Eschatological Solution to the Problem of Pain and Suffering

Pain Pauls blog

The problem of pain and suffering is without doubt the most troubling paradox for Christians. How could a loving, maximally powerful and caring God allow his children to go through extreme and seemly meaningless pain and suffering? In times of suffering many Christians do, and correctly so I may add, find it difficult to imagine that God cares about their struggles. God appears to be as cold as ice itself and far from them as east is to the west. At those moments they rightly identify with Ivan Karamazov’s cry: “It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand, it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept”, in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictional novel, The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky 2007, 257)

Early Christians underwent various trials and persecutions. Many paid their faithfulness with their own blood. What was it that made them stand tall and proud through such hard times? What was it that made them triumphantly walk into the valley of death without doubting the sovereignty of their loving God? As I explored their writings, I discovered one of their reasons. Their eschatological hope was what keep them going. It was their hope for the future glory at the second advent of their Lord and God. Their understanding of this future glory brought them hope. They considered all their present suffering not worthy compared to the joy and glory prepared for them (Rom. 8:18). Continue reading

God, Love & Evil

Pain Pauls blog

The standard response to the traditional problem of pain and suffering, after Alvin Plantinga’s contributions1, is that there is a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.

If it is possible, not necessarily true nor believed by (a)theists, that a being that is omnicompetent has a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering, then the traditional problem of pain and suffering fails to show that such a being cannot exists.

An atheologian, defending such a case, is now demanded to show that it is necessarily true that it is logically impossible for an omnicompetent God to have a morally sufficient reason to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering.  “No one, I think,” correctly stated William L. Rowe, “has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim.” (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1) Paul Draper concurred: “I agree with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1)

What could be a morally sufficient reason for a being that is God to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering? A theologian could simply and legitimately say she does not know. As a limited being she cannot fathom the reason of unlimited Being to permit or bring about instances of pain and suffering. Shouldering a harder task, this article speculatively explored love as a possible morally sufficient reason from a Christian worldview.

It is a possible, not necessary true, that God created higher sentient creatures to exemplify His morally perfect character (1 Pet. 1:16). Higher sentient creatures were created to be in a loving-relationship with God and with each other (Matt. 22:37-39). Freedom of will, the ability to or not-to exemplify God’s essential character (through loving or not-loving God and each other), is essential for there to be a genuine loving-relationship.

Genuine love necessarily requires freedom of will. For higher sentient creatures to exercises freedom of will, they had to be created at an epistemic distance from God. Instances of pain and suffering are the consequences of some of higher sentient creature abusing their freedom of will. These higher sentient creatures chose not-to exemplify God’s essential morally perfect character.

According to Christians’ account, God, who is able to eliminate instances of pain and suffering at any moment, permits instances of pain and suffering for a specific period of time. There is a time in the future where the epistemic distance would be removed. This will be the time, which God will not only eliminate all instances of pain and suffering but also bring justice and restoration to the victims, and righteous punishment to all the evil-doers.

This Christians’ account does not have to be true or believed by others. It needs only to be possible. If it is, and I think it is, then the traditional logical problem of pain and suffering fails to show that the God Christians’ believe cannot exist.


[1] (1965). “The Free Will Defense,’ Philosophy in America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,  (1967) God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca: Cornell University Press and (1974) God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Nelson Pike also ought to be included. Rower, William L. (1979) ‘The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism,’ American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341 Draper, Paul (1989) ‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists,’ Noûs 23:331-350.

David Hume (Mis)understood

David Hume

Without doubt, David Hume’s Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion is both the most famous and most influential criticism levelled against standard theism’s natural theology. Hume’s worldview had no room for any form of theism from superstition (Roman Catholicism) and enthusiasm (Protestantism) traditions. His stance against standard theism may lead a (non)religious prejudiced reader to the conclusion that Hume was an atheist, or worst anti-theist.

In two parts article I focused on the charge that Hume was an atheist. I argued, contrary to Antony Flew (1992), Peter Millican (2002) and Bernard Williams (2006), that Hume was not an atheist. There are elements of “genuine Theism and Religion” (NHR 309), a  “true system of Theism”(DNR 165), and “suitable notions of divine perfections”(DNR 88) in Hume’s worldview that is incompatible with any form of atheism.

