God’s utter lacking in compassion

Andy Rhea commented on my post about whether I’d worship God if I believed in Him. The comments followed a theme inspired by Fourat Janabi’s post about God as a Narc; I had said that God does not show compassion, and that the story of the fall to account for that lack of compassion doesn’t work. The Fall was entrapment: God knew it would happen but set it up anyway (while Adam and Eve were still ignorant of morality).

Andy claimed this only works if I assumed God’s foreknowledge was causal; that things happen because God knows they will happen. Any attempt at an analogy should highlight to me how ridiculous that assumption is. And Andy had an analogy ready. Imagine a really good meteorologist, who, owing to his skill, always knows the five-day forecast. And what he knows always happens. The weather doesn’t happen because our talented meteorologist knows it will, it happens regardless.

I accept that is true, but I do not accept that it works as an argument. God is meant to be omnipotent as well as omniscient. Add omnipotence to our talented meteorologist. Now imagine in the five-day forecast a huge storm is going to destroy the coastal town he lives on, killing his friends and family. Is that storm going to hit? Of course not. Our protagonist (the meteorologist) is going to stop that storm. After all, we just gave him super powers. Just for the fun of continuing the analogy, imagine the storm included huge hail stones which would maim and disfigure his friends and family. And our talented meteorologist is the vein and superficial types, so he knows he is going to judge his friends and family for their new appearance post-hail storm. He also knows that the only way he will ever be able to forgive his friends and family will be to send his son to the Middle East on a mission that will upset the local politicians, resulting in a Middle Eastern state executing his son. Imagine, after all that, he will then only forgive the friends and family who believe that the child’s death is a good thing. Compassionate? No. The storm should never have hit in the first place.

Do you deny the link between Darwin’s theory, the Holocaust and Stalin’s genocide?

There’s a fantastic theory in science, called gravity. Gravity describes things being attracted to large masses. Despite this rather concrete description of reality, humans have not confined themselves to a prescription of gravity. Instead, we have built planes and rockets and space shuttles and we’ve had the cheek to launch things right out of our solar system. There’s another scientific theory called germ theory. A very accurate description of reality, indeed. But very few people are arguing we should create a political system which permits the free passage and spreading of germs. In fact, much like aviation did with gravity, antibiotics are a way of saying we can control the implications of this scientific description. A scientific description is not a prescription at all.

That is, unless you don’t like the description. If you don’t like the description you can try to convince people its false, not with evidence, but by relating the description of reality to something which, tentatively, could be the prescription of that description.

Readers, you’re right! Without an example, that idea is unclear and clunky. So I shall illuminate it with the example provided by the question. People who do not like Darwin’s descriptive theory of reality have decided to try to tar describing biology with eugenics and mass murder. The premise they are working on is this: there is no conceivable difference between how nature works without management and how nature should work with management (unless the manager is God). Therefore, if the somewhat trite summary of evolution “survival of the fittest” is apt for the scary world beyond cities and politics, then it should be apt for the political world too.

I hope the problem is clear.

Without adding a great many extra premises, one cannot get from ‘evolution is true’ to ‘mass murder to right’. Don’t be a moron!

Do you believe that science and religion are in opposition of each other?

I believe faith and evidence based reasoning are in opposition to each other. Science is the self-cleaning machine that tries to know as many true things as possible, where religion is the machine that cannot clean itself and is no different to how it was at conception. There is a religious response which asks why religion cannot evolve in the way the body of knowledge we have from science evolves. I thought that might be interesting to look at.

“Falsification” is the cleaning system of science. We can believe a thing to be true with increasing levels of confidence, but not with absolute certainty. The word “certain” is used colloquially to mean “as sure as I need to be”. However, you can be certain a thing is wrong if it is falsified. At the time science falsifies an idea, science cleans the idea from the body of scientific knowledge and we move on.

There is no way religion can do this. A religious book is a series of snapshots of ideas fixed in time. Any progress made on them is the blind stabbing of (often power-grabbing) humans. You cannot falsify a religious idea in a religious context. It is the inerrant word or message of God (translated many times). Science can falsify religious claims, sure. But religion cannot. Most religions do not even tell you how to pick between two contradictory ideas. You accept the claims as they are on faith.

