Pick your poison: Either God is imperfect or “true morality” is uncomfortably immoral

Michelangelo, The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of EdenThis post was birthed out of an exchange with Prayson Daniel at his blog, With All I Am. I would like to thank him for posing the question in a way which caused me to think through the various ramifications of a free will theodicy.

The setup is simply this: there appears to be a logical contradiction between the concept of a wholly perfect God and the introduction of pain and suffering as the result of free will. The options which are available to dispose of the contradiction all lead to either accepting that God is in some sense imperfect, or to accepting that “true morality” is defined by a formulation of God’s nature which does not comfortably align with our sense of morality.

The Argument

Definitions

  1. Holiness: The collective qualities which define God’s nature. To say that God is perfectly holy is to say that he is perfectly moral, perfectly loving, perfectly righteous, perfectly just, perfectly merciful and perfectly praise-worthy.
  2. Omnipotent: Having complete or unlimited power.
  3. Omniscient: Having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.

Premises

  1. A perfectly holy God wills the world to be that which is most compatible with his holiness. Alternatively it can be said that when given the ability to actualize one world from a finite set of possible worlds, a perfectly holy God will actualize the world which accords with his holiness better than the others.
  2. An omnipotent God can achieve any world which is logically coherent (e.g., God cannot make a square circle).
  3. An omniscient God knows everything about the world; past, present and future.
  4. A perfectly holy and omnipotent God will not violate the freedom of his created free agents (because it is a moral imperative and because freedom of will is necessary for genuine love).
  5. A perfectly holy God cannot intentionally introduce evil, pain and suffering into a world where it did not previously exist (because that would be contrary to his nature).
  6. An omnipotent God can end evil, pain and suffering at any time.

A definition of the free will theodicy

  1. God is perfectly holy (#1) and omnipotent (#2), and thus #4 applies.
  2. God has created free agents with the ability to sin or not sin at any time. This is typically explained as being necessary because the resulting world is more compatible with God’s holiness than the world without free agents.
  3. Pain and suffering was introduced by the created free agents as a natural consequence of their sinful act and God knew this would happen (#3). The consequences may also include a fallen creation which produces “natural evils”.
  4. God can end evil, pain and suffering (#6) but has not yet done so because he knows that the current state is for the best (#3) and so has sufficient reasons for allowing it to persist (as required by #1).

Putting it together

God has allowed evil, pain and suffering for some time (#9). Therefore, the world in which evil, pain and suffering endures must be more compatible with God’s holiness (by #1 and #2) than the world in which evil, pain and suffering do not endure. God cannot introduce evil, pain and suffering (#5) and cannot influence the created free agents to do so (#4). Therefore, God is completely incapable of using his own volition to attain the world which is most compatible with his holiness. This contradicts God’s omnipotence.

Possible Objections

Objection #1: God is not omnipotent
OK, you’re more than welcome to accept that. Just make sure you incorporate it into your entire theological framework and understand all the consequences. Review objection #3 to see how this is sometimes employed.

Objection #2: God is not perfectly holy
Ditto above.

Objection #3: God is not omniscient
Ditto above, and…

To be clear, this objection hinges on the presumption that omniscience includes foreknowledge and some would deny the possibility of foreknowledge. This view belongs to a growing trend called open theism, most notably led by Greg Boyd. It would seem that this view exists almost exclusively to solve this problem, though it also helps make sense of some passages in the Bible where God seems to change his mind. However, this doesn’t solve the problem on its own – review the argument to see why. Accepting this would still seem to require accepting at least one of the other objections, namely objection #1 or objection #6. If this is combined with objection #1 (God is not omnipotent), then it could be that it wasn’t just that God didn’t see this coming, but he also couldn’t stop it. That does, however, also make it difficult to accept premise #5 (future perfection). As to how this could be combined with objection #6, review the discussion there.

Objection #4: Man does not have free will, or God sometimes does violate man’s free will
Fair enough. Now lets apply this to the circumstances at hand and understand the implications. The problem we’re trying to resolve is how evil, pain and suffering were introduced. This solution only resolves that problem if we also agree that it was God who directed agents to sin and thus introduce evil, pain and suffering. To be blunt, under this objection God is the author of sin and its consequences. If God is the author of sin, then either God is not morally perfect, or “true morality” as defined by God’s character, does not preclude the willful introduction of sin and its consequences (which may or may not include eternal damnation for most). Either God wanted this world despite the fact that it was contrary to his will, or he wanted the world because it is compatible with his nature. The latter option takes us to the next objection.

Objection #5: God can introduce evil, pain and suffering because it is not in conflict with his holiness
Let’s unpack this a bit. The inference behind this objection is that if God’s nature leads to the introduction of evil, pain and suffering then that world must be the best world. When all is reduced, every act of evil, every instance of pain and every period of suffering that has ever scarred the history of mankind occurred because it was consistent with God’s nature. The fallen world is exactly what God wanted.

Yet, if God can end pain and suffering at any time (premise #5) then he could have conceivably done this at the instant it first appeared, or he could have prevented pain and suffering from being the consequence of sin in the first place. He didn’t, but, according to the doctrine of a future perfection, he will. Why will he do this in the future? Presumably because that brings about a better world. So this objection seems hold a logical contradiction: the world without evil, pain and suffering is not better than the fallen world, yet God will bring about the world without evil, pain and suffering in the future because it is better.

That said, I see how one could argue that the period of pain and suffering is a prerequisite for the future without pain and suffering (i.e., an Irenaean theodicy, or “soul building”). In that case, the better world is the one in which there is a duration of pain and suffering that is followed by the elimination of pain and suffering. This doesn’t explain, however, why sanctification is necessary in the first place. If the agents were perfect before their fall and God authored their fall as part of his sovereign plan for sanctification, then that would imply that the agents weren’t really perfect to start with even though that is the ultimate goal. So either he cannot create agents with a perfected disposition from the start (meaning he is not omnipotent) or he prefers that the perfected disposition be acquired through pain and suffering (which is uncomfortably immoral).

Objection #6: Omnipotence does not include the ability to introduce evil, pain and suffering
More explicitly, this objection asserts that God’s nature makes it logically incoherent for God to have attained the world that is most compatible with his nature. In other words, perfect holiness includes the mandate “thou shall not violate a free agent’s will”. As a result, God’s omnipotence is NOT defeated because the act which would have resulted in the best world is logically incoherent and thus not a member of the set of capabilities which define omnipotence. The world with free agents and the potential of evil, pain and suffering is the best God could do within the constraints of logic. Problem solved.

Not so fast. If God’s omnipotence does not include a capability that is required in order to attain the better world, can we still say that he is both omnipotent and perfectly holy? If the combination of God’s nature and a separate agent’s free choice could have resulted in the better world, then it would seem that this combined agency is more capable (or more holy) than God, which entails that God is either not omnipotent or is not a perfectly holy being. If you question whether that assertion is true, then it’s time to move on to objection #10.

This objection can also be combined with objection #3 (God is not omniscient) to sustain God’s moral perfection. This combination suggests that it is not only logically incoherent for God to have introduced evil, pain and suffering, but it is also the case that God did not know that the free agents would sin and bring that world about. However, if that is the case then it does seem quite odd that he’s let it persist for so long (rather than stopping it immediately), especially if you also want to accept premise #5 (future perfection). It almost seems as if you have to toss in objection #1 as well (God is not omnipotent).

