7 things @ 9 o’clock (9.23)

7 things @ 9 o’clock (9.23) September 23, 2013

1. A flurry of good recent posts about “creationism,” each of which, in one way or another, recognizes and respects the high stakes involved for people in bondage to young-Earth creationist ideology:

2. Some fraternities and sororities, I’m sure, are wonderful organizations. Many may add more value to the world than they subtract. For the most part, though, the Greek system is an elaborate attempt to preserve high school in college. And high school — meaning the whole perverse value system of popularity, conformity and social pressure that upholds privilege by pressing down on most people — is not something that ought to be preserved. So I suppose integrating fraternities and sororities at the University of Alabama is a positive first step, but I’d rather see them done away with entirely. One thing every college student ought to be learning is that real life isn’t — and shouldn’t be — anything like high school.

3. “And in the quick of the night they reach for their moment / And try to make an honest stand …”

4. I don’t think that all of the bloggers in my RSS feed read all of the other bloggers in my RSS feed, but sometimes it seems like an introduction is in order. I think Abi Sutherland would like the most recent post from Sarah Moon, and I think Sarah Moon would like the most recent post from Abi Sutherland.

5. The Consumerist is starting it’s “Christmas Creep” watch early this year. September 18. That’s the date on which the picture accompanying this post was taken. September 18 is summer. I’m told that the muzak at the store where I’m working part-time starts playing Christmas music in early October and continues into January. So, then, I work three eight-hour days a week, and the Christmas music will be inescapable for about three months. That works out to about 288 hours or, literally, 12 Days of Christmas Music.

6. I’m still getting caught up from an unexpectedly hectic/scary week, so I haven’t yet had the chance to write about the last cool thing Pope Francis said in public, but already he’s at it again:

Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wants, not money. … To defend this economic culture, a throwaway culture has been installed. We throw away grandparents, and we throw away young people. We have to say no to his throwaway culture. We want a just system that helps everyone.


7. J.B.S Haldane said that “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” And he was far better at such supposing than I will ever be. Which is just to say that I wish I could tell you that I understand what an “amplituhedron” is, but I don’t.

“We imagine space-time is a continuous thing, but because it’s impossible to talk sharply about that thing, then that suggests it must not be fundamental — it must be emergent,” said Nima Arkani-Hamed, a professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. But if you told me that was a quote from Pete Rollins discussing theology, I’d probably believe you.

I’m slightly better at following Tim Blais’ magnificent explanation of String Theory, but only slightly:



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  • The_L1985

    It sounds like your friend got a bad, bad case of Fox News. :(

  • The_L1985

    If I worked retail and were allowed to choose the music, I’d probably have Twisted Sister’s “A Twisted Christmas” album back-to-back with Jeff Foxworthy’s “Redneck 12 Days of Christmas” and the HPL “Scary Solstice” album.

    It is probably a good thing that I don’t choose music for retail stores.

  • Fusina

    That is what iPod (or any MP3 player) is for. I have a collection of xmas music on cd, load it on computer, load it on player, I have three basic playlists. Music, Music + carols, and for a couple of days (24 & 25 of Dec) Just Carols. I have other playlists, but those are the ones I use most.

  • The_L1985

    I don’t put Xmas music on my MP3 player except for Dar Williams’s “The Christians and the Pagans.” My car has a CD player, which plays my only Xmas-music CD if I happen to be in the mood that year.

  • Cathy W

    Wow. That’s some commie talk, there.

  • Notasaltine

    When I was working as a cashier, my standard response to “Why don’t you say “Merry Christmas”? was “It feels weird to say that when its still Advent.”

  • Lorehead

    But if he did, he would be the Pope of a much smaller church. Why do you think neither of his last two predecessors ever did that with abortion, themselves?

  • Nick Gotts

    How do you know he would? I think his predecessors did not change the rules on abortion because they agreed with the absolute prohibition on it, and that prohibition exists because of the RCC’s pathological attitude to sex, to women, and particularly to women’s sexuality.

  • I’ve always felt it intuitively reasonable that if quantum mechanics shows that we have to treat matter and energy as discrete, then so too could space and time.

  • arghous

    … why did [god] create inferior beings … with the certainty that they’d never live up
    to his standards thanks to how he created them?</i

    Worse, that they'd come to realize that they'd developed standards that he'd never live up to?

  • arghous

    Serious disqus editing fail. I was to add:

    Worse, that they would come to realize that they have developed standards that he’d never live up to?

  • Lorehead

    We do know that time is discrete, but as I understand it, whether space is, remains an open question.

  • The pope isn’t that liberal when it comes to certain subjects.

  • Kirala

    Waitwaitwait. This is a widely-accepted model – that time is discrete? I knew nothing of this! Is there a name for the smallest quantum of time, or an estimated size?

  • Lorehead

    Sorry, that was my misunderstanding of Planck time, which is not a discrete unit like Planck mass.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    C’mon and bring your shovel,
    We’re out for trouble
    And friiiiight-
    We’ll take all we can carry
    From the old cemetary

  • Alix

    A lot of Gnostic sects suggested that the god who created this world wasn’t capital-G God (i.e. the ultimate source of all of the universe), but a younger child/creation/descendant of that being that wanted to create his own universe of mindless worshippers. The Gnostics generally held that the plurals in the Bible were indications of the presence of these other beings, and that the serpent in the Garden was another of these gods/emanations/aeons/whatever who was trying to work against the demiurge and help free mankind from slavery.

    …Gnostic theology gets pretty interesting.

  • Alix

    I’ve actually read (and I wish I could remember the books…) a few different people suggest that the Bible actually does support a view of God as growing and changing, and that the idea he was meant to be unchanging is a later gloss.

  • Mary

    ” Crazy is not formally used to describe people with mental illnesses and only mental illnesses. It never has been, nor should it be”

    Dr. Phil would disagree with you. He has used it himself as a term for mental illness. In fact he said recently to someone on his show that “crazy people bark at the moon.” This was in response to her calling herself “crazy” as a correction that in fact she was screwed up, but not mentally ill.

    Yes people use the term casually in a way that may or may not be meant as referring to mental illness. It is however not true that it is never used to refer to those who have a mental illness. I am sure that you have heard people refer to schizophrenics and people with bipolar disorder as “crazy” That may not be the clinical term for it but the connotation still exists.

    I think the issue is that some people are sensitive to this because in our culture mental illness is not accepted and people are very derogatory about it. So calling someone “crazy” is not the same as calling a person “eccentric” or any of the words you used. And it is an important distinction that even though someone may act oddly, that does not necessarilly mean that they are “crazy” in the clinical sense. People have a lot of fear about the mentally ill so the myths do need to be addressed.

    Edit: I decided to look up the formal definition and this is what I found. As you can see, “insane” IS a synonym for “crazy” within a certain context:


    1. mentally deranged, esp. as manifested in a wild or aggressive way.

    “Stella went crazy and assaulted a visitor”


    mad, insane, out of one’s mind, deranged, demented, not in one’s right mind, crazed, lunatic, non compos mentis, unhinged, mad as a hatter, mad as a March hare; More

    informalmental, nutty, nutty as a fruitcake, off one’s rocker, not right in the head, round/around the bend, raving mad, batty, bonkers, cuckoo, loopy, ditzy, bananas, loco, with a screw loose, touched, gaga, not all there, out to lunch, crackers, nutso, out of one’s tree, wacko, gonzo;

    “he was acting like a crazy person”

    extremely annoyed or angry.

    “the noise they made was driving me crazy”


    “it was crazy to hope that good might come out of this mess”


    stupid, foolish, idiotic, silly, absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous, preposterous, farcical, laughable, risible, nonsensical, imbecilic, harebrained, cockamamie, half-baked, impracticable, unworkable, ill-conceived, senseless; More

    informalcockeyed, daft, kooky

    “Andrea had a crazy idea”

    2. extremely enthusiastic.

    “I’m crazy about Cindy”


    passionate about, (very) keen on, enamored of, infatuated with, smitten with, devoted to;

    (very) enthusiastic about, fanatical about;

    informalwild about, mad about, nuts about, hog-wild about, gone on

    “he’s crazy about her”

    noun: crazy; plural noun: crazies

    1. a mentally deranged person.

  • Alix

    Why are moral preferences ruled out? That seems to be assuming that there is some kind of universal morality. I mean, look at how much trouble we have defining what is good – why would we assume that these omniscient and omnibenevolent beings have the same priorities as each other?

  • Alix

    In an earthquake.

  • Alix

    Here in the good ol’ US of A, on the other hand, I am eagerly awaiting the day when the halloween and christmas shopping seasons merge into one giant last-quarter-of-the-year jumble. I want zombie santa riding a ghost-drawn sleigh, okay?

