Thursday, April 30, 2009

The "God" Problem

While doing some research for previous posts, I ran across an online magazine, Synthesis, the Journal of Independent Philosophy. There are some very interesting articles, but it's unclear if the site is ongoing or not as the last articles posted are from September 2008. Still, I'd urge those of you of a philosophical bent to check it out.

Below is an excerpt from the article, "Some Philosophical Problems With Christianity, And A Proposed Solution" by Laird Shaw.
The glaring and most commented-on philosophical problem with Christianity is the problem of suffering. The nature of the problem is this: how could Jehovah, being omnipotent and omnibenevolent - two of the characteristics that Christianity traditionally ascribes to Him - permit all of the suffering that occurs on this planet? I will express it in a slightly different way: why, given virtually unlimited choice, did Jehovah bother to create the material universe and a hell realm...when He could have left it at an eternally blissful heaven? He is, after all, capable of doing anything which is logically possible. Assuming that such things are logically possible, then "anything" includes "the elimination of all suffering from existence" and "the instantiation of a blissful heaven as the sole mode of existence".

Such a glaring problem must of course be addressed by Christianity if it is to have any hope of maintaining any credibility whatsoever, and the typical answer that it provides is that Jehovah created humans (and angels) with free will, and that suffering is the result of an abuse of free will - in other words, that we suffer because we sin. There is a serious problem with this answer, however. Notice the implicit claim that it makes: that free will implies the existence of sin. Is this really true though? In answering "no", let me explain why by examining the nature of free will. Firstly, how free is our will anyway? Can we will ourselves to fly up into the air against gravity? Can we will our bodies to morph into animal shapes? We cannot: clearly then our wills - despite some freedom - are in a sense also constrained. There is another and more important sense in which our wills are constrained: we have preferences and biases. We prefer certain flavours over others; we prefer the company of certain people over other people. Clearly, then, our wills are generally biased in some ways, and a bias is a form of constraint. Finally, consider that our wills operate within a context: the outside world. Our choices in the world are constrained by circumstances, so this is another way in which our wills are not totally free.

What does all of this mean? The key realisation is that it is not that human beings are wholly responsible for their sins: equally (or even more so - He supposedly being omnipotent) it is that Jehovah bears responsibility for man's sin. As sole creator of the universe - according to Christian teaching - Jehovah was free to constrain our wills such that the choice to sin never entered into our minds: He has already constrained it in other ways. Think about it like this: Jehovah has constrained our will such that we cannot oppose gravity; what was stopping Him from constraining our will such that we cannot oppose righteousness? If He is omnipotent, then the answer is plainly that nothing was stopping Him. The implication of this is that if Jehovah is omnipotent, then He is responsible for any suffering that results from sin. Furthermore, as the architect of the universe, it is Jehovah who determined that the consequence of sin is suffering, but He need not have made that the case: He could have chosen instead to ignore or to forgive sin and to not impose any consequences. Again, responsibility for suffering remains with (the omnipotent) Jehovah.

It is apparent then that the typical Christian answer to the question of suffering is inadequate: human "free" will does not really remove responsibility for suffering from Jehovah. The problem remains: a supposedly all-loving and all-powerful deity is responsible for the horrors of war, disease, starvation, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires, tortures and rapes, to mention but a few of the forms of suffering endured by many on this planet without any intervention from Jehovah. The problem is not solved through recourse to the supposed acts of the Devil either, because like everything else in the universe, the Devil is - according to Christian teaching - a creation of Jehovah, and therefore - as for human beings - Jehovah remains responsible for the extent to which He permits the "free" will of the Devil to choose evil.

To really ram the point home, consider that even if Jehovah were not the source of this evil (which - being the source of everything - He plainly must be), He still refrains from intervening to prevent it. Christians like to present Jehovah as a person's best friend. Does your best friend sit idly by and watch as you are brutally beaten, or raped, or does he jump in and defend you? Why is it that Jehovah does not even measure up to these human standards of friendship? The very existence of even a single assault or rape is proof that Jehovah (as He is believed to be) is not truly man's (or woman's) best friend.
So, what do you think about Shaw's suppositions? Agree? Disagree? Indifferent?


  1. even if Jehovah were not the source of this evil (which - being the source of everything - He plainly must be)Which is a BIG reason I have decided Christianity isn't true.

    In short, I agree. This is a very interesting series of posts!

  2. Not to be down on Christianity, but it really does work in only 2 ideal situations. The first, is where the majority of the people are slaves, ruled by a small elite. The ruler use Christianity as a tool that promises a better afterlife, this miserable situation now is a test for a eternally blissful afterlife. Mediaeval Europe was like this.

    The second case where Christianity works, is when everybody is relatively comfortable, and not getting all killed all of a sudden. The gap between the have and have nots, historically speaking, is not astounding. Contrasted to the vast swath of history, there is an abundance of peace and security, well being and safety, basic social justice and rights -- and all of this is blindly taken for granted. Too bad for the rest of the heaving, suffering wolrd. This is the western world, particularly the United States, right now.

  3. yeah very week arguments. if he were to actually debate someone like Geisler or Craig he would get ripped into little itty bitty pieces


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