the argument from evil against the existence of God

I men­tioned in the com­ments of a pre­vi­ous post that when I had a lit­tle time to spare I would talk a bit more about the argu­ment from evil (for those who were curi­ous about it). So, it’s a lazy sun­day morn­ing, and I thought I’d do this dur­ing the req­ui­site drink­ing of my three cups of coffee.

Okay, let me reit­er­ate the argu­ment from evil (and evil basi­cal­ly counts as all of the suf­fer­ing and mis­ery caused by human sin and via nat­ur­al caus­es — earth­quakes and dis­eases and such):

1. If God exists, he is omni­scient, omnipo­tent, and omnibenevolent.
2. If God, is omni­scient, he knows when any evil is occur­ring (or about to occur).
3. If God is omnibenev­o­lent, he would want to pre­vent all evil.
4. If God is omnipo­tent, he could pre­vent all evil.
5. So, if God exist­ed, there would be no evil. (1−4)
6. There is evil in the world.
7. There­fore, God can­not exist. (5,6)

So, for God to allow suf­fer­ing would be akin to if I wit­ness­esed some human suf­fer­ing (say, some­one get­ting hit by a car and now bleed­ing in the street), had it com­plete­ly with­in MY POWER to save this per­son (by call­ing an ambu­lance), but I walk by and do noth­ing. If I did such a thing, I would sure­ly be seen as cold-heart­ed and cru­el — and any all-benev­o­lent being would not do the equiv­a­lent by allow­ing so much suf­fer­ing to exist in the world.

There are sev­er­al ways to try to counter this argu­ment. The first is to deny the Judeo-Chris­t­ian claims at work here: one could try to deny that God, if he exists, must pos­sess these three fea­tures. Per­haps he is not ful­ly omnipo­tent (there are cer­tain things he just can­not do), or per­haps he is not real­ly omnibenev­o­lent. So, grant­ed, this argu­ment only denies a Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept of God, and only suc­cess­ful­ly can show that it is this con­cep­tion that can­not exist. And it is this con­cep­tion that those who present this argu­ment wor­ry about, since, in West­ern phi­los­o­phy, it is the Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept that Phi­los­o­phy of Reli­gion has cen­tered around. So, the ulti­mate prob­lem with deny­ing that God, is, say, omnibenev­o­lent, is that it flies in the face of what many of us con­cieve God to be — and the God we are real­ly wor­ried about exist­ing. If it turns out that God is real­ly quite mean and nasty — would that be the God that we care exists? And if God is real­ly not all-pow­er­ful, would that be the God that is worth wor­ship­ping? I mean, you can get around the argu­ment by claim­ing that he isn’t all three of these things, but then one won­ders whether it is real­ly com­fort­ing or mean­ing­ful to imag­ine that, if God exists, he is not all these three things.

Sec­ond­ly, you can try to say that evil does­n’t real­ly exist — that it is just our per­cep­tion of human suf­fer­ing that makes us think that it is a bad thing. But again, this seems to fly in the face of the con­cep­tion of most West­ern reli­gion — if you believe in some­thing like heav­en, then you con­cieve of it to be a much bet­ter place than here. And if it is par­adise, as com­pared to here, then this place can­not already be per­fect — there must be some­thing bad here to make heav­en a bet­ter place. Sec­ond­ly, if there is real­ly no evil here that needs to be pre­vent­ed or alle­vi­at­ed, then we should not feel moral­ly oblig­at­ed to help those who are suf­fer­ing, or being mis­treat­ed, or starv­ing to death, etc. But that seems ridicu­lous — of course we rec­og­nize that those things are just hor­ri­ble, and if we are good peo­ple, we should try to alle­vi­ate that kind of suf­fer­ing when we can. To deny that suf­fer­ing and cru­el­ty and mis­ery are bad things seems ulti­mate­ly counterintuitive.

So, apart from try­ing to deny these the­is­tic prin­ci­ples that are intrin­sic to Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cep­tions of God and the world, the most promis­ing premise for us to try to object to is (3) — that if God were omnibenev­o­lent, then he would want to pre­vent all evil. Per­haps, even though he is all-good, he still wants to allow evil, because it serves some pur­pose. That seems to be a promis­ing way to go, but here is one stick­ly lit­tle wor­ry here — the fact that he is omnipo­tent. That is, in most cas­es in which we think that it is accept­able to allow suf­fer­ing, that suf­fer­ing is nec­es­sary to attain some bet­ter good — so, I cause my child a lit­tle amount of suf­fer­ing by let­ting a doc­tor admin­is­ter a painful shot. But this small amount of pain is nec­es­sary to achieve a greater good: my child’s health. Thus, I have a moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son for allow­ing suf­fer­ing in this instance. The tricky thing is com­ing up with a moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son for God to allow suf­fer­ing. That is, if I were omnipo­tent, I could make my child well with­out hav­ing to give my child a painful shot — and to make my child go through the pain of get­ting a shot with­out hav­ing to do so is just cru­el. So, since God is omnipo­tent, are there any sup­posed good things that come out of evil that God could­n’t have just brought about with­out allow­ing this evil? Com­ing up with a moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son for God is hard­er than it looks — since he is all-pow­er­ful, he should be able to bring all the good things that might arise out of allow­ing evil with just a wave of his hand (or God-like equiv­a­lent), with­out hav­ing to let the evil occur. And if he does let the evil occur even though it does­n’t need to, then it looks as if he is just cruel.

But here is a pos­si­ble way out: pre­sum­ably, accord­ing to many con­cep­tions of omnipo­tence, although God can make any log­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble thing occur, he can­not do the log­i­cal­ly impos­si­ble (e.g., he can­not make 2+2=5). So, if evil were some­how log­i­cal­ly nec­es­sary to bring about some good, then God would be jus­ti­fied in allow­ing it. One promis­ing can­di­tate is free will: That is, God could not have giv­en us free will with­out us hav­ing the abil­i­ty to choose to do evil. If he con­struct­ed it in such a way that we can only do good things, then how do we real­ly have the choice to do bad? And, since God want­ed us to have free will, he had to give us an open choice to do evil as well (although, note that, even if this objec­tion works, it does­n’t do well to explain why God allows suf­fer­ing that aris­es out of things that humans aren’t respon­si­ble for — like hur­ri­canes and dis­eases). So, does this work?

Well, one thing a defend­er of the argu­ment from evil could say is the fol­low­ing: God could have made us with such good natures that we sim­ply nev­er choose to do bad. We are just nat­u­ral­ly filled with such good-will that we just always choose the right thing — even though we could do bad things, if we so chose. After all, part of the rea­son that we do evil is due to nat­ur­al ten­dences — we have nat­ur­al desires for sex and food and com­fort, and the world is made such that we are often defi­cient in these things, so we are nat­u­ral­ly led to do nasty things in order to secure these goods for our­selves. But if God made us with­out these desires, or made it such that they are always ful­filled, then we would­n’t be tempt­ed to do bad.

