Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Problem of Pain: Introduction - Part 1

My friend pointed out that knowing the goal is part of understanding the process and how the result is perceived. I would add that if the knowledge or the perception you start with is flawed, even good goals and plans are likely to fail.

Lewis starts out:
Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself that even if every one them were known to be crowded as full as it could hold with perfectly happy creatures, it would still be difficult to believe that life and happiness were more than a by-product to the power that made the universe. As it is however, the scientists think it likely that very few of the suns of space - perhaps none of them except our own - have any planets: and in our own system it is improbable that any planet except the Earth sustains life.


There are two issues here. First is that Lewis is unaware that his own body is mostly empty space. The volume of space between the electrons and nucleus of each atom that makes up his body exceeds the actual volume of the particles themselves by many orders of magnitude. I doubt he would find himself lacking in substance despite the obvious volume of nothingness he is composed of. Ok, maybe a little tongue in cheek, but the second issue is more important - that there are few planets such that we may be the only one. He wrote Problem of Pain around 1940. Even then, the number of stars in the heavens numbered in the trillions was known. Although direct evidence of planets would take another 30-40 years, the idea that in the millions (probably billions) of galaxies, and the hundreds of millions (billions) of stars in each could be devoid of planets is so outlandish as to border on stupid. But, Lewis is a writer, and may have no real interest in the science of our universe, so I might forgive him such a position. But the problem is that such an opinion helps to form the foundation of what Lewis considers further.

The race is doomed. Every race that comes into being in any part of the universe is doomed; for the universe, they tell us, is running down, and will sometime be a uniform infinity of homogeneous matter at a low temperature. All
stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter. If you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit, I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit.


Lewis looks at the unknowable vastness of empty space, the futility of all endeavor as evidence that God can't exist, or if He did, that He was a evil spirit. It is a position the Children of the Sixties can relate to: why are we here? What is my purpose? Lewis answers not for himself, but for all living things: life is futile. A waste of effort. We are all doomed, and all our flailing about is for naught for it will all be nothing in the end. He leaves this line of thought there, but I consider one further point of bias. It may be inherent in most species, it is certainly prevalent in humans: what has been in the past, will be in the future. We are conditioned by the fact that yesterday the sun rose, and set, and today it rose so therefore it must set again. However, our recorded experience is limited - a couple thousand years on one planet, in one galaxy, in the face of billions of years of universe life - any suggestion that ANY part of our experience constitutes "normal" in the larger scheme of things is without merit.

There was one question which I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists' case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creaters. Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that.


It appears that the Problem Lewis has is not with pain, or suffering, but with death. If everything ends, then what value did it have in existing? And in his mind, death is evil. Of course, there is no life without death, it is a consequence unavoidable. Even Christ died. However, God is eternal. Having no death, is God alive? (That is just a side thought!) Actually, Lewis avoids this line of thought for the more interesting idea of what is good.

For some reason, never addressed, Lewis considers God good but that is at odds with his perception that the Universe is evil. He wants to explore how man reached this conclusion.

At all times, then, an inference from the course of events in this world to the goodness and wisdom of the Creater would have been equally preposterous; and it was never made.


His point is that experience and knowledge could not have led us to the position that God was good. He omits the obvious that all our experience and knowledge could not have led us to the position that God existed at all. He doesn't want to go there, or doesn't consider the possibility.

I will admit I am average writer at best, but the following is very strange even to me:

To prehistoric man the neighbouring forest must have been infinite enough, and the utterly alient and infest which we have to fetch from the thought of cosmic rays and cooling suns, came snuffing and howling nightly to his very doors. Certainly at all periods the pain and waste of human life was equally obvious. Our own religion begins among the Jews, a people squeezed between great warlike empires, continually defeated and led captive, familiar as Poland or Armenia with the tragic story of the conquered. It is mere nonsense to put pain among the discoveries of science. Lay down this book and reflect for five minutes on the fact that all the great religions were first preached, and long practised, in a world without chloroform.


Emphasis mine. Where did that statement come from? Did he have an entire thought erased from the draft, leaving the highlighted line adrift?

To Lewis, the study of pain is not to be left to science. It is the perview of religion. Pain can not be measured or even described. It is in the same category as beauty. Subject to the same limitations as any other subjective topic, one person's pain is another person's pleasure. Therefore, it must be put into the context of perception rather than a field of study. Pain is not about what is happening to you, but how you feel about it.

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