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The Problem of Evil


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(whee, the first post in this forum)

 

So, this is a problem that's been discussed over and over and over and over again, but perhaps SFN has something unique to say about it.

 

Here's the problem. Suppose we create a set of propositions:

 

  1. If God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, good people will never suffer disproportionately.
  2. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient.
  3. Job is good. (I refer here to the book of Job in the Bible; see Job 1:8 for evidence for this proposition.)
  4. Job suffers disproportionately. (See Job 3 and the rest of the book of Job.)

 

So, we have four propositions. What happens if we follow some to their conclusions?

 

  • Job does not suffer. (Follows from 1, 2 and 3.)
  • Job is not good. (Follows from 1, 2 and 4.)

 

Clearly, these contradict our initial propositions. Now, the initial set of propositions is valid -- that is, if the premises are true, they do indeed imply the conclusions I stated. But of course the premises might not be true. Perhaps God isn't omnipotent, Job isn't good, or good people can suffer under an omnibenevolent deity.

 

Which proposition is wrong? And why do you think so?

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God wanted to show off to Satan how good a guy Job was. I have come to the conclusion that God is immoral. I say this as someone who has read the bible cover to cover. I was considering writing an essay on this when I have the time.

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Would you consider a parent that allows their child the leeway to experiment with their own lives immoral?

 

As long as there were certain constraints ("no swinging an ax at yourself"), no. But how does this apply to Job? God explicitly allowed Satan to torment Job.

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I shall play devil's advocate here and state a claim I often get myself when raising this issue: If we go by logical small steps, we begin by assuming there is a God (otherwise there's no "problem" of evil at all). Also, God is all good and all knowing and all powerful. God has created everything, including morality and including human beings. As such, then, our sense of morality does not necessarily equal that of God.

 

That is, what we refer to as "bad" might not be bad when done by God, since he (or she!) is the one who created both the term bad and the concept of bad, and us humans who will behave according to said concept.

 

Let me add an example (it's not very good, but it works to demonstrate one angle of this principle): Think of a parent who forbids their 10 year old child from seeing X-rated movies, such as porn. The reason the parent says that is to protect the child. For the child to see such movies, it's considered (GENERALLY) in society to be bad. However, it's not that bad for the parent, is it? So, if God is our figurative (and, according to belief, physical) creator/parent, then what is considered "bad" for us to do, is not necessarily something that is "bad" for him to do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can think of a few problems I see with the above claim, but I thought it would be interesting to add that to the debate.

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Would you consider a parent that allows their child the leeway to experiment with and experience their own lives immoral?

 

Would you consider a parent that gives someone permission to kill his son's sons, make him sick, and take all he owns, immoral?

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I shall play devil's advocate here and state a claim I often get myself when raising this issue: If we go by logical small steps, we begin by assuming there is a God (otherwise there's no "problem" of evil at all). Also, God is all good and all knowing and all powerful. God has created everything, including morality and including human beings. As such, then, our sense of morality does not necessarily equal that of God.

 

That is, what we refer to as "bad" might not be bad when done by God, since he (or she!) is the one who created both the term bad and the concept of bad, and us humans who will behave according to said concept.

So are God's rules of morality different from ours to allow Him to commit acts described in Job? In other words, what's good for God isn't always what's good for us.

 

But then we lose the ability to call God omnibenevolent. People suffer, so He's clearly not good by our definition, but He's good by some definition we do not know or understand?


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Would you consider a parent that gives someone permission to kill his son's sons, make him sick, and take all he owns, immoral?

 

To be fair, God heals Job, gives him more stuff than he had before, and gives him even more children in the end.

 

That's not to say that making Job suffer in the first place is a good thing, of course.

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As long as there were certain constraints ("no swinging an ax at yourself"), no. But how does this apply to Job? God explicitly allowed Satan to torment Job.

