Theodicies

48 Replies, 3024 Views

A while back, in the thread Is Google's LaMDA AI sentient? There seems to be strong evidence to that effect, I made a comment with reference to the problem of evil, to which @nbtruthman responded thoughtfully, offering a theodicy based on an article to which he linked.

Given the thoughtfulness of the theodicy, a thoughtful response seemed warranted, and I'd long ago foreshadowed one, a foreshadowing which I now realise. Because I don't want to divert that thread, I am starting a new one to discuss theodicies - this one in particular, any others that anyone might want to raise, and the notion of theodicy in general.

Here's nbtruthman's theodicy, below which I share my response:

(2022-06-21, 04:07 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: My point of view on the matter of the ontological nature of human existence and suffering poses the stance that there are true victims - they are the human selves of immortal souls, but all suffering is temporary and the highest plan is wise even if very hard for humans to accept. For me, the problem of evil and suffering has to be taken very seriously and requires determined analysis and development of arguments, the action of the reasoning faculty. I can’t either dismiss it from sort of higher perspective of consciousness, or entirely depend on faith.


I cite the following paraphrasing of the short essay by Granville Sewell (https://evolutionnews.org/2017/07/the-bi...to-design/). I think it is one of the best deistic rationalizations of the reality of evil I have encountered. Of course there are other rationalizations, and of course the materialist view that no valid rationalization is possible, so “suck it up”.

A vast amount of suffering is caused by evil actions of human beings. Second, there is a vast amount of “natural evil” caused by the natural world by things like disease, floods and earthquakes. Any proposed deistic or other solution to the ancient theological problem of suffering has to explain both categories.

The basic approach in this essay was to combine various arguments that mankind’s suffering is an inevitable accompaniment of our greatest blessings and benefits, the result of a vast number of intricate tradeoffs.

Why pain, suffering and evil? Main points that are made:

(1) There is the observed regularity of natural law. The basic laws of physics appear to be cleverly designed to create conditions suitable for human life and development. It can be surmised that this intricate fine-tuned design is inherently a series of tradeoffs and balances, allowing and fostering human existence but also inevitably allowing “natural evil” to regularly occur. In other words, the best solution to the overall “system requirements” (which include furnishing manifold opportunities for humans to experience and achieve) inherently includes natural effects that cause suffering to human beings.

This points out that there may be logical and fundamental limitations to God’s creativity. Maybe even He can’t 100% satisfy all the requirements simultaneously. Maybe He doesn’t have complete control over nature, because that would interfere with the essential requirements for creative and fulfilling human life. After all, human achievement requires imperfection and adverse conditions to exist as a natural part of human life.

(2) There is the apparent need for human free will as one of the most important “design requirements”. This inevitably leads to vast amounts of suffering caused by evil acts of humans to each other. Unfortunately, there is no way to get around that one, except to make humans “zombies” or robots, which would defeat the whole purpose of human existence.

(3) Some suffering is necessary to enable us to experience life in its fullest and to achieve the most. Often it is through suffering that we experience the deepest love of family and friends. “The man who has never experienced any setbacks or disappointments invariably is a shallow person, while one who has suffered is usually better able to empathize with others. Some of the closest and most beautiful relationships occur between people who have suffered similar sorrows.”

Some of the great works of literature, art and music were the products of suffering. “One whose life has led him to expect continued comfort and ease is not likely to make the sacrifices necessary to produce anything of great and lasting value.”

It should be noted that the casual claim that all an omnipotent God needs to do is step in whenever accident, disease or evil doings ensue, and cancel out, prevent these happenings. Thus no innocent suffering. One of the most basic problems with this is that it would make the world and its underlying laws of operation purely happenstance and the result of a perhaps capricious God. There would be no regularity of natural law, and therefore there could be no mastery of the physical world by mankind through science. In fact there could be no science and the scientific method as we know them. And of course, there would be little learning from adversity and difficulty, and therefore little depth of character.

Sewell concludes:

“Why does God remain backstage, hidden from view, working behind the scenes while we act out our parts in the human drama? ….now perhaps we finally have an answer. If he were to walk out onto the stage, and take on a more direct and visible role, I suppose he could clean up our act, and rid the world of pain and evil — and doubt. But our human drama would be turned into a divine puppet show, and it would cost us some of our greatest blessings: the regularity of natural law which makes our achievements meaningful; the free will which makes us more interesting than robots; the love which we can receive from and give to others; and even the opportunity to grow and develop through suffering. I must confess that I still often wonder if the blessings are worth the terrible price, but God has chosen to create a world where both good and evil can flourish, rather than one where neither can exist. He has chosen to create a world of greatness and infamy, of love and hatred, and of joy and pain, rather than one of mindless robots or unfeeling puppets.”

Of course, the brute fact is that the bottom line is there is a huge, egregious amount of truly innocent and apparently meaningless suffering, that our instinct tells us is wrong. Is it all worth it? Yes, there appears to be a plausible rationalization; overall it all may be a vast tradeoff, but admittedly some people might conclude it isn’t a good one from the strictly human perspective. The cost of all this is a terrible thing.

