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« Keep Religion Private | Main | Who Would Rally against Reason? »

March 21, 2012

Comments

Just a tender suggestion to Ben, Daron, et al. It would appear that the definition of "omnipotence" that Ben is positing is inconsistent with most orthodox systematic theologians'. Descartes is the only prominent philosopher I can think of who posited that God's omnipotence would include the ability to accomplish logical impossibilities (the old 'a rock so heavy he cannot lift it' paradox), and functioned more or less like someone with a magic genie to 'grant their wishes'. It seems as if Ben's interpretation of Christian theology vis a vis God's power is that "God can make absolutely anything happen just by wishing it, no matter what, with no other consequences or drawbacks."

Until some air is let out of that tire, this whole enterprise is likely to keep circling.

Jonathan,

You wrote:

Most people would probably think the PoE is an even stronger challenge if it can be shown *nothing* is accomplished in suffering.

If most people think that, then it's only because they don't appreciate the omnipotence of God. But as it is, I'm not saying that the PoE is much of a challenge at all. It is easily avoided by appealing to our ignorance. My point here is that it can't be avoided by appealing to a causal consequence of suffering.

--Ben

Bennett,

Oh, that is definitely NOT my view! Of course omnipotence isn't going to be a coherent concept if it involves logical contradictions. So I want to clear that up right away!

The thing is, I would suggest that there is no logical contradiction in having event X occur subsequent to event Y, for any arbitrary events X and Y.

--Ben

Deron,

I'm puzzled as to how exactly you think more suffering could be best for us. If God wishes for X, and X doesn't involve suffering, then why would God ALSO wish that we have an experience of suffering leading up to X? If you want to say, "well maybe an experience of suffering is best under the circumstances," I would ask, best for who? It doesn't appear to be best for the person doing the suffering.

But at any rate, that's more or less a tangent issue. Even if suffering was somehow best for us, it wouldn't have anything to do with it sharing a cause with X. Just as God can bring about X without bringing about suffering, so too can he bring about suffering without bringing about X. God, being omnipotent, isn't bound by such causal connections. He is only bound, as Bennett pointed out, by logical connections.

So perhaps there is some logical connection which we do not see, and which requires a perfectly good God to wish us to suffer. That's the only way out from the PoE, unless you want to jettison omnipotence and/or perfect goodness, and it's what I have been talking about all along when I've mentioned appeals to ignorance.

--Ben

Ben, you’re not asking why God doesn’t prevent Christians’ suffering, you’re asking why there’s evil at all. It’s not quite the same question as that of the post, but my answer to that second question is “so that in the ages to come He might show His surpassing grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”—toward us who “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” who “reconciled [us] to God through the cross” (see Ephesians). No sin, no cross. No cross, no redemption. No redemption, no experiential knowledge of His grace.

So here's my best understanding of what the Bible has to say about this: Why doesn’t God prevent the suffering of Christians? Because He uses it to shape us. Why does God allow evil at all? Because it was His intention from the foundation of the world to reveal His grace to us in the cross. Why did He do it this way instead of implanting ideas in our minds? Because He’s a poet, not a data processor.

What you haven't talked about is the Scripture.
Why is that?

Just as God can bring about X without bringing about suffering, so too can he bring about suffering without bringing about X.
It is your own bald assertion backed by nothing but your say-so that God can accomplish His end without our suffering. God says that He caused certain suffering as punishment and chastisement. Since He did this then that is the reason for that suffering. Simple.

You claim He didn't have to do this. So? How do you know this?

Will he who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who argues with God give and answer.

the Greek concept of cultivating Arete in one's life seems a much more apt summation of God's purpose for us

Well, I wouldn’t say the list I link to is His purpose for us. His ultimate purpose for us is to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, having made us like Christ. The list is merely of purposes in the suffering Christians go through. His purposes in suffering work toward His purpose for us. “All things work together for good,” and “no good thing does He withhold” from us. If ceasing all of the suffering of His people were the best thing for us, He would do it. He does not, hence it’s necessary for His purposeful working in our lives.

Ben Ben Ben! You are the man of the hour hahaha!
I don't know it's because you're allegedly not a Christian,but whatever it is,it's not helping your weak case in which you are deemed unable to prove anything authentically through biblical standards for your case to actually hold up or sustain itself like Amy and Daron's excellent presentation of scriptural feedback on the topic. You know why people are going after you,Ben? I'll show through the example of your previous staements,LET'S REWIND:

"I DON'T KNOW ANY REASONS THAT A PERFECTLY GOOD GOD COULD HAVE TO LET US SUFFER. OF COURSE,IT DOESN'T MEAN HE DOESN'T ACTUALLY HAVE HIS REASONS. IT JUST MEANS THAT I'M UNAWARE OF THEM. I DON'T THINK THAT ANYONE IS AWARE OF THEM EITHER".

