Where I practice writing (because I sorely need to).

Persuasive to Me

Below I wrote something along the lines that philosophy tends to answer some useful questions quite near the door and then meander in circles, failing to either slay the lurking minotaurs or break through the labrynth. Religion isn’t generally much more satisfying to me, though I do envy those who draw deep and meaningful inspiration or fellowship from it. My lack of use for either doesn’t extend quite to lack of awareness, however.

Many introductory philosophy courses include explorations of theodicy. The problem of squaring evil in the world with a benevolent, omnipotent, god is tricky. It seems that everyone works on it eventually. The first plank of the argument is that evil exists in the world. The second is that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent diety. A diety which bade no evil (all-benevolent) would have the power to create a world without evil (all-powerful), and would know if there was evil in its creation (all-knowing). Thus the proposition that there is some deity with those properties (conventionally though not necessarily the Christian God) would be in tension with the observation that there is evil in the world.

Personally, I have no problem concluding that there is evil in the world and that therefore there is no deity which has all those characteristics–based on my limited understanding of the world. This is also, however, where I become persuaded that the seeming contradiction is not so final after all. Some wag wrote that if there is a deity and there is evil in the world, it must be “incompetent, ignorant, or wicked, take your pick.” At heart, all the contradictions rest on the presumption that there is evil in the world.

It is, after all, apparent that there is evil in the world, is it not? In the absence of additional theology… no. We are (if we indeed exist) finite: human perceptions, potency, and intellect are bounded. Absent additional instructions–which we might not all sign on for–how could we pretend to conceive the plan of an infinite deity? We cannot conceive of evil as good, but is there reason to doubt that an infinite being could?

Perhaps if the assumption of all-benevolence is meant to be more restrictive? If the terms of the argument are that there is a deity which is omnipotent, omniscient and permits no evil whatsoever, then there either is no evil in the world or there is no such deity–by definition of our terms. Thus we could wiggle out of the argument or into a more interesting one: How must we characterize a deity which is omnipotent and omnicient given what we are capable of perceiving and knowing? May we judge that infinite being from within our finitude?


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