I reject the strict Christian perspective centered on Jesus’s sacrifice. In particular the belief that all humans that do not accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior are condemned to eternal agony in Hell. Regardless of whether they have loved God all their lives, or that they simply have not been exposed to Christian teachings. Surely an immeasureably unjust system.

But there is another additional spiritual but non-Christian rationalization of the existence of vast amounts of pain, suffering and evil in the world, that would supplement Granville Sewell’s. Reality is exceedingly complicated, and it is reasonable that there would be multiple harmonizing perspectives rationalizing the seemingly irreconcilable. This is the perspective of the spiritualist, much of the New Age movement, and the so-called Perennial Wisdom. Perhaps full acceptance does finally require faith. But this is a faith that it all is really justifiable from the perspective of the soul, and that we are in some incomprehensible way literally our soul. This is the acceptance of the Eastern conception of reincarnation and that Earth life is some sort of “school” in which souls accomplish the learning that can only be accomplished through suffering. Of course, that is not the only purpose of life on Earth, but it is the primary one. There is also the experience of various forms of deep joy that can only take place in a place of physical limitations, great physical beauty, and opportunity for great creativity. Unlike the afterlife existence essentially in which “thoughts are things”, and the Light of God is always available.

This rationalization has the advantage of having a large body of empirical evidence to partially back it up. This would primarily be the very many veridical independently verified NDE experiences, and also the similarly investigated and verified reincarnation memories of small children. Also to be considered excellent empirical evidence is the large body of verified mediumistic communications. This area supplements the trade-off insights constituted by the large body of scientific knowledge of the world and living beings that has been built up through the scientific method.

Here's my response:

There's a strong scent of plausibility in the general idea behind this theodicy, an idea which nbtruthman summarises as that of (necessary) trade-offs. It has a hard ring of realism about it. I want to examine it from a more idealistic perspective though, because I don't think that, despite its thoughtful premise, it ultimately succeeds.

To begin with, here are the divine qualities which I understand a theodicy, including this one, to assume of the God it attempts to defend (I refer to a God with the first three qualities as a "tri-omni" God):
  • Omnipotence.
  • Omniscience.
  • Omnibenevolence (perfect goodness and lovingness).
  • Authorship (being the Creator of everything that exists other than Himself/Herself/Itself).
I suggest that, in general, for it to succeed, a theodicy needs at a minimum to meet these two criteria:
  1. A reality with a meaningfully better balance between good and evil, and without sacrificing anything crucial, cannot be coherently conceived, at least not without our actual reality also existing (in parallel or as a lower plane, or "school", or "boot camp", or what-have-you), and,
  2. The absolute balance between good and evil in this reality in any case justifies its creation versus the alternative of it not having been created at all.
Before examining this specific theology, here are some thoughts on why I'm skeptical, on the basis of those two criteria, that any theodicy can meet them:

As nbtruthman acknowledges towards the end of his explication of his theodicy, various individuals have over the years claimed more or less plausibly to have visited, channelled accounts of, or simply conceived of via a religious paradigm various realms which do not seem to be nearly as full of suffering as that of this planet, and are no worse off for that. For example, there is on the extreme end of perfection the Christian heaven, and, more along the lines of nbtruthman's acknowledgement, the realm in which the spirit Seth claims in the channelled book Seth Speaks to abide (I have read only a small part of this book - enough though to get a sense of this purported realm).

At the very least, these realms are conceivable without contradiction. To an omnipotent God, such conceivability is realisability. Thus, we are left with the question: why create this realm which involves so much suffering when other realms of less suffering are possible with no apparent corresponding disadvantage? One answer typically suggested, and which nbtruthman's theodicy seems to give consideration to, is: because it offers a faster path to spiritual growth than do those "happier" realms, and some of us freely choose with informed consent to take that path and incarnate here to speed up our growth.

The main problem I see with this answer is that presumably that in which spiritual growth consists is movement towards the ultimate state in which one is a purely good being of perfectly good intent, and positive, expansive creative expression - a state in which one would not even want to choose evil, let alone actually do so, which nullifies the idea that free will necessarily entails the possibility of choosing evil in anything other than the most hypothetical of senses, and thus the "need" for a realm such as ours in which its residents are capable of such a choice, and make it so regularly.

Another problem I see is that many citizens of this planet strongly believe that they did not consent to incarnate here, and were either forced into it or simply ended up here inexplicably.

I think it's very worth noting, too, before analysing the specifics of this theodicy, that it has nothing to say of metaphysical/spiritual evil. My experience, which matches that of others, is that wicked, malicious, and evil spiritual entities exist and exercise influence in our world. This theodicy is silent on these entities, and on why a tri-omni God would allow them to exist or at least to have influence in this world.

One final point that I think is worth making before getting to specifics: the required strength of a theodicy depends on the nature it conceives God to have. Our expectations of a reality free of evil and suffering are much higher given a tri-omni God than given a God who lacks one or more of that triad of properties.

