Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
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11-08-2018, 03:08 AM (This post was last modified: 11-08-2018 03:36 AM by Glossophile.)
Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
Most or all of the arguments attempting to defend divine atrocities seem, at their core, to rely on assuming what I like to call LEGG (Lesser Evil for a Greater Good). Basically, any superficially evil act by God is interpreted as a justifiable means to some greater ends which may or may not be within our mortal comprehension. There is a huge problem I see with that which I don't think comes up often, at least not as a comprehensive counter-argument, so I thought it might be worth articulating. In a nutshell, this type of theodicy is incompatible with divine omnipotence, because the latter guarantees that God can always "take a third option," as the saying goes.

Let's start with the classic trolley problem. You see an out-of-control train barreling down a track on which there are ten people. They're either trapped there for some reason or the train is coming too fast for them to have any hopes of reacting quickly enough to avoid it. However, maybe you have just enough time to flip a switch or lever that will divert the train onto a track with only one impending victim on it. Most would probably agree that the most moral thing to do is to flip that switch. It's certainly not ideal, but it's definitely the lesser evil.

At this point, we would usually consider how it would change if stopping the train involved shoving a large person in the way instead of flipping the switch, but I'm going to take a detour and make a different change to the scenario. Let's say it's not you that has the opportunity to do something, but Superman. If he were to just flip the switch, many would consider that to be callously lazy at best. So what changed? Well, Superman is presumably fast enough and strong enough to save all eleven people from our original scenario.

This is a specific instance of what I think is a more general truth. The more powerful the moral agent, the more contrived circumstances are required to render a lesser evil truly necessary in order to bring about a greater good. To force the Man of Steel to take at least one life, we'd have to additionally stipulate the involvement of kryptonite or something. So imagine what this means for a being of supposedly infinite power. For him, there should be very few if any possible greater goods for which any lesser evil would inevitably be needed. God can supposedly do anything, which by definition includes accomplishing whatever greater good he might have in mind without the lesser evil that a being of finite power might be forced to use in pursuit of the same or similar ends.

What's that? God let that poor girl be raped so that she would become a great force for the prevention of countless similar crimes? Here's an idea. How 'bout just beaming that motivation straight into her head or letting her be born with just an extra dose of compassion that happens to get channeled mostly towards rape victims. If God can harden the hearts of pharaohs, he can certainly do that. But that would infringe on her free will, you say? Well, so would rape, so as long as her free will is going to be violated in either case, it may as well be in the least traumatic way. Hell, God could even plant the motivation in her head without her even knowing that it came from any external source.

It really is ironic how omnipotence, which is often used as an excuse to break those pesky natural laws whenever it's convenient, so often backfires in other aspects, simply because the proponents don't think things through beyond refuting the specific argument they happen to be dealing with in the moment. This is why ad hoc reasoning doesn't work.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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11-08-2018, 04:19 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
An all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God, by definition, cannot create evil or permit evil to exist in the world. And yet, evil exists. Ergo, God, as he is defined, does not exist on the grounds of self-contradiction. Consider
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11-08-2018, 05:29 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
I have discussed here the problem of super-omnipotence. Descartes stated in his letters to Marin Mesennes that God creates the laws of nature, the metaphysical necessities. God could have made 2 + 2 = 5 had he so desired. he created everything, even the laws of nature, the logic of nature. If so, God can have any state of affairs he desires in the material world.

God is said to be perfectly good. If so, God would desire to maximize goodness in the world. Thus God would create the rules of the Universe to banish moral evil. God is said to have an essential good nature and free will to freely choose to only do moral good. He could easily have created man to have a good moral nature who freely chooses to follow his moral good nature. We don't live in such a Universe. And there is no excuse for perfectly and essentially good God who has super-omnipotence to allow moral evil to exist.

If one tries to argue God does not create the logic and laws of the Universe, the theologian must explain where they come from, so powerful even God must obey them, and what they are. God then is superfluous as to the nature and existence of the Universe. God explains nothing, and naturalism is established.

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― Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

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11-08-2018, 06:08 AM (This post was last modified: 11-08-2018 07:30 AM by Thoreauvian.)
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
Since I have a background in the Sufi interpretation of the Islamic tradition, these questions look rather different to me. To explain why will require a short outline of certain background information.

The basic idea of monotheism is "There is no god but God." Another way of saying this is that only God can possess the attributes of God. God is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, and so on. All this can also be understood as saying "There is no absolute but the Absolute."

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Islam

If God is to be understood in such terms, then the implications for any created things are clear. Everything else must have a beginning and an end. Everything else must have certain strengths and weaknesses. Everything else must constantly change. Everything else is necessarily contingent on the existence of other things. And so on. In other words, human limitations require human vulnerabilities.