Objection #7: God’s omnipotence is realized through his creation of free agents
The goal of this objection is to show that God’s omnipotence is not defeated because he actually is able to bring about the best world by relying on his omniscience regarding the behavior of the created agents. Since he knew what the agents would do, he was able to attain the best world as a result of his creative action. All this really means, though, is that God is indirectly responsible for the introduction of evil, pain and suffering. He is the CEO and the responsibility eventually falls back in his lap, which puts us back at either objection #4 or objection #5.

Or maybe not. Could it be that God is not ultimately responsible under this scenario? To examine this we need to take a closer look at point #8 in the free will theodicy. That point claims that the created agents have the ability to sin or not sin at any time. This means that, conceivably, they could have never sinned.

If we accept the possibility that the agents could have never sinned then it is possible that the fall never occurs, in which case the best world (the fallen world) is not realized. This brings us back to the very last claim of the argument, that “God is completely incapable of using his own volition to attain the world which is most compatible with his holiness. This contradicts God’s omnipotence”. To consider whether that claim holds up, please see objection #10.

Conversely, if we accept the possibility that the agents would necessarily sin at some point, then it would seem that they do not actually have free will on this particular matter. In that case, who is responsible? It would be the one who’s will was directing the agent’s will. Presumably that agent is God himself, which again puts us back at either objection #4 or objection #5.

Objection #8: Molinism to the rescue
Ah yes, Molinism. The view popularized by William Lane Craig as the answer to reconcile free will with God’s perfection and sovereignty. But does it also answer the problem of evil? Let’s examine its application to our situation here.

In Molinism, the created agents have complete free will while giving God the power to know all possible choices that the agents will make, such that God can then direct the world in such a way that those agents will make the choice which aligns with God’s will. Neither free will nor God’s sovereignty are sacrificed. If I review the argument above, however, it appears to be just as applicable to Molinism as to any other free will theodicy. God is still perfect and agents are still free. Molinism offers no help to resolve the problem of evil and must still confront the argument by appealing to one of the other objections. In fact, Molinism looks to be a complicated variation of objection #7.

Objection #9: It’s a mystery, or God is not bound by logic
This is perhaps the most popular answer to the problem. Logic be damned, God is both perfect in all regards and is not responsible for the introduction of evil, pain and suffering. We can have our cake and eat it too by invoking “mystery”. Obviously this gets you out of the dichotomy I proposed up front but in its place you’re left feeling unsettled, like you’ve just cheated and you know the victory is a fraud. Surreptitiously, cognitive dissonance begins its ascent.

I also contend that the statement “God is not bound by logic” typically implies a misunderstanding of logic. This infers that logic is a set of arbitrary rules which we happen to follow, like gravity or inertia. This is misguided. Logic is the description of relationships between symbols, which are the constituents of thought itself. If logic is discarded then comprehension itself is also discarded, which makes the statement meaningless. This kind of response is what eventually leads to negative theology, in which case you’re essentially admitting that you don’t really know anything about God.

Objection #10: God’s perfection is not defeated if he wills something other than the best world
Here we are rejecting the very first premise in the argument – that a perfectly holy God wills the world to be that which is most compatible with his holiness. To evaluate whether this is the case, consider the following: If God does not will the world which is most compatible with his holiness then we can conceive of a being who is identical except that this being wills the better world. The new being would be more holy than God, thus God is not perfectly holy. In short, perfection wills perfection and a being which wills anything less is not perfect.

One way to attempt to resolve this is to assert that it is logically incoherent for a perfectly holy God to will the introduction of evil, pain and suffering (see objection #6) and that, as a result, the hypothetical “better God” given above is not logically possible. This maneuver, however, has now moved the definition of the “best world” away from God. We are now saying that the best world is defined by something other than that which God wills. God’s nature no longer defines what is “best”. That is no small concession and implies that God is subject to some external ideal – that God is not the ultimate authority. It makes little sense to take this step when the whole reason for considering the possibility in the first place was to sustain the concept of God’s perfection.

What now?

It appears to me that the solution which is most capable of holding up under logical scrutiny and salvaging the orthodox definition of God is a combination of objection #4 and objection #5, where God is ultimately responsible for evil, pain, suffering, et al, as the natural product of his nature. This is exactly what Calvinism offers. God’s power and sovereignty win out. Despite the seemingly violent opposition to the moral law which is “written on the hearts of men” (Romans 2:15), a significant number of us are simply “objects of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22). To mitigate this, many Calvinists (including Calvin himself) will tack on objection #9.

This isn’t new. The debate has raged for centuries and, as of late, Calvinism has experienced a resurgence. I counted myself as a Calvinist for a period of time, though not because of this argument – just because it seemed most biblical. As I contemplated the implications of Calvinism, however, I eventually found that I couldn’t sustain it. It seemed so contrary to the goodness of God, a goodness which pervaded my theology and tugged at my heart. The implications of Calvinism truly did act like a poison which ate away at my conscience. So I came to decide that I simply didn’t know whether I was an Arminian or a Calvinist and that it didn’t matter. The conflict seemed interminable because both sides had scripture to back them up. I chose to resolve the problem by continuing in ignorance on the matter.

I started this post by offering a dichotomy: either accept that God is not perfect, or that the morality he defines feels strangely immoral. This is, of course, a false dichotomy. There is another option available to those who are willing to wade into the waters of blasphemy. What if these ideas aren’t from God? Maybe the foundational concepts that we are wrestling with are man-made. Maybe those who introduced them hadn’t coordinated and analyzed the consequences of their ideas as deeply as the rest of us have throughout the centuries. Maybe these issues are so difficult to resolve because there isn’t a grand conductor orchestrating a coherent backstory that brings it all together. Maybe we’re trying to mash together a bunch of random musings that were never meant to fit. Doesn’t this all make a lot more sense if the truth is that we’ve just created an artificial problem to which there isn’t actually a solution?

How will you answer that question? For me, from my current perspective, the answer is a bittersweet “yes”. Bitter because it pushes away the God that I thought I knew, but sweet because it feels like truth.

Share

67 thoughts on “Pick your poison: Either God is imperfect or “true morality” is uncomfortably immoral

  1. 2 things:
    1. 1 Cor. 13, near the end of that chapter, would agree with some of what you’ve said here in affirming that in our weak, finite, consciousness/sight of things we truly “see as but a dim reflection in a mirror” and, consequently, we also only “know in part.” Bottom line – you aren’t supposed to “get” it all.
    2. Tim Keller has a great quote in which he states, “Tell me about this god you don’t believe in; i may not believe in him either.” The point is, losing the God “you thought you knew” can actually be a very good – albeit painful – thing b/c it can free you to then find and experience the God who actually is truth. The options are not (nor were they ever) a) your understanding of who God is or b) no God at all but a human-logic put at ease.

    • Thanks for the remarks. While I appreciate that there is supposed to be a mystery to God, there is also a danger that by taking this to heart we resign ourselves to giving up too easily and blindly accepting whatever the default position is. This is at odds with your second point. So if I apply both points equally, what I end up with is a never-ending struggle to find comfort in ignorance. I ended up on this journey because I had been doing just that. I had trained myself to cast aside the difficult stuff and eventually it caught up with me.
      I also note that you pit experiencing the true God against putting human logic at ease. If truth isn’t discovered by trying to make sense of everything, then what is the alternative?

