assumption should be that he is capable of intervening in cases of suffering without taking away freedom. To say that it is “possible” that the above cannot be accomplished – without giving any logical reasons why this would be so – is saying that it is “possible” that God is not omnipotent.”
    If I chose to shoot you in the face, God could stop me but would in fact be taking away my free will. Thus he either stops my choice to act selfishly or he allows it – either restricts my free will or allows suffering.

  • http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com/ Steven Carr

    I’m sure that when Jesus returns to Earth, there will still be suffering and pain.
    People can disagree.
    ‘Some would still contend, though, that an omnipotent wholly good being would indeed prevent all tummy aches…… To which the proper response is to ask, “Are you omniscient?”
    So we non-omniscient beings have no reason whatever to believe that an omnipotent wholly good god would not allow children to burn to death in buildings, once the Kingdom of God has been established.
    Anybody who claims otherwise has to be asked ‘Are you omniscient?’

  • Steven Carr

    COLEMAN
    And for God to intervene in certain cases of suffering would possibly take away freedom.
    CARR
    Children should be free to burn to death in buildings.
    Of course, the Bible claims this alleged god loves to take away freedom.
    If there is a chance of people getting eternal life, this alleged god will put angels with flaming swords in the way of people getting eternal life.
    And if people feel free to use one kind of incense when worshipping their loving God, this alleged god will simply kill them for choosing an incense that is not the one he prefers.
    Leviticus 10
    Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
    This alleged God only allows us the freedom to obey his supreme commandment to love him, no matter how many people this alleged god is said to have killed.

  • Steven Carr

    El DUCE
    If I chose to shoot you in the face, God could stop me but would in fact be taking away my free will. Thus he either stops my choice to act selfishly or he allows it – either restricts my free will or allows suffering.
    CARR
    SO when Thomas put his hands on Jesus, he could have caused the resurrected Jesus suffering?
    How come the resurrected Jesus was immune to suffering when we have been informed that it is impossible to render people immune from suffering without taking away the free will of other people to harm them?
    So what did Thomas have? Did he have the free will to act selfishly and make the resurrected Jesus suffer?
    Or had this alleged god restricted the free will of Thomas or restricted the suffering of the resurrected Jesus?
    El Duce has spoken and said it is one or the other.
    So which is it?

  • http://morphed2fly.blogspot.com/ Nancy

    T writes:
    We all die eventually. Where is the atheist outrage that God doesn’t prevent old age?
    And then… we come face to face with TOTAL TRUTH, on an indisputable basis…Or… TIME settles ALL disputes.*: )

  • ElDuce

    Steven Carr writes: So which is it?
    The resurrected body of Jesus was not the same as the one you and I have. After He was resurrected He had a resurrected body. He appeared out of thin air, he appeared differently (at times & for purpose) to people close to him, etc.
    It is possible that Thomas did not cause suffering, but there is nothing saying that Thomas didn’t cause suffering. Jesus suffered much worse, and so that Thomas was able to preach effectively Jesus could have endured a little more.

  • Steven Carr

    I don’t understand El Duce’s comment.
    Is he saying that Jesus walked the earth free of any possible tummy pains when eating fish, because he had a different body to ours?
    Isn’t that the atheists point? God can reduce suffering on earth by making things different.
    Or is he saying that the resurrected Jesus could have suffered at the hands of Thomas?
    Hardly an advert for God being able to prevent suffering, is it?
    Perhaps this alleged god just cannot prevent suffering.

  • ElDuce

    “Is he saying that Jesus walked the earth free of any possible tummy pains when eating fish, because he had a different body to ours?”
    No he is not. He (that would be me) is saying that after He came back from the dead he had a resurrected body. Before He died, he very well had a few tummy pains (it does not say) but after He came back from the dead He had a different, resurrected body.
    “Isn’t that the atheists point? God can reduce suffering on earth by making things different.”
    Since only Jesus died, went into hell and defeated death…thus coming back on his own…I think it is safe to say his circumstances were a bit different.
    “Or is he saying that the resurrected Jesus could have suffered at the hands of Thomas?”
    It does not say He didn’t feel pain when Thomas stuck his finger in Jesus.
    “Hardly an advert for God being able to prevent suffering, is it?”
    Not sure I follow you here. The Good Book does not say one-way or the other. God can, if he wants, but it does not say that He did or did not prevent this pain to Jesus. We do know that Jesus had the skin taken off his back and was hung on a cross…and I am quite sure He felt that.
    “Perhaps this alleged god just cannot prevent suffering.”
    Again, He can…will He is the question. You do know that there is a difference between can (having the ability) and will (choosing to do said thing) just like there is a difference between may (having permission to do something) and can (having the ability to do said thing).

  • Steven Carr

    If I understand El Duce correctly, he is saying that this alleged god could not even prevent a resurrected Jesus from suffering.
    I guess somethings are just too much for a god to prevent.

  • ElDuce

    Nope…not surprisingly you missed it again.
    You should go to the “Zoolander’s Center for Kid’s Who Can’t Read Good”

  • Steven Carr

    I see the personal abuse has started.
    Could the resurrected body of Jesus feel pain or not while on earth?
    If it could not feel pain, then why can this alleged god sometimes get rid of suffering, when we are told that he cannot do that without destroying free will?
    And if the alleged resurrected body of Jesus could suffer, then what exactly had this resurrection conquered?

  • ElDuce

    “I see the personal abuse has started.”
    You bring it on yourself – ;-)
    “Could the resurrected body of Jesus feel pain or not while on earth?”
    No clue…and not sure it matters. Since my resurrected body will only occur after the judgment of the world, and sin will have passed away….pain will no longer be an issue.
    “If it could not feel pain, then why can this alleged god sometimes get rid of suffering, when we are told that he cannot do that without destroying free will?”
    Again (and for the last time) a resurrected body is different than a non-resurrected body. (appear out of nowhere, change appearance, etc.) So the ability to not feel pain may also be one of those differences. (I say may because we can’t know)
    “And if the alleged resurrected body of Jesus could suffer, then what exactly had this resurrection conquered?”
    The resurrection conquered death…meaning that Christ made a way for the creature to find its way to the creator. It has nothing to do with pain and suffering, it had everything to do with future reconciliation.
    Have a great night!

