Monday, 18 March 2013

Free will, the torturer and the tortured

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If free will is real - as it is - then the extreme torturer (and nobody and nothing else) really is responsible for his choice to inflict torment.

But who is responsible for the mind-destroying agony of the torturer's victim?

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Whose will or choice is it that such a degree of suffering can be experienced, and is experienced?

Does the pain of a torture victim matter? Is it insignificant in 'the larger scheme of things'? Or a means to a greater end?...

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What kind of Father could ever will the experience of torture upon any of his children for any reason?

Not a loving Father.

Ergo it is not His choice, or will; it happens (here, now) because He cannot (not will not) always stop it happening (not here, not now).

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But He can and does always heal its consequences (in Time).

That is the best He can do; and He does it.  

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27 comments:

  1. I am not sure what you mean by "can not". Do you mean that God cannot physically stop the torturer? Or that God cannot stop the torturer, and still have the world serve its purpose?

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  2. @MC - The first. Because if He could, He surely would. Or rather, the only way to stop the torture would be to end the experiment and destroy the world and everybody and everything in it. (To save one of His Sons by killing them all...) This is the tragedy of God, the cause of His vast sorrow.

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  3. I don’t understand the reasoning here. Torture is an abuse of a natural, created feature of our body that serves a purpose. Just like people can abuse sex, people can abuse the body’s capacity for experiencing pain. God could step in and stop abuses of sex, but then his creation wouldn’t be free.

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  4. @BB - No, you don't understand!

    You need to focus on this: "But who is responsible for the mind-destroying agony of the torturer's victim? Whose will or choice is it that such a degree of suffering can be experienced, and is experienced?"

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  5. Bruce,

    Where does this put miracles? You believe that sometimes God is able to perform miracles that save people from dangers (including the pain of torture), and other times is not able to?

    What about prayers? Can God hear our prayers sometimes, but other times cannot hear them?

    Jesus can walk on water and raise the dead, but cannot give relief from pain to a torture victim?

    I believe very strongly that there IS a good answer to the theodicy question, but a God who cannot perform miracles (because He can and does at other times!) is not it.

    The answer to the question of evil is -- without genuine evil, without real choice, and the real experience of pain and suffering (always temporary, as this life is so very short), there can be no genuine goodness.

    Faith requires REAL trust, requires the possibility of rejecting God to be real. If one is compelled to believe via a Schlaraffenland world, then there is no value to it. It doesn't require us to give up anything.

    There is more to it than just this, but I can't go into it without a great deal of additional verbiage that doesn't belong as a comment to this post. . .

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  6. Let me take this just a bit further.

    Do you not know that Jesus was aware that many of his own disciples would be tortured and killed? Of course He did. "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me."

    Forget about the Father. Why did the Son allow this to happen to them? Peter could have lived the rest of his life catching fish, but Jesus put him in harm's way -- knowingly -- by calling him as a disciple. And most of the disciples paid the same price, martyrdom.

    This temporary world of time and space, birth and death, requires genuine sacrifice, genuine suffering, genuine decisions to be made, to believe or to not. And so, God does not ALWAYS save us from physical pain and even emotional suffering.

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  7. "Whose will or choice is it that such a degree of suffering can be experienced, and is experienced?"

    Indeed. Whose?

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  8. At the root of this question is the meaning of existence itself. Are you working backwards?

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  9. @MC - Of course miracles are real.

    I think you have profoundly misunderstood the nature of my argument.

    My point is that 'Classical' theology makes a universal claim that always at any point and instantly God can do anything and everything.

    Therefore, absolutely everything that has ever happened and will happen is the direct will of God: everything happened because God made and continues to make it happen.

    Classical theology sometimes (not always) tries to make space in this universal determinism for Free Will and a few other exceptions - but essentially this world picture has to be a mystery because no human sense can be made of it.

    A pluralist picture of reality (which is what I propose here, following William James) has never been popular among philosophers because it is not neat - but it answers our up-front philosophical questions much better (at the cost of our ultimate philosophical questions) - and it provides us with the most scripturally-compatible picture of God.

