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The Omnimalevolent Creator and the Problem of Good

John Zande’s post is a brilliant work of satire that shows the problems of trying to match the state of our universe to the existence of an omni-benevolent god. Definitely worth a read.

An adaptation of Christopher New’s 1993 essay: Antitheism, A Reflection

 man_drought_20090718If we found a bomb concealed in a children’s kindergarten, primed and set to detonate when it would wreak the greatest possible carnage, we would reasonably assume that someone vicious and vile – someone evil – had designed the device and had purposefully put it there maximise suffering. How much more reasonable must it be for the impartial observer to then attribute the world as we know it to a vicious and vile, non-contingent, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnimalevolentdesigner? Is this not, after all, the most likely explanation for the world before us?

Who else but a perfectly malevolent being would arrange for the enormous suffering present and guaranteed in our perilously thin, blisteringly violent biosphere? Think of the pain and destruction wrought by earthquakes, floods, cyclones, tornadoes, droughts, famines and disease. Would a benevolent designer have made provision for…

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120 thoughts on “The Omnimalevolent Creator and the Problem of Good”

  1. HILARIOUS! Also, it is almost disturbing how easily the original argument can be turned on its head like this. The Natural World is nothing BUT suffering and evil–not just the Food Chain, but it even extends to unthinking (or are they?) Plants, who compete with each other for the maximal sunlight, thus starving their neighbors. It is a Shade or Be Shaded world…

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  2. Makes one wonder, though, in a world that seems to have evolved both through, and to be full of, contention and suffering, why any being that exists in that world would care about the well-being of any other being. Unless there are indeed instances of goodwill and self-sacrifice that creep into this world that is seemingly “nothing but suffering and evil”? In which case, we’re talking about a different kind of world. One with both good and evil. Then, one has to account for the existence both of those things in the world that stands before us. Not easily explained by either side of the aisle, I think.

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  3. Hey Josh, great to hear from you!

    You’re absolutely right that we obviously have both good and evil in this world. There are examples of both selflessness and suffering. I think what John’s post is saying, when we look past the satire, is that the simplest explanation is that there is neither an omnimalevolent nor an omnibenevolent god out there. The state of our world doesn’t seem to support either idea. From there, one is left with a few options: either there’s no god at all, there’s a deistic or pantheistic god, or there’s a more personal god who is neither all-evil nor all-good.

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  4. A dilemma for sure, no matter how you slice it. I appreciated the satirical look to explore the other side of the discussion 🙂

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  5. Hi Nate, I wanted to let you know I replied to John Zande in his blog, and since we had a conversation about “endpoints” in design, I wanted to invite you to see what I wrote to John if you are interested. Overall I find myself more in agreement with Josh (above), that this satire advances the concept that we are in a state of having too little knowledge to either convict God or provide theodicy. If this assessment is correct, then we find ourselves in a humbled position, not knowing (in an epistemological sense) if a personal deity exists or is good or evil (or both), we must both believe God exists and trust his character. Of course this is frustrating for us in the scientific age where knowledge is exponentially growing and becoming more accessible via the internets. Anyway, cheers, and thanks for reblogging such an interesting article.
    -Brandon

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  6. The thing was obviously satire. Nobody is saying that this is an all-evil world (with good slipping in just to help maximize the evil, as in the funny, yet thought-provoking re-blog). The hilarious thing is that the arguments first put forward to prove an omniBENEVOLENT god can be used to argue for an omniMALEVOLENT god. But that is, as has been noted, simply b/c there is Good and Evil in the world.

    We may not know much about god (assuming the Abrahamic god for the moment), but therein lies the problem: we’ve all painted ourselves into a corner of Knowing that God is this, that, and another thing. But the world we see around us doesn’t support that. Even throwing the Argument from Satan into the mix doesn’t help. So, perfect world, but then Satan came and botched it up…but he only screwed it up as much as God would allow, which just happens to be the extent to which the evidence would then indicate that neither one existed. Hmmm…

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  7. Thanks for chiming in, Brandon. I’ll try to get over and check out your discussion with John soon. For what it’s worth, I am in complete agreement with what eSell said. In a way, I even agree with you and Josh, in that, if there’s a god, we don’t know enough about him to make hard judgments either way.

