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Subject: (For hammurabi70): A Response to "Tough Questions" about Christianity rss

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This post is more than a bit rambly. In a recent thread, hammurabi70 offered up the ChristianityExplored website and in particular its "Tough Questions" section and asked, "Is there a tough question you think should be answered that is not?"

Having read through several of the questions there, I think the answer is more than a mere 'yes'. I'd suggest that very few of the questions there are tough at all -- most of them are either mundane or straw-men versions of tough questions -- and the answers do not deal with the tough issues.

As an example, let's consider the question hammurabi pointed another poster to: "Hasn't science shown that Christianity is wrong?" This is a straw-man question, because almost no one (and none of the leading atheists) actually claims this. If anything, most atheists point to the unfalsifiability of God as a bigger issue and that the problem with God is not evidence against but lack of evidence for.

That said, there's a version of the question that is indeed a challenge for Christians and it would go something like this, "How do you address the fact that there are things the Bible seems to say about the physical world that have been proven false? Examples include the age of the earth, the Noachian Flood and the origin of species."

This isn't an unanswerable question, but IMO an honest answer requires addressing the fact that for centuries leading Christian scholars did indeed think that the Bible made pretty straightforward claims about the history of the world. They thought that the story of Noah was literal, that the Earth was on the order of 10K years old and that all living things had been created by God alongside humans. In other words, they didn't merely lack positive knowledge of common descent, an earth age in the billions or the absence of a global flood they thought they had clear statements of fact from the Bible...which happened to be wrong.

The "answer" does none of this. It ignores the actual tension between the Bible (as understood for centuries) and empirical data and instead just says that we need both.

Then there's the question of why God allows suffering. This is a rich question, and one of very few on the site that isn't written to make the answer easy. Unfortunately, "Dawn" gives the easy answer anyway:

Dawn's answer wrote:
It’s a huge question, isn’t it? Hardly a day goes by when we don’t come across suffering. Devastation caused by earthquakes and tsunamis… millions living in poverty… children being abused… family breakdowns… bullying… people suffer. We suffer. So it’s right to say to God: “God, if you’re there, why don’t you do something about it?”

Well, imagine we could actually tell God what to do. Where would you suggest he starts? How about God gets rid of the terrorists and the murderers. That would mean a lot less suffering for many people—but suffering hasn’t been eradicated yet. How about God deals with the paedophiles and the drug dealers and the thieves? We can see the world’s getting a much better place, but it’s still not perfect.

How about God gets rid of the unkind, the gossips, the liars, the selfish—oh, but that’s actually me.

You see, when we ask God to get rid of suffering, we’re actually asking him to get rid of us.


In just two paragraphs Dawn moves from child abuse and earthquakes to gossip and conflates them. It's the most facile and trivial answer, and one that I don't think survives a moment of serious scrutiny. Would you rather someone gossip about you or torture you to death? Would you rather someone be unkind or lie to you...or be buried alive in an earthquake and die of thirst and internal bleeding?

Or imagine someone (we'll call him "Joe") came across someone raping and torturing someone else. Imagine that Joe did nothing. He didn't intervene, didn't call out for the person to stop, didn't call 911, not because he was afraid but he just chose not to. Imagine that when confronted by widespread outcry Joe chided us saying, "Hang on, if you think I should stop someone from raping and torturing aren't you really demanding that I also stop you from leaving your dog's poop on the sidewalk or telling a joke at your neighbor's expense?"

No, Joe, we wouldn't be. And the problem of evil can't be dismissed by pretending that all imperfections are equal.

There are times when it feels like the best evidence against some religious views are the apologetics offered up in their defense. Reading through this site and its "tough questions" is one of those times.
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C.S. Lewis came to essentially the same conclusion as Dawn, but fills in the details along the way a bit better, in The Problem of Pain. It's a good read if you haven't already.

You see, when we ask God to get rid of suffering, we’re actually asking him to get rid of us. --Dawn

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself. --C.S. Lewis

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In regards to Dawn's explanation for lack of divine intervention she is lacking in that she automatically elevates the solution to "getting rid of" people who cause suffering. Yeah, if that was the only way God could intervene, her argument would make sense. It's a gross oversimplification of the possibilities of divine intervention.