 

 

 

Well yes, but suffering would certainly be viewed differently by the omniscient being that you postulated in your initial question, would it not? If God is Omniscient then God knows that Job passed the test and that he would be rewarded with a long, happy and prosperous life after the test.

 

According the the story of Job he lived 120 years after the test, became rich and had a large a loving family in the process.

 

Comparing that to a regualr parent, we all know that the teen years are painful process for most kids, but many of lifes most valuable lessons are learned in the process. A parent that steps in and saves their child from the rigors of growing up does that child no favors.

 

In the story of Job, God as teh parent knew that Job's test would be affirmation for Job and a lesson for his other children, and that is how it is depicted in the story.

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So are God's rules of morality different from ours to allow Him to commit acts described in Job? In other words, what's good for God isn't always what's good for us.

It's not to allow Her anything, it just is. God's existence is (supposedly) more complicated and more 'supreme' than ours, but also in a totally different realm of existence. If God is outside time and space, the rules that govern her existence are different than us mere humans who *are* inside time and space.

 

Why, then, would "evil" be the same?

 

But then we lose the ability to call God omnibenevolent. People suffer, so He's clearly not good by our definition, but He's good by some definition we do not know or understand?

No, we don't. We lose the ability to force God into our own definitions. And if God is assumed to define *us*, then we have no right to do that to begin with.

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Well yes, but suffering would certainly be viewed differently by the omniscient being that you postulated in your initial question, would it not? If God is Omniscient then God knows that Job passed the test and that he would be rewarded with a long, happy and prosperous life after the test.

 

Now we run into two other questions.

  1. If God is omniscient, why does He have to make Job suffer to test him at all? Doesn't He know Job's character?
  2. Do the ends justify the means? Job doesn't get his original children back, and he still has to suffer. Having a good outcome from a bad action doesn't make the bad action good; it just covers it up, so to speak. Unless the ends do justify the means, God still did commit an immoral act by allowing Job to suffer.

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Would you consider a parent that gives someone permission to kill his son's sons, make him sick, and take all he owns, immoral?

 

You are looking at the story as a non-omniscient being and then trying to impose your limits on the omniscient being. As I said, the story did not end with Job's suffering and you have to evaluate God based on all that happened, not just what happened up to a given point that you choose to make a cut off.

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It's not to allow Her anything, it just is. God's existence is (supposedly) more complicated and more 'supreme' than ours, but also in a totally different realm of existence. If God is outside time and space, the rules that govern her existence are different than us mere humans who *are* inside time and space.

 

Why, then, would "evil" be the same?

So when someone says "God is omnibenevolent", is that really meaningless because we do not know what "benevolence" implies in God's realm?

 

No, we don't. We lose the ability to force God into our own definitions. And if God is assumed to define *us*, then we have no right to do that to begin with.

 

So is this simply a question we have no right to ask, since we cannot force God to meet any particular definition or word?

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So when someone says "God is omnibenevolent", is that really meaningless because we do not know what "benevolence" implies in God's realm?

God is omnibenevolent to us. He is not omnibenevolent to our enemies, is he? (according to the bible, outright), so omnibenevolence is relative. In his "realm of existence" he might not be, but we're on a different set of "rules", and in ours, he is.

 

It's like Superman. In Krypton he was a regular person, but on Earth he had "super powers". Sure, it's not a very good analogy because Superman is a fictional character, but I am raising the analogy to show what I mean, and I hope you bear with me to see my general point.

 

So is this simply a question we have no right to ask, since we cannot force God to meet any particular definition or word?

We can ask it, but if your faith dictates that God exists in a completely different set of rules-of-reality than your own, then you cannot judge God's morals by your morals, which is what this question is doing. It's a moot question.

 

~moo

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God is omnibenevolent to us. He is not omnibenevolent to our enemies, is he? (according to the bible, outright), so omnibenevolence is relative. In his "realm of existence" he might not be, but we're on a different set of "rules", and in ours, he is.

