Friday, March 11, 2011

Is it morally permissible for God to allow Satan to test Job?

The book of Job is recommended by Christians as a guide to make sense of the existence of sufferings in the world. It fulfills this function without subscribing to a more commonly proposed rationale that sufferings stem from the sufferers’ personal sins. Indeed, in the book of Job, the friends of Job lends a mouthpiece to the traditionally held view that sufferings are consequences of personal sins, but the reader is given knowledge of the backdrop for Job’s sufferings and are able to see the arguments presented by Job’s friends as misdirected. In the book of Job, an alternative proposal to the question of suffering seems to have been offered- That suffering can be a test meted out by God. In this article, I seek to evaluate whether this is an acceptable explanation for the existence of suffering.

The introduction of the book of Job showcases an interaction between God and Satan, in which God is shown to extol the virtuousness of Job to Satan. Satan challenges God that Job’s virtuousness were a result of God’s blessings on Job, and that if God should strike him with ill-effects, Job would not be as virtuous. God then agrees to the challenge and allows Satan to test Job. Then, in a chain of unfortunate events, Job’s oxen and donkeys were stolen by marauding Sabeans and his servants put to the sword, his sheep and more servants consumed by fire from the sky, his camels and even more servants stolen by raiding Chaldeans, and his sons and daughters killed when a mighty wind caused the house they were feasting in to collapse on them. Subsequently, on further prompting by Satan to God to test Job, God allowed Satan to strike Job’s flesh and bones, whence upon Satan afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.

The paradigm offered by the book of Job for the experience of suffering, especially on people who might have been deemed as righteous and not deserving of punishment, is that God allows Satan to test humans in order that their sincerity in their faith in Him may be revealed. I seek to evaluate whether God has infringed upon certain moral principles (as prescribed in biblical texts or in philosophy) by allowing Satan to inflict such sufferings.

Does God have the right to test humans by causing them to suffer? I believe that every human beings have a right to dignity based on their individuality, and that suffering is anathema to the dignity of a human being. Because individuality is the sole criteria for a human being’s right to dignity, no one has the right to cause him or her harm. Such is the precept that I believe should govern human relations towards one another. Now, does such a precept apply to God? If it does, then can we say that God should not have the moral right to allow Satan to cause Job to suffer? And if it doesn’t, how can we conciliate human suffering to the right of dignity of a human being that I have prescribed above?

Sufferings are observable events in the world through the reports we see in the media. I believe that many of the victims of natural disasters, murders, rapes, thefts and many other ill-fortunes are not guilty of sins that warrant their sufferings. I myself am in experience of a certain trivial suffering in a minor form of tinnitus which I experience after attending a loud concert. Can we satisfactorily conciliate these observations of sufferings to the explanation provided by the book of Job? Is it any comfort at all to tell a woman who had been raped that her traumatic experience was due to God allowing Satan to test her? I personally find it just as reprehensive an explanation as to explain that she was a victim of rape because of her personal sins. In the book of Job, the sons and daughters of Job lost their lives as a result of the test meted out on their father. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Do you think it is fair that you should die because God allows Satan to kill you so that the sincerity of your father’s faith may be revealed? Does it not infringe on your right to life?

There might be several elements in my paradigm that might be questioned. One objection is that there were no such rights of a human being to begin with. Human beings have no rights to dignity or to life and such figments of my imagination or social constructs. Another objection possible is that the sufferings as shown in the book of Job did not infringe on any rights to dignity or life, or that sufferings does not rob a human being a dignity. God rehabilitated Job at the end of the test, and it is possible to conceive that the souls of his sons and daughters are in heavenly bliss in the afterlife. But there are certain sufferings in the world that might not preserve the dignity of the sufferer, one of which I believe is rape. I think if the book of Job was meant as an explanation for sufferings observed in the world, it probably cannot offer an explanation for certain suffering such as rape because it seems reprehensible to posit that God test the faith of a woman by allowing her to get raped. Another objection to my paradigm that I seem to have adopted for myself is that such suffering only happen to other people and would not happen to me, my family, or my friends because God is protecting me and the people around me. As of yet, I am relatively fine in health and status, although I think that adopting the paradigm of suffering in such a manner may be solipsistic and self-centered. However, it helps me make sense of sufferings observed that are extraneous to myself. I suppose my contraction of tinnitus somewhat damages such a view of mine and I have the grave apprehension that this illusion of mine will get shattered one day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Examination of St Thomas Aquinas argument of the First Cause