A simple way a God could intervene to reduce human-caused suffering would be to give more concrete evidence of their existence. People cause other people suffering because deep down they think they can get away with it. Either they really doubt there are any consequences in the afterlife, or they don't think there is a God at all. I mean deep down, under the layers of cultural lip service many people pay to organized religion.

A little reality would go a long way to bringing many people in line. Sort of along the lines of "keeping honest people honest". In fact, if a particular God actually came down and divinely "repaired" the most damaged people who commit the most heinous suffering, that would herd in much of the flock. Especially in todays age of communication. Presenting your miracles to a bunch of people in pre an early recorded history doesn't sell modern people very well. Make yourself known to all people and do some kick-ass miracle nowadays, and the effects will be concrete for a long time. I guess what I am saying is the bible isn't enough for many people to not cause suffering in others and the Christian God, by definition, has to know this. By not firming up his legacy he is causing needless suffering.
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Pat answers to tough questions is just stupid in my opinion. I think more people would be helped if they didn't get pat answers and instead got answers like "I don't really know but let me help you with what you're going through."

However, the site isn't as bad as you presented it. Did you click on the Go Deeper section?
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TheChin! wrote:
In regards to Dawn's explanation for lack of divine intervention she is lacking in that she automatically elevates the solution to "getting rid of" people who cause suffering. Yeah, if that was the only way God could intervene, her argument would make sense. It's a gross oversimplification of the possibilities of divine intervention.

A simple way a God could intervene to reduce human-caused suffering would be to give more concrete evidence of their existence. People cause other people suffering because deep down they think they can get away with it. Either they really doubt there are any consequences in the afterlife, or they don't think there is a God at all. I mean deep down, under the layers of cultural lip service many people pay to organized religion.

A little reality would go a long way to bringing many people in line. Sort of along the lines of "keeping honest people honest". In fact, if a particular God actually came down and divinely "repaired" the most damaged people who commit the most heinous suffering, that would herd in much of the flock. Especially in todays age of communication. Presenting your miracles to a bunch of people in pre an early recorded history doesn't sell modern people very well. Make yourself known to all people and do some kick-ass miracle nowadays, and the effects will be concrete for a long time. I guess what I am saying is the bible isn't enough for many people to not cause suffering in others and the Christian God, by definition, has to know this. By not firming up his legacy he is causing needless suffering.


Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.
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Lord_Prussian wrote:
Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.

What you're presenting is the "Mother Theresa" version of reality: "suffering is good for the soul, so you should cause as much of it as possible". It's BS.

If you can't identify the benefits in advance, you can't justify the suffering.

Of course this doesn't meen an omnipotent being has a responsibility to anyone else. But there's more than anough evidence to disprove any claims of the combination "omnipotent AND benevolent".

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Lord_Prussian wrote:

Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.


The Mother Theresa angle eh? You are right, much of the suffering that occurs by the hands of other people doesn't connect with anything good in my mind. Either that comes from lack of perspective and knowledge OR it comes from my inability to rationalize away suffering as having some unknowable purpose. If there is a God, I say make me know and understand that purpose or I am going to remain skeptical there is one. As it stands now, I'm not very respectful of how things work around here.

EDIT: I went to the john with this post written but not submitted and the other poster beat me to the punch!
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Lord_Prussian wrote:
TheChin! wrote:
In regards to Dawn's explanation for lack of divine intervention she is lacking in that she automatically elevates the solution to "getting rid of" people who cause suffering. Yeah, if that was the only way God could intervene, her argument would make sense. It's a gross oversimplification of the possibilities of divine intervention.

A simple way a God could intervene to reduce human-caused suffering would be to give more concrete evidence of their existence. People cause other people suffering because deep down they think they can get away with it. Either they really doubt there are any consequences in the afterlife, or they don't think there is a God at all. I mean deep down, under the layers of cultural lip service many people pay to organized religion.