Turning to this theodicy itself (with reference to both the original article by Granville Sewell, as well as nbtruthman's summary of it and his own thoughts): the gist of it is that the suffering and natural evil on this planet might be justified in that the same features of the world and the sentient beings incarnated in it that facilitate that suffering and natural evil also facilitate goodness. Those features are the regularity of nature and free will.

It first points out that the regularity of nature provides both good (e.g., gravity keeping us from floating off into space) and bad (e.g., planes sometimes crashing because of gravity), and then attempts to answer a critical question: why does God not intervene to prevent the bad outcomes of these regularities? It offers three answers:
  1. We can't assume that God has complete control over Nature.
  2. Eliminating the possibility of failure - and danger - cheapens our accomplishments (e.g., climbing a mountain versus getting to the summit by cable car).
  3. Frequent intervention by God would make science impossible.
The first answer is based on the idea that trade-offs might be logically unavoidable, given the constraints. I think that this, though, brings us back to the general point that I made above: realms in which such trade-offs do not seem to be necessary are conceivable. We might then be justified in asking what, exactly, the constraints are, who chose them, and whether they were worth trying to satisfy via various trade-offs in the first place, given the evil and suffering in which they appear to result.

The second answer fairly implies that an individual accepts with informed consent the risks and dangers in climbing a mountain, but there are many natural risks and dangers in this reality that we don't appear[1] to have accepted with informed consent, but to which we are subject anyway. It is easily possible to imagine a reality in which God intervenes (potentially silently) to at least prevent major natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis from occurring. Again, I am not convinced, then, that this theodicy meets the first criterion I stipulated above.

[1] But is this appearance an illusion, and did we all enter this reality by an informed choice which is now veiled from us? It seems unlikely, but I can't rule it out.

The third answer seems to assume that God would intervene inconsistently, but it is also possible that God could intervene in a consistent manner, such that it could be predicted, and thus amenable to science. Nbtruthman, you already allow for the possibility of some degree of divine intervention inasmuch as you are an advocate of the intelligent design of life. Intelligent design (as an intervention into reality) has not so much stifled science as opened up a new area of science: inference to the existence of the Divine or at least of intelligent higher powers.

Next, this theodicy claims with respect to free will that the more of it we have, the better, but also the worse, we can be. The idea seems to be that free will isn't free unless it permits evil choices to the same extent as good ones. I don't believe though that we should accept this claim, for two reasons:
  1. Surely, the ultimate Divine objective is a reality of perfect goodness, in which case, there doesn't seem to be a good reason for a tri-omni God to even include the potential for evil in human beings at the start. Such a God could at least use counterfactual omniscience to discern which potential beings would make (particularly) evil choices and simply arrange for them never to be brought into existence.
  2. Free will includes the possibility of freely choosing (preferring) to be free from harm - which the vast majority of us do choose (prefer). Permitting evil choices violates this free choice (preference) on the part of the victims of those evil choices. Looked at in this way - and I recognise that it is a particular framing to which some might not be amenable - the will cannot truly be unconditionally free unless evil choices (perpetrated against others) are not permitted/possible.
Next, this theodicy points out that - closely related to the free will defence - relationships are often a source of suffering, but when working well are a major source of happiness. I think this defence needs to be treated with a little bit of nuance. Above, I provided a reason to believe that on a certain framing, true freedom is only possible when evil choices are impossible. That's not to say, though, that choices which are not strictly "evil" cannot sometimes cause suffering too. For example, if one person is interested romantically in another, and the sentiment isn't reciprocated, much torment can result - not because either party is making an evil choice, but just because of a misalignment of wills. To the extent that relationships (and misalignments of wills in general) inevitably cause this sort of suffering, I accept this part of the theodicy. I don't think it would be reasonable to expect God to always align romantic (and other) interests, although perhaps some might well contend as much.

The final claim of this theodicy is that there is value in suffering, up to "a certain point": suffering provides opportunities for heroism, inspires creative expression, and leads to a fuller life. There seems to be some validity to this claim, however, two rejoinders offer pause for thought:
  1. The crucial element lies in its qualification: up to "a certain point". Much of the suffering in this world seems to go beyond that point.
  2. There are skilled adherents of Eastern religions such as Buddhism who, through contemplative practices, claim to have transcended suffering - in part evidenced by monks who calmly burn themselves to death publicly as a form of political protest - and they nevertheless value life. Thus, there does not seem to be a need for suffering in order for life to be valuable or valued.
That brings me to the end of my response. I am not entirely satisfied with it, and, ordinarily, I would have spent more time honing it, but our little board is going through a slow patch, and, given that I already had most of this response drafted, with just a bit of reorganising and editing required to turn it into a coherent whole, I thought I'd dust it off and do that in the hope of provoking some conversation and activity, lest we lose members and readers through inactivity. Having said that, I now see as I visit the forum to post it, that the ever-reliable Sci has started a couple of new threads. Well, it can't hurt to post this new thread of mine too.