      • The bottom line is if i could figure everything out then i would be, by definition, God. Aaaaaand i’m not. Nor are you or any other created being. So, sadly, yes: my position is absolutely that you must resign yourself to some measure of comfort in not being able to know everything. And yet the verse i quoted in 1 Cor. 13 says, explicitly, “now” we see and know in part. So it is not a “never-ending struggle” b/c there is a very definitive end in which we will know fully. So one does not have to abandon the “difficult stuff” in order to remain intellectually and logically cogent. One just needs to be realistic about the current and universal limitations we presently experience.
        Beyond that, i’m not sure how i “pit experience of God against putting human logic at ease” but i would simply say (at an introductory level) that the knowledge of truth is absolutely possible w/o absolute knowledge of every facet of truth. I would hope you’d agree. Science is, for example, a systematic approach to categorizing revealed/experienced/repeatable truths. When Newton discovered gravity, it didn’t make gravity not true b/c he didn’t know every aspect of how and why gravity works – the truth he’d discovered remained, even if he didn;t know all that we know today, and which we are still discovering. Same thing with God: i can know many true things about God (most explicitly in how He choses to reveal Himself to us in Christ and in His word) w/o having to know everything exhaustively about Him or how He works/operates to make those true things true.

      • I think I should qualify my objection to ignorance. It is not that I expect that we can know everything. That is clearly false. Instead, I object to a willful ignorance – that is, excusing oneself from considering ALL options and instead falling back on “it’s a mystery”. When, as a Christian, I resigned myself to ignorance on many difficult topics I did so with a willful blindness to an immense world of possible explanations. Eventually I discovered that if I included the possibilities which were in conflict with my Christian worldview, a lot of those difficulties were easily resolved. As I continued down that road, I found this happening over and over and the world began to make a whole lot more sense.
        So yes, it’s possible that my current perspective is wrong and Christianity really is true, mysteries and all, but I can no longer convince myself to willingly ignore the answers that seem to make better sense of the world. I can’t lie to myself and tell myself that those answers are wrong when they actually feel like they’re closer to truth.

      • Travis –
        really appreciate your sharing that with me. Honestly, breaks my heart a bit, but i appreciate your honesty.
        Can i ask you about your coming to faith? Did you grow up in a Christian home? What is your church tradition/experience? Basically, what led you to first come to an faith in Jesus?

      • I appreciate the sentiment, but please also understand that when you say that it breaks your heart, you are implying that you know you have the right answers and that I have the wrong answers. I am trying to keep my mind wide open to various descriptions of reality. You might have the truth, I might have the truth, neither of us may have the truth. I am striving to review as much evidence and as many explanations as is practical to figure out what the truth is. Are you doing the same?
        I grew up in a Christian home. You can check out the Introductions post for a few more details.

      • Travis –
        sorry for the delay; we were away this past weekend. Read your “Introductions” post and i think i may have more of an idea of where you’re coming from. Made me wonder if you had even been in one of those Christian homes/churches like many of us grew up in where real questions were brushed aside and discouraged or had cliches thrown at, making one feel as if they really didn’t have good answers or any answers at all to our questions?
        Meant no offence with my comment, just stating how i feel. I know there are absolutely things i am wrong about (having a wife and kids is helpful for knowing this even better) and yet i do believe that truth is knowable to a great extent and, also, that the truth revealed in Scripture is of an absolute nature. That being said, there are many “truths” people claim using Scripture that may not be truths at all but simply preferences or things that ignore how God has also revealed Himself through His creation (i.e. Psalm 19).
        So, i am absolutely striving for truth and questioning the questions and always seeking to dig deeper with a wide variety of sources. But i always being with the worldview that the Scriptures are inerrant and inspired and trustworthy. Now, as with Copernicus, we could be interpreting those infallible Scriptures wrongly, but the onus is still on me then and not the Scriptures.

        I didn;t see if you had a post on the bible and its inerrancy, inspiration, etc. But what would you say upfront? What are your views of Scripture at your present level of understanding?

    • No offense taken. Just wanted to point out the underlying assumptions of such a statement.
      I do not yet have any posts regarding inerrancy and inspiration, but I can tell you that I currently see the Bible as a man-made work that was produced without divine guidance. Clearly that is a significant departure for us because I don’t understand how a belief in biblical inerrancy must be excluded from scrutiny.

      • Travis –
        yes, that does put us at different starting points but that just lets us know where we’re coming from.
        Wanted to ask: where did you get the idea that a belief in biblical inerrancy “must be excluded from scrutiny”? It should be subject to the same scrutiny as any other claim should it not. I just happen to believe that the evidence resulting from such scrutiny supports such a belief in biblical inerrancy.
        The unfortunate thing, in my view, is that the way the debate is often presented is that faith in God/bible/Jesus is unable to stand up to scrutiny but that naturalistic science is the the thing that is truly inerrant. Of course, i would not support that line of thinking. How about you?

      • I got the idea from the last paragraph of your previous comment, which implied that your search for truth operated on an assumption of biblical inerrancy. Conversely, I would agree with your latest comment – that nothing is excused from scrutiny.

  2. What if there is no god and no problem. The world just is. The hawk eats the sheep, the sheep eats grass and all there are eaten by the worm and the grand cycle of life continues without care.

  3. Thank you Travis for a top class philosophical question worthy exploring. I am glad and honored that my work gave birth to such an awesome piece of philosophy.

    My major problem is with premise 1. viz., “A morally perfect God wills the world to be that which is morally superior to all other possible worlds.” I think it is false because:

    There is no such thing as a “morally superior to all other possible worlds”. Imagine that Ws is a “morally superior to all other possible worlds”. What are the properties of Ws that makes it morally superior to, say Wo(a second from the Ws superior possible worlds namely if Ws was not, Wo would have being the morally superior to all other possible worlds)? It could be because Ws has X pain and suffering that are less that Y pain and suffering in Wo. If this is true, then we can think of Ws+, which does have Z pain and suffeing which is less than X in Ws. We can think of Ws++ and so on.
    Granted that there is such a thing. The moral perfection of God does not entail that God will actualize such a world. I am a father, and I love my daughter Eloise. Imagine I morally perfect and has the power to make her life “perfect”, without pain and suffering, and I knew how to make such a life for her. Does it entail that I will do it? No, not necessary. I may be able and will to make her life pain-and-suffering-free but I may have reasons not to that override may desire to make her life in such a way.

    These are only my initial thoughts on the first premise. I would love to hear your thoughts before coming further.

    • Prayson,
      Your objection to premise #1 is essentially the rejection of an actual infinite. I can accept that. I am not sure whether actual infinites can exist. But I also think that you may have read too much into the premise. It does not say that God wills the one morally perfect world, it says that God wills the world which is morally superior to all POSSIBLE worlds. For the sake of the argument, I am willing to restrict the set of possible worlds to those which are inferred by the argumentation. I believe that the argument still holds up under those circumstances and I have tweaked the language to try and clarify this. Let me know if you still object.

      • My objection is that there is no such a world because there is no such thing as “all possible worlds”. When I say is there the tallest man of all tall men? Yes there is. We group all tall man and measure. When I say is there the tallest man of all possible tall men? No there is no such man because to any tall man there is a possible tall + n.

      • Notice that, based on your comment, I changed premise #1 to “A morally perfect God wills the world to be that which is morally superior to all other REALIZABLE worlds”. I am treating ‘realizable’ to mean that there are not an infinite number of worlds.
        Also note that, for the sake of argument, I am granting that we will only consider the worlds which are inferred by the argumentation. If the argumentation includes n propositions, and each proposition can be either accepted as true or accepted as false, then the number of possible worlds inferred by the argumentation is 2n. Does your objection still stand under these conditions?

      • The problem is showing how ‘realizable’ worlds are finite number. The case I am making is that we can absurdly conceive of an extra feature to be added or removed in Ws, viz., “morally superior to all other realizable worlds” to get Ws+ “morally superior to Ws”. That being said, I think there is no such thing as a “morally superior to all other realizable worlds”, thus saying a proposition that God will bring about such a state of fair is without meaning.