  • Alix

    Because some of us start planning and even purchasing Christmas/year-end-holiday stuff in September/October. Some stuff, as Lori mentioned way above, must go on sale early: anything that requires crafting or assembling, for example. Some places I know that do fancy things like gingerbread houses need orders early to get them done.

    And then there are people like me, who start planning and purchasing stuff in September/October ’cause we’re hit with a whole long string of gift-giving holidays in November/December and need to be on top of our game – and we need to make it fit in our budget, which for me usually means buying bits when I can, and there’s always the possibility that the thing you need will be out by December.

    That said, these stores take things way too far, with the stupid music and the overwhelming decor. It would be nice if they acknowledged that other holidays and other seasons existed; it’s a bit disconcerting to run into fake snow and crap like that when it’s still end-of-summer warm out.

  • Alix

    Autumn here doesn’t really set in until end of September/early October. Early September you can still get epic heat waves, and the weather follows the usual Virginia “hot hot hot humid humid THUNDERSTORM” cycle.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think the fact we have trouble with something is a very convincing argument that omni-gods would also have trouble with it :-)

    What sense can be made of ‘omnibenevolent’ without an objective standard for good?

  • Mary

    Maybe people should start saying “Happy Sun-God Mithra Birthday” since it was his holiday first.

  • dpolicar

    Well, it could mean by the deity’s standard.

    That is, if there’s only one, then it is omnibenevolent by its own standard of good, even in the absence of an objective good, even though some or all mortals might judge differently.

    If there are two, each one is omnibenevolent by its own standard, even though some or all mortals and the other deity might judge differently.

    None of this requires an objective standard.

    But, sure, if there is somehow an objective good then all omnibenevolent deities would necessarily agree on their moral preferences, agreed.

  • Alix

    I don’t think the fact we have trouble with something is a very convincing argument that omni-gods would also have trouble with it

    Fair point.

    What sense can be made of ‘omnibenevolent’ without an objective standard for good?

    That actually hits on one of my major problems with the whole concept of omnibenevolence – we can’t even agree entirely on what we mean by “good,” so our whole concept of omnibenevolence is … kind of weird. But also, it seems to me like there are plenty of circumstances where various goods clash – say, what’s good for the virus in me may not be good at all for me. How does omnibenevolence handle the problem of competing goods?

  • arcseconds

    Well, it depends on what version of the myth you’re looking at, doesn’t it? YHWH is depicted as changing his mind, yes, but I can’t really see how that could be compatible with omniscience and omnibenevolence. Maybe they could about arbitrary preferences, but not about moral matters, and it’s often about those matters that YHWH changes his mind about.

    I know that there are statements which sound like they are attributing omnipotence and omniscience to YHWH, but I’ve always wondered whether that’s really how they’re supposed to be understood. It seems to me likely that’s anachronistically reading in properties of a later theology into ancient texts which had no such concepts. At any rate, it’s pretty clear on a surface reading at least that YHWH is quite a different character than the omni-god of the philosophers (and theologians).

    And certainly many people who later came to reflect on the texts, believing God to be that being that has the omni-properties, have been of the same opinion — the actions decribed can’t be taken literally as those of an omniscient, omnipotent or omnibenevolent being. At the very least, it’s an act.

    Also, the way that at least some of those apparent changes of mind have been understood is that God has particular ideas about what’s appropriate for people at, say, particular stages in history. Maybe they need the odd miracle and revelation in earlier periods, but in later periods they need to be left alone. This is a change of behaviour, but it’s not really a change of mind: it was part of the plan all along.

    As far as the different experiences go, they can’t, at the very least, have private experiences, that the other is unaware of, or otherwise someone’s not omniscient. The other would also be aware of the content of the experience and how it affected the experiencer, Otherwise there’s something they don’t know, in which case they’re not omniscient. Arguably they would also experience it from ‘the inside’, because again otherwise there’s something they don’t know, i.e. what it’s like to be affected in this way.

    So I’m not really seeing a possibility here that I could describe as ‘having different experiences’, without wanting to subject it to huge caveats. Perhaps their different preferences could lead them to experience the same thing as preferrable or not preferrable, but again this would be so transparent to them, that I’m not clear on what the difference is between there being two beings with different preferences, and there being one being who’s got some conflicting preferences.

