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TheProblemOfEvil is simply stated, but its ramifications on theology are far-reaching and complex.

The problem goes as follows: God is omnipotent. Therefore everything in the world happens, if not at His behest, then with His permission. In addition, He is good and loving.

Now, as we looks around the world we see a lot of pain and Suffering. God does not stop this pain and suffering. This means that either He cannot, or He could but chooses not to.

The first option, that God cannot stop the pain and suffering, means that He is not the God Christians believe in (or that He does not exist at all; in this case obviously He cannot do anything).

The second option is more interesting. If God could stop the pain and suffering in the world, but does not, how does that fit in with His being good and loving?

It immediately appears that Christianity has been disproved by simple observation of the world: the world we see would not exist if God were as Christians say He is. So if there is a God, He is not as Christians believe.

Understandably Christians have not accepted this naive view. Unwilling to compromise on God's omnipotence, their efforts have in the main concentrated on reconciling his goodness and lovingness with the world.

The classic counter-argument is the 'free will defence'. This says that God could stop all suffering, but chooses not to as to do so would stop human being having free will. God, the argument runs, wishes human to follow him out of choice: he does not wish a race of robots who can do nothing but good as that is the way they are programmed.

However, it can easily be seen that this is not satisfactory. God could still allow everyone the choice between good and evil, especially in the Christian view that it is that choice and not the action that is important (someone who hates his brother being as guilty as someone who actually murders, for example), while protecting others from the consequences of those choices. He could arrange that every gun fired where the bullet would hit a human to jam, that every bomb planted would not go off. This would not infringe on anyone's free will, yet it would prevent the consequence of the exercise of it, in evil ways, on others.

As a counter to this it could be argued that a loving parent does not protect his child from the bad consequences of all his actions, but rather allows her to make her own mistakes and learn from them. This though is a strange version of 'loving': it would be difficult to describe as 'loving' a parent who left an open fire uncovered in the living room, saying that was better than a fireguard because the child needed to experience the consequences of grasping hot coal. 'Loving' means not exposing to unnecessary suffering as well as allowing the child to make their own decisions, and a good proportion of the suffering in the world is plainly unnecessary.

Another suggestion is that suffering is actually part of God's plan; that he uses pain as a sculptor uses his chisel, to mould us into the sorts of people we should be. This again, though, means 'loving' in the case of God turns out not to mean what we would expect it to mean. A loving parent may chastise their child by smacking them, and even this is controversial, but there would be no doubt in most people's mind that locking a child up in a dark cellar in order to modify their behaviour is going too far. Yet a lot of the situations in which humans around the world find themselves make that cellar look like paradise. If this is love, it's the scariest, harshest, most un-loving love ever heard of.

Where, then, does this leave God? In a bit of a bind, it seems, squeezed of out existence between his own two chief attributes.

Why do you assume God could end all suffering, pain and evil?
Certainly, he could, by terminating the universe - but is it necessarily the case that he could do it while still allowing love, happiness, etc to exist?
There is the obvious problem of love (or happiness, etc) not meaning anything if there is no hate (or sadness, etc) to contrast it with,
This is a fallacy. Indifference (i.e. the lack of love) is not the same as hate.
but there is also the practical problem of allowing interaction with other people, without them being able to inflict pain. Certainly the gun has jammed, but is not the knowledge that someone wants you dead painful? Even only allowing positive messages through allows the inflictng of pain by refusing to communicate. Therefore, humans as they are now, could only exist in a pain-free environment if they were totally isolated from all other humans. (God, being perfect, is presumably capable of interacting without causing pain).
For that sort of reason, it's not clear to me that 'God could end all evil, but chooses not to' is true, if you assume something basic - such as independent intelligent beings existing and communicating. And changing something as basic as that would change Creation rather radically. -- TheInquisitor

The Christian religion, however, posits that it is possible to have a state in which independent intelligent beings exist and communicate without suffering existing: such places existed at the beginning of time and also will exist after the final judgement, the New Heaven and the New Earth. So if people choose they can co-exist without suffering. Chistianity is explicitly not a dualist religion: God is perfectly capable of existing without Satan, good without evil. There is no 'two sides of the same coin' theory present in the Christian view of the world. 

Even if the idea that all suffering cannot be eliminated is accepted, that still only makes the question 'why does God not reduce suffering?' It has been suggested that God does reduce suffering, and that the world would be worse were He no existant; however, that then begs the quetion of why he stops at a level of suffering which is, to any reasonable observer, excessive. The pain, if there is any, of knowing someone wishes to hurt you is a lot less than the pain of knowing someone wishes to hurt you plus the pain of them actually hurting you.

This could also be seen as an unwarranted challenge to God's omnipotence. It has been argued that God cannot do things which are logically impossible, like make black white, and that this is not limiting his omnipotence; but it is far from clear that ending suffering falls into this category.

