My Problems of (with) Theodicy

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I happen to know that the minute I post this, people will assume that I’ve suddenly given up my Epicurean impulses, and am on my way down to enlist in the nearest monastery. An educated mind will apprehend the problems with this assumption. If we’re going to indulge in the task of thinking, we have to consider arguments carefully, and work to illuminate the inherent strengths and weaknesses therein.

A typical argument for atheism will often reduce to a discussion about theodicy. Theodicy is a fancy word that describes a presupposed relationship between a necessarily perfect being (God) and the existence of gratuitous evil.

The evil has to be gratuitous. I could argue that God giving me a stomach-ache is evil; but if my upset somehow alerts doctors to an epidemic, and ends up saving the lives of thousands of infants and pensioners, then that evil wasn’t gratuitous. The evil served a purpose, and in the grand scheme of things, that evil was a blessing-in-disguise.

We assume that God is necessarily perfect. If not, we assume (stretching Anselm to his limits) that God is, while imperfect, the closest thing to perfection that exists. Such a being (God) would not inflict gratuitous evil on others. This seems like an uncomplicated proposition.

So, how do we explain ISIS beheadings, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, Bosnian rape camps, or CIA torturers at Guantánamo Bay? How do we explain influenza, athletes foot, and syphilis? It seems, at first, contradictory, to declare the existence of God in the face of so many easy examples.

One problem with this declaration is that it’s proponent assumes a gods-eye-view of history, and necessarily places himself outside the temporal and physical universe. For the atheist to declare that some state-of-affairs X, is gratuitously evil, he’s implicitly declaring that there is no X’, which is good, and for which X is a necessary condition.

Earlier in the week, our brother Honeycomb wrote:

Also .. even if someone can’t prove God exists .. that doesn’t exclude His Omni-presence and Diety. You can’t prove a negative btw.

I can indeed prove a negative. For example: let := ‘It is not the case that Boxer is presently on the planet Mars.’ Let Q := ‘It is not the case that two and two make twelve-and-a-half.’ Both P and Q are easily proven, via correspondence and coherence.

The problem with proofs of the existence of God is that they don’t easily line up with either the coherence or the correspondence understandings of truth. I could state that there’s a fine, small china teapot that’s orbiting the sun, someplace in the Oort cloud. Skeptics might not be able to prove the teapot’s non-existence, but that doesn’t mean that a sensible person should have credence in the teapot.

I bring this up not to pick apart a brother, but only to disambiguate between my position on theodicy and Honeycomb’s defense of his faith. It’s unreasonable to expect that we can stand outside time and history, and declare that there isn’t some meaningful historical good that will result from evils that we assume are gratuitous, for the same reason that it’s unreasonable to expect the average person to go searching the Oort cloud for Bertrand Russell’s teapot, or Honeycomb’s god.

Author: Boxer

Sinister All-Male Dancer. Secret King of all Gamma Males. Member of Frankfurt School. Your Fave Contrarian!

24 thoughts on “My Problems of (with) Theodicy”

  1. The fact that sin, tribulations, and suffering exists doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. In fact St. Augustine had a good sermon on how God is the ‘out’ from this.

  2. +++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Boxer there’s a cat in a box.

    You can’t remove the lid .. you can’t shake the box .. you can’t know how long the cat has been in the box .. you can’t listen because the room you are viewing the box is behind sound-proof glass.

    Is the cat dead or alive?

    You observation window is 5 minutes before you must leave.

    Is there even a cat in the box just because someone wrote “cat in box” on the side of this box?

    You’re told the room smells horrible .. and that it must be the cats fault by another viewer .. as you both view this box from behind the sound proof glass.

    Is this cat in a box responsible for the bad smell?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++

  3. I’ve heard a couple of good sayings on this subject…
    1. Don’t try to put God in a box.
    2. Quit trying to get 100% of the picture when you only have 40% (if that) of the puzzle.

    “I can indeed prove a negative. For example: let P := ‘It is not the case that Boxer is presently on the planet Mars.’ Let Q := ‘It is not the case that two and two make twelve-and-a-half.’ Both P and Q are easily proven, via correspondence and coherence.”

    Your ability to prove a negative depends on the characteristics of what you’re talking about. For example, you can prove the nonexistence of some blood disorder if that disorder is characterized by being detectable when looked at under a microscope; but if you’re talking about an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being (for example) that cannot be detected by any simple observation or scientific means, then you can’t really falsify the existence of that being. Now of course, failure to prove the being doesn’t exist certainly doesn’t prove that it *does* exist – you just end up with opinions that can’t be proven either way. Life is full of uncertainties like this…that’s just part of the gig, for better or for worse.

