God is not fair; thus not omnibenevolent

God is not fair; thus not omnibenevolent January 24, 2014

Some time back I posted an argument on mentalizing deficits with regard to God being unfair. This broadly stated that certain autistic type people who have an inability to empathise are less likely to believe in God, presumably because the intersubjectivity of empathy allows an agent to see themselves from somebody else’s point of view. This means that they are less able to suppose what God would think about them whilst doing any given moral action, and such like. The abstract, to the paper looked at in the post, reads:

Religious believers intuitively conceptualize deities as intentional agents with mental states who anticipate and respond to human beliefs, desires and concerns. It follows that mentalizing deficits, associated with the autistic spectrum and also commonly found in men more than in women, may undermine this intuitive support and reduce belief in a personal God. Autistic adolescents expressed less belief in God than did matched neuro-typical controls (Study 1). In a Canadian student sample (Study 2), and two American national samples that controlled for demographic characteristics and other correlates of autism and religiosity (Study 3 and 4), the autism spectrum predicted reduced belief in God, and mentalizing mediated this relationship. Systemizing (Studies 2 and 3) and two personality dimensions related to religious belief, Conscientiousness and Agreeableness (Study 3), failed as mediators. Mentalizing also explained the robust and well-known, but theoretically debated, gender gap in religious belief wherein men show reduced religious belief (Studies 2–4).

Anyway, the evidence from the papers on such phenomena provoked me to create a syllogism:

  • 1) God is omnibenevolent and being such will have fairness as a benevolent attribute
  • 2) God wants humans to enter into a loving relationship with him
  • 3) God has designed people (or the system that designs people) to not have equal fairness and opportunity to access a loving relationship with him
  • 4) God also has the power to level the playing field ex post facto but appears not to do so
  • C) God is not fair, and thus not omnibenevolent

What I want to do is refine this and make it as tight as possible. One thing I would like to add is some sub-premises:

  • a) compensation is not moral justification
  • b) therefore, an eternity in heaven does not morally justify such unfairness

This would head off the old heaven defence at the pass.

Anyway, thoughts?


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  • LukeBreuer

    Is it unfair for God to differentially distribute mental strengths and weaknesses to people, such that only if they work together, each person’s strength covering others’ weaknesses, do things get ‘evened out’? There seems to be a kind of individualist bent throughout this blog post, which assumes people have personal relationships with God that don’t really need to involve the community at all. What if this is false, and it is the church (all believers) which is the bride of Christ, and not each Christian, individually?

    I can personally attest to the fact that having grown up unable to intuitively socialize, I learned much more about what socialization involves by having to approach it fairly analytically. Viewed from a design angle, I might suppose that God creates a few people here and there who don’t just fit into the current system, but have to learn it the hard way, and in doing so, be likely to detect wrongness in the current system. Perhaps autistic folks could play a similar role. We all know that not all belief in God is properly motivated (you might say no belief in God is properly motivated :-p); perhaps autistic folks would be forced to come up with an ‘analytic’ motivation, instead of an intuitive one.

    • OK, there is a definite hierarchy of desires or goals for God. It appears, quite clearly from the Bible.

      If entering into a (personal) relationship with God is the main one, then this argument works without much adjustment.

      I learned much more about what socialization involves by having to approach it fairly analytically.

      Sure, and that cognitive requirement, and inability to really intuitively feel it puts you, I would wager, at a disadvantage to others. There is no way I can see this as being fair. Yes it allows your inability to become a means to another end, but that is clearly consequential, and shows God to be a consequentialist AGAIN which apologists absolutely detest and contest.

      Now, if you think God is a consequentialist, then this moves the discussion in an interesting direction. But you would be admitting that humans are being used as pawns, as means to ends.

      • LukeBreuer

        I was at a disadvantage in one way, but at an advantage in another. What do you get if you have a society where everyone just accepts it as-is, instead of questioning it? Being forced to analytically understand something is a great way to be forced to see flaws in it. Now, if society were healthier, I don’t think I would have had as hard a time, because others could have helped me understand it analytically in a way that wasn’t very bad at all. Perhaps I’d be seen as someone who merely got born with a different communicating protocol, in need if someone to help me translate. Because society was sick, this did not happen. Instead, I had to derive a ton of stuff myself, in the midst of much mockery and ridicule. For, I was not like the other people. That deserves mockery and ridicule, in case you didn’t know.

        I can personally report that I don’t feel like I was used as a means to an end. I realize the tremendous wisdom I gained from my experiences, and how I can use it to make the world a better place. The cost was high, but the reward was high. But perhaps you would say that unlike e.g. the neurosurgeon, who chose to go be in arduous training for a long time before being able to practice independently, I did not choose my makeup? I’m afraid that if the alternative is a stagnant society that doesn’t really try for ‘better’, I would rather what happened, happen.

