The Christian God and the Problem of Evil

Both Mung and KeithS have asked me to weigh in on the question of whether the existence of evil counts as a good argument against Christianity, as KeithS has maintained in a recent post, so I shall oblige.

It is important to understand that the problem of evil is not an argument against the existence of God or gods, but against what KeithS calls the Christian God (actually, the God of classical theism), Who is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. KeithS succinctly formulates the problem as follows:

Let’s say I claim that an omniGod named Frank exists — omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. Suppose I also claim that Frank regards seahorses as the absolute height of evil. The world contains a lot of seahorses, and Frank, being omnipotent, has the power to wipe them off the face of the earth. Why doesn’t he? Why does he countenance a world full of seahorses?

KeithS emphasizes that it is not enough for the Christian to show that God is on balance benevolent. Rather, the Christian needs to defend the claim that God is omnibenevolent:

The Christian claim is that God is omnibenevolent — as benevolent as it is logically possible to be. Finding that the items on the “good” side of the ledger outweigh those on the “bad” side — if that were the case — would not establish God’s omnibenevolence at all.

Finally, KeithS provides his own take on the problem of evil:

The problem of evil remains as much of a problem as ever for Christians. Yet there are obvious solutions to the problem that fit the evidence and are perfectly reasonable: a) accept that God doesn’t exist, or b) accept that God isn’t omnipotent, or c) accept that God isn’t perfectly benevolent. Despite the availability of these obvious solutions, most Christians will choose to cling to a view of God that has long since been falsified.

He even suggests how he would resolve the problem if he were a theist (emphasis mine – VJT):

Suppose God hates evil and suffering but is too weak to defeat them, at least at the moment. Then any such instances can be explained by God’s weakness.

It addresses the problem of evil without sacrificing theism. I’m amazed that more theists don’t seize on this sort of resolution. They’re too greedy in their theology, too reluctant to give up the omnis.

I think KeithS is onto something here. In fact, I’d like to ditch the conventional Christian views of God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omnibenevolence. It’s time for an overhaul.

Why a God Who constantly watches His creatures cannot be omniscient

First, the conventional notion of God’s omniscience needs to be jettisoned. As I argued in an earlier post on the problem of evil, the problem of evil depends on the assumption that God’s knowledge of our choices (and of Adam and Eve’s choices) is logically prior to those choices. In that post, I upheld the contrary view (defended in our own time by C.S. Lewis), that God is like a watcher on a high hill: He timelessly knows everything that we choose to do, but His knowledge is logically subsequent to the choices we make, which means that He doesn’t know what we will do “before” He decides to make us. I have to acknowledge, however, that this is very much a minority view among the Christian Fathers and/or Doctors of the Church, and I can only think of two who argued for this view: namely, the somewhat heterodox theologian Origen (185-254 A.D.) and possibly, the Christian philosopher Boethius (c. 480- c. 524 A.D. – although his own personal views on the subject remain in dispute, as he elsewhere seems to reject the “watcher on the hill” analogy which he develops in Book V, Prose 6 of his Consolation of Philosophy, in which he declares that God “sees all things in an eternal present just as humans see things in a non-eternal present.”) Whether they be predestinationists or Molinists, the vast majority of Christian theologians who are orthodox – and I’m not counting “open theists” here – maintain that God’s knowledge of our choices is logically prior to those choices. I haven’t taken a straw poll of lay Christian believers, but judging from Christians I’m acquainted with, the “watcher on the hill” view of God remains a popular way of reconciling His foreknowledge with human free will, to this day. I believe the common folk are wiser than the theologians here.

Why are theologians so reluctant to accept the Boethian solution? In a nutshell, because they see it as detracting from God’s sovereignty, as it makes Him dependent on His creatures for information about what is going on in the world. God has to (timelessly) observe us in order to know what we are getting up to. I have to say I don’t see the problem here, provided that God freely and timelessly chooses to rely on His creatures for His knowledge of what they do. If He wants to impose that limitation on Himself, who are we to stop Him?

But if God’s knowledge of our choices is (timelessly) obtained from observing those choices, then we can no longer say that God knows exactly what I would do in every possible situation. On the Boethian account, God does not possess counterfactual knowledge: He knows everything I do, but not everything I would do, in all possible situations. Why not? For one thing, in many situations, there simply is no fact of the matter as to what I would do. What would I do if I won $10,000,000? I don’t know, and neither does God. Nor is this a bad thing: after all, if God knows exactly what I would do in every possible situation, then it makes no sense to say that in a given situation, I could have acted otherwise. (That, by the way, is why I find Molinism utterly nonsensical.)

And what about mathematics? Does God know the answer to every possible mathematical problem? I would argue that He doesn’t, as there are many branches of mathematics where the “rules of the game” are determined by the mathematicians theorizing in that area. In a different world, we would have had different mathematicians, and different branches of mathematics, with different rules. I see no reason to suppose that God knows all possible choices that could be made by all possible (as well as actual) persons.

The upshot of all this is that while God knows everything there is to know about His creatures, He is not omniscient. There are many counterfactuals that He doesn’t know, and there are many possibilities that He never contemplates, either. All we can say is that God knows everything about what we do (past, present and future), and that we can keep no secrets from Him.

