A thought experiment
June 27, 2012 — 16:24

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Existence of God Problem of Evil  Tags:   Comments: 106

John K. Alexander asked me to post this interesting thought experiment, in order to get helpful comments:

Many people play computer games, many of which contain great numbers of fictional characters ‘experiencing’ horrendous evils and suffering. Game players seem to get a great deal of satisfaction/pleasure playing these games and there seems to be nothing morally wrong with getting pleasure or satisfaction this way. After all, the characters are fictional and are not really suffering regardless of whether or not the game mirrors real life to some extent. Imagine that there is a game designer who is designing a game similar to ‘Grant Theft Auto.’ Imagine further that the designer has developed a program that if it is incorporated into the game will make the characters sentient. Should the designer incorporate that program into the game he created? My intuition, and those of actual game designers I have discussed this with, is that the designer ought not to incorporate that program – that to do so would to be doing something wrong. The underlying intuition is that to introduce the ability to suffer is wrong. The characters in the game will go through the ‘life’ created by the game parameters and the game can be fun for those sentient beings that play it, but no one is being actually being harmed in the game. Introducing sentience into the game causes the characters to be actually harmed therefore introducing sentience is wrong. This being the case then if God is the designer He has to make the choice to introduce sentience into the universe He creates because He knows how to do so. It seems to follow that if we should not introduce sentience into our games then God should not introduce sentience into the universe (game) He creates. Furthermore, not introducing sentience should not affect the joy, or sorrow, that He experiences playing His game. This being so, the fact that human beings do suffer seems to be a good reason for believing that God does not exist.

Comments:
  • It seems to me that the intuition here is not very relevant to the problem of evil, as it can be explained by various features of the game case, such as:
    – There is something problematic with using sentient beings as toys.
    – The designer of the game has no control over what the player will do, not being able to intervene.
    – Games are typically made for fun rather than for the good of the characters therein, and hence the game world is not appropriately set up for the good of real characters.
    – Grand Theft Auto is a particularly problematic kind of game to use as an example here. SimCity might be a more relevant choice.
    Consider a different thought experiment. You are pregnant. You can take a drug that will remove the child’s ability to ever suffer. Should you? Of course not.
    This thought experiment doesn’t settle the problem of evil either. But I think the original thought experiment is no more relevant.

    June 27, 2012 — 16:36
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    While I agree with the last bit (i.e., “This being so, the fact that human beings do suffer seems to be a good reason for believing that God does not exist”), I don’t accept the earlier bit (“It seems to follow that if we should not introduce sentience into our games then God should not introduce sentience into the universe (game) He creates”). Assuming that hedonism is true, we might have good reasons not to introduce sentience into our games (e.g., if aggregate well-being is negative) that don’t apply to God. If we could create worlds filled with hedons and without any dolors, we’d be obliged to do so. Like God would be.

    June 27, 2012 — 16:40
  • Zeb

    I simply don’t share the intuition that we should not introduce sentience into games like GTA. I both believe and deeply feel that to live, in the subjective sense, is intrinsically good. As an already sentient being I would much rather continue sentience with suffering than lose sentience. My desire would be for any agent who had the choice to both grant and maintain my sentience regardless of the particulars of my life. And so I would feel obligated to do the same for any potentially sentient being. Also I personally desire for existence as a whole to be experienced or beheld as much as possible, and so I would want to imbue any potentials with sentience. I would though feel obligated to make the particulars of their lives as valuable to them as possible.

    June 27, 2012 — 17:18
  • Ryan M

    Would we want to say that not being able to feel pain would be identical to not being able to suffer? I think the reason we reject that feeling pain is necessarily bad is because not feeling pain has consequences that lead to suffering. For example we would not have warning to many preventable diseases or injuries.
    So in the case of the girl who cannot feel pain, we reject that her situation is good precisely because it does lead her to suffering more than she would if she felt pain. In that case I would say that her not feeling pain is not in any way identical to her not suffering, since surely the possible consequences of her not suffering pain are ways for her to suffer.

    June 27, 2012 — 19:20
  • Isn’t there a problem in the thought experiment that in the game suffering is inherit to the design, but in Creation, while the potential for suffering existed, theistic faiths generally make suffering a postlapsarian condition. One supposes that a perfect being creating the universe does not intend suffering to exists (though it might be foreseen).
    So, if one were to create a digital environment in which suffering did not exist (but perhaps has potential for suffering caused by beings within), then how does the morality of adding sentience change?

    June 27, 2012 — 20:03
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    The main problem I see with the analogy of creation as a game for God to play with – is that it does not at all comport either with the classical definition of God in natural theology or with the premises of classical theism. Thus this is a misleading analogy. Rather creation should be thought of as a work of love, a work created for the benefit of sentient beings capable of moral judgment and choice (i.e. persons), a work for which (on the Christian understanding) God suffers for but also delights in. Really as far removed a state of affairs from a teenager dumbing down playing GTA as it gets.

    June 27, 2012 — 20:09
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Zeb, I don’t think that can be right. Given the choice of creating or abstaining from creating a sentient being that would eternally experience nothing but excruciating suffering, would you really choose to create her?
    Given that all value is grounded in God it seems to me clear that subjective life is valuable only to the degree that it is oriented towards God – or, in theistic terms, is there to worship God.

    June 27, 2012 — 20:21
  • John Alexander

    Alexander: Thank you for posting this for me.
    Thanks for all the comments. This is part of a paper I am working on so any feedback is very welcome regardless of whether the paper is ever published or not. I will learn from everyone’s comments. I will address them in order but it will take a couple of days.
    Alexander: Re your thought experiment: it is not obvious to me that one ought not to take this pill. If a parent can take a medication that removes the possible of his or her child contracting a specific disease, or at least minimizing the chances that his or her child will get that disease, it seems clear that the parent should take the pill. As parent we seem to have the obligation to eliminate the suffering of our children to the best of our ability. How is this any different than a parent giveing his or her child a pill that would eliminate the possibility of the child suffering a from a specific disease? We certainly would not countenance parents giving their children a disease so they could suffer and possibly learn valuable life lessons from having that disease. I do not think we would postively sanction witholding a treatment that would eliminate or reduce suffering.
    I do think that these thought experiments are very relevant to the problem of evil. I am not looking at the possible explanation and justification of particular evils. What I am concerned with is the initial choice situation where a moral agent needs to choose between one situation (universe) containing x (i.e., our universe with evil/suffering) or another situation without x. Game designng seems a relevant analogy. The example is concerned with whether or not a game designer should introduce sentience into the basic structure of the game at the time the game is created. This issue is directly related to the problem of evil in so far as a world of completely saved beings is not contradictory and God can create anything that does not involve a contradiction. God must know what this state of affairs will look like – He knows what a saved being will be like. Or how else could he configure His ‘game?’ This is a problem for theists because the initial parameters of the framework need to be established and justified in a manner consistent with basic theistic and moral concepts; one of which is that a moral agent will not allow needless and avoidable evil. The existence of evil does not seem to be necessary for God to create a world of saved beings.

    June 28, 2012 — 0:25
  • John Alexander

    Clayton: I am not sure I competely understand what your saying here, but if you are suggesting that God should create beings do not suffer, but only experience happiness or joy, or what I characterrize as ‘saved’ beings then I concur. In so far as I believe that God can create anything that does not involve a contradiction it seems to follow that God could create a world of ‘saved’ beings. I am assuming for the desinger example that introducing sentience into a game designed like ‘Grand Theft Auto’ would result in introducing suffering as well as happiness. But, as you point out, that is not a necessary condition for sentience. We do not have to create GTA, a game designer could design a perfect world. I will need to be more clear.

    June 28, 2012 — 1:37
  • Zeb

    Dianelos, I am relying on the doctrine of convertibility of transcendentals and the understanding that evil is privation of the good, not the opposition to good. To exist is good, and privation of existence is evil. Any evil experienced while existing is a privation of the potential for good experience, but to further deprive the person of existence itself would not be improvement. And because good is grounded in God, and both the existence of person’s sentience and the person’s experience is ultimately grounded in God, it is good for the person’s sentience to exist and good for the person to witness the portion of God’s creation provided to them. Perhaps it is not as good as it could be, but it is still good compared to not existing which is not good. While I would object to the idea that it is possible to ensure that a being’s existence is nothing but suffering, I would choose to provide sentience to a being whose experience is constant pain, because to experience pain is better than to experience suffering and whether one suffers pain or transcends it or embraces it is a matter of free will. I would provide the game-person with the opportunity to experience existence and respond to it in her own way. I ask you, if believe that God is the ground of goodness, how can any experience with God’s creation be evil?

    June 28, 2012 — 7:46
  • Ryan:
    I am inclined to agree in part. I am not sure pain entails suffering. Some split brain patients who previously had debilitating pain report that their pain has not changed but now they don’t mind it. It’s natural to describe the case as one where they now have pain but don’t suffer.
    I am torn on this. I also feel the pull of saying that if a sensation is not constitutive of some degree of suffering, it’s not really a pain, but a twinge or the like.
    That said, I think your worry about my example of the girl who can’t feel pain can be made independent of the question whether pain entails suffering. Suppose that the parents have a pill which causes an absence of suffering, but which also causes the child to have a distinctive and hard to ignore sensation whenever a normal child would have a pain. If pain does not entail suffering, as you suggest, that distinctive sensation can be taken to be a pain, but if pain does entail suffering, it can be some quale that humans don’t normally have. This is a better analogy to the God case than my original pill example.
    However, what I was thinking in my original case is that even if it is possible to have pain without suffering, one will have something like the problems the girl in the story does. Pain (or some other quale) without suffering just doesn’t have the motivational oomph for avoiding damage that suffering does. (What if we had pain-or-the-other-quale without suffering but with the aversive motivational oomph? I am not sure that’s possible. It could be that the aversive motivational oomph would turn it into suffering.)

    June 28, 2012 — 9:02
  • If you remember, John, God did not put man into the world to suffer. In fact, suffering and sorrow didn’t come about until Adam disobeyed God. At that point in time, we became able to experience suffering and sorrow as punishment for the rest of our days. “By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground…”

    June 28, 2012 — 10:17
  • John Alexander

    Zeb: Thank you for your comments. You write: “I both believe and deeply feel that to live, in the subjective sense, is intrinsically good.”
    Does this mean that you would hook yourself up to a ‘Nozickian experience machine?’If so, then would you no program your experiences such that the outcome would be good? You might not ‘know’ at the time that the outcome would be good, but eventually by adapting and overcoming the ‘bad’ situations in your life you would find contentment and happiness. Is this not a universalist perspective?
    I should note that I share your belief that we would want to remain sentient. More on this later. But that is not an argument against my position that God should create sentient beings that are saved. What would you do in this situation: You develop a mist that if introduce into the atmosphere will spread throughout the world and put an end to the rape and torture of young children. There would still be wars, famines, etc. but the only difference is young children (say those under 12) will not be raped and/or tortured. Would you put the mist into the atmosphere? If you would not, how do you reconcile this with the notion that a moral agent will eliminate evil whenever and wherever possible, all else being equal. Keep in mind that we do have laws that place restrictions on how people can exercise their free-will.

    June 28, 2012 — 10:58
  • John Alexander

    David: Thanks for your comments. You write: “Isn’t there a problem in the thought experiment that in the game suffering is inherit to the design, but in Creation, while the potential for suffering existed, theistic faiths generally make suffering a postlapsarian condition.”
    It seems to me that to make an assertion that ‘the potential for suffering existed…’ seems to require that we accept as true what the existence of evil puts into question. If we start with the fact that evil exists, we seek an explantion to explain why it exists. The most basic explantion is that evil/suffering exists because human beings perform actions that result in others being harmed. (I am not concerned with natural occurances at this point.) This is true whether there is a God or not. Those that posit the idea that there is a God that is the creator and sustainer of the universe, etc. need to present an explanation as to why such a being allows evil to exist, which He does because it does exit. Even if the existence of evil/suffering was only a potentiality, at the time it became actualized He had to decide not to intervene, or He could have decided not to interven if it became actualized when he set up the basic conditions (Hasker, I think, takes this position) The question then becomes, is it morally permissible for a moral agent to decide not to intervene if evil/suffering becomes actualized? If I see someone being harmed and I am not the direct cause of the harm do I not have an obligation to offer aid? I think that most of us would argue that I do have an obligation to offer aid. If I know that John will harm, or may try to harm Jill do I not have the obligation to stop John from harming Jill before Jill is harmed? Again, I think the answer is ‘yes.’ Furthermore, and assuming that God cannot create saved beings, if evil/suffering is a necesary condition for certain goods to exist then If God wants us to love others, be compassionate, etc, then evil/suffer must occur if those goods are to occur. Evil/suffering may be only a potential, but then the good for whicch evil is a necessary condition is only a potential. To be actutalize, and I would think God would want to good to be actualized, then the evil/suffering needs to be actualized. So, I do see how God gets ‘off the hook’ regarding allowing evil/suffering to exist even if He only set up the potential for evil/suffering to exist.

    June 28, 2012 — 11:34
  • Zeb

    John, I would not plug into an experience machine, but I don’t see how that relates to the thought experiment or my response. As I said, if I were the game designer I would feel obligated to make the lives of the sentient being I create as valuable to them as possible. And so yes I would release the anti-rape mist into the atmosphere. All I was saying was that given a life full of painful experience, I would choose to make the simulated person sentient if possible. But if I had the choice I would also make the life not painful.

    June 28, 2012 — 13:06
  • John Alexander

    David, et. al.
    I wrote “So, I do see how God gets ‘off the hook’ regarding allowing evil/suffering to exist even if He only set up the potential for evil/suffering to exist
    Should have read ” So, I do not see how God gets ‘off the hook’ regarding allowing evil/suffering to exist even if He only set up the potential for evil/suffering to exist.”
    Dianelos: I appreciate and thank you for your comments.
    You wrote: “The main problem I see with the analogy of creation as a game for God to play with – is that it does not at all comport either with the classical definition of God in natural theology or with the premises of classical theism. Thus this is a misleading analogy.”
    I do not agree with this asseessment. I would like to have some explantion as to why you do not think it comports to the classical definition of God or classical theism. I am assuming a definiton that one finds in Alston, Hasker, an many others, namely that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe and is all-knowing, all-powerful, present everywhere and completely good. The game analogy is an attempt to flush out the relationship between being the creator and sustainer of the universe and the other criteria that is part of that definition of God. It seems clear that to create something one needs a design of what one wants to create(hence the importance, and I must confess, plausiblity of IT and other design arguments). But to design and create something only requires that one has the knowledge and power to design and create what one wants to. So even if the universe is the result of an act of intelligent creation it does not follow that the creator was all-knowing, all powerful, present everywhere, and compeltely good, only that it had the knowledge and power to create what it did.
    It is a fact that the universe exists as we experience it (leaving aside questions of hallucinations, mental illness, etc.)From the events as we experience them we seek an explanation as to why the universe exists as it does. Do we have a reason to think that even if it was created that it was created by God? The game design analogy is a thought experiment that seems to suggest that we do not unless one thinks that it is morally permissible to cause unnecessary suffering.
    It seems that if God can create anything that is non-contraditory, and the idea of creating ‘saved’ beings is non-contradictory, then allowing evil to exist is to allow that which is unnecessary to achieve what a God should seek to achieve. God has the right to enjoy what He creates but not at the expense of beings that suffer. This is an idea from Peter Singer (and I am sure others); we should perform actions that result in the greatest amount of happiness for those affected by the action, but we should not cause someone to suffer (without some compensating good) in order to achieve that happiness.
    Furthermore, for me to see creation as an act of love would require me to accept as being true that which I am trying to explain. I also question what ‘an act of love’ refers too in your position. As a parent I do not think I have the right to intentionally cause my child to suffer if I can avoid doing so even if it is possible that he or she will learn some valuable life lesson. If I love my child I will not cause him or her to needlessly suffer. I will do that which I am capable of doing to not have him or her suffer. So, please explain how this universe is compatible with what a loving parent would desire for his or her children, especially very young children. I would be very appreciative of such an explanation.

