Almost no one looks at a stone lying down and thinks that it specifically is in need of a special explanation. More specifically, most don’t get the impulse amounting to “there must have been a designer who constructed this.” Most in history have only gotten this impulse with respect to “important” events such as life more recently or thunder or lightning much earlier on.

John wakes up tomorrow and goes to Chipotle. He is not suddenly thinking that God destined this event. And yet, if he sees his missing friend after 10 years right after thinking about him, he may get an impulse to think it was destined by a god.

Similarly, almost no one looks at a child being killed and thinks “This is proof of an evil designer.” Most of philosophy has focused on using this as evidence against a good god instead.

Similarly, when discussing Pascal’s wager, there doesn’t seem to be much historical focus of any objection that was along the lines of “well, maybe God just puts all believers in hell and non believers in heaven.”

Something about these conceptions of God make Him seem weird or conceive of Him as acting “unreasonably”. But why is this considered or has been considered more unlikely than a reasonable God in history? If God is a Being that we cannot even fathom, how can we say anything about the likelihood of a reasonable vs. “unreasonable” god?

  • 2
    But this is only a point of view about "gods": the monotheist one. See e.g. Jan Assmann's books. Gods in e.g. Homer's Iliad are very different, and many oriental religion have different conception of gods. Jun 29, 2023 at 8:14
  • Most polytheist conceptions of god do not have him doing evil things just for the heck of it, doing odd things such as specifically designing a stone at a certain bank of a river, etc. The discussion still mainly revolves around things we deem to be apriori important
    – user62907
    Jun 29, 2023 at 8:23
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    Polytheist conceptions do have supernatural acting with diverging interests, meaning one supernatural agent acting against the will of another supernatural agent, which dramatically reduces the inconsistencies of a single rational god and reality. Like when one god does NOT lead to victory in Battle, that's just because THE OTHER god of the enemy was stronger.
    – tkruse
    Jun 29, 2023 at 9:00
  • Because that is how people tend to think?
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 29, 2023 at 10:21
  • There are different kinds of explanation. Knowing the answer to who (if anyone) did it, does not answer the question why (which follows if someone did it), nor the question how, which is the standard scientific question. So just knowing who did it is not much help, really.
    – Ludwig V
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


In Zoroastrianism the physical was created by Angra Mainyu, and it's iniquities result from that, while Ahura Mazda created the spiritual and transcendental. It's interesting to look at the theology in more detail, and it's pervasive influence on monotheism (it also influenced Hindu theology about the Asuras), like in this excellent In Our Time episode on Zoroastrianism.

Gnostic theology holds a similar stance, that the world is corrupt, decadent and fallen, and our focus must be on the hereafter rather than worldly things.

Yahweh seems to be capricious, vengeful, sometimes forgetful, and capable of error. The call for Abraham to kill his son is not held to be outrageous and objectionable, but held up as Abraham being the paragon of obedience, but at least god changed his mind at the last minute.. The apparent reality of Baal and the Egyptian pantheon aren't questioned or doubted, it is only made clear Yahweh is more powerful, pointing at henotheistic roots.

The turn towards a philosophical deity, a calm omniscient omnipotent being, I would root in the Euthyphro dilemma where Socrates concludes we can know what is pious by reason and that even the gods must follow reason not just declare whatever commandments they want. This was the kind of thinking that got you a nice glass of hemlock.

Aristotle went on to develop his picture of nous, the 'active intellect' that is our faculty of reasoning, and that transcendental ideas are the thoughts in the mind of the 'umoved mover', the fundamental cosmic orderer. Aristotle only got exile.

Through Averroes and Maimonides and others, these Greek ideas became part of Islamic Jewish and Christian theology, coming to obscure the Old Testament deity, of vanity and violence.

To conclude, the power of monotheism has had a lot to do with how it enabled political centralisation. The move from henotheism, the most powerful deity among many and the only one worthy of worship but in competition, to literally declaring to have the only fundamental deity and Creator, had a similar role in the ideas space, of claiming the whole domain of spirituality and in which 'religious entrepreneurialism' could carve out a new faith and peel away a group of believers from the hegemony. But if the god the characters in the Bible experienced is the supreme deity, that was a far from consistently reasonable being. I can't think of philosophers who have taken the idea of a mendacious supreme deity seriously. Yet it seems entirely possible, and religions have done this.

  • +1 for henotheistic in roots to latter day monotheism. It's Bart Ehrman I think who says Jesus was not so much monotheistic as his Judaic roots which he accepted and respected but didnt really own. The latter day monotheism comes from the renaissance mixing up Hellenic and christian thought to fashion a colonial mastery agenda. The best way of justifying a colonial-mastering agenda is to make one's God better than the others' and the best way of saying Our God is the best is saying He's is the only guy!
    – Rushi
    Jun 29, 2023 at 12:52

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