A little reality would go a long way to bringing many people in line. Sort of along the lines of "keeping honest people honest". In fact, if a particular God actually came down and divinely "repaired" the most damaged people who commit the most heinous suffering, that would herd in much of the flock. Especially in todays age of communication. Presenting your miracles to a bunch of people in pre an early recorded history doesn't sell modern people very well. Make yourself known to all people and do some kick-ass miracle nowadays, and the effects will be concrete for a long time. I guess what I am saying is the bible isn't enough for many people to not cause suffering in others and the Christian God, by definition, has to know this. By not firming up his legacy he is causing needless suffering.


Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.


That's a complete cop out. So the answer to 'why?' is 'we don't know but there must be a good reason' How you get to that twisted logic is beyond me. I could apply the same logic to ANY act I do to justify it. Where is the moral credibility in that?
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Halfinger wrote:

That's a complete cop out. So the answer to 'why?' is 'we don't know but there must be a good reason' How you get to that twisted logic is beyond me. I could apply the same logic to ANY act I do to justify it. Where is the moral credibility in that?


It does allow some shady justifications. Anywhere from "I allow that suffering to continue, as it is God's unknowable purpose and to prevent it is to go against his will" to "God allows and metes out suffering for his unknown purposes, and any suffering I cause is the will of God and therefore righteous."
 
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TheChin! wrote:
Halfinger wrote:

That's a complete cop out. So the answer to 'why?' is 'we don't know but there must be a good reason' How you get to that twisted logic is beyond me. I could apply the same logic to ANY act I do to justify it. Where is the moral credibility in that?


It does allow some shady justifications. Anywhere from "I allow that suffering to continue, as it is God's unknowable purpose and to prevent it is to go against his will" to "God allows and metes out suffering for his unknown purposes, and any suffering I cause is the will of God and therefore righteous."


I've never heard anyone use those 'justifications.'
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quozl wrote:
Pat answers to tough questions is just stupid in my opinion. I think more people would be helped if they didn't get pat answers and instead got answers like "I don't really know but let me help you with what you're going through."


Agreed.

Quote:
However, the site isn't as bad as you presented it. Did you click on the Go Deeper section?


Yes, although I didn't think it improved on things. In the "suffering" section it got even worse.
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Lord_Prussian wrote:
Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.


I freely admit that I lack enough imagination to come up with a credible "greater good" that depends on children being raped.
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Lord_Prussian wrote:
C.S. Lewis came to essentially the same conclusion as Dawn, but fills in the details along the way a bit better, in The Problem of Pain. It's a good read if you haven't already.

You see, when we ask God to get rid of suffering, we’re actually asking him to get rid of us. --Dawn

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself. --C.S. Lewis



Lewis is fascinating to me, not so much for his writing but for the diametrically different assessments people have of it. It's very common in my experience for theists to present Lewis as an excellent apologist, perhaps one of the greatest. Atheists, meanwhile, seem almost always to come away from reading his work with a puzzled sense of, "Really? That's supposed to have been good?"

I'm definitely in the latter camp. I think Lewis loads his arguments with unsupported premises and invalid inferences.

As for the quoted statement, I think it's absolutely absurd to think that a being capable of creating people as we are now couldn't have done so without making some of them pedophiles or rapists.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:

As for the quoted statement, I think it's absolutely absurd to think that a being capable of creating people as we are now couldn't have done so without making some of them pedophiles or rapists.


You've created some children. How can you ensure that they will never do anything 'evil' or hurt another person?
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Chad is not omnipotent the last time I checked.
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doubtofbuddha wrote:
Chad is not omnipotent the last time I checked.


Granted, but the thought exercise can still be helpful. To say that it could have been done some other way seems a bit hollow if you don't even have an alternative to put forth.

 
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neoshmengi wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
Chad is not omnipotent the last time I checked.


Granted, but the thought exercise can still be helpful. To say that it could have been done some other way seems a bit hollow if you don't even have an alternative to put forth.


God* is capable of creating me. Even if we assume that God is not omniscient or even close to it, this means he is capable of creating someone whose flaws do not include a desire to have sex with children, enjoyment in the suffering of others, and whose traits includes a strong revulsion to the idea of non-consensual sex. All the free will in the world won't cause me to abuse my children.

