Thursday, October 4, 2007

If God is Good......?

Rodak, Paul, Dick, (Just noticed he wasn't on my blogroll) and I have been having a most enjoyable conversation regarding the problem of evil. What is nice is that we have been having a rational exchange of ideas. Although we do not always agree, our minds meet and grasp one another's arguments. I love it! The latest question is the following, posed by Rodak:

"If God is all-good and all-knowing, how can evil exist in a world He created?"

Here is my answer:

We know happens one moment at a time as they occur. Got knows things all at once because he is outside of time. To know something happened, will happen, oris happening, is not to make it happen. I know what happened on September 11, 2001. Does that mean I caused it?

Imagine that I have a time machine and can travel into the future. Imagine also that (as happens in every story involving time travel) time stops when I travel. If I travel all through the future and make video tapes of everything that happens in every place for the rest of time and I create a collection of videos in the present. I know everything that is going to happen and can access any video to see what is going to happen in the future. Do I now control the future—or just know it in advance?

I have gotten to know my friend very well. I have learned how he “ticks,” if you will. When something happens, I know how he will act. He has a girlfriend and I know that he is going to break up with her in the next couple weeks, although he does not. I know that another friend sent him an e-mail which he has not read yet, but when he reads it I know exactly what he is going to do: he is going to fly in to a fit of rage and is going to send a nasty e-mail back. Am I making him break up with his girlfriend? Am I making him write a mean e-mail?

I know that America is going to suffer an economic decline and is going to decline in power and military strength. This knowledge is based on my study of world history and international political trends. Do I control the American economy? Do I control American power?

31 comments:

Rodak said...

Here's my latest:
http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/2007/10/readings-evil-raises-its-ugly-head.html

Rodak said...

Civis--
Your second and third examples are merely informed speculation, but your first one is interesting.
Here's the thing: if God is omnipotent, and he sees that in, what is for mankind, the future, Mount Vesuvius is going to blow its top and kill thousands of innocent people, and he lets that happen, it is hard to call him all-good. If, on the other hand, we say that because it is in the mind of God, it must, of necessity, happen, then God is not all-powerful. If God's prescience is comparable to you watching your time-travel videos, then God is no more powerful, and is as much bound by necessity, as you are.

Dick said...

In reply to Civis Rodak wrote:

"Here's the thing: if God is omnipotent, and he sees that in, what is for mankind, the future, Mount Vesuvius is going to blow its top and kill thousands of innocent people, and he lets that happen, it is hard to call him all-good."

Well, this depends on why He let it happen. If the consequences of preventing it would have produced an even greater evil than letting it happen then letting it happen was good. I grant that I can only speculate upon what sort of consequences might have constituted an even greater evil, but perhaps one of them is that to stop the eruption would have entailed suspending the laws of nature in order to save human lives. If God suspends the laws of nature every time they threaten human lives then the world would be chaotic and science and technology, among other things, would be pretty much impossible. Perhaps this would have been a great evil in God's eyes, and therefore God doesn't do it.

Of course, this raises the question why God would have created a world that is governed by laws which lead to what we might call natural evil, but that's a question for a different thread.

"If, on the other hand, we say that because it is in the mind of God, it must, of necessity, happen, then God is not all-powerful. If God's prescience is comparable to you watching your time-travel videos, then God is no more powerful, and is as much bound by necessity, as you are."

I don't see how God's being bound to logical necessity constitutes a limitation on His power. The laws of logic flow from God's very nature to infuse the universe, much like an artist infuses his painting with his own personality. To say that God is bound by logic is simply to say that God is bound by His nature, just as He is bound by His nature to do supererogatorily good things. I don't see how it follows that God is no more powerful than we are simply because He must do what His nature dictates. God can, after all, create universes which ability, it seems to me, requires capacities and power somewhat beyond the resources of most of us.

Rodak said...

"...perhaps one of them is that to stop the eruption would have entailed suspending the laws of nature in order to save human lives."

This is known as a miracle. According to the New Testament, Jesus performed his miracles primarily to demonstrate the power of God to the people in order to develop their faith.
But saying that God let one disaster befall mankind simply to prevent a worse one is merely to kick the can down the road. Human life, every human life, is replete with natural evils, and it is not too hard to imagine a universe in which most of them don't exist.

"To say that God is bound by logic is simply to say that God is bound by His nature..."

Yes. Which means that God's nature necessarily includes evil, doesn't it?

Dick said...

Rodak,

You wrote that:

"Human life, every human life, is replete with natural evils, and it is not too hard to imagine a universe in which most of them don't exist."

I agree with this, which is why I said that the important question is why God created a world in which there is natural evil.

In reply to my claim that, "To say that God is bound by logic is simply to say that God is bound by His nature..." you responded by saying, "Yes. Which means that God's nature necessarily includes evil, doesn't it?"

I don't think so. Suppose we agree that it's God's nature to always do good. Suppose further that it is good to provide water for his creatures, and so He does, but in providing water He has created the potential for people to drown. Does that mean that evil is part of His nature?

