The problem of suffering

Bruce Gerencser points toward a discussion at Bart Ehrman’s (paywalled) blog taking-up the problem of suffering. Ehrman writes …

I’m not completely sure when I first started realizing that the enormous amount of suffering in the world, so much of it completely gratuitous, is a problem for anyone who believes that there is a loving and powerful God who is in control of what happens.

This points toward what is known as the “problem of evil:” Why does an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good god permit evil (or, suffering)?

Ehrman rightly concludes that the inadequacy of any proposed solution to the problem, or theodicy, ought to bother believers. For my part, I think that the so-called problem points to the intellectual unseriousness of theology.

Notice: As posed, the question posits three premises — god is all-knowing (hence, aware of suffering), god is all-powerful (hence, capable of alleviating suffering), all-good (hence, wants to relieve suffering). But there is a fourth, antecedent and unspoken, premise: God exists. Here, it seems to me, is exactly where the sleight-of-hand comes in. If you can’t prove god exists — and every theologian and Holy Man on earth freely concedes that when they prescribe faith, or belief without evidence — then how can you make claims about god’s attributes? The setup actually looks like this:

  1. I can’t prove My Invisible Friend exists, but he does.

  2. I can’t prove it, but My Invisible Friend knows about suffering.

  3. I can’t prove it, but My Invisible Friend could make suffering go away any time he chose.

  4. I can’t prove it, but My Invisible Friend wants suffering to go away.

And what is the (so-called) problem of evil? This: Why doesn’t the world look as we’d expect it to look if those four unproven premises are correct?

Please. This is not intellectually serious; it’s nothing but tarted-up make-believe. It never rises to the level of a bona fide problem.

If you look through an engineer’s files, you will find page after page after page of calculations — and every single line of those calculations has a pedigree. You will find right triangles, and the solution of the length of a hypotenuse can be traced all the way back to Pythagoras in ~ 550 BC. You will find geometry that can be traced back to Euclid’s Elements. You will find calculus, and Isaac Newton’s proof of his techniques is in the public domain. For every equation in physics, electronics, mechanics … there is a pedigree, a history that names a specific individual who made an observation, explained it, and all those afterward who contested the explanation, refined it, improved it, tested it.

But theologians can’t even be sure that Jesus ever existed; remember that next time you hear one of them sneer at ‘materialism’ and aggrandize themselves as learned men.

This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink.