The Omnibenevolent God

Ahh the classic, the problem of evil. Stated simply by Epicurus as follows:

 

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?

Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able, and willing?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God.”

In this episode, we’ll explore two ideas, omnibenevolence, and another interesting idea, omnimalevolence.

Omnibenevolence, one of — as far as I know — the first realized, and first questions attributes of deity. The fundamental argument of this much researched idea is that if God is omnibenevolent, and ostensibly created the universe, then why did he bother to create evil? To borrow a common sentiment from religion, I’ll quote the Bible, specifically 2 Peter:

“The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” [1] (Emphasis Mine)

This God, seemingly, wants only good for people; yet allows apparently countless thousands die, and not only die, but suffer in eternal hellfire.

Let me just say, if this is the God I’m supposed to believe in, let alone serve, then I want no part in it. I refuse to work for anyone that is so morally bankrupt that — even though he has the ability — won’t save these people, it’s despicable.

However, we cannot attack this problem without a good definition of what omnibenevolence is, so lets define it as follows:

  • Omnibenevolence is defined as being unable to withhold oneself from doing good. That is, in any situation, an omnibenevolent being will choose the ethical answer.

Similarly, we’ll define Omnimalevolence as the opposite of the above, that is, to always choose the unethical answer.[2]

So how does this idea fare logically? Well, first, we may see some correlation between omniscience and this, since always choosing the ‘correct’ ethical answer requires knowledge of that answer. We leads us to ask the ‘hard’ questions, like gay marriage, or abortion, or the death penalty. When is it ethically ‘correct’ for us to kill someone as penalty for crimes committed? We’ve shown that these questions have no ‘right’ answer. So how could a omnibenevolent god make the right choice?

Similarly, if god is incapable of doing evil, then that idea flies in the face of omnipotence and free will. If we say god is capable of everything, and in the same breath say that “it is impossible for God to [lie]”[3] (to borrow from the bible again), this is a trivial contradiction, and one of the most glaring ones in the bible. The common counter argument is that “God simply chooses not to lie, and has promised that he never will.” But to that I ask, if the bible is the divine, literal, true word of God, why didn’t it say that? The issue here comes down to certain groups wanting to have they’re oil and burn it too. They say that the bible is the literal truth, so we point out a contradiction. They then say that that part was metaphorical, and so we tell them about their former position, and now they’re in a bind. You can’t say something is literal, and then tell me that parts are metaphorical, and that you’re the only one who knows the literal from the metaphorical. It’s a scam. It gives you a license to make the text say whatever you want.

To be honest, the omnibenevolence problem is fairly unassailable, it’s an ethical problem, and ethics are generally subjective. I think I’m going to stop, with the note that the few arguments I did present here also apply in the opposite direction, for omnimalevolence. In any case, a nice short post on omnibenevolence never hurt anyone.

Before I go, a quick summary, so far we’ve shown that omniscience is not much more than incredible intelligence, omnipresence doesn’t really work out, and we offered an admittedly weak argument for the case against omnibenevolence. I’ve got only one or two more to go. (I’m still considering the case for omnipotence, as that’s the real big one, and I’m digging up another interesting one, I hope.)

Not sure what I’ll do for my next series, any suggestions are welcome.

 

[1] 2 Peter, 3:9 NRSV. I use the NRSV for two reasons, firstly, My sister (A Theology Grad Student) mentioned that it is the Bible most commonly used among her academic colleagues. Secondly, it seems that we atheists tend to prefer translations like the KJV or the NKJV. When in fact these translations are typically only used by radicals in the Christian religion. When we confront those subgroups, using the translation they use is just fine. However, I think it would be unfair to use a version as dated and — as far as I’m concerned — prejudicial, in a setting such as this. Reference retrieved from http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=2Peter+3

[2] As usual, I have to enter the disclaimer, if you don’t define this particular attribute in this particular way, that’s fine. You’ll have to judge for yourself if the arguments presented here apply. I aim to choose a definition which gets the general sentiment of the idea.

[3] “… in which it is impossible that God would prove false,” Heb 6:18, NRSV. http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Hebrews+6

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~ by jfredett on April 30, 2008.

6 Responses to “The Omnibenevolent God”

  1. I confess, I barely read any of this … I will tomorrow or in a day or two … but just wanted to toss a thought in here …

    I don’t know if you’ve heard this before or not, but it’s been said that evil is not the inability or unwillingness or lack of benevolence on the part of God, but merely the absence of God.

    Yeah, that contradicts the omnipresent, but again, we must see the spiritual …

    God can be everywhere but not impact everywhere he is. He does not walk into lives uninvited, nor does he bust through walls in imposition. He is there willing and able, but if someone doesn’t ask him for help, he’s not going to force it.

    Then there are also deeper questions, such as, what if what we see as evil is not evil to God?

    If we get really deep into it, we’ll see that everything comes down to this battle between God and Satan. In war there are always casualties.

    Plus some other thoughts but my brain is fried from a long day and I might regret not reading back through this tomorrow, but oh well …

  2. I noted in the post that this question is very hard to answer, because evil is fairly hard to define, benevolence is hard to define, and both ideas are ethical questions, so trying to approach the problem logically is at best incredibly difficult, and normally damn near impossible.

    It’s my opinion that omnibenevolence is impossible, I base this on the simple heuristic that “anything omni is probably bunk”, it make’s little sense to me that something can be maxed out on goodness. I think the real problem, and maybe I should have noted this in the post, that omnibenevolence/omnimalevolence is really a false dichotomy in a way. OB/OM is a continuum, and without going into detail, it’s a continuum without endpoints, so that you can get really really close to being omnibenevolent, or omnimalevolent, but never actually get there.

    In anycase, it’s time for class.. 🙂

  3. I have a thought, could one have Omnibenevolence and because of that refuses to force us to do good for the fact that in doing so he would commit evil, and cease to have Omnibenevolence? That though he is all powerful he cannot break his own Laws, one of which is giving us the right to hoose Eternal Joy or Eternal Suffering. I mean that is why Satan/Lucifer even exists, because he wanted God’s power and glory, and to force us to be good. But that wasn’t God’s plan it was to teach us to follow him, by our own will!! The true source of Power and Goodness is not forced obedience to doing what is right but by learning through trial and error, so that we may know all things which are good and right. He allows suffering to happen to help us become strong and though that become like him. I mean if we look at the life of Jesus as God literal Son and at what he suffered for us atoning in the garden and dying on the cross, he made it possible to truly repent of our sin and be with God. God let this happen, because he loved us, I mean could you even consider letting your son suffer what he suffered? I don’t think so; I can just imagine God’s pain, that he would go to the farthest corner of the universe just to get away from His Son’s cries of pain and suffering; shown in the scriptures by the word “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If that doesn’t show God love and Omnibenevolence, then I am sorry. God is Omnibenevolence, for the fact that he has done so much for you and me. Let’s answer your question shall we;
    Is he both able, and willing, Then whence cometh evil?
    God is able and willing to prevent evil, but only as far as we let him, because he will not force use, such is Omnibenevolence.

  4. Well, Tom, let me first say that I’ve actually moved this site to humbuggery.net. That aside, lets look at your idea.

    First, is he really omnipotent if we can so easily limit him? That is, doesn’t your answer leave you with a contradiction between omnipotence and omnibenevolence? Further, is he really all powerful if he is limited by laws? Further, is a choice between eternal joy or eternal suffering really a choice at all? It sounds more like this god fella has issued an _ultimatum_ “Do as I say or burn for eternity”. That’s not a choice, friend, it’s an order. Our will has nothing to do with it.

    You also presuppose that Jesus actually existed, which is not known to be true, and that the Bible is literally true, which is not known to be true. In the original post, I set forth the axioms which I would argue from, those axioms do not include the veracity of the Bible or the existence of someone like Jesus. Furthermore, many have suffered equally as what is described as what Christ suffered, Consider the millions of people in Africa — children, women, etc — who are starving, or forced to fight for brutal warlords. What about the thousands of people all around the world without access to adequate food, shelter, or healthcare? Are we stopping his supposed benevolence there? I argue that _absolutely no one_ argues in favor of death of innocent children due to disease. If no one is stopping your god, or any, from helping them, why doesn’t he?

    As I mentioned in the post, ethical problems are hard, and to be honest, I don’t think this one in particular is particularly useful in Deconstructing our Idea of god in a logical way. But even still, the definition of an omnibenevolent god fails under the definition I provided. Your definition argues the this god does what is ethically good when it can (I use “this god” and “it” so as to remain generic over the set of all possible deities, not just yours), but I would argue that this describes any ethically good person — eg, you or me.

    I try to do good when I can, and if people will let me. How is this different from what you argue this god can do? Barring his _capability_ to do good (eg, his assumed omnipotence, which is taken to task in another post), I argue, nothing.

    Furthermore, cries of pain hardly show how much God (here capitalized to show I’m speaking of your god in particular) loved his Son — if he is omnipotent, why did he even need to send him in the first place? If he is not willing that any should perish, then why let them? Is he so petty that he can’t unilaterally forgive the sins of all? Is he so small-minded that he holds a grudge against his imperfect supposed creations? Is he so tiny in his benevolence that — while he could prevent the suffering of thousands who do not even know of the rules that they are forced to (supposedly) play by that he will _simply condemn them to eternal suffering?_

    This is not a good God, friend, in fact, he is a horrific god. A vile and vengeful spirit who condemns those who are ignorant of him for lack of access!

    Finally, you say “God is Omnibenevolence, for the fact that he has done so much for you and me.” My response, what has he done? Nothing, I have built my life from my beginnings, I earn the money I make, doing work that I do. Perhaps he sent someone to die for me once, but we do not know that, nor how it could have any effect on my life. I argue that God has done nothing for me — I challenge you to show me otherwise. I will state for the record that I do not accept “He offered me eternal life, through the death of his Son” as something he did for me, because I find that both ideas are found wanting in evidence and effect. How do I know that this offer isn’t just snake oil? How do I know that he actually _did any of what his supposed book says he did?_

    I invite response, but please, put it on the new site, which is, again, humbuggery.net.

