Btw, Horrific Suffering is a Serious Problem for Theism

The Non-Alchemist

A few years ago Christian apologist Cameron Bertuzzi wrote a short piece on the problem of evil for his website entitled “If God Exists, Why is There so Much Suffering?” [1].  Since it is clearly written and covers the issues well, I thought it would serve as a good springboard for talking about the subject in general.  Let’s begin this discussion (as he does) with an example to make the problem more palpable.  In Fydor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” there is a discussion between two characters about the suffering of children, and a picture is painted of a young girl enduring horrific abuse from parental figures.  Here is a window into some of the dialogue:

Imagine the little creature, unable even to understand what is happening to her, beating her sore little chest with her tiny fist, weeping hot, unresentful, meek tears, and begging “gentle Jesus” to help her, and…

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6 thoughts on “Btw, Horrific Suffering is a Serious Problem for Theism

  1. It seems to me we either have to choose between knowing suffering or ignorance. Knowledge is good. So if we choose not to know suffering we have to do without that good. From the start God seemed to wish to keep us ignorant of suffering but we chose to know.

    Now you might argue that the degree of suffering would not have to be as great as it is. And that might be, but I would point out all suffering in this life is temporary. God made sure it was temporary only after Adam and Eve choose imbibe the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.

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    1. “It seems to me we either have to choose between knowing suffering or ignorance. Knowledge is good. So if we choose not to know suffering we have to do without that good. From the start God seemed to wish to keep us ignorant of suffering but we chose to know.”

      Why would we have to experience it? And how did we choose to know? How do you know?

      “Now you might argue that the degree of suffering would not have to be as great as it is.”

      Yep.

      “And that might be, but I would point out all suffering in this life is temporary. ”

      The problem with that is that it merely begs the question of why it is allowed to exist to begin with, not to mention why it gets off the hook just because it could have been worse.

      “God made sure it was temporary only after Adam and Eve choose imbibe the fruit of knowledge of good and evil.”

      Do you take that story literally? Are you a creationist? I think the problem is that there’s not much evidence for that and it begs the question of why He does it to people who have nothing to do with it. (Why must we suffer because of something out ancestors did thousands of years ago?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi anon thanks for the great questions. I don’t have all the answers and I admit that the problem of evil and suddenness of God can reasonably be interpreted as evidence against the Christian God. At times I agree it is evidence against God just that it doesn’t outweigh the other reasons I have to believe belief in God is rational. Much of the way I look at the world and our lives does tend to take some of the sting out of problem. I would be interested in your thoughts on my views the thoughts of other reasonable people.

    Joe:
    “It seems to me we either have to choose between knowing suffering or ignorance. Knowledge is good. So if we choose not to know suffering we have to do without that good. From the start God seemed to wish to keep us ignorant of suffering but we chose to know.”

    Anondoc2
    “Why would we have to experience it? And how did we choose to know? How do you know?”

    My reply:

    I think when we say we “know” suffering we mean we experienced suffering. Consider this

    I say I “know” suffering.

    You ask ok when did you suffer?

    I say well I never experienced suffering.

    I mean if someone never experienced suffering *at all* then they simply don’t know what it is. Knowing suffering is not the same as knowing a proposition is true. Knowing suffering is having the experience. I think it is the same with Joy. I just don’t understand how anyone can say they know either unless they experienced it to some extent.

    Ok is the degree too great? So lets say you are God and people want to know this fruit what would you do to limit the suffering? The first thing you would do is make sure the state of suffering is only temporary right? Genisis makes it clear God does exactly that. After we decided to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (and only after that) God made sure we would not live forever in this state. It is only after we chose to know the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil that God closed off the tree of life which would mean we live eternally. So Genesis shows God as taking the same steps we would to mercifully protect those we love.

    Even in this limited time is suffering too much? So it seems someone who has never suffered – take a child for example – a bit of suffering seems very great. For example they may cry and be very distressed if they have to wait until after dinner – say a half hour – before they can eat ice cream. Now would the experience of this slight suffering be the same and actually give adequate knowledge of suffering? So if you say yes for that child his experience is bad enough that it would bring him knowledge of the worst suffering then we see that any suffering is the worst suffering.

    But lets say you think that the experience of the child is not enough to give him knowledge of the worst suffering or really suffering at all. Then to accomplish the goal of tasting the fruit of the tree of good and evil is not met. Because evil can bring about much greater suffering than that child knows. So he would remain ignorrant of the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Indeed he would be worse than ignorrant he would be misled, misinformed. He would think he knows the fruit of the tree of good and evil when he really doesn’t.

    So we and God, in Genesis, agree on the fact that suffering should be only temporary. But once we “go there” how much we should know in that temporary world becomes quite tricky. Again that may be why God as a loving parent wanted us to ignore the tree altogether.

    This is not unlike a parent’s concern for their children. They want to shield them from evil but they also don’t want them to be misinformed about it and think it is not as bad as it really is.

    Anondoc2
    “Do you take that story literally? Are you a creationist? I think the problem is that there’s not much evidence for that and it begs the question of why He does it to people who have nothing to do with it. (Why must we suffer because of something out ancestors did thousands of years ago?”

