Suffering; God and moral awareness.

In an attempt to answer an atheist argument against the existence of God, I managed to reduce the argument to arguing, basically, for a disinterested deity, not necessarily a non-existent one. I left it there, hoping that readers would move from there towards a more benevolent deity. After discussion, I felt we hadn’t moved much beyond the common “freedom of choice” argument, and had rather moved towards a malevolent deity, if anything. It would probably be useful to go back and read the original post, and Kimberly’s comment (since it seemed to be the best response) and the questions it raised, here.

The problem with the freedom of choice argument is really in the counter argument, who gets choice? Do the children starving in Somalia really get the same freedom to choose as the “one percent” we hear so much about from those occupy people? Of course not, but why? Why would God allow it? Is it fair? No, it isn’t, but religious people would argue that it’s our choices that make the world unfair. I agree with this, but it wouldn’t satisfy a critic. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give an entirely satisfactory answer to the critics, but here’s a thought.

People generally have a concept of morality that most can agree with, don’t murder; steel; rape; etc. The creator of the universe, should there be one, would have been the origin of this moral code. The moral code wouldn’t be there unless the creator had not intended for it to be upheld, and would therefore have at least been benevolent enough to bless us with this moral code.

The freedom to choose whether we live by this code is also an act of benevolence, since it would be the act of a tyrant to not allow this freedom, and benevolent tyrant is an oxymoron. This choice comes with consequences, not punishment, one of the consequences is that the further society moves from the moral code, the worse the lot of society as a whole becomes. This isn’t fair on everyone, or perhaps anyone, within the society, but nobody is really that innocent that they can claim no part in problems in the world, except for babies, who inadvertently suffer the choices of their forefathers.

The thing is, in order for people to make truly informed choices about morality, they’d have to have a complete understanding of it. For a deity to step in when the consequences were horrible, would essentially be robbing people of the opportunity to see the extreme extent of the results of immorality. Without being exposed to the terrible consequences of our actions, we would never have a full understanding of the consequences, and wouldn’t really be able to say we fully understand the moral code.

Just like, even though I’m a Christian, I don’t believe in hell-never-ending, I don’t believe that God would subject people to suffering as a punishment, but rather is loving enough to allow us to view, and suffer, the full consequences of our actions so that we can have a complete understanding of the moral code and the ramifications of not adhering to it. Part of those ramifications is an unfair world with terrible suffering. The choice still lies with us, as a collective.

For more on collective and individual responsibility, read the posts:

What is this thing, democracy?
and
$700 000 000

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32 thoughts on “Suffering; God and moral awareness.”

  1. Nice idea… “The choice still lies with us, as a collective.”

    But it never seems to quite work that way. For some it would seem their “freedom of choice” far outweighs anyone else. Nobody ever said that life is fair… would be fair… or that it should be. But ultimately it would seem that god simply doesn’t care enough to step in when true attocities are played out, day after day… why? Because that was someone’s choice? Not much freedom there I’m afraid.

    1. You seem to have missed the actual argument, it is because of atrocities that we can become fully aware of the consequences of immoral behaviour, but even with these, we don’t seem to have a full understanding, otherwise we would change things. Chances are, things will have to get a whole lot worse for us to really grasp the issue, for God to stop these things happening would only prolong the process, which would actually be worse.

  2. Think you missed the point that it matters not how things may change… there is still suffering that some can do nothing to change. They are guilty of only being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Ultimately I’d call forcing someone to suffer immoral, more so if there is anything that can be done to solve the situation.

    It’s really a round and round point. You’ll argue that a god is trying to teach… I’ll argue that a god doesn’t care because it’s not fixing the problem. But as I usually do, I’ll change god to something else, in this case a parent. At what point does a parent step in and point out that the children are just hurting each other or themselves? And when able when does the parent take action?

    Freedom of choice is all well… but at what point does your freedom to learn impact me in a way that won’t teach anything that isn’t all ready known?

    1. So you’d give up all your comforts tomorrow in order to send money to starving children, if not, you must be immoral by your argument, since you are forcing them to suffer unnecessarily.

      “at what point does your freedom to learn impact me in a way that won’t teach anything that isn’t all ready known?”