    June 28, 2012 — 13:32
  • Yeah, I’d introduce the mist, if I could have sufficient reasonable confidence that there aren’t going to be adverse side-effects (e.g., potential torturers waiting until the child turns 13, and then torturing the child twice as long). I’d do it out of a duty to fellow human beings to prevent their torture and rape, rather than in order to make the world a better place.
    I might ask myself: “But what about the goods that will be lost through this mist? Say, the good of forgiveness that the child could later exhibit?” To that I think I would answer in one of two ways:
    1. It is not my task to optimize the world with respect to such goods when they come at such costs. Even if the good of forgiveness in some relevant way outweighs the evil of rape or torture, I have no right to permit the evil of rape or torture for the sake of that good.
    2. Such considerations about greater moral goods at such tragic cost are the business of Providence, not my business. I must fulfill my role as a fellow human being. If God judges that these evils, which it is my job as a fellow human to prevent, should not be prevented, he can prevent the mist from taking effect.
    But God wouldn’t think things like 2 and need not think things like 1.

    June 28, 2012 — 13:44
  • John Alexander

    Zeb: The reason I brought up the experience machine was because of your referencing subjective states as being intrinsically good. As far as the rest, I agree with you.
    Alexander: Are you suggesting that we should forgive God for causing us to live in a world of suffering and not of our choosing? Because we have the choice to forgive or not forgive ‘those who transgress against us’ it seems is what He is waitng for and is part of how we will be judged? That seems to follow from your example. But if God transgresses against us, does He not need to ask for our forgiveness if He is to be compleely good? If he does ask us for our forgiveness then either He had to transgress against us (lacks free-will) or He had to intentionally decide to transgress against us and both conditions seem inconsistent with what a completely good moral agent would do.
    You second answer seems to require that I accept what I am questioning, namely Providence. Seems to beg the question if I can make and accept, as factual, not just definitional, the distinction you make and use it against my position when my position is questioning Providence. I would also argue that it is not my role as a human being not to rape (our cause harm)because not all human beings can make moral decisions, or should be held accountable for their actions. Rather I think it is my duty as a moral agent and that all moral agents have the same duty. The question would then be, ‘is God a moral agent?’ Seems He needs to be if He is completely good unless the concept of being completely good does not require agency, but I do not see how that can be.

    June 28, 2012 — 14:46
  • John:
    I was thinking, rather, of the value of a victim forgiving a perpetrator.
    Yes, I was assuming Providence. The point here was that we can have reasons for releasing the mist that would not apply in the case of God.
    I am not saying that God is exempt from the duty to refrain from rape or torture. Rather, I am saying that God does not have the same duty to prevent others from committing rape or torture that we have.

    June 28, 2012 — 16:09
  • John Alexander

    Alexander
    I am not necessarily disagreeing with you. I need to understand why you think His duties are different then yours and mine.
    Let me try this line of reasoning out. If God exists and is all-knowing, etc., then He has knowledge of what is important to sentient beings, namely being sentient. Most people that I know think that we would not give up what we are even if it meant that doing so would eliminate all suffering – that we become who we are and develop are sense of self-worth and dignty because of how we react to the challenges that we face – we (can) mature as moral beings (Hicks and Admas, but also consistent with Epictetus, Aristotle, Plato/Socrates, Sartre and others). Also, there are those we hold as moral exemplars, those we learn our values and virtues from and modal our moral behavior after; those that act, not for themselves, but for the good of others who we value because of how they adapt and overcome the circumstances of life. It is this fact of the human experience that makes the overall experience valuable. We know this and God knows this. This is I think consistent with what you and others (Dianelos and Helen for example) have suggested. If God knows sentient beings will intrinsically value being sentient (I include having free-will and the ability to knowing and freely choose as part of being sentient although this needs clarification), then creating a world with sentient beings and the necessary conditions required to develop as sentient beings, for good or ill, is consisent with believing in some forms of theism and God.
    I do not actually think this is true, but it seems reasonable:-)

    June 28, 2012 — 17:29
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    Surely in order to evaluate some idea one should take it at face value and see where it leads. Now according to theism the metaphysically ultimate nature of reality is not less than personal, and is perfect in all respects we can conceive, and thus perfect in goodness, in knowledge and in power, the ground of all value such as beauty, love, truth – and so on. We call that perfect personal being who grounds all existence and all value “God”.
    Now let’s rely on our own sense of value, and reason about what such a being would want to do. Plausibly, God would want to create a state of affairs of even greater value, and this might be a commune with other perfect personal beings in some optimal arrangement.
    The next natural question is about the nature of these created persons. And here comes the decisive bit. One possibility would be for God to instantly create ready-made perfect persons – kind of like instant coffee. Another possibility though would be for God to create imperfect persons in such a condition that they could and would transform themselves into perfect persons. I find it obvious that the second kind of perfection is the greatest one, and thus the one that God would choose to instantiate. The basic insight here is that personal value is a function not only of one’s state but, significantly, also of how one got that state.
    The next question is about how the personal condition of such created persons should be in order for them to be able to perfect themselves. If the purpose of the world is the creation of personal value, how should the world be? Clearly the initial state of created persons should be of a sufficiently low level of goodness, knowledge and power – but the world should be optimized for challenging them to perfect themselves. Hence an imperfect world, filled with evils to be freely overcome [“evils” in the more general sense of resistance to or limitations in goodness, knowledge, power and so on]. And, obviously, the worth of overcoming evil is much greater when the risk of suffering pain is real.
    Finally, how should God be manifested in that world? Here too there are two basic possibilities. Either a creation in which God and the divine purpose for creation are obviously manifest, or else a creation in which God and the purpose of the world are hidden in the sense of not being obvious. Clearly the worth of overcoming evil and choosing good in a world in which the presence of God and the perfect destiny of all persons were obvious would have much less value. Thus God would want to create the later kind of religiously ambiguous world, i.e. a world in which created persons are given the freedom to choose goodness for its own sake. (Some tremors of Kantian ethics here.) Hence the need for a condition where a non-religious interpretation of reality, such as naturalism, is viable.
    My point with all of this is to show that by starting with the definition of God and our own sense of value we can derive that God would want to create a personal condition the main features of which fit the condition we actually find ourselves in. We see that God’s purpose is not happiness; God’s purpose is ultimate personal perfection and happiness is simply an attribute of that perfection. And evil is not the enemy or an accident – but the very means by which we reach perfection. (In order to not make the story too long I am leaving out some relevant issues, such as horrendous suffering, animal suffering, etc.)
    I would to like to finish by pointing out that the above account represents John Hick’s so-called soul-making theodicy, including its premise about the epistemic distance of God. The difference is only that whereas Hick builds that theodicy from the bottom up as it were, i.e. by showing that it explains the evils present in our current condition, the above account is top down, i.e. starts with the nature of God and derives our condition.

    June 28, 2012 — 18:05
  • John:
    “I need to understand why you think His duties are different then yours and mine.”
    One difference between different relationships is with respect to burden imposition authority. One can impose burdens in two basic ways: positively and by non-prevention. We can then subdivide the two kinds of imposition into intentional and non-intentional.
    To highlight the point, consider the difference between my authority with respect to my children and my authority with respect to you. I have the right to positively impose the burden (and, yes, it is a real burden) of a healthy lifestyle on my children for the sake of their health. But I have no right to positively impose the burden of a healthy lifestyle on you for the sake of your health. I even have the right to positively impose significant burdens on one of my children for the sake of other family members. But I have little right to positively impose significant burdens on you for the sake of other members of my own or your family.
    There is a kind of gradation in the permissibility of burden imposition. I have very little authority to impose a burden on you; I have a greater authority to impose a burden on my students; I have a yet greater authority to impose a burden on my children; and I have the greatest authority to impose a burden on myself.
    Ceteris paribus, I am permitted to impose greater burdens by non-prevention than positively, even if the benefits are the same. For instance, suppose that you have disease A while Sam and Sally have disease B, which diseases have the same symptoms. There is a single unit of medicine M that I have. It takes a whole unit to cure disease A and half a unit to cure disease B. Then I am obviously permitted to take this unit and share it between Sam and Sally, thereby imposing disease A on you by non-prevention. On the other hand, it would not be permissible for me to intentionally infect you with A if that was somehow a necessary step in curing Sam and Sally.
    Again, there are going to be differences in what kinds of burdens I am permitted to impose by non-prevention. For instance, suppose that you are in horrendous pain and I have a pain-killer with no side-effects that I can give you. But I happen to know that if I don’t give you the pain-killer, you will develop heroic compassion and become a moral hero. I may still lack the authority to impose on you the burden of the pain, and may be obligated to give you the pain-killer. But on the other hand, there could be authoritative roles where I would be permitted to withhold the pain-killer for the sake of helping you develop heroic compassion. Certainly, I would be permitted to withhold the pain-killer from myself for the sake of helping myself develop heroic compassion.
    Generally speaking, the greatest natural burden-imposition authority, both for positive and non-preventative imposition, is had by each person with regard to him or herself.
    Where does God fit in here? Is God’s authority to impose burdens on me greater than that with regard to my children or less? Surely greater. In fact, I think God’s authority to impose burdens on me is greater than my own authority to impose burdens on myself. God knows me better than I know myself and any goal-setting authority I have over myself derives from him.
    Back to the mist case, then. I do not have an authority to impose, even by non-prevention, the burden of horrendous suffering on other people lest great goods be lost. But I could have the authority to impose, by non-prevention, the burden of horrendous suffering on myself lest great goods be lost. And God has an even greater authority here. So if great goods would be lost by releasing the mist, it could well be that (a) I would have the duty to release the mist, but (b) God does not.

    June 28, 2012 — 19:13
  • All of my problems with this stem from the nature of the comparison itself. In one scenario you’ve got the game developer who builds sentience into the game but gives the game to other people to control. The scenario doesn’t say anything about the gammer’s awareness of the characters sentience so I assume they’re unaware. If so, then they have no idea what they’re doing is “real” and would likely behave differently if they did. I base that on the fact that there are plenty of people playing violent video game today that aren’t out stealing cars to go pick up a hooker, then kill the hooker and take their money back. It seems logically acceptable to assume that these gamers would NOT behave the same way in the game with that knowledge.
    In the other scenario you have a creator who retains the control after installing sentience into his game (universe/humans). The creator would, of course, be aware that it created sentient beings and would have to make a moral decision itself to control the beings into doing anything at all (morally questionable or otherwise).
    Additionally, both scenarios subscribe the characters to being nothing more than slaves to some cosmic master and the only thing they can do is watch as their lives are destroyed in abysmal poverty or exalted into great health and riches. Even though I don’t necessarily ascribe to the idea of free will, I also don’t ascribe to the concept of being a mindless self-aware puppet.
    The question should, perhaps, be more along the lines of: a creator creates a system which houses sentient beings. In this system it is possible for good and bad things to happen. Is it morally acceptable to allow that system to run itself? If so, is it also morally acceptable (maybe even required?) to intervene in the goings-on in the system? How does the creator make decisions on when to allow, and what kinds of, horrible and great things? If it’s not morally acceptable to allow that system to run itself, is it then morally acceptable to make the beings puppets? If so, what would be the point of such a system?
    Or, to present it another way: a creator creates a system which houses sentient beings and allows it to govern itself with (the illusion or reality of) free will. This describes the universe we live in. Was the creator morally right to do this? What is the criteria and capacity in which the creator would be morally right to intervene?
    For me, these questions are far more interesting. Although I wouldn’t want to have this conversation with someone on the basis of religious morality (the answers seem pretty obvious from that side of the house). I think these questions would be far more interesting in the realm of the philosophy. I can’t help but think this may be what you really meant. But, if so, you didn’t satisfy the semantics of the topic, I don’t think.

    June 28, 2012 — 19:30
  • Justin

    Well, we’re not God. We cannot heal suffering nor make things right in the same way that God can. Even if our intentions were to create the sentience and allow the suffering such that the computer characters might freely learn something of empathy, charity, sacrifice, etc., we don’t have the capacity to heal that suffering once the purpose is served.

    June 28, 2012 — 20:28
  • tikhon

    Perhaps I’m missing something (and if this has already been mentioned, apologies), but the logic of this argument seems to me to be a bit flawed.
    If a game designer were to create a game in which the NPCs are capable of sentience and therefore suffering, would it therefore follow that the game designer did not exist? It seems to me all that it would do is suggest that the kind of game designer that did exist was one the writer(and perhaps the rest of us) would not approve of.
    Likewise, the non-existence of such games does not affirm the fact that only “approved” sorts of designers exist. The fact that no game to this point has existed in which NPCs suffer just as likely speaks to the limitations of computer A.I. in game design and nothing more. To suggest otherwise is question begging.
    Like I said, I must be missing something or am misreading the passage or something. I’m not sure I see how the writer is getting from point A to point B.