  • Steven Carr

    So if this alleged resurrected body could still feel pain, how can you claim that resurrected bodies will not feel pain in the future?
    Are you omniscient? Where is your evidence that resurrected bodies will not be able to feel pain in the future, when you say yourself you don’t have any idea whether or not this alleged resurrected body of Jesus could feel pain?

  • David

    The alleged comments from the alleged Steven Carr get annoying, allegedly.
    We *can’t* claim anything. When it comes down to it there is very little we can claim – forgiveness through the resurrection and so on. We aren’t omniscient, nor do we claim to be? You’re basically asking questions that no-one can know the answer to yet, and then saying “prove it”. It’s like me asking you – what is going to happen to your mind after you die, and then when you make a statement, say “prove it”.
    Oh well.

  • Steven Car

    ‘*Most philosophers (including William Howe who is mentioned later) would admit that Alvin Plantinga has solved the logical problem of evil. In his brief and masterful God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga concludes that it is at least possible that God could not have created a world with moral good but no moral evil.’
    And it is possible that I am all-good,as it is possible that all my bad deeds are done by demons possessing me?
    And it is logically possible that the world is flat.
    But is it rational to believe the world is flat?
    So what has Plantinga proved? Nothing.
    All he has done is show that there is no logical proof that we have two legs, and that there is no logical proof that America exists, and that there is no logical proof that the Bible existed before 1950 AD.
    His proof is the Doomsday-device of Christian apologetics, destroying all rational argument to ‘save’ Christianity.
    And his proof doesn’t even work. It has many flaws.
    Plantinga himself claimed in an email to me that this alleged god can, and has, created beings with free will that have never chosen evil.
    So if Plantinga himself claims that this alleged god *has* created beings with free will that never choose evil, why does he claim it might not be possible for this alleged god to be able to do that?

  • Coleman

    Victor,
    To your first point: “However, removing suffering from the world is not a logically impossible task, nor does it contradict God’s nature.” In itself, this is true. But the whole point of my argument is that there may be cases when to end a specific case of suffering WOULD contradict His nature. How this could be is nearly impossible to see, but it makes Joe’s argument logically valid, even if you don’t buy it: namely, that God knows everything, and so He knows better than we do what the consequences would be of ending any given case of suffering.
    El Duce did a good job of backing up my arguments, I think. To add to what he said about love: when I talk about love, I’m not talking about a feeling. And it’s not just a decision, either. It’s the motivating force behind everything. Why are you sitting at the computer, reading blog comments? There’s love behind it. There’s the surface “like” of enjoying arguments, maybe. There’s a deeper desire, probably, I desire that people see the truth. Maybe also in there is a desire, a love, for making your voice heard. You could trace it back deeper and deeper, but all those motivations are love. It’s everything.
    But Divine Love, love in itself, is infinitely deep. With a person, there can be selfish love; but love in itself is the opposite of selfishness – it is a desire to give to others. That is God – that is the motivating force behind the universe.
    El Duce did not answer the question about “if God needs someone outside Himself to love, what did He do before He created humans?”
    The answer is, I think, that He loved the human beings who would be – and to Him who are, because time is a property of the physical world, which God is above. The next question might be, then, why He didn’t create the universe immediately if He is love. The answer is that He did. You can’t say, “What was He doing before He created the universe?” because “before” relies on time, which again is part of the physical universe.
    My belief about natural disasters is that the influence of sin causes them, or at least is the root cause behind the suffering they cause. I can’t prove it to you, and I don’t expect you to believe it, which is why I mentioned it only in passing. It’s tangential to the argument, I think, since I think without it my argument still shows that it’s possible that God could not avert any of the suffering he allows without violating His nature. Which answers your original criticism of Joe’s post, if I understood it correctly.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.net/blog/ The Uncredible Hallq

    ChrisB wrote:

    Hallq,
    “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.”
    This implies you know for certain that things could be better.

    Why doesn’t it merely imply that you know, simpliciter, that things could be better? And what does certain mean here? And what does certainty have to do with omniscience–how would omniscience allow an otherwise impossible uncertainty? (On this last point: is omniscience the one and only way for successfully arguing yourself out of global skepticism as Descartes did?)

  • Steven Carr

    Coleman is very annoyed with people who ask why this alleged god allows children to burn to death in blazing buildings.
    I can understand why he is fed up with people asking for evidence that this alleged god loves children so much that he would lift a finger to help them.

  • Steven Carr

    COLEMAN
    ‘My belief about natural disasters is that the influence of sin causes them…
    CARR
    You haven’t read the Bible have you?
    Isaiah 45:7
    I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the LORD, do all these things.
    According to the Bible, this alleged god will move heaven and earth to kill people who do not obey all of his commandments.
    According to the Bible, this alleged god will even prevent people getting eternal life by putting angels with flaming swords in their way.
    Why then should we assume that this alleged god loved the babies that were torn from their mothers arms by the tsunami of 26/12/2004?

  • http://resurrectiondebate.blogspot.com/ Steven Carr

    JOE CARTER
    ‘After all, how does “intense” suffering differ in any meaningful sense from mere suffering?’
    CARR
    This is what I always say to Christians who point out how intensely Jesus suffered on the cross for me.
    When it comes down to it, as Joe points out, the suffering of crucifixion does not differ in any meaningful sense from the suffering of a tummy-ache.
    And there is nothing human beings could ever have done which would have resulted in Jesus not having had to suffer (and he suffered in no meaningful way from my suffering when I had tummy-ache last night)
    Anybody who claims humans could have brought about a world with no need for Jesus to suffer should be asked ‘Are you omniscient?’

  • Victor

    ELDUCE:

    Not really. That is to assume that you fully understand all possible outcomes. Could God have prevented Katrina and the destruction that followed? Yes. Could He have prevented it without losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How are we to say? Perhaps Katrina killed the next plane-ridding terrorist, or perhaps it drove hundreds if not thousands to fall to their knees in prayer. I don’t know all the variables that were in play, and I am pretty sure that you don’t either.

