Sunday, September 26, 2021

The “first world problem” of evil

Suffering, atheists frequently assure us, is not what we would expect if God exists.  You might suppose, then, that where there is greater suffering, there will be fewer believers in God, and where there is less suffering there will be more believers in God.  But that appears to be the reverse of the truth.  As a friend pointed out to me recently, it is a remarkable fact that though life was, for most human beings for most of human history, much, much harder than it is for modern Westerners, they were also far more likely to be religious than modern Westerners are.  It is precisely as modern medicine, technology, and relative social and political stability have made life easier and greatly mitigated suffering that religious belief has declined. 

The atheist is likely to respond that suffering people are more likely to believe in God because they hope that he will rescue them from, or at least reward them for, their suffering.  But that doesn’t sit well with the atheist’s other claim, i.e. that if God exists we should expect him to be willing and able to eliminate suffering.  When human leaders show indifference or incompetence, does that tend to make people more inclined to trust and hope in them?  Quite the opposite.  So, if people of earlier generations assumed, like the atheist does, that a good and omnipotent God would eliminate all suffering, wouldn’t the persistence of suffering have caused them to doubt God, rather than to believe more fervently?

The fact is that earlier generations did not suppose that a good and omnipotent God would eliminate all suffering.  Indeed, the very idea is contrary to Christian doctrine, which teaches that much suffering is precisely what we should expect in human life.  The pervasiveness of suffering, if anything, actually confirms rather than falsifies Christianity.  And bafflement at suffering is more a consequence of modern unbelief than a cause of it.

To understand how this is so, consider the approach to these matters reflected in a book like Fr. Francis J. Remler’s Why Must I Suffer?  A Book of Light and Consolation.  First published almost a century ago, it is not a work of academic theology, but rather of down-to-earth spiritual guidance.  And despite what a modern reader might expect from its subtitle, it is the opposite of sentimental or touchy-feely – so much so that many today would no doubt find it insensitive.  Yet precisely for that reason it offers true light and consolation rather than the mawkish counterfeits of those who prefer to emote rather than to understand.  And it simply reflects what the Catholic faith has always taught about suffering, the forgetting of which misleads many today falsely to suppose that suffering somehow casts doubt on the existence of God.

Original sin

The first and most fundamental point Remler emphasizes is that suffering is the inevitable consequence of original sin.  Now, this is easily misunderstood.  The theologically uninformed often suppose that it means that God takes special action arbitrarily to inflict a punishment on us for something somebody else did – which, of course, sounds unjust or even crazy.  But that is not what it means.

Rather, the idea is this.  We are by nature rational animals, and that nature is, as far as it goes, good.  But it is severely limited.  Because we are flesh and blood, we are subject to all sorts of bodily harms – deprivation of food, water, and oxygen, broken bones, lacerations, infections, diseases, and so on.  Because the exercise of our rationality is dependent on bodily organs, we are also subject to various cognitive and moral disorders.  Limited information, excessive emotion, damage to sense organs, neural malfunction, and the like will lead us into various errors.  Excess or deficiency in our passions will also weaken the will in its capacity to opt for, and keep us attentive to, what the intellect tells us is good.  And so on.  Once these injuries and errors occur they are also bound to snowball and ramify, especially because we are also social animals.  We lead others into error and moral failure, so that societies no less than individuals become disordered in various ways.

For these reasons, human beings in their natural state inevitably depreciate, as it were, the moment they’re “driven off the lot.”  God could not have made us any different without making something that wasn’t us.  Having the limitations we have is simply a consequence of our very nature, part of the package of being a human being.  What God could do, though, would be to supplement our nature.  He could take special action to prevent us from falling into cognitive and moral error and otherwise suffering the damages we are prone to.  And he could also offer us a higher end than our nature by itself suits us for – the beatific vision, an intimate communion with him that vastly outstrips the knowledge of God that the exercise of our natural rational powers makes possible.

Because this special assistance and higher end are supernatural – that is to say, something above and beyond our nature – they are not in any sense owed to us.  We would still have been complete creations without them, albeit immeasurably inferior to what we would be with them.  To offer them to us is a matter of grace rather than justice.  God would have done us no wrong had he not offered them.

He did offer them to us, though, by way of offering them to our first parents, in a manner analogous to how a benefactor might offer to a father some good that would, if accepted, benefit his progeny.  Suppose a rich man decided out of kindness to offer you a valuable piece of real estate, or a million dollars to invest.  This would benefit not only you, but also all those who would come to inherit the land after it is developed, or reap the dividends of the invested money.  The rich benefactor doesn’t owe any of this to you or your descendants, and thus would have done no wrong to you or to them if he never made the offer.  Nor would he be doing any wrong to you or to them if he put conditions on the offer. 

Now, suppose that the rich man makes this conditional offer and that you refuse it, or refuse to abide by the conditions.  There is a sense in which you and your descendants have now suffered harm.  For you and they have now lost the opportunity for this benefit, and are in that sense in a worse off condition than you were before the offer was made.  But the rich man himself is in no way at fault for this harm.  Rather, you are at fault, and you and your progeny thus have no one to blame for your condition but you.

This is the sort of state we are in as a result of the failure of our first parents to fulfill the conditions God set on the supernatural gifts he offered them.  It is their fault, not God’s, that we lost those gifts.  For us to suffer the effects of original sin is thus not a matter of God positively inflicting some harm on us, any more than the rich man in my scenario would be positively inflicting some harm on your progeny by refraining from giving you the million dollars.  It is instead a matter of our reaping the inevitable consequences of our first parents’ disobedience – which includes all the suffering our unaided nature is subject to, as well as the additional pain of knowing that it could have been avoided.

To be sure, it is also part of Christian teaching that God has, through Christ, restored the possibility of attaining the beatific vision, and provided the grace needed for repentance.  But that does not entail removing all the effects of original sin.  To do that would be like pretending it never happened, and would blind us to the severe limitations of our nature, to how very grave are the consequences of sin, and to how badly we need grace.  Grace does not smother nature but builds on it, and that entails removing only the worst effects of original sin.  The remainder of those effects are still with us – and thus, we cannot fail to suffer.

Actual sin

Then there is the fact that the sin of our first parents is very far from being the only source of suffering.  As Remler rightly emphasizes, there is also the circumstance that we all have ourselves committed many sins, and must inevitably face their consequences, which snowball and ramify no less than does the sin of our first parents.  If I am a liar, I may come to be distrusted by others, might lose friends as a result, and may encourage others to lie by my example.  If I am a drug abuser, I may come to be addicted, may lose my job as a result, and may lead others to use drugs.  If I am an adulterer, I may end up causing the breakup of my marriage and that of the person with whom I commit adultery, and will thereby harm any children involved.  And so on and on.  As millions upon millions of human beings commit these and many other sins, their effects inevitably multiply throughout the social order, so that the human race as a whole becomes miserable.

To be sure, here too God offers, through grace, the possibility of repentance and redemption.  But it is quite ridiculous to expect him to remove all the effects of actual sin, any more than he removes all the effects of original sin – to suppose, for example, that after I repent of lying, he should immediately restore my reputation by causing everyone to forget what I have done; that after I repent of abusing drugs, he should immediately remove all the craving for the drugs that I have habituated myself into feeling; that after I repent of adultery, he should immediately cause my spouse entirely to forgive and forget my infidelity; and so on.  Were he to do so, we would lose all understanding of the gravity of sin, and of our desperate need for grace.

Moreover, and as Remler discusses at length, we deserve to suffer for our sins.  And this leads us to a further reason why there must be suffering in human life, which is that it serves as a punishment for sin.  True, if we genuinely repent, God will preserve us from the eternal damnation we have merited.  But we are not entirely “off the hook.”  There is temporal punishment that must be paid for every single sin we commit, and our debt gets very high over the course of a lifetime. 

But we can pay some of that debt every time we accept some particular bit of suffering that we did not cause ourselves.  Suppose, for example, that I am an adulterer but that my wife does forgive and forget.  I am very fortunate, but I nevertheless certainly deserve the anger and hostility she might have shown me.  Suppose also that I am unjustly accused of embezzling at work, and only after a long and painful investigation is my reputation restored.  Though I didn’t deserve that particular bit of suffering, I did deserve comparable suffering as a result of my adultery.  And if I accept the suffering in a penitential spirit, I can contribute to paying off my debt of temporal punishment.

Moreover, even when I am innocent of wrongdoing, I can emulate Christ by accepting undeserved suffering, in a penitential spirit, for the sake of others.  Suppose I am not an adulterer, but that I have a friend who is and whose marriage has been destroyed as a result.  Suppose he is very sorry for what he has done and is trying, with difficulty, to restore some order to his life.  If I undergo some undeserved suffering myself (as in the scenario involving an unjust accusation of embezzling) I might offer that suffering up to God for the sake of my friend, as Christ offered up his undeserved suffering for us.  By becoming, to that extent, Christ-like, I not only help my friend but contribute to the perfection of my own character.

In these ways, every instance of suffering we undergo, undeserved suffering included, can have a greater good drawn out of it, if only we let it.  That is by no means easy, but the graces to do so are also among those God offers us.

Suffering as punishment

Moreover, it is far preferable that we accept the miseries of this life in a penitential spirit than that we suffer those of the next – which includes those of Purgatory, let alone Hell.  This is another theme developed by Remler.  If you think things are bad now, just wait.  As Remler writes:

[T]he smallest measure of suffering in Purgatory is far more intense than the severest pains on earth.  The saints tell us that the intensity of the pain caused by the fire of Purgatory is the same as that which is caused by the fire of Hell.  The only difference is this: That the souls in Purgatory are consoled by the knowledge that their torment will end sooner or later, whereas the damned in Hell are tortured by despair at the knowledge that their punishment will last forever. (pp. 33-34)

At the same time, “the advantages of present sufferings over future ones are great beyond measure,” for “in this life you can accomplish vastly more in a few hours than you could in Purgatory perhaps in ever so many years,” provided that you accept suffering in a penitential spirit, out of sorrow for sin and love of God, and in union with Christ’s suffering on the Cross (p. 34).

