Documenting the Coming Singularity

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God as Helpful Hunter?

I'm going to take a minute to justify to you my irregular posts on religion and atheism. It is my intent to make this blog fit a single niche, rather than have it be a hodge podge of ideas. The unifying theme I have chosen, as you will see from my title, is transcendence, or going beyond our human limitations. What does that entail, in the context of this blog? It entails the idea of keeping up with the rapidly accelerating evolution of technology, which is becoming, in effect, human evolution. It is my view that those who make themselves aware of our non-biological evolution will be far better able to take advantage it than those who pay no attention.

So where does religion fit in? It is my sense that those who take solace in religion will, generally speaking, be less inclined to see the power of technological transcendence. Religion essentially welcomes human suffering and death as being somehow necessary and redeeming. It seem to me that religion was invented because we see suffering and death as inevitable and feel the need to give them some meaning. And so, every once in a while, I will write an article that challenges the validity of religion and its tenets. I certainly hope that, if you are religious, you will not be offended by these articles, but instead will find them thought provoking. Now, on to today's article:

I've been browsing a very popular book called The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel. In it, he argues for the validity of faith in God by addressing what he calls the "toughest objections to Christianity." The very first, naturally, is the existence of suffering. If God is good and also omnipotent, why is there human suffering? Either God allows it and is not good, or he cannot rid the world of it and therefore is not omnipotent. You've heard this argument before, and it is a tough one for Christians to handle. Strobel relates a couple of analogies in his attempt to explain the existence of human suffering.

God as Hunter

His first analogy is to compare God to a hunter, and humanity to a bear. He posits a sympathetic hunter who comes across a bear that is caught in a trap. This hunter, in order to free the bear, must inject it with drugs, then push the bear further into the trap in order to release the tension in the spring of the trap. The bear, understanding none of this, feels that the hunter is attacking it. So is God trying to free us, and in order to do so he must cause us suffering.

What's the obvious failure of this analogy? Consider the word "must." The hunter, not being omnipotent, "must" confine his methods to those that obey the laws of physics and his own human limitations. He cannot simply wave his hand and make the trap disappear. Neither can he cause the bear's wound to be instantly healed. Thus he "must" cause some additional suffering in order to do good. But is God, being omnipotent, so constrained? Why "must" God cause or allow suffering in order to free humanity? An omnipotent God certainly could accomplish his redemptive goal without it, should he choose to do so. Back to the same problem.

God as Parent

The second analogy compares God to a loving parent who, in order to impart wisdom and character into his child "must" allow or cause some suffering, but it is always to a good end. And so the Bible admonishes us to accept suffering as God's loving discipline, which he uses to help us develop holiness and to refine our faith (Hebrews).

The problem? Again, the word "must." It is true that human beings must often learn and grow through adversity. And it is true that loving parents do not shield their children from certain types of challenges that will help them develop healthy qualities. But this is what we "must" do, because we have limitations. Would that I could wave may hand over my newborn and have it become instantly good and wise. Sadly, I cannot. But couldn't an omnipotent God? Certainly.

So these attempts, as right-sounding as they may initially seem, fall apart on further examination. Rather than seek the comfort of the idea of God in order to face the suffering and death that seem so inevitable, wouldn't it be better to face the world head on, and continue to seek the means of relieving, and eventually eliminating these things? Please let me know what you think.

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17 comments :

Spaceman Spiff said...

I don't think you've really dealt with Strobel's analogies. Omnipotence certainly doesn't mean the ability to violate logic, does it? For example, if the way parents are forced to raise children is in fact the *only* way to teach an indepent "other" without violating their volition, then it is actually logically *necessary* that God teach us in this way. If God could do it, but in so doing would violate our free will which would be a higher evil, then his omnipotence is done no damage by the fact that he doesn't.

You'd have to make an argument to show that both that it is logically possible for someone to learn or be healed in the way you suggest *and* that this is logically commensurable with God's goodness and wisdom. Otherwise you'd have to concede there's more to Strobel's analogies than you give him credit for.