"..WHATEVER REASON [GOD] HAS,THESE[Amy's posted reasons]ARE NOT THEM".

Previous statement to that one: "THIS IS NOT TO SAY GOD HAS NO GOOD REASON TO LET US SUFFER".

Back-and-forth,contradiction here,contradiction there,you claim a possibility of God's reasons for suffering,then you dismiss it prematurely. Ben,you seem caught between the two opposing views. Although I completely get where you're coming from when you continuously make mention of God's omniscience,but you inadvertently keep re-introducing the possility that God may actually have His reasons for our suffering. I'll try to make it more clear: You have totally dismissed Amy's posted reasons for God's purpose in our suffering,and instead of dismissing it the claim that God has reasons for the suffering ALTOGETHER,you keep claiming the possibility that THERE ARE OTHER REASONS.

Ben,the ONUS IS UPON YOU; The ball is in your court; The CHALLENGE IS UPON YOU TO PRESENT,WITHOUT A SHADOW OF A REASONABLE DOUBT,A CASE FOR GOD'S ACTUAL REASONS FOR THE SUFFERING WHICH WOULD SUPERCEDE OR PROVE AGAINST THE AUTHENCITY OF AMY'S EXCELLENT BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF SUFFERING. Your case must be biblically-sound proof and evidence that God absolutely has OTHER REASONS contrary to what Amy and also Daron have both excellently and potently presented through scriptural means.

Ben,understand, if you had just dismissed the thought of God having reasons for the suffering altogether just to build a strong biblical case upon explaining how God's OMNISCIENCE opposes what Amy has posted or Daron's excellent presentation of the scriptures, then we would not have a problem. Unfortunately, you continuously promote the possibility that God has OTHER REASONS for the suffering as opposed to Amy's profound presentation of facts and biblical accounts.

You state: "I DON'T KNOW ANY REASONS[contradicting yourself]THAT A PERFECTLY GOOD GOD COULD HAVE TO LET US SUFFER". So why did you introduce that there may be OTHER REASONS?

Well,Ben,my suggestion to you is to dismiss it completely and build a biblical case ENTIRELY upon explaining God's omniscience because I actually do see the potential case in your general explanation that God is "omnipotent--his wishes always come true. So suffering is no prerequisite to becoming aware of X. If God wants us to become aware of X,He can wish for it and it will be so". All I'm projecting here,Ben,is RUN WITH IT! Build a bibically-sound case upon that premise and present facts and biblical accounts that we can familiarize ourselves with,because this is the challenge that you have taken upon yourself when you left that "door" open. You know what I mean? We all need to see this,not for any cold-hearted pleasure nor immature jesting. Ben,understand that most us come to share our insights on these posts because we seriously need to encourage one another and more so be fed,encouraged and enlightened by other people's insights as well.

You see,Ben,you always start your case off well but then you back down for some reason. Why? Let me show you another previous statement in case you misunderstand what we're getting at:

You state: "SURE[again you open the "door" to the possibility of God's reasons for suffering]GOD MIGHT USE SUFFERING AS A TOOL TO PERFORM ANY NUMBER OF ACTIONS,INCLUDING DISCIPLINING HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE THE ISRAELITES..[then you completely shut down again] BUT THIS CAN NEVER BE AN EXPLANATION FOR WHY GOD LETS US SUFFER,SINCE HE CAN DISCIPLINE PEOPLE WITHOUT ALLOWING THEM TO SUFFER".

Ben, please elaborate and make a reasonable and biblically-sound case for it then. Previously Daron presented his profound points with authentic biblical accounts of the Israelites and then he validated it by asking you to prove the inauthenticity of his case and presentation and previously responded with this: "HE MUST HAVE SOME OTHER REASON[deep water again and again]BUT WHAT IT IS,I HAVEN'T THE FAINTEST IDEA".

Well,Ben,forget it. Your case would be dismissed without prejudice meaning that it can hold for down the road but not right now.

Ben,let me make this more clear: You're not doing anything plausable as with reference presenting a strong scripturally strong case to your what you're promoting to be true against that of Amy and Daron's biblically-sound feedback.