    The problem this creates for Christianity, which is what eSell was saying, is that the Bible has set bounds for God: all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, wants all to be saved, etc. These characteristics run completely counter to the world we see around us. That’s why I can completely understand why someone believes in a god, but have trouble seeing why anyone would believe it’s the god of the Bible.

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  8. I read this paper. I have to admit that there were communities in ancient Greece, such as Gnostics who did consider the creator of the world to be the Demiurge. Who is an entity who “fashioned and shaped” the material world. The demiurge is not necessarily considered good. If I searched I could probably find other examples (I have one in my mind from Iran but nothing to back it up, I think they were accused in archaic times of worshipping evil. Although I could very much be wrong). Anyway, for what its worth I have to say I can think of a at least a few ancient communities who considered their god not entirely good.

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  9. This reminds me of the story of Jesus’ friend.

    They were walking along the beach and Jesus’ friend (let’s call him Jay) became dehydrated, woozy and kind of blacked out. When he came to, he saw footprints in the sand. There were two sets for awhile and then only one set of prints.

    Jay asked Jesus about it and Jesus said, “You were incapable of going on, so I picked you up and carried you”.

    That night, they went to a beach party. A girl there had a video of the whole thing. Jay saw Jesus in the video walking along the beach and then saw himself go woozy. The next thing he knew, Jesus made Jay pick him up and Jay carried Jesus along the beach. Jay couldn’t remember doing it.

    They all laughed at Jay for being the patsy for Jesus.

    After that, Jay ended his friendship with Jesus and never talked to him again.

    The story pretty much illustrates Christianity — at least the part where the people who love Jesus have to carry the brunt of doing his work.

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  10. Hey Nate/John:

    Hopefully, you’ve read enough of my comments and enough posts on my blog to realize that I’m more than happy to call out Christians and other believers when their reasoning is lame. More often than not, my gripe with these believers centers around their utter passivity — their expectation that God does all and that their efforts are unnecessary.

    Weirdly, I find that I have to make the same criticism of this piece. Simply put, the “evils” you enumerate here, and assign God responsibility for, are all matters that are within human control. You’re right in asserting that we live in a world of hatred and violence and cruelty and neglect and injustice; but how should we account for that? Christians “explain it away”. You explanation is that that a god of goodness and love would never allow us to get into such a state — and that either there is no god, or god is evil. I differ with both camps.

    The world will change when WE change. The world will improve when WE improve. God’s purported goodness or malevolence is immaterial.

    Frankly, I think that a world where a “good” god intervened to save us from the consequences of our own actions would be hell. Without agency, without free will, without the POSSIBILITY that we could choose to let our selfishness, vindictiveness and willfulness trump any divine plan for justice, there is no life. As I stated in my own blog, such an arrangement would drain us of our humanity and leave us all robots.

    Yuck!!

    I’m neither refuting nor endorsing your opinion about God’s existence. I’m simply pointing out that the reasoning in this article is the reasoning of immature, lazy whiners.

    Paul

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  11. Paul, you’re exactly correct.

    However, this article was mostly poking fun at the opposite argument that christians make. It’s illustrating how absurd the argument is – John wasn’t really stating his case – he was mocking theirs.

    Hope this clarifies.

    William

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  12. @Nate : March 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

    Hi

    “The problem this creates for Christianity, which is what eSell was saying, is that the Bible has set bounds for God: all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, wants all to be saved, etc. These characteristics run completely counter to the world we see around us.”

    The concept of the attributes of the One-True-God is in line with what, I think, you have described.

