I was going to say that the title of this node sucks cause just because God is good doesn't mean he's doing anything but then I thought...

Brain to Placido: Come on you dick! Think! Letting Evil happen is just as bad as doing the Evil itself! Dick!
# Placido to Brain: Sorry dude! Sheesh! You'd think I killed someone!

And then I got to thinking about what I would do if I were God and I momentarily thought of my little nephew Zach (cue audience: "Awwwww") and to him I am a powerful being with some good. When I'm with Zach I don't protect him from sufferring.

*Krusty imitation* "What time is it kids? Yep that's right it's 'example' time!"

So here's Zach climbing on a stool with three legs (the stool not Zach). I'm sitting nearby and I can see that the stool has three legs and it's very likely it's going to fall over. He's got his foot on the edge and I can feel my concentration focus on him; I know he's going to fall. So I tell him, "Careful Zach you're going to fall." and he ignores me as would any 2 year old. And, yep, that's right, he falls and hurts himself. Now admittedly the stool was small. Anything more dangerous and I would have been stopping him but the point is that without falling once, twice, three times he will never learn where to put his feet and where the center of gravity is for that stool. Stopping him only ensures he will not learn.

Of course there's unneccesary sufferring which is another matter. Maybe this should be retitled to "If God is good, why is there unneccesary sufferring in the world?". Perhaps life is to us what jumping off a stool is for Zach.

There is a biblical explanation to this long-asked question. It involves Satan's implied challenge to God's right to rule humanity when he tempted Eve in Genesis. He intimated that God was unrightfully withholding something from the woman and also implied that God was a liar when he said that she would die if she ate the forbidden fruit. Satan also made her believe she would be free and independent from God, becoming like God herself. Satan in effect raised himself higher than God in Eve's eyes, and by accepting his offer, both Adam and Eve showed that they did not want God's guidance in matters of right and wrong.

Instead of responding to this challenge by beating Satan to death, God decided to give him and humanity a chance to prove that they does not need God to guide them. As we see in chapter 6 of Genesis, Satan's angels came to the earth and filled it with violence and wickedness, only to return to spirit form when the floodwaters came. Understandably, God did not allow them to occupy their former positions as his servants in heaven, but he did let them exist in the heavenly realm for several thousand years.

At the other end of the bible, in Revelation we read that Satan and his angels were eventually kicked out of heaven by Jesus and his angels. Chapter 12 and verse 12 says: "Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time."

So basically Satan is maneuvering things, doing what he can to turn mankind away from God and prove him a liar before he is abyssed and eventually destroyed, and in the meantime God is letting him carry on and show himself up as a liar himself because, as we can see, humankind has made a bit of mess of the earth thus far.

"But why not just destroy Satan in the first place?" you may ask. God could have done this and avoided all the chaos and misery we know today, but it wouldn't really have proved anything. Anyone could rise up afterward and say "hey, you didn't give that guy a chance to prove he might be right after all," and so God would look a bit silly and nobody would like him.

In summary, God exists, and he isn't evil or powerless - he's just waiting.

The interesting part of this question to me is the phrase "so much". It implies that some degree of suffering is acceptable, but Lord, why does there have to be so much of it? And why does the suffering we endure have to be so horrible?

Pondering the implications of this leads me to imagine a world in which God did not allow suffering to build to the level we endure. In this world, the worst thing that could happen would be, say, a sprained ankle.

BUT! The inhabitants of such a world, never knowing any alternative, would react to such minor inconveniences just as we do to things like genocide. Philosophers would wrestle with the seemingly insoluble problem of God's alleged goodness in the face of such hideous evil as a sprained ankle. (And it happens so often, sometimes as much as twice in a single person's lifetime! WHY, GOD, WHY???) Even if God fundamentally changed the way our world works to reduce the level of suffering, within a few generations the pains we endure now would be a distant memory and our descendants would be...well, a bunch of damn whiners by our standards.

(This train of thought gets even more interesting when you start to wonder if maybe things could be a lot worse than they are, and perhaps the reality is that God has been shielding us from unimaginable horrors all along.)

No, the only lasting solution would be for God to come down and make some real changes. Sickness, injury, and death would have to be totally eradicated. The human body and the human mind, human nature itself would have to be radically transformed. We would be left with a new world of perfect human beings living forever in peace and joy.

