A consent theodicy

I have what I believe to be a novel argument for the compatibility of an all knowing, all powerful, all good god and the existence of evil.(1)

It’s kind of a weird argument because it relies on premises not really compatible with any of the major monotheistic religions(2), thus it’s unlikely to be used by apologists anytime soon. Still though, it is at least interesting.

Suppose we are all immortal souls, currently incarnated as human beings. Suppose that we agreed to be incarnated as humans because we wanted to experience life as a human, knowing that it would involve suffering, but wishing to gain something from that. For example, expanding our understanding of the possibilities of experience.

In other words, suppose we gave informed consent, before our births, to suffer, because we wished to experience the myriad possibilities of existence, good and bad (and perhaps had been incarnated many times before for that purpose as well…). Under these conditions it seems to me that God could not be blamed for our suffering.(3)

An analogy might make this more plausible. Suppose that there were a drug, that gave people who took it incredible insights. However, when you took it you temporarily forgot who you were, and your existence prior to taking the drug. Often persons on the drug suffered horribly -had a bad trip, so to speak. Afterwards you would remember both your experiences on the drug, and your life prior to taking the drug (your memories would be restored), moreover you would reliably not regret having taken the drug for the insights it had given you, even if while you were high you suffered terribly. Would it necessarily be unethical to give a person a dose of such a drug? I don’t think so.

One possible reply by the sceptic is “well what about all those people who have withdrawn their consent, but are still in the world suffering.” I suppose the theist might defend against this objection as follows, God knows that if these people had their full faculties returned and remembered why they were placed in the world to begin with, they would no longer wish to leave, or to stop suffering.

I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a good argument, and it seems unlikely to be true, but this need not stand in the way of philosophy.


(1.) Calling an argument in philosophy novel is always a risk, but I’ve not been able to find an antecedent. The closest is this: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15665399.2006.10819928 but despite the name it appears to be quite different. I’ve had people suggest what I’ve outlined is basically the doctrine of Saṃsāra, but either my understanding of Saṃsāra is very wrong, or their understanding of this argument is mistaken.

(2). Maybe some forms of Judaism and some heterodox forms of Islam- that’s a big maybe though.

(3). The best objection here would be that even if we are the same ‘souls’ that consented, we are not really the same persons, because personhood is based on psychological continuity. Thus the harmed persons have not consented. I will avoid diving into the very tricky issues about personal identity this raises here. I think the argument about temporary suspension of memories under a drug in the penultimate paragraph deals with or bypasses this objection.

One thought on “A consent theodicy

  1. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make this argument all the time. It’s not novel, but relatively old. The theology includes a life before this one, an existence of souls co-eternal with God, and an agreement to come live a life necessary to gain some sort of experience so as to become more like God.

    It’s amusing to see one’s beliefs described as a novel argument most theists wouldn’t make (although you’re not really wrong about that; we’re just the narrow slice of theists who do).


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