Hume’s works showed that he was not an atheist (nor was he standard orthodox theist).   In The Natural History of Religion, Hume wrote:

A little philosophy, says lord BACON, makes men atheists: A great deal reconciles them to religion. For men, being taught, by superstitious prejudices, to lay the stress on a wrong place; when that fails them, and they discover, by a little reflection, that the course of nature is regular and uniform, their whole faith totters, and falls to ruin. But being taught, by more reflection, that this very regularity and uniformity is the strongest proof of design and of a supreme intelligence, they return to that belief, which they had deserted; and they are now able to establish it on a firmer and more durable foundation. (NHR 4:329¹, Hume’s emphasis)

A simple argument, beside Hume’s belief in a supreme intelligent Deity, is the case that if Hume was an atheist, then it is the case that he had little philosophy. Surely it is not the case that Hume had little philosophy. Therefore it is not the case that Hume was an atheist.

We may be tempted to claim that Hume’s position changed over time. Even though in NHR he argued that  “[t]he whole frame of nature bespeaks an intelligent author; and no rational enquirer can, after serious reflection, suspend his belief a moment with regard to the primary principles of genuine Theism and Religion”(4:309), Hume’s spokesman Philo, throughout chapter 11 in Dialogues, refuted this argument.

This temptation would overlook Philo’s unexpected reverse of course in chapter 12.  Philo held a certain form of design argument. He admitted that, “a purpose, an intention, or design strikes everywhere the most careless, the most stupid thinker; and no man can be so hardened in absurd systems, as at all times to reject it.” (DNR 214).  Philo’s skepticism ought not be viewed as deconstructive skepticism but a constructive one because for him,  “[t]o be a philosophical sceptic is the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian.”(228)

If this is true, how then should we understand Hume’s criticism levelled against classical arguments for existence of God? Does Hume’s stance against standard theism lead to atheism?

Hume’s own response against a similar charge, namely his denial of doctrine of causes and effects, the principle that whatever begins to exist must have a cause of existence, led to downright atheism, could be used as a guarding tool to understand Hume’s thoughts. In Letter From a Gentlemen Hume denied that charged and explained that it was only Samuel Clarke’s argument a priori that his denial would affect. Both arguments from design, “these Arguments so sensible, so convincing, and so obvious, remain still in their full Force” and other “metaphysical Arguments for a Deity are not affected”. In a similar manner the second part of this article will show that Hume’s criticism affects only standard form of theism. What he called true system of Theism (DNR 165) is not affected.

Next: David Hume’s Genuine Theism


¹ A similar quote is echoed in DNR part 1: “Don’t you remember, said Philo, the excellent saying of Lord Bacon on this head? That a little philosophy, replied Cleanthes, makes a man an Atheist: a great deal converts him to religion”(23) Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons(1907).

Flew, Antony (1992). David Hume: Writings on Religion. La Salle: Open Court.

Hume, David. Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1947).

___________ The Natural History of Religion, from Philosophical Works of David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose (London: Longmans, Green, 1882).

Millican, Peter (2002). Reading Hume on Human Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (See pp. 34-40)

Williams, Bernard A. (2006). The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy. Princeton, N. J. : Princeton University Press. (See pp. 267-273)

Mackie & The Paradox of Omnipotence

Focus“[C]an an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control?” inquired J. L. Mackie(1955:210), as he set forth what he called the Paradox of Omnipotence. Mackie’s paradox unfolds as follow:

If we answer “Yes”, it follows that if God actually makes things which he cannot control, or makes rules which bind himself, he is not omnipotent once he has made them: there are then things which he cannot do. But if we answer ” No “, we are immediately asserting that there are things which he cannot do, that is to say that he is already not omnipotent.(ibid)

Mackie anticipated a common reply that his “paradox is not a proper questions” and responded that it is a proper question equal to the notion of humans’ possibility of making machines they cannot control.

We could add beliefs about God that Christians cannot deny, viz., God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2) and God cannot be tempted with evil (Jam. 1:13) to Mackie’s list of fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating beings God cannot control and God making rules that binds God Himself.