      • Please note the alternative statements that I offered. The premise can be alternatively accepted as “Given the ability to actualize one world from a finite set of possible worlds, a morally perfect God will actualize the world which is morally superior to the others.” I also suggested that for this particular argument the set of possible worlds could be constrained to those which are described by accepting or rejecting each of the argument’s propositions; that is, if there are n proposition then the number of possible worlds is 2n.
        You could argue that accepting such a constraint is artificial and that it is not possible to restrict God to a finite set of possible worlds, but that creates a new paradox because it asserts that the set of possible worlds can be neither finite nor infinite; which is essentially the same as saying that nothing actually exists.

      • I follow your thought Travis. It is along the line of Gottfried Leibniz’s “die beste aller möglichen welten. The idea that if a morally perfect God would choose a world then He must choose the best of all possible worlds is not necessarily true. Minus the problem that there is no such thing as “best of all possible worlds”, it does not necessary follow that a morally perfect God must choose that such a world.

        The assumption is made without being shown true. It can be argued that a morally perfect God does not have to actualize the best (i.e. morally superior to the other) of possible worlds. Think of the best of all possible world Wb and not-Wb. Wb is a possible which world all sentient creature a perfect. God in this world is not glorified for His mercy and justice, since none of the creature failed. In not-Wb is a world were some sentient creature are not perfect. God in not-Wb is glorified for His mercy, forgiveness and justice. It appears that a morally perfect God could choose not-Wb over Wb. A world in which a morally perfect God is glorified by His sentient creature for His mercy and justice.

        If if my case is not true. A positive case for the assumption need to be made.

        Let me know your thoughts Travis.

    • If God’s moral perfection does not entail that God will actualize the morally superior world then the implication is that his reasons for failing to actualize the morally superior world are something other than perfectly moral.
      The same conundrum holds for your analogy. You fall back to “reasons” for withholding perfection from your daughter but, if you are morally perfect, shouldn’t those reasons also be morally perfect? Isn’t the perfect life the one which resulted from morally perfect choices? Sure, her life may not seem perfect from her point of view, but as the morally perfect being, you see that it is.

      • The reason ought not be moral perfect but flowing from moral perfect nature. Example from my analogy, It could be the case that for me to actualize Eliose pain-free life, I would have to eliminate her freedom of will. I am able and will to make her life pain-free but her freedom of will is a stronger will for me to say to her, may your will be done, even when I know it will lead to pain.

      • Aren’t you saying that, in the example, it is better to allow freedom of will than to eliminate pain? Isn’t that a moral proposition? Can that morally perfect agent hold reasons for action which are not morally perfect, as they see it from their perspective?

      • No. I am saying that there could be morally sufficient reason to not eliminate pain and suffering. Examples of such reasons could be freedom of will(from Free Will Defense) or allowing such pain results into something good (Soul-Making Theodice), or other reasons. The point I am making is that if there is morally good reason to allow such pain and sufferings, then a being that is God is justified to allow pain and suffering.

        There is no perspectives. If pain and suffering is not good, then pain and suffering is not good in all perspective. Allowing pain and suffering does not change the fact that it is not good.

      • I feel like we’re talking past each other here. Let me try again. You said “The moral perfection of God does not entail that God will actualize such a world.” If a morally perfect being can actualize either A or ¬A and also has the ability to know that A yields the morally superior world after all things are taken into account and considered, then that morally perfect being will choose A. If they do not choose A then I don’t see how we can consider them to be morally perfect.
        Perhaps the problem is that I have also been assuming perfect foreknowledge as part of the morally perfect being. I see now that I need to incorporate this into the argument. I suspect that this isn’t actually your objection, however.
        Does this explanation help, or am I still not making sense?

      • Travis, you do make sense. The problem is that there are assumption that you hold that I do not. A positive case need to be given to show that morally perfect God must actualize the best possible world (in your words “morally superior world”). Not seeing how we can consider God morally perfect if God does not actualize the best possible world, if is consider a reason, which I know you do not ;), is invalid case.

      • Then perhaps we are at an impasse. I cannot comprehend a morally perfect being who does not act in accordance with his moral perfection when given the ability to do so. It seems logically incoherent. To contend otherwise would seem to imply that God’s actions are in some way disconnected from his moral nature, which is even more bothersome.

      • I cannot comprehend that too Travis. God acts in accordance with His nature (moral perfection, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence &c). What I am arguing is that it is does not necessarily follow that a moral perfect God must choose the best of all possible world. In my case to show that it could be argued that a morally perfect God does not have to choose the best of all possible(if such things exists) thus it is logically coherent. It is possible that in the best possible world God is not glorify for Mercy, Forgiveness and Justice to which God would have in a not-best possible world.Even in this case is wrong, a positive case is needed for your assumption that that is the case.

        The problem I believe is that we think of humans well-being as the central player in this issue. Humans are like God’s pets who need to be taken care of. Their happiness and joy is a supreme thing. Let imagine that the knowledge of God that leading to loving God and each other was the central player. God created sentient being not to first and foremost be well-of but to have knowledge of Him that leads to loving Him and loving each other. Human well-being is thus a by-product of such a relationship and chaos and disorder(pain and suffering) is a by-product of the lost of that relationship.

        A world that has pain and suffering that lead to knowledge of God would seem “greater” than that with no pain and suffering that lead to no knowledge of God. If this is possibly true(not necessarily true nor believed), then a morally perfect God would be acting according to his moral perfection to make sure that he choose a world with pain and suffering that lead to knowledge of Him over that that does not.

        Let me know your thoughts Travis.

      • That is exactly the point I was trying to make by asking you to consider the different perspectives. Perhaps the problem is that my definition of morality casts a wider net than yours. I am classifying anything that can be discriminated as either “good or bad”, “right or wrong” or “better or worse” as moral. Using your last paragraph as an example, my contention is that the world with pain and suffering that lead to knowledge of God would be deemed “morally superior” (i.e., better) than the world without pain and suffering but no knowledge of God. If that’s true, then a morally perfect God would actualize the former.
        Your last paragraph seems to be trying to circumvent this by suggesting that the world could be “greater” but not “morally superior”. This would imply that the “greatness” is measured by something which is not subject to moral judgements and which can supersede moral value. That is, if world A has a moral worth of 7 and a “greatness” worth of 3, then it is preferable to world B with a moral worth of 8 and a “greatness” worth of 1. Is this the essence of your claim? If so, can you please define this “greatness” category and explain how it is distinct from morality? The presumption is that “more great” is not necessarily “better” and “less great” is not necessarily “worse”.

      • The point I am trying to pass is that it does not follow that morally perfect God must choose the best of all possible worlds(what you called “morally superior” of all possible world). I wanted to meet where you are Travis. Instead of blocking the premise by denying that there is no such thing as “morally superior” of all other realizable worlds, which I take you meant “feasible worlds”. Since some worlds are possible but not feasible (See Thomas P. Flint & David P. Hunt (2008) ‘Divine Providence: The Molinist Account’ in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion Vol. 47, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 62-64), I granted for the argument sake that there are such things.

        My last paragraph was aim to suggest that greatness in respect to intended design. I wished us to explore the core assumption that human are design first and foremost to their felicity. Their felicity is thus the main and not the by product of their creation. God must insure their felicity. But if the knowledge of God was the main and creatures felicity the by product, then that is a game changer. If higher sentient creatures where design to be in a relationship with their Creator, having knowledge of God that leads to loving Him and each other, then a possible world(which is not the best of all) to which there is pain and suffering and beings come to that knowledge of God, is greater than a possible world without pain and suffering and beings come not to that knowledge of God.

