What About Suffering? The Story So Far So far, weve presented 4 arguments which together, make for a powerful argument for belief in God. - 2 cosmological arguments - the design argument - the moral argument What then does the unbeliever have to offer by way
of arguments against Gods existence? Typically it will be there isnt any evidence for No Evidence for Gods Existence? If this is the claim, we can offer a number or arguments in response and if challenged, will have the opportunity to present them. Dont be surprised though if the claim just gets repeated which allows you the chance to ask which premises of any of the arguments they reject and
why. Pays to have the outline of each memorised. An Emotional Response? As you work through the objections to the arguments, you may find the reason they are rejected is not an intellectual one but more an emotional one. This is often seen through the problem of suffering. More on that later
Atheism Redefined More and more today, you will find that atheists alter the classical definition of atheism to avoid having to provide any evidence of their claim. Theism is the proposition that God exists. Atheism is then the proposition that theism is not true (ie that God does not exist). - its really that simple Atheism Redefined But what youll hear now is that atheism is simply a
lack of belief in God. Really? The letter A is symmetrical whilst the letter F is asymmetrical. Does the atheist claim they simply lack the belief in the symmetry of F or do they positively assert its asymmetry? Atheism Redefined but it gets worse for the atheist. They may claim that you cant prove a universal negative like there is no God (incorrect as only
need to show something is self-contradictory like a married bachelor) However, atheism involves a universal negative, so by their claim, atheism cannot be proved! The atheist is then believing in a view for which The Argument From Suffering Not all atheists take the approach described so far and will provide arguments against God's existence. The most important of these is the problem of suffering.
Essentially, when you consider the depth and extent of suffering in the world, be it due to natural disasters or man's inhumanity to man, it's hard to believe that God exists. The Argument From Suffering... I think there would be very few people in the world who have not directly or indirectly been affected in some way by the pain and suffering that does exist, so this is a very real and personal challenge to deal with.
Versions of the Problem of Suffering There are 2 versions of the problem, with one having 2 versions itself. Intellectual Problem - Logical Version - Evidential Version Emotional Problem Versions of the Problem of
Suffering... The intellectual problem concerns whether it's plausible to think that God and suffering can coexist. The emotional problem concerns people's dislike of a God who would permit suffering It's important to distinguish between the two types of the problem as it will determine how we attempt to answer. Intellectual Problem of Suffering In this scenario, the burden of proof is now on the
shoulders of the atheist, rather than the theist as it's been for the previous arguments. As we talked about in the Tactics presentation, make sure the burden of proof is placed appropriately on the one making the claim. They are claiming God and suffering are incompatible so await their proof. Intellectual Problem of Suffering 1) The Logical Version - tries to show that the coexistence of God and
suffering is logically impossible 2) The Evidential Version - tries to show that the coexistence of God and suffering is highly improbable. Need to ask whether they think it's impossible or improbable Intellectual Problem - Logical Version - It's Logically Impossible for God and Suffering to
Coexist Atheist is basically claiming these two statements are logically inconsistent: 1) An all-loving, all-powerful God exists 2) Suffering exists No explicit contradiction, so there must be an implicit one with some hidden assumptions. Intellectual Problem - Logical Version... What might the hidden assumptions be? 3) If God is all-powerful, He can create any world He
wants 4) If God is all-loving, He prefers a world without suffering If God is all-powerful and all-loving, he both can and wants to create a world without suffering, therefore the world has no suffering. This contradicts 2) Suffering exists, therefore God must not exist. Intellectual Problem - Logical Version...
Both the hidden assumptions must be necessarily true but are they? 3) God is all-powerful, He can create any world he wants It's possible that people have free will (Sam Harris' view notwithstanding). If so, as it's logically impossible to make someone do something freely, it's not necessarily true that God can create any world he wants. Intellectual Problem - Logical
Version... On this count, the argument is pretty much over but what about the other assumption? 4) If God is all-loving, He prefers a world without suffering This is difficult to claim to be necessarily true. God could have many overriding reasons to allow suffering in order to bring about a greater good Intellectual Problem - Logical
Version... This seems pretty plausible and we can think of simple examples in our lives. eg talking your child to the dentist. Would an all-powerful being be this limited? Maybe bringing about the greater good directly may not be possible given free will. eg people freely cooperating to achieve moral virtues may not be possible. Intellectual Problem - Logical
Version... On balance then, it may well be the case that a world with suffering is better overrall than a world without. Because it's possible, it's enough to knock out 4). So the atheist is left to shoulder a burden which is far too heavy. The impossibility of free will and the impossibility of a world with suffering being better than one without.
Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version - It's Improbable That God Could Have Good Reasons for Permitting Suffering - This is a much more widely used version and as it's claim is more modest, only improbable, not impossible, the burden of proof is much lighter. As so much suffering seems utterly pointless and unnecessary, it seems highly improbable that God could have good reasons for permitting it, so God
does not exist. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... So how do we respond to this version? 1) Human Limitations We recognise much of the suffering looks unjustified and see neither its point nor necessity. The success of the atheist's argument depends on whether we're warranted in inferring that because the suffering looks unjustified, it is unjustified.
Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... So how do we respond to this version? 1) Human Limitations We recognise much of the suffering looks unjustified and see neither its point nor necessity. The success of the atheist's argument depends on whether we're warranted in inferring that because the suffering looks unjustified, it is unjustified.
Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... Well, we are just not in a position to make that kind of judgement with any confidence. We're finite persons, limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight. We believe God is not and is providentially in control. In order to achieve His purposes, God may have to allow a great deal of suffering along the way. Intellectual Problem - Evidential
Version... So in our limited framework, suffering may seem pointless but in God's wider framework, it may be justly permitted - we just can't see that wider framework due to our limitations. Given the dizzying complexity of life, we are simply in no position at all to judge that God has no good reason for permitting some instance of suffering to afflict our lives. This is not an appeal to mystery but rather, and
acknowledgement of our inherent limitations. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... Atheists though should recognise this problem. Decisive objections to utilitarianism (ethics of doing whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people) is that we have no idea of the ultimate outcome of our actions. Short term good may lead to untold misery, whilst
some actions that look disastrous in the short term may bring about the greatest good. We don't have a clue! Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... 2) The Full Scope of Evidence Relative to the full scope of the evidence, God's existence is probable.
Firstly though, note that probabilities are always relative to some background information. So it might pay to ask, God's improbability is improbable relative to what? What is the background information? Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... If the improbability of existence is just relative to the suffering, then on it's own, it's no wonder it seems improbable.
But we can't just look at it compared to suffering. We need to look at God's existence relative to the full scope of the evidence. Does the improbability due to suffering outweigh the arguments for God's existence? Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... Take a modified Moral Argument from last session: 1) If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2) Evil exists. 3) Therefore, objective moral values exist (some things are evil) 4) Therefore God exists. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... If the atheist believes that suffering is bad or ought not to be, then they are making moral judgements that are only possible if God exists. On Naturalism, they are just preference claims, nothing objectively
right or wrong, good or bad. So if it weren't for the evidence on the side of God's existence, suffering alone would make God's existence improbable and it's certainly worth conceding this point. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... 3) Suffering Makes More Sense under Christianity Doctrine
Christianity entails doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and suffering. What might some of these doctrines be? i) The chief purpose of life is not happiness but knowledge of God. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... This assumes that God's role is to provide a comfortable environment for His human pets. As Christians, this view is false as God's ultimate
goal for humanity is the knowledge of Himself, which alone can bring eternal happiness to people. Suffering provides an occasion for deeper dependency and trust in God, either on the part of the suffer or those around them. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... Do we respond in anger and bitterness or do we turn to Him in faith for strength to continue?
It may well be the case that suffering is part of the means God uses to draw people freely into His kingdom. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... ii) Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and His purpose. Rather than submit to and worship God, people rebel against God and go their own way. The terrible human evils in the world are testimony
to man's depravity in his state of spiritual alienation from God and so as a Christian, we're not surprised by the moral evil in the world. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... iii) God's purpose is not restricted to this life but spills over beyond the grave into eternal life. God promises eternal life to all who place their trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord. When God asks us to bear horrible suffering, it is
only with the prospect of a heavenly joy and recompense that is beyond all comprehension. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Paul, in a passage inVersion... 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 shows he understands that this life is finite and therefore infinitesimal in comparison with the eternal life we'll spend with God. The longer we spend in eternity, the more the sufferings of this life will shrink by comparison
toward an infinitesimal moment. God may permit suffering so he might overwhelmingly reward in the afterlife those who suffered in faith. Intellectual Problem - Evidential Version... Now, the atheist may respond that we have no reason to think any of these four Christian doctrines are true.
But they would need to show that the Christian God, from whom these doctrines derive is improbable relative to the suffering and therefore needs to show these doctrines are probably false or that God's existence is still improbable despite the truth of these doctrines. Again, make sure they shoulder the burden of proof. Emotional Problem of Suffering Despite dealing with the intellectual problem, the real pain and suffering people may experience or
see may not remove doubt about God's existence. The response to the person who raises this problem is quite different. It is more of a case of sympathetically listening to the person and just being a friend. Emotional Problem of Suffering... I'd certainly be wanting to find out how recent their pain/suffering is as this too dictates the type of response. Someone who's just lost a child to cancer or a car
accident will not be wanting to discuss the reasons for and against the problem of suffering. If it's been a long time, then there's more room to discuss what happened and think about the possible views one can have towards it. Emotional Problem of Suffering... One thing that I think is unique in all religions, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that Christianity is the only religion in which the creator entered into his/it's creation and suffered along side of us.
On the cross, Christ endured a suffering beyond all understanding as he bore the punishment for the sins of the whole world.
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