Look at how Amy and Daron further present their case with a detailed biblical account and additional bible verses to hold up what they are graciously promoting. That's what I'm talking about. Their individual cases are presented in a way that we can make room for proper assessment,meditation,and interpretation of God's inspired Word. But honestly, I have to ask you,Ben, What is your stance upon the Bible being the inspired Word of God,because then it would fully explain your side of things.

Ben,

I think you may find that being unbound by causal connections is a logical incoherency. One hand washes the other, as far as causality and logic are concerned.

Contrary to the strawman you'll find on many websites, God is not an "invisible friend who grants wishes" or a "magic man in the sky."


Amy,

Point taken!

An addendum, to clarify, Amy--I just meant that God's purpose involves us being excellent and Christlike, not comfortable, mirthful, or enjoying everything equally, which seem to be the odd ways in which some people define 'happy', and then define 'happy' as 'good'. I don't think that sort of 'happy' person would do or accomplish much of anything, if such happiness was just foisted upon them with no need to participate or act.

Ben may think that God could just light a bulb in our heads and we'd all be happy and free, but forcing us to know, think, or decide anything would violate our freedom. You cannot, as a logical dictum, compel a free choice. And if we're not free actors, then what's the point of our existence? We may as well have remained figments of a divine imagination.

Amy,

Thanks again for the response. While it is true that I'm also concerned with the broader question of why suffering exists at all, nevertheless I have been trying to stick to the topic of what reason God has to allow Christian suffering to exist. So for instance I haven't mentioned issues like non-human suffering.

Now, I take you to be trying to help reconcile Christian suffering with the perfect goodness of God. Hopefully that is correct. (If not, then never mind I suppose.)

The answer you have given, though, doesn't reconcile God's perfect goodness and the existence of Christian suffering, but rather only compromises God's goodness. Recall your suggestion:

Why did He do it this way instead of implanting ideas in our minds? Because He’s a poet, not a data processor.

So, on this view, poetic beauty is more important to God than our well-being. But since it is good to put one's own desire to appreciate poetry aside for the sake of others, then for God to allow us to suffer to satisfy his desire for poetry violates perfect goodness.

Now, perhaps you could still hold that God is mostly good. But no doubt you want to say something much stronger---that God is perfectly good. This is inconsistent with God putting his desire for poetic license before our well-being.

--Ben

Daron,

I haven't dealt with Scripture because it's not necessary to do so. Remember, I'm arguing that your view is incoherent. There is no such thing as evidence for an incoherent view---whether that evidence is Scriptural or not.

Now, you claim that I have made a "bald assertion" about what God can or cannot do. However this is clearly not the case. I have repeatedly explained my justification, and I am happy to do so again right now: God is omnipotent, which means he is only constrained by logical connections, and not causal connections. For any causal story we tell, God need not be bound by it. In particular, if there is an event A which SHOULD (causally) be followed by event B, God can intervene and bring about event C instead.

So please don't keep saying that I'm just asserting things without justification. If you are skeptical of something I say, just ask, and I am usually happy to expound.

Now, maybe you want to say that there is some hidden incoherence in having certain events followed by certain other events. I don't see how that could be the case, but suppose it is, for the sake of argument. Well, that's just the sort of thing I have been saying all along---that we can only appeal to our ignorance of broad logical constraints in order to reconcile God's goodness with our suffering. So if that's the route you want to go, then we are in agreement!

I'm only pointing out that there can be no causal reconciliation.

Finally, you write:

God says that He caused certain suffering as punishment and chastisement. Since He did this then that is the reason for that suffering.

Be careful, though. Just because God causes X, and X plays some causal role in some event Y which God desires, it does not follow that the reason for X is that God desires Y---at least, not in the relevant sense of reason.

--Ben

Ben,

What differentiates your definition of good--which seems to be an uninterrupted state of comfort and plenty--from mediocrity? Or makes it an incentive to anything but same?

So, on this view, poetic beauty is more important to God than our well-being.

Only if you define "well-being" as "comfort," which I pointed out in the post as being false. I'm saying that even in terms of our own well-being, these lessons learned from the struggle of life give us an experiential knowledge of God and who He is that leave us better off than if bare facts about God were implanted in our minds. There's a big difference between knowing facts about a person and having relational knowledge of him that results from experiencing him interacting with you as a person through life events.

In the end, when He is showing us His grace for eternity through the events that took place on this earth, we will reap the benefits of God having chosen to create in this way.