    But the compromise A & B arrive at would be different than what A
    would do in isolation, so the presence or absence of B would make a
    difference to A’s experience of the world. (And vice-versa.)

    Yes, that’s true. Assuming that it makes sense for such beings to have arbitrary preferences, if there’s different preferences at work, obviously it’s a different case, and if we’re to suppose that they act on these preferences, the divine acts will be different.

    But what I’m suggesting is that the idea that the preferences are held by a different entity, B, as opposed to being thought of as being held by A, too, is a distinction without a difference.

    To put it another way, the world with just A is different from the world where there’s A and B. But the world with A and B is not different than the world with C, where C is a single omni-entity with the combined preferences of A and B.

    To put it yet another way, in the terms of the original poster, if A decides they want to spice up their eternal life with a bit of difference and potential conflict, they could create B or adopt the preferences of B (i.e. change themselves into C). But those are two different ways of describing the same situation.

    I agree that from my perspective (and yours) there’s no clear
    difference. That said, it’s not clear to me how much our perspectives
    matter here, compared to the perspective(s) of the entity(ies) in

    So, it’s all a great mystery then and there might be a way of this occuring that’s opaque to us? What a defeatist attitude!

    Anyway, I’m not so certain that we need to defer to the perspectives of omniscient deities. We are asking about whether or not it makes sense given our notions of identity to talk about two entities or one here, and it’s not clear that there is. According to different notions of identity only comprehensible to infinite beings things might be different, but that’s not the question I was asking.

    Although, maybe you have a point. Perhaps the entity in question could self-identify as being one or two entities. In which case it would be rude and patronizing to insist otherwise.

  • arcseconds

    That is a possibility, but ‘omnibenevolent’ isn’t an especially good description for that, is it? ‘Self-approving’ is a better one.

    I’m not sure what sense I can make of a non-self-approving omnipotent and omniscient agent. What’s preventing them from doing things they approve of? Surely nothing that hinders mortals…

    although it is an interesting thought. Perhaps an occasionally self-disapproving or even self-loathing deity is a coherent possibility, and in some respects prefferrable to one who continually does things that we think are bad, but is utterly sure of their worth!

  • dpolicar

    Well, it depends on what version of the myth you’re looking at, doesn’t it?

    Certainly. I was sticking to the canonical Old and New Testament texts as most commonly interpreted in our culture, as that seemed to be the context; sorry if I misunderstood. I’m happy to adopt some other canon to ground the discussion if you prefer.

    Alternatively, we can open up the discussion more broadly and work our way up from first principles, but when I do that I conclude that the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, immaterial, transcendent and immanent being is utterly incoherent, so theorizing about what properties it might or might not have and whether those properties would change if there were two of it is mostly a null-op.

    Alternatively, we can reject the “omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, immaterial, transcendent and immanent being” category altogether, as you suggest here. I was reluctant to do that initially, since your original question was about beings in that category so doing so seemed impolitely nonresponsive, but if you’d prefer to discard the category now that’s fine with me. I agree that the canonical text is at best unclear on the question.

    Depending on what assumptions we make about the category in question, I arrive at different conclusions about whether two members of it are necessarily identical.

    This is a change of behaviour, but it’s not really a change of mind: it was part of the plan all along.

    Sure, that’s a possible interpretation. Similarly, since we’re not shown YHWH’s thought process, it’s possible that the scenes in which YHWH is shown as changing its mind in the course of a single conversation are some kind of set piece, and it never actually intended to do the thing it claimed it intended to do at the beginning of the scene.

    Agreed that they are necessarily aware of one another’s experiences. Whether that’s the same thing as having the experience, I don’t know. Is YHWH aware of the experience of mortals? In the common interpretation of canon, yes. Does that mean YHWH experiences existence as a mortal? Well… maybe. Then again, maybe not. Maybe context and perspective are inextricable from experience.

    But, sure, if we take “omniscient” to mean having all possible perspectives and contexts, as well as having all knowledge, such that YHWH is as ignorant as I am of the realities of the universe (and therefore experiencing those realities the way I do) as well as knowing everything, then I agree that two systems with that capability would share all the same experiences.

    And, yes, for two such systems to share all those properties but still somehow be distinct from one another is an incoherent idea, inherently contradictory. If we decide that now we wish to exclude such self-contradictory ideas from consideration, while preserving all the other self-contradictory ideas that led us to this point, then we conclude that such entities cannot be distinct from one another.

    the world with A and B is not different than the world with C, where C is a single omni-entity with the combined preferences of A and B.


