God and the human condition of suffering

Edge, John Martin (2021). God and the human condition of suffering. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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The five papers that follow are set in the context of the problem of, or argument from, evil. I have chosen to discuss, in that context, three topics that are of special interest to me in the hope that what I have to say about them may make a useful contribution to literature on the subject. The topics discussed are, first, the inductive evidential version of the argument from evil considered in light of the subjectivity of human experience; second, the question of attributing blame to God for causing or allowing human suffering; and, third, God’s knowledge of the human condition of suffering.

The topic discussed in paper one is the inductive version of the evidential argument from evil, considered in light of the subjectivity of human experiences. I argue that when the latter is taken into account, not only does the evidential problem of evil have less force than might be expected, it also becomes impossible to formulate it in a straightforward way that would be understood and/or accepted by everyone engaged with the problem.

Paper two is concerned with James F. Ross’ argument for the illegitimacy of blaming God for the existence of evil even though God has, or shares, responsibility for it. Ross’ contention is that once the relation between God and the created world is understood, it will be clear that God is isolated from, rather than the deserver of, blame. The argument offers a neat and rather ingenious response to those who contend that evil threatens God’s perfect goodness. There can be no such threat, argues Ross. Viewed sympathetically, I try to fill in some of the gaps Ross leaves open in an attempt to see how far the argument may be defended against objections. In the end, however, I give reasons why the theist should not accept it.

The subject of paper three is the Free Will Theodicy, which attempts to isolate God from blame for our suffering. Among the conditions necessary for the Theodicy to be effective are (a) that created agents possess the God-given gift of free will to do good and/or cause suffering, and (b) that free will has such a high, positive, and invariant value that God desires us to keep it even if suffering may be the result. If either condition is false, the Theodicy is undermined. I grant (a) but argue against (b) by showing that the value of free will is sensitive to the context in which it is exercised. Specifically, the value can be low or zero, or even negative depending on the context. To argue for this I appeal to our intuitions concerning right and wrong supported by scientific method. The consequence is that the Theodicy is seriously undermined.

Set in contexts of the argument from unsurpassability and the argument from evil, in the fourth paper I examine four accounts addressing the question of the kind of world we should expect an unsurpassable being to create, and whether ours is that kind of world. It seems that God must create the best world He can in order to remain unsurpassable and hence free from blame, but is it likely that, given the existence of evil, our world is the best? I examine four accounts that attempt to establish that our world can be regarded as the creation of God. Only one of these argues that God need not create the best. The other accounts try to show that evil is somehow insignificant or non-existent, and ought not to feature in our judgements about the quality of the world. But much depends on one’s point of view. From God’s perspective the world may appear better than it does from ours. No account explains how, given the world’s evils, it is consistent with having been created by God from our point of view.

The fifth and final paper addresses the question of whether the God of traditional theism can have knowledge of what it is like for His creatures to experience pain and suffering. I explain why God should have this knowledge, and also why attributing it to Him is problematic. The possibility of doing so depends on how the nature of God and that of ourselves are conceived. I discuss three such conceptions: (a) that God is a spirit and we are physically embodied (the traditional conception); (b) that both God and ourselves are spirits (the idealist conception); and (c) that God is one substance and we are parts of God (the pantheist conception). I argue that it is only according to (c) that the knowledge attribution is plausible. But we are then left with the task of rendering the pantheistic God consistent with what the traditional theist wants to say about Him, and how such a conception is affected by the existence of evil.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion, Department of Philosophy
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/11832


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