Mormonism and the Problem of Evil (Or, Fun with Theodicies)

January 13, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 12:13 am   Category: Theology

The problem of evil is always a popular topic in the bloggernacle. And why not? It’s a very perplexing and theologically important issue. (See recent discussions on the subject here, here, and here.)

For those of you not familiar with “the problem of evil” it is basically the problem of reconciling the existence of evils and sufferings of all kinds in the world with the claim that there is an all powerful and all loving God watching over the world. Here are some examples of the problem:

Example A1

Mike and Joe are walking through the jungle. Joe falls in some quicksand and slowly starts to sink. Mike sees all this happening, has power to save Joe, and even hears Joe plead for assistance. But Mike chooses to ignore Joe and lets him die.

- We would say Mike is wicked/immoral for refusing to lift a finger to help Joe.

Example A2

Joe is walking through the jungle. Joe falls in some quicksand and slowly starts to sink. God sees all this happening, has power to save Joe, and even hears Joe plead for assistance. But God chooses to ignore Joe and lets him die.

- Why shouldn’t we also say God is wicked/immoral for refusing to lift a finger to help Joe (as we don’t hesitate to do with Mike)?

Some standard responses

Now responses to this from Mormons normally take a few forms. Here are some attempts at excuses/explanations for God’s non-intervention that I have seen in recent threads:

1. God can’t intervene to save Joe because doing so would interfere with or even destroy Joe’s agency and God can’t do that.
2. Blame the victim and say it was his fault.
3. Reason that Joe is going to a better place so it is okey dokey.
4. Assume God possibly did warn Joe to avoid the quicksand through the whisperings of the still small voice but Joe was not paying close enough attention so it is his fault.

Of course the problem with all of these defenses is that none of them would work for Mike in the least. So if they don’t work for Mike why should they work for God? Would Mike saving Joe interfere with Joe’s agency? No. (Also, we teach that God intervenes at times so why not in Joe’s case?) If Mike couldn’t use the “he chose to step there so it’s his problem”, or “he’s in a better place”, or “I quietly whispered a warning to him but he wasn’t listening closely enough” defense in a court of law for his non-intervention why would we feel those are adequate defenses for God for his non-intervention? These types of issues lead many people to say things like ECS recently said over at the FMH post:

I’ve also been told that awful things happen (i.e., the Holocaust) because God cannot take away people’s agency, and people do horrible things to each other. Nice, but not convincing. I don’t think any answer is. Either God is impotent or he is a sadist.

Another approach that sometimes is used is

5. The “Eternal Perspective” approach. The general idea with this approach is to say that this life is just a blink of an eye and so any pain or accident we might experience here is not a big deal in the big picture.

One problem with this approach is that if one believes (as many Mormons do) that this life the fulcrum of our eternal existence then it doesn’t make a lot of sense for God to ignore Joe and let him leave this life in the middle of his test/probation. If this life is so important why not do more to intervene to save lives when things tsunamis are hitting?

So what are we to do? Ignore it all and merrily pretend there really is no “problem of evil”? (Don’t feel bad if this is your approach — I think it is what most people do. The fact is not everyone likes trying to figure our theological/philosophical puzzles and that is ok.)

One man’s Mormon theodicy

If you are not yet familiar with the term theodicy, here is the definition from the theodicy wiki:

Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy that attempts to reconcile the existence of evil or suffering in the world with the belief in an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, i.e., the problem of evil. Theodiceans are those who seek to reconcile the co-existence of evil and God

Here is my personal Mormon theodicy:

I do indeed think a variation on the “Eternal Perspective” approach is the best bet when coming up with a Mormon theodicy. The thing is I believe that the eternal perspective approach loses much of its effectiveness if we place too much importance or emphasis on this particular life. Here’s the problem: Joseph Smith taught very clearly that we are co-eternal with God. That means we have already lived forever and that we will continue to live forever more. So if that is true then this life is in a very real sense comparable to a blink of an eye. But if we buy into the notion that this life is by far the MOST IMPORTANT blink of an eye in our eternal existence then the eternal perspective approach to a theodicy simply doesn’t work very well. Here’s what I mean: If we can downplay the importance of this particular life a theodicy becomes a lot easier to pull off. The more we elevate the importance of this brief life the less the “blink of and eye” excuse works regarding God’s non-interventions.

So what does downplaying the importance of this life in the eternal scheme of things look like? Here’s an example: I was born in 1970. For the eternal perspective approach to be truly effective I would assume that the 37 years between 1933 and 1970 (before I arrived on earth) were as important to me in term of my probation and eternal progression as the 37 years I have lived on this planet have been. Further, I would assume that the time after my exiting this planet is no less important to my eternal progression than my life here is. If that is an accurate view of reality then the length of one’s life here is actually not that important at all in the grand scheme of things.

Of course such a view ultimately requires accepting that there is progression between kingdoms if it is going to work. One need not buy into the MMP variation of eternal progression for this idea to work but some variation on never ending free will and the never ending possibility of spirit progression is an important ingredient/assumption in the theodicy I am discussing. (This is the uniquely Mormon “secret sauce” to this theodicy recipe in my opinion. Sterling Mcmurrin was convinced that one of Mormonism’s greatest theological strengths when compared to other religions was our ability to come up with much more robust and coherent theodicies than anyone else.)

So if we start with the premise that one can progress toward exaltation elsewhere just as well as one can on earth then one only need to see God’s intervention or lack thereof in the lives of people here on earth through a largely consequentialist point of view to come up with an effective and coherent Mormon theodicy.

That is, we simply can go on faith that God intervenes regarding our comfort or survival here on earth only when God deems such intervention to be in harmony with his real goal for us — our exaltation (and thus our long term and maximum joy).

So getting back to Joe dying in the quicksand while God watched him sink — The defense for God’s non-intervention would be that God concluded in his wisdom that saving Joe’s mortal life in that instance was not in the best long term interests of Joe’s soul so he let Joe leave this life and enter the next. Mike of course could not use that defense in court because Mike does not have that elusive “eternal perspective” we believe God to have.

Now, granted, this doesn’t do much to explain exactly why some children are born into situations where they will be sold to pedophiles or other horrible situations people experience in this life. I don’t claim to understand how something like that could help the eternal progression of their souls. But any theodicy must eventually rely on some level of faith in God’s decisions to intervene or not (and in his decisions about which families spirits get sent to) and some level of faith that God does love us and knows what he is doing. The first principle of the gospel in faith in the Lord Jesus Christ after all.

But I do think having a theodicy that is logically coherent and internally consistent is better than… not. So this is how I deal with the problem of evil for myself these days. What do you think? Do you employ a different type of personal theodicy that you like better than the one I have described?

158 Comments »

  1. Looks like we had a database crash and lost all 40-50 excellent comments that we had going. I’m pretty bummed but I’m glad we only lost a day or two rather than much more. Anyway, feel free to pick up again with your thoughts on this subject.

    I did come across a scripture that I thought fit nicely with the idea of God only intervening when he decides it will be good for our souls. Here it is:

    24 He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw call men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
    (2 Nephi 26: 24)

    The phrase “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” is what reminded me of this conversation.

    Then after listing a bunch of human-made evils in the world Nephi give us this gem:

    33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile

    Good stuff.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  2. It is unfortunate the discussion disappeared. There were a good number of excellent thought provoking posts.

    Although I like your thoughtful attempt at an internally consistent theodicy, my initial thoughts were along those ECS mentioned (prior to crash). The exceptions listed in your second to last paragraph are much too salient to say your laid out theodicy is truly internally consistent.

    If I remember correctly, the prior argument stalled a bit over the degree of suffering that a loving God could reasonably allow, but I see the argument over the vaccination as the real key. For the eternal perspective to work, one has to take the position that the suffering in question was good for them (i.e., eternal vaccination or brussel sprouts). Until you can put all suffering under that umbrella, your theodicratic model is incomplete.

    It really boils down to this question: does all suffering have a positive purpose? – including rape, tsunamis, pedophilia, harlequin babies, and Joe sinking in quicksand. If yes (where it appears Seth R. and your posted scripture are pushing things), you can have the internal consistency you strive for – although it comes across a bit more Calvinistic than I think most LDS are comfortable with. If no, ECS’s criticsm still stands, because only a small subset of pain and suffering can be couched under the eternal perspective umbrella.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 14, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  3. A loving God would never have allowed those comments to get deleted! (/snark)

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  4. Hey, thanks for the nice summary, NorthboundZax! Glad to know at least someone out there understood my screaming into the void.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

  5. We are working on a recovery of the other comments — stay tuned.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  6. 1.

    Maybe evil is not necessarily synonymous with suffering. A murderer is evil but is a Tsunami? Evil is that which interferes with the plan of salvation.

    Comment by Howard — January 13, 2008 @ 12:38 am
    2.

    Now, granted, this doesn’t do much to explain exactly why some children are born into situations where they will be sold to pedophiles or other horrible situations people experience in this life. I don’t claim to understand how something like that could help the eternal progression of their souls.

    Geoff- you treat this situation of sexual slavery as if it were an exception rather than the living conditions of millions of innocent women and children around the world. You can’t just sweep these very hard cases under the rug and then claim you have a logically coherent and consistent theory of theodicy. If only it were that easy!

    Comment by ECS — January 13, 2008 @ 5:56 am
    3.

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you. It takes a good conversation to get me to comment lately, especially as long-winded of a comment as this will be.

    1. God can’t intervene to save Joe because doing so would interfere with or even destroy Joe’s agency and God can’t do that.

    Perhaps in this instance, it’s not Joe’s agency that would be destroyed if God miraculously saved him, it is Mike’s. (More on that later.)

    if . . . this life the fulcrum of our eternal existence then it doesn’t make a lot of sense for God to ignore Joe and let him leave this life in the middle of his test/probation.

    Maybe it’s not in the middle of his probation. Maybe his probation is at an end. I believe by personal experience that no one dies prematurely, except perhaps those who take their own life. Even those, however, still mesh into God’s plan. It certainly doesn’t take Him by surprise.

    I like your idea of life not being the most important part of our progression, but why does it follow that it “requires accepting that there is progression between kingdoms if it is going to work”? One might argue that the final exam in a college course is not the most important part of the course, but it is the part that determines your grade. Sure, if the only thing you are working for is a grade, it might be considered the most important, but what if you are taking a human anatomy course to become a doctor? At that point, it is the knowledge of human anatomy that will save lives, not the final grade. (Of course, that analogy breaks down somewhat because life is a test of being not a test of knowledge, but it is a similar idea.)

    You don’t have to believe in eternal progression between kingdoms, because this life-test is designed to contact our deepest beings, who we are underneath our knowledge of God. It is designed to see if we will do all God commands. If we choose not to, it is an intrinsic, inherent quality that will not change through eternity.

    “I don’t claim to understand how something like that could help the eternal progression of their souls.” Part of the key to this dilemma is held in the story of Alma and Amulek when they had to watch the faithful cast into the fire because of their beliefs. It is not just the souls/agency of the victim that is in question, it is also the agency of the perpetrator and the agency of those who stand by and watch when they could have intervened. We are too Western-thought in our outlook on life and the eternities. We are not rocks or islands in the eternal Plan of the Father, we are all interconnected and interdependent.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 13, 2008 @ 6:22 am
    4.

    ECS,

    I agree that sex slavery is an awful thing. Of course it is not the only awful condition people experience in this world. Billions of people suffer in innumerable different ways. But I think the theodicy I have presented is a coherent and consistent one. It make sense of this “blink of an eye” approach and it provides an explanation for suffering (ie that it is a means to a higher end). Of course that explanation is a faith-based explanation — I certainly concede that. I realize that if one does not already have faith in Christ because of personal revelation then such a faith requirement will be utterly unconvincing. (I’ve said it many times here, but it bears repeating that personal revelation is the most important foundation for any substantial faith in God.)

    I think theodicy discussions can get fouled up with this sort of confusion. That is, people sometimes hope to find faith in God through logically working out a theodicy or something. It doesn’t work that way. Personal experience with God is the only effective way to develop deep and lasting faith with God in my opinion. (And the scriptures indicate that exaltation is directly correlated with how well we personally get to know God as well; see John 17.) Once we have a revelatory dialogue/relationship with God then we can move on to a logically coherent personal theodicy like the one I have presented because we bridge the gaps in our knowledge with firm faith that: God exists, God loves us all, and God knows what he is doing in managing this planet. Without that prior faith/revelatory relationship it probably sounds like ad hoc silliness to defend a superstitious belief in a non-existent being.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 8:40 am
    5.

    SilverRain: One might argue that the final exam in a college course is not the most important part of the course, but it is the part that determines your grade.

    The problem with that analogy is that final exams happen at the end of a course. We are on a “course” that has no end. In fact, if our eternal goal is to become one with God I suspect there will never be a time that we can’t freely choose to move in that direction. If our ability to choose to move closer to God permanently ends after this life then the blink of an eye defense for this largely life crumbles because this life would have to be considered our final strike, last chance. Such a view raises the stakes of this life to an infinite degree and thus undermines the “blink of an eye” argument which relies largely on de-emphasizing the importance of this life — the opposite of the truly final exam view. Final exam views are useful to scare us into repenting now but I don’t think such negative motivation is accurate or even necessary as a motivation for us to love God and love one another in this life. If we truly understood the value of repenting now that would be motivation enough I think.

    Part of the key to this dilemma is held in the story of Alma and Amulek

    I’m ok with using that approach cautiously. But it is a dicey way to go. If you aren’t careful you end up saying that God uses children sold into sex slavery as expendable bait just so he can condemn pedophiles at judgment. I don’t think that is a very useful way to see God. Again, we need to be very careful with how we throw around that Alma/Amulek reasoning.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 9:02 am
    6.

    The problem with that analogy is that final exams happen at the end of a course. We are on a “course” that has no end.

    But that was part of my point – that that single exam is not the point. Sure, it’s at the end of the course, but it is not at the end of your learning. In short, the test of this life is to determine whether or not you have what it takes to be a doctor. If you don’t have what it takes (ability to think quickly, steady hands, good eyesight, ability to retain knowledge, etc.), no amount of learning will get it for you. If you are not the sort of soul that is willing to follow God even when the way is far from certain or clear, you cannot be like Him. This test is a test of being not a test of understanding. I don’t believe we can change our underlying natures – whether we will follow God or not – once we have regained our full memory of God and all that He is. It’s not about changing our minds at all, it’s about finding out who we are.

    In short, it’s not our ability to choose to move closer to God or not which is being proved, it’s our willingness to follow without full understanding. It’s our spiritual nature. That is why we will still remain the same people after we die. That is why we all go through periods of doubt. That is why Satan is allowed to tempt us, and to sow evil in the world. It’s not so much that we can’t choose to move towards God, but that we show that we won’t. It doesn’t raise the stakes of this life because this life is a product of all our learning before. Although I was never good at turning in homework, I got decent grades because final exams were always the easiest part of the course for me. I had learned the course material in a way that made me become it. That doesn’t raise the importance of final exams because final exams test what you have absorbed through the entire year. It is just the culmination, not the linchpin. You can’t have a climax without the rest of the story.

    I’m not sure if I’m articulating this the right way, it is not an easily intuitive concept.

    If you aren’t careful you end up saying that God uses children sold into sex slavery as expendable bait just so he can condemn pedophiles at judgment.

    Sure, if you strip out the love and omniscience of God. True understanding of His character makes the term “expendable bait” irrelevant. Allowing pain is not the same as purposefully using or promoting pain. And I suspect “expendable” is also irrelevant from God’s perspective, since death has no more or less meaning than birth.

    The “blink of an eye” argument has always seemed to me to be a “don’t worry, it will be over soon”, not a “this life is so short in the eternities, it doesn’t really matter” sort of argument.

    (I hope you’re enjoying this conversation, too. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a non-aggressive conversation with someone online.)

    Comment by SilverRain — January 13, 2008 @ 11:08 am
    7.

    SilverRain: If you don’t have what it takes (ability to think quickly, steady hands, good eyesight, ability to retain knowledge, etc.), no amount of learning will get it for you.

    You are free to believe this of course, but I do not believe it for a second. This sort of doctrine smacks of fatalism and predestination and claims that not all people actually have the potential to become one with God. Basically you are saying some people have always “had what it takes” to become like God and other people just don’t. It says if you are one of the people who don’t have what it takes you can’t choose to do what it takes (because you never had what it takes to begin with). This sort of thinking is directly contradictory to the notions of free will and all people having equal potential.

    So in the model you are presenting this life is nothing more than a way to reveal our unchangeable core. You are implying that we aren’t here to choose to change our natures but to simply learn what nature we are stuck with. It is a variation on the old “a leopard can’t change its spots” line. I’m sure you mean well but frankly I think that is a horrifying doctrine. I also think it is an uncomfortable fit in Mormonism for you.

    I know you say “It’s not so much that we can’t choose to move towards God, but that we show that we won’t” but I find this kind of comment totally unpersuasive. How do you know we won’t until we choose in the moment to do it or not? (This is connected to the determinism versus free will discussions we have had here in the past as well as the foreknowledge discussions. I recommend you check those out.)

    It is just the culmination, not the linchpin. You can’t have a climax without the rest of the story.

    Either way — culmination or linchpin — it ruins the point of the “blink of an eye / eternal perspective” theodicy argument by placing much greater emphasis on this life. That is directly contradictory to the the point of those arguments which is to de-emphasize the importance of this life to come up with a coherent explanation for why God doesn’t intervene to stop suffering and evils on this planet more often.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 11:48 am
    8.

    Geoff,

    It was good to see the discussion move over here with a somewhat fresh start. I also appreciate that you seem to give the problem its full due by considering very difficult cases. I worry, though, that your view has negative consequences which you have not fully addressed.

    Before I ask some questions I wish to present the form of your argument. The argument from evil goes as follows within a Mormon context:

    P1. A sufficiently-powerful and all-loving being would not allow preventable, unjustified evil to exist.
    P2. God allows preventable, unjustified evil exists.
    C1. God is not both sufficiently-powerful and all-loving.

    Now here is what you do in response:

    P3. A sufficiently-powerful and all-loving being would not allow preventable, unjustified evil to exist.
    P4. God is both sufficiently-powerful and all-loving.
    C2. God does not allow preventable, unjustified evil.

    You have simply affirmed as a premise that God is sufficiently-powerful and all-loving and then attempted to show that preventable, unjustified evil does not exist. I see a few potential problems with this response:

    First, since each argument is only as plausible as are its premises, one simply needs to ask which premise holds more intuitive appeal: that preventable, unjustified evil exists, or that God is sufficiently-powerful and all-loving. While I can see the religious intuitions supporting the latter claim, the moral intuitions for the first are really strong as well. After all, the first premise is what underlies our convictions that Mike and other such people are guilty as sin.