We find, then, that we arrive at exactly that which the Church has taught since the beginning. The knot of God's goodness, human free will, and the presence of evil in the world will be straightened out in the end. But then one could ask, why wait? God seems to be taking a long time putting all his pieces in place, and in the meantime we have to suffer. Again though, this begs the question: how do we determine what a reasonable timeline is in which God should act? A child can't understand why a thing she wants can't happen now, because she doesn't know enough yet about how things work to comprehend all that must go into producing that final outcome, and an hour spent waiting seems like an intolerable age to one so young.

The idea that God allows evil of any degree for any length of time because we have the right to choose between his way and our way, and the attendant consequences are only proof that this is a real choice, obviously fails to convince some. What I will throw out for consideration though is that this issue might not be well addressed by logical proofs because the deity in question is conceived of as a person. Anyone who has gone through a difficult romance knows that illuminating the motives within a lover's heart and mind involves other faculties than rational thought. There is even a point at which we have come to connect with that person on such an level that behavior that once baffled us can now be understood intuitively, though we may be at a loss to explain it convincingly to someone outside the relationship. We learn, to the degree that we come to know God, that he is good; and this knowledge, though it fails to satisfy those who want paradoxes like this resolved before they will take a step further, has throughout history endowed its bearers with strength to confront lynch mobs, police dogs, assassin's rifles, and every other conceivable threat in the pursuit of a good which is no longer abstract, but can be loved and defended as one loves and defends a child.

The atheist “argument from evil“ seems to be strong evidence against the existence of God on its surface. William Rowe’s version of the argument -- based on suffering as the pertinent evil -- is as follows:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. Therefore, there does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Since assertion (1) is not provable -- the causal chain of events for any instance of suffering cannot be fully ascertained -- this argument is not necessarily true, although it may be rational. Therefore, Rowe also mentions that a theist can perform the Moore shift on this argument: given that God exists and that the second assumption above is true, it must be so that there do not exist instances of unnecessary intense suffering. This resultant argument, while rational, assumes the existence of God -- an assumption which, to atheists and others, seems more presumptuous than that assumed by the argument from evil.

But is there some type of good, unrecognized by Rowe and other proponents of the argument from evil, that potentially outweighs instances of perceived unnecessary suffering? If so, it would reduce the credibility of Rowe’s assumption, and thus the argument from evil. I propose that there is such a good -- namely, the good inherent in the natural order of the universe.

Humans as a whole like the idea of causal relationships -- the idea that every event is caused by a confluence of previous events. This series of events is what I mean by the ‘natural order of things’. Most things happen for a natural reason, and humans can observe these reasons in some way. Assuming the existence of God, we’ve been created to accept this natural order as reality. Therefore, I suggest that the natural order of things is inherently good; ignoring for the moment the idea of an afterlife, it’s the way we’re intended to perceive the world.

God, on the other hand, is inherently supernatural. With the possible exception of logical restrictions, God is outside the natural order of things. Therefore when God interferes with the world, since the natural order of things is inherently good, the very interference can be seen as the lessening of a good thing. This provides a theistic explanation for those extreme sufferings which Rowe’s argument from evil assume to be unnecessary.

Take, for example, Rowe’s fawn:

Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless.

The argument of natural order offers a point for the fawn’s suffering. There was a causal chain of events previous to the suffering: the death of a tree, the bolt of lightning, the forest fire, the trapping and burning of the fawn. There is similarly a causal chain of events after the suffering, though less evident. Any interference on the part of God disrupts the inherent good of this natural order. Therefore, the good of saving the fawn must be weighed against the reduction of the good of the natural order.

A possible counterargument lies in the idea that since we may never know of God’s interference in the causal chain in situations such as the fawn, there is nothing bad about interfering to save the fawn from intense suffering. Due to time constraints, I haven’t fully analyzed this assertion, but I’m inclined to reject it, since it seems to misunderstand the argument of natural order. My argument is that the natural order of things is inherently good, irrespective of the consequences of any individual action. Therefore, any interference on the part of God entails the reduction of this inherent good. The problem does not lie in any other possible evils caused farther down the causal chain; the problem is in the very disruption of the chain.

Another counterargument is that I’m underestimating the evil of intense suffering, and this evil trumps any reduction of goodness in the natural order caused by God’s interference. This may be true; honestly, I am unconvinced that suffering is inherently evil. Rowe assumes this to be true, and even calls intense suffering “a clear case of evil”, but it is unclear to me why this should be so. Even if suffering is inherently evil, however, I don’t think it greatly affects my argument. My intent with the argument of natural order is to present a possible good that can be applied to all instances of intense suffering as a possible explanation, so that no single instance can be called completely pointless.