God is a poet in that He creates, He teaches through the symbols of creation, through a story with one plot line with a beginning, middle, and end, and through the experiences of our lives. A world where people mature through experiences in a world of beauty, relationships, struggle, and the cross is much richer than an information dump. And that means it's much richer for all of eternity for those who love God. And that means that His poetry isn't against our well-being, but the creator of it.

What you're asking for is what you'd find in a creepy, sterile, dystopian novel.

Amy,

Actually, I understand that the movie "Zenith" pretty well covers it. The premise is that people are miserable because of their constant, forced state of happiness, and pay handsomely for the reward of being able to feel pain or sadness. As Captain Kirk told many a false god who promised to "take away his pain", he didn't want his pain taken away. Pain made him human, and he'd rather be a free human than a comfortable, complacent pet. (Roddenberry himself was fiercely antireligious--the humanist sentiment there hardly requires a particular opinion about God to agree with it).

Ben,

Second point (my apologies for layering them in here), but I went looking through the OT and NT, and couldn't find any instances of God violating causality. Could you explain which theologian(s) gave you this idea, that God is able to act independent of causation?

Ben- I'm jumping back to a statement you made:

"By hypothesis, he is perfectly good, which means that, all else being equal, he doesn't want us to suffer."

That struck me as being not necessarily true because those are not necessarily mutually exclusive things. For example, I have children and I love them very, very much. I love them so much that, when they do things that are very wrong, I WANT them to experience consequences which will make them think twice about doing that thing again. I want them, by default, to suffer the consequences. It would NOT be loving and GOOD of me to deprive them of that if they are to live in the real world. Now, God is completely good, far beyond my puny "goodness" as a mother. I conclude that He has infinte good reason to allow what He allows as the BEST way to accomplish His plans and purposes. That I cannot wrap my mind around His reason, in no way diminishes the goodness of His intention or the rightness of His decision.
_________________

Some of thee responses here cause me to think that a really great discussion would be to ask, "If you had to come up with the perfect sort of divine being (God), what would He be like?" I daresay that any deity we'd concoct would be light years away from being anywhere comparable to the God of this universe!

Ben,

I haven't dealt with Scripture because it's not necessary to do so.

Yes, absolutely it is.
That could not be more obvious.


There is no such thing as evidence for an incoherent view---whether that evidence is Scriptural or not.

Indeed.

Now, you claim that I have made a "bald assertion" about what God can or cannot do. However this is clearly not the case.

Clearly it is.

we can only appeal to our ignorance of broad logical constraints in order to reconcile God's goodness with our suffering. So if that's the route you want to go, then we are in agreement!

No, in fact, we can appeal to the Scriptural evidence.


Just because God causes X, and X plays some causal role in some event Y which God desires, it does not follow that the reason for X is that God desires Y---at least, not in the relevant sense of reason.
You are right, so let's skip the "just because". God causes X in order to bring about Y and, thus, bringing about Y is the purpose of X. Just like Scripture says. For instance:

Habakkuk 1
 
The LORD’s Answer
 5 “Look at the nations and watch—
   and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
   that you would not believe,
   even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,[a]
   that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
   to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
   they are a law to themselves
   and promote their own honor.

...

 9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes[b] advance like a desert wind
   and gather prisoners like sand.
...

Habakkuk’s Second Complaint
 12 LORD, are you not from everlasting?
   My God, my Holy One, you[c] will never die.
You, LORD, have appointed them to execute judgment;
   you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

So we do know why God brought the suffering, it was to execute judgment and to punish.

By your reasoning we can't have any idea why the LORD caused a wind to part the Red Sea since He could have done it without the wind.
And we are ignorant as to the purposes of the Flood since God could have annihilated the world without it - even though He said He was bringing a Flood for that very purpose.
And we don't know why He hailed fire on Sodom and Gomorrah even though He says He did it to destroy them in punishment. It's just lucky that when He was hailing down fire it destroyed the cities that He also, serendipitously, was destroying.

I cannot seem to post. Testing...

Amy,

Thanks for elaborating, and sorry it took me so long to respond. Work and school have been tag teaming to keep me very busy.

Let me say immediately that I do not equate well-being with comfort, or even with an absence of suffering. If we'll be better off going through a bit of suffering, then that can sometimes be best for our well-being in the long run, I agree.

