By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Is Life Without Suffering Even Possible?

Head Sketch Ball point pen
Head Sketch Ball point pen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My answer is "no." Thus, it makes no sense to argue against the existence of an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God by protesting that such a God must have been obligated to create life without suffering. (Henceforth when I refer to the deity, the above description of God is the definition that I am using.)

To make such a protest is the equivalent of saying that such a God should have created four-sided triangles. If suffering is an inherent dimension of life (as the theory of biological evolution, by the way, seems to confirm), then it makes no sense to say that a deity should have created life without suffering. Following the approach of Wittgenstein and other philosophers of language, we would have to label as nonsensical the assertion that the deity must have been obligated to create life that--without its intrinsic dimension of suffering--would be no life at all.

Thus, the question of whether life is even possible without suffering is, in my view, a crucial and unignorable issue when discussing the traditional argument from evil against the existence of the deity.  In fact, there is a further confusion in the very name of the traditional argument: it is not the problem of evil that is the biggest philosophical challenge. Moral evil as a product of the free choices of humans is easier for a theist to address than the non-moral evil of tsunami's, earthquakes, leukemia, and tornadoes. Thus, we should rather refer to this traditional philosophical argument or problem as the "problem of suffering." Such clarity helps the discussion move forward without unnecessary confusion. And, as Ortega y Gasset observed, "clarity is the courtesy of the philosopher."  Let's be courteous!

So, think about it: does it make sense to reject the deity because life with suffering is present in us and around us? In my view, such an objection is nonsensical since suffering is an inherent part of our lives. Again, I go back to the four-sided triangle. An omnipotent God could not create a four-sided triangle because such an entity makes no sense based on our experience of the myriad triangular forms observed in our natural world.

Likewise, it makes no sense to claim that God could have created life without suffering if suffering of some form or another, to some degree or another, is intrinsic to life itself. Think, for example, of aging--all of us are aging, we are in a process that ultimately leads to a total physical and maybe even cognitive breakdown. Thus, the dimension of suffering is present throughout our lives. In addition, it makes no sense to object that suffering comes from our environment and is not intrinsic to our lives. We know of no form of life that can exist apart from its environment. Life includes the individual living organism and its environment or circumstance. There is no such thing as a living organism existing without its environment. As Ortega also famously noted, "I am I and my circumstance." The "I" never exists apart from some circumstance. Surely, biology also confirms the intrinsic necessity of an environment for any living organism.

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