If God is non-contingent, a being absolute onto himself, his existence is not dependent on anything in the natural world, including whether it is good or bad from any relative perspective.

Edit: So in other words, your critique is an important one to show the Christian concept of a perfectly good God can't be correct, but other God concepts avoid that problem (while embracing other problems I should add).
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11-08-2018, 06:11 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
(11-08-2018 03:08 AM)Glossophile Wrote:  Most or all of the arguments attempting to defend divine atrocities seem, at their core, to rely on assuming what I like to call LEGG (Lesser Evil for a Greater Good). Basically, any superficially evil act by God is interpreted as a justifiable means to some greater ends which may or may not be within our mortal comprehension. There is a huge problem I see with that which I don't think comes up often, at least not as a comprehensive counter-argument, so I thought it might be worth articulating. In a nutshell, this type of theodicy is incompatible with divine omnipotence, because the latter guarantees that God can always "take a third option," as the saying goes.

Let's start with the classic trolley problem. You see an out-of-control train barreling down a track on which there are ten people. They're either trapped there for some reason or the train is coming too fast for them to have any hopes of reacting quickly enough to avoid it. However, maybe you have just enough time to flip a switch or lever that will divert the train onto a track with only one impending victim on it. Most would probably agree that the most moral thing to do is to flip that switch. It's certainly not ideal, but it's definitely the lesser evil.

At this point, we would usually consider how it would change if stopping the train involved shoving a large person in the way instead of flipping the switch, but I'm going to take a detour and make a different change to the scenario. Let's say it's not you that has the opportunity to do something, but Superman. If he were to just flip the switch, many would consider that to be callously lazy at best. So what changed? Well, Superman is presumably fast enough and strong enough to save all eleven people from our original scenario.

This is a specific instance of what I think is a more general truth. The more powerful the moral agent, the more contrived circumstances are required to render a lesser evil truly necessary in order to bring about a greater good. To force the Man of Steel to take at least one life, we'd have to additionally stipulate the involvement of kryptonite or something. So imagine what this means for a being of supposedly infinite power. For him, there should be very few if any possible greater goods for which any lesser evil would inevitably be needed. God can supposedly do anything, which by definition includes accomplishing whatever greater good he might have in mind without the lesser evil that a being of finite power might be forced to use in pursuit of the same or similar ends.

What's that? God let that poor girl be raped so that she would become a great force for the prevention of countless similar crimes? Here's an idea. How 'bout just beaming that motivation straight into her head or letting her be born with just an extra dose of compassion that happens to get channeled mostly towards rape victims. If God can harden the hearts of pharaohs, he can certainly do that. But that would infringe on her free will, you say? Well, so would rape, so as long as her free will is going to be violated in either case, it may as well be in the least traumatic way. Hell, God could even plant the motivation in her head without her even knowing that it came from any external source.

It really is ironic how omnipotence, which is often used as an excuse to break those pesky natural laws whenever it's convenient, so often backfires in other aspects, simply because the proponents don't think things through beyond refuting the specific argument they happen to be dealing with in the moment. This is why ad hoc reasoning doesn't work.

It doesn't backfire, though, as long as Christians keep this part of it baked in: "may or may not be within our mortal comprehension." Your alternatives for what God could do in those situations makes "sense" to us and cause less or no suffering, but as long as God can always see a greater good that we can't comprehend, it remains a sound argument. (Or is it "valid" I forget which term? The one where if the premises are true the conclusion will be true. Point is if you accept the premises the argument is sound, we of course don't accept the premises)

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11-08-2018, 09:12 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
Two groups of 100 people are trapped in a large room from which the only exit is hole 75 ft up a very tall smooth wall.
The wall is impossible to climb.

In the first group, one guy kills everyone else in his group and stacks the bodies in such a way so that he can overcome his obstacle and escape.
He achieved his goal by killing 99 people.
He studied medicine from that point on and discovered a vaccine that saved millions of lives.

In the second group, people removed their outer clothes to create a long rope. They made a human pyramid, from which one person was able to reach the hole and secure their make shift rope. Everyone from that group escaped the room.
The man who reached the hole first studied medicine from that point on and discovered a vaccine that saved millions of lives.

In both scenarios we are to believe that a god is present and that the trauma of killing 99 people was a necessary evil that had to take place in order for that man to study medicine and save millions.
And yet in the second scenario, we now have 100 other people who can achieve 100 great goals in life and we have a guy that studied medicine and saved millions of lives.

These two scenarios make no sense in a world in which a god exists, but make perfect sense in a world in which no gods exist.