      You seem to think we already do know all about morality. In Abrahamic religions, which are really the only ones who are necessarily plagued by this particular issue, morality is a law, not like a changeable state law, but a natural law. If someone tried to walk from the top floor of a building to the top floor of another building through the air, you’d claim they didn’t understand gravity. So, we constantly violate moral law, therefore, we don’t understand it, and you would have that the lack of understanding is prolonged, since it’s only the bad stuff that’s makes us aware of the problem. If the bad stuff goes, we’ll never really try sort out the problem. You want god as an aspirin, take away the symptoms, but don’t fix the flu.

      1. My giving up anything won’t make a difference… But sure there are things I could be doing to make the world a better place, for sure! 🙂

        I’ve never claimed to be moral. 😉 You’ll see that I always avoid taking the moral high road because I believe them to be subjective. Ultimately we’ll both argue as to what is right or wrong after all, I’m pretty evil with no concept of unclean animals, mixing my fabrics…etc.

        By revisiting my statement on my stance on morals, it’s quite clear that I have no worries in saying, I actually am a far way from knowing all about anything. 🙂

        The point I asked was… “at what point does your freedom to learn impact me in a way that won’t teach anything that isn’t all ready known?” At what point exactly do you draw that line? At what point is it quite clear that more harm is being done that can be prevented, especially when we already know the outcome. Here is one of those cases where we can point back to that poor girl, raped and forced to marry her attacker. That’s wrong, how can this be allowed to happen?

        It is things like that that go on every day that makes me sit back and go, “How the hell can that be allowed?” Surely by doing nothing, it is seen to do harm?

        I’ll not even mention religion on this point because it doesn’t relate to the act… just used as a crutch? It is an act however that shouldn’t have been allowed to take place.

        I just go round in circles… why would a god allow that? Can god not do anything? If a god can’t do anything then why consider it a god? How can an all powerful god sit and not act?

      2. “Ultimately I’d call forcing someone to suffer immoral”
        And then…
        “I always avoid taking the moral high road because I believe them to be subjective.”
        And…
        “It is things like that that go on every day that makes me sit back and go, “How the hell can that be allowed?” Surely by doing nothing, it is seen to do harm?”
        And…
        “My giving up anything won’t make a difference… But sure there are things I could be doing to make the world a better place, for sure!”

        Actually your giving up stuff means that you could give something to someone who is starving. The idea that morals are subjective nullifies any statements on things being immoral unless you are referring to yourself, in which case you have labelled yourself immoral. To then step back and say that you never claimed to be moral is a cop out. What self acknowledged immoral being gets to cast judgement on what is immoral.

        If morality is indeed subjective, then you only get to make statements about how you are or aren’t immoral. If you are going to use the “if God really can do something and doesn’t, he is immoral” argument, then you have to for the sake of the discussion abandon the subjective morality argument, which I’ll address in future, since I think it is sufficiently ridiculous to have it’s own post.

        So, in the Abrahamic framework, the creation story comes to a climax with humankind being given dominion over the earth. This doesn’t mean to dominate, but to be responsible for, so we really are responsible, it would then be illogical to expect God to take responsibility for our actions, which is what you would need to believe in the paradigm. In essence, you’d want an obvious contradiction to accept the paradigm, but if this contradiction were there, you’d criticise the paradigm for that, so really, you wouldn’t accept it regardless.

        If one then takes a step further, and looks at Christianity, were Christ is the perfect example, then we have principles that if we all followed, there probably wouldn’t be any suffering. The problem is, we don’t bother to understand moral law as a law of nature, which means we continue to violate it thinking that one day we’ll get it right without having to follow a divine moral law. Kinda like thinking that if we ignore gravity, we’ll eventually be able to walk in mid air.

      3. Not at all. I’m not copping out but rather saying it’s a non-point. Because… I’m no using it… because in my eyes your god id immoral. However as you don’t see it as such… morals are objective and subsequently moot.

        Again… all you do is justify your gods inaction. How the heck can you justify a non-action when it should be all powerful?

