Theodicy and the Three Legged Stool

Zach Weiner has put aside his dick jokes (temporarily, he promises!) to draw this very perceptive comic about theodicy.

For those that haven’t heard the word before, theodicy is an answer to the problem of evil. It’s an attempt to explain how there can be suffering in a universe run by an omni-everything God.

When I was a Christian, I always shortened the omnipotence leg: God has much more important things to do than micromanage human affairs. I think that eventually leads to deism. But in the end it’s unsatisfying. Ultimately, I don’t think humans will care about a God that doesn’t care about them.

Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
Where the Fire Comes From
Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
  • Andrew Hall

    I’ll take the uncaring cosmos to a malevolent deity any day of the week.

    • Nelly

      me too!

  • trj

    I propose a solution to the problem of evil:

    God may well be omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent. He may know everything and be able to do anything, always with the best of intentions.

    It’s just that he’s grossly incompetent. Omniclumsy, if you will.

    • Mark the Pilgrim

      Like a supernatural Homer Simpson? As in he always has the best intentions, but isn’t smart enough to pull it off without a hitch. :-D

      • Jerdog

        Or like any god as pictured by Gary Larson.

        • WMDKitty

          Now that could explain quite a bit…

    • wazza

      Roy Zimmerman expresses the same thought in his song “What If” (from Comic Sutra. Not to be confused with “What If The Beatles Were Irish”)

      “What if God,
      in God’s own world,
      is an underachiever,
      or a beautiful and highly intelligent
      faithful kind and loving
      Golden Retriever”

      If you can find the rest of the song, listen to the whole thing :)

    • mark

      Perhaps this is the best possible world.

  • ctmvw26k

    My favorites have always been omniscient and omnipotent…

    If god is omniscient how can we have “free will”. If god has a plan for everyone and god knows what you are going to do then its already predetermined and free will doesn’t exist. If god knows all this is going to happen then why would he create a world in which only 30% of its inhabitants (a failing grade on any exam) believe in his particular brand of godliness. He should see this coming…

    If god is omnipotent and created everything in the universe with ultimate power this means he created satan as well. If god holds the ultimate omnipotent power over all then what is stopping him from defeating satan now? Or, even defeating satan at the time he “rose to power” so to speak.

    Gaining believers and defeating satan seem to be his main goals. Yet, he doesn’t appear to be managing his ultimate powers very well to this end.

    • Nelly

      that kind of reminds me of my father’s Presbyterian church………….

      basically, do anything you want, it’s all predisposition and predestination

      pray at the end, and it’s all good

    • grumpygirl

      You know how it works! If God is omnipotent, can he make a ball so big and heavy that He can’t lift it???

      • TrickQuestion

        Appropriate reply is appropriate,

      • Reginald Selkirk

        My favourite conundrum: If God is omnipotent, could he create a rock so large that hitting himself in the head with it could explain the change in personality he underwent in between the Old Testament and the New Testament?

        • Nelly

          my favorite is:
          “who screwed who to create GOD?”

  • Marcela Achcar

    According to the bible, god foresees everything and nothing happens without his permission… If its true, then theres no point on blaming men for their sins, since god knew mankind would fall and he allowed satan to tempt eve and didnt even dare o stop it.. Christians may object, saying god gave us free will, but isnt god benevolent? If he knew we would fall and he would have to unwillingly cast 99% of us into a lake of fire, why create the mankind? Whats the point? If god exists, hes sadistic

    • Nelly

      Sadistic, misogynistic, narcissistic and completely dysfunctional.

      That makes me want to join up like you can’t believe! No really……………….believe! ;)

  • q

    Lengthening the omnipotence leg works too.

  • Teleprompter

    I know a lot of moderate and liberal Christians who seem to cut a bit off each leg, so the table is still balanced, but all three legs are shorter. Their God knows somewhat less, is somewhat less powerful, and somewhat less loving — but the equal reduction of all three areas can reduce their anxiety enough to make their God both palatable and still somewhat concerned with humanity.

    I’m not sure if the defenses for each leg are accurately labeled, either. For one thing, the “free will” defense really removes part of all three legs – a god that let humans decide some of their actions knows less about what they will do, has less control over what they will do, and loves human less as far as he does not prevent harm from coming to them which originates from decisions made using free will.

    I feel that this “God” is really more of a partner with humanity in some ways than an absolute monarch – that by accepting redemption the Christian god offers through Jesus Christ, individuals engage in an activity through which human beings share responsibility in salvaging the world from their actions and living in closer accordance with their god. So the free will god of more liberal Christianity isn’t necessary incoherent – it’s just more limited in scope and farther removed from traditional notions of what “God” must be.

    When atheists and other skeptics talk about theodicy or the problem of evil, I feel that too far often we just examine the defenses of the fundamentalists while ignoring the reasons why less orthodox Christians keep their religious beliefs. Yes, PZ Myers and others are right when they reassert that liberals and moderates do not necessarily have any more evidence for their beliefs than fundamentalists have, and therefore, that atheists should be just as assertive in questioning liberal and moderate religion – yet that is no excuse to completely ignore the differences in religious belief. If atheists want a fair hearing from more moderate believers, simply put, then we need to use arguments which respond to their beliefs accurately and engage their beliefs as they understand them.

  • Len

    Their God knows somewhat less, is somewhat less powerful, and somewhat less loving…

    Hmm… What does God want with a starship?

    • Len

      Oops – reply to Teleprompter

      • Teleprompter

        Unfortunately, I am not a Trekkie. I only know enough to have heard a tiny bit about that episode and know it’s from Star Trek, so you’ll have to explain your point more broadly, there. I’d like to understand how it relates to what I was saying.

        • Len

          By reducing the power of their (now-not-quite-)all-powerful god, it’s like in Star Trek 5, when “God” (who would normally be considered to be omni-everything) says that he needs the Enterprise to escape from where he is apparently trapped (the centre of the Galaxy, if memory serves correctly – it’s been a while since I watched the film). Captain Kirk asks him “What does God want with a starship?”

          In other words, why aren’t you all-powerful: aren’t you God?

          Having a god who is not all powerful rather defeats the object, in my view.

          In this case (after being asked a second time and also prompted by Spock), “God” then blasts Kirk with some nasty power ray (or something), just before all hell breaks loose – great film :-)

          • Len

            Having a god who is not all powerful rather defeats the object, in my view.

            Or it would if he existed.