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this connection between suffering and punishment for sin.  And from the Fall of Man to the Passion of the Christ to the Last Judgment, the theme of suffering as punishment absolutely permeates Christianity.  That is precisely why, though people in earlier eras of Western civilization suffered far more than we do, they were also more devout.  It was no mystery to them why God would allow suffering; on the contrary, they saw that suffering is precisely what we should expect and accept as punishment for human sinfulness.

But modern Western society is affluent and egalitarian, and for those reasons it is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of punishment.  For punishment is a matter of inflicting deserved suffering.  Because modern Western society is affluent, it is soft and cannot abide suffering.  And because it is egalitarian, it cannot abide the idea that some of the ways of living that people choose are bad, and thus deserving of suffering.  Thus does Christian teaching become incomprehensible to modern secularized Westerners.  They either reject it altogether, or they massively distort it by praising its notions of mercy and forgiveness while ignoring its complementary teaching about repentance and penance.

And thus is their bafflement at suffering more a consequence than a cause of their apostasy.  It’s not that they don’t understand why God would allow suffering, and for that reason give up Christian teaching.  It’s that they have given up Christian teaching, and for that reason don’t understand why God would allow suffering.  You might say that the “problem of evil” as contemporary atheists understand it is, in that sense, a “first world problem.”  Of course, I don’t mean by that to imply that the suffering to which such atheists appeal when arguing against the existence of God is in any way trivial.  What I mean is that a “first world” mentality – that of the modern affluent, egalitarian, secularized Westerner – deeply informs their understanding of the significance of that suffering.

In fairness, though, it isn’t just atheists who exhibit this mentality.  It has deeply permeated the more liberal and moderate sectors of Christianity.  It is manifest, for example, in those who only ever preach about mercy and forgiveness, but never about the repentance and penance that are the necessary preconditions of mercy and forgiveness, and without which only damnation awaits; who deny or downplay the doctrine of Hell, and would rather reassure us that all or most are saved than warn us that some or even many are lost; who remain silent even about Purgatory, or who treat entry into it only as a relief rather than as something frightful and to be avoided if at all possible; who claim that capital punishment or even life imprisonment are per se contrary to human dignity; and so on.  All of this evinces deep discomfort with the very idea of punishment as deserved suffering. 

It thereby plays into the hands of the atheist, who can reasonably ask: “If making even the most wicked suffer for their sins is bad, then why would a good God allow any suffering at all?”  And it does grave damage to souls, ensuring that there will be vastly more suffering rather than less.  For people who are constantly told about God’s mercy and never about the conditions he places on it are less likely to repent, or to do penance when they do repent.  Many will be damned who would have repented had they been warned; and many will suffer agony in Purgatory who would have avoided it had they been urged to adopt a more penitential spirit during this life.  Those who only ever talk of God’s mercy and never about damnation and penance are like a doctor who gently reassures those with lung cancer that many such patients survive, while never warning them to stop smoking nor prescribing chemotherapy or any other treatment. 

Yet it isn’t just theological liberals and moderates who have been infected.  As the madness and evil into which the secular world has sunk have permeated ever more deeply into the Church, even some very conservative Catholics have allowed themselves to be tempted to despair and to abandon her – as if Christ and the apostles had never warned of great persecutions, heresies, and apostasies to come, and as if the Church had not always acknowledged that even popes are sometimes capable of error and of causing great harm when not speaking ex cathedra.  Christ promises only that the Church will not be destroyed.  He does not deny that the human element of the Church will also suffer the effects of original and actual sin.

We would not be true sons of Holy Mother Church if we were not deeply pained by what is being done to her.  But is our pain greater than that of the martyrs who have over the centuries suffered unimaginable tortures and death at the hands of pagans, heretics, jihadists, and communists?  Is it greater than Christ’s suffering on the cross?  Has the softness we deplore in modern therapeutic Western society and “candy-ass” brands of Christianity not corrupted our own souls too?  Let us beware lest our zeal be the fair-weather kind of Peter, to whom Christ issued a stern reminder of the costs of true discipleship:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:21-25)

Related reading:

The Thomistic dissolution of the logical problem of evil

Sterba on the problem of evil

Against candy-ass Christianity

Do not abandon your Mother

A reply to Dreher


  1. THis is something that has been puzzling me for sometime now, the aversion to suffering and the supreme moral indignation one sees in the sort of intellectual classes and the culture and society that they come from. As an Orthodox, and being from a traditional Orthodox background, one may not look at Original Sin the same way as Catholics but one can't ignore the stress on suffering that is very much a part of the human condition that is part of not just being Christian, but human.

    As far as I can tell the roots of this come from oddly almost diameteric opposites that were in direct conflict with eachother:

    1) The deep pessimism and extreme "Transcendent" view of God as seen by the Calvanists, and being "elect" and having the "Protestant Work Ethic"

    2) A utopian intellectual class who in the 17th (?) century invented the word "Theodicy" and could perhaps be seen in full formation in Voltair and his disgust at the CHristian Religion in his rumminations on the Earthquake of Lisbon. This Transencent "optomistic" Deist god was formed as a direct confrontation to the views of a Pessimistic worldview of a near Muslim like Transcendent Christian God that was around at the time.

    3) In the Christian sense, a more modernist approach seemed to be formed with the Unitarians who seemed to go the "optomistic" root but ditch the "Transendent" part of God and focus on a very immenent kind of God and making a kind of "Heaven on Earth" which I suppose could harken back a bit to some aspects of the Anabaptists mixed with the Enlightenment Deists, mixed with some aspects of Christianity

    I wonder if the epistemic / worldview roots on this, in which seemingly very contradictory worldviews and approaches are not as disimilar as they first appear, are similar to what Dr. Feser brought up in an article he wrote about "gnosticism" (I believe around Jan of this year) where he showed that the immoralism / hyper moralism, Puritanism / Libertinism, etc are rally two sides of the same coin.

  2. Regarding this:

    'For these reasons, human beings in their natural state inevitably depreciate, as it were, the moment they’re “driven off the lot.” God could not have made us any different without making something that wasn’t us. Having the limitations we have is simply a consequence of our very nature, part of the package of being a human being. What God could do, though, would be to supplement our nature. He could take special action to prevent us from falling into cognitive and moral error and otherwise suffering the damages we are prone to. And he could also offer us a higher end than our nature by itself suits us for – the beatific vision, an intimate communion with him that vastly outstrips the knowledge of God that the exercise of our natural rational powers makes possible.'

    I do a little teaching from the Catechism to our local Rosary group. One thing I have said is that, unlike, say, animals, man, in principle, cannot be perfect by nature. Man was made to have fellowship with God - and fellowship with God requires a supernatural gift. To be perfect, man requires that supernatural gift.

    Is this rubbish? It seems to resonate, anyway.

    1. I don't think it's rubbish. If we're being precise, if Adam had not sinned, then we would have been perfectly human, but the gift of the Resurrection makes us into another, entirely higher and greater state than which we would have had if the Fall had never happened.

  3. I'd have never thought of how the atheists' "problem of suffering" arguments were contradicted by the sociological fact that more affluent, stable places are less likely to believe in Christianity. Ideas like this are why I like reading this blog.

    1. I think it sounds compelling at first, but there isn't actually a contradiction.

      This, in particular:

      "The atheist is likely to respond that suffering people are more likely to believe in God because they hope that he will rescue them from, or at least reward them for, their suffering. But that doesn’t sit well with the atheist’s other claim, i.e. that if God exists we should expect him to be willing and able to eliminate suffering. "

      On the contrary, it sits perfectly well. These two claims are 100% parsimonious:

      (A) "If God is abundantly loving we'd expect less suffering."

      (B) "People who experience pervasive and seemingly inescapable suffering are more likely to desperately hope in supernatural relief, such as an apocalyptic rescue and/or an afterlife reward. People in this desperate condition are more likely to feel no other option than to elevate this hope -- their only hope -- above the otherwise normal expectation that an abundantly loving God wouldn't have put them in that situation to begin with."

      I.e., A + B are totally compatible.

      In other words, desperation and starkly limited options compels people to extend hope of rescue and relief, even to people who they know are in some way responsible for those limited options. This effect is so powerful that desperate/limited people will even begin relieve those people of responsibility -- e.g., explaining away their abuse or neglect, or blaming themselves for it.

      We observe this in Stockholm Syndrome, Battered Woman Syndrome, etc. If the person feels *rooted* and *limited*, and yet wishes to survive, they will psychologically adapt to cope by investing in whatever hope remains, even if it defies reasonability.

      It is very clever to guilt the unsuffering as having a "privileged" and therefore invalid perspective on such situations. But this is exactly topsy-turvy. It is the person outside the desperate situation, with freedom and options, that has the more objective perspective on the abuse or neglect, and the degree to which it is unacceptable. This is exacerbated with religious investment, where it's not just the source of their last remaining hope, but anchor and cadence of their whole lives.

      I say all of this as a Christian who extends faith and hope in a God who will be proven righteous, as Isaiah says: No, desperation does not add validity to (nor comfort remove validity from) perspectives on the rationalization of suffering or lack thereof. As the Book of Job teaches us, there is no solution to experiential theodicean problems save for hope in something better, and this hope must be held in spite of what interim suffering suggests, "things too wonderful to know." Finally, any eschatological proposal that poses such a problem, yet doesn't enjoy this form of solution, is a brick wall.

    2. Apologies, I wrote "parsimonious" in the prior post, I just meant "harmonious."

  4. -There is a bit of hypocrisy in play here too. One can agree with the atheist that many people, especially in the third world, undergo many hardships.
    -But one can go the next step and ask "Mr. Atheist, since you seem so concerned and taken aback by the enormity of this widespread suffering, i can only assume that you give at least half your income to help alleviate it. Even more so, when do you plan to quit your job?, leave your salon?, and journey to assist the poor quivering masses that you are so concerned about?"
    -the reality is that he only cares about his own inconvenience. Indeed, the unbelief came well before the rationalization of the suffering of others.

    1. This is a shallow cop-out for a response. Atheists don't make the argument that they need to do anything about the suffering - only that it's evidence there is no God or there is merely an evil or indifferent being.

