God: All-Good or All-Evil…is there any Difference?

Posted by: Stephen Miller - Oakwood Friends School, PLATO
Designed for: College/University, High School, Middle School
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A Topic Concerning the Question of Evil

A long-simmering debate in theology involves the status of the classical definition of God.  Traditionally, one area of agreement between Theists and Atheists has been in the definition of God; without this agreement, they wouldn’t really be able to debate.  The mainstream among Abrahamic monotheists tends of center around God as Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent and Omnibenevolent.  One of the most consistently mentioned claims of atheists has focused on whether or not this God is logically possible.  In a nutshell, this debate is called the Question of Evil, or Theodicy.

The theodicy debate employs a few keys terms.  The first distinction comes from the source.  Human Evil is all bad deeds and suffering brought about by human agency, a consequence of Free Will.  Natural Evil includes earthquakes, volcanos, Ebola, Black Plague and the very fact that so many life forms exist by killing and devouring others.  Each of these raises separate questions.  Evil (or here, suffering), can be seen as either Absorbed or Unabsorbed.  Absorbed Evil would be all suffering necessary for the existence of Good.  This might include vaccinations, braces, leg pains from exercise or other forms of difficulty needed for growth.  Unabsorbed Evil is everything left over.  For an Omnibenevolent God, there should be no Unabsorbed Evil at all.  Even the smallest amount calls God’s Omnibenevolence into question.

The debate here takes two forms, what we could call the Strong and Weak Arguments.  The Strong Argument asserts that it is logically contradictory to have a God that is Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent due to the enormous amount of Unabsorbed Evil in the world.  This view says God cannot exist, is impossible.  The Weak Argument suggests that an Omnipotent and Omnibenevolent God is unlikely to exist, that due to all the suffering in the world, it seems like there being no Omnibenevolent, Omnipotent being is a better explanation, but that God is still logically possible.  Contralily, Strong Theism would claim that a perfect God must be both Omnibenevolent and Omnipotent, that this is logically necessary.

British philosopher Stephen Law has recently put a sly spin on this old question.  In the video linked below, he asks us to speculate about whether a perfectly evil God would face the exact same problems, except inverted…this God would face the Problem of Good, or how can we account for so much seemingly excessive Unabsorbed Good.

What, if anything, makes an all-good god less absurd than an all-evil one?

This debate is unlikely to end anytime soon.  Understanding it is helpful in grasping the traditional view of God, and of the distinctions between logical possibility/ necessity and Argument from the best explanation.


God: All-Good or All-Evil…is there any Difference?

Possible Discussion Questions
  1. Explain the distinction between Natural and Human Evil.
  2. Explain the distinction between Absorbed and Unabsorbed Evil.
  3. Why are these distinctions important?
  4. Why is there a problem with the Theist definition of God?
  5. What evidence is there that suffering is a problem for the existence of this God? Which forms of suffering?
  6. What are possible explanations Theists could give for this problem? Are they good answers?
  7. Explain Stephen Law's dilemma.
  8. What is a reasonable conclusion to take from this?
  9. Explain the Strong and Weak positions. What does each imply? How could we resolve this argument?

Resources for Further Study
  • The Book of Job - The Book of Job is the earliest text to contend with this question. Canonized as a wisdom text, it raises the thorny question of "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

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