Finally: thanks to nbtruthman for sharing his thoughts and the article which inspired them. I hope that this response is of at least some value.
[-] The following 5 users Like Laird's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel, Mediochre, stephenw, Raimo, nbtruthman
(2022-10-20, 06:02 PM)Laird Wrote: A while back, in the thread Is Google's LaMDA AI sentient? There seems to be strong evidence to that effect, I made a comment with reference to the problem of evil, to which @nbtruthman responded thoughtfully, offering a theodicy based on an article to which he linked.

Given the thoughtfulness of the theodicy, a thoughtful response seemed warranted, and I'd long ago foreshadowed one, a foreshadowing which I now realise. Because I don't want to divert that thread, I am starting a new one to discuss theodicies - this one in particular, any others that anyone might want to raise, and the notion of theodicy in general.

Here's nbtruthman's theodicy, below which I share my response:
.............................

.............................

Here's my response:

There's a strong scent of plausibility in the general idea behind this theodicy, an idea which nbtruthman summarises as that of (necessary) trade-offs. It has a hard ring of realism about it. I want to examine it from a more idealistic perspective though, because I don't think that, despite its thoughtful premise, it ultimately succeeds.

To begin with, here are the divine qualities which I understand a theodicy, including this one, to assume of the God it attempts to defend (I refer to a God with the first three qualities as a "tri-omni" God):
Omnipotence.
Omniscience.
Omnibenevolence (perfect goodness and lovingness).
Authorship (being the Creator of everything that exists other than Himself/Herself/Itself).

***I think absolute total omnipotence is problematical as a power for God, because it permits totally illogical or self-contradictory actions, such as God creating a a stone too heavy for Him to lift. At the very least, omnipotence is a power totally beyond human comprehension since it for some cases involves violations of the underlying basic laws of logic. These are the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of the excluded middle. Also called the laws of reasoning.

I suggest that, in general, for it to succeed, a theodicy needs at a minimum to meet these two criteria:
(1) A reality with a meaningfully better balance between good and evil, and without sacrificing anything crucial, cannot be coherently conceived, at least not without our actual reality also existing (in parallel or as a lower plane, or "school", or "boot camp", or what-have-you),

***Concerning this first of two "criteria": this is a statement of claim and doesn't seem to me to be a criterion, which is a condition the belief system or theory needs to meet in order for it to be valid. My suggested theodicy merely has the limited objective of somehow reconciling existing (much of it grim) human reality with the notion that there nevertheless is an ultimate goodness at the bottom of everything. Or of at least so justifying as much as possible of the badness that thoroughly interpenetrates human life. A theodicy such as this one is not created to conceive of some sort of either a possibly or a totally unfeasible better reality than the one actually inhabited by humans; this theodicy or system of rationalizations is conceived in an attempt to justify the actual grim reality that we live immersed in.

(2) The absolute balance between good and evil in this reality in any case justifies its creation versus the alternative of it not having been created at all.

***The theodicy of my post sticks to the limited objective of trying as much as possible to rationalize in the context of a spiritual belief system involving an ultimate good, the existing human physical reality with all its suffering. It doesn't address the ultimate issue of whether it would have been better (from the human standpoint) for humans and their physical reality never to have existed. This latter is certainly arguable, and there even is a nihilist philosophical movement based on the notion - antinatalism. The brute fact is that our physical reality exists whether or not it, along with human existence, would be preferred not to have ever existed. That this reality simply exists is a premise of the theodicy.

Before examining this specific theology, here are some thoughts on why I'm skeptical, on the basis of those two criteria, that any theodicy can meet them:

As nbtruthman acknowledges towards the end of his explication of his theodicy, various individuals have over the years claimed more or less plausibly to have visited, channelled accounts of, or simply conceived of via a religious paradigm various realms which do not seem to be nearly as full of suffering as that of this planet, and are no worse off for that. For example, there is on the extreme end of perfection the Christian heaven, and, more along the lines of nbtruthman's acknowledgement, the realm in which the spirit Seth claims in the channelled book Seth Speaks to abide (I have read only a small part of this book - enough though to get a sense of this purported realm).

At the very least, these realms are conceivable without contradiction. To an omnipotent God, such conceivability is realisability.

***Only if God is relieved of the necessity of following the laws of logic. If He isn't, then much of these imagined realms would have to remain in the imaginal realm.

Thus, we are left with the question: why create this realm which involves so much suffering when other realms of less suffering are possible with no apparent corresponding disadvantage? One answer typically suggested, and which nbtruthman's theodicy seems to give consideration to, is: because it offers a faster path to spiritual growth than do those "happier" realms, and some of us freely choose with informed consent to take that path and incarnate here to speed up our growth.

The main problem I see with this answer is that presumably that in which spiritual growth consists is movement towards the ultimate state in which one is a purely good being of perfectly good intent, and positive, expansive creative expression - a state in which one would not even want to choose evil, let alone actually do so, which nullifies the idea that free will necessarily entails the possibility of choosing evil in anything other than the most hypothetical of senses, and thus the "need" for a realm such as ours in which its residents are capable of such a choice, and make it so regularly.