    You are still not comprehending the meaning of “omnipotence” at all. Omnipotence means that God can do anything (logically impossible things like drawing a square circle are excluded). If God is incapable of accomplishing the act of preventing Hurricane Katrina without causing or allowing greater harm to occur, then he is not omnipotent. It doesn’t matter if other variables are in play – if God is omnipotent, he can change/remove those variables.
    Furthermore, your examples are just plain silly. If God were truly omnipotent and benevolent, he wouldn’t need to use a Hurricane Katrina to kill a suicide bomber. He could have used a more precise thunder bolt. And a god that intentionally allows thousands of people to be wiped out by a hurricane so as to encourage people to “fall to their knees in prayer” to him is a horrible and cruel entity – akin to the tyrant who executes millions in order to evoke obedience and obeisance.

    On the other hand, God is a selfish God, and it is assumed that the suffering drives His creation in a direction that He desires. Everything He does is for His own good pleasure…not ours.

    God is a selfish God? All the while my pastors have told me that God is a selfless being, so much so that he is willing to give his only son (which nonsensically is also himself and the “holy spirit”) to save us…
    If God is a selfish God, then why do Christians prize Jesus’ crucifixion as a “selfless act of love”? After all, it is all just part of God’s selfish plan for His own good pleasure, right?

    You either choose God – and righteousness – or you choose not God – and thus sin. Sin is selfishness and brings suffering!

    Christians are notorious for making sweeping, unsupported claims like this that are wholly lacking in logical links. A simple counterexample would suffice to demonstrate the falsity of this one:
    Buddhists don’t choose God, but they (generally) do not cause suffering to others. It is perfectly possible to reject Christianity and yet still cause no suffering to others. Thus, it is perfectly possible for God to allow us the free will to reject him, but withhold from us the ability to cause suffering to others.

    If I chose to shoot you in the face, God could stop me but would in fact be taking away my free will. Thus he either stops my choice to act selfishly or he allows it – either restricts my free will or allows suffering.

    Again, this is obviously false had you paused a moment to reflect. God could have suspended the laws of physics for the moment and caused the bullet to drop to the ground without harming me. Making it physically impossible for you to shoot me does not take away your free will, just like how making it physically impossible for humans to teleport from one place to another does not violate their free will.
    The point is that God could have made it physically impossible for humans to do evil, just like how we are physically constrained from doing many things.
    COLEMAN,

    In itself, this is true. But the whole point of my argument is that there may be cases when to end a specific case of suffering WOULD contradict His nature.

    Please cite one possible example. If you are unable to even think of a scenario that this would happen, then I’m afraid your argument doesn’t hold much weight. As I’ve said, omnipotence implies the ability to do everything, and if you wish to dispute this, you need to provide something more than baseless speculation.

    To add to what he said about love: when I talk about love, I’m not talking about a feeling. And it’s not just a decision, either. It’s the motivating force behind everything.

    If God is love, and love is a motivating force, then God is a motivating force. Why must a motivating force itself love other people? A force is a force; it motivates other entities, but there is no requirement that it must be subject to its own motivation. To use an analogy, the gravitational force is not itself attracted to other large objects.

    But Divine Love, love in itself, is infinitely deep. With a person, there can be selfish love; but love in itself is the opposite of selfishness – it is a desire to give to others. That is God – that is the motivating force behind the universe.

    This directly contradicts ElDuce’s assertion that God is a selfish God. You Christians need to get your arguments straight.

    The answer is, I think, that He loved the human beings who would be – and to Him who are, because time is a property of the physical world, which God is above.

    My belief about natural disasters is that the influence of sin causes them, or at least is the root cause behind the suffering they cause. I can’t prove it to you, and I don’t expect you to believe it, which is why I mentioned it only in passing. It’s tangential to the argument, I think, since I think without it my argument still shows that it’s possible that God could not avert any of the suffering he allows without violating His nature.

    Oh no, it is in fact very relevant. Natural disasters are a huge cause of human suffering. If you cannot show the mechanism through which sin causes natural disasters, then your argument fails.

  • Victor

    ELDUCE:

    “Not really. That is to assume that you fully understand all possible outcomes. Could God have prevented Katrina and the destruction that followed? Yes. Could He have prevented it without losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse? How are we to say? Perhaps Katrina killed the next plane-ridding terrorist, or perhaps it drove hundreds if not thousands to fall to their knees in prayer. I don’t know all the variables that were in play, and I am pretty sure that you don’t either.”

    You are still not comprehending the meaning of “omnipotence” at all. Omnipotence means that God can do anything (subject to the exclusions I’ve stated before). If God is incapable of accomplishing the act of preventing Hurricane Katrina without causing or allowing greater harm to occur, then he is not omnipotent. It doesn’t matter if other variables are in play – if God is omnipotent, he can change/remove those variables.
    Furthermore, your examples are just plain silly. If God were truly omnipotent and benevolent, he wouldn’t need to use a Hurricane Katrina to kill a suicide bomber. He could have used a more precise thunder bolt. And a god that intentionally allows thousands of people to be wiped out by a hurricane so as to encourage people to “fall to their knees in prayer” to him is a horrible and cruel entity – akin to the tyrant who executes millions in order to evoke obedience and obeisance.

    “On the other hand, God is a selfish God, and it is assumed that the suffering drives His creation in a direction that He desires. Everything He does is for His own good pleasure…not ours.”

    God is a selfish God? All the while my pastors have told me that God is a selfless being, so much so that he is willing to give his only son (which nonsensically is also himself and the “holy spirit”) to save us…
    If God is a selfish God, then why do Christians prize Jesus’ crucifixion as a “selfless act of love”? After all, it is all just part of God’s selfish plan for His own good pleasure, right?

    “You either choose God – and righteousness – or you choose not God – and thus sin. Sin is selfishness and brings suffering!”