But, the objec­tor may say, for God to make our natures such that we always choose the right thing is to deprive us of free will. We can only prop­er­ly have free will if we can choose to do evil — and if we are con­struct­ed so that we nev­er choose evil, then we don’t real­ly have free will.

But, some­thing to think about: God nev­er choos­es to do evil (if he is omnibenev­o­lent), and pre­sum­ably he nev­er will. Does that entail that God isn’t free? If we want to say that God is free, even though he nev­er choos­es to do evil, then sure­ly he could have made us the same way.

There are oth­er objec­tions I could go over — but, this entry is long enough as it is. If I get some respons­es back con­cern­ing oth­er objec­tions, then I’ll address those then. I fin­ished my 3 cups of cof­fee and should go do some required philosophy. 😉

Sources note: Most of these respons­es to the objec­tions men­tioned here do NOT come ori­gion­al­ly from me: I am para­phras­ing con­sid­er­a­tions made by oth­er philoso­phers, which include Nel­son Pike (in “Hume on Evil”) and J.L. Mack­ie (in “Evil and Omnipotence”).

23 thoughts on “the argument from evil against the existence of God”

  1. This is not a philo­soph­i­cal response, but just a quick per­son­al one.

    …you can get around the argu­ment by claim­ing that he isn’t all three of these things, but then one won­ders whether it is real­ly com­fort­ing or mean­ing­ful to imag­ine that, if God exists, he is not all these three things.”

    Per­son­al­ly speak­ing, I am more com­fort­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a non-omnipo­tent and non-omni­scient God because it rais­es the pos­si­b­li­ty of a God who is chang­ing and grow­ing and learn­ing over time (much as we all are), and/or the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a god who is restrained by some sort of rules (for exam­ple, non­in­ter­ven­tion). This would at least be a god wor­thy of my respect, unlike the pos­tu­lat­ed omni­scient omnipo­tent omnibenev­o­lent being.

    My $.02.

  2. I sym­pa­thize with your com­ment, and see where you’re com­ing from. The only wor­ry I have with such a God, is that this kind of God — a God who is much like us in that he is not per­fect, but is learn­ing from mis­takes and grow­ing and so on — is not real­ly a God we want to WORSHIP (but, if you are not real­ly wor­ried about a wor­ship-wor­thy God, then this isn’t going to apply to you). That is, it’s one thing to adu­late, bow-to and wor­ship a mag­nif­i­cant, per­fect, all-pow­er­ful bieng. It’s anoth­er to wor­ship some imper­fect being much like us, who just hap­pens to be some­what more pow­er­ful. Does that make sense?

  3. I’m not sure the dis­tinc­tion helps the proof of the “argu­ment from evil”; it reduces this argu­ment by restrict­ing it to “a god that is wor­thy of wor­ship”, which is a whole argu­ment unto itself.

    I’ve heard argu­ments from the­ists (low­er-case ‘t’) who seem to believe in a human/God rela­tion­ship com­pa­ra­ble to a dog/human rela­tion­ship: The dog does­n’t and can’t know how or why the human does what he/she does; from the dog’s peespec­tive, the human is all-pow­er­ful, whether or not this is true in real­i­ty. By com­par­i­son, we (the humans) have a lim­it on our under­stand­ing such that we can only see God as all-pow­er­ful, whether or not this is actu­al­ly true. Is this God wor­thy of wor­ship or not?

    Or per­haps I’m miss­ing your point.

  4. Well, to be able to even dis­cuss the ques­tion of whether or not God exists, we already have to have some CONCEPTION of what God is (or isn’t). Oth­er­wise, the ques­tion itself would be non­sen­si­cal. And, tra­di­tion­al­ly, this con­cep­tion INCLUDES the notion of omnipo­tence. The argu­ment from evil, if suc­cess­ful, does NOT end up prov­ing that there can’t be some pow­er­ful, intel­li­gent being that cre­at­ed the uni­verse. But if such a being did exist, but was­n’t omnipo­tent, it’s con­tro­ver­sial whether that being can prop­er­ly be called “God”. The type of being that most (West­ern) peo­ple are wor­ried about exist­ing — the type of being that is wor­thy of reli­gious wor­ship — is one that is per­fect and all-powerful. 

    If your con­cep­tion of God is dif­fer­ent (or if you think that God does­n’t NEED all of the prop­er­ties that I men­tioned), that fine, just know that alot of peo­ple (i.e., a lot of the­ists and Chris­tians and what­not) are going to have a bone to pick with you. (But, of course, that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing — they are going to have a bone to pick with me as well!)

  5. I think the first thing we need to bear in mind is: This is all spec­u­la­tion. We are try­ing to fig­ure out some­thing we don’t even par­tial­ly under­stand. The clos­est physics anal­o­gy I can think of would be hyper-math, where we try to under­stand 4th dimen­tion­al objects by exam­in­ing 3 dimen­tion­al ones.

    So keep­ing in mind that this is all mere spec­u­la­tion, lim­it­ed, by def­i­n­i­tion, to only those things we can under­stand and conceive …

    If God exists for this argu­ment, we must assume that he’s behind the cre­ation of the uni­verse. We must also assume that there is some point to the uni­verse, be it a pet store, a sci­ence experiement or just the cre­ation of a vain deity who was/is in lack of peo­ple telling them how won­der­ful they are.

    I think one key bib­li­cal phrase we should also keep in mine is the one of God cre­at­ing us in his own image. I don’t think this is pure­ly a phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, but also a men­tal and cog­ni­tive one. The rea­son I think this is key is that it works both ways: If we’re rep­re­sen­ta­tions of God, then we will share at least some of the same traits.

    So, we assume there is a mas­ter plan and we believe that God gave us free will. 

    God cre­ates us. He/She has a choice. We can be made mind­less slaves, to do what­ev­er is desired (which to me is rather point­less), or we can be left to evolve into a final “Ver­sion” if you will. I think the lat­ter makes a lot more sense both sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and metaphysically. 

    The very fact that we can ques­tion this elim­i­nates the first pos­si­bil­i­ty. There­fore we can assume that we were cre­at­ed with some end-goal in pur­pose and that we’re on a route to get there. One of the things we must have to do so is free will. With­out it, we’re back to option 1 of being mind­less automatons.

    By it’s def­i­n­i­tion free will means choice. We may not like the choic­es, but it’s sel­dom we real­ly have NO choice in a mat­ter. We choose to do good, we choose to do bad, we choose to do noth­ing. If God decid­ed to elim­i­nate evil (by any def­i­n­i­tion) (which I believe God *could* do), God removes a huge por­tion of free will. The only way we can work with­in the Plan, what­ev­er it may be, is by hav­ing the abil­i­ty to CHOOSE for our­selves. If this abil­i­ty is abro­gat­ed in any way, it would dis­rupt what­ev­er plan is in place for humans. This may or may not have an effect on the larg­er plan, but it would cer­tain­ly affect our part of it.

