Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Incompatibility of Omnipotence and Omnibenevolence

From guest blogger, Timothy.

Since our discussion in lecture last Thursday, I’ve been considering how one might reconcile traditional theology with the potential incompatibility between God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. No answer I can think of succeeds in making these two concepts compatible. The problem stems from God being all powerful, and thus having the capacity to do evil things, and God being all good, and not ever actually doing anything evil. If we take these two attributes to necessary to God being God, then we run into the modal issues we discussed.

We might say that God is able to do evil, he simply never chooses the evil action. But if God is free to choose the evil action, there must be some possible world where God does take the evil action. However, if God’s omnibenevolence is a necessary property, it must be the case that God never does anything evil in all possible worlds. This creates a contradiction suggests that it cannot be the case that both omnipotence and omnibenevolence are necessary properties of God. Either God is all powerful and can perform evil actions, or God is all good and lacks the capacity to perform evil actions.

Another move that was suggested in lecture was to adopt a Divine Command Theory of morality. I’m not as familiar with modern conceptions of Divine Command Theory, but the basic theory runs into problems of moral arbitrariness, which is what allows it to potentially reconcile the problem of omnipotence and omnibenevolence. However, I feel most religious believers would want to resist a claim that morality is arbitrary. Again, we can either accept that whatever God does in any possible world is what is morally right and there is no necessary moral truths, or we accept that omnipotence and omnibenevolence is not compatible.

One final move we might take is to say that God is not the type of being that can perform evil actions. This seems to be in line with the view of omnipotence that says a being can do anything that is in its power to do. This doesn’t seem to diminish God’s power with regard to any other being. Consider the heavy stone or, as I prefer, a more absurd example: can God cook a chili so spicy that He can’t eat it? It’s relatively uncontroversial that God isn’t the type of being that eats chili. And I think creating a universe makes God a more powerful being than one that cooks chili or lifts heavy stones. However, the problem here is it already seems to remove omnibenevolence as a property of God. If we say God is not the type of being that performs evil actions, it seems we would also be saying that God is not the type of being that performs moral actions. Thus, God we cannot say that God always performs good actions, just as we could not say God never performs evil actions. In this case, God’s actions would be morally neutral. Here we avoid the problem by accepting a conclusion that is not compatible with traditional theology.

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