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Theodicy

The problem of evil is a family of arguments that given the evils/bads of our world, it is impossible or unlikely that God exists.  A theodicy is an attempt to respond to the problem of evil by pointing out some considerations that might well justify God in allowing some or all of the kinds of evils/bads we meet with.  Here I just wanted to sketch some rough personal reflections that add up to a partial theodicy.  


1. I am not particularly bothered by cases where an evil befalls a person by that person's own free choice, when the person was free to have chosen in such a way that a good would have befallen him instead, especially if that good is such that the freedom to have chosen against it is a constitutive part of the good.  We do not, for instance, need a theodicy for hangovers in the case of people who (a) know that drinking causes hangovers, and (b) are not in the grip of a freedom-canceling compulsion to drink (my "especially clause" applies here, since by refraining from excessive drink one obtains the virtue of self-control, a constitutive part of which is the freedom to have chosen dissipation).  There is no need to think of God's goodness on the analogy of the stereotypical "liberal state" that protects people from every folly of their own.

2. Likewise, I am not particularly bothered by deserved bads.  This is an extension of the preceding point.  In the preceding point, I was focusing on cases where the agent knows (or is aware of very good reason to think) of the bad that will befall him by his choice.  A deserved bad may not be one that the agent knows about.  The agent may falsely believe he will escape justice.  Nonetheless, deserved bad are not a particularly serious problem, since if we deserve something, then it is a good thing--it is just--that it should befall us.  (Here I leave open the question whether it is good for us or good <em>simpliciter</em>;  on Kantian grounds, I think both.)

3. Suppose Milly Malefactor freely wrongs Peter Patient, say by undeservedly punching him in the face.  What do we still need a theodicy for?  Well, by point (1), we do not need a theodicy for the bad <em>to Milly</em> constituted by her having chosen something wrong.  She could have chosen not to wrong Peter, and in choosing to resist temptation shewould have been the recipient of a good dependent on her freedom to have chosen to wrong Peter.  Furthermore, by point (2), if Milly receives a bad gets justly punished for wronging Peter, we do not need a theodicy for that.  That is a deserved bad.  

I think what I have said so far fits fairly well with our intuitions.  When we are worried about the problem of evil, we are not worried about Milly's damaging her soul with her bad choice or Milly's suffering punishment afterwards.  Of course in compassion we should be concerned about Milly.  An evildoer typically harms herself more than she harms others.  However, there is, I think, no logical problem about a perfectly good, all-knowing and all-powerful God allowing Milly to harm herself in this way, since divine justice is thereby exercised.  It is true that according to Christianity and some other monotheistic religions, God goes beyond justice to exercise mercy.  But that mercy is one that he is free not to show us--it is a free gift of his grace.  The problem of evil concerns the coexistence of evil and God's essential attributes.  God's forgiveness of our sins is not one of his <em>essential</em> attributes, i.e., attributes he could not be without.  God was free not to forgive us our sins, but to punish us justly for them.  (And indeed, even as it is, God does not forgive everyone their sins, but only the repentant.)

Of course I am leaving for the last moment the evil that really bothers us, namely the bad <em>to Peter</em> of his being wronged by Milly.  Peter gets undeservedly punched in the face.  Why would an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God allow that?  This does worry us a lot.  

But now suppose that Peter chooses to forgive Milly.  Then Peter will be better off for having been punched.  Moral goods are more important than non-moral goods, since they are more central to who we are.  Being wronged is a non-moral bad to the recipient, though wronging is a moral bad to the agent.  Forgiving is a moral good.  The worse the wrong to Peter, the greater the virtue in Peter's forgiveness.  Thus in the case where Peter does forgive Milly, he is the better off for having been on the receiving end of the wrong.  Moreover, the way in which he is better off is a way that could not happen without his being wronged or at least his being under the illusion of being wronged (I shall not make much of the second disjunct here, because there is a value to God's having Peter know the truth).  For only someone who takes himself to be wronged can forgive.  Hence, in the case where Peter forgives Milly, it seems we now have a theodicy to every evil.  Peter is better off for having been punched as that gave him an opportunity that he accepted to forgive Milly.  Milly is the worse off for having punched Peter, and may go to jail for it, but (1) and (2) take care of that.  (Moreover, we may optimistically note, if Milly knows that she is forgiven by Peter, this can help her climb out of the viciousness of character that the maleficent deed contributed to.)

But what if Peter does not choose to forgive Milly?  Then it seems the forgiveness theodicy falls through.  But that is not clear.  For now we can apply (1) to Peter's overall state (though not directly to his being punched).  Peter is overall the worse off for having been punched and not having accepted the opportunity to forgive Milly.  But he was perfectly free to put himself in a position where he would have been better off for the whole affair, viz., by forgiving Milly.

Now, this sounds like I am blaming the victim instead of the malefactor.  Yes and no.  It is just to blame Milly for what she did.  She is indeed the malefactor.  However, God did no wrong in allowing Milly to punch Peter in the face, because Peter's being punched in the face offered Peter an opportunity for a more important good, for the good of a special exercise of virtue, and it is was Peter who freely rejected that opportunity.  <em>Milly</em> has no right to blame Peter for not forgiving her.  Forgiveness is something we can beg for but cannot demand, even if it is the duty of the wronged party to forgive.  But if God has commanded us to forgive our neighbor, then <em>God</em> has the right to blame Peter for not forgiving Milly.  And even if God has not commanded us to forgive our neighbor, Peter has no right to blame God for allowing Milly to punch him in the face, because this offered Peter an opportunity for a greater good, and it was within God's rights as creator to decide when to allow what opportunities for greater goods.  

I have no right to punch someone in the face in order to put them in a position that would make it possible for the victim to attain greater virtue.  Typically, I have a duty to prevent an undeserved punch in the face even if I think that the victim could be morally better for it, since typically I have no right to judge of the kind of changes that it would be best induce in the victim's character and how.  However, God does have that right, and the knowledge needed for it, and thus God does have the right not to interfere with an evil if that evil makes it possible for the victim to attain greater virtue.

(This story is even more plausible if Peter himself is a sinner needing God's forgiveness, and hence under the obligation to forgive others in order that God should forgive him.)

4. What I said above requires both Milly and Peter to have free will.  (In fact, I think it requires them to have libertarian free will.)  However, if Milly lacks free will, Peter still has the opportunity of forgiving her (perhaps in a non-strict sense of "forgiving") so a part of what I say is true.  The story above certainly does not take care of natural evils (unless we can argue that these are the result of the sin of Adam or the devil's work, and we thus receive the opportunity of forgiving Adam or the devil for them).  A case where Milly murders Peter only fits in the above scheme if Peter has an opportunity before <em>or after</em> his death to forgive Milly.  I am not claiming to have given a theodicy for all evils, but only for many.

Comments

"But now suppose that Peter chooses to forgive Milly. Then Peter will be better off for having been punched."

How much mileage do you think you can get with the forgiveness theodicy? I hope you don't plan on extending this line to cover attrocities like the holocaust, or do you think that no matter how terrible you are treated (limbs lopped off with machetes, gang raped, forced to watch your children killed, etc...), you should thank God for the opportunity to forgive a wrong?

