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comment by Rossin · 2021-04-28T17:14:25.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had a really hard time double cruxing this, because I don't actually feel at all uncertain about the existence of a benevolent and omnipotent god. I realized partway through that I wasn't doing a good job arguing both sides and stopped there. I'm posting this comment anyway, in case it makes for useful discussion.

You attribute god both benevolence and omnipotence, which I think is extremely difficult to square with the world we inhabit, in which natural disasters kill and injure thousands, in which children are born with debilitating diseases, and good people die young in accidents that were no fault of their own. One can of course come up with a myriad of possible explanations for these observations, but I think they are a sharp departure from what a naive mind would expect to see in a world created by an all-powerful benevolent being. I'm trying to come up with explanations of these that don't feel completely forced. The best I can come up with is the idea of a divine plan in which the events allow people to fulfill their destiny and become who they are meant to be. Yet, while such might make for good storytelling, I don't think they actually improve the lives of people these things happen to.

Relatedly, you have the problem of human evil. I think the standard reply is that God gives humans the free will to choose good or evil so that He may judge them. I would contend that free will only produces evil in beings created by God insofar as their creator designed them in such a way that they would often choose to do evil things given the world in which they are placed (e.g. why does God make pedophiles?).

Another consideration is the intense competition that exists in the world between all life forms for limited resources does not approximate what I think one would naively expect of a singular God, but looks much more like multiple opposed forces acting against one another. This would at least seem to favor polytheism over monotheism, but given the simpler explanation of evolution, I think neither is necessary. I think Eliezer made this point better 

comment by joshuatanderson · 2021-04-28T17:53:34.987Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rossin, thanks for the great comment.  I appreciate your intellectual honesty here.  I also agree with a good bit of what you said.  I'm sure you've already heard a myriad of theistic responses and good counter-responses to the problem of evil, which I do agree is a very potent one.  I also agree with you that for many people, such as those born with horrific disabilities or conditions, or perhaps animals with certain parasites, their experience of life on earth probably has a negative utility.

In your opinion, would a resurrection/afterlife change this equation at all?  Or, as a thought experiment, if in a few years, if you could reach immortality via cryonics, but only if you underwent an extremely painful cryopreservation process while still living, without the benefit of anesthetics, would you do it?  Would you make this decision for a friend or spouse if, for some reason, they didn't have the capacity to make decisions due to an illness, but could still feel pain at present, and would be fully restored in the future?  If so, maybe evil doesn't negate the possibility of good.  

I had read Eliezer's post on this earlier, but I gave it another scan since you referenced it.  I actually agree with most of it.  I do think that a world full of evolutionary animal suffering isn't something I would have anticipated.  And I don't think that I would have been able to deduce a deity from observing evidence that seems to come from all angles, like the beauty of flowers, and the apparent cruelty of parasitic wasps (although this may be due to my own cultural background since many cultures arrived at god-concepts based on their own observations of the world).  Personally, I found this perspective on animal suffering in an evolutionarily driven world to be a fascinating one (it is a talk by a lady who did her thesis on animal suffering).

Replies from: Rossin
comment by Rossin · 2021-04-28T19:01:48.195Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In your opinion, would a resurrection/afterlife change this equation at all?


Yes, an afterlife transforms death (at least relatively low-pain deaths) into something that's really not that bad. It's sad in the sense you won't see a person for a while, but that's not remotely on the level of a person being totally obliterated, which is my current interpretation of death on the basis that I see no compelling evidence for an afterlife. Considering that one's mental processes continuing after the brain ceases to function would rely on some mechanism unknown to our current understanding of reality, I would want considerable evidence to consider an afterlife plausible.

To answer your thought experiment - it depends. For myself, almost certainly. Some friends and family I have discussed cryonics with have expressed little to no interest in living beyond the "normal" biological amount of time. I think they are misguided, but I would not presume to choose this for them. Those who have expressed interest in cryonics I would probably sign up. However, I think your analogy may break down in that it seems an omnipotent god should not need immense suffering to bring people to an afterlife. I don't think a god need prevent all suffering to be good or benevolent, but I think there is a level of unjust suffering a good god would not allow.

Replies from: joshuatanderson
comment by joshuatanderson · 2021-04-28T21:21:38.513Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with you on most of that.  Obliteration is a terrifying idea, a timeout is merely sad.  I also agree that it would depend on a mechanism unknown to our current understanding of reality.  I do think that granted a deity of some sort, (or even a simulation of some sort), it is very plausible.  A good analogy might seem to be a state snapshot if you are familiar with states in programming or something like Redux, or another good analogy might be saving a video game to the cloud, where even if the local hard drive is obliterated, and there is no physical remnant, it can be restored by an entity who has access to the state at some point.  I would also agree with you that unless there is some sort of deity or observer, the probability of an afterlife seems pretty close to 0 based on what we know about reality.

I am open to the idea that there might be a level of suffering that a good god wouldn't allow, but I don't quite understand how to quantify what you are talking about.  I can certainly imagine universes that would be much worse than ours.  I'm not sure if I can imagine possible universes that are better (for example, you could say that the beauty and speed of a deer would not have occurred in a world without the fangs of a cougar, or that rockets to travel the stars are only possible in a world where you can have burning houses unless you want a completely unpredictable world, where science is impossible).  Do you have any particular cutoff point in mind?  The crux I am operating on there is that in a universe that is designed by a good god, the net amount of good must outweigh the amount of evil, and any evil that is allowed must be (either directly or indirectly) outweighed by the amount of good.  

Also, I agree with you on the idea that violating someone's will for an afterlife/cryonics would be wrong, and that a good actor would respect the autonomy of others.