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God: Lawgiver or Hypocrite? Loftus attacks divine command theories of ethics

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In my last post, I critiqued Dr. Sean Carroll’s claim that the existence of evil in the world renders the existence of God unlikely. In this post, I’ll be responding to skeptic John Loftus’s claim that God is a hypocrite, in his recent post, Two Unanswerable Dilemmas Concerning God and Morality.

Why Loftus believes we shouldn’t imitate God

In his first dilemma, Loftus (pictured above) summarily disposes of the notion, held by a few religious believers today, and by a small number of famous theologians in the past (notably William of Ockham), that the moral law we are obliged to follow is nothing more than a set of arbitrary decrees by God. Such a view, argues Loftus, turns God into a hypocrite, Who says to us: “Do as I say, not as I do.” Loftus then proceeds to attack what he refers to as modified divine command theories, which claim that the moral law is grounded, not in God’s arbitrary decrees, but in God’s (non-arbitrary) character, which is essentially good. Robert Merrihew Adams is the best-known exponent of this view; Paul Copan is another. The “Divine Nature theory” upheld by C. S. Lewis is substantially the same; on this subject, see Steve Lovell’s 2002 essay, C. S. Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma. Modified divine command theories, which emphasize God’s perfect character (or nature), sound much more reasonable than the theory that all morality is arbitrary. But Loftus objects that God’s character, judging by His indifference to people’s suffering, is a bad one, and hence not worthy of imitation by us:

God commands us to do good, to be kind, to be merciful, and seek after justice for the disenfranchised, but he doesn’t do it…

If we are to act based on God’s character then we should all be Good Samaritans. God should be a Good Samaritan…

What can justify this divine hypocrisy? 1) Creation. He’s the creator. We aren’t. So he has the right to take our lives because he made us. 2) Omniscience. He has it. We don’t. So he knows what is best. Power (or ownership) and Knowledge. This supposedly justifies why he acts differently than he commands us to act…

Loftus proceeds to give some graphic examples of suffering that God does nothing to prevent. Neither God’s position as Creator (which makes Him our owner) nor His Infinite Knowledge can possibly excuse God’s failure to act in these cases, contends Loftus:

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify watching a man slowly roast to death in a house fire.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify eating popcorn while watching as a woman is beaten, gang raped, and then left for dead.

In fact, since the ethical standard is the perfect character of God (per modified divine command theories) and this God has omniscience and omnipotence, then God is even MORE obligated to alleviate suffering. For while we may not have the power or knowledge to intervene when we see intense suffering, God is not limited like us. The more that a person has the knowledge and the ability (or power) to alleviate suffering, then the more that person is morally obligated to help by intervening.

What if God has pre-existing obligations that prevent Him from intervening?

The unstated premise in this argument is that (i) lack of power (or ability) and (ii) lack of knowledge are the only things which could possibly excuse someone from failing to help another individual in distress. But I can think of an exception right away: where assisting a victim in distress would conflict with a person’s pre-existing obligations. In my post in reply to Dr. Sean Carroll on the problem of evil, I pointed out two ways that I could think of, right off the top of my head, in which these pre-existing obligations might arise. The first way would be if God ever made a promise not to continually intervene and assist people in distress, in response to an explicit request made by the human race as a whole at some point in the past, to leave them alone and let them make their own mistakes. As I wrote in my last post:

Perhaps at some point very early on in our prehistory, our rebellious ancestors grew tired of God always watching over us like the attentive parent of a young child, and said, “Enough! We don’t need a cosmic nanny protecting us from evil night and day! Leave us alone to figure it out for ourselves! Even if we have to suffer and die, we’d still prefer that to You hovering over us all the time!” And perhaps God reluctantly complied with their wishes, and promised to refrain from continually saving us. If God made such a promise, then His hands would be tied, to some degree.

Perhaps Loftus will respond that even if such a “non-intervention request” were made by our ancestors and honored by God – a highly speculative proposal for which we have no evidence – previous generations of human beings would still have no right to make decisions that bind the human race today. But I would ask him to ponder this. Having gone down that fateful path, isn’t it too late for humanity to go “back to Eden” now? We have lost our innocence. Our world is already tainted by sin, and it can only be “untainted” by a radical, earth-shattering event which brings history itself to a close.