    So, it’s all a great mystery then and there might be a way of this occuring that’s opaque to us? What a defeatist attitude!

    I am suitably shamed. In the future, I’ll try to be more practical about my theorizing about the boundaries of infinite beings.

    We are asking about whether or not it makes sense given our notions of identity to talk about two entities or one here, and it’s not clear that there is.

    Well, OK. In the spirit of grounding this discussion more pragmatically, let me start from something I understand a little better in pragmatic terms than I do YHWH… namely, set theory. Does it make sense to talk about the set of real numbers, of natural numbers, and of rational numbers as three different sets, given that they are all infinite? If so, why?

  • dpolicar

    “Omnibenevolent” seems to me an equally good description of desiring the Good for everything in the universe regardless of whether the Good is subjective or objective.

    “Self-approving” seems to mean something altogether different — I can approve of myself without desiring the Good for everything in the universe.

    What’s preventing them from doing things they approve of?

    You’ve lost me here. Nothing is preventing them, nor do I think I’ve suggested that anything is. I suspect we’re now just talking past one another.

  • arcseconds

    Maybe you’re right and it isn’t a coherent concept.

    (There are reasons to suppose that omnipotence isn’t a coherent quality either. )

    But I’m not sure that the problems that you’re presenting are decisive. There is pretty widespread agreement about the sorts of things that are good. Virtually everyone agrees, for example, that health is good. And that killing people, by and large, is not good (even those who approve of it under certain circumstances think those circumstances are limited). There are, of course, a very small number of people who disagree about even these things, but I doubt you can find universal agreement amongst everyone about any one thing, except maybe extremely trivial things.

    In fact, agreement about these sorts of goods like health and not being killed is probably a lot more universal than many scientific truths. It’s certainly a lot more universal than belief in an old Earth, or global warming. Few would argue (maybe you would be one of them, though) that lack of agreement about the age of the Earth or global warming means there’s a problem with thinking that there’s an objective fact of the matter about these matters. All it means is that it’s quite possible to be wrong about them, and many people are.

    As for handling the problem of competing goods, that seems already to have a lot of assumptions built into it that I would question. I’m also a bit bewildered by your example. How can a virus have something that is good for it? Do rocks also have things which are good for them?

    But in any case, one popular answer is that you just do a utilitarian calculus computation. Add up the amount of pleasure times the quality of the pleasure (if you’re a Millian utilitarian) for the possible outcome, and realise (or at least prefer) the one with the largest result.

    In this case it seems fairly easy as viruses are, far more clearly than anything that’s considered unproblematically alive, just a bunch of long-chain chemicals, Some of them (viroids) are just lengths of RNA!

    Unless you think long-chain chemicals can feel pleasure, the only pleasure to be considered here is yours.

    I’m not a utilitarian, but I do think this kind of thinking has some applicability. And a lot of the problems with utilitarianism are alleviated when the actor is omnipotent and omniscient and arguably has authority over the universe or at least responsibility for things within it.

  • Jenny Islander

    I work for a souvenir vendor that has a display at the local Wal-Mart. They used to get treacly Christmas music on a 25-hour CD played all over the store, even in the warehouse, starting two weeks before Thanksgiving. One winter, the storewide sound system “mysteriously” “broke” and “somehow” never got “fixed.” It’s been years and “somehow” the thing never does get “fixed.” So now, if you want some annoying Christmas music, you have to actually walk past the holiday CD display to activate the little motion sensor that makes the thing emit a few bars of the Chipmunks over and over.

    I may or may not have figured out that it’s possible to pop the battery out of the back of that thing so quickly that nobody can even tell what you’re doing.

    I may or may not have learned this trick from a store employee.

  • arcseconds

    So, wait… you don’t think my initial set of properties are coherent, yet you continued discussing this with me as though they were?

    So you were stringing me along in other words…

    Could say the same for Alix, actually, as Alix doesn’t believe ‘omnibenevolent’ is coherent…

    man, you guys!


  • arcseconds

    by ‘self-approving’ I really meant ‘considers its own actions good’.

    I’m struggling with the idea that an omnipotent, omniscient entity could end up doing things that it doesn’t approve of.