Likewise, by creating a world in which humans can live and thrive, He found it best, presumably, to make one characterized by plate tectonics. As any geoscientist would tell us higher life forms would be all but impossible in a world without plate tectonics. Unfortunately, a side effect of crustal movements is volcanism, and volcanism carries with it the potential for the loss of life. Is God evil, then, because He creates a world suitable for human habitation? I don't see how.

If a man allows his daughter to drive the family car he's introducing the possibility of an evil into her life, but that doesn't make the man evil.

In other words, God is not responsible for evil unless He has determined it to occur, and I don't think we need to assume that He has done that.

Rodak said...

Dick--
God can provide water, and God can allow for plate tectonics, while preventing disasters involving either, by means of miracles, if necessary. Since he can foresee the disasters, he can prevent them.
We can't say that God is all-powerful if things are happening involving *matter* that he hasn't willed. If he has willed these natural disasters, we then have to find a way to call them "good," if we are going to charactize God as omnibenevolent.
So far as I know, the best answer given by the Church is that existence, though not perfect, is better than non-existence, and therefore "good." And since existence is a gift of God, it is "good" even though it is often and inevitably painful.
This is not a completely satisfactory explanation, although it certainly fits the conditions with which we have to cope.

Civis said...

Rodak,

Are you saying that God can't be good because he does not stop every volcano before it happens or that he is bad because he allowed mankind to exist because he knew people would experience pain?

Rodak said...

Civis--
I think that what I'm really saying is that God transcends all human categories, and that a God who can be talked about in terms of those categories would not be omni-everything.
Later, I will post a link to a document containing excerpts from the final essay in the Simone Weil anthology I've been quoting from that says some of these things better than I can.

Rodak said...

The post with the link I promised in my 2:49 p.m. comment is now up on my blog.

Civis said...

Going back to my last question, are the "omnis" incompatible because because he does not stop every volcano before it happens or that he is bad because he allowed mankind to exist because he knew people would experience pain?

Rodak said...

Civis--
I am not actually arguing that God is "bad." Or "good." I am *asking* those who want to speak of God in human terms, such as good and evil, how they can reconcile the use of the those terms with the "omnis." I don't think that one can do that without ignoring the resulting contradictions.
But if I had to answer your question, anyway, I would say that God could just as easily have created a completely safe world. If God causes/allows human pain just to see if, like Job, a man will endure the pain without cursing Him, it is hard to see the love in that. A human being who did that to another person, would be judged harshly, I think.
But this is affliction. And that is what Simone Weil is speaking of in the excerpts I posted the link to at 3:45 p.m. Check it out and see what you think.

Civis said...

"If God causes/allows human pain just to see if, like Job, a man will endure the pain without cursing Him, it is hard to see the love in that."

And why do you assume that is the case?

I'll check out your post.

Rodak said...

Civis--
I don't "assume" that's the case. That is the story-line of the Book of Job. So the assuming was done by the author of that book.

Rodak said...

Job 1
[7] And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
[8] And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
[9] Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
[10] Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
[11] But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
[12] And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

Civis said...

Are you sure this story is to be taken literally?

If it is to be taken literally, is this the reasoning for all suffering or just in Job's case?

Rodak said...

Civis--
Of course it's not to be taken literally; it's to be taken mythically, which means that it's to be taken universally. It applies, in its mythic truth, to Everyman who perseveres in his love of God, despite the affliction of living in the material world.

Civis said...

Okay. And where do you get that?

Rodak said...

"Okay. And where do you get that?"

Where do I get what? That it's not to be taken literally? I get that from the fact that God and Satan are presented as two very humanoid beings, laying a wager over the reaction of a righteous human being to a horrific testing that he has done nothing to deserve. The Book of Job does not pretend to be "historical." It is a myth composed to deliver a lesson, and it is explicit about the lesson that it delivers. The meaning of Job is not really a question of interpretation, I think.

Rodak said...

The Wikipedia article on the Book of Job

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_job

gives a pretty good, objective, outline of the book's presentation. Including this synopsis of part of what is spoken by God with regard to Himself:

"YHVH's speech also emphasizes his sovereignty in creating and maintaining the world. The thrust is not merely that God has experiences that Job does not, but also that God is King over the world and is not necessarily subject to questions from his creatures, including men. He declines to answer any of Job's questions or challenges with anything except "I am the Lord." Job asks God for forgiveness."

Notice that it is pointed out that God is saying that He is "not necessarily subject to questions" from men regarding his motives.
To me, this means that God's "motives" are one-and-the-same-thing as what Simone Weil refers to as "Necessity." Using the word "motive" is anthropomorphic, whereas the concept of "Necessity" is compatible with Nature, or "things-as-they-are."
As the Wikipedia article states at the outset, the Book of Job was written as didactic tool for study of the Problem of Evil, which makes it very relevant to our discussion.

Civis said...

I should have been more clear with my "Okay. And where do you get that?"

I was asking about the following: "it's to be taken mythically, which means that it's to be taken universally. It applies, in its mythic truth, to Everyman who perseveres in his love of God, despite the affliction of living in the material."