    Over all He is the *Gracious the *Merciful and hence the introductory verse in the beginning of Quran has been repeated in the start of almost every chapter of Quran.

    *[1:1] In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
    http://www.alislam.org/quran/search2/showChapter.php?ch=1

    And He has set scheme of evolution in such a way that life is meant to receive due rewards from Him if one does positive or good deeds, else one suffers. He mention that “He has taken upon Himself to show **mercy”.

    **[6:13] Say, ‘To whom belongs what is in the heavens and the earth?’ Say, ‘To Allah.’ He has taken upon Himself to show mercy. He will certainly continue to assemble you till the Day of Resurrection. There is no doubt in it. Those who ruin their souls will not believe.

    http://www.alislam.org/quran/search2/showChapter.php?submitCh=Read+from+verse%3A&ch=6&verse=12

    As the One-True-God bestowed consciousness or life to us drawing it out from death (annihilation or from a state of non-being to the state of a being); as a shadow of his unblemished attributes; if we sin due to temptation, we have to suffer.

    The reward being everlasting (Heaven) the punishment (hell) is relatively also for a long time. The shadow or the evil temptation has been named as Devil or Satan for our understanding. Like we humans name typhoons. Everybody knows that a typhoon or a cyclone is not a living being; if I have correctly understood.

    How is a typhoon named?
    http://www.cwb.gov.tw/V7e/knowledge/encyclopedia/ty005.htm

    One may like to read the following essay on “The Question of Suffering” by Mirza Tahir Ahmad

    http://www.alislam.org/library/books/revelation/part_2_section_6.html

    Many of the attributes of the One-True-God (Allah Yahweh Ahura-Mazda Parmeshawara Ishawara) are therefore expressed in reciprocals for our understanding. All work within the bigger circle of The Gracious and The Merciful; with perfect cohesion.

    Thanks and regards

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  13. Also, Captain, it is difficult to conceive an all powerful, loving, etc, god when there are innumerable natural disasters and disease epidemics. Those are out of human control, so it has nothing to do w/ us mucking up god’s good job. Well, we are doing something about disease, now that we’ve figured out that dumping our chamber pots out the window onto the street (and passers-by) isn’t really that wise…but yeah, the evidence surely does not support an omni, well, anything, type of god. Of course, he/she/it might be all-powerful, and all-good/bad, and just allowing a mix of everything (choosing not to exercise its omnipotence), but that’s just wild speculation based on no evidence whatsoever.

    Black Ops: I had never heard that version of the story…hilarious! It is a funny point how People are always doing “the Work of God”. And as Carlin is famous for saying “and He always needs MONEY”…

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  14. Thanks for the links, paarsurrey. It will take me a while to read everything, but just a quick question based on my very limited understanding of Islam…your links speak of “Allah the Merciful”; how true is it that the faithful are commanded to kill the unbeliever? For the Bible, one can take a scripture “out of context”, or “interpret” it to say whatever. Is that what is happening with those “kill the Infidel” scriptures, or is that something else? How do they show the Mercy of Allah?

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  15. @eSell,

    Thanks for the response.

    Here’s my thought: What would an all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present god actually look like? Does ‘all powerful’ mean, “capable of overruling the laws of cause and effect”? Does ‘all knowing’ mean, “knowing everything that’s going to happen before it does”? Does ever-present mean, “abiding always in every part of the material universe”?

    I think those are the definitions most people use — whether they are arguing for or against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity.

    I differ. In the first place, I don’t think those are the only, or even the best, definitions to use. In the second, I don’t think those concepts derive either from Judaism or Christianity. I think they’re imports from paganism. I think these pagan concepts are wrong; but who am I to say?

    I can say, however, that this concept of the chronically intervening Almighty is ‘almighty distasteful’ to me personally. Given a choice between living in a world where my fuck-ups cause real suffering to real people (including myself, of course) or living in a world where my fuck-ups were irrelevant based on the fact that God’s omnipotence, rather than the causes I initiate (not to mention your initiative and everyone else’s) is ultimately responsible for everything that occurs, I would certainly choose the former.

