Old Question -- Any New Answers?

Reminds me of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Or it could be natural causes that we don’t fully understand? Which is more likely.

If humans regrew new limbs on infrequent but regular occasions with no medical intervention, medical science would account for the event by revising their knowledge of what is possible within human physiology, and state that "sometimes, for reasons we can’t explain, humans exhibit a salamander-like ability to regrow limbs. So by your definition, frequent regrowth of limbs would not be considered miraculous, just another of the many aspects of human physiology that are not readily explainable by our current state of scientific knowledge.

Possibly, but unlikely given that our biology would have to be radically different to allow that to happen and current biological knowledge precludes spontaneous limb regeneration from occurring. This is like saying given resurrection occurring, science would also posit that sometimes humans come back to life for reasons unknown - which of course would be ridiculous.

Acceptence in ones life from God is the first stage of mysticism. A cheerfulness in charity is
then shared as it is a natural process in appreciation of life.

The interaction between God , man and his fellow man is the grandioso in above noted “natural cause’s”
So I agree in opinion with you razeredge. God healing is a natural.cause with many different forms… in the healing.

Just as I wrote, we can’t easily say if it was an as-yet undiscovered facet of human physiology, nor can we say that it was not the intervention of God. Or, to put it another way, that God is a natural cause that we don’t fully understand. If we don’t have any evidence to point us one way or another in such a case, it doesn’t make sense to ask which is “more likely” - it merely reflects whether you believe in the possibility of an interventionist God, or discount the possibility. Each viewpoint will determine what the speaker thinks is “more likely.”

It is problematic to say “yes, but a reasonable person would say that…”, or “well, which is the more likely?” Since the vast majority of people on the planet are theists, of whom it can be presumed that they accept the possibility of supernatural intervention, and since atheists comprise a relatively small subculture of the planet’s inhabitants, it would be somewhat arrogant to state that everyone else is unreasonable, and only that we, a small subculture if non-believers, hold “reasonable” beliefs. It’s more than a little Gnostic. It’s an even more difficult claim to defend, given the number of recent (secular) studies showing a strong correlation between higher education and religious belief and practice. As theism (which, again, implies a likely belief in the possibility of direct intervention by God) is now linked with increased levels of education, social involvement, mental health, and intelligence, how is it possible to say that only a subcultural belief system which denies the possibility of God can be “reasonable” or “likely”?

Possibly, but unlikely given that our biology would have to be radically different to allow that to happen and current biological knowledge precludes spontaneous limb regeneration from occurring. This is like saying given resurrection occurring, science would also posit that sometimes humans come back to life for reasons unknown - which of course would be ridiculous.

You are exactly right, razredge. So for the instance of regeneration of a limb that we are discussing, it would be nonsensical to call it a “miracle” if it happened on a regular basis, or without some kind of agency. Strictly speaking, if we accept the possibility of the existence of God - which does not conflict with any law of science - such actions as the resurrection of Jesus, or Lazarus, or the regeneration of an amputated leg simply reflect the actions of another Force in the universe, and is explainable. If Jesus was just a man who died and came back from the dead for no reason, or if a man just happened to grow a leg back without prayer, **that **would cause havoc with our understanding of the way the universe works. As it is, it no more conflicts with our knowledge of reality than a hand reaching out to catch a fallen apple conflicts with the law of gravity.

Probability is not being argued. Abscence is.
And frequency or infrequency is not relevent to abscence.

And how exactly do you know the decisions God will make?

I find your hard-nosed skepticism over Calanda on the one hand and your childlike faith in accepting what the skpteoid says (namely, that there are no records of the leg ever being removed) on the basis of authority most charming and adorable…if you were a 7 year old. :wink:

no, razredge. Three surgeons were interrogated (doctor Joan of estanga, D. Miramuello and M. beltran) and they said removed the leg. I will not put the source since you seem to be good at taking the authority of others as proof.

that raises many problems:

how would you know that there has only been one of occurrence of this type? if God exists he does or can perform this sort miracles; on what grounds do you suppose that a necessarily existing God does not or cannot perform miracles of any type?
why do you say that X miracles ought to be more frequent? what is the acceptable ratio, by the way?