Barry Mahfood said...

Seems like you grant God the power to violate all sorts of laws when it suits your argument (as in the talking snake), but when the tables are turned, then the omnipotent God is constrained by, of all things, the laws of logic.

As far as violating our free will is concerned, you simply state that that would be a greater evil, as if this is an accepted fact. We violate people's free will all the time in order to prevent suffering. We violate someone's free will when we forcibly incarcerate them for the public safety. And wouldn't any loving parent force their child to stay out of the street, or away from a dangerous animal, thus violating their free will? And doesn't God say that one day his people won't need teachers, because he we write his laws upon their hearts? Couldn't God create a man who is like him, not tempted by evil? No one would say that God lacks free will simply because sin holds no attraction for him. He could do the same for us, could he not? Make us perfect, holy and pleasing to him? That wouldn't make is robots, would it?

Anonymous said...

Let me preface my response by saying that I am quite sure nothing I write here will be new to you. In fact, you may have even posited these arguments yourself in the past. But since I saw no awareness of what I am about to set forth in the previous post, I think it’s fitting to rehash some old ideas:

Pain and Suffering as Unqualified Evils

The part of your argument that you seem to be rejecting is that an omnipotent God “must” cause pain. That “must” is what carries the real sting in the question you raise. So, at the risk of getting bogged down in semantics, I wonder if the question loses that sting if we revise your statement to say that God *wishes* to cause pain. If this seems absurd or preposterous to you, let’s examine why. The two attributes of God you’ve mentioned are his omnipotence and his beneficence. How can these both be satisfied if God wishes to cause pain or inflict death? Doesn’t this claim allow for God to be all-powerful, but impugns his innate goodness? This conclusion is unavoidable unless we are willing to redefine goodness. Why do we consider things that are unpleasant for us bad? Reasoning of this sort attempts to answer the spiritual with the material. Is it any wonder that we make nonsense of it? If we find value only in that which is physically eminent, then anything that hinders our physical pleasure becomes an unqualified evil. Once we open our minds to the spiritual, we open up another value system which places far less emphasis on ephemeral pleasure. You point to Hebrews as an example of discipline as something that benefits us. So, why can’t we understand God as wanting us to experience this instead of being compelled to have us suffer? After all, Christ was made perfect through His suffering. A book that may shed some light on this is _The Gift of Pain_ by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand. It’s about the medical purposes of pain applied to spiritual questions such as the ones you have raised. For instance, if a leper could feel pain, they would be spared much of the disfigurement characteristic of the disease.

Perspective

You have pointed out some weak points in Strobel’s analogies. However, this is not the crushing blow to his argument you may have intended it to be. It is the nature of an analogy that it break-down somewhere; no comparison is perfect. What’s important is to understand just what the analogy might be illuminating. In Strobel’s case, I like the way his analogies both deal with our limited human perspective. God is the Hunter; we are the bear. God is our parent; and we are his child. The pain we feel, from our diminutive perspective, seems the most pressing need we have. But God may be aware of another more urgent need that our suffering can help us satisfy. Ultimately, we are ill-equipped to evaluate God in both his omnipotence and his benevolence. We can deal only in shadowy abstractions that inevitably fail. For an interesting treatment on this, you should check out Chaucer’s _Troilus and Creseyde_. The story centers on a warrior who falls in love with a woman during the Trojan War. While on earth, he becomes completely entangled in the war and his love affair with Creseyde. Inexorably, be must come to terms with failure on both fronts. When he is killed at the end, his spirit rises above the earth and enters into the realm of the spheres. There, from his altered perspective, he is able to look down and see life on earth in a new way. He gazes upon the devastation of his troops and his lost love Creseyde and laughs in a spontaneous outburst of mirth. My point is that we see suffering in a completely different way than God does because of our limited perspective. Beautifully, God came to earth and took his own medicine as Jesus on the cross.