***First, there is no rule from on high stating that there has to be an ultimate goal of any kind, much less one such as described. And, human free will is by definition absolute - anything less and it is meaningless. It necessarily includes the potentiality of choosing evil. A reality in which human choice was restricted from ever choosing evil doings would be one in which spirits incarnated in human bodies would at least partially be controlled, like robots or automatons or puppets. Presumably, spirit entities living primarily in their higher spiritual realm would not want to be turned partially into robots during their incarnations in the physical.

Another problem I see is that many citizens of this planet strongly believe that they did not consent to incarnate here, and were either forced into it or simply ended up here inexplicably.

***I agree. The issue is the apparent ultimate wrongness of a system in which the human beings involved would never have chosen their actual lives often ridden by suffering. This involves the issue of what is the ultimate nature of the human self - it seems to me that at least on the surface the human and the soul are two entirely separate beings, leading to this great wrongness. However, if the human and the soul are really one, in some sense that may not be humanly conceivable, then the soul also experiences the full spectrum of human suffering and in some inconceivable way the human self as the soul does participate in the choices leading to difficult lives. 

I think it's very worth noting, too, before analysing the specifics of this theodicy, that it has nothing to say of metaphysical/spiritual evil. My experience, which matches that of others, is that wicked, malicious, and evil spiritual entities exist and exercise influence in our world. This theodicy is silent on these entities, and on why a tri-omni God would allow them to exist or at least to have influence in this world.

***Good point. I don't have any answer to this problem of any conceivable theodicy.

One final point that I think is worth making before getting to specifics: the required strength of a theodicy depends on the nature it conceives God to have. Our expectations of a reality free of evil and suffering are much higher given a tri-omni God than given a God who lacks one or more of that triad of properties.

***Agree. As I have already said, I don't subscribe to the notion of a truly, absolutely omnipotent God, because this notion overthrows the basic laws of logic, which are central to our most basic nature as human beings.

Turning to this theodicy itself (with reference to both the original article by Granville Sewell, as well as nbtruthman's summary of it and his own thoughts): the gist of it is that the suffering and natural evil on this planet might be justified in that the same features of the world and the sentient beings incarnated in it that facilitate that suffering and natural evil also facilitate goodness. Those features are the regularity of nature and free will.

It first points out that the regularity of nature provides both good (e.g., gravity keeping us from floating off into space) and bad (e.g., planes sometimes crashing because of gravity), and then attempts to answer a critical question: why does God not intervene to prevent the bad outcomes of these regularities? It offers three answers:
We can't assume that God has complete control over Nature.
Eliminating the possibility of failure - and danger - cheapens our accomplishments (e.g., climbing a mountain versus getting to the summit by cable car).
Frequent intervention by God would make science impossible.
The first answer is based on the idea that trade-offs might be logically unavoidable, given the constraints. I think that this, though, brings us back to the general point that I made above: realms in which such trade-offs do not seem to be necessary are conceivable. We might then be justified in asking what, exactly, the constraints are, who chose them, and whether they were worth trying to satisfy via various trade-offs in the first place, given the evil and suffering in which they appear to result.

***I don't think that such realms (where all spiritual and other requirements are accomplished with no tradeoffs) are possible in any reality which is conceivable by humans, since it would violate the basic laws of logic. Sure, it's possible to idly conceive of the existence of such a place, but the same could be said for an imagined anything at all. But surely it isn't possible for absolutely anything at all (including self-contradictory things) to be real somewhere - let's say for purpose of illustration, the notion that there is a purple spotted and pure 100% white unicorn sitting on the tip of that needle over there.

The second answer fairly implies that an individual accepts with informed consent the risks and dangers in climbing a mountain, but there are many natural risks and dangers in this reality that we don't appear[1] to have accepted with informed consent, but to which we are subject anyway. It is easily possible to imagine a reality in which God intervenes (potentially silently) to at least prevent major natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis from occurring. Again, I am not convinced, then, that this theodicy meets the first criterion I stipulated above.

[1] But is this appearance an illusion, and did we all enter this reality by an informed choice which is now veiled from us? It seems unlikely, but I can't rule it out.

***This last is indeed a possibility, one which would eliminate one of your main objections. This would be preferred.  Another, unfortunate, possible explanation is of course that souls are separate from humans in essential ways such as to goals and purposes, which unfortunately would involve a massive injustice to humans.

The third answer seems to assume that God would intervene inconsistently, but it is also possible that God could intervene in a consistent manner, such that it could be predicted, and thus amenable to science. Nbtruthman, you already allow for the possibility of some degree of divine intervention inasmuch as you are an advocate of the intelligent design of life. Intelligent design (as an intervention into reality) has not so much stifled science as opened up a new area of science: inference to the existence of the Divine or at least of intelligent higher powers.