Is it suggested that all beings are capable of existing in this state. And, for that matter, what are they? It seems unlikely that they exhibit all the traits of being human, (such as inflicting needless pain, and hating), since God felt it necessary to create the world. Thus are they truly 'people' from the point of view of being what God wanted when he created the earth? If not, the problem remains.

It does seem clear that God could reduce suffering in the world, even if eliminating it turns out to be logically impossible (I don't argue that it is logically impossible, only that I see no reason why it's not). So, why else might suffering exist. One possible answer which occurs to me is that the 'best possible' future may only be attained through some degree of evil at the present. Either because humans, complete with human nature are required, or because of the combination of events which will lead to this. This leaves God, despite being perfectly loving, allowing us to suffer pain, for the greater good of all.

The obvious counter to that is 'But God is omnipotent, surely he can arrange it without the intermediate pain'. Which seems reasonable enough, for most 'utopia' situations. Still, what if the goal is something like an 'ascension' - starting at the top would defeat the object.

I appear to be playing devil's advocate here, slightly, since I can't think of an end which would require such a path, and I especially can't think of one which is supported by conventional Christian thinking. (I suspect I'm heading off on wild tangents with 'destiny' and suchlike, too - since IIRC, determinism is presently not regarded as a consequence of omniscience (I probably know more about 13th centuary theological conclusions than I do about present ones)). TheInquisitor

(PeterTaylor) A few points (in response to OP, in case that's not clear):

Either the definition of 'omnipotent' or the definition of 'loving' is quibbled with.  In other words - you do not understand what we mean by 'god' and thus your question is meaningless.  I can't decide whether that is muleheaded ignorance or admirable faith.

I suggest a new approch to this page. In order to avoid the hard-to-follw interleaving of comments tat has hitherto characterised the Wiki, all responses should be added to the bottom of the page. Thus the discussion will be easier to follow. Also, this will force people to phrase their comments in a more essay-like, and less note-like form. Which can only be a good thing.

In response to the challenge that people existing without suffering may not be truley 'human', the clear implication in the Bible is that God wanted people to exist in the state of the Garden of Eden for all eternity, and that they did not is a result of them ignoring his will. Suffering, in the Christian world (as opposed to, say, the Buddhist world) is not an inherent part of the humn condition but rather something brought about by humans. The alternative would be suggesting God is playing a double-bluff game in which he says one thing so we will do another, that raises questions about God's honesty. Again incompatible with the Christian concept of God.

This idea is then modified into the idea that because of the choice of our forefathers we are condemned to a 'subhuman' state, and therefore incapable of co-existing without inflicting suffering on each other. This is not true: we may be incapable of not wanting to inflict suffering on each other but, as pointed out in the initial discussion, God could stop those desires from ever having any effect: he could jam guns, cause knifes to break when they touched human flesh. He could cause falls of manna in famine-stricken lands and hold back flows of lava. Why doesn't he?

The idea that suffering might be necessary for the attainment of some greater good yet again brings us back to the 'tough love' described above. What 'good end' could possibly be worth the suffering humans currently undergo? None that we humans can conceive, I daresay. You could say that it is a good beyond our (current) conception, but again this means that 'loving' in the case of God starts to look less and less like what we would usually understand by the word.

Another point raised was that the initial discussion failed to take account of the possibility that God would end suffering at a future point. It did not. That question is academic for the thousands of millions of humands who have already suffered and died in unpleasant ways. This end to suffering will come too late for them. That does not seem like the action of a loving God.

Finally, the objection was raised that the constraint on God's power was not his ability but his will. This is exactly what the initial assessment of the problem stated. To quote:

Now, as we looks around the world we see a lot of pain and suffering. God does not stop this pain and suffering. This means that either He cannot, or He could but chooses not to. [...]

The second option is more interesting. If God could stop the pain and suffering in the world, but does not, how does that fit in with His being good and loving?

So to answer the objection 'He can do anything He wants to do. He can stop all suffering on Earth, but that doesn't mean He wants to do it in the way you want Him to do it', one merely needs to point out that not only does He not do it 'in the way you want Him to do it', but he apparantly does not want to do it at all. Or if He does want to do it He doesn't mind it coming too late for a few billion people who must starve or undergo torture and death before He is ready. It is very very difficult to reconcile this with a 'loving' God. The proponents of this argument, therefore, defend God's omnipotence at the expense of his love.

Is there any way to leave both intact, with 'loving' meaning something even vaguely close to the normal meaning of the word, and still explain what we see when we look around?

DevilsAdvocate may not be quite the appropriate term here, but I shall use it anyway.  One traditional answer is that the 'greater good' is indeed beyond human conception, and that the suffering being seen here is far below that which is possible.  So it would be like a parent allowing a child to scorch its fingers on the fireguard, in order that one day they grow up to produce a source of warmth which heats the whole universe but hurts no-one. Only, you know, moreso, because humans can nevr actually understand god because, like, that would totally undermine our authority.  Ahh.. got back to the devilling at the end there.  Sorta.