  5. First I would like to say, let stay calm. When I wrote on this post I did it calmly, and did not mean offence. I now see you are very passionate about this subject, which I have no problem with, but when I read your replay it was like I was being attack, so please do not speak so angrily, I do wish to have a logical conversation, and I apologize if what I posted came out as you read it, that was not my intent . Second most historians believe Jesus really lived, but the problem is they just don’t agree whether he was a liar, just a man, a good man, a prophet, or Son of God, exc. So I apologize placing him on the Son of God side, but stand firm that he was at least an actual person, because too much evidence proves he existed. For One I bet at least half of the world religions (size of membership), believed he was a real person, and many of those believe he was at least a prophet; Christians, Islamic, exc.
    Third I don’t think you have truly considered the one question I first asked , “could one have Omnibenevolence and because of that refuses to force us to do good and not give us a choice for the fact that in doing so he would commit evil, (controlling, and force) and cease to have Omnibenevolence?”, please answer back.
    Two more things, one on your problem with the joy/suffering part of my post I was directly talking about those that do evil, and make bad chooses, not those who have had a horribly live. Also many poor and or those forced to suffering are in part not because it comes from God (at least Christian), but because the world chooses not to help, because most people choose to follow the idea of “I will help myself”. Lastly I will try to be more careful on how I state things, but please not as much venom.

  6. I’m quite calm, actually. I’m sorry if you misread. My general approach is to ask questions, some of those questions are pointed — specifically the set of questions which argue that and omnibenevolent God is actually more malevolent than anything else. I will assume that you do not intend to poison the well here, but I will warn you that I do not stand for the construction of “backdoors” such as, “Well, he was just angry and vitriolic, thus he cannot be taken seriously.” I’ll make it clear that I am not accusing you of doing this, I give you full benefit of doubt that you did not intend it that way, just as you give me benefit of doubt when I say I wasn’t intending to be vitriolic. 🙂

    Perhaps peppering my conversation with smilies will alleviate your fears of my supposed anger. 🙂

    Now, onto the logical content of this comment.

    > Most historians.

    Who, which ones? How many? Second, I don’t care what people think, I care what evidence shows. The documents most often used in support of a historical jesus are all either written after he had been long dead, or the one (attributed to Josephus) that is not is _well_ known to be a later forgery by Christians. If there is “too much evidence” then please show it too me. I don’t want to be mean, but fundamentally, I think you’re just flat wrong. Regardless of who, how many, or how people believe in the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, is all irrelevant in the light of hard, historical evidence of his existence. I refer you to Dr. Bob Price, and the rest of the Christ Mythicist Crowd. Also, when you say, “For One [sic] I bet at least half of the world religions (size of membership) believed he was a real person, and many of those believe h was at least a prophet” is completely irrelevant. c. 1400AD, roughly all of Europeans (save a few) believed the earth was Flat. Most doctors of the same time thought Bleeding cured disease, prior to that, many people believed that diseases were caused by demonic spirits. None of those people were correct. Argumenta ad Popula simply describe what people believe, not what is true. So, first paragraph is basically bunk, logically.

    The reason I didn’t answer is because I have no idea what you’re saying there… let me try to answer what I think you’re saying, I was mostly hoping your response would elucidate, but it didn’t so I’ll take a stab. 🙂

    Omnibenevolence, in my definition, is that the omnibenevolent creature — whatever it is — _always_ makes the ethical decision if he has opportunity to. Specifically, I directed you to the case of isolated people who have no outside means of help, more specifically, consider the thought experiment:

    A man is in on a deserted island, he is starving, through no fault of his own was he placed there, he was simply sailing about by himself and ended up on this island due to a freak weather pattern. Now this man will die due to starvation. Further assume that this man has lived a model life — good family man, never did anything horrible, never broke the law, never did anything to deserve his fate, further assume the man has never even heard of God, and now that he finds himself starving, is asking openly (screaming, likely, in the event someone else is on the island with him, even though his hope is in vain) for help. If God exists and is omnipotent and omnibenevolent (eg, capable and willing) would he save this man?

    According to my definition, he is bound to- but your argument seems to say that he could not, since it would be forcing the man to no longer have a choice. Effectively, we come down to the problem of Free will itself, which is problematic in it’s own write given an omniscient god (viz, earlier post).

    Punchline is, if God is prevented from helping us because helping us would be evil, and similarly since being evil is evil (deep stuff, I know. 🙂 ), then God is no longer capable of _doing anything_, since he cannot do anything that will limit our choices, but any action he takes by definition must, therefore God is precluded from interacting with us.

    As for your third paragraph. The Joy/Suffering thing is often caused by humans, I agree — but it is not solely caused by us either. Nor can it all be eliminated by us. That is, again, consider the man on the island. Noone knows he is there, no one knows he is suffering, and while we are (hopefully) willing to help him, none of us can — through no fault of our own. I think this covers both of the points, but you can let me know if you think I missed something.

    Also, as I mentioned before, humbuggery.net! This post is available over there, let’s move the discussion please?

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