I know you said that the theodicy was partial, but consider this remark, "Of course I am leaving for the last moment the evil that really bothers us, namely the bad to Peter of his being wronged by Milly. Peter gets undeservedly punched in the face. Why would an all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful God allow that? This does worry us a lot."
Well, I don't think that those of us who are persuaded by the argument from evil really are bothered by this case because the degree of wrongdoing is relatively minor. Unless the forgiveness theodicy covers the hard cases, I don't think it addresses a genuine worry. However, when applied to the hard cases, it is terribly worrisome.

The ones that bother me the most greatly of all are those to persons mentally incapable or otherwise unable to understand the concept of forgiveness, or perhaps in such horrific pain as a result of the evil done by the malefactor that they cannot think clearly to forgive. But especially I'm thinking of young children or the mentally impaired who suffer without any opportunity of thinking the thing through and forgiving or finding any "meaning" in the matter. That God should allow the malefactor to do such evils is particularly troubling.

I think, too, that punching in the face is less troubling than more horrific evils--torturing or raping, degrading a person in some way. Even when Peter can forgive, there is something troubling about viewing his ability to forgive as theodicically helpful if he has been horribly tortured or degraded.

If I understand you correctly, are you essentially saying that forgiveness is an essential moral good, and thus without the ability to sin, the ability to forgive would be impossible? If this is so, could this apply to other moral goods? For example, without poverty, charity is impossible and without suffering, compassion is impossible. Can someone really understand good without understanding evil?

1. I do not think the problem of evil is a greater logical or evidential problem in the case of larger evils. Call an evil "gratuitous" if God wouldn't have a sufficiently good reason to permit it (yes, there are difficulties in the details here).

The problem of evil concerns gratuitous evil: indeed, it seems that if there is gratuitous evil, there is no God. While an instance of rape or torture is much, much worse than a mosquito bite, I do not think the evidence for an instance of rape or torture being gratuitous is significantly stronger than the evidence for a mosquito bite being gratuitous. It is, if anything, harder to see what good reason God has for allowing a mosquito bite. Admittedly, the bar is lower--a less good reason is needed--but that does not seem to make it much easier.

2. In cases where the evil suffered is greater, it often will be harder to forgive. But that is precisely what will make forgiveness a greater act of virtue. Yes, I do think that if I were tortured terribly and then I forgave my torturers (and I could only do that with God's grace; it may well be that this theodicy requires a divine gift of grace to the victim), I would better off overall than if I had never been tortured.

At the same time, that is a fate I have no right to impose on anyone else, nor is it even a fate that I have a right to seek for myself. (There is an instructive tale in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History of an early Christian so eager for martyrdom that he turned himself in to the authorities; as a result of fear, however, he then apostasized; lesson: don't actively seek martyrdom.)

Now, the big question is whether God has the right to allow that fate to befall one. I think that at least if God (a) gives one help in forgiving, (b) helps one bear the suffering, and (c) himself suffers along with one, incarnate upon the Cross, then, yes, God does have the right to allow that fate to befall one.

3. The case of victims who do not understand what is happening to them may require an afterlife in which they forgive the malefactors.

"I do think that if I were tortured terribly and then I forgave my torturers (and I could only do that with God's grace; it may well be that this theodicy requires a divine gift of grace to the victim), I would better off overall than if I had never been tortured."

That seems very unlikely. To make it through systematic torture without permanent mental or emotional scars would be extraordinarily rare. Although we cope as best we can with whatever befalls us, it would be strange to say a torture victim was better off from their previous state.

The problem of evil concerns gratuitous evil: indeed, it seems that if there is gratuitous evil, there is no God.

Exactly. It isn't "evil implies that there is no God" it is "gratuitous evil implies that there is no God". The former isn't even coherent, because it involves the self-negation of the person who speaks it. And "gratuitous evil exists" is a lot more difficult to establish (as it should be given that it is, you know, false).

I posted along these lines last fall, when I wrote: "Many worlds are no doubt logically compatible with an infinitely good God's existence, but only this exact one is compatible with my existence. If not for some very precise and extraordinarily unlikely events, many of which are contingent upon the evil of this world, I would not exist at all. If this world is logically incompatible with God's existence and any other is logically incompatible with mine, then God's existence and my existence are, as a logical matter, mutually exclusive. To assert the problem of evil is literally to consign onesself to Hell: to assert that it is impossible for God to love me enough to tolerate the existence of evil."

Asserting the Problem of Evil is asserting eternal and categorical separation of onesself from God: it is to confine onesself to Hell.

The lost page from the book of Job reads as follows:
Job: God, why do you keep poking me with a stick?
God: By making you suffer, I give you the opportunity to forgive me. If you take it, you're better off than you would have been had I not created the opportunity.
J: Oh. One more question. If you're benefitting me, what am I supposed to forgive?
G: Um.....


Two unrelated theological points:

1. As far as I know, no Christian group teaches an afterlife in which one's free choices determine one's eternal destiny. That is, all the souls in the Roman Catholic Purgatory are already saved. But for those Christians who believe in free will, at least some of one's choices in this life do determine one's eternal destiny. And some Christians believe that how one responds to suffering may be such a crucial choice. If we had an afterlife for those not able to understand their suffering in this life to get a chance to understand it, would this involve a new doctrine of a state different from either Purgatory or heaven in which such people partially determined their eternal destiny by accepting or rebelling against the suffering they'd endured unknowingly in this life (as people do in this life)? Or would they all be saved already and just be getting sanctified by this process, i.e. in Purgatory?

2. It seems to me important that the soul-making response to the problem of evil not take the place of the free will response. I think we have to assert at some level that evil-doing--whether Adam's in eating the fruit or a malefactor's in harming an innocent man--is against God's will. And Scripture teaches pretty clearly that it was the Fall that brought death to man. It's not like God would have sent Satan to torture an unfallen Adam to death because it would make Adam so much greater of a soul! At some point, we have to say that a _crucial_ reason why God allows evil-doing is because of the importance to Him of having free beings whose acts have causal efficacy in the world. This means that soul-making isn't the whole story of why God allows evil acts.

"The former isn't even coherent, because it involves the self-negation of the person who speaks it."

It's not automatically incoherent. If there is no God, then the statement is not self-negating, it's simply accurate.

Step2:

Some forms of suffering do scar one for life. No doubt they can make one feel worse off. But it does not follow from this that they make one be worse off.

Here is an off-beat argument for my claim. Let's start with a mild evil, say a non-disfiguring punch to the face. There, it seems fairly clear that the value of forgiving that is a greater good than the pain (physical and psychological) of the punch to the face is an evil. For the exercise of virtue and vice is a more important kind of good and evil than other forms of good and evil. Now, suppose that I get a punch in the face that causes three times the pain. It seems plausible that the virtue in forgiving that punch is three times the virtue of forgiving the smaller punch. But I have no reason to doubt that such a linear relationship continues. Let us say that the suffering of torture (S) is like a million times the mild suffering (s) of the initial punch to the face. Then the value of forgiving that torture (F) is like a million times the value of forgiving (f) that one punch. If f > s, then likewise 100000f > 100000s, and hence F > S.