Then that's not "omnibenevolence." That's "semibenevolence." So again, we're retreating from the position of the three omnis.

 

We can ask it, but if your faith dictates that God exists in a completely different set of rules-of-reality than your own, then you cannot judge God's morals by your morals, which is what this question is doing. It's a moot question.

So the question is unanswerable.

 

However. We can judge God's actions by our own standards, and describe Him with our own words. We describe Him as omnibenevolent, using our own meaning for that word. In the face of suffering of good people, is it safe to say that using our meaning of omnibenevolent is a mistake?

 

Perhaps God is perfectly good under His rules, but what about under ours? Can we call Him omnibenevolent?

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Then that's not "omnibenevolence." That's "semibenevolence." So again, we're retreating from the position of the three omnis.

Not quite.

 

Think of a fundamental law of physics. *law*. Does that law must exist in a parallel universe that has different constants? no. And yet, it's a law in our universe. It's not a 'semi law'. It is a law.

 

God's omnibenevolence is not described in God's own realm, because there's no meaning to do that *in relation to us*. We only describe our own reality, in which God is ombnibenevolent.

 

Also, considering God is said to be alone in his own realm (monotheism, baby), there's no one to be evil or good *to*. God does not harm himself and there is no one else to harm (or do good to) in his own realm, and therefore He is, by definition, benevolent in his own realm, too.

 

 

 

So the question is unanswerable.

As moot questions often are.

 

However. We can judge God's actions by our own standards, and describe Him with our own words. We describe Him as omnibenevolent, using our own meaning for that word. In the face of suffering of good people, is it safe to say that using our meaning of omnibenevolent is a mistake?

Well, if you describe him as omnibenevolent, and then you find that he doesn't fit that definition, it doesn't mean he isn't Good, it just means your definition is lacking.

 

It's circular reasoning. *You* defined god as X, and now you expect God to be X, and when you think God does not fit the definition of X, then instead of redefining X, you claim God does not exist.

 

That doesn't make much logical sense.

 

 

Perhaps God is perfectly good under His rules, but what about under ours? Can we call Him omnibenevolent?

It's not just his own rules, it's within his reality. He is omnibenevolent. We aren't. Our definition of evil is defined as what *we* believe *we* should not do.

 

We think evil is letting a child starve. Right? That's a usual concept, not many will argue that.

 

However, animals in the wild sometimes leave their cubs to starve for a variety of reasons. We don't think they are evil.

 

Evil isn't an absolute term, ti's a term that describe something very unique to human beings. We are forcing it on God, and then are surprised when it doesn't fit Him.

 

 

~moo

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You are looking at the story as a non-omniscient being and then trying to impose your limits on the omniscient being. As I said, the story did not end with Job's suffering and you have to evaluate God based on all that happened, not just what happened up to a given point that you choose to make a cut off.

 

God also didn't revive Job's children, he just gave him more of them. And why make Job suffer in the first place, especially if he knew Job would pass the test? No, what we see here is a god with a pride problem -- why would god have to prove anything to Satan?

 

We also see a patriarchal society, where children are essentially considered valuable property of their parents (this can also be seen in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, and King Solomon's first judgement).

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God's omnibenevolence is not described in God's own realm, because there's no meaning to do that *in relation to us*. We only describe our own reality, in which God is ombnibenevolent.

 

Also, considering God is said to be alone in his own realm (monotheism, baby), there's no one to be evil or good *to*. God does not harm himself and there is no one else to harm (or do good to) in his own realm, and therefore He is, by definition, benevolent in his own realm, too.

But he acts in our realm, as shown in Job. And he allows Job to suffer in our realm. So is God in fact omnibenevolent in our reality?

 

Well, if you describe him as omnibenevolent, and then you find that he doesn't fit that definition, it doesn't mean he isn't Good, it just means your definition is lacking.

 

It's circular reasoning. *You* defined god as X, and now you expect God to be X, and when you think God does not fit the definition of X, then instead of redefining X, you claim God does not exist.