    Second, and closely related, what evidence do we have for the claim that God is sufficiently-powerful and all-loving that cannot also count as evidence for the claim that Mike is sufficiently-powerful and all-loving? The two best responses here would be taking God at his word and observing the good things He has done. But why cannot we simply take Mike at his word or mention all the good thing he has done? Furthermore, by what standard are we to decide what things God did and did not do such that any such appeal does not beg the question at hand?

    Third, this approach seems very undisciplined. You are simply helping yourself to the blanket belief that whenever anything happens that seems bad, it really isn’t for some completely unknown reason. Such an approach in court would never fly, if only because it could be used to exonerate too many people. It is for this reason that in each particular case we demand to know what that unknown reason is which somehow justifies the crime. In the case of God we rarely, if ever, get such a reason.

    Let me now address another problem I see with you approach:

    “That is, we simply can go on faith that God intervenes regarding our comfort or survival here on earth only when God deems such intervention to be in harmony with his real goal for us — our exaltation (and thus our long term and maximum joy)…
    “Mike of course could not use that defense in court because Mike does not have that elusive “eternal perspective” we believe God to have.”

    What do you mean by perspective? What is to prevent Mike from claiming in court that He alone gained a perspective from which his inaction was justified (by way of revelation or something else)? Why don’t we get to just “have faith” that Mike and all other criminals on trial do everything for our good?

    In fact, the problem is even worse. What prevents us from saying that even though Mike didn’t know it, his inaction was, from God’s real perspective, the good thing to do and this can be proven by the fact that God didn’t intervene to save Joe either? This could be seen as generalizing to include ALL evil. (In other words, this could be a serious problem.)

    Finally, your appeal to a perspective which we can never gain seems problematic for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Your approach seems to entail the following: “From the eternal perspective God is all-loving, but from our perspective He is not. In other words, we can have faith that God is all…. something, but He is not all-loving as we understand the word because our understanding of the term is so limited. God is actually something much more than all-loving, whatever that might mean.” This seems extremely counter-intuitive. It seems far more plausible to me that when most religious people claim that God is all-loving they mean that He won’t allow preventable, unjustified evil to happen.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 13, 2008 @ 12:26 pm
    9.

    Considering that we have a way out of the logical problems of evil, as Brother Paulsen demonstrates, the problem of evil that we face is rather different than the one traditional Christianity faces. Theirs is a logical one, but ours is simply an emotional/cognitive one. For Mormons the problem isn’t illogical, it just doesn’t make sense.

    The solution then requires nothing more than making sense of it all, which I think can be done in a number of ways. I think Geoff’s explanation is one of many ways we can go about it. I don’t have an explanation at hand that covers everything, but my point is that I don’t think the Mormon problem of evil is actually a problem. That is to say, Mormonism has no problem of evil. The problem we are discussing here is the problem of really bad stuff happening. And I don’t see that the claim that an all-loving god won’t allow really bad stuff to happen is self-evident at all.

    Comment by Eric Russell — January 13, 2008 @ 12:44 pm
    10.

    I think MMP is the best way to think about this problem. But for those of the “this life is it” crowd, how about this?
    I’m going to get a little Harry Potter on you, but I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could come up with an example that didn’t involve magic.
    Mike and Joe are walking through the jungle. Joe falls in some quicksand and slowly starts to sink. Mike sees all this happening. He has the power to save Joe, but because he is bound by a spell that has been put on him, he can’t at the moment. He hears Joe plead for assistance. But Mike can’t do anything about it until Joe (or someone) releases him from the bondage spell.
    Perhaps God is bound by eternal laws and no matter how much we plead with him he cannot break these laws. (I don’t think that being bound by eternal law limits God’s power any, he just may not always have permission to use it). It is only through faith, or priesthood, or some action on the part of us, or others, that allows him to interceed and help, analogous to Joe (or at least someone) releasing Mike from the bondage spell. I know the analogy isn’t the best, but hopefully you get the idea.

    Comment by Robby C — January 13, 2008 @ 12:59 pm
    11.

    I’ve decided to blog on this as well, though my post probably won’t be up for 3-4 weeks.

    Though, I thought I’d ask, what is the difference between “really bad stuff” and a broken fingernail?

    Why does Christ say that between one who offends and one who takes offense, the greater sin is in the one who takes offense?

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — January 13, 2008 @ 1:04 pm
    12.

    Let me add my 2 cents.

    I think so far the discussion is missing the boat in regards to the agency question. SilverRain is right in #3 that it as nothing to do with Joe’s agency, and it may have a little to do with Mike’s, but I believe more importantly it has to do with everyone’s agency. Imagine a world were whenever anything bad was about to happen, God stepped in and made everything right. Would there be any test of faith in such a world? Would there be any temptation not to trust God, if he’s the one making everything right? How would we grow and learn if not for adversity that God allows to happen? Based on those questions I think it’s obvious that God has to allow bad things to happen in order to accomplish his plan.

    But then we have to consider why it wouldn’t be right for Mike to ignore Joe, even if it would be OK for God to ignore him. I disagree with the viewpoint that God would always intervene if the bad thing that was occurring would hurt his plan. This sounds like the person who tells the family that just lost a child, “Don’t worry. It was all God’s plan. God took him for his own purpose.” This always rubbed me the wrong way, although I don’t have a strong argument one way or the other. I just think sometimes bad things happen because we live in an imperfect world, and God allows it to happen not because it’s part of his plan, but because of what I said in the previous paragraph.

    One final thought: I’m reminded of the scripture, “I will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (sorry if I botched it–I’m going from memory). Although not scriptural, could we possibly substitute the word “help” in place of “forgive”? Mike is required to help when he can. That is the commandment that Lord has given. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that God is bound to obey those some commandments. He requires us to help, but doesn’t guarantee that he will (for the reasons previously discussed). I think this is reasonable, considering God and man have different roles in the eternal plan of happiness. We are here partially to learn to serve and love. God already knows how to love perfectly. He is there to help us learn. Two different roles justify two different courses of action.

    Comment by Mike L. (fka Horebite) — January 13, 2008 @ 1:28 pm
    13.

    To add on to a thought by Mike L. in #12:

    Free agency existed before our birth and, therefore, consequences did also.

    The purpose for our birth was twofold: 1) to gain a body and 2) to live by faith / gain experience.

    The circumstances of our births are the result of the exercise of our agency before our births.

    If one dies prematurely, then one has not gained much of what *we* understand as *our* faith experience, but has gained a body. But, it has been revealed that such an individual has enough faith experience to qualify them for the celestial kingdom (D&C 137:10).

    If one is born into untoward circumstances, my take is that can be due to either poor choice (”I need a body so bad that I don’t care what it is like or what the mileu will be when I get there.“) or good choice (”I have been faithful enough in the pre-mortal exisitence that I only need to gain a physical body. The ordinances I will pick up in the millennium.“). Thankfully, I trust that God knows which is the case. Our perspective is limited.

    If God does allow preventable, unjustified evil to exist, then my take is that He does so because NOT doing so would be worse – which is what Mike L. said above.

    Comment by mondo cool — January 13, 2008 @ 2:15 pm
    14.

    I think any conventional conception of divine omnipotence is incomprehensible in the context of LDS theology. The big problem is the Atonement – the basic idea is that God had to suffer for the plan of salvation to be accomplished and we should be eternally grateful to him for that. Necessary suffering and omnipotence don’t go together very well.

    The question of preventing the suffering of others is secondary. LDS theology only makes sense if God cannot jointly prevent his own suffering and still accomplish his purposes.

    What makes sense to me is that God is omnipotent in the sense of being able to accomplish his righteous purposes in the process of time, but not in the sense of being able to snap his fingers and accomplish any objective without cost in either time or energy.

    In other words heaven actually has an economy, and that many interventions God could undertake he does not because other goods would be sacrificed at greater cost to the salvation of all. If there is no heavenly economy, then it is incomprehensible why every reasonable intervention is not actually undertaken.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 13, 2008 @ 3:26 pm
    15.

    I think the analogy is more like a mother allowing her child to leave the house and go play with his friends at the park. The kid would be safer at home, and will probably be exposed to danger out there, but at a certain point, it’s time for mom to let go and allow the child to be his own person. Even if that means he might knock his teeth out when he crashes his bike into a parked car.

    The Mormon cosmos is filled with divine beings who are of the same type and seeking to form free relationships with each other. You cannot have a free relationship when things are coerced or predetermined by the brute force of an all-powerful God. People must be allowed to form there own existence and meaning without God continually messing with it and rigging it.

    Always remember, that we have always existed – with or without God. He is a co-traveler, a guide, a mentor. But He is not responsible for what we are. We form our identities on our own. Thus we are required to find meaning in suffering, to refine our sorrows, and to rise above our trials ON OUR OWN. God cannot do it for us.

    The words of Nietzsche seem appropriate here (even if I’m ripping them out of his intended context):

    “Companions the creator seeks, and not corpses, and not herds and believers either. Co-creators the creator seeks, those who write new values on new tables. Companions the creator seeks, and co-harvesters: for to him all things stand ripe for the harvest.”

    Friedrich Nietzsche “Thus Spake Zarathustra”

    Comment by Seth R. — January 13, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

    Comment by Captain Comment Recovery — January 14, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

  7. 16.

    I think people need to be a lot more careful here in their appeals to “living by faith”.

    1. Faith in what? That God exists or that God is loving?

    2. Who says that God can’t prevent things from happening without taking away the faith component?

    3. Before “live by faith” becomes any kind of trump card it should be established that living by faith is actually so good of a thing that it justifies the cases in question.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 13, 2008 @ 4:47 pm
    17.

    claims that not all people actually have the potential to become one with God. Basically you are saying some people have always “had what it takes” to become like God and other people just don’t.

    No, I’m not, but I can see where I was unclear. That’s part of where the analogy breaks down. The difference between a pre-med course and life is that we all have equal potential, just some might not choose to live up to it. Some won’t choose to do what is necessary to “get what it takes.” “What it takes” is willingness – and we all have that to give, should be choose. The point of my analogy was that we can’t see whether or not we will make that choice without full knowledge once we have full knowledge. This life (and, presumably, Spirit Prison and Paradise) is the time set aside for men to not have full knowledge.

    That is directly contradictory to the the point of those arguments which is to de-emphasize the importance of this life

    The point of those arguments, to me, has been to de-emphasize the importance of the pain of this life, not life as a whole.

    A sufficiently-powerful and all-loving being would not allow preventable, unjustified evil to exist.

    I think the problem is not with A or with B, but with the connection between the two. In short, I’m saying a sufficiently-powerful and all-loving being DOES allow preventable, unjustified evil from our viewpoint, we just don’t always understand why, and that is where faith in God’s power and love comes in. It means that we can have faith that when something evil happens, it fits in the framework of a loving God. Of course, our basis for believing that isn’t something that would stand up in court – because we feel it by the Spirit.

    But I like mondo cool’s and Mike L.’s points, too.

    Necessary suffering and omnipotence don’t go together very well.

    It does if part of omnipotence is the ability to know when and how it should be applied. God’s suffering is poignant because he didn’t have to suffer – he volunteered to. He applied his power when and how it was needed. This: “The question of preventing the suffering of others is secondary,” and the following sentence is the key, I think.

    Seth’s words summarize most of what I’m trying to get at beautifully. Sure, the mom could prevent all the danger to her child, but she doesn’t because she knows that pain is part of growing up.

    Comment by SilverRain — January 13, 2008 @ 4:54 pm
    18.

    Jeff,

    First, I think that Eric is right on in his comment #9. Mormonism doesn’t have the logical problem of evil that creedal Christianity faces at all. Rather, we have a problem of trying to understand why God intervenes only when he does on the earth.

    So my response to your questions is similar to my response to ECS earlier. I have faith that God is both loving enough and knowing enough and powerful enough to be worthy of my worship. So because of that faith I believe that when God intervenes it is for the good of the souls of people and when he doesn’t intervene it is also for the good of the souls of people. I base my faith in God and in his power and good judgment on my personal experiences with God.

    The reason I would not give Mike the same benefit of the doubt is because I don’t have that kind of faith in Mike. I don’t trust his knowledge or his love for humankind enough to make decisions about what is in the best eternal interests of Joe on matter of mortal life and death. I don’t think any mortal should be so trusted.

    You have simply affirmed as a premise that God is sufficiently-powerful and all-loving and then attempted to show that preventable, unjustified evil does not exist.

    The only quibble I have with this is the term “unjustifiable evil”. I think it is an equivocal thing you are talking about. That is, I think based on Mike’s level of knowledge it is indeed evil/wicked/wrong for him to let Joe die without lifting a finger. That is “unjustifiable evil” and it does exist. What I don’t concede is that God ever commits acts of unjustifiable evil because I trust God has knowledge and love enough to intervene only in our best eternal interests. (This divine knowledge part is what I mean when I use the term “eternal perspective”.)

    Finally, your appeal to a perspective which we can never gain seems problematic for reasons I’ve mentioned before.

    Actually I think the point of eternal progression is to one day gain that perspective so it is not that we will never gain it. But I can see why you find it problematic — it is entirely an act of faith to follow and trust God even when we can’t objectively know that he is intervening (or failing to intervene) in our lives only when it is in the best interests of our souls.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 5:42 pm
    19.

    Would a loving parent stand by while her child is tortured and beaten? We may need to redefine “love” and “loving” for purposes of this conversation.

    It’s quite easy to dream up nice and tidy logical theories of why the suffering and pain of others doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I wonder if you were brutally raped every day of your life, however, whether you’d have a different opinion as to whether God “loves” you.

    Comment by ECS — January 13, 2008 @ 5:43 pm
    20.

    Eric (#9) – I very much agree. Mormonism does not face the logical problem of evil that creedal Christianity is faced with. Our rejection of creation ex nihilo gets us off the hook for that for the most part. Thanks for pointing that out because it is an important point in this discussion. In Mormonism we only face the problem of trying to discern why God intervenes on earth sometimes but not at other times.

    Robby C. (#10) — Thanks for chiming in. I will address some of the complaints against MMP in a follow up comment.

    I don’t really go for your analogy about God having his hands tied by laws of the universe. I think a more compelling answer is that he is simply making decisions about when to intervene or not based on what he deems most beneficial to our souls.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 5:50 pm
    21.

    ECS: Would a loving parent stand by while her child is tortured and beaten?

    No, but she would stand by while her child received a temporarily painful vaccination shot. It is painful for a little while but in the best interests of the child in the long run. (Unless you think that the mother allows a child to have that pain is not actually loving I guess.)

    This vaccination shot analogy is the value of the “blink of an eye / eternal perspective” aspect of my theodicy. If the years we spend here are basically no more important than the years we spend elsewhere this argument is pretty effective.

    I again, I do agree that the horrors on earth are real and untidy. We should do all we can to stop them.

    Some people look at evils in the world and conclude that there can not be any God. Those who have personal experiences with God see those evils and must reconcile the two realities we are dealing with — that they know from experience that there is a loving God but they also know there are horrible evils here that God does not prevent. Reconciling those two realities is what theodicies are all about.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 6:02 pm
    22.

    Geoff, I find it incredulous that you would compare rape and torture (emotional and physical) to getting a vaccination. You’d stand by to watch your daughter being raped because it was “in her best interests”?

    Comment by ECS — January 13, 2008 @ 6:11 pm
    23.

    Mike L. (#12): Based on those questions I think it’s obvious that God has to allow bad things to happen in order to accomplish his plan.

    This argument would be quite effective if you were a deist who believed God never intervened on earth at all. But the problem is that Mormonism preaches of a God who does intervene at times. So the issues to be resolved is: what is the criteria he uses to decide when to intervene and alleviate suffering and death and when not to? That is the point of the theodicy I am presenting here.

    Mondo Cool (#13): The circumstances of our births are the result of the exercise of our agency before our births.

    I think this is a useful idea but it has a lot of critics and they make some pretty good arguments. I will try to address it in a later comment when I deal with the MMP issue Robby brought up.

    Mark D. (#14): Good point about the atonement theory issues. As you know, I am fond of utilizing Empathy Theory to explain the necessity of a suffering savior but lots of others have different ideas.

    Seth R. (#15): I think the analogy is more like a mother allowing her child to leave the house and go play with his friends at the park.

    I think this analogy can work in many cases but in other cases it would be more like a mother allowing her child to play on the freeway or in a den of cobras. I’m thinking of cases where God allows children to be born to horrible abusers or pedophiles etc. That is hardly “a day in the park” for those poor souls after all. Unless you believe there is no divine involvement in the placement of which spirit goes to which family this becomes a problem in this analogy.

    we have always existed – with or without God. He is a co-traveler, a guide, a mentor.

    I agree. Well said.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 6:24 pm
    24.

    ECS,

    Your comment indicates to me that you are not getting the point of the eternal perspective argument. If we have lived forever (not just a hundred thousand years, not just a hundred million years, not just a hundred billion years, but forever) then any kind of pain in this life could indeed be seen as an extremely temporary thing. If some of said evils in this life help a daughter of God to live forever in the future with a fullness of joy then the vaccination analogy works just fine.

    My question to you is what do you suggest those who know (through personal experience) that a loving God exists do to reconcile the existence of evils like rape in the world with the existence of God? Do you have a more effective theodicy in mind?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 6:30 pm
    25.

    Thanks for the link, Eric. I liked this bit from Paulsen’s article:

    “God is omnipotent, but He cannot prevent evil without preventing greater goods or ends–the value of which more than offsets the dis-value of the evil: soul-making, joy, eternal (or godlike) life.”

    Comment by Jack — January 13, 2008 @ 6:36 pm
    26.

    ECS,

    Would a loving parent stand by while her child is tortured and beaten?

    If you think of the Passion rather than a vaccination, it might help calm your incredulity. Mark’s point in #14 should not be missed. The loving God did stand by while His only begotten Son was tortured and beaten. Clearly, some things cannot be accomplished without suffering if we have any hope of making sense of the atonement.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 13, 2008 @ 6:41 pm
    27.

    Geoff,

    I am with you on almost everything in this post. I especially like your point about death not necessarily being important from God’s perspective. I mentioned a similar sentiment on my post about euthanasia. I think SilverRain’s point in #3 which was expanded on by Mike L in #12 is very important as well.

    The thing I see missing is an acknowledgement of real evil (hence Jeff’s rejoinder in #8 about you saying that “preventable, unjustified evil does not exist”). Mormon theology is in a unique position to acknowledge real evil because we believe humans are self-existent in the same sense that God is.