Created in His Image?

One of the claims of the Big Three religions (and many other religions that claim to have a perfect God) is the claim that God made us in His image. That is patently absurd on the basis that God is immaterial and has no image, whereas I do have an image (my Facebook photos prove it). But even in the more metaphorical sense, I cannot see what aspects of our identity overlap with the identity of God so strongly that it has lead people to believe we were intentionally created in God’s image. Assuming God is all moral, all-powerful and perfect, why are we so clearly none of those things?

In order to discuss the most likely rebuttal, the Fall, it is best to look at humans in both the pre-Fall and post-Fall narrative. I want to start my investigation with Adam and Eve: were they made in God’s image? Were they moral? No. “No” on more than one count, too. In terms of knowledge, we know Adam and Even had no moral knowledge at all. Adam and Eve had to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to understand good and evil. Debatably, Adam and Eve also demonstrated their lack of moral knowledge by disobeying God to eat from the tree. On the Divine Command view this is not debatable; it was definitely immoral to disobey God and eat from The Tree. From a moral secular view their ignorance to the consequences of their actions also shows their lack of moral knowledge. If God created Adam and Eve in His image, is God ignorant of morality? If not, why were Adam and Eve, pre-Fall, ignorant of morality?

The narrative of the Big Three claims that we now live in a post-Fall universe. It looks a lot like a Godless universe; evolution explains the behaviour of all animals, including humans, and manifest as lust, fear, food and sex-driven imperfect behaviour. In particular, humans have a tendency to lean towards feelings of vengeance, retribution and tribalism; we re violent and ignorant. These are held to be the very antithesis of what God is: loving, peaceful and moral. There is an irony here: the books of the Big Three depict a vengeful, immoral, warmongering and hateful God. Even though God is defined as peaceful, He is depicted very differently.

In fact, God appears very human. “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5). People labeling God as perfect and all loving seems to bear precisely no relationship with the description of God. That is not just true of the God of the Books, but the God we could easily infer if we assumed there was a God and tried to guess His nature from natural nature. If we assume a God, then God created the competition and conflict and pain and strife. God authored our capacity to suffer and God permitted the pain everything can and does feel. In nature, God is asserted in spite of everything we see. In the Books, God is asserted to look almost exactly like us. And we are not perfect.

I am less than perfect: I need sustenance to survive and have a low-efficiency digestive system; I learn slowly when I learn at all and I do not know everything; I am not that strong or powerful or influential. In all these domains there are people who are better than me in them. Am I less in-God’s-image than those people? Have I ‘fallen’ more than them?

From this, I cannot help but imagine we have invented a God in our image, and not the other way around. To quote Carl Sagan in Pale Blue Dot:

“We’ve tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we’ve not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious.”

Can God Stop Evil without Ending our Freewill?

The problem of evil is ubiquitous. However, this argument only works against certain definitions of a god. If you believe in a particular God that is incompatible with the nature of suffering then you should throw out the definition of God. Normally this is not what happens. People either cut their definitions of God or redefine their terms and then argue with the same vehemence that they have always believed in their new adaptation.

But it is not the nature of the argument I am here to critique; I am here to discuss whether freewill necessarily permits suffering and whether God could stop our suffering without infringing on our freewill. I want also to extend the question: if ending our suffering does mean removing our freewill, should He do it? To all these I want to answer that not only could God end our suffering, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.

Consider, first, an analogy. At an advertising firm the Executive Director, Graham (or “G” for short and ingenious hipster irony), permits sexual harassment in the workplace because it is necessary for his employees’ creativity. G believes, and the shareholders agree, that ending sexual harassment will ruin creativity. “Sexual harassment is a part of our expression…” G explained to an incredulous collection of 12 of his peers, “… thus it feeds our creativity”. Occasionally when employees finishes working at G-Advertising the police punish the offenders, but there are no consequences during their employment.