Some common moves:
  • Leibniz: as Jpers36 has said, one can assume that God exists and is omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent--from this one can deduce that this is the best of all possible worlds (given a few very plausible assumptions).
  • Deny omnipotence: I seem to hear often from contemporary Christians that God works through physical things which are imperfect tools. Despite being rubbished in the condemnations of 1277, this is highly plausible to many folks who consider this problem today.
  • Redefine good/evil: this is Jpers36's solution. In its standard presentation, good and evil are poorly defined, and it is assumed that any rational person exposed to the argument will simply agree that suffering is evil, and some of it does not have among its causal descendants any greater good (or, at least, that the preponderance of evidence suggests that this is the case, even if it isn't certain).

These moves lose a lot of the flavor and meaning of God, but do defuse the problem (though it may cause other problems for any particular individual's belief set, as it may be inconsistent with other beliefs s/he holds).

The third move ends with a tug-o-war of plausibilities, and I think most people find it quite unsatisfying. Jpers36 recommends natural order as the greater good served by the existence of suffering. S/he further notes that it is not obvious that suffering actually constitutes an evil needing to be overcome. My impression is that it is much more plausible to most readers that suffering is inherently evil than that natural order is inherently good, and so this tack is persuasive to few readers. At the very least, we might expect Jpers36, or anyone who chooses this line of argument, to give us some account of exactly why it is that the proposed greater good is in fact a good, or the sufferings of the world aren't really evil.

My own perspective is that, to the extent that I have any reason to believe in the existence of good and evil at all, I have reason to believe that suffering is evil; furthermore, it seems absolutely too much to swallow that all of the myriad, seemingly pointless sufferings that occur in this world are actually each necessary for the fulfillment of some greater good. There are an extremely large number of stories of apparently purposeless woe--to give just one example, a friend of mine's father, who has always seemed to me to be a virtuous man, sleepwalked onto and then off the edge of a roof several years ago. The fall mostly paralyzed him from the waist down. If one doesn't already have reason to think that a God exists, there is absolutely no evidence to support the belief that this was appropriate or productive of some greater good--it looks for all the world like undeserved suffering.

Even if the preservation of natural law is inherently good, the argument must go further to claim that this is the best of all possible worlds which have as much natural order as this one has. On the surface, that seems relatively implausible. Either the universe is deterministic, or it isn't. If it is deterministic, then one must abandon all notions of free will and personal responsibility as they are usually conceived. Further, it still seems as though there could easily be deterministic universes which would be better than this one. If the universe isn't deterministic, then it seems as though God could intervene at any point at which determinism fails, and select the better choice. Even if He never involved Himself in the free choices of mortals, quantum mechanics seems to suggest that He will have an extraordinarily large number of options--for Him to be unable to do better than He has done seems badly implausible.

One other problem with natural law as an inherent good--miracles. Since Jpers36 noted that the bearer of value in the scheme proposed is not the particular instances of natural law working and their consequences, but the preservation of natural order as a whole (textual support for this: "The problem does not lie in any other possible evils caused farther down the causal chain; the problem is in the very disruption of the chain,"), any miracle at all would destroy the value of having natural order in our world. Since unnecessary suffering is only allowed because of the goodness of preserving the natural order, it must be the case that the natural order hasn't already been broken--that is, no miracles have ever occurred; God has never directly intervened in the world.

An altered version of this objection is available, in case the Jpersian type wishes to abandon the total sanctity of natural law, claiming only that the more often it's obeyed, the better. In this case, it would still be true that any single violation of natural law deprives the universe of some fixed amount of goodness, which means that the cost, in terms of goodness, of any miracle is the same--call it X. In order for any miracle to be worthwhile, it must bring about greater goodness than X. That's all fine, but it also means that any time a miracle is withheld, the amount of evil which could be prevented by a mircale is of a lesser magnitude than X. In other words, every miracle that has ever happened caused a greater gain in the balance of good over evil than the loss caused by each preventable evil. So if one truly believes that there have been miraculous sightings of the Virgin Mary, each viewing caused more good than a miracle preventing the worst earthquake that ever happened would have prevented. So far as I can tell, this makes it very difficult to believe testimony of miracles that aren't extraordinarily important.

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