    Although maybe I’m revealing my deontological biases here, I suppose you’ve got a more plausible interpretation of ‘omnibenevolent’. That’s got me wondering how traditional theologians have interpreted this property…

  • Mark Z.

    But also, it seems to me like there are plenty of circumstances where various goods clash – say, what’s good for the virus in me may not be good at all for me.

    “Who provides the raven with its prey, when its young ones cry out to God?”

  • Alix

    So “good” is only a thing for humans, or sapient beings? The virus was probably a bad example, but there are plenty of cases where helping one entity do what’s best for it will harm another.

    I’m also nowhere near convinced that it’s quite that easy to reach full agreement on what constitutes “good” – and if there isn’t full agreement, does an omnibenevolent being just write off the others who disagree? If this entity is all-good, and what it does is not good in the eyes of one entity, it’s not exactly all good, unless you want to argue that the lesser beings don’t know what’s really good for them, which is what Christians largely argue anyway, and that’s a majorly problematic argument.

    This is also why utilitarianism isn’t really compatible with an omnibenevolent being, in my view, not if it’s also omnipotent. I could buy a sort of omnibenevolence if the being in question weren’t all-knowing or all-powerful, i.e. wanting to do what is best for everyone but constrained by other factors, but if it’s supposed to be unconstrained it runs into all kinds of contradictions.

    Frankly, I don’t think any of the omni- concepts are really coherent. Not in this universe, anyway.

  • Carstonio

    Here’s Fred from a few days ago:

    The white evangelical theology of biblical literalism is a device that functions to allow white evangelicals to claim a reverent devotion to biblical literalism while simultaneously refusing even to look at huge chunks and huge themes of the Bible.

    While the theology’s purpose is defending injustice, Fred’s description could just as easily apply to creationism, which is no accident. Wonkette’s Sundays with the Christianists series points out the neo-Confederate nature of the history textbooks from fundamentalist publishers. What if the Paradise Lost is really the Lost Cause? Or to be more precise, perhaps millions of creationists subconsciously see the Fall as an allegory for the erosion of status based in skin color. (Along with status based in sexual identity and religious affiliation.) Am I making too much of a reach?

  • Carstonio

    I’m reminded of the traditional rule about when to eat oysters.

  • dpolicar

    Yeah, I’m awful that way.

  • dpolicar

    I can’t imagine how an omnipotent, omniscient entity could end up doing things that it doesn’t approve of. (Of course, logically speaking an entity with an infinite perspective might both approve of and disapprove of all possible actions, but I can’t imagine that either.)

    And yeah, I’m very much not a deontologist in the sense you mean here… I don’t mind deontological rules, and I follow some just like anyone else, but I don’t believe that the Good somehow objectively exists as part of the universe, the way gravity or mass or distance do. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all; I can’t even imagine how that would work.

    My own intuition is pretty strongly that the Good can be defined coherently only in terms of what a particular agent (or group of agents) values, and that to ask whether my values are objectively Good makes no more sense than asking whether I’m objectively standing to the right or to the left, or whether I’m objectively attractive.

  • arcseconds

    I was offering one, quite popular answer as to what the objective good is.

    And yes, utilitarianism (by definition) understands the morally right action to be that which maximises the good, and classical utilitarianism is hedonistic: it understands the good to be pleasure (more or less: Mill also considered the quality of the pleasure),

    So only beings that can experience pleasure are morally relevant.

    (Most people think the domain of entities that are directly morally relevant is restricted in some way. Being able to feel pleasure and pain is a motivating feature for most moral vegetarians, for example. Considerably more rarer is the perspective that all life is morally relevant, and some people who hold this position only eat fruit that falls from trees. I’ve never heard of anyone who seriously holds it’s possible to do bad things to rocks. )

    This is quite compatible with omnibenevolence, if we understand that to mean ‘morally perfect’, i.e. always does what is right. What is right is normally a trade off, and that’s not just openly admitted by embraced by utilitarianism.

    It’s also compatible with all the omni-properties. Any action (or lack of action) could be justified by utilitarianism so long as the pay-off is sufficient. One wanting to hold the existence of the omni-being in this universe and that classical utilitarianism is the correct moral theory just has to propose that there’s some pay-off that makes it all worthwhile. And that, of course, is what many people have argued. We might not think this is very convincing or very likely, but this is a coherent possibility, so the conjunction of these things is not incompatible.