The problem is that Jethro disagrees. Jethro is an ex-psychologist who started to work at G-Advertising 8 months ago. Holly is sexually harassing Jethro and Jethro has noticed a decline in his own psychological wellbeing and that has changed his ability to think clearly and to be creative. Although Jethro recognises G’s argument that sexual harassment appears as a spin-off from creativity, he cannot understand why G favours the creativity of those who are willing to sexually harass others over people like himself, whose creativity depends on not being sexually harassed.

To protect the creativity of Jethro and others like him, G necessary must create and enforce a policy that forbids sexual harassment. He may even consider only hiring people he believes will not sexually harass others in the office as a part of a new team development policy.

I hope the analogy stands on its own with explanation. This is how it is with God. Children will not to be abused and beaten. People will not to be kidnapped and killed. Citizens will not to be oppressed. Property owners will not to be stolen from. If our freewill were really being protected, these wills would matter. However, it is the will of the child abuser, kidnapper, oppressive government and thieves that God favours (else, none of this could happen). The world we really see is not one where we have freewill, but one where our wills are realised in proportion to our force. Sometimes this is good; the joint will of people has generated charities. However, human caused suffering appears when ill-will has more brute force or deception behind it than the strong opposing will.

One of the options for doing this is increasing our empathy so that we don’t want to cause other people harm. We already have some empathy (each of us at different levels). That empathy stops us pushing new-mothers with their babies in their pram into the road so we can walk past. If you disagree that it is empathy that stops us doing that, we can at least agree something is stopping us from committing infanticide? And whatever that is, no one has complained that has interfered with our freewill. So, more of that, please. God, if you read this, I will that all people have more of whatever this is. That should end intentional human-caused suffering.

The idea that force is what turns will into reality appears very natural. To an atheist, this is the unfortunate way of things. But it is also the pitiless indifference of nature and certainly no sign of a benevolent overseer. We have will that is recognised according to our physical strength and chance. If our freewill is to be protected, it must be realised according to a democratic system. It should not exclude the weak and the vulnerable. No matter how much one person wills to hurt me, my will and the will of those who care about me would be enough to prohibit that behaviour. Suffering would end. Because that is what we do will.

Not only could God end human-caused suffering and protect our freewill, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.

Bookie’s Hidden Options: Pascal’s Wager.

Pascal’s wager frames belief in a god as a simple bet. It’s magic is in being so simply presented. And like any good bookie, not all the odds are clear and it’s stacked against you. The wager is presented very simply: you can bet on either God does exist or God does not exist. You must put everything on the table. You cannot not bet. From a philosophical point, right off the bat, abstinence is not a considered option. The wager then goes like this:

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. You win everything.
  2. You vote God does exist. You are wrong. You lose nothing.
  3. You vote God does not exist. You are right. You lose nothing.
  4. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. You lose everything.

A wise gambler will notice at this stage there is no benefit to voting God does not exist; you can’t win anything but you can lose everything. No wise person would ever vote this way, because there is no benefit. Only risk.

A wise person, then, votes God does exist even if they don’t believe it. A sensible person has an ounce of doubt and that leaves room for winning everything, doesn’t it? Well, no. The bookie didn’t tell you everything. There are more options:

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. You think the Almighty Father will give you everything, but actually you lose everything because the Almighty Mother doesn’t appreciate your deistic sexism.
  2. You vote God does exist. You are right. You think Yahweh will give you everything, but you lose everything because Allah thinks you an infidel. (Imagine the odds against getting the right God.)
  3. You vote God does exist because it’s the safe bet, but don’t believe it. Your vote is right. God sees through your deception and you lose everything.

There’s an important footnote to option 7. I cannot see how one can choose what they believe. Your mind works how it works and you have the evidence presented to you. For an elaboration, see my (shamelessly promoted) post.

  1. You vote God does exist. You are right. God judges on deeds, not faith; your vote was irrelevant to your loss or win.
  2. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. God judges on deeds, not on faith; your vote was irrelevant to your loss or win.
  3. You vote God does not exist. You are wrong. God commends your honesty; you win everything.