    If we try to argue that whatever happens is actually for the best (it was our lack of perspective that prevented us from seeing it) then it makes our theodicy sound like the Christian Scientists who simply deny the existence of evil (if I understand them correctly). I think this approach is untenable. Rather than saying everything is actually for the best, I prefer to acknowledge that some things truly are preventable and unjustified evil. So, then, why doesn’t God prevent them? One point which helps is Mike L’s in #12 which says that God can prevent some preventable evils, but if he made it a policy to prevent all preventable evils he would not be able to execute his plan. Another argument which I think might help is that good and evil are far more ambiguous than we think they are, even from God’s perspective.

    If good and evil are ultimately a matter of consequences, and the future is open, then whether it is good or evil to let Joe sink is not necessarily knowable (even for God). Assuming this is true, it is possible that God would be forced to approach ethical dilemmas in much the same way that we do. I am realizing as I type that this is far too unorthodox and complicated a thought to defend in a comment, but someday I will finish my series of posts on ethics which were trying to work up to this.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 13, 2008 @ 7:03 pm
    28.

    While a more robust response will have to wait until later, I want to object to Geoff’s minimalizing of pain and suffering. 3 years of pain and suffering is 3 years worth, regardless of how much time came before or after. In other words, I am rather clueless as to what our eternal pre-existence is supposed to contribute to your argument. Saying that 3 years of suffering will be helpful in the afterlife, somehow, is one thing, but the appeal to the pre-existence has me in the dark.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 13, 2008 @ 7:27 pm
    29.

    Jacob,

    I think it was you that argued so strongly for a kind of Utilitarianism. What are your thoughts regarding Geoff’s idea that our mortal survival and well-being are, in themselves, entirely neutral from God’s perspective? If our morality here is entirely based in such things, which the plausibility of Utilitarianism seems to suggest, what does this say about the moral attributes of God?

    Comment by Jeff G — January 13, 2008 @ 7:30 pm
    30.

    Jacob: I think SilverRain’s point in #3 which was expanded on by Mike L in #12 is very important as well.

    Hmmm… I think SilverRain and Mike were missing my point so I’m surprised to see you agreeing with them. SilverRain said in #3:

    Perhaps in this instance, it’s not Joe’s agency that would be destroyed if God miraculously saved him

    That is conflating my two scenarios. In Example A1 the only two people there are Mike and Joe, in Example A2 the only two people there are Joe and God. SilverRain mixes this up and says that God saving Joe would interfere with Mike’s agency, but I never discussed the culpability of God in A1 to begin with — I only addressed God’s culpability in A2. So basically SilverRain was talking about a scenario I never even addressed.

    If we try to argue that whatever happens is actually for the best

    Well I think the important distinction to be made is that I am actually arguing that God only intervenes to stop evils if it is in the best interests of our souls. So I am not saying there is no real evil, I am saying that God allows the perpetration of real evils between us as agents when he decides that not intervening to stop said evils would be better for our souls than intervention would be.

    If good and evil are ultimately a matter of consequences, and the future is open, then whether it is good or evil to let Joe sink is not necessarily knowable (even for God).

    I agree with what you are getting at here. I think God does have to make ethical judgment calls as you suggest here. But I believe that is one of the reasons that the first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We exercise faith in his judgment on these types of issues and follow him even when we don’t understand his decisions.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

    Comment by Captain Comment Recovery — January 14, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

  8. 31.

    Jeff (#28): 3 years of pain and suffering is 3 years worth, regardless of how much time came before or after

    So I assume you are of the opinion that 3 milliseconds of suffering is just as bad as 3 years of suffering right? That is the implication of your comment.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 7:38 pm
    32.

    We have been taught that during our pre-mortal existence that we could freely choose to experience a mortal life, even though the mortal experience had many risks and that some of those risks were horrific. I don’t think anything was held back from us, including the possibility that we might be one who died in a Nazi gas chamber or suffered sexual slavery. And yet we chose to come.

    Although 1/3 did choose to stay as they were, to not take the risk even though they would lose the reward.

    So was the choice we made to risk or not to risk God’s fault?

    Comment by C Jones — January 13, 2008 @ 9:11 pm
    33.

    I don’t have much to add but this theodicy of Kathleen Flake, was really enjoyable to me.

    For Latter-day Saints, God’s mightiness to save is defined not by his capacity to prevent evil, but to create good when only evil seems possible. He doesn’t turn evil into good, but he overcomes it with the good. In the words of the New Testament, he “returns good for evil” and so can we if, as Jesus commanded, we would be “perfect, even as your Father which is in haven is perfect.” Thus, for Latter-day Saints, God’s perfection is in his capacity to make life in the midst of life’s many deaths and to engender in his children the power to do the same, even calm the seas.

    AS for why we are born where we are, I think to boil it down t a list of 2 or 3 factors would be a gross simplification. There are thousands of active agents that I am responding to and coordinating with in my life right now, which factor into what I am going to do at work tomorrow, can there be less in connection to my birth than that?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 13, 2008 @ 9:44 pm
    34.

    C Jones – I agree with your sentiments in large part. But here is the hard question: What do you think the circumstances of our birth was based on? Was it random? Was it a merit program? Something else? The problem is how do we explain the children born into poverty in some third world country and into situations where they are basically guaranteed to end in their being tortured? Why do they get that lot while lots of children in the US get two very loving and relatively affluent parents?

    These are the really hard questions that people have been asking in the other problem of evil threads and these are the kind of hard questions that lead people to try to come up with theodicies.

    Matt W – Good quote. As for your second paragraph it sounds like you are only saying “it’s complicated” about the circumstances of our birth. I’m not sure how that could qualify as an answer…

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 10:24 pm
    35.

    So over at the FMH post someone put this Harold B. Lee quote up to defend the pre-mortal merit program notion of human birth:

    “All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality. Isn’t it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here?” (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p.5.)

    Ronan responded with this interesting criticism:

    The doctrine Harold B. Lee espouses is one that also lent itself to the notion that blacks were somehow neutral in the war in heaven and thus deserved their lot. I personally believe that that particular bit of folklore has been discredited and so I would be cautious in embracing its parent doctrine.

    What I find most curious are the implications of the doctrine you cite. I think that it would say a lot more about the pre-existence than is currently believed, viz., that it was a place of testing where our merits could be ascertained. Is that what we believe? The general view in the church seems to be that the only pre-mortal test had a binary outcome: choose Jesus or choose Lucifer. Do you believe there were varying degrees of valiance, and if so, can you disentangle it from the defunct Negro doctrine?

    This would make better sense if Mormons believed in karma and reincarnation. The thing I dislike about that eastern concept is that it seems to serve the caste system. After all, you can easily ignore the untouchables if you think they “deserve” their fate.

    One other thing to think about: if you do believe in a pre-mortal judgement, who’s to say that we are the good guys?

    All in all, I think it’s a doctrine — if it is a doctrine — that serves very little purpose. The fact is, we are all God’s children and we all have an equal right to freedom and happiness. We have no idea what the pre-mortal world was like.

    Having said all this, I do think the passage in Abraham about the noble and great ones deserves some thought. But I would be reluctant to assume that just because I’m a healthy, wealthy, white, active Mormon male living in the west, I am somehow “noble and great” and thus had the lottery of life rigged in my favour. At this point in my journey, the truth or not in that statement has little bearing on where I’m headed.

    I’ll respond to Ronan in the next comment

    Comment by Geoff J — January 13, 2008 @ 11:52 pm
    36.

    Ronan: that it was a place of testing where our merits could be ascertained. Is that what we believe?

    There is certainly a long and healthy strain of Mormon thought that does indeed teach that we were judged prior to arriving in this world. But there is a great deal of latitude for thoughts on our pre-mortal existence since there has been no unequivocal revelations on the subject.

    This would make better sense if Mormons believed in karma and reincarnation.

    Of course the Mormon version of this is the notion of multiple mortal probations (MMP). It’s not mainstream but it does have a long (if quiet) history as a theological “maybe” in the church.

    The thing I dislike about that eastern concept is that it seems to serve the caste system. After all, you can easily ignore the untouchables if you think they “deserve” their fate.

    This is a complaint about how people act when they believe in karma/reincarnation, not a complaint against the idea itself. Jesus commanded us all to care for the poor and needy and to treat them as if they were Jesus himself. The fact that people have used the idea to shun the poor and needy is only and indictment of people. One could argue that such abuses of that doctrine might be reason enough for God not to advertise it too openly even if it were accurate. (See here)

    if you do believe in a pre-mortal judgement, who’s to say that we are the good guys?

    If we also believe in free will then _we_ decide if we will be the “good guys” day by day and hour by hour in the way we follow Jesus or not while on this earth. But I agree that there is no real way of knowing who the “noble and great” ones were before we arrived here. Maybe the more noble one was there, the more difficult their life circumstance will be here… who knows. (Jesus certainly didn’t get a cushy gig on earth after all.)

    All in all, I think it’s a doctrine — if it is a doctrine — that serves very little purpose

    This is probably true in most practical day to day terms. But it is a useful arrow in the quiver in trying to work out a theodicy.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 12:15 am
    37.

    Thanks Geoff. I haven’t had a chance to read through the other conversations you link to, but I do want to at least try to follow this one. And you gave me exactly what I was hoping for– a response to aim me in the right direction from my starting point.

    Comment by C Jones — January 14, 2008 @ 12:45 am
    38.

    The problem with Ronan’s argument is that it is a couple of non sequiturs, starting with guilt by association. The concept of less worthy races is not a logical consequence of pre-mortal responsibility. Neither is the idea that birth circumstance in this life is correlated with righteousness in the last.

    Stripped of those two impositions, what is left? Nothing. Where on the other hand, the idea that there was no pre-mortal responsibility is tantamount to the claim that we were all moral infants incapable of choosing or distinguishing between right and wrong. The little available evidence runs in the opposite direction.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2008 @ 1:27 am
    39.

    Geoff, it’s not that I don’t “get” the eternal perspective argument, it’s that this argument – no pain, no gain – breaks down for me in the face of reality. As we know from the scriptures and real life, God’s “love” includes disease, heinous acts of torture and genocide. At the very least, can you agree that God’s “love” is not our “love”?

    The discussion of the nature of God has been going on for hundreds of years. I don’t think there is a satisfactory reconcilation of the idea of a loving God with the existence of evil (unless you factor in the leap of faith – see Kierkegaard).

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 6:35 am
    40.

    ECS,

    I think the main problem is that you view pain and suffering as a deficiency. The more pain my life has, the worse it is. Right?

    I disagree. I reject the entire premise of Mill and his utilitarian argument. It is also the premise of your objections. The perfected life is not one free of pain. Otherwise, why would God weep for His children?

    I also disagree with the “eternal perspective” argument that has been tossed about here. It does overly trivialize things. And if the sufferings of the earth were of such small moment, why do the heavens, in scriptural accounts, seem to not see it that way?

    But in any event ECS, happiness is not the mere absence of sorrow. Rather it is enriched by a deep capacity to feel sorrow and embrace it. Perfection is the ability to feel both happiness and sorrow as deeply as possible. It is not the enshrining of one at the expense of the other.

    Comment by Seth R. — January 14, 2008 @ 7:28 am

    Comment by Captain Comment Recovery — January 14, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

  9. It really boils down to this question: does all suffering have a positive purpose? …If no, ECS’s criticsm still stands, because only a small subset of pain and suffering can be couched under the eternal perspective umbrella.

    Nice summary NorthboundZax. However, if the overall plan restricts God from intervening in a systematic way to prevent all evils of a certain kind, then the plan can be said to rely on God choosing not to prevent some evils even though they are preventable and unjustifiable when considered in isolation. If this is the case, then some suffering may not have a positive purpose, per se, while still being necessary to bring about the larger good. Do you see the distinction? Several people tried to point this out before, I am trying to recap the argument.

    ECS, I understood your screaming into the void too, never fear.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 2:37 pm

  10. Wow, nice work Captain Comment Recovery.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  11. Is it me or does it seem that Geoff’s response to my objections amounted to nothing more than the following:

    “I have faith that evil is not a problem.”

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  12. Y’all can thank Seth for having copying the version in his cache before it was lost forever. We lost the last five comments or so (where I surely made some awesomely awesome arguments) but 40 outta 45 saved ain’t bad.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  13. Yes Jeff, it is just you.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 2:48 pm

  14. Jacob J., I hear you, but catagorizing “preventable and unjustifiable evil” as “necessary to bring about the larger good” is simply saying all suffering has a positive purpose. I wonder how many people see the existence of conjoined twins or the antics of the Janjaweed in Darfur as necessary components to a larger good.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 14, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  15. Northboundzax (New #2),

    Good analysis. I’ll try to respond.

    I see the argument over the vaccination as the real key

    I agree. The question is, how seriously should we take this comment from God on an eternal scale:

    7 And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
    (D&C 122: 7)

    I think it is safe to say that all suffering can turn into a long term good. But because I am so committed to the doctrine of free will (in the libertarian sense) I don’t think it is safe to say that all suffering actually does turn into long term good.

    I believe this deep commitment to LFW changes everything for us (assuming we have LFW of course). It certainly destroys any comparisons of our doctrines with Calvinism. It eviscerates the notion of exhaustive foreknowledge. And as Jacob points out, it give a whole new and richer meaning to the concept of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. What I mean is, we fall in with him and his leadership and place real faith in his judgment to intervene in our lives or not.

    So my theodicy boils down to this: God is not evil when he fails to stop certain earthly evils because he is doing what in his personal judgment is best for us in the long term. The eternal perspective argument is simply a subset of this answer to help explain why allowing what seem like huge evils to us might not be that huge in the grand scheme after all.

    (My comments about percentages were erased but I think they were useful. The idea should be what percentage of our eternal life does God let us suffer? If it is some huge percentage then this eternal perspective argument is less effective. But if it is .0001% of our lives the vaccination argument makes a lot more sense.)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  16. I’ve only read part of the recovered comments, but I didn’t see anyone mentioning one of the more interesting theodicidies unique for Mormons. That is that each of us chose to come to a place where God would have limited intervention knowing that this would result in limited evil being heaped on us but also knowing it would be of limited duration. Even though for individuals this may result in unfair levels of evil overall the costs would be paid (the atonement) and that the ultimate consequence would be personal growth.

    That seems eminently defensible.

    The limits to this fairly LDS approach is the question of natural evils and why those were necessary. That is, for example, why such a geologically active planet? Why the kinds of diseases we face? Etc.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

  17. Geoff, I have to agree with Jeff on this. It seems your theodicity ends up being faith that there’s a purpose for evil. Which isn’t that persuasive. I also don’t think LFW really enters into the debate since no one is arguing God need totally remove free will. Just that he intervene a little more. So LFW is a red herring in my view.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  18. Clark: It seems your theodicity ends up being faith that there’s a purpose for evil

    I assume you missed my most recent comment…

    So LFW is a red herring in my view.

    I disagree. LFW is foundational to any of this discussion. But you already know that I think Mormonism utterly crumbles without some form of LFW being real.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  19. Zax,

    I hear you, but catagorizing “preventable and unjustifiable evil” as “necessary to bring about the larger good” is simply saying all suffering has a positive purpose.

    No. As I said, many particular instances of evil have no positive purpose. What is necessary to bring about the larger good is for God to refrain from intervening in a systematic way to prevent all evils of a certain kind. The two things are very different, so your claim above is incorrect.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  20. I don’t buy that, Jacob J. What’s wrong with God creating a world without genocide? In fact, if you read the Old Testament, you’ll see that God incites genocide. Again, not sure how this comports with a “loving” God.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 4:09 pm

  21. ECS: What’s wrong with God creating a world without genocide?

    How could he logically even do that given the Mormon commitment to agency?

    Clark is right that there is legitimate complaint about natural “evils” in the world but man-made evils are easily explained away.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  22. Even agency should have its limits. Also, God could stop violating His own commandments not to kill people.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  23. I always thought the appeal to agency was really weak. If I see a punk kid robbing a little old lady, am I really supposed to stay out of it out of respect for the kid’s agency even though the old lady a begging me to help her? That sounds horrible.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  24. ECS and Jeff,

    Now you are just repeating the trite one-liners that have already been discussed in this thread and elsewhere. I addressed those concerns in the post itself. Why not address the actual arguments being made here?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  25. Let me add a caveat Geoff. While the argument from the council in heaven explains God not intervening one can always ask what justifies his plan. That is the solution I outlined is very incomplete and just pushes the question back a level.

    Why was it necessary to have a probationary state where God is mostly hands off? How does that effect our growth? There are lots of questions there that are non-obvious.

    So we aren’t out of the woods entirely.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  26. Geoff, I can understand why you think LFW is necessary for Mormonism. My point is that it isn’t for this discussion since God can significantly intervene without denying LFW. Just as my stopping a rapist doesn’t prevent LFW from occurring.

    So if God ‘tweaked’ our brains such that the really horrible things never occurred to us we’d still be free. (i.e. genocide, torture, rape, etc.)

    Now you can argue that such freedoms are necessary. But that really isn’t an issue tied to LFW.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:31 pm

  27. Why don’t I address the post? Because every time I bring up a potential problem you merely dismiss it: “Sure it might be that way, but I have faith that it isn’t.”

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  28. Hmmm. I don’t see the part in your post arguing why agency should be unlimited.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 4:33 pm

  29. To add, it is unarguable that our brains in large part limit what kind of thoughts we can have and our instincts do as well. To say that God could have created a different kind of brain really doesn’t affect agency. Since if agency requires total freedom then it is already a failure given the present condition of our brains. So if God made just small changes in our brain it would at most be a change of degree but would arguably have a huge impact on the level of evil in the world. (i.e. made brains that don’t desire children sexually, etc.)

    Now that it getting into the issue of natural evils. But the idea that natural evils and freely chosen evils are separate seems to fall down when we consider the role of physical cognition on choice. Even those who embrace LFW have to acknowledge the role and place of the brain.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  30. Regarding the freewill thing another problem arises. You can say that I should intervene to save the old lady because I don’t have God’s perspective. But then we see God intervening in the case of Laman and Lemuel. In other words, God didn’t see it necessary to respect their freewill in the relevant way, why do we get to assume that He must do so in the case of the old lady? I know, I know. You have faith.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  31. Clark: It seems your theodicity ends up being faith that there’s a purpose for evil

    I assume you missed my most recent comment…

    No. I’d read it. If anything it highlights the point Jeff is making. You have faith that any evil is God doing something for our good. But that’s not a theodicy. That’s faith that God has a reason without having any clue there actually is a reason.