I have made no such claim. I didn't bring up the Problem of Evil as a way to disprove God's existence but as a way of puzzling over it.

 

So what I'm instead doing is saying:

We think God is X

But God doesn't seem to fit the definition of X

God isn't X? Or perhaps there's a loophole? This is the part we are trying to answer in this thread.

 

It's not just his own rules, it's within his reality. He is omnibenevolent. We aren't. Our definition of evil is defined as what *we* believe *we* should not do.

But in our reality, God seems to break those rules. So by our definitions, He seems not to be omnibenevolent.

 

I'm not interested in God's reality, as we describe Him in relation to his actions and appearances in ours, using our terms.

 

Evil isn't an absolute term, ti's a term that describe something very unique to human beings. We are forcing it on God, and then are surprised when it doesn't fit Him.

 

So should we not claim God is omnibenevolent, since "good" is not absolute and we are forcing it on Him?

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Now we run into two other questions.

  1. If God is omniscient, why does He have to make Job suffer to test him at all? Doesn't He know Job's character?
  2. Do the ends justify the means? Job doesn't get his original children back, and he still has to suffer. Having a good outcome from a bad action doesn't make the bad action good; it just covers it up, so to speak. Unless the ends do justify the means, God still did commit an immoral act by allowing Job to suffer.

 

1) Because nobody learning from the test of Job would be omniscient in their own lives.

 

2) If you assume an omniscient being then is there even an end or means for them? It is hard to discuss such things when the qualities of the subject are unknown and unknowable. Once you have assumed omniscience, omnipresent omnibenevolent and so on you cease to be able to describe action based on your understanding in a non-omniscient non-omnipresent paradigm. It's like proposing a 4 dimensional object then insisting that it behave in ways only describable with 3 dimensional math.

 

Similarly you judge Job's reactions to his tests, and his life there after, as a non-believer, and you try to force Job's reaction to God's test by your own understanding. If you take the book of Job in total you see that Job did not grieve his lost children as you propose, and his reason is the same as his reason for not cursing God when at his lowest: he trusted God. You can't assume Job's life based on your own experience unless you share the unquestioning faith in God that Job was described as having.

 

So the question becomes, for me, what would God's reasons be for testing Job.. and the reason is simple: it was as a lesson other non-omniscient people.

 

I mean, you can make an argument about God's immorality if you ignore the premise of the whole exercise, and you can argue that Job suffered after his test if you insert thoughts and behaviors into Job's head that are not mentioned in the book of Job... indeed, after his first children were killed he offered everything he had to God "I came into this world naked, and naked I shall leave it".

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We also see a patriarchal society, where children are essentially considered valuable property of their parents (this can also be seen in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac, and King Solomon's first judgement).

 

Perhaps, although we see in Genesis that at least some people of ancient times loved their children:

Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22:2&version=NIV

 

But Isaac is a subject for a different thread, I think.

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We can judge God's actions by our own standards, and describe Him with our own words.

 

Indeed. God made us in our own image, and by his own admission we know good and evil:

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:4,5

And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." Genesis 3:22

 

Incidentally, it seems to me here that Satan is being more honest than God. Also, God makes us in his own image and then punishes us for trying to become more like him, when we didn't knowingly do anything wrong. Then he curses Adam and all his descendants, and after that repeatedly says that we should not punish sons for the sins of their fathers.

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1) Because nobody learning from the test of Job would be omniscient in their own lives.

Ah. So the purpose of Job's suffering was more than to test Job; it was to teach the rest of mankind a lesson.

 

Again, however, we run into the question of "do the ends justify the means? Does a good outcome justify a bad method?"

 

It would be easy, for example, to say that "an omnipotent god can, by definition, teach the important lesson without causing any suffering."