    Evil is, by def­i­n­i­tion, the oppo­site of Good. What defines Good and Evil can vary from cul­ture to cul­ture and even per­son to per­son, but the tenet that they are oppo­sites remains.

    Allow­ing evil does not mean that God con­dones it. If noth­ing else, it is need­ed as a mea­sure­ment tool. How do we rec­og­nize good with­out evil? Beau­ty with­out ugli­ness? It’s like try­ing to explain the con­cept of light with­out dark, or sound with­out vibration.

    Omnibenev­o­lent means being and doing good at all times. It does not mean forc­ing your will on some­one who does not desire it. That action, by it’s nature, would not be benev­o­lent at all. This argu­ment is usu­al­ly only con­sid­ered from the vic­tims side. What about the per­pe­tra­tors? Could we have a benev­o­lent God who sup­ports free will and who forces His or Her will upon any­one? I do not believe so. Forc­ing some­one to be good is still a vio­lent act, even if it is a “good” one.

    Addi­tion­al­ly, we do not know if a par­tic­u­lar act was the result of an evil per­son or some­thing else: A man who has a starv­ing fam­i­ly breaks in to steal some food. He is caught, fights back, know­ing that with­out that food, his fam­i­ly will die, and acci­den­tal­ly kills a good and kind man. Was it an evil act? Was the killer an evil man? Which one should GOd have helped? The fam­i­ly of the man who was killed will undoubt­ed­ly think of it as an evil act, while the fam­i­ly of the man who stole may spend the rest of their lives regret­ting the act, and try­ing to make up for it in oth­er ways.

    There are sim­ply too many shades of grey to make this a cut and dried mat­ter of “God does not exist because evil exists”

    Addi­tion­al­ly, as we have free will, WE are in a posi­tion to fight evil as we see it. Help­ing the home­less, fight­ing cor­rup­tion and hate. If we expect God to do this FOR us, why do we need to be around at all? 

    We usu­al­ly con­sid­er these sit­u­a­tions in a sub­jec­tive man­ner. “It’s MY child that is dying. That makes it more impor­tant than any­thing else”. God, how­ev­er, has to see things objec­tive­ly: “Why YOUR child instead of HER child?” Just because God *can* heal some­one does­n’t mean God *should*. God is play­ing by a plan bare­ly know the tini­est frac­tion of. The Uni­verse is esti­mat­ed to be some­where in the region of 15 bil­lion years old and the avger­age human lifes­pan is not even 100 years. Just because we see some­thing as vital­ly impor­tant does not make it so. How­ev­er, God allows us loop­holes here too: We can pray for help. Some­times God even answers in the way we WANT God to (note: I believe that God always answers. Some­times it’s just the answer we don’t want). Con­sid­er­ing how minis­cule a part we play in the plan, I’d say that rather gen­er­ous of God.

    As humans, we like things to be good. When we are hap­py and con­tent, we do not want the sta­tus quo to change. How­ev­er, this would lead to a stag­nant soci­ety. For us to evolve, we must WANT to change things. This means mak­ing us unhap­py and dis­con­tent. Per­haps evil is not only need­ed as a tool of mea­sur­ing good, but of vital neces­si­ty for growth as a species. By this argu­ment alone, God is ful­ly jus­ti­fied in allow­ing evil to exist. You could well argue that God *cre­at­ed* evil because God IS omni­scient and God knew what we’d need bet­ter than we do.

    Evil exists, there­fore God can­not” would seen to be an argu­ment used by peo­ple want to con­vince us of some­thing they can­not explain. Human nature needs con­flict. This has been proven by psy­chol­o­gists and philoso­phers. Grant­ed, I think our cur­rent soci­ety could cer­tain­ly tone down just how much con­flict we have, but over all, we do need “evil” to moti­vate us in many dif­fer­ent areas. 

    I think our sin­gle biggest prob­lem with evil is our sub­jec­tive per­cep­tion of it. We tend to reduce things down to what hap­pens to us. I would like to think I try to take a larg­er view of it, as summed up by this quote from Ter­ry Pratch­ett: “Just because some­thing is bad, does­n’t make it any less miraculous”

  6. Geoff, you’re right. I’m attack­ing the argu­ment from behind, because I don’t agree with one of the basic premis­es, and that’s not real­ly fair.

    But the idea of an omnipo­tent et. al. god just offends me, and yet I can’t allow myself to be an athe­ist. So I rede­fine god to suit my com­fort lev­el and set­tle for agnos­ti­cism. It’s a poor com­pro­mise, and prob­a­bly philo­soph­i­cal­ly unten­able, but it works for me.

  7. Geoff: A cou­ple of things
    (1) First: I did address the free will objec­tion in my post already. I point­ed out a dilem­ma, and if you want to still use the free will defense, you need to address it. The dilem­ma is: either God COULD have giv­en us the kind of good natures that nev­er CHOOSE to do evil but yet still pre­serve our free will, OR God him­self is not free. (Look back at the post to see how I sketched the dilemma).
    (2) I don’t know if I fol­lowed your oth­er objec­tions. One seemed to imply that evil is need­ed for con­flict, which is need­ed to human growth and hap­pi­ness. First of all, it is doubt­ful that the AMOUNT of suf­fer­ing and mis­ery that exists in the world jus­ti­fies the amount need­ed to gen­er­ate the req­ui­site amount of con­flict. And sec­ond­ly, God COULD have made us so psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly con­sti­tut­ed that we don’t NEED con­flict and change to be hap­py (e.g., if you believe in Heav­en, then you believe that there is SOME place where we can be hap­py WITHOUT evil and suf­fer­ing — so such an exis­tence is log­i­cal­ly possible).
    (3)It is not enough to mere­ly claim that we don’t under­stand God and his plan to under­stand why he allows evil. Like I said before, if we can even TALK about God, and ques­tion whether or not he exists, we must have SOME con­cep­tion of what he is. And if you agree with the con­cep­tion of the argu­ment (that he has these three qual­i­ties), then those three qual­i­ties, accord­ing to the argu­ment, ren­der the exis­tence of God LOGICALLY INCONSISTENT with the exis­tence of evil. If you still think that God exists, in order to prop­er­ly address the argu­ment, you NEED to show how these three qual­i­ties of God DO NOT entail the non-exis­tence of evil. Specif­i­cal­ly, you need to sketch some plau­si­ble moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son that God could have (such that evil is LOGICALLY nec­es­sary for some good). And, like I said, that is HARD to do.

