• Problem of Evil: Suffering Necessary for Good

    The Problem of Evil (why is there so much suffering in the world given an OmniGod?) is sometimes answered by theists that suffering has to exist so that people have a working knowledge of what bad or evil is in order to know what good is, or indeed that pleasure cannot exist without pain.

    This is obviously problematic for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if heaven exists, and there is no pain or suffering there, and this is actually supposed to be the paragon, the goal, of existence, then such a Problem of Evil paradigm is incoherent. This issue is set out here in “Free Will, the Problem of Evil and Heaven“, an older video of mine:

    Firstly, we have the issue of heaven, then. It is apparent (supposedly) that meaningful existence can take place without the reality of pain or suffering. This alone invalidates the theodicy as being coherent.

    Secondly, I can experience good health without having to experience bad health, such as debilitating disease. The counterpoint here might be that I need some working experience, first hand or otherwise, of suffering to truly appreciate goodness or pleasure.

    However, this leads on to a further problem. The sheer volume of suffering seems to cause problems for this theodicy. Think of all the diseases in the world, the 2004 tsunami, the earthquake the other day in Nepal… is there any necessity for this massive quantity of suffering?

    Related to this is a third problem: the connection of good to evil, as discussed by John Loftus in his superb book Why I Became An Atheist (2nd ed.), p. 236:

    Besides, if suffering is needed to experience pleasure, then wouldn’t it follow that the more we experience suffering the more we could experience pleasure? Does it follow then that Holocaust survivors are better off having suffered since they can experience more pleasure afterward? And would this mean we should seek to experience more pain? Does that sound rational? Sadly, there are those who suffer through horrible, short lives and then die without any pleasure at all. What about the need to experience more pleasure in order to experience more suffering, which in turn would allow us to experience more pleasure, and so on? And how does this apply to the sufferings of animals?

    We seem to have a terminal problem for this theodicy. A theist might argue that it should not be use don its own, but part of a cumulative theodical case to answer the problem of suffering in the world. However, these criticisms invalidate it from being used at all.download

    First, if heaven exists, then the theodicy is incoherent. Second, the amount of suffering seems to be vastly more prevalent than that which would be needed to do the job of being the foil for goodness. Thirdly, it should follow that the more suffering there is, the more goodness there is, to a proportional amount.

    So this theodicy is riddled with issue.

    Category: HeavenMoralityPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Good stuff Jonathan! Thanks for the recommendation too!

    • Jacob Zentichko

      Great summary! I also really enjoyed the chapters by Loftus.

      • Do you man his chapters in his latest book? WIBA is an earlier book entirely by him, and it’s superb (as are all of his!).

        • Jacob Zentichko

          Oh, I realize that was a rather vague reference. I meant his chapters on the problem with suffering in WIBA. I forgot he had other chapters on the topic in later books (and I just finished WIBA a couple months ago so it was fresh in my head).

    • Epi Cris

      Jonathan, check out WIlliam Sinnott-Armstrong of Duke in his recorded “debate” with William Lane Craig (and their co-authored book on the topic). Sinnott-Armstrong makes a point that there are other ways in which we can “know” if there is in-fact a God – as an example, theists already make the Moral Argument and that God has passed along these moral truths written on the hearts of men (Paul makes a similar remark about knowledge of God in Romans). If this is true, you wouldn’t need to experience evil to know about it. Additionally, he mentions we could learn through dreams and revelations, etc. There is no necessary connection between knowledge and experience if there *is* a God.

      • Thanks. I’ve read that book and heard the debate (some years back).

        I guess that is the natural law as Christians used to adhere to much more commonly than DCT.

    • Geoff_Roberts

      Hey Jonathan. I was really enjoying watching the video and thought he made some great points and then I realized is that you? I had to laugh as I wouldn’t have guessed it was you. What you were saying is exactly the issues I like to raise with my theist friends. Of course, you do it much better than me.

      One of the first questions I like to ask my theist friends is why didn’t God just banish Lucifer straight to hell for sinning in heaven? If the wages of sin is death why did God allow Lucifer/Satan to infect the earth with sin? Why not just kill Lucifer for his grevious sin and be done with it?

      I’m sure this a topic you have thought of long ago but being a relatively new atheist these types of questions really reasonate with me. I hope to find more of your videos.