        Back to autism: you seemed to have missed my bit about individualism. I had a mind-blowing experience with autism a few years ago. A friend of a friend brought me to a studio, where a guy was helping autistic kids be creative through movie-making (think Flash movies), dioramas, and the like. I was able to talk to the mother of one of the kids. She had been told by doctors that her son would be permanently closed-up, unable to communicate much. She said that after her son had spent a few weeks at the studio, he had utterly shattered the doctors’ expert predictions—based on ‘the probabilities’, no dobut. He was communicating left and right. It turned out that the desire to be creative was enough to get him to come out of his shell.

        The above scenario was a powerful lesson to me: we can really suck at caring about the desires of our fellow human being. I am tempted to see autism as a final “NO!” from God, to our desire to make everyone a cog in the existing societal machine. Autistic kids will not be treated that way. And I thought to myself: what if we’re doing the same thing to God’s desires? I’m pretty sure we are, in fact! But much more than this, the autistic person has the chance to accumulate vast wisdom on how broken our relationship with God is, and use that wisdom to make things much, much better. You might say it’d be more fair for them to have a mediocre relationship with God just like the next guy, but I disagree.

        • Luke, will there be any of these disadvantages in heaven or will people there be perfected? If so, can you logically explain how this might look if everyone is perfect?

          • And also how a person A can be given the label of person A in heaven if they are not taking their characteristics with them to heaven.

          • Jon, here’s how heaven really works. Check out this hilarious video parody.


          • LukeBreuer

            Will they be disadvantages? I think of perfection as people working together perfectly, each one’s strengths covering the other’s weaknesses. It is a world where people need each other, and are needed by each other. It is not an individualistic world, where people no longer need anything from the next guy.

          • This is classic using of people for a means to an end. But it assumes that good does definitely come out.

            The fact is this, it only takes one person for whom it remains a ‘disadvantage’ for it to be gratuitous unfairness.

          • LukeBreuer

            It appears that the only way for this to not be “using of people for a means to an end” is for no person to ever need another. Is this true?

          • People can need others. There isn’t so much problem for humans to be consequentialist, morally speaking. It’s just that theists decry such morality, and especially with regard to God.

          • LukeBreuer

            Sorry, I’m trying to construct the closest world I can to the one that Christianity describes as excellent, but without the consequentialist aspect. You seem to think that individuals having weaknesses necessarily turns this into a consequentialist system; is this correct? It doesn’t matter whether the weakness is autism or something else, does it?

            Stated differently, do you think it is the case that the instant one person needs the other, we’ve dropped into a consequentialist system? If so, that seems like a particularly strong breed of individualism.

          • So if you’re in a wheel chair, you will continue to be paralyzed in heaven for eternity?

          • LukeBreuer

            Christians have usually said “no” to physical disability in heaven. There is the whole ‘new body’ thing. But really, we aren’t given much in the way of details. I know that irritates you, but not everything is known.

          • What will people in heaven work towards? What kind of work will exist? Will it include manual labor or with there be machines or some kind of magic that does all the hard work? It seems the very idea of work makes heaven very unheavenly.

            I also just wrote a post listing a few questions I have about heaven. Do you care to try and answer some of them?

            1. In heaven if there is no free will (like to sin) are souls all just robots?

            2. If we cannot sin in heaven, does that mean it might be best to get away with some milder sins (like fornication) just to be able to have the experience before we go to heaven?

            3. If heaven is eternal and there is no free will, what could possibly keep our consciousnesses occupied for all of eternity?

            4. If we are returned to a bodily state in heaven, do we get all of parts back? Including foreskin? Original nose if one had a nosejob? What age would the body be? When we were young? When we died at 90? What about an aborted fetus who never formed a body? What body do they get?

            5. Do people wear clothes in heaven or are they naked? If they wear clothes, what kind of clothes? Does everyone wear a uniform or can people have personal style? Who makes the clothes? Is there a sweatshop in heaven? Are there fashion designers? Do clothes just appear out of nowhere from your imagination?

            6. What about games or sports? Can people play them? If so, then there’s always the possibility that someone will lose and they will feel bad. Is it possible to have a bad day in heaven? The competition and possibility of losing required by games and sports seem to allow that.

            7. If we are all different in heaven, does anyone ever get jealous?

            8. What if you hated your family? Would it be fair to make someone spend an eternity with a family that they hated?

            9. How could someone enjoy heaven if they will know that billions are in hell?

            10. What are the laws of physics like in heaven? Do you ever feel pain for anything? Is there gravity, or electromagnetism? If there is, you can fall and get hurt.

            11. Is there technology in heaven? The Bible speaks of chariots, so will heaven have Iron age technology? Can someone invent something in heaven?