    Aesop: I don’t think your posi­tion is philo­soph­i­cal­ly unten­able — in fact, there are some philoso­phers who take your route. It is just that your red­e­fi­tion of God is going to be high­ly con­tro­ver­sial — espe­cial­ly for oth­er theists. 😉

  8. Aesop,

    Remem­ber there are 2 sets of 2 dif­fer­ent issues here:

    1) Whether God is the source of every­thing is dif­fer­ent from if God is wor­thy of being worshipped

    2) God may, or may not, be omnipo­tent, etc. We just don’t *know*.

    On 1) God may be a cor­rupt being who cre­at­ed every­thing with the express pur­pose of using us for His/Her enter­tain­ment, which may include our pain and suf­fer­ing. I don’t real­ly think this is the case, but as I can’t prove it false, I must accept that it *is* a possibility.

    On 2) Pret­ty much every­thing we know, or think we know, about God is based on what oth­er *peo­ple* have told us. Maybe God is not omni-any­thing. Why does it mat­ter? At the most, it can only prove that God real­ly did cre­ate us in God’s own image, imper­fec­tions and all.

    Here’s the thing: None of the writ­ings, sto­ries or items we have are from God. All our “stuff” is the result of humans writ­ing down, cre­at­ing objects or oth­er­wise being divi­nine inspired, or inter­pret­ing what God wants.

    This leaves us with two MAJOR issues: 1) God is indeed real, but the Bible is a device cre­at­ed by men to try and instill *their* beliefs and desires in oth­ers and 2) God is not real and mere­ly a device to give peo­ple a false hope, and for some peo­ple to gain a mea­sure of con­trol over others.

    We can dis­card 2 alto­geth­er, because if it’s true, the whole ques­tion of a “God” is non­sen­si­cle, so we must assume that there *is* a God of some sort.

    I believe that while the Bible has some good ideas, it is by no means a “play-by-play” of what went on. Peo­ple are just too fal­li­ble and too like­ly to try and change things to suit them­selves, no mat­ter how good their inten­tions are. And we haven’t got­ten much bet­ter over time. Try and find a tru­ly hon­est his­to­ri­an, or even an unbi­ased scientist.

    I do think we need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between what peo­ple have screwed up and what we think God screwed up, and see just how much stuff we blame on God, we should real­ly be blam­ing on ourselves.

  9. Response to Tina’s posting 🙂

    on (1):

    Well, I don’t know if God is/isn’t free to make up his own rules. I have one pos­si­ble the­o­ry where we’re just a real­ly elab­o­rate sci­ence experiement. If that’s the case, then God would be tak­ing orders from His supe­ri­ors. I recent­ly read an inter­est­ing book by Hein­lein called “Job: A Com­e­dy of Jus­tice” where God and Satan are under­lings for a High­er Purpose.

    I do think that we *do* have natures to choose to only do good. We just don’t exer­cise it. I think soci­ety cor­rupts us … wait … pro­vides options, rather (as I think it is still our choice if we *wish* to be corrupted). 

    On (2):

    I do think that we need evil for human growth and hap­pi­ness, but I do agree that the AMOUNT is vast­ly unjus­ti­fied. I think this is because some peo­ple have cho­sen to believe their hap­pi­ness is worth more than that of oth­er peo­ple, and this belief has been per­pet­u­at­ed long enough that it’s become “accept” as being ok by many. We know of the ones where oppres­sion is still deemed bad and con­demned, but what about some­thing like a cor­po­ra­tion where posi­tions, perks and salaries are based not on com­petance, but on how long you’ve been with a com­pa­ny, or how high up the man­age­ment lad­der you are: Is the CEO real­ly more impor­tant than the IT per­son who designed the net­work and spends 18+ hours a day mak­ing sure that the entire com­pa­ny can func­tion? Real­is­ti­cal­ly, a com­pa­ny could prob­a­bly sur­vive with­out a CEO for a while, but could they live with­out an IT staff for the same peri­od of time?

    On your sec­ond point, it is not that we need con­flict to be hap­py. We need con­flict to push us out of our hap­pi­ness and to *want* change. If we’re hap­py, we don’t want things to change. While I think that as a soci­ety we might be bet­ter off liv­ing the sim­ple life, I think we’d be miss­ing out on a lot of things like med­ical advances.

    On (3)

    I think that we would like God to be log­i­cal­ly explain­able. I don’t think God *needs* to be log­i­cal­ly explain­able. Humans are by no mean log­i­cal about many of the things we do, and if we’re a mir­ror of God, I don’t think we can *expect* God to be either. I believe it would be nice if He/She were. It would cer­tain­ly make things a lot eas­i­er to under­stand and explain. I think we try to fit God into what we would like God to be, neat­ly pack­aged up with a check­list of things to explain the whys and wheres and hows of God, and when we can’t do that, we get miffed off and try and find rea­sons why God can’t be, rather than look­ing at what we’re try­ing to do and con­sid­er if our pre­cep­tions could be at fault.

    It *is* hard to explain it under these con­di­tions, because they don’t give us the answers we want. I can under­stand how some peo­ple can and will con­sid­er my views a cop-out and that I’m just tak­ing the easy way to get around the ques­tions. I don’t think this means we should stop look­ing for log­i­cal answers, only not accept us not find­ing what we’re look­ing for as proof that God isn’t there, but instead open up and start con­sid­er­ing what may be illog­i­cal as well. For 1500 years astronomers were con­vinced that the Earth was the cen­ter of the uni­verse, because log­i­cal­ly (from what they could see), every­thing revolved around the Earth. Even when it was proven illog­i­cal (the cal­cu­la­tions to pre­dict where and when a star/planet would be nev­er worked out), they STILL believed it because they did not want to seem blind and idioc­tic or to lose con­trol of the peo­ple (lots and lots of pol­i­tics involved with that whole bit).

    I ques­tion reli­gion dai­ly. I ques­tion if God is a Chris­t­ian-depict­ed All-Pow­er­ful deity, or a minor god from Sumaria that just hap­pened to make it big. I ques­tion if human­i­ty as a whole comes from God, or just the Jews. I ques­tion how much of the Bible can be con­sid­ered any­thing close to what God orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed and just how bad­ly have we screwed up reli­gion in general.

    The only thing I can hon­est­ly say I *know* about God is that we don’t have the answers we want. I believe a whole lot about God, through my own expe­ri­ences and bias­es, but I real­ly could­n’t tell you if I’m right about it.

    I don’t always believe what I write (although, if I’ve said “I believe” or “I think” then obvi­ous­ly I do *grin*), but I can often see why some­one else would think anoth­er way to me, and as I can­not prove or dis­prove either their point or mine, I must accept that they might be right and I’m wrong. As a result, I try to study not just my posi­tions, but oth­ers as well. Some­times I’ll see a post­ing that can be explained, or refut­ed, under some­thing I’ve read, and I may argue that point 1) to try and refine my own under­stand­ing of it or 2) to give the oth­er per­son some­thing new to consider.