    • Josh

      Nice video, Jonathan! The most compelling argument I’ve encountered against heaven/immortality is in a book provocatively titled ‘Radical Atheism’ by Martin Hägglund. I’d very strongly recommend it, because the arguments are extremely powerful imo. He argues that because time, finitude and the possibility of pain and death are logically constitutive of experience and life as such, it doesn’t make any sense to talk about eternal life, or a perfect heaven without the possibility of suffering. It’s because of the permanent chance that we may die at any second that we are able to live at all. If we remove pain from the equation, pleasure becomes literally meaningless, since it can only be understood in relation to its opposite. So, immortality is really eternal death, and notions of vanquishing evil are completely nonsensical, because God could not be good without the assistance of Satan, so to speak. Evil is not an autonomous force that can be permanently dispensed with.
      Because of this, we don’t even need to think about whether heaven or evil might contingently exist, however implausible, because to my mind it’s a question of whether this can even make logical or rhetorical sense!

      • Sounds like an interesting book that doesn’t just retread the usual arguments.

        There is the whole issue of philosophical boredom as espoused, I think, by Schopenhauer, The idea of an eternal “perfect” life which is part and parcel of the Christian ideal is just unworkable.

        I’ll have to check that book out.

        • Josh

          Yeah, I agree! It’s often been argued that heaven would be boring, and I’ve never really heard a response to this apart from “Humans can’t imagine how great heaven would be” etc. So how can you imagine that it would be that great in the first place, guys? :P

          The book’s in the continental tradition, but quite a logically concise writing style, and the arguments are refreshing from the point of view of standard philosophy of religion. I would be interested to here your thoughts. Do you have any recommendations from your recent reading?

          • Man, I’m in the middle of a gazillion books…
            I am really enjoying “An Anatomy of Violence” by Adrian Raine as it looks at the reasons why people commit crimes and violent behaviour from the POV of brains, genetic, neuroscience, social science etc. fascinating (though not philosophical) – it has evidential impact on the free will debate. (sometimes obvious evidence gets lost in dry philosophical wrangling).

          • Oops, didn’t quite finish that. Have also recently enjoyed Ha-Joon Chang’s “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism” – there is some philosophical crossover in politics and economics (obviously as everything is contained within philosophy, right).

            I am still reading through John Loftus’ “Christianity Is Not Great” to which I contributed a chapter. It’s a voluminous account of the harms of Christianity to society and is well worth a read. Especially for my chapter on moral philosophy! Also reading through his excellent 2nd edition of the above book (read the 1st edition before but he significantly added to it). And then other specific areas of religion etc.

            In pure philosophical terms, I usually hit the SEP, IEP or similar when getting to grips with individual areas, primarily for speed of access and freeness…!

            I am also looking forward to getting stuck into “The Problem of Abortion” which I recently got (and which you can get for 39p here – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0534505147?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00) which looks to be essays for and against.

            • Josh

              Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll start on John Loftus and The Problem of Abortion first thing! Have met Chang in person and enjoy his books; economics needs more public intellectuals imo. Do you have any more books in the pipeline?

            • Nice!

              I am just finishing (soon) my zombie fiction book, and a third of the way through editing a humanist and atheist poetry anthology (http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/2015/03/31/new-onus-books-project-an-atheist-poetry-anthology-submit-your-own/) and desperately want to get on to creating my KCA book which won’t take too much time as it is based on my dissertation.

              I’ve just put out an anthology of deconversion accounts and and anthology of chapters from writers from this network.>>>>>>>> (over in sidebar)

              What are you up to these days? Where you based?

            • Josh

              Based in Winchester at the moment, but hoping to move to London by the time the year is out, as long as I can find a better job there. What was your dissertation topic? I’d be interested to check out your deconversion anthology, I have a perverse fascination with people who grew up in fundamentalist religious households in particular, it must be such an alien experience..

            • If you do get it, my favourites were by the young Muslim girl arranged to be married and Vyckie Garrison from Quiverfull. Loads of interesting and varied accounts.

    • Hi Jonathan, interesting video.

      What is an atheist’s explanation for evil in the world?

      How do atheists explain:

      1 Earthquake
      2 Car crash
      3 Cancer

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