Today, I am going to examine one of the five arguments that were posited by the great Christian theologian of antiquity, St Thomas Aquinas. It is his argument of the First Cause in order to proof the existence of God. The argument puts forward the necessity of a thing to have a cause that is extrinsic to itself. Then, as there cannot be an infinite regression of things needing a cause, he concludes the necessity of an uncaused cause, which is God.
I want to identify the propositions put forward here and evaluate the assumptions here foremost. Firstly, it is the proposition that all things must have a cause. I would raise the question, “why?” Why must there be a cause to a thing in existence? Well, I presume that this is deemed necessary if the being(this can be ascribed to processes too) is intelligent in design in nature and hence could not have existed by itself. Why can’t a thing that is intelligent in design not exist by itself? Because intelligence in design is not self-forming in nature; it needs an efficient cause. Therefore, the thing which is intelligent in design must have an intelligent designer to design it. Now why does an intelligent designer need to have an intelligent designer for his being? Well, that is because the intelligent designer is intelligent in design as well. For example, a watch( an intelligent in design item) needs to be caused by an intelligent designer(a human being), but the human being is also intelligent in design and hence also in necessity of an intelligent designer for his being. A materialist would very well say that the womb of a mother coupled with all the fertilization processes is the intelligent designer of a human being. What designed that process then, which is very much intelligent in its design? And if we regress in our postulation of the necessity of an intelligent designer for an intelligent in design thing, we end up with a position whereby it is impossible to infinitely regress and we must admit of an intelligent designer who does not need a cause. Let’s take a look at the propositions laid down.

1. An item needs to have a cause if it is intelligent in design and therefore contingent in nature

2. The universe and all that is in existence right now are intelligent in design and therefore needs a cause

3. God is the intelligent designer who is uncaused

The first proposition states a categorization clause for a thing to need a cause. It is either intelligent in design and therefore needs a cause, or it is not intelligent in design and therefore may not need a cause. My question is, does God fit into the categorization as a being that is intelligent in design. If we examine the God of the Bible, I suppose we would have to admit that God bears traits that are intelligent in design. Intelligence in design is contingent in nature. If that is so, then the third proposition has been violated since by bearing traits that are intelligent in design, God would be construed under the first proposition as needing a cause. One may propose that perhaps traits that are intelligent in design can exist without a cause and that an intelligent in design God existing without a cause is possible. Fine, I won’t debate the proposition, but I would then find the argument for a proof of God unnecessary since the second proposition listed above is invalid. Because even if we construe the universe and all that is in existence as being billed under the categorization of being intelligent in design, under the amended proposition just mentioned, the universe and all that is in existence would not need a cause.
So what are the alternatives? One is that God is not an intelligent in design God and therefore does not need a cause. But that is contradictory to the Christian’s viewpoint right? Two, we specify a quantifying quality in the first proposition by stating that all things other than God requires a cause if it is intelligent in design. But why does God escape the necessity of having to have a cause if intelligently in design? Seems arbitrary. But really, is that possible? Is it possible that God is intelligent in design but does not need a cause. In which part of my argument have I made an error? Is it a linguistic/semantic error, whereby I have ascribed “intelligent in design” as a property both of the universe and of God? For maybe “intelligent in design” can be sub-specialized into types of those requiring causes and those not requiring causes. Oh well, I am getting lazy. Shall think about this some other time.

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