Why Omnibenevolence Allows Bad Things to Happen

Or why the argumant that an omnibenevolent diety wouldn't allow tsunamis, terrorists, and other Bad Things is wrong.

Atheists have long put forward the notion that an ominpotent, omnibenevolent being would not cause so much death and suffering as the Christian god apparently does. But this analysis can only be right if benevolence is taken from materialist assumptions. One would be wise to consider that Christian death is not the same as materialist death. To the Christian, death is just a transition from earth to heaven (or hell). An early transistion is not necessarily bad.

The Christian apology for bad things happening on earth are as follows:


  1. Death is the transition from life on earth to life in heaven
  2. Being seperated from the deity is less good than being with the deity
  3. Life on earth means being seperated from the deity
  4. Life in heaven is being with the deity


  1. Life on earth is less good than life in heaven
  2. Death is good.*

Whoa! Why then would an omnibenevolent being have a life on earth then? Rather than a nice little sequence of logic statements, let us look instead at an analogy. When training for an athletic event, the training involves some pain and suffering, yet the athlete considers this as minor to the end good of participating and (hopefully) winning the event. Likewise, the Christian may view life as a sort of preperation, a learning phase where suffering and pain are building and improving the eternal soul.

So, the atheist makes two mistakes in arguing against a deity being omnibenevolent: first is the materialist premises, the second is the false dichotomy of good or bad rather than the continous spectrum of bad to good.

With so many *good* arguments against Christianity, and religions in general, why do atheists continue using this bad argument?

* Yes this is sick. There are also nuances and caveats that I do not go into here, and do not affect this argument, but may apply elsewhere.

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The problem with this

The problem with this apologia, as with many, is that it discounts all the other omni- characteristics of god by making a false analogy. Athletes willingly suffer for their sport only because there are no alternatives: they are not omnipotent. Were they, they could snap their fingers and have whatever athletic prowess they like. Either God is capable of preparing us for the afterlife without the pain and suffering we endure on earth, in which case he is not omnibenevolent, or he is incapable, in which case he is not omnipotent.

I continue to view the argument from unnecessary suffering as a strong argument against the traditional monotheistic God.

Point granted...but...

hmmm.....you may have a point.

I am not sure how omnipotence and free will interact here. And free will is absolutely necessary for the (unmentioned) greater good here. In fact I think I may need to get more into that aspect in the apology.

What exactly is the nature of omnipotence? Is it really just a snap of the fingers and *poof* you have what you want, or is it that the all-powerful can move any stone, but he still has to push it? This can make a huge difference, and perhaps omnipotent may just be the wrong word for describing the incredible* power of a supernatural* deity.

David Masten

*don't you love the double entendre?

Making the assumption of a

Making the assumption of a god (if there was an omnipotent omnibenevolent....) is always a dead end as an argument because god is constructed in such way as to be irrefutable. One cannot disprove god by proving his existence conducts to a logical fallacy, it's impossible *by design*. Furthermore, this design has been tailor fit by evolution... religions making strong predictions did not last long because they were disproved. The Christian religion allows so much flexibility through hermeneutics that it is virtually unshakable on this kind of grounds. god's will cannot be known, god does not want to give proof of his existence, etc etc.
An atheist trying to disprove god on these grounds is walking into a trap. The best argument against god is precisely its immunity against any scrutiny. Rather than try to disprove god, one has to ask: Why would you believe such a thing in the first place !
Step back a little, we shouldn't even talk about a "christian god" letting a tsunami happen... the whole idea of a "christian god", a being whose existence is completely a priori but of whom we are supposed to know a strikingly precise number of details should be dismissed in the first second of the conversation.

Actually this disproof of an omnibenevolent god is valid

”An atheist trying to disprove god on these grounds is walking into a trap." Actually, this is not true. Various notions of god are disprovable, and disproving them forces the theist to abandon a particular notion of god or to just expose their lack of rationality. There are many such valid proofs that various notions of god are not possible. It's actually the theist who has created a mental trap for himself. It has no hold on me whatsoever. It's the theist with their lack of rationality that exposes themselves when presented with this air tight argument.

Take this argument for example have you ever seen such ridiculous contortions. Now that he's twisted into this awkward position one can poke and prod him at will and he's pretty much defenseless from a rational point of view. Sure he can keep his belief but at the cost of abandoning his rationality, and that was the point really, showing his irrationality. Once he jumps off the rails of rationality he really isn't showing that the proof was wrong. He's showing that he's willing to accept anything as evidence that God exists.