Why God is a lot less powerful than many Christians think

Second, the traditional notion of God’s omnipotence needs to be discarded. On the classical view defended by St. Thomas Aquinas, God can do anything which it is logically possible for Him to do, as God. In recent years, however, the classical view has come under fire, from the Reformed theologian Alvin Plantinga, who refuted it using the humorous counter-example of a being whose nature allows him to do nothing but scratch his ear (which he does, making him omnipotent) in his book, God and other minds (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), and also from the Catholic philosopher Peter Geach, who sharply criticized the traditional view in an influential article titled “Omnipotence” (Philosophy 48 (1973): 7-20 – see here for a discussion). In his article, Geach argued that God is not omnipotent but almighty: since He maintains the world in existence, He has power over all things, but He does not have the power to do all things.

What relevance does this have to the problem of evil? On the traditional view of God’s omnipotence, God could have preserved each of us from sin throughout our earthly lives, without violating our free will, as he did with Jesus and (according to Catholics and Orthodox) the Virgin Mary: we would still have possessed full libertarian freedom when choosing between alternative goods, but not when choosing between good and evil. And there are many Protestants who believe that individuals who are “born again” are infallibly elected by God, so that even if they sin, their final salvation is Divinely guaranteed. Why, one might ask, didn’t God make us all like that? The Catechism of the Catholic Church attempts to resolve the problem by appealing to the “greater good” of the Incarnation and Redemption – a response which I find unsatisfactory, since (as Blessed John Duns Scotus argued) there was nothing to stop God from becoming incarnate even if Adam had never sinned.

For normal human beings, their personal identity is determined by their parentage, and by the gametes from which their bodies were created. (I would not be “me” if I had had a different mother or father, or if I had been conceived from a different sperm or egg.) But what if God’s act of specially electing a saint to glory also determines that individual’s personal identity? In that case, there is no way that God could have refrained from electing that saint without making him or her a different person. And if I am not elected in this fashion, but possess the power to choose between being saved and being damned, then I cannot coherently wish to have been predestined for eternal life without wishing myself to be a different person. It follows from this that while God could have made a world of human beings who were all preserved from sin, or who were all infallibly elected, not even God could make a world in which each of us is preserved from sin or infallibly elected. In that case, God is significantly less powerful than Christian theologians like to imagine.

In recent years, New Atheists have argued that the designs we find in living things are inept, and that if a Creator existed, He could have done a much better job of making these creatures. Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates reply that living things are subject to numerous design constraints, and that just because we can imagine a more elegant design does not mean that it is possible to create such a design. Picturability does not imply possibility. Recent scientific discoveries regarding the vertebrate eye (see here and here) have done much to vindicate this line of argument. (The same goes for the laryngeal nerve in the neck of the giraffe.) We are a long way here from the traditional view that God can make anything, as long as no logical contradiction is involved. Physical and nomological constraints (relating to the structure of matter, and the laws of Nature which obtain in our cosmos) also need to be taken into account.

An additional reason for rejecting the traditional notion of omnipotence is that it commits one to maintaining that God can bring about states of affairs which are not properly described. When someone claims, for instance, that God could make a horse capable of flying, like the mythical Pegasus, what, exactly, are we supposed to conceive of God doing here? And how would Pegasus fly, anyway? Are we supposed to imagine God working a miracle, by raising a horse in the air? But in that case, shouldn’t we really say that the horse is not flying (by its own natural power), but rather that God is holding it up? Or are we meant to imagine an alternative world, where the laws of Nature are changed so as to allow horses to fly – in which case, should we call the creature in this alternate world a horse, or should we rather call it a shmorse? Or are we to suppose that God could come up with a physical design for a horse that would enable it to fly, even with the laws of Nature that hold in this world? But in that case, how do we know that such a design exists? There is not the slightest evidence for such a design, and aerodynamic considerations suggest that the enterprise of attaching natural wings that would allow an animal with the dimensions of a horse to fly, would be altogether unworkable.

Goodbye to omnibenevolence

Finally, the concept of God’s omnibenevolence needs to be tossed out, lock, stock and barrel. Theologians have always maintained, of course, that God could have made a world that was better than the one He did, simply by adding a few extra bells and whistles. There is no “best possible world,” as the philosopher Leibniz falsely imagined. But that does not prevent God from making a world which is free from all natural and moral evil – which raises the obvious question of why an omnibenevolent Deity would create such a world as ours. One traditional answer, given by St. Augustine in his Enchiridion, Chapter III, is that God allows evil for the sake of a “greater good”: “For the Omnipotent God, whom even the heathen acknowledge as the Supreme Power over all, would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil.” I think its time to candidly acknowledge, as Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart has already done, that this kind of talk simply won’t wash:

Being infinitely sufficient in Himself, God had no need of a passage through sin and death to manifest His glory in His creatures or to join them perfectly to Himself. This is why it is misleading (however soothing it may be) to say that the drama of fall and redemption will make the final state of things more glorious than it might otherwise have been. No less metaphysically incoherent – though immeasurably more vile – is the suggestion that God requires suffering and death to reveal certain of his attributes (capricious cruelty, perhaps? morbid indifference? a twisted sense of humor?). It is precisely sin, suffering, and death that blind us to God’s true nature…

I do not believe we Christians are obliged – or even allowed – to look upon the devastation visited upon the coasts of the Indian Ocean and to console ourselves with vacuous cant about the mysterious course taken by God’s goodness in this world, or to assure others that some ultimate meaning or purpose resides in so much misery.

But as KeithS has pointed out, there are problems with Hart’s own resolution of the problem of evil:

So in Hart’s bizarre world, we have a God who supposedly hates evil and suffering, yet chooses to permit them — and somehow this is all okay because it’s only temporary. Good will triumph in the end.