    This is a sweeping, unsupported claim that crumbles under the merest scrutiny. A simple counterexample would suffice to demonstrate its falsity:
    Buddhists don’t choose God, but they (generally) do not cause suffering to others. It is perfectly possible to reject Christianity and yet still cause no suffering to others. Thus, it is perfectly possible for God to allow us the free will to reject him, but withhold from us the ability to cause suffering to others.
    BTW, if sin is – through its inherent nature – selfishness, and God is selfish, then isn’t God sinning?

    “If I chose to shoot you in the face, God could stop me but would in fact be taking away my free will. Thus he either stops my choice to act selfishly or he allows it – either restricts my free will or allows suffering.”

    Again, this is obviously false had you paused a moment to reflect. God could have suspended the laws of physics for the moment and caused the bullet to drop to the ground without harming me. Making it physically impossible for you to shoot me does not take away your free will, just like how making it physically impossible for humans to teleport from one place to another does not violate their free will.

    COLEMAN,

    “In itself, this is true. But the whole point of my argument is that there may be cases when to end a specific case of suffering WOULD contradict His nature.”

    Please cite one possible example. If you are unable to think of a scenario where this would happen, then I’m afraid your argument doesn’t hold much weight. As I’ve said, omnipotence implies the ability to do everything, and if you wish to argue that something cannot be done, then you need to show exactly how it contradicts God’s nature instead of merely insisting that “it is possible”.

    “To add to what he said about love: when I talk about love, I’m not talking about a feeling. And it’s not just a decision, either. It’s the motivating force behind everything.”

    If God is love, and love is a motivating force, then God is a motivating force. Why must a motivating force itself love other people? A force is a force; it motivates other entities, but there is no requirement that it must be subject to its own motivation. To use an analogy, the gravitational force is not itself attracted to other large objects.

    “But Divine Love, love in itself, is infinitely deep. With a person, there can be selfish love; but love in itself is the opposite of selfishness – it is a desire to give to others. That is God – that is the motivating force behind the universe.”

    This directly contradicts ElDuce’s – whom you applauded for backing up your arguments well – assertion that God is a selfish God. You Christians need to get your arguments straight.

    “The answer is, I think, that He loved the human beings who would be – and to Him who are, because time is a property of the physical world, which God is above.”

    Question: Does God love people who are burning in Hell? Because the logical conclusion of your argument is that if God is above time, then from his perspective, some of the people who currently exist on Earth are actually burning in Hell at the same time (for want of a better phrase).
    If so, then how can God love them – since many Christians define Hell as a place devoid of God’s love, among other things?

    “My belief about natural disasters is that the influence of sin causes them, or at least is the root cause behind the suffering they cause. I can’t prove it to you, and I don’t expect you to believe it, which is why I mentioned it only in passing. It’s tangential to the argument, I think, since I think without it my argument still shows that it’s possible that God could not avert any of the suffering he allows without violating His nature.”

    Oh no, it is in fact very relevant. Natural disasters are a huge cause of human suffering. If you cannot show the mechanism through which sin causes natural disasters, then your argument fails to account for a large proportion of human suffering.

  • Coleman

    Victor,
    I’m afraid we’re arguing on the edge of my understanding of God. To be honest, I don’t know why He allows a lot of the suffering He does. But I can see that it is possible that to end it would take away a person’s freedom, or would lead a person to choose to live in greater suffering by sin, and this seems believable to me. I know saying “it’s possible” isn’t going to convince you; and I don’t think anyone has been convinced of God’s love by arguing about suffering; I think you’re convinced of it by other means, then you try to see how He could possibly allow the suffering He does. So the ability to see that it is possible means a great deal to someone who has accepted God and very little to someone who hasn’t. But you asked for an example. Here’s one: I spend my life trying to maximize my own pleasure. But as I continue living this lifestyle, it starts to feel empty. I suffer. God cannot prevent this suffering, because without it I could not be led to choose a better life, which will lead to the greater happiness both of myself and of others. He cannot force me to change, because to do this would violate my free will. He cannot allow me to continue to be completely happy with this lifestyle, because it prevents me from greater happiness, which can only come through being joined to Him in love. He must allow the suffering to happen because it is the only way that He can achieve His goal, which is to bring everyone into as much happiness as possible, which comes from being closer to Him, which comes from acting from His love for human beings.
    You’re right about my disagreements with El Duce. I’m a Swedenborgian, which means I disagree with evangelicals almost as much as I disagree with atheists.
    I DO believe that God loves everyone in hell as much as He loves everyone in Heaven. The Swedenborgian picture of hell isn’t one of eternal torment; or rather, the torment comes only from the fact that the people there are all completely selfish and cannot get what they want if what they want involves hurting others. God still loves them and brings them into as much happiness as He can; but they freely reject that love.
    I take your point about love and gravity, but I think it’s a matter of semantics. Would it be better if I said, “God is an infinitely loving being, and love for others is what defines Him”?
    The connection I see between human free will and the natural world is too complicated to put here – read Divine Love and Wisdom by Swedenborg if you’re interested (Sorry if this seems like a cop out – I don’t think it is any more than it would be if a physicist said that you’d need a whole book to explain string theory). I would add that natural disasters can cause physical suffering, but that any other suffering is mental and is therefore really from a spiritual cause, rather than a direct cause of the natural disaster itself.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    My tummy hurts. Ergo, there is no god.
    This argument may be absurd …
    The manner in which it is posed indicates carefully considering terms before deciding whether the argument is absurd.
    So, if I may be so bold, I am going to consider the terms, then the argument.
    As you have posed the argument, the god which tummy aches disprove has several very specific qualities: the ability to perceive human suffering, as well as both the desire and power to alleviate it.
    However, a god absent one or more of those qualities is completely beyond the argument.
    For instance, it may well be that a supernatural being exists, but has not interacted in any way with the universe since its creation, and is completely unaware humans exist.
    Plug that god in the argument caricature.
    Doesn’t even make sense, does it?
    To keep these gods separate, I shall term the deist’s god G–.
    In contrast, the theist’s god, fleshed out with all manner of qualities, about which theodicy questions make sense, is God.
    Which leads to a shortcoming in the English language. The term “atheist” is completely inadequate to the task. Strictly speaking, beliefs about G– and religion fall into four categories:
    G– does not exist, and all religion is therefore pointless (adeist, atheist)
    G– does not exist, but religion is nonetheless necessary (adeist, theist)
    G– does exist, but all religions are pointless (deist, atheist)
    G– does exist, and one particular instantiation, God, makes one particular religion true. (deist, specific theist — say, Christian)
    For the first three categories, “my tummy aches, ergo there is no God” is a perfect non sequitor.
    It is only for the deist/theist, whose God is a moral actor with the capacity and desire to make and act upon moral decisions, to whom the caricature applies.
    Even then, the manner of its presentation belittles the real theodicy issues at hand.
    Which means being specific about a couple of additional terms: evil and suffering.
    Evil is a purely human concept; roughly speaking, it applies to informed decisions selfishly made which impose suffering upon others.
    Suffering is a little harder to pin down. Within theodicy, one really must make the distinction between unavoidable and gratuitous suffering.
    Unavoidable suffering is that which comes with existence’s territory. For instance, absent continuous intrusion into the material world, life is impossible on Earth without a molten core and the consequent vulcanism and earthquakes.
    Which means, unavoidably, there will be massive earthquakes that will kill tens, or hundreds, of thousands.
    But not all suffering is unavoidable — some is purely gratuitous. Some animals are apparently able to sense impending earthquakes or tidal waves.
    There is no particular reason humans can’t do so, we just can’t. So the magnitude of suffering attending geological calamities is far greater than it otherwise could be — that difference is gratuitous suffering.
    Similarly, there is no particular reason women can’t be designed so that childbirth does not sometimes result in obstetric fistulas.
    For adeist/atheists, adeist/theists, and deist/atheists, gratuitous suffering is of no import whatsoever.
    However, for deist/theists, particularly of the monotheist stripe, what really needs explaining is the existence of gratuitous suffering wholly unconnected with human agency, or continued existence in a material world.
    Therefore, to correctly pose the argument, instead of resorting to caricature, it should go like this:
    “[example of gratuitous suffering] exists, therefore God (or Yahweh, or Allah) does not exist.”
    Where an example of gratuitous suffering comes from:
    appendicitis, fistula, wisdom teeth, water born illness, specific revelation ad nearly infinitum.
    NB: to prove the first four are gratuitous, the amount of suffering they impose has been virtually eliminated by mere humans.
    A little revelation — something in Deuteronomy insisting water be boiled before infants and children drink it, for instance — would have gone a long way to reducing gratuitous suffering’s butcher bill.
    Well?