    June 29, 2012 — 6:52
  • John Alexander

    Dianelos: thanks for your very thoughtful and helpful response.
    “I find it obvious that the second kind of perfection is the greatest one, and thus the one that God would choose to instantiate. The basic insight here is that personal value is a function not only of one’s state but, significantly, also of how one got that state.”
    This is obvious to those that accept the metaphysical framework that you have so cogently outlined. It is not so obvious to those of us who do not accept that framework. I agree that if the metaphysical framework you adopt is correct then what you claim is correct. But here is the issue. Internally, theism may be coherent – it certainly appears to be from what I can ascertain and from what you have written. Many have argued that the existence of evil is consistent with theistic belief. I agree that it is. However the existence of evil is also consistent with there being no God, an imperfect God, etc. Descartes’ Evil Demon could have created this world. There is no internal inconsistency in maintaining this. It may not square with the way things are, but it is consistent (as Descartes was well aware of). It does not seem reasonble to accept any one of these possible options that are consitent with the original starting point simply because it coheres with the way we think the world is.
    What I am interested in is trying to determine if, besides being internally coherent, theism also squares with the way things are so that some correspondence criteria can be met. I am trying to determine if there is something other than internal consistency that can be arrived at for grounding theistic belief. Logic requires that there is (actually exists as opposed to being internally consistent) either a theistic God or not. Both cannot be the case. But, here is a problem (from Spinoza) I have with theism: if God is perfect, a being that has all perfections, lacks nothing, then how can It create anything? What is left to create? Other perfect beings, or beings that are capable of perfection? Wouldn’t that simply be replicating Itself? That seems redundant. Isn’t Leibniz’s Principle of Identity relevant here?
    Here is where your analysis does comport with my analogy: “If the purpose of the world is the creation of personal value, how should the world be? Clearly the initial state of created persons should be of a sufficiently low level of goodness, knowledge and power – but the world should be optimized for challenging them to perfect themselves.” This sounds like a game: create a ‘world’ where the ‘players’ find themselves in a choice situation with two (or more) ultimate options that they are not in a postion to become aware of until they face certain obstacles placed in front of them that are designed to offer them the opportunity to develop as the ‘game designer’ hopes that they will; 1) accept the apparent conditions that seem to indicate that there is no God (Naturalism in yours and Hick’s analysis) and lose or 2) as ‘the players’ face the hardships they come to realize that if they accept theism and turn to God and knowingly and freely chose to enter into a loving relationship with Him that they will win.
    The problem for the theist is to get rid of the ‘if’ without begging the question. Why should we think that the ‘purpose of the world is the creation of personal value?’ It is consistent with the idea that there is a God and theism being true, but to adopt this as the starting point is to assume what needs to be argued for –that there is a God as defined by the theist. The definition of ‘God’ is the easy part I can accept that if God exists that He has the characteristics attributed to Him by theists. This brings us back to Spinoza; why does God need us, or want us, and does having a need or a want imply a limitation? How can a perfect being be limited?

    June 29, 2012 — 10:13
  • John Alexander

    Alexander:
    I agree with you up to this point: “But on the other hand, there could be authoritative roles where I would be permitted to withhold the pain-killer for the sake of helping you develop heroic compassion.”
    Everything up to this point is consistent with theism being true, or it being false. You know where I stand on things only being consistent. I need to know what authoritative role could you have that permits you to withhold pain-killers? I am not arguing that you cannot withhold pain-killers, you certainly can if you have the power to do so. The question is ‘should’ you withhold the pain-killer? What would give you the right to do so?
    Certainly being a parent does not give you the right to withhold pain-killers from your children simply to teach them a life lesson.

    June 29, 2012 — 10:32
  • John:
    I think that in military training it could be permissible to withhold the pain-killer for some time to help develop the virtues of a soldier. If so, then certain kinds of military authority in principle permit such withholding.
    Compare also the fact that in police training one is likely to be required to be pepper sprayed and tased.

    June 29, 2012 — 10:51
  • John Alexander

    Alexander
    “So if great goods would be lost by releasing the mist, it could well be that (a) I would have the duty to release the mist, but (b) God does not.”
    I guess that I just do not understand this distinction. It seems to me that if a moral agent has the duty to relese the mist, then God as a moral agent has that duty. If that is not true then some status has to be assigned God that allows Him not to act as other moral agents are required to act. But what is that status – it cannot be because He created the framework. If that were so then any game designer that had the power to introduce suffering not his or her game could do so. They are the god of their individual game.
    At what point does He have a duty to act? If there is no point within the contexts that we experincs as moral agents that require Him to act as we are required to act, then what does it mean to assert that God is completely good? It can only mean that God created a ‘game’ that is consitent with what a moral agent, any moral agent, in that initial choice situation was required to do. So, in the initial choice situation it must be morally permissible to introduce suffering but only if it is a necessary condition for a greater good to exist or to eliminate an equal or greater evil. This condition seems to be one adopted by most theists (that I am aware of), as well as non-theists. But this condition is not met by God when he chooses, either potentially or actually, to allow suffering into the game because evil is not a necessary condition for saved beings to come about. A point recognized by Hick when he rejects the free-will defense.
    Alexander, et/ al. I cannot adequately express my gratitude in having this opportunity. THANKS

    June 29, 2012 — 10:55
  • “I guess that I just do not understand this distinction. It seems to me that if a moral agent has the duty to relese the mist, then God as a moral agent has that duty.”
    You can’t go from:
    1. Some moral agents have the duty to release the mist
    to:
    2. All moral agents have the duty to release the mist.
    Duties vary between agents based on many factors.
    Suppose on a desert island, there is Frank, Frank’s spiritual director and Frank’s physician, but it’s not a joke. Frank is currently unconscious and has just developed a serious but not life-threatening physical illness that can only be cured right now–one cannot wait for Frank to come to consciousness. The cure is simple enough that a physician is not needed to administer it and it has no physical side-effects. The spiritual director and physician both somehow know that if the illness is cured, Frank will develop a significant spiritual problem. We can imagine that the spiritual director appropriately says to himself: “It is my responsibility as Frank’s spiritual director to look out for Frank’s spiritual well-being, and hence I am forbidden to cure his illness as that will cause a significant spiritual problem.” And we can imagine that the physician appropriately says to herself: “It is my responsibility as Frank’s physician to look out for Frank’s physical health, and hence I am required to cure his illness.”
    What duty one has with respect to Frank depends on one’s relationship with him.

    June 29, 2012 — 11:08
  • John Alexander

    Alexander
    I accept your example. There are positions that grant the person the right to perform certain actions that should not be performed outside of that position.
    Some concerns:
    1) The relationship between the soldier and her commanding officer is one that ,at least currently, is the result of an action and promise made by the soldier when she joined the military. It would be wrong for the commanding officer to grab a civilian off the street and perform those action on that person regardless of the intent of the officer. I accept Just War Theory.
    2) Is God a commanding officer. I suppose that one cn make that analogy – it is an interesting one. But, if so do we not need to make an intial agreement, like the soldier does, to the overall conditions that obtain in the context within which we live? I do not think we have ever made such an agreement and the fact that I do not commit suicide cannot be taken as evidence that I implicitly agree to be treated as a ‘soldier.’ And, if I agree to suffer then how is suffering wrong?
    3) The fact that we have a military and other protective agencies does not entail, or even imply, that we need to accept as necessary the conditions which require us to have these agencies. We have to accept them as existing, but not because they do exist that they should exist. I am concerned with the conditions, not necessarily our resposnes to them. I am glad that there are people who are willing to protect me and to be trained for doing that. That does not mean that the conditions that result in bad situations that result in suffering and harm and require protective agencies are themselves therefore desirable. What is desirable is that given the situation we find ourselves in that there are people willing to step up and protect the rest of us and be trained accordingly.
    I think you need to explain how the ‘officer example’ relates to God and His creation.
    Back to house cleaning. I do have my duties to a higher power:-)

    June 29, 2012 — 12:51
  • John H.

    If the game is like GTA, adding sentience would be wrong because the characters would have greater evils (i.e. suffering) than goods. However, if the characters’ lives would be overall worthwhile living were they to have sentience – say, greater pleasure than pain, though of course I’m no hedonist and acknowledge goods greater than pleasure – then even if the characters suffer, I don’t see where the game developers would be doing wrong by adding sentience. By analogy, if God gives us lives that are overall worthwhile, he is not doing wrong, although it takes more than this to establish that God is morally perfect.
    The fact that some people may experience greater evils than goods while living is not a good objection to God’s existence given the assumption that God gives an extremely good afterlife to those people.

    June 29, 2012 — 14:07
  • John Alexander

    John Durden: “Additionally, both scenarios subscribe the characters to being nothing more than slaves to some cosmic master and the only thing they can do is watch as their lives are destroyed in abysmal poverty or exalted into great health and riches. Even though I don’t necessarily ascribe to the idea of free will, I also don’t ascribe to the concept of being a mindless self-aware puppet.”
    I do not know how to handle the problem of free-will in this scenario. But, I am not sure that it is essential to the issue. Imagine a game that only has dogs and cats (and other animals at the level of sentience that these animals have). Imagine that the designer is designing a game where dogs fight each other for supremacy. Should the designer give them the ability to feel what they are ‘experiencing?’ I think not. In my example, I am only claiming that the game designer has the ability to create sentient beings like us. I do not have to explain the details of what we are, only that we are and that the designer can duplicate that.
    I also think that your proposed system fits in with the overall problem that I am describing. I accept as a moral parameter that one can create a universe where evil is necessary to create a greater good or eliminate an equal or greater evil. The question is; Is evil necessary to create saved beings? I do not think so, so creating an evil is wrong. There are no necessary evils if one can create saved beings. This issue has not been really discussed so I am going to let it stand as accepted. How we respond to existent evils is a different matter then responding to the question of creating evil in the first place.
    Tikhon: “If a game designer were to create a game in which the NPCs are capable of sentience and therefore suffering, would it therefore follow that the game designer did not exist.”
    No. It would only follow that the game designer is not God – the designer could be Descartes’ Evil Demon. Just because we should not do x does not mean we will not do x. I have not argued that the universe, as it is, was not created and the result of a design. I can accept, as plausible, the explanation of ID and other design arguments without ascribing to a theistic God.
    John H. I think you have hit upon the area that needs more development on my part. I think this issue is similar to the one suggested by Clayton. Let us assume that God cannot create saved beings and that this disability does not limit His being all-knowing and all-powerful. Is there some level of existence where there is a morally acceptable balance of good and evil such that the lives being lived are morally desirable? I have been addressing moral evil and avoided discussing harms resulting from natural events like forest fires, hurricanes, etc. It seems to me that if evil (harm and suffering) are necessary for certain desirable goods (compassion, forgiveness, caring, etc.), that the conditions for developing these good characteristics can be accomplished in a world that contains only natural evil, not one that contains both natural and moral evil. But, I need to work this out.

    June 30, 2012 — 11:22
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    What is at issue here is not just internal coherence, by which I take it you mean the absence of internal contradictions. Rather I think we are discussing explanatory power, i.e. the idea that by assuming little one explains a lot. In the case of theism my claim is that just by assuming 1) that the metaphysically ultimate is not less than the greatest conceivable being and 2) that our sense of greatness is reliable, we can derive all the main features of the condition we find ourselves existing, including the existence of evils and the viability of naturalism. In my judgment this is an impressive epistemic advantage of theism.
    As you point out reality is undertermined in the sense that many metaphysical worldviews fit all the data. On the supernaturalistic side you have soul-building theism but also, say, new earth creationism, the evil demon hypothesis, etc. On the naturalistic side you have scientific naturalism but also, say, the computer simulations hypothesis, the random brain hypothesis, etc. But we all agree that not all these views are equally reasonable, and most people will agree that there is a correlation between reasonableness and probable truth. My contention then is that when one compares one to one the most powerful theistic worldview (e.g. soul-building theism) with the most powerful non-theistic worldview (e.g. scientific naturalism) one can conceive under the same epistemic criteria then one finds that the theistic worldview is superior in each case. Hence that theism is a more reasonable belief system than non-theism, hence that theism is more probably true than non-theism. Beside explanatory power, other epistemic principles might be the lack of mysteries (in my judgment for scientific naturalism the existence of consciousness is a great mystery), lack of conflict with other reasonable beliefs (according to scientific naturalism free will and values do not really exist but are some kind of “illusion”), lack of conflict with scientific facts (physical realism which forms part of scientific naturalism has lots of trouble making sense of the nature of quantum phenomena), being fruitful in the existential sense (I find one lives more successfully holding a theistic rather than a non-theistic worldview), etc.
    “But, here is a problem (from Spinoza) I have with theism: if God is perfect, a being that has all perfections, lacks nothing, then how can It create anything? What is left to create?”
    I think that the definition of God as being no less than the greatest conceivable being does not imply that God will not create anything. After all, clearly, a creative God is greater than a static one. What does this say about personal perfection? It says that personal perfection is a dynamic self-transcending one, the kind of perfection that characterizes overflowing love. I think the Spinoza, and before him some Greeks (such as Aristotle), were rather superficial when they argued that perfection entails immobility. The stronger idea (which may or may not go back to Empedocles) is that if the world were perfect in that superficial sense then it could not improve and thus lack true perfection. To grow is not an imperfection; on the contrary to not grow is an imperfection.
    “Why should we think that the ‘purpose of the world is the creation of personal value?’”
    Because this is entailed by the theistic hypothesis we are evaluating. I am not assuming that there is some purpose in the world, and moreover that this purpose is the creation of personal value. I am just taking both theism and naturalism at face value and comparing them in order to see which works better.

    July 1, 2012 — 3:42
  • “The relationship between the soldier and her commanding officer is one that ,at least currently, is the result of an action and promise made by the soldier when she joined the military. It would be wrong for the commanding officer to grab a civilian off the street and perform those action on that person regardless of the intent of the officer.”
    The draft in some cases of just war seems morally defensible and compulsory military service is a part of the practice of many countries, not all of them obviously corrupt. Some do have alternatives, but in those one will presumably fall under some other form of authority.

    July 1, 2012 — 8:40
  • John Alexander

    “The draft in some cases of just war seems morally defensible and compulsory military service is a part of the practice of many countries, not all of them obviously corrupt. Some do have alternatives, but in those one will presumably fall under some other form of authority.”
    Yes, one can defend the draft in certain cases, but one usually does so by incorporating some social contract notion like obligation to defend the State becaus it provides something of value to you. Social Contract rests, in part, on the notion tha one can leave the State. Does not appear that one can leave existence except possibly thru death and/or suicide. But, if one has a soul then one does not leave even then – God or no God.
    But, what does this have to do with deciding which ‘game’ to instantiate?

    July 1, 2012 — 11:32
  • John Alexander

    Dianelos:
    “To grow is not an imperfection; on the contrary to not grow is an imperfection.” I think that Spinoza would agree with this. He simply understands 1 and 2 differently then the theist does. But that issue aside; you start by assuming 1 and 2 whereas I do not. I think that if you start with 1 and 2 that your position is reasonable. As to true, I do not know. It seems to be coherent.
    I am not a scientist or a metaphysician (that should be obvious). I start with the expereinces that people have and try to understand them from ‘the bottom up, not the top down.’ I do not see greatness in a starving child, or a homeless peson, etc. I wonder what our obligations are to those that suffer. I have concluded (not with any originality) that we have an obligation to eliminate suffering to the best of our ability and that includes not causing unnecessary and avoidable suffering. This is my starting point. I then take what I think my obligation is and extent it to all moral agents (all things being equal). I accept that if God exists then He has the characterisitics that theism ascribes to Him. I want to remove the ‘if.’ When I attempt to do so I am confronted with the following that seems to be entailed by that definition. 1) God can create anything that does not involve a contradiction. 2) Creating saved being is not a contradiction. 3) Therefore God can create saved beings. So the question emerges ‘why didn’t God, if He exists, create saved beings? You know where I go from here.
    It is not that I find your postion untentable – I happen to find Hicks (and yours) as well as Adam’s accounts very plausible and to some extent compelling. But, and this is the big but, if God can create a morally defensible world that contains evil, then is it permissible for any being (the game designer experiment) that is capable of creating a similar world morally permitted to do so? I think the answer is ‘no.’ If it is ‘no’ then there must be some moral issue with God being able to do so. And the issue seems to be that He should have created saved beings if He exists. Because we are not saved, even if it is possible that we can be saved, it follows that God, as defined by the theist, does not exist. But, it does not follow that there is no creator and sustainer of the universe.