From the conversations I have been a part of and the blogs I have read, I can safely say that most theists believe in the God described in option 8 and 9; a God of love and justice. This means that the wager is completely irrelevant. Theists seem to believe in the loving God until someone doesn’t believe in God, when suddenly this vengeful, narcissistic and jealous God emerges. They jump through semantic hoops made from sophistry and cliché to explain how holding a person to impossibly high standards and punishing them for failure is still “loving”. It is just, apparently, to demand worship in exchange for forgiveness. But I digress.

The point was that people superficially believe in the loving God of options 8 and 9, but still spout a philosophical wager that depends on narcissistic vanity.

Inspired by:

Sandra Li-Pham’s post Pascal’s Wager for Non-believers

Because many atheists claim that there is no such thing as objective morals, does it follow that morals are illusory?

I’m not going to speak for the atheists who believe in no such thing as objective morality, as I believe in objective morality. However, if there is no objective morality, that does not mean there is not ‘relative morality’ which follows rules. The problem here is what ‘illusory’ means.

I know, it’s awful getting into definitions. However, I had this discussion with Prayson Daniel and he described “illusory” as “not real”. However, he also said that experience isn’t real (conversation linked). I think experience is real; it emerges from the material world:

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”

– Francis Crick, 1994.In The Astonishing Hypothesis – The Scientific Search for the Soul, London, Simon and Schuster.

Without the nerve cells and associated molecules, there is no experience. So, in what sense is experience illusory, or not real?

If by illusory you mean false, and yet people have reliable methods by which to keep the ideas and actions of morality, what does illusory mean in this context?

Allallt believes in Objective Morality

I’ve called this ‘Allallt believes in Objective Morality’ because the issue of morality is actually beyond the confines of “atheism”. I doubt many of the other authors on this blog agree with me on this one. However, the discussion that is likely to follow, I hope, will offer elucidation on atheists.

I believe in objective morality. I know that puts me at odds with some of the authors on this blog; that doubles my need to be articulate here. I want to describe what objective morality is, why I think it’s real and what it looks like.

What is objective morality?

By objective, I mean that it can definitely be said to be right or wrong. For example, 2+2=5 is objective because it can definitely be said to be wrong, where 2+2=4 is also objective and can be said to be right. But it is not just quantitative data; light waves between certain ranges can qualitatively but objectively be said to be green. It doesn’t universally matter that we call it green (or see kieaw if you’re Thai) but if you call it red (see derng) or grey (see taw) you’re objectively wrong. I know that because I am red-green colour blind, and that is an objective diagnosis.

To be objective, something does not need to be universally relevant; it just has to be right or wrong. Although “green” and “white” (Thai: see kaw, ‘colour of rice’) are objective, the universe certainly doesn’t care. And in the absence of eyes and minds to process colour, there is no objective colour. The same is true of health: in the absence of life, health is a meaningless concept. But in the presence of life, health is tangible and medical science is objective.

What is objective morality?

Morality is an issue I feel is confused by a number of issues. The first is the issue of moral intuitions. These are ideas and concepts that have made their way into our psychology. They are unreliable, change based on our emotions, vary by culture and are completely flipped by high-pressure contexts. We think it is wrong to kill so fervently that many of us struggle with the idea that killing a terrorist to stop a tragedy is wrong, yet after a terrorist has wronged us we celebrate in the streets at the killing of a terrorist (think about the news that we got Osama Bin Laden; person I was sickened by the jubilance of people). Another issue that clouds morality is the profundity of morality; it gets tied up in discussions of the afterlife, impenetrable and content-free titles like “Kantian duty”1.

Is there a difference between moral intuitions and objective morality?

Yes. Moral intuitions are things we think are right. There are culturally specific moral intuitions, like the certainty of some that men have dominion over women. There are also general moral rules that have to exist in any society that propagates, like the tendency to not want to kill. Without that intuition you would kill the person in front of you on the street for walking too slow. Intuitions are very good at staying close to true morality and are an important force in limiting our behaviour. But they are not objective morality.