    On that note, some atheists will claim that they can prove the nonexistence of God by pointing out some apparent contradictions in scripture; but they are only disproving certain hermeneutics, usually literal interpretations. Biblical literalism is the favorite of atheists because it’s the weakest argument, and hard/gnostic atheists seem to think they must win the debate at all costs – their own faith and emotional security depends on it, even more than that of a devout religious person.

    Russell’s Teapot is one of the laziest philosophical renderings I’ve ever seen, considering the extent to which people take it seriously. The fact that nearly every single culture on the face of the earth, stretching back thousands of years and over vast expanses of geographical isolation from each other, has maintained some kind of narrative of a deity with many similar themes of creation, headship, morality, an afterlife…and again, that doesn’t prove that a deity exists, but really, you’d have to be one seriously committed irreligious iconoclast to think that there is no more reason to believe in the existence of a deity – no matter how abstract or conceptual – than there is to believe that a teapot is orbiting the sun. I mean that just shows that Bertrand Russell was about as useless on theology as is Richard Dawkins – they are both obviously way to emotional to be touted as objective. I’m sick of seeing people fawn over guys like that.

  4. Precisely the problem we have ..

    How can a Believer and a Non-Believer come to the same answer?

  5. Precisely the problem we have ..

    How can a Believer and a Non-Believer come to the same answer?

    That’s not really the problem I have. I want to believe in things that are believable (or credible). I don’t want to believe in false propositions.

  6. I want to believe in things that are believable (or credible). I don’t want to believe in false propositions.

    Sounds like a personal problem .. heh!

    Seriously .. think of the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip ..

    A man who obviously was reading the OT .. and Philip was sent to teach him of Jesus in that OT passage / book.

    You just never know when and how God will do His works. He will go the ends of the earth to accomplish His task using His men as necessary.

    Btw .. credibility is in the eye of the bholder.

  7. Dear Brother h0neyc0mb:

    Credence isn’t synonymous with credibility. Respeck your rebuttal as I do, I really don’t think you’re getting what I’m laying down (though you’re doing a fair bit better than BDMG). This is OK, because I’m still trying to goad Derek into a discussion about theodicy, and you’re helping.

    New article about BlackScienceMan and PoundMeToo coming up.

  8. Credence isn’t synonymous with credibility.

    Oh .. you’re right .. I can lend you one and we have to earn the other.

    Frankly tho Boxer .. if The Bible doesn’t lend credence to you .. how can I?

  9. 1. Boxer says he only believes in things he understands. (simplified version)

    2. In the Bible, Jesus says that you can’t get to God except through him (Jesus). But, says Jesus, there is a problem in that you can’t come to him (Jesus) unless God draws you to Jesus. Not something we have anything to do with.

    3. The Bible says that no one can say that Jesus is Lord without the help of the Holy Spirit. And if the Holy Spirit hasn’t helped you yet???

    Points 2 and 3 kind of prove Boxer’s point.

    If the Bible is true, seems like this athiest issue will sort of take care of itself. Athiests will remain so until and unless something outside of science intervenes. And that intervention is not a given, considering that the Bible also says that many are on the road to destruction and few are on the road to eternal life.

    Again, if the Bible is true, this will all sort itself out in time – regardless of the “proofs” folks may present for or against. If the Bible is not true, than none of this matters.

    Except that making academic arguments, using logic, is fun. Problem is, logic applies only to things we can measure and quantify. The stuff I quoted above in this post can neither be measured nor quantified. It will just be or not be. Who of us can force God to draw us to Jesus. And without that drawing, we just wander around making academic arguments that can neither prove nor disprove anything.

    Where in science, or logic, or the Bible does it say that the creator has to be what the created one wants him to be – in either the natural world or the spiritual world?

  10. From the abstract of the article Boxer linked to: One of the deepest ideological divides in contemporary epistemology concerns the relative importance of belief versus credence.

    If the Bible is true, then these statements found there are also true: without faith it is impossible to please God. And also, whatsoever is not done by faith is sin.

    As I said in the other thread, where proof exists, faith is not required. [Therefore], where faith is required, proof cannot exist. And, where proof does not exist, neither belief nor credence are relevant. Unless the Holy Spirit acts on you, you cannot say that Jesus is Lord. Proof, believe, credence have nothing to do with it.

  11. It certainly does take the Holy Spirit but that doesn’t mean the pagans aren’t without hope. There were many examples of the Romans eventually coming to Christ and I’m certain they wouldn’t have got there without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

    I want to believe in things that are believable (or credible). I don’t want to believe in false propositions.

