Utilitarian focused philosopher Peter Singer comes back to the oldest of questions: why does God allow pain. Not much new here, but it does offer a backdrop for discussion and thought. Here are some highlights:
Do we live in a world that was created by a god who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all good? Christians think we do. Yet a powerful reason for doubting this confronts us every day: the world contains a vast amount of pain and suffering. If God is all-knowing, he knows how much suffering there is. If he is all-powerful, he could have created a world without so much of it - and he would have done so if he were all good.
Christians usually respond that God bestowed on us the gift of free will, and hence is not responsible for the evil we do. But this reply fails to deal with the suffering of those who drown in floods, are burned alive in forest fires caused by lightning, or die of hunger or thirst during a drought.
Christians sometimes attempt to explain this suffering by saying that all humans are sinners, and so deserve their fate, even if it is a horrible one. But infants and small children are just as likely to suffer and die in natural disasters as adults, and it seems impossible that they could deserve to suffer and die.
Once again, some Christians say that we have all inherited the original sin committed by Eve, who defied God's decree against eating from the tree of knowledge. This is a triply repellent idea, for it implies that knowledge is bad, disobeying God's will is the greatest sin of all, and children inherit the sins of their ancestors, and may justly be punished for them.
Even if were to accept all this, the problem remains unresolved. For animals also suffer from floods, fires, and droughts, and, since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin.
Read it all here.
Professor Singer goes off on several other explanations--including the one suggested by Job--but I think this gives a good start to a conversation? So what is your response?
To me, the free will argument is the most persuasive, but only if you take a broader view of free will. A few observations: First, it seems to me that if we are to be more than a video game or plaything for God--and are instead to be a being with whom God can love and have a relationship, the concept of free will is inevitable. If God wants us to be more than mere playthings or toys, he had to create us with free will--including the free will to reject God and the free will to cause suffering.
Second, I think that the concept of free will can apply to the rest of creation as well--albeit in a very different way. As readers of this blog well know, I accept evolution, and I also think that the acceptance of creation has implications for how we view God. For this point, I'll borrow from John Haught (who I blogged about here):
A God of love influences the world in a persuasive rather than coercive way, and this is why chance and evolution occur. It is because God is involved with the world in a loving rather than domineering way that the world evolves. If God were a magician or a dictator, then we might expect the universe to be finished all at once and remain eternally unchanged. If God controlled the world rigidly instead of willing its independence, we might not expect the weird organisms of the Cambrian explosion, the later dinosaurs and reptiles, or the many other wild creatures that seem so alien to us. We would want our divine magician to build the world along the lines of our own narrowly human sense of clean perfection. But what a pallid and impoverished world that would be. It would lack all the drama, diversity, adventure and intense beauty that evolution has produced. It might have a listless harmony to it, but it would have none of the novelty, contrast, danger, upheavals, and grandeur that evolution has in fact brought about over billions of years.
According to the contact position, God is not a magician but a creator. And this God is much more interested in promoting freedom and adventure than in preserving the status quo. Since divine creative love has the character of letting things be, we should not be too surprised at evolution's strange and erratic pathways. The long struggle of the universe to arrive at life, consciousness, and culture is consonant with faith's conviction that love never forces but always allows for the play of freedom, risk and adventure.
Love even gives the beloved a share in the creative process. Might it not be because God wants the world to partake of the divine joy of creating novelty, that it is left unfinished, and that it is invited to be, at least to some degree, self-creative? And if it is self-creative can we be too disconcerted that it has experimented with the many different, delightful, baffling and bizarre forms that we find in the fossil record and in the diversity of life that surrounds us now?
Read it all here.
In other words, God the creator, may have decided that allowing creation to unfold in such a process as evolution requires that natural processes be allowed to move forward uninterrupted. And the pain and suffering we see is a necessary cost of the freedom of the created.
Third, try to imagine a world with no suffering and pain, and think through the implications for the meaning of our lives. Our own choices would necessarily be constrained--significantly. The earth and weather would be static and unchangeable. and boring. I submit that life in such a world may be without pain--but it would also be a world with far less pleasure, and far less meaning than the world we live in today. I submit that this world without pain and suffering would actually be more theologically and philisophically problemic than the one we actually live in.
Finally, if you are a Christian, you believe that God--through Christ incarnate--is suffering and has suffered right along with the rest of us. It is not an answer to the problem, but it certainly puts the matter in a very different context.