Friday, 25 September 2009

Goodness Gracious Me

An interesting discussion (if a little long!) has developed over at Russell Blackford's blog. David Heddle, batting for the Christians, has claimed there is no problem of evil, based on the biblical god being benevolent, rather than omnibenevolent. God has, in fact, promised suffering. Thanks for that.

Omnibenevolent and benevolent does seem to have been used a little interchangeably by commentators down the years, so the distinction sometimes seems to be ignored. I'm not sure that David's position allows one to jettison the need for theodicy; one wants to provide a justification for a god's behaviour in a theodicy, doesn't one? For example, Mill said:

"These additional principles are that good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. From these it follows that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible."

So Mill sees the need for theodicy with a good god, not an omnibenevolent god. Ehrman gave up theism because of the problem of evil, and one would be hard-pushed to describe him as anything other than a biblical expert. This might be seen as appealing to authorities, but it certainly shows that many do consider that there is a problem to be explained with the Christian god.

I would say that theodicy is needed for any god; it's just easier to explain the way things are in a polytheistic or duotheistic philosophy. In a monotheistic philosophy one has a problem if that god is posited as benevolent *or* malevolent. If benevolent, one (still) needs to establish why an omnipotent god created the universe with this much suffering. Just saying he's *only* benevolent, not omnibenevolent, doesn't justify his behaviour, because, firstly, the benevolence assumes an *ultimate* good. A theodicy has to show *how* this much suffering achieves an ultimate good. Greater good arguments follow, which seem (on the evidence) unpersuasive, if not downright impossible. Secondly, even acceptance of Plantinga's logical argument raises the question *why* a god would create such a universe, if so much suffering would ensue. Better to avoid the project altogether, one would think? Skip straight to heaven.

(Conversely, if the god is malevolent one would have to explain the good in the universe! From this, monotheism seems incoherent to me, given the nature of reality.)

As a side note the Catholics do seem to believe in a deity that cannot be bettered (inexpressibly loftier!), which one would imagine would be the 'most good' being. (Argue amongst yourselves whether that could mean omnibenevolent or just benevolent) From the First Vatican Council:
"...He must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in Himself and from Himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides Himself which either exists or can be imagined"

Sounds a bit smug to me.


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