    2. But, surely, if the existence of suffering was truly a problem for our model atheist, he'd do something about it? If not, is it unfair to question his sincerity like we would any other hypocrite's? It isn't an argument, fair enough, but sometimes it's not worth arfuing with somebody who is insincere. Some atheists do of course help the poor and suffering, maybe as scientists or doctors or engineers, and their objections on this point might have more weight.

      And what kind of tits on a bull atheist argues that there is indeed a God but He's just evil or indifferent? That's a theism, and a weird one, but not atheism.

    3. @Unknown: "the reality is that he only cares about his own inconvenience."

      That depends on the atheist. There are many who don't care about doing charity, but there are several who care VERY MUCH about it. To better know the later, google these expressions: "Effective Altruism" (focus on maximizing the good done per dollar donated), "GiveWell" (the most effective charities), "X Prize Foundation" (incentivizes research on how to maximize goodness for humanity), and "The Giving What We Can Pledge" (atheist charity tithe), as well as the article "Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately" by foremost atheist Eliezer Yudkowsky on how to think about maximizing charitable effectiveness.

  5. If one is pretty comfy in life, it is quite threatening to hear that difficulty and adversity are the necessary conditions of our improvement.
    How much easierit is to take in a curated luncheon then gather around some latte's and knowingly opine about the state of the world.
    Can't have any threats to the status of the leisured "intelligencia"!

  6. As a former atheist, I find these articles frustrating, as they don't really answer anything, but come off as very hand-wavy. Did you ever think perhaps that affluent societies believe less in God, because they found that God does not alleviate their present suffering, but material luxury can certainly defer or reduce it?
    Addicts (sex, drugs, shopping, whatever) likewise. It seems one could argue using Feser's logic, but in reverse - for example, why bother following something which doesn't provide satisfaction here, and you need to accept without substantial evidence that it will all be made worth it at some point in the future, but only if you follow a very proscriptive set of legalistic frameworks, each of which has varying degrees of reliability and debate with only some vague consensus (which requires decades of research to nail down) among academics. And then - you must accept the fact that God created humans to decay because they decided to use the free will He granted them - so we were essentially only ever in a prisoners dilemma of sorts, ultimately coming off as a very sadistic mind game (hence Calvinism). My cynical atheist former self would be able to consistently point out it seems christians merely suffer the psychological dependency of a Stockholm syndrome of sorts; they love that which holds them hostage. While this is a gross oversimplification and is admittedly very cynical, it is a powerful and painful argument which I have not intellectually overcome. In the end, it is very likely much of the answer comes down to a simple lack of information - we may never know, this life or the next, what the reasons were - and for people who like closure, this is abhorrent. To trust like this, to trust God, this is the greatest challenge for a mind which isn't satisfied with blind and irrational faith. For those who seek more than a rock concert non-denom non-thinking Christianity, that's a real challenge.

    1. So Ed’s blog post is about the problem of suffering. He brings up a common Atheist points/assumptions when arguing against the existence of God:
      1-Where there is less suffering, there should be more believers in God.
      2-Where there is more suffering, there should be less believers in God.
      Ed points out that in reality, it is the reverse.

      How do Atheists commonly explain this? They often say that
      3-suffering people are more likely to believe in God because they are expecting to be rescued or rewarded by God.
      But Ed points out that this does not sit well with the Atheist’s other claim that
      4-if God exists that we should expect him to be willing and able to eliminate suffering.

      So Ed is commenting on these presumed expectations. Where does it come from? As Ed shows, this was certainly not the expectation of previous generations of Christians. The cause of suffering is original sin and suffering is to be expected on this worldview. The expectation that God would not allows suffering depends on rejecting the Christian worldview first.

      So this blog post is more about comparing and contrasting worldviews and less about apologetical arguments. One worldview expects suffering and the other does not. One worldview seems to be of the opinion that we can overcome most suffering in this life or at least live a life that is free enough of suffering as to make it worth living and the other sees in suffering, either a fitting punishment for sin, an opportunity to purify oneself of one’s past sins, or an opportunity to suffer in expiation for other people’s sins. Suffering, in short, is medicinal, on the Christian worldview.

      So getting back to your comment here: “Did you ever think perhaps that affluent societies believe less in God, because they found that God does not alleviate their present suffering, but material luxury can certainly defer or reduce it?” I would say that this response shows a tacit acceptance of a worldview that accepts that all or most suffering is bad and to be avoided.

      “Addicts (sex, drugs, shopping, whatever) likewise. It seems one could argue using Feser's logic, but in reverse ….”

      I would agree with this in so far as it takes a lot of effort to undo an often unconscious worldview that one has been inculcated with by massive amounts of media, education, and so on from preschool and up. In the past, the Catholic worldview was passed on by similar tactics, by religious organizations. By theological seminaries with massive amounts of political clout and with free access to educating children. Although I disagree with your characterization of the Christian worldview as legalistic, proscriptive, and having varying degrees of reliability, etc… Those doubts are a product of the worldview that is now dominant in the West.

      “And then - you must accept the fact that God created humans to decay because they decided to use the free will He granted them….”

      I would say that is a cynical and skeptical worldview – one that rejects the notion of faith and that does not have as its background the preambles of faith presupposed by past generations – so it is an understandable attitude for you to have. I can sympathize with you.

      “While this is a gross oversimplification and is admittedly very cynical, it is a powerful and painful argument which I have not intellectually overcome….that's a real challenge.”

      Agreed. But no matter how much you are educated in the Faith and in apologetics, there will come a point where you have to make an act of faith. Faith, has been described by the mystics, as a kind of deep darkness of the senses and of the spirit. Faith and apologetics can make that act of faith more reasonable and more palatable, so to speak, but regardless of your background, it requires a radical trust and abandonment of oneself to a God we can never truly known of by our own power unaided by grace. A God who intentially directs us to take up our crosses and follow him. And this can be especially hard for intellectuals who want to have power over things in the form of certain empirical knowledge.

    2. A gracious and coherent reply. Thank you for responding.

    3. Jnezbit i also struggle in this way.

  7. When i saw the book cover after clicking i thought that it was a joke. Funny to see than THAT title is the one of a book that sounds interesting and serious. maybe Fr. Francis just had a cool sense of humor.

    Very interesting text. The rejection of the christian faith sure wrecked the western capacity to accept the fact that life is hard. Combining that with the modern tech, consumerism and other parts of the modern life that made us less prepared to suffer sure was not a good idea. To have the capacity of living very long and not much of a reason to doing it is a very sad state of affairs.

    Another sad thing is that, as mentioned, the incapacity to accept suffering creates a lot of it. Think of how much people lost the opportunity of growing in a stable family thanks to the parents not being willing to face the hardships of family life and other things like that. The hedonist is usually not much of a help to himself and others...

  8. Ed

    IT may be a fact that earlier generations did not suppose that a good and omnipotent God would eliminate all suffering, but that doesnt' mean those earlier generations were right. In fact it shows that they did not really believe in a good God from the outset.
    They actually believed in a sort of king who, if they obeyed him, would reward them and if they didn't, would punish them.
    Of course if believe in that kind of primitive God concept, the problem of evil disappears, but what you are doing here is defining God's goodness in such a way that becomes compatible with evil and suffering.

    An illustration of this is the claim that God could not have made us any different without making something that wasn’t us.
    The real question is, if we are so bad, why would a good God create us in the fist place? A good God would not vene have a concept of anything imperfect.

    Another problem is this "to offer them to us is a matter of grace rather than justice".
    Doesn't your version of divine simplicity explicitly claim that God's grace is God's justice?

    If seem that, in order to make an argument against the problem of evil, you are all too willing to forget your own claims about God.

    1. You might argue that yourself, but the people themselves would not have agreed with you. They certainly thought that God was good and meant by that moral good, not merely some kind of big tyrant in the sky that they were propitiating and sucking up to. You can try to argue, if you like, that they were wrong about God being good and that God has to conform to your definition of goodness in order to be good, but don't give the impression that they didn't know what they believed.

    2. I don't think you're being fair to his point - monarchism and monarchistic imagery is prevalent throughout all of scripture and catholic teaching. It seems only logical to view this relationship as one of king/subject.
      I think the point being made also illustrates that Ed needed to break with consistency in his prior theological assessments, which seems valid.
      Why does one offer the sacrifice of the mass other than as an offering to God? Why do we grant God the worship he is due?
      Seems like a very common mindset among the writings of the saints that these sacrifices are ultimately "propitiating" in nature.

    3. Yes, of course they thought that God was good and they might even have believed He was morally good, even those who believed that God was actually the author of evil, so, whatever people used to believe does not mean very much.
      So, no, they did not really know what they believed. You cannot stretch the definition of goodness to include (or exclude) whatever you want, and that's exactly what Ed and Remler are doing here.

    4. Jnezbit

      Yes, people believed that the King was good because he was the King and God is good because he is God.
      But many of them had no idea what (moral) goodness actually entails.
      As a side-note, God, according to Thomists like Ed, Is not a moral agent, so it would be a mistake to call Him morally good. It all seems to come down to the rather shallow claim that God is what God is.

    5. Mr. Van den Acker, you say that many people then (whenever then may have been) had no idea what moral goodness entails. On what do you base this? In order to make this statement you must consider yourself an expert on history, or ethics, or both. Please, what does moral goodness entail? Is it knowing right from wrong? Or living according to that standard? If the latter, tell me what people has ever known what moral goodness entails? Or is it something else?

    6. @Walter

      Have you considered that we catholics have a particular view of what being good is and that in our view on ethics God can be called good and still create this particular world? Dr. Feser has several posts talking about his views on the relation between God and ethics, duties etc, even a recent article that he linked above, so you can correct the error quite easily.

      You seems to be thinking this way:

      1. being good is imcompatible with the Christian God behaviour;

      2. catholics believe that the Christian God is good,

      3. Catholics are incoherent.

      The problem here is that what the word "good" means in 1 and what it means in 2 are very likely diferent, for i suppose that you disagree a lot with catholic morality. While it would be a valid reasoning if "good" meant in 2 what it means in 2, it is not the case here. Nothing to be ashamed of, this is a common erroneous reasoning. In order to show that your reasoning works, you would need to seriously consider the catholic ethics and them show a inconsistence according with its own premisses.