Morality cannot be subjective and open to whim if it is to be objective. Once I have outlined what I mean by morality I will explain why it is objective.

Once you do away with profound sounding statements and take an issue that is not covered by religious ideas of morality you can see the kind of economic discussion that goes on to decide whether something is objective: wellbeing. At this point I will confess to basically holding to Sam Harris’ Moral Landscape. For example, is it okay to discipline a child in such a way that makes them sad? In the UK it is a crime to spank a child, and I agree with that. There are equally effective, if not more effective, ways to discipline children. But discipline makes children sad i.e. it lowers their wellbeing. If wellbeing is the basis of morality, how can discipline be said to be okay? If that seems like a pertinent question to you, I want you to stop reading for a moment and consider whether you believe that discipline increases happiness or sadness in the universe. If you think if increases sadness, why do you ever do it? The likelihood is that discipline increases the wellbeing of the person being disciplined in the long run: it helps to nurture more meaningful relationships and friendship. But it also increases the wellbeing of everyone around them; a disciplined person is less likely to espouse social taboos and make people uncomfortable or steal a TV just because they want it.

The general rule here is that if an action increases the wellbeing universally then it is morally good. Except that is too simple. There may be times where every conceivable action and decision will still lower wellbeing; is there a morally good option in these situations? Yes. The option or action that lowers wellbeing the least—i.e. the option that safeguards wellbeing—is the moral option. And that rule allows nuance like spanking children being illegal while discipline in general is okay; spanking is too high an investment in low wellbeing for much the same returns. It is economic.

Why do you define ‘safeguarding wellbeing’ as morally good?

This is a fair question; as I’ve already alluded to,  the universe does not care about morality. The question of how we assign “good” and “bad” to an issue the universe doesn’t care about isn’t an easy one. I want to play a game on bad form before I actually defend my position: if I fail to justify the label of morally good, theists are in no stronger a position; theistic morality depends on accepting the opinion of a stronger Being. It is morally good if God approves it Or, to word that differently, might is right. And that doesn’t necessarily bear any relation to our wellbeing, meaning murder rape and torture could well be okay.

There are compatibilists I’ve read on this issue, where the claim is that God knows what will heighten or safeguard our wellbeing. No matter how counter-intuitive it is, things like Noah’s flood and the war on Canaan do safeguard our morality. There is no evidence to support this, but it is a nice idea. As well as being a nice idea, it doesn’t do away with this moral framework; it supports it. The compatibilists claim the same moral ideas, plus a God that is knowledgeable enough to support it.

However, I need to defend my claim, not just try to burn down the claims of others. Again, I am taking my labels from listening to what people mean when they talk about morality. If by morality people mean safeguarding morality then by definition safeguarding morality is a moral success. And when you sidestep religious domains by talking about questions of animal testing, or even within religious frameworks trying to decide when Jesus would turn the other cheek and when a tooth, a tooth applies or when God’s pre-emptive ideas apply, the conversation comes back to wellbeing.

But wellbeing is all this experiential subjective stuff, so…

Where’s the objectivity in wellbeing?

Your brain and your mind are different things. Your brain is the material thing in your head. Your mind is the immaterial and conceptual ‘space’ where you have things like thoughts, memories and feelings. But the distinction is just academic2. There are brains without minds (dead people), but there are no minds without brains3. In fact, if I do something to your brain (like put a pole through it) it will wildly alter the state of your mind.

As it happens the relationship between your brain and your mind is much more nuanced and delicate than physical manipulation; if we have enough information about your brain we can make reliable predictions about your mind. And your wellbeing is in your mind. Your wellbeing is based on an observable series of facts about your material brain; your wellbeing is readable based on truths about your brain. We have devices that are getting ever more advanced and precise at readings the brain (and therefore mind); the best device we have is the functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine.

If you set yourself the goal of maximising or safeguarding wellbeing, we can objectively measure how well you did. And we call the goal of maximising or safeguarding wellbeing morality.

Is this not moral semantics?