KeithS suggested that the problem of evil would be soluble if Christians simply acknowledged that God isn’t omnipotent or perfectly benevolent, but noted that Christians continue to “cling to a view of God that has long since been falsified.”

So I’d like to make a proposal of my own. In the first place, I’d like to propose that God is benevolent only in relation to the persons whom He decides to create. “Prior to” His act of creation, God is not benevolent at all. Thus when deciding what kind of world to create, God makes no attempt to choose the best one, or even a perfect one (i.e. one free from evil). Only after having chosen a particular world (for reasons best known to Himself) can we speak of God as being benevolent to His creatures.

In the second place, I’d like to propose that God’s benevolence to His sentient and sapient creatures is not unrestricted. After all, He allows His own creatures to be tortured to death, on occasion. Nevertheless, God is perfectly capable of setting limits to the amount of pain we have to put up with (thankfully, none of us has to suffer one million years of torture), of healing whatever wounds (physical and psychic) His tortured creatures have endured, and of bestowing the gift of immortality upon His sentient and sapient creatures (provided that they do not spurn it). Thus according to the picture I am sketching, God is ultimately benevolent, but not omnibenevolent. On this side of eternity, God’s benevolence is quite modest – but we can at least console ourselves with the thought that life could be much, much more painful than it is.

Finally, I’d like to point out that Christians have never referred to God in their prayers as omnibenevolent, but rather as all-loving. God loves each and every one of us with a steadfast, unshakable love which is greater than any of us can possibly imagine. The only kind of love we can compare to God’s love, in its steadfastness, is parental love. And most importantly, what God loves is we ourselves, and not our feelings. Thus God has no interest in maximizing the level of euphoria in the world – whether it be the aggregate level or the average level – because God’s parental commitment is to us, and not our states of mind. Being a loving Father, God naturally wants what is ultimately best for us, but He does not necessarily want us to enjoy a pain-free journey to our ultimate destination.

These proposals of mine have significant implications for the problem of evil. On the Judeo-Christian view, each and every human person is a being of infinite and irreplaceable value, loved by God. Two infinities cannot be meaningfully added to yield a greater infinity; hence a world with more people would not be a “better” world. What’s more, even wicked people are beings of infinite and irreplaceable value; hence a world with kinder people would not be a “better” world, but merely a world where people existed in a better state. Thus I would suggest that one reason why God tolerates evil acts (such as acts of rape or murder) is that there are some individuals in our world who would never have come into existence, were it not for these evil acts having been performed. The same logic can be applied to natural disasters: think of a man and a woman, living in neighboring towns, who both lose their families in a terrible earthquake, but are brought together in the aftermath of the quake, and who decide to get married, settle down and raise a family of their own. Such occurrences are by no means uncommon. Since the creation of any human being is good in an unqualified sense, God may decide to tolerate natural or moral evils, if doing so enables individuals to come into existence who would not have done so otherwise. Please note that I’m not saying He must, but merely that He may.

Fair enough; nevertheless, the skeptic might urge, the world is still a pretty awful place, and arguably much worse than it needs to be. Most natural and moral evils don’t result in the creation of new sentient or sapient beings, after all. There seems to be a lot of gratuitous evil in the world. Why is this so?

The Fall – and why it is needed to explain the mess we’re in

Traditionally, Christians have appealed to the doctrine of the Fall of our first parents at the dawn of human history, in order to explain why God allows these senseless evils to continue. John Henry Newman eloquently argued for this doctrine in his Apologia pro Vita Sua (Longmans, Green & Co., London, revised edition, 1865, chapter 5, pp. 242-243):

I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birthplace or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and the condition of his being. And so I argue about the world;— if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

In their recent book, Adam and the Genome, geneticist Dennis Venema and New Testament scholar Scott McKnight have marshaled an impressive array of converging scientific evidence, indicating that the human population has probably never fallen below 10,000 individuals. That certain puts paid to literalistic interpretations of the Fall, but as Denis Alexander has described in his book, Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, one can still defend some notion of a Fall at the dawn of human history. Here’s how he outlines one possible approach to the Fall (although it’s not his favorite):

In the first type of approach (which has many variants), some people in Africa, following the emergence of anatomically modern humanity, became aware of God’s existence, power and calling upon their lives and responded to their new-found knowledge of him in love and obedience, in authentic relationship with God. However, they subsequently turned their back on the light that they had received and went their own way, leading to human autonomy and a broken relationship with God (“sin”). The emphasis in this type of speculation is on historical process – relationships built and broken over many generations.

My own belief is that God bestowed upon our first parents the responsibility for deciding the scope of Divine providence in ordinary human affairs. In their pride, our first parents chose personal autonomy, knowing that it would entail death and suffering for the entire human race: basically, they told God to butt out of everyday human affairs, leaving Him free to intervene only for very special reasons. To skeptics who would object that God should never have given such enormous responsibilities to our first parents in the first place, I would suggest that it is simply impossible for God to make intelligent beings without offering them an allotted sphere or domain in which they can legitimately exercise their freedom: that is what makes them who they are. As the first parents of the human race, our first parents had to have the responsibility for deciding whether they wanted the human race to be protected by God’s Providence or whether to reject God and go it alone.