        If that is true, then morally perfect God would be acting according to His nature to choose a world to which sentient creatures comes to the knowledge of Him that leads to loving God and each other. This case attempts to challenge the assumption that morally perfect God must choose the best of all feasible worlds. My case may be wrong. But that does not necessary mean the inverse is true. A positive case must be made for the assumption I am questioning.

        Let me know your thought Travis.

      • Prayson,
        I have updated the argument to address open theism and, perhaps more significantly, to expand the role that God’s nature plays. I think that we were talking past each other because we held different views on the scope of moral perfection. In an attempt to resolve this, I have revised the argument so that it does not only depend on God’s moral perfection but rather on his holiness. Please review and let me know where your objection lies.

    • Lastly, I would like to ask one simple question: Why does the argument against a morally perfect world (cannot have an actual infinite) also not apply to a morally perfect being?

      • I honestly don’t want to go down this rabbit trail very far, but that does seem arbitrary. If I substitute ‘God’ into your explanation, it seems to work just the same.
        “Imagine that God is ‘morally superior to all other possible gods’. What are the properties of God that make him morally superior to, say God2 (a second option from the set of superior possible gods, namely if God was not, God2 would have been morally superior to all other possible gods)? It could be because God allows X pain and suffering that are less than Y pain and suffering allowed by God2. If this is true, then we can think of God3, which allows Z pain and suffering which is less than X allowed by God. We can think of God4 and so on.”

      • I believe you are confusing between epistemology, who is god, with ontology, what is god. If a being that is God is defined as the greatest conceivable being (a being that possesses maximal excellence with respect to power (omnipotence), knowledge (omniscience), presence (omnipresence) and is morally perfect). The metaphysical impossibility of there being two omnipotent being, and the absurdity of there being two or more greatest conceivable beings, are but few reason to show that the cannot be more than one being that is titled “God”.

        I believe you mean, what properties makes say Allah morally superior to Yahweh, for example. Well, that is epistemological issue. Namely Muslim say Allah is the being that is God, while Christians/Jews say Yahweh is the being that is God. A being that is God is ontologically one, but the way we describe God is epistemological different.

        The problem of evil is on ontology, not epistemology, thus there is no God1 and God2 &c., to compare.

      • I don’t see how your case for there being only one “perfect God” wouldn’t also work to argue for there being one “perfect world” but I don’t wish to pursue this any further. I would rather we focus on the topics which are more germane to the post.

      • I already answered that Travis. I stated because one is a necessary being and one is a contingent being. There is only one being that is God ontologically because, as I shown, there cannot be two omnipotent beings, for example. See Baillie, James & Hagen Jason “There Cannot Be Two Omnipotent Beings” in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion Vol. 64, No. 1 (Aug., 2008), pp. 21-33)

        There is not such thing as a perfect contingent being. From Plato, only the Form could archive such a state.

    • I too tend think God does not need to create a perfect world and only a perfect world.

      Lets say we somehow consider all these different possible worlds and we decide that some of them might not be perfect but they are on the whole more good than evil. Would a morally perfect God need to create all the worlds that are on the whole more good than evil? Would it be ok if his creation lacked some of that good? If not then could our world be such a world?

      • That is the point, with different argument, that I am trying to show Travis. Though the argument is being re-re-formulated and expanded it still does not present reasons why God(as defined) must actualize the best of all possible world.

        The first issue was to show that there is no such thing as the best of all possible world. Then I granted for argument sake that that there is such thing as the best of all possible world, but raised a second issue that God does not have to actualize that world. Travis assumes that if God is morally perfect then He will actualize a world reflecting his nature. This is the assumption he does not defend.

        I presented a negative case to show that God does not have to actualize such a world, viz., Wk: a world with instances of pain and suffering and sentient beings acquire the knowledge of their maker(respect to His mercy/forgiveness, justice and glory) and Wp is a world without instances of pain and suffering and sentient beings do not acquire the knowledge of their maker, it appears that moral perfect God does not have to actualize Wp. A moral perfect God can actualize Wk. Travis does not only have to rebut that case but also give a positive case for his assumption. So far, I have not hear a case for that.

        The argument Travis presented is really captivating. I am going to write a blog response to it. It is so worthy of our thinking. Travis you rock!

      • Thank Prayson. I really appreciate the tact and thoroughness with which you engage the issue. Of all the issues which challenge Christians, I think that this is perhaps the most difficult. You are to be commended for your willingness to engage with it so deeply.

        Regarding Joe’s comment and your response, please keep in mind that the argument is no longer limited to morality. I think that was the original problem – I understood “morally perfect” in a much broader sense than you were intending it. I’ve tried to capture everything that is perfect about God’s nature in the concept of “perfect holiness” and used that instead. Hopefully that helps us recognize that the “he has other reasons” solution doesn’t appear to actually solve the problem.

        Alternatively, if you guys want to accept the claim that the fallen world isn’t the best world then please review my objection #6 and let me know if you see a problem with the discussion there. The key to this consideration is to answer the following: Should we consider a being to be perfectly holy and omnipotent if that being can, but does not, actualize the world that is most consistent with his holiness? If this is the case, then isn’t a more perfect being the one who does actualize the world which is most consistent with his holiness?

  4. Here are some of my thoughts on this problem of evil.

    On a very general level suffering and joy are relative. It’s hard to imagine being in a state of pure unabated perfect joy constantly and forever. Any dip in our level of joy might be relatively horrible so are we better if it never happens? What would such a life be like and would we learn anything about ourselves?

    I think often these sorts of issues stem from the idea that God not only knows everything but that he is also all powerful and the creator etc. But when we say he is all powerful what exactly do we mean? Do we mean that God is not even bound by the laws of Logic? If so then our logical concerns would seem not to present a problem at all. (this is the important first step that Plantinga takes.)

    Lets assume he is bound by the laws of logic. Then can he achieve the most good by not allowing any evil?

    On a very general level suffering and joy are relative. It’s hard to imagine being in a state of pure unabated perfect joy constantly and forever. Any dip in our level of joy might be relatively horrible so it can’t happen ever. What would such a life be like and would we learn anything about ourselves?

    Is overcoming adversity is good? It seems to me it is good. But doesn’t it seem impossible to overcome adversity if there is no adversity? What sort of adversity would we be overcoming in that perfect and constant state of joy? In sum, strange though it sounds, there may be logical problems with the notion of creating the best world and not allowing for evil.

    • I don’t think that there’s anything here to disagree with. Calvinism is a perfectly valid answer to the logical problem. The problem comes when people want to absolve a perfect God of all responsibility for the introduction of evil, pain and suffering.

      • When you say responsibility do you mean culpability/fault? Is Christopher Columbus at fault for an auto accident that yesterday in Boston? Lets assume that if he had never discovered America for the people in Europe, the drivers would not have been involved in the accident. You see christopher Columbus was a factual cause of the accident (had he not discovered america a whole set of other events might not have occured which lead to the crash.) but that doesn’t mean he is at fault for the accident.

        So yes I understand that in a way God caused evil (had god not created the universe there would be no evil) but that does not mean he is at fault for evil.

      • The enormous difference is that Columbus was not perfect – he was not all knowing and so couldn’t have seen it coming, he was not all powerful and so couldn’t have done anything to stop it and he was not morally perfect, so he might not have cared. Removing these properties from God certainly would solve the problem. That’s the whole point.

  5. I think Columbus could have foreseen that crimes/torts would be committed in the new world. Maybe not that exact one but even if he could I don’t think knowledge that someone will commit a wrong = being at fault for that wrong.