        At some point the parent must step in or quite simply it’s a lousy parent right? Or… is it morally just to allow the attocities and simple say, “well… kids will be kids.” Honestly answer that, not by justifying but that you are very well aware that in today’s world the parent would be liable (most likely get away with a warning) but that the children should be removed from them. You avoid the issue because you judge people on their morals, yet do not apply the same to your god? Why? It’s inconsistent.

        It’s not a case of don’t want to… I simply can’t. I can’t wrap my head around that. It’s just wrong.

        Please don’t justify, just answer yes or no – “Is that a lousy parent?”

      4. That’s a complex question, it has to have a justification. Firstly, how old is the child? According to the bible 6000 years, is that old enough for the parent to let them suffer the consequences of their own actions?

        You still making it a moral issue, on what grounds is it a lousy parent? On moral grounds. Manatees abandon their young in the face of danger. Frogs do no parenting at all. So according to natural laws, there is no such thing as a lousy parent. Which means we left with only judging on moral grounds, which you are saying are invalid. Your argument needs to be thought through, if morality is a moot point, then you need another argument, because yours is a moral one, so you’re just contradicting yourself.

        I still maintain that by claiming morality as a subjective thing in a false attempt to understand something actually shows your insincerity for understanding, you just taking pot shots, but you have to contradict yourself to do it.

    2. You miss the point none of it is a cop out because I’m using it as a yard stick at all. Because they are subjective…

      I find your god immoral… but that doesn’t mean that you do. So, ultimately I’m rejecting morality as an argument point.

      Christ was god? Um… we’re not god… so why make the comparison?

      You keep saying how people are to take responsibility. I’m all for that, 100%, but in the parent child scenario that I refer to often enough, which you never address, don’t you think that’s a pretty lousy parent? Yes or no?

      Ultimately here’s a point to ponder, Bill Gates vs Steve Jobs. Which has done more for humanity? Which has a religion? Morals agan subjective and hardly limited to religion? They don’t count.

      1. What is a cop out is that you claim something is immoral, yet you do exactly what you say is immoral, then cop out by saying you aren’t moral. It’s also contradictory to have a system without a fixed morality and to then say something is immoral, if your morality is subjective, it can only be immoral for you, in which case, Osama bin Laden was a bastion of morality, since he stuck by his moral compass, unlike you.

        The other thing is, the idea here was to try to explain how religious people come to a reasonable understanding of God allowing suffering and still being benevolent. By rejecting the moral argument, and then calling it immoral, not only are you contradicting yourself, you are avoiding trying to understand. I understand that a subjective morality fits an atheist evolutionary paradigm, I disagree with it, but it doesn’t stop me understanding how you reach your conclusions. The impression I get is you are trying to not understand.

        You claim that the moral argument isn’t valid, from the posts reasoning, and from your own, it is. It’s an issue of morality whether people are left to starve, we both agree on that, but you feel if there is a God, then we shouldn’t need to be responsible, He should be. As a parent, one brings their children up with guidance, in the case of Christianity, where people were put to death for violating the moral code. You take digs at that and make it sound like petty stuff, like eating pork, I can’t find such a reference. If the things people were stoned, or smited, for are part of a moral law that could ultimately affect society as a whole, then God did do something about it. You criticise God for this, so you really aren’t trying to understand, you’re in it to win it, not to find truth, which is really frustrating for people who actually do want to find truth. Now we are a mature society, so God has stepped back, like any good parent and allowed us to make a collective decision that we have to live with. So those starving children are our responsibility, so we should do something about it, especially someone who claims it is immoral to do nothing.

        On Jobs and Gates, I know nothing of their religious affiliation, but stats do show that lower to middle income religious groups do have a higher percentage of giving charitable donations than higher income atheist groups. This is well accepted, even by Dawkins who feels atheists should be seen to do more in order to quell negative views toward them. Of course it’s not just because it’s the right thing to do, that would be subjective.

      2. “if people all had the ethos of Jesus, would there be any suffering?” — from an evolutionary point of view if first man were all like Jesus we probably wouldn’t be around today or if we were we would be a weak offspring of weak genes dying of disease. It be great to have the world full of Jesus’ now , I am just saying don’t forget your roots and be appreciative of your ancestors for getting you to where you are today. Bit off subject but I thought it be an interesting point to make. and I’ll leave you with an IOU of evolutionary evidence for my statement which I will provide to you in about 15 years when it’s more rock solid.