As a Christian, I believe that God is just and merciful. I do not believe that it was unjust of God to test the human race at the beginning of human history; but I will acknowledge that in order to make sense of the terrible consequences of that fateful test, we need to maintain a view of history which sounds very strange to modern ears – instead of a gradual ascent to human self-awareness, as we might suppose, there was a First Contact between human creatures and their Creator. We need to envisage this as a cosmic, Miltonian drama, with our first parents as larger-than-life characters who enjoyed an intimacy and familiarity with God which we can only dream of, and who were given the enormous responsibility of custodianship over the lives of their future descendants. It may seem incomprehensible to us that they would give up their relationship with a God Who could satisfy all their needs, in favor of a death-and-violence ridden world like ours, but what they gained (in their own eyes) was the freedom to live as they chose. This, then, is why we’re in the mess we’re in. How long it will continue, I have no idea.

For those readers who would like a theological explanation of animal suffering, I would recommend Jon Garvey’s excellent online book, God’s Good Earth.

The problem of evil: A summary

We have seen that in order to make sense of the evil in the world, we need to abandon the notion of an omniscient God Who knows all counterfactuals and all possibilities, and Who knows what we do without needing to be informed by us. Rather, we should simply say that God (timelessly) knows everything we do, by constantly watching us. We also need to abandon the notion of an omnipotent God Who can do anything that’s logically possible. It turns out that there are a number of constraints which God is subject to, which prevent Him from creating any old world that we can imagine, and that prevent Him from having created us in a perfect world where no-one ever sinned. Furthermore, we need to abandon the notion that God is omnibenevolent. Christians have never worshiped an omnibenevolent Deity. Rather, the God they worship is a Parent Who loves us personally, and Who will never stop loving us. Such a God may however be willing to allow His creatures to be subjected to a great degree of suffering in the short term. He can only be called “benevolent” from a long-term perspective, insofar as He has prepared us for eternity with Him.

Finally, the sheer pervasiveness of the suffering in this world points to what Newman referred to as “some terrible aboriginal calamity” at the dawn of humanity, in which the entire human race paid the price for the proud decision made by our first parents to isolate themselves from God’s benevolent protection, for the sake of pursuing what they perceived as independence and freedom. God did not know that they would make that choice, but He gave them the power to decide the fate of the human race, and to “turn off the lights” in our world until God started turning them back on again, culminating in His Revelation of Himself to us 2,000 years ago in a manger in Bethlehem.

To sum up: the Christian view of history is capable of being cogently defended, provided Christians are willing to remove the theological barnacles that have attached themselves to its system of belief, and abandon the “three omnis,” in favor of a more intimate but less extravagant notion of God.

1,030 thoughts on “The Christian God and the Problem of Evil

  1. fifth,

    It’s not that I have a decent life.
    It’s that the universe all things considered is a good place to live.

    Unless you’re a six-day-old baby who has her head eaten by a dog.

    And if you’re simply arguing that the world is good on balance, you might want to reread the OP:

    KeithS emphasizes that it is not enough for the Christian to show that God is on balance benevolent. Rather, the Christian needs to defend the claim that God is omnibenevolent:

    The Christian claim is that God is omnibenevolent — as benevolent as it is logically possible to be. Finding that the items on the “good” side of the ledger outweigh those on the “bad” side — if that were the case — would not establish God’s omnibenevolence at all.

    Why not take a breather and reflect on this, fifth? You clearly haven’t thought things through properly.

  2. keiths: Unless you’re a six-day-old baby who has her head eaten by a dog.

    how do you know that?

    keiths: Why not take a breather and reflect on this, fifth?

    reflect on what?

    You are supposed to be making an argument and all you are doing is telling an awful story over and over.

    perhaps it’s you who need to reflect a little and see if you can put something more substantial together

    hint it should be more than just that

    “Things happen that I don’t like therefore God does not exist”

    peace

  3. fifth:

    psalms 46

    Woodbine skewered that nicely, but you didn’t answer my question, which was about “winking at sin”:

    Would you like to retreat to your earlier answer, which was that God allows dogs to eat babies’ heads because otherwise he might appear to be “winking at sin”?

    (Where did that bizarre answer come from? What were you thinking, fifth?)

  4. keiths: you didn’t answer my question, which was about “winking at sin”:

    If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?

    If we could always be criminally negligent with no consequences whatsoever.
    What would be the benefit for doing the right thing?

    peace

  5. fifth:

    True story

    I just recently met a wonderfully compassionate hospice nurse who is a little naive.

    she has three pit bull dogs that she rescued from a shelter and often lets them play with her very young grand children.

    These are dogs bred to be aggressive and she has no idea what they were taught in the time before she got them.

    Why does God continuously step in to keep these potentially deadly canines from harming those kids?

    What makes you think that God is continuously intervening?

    You are really floundering here, fifth. Why not take a break and think things through? Your performance is not bringing glory to God, to say the very least.

  6. keiths: What makes you think that God is continuously intervening?

    Because we live in a world where a dog eating a baby’s head is not the norm but is seen as the aberration that it is. So you focus on the aberration and we focus on the norm. That’s what it means to weigh the evidence.

  7. Let’s send FFM to Trappist-1 so that he can confirm the universe is a good place to live in. If there’s no dog to eat his head he wins

  8. And still no answer from keiths. It’s as if he just chooses to avoid uncomfortable subjects. Nothing’s changed since the last thread he started on this.

  9. fifthmonarchyman: If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?

    This is the good stuff.

  10. Mung,

    Because we live in a world where a dog eating a baby’s head is not the norm but is seen as the aberration that it is. So you focus on the aberration and we focus on the norm. That’s what it means to weigh the evidence.

    That doesn’t answer my question::

    fifth:

    Why does God continuously step in to keep these potentially deadly canines from harming those kids?

    keiths:

    What makes you think that God is continuously intervening?