Never mind the silly math. The point is this. If we admit that for a mild form of suffering the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, and if we admit that the value of forgiveness is proportional to the gravity of the suffering forgiven, then it follows that in general the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, no matter how great, lingering, or scarring the suffering is.

Clayton:
First of all, I'm talking of forgiving fellow men, not forgiving God. But of course your point carries over--what is there to forgive if one is the better off for it? Well, there still is something to forgive, since forgiveness/resentment is not based on overall consequences. Suppose you punch me, and I fall to the ground, face down in the mud, but I survive. Unbeknownst to you, my enemy is coming with a gun to murder me. He doesn't notice me with my face in the mud, and walks on. By knocking me down, you have saved my life. Yes, but because you did so unintentionally, you still wronged me, and I still have something to forgive, no?

It's not automatically incoherent. If there is no God, then the statement is not self-negating, it's simply accurate.

No, it is self-negating in a stronger sense than that, because it asserts that the existence of the self making the assertion (of the POE) is evil, independent of whether there is or is not a God. It asserts that the self making the assertion ought not exist, and therefore that the assertion itself ought not exist.

"It asserts that the self making the assertion ought not exist, and therefore that the assertion itself ought not exist."

No, if as you say, the speaker is making the de facto assertion that "this world is logically incompatible with God's existence and any other is logically incompatible with mine," then, if there is no God, the speaker is _not_ asserting that their own existence is evil. They are simply pointing out that God does not exist.

Clearly, one of the options you presented was "This world exists, and I exist in it, but God does not." So, if there is no God, then that person is just being accurate.

It may be that you believe that the potential act of accurately describing God's nonexistence is evil, but that does not follow logically from the hypothetical example.

The "problem of evil" as far as I can see is not that someone gets punched in the face. It's that truely terrible things happen to the innocent- floods and famines and massacres; children die horribly. I don't think many people would find the comfort of forgiving their child's killer weighs much in comparison to loosing the child. There is a human tendency to look for what good might come from disaster (who hasn't been through a major life shock vowing to become a better person?). But wouldn't the most relevant forgiveness (from the victims) have to be hypothesised into an afterlife? (and what would be the point of "forgiving" malaria?). Any attempt to find "good in evil" just misses the point of the "argument from evil". Bad things happen that we feel would be anathema to a just and loving god exactly _as if there were no god_.

In this case, Zippy, I don't agree. Being a result of evil and being evil are two different things. Fornication is sin, and so any child who is conceived as a result of fornication is conceived as a result of a sinful action. In one sense, it makes sense to say that it would have been "better" had the parents not sinned, even though a child resulted. But recognizing that, even about oneself (if, e.g., one's own parents committed fornication in the act where one was conceived) is certainly not the same thing as saying that one is evil oneself, belongs in hell, or anything like that. "Ought not to exist" can just be a confusing phrase. Perhaps a more direct example would be in vitro fertilization, which the Church itself teaches is wrong. *In one sense*, on that teaching, children conceived by IVF "ought not to exist." But that doesn't actually imply a derogation of the child, only of the act that brought it into existence. A secularist could say the same of a child that resulted from rape, for example. If he himself resulted from rape, he could say that *in one sense* he ought not to exist, but not in a sense that negated his own value, etc.

Zippy:

It seems clearly true that I could have existed in a different world. My free will ensures that. Had I chosen to write this comment in Polish rather than English, the world I am in would have been different. Likewise, if I am older than Smith, then I could have lived in a world that contains none of the evils done by Smith, viz., if Smith's parents chose to refrain from conceiving Smith.

So your claim that I couldn't exist in a different world is not quite correct. A more limited version of the claim, say that I couldn't exist in a world with a history prior to my conception different from the history of this world, may still be defensible.

Mr. Stowell:

Yes, in cases of murder the relevant forgiveness would sometimes have to be in the afterlife.

As for malaria, well the theodicy only applies to evils done by other persons. Hence it does not obviously apply to malaria (unless we can blame the devil or Adam or somebody like that for it).

As a tangential point, is anyone other than me struck by Cardinal Newman's observation that by and large people who are worried about the problem of evil are worried about evils that befell people other than themselves? Newman thinks we can typically see goods that came of evils that befall us, but then we bring in evils that happened to other people. However, it should not surprise us that we cannot see goods that came of evils the happened to others, since we do not know the situation as well.

I'm not at all sure Cardinal Newman is right. Many people have been embittered by evils which happen to them, even if they don't intellectualize enough to think of it as "the problem of evil." Many other people are patient under evils that have befallen them without being "able to see good" that came of it or being able to believe except by faith at the most that things are _better_ as a result. This must surely be the case with many parents who have had a child killed, for example. And many others are so tied up just trying to survive horrific evils that they aren't _thinking_ about it one way or another, as in the case of people whose governments are trying to carry out systematic purges and deliberately causing famines and so forth.

Prof Pruss:
A more limited version of the claim, say that I couldn't exist in a world with a history prior to my conception different from the history of this world, may still be defensible.

That is a reasonable clarification of the claim, and it doesn't change the conclusion (that the POE is self-negating) in the slightest as far as I can tell.

Phil:
Clearly, one of the options you presented was ...

No I didn't (and wouldn't) present that option, because it lacks an essential normative premise. The POE starts from a normative premise to infer a positive claim of God's nonexistence, and that option doesn't have any normative premeses in it. (The normative premise that the POE starts with is that a good God would not have permitted this world to exist because of some property of this world).

Remember, my specific claim here isn't "no God and the existence of this world are logically incompatible". My specific claim here is "the POE is rationally incoherent". What you presented was not a sufficient statement of the POE, because you left out the normative premise from which the POE infers its conclusion.

Lydia:
I *think* your comment works as a matter of clarifying the difference between gratuitous evil and non-gatuitous evil. As Professor Pruss points out, the POE only has inferential power if it is predicated on the existence of gratuituous evil. The multiple moral senses of the rape viewed as history - the good child that came forth from it - just says (to my understanding) that the evil of the rape, while genuinely evil, was not gratuitous.

I posted on this at my blog. Subject: Professor Pruss' insight that the POE requires gratuitous evil in order to do its inferential work; and that "this statement X, which is not a statement of the POE, is not self-negating" does not constitute a counter-argument to my contention that the POE is self-negating.

Zippy,

I think this is more simple than you're making it.

You stated: "To assert the problem of evil is literally to consign onesself to Hell."

If there is no God, or if you'd prefer, if there is no Hell, then the speaker is not consigning themself to Hell. They couldn't be doing that, because there is no Hell to consign themselves to, no matter what they say.

I'm not suggesting that the person who asserts the Problem of Evil can _prove_ anything through their assertion, but if there is no God, and they say "Evil implies that there is no God," then they are still accurate in their belief that there is no God.

