sent in by Steve
Geworfenheit2001 at aol dot com
One of the attributes that are ascribed to God is that of omniscience. Most Christians and theists take the strong definition of omniscience when they apply it to God, meaning that God knows everything, past, present and future, including supposedly free choices made by human beings. I have pondered this idea for quite some time and for me there seem to be many difficulties with this concept, particularly with reference to God’s knowledge of future events and decisions as I will explain shortly. Now, there is a movement in theology by some (open and process theists), who take the view that God cannot know future events with certainty when it involves choices by humans, but only probabilities based on past decisions, the general temperament of the individual and the cumulative affect of the contributing factors. The majority of this article is not directed at those individuals, however the open theists may feel obliged to re-think their position before they get to the last sentence of the essay.
However, the majority of Christians and theists do indeed believe the strong definition of omniscience should be applied to their almighty God. I know that many Christians check this site out and attempt to use it as a hunting ground for converting us evil atheists, agnostics and free- thinkers back into the fold. Well, it is to those Christians that I extend this challenge: How can you defend and hold your God guiltless in the face of the all evil atrocities committed on this planet throughout the entire history of human existence? I am not even going to mention what most theologians refer to as natural evil (see my “Why I Became An Agnostic” in the February archives on this site). This inquiry will be specifically directed at the problem of moral evil. The evil resulting from human free choices.
There are two problems with moral evil when it is understood from a theistic standpoint: First, if God knows our future decisions before we make them, how can they be freely made? This conundrum has baffled philosophers and theologians for centuries and is still a major difficulty for theists who have not closed their mind to rational thought and fallen into the trap of blindly accepting church dogma simply because it is biblical. “If the bible says it, it’s true and no evidence to the contrary is being considered thank you very much.” Well folks, do you know there is much biblical support for the idea that God does not know future events? The story in Genesis about the “test” God put to Abraham to kill his son Isaac is a perfect example. The idea of an all-knowing being requiring tests seem ludicrous. I know that many Christians will say that the test was for Abraham’s benefit to test his faith and not to teach God anything so let me offer another example: Genesis 6:6 states that after God saw all the wickedness and evilness of man’s heart, he “was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (NIV version of the Bible) It sounds to me as if all this came as a surprise to God. If God did know before creation that he would end up destroying all but eight people in a flood and decided to create anyway, I would say God is a foolish, derelict that deserves not to be worshiped but scorned. Look at all the waste of human life as a result of God’s decision to create a species only to nearly destroy it later. It would seem that most Christians would be all too happy to deny their God the ability to foresee future events and spare him the image of a capricious spoiled child.
Not the case though. Many philosophers and theologians have been able to hold the view that we are free and God is omniscient by developing a view of free will called compatibilism. Basically, it states that we are free to act within the boundaries of our created nature and since that nature was created by God, we can be both “free” and still have our choices foreknown by God. This view is particularly popular within the Calvinist ranks of Christianity.
The other alternative is a libertarian view of free will which states that we are completely free to choose to act or not act in a certain way. Yes, we all have proclivities to certain behaviors and more often than not we “cave in” to them. But libertarianism allows that some times, we rise above our habits and dispositions and make choices that could not be pre-determined based on them. This is a much higher and nobler idea of free will in my opinion and has been shared by many even in early Christianity such as Pelagius.
The second difficulty is that even if we believe our choices are completely free in the libertarian sense and God does not know the outcome of our decisions, while we may be able to relinquish God’s direct responsibility for human atrocities, how can we hold him blameless in an indirect way? Let me give a simple example from a human perspective, which of course is the only example we can give: Let’s say you are out walking and as you turn a corner, you see a person robbing a elderly woman. What do you do? You could try to forcibly stop the thief, which may not be the wisest choice, after all, you are a mere human, not an omnipotent being. You may get injured or worse in the process and still not help the victim. You could grab your trusty cell phone or scramble to the nearest payphone and dial 911 (probably the wisest choice, unless of course you’re a police officer), or, you could take the third choice and just stand by and watch and do nothing. Doesn’t it seem like choice three is the one almighty God chooses on almost all occasions? Now, we have this concept of complicity to deal with. You see, in our system of jurisprudence, a person who is not directly involved in an act of violence could be considered as an accomplice to the crime if they had some involvement in it. How is witnessing a crime and not reporting it not considered being involved? Okay, I know I’m stretching the idea a bit when it’s applied to witnesses as opposed to the guy who drives the “getaway car”, but you get the point. Could you live with yourself or consider yourself to be a good and moral person if you stood by and watched someone being robbed and terrorized? But isn’t that what God does daily. How often have you read about missing children’s bodies being found and there was evidence of sexual abuse and torture? Can you imagine the horror and pain that child went through? Is it a stretch of the imagination to believe that they may have cried out to God to be rescued? But there was no deliverance for them except in the surrender to death. How do we absolve God from the guilt of that child’s blood? Did he just turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to her pleading cries? How could we absolve ourselves if we had the opportunity to stop it? Is the moral standard applied to God any less demanding than what we apply to ourselves? And, like I said, the above scenario does not even require that God be omniscient regarding future events, which of course only exacerbates the problem and begs the question to our open theology friends.
Many Christians will defend a God who watches indifferently because they state that he does not want to interfere with free will. Well my first response to that defense is that the bible is replete with examples of God interfering with free will.
Second, who in their right mind would say that a rapist exercising his free will is of more value than the life of his victim. Think about that folks, it sounds insane. But that is the defense used by Christians and theists when this question is asked.
My conclusion is that God is at the very least indirectly responsible for moral evil by virtue of his omniscience. God’s attributes come with a price tag and the price is high. You cannot have the ability to see all and claim not to bear at least partial responsibility for allowing it to happen. Especially when you also have the attribute of omnipotence. Unless God is held to a lower moral standard than humans, to allow evil that could be stopped is to be partly responsible for it.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)