Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why does God get the good stuff?

We can visualize two columns: in one we have all the “God-stuff” and in the other all the “human-stuff.” When we discuss things such a truth and honesty and justice and purity, and love and good, we place all those things in the God-stuff column. When discussing concepts like evil, and sin, and death and disease, and anything remotely bad, we place that in the human-stuff column. On occasion a human may be able to exercise a minuscule portion of God-stuff, but only upon God’s allowing it, and even then, as but a pitiful shadow of the capability of God doing God-stuff. And on even rarer occasion, we may see God exercising some human-stuff, like war, and genocide and suffering, but only because humans messed it up in the first place, and only understand human-stuff, so God has to work with what He has.

The simply question—why? Why do we assume God is good? Why do we place everything beneficial in a God column, and deride ourselves by placing every single detrimental item in the human column? Could there be a mixture of both? Could it be the exact opposite?

Many theists say God is good. The term “omni-benevolent” or “all good” or “solely good” is tossed about. But then the skeptic looks about them at the world, and sees things that are not good, things that even the theists say are not good, and questions where they come from. At this point word-gymnastics kick in for the theist to attempt to explain why there are these “not good” things, and why they must all be in the human-stuff and not the God-stuff.

It is from this that we get the Logical Problem of evil—if God didn’t create sin, where did it come from? And the evidentiary Problem of evil—once we had sin, why does God allow things like Tsunamis and hurricanes? And the Euthyphro problem—how is even an action determined to be “good”? And the Epicurean question—is God unable to stop evil? All arguments desperately using semantics and juggling to attempt to keep the two columns separate, and yet leaving God being God.

The most reasonable explanation is that of the deists—if we have good and evil, they both must come from God. It is ALL in the God-stuff.

I can propose an omni-malevolent God or “all evil” or “solely evil” and it is equally as logically viable as an all-good God. I would simply have to switch the labels on the columns. Of course, the skeptic would also look at my proposed God, and point out the non-evil things, and question where they would come from.

Luckily, in watching my theist friends, I could use the exact same semantic gymnastics, and attempt to resolve the Logical Problem of Good, the Evidentiary Problem of Good, the Euthyphro dilemma of “is it evil because God does it, or does God do it because it is evil,” and the Epicurean question of why God can’t seem to eliminate Evil.

To see how this works, one of the possible responses to the Problem of Evil for the omni-benevolent God, is that He allows evil to exist, in order to achieve a greater Good. (Not saying this is a good response, albeit one that is seen.) I can just as logically, just as reasonably state that, “No, my omni-malevolent God allows good to exist in order to achieve a greater Evil.”

I have never seen a proof that demonstrates a Good God is more viable, or more logical than an Evil God, since we see both in the world today.

I hand you a picture of a painting that is Black and White. No colors, no shades of gray. Unfortunately, the artist is no longer with us. I point out how beautifully the artist painted this black picture on a white canvas. You respond, “No, the artist painted a white picture on a black canvas.” Yet from our photograph, it is impossible to determine which color was canvas, and which was paint. We may argue seeing brush strokes, but in the end, it could equally be white paint on a black canvas, or black paint on a white canvas. (The analogy may not be perfect, but rather than attack it, try and understand what is being said.) And we can’t ask the artist. All we have are some of the artist’s friends saying “The artist always used white paint.” And other friends saying, “The artist always used black paint.” And neither prevailing on which was used in the painting in our photograph.

So why do theists say God is good? That is easy—hope. Not proof. Not logic. Not reason, but simple, human hope. The concept of an evil God is too much to bear, and therefore the only reason to believe in a God is to have hope. And we always hope for good.

For the predominance that read this post, today was not your birthday. Did you look forward to getting a present today? Some cake? A party? Nope—nothing to hope for in that regard. For 363 days in the year we have no hope of getting a birthday present. Just one day to look forward to. Do we celebrate an UNbirthday (other than in a Disney movie)? Nope. As humans, we look forward to, we hope for good. Not bad. Not mediocre. We look forward to leaving the Dentist’s office, not entering.

Frankly, there is little point in believing in an evil God without a Good God to offset it, due to the lack of hope.

But this hope should put us on our guard in attempting to proof things out. When I plan for a case, if I start “hoping” for a certain outcome, my planning can become blurred. I start to see the evidence in only one biased light. I stop reviewing the evidence objectively, and only see it the way I “hope” it is seen. I stop looking at ALL the evidence, and review only the evidence that supports my position. If I did plan this way, my opponent would be sure to capitalize on this fatal error by pointing out the evidence I rejected from my belief in my “hope.”