I think that these are plausible rejoinders to the problems you’ve raised. For a full treatise on this topic, see C.S. Lewis’s _The Problem of Pain_. So, our issue with this may not rest with our ability to comprehend it – albeit on some greatly impaired level. The real difficulty may lie in our willingness to accept these as possibilites, and that is different discussion altogether.

Matthew

P.S. Even if it is possible to eliminate death and suffering, do you really believe this will stop people from searching for spiritual significance? Won’t people still wonder who made them and for what purpose?

Barry Mahfood said...

Anonymous,

Thanks for sharung your comment. It adds substantively to this discussion.

You said: "Why do we consider things that are unpleasant for us bad? Reasoning of this sort attempts to answer the spiritual with the material. Is it any wonder that we make nonsense of it? If we find value only in that which is physically eminent, then anything that hinders our physical pleasure becomes an unqualified evil."

But here you are putting words in my mouth. You refer to "unleasantness" and "anything that hinders our physical pleasure." But I was talking about human suffering. I was referring to the intense and lasting emotional pain experienced by a parent who loses a child, or the physical pain endured by a person stricken with cancer. There is a difference.

You also said: ". So, why can’t we understand God as wanting us to experience this instead of being compelled to have us suffer? After all, Christ was made perfect through His suffering. A book that may shed some light on this is _The Gift of Pain_ by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand."

I applaud you for dispensing with the word "must" and inserting the word "wish," asserting that God wishes us to endure suffering in order to grow spiritually. This is exactly the kind of rationalizing of suffering, finding good in it, that I believe we do in order to try to make sense of it. We figure that since it's inevitable, we ought to give it some value.

Then why do we try so hard to mitigate suffering? Even the most "faithful" Christian will do his or her best to minimize their own suffering and that of others. Would they decline anesthetics before surgery, since suffering produces spiritual benefits? I think not, and anyone who did would be labeled a fanatic. Just listen to the title you mentioned: The Gift of Pain. Is that not saying, in essence, "Look, we can't avoid it, so let's give it some purpose so that we can accept it"?

And yes, all analogies fail at some point, but Strobel's fail at exactly the point they are designed to make, at the very heart of the question. Sure, they make a person feel better, but they fail to explain the Good/Omnipotent problem.

Spaceman Spiff said...

All I'm saying is no one means what you want them to mean by "omnipotent." Sure, omnipotent means God is not bound by physical laws. But I think most people agree that doesn't mean he isn't bound by logic. So your point about the talking snake is irrelevant.

And no, I didn't claim violating free will would be higher evil as an agreed upon fact. My point is, there are *plenty* of cases in which God could do something but wouldn't because it is logically impossible to do so without violating one of his other qualities. I just gave one example.

So in the end, as I said, you must either make a deductive case that God could make us better without allowing suffering without logically violating some other quality of His, or you must concede that Strobel's analogies still hold up as a plausible way of understanding the God of the Bible.

You'd have to make a deductive case because "must" just doesn't violate omnipotence in the way want it to. You'd have to show that here is such a way that God isn't using and therefore God can't be omnipotent.

But as long as you can't do that, it is still plausible that there is a way in which God is omnipotent but still constrained by his nature and by logic to allow suffering. I don't have to be able to make the specific case to show that this is so.

I would absolutely be willing to discuss the way in which I personally think the case could be made, and I promise you I've thought about how jail, time-out, etc. fit into that. But I don't want to discuss it here because it's a red herring. The real point is that showing conclusively that Strobel's analogies don't hold up would require a lot more leg-work, and I don't really think it can be done.

You don't have to agree with them. You can look at the world and say "I just don't buy it, I think if God existed it would be different." You can say he's way too hopeful. But you cannot claim that Strobel's case is illogical, unreasonable, or inconsistent with God's omnipotence.