  11. Woodbine: fifthmonarchyman: If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?

    This is the good stuff.

    ROTLFLMFAO!

  12. fifth:

    If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?

    Woodbine:

    This is the good stuff.

    Pure and uncut.

    Inanity squared.

  13. FMM: I’m sorry young Johnny, I know you have cancer and you’re in desperate agony but if God cured you where would the incentive be to cure other children? Mmmm?

  14. Surely some Christian out there can step in and clean up the mess that fifth and Mung are making, no?

    Are you content to let these two represent your faith?

  15. keiths: What makes you think that God is continuously intervening?

    Because that is what he does. What makes you think hes not?

    keiths: Rather, the Christian needs to defend the claim that God is omnibenevolent:

    Do you actually think omnibenevolence requires that God be equally benevolent to every one all the time? If so you have a jacked idea what omnibenevolence is

    God is a person and not a non-personal force, He gets to choose

    quote:

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
    (Rom 9:14-15)

    end quote:

    peace

  16. Woodbine: FMM: I’m sorry young Johnny, I know you have cancer and you’re in desperate agony but if God cured you where would the incentive be to cure other children? Mmmm?

    Apparently keiths is not the only one who is retreating to the psychological problem of evil.

    “let’s all just share our feelings and forget about reason and rationality”

    cancer is icky therefore God doesn’t exist.

    Is that really all you got?

    peace

  17. “fifthmonarchyman: If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?”

    “This is the good stuff.”

    Oh god, that’s the good stuff. Hits right in the back of the nasal cavity like horseradish. Clearns your sinuses out. That’s like 2010-vintage Uncommon Descent.

  18. keiths: That doesn’t answer my question::

    I think it does.

    I also think that you’re not the only one who is allowed to ask questions and to expect answers, but you sure act like it.

    Christian Creeds, keiths. What is the earliest creed you can find that requires Christians to believe in your “omnigod” in order to be considered orthodox? Or do you just find the question irrelevant?

    If you’re going to argue that Christianity is false, you ought to at least have a reasonable basis for doing so.

    Further, if the logical problem of evil is the limiting case, as you say, and Christians have a viable response to the logical problem of evil, why should anyone be concerned about your cherry-picked “evidences”?

  19. I’m a bit surprised that keiths doesn’t point to how irrational people are as evidence for evil. God doesn’t step in and prevent people from being irrational. Therefore, Christianity is false.

  20. dazz: Let’s send FFM to Trappist-1 so that he can confirm the universe is a good place to live in.

    the universe is vast and interesting rather than bland and boring therefore God does not exist,

    Is that really all you got??

    peace

  21. fifthmonarchyman: Do you actually think omnibenevolence requires that God be equally benevolent to every one all the time?

    Good question, if God is Logic can He choose to be illogical, if God is Truth is He required to be equally truthful to everyone all the time?

    If so you have a jacked idea what omnibenevolence is

    Have a better idea of what omnibenevolence entails?

    God is a person and not a non-personal force, He gets to choose

    For a Being outside of time does the concept of choice make sense?

  22. Mung: Because we live in a world where a dog eating a baby’s head is not the norm but is seen as the aberration that it is. So you focus on the aberration and we focus on the norm. That’s what it means to weigh the evidence.

    Ahh…but people living with cancer, AIDs, heart disease, genocide, war, pneumonia, Zika, malaria, kidney disease (oh…right…and those having transplants, but maybe I’ve mentioned that one before…), strokes, dengue, tuberculosis, predatory behaviors (you know…like pedophile priests and coaches molesting students), and civil wars…alas are the norm.

    The funny thing about this whole discussion is that you seem to think that if evil was somehow an aberration, your god-guy would A-ok. Except such a god would still be either a monster or impotent…take your pick.

  23. fifthmonarchyman: If God stopped every vicious dog from attacking every child what would be our incentive to keep dangerous dogs away from helpless children?

    !!?!?!?!?!?!

    FFS! Why do we need a world where anyone HAS TO WORRY ABOUT dangerous dogs in the first place?!?!?!

    If we could always be criminally negligentwith no consequences whatsoever.

    Are your really that obtuse? There’d be NO SUCH THING AS CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENCE if there was nothing to be negligent about. But I guess your god is so wimpy and stupid, it never considered that…

    What would be the benefit for doing the right thing?

    peace

    What “right” thing? Allowing an aggressive dog to attack a chew toy is “right” by the dog. And apparently since this mythical “god” of yours created the situation in the first place, it IS the right thing.

    There’s the problem with espousing the belief in a lazy, criminally negligent god.

  24. Woodbine:
    FMM: I’m sorry young Johnny, I know you have cancer and you’re in desperate agony but if God cured you where would the incentive be to cure other children? Mmmm?

    Actually it would be more like:

    FMM: I’m sorry young Johnny, I know you have cancer and you’re in desperate agony, but if God cured you, all the other parents who have to watch their children suffer with cancer would see it as unfair…

    rolls eyes

  25. fifthmonarchyman:
    Do you actually think omnibenevolence requires that God be equally benevolent to every one all the time? If so you have a jacked idea what omnibenevolence is

    What part of the ‘omni’ prefix are you having difficulty understanding? So yes, an OMNI entity who had the power and no cost would, by definition, eradicate evil. That there is the problem So unless your god-guy isn’t actually all-powerful and isn’t actually all-loving (in other words, isn’t actually an omni-god of any kind) then said god-guy is either negligent or outright evil.