    When you get into the omnipotent features of God then you start running into the logical problems I gave above. If God jumped in and prevented all evil then how would we be able to experience the good of overcoming adversity? How can you overcome adversity if there is no adversity? It seems logically impossible. So unless we are to say God is so powerful he can do the logically impossible then ok. But then this logical problem you present in this blog wont really be a problem for believing in a God that can defy logic right? But if he can’t defy logic then the only world he could create that with no evil is one that would miss out on the good of overcoming adversity. Maybe a world were people can experience the good of overcoming adversity is better than one that lacks that good.

    • It seems you are accepting objection #5. That is a valid solution and is what I suspected you were doing when I responded to your first comment. Review my response to that objection and then let me know if you think I’ve gone wrong somewhere.

      • No I don’t think its the same as objection 5. I am not sure that I agree with it or not. I might agree with it but I really prefer to stick to the wording I use. I think the objection I raise is more clear.

        Objection 5 seems to have a counterargument that I think makes a mistake. The counter argument seems not to look at Gods creation as a whole. Your counter argument looks at the creation of earth in a vacuum and heaven in a vacuum. The universe God created has both. It has not only a heaven were it seems we have no adversity but it also has earth where we can experience and overcome adversity.
        It seems to me it is a better plan to have a stage where people face and can overcome adversity – earth – and then a place were there is no adversity – heaven.

        The counterargument also seems to ignore the issue I raise. Are you saying God is so powerful he can break the rules of logic or not? It seems unclear. Lets assume God can’t break the rules of logic. if God can and does stop all the pain and problems immediately then how can we have adversity? If we can’t have adversity then how can we have the good of overcoming adversity? If we can’t have the good of overcoming adversity then the universe is lacking that good. Perhaps in the overall scheme its good to have at least a temporary time of life where we have adversity and therefore can experience the good of overcoming adversity instead of one that lacks that good completely.

        I don’t see how the person making or countering your objection 5 would answer any of the questions I ask.

      • I defined God’s omnipotence as being constrained by logic. It would be pointless to put forth a logical argument unless the subjects in the argument are bound by logic. Note, however, that I do not see logic as a set of arbitrary rules that can be broken and so I think it’s meaningless to say that something can defy logic. That’s a whole different topic though.

        Not only have I not ignored the issue you raised but I addressed it directly in the last paragraph of objection #5. You’re advocating an Irenaean, or “soul building” theodicy. However, I’m guessing that you depart from that objection because you are denying the inference I gave, which is to say that the occurrence of the fall was in line with God’s will. The problem is that I don’t see how you can have it both ways. If God did not will the fall then the fallen world and everything that comes after must not be the best world because a perfectly holy and omnipotent God will bring about the best world. Also note that I’m using “world” in the philosophical sense, where it is a hypothetical existence, not just a reference to planet earth.

      • Thanks for clarifying that you agree that in making earth heaven and everything else God was constrained by logic. I admit I do not know much about Irenaean soul building. However i am still not sure how the questions I ask will be answered. Specifically:

        If God can and does stop all the pain and problems immediately then how can we have adversity? If we can’t have adversity then how can we have the good of overcoming adversity? If we can’t have the good of overcoming adversity then isn’t the universe is lacking that good? How can you be sure that a universe that lacks that good is really as good as it could be?

      • I have no problem with your proposition that adversity is necessary for the best world. My contention is that if you take this stance then you also need to accept that it was God’s will for evil (sin), pain and suffering to enter the world through the fall. See my previous comment and the original argument for an explanation of why this is the case. You’re welcome to accept this and, if you do, then the logical argument is resolved. My point is that there are several uncomfortable implications which arise from that position. Of the two options given in the title of the post, this position chooses to accept that “true morality” feels uncomfortably immoral.

      • “I have no problem with your proposition that adversity is necessary for the best world. My contention is that if you take this stance then you also need to accept that it was God’s will for evil (sin), pain and suffering to enter the world through the fall.”

        I’m not sure my view implies that God willed sin to occur as opposed to allowed it, or even just didn’t prevent it. I think there is a difference. Intentions can be tricky let alone talking about God’s intentions or will.

        I may kill someone who is attacking me or another person and never really intend or will to kill him. My will or intent might have been solely to save myself or another. Unfortunately in that situation saving myself or another may have entailed killing the person. I do not intend/will to create garbage when I drink a container of milk. Yet it happens when i drink a container of milk that I create garbage. Likewise if God willed the best possible world he didn’t necessarily will everything entailed by that.

  6. Keep in mind that the argument posits an infinitely perfect God. I think that the analogies fall short because they don’t take this into account. The self-defense example is a perfect example of how our limitations as temporal, instinctive beings can cause us to do things that we normally wouldn’t do. The milk example also doesn’t account for those limitations. The garbage you create from drinking milk is only unintentional, or unwilled, because you, as a limited being, fail to fully take it into account when you get a drink. If, instead, you recognized and acknowledged the garbage as a product of your action, just as you recognize the ingestion of milk as a product of your action, then you are willing it to be a consequence of your action.
    A more fitting analogy is a massively complex Rube Goldberg machine for which you have 100% certainty that if you start the ball rolling, your house will burn down 5 years from now, no matter where you live. Would you suggest that you did not willfully burn down your house if you willfully tap the ball?
    A perfectly omniscient being can, by definition, know every outcome. An omnipotent and perfectly holy being will actualize the best outcome. The time and distance mean nothing to this being. This feature is exactly why the soul-building theodicy can been raised – because God is able to see the big picture and recognize the superiority of the world even after all the evil, pain and suffering has been accounted for. This world is the best, and therefore it is the world that God wanted. The problem is that people proceed from there and either willfully ignore the implications for the fail, or simply fail to fully consider the implications for the fall. Calvin was at least honest enough to go through this exercise and accept the implications – that God is ultimately responsible for sin, evil, pain and suffering.

    • “Keep in mind that the argument posits an infinitely perfect God. I think that the analogies fall short because they don’t take this into account. The self-defense example is a perfect example of how our limitations as temporal, instinctive beings can cause us to do things that we normally wouldn’t do. The milk example also doesn’t account for those limitations. The garbage you create from drinking milk is only unintentional, or unwilled, because you, as a limited being, fail to fully take it into account when you get a drink. If, instead, you recognized and acknowledged the garbage as a product of your action, just as you recognize the ingestion of milk as a product of your action, then you are willing it to be a consequence of your action.”

      I don’t think I am willing/intending the creation of Garbage. I am simply willing/intending to drink milk. I can well know that my drinking milk (or eating an apple except the core) will create garbage but that does not mean I intended to create garbage. And its not that I am unaware drinking a carton of milk will create Garbage. I think I know that very well. And still I am not intending/willing to create garbage when I drink a carton of milk. I really am not. Intentions and will is important when we talk about culpability.

      Let me give another example. The Catholic Church believes that there needs to be a close connection between sexual behavior and the possibility of procreation. This is one reason why they believe the use of birth control pills is generally wrong – if used with the intent of preventing pregnancy. But some women have other medical problems for which certain birth control pills can help them. The Church believes there is nothing wrong with this even though the pills may also prevent procreation. This is the case even though the woman and her partner fully knows that the pills will prevent pregnancy as well.

      These are fairly deeply rooted understandings about culpability. And I see no reason why this understanding should apply to us but not to God.