The other way in which I could imagine a pre-existing obligation not to intervene might arise is in a situation where God had delegated the immediate responsibility for overseeing certain categories of events on Earth (and other planets) to some intelligent beings who are far more advanced than we are. Assuming that there are other intelligent life-forms in the cosmos, they’re likely to be superior to us, since we’re such a young species. (Whether we conceive of these intelligent beings as aliens or angels is immaterial here, and in any case, it’s doubtful whether we could tell the difference between angels and advanced aliens, were we ever to encounter them.) By delegating responsibilities for the day-to-day control of certain categories of events on Earth to these intelligent beings, God would be voluntarily abdicating the role of having the primary responsibility for coming to the assistance of someone in distress. It would be up to the intelligent beings to do so, as God’s deputies. As I put it in my last post:

And now suppose that some of these intelligences turned out to be either too lazy to continually keep the world’s evils in check, or too inept to do the job properly. Or suppose that some of them turned out to be positively evil characters, intent on wreaking harm. The natural world would soon become “unweeded garden” filled with “things rank and gross in nature”, as Hamlet put it. It might look utterly unlike the world God originally planned. So what’s God to do, when He sees the damage that these higher intelligences have wrought, and the suffering His lower creatures (animals and humans) have inherited as a result? Having delegated some responsibilities for overseeing creation to these higher beings, should God intervene at once and fix up the mess they’ve caused? Or should He wait a while?

Perhaps it’s obvious to John Loftus that God should intervene immediately, and correct the negligence of His lazy or wicked deputies who oversee certain classes of events on this planet. For my part, I’m not so sure about that. Supposing my hypothetical scenario to be true, I think it’s a genuinely open question whether God should act now to fix the problem caused by His deputies, or wait until a more opportune moment to intervene. My moral intuitions on this point are not clear, and I would suggest that Loftus’s moral certitude that God should intervene immediately is misplaced.

Why Loftus thinks the promise of future compensation doesn’t excuse God

Now I’d like to examine Loftus’s second dilemma, which attempts to rebut the religious view that God can compensate people in the future for present sufferings that they are undergoing:

If God can justify letting us suffer in this life by compensating us in the next life, then that ethical principle allows us to do the same thing (per modified divine command theories). We can knowingly allow people to suffer even though we could help them, so long as we compensate them afterward for our inaction.

Why can God violate these ethical principles that we are obligated to obey, if morality is based on his character? If he’s our ethical standard and acts like an inattentive and inactive monster, then why can’t we act like him? If we cannot act like him, because it would be unethical for us to do so, then God’s character is no longer the basis for morality.

All that the foregoing objection establishes is that the promise of future compensation does not, in and of itself, justify the withholding of assistance to someone in distress. But who said it did? What I would argue instead is that if God has a valid reason for withholding assistance to someone in distress at the present time, then He may (if He chooses) compensate that person for the pain that they have suffered, at some future time. However, the act of compensation per se does not make it right for God to have withheld assistance in the first place. So the question once again boils down to: can there ever be a good reason for God to withhold assistance from someone in distress?

To sum up: Loftus’s illustrations, which he invokes to great rhetorical effect in his attempt to portray God as an uncaring hypocrite for declining to come to our aid when we are in distress, all contain a hidden bias: first, they are based on “here-and-now” situations where the victim’s past is of absolutely no relevance, and second, they contain only two characters: the victim and a person standing nearby who is able to assist the victim, and who also knows how to provide assistance. In the real world, things are seldom this simple. If the victim (or the victim’s family) had explicitly declined offers of assistance from the person standing nearby on previous occasions, that could (in some cases) relieve that person of any obligation to assist the victim. And if the victim already had personal caretakers (previously appointed by the person standing nearby) who had been derelict in the performance of their duties, then it is not always clear that the person who appointed these caretakers should immediately step in to assist the victim, if the caretakers are failing to do so.