"If we admit that for a mild form of suffering the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, and if we admit that the value of forgiveness is proportional to the gravity of the suffering forgiven, then it follows that in general the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, no matter how great, lingering, or scarring the suffering is."

I do attach a value to forgiveness, but it is not tied to the degree of suffering. The cost of resentment or being grief stricken has a negative value that makes forgiveness a better choice since it allows hope to continue and healing to start. This does not mean that someone who is permanently crippled by an act of evil is better off than they were before. Obviously, the fact they are physically or emotionally crippled means they have lost something they cannot recover from.

The value that I see in forgiveness is not directly related to the healing of the victim. Rather, the value is in the fact that the victim manages to love the perpetrator, despite the perpetrator's wronging him. Forgiveness, thus, is a victory of love over evil.

It certainly seems to me that, at least ceteris paribus, it is more praiseworthy to forgive a greater offense than a lesser.

"Yes, in cases of murder the relevant forgiveness would sometimes have to be in the afterlife."

What about a case where a victim received enough brain damage to significantly change their personality to make forgiveness extremely unlikely? Does this also require an afterlife, and must we assume that in the afterlife this person's personality will be changed back to what it was originally?

How responsible is this person for failure to forgive if the forgiveness would have been likely prior to brain damage?

I can only think of what CS Lewis wrote (paraphrased): God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts at us in our suffering. Pain is God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

I'm not suggesting that the person who asserts the Problem of Evil can _prove_ anything through their assertion...

Then I don't really have an argument with you. The POE is a putative demonstration of the nonexistence of God. If we all agree that it doesn't do this, and that it becomes incoherent when it attempts to do this, then I am content with that result.

Professor Pruss writes in one of the comments: "As for malaria, well the theodicy only applies to evils done by other persons. Hence it does not obviously apply to malaria."

This seems right to me. The arguments in this post also do not apply to the evil suffered by the victims of, say, an earthquake. So we have the following proof:

Jane lost the use of her legs because a heavy object fell on her during an earthquake. If there existed an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent agent, then that agent would have successfully intervened to prevent Jane's legs from being crushed, so her legs would not have been crushed. This is because, on account of his omniscience, the agent would have known that Jane's legs were about to be crushed if noone intervenes, and he would also have known that he had the ability successfully intervene. On account of his omnibenevolence, he would in fact have attempted to intervene. And on account of his omnipotence, his attempt to intervene would have been successful and would have saved Jane's legs. But as a matter of fact, her legs were crushed. Therefore, there does not exist any omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being.

Interestingly, this form of argument does not even seem to require anything as strong as the assumption of omnibenevolence. As far as I can see, it also refutes the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent agent who is even so much as a minimally decent person. Just take any regular human being, say John, and imagine that John knew full-well that someone else's legs were about to be crushed, and that he also knew that by intervening he could easily save that person's legs (the assumption of omnipotence warrants positing a scenario in which the action could be performed easily without damaging the analogy). If he does not make any attempt to save the other person's legs, we would be justified in thinking that John is severely lacking in the sort of basic decency that we expect of people of average moral character. So it seems that we have a proof that there is no agent in which the qualities of omniscience, omnipotence, and minimal decency are co-instantiated.

Mr. Glodek:

Obviously, a different response is needed there. Note that the duty to intervene to prevent a serious injury has many qualifiers. For instance, one has no duty to intervene when an injury is deserved, and one has no duty to intervene when the injury makes possible greater goods (e.g., if I see a surgeon about to cut off someone's gangrenous leg, I have no duty to prevent the amputation; likewise, if I see a rock falling on your legs but I know--in some mysterious way--that it's likely to change your life in a way that makes the life more meaningful, I have no duty to intervene).

Thus, to defend your argument, it seems you need to exhibit a real-life case where you can show (a) that the injury was not the work of a person (e.g., a contractor who built a substandard house in an earthquake prone area, or Adam, or the devil) since otherwise my earlier argument applies, and (b) that the victim did not deserve the injury, and (c) that the injury did not make possible greater goods.

Except in the case of injuries to small children, the task of showing (b) is impossible. The task of showing (a) is quite difficult to impossible. And showing (c) would take a lot of work.

The prospects for a disproof along these lines seem slim.

I don't myself believe that we're justified in failing to act in that sort of scenario even if we "know in some mysterious way" that this will bring greater good to the person. I'd save Jane's legs even if I somehow "knew" that it would be good for her character to lose them. That is, unless that "knowing" took the form of an unambiguous message from God Himself that said, "Don't save Jane's legs." I think we humans have to act on the level of helping presumptively innocent people not be harmed, and let God worry about their spiritual well-being that might be enhanced by severe physical harm. This seems to me relevant to the moral evil issue, too. It would be wrong for you to push the rock down onto Jane's legs even if you knew that forgiving you would be good for her spiritually. Doesn't something similar apply to failing to stop the rock from falling if you have the power to do so quite easily and without doing any other active harm?

That being said, I don't want to give the impression that I think theodicy is un-doable. I just think you need to bring in some considerations outside of the present argument, such as free will, the fall of man, and God's understandably limiting the use of miraculous interventions at least to within some sort of bounds. This last consideration does leave the probabilistic problem of evil still having some force. And I actually think it _does_ have some force, but that that force is outweighed by evidence in favor of God's existence.

To address Zippy's concern, I think the PoE is a powerful criticism not against the existence of God, but of the combined attributes assigned to God by theists. So the fallen world is not compatible with an omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good divinity. The easiest way around the problem, it seems to me, is for the monotheist to simply limit one of those three attributes. So God could be good on a total balance but not in every instance, or God could be pluripotent, or Open Theism could be the correct view of omniscience.

The Open Theism view is the one that is least problematic for the concept of free will, so that seems the most likely, but any of them should be enough to answer the legitimate criticisms of the PoE. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_theism

To address Dr. Pruss's view of forgiveness, I think it trades on a highly romanticized concept of love. I have no problem stating that a person who forgives an evil done to them is acting virtuous, what I have a problem with is stating that the person is better off than they were before, no matter how severe their injury, simply by being able to forgive.

Many thanks for the detailed response. I think that even where there is no duty to intervene, a person of at least average moral character would intervene even in the absence of such a duty, since they would want to prevent the other person's legs from being crushed. I would, at any rate, think of a person who does not intervene in that sort of situation as being morally worse than most of the people I have met. So even if we could perhaps argue that there is no duty to act in that sort of situation, I do think that someone who refrains from acting would be a pretty bad person, certainly worse than average people.

As for (a),(b), and (c):

(c): There would seem to be many real-life cases where injuries produced by earthquakes do not produce greater goods. The loss of the use of one's legs at an early point in life is in nearly all cases a very bad thing to happen to a person. They will not be able to walk anywhere for the remainder of their lives. Giving the severity of the impairment, it is extremely implausible that, in all cases in which people have sustained crippling injuries from earthquakes, the event of their sustaining these injuries brought about some good that outweighs the bad that befell them.

