Thoughts on the Problem of Pain

August 21, 2009

The problem of pain is one of the oldest and most convincing argument against the existence of God.  One may wrestle with it on a purely intellectual level, which is a difficult task in and of itself.  A far greater task, however, is to tackle it on a personal level.  When we witness or experience extreme emotional or physical pain, we naturally turn to ourselves and ask “Where is God during this time of suffering?”  Some people conclude that there is no God.  Others come away from such experiences with stronger faith than they had before.  I would like to examine the first response, and outline why it is unreasonable to ever conclude that there is no God.  (Of course, this wouldn’t prove the existence of God. This merely demonstrates the illogical nature of this particular disproof of God’s existence.)

You may object that it is unfair to judge the logical validity of an argument that is based primarily on a subjective emotional response.  But I disagree with this objection.  For while the subjective experience of pain is a premise of the argument, the conclusion it purports to show is an objective fact.  To bridge this gap there needs to be some form of logical reasoning by the individual, however subconscious and vague it may be.  To be sure, one cannot judge the logical consistency of an emotional response.  One can, however, determine whether any inferences made from these emotions are valid or invalid, for these inferences are logical inferences.

Here is a typical thought process: a person perceives pain, and becomes angry at god.  He then concludes that god cannot be both all-powerful and all-good.  If either of these characteristics is untrue of god, then that being would cease to be god.  Therefore god does not exist.  Here’s the problem with this argument: as soon as he concludes that god does not exist, he has no reason to be angry.  His conclusion undermines his premise.  The atheist may either fatalistically resign himself to a life of pain, or conclude that there is god after all.  “I’m angry at you, so you don’t exist” may be a very effective way to breach a relationship with another person, and it works with God as well – both ways.

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