Why Loftus’s arguments are neither certain nor probable

This is not to belittle Loftus’s argument, but to put it in its proper perspective. In my first post in reply to Dr. Sean Carroll’s video, Is God a Good Theory?, I distinguished between six levels of certitude that might attach to an argument: logical certainty (which applies to truths whose denial is a contradiction in terms), self-referential certainty (which relates to truths which cannot be consistently denied by the speaker, even if they aren’t self-contradictory when set down in writing), empirical certainty (which holds for truths known from sensory experience), transcendental certainty (which attaches to truths whose denial would entail the collapse of a whole field of knowledge, such as science), abductive certainty (where the truth in question is established as overwhelmingly probable by a process of inference to the best explanation), and normative certainty (which holds for propositions established by appealing to various norms governing human rationality). None of these kinds of certainty applies to the arguments contained in the two dilemmas Loftus poses.

First, Loftus’s arguments are not watertight logical arguments. Second, they are not arguments whose conclusion would be self-referentially contradictory for an individual to deny. Third, they are not empirical arguments, whose conclusions are based entirely on sensory experience. Fourth, they are not transcendental arguments, as the denial of their conclusion does not threaten to undermine a whole branch of knowledge – e.g. ethics. Fifth, they are not arguments establishing that God’s non-existence is the best explanation of all the relevant facts, for they overlook certain highly important facts, including the beauty we find everywhere in Nature (natural evil notwithstanding), the massive amount of moral goodness in the world, and especially, the fact that we are able to discover moral truths in the first place, in addition to the moral evil which we find in the world. (Hint: “pop-psychology” sociobiological theories proposed by academics, claiming that human beings can discover moral truths by consistently adverting to “the greatest good of the greatest number” fail to explain the morality, as the utilitarian ethical standard they appeal to is fundamentally amoral: it fails to treat individuals as ends-in-themselves, and turns people into mere instruments for promoting the social good.) Sixth and finally, Loftus’s arguments are not based on any fundamental norms governing human rationality, as he appeals to none of these. Thus Loftus’s arguments do not qualify as certain, according to any of the six categories I proposed above. Of course, Loftus is perfectly welcome to propose a seventh category of objective rational certainty if he wishes to do so, but it is incumbent on him to justify the inclusion of this new category, alongside the other six.

Can we rescue Loftus’s argument by saying that its conclusion is probable, but not certain? No, for as I argued in my last post in response to Dr. Sean Carroll on the problem of evil, probability calculations have to be quantifiable. Since Loftus has not attempted to quantify the probability attaching to his premises, then we are unable to say how probable his conclusion is. (We need a ceiling and a floor estimate.)

It appears that Loftus’s argument from evil, like Dr. Sean Carroll’s, is a powerful prima facie argument against God’s existence, as it points to situations involving a victim in distress where there is a strong presumption that God, if He existed, would intervene – and yet He doesn’t. Loftus has no idea why any morally perfect God would withhold assistance to the victim, in such cases. But Loftus’s argument should be seen for what it is – an argument from incredulity. The fact that we cannot imagine a plausible explanation for some state of affairs – in this case, God’s declining to help a victim in distress – does not mean that there is no explanation. Arguments based on ignorance are not compelling – and in this case, our ignorance is massive, as we don’t know what other intelligent beings may exist in the cosmos, and we know next to nothing about humanity’s past interactions with its Creator. For us to totally disregard human history, and our place in the scheme of things, in attempting to arrive at conclusions about what God should and shouldn’t do, is monumentally silly: it represents a blinkered view of the facts. I conclude that Loftus’s two dilemmas fail to undermine the rationality of belief in a Creator.

A short note on two meanings of “Do as I do”

Loftus argues that if God’s character is to be our ethical standard, then He should set an example, so that He can say to us, “Do as I do,” and not just “Do as I say” (which would make Him a hypocrite). But what Loftus overlooks is that the injunction “Do as I do” can be understood in two different ways, referring to content and mode, respectively. First, “Do as I do” might mean: “Do the same things that I do.” Second, “Do as I do” might mean: “Do what you do in the same way that I do what I do.”

If God were to command us to “Do as I do” in the first sense, then I would certainly agree that our ethical system would collapse. But no rational Deity would ever issue such a command, as there are certain things which only the Creator of the cosmos can do, as well as other things which only the Creator should do. For us to do any of these things would be tantamount to playing God – which would be both ethically and practically disastrous.