Besides, what would constitute as not a miracle in your opinion? if god exists, the universe is contingent and is preserved in being by his volition. You will need a more rigorous definition for miracle. :thumbsup:


God doesn’t heal amputees for the same reason that He doesn’t prevent me stubbing my toe or biting my tongue.

I mean, where do you draw the line? Who decides on what needs fixing? If He had to prevent suffering, then we’d all live in some kind of happy-ever-after existence, like those awful scenes on the pages of the Watchtower, where lions gamble with lambs and cute children pick flowers under blue skies.

God doesn’t exist, but if He did, he’d have to let everything work out as it will. He’d be totally indifferent. How could it be any other way?

I had an argument with someone once (on forum), who was convinced that God had answered his prayers to enable him to find a lost CD. So God had answered this call for help, but the young girl being raped and hacked to death in Rwanda (as was happening at the time) had her calls ignored.

That is inconceivable and would surely result in a loss of faith of anyone if it were shown to be true. Therefore it cannot, therefore either God is indifferent (and that works for me from a theological viewpoint) or He doesn’t exist.

No. It shows God doesn’t think like you, or have your limited perspectives.

So we can answer that God is not an atheist.

Of course God is indifferent if by “indifference” you mean god does not have an obligation toward creatures , but, then this is perfectly consistent with Catholicism, after all this the God that bluntly says that he will have mercy in whom he wills.

Er, no - extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Calanda i’m afraid doesn’t meet this criteria - hell the Church hasn’t even approved it

And how exactly do you know the decisions God will make?

Well, to be perfectly honest I don’t, but neither do you -how do you know that he’d heal an amputee?

Your statement is ridiculous - it’s equivalent with ‘I find your hard-nosed skepticisim over alien abduction accounts…while your childlike faith in accepting what the skeptic says adorable…if you were a 7 year old’.

When faced with an extraordinary improbable event such as a miracle the most rational position to take is one of skepticism.

no, razredge. Three surgeons were interrogated (doctor Joan of estanga, D. Miramuello and M. beltran) and they said removed the leg. I will not put the source since you seem to be good at taking the authority of others as proof.

how would you know that there has only been one of occurrence of this type? if God exists he does or can perform this sort miracles; on what grounds do you suppose that a necessarily existing God does not or cannot perform miracles of any type?
why do you say that X miracles ought to be more frequent? what is the acceptable ratio, by the way?

Besides, what would constitute as not a miracle in your opinion? if god exists, the universe is contingent and is preserved in being by his volition. You will need a more rigorous definition for miracle. :thumbsup

Well you would see more Church approved miracles involving limb regeneration, perhaps at Lourdes. Certainly more than one account 400 years ago of questionable veracity.

I do not.
The difference though is that this does not lead me to claim that it does not happen or has not happened.
I do not consider a lack of evidence to be evidence of abscence.

The question here proposes a premise that God isn’t really there because a certain type of miracle has not been recorded. This is evidenced by the first 3 responses in the thread.
This is ridiculous reasoning as it proposes that God MUST do something.
God is free to act as he wishes, it is not our place to demand anything of him.

Do not make up stuff or lie, rezedge.

Read what I wrote; “find your hard-nosed skepticism over Calanda on the one hand and your childlike faith in accepting what* the skpteoid says*.”

Accepting a trustworthy authority is not ridiculous . However, you believe on faith what the article says despite its flaws many contradictions… now that is ridiculous.

But let’s be charitable towards you, you’re taking into the habit of making up stuff yourself .(read start of post for more information) People that lie usually have trouble noticing when they are being lied to. Maybe you cannot distinguish truth from falsehood anymore. .:thumbsup:

I’ll merely point out that you’re arguing in a circle and did not address anything I pointed out before.

Bradski: I had an argument with someone once (on forum), who was convinced that God had answered his prayers to enable him to find a lost CD. So God had answered this call for help, but the young girl being raped and hacked to death in Rwanda (as was happening at the time) had her calls ignored.