If every conceivable state of affairs is compatible with the existence of god then that means that this notion of god is totally content free. People’s everyday notions of benevolence and our actual experiences do not jibe with the notion that we have to be tortured in preparation for the afterlife. If that were true then how come I and so many others have, comparatively, got it so easy while this imaginary God really puts the thumbscrews to others?

We can directly see that on earth some of the best of people suffer horrible fates while some of the worse have it on easy street. One can say, "Do you really mean to tell me that Paris Hilton is not in any sort of need for spiritual training and every person who ever got lingering cancer in their old age was in need of severe correction?" Now the only answers you'll get at that point on are of the type "God works in mysterious ways, or we just don't understand" which are frankly ludicrous. I fully understand when someone is suffering and when they don't deserve what are to me merely accidents of life, whereas apparently to some people they are merely "preparation".

In David's argument he posits all sorts of crazy positions. His argument relies on the crazy belief that all suffering merely consists in the transition from the material world to the spiritual. That's not the case however in the real world. We don't merely suffer when it comes time to move from this world to the next. Some people spend their entire lives on the edge of starvation, with horrible disfigurement, with the memory of some horrible event, etc. These aren’t moral lepers either.

Not only does his contorted notions of what is good fail to live up to the fancy notion of "omni"-benevolence it doesn't even live up to everyday fallible notions of benevolence, vanilla attainable by mere mortals benevolence. One should expect benevolence of a higher order to be a good thing not a bad one. Does a higher level of benevolence really require that some people randomly be treated worse that Michael Vick’s dogs. Should the dogs accept Vicks word for it that what he is doing is good for them at some higher level without credible explanation?

Part of the objection that non-believers have of certain religions is that logically they in fact do elevate death to a value instead of a disvalue. Structurally they are essentially death cults. Since the God they must put forward has to be compatible with any state of affairs it is essential that he be compatible with evil. That's the rub, if he's compatible with evil then he isn't a good thing and even if he did exist he's not something we should worship.

He's more like a vicious animal abuser who is so neurotic he needs his victims to "love" him. What kind of love do you know that is bought with the threat of eternal torture? I really do not see the difference in this vision than the kind of creeps you see in movies kidnapping women to keep in their cellars and torturing them till they realize their true destiny of servile loving sex to the demented pervert who imprisoned them.

Does this fact make the believers pause and think, well maybe for a moment, but not for long because you see their eyes are fixed on the prize, eternal life. So their minds wonder off looking for new rationalizations [false reasons] for why their god might just exist and might just be "good".

Does the disproof changes their minds? Well sometimes I've seen it happen. Mostly it doesn't because they are in a state of delusion that is ingrained from birth.

Does the ineffectualness of the proof in changing their beliefs mean the proof is invalid? Well no since a proof need not be believed to be true. Besides if that were the criteria then since I believe in the proof then that should be enough to validate it.

Many of the religious have been sheltered from critical thinking to the point where they don’t even understand the structure of a rational argument. Many a time I have got them to the point where they are educated enough to understand that their really isn’t an problem with the proofs from a rational standpoint. Generally the response is to denigrate reason and science. Well again, the proof stands and the priorities of the theist are exposed. When it comes right down to it even if their notions are disproved they want to believe what they want to believe so much they won’t let anything sway them.

The lord works in mysterious

The lord works in mysterious ways

There goes the whole rational argument against omnibenevolence + omnipotence.

Not how reason works, sorry

No, not at all, the rational argument stands correct despite this claim.  If that was reasonable then any argument could end that way, just substitute the word "world" or even "reason".

In fact, your wrong, why?  Because the world works in mysterious ways.  Do you want me to respond to every post you make this way, because I can, and it would be just as irrational as when the theist does it.

Using that phrase totally abandons reason and also the information content of the whole theory of God.   The whole idea of this religions stuff is to provide authority in deciding what actions to take.    But if god works in mysterious ways then how can we possibly use our judgment to take any action.    We must abandon reason altogether and many of the religious do.

For example, if your child gets sick what should you do?   Well if God works in mysterious ways then perhaps this is his way of taking the child.   Perhaps he's trying to punish you for your own good and if you take the child to the doctor well that might just mean you've failed his test of your faith.  In fact, you see this happening in the papers all the time.

This totally undermines the any authority the religious have to say on anything material or spiritual for that matter.   After all the only experience they have to base their judgements on is material.   If god is compatible with any state of affairs then there is no way to tell a good state of affairs in the material world from a bad one. 

Presumably Gods omni-beneficence is compatible with any state of affairs in the afterlife also.  After all since he works in mysterious ways it's hardly to be expected that the mystery will clear up when you are in heaven and the omni-beneficient diety is taking the petty action of roasting people in hell forever merely because they didn't believe he existed on what was quite clearly non-existent credible evidence.  From the looks of things God is actively trying to deceive us into believeing we are the result of evolution and not special creation.   Talk about petty.

