Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Bank Robbery Analogy To The Problem Of Suffering

Suppose I had a goal to give you a bag of money. And suppose I'm omnipotent and I can literally poof the bag of money into existence without any effort. But instead of doing that, I decide on a more elaborate scheme. Right before your eyes I decide to poof an entire bank that has a safe with a bag of money in it into existence, and I populate it with bank tellers, a bank manager, a few security guards, and a few dozen customers. Then I enter the bank and declare a robbery and pull out a machine gun and start indiscriminately shooting people, starting with the security guards. The bank patrons are horrified at the brutality. I grab a terrified bank teller at gun point and force her open the safe where the bag of money is. She does what she's told and promptly opens up the safe and retrieves the bag of money for me. Then, after killing several people, and seriously wounding a dozen others, I calmly walk out of the bank with the bag of money in hand, and deliver it to you.

I fulfill my goal of giving you a bag of money. Then I quickly disappear, and vanish into thin air. You stand there, wondering why I chose to deliver the money by brutally slaughtering several people who need not have existed, instead of the many easily conceivable less violent ways. You ask one of the surviving bank patrons, who's still a bit shook up from the incident, why he thinks I chose to give you a bag of money the way I did. His best answer is that I must have had a sufficient reason for doing it the way I did, but that no one can know why. Another patron stumbles out, covered with blood from one of the deceased victims all over her shirt, and suggests that maybe I'm a mysterious artist who takes pleasure in the method that I lavishly concocted to give you the bag of money. Yet another, clinching his still bleeding arm from a surface wound, chimes in and hypothesizes that maybe it was to make the money mean more to you after you've seen how much death and suffering went into its delivery. You stare at them, perplexed, looking at the result of all this carnage, unconvinced of any of these hypotheses.

This pretty much describes how I feel about explanations to the problem of suffering, particularly the suffering found in the millions of years of evolution. If god is omnibenevolent, and can do anything logically possible, if he could have simply just poofed human beings into existence, why use a method that required millions of years of suffering? Theists have struggled to explain this and usually resort to saying either a) human original sin was applied retroactively, b) demons created all that suffering, it was not originally in god's plan, c) the suffering is somehow required for "soul-making," d) god isn't an engineer, he's more like an artist who takes pleasure in the extravagance of creation, or e) we just don't know.

I don't think, nor do many philosophers think, that any of these explanations are plausible. Theists, you've got to try harder.

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