The idea that suffering is deliberate, part of a plan towards some good greater than human conception, though, isn't much of a confort for those who are suffering here and now. God may operate on a huge scale, but we don't, and if he doesn't realise that, or if he ignores it, then that doesn't sound very loving.

There is another point, of course: According to the Bible humans began in a perfect state, and can be reconciled to that state only through Jesus. Nowhere in the Bible is there a hint that suffering is necessary to regain perfection. So you're coming up with extra extra-Biblical 'mights' to explain out of a difficult corner, with no actual evidence to back it up.

The answer to this, I suppose, is that one should trust God. However, the question that is being asked here is: does God exist, and is He trustworthy? To start an answer from the premise that we must trust God even when it looks like what is happening is in fact the opposite of what should happen is circular reasoning of the same kind which says that we should trust the Bible is the word of God because the Bible says it is the word of God.

We must be able to work from the state of the universe and our reason to an answer which says we should trust God, not accept on faith that we should trust a God who may not even exist, or who may not be good and loving, and use that as an excuse to discard reason.

(Please leave the dashes below in when adding to the page, o it's clear when one entry stops and the next begins).

Well, while I'm here...  Re the first comment, free will defence.  If god were to stop every bullet etc. then making the choice to fire that bullet would be substantially less.  After all, you know that you are taking an action which will have no negative effects.  In such an altered world, trying to kill someone would not be evil.  Thus evil would have been removed, and with it free will blah blah blah.  It is interesting that you have argued this around back to the word faith.  Since that is, after all, what all religions base themselves upon.  "Make this (seemingly simple) leap - and all this will be explained"
Besides - who says evil and suffering are a problem?

It is of course the case that, if every bullet was harmless, then the choice involved in firing the bullet would become less: life could be played like a game, firing gun at anyone who annoyed us in order to let off steam,  safe in the knowledge that no one would get hurt.

However, from a Christian perspective, that's irrelevant. The guilt in a Christian worldview doesn't come from pointing a gun at someone and pulling the trigger: it comes from hating them enough to want to do it. And you can still hate someone even if you have no way to actually harm them. So free will, the freedom to hate someone, is not removed. Hating someone enough to want to kill them would still be evil, even though it could not be acted on, so evil is not removed and neither is free will.

When it comes to faith, it is true that most religions ask for a 'leap of faith'. However, Christians contend that their religion is different from all others: that it is true. Therefore its claims should be capable of being tested against the evidence availible: we should be able to look at the historical evidence and check whether there was a Jesus who lived in Palestine, and so on and so forth.

Mostly, this evidence is either neutral (that the universe exists at all, for example, suggests that there is a God but could also be explained by factors of chance). However, the problem of evil is compelling evidence to suggest that in fact the Christian God does not exist, and that if there is a God Christians wouldn't recognise him.

Steps of faith seems reasonable when the evidence suggests something but doesn't quite conclusively prove it. However, to simply ignore a problem of this magnitude with a wave of one's hand and call upon 'faith' looks very like wilful ignorance. Unless, that is, there is an answer to the problem which has not yet been proposed which does explain it.

As for why pain and suffering are bad, that seems self-evident. If God does not believe they are bad (perhaps because of his different perspective) then he is callous, ignoring our needs simply because he does not think they are what we should be interested in. This does not sound like the Christian idea of God, who cars deeply about humans on their level.

This format isn't as much fun for argumentative rebuttals.

Every religion claims that it is true - all it requires is that the universe not massively contradict it.

I suggest that shooting someone harmlessly becomes equivalnt to, for example, pointing a feather in their direction.  Or taking off your hat and holding the door open for them.  Without any actual harms possible, the mere concept of harm would be beyond human conception - thus you'd not be able to try and hurt anyone.  Similarly, I cannot willfully farkle anyone, since, despite johns continual usage of the term, I have no idea what that is.

Last one then.  What about a child who believes that not being given candy *right*now* is suffering, despite the loving parent who doesn't want to be responsible for a butterball.  Or, similarly, the argument "But I *like* serial murder."

Of course, then you can come back to being all loving and omnipotent, you could give them everything they wanted *and* have no bad consequences.  But then, I don't think Christian belief ever said god was THAT loving.

There's a potential third solution to the problem of evil.  Some people want evil around, so god puts some evil down for them.  And then he seperates it from those who want none of it (examples of true saints being unharmed abound) while those who do want evil to exist (from their thoughts and ations) can have it.  God must be a bit confused about WHY these people want evil, I guess.  Not quite sure where heaven fits in with that picture.

Okay, so if guns were known not to be able to harm humans, shooting someone wouldn't be an offensive act, but you could still express hatred in a number of ways - for example, by repeatedly trying to test the limits of what damage it *is* possible to inflict, by destroying property, or simply by saying 'I hate you, and would kill you if I could'. Thus God could limit harm/suffering/pain, but eliminating it while leaving society even slightly intact would not appear possible. Altering preceptions would have that effect, but would possibly redefine 'love' rather radically (and destructively). -- TheInquisitor (Incidentally, it's getting hard to work out who has posted what, would signing/labelling our paragraphs be sensible?)