    Then you are probably more on the track to becoming a Christian than you realize. A quote from St. Teresa Benedicta of the cross

    “All those who seek truth, seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.”

    My best reasoning as to why your understanding is still limited is the lack of being baptized.

  12. If the Bible is true, seems like this athiest issue will sort of take care of itself. Athiests will remain so until and unless something outside of science intervenes. And that intervention is not a given, considering that the Bible also says that many are on the road to destruction and few are on the road to eternal life.

    In other words, your god created all of us dopey unwashed peasants merely to torture us, for all eternity.

    He sounds like a truly awful, sadistic character. Satan is more noble.

    Who of us can force God to draw us to Jesus. And without that drawing, we just wander around making academic arguments that can neither prove nor disprove anything.

    If Jesus is your god, then why does this other god need to draw us to Jesus? If Jesus isn’t your god, why not just cut out the middle man, and worship the one god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

    Boxer

  13. Interesting points. I’m not a Calvinist certainly, but it’s not that I don’t understand how they came up with the idea of predestination. I guess you could say that if God can see the future, then the fate of one’s soul is already known and cannot change, even if it is only known to God – but you’re not supposed to view it that way, even if that’s how it really is. Does that make sense? Not necessarily, but then, I’ve learned that things don’t have to make sense to be reality. Reality don’t need to make sense, be proven or be just; it simply is, nonetheless. A lacking of understanding, proof or justice doesn’t stop it or even slow it down.

    “Again, if the Bible is true, this will all sort itself out in time – regardless of the “proofs” folks may present for or against. If the Bible is not true, than none of this matters.”

    Yep. That’s what I’ve tried to get across to many atheists, who can’t seem to let it drop when someone doesn’t agree with them, for whatever reason.

    “Where in science, or logic, or the Bible does it say that the creator has to be what the created one wants him to be – in either the natural world or the spiritual world?”

    I sure wish people would remember this when they go to use “common sense” as a crutch for their own ideas of how God is or should judge people. I’m thinking about Dennis Prager saying that he feels like writing a book called “God Has Common Sense” with respect to the 3rd Commandment, or one radio preacher I heard declaring that God is fair, and therefore Satan’s suffering in Hell will be worse than anyone else’s suffering. Well, according to the Bible, God is indeed characterized as being fair, but if our idea of fairness is completely stupid compared to his, then I guess it’s a little hard for even a well-educated radio preacher to make forecasts of hellish suffering based on what he thinks ought to happen – in reality, what we assume probably doesn’t mean a thing with respect to what’s really going to go down, once the rubber hits the road (paved with good intentions of course) and it’s too damn late (pun intended); same goes for “common sense”, which is a term I don’t think occurs in the Bible, although I am pretty sure that you can find in those pages a statement that the wisdom of man is foolishness in the eyes of God. I’m sure that – wait, let me rephrase that: I would not be surprised if – Dennis Prager is right that doing evil acts in God’s name is going to get you an eternity of frying in Hell, but I’m not going to assume that yelling, “Oh my God! What a play!!” at a baseball game isn’t going to get you there too, if gone unforgiven, with suffering just as bad. In short: it may not make any sense to you or I, but then, does it have to? Nope.

    “Problem is, logic applies only to things we can measure and quantify.”

    Well, there is some overlap, but the subject of real “logic” (and not the overused, authoritative-sounding word that pseudo-intellectual atheists use as a catch-all reason to back up their mere opinions, right along with “reason”) is not limited to use only in empirical science. I look at it more like math’s procedural cousin, when it comes to thinking and inference. But anyway….

    “As I said in the other thread, where proof exists, faith is not required. [Therefore], where faith is required, proof cannot exist. And, where proof does not exist, neither belief nor credence are relevant.”

    So, let’s say you want to get from point A (this life) to point B (not Hell); how do you get there? Maybe just wanting to get there and being open to the true God, whichever religion describes him correctly, guide you there…or, maybe that’s just another one of those incorrect assumptions?

    I remember there being an optical illusion floating around one time, and I sent it to a math teacher I knew…

    He studied it and studied it, even bringing it to his classes to see if any prodigy there could figure it out. He kept looking at this thing, but just couldn’t make it make any sense, according to rise-over-run. What he eventually came to is a principle that I have carried to this day: “We’re assuming something that isn’t true.” In this case, everyone’s false assumption is that you’re looking at a right triangle; what you assume is the hypotenuse actually has a small angle in it, which can be seen looking at it up the edge, and accounts for the discrepancy in total volume.