    July 1, 2012 — 12:13
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    “you start by assuming 1 and 2 whereas I do not.”
    If one wishes to reason about theism then one can’t avoid accepting assumptions (1) and (2). Why not? Because assumption (1) is the basic theistic hypothesis one wishes to reason about, and assumption (2) says that one has the cognitive capacity to reason about it.
    “ I do not see greatness in a starving child, or a homeless peson, etc.
    Theism does not entail that there is greatness in a starving child. Nor, strictly speaking, that there is greatness in a world in which a child might starve. It entails that the greatest conceivable being would want to create a world in which a child might starve. And, surprisingly enough, given our own sense of personal greatness it seems that theism’s entailment is true.
    “Creating saved being is not a contradiction.”
    Creating perfect personal beings who did not perfect themselves is a contradiction. And to perfect oneself entails overcoming evil, and thus the existence of evil.
    “if God can create a morally defensible world that contains evil, then is it permissible for any being (the game designer experiment) that is capable of creating a similar world morally permitted to do so?”
    Well, our life in the actual world appears to be sweet and eminently desirable 99% of the time for 99% of the people. Thus, creating a game world similar to ours and deciding to give sentience to the characters that inhabit it, even only for the limited time the game is played, would seem to be an overall good deed. Don’t you agree?
    Consider the issue like this: Imagine that the computer simulation hypothesis is true (see http://www.simulation-argument.com ) and that the world we live in is nothing but a computer simulation. Aren’t you happy that the simulation creators decided to give you sentience, instead of creating you as a philosophical zombie?

    July 2, 2012 — 4:14
  • John Alexander

    Dianelos
    “If one wishes to reason about theism then one can’t avoid accepting assumptions (1) and (2).”
    I am not reasoning about theism. I am reasoning about whether if 1)one accepts that we should allow evil to exist only if it is necessary for a greater (overridding) good or to eliminate an equal or greater ever that 2) one can also reasonably assert that there exist a God as defined by the theist. I am assuming that part of what it means to be all-powerful and all-knowing is 3)that God can create anything that does not involve a congtradiction.
    “Creating perfect personal beings who did not perfect themselves is a contradiction.”
    This is not a contradiction. (Also, I am talking about ‘saved’ not ‘perfect’) It may not be possible, but that has not been argued for by anyone yet. I am arguing that (hypothetically) God has the choice between 1′) creating saved beings or 2′) creating beings that can save themselves. You are arguing (very nicely, I might add) that 2′ is the correct choice. I am arguing, that given 1 and 3, that God, if he is completley good, would choose 1′ because creating a saved being is contradictory. So unless one can argue that 1′ is not possible or is contradictory, or that 1 and/or 3 are wrong, then I think that my argument stands regardless of how one reasons about theism if one accepts your starting points as being true.
    “Well, our life in the actual world appears to be sweet and eminently desirable 99% of the time for 99% of the people. Thus, creating a game world similar to ours and deciding to give sentience to the characters that inhabit it, even only for the limited time the game is played, would seem to be an overall good deed. Don’t you agree?”
    I do not know about your stats or what ‘sweet and eminatly desirable’ means but I agree that creating this world would be an overall good deed if the good outweighs the bad. But that is not my point. My argument is not about creating an overall good world but one that does not require unnecessary evil if God exists. We been through this field a few times so I do not think we need to rehash it again.
    Dianelos, I have truly enjoyed and benefittted from your comments and perspective. I do not agree with it, but I find it very coherent and cogent. Thanks

    July 2, 2012 — 12:57
  • John Alexander

    I wrote in last reply: “You are arguing (very nicely, I might add) that 2′ is the correct choice. I am arguing, that given 1 and 3, that God, if he is completley good, would choose 1′ because creating a saved being is contradictory.”
    Mistyped. Last word should be ‘non-contradictory.’ Wonder what Freud would say:-)

    July 3, 2012 — 9:42
  • @John Alexander
    “if God can create a morally defensible world that contains evil, then is it permissible for any being (the game designer experiment) that is capable of creating a similar world morally permitted to do so?”
    I actually don’t see it as a problem. Your arguments does not sound too impressive for me, because it assumes that the game designer somehow instrumentalizes his sentient NPCs to provide entertainment for a potential player. Surely this is not the case with God, for whom the created being themselves should be the prime focus, not an instrument.
    Most interestingly, a game designer thought experiment of a similar kind frenquently comes up to my mind as a point actually STRENGTHENING soul-making theodicy and showing, that there is a clear distinction regarding moral duties created by the position of a moral agent inside/outside a framework. In invoking the thought experiment, i try to use the same game designer analogy, but am doing what i percieve as a correction of your original post in directing the sentience argument at the player(s) (for the sake of whom games are created after all), not instrumentalized NPCS:
    There exists a whole genre of games, called MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online games). In those games a lot of players play simultaneously in one game world with the task of overcoming powerfull NPC (i.e. computer controlled) monsters. Now, naturally, the prospect of failure is integrated into the design concept. That means, that those monsters will sometimes (quite often) defeat the player and he will have to start from scratch, or suffer some other forms of penalties (loosing his equipment e.t.c.) before trying to overcome the enemies again. That means that game designers pruporsefully let sentient beings (the players) suffer a lot of frustration, sometimes percieved by the players as pointles, as well as an experience of their personal failures because that serves a greater goal (making the victories over the NPC-enemies, if achieved, meaningfull and valueable for the players). Is it morally permitted for the game designer to include this obstacles (which can provide uncontrollable frustration e.t.c.)? I would say, yes, of course.
    Now, MMO games have a wider point besides providing players with satisfaction for overcoming obstacles. Since a lot of players are together adventuring in one game world, those games try to foster specific virtues, especially teamplay. They contain special difficult enemies, that can be only overcome in a group of well coordinated players after numerous attemts (which entail previous failings). Now, if a player meets another player, who is being attacked by a powerfull monster which could kill the player, is he morally obliged to help his fellow player? Yes, of course, because that (fostering teamplay) is the point of the game. Hovewer, if the game designer knows, that players, adventuring alone, could be a target of powerfull monsters, is he morally obliged to save every player in danger or to refrain from creating those types of monsters? Of course not, because that would destroy the whole game’s goal of fostering teamplay. And that means, that the game designer has the full moral right of creating such a world.
    So here we have a clear distinction in moral duties between the game designer and the players inhabiting this world and i think this analogy could be translated to God and Creation. Of course, the analogy has constraints (for example, a player chooses to enter an online world with all it dangers, wheras a human has no choice in entering creation), still, i think it is valid and can show how a position of being inside/outside a framework can influence the duties of the moral agent involved.

    July 4, 2012 — 19:51
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel: Thanks for a very interesting argument, but I think it misses an important point. As I understand the soul-making theodicy, God creates us as imperfect beings within a specific context in order to give us the opportunity to perfect ourselves. Given the situations that we find ourselves in we have the opportunity to choose to turn to God and enter into a loving relationship with Him that will enable us to become better, or more perfect. If we fail to turn to God we will continue to be less perfect beings and miss out on a great reward – the loving relationship with God. So there are winners and losers within the game. Now I grant that God, as creator ans sustainer of the universe, can create any world He wants and populate it as He sees fit(as long as He has the knowledge and power to do so. But this sure sounds like we are instruments in His game even if we are unigue ones and come to love Him.
    “Your arguments does not sound too impressive for me, because it assumes that the game designer somehow instrumentalizes his sentient NPCs to provide entertainment for a potential player. Surely this is not the case with God, for whom the created being themselves should be the prime focus, not an instrument.”
    The last sentence makes a claim that needs to be clarified and argued for. The question is, is God morally justified in creating us as imperfect beings? Now, you, and others, maintain that He is, but where is the argument? Especially one that is consistent with the contraint that many theists seem to think applies to God; that one ought not to cause unncessary and avoidable evil. I do not deny that if God has the moral right to create imperfect beings that he does not also have the right to allow evil that is necessary for a greater good to come about or to eliminate an equal or greater evil. I just do not think He has the right to create imperfect beings. This does not change even if we like the type of beings we are and the fact that we can adapt and overcome the contexts we find ourselves in. Would you intentionally create a child with a defect (an imperfection) so that he or she might learn an important life lesson and become a better person? Remember, in the soul-making theodicy the good outcome (perfected souls) is not guarenteed (as I understand it). Would not that child have a moral claim against you if you did create him or her with a defect?

    July 4, 2012 — 23:43
  • “The question is, is God morally justified in creating us as imperfect beings? Now, you, and others, maintain that He is, but where is the argument?”
    For the moment the answer lies in the counter-example to your original thought experiment. You mantained, that a position outside a framework does not give a game designer greater moral rights. I showed, that (in MMO games) game designers regulary use the position outside of the game’s framework to allow the players to suffer and feel frustrated or imperfect in order to feel a greater joy when they overcome challanges. More than that, these game designers create dangerous situations that promote teamwork i.e. situations in which players have moral obligations to help eachother, whereas the designer neither intervenes to help nor creates settings in which those dangers don’t occure. So the argument you ask for is that a position outside of a framework can be a crucial moral factor that gives you the right to create soul-making situations (and that means, applied to God, imperfect beings). Surely, millions of players, by logging into games like World of Warcraft every day, affirm, that the game designers had the moral right to create such worlds. By extension that could also mean, that the theistic God, if he fulfills certain moral conditions (not using the creatures as instruments, but as means in themselves, offering a caring relationship, compensating for the suffering and things like that) has a moral right to create a world with irenean moral growth and that means imperfect beings.

    July 5, 2012 — 8:18
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel: There is the crucial difference between MMO’s and soul-making: you as the game player knowingly and freely join the game in a MMO. Furthermore, you have the right not to join and not be penalized for not joining. In the soul-making game, the ‘player’ does not have that right. We are forced to play. Now again, we may well come to enjoy the game and appreciate the type of beings we are, etc. but that has no bearing on the morality of the game itself.

    July 5, 2012 — 9:56
  • That is so and i highlited the difference in my first post. However the point, that a position outside framework can constitute a special moral right still stands and that speaks against your original point, doesn’t it?
    As to the consent problem, you are right of course. And you’ll also know, that for most of the theist, the idea of God asking his creatures for consent before releasing them into creation is not an option from the outset(since most rejet the Notions of platonic pre-existent souls) and most will have no real difficulty in finding an account that could explain why no such consent is possible. So there is a problem here, i agree, however not one, that can’t be circumvened without too much difficulties.

    July 5, 2012 — 10:56
  • John Alexander

    “However the point, that a position outside framework can constitute a special moral right still stands and that speaks against your original point, doesn’t it?”
    I am not sure that it does. Granted a being can create what it has the knowledge and power to create. The question arises is, given the moral contraint that many theists and non-theists agree upon, is it morally permissible to create a world that contains unnecessary and avoidable evil. This really does not have anything to do with being inside or outside a context because all choices are made within some context. (I may need to make this clearer in my thaought experiemnt) It has to do with choices and the context witin which the choicde is made. Your example of MMO’s is an interesting counter-example to the exmaple I gave. I agree with you that the designer of a MMO game (of any game for that matter) can create games that result in the players feeling good or bad depending on how they play the game. But, if you agree that the players knowingly and freely deciding to play the game is a necessary condition for allowing (giving moral permission) for the designer to create the game, then this criteria has to extend to the creators of all games. If a designer forces the player to play then that violates what you admit is a necessary moral contraint. Furthermore, I am not talking about the people who play the game, but the characters that make up the game. I take it that the characters in a MMO game do not feel pleasure or pain even if the players do. So do you think that the creator of the game should give the characters the ability to experience pleasure and pain, etc.? Your argument does not seem to address this issue. And, it does not follow from what you have said about players that characters should feel pleasure and pain.
    I don’t share your belief that it is not to difficult to circumvent, at least if you are putting this in a moral context. Of course, if one has the power and knowledge to do x then on can do x. The question is not, can one do x, but should one do x. As you know theists accept these main points concerning God: 1) He exists, 2) is the creator and sustainer of the universe, 3) is all-knowing, 4) all-powerful, and 5)completely good. I have not argued that there is not a creator and sustainer of the universe. My argument focuses on 3-5. I think, not with any originality, that one, or more, of these characteritics is wrong because evil exists. It seems that all evil is gratuitous in so far as a being so described (1-5) does not need evil to create saved beings. God should be able to create anything that is non-contradictory and the idea of creating saved beings is not contradictory.
    So, do you have a moral arugment for 1) extending the ability to feel pleasure an pain to the characters of the game and/or 2) how to circumvent the problem of players/characters having to knowingly and freely join the game and accept the conditions of the game? The fact that giving this consent may not be possible does not count as a moral argument for creating a world with characters feeling pleasure and pain. One has to argue that it is morally permissble to create a world where giving this consent is not possible.

    July 5, 2012 — 12:40
  • “So, do you have a moral arugment for 1) extending the ability to feel pleasure an pain to the characters of the game and/or 2) how to circumvent the problem of players/characters having to knowingly and freely join the game and accept the conditions of the game? The fact that giving this consent may not be possible does not count as a moral argument for creating a world with characters feeling pleasure and pain. One has to argue that it is morally permissble to create a world where giving this consent is not possible.”
    1) I do not need to have an argument for this one. I mean, i have modified the argument to include players, not characters, for a reason. If you still would like to hear an answer because of the “non possible consent” problem, there are two trivial options. Either the characters with sentience granted from their designer themselves become players, i.e. the designer now design his game for their sake, not for some third party gamer, then i don’t see why it should be morally wrong. That would be the same situation as a computer scientist working on a (strong) AI, trying to find a way to make it sentient. Thousands of AI scientists are doing it right now (the problem of strong AI are not of matter here). On the other hand, if the created sentient characters are only instruments for another player’s fun, then of course there is no moral right to create them.
    2. Let’s summarize our exchange so far. I understood and accept your premises. My example showed, that there are real life situations in which it is morally acceptable to create games which contain gratituous suffering and irenean soul-making. As far as i understood, you accepted this. The particularity with God is, that he can’t ask his “players” for consent, because they themselves have first to be created. Consent just isn’t an option. As far as i see, you accepted this also. That means that we have moved a big step forward. It IS morally acceptable to create a world with irenean soul-making, the question now is just the question of missing consent. The problem now is if you are ready to accept that it is possible in this decision for the creator to represent his creatures, that it is morally permissible for the designer, being all-knowing and all-loving to decide if to create the world from the point of view of the not yet created beings. I would understand if you would reject that view, a theist however (look for Alexander Pruss’s “God knows me better, then i myself) will probably accept, that an all-powerfull and all-loving creator is morally right in creating a “game” with sentient “characters” if 1) it is not possible to ask the charters’ permission 2) the creator can for 100% position himself in the point of view of his characters, wholly sharing their interests and 3) he is sure, that his “characters” will understand eventually, that they were not instrumentalized, but were achieving a real, irenean value in this world, without which the “game” would not be complete. I don’t see where such an action would be morally impermittible, and i can’t see why it isn’t in principle possible to apply it to your game designer example. The problem is just a pratical one, i.e. because he doesn’t fulfill 1-3) that means that it is not morally permissible for the game designer him to create sentient NPCs. For God, 1-3) just shouldn’t be a problem.