(Part of the motivation for suggesting the new structure was that it no longer becomes necessary to know who wrote what; the page should simply read, from top to bottom, as a series of self-contained little essays on the topic. This makes it explicit that what is said is more important than who said it, among other things.)

Even if it is accepted that God cannot remove suffering entirely from the world, that still leaves the question of why he doesn't reduce it. A simple act which he could do which would reduce suffering considerably wouldbe to providemanna to famine-stricken countries in Africa. The manna described in the Bible would not only keep people alive and healthy, it would be useless for dictators and the like to collect because it would be gone in a day, thus rendering it uneconomic. So why does he continue to allow people to starve when we have Biblical evidence that he could stop it?

Is it because he wants to make the point that the world produces enough for all its inhabitants, and we should share it equally? Well, a God who apparantly punishes innocents who cannot control their situations for the selfishness of others is not what I would call 'loving'. Moreover, why should we, who are told to love as God loves, try to help these people when God so clearly doesn't care about them enough to even provide them with their daily bread?

(Why do I always stick myself on the indefensible side of arguments?)  Ok, the gun point I can cover still - once guns are gone, words become the next harm, so they go - and so on and so on.  The point is that once any effective harms are gone, you'd lose the ability to conceive of harm.

As for feeding the starving, there is one possible argument that god would help those who thoroughly believe in him.  That's very old-testamentish of course and leads to the whole 'test of faith' stuff, and yes, sorta contradicts the 'all loving' modern view.  I guess I'll let someone who actually knows their stuff defend here.  (Where's Aquinatas when you need him?)

Oh - here's another one, which feels like a total fraud to me, but does work.  God is not bound by petty human limitations jsuch as time and space and can easily go back and help the deserving, thus preventing their suffering.  He just hasn't done it yet, since he's modest.

Slightly more believable is the "god only cares about the soul" view of the middle ages, in which the body is merely something holding people back and is to be shunned.  In which circumstance starvation and other pains become holy, since they focus the individual on their soul rather than their body.  Again, not a very popular view now.  You could think of it as god teaching his children by example - showing them what pain etc. mean on their toys (look jimmy, the stuffed elephant goes up in flames when you toss it into the fire) rather than on their bodies (and so do you !)  That view again sticks on the 'all powerful' thing, since it postulates an existence which god cannot (or will not) change - that of the body/soul seperation, with the soul being less important, but still seen as important by most people.  I don't think there is any way around that unless you wish to start arguing 'god is infinite within the universe' rather than 'god is without the universe'

"However, Christians contend that their religion is different from all others: that it is true."
Are there any religions that claim they are not? Even religions that don't claim the others are false are in the minority. If we go down that path, we have to evaluate all religions consistently, since at least all the ones MoonShadow is aware of make this claim or a similar one.
Vitenka already said the first bit of that.  Christianity is, as I understand it, a bit different only in that it suggests that god is all loving and merciful etc.  Whereas many other religions have gods which are either less directly interested, or less forgiving (more like old testament christianity, if such a thing makes any sense)  I'd suggest most of this ArgumentConversation? is applicable to any religion - just that Christianity is the example those present are most familiar with.

It's not a given that 'once any effective harms are gone, you'd lose the ability to conceive of harm'. That's speculation, with no evidence (unless you can show a society where there is no ability to harm)? Certainly it's not the case that if a single person is locked up and prevented from harming anyone that his desire to cause harm magically goes away. I see no reason to believe that the entire species would give up on hatred so easily.

There is no evidence to support the view that God helps those who 'thoroughly believe' in him. If that were the case then churches in Africa (assuming they contain at least a few 'true believers') would receive regular divine food packages. They don't, or we'd have heard (and also these gifts from God would probably help others believe, and others... but that's another discussion).

The idea that God will retroactively erase suffering also doesn't have much evidence to support it. There's certainly nothing in the Bible about God owning a de Lorean, and involving Him in paradoxes just complicates things too much.

The idea that only the soul is important and that bodily suffering is irrelevant because it is ultimately transitory which the soul is eternal is one of the better counter-arguments on this page; however, it also falters because it has God treating humans on a divine timescale. Though physical suffering may be nothing compared to eternity in Paradise, it doesn't feel that way here and now, and shouldn't a loving God be sensitive to our human needs as well as out spiritual ones? This is the God whose son suggested we ask him to 'give us our daily bread': why then do so many people, Christians and heathens alike, go without? Is the Lord's Prayer one of those prayers that gets answered with a 'no'?