      Some people do take the challenge but instead argue that the catholic views on ethics are false because they contradict the correct view on ethics but that would not be the correct strategy, for it at most would show that catholics are wrong about ethics, not that we are incoherent. So just responding with something like "but you guys have a wrong/insane/bizarre view" would not help your defense of the catholic ethics being inconsistent and therefore be useless here.

      Now, after this correction, what reason you can give to make us believe that catholics have a inconsistent ethics?

    7. Mr Loughlin

      I base this on the fact that they considered the King good even if he was suppressing them.

    8. Talmid

      "Have you considered that we catholics have a particular view of what being good is and that in our view on ethics God can be called good and still create this particular world?"

      Yes, in fact that is exactly my point. You can stretch the meaning of "good" until it perfectly fits your view, and that's what Ed is doing here.
      I have no problem acknowledging that Catholics are consistent, but they are clearly wrong.

    9. Walter,

      You cannot merely assert that the Catholic view of good and evil is wrong. You have to make an argument for the view. From what I've seen, you've not made that argument. You've merely asked "Well, what if all those Catholics are wrong?" as though that were an argument in itself.

      Your only attempt at an argument is an assertion that God wouldn't have created imperfect humans capable of sin if He were truly good. To that, the Catholic can reply "Why not?" If God created beings capable of choosing their destinies (i.e., humans) and allowed them to choose their destinies, where is the injustice?

      Lastly, I think that you have too narrow a view of goodness. While human goodness requires the acquisition of virtue, obedience to moral laws, and the fulfillment of natural ends, God cannot be good in that way because He is both immutable and omnipotent. The argument for God's goodness comes from the fact that He lacks any privations, and evil is a kind of privation. Thus, He lacks any evil.

      If you don't engage with arguments like this, then you can't be expected to be taken seriously.

    10. @Walter

      I see, that makes more sense.

      That makes me wonder, are you a moral realist?

    11. Mr Geocon

      Catholics generally have virtually the same definition of goodness as everybody else, but some of them tend to make an exception for God.
      He can do whatever pleases Him and still be called good.
      Suffering is not a good thing, which is illustrated by the fact that most people, including most Catholics, think we should avoid making people suffer and try to help those who do suffer as much as we can.
      A being who lacks any privations does not create privations. Choosing your destiny does not entail choosing a bad destiny.

    12. Talmid

      Yes, I am. I believe that there are actions that are morally good or bad, no matter who does them.
      If X is bad, then it is bad even if God were to perform X.

    13. Walter,

      You have a list of assertion after assertion with no evidence or argument given.

      I've explained to you already why goodness cannot be a univocal term when applied to both God and men, namely that a good man is good because he acquires virtues, obeys moral laws, and fulfill his natural ends. These obviously cannot be applied to God because these things involve undergoing change and having a higher law to follow. Thus, when we say "God is good," we cannot say that He's good for the same reason that men are good.

      Suffering is good insofar as it's punishment for sins, and punishment for sins is good. People who know they've done wrong and want to do penance seek out punishment. Feser wrote an entire article on this already, so I'm not sure why you didn't address any of those arguments.

      Lastly, your last two assertions are just given without argument. Why should I believe that a perfect God cannot create something imperfect? And why should the ability to choose our destinies not entail the possibility of some people choosing the wrong path?

      Honestly, if you can't make an actual argument for your positions rather that assertions, I'm not going to bother.

    14. @Walter

      I see, neat. Why we have a objective duty do do some things and not do other? What aspect of reality is the basis of the normative?

      I suppose that your answer will be very diferent from what catholicism defends, so this could be why we disagree on God duties(or lack of these).

    15. And a funny curiosity: just today i watched a old Mister Geocon video were he defends that on these moral discussionz involving the christian faith one should insist that the non-christian moral system should be discussed as well in order to the discussion be productive.

      What are the odds!

    16. Talmid

      I don' see morality as normative in that sense.
      "X is bad" is a necessary truth and if someone wants to do X, he is doing something bad. That' s it.

    17. Mr Geocon

      As I explained to Talmid, "X is good" is a necessary truth, so if suffering is bad, then it is necessarily bad, which mean it also applies to God.
      Why you should believe that a perfect God cannot create something imperfect? Because He is perfect, He lacks privations etc. There is not even a concept of privation in such a being.
      The possibility of choosing the wrong path entails that there is a possible wrong path, which would be a privation created by God.
      If you really cannot see the glaring contradiction in this, you are welcome to claim I am merely asserting things.
      But, then 1 + 1 = 2 is also an assertion.

    18. @Walter

      My first reading of your answer is something like "moral truths are necessary truths that are just there, having no basis on anything else". Since this is pretty much a contradiction* and you are a smart guy, i think that there is a communication problem here.

      My question is: why are these necessary truths what they are and not others? Why moral truths exist at all? On the catholic worldview, the moral truths have their basis on facts about men nature, God eternal law, the christian religion etc. What one believes is the basis will aure change the values defended.

      *it says that the normative is a objective feature of the universe while also saying that there is no reason why any value is true, it pretty much responds to the classical moral non-realist argument that there is no basis for morality with "lalala, not hearing you!"

    19. @Talmid: "My question is: why are these necessary truths what they are and not others? Why moral truths exist at all?"

      The modern non-theist answer is that if high-level processes are emergent properties of low-level processes in a reductionist fashion, and these low-level processes can engender a wide range of high-level processes, this means that humanity as it is, including all of our values, is an event with a 'N%' probability of happening in any volume of space-time of volume 'V'. Hence, as the volume increases, the probability of it happening "somewheretime" grows arbitrarily close to 100%, the only practical limit on it being the total size of the Universe.

      Therefore, us having a set of determined emergent moral values resulting from the lower-level psychological, biological, and physical processes that gave rise to humanity, values that are absolutely necessary *for us* given they're embedded in our very (also emergent) nature, and therefore true for our species, wouldn't be contradictory with there being no moral truths in an absolute sense, as all other moral sets also have so many 'a%', 'b%', 'c%' probabilities of emerging in a given volume 'V', and thus, in an infinitely large Universe, an almost 100% chance of actually emerging "somewheretime", each also absolutely necessary for the species in which it emerged.

      Evidently, the notion of all possible moralities existing and being locally absolutized for their base sentient species is predicated on reductionism being true. If it isn't, and high-level processes do flow top-down in an hylomorphic way, then yes, only one morality is true, and it's contradictory to talk about multiple moralities.

    20. @Alexander

      My question was to Walter, really. He has a particular morality in mind while saying that a good person does not do x and i wanted to understand his view so we could contrast it with the catholic one.

      And Walter and i are both moral realists, so we are pressuposing that only one morality is true.

    21. Talmid

      I don't really understand your question.
      I don't see the contradiction in oral truths are necessary truths that are just there.
      having no basis on anything else.
      Asking why they couldn't be different is assuming they are contingent, but I think they are necessary.
      I guess you don't think that 1 + 1 could be 3, so in the same way rape e.g. could not be good.

      of course, this has to do with human nature. If human nature were such that little girls enjoyed being raped and in fact would benefit from being raped, then rape would be good.

    22. @Talmid: That's the point. I'm also a moral realist, but I take contextualization into account in a much stronger way than Christian realism does.

      Contextualization is present in the Bible with these distinct moral codes it details:

      a) For God Himself towards creation;

      b) For virtuous pagans (the Noahide code);

      c) For Hebrews towards Hebrews;

      d) For Hebrews towards non-Hebrews;

      e) For Christians towards Christians;

      f) For before-death Christians towards non-Christians;

      g) For after-death Christians towards the damned.

      As well as for how angels act towards; h) other angels; i) demons; j) pre-fall humans; k) pagans; l) Hebrews; m) Christians; n) the damned.

      There are intersections of varying sizes between these, but also broad divergences, which are rationalized away on the basis of higher level meta-ethical principles, which then filter down into these 14 specific moralities.

      The take I presented is similarly structured, but coming from the other direction. In there's a lower level, reductive but still strictly real and objective meta-ethical fundamental that gives rise to so many also real, also objective, contextual moralities, none of which is arbitrarily chosen, or willy-nilly changeable.

      And if we presume a single Creator in this scenario, be Him encompassingly hylomorphic or merely causally effective, then it follows these contextually objective real moralities are also, by definition, so many contingent instantiations of higher level meta-ethical principles. Which may well include, as a subset, the 14 moral codes I referred above.

    23. @Walter

      I would say that 1 + 1 = 2 is true thanks to what 1, 2 etc are, so it is kinda self-explanatory. It would be a logical contradiction to it to not be what it is.

      On morality, there are a lot of worldviews were things are diferent. Rape being wrong can look self-evident to us and most humans that ever lived but i don't see why it being moraly indiferent would be logically contradictory. It would be if you assume certain worldviews but only because on these worldviews there are facts about humans and other things that would entail it being wrong, though.

      "Rape is bad" does not seems what Kant call analytic a priori, it seems that you need facts about the world to know that it is right.


      Being honest with you, what you said mostly got over my head, so i can't comment much. I'am being serious, btw.

      Sorry, that happens with me a lot here, being still a talmid and all that :(
      If Mister Geocon or Walter or another want to comment, i think it would be better, for i doubt that everybody also failed to get what you said.

    24. Talmid

      "Rape is bad " is either a necessary truth or it is a contingent truth.
      If it is a contingent truth, invoking God doesn't solve anything because in that case there is a possible world in which God condones rape.

    25. @Talmid: I can explain the parts you didn't understand in more details if you'd like, as years ago I wouldn't have understood what I just wrote either. :)

      Point out the parts that weren't clear, one at a time, and I'll do my best to unpack them.

    26. @Walter

      Right, the thing here is that you are pressuposing that if "rape is wrong" is a necessary truth them it does not have a explanation, my "1 + 1 = 2" example is here exactly to show that a necessary truth can have a explanation(on this case, the nature of the numbers).