    So, as Jeff notes, any criticism you’ll simply respond with faith that it isn’t a problem. Which I can understand why Jeff sees as simply cutting off discussion.

    Ultimately, of course, we don’t have answers. At best we can push the problem down a few levels. But it really ends up being that pain and suffering is, for some unknown reason, necessary for our growth. But even given an LDS conception of God wherein he is much more limited than traditional omnipotence, it isn’t clear why pain would be so necessary.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:39 pm

  32. Jeff,

    If I see a punk kid robbing a little old lady, am I really supposed to stay out of it out of respect for the kid’s agency even though the old lady a begging me to help her?

    The implication of your rhetorical question is that you should help the lady, therefore, God should help the lady; by extention, God should help all people being assaulted; by similar line of reasoning, God should prevent all bad things from happening. Can you acknowledge that God preventing all bad things from happening entails God radically limiting the sphere of influence in which we are free to exercise our agency, whereas, you helping the old lady does not? Furthermore, the opportunity for you to help the old lady offers you the potential to grow in goodness whereas the universe in which God prevents everyone who is not perfect from acting does not offer you that opportunity?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  33. ECS,

    I am still waiting for you to answer Geoff’s question about how you think God should create a world without genocide. How do you propose he enforce the “no genocide” rule?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 4:41 pm

  34. Jeff (new #27) — That is my whole point. The theodicy I presented is logically coherent. It simply relies on a God who is fully worthy on our faith and trust for it to work. So that leaves you with only one complaint: “Why should I have faith in God”. My answer is, that is something you will have to work out for yourself.

    So as Eric Russell mentioned, this no longer is a question of a logically coherent or internally consistent theodicy, it is now simply a question about the trustworthiness of God in his decision making.

    ECS (#28) — I will need you to define limited versus umlimited agency for me to respond that your last comment because I don’t really know what you are talking about.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  35. Jacob,

    So you argue that my question leads to an absurd conclusion. You must acknowledge, however, that there is more than one step in such a chain or reasoning. Where, exactly, do you disagree with the chain? I certainly never argued that God could prevent ALL evil without interfering with freewill. You are going to have to slow down a lot.

    Let me ask a few more questions about the case:

    Why doesn’t God helping the old lady allow Him to progress?
    Why is my helping people in trouble only a question of whether I progress or not?
    Why should I think that if God helps one lady, the entire plan of salvation will come to naught?
    Why should I think that the only way God can help a lady is by ruining agency in some way?

    And so on.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

  36. One way to eliminate genocide is to prevent people like Hitler from being in the position to carry it out. Heart attack, car accidents, etc.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

  37. Jeff, I’m not sure that follows. Let’s talk loosely rather than in absolutes. Let’s say there is some ‘core’ personality that is being developed. (We’ll leave out the ontology of such a personality) God knows what each person can handle along with what kinds of evil might develop the character. To be as broad as possible, let’s say that he doesn’t have absolute knowledge of this. (i.e. a particular evil might not function for growth but has a reasonable chance of functioning – something those advocating for greater omnipotence would reject)

    Now this is a more limited view of God than what most Mormons are comfortable with. But it has the advantage of meeting a minimal level of intervention. (Mormons who advocate more epistemological abilities for God will simply have him being more functional in these choices)

    So God decides both in terms of what he knows about Laman and Lemuel as well as the probable effect on later generations that he can intervene in a fairly limited fashion. (Sorry, but relative to what he could have done, sending an angel to Laman is pretty limited intervention) God makes a similar decision for others but decides not to intervene.

    What’s wrong with that? Geoff’s answer seems perfectly acceptable there minus giving the actual adjudication he makes to decide when a personality needs growth.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

  38. ECS – the easier way to prevent genocide is to make our brain not desire it. (Whereas right now it is a fairly common decision due to our evolution) Merely killing people who would do it is problematic if God needs ‘hiddenness’ since people would catch on quickly that people were dying mysteriously.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  39. LOL – maybe. People are pretty stupid, however. I was thinking more along the lines of Hitler having a fortunate accident pre-Putsch.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  40. Geoff, I think for a successful theodicy one can’t simply say ‘God does it for our growth’ but one must present some reason to think that it is necessary for our growth. I understand what you’re arguing but I don’t think it is sufficient for discussion.

    Jeff,

    Why doesn’t God helping the old lady allow Him to progress?

    It might. But one has to take all creation into consideration and not just one person.

    Why is my helping people in trouble only a question of whether I progress or not?

    It’s not. But surely in any decision I have to rank the kinds of ‘goods.’ Whether progression is or ought be our only good is an interesting question. I don’t think it is. But then the very question of good then comes into play. (i.e. are we Kantians or Utilitiarians?) Hopefully we can deal with this issue without having to arrive at a decision on ethics in general. (Especially since I’m pretty skeptical about Ethics)

    Let us for convenience adopt a slight consequentialist ethic. Let us say the woman’s progress as well as everyone else’s progress is a major contribution to our decision about whether something is good. That should be sufficient to deal with the issue. I don’t think we need answer the question in more absolute terms. (As it appears like you are suggesting)

    Why should I think that if God helps one lady, the entire plan of salvation will come to naught?

    I don’t think anyone is saying this. Perhaps the better question is, ‘how many people can God help before his plan becomes affected.’

    i.e. I think this ends up being the barber shop fallacy in disguise. (Well if I can cut one hair without it making me bald surely I can cut an other and so on without being bald) The theist, after all, need only say that God does intervene and intervenes as much as he can. Asking why he doesn’t intervene in that case is like asking why that hair wasn’t the deciding factor of baldness.

    Why should I think that the only way God can help a lady is by ruining agency in some way?

    I don’t think we should. I think that agency resolves a particular logical problem with respect to evil but not much else.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

  41. ECS,

    If you are going to prevent genocide by strategic assassination, this has some issues. First, you are still going to complain that God is not following his own commandment of not killing people (a la #22). Second, at what point in time should God kill Hitler? Since the future is open, genocide is not a foregone conclusion until pretty late in the game, at which point he might need to kill off the entire German leadership to avert it. Third, in Darfur, there is no single person who is responsible for genocide, so I am not sure how you will prevent that. Forth, why should genocide get some special treatment over the sum total of murders every day. Your solution means that God should give a strategically timed heart attack to everyone who is about to murder someone else (in a system sort of like that in Minority Report). Once he eliminates murder, shouldn’t he move on to theft, and eventually verbal abuse. And if he institutes that, blogging will cease and if he kills blogging then he will cease to be God.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 5:08 pm

  42. Stupid thing ate my comment. Argggh! See! God intervened to prevent me from debunking a theodicy, thereby interfering with my agent! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!

    On a more serious note…

    Geoff,

    I don’t deny that it is logically possible that God sees things from a more encompassing perspective and therefore refrains from intervening from time to time. While such a view is weakly motivated, I can see where the logical consistency and the role faith plays.

    Where I start to see logical inconsistencies is in the very large distinction which you posit between our morality and God’s morality. This distinction has two consquences which pull in opposite directions and neither of which seem to have much anything to do with faith:

    1) While you can certainly acknowledge, out of faith, that God is all-something, that something is surely not all-loving as we understand the term. How can we meaningfully claim that somebody, even God, is all-loving when they do none of the thing an all-loving person does? This is why I keep asking what a perspective is, a question which you have yet to answer in any detail. In order to solve this problem, it would seem that you are going to have to say that distinction between God’s morality and our own is rather small.

    2) Second, if this distinction is made small, however, another problem arises. Why cannot anybody simply appeal to God’s perspective in order to justify pretty much anything. In other words, if everything which happens is actually for the best from God’s perspective, then why should we ever blame somebody for not intervening? After all, the fact that God didn’t intervene to save Bob shows that even if Mike might not have known it, it was actually for the best that Mike didn’t save Bob. The best response in this area is to make the difference between our morality and God’s greater.

    Thus is revealed the logical inconsistency. One cannot address (1) and (2) at the same time because they work against each other. Furthermore, I don’t see how an appeal to faith accomplishes anything in this context.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  43. I am not so sure that all man made evils are easily explained away. I think that a reasonable argument can be made that God could not eliminate all man made evil and still preserve free will, but to suggest that it all man made evil is easily explained is a bold statement indeed. Could he make a world in which nuclear bombs were beyond the reach of its inhabits? How about a world with no biological or genetic defects which cause or contribute to severe mental illness or personality disorders resulting in sociopathic behavior? Are weapons of mass destruction, sociopaths and pedophiles really necessary to have free will?

    Genocide certainly limits the free will of the victims of the perpetrator. If God is committed to free will, why does he not preserve the free will of so many of us his children who are so cruelly deprived of it by others? Why is the free will of the evil privileged over the free will of the victims?

    Comment by Gary — January 14, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

  44. Jacob – first things first – genocide is an evil of a certain kind that seems fairly easy to prevent, but then we find evidence that God facilitates genocide, let alone prevents it. Again, the nature of God is not “love” as we mortals understand “love”. I think we’re all repeating ourselves now, so I’ll move on.

    Comment by ECS — January 14, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  45. I have to say that I always get a little sick in the stomach whenever agency is brought up as if it proved anything at all. We treat it like its some kind of all-encompassing trump card when I don’t think any of us has that clear of an idea what we are talking about.

    How can agency be a gift?
    Why must it be respected?
    Can it be exercised in degrees?
    Can it tolerably be respected in degrees?
    What would a world without agency be like?
    What would a world in which agency was not respected be like?
    What is the exact relationship between agency and social/political freedom?

    And so on. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody address these questions very well. (In case you can’t feel it, Geoff, I’m virtually nudging you in the side right now, hoping you’ll post on this sometime.)

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  46. Jeff, what does it mean to “respect” agency?

    Comment by Eric Russell — January 14, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  47. ECS, Rather than repeating yourself, why not respond the points in my previous comment? To recap our conversation so far:

    ECS: God should have created the world without genocide. (#20)
    Jacob: How would he have done that? (#33)
    ECS: He should have given Hitler a heart attack. (#36)
    Jacob: If your rule is applied broadly, as it must be to solve the problem, it creates the following four problems… (#41)
    ECS: Genocide is easy to prevent, but God facilitates it instead of preventing it. God is not love. We are repeating ourselves. (#44)

    I think it is pretty obvious where the exchange went off the tracks.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  48. I propose the following view

    1 – Free agency is not a gift, the nature of eternal matter holds the free agency as part of itself.

    2 it must be respectd because its the only way you can grow in faith

    3 people with more faith can interact to promote someone to get to a higher state of light, like a helping hand

    4 I am not sure about degrees but I propose that someone with a bigger lamp can help someone with a lower lamp to reach the path
    5 – The world without free agency would colapse – holding the energy used in free agency inside of a place like a bottle where you cannot exercise this power will cause a reaction that will cause the bottle to eventually break.
    in another words it will cause a revolution instead of an evolution.

    6 – Anarchy

    7 – social freedom is a state where various individuals reach when all decide from their hearts to live accordently when they use their free agency to do what is right.
    Karl Marx for instance proposed a Filosophy which was absorved by both fascists and socialists while exercizing dictatorship behaviour movements that decided to discard the free will of individuals by dominating all of the operations used in a comunity as a whole. As a Result both movements colapsed.

    Comment by Sérgio — January 14, 2008 @ 6:20 pm

  49. Well, I’ve been busy lately and lost track of the conversation, but I wanted to respond to Geoff way back in deleted comment #23, who responded to my deleted comment #12 (pardon the nested blockquotes, but the convoluted nature of the thread flow warrants it, I think):

    Mike L. (#12): Based on those questions I think it’s obvious that God has to allow bad things to happen in order to accomplish his plan.

    Geoff J (#23): This argument would be quite effective if you were a deist who believed God never intervened on earth at all. But the problem is that Mormonism preaches of a God who does intervene at times. So the issues to be resolved is: what is the criteria he uses to decide when to intervene and alleviate suffering and death and when not to? That is the point of the theodicy I am presenting here.

    It’s true that God does intervene at times. I think I would probably be dead if he didn’t. If I understand your argument, you are saying that he always intervenes when it in Joe’s eternal interest, and always doesn’t intervene when it is not in his eternal interest. Basically, that comes down to, “it’s all part of his plan”, although maybe you wouldn’t phrase it that way.

    To answer your question, I honestly don’t know what criteria God uses to determine when to intervene and when not to, but I don’t believe your explanation that the only criteria he uses is what is best for Joe. I believe God sometimes refrains from intervening, even if it would be best for the person involved, for the reasons I explained in deleted comment #12. Although as I mentioned in that comment, I don’t have any hard evidence to back up my position–I’m mostly speculating, as are all of us here I think.

    Comment by Mike L. (fka Horebite) — January 14, 2008 @ 6:24 pm

  50. JacobJ: ECS can respond on her own behalf, but let me offer a couple of suggestions.

    He could give the genocidal maniacs a vision where they see huge armies ready to descend upon them if they attack the innocent. This scares them so bad they run away.

    He gets the concentration camp guards drunk, so all the prisoners can escape.

    He makes the walls of the gas chamber crumble, allowing the victims to escape.

    He defends the innocent by sending and providing divine protection to an army of young soldiers who had been well trained by their mothers.

    These are tactics that have worked in the past, and apparently do not improperly interfere with anybody’s agency.

    Comment by Gary — January 14, 2008 @ 6:28 pm

  51. What seems to me to be almost uniquely Mormon about trying to answer these questions is our belief that man is not totally the creation of God. He isn’t responsible for the limits of whatever is uncreated about us. So if there are inequalities, he didn’t create them. Truman Madsen says, “Thus, no waving of a divine wand can transform a Satan into a Christ or a Christ into a Satan. In response to the sanctifying powers that emanate from God the Father, they differ. As so do (we).”

    Madsen talks about the Instrumental Theory, or the view that evil and suffering are eternal and cannot be destroyed, but can be utilized. God cannot just do anything. Madsen says, “There is more than one eternal will in the universe, (there are) an infinity of such wills. ” And, “He can do only what our wills and eternal laws will permit.”

    So God can be all-loving, in spite of evil, because he does do absolutely everything that he can for us within the bounds he must keep.

    Comment by C Jones — January 14, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  52. Gary,

    If you re-read #32 and #41 you will see that I have never argued that God cannot use your suggestions in some small number of cases. My argument is that the systematic use of these tactics to prevent all genocide, or all murder, or all evil is what would be problematic. It is not that an isolated instance of causing the walls of the gas chamber to crumble takes away anyone’s agency, it is that:

    1. Systematically doing so to all gas chambers everywhere starts to be a bit obvious (Clark’s point in #38)
    2. If carried to its logical conclusion of preventing me from injuring anyone in any fashion at any time, it does restrict my use of agency to the point where probation as we experience it is not possible.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  53. Clark: I think for a successful theodicy one can’t simply say ‘God does it for our growth’ but one must present some reason to think that it is necessary for our growth. I understand what you’re arguing but I don’t think it is sufficient for discussion.

    I think this is a different discussion than a theodicy discussion. In a theodicy we simply need to show that God is not evil for not preventing all suffering on earth even though he has power to do so. So the answer that he allows certain mortal evils for the longterm good of all works pretty well.

    Now the question of why suffering is potentially good for us is another question entirely, but it is also one that Mormon theology is uniquely prepared to answer. Most strains of Mormon theology hold that humans can become as God is. Further, most strains of Mormon theology indicate that Jesus was a lot like God the Father before he came here but only through his suffering did he enter an even higher exaltation. This is the key to empathy theories of atonement as well. The idea being that in order to be a perfectly empathetic being as God is it requires, well real experiential suffering. So one possible answer to you why question relates to our gaining empathy over the eternities which makes us more like God. (I should note that I assume that there was plenty of suffering among us before this planet and there will be plenty of suffering after this planet too. That is a part of the eternal perspective issue I think too.)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 7:20 pm

  54. Jeff (#42): Where I start to see logical inconsistencies is in the very large distinction which you posit between our morality and God’s morality.

    This sentence belies your sentence just before it. My position is nothing like this. In fact I am saying that if we saw the universe the way God sees the universe we would see why his intervention or lack thereof is moral by all of our intuitions. So it is not a different morality at all — rather it is a different perspective. (And this is what I mean by “perspective”). Therefore I reject your (1). We can assume God is all-loving as we understand the term.

    then why should we ever blame somebody for not intervening?

    Easy — because humans aren’t basically all-knowing as we assume God is. (Haven’t I answered this question like fourteen times now?)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  55. Gary (#43): If God is committed to free will, why does he not preserve the free will of so many of us his children who are so cruelly deprived of it by others?

    Why would you assume free will goes away when we leave this world? I believe that free will cannot be given or taken away — even by God. It is an essential part of our irreducible spirits/intelligences as far as I can tell.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

  56. Jeff (#45),

    My #55 is the short version ofmy answer to your questions. I think most Mormons get this whole thing wrong. Agency (which is synonymous with libertarian free will in my opinion) is not really a gift but rather an unchangeable characteristic of our eternal spirits/intelligences. I posted on this some time ago. A world without agency is the fully causally determined world you are fond of — one where we are all hapless meat puppets and slaves to the great causal chain (hehe).

    But this is getting too far off track for me to spend much time on here.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

  57. Jeff G,

    I agree that common LDS usage of the term agency is a little ambiguous. I think the concept has four basic components:

    1. Free will
    2. Freedom
    3. Liberty
    4. Accountability

    I don’t think it makes any sense at all to consider free will to be a gift. And accountability is not particularly gift-like either, in and of itself. Freedom in the raw sense (effective ability to self direct) may or may not be a gift, depending on the circumstances.

    However, liberty (freedom plus protection from others) has a very obvious gift character, the more so when some individuals have to sacrifice to preserve it on behalf of others.

    Any sense of liberty requires some degree of accountability, and any serious conception of accountability requires some degree of liberty. I think in the LDS world, agency properly refers to a joint fulness of liberty and moral accountability – as opposed to an impoverished sense where one only has to refrain from stepping on another’s toes.

    I don’t think it is possible, strictly speaking, to destroy free will. But certainly all sorts of governmental and theological expedients could have an impact on freedom, liberty, and accountability.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

  58. Well said Mark.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

  59. Whoa man,

    I didn’t actually expect people to address my complaints about agency in any detailed way, so sorry about the thread jack, Geoff.

    A lot of the responses I got are pretty unsatisfactory.

    “what does it mean to “respect” agency?”

