For earlier posts in this series, see here.
The Presuppositional Defense
“Suffering”,as used by Maitzen, appears to be used as a substitute and synonym for “evil” in his argument. If there is indeed something wrong, morally speaking, with “suffering” it is due to a presence of evil.
Christian theism, as previously articulated, demonstrates a consistent accounting for not only the presence of suffering, but also the grounds by which one can morally classify suffering inflicted or experienced by a human agent. Within its bounds are two categories: natural and moral.
Natural suffering (evil) would be what is experienced in nature. We are cursed and live in a cursed world.(54) If this were not true, then people suffering and dying from storms and disease would not bother us; however, such instances do because we attach a moral value to life. Likewise, moral suffering (evil) is that which is experienced from the actions committed by moral agents. Such is a key argument against those who would argue that humans are morally autonomous beings (subjective morality). To be consistent with such a position one must recognize that they have no moral authority over another person. However, if one assumes that they do possess a moral authority to not only rebuff but to respond to another person, they are being consistent with the Christian theist position that humans gather their moral authority from the fact that they are image bearers of their Creator. This means that the existence of moral evil is what is in sight. As the existence of natural evil—which only is recognized through the interaction of a human moral agent in the natural world—moral evil, what human moral agents inflict upon one another, must be explained. In fact, to assume that there is some way that human moral agents ought to interact with one another carries certain baggage along with it.
In such discussions, it inevitably becomes clear that there are certain assumptions about human beings that are taken for granted. Terms like “rights”, “responsibilities”, and “duties” are naturally assumed in moral reasoning. However, it must be recognized that these often bleed together. It is not simply that a person naturally has a “right” to something, but in possessing that “right” is an inherent “responsibility” accompanying it as well as an implicit “duty” along with it.(55) In any discussion of “suffering” and what obligations may or may not exist concordantly with them in OM, it must be assumed that in OM these exist.
For Maitzen to simply insist that there is some obligation that exists in OM to prevent suffering, he is simply assuming what he has yet to prove: that such exists as a duty, freely, as a by-product.(56)
Ordinary Morality Assumes a Transcendent Moral Lawgiver
Maitzen’s base assumptions—that there is something actually wrong with human suffering and that an obligation exists to prevent it as much as possible—can only be true if there is a God that exists, that has made revelation in regard to the nature of human beings, and that human conduct, both activity and inactivity, has moral qualities. Any other position ultimately renders human moral reasoning meaningless. If there is, in fact, such an expectation of an OM, it can only exist where a theistic, as opposed to atheistic, worldview is not only presupposed but also operational.
To argue that there is a reason to believe that there is a distinction between “justified” and “unjustified” suffering assumes a transcendent standard of justice by which one can make such a determination. Likewise, in making the assertion that some suffering is “undeserved” that naturally assumes that there is some suffering that is “deserved” and a transcendent standard by which to demonstrate it. To argue that there is a moral distinction between “voluntary” and “involuntary” suffering, and that one has greater, moral value by which one can make a distinction. Maitzen loves to complain about the perceived negative but in doing so fails to provide for its opposite. That is to say that only in theism, specifically Christian theism with its totalizing worldview, that not only can one adjudicate whether or not suffering is just or unjust, deserved or undeserved, voluntary or involuntary, but also mediate an appropriate response, in extending the mercy that God has shown to those who do not deserve it.(57)
As previously stated, Maitzen’s argument is largely against a conception of a god who has not sovereignly ordered the world to bring about his intended ends. The god against which he arguing is prevented from acting upon the actions of free creatures whom he must not interfere with for various reasons. The reformed view is that God is superintending all acts of men, whether for good or evil, as means to bring about his intended ends: the gracious salvation of an undeserving people and the just condemnation of the rest.(58) Suffering then becomes part of the reality of human experience as creatures who have fallen from an original state of uprightness to a state of depravity.(59) In this state, human beings seek to inflict on themselves and others their hatred of their God and Creator who would not only hold them responsible for what they do, but act upon his promises. To that end, the TLTGC is the only grounds upon which one can make any argument about the suffering of human beings, and how we are to respond.(60)
54. Genesis 3. “Curse” here is in the sense of a judicial decree rendered against sinful man. The declaration of the punishment (death, in Genesis 2:16-17) was not abrogated, but mercy was shown by the expulsion. See Harry Tolley’s discussion of “curses” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary
55. In many of these discussions, “rights” are often emphasized, but there is no discussion of what accompanies it or what is required. While much can be said about these conceptually and historically, in moral discussions they cannot logically be created arbitrarily, rather they must logically flow together.
56. Philosopher Alex Rosenberg does something similar in his book The Atheist Guide to Reality, where he writes in chapter 5, “The good news is that almost all of us, no matter what our scientific, scientistic, or theological beliefs, are committed to the same basic morality and values.” It’s a happy coincidence, from an atheistic worldview, that so many share similar values. Of course such reasoning does not mean that those shared values are true, only that we can see a consensus.
57. To say that the Christian worldview is “totalizing,” what is meant is that there is no aspect of life that is philosophically exclusive to itself. That is, in order to make any judgement about life, or meaning, or truth, one must begin with what God has made known, and this goes back to the earliest days of Christianity as an entity distinct from Judaism. For more see J.B. Rives discussion in his article “Christian Expansion and Christian Ideology” in The Spread of Christianity in the First Four Centuries: Essays in Explanation, Brill Publishing (2005)
58. Romans 9:14-18
59. Ecclesiastes 7:29
60. TLTGC = True Living Triune God of Christianity