    July 5, 2012 — 14:22
  • John:
    Roughly speaking, I think God is permitted to impose on us anything that we are permitted to impose on ourselves. His authority over us is greater than our own authority over ourselves. (E.g., we have no right to impose death on ourselves, but God has the right to impose death on us.) So if we could permissibly join a game, God can permissibly impose such joining on us.
    I think this may be a part of the concept of God, the attribute of ultimate authority. Just as all being flows from God, the Alpha who has ultimate being, and all teleological directedness flows from God, the Omega who has ultimate telos, so all authority flows from God who has ultimate authority.
    I am assuming, controversially, that consent is a kind of authority, authority over oneself. Here’s an argument for this: this assumption makes it possible to understand how proxy consent on behalf of children by parents is not different in kind from genuine consent. Without the assumption, proxy consent seems a legal fiction.
    But even if you don’t buy the above, we might be able to use the notion of proxy consent here. When it is impossible to seek x’s consent in being made conscious, we seek the consent of someone, y, who has appropriate authority over x and has x’s interests at heart. Well, God satisfies both desiderata for being such a y when x cannot give consent to being created and made conscious.

    July 5, 2012 — 14:49
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    “Given the situations that we find ourselves in we have the opportunity to choose to turn to God and enter into a loving relationship with Him that will enable us to become better, or more perfect.”
    That’s a debatable point. In my no doubt simpleminded reading of Christ’s words in the Gospels, as well as in my understanding of the soul-making theodicy, to become more perfect *is* to enter into a closer (and hence more loving) relationship with God. You can’t have the one without the other, they are one and the same.
    “in the soul-making theodicy the good outcome (perfected souls) is not guarenteed (as I understand it)”
    Actually it is. The soul-making theodicy entails universalism. The classical book here is John Hick’s “Evil and the God of Love”, which is one of most important theistic books of the twentieth century, I might venture to claim.

    July 5, 2012 — 15:13
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Nathaniel Hagthorpe,
    “for most of the theist, the idea of God asking his creatures for consent before releasing them into creation is not an option from the outset”
    Isn’t it the case that one can claim consent when one *knows* that the order person in proper possession of the facts would give consent?
    Incidentally there is a (quite unorthodox) reading of the Genesis story in which Adam and Eve are not commanded by God not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but rather warned against eating from it (“for if you eat from it you will certainly die”). But after being told all the implications of eating from that tree (“your eyes will be opened and you will become like God knowing good from evil”) they choose to eat from it and to fall into the state of imperfection that will lead them to a greater kind of perfection.

    July 5, 2012 — 15:29
  • John Alexander

    Alex
    I can knowingly and freely join a game and suffer the consequences, good and bad, of playing that game. e.g., I can lose all my money playing Texas Holdum. But, I can leave that game if I so choose and not be penalized for doing so. I can also choose not to join the game in the first place. These conditions apply to me joining a game:
    1) I can knowingly and freely join the game
    2) I can knowingly and freely leave the game
    3) I should not be forced or tricked into joining or leaving the game.
    Given 1-3 God should not impose upon me joining a game even if I decide to stay in the game that He is forcing me to play. I take it that I will be penalized for trying to leave the game or by no playing by the rules. But these issues are besides the point that God should not create a world where people needlessly and avoidably suffer and that is the one issue that I think most commentators try to side-step. Either all evil is necessary in which case we should not punish people for doing what they do put of necessity (for a greater good to exist or to eliminate an equal or greater evil) or all evil is gratuitous which seems to contradict what a being would do if He is as defined by the theist.
    I am not a fan of the parent /child analogy regarding our relationship to God. I can discuss his if you want but it boils down to allowing God to do what we would condemn parents for doing. I have mentioned this earlier.
    Dianelos: If Universalism is true, then I go back to the comment I made on Keith’s post a couple of weeks ago; why does God put us through all this if He knows in advance what the outcome will be? If He knows what the outcome will be then there is no contradiction within that outcome. If He can create anything that does not involve a contradiction then He should have created us a saved beings.
    Nathaniel: To your point concerning designing and creating a game given criteria 1-3. The reason why the game designer should not create such a game is because as a game designer he or she can design and create the endgame (outcome) hence 1-3 is a problem.

    July 5, 2012 — 16:11
  • John Alexander
    “: To your point concerning designing and creating a game given criteria 1-3. The reason why the game designer should not create such a game is because as a game designer he or she can design and create the endgame (outcome) hence 1-3 is a problem.”
    Can’t you think of a situation in which an outcome achieved by the players is more valuable, then the same outcome presentet by the designer? I mean your suggestion sounds a bit like the game designer packing all loot and rewards of a given monster together and placing them at the cave entrance for every player to grab without the need to fight the monster, organizing a team e.t.c.

    July 5, 2012 — 17:16
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel: For God, yes, (but saved beings do not need to know they are saved, have all the goods, etc.) For you as a game designer, no. You can create a game where the players feel pleasure and/or pain as they play the game because the knowingly and freely choose to play the game, etc.
    Here is a question off the top of my head: Assume that God would allow people the choice to opt out of the game and lead a life of relative ease and where they would do no or very small amounts of moral evil and have only minimal moral evils done to them. The price for opting out is that they would forgo Heaven or Hell. If God would make this offer then I think there might be a moral argument that would allow Him to create a world tht contains suffering. God will not tell us what Heaven or Hell is like, He will leave that up to us so that we make the decision on the information that we have gathered through your own efforts. Do you agree that given this condition that God can morally create a world along the lines suggested by Hicks and/or Adams, or Hasker for that matter?

    July 5, 2012 — 18:08
  • I suppose if you hang your argument on the existence of that option alone, then i suppose it becomes problematic. Because, right, how can you know there isn’t one? 🙂 It COULD be, that for example suiciders upon dying get such an option or it could be, that no such option exist, because post mortally, in hindsight, every creature will accept that rightfullness of it’s creation. It’s totally speculative, exactly because we can’t know.
    (As a sidenote, your idea of an “opting out” option reminds me of a famous literature example, namely Bulgakhov’s “Master and Margarita”. There, the Master (the main hero of the novel) is recognized by God for his suffering under the Soviet Regime and for writing a novel which correctly guesses the Drama of the historical Pontius Pilates. However, since he has forged a pact with the devil, he can’t be accepted into heaven, so he is killed/transfered into a post-mortem state and released into an intermediary state between heaven and hell, where he can eternally live with his lover, where they “lead a life of relative ease and where they would do no or very small amounts of moral evil and have only minimal moral evils done to them.” So it’s an option, at least famously discussed in literature. But that only as a sidenote from the top of my head also).

    July 5, 2012 — 19:10
  • John:
    “Either all evil is necessary in which case we should not punish people for doing what they do put of necessity (for a greater good to exist or to eliminate an equal or greater evil) or all evil is gratuitous which seems to contradict what a being would do if He is as defined by the theist.”
    I think this dilemma fails.
    Imagine that God does not have middle knowledge and is choosing whether to allow x to freely choose between options A and B, where A is good and B is evil, or whether God should just make x do A or should make x do B. Imagine (not that I think God assigns numerical values) that God assigns the following utilities, measured in points (maybe to keep with your game analogy) to the possibilities:
    a. x freely does A: 100 points
    b. x non-freely does A: 20 points
    c. x freely does B: -100 points
    d. x non-freely does B: -20 points
    The thought is that doing the right thing is good even when it’s not freely done, but much better when freely done, and doing the wrong thing is bad even when it’s not freely done, but much worse when freely done.
    Suppose, further, that God knows that the objective probability of x freely doing A when given the choice between A and B in the relevant circumstances is 0.7. Then God can compute expected utilities of the options available to him. These options are:
    ac. Let x freely do A or freely do B.
    b. Make x non-freely do A.
    d. Make x non-freely do B.
    The expected utilities of these options are:
    ac: (0.7)(100)+(0.3)(-100) = 40
    b: 20
    d: -20
    So God’s best option is ac: let x freely choose between A and B. Suppose God does that, and suppose that it turns out that x freely chose B.
    Then that’s an evil, with value -100 points. This evil isn’t necessary to any good. But nonetheless, if there are no better options, God was justified in going for ac. The alternate options of b and d had lower expected utilities.
    So, without middle knowledge, it’s easy to imagine cases where a particular evil is not “necessary”, and where indeed the world would be better if the evil were not produced, namely if x freely chose A (value 100). In fact, in the above story, the world would be better even if God made x go for A (value 20). If God knew that were x given the free choice between A and B, x would go for A, then making x go for A would be a better option that giving x the free choice. But I was assuming Molinism is false, and hence God does not know that.
    So, in the absence of middle knowledge, I think the argument I quoted fails.
    With middle knowledge, it’s harder to come up with such a scenario. But one can still perhaps imagine a case where we have the following values:
    e. x freely does A: 60 points
    f. x freely does B: 40 points
    g. x non-freely does A: 10 points
    h. x non-freely does B: -10 points
    This might be a case where the values of A and B are relatively small in themselves (say of the order of +10 and -10, respectively) but the value of the freedom of choosing between A and B is high. Now suppose that God knows with middle knowledge that given the free choice, x would freely do B. Then in some sense x’s freely doing B is “necessary” for achieving the good (in this case, the value of the freedom of choosing between A and B). But nonetheless we can even consequentialistically blame x for doing B, for had x freely done A, which was within x’s power, things would have been better. But God couldn’t have made it be so that x freely does A, given the unfortunate conditional of free will that given the free choice, x would freely do B.
    So, if God lacks middle knowledge, God can be justified in acting in ways that result in unnecessary evils. And if God has middle knowledge, there can be in some sense “necessary” evils that are such that it would have been better had they not been produced. The reason for the latter is that there is a difference between what God can do and what x can do: it is not logically possible for God to make x freely choose A, given the value of the conditional of free will, but it is possible for x to freely choose A, since the conditional of free will is under x’s control but not under God’s.

    July 5, 2012 — 19:20
  • Lion IRC

    I’m sorry, but I’m skeptical about this…
    …My intuition, and those of actual game designers I have discussed this with, is that the designer ought not to incorporate that program – that to do so would to be doing something wrong…
    Thanks to bdsimon @ reasonablefaith.org (forum) for sharing the link here. Very interesting idea/topic.
    ….but are we really supposed to believe that programmers wouldnt be lining up to claim a Nobel Prize for this breakthrough in “artificial intelligence”?

    July 5, 2012 — 20:43
  • Marcus Morgan

    The character is property, the player is its owner, like a dog might be sentient, which it might be. Public intervention to private ownership is reasonably regulated for dogs, and might be for characters, for the mental health of the player as well.

    July 5, 2012 — 22:35
  • John Alexander

    Alexander
    Sometimes I do feel like the perverbial spider:-)
    “This evil isn’t necessary to any good. But nonetheless, if there are no better options, God was justified in going for ac. The alternate options of b and d had lower expected utilities.”
    I think that evil is a necessary condition for greater good, namely as a conditional for x having the ability to freely chose between A or B. God allowing evil is a necessary condition for X having free-will. So in that sense ‘unnecessary’ evil is necessary for the greater good of x having the choice between A or B and not being forced to choose either, although he or she must choose one, or the other. In this sense there is no conditon where there can be “necessary” evils that are such that it would have been better had they not been produced.” For exactly the reason you give, “The reason for the latter is that there is a difference between what God can do and what x can do: it is not logically possible for God to make x freely choose A, given the value of the conditional of free will, but it is possible for x to freely choose A, since the conditional of free will is under x’s control but not under God’s.” God can set up the conditional that x knowing and freely chooses between doing A or B and, outside of God’s control, chooses B. B is necessary in the sense that it follows from x having the choice and making it.
    Of course, I may be missing your point.

    July 5, 2012 — 22:49
  • Marcus Morgan

    Make it a replicant slave with feelings, as fabricated property. It would require regulation, as in Blade Runner, which implies God would require regulation on my view, or be the bounds of regulation itself.

    July 5, 2012 — 22:54
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel: “Can’t you think of a situation in which an outcome achieved by the players is more valuable, then the same outcome presentet by the designer?”
    Yes, I can. Imagine a doctor telling a patient that there is a very good chance that she can cure the patient of a life threatening disease. The doctor outlines a procedure that has two possible outcomes; in one the disease is cured and the patient lives, in the other the operation fails and the patient dies. The doctor performs the procedure and the patient is cured and lives. Although the life of the patient is important both to the patient and the doctor, I think it is safe to say that it is more intrinsically valuable to the patient. Therefore the outcome is more intrinsically valuable to the patient, even if it is of great value to the doctor.

    July 6, 2012 — 1:10
  • John Alexander

    Alexander:
    Question: if x is necessary and x’ is an example of x, is x’ necessary? The assumptive premise that I am using is that evil is necessary for certain goods to exist. If it is possible that a greater good can result from a specific evil is not that specific evil necessary for that greater good? If this is the case, then all specific evils are necessary because evil qua evil is necessary.

    July 6, 2012 — 9:30
  • John Alexander

    Alex:
    I am an IDIOT! I can’t even get my humor right:-(
    “Sometimes I do feel like the perverbial spider:-)”
    Should have read “fly’ instead of “spider.” You are the ‘spider’ and I am the ‘fly.’
    Anyway – hope you have a great day. I extend this hope to all.

    July 6, 2012 — 9:41
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    Doesn’t your argument above show that if God does not have middle knowledge then the argument from evil weakens – and thus that God probably does not have middle knowledge?
    Actually I have always wondered about middle knowledge, for I can’t see why God would want to have it. Such knowledge would allow God to micromanage the history of the world in order to maximize overall good versus overall evil, but instantiating that particular world would lessen the value of freely choosing good over evil. For many it would be like winning in a (unbeknownst to them) rigged game.