    By this I mean not limit in any way. Sometimes we hear about God not taking away our agency or diminishing it in some way. Basically your question was my question, what does it mean for God to not interfere with our agency?

    “Free agency is not a gift”

    Well Satan threatened to, some how, take away our agency. We were never told that it is in itself impossible, only undesirable. Furthermore, God says that He made us “free”. Another example would be that of Adam and Eve who were somehow less free before eating the fruit than afterward.

    “it must be respectd because its the only way you can grow in faith”

    Here is exactly where I get lost. Why is it so? What is agency, what is faith and how are the two connected? It seems to me like the more we know (rather than less) the more options were have and are therefore more free.

    “The world without free agency would colapse”

    Huh? You really lost me on that one. Of course I’m not sure that you understood my question. I’m asking what it would be like to be a person without agency.

    “Anarchy”

    Anarchy without agency? Wouldn’t it be the exact opposite, namely totalitarian? This is where the relationship between agency and freedom starts to look really dubious.

    “Agency (which is synonymous with libertarian free will in my opinion) is not really a gift but rather an unchangeable characteristic of our eternal spirits/intelligences.”

    See above.

    “A world without agency is the fully causally determined world you are fond of — one where we are all hapless meat puppets and slaves to the great causal chain (hehe).”

    See above.

    “I don’t think it makes any sense at all to consider free will to be a gift.”

    If this is so, then it would follow that it cannot be taken away. Therefore, it is not possible for God to infringe upon our freewill, and the whole freewill theodicy falls apart.

    I know that some people will think that my responses are a little too quick and loose, but that’s exactly what I thought of your answers. BTW, I don’t see this particular discussion as being particularly relevant to the topic at hand, so feel free to simply sit on my questions.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 8:11 pm

  60. Geoff,

    “Easy — because humans aren’t basically all-knowing as we assume God is. (Haven’t I answered this question like fourteen times now?)”

    This does not address my issue at all. Let’s talk about Mike and Bob again. Mike is watching Bob drown in quicksand. Rather than act to save his friend Bob, Mike wonders if it might actually be better in the eternal scheme of things (better overall, that is) to let his friend drown rather than save him. The fact is, Mike doesn’t know, but he has faith that God knows. He therefore waits to see if God will intervene and save Bob, knowing that if it is better for Bob to drown, God will allow this to happen. In the end, God does not intervene and Bob drowns. Now let us say that Mike accepts your theodicy. Why in the world should Mike have any regret about Bob’s death and his own inaction? Furthermore, why should you, Geoff, think that Mike has done something bad?

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 8:19 pm

  61. Not a bad attempt Jeff. The problem is that God has commanded Mike to help and assist Bob(who is actually Joe in the post) to live as long and comfortable life as he can. So if God wants Joe to die it will have to be without the help of Mike in this case. Mike has a standing rule he is bound to.

    (This is where we start mixing deontological ethics with consequentialist ethics. We expect a certain Kantian ethics from each other but because of our assumption about the knowledge and perspective of God we can assume he is able to make love-inspired consequentialist ethical choices that are fully loving and ethical but which we do not fully understand from our perspective.)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

  62. Jeff G,

    If there is a determinist view here is yours

    Agency here works as a pencil and a paper. In nature every body has as an eternal priciple a paper and a pencil. Our God use the Pencil to actually show us what we could do with it. Now he makes a really prettey drawing and he thinks all of us can make pretty drawings too. not necessarly the same ones… Now because he made his drawing already and we havent, he knows we will have to go through stages, so he teatches us this stages because of his experience. Now sometimes he will dot something in our painting/drawying because he knows what is best. But he is respecting our free will of drawing beacause the castle or the tree we are drawing is a product of our imagination and he will not change it because he cannot as a limitation imposed by the free will.

    If I understand your view, God gave the agency to Men. Being so what did Lucifer use to rebel against your God (God´s will)??????
    In heavens there was already free will, other wise Lucifer would´t have his sad decision. That is my God and as far as I am concerned this my God goes along with mormonism’s approach to Free will and personal Growth.

    it must be respectd because its the only way you can grow in faith”

    well that is te key point of my proposal. We can only decide the good side of our free will if we exercise faith. The 2 are more correlated than what you might think. Given the fact that our God is the king of Faith because he used his agency with care, abedience got where he got, now we want to get where he is, how do we do that? obedience and faith. If we are abidiente he knows we will reach it because of his personal experience. Now my God is not determinist, He acts in his free will.

    Lucifer wanted to hide the free will by telling us that all of us would have to draw a tree, and he would have smack us in the bum if we didn´t until it hurted, the free will would still be there but he would make it look as if it did not existe. Now My God says that we can draw anything we want. We are to be creative.

    Anarchy is the wrong use of freedom in my point of view, why I dont consider totalitarian?

    totalitarian is what Lucifer would like the world to be. Given that scenario, my perspective is: If we all have to draw a tree as part of Lucifers plan he would have to have his forces to help him, the first one drawing something dfferent would get a smack, righ? Then as a consequence more and more people would disobey because disobeying it even though they get a smack will show our coleagues that they can draw something else that its not a tree but they will get a smack. Now they only get a smack becauses the forces of Lucifer will be around, Now, and here comes my point, a rolution would eventually occurr and we woould then think that we can paint what ever, in fact we would do that for a while, but we would end up throwing chairs, and papars at each other and no one would be there to stop us in our revolutionary state and that my friend is called Anarchy and anarchy is a consequence of hidding the free will with a totilarian Lucifer that wants us to be destroid.

    Comment by Sérgio — January 14, 2008 @ 9:37 pm

  63. Finally, I think you’ve understood the issue I’ve been trying to raise. While I’m not entirely convinced by your response, I feel like you are getting at the heart of the matter. Some of the worries which I will have to flesh out in my mind regard the euthyphro problem in particular and how well such a response generalizes.

    Personally, I’m not terribly worried about the consequentialist/deontological in this context, but I’ll think about that one as well.

    In the mean time, I think you would really enjoy these two essays which adopt a strategy which you might find helpful (whether the conclusions they reach have any direct relevance is hard to say).

    What is Wrong with Slavery?

    Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

  64. In a theodicy we simply need to show that God is not evil for not preventing all suffering on earth even though he has power to do so. So the answer that he allows certain mortal evils for the longterm good of all works pretty well.

    In a broad sense – however one must establish in a persuasive way that it brings about a long term good. Otherwise the skeptic need only say, “God could bring about the same long term good without suffering.”

    Now in the sense that one is dealing with the logical problem of evil and is merely rejecting omnipotence in its absolutist sense you are right. However it seems to me that while the logical problem of evil gets all the attention it is really the least interesting and least compelling of the problems.

    Comment by Clark — January 14, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  65. In my opinion, deontological ethics are second order consequentialist ethics. i.e. we choose deontological reasoning over consequential reasoning locally because of the global consequences of having no such rules.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

  66. Well said again Mark.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  67. Jacob J: Even if I grant your distinction between the prevention of all genocide, and the occasional, relatively inconspicuous interventions, I would still find it hard to believe that just one more intervention would have been so bad. Would God’s purposes really have been thwarted if he had just stopped the genocide in Rwanda. Could he have just saved some of the children, or a few of the the women who were brutally and repeatedly raped? I suppose one can always argue that that God is doing the best he can given the free will constraints he is operating under, but it strikes me as quite a stretch to argue that a God who can and does intervene in some of these cases, could not intervene just a little bit more often in some of the more brutal cases. God’s seems to act rather capriciously in deciding when to respect free will, and when not to.

    Comment by Gary — January 14, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

  68. Geoff: I don’t think that passing to the next life destroys free will, except in one very important respect. I lose my freedom to continue to live in this world. I rather value that freedom, and I would like it respected by others.

    Moreover, I was not talking just about death. I am also talking about the loss of free will that comes due to imprisonment, physical and mental abuse which can also severely limit a persons free will. Free will is limited by human agents all the time. If it is so important that God will not violate it, why does he not protect it from being destroyed by others?

    Comment by Gary — January 14, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

  69. Gary,

    See Mark’s comment in #57. Most of what you are talking about isn’t properly termed “free will”.

    Also, I agree that God can seem to act rather capriciously. This post argues that though it may seem that way to us at times, it ain’t necessarily so.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 10:16 pm

  70. Thanks, Geoff.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

  71. Geoff: You are probably correct that I am using the term “free will” too loosely. However, I don’t understand how that affects my argument. If the argument is that God cannot intervene to prevent people from committing evil acts that cause immense suffering because he must respect their free will, or their liberty, or their agency, or their freedom, or whatever else you want to call it, I don’t understand why he then allows those same people to destroy or limit the free will, or liberty, or agency or freedom of other people. If the protection of that thing is of overriding importance, then why is God not justified in limiting one person’s evil use of it to protect another person’s use of it?

    I don’t think you have really presented an argument that God is not being capricious. You have simply asserted as a matter of faith that he is not, because by definition, God must have his reasons even though we can’t discern them. Although I share your faith, I don’t think merely affirming that faith rises to the level of a theodicy.

    Comment by Gary — January 14, 2008 @ 10:46 pm

  72. Interestingly, the Book of Mormon gives an example where God demonstrates capriciousness fpretty clearly in allowing women and children to be tortured:

    Alma 14
    10 And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
    11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.

    I don’t think it is a stretch to say that allowing innocent people suffer so one is better justified at throwing the book at the perpetrators is a horrible reason to not step in.

    FWIW Alma & Amulek were spared because it was God’s will (v13), so free agency didn’t seem to be a major issue.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 14, 2008 @ 10:51 pm

  73. Gary: If the argument is that God cannot intervene to prevent people from committing evil acts that cause immense suffering because he must respect their free will

    I agree that this is a fairly weak argument. That is why I don’t lean on it in my theodicy.

    Although I share your faith, I don’t think merely affirming that faith rises to the level of a theodicy.

    As I said to Clark, all a theodicy really needs is to show the logical way in which God is not evil for not intervening to stop suffering in this world. My version of theodicy does just that.

    Now people can debate over whether God is good or not or capricious or not but saying he is or saying he isn’t is a matter of faith/belief. So that sword cuts both ways.

    Again, it is an interesting exercise trying to figure out exactly what criteria God uses to decide when to intervene or when not to, but that is not really a theodicy discussion.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  74. Zax,

    See my comments to SilverRain in the original comment #5. I don’t find that passage very useful in coming up with a coherent theodicy. Honestly, I suspect Alma was just trying to make Amulek feel better about the atrocities they witnessed. See my brief comments in this thread about that passage.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

  75. Geoff: “Now people can debate over whether God is good or not or capricious or not but saying he is or saying he isn’t is a matter of faith/belief.”

    I’m a little uncomfortable with this claim. It’s almost as if the claim that God is good is simply a matter of preference to you. Most Christians who follow the tradition of natural theology would suggest that all the wonderful things which happen in the world are evidence that God is good.

    Your theory, on the other hand, suggests that this is exactly backwards; God is good and all the evidence must be interpreted accordingly. While this reversal in logic protects itself from falsification, it does so at the risk of becoming entirely vacuous. The statement “God is good”, under your theory, makes it absolutely impossible to predict what He will or will not do in any given circumstance.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 14, 2008 @ 11:12 pm

  76. Sure it is, Geoff. Theodic discussions hinge on two assumptions: omnipotence and loving nature of God. Removing either of those assumptions solves the problem far more satisfactorily than simply wielding the faith wand.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 14, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

  77. Gary (#67),

    I would still find it hard to believe that just one more intervention would have been so bad.

    Yes, Clark referred to this as the “barber shop fallacy” in #40. If you agree that God cannot go around conspicuously preventing all evil, then of course the argument about whether he could have prevented “one more” evil is interminable.

    How in the world do you think you can tell if God is being “capricious” if you are not privy to what decisions he is making and on what basis he is making them on. Do you have any idea how many genocides God has prevented? Do you know how God decides when to intervene in human affairs? Without knowing these things, I don’t see how we can tell if God is being capricious.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 11:19 pm

  78. I don’t think discarding the idea that God loves us is particularly satisfactory.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 14, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  79. Zax: Sure it is, Geoff

    I’m not sure what you are responding to with this comment.

    Jeff — What Mark said.

    Also, I personally don’t look for wonderful things in the world as a basis for my belief in God. Nor do I look to horrible things in the world and begin the question the existence of God. I base my belief in God entirely on my personal experiences with God. To those who haven’t had personal revelatory experiences with God I highly recommend it. Here is a post on where to start.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 14, 2008 @ 11:35 pm

  80. By the way Geoff, I am struck by how many of your arguments seem to be lining up with my comments here, particularly your comments about our lack of perspective and God’s different perspective on death.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 14, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

  81. Warning: another potential threadjack in the making!

    Clark’s comment on faith as a conversation stopper got me thinking on the nature of faith, a question which I think concerns the atheist as much as it does the believer.

    I’ve always been bugged by the notion of faith. In some contexts its treated as mere belief. In others it is treated as more of a virtue. I’ve always had a difficult time reconciling the two since skepticism, which seems to be the closest thing to an opposite of faith, certainly doesn’t seem like a vice. Why should believing some proposition be considered a virtue or a vice in itself?

    Consider the case of religion. Many would say that it is a virtue to be able to believe in God regardless of, or even in spite of evidence to the contrary. (Let’s just assume that the evidence points away from rather than toward God for now, if only because it serves to illustrate my point.) Others would see this as being rather irrational, and therefore a vice.

    It is in this context that an appeal to faith is a frustrating conversation stopper. It basically seems to mean “I don’t care what logic or evidence can be brought for or against my belief in X, I will believe it anyways like I’m supposed to.” I don’t like this view of faith, and I doubt the thoughtful religionist does either.

    Rather, I would like to think that faith is not an impassable roadblock to analysis and argumentation. I would like to think that there is some way to evaluate whether it is actually rational to have faith in some proposition.

    I order to do this I would like to put forth the following view of faith:

    Faith is the belief in some proposition which is based not in the logic and evidence that can be marshaled for or against the proposition per se, but rather in how important the belief is perceived to be.

    I believe that this captures both aspects of faith which before seemed so irreconcilable to me earlier. Yes, faith is mere belief, but the perceived importance of the propositions which are believed are what give faith its moral significance. This view would suggest, then, that one can rationally have faith in some propositions (God) but not others (Cosmic Teapots) and, more importantly, that we can analyze why this is so on a case by case basis. Arguments can be provided for why a belief in God is important to a person while they, presumably, cannot in the case of the teapot.

    Let us use Geoff’s faith claim in this thread as a test case. When I asked him, following reasoning very similar to my #75, why we should believe God to be loving if we destroy all the evidence which is usually taken to support such a claim. He responds as follows:

    “I have faith that God is both loving enough and knowing enough and powerful enough to be worthy of my worship.”

    I viewed this as a serious conversation stopper which smacked of know-nothing-ism. I saw it as “I don’t care if I don’t have any reason to believe this, will I anyways.” If we view faith a mere belief, this would be really frustrating, as indeed it was to me.

    If, however, we view faith as belief which is based in the perceived importance of a proposition rather than its rational support Geoff doesn’t come off sounding nearing so… know-nothing-ist (something I know he isn’t).

    Geoff’s belief in a God which is both loving and powerful is non-negotiable, not necessarily because he is that (overly) confident in his ability to discern truth, but rather because he perceives the importance of a belief in a God which is both loving and powerful.

    Thus, Geoff feels morally constrained to believe in God’s loving and powerful nature regardless of logic and evidence can be brought to or against such a proposition and in this he is not being transparently irrational. Maybe Geoff is being ration and maybe he is not, but we won’t know until we analyze why his belief is important.

    What is most discomforting to an atheist such as myself, is that such a view of faith seem to make religious belief all too rational. Let me give an example to make this claim clearer: Bob believes is God. From Bob’s perspective to stop believing in God is to abandon meaning in life and morality in general. In other words, if Bob stopped believing in God he thinks that he would live a life or moral indifference. Thus, even if the God’s existence seems to be completely unjustified by evidence and logic, it really does seem rational, even from an unbeliever’s perspective, for Bob to continue believing in God. Of course the atheist is going to then proceed to argue that morality and meaning can exist without God, but 1) this is an argument completely different from that of whether God exists or not and 2) it is going to be difficult to demonstrate that the same kind of objective morality can exist without God.

    Sorry for the long and largely irrelevant comment, especially to those who might have already seen faith in this way. To me it was an eye-opening experience and I’d be curious what feed back you guys might have to it.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 15, 2008 @ 12:01 am

  82. Jeff,

    One might well turn the tables and suspect atheists of having self fulfilling belief systems. No one can come to a conclusion about a non-analytic (i.e. real world) proposition based on reason alone. Any position with regard to the nature or existence of God is going to rest on some combination of authority and experience.

    Setting authority aside, there is no reason to believe that the experiences that atheists rest their disbelief in God on are inherently more valid than those that theists rest their belief in God on. The force of reason proceeds exactly as far as shared experience permits.

    Comment by Mark D. — January 15, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  83. I wasn’t trying to make it sound like theists are merely adopting a self-fulfilling belief system. That has negative connotations which I was not endorsing.

    Regarding atheists having “faith” that there is no God, I acknowledge that this is very possible. It’s not quite as easy, however, to analyze why such a belief would be important to them. In any case, it’s going to be very difficult to show how this belief is anywhere near as important to the atheist as the belief in God is to the theist.

    I think another, less-loaded example would be that of sociobiology when it first was put forth in the early 70′s. Many liberals had faith that sociobiology was wrong, regardless of what E. O. Wilson’s evidence was for it. They thought it was important that human not have a pre-programmed “nature” to them.

    It’s when certain truth claims touch directly upon value claims that faith is to be found, I suggest.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 15, 2008 @ 1:08 am

  84. Clark: Now in the sense that one is dealing with the logical problem of evil and is merely rejecting omnipotence in its absolutist sense you are right. However it seems to me that while the logical problem of evil gets all the attention it is really the least interesting and least compelling of the problems.

    I think that you are right in one sense, but this is terribly misleading in another. The logical problem of evil, as a logically necessary proof, is indeed easily solved and not much of a problem. But what is a logical problem? If I give a valid argument with premises that you or others find cogent in the sense that the premises are plausible or even persuasive, then it is a very interesting problem. The problem is evil is just such a case. Take the argument:

    (1) God is perfectly good, omniscient, and omnipotent being.
    (2) A perfectly good being knows about and prevents all of the unjustifiable evils and promotes all of the goods that it can.
    (3) An omnipotent being is able to prevent all non-justifiable evils.
    (4) Non-justifiable evils that are within the power of God to prevent exist.
    (C) Not both (4) and (1).