    (btw, Tina, dammit, you make me think a lot *grin*)

  10. It has been my expe­ri­ence that Jews, Chris­tians, and Mus­lims don’t usu­al­ly argue that God is omnibenev­o­lent, but rather that God is sim­ply God. Wor­ship is demand­ed and humans are encour­aged to do so through pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive rein­force­ments. I’ve nev­er heard the argu­ment of omnibenev­o­lence from any reg­u­lar worshipper.

  11. 7 Step Pro­gram for the Denial of God

    It’s fun­ny how it took 6 steps (days) and then on the 7th day God could­nt rest because god did­nt exist.

  12. The “Judeo-Chris­t­ian” Perspective

    ?If God exists, he is omni­scient, omnipo­tent, and omnibenev­o­lent.? From the out­set, a false premise is assumed. The first two are cor­rect, but the third one is mis­lead­ing, if one assumes that ?omnibenev­o­lent? means ?always doing what­ev­er will make human beings hap­py, safe, or healthy right now.? Addi­tion­al­ly, ?omnibenev­o­lent? is not a char­ac­ter­is­tic of the ?Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept of God? (be assured that there is not much I will say here that devi­ates from main­stream Chris­tian­i­ty). You say, ?the ulti­mate prob­lem with deny­ing that God, is, say, omnibenev­o­lent, is that it flies in the face of what many of us con­ceive God to be.? I?m sor­ry, but whose con­cep­tion of who God is is more valid? ?Ours? or God?s? Any­way, in the actu­al Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept of God, ?omnibenev­o­lent? is only an refrac­tion of anoth­er of God?s qual­i­ties, which is ?holy.? What is holy? Holy means set apart, reserved from any­thing that is banal, pro­fane, or evil. That means he can­not do evil (?But, some­thing to think about: God nev­er choos­es to do evil (if he is omnibenev­o­lent), and pre­sum­ably he nev­er will. Does that entail that God isn’t free??), not because he is not free to but because he is good­ness by his choice, and by his very existence.

    Since God is holy, he can­not stand evil, he hates it, and any­thing evil can­not endure his pres­ence (e.g. when the prophet Isa­iah came before God, he had to be puri­fied by a burn­ing coal touch­ing his lips so that he, being a sin­ful man, would not die when he saw God). In that case no human being would ever be able to be around him (or ?go to heav­en,? as it were) because every­body has some part of them that is evil. That may seem like an unbased assump­tion, but (besides what the Bible says), do you know any per­son who has nev­er done any­thing he or she knew to be wrong? I know I don?t. Per­son­al­ly, I have done plen­ty of things I knew were wrong (that is, plen­ty of ?evil? things) in my life, and there­fore I have some evil in me, and I can­not be in the pres­ence of a God who is holy.

    Any­way, I digress. I think it is plain from look­ing at the world that plen­ty of peo­ple choose to do evil, and that indeed every­one at some time choos­es to do evil. And God does not pre­vent it. He does not pre­vent it because the oth­er most impor­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic of God (besides being ?holy?) is that he is ?lov­ing.? He cre­at­ed peo­ple (how­ev­er you want to think that hap­pened, rather in a day or a real­ly long time; but for God to exist, it is nec­es­sary that he is the source of our known exis­tence) for the rea­son that he want­ed to love them and he want­ed them to love and wor­ship him (and I think this con­cept of why God cre­at­ed man can apply to most oth­er con­cepts of God, not just in Judeo-Chris­t­ian religion).

    And now comes the ?promis­ing can­di­date? of free will. Is love real­ly love if it is forced? If you hold your cat down on your lap so you can pet it? If you have to admon­ish your chil­dren to tell them they love you? Such would be the case if human beings didn?t have freewill: our only expres­sions of love for God would be mean­ing­less because there would be no room for a dif­fer­ent choice. 

    ?We can only prop­er­ly have free will if we can choose to do evil.? That?s right. Humans can, and a lot of the time do, choose to do evil. We have that choice to begin with because, as men­tioned before, God gave it to us. ?He still wants to allow evil, because it serves some pur­pose.? Yes, sort of?the evil does not serve any pur­pose of his, but the fact of allow­ing does; it allows peo­ple to choose whether or not to love him. 

    So then God exists, he loves us, and yet he allows evil. Well, no?God exists, he loves us, so he gives us the choice to love him for who he is, and yet every­body has cho­sen (at some time) evil instead. 

    That sums up my piece deny­ing the argu­ment that ?evil exists, and there­fore God can­not.? But there is more here that is more impor­tant. Because God does not allow evil in his own pres­ence (that is, in heav­en), nobody can ever go there. Well, the beau­ti­ful part is God?s dichoto­my of being both ?holy? and ?lov­ing.? You see, in his great love for us and his desire to have us be with him in heav­en (even though we all choose evil at some­time and shouldn?t be allowed to go there), he sent his son to die as a sac­ri­fice for our evilness?that is, to bear the pun­ish­ment for our evil in our place so that we can be rec­on­ciled to God, if only we choose to accept his sacrifice.

    Obvi­ous­ly I make some assump­tions in here about God exist­ing in the first place (just as you do in your argu­ment) in order to address the argu­ment that ?evil exists, and there­fore God can­not.? It is of course no vig­or­ous log­i­cal argu­ment of the exis­tence of God ver­sus no God (I wouldn?t know how to do that), but rather a rebut­tal of your argu­ment on the basis of the pre­sumed God?s character.

  13. In response to Andy’s post:

    Okay, you claim that omnibenev­o­lence is not part of the Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept of God (this, in and of itself, seems puz­zling to me), but then go on to say:

    …in the actu­al Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cept of God, ?omnibenev­o­lent? is only an refrac­tion of anoth­er of God?s qual­i­ties, which is ?holy.? What is holy? Holy means set apart, reserved from any­thing that is banal, pro­fane, or evil. That means he can­not do evil. 

    Not quite sure what you mean by omnibenev­o­lence being a “refrac­tion ” of the holi­ness of God (so, does that mean that God IS or ISN’T omnibenev­o­lent?). But, you state that God’s holi­ness entails that he nev­er does evil. But, isn’t allow­ing suf­fer­ing (if you could stop it) for no moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son an evil?

    You DO sug­gest a moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son: evil is an entail­ment of God giv­ing us free will. But recall that in my orig­i­nal post, I DO address the free will objec­tion (I’ll just repeat what I said in a pre­vi­ous response): I point­ed out a dilem­ma, and if you want to still use the free will defense, you need to address it. The dilem­ma is: either God COULD have giv­en us the kind of good natures that nev­er CHOOSE to do evil but yet still pre­serve our free will, OR (if giv­ing us such a nature would pre­clude our free will) God him­self is not free. (Look back at the post to see how I sketched the dilemma).

