miriam berg

If we imagine that there exists a being which we call God which is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent, we can also examine whether or not there can actually be such a being. To begin with all at once, we may ask how there can be an omnibenevolent being (one which desires and brings about only good) when there is so much suffering and destructiveness in the world. The Lisbon earthquake killed 80,000 people; the black plague killed millions of people; by far the most of earth's inhabitants have always been poor and hungry and riddled with disease. In our own time the '89 earthquake in the East Bay across the Bay from San Francisco killed an unknown number of people when a double-decker freeway collapsed and the upper deck of concrete and steel fell on the lower deck and crushed those people, literally squashing them flat. How can these things be consistent with an omnibenevolent being?

The theologians try to explain these things by saying that there are some things that even an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being cannot do. But that is the same thing as saying that the being under discussion is not omnipotent. A being that was both omnipotent and omnibenevolent being would actively cause only good to exist in the world; the existence of suffering disproves the omnibenevolence, and the existence of harmfulness and destructiveness disproves the omnipotence of even an omnibenevolent being. There remains the possibility of an omnipotent being which is not benevolent, however.

Buddha offered the formula that the end of desire is the end of suffering, which was echoed by Epictetus six centuries later, and by Ken Keyes, Jr. in our own time. But the conditions we call suffering still exist, and the harmfulness and destructiveness of earthquake, fire and storm, disease and accident, lions and tigers still exist, and Buddha's teachings only claim that one can attain a state of being tranquil peaceful, and even happy in the face of all these conditions and events. But the conditions don't disappear.

You might suggest that perhaps the omnibenevolent being allows the conditions to exist as a test or training ground for us to attain this state of tranquillity, or for our own good. But that still disproves the omnibenevolence, since the harmful conditions are allowed to exist. There is no escape from the conclusion that even if there is some being more powerful than human beings, and more benevolent towards living creatures, that being cannot be both all-powerful and all-benevolent. This was expressed by Archibald MacLeish in his play J.B. in the little jingle:
      If God is God he is not good;
      If God is good he is not God.

As to whether this being can be omnipresent, that is everywhere at once, we can note that the size of the universe has steadily increased throughout recorded history. Seven thousand years ago a god or superbeing was conceived of as governing only a single tribe or group of tribes; by 600 BCE the ancient Judeans could conceive of one God over all human beings; and by the year 1600 this being had become expanded so that the whole of the earth was under its governance. In that year, or in about 1604 exactly, Johannes Kepler discovered that the planets move in fixed elliptical orbits around the sun and each orbit was millions of miles in diameter, so that it could be doubted whether even a superbeing who could be called the "God" of the planet Earth could also be "in charge" of all of the planets in their orbits hundreds of millions of miles from the sun. Or else this "God" had to be enormous, occupying quadrillions of cubic miles of mostly empty space.

By 1690 Olaus Roemer had computed the speed of light from the size of the orbit of the planet Jupiter, by observing the times of the transits of the moons of Jupiter when the earth and Jupiter were on the same side of the sun and when the earth and Jupiter were on the opposite sides of the sun. This speed is now figured to be just under 300,000 kilometers per second.

Then with further telescopic study of the stars beyond the planets, it became clear that the so-called "fixed stars" were at unbelievable distances from the sun and its 9 planets measured not even in billions of miles but in billions of a new unit of distance called the "light-year", which is the distance that light travels in a year, at the rate of 300,000 kilometers per second. Here is the calculation:
      1 light-year = 365 days x 86,400 sec./day x 300,000 km/second
      = 9,460,800,000,000 kilometers
      = 9.46 trillion kilometers
and some stars are millions of light-years from the earth! Could even a superbeing which was the "god" of the sun and all its planets ALSO be the god of all these stars at such great distances and any planets and life forms they may have? Can anyone really believe that?

Therefore the size of the universe compels us to believe that no "god" could possibly be omnipresent, that is everywhere. So we conclude that there is simply no being that can be all at once omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent.

But to come back down to earth, so to speak, it is equally doubtful that there is any superbeing which is in charge of the whole earth. A being over only the earth could not have created that earth, since all planets throughout the universe are formed by the same physical laws, and physical laws have nothing to do with suffering and morality. Furthermore, in different climes and times species have evolved which are inimical to each other so that it is more likely that different "gods" were over these different times and climes as far as the evolution of living species is concerned, if you want to suppose that.

The true believer no doubt, in spite of this disproof of the existence of the properties of omnipotence, omnipresence and omnibenevolence, will wish to maintain the belief in the existence of a limited being or presence or force in the affairs of humanity and possibly of all life and all nature which they think of as "God". But this is no more, perhaps, than the belief in "Mother Nature" or the "Goddess Providence", and is still an unwarranted personalization of physical or natural processes. And in fact it is also wishful thinking, that there is some agency which is watching over us, and may intervene on rare occasions to save us from harm. Therefore it is still true, as my friend Findlay Cockrell once put it, that "First there was the world and then there was man, and then there was God." So that, far from there being a God that created us and watches over us, it is we who have created the concept of God; but it is ultimately up to us, we ourselves, to manage our lives and bring about the conditions of good and to discover the means of bringing it about.

                                        miriam berg
(p.s. We may possibly choose to believe that the conditions of ethics and morality are the same for all planets, even for the stars and galaxies most remote from our own; in fact it is difficult to conceive of a consistent and useful morality which does not embrace the principles embodied in our own, of caring for members of our own species and respect for all other species. No intelligent species can fail to see that, for its own species at least, we should do for each other as we would be done by, and that since we are all beings of the same species we should treat each other with consideration and fairness. Species which depend for their survival on strength and physical contests to elevate a leader still need to watch out for the members of their own group. But then the highest level of intelligence begins to realize that other species have just as much "right" to exist as its own; however this opens up a whole new subject about rights and obligations and freedom, moral concepts which may be unique to the human species.)