Yes, all religions (except perhaps some of the more deconstructivist of the internet-bourne neo-pagan variety) claim to be true. But what was actually written was not 'Christianity is different from other religions because its adherents believe it to be true', but 'Christians contend that their religion is different from all others: that it is true'. I trust that the difference is now obvious. Moslims also contend that their religion is different from all others, because it is true. Therefore Christianity and Islam should both be able to look at the evidence of the world and show that, though it will not prove their religion is true, it at least does not prove it false (as the Problem of Evil appears to do for Christianity).

Ex 33  And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book
Is 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
These are talking about punishment.  Thus:
James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all

Pain and punishment are from the same root.  According to Christianity, almost all of us are sinners (Christ, for example, is one exception).  Non-Christians get punished for their sins.  Christians are Saved by Christ - but only in the context of their moment-to-moment relationship with the Holy Spirit - i.e., they can become unsaved.  How can we say that any of the pain that is suffered in the world is not necessary for the salvation of those that suffer it?  My interpretation of the Bible is that if we direct our hearts to God and obey his commandments, we will not suffer pain.  Therefore, those that are suffering pain are choosing to do so - God _has_ stopped all the pain in the world for those that wish it stopped. --Mjb67
To elaborate on the edit subject from MoonShadow, here is my comment on that.  "Bull."  --Vitenka
Quite.  Looks like someone's never read NIV: Job. --M-A

Hm. Didn't mean to jump on you in a Heresy fashion, but it does seem like a view for which plenty of counterexamples can be found simply by observing the world around one for a while. - MoonShadow

Um... I was interpreting Mjb67's "According to Christianity" as implying that the rest of his paragraph is how he interprets what Christianity says and its logical consequences, but that he doesn't necessarily agree with these consequences.  I think we all (so far) agree that what's posted is a distasteful conclusion.  I agree with M-A's reference to Job suggesting that isn't actually what Christianity reckons about pain and suffering (although I recommend finding a summary rather than trying to read all 42 chapters of it).  (Nor, we would claim and hope, is it a logical consequence of other Christian axioms or teachings.) --AlexChurchill

Ah - sorry. I have come across similar views to that one that people actually held before now; typically vocal people on usenet. There's also a variation that insists that people who profess not to believe in the Christian God actually all secretly believe in him, but hate him, and are making a deliberate choice to reject him; which I personally think of as demonstrably incorrect for much the same reasons this view is. - MoonShadow

So what does Job tell us about pain and suffering?  That those that suffer it and still love God will be rewarded in kind?  God never explains why he tested Job, but does praise Job for his conduct, punish his friends, and makes him richer than before (Job 42:10). 
Just to clarify, my "According to Christianity" was only referring to the sentence in which it appeared (ie. that we are all sinners), but my understanding is that two other points in that para are also tenets of Christianity 1) That non-Christians will be punished, and 2) That Christians can be un-saved - that is, they can cease to be Christians.
Suffering is covered a lot in 1 Peter, esp. Chapters 3 and 4.  E.g. "4.17 For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? 4.18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?".  So Christians, too, can suffer - but they are rewarded for it in the end? --Mjb67
Irreverantly and irrelevantly, I read that as 'Surfing is covered a lot in...' Which would make a more interesting holy book, at least. --Vitenka (NewLivingBible?, probably)

Have you ever been to a haunted house at a fun fair?  The sort where you get strapped into a trolley, and ghosts and blood dripping heads loom out of the dark to frighten surprise and scare people as the ride moves along?  It wouldn't be much of a ride if there were large black rectangles marked CENSORED pasted over the scary bits.

Similarly, have you read sanitised versions of fairy tales?  They doesn't work as well, the stories are just not as good, not as compelling without the death and nastiness.

Maybe life's like that.  Maybe God's the author, the playwright who has set the scene for us to improvise within, and after death you get to face the critics for how you handled your role.

In other words, maybe pain and suffering are not that bad.  They seem bad to us now, but maybe if we look back on them with wiser heads from the afterlife, we'll appreciate the artistic merits of the story.


I find that a little hard to stomach. "Our purpose is to suffer in order to provide entertainment for people watching from heaven" seems a bit of a nightmarish scenario, TBH. "Pain dulls with time" may be true, but does not appear particularly helpful. Then again, it is probably the easiest way of reading things like Job - certainly the "suffering now will be irrelevant when you get to heaven" part. I still see it as a way of avoding the question of why it exists, rather than an answer to it; but I can see why it is compelling, especially in the face of a lack of any really satisfying answer. - MoonShadow

Oh, and besides - Pallando, do you believe there is pain in the afterlife? - MoonShadow

If you believe Babylon 5 then we are god.  Or god is the collective consciousness of the souls in the afterlife.  So this limited life we live now is actually something we are doing to oursleves for our own entertainment / education.--Pallando

And no, I don't believe in an afterlife.  Not as in survival of anything I would recognise as being the self that I currently percieve doing the thinking feeling and willing in my life. I'd like to.  But I don't.  Too many problems explaining the links between mind and body.  Actually, I think that's a question deserving its own wiki page: TheAfterlife