      “A more fitting analogy is a massively complex Rube Goldberg machine for which you have 100% certainty that if you start the ball rolling, your house will burn down 5 years from now, no matter where you live. Would you suggest that you did not willfully burn down your house if you willfully tap the ball?
      A perfectly omniscient being can, by definition, know every outcome. An omnipotent and perfectly holy being will actualize the best outcome. The time and distance mean nothing to this being. This feature is exactly why the soul-building theodicy can been raised – because God is able to see the big picture and recognize the superiority of the world even after all the evil, pain and suffering has been accounted for. This world is the best, and therefore it is the world that God wanted. The problem is that people proceed from there and either willfully ignore the implications for the fail, or simply fail to fully consider the implications for the fall. Calvin was at least honest enough to go through this exercise and accept the implications – that God is ultimately responsible for sin, evil, pain and suffering.”

      It seems you are trying to go back to the idea that because God knows someone will do evil in a situation he makes possible, then he is culpable for the evil. I think we are going over bases previously covered. I don’t think God is “responsible” for the fall in a moral sense. God is “responsible” in the sense that “but for” his creating the universe the fall would not have happened. Similarly Christopher Columbus might be “responsible” for a car crash in Boston in the sense of “but for” causation. “But for” his finding America when he did the circumstances would not have been such that the crash would have occurred. But in neither case is this a morally blame worthy “responsibility.” In fact I think it is more accurate to say “but for” their actions the culpable events would not have occurred but I don’t think they are “responsible” beyond that.

      I think I clearly gave an example of how evil might logically be the by product of the best possible world. (the example involved the good of overcoming adversity) I do not think it is true that because someone intended something he necessarily intended all the by products of that thing in any morally relevant way. Knowing something will occur does not equal willing it to occur or intending it to occur. I hope the examples i gave above (milk carton and birth control pills) make that clear.

      What do you think?

      • “I see no reason why this understanding should apply to us but not to God.”
        I think this is a problem. I disagree and offered a reason, which is that we are limited and temporal, so we feel a sense of detachment by time and space. We do not hold people morally responsible for things that are out of their control, or unintentional, but none of this applies to an all perfect God. I think that the Rube Goldberg example is apt.

        “I think I clearly gave an example of how evil might logically be the by product of the best possible world”
        I agree that this is possible, but I do not see how it solves the problem. Please review the argument and identify precisely which proposition it is that you believe is false. I don’t see where you’ve done that.

  7. I said:
    “I see no reason why this understanding should apply to us but not to God.”

    You responded:
    “I think this is a problem. I disagree and offered a reason, which is that we are limited and temporal, so we feel a sense of detachment by time and space.”

    It may be. You seem to want to make god extra culpable beyond what we usually make people culpable just because he has the traits he does. I do not think we should.

    You said:
    ” We do not hold people morally responsible for things that are out of their control, or unintentional, but none of this applies to an all perfect God. I think that the Rube Goldberg example is apt.”

    In the birth control example it was within the woman’s control. She also knows taking the pills will prevent procreation as a byproduct. Her intent was to accomplish some other aim for her health so she is not culpable. It seem identical to a case where God creates the best world a byproduct of which is evil. The same is true of the milk case. Knowledge and control are there in both cases.

    The Rube Goldberg example you have seems to lack any sort of primary intent. What is the primary intent of starting the machine? If the intent was to somehow save someones life and a by product was the burning down of the house then I think your analogy works. But again there would be no culpability.

    • Joe, you’re a lawyer, right? Why do we show leniency to children and those with mental deficits? What is it the distinguishing factor between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, or first and second degree murder? Aren’t these examples of how we vary the level of culpability based on the person’s faculties and intent? Does this sliding scale not reach all the way up to God? It seems to me we are treating God as an exception if we DON’T take his faculties and intentions into account. The birth control and milk examples seem no different. It’s a matter of accounting for the difference between our knowledge and capabilities and God’s knowledge and capabilities.

      The point of the Rube Goldberg example was to show that time and distance are meaningless for assigning responsibility if you have certainty and control over the outcome. You have disrupted this by injecting something that presumably came from circumstances outside of your control, namely the saving of a life. This breaks the example because it no longer parallels the situation with God unless you think that God is not in control – but that’s the whole problem that the argument exposes. If God is not in control and cannot do the things that bring about the best world then he isn’t omnipotent. On that note, I’m still not sure where your objection lies for the argument. Can you please pinpoint the proposition that you think is false?

  8. “Joe, you’re a lawyer, right?”
    Yes

    “Why do we show leniency to children and those with mental deficits?”

    We show leniency in such cases because there are generally 2 elements to culpabiliyt in the law. 1) mens rea mental state – guilty mind and 2) actus reus – guilty action.

    “What is it the distinguishing factor between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, or first and second degree murder? Aren’t these examples of how we vary the level of culpability based on the person’s faculties and intent? ”

    Yes they are.

    “Does this sliding scale not reach all the way up to God?”

    I think we are talking about 2 different things. In manslaughter versus murder it is a sliding scale of culpability. When we are talking about no evil intent to accomplish a good that outweighs any evil byproduct of the action, there is no culpability at all. For example Tony might be the smartest, most knowledgeable, and most mentally stable man in the world but if he kills someone in defense of another’s life there is no culpability at all. The fact that Tony is super smart does not mean he should be a little bit guilty. He is not guilty at all despite the bad byproduct that a person died.

    His intent was to save the person not to kill the other person. Let me even suggest this. Lets say tony’s act was found blameless under the law, but in fact he really did want to kill another person. And really the fact that the person killed was threatening the life of another was really just an opportunity for Tony to live out some sadistic dream then I think he would be culpable. As a practical matter he wouldn’t be culpable under the law because he likely would never admit this and even if he did the law isn’t so fine tuned on these issues. (the law apes at morality) But law aside, if that was his intent when he killed the person then there would be some culpability.

    But see it depends on the intent. If the intent is purely to save another then its not a matter of mitigating culpability – there is no culpability at all. In fact that act is good because you saved an innocent. I think there is no reason to think God was intending to create evil as opposed to the greater good from which evil is a byproduct. If he was then there is no culpability at all. What God did was good, not bad despite the evil byproduct.

    “The birth control and milk examples seem no different. It’s a matter of accounting for the difference between our knowledge and capabilities and God’s knowledge and capabilities.”

    In the birth control and milk example the person doing the action knows full well the consequences. It is in no way a lack of understanding or knowledge that makes their actions not culpable.

    “The point of the Rube Goldberg example was to show that time and distance are meaningless for assigning responsibility if you have certainty and control over the outcome. You have disrupted this by injecting something that presumably came from circumstances outside of your control, namely the saving of a life. This breaks the example because it no longer parallels the situation with God unless you think that God is not in control – but that’s the whole problem that the argument exposes. If God is not in control and cannot do the things that bring about the best world then he isn’t omnipotent.”

    We are assuming God can not break the laws of logic so to some extent he does not have complete control over that. I believe we already accepted that for example the good of overcoming adversity would be the sort of good that if we were to achieve it would logically require evil and suffering as a byproduct. If God wants the greater good of overcoming adversity he must have adversity. If he wants adversity then it seems he would need to have evil. Thus if we understand omnipotence as something less than the ability to break the rules of logic then it seems God can’t control whether we have the greatest good and no evil at all. I thought you accepted this.

    • Joe, if you weren’t already a Calvinist then it seems you’re on your way now. You said “What God did was good, not bad despite the evil byproduct.” and ” If God wants the greater good … then it seems he would need to have evil” and “it seems God can’t control whether we have the greatest good and no evil at all”. This is precisely what I outlined in objection #5. We’ve come full circle. I agree that it solves the problem. Perhaps we will simply have to agree to disagree with its implications, however. I don’t understand how this viewpoint can simultaneously assert that God did not will the introduction of evil, pain and suffering. That is the ever present struggle for the Calvinist position and the one for which Calvin invoked mystery and says that “we cannot comprehend how … he wills and wills not the very same thing” and “we cannot comprehend how God can will that to be done which he forbids us to do”. Your attempts to avoid this implication are admirable, but I don’t agree that they are successful.