(b) It seems to me that it is fairly obvious for general ethical reasons that the victim did not deserve that their legs be crushed. This is because even people who fail to be innocent do not deserve that their legs be crushed. This fact is widely recognized, for example, by parents who do not crush their childrens' legs (or stand by idly as it happens), even if they believe that their children are guilty of something. It is also recognized by most criminal justice systems that noone deserves that their legs be crushed. For example, if we apprehend a murderer and convict him of the murder, we may imprison him, but we may not crush his legs. That is because, even though he is guilty of murder, he does not therefore deserve to be mutilated in this way. Again, it seems to me that many people of average moral character recognize that committing murder does not make a person deserving of being mutilated by having their legs crushed. So an agent who refrained from saving someone else's legs on the grounds that the other person fails to be innocent would, as far as I can see, be morally worse than most people I know.

As for (a) the suggestion that earthquakes may be the work of people, I was speaking of earthquakes that occur naturally and are not the result of, say, a nuclear explosion, or just the vibrations that occur when a freight train goes by one's house. I was thinking of earthquakes like the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. This seems to have occured naturally, and it is hard to believe that building contractors are to blame for all the serious injuries that occured during that quake. Also, there does not seem to be good reason to think that any person caused this earthquake. Human beings did not have the technology to bring about such massive movements of soil (seismologists would, I think, agree with this). Also, there also is no sufficient reason to think that some non-human being, say a Japanese Gaki demon, brought this about. If someone does believe that a Gaki did bring about the Kanto earthquake, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with them to provide evidence that is sufficient to warrant this claim.

The easiest way around the problem, it seems to me, is for the monotheist to simply limit one of those three attributes.

My solution is slightly different from this. At bottom my solution does rest on pointing out an incoherence in certain understandings of omnipotence: understandings of omnipotence which require omnipotence to entail that God can do something incoherent, as if something incoherent were an actual thing that a being could actually do. He who asserts the POE is asserting that his own creation as a contingent being resulting from this actual world is itself evil. Usually this rests on an implicit understanding of omnipotence that is logically self-contradictory: on the idea that God could have created me without actually creating me, usually phrased as the notion that God could have created "me" in an entirely different manner, as if this assertion did not represent an equivocation on the term "me". It would be just as sensible to suppose that God could have created "me" as a turnip.

Mr. Glodek:

(c): That the loss of the use of one's legs is a severe impairment is indisputable. But that the loss would result in an overall poorer life is far from clear. To make that judgment, one would need to compare the person's actual life with the counterfactual life that the person would have had if the legs had been there. That comparison is a hard one for a non-omniscient being to make (and even an omniscient being may be unable to make it if the counterfactual is not well defined).

(It is also worth noting a difference between the case of God and humans. It is better for me to exist without legs than not to exist at all. God does good thing for me by creating me in circumstances in which I am going to lose my legs instead of not creating me.)

(b): Punishment must be levied by an appropriate authority. Parents are typically an appropriate authority only for mild punishments. They do not have the authority to imprison and much less do they have the authority to execute.

It is better to lose one's legs than to lose one's life. Indeed when someone is executed, his legs are destroyed, since death is simply the destruction of the entire body. Thus if we think there are some crimes that deserve death, it is plausible that there are some crimes that deserve the loss of legs. (It seems, however, that such punishments are inappropriate for a human court to impose, e.g., because of adverse consequences for the executioner's character.)

(a): Burden of proof questions are tricky. If you're offering an argument for the non-existence of God, and that argument only works if some event is not the product of free agency, then on the face of it you owe an argument that the event is not the product of free agency. I am aware of no evidence that a demon was not in some way responsible for the earthquake or the loss of life and limb in it.

Step2:

1. Do you admit that for a mild evil, one will be better off after forgiving it than had the evil not happened?

2. If so, is it also not true that the virtue involved in forgiving a wrong is proportional to the gravity of the wrong?

It is better for me to exist without legs than not to exist at all. God does good thing for me by creating me in circumstances in which I am going to lose my legs instead of not creating me.

Can we really say that? Doesn't that statement suggest that the greatest evil God permits is failure to exist? As such, the POE would be established by a preponderance of evidence, because there will always be infinitely more people that God did not allow to exist than he created. If you don't exist, you can't forgive, so the theodicy doesn't work.

The words "good" and "evil" are a posteriori-- merely descriptions of say pain-states; and of course somewhat subjective as Hume suggests. Thus all one can say is that any presumed Deity (or deities) creates great pain--apparent pain. Yet that begs the question of whether one can justify a Deity's existence a posteriori--; unless one wants to grant a highly sadistic Deity (or team of Deities), that seems implausible (and yes, 20th century history seems to fit the bill for sadistic---He would know, and indeed have programmed history knowingly, or He's not a Deity). Not real deep---Voltaire said much the same--but there is no obligation to allow the theologian his "givens" (omnipotence, perfect creation, love, forgiveness ,etc). Rational skepticism or irrational faith: that is the choice. At least Kierkegaard was capable of some wit, along with all of his murkiness and irrationalism: more than most modern xtians could claim.

Phil's point ought to be well-taken. 'It is better for me to exist without legs than it is not to exist at all' is true only in worlds where my existence without legs is on-balance good. Suppose it is true that had God created me "unlegged" then my life would have been on-balance bad. For all I know, that conditional is true. If so, then worlds in which God would have created me unlegged are not better for me than those in which I do not exist at all.

Zippy,

I don't think it depends only upon creation. It also depends upon the claim that God could appear to each of us if He wanted to, much in the same way Paul was converted and his old "me" was discarded.

Dr. Pruss,

1. Yes.
2. Up to a point, it is. There is a point of diminishing value and eventually justice becomes meaningless from a proportional valuation.

Failure to exist is worse than a painful existence. However, it is not the case that God is being unkind to x by failing to create x, since one cannot be unkind to those who do not exist.

However, my observation about non-existence does show that there is a serious problem with understanding the problem of evil in consequentialist terms. For once we accept the consequentialist principle that if consequences C* are better than consequences C and it is permissible to act in a way that results in C then it is permissible to act in a way that results in C*, we will have a universal theodicy as soon as we admit that it was permissible for God not to create anything. But this consequentialist principle is false.

Failure to exist is worse than a painful existence.

Existing in pain that is excruciatingly painful for 10 mins. and then dying is better than not existing at all? Can you seriously be asserting that a world in which there is a single person experiencing literally nothing but insufferably excruciating pain is better for this person than worlds in which this person does not exist? It's patently absurd. Good lord, I hope you're joking.

[...]since one cannot be unkind to those who do not exist.

If God is omnipotent, then He can be unkind to those who do not exist.

Your statements are contradictory; how can it be worse to "not exist" than "to suffer X" if no one can possibly "not exist?" Either the state of nonexistence is an identifiable trait which can be compared to something else or it is not.

We might not be able to conceive of people who don't exist, but an omniscient God can.

Mike:

What do you think is bad about pain? (A serious question.)

I tend to think that, as Alex implies, it just isn't meaningful to speak of whether it's "better for" a person to exist than not to exist, because this seems to imply that you _have_ the person whether he exists or not and then can ask if he's "better off" not existing. All such assertions *either way* ("He's better off existing" "He's better off not existing") seem to me nonsense.