    No I do not take Genesis as literal history. I highly doubt the authors would have ever intended it that way. I mean how would they have known this happened? Would the author say well my grandaddy learned from his grandaddy learned from his Grandmother who was eve that this all happened this way? The text is way to subtle and beautiful to think the authors would have ever wanted people to think of this literally. And when people try to read it literally against the will of the authors they miss the points the authors are trying to convey.

    Here is a short blog I did on it.

    https://trueandreasonable.co/2019/05/01/problem-of-evil-answered-with-logic-and-scripture/

    The text is inspired by God and it is one of my favorites. It reveals important information about our basic situation in the world and our relationship with God, each other, and the world. That is God is our creator. So our relationship to God is like our relationship to things we create – paintings or what have you. You do have the right to destroy what you create. But all of humans have the image of God which separates us from the rest of the animals and creation. the image of God also gives all humanity a touch of God’s infinite dignity and worth.

    But Genesis also subtly addresses evil and suffering. It is not just Adam and Eve that want to know. We all want to know! I mean now that we know suffering we may say ok God you were right we shouldn’t have tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. But we are not happy in a state of ignorance either. Before we knew suffering would wonder what it is like experience the fruit of knowledge of Good and Evil. I mean put yourself in Adam and Eve’s place. Wouldn’t you want the same. Like any parent God preferred to keep us safe but he also saw that it wasn’t all bad – there is joy and a better understanding of love etc from this knowledge. So he allowed us to learn if we chose.

    Knowledge is very interesting because it can also make you ignorant of who you are. Did you ever wonder how you would act if you lived in Nazi Germany or the American South during Slavery? Sure with what you know now, you know how you would act right? I mean if you literally took a time machine tomorrow you would be fighting for justice big time. But that isn’t the interesting question is it? The interesting question is how we would act if we didn’t know what we know now, and we lived in that time. That would likely reveal more about who we really are. Our knowledge makes it so we can’t know the answer to the interesting question. Its somewhat paradoxical that knowledge can somehow make it so we don’t know who we are. I think life has to do with that. We don’t want God just to tell us who we are we want to see for ourselves and to some extent that requires us to be in a situation where we don’t have perfect knowledge. And I think that explains our much of our life.

    What about children who die young or are aborted? I agree that this explanation does not explain their lives. For them perhaps they don’t need this same experience the way we do. Or perhaps they will have a similar experience in another way. But for some of us life is a learning experience – about ourselves. Perhaps it is so that we know with certainty that how God judges us is indeed what we deserve.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your reply!

      Joe: “I think when we say we “know” suffering we mean we experienced suffering. Consider this

      I say I “know” suffering.

      You ask ok when did you suffer?

      I say well I never experienced suffering.

      I mean if someone never experienced suffering *at all* then they simply don’t know what it is. Knowing suffering is not the same as knowing a proposition is true. Knowing suffering is having the experience. I think it is the same with Joy. I just don’t understand how anyone can say they know either unless they experienced it to some extent.”

      My reply: I see no reason why experience -based knowledge can’t ultimately reduce to objective propositional knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Part 2 (I’m breaking up my reply to your comment for lack of time):

        I’m arguing that your claim is poorly founded and your invocation of experience -based knowledge is likely a distinction without a difference.
        Like the knowledge argument against materialism (the thought experiment of Mary’s black -and -white room where she is introduced to the world of colour, the intended implication being that she knows new facts like that such-and-such experiences are what it is like to see red, contrary to what we should expect under materialism).

        Many have pointed out that (and the original proponent of the argument, something Jackson if I remember right, later on changed his mind) that the argument commits the masked man fallacy. It’s like saying “I don’t know the masked man, I know who my brother is, therefore he’s not the masked man” . Or, to use another, real-world, analogy, you might know (in a pretty loose sense, but you get the point) who Henry James Anderson (Anondoc2) is, but you probably don’t know (up until now, that is!) who D. (a young guy who in April 2019 had an email exchange with an astronomer about four little stars) is, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t the same person.

        The fallacy is in conflating these two things:

        1. Separate descriptions, properties, or perceptions or experiences of a thing, and

        2. The thing itself.

        For example, the property of my tablet on which I’m writing this being covered in green is not the same thing as the tablet itself, and if I take the cover off it doesn’t stop being my tablet. And if you were here and I showed it to you, you would still be able to know quite a few things about it, like that I have many tabs and apps on it and so on, and that remains true regardless of whether I call it my tablet or a green-covered thing.

        Now, as for how this relates to your comment: your solution to the PoE is that knowledge of suffering requires it to actually be experienced. My response is that that is based on the premise that it is impossible to know it otherwise, like through descriptive logical reasoning (e.g. “Suffering is the reaction or emotion caused by X, Y, and Z”). And if what I suggested above is true, that claim fails, collapsing your solution.

        To be continued…

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      2. This may be were our disagreement lies then. Travis seemed to take your position in the comments to my blog. I just don’t think we can “know” suffering (or whatever you want to say its opposite is) unless we actually experience it.

        What would the proposition(s) be?

        Suffering/joy is its own category/type of experience. It is not a thing or an event that can be described in terms of other things or events. No matter what you did in offering propositions if it didn’t somehow make us experience suffering then it wouldn’t communicate what suffering is.

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