You are free to call him an idiot, but you cannot (at least not based on your arguments so far) call him an incoherent or inconsistent idiot.

Barry Mahfood said...

Spaceman,

I'm certain that he's not an idiot of any kind. But I do think that his very strong motivation to harmonize God's existence with human suffering leads him to accept analogies that fail at a crucial point. And I disagree about what most people understand by "omnipotent." It means "all-powerful," and I've never thought of it in any other way. He supposedly created everything that is, so he can manipulate reality in any way he desires. He's not going to violate his essential nature, sure, but what is it in his nature that would make it impossible for him to prevent suffering? In the Bible, God himself continually makes the case that nothing is too hard for him.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking more about your response to David. You wrote, "As far as violating our free will is concerned, you simply state that that would be a greater evil, as if this is an accepted fact." I think you are right about this, and the assertion alone doesn't prove the verity of claim. I think it can be proven, but we would need more evidence to arrive there.

It got me thinking about your questions at the end of this response: "Couldn't God create a man who is like him, not tempted by evil? No one would say that God lacks free will simply because sin holds no attraction for him. He could do the same for us, could he not? Make us perfect, holy and pleasing to him? That wouldn't make is robots, would it?" As I reflected on these questions, it occured to me that if we believe God is all powerful, he could indeed do all the things you say. Because we know from our experiences that the world does not function this way, then we must question either God's power or goodness and thus, the entire notion of God as we know Him. So, it would seem that from these rhetorical questions, what you're really driving at is that either God cannot do these things and is therefore not all-powerful or that he will not do these things and is not all good. Either of these conclusions would seem like a staggering blow to the way Christianity has conceived of God for centuries. But, I wonder if you're not forcing us into a false dillemma, that is, a situation in which these and only these conclusions are possible.

What I mean is this: if we conclude that God could and would make us perfect or sinless or immune to temptation he would because this is consistent with his personality as we understand it. But this seems to me a lot like the secretary of defense confidently asserting that if the terrorists could have arranged another attack on the coutry, then they surely would have by now. Since they have not, they must not have the ability. We assume that if they had the means and the will to do something that we find consistent with their worldview, then they surely would have done it. Can we then logically believe that we're in the clear? No. I don't think any reasonable person would see this as a reason to breathe a sigh of relief. Unless your willing to make an argument from silence, the absense of evidence is not evidence against something. Just because God doesn't work in the way we believe he should, does not mean that he is incapable of doing so. Therefore, the world can remain just the way we know it to be, and God can remain omnipotent.

You may say that this would then necessarily mean that God is not good. Not so. This conclusion depends on our belief that what we understand to be good is good in fact. How else can we assert that if God were good, he would work in the way I think he should? This goes back to my previous post on perspective. If we accept that God is wiser than we are, then we open up the possibility for God to be doing what is good even if we perceive it to be bad. This difference in goodness and badness isn't the difference between black and white so as to imply that we may serve an evil God whose idea of goodness is in some way opposed to ours. It is, as C.S. Lewis says, the difference between a perfect circle and child's first drawing of a wheel. It's still our conception of Goodness, but made utterly perfect. Even if it takes us through avenues that we consider bad for us, it will end in a good that is consistent with our first inklings. Think back to the terrorists. We may claim to know what they would do if they could, but there are many factors to which we are not privy. Is it then possible, that one of these factors which exists outside of our sphere of knowledge may be the reason why things don't pan out quite the way we expect them to.

I do not mean to imply that we can never know so we are better off just shutting-up. I find this to be an extremely worthwhile discussion, but I don't think it breaks any rules of argumentation to say that when discussing God, we must accept a higher level of consciousness than our own. This is consistent with my worldview as a Christian in which I believe that God's ways are above our ways.