      I remember Dr. Graham Oppy commiting the same mistake on a discussion of his. The thing is that i would say that instead of being a brute fact a necessary truth is either explained by itself(like the addition example) or by another(like "Walter existence is possible" being explained by a necessary being existence). The idea of a truth that by itself could be false but just happen to be a necessary truth just is not inteligible to me.


      Thanks, that would help. I tried to read again now that it is sooner that last time and my mind is working better and i think that i understood you mostly.

      My dificult would be in your first comment were you comment this:

      "Therefore, us having a set of determined emergent moral values resulting from the lower-level psychological, biological, and physical processes that gave rise to humanity, values that are absolutely necessary *for us* given they're embedded in our very (also emergent) nature, and therefore true for our species, wouldn't be contradictory with there being no moral truths in an absolute sense, as all other moral sets also have so many 'a%', 'b%', 'c%' probabilities of emerging in a given volume 'V', and thus, in an infinitely large Universe, an almost 100% chance of actually emerging "somewheretime", each also absolutely necessary for the species in which it emerged."

      This i take to be the origin of morality on a atheist universe. Are you saying on the quote that thanks to the particular physical constitution we humans have there are certain ways of conduct(or moralities) that are necessary to our flourishing, in the sense that most of us not acting acordingly would mean that society would not work and that this means than they are in a way a sort-of objective morality to us?

      Like, if everyone killed people because they are annoying them society would collapse, so we humans have something like a obligation to not kill by a so silly reason? Did i get you right?

    27. Talmid

      No, I am not presupposing that if rape is wrong is a necessary truth it does not have an explanation. In fact, I do think there is an explanation for it, but that explanation cannot be God.

    28. @Walter

      What would the explanation be? Our disagreements here could be why we come to diferent conclusions.

    29. Talmid

      The explanation lies, IMO, in human nature.
      Human nature is such that certain things are good for human beings and certain things are bad.

    30. @Talmid: "Are you saying (...) we humans have there are certain ways of conduct (or moralities) that are necessary to our flourishing (...) and that this means than they are in a way a sort-of objective morality to us?"

      Yes. Our moral... I won't say "imperatives", as that would give a deontological impression to it, so maybe "potencies" would fit better. So, those moral potencies, if properly followed, give humanity the ability to survive, grow, and thrive, up to and including by opening further potencies, such as that of achieving an Aristotelian good life. Conversely, if someone, using from their volition, actively moves against them, the result is ruin, if not for them personally, then in extreme for their society or even humanity as a whole. And that makes those moral potencies not merely sort-of objective, but in fact strictly objective.

      "Like, if everyone killed people because they are annoying them society would collapse, so we humans have something like a obligation to not kill by a so silly reason?"

      That's one possibility, yes. But it also provides an example of how reason interplays with baseline morality, improving upon it in the form of ethics.

      See, when it comes to our natural moral impulses, no human society has ever been structured so that any member could kill any other member for any reason whatsoever. On the flip side, all of them used to think nothing of the killing, by their members, of those from without. Ethical reasoning thus permits improving upon this baseline, the "no wanton kill of in-groups", by expanding it into "no wanton killing, period". All the while, evidently, delimiting the circumstances in which killing other *is* indeed allowed, such as, for example, by the state in such and such criminal cases duly investigated, by soldiers when defending their own in a just war, or by someone in self-defense or when protecting their family from aggression by 3rd parties.

      Notice that this bottom-up structure, in which higher levels of morality are built from iterating over lower, biologically-driven moral impulses, that is, via material/efficient causality, does the inverse from what's assumed in a top-down, formal/final moral understanding that begins with "no wanton killing" and flows down into adapted practical needs, eventually breaking up into corrupted forms. But the end result is fundamentally the same, which points to the possibility of both things being real, and just two sides of the same coin.

      If you're interested a very interesting author to read is Dr. Larry Arnhart. His focus has been on tying together Aristotle, Locke, Darwin and Burke to fully establish what he calls "Darwinian Conservatism". You can find more on his blog:

    31. @Walter

      I see. Are you a type of essencialist like we aristotelians*? If yes, them i could see it working out on getting a objective morality going.

      *not that there is only that type of essencialism


      I see, it does seems like a popular position between secular conservatives. Burke itself sounds like he goes that way sometimes.

      The trouble on this particular case is that, as you admited before, this position is compatible with moral realism being false. Since my questions to Walter aim at understand how moral realism fit on his worldview, there does not seem like darwinian conservatism can help much on this particular case.

    32. Talmid: "this position is compatible with moral realism being false"

      That depends on the conditions of possibility for morality. Or, to put it another way, on one's metaphysics. Darwinian conservatism argues that morality is real, hence argues for moral realism, on the basis of a Darwinian metaphysics. This metaphysics, however, is opposite Scholastic metaphysics, which also argues for moral realism from different principles. Hence, if you consider that only Scholastic arguments for moral realism provide for "true moral realism", then evidently Darwinian arguments for moral realism result in "false moral realism". If you couple it as a minor premise to a major premise such as, let's say, "every false realism is a relativism", and then, sure, a moral arguments based on Darwinian metaphysics cannot but be classified as being "in reality" for moral relativism. But that, I'd say, more begs the question than provides for a valid reasoning.

      Besides, a similar reasoning can be constructed in reverse. For example, your discussion with Walter on the topic of rape. If we look into the Bible, while in almost every instance rape is condemned in the strongest terms, there however a few instances in which it is not only allowed, but in fact commanded, such as e.g. in Numbers 31, when soldiers in the winning side of a war of genocide are allowed to spare the virgins from the defeated side, enslave them, and from then on force themselves upon them whenever they want. From this one might easily say that it's the the Bible that teaches moral relativism, since a "true moral realism" would make rape immoral in every case, no exceptions or conditionals. But that, evidently, oversimplifies the matter.

    33. Talmid

      I would not describe myself as an essentialist, unless by that term you mean something quite mundane.
      I basically think that if there is a sentient physical being, certain things are good for it and certain things are bad for it. That's all there is to it.

    34. @Alexander

      I see, it is true that the conservative darwinist could reply that there is a question being begged on his view being called moraly relativistic, it would need a separate discussion.


      I see, that is completely uncontroversial. I have a few worries but this discussion is being quite slow, so maybe it is better to continue it on another day. You get a thumbs up for being a moral realist, though.

  9. What about the suffering of animals?

    1. What about the suffering of animals?

    2. It undermines the explanation of suffering as being caused by our ancestor's sin.

  10. How does one remove suffering? How does one make it so that no living creature can suffer? or, at the very least, no rational and reasoning creature suffers?
    You can't remove anything that involves a choice that can equal suffering as that would violate "choice" and you can't remove any action or consequence of action that nature "needs" to maintain balance. So what do you do? Would it be an "ends justifies the means" scenario?

    1. It would seem perfectly within the realm of possibility that God can create a reality where all available choices do not lead to death, decay and suffering. This seems quite self-evident to me, but I'm not sure if I understand your point fully.

    2. A reality where you can't chose to kill yourself? A reality without composting? A reality without suffering your seems? It seems impossible.

  11. While I do not think that theodicies, even high-quality theodicies, offer a compelling reason to doubt the existence of God, I do think that this article is attacking a composite strawman rather than any one of the variants of atheistic arguments that try to draw a contradiction between suffering and an omnipowerful/omnibenevolent God. Along the way, Ed fails to address (what I think) are the real points of contention:
    1. Is retribution for sins a true moral good? While I agree with Ed that much of the modern drift from the concept of retribution as an ontological (rather than instrumental) good is indeed due to a cultural "softness," or a mass desire to not be held to account ourselves, and so on, I also think that many atheists and progressive Christians raise legitimate objections to the idea that retribution is an ontological good (or that God, as the supreme good, has some necessary connection with ensuring correct retribution).
    2. Is it morally right to withhold special grace from our first parents' descendants due to the bad acts of the first parents? I think the Catholic answer invokes some sort of "corporal nature of mankind" to smooth over this family of objections, but there are decent objections to that which are not answered here. The imagined atheists of this article are just entitled heirs who want the "extra good" which their forefathers spurned.
    3. Relatedly, many of the objections to the original sin/suffering-as-punishment narrative arise from the doctrine of Hell. Would we expect a God to withhold special grace which would prevent our human nature from falling into damnation? I think Catholics would say that of course God does NOT withhold this special grace - he gives us all just what we need for our salvation - but that sounds like a "just so" story to the atheist, who observes a world in which, as Ed says, our misery multiplies due to the frailties in human nature. I am born in a culture which inculcates falsehoods into my mind from birth, malforms my conscience at every turn, and though I exercise my will to pursue the good at every turn, I find that I still harbor doubts about going to mass every Sunday, let alone confession, and happen to die in a car accident, and go to Hell. Would a loving God allow this? Why would a loving God make himself so difficult to find? (Again, I think Catholics, including Ed, really convince themselves that the signs of the church are so clear an unambiguous that anyone who doubts that the catholic church is the presence of God in the world is exercising a perverse will. But there are good objections to this - mainly, the fact that the truth of most theological propositions is not as clear as we would expect it to be if God made certain to provide those truths (necessary for salvation) to all of those he was going to subject to eternal damnation.)
    I think Ed may be conflating a certain type of soft, coddled liberal (I concede, these people are real and increasingly common, even if they turn up as whipping boys in too many Catholic "think pieces") whose beliefs are shaped by a personal fear of being held accountable, of necessary pain, of self-sacrifice, etc. with many folks who are completely on board with suffering the consequences of their actions, sacrificing their good for others, enduring suffering for the greater good, and so on, but object to the idea of ontological retribution or to the Christian narrative of original sin (when paired with eternal damnation), or the strange Catholic belief that their arguments are SO intellectually clear that disbelieving them is a mark of a corrupt will (a tendency they share, funnily enough, with those critical race theorists, Marxists, trans activists, and so on). I know I have left many holes here which can be poked at - but I think the general point stands, that if we want to make more of this point in favor of the faith, we need to address the better objections.

    1. A worthy set of objections. Straight forward and neatly made. I may circle back on this one.

    2. While I do not think that theodicies, even high-quality theodicies, offer a compelling reason to doubt the existence of God,
      Is Theodicy a fundamental epistemic misstep in Enlightenment style reasoning? I believe this is the case. It’s ultimate foundation seams to be an overly rationalistic thing that starts on premise as a hermeneutic of suspicion.