    July 6, 2012 — 18:20
  • John:
    “I think that evil is a necessary condition for greater good, namely as a conditional for x having the ability to freely chose between A or B.”
    Well, the good can occur without the evil–if x chooses B, the evil does not occur, but the good still occurs.
    It’s really hard to formulate the notion of gratuitous evil.
    Here’s a start: An evil E is non-gratuitous in light of G provided that G is a possible sufficiently great good such that any way that God had for ensuring that E or some relevantly similar evil would not happen would have: (a) sufficiently increased the chances of some other sufficiently great evil happening or (b) sufficiently decreased the chances that G or something relevantly like G would have occurred or (c) combined the increases of the chances of some other sufficiently great evil and decrease of the chances of something relevantly like G in a sufficient way.
    (This uses the vague terms “sufficiently” and “relevantly like/similar”. And I expect there are a number of other problems.)
    Then we can say that x’s freely choosing the evil A in the no-middle-knowledge scenario is non-gratuitous, because the only way God could have prevented it would be by preventing x from having a choice about it, and that would have decreased to zero the chances of x’s freely choosing B. But note that on this take, an evil can be non-gratuitous and yet x can be to blame for bringing it about. The reason x can be be to blame for bringing it about is that the definition of a non-gratuitous evil involved quantification over the ways that God has of preventing the evil, while given theological incompatibilism, x has a way of preventing the evil not available, for logical reasons, to God–namely, by x simply freely choosing otherwise.

    July 7, 2012 — 11:17
  • Just noticed that I reversed A and B between my comments. 🙂

    July 7, 2012 — 11:18
  • John Alexander

    Alex: I am probably being over simplistic here
    “I think that evil is a necessary condition for greater good, namely as a conditional for x having the ability to freely chose between A or B.”
    So let me restate, as clearly as possible, my overall position. My overall argument rests on two key ideas; 1) that God, as defined by the theist, can create anything that does not involve a contradiction and 2) will not cause unnecessary and avoidable harm. God had a choice between 1) creating beings that are saved, or to adopt an idea from Clayton, only capable of expereincing joy and happiness and having an environmnet where this will happen and 2) beings that are ‘imperfect’ but have the potential, and environment, for becoming saved based on the decisions that they make regarding how they adapt to and overcome the hardships and challenges that they face. Creating us as saved beings is not contradictory.
    There is no evil in 1, but given the fact that we were created as imperfect beings in 2, God knows that evil will occur in order for us to have the hardships and challenges necessary to overcome them and improve our ‘souls’ (to adopt the position argued for by Dianelos, derived from Hicks). God must provide the initial conditons of the environment (including natural evil) where sentient beings will be given the opportuity to overcome their imperfection. As you point out, God does not have to choose to do the individual moraL evils; that He can leave up to sentient beings that have libertarian free-will.
    God’s initial choice situation is analogous to the person choosing to develop a game that contains horrendous evils and making characters sentient in a way that they will experience pain and suffering along with joy and happiness. Now it seems that 1 is preferable to 2 because evil is not necessary to create saved beings in 1, but evil is necessary in 2 to provide the hardships and challenges that will give us the opportunity to grow as persons. In so far as a moral being will not cause unnecessary evil it seems to follow that God does not exist because we live in a world that resembles 2. It should be noted that the goal of both 1 and 2 is there being saved sentient beings. Therefore evil is not necessary to achieve that goal. I maintain that even if the world was created and that there is a creator, there is good reason to think that that being is not all-knowing and/or all-powerful and/or completely good.

    July 8, 2012 — 2:06
  • John Alexander

    “I think that evil is a necessary condition for greater good, namely as a conditional for x having the ability to freely chose between A or B.”
    I should add that if the only choice is between x having the ability to freely chose between A or B or x being an automatron then x having the ability to freely chose between A or B is preferable. If that is the case then evil qua evil is necessary.

    July 8, 2012 — 9:50
  • John Alexander,
    i think there is a definitional problem here. If you define saved beings as beings “only capable of expereincing joy and happiness”, then truly there is no contradition in creating such beings, but i don’t think the word “saved” is appropriate here. Let’s call them “happy beings” (1) for a moment. That is because an irenean theist will probably mean something very different, when he uses the word “saved beings” (2). He will mean beings, that themselves have mastered certain virtues and, if he is a Christian, have participated in the saving works of Christ. All this requires contigency and allowance of evils. Now it is just logically impossible to create FROM THE OUTSET beings, that have DEVELOPED, for example, courage and compassion, that have EXPERIENCED evil and reacted to it by FORMING loving social bonds, that have DEVELOPED a realationship with God, and that have CHOOSEN TO PARTICIPATE in the saving work of Christ’s ressurection. Here is the contradiction. Of course God could create beings, that THINK, that they have developed this traits, let’s call it “quasi-saved” beings, but this would be something akin to a simulation. Now, the basic intuition of a irenean theist is, that given this choice, worlds 1 and 3 are inferior to world 2, which alone can be called a “saved” world and is closer to perfection, than it’s alterantives. And i can’t see how your argument endangers this intuition.

    July 8, 2012 — 10:07
  • “It should be noted that the goal of both 1 and 2 is there being saved sentient beings.”
    But maybe that’s not the goal. Maybe the goal is there being sentient beings that are saved in part through their own choices, because that is more valuable than simply being saved.

    July 8, 2012 — 14:24
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel:
    Let us change the argument to meet the choice that God has given your definition of ‘saved being:’ a choice between 1) creating happy beings and 2) beings that are imperfect but can become saved. God can create both – He has the knowledge and power to do so. Which one requires evil? That is the one that needs to be defended given that God can create a world that does not require evil(harm). I would argue that the Irenean Theodicy actually begs the question in so far as it starts with the way the world is (that I do not disgree with) and argues that God created the world so that we, as impefect beings could make the decisionb to trun back toward sHIm and enter into a loving realtionship with Him that woule enable us to become better (saved) persons (which I do disagree with). The fact that people do adapt and overcome hardships, and in many cases horrendous evils, is a great good and is to be praised in so far as to be defeated by the circumstances of ones life is not good. We do want our lives to count for something. Hell, this is what makes life interesting and worthwhile. This is true from many different and conflicting perspectives – in short, one need not be a theist to accept this point of view. So, what argument, other then consistency(which I question) and the fact that we praise those that adapt and overcome hardship can the theist provide that demonstrates that it is reasonable – given the simple fact that God could have created a world of happy beings – that He did not create a world of happy beings? Would beings in a ‘happy being world’ change places? Would that question even arise in that world? It does arise in ours and this is other reason to doubt that God exists.

    July 8, 2012 — 18:33
  • John Alexander

    Alex:
    The goal is the same in each and God needs to defend which scenario He chooses. If He chooses to create a world with imperfect beings… He needs to have an explanation that justifies Him in doing so. Simply wanting to create such a world would not be sufficient. Valuing being ‘saved’ is a good in a world that has ‘imperfect’ beings – I grant this. It is the value of the world having imperfect beings that needs justification. That something is valued does not imply that it is, in itself, valuable.

    July 8, 2012 — 18:46
  • John:
    Compare two lives, where 100 counts as perfect virtue, and 0-50 is vice.
    1. Sam starts at virtue level -100 and rises to virtue level 100 over seventy years in part by his own effort, where he remains for eternity.
    2. Joan starts at virtue level 100 and remains there for eternity.
    The intuition a lot of people have is that there is a special value that Sam’s life has that Joan’s does not.
    I suppose you don’t share the intuition. Let me soften you up for it. Consider two more lives:
    3. Samantha starts at virtue level 100, then over 20 years by her own efforts sinks to virtue level -100, and then over the next 70 years she gradually rises, in part by her own efforts, back to 100, where she stays for eternity.
    4. John starts at virtue level 100, then over 20 years by her own efforts sinks to virtue level -100, and then instantaneously, with no input from him, is raised back to 100, where he stays for eternity.
    It seems quite clear that there is a value in Samantha’s life that is not present in John’s. But the difference between Samantha’s life and John’s is almost exactly the same as the difference between Sam’s life and Joan’s.
    We certainly have similar intuitions in cases other than those of virtue. For instance, we would probably prefer to live the life of Newton than of a mediocre modern-day physics professor. But the mediocre modern-day physics professor ends up with an understanding of physics much faster than Newton did, and the understanding is significantly more accurate than Newton’s was. And now compare these two to a hypothetical third physicist who is created by God ex nihilo with all the understanding that the mediocre physics professor has. We would definitely prefer the life of Newton to the life of the instantaneous physicist, and probably prefer the life of the mediocre physics professor to that of the instantaneous physicist. But the instantaneous physicist is like Joan, while Newton is more like Sam.

    July 8, 2012 — 19:44
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    “That something is valued does not imply that it is, in itself, valuable.”
    On theism values are objective (indeed fundamental) properties of reality, for they are grounded in the nature of God who is the metaphysically ultimate. And God, being omniscient, of course values what is in fact valuable. So, on theism it is the case that people who have reached perfection through their own free will *are* more valuable than people who didn’t.
    As Alex above explains, it is remarkable that our own human values comport with the theistic claims about God’s values. We ourselves (or at least most of us) would not choose the easy way. Given the choice we would rather achieve perfection and ultimate happiness through our own efforts. But then we have no rational grounds for wondering why God did not choose the easy way either.
    Here is a thought experiment: Suppose you are the father of a baby, and an alien from a far more technologically advanced civilization offers you the option to put your child into a matrix-like machine where she will experience as long, and as secure, and as joyful and happy a life as is biologically feasible. Instead of letting her experience all the troubles and disappointments of real life. Would you actually accept the alien’s offer for your little child whom you love? I must say I feel quite certain that you wouldn’t, but please let me know if I am wrong.

    July 9, 2012 — 3:03
  • John Alexander

    Alexander and Dianelos:
    I am not claiming that to adapt and overcome, and learning and growing are not good things. They are. I would not put my child into a Matrix Machine or a Nozickian Experience Machine, and I would not choose to be anyone other then who I am – so I would not take the easy way. However, my reasons for accepting the way the world is, while they may comport with theism, are not dependent on theism. They are consistent with other non-theistic perspectives; the one that I would argue for is a more existential, Camus/Sartre-like one (although I like Spinoza, Socrates, and Epictetus also).
    Both of you seem to be arguing from an Irenean perspective. Fine. But is the world and our place in it consistent with a moral agent not causing unnecessary and avoidable harm? You seem to think that it is; I do not. You seem to think that it is morally permissible for God to create imperfect beings, etc. What moral reason can there be to justify this position. Would it be permissible for me to intentionally create a child that was deaf, or missing a limb? Of course not. Simply arguing that it comports to our values is not an argument. God create us as certain types of beings in a specially designed world so we would seem to be created with these values in order to understand what it means to be imperfect, etc. It seems clear that beings that were created as being capable of experiencing only joy and happiness, in an environment that was needed to accomplish this, would not have the conceptual framework necessary to understand being imperfect beings, etc. So the fact that we are the type of beings we are begs the question when arguing from that value based conceptual framework. We need to argue for the value based conceptual framework if we want to maintain that theism is true, in the sense of being objectively true. Yes, it is better in our world be learn to adapt and overcome, but that does not prove, or suggest, that our world is a morally defensible one.
    I maintain that the Irenean framework, as well as other theistic frameworks, resembles a game – there will be winners (those that go to Heaven) and losers (those that go to Hell, assuming universalism is false, which I think it is). If God is creating a game then the game must have certain rules. Now in normal game situations, like playing GTA, players are free to join or not join the game, or to leave the game as they see fit. In the theistic framework these options are not available to us- God forces us to play the game. Whether we know it or not we are players in His game. God forcing us to play needs moral justification. Every argument justifying this seems to me to beg the question – it is using as part of the argument that which needs to be argued for, namely the value system of adapting and overcoming (which I happen to agree is true). The fact that we accept playing the game is not an argument – what choice do we have? We can rebel (Camus), but we cannot leave (Sartre)
    I think that the mistake that is being made by the theistic defender is that they are not making an important distinction between accepting the fact 1) that we have to make choices in the situations we find ourselves in and 2) the fact that these situations exist. I may be in a game that I have to, am forced to play (and I will play to the best of my ability), but I do not have to like the game. As I write this I am giving a final exam that I know some will fail (some students did not show up). Some of the students do not want to take the exam, but they know that they have to if they are to have any chance of passing (winning). But, they were not forced to take this course, the knowing and freely took it and choose not to drop it along the way. So, by analogy, God may be testing us, but the test is unfair because we have to take the course He has set up with the rules He has put in place. How is that fair for rational sentient beings?

    July 9, 2012 — 11:06
  • John Alexander

    To All
    We have probably reached the point of deminishing returns, so I think it best to take this oppoprtunity to thank all of you for your comments. I have found them to be very insightful, challenging, and helpful. I will certainly have to rethink my position given some of your fine arguments and observations.
    Again, many thanks. I REALLY ENJOYED THIS EXPERIENCE!!!

    July 9, 2012 — 13:40
  • “I would not put my child into a Matrix Machine or a Nozickian Experience Machine, and I would not choose to be anyone other then who I am – so I would not take the easy way. However, my reasons for accepting the way the world is, while they may comport with theism, are not dependent on theism. They are consistent with other non-theistic perspectives; the one that I would argue for is a more existential, Camus/Sartre-like one (although I like Spinoza, Socrates, and Epictetus also).”
    It’s not really important if you have theist or non-theist reasons for rejecting the offers. The thing is, that if you choose to reject them, you aknowledge, that your world is objectively better, than the world of those offers. So a being, that had a choice between creating your world and the world of the matrix machine e.t.c. had all moral rights to actualize the world in which you live. Or have i misunderstood your rejection of Alexander’s offers?

    July 9, 2012 — 13:43
  • John Alexander

    “So a being, that had a choice between creating your world and the world of the matrix machine e.t.c. had all moral rights to actualize the world in which you live. Or have i misunderstood your rejection of Alexander’s offers?”
    It only shows that the being who created this world had the knowledge and power to do so. It says nothing, or very little, about that beings moral rights, unless you are claiming that if a being has the knowledge and power to do x then it has the moral right to do x. But, I do not think you mean that.

    July 9, 2012 — 14:54
  • John,
    of course not. But the point was that if you prefer to stay in the current world rather than accept a live in a matrix machine or becoming the “instantioneous physicist” e.t.c. you are at least implicitly assuming, that our world is objectively more valuable, than the world of matrix-machine-beings or instantioneos physicists. And if our world IS more valuable, than the world of saved beings, then of course it follows, that a creator has the moral right to create it. I can’t see why he shouldn’t.
    But i notice also, that we are moving in circles a bit, so if you think, that we got most already out of this discussion, i want to thank you in turn, our exchange here was very, very fruitfull.