  • anon

    Regarding the question of God’s omnipotence…remember that the confessions (at least most protestant confessions) state that this means God “can do all his holy will”. He can’t lie, do evil, cease to exist, etc…
    Hey Skipper writes:
    “However, for deist/theists, particularly of the monotheist stripe, what really needs explaining is the existence of gratuitous suffering wholly unconnected with human agency, or continued existence in a material world.”
    The traditional understanding of pain and suffering within Christianity is that there is no suffering unconnected with human agency. Humans are born under a curse because of Adam’s sin and will be relieved of the curse because of Christ’s righteousness.
    CS Lewis wrote “the problem of pain”, but it seems to me that pain isn’t the problem. Suffering is the problem and they aren’t the same thing. I would argue that suffering is socially constructed. The existential angst we feel due to our own mortality seems to be unique to humans. The biological responses to various stimuli (i.e. pain) lead to suffering as a necessary consequence of our rationality.
    The reason that a tummy ache doesn’t induce suffering (and we would mock anyone who suggested otherwise — “Don’t be a baby”) is that it is temporary. We know it will pass (literally perhaps) and life will be good again. Losing a limb, falling prey to a degenerative disease or losing a loved one in the prime of life is permanent. That’s a difference in kind from the tummy ache, bee sting or smashed thumb.
    …unless one believes in the resurrection. In which case all of suffering is temporary and will be made right someday. If the Christian story is real, then the missing leg, wasted body, dead child, etc… will be restored. So for the Christian, while the pain of losing a limb (for example) is real, it is a difference in degree from say smashing your thumb with a hammer.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    anon:
    The traditional understanding of pain and suffering within Christianity is that there is no suffering unconnected with human agency. Humans are born under a curse because of Adam’s sin and will be relieved of the curse because of Christ’s righteousness.
    This is the part of the narrative that is supposed to let the Christian god off the theodicy hook.
    But it does not work.
    Please note the distinction I made between intrinsic and gratuitous suffering. Whether existing in a material world that doesn’t require constant divine intervention, or being “cursed” with human nature, some suffering is intrinsic.
    The problems of evil, or tummy aches, have absolutely no bearing on the existence of God.
    However, gratuitous suffering is entirely different. God could have chosen to include in His revelations direction to boil water before drinking. Doing so would have saved untold millions of lives; even better, those lives saved would have been those to whom he specifically revealed Himself.
    Allowing random, unnecessary, suffering does not square with any monotheist conception of God.
    With regard to theodicy, here is the problem monotheists need to resolve:
    God could have designed women so as to eliminate obstetric fistulas, but chose not to. Therefore, God is a monster.

  • smmtheory

    God could have designed women so as to eliminate obstetric fistulas, but chose not to. Therefore, God is a monster.

    On the other hand, if he had, you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk snotty about God.

  • phasespace

    Sigh! The problem of evil strawman…. again!

    Ok, everyone raise their hands. Does anyone think the problem of evil argument is a valid argument against the existence of a supreme being of any kind? Anyone?

    That’s right. Nobody thinks it is. And Joe is, once again, attacking a strawman.

    I’m not a big fan of this line of argument for several reasons:

    1. At best, this argument provides evidence that, should some kind of god exist, then either this god is a moral relativist and a hypocrite, or the believer’s conception of god is wrong. That’s it. Nothing more. And what’s more, this line of argument isn’t terribly strong.
    2. Atheists tend to abuse this argument leading to…
    3. Giving theists like Joe, who have misunderstood the point of the argument the opportunity to commit an Argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy, by trying to shift the burden of proof to those of us who deny that god exists.

