The Raving Theist

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God Squad Review CVLI (Problem of Evil; Problem of Migraines)

January 23, 2006 | 4 Comments

The problem of evil again surfaces at the Squad, with a reader asking why an omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omniscient being wouldn’t stop bad things from happening if he saw them coming. The reader also notes that the Bible describes “numerous occasions of horrific slaughter committed by the Judeo-Christian God,” and quotes God’s scriptural admission that He “creates evil” (Isaiah 45:7). Oblivious to much of what it has just been asked, the Squad offers this unresponsive jumble of ideas:

The solution is that God knows everything except what we will do next. God has, the German philosopher Liebniz was correct in stating, created the “best of all possible worlds,” and this requires that we be given freedom of will. We can choose whether to follow God’s commandments, or we can choose to reject the truth and live lives of sin and suffering.

This freedom is essential to making the world perfect and is a self-imposed limitation on God’s power. God could, of course, make us all automatons who only do good because we would have no freedom to do evil, but this would make us and the world less perfect. God wants us to grow to follow God freely and in love. The cost of this freedom is our ability to wreak havoc on the Earth and each other, but freedom requires that risk for the ultimate spiritual perfection of humanity. The natural evil in the world (hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) is not really evil, since it is the result of the natural functioning of a living planet.

Note that the Squad doesn’t respond to the most troublesome charge: that God Himself creates evil and commits atrocities. Even if He doesn’t know what we are going to do next, he’s certainly in control of His own actions. Plaguing us with grasshoppers and murdering our first-borns isnt’ something that preserves our free will — those things affirmatively defeat it. Natural disasters similarly interfere with our free will, rather than augment it. To blithely claim that they’re the “natural functioning of a living planet” doesn’t explain why God doesn’t stop them.

Their answer isn’t even satisfactory to explain human evil. A psycho who runs around killing babies and children deprives his victims of free will — they lose their existence and thus become less free than even automatons. So since there’s going to be a loss of free will anyway, it seems a better state of affairs would be to be to simply have a world of happy automatons. Or God could just eliminate the psychos (who are largely automatons anyway) and leave only us nice people who, although free, are likely to elect to eschew evil.

Furthermore, I don’t see how depriving humans of evil-doing capabilities altogether would be a serious limitation on their free will. I feel free enough right now even though I lack the ability to shoot nuclear weapons out of my eyes, so taking away the rest of my destructive powers and tendencies wouldn’t be so bad. I could just exercise my free will in selecting among an infinite number of nice things to do. And if in fact God is incapable of evil (disregarding all of that alleged Biblical naughtiness), why isn’t He considered a free will-lacking automaton? I thought He was supposed to be the freest thing around.

There’s also a problem with their excuse that He doesn’t know what we’re going to do next. Even if our free will makes us less predictable, it doesn’t stop Him from stepping in after he sees us misbehaving and preventing or mitigating much of the damage. Plus, He knows what we’re thinking in the present, and can estimate the probabilities of us acting on our worst urges. Even without being a mindreader, I think I’d call 911 if I saw a pedophile in a clown suit driving off in car after packing the trunk with chloroform and electrical tape.

Plus, the Squad has devoted column after column to explaining the power of prayer to spur God’s intervention. True, in their book that intervention is usually just the “courage to cope,”i.e., a psychological sedative to ease the pain. But if He can do that, it makes sense that he can do more. If I’m tied to a tree at 3:00 a.m. with Jed and Zeke going at me with a blowtorch and a meatsaw, a little adrenaline rush won’t do me much good. I mean, either untie my hands, give the hillbillies strokes, or just shut down my whole freakin’ nervous system.

* * *

In the second letter to the Squad, a reader asks if it’s appropriate to pray to God for relief from something as trifling as a migraine headache. You know, one of those “natural evils” they were talking about in response to the first letter. You don’t have to be omniscient to predict their response:

One difference between the God of philosophers and the God of the Bible or Quran is that the God of philosophers is purely transcendent — removed from contact with earthlings — and is creator of the universe, nothing more. The God of the Abrahamic faiths, however, is both creator of the universe and your personal rock and support through the pains and vicissitudes of life. The God of faith loves you, cares for you, wants the best for you and is ready to heal you. That healing may or may not take away physical pain; it may heal you by helping you live through it. Either way, you should feel comfortable that you are not wasting God’s time or addressing God inappropriately by praying about your migraines.

Okay, I can see someone being happy about living through a headache rather than dying from it. But if I’m tied to a tree at 3:00 a.m. with Jed and Zeke going at me with a blowtorch and a meatsaw . . .


4 Responses to “God Squad Review CVLI (Problem of Evil; Problem of Migraines)”

  1. severalspecies
    January 23rd, 2006 @ 9:51 am

    Ah yes, free will rears it’s ugly head once again. I’ve been thinking lately about that whole deal. If the problem of evil is “solved” by the invocation of free will (and for the sake of this argument, I’ll agree to that idea), I want to know if there is free will in heaven.

    If Yes, for what purpose is life here on earth for? Just beam me up to heaven, intact with free will, and I’ll believe.

    If No, it becomes obvious that free will is not very important. It definitely isn’t good, for all things good are in heaven, are they not?

  2. Jason Malloy
    January 23rd, 2006 @ 10:08 am

    Moreover if freewill is truly an “uncaused cause” instead of a machine reaction of the “designed” human brain in particular (unchosen) environments, than evil actions are actually local to some magical “soul”, which is even worse! Anyway you add it up, human evil must go back to however “god” created humans – either he created defective human nature (brains, biology, etc.), and put us in environments where that biology would go wrong (e.g. poverty, etc), OR he created defective souls. Obviously souls in “heaven” are not “choosing bad”, and yet they are completely free – therefore he should have just *created* those souls. The thing that sucks about omnipotence/omniscience/whatever is that everything is by definition your fault. Boo hoo.

  3. sternwallow
    January 23rd, 2006 @ 11:18 am

    Jason: “The thing that sucks about omnipotence/omniscience/whatever is that everything is by definition your fault. Boo hoo.”

    Can you be referring to something like personal responsibility? Who would create a god with personal responsibility? The notion is ludicrous. By some definitions God has to be a playboy, an irresponsible gadabout living it up on his own terms with no thought for anyone else, certainly no true or permanent love for anyone but himself. God must be the exemplar of egotistical, vain, jealous, paranoid, mean-spirited, hate-ridden and sadistic humanity else where could we have learned such traits?

    The serpent may have done the tempting, but the tree and its knowledge were directly from God.

  4. Peter Sattler
    January 23rd, 2006 @ 12:31 pm

    While I’ve heard the Squad’s sort of response in the past, I’ve perhaps never heard it stated with so little hemming and hawing and hedging.

    In essence, they say this: God knows nothing about the future. (Which means that his abilities are currently limited to simply larger versions of what we mortal folks already possess. His “omniscience” differs in degree, but not in kind, from plain-old human knowledge. Indeed, we may, in principle, know more than God since we often do know what we’re going to do next.)

    Or to put it another, more circumscribed way: God knows nothing about the future of any part of His Universe that lies within the horizon of causality of any one of its “free” inhabitants. And that seems to mean that he knows the future of various mechanical, predictable movements and events — until something unpredictable and non-mechanical is able to change them.

    Well, as the Buddha once said, Big Whoop.

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