    Although the term “non-justifiable evils” is vague and needs fleshing out, who among us believes that the prolonged torture and rape of a four year old girl is justifiable by some greater good that we just don’t know about? Thus, this is a logical problem of evil that is cogent for me. Now it can b e addressed by a theodicy — but it is a valid and cogent logical argument for me and I suspect for almost everyone. it isn’t a logically necessary disproof because we cannot prove that it is logically necessary that there are unjustifiable evils. But who cares about that? Take the simple instance that occurs all too often of a young girl being subjected to prolonged torture and starvation and then is raped and murdered. Evil is a problem because, as far as we can see, such things occur that are within God’s power to stop and we cannot fathom how there is something that such torturing is necessary to accomplish that couldn’t be accomplished without it in some less heinous way. We cannot even come up with a logically possible possibility to justify it that isn’t itself morally repugnant. So that is a pretty darn powerful logical problem of evil in my book. It is the very argument that I believe Mormonism does a better job of addressing than the tradition that bought into creatio ex nihilo.

    Jeff: You use “conversation stopper” as some reason not to adopt a view. I don’t think so. Following Wittgenstein I believe that we can see some experiences and commitments as just at the end of conversation. For example, I believe that I am looking through a window at a tree. If you ask my why, I’ll respond: “I just do because that is my experience.” If you ask: “why is that your experience,” I can only answer, “I don’t know, I just do.” it is the same with faith. Why do I experience God as perfect love? I just do. It is my experience. If you ask me why that is my experience, what else am I supposed to say to you?

    Nor is it a valid criticism of my response: “well, you’ve just stopped all conversation and engaged in know-nothing-ism by your response.” To that I say: “open your eyes and look for yourself.”

    Comment by Blake — January 15, 2008 @ 8:19 am

  85. Blake: “who among us believes that the prolonged torture and rape of a four year old girl is justifiable by some greater good that we just don’t know about?”

    Maybe I am not understanding something, but apparently some people do indeed believe this. Or, alternatively, they believe that this kind of suffering really fades into insignificance if only we had God’s perspective. What is you answer to this question?

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  86. #81 Jeff G,

    For me the idea that morality and meaning cannot exist without God is a part of why I believe, but was preceeded by evidence that something else was going on– things happen in our lives that science can’t explain. So from there I moved on to the idea that morality requires God. I actually see faith as an act of will. We choose it, it can’t be compelled. But I also think it is rational to believe on this basis of experience and reason.

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  87. Jacob: I don’t think I am committing the barber shop fallacy, although until yesterday I had not heard of such a fallacy. You have argued that God cannot create a world which does not allow torture, enslavement or genocide. I am suggesting that even if that is true, could he not intervene to reduce the incidence of these things, especially given his demonstrated proclivity to intervene on occasion to prevent such things. You can alway make the argument that God knows what he is doing, and I don’t, so there must a good reason for it all, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly persuasive argument to me.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 9:05 am

  88. Let me rephrase that. I am persuaded that God must know what he is doing, and I don’t. But that is not a satisfactory explanation and justification for all of the suffering and evil I see perpetrated in the world.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 9:09 am

  89. You are using the example of torture and rape of a child, and I agree that this is perhaps the most evil and horrendous example possible. But maybe the horror and emotion of that example obscures the argument a little.

    Why not ask why Joseph Smith was not spared evil, pain, and suffering? Brigham Young said that loosing a thousand hounds on one jackrabbit would not be a bad illustration of the situation of Joseph. But that he was yet more perfected, more sanctified, and more glorified in 38 years than most men could be in a thousand.

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 9:26 am

  90. C Jones: I don’t think that the horror and emotion of the horrendous examples obscure the argument at all. They are precisely what the argument is all about. Those horrors are real and frequent. They must be accounted for. That Joseph’s experiences strengthened and even sanctified him does not imply that slaves ripped from their families into a life of slavery, or that Sudanes girls who are raped and torture are also sanctified by their experiences. They are not.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 9:48 am

  91. In #85 you asked if suffering fades into insignificance when viewed with God’s perspective. I’m saying that it doesn’t– that suffering is extremely significant. But the question is why is it?

    Are you saying that Joseph’s suffering is significant because of it’s results, but that a child’s suffering is not significant at all?

    I can’t believe that.

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 9:59 am

  92. The suffering of the innocent in this world is the result of the collective wills of the millions of people who create the conditions where these kinds of things are able to happen. We are all to blame on some level.

    God is not responsible for that. Further, according to Mormonism, experiencing a life like ours including the evil and suffering is how He got to be who He is.
    So can we say that His suffering was sanctifying, that Joseph’s suffering was sanctifying, but that God is powerless to make anything out of the suffering of those who are at the mercy of evil people?

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 10:25 am

  93. Zax: Sure it is, Geoff

    I’m not sure what you are responding to with this comment.

    Sorry, Geoff. I didn’t expect there to be comments posted so quickly in between mine and yours that late at night. I was referring to this statement:

    it is an interesting exercise trying to figure out exactly what criteria God uses to decide when to intervene or when not to, but that is not really a theodicy discussion.

    I read through your take on the Alma scripture, and I can’t say I’m too taken by it. Alma seems pretty clear with the spirit constraineth me, following with an explanation why, including prophesying that he and Amulek would be fine because it was God’s will.

    To hand wave that away as he’d really like to help, but nothing seems to work at the moment comes across as pretty spurious to me. Of course, this kind of reasoning seems required to hold your theodicy together. It just isn’t going to work for many of us, though.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 15, 2008 @ 10:26 am

  94. C Jones: No, that is not what I am saying at all. I am saying that I have the impression that some people think that suffering is insignificant when viewed with God’s perspective. I am arguing against that view.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 10:27 am

  95. Jeff, great thoughts in #81. It seems to me that the rationality for a theist that you are constructing is for a belief in God, but that the rationality that God exists still may at the same time still be lacking (working within your assumptions here). Would you see it that way? Certainly a subtle, yet intriguing point!

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 15, 2008 @ 10:28 am

  96. Gary (#87),

    You have argued that God cannot create a world which does not allow torture, enslavement or genocide.

    I think you are mixing my arguments up with someone else on the thread. I have not argued that God couldn’t create a world without torture, enslavement, or genocide. For reference on my position, see #27 of the deleted comments, and #9, #19, and #52 of the new comments. I have said that God could not do so without doing other things he doesn’t want to do (e.g. come out of hiding and limiting the extent to which we can exercise our agency). You haven’t made any arguments to show how God could accomplish what you want him to do and yet avoid these things.

    I am suggesting that even if that is true, could he not intervene to reduce the incidence of these things, especially given his demonstrated proclivity to intervene on occasion to prevent such things.

    First, you have no idea how often God is intervening to reduce the incidence of evil in the world. You are implying he rarely does this, but on what basis? The whole point idea that God is committed to remaining hidden guarantees that whatever he does must remain largely unknown to you. If it were obvious to you what God was doing then he would not be hidden.

    You can alway make the argument that God knows what he is doing, and I don’t, so there must a good reason for it all, but that doesn’t seem like a particularly persuasive argument to me.

    Again, where did I make this argument? Please point me to it. I feel like you are having a conversation with Geoff but addressing the comment to me or something. I have repeatedly argued against this argument as a blanket explanation, so I am a bit baffled.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2008 @ 10:35 am

  97. C Jones, it sounds like you are arguing that Joseph Smith was sanctified because the ‘hounds were loosed’, rather than independently of his horrible end. It seems to me if his sanctification was independent of it, your example does the opposite of what you are arguing. If it is not independent of it, then it seems we should have a better appreciation for anti-Mormon mobs, and wish they were more heavily armed today.

    Would you please clarify that for me? In particular was the actual lynching a sanctifying experience?

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 15, 2008 @ 10:47 am

  98. Jacob J: When I said that you have argued that God can’t create a world without genocide etc., I was speaking in shorthand. I understand your point, but I don’t think it is relevant to my point.

    We know that real suffering exists, we know that sometimes God intervenes to prevent or to cure the problem, and we teach that we should pray to God to do precisely that, trusting that he will do so. Given all of that, can see no reason why he would not intervene to prevent a few more rapes and tortures.

    You ask me how he can do that while still remaining hidden and respecting agency. My response is that he can do it for the Sudanese refugee the same way he has done it on other occasions. He is a pretty clever guy–he can easily do this and remain hidden if that is his desire. The maurading Sudanese kidnapper and torturer could trip and break his ankle to protect a young girl without putting God coming out of hiding, if that is what he wants to do.

    I admit I do not really understood why you think it is so important to him to remain hidden, but that would be a bit of a threadjack. His resurrection was public, his raising of the dead was not done in secret, the walls of Jericho crumbled in public and that tales of his other miracles are published to the world. Against that backdrop, what is one more frightened girl telling the world about God’s miraculous intervention to save her from a brutal torturer? I don’t see any reason to believe that God has a desire to remain hidden which overrides his desire to prevent torture.

    Finally, I did not mean to imply that you were making the argument that God knows more than me so there must be a good reason for it all. I meant only to refer to what I think is an argument being made by some on this thread. Sorry for the confusion.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 11:32 am

  99. Gary,

    Thanks for the clarifications. Here is where you are committing the barber shop fallacy:

    Given all of that, can see no reason why he would not intervene to prevent a few more rapes and tortures.

    If he prevented “a few more” rapes and tortures, you wouldn’t notice, right? So, what if he prevented a few more than that? The problem is that as long as you don’t notice, then you will always be able to say he could prevent a few more, but at some point this is not true and you will have no way of telling when that is. Your entire comment in #98 is riddled with this “just one more” reasoning for which there is no way to evaluate your claim. The only thing I can do is take it to its logical conclusion which is that you want God to stop all evil, and I can show that this foils his plan. If you want to avoid me taking it to that extreme, tell me your criteria for when it is okay for God to stop preventing your “one more” evil? If there is no stopping place, then all I must show to defeat your view is that God cannot prevent all evil everywhere and still accomplish his purposes for us.

    I admit I do not really understood why you think it is so important to him to remain hidden

    That’s true, I haven’t said anything about it. I am dividing up the issues to stay on point (as you suggest as well). If it turns out that there is no justification for God’s hiddenness then he will be disproven on that count rather than on account of evil. For the purpose of this discussion I am taking his hiddenness for granted, but I sign on to Clark’s caveat in #25 wholeheartedly.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  100. Blake,

    That faith claims are conversation stoppers didn’t really play that big of a role in my argument. What I was most concerned with was harmonizing faith as belief and faith as virtue. What did you think of that?

    Regarding conversation stoppers, I can see that “I see a horse” doesn’t leave much to talk about due to its experiential nature. Where I must disagree, however, is when you try to use this in the case of God “I experience God as all-loving”. I have no idea what this is supposed to even mean. With what sense are you experiencing this? How do you know it is God and not something else? What is the difference between experiencing God as all-loving and experiencing God as somewhat loving? These questions seem to have fairly direct answers in the case of the horse, but not for God.

    To express my worry a little more formally, it seems that “I experience X” can be used to express finality on pretty much anything given what you have said. For instance, what is to prevent me from saying “I experience God’s inexistence” or “I experience the world as being deterministic” and so on?

    Comment by Jeff G — January 15, 2008 @ 12:10 pm

  101. #97 NBZ

    I’m trying to figure out what I think about Truman Madsen’s Instrumental Theory, or the view that evil and suffering are eternal and cannot be destroyed, but can be utilized. (see comment 51)

    Joseph himself said, “I have waded in tribulation lip-deep; but every wave of adversity which has struck me has only wafted me that much nearer to Deity.”
    So no, we shouldn’t wish for upgraded mobs, but it seems pretty amazing that God can turn even that to our good ultimately.

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

  102. I think that you are right in one sense, but this is terribly misleading in another. The logical problem of evil, as a logically necessary proof, is indeed easily solved and not much of a problem. But what is a logical problem?

    Blake, that’s sort of the point I was making. The logical problem of evil really isn’t the problem of evil most people are concerned with. The problems are evils that it seems like God could easily solve, that don’t seem to be necessary for growth, yet are there. It’s there that Geoff’s solution seems very unsatisfying and appears like a dodge reducing to “I have faith he has reasons.” Which is fine (I do to) but really doesn’t resolve much of the problem.

    Comment by Clark — January 15, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  103. C Jones, I tend to agree with Madsen here. However I’d just note that this ends up being largely irrelevant to the concern people have regarding God and evil. The issue isn’t whether there could be any sufferings but why there is this level of sufferings.

    The two main LDS answers are that it’s necessary for our growth or God is very limited and is doing as much as he can. Neither seems very satisfying.

    It seems that in an LDS setting the problem of evil is only really best solved by adopting a very thorough-going determinism. And not all coincidentally that’s the move a lot of LDS adopt. Thus they say that every evil I experience was custom for what I as an individual needed for growth. (I heard this all the time on my mission – especially from missionaries having a difficult time) So they end up adopting something like a Leibnizean ‘best of all possible worlds’ with ‘best’ being determined in terms of progression.

    However that too seems very unsatisfying (and of course LWF proponents like Geoff and Blake will reject it out of hand)

    Comment by Clark — January 15, 2008 @ 1:44 pm

  104. Jacob J: I think that Blake phrased it well. God should prevent all unjustifiable evils. When I imagine the atrocities already mentioned, I have trouble believing that they can be justfified. They are, on their face, evil and unjust. I think the burden is on you and others who think they have developed a theodicy to explain why they are justified. Do they somehow sanctify the victim? Is the victim’s character developed in some way that could be not be accomplished by other, less horrific ways? I don’t think so. If you do, I would be interested in hearing the reasons for that belief.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 1:47 pm

  105. Gary,

    The ol’ “the burden is on you” routine, eh? As it turns out, I have already taken stab at what you are asking for and you have uniformly failed to address my points after a long series of comments in our exchange. I keep pointing back to previous comments and trying to get you to engage the ideas I have thrown out, but you don’t seem to want to do it. Your #104 goes back to the beginning and asks some “conversation starter” questions as though we haven’t just had 150 comments on the topic, which makes me want to just throw up my hands and quit. Either pick up a specific claim or statement I have made and challenge it directly or there is no point in continuing.

    Just to clarify my position, I have never claimed to be able to satisfactorily answer the problem of evil. (An example of me saying this recently is here; I have said it a lot of times on various blogs, just so you don’t think I am shifting positions suddenly.) However, the “problem of evil” is actually a big umbrella under which a whole bunch of problems fall. I think that a lot of the “problems” people are bringing up here are answered relatively easily, so I have tried to point out where they are going wrong. If we continued digging our teeth into the problem we would eventually get to some problems that I would have to acknowledge as very difficult questions for which I have no answer. But, those questions are not being articulated by the people championing the insoluability of the problem of evil, so I keep trying to point out why the problems being brought up are not the real unanswerable root of the problem of evil.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  106. The issue isn’t whether there could be any sufferings but why there is this level of sufferings.

    As much as we hate the idea, opposition in the form of extreme suffering and evil seems to me to be where the answer lies, at least in part. Although at this point I don’t know exactly where or why.

    Otherwise, if all we needed was a mortal opposition experience, light and dark would suffice. Or a stubbed toe.

    Although this idea is probably unsatisfying in it’s own way.

    Comment by C Jones — January 15, 2008 @ 2:36 pm

  107. What I don’t get is the assertion that just because you can imagine a better world where there is less pain and fewer natural disasters, that therefore such a world is possible for God. Why not start with the assumption that this world is possibly the very best scenario that was available to God due to his limited power working with free elements and agents?

    Comment by Kent — January 15, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  108. Wow, Jacob. I am not trying to be obtuse, and I sure am not trying to elicit that kind of a reaction. I was genuinely trying to respond directly to the following question posed by you:

    “If you want to avoid me taking it to that extreme, tell me your criteria for when it is okay for God to stop preventing your “one more” evil?”

    I told you my criterion. I think God should prevent all unjustifiable evil. I also told you that I don’t think that the enlavement or torture of innocent victims is justifiable. I don’t know what else to say in response to your question. I can’t think of any reason why torture is justifiable. And that is why I suggested that the burden is on you to explain why it is justifiable. That is after all, what a theodicy is–it is the acceptance of the burden of justifying what is otherwise not unjustified. I really am not trying to play playing cute debating games–I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe I am really am stupid, but that was and still is my direct answer to your question.

    Several of your comments are focused on the impossibility or undesirability of a world where God intervenes to eliminate all evil. But that is a red herring–it is not an all or nothing choice. I have been trying, albeit inadequately and unsuccessfully, to explain
    this. Even God does not think that it is all or nothing, because he does in fact intervene. This is what complicates the matter for me. He clearly can accomplish his purposes by intervening some times, so agency and hiddeness are not absolute bars to his intervention. That being the case, what justifies the torture and rape victim in Darfur or Rwanda while God intervenes to heal other children from relatively minor illnesses in response their parents prayers? I have not yet heard a good justification for this (but maybe I missed it somewhere in the preceding comments), and I don’t think it is a cheap trick to suggest that the burden of proof is on those who suggest that there is a justification.

    I apologize for frustrating you. That is not my intent.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

  109. Jeff (#81),

    Blake’s response in #84 nailed it. I place trust in God as a being based on my personal experiences with God. I don’t expect you to do the same thing but I certainly recommend getting to know God.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  110. Gary,

    I apologize for my frustration, it is clear you are not trying to be obtuse.

    I told you my criterion. I think God should prevent all unjustifiable evil.

    Okay, good. Before I respond, let me ask a question about what you mean by “unjustifiable evil.” Evil, in order to be evil, is by definition unjustifiable, is it not? I think we agree on that, but it could be an important point of symantics if we are not seeing eye-to-eye. To ask the question in a more direct way: Are you committed to the statement: “God should prevent all evil”? If so, I can respond to your comment above. If not, what is the difference between evil and unjustifiable evil?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  111. Jeff (#100): What I was most concerned with was harmonizing faith as belief and faith as virtue. What did you think of that?

    I don’t think Mormonism teaches that “belief in stuff” is a virtue in itself. Some people may assume that but that is not really my problem. Mormonism teaches that one useful definition of faith is a belief in things which are not sees which are true.

    21 And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true. (Alma 32: 21)

    I have no idea what this is supposed to even mean.

    This gets back to the old “what does salt taste like” analogy. Just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean others haven’t.