    If you choose the first horn of the dilem­ma, then it turns out that God does NOT have a moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son for allow­ing suf­fer­ing (because giv­ing us free will DOES NOT entail that we will some­times choose evil). But if you choose the sec­ond horn, then you have to admit that God does not have free will (which seems to be a prob­lem­at­ic claim).

  14. I don?t think say­ing that the Judeo-Chris­t­ian God is not con­sid­ered ?omnibenev­o­lent? is that puz­zling. In the Old Tes­ta­ment, he com­mand­ed the Isre­alites to com­plete­ly destroy the peo­ples they were dri­ving out, not spar­ing even inno­cent chil­dren; when they were wan­der­ing in the desert, he swal­lowed dis­senters against him into the earth; even Jesus Christ said, ?I have not come to bring peace, but a sword? (Matt. 10:34). None of those things seem direct­ly benev­o­lent to me, and yet Chris­tians acknowl­edge this same God as the one true God, who is holy and lov­ing and good, but not omnibenevolent.

    I wish I could have come up with a bet­ter word than refrac­tion. I guess a bet­ter word would just be ?aspect.? God is the stan­dard of what is good. He nei­ther con­forms to a pre­de­ter­mined def­i­n­i­tion of good, nor did he hap­haz­ard­ly dic­tate what is good, but he is in essence the def­i­n­i­tion of good. As I recent­ly read in C.S. Lewis, ?God is not mere­ly good, but good­ness; good­ness is not mere­ly divine, but God.?

    I think, then, for God to be ?omnibenev­o­lent? (if we do want to use the word in a way that actu­al­ly does apply to God), the word must fall under a new definition?not just (to quote my pre­vi­ous post) ?always doing what­ev­er will make human beings hap­py, safe, or healthy right now.? I say this because, sup­pos­ing again there is a God that is respon­si­ble for the uni­verse and for life, then a God who is so supe­ri­or in knowl­edge, or so omni­scient, as to cre­ate physics and math, etc. is log­i­cal­ly also supe­ri­or in knowl­edge of all moral ques­tions, and there­fore knows much bet­ter than any human being what good actu­al­ly is. (There­fore I per­son­al­ly believe that ques­tion­ing God?s ?moral jus­ti­fi­ca­tion? for any­thing he does is an exer­cise in futil­i­ty, but I rec­og­nize that you don?t agree with that, so on I go?)

    I think Geoff had a good point: ?Omnibenev­o­lent means being and doing good at all times. It does not mean forc­ing your will on some­one who does not desire it. That action, by it’s nature, would not be benev­o­lent at all.? But beyond that, if we want to call God ?omnibenev­o­lent,? and yet also acknowl­edge that, as God, he has a bet­ter con­cept of what good is than we do, and if ?Omnibenev­o­lent means being and doing good at all times,? then the con­clu­sion is that ?omnibenev­o­lent? does not always mean ?always doing what­ev­er will make human beings hap­py, safe or healthy right now,? and what we would nat­u­ral­ly define as being a benev­o­lent action by God is not always in line with what is tru­ly good.

    Yes, I do give freewill as the rea­son for evil. I know you made the point in your orig­i­nal argu­ment that you made in the last two para­graphs of your last post, but I didn?t respond because it didn?t seem to fit. But I will now.

    You say, ?either God COULD have giv­en us the kind of good natures that nev­er CHOOSE to do evil but yet still pre­serve our free will, OR (if giv­ing us such a nature would pre­clude our free will) God him­self is not free.? The truth is, not only COULD he have giv­en us such natures, but he DID. In Par­adise Lost, Mil­ton says regard­ing Adam and Eve, ?I made them suf­fi­cient to have stood, though free to fall.? This is in line with my pre­vi­ous argu­ment that God cre­at­ed us to love and wor­ship him, but loved us enough that he made us free to accept him or not. Absolute free­dom of choice, which humans have, does not only include free­dom to choose evil, but (praise God!) free­dom to choose good. Every­body has the option, but, just as Adam and Eve (or if you pre­fer, any per­son at all when faced with a moral choice) only chose to dis­obey when they were out of the pres­ence of God (that is, the Scrip­ture doesn?t men­tion him being around at the time), so now, God?s pres­ence (his Holy Spir­it, God?s per­son­al man­i­fes­ta­tion to the indi­vid­u­als who accept him) is nec­es­sary for a per­son to gen­uine­ly choose good over evil. The fact that we are (or can be) enabled to choose good over evil does not raise any issue of ?pre­serv­ing our free will,? because good is just as valid a choice as evil, and if a per­son who is deeply com­mit­ted to God decides to make evil choic­es ?off lim­its? and only obey God, that in itself is a free choice.

    In rela­tion to this, you men­tion that, ?after all, part of the rea­son that we do evil is due to nat­ur­al ten­den­cies — we have nat­ur­al desires for sex and food and com­fort, and the world is made such that we are often defi­cient in these things, so we are nat­u­ral­ly led to do nasty things in order to secure these goods for our­selves.? We do have these nat­ur­al desires and every one of them is some­thing God wants us to have too, but not at the expense of a rela­tion­ship with him. And most peo­ple pur­sue these things at exact­ly that price: the expense of a rela­tion­ship with God. Not by God?s choice, but by their own. A lov­ing rela­tion­ship with God (which again is what he wants for us, and was the rea­son he cre­at­ed us) can set a per­son free from doing evil to achieve these things.

    Regard­ing God?s allowance of human suf­fer­ing: you say that since God is omnipo­tent he could pro­tect our bet­ter good (just as a par­ent would pro­tect their child from dis­ease) with­out mak­ing peo­ple suf­fer for it (like by giv­ing the child a shot). You say the only moral­ly suf­fi­cient rea­son God could allow suf­fer­ing is if it is for our greater good, but since he could achieve our greater good with­out the suf­fer­ing, he will­ful­ly allows the suf­fer­ing, which is cru­el. I would con­tend, though, that in most cas­es suf­fer­ing and ?our greater good? are not relat­ed in this way. I would con­tend instead that much of human suf­fer­ing, just like evil, is the result of man?s freewill. Going back to Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy, there was no suf­fer­ing and no poten­tial for suf­fer­ing until the first peo­ple dis­obeyed God. At that point, suf­fer­ing entered the world as a result of their choice. 

