Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion”

by Max Andrews

Dostoevsky depicts a conversation between two brothers: Ivan and Alyosha.  Ivan is an atheist (a weak category, perhaps) and he observes all the suffering going on in the world.  Alyosha is a Christian and is attempting to bring Ivan closer to the truth that there can be forgiveness.  Ivan has this rebellion against God and doesn’t believe there is such a being that will actually forgive the world of these evils.  Ivan makes the distinction between the sufferings of children and the sufferings of adults.  It’s the adults that Ivan has little sympathy for since they are the only creature that can practice artistic evil.  A tiger maims its prey but it would never even think of nailing the prey’s ears or blowing the brains out of another animal, even if it could.  He suggests that the adults, even the elderly, should be damned because they have eaten the apple (participated in conscious acts of sin).  However, the children have done nothing wrong.  Children have just shown up in existence and have no conscious control or recognition of morality.  When these children are bayoneted, shot in the face, or receive long tortuous beatings and those who fulfill these acts take joy in it this becomes an artistic evil and is unwarranted evil against the children because they have not eaten the apple.

The argument wasn’t so much of a conclusion that God doesn’t exist; rather, it was Ivan’s way of expressing his desire to “return God’s ticket.”  The world is unjust and this was Ivan’s rebellion against God.

Dostoevsky’s argument:

  1. There is so much suffering of children in the world.
  2. Children do not deserve to suffer.
  3. God would not permit children to suffer because they have not eaten the apple and committed their own damnation.
  4. Therefore, God does not exist because children do suffer.

I actually enjoyed reading the argument because it was a very sincere depiction of the gravity of the argument.  It’s very easy to refer to some type of Christian trump card to get around the problem of evil but this drove the problem down to an aspect we often forget about.  The argument from pointless and undeserved suffering of children is an argument that is a very serious and one of the most profound forms of the problem of evil.  When this has to be answered and responded to it must be done so in a delicate fashion.  Admittedly, the response and answer may be sufficient in explaining the state of affairs but at the same time there’s the emotional aspect that begs, “Why?” If Ivan is right, he shouldn’t have any case for justifying the wrongness of actions. Wouldn’t it be: ☐(~Eg ⊃ ∀ϕ~Wϕ) Necessarily, if God does not exist then for any action ϕ, that action is not wrong?  Or, a conjunct of rightness inserted would be the same for rightness.


One Comment to “Dostoevsky’s “Rebellion””

  1. Very interesting blog… What a difficult argument to deal with! I wonder if Paul would have looked at the issue from a different angle though. Perhaps he would have endorsed some sort of original sin that makes all guilty from birth… or else some sort of Augustinian depravity of children themselves… or even if he didn’t have the explanation perhaps he would again say, “who are you, oh man, to talk back to God?”

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