During the Watergate investigation, Sen. Howard Baker (R- TN) famously asked the question about President Richard Nixon. The resultant scandal caused Nixon to resign the presidency on August 8, 1974.
We can ask the same question of the biblical god about everything. Religious fundamentalists have a fundamental dilemma to resolve. Can God really be omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnibenevolent (all-good)?
Biblical literalists usually try to explain away the problem of evil by saying that God gave us free will so we could choose good over evil. But what about natural (God-made?) evils over which humans have no control, like earthquakes, tornadoes, and babies born with life-threatening conditions who can only live in agony for a few hours before dying? The traditional reply is “God works in strange and mysterious ways his wonders to perform.” One wonders how belief in a strange and mysterious god can coexist with a belief in the absolute certainty of God’s goodness and his plan for humans throughout eternity.
Here is what God allegedly knew from the beginning of time: He would create two humans without knowledge of good and evil and tell them not to eat fruit from a certain tree that would give them knowledge. We don’t know why God did not want humans to have knowledge. Without knowledge God knew that the first couple would easily succumb to temptation, especially after God sent a talking snake to convince them to eat the fruit. Because of this first couple’s disobedient bite of fruit, God decided that they and all their descendants would suffer and eventually die.
God later despised all humans, except for one family headed by Noah, so he drowned all other humans and almost all animals. He saved Noah’s family and pairs of animals so they could start procreation all over again. Unfortunately, the new humans seemed no better to God than the old humans, so God wound up destroying most of them. (Check, for example, what allegedly happened in Sodom and Gomorrah.) How could an omniscient God not know all that would transpire on Earth? Perhaps he just didn’t care.
Much later, God sent his son to Earth to suffer a premature and agonizing death. This torture of his son was meant to atone for the previously unpardonable stain on all humans caused by the first couple’s tasting the forbidden fruit. Apparently, God knew no way to forgive humans other than through a blood sacrifice of his son. But there is still a catch! God didn’t want to forgive all humans. The only people God actually wanted to benefit from this brutal torture were those who believed that the person crucified was really God’s own son, and that this son was subsequently resurrected and must be worshipped.
And how do these believers benefit from such a belief? Not at all while they are alive in this life. They allegedly benefit only when they are dead. You see, God supposedly created a Heaven and a Hell for dead people. Heaven is where people go who believed in the resurrection of Jesus while they were alive on Earth. In Heaven, they get eternal life and total bliss. For those who didn’t believe the resurrection story while they were alive, a loving God sends them all to Hell, where they are burned and tortured for ever and ever. And God had planned all of this from the beginning of time.
When I die, if I have to “answer to God” about why I didn’t believe this evidence-free resurrection story when I was alive, I will expect God to answer some of my questions. I will ask God why a certain belief about his son is the major factor in deciding who goes where. I will ask God what moral purpose eternal torture serves. I will ask God if former humans have free will in Heaven and, if they do, why they don’t make the same poor moral choices in Heaven that they did while they were alive on Earth. If God knows that he will always be pleased by humans in Heaven, I will ask him why he didn’t just put all humans there in the first place.
I think I would be more capable of justifying my actions than would this God. Nevertheless, I would not be so inhumane as to wish God eternal suffering. I would try to convince God to apply his considerable talents to more humanistic ends.
The omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God of the Bible makes no sense. Measured by human standards, this God is an egotistical and sadistic murderer whose primary interest is in glorifying himself. Of course, many who believe in a creator don’t believe in the literal God of the Bible. But they do believe in some kind of supernatural creator. While I don’t believe in any creators, I think it’s an interesting exercise to explore what kind of creator(s) we might more reasonably be able to hypothesize.
Here is my attempt:
This creator certainly has a significantly better scientific background than any of us. They learned to create life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. They check in periodically on how their scientific projects are working and perhaps tinker with them a bit to learn more about the various life forms. They enjoy communicating their findings with other supernatural creators who have similar intellectual interests and abilities. Peers compare their creations and decide if any of them are beneficial to the creators. They are less interested in what might pass for thoughts and feelings of the lower specimens they created. Then these creators eventually die, as do all life forms we know about.
Were humans someday able to create a new primitive life form, they would certainly take pride in their discovery and wonder if their creation might help or harm those here on Earth. But they would not be able to effectively communicate with the low life they created, tell it how they would like it to behave, or promise eternal bliss for behaving as they wish it to. They would then most likely get bored with their creation and move on to bigger and better creation attempts.
Such a creation by humans would not turn us into gods or make us perfect, or even good. Only if this new life form were to have minds of their own might they think of us as gods and assign to us characteristics we don’t have. But this all sounds like science fiction, much like the God story: “In the beginning …”
“The omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God of the Bible makes no sense,” writes Herb Silverman. But how might someone go about imagining a reasonable “creator” of the universe?
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