Existing in pain that is excruciatingly painful for 10 mins. and then dying [**] is better than not existing at all?

The part you left off, which I marked with [**], is "and then enjoying the Beatific Vision for all of eternity".

True, with no God it is arguable that being the baby in the dumpster is worse than never existing at all. (To the extent that any proposition about Being which begins with the premise "with no God" is even coherent; but that is another discussion entirely).

You are overlooking JL Mackie's rather important (and even obvious) point: any Creator could, by definition, have created a world in such a way which would have decreased the amount of pain inflicted on innocents, whether in terms of human or natural acts. He doesn't. And he doesn't prevent repeated painful, sadistic situations (wars, genocide, invasions, etc: Tamerlane 101) that he supposedly has the power to change and alter. It's not merely that he doesn't (or can't?) intervene: He created the parameters (which is to say, that is absurd--where did He do the programming for one?---thus ~god). So, either deny theological claims because some don't care to believe in some Tamerlane-like Deity, or pay fealty to your dark lord and master: Pol pot, part of His vast handiwork!

Mike, Mike, and Mike: I can tell you apart, but our readers might have trouble. Would you mind appending a last name or initial to your name when you comment? Thanks.

Zippy,

Considering your previous comments about the inherent contradiction of different worlds than this one, why would you assert an eternal afterlife in Heaven?

Dr. Pruss,

I think Lydia makes a valid point, you will need to make your justification of injury and pain to something other than nonexistence.

...any Creator could, by definition, have created a world in such a way which would have decreased the amount of pain inflicted on innocents, whether in terms of human or natural acts.

(1) Who would you give up in order to have that world?

(2) How do you know that that hypothetical world doesn't exist in addition to this definitely real one?

What people don't seem to be understanding (though it seems obvious to me) is that the POE is a rejection of the existence of this world as an evil world, independent of all other possible worlds.

Alex,
Mind if I call you and everyone else 'Bruce' to keep things simple?

What do you think is good about forgiveness?

I have a hard time understanding how someone could fail to see how pain could be bad. I don't think many seriously entertain the idea that causing someone pain makes things better (except in cases of just punishment) or has no relevance to their welfare, but scepticism as to the significance of forgiveness is considerably more intelligible.

While we might allow that sometimes forgiveness is good, we might also allow that sometimes it is inappropriate. For example, I might forgive you for harming me if you acted out of character and regret what you've done. If someone else causes me a similar harm but isn't acting out of character and doesn't regret what he's done, I'm far from convinced that I make things better by forgiving.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it is possible to be wronged in such a way that only someone who fails to respect themselves sufficiently would consider forgiving, in which case there is a Kantian reason not to forgive (i.e., such forgiveness is inconsistent with proper respect for persons). What argument do you have against such a possibility? There are examples that strike me as intuitively obvious illustrations of this point. [Incidentally, this Kantian point I'm alluding to is useful for addressing this response you offer to Step2, "Never mind the silly math. The point is this. If we admit that for a mild form of suffering the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, and if we admit that the value of forgiveness is proportional to the gravity of the suffering forgiven, then it follows that in general the moral value of forgiveness outweighs the non-moral disvalue of suffering, no matter how great, lingering, or scarring the suffering is." If there is some threshold beyond which no self-respecting person would forgive, we can see why the important conclusion you are trying to draw cannot be established in a "mathy" way].

Earlier I was puzzled because you seemed to be suggesting that if I forgive I'm better off for having suffered the wrong and forgiven than I would have been had I not suffered the wrong. That still doesn't seem intuitively true, but more to the point, I don't get your response. You seem to suggest that my question presupposes that forgiveness/resentment is based upon overall consequences.

I don't think that. Actually, I think it's quite obvious that it cannot be based upon overall consequences for the simple reason that there is such a thing as harmless wrongdoing. What I found puzzling was this. In the story I imagined, God acted with the intention of benefitting Job and did benefit Job on the condition that Job had something to forgive. I couldn't figure out what could be forgiven. I still cannot. It seems that if you're right, I should be grateful to God because I've suffered and had the opportunity to forgive. Well, suppose the suffering is due to natural evil. What is it I could forgive God for if God makes me suffer the natural evil because of concern for my welfare, acting on the best of intentions?

Zip, you write,

The part you left off, which I marked with [**], is "and then enjoying the Beatific Vision for all of eternity"

This wasn't Alex's argument. But ok. First assume that some form of Universalism is true, so that everyone gets to Heaven. Next assume that (I guess) UniversalismPlus is true so that everyone who gets to heaven gets the Vision. Is it true that I am better off existing than not? I would say that the best event would be my instantaneous existence--an existence whose duration is exactly a temporal instant (i.e., having literally no temporal extension) rather than 10mins of excruciating pain and then death. That's as close to non-existence of I can get plus UniversalismPlus. No unnecessary pain.

Alex, you write,

What do you think is bad about pain? (A serious question.)

I take the state of affairs that 'I am in pain' to be intrinsically bad, if that's what you are asking. I don't take the badness of that state of affairs to be dependent on, for instance, my preference not to be in pain or to be dependent on my considered or laundered preference that I am not in pain. So, on the only view I find reasonable, it might be that someone desires to be in pain while the satisfaction of that desire diminishes the person's well-being. In that case the person simply desires what is worse for him. I haven't found a preference-theoretic account of moral value that was even close to plausible. Have you?

One of my hesitations about Alex's theodicy comes not from a denial that forgiveness is a good (here I don't agree with Clayton that forgiveness wd. indicate a lack of self-respect) but from a pretty strong hesitation to say that a situation where a woman is raped and forgives her rapist is better than one where she is never raped. I have no intuition that the world is a better place or even that she is better off for the improvement to her character brought about by forgiving the evil done to her. The suffering is a horrific evil in itself, and I don't see the "improvement to character" as even clearly comparable, much less as "outweighing" the evil.

Here's an interesting thought: Is it often the case that your (Alex's) intuitions are to compare moral benefits or harms to physical benefits or harms, whereas my intuitions are that these must be kept separate? Here I'm thinking of the comparison in a different post that you were making between seducing someone to commit adultery and murdering someone, arguing that the former was a graver evil and hence, if the death penalty cd. be required to be given by the state, should require it even more. Here, the moral/spiritual item--forgiveness--is a good thing, but it's again being compared to direct physical harms of various sorts.

My intuitions just boggle at those sorts of comparisons.

First assume that some form of Universalism is true, so that everyone gets to Heaven.

I don't know why I would want or need to assume that. Stipulating that an innocent infant goes to Heaven - or more generally trusting that a good God will assure a good fate for innocent infants who die - doesn't imply that you or I escape Hell.

No unnecessary pain.

That is pretty much begging the question though, isn't it?

Considering your previous comments about the inherent contradiction of different worlds than this one, why would you assert an eternal afterlife in Heaven?

I'm baffled by the question. I don't find different worlds (hypothetical or actual) than this one contradictory. I'm just not actually in a different world from this one at present, and this is the actual world that produced the actual me.