But if God were to command us to “Do as I do” in the second sense, what might that mean? Most of the world’s religions (much maligned by Loftus) emphasize the importance of love (or compassion) in regulating one’s actions. On this understanding, for us to do as God does simply means that our acts should be motivated by love, or compassion, just as God’s actions are. In that case, we would certainly come to the aid of someone in distress, if we were able to help, unless pre-existing obligations on our part prevented us from doing so. And if we observe that God does not always help people in distress, then we are entitled to draw the conclusion that pre-existing obligations on His part – of which we know nothing – prevent Him from helping people, in some cases, if we already have solid rational grounds for inferring that there is a God.

I conclude, then, that Loftus’s charge of hypocrisy against God fails.

Some remarks on beauty

I wrote above that Loftus’s argument from evil fails to examine the totality of evidence, and I mentioned the pervasive beauty of Nature as an example of a very large fact that Loftus completely overlooks. It is the sort of striking fact which only the existence of a Transcendent Creator of the cosmos can satisfactorily account for.

In order to convey this point, I’d like to propose a test which I’ll call Torley’s Window Test. It’s very simple. Wherever you are on planet Earth, I invite you to have a look out your window and tell me: what do you see? No matter where you live, you will probably see a scene of great beauty – whether it be the natural beauty of the countryside, shown in this picture of Australia’s Barossa Valley (a leading wine-making district; image courtesy of Wikipedia)…

…or the man-made beauty of cities, such as Tokyo, shown here (Ginza at dusk, image courtesy of Wikipedia):

In neither case, if you look out your window, are you likely to see any evil. You almost certainly will not see animals (or people) suffering excruciating pain, or dying a slow and agonizing death. And you probably won’t see human beings performing depraved acts of wickedness, either. Which prompts me to ask: where is all the evil? Why is it almost nowhere to be seen? And why is beauty to be found everywhere?

The beauty we see in Nature isn’t just confined to events occurring on the human scale of existence, either. It can also be found on the microscopic scale, as this Wikipedia image of pollen grains reveals (courtesy of Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College):

Beauty is also abundant on the cosmic scale, as this image of a nebula lying within the Larger Magellanic Cloud shows:

Surprisingly, beauty can even be found within the domain of natural evils. Here’s an image of a kidney stone (courtesy of E.K. Kempf and Wikipedia):

And here’s an image of a male lion (Panthera leo) and his cub eating a cape buffalo in Northern Sabi Sand, South Africa (photo by Luca Galuzzi; image courtesy of Wikipedia):

Both of the above pictures of natural evils are, at the same time, undeniably beautiful.

I would like to leave my readers with a question: if unexpected beauty (which points to the existence of a Transcendent Creator) is a pervasive feature of the cosmos, and if senseless evil (which seems to point the other way) is a local feature, confined to relatively few places on our Earth, which fact do you think should count for more, when weighing up the evidence?