    But more gen­er­al­ly (if you do not want to use the Adam and Eve sto­ry as an exam­ple), how much of the suf­fer­ing in the world exists because of human choice? There are mil­lions of starv­ing chil­dren in Africa?but there are peo­ple in Amer­i­ca with bil­lions of dol­lars who could eas­i­ly pro­vide food for all of them. But they don?t because they choose not to. I?m not say­ing they should, but they def­i­nite­ly could choose to do so, and would there­fore elim­i­nate this type of suf­fer­ing. Addi­tion­al­ly, every­body who kills, rapes, steals from, or oth­er­wise infringes on the rights of anoth­er per­son could also choose not to do so. So what is left are nat­ur­al sources of suf­fer­ing that nobody can do any­thing about, like dis­ease and nat­ur­al dis­as­ters (as a slight­ly irrel­e­vant edi­to­r­i­al, the huge rise in today?s weath­er-relat­ed dis­as­ters can like­ly be attrib­uted to humans choos­ing to abuse the envi­ron­ment, and many dis­eases, like STDs and lifestyle-relat­ed ill­ness­es, could be pre­vent­ed by human choice too, but that does not cov­er every­thing, so it will not be my basis).

    One adjec­tive for God that you left out, but then which all def­i­n­i­tions of God do not nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tain, is that God is ?omniper­son­al.? That goes beyond the fact that he knows absolute­ly every­thing about you and me (his omni­science at work), but it means that he loves every indi­vid­ual per­son, and he knows what is best for every indi­vid­ual per­son. I would say, ?what is best for a per­son,? (if God is indeed good, which I have already addressed) would be to love and wor­ship God, the pur­pose for which he made us. But the omniper­son­al God?s plan may be for a per­son to have to over­come some nat­ur­al dif­fi­cul­ty in order to come to know him, or to strength­en a person?s faith in him. Such a nat­ur­al dif­fi­cul­ty could be a dis­ease, or the death of a loved one in a nat­ur­al dis­as­ter, or any­thing else that would nor­mal­ly make a per­son say, ?Why does God allow suf­fer­ing?? I think he allows it so that peo­ple will rely on him for strength to rise above a seem­ing­ly cru­el world and become bet­ter people.

    Now (after all that), if he used his omnipo­tence to just ?teach us the les­son? or achieve in our char­ac­ters what we would have gained from the expe­ri­ence of suf­fer­ing with­out actu­al­ly mak­ing us endure it, then our freewill would be gone (that is, there would be effects with­out caus­es, and there­fore ?choic­es? and ?con­se­quences? would be mean­ing­less words), and lov­ing and wor­ship­ing him would not be our choice, but his own choice forced upon us. And, as I have men­tioned before, that is not his purpose.

    Okay, that?s all, but I also want to men­tion, I talk a lot about choos­ing to do good or evil. But again, nobody ever choos­es what is right every time, and there­fore, our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and atone­ment before God are nec­es­sary, and he achieved them through his son Jesus Christ. ?For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith?and this not from your­selves, it is the gift of God?not by works, so that no one can boast? (Eph­esians 2:8–9).

  15. Response to Andy’s last post:

    In light of your com­ments con­cern­ing free will, I feel as if I haven’t explained the dilem­ma very well. You state that most of the suf­fer­ing in the world comes from the exer­cis­ing of our free will, but that God wants us to have free will (and vol­un­tar­i­ly choose good, etc.), and that we nat­u­ral­ly choose to do bad. And the assump­tion behind all of this seems to be that giv­ing us free will ENTAILS that we some­times choose evil. That is, if we were made such that we choose good ALL THE TIME, then we aren’t real­ly free (because there is some sense in which we CAN’T choose to do bad). (Does this seem to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what you’re think­ing?) Okay, so here comes the dilemma:
    — God ALWAYS does good — ALWAYS does the moral­ly cor­rect thing. Why? Well, I imag­ine that it is because that is his nature — he is nat­u­ral­ly such a good, pure being that he always choos­es the right action. He COULD do evil if he want­ed to, but he is just such a won­der­ful guy that he nev­er so chooses.
    — Humans do NOT always do good — they SOMETIMES act immoral­ly. Why? Well…I guess we could answer in the same way here: it is our nature. We are not moral­ly per­fect beings — we some­times fold under the temp­ta­tion to do bad.

    But, God is the one who GAVE us the natures that we have. He COULD (since he is omnipo­tent) have made us with a pure, moral­ly per­fect nature as he him­self has. If he gave us a nat­u­ral­ly good nature like he him­self pos­sess­es, then we would always CHOOSE to do the right thing too…and there would not be the kind of suf­fer­ing that fol­lows from sin. We would always CHOOSE the right thing, we would always CHOOSE to love and fol­low him. No one would reject him, and no one would go to hell.

    If you claim, at this point, that giv­ing us that kind of nature would reliquish our free will (since, there is a sense in which we CAN’T CHOOSE to do the wrong thing), then you must admit that God thus does not have free will (for, in the same way, there is a sense in which he CAN’T CHOOSE to do wrong either…since he is moral­ly perfect).

    See the dilem­ma? So, either God COULD have giv­en us free will AND moral­ly per­fect natures like him (and there would thus be no suf­fer­ing that fol­lows from sin), OR if God COULDN’T have giv­en us both free will AND moral­ly per­fect natures (since one would exclude the oth­er), then God him­self is not free.

    There was one inter­est­ing objec­tion to the argu­ment from evil that I read (I can’t remem­ber the name of the author now) who used the free will defense — and seemed to sug­gest that God want­ed to give us some­thing that nei­ther he nor his angels had: the REAL choice, in a very robust sense, between good and evil. And in order for the choice to do good to be real­ly MEANINGFUL, we had to be actu­al­ly TEMPTED to do evil. That is, we had to have some dis­po­si­tion to choose to do the wrong thing (those desires for sex and food and the like that I men­tioned) — thus entail­ing that SOMETIMES we actu­al­ly DO choose evil. The author did­n’t seem to have a prob­lem with the idea that God him­self does NOT have to wres­tle with that kind of choice — that God’s choice to do the right thing is not as MEANINGFUL as OUR choice to do the right thing (which must come as a result of inter­nal con­flict, strug­gle, and the over­com­ing of nat­ur­al temptation).

    This, I thought, was an inter­est­ing take on the free will defense…which may, of course, raise its own prob­lems (con­cern­ing whether God is free, etc.)

  16. All of this dis­cus­sion is inter­est­ing and it may be the dis­cus­sion or the font, but this has be refreshing.

    None of this answers the ques­tion “Why would God cre­ate this elab­o­rate game, throw us into it, and watch?”

    If he is infin­i­ty, and infi­nite good­ness, why all of this existence?

    I’m lis­ten­ing to radio­head — fit­ter hap­pi­er, and as I typed that, I glanced at my harman/kardon speak­ers, and as I real­ized the strange­ness of my exis­tence, my eyes welled up.

    Exis­tence! It’s all around us, it is us, how strange!