    I have no argument against the accepted version of divine attributes. I can only say that they strike me as hellish.

    Paul

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  16. Paul,

    I think a lot of confusion comes from some theists wanting to keep the same terminology but redefining the terms.

    Just come out with it and say God is very-powerful, very-knowing, very-present but it isn’t perfect and maybe you’ve got something. But if you want to stick with the old “all” and “Omni” and then say “oh but I don’t really mean all or Omni” then you’re asking to be misunderstood. I’m not sure if it is due to a desire to hold on to traditional wording or what, but it certainly doesn’t help when people are trying to understand what you believe.

    I’d have to say your “who am I to say” is spot on and I am not saying that to jab at you, because that is something that I say about myself all the time, and I honestly mean it.

    It seems in your next to last paragraph you are expressing your personal preference which I think is great as long as you know that everyone has different preferences. As Nate likes to point out a lot, there are many Christians who have different preferences and their beliefs about what Heaven will be like show that – I don’t see anything wrong with that since everyone’s preferences will be different.

    Another thing is that your response to eSell only responds to the issue of your choices but doesn’t seem to respond to the fact that there are tons of horrifically painful events in the world that are completely natural like diseases and natural disasters. As I’ve said before believing that there are not any gods seems to make much more sense of all of those things. It’s very difficult to rationalize a good God who would have created a world where some children are born with things like severe epidermolysis bullosa.

    Any other thoughts on this?

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  17. The problem, with chritianity anyways, is that when pressed on this issue the Christians all of a sudden want to act as if nothing in this life matters, and that it’s not the physical life of man that god will take care of, but the spiritual life. They do this because plenty of good people suffer greatly while plenty of bad people prosper.

    They’ll act as if someone dying is no real big deal to god, because in death he actually liberates man from the problems of this physical life and frees him to live the eternally blissful spiritual life. It sounds nice on the surface but it doesn’t take much effort to see that it’s bogus.

    For one thing, the bible is full of examples where god takes care of people’s physical needs and blesses them with material goods. Job is a weird story where god apparently demonstrates that possessions and children are basically the same when he tears both away from job and then replaces them later. This is sad because these new children are more beautiful than the first ones – must have made it all worthwhile; trade out the uglier kids for the better ones. This story is just a mess; the material life isn’t what it’s all about, but then rewards Job with new material things.

    And we have passages like Proverbs 3:27 that says we should do good to people when it’s in our power to give it. Is that what god does? When my kids are fighting, I intervene and straighten them out. I don’t sit back in the distance and only watch, taking notes to deal out punishments and rewards when they’re old men – I take action before it gets anymore out of hand. If I can help someone, I try to.

    When I see sick and dying children, I wish I could take their place. I, and plenty of others, are wishing that if only we could take on their horrible and life-taking diseases, we would. Don’t get me wrong, we’d rather just cure them, but we’d settle for taking their place. I’m only a man. Am I more merciful than god then, since he is the one who supposedly has the power to help, but does not? We don’t like old people dying, but we recognize that happens and are willing to accept that and even our own mortality – but why let the young suffer so much and so long, only to die, leaving devastated family members, friends and parents? Because god only helps the soul, right? Because he loves us so much?

    If we believe the bible, god helps some people, but not others, and still isn’t a respecter of persons – god surely works in mysterious ways.

    Esell is exactly correct. The bible paints this picture of god that just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. We can pretend the bible means different things than what it says, but that fantasy doesn’t change the fact the bible is a mess, that it says god helps the physical problems of those who rely on him, which is demonstrably false, and that it also sets higher expectations for man than it does on god. And we’re forced to pretend that he’s so merciful because we don’t want him to banish us to eternal hell flames if we say he is not.

    Am I insane? why dont more people see the problems here?