I read it that Pallando thought that the pain and suffering were there for our benefit actually - that the only entity that would be doing the appreciating would be the one who suffered, from the context of the afterlife.  It's kind of my opinion as well actually - that pain has some purpose other than a mechanistic stimulus/avoidance response that has an important effect on the development of the entity - otherwise higher entities would have evolved a response that wasn't so, umm, painful.  My father occasionally smacked me on the bottom when I did something wrong.  At school I was regularly required to run 'through the pain barrier' to increase my fitness.  Later on in life I did that to myself, sometimes in order to achieve specific goals and other times just to be able to enjoy being fit.  How much more great must the suffering of my whole being be to achieve greater goals?  The smacking of my bottom by my father is nothing compared to the smacking of my bottom by my Father.  And what does my opinion of it all matter?  We don't know anything about how Job felt at the end of the book, but we can assume that since God loves us, we will come to appreciate it in the end.--Mjb67

I don't think I have the knowledge to argue with you. I find that reasoning so alien that my head hurts just trying to apply it to things like cancer, babies dying of starvation and so on. I'm gonna have to butt out of this one. - MoonShadow

I guess the reasoning is that rather than quibble about the goodness, lovingness and omnipotence of God, we quibble about the badness of pain and suffering.  I think it's what Peter did - he tried to glory in sharing Christ's pain.  I.e. it still hurts, but that is an opportunity to glory God, much like what Summa Theologia says about temptation.  (Which incidentally, is, I think, biblically dubious - the Bible says that there will be a way to escape or to flee from temptation in 1 Corinthians 10, whereas Summa Theologia doesn't mention fleeing, just resisting)-Mjb67

My explanation for evil is that it is due to the freedom of choice God gave to humans right at the beginning.  The reason that there is evil in the world is that we choose to do wrong things.  The devil also has quite a lot to do with it, but that is the same thing: the devil had free choice, and his jealousy caused him to work against God.  You might ask why God would allow freedom of choice if it leads to suffering, but if we had no choice we would be even less like God than we are (as in: he created us in his own image).  God wants us to be his companions, his friends, and if we had no choice we would have no ability to feel emotion as we do.  God would rather spend eternity with a few people who can really love him than with everyone if they can't.  Of course, he doesn't necessarily like the fact, but the point is that he loves us and more than anything else wants us to love him too. 
Whoops.  Bit of a rant there.  My bad.  --PHL4IVI3R1D3R
There's a problem with that POV, at least from a Christian perspective: it is not consistent with the idea of Heaven as described in the New Testament. Namely, Heaven is a place where people are perfectly happy and as close to God as they can be, yet is a place without evil. If, as you suggest, it is impossible to separate free choice, emotion and the possibility to choose evil, the implication is that it is impossible for the Christian version of heaven to exist. - MoonShadow (no, I don't have an answer to TheProblemOfEvil either. As things stand, I have faith that one exists, but I've yet to hear one that satisfies. If I ever find one I'll be sure and post it here.)
I haven't really thought this through, but my guess is that once we reach heaven we become able to resist any temptation that exists, if it does, to be evil.  That might not be right, but it makes me feel better about heaven: imagine a place where there is not only no evil or pain or suffering, but where we can be better people ourselves.  I for one find that a very attractive prospect :)  --PHL4IVI3R1D3R
"imagine a place where there is not only no evil or pain or suffering" - if there's no evil, then evil is not necessary for a fulfilling life, which appears to contradict your first paragraph. "Once we reach heaven we become able to resist any temptation that exists" - why not make Adam and Eve like that to start with? - MoonShadow
(PeterTaylor) NIV: Eph, in particular NIV: Eph 3: 10, seems relevant. Take me a lot of time to work through my thoughts on this, though, to check they make sense and to present them clearly.
I thought that you had to be like that to get in, in the first place?  --Vitenka
Not according to the gospels. The basic, highly oversimplified, message is, "no-one's like that, God realises no-one's like that, so he's arranged to punish Jesus in place of everyone else and he's gonna forgive you and let you into heaven if you ask to be forgiven and really really want to not succumb to temptation and genuinely regret it when you do. - MoonShadow
Because, to make them like that would mean that they would have no choice in the matter: they would not be able not to love him or be perfect.  If there's no choice in it, what's the point of doing it in the first place?  I think my main argument here is: God doesn't want to be surrounded by a load of mindless sycophants.  He wants us to have personalities.  --PHL4IVI3R1D3R
Yes, that's where I came in. You seem to be saying two mutually exclusive things alternately, and I am unable to see how you can hold both views at once while you seem unable to see the contradiction. Judging by your responses, I have not rendered my argument understandable to you - perhaps someone else who can see where I am coming from can try and translate? - MoonShadow
Oh, I was reading it as "You have to be perfect to get in, but since you're not we'll use this GetOutClause? and pretend that you are."  How heaven deals with imperfect people when people are expected is presumably an interetsing problem in inheritance.  Oh, I guess [God a utilitarian?] should be crosslinked again here.  --Vitenka
The text at that link is an example of the same mistake, at least from a Christian POV! Premise it makes: having free will implies sinning. Premise it makes: creation without free will is absurd. Premise the Bible makes: Heaven is a creation that does not contain sin. Implication: Heaven has no free will, heaven is absurd. Therefore, someone who accepts a Christian heaven is necessarily forced to deny one of the other two premises. - MoonShadow
It seems to AC that you're both saying that Heaven will be a place where people perfectly love God, all the time, even though they still have choice in the matter. Like the way that a faithful husband or wife will choose each day not to seek a divorce or an affair, even though they have free choice to do so. This would seem to link with the way in Heaven we'll see things as they really are (NIV: 1 Cor 13: 12). --AlexChurchill
Sorry, I guess I'm just not qualified to argue this.  It makes sense in my mind, but then that's a rather convoluted place and I have probably failed to grasp some fundamental flaw to my theory.  Meh.  CookiesCrumbling.  Baka.  --PHL4IVI3R1D3R

