Theism and Suffering

July 12, 2006 at 12:34 am 2 comments

I have been a theist for quite some time now (a bit less than a year), as well as a Catholic. The conversion (from an atheist) was a long a very difficult one, and my thinking has changed considerably as a result.

However, I noticed recently a tension in some of my assumptions. It is a problem closely related to the problem of evil, and could be considered a particular instance of evil, that is a bit more personal than the traditional problem of evil. The problem goes something like this.

I have a girlfriend (Megan, M for short) who I love very much. But suppose M were to die (~M) tomorrow? I think that I would lose my faith both in Catholicism and theism. It seems that the world would have been a better place had Megan not died[~(~M)], and that her death is preventable. It can be stated as,

(1) For any actual world W1 with the event (~M), there is another one W2 which contains both [~(~M)] & retains the good of W1 all things considered.

From premise one, we cannot conclude much, since (a) it may not be true and, (b) it may not apply to everyone–it may be an agent-relative fact. But (1) isn’t an agent-relative fact, because,

(2) If God ought to prevent (~M) or actualize a world which contains [~(~M)], all things considered, then he ought prevent all M-type events, or actual a world in which M-type events do not happen, given that eliminating all M-type events does not diminish the good of W1 (in relation to W2), all thing considered.

If we accept (1), then (2) is uncontroversial, since (1) is of the nature such that accepting it entails (2). In other words, if God should have prevented Megan’s death (should she die), then qua God he should prevent unnecessary death as much as possible.

We still do not yet have a problem for theism (or Catholicism). We must add a third premise to get non-theism,

(3) In W1 (the actualized world) all M-type events have not been eliminated & W1 is constituted such that God could & ought to eliminate more M-type events than have been eliminated (or actualize W2, which contains few or no M-type events), such that a greater good is not lost in the eliminate of certain M-type events, all things considered.

Of course (3), entials (4).

(4) With regard to W1 (as opposed to W2, W3 … Wn), God likely does not exist.

But should we conclude that (4) is correct? I have no idea. Intuitively I would say yes, but I at the same time I realize that (1) and (3) are very controversial. Most theists would probably attack (3), but I think I need to deal more exclusively with (1).

Perhaps its more than just the problem of evil. Maybe its because the potential evil would be so personal, should I lose Megan.


Entry filed under: philosophy of religion.

My Rambling Metaphysics of Fiction Metaphysics of Theism

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy  |  August 2, 2006 at 1:33 pm

    Hello. I randomly stumbled across your blog whilst googling something completely different. I think it is a good blog.

    I was interested in this entry in particular though, because it seems to present a fairly naive view of the problem of suffering in the world. That you can believe in a god in a world where many people suffer and die every hour of every day, but not in a world where your girlfriend were to die intrigues me. I see from reading this entry that you recognise the flaws in this kind of reasoning too.

    I would have thought that as a catholic you would be content with the Bible’s explanation of suffering though, i.e. that suffering is a consequence of our sinful rebellion against a benevolent God. God created us in a world without suffering, but in rejecting his authority, we introduced death and pain into the world. God provided a way out of this fallen state in Christ, offering us a chance to be redeemed, though this is something that none of us deserve. It was a gift given freely by God. As such, someone who held this creed could not feel that he or indeed his girlfriend deserved happiness, comfort, to be spared suffering etc. Rather, he would recognise that rightly all human beings deserve hell and it is only through God’s grace that we can avoid this. Your reasoning seems to start from a point where all human beings are innocent/justified and God rightly ought to spare them suffering. The Bible does not agree with this point.

    • 2. John  |  April 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      But, Amy, a God could have created a world in which that ‘sinful rebellion’ (and all its dreadful consequences) never occurs.


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