***I think the designer of life is most likely a group of very powerful spiritual beings, but not the Deity directly. As to God (or higher spirits) consistently intervening to prevent suffering and evil, that is, in such a way as not to prevent scientific enquiry, I suppose that is possible, but it would still impose the disadvantage of thwarting one other of the primary reasons for all these natural effects, which could well be forging the characters and essences of the incarnated souls through physical challenge and suffering. Of course  humans would never choose such things to occur, but that is why I suggest that much of the system as it is was decided upon by souls not humans. 

Next, this theodicy claims with respect to free will that the more of it we have, the better, but also the worse, we can be. The idea seems to be that free will isn't free unless it permits evil choices to the same extent as good ones. I don't believe though that we should accept this claim, for two reasons:
Surely, the ultimate Divine objective is a reality of perfect goodness, in which case, there doesn't seem to be a good reason for a tri-omni God to even include the potential for evil in human beings at the start. Such a God could at least use counterfactual omniscience to discern which potential beings would make (particularly) evil choices and simply arrange for them never to be brought into existence.

***The premise for the critique of the suggested theodicy is that there is one, triune, Designer. In counter to that, it seems more likely given the complexity and multi-valued nature of our reality, that there are multiple designers with different motivations, primarily their own good. The ultimate Divine objective could just as well be to acheive, not an impossible perfection of no suffering and much joy for all sentient free-willed beings at the same time as having an optimal array of creative and other varied experiences, but to acheive a best-of-all-possible tradeoff of inherently and necessarily flawed designs.
I believe that absolute perfect goodness is impossible for such a complex system with so many conflicting design requirements. And one of those design requirements could be that there will be enough evil and natural evil to try men's souls in the fire of suffering. Of course, some of these requirements (like this one) would never be chosen by the human self as opposed to the soul. This would be an inherent badness of the system strictly from the human standpoint. Tradeoffs again. Apparently, the system isn't primarily designed for the good of humans, rather it is designed primarily for the good of souls.
The result - a system permitting a lot of suffering, much but not all by human selves, and much joy on both parts.
The designers, rather than the Deity, could just be very advanced and powerful spiritual beings, not omniscient or omnipotent, and therefore not capable of perfection even if it were otherwise possible. The basic motivation of these beings and the souls, could be to relieve the ultimate boredom of a close to perfect eternal existence with no real challenges, since in their realm thoughts are things in an immediate sense.
Overall, a complex compromise.

Free will includes the possibility of freely choosing (preferring) to be free from harm - which the vast majority of us do choose (prefer). Permitting evil choices violates this free choice (preference) on the part of the victims of those evil choices. Looked at in this way - and I recognise that it is a particular framing to which some might not be amenable - the will cannot truly be unconditionally free unless evil choices (perpetrated against others) are not permitted/possible.

***This statement about human free will conflates freedom of action (which is strictly limited on the part of humans), with the much wider mental freedom of choice. The latter being the freedom to attempt to accomplish something, or even just to think about it, choose it, and desire it and want it. The latter freedom in the inner choices made is what is inherent to human free will - there must be no constraint on being able to think as one chooses. If there is such a constraint, there is no free will, and the essence of the sentience and individuality of the human is being interfered with by a higher power.

Next, this theodicy points out that - closely related to the free will defence - relationships are often a source of suffering, but when working well are a major source of happiness. I think this defence needs to be treated with a little bit of nuance. Above, I provided a reason to believe that on a certain framing, true freedom is only possible when evil choices are impossible. That's not to say, though, that choices which are not strictly "evil" cannot sometimes cause suffering too. For example, if one person is interested romantically in another, and the sentiment isn't reciprocated, much torment can result - not because either party is making an evil choice, but just because of a misalignment of wills. To the extent that relationships (and misalignments of wills in general) inevitably cause this sort of suffering, I accept this part of the theodicy. I don't think it would be reasonable to expect God to always align romantic (and other) interests, although perhaps some might well contend as much.

The final claim of this theodicy is that there is value in suffering, up to "a certain point": suffering provides opportunities for heroism, inspires creative expression, and leads to a fuller life. There seems to be some validity to this claim, however, two rejoinders offer pause for thought:
The crucial element lies in its qualification: up to "a certain point". Much of the suffering in this world seems to go beyond that point.
There are skilled adherents of Eastern religions such as Buddhism who, through contemplative practices, claim to have transcended suffering - in part evidenced by monks who calmly burn themselves to death publicly as a form of political protest - and they nevertheless value life. Thus, there does not seem to be a need for suffering in order for life to be valuable or valued.

***I agree that much of the suffering in this world goes beyond any possibility of it being of fully compensatory value to humans. This then leaves it open to the interpretation that the missing compensatory value is for souls not human selves. And/or to the possibility that the inherent value of the beauty and magnificence of many great human artistic, literary, musical, scientific, mathematical, and many other types of creations and positive experiences, really does (in the minds of souls) at least partially compensate for the great suffering in the human sphere that resulted as a side effect of the system set up by the souls partly to engender these accomplishments and experiences. Of course there is another at least possible worst case, that there simply is nowhere where there is any sort of compensatory value imbued on some sentient being. I prefer not to go into that one, because of its very negative implications.


