Argument from Horrific Suffering
In my last response I argued that Mitch did not provide support for (4):
(4) Necessarily, if God exists, there is horrific suffering only if its prevention would prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good.
Mitch suggests that he has offered the following as justification for accepting (4) as true:
Looking at an analogous instance, it seems obvious that something has gone wrong when we are saying of the parent that they are acting in accordance with anything we might remotely pick out as being “good” when they cause or permit their beloved child to suffer horrifically when the prevention of that suffering would occur at no loss to the beloved!
Unfortunately the merely analogous example is not sufficient to establish the truth of (4). As noted before Mitch must provide support for (4) that excludes even the possibility of God having morally sufficient reason to cause or permit horrific suffering sans persons realizing their deepest good. Since analogies contain disanalogous elements the analogy Mitch attempts to provide in support of (4) is not sufficient to exclude the possibility that God, unlike the parent in the analogy, has morally sufficient reason for causing or permitting horrific suffering sans the people experiencing that suffering realizing their deepest good.
Mitch writes, “If there is anything that perfect goodness is not, it is the causing or permitting of non-good states to obtain for the sake of their being non-good states.” There are several problems with this statement. First, if this is merely a tautologous statement then it is a vacuous claim. If it is not a mere tautology then Mitch will need to provide something more than subjective “justification” for deeming horrific suffering a “non-good state.” Second, it has never been my contention that God causes or permits non-good states to obtain for the sake of their being non-good states. Hence Mitch is arguing against a position that does not belong to me. He is either erecting a straw man or introducing a red herring.
Mitch asks, “What might it mean to say of some person that they are perfectly good and without repercussion can avoid the causing or permitting of some other person their experience of pain (for example), but causes or permits such pain anyhow?” What it might “mean” to say this of some person is that it is granted that these things are true of this person; some person may be perfectly good and without repercussion can avoid the causing or permitting of some other person his or her experience of pain (for example), but causes or permits such pain anyhow. Mitch then states that, “It is difficult to make sense of in the same way it is difficult to make sense of there being some person such that they are omniscient, and yet they do not know my name.” However, this is not the case. In the first instance no contradiction obtains. Again, some person may be perfectly good and without repercussion can avoid the causing or permitting of some other person his or her experience of pain (for example), but causes or permits such pain anyhow. The reason for causing or permitting this experience of pain would in this case rest in something outside of the good of the person experiencing the pain. (Note though that neither Schellenberg nor Mitch is arguing from pain, but rather from horrific suffering which is defined quite differently.) The second case of the omniscient person not knowing my name is contradictory by virtue of the definition of omniscient assumed in the analogy. The contradiction Mitch incorrectly assumes in the case of the perfectly good person is the same contradiction Mitch must demonstrate in order to establish (4), but he has thus far been unable to do so.
Mitch continues, “We can reason then that if a perfectly good being causes or permits the obtaining of some non-good states, her doing so must in some way be necessary for some greater good state.” First, why is this a problem for my position? Second, Mitch has smuggled “non-good states” into “horrific suffering,” but he has nowhere mentioned anything about horrific suffering constituting non-good states before now and hence certainly has not provided any justification for the move. Additionally Mitch writes, “Surely a perfectly good being, if bringing about non-good states, does so reluctantly, takes no pleasure in doing so, and would avoid doing so if at all possible without sacrificing one of the greater goods.” Even with the prefaced “Surely” I have a hard time accepting that this statement is anything beyond Mitch’s unsubstantiated subjective opinion of what he things a “perfectly good being” should be. Nevertheless, I can agree with the statement without consequence to my objection.
Mitch uses another analogy of a parent taking a child to the dentist and explains that “the parents seem justified in their permitting their child to suffer because of the upcoming greater good for the child.” Of course, many evils have been committed upon the basis of such reasoning, but even granting that Mitch is right here, what does it have to do with God’s morally sufficient reasons for causing or permitting horrific suffering?