I'm hardly a paragon of virtue, but if just creating people with my drives would be sufficient to eliminate child-rape it doesn't seem like it should present much of a challenge to God.





*Assuming, for the sake of argument, that God exists.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
neoshmengi wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
Chad is not omnipotent the last time I checked.


Granted, but the thought exercise can still be helpful. To say that it could have been done some other way seems a bit hollow if you don't even have an alternative to put forth.


God* is capable of creating me. Even if we assume that God is not omniscient or even close to it, this means he is capable of creating someone whose flaws do not include a desire to have sex with children, enjoyment in the suffering of others, and whose traits includes a strong revulsion to the idea of non-consensual sex. All the free will in the world won't cause me to abuse my children.

I'm hardly a paragon of virtue, but if just creating people with my drives would be sufficient to eliminate child-rape it doesn't seem like it should present much of a challenge to God.

*Assuming, for the sake of argument, that God exists.


Even if he is capable, perhaps there would be more 'net evil' in the world if he did it your way?
 
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gyc365 wrote:
Lord_Prussian wrote:
Needless by whose measure? Much of our perceived problem of suffering comes from our lack of perspective and knowledge of the potential greater good resulting from the suffering.

What you're presenting is the "Mother Theresa" version of reality: "suffering is good for the soul, so you should cause as much of it as possible". It's BS.


Grrrrr ... Mother Theresa never advocated "causing" suffering. shake She said there were benefits that could be attained by dealing with personal suffering in a healthy way. (her recommended path being to trust in God and work to ALLEVIATE the suffering around you)

Please don't bother to start referencing Hitchen's self serving, loaded and unsubstantiated pile of horseshit as a reply.

I have read reems of her writing, including many ideas about suffering and NEVER EVER does she advocate inflicting harm or suffering on ANYBODY. Her life was dedicated to relieving suffering.

However she taught that Joy could be reclaimed from suffering if you had the right mind set.

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

“Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”

The worldwide morning prayer of the Missionaries of Charity:

Dear Lord, the Great Healer, I kneel before you, since every perfect gift must come from you. I pray, give skill to my hands, clear vision to my mind, kindness and meakness to my heart. Give me singleness of purpose, strength to lift up a part of the burden of my suffering fellowmen, and a realization of the privelege that is mine. Take from my heart all guile and worldliness, that with the simple faith of a child, I may rely on you. Amen.




Quote:


If you can't identify the benefits in advance, you can't justify the suffering.


First of all ... nobody can deny that sometimes there are benefits from suffering. The question becomes is that a good that is recovered from a bad or the original intent.

I think a comprehensive reading of the biblical scriptures makes clear that the ORIGINAL intent was a world without suffering. The role suffering plays in our "recovery" from a fallen state is a complex theological issue.

That God has chosen to share our suffering out of love for us is unimaginable if you stop to really consider it.

Quote:

Of course this doesn't meen an omnipotent being has a responsibility to anyone else. But there's more than anough evidence to disprove any claims of the combination "omnipotent AND benevolent".



That is your opinion but hardly one that can be stated with any "conclusive" assurance. Millions of people routinely conclude exactly the opposite.

That there is a greater goal that is beyond suffering and which cannot be achieved without the risk of suffering is something that God in omnipotence could know and allow while still being benevolent.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
God* is capable of creating me. Even if we assume that God is not omniscient or even close to it, this means he is capable of creating someone whose flaws do not include a desire to have sex with children, enjoyment in the suffering of others, and whose traits includes a strong revulsion to the idea of non-consensual sex. All the free will in the world won't cause me to abuse my children.


The flaw in your argument, of course, is that just because he's capable of creating you doesn't mean he's capable of creating everything about you.
It may be quite similar to creating a child from a sperm and an egg.
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
neoshmengi wrote:
doubtofbuddha wrote:
Chad is not omnipotent the last time I checked.