I don’t think so. I think it is very important to be precise about what we mean by “morality”. Not only is my definition based on what I observe people to mean when they talk about moral issues, but I am yet to hear of an argument that can justify a moral idea that seems both moral and increases the overall suffering in the universe.

What would this framework look like? Give me a practical example of a moral rule.

This framework does not permit itself to rules and precepts in the conventional sense. “Thou shalt not murder” and “murder is wrong” simply do not apply. Although these ideas do work as generalised ideas that work in almost all situations, there are times where killing someone is permissible. An objective idea can have a relative application, and indeed this one does. For example, there is a certain amount of tension and suffering that comes from trying to alter ones culture or moral intuitions. Harmless cultural values, like taking your shoes off before you walk into a house, never need to be altered and the resistance you would encounter would make overturning it immoral.

The overall suffering in the universe (although I don’t have the data in) would probably be decreased if governments simply ignored the anti-stem cell research lobby and just tried to develop the medicine and cures. The overall bliss and peace in the world would increase if we decided against mutilating infant female (and male) genitals; this is almost definitely true. Even though the conservatives in those parts of the world feel strongly about it, half of the population would regain the ability to orgasm4 and the more squeamish people globally (myself included) would be more comfortable. My use of the phrase “almost definitely” aside, the point is that it that it is a knowable thing.

I can think of something we should do that is not moral…

I doubt you can. That would suggest you can think of something we should do which will lower the wellbeing of the universe in total. But I’d love to hear an example.

1 – I truly challenge anyone to give one duty that is irrevocably consistent with Kantian duty. Kant (the real pronunciation of his name is oddly apt) said that if you can permit something ever you must permit it always. But he gives no way to know what you should and should not permit.

2 – If you have a tumour of the brain, you have a ball of malignant and replicating cells that physically exist in your head. If you have a cancer of the mind you have a particularly malignant thought.

3 – the exception your thinking of—God—is not confirmed.

4 – that’s not just a carnal thing; orgasm are an important part of developing a health relationship with a partner.

A Problem with Existence

The proposition “God exists” has two words in it which need clarification. The word “god” is confusing to a lot of people as it is full of paradoxes and unclear claims. That is a post for another day. Perhaps less obviously, “exists” is also in desperate need of clarification. That is the focus of this post.

There is more than one type of existence. The one to lead with is almost self-evident existence: the matter and energy that compose the material world. Material existence is basically predictable and very familiar to us. It is self-evident and barely worth a discussion at this point. Our brains are material, and yet they offer us things with are not material: thoughts, emotions, feeling, desires and values. These exist in something I have previously called our ‘internal reality‘. To be consistent,  I am going to call this internal reality “internal existence”. To some, I am already being controversial; there are many who believe that as an atheist I should not be able to acknowledge this internal existence. The confusion sprouts from equating atheism with philosophical materialism: accepting only material existence.

The difference between the average materialist and me is a definition question: what does it mean to exist? I have no trouble believing that internal existence is dependent on material existence, a materialist might call that illusory. I’m merely adopting a broader definition of existence.

After this we run  into much more abstract ideas of existence: abstract concepts. Numbers, for example. Do they exist? Again, I have made reference to this question before, and the answer is many tiered for there is more than type of number: there are numbers which literally count, this is a finite set of numbers with its limit being the total number of countable particles in the universe (after this number, there is nothing left to count and so no more numbers); there are calculating number, again finite as the biggest number that ever made it into an equation was Graham’s number; there is the infinite, where you can always add one; there is even the Penn and Teller limit to numbers where after the biggest number you can meaningfully picture without grouping (about 4). The short answer is that I think all numbers are conceptual, unambiguous and dependent tools. Numbers do exist so long as they refer to something real. For a number to exist at any given time it must be used as a tool by a mind; the existence of numbers is dependent on a function and a mind to conceive of them. After all, they are concepts. All other numbers–the ones not being used–are part of a huge tool box. The toolbox, containing all possible numbers, can either be thought of as a concept that transcends time or as a concept limited to minds conceiving of them, else as not existing. If the set transcends time, it is because we can conceive of the set being applicable to non-temporal universes.