Mitch finishes by arguing, “Granting that there can exist no being more compassionate than God, if she exists, this perfect compassion coupled with perfect knowledge of what it is to undergo Horrific Suffering entails that God is, as Schellenberg puts it, maximally opposed to these sufferings.” But recall that horrific suffering is defined as, “that most awe-full form of suffering that gives the victim and/or the perpetrator a prima facie reason to think that his or her life is not worth living.” Is the thought that one’s life is not worth living really something which God is “maximally opposed to?” Many of us have in fact had such thoughts and have subsequently gotten over it. Some people do not get over it. If it is true that Hitler committed suicide then it is likely the case that he did not get over it. But is God “maximally opposed” to Hitler’s horrific suffering or the possible result of him taking his own life? What about the well-to-do millionaire who decides after losing a few million that his life is no longer worth living by virtue of the fact of him losing those few million? Is God opposed to such a thing? Is Mitch? I fear that other arguments and appeals to emotion may be expanding under the guise of the original argument when in fact they have little to do with it. Even with his rather subjective speculation here, Mitch has not supported his premise. For if we read this argument as charitably as we can, we must conclude that to say that God is “maximally opposed to horrific suffering” is to say that God is not and will never be even more opposed to something else that would be permitted if horrific suffering is prevented. But why should we accept that? With all due respect, if Schellenberg and Mitch were better theologians they would perhaps construct better arguments against God. As it stands they merely create their own concepts of what they believe God should look like in their views and then attempt to impose that upon the recipient of the argument, but we will neither accept the argument as sound or persuasive for that very reason. Mitch likewise should not accept the argument as applying to those gods or God that do not fit his personal concept. As already noted, Mitch has been attempting to lump all theists into a category that only some theists fit into and that the argument itself admits only some theists fit into. (“That is, many theists maintain that a perfectly good God would justifiably cause/permit some person A to suffer, if that suffering were necessary for bringing about some greater good for A.” [emphasis mine])
Thus when Mitch writes, “Granting that God stands in maximal opposition to the experience of Horrific Suffering” we merely respond that such is not granted. The analogy provided did not establish this heretofore hidden assumption. Mitch still appears to believe, “that God allows persons to suffer horrifically only if such suffering is a necessary condition of these persons realizing their deepest good” as he asserts it here again, but apart from his gratuitous assumption that a perfectly compassionate being must maximally have the deepest good of persons in mind when deciding whether or not it is necessary to permit horrific suffering there is no reason to accept this claim. Indeed, when Mitch attempts to contend that a perfectly compassionate being must maximally have the deepest good of persons in mind when deciding whether or not it is necessary to permit horrific suffering it is not clear that he is using maximally as anything other than a synonym of only. He asserts that God is “maximally opposed to horrific suffering,” but isn’t it possible that God is maximally opposed to something else instead or at the same time (depending on what is meant by “maximally”)? Suppose that God has a morally sufficient reason for causing or permitting horrific suffering. Mitch has provided no reason for taking this to be false. Thus again, Mitch has not established that, “Necessarily, if God exists, there is horrific suffering only if its prevention would prevent there being finite persons who realize their deepest good.”
Mitch does conclude, “In fact, even if the existence of Horrific Suffering were a necessary condition of some very-good-other-goods such that they, perhaps in quantity, ‘outweighed’ the non-good state of Horrific Suffering, our above analyses entail that permitting such suffering is still inconsistent with the divine nature!” Unfortunately the above analyses have proven to be an instance of little more than arbitrarily stipulating a perfectly compassionate being as one who will not permit horrific suffering unless that horrific suffering is for the greater good of the individual experiencing that suffering. Mitch has also brought in a new characteristic of horrific suffering in deeming it “non-good.” There is no valid reason provided for accepting (4) to be true. If there is no valid reason for accepting (4) to be true, then the argument fails to establish its conclusion.