That is inconceivable and would surely result in a loss of faith of anyone if it were shown to be true. Therefore it cannot, therefore either God is indifferent (and that works for me from a theological viewpoint) or He doesn’t exist.

So many atheists play this card, without really (I think) considering all the ramifications, or are unaware that the argument has been largely discarded in modern philosophy. Let me respond at some length, if that’s okay:

The problem of moral evil is a favorite argument of atheists, as it is an emotional one rather than a logical one, as all of us have had to consider it. It would certainly seem to make sense from the perspective of an atheist, as they don’t believe in an afterlife, but if they posit the existence of God for the sake of argument, they don’t clearly think through the results of the premise – if there is a God (as Christians see him), there is an afterlife. Once you posit “If there is a God,” whether you believe in one or not, your argument has to take into account all the corollaries to God’s existence. You can’t cherry-pick your data. The existence of an afterlife would extend mercy and justice for the suffering into another plane.

We know that brutal and seemingly pointless deaths happen. Death is the one constant we all face. Whether we die young or die old, it will probably be through pain and suffering. Even if our own deaths come relatively quickly and painlessly at an advanced age, it will cause suffering and grief for our loved ones (unless you are such a wretched person that people celebrate your death), and it may well be a painful, protracted death for ourselves personally. So, to argue that any one particularly poignant death, such as the murder of a child, stands out as a special instance of God’s apparent indifference is ultimately absurd. Most death seems absurd from the standpoint of the living. And if we find no purpose in death, it ultimately makes life itself a cruel jest upon us. Any safety or happiness we or our loved ones can achieve is only temporary, to be yanked away from us at any moment on fate’s whim. Which is pretty much the Atheist Answer to Suffering. At best, they may argue that Science (as if that were an atheist-only reservation) should be used to reduce suffering.

Yet, despite any scientific palliatives for suffering. Death is required of us all. Life itself is based on the death of others, just as the food that fuels our life is derived from the death of living things. The same Carbon Silicate Cycle within the earth that regulates the planet’s temperature and makes it possible for the Earth to sustain life, also moves the tectonic plates that create earthquakes and tsunami such as the recent tragedy in Japan.

(Atheists sometimes (not always) often describe death and suffering with particular horror. I understand that their premises lead them to this, but I sometimes wonder if the largely urban, academic background of most atheists has anything to do with this. Country people seem to be more acquainted with death on a day-to-day basis, whether on the farm, ranch, or hunting, and as with other groups that have to deal with violence and death on a regular basis – doctors, nurses, soldiers, cops – they are overwhelmingly religious.)

If nothing else, we need to die to make room for others. We live on a finite planet, and if none of us die or ever died, the sheer number of people on the planet would make life impossible, or at least horrible beyond belief. The Population Research Bureau estimates that about 106 billion people have been born on the planet since homo sapiens appeared (prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx). If none had ever died, and if most of them had children, and none of them had ever died, and if none of their children’s children had ever died, etc., the mind boggles at what life would be like on the earth today – presumably, we would be standing on each other’s shoulders to avoid suffocating in our own waste. People died to make room for me, as I will die to make room for others. Of those billions and billions of deaths, we can presume that not many came peacefully at the end of a long and prosperous life, surrounded by one’s loved ones.

Regardless of whether a death came peacefully or violently and painfully, after death all are the same. All pain passes. I wish to avoid my own death, and those of my loved ones, as long as possible, but recognize that it will come to us all. Death is the great democratizer. Regardless of how horrible the deaths of those billions may have been, their suffering is ended now, and the number of those dead would not have changed. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, we can decry all the deaths that have occurred in wars, but every one of those people killed in wars throughout history, until the present age, would still be dead regardless.

If the end result of death is always equal, that leads me to believe that HOW we die, and thus how we lived, may have supreme importance. As Edmund Vance Cooke wrote:

And though you be done to death, what then?
If you battled the best you could;
If you played your part in the world of men,
Why the critic will call it good.
Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,
And whether he’s slow or spry,
It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,
But only, how did you die?