      Is retribution for sins a true moral good?
      Do you believe in a “duty to act”. Does this duty come with certain scopes and limitations? If I as a Paramedic am on duty and am called for an active Heart attack, do I fail within my scope if I do nothing? Could I, not only in my position, but the entire health field be out of line if they try to enforce more forcefully “pro active” or “reform” minded goals to prevent heart attacks? I think so. Even if I am wrong, it doesn’t necessarily follow that more “reform” minded goals to preventing heart attacks follows from the basic, and more fundamental duties of what it means to be a healthcare provider. Likewise, these same limits and scopes can be analogical to things like justice, mercy, or other actions. Often times such duties could be for things like stopping an aggressor with deadly force or punishment within a justice system. Reform is not at the heart of what is going on in human terms, it is beyond scope and assumes that the human can decide things in an Ultimate fashion.
      2. Is it morally right to withhold special grace from our first parents' descendants due to the bad acts of the first parents?
      Not sure what you mean. If this is about Original Sin, I’m born and bred Orthodox. The formulation we use is we face the consequences of sin (ex: death). My guess is the Catholic is similar. As for initial graces: Noah didn’t have an Abrahamic covenant. Abraham had no Law. Moses, David and the Prophets came before Christ. John the Forerunner died before Pentecost.

      Why would a loving God make himself so difficult to find
      Satan was an angel next to the Throne of God, Judas was an Apostle. To lesser extents the Christians and Jews looked at pagan rulers as agents of God many of whom, such as Nero, clearly went nanners. Another comparison would be the Jews clearly had the Law, in the Christian perspective even that was not exactly a help according to St. Paul or Christ. When asking for such things I don’t think people understand the heaviness of what they are asking for. To whom much is given, much is asked. I won’t do this now, but I believe this could be put easily into secular vocabulary.

      but object to the idea of ontological retribution or to the Christian narrative of original sin
      Again think about your limits and duties as a Christian for your own salvation and those of others. You only have so many tools and judgments upon how to act. Supreme moral indignation, condemning others to hell, or willing people to salvation is beyond your scope. This would be as true in a sane atheist view as it is in terms of Paradisical view. It seems to come into conflict with more Utopian views, which is a competing view and mentality under scrutiny here. That competing view (which sometimes can even be Progressive Christian) is what one needs to focus on when it comes up in a philosophic or “worldview” context”. Also think again the ultimacy one is dicating to the human who thinks he can reform another and knows ultimately what is best for another. In this case would you rather have humans doing such things or a lower case “g” god like Zeus, much less one expressed as a Christian would use the term?
      (a tendency they share, funnily enough, with those critical race theorists, Marxists, trans activists, and so on)
      Part of this may be the epistemic problem of Theodicy, Marxism, etc. in that they start off with a “hermeneutic of suspicion”, “constructivist view”, or whatever you wish to call it where a Catholic or most “common sense/traditional” worldviews do not. This may be at the heart of things, and what is part of the West’s “first world problems”

    3. Hmmm... Clever. Need to digest this.

  12. On a related note, it's undeniable that modern Western society is of all societies in history the most obsessed with safety, material comfort, and the avoidance of harm. This came about primarily as a reaction to the atrocities of the World Wars, which made people seek to banish all violence, harm, and threat. While these are not in and of themselves bad goals, an excessive concern for them has resulted in us seeing suffering as the worst thing possible, which naturally has made up completely unable to bear it. As a result, courage, the virtue whose primary function is to enable us to bear and endure suffering, has withered and atrophied in the West. I think that many of the "Arguments from Evil" draw the majority of their rhetorical force from this modern attitude, that renders suffering inexplicable and catastrophic, of no merit and to be avoided at all costs.

    1. Suffering does have a merit in this particular world, because this world isn't perfect just like a fire brigade has its merit in a world in which fires exist.
      But the point of the Problem of Evil is that if God is (morally good) this world should be perfect, there should be no "fires" that require a fire-brigade.

    2. Walter,

      I could write a whole book on this, but in a nutshell, it works like this:

      A perfect world is a pointless world. God is already perfect in himself. A perfect world is not worth creating.

      Nobody writes a book that goes "In the beginning, God created the world. The world was perfect and they all lived happily ever after."

      The book worth writing (creation) must glorify the subject matter and the author (subject=Truth=God, author=God). The book will necessarily reflect the author. Created good is a reflection of the perfect good.

      The book will have heroes and villains who will choose between truth and error. They will accordingly perfect or corrupt themselves and come into conflict until they achieve either lasting glory or shame and illustrate the difference between good and evil in the process.

      All of this will benefit those who read it and glorify the author and his subject. The more epic the book, the more effective it is. An epic book is filled with suffering and battle. Nobody reading the book says, "I wish the hero didn't have to suffer so much, or work so hard." No body says, "I wish the villain weren't so evil, I hope he doesn't suffer for all the things he's doing."

      These statements miss the point.

      Example: George Lucas get's, or should get, just as much credit (glory) for inventing Darth Vader as he does for Luke Skywalker. Lucas is not evil for coming up with an evil character, and is not held "responsible" (not a moral agent) for all the evil Vader does; even those Lucas wrote all those evil acts and all that suffering into the story.

      Creation is a better story that is the epic work of a perfect Author.

    3. Tim

      "A perfect world is a pointless world. God is already perfect in himself. A perfect world is not worth creating."

      So, heaven is a pointless world?

    4. Heaven is the counter point to Hell. Both of them TOGETHER will fully illustrate and glorify both the Justice and Mercy of God; now, and in eternity.
      Those in Hell rejected the mercy offered to them and received justice; and those in Heaven embraced justice and so obtained mercy. Thus everyone will have received both mercy and justice, and creation will then be a complete reflection of God's attributes; even though the damned will still be imperfect. They will remain justly damned and imperfect because they were perfectly free in choosing that eternal fate.

    5. Heaven is not a "World" it is the saved soul beholding the Uncreated Beatific Vision.

      Yer wrong oot of the box Walter.

      God cannot create the Best of All Possible Worlds and God cannot create another uncreated God as that would be a contradiction.

    6. Son

      Whether it is a "world" or not isn't relevant. Heaven is a condition that, if we are to believe Tim, is pointless.
      And maybe you are correct that god cannot create the best possible world, but that means god could not create anything, because by doing so He would deliberately create imperfection.

    7. You need to re-read what Tim wrote because I think yer wee confused with all due respect.

      Tim said "A perfect world is a pointless world. God is already perfect in himself. A perfect world is not worth creating.".

      Heaven is seeing God who is perfection and thus by definition that is not pointless. Thus logically he cannot be accused of calling Heaven "pointless".

      >And maybe you are correct that god cannot create the best possible world, but that means god could not create anything, because by doing so He would deliberately create imperfection.

      God can create anything that is not Himself. Since God is by Nature Uncreated, Perfect & Immutable He cannot create more of Himself by definition anymore than He can make 2+2=5.

      Anything He creates compared to Him by definition will be imperfect relative to God.

      I don't see the problem?


    8. "I don't see the problem?"

      That's a pity.

    9. Well I think really think there is one so there you have it and if ye cani articulate it to me then ah well then.

      Go in peace.

  13. I've often thought that the hedonic treadmill might be involved here. People who live a comfortable life often come to take that comfort for granted; hence people nowadays, for all their material prosperity, don't seem to be any happier on average than people in previous generations, and may even be less happy. And because people aren't particularly happy despite enjoying great comfort and prosperity, they assume that anybody who doesn't enjoy these things -- medieval peasants, modern third-worlders, etc. -- must be unhappy. Hence modern first-worlders tend to overestimate the unhappiness caused by suffering, and consequently overrate the problem of evil as an argument against God.

  14. This is a tricky thing that I've been mulling over as of late. I hope I can put the particular version of the problem of evil I have succinctly:

    1. It is of God's character to care especially for the weak and vulnerable, not just as a general group but also as individuals.
    2. The weak and vulnerable often experience evils of such significant magnitude that it effectively breaks them psychologically and spiritually (where they, for example, lose their faith and Christian practice).
    3. If (1), we would expect not to see (2).
    4. But we do see (2) to a fairly significant degree.
    5. Therefore, we have good (even if not decisive) evidence against (1).

    Now, I can see arguments where the weak of faith, for example, might not be sufficiently culpable for their loss of faith such that it would damn them, but it is difficult to see how, even if they attain heaven, that this breakdown is still not a serious loss for them. They, it seems, get into Heaven on a technicality rather than by growing and flourishing and entering Heaven as a great saint.
    Moreover, their weakness of faith or virtue or whatever might merit a kind of punishment, but again, this seems in some kind of tension with (1), even if it is true and just and all that.

    Now, perhaps we ought to drop or amend (1), but then this seems to do serious violence to God as He is presented in the Gospels and in the teachings of Christ. And it seems to be both a sound exegetical principle and also a sound principle of growth in the spiritual life that we *primarily* take our image of God from Scripture in general and the Gospel in particular.

    So I'll admit to being a bit stuck on this and am a tad troubled, at least on a basic intellectual and pastoral level (I have some occasion to work with people who are suffering or in difficult personal contexts). Thoughts?

    1. We can amend (1). God cares for the weak and vulnerable except when their suffering can be part of a larger thing. That is St. Thomas Aquinas answer to the problem of evil that he gets from St. Augustine and that Dr. Feser defends on this post and in other places.

      This is what we see several times on Scripture. For example, we have the prophets and other holy persons who faced a lot of suffering as part of their missions, we have the suffering of the good israelites when Israel was collectively punished several times for not being faithful to the covenant, we have the suffering that the blind man faced on John 9 "so that the works of God might be displayed in him.", we have, well, the Cross etc. While the answer to the PoE looks like a philosopher creation, it does fit with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    2. I'm not sure this really grapples with the problem, in part because I am think of some very specific instances.