That brings me to the end of my response. I am not entirely satisfied with it, and, ordinarily, I would have spent more time honing it, but our little board is going through a slow patch, and, given that I already had most of this response drafted, with just a bit of reorganising and editing required to turn it into a coherent whole, I thought I'd dust it off and do that in the hope of provoking some conversation and activity, lest we lose members and readers through inactivity. Having said that, I now see as I visit the forum to post it, that the ever-reliable Sci has started a couple of new threads. Well, it can't hurt to post this new thread of mine too.

Finally: thanks to nbtruthman for sharing his thoughts and the article which inspired them. I hope that this response is of at least some value.

***Thank you for your careful and detailed consideration of my proposed set of rationalizations. 
To summarize my position, I agree that there are some holes in the rationalizations I outlined, but only when considered strictly from the human standpoint. To be complete, this theodicy has to consider a set of rationalizations that suffering and evil are somehow worth it either from the human standpoint, or from the soul viewpoint (with the latter having the power and priority). Where the human and the soul really are separate, with different goals and values. This perspective I think resolves most of the apparent flaws. And I think that this theodicy in itself is necessarily a complex work in progress which involves a multitude of necessary tradeoffs, and most other theodicies have even more problems and are of lesser scope. This theodicy I think rationalizes as much of the total suffering and evil of mankind as is possible looking rationally at all the major factors. The bottom line is that in order to fully justify the suffering and evil in this physical world it appears logically necessary to posit that a good part of the benefits accrues to the souls, not to humans. Of course, this analysis assumes the primacy of reason and logic. If reason and logic really don't rule in the larger reality, then such a conclusion would possibly be false and allow that there really is a complete valid human justification, just one that isn't explicable or conceivable by humans.

(This post was last modified: 2022-11-01, 02:44 PM by nbtruthman. Edited 23 times in total.)
[-] The following 3 users Like nbtruthman's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel, stephenw, Raimo
(2022-10-20, 06:02 PM)Laird Wrote: A while back, in the thread Is Google's LaMDA AI sentient? There seems to be strong evidence to that effect, I made a comment with reference to the problem of evil, to which @nbtruthman responded thoughtfully, offering a theodicy based on an article to which he linked.

Finally: thanks to nbtruthman for sharing his thoughts and the article which inspired them. I hope that this response is of at least some value.

I like the Moody Blues answer ---"it's what the world of love is for."
(This post was last modified: 2022-10-29, 03:01 PM by stephenw. Edited 3 times in total.)
[-] The following 1 user Likes stephenw's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
I think it's interesting that there is so little interest in the issue of theodicy - finding an acceptable rationalization of human suffering in the context of the belief that the world order is a spiritual system founded on good. I would have thought that this would be considered a very important (if not supremely important) issue, since the lack of a convincing theodicy essentially at least seems to attack the foundations of such spiritual belief systems. Of course, the lack of a completely convincing theodicy is irrelevant to the conclusion that there is in fact a spiritual world order and an afterlife, which is arrived at from examination of the evidence.
(This post was last modified: 2022-11-01, 02:42 PM by nbtruthman. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 2 users Like nbtruthman's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel, Valmar
(2022-10-27, 09:25 PM)nbtruthman Wrote: I think it's interesting that there is so little interest in the issue of theodicity - finding an acceptable rationalization of human suffering in the context of the belief that the world order is a spiritual system founded on good. I would have thought that this would be considered a very important (if not supremely important) issue, since the lack of a convincing theodicity essentially at least seems to attack the foundations of such spiritual belief systems. Of course, the lack of a completely convincing theodicity is irrelevant to the conclusion that there is in fact a spiritual world order and an afterlife, which is arrived at from examination of the evidence.

I think there's interest but also one of those things that doesn't have an answer that will satisfy everyone. I tend to think more about the "lower spiritual realm" if that's the right word than the question of God and Its "omni-" qualities.

But then my leanings on the afterlife are more toward the idea that it's one more step in a possibly infinite journey, rather than death offering up revelation and understanding for everyone. This puts me a bit on the "downer" side as it makes me question certain mystical experiences (along with some NDEs).
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


[-] The following 2 users Like Sciborg_S_Patel's post:
  • Typoz, Raimo
I would be interested in somebody, among the several not liking my response, laying out why. I myself am not fully satisfied by my response. It's a complex problem.
(This post was last modified: 2022-10-30, 06:19 PM by nbtruthman. Edited 1 time in total.)
[-] The following 1 user Likes nbtruthman's post:
  • Sciborg_S_Patel
Thanks for your response, @nbtruthman.

My response to you in turn tries to reconcile (trade off against each another) (1) the competing concerns of brevity and addressing all of your points and (2) the competing concerns of a timely response against a carefully considered response. Here that response is:

Firstly, omnipotence need not be conceived of as entailing the power to do the illogical or self-contradictory, and, in my view, despite your apparent claim to the contrary, the scenarios I suggested (the Christian heaven and the realm of Seth) don't entail any logical contradiction anyway.

