LogicWarrior Demand Reason

12Aug/100

The Problem of Evil in Under 5 Minutes

WARNING! This entry is an "Under 5 Minutes" post meaning that it does an overview of a topic someone out there has probably spent their lives investigating or thinking about.  This post is a starting point and is not mean to be a talisman against people with doctorates in philosophy.  The "Under 5 Minutes" claim only applies to the summary.  I can wax idiotic for as long as I want after.

Summary: The classical powers of God are omniscience (all knowing), omnipotence (all powerful), and omnibenevolence (everything God does is good) and the existence of evil suggests these are not internally consistent.  If failing to prevent a harm that would be very easy to stop is bad, the existence of suffering by the guiltless (infants) means God is not omnipotent (can't stop the harm), God is not omniscient (can't see the harm), or God is not omnibonevolent (doesn't think the harm is bad).

Exposition: I am more annoyed by internal inconsistency than basal faith.  I was talking with someone on the porch of Foster Hall and as his theory of how to explain away the Synoptic Problem (Why the Gospel don't agree on everything) he shrugged his shoulder and said "God can do anything" (omnipotence: check).  Earlier he said "God knows everything" (omniscience: check), so I went for closure by asking "is God all good?" to which he said "yes" (omnibenevolence: check).  I decided to press the point.

In More Detail - Definitions

Omniscience: All knowing, knowning everything that can be known.  Modified Definition that Invalidates Argument: Knowing everything that one chooses to know, meaning able to restrict one's own knowledge.

Omnipotence: All powerful, able to do anything.  There are a few flavors like pure agency where God can do literally anything even if not logically possible like create 4-sided triangles or create a burrito so hot he can't lift it.  Modified Definition that Invalidates Argument: Able to do anything that's consistent with the being's nature.  For instance, if a being is the omnipotent eidolon of forgiveness it couldn't hold a grudge.

Omnibenevolence: All good, infinite capacity for kindness.  Modified Definition that Invalidates Argument:  1) Rather than good defining the being, the being defines good.  If an omnibenevolent being did something we'd view as wrong, we simply had the wrong definition of wrong.  2) Rather than infinite capacity for kindness, the being merely has perfect morality.  God could have perfect morality and it could be the case that it is not a moral action to interfere with natural events.

In More Detail - Assumptions

  • God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent (I love that word).
  • We use the listed definitions above (or something close to it).
  • Failing to prevent a harm is a bad thing.  An infant or small child is left to sit on the edge of a fountain and, not having motor control, falls in.  I think the morally aware person would consider failing to rescue the infant to be a lapse of morality and more importantly wrong.
  • There is such thing as perfect innocence meaning that there are people that can be in a state that no harm that could come to them would be considered just or right; I think most people would put infants in this category.

In More Detail - The Argument

God often is called all-knowing, all-poweful, and all-good so the question is, how can there be evil?  I'd go one step back and say "how can there be suffering"?  Let us take the child killed during a natural disaster.  If the child is sufficiently young we can claim that it possesses innocence, meaning there were no acts or qualities of the infant that would justify the harm.  When the disaster hits and the infant died the failure of God to prevent the death of an innocent would be a wrong, meaning God is not all good.  Alternatively, God is all good, and all powerful, but doesn't know the problem exists so doesn't know to step in.  Finally, God could know there's a problem, and want to do something, but is powerless to stop the harm.  This makes a pretty strong case on how the three classic powers of God are not both internally consistent and consistent with what is commonly called right.

In More Detail - Ways Out... or Not

  • God's eternal nature means he exists outside of time and can't interfere.  Sure, but this requires a non-personal God and I don't know of many genuine deists running around.
  • Suffering is simply a way to learn and grow morally.  I doubt moral growth can occur when one's dead.
  • Innocents receive a kind of theological "get out of jail free card".  Ok, but what's the point of existence in the first place if you can skip over it?  This would also allow a twisted logic of encouraging infanticide.  This line is more straw-manny than I normally would want to go, but I've had it pop up once or twice.
  • Suffering isn't bad, everyone experiences it and is required to fashion the soul.  Yep, but it seems that suffering is rarely correlated with action.  I'm a member of the lucky sperm club with a comfortable life.  If it isn't bad, it sure does hurt.
  • The "the lord works in mysterious ways" cop out.  Sure, but if you're going to claim God is inscrutable in all ways, worship and discussion both have no meaning.  If you honestly think this is the case and haven't jumped to an Apophatic faith (can only speak of God in terms of what God isn't) I consider that internally inconsistent.