For quite a long time, this has sat in a dusty corner of Scienda’s back room: The question of Epicurus and the Scotsman.
If God is willing to prevent evil, but is not able to, then He is not omnipotent.
If He is able, but not willing, then He is malevolent.
If He is both able and willing, then whence cometh evil?
If He is neither able nor willing, then why call Him God?
These objections to the idea of a good God watching over our world resonate timelessly. Without reference to antiquity, they fall from the lips and pens of modern Everyday Joe:
Does God fail to be benevolent or to be omnipotent? He’s under no responsibility to be either of those things, but for there to be starving people on the earth there is clearly a lack of any one sentience possessing both benevolence and omnipotence…Why do bad things happen to good people?
Job. Job should be all I have to say on the issue.
-Commenter at The Areopagus
And herein lies the root of it. Are people basically good? Was Job basically good? On what grounds do we argue the goodness of humanity?
As Shakespeare would say, Aye, there’s the Scotsman.
If we redefine humanity as basically good, we must argue “no true Scotsman” to account for evil actions, or we must redefine good and evil. Both can be supported with limitations, but neither provides a universal theorem of the nature of humankind as a species, nor the origin of moral values and duties.
Indeed, vast systems of behaviourism, humanism, and New Age enlightenment-seeking focus on reforming humanity to be true to its better self, to step above the inconsistency that is us. One might even say, so do all religious systems man has ever designed.
But even that impetus to self-betterment isn’t sufficient. In order to bridge the gap fully, we must also reform the standard of good on the basis of mankind’s sensibilities and practices, and argue that no true good would ever fly in the face of those sensibilities.
Yet, if we reshape the brute presence of good and evil in both mankind and the surrounding world, we risk blinding ourselves to gratuitous, arbitrary, overwhelming goodness when it comes. And it does. Its documented presence and our difficulty recognizing it are an early warning system that something is awry with the moral compass of good men.
Thus, no true Scotsman sees the goodness of the divine nature.
May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar… -Rom. 3:4
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