We may walk on a quaking bog of corpses, as a famous atheist once said, but we can recognize that life – mortal life or eternal life – itself requires death, and that gives meaning to our lives. As Christians, that is an article of faith for us, as we recognize Christ’s sacrifice as an exchange for our eternal lives, and we are called upon to emulate Him. We as Christians just have a better and more reasonable explanation for the problem of evil than atheists do. Which may be why a majority of people on the planet are atheists – it’s hardly reasonable to presume that the small subculture of atheists are the sole holders of reason and truth.

The argument from suffering or evil is not even a particularly advantageous argument for atheists, although most haven’t thought it through this far, as it only takes the atheist part-way. It is exclusively an argument against the Judeo-Christian God, which is the God most western atheists wish to disprove. This is understandable, as most atheists in the west come from a Christian background, and they have “Sky-Daddy issues” (to use their own parlance) and need to not only disbelieve, but to convince others that they should disbelieve as well. If not, why do atheists bother to post on a forum devoted to Catholicism? The argument can really only be extended to the Judeo-Christian God, and doesn’t argue against Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i, or other religions, as most atheists in the west neither care, nor are knowledgeable enough about those faiths, to attack them. At best, they may throw some additional shots against the Mormons or (very carefully and in the safe anonymity of the Internet) against the Muslims. It’s all about the Christian Sky-Daddy for most atheists. The argument does not disprove a deist god, it doesn’t disprove an evil god, it doesn’t disprove a polytheistic pantheon of good and evil gods who alternately defend and protect humanity. And that’s okay for most atheists, as their apologetic strategy is simplly to chip away at the elements of Christian belief using any arguments they can, even if those arguments conflict with each other, as they often do. But the problem of suffering is not an all-purpose argument to disprove “God,” or simple Theism, and it fails on numerous other levels against the Christian concept of God, as set forth below.

For me, the argument from suffering, while superficially attractive to an atheist, fails on a number of grounds, both intellectually and emotionally, and is ultimately naïve.

  1. I have consciousness, which God granted me. Were I to live only a short and pain-filled life, I would still consider that preferable to never existing. I would rather be the clay that got to sit up and look around for a second, and recognize that I exist, than never to have existed at all. This is, in my opinion, an act of beneficence that is among the greatest gifts of God, could only be morally accomplished by God, and outweighs any other positive or negative in my life.

Of late, it has become fashionable for atheists to describe the horrors of Harlequin Icthyosis, a painful birth deformity that (until recently) resulted in death within a few days of birth for those born with the mutation (recent drug advances have prolonged the life of those suffering, the current oldest survivor is about 26 years old. It is extremely rare, and the odds of the defect in any given birth is a 1–in–1,000,000 chance.) Numerous (and I mean NUMEROUS – if you google “Harlequin Icthyosis” + “atheist” you’ll get about 186,000 hits) atheists post on their own websites and spam Christian websites including photos, or links to photos and videos of those suffering from the disease (none of which, I think, were authorized by the parents of those children). This is all done by atheists to promote their cause, using these poor children, in an attempt to say “Look at THIS! How could an all-loving God permit such a thing! A short, agonizing life! There can’t be a God!”

And yet – when a child dies young (as happened recently to a friend), or is born with a deformity, one rarely hears from the parents that they wish the child had never been born at all. Instead, one hears that they value the short time they had with the child, and thank God for that. It also seems to draw the family closer to a belief in God. Crazy, isn’t it?

I’ve known a fair number of people who suffered from awful birth defects and deformities. I doubt they appreciated their circumstances in life, but they were, by and large, fairly happy people who did the best they could with their limitations, sometimes quite heroically. I never heard later that any of them committed suicide, and I know they would have reacted with horror and anger to the idea that their lives somehow mattered less than anyone else’s. That doesn’t mean that they’re plaster saints, I’m sure they suffered the same self-doubts and depression to which everyone else is subject, but I never heard one say they wish they had never been born.

There’s an interesting new book out by the economist Bryan Caplan, “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.” It’s not a religious book at all, Caplan simply argues from a statistical basis that the fears most people have about having children are misplaced, that having kids is less work and more fun than you might think, and that being a parent makes good sense from an economic perspective. If you’re a new parent, or thinking about being a new parent, it might be worth a read and will probably allay some of your fears, although I don’t agree with the author on everything.