Much suffering is the consequence of free will. If free will is seen as something positive, one has to accept the suffering resulting from it. Now it can be objected that it is possible that man has free will, but that God would keep man from putting his evil intentions into practice. However, in order to prevent evil acts, God would not only have to prevent sins of action but also sins of omission. In other words, God would have to force people to do good works. But by doing this God would force people to be hypocrites even though hypocrisy is a sin (see Matthew 23,1-32, Luke 12,1, 1 Peter 2,1). A Biblical passage explaining why God doesn’t intervene in order to prevent moral evil may be Matthew 13,27-29. This passage obviously suggests that if wicked people were removed supernaturally this would affect other people as well. This may be explained by the fact that all people are to a larger or lesser degree wicked and that, being impartial, God cannot punish only some wicked people and not others. Another conclusion one could draw from this passage is that the greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice. Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it. A Biblical illustration of this point may be found in the description of the church in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. Here God’s beneficial power was so great that it could heal a crippled beggar (Acts 3,1-10) yet at the same time His destructive power caused the death of two persons who committed what might be regarded a minor sin; they had been cheating (Acts 5,1-11). If a sinner received supernatural help from God, he certainly would interpret such help as an approval of his way of life and thus be encouraged to go on sinning. But a perfectly just God certainly would never do anything that would encourage people to sin. Accordingly, one may only expect God’s supernatural intervention on one’s behalf if one lives a godly life (see Isaiah 59,1). From the fact that God doesn’t intervene in order to prevent suffering one cannot draw the conclusion that one can or should behave likewise. As unlike divine intervention a sinner wouldn’t interpret human intervention on his behalf as an approval of his way of life, there is no reason for a Christian not to help. According to Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2 the good works done by Christians may even make a sinner receptive of God’s work of redemption, which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife. From Luke 16,25 one can draw the conclusion that there will be a compensation for suffering in the afterlife. This could mean that one receives a greater amount of rewards in heaven (see Luke 19,11-27, 1 Corinthians 3,10-15) or a lesser degree of punishment in hell. As for the latter, this presupposes that there are degrees of punishment in the afterlife, and according to Scripture there are indeed such degrees of punishment, depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), and one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48, John 15,22-25, 2 Peter 2,20-21). As for the death of infants one can argue that someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. This may be the reason that God doesn’t prevent such a person’s death. Moreover, there are certainly cases of people who turned to God as a consequence of suffering and who wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t experienced it. A Biblical illustration of such a case may be the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15,11-32). It can be objected that God could have created us as perfect beings living in heaven without first having to live here on Earth and having to suffer. An answer to this objection may be found in 2 Peter 2,4. From the fate of the sinning angels described there one can draw the conclusion that if one were able to be without sin, but nevertheless would choose sin, one’s fate would be sealed. So the fact that we are imperfect beings dwelling first here on Earth and not able to be completely without sin may be the price we have to pay that we can sin and nevertheless repent and come to God again and again. So, it may be good that God created us as imperfect beings. As for animal suffering, animals may be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1. Patrick Sele
Ugh, typos. The latter question mark should be a period. EvilSnack
And there is also what is known as the stolen concept, which is when someone advances an idea while denying the philosophical basis of that idea. The atheist argues that there cannot be a God because of all the evil in the world. If there is no God, what does the atheist mean when he utters the word evil? If there is no Supreme Being from whom an absolute standard of good and evil can be known, then what he names as evil is merely that which displeases him? Again, the argument boils down to, "The universe displeases me. Therefore there is no God." EvilSnack
If God were to interpose His hand in physical affairs, such that nothing painful every happened, the atheist argument posits that this would be better. However, this is quite wrong. How would we learn that hate, greed, pride, and lust were wrong, if they did not lead to all of the hurt and destruction that we witness in the world? God permits the physical ills in order to correct the spiritual ones. And in fact for us to learn that our sinful impulses are wrong, the innocent must indeed suffer. If only the hateful suffered from hate, we would not bother to correct it; and the same goes for lust, greed, and pride. Therefore, physical suffering is necessary for spiritual correction. EvilSnack
My reaction to the argument set forth by Loftus is the same as I have had to the arguments of other atheists: "This is the vaunted logic of atheists?" It's the same prideful argument that was made by the first atheists as such: "If God really were omniscient, He would do as I advise. Since that's not happening, there must not be a God." To which I might respond, "You seem to be quite the expert on the conduct of omniscient beings." EvilSnack