You have been examining other religions, correct? Have you come across the Taoist story of the man who refuses to sell his beautiful horse? The horse runs away, and all his friends say, "You foolish man. You should have sold him while you had the chance. Now you have nothing." The old man says, "Who is to say what is good or bad?" Later, the horse returns with five other wild horses. His friends, again hastily jumping to conclusions, say, "Ahh, you were right, it was good that your horse ran away because now you have six and will be rich if you sell them." Again, the man says, "Don't be too hasty, who is to say what's good or bad." It goes on like this alternating a seeminly terrible situation with a fortunate one. Each time his friends make judgnments and each time the old man reproves them (Please forgive my clumbsy paraphrase). Our perspective is limited while God's is not.

I'd love to get your thoughts on this.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. I realize that I put words in your mouth and would probably qualify my definition of pain more carefully.

I wonder why you would call one attempt at understanding the world rationalization (I take it you mean this in a pejorative sense) and another mode of inquiry, such as the scientific, illuminating or fascinating. Aren't we all, in some way, trying to reconcile the way we experience the world to what we believe about it? I'm just not sure what calling my position a ratiolization accomplishes. If you mean that I begin with my worldview and then try to make things fit into my preconceived notion, I'll agree with you. I also believe that you are doing the same thing. At least this is what you are doing unless you wish to assert total objectivity. I don't think that you would.

As for Christians seeking to mitigate pain, I think you're right about that. Naturally, we seek comfort and pain is, well, painful. Maybe we should all decline novacaine when we get our teeth filled. I know I probably won't. I guess my point is that because people don't live this way is no refutation of the benefits of suffering. This is like arguing that because people don't all eat healthily, there are no benefits to a balanced diet.

As for the Book, _The Gift of Pain_, it's probably best not to judge the entire book by its title. Yes, this is a way to reconcile pain with Christianity. Should we dismiss it for that reason alone? I think the example of leprosy in the problem of pain is striking. These are people whose major problem is that they cannot feel pain. As a result, they can't know when something they're doing is really damaging them. Think about the implications of that.

Matthew

Spaceman Spiff said...

Well, I think it makes much more sense to talk about omnipotence as, like everything else, still fitting within the laws of logic. I don't see anywhere in the Bible that would suggest otherwise. Sure its hyperbolic language, like "that guy could do *any* math problem."

I think we would say that logical consistency is a part of God's nature, and so part of his omnipotence is holding those laws. The Bible always suggest God goes beyond *human* understanding or reasoning, sure. But nowhere does he violate logic altogether.

Strobel's analogies still hold up and I think they are on the right track. I would say that God's interactions with man as laid out in the Bible show a risk-taking, they show God wanting to create "others" who can in fact make their own choices and even affect each other. It shows a God who wants to redeem his creation but wants to do so by patient love, invitation, and he innsists on doing it with and through his creation and his creatures.

So, I'd suggest there's something inherently relational about God, and that in a relationship between two "others" there is always the possibility of suffering. So in Christianity, suffering is not the highest evil. God suffers in relationship with us.

Relationship can happen without suffering, but not without the possibility of suffering. And so we have the world we live in.

It may be possible for God to create a being with a fully formed moral sense equal to his own, yet such a being must be lacking in something that God wanted. I'd suggest that it would lack the kind of independence and otherness that is really entailed in procreating.

God did not want to create objects when he made us, he wanted to create other subjects, other I's. This is a mystery that the artificial intelligence community still hasn't solved.

We see it partially in parenting. For a time, you put down laws to prevent your children from doing certain things, but eventually, if you are truly to relate to them as an "other" you must abdicate and they will do what they will. There are parents who refuse this, who desire instead objects, extensions of themselves, who never give up control. This is an evil, *even* if it leads their child to avoid suffering, because it is a violation of their fundamental otherness. Its an otherness they have to be guided into, but eventually it must be respected. Sure, if its apparent that a person is not in their right mind, or is bent on violating others, then of course the sane thing to do is to detain them amd try to guide them to health.

We lose a little bit of ability to prevent suffering by insisting on not violating people's rights. The government could be much more effective at stopping crime if they could do so without concern for the rights of the accused. Yet to do so would be an evil.