One of the points Caplan makes is that while we worry about bringing a child into this world,

*What’s funny about these doubts is that virtually no one feels that it was unfair for their parents to have them. While we waste a lot of time blaming our parents for our problems, almost no one tells himself: “My parents were wrong to have me. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

The more specific the doubts, the weirder they sound. Many prospective parents fret, “It’s not fair to have a child when we’re having trouble making ends meet,” or “It’s not fair to have a child out of loneliness.” Can you imagine someone saying, “My whole life has been a mistake because I grew up poor,” or “My parents had me out of loneliness.” These are flimsy reasons to regret your own existence. If they wouldn’t come close to convincing you that your life was a mistake, aren’t they equally flimsy reasons against passing the gift of life along to someone else?

Almost everyone – children of flawed parents included – is glad to be alive. The upshot is that, contrary to popular worries, almost anyone who decides to reproduce is doing the child a favor. Fretting about “fairness” is looking a gift horse in the mouth. No one asks to be born, but almost everyone would if they could.

…In the graphic novel “It’s a Bird,” a writer named Steve shows how Huntington’s disease, a dreadful hereditary condition, has haunted his family. He finally realizes that his father doesn’t want to admit to himself that he might have doomed his own children…simply by having them.” Steve finally tells his dad to forget his regrets: “I’d rather have known my family, and fallen in love with Lisa, and written my stories, and then come down with Huntington’s…if that turns out to be my fate…than not to have lived, and missed all that.”
I can’t argue that there aren’t people who live under horrible conditions that don’t think about ending their own life, or that don’t hope that the end will come quickly. It is a fact that all the pain and suffering, and more, that most of us feel throughout a long life may be condensed into the short life of one who is least equipped to deal with it. I remain convinced, however, that a short and painful life, or even a long and painful life, is better than no existence at all.*One wonders, too, what the atheist answer to this is. I don’t think they have one, except perhaps rigorous gene surveillance, abortion, and mandated eugenics. Some have called for the euthanasia of the deformed after birth (like the old pagan Roman law that mandated that the paterfamilias of a household kill any child born with a deformity.) “Bioethicist” Peter Singer, who holds an endowed chair at Princeton, argues that it is ethical to kill elders with cognitive impairments as well as newborns with birth defects, from the Utilitarian perspective which is shared by many “New” Atheists. Somehow, I don’t see that as an answer.

  1. The nature of a world that is created to allow us to enjoy free will.
    If we regard free will as a good, one wonders how one could create a world where it coexists with a lack of suffering. It may simply be the equivalent of creating a square circle, or making a rock so big that the creator can’t lift it, or matching an immovable object against an irresistible force – in other words, a contradiction, which theologians argue is outside the power of even an omnipotent being.

Voltaire mocked Leibniz in “Candide” for saying that this is the “Best of all Possible Worlds,” as if this made Leibniz (or his stand-in in the novel, Pangloss) hopelessly optimistic. In fact, Leibniz’s view was among the gloomier philosophical recognitions – that given human nature and free will, this really is the best of the possible worlds.

As this world seems to be meant as a crucible for human action rather than as a petting zoo for God’s creation, this would seem to be the world that results from the interplay of our own fallen state and the necessity for human freedom – that is, that allows us to be who we are, rather than biological robots (or in the words of the Catholic author Anthony Burgess, mere “clockwork oranges.”)

  1. We cannot know whether any given instance of suffering is truly “gratuitous,” as our perspectives are mortal and time-bound, and we lack the infinite perspective of God.