    We assume many things that aren’t true, that make things not make sense…that certain things are in religious scripture THAT AREN’T, that certain historical events went down a particular way THAT THEY DIDN’T, that certain things you have been taught are true because you haven’t ever heard them questions, YET THEY AREN’T. It takes a while, but when you go digging deep into the layers of your own understanding of things, and you change one of those deeply-buried parameters of your foundation of understanding to something else, it’s kind of shocking how much above it comes tumbling down, but it often explains perfectly why things up above don’t make sense. Well, I know that it’s only human to have a set of assumptions, because that’s how we process information – if we assumed nothing, ever, we wouldn’t be able to function or operate at all…we’d be drooling vegetables. But still, that doesn’t mean that what we’ve been taught and have always assumed is real.

    Alas, just like you said, it’s either real or it isn’t.

  14. Okay, so if all that doesn’t hold water in the court of Boxer, can you at least understand how offensively bad it is to hear people smugly talk about the foolishness of those who don’t believe in a never-ending and never-beginning continuum of co-gods ruling over their respective planets and having thousands of spirit-children with multiple heavenly wives?

  15. BDMG: I have warned you about this already. This is not the forum at exmormon dot org. If you can’t quit being a faggot, I’m going to throw you into moderation.

    In short: stawp poasting

  16. I’m still trying to goad Derek into a discussion about theodicy

    And it is working. This post is the best of the series of three and I will absolutely be responding. I have not been ignoring it, but rather I had a very busy weekend with limited to no internet access… that seems to be how it goes sometimes.

  17. Hey man, do whatever you gotta do to protect your fee-fees. All that’s going to show is that you can dish it out but you can’t take it.

    Very well. The faggot BDMG is banned at his own request. Good journey, and please don’t reapply.

  18. https://v5k2c2.com/2018/12/01/my-problems-of-with-theodicy

    “I can indeed prove a negative.”

    Honeycomb’s statement is imprecise, but otherwise accurate. You can prove some negatives, so I state it rather wordily: you can’t deductively prove an absolute negative of general existence. I can (sort of) prove that the Loch Ness monster isn’t at the bottom of the lake by draining it (maybe it is invisible, died and decomposed, or moved?), but I still have not proven its non-existence. We merely have more evidence to inductively infer non-existence. Similarly, I can’t prove that Boxer doesn’t exist even though I can (sort of) show that Boxer is not on Mars.

    This is pedantic: the evidence is overwhelmingly against its existence. We can construct a (nearly) universal, deductively sound argument against the monster’s existence. This is not, however, the case for God. There is enough evidence of God to make unsound proof claims of God’s non-existance.

    “So, how do we explain ISIS beheadings, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, Bosnian rape camps, or CIA torturers at Guantánamo Bay? How do we explain influenza, athletes foot, and syphilis? It seems, at first, contradictory, to declare the existence of God in the face of so many easy examples.”

    Before we can answer this question, let’s break theodicy down to two different related, but mutually exclusive, (simplified) claims:

    1) Gratuitous evil exists, therefore God does not exist.
    2) God exists, therefore there must be a non-gratuitous explanation for the existence of evil.

    The believer in #1 thinks that those things are all examples of gratuitous evil and the believer in #2 thinks that they are not. Both believe mutual exclusive propositions. This has a certain circularity: each believer’s belief “disproves” the other believer’s belief. (This was noted earlier when Boxer said “You seem to ask two, mutually exclusive questions.” and Honeycomb replied “How can a Believer and a Non-Believer come to the same answer?”[1])

    How to resolve this difficulty?

    Believer #2 can do one of two things: show that God exists or argue that evil is not gratuitous. Christians have taken both routes and only one is required to answer the objection. I take the former route over the latter. The latter (e.g. free will defense) is not my strong suit. To wit:

    “it is noted that you refused to address my main questions.”

    I believe you wanted me to disprove the premise (“gratuitous evil exists”), but I’d rather disprove[2] the conclusion (“God does not exist”). This still addresses your main questions, just not the preferred way.

    Ok, back to the difficulty. Believer #1 has two choices as well: prove that gratuitous evil exists or that God does not exist. Clearly the latter is absurd, but who is responsible for the absurdity? It is believer #1’s absurdity. The existence of gratuitous evil relies on the existence of evil. Without a divine source, it is difficult to derive morality: there is no commonly accepted non-theistic argument for morality. The choice (proving the non-existence of God to use as proof that God does not exist) is circular. So believer #1 is only left with proving that gratuitous evil exists. Boxer notes:

    “One problem with this declaration is that it’s proponent assumes a gods-eye-view of history, and necessarily places himself outside the temporal and physical universe. For the atheist to declare that some state-of-affairs X, is gratuitously evil, he’s implicitly declaring that there is no X’, which is good, and for which X is a necessary condition.”