The possible solution to Mackie’s paradox could be the notion that a being that is God could actually make things which He cannot control, or make rules which bind himself, yet remain omnipotent once he has made them since cannot does not necessarily reflect that being’s ability, the possible power it could have to accomplish that state of affair, but moral character such a being is strongly disposed.

Addressing a similar problem of omnipotence and God’s ability to sin, Nelson Pike (1969: 215-216) provided an illustration to show how that could be the case, which I borrowed and exaggerated it a little. Think of deeply devoted Buddhist Jones whom we are told cannot be cruel animals. Surely Jones does have physical ability to kick a kitten, for example. So it is not because Jones lacked certain power to act cruel to the animals that Jones cannot be cruel to animals but because of Jones’ strongly disposed moral character that insures that he is incapable of acting cruel to them. The cannot does not reflect Jones physical ability, but moral incapability.

If this is true, then a being that is God, thus necessarily omnipotent, could be said to have ability to make things which He cannot control, or make rules which bind himself but yet remain omnipotent once he has made them because it is not because of lack of certain amount of possible power that being could possess that it cannot control beings it has made(or is bind by its own rules) but it is because of its moral perfection that insures that it is incapable of doing so.

Thus contrary to Mackie (1955: 209-10), there is no fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating humans with real free will that even God cannot control them since it is not God’s lack of possible power a being that is God could have that being cannot control them, but because of that being’s moral perfection.[1]

The conclusion that Mackie drew, viz., if there is a thing God cannot control or rules that binds God Himself then God is no longer omnipotent, is thus not necessarily true.


[1] This also answer the question on how God cannot sin/ cannot be tempted yet is omnipotent.

Bibliography:

Mackie, J. L. (1955) “Evil and Omnipotence,” Mind, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 254: 200-212.

Pike, Nelson (1969) “Omnipotence and God’s Ability to Sin,” American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 3: 208-216

Cover Paint: William Blake “Great Architect of the Universe”

Sensus Divinitatis

Raffaelo

“Is there any human being who has not entered on the first day of his life with an idea of that Great Head?” rhetorically inquired Arnobius of Sicca. Arnobius further inquired: “In whom has it not been implanted by nature, on whom has it not been impressed, aye, stamped almost in his mother’s womb even, in whom is there not a native instinct, that He is King and Lord, the ruler of all things that be?”(Aga. Hea. 33)

Arnobius echoed the idea that could be traced back to Cicero(Cic. Leg. I. 8) and beyond that human have an implanted knowledge of God(s) which when left to its natural function tends to direct them to acknowledge the existence of God(s).  This innate knowledge, which is also called the sense of divinity, is for Tertullian of Carthage, “the crowning guilt of men, that they will not recognize One, of whom they cannot possibly be ignorant”(1 Apo 17)

Even though God is ineffable and incomprehensible, John of Damascus resounded a similar understanding that “God, however, did not leave us in absolute ignorance. For the knowledge of God’s existence has been implanted by Him in all by nature.”(De Fide Orth. 1.1) The denial of the existence of God emerges from human’s fallen nature (1.3)

Noting John of Damascus’ work, Thomas Aquinas also argued that “[t]o know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude.”(Sum. The. 1.2.1.1). A richer development of this view is found in the works of  John Calvin. Calvin contended,

That there exists in the human minds and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service. (Inst. 1.3.1)

Calvin went further,

All men of sound judgment will therefore hold, that a sense of Deity is indelibly engraven on the human heart. And that this belief is naturally engendered in all, and thoroughly fixed as it were in our very bones, is strikingly attested by the contumacy of the wicked, who, though they struggle furiously, are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God. (1.3.3)

The reason that there never has been any society on earth that did not hold to kinds of beliefs in deities[and I will add life after physical death], according to Calvin, is due to the fact that sensus divinitatis is naturally inscribed on every human’s heart.

Cognitive science of religion is bringing in more reasons and evidence, for the first time as far as I understand, showing that it is true that humans are endowed with cognitive faculties that naturally stimulate sensus divinitatis. (Atran 2002, Bering 2002, Bloom 2007, Kelemen 2007 )

Further Readings

Atran, Scott (2002) In Gods We Trust. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Bering, Jesse (2002) “Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents’ Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomological Boundary.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 2:263–308.