God does not exist by any of these definitions. We have to invent an entirely new branch of existence to account for God. So far as I can understand from what believers have told me, God is immaterial (does not exist like material things exist), independent (does not exist internally), and exists in Its own right (does not exist as a concept like numbers do).

This is the scale of the improbability of a god. Not only does a god not exist by any understood definition of what it means to exist, so you have to invent an entirely new branch of what it means to exist, but then you have to demonstrate that within that set of existence something worthy of being called a god is what exist there (instead of some transcendent impossible to experience smell). And I imagine you’ll want it to be your God according to your book with your history.

Balls in your court.

A Challenge to Christians and Atheists

The problem of evil is ubiquitous. However, this argument only works against certain definitions of a god. If you believe in a particular God that is incompatible with the nature of suffering then you should throw out the definition of God. Normally this is not what happens. People either cut their definitions of God or redefine their terms and then argue with the same vehemence that they have always believed in their new adaptation.

But it is not the nature of the argument I am here to critique; I am here to discuss whether freewill necessarily permits suffering and whether God could stop our suffering without infringing on our freewill. I want also to extend the question: if ending our suffering does mean removing our freewill, should He do it? To all these I want to answer that not only could God end our suffering, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.

Consider, first, an analogy. At an advertising firm the Executive Director, Graham (or “G” for short and ingenious hipster irony), permits sexual harassment in the workplace because it is necessary for his employees’ creativity. G believes, and the shareholders agree, that ending sexual harassment will ruin creativity. “Sexual harassment is a part of our expression…” G explained to an incredulous collection of 12 of his peers, “… thus it feeds our creativity”. Occasionally when employees finishes working at G-Advertising the police punish the offenders, but there are no consequences during their employment.

The problem is that Jethro disagrees. Jethro is an ex-psychologist who started to work at G-Advertising 8 months ago. Holly is sexually harassing Jethro and Jethro has noticed a decline in his own psychological wellbeing and that has changed his ability to think clearly and to be creative. Although Jethro recognises G’s argument that sexual harassment appears as a spin-off from creativity, he cannot understand why G favours the creativity of those who are willing to sexually harass others over people like himself, whose creativity depends on not being sexually harassed.

To protect the creativity of Jethro and others like him, G necessary must create and enforce a policy that forbids sexual harassment. He may even consider only hiring people he believes will not sexually harass others in the office as a part of a new team development policy.

I hope the analogy stands on its own with explanation. This is how it is with God. Children will not to be abused and beaten. People will not to be kidnapped and killed. Citizens will not to be oppressed. Property owners will not to be stolen from. If our freewill were really being protected, these wills would matter. However, it is the will of the child abuser, kidnapper, oppressive government and thieves that God favours (else, none of this could happen). The world we really see is not one where we have freewill, but one where our wills are realised in proportion to our force. Sometimes this is good; the joint will of people has generated charities. However, human caused suffering appears when ill-will has more brute force or deception behind it than the strong opposing will.

One of the options for doing this is increasing our empathy so that we don’t want to cause other people harm. We already have some empathy (each of us at different levels). That empathy stops us pushing new-mothers with their babies in their pram into the road so we can walk past. If you disagree that it is empathy that stops us doing that, we can at least agree something is stopping us from committing infanticide? And whatever that is, no one has complained that has interfered with our freewill. So, more of that, please. God, if you read this, I will that all people have more of whatever this is. That should end intentional human-caused suffering.

The idea that force is what turns will into reality appears very natural. To an atheist, this is the unfortunate way of things. But it is also the pitiless indifference of nature and certainly no sign of a benevolent overseer. We have will that is recognised according to our physical strength and chance. If our freewill is to be protected, it must be realised according to a democratic system. It should not exclude the weak and the vulnerable. No matter how much one person wills to hurt me, my will and the will of those who care about me would be enough to prohibit that behaviour. Suffering would end. Because that is what we do will.

Not only could God end human-caused suffering and protect our freewill, but to protect our freewill He must end our suffering.