      3. Nice act of faith, since nobody is looking for proof for evolution, it’s been accepted as fact, anyone who questions it is quickly labelled anti-science. If you basing your acceptance of first man on homology, it is illogical, and I can’t see that you could base it on anything else, since that’s all evolutionary biology has to offer.

        The point is, you haven’t answered the question.

      4. due to creation being
        Mathematically improbable there must be a creator
        The creator blessed us with moral code
        according to quantum mechanics there is no freedom of choice
        therefore the creator is a tyrant god

    3. Contradict? Nope… I’m calling inaction is a lousy job.

      I don’t believe a time frame has any meaning. It’s not a complex question, just a yes or no will do. But you’re dodging the point and desperately throwing things back.

      Please a yes or no.

      1. I can’t give you a yes or no, because you haven’t giv en me the information I need, it’s simple, on what grounds is doing nothing bad parenting?

      2. Furthermore, I don’t believe God is doing nothing, I believe God endowed us with the awareness to know there’s something desperately wrong with the plight of starving children, some people act on that and actually do something to help. I certainly don’t think that natural selection, with it’s kill or be killed ethos endowed us with that awareness, since it, in some cases, puts our own existence at risk to help others, consider people who go into war torn countries to help the poor. I also believe God came in the form of a person, and set an example. Simple question, if people all had the ethos of Jesus, would there be any suffering? So I don’t believe God does nothing, what you want is a divine hand intervening, which would involve the removal of freedom of choice, then God would just be a tyrant.

      3. Let me put it this way… as simply as I can:

        Child 1: beats, rapes, tortures… murders Child 2.

        Parent watches, can stop it at any time, does nothing. Is that a lousy parent? Use what ever yard stick you want to for good vs bad parenting. Be it morals, or simply trying to enforce either god’s or man’s law.

        You really are trying to avoid answering that one, aren’t you?

        Yes or no. It really is simple. Please, try to answer honestly, in a single word… then justify by all means.

      4. “Use what ever yard stick you want to for good vs bad parenting.”

        Ok, I’ll use nature as my yardstick, eaglets tend to push each other out of the nest, thus killing each other, until one is left. One parent could stay and make sure this doesn’t happen, neither do anything to prevent it.

        So on that yardstick, no, leaving them is not bad parenting, it’s recognising the right of the fittest to fight to prevent competition over resources.

        So, again, what yardstick are you using to define inaction, which I’ve pointed out why I disagree with the assumption, is bad lousy parenting.

        Understand now why I have every right to ask for the yardstick, and if you want an honest answer, you have to give me what your yardstick is?

      5. I’d call it piss-poor parenting. I would say that you should either step in or the children should be removed from your care. Alternatively I would assume ABSENCE entirely and move the children to another parent.

        However you never say no that’s not bad parenting. So you’re all for natural law? But you’ve also argued above against that?

        Heck dude you are very inconsistent.

      6. You missed the point Robert, you are the one who accepts a purely naturalistic framework, and under that framework, it can be argued that it isn’t bad parenting. Why can’t you just explain what yardstick you are using to judge it as bad parenting, it’s obviously not a naturalistic framework? Or is your refusal to give an answer here the fact that your judgement is based purely on moral grounds, not on naturalistic ones?

      7. Ok, so we’ve ascertained that you claim that morality is not an issue, but you have no reason to call this “piss poor parenting” unless you acknowledge that it is a moral view, this is inconsistent. In the post on subjective morality you made no attempt to back up you belief in subjective morality, so I can assume you have no basis for your claims, and therefore your argument is invalid.

  3. My moral compass argument fits in quite well here..
    Every person is born with a need to help his fellow man.. which is why we sit in our comfortable homes saying things like “my little contribution won’t help”.. In an attempt to silence that inner voice that tells us that the suffering is wrong.. While there isn’t much chance of a giant hand coming out of the sky and plucking those starving kids out of their situation… Perhaps God designed us to do that for him by hearing that inner voice instead of drowning it out with macdonalds and sitcoms…

    1. I like that point… “While there isn’t much chance of a giant hand coming out of the sky and plucking those starving kids out of their situation”

      Seems said giant hand has simply been more busy smiting those that look over their shoulders… shave… eat pork… what ever.