The thing is, though, God isn't bound by limited resources or even by causal relations. Since we are so very accustomed to thinking in just those terms, God's omnipotence makes the situation pretty counter-intuitive for us. So to say that we shall be "better off" doesn't make much sense in the context of what God wills, since God can bring about future well-being without also bringing about present suffering.

We can look at how this cashes out in terms of your most recent suggestion. You claim that

these lessons learned from the struggle of life give us an experiential knowledge of God and who He is that leave us better off than if bare facts about God were implanted in our minds.

I see two difficulties here. First, notice that the only thing relevant to experiential knowledge at a time after those experiences have passed are the memories thereof. So the substance of your claim is that we are somehow better off having memories which we relate to certain experiences (many of which involve suffering) than we are just knowing a bunch of individual facts. However God can just as easily implant memories as he can facts, and so unless you think that implanting memories has some negative consequence to our well-being, then this won't explain why God should wish us to actually suffer in addition to just having memories of suffering.

(continued in next post)

(continued from previous post)

Second, I can find no reason to suppose we really are better off with memories of suffering. For my own part, the memories which bring me the most joy are happy memories, not sorrowful ones. In fact I can only think of a handful of examples where I have fond memories of suffering, and those memories would only be made fonder if they were stripped of the suffering component. Now, this doesn't prove that we are not better off with memories of suffering. Maybe we are, despite the appearance to the contrary. My point is that we have no reason to think that we are better off with memories of suffering.

So all this seems only to further support my two claims, which perhaps I should reiterate for clarity: (1) No causal story can explain why God wishes us to suffer; and (2) we do not currently have any noncausal explanation for God wishing us to suffer.

Let me also repeat that I am not holding this as some kind of disproof of God's goodness. As I have said several times before, God could very well have his reasons for wishing us to suffer. I'm only arguing that, first, those reasons are not causal, and second, we do not presently know them.

--Ben

Bennett,

You ask,

What differentiates your definition of good--which seems to be an uninterrupted state of comfort and plenty--from mediocrity? Or makes it an incentive to anything but same?

I do not presume to have a perfect definition of goodness. In fact goodness is more or less situated in our human context of limited resources and natural law. In order to talk about God's goodness, we must abstract as much as we can from that context, while ensuring that it is relevant to God's context. The upshot of this is that a maximally good God is a God who values our well-being above all else---in particular who wishes us to suffer as little as possible, and to be happy/joyful/etc. as often and intensely as possible. However I do not claim to know what makes a "good" trade-off between these two, or even if trade-offs are required.

You also ask,

Could you explain which theologian(s) gave you this idea, that God is able to act independent of causation?

What I mean is that God can suspend the laws of nature. So for instance, ordinarily the sun is constantly in motion (relative to us). However God can interrupt this causal process and suspend the sun, as he did in Joshua 10:13. Moreover, God does not need to use a causal process as an instrument to attaining an end, other than his own wish. So for instance maybe the only way you and I know to post a blog comment is to press "post." But God doesn't need to use that causal process. He can just wish a comment to appear, and it will.

--Ben

Carolyn,

Presumably you want your children to experience negative consequences because that is the best way you know to ensure that they are better off in the future, having learned valuable lessons. Well, God isn't bound by the same limitations. If he wants us to learn some lesson, he can give us that knowledge free of charge---that is, without us first going through a period of suffering.

However we seem to both agree on one thing: God may well have his reasons to let us suffer, and we do not know what they are.

--Ben

Daron,

You continue to accuse me of making a "bald assertion," despite the fact that I have repeatedly presented arguments to support it. I reproduce it here:

God is omnipotent, which means he is only constrained by logical connections, and not causal connections. For any causal story we tell, God need not be bound by it. In particular, if there is an event A which SHOULD (causally) be followed by event B, God can intervene and bring about event C instead.

Ironically, you haven't actually presented any argument for your own key claims. Instead, you make comments such as these:

Yes, absolutely it is. That could not be more obvious.

Clearly it is.

But such comments are unhelpful. WHY do you take these positions? If it is as obvious and clear as you claim, then surely you can say a few words to explain!

But you do offer a new objection which deserves some comment: You suggest that if my view is correct, then that means we cannot know why God uses method X instead of method Y to bring about certain events. Let me say that I agree with this assessment. But apparently you think that we DO in fact know why God uses the methods he does, and so therefore my view must be false. However the examples you offer in support of this second step of your argument don't actually hold up. For instance, that God wanted to part the Red Sea doesn't explain why God ALSO wanted to use a wind to do so.

--Ben

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