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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11-08-2018, 09:53 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
Pre-suppositionalists claim that everything comes from God, including Logic and the laws of the physical Universe. This then agrees with Descartes dictum that God creates all including logic, and metaphysical necessities. If so, and if God is perfectly morally good as these Christian pre-suppositionalists believe, then the existence of moral evil is again a problem.

Thus the very subject of logic becomes a problem for the concept of God.

God either is not good (contra Christianity), does not care about mankind at all (contra Christianity), does not create logic or metaphysical necessities, and then becomes superfluous, not needed and may not exist. It also opens up the debate as to what theologians mean as far as omnipotence really means. Pre-suppositionalism and TAG, the Transcendent Argument For God are both demonstrated to not be viable arguments.

This establishes that some sort of naturalism exists, and invites questions to how far naturalism extends in light of claims made by theologians. Is physics something that is also apart from and not dependent on God? What hard evidence can theologians give us for anything about the naturalism that we have demonstrated seems to exist.

If God is said to exist but does not care about us, or is not good, then we have disproven the Bible, Quran et al as not revelations from God, and not sources of knowledge about anything.

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.”
― Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

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11-08-2018, 11:25 AM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
(11-08-2018 06:11 AM)jerry mcmasters Wrote:  It doesn't backfire, though, as long as Christians keep this part of it baked in: "may or may not be within our mortal comprehension." Your alternatives for what God could do in those situations makes "sense" to us and cause less or no suffering, but as long as God can always see a greater good that we can't comprehend, it remains a sound argument. (Or is it "valid" I forget which term? The one where if the premises are true the conclusion will be true. Point is if you accept the premises the argument is sound, we of course don't accept the premises)

I thought about this too, but then I realized that our inability to understand God's motivation is itself an issue that brings us right back to the original problem. All else being equal, understanding the reason behind a particular trauma or tragedy makes it at least a little bit easier to bear. So God is still failing to be omnibenevolent by not snapping his fingers and expanding our mortal minds so that we can comprehend the justification for whatever suffering God has just inflicted upon us. The withholding of comprehension itself requires rationalization.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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11-08-2018, 12:43 PM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
(11-08-2018 11:25 AM)Glossophile Wrote:  
(11-08-2018 06:11 AM)jerry mcmasters Wrote:  It doesn't backfire, though, as long as Christians keep this part of it baked in: "may or may not be within our mortal comprehension." Your alternatives for what God could do in those situations makes "sense" to us and cause less or no suffering, but as long as God can always see a greater good that we can't comprehend, it remains a sound argument. (Or is it "valid" I forget which term? The one where if the premises are true the conclusion will be true. Point is if you accept the premises the argument is sound, we of course don't accept the premises)

I thought about this too, but then I realized that our inability to understand God's motivation is itself an issue that brings us right back to the original problem. All else being equal, understanding the reason behind a particular trauma or tragedy makes it at least a little bit easier to bear. So God is still failing to be omnibenevolent by not snapping his fingers and expanding our mortal minds so that we can comprehend the justification for whatever suffering God has just inflicted upon us. The withholding of comprehension itself requires rationalization.

No you just think God is still failing to be omnibenevolent by not snapping his fingers and expanding our mortal minds so that we can comprehend the justification for whatever suffering God has just inflicted upon us. It feels and seems that way to us, but God has a greater good in mind that we can't comprehend. God's rationalization for withholding of comprehension of that rationalization is that doing so is better for us than not doing so! It's a merry-go-round you cant get off, and is designed that way!

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11-08-2018, 07:47 PM
RE: Why Omnipotence Ruins Lesser-Evil-for-Greater-Good Theodicy
(11-08-2018 12:43 PM)jerry mcmasters Wrote:  
(11-08-2018 11:25 AM)Glossophile Wrote:  I thought about this too, but then I realized that our inability to understand God's motivation is itself an issue that brings us right back to the original problem. All else being equal, understanding the reason behind a particular trauma or tragedy makes it at least a little bit easier to bear. So God is still failing to be omnibenevolent by not snapping his fingers and expanding our mortal minds so that we can comprehend the justification for whatever suffering God has just inflicted upon us. The withholding of comprehension itself requires rationalization.

No you just think God is still failing to be omnibenevolent by not snapping his fingers and expanding our mortal minds so that we can comprehend the justification for whatever suffering God has just inflicted upon us. It feels and seems that way to us, but God has a greater good in mind that we can't comprehend. God's rationalization for withholding of comprehension of that rationalization is that doing so is better for us than not doing so! It's a merry-go-round you cant get off, and is designed that way!

> If it can't be comprehended, how can it be asserted in the first place? Huh
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