We can’t hope to view reality from God’s perspective, but we can be reasonably certain, from observation and from revelation, that God did not create us as his pets, to be pampered and protected from birth. We can’t always fathom the ways of a supreme being, nor should we expect to:

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

The late William Alston, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Syracuse University, and former President of the American Philosophical Association, in his classic article “The Inductive Problem of Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition,” in Philosophical Perspectives vol 5: Philosophy of Religion. Ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, California: Ridgeview Press, 1991) examined the issues at some length and essentially destroyed the inductive and deductive argument from evil from a philosophical standpoint. I’d recommend reading the full article yourself if you haven’t already, but Alston identified at least six broad categories of potential limits on our cognitive capacities (with numerous theodicies under each category), each pertinent to assessing the probability that God would have morally sufficient reason for permitting gratuitous evil. These show that no one (human) is in a position to justifiably assert that God could not have sufficient reason or reasons for allowing apparently gratuitous suffering. Alston sensibly argued that not all limits will apply equally to all the many different categories of moral and natural evil, but that all conceivable categories are covered under one or several reasons. Thus, the probalistic argument from evil fails.

Alston is very clear on the purposes of his objections:

“First, I will not be proceeding on the basis of any general skepticism about our cognitive powers, either across the board or generally with respect to God. I will, rather, be focusing on the peculiar difficulties we encounter in attempting to provide adequate support for a certain very ambitious negative existential claim, viz., that there is (can be) no sufficient divine reason for permitting a certain case of [gratuitous] suffering.]”
Alston said, “Note that it is no part of my purpose here to develop or defend a theodicy. I am using theodicies only as a source of possibilities for divine reasons for evil, possibilities the realization of which the atheologian will have to show to be highly implausible if his project is to succeed.”

Six Relevant Differences identified by Alston:

Alston: “1. LACK OF DATA: This includes, inter alia, the secrets of the human heart, the detailed constitution and structure of the universe, and the remote past and future, including the afterlife if any.”

Here, Alston refers not only to God’s omniscient ability to see an unbounded, continuous timeline simultaneously, and thus to know all the possibilities, causes, and the results of our suffering, but also our inability to determine whether, in all cases, the apparently “good” person is really good and undeserving of suffering, or unable to adequately benefit from the positive aspects of suffering – we are unable to examine his heart, his interior life, or his private life; we are unable to see if, in some cases (clearly NOT cases of suffering by a young child or an animal) suffering is not meted out as divine punishment for a transgression. This is, as Alston noted, not a currently popular theory but looms large in Christian theology of the past. This is not a special pleading, as any honest atheist will admit that we ARE unable to view another’s interior life and ARE unable to predict the results of suffering.

As few non-Judeo-Christian religions hold the same values of suffering or address the issues of free will, it is appropriate to argue from a Christian viewpoint, as the arguments advanced by the Atheist in this argument are targeted specifically against the Judeo-Christian concept of God:

  • “Since I am thinking of the inductive argument from evil as directed against Christian belief in God, it will be appropriate to understand the punishment-for-sin suggestion in those terms. Two points about sin are particularly relevant here. (1) Inward sins-one’s intentions, motives, attitudes-are more serious than failings in outward behavior. (2) The greatest sin is a self-centered refusal or failure to make God the center of one’s life. (2) is sharply at variance with standard secular bases for moral judgment and evaluation. Hence the fact that X does not seem, from that standpoint, more wicked than Y, or doesn’t seem wicked at all, does nothing to show that God, on a Christian understanding of God, would make the same judgment. Because of (1) overt behavior is not always a good indication of a person’s condition, sin-wise.

“Second, according to Christianity, one’s life on earth is only a tiny proportion of one’s total life span. This means that, knowing nothing about the immeasurably greater proportion of [a sufferer]'s life, we are in no position to deny that the suffering qua punishment has not had a reformative effect, even if we can see no such effect in his earthly life.*

Alston further notes the common argument that moral suffering can be a positive good, by helping us grow and develop traits that will enable us capable of an eternal life of loving communion with God. Alston disposes of several common Atheist objections to this argument, including by addressing not the superior viewpoint logically inherent in an omniscient God, but the limited horizons of human cognition which even an atheist will readily admit:

*“‘If God is using suffering to achieve this goal, He is not doing very well. In spite of all the suffering we undergo, most of us don’t get very far in developing courage, compassion, etc.’ There are two answers to this. First, we are in no position to make that last judgment. We don’t know nearly enough about the inner springs of peoples’ motivation, attitudes, and character, even in this life. And we know nothing about any further development in an after-life. Second, the theism under discussion takes God to respect the free will of human beings. No strategy consistent with that can guarantee that all, or perhaps any, creatures will respond in the way intended. Whether they do is ultimately up to them. Hence we cannot argue from the fact that such tactics often don’t succeed to the conclusion that God wouldn’t employ them.”

