Follow-up on ‘Morally Sufficient Reason?’

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.

Able

Adjective
  1. Having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something.
  2. Having considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence.

Capable

Adjective
  1. Having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.
  2. 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”).

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22 thoughts on “Follow-up on ‘Morally Sufficient Reason?’”

  1. I admire your ability to keep a rational line through such an absurd subject. My brain starts seeping out through my ears the moment i start hearing the countless excuses presented by apologists for the invisibility/impotence of their gods.

        1. Will do. But first i have to gauge out the eyes of this baby fur seal who wandered into my backyard earlier. I intend on being super relaxed tonight.

    1. That’s a hell of an analogy. I can’t compete with that, I am but human…
      ROCK.
      (“This is not the greatest song in the world, no. This is just a tribute.”)
      Sorry, I’ve got Tenacious D’s “Tribute” playing. Great song.

  2. May I ask:

    In your point of view, What is the relation between “human” and “God”?

    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.

    In above statement, who is the original author? It sound totally weird.

    1. I notice the quote originated from “Christianity”. Let me rephrase my question. Is it the quote are based on “Biblical content” or “Christianity’s scholar view point”?

      I ask the question because in my experience with Christian, the Bible and their view is always contradict with each other.

  3. Thank you for thinking more on important issue. Dictionaries are linguistically helpful but sadly not always philosophically helpful(see duck and goose).

    By B is able to do make X the case, I meant the sufficient quality of power in B which makes an action, i.e. bring about X, possible.

    From your example, you have sufficient quality of power to kill your brother.

    By B is capable of making X the case, I meant the moral, skills, time e.t.c. qualification in B which makes an action, i.e. bring about X, possible.

    From your example, you lacked moral qualification(could be justifying reason) to kill your brother. You could have moral justifying reason to kill your bother, example, in a stance where your brother broke into your home and started shooting one after another of your children.

    Staying in your example, say you had a morally blind and ruthless girl friend Jane. She has moral qualification to kill your brother, and she has sufficient quality of power to bring about that your brother is dead in T1 but at T2 your brother is still alive, because either Jane is dump, and does not have the skills to kill your brother at T1, or Jane had skills,moral reason, or lack of it, and power but not time to kill your brother at T1(could be because the police found your brother before her etc)

    The barrier that make B kill or not kill his brother are not the same since they could be power, skills, moral, time e.t.c So when we say B cannot kill his brother, we are not necessarily saying that B does not have sufficient quality of power to kill his brother. That was all I contended.

    B could have the power, but lack skills, could have have power and skills, but not the opportunity, or having power, skills, and opportunity, but lack moral justifying reasons and the list go on.

    1. I imagine this is going to come down to definitions at some point. Omnipotence cannot include a lack of opportunity, power, ability etc. can it?
      It feels like making ‘omnipotence’ about ability and thus separating it from ‘capability’ is a meaningless move.

      1. It is not meaningless move for those who wish to think correctly. I do not see how omnipotence cannot include lack of opportunity, skills, and morality. Omnipotence, or all-powerful, does not include opportunity, skills or morality but power.

        A being who is lack opportunity, morally evil, lacks skills can still be a being that is all powerful, because being omnipotent, it is power that matter.

        1. I can’t do that (i.e. I am omnipotent) but I can’t do that (i.e. I don’t have the right skill).

          Is that a coherent sentence to you?

      2. Yes very coherent. Say Prayson is omnipotent being and Prayson want to help his daughter to love him. Prayson may have all the power a being could possibly have(all-powerful omni-potent) but he does not have the skills to do so. In this stance Prayson cannot help her daughter not because Prayson lack power(potentia), but knowledge to do that.

        Prayson could have omni potentia (all-power), and knowlegde (skills) at T1 but not right time Tr( could be because his daughter at T1 is still young to understand or at T1 she is dead)

        Prayson could have omni potentia, omni scientia and oportunitas but morally incapable because he want his daughter to find in herself to love him.

        Remember potentia does neither have scientia noroportunitas built in 😉 So it sentence make so much sense.

        1. By this definition one could be omnipotent but have no skill and thus be able to do nothing, but still be omnipotent.

  4. I just wondering, why philosophy of Creator are too complicated?

    Why it not just sound like this,

    ” I am a creator, I created a creation based on my designated law and my designated purpose. I was able and capable to create anything I want. In this worldly context, I want to create a thing/creation based on my intent and my own law.”

    That it, simple, right?

    1. That is very simple. And from that we can discover certain things about the Creator. That is part of what I do on this blog.
      When a person tells me The Creator is omnipotent, I can use that limit to hypothesise why reality is the way it is. Most commonly it seems the Creator doesn’t care about the creation.

      1. I believe you talking about suffering. Normally when we talk about suffering, we talking about “death” and “illness”. Right?

        I like to make it more simplified.

        When a designer design a thing. Normally, a creator will design a characteristic of the design based on law that being made. This is a common way to design a thing. Define a law, objective and the characteristic of the design.

        One of common law “All creation will decay or die”. So, if I design and define my creation to decay or die. It was not a wrong design, it was purposely design in such way. Based on my designed characteristic, I already achieve my designed characteristic.

        Common human characteristic – preferring goodness, honesty, morally, and ethically. In another side of human characteristic is greedy, lust, anger. So, mind and heart are being provided to you to choose between two characteristic. So, it up to you to choose which one you prefer.

        *****

        An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

        “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
        The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
        The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

  5. Not only are we unable to prove a contradiction, or inconsistency between the existence of God and evil, but we can actually prove that God and evil are logically consistent. The atheist presupposes that God cannot have a morally sufficient reason for permitting evil, but that is not necessarily true. As long as it is even possible that God has a morally sufficient reason then God and evil are consistent. It is easy to see this when one reads the three premises together.

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