    Ask yourself: to what extent does the Classical philosopher's God, omni God, out of Time, eternal, impassive etc - to what extent does this match-up with God as portrayed in the Bible?

    Is the 'humanity' of the Biblical picture of God a childish literalism which mature intellectuals should put aside - or do the stories featuring this 'character' (working inside Time, by trial and error, with intractable materials including the free agency of humans) actually carry (some of) the essence of our religion?

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  10. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

    Isaiah 45:7

    I think that probably answers your question. It's all God. Now the question of why he does this is a different matter.

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  11. @AT - What I am saying does not contradict anything in that quote, but is entirely and unreservedly consistent with both the letter and the spirit of it; and as you think it does contradict, then it seems you don't understand me.

    For example, there is no doubt that Satan is a Son of God, and that he is evil.

    I just don't see the relevance of this quote to the matter under discussion, either way.

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  12. I wouldn't be surprised if i'm misunderstanding you. I guess i'm not really sure why these thoughts have been preoccupying you lately. It seems like the sort of thing you would have worked through before or during your conversion as opposed to now. I guess i'll just wait until a slightly simpler subject comes up before i chime in again. Any chance of another Middle Earth discussion any time soon? I think i'm probably more qualified to discuss Elves than theodicy, as sad as that is to admit.

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  13. "What kind of Father could ever will the experience of torture upon any of his children for any reason?"

    So, God the Father was against the Passion of the Christ, but unable to prevent it?

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  14. @SG - You need to be able to distinguish between my position, which is that NOT ALL evils can be prevented, and the straw man with which you are replacing that position.

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  15. @AT - " I guess i'm not really sure why these thoughts have been preoccupying you lately. It seems like the sort of thing you would have worked through before or during your conversion as opposed to now."

    Indeed, but things that get worked through don't stay worked through; andsome of the points made by Greg Boyd and Charles Williams have been working inside me.

    Also a comment from Orson Scott Card (a Mormon) which I read a few weeks ago, which I think I shall post...

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  16. I am still trying to grasp what you mean so I am not surprised if my question is off point.

    My best guess as to what you mean is that:

    1. The range of pain we are capable of experiencing goes beyond what a loving God would have built into us or made possible to experience. The God of classical theism is endowed which such power that he could prevent this state of affairs, but as he has not, and as God is loving, we can exclude the God of classical theism as a true reflection of God.

    2. If we read the Bible we will find that the non-omni God fits better with Scripture, even if it does make some ultimate philosophical questions hard to resolve.

    3. The God we do have cannot prevent all evil, at least not without ending the world.

    Where am I going wrong in my understanding?

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  17. @SG - that's fine, it's a fair summary.

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  18. "Ask yourself: to what extent does the Classical philosopher's God, omni God, out of Time, eternal, impassive etc - to what extent does this match-up with God as portrayed in the Bible?"

    I'm not particularly interested in any philosopher's conception of God. All conceptions of God are like drawings on water.

    Is the 'humanity' of the Biblical picture of God a childish literalism which mature intellectuals should put aside - or do the stories featuring this 'character' (working inside Time, by trial and error, with intractable materials including the free agency of humans) actually carry (some of) the essence of our religion?"

    I believe that, yes, the way God was taught to humanity in the Old Testament was appropriate to the collective childhood of humanity, the way Jesus taught God in his first coming was appropriate to a humanity coming upon its youth, and the way God will teach us when Christ returns will be appropriate to a humanity coming into its adulthood.

    "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth. . ."

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  19. It seems, and correct me if I am wrong, crucial to your argument that the loving God that we have could not allow for the capacity for pain that we have.

    Does this include the pain felt in hell by the damned or is it only the pain we feel before death that rules out the classical conception of God?

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  20. @SG - Take care not to jump ahead to places I am not! I never mentioned anything about Hell - I'm talking of our experience here on earth.

    And I am not talking about anything 'ruling out' the Classical conception of God - I am saying that such a God becomes remote, abstract - and something to be submitted-to (rather than someone who loves us and we love).