Where do you get that this involves "Mythical truth"?

Where do you get that myths are to be applied in this way?

Rodak said...

Civis--
Myths are told to explain the mysteries of existence to men; ergo, they apply equally to all men. Myths are not "true" in a literal, or historical, sense, but they do embody universal truths.
We can surmise that the Book of Job has the quality of myth because of its format. If we were to take it as literal, or historical, we would have to be able to explain who it was that was evidently in heaven and able to eavesdrop on a conversation between God and Satan, and then return to earth to write it all down. The Book of Job is quite evidently a work of the imagination. We may consider it "inspired," or not; but it is certainly not literal truth.
The story of the Garden of Eden is also clearly mythical in nature, along with the rest of the Book of Genesis. Again, mythical does not mean "false." In fact, mythical truth tends to be more true than historical truth, because it lacks nothing. Every element that it needs to transmit the eternal truth that it is designed to transmit is present. Historical truth is always incomplete, prone to bias, and subject to inaccuracy due to the notorious unreliability of eye-witnesses.

Civis said...

Okay, so let me clarify. Are you saying that suffering is always a test based on what you read in Job? Maybe I'm reading too much into what you are saying, but that is what I take you to mean in the context of this discussion

Rodak said...

I'm saying that suffering is built into material existence and those human beings who can endure the suffering while still experiencing existence as a gift are those people who will see God.

Rodak said...

Let me add that this ability to endure suffering while still considering existence to be good is not a sufficient condition for salvation--one must also live in love towards God and ones neighbor--but it is a necessary condition.

Civis said...

Rodak,

Sorry it's taking me so long to reply. Real world is keeping me busy.

It seems another way to Job, and one view of "myth", which is also a view of Christian theology, is that the myth or the theology do not really enable us to understand God, but helps us to say "oh okay". It satisfies curiosity more than it really nails the truth.

You could look at the book of Job and see it as a story in which a man does not understand what is going on in his life and diffrent people come to him with different advice. One person says, "Curse God and die." But none of them had an accurate explanation. Maybe instead of taking Job as an explanation for why we suffer it should be taken for the point that God's ways are above out ways and by definition are beyond our comprehension.

I should go back a re-read, but doesn't God give Job a speach, something like, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth smartie pants?"

Th3e answer to Job may be the answer to your questions as well: we can only grasp so much of God's plan and ultimately we answer to God; he doesn't answer to us.

Rodak said...

"Maybe instead of taking Job as an explanation for why we suffer it should be taken for the point that God's ways are above out ways and by definition are beyond our comprehension."

Civis--
Job was a righteous man--the most righteous man, apparently--that God could find to test. The point of the story is that ALL men will suffer, inevitably, regardless of whether they sin little, or greatly. That fact is put another way in the saying, God makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the sinner alike. The world is what it is. It involves--for absolutely everybody--sickness, pain, death, the loss of loved ones, and tragedies of all kinds.
The acceptance of suffering in gratitude for even this painful existence--which is what Job represents--is the lesson we are to glean from the narrative.
And, yes, why it should be this way, and not some other, better, way, is a mystery that neither this, nor any other myth, can fully explain.

c matt said...

part of understanding of Job can be gleaned from Statn's challenge - essentially telling God that Job only loves/honors God because Job has it so good. But if he didn't have it so good, he would not love God.

In this sense, the problem of evil is tied into the concept of free will. God wants our love to be freely given, not conditioned on having the good life - loving God because He is God, not because of what He has done for me lately. Love freely given is a greater good than love given based upon recieving material benefits. This greater good can only exist if free will is truly free. For free will to be truly free, rejection of God's love has to be a realistic option - in other words, a "safe" world - where we really have no option of choosing evil, cannot give true love.

I liken it to training wheels on a bicycle - you have to take the training wheels off to truly learn how to ride - and that involves accepting the possiblity of falling. Riding without training wheels is a higher from of riding the bike.

Civis said...

Excellent point Matt! That's good.

Rodak said...

"...in other words, a "safe" world - where we really have no option of choosing evil, cannot give true love."

Right. Which is why I find a contradiction in the myth of Eden, which I discussed at some length on my blog.
If Adam and Eve had not eaten of the fruit, they would not have known good and evil, and could not have made a moral decision based on free will.
Moreover, since they did not know good and evil until AFTER eating the "apple", they were not really capable of understanding why they shouldn't eat it.
The Serpent, on the other hand, already knew the whole drill.
So why Adam and Eve were punished, when they weren't fully human until after they disobeyed God, is a mystery.

Rodak said...

Here is the post on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil from my blog:

http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/2007/08/reflections-tree-of-knowledge-of-good.html

Paul H said...

Another 'omni' point - God had no need to test Job, because being omniscient he already understood Job beyond what any test could demonstrate.

Also, through the 'omnis' God chose all of history. I happen not to believe that this could meaningfully include free will, but even assuming that it did, he could choose whichever result of that free will he wished for. An omniscient, omnipotent being can't be surprised by anything, he can't hope for an outcome, he can't wait and see.