If this is true, then we can understand why God might not prevent suffering. Perhaps to preserve the essential otherness of his children, He must allow us to cause suffering, at least for a time.

If God is, unlike human, able to perfectly rehabilitate people, as well as to completely heal all wounds we inflict on each other, then we can see that the suffering we complain so much about appears like a spanking to a child.

To a kid, it is the worst thing in the world, and for that reason the parent suffers with the child. So in our suffering, God suffers with us. Yet I believe He knows that it isn't permanent. He knows how to heal us, and only He knows how that can be accomplished without violating us.

That's what I think is going on. I haven't made a conclusive case, but it is certainly a logically consistent way of understanding God's omnipotence and our suffering.

Barry Mahfood said...

Anonymous,

I think there are 2 of you, so I'll try to make my replies an indicator of which one I am answering.

In fact, I think this reply will suit you and Spaceman.

I do not agree that the burden of proff is on me to demonstrate that God should be able to do this and so. You believe that God exists, and that he is good, and that he is omnipotent. On what do you base these beliefs? Because the Bible tells you so. That's it. Nothing more. For all you know, if he does exist, he may be capricious and deceitful. So the burden is on you to substantiate your claims about God.

Additionally, you say that his omnipotence is limited by logic. How do you know that? On what do you base that? It is my opinion that 99% of theology is pure speculation based on very little substance.

Let me finish by saying what I always say. I think this is a very good discussion, but I am always fearful of giving offence when discussing such personal issues. I mean no offence. I do not mean to indicate any disrespect for your system of belief; I'm speaking freely, and that can be taken in a way that I do not intend.

Barry Mahfood said...

To the other anonymous,

That parable of the horses was priceless. I like it. It has been said that the more educated one becomes, the less certain one becomes as well. I agree that we should all be cautious about declaring that we know the truth about anything.

When I was a minister I would tell people that if we could understand God, he would not be God, therefore it is entirely to be expected that many aspects of his dealings with us seem to defy our understanding. That is definitely a possibility I allow for.

On the other hand, if God does not exist, and he is in fact a construct of human mind, then many aspects of our circumstances would seem to defy our understanding of the God we have made.

Does that mean that the two possibilities are equally likely? To me, an application of Occam's razor would lead to the more likely conclusion that the God of the Bible is not a real being.

Once again, thanks for the discussion!

Anonymous said...

No offense taken. Actually, both anonymouses are me, Matthew. I guess I just can't bring myself to sacrifice the two minutes it would take to sign up and get a real name.

I'll think about what you said and post something later. Anyway, I appreciate the lively discussion.

Spaceman Spiff said...

Look, I'm not trying to insist on rules for rules' sake, but because it is important for conversation to be fair. I tend to overstate my case, and so I try to follow rules for avoiding that. I tend to see things in a way that is favorable for my viewpoint, so I try hard to be rigorous. Otherwise we can never actually communicate.

So we have to stop using language that is unfair. If you agree not to claim that Strobel's christianity is causing him to hold a contradictory position, then I agree not to claim that your atheism is causing you to call something an contradiction when it is not.

Let's just agree at the outset that everyone here believes the law of non-contradiction. The God I believe in is rational, and therefore the universe I believe in is rational. There is no sense in talking about God violating logic, since a violation of logic is a non-entity. It is completely without meaning. To talk about having both "a" and "not a" be true is to say nothing at all. So the God I discuss holds to that law, and all the laws that follow from it.

Now here is why you do in fact either have a case to prove or a concession to make. You
claimed that Strobel's arguments are contradictory on the grounds that God's omnipotence is not compatible with his allowing suffering. I have given more than enough possibilities to show that they are in fact compatible because we can imagine many scenarios in which God could do something because either it A) violates logic, or B) violates one of his other qualities.