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  18. Very well said, William.

    paarsurrey — I think William’s points apply to Islam as well. It’s one thing for a religious text to claim that their god is merciful and gracious, but where’s the evidence for it? William (and Howie and eSell) have pointed out all the areas in this life that are far outside human control, but that lead to suffering and torment. Where is God’s “mercy” and “grace” in those matters?

    Furthermore, what does Islam teach about Heaven and Hell? Who will go there? As you’ve spent time interacting with people of many different faiths, do you think all non-Muslims deserve to go to Hell? Again, where does mercy and grace fit within such a system?

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  19. @Nate : March 20, 2014 at 9:26 am

    “Furthermore, what does Islam teach about Heaven and Hell? Who will go there? As you’ve spent time interacting with people of many different faiths, do you think all non-Muslims deserve to go to Hell? Again, where does mercy and grace fit within such a system?”

    There is a purpose of life set forth by the One-True-God; one who fulfills it gets to heaven or attains nearness to God and gets happiness due to this nearness.

    Those who don’t fulfill the purpose of life when they realize that it was within their reach to achieve it but they are far away from it; the torment of that realization is their Hell.

    “Absence of comfort is torment and the recovery of comfort and prosperity is salvation. As darkness means absence of light, suffering means absence of well-being. Illness is the name of the condition when the body does not function properly and health is the name of the condition when all natural functions revert to normal. When the spiritual condition of a person moves away from the normal, this disturbance is called torment.

    When a limb like a hand or foot moves away from its proper position a pain is felt and the limb becomes unable to perform its allotted function and if it is neglected it gradually becomes useless or becomes infected and falls away. Very often there is apprehension of its neighboring limbs being affected also. The pain that this limb generates does not come from outside but results naturally from its diseased condition.

    The same is the case with spiritual torment. When a person departs from the religion of nature and loses steadfastness, spiritual torment begins, though an ignorant heedless one may not feel it. In that condition the affected soul is disabled from performing spiritual service. If this condition lasts for a time the soul becomes useless and becomes dangerous for its neighbors.

    The torment with which it is afflicted does not come from outside, but is generated by its diseased condition. No doubt it is the act of God, but it is like the case when a person takes a fatal dose of arsenic, God Almighty kills him. Or when a person shuts all the windows of his room, God Almighty makes the room dark, or if a person were to cut off his tongue, God Almighty would deprive him of the power of speech. These are all the acts of God which follow upon the acts of man.

    In the same way, spiritual torment is the act of God Almighty which follows upon a person’s own action. This is indicated in the verse: It is Allah’s kindled fire which rises over the hearts (I04:8). This means that the root of the torment is in the heart of man and that the impure thoughts of the heart are the fuel of this hell. As the seed of the torment is the foulness of one’s being which becomes personified as torment, it follows that that which removes this torment is righteousness and purity.”

    It is also reasonable to believe that hell is not eternal in the same sense as heaven is eternal; hell is like a hospital where the wrong-doers will get opportunity to get cured from their sins or wrong thoughts; and ultimately its inmates will come out like a child comes out the womb of a mother when it is due to be delivered.

    Quran also gives us a hint on it:

    [101:7] Then, as for him whose scales are heavy,
    [101:8] He will have a pleasant life.
    [101:9] But as for him whose scales are light,
    [101:10] Hell will be his nursing mother.

    http://www.alislam.org/quran/search2/showChapter.php?ch=101&verse=0

    We don’t judge anybody; the heaven is for all the human beings who have true faith in Him and do good deeds. It is His Mercy and at His discretion and His judgement.

    If one wants to know details about Heaven, Hell and the Purpose of life one could access the following:

    17- HEAVEN AND HELL Pages 427-460

    18-THE PURPOSE OF CREATION Pages 460-473

    Excerpts from the writing of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad

    Click to access Essence-2.pdf

    Does it help?

    Thanks and regards

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