    Also, the capacity for pain and suffering must be seen in a context which provides great opportunity and capacity for the infliction of pain; and (because of free will) nothing necessarily in place to stop that capacity actually being used to inflict pain and suffering.

    And an omnipotent God, of course, wills all this. When the intent is put into action, when the ultimate in pain and suffering is indeed inflicted and endured, this is necessarily willed by an omnipotent God.

    Although the world is actually full of pain and suffering, all my 'argument' needs is one single instance. The Classical concept requires that each and every instance of the most extreme horror in suffering ever experienced by anyone is done by God's will because God wishes it done - even if this only happened once, my point still stands that this cannot be humanly comprehended as an act of love.

    (Or, at least, not without ballooning up to a remote level of observing abstraction at which pain loses its impact. I have often noticed that most people are very stoical and courageous about enduring other-people's pain.)

    Then I need to introduce the point that, for Christians, it is non-negotiable that God *must* be humanly understood, at least to the extent that we may have a personal relatinship of love. No matter how much mystery and incomprehension remains, Christians should not use mystery and incomprehension to excuse or explain-away major and obvious aspects of human life.

    Albeit incomplete, the Christian concept of God as our Father is something we really must hold onto; and the kind of things that have happened to some people at some times and places cannot sanely be ascribed to a loving Father, as a loving Father is understood by his children.

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  21. This is starting to make sense to me though, I must admit ignorance of what the philosophical implications are. Does this leave a major crack somewhere else?

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  22. @Alex - "Does this leave a major crack somewhere else? "

    Oh yes - all philosophical theories leave cracks. It is a choice of cracks.

    It depends on your priority - my argument is that wrt priorities, in choosing omnipotence Christians are making the wrong choice.

    In choosing omnipotence Christianity is pushed towards an attitude of submission rather than love, and pure monotheism rather than the Trinity; and our most formidable rival religion does that so much better than we do.

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  23. Bruce,

    How does the distinction between God’s positive and God’s permissive will affect the idea you’re trying to get across in this post?

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  24. "And I am not talking about anything 'ruling out' the Classical conception of God"

    I do not understand. I thought you were claiming that the out of time, omnipotent, omniscient classical view of God was wrong. Do you think God is omnipotent? Do you think he is outside time?

    (I still think I might have a deep misunderstanding of your ultimate point).

    "...all my 'argument' needs is one single instance. The Classical concept requires that each and every instance of the most extreme horror in suffering ever experienced by anyone is done by God's will because God wishes it done"

    I do not see how this changes anything. I thought you accepted that he was not responsible for the action of the torturer who has free will (and so does not 'wish' for his tortures) but only for our capacity to experience the pain. Which means only that he wishes us the capacity to feel such pain, despite all the horrible instances of it (that he is fully aware of). So, the question: would a loving God with the classical God's powerful traits have created us with said pain capacity still seems key to the discussion.

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  25. @BB - I am saying that it is 'a distinction without a difference' - each amounts to precisely the same thing.

    @SG - The problem is that I do not know what you are trying to do with these comments? Are you trying to understand my point of view, or to refute it?

    In this blog I am sharing my thoughts with readers. I'm not trying to *persuade* anybody (why would I want to persuade pseudonymous usernames or unknown real names whom I have never met and never will meet?).

    I just try to explain my reasoning and thereby clarify things for myself.

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  26. My main purpose is to learn for myself, but I am also happy if others, whoever they might be, get something good from the experience. So I ask questions and if I think you have something wrong and I think it worthwhile I might try and explain my disagreement.

    Either way, I would have thought the answers to my questions would be the same. I am certainly not trying to 'trick' you or anything. That does not really interest me as I would rather see your best points than your worst as you don't really learn anything from someone tripping up over a minor side point if their overall thinking still contains something good. Indeed, if I thought you were wrong but could see how to make your argument better I would probably suggest it, even if I still thought it was wrong.

    Basically, I am not a lawyer trying a win a case on some kind of technicality, but someone looking to see what you have to say.

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  27. Elijah Armstrong21 March 2013 at 04:17

    Is God, in your opinion, nonomnipotent in an Aquinean sense, i.e., limited only by logic? Or is He more restricted than that?

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