          • LukeBreuer

            I actually haven’t thought very much about heaven; you might like Randal Rauser’s What on Earth Do We Know about Heaven?: 20 Questions and Answers about Life after Death. The most effective way I know of thinking about it is by iterating from where we are, now, to what I think would be ideal. Now, I know that I will introduce more and more error as I depart from where we are now—this is just how the human imagination seems to work. There are so many possibilities that seem valid, except most of them have serious problems with them when rigorously analyzed/lived out.

            If we think about heaven in constructive ways, I believe that thinking could contribute to making the world a better place. Idealism can be good if used in certain ways; otherwise it is useless to detrimental. I’m again reminded of How can we mere mortals state what God SHOULD do? If the goal is to ask how the ideal being would go about things with the intention of becoming more like that being, it can be a very helpful activity. If, on the other hand, we just do some omni-wand waving and say: “God would have done things differently; he didn’t; ergo he does not exist.”

            So, can you see the answers to any of your questions leading to us acting in better ways, now? I don’t wish to devalue the pure intellectual fun of them, but I don’t find that kind of engagement particularly pleasant, myself. I prefer talking about things which also have real-world consequences. Talking about the mercy and grace shown by God in the Bible, for example, has real-world consequences, if we ourselves are to show mercy and grace.

          • Well if you’re so concerned with the here and now, then a religion that puts so much emphasis on this eternal afterlife yet to come may not be the right worldview for you.

            And if you’re going to spend an eternity in this hereafter, then you should consider what it must be like.

          • LukeBreuer

            I suggest contrasting the amount of emphasis that the Bible puts on the hereafter, compared to the amount of emphasis that the particular flavors of Christianity with which you are familiar put on the hereafter. The Bible doesn’t actually say much about heaven!

            I actually believe that God is going to create the “new heavens and earth” in cooperation with those humans who want what he wants. This is the strong pattern from the rest of the Bible: God wants to create with humans, not apart from them. So, in contrast to what you’re saying here, I think the Bible is incredibly relevant to the here-and-now.

          • The bible, indeed all religions are very light on detail when it comes to heaven, such that it sounds incredibly implausible to me.

            Do you have any detail as to what this “”new heavens and earth” in cooperation with those humans who want what [god] wants” will be like?

          • LukeBreuer

            I think it will involve communities where no person is considered less important than any other person. This means that each person who is in the community will make it bigger, not as +1 person, but as providing another way to look at things, different contributions to society, etc. Nobody’s creativity will be considered ‘unneeded’; nobody will just be forced to be an impersonal cog in a big machine. Everyone will be allowed—encouraged and supported—to pursue excellence in however that person sees fit.

          • That sounds too much like earth to me. And you’ve got all the issues I asked in my questions that seem to make this heaven highly implausible. You’re offering no detail whatsoever and I hate to say it, but it sounds like BS to me.

          • LukeBreuer

            It sounds like BS to you because you need intricate explanations—but not ones that use infinite series in mathematics, for those are too hard to understand—in order to believe that something is plausible. I cannot provide those intricate explanations for the reasons I have laid out. So you, therefore, will dismiss what I have said, on the basis that it was not intricate enough. That’s fine, but please don’t ask me for explanations in the future if you’re pretty sure that I cannot provide an explanation up to par for you. You would do well in areas where things are very well understood; when it comes to heaven, that’s just not the case. So, I gave you what I consider as a “step forward” from where we are now. If that’s not good enough for you, I won’t be able to provide anything which is.

          • I’m just trying to understand the many versions of heaven that exist in the minds of its believers. One of the reasons why I don’t believe in it, is that the very idea is fraught with problems, enough to make it an obvious product of human wishful thinking, albeit, one not very well thought out. For someone like you who believers he will literally spend an eternity in this place, I’d for one like to know what I was getting into.

          • Luke Breuer

            There is a reason I said the following:

            The most effective way I know of thinking about it is by iterating from where we are, now, to what I think would be ideal. Now, I know that I will introduce more and more error as I depart from where we are now—this is just how the human imagination seems to work. There are so many possibilities that seem valid, except most of them have serious problems with them when rigorously analyzed/lived out.

            The reason for “the many versions of heaven that exist” is the “more and more error”.

            For someone like you who believers he will literally spend an eternity in this place, I’d for one like to know what I was getting into.

            All I can really say is that I’m sure whatever heaven is, it will be much better than what exists now. I cannot give details, because I have only so much ability to reliably guess at what might be a bit better than what we have so far. What I can hope is that I fit into a string of people who made things just a little better. It’s precisely those people who could populate a world where things are being made better and better. So if, for example, God chooses whom to resurrect, whom will he pick? Those who would be able and want to take part in an ideal kingdom, a utopia. I don’t see what’s so complicated about this? I know it doesn’t provide you a reality TV show that could be screened in heaven, but neither do we know precisely what form science will take in 200 years, and yet we work toward better and better.