Bloom, Paul (2007) “Religion Is Natural.” Developmental Science 10: 147–151.

Kelemen, Deborah (2007) “Are Children ‘Intuitive Theists?’ Reasoning about Purpose and Design in Nature.” Psychological Science 15:295–301.

Paintings: Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino(Header) + Victor Mottez(Cover)

Al-Ghazâli Among Contemporary Cosmologists

Wiki

Circa a millennium ago Persian philosopher Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazâli stood against Aristotelian view “[t]hat the heaven as a whole neither came into being nor admits of destruction, but is one and eternal, with no end or beginning of its duration”(Aristotle Heav II.1.283b[1]).  Al-Ghazâli contended that every being that begins to exist has a cause for its beginning. The universe, contrary to Aristotle, is not eternal. The universe is a being that began to exist and thus possesses a cause for its beginning (Al-Ghazâli 1947: 203).

Al-Ghazâli argued that time began to exist with the universe. He contended,

Time is generated and created, and before it there was no time at all. The meaning of our words that God is prior to the world and to time is: He existed without the world and without time, then He existed and with Him there was the world and there was time. (1978: 38)

Avoiding a daunting implications of a cosmic beginning for the role of a Creator (Hawking 1988) many philosophers and scientists who favored a naturalistic worldview were not persuaded by philosophical arguments for the beginning of the universe. They could hide behind the possibility of eternal cosmos. New reasons are being uncovered and proof emerging in contemporary cosmology that shows that the universe, as argued by Al-Ghazâli, cannot have existed eternally. Alexandra Vilenkin representatively concluded, “There is no escape, they [cosmologists] have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning” (Vilenkin 2006: 176). Vilenkin stated that all the evidence that cosmologists have points toward the a beginning of the universe (Grossman 2012: 7)

Faced with contemporary proof from cosmology of cosmic beginning Peter Atkins and Quentin Smith accepted that the universe began to exist a finite time ago. Circumventing its daunting implication they both hold a profound stance of a self-caused universe. Atkins hold that “[s]pace-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.” (Atkins 1994: 143) and Smith argued:

My Kalam cosmological argument has for its conclusion that the beginning of the universe’s existence is self-caused. “B is self-caused” does not mean the same as “B causes B” but means the same as “each part of B is caused by earlier parts of B, B’s existence is logically entailed by its parts’ existence, and the basic laws instantiated by these parts are caused to be instantiated by earlier parts that also instantiate these laws. (Smith 2007: 184)

The major problem with Atkins’ and Smith’s stance is that it assumes the existence of the universe or part of the universe to explain its beginning. For space-time to generate its own dust, it must first exist. When we assert “A caused B”, we assume that A exists; then it caused B. Nonexistent space-time cannot generate existing things. Ex nihilo nihil fit.  Though different from Atkins’, Smith’s earlier parts of B, in a similar vain, assumes the existence of parts of the universe to explain its later parts.

Al-Ghazâli’s proof of the existence of God, a spaceless, timeless, nonphysical and immaterial being, as the cause of the beginning of the universe no longer rely on philosophical arguments alone. It seems to be enjoying  support of its long challenged premise from contemporary cosmology.


[1] Aristotle On The Heavens, II,1,283b

Atkins, Peter (1994) Creation Revisited. Harmondsworth, Penguin

 Al-Ghazâli (1947) Bulletin de l’Institut Francais d’Archaeologie Orientale 46 1947: 203) cf Nasr(1993) An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Trans. Seyyed Hossein Albany : State University of New York Press

____________ (1978) in  Averroes: Tahafut al Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence). Averroes & Simon Van den Bergh(trans.) Gibb Memorial Trust; REP edition

Grossman, Lisa (2012) “Death of the eternal cosmos. From the cosmic egg to the infinite multiverse, every model of the universe has a beginning” in NewScientist of 14th January 2012: 2847

Hawking, Stephen (1988) A Brief History of Time New York: Bantam Books.

Smith, Quentin (2007) “Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism” in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism Ed. Michael Martin (2007)

Vilenkin, Alexander (2006) Many Worlds in One. New York: Hill and Wang