The Better Thing …

There’s a quote from JT (Eberhard, I guess? I’m not as familiar with the names as others on the site) on Almost Diamonds taken from his speech at Skepticon (paraphrased by Zvan):

“If you admit you would feed that starving child where God does not, you admit that this world is not perfect. You admit that you are better than God.”

Now, the first part is commonly used as a big part of “The Problem of Evil”, and is another argument that commenter eric makes often and that we went a few rounds over:

1) If God existed and was loving, all-powerful and all-knowing, we would have a perfect world.
2) The world is not perfect.

Therefore, God either does not exist or is not one of those things.

Now, my challenge to eric’s formulation was that pointing out that the world is not perfect isn’t actually a refutation of the God exemplified in the OT. Because, from the very beginning, the Garden of Evil story insists that this world will not be perfect. Thus, that this world is not perfect does not refute the existence of that God. We should, in fact, expect that this world will not be perfect based on God’s own words. So, the first part — God, as described in the OT, does not exist — isn’t impacted … but that assessment of the properties might be in trouble.

And that seems to be what the last part is aimed at. God cannot be all-loving or all-moral because we are more loving and more moral than He is, according to the argument. Now, Zvan didn’t bother to give the reasoning behind that argument — her summary is nothing more than a bare assertion — but I can imagine that it’s roughly based on this reasoning:

1) If you can stop someone from suffering and don’t, then you are acting immorally.
2) God could stop the suffering of that child and doesn’t.
3) Therefore, God is acting immorally.
4) If someone steps in and does stop the suffering of this child, then they are acting morally.
5) It is better to act morally than to act immorally.

Therefore, that person is better than God.

And this seems intuitively reasonable, but even under the loose forms of Utilitarianism that most people advocate it’s a bit shaky. After all, you can let someone suffer even if you could stop it if it avoids less suffering under pretty much all of their views, and the same thing applies to death. Under other moral views, suffering isn’t a primary determining factor in what makes something moral or immoral. Thus, it may be better to allow the suffering in this case than to stop it.

But then — and this is an argument that eric, again, heavily relies on — doesn’t that mean that it is immoral for us to prevent that suffering? But this ignores the fact that the agents are in different positions. If God is morally obligated to prevent an act of suffering, He is thus obligated by this principle to prevent all of them, since He can do so. That means that if that’s the case we would have to have a perfect world. But if it is better for us to not have a perfect world than to have one — and a case can be made that moral development is not possible in a perfect world — then God by the Utilitarian principle is not, in fact, required to provide that “perfect world”, the world without any suffering at all. We, on the other hand, cannot provide that perfect world and are only obligated to do what we can, and so don’t have that risk, and so don’t have the obligation to not help.

So, we cycle back to the perfect world argument. If it is not immoral for God to not provide a perfect world, then His being obligated to relieve all the suffering He can would only force Him to provide that sort of world … which, the supposition here states, God is not morally obligated to do. Thus, the argument — even of better — relies entirely on “Is God obligated to provide a perfect world for us?”. And that’s a deep question that needs far more work to settle.


One Response to “The Better Thing …”

  1. Héctor Muñoz Says:

    Many atheists base their disbelief on this premise which from my point of view stems from an immature and egocentric view of life: assuming ourselves as absolute manichaean judges.

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