Too, a plausible (in my view) answer to the conundrum of an omnipotent God creating a stone too heavy for Him/Her to lift is simply this: "Sure, God could create a stone too heavy for Him/Her to lift, but, from that point on, so long as the stone existed, (S)He would no longer be omnipotent - at least, not without this exception being carved out from His/Her omnipotence."

You object to the two criteria I propose for a theodicy. They are not, however, arbitrary, and your objections to them do not convince me that they are inapplicable.

In respect to the second criterion, you assert that your theodicy "doesn't address the ultimate issue of whether it would have been better (from the human standpoint) for humans and their physical reality never to have existed." It should though, otherwise it is incomplete. You go on to assert: "This latter is certainly arguable". Thereby, you significantly weaken your theodicy.

You seem, to a meaningful extent, to base your theodicy on the idea that humans and (their) souls are two separately conscious entities. This idea of yours has never made any sense to me, and thus I do not accept the fundamental premise of your theodicy. In particular, I reject the premise that a tri-omni creator God would endorse a so-called "soul's" condemning to suffering of a so-called (separate) person (a "human") for the selfish benefit of the so-called "soul". This by no reasonable understanding of the word can be considered to be "good", let alone "ultimately" good.

You object to my suggestion that a tri-omni creator God's ultimate aim would be a reality of pure goodness and creativity, but you do not explain why it would not. Surely, a being's intent is conditioned by its nature, and thus, surely, a Being whose nature is "ultimate goodness" would want to manifest perfect goodness. If not, why not?

Regarding human free will, you make a distinction between freely willed actions and freely willed choices (as a sort of mental freedom), and claim that the latter should be unrestricted. This is very debatable, but, in any case, my argument pertained most particularly to the former, since those are the ones that cause suffering and permit evil. Choose whatever you like in your own mind, but when your actions would commit me to suffering, then they should be restricted, and would be by a genuine tri-omni creator God.
[-] The following 2 users Like Laird's post:
  • nbtruthman, Sciborg_S_Patel
I am very suspicious of infinities in anything but math. I'm very doubtful of the Big Bang, and equally, I don't believe in a god with infinite powers (whether you want to call such a being God is a semantic problem - I will continue to use the word God).

If God only has finite powers, the whole concept of a Theodicy vanishes. He may well be battling against forces that he can't just command to stop. In that case, he may still be very well-meaning and loving, but He can't be held responsible for everything that happens - at least down here.

I would argue that a god with infinite powers is nonsensical (which I suppose is why I am reluctant to use the term). I mean in the typical reincarnation narrative, what is the point in training souls to cope with all sorts of interpersonal problems, if God could just will them away? Reincarnation makes more sense if God needs us to help him fix something or other.
[-] The following 4 users Like David001's post:
  • Laird, nbtruthman, Typoz, Sciborg_S_Patel
(2022-11-01, 11:54 PM)David001 Wrote: If God only has finite powers, the whole concept of a Theodicy vanishes. He may well be battling against forces that he can't just command to stop. In that case, he may still be very well-meaning and loving, but He can't be held responsible for everything that happens - at least down here.

Yep, that's my own resolution to the problem of evil. As you imply, it's not strictly a theodicy given that it doesn't assume that God has the usual full set of powers that a strict theodicy does.

(2022-11-01, 11:54 PM)David001 Wrote: I mean in the typical reincarnation narrative, what is the point in training souls to cope with all sorts of interpersonal problems, if God could just will them away?

Exactly. I can't see one.

(2022-11-01, 11:54 PM)David001 Wrote: Reincarnation makes more sense if God needs us to help him fix something or other.

Especially something that was deliberately broken by inimical powers. Dualism of that sort explains things best, although not perfectly, I think.
[-] The following 1 user Likes Laird's post:
  • David001
(2022-11-01, 11:54 PM)David001 Wrote: I am very suspicious of infinities in anything but math. I'm very doubtful of the Big Bang, and equally, I don't believe in a god with infinite powers (whether you want to call such a being God is a semantic problem - I will continue to use the word God).

If God only has finite powers, the whole concept of a Theodicy vanishes. He may well be battling against forces that he can't just command to stop. In that case, he may still be very well-meaning and loving, but He can't be held responsible for everything that happens - at least down here.

I would argue that a god with infinite powers is nonsensical (which I suppose is why I am reluctant to use the term). I mean in the typical reincarnation narrative, what is the point in training souls to cope with all sorts of interpersonal problems, if God could just will them away? Reincarnation makes more sense if God needs us to help him fix something or other.

I like the last phrase, "if God needs us to help him fix something or other". It also invited me to rearrange the words slightly, "if we need God to help us fix something or other". Though I'm not just playing with words, I like both versions and maybe they are inseparable, indistinguishable.

  • View a Printable Version
Forum Jump:


Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)