“God must, because of self-imposed limitations, use means that have some considerable likelihood of success, not means that cannot fail. It is amazing that so many critics reject theodicies like [John[ Hick’s[Evil and the God of Love, rev. ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1978] on the grounds of a poor success rate. I don’t say that a poor success rate could not, under any circumstances, justify us in denying that God would permit [gratuitous suffering] for the sake of soul making. If we really did know enough to be reasonably sure that the success rate is very poor and that other devices open to God would be seen by omniscience to have a significantly greater chance of success, then we could conclude that Hick’s line does not get at what God is up to. But we are a very long way indeed from being able to justifiably assert this.”

“One can argue that a person’s suffering is disproportionate to his need for spiritual redemption, but we cannot see his inner problems, nor his life after death to see if it was worth it…Moreover, we are in a poor position, or no position, to determine what is the most effective strategy for God to use in His pursuit of [a person] We don’t know what alternatives are open to God, while respecting [the person]'s freedom, or what the chances are, on one or another alternative, of inducing the desired responses. We are in a poor position to say that this was too much suffering for the purpose, or to say how much would be just right. And we will continue to be in that position until our access to relevant information is radically improved.”*Alston also notes Eleanor Stump’s theory that suffering could be a way of “fixing our wills,” which have been damaged by the Original Sin of turning from God, and that natural (and perhaps moral) evil has a way of turning us back to God, to give him the opportunity to make us better:


Stump: “Natural evil-the pain of disease, the intermittent and unpredictable destruction of natural disasters, the decay of old age, the imminence of death-takes away a person’s satisfaction with himself. It tends to humble him, show him his frailty, make him reflect on the transience of temporal goods, and turn his affections towards other-worldly things, away from the things of this world. No amount of moral or natural evil, of course, can guarantee that a man will seek God’s help. If it could, the willing it produced would not be free. But evil of this sort is the best hope, I think, and maybe the only effective means, for bringing men to such a state.”

Alston notes Marilyn McCord Adam’s theory that great suffering, even if not in the cause of Faith, can constitute a kind of Martyrdom, which if witnessed or known to others, has the effect of causing great spiritual change and repentance in others (and sometimes society, as with Etan Patz and Adam Walsh, the death of the child of the MADD founder, Anne Frank, and many other victims, which caused a realignment within society of how we view certain evils), with the promise of eternal life and happiness for the sufferer. “Onlookers are invited to see in the martyr the person they ought to be and to be brought to a deeper level of commitment. Alternatively, onlookers may see themselves in the persecutor and be moved to repentance.” While noting that not all instances of suffering are analogous to martyrdom, in some cases suffering can hold benefits to the sufferer as well as others:

Adams:* “[T]he threat of martyrdom is a time of testing and judgment. It makes urgent the previously abstract dilemma of whether he loves God more than the temporal goods that are being extracted as a price …the martyr will have had to face a deeper truth about himself and his relations to God and temporal goods than ever he could in fair weather…the time of trial is also an opportunity for building a relationship of trust between the martyr and that to which he testifies. Whether because we are fallen or by the nature of the case, trusting relationships have to be built up by a history of interactions. If the martyr’s loyalty to God is tested, but after a struggle he holds onto his allegiance to God and God delivers him (in his own time and way), the relationship is strengthened and deepened.”*

It may also hold benefits for the persecutor in some very specific cases:

“Once more, even if we cannot see that [a child]'s suffering brings these kinds of benefits to her attacker or to onlookers, our massive ignorance of the recesses of the human heart and of the total outcomes, perhaps through eternity, for all such people, renders us poor judges of whether such benefits are indeed forthcoming. And, finally, even if no goods of these sorts eventuate, there is once more the insoluble problem of whether God could be expected to use a different strategy, given His respect for human free will. Perhaps that was (a part of) the strategy that held out the best chance of evoking the optimal response from these particularly hard-hearted subjects.”

