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Last time I left you off with something like this — The problem is what to do about pain. See: the common argument here — which John Loftus plainly used to dismiss God — is that all pain ought to be stopped whenever possible. A universe with suffering in it precludes the Christian God (he says), so the onus is now on John or anyone else who sees pain to stop pain. If that’s what we ought to expect from God to the place where we are ready to dismiss God from our philosophy, we have to at least hold ourselves up to that standard. We want an omnipotent God to preclude our suffering, so we should at least think we can use our own limited means to stop the suffering of those we meet.

John has actually posted a clarification by what he means here, and we should take note of it:

what I am focusing on is the intensive physical and mental pain that breaks people down to the point where some of them cannot take living in this world anymore.

Which is an interesting yardstick, is it not? For Loftus, if life just had bruises and bumps (he says), we couldn’t put God on the hook for that. (someday it’d be interesting to find out why) But because some people have pain which causes them to want to die, or ought to cause them to want to die, we have evidence that there is no God — because a sufficiently “good” and “powerful” and “aware” God would never let such a thing happen.

Well, I have two thoughts on that view, one of which came up in 2006 talking about for example, that girl. My second thought is this: I think it is remarkable that Loftus wants to use a threshold for pain in order to talk about divine compassion.

Here’s what I mean: what if our government passed a law — for good or ill, so no wandering off-topic in the meta — which is going to pay out $700 billion to the automotive industry in order to buy off bad debts and restabilize their capital base so the rest of our economy doesn’t come apart at the seams after the supply chain for the Big 3 disintegrates? In theory, the auto industry being upside down to the tune of $700 billion is a very bad thing, and defaulting on $700 billion in debt might be worse.

Now, when the government did this with the banking industry a while back, nobody jumped out of windows on Wall Street, did they? So maybe $700 billion in economic distress spread out over 300 million people and arbitrated by the federal government isn’t really that much pain. But it seems to me that $700 billion should show up on the radar. $700 billion is 5% of the GDP for the US, and 25% of the Federal Budget. It seems big, and as a things go, it’s a problem, so I think it’s a “big problem”.

But by Loftus’ definition, if the auto industry or the banking industry needs a $700 billion bail-out check, but nobody feels suicidal over it, it’s not really part of the problem of evil: it’s just a bump in the road. It’s just a business decision — even if it’s a business-of-government decision.

Stew on that a minute – that somehow $700 billion isn’t a problem if nobody is suicidal over it. That seems a little less-than-serious when we’re talking about whether or not pain is a real and disastrous thing.

It leads me to say this about the atheist complaint: All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil.

Now, that’s strong stuff – and it’s a presuppositional complaint to be sure – but most Bahnsenian presups would reproach this from the place where the atheist can’t really define what is good or what is evil because there’s not objective standard.

But here’s the thing: as we said last time, the really wily atheist will respond, “hey: ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are your problem, not mine. Don’t try to fit me in your theistic box. I’m moving beyond good and evil.” And to that we should say “fair enough.”

What we can’t do, however, is let the atheist walk away as if he has pushed God into the gully of unintelligibility – because the atheist now has an existential problem of his own making. See: he (in this case, Loftus) has brought up the point that people are suffering. Existentially, people are in pain right now – starving babies, AIDS victims, people getting raped and murdered, the people getting strapped with $700 billion in debt both in theory and in fact, readers of John Loftus’ blog – and this brute fact doesn’t change because we extract the idea of God from the picture of the universe.

In Loftus’ view, pain demands some action. You know: when you put your hand on a hot stove, there’s pain, and the action is to draw your hand back and (at least in Presbyterian households) cuss. Your pain causes you to do something – and this isn’t an ethical dilemma. Pain is a state which nobody but the most twisted person likes, and everyone will take action to cause pain (his own pain) to end.

Pain exists, and one has to do something about it – and this is where Loftus’ existential problem shows up. Any person can tell you, “it’s normal to want pain to stop,” and most people (in the 99%+ range) will tell you, ”It’s normal to want the pain of other people to stop.”

Right? Any human being will feel empathy toward those who are suffering – so much so that we will even feel empathy for people who are being punished for wrong-doing, and even those who suffer because they brought a painful consequence on themselves.

And I for one would agree: it’s normal for a person to have empathy, and it is normal to seek to end the pain of another person when they are suffering. The problem of “evil” – which we have translated into the “problem of suffering” by Loftus’ definition – exists for the atheist because he has empathy for those who suffer. See: he has to figure out what to do with his existential motive of “end the other person’s pain” – given that it seems apparent that doing nothing about it is not a reasonable choice.

In a universe without God, pain is still the urgent question. Nobody can ignore pain.

Or can they?

We’ll talk about that the next time.

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