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Whenever I read philosophy throughout history regarding God, I notice something I have issue with: Philosophers in most cases define god to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent.

The first two conditions are obvious: I can see where being all-powerful and all-knowing would be necessary conditions for a God.

But why is it necessary that God be omni-benevolent? Of course the Christian god must be omni-benevolent, but then why do philosophers almost exclusively focus on the Christian god?

For instance, the problem of evil is that it seems like omni-benevolence, omniscience, and omnipotence are incompatible with evil in the world. But again, why are we assuming God to be all good? A very simple solution to me is that: There may be a God, but he may not be good. Do philosophers ever argue that position?

So I guess my question is:

  1. Why, from my admittedly limited exposure to western philosopher, to we place such prominence on arguing for the Christian god's existence or non-existence?

  2. Where did the idea that if there is a god, then it must be good come from, aside from the Bible?

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    Doesn't seem very benevolent to me. Why war? Why pain? Why poverty so profound that you have to watch your children die of malnutrition because you can't afford to feed them? Why drones attacking wedding parties? Why two billion people without running water? Benevolent God? I say: If only! If we had a benevolent God, I'd be more inclined to believe in him! – user4894 Mar 24 '14 at 2:22
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    You have already the answer to your question : when yoy say that "Of course the Christian god must be omni-benevolent, but then why do philosophers almost exclusively focus on the Christian god?", you are referring implicitly to the "western" tradition of philosophy, which has been greatly influenced by the Christian tradition. Ancient Greek gods are not benevolent at all ! – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 24 '14 at 8:37
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA which bring a following question: are there philosophy works based on Ancient greek gods, or other pantheons? – Cristol.GdM Mar 24 '14 at 16:19
  • @Scrollmaster - I do not think so ... At most, we can try with a "wild" reading of Freud; if we can "assimilate" some parts of Freud's works to a philosophy, we may say that he tried to revive some of the ancient Greek gods (Eros ?) killed by the God of the Bible. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Mar 24 '14 at 16:41
  • +1 Very interesting question. My initial response is benevolent Gods have better marketing. That is selling a benevolent god is easier than selling malevolent gods, much as it seems that selling monotheism is easier than selling polytheism. Really something to think about. – obelia Mar 26 '14 at 5:32
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One large part of the reason is the influence of Plato and his followers on world religions. Plato's philosophy all centered around an abstract entity that he sometimes called the "Form of the Good." This entity combined all possible real perfections into itself --it was the most beautiful, most wise, most good thing that could possibly exist, and all other things in the universe were increasingly imperfect copies of it.

Later, Plato's Roman followers, the Neo-Platonists, placed an explicitly religious interpretation on what Plato had typically described in more abstract, less personified terms. This, in turn, influenced St. Augustine, the great African theologian who formulated much of what became foundational Christian orthodoxy. He had previously been exposed to the Neo-Platonists as an educated Roman citizen, and when he converted, he identified God as revealed through Christ with the Neo-Platonic "One."

These philosophies similarly had an influence on other world religions, including Islam. Since over half of the global population adheres to either Christianity or Islam, that in itself is enough to answer your question.

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I think they have done so because people like to think of God as compassionate and generous. Hinduism believes in God's benevolence too. In fact, almost every verse sung in praise of a Hindu God emphasizes this with a profuse use of adjectives that attribute kindness, generosity and munificence to God.

The idea that God is not just all-powerful, all-knowing and all-prevailing but also all willing to bestow His kindness and generosity upon his believers is something that can go a long way in motivating most people to believe in him. Philosophers (who uphold God's existence), preachers, priests and prophets have probably understood this element well.

  • This question I believe stems from an ignorance about the conditions of receiving God's grace. God is all benevolent but obstacles veil us from His grace. That's why we are told to pray and repent steadfastly to qualify for His Grace. – infatuated Mar 25 '14 at 10:38
  • The answer could be improved by giving evidence. It could equally be that philosophers are unconsciously rationalizing what they already believe, which seems to be a normal human trait. The idea that a benevolent God stems more from a cynical desire to gain market share needs some support. – MetaEd Mar 26 '14 at 0:18
  • @MετάEd - I'm sorry but I didn't mean to say that 'the idea of a benevolent God stems from a cynical desire to gain market share'. It seems to me that most believers in God regard non-believers as 'unfortunate people' in need of encouragement and motivation so that they can become believers. However noble their intentions might be, they still need to promote the idea of God by making it 'buy-able' and attributing qualities like benevolence to God could be necessary for that purpose. – Prasad Shrivatsa Mar 26 '14 at 4:26
  • @PrasadShrivatsa Your psychological answer is mere speculation. There are reasonable explanations as to why God is benevolent. – infatuated Mar 26 '14 at 5:36
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Why, from my admittedly limited exposure to western philosopher, do we place such prominence on arguing for the Christian god's existence or non-existence?

God is a central concept to all religions. Apart from that, it is an attractive philosophical question. It's been discussed by philosophers even before Christianity. Although I believe it was Abrahamic religions that originated the concept.

Where did the idea that if there is a god, then it must be good come from, aside from the Bible?