As Christians believe, suffering can also be an invitation into the inner life of Christ, as an opportunity to share in his life.

The positive gift of free will is an additional argument that the benefit outweighs the impact of suffering:

“The suggestion of this theodicy is that it is conceptually impossible for God to create free agents and also determine how they are to choose, within those areas in which they are free. If He were so to determine their choices they would, ipso facto, not be free. But this being the case, when God decided to endow some of His creatures, including us, with free choice, He thereby took the chance, ran the risk, of our sometimes or often making the wrong choice, a possibility that has been richly realized. It is conceptually impossible for God to create free agents and not subject Himself to such a risk. Not to do the latter would be not to do the former. But that being the case, He, and we, are stuck with whatever consequences ensue. And this is why God permits such horrors as the rape, beating, and murder of [a child]. He does it not because that particular wicked choice is itself necessary for the realization of some great good, but because the permission of such horrors is bound up with the decision to give human beings free choice in many areas, and that (the capacity to freely choose) is a great good, such a great good as to be worth all the suffering and others evils that it makes possible.”

Alston addresses the most common atheist objections to this:

*“t has been urged that it is within God’s power to create free agents so that they always choose what is right. For another, it has been denied or doubted that free will is of such value as to be worth all the sin and suffering it has brought into the world… On the first point, if we set aside middle knowledge as I am doing in this paper, it is logically impossible for God to create beings with genuine freedom of choice and also guarantee that they will always choose the right. And even granting middle knowledge, Plantinga (1974) has established the possibility that God could not actualize a world containing free creatures that always do the right thing. As for the second point, though it may be beyond our powers to show that free will has sufficient value to carry the theodical load, it is surely equally beyond our powers to show that it does not.”

To the argument that, as in the case of a child who suffers great harm, God could reasonably prevent harm through a miracle at the last moment, in some cases, without affecting the exercise of free will by the offender:

“To be sure, if God were to act on this principle in every case of incipient wrongdoing, the situation would be materially changed. Human agents would no longer have a real choice between good and evil, and the surpassing worth that attaches to having such a choice would be lost. Hence, if God is to promote the values emphasized by the free will theodicy, He can intervene in this way in only a small proportion of cases. And how are these to be selected? I doubt that we are in a position to give a confident answer to this question, but let’s assume that the critic proposes that the exceptions are to be picked in such a way as to maximize welfare, and let’s go along with that. Rowe’s claim would then have to be that [a child]'s murder was so horrible that it would qualify for the class of exceptions. But that is precisely where the critic’s claims far outrun his justification. How can we tell that Sue falls within the most damaging n% of what would be cases of human wrongdoing apart from divine intervention. To be in a position to make such a judgment we would have to survey the full range of such cases and make reliable assessments of the deleterious consequences of each. Both tasks are far beyond our powers. We don’t even know what free creaturely agents there are beyond human beings, and with respect to humans the range of wickedness, past, present, and future, is largely beyond our ken. And even with respect to the cases of which we are aware we have only a limited ability to assess the total consequences. Hence, by the nature of the case, we are simply not in a position to make a warranted judgment that [a child]'s case is among the n% worst cases of wrongdoing in the history of the universe. No doubt, it strikes us as incomparably horrible on hearing about it, but so would innumerable others. Therefore, the critic is not in a position to set aside the value of free will as at least part of God’s reason for permitting
[a child]'s murder.”

Alston notes that the ability to make moral decisions demand a universe of laws which allows our decisions to take place within a framework where consequences follow moral actions, as argued by Bruce Reichenbach in “Evil and a Good God” (1982).

Reichenbach: “God in creating had to create a world which operated according to natural laws to achieve this higher good. Thus, his action of creation of a natural world and a natural order, along with the resulting pain and pleasure which we experience, is justified. The natural evils which afflict us-diseases, sickness, disasters, birth defects-are all the outworking of the natural system of which we are a part. They are the byproducts made possible by that which is necessary for the greater good”*

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