Sunday, March 28, 2010

God is: 1. Incapable, 2. Indifferent or 3. Fictional (choose all that apply)

“Without a god in this universe the world would be full of evil.”

“Without belief in god people would just live their lives according to themselves.”

These claims are not new. The fallacies of these and similar statements have been and are continually exposed and dismissed. Countless cultures managed to function socially (as opposed to individuals living “according to themselves”) before the Romans conquered Israel. Countless cultures managed to function socially without any awareness of the mythology of the Hebrews. Most cultures have managed roughly the same evil-to-good ratio without yawei or Jesus. There is no objective reason to think that without believing there is a god in the universe “the world would be full of evil.”

But maybe they are referring to god’s existence rather than belief therein? Evil does exist in the world. (I hope we can agree on this premise. If it is not obvious to someone that there is evil in the world there is little hope of reaching them with demonstrable facts, let alone logic.) The definition of “evil” is a slippery and a possible point of equivocation. But whether we define “evil” as “a metaphysical force that erodes morality,” “that which causes physical or emotional harm” or “malicious intent,” the same conclusion is inevitable. Let us assume (as has been suggested) that a god capable of influencing how “full of evil” the world is, actually exists. Evil does exist so this god is either incapable, unwilling or both to reduce evil to zero.

Metaphysical evil. If evil is a malevolent force, independent of humanity, then it falls entirely under the purview of such a god. Humans could not eliminate or create this kind of evil. The quantity (or absence), quality and placement of such a metaphysical evil would be the responsibility and fault of the god. Whether the god directly created the evil or merely created the possibility/potential for metaphysical evil, attempts to direct blame at mankind for metaphysical evil make as much sense as blaming mankind for any other supposed metaphysical manifestation. Ghosts? Souls? Dualistic consciousness? If the god is capable and willing to reduce metaphysical evil then why does metaphysical evil exist at all? There are four possibilities: 1. The god is incapable of reducing/eliminating metaphysical evil. 2. The god is unwilling to reduce/eliminate metaphysical evil. 3. The god is a fictional construct. 4. Metaphysical evil is a fictional construct. At LEAST one of these possibilities is true.

Harm. This is basically natural evil. Plenty of people point to volcanoes, earthquakes, tornados, tsunami, hurricanes, sickness, death, hunger… as evidence that there is no omniscient omnipotent sympathetic intervening god. Some will even include our fragile emotional reliance on moderately benevolent circumstances and order (as opposed to chaos.) But the claim is that without god the world would be full of evil. If we are talking about natural evil, once again the responsibility and fault go to the supposed creator. If humans were created then their creator is to blame for their nature and potential. If the universe, Earth and life were created then their creator is to blame for their nature and potential. Once again we must consider: 1. The god is incapable of reducing/eliminating natural evil. 2. The god is unwilling to reduce/eliminate natural evil. 3. The god is a fictional construct. 4. Natural evil shouldn’t even be called “evil” though the described phenomena do exist… because they can.

Malicious intent. Let’s broaden “malicious intent” to include selfish indifference along with cruelty for the sake of cruelty. This kind of evil is uniquely human. Certainly in nature we’ve seen predators sate their hunger via the suffering and death of another animal. We’ve seen cats toy with their prey. But we are reluctant to name this imposed ill “evil” in the absence of conscious self-awareness. When we have the capacity to sympathize with another being and still intentionally allow or cause them to suffer is this not evil? Certainly we prioritize, rationalize and justify our choices before and after the fact. But if this is not evil then what is? If we assume humans were created we can credit the creator with giving us the potential for intentional conscious evil. But given that we have consciousness, we have sympathy, we have choices, we must take the lion’s share of responsibility for our malice. I wouldn’t characterize the world as being FULL of malice or self-interest. Although both spite and egoism are very common. But we also have cooperation and altruism. Could there be altruism and cooperation without god? These are the traits by which we categorize creatures as being social. Behavior that benefits the group increases the likelihood that the group will have descendants, descendants that also have social tendencies. While we may credit/blame a god for our potential to do good and evil we must take responsibility for our decisions to cooperate or harm. Does the balance of good and evil rely on the existence of a god? There is no objective reason to believe it does. 1. Incapable? 2. Unwilling? 3. Fictional?

It has been suggested that sincere prayer will lead us to revelation, epiphany and the holy spirit. I’ve already done that. Thankfully, the delusion wore off. The world works fine and doesn’t need a supernatural entity to explain how or why. And even if it did need supernatural explanations the available mythologies (religions) are inadequate at best. The more popular mythologies are generally self-contradicting, especially christianity. And why is it not suspicious to everyone that the same feeling of transcendence is available no matter which religion a person chooses? How can a Tibetan monk, a muslim, a baptist, a catholic, a lutheran, a voodoo priest, a jew, a rastafarian, a hindu (and the list goes on) all receive what christians call the gift of the holy spirit? Alternate religions may call it something different. And they too know it to be Truth. How is it different? That’s funny; they said the same thing about yours. It is a subjective knowing. It is a conclusion based on (and reliant on) what is felt internally. How is it that all religions can provide the same feeling of transcendence? Is it that none but one religion is correct and the others are tapping into something internal and natural rather than external and supernatural? Is it that all religions tap into the same supernatural source and that our natural understanding is too simple to see all religions are true? Or is it that they are all false, all rely on the same internal human foibles and provide nothing that isn’t already in us?

I cannot tell you what you won’t hear; show you what you won’t see. You will make excuses, rationalize and generally find a way to believe what you want to believe. But if there is a god, it did an excellent job of making itself deniable and irrelevant.


  1. I enjoyed reading this. I think we share similar views. Cheers.

  2. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

    Credited to Epicurus (341 BC – 270 BC) this paradox succinctly navigates a similar course.