Granted, but the thought exercise can still be helpful. To say that it could have been done some other way seems a bit hollow if you don't even have an alternative to put forth.


God* is capable of creating me. Even if we assume that God is not omniscient or even close to it, this means he is capable of creating someone whose flaws do not include a desire to have sex with children, enjoyment in the suffering of others, and whose traits includes a strong revulsion to the idea of non-consensual sex. All the free will in the world won't cause me to abuse my children.

I'm hardly a paragon of virtue, but if just creating people with my drives would be sufficient to eliminate child-rape it doesn't seem like it should present much of a challenge to God.





*Assuming, for the sake of argument, that God exists.


The problem of course becomes... are people created with those "drives" or does corruption happen after they are "created". Nature vs. Nurture. Cause and effect. Free will choices. Etc.

And the bigger problem comes with scope of view. I agree with you that Dawn's equation of gossip to all other evils seems trivializing. But that is because I think you are missing a vital point in Christian teaching.

One of the key points to Christian teaching is that all of us are capable of great atrocities. That is why we have to guard our hearts and minds. And why judging others "hearts" is such a forbidden path. Since we cannot know how we would fare in their place.

It is easy to draw the line of people whose free will should be eliminated at some point beyond where our own personal evil tendencies lay.

The malicious gossip (Who can do great and lasting harm to others, note how scarred may people who come out from High School are) is under no LESS of a command to submit his/her evil nature to God to be remade than a rapist or a child molester. And in the long view all evil not given up to "rehabilitation" via free will choice will grow into a greater and greater capacity for more vile forms of evil.

We judge evil by the standards of scale we "see" as possible. But for a moment consider that there are much greater evils possible than what we can actually achieve.

If rape and child molestation were so impossible they became "non-concepts" than wouldn't the same arguments you are espousing be being made about murder? If that were eliminated than the new scale of what is the worst thing possible would become torture perhaps? At some point as each level of possibility is eliminated it would come down to gossip and taunting were the worst thing anybody could imagine and they would be the pinnacle of evil we "faced". Or perhaps just not sharing could become the pinnacle of evil in our minds. But the question would then become was that a realistic "test" for the greater reality that awaits us?

It is my personal belief that being trapped in our mortal frames and limited to this "physical" world while we work out the kind of creatures we will become is exactly the kind of limits you are advocating, just on a scale we don't all recognize. I think there are much greater evils possible than we imagine. Fear not that which can destroy the body, but rather fear that which can destroy your soul, just for starters. What about that which could destroy many souls? Or could create new souls for the express purpose of tormenting them?

If we are to be true Children, who eventually will be allowed the very powers of creation in our own right at some point we must learn the lessons and past the tests that will keep us from becoming demonic with our power and pride. How can we be trusted to be benevolent ourselves when we have true power if we cannot learn/prove ourselves to be benevolent at all costs here in this place were our powers are so very limited? How can we learn to truly empathize with our creations if we cannot empathize with our equals?

To be allowed access to nigh onto absolute power we must first become "incorruptible". Those who will not rise above themselves and submit themselves to a code of "good" without outside limitations, will eventually be limited to power over nobody expect possibly themselves.

God certainly could create nothing but creatures incapable of evil. But in the process they would be incapable of choosing their own paths or becoming anything except exactly what they had been created as. With no chance to grow into something new.
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quozl wrote:
Chad_Ellis wrote:
God* is capable of creating me. Even if we assume that God is not omniscient or even close to it, this means he is capable of creating someone whose flaws do not include a desire to have sex with children, enjoyment in the suffering of others, and whose traits includes a strong revulsion to the idea of non-consensual sex. All the free will in the world won't cause me to abuse my children.


The flaw in your argument, of course, is that just because he's capable of creating you doesn't mean he's capable of creating everything about you.
It may be quite similar to creating a child from a sperm and an egg.


Sure. The POE/POS arises if and only if the alleged attributes of God conflict with the existence of evil/suffering. On the moral side, if God is indifferent to suffering the problem vanishes (as a theological problem). If God is alleged to be a sadist and wants us to suffer there would be a problem of happiness/good instead.