 

Similarly you judge Job's reactions to his tests, and his life there after, as a non-believer, and you try to force Job's reaction to God's test by your own understanding. If you take the book of Job in total you see that Job did not grieve his lost children as you propose, and his reason is the same as his reason for not cursing God when at his lowest: he trusted God. You can't assume Job's life based on your own experience unless you share the unquestioning faith in God that Job was described as having.

He did grieve -- until God came in the end to answer his questions (or, rather, refuse to answer them). And yes, in the end he did not blame God or curse Him.

 

But didn't Job suffer? Before God appeared to him, wasn't he suffering and wishing he was never born?

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Perhaps, although we see in Genesis that at least some people of ancient times loved their children:

 

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+22:2&version=NIV

 

But Isaac is a subject for a different thread, I think.

 

 

You can love your children and not grieve their passing.. at least not in the manor that you describe. Imagine, I guess, losing a loved one who dies in a heroic act saving many other people... that would sting somewhat less than losing a loved one to a heroin addiction.

 

If you do not believe in God as Job did then you can not hope to surmise Job's emotional state upon the loss of his children. We however have Job's response in the very same book to judge Job's response by... so why not just go with that since you are already creating a laundry list of givens including an omniscient being in this exercise of evaluating God based on the book of Job?

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I'll also point out that pure omnipotence and pure omniscience are both impossible. So long as we agree that there can't be contradictions, God being omnipotent still cannot do something contradictory such as make a rock so heavy he cannot lift while being able to lift it. As for omniscience, Touring proved that impossible (the stopping problem). Anyhow, from reading various passages, things like "all" and "forever" are actually rather limited.

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Ah. So the purpose of Job's suffering was more than to test Job; it was to teach the rest of mankind a lesson.

 

Again, however, we run into the question of "do the ends justify the means? Does a good outcome justify a bad method?"

 

It would be easy, for example, to say that "an omnipotent god can, by definition, teach the important lesson without causing any suffering."

 

And an Omnipotent God can erase all memory of suffering and bring the dead back to life... or give them life everlasting in his glory. So again, with your claim of Omnipotence you are invalidating your own limited interpretation of the occurances in surrounding the story of Job.

 

God explains to Job that no man can understand God well enough to even question him properly (Job 38). Which of course is true if you presume omnipotence. Isn't it illogical to assume the omnipotence of God for sake of your argument then ignore the cousel of said omnipotent being in the very same text you want to disect? You can't claim that He's omniptent yet acted in clearly definable finite and non-omnipotent terms.

 

 

 

He did grieve -- until God came in the end to answer his questions (or, rather, refuse to answer them). And yes, in the end he did not blame God or curse Him.

 

But didn't Job suffer? Before God appeared to him, wasn't he suffering and wishing he was never born?

 

Yes he was, but that wasn't what you were proposing. Weren't you also proposing that Job must has suffered even after the visit by God? I am saying that there is nothing to show that Job suffered following the affirmation and blessings by God so your claim of prolonged suffering is an invention on your part.


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I'll also point out that pure omnipotence and pure omniscience are both impossible. So long as we agree that there can't be contradictions, God being omnipotent still cannot do something contradictory such as make a rock so heavy he cannot lift while being able to lift it. As for omniscience, Touring proved that impossible (the stopping problem). Anyhow, from reading various passages, things like "all" and "forever" are actually rather limited.

 

If you believe in a God that created the unviverse and set it in motion you can believe in a practical omnipotence in all things rational and only sacrifice the illogical and irrational in the process.

 

A being only capable of creating the Earth is still beyond our ability to fully comprehend as we can't fully comprehend His creation.

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The various questions all pretty much devolve into tautological reasoning. "God" is defined as "omnibenevolent," so you can't demonstrate it otherwise. If you look at God's actions and see maliciousness, then that just means what you consider malicious is actually supremely benevolent, by definition. So sure, it is right for God to needlessly torment Job, because that's what God did.

 

And yes, that is circular reasoning, but only if you're trying to demonstrate benevolence by actions. But that's pointless, because the benevolence is a fundamental premise.

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