Thursday, December 08, 2005

The problem of evil bites monotheism with a vengeance

It’s far worse than the basic omnipotence vs. omnibenevolence dichotomy would have it seem.

The bare-bones, cut-to-the-chase definition of the problem of evil is that a Western monotheistic God, as normally defined, is impossible, because you can’t square a god who is both omnipotent and omnibenevolent with the existence of evil. That, of course, goes in spades for the existence of natural evil. (No time is being taken here to refute the arguments of theists who claim otherwise; there’s plenty of books and compendiums by professional philosophers who have already shot down the Alvin Plantingas of theistic apologetics.)

I, though, charge that this fissure the problem of evil exposes in classical monotheism is only the opening view of a far deeper crevasse, which I will quickly show by means of an informal sorites. (No need to write it out, it’s that simple.) In short, omnipotence and omnibenevolence are even more at war than it appears.

Knowledge is mental power, therefore a god who is less than omnipotent must be less than omniscient. Truly being able to care for another person, as empathy vs. sympathy exemplies, means knowing their needs. A god less than omniscient therefore cannot be omnibenevolent.

Ergo, a god less than omnipotent cannot be omnibenevolent. Throwing out the bathwater, a la Rabbi Kushner, won’t save any sort of recognizable baby.

(Kushner is the author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” which [reading between the lines] faces the problem of evil by admitting that the God of Rabbi Kushner is not omnipotent but really is omnibenevolent.)

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