    In short, Joe’s argument does not prove that any sort of god must exist at all. Nor does it show that a god must have any particular moral properties (assuming that it exists). Joe hasn’t shown a darn thing, and the post misses the whole point of the argument.

  • Leroy Amadeus Lee Prowse

    Obviously Joe Carter has thought himself clever for stumbling upon this very simple and frequently cited argument. However I found it even more incredible that he has managed to reduce a “reduction ad absurdum” argument. By ‘reduce’ I am referring to the fact that he has conjured tummy aches as a pleasant euphemism. Well Mr. Carter – congratulations. An argument that has historically been known to be literally “reduced to the absurd” has been furthermore dumbed down until it is able to be understood by a 2 year old.
    Allow me to rephrase the argument another way, with a little help from our friend Epicurus:
    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
    Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing?
    Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing?
    Then whence cometh evil?
    Is he neither able nor willing?
    Then why call him God?”
    If you had posted the argument using this syntax, I bet you would have a hard time trying to disprove this. And yes, it WOULD require you to use more than a play on the linguistical meaning of the term ‘intensity’.
    Somebody respond to this.

  • Coleman

    Leroy Amadeus Lee Prowse:
    Read my conversation with Victor (and El Duce) for a discussion of things an omnipotent God “can’t” do.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Mr. Amadeus:
    Mr. Carter thought himself clever, but by failing to analyze the terms of the argument, and its applicability, failed to note his was the hand plunging the sword into his own chest.
    Epicurus’s argument is far more eloquent than the dreaded tummy ache, but stumbles upon a concept it need not address: evil.
    Further, we need not speculate whether God’s power extends to omnipotence, wonder whether His awareness extends to omnipotence, nor impose the burden of having anything more than normal moral intuition.
    Mr. Carter’s own goal becomes readily apparent when considering the existence of gratuitous suffering.
    At the certainty of repeating myself, there is a great deal of intense suffering, randomly distributed, that has nothing to do with fallen human nature, proper fealty, or the consequences of living in a material world so constructed as to not require constant divine intervention.
    I cited obstetric fistula above, but how about another: the importance of pure water, and how to produce it. That one thing, so simple humans can do it, has greatly reduced the butcher bill of gratuitous suffering.
    God could have, but did not, reveal this long before humans discovered bacteria.
    Clearly, that gratuitous suffering — I think death from diarrhea qualifies, and also earns the adjective “intense” — is not necessary, or even beneficial in any imaginable way.
    Which requires redirecting Epicurus, and revealing Mr. Carter’s misplaced ridicule. Let’s take as stipulated that God is powerful and aware, and place upon God only the requirement that His abilities in these areas are at least the equal of man’s.
    Then, using normal moral intuition, God is malevolent.
    There is no other way to explain willfully allowing the wholly gratuitous slaughter of children prior to modernity.
    smmtheory:
    … if [God had eliminated obstetric fistula], you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk snotty about God.
    Perhaps you should attend my argument more carefully.
    As an exercise, extend it to another source of gratuitous suffering: particular revelation.
    Certainly it was/is within God’s power to reveal Himself to all of humanity.
    Certainly, God is fully aware of human nature, and the endless tumbrel loads of corpses that would attend particular revelation.
    Then explain why God is not malevolent.
    That would put you in the position of refuting the message, rather than insulting the messenger.

  • smmtheory

    That would put you in the position of refuting the message, rather than insulting the messenger.

    What? You were insulted by my observation that you were talking snotty about God? You have no argument, and I have no explanation why you choose to judge God as being malevolent. You can take that up with God in the fullness of time.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    You were insulted by my observation that you were talking snotty about God? You have no argument, and I have no explanation why you choose to judge God as being malevolent.
    I have carefully posed the argument three times, you have failed to address it even once.
    Without God, apparently, humans have no basis for making moral judgments, or doing anything moral at all.
    Equally, it is impossible to make moral judgments without having the capacity to judge cause and effect.
    Keeping all that in mind, is there such a thing as gratuitous suffering? E.g., are wisdom teeth or the appendix necessary in any way? Both have caused intense, significant random suffering. Both are well within God’s design purview; whether we have them, or not, is up to Him.
    Is there any conceivable way in which humans would be worse off without those things?
    If not — and not is the answer — then God either inflicted, or allowed to persist, (until human ingenuity got in the way) intense, random, suffering.
    So, in order to demonstrate your conclusion that I am talking snotty about God, you need to either:
    – show there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering, or,
    – show how it is morally acceptable for God remain completely inert in the face of easily avoidable gratuitous suffering.
    The alternatives, that God is unaware, or incapable, are also available, but I am guessing you don’t want to go there.

  • smmtheory

    So, in order to demonstrate your conclusion that I am talking snotty about God, you need to either:
    – show there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering, or,
    – show how it is morally acceptable for God remain completely inert in the face of easily avoidable gratuitous suffering.

    You should be disabused of your unfounded and unjustifiable assumption that you and everybody else are deserving of a life completely devoid of suffering. I’m not sure I’m the one to do that. As long as your arguments continue to harbor such a ridiculous notion, they will hold about as much water as a sieve.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    You should be disabused of your unfounded and unjustifiable assumption that you and everybody else are deserving of a life completely devoid of suffering.
    You need to attend my argument more carefully — I never once implied such a thing, as you will discover should you try to find a quote to that effect.
    I clearly made the distinction between intrinsic and gratuitous suffering. Just as clearly, you missed it.
    So, please review my argument. If you are still unclear as to the difference, then I will attempt to explain it more clearly.
    Otherwise, your task still remains in front of you.

  • Jeff Dykstra

    What we theists – and the non-theists among us – seem to have forgotten is that this argument is as much about man as it is about God. Hey Skipper makes a distinction between intrinsic and gratuitous suffering. The Christian answer would be that there is no intrinsic suffering, since God originally designed the earth so as to avoid all suffering. As well, there is no gratuitous suffering, since all suffering that exists is NECESSARY suffering – the necessary consequence of the curse on man’s sin, and necessary for many other more personal reasons that relate to God’s work of redemption. Those reasons include the necessity of the suffering of Jesus Christ; the suffering of those who reject God, either to bring them closer to Him or as punishment for their rejection of Him; and the suffering of those whom He has brought to Himself in this world, to purify their love for Him and their neighbour, or to demonstrate it to others, for His glory.