So once you are in heaven if it just so happens your daughters child who died prematurely is roasting in hell forever you'll have no grounds to object.   After all, nudge, nudge, wink, wink, God works in mysterious ways.

Not only that but the same notion can be used to tote the exact opposite once you've taken this irrational position because you've inherently abandoned the concept that contradiction is impossible.     One can then say well your know God is actually omni-sadistic.    One cannot then use any of the good things in the world to contradict this position because I can merely respond, "God works in mysterious ways.  He only gives you false hope in order to enhance your pain in the afterlife".  

Hell once you accept that "God works in mysterious ways" you can easily accept that God is both "Omni-Beneficient" and "Omni-Sadistic" which is pretty much compatible with the religious texts of all the Abrahamic religions when you think about it.    How many stories are their of God testing peoples faith by utterly vicious methods.   Methods so vicious that Thomas Jefferson concluded the bible was a slander against god and rewrote the thing.

There's nothing rational about this response and therefore it has zero effect on the original argument.   That is the point of the "Invisible Pink Unicorn" and the "Spagetti Monster".  They show that whatever the religous are doing it has nothing to do with rationality.   

Whats with the persistent

Whats with the persistent fallacy that evolution implies atheism? Or that evolution is incompatible with special creation?

Evolution is incompatible with the odd notion of Young Earth Creationism, but thats neither here nor there with respect to the first two positions.

Not sure what you are talking about

Don't ask me. That's not my position. As I've said, god belief is consistent with everything and has no true information content.

If you are speaking about Dawkins then read "The Selfish Gene" to find out his position. If I remember it correctly his argument is not that "evolution implies atheism" but something like, "The theory of natural selection explains something that in the past would have been reasonable grounds for believing in a diety. However those days are over."

Materialist fallacy.

A christian does not start off with your materialist assumptions. You continue to assume a materialist position in your arguments. Apart from that one specific question:

His argument relies on the crazy belief that all suffering merely
consists in the transition from the material world to the spiritual.

It does? It isn't supposed to. There are two parts, one dealing specifically with loss of wordly life, the other dealing with pain and suffering during life.

Part of the objection that non-believers have of certain religions is
that logically they in fact do elevate death to a value instead of a
disvalue. Structurally they are essentially death cults.

"Kill them all, God will know his own." - Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Citeaux, 1209

Many of the religious have been sheltered from critical thinking to the
point where they don’t even understand the structure of a rational
argument. Many a time I have got them to the point where they are
educated enough to understand that their really isn’t an problem with
the proofs from a rational standpoint. Generally the response is to
denigrate reason and science.

I don't think they are *really intending* to denigrate reason and science. Based on the rest of your comment, I'd say they recognized that they'd been tricked into assumptions that they do not fully agree with - and are having difficulty expressing where things went wrong. There is a silver lining here, modern religion has allowed enough of the materialist position into their morality that it is an easy trick. But they will rebel against you for pulling the trick.

Or in short, you (Brian) shouldn't try to bring a Christian to doubt. Your methods will fail. No matter how right you are.

And this is really more the point of this post - how (not) to bring the Christian around to reason, from someone who has finally come to his senses. ;)

Not what I was doing

"A Christian does not start off with your materialist assumptions."
That's his problem.

Or in short, you (Brian) shouldn't try to bring a Christian to doubt. Your methods will fail. No matter how right you are.

Oh, was that what I was trying to do?   Not really.  Christians don't give a hoot for rationality, otherwise they wouldn't be Christians.   They do however like to live with certain illusions.   You will notice that my comment wasn't even addressed to you as I had no hope for anyone making such an argument.  Especially one which refers to atheists in the way you did.  It irked me so I treated you with similar distain.  

When I actually am addressing Christians my only goal in many cases is to show them that they are wrong about my beliefs.   You see I'm not really interested in converting them.  I'm just interested getting them to stop spreading ridiculous rumors about non-believers.   Like the ridiculous idea that all us non-believers must rely on faith.   Some of us don't.   Don't be so sure about what I can or cannot convince someone of.   I've probably inadvertantly "converted" more Christians to atheism than you have.   It's generally easier when their younger.

One guy who was pestering me to explain his beliefs to me was so shaken by my arguments that I found he had printed out religious stuff on the office computer in order to get a grip on his doubts.   The religious are like flies to flypaper when they find out your an atheist.   Being an atheist in our country takes a certain strength of personality and frankly I wasn't interested in him "converting" so I asked him not to talk to me about it any more.   It gets disruptive at work even if it's over lunch.