In the first case, I say: if the possibility of suffering is logically *necessary* for growth and relationship for beings who are truly "other" then to say God could have made us grow without suffering is to suggest a nonentity. This is one possible understanding in which God could be omnipotent and yet not save us from all suffering.

In the second case, if preventing our suffering involved violating God's goodness or wisdom, then of course the fact that he didn't do it wouldn't prove his omnipotence false. He could have, he just didn't. Nothing contradictory there.

I then suggest that there are plenty of ways that can be fleshed out, but it doesn't really matter which scenario we pick, because there are plenty more, and each could be made internally consistent, and not contradictory in any way.

Thus I say, at this point, the burden of proof of *your* claim (that Lee Strobel's analogies don't hold because of God's omnipotence) is in fact on you. You'd have to show deductively (so that no other individual case could be brought up) that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, omniscient God could not allow suffering. You haven't done this, only questioned it and suggested that you don't think He would.

And I don't really expect you to. The theodicy question, in its various forms, is still debated today, and no philosopher worth his salt would claim it has been conclusively decided against the existence of God. In fact, most people today take the probabilistic form (it is not *likely* that a benevolent omniscient omnipotent God would allow *this much suffering*). This is because theism really does hang together.

So what I really think should happen is you should concede that you overstated your case. Lee Strobel's analogies do hold together pretty well, and they are not logically contradictory with his belief in God.

I will agree I can't prove God does exist, or solve the theodicy question, but you should agree that you can't show God to be logically incompatible with suffering.

Unless of course you can, in which case, I'd like a signed copy of your book so people will believe I knew you before you were famous.

Otherwise, we can agree that God or not God are both logically possible alternatives that don't necessitate self-contradiction, and then we can converse from there. You can post about your experiences, and what things seem funny to you without claiming that something is a logical contradiction. That would be good, I think.

Barry Mahfood said...

Spaceman,

Earlier you said:

"But as long as you can't do that, it is still plausible that there is a way in which God is omnipotent but still constrained by his nature and by logic to allow suffering."

Of course there is a way. I can't shut out that possibility. No one could. We're talking about concepts here, and they are flexible. I can't build an airtight structure out of flexible things like these.

On the other hand, I can say that something seems inconsistent to me. Is it possible that on some higher plane they are consistent? Certainly. But that doesn't mean it's likely.

You also said that I:

"claimed that Strobel's arguments are contradictory on the grounds that God's omnipotence is not compatible with his allowing suffering."

Not what I said at all. I said that his analogies are not good ones, because they both utilize the behavior of human beings who are limited in what they can do to explain the actions of a being who is omnipotent. That's all I have ever said. I will say it this way: Someone loaned me his book to help me find belief in God. I found Strobel's analogies, so far, to be unconvincing. For the reasons I stated.

Now, that is my very limited point. I make no further claims.

Spaceman Spiff said...

Touche, I say.

Anonymous said...

Despite being an atheist, I'll completely buy the standard answer to the problem of evil; that we only perceive it as evil.

This places free will, the individual, the 'other', relationship, and variation as greater than other goods, when defining perfection.

So let's carry it further. This isn't very rigorous, but I'm sure you can parse it.

1) Perfection is not a relative description, it is absolute.
2) There can only be one perfect thing, which we assume is a being.
3) A perfect being will only make perfect choices - the single perfect choice for each situation.
4) If the universe was created by a perfect being, its creation was a mandatory and perfect act.
5) The universe that was created is the most perfect of all possible creations.
6) A perfect creation contains significant free will, that which includes the possibility to choose evil.
7) The possibility to choose evil is more perfect than absolute good.
8) Since two perfect things cannot exist, God is exactly equivalent to the universe.
9) God is perfect, and thus contains the possibility to choose evil.
10) God (equivalent to the universe) is amoral.

Evil is no problem whatsoever - it is, in fact, a component of perfection.

Jeff

Barry Mahfood said...

Jeff,

An interesting take on the issue. Thanks for sharing it.