    I personally have no need for, let alone belief in, such entities.

    God is a person and not a non-personal force, He gets to choose

    So…your god is evil…oookaaay…

    quote:

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
    (Rom 9:14-15)

    end quote:

    peace

    Thus not omnibenevolent. Oddly he behaves like a petulant human authority with too much power. Go figure…

  26. keiths:
    keiths:

    Robin:

    Being omnipotent increases the number of alternatives open to God.It’s omnibenevolence that is the straitjacket.

    Being omnipotent would allow a god to do all things, not just some things. Alternatives are only available to those with limited resources, time, lifespans, finite stomach capacity, limited speed, etc. Omnigods would have no limits and thus would not have alternatives; such an entity could do anything and everything and do them all instantly. Anything that such an entity didn’t do would not be because of choice; it would be because the entity could not do that thing (whatever that might be).

    Keep in mind too, an omni-entity could do everything possible in one instant, erase everything, and do everything, except one thing all over again. And do that again with some variation, and so on, infinitely such that everything possible is done. What exactly would such an entity ever have to “choose”?

    Choice is elimination of something in favor of something else given the consequences or implications of one thing vs another. There can be no such thing as “consequence” or “implication” to an Omni-god.

    If two or more courses of action are optimal by his criteria, then the omni-God has alternatives. More than one option is open to him.

  27. fifthmonarchyman:

    I guess I’m just a better Christian than you.

    Feeling compassion does not make you a Christian. Following Christ does.

    I know a number of compassionate Christians. I’ve always suspected that their compassion was despite being Christians, not because of it. Thanks for the confirmation.

    Keiths baby is just a character in a story on the internet.

    The horrific story that keiths is using as an example actually happened.

    Christ did not merely tell folks he felt sorry for character’s in stories.
    Christ sacrificed himself to eliminate real suffering in the real world for his people

    The available evidence suggests that those are just stories.

    Quote exactly what he writes and address it in your own words, if you can.

    you are going to have to be way more specific

    keiths has made literally hundreds of comments in probably a dozen threads having to do with the problem evil it his favorite topic.

    As far as I can tell all of his “argument” can all be summered something like this

    “I’m not happy with the way it the world is therefore God does not exist”

    That sort of vacuous statement does not deserve a response

    Here’s a good example:

    keiths:
    Why can a dog eat the head of a living baby? There is no loving God to stop it.

    Why can hundreds of thousands of people die in a tsunami? There is no loving God to prevent it or to warn them in time.

    Why can a priest be tortured past the point of apostasy? No loving God is available to intervene.

    It’s a simple explanation, epicycle-free, and it fits the evidence perfectly. It puts the epicycle-laden explanation to shame.

    Mung failed to meet the challenge to directly address this. Let’s see what you’ve got.

  28. fifthmonarchyman:
    In order to make a defense necessary you need to demonstrate that taken as a whole the world is not a good place to live.

    That’s not sufficient when you are positing an omnibenevolent god. You need to explain horrors like the one keiths is using as an example. Those are not consistent with the existence of such a god.

  29. fifthmonarchyman:
    quote:

    What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
    (Rom 9:14-15)

    end quote:

    So you avoid the problem of evil by giving up omnibenevolence. You could have saved some time by simply saying so.

  30. keiths:
    CharlieM,

    So now you’re saying that your original answer was wrong.In that case. let me re-ask the question:

    Do you think it is impossible for God to intervene to prevent a dog from eating the head of a living baby?If not, why didn’t he do so?

    I am not saying that my original answer was wrong.

    In my opinion God did not intervene because the only way to allow a spiritual being to evolve freedom is to allow it to choose its own path. If they choose a wrong path then it will have to be compensated for in the future. What seems like a loss for the individual baby and the individuals close to her will turn out to be a gain for the spiritual individuals of which these physical individuals are but one aspect. They are but a few snapshots, in a very limited time frame, of their true being. Of course the karma of all interacting individuals becomes very complicated.

    IMO you are not competent to judge the case of the baby girl, none of us are.

    For an example of an event that on the surface no one would wish for take a soldier who has lost his legs in an explosion. He may find that the initial tragedy has resulted over the years in him being more fulfilled and believing himself to be a better person who has actually benefited from the event.

  31. keiths to Neil:

    All Christians know quite well that their God is unlikely to step in and rescue them from a bad predicament.

    That doesn’t clash with omnipotence.

    Christians believe that Christ was crucified by men. If He was indeed omnipotent then He chose not to use His power to prevent His own suffering and death. Christ gave Himself out of pure love. Even those closest to Him were not expecting this, they could not see the victory in His death. They failed to see the significance of the events becuse they were looking at things from a limited human perspective.

    You see the death of the baby girl as a failure of the so called Christian God. But are you really in a position to judge these things? Do you know the life history of all those involved? Do you know how it will affect them into the future? Do you know what would have become of these people if this event had not occured? If you do not know these things, how can you judge whether or not it was a blessing in the long term?

  32. CharlieM: That doesn’t clash with omnipotence.

    Christians believe that Christ was crucified by men. If He was indeed omnipotent then He chose not to use His power to prevent His own suffering and death. Christ gave Himself out of pure love. Even those closest to Him were not expecting this, they could not see the victory in His death. They failed to see the significance of the events becuse they were looking at things from a limited human perspective.

    You see the death of the baby girl as a failure of the so called Christian God. But are you really in a position to judge these things? Do you know the life history of all those involved? Do you know how it will affect them into the future? Do you know what would have become of these people if this event had not occured? If you do not know these things, how can you judge whether or not it was a blessing in the long term?

