Theodicy : LUSENET : Unk's Troll-free Private Saloon : One Thread


Nothing really seems to matter

as I listen to the chatter

from the mad assembled throng-

Nothing's right and nothing's wrong


Lives are spent in seeking meaning

but all that's heard are voices keening;

blood and vomit everywhere-

No one hopes, no one dares


We are too small to ever know

what's going down, which row to hoe

We trust in God and pray for grace

but He hangs out some other place


Symphonies of love and life

continue as a pervert's knife

carves apart an innocent child

Good and Evil reconciled?

--Lars 6/82


I was flipping through some old poems and found the one above. Hmmm, 1982 must have been a bad year.

Theodicy---why do bad things happen to good people? (or good things to bad people?) Just now, I found this link that outlines the theodicies of various religions. I find them all interesting but ultimately I have to go with something like "hey, we just don't know". (Eschatology?)

I wonder how atheists/philosophers deal with this issue? Well, maybe they don't have to. If life is mere random process then there is no Good/Evil and suffering is moot. Shit happens.

-- (, March 26, 2002


The following lines are from the last paragraph of the link and pertain to Islam---

The rival Asharite school rejected Mutazilite formulations and held that justice is defined solely by God. For Asharites, whatever God does is right. To claim that God acts for the sake of justice is impious. Rather, what God actually does determines justice. Because nothing exists without the will of God, everything that does exist is insuperably right and just; otherwise, it would not exist at all. Such optimistic fatalism became characteristic of Islam. A modified notion of theodicy emerged later in the work of the Asharite theologian and mystic Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), who asserted that "nothing in the realm of possibility is more wonderful than what is."

This thinking puzzles me. On one hand it explains the lack of modern "progress" in many Islamic countries. Why bother to improve anything if whatever exists is God's will and that will is perfect? But then why the anger at the West? What's with this jihad shit; isn't the West part of God's will too? Muslim fatalism is a trifle inconsistent.

-- (, March 26, 2002.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

-- (ONE@One's.theodicy Odyssey), March 26, 2002.

The question of why bad things happen to good people and vice versa is of far greater concern to monotheist religions (the various flavors of Judaism, Christianity and Islam) than to anyone else, because they postulate one God, who created Good and Evil and who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, perfect, wise, loving, merciful and just. If you start with this all-encompassing premise, you have to reconcile how all these qualities can coexist in the same entity and permeate all His acts equally, when they seem to be irreconcilable.

The problem can be likened to starting with a box full of parts, out of which you must build a working engine. There are hundreds of ways to make a working engine out of these parts, but you always end up either with some parts left over that don't fit -- or else you end up with all the parts used, but an engine that doesn't work.

Similarly, if you dispense with some of the attributes of God (for example, God is just but not wise, or omniscient but not omnipresent) then you can manage the feat, but this always comes at the cost of diminishing God. Each time some innovative theologian puts together a new version of God out of the same old box of parts, you get both a new religion and a new heresy at the same time. Two for the price of one!

You can expend a lot of ingenuity on this problem, but in the end it is impossible to reconcile all these qualities without recourse to paradox. Every theology embraces paradox. The more fully developed its intellectual traditions are, the more explicitly these paradoxes are defined. Christianity is full of paradoxes, such as the trinity and unity of the godhead.

The obvious way to cut the Gordian knot is to devolve good, evil, wisdom, justice, love and whatnot into human constructs that arise out of our own human needs. This solution is the essence of secular humanism - that bugaboo of the fundamentalists. Once you demote justice, wisdom, good and evil from their godlike, perfect and absolute condition and humanize them into imperfect ideas we formed out of our own necessity, they don't (as is so often erroneously asserted) disappear. Instead, they become mutable. This scares the piss out of some people.

The whole idea that justice, wisdom, good and evil could somehow 'wobble' or 'soften at the edges' scares some people so badly that they instantly run back to trying to construct an impossible God out of the same old box of irreconcilable parts.

What physics describes is a universe that obeys laws, but they are laws that do not necessarily manufacture justice -- from a human perspective. For example, there is a law of gravitation. But nothing in this law prevents a brick from accidentally falling on the head of a 'good' person. The Bible tells us that God loves us, but an objective view of the world tells us that God doesn't favor our needs and desires over, say, those of a toenail fungus.

-- Little Nipper (, March 26, 2002.

Can God make a rock big enough that he can't move it?

-- (, March 26, 2002.

