Higher standards for the omnipotent!

But what about the second assumption, that if God is omnibenevolent, then He prefers a world without evil over a world with evil? Again, such an assumption is not necessarily true. The fact is that in many cases we allow pain and suffering to occur in a person’s life in order to bring about some greater good or because we have some sufficient reason for allowing it. Every parent knows this fact. There comes a point at which a parent can no longer protect his child from every mishap; and there are other times when discipline must be inflicted on the child in order to teach him to become a mature, responsible, adult. Similarly, God may permit suffering in our lives in order to build us or to test us, or to build and test others, or to achieve some other overriding end. Thus, even though God is omnibenevolent, He might well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting pain and suffering in the world. 

— Wiiliam Lane Craig, writing on the problem of evil

Craig’s parenting analogy is seriously flawed because it suggests that God and human parents are under the same constraints.

As humans, we may be justified in sometimes allowing or causing others to suffer, but only to the extent that it is necessary to achieve a greater good — for example, to spare them (or others) worse suffering or, in some cases, to bring them (or others) some kind of reward.

For example, we allow our children to endure the pain of vaccinations in order to protect them against diseases, which can bring misery, debilitation or death.

Similarly, military recruits are subjected to mental, physical and emotional stresses in order to help them succeed and survive in combat. “More sweat in training, less blood in battle.”

As we mature, we learn to accept trade-offs as part of life — as long as they are truly necessary. We don’t get shots for diseases that don’t exist, and if there were no such thing as war, there would be no boot camps to persevere through.

Human parents can honestly tell their kids, “I wish this trade-off did not exist, but it does.”

But God designed the whole scheme, so he willed that there would be trade-offs. How could he then wish things were different?

We take it as a given that we can’t eat and drink whatever we want and still have healthy bodies. But if our bodies had been designed differently, there would be no such trade-off.

Christian apologists may claim that God withholds some pleasures from us and subjects us to some suffering now so we have the opportunity for an afterlife of extreme pleasure and absolutely no suffering. In other words, our complete happiness and our complete lack of suffering is God’s goal. However, God imposes a restriction on how we can get to that state: That extreme pleasure without suffering is only possible for those who are in a ‘consensual’ love relationship with God. If this is true, it isn’t just ‘the way it is’ — it is a condition of our existence that was imposed by God. So why does this trade-off exist? Either God needs a relationship with us — in which case our pain is for his gain — or God designed us to need a relationship with him. No matter which is the case, God willingly imposes a trade-off that should not have been necessary.

Actually, it is impossible to be human and not suffer, because suffering is simply experiencing something we don’t like. We suffer continually just by virtue of not being able to do everything that is pleasurable and not being able to avoid everything that is unpleasant. The difference between what we normally call ‘discomfort’ and what we normally call ‘suffering’ is one of degree. So basically, if God created us, he willed for us to suffer simply by making us as natural beings.

Parents and drill sergeants can’t control the external forces that make it necessary to train and ‘discipline’ those in their care. But for an omnipotent god, there are no external forces. It’s time to stop letting God off the hook and pretending his hands are tied. Is our pain for his benefit or for ours? If it’s for his benefit, then yeah, it makes sense: He is sadistic. But if it’s for our benefit, what exactly is the reward that is worth whatever kind and amount of pain we might experience?

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Posted on January 4, 2013, in Arguments for theism, Logic, Problem of Evil (Problem of Suffering) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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