Benevolence is integral to any concept of a Creator. The very fact that God has granted existence to the creation underpins the concept of benevolence. And as for the question of evil in the creation that seems to contradict God's benevolence, I believe Plotinus's theory of evil solves the seeming contradiction.

Plotinus can also be regarded as one of the non-Abrahamic pioneers of the idea of God's benevolence. Though, in his philosophy he uses the term the One to denote the source/creator of the universe and he also equates the One with the Good.

Drawing upon his philosophy, we argue that God (the One) is in essence benevolent because all goodness emanates from Him, whereas evil stems from His creation (i.e. the Intellect, the Soul(s) and ultimately matter as different levels of His emanation). Without evil, there would/could exist no creation. So evil is a necessary part of the universe. In other words, to ask why is there evil, is to ask why is there any creation.

That means the substance of evil is within our very creation. To be liberated from this essential, structural evil, man should redirect his tendency towards material forms (worldly attractions, such as wealth, fame, sexual partners and pleasures thereof) towards intellectual forms (angels) and ultimately the One Himself. However that doesn't imply suppression of our natural tendencies (as practiced by Catholicism) but moderating them so that they don't act as impediment to realization of Intellectual forms and the One (a practice taught by Islam). Plotinus's philosophy, as thus, perfectly substantiates the religious doctrines of God, Original Sin, repentance, heaven and eternal bliss.

See, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/

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    The question in a nutshell is, "why must God be good?" This answer, "because he is", is not a real answer. It is a tautology. The rest of this answer amounts to a promotional piece for the author's religion. – MetaEd Mar 26 '14 at 0:23
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    Bestowing existence on the creation is utmost level of benevolence. Therefore benevolence is an integral part of the concept of a Creator. And the rest was Plotinus's explanation of evil in the universe. But you seem to be so prejudiced against religions that you didn't care about the reasoning. – infatuated Mar 26 '14 at 5:01
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    @MετάEd: The OP himself noted that the Christian God is omni-benevolent by definition. Justifying this via Plotinus seems reasonable in an answer - though one of course need not agree with it. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 26 '14 at 0:18
  • Benevolence is not integral to "any concept" of a creator, gnostics have a creator who is different from god, and happens to be evil. The act of creation itself is a mistake in gnosticism, so it doesn't have to "underpin" benevolence either. – Conifold Sep 30 '14 at 1:51
  • @Conifold, Are you serious? There can be no doubt that according to Abrahamic religions God is benevolent, and I don't know which gnostics you're talking about in particular and which concept of "evil creator" you're talking about. But I have never seen anything along that concept in the works of muslim gnostics! – infatuated Sep 30 '14 at 2:06
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The answer is quite simple, really: because that's the definition of the God that everyone around us uses. Presumably you are referring to Western philosophers, because Eastern philosophers did not have the same tendency to ascribe omni-benevolence in writings about God(s)/deities. And in the Western world after the rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the only religion that you were sure to encounter was Christianity (until the last few hundred years or so). So it is natural philosophers who wrote of God described him having the same characteristics as is found in the religion around them. If they are critiquing or supporting religious views, typically the definitions of various ideas have to be the same, including the definition of God.

Regarding your sub-questions: 1. I'm not sure what you mean by "place such prominence on". People choose to write philosophy about many things. Some happen to write on the notion of God. Most Western Philosophers talk about far more things than God. 2. God is an old concept, it probably dates back to the dawn of civilization. We know for example that the ancient civilization of Sumer worshipped Gods.

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If god is god, then what it wants is what is good, by definition. God imparts value to the universe because it is the only entity with perfect knowledge and total power, two claims you seem to accept. Consider an argument between you and god about what is good. Do you know more than god? Can you enforce your will more potently? So god gets what god wants. God decides what good is, not you. But what about "the good", the objective good that exists in the ether and which you are appealing to? The creator god supercedes that, according to the definition of the creator god.

That said I agree with you that there is a contradiction in the "three omnis" that describe god - if you accept a fourth principle called free will. However if you reject free will then that calls into question what the universe is for. Is god watching a movie that he knows the ending to? Is any creation responsible for its actions? This is called "the problem of evil" and it's the most intractable part of monotheism (theism if you apply a little reduction). It's not called "the solution to evil" for a reason.

Apologists on many sides have attempted to solve this problem for millenia. Gnostics (who are not considered Christian by most Christians) do away with omniscience, Calvinists do away with free will (according to the only definition that matters, I would argue, namely the ability to do what god does not intend), and the Catholics basically fudge it, saying the coexistence of the three omnis and free will is a Mystery with a capital M.

So the child's question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" is actually one of the most cutting criticisms of monotheism.

That said, do you accept a creator-less universe? Many people do nowadays, but that argument is also not without demerit.

  • This answer is not at a professional level and there are several grammatical/stylistical and philosophical errors. For instance, a creator-less is not an argument and the divine command theory for ethics presupposed in the first sentences was already discussed and, as many/most think, discarded already by Plato in the dialogue Eutyphro. – Sapiens Sep 30 '14 at 11:03

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