    July 9, 2012 — 17:29
  • George Watson

    As I write this I am not in significant pain,
    but should I stub my toe, or bite my tongue or break a bone
    than all my reasons go out the window.
    Suppose we were capable of good or evil but were not capable of suffering pain.
    Would we be/become moral beings who valued what is
    good over what is evil ?
    If, as Augustine claims, our sufferings are our due
    punishment – Original Sin is far, far, far, far, far
    far, far, far, far worse of sin than we evidently imagine –
    remember all of Creation Falls through the sin of Adam –
    then suffering is the price we pay for having Free Will.
    I don’t like suffering for my sins -but I like it more than not existing and not having a Free Will

    July 9, 2012 — 20:38
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel. I do not mind continuing.
    I do not necessary think that my prefering this world denotes any objectivity regarding the value of this world. I am not a fan of matrix puzzles in so far as the implied skepticism does not jive with how we ordinarily account for knowing and believing, etc. If the matrix being possbile in some epistemically intersting sense of possbile then how do we know that we are not in the matrix? Positing this type of possibity does not really address the problem we are discussing – what type of world would a completely moral creater create. Note that if a being was created as a sentient being that could not experince pain or suffering then the problem of evil would not arise for that being. You, and others, do not accept this so let me try a different track. Let us try a couple of other scenarios that won’t ever happen, but do, I think, make a point that matrix scenarios do not, which is consistent with the main point that I am trying to make – that a theistically defined God does not exist, or at least His existence is doubtful.
    1. Imagine that you can save a life of a child by losing only one hair. Would you lose that hair? This certainly seems to be the right thing to do.
    2. If you would lose one hair to save one life, would you become bald in order to maximize the number of lives saved? Going bald to save thousands of lives seems the right thing to do
    3. Imagine that you could create any world that contained starving children and people with hair and for every less hair a child will not starve in that world. Would you choose to create the world with only bald people so as to minimize the numbers of lives lost? Again this seems like the right thing to do. Other causes of suffering would still exist so there would still be people suffering.
    4. What does our world – one with starving people and people with hair – tell us about the being that created it? We know that the creator could have created a world that has one less death from starvation for every less hair so that fact that we are not all bald tells me that the creator is not completely good, or is not all-knowing and/or all-powerful.
    5. It seems that the world could still contain suffering, even horrendous types of suffering including children dying of starvation, and sentient beings with free-will who adapt and overcome but that the creator of the world is not a theistically defined God.

    July 10, 2012 — 0:46
  • John Alexander

    George;
    “I don’t like suffering for my sins -but I like it more than not existing and not having a Free Will.”
    I agree. God or no God.

    July 10, 2012 — 0:53
  • John,
    we don’t need to derail into matrix arguments e.t.c. i suppose, we are of one opinion here. I brought up the matrix machine as one of the examples you choose to say, that you would still choose this world, even if you would be offered a life of a happy being in a matrix machine. Same goes for the life of a happy being called “the instantiouneos physicist” (see Alexander Pruss)or placing your child in an “alien machine” (see Dianelos Georgoudis), where it woulld live a life of a happy being. Now, of course, you choosing our world over this offered worlds, is not enough to vindicate God’s creation, and even Alexander, Dianelos, you and me choosing this world still does not constitute an argument. However, imagine that every created being, including children starved to death e.t.c. e.t.c. will, after they have achieved the ultimate state of saved beings, reject an offer of changing places with a mere “happy being”. This hope a lot of theists foster and it’s by all means rational, given the irenean argument. And THAT would mean a vindication of God’s creation, since he created a world where every creature will finally morally approve his creation.
    Regarding your scenario i don’t quite understand, what you want to say. Either (1) the creator has a goal of creating happy beings and uses hairs to prevent children suffering. But then it’s a strange way, given that if the creator is omnipotent, he could just create children, that never suffer. So then this argument doesn’t look different then your previous. Or i misunderstood you, and you mean (2), that the creator has really irenean goals, i.e. he wants people to break their hair in order to save children to let specific moral virtues evolve. But then you have already accepted to irenean argument in principle and differ from the actual world only in the concrete implementation of this irenean evolvment.
    I suppose the problem is exactly this: in every post so far you maintain the basic idea, that the goal of a perfect Creator HAS to be creating perfectly happy beings. If that’s your intuition, it’s fine, but the intuition of a lot of theists is, that other primary reasons are morally permittible goals, i.e. creating saved beings with a full range of possible virtues (as (2) in my post above, or as in Danielos’ reply on 2th July). And of course the intuition that this is the goal comes from the pratical realization, that those virtues, that are only possible in a world, that contains evil, are one of the most valuable (objectivly valuable) things in this world and therefore constitute a reasonable telos for a good creator. That does NOT eintail that we should act immorally (that’s a popular atheist argument and i accept, that it’s strong, but i wouldn’t still be a theist if i would not think, that it ultimately fails), partly because of God’s unique position (see Alexander’s arguments above), and mainly because morality IS the goal of allowing evil. I.e. a fully developed morality, to an irenean theist, would not be possible, if no evil would be permitted.

    July 10, 2012 — 8:02
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel,
    “However, imagine that every created being, including children starved to death e.t.c. e.t.c. will, after they have achieved the ultimate state of saved beings, reject an offer of changing places with a mere “happy being”. This hope a lot of theists foster and it’s by all means rational, given the irenean argument. And THAT would mean a vindication of God’s creation, since he created a world where every creature will finally morally approve his creation.”
    OK, if your conditional is meet then you are correct. But why should I think that all beings will achieve the ultimate state of saved beings? I know that many think the Irenean theodicy seems to require universalism, but I do not think that universalism is true. Besides, even if we are all eventually saved this does not mean that the world was not full of horrendous evils and injustices that need to be morally justified. I do not think that universalism provides this justification. If universalism is true then the question once again becomes, why go thru all the suffering to arrive at a state of being that could have been created in the first place? Besides the offer is disingenuous because one would not rationally lower ones status all things being equal. In my argument I can simply equate ‘happy’ with ‘saved’ and the issue will not arise.
    The main issue that I have with Alexander’s choices and Dianelos/your position is that these positions fail to take into account that one is asking an imperfect being a question that can only be asked by an imperfect being of an imperfect being. Yes we are imperfect beings – we do things that we should not do and/or regret having to do. In my career (35 years in manufacturing), I made decisions that adversely affected the lives of thousands of people. You have not lived until you have people begging you in tears not to fire them or lay them off because this job is all they have and they lack the skills to find other employment. If the statistics are correct then some of these people committed suicide and/or abused their children/spouses, and/or abused alcohol and drugs, etc. I made these decisions knowing and freely and financially benefitted from making them. I would do so again given the options that were available within the conditions that existed. This does not mean that I liked these conditions or think that they should have been what they were. But one cannot change ontology; one can simply deal with it. I reason why I would not create a ‘happy’ child, etc., is that doing these things are not possible given the imperfect world we live in.
    Here is the ultimate question for the theist/Irenean – why did God create imperfect beings? If it is to create a choice situation where we can become perfect then creating us as imperfect beings is a necessary condition for this to be achieved. But, if He can create saved (perfect) beings (whatever else it means it refers to the ultimately desired state that a rational person wants to achieve) then creating imperfect beings is unnecessary. No one has presented an argument against the idea that God could have created perfect beings. Claiming He created imperfect beings and then claiming that a perfect being would not choose to become less then what they are, is not an argument against creating perfect beings. It simply recognizes that we are imperfect and that if we become perfect we would not choose to become less. This is simply utilizing a Rational Person Standard – rational people will not cause themselves unnecessary and avoidable harm – in making a decision. If He chooses to create imperfect beings then it must ultimately be for a reason that is related to His needs and desires that only creating imperfect beings can be a part of meeting. He is the ultimate game player – it is His game, not ours. So again I assert that if a being created our world then this being is not God. It is important to remember that had God created perfect beings then none of these questions/issues arise. They only arise because we are what we are.
    Note: I brought up the scenario of saving a child’s life buy losing a hair to bring out the question of proportionality by using the paradox of the heap.

    July 10, 2012 — 13:01
  • “If universalism is true then the question once again becomes, why go thru all the suffering to arrive at a state of being that could have been created in the first place? Besides the offer is disingenuous because one would not rationally lower ones status all things being equal.”
    I don’t quite understand you on this point. You seem to affirm in this passage, that a perfectly happy being is somehow lower in status to a saved being, that additionally to being a perfectly happy being also has certain virtues (for example courage, the ability to master his temptations, hold a human face and help others even in horrible situations e.t.c. e.t.c.), that are impossible without a world where evil is permitted. So if you accept, that this human being is somewhat of higher status than a being, that had all possible instantioneus granted by a fiat creation (and you repeat that multiple times), then why do you ask the question “why go thru all the suffering to arrive at a state of being that could have been created in the first place?” To achieve something (i.e. persons with this kinds of virtues), that would not be possible otherwise.

    July 10, 2012 — 13:56
  • George Watson

    Only if there is a God.
    If there is no God then I don’t need to suffer,
    nor do I need to exist.
    Question: I have not had time to read all the postings,
    but they do seem to involve a great deal of logical
    arguments, which is fine, but I do wonder if they
    miss the point – that we dread evil, at least in part,
    because we fear suffering.
    Logic can clear up a great deal of confusions and
    misunderstandings but at the end of they day we
    all still suffer, and if we are honest with ourselves,
    realise that we freely choose to do evil, yet God
    sustains us…and loves us more than we do ourselves.

    July 10, 2012 — 18:44
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    John Alexander,
    “I do not think that universalism is true”
    There are three possibilities: 1) Theism is false, 2) Theism is true and universalism is false, 3) Theism is true and universalism is true. Necessarily one of these possibilities is true and the other two are false.
    If you think that universalism is false then your argument is attacking option (2). Since I believe that (3) is true I hope your argument succeeds. Because if it succeeds it diminishes the probability of non-universalist theism and thus increases the probability of universalist theism. Incidentally one in my view strong argument against (2) is the “problem of hell”.
    On the other hand, if you want to attack theism itself, then you must pick the strongest (hardest to attack) version of theism. It’s not good to simply state that you don’t believe that a particular version of theism is true.

    July 11, 2012 — 2:49
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    In Graham Oppy’s “Arguing about Gods” I read another reason of why God would want to create imperfect creatures that have the opportunity of perfecting themselves, namely that only in such a world is it possible for creatures to *enter* into eternal fellowship with God, instead of only being in eternal fellowship with God. Which I say makes again perfect sense to us. We are made in such a way that here again we can see that this is what a perfect being would want. Surely the love of my spouse for me is more valuable if it is grounded in her own choice, than if she were simply made to love me.
    Thus it’s not only wanting to create the ultimately most valuable persons that explains why God would create imperfect persons in a condition which gives them the opportunity of achieving perfection. An additional explanation is that God also wanted to create the most valuable relationship with these created persons.
    Any flavor of the problem of evil tries to point out an internal incoherence of theism given the state of our current condition (i.e. living in this world). Given God’s omnipotence the only question is *why* the all-good God would want to create this world instead of another one, say one with no evils. It seems then that our own understanding of value and greatness is such that we can see why God (the greatest conceivable being) would want to create us imperfect in a world where we can perfect ourselves. Such a world must contain evils, for one can only perfect oneself by overcoming evil. At this basic level then the evidential argument from evil fails.
    My understanding though is that the state-of-the-art atheistic argumentation does not anymore attack the mere existence of evil, but the existence of evil in the quantity and quality that exists in the world. Thus, for example, William Rowe uses the case of a single fawn suffering in a forest fire, and asks about what possible good does that suffering serve. What it seems to me atheistic philosophers have not yet seen is that the coherence of theism does not require that every single instance of evil be justified but rather that the creation of a world where such evils obtain be justified. Thus animal suffering is a problem to be dealt with, but not a particular fawn’s, nor, for that matter, a particular cockroach’s. It may well be that there is no justification for a particular evil but that there exists a justification for a world in which evils such as this obtain. For if there is a justification for the world as a whole then no specific justification for each detail in the world is required.

    July 11, 2012 — 2:53
  • “why did God create imperfect beings?”
    Consider two worlds:
    World A contains N1 essentially perfected beings and no imperfect beings.
    World B contains N1 essentially perfected beings and N2 imperfect beings whose lives are all on balance worthwhile and who are free to strive towards greater perfection.
    Isn’t world B in an important sense better than world A? (What sense? Well, if N1 and N2 are finite, then world B is better quantitatively. And whether N1 and N2 are finite or infinite, world B is better in terms of diversity.)
    If so, then for any world that contains only essentially perfected beings there is a world that is in an important sense better but that also contains imperfect beings.

    July 11, 2012 — 8:55
  • John Alexander

    “I don’t quite understand you on this point.”
    Well that is because I am probably not being clear. I have tried to avoid defining ‘saved’ regarding beings. I am equating ‘saved’ and ‘happy’ but I am not trying to explain what characteristics these beings have. I am arguing that regardless of what the characteristics are, beign ‘saved/happy’ is the desired state. I grant that we can be better then what we are. This being the case a being that is ‘saved/happy’ would not choose not to be saved and that a moral being would strive to become a better person, even if perfection is a myth, or not attainable. But, this is true whether theism is true or not.

    July 11, 2012 — 9:52
  • John Alexander

    Dianelos: I have argued elsewhere on why I think universalism is false. There is also a fourth possibility: 4) theism is false. I am arguing for 4:-)

    July 11, 2012 — 11:10
  • John Alexander

    Alexander:
    Then if universalism is true then there would be a better world, WB. So universalism is false?
    You need to argue that diversity is better; better then what? This seems to me to beg the question. How can one argue that diversity is better without assuming that a world like ours (WB- one that contains diversity) is better? People in WA would not think that diversity if it included N2 beings would be better. That problem would not arise in WA. Furthermore that fact that WB contains N1 and N2 does not make it better from a quantitative standpoint unless one assumes that numbers and diversity matter. Yes, there are more beings in WB, but why is that better then having a world with only N1?
    What am I missing?

    July 11, 2012 — 11:35
  • John,
    “I am arguing that regardless of what the characteristics are, beign ‘saved/happy’ is the desired state. ”
    I don’t think you argued for that or i just haven’t noticed the argument. Me and others tried to show you that a being of an irenean world, a “saved” being, has certain desirable characteristics, that an instantioneously happy created being, a “happy” being, can’t have qua definition. Now, it seems, that you really need to argue, that this lesser status is what it’s desirable, and not the more perfect one, that requires permitting evil.

    July 11, 2012 — 11:53
  • John Alexander

    Dianelos:
    1) I am not arguing that (forms of) theism is incoherent. I am arguing that there is reason to think that it does not correspond to the way things are.
    2) I can grant the the Irenean perspective is coherent and does offer an explanation for why God created this world. That is not my worry. My concern is, does the explanation offer a justification for God creating this world. These are separate issues. You think it does, I do not. Here is the problem put another way: Why does God create us as imperfect beings? It cannot be for our good because before we exist good/bad does not apply to us. Therefore it seems reasonable to think that creating an imperfect being meets a need that God has. If He has a need then how can He be the greatest being conceivable? Can’t we conceive of a being without needs – a ‘saved’ being for example?
    3) I think that theism can defeat the problem of evil when it is applied to cases like Rowe’s fawn. That is why I am interested in problem of evil qua evil. Again, if God can create saved beings then evil is not necessary and all evil becomes gratuitous. Within our world it is a different matter, but I am not arguing from that point of view.

