Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Benevolent God

There is a stock argument against the existence, or at least benevolence, of the Judeo-Christian god. According to theologians, god has three core properties: she is benevolent (all good), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (all powerful). The stock argument goes, “if god is all of these things, how can there be evil/suffering the world? Because, surely, she could stop the evil and suffering from occurring. Since she does not, she either can’t, doesn’t know it’s coming or doesn’t care. i.e. she must not be one of these three things.” To frame the argument formally, it looks like this:
  • P1: god is all good
  • P2: god is all powerful
  • P3: god is all knowing
  • P4: There is evil, pain, and suffering in the world
  • C: If P4 is true, then either P1, P2 or P3 must be false
  • C: P4 is true, therefore, either P1, P2 or P3 is false
Theologians have a few different responses to this argument. One is to argue that “everything happens for a reason. We simply do not understand god’s will.” But when framed against something like the killing of the Jewish community during WWII, the response sort of loses its appeal. It’s hard to imagine that the world is better for this horrific mass murder.
The primary response theists have to this argument is that god is all of three of those things, but she also gave us free will. So if god were to interfere in any way with the acts of man, then she would be violating man’s free will. Therefore, god can be all good, all knowing and all powerful, but still allow there to be evil in the world. There are a number of ways people responded to this explanation, but I only want to look at one of them right now.
And that is to argue from the case of natural disasters. With the increasing variety and unpredictability of recent weather patterns over the last decade or so, these disasters have be flowing in full force. From Hurricanes, to tornadoes, to sinkholes, it seems there is a new disaster every few months. How many thousands of people have been victims of these disasters in the last few years alone? Many. God could have stepped in at any time to prevent them from occurring. After all, stopping a tornado would not affect anyone’s free will, but could have saved numerous lives.
Of course, one may point out that god is notorious for creating natural disasters with the greater good in mind. See the Noah’s Ark story. So she may be utilizing the the same strategy with every hurricane she throws; a sort of planet cleansing disaster.There are certain other problems that arise with this explanation as well, but it is surely plausible.
The sort of disaster I’m thinking of right now, though, is one of a smaller caliber. Last week, a group of elementary students from St. Louis Park, MN were on a field trip at Lilydale Regional Park, in St. Paul, MN. While they were there, a rockslide fell upon the class injuring two students and ultimately killing two as well. Surely, preventing this horrible disaster would have been an easy task for god. She simply could have made the rocks and dirt hold for another 2 minutes until the group had passed, or made the slide occur before the group was in that area. Doing so would not have interfered with anyone’s free will either, one would think, but please correct me if I am wrong. This to me is the most convincing reason for believing the above argument.
The stock response to this is the “everything happens for a reason” argument, aka the “greater good” argument. i.e. the families of those affected are better off now, or at least will be in the future. Which certainly may end up being the case. It also may not end up being the case. Losing a young child in such a horrific way would be nothing short of traumatizing. For their sakes, I hope they do end up making it through. The problem with reasoning this way, though, is that the future is unpredictable. We have no way of knowing if the world is better for this disaster. It’s all a matter of faith that it is. 

But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it?

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