    Wow! Some Christians are like abuse victims rationalizing how much their abusers really love them. “No really, I know there’s all these bruises and suffering and evil, but hey…he hung up on a cross for six hours and SUFFERED! So…yeah…he really LOVES me!” Feh…six frickin’ hours… What a wimp.

    You should really read Job sometime Charley. Nevermind the ethical issues one should wrestle with concerning a god and devil gambling on human suffering, but when Job has finally had it after an unimaginable amount of abuse, what does the god say? “HEY!! SCREW YOU! I MADE YOU! I CAN FUCK WITH YOU HOWEVER I WANT! AND YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR IT, YOU LITTLE MORTAL PRICK!!”

    What was that about omnibenevolence…?

  33. CharlieM: IMO you are not competent to judge the case of the baby girl, none of us are.

    So why bother intervening, eh?

    Child: HELP ME MISTER THIS DOG IS TEARING MY FACE OFF!!!

    CharlieM: I cannot judge whether helping you would be good or bad for you in the long run, I’m afraid. I’m certain that this vicious….

    Child: MISTER PLEASE!!!

    CharlieM: Let me finish! I’m certain that this vicious attack will ultimately be rewarded at some future date. You see while this might seem like a bad thing for you as an individual….

  34. CharlieM:

    Christians believe that Christ was crucified by men. If He was indeed omnipotent then He chose not to use His power to prevent His own suffering and death.

    Not only did God refuse to prevent his own suffering and death, he demanded it as a condition of forgiveness.

    You have this psychotic God who refuses to forgive you until he tortures himself to death, and in the meantime guarantees your own suffering by refusing to intervene when you need him.

    That is not a benevolent God, Charlie (and Vincent, and Mung, and fifth).

  35. Robin:

    CharlieM: Christians believe that Christ was crucified by men. If He was indeed omnipotent then He chose not to use His power to prevent His own suffering and death. Christ gave Himself out of pure love. Even those closest to Him were not expecting this, they could not see the victory in His death. They failed to see the significance of the events becuse they were looking at things from a limited human perspective.

    You see the death of the baby girl as a failure of the so called Christian God. But are you really in a position to judge these things? Do you know the life history of all those involved? Do you know how it will affect them into the future? Do you know what would have become of these people if this event had not occured? If you do not know these things, how can you judge whether or not it was a blessing in the long term?

    Wow! Some Christians are like abuse victims rationalizing how much their abusers really love them. “No really, I know there’s all these bruises and suffering and evil, but hey…he hung up on a cross for six hours and SUFFERED! So…yeah…he really LOVES me!” Feh…six frickin’ hours… What a wimp.

    It is a mistake to think that the physical torment was the major factor of Christ’s suffering. Just think of the difference in your conscious awareness from that of a caterpillar. You are destined to live in the body of a caterpillar knowing that a wasp is going to come along, sting you and then have its larva eat you alive, all the while you have your normal human awareness. So much the more did Christ have to suffer for our sakes.

    You should really read Job sometime Charley. Nevermind the ethical issues one should wrestle with concerning a god and devil gambling on human suffering, but when Job has finally had it after an unimaginable amount of abuse, what does the god say? “HEY!! SCREW YOU! I MADE YOU! I CAN FUCK WITH YOU HOWEVER I WANT! AND YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL FOR IT, YOU LITTLE MORTAL PRICK!!”

    What was that about omnibenevolence…?

    I have read Job and he does alright in the end.

    Let me ask you, do you think that Job was written by God or by a human?

  36. CharlieM:

    I have read Job and he does alright in the end.

    Yeah, who cares about a few dead sons and daughters? They got replaced.

  37. Woodbine: So why bother intervening, eh?

    Child: HELP ME MISTER THIS DOG IS TEARING MY FACE OFF!!!

    CharlieM: I cannot judge whether helping you would be good or bad for you in the long run, I’m afraid. I’m certain that this vicious….

    In this scenario you have me deciding on destiny although you and I know that from my position I am not competent to thus decide. The realistic thing to do is to do as much as possible to help the child and let destiny take care of itself.

    Child: MISTER PLEASE!!!

    CharlieM: Let me finish! I’m certain that this vicious attack will ultimately be rewarded at some future date. You see while this might seem like a bad thing for you as an individual….

    You obviously have not read and understood what I said in my previous post when I said to Keith, “IMO you are not competent to judge the case of the baby girl, none of us are.”.

    If I am not able to judge an event after it has happened I am even less capable of making this judgement before it happens. I can only act according to my conscience.

  38. CharlieM,

    That’s just the “God works in mysterious ways” defense. When something great happens, credit goes to God, no questions asked. When something horrible happens that God could have prevented, the rationalizations come pouring forth, including the classic “Who are we to judge? God works in mysterious ways.”

    One of my favorite strategies for evaluating defenses and theodicies is to ask how well the logic works for defending the opposite hypothesis: that God is perfectly evil.

    Let’s say you believe in a perfectly evil God, and someone is trying to convince you that your God doesn’t exist. They point to a wonderful event and say “a perfectly evil God wouldn’t allow something this good to happen.” You respond by saying “Who are you to judge? My perfectly evil God works in mysterious ways. That wonderful event was in the service of a higher evil that you and I can’t comprehend.”

    The same reasoning supports two diametrically opposed hypotheses. It’s a bad argument.

  39. CharlieM: I can only act according to my conscience.

    Except when it comes to God conscience flies out of the window.