  • Jeff Dykstra

    What we theists – and the non-theists among us – seem to have forgotten is that this argument is as much about man as it is about God. Hey Skipper makes a distinction between intrinsic and gratuitous suffering. The Christian answer would be that there is no intrinsic suffering, since God originally designed the earth so as to avoid all suffering. As well, there is no gratuitous suffering, since all suffering that exists is NECESSARY suffering – the necessary consequence of the curse on man’s sin, and necessary for many other more personal reasons that relate to God’s work of redemption. Those reasons include the necessity of the suffering of Jesus Christ; the suffering of those who reject God, either to bring them closer to Him or as punishment for their rejection of Him; and the suffering of those whom He has brought to Himself in this world, to purify their love for Him and their neighbour, or to demonstrate it to others, for His glory.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Mr. Dykstra:
    … there is no gratuitous suffering, since all suffering that exists is NECESSARY suffering …
    When you use the word necessary in this respect, you let yourself off the hook in two ways.
    First, by asserting that such suffering is necessary without explaining why it is necessary, except to say that the necessary suffering is necessary because it is necessary.
    Second, and far more crippling, you have relieved yourself of explaining why some gratuitous suffering is necessary, when it becomes optional.
    One example suffices, although there are many more.
    Prior to clean drinking water, the need for which God never mentions, there was a huge amount of intense suffering and death, particularly among infants and children. Now, wherever there is at least minimally competent government, that suffering is a thing of the past.
    So, according to you, this suffering is NECESSARY.
    Yet, because it has, with the exception of a few benighted areas, vanished, it is clearly OPTIONAL.
    Which makes it gratuitous.
    Unless, of course, you are able to demonstrate the consequences of nearly eliminating water borne disease make it, in fact, necessary.
    I’m not sure which is the most difficult position: advocating a return to dirty drinking water, or explaining the moral justification for intense random suffering that is both necessary and optional.

  • smmtheory

    You need to attend my argument more carefully — I never once implied such a thing, as you will discover should you try to find a quote to that effect.

    You may not have explicitly stated it, but you most certainly did imply it. It is implicit in your consideration that some or any suffering is gratuitous; that creation could have been designed without some little bit of suffering which you judge to be unnecessary. For your logic to hold together you must also judge that all suffering is unnecessary, otherwise whether one or another bit of suffering is gratuitous becomes subjective.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    You may not have explicitly stated it, but you most certainly did imply it.
    I most certainly did not, and I’ll bet you cannot quote me to that end.
    I very clearly distinguished intrinsic and gratuitous suffering.
    Cancer imposes incredible suffering, but the very processes of life ensure there will be cancer. Cancer is intrinsic.
    The consequences of human evil are intrinsic.
    Death and destruction by natural disaster are intrinsic.
    Tummy aches are intrinsic.
    However, the intense suffering resulting from drinking impure water is not.
    Why? Because because purifying water relies on the simplest of expedients, made obvious once humans discovered why purification is necessary.
    Therefore, as I mentioned above, the task remains: either explain why water borne illness is necessary, or failing that, explain why God is not a monster for perpetrating that which humans have so easily eliminated.

  • smmtheory

    I did quote you – in comment 59 – furthermore, I explained in comment 64 how you implied it with what I quoted in comment 59. Now you must explain why the suffering intrinsic to drinking impure water is unnecessary. Drinking impure water may not be necessary, but that says nothing to whether or not the suffering in unnecessary. Moreover, it might be inferred that the suffering from drinking impure water is necessary in order to teach people that purifying the water is necessary.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    smmtheory:
    Just to review, here is how you quoted me:
    So, in order to demonstrate your conclusion that I am talking snotty about God, you need to either:
    – show there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering, or,
    – show how it is morally acceptable for God remain completely inert in the face of easily avoidable gratuitous suffering.

    From which you somehow derived the conclusion I implied humans deserve a life completely devoid of suffering. Since you might not have noticed the word “gratuitous” first time around, I have highlighted it.
    Which means you completely ignored the distinction between intrinsic and gratuitous suffering, which I made clear from the outset, and subsequently reinforced.
    So, far from implying humans should not suffer in any way, I clearly asserted some suffering is completely unavoidable in a material world.
    In other words, you are engaging in a strawman argument.
    Drinking impure water may not be necessary, but that says nothing to whether or not the suffering is unnecessary.
    Well, yes it does. Humanity has, through its own devices, nearly eliminated the hecatombs associated with impure water. So, if the suffering was necessary before, is it still necessary? If not, why not?
    Moreover, it might be inferred that the suffering from drinking impure water is necessary in order to teach people that purifying the water is necessary.
    In order for this inference to not fall flat on its face at the outset, you have a couple challenges.
    First, explain why the Old Testament contains all those fussy dietary rules. Do they have any point whatsoever, or are they just pointless hoop jumping?
    Second, again with those dietary rules, in what way that doesn’t wholly offend moral intuition does it makes sense to include all those rules, without even giving a passing wave to clean water?
    Finally, that half the children born failed to survive to their fifth birthday was glaringly apparent; telling people to purify water (and wash their hands) would have been all the cause required for the inevitable effect to teach people pure water and clean hands are necessary.
    Instead, God gave it a complete miss until man, using rational inquiry — the very thing that brings God’s existence into question — learned bacteria have dominion over use, rather than the other way around.
    Not putting the what ahead of our discovering why is such an astonishing act against interest that it raises a number of questions.
    None of them good, so far as you are concerned.
    Never mind that, though, as it risks taking the conversation OT. Your characterization of my position is wrong, and your inference fails.
    So your task still remains: either explain why water borne illness is necessary, or failing that, explain why God is not a monster for perpetrating that which humans have so easily eliminated.