I assume scientist view their experiments in the same way. To faithfully record the data, even if the data does not turn out as expected. To reject an experiment, simply because it did not turn out the way we “hoped” it would, causes bad results. Our “hopes” do not reality make.

If you are “hoping” for a specific result, introspection should cause you to greatly question your evidence, in realizing the bias. It is not bad to have biases, we all do. It is bad when we fail to recognize them, and use caution in examining our position.

It is fine to have a hope in a Good God. But this hope must not take precedence over the reality that we cannot determine what goes in which column, and we must set aside this hope upon review of the evidence of reality.

The only way we know of Love, is by watching two humans interact in love. The only way we know of Justice, is to watch humanity act it out in society’s role as a monitoring agency. The only way we know of good, is by seeing other humans act in certain ways that are beneficial to other humans, society as a whole, and the earth. The only way we know of Evil is to watch humanity attempt to tear itself apart.

In fact, everything we know of every concept, we see through the actions of the world and its inhabitants. Not from a God. In the end, the only place we can verify where any of these ideas happen is by placing them all in the human-stuff.


  1. This is ........GOOD STUFF.:)


  2. Very convincing post. I do not think that we should abandon our hope of a "good" God.
    Faith can be strong at times and wane at others but hope is something that,IMHO, cannot be separated from our psyche. We need it as much as the air we breathe. It is a matter of mental health and a positive disposition.
    I do agree with your premise that hope should not ever "cloud" our judgements when the evidence is clear. When the evidence is such that it brings no clarity in either direction, subjective bias influenced by hope is all we have.

  3. Thanks, roman. I agree that one of the most important parts of being human is hope. To be honest I vacillate on whether theism has any value, and one of the points in its favor is providing hope.

    But I fear it provides false hope. I would prefer that as humans we realize we are on our own, and need to work out our troubles amongst ourselves, rather than rely upon a supernatural creature. Too many use hope to instill fear. And then religions are born.

  4. Dagoods - I think you are describing a secular humanist philosophy.

    One basic objection to atheism that people aspouse is that there's no purpose to living (see Rick Warren's book). The immediate response is usually, but if this is all there is, I want to make the most of it.

    Still, I can't help but agree that atheism provides little purpose to living. That being said, that in and of itself doesn't prove Christianity. Moreover, I feel that even if there is no purpose to life, thats not a reason in and of itself that atheism is not true. Indeed, if we agreed with that, I think we'd be saying "I dont WANT to believe in Atheism," rather than saying it can not or is not true!

  5. Having been on both sides of the great divide I can say that I have more hope now as an ex-Christian then I did as a Christian, though I always had hope then as well. It was different though.

    My hope then was based on the hope that humankind would turn to Almighty God, ask Jesus into their hearts, turn from their sin & rejoice as they were Raptured into His glorious presence.

    Asigned to that kind of hope though is a desperation of despair, always brooding just beneath the surface. As most of humankind did not know, never knew & would never know Christ & His salvation. In other words, there was no hope for them.

    On one hand, the hope of salvation & on the other hand knowing it was hopeless.

    So many of my friends, including myself, in mission programs, leadership positions, some of the most involved & sincere people I knew had, there, just below the surface, yet not very well hidden an on-going low-grade depression because we knew the reality...not all would or will turn to Christ.

    The despair of knowing hellfire would consume them was more then one could bear. No hope there. We could only reconcile such a tragedy by saying, "Well, God knows & if He knows, then all we have to do is trust Him that if souls must burn for eternity, then so be it. Who can argue with God? After all, He is God." Never made them or us feel one bit better. It was just one of many ways we covered our hopelessness so that we could put the smile of hope back on our faces & continue on in His name.

    Hope you don't mind my comments Dagwoods. You know I'm not much for debates...just reality as I've known it. :)

  6. Steve, you are right, of course. I have been engaged with theists for so long, I have picked up the bad habit not pointing out the difference.

    I fear they would see it as quibbling, so I let it slide. There is so much other good stuff to point out.

    Wouldn't it be fun to actually have a theist say, "No, dagoods. You are incorrectly making atheism and secular humanism the same. Atheism is just about lack of belief in a god. As much to do with hope as the quadratic forumula." But I don't see that happening.

  7. Zoe, your comments are always appreciated--you know that.

    And who would DARE debate with such brilliance? :)

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    Your jaw will drop!

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