    When examining the horrors God unleashed on Job how broken (or cowed) do you need to be to respond with….

    I have read Job and he does alright in the end.

    Holocaust? Meh…the Jews are doing OK these days what’s the problem?

  40. CharlieM:

    It is a mistake to think that the physical torment was the major factor of Christ’s suffering. Just think of the difference in your conscious awareness from that of a caterpillar. You are destined to live in the body of a caterpillar knowing that a wasp is going to come along, sting you and then have its larva eat you alive, all the while you have your normal human awareness. So much the more did Christ have to suffer for our sakes.

    Oh for Pete’s sake Charlie…you’ve never experienced real illness or suffering have you?

    Let me tell you something, pain itself is not the real issue. Humiliation, debilitation, fear (mostly of the unknown and what other forms of pain could be coming down the pike, but also of loss, of side effects, of hallucinations, of further illness, and yes…of death)

    But here’s the real issue: if Jesus had ANY idea of his supposed divinity, he didn’t…COULDN’T suffer for even a fraction of a second. What could he fear? Death? Clearly not. Deformity? Nope. Humiliation? In what sense?

    You guys never really appreciate the silliness of the whole Passion Play because it seems you’ve never really examined what the basis of actual human suffering is. People in Darfur and Syria suffer not because they are killed, but because there is no way to live for anything; there is no essence of hope for actual life coupled with repeated and prolonged pain and powerlessness. But a god wouldn’t…couldn’t…have such concerns. Pain and powerlessness for 6 hours knowing full well that he can’t face death? He might as well have been sitting in a lounge chair on a beach with rum drink for all the “suffering” that amounts to.

    The whole thing is just absurd illogic dialed to 11.

    I have read Job and he does alright in the end.

    Wow! How very Macchiavelian. So really, torture in this world is easily dismissed because hey…it’s likely something great will come out of it. I hope you are actually walking the walk and refusing all medical care and any legal justice for any infractions against you and your family. I hope you give all rapists, murderers, con-men, etc a big old pat on the back and thank them for improving your reward in heaven…

    Let me ask you, do you think that Job was written by God or by a human?

    Absolutely a human and definitely an Israelite.

  41. Robin:
    . . .
    But here’s the real issue: if Jesus had ANY idea of his supposed divinity, he didn’t…COULDN’T suffer for even a fraction of a second. What could he fear? Death? Clearly not. Deformity? Nope. Humiliation? In what sense?
    . . . .

    Indeed. “Jesus had a bad weekend for your sins” doesn’t have the same cachet as what they’re selling, though.

  42. Patrick: That’s not sufficient when you are positing an omnibenevolent god. You need to explain horrors like the one keiths is using as an example. Those are not consistent with the existence of such a god.

    You are still describing the logical problem of evil. It’s a dead horse all serious philosophers grant it was defeated decades ago. Plantinga conclusively demonstrated that there is no inconsistency when it comes to the existence of both evil and God

    Folks like keiths are now reduced to trying to prove that evil’s existence outweighs all the positive evidence for God so that it makes his existence improbable.

    That requires a cool detached rational evaluation of the evidence

    Instead of doing that here he is trying to play the emotional card that is the psychological problem of evil.

    peace

  43. Patrick: So you avoid the problem of evil by giving up omnibenevolence. You could have saved some time by simply saying so.

    come on Patrick think.

    omnibenevolence is not an impersonal goody force that rains gumdrops and rainbows . It’s God’s attribute of being infinitely good.

    Being infinitely good does not mean you loose the ability to choose between different options or that you must be equally benevolent to everyone all the time.

    peace

  44. Woodbine: Holocaust? Meh…the Jews are doing OK these days what’s the problem?

    Horrible things happen therefore God does not exist.

    is that really all you got?

  45. fifthmonarchyman:

    Being infinitely good does not mean you loose the ability to choose between different options or that you must be equally benevolent to everyone all the time.

    peace

    Jiminy Christmas…

    Once again, for the logic impaired: there’s no such thing as “omnibenevolence” with choice. That “omni” word removes all possibility of choice; there can be only benevolence. Deciding one day to kill a few puppies is not omnibenevolence. Deciding to remove cancer from 30 people 364 days of a year and then let everyone else still suffer and die from cancer on the 365th is not omnibenevolence.

    And of course the Christianity doubles down on the silliness by claiming said omnibenevolent entity is also omnipotent, omniscient, and omnpresent. So, said entity couldn’t make a choice from whatever “beginning” of existence could be said to have occurred (which couldn’t either, given that whole “omnipresent” thing). So basically, from eternity, it has done all things it could possibly intend. The moment it conceived of anything, that anything was. There could never be such a thing as “not doing something”; it’s very existence and characteristics of omni-soandso would engender automatic execution. Why? Because it would instantly go through every possible permutation. There’s no cost whatsoever to such an entity. No such thing as “consequence”, “time”, “regret”, “if only…”,”boy…that was a dunce move!”, “gosh…what to do today?” or any other human-limit consideration. None. An omni-entity could never even conceive of such things because conception would be a limit to such power.

    The long and short is, any sort of choice whatsoever removes the term “omni” altogether. If you’re fine with your god be simply being a SUPER MAN (uggh!), fine…such a limited entity can have choice (but can’t do much of anything). If, otoh, you want to insist, “no no…the god guy I know is the GREAT OMNI-DUDE!”, then we’re back to wondering why the world doesn’t appear to reflect the existence of such a dude.

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