Similarly, if God's science is so far short of omni that he has no more influence over how I turn out than I have over my daughters (or less!) then the problem is either greatly reduced or eliminated altogether.

As I've often said, the word "God" signifies a great many different things to different people. If I say that X is a problem for those arguing for the existence of God, the unspoken assumption is that we're talking about a particular God concept.

I doubt most Christians would agree with your conception for God, but I'm happy to acknowledge that some "problems" don't apply to it.
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Meerkat wrote:
The problem of course becomes... are people created with those "drives" or does corruption happen after they are "created". Nature vs. Nurture. Cause and effect. Free will choices. Etc.


Sure. Most Christians I've spoken with believe that God was fully aware of what we would do at the point of creation. Some hold that belief due to full omniscience; others to God being "outside time" (which I don't personally think is a coherent idea, although I could always be wrong).

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And the bigger problem comes with scope of view. I agree with you that Dawn's equation of gossip to all other evils seems trivializing. But that is because I think you are missing a vital point in Christian teaching.

One of the key points to Christian teaching is that all of us are capable of great atrocities. That is why we have to guard our hearts and minds. And why judging others "hearts" is such a forbidden path. Since we cannot know how we would fare in their place.

It is easy to draw the line of people whose free will should be eliminated at some point beyond where our own personal evil tendencies lay.

The malicious gossip (Who can do great and lasting harm to others, note how scarred may people who come out from High School are) is under no LESS of a command to submit his/her evil nature to God to be remade than a rapist or a child molester. And in the long view all evil not given up to "rehabilitation" via free will choice will grow into a greater and greater capacity for more vile forms of evil.

We judge evil by the standards of scale we "see" as possible. But for a moment consider that there are much greater evils possible than what we can actually achieve.

If rape and child molestation were so impossible they became "non-concepts" than wouldn't the same arguments you are espousing be being made about murder? If that were eliminated than the new scale of what is the worst thing possible would become torture perhaps? At some point as each level of possibility is eliminated it would come down to gossip and taunting were the worst thing anybody could imagine and they would be the pinnacle of evil we "faced". Or perhaps just not sharing could become the pinnacle of evil in our minds. But the question would then become was that a realistic "test" for the greater reality that awaits us?


I think you're making the same fundamental mistake that Dawn made in her answer -- treating all evil/suffering as though it's just a question of degree. Thus, if we eliminate the far end of the scale we just get a new 'far end' and it's just as big a problem.

The reason I think this is a mistake is that there is a difference between adversity that builds and adversity that destroys. That is to say, the "evil" that has been done to me in my own life is fundamentally different than the rape of a child, or someone being tortured to where their mind breaks and never recovers. Of course we can only speculate as to how we'd think in a hypothetical world, but if the worst anyone did was "not sharing" then I don't think we'd have a problem of evil debate.

I'm going to snip the rest because it's not really something I can respond meaningfully to. It's essentially the "sufficient justification" defense, and while I give you credit for offering a specific justification (far too many just say, "Maybe God has a really good reason we don't know about") I still don't see why it would be that some souls only need to be tested with what I go through while others need to be tortured to death, gang-raped or die of starvation.
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Kelsey Rinella
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Rochester
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Meerkat wrote:
I think there are much greater evils possible than we imagine. Fear not that which can destroy the body, but rather fear that which can destroy your soul, just for starters. What about that which could destroy many souls? Or could create new souls for the express purpose of tormenting them?


This seems inconsistent.

More generally, if free will is the goal, why allow evil which reduces freedom?
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Chad_Ellis wrote:
I think you're making the same fundamental mistake that Dawn made in her answer -- treating all evil/suffering as though it's just a question of degree. Thus, if we eliminate the far end of the scale we just get a new 'far end' and it's just as big a problem.


The simplest way to put it is that suffering is inevitable. There is no possible system that could do away with it. God has looked at all the possibilities and this is the very best one.

Some suffering is necessary, but most comes about because of the wrong choices that people make.

God knew that there would be suffering, so he sent His Son to provide an atonement so that all the scars that people would get from their suffering could be rectified.
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