I'll try again.
Premise: people who don't have freedom to choose between good and evil are lacking something important that God thinks people need to have.
Premise: heaven is perfect, i.e. people in heaven do not lack anything that God thinks people need to have.
Premise: heaven is perfect, i.e. there is no evil in heaven.

Conclusion: it is impossible for people to choose evil in heaven. People lack that choice.
Conclusion: the original three premises are self-contradictory. One of them must be wrong.

Does this clarify the argument any?

Yes, but you've got no logical problem there.  People can choose to be evil in heaven, but no one does.  (Is that a lemma?  It's been so long...)  Ok, by examination, it's unlikely - but it's not imposisble.  In fact;
Conclusion: Perfect means 'being able to choose evil but not doing so'.  ?  --Vitenka
Refer to the text you linked - it considers that idea. Do you disagree with it, then? Where is the mistake it makes? Moreover, it begs the question of "if God can do that to people, why didn't he make Adam and Eve like that to start with?" ..to which the apologetic reply is inevitably something along the lines of "well, actually, making people like that means that they are lacking something vital" - see flamerider's response to this question above for an example - which takes us round in a big circle right back to the start, because if people in that state lack something then heaven lacks something.. - MoonShadow
Honestly?  I think it's all a load of b*llocks.  But I can't resist doing twisty things to logic :)  Free will contains the possibility of evil, not the fact of evil.  Where did the contradiction go?  --Vitenka
Christian doctrine says it's basically meaningless to separate the two, AFAICT. And if it's possible to separate the two without ill effect, why not do it right from the start? - MoonShadow
But since we're opening up the can of 'what is heaven' worms, you're gonna get all sorts of 'individual heavens' and heavens containing automatons types of things.  And debunking all of those takes ages.  --Vitenka
Debunking of these doesn't need to happen here. The argument hinges on the fact that a Christian will find holding the idea of heaven filled with automata less palatable than not holding the idea of evil being an absolutely necessary part of creation. It points out that holding the latter would imply the former. - MoonShadow
Yeah, but you just know they're all gonna end up on the wiki sooner or later.  And that sentence is unreedemed evil.  Clause overload.  I plead the fourteenth (plaintiff is confused!)  --Vitenka

Well, this page has been considering the problem of evil to the Christian worldview in particular (although I agree it's a problem to a lot of other worldviews too), so taking the Christian concept of heaven for a moment seems reasonable. It is indeed a concept of 'being able to choose evil but not doing so', like the divorce example, or like Jesus lived on Earth. --AC
Ok, that's the third place on this page we're about to start this particular circle. If heaven is a concept of 'being able to choose evil but not doing so', and heaven lacks nothing important - why wasn't Eden that concept? If you're about to say something like "Adam/Eve?/Eden? lacked that concept because they would have lacked something important otherwise", stop and think about it. - MoonShadow
Um, no?  I see no disconnect between "You must be able to choose evil" and "No one ever does".  I see it as monumentally unlikely without coercion - but no one ever said that heaven had to be easy to create.  --Vitenka (And again, that ties in with 'you have to be perfect to get in' - I have no understanding of how the get-out clause is supposed to work.)  --Vitenka
You keep sidestepping the issue. If "No one ever does" is possible, and it's good, and people want it, and God is omnipotent, why do people that want it not have it right now? Why did Adam and Eve not have it? If there's a good reason, what's the thing that makes that good reason not apply to Heaven? If you don't know, isn't it simpler to just say you don't know why evil exists? - MoonShadow
Um - you're asking a seperate question.  Why do people who do not wish to sin, do so?  The answer is ChiarkPerson's one.  Or, alternately, people in heaven could choose to sin, but they don't.  How is having an ability and not excersizing it the same as not having the ability?  Can god arrange for people to be in this state?  I don't see a problem with suggesting that the world is god putting people into this state.  I'm not sure if I can get away with claiming that excercising the ability for a while is the only way to be sure (later when you aren't using it) that you still have it.  Dunno, I think my logic fell into a PlotHole?.  --Vitenka