Shogun wondered
Why are so many atheists consistently and adamantly questioning the motives of an “imaginary” being?
Because, from my perspective, theirs is the equivalent of (a) philosophical pouting, or (b) whistling in the dark.
Perhaps the questioning is part of the process of reasoning, like using counter-factuals and hypothetical scenarios. These techniques help define the key issues. LarTanner
Shogun wondered
Why are so many atheists consistently and adamantly questioning the motives of an “imaginary” being?
Because, from my perspective, theirs is the equivalent of (a) philosophical pouting, or (b) whistling in the dark. -Q Querius
God: Lawgiver or Hypocrite?
Yet another atheist making another character assassination against an entity that "doesn't exist". Why are so many atheists consistently and adamantly questioning the motives of an "imaginary" being? Shogun
Hi smordecai, In general, I agree. ID is a paradigm that assumes design rather than chance as a starting point. From a pragmatic viewpoint, ID seems to result in better predictions than "junk" DNA or "vestigial" organs, for example. My beef with Darwinism is precisely that it *doesn't* follow where the evidence leads, but rather creates procrustean speculations about what "musta" happened. These speculations evolve with the data. For example, Dr. Mary Schweitzer recently speculated that the presence of iron in hemoglobin "may have" preserved the pliable vascular tissues and blood corpuscles that she found in dinosaur bones (see http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/schweitzer-iron/). That the background radiation over dozen of millions of years would have thoroughly cooked these tissues into dust is apparently inconceivable. The Evidence would lead us to believe that these unfossilized remains are much younger than 65 million years. But this evidence is Not Acceptable, so it needs to be explained away rather than followed. See what I mean? Oh, and I should make clear that "musta" is a Darwinian expression, while "may have" is a gentler, more modern neo-Darwinian one. ;-) ID makes no assumptions about the designer, who could be God, a space alien, or some other sentient being. Speculating on the designer is exactly what ID must not do, otherwise we simply replace "evolution musta" with "God musta." Or "may have." ;-) The Bible is usually quoted here not in defense of some pseudo-scientific theory, but in response to some version of materialism, or for clarifying what it doesn't say (see the posts about Nazi philosophy and Darwinism). Regards, -Q Querius
The evidence for design does not allow for a determination of who or what designed. Those who post religious, especially Bible based arguments are not doing the ID movement any favors. We are not all of the same religious persuasion. I personally like the philosophical arguments, with God not invoked! Anthony Flew was not persuaded by the Bible nor by C S Lewis but by "where the evidence lead". Besides "the wisdom of man is foolishness with God", or something to that effect. I seem to remember reading that some place. smordecai
Why did God allow Satan to rule the world after his rebellion?
Because God is long-suffering and slow to anger. How often and for how long did Israel rebel against God? Even after they crucified His Son and killed His apostles and prophets he still gave them another 40 years. Mung
The question may rightly be asked, "Does God really “ordain” human suffering?" The Bible emphatically answers no! Suffering was not part of Jehovah God’s purpose for mankind. However, the first human couple rebelled against God’s rule, choosing to set their own standards of good and bad. They turned away from God and suffered the consequences. Today we are experiencing the effects of their bad choice. But in no way did God originate human suffering. The Bible says: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” (James 1:13) Yet, the Bible does more than simply reveal who is not responsible for suffering. It also identifies three basic factors that often cause suffering. Personal Choice “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) Certainly, a person who chooses to smoke, drive recklessly, or squander his income must bear some responsibility for any suffering his decisions may cause. We may also suffer because of the selfish choices of someone else. Indeed, humans have perpetrated the most disturbing evils, from Nazi atrocities to the abuse of children. By misusing free will, some make decisions that bring suffering to others. Random Events In the first century C.E., a large tower in Jerusalem fell, killing 18 people. Referring to the victims of this incident, Jesus said: “Do you think they were more guilty than anyone else who lived in Jerusalem? Certainly not!” (Luke 13:4, 5, The New American Bible) Jesus knew that the victims were not punished by God. He knew what God’s Word had earlier stated: “Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) Many tragedies occur because a victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time or because of human error. For example, reports show that there is much more suffering when people ignore warnings and where buildings are not constructed to withstand severe weather or earthquakes. In such cases, random events affect more people and thus cause more suffering. “The Ruler of This World” The Bible states: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (John 12:31; 1 John 5:19) That “wicked one” is Satan the Devil, a powerful spirit creature who is described as “the ruler of the authority of the air.” Satan promotes “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Some crimes, such as genocide and child abuse, have been so horrific that many find it hard to attribute them to mere human origin. Having understood these three reasons behind human suffering, we can then attempt to understand why God permits it. As “the Almighty One,” Jehovah God has unlimited power, including the ability to end suffering. (Psalm 91:1) Furthermore, we can be sure that he cares. Why? What do we know about God? God feels compassion for humans who suffer. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and mistreated by their captors, God told Moses: “Unquestionably I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their outcry as a result of those who drive them to work; because I well know the pains they suffer.” (Exodus 3:7) What does this indicate? That God does not look upon human suffering with indifference. On the contrary, centuries later the prophet Isaiah wrote regarding the Israelites: “During all their distress it was distressing to him.”—Isaiah 63:9. “All his ways are justice.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) God is fair and impartial in everything he does. “He will guard the very way of his loyal ones,” but he will also “repay tribulation to those who make tribulation” for the righteous. (Proverbs 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7) Impartially, “he does not take the side of rulers nor favor the rich over the poor, for he created everyone.” (Job 34:19, Today’s English Version) God also knows the best way to heal mankind’s suffering. By contrast, human solutions can be compared to putting a bandage on a gunshot wound. While the bandage might mask the problem, it does little to address the underlying issue and even less to end the suffering of the victim. God is “merciful and gracious . . . and abundant in loving-kindness.” (Exodus 34:6) The word “mercy,” as used in the Bible, conveys the warm sympathy and pity that move one person to help another. The root of the Hebrew word translated “gracious” is defined as “a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.” According to the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, the word translated “loving-kindness” includes “intervention on behalf of someone suffering misfortune or distress.” Jehovah God not only feels hurt when a human suffers but is moved by his mercy, graciousness, and loving-kindness to offer help. Thus, we can be confident that he will end suffering. The previous article identified three factors that contribute to much of human suffering today, none of which can be attributed to God. Let us now consider what is behind those factors. Personal Choice Adam was originally ruled by God. However, when offered the choice, he decided to reject divine rulership and test the consequences of independence from God. He disregarded Jehovah’s warning recorded at Genesis 2:17: “You will positively die.” Failure to submit to God’s perfect rule resulted in sin and imperfection. “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin,” explains the Bible, “and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Romans 5:12) But God will remove the effects of sin. Random Events As noted above, the first man, Adam, rejected divine guidance—the very guidance needed to keep humans safe—even from natural disasters. His decision might be compared to a patient who rejects the care of a skilled and experienced physician. If the patient is unaware of dangers and potential health complications that are known to the doctor, he may suffer for his willful ignorance. Similarly, it is man’s mismanagement of the earth—including unsafe building practices and ignorance concerning the earth’s natural forces—that is often at the root of natural disasters. However, God will not allow this situation to continue indefinitely. “The Ruler of This World” Why did God allow Satan to rule the world after his rebellion? According to one source, “new regimes of any kind have a brief initial period when they can blame problems on the previous government.” If Jehovah had prematurely overthrown “the ruler of this world,” Satan could have blamed his inadequacies on the previous Ruler, God. (John 12:31) However, allowing time to pass for Satan to fully express his authority over the world has proved his failure as a ruler. Barb
Hi JDH, You make a very profound point when you write: "If God removed all suffering from this world, men would have an excuse for not feeling the need to long for the next. This would really be an injustice by God." I have found, however, that bringing up the consequences of the Fall in discussions of the problem of evil with atheists tends to produce a severe allergic reaction, akin to foaming at the mouth. It also tends to produce ridicule of the faith, as well as outright hostility. For those reasons, I tend to avoid the "Fall defense." But I would be the first to say: good luck to anyone who can make it work, in a discussion with an atheist. Got any tips for overcoming their intellectual resistance to that approach and keeping the discussion on an even keel? vjtorley
Hi selvaRajan, You write that "God’s relationship with mankind is equivalent to Parent-child relationship." I respectfully disagree. God’s relationship with mankind is more like the relationship between a Parent and a young grown-up child who is faced with the offer of accepting his/her parent's assistance and spurning it for the sake of some illusory independence. With respect to my suggestion that higher intelligences than ours (e.g. aliens or angels) may have spoiled God's handiwork and generated a lot of natural evils through their neglect of God's cosmos, which they were tasked with looking after, you write: "God is omnipotent, he should have known that he is delegating tasks to lazy and incompetent being." But as I argued in a previous post, that conclusion only follows if God's knowledge of our choices is logically prior to the choices themselves - which I do not grant. I hold, with Boethius, Wesley and C. S. Lewis, that God's knowledge of our choices is logically (but not temporally) posterior to the choices. Hence God does not know, (logically) in advance of creating these intelligences, what they will choose to do, and cannot therefore be blamed for what they decide. vjtorley
Hi kairosfocus, Thank you for your kind words, and for the helpful link to the discussion of Plantinga's free will defense. I especially liked your summarization of the problem of evil in your last sentence: "the pivotal method is comparative difficulties leading to an appreciation of the force of the question and an informed decision as to what difficulties one is willing to live with." Thanks again. vjtorley