...is that the POE is a rejection of the existence of this world as an evil world...

That might be true, except when it's not. The person expressing the POE is not necessarily saying that she would prefer to live in another world, or that this world is more evil than good, or even that this world is bad. There's also nothing about expressing the POE that says the speaker cannot also believe that an omnipotent, benevolent and omniscient God _could_ have created her and inserted her into any one of an infinite number of worlds.

It's only a statement that it _didn't_ happen, because, based on the evidence presented in the statement, that benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent God probably doesn't exist. The only way to interpret the expression of the POE as self-negating or contradictory is to assign additional statements to the speaker that do not flow logically from the original statement, assuming that statement reads something like, "The existence of evil in the world provides evidence that there is no God."

The only way to interpret the expression of the POE as self-negating or contradictory is to assign additional statements to the speaker that do not flow logically from the original statement, assuming that statement reads something like, "The existence of evil in the world provides evidence that there is no God."

The statement "the existence of evil in this world provides evidence that there is no God" necessarily includes an assertion that my existence is evil and would not (or probably would not, if we are doing this probabilistically) be tolerated by a good God; because my existence is contingent upon this particular world. (It is certainly possible for someeone to assert a denial that these concepts are necessarily connected in this way, but the possibility of asserting a denial doesn't establish that asserting a denial is rational).

Lydia:

Actually, I do believe in incommensurables, but I also believe the phronimos can make reasonable choices between them, and the spiritual should be chosen.

On forgiveness, I think it is more than just outweighing. It is, to use Marilyn Adams' term, defeat. By forgiving an evil done to us, we defeat that evil. A defeated evil (in this sense of "defeat") is still an evil, but it is an evil useless to the problem of evil.

I have no intuition that the world is a better place or even that she is better off for the improvement to her character brought about by forgiving the evil done to her.

I agree with Lydia here. My intuitions scream that it isn't and can't be about "the world being a better place". Rather, I think the question "who would you give up" is the really telling one. To complain that God permits evil is necessarily to complain that God allows any of us to exist at all.

I think people tend to live in rather neatly ordered hypothetical worlds, where you can alter this and alter that say 1000 years ago without wiping us all out of existence, and don't appreciate just how radically contingent each of our actual existences is in this actual world.

Clayton:

You write: "I'd go so far as to say that it is possible to be wronged in such a way that only someone who fails to respect themselves sufficiently would consider forgiving".

I am afraid I do not have any intuition that such cases exist. Do you want to give an example?

My suspicion is that the kinds of cases you are thinking of are ones where it is inappropriate to ignore, deny or minimize the wrong. But that is not what one does in forgiveness. If, for instance, one ignores the wrong (whether because one is a push-over or in the Nietzschean supermanly way), one is not forgiving. One is ignoring, and the perpetrator remains unforgiven.

The best cases of forgiveness are ones where the wrong is clear, where the perpetrator clearly has no excuse and the victim sees none, but the victim simply, freely, out of love of neighbor forgives the terrible wrong, with no strings attached, with compassion for the evildoer who has put such guilt on his head, who has harmed himself more than he has harmed his victim. Why is this good? It is repaying evil with good. It is an act of love.

Here's one of my favorite illustrations of forgiveness. I think I came across it in a collection of Jewish jokes. A hassid's house is robbed. After the robber has left, the hassid runs after the robber, yelling: "I declare my property ownerless."

(Normally the robber would be obliged to make restitution should the robber repent. The hassid does not want the difficulties of restitution to stand in the way of the robber's path to repentance, and so he brings it about that nothing needs to be given back.)

But suppose you don't buy any of that. Still, I can say this. The problem of evil is an argument against the existence of God. One audience it can be addressed to are people who believe in God. Now when it is addressed to such an audience, to be of any use it must be based on premises that the audience accepts. If one of the premises in a worked out problem of evil argument is going to be that forgiveness is not a great good, then that argument will simply have no force for those theists for whom the value of forgiveness is one of the centerpieces of the faith.

I think the locution "He is better off existing" simply means "Overall, his life is good (for him)."

The statement "the existence of evil in this world provides evidence that there is no God" necessarily includes an assertion that my existence is evil[...]"

No, that assertion really doesn't follow in any rational way. You can't assume anything about what the speaker is saying about what "could have been."

Assume that we were dealing with something more benign than good and evil. Let's say there's a religious cult that asserts that God would never create harmful fruits, because he is a fruit-based God. If I could find people in this cult who were allergic to bananas, I might assert the POB; that is, since God created bananas and they are harmful to some people, the God they are proposing probably does not exist.

This does not mean that I am also asserting that I am a banana.

I get that you're saying that "if the world were any other way, I would not exist," but that obviously wouldn't have been a problem for an omnipotent God. Every single person who ever existed could still have lived in a world without evil, and simply been Assumed into heaven instead of dying (painfully or otherwise.) There is simply no rational basis to assume that the asserter or the POE is also asserting that she is evil.

I don't know why I would want or need to assume [Universalism]. Stipulating that an innocent infant goes to Heaven - or more generally trusting that a good God will assure a good fate for innocent infants who die - doesn't imply that you or I escape Hell.

Who said anything about innocent infants? Who said I'd instantiated in any particular way? I didn't. I assumed that my existence includes 10mins. of insufferably excruciating pain. Maybe God instantiates me as an adult or as a teen, etc. It does not matter to my argument, so I make no such assumptions. To cover these possibilities, I am willing to concede Universalism. It too makes no difference to my argument.

No unnecessary pain. That is pretty much begging the question though, isn't it?

Was the question whether the pain was necessary or not? I don't recall that being the question at all. In fact, the question was whether a life of excruciating pain was worth living? I say it isn't, even adding the universal assurance of the Beatific Vision. You suggested above--at least as I read it--that no non-existing being gets the Beatific Vision, so it's worth the pain. I said that it's still not worth the pain. Assuming we all get the Beatific Vision, it is better to have nothing more than an instantaneous existence than to have 10mins of excruciating pain and then BV. We both get the BV. If you want now to add that the excruciating pain is necessary to getting the BV, then I guess I'd like to see the argument.

I am afraid I do not have any intuition that such cases [i.e. cases in which no one can forgive and show proper respect for themselves] exist. Do you want to give an example?

Are they really that hard to imagine? I'll take my inspiration from Lydia's example (who I seem to be agreeing with in two consecutive threads (Holy pigs flying over the frozen lakes of Hades!)). Imagine a woman who is raped, the rapist cannot be touched by the law, and he taunts her constantly. Oh, if it helps, he was joined by six of his friends, they were HIV positive, and in the course of attacking her, they lopped off her limbs using machetes. Then they burned her. She is now poor, HIV positive, raising a child that is the product of rape, and limbless. Based on a true story. If she forgave such horrible crimes, this would seem to indicate (to me) a profound failure on her part to respect herself.

Not everyone has the intuitions I have. [Maybe because they don't have sufficient respect for persons because of their theological commitments? Dunno].