    So yes, there is a certain finality those who have experiences with God and complaining about it won’t change that. As Joseph Smith said:

    Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not edeny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.
    (JS-H 1: 25)

    Now I concede that Clark and others have a point that simply saying “I trust God knows what he is doing when he doesn’t intervene” probably does seem like a cop-out. But the truth is none of us who have had personal experiences with God really do have all the answers of why he does what he does on earth. I know that is frustrating to critics (both critics of theists and those who believe in God but think he sucks at his job) but I can’t really do much about that frustration.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  112. Jacob: No, I am not committed to the proposition that God should prevent all evil. Thank you for the response.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

  113. Gary, then what is the difference between preventing all evil and preventing all unjustifiable evil? Are you claiming that the only kind of “evil” that God should allow is that which directly helps to sanctify the person experiencing evil? Is that what you mean by justifiable?

    If so, I see a couple of problems. First, since we are free and the future is open, God does not know at the time the evil is perpetrated whether or not the person experiencing the evil will allow themselves to be sanctified through their suffering or becoming bitter due to it. So, the best God could do would be to prevent evil which doesn’t have the potential to sanctify (else, he would would be preventing justifiable evil which is one important way that we are sanctified). But this is a major concession since most evil has the potential to refine, or “give us experience” as God said in D&C 122.

    Second, I would argue that even if some evils are unjustifable (according to my guess of what that means above), it might still be the case that God cannot remain hidden (I am assuming this is required for his plan) while simultaneously preventing all unjustifable evil. In which case, specific evil acts remains unjustified (i.e. they could not help anyone’s progression or sanctification) but God cannot systematically prevent them without intervening to the point where his existence and meddling become obvious.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 15, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  114. Gary,

    If you are not committed to the proposition that God should prevent all evil then your “why can’t he prevent just one more murder” question seems to be (a) the haircut fallacy, and (b) mostly a personal gripe about the way God does his job. Am I missing something?

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  115. I think you guys are getting too caught up on the notion of ‘evil’ when the debate is better framed around needless and unjustified ‘suffering’. I doubt anyone here would argue that the quicksand was ‘evil’, but Joe’s meeting with it unarguably resulted in ‘suffering’ – needless at that unless ALL suffering is necessary.

    Framing it that way should avoid some needless suffering over largely irrelevant tangents.

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 15, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

  116. Geoff,

    In exploring the nature of faith, I seek an understanding which applies universally rather than a more limited Mormon perspective. In other words, I want to know what we mean when we use the word rather than what faith is revealed to be, if there is indeed a difference.

    In Hebrews two necessary conditions are mentioned: hope and lack of sight. This seems untenable at first glance because it does little justice to the belief aspect of faith. In other words, under this definition, since I hope that there is life after death and I haven’t seen any evidence for life after death, I therefore have faith in an afterlife. The problem is that I don’t believe that there is an afterlife.

    Alma’s definition seems to make the issue a little worse by an appeal to external conditions. Faith in X consists in 1) hoping X, 2) not seeing X and 3) X being true. Let’s take the example of life after death again, supposing, for the sake of argument, that there actually is life after death. In this case I again have faith in an afterlife without believing in it.

    Even if this is what faith “really” is, it is certainly not how we use the term from day to day. The hope part, however, does seem to match somewhat well with my appeal to “importance”.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 15, 2008 @ 8:18 pm

  117. Threadjack alert

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2008 @ 8:23 pm

  118. Yeah, sorry ’bout that. If you would prefer continue this conversation elsewhere, I have no problems with that.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 15, 2008 @ 9:03 pm

  119. First, I will take NorthboundZax’s suggestion and clarify that I am talking about unjustified suffering and not necessarily about evil in a generic sense.

    I probably cannot offer a rigorous definition of unjustified suffering here, but let me try this as a working definition. Suffering is justified if it is necessary to accomplish a greater good that could not be accomplished with less suffering. By greater good, I mean something that is “good enough” that it is worth the pain. Maybe somebody who has thought about this more deeply can offer a better definition. For example, if it was the case that eternal life could not be obtained without being tortured, and if God was bound by that law, then God would not be unjust for allowing torture.

    I don’t think this is the place to debate your premises, Jacob, that God does not know whether any particular suffering will result in sanctification of an individual, so I will assume you are right for the moment, even though I doubt that you are.

    Let’s assume the truly horrid case as an illustration. Let’s take the example of a young girl who is forced to watch as her father and brothers are butchered. She and her mother are tortured, raped and sold into slavery. She is physically and profoundly emotionally scarred for the rest of her life, until she finally expires at the hands of her captors. I think you are arguing either that:
    (a) Her suffering may be justified because it had the potential to sanctify her, and since God does not know whether or not it would, he is justified in allowing this suffering in the hope that it will have that effect; or
    (b) Her suffering may be justified because God wants to remain hidden and he cannot prevent this suffering without violating that objective.

    Please let me know if I have misunderstood your position.

    Both of these arguments are unsatisfactory. To accept “(a)”, I would have to believe that somehow this poor girl (and others like her) needed this kind of suffering in order to be sanctified, when so many billions of others did not. I can see nothing in the scriptures or in our doctrine or in my own moral sense, no matter how hard I stretch, to justify such an extreme position. I think I understand faith, repentance, obedience, charity etc. as necessary for exaltation. But rape, torture and enslavement as necessary to develop those traits? Note that it is not enough to say this suffering has the potential to sanctify. You must also establish that it has potential that cannot be duplicated with less suffering.

    Argument (b) is also problematic, even if I accept your assertion that God wants to remain hidden. He can easily remain hidden and still protect this family. Even if he allowed the initial brutality, he could heal the physical and emotional wounds of the victims.

    Have I missed something?

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  120. Geoff: Yeah, I think you are missing quite a bit, actually. I guess I am too, because I don’t understand why you think that my concerns can be fairly dismissed as “a personal gripe about the way God does his job”. I am certainly no philosopher, but I am pretty sure I am not the first guy to suggest that these issues are not so trivial.

    Comment by Gary — January 15, 2008 @ 9:48 pm

  121. Gary,

    Suffering is justified if it is necessary to accomplish a greater good that could not be accomplished with less suffering.

    I’d say that is a pretty decent whack at a definition for justified suffering. The problem is that if the future is open (read:not fixed or exhaustively knowable) as I believe it is even God cannot fully know what the longterm results of the suffering of free willed spirits/intelligences/persons will be. So if you are applying an after-the-fact criteria to deciding if suffering is justified or not I don’t think this will work. Rather, I am with Jacob in assuming that God uses all of his love and knowledge and experience to make what he believes is the best choices with regard to his intervention on earth.

    So while I don’t claim to know all the data that God uses when making his choices, of your two choices I think (a) is the most reasonable sounding. You said:

    I would have to believe that somehow this poor girl (and others like her) needed this kind of suffering in order to be sanctified, when so many billions of others did not.

    Just because so many others did not suffer like her in this life does not mean they have not in the infinity of time that came before this life or that they will not in the infinity of time after this life. (This is one of the appeals of the MMP version of eternity, or at least of a “always on probation” view of eternity — it makes theodicies easier.)

    You must also establish that it has potential that cannot be duplicated with less suffering.

    Again, it is a matter of what one believes about the eternities. If this life is our main or final testing ground then you have a point. But I will point to the empathy theory of atonement which says Jesus had to suffer even more severely than the little girl you describe in order to gain the empathy required to attain a higher exaltation than he had already achieved. So the idea that some sanctification (with its attendant empathy) cannot be achieved sans suffering has pretty good support in Mormonism I think.

    I don’t understand why you think that my concerns can be fairly dismissed as “a personal gripe about the way God does his job”

    Well lots of people like to harp on the suffering in the world to “prove” that is really is no God. Of course Mormonism is able to escape the logical problems of evil by assuming the “omnis” are not really omnis. (I like Blake’s terms — maximally powerful, knowledgable, etc.)

    But if you do believe in a powerful and loving God then spending all sorts of time questioning God’s morality for letting this little girl be victimized amounts to complaining about the way that God runs the world. Thus my comment. Now I don’t think it is morally wrong to gripe about the boss (Boss?) — we all do it from time to time in various organizations. But I also don’t think it is wrong for me to call it what it is.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 15, 2008 @ 11:07 pm

  122. Gary,

    Argument (b) is also problematic, even if I accept your assertion that God wants to remain hidden. He can easily remain hidden and still protect this family.

    If you use some single example, you will always be able to argue that God could prevent this specific instance of suffering or that specific atrocity. However, you have made it clear that just solving one more is not enough. God needs to be able, on your view, to prevent every instance of unjustified suffering. Now, as I have said repeatedly, we have no way of really telling how much suffering falls into this category, but you seem to be putting forth the view that it is a lot of the suffering in the world. That becomes the problem. God can potentially solve some specific case, but I do not see how God could solve a significant portion of the suffering in the world without making his presence obvious. You are claiming that he could “easily” do it, but I am not clear on how you think he will do it.

    Furthermore, once you explain the details of how God will prevent this suffering, I will be interested to see if it leaves us in a probation where we are essentially free to do whatever we want. Once God institutes the Minority Report system for torture and rape, we’ll obviously want him to use the same system to prevent other kinds of unjustifiable suffering. How do we prevent people everywhere from making bad choices (due to their negative ramifications for all the people around them) without affecting the scope of their free will? Again, selective intervention works out okay but the systematic and uniform prevention of suffering would require a massive change to the world as we know it. (Your a. and b. are okay but you forgot this last point which we can call c.)

    Even if he allowed the initial brutality, he could heal the physical and emotional wounds of the victims.

    It is worth mentioning that this is exactly what God has promised to do: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 16, 2008 @ 1:36 am

  123. Geoff: For the sake of this discussion, I am trying to work within the paramaters established by Jacob and take as a given that the future is open and God does not know the future. I thought I made it clear up above that I am not applying an after the fact test. I am challenging the view that this suffering is justified because it has the potential to sanctify and that this potential cannot be achieved with less suffering.

    I think you are saying that it is at least plausible that intense suffering is required for exaltation, and the reason we don’t observe that requirement being met in the vast majority of cases is that it may be met in other spheres of existence. That is quite a stretch for me, but I am more interested in ensuring that I understand the arguments than I am in debating them at this point. Do I at least understand correctly?

    As to whether this amounts to nothing more than my own personal gripe about how God does his job, you said: “But if you do believe in a powerful and loving God then spending all sorts of time questioning God’s morality for letting this little girl be victimized amounts to complaining about the way that God runs the world. Thus my comment. Now I don’t think it is morally wrong to gripe about the boss (Boss?) — we all do it from time to time in various organizations. But I also don’t think it is wrong for me to call it what it is.”

    This is a surprising statement coming from the guy who started this discussion by presenting a theodicy. What you really seem to be saying with this statement is that if you are begging the question, then it really doesn’t make sense to spend too much time and effort puzzlig over the question. The question here is whether we can construct a rational and coherent argument to explain the suffering we perceive all around us. Of course, if we take as a given that there is a powerful, loving God who, by definition, has designed a universe in which unjustified suffering does not exist, then you are right. There would be no point spending any time quibbling about suffering, since, by definition, it is all justified. But to those who genuinely wonder how we can reconcile what we observe in the world with our own understanding of the character of God and the plan of salvation, this particular response of yours seems a little trite. I agree that it is not morally wrong.

    Comment by Gary — January 16, 2008 @ 8:38 am

  124. #122 Jacob J- very nicely said.

    Gary said:

    we don’t observe that requirement being met in the vast majority of cases

    If I take about ten minutes and think about my neighborhood, my ward, my stake, and my extended family, I can come up with at least a dozen horrific tragedies and stories of enormous suffering right off the top of my head.

    I know an awesome young mother who recently took her beautiful two-year old daughter (her only child) for family pictures because the next morning the little girl was having surgery for a brain tumor and they might never see her again, or most likely, she would have brain damage and never be the same. I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy, but the rest of the story is tragic, and compounded by the husband not being able to handle the stress and a marriage that won’t survive.

    Can we say one person’s suffering is greater than another’s? We are surrounded by people in pain. Who can say which person should be exempted or when God should step in? Further, there are examples of people suffering as inmates in a prison camp, or as “comfort women” in WWII who yet triumphed over those things. They might testify that God did step in and help them and comfort them, even if He did not change their circumstances at the time. Is their suffering unjustified?

    This is not personal towards Gary or anyone else :-) And I appreciate the chance to talk about this a little bit. It’s made me realize that having compassion for suffering is a good thing, but if we are only wringing our hands over faraway Darfur without doing anything for those all around us who are in pain, we have little room to point to God as one who isn’t doing His job right.

    Comment by C Jones — January 16, 2008 @ 8:53 am

  125. Gary: Of course, if we take as a given that there is a powerful, loving God who, by definition, has designed a universe in which unjustified suffering does not exist, then you are right.

    Well I suppose I am trying to figure out where you are coming from here. Are you trying to argue against the existence of a loving powerful God? That is a perfectly acceptable position if you are, but you have made comments that indicate you do believe in a loving and powerful God. Are you trying to reconcile your deep-seated conviction that there is a powerful and loving God with the evils/sufferings you see in the world? I get that too because that is where I am coming from. Are you agnostic and trying to use this search/discussion to help you decide if you believe in a powerful and loving God? If so you will never land on the side of believing because there is one, and only one, way to answer that question and it is through personal revelatory communication with God.

    My agenda is pretty clear here. I have had personal contact with God and I am trying to vouch for his character. So while I don’t know exactly why he chooses to intervene or not to intervene my experience with him leads me to trust that his choices are entirely moral. Therefore I am simply entertaining the plausible explanations I can come up with based on the perspective and information I do have. Your agenda in this conversation is much murkier to me. (And since you are brand new here I am admittedly always a little suspicious/cautious based on my years of running a blog… I know Jeff G and his history well — I don’t know you and your positions) I don’t mean any offense by this, but I also want to get all the cards on the table.

    As for your other questions, yes you have it right. I am saying that it is at least plausible that intense suffering is required for exaltation.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2008 @ 9:08 am

  126. Jacob: You are right that I take the view that a just powerful God would not allow any unjustified suffering which he had the power to prevent. It follows from that that any example of preventable, unjustified suffering, if it can be shown to exist, is inconsistent with such a God. So I agree with you there. I also agree with you that we don’t know how much suffering falls into that category. It does appear to me that a significant amount of suffering falls into that category but I have no way to measure that. Nevertheless, the issue is not whether God can prevent a significant amount of suffering while remaining hidden. The God we have postulated here should not allow a single case to exist. A single case is enough to disprove on of the premises.

    How would God do this and remain hidden? You and I could both easily come up with numerous ways to prevent any individual case while still remaining hidden, so I suspect you won’t find my examples very useful. I have already mentioned a few possibilities above. But you are looking for me to prove to you that God can do this on a large scale while still remaining hidden. I think you are arguing that the current system designed by God results in less suffering than any other competing system which accomplishes his objectives, so you are not interested in discussing individual cases. But if that is the case, we have to take account of the fact this particular system does in fact allow for intervention by God without violating the hiddeness imperative. Thus, the individual cases matter. If hiddeness is essential, and if hiddeness can be preserved while preventing, say 50,000 of the existing cases of slavery, rape and torture resulting in the kind of suffering I have described, then there is indeed a better system than this one. It is the system that looks like this one, except it has 50,000 fewer cases of slavery, rape and torture and God would be just as hidden in that system as he is in this one. As a result, I don’t think the hiddeness argument gets us anywhere.

    I think that takes us back to the argument that the suffering we perceive is indeed necessary because it accomplishes good that cannot otherwise be accomplished. Are your views similar to Geoff’s on this point?

    Comment by Gary — January 16, 2008 @ 9:13 am

  127. Geoff: I am a believing member who is genuinely trying to understand these issues for myself, and for others who sometimes come to me looking for answers to these questions. I understand why the views expressed above would leave you wondering. Thanks for asking.

    Comment by Gary — January 16, 2008 @ 9:19 am

  128. ECS,

    If I am correct, you were trying to make the argument – why can’t we have agency and the possibility for evil, but just not the worst evils?

    Couple problems:

    First – who decides what the “worst evils” are? You? Is genocide the worst evil?

    I would claim it is not. What makes Darfur particularly worse than Gettysburg and Antietam? The victims are cuter?

    By the same logic its a greater crime to kill a puppy than a salamander simply because the victim is more sympathetic.

    Why is the Battle of the Bulge OK, but Auschwitz not OK?

    And why is child rape worse than adult rape? Because the victim is cuter?

    I’d contend that in many ways, an adult rape causes more suffering and trauma than a child one does.

    So, again – what crimes are you going to outlaw, and what reasons can you give other than sheer “eeew icky” factor?

    You’re being far too squeamish here. You want to allow evil in the world, but you want it to be tamed, disinfected, and slickly packaged for the romantic mind. You want evil to be like in one of those old Westerns, where evil was allowed, but never made us uncomfortable to watch it.

    You’d like to preserve evil, but you’d like it to be neutered first. A mere caricature of itself, without any of the real consequences.

    In short, you don’t want life, you’d like a controlled roleplaying experience.

    I reject that utterly. A world without the worst of evils is not worth living in. I want to actually live life, not just pretend I’m living it. I came to this Second Estate to either conquer or fail. But it will be my victory or failure. I would be utterly humiliated as a child if I had discovered that mom and dad rigged it so I would win the race. I would be rather resentful. Likewise, I will not have God rigging the system to prevent a full experience of the universal realities of good and evil, love and fear, hatred and mercy.

    And I don’t think your spirit brothers and sisters will thank you for trying to rig their game either. You’ve got good intentions, but you really are flirting with Lucifer here (note I used his pre-mortal name rather than his current one). I have no desire to live in a world without rape and genocide. Sounds more like a creepy Stepford Wives project to me.

    Comment by Seth R. — January 16, 2008 @ 9:54 am

  129. I guess 4th Nephi was one of the worst periods of human history then?

    Personally, I could do without rape and genocide. I wish something could have been done to curtail the horrors of Rwanda and more would be done now to address the continuing horror in Darfur. I don’t find it a richer world with those events unabated, and wouldn’t feel any loss if an archangel or two stepped in to send the Janjaweed home. Do you really see unchecked, rampant, suffering as a positive force? There are enough other evils in the world to keep me on my toes without making me resentful that I didn’t live in a time to experience Vlad the Impaler.

    Then again, maybe I just need to expand my vision a bit…

    Comment by NorthboundZax — January 16, 2008 @ 10:13 am

  130. I don’t advocate seeking out evil as a positive force. But I find the idea of artificially repressing it to be both unnatural and wrong.

    Comment by Seth R. — January 16, 2008 @ 10:29 am

  131. I wish something could have been done to curtail the horrors of Rwanda

    Something can be done, at least individually.