    (We weren’t really having a discussion about what’s actually the case, though, were we? I mean, you don’t think dpolicar actually believes there might be two omni-beings with different preferences, do you? )

    It’s also not part of the utilitarian position that everyone agrees that this is what’s good, so no utilitarian would think the lack of agreement is an objection.

    I’m not sure why we’d think full agreement is necessary about the good for the good to exist. We don’t need full agreement about the HIV virus being the cause of AIDS for the HIV virus to be the cause of AIDS, do we? And I can’t see how someone disagreeing with the all-good being about what is good proves the all-good being isn’t really all good. Someone thinking that black magic causes AIDS, and not HIV, doesn’t show that an all-knowing being couldn’t exist, or for that matter that it’s impossible to know that HIV causes AIDS.

    Someone thinks they’re not all-good, sure, but people can be wrong about all sorts of things, so why not this?

    One thing that it sounds like you’ve got in mind here is the idea that people are authoritative about what’s good for them. That is a value-theoretic claim in its own right, different from the value theory of classical utilitarianism, where pleasure is what is good. That’s fine, but by asserting this (if indeed that’s what you’re doing, it’s not clear to me) you’re asserting that the classical utilitarianism is wrong.

    We could combine this theory of the good with the utilitarian theory of right action (maximising the good) to get what’s called preference utilitarianism (or something pretty close to it), which is a real position that people actually argue for. I appreciate that you haven’t given the least suggestion of a theory of morally right action, but I thought it worth mentioning.

    This is also compatible with an omni-benevolent being. Such a being just has to do the best it can to maximise the realisation of each individual’s idea of the good. Naturally some people are going to end up being disappointed and not have their good realised, but that’s not an objection to the all-goodness of the being, as they’re doing what’s morally correct.

    It’s also compatible with the omni-god existing in this universe, although this is perhaps harder to make sense of then the case of classical utilitarianism.

  • Alix

    I’m just enjoying the conversation, really.

    people are authoritative about what’s good for them

    Well, yes. Sort of. I don’t think that’s true as an unmitigated universal – my nephew, for example, is quite wrong that vaccines are bad for him – but on the other hand, he’s right in a sense, because the pain is not “good.” It’s not like a disagreement over a scientific theory, though – it’s different personal priorities, and even different opinions on what constitutes “good,” which is my whole point. That’s also something of the problem I have with utilitarianism, in that it doesn’t entirely account for differing personal views of what is good. (I have some serious problems with the idea that morals are universal, can you tell? It’s even more complicated by the fact that “good” here doesn’t refer strictly to morals, but also to “what is beneficial and/or pleasurable to a being.”) But if what an omnibenevolent being does is not good from one person’s perspective, it’s hardly omnibenevolent, is it? Unless you really are arguing that what people view as benevolent/good doesn’t matter, in which case I don’t know how we could tell something’s omnibenevolent in the first place.

    Part of my problem with omnibenevolence is that you’re just about the only person I’ve ever met who is actually arguing that omnibenevolence is constrained or limiting. (Well, intentionally, anyways.) I can sort of buy an omnibenevolent being in that sense – one that intends to be perfectly good in its behavior, but is constrained in acting it out, which is what I meant by it not squaring well with omnipotence. It’s the problem of suffering again: if a being is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent, the only reason for anything to still be suffering is that that being is not omniscient, and doesn’t know about the suffering. Take omnipotency out and there’s not much of a problem at all – the being is just constrained by other factors.

    But with omnipotency, pain shouldn’t exist. Grief shouldn’t exist. Etc. Going back to my nephew above – you’d think an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being could either make it so vaccines don’t hurt, or make it so vaccines weren’t needed. Assuming such a being exists, it either doesn’t know about the pain, thinks it’s good (which means from at least some people’s perspectives, it’s not really omnibenevolent), or knows, thinks pain is bad, and doesn’t care enough to stop it. Which is, again, a blow against omnibenevolence.

    The one argument I’ve seen for why an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being would still allow suffering is that suffering provides something – heightens pleasure by contrast, or builds character, or something – but that again highlights the problem of omnipotence: if I can imagine worlds in which suffering isn’t necessary and the people haven’t all fallen to bored pieces, surely an omni- being could have, but it didn’t create one/make this world into one, so we’re back to it not being omnibenevolent.

    Omnibenevolence, and the others to a lesser extent, all seem to ultimately boil down to “it’s omnibenevolent ’cause I say so, dammit!”, which is not an entirely convincing position.