      Ultimately I’d call that passing the buck. You’re expecting people to do so and not holding god accountable. Yet hold people accountable and not expecting god to do anything. I’d consider that inconsistent.

      Shouldn’t god be infinitely more powerful, more able… and more willing?

      1. Last time I checked there hasn’t been a really good smiting for over 2000 years now? (Smidoz I may need your knowledge of history for confirmation)
        I shave, think bacon is fantastic (my apologies to the vegetarians among us), and apparently according to you commit a fair amount of smitable offences every day… And apart from a few penances that are expected to make amends for my sins (yes I’m catholic) I haven’t been smited yet…
        It appears that you fear the wrath of God more than you are prepared to admit…

      2. Not at all Scott…

        However you bring up a good point. Not a single case that can be attibuted to a giant hand? Um… total absence? Or just not there for good, bad or otherwise.

        Again… non-existent? Or simply doesn’t care either way?

      3. Nice one, ignoring any records of supernatural intervention, then claiming there isn’t any. Think about it, people claim to have seen dead loved ones, I don’t believe they have, but I do believe it’s possible that supernatural involvement is there. NDEs, I don’t believe that’s what they are but I believe supernatural involvement could be there. The Bible, provides records, so do other ancient works, you weren’t there, so you really can’t say that it isn’t true. Please provide me with your great insight into every single recorded event regarding the supernatural, and an explanation, with evidence, of why every single one is invalid. I don’t think you have enough knowledge or experience of such things to actually use the absence of evidence argument.

      4. Not a single claim of the supernatural has been verified. To the best of my knowledge there have been a few cases have been left open as they couldn’t be proven or disproven.

        If you have evidence… please share.

        But you’re saying the Bible and other ancient works provide truth… but these are people that would believe you to be a witch should you hand them a lighter and then make fire. In all fairness that would be like someone finding a Harry Potter novel years from now and believing that a battle of magicians saved the world or a copy of Lord of the Rings and believing in Frodo’s journey (it’s quite a complete book with many annotations background information – Hobbit, Silmarillion and other supporting works).

        That’s just not conclusive.

        Of course the absence of evidence is a valid argument on the supernatural. Or else I’m claiming faries at the bottom of my garden… Which honestly is true. 😉

      5. Not a single claim of evolution has been verified, it’s based on observations that people who weren’t there had. The supernatural claims are ones by people who were there, so possibly somewhat more reliable. This isn’t proof, but you can’t rule it out as evidence. Besides, you want it verified by naturalistic means, in which case it wouldn’t be supernatural, can you really not understand that?

        As for absence of evidence, you’ve done it again, you’ve said there’s none, after ignoring what there is. Do you know absolutely everything Robert? Simple yes or no.

  4. “Without being exposed to the terrible consequences of our actions, we would never have a full understanding of the consequences, and wouldn’t really be able to say we fully understand the moral code.” — so are you stating morlity is subjective then. because without being exposed we would not fully understand ? so now you have a group that lets say understand and a group that don’t . Both with different opinion which are subjective due to their experience!? am I going mad or does this not show morality is subjective straight from the horses mouth ?

    1. Seriously? Would anyone understand the effects of magnetic fields or gravity without exposure to the consequences. The problem here is, if people who use this criticism were actually sincere about understanding why people believed in a benevolent deity, they’d look at the belief on the terms of the belief. I see evolution as defunct on the grounds that it isn’t making logical use of all the evidence available, but claims to be science, I meet it on its terms. You will not meet belief of a benevolent deity on it’s terms, which would have morality as an absolute, like gravity, which is actually logical. I’m sure I’ve pointed out elsewhere that religious people are often accused of trying to make everything fit there own dogma, but, this little exercise serves to prove that atheists are no different. And yes, you’ve completely missed the point, if everything that we had to learn about was subjective, then science is subjective, and therefore our entire view of reality is subjective too.

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