F/N: VJT, good as usual. I think some objectors need to bone up on Plantinga's free will defense and on why Mackie et al have had to give it respect. As a short outline I suggest here on. A dash or two of Boethius will help. So will a recognition that if a problem has easy wholly satisfactory answers it is not a philosophical problem, leading us to the point that the pivotal method is comparative difficulties leading to an appreciation of the force of the question and an informed decision as to what difficulties one is willing to live with. KF kairosfocus
The first way would be if God ever made a promise not to continually intervene and assist people in distress, in response to an explicit request made by the human race as a whole at some point in the past, to leave them alone and let them make their own mistakes
God's relationship with mankind is equivalent to Parent-child relationship. A parent doesn't leave his distressed child alone citing tantrums thrown by his child in the past.
And now suppose that some of these intelligences turned out to be either too lazy to continually keep the world’s evils in check, or too inept to do the job properly
God is omnipotent, he should have known that he is delegating tasks to lazy and incompetent being selvaRajan
Dr. Torley, It seems as you write this that you have a bit of respect towards the argument even as you show it to be based in fallacy. ( As you state it is both an argument from incredulity and an argument based on ignorance. ) But I don't have any respect for theories of the non-existence of God based on the problem of evil. In fact, I find it hard to believe that anyone has a problem with this at all. ( BTW - I do attribute my not understanding theodicy to be any problem as at least somewhat attributable to my own weakness in philosophy, but I simply do not see it as a problem. ) 1. The Bible itself declares that "...by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin..."(Rom 5:12). We don't have to look to any other intelligences for a pre-existing condition that brought about evil. God made a deal with Adam. In order for God to make a meaningful command to Adam there had to be real and truthful consequences. Adam had no choice, ( and in my opinion could not love) if there was not the possibility of him disobeying. Adam's disobedience not only harmed him, but brought about a tremendous curse upon all men and the earth as a whole. 2. Once the curse is pronounced, does it behoove God to remove all suffering from this world? The answer is an emphatic NO. Well then to be just, should God remove all suffering that is not the direct consequence of bad choices by men. Again the answer is an emphatic NO. God wants to create a new world inhabited by redeemed souls. Souls cleansed from the sin of Adam. He will pay the price for entrance into this new world by the Death of His own Son. In order to make men long for that perfect world, they must know that this world is cursed. They can't believe that this world is OK, or that this world is just. Death alone is not enough of a witness of the horribleness of sin. Sin is not bad because it causes the death of the sinner. People would just think of that as Karma. Sin that only caused the sinner to suffer is not atrocious. Sin is bad because it causes suffering of the innocent. ( Consider the drunk driver that kills a young mother driving home to her kids ). I feel justified in my belief that the young and innocent who suffer will be greatly rewarded, not just for "compensation", but for their great service to God in the illustration of the real terror of sin. What provides a more convincing argument against drunk driving? A rant by a preacher, or a visit to an orphanage. What speaks more about the need to run for heaven, an argument about the curse on this world, or witnessing grand tragedy brought about by man's sin. If God removed all suffering from this world, men would have an excuse for not feeling the need to long for the next. This would really be an injustice by God. God allows suffering for good reason. IMHO, to argue for the non-existence of God by the existence of ( what seems to an unbeliever ) non-necessary suffering, just shows how ignorant the arguer is of God, heaven, sin, and the plan of salvation. JDH
Would John Loftus prefer instead that God intervene every time John would do or say something that would create or promote evil? What if John Loftus was interrupted by God in the act of doing something "good" that, unbeknown to Loftus, would facilitate something hideously evil as a consequence? In a philosophical game of fault finding, Loftus would not win against God. In fact, I've come to believe that the four creatures described in Revelation as being covered with eyes and saying "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts," are specifically tasked to be *judges* of God's actions. In my perspective, the accusations of Loftus are not philosophy, merely "poutage." -Q Querius
The Urantia Papers 5th epochal divine revelation (published 1955 in Chicago, US) was already speaking about Intelligent Design back in, & before, 1955. Now check this about GOD being the Lawgiver, within Urantia: http://www.urantia.org/brief-description-urantia-book/read-urantia-book-online (...) (46.6) 3:2.2 Within the bounds of that which is consistent with the divine nature, it is literally true that “with God all things are possible.” The long-drawn-out evolutionary processes of peoples, planets, and universes are under the perfect control of the universe creators and administrators and unfold in accordance with the eternal purpose of the Universal Father, proceeding in harmony and order and in keeping with the all-wise plan of God. There is only one lawgiver. He upholds the worlds in space and swings the universes around the endless circle of the eternal circuit. (...) LuisMarco

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