      As with both Israel and the blind man, there is a certain restoration in their brokenness, or at least, one that is apparent. The evils I have in mind are of a different kind. To give a scenario:

      Take a guy who is a faithful Catholic, genuinely seeking God and desiring to grow in holiness. However, like Job, a number of tragedies befall him. He comes down with this mysterious and debilitating illness which effectively makes him bedridden. Many of the supports of faith around him go through their own fall such that he comes to feel very isolated in his faith. He develops deep depression, resulting in an effective ceasing of Christian practice, and he dies an agnostic, half resentful of God and half resentful of himself for believing in God.

      Now, if we say such a scenario is for some greater good, this can be said in two ways:
      1. It can be for his greater good.
      2. It can be for some other greater good, but at the expense of his flourishing, faith, and potentially, salvation.

      My worry is that there don't appear to be any plausible scenarios for 1. As mentioned above, he dies less holy and sanctified and the like than he probably would have otherwise. Even if he attains Heaven, he will attain Heaven to a lesser degree than if he hadn't been broken down.

      With 2, this seems to run contrary to the image of God we are offered. Imagine if Job had given up on God in some real way and died in that state. On the one hand, that is a grave fault. On the other, God tut-tutting at him after being completely broken down doesn't sit easily with the picture of being merciful to the weak and broken. I'm sympathetic with Eleonore Stump's proposal in her book Wandering in Darkness that God need not and does not sacrifice the good of some individuals for some greater general good, as if God is in some kind of Trolley Problem scenario where He has to sacrifice some to save others. But if this is the case, then I think we can appeal to "Greater good" in too easy a way, where it handwaves away grave problems and makes God a utilitarian.

    3. That is truly a more dificult problem that the one usually made. I remember thinking on something like that before. While 2 is philosophically defensive, i will prefer to ignore it, so lets go to 1 and see if maybe this bad situation helped the guy at the end.

      On this guy particular case we can probably construct a few scenarious were his tragedy is better to him, like:

      A: the guy would eventually abandon the faith completely if he had never suffered any tragedy, so this horrible situation and eartly end actually were his only chance of salvation.

      B: the guy did die less holy but his tragedy created some very big things, letting he, after understanding the whole situation, not only getting why it happened but becoming more happy by God letting he have the oportunity of making a bigger contribution on history than what he would do had his eartly situation continued good. So while he was less of a saint when he died he sure had a more glorious place on history.

      There are probably more scenarious. If someone more is reading this and has a idea, we will like to hear it. It seems that the idea that 1 is the case is at least possible. Giving how low our knowledge of things is, how God does get the good out of evil and that something like molinism could be true, it seems to me that this version of the PoE is not capable of being decisive.

      This is all the philosophical part, of course. On reality there are a lot of things that do not seems to fit with God character at first, so trusting on Him is harder. While silogism hardly change things much, i hope that having possible scenarious were 1 is the case can help.

  15. The intellectual arguments as they are, when you come across those exceedingly rare souls who live daily the suffering of self-renunciation (which eventually ceases to be suffering), it’s impossible to deny an encounter with something Divine. The degenerate can mock, but they can’t deny. As the saying goes: hypocrisy is the tribute vice owes to virtue.

    Those rare souls make words unnecessary as their virtue is more fundamental than any reasoning about it ever could be.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. This type of experience was a major part of my own conversion. The intellect always struggles with those things that are resolved with simple action. It's very strange. Every now and again I need to remind myself of those rare moments of lucidity, where all things were clear and I could see the face of God in those souls. Reminds me of a prayer I thought was foolish, but only understood later - God help me to believe so that I may understand; not to understand so that I may believe.

    2. Sure Jnezbit. As you know, the intellectual is essential, it's just not sufficient.

  16. I always wondered something about purgatory: does it feel like really long or a short time, for the average saved sinner you think?

    1. It does feel like a long time. This is so for several reasons.
      The two main ones are that suffering makes time seem to crawl and those in Purgatory are in eviternity (however it's spelled). Eviternity is a state some what like eternity because it is less changing than normal time, but not permanent like eternity.
      There are also accounts of souls returning from Purgatory to ask for prayers who attest to it's seeming interminable duration despite spending only hours in that suffering.

  17. The first and most fundamental point Remler emphasizes is that suffering is the inevitable consequence of original sin.

    While I have no problem with any of the arguments the good Professor made from this point on out, I will take a moment to raise a difficult with this specific starting point for explaining evil: the starting point of original sin avoids a PRIOR question: could God have prevented that original sin?

    Needless to say, I don't care in the least about those "methods" by which God might have prevented original sin by making men not to have free will. Those are to be ignored as irrelevant; THIS world and its good implies humans having free will. Get rid of free will, and you get rid of humans, and you then get rid of rational animals capable of loving God, which is a very great good. You diminish "this world" to such a degree that no further discussion carries any weight.

    But to return: could God have prevented the sin of Adam and Eve? The clear answer from Thomas and other Scholastics is "yes". God could have given them increased actual graces by which they perceived the dangers of the temptation more clearly, or perceived the true good more clearly, or by which their love of the true good would exceed the attractiveness of the tempting good. That is, by an overwhelming layer of grace, He could have made them not want the apparent good enough to even toy with its desire, much less choose it.

    So, the question that then presents itself is: why didn't He do this? To which the answer is: we don't know. God pretty clearly told us we don't get to know, when he told off Job - "where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?"

    We can speculate, but that's really all we have. We can, for example, speculate that a world in which some people OVERCOME bad habits and turn to the good, and other people sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, is actually a BETTER WORLD than a world that never had sin and thus never had anyone overcoming habits of sin by turning to the good. Similarly, we can speculate that a world in which Christ came to redeem us from sin is a BETTER WORLD than a hypothetical world where Christ never came because he was never needed, or a world in which Christ became incarnate not because of need but out of sheer desire to join us. But we don't and won't know for sure exactly how these "better than" theories really play out.

    For here's the crux: as Prof. Feser said in his article on Sterba, God is not like us moral creatures. God can indeed providentially prepare a world that holds one kind of evil in order to prepare some other sort of good that springs out of that evil. This is, after all, EXACTLY the sort of thing that He did in making an ecologically interconnected pattern of life on this world, where one animal succeeds in life by eating some other animal or plant. And (at least usually) eco-friendly thinkers admit that the beauty of the larger ecological whole is greater than the value of any one individual member of it. If they can do that even for non-moral good and evil, there is nothing that precludes doing it for the moral goods and evils that we see in humanity. When we get to the Last Judgment, we will see that the whole pattern is beautiful and wondrous and glorious; until then, we have to take it on faith.

    1. I for one am thankful to God almighty, because in allowing Adam and Eve's choices to play themselves out, I myself have come into existence and that provides more than sufficient intellectual justification for me. I do understand if an atheist, when pondering on the seemingly interminable procession of misery and suffering preceding for his own existence, thinks the trade off is not worthy and proclaims with Job, vainly trying to undo God's work:

      Let the day perish wherein I was born,
      and the night which said,
      ‘A man-child is conceived.’

      Let that day be darkness!
      May God above not seek it,
      nor light shine upon it.

      Let gloom and deep darkness claim it.
      Let clouds dwell upon it;
      let the blackness of the day terrify it.

      That night—let thick darkness seize it!
      let it not rejoice among the days of the year,
      let it not come into the number of the months.

    2. This shows that Job was the youngest person in the Bible to speak--he cursed the day he was born.

  18. This is a link to a number of papers and videos on evil and suffering, God's existence, Thomism, etc., by many thinkers, including Dr. Feser

  19. The story of the rich man conditionally offering a million dollars which is then refused does not seem to be a good analogy for original sin.

    Firstly, Trent declared that man was created in the state of justice. In Genesis, Adam is told he will die if he transgresses, and thereby lose the only condition he has known. It is a fall and not a return to (let alone confirmation of) another state.

    Leo XIII didn't surprise anybody when he wrote that "human nature was stained by original sin, and is therefore more disposed to vice than to virtue". St. Thomas Aquinas also contrasts the state of fallen nature with any state of pure nature: "But in the state of corrupt nature man falls short of this in the appetite of his rational will, which, unless it is cured by God's grace, follows its private good, on account of the corruption of nature."

    Most theologians, especially Thomists, teach that man's nature is worse off in the state of fallen nature than it would otherwise have been in a fictitious state of nature because man is BORN with a will that is aversa a Deo, turned away from God due to original sin. The factor therefore goes well beyond negative social influences or bad habits.

    1. Hi Miguel. Adam was offered a full life, and wanted more. This is all of us. We are not really guilty because of Adam, we are guilty because we are creatures, and so must rise to god. Because god is good, he created the world so that we could become good. Adam was perfect but not good. A good apple is one which fully realises the ideal of appleness. We were created in god’s image, so our humanness is so much more than perfection; it is the potential of goodness as primary, perfection as secondary. Only through experience of choice do we become good. Original sin is simply the start of a journey of choice.

    2. I can't agree with that. Original sin wasn't the start of a journey of choice; before that, Adam countless choices avoided sin. The notion that perversity gives people more depth of character and humanity seems very modern and mistaken.

    3. It’s not about perversity, it’s about making the right choices. Remember, the fall was about Adam learning something new, something was added to him, that broke the primal innocence. When Adam made choices, they were not made in conscious awareness of the ‘rightness’ of the choice;

      “22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”

      Also the idea that the post fall world is all about the choices we make is not modern. Take Deuteronomy 30;

      15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

    4. What about this, from the ST?: "principally, the punishment of original sin is that human nature is left to itself, and deprived of original justice: and consequently, all the penalties which result from this defect in human nature." It looks like he's envisaging the simple state of nature.