    I’d state it this way: if one knows that gratuitous evil exists, one is god by most common definitions of god. This is incoherent.

    Believer #1 has difficulty avoiding some circularity. He must establish that universal morality (thus evil) can exist without the existence of God. This is a valid approach, but it puts the burden of proof for claim #1 on believer #1 and off of believer #2. Believer #2’s burden of proof is to show that God exists. So neither believer is required to answer the demands of the other, which leads to a stalemate.

    Consider this: while the skeptic (believer #1) has no obligation or desire to prove anything to the theist (believer #2), the theist wants very much to convince the skeptic. As such, the effective burden of proof is lopsided. Christians see a duty to go and make diciples. This means answering objections, like Boxer’s, that may not even have answers. So in that respect, I agree with the following (with caveats, see below):

    “I bring this up not to pick apart a brother, but only to disambiguate between my position on theodicy and Honeycomb’s defense of his faith. It’s unreasonable to expect that we can stand outside time and history, and declare that there isn’t some meaningful historical good that will result from evils that we assume are gratuitous, for the same reason that it’s unreasonable to expect the average person to go searching the Oort cloud for Bertrand Russell’s teapot, or Honeycomb’s god.”

    We must dispense with the notion that God can be exhaustively proven or disproven. This is the realm of philosophers and theory. While intriguing, they don’t appear to be coming to a unified conclusion any time soon. The difficulties remain unresolved:

    “The problem with proofs of the existence of God is that they don’t easily line up with either the coherence or the correspondence understandings of truth. I could state that there’s a fine, small china teapot that’s orbiting the sun, someplace in the Oort cloud. Skeptics might not be able to prove the teapot’s non-existence, but that doesn’t mean that a sensible person should have credence in the teapot.”

    To win hearts and minds requires evidence, neither proof or blind faith[3] work. Evidence leads to conclusions based on inductive reasoning (probability), not purely deductive reasoning (proof). Extreme, selective skepticism must be avoided (this is the problem with the naturalistic New Atheism). I’ve taken an evidence-based approach online, but with very mimimal success. Most people are not particularly interested in the hard work of sifting through the available evidence. But we should go where the evidence leads. Consider the following (abbreviated) list of evidences and arguments:

    Science
    1) Origin of the universe and matter
    2) Fine-tuning of the universe
    3) Origin of life
    4) Origin of information
    5) Cambrian Explosion

    History
    1) Minimal facts case for the resurrection
    2) Biblical textual criticism (reliability, error analysis, etc.)
    3) Historicity of the Biblical accounts

    Philosophy
    1) Morality and Ethics
    2) Free will defense to the problem of evil

    Sociology and Psychology
    1) Religion leads to better physical, mental, and social outcomes.
    2) Universality of religion

    Intuition
    1) Argument from beauty (i.e. Psalm 19:1)

    I’m not suggesting that everyone will (or need to) accept all these arguments, but they do represent some of the body of evidence we have available. In my view, the evidence is strong. YMMV. If we can infer the existence of God from outside religion itself, then the credibility of the Bible is easier to accept, along with the concepts of sin and evil.

    “Credence isn’t synonymous with credibility.”

    In the past I’ve been sloppy in presenting arguments that potentially establish reasonable credence but not neccesarily sufficient credibility. I think the scientific arguments for God are especially strong and those are what led me to such a strong acceptance of Christianity in my youth. The typical response to such arguments is derisive laughter. Yet, the more I examine these areas, the stronger that belief becomes.

    —————-
    [1] To which Boxer replied “That’s not really the problem I have. I want to believe in things that are believable (or credible). I don’t want to believe in false propositions.” Is this so? The greater consideration is which mutually exclusive propositions one chooses to believe, not the truth value of those propositions. If that really is the problem, then there are mountains of credible evidences for the existence of God.

    [2] By disprove, I mean to show compellingly through inductive reasoning.

    [3] Faith is compelling to many, just not the target audience here.

  19. Meh, this came out wrong: “the greater consideration is which mutually exclusive propositions one chooses to believe, not the truth value of those propositions.” What I mean is, when dealing with two mutually exclusive propositions of fairly unknown truth value, humans tend to be more concerned about picking the supposed best side than in determining the absolute truth value.

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