To Vit: I think the concept is that when able to perceive God perfectly, it goes from monumentally unlikely to very likely. To MoonShadow: the conclusion I think is "this page needs refactoring with a big stick" to make these arguments more findable :) I don't have an answer to why Eden wasn't heaven. I've heard it said that the opportunity had to be offered, but that on its own doesn't satisfy much. I do believe that doing things the way he has is the best possible way to create the best possible world, but I've not worked out all the details of that yet although I'm not going to stop trying.--AC
Ah, OK. Can't really argue with that :) I don't have an answer to TheProblemOfEvil, for that matter, it's just frustrating to see the self-contradictions in some proposed "answers" ;)  - MoonShadow

Oh, hush. It's simple. By the time one gets to heaven, one will have already made the choice between good and evil and chosen good. -ChiarkPerson
So.. you've chosen, then you enter heaven and you lose the ability to choose again. Does this mean you leave free will behind at the door when you enter heaven? Or does it mean having free will doesn't necessitate the ability to choose between good and evil choices? Or what? - MoonShadow
If you like to think of it like that, go ahead. It still doesn't make it problem to free will: may important choices about who we are are irreversible. If you become a parent you can't then choose not to be (or at least have been a) parent. To simplify horribly, you don't get to heaven unless you've chosen to be a 'good person'; and, having chosen to be a good person, you can't then go back and not have chosen that (just like, having chosen to be an evil person, you can't go back and have chosen to be a good person). --ChiarkPerson

Thanks - don't think I've heard that one before, or at least not this clearly put. FreeWill is summed up as having the choice of Good vs Evil, which is made once and is irreversible. It seems odd, but consistent. I'll have to read up and think through the implications ^^; - MoonShadow

Not once, and not explicitly. That's the simplification. Do your homework, once I look out the essay.
To confirm my understanding, could you clarify with regard to concepts like "the vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives": within this framework, that would count as choosing to be a good person from now on, right?  The other thing is, does this particular concept of FreeWill you're quoting have anything to say on why Eden wasn't heaven - why people couldn't be or weren't created in a state where they would all always freely choose good? --AlexChurchill
Oh, and to confirm my understanding - if you say one has already made the irreversible choice between good and evil by the time one gets to heaven, would you say one still has free will after that point? If so, would you say it is true that the ability to choose evil is not required for free will? - MoonShadow
To FlameBait? - perhaps they were, and do?  That would fit well with the fluffy version of Christianity where everyone gets to heaven eventually.  Postulate that it is required that everyone of their FreeWill choose good eventually - rather than that they eternally have FreeWill?  --Vitenka
Indeed, that's another way of making things consistent; but to most people, a Heaven? without FreeWill doesn't seem a very appealing concept. - MoonShadow

Patience, little grasshopper. Do your homework. I will have the title for you soon.

Your homework for this topic is The Great Divorce (ISBN 0060652950 ) and another essay, the title of which which I will look up for you.

One could suggest that should you later choose evil, you get kicked out of heaven.  One did warn this other one that variants on heaven would occur ;)  --Vitenka

But one wouldn't suggest that.

Predictably, this has been discussed [elsewhere] by more serious people.. Basically, the discussion above can be summarised as "J.L.Mackie vs Alvin Plantinga", with myself repeatedly pointing out that from a Christian POV, Plantinga's rebuttal and variations on it cannot hold since Heaven is an existing example of a virtuous and sinless world that Plantinga insists is impossible. - MoonShadow

At the risk of restarting a debate that appears to have had the potential to worry the posters' bosses with the amount of work time spent on it :)  One quick thought to throw in.

I think it was Vitenka who wrote this:
"The idea that suffering might be necessary for the attainment of some greater good yet again brings us back to the 'tough love' described above. What 'good end' could possibly be worth the suffering humans currently undergo? None that we humans can conceive, I daresay. You could say that it is a good beyond our (current) conception, but again this means that 'loving' in the case of God starts to look less and less like what we would usually understand by the word."
It doens't sound like me.  --Vitenka

As a point of evidence more than of philosophy, I would suggest that the church has consistently, throughout its history, grown most rapidly among those who suffer the most.  To this day, it is strongest in Africa, and growing fastest in poor parts of China, and South America, where suffering is far more of an every day reality than for us.  This would suggest that people can conceive of such a 'good end' when they know suffering up close and personal.  It's all to easy to confuse "I cannot conceive of it" with "no-one can".  If those who are actually suffering greatly can believe it, it seems a bit rich for those who aren't to claim that suffering rules out such belief. --MJ

CategoryChristian, ReligionMatters

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