      • I don’t think he wills evil at all. He wills a good world. The good world has evil as byproduct but he doesn’t will the evil. He allows it to achieve the good.

        Just like I don’t intend to create garbage when I eat an apple. Yet when I eat an apple it creates an apple core as garbage. And yes I fully knew my eating the apple would create the garbage of an apple core. But still my intent was to eat an apple, not to create garbage.

        I think it may be a situation were we have different intuitions and so the language used is not meaning the same things to each of us.

      • OK, so you’re taking objection #7 but rejecting the claim I make there when I say that God is ultimately responsible? Looking back I think I should have recognized this a lot earlier. Let me know if we’re on the right track now.

      • Joe,
        I’ve been pondering your position and am realizing that I didn’t think through objection #7 well enough. Thanks for challenging me on that. I originally assumed quite casually that God’s ordination of the fall would make him responsible, but now I’m not sure. My difficulty in reaching a conclusion, however, appears to rest on the following questions:
        1) Is it possible that the prelapsarian man could have exercised his will such that he never sinned?
        2) If yes, then how is it that we can say that God is able to actualize the best world of his own volition?
        3) If no, then how can we say that man actually held free will on the matter? Who is responsible for the fall?

        What is your position on these?

      • Keep in mind that I do not necessarily believe genesis is literally true. Also I am not sure where your questions are leading. (although at the end I think I start to get it but tell me if I’m wrong) But I will do my best to answer your questions and lets see where we end up.

        1) I think this depends on your view of morality. In some sense it seems God only had one rule. Don’t eat the apples! If we accept the divine command theory of morality (i.e., things are good because they are pleasing to God ie., because God says so) then it would seem Adam and Eve did not sin until they ate the apple. Regardless of what other abhorrent things they may have done they would not have sinned until they ate the apple. If on the other hand we don’t accept that view (and basically we think things are pleasing to God because they are good – which is my view) then it gets tricky. It seems to me that the first sin is the fall. It probably wasn’t eating an apple but it seems pride was at the root of it, we don’t need God. But whatever…

        Could humans have chosen to never sin right from the start? Yes I think they could have.

        2) Yes ok now I think I see where this is going. It would seem that if we need evil for good then it can’t be Gods volition alone that creates the best possible world. Our volition is involved as as well – supposedly by doing evil, of all things! That seems messed up on the face of it doesn’t it?

        Do I want to back out of my answer on number 2? Lets look at 3. Ah no 3 in’t something I want to accept. I think Humans had free will from the start.

        So it seems I may have to accept the consequences of number 2. Gods volition alone did not make this world what it is. And to the extent we accept my idea of “overcoming adversity” then perhaps sometimes people doing evil was actually good overall.

        I would still maintain God did not intend the evil but instead just allowed it. Also it may be that we can have the good of overcoming adversity without evil, it might be accomplished just by things like natural disasters and the suffering they cause. But I don’t think we can have the good of free will without at least allowing for the possibility of evil.

        So yes I suppose I accept that it was not God’s volition alone that created the world we live in. We had a hand in it too. And ironically some of the evil actions humans did actually ended up making the world better on the whole. It may sound weird but not only do I think people doing evil allows us to overcome adversity, but I also think it reveals things about who we are. I think people learning about themselves and others is also something good. Could we have learned these things without actually doing the evil? I am not so sure. At least i am not sure we would learn it in the same way and how we learn it might be important.

        Btw I am still not convinced that the Christian God could only make the best possible world. I think it’s ok as long as the world is on the whole good. That is it’s better we have it than if we don’t have it then its good enough.

        There you go. I rambled about some things that I really hadn’t thought through before. Did I stick my foot in my mouth?

      • What these questions expose is an underlying assumption about free will that I had failed to articulate but had nonetheless incorporated into the argument. I addressed it to a degree in the second paragraph of objection #6, but I see now that it needs to be addressed more directly. I’ll have to consider how best to bring this to the surface.

        Do you think that your conclusion defeats the concept of God’s perfection, or can you still say that God is perfect?

        Regarding the question of whether a perfect God needs to create the best world, the problem goes something like this: If God does not create the best world then we can conceive of a being who is identical except that the being creates a better world. This new being would be more holy than the first, thus God is not perfectly holy.

  9. “Do you think that your conclusion defeats the concept of God’s perfection, or can you still say that God is perfect?”

    I don’t think it does, but then again I have a hard time conceptualizing what a perfect being would be. I think my explanation makes it so God is not at fault for the evil.

    “Regarding the question of whether a perfect God needs to create the best world, the problem goes something like this: If God does not create the best world then we can conceive of a being who is identical except that the being creates a better world. This new being would be more holy than the first, thus God is not perfectly holy.”

    Maybe. But let me sort of try to give some rough definitions. By “world” I suppose we mean not only earth and the material universe but also heaven hell purgatory and any other types of hell that we might experience.

    Now would this new God create all the worlds that are on the whole more good than evil? That is if the set of all possible worlds would be better if a world that is on the whole slightly more good than evil then does the perfect God have to create that world too? Otherwise the set of all worlds would be lacking some good if it lacked those sorts of worlds too right? If that is the case then it would seem the more perfect God would have to create several worlds as oppose leaving things not as good as they could be. Perhaps we are living in one of those worlds that are just slightly more good than evil?

    • Joe,
      Sorry for the delay, it’s been a busy week. I’ve updated the argument to expand objection #7 and added objection #10 to account for the points raised in our discussion. Let me know if you see any problem with those.

      To specifically address your question here, when I use the term “world” I am using it in what I understand to be the philosophical sense, wherein it refers to a particular concept of reality. Reality includes everything, including multiple universes or whatever else is postulated for that “world”. Under this definition, the consideration of the creation of multiple worlds doesn’t apply.

  10. Hey Travis, I would assume that the god being argued for here by Prayson and Joe is the christian god, who at the end of the six days of creation says that it was all good. The question first to ask is if the creation was all good, where did evil come from if it wasn’t through this god. I don’t for a moment see why the fall has to be blamed on man.

    The argument that Joe is making that god creates earth where we overcome adversity and heaven where there is no adversity to be overcome doesn’t answer the challenge. One might actually ask was it impossible to have the same situation here? In fact, we wouldn’t have known there is adversity. The description of the garden before the supposed fall presents just such a scenario.

    Prayson argues against the argument by Leibniz that this is the best possible world, which many apologists use in their fine tuning argument. Maybe I misunderstand.

    When god’s omnipotence is said to be restrained by logic, are they arguing that there are things god can will and they don’t come to be? If the god we are arguing its case here is the one of the bible, in created he only willed and said let there be and there was. What is the level of the omnipotence they are willing to accept? And what about omniscience? Is this also limited? And to what extent?

  11. Hi makagutu,

    The question first to ask is if the creation was all good, where did evil come from if it wasn’t through this god. I don’t for a moment see why the fall has to be blamed on man.

    That’s pretty much the whole point of the post. The free will defense tries to blame the fall on man because nobody wants to pin it on God, because they don’t like the resulting implications about his nature. The logical argument put forward here says that you either have to make God responsible for the fall or accept that he isn’t actually omni-everything.

    Regarding the questions about the scope of God’s omni-everythingness, my understanding is that the traditional conception of God only limits him by the rules of logic because without that limit he becomes completely incomprehensible. It’s not that he is constrained by some external rules – it is that things which are said to defy the rules of logic are nonsensical and are effectively non-existent.

What do you think?

Loading Disqus Comments ...