In an earlier post I argued that the oft-used “morally sufficient reason” rebuttal to the problems of suffering and the hidden God is a bad rebuttal. The way these discussions tend to go is summarised below, starting with the problem of suffering:
Your definition of a God is incompatible with all the suffering we see.
Ah, but what if God has morally sufficient reason to allow the suffering?
And to this I respond that a moral God would never want to do anything that is immoral, and therefore cannot want to do something which He has moral reasons not to. If you want moral reasons not to do something, that something is immoral. But I also say that if you have a reason to not do something that is sufficient in stopping you from doing it then you don’t want to do whatever it is. I defend this by saying that decisions come in packages. To explain this, I want to share the examples that materialised in the comments section. (The conversation is ongoing if you want to go read it.)
If I am unemployed and I have no money and I am hungry and desperate for cash and I find a wallet with £300 in it I will either take it or I won’t. It seems, on the face of it, that I want the money. And, perhaps in a different set of circumstances I would want the money. But in this set of circumstances—where I perceive that taking the wallet is tantamount to stealing—I do not want the money because it comes as a package with being a thief. And I do not want to be a thief. My morally sufficient reason for not taking that wallet is the precise reason I do not want to take the wallet.
The Hidden God argument is fundamentally the same argument:
God does not want me to suffer (because He loves me), and I will go to Hell if I do not believe (because salvation through a loving relationship with God is the way to salvation), and in Hell I will suffer (in the eternal fire). Therefore, God wants me to believe. But if God is real, He’s hidden himself entirely behind a natural blanket.
Ah, but what if God has morally sufficient reason to isolate you from evidence of His existence or else to harden your heart?
Well, see the discussion above. Why does He want to do something immoral (and thus has morally sufficient reason to not do it)? And if He wants to realise His morally sufficient reason, what does it mean to say He simultaneously doesn’t wants to do something incompatible with that?
I’ve gone through the trouble of reiterating that because a commenter led me to believe I must have been unclear in my earlier post. But now I have read a new response to the problem of suffering. A blogger called Prayson Daniel, over on With All I Am has put up a post sharing an argument that there is a difference between “able” and “capable”. And God can be able to but not capable of achieving a thing. That is a distinction I am trying to get my head around.
I have taken to dictionaries and the internet to find definitions of these words, and nowhere does any source highlight a distinction where someone would be able but incapable. As always, I am open to the literature that proves me wrong here.
- Having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something.
- Having considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence.
- Having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.
- Able to achieve efficiently whatever one has to do; competent.
These two words are even offered as synonyms of each other.
The first example given is of a man who is able but not capable of cheating on his wife. I assume that by able the argument assumes the man has enough free time and access to a place to have an affair. But, by not capable it means the husband has ‘moral barriers’. I am not able to kill my brother. I discussed this when I discussed freewill, but my brother is irritating and weak and little and I could stab him, in an impersonal and dispassionate hypothetical model. But the moral barrier that stops me from doing that is as real as the physical barrier that makes me unable to fly unassisted. I am unable to kill him. In the words of a person, when faced with their own fear was asked to jump out of a plane, “I can’t”. This is the same.
The second example is more perplexing still. It is of a mean father who is capable to physically torture his daughter, but not able because he is badly handicapped. This character is physically disabled to the point of being unable to torture his daughter, but it is somehow still meaningful to say he was capable. Apparently a paraplegic amputee can meaningfully and correctly say “I am capable of running a marathon” (but not “I am able to run a marathon”).