God’s benevolence: like no other
If you’re a classical theist, you believe in a god who is maximally powerful, knowledgeable, and “good.”
The meanings of “powerful” and “knowledgeable” are pretty straightforward. The more things a being is able to do, the more powerful it is. And the more information a being possesses in its mind, the more knowledgeable it is.
The meaning of “good” should also be straightforward. As Sam Harris puts it, to be morally good is to seek and promote “the well-being of conscious creatures.” Theists and non-theists should agree on this; their only disagreement should be on what constitutes well-being.
- To a theist (one kind of supernaturalist), a person’s well-being comprises the well-being of the organism and of the soul. Most theists believe humans have souls that can be damned to eternal torture (and maybe also suffer other harms in this life), and that the well-being of the soul is more important than the well-being of the organism.
- To a naturalist (one kind of non-theist), a person’s well-being equates to the well-being of the organism. There are no supernatural considerations — notably, no soul to protect from damnation.
Even given the disparity between these two perspectives, it should be possible to objectively assess the goodness of a being by observing to what extent it promotes the well-being of people’s bodies and/or souls. One instance of gratuitous suffering is all it takes to invalidate the god of classical theism. A maximally powerful, knowledgeable, and “good” god cannot exist in a world where there is any gratuitous suffering at all.
So to make it appear possible that this kind of god exists, theists must waffle on the meaning of “good.” They must define “good” as “whatever God does or allows” — though they do this only when necessary to excuse God for causing or allowing gratuitous suffering.
So let’s start again at the beginning:
If you’re a classical theist, you believe in a god who:
- Is maximally powerful.
- Is maximally knowledgeable.
- Does whatever he opts to do.
Call him good. Call him evil. Call him fickle or capricious. Doesn’t matter, because ‘whatever he does, he does.’