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe in the wake of the assault and prior to the decision to apologize freely, the world could have gone one of two ways:
w1: She forgives in the wake of the attack.
w2: She decides not to forgive in the wake of the attack.

I have a hard time thinking that all else being equal w1 is better than w2.

If I'm wrong, I suppose we'd have to say that her decision to refrain from forgiving was either wrong (because bad and unjustified) or merely suberogatory. Neither strikes me as right.

You wrote:
The problem of evil is an argument against the existence of God. One audience it can be addressed to are people who believe in God. Now when it is addressed to such an audience, to be of any use it must be based on premises that the audience accepts. If one of the premises in a worked out problem of evil argument is going to be that forgiveness is not a great good, then that argument will simply have no force for those theists for whom the value of forgiveness is one of the centerpieces of the faith.
I guess if I cannot reason with someone who thinks that the woman in the example has acted wrongly or badly, so be it. If the people I'm trying to reason with deny what reasonable people take to be platitudinous moral truths, they can declare victory if they wish, but I'd hate to see what defeat looks like.

I get that you're saying that "if the world were any other way, I would not exist," but that obviously wouldn't have been a problem for an omnipotent God.

That isn't obvious at all: it is precisely what is at issue. If someone thinks that an omnipotent God could have created "me" without actually creating me, at the very least the burden is on that person to demonstrate that what he is saying isn't nonsense. Because on its face it is nonsense: a linguistic trick masquerading as a coherent thought.

In fact, the question was whether a life of excruciating pain was worth living? I say it isn't, even adding the universal assurance of the Beatific Vision.

Well, that pretty much says it right there.

If she forgave such horrible crimes, this would seem to indicate (to me) a profound failure on her part to respect herself.

I give you Saint Maria Goretti.

Clayton:

For what it's worth, I think it is far from being a platitude that there are crimes forgiving which would be a failure of self-respect. If anything, I suspect it is a platitude that forgiveness of wrongs against self is a beautiful thing.

There are two ways of giving up one's life for another. One way is that of someone who gives his life for another because he thinks his own life is worthless and hence it is no sacrifice to give it up. Another way implicitly acknowledges the dignity of one's life, but as it were transcends that dignity by giving that life for another. It is only the second way that is a true sacrifice of one's life for anothera nd of great moral worth.

I think a similar distinction is possible in the case of forgiveness. It is possible to "forgive" in thinking that no harm was done, or that one deserved what one got and the perpetrator did right, or that one is not significant, or the like. Or it is possible to acknowledge that something horrific was done to one, but to defeat this evil by repaying it with good. The perpetrator acted in a way that would make him owe an unpayable debt to the victim, that opposed him to the victim, but the victim defeated this by forgiving the debt, by reaching out to the perpetrator in love.

I suspect that few things would infuriate someone who tortures someone out of hatred and a desire to destroy the victim's dignity as much as a victim who loved the torturer, not with a naive self-hating love, but with a strong love that recognizes the injury and transcends it. For to be forgiven is an inferior position. The victim that one had tried to grind into the dust has retained her dignity, and indeed reaches out to the torturer as if the torturer were the one who needed help, as if the torturer were the one whose dignity was on the line, as if the victim were the one with the power. For that is how it is. The torturer is powerless to remove the debt he owes. The torturer is the one whose human dignity was truly marred.

If the victim acts out of a compassionate recognition of common humanity (and there is evidence that it is such recognition that leads to paradigm cases of altruistic activity), then in doing so she is defeating the torturer's desire to make himself superior to the victim.

The torturer now has a choice. He can accept the forgiveness, accept that he is worse--and worse off--than the victim, it being his own character that he has destroyed, accept his powerlessness to pay his debt, accept that his dignity is on the line, accept her compassion. Or he can refuse that forgiveness, and be doomed morally.

Alex wrote, "I think it is far from being a platitude that there are crimes forgiving which would be a failure of self-respect. If anything, I suspect it is a platitude that forgiveness of wrongs against self is a beautiful thing."

But this suggests:
(a) It is a platitude that the category of the unforgiveable is empty.
(b) It is a platitude that not only is forgiveness good, but that forgiveness is good in every conceivable circumstance in which someone is wronged.

Neither of these claims seem true. It may be that the claims claimed to be platitudinous are true, but they hardly have the status of platitudes. I suspect that most people would say that they believe that there is a category of the unforgiveable and would say that forgiveness is good to the extent that it is deserved.

Having said that, you might argue that forgiveness can have a kind of instrumental value (e.g., when forgiveness is necessary for getting past some terrible event or is the only means by which the victim may get some degree of retribution against the torturer in roughly the way that you describe), but I thought that the justification of forgiveness could be given in other terms.

For what it's worth, in our culture, it seems to be a platitude that it is more beautiful to forgive a greater wrong to self.

I think the category of the unforgiveable is generally restricted by the folk to wrongs that concern more than oneself. Thus, a parent might say that a crime done to his child is unforgiveable.

That isn't obvious at all: it is precisely what is at issue.

Then the problem is definitional; I am supposing that there is nothing an omnipotent God cannot do. If you concede that either God is not omnipotent or that there are tasks He cannot accomplish, then the theodicy is unnecessary.

Clayton, could it be that you are thinking of forgiving as meaning that earthly punishments must be remitted? I'm a hawk on the death penalty and certainly think heinous murderers (for example) shd. be executed even if their victims forgive them. I'd say that the category of the unforgivable is indeed empty, that any crime can be forgiven. (Though I wouldn't call that a platitude, by any means, just a truth.) But that doesn't mean that all crimes should have their earthly punishments remitted.

Then the problem is definitional; I am supposing that there is nothing an omnipotent God cannot do.

No, the problem isn't just definitional, because I am also supposing that there is nothing that an omnipotent God cannot do. If someone asserted that God would snorfinkle the plodgram gloofargs if He existed, and I point out that the assertion is nonsense, it is not the case that I am denying the omnipotence of God or disputing the definition of omnipotence. I am pointing out the incoherence of the assertion. The assertion "God could have made me without making me" may not look as nonsensical as the other example, but it is in fact just as nonsensical.

Zippy,

It seems to me you want us to impose our views of coherence upon a transcendent entity. Nothing in the pan-omni descriptions leads me to do that.

In addition, there is nothing in the POE that requires a continuity of self. One of the many definitions of God is a Redeemer who can miraculously transform lives. Even if your claim is valid, it appears to be valid only in the sense of God as a Creator.

No, my assertion (actually, my hypothetical assertion that could be made by the person stating the POE) was that "God could have made me in a different way" or that "He could have made me and everyone else who ever existed and put us in a different Universe."

You can call it nonsense, but it is neither an unintelligible statement nor a contradictory statement (like "Can God make a rock so big He cannot lift it?")

Is your argument that, if I were in a different Universe, I would be a different person because my life's experience would be different? If that's the case, then it seems like you introduce a whole category of actions that your omnipotent God cannot do: anything involving time travel, anything involving alternate realities, anything involving snoofargle glupgops, etc.

It seems to me you want us to impose our views of coherence upon a transcendent entity.

Not at all. I just want us to impose coherence on the things we say.

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