LN, you may be surprised (alarmed?) to know that I am sympathetic to what you wrote, although I think your "box of parts" metaphor is weak (afterall, there is only one way to construct a working engine from a box of parts.

The following statement of yours strikes me as essential and it is what causes me the most conflict----

Once you demote justice, wisdom, good and evil from their godlike, perfect and absolute condition and humanize them into imperfect ideas we formed out of our own necessity, they don't (as is so often erroneously asserted) disappear. Instead, they become mutable. This scares the piss out of some people.

Doesn't this ultimately say that Larsie's jingle was judgemental when it used the word "pervert" to describe the knife wielder? If there are no absolutes, then who am I (or you) to judge how the knifewielder gets his kicks? He is just doing his thang. The fact that the child does not enjoy it is irrelevant.

Secular humanism does not approve of this behavior either but then who are secular humanists to impose their value judgements on anyone else?

In my measly opinion, we can't avoid invoking "absolute" standards even though we have no video documentation of God's personal instruction regarding absolute standards; even though these absolutes are not quantifiable or measureable in a replicative way. There is "something" in the universe that informs us (all cultures) that certain behaviors are verboten. I don't believe that these proscriptions are derived by rational thought nor do I see any basis for deriving them by rational thought. What Jeffrey Daumer did was "wrong", period.

The question of suffering caused by "acts of God" totally eludes me. I see in today's news that 2000 died in Afghanistan due to earthquakes. What the hell is that all about?

-- (, March 26, 2002.

"If there are no absolutes, then who am I (or you) to judge how the knifewielder gets his kicks? He is just doing his thang. The fact that the child does not enjoy it is irrelevant."

This is the old argument, but it never really rings true to me. It's a false dichotomy, an all or nothing choice that has no basis in reality. This exact same argument can be (and was) made in favor of monarchy -- that it's impossible to identify any 'absolute authority' inherent in the shifting sands of 'a majority of voters' and lacking such an identifiable authority, society would soon revert to chaos as everyone did as they pleased. But it works OK in real life and that is what counts.

You don't need to worry about a society made up exclusively of criminals, cannibals, and nihilists ever arising anywhere, because, if any society approached that condition it would die off within one generation. Children in such a depraved society would not survive to adulthood to reproduce.

Societies that embrace the "right" values tend to thrive much better. The golden rule works so well, not because it guarantees a peaceful happy life, but because on average it pays at the margin over time. There has been some interesting work done using mathematical models and game theory to try to discover the most 'proven' strategies for interacting with other people. IIRC, the results endorsed a strategy that was pretty similar to what humans tend to do naturally - you treat the other guy fair and square until he hits on you, then you hit him right back. Not exactly What Jesus Would Do, but almost exactly What Joe Sixpack Would Do. But I digress....

Anyhoo, the best place to look for the rule-of-thumb, not-absolute nature of morality isn't at the Jeffery Dahmers of this world, it's the borderline cases. Even in a world dominated by shades of grey, there are plenty of places that are black and white. But the existance of black or white certainly doesn't prove that grey doesn't exist.

-- Little Nipper (, March 26, 2002.


Again, I don't disagree but if all that stands between a Peaceable Kingdom and the Abyss is a tacit agreement that "I won't savage you if you don't savage me" then I think we will always be on the hairy edge.

And so we are. Our ability and willingness to use force has kept the world relatively stable. Jeffrey Daumer is a trivial example. Hitler, Stalin, Chairman Mao, Saddam, etc are the real dangers. And there always seems to be a new one in the wings.

Dang, another "false dichotomy"? I just can't get the hang of logical constructs.

-- (, March 26, 2002.

Those guys aren't the problem Lars they're just pustules of Nip's mutables. Going with Nip here.

U2 are the reason I visit here. Excellent stuff.

-- Carlos (, March 26, 2002.

pustules of Nip's mutables.

B-b-b-but Carlos, my mutables also have pustules.

-- (, March 27, 2002.

Yeah I know. Thing is your pustules are high ticket transients who make memorable war from time to time while Nip's "borderline cases" make up most of the rest of us and it's that us that eventually rules human conduct.

The God deal: For me this universe didn't happen by accident. That we've evolved to become a specie aware of soul fits the plan of the gift. Figgure we've been given the blessing of awareness and to do as we please but with the curse of knowing it. Not a bad deal.

-- Carlos (, March 27, 2002.

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