    5. The entire Thomistic position has two main elements, not just the one you mentioned. St Thomas fully discusses original sin in three works (de Malo, ST and the Summa contra Gentiles). He usually discusses original sin and its effects with relation to the state of justice in which man was created. However, he also made it blindingly clear in places where he did refer to any notional state of pure nature, that man in his fallen state is not in the same position; he is far worse off now compared to a state of pure nature (and even more so with respect to the state of justice, of course):
      “[In a state of pure nature man would ] not need the gift of grace added to his natural endowments, in order to love God above all things naturally… but in the state of corrupt nature man needs, even for this, the help of grace to heal his nature.” Aquinas again contrasts a state of pure nature with that of fallen nature: “… in man, the concupiscible power is naturally governed by reason… while, in so far as it trespasses beyond the bounds of reason, it is, for a man, contrary to reason. Such is the concupiscence of original sin”. The concupiscence of original sin is not that of any state of nature.
      St. Thomas distinguished two aspects of original sin: “Hence original sin is concupiscence, materially, but privation of original justice, formally…”. He insists on the fact that original sin is not merely privation: “…original sin denotes the privation of original justice, and besides this, the inordinate disposition of the parts of the soul. Consequently it is not a pure privation, but a corrupt habit”. This habit is not produced by actual sin, or social influences, but is: “… a habit ‘inborn’ due to our corrupt origin”.
      The turning of the will away from God resulted in the loss of original justice and the preternatural gifts that came with it, and is therefore almost always discussed in this context by St. Thomas, which perhaps caused your confusion. Where he does discuss a notional state of pure nature, he makes it clear that such a nature could also have turned away from God, also resulting in the natural corruption, the habit he calls concupiscence, albeit without the remorse of having lost a state of justice.

    6. So, what does this have to do with the story of the rich man and the million dollars?

    7. The story of the million dollar gift would describe the loss of the preternatural gifts of the state of justice. Because such gifts were, of course, gratuitous, their loss could not be used to argue against divine justice. But the story can't be used to extrapolate man's existence in a state of nature after the loss of the state of justice, at least not from an Aquinian perspective.

      St. Thomas Aquinas explains (Ia IIae 109): "We may speak of man in two ways: first, in the state of perfect nature [state of nature]; secondly, in the state of corrupted nature. Now in the state of perfect nature, man, without habitual grace, could avoid sinning either mortally or venially; since to sin is nothing else than to stray from what is according to our nature—and in the state of perfect nature man could avoid this... But in the state of corrupt nature man needs grace to heal his nature in order that he may entirely abstain from sin".

      According to St. Thomas, man in a notional state of nature did not "depreciate" necessarily and did not need grace to avoid sin, whereas he does now. This has nothing to do with social context.

      The language used above by Leo XIII, St Thomas and thomism after him, and millions of sermons, describing the effects of original sin as a corruption of nature apart from the loss of preternatural gifts, is therefore entirely consistent.

  20. I agree with the point that modern, western life and thinking gives us a distorted view of suffering. Combined with a simplistic view of god as a thing - rather than the ground of being - it then results in the two prongs of the problem of suffering. This was exactly what made me an atheist. Before I knew it was a common trope, it seemed that either god was not all powerful, didn’t exist, or was not good.

    Now that I know how wrong this was, I don’t think it’s as complicated as people make it. I don’t disagree with most of the article, but I think there is a much bigger perspective that we find it difficult to see, being in the middle of it. I have a bizarre confidence now that at the end of this life, we will see that it was all perfect, exactly as it had to be. Given that still I find even just the suffering of animals a heavy weight, and that I’m not a universalist, I’ll admit this may not sound in any way reasonable. Nonetheless, in the words of Julian of Norwich, and from the fullest perspective, “all is well”.

    I’m confident that part of the story is about our original telos, for us to become the ideal of ‘man’ that god originally conceived. Only god is innately perfect. For creatures to be genuinely perfect and genuinely free, the raw ore needs to be refined. God describes the process as like “refining silver in the furnace”, and suggests that it will apply to a third of mankind. Atheists often ask why he couldn’t have created us perfect, but this misses what the gift of free will really means. The real world is messy, but most people can recognise a high likelihood of certain character traits in the archetypal spoilt child who gets everything they want, and never has any challenges or hardships. In fact Genesis speaks to this, with Adam who was created perfect, literally given paradise, and yet still wanted more.

    God did not choose or cause the fall, but of course knew it would happen. Just like the atheist must accept that our physical bodies would not be possible without suffering (ie. natural selection), so too must we accept that suffering is part of our own spiritual creation process. Some people are born with a condition that means they don’t feel physical pain at all, and it’s bad news in terms of their physical health. I think there is something similar with suffering and our spiritual health, but similar to physical pain, it’s important how we react to it. The more we try to accept our own suffering where it’s not decently avoidable, the more we grow towards who we should be, our original form - as exemplified by Jesus, in whose image we were created.

    I don’t disagree that there is a relation between sin and suffering. However this is transcended by the incarnation, and when we take up our cross, we share in The Cross. Also talking about sin in relation to suffering will turn away an atheist instantly. I know how this sounds from when I was one, and it sounds callous and ignorant when viewed from the perspective that this life is everything. However if I understood then that what christians really believe, is that this life, with all it’s amazing ups and terrible downs, is just a very small part of the whole, like a larval phase where we see and live dimly, then maybe I would have listened more. Or maybe there is very little anyone can say to an atheist to help them see through the suffering in the world. Maybe it can only come from that mysterious process that happens between the mind and heart of a person, and god, where suddenly everything is seen in a different light.

  21. This is mostly about the emotional response to suffering and evil, rather than the strictly philosophical issues, but I for one have never much resonated on an emotional and imaginative level to the problem of evil: if I encounter suffering, taking away the divine is to take away consolation, or at least to endanger it. I think this might be as common an attitude as those who turn away from God because of trauma or suffering, as many do find God through suffering.

  22. Regarding Dr. Feser's analogy, for reference, here's the one St. Thomas employs in his Compendium of Theology:

    CHAPTER 195


    The blessing of original justice was conferred by God on the human race in the person of its first parent, in such a way that it was to be transmitted to his posterity through him. But when a cause is removed, the effect cannot follow. Therefore, when the first man stripped himself of this good by his sin, all his descendants were likewise deprived of it. And so for all time, that is, ever since the sin of the first parent, all men come into the world bereft of original justice and burdened with the defects that attend its loss.

    This is in no way against the order of justice, as though God were punishing the sons for the crime of their first father. For the punishment in question is no more than the withdrawing of goods that were supernaturally granted by God to the first man for transmission, through him, to others. These others had no right to such goods, except so far as the gifts were to be passed on to them through their first parent. In the same way a king may reward a soldier with the grant of an estate, which is to be handed on by him to his heirs. If the soldier then commits a crime against the king, and so is adjudged to forfeit the estate, it cannot afterwards pass to his heirs. In this case the sons are justly dispossessed in consequence of their father’s crime.

  23. As usual for Dr. Feser's articles, this was quite informative, and I learned a little more about how Scholasticism works the theme.

    As usual too for anything Scholastic (by Dr. Feser or others), I nodded in agreement during the entire "first part", by which I mean the reasonings based on natural theology alone, and then face-palm in disbelief for the "second part", that is, the specifically Catholic complements and extensions to the natural arguments. :)

    1. Hey Alex - Its the interplay of faith and reason. Ed has no problem putting them in dialog with one another, as is his right as a believer. As someone who is perhaps not a believer, you can at least benefit from it in terms of understanding what Catholics believe, even if you don't accept it.

    2. @Daniel: I'm not a Christian, but if I were I'd be Orthodox or Catholic, as I find both extremely interesting, as well as way ahead of other denominations both intellectually and mystically.

      By the way, I find this dissociative perception I have on both halves of Scholastic arguments as an exemplification of Saint Augustine's concept of "leaps of faith", that is, accepting additional axioms on trust, one layer at a time, adopting them as premises, and embracing the additional conclusions that come from deducing from them plus the previously adopted premises and their conclusions. And this certainly teaches a lot, and not only in terms of Catholic beliefs specifically, but also on the operationalization of leaps of faith.

    3. We take things on faith all the time. Especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. In fact, I would say society would break down if we didn't make leaps of faith. We have faith in pilots, taxi drivers, doctors, surgeons, auto mechanics, furnace maintenance people, water treatment specialists, and so on and so on. And these are examples of folks we need to have faith in who have knowledge we could, in principle, validate. There is also knowledge I can't directly validate, such as when my wife says she loves me. I can validate it somewhat based on her actions, but I can never validate her inner experience. Is it so strange that there may be knowledge that can be communicated to us that is in principle, impossible to validate and must be taken on faith?

    4. @Daniel: That's Saint Augustine's point, precisely. If I remember right, he argues against skeptics by stating that if one believes only their own senses and nothing more, then one lives in an extremely limited way, that one must take on faith assertions they cannot personally experience, such as that this man is their father and that woman their mother, this first leap of faith expanding their world in a way that adds to it, not subtracts from it. Further leaps of faith do similarly, until one reaches the limits of what can be achieved by natural faith alone. And that to expand beyond that requires a final leap of faith towards information that cannot be obtained through natural means as it's strictly inaccessible, and thus can only be attained through supernatural revelation.

  24. Stockholm syndrome reminds that when my clinical depression made me suicidal, some people asked me whether I enjoyed the pain. The assumed that since I felt merely sad, I could cheer up anytime I wanted to do that.

    I still need antidepressants. But now I know that if I brood too much about my pain, it gets harder to endure. "Why me?" is the wrong question to ask. The right one is instead, "Dear God, what do you want me to learn from this?" The more selfishly and impatiently I fight against my pain, the more it hurts. So I need to pray, "Dearest Father, I don't know why you're allowing this. But I know it's for an infinitely good reason. So please use it to help other people, especially the ones who need your help more than ever."

    1. Amen Bill. God will not be outdone in generosity.

  25. The POE is based on God being seen as a moral agent in the univocal way a virtuous rational creature is a moral agent. Theodicies are employed to try to morally justify God's inaction in the face of evil given His omnipotence and obvious ability to stop any evil in its tracks.

    But if God is not a moral agent like us given His Classic Theist Nature then moral evaluation of the Deity is incoherent. Like trying to judge wither or not Beckum is a good footballer based on his batting average. The later being a meaningful measure for a baseball player but not to a footballer.

    Given these facts the POE is a non-problem.

  26. On the sociological issue, the high rate of theism in some societies with a lot of suffering says nothing about whether the problem of evil succeeds or fails as an argument. This is because we do not consult the consensus of the total population about philosophical issues. Laypeople are generally very bad philosophers.