I don't have a lot of tolerance for people who refer to outspoken atheists as "militant" and such.   I treat them as they should be, as bigots, which they often are.

Sorry, I misunderstood.

Sorry, I misunderstood.

David Masten

Mother Teresa

One of the things Mother Teresa did according to Christopher Hitchens was to extend the suffering of her charges as a means to religious inspiration for them, herself, and others. So you see not giving proper medical treatment to the sick is quite compatible religion when you accept the crazy and irrational notion that "God moves in mysterious ways". Much better to abandon these crazy notions and use reason to determine what is and is not moral. The communists used to tout how great their ideas were but when push came to shove in the real world they had to infuse a bit of capitalism in their system to keep in running. Just like the communists the religious have to rely on rational metrics to keep their moral systems from spinning out of control. It's only when faith is despoiled by filty [to them] reason that it becomes sane. As was openly admitted by the Pope in his speech that caused the Muslims to riot.

I don't get it

I simply can't get worked up about religion versus atheism. Why do people care? Do atheists live in religious families and get lectured every evening? As for me, religion stopped being an important part of my life decades ago. Arguing about God is to me like arguing about astrology, or numerology, or the face on Mars, or the flat Earth, or the hollow Earth.

I understand that religion can have bad effects. So those are potentially of interest. But this blog entry - and much discussion surrounding religion versus atheism - is not about the effects. How many children were orphaned by religion? The discussion here isn't about that. In what ways are women subjugated to men under cover of religion? The discussion here isn't about that either. Well, what is it about? It's about whether certain claims about a fairy tale logically entail certain other claims about the fairy tale.


Because the religious are

Because the religious are now a powerful political force? Because they are once again getting a wedge into science education? Because they would outlaw basic scientific research that could end the pain, suffering, and early death for millions of people to save a few blastocysts?

Because the empirical record suggests that they would kill me for heresy?

I hope this is just the first of a series on how to convince a Christian to abandon his/her faith and join the enlightenment. I hope it will be a fruitful effort, but I do not know that I am up to the task. We shall see.

David Masten

Unconvert the fidels

I see. As for me, I'm a bit more inclined to argue about socialism, because it's not just a matter of saving society from socialism, it's simply interesting to discuss economics. How the economy does and does not work is an interesting topic in itself to me. In contrast, whether God as the Christians conceive Him is consistent with the evidence (e.g., the suffering in the world) simply does not touch a general topic that has intrinsic interest for me. Deity studies have no more intrinsic interest to me than unicorn studies or fairy studies. Economic studies, however, do.

On the matter of killing people for heresy. That's a property of atheist belief systems as well. I believe that the totalitarian communists in just the last century ended up killing far more people just for subversive tendencies (and that is ignoring all the rest of the mass murder they committed) than the Christian Church in the last two thousand years. Among the victims of communists, of course, are the religious.

Why, then, target religion? Considering the history of murder for belief, you should be targeting thought as such. Yes, I have read God is not Great, and it succeeds at firmly knocking the religious off their moral high ground, but what it did not do at all was to convince me that atheists are any better. In fact the record suggests they are far worse, especially once you take into account what a small proportion of the population they are.

Considering what a large majority the Christians are in the United States, it is amazing to me that they are as persecuted as they are. What bothers the Christians, of course, is that the government is taxing them to pay for schools that teach their own children ideas which they do not want taught to their children. They are fighting a defensive war, not an aggressive war, on the school front. They are victimized.

Sadly, the situation is such that the only way for them to defend their own children is to change the school curriculum for all children. That is not their fault. That is the fault of the people who established and support government schooling. It is the fault of socialists and statists, and the philosophy of socialism and statism, while not exactly incompatible with religion, is not especially associated with it either.

You write, Because they would outlaw basic scientific research that could end the
pain, suffering, and early death for millions of people to save a few

But have they done so? Not as far as I am aware. They have blocked government funding of it, and this of course must be supported by any libertarian, as a good step on the way to blocking government funding of all science. Why should people be taxed to pay for something that they find abhorrent? The very idea is sickening.



I think it's very hard to

I think it's very hard to know what the effects (good or bad) of religion are.

I don't really think religion is evil, in fact it is so deep into many societies that it becomes impossible to know what the real effects of religion are.

More than anything I look at religion and belief in god as an extraordinary puzzle. I discuss religion and atheism because I want to understand how so many otherwise rational adults can believe in fairy tales.

Well, what is it about? It's about whether certain claims about a fairy tale logically entail certain other claims about the fairy tale.

It's rather about whether the fairy tale is self-contradictory. I argue it's designed not to be and therefore an inside attack on religion is pointless.