          • It sounds very Jehovah’s Witness-y.

            For some people who are beautiful, healthy, and wealthy, life on earth is heaven. They can do whatever they want and indulge in whatever pleasures their money can afford. If heaven going to be better for that person too? And if so, how?

          • Luke Breuer

            I don’t know much about Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I cannot comment. As to your beautiful people, you’ve made the mistake of thinking that the highest form of joy comes from getting, instead of from giving. The natural way of the world and a contrast to it is given by Jesus:

            “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:43-48)

            The way of the world is for people to love and associate with similar people. This is the cognitively easiest thing to do. And yet, it creates a series of small, isolated, insulated worlds. This is true slavery: being imprisoned in a small world. There are social hierarchies even within prisons, you know. It’s as if the particular manifestation of wealth, beauty, and power is utterly irrelevant. If the competition is to see which human being is more worthy, more valuable, better than the next, it will manifest in whatever system exists. It’s always convenient for everyone in a given competition to still feel like they’re better than those participating in different competitions.

            What if we gained a sense of value not from what we can earn or take from others (the two aren’t so different), but how much we can enhance others? What if we all chose to live in the same world, with each soul making it bigger than it was before?

          • Suppose a person is that way (that is they do value beauty, power, indulgence etc.), then how are they going to fit into your communist utopia where everyone works towards the greater good and the self is somehow diminished?

            Are they going to be brain washed in heaven? Or are they going to have to be convinced of this utopian vision? If in heaven, I have to be forced to live according to your ideal society, even if I don’t want to, then it isn’t heaven for me.

          • Luke Breuer

            If you don’t want to live in a society where people look after each other’s best interests, you don’t have to live there. Nobody is forcing you. You can go somewhere else and try to form your own community, where everyone is trying to exert power over each other and control each other.

          • In heaven?

          • Luke Breuer

            Sure, but not just heaven. What kind of society would force you to be a part of it past e.g. childhood? A terrible one.

          • So you’re telling me that if I want to be indulgent in sex and other things in heaven, I can be so?

          • Luke Breuer

            If it truly has no bad consequences, no bad impact on you and the other(s) as people, yes. I believe God created things so that we could enjoy them in the right ways. It’s pretty obvious, even to the atheist, that there are bad ways to enjoy things. The Christian generally holds that monogamy on earth is necessary, but what goes on in heaven seems quite unclear; as Jesus hinted.

          • Tell me then, what is different about heaven from life here on earth besides that it lasts forever?

          • Luke Breuer

            Here, people are allowed to forcibly take from others, as well as allowed to let others suffer instead of helping them out. In heaven, that will not be the case.

          • So in heaven what kind of suffering will exist that will require the mandatory help of others?

          • Luke Breuer

            I don’t think suffering itself will exist; I suspect that some sort of distribution of strengths and weaknesses will exist, a distribution which has no bad results as long as everyone gives of his/her strengths and allows others to cover his/her weaknesses. Am I sure of this? Of course not. I am speculating, per your request.

          • Do you think people will retain their individual personalities/traits including some of their bad characteristics?

          • Luke Breuer

            I’m getting a bit tired of just being interrogated. I don’t think much about heaven; I mostly think about positive steps we can take forward, in the here and now. Do you have ideas of your own that you’d like to contribute to the discussion, such that this is a give and take, instead of an interrogation? Despite evidence to the contrary, I don’t just like hearing myself talk.

          • Do you think god gives people options for the afterlife? What if I just want to die?

  • mikespeir

    The first time I heard a Christian protest that “God is just, not fair,” my head spun. It’s like the way advocates of the so-called Framework Hypothesis will tell us that Genesis is “true, but not factual.” Of course, they mean it’s allegorical, but it’s like they want to weaken the connection between truth and fact in our minds so as to prep us to accept absurdity. Red flags start flying for me.

    Can there be justice without fairness? And don’t entangle “fair” with “equal.” Sometimes to be fair we have to take inherent inequalities into account and adjust accordingly. But I think that’s the very process we call “justice.” So without the more fundamental impulse toward fairness there would not be that thing we call “justice.” If God lacks the impulse toward fairness, he can’t be just.

    • Interesting points, Mike.

      I would say Justice is a reaction to fairness. It is the outcome of any given situation, fair or otherwise, which accords appropriate consequences.

      ie it is not fair that person A was genetically more likely to have stolen X so we accorded A a fair punishment which took that into account.

      However, God sets up fairness AND accords justice. He is still accountable for the fairness, though.

      • mikespeir

        I think I would have made that last paragraph one sentence and punctuated it thusly: “However God sets up fairness and accords justice, he is still accountable for the fairness.”

        • Mike: heaven portend, are you intimating that I bang on too much!!?

          • mikespeir

            Goodness no! You’re a philosopher. You’re supposed to be, er, voluble.

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