  • smmtheory

    No, I don’t need to show there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering. The burden of proof rests on you since you obviously believe contrary to all available evidence and logic that there is such a thing.
    IF (and that is a very big if) there is any gratuitous suffering, it might be the suffering God undergoes for your lack of faith and belief in Him. But then again, that is probably suffering that is intrinsic to his love for us.

  • Hey Skipper

    No, I don’t need to show there is no such thing as gratuitous suffering. The burden of proof rests on you since you obviously believe contrary to all available evidence and logic that there is such a thing.
    Already done, but I will reiterate.
    The death and suffering due to water borne illness is gratuitous because it is so easily prevented.
    It is so easily prevented that the failure to provide clean water is considered a sure sign of completely incompetent, or absent, government.
    The necessity of clean water is so obvious that if you were to advocate a return to bacteria-ridden water, people would consider you either insane or evil. And they would be right.
    You have provided not one whit of evidence, or logic to the notion that water borne illness is necessary.
    So, by all means, do so. Because the ball is very much in your court.
    IF (and that is a very big if) there is any gratuitous suffering, it might be the suffering God undergoes for your lack of faith and belief in Him.
    The problem of gratuitous suffering is fatal to your concept of God.
    Its existence, and there are more examples by the tumbrel load, means God is one or more of unaware, incapable, or malevolent.
    Or is the deists’ g–.
    Or simply doesn’t exist.
    Returning to my original point, though: Mr. Carter was so intent on trivializing the evidential argument from evil, and those who make it, that he made no attempt to understand the underlying terms.
    In so doing, he scored an own goal.

  • smmtheory

    Trotting out the same old discredited theory over and over and over again about something that you judge is gratuitous suffering does not show anything but that you like to gratuitously torture a subject to death.
    You can’t get around the fact that it is a judgement call, an opinion, on your part that any particular suffering is gratuitous. You cannot logically explain why your particular example should be classified as gratuitous when another particular example would not be. Being preventable is not an attribute indicative of gratuity because given enough time and resources, any particular situation could be either prevented or avoided.
    Furthermore, despite the fact that I do not believe such a thing as gratuitous suffering exists, even if it did that would NOT be fatal to my concept of God, only your concept of God. You’ll have to try harder than that.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    Trotting out the same old discredited theory over and over and over again …
    Noting, all the while, that you haven’t explained why water borne illness is necessary.
    In other words, you haven’t discredited anything I have said, you have merely engaged in name calling.
    And the reason I focus on this one example, though there are many others, is because it is undeniable. Providing clean water isn’t hard, and once having mastered the germ theory of disease, is obviously essential.
    God, presumably had mastered the germ theory of disease. Yet, despite ample opportunity, declined to reveal the importance of clean water.
    Why?
    You cannot logically explain why your particular example should be classified as gratuitous when another particular example would not be.
    gratuitous |grəˈt(y)oōitəs|
    adjective
    1 uncalled for; lacking good reason; unwarranted
    See also: unjustified, uncalled for, unwarranted, unprovoked, undue; indefensible, unjustifiable; needless, unnecessary, inessential, unmerited, groundless, senseless, wanton, indiscriminate; excessive, immoderate, inordinate, inappropriate.
    God deciding not to mention the very simple means — easily obtained even with the limited technology of the time — to virtually eliminate water borne illness means it qualifies as all of these.
    There is no good reason for water borne illness. Tolerating it, despite it being so easily preventable, is indefensible, and indicates a wanton disregard of anything approaching moral behavior.
    Being preventable is not an attribute indicative of gratuity because given enough time and resources, any particular situation could be either prevented or avoided.
    Wrong. The terms gratuitous and necessary are, by definition, predicated on how easily prevented something is. As antonyms, they are inversely proportional.
    Something both unwelcome and easily preventable is gratuitous. That is the meaning of the word.
    In contrast, something not easily preventable — cancer, say — is never gratuitous, no matter how unwelcome it may be.
    The concept of gratuitous suffering is, in fact, fatal to your concept of God as an aware, capable, and benevolent entity.
    Otherwise, you wouldn’t have accused me of talking snotty about God.

  • smmtheory

    Otherwise, you wouldn’t have accused me of talking snotty about God.

    Wrong. I accused you of talking snotty about God because you said he is malevolent and a monster. You don’t have to be right (and you aren’t as a matter of fact) about there being gratuitous suffering to talk snotty about God.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    You don’t have to be right (and you aren’t as a matter of fact) about there being gratuitous suffering to talk snotty about God.
    Was there significant suffering and death caused by water borne illness?
    Did the Jews possess the technology to purify water?
    Did God reveal specific dietary practices to the Jews?
    Did they include any requirement to purify water or practice basic hygiene?
    If God had added those two piffling revelations to the fussy food diktats, would millions of lives have been saved?
    The correct answers to those questions are: yes, yes, yes, no, and yes.
    Consequently, as a matter of fact, if the word gratuitous has any meaning it certainly applies here.
    But never mind that. The fundamental question is this: does the prolonged existence death easily preventable by precisely the same kind of revelation as other dietary practices disprove the existence of God?
    No.
    But it proves that God is either completely unaware, or a malevolent monster with wanton disregard for pointless, easily preventable suffering.
    Provided, of course, that the words malevolent, monster, wanton, and disregard have any meaning whatsoever.

  • smmtheory

    Provided, of course, that the words malevolent, monster, wanton, and disregard have any meaning whatsoever.

    Oh, those words have meaning alright, but when you use them incorrectly as you have it tends to indicate that you don’t know what the heck you are talking about. Enjoy it while you can though.

  • http://dailyduck.blogspot.com/ Hey Skipper

    but when you use them incorrectly as you have it tends to indicate that you don’t know what the heck you are talking about.
    Your responses have amounted to nothing more than automatic gainsaying
    So, please, by all means tell me how I am using them incorrectly.
    Since you haven’t, I’ll bet you can’t.

  • http://www.caffeinejesusandpontification.wordpress.com Julie Fider

    All I can think is, if someone is trying to disprove God using the analogy of a tummy ache… they desperately need a hobby!
    If I stub my toe getting out of the pool later, does that mean there’s no God?
    Gimme a break.

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