    July 11, 2012 — 12:02
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel
    There is a reason why I asked Alexnader to post this on Prosblogion. I knew people would disagree with me. I am getting the feedback that I wanted and hoped for.
    Anyhow…
    “Me and others tried to show you that a being of an irenean world, a “saved” being, has certain desirable characteristics, that an instantioneously happy created being, a “happy” being, can’t have qua definition.’
    If God had created us as ‘saved’ beings (Alex’s N1 beings in WA) we would not know that we were missing anything essential for our being saved. In fact we would not be missing anything essential. It is a moot point outside of being in this world. Becoming saved can only be desirable (essential) within a world like ours (WB with N1 and N2 beings), but that does not justify God in creating WB. God can choose between WA and WB. From the point of view of the beings in WA the issues that concern being in WB do not arise, there are no N2’s in WA only in WB. So, yes this world, the one we inhabit (WB) may well be an Irenean world, at least as far as N2 beings having choices to make regarding how to morally behave. These choices do not exist in WA. But because N2 beings do not exist in WA it is pointless to say that the beings in WA are less then beings in WB because they are not in a world that contains N2 type beings. If we are in WA we would not know that. I can argue that it would have been morally preferable for God to create WA, but still choose to remain in WB because, unless I committ suicide and that ends it all, I am stuck in WB and might as well make the best of the situation that I am in which is not all that bad. That does not mean that I have to believe in God, even if I might belief that there is a being who created and sustains this world. Existentially, it is a choice we have to make and I choose not to beleive in a God whose worldview requires the death of an innocent child. An without arguing against St. Augustine here (sorry George), I do think that innocent children are needlessly and avoidabley dying reagrdless of whter there is a God or not.
    Here is a different analogy: Imagine a world like ours that contains sweatshops. If it is the only option, it is better for a person to choose to work in a sweatshop then it is for that person to die. The owner of the sweatshop does not necessarily stop a person acting on her preferences within the context she finds herself. The fact that someone knowingly and freely accepts employment in a sweatshop does not mean that she accepts the idea th sweatshops are morally permissible. The sweatshop may be (is) morally impermissible but the choice to join it may not be irrational. In this analogy the sweatshop equals WB.

    July 11, 2012 — 13:25
  • Let me restate my point.
    Let’s suppose there are happy beings in your WA world. And let’s suppose there are saved beings in your WB world. Then, as a matter of fact, the WB beings have a lot of very valuable features, that WA beings have not. You point at the WA’s being having now knowledge about their inferior status. But that doesn’t change the fact, that ontologically and objectively they are inferior beings.* After this it mostly boils down to subjective value statements (it’s really the same as in the FWD). You either accept, that this additional features, that make a being from WB objectively more perfect, than a being from WA, are so valuable, that they justify creating WB, or you do not (same in FWD: you either accept the intuition, that FW is so valuable, that a world with evils is permittable, or you do not). There isn’t much to argue about anymore at this point. Hovewer if you share the intuiton, then it follows atumatically, that WB beings will in the end have a more fulfilled life and would not opt to change places with WA beings, and that implies, that a creator with an aim in creating the most perfect beings possible is right in creating WB even if has the interests of the created beings at heart.
    *I don’t really find the “WA habbitants have know knowledge of their inferiority” argument very strong. WA beings may not know, that they are inferior, however it doesn’t change the fact, that if they WOULD have the option to know their status, they would opt for a WB existence. Compare it to a very intelligent animal, let’s say a dolphin or a crow. It has no knowledge of language in the human sense and it can’t understand, despite being a very bright animal, that it would be a more superior being if it would gain this trait. If we hovewer suppose, that by some sort of mutation it would miracously gain a language capacity, the crow/dolphin would understand, that it’s previous life was in some kind “inferior”. However, the whole issue of knowing or not knowing really doesn’t apply to the argument.

    July 11, 2012 — 14:26
  • “But because N2 beings do not exist in WA it is pointless to say that the beings in WA are less then beings in WB because they are not in a world that contains N2 type beings.”
    I would additionally like to add on this one. In my opinion it’s perfectly legitimate to compare WA beings to WB beings and as a result concluding, that WA beings are inferior to WB beings. Why is that so? Because we are from the outset looking at this things from a conditional side. We are looking at them from the PoV of a potential creator, who has the coice between creating WA and WB. He compares his options directly. And if he realizes, that in some important sence WA beings are inferior to WB beings and that WB beings will in the end have a more fulfilled life than WA beings, then of course he is justified to create WB beings.

    July 11, 2012 — 14:34
  • John:
    “Yes, there are more beings in WB, but why is that better then having a world with only N1?”
    It seems quite obvious that if one knows that one’s child will have an on balance good life, and won’t decrease anybody else’s goods, then procreating will improve the world, at least in one important respect.
    It also seems very plausible that a diversity of values is a good thing. A world with 1000 good novelists is in an important respect less valuable than a world with 900 good novelists and 100 good physicists. The beings that are not created perfect are able to exhibit goods that the beings that are created perfect are not able to, such self-improvement or forgiveness of one another.
    “If God had created us as ‘saved’ beings (Alex’s N1 beings in WA) we would not know that we were missing anything essential for our being saved.”
    Sure, because by hypothesis we would not be missing anything essential for our being saved. But we might be able to figure out that we are missing out on the possibility of coming to salvation at least in part by our own efforts, as long as we were able to figure out that that is indeed a possibility.

    July 11, 2012 — 14:36
  • Or take it this way. Suppose we are in World B. Suppose now that all of the N2 imperfect people are drowning in one swimming pool, but you could press a button and the pool would be quickly and easily drained, thereby saving everybody’s life. (I leave it open whether you’re one of the N2 people, and hence yourself in the pool, or one of the N1 perfect.) Thus, if you do nothing, World B will turn into World A (except for an imperfect history). But if you press the button, the status quo will remain.
    Surely it is obvious that you should press the button. There is no moral dilemma here. It’s not a matter of saying: “The world would be better if the N2 people drowned, but I still have a duty to save them.” It’s clear what the right thing to do is. But it surely wouldn’t be obviously the right thing to do if the world would be better off for one’s not doing it.
    To make it even more clear, let it be our world. Let’s suppose that there is only one morally perfect person alive, maybe Jean Vanier. There is a virus which will painlessly kill everybody except this person, unless you stop it. You can stop it very easily, simply by washing your hands. Isn’t it obviously your duty to wash your hands?

    July 11, 2012 — 15:51
  • John Alexander

    Alex: I agree with everything that you say here, but that is not relevant to whether this world should have been created. It seems to me that all you are demonstrating is that there are some actions that we should do given the world we find ourselves in. How does this prove that this world is the one that SHOULD have been created? I can be very thankful that there are morally good beings in this world given the fact that evil does exists. Again, I think this only demonstrates that given that evil exists that there are certain morally appropriate responses to it. This does not justify the existence of evil, only our morally appropriate responses to it. If God wants to create beings that can BECOME saved, that explains why evil exists, but it does not justify it.
    This has really been a good exercise for me.

    July 11, 2012 — 16:23
  • John Alexander

    Nathaniel: “We are looking at them from the PoV of a potential creator, who has the coice between creating WA and WB. He compares his options directly. And if he realizes, that in some important sence WA beings are inferior to WB beings and that WB beings will in the end have a more fulfilled life than WA beings, then of course he is justified to create WB beings.”
    This is exactly the problem – in what sense are WA beings inferior to WB beings without begging the question? Imagine that there is no God and that the world evolved as WA. What would the problem of evil be for these beings? There would not be one for evil does not exist in that world. Now, imagine that there is no God and the world evolved as WB. What is the problem of evil for beings in WB? Evil exists in WB, not in WA. How should beings in WB respond to evil? We do not exist in WA. We do exist in WB. So, we need a moral response to evil. One of these reponses is that a good moral agent should not cause unnecssary and avoidable evil, so we respond like the beings in Alex’s interesting scenarios.
    So, the question of why evil exists only occurs in WB. The question is what moral justification does God have for creating WB when He could have created WA? This is where the theist seems to me to beg the question. The theist cannot infer from God wanting x to x is therefore good. There has to be another step in the argument. The argument could go like this:
    1. God wants x
    2. God only wants morally good things.
    2. Therefore x is morally good.
    Let x = an Irenean world
    So we get:
    1. God wants (wanted) to create an Irenean world
    2. God only wants morally good things.
    3. Therefore, an Irenean world is morally good.
    Let us grant 1. What reason do we have to think that 2 is true? This is were the problem rests. We cannot simply put out a definition of God and claim that the issue is settled because we end up with ‘if God is…’. The trick is to remove the ‘if.’ I do not see how it can be done given that we are in WB when He could have created WA.

    July 11, 2012 — 17:54
  • John:
    “What would the problem of evil be for these beings?”
    There wouldn’t be one.
    But things could, in an important respect, be better. Namely if there were additionally some beings that were capable of getting to their moral perfection in part through their own power.
    Now, you simply don’t share the Irenaean intuition that there is a special value in getting to moral perfection in part through one’s own power. Still, this is an intuition that many people have. Moreover, it’s not an intuition that depends in any blatant way on the existence of God. People don’t just reason from “God willed it, so it must be good.” Rather, the intuition is tied to fairly common intuitions about the value of achievement.
    Suppose I can buy a telescope or glockenspiel or whatever just as good as I can build, and for about the same cost (it’s hard to beat mass production). But there is something particularly valuable about building it myself (I do a lot of that sort of thing). This is an intuition that many people share.
    One can look at tack-sharp Hubble Space Telescope photos on the web that blow anything one can see through an amateur telescope out of the water. But people are always amazed to look at small, blurry images of Saturn or Jupiter with their very own eyes through a modest amateur telescope at public star parties.
    Most of the people who climb Mt Everest would not be satisfied to be dropped off at the summit by a VTOL aircraft. And they would be right that something would be missing from their experience.
    With a little bit more medical progress, it may be possible to deliver babies by C-section at least as safely, and rather more easily, for the mother as by vaginal birth. (It’s already safer for the baby, I understand.) Nonetheless, significant numbers of women would still choose to do it the normal way, and this may in part be due to the same intuition that there is a value to having a significant role in the achievement of good results.
    And if this is true about such accomplishments as building a boat (I’d love to be able to do that…) or seeing a distant galaxy, why is it not also true about building one’s moral life or coming to the truth about the meaning of life?
    Now, of course, widely-shared moral intuitions can still be wrong. You can insist that the Irenaean DIY intuition is just plain wrong, either in general or in the special case of the moral life. But you need pretty strong grounds to undercut such a widely-shared moral intuition, one so deeply integrated into what people pursue in life, across so many differences.
    Suppose you succeed in showing that if the Irenaean value intuition–that self-achievement is particularly valuable–is false, then there is no God. What you will have shown, then, is: Either the Irenaean value intuition is true or there is no God. But how then to move from that to There is no God? The theist, at least, can say that all the arguments for theism now become arguments for the Irenaean value intuition. 🙂

    July 11, 2012 — 18:31
  • Nathaniel Hagthorpe

    I never tried to infer “from God wanting x to x is therefore good”, so i don’t really know why you always bring that up 🙂
    “This is exactly the problem – in what sense are WA beings inferior to WB beings without begging the question?”
    Because they are lacking certain important features (see Alexander’s post). It is of no importance, that they can not achieve them practically because there is no evil in WA, these virtues are still metaphisically possible (i.e. possible for God to create), and that means WA’s beings are objectively lacking something valuable in a real sense.
    “So, the question of why evil exists only occurs in WB. The question is what moral justification does God have for creating WB when He could have created WA?”
    Beacause if he would create WA, he would create an ultimately inferior world with beings, that are lacking very important features instead of creating WB, whose beings, upon reaching perfection, can look after a, on the whole, more fulfilled life.
    Now where exactly you would see the problem here?

    July 11, 2012 — 19:50
  • Nathaniel Hagthorpe

    “i.e. for God possible to create” should of course be read “i.e. it’s possible for God to create a world, where these can be achieved

    July 11, 2012 — 20:48
  • John Alexander

    Alex:
    I think that you (Nathaniel and Dianelos) and I agree regarding what makes a life significant. I think you and I also agree that the Irenean position is one that, regarding the existence of God, does not prove that God exists, but rather, makes it a reasonable set of beliefs based on coherence. That being the case the description of human life in the Irenean perspective is consistent with 1) there being a good God – theism, 2) there being an evil God – Descartes’ Evil Demon, 3) there being a mix of good and evil God – I think W. James and S. Alexander argued this, and 4) there being no God. One of them has to be correct regarding the way things are, the others false.
    This may be a minor point, but one worth noting. Claiming that any of them is a warranted belief based on coherence does not entail that it corresponds with the way things are. Given that 1-4 are all possible given the facts then one can claim that we cannot know that 1 (or 2,3 and 4) is true using correspondence as the criterion. Belief in 1, or 2, or 3, or 4, is a ‘leap of faith.’ We have to choose to believe that it is true.
    I have had a great time discussing this issue with all of you. I have received some wonderfully detailed and thoughtful comments that have challenged me. Thanks. We should wrap this post up, so I have one last question for ‘food for thought’:
    In so far as my thought experiment was based on a person creating a game, would you create a game (call it ‘The Soul-making Game’) and make your characters players by giving them sentience and free-will? If your answer is ‘yes’ how would you handle the proportionality issue (starving children versus hair:-))? If your answer is ‘no,’ why not? If it is good for God to create this world why not for you to create a similar world?

    July 12, 2012 — 11:00
  • Nathaniel Hagthorpe

    John,
    “In so far as my thought experiment was based on a person creating a game, would you create a game (call it ‘The Soul-making Game’) and make your characters players by giving them sentience and free-will? If your answer is ‘yes’ how would you handle the proportionality issue (starving children versus hair:-))? ”
    I would need to add certain qualification first. If i would be an all-knowing and all-good being, more than that, a perfect being, that enjoys the fullness of life, i.e. has no need of anything, i.e. anything i would create would be not out of need, but out of love, convincion e.t.c., then yes, absolutely.
    Regarding the proportionality issue, i suppose it is a lot more difficult. There are a lot of options here. Most theists will perhaps go the sceptic theism root, i personally however, would probably go for a more controversian and difficult to defend justification: i would extend the soul-making from the creatures to creation itself (like Polkinghorne, Peacock and in parts Swinburne suggested). I.e. i would give the game world i create the freedom to find and develop certain important irenean features, such as care, love, social bonds e.t.c. in an ateleological, evolutionary process. And exactly because the game world would evolve ateleological, i would need to acknowledge, that the creation will sometimes choose undesirable routes. As i said, however, not every irenean theist will probably choose this justification.

    July 12, 2012 — 17:55
  • cda

    Late to the party (105 posts by the time I saw it). Was going to respond to initial post, but find that my intuitions are pretty much traditionally Irenaean (although maybe not in the particulars of exposition, e.g., I would argue, perhaps more along Augustinian or Thomistic lines, that the possibility of moral goodness requires the possibility–though not the actuality–of moral evil, i.e., a will that could do evil but does not, viz. a free-will).
    I think the thought experiment is provocative and timely.
    To respond to John Alexander’s last question:
    I would not create a Soul-Making Game because I am not God. It is good for God to do so because He can make things in His image and likeness, whereas I cannot. In fact, however good my intentions and even against them, I would inevitably be making a world that would be subject to an idolatry of my self. Isn’t this, at least in part, Lucifer’s fundamental error?

    July 16, 2012 — 12:03
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