– part of an ongoing examination of the question: “Does God Exist?” –
Omnibenevolence… Now, that’s a mouthful!
“All good.” A Supreme Being is usually said to be supreme in the ability to do good.
Like, he would never do anything wrong?
Or even COMMAND someone else to do something wrong.
So – whatever God or a Supreme Being wills/commands/does is always good, the right thing to do?
That’s a working definition of omnibenevolence, a starting point. But exactly what does it mean to say that . . .
What do you mean, what does it mean?
Well . . . Do we mean, for example, that (a) whatever God does is AUTOMATICALLY the right thing to do? Or do we mean that (b) what he does is always as a MATTER OF FACT the right thing to do?
“Automatically” in the sense that MERELY because God does something, that alone makes it right, or good?
Yes . . . And therefore from the first interpretation it would be impossible for God to do wrong because no matter WHAT God does, it automatically becomes right SIMPLY because it is God who is doing it.
And the second interpretation is that God KNOWS right from wrong, but in his infinite wisdom he always CHOOSES to do only what is right?
Yes . . . Theoretically God COULD do something wrong, if he wanted to, but of course he would never choose to do anything wrong.
Hmnn . . .
In other words, if God is all-good, he ALWAYS does the right thing. But – assuming our goal is to be as clear as possible about what that statement means – we have to ask: WHY is what God wills/commands/does right?
- Is it because God is God, just because he SAYS so?
- Or is the action REALLY right.
Two possible interpretations, then . . . Either God is AUTOMATICALLY right, or he is as a MATTER OF FACT right.
Yes . . . And interpretations have consequences.
Meaning – one might be better than the other?
Or at least less troubled by objections. To find out, let’s compare them side by side with the same hypothetical scenario . . . Suppose God – who out of goodness always tells us to do the right thing – commanded someone to inflict needless & unnecessary pain on an innocent child.
Like Abraham, to kill his own child?
Okay . . . Now, according to our FIRST possible interpretation of God’s goodness, would that be the right thing to do?
Yes, by DEFINITION. Because whatever God commands – no matter what that command is, even killing your own child – is AUTOMATICALLY right.
But, of course, many people are uncomfortable with the notion that inflicting needless pain on an innocent child could ever be right. “God is GOOD,” they will say, “and that would be WRONG!”
No, it’s NOT wrong if we go by the first definition. ANYTHING God says or does automatically becomes right just because God is God.
So, this first interpretation is flawed, huh?
Well, it carries with it some baggage that not everyone is willing to accept.
Yeah – like, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason WHY something is right or wrong other than “because I said so.”
Precisely. Right & wrong become ARBITRARY – and if right & wrong are arbitrary, how can we say that God’s commands are “good”? The very concepts of right & wrong lose their meaning. If inflicting pain on innocent babies is “right” – then what in the world could possibly be “wrong”?
What about the SECOND interpretation . . . Would inflicting pain be right from that point of view?
God would never do that. He knows right from wrong. He COULD do wrong, but he would never choose to do wrong, or command someone to do something wrong like that.
Okay – but exactly what is the REASON why something like inflicting pain on innocent babies is wrong?
What do you mean . . . ?
Well, something is right or wrong according to the first interpretation MERELY because God says so. But that’s not the case with this second interpretation. Right & wrong are NOT arbitrary. So, there must be a solid reason why such an act is wrong. And, of course, God is aware of that reason, and chooses never to do something like that.
I see what you mean . . . And the reasons I guess are obvious enough: inflicting needless pain on innocent babies violates our notions of goodness, decency . . .
. . . our commitment to love & cherish the young, etc.
In other words, there’s a reasonable STANDARD of how we ought to behave, of how people have a right not to be mistreated – and God both KNOWS that standard & because he is all-good would NEVER violate it?
Yes . . . But this line of thinking also leads to a problem. In the first interpretation GOD himself was (arbitrarily) determining right & wrong. Now, there is a STANDARD that determines right & wrong. And – since God doesn’t decide right & wrong, the standard does – we are admitting that there is a standard of moral conduct INDEPENDENT of God’s will.
In effect, we are JUDGING God’s actions against this external standard?
Yes . . . We are measuring God’s “goodness” against an objective set of reasons. Which begs the question – is a Supreme Being really “supreme” if we are judging his actions?
Wow – this is getting complicated!
Yeah, for sure. But no one said that trying to think clearly was always going to be easy. To sum up:
- If God is AUTOMATICALLY right just because he says so, that makes morality ARBITRARY & fails to provide us with reasons for understanding WHY various actions are right or wrong.
- If God could do wrong but as a MATTER OF FACT he always chooses to do what’s right (or good), that not only implies that there are GOOD REASONS why something is right or wrong, but also tempts us to JUDGE God by an external standard of right & wrong.
Again, we’ll come back to this but in the meantime maybe somebody out there wants to join in and help us out…