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COLUMN: A world with pain is better than without, part 3


By Therin Showalter



For the last two weeks, I’ve examined the proposition that God cannot be both benevolent and omnipotent because pain exists.

As an artist and a writer, I have a special relationship with pain. It is essential and necessary to my work. In fact, the more of it I include, the more success I’m likely to have.

As you might learn in any introductory writing class, story cannot exist without conflict. And conflict cannot exist without pain.

This pain, realized in conflict and elaborated through plot, motivates characters to change, oftentimes for the better.

In other words, pain allows us to feel and to connect—even with people we don’t know and with characters that aren’t real.

As a storyteller, I know the best feelings humanity is capable of experiencing wouldn’t be possible without having first felt pain.

Of course, I’m not proposing new theories on this matter. And philosophers like J.L. Mackie have famously argued against the idea that “evil is necessary as a counterpart to good.”

In Evil and Omnipotence, Mackie contends that if the above were true, there should exist “only just enough evil to serve as the counterpart of good.”

Mackie forgets that we would have no way of knowing if that were the case. To us, the evil in our universe seems plentiful and abundant, but it’s possible there are even more immeasurable evils we cannot possibly fathom which God has intervened to prevent.

But, alas, that may be a difficult pill to swallow given the evils that exist here.

Mackie contends that the most minimal amount of pain is all that’s needed to realize our goodness, but this couldn’t be practically executed either.

In the first column of this series, I determined that the physical world necessitates pain. To eradicate pain, God would have needed to create non-physical beings. The pain that remains would be emotional pain—that caused by the words and actions of each other.

If only the most minimal amount of pain were to exist, then God would have to assign one person to be the arbiter of pain, which the goodness of all others would be measured against.

Of course, God is omnipotent enough to do so, but it would be a most malevolent act against the person chosen to be evil.

I shy away from arguing that free will causes pain, but in an alternative existence where God has controlled pain, God’s benevolence depends on it.

Later, Mackie argues that evil isn’t necessary to goodness because there exists an equal match of goodness and evil, so that when a certain evil results in a “higher order good” there’s another “higher order evil” to match, ad infinitum.

But Mackie’s formula is too simplistic to account for the complexity of the human experience. For example, it’s impossible to classify a characteristic like sacrifice into either “good” or “evil.”

Of course, sacrifice is good because it is noble and selfless, but it is only those things because it’s painful to give up what makes the action a sacrifice.

Sacrifice is both good and painful. Each needs the other, in this case.

To this end, it may be beneficial to not argue whether evil is necessary to good, but whether pain is necessary to feeling.

As a storyteller, I know that without pain, we would be numb. So perhaps the most benevolent thing God could do is allow us to feel.

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