    I assume, and I think Mormons teach that God is all-loving.
    If God is all-loving, He is doing all he can within the bounds of what our wills and eternal laws will permit.

    If God is doing all He can, then evil is eternal and can’t be destroyed.
    If evil is eternal, then the atonement provides the way for us to overcome evil by using suffering as a means to our sanctification.

    But I’m thinking that although suffering is necessary, much of the suffering that takes place here is not a matter of God’s will, but our own collective and individual wills. We choose to individually inflict pain on those around us. We choose to support, or at least not oppose policies that lead to suffering in places far away where we never see it. We choose materialism and pornography and selfishness and hunger for power and unrighteous dominion.

    Comment by C Jones — January 16, 2008 @ 11:18 am

  132. But Seth, God apparently does not agree with you. He encourages us to pray to him for divine help in eliminating or mitigating suffering and evil. Our scriptures and testimony meetings are full of examples of people who testify that God has in fact intervened to protect them from some of the very experiences you think should be left unchecked. How do you explain that?

    Comment by Gary — January 16, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  133. Folks, let’s try to avoid going around in circles here.

    C Jones — No one disputes that God is not choosing for people when they rape and murder. The question is how he decides when to intervene and stop it or not. See my examples in the post.

    Seth — I doubt you are a Deist so Gary is right to call you out on calling for “unchecked” evil in the world. God does “check” some evil/suffering but doesn’t stop it in other cases. The problem is trying to figure out why God draws the line where he does. I think it has become pretty clear that we are left with simply guessing on that issue.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2008 @ 11:30 am

  134. One interesting exercise is to ask yourself – if you were given an omnipotent sort of power to prevent any evil in, say, your home town – where would you start, and what evil would you prevent? How would you prevent it? Should you prevent it?

    Comment by Seth R. — January 16, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  135. Seth, I don’t know of anyone here who is arguing that God has an omnipotent sort of power. He is not called the “Great Preventer” or anything like it.

    A better analogy can be found in the series 24. If someone kidnaps your daughter, would you work against the greater needs of the country and capitulate to terrorist demands?

    Comment by Kent — January 16, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

  136. Sorry Geoff, mothering teenagers makes me preachy.
    One last question. If God is always loving and always doing all he can for his children and all are alike to him, wouldn’t the answer be that he *always* intervenes in some way? Maybe just not in obvious ways all the time? I can’t really think of a time where he didn’t do anything at all for me when I was in pain.

    Comment by C Jones — January 16, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  137. C. Jones: It seems to me that it is precisely because God is committed to the best interest of his children that he doesn’t always intervene. For example, I could prevent my children from being hit by a car or encountering negative influences by chaining them to their beds. However, in order to allow room for growth and flourishing, humans like us must be left free to explore where there are all kinds of dangers. It seems to me that there are genuine tragedies because God must leave room for them to occur if he chooses to place us in an environment of soul-making and individual growth. Not everything that occurs is for our good because tragedies can happen in a world that is not set up as a hedonic paradise but as a backdrop against which we can learn to love and care for each other. God cannot have a world without genuine tragedies, or events which are both preventable and it is better that they not occur. However, because God doesn’t have complete foreknowledge of our choices, he must leave us free to choose even when it may be that genuine evils occur.

    So let me be clear. God could prevent the occurrence of a good many genuine tragedies that in fact occur. However, he cannot eliminate the possibility of such genuine tragedies and still realize his goals for us — which are our goals for us. He must leave us in an environment of opposition in all things where we can learn from challenges way outside of the comfort zone. While God has the power to prevent much of the evil that occurs that is in fact genuine (i.e., it would have been better, all things considered, that it did not occur) He cannot do so and also have a world that functions for the purposes of his plan. Thus, there are genuine evils, but not unjustifiable evils.

    Comment by Blake — January 16, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  138. I’m assigned to teach this week’s lesson from the Joseph Smith manual. The subject? “God the Eternal Father”. And the opening quote? “The purposes of our God are great, His love unfathomable, His wisdom infinite, and His power unlimited; therefore, the Saints have cause to rejoice and be glad.”

    If someone had pointed this quote out earlier, we could have saved a few comments :)

    Comment by ECS — January 16, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  139. Per Blake’s last comment, I just thought of the part in the movie The Matrix when Agent Smith says that they had originally created the matrix to be a perfect world without any suffering. But that people (i.e., the human batteries growing in the pods) “wouldn’t accept the program”.

    Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

    Interesting.

    Comment by ECS — January 16, 2008 @ 5:24 pm

  140. See a responding post by The Baron here.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 16, 2008 @ 10:35 pm

  141. Let me respond here and double post at The Baron. What is missing in your post Geoff, and The Baron recognizes, is that God may have overall purposes for his creation and a perspective on matters that Mike lacks. Thus, from all that Joe can muster, it is his moral duty to save Joe. However, The Baron assumes a world where God always intervenes. Such a world is not fit for God’s purposes and defeating such purposes is worse than death which, on an eternal view, is not nearly as bad as failing to grow and learn lessons that we could.

    However, both miss the problem of evil. What if Mike is standing around while Joe tortures and abuses his three year old daughter? We would say that Mike clearly is evil and even complicit in such an act if he can stop it. But what if God doesn’t stop such evils that clearly actually occur with an all-too-distressing frequency? Can just any evils be justified by the notion that if God always intervened in such circumstances then his purposes are defeated? Add to the mix that God can intervene in ways that his interventions are not obvious. God can cause Joe to have a small seizure that stops him from abusing anyone — or simply a short block of dopamine up-take in the synapses of his brain so that he cannot form the thoughts to do so. So the challenge of the problem of evil now becomes: does God intervene with the rights kinds of evils and often enough? That is a much harder question to answer.

    I can see nothing that the suffering of the little girl is necessary to accomplish and it is arguable that a world where small children are never abused is both possible and a much, much better world than this without destroying any divine purposes. Is it reasonable to believe that, from God’s perspective, there are reasons to allow child abuse and 6 million Jews to be murdered? We just don’t know because we don’t have God’s perspective. But given our own, it doesn’t look remotely plausible.

    Moreover, if God always intervened in such cases in very subtle ways, would we even notice the lack of such evils? (We don’t notice for example the evil that we avoid of people spontaneously combusting and blowing up because it never occurs). In addition, nothing of great worth is lost in having such a world. The kinds and distribution of evils becomes a problem because there seem to be evils that are not a necessary condition to accomplish something else of off-setting value, such as Alzheimer’s Disease that destroys a personality.

    Here is a great divide. If the world is created out of nothing, then God could have much more intelligent and morally sensitive creatures than we are. In LDS thought, he has to take us schlocks as we are and go from there. If God creates us out of nothing, then it is immoral for God to use some people as a mere means to benefit other people. However, in LDS thought we can consent in the pre-mortal life to be possibly the means by which others learn from challenges such as caring for people with Alzheimer’s Disease. Could we and would we consent to be willing to be victims of child abuse so that others can learn from their experience and possibly learn the value of love? Could we agree to be victims so that we could possibly learn the value of very difficult forgiveness and even love? It seems to me that the value of the latter may well justify such conditions.

    However, it is now a judgment call rather than a clear black and white judgment like, “well, if Mike should have saved Joe then so should have God.”

    Comment by Blake — January 17, 2008 @ 7:17 am

  142. I’m not sure if I can be clear in what I want to say. First, I agree with Blake’s comments overall. He has clarified some things for me as far as the big picture goes.

    But when I ask if God loves all of us equally and is always all-loving, then why wouldn’t he always intervene in some way, perhaps *intervene* doesn’t mean stop the abusive episode, or make the death camp disappear. But I just can’t believe that He doesn’t do anything at all for those persons. Can intervene mean that he comforts them, or limits the amount of physical or emotional pain being experienced, or affects the memory of it?
    When you bring the big picture of the overall amount of horror of a death camp down to the level of the individual, each person doesn’t have to feel all the pain, just their individual part of it. And so isn’t there room there for God to *always* intervene on that level while still not defeating his purposes?

    Comment by C Jones — January 17, 2008 @ 9:49 am

  143. Gary (#126),

    It seems like we have made some progress. The Baron articulates the problems caused by systematic elimination of suffering, which I have been pointing to. If I am following you argument in #126 (which I think I am, it seems very reasonable), you are acknowledging that systematic elimination of evil is problematic, but pointing out that this doesn’t answer the problem of why God doesn’t solve more evil than he does. So, you say:

    Thus, the individual cases matter. If hiddeness is essential, and if hiddeness can be preserved while preventing, say 50,000 of the existing cases of slavery, rape and torture resulting in the kind of suffering I have described, then there is indeed a better system than this one.

    I think that takes us back to the argument that the suffering we perceive is indeed necessary because it accomplishes good that cannot otherwise be accomplished.

    So, if I understand, you are arguing that there is an either-or here. Either the specific evil is necessary because it accomplishes good that cannot otherwise be accomplished or there is no justification for it if God could have prevented it without revealing himself. Have I got it right?

    Comment by Jacob J — January 17, 2008 @ 10:53 am

  144. C Jones,

    I agree that God likely does intervene exactly to the degree that the individual allows him. One of the most important aspects of the atonement as I understand it is that God experiences my life “with” me, not just as an empathetic observer, but as a partner. My pain is his pain – literally. He experiences my emotions and thoughts as I do, as he is in all things and through all things. It is therefore also in God’s best interest to minimize pain and “profitless” suffering. Why evidence do we have that God does not step in and comfort and strengthen the individual that suffers to the degree that individual allows it by choosing love rather than resentment?

    Just as God has shown me how my prior abuse and pain can be sanctified for my good and has provided me with added compassion and joy, he will do the same for others, including those that I have hurt. All abuse is sickening and wrong, and God experiences all of it, along with experiencing the rage and self-betrayal of the abusers.

    The question many are really asking is why pain and individual agency are so necessary to our plan for happiness. My take is that after partaking of a body, the next most important element of our experience in life is to experience alienation and to then to choose interconnectedness and service. The most important choice we make in life is to see and respond to others’ needs (including abusers and victims) rather than to treat them as objects. It is always a possibility that the abused can also learn love through their harrowing experiences and that in an uncertain future it is beyond God’s knowledge what that moment to moment choice will be.

    Comment by Kent — January 17, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  145. Jacob: Yes, that is my argument. I think that Blake’s comment in 141 makes a similar point, and offers a potential solution. His solution is different from the hypothesis offered by Geoff that intense suffering might be essential to sanctification, but that some of that necessary suffering could occur in different spheres, which explains why we observe such extreme disparities here.

    Comment by Gary — January 17, 2008 @ 11:13 am

  146. Silly – This is all to test your faith. God promises that we will be tempted by evil – so that we can exercise agency. But that it will not be more than we can bear. If we but exercise faith.

    Comment by California Star — January 22, 2008 @ 10:26 pm

  147. One of the things I learned at Clark Goobles old website is to reject Greek absolutism. That is to say we must understand the purposes of God based on the paradigm he has already given us. It is God’s purpose to bring about the exaltation of man. Thus, the reason God acts as he does must be understood within that paradigm. God is all-loving by providing us the means and the support by which we can gain exaltation. God is all-knowing with regards to us reaching exaltation. What God will or won’t do must be viewed within the paradigm of exaltation.

    Theodicy is the combination of two separate events; one of which is derived from the other. Human evil begats human suffering. Before you can tackle human suffering you must tackle human evil. To attack human evil you must be able to define it. This goes back to God’s paradigm. Evil are those acts which keep us from exaltation. If evil begats suffering, it seems logical to limit evil. The effect of limiting evil is that you limit good also. If God decrees there is to be no more lying then telling the truth looses it’s efficacy. If it is decreed that man may not harm children the doing good to children looses it’s efficacy. Since we reach exaltation by doing good, our ability to reach exaltation is limited. It is important, therefore, for God not to infringe upon evil. This is why the prophets have said there must be opposition in all things.

    We cannot mediate suffering by limiting evil. Suffering is a natural consequence of evil. It is neither allowed nor disallowed by God. It has been said that animals who are attacked and killed by other animals probably do not suffer. Their brains can only deal with a certain amount of pain. Beyond that their brains cease to register pain. I think God has designed them (teleology) so there is a limit to their suffering.

    While adrenaline enhances memory function, too much adrenaline impairs memory formation. My memory of a firefight in which 80% of my company was either killed or wounded cannot be recalled as narrative memory. I can only remember the event as snapshots. That is to say I remember being here and I remember being there but I have no memory of going from here to there. Children do not have a mature memory system when they are very young. The hippocampus is not yet fully formed. It seems the hippocampus places events within a context. We need that context in order to recall it. This is why most of us can only begin to remember events after the age of three or four. This is not to say that memories are not being produced. They are; otherwise we couldn’t learn. These events simply cannot be recalled. Thus traumatic events and the suffering, at this early age, are not remembered. Even after the formation of the hippocampus the adrenaline associated with traumatic events can mess the memory so that conscious recall is not possible.

    Even after the development of the hippocampus the young brain is not well equipped to deal with the cascade of chemicals and the neurological disruption which occur with severe trauma. As a result, conscious memory of the trauma is poorly laid down or not laid down at all. Without the ability of the hippocampus to merge the experience with a linguistic component no conscious memory can be formed. No conscious memory means no conscious realization of the trauma exists.

    This doesn’t mean no memory of the event exists. All the sensory information of the event are collected at the rhinal cortex. Neurons then proceed to the hippocampus for further spatial and linguistic integration. However, these neurons are bisected by neurons from the amygdala. The amygdala assigns emotional significance to the event. This is important if the event is to be placed into long-term memory. It also has the ability to bypass the hippocampus and place severe traumatic events directly into memory. This memory can modify behavior but is not available for conscious recollection because the placing of this memory has by-passed the hippocampus. Thus the behavioral changing nature of this memory exists. It simply cannot be brought to consciousness nor can the suffering of the trauma.

    Our bodies are designed in such a way that the full effects of severe trauma can be mitigated. I say ‘can’ because, while this is how we are designed, I’m sure there are exceptions. The point being that while God cannot eliminate evil without limiting good, He has designed us so we need not feel the full effects of that trauma, especially with regards to children.

    At least that’s the world as I see it.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — January 25, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

  148. “Clark Goobles”… That’s cold, man.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 25, 2008 @ 8:09 pm

  149. You’re absolutely right. That was uncalled for and I apologize to Clark. I’m working off memory which doesn’t always work the way I would like it to. Thank god for spell checkers. But again, I apologize to Clark.

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — January 25, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  150. I meant Clark not Clarke

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — January 25, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  151. Geoff J

    Is that all you got from what I said?

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — January 26, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

  152. Rich K: The point being that while God cannot eliminate evil without limiting good, He has designed us so we need not feel the full effects of that trauma, especially with regards to children.

    This is a variation on the “God may not always intervene to stop atrocities but he does help people heal” approach to a theodicy. I am not opposed to using that approach.

    Of course all of the guesses on why God chooses to intervene or not require some faith that he 1) exists, and 2) doesn’t stink at his job. Eventually it all gets back to having faith in those things. That has become abundantly clear to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 26, 2008 @ 2:01 pm

  153. NPR (Fresh Air) yesterday interviewed Bart Ehrman on his book, God’s Problem, in an article titled Questioning Religion on Why We Suffer. It was an excellent discussion of these issues that, for me, explained why the Bible alone is inadequate to address these issues effectively.

    Comment by jonathan n — February 20, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

  154. I have enjoyed reading these posts immensely. Through the discussion many different ideas have come and gone. The discussion doesnt feel closed to me. Are we going with Geoff’s original theodicy or have we made some changes?

    Comment by Derek — April 3, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  155. Well I think the conclusion is that we really can’t explain why God intervenes or not. So with that uncertainty I think we are left with some bright line decisions to make:

    1. Decide if there is a God or not.
    2. Decide if God is truly loving and competent or not.

    For those of us Christians who decide “yes” on both of the above, when it comes to God failing to stop evil on earth we are eventually left to lean on the first principle of the gospel: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically faith in his existence, love, and competence. We can guess about why he intervenes sometimes and doesn’t intervene at other times but it seems to me that we must concede we are just guessing on those things.

    I’m not sure if that is really a theodicy at all. Perhaps it is a concession of ignorance more than anything else.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 3, 2008 @ 10:49 am

  156. It seems the conclusion that you all have come upon is the same conclusion that James Faulconer reaches. That basically in the end, you have to have faith that things are the way they are for the best, and though we cannot see it, God can, so trust that.

    Comment by Derek — April 3, 2008 @ 11:28 am

  157. Good point Derek. I certainly don’t mind agreeing with Jim.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 3, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

  158. Rather late coming into the discussion here, but here’s a couple paragraphs from an argument that the existence of impossible “lifeboat situations” doesn’t invalidate the idea of private property rights – a possible moral rule.

    As a forward, I think the necessity of real agency – not ‘I want to rape someone so God stops me’ – solves many of the problems of heavenly intervention; ‘all these things shall give thee experience’ solves many of the suffering problems, whether you want to believe in custom-tailored problems or an open future.

    And, if God operates by rules and laws, perhaps, like the moral rule of private property discussed below, any inadequacy in certain situations – presuming such are extreme, relatively uncommon, and perhaps insoluble – does not negate the existence or benevolence of God, merely show He is finite.

    “IT IS OFTEN CONTENDED that the existence of extreme, or “lifeboat,” situations disproves any theory of absolute property rights, or indeed of any absolute rights of self-ownership whatsoever. It is claimed that since any theory of individual rights seems to break down or works unsatisfactorily in such fortunately rare situations, therefore there can be no concept of inviolable rights at all. In a typical lifeboat situation, there are, let us say, eight places in a lifeboat putting out from a sinking ship, and there are more than eight people wishing to be saved. Who then is to decide who should be saved and who should die? And what then happens to the right of self-ownership, or, as some people phrase it, the “right to life”?

    “In the first place, a lifeboat situation is hardly a valid test of a theory of rights, or of any moral theory whatsoever. Problems of a moral theory in such an extreme situation do not invalidate a theory for normal situations. In any sphere of moral theory, we are trying to frame an ethic for man, based on his nature and the nature of the world—and this precisely means for normal nature, for the way life usually is, and not for rare and abnormal situations. It is a wise maxim of the law, for precisely this reason, that “hard cases make bad law.” We are trying to frame an ethic for the way men generally live in the world; we are not, after all, interested in framing an ethic that focuses on situations that are rare, extreme, and not generally encountered.”

    http://www.mises.org/rothbard/ethics/twenty.asp

    Comment by Sam — April 22, 2008 @ 7:35 am

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