    The basis of my exis­tence is weird: when­ev­er I pon­der this life, how­ev­er super­fi­cial­ly, I get struck by an imme­di­ate lack of under­stand­ing, a hope­less, unfilled amaze­ment” — I. A. Bunin 

    -Daniel

  17. I have one prob­lem with this …

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    So, either God COULD have giv­en us free will AND moral­ly per­fect natures like him (and there would thus be no suf­fer­ing that fol­lows from sin), OR if God COULDN’T have giv­en us both free will AND moral­ly per­fect natures (since one would exclude the oth­er), then God him­self is not free.
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    Could does not mean would. I do believe that God *could* give us free will as well as moral­ly per­fect natures, but I believe God would chose NOT to. I do not know if this is a lim­i­ta­tion imposed by some author­i­ty high­er than God Herself/Himself or some­thing self-imposed. I sup­pose it could be inter­pret­ed that any lim­i­ta­tion, self-imposed or not, is proof that God is not free. How­ev­er, I chose to view this lim­i­a­tion, if it is a self-impo­si­tion, as the ulti­mate expres­sion of free will.

    I was read­ing a book recent­ly where the hero pro­posed a sit­u­a­tion that made me think about this: Imag­ine you are aware of every sin­gle thing hap­pen­ing in the world, and every new per­son, new items, new thing cre­ates anoth­er thing of which you are aware. At some point one of two things will have to hap­pen (that point being depen­dent on the person/creature/being involved): You either try to con­trol it, to make it man­age­able or you with­draw your­self from the sit­u­a­tion and remove your­self from the chaos.

    I believe that God tends towards the lat­ter, pulling Herself/Himself away from the chaos in order to allow us the abil­i­ty to cre­ate our own order from the chaos, rather than forc­ing Her/His will upon us in one way or another.

    This does have a slight con­tra­dic­tion with the Chris­t­ian view of God as being able to do every­thing at any­time all the time, but I think the con­tra­dic­tion is a result of our mis­un­der­stand­ing of the beings and events involved rather than a true con­tra­dic­tion of the actu­al conditions.

  18. Hap­py East­er everybody! 

    I have real­ly enjoyed this dis­cus­sion, and I?m glad I came across it. But I?m sad that my response has to now come down to such lit­tle details and seman­tics, because I find dis­cus­sions like that tire­some, though I sup­pose it is now nec­es­sary. I would return to my quote from Par­adise Lost; grant­ed it?s only Mil­ton, and not the Bible, but I think it is a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the sit­u­a­tion. ?I made them, suf­fi­cient to have stood, though free to fall.? To take a relat­ed Bib­li­cal quote, ?Be holy, for the Lord your God is holy.? 

    Keep­ing those in mind, I would gen­er­al­ly reit­er­ate what I have already said: that God?s inten­tion was for peo­ple to exer­cise their freewill, which includ­ed the free­dom to choose evil, and choose to pur­sue a rela­tion­ship with him. Not only did he intend this for peo­ple, but he equipped peo­ple with the abil­i­ty to do it?if not of their own pow­er, then through the per­son­al life-chang­ing pow­er that comes through a rela­tion­ship with him. But then peo­ple chose evil as a per­ver­sion of the gift of freewill God gave them.

    So then peo­ple have the poten­tial for moral per­fec­tion (this may seem like a stretch, but then?besides Jesus?there were peo­ple like Job whom even God admit­ted had nev­er done wrong), where­in every per­son can always choose to do good, just like God does. But then, of course the poten­tial to choose evil is still there, and (as you men­tioned) if it were not, it would not be freewill.

    So I don?t think this gets us any­where, because (I under­stand your argu­ment bet­ter now) you say that it is not moral­ly jus­ti­fi­able for a good God to allow the suf­fer­ing that results from evil, since he could pre­vent it by giv­ing us moral­ly per­fect wills like his own, unless he him­self was not free to devi­ate out­side his own moral per­fec­tion (i.e. he him­self did not have freewill). And a God who can­not make a choice of his own moral direc­tion does not seem like an all-pow­er­ful God at all.

    But I think the ques­tion of whether or not God can choose not to do what is good is miss­ing the point. I return to my Lewis quote: ?God is not mere­ly good, but good­ness; good­ness is not mere­ly divine, but God.? I think God?s nature as being the essence of good­ness pre­cludes any ques­tion of whether or not he can choose between good and evil. In one sense you could say he can­not choose to do any­thing but good, but that is because no mat­ter what oth­er choice he made, he would be choos­ing a val­ue that he knew to be worth­less by com­par­i­son, since he is aware of his own divine good­ness, and since he him­self is the ulti­mate of val­ues. I guess you could say, then, that his choice of good over evil (while it exists) is not very mean­ing­ful, since he always has in him­self the obvi­ous cor­rect answer.

    To illus­trate it more mean­ing­ful­ly, all the peo­ple I have read about in the Bible, when they are in the pres­ence of God the Father (to be dis­tin­guished from God the Son, Jesus Christ when he was on Earth) are in total sub­mis­sion to his per­fect will because of his over­whelm­ing, holy pres­ence. But then when his pres­ence is gone, many of them turn back and do things that are not good (I can think right now of Adam and Eve, Moses, and David), though some con­tin­ue to do his will with­out any men­tion of their mess­ing up after his pres­ence is gone (like Isa­iah the prophet and Paul). Either way, when in the pres­ence of God, these peo­ple are only inclined to do what is good, because they see that God is the high­est of all val­ues, that any oth­er choice besides doing his will (his good will) would be worth­less. So then, if peo­ple are com­pelled to do good because of the pres­ence of God?not because they are unable to choose evil, but because they see that God?s per­fect will is the high­est of val­ues, how much more will God (who is always in his own good pres­ence and there­fore nev­er tempt­ed by evil) choose good! He is free to choose evil, but why would he, when all of both good­ness and val­ue are in himself?

    So I think God tran­scends the act of choos­ing between doing good and doing evil for the afore­men­tioned rea­sons, but by not being present among humans all the time, he did not give that tran­scen­dence to mankind. Why not? Well, I think it could be like you men­tioned that both he and the angels have that tran­scen­dence, but because of the obvi­ous­ness to them of what the high­est val­ue is (name­ly God), any choice they have is some­what mean­ing­less, and God want­ed his chil­dren (peo­ple) to have the more mean­ing­ful choice to choose to love him and seek him instead of being com­pelled to do so by his con­stant pres­ence, in which the obvi­ous cor­rect answer to any choice lies.

  19. Or maybe if we took less time try­ing to fig­ure out what God wants/is, he’d have more time to fig­ure out who we are, and who we should be. 😉

  20. I agree, Marc ;). Although this expe­ri­ence of dis­cus­sion has, sur­pris­ing­ly enough, made me feel like I’m get­ting to know bet­ter the God I already love.

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