How can we define god?

What is god?

Let’s agree on a definition: “omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, benevolent and personal”. With that in mind, what is he really like?

Omnipotent means all-powerful. By definition, there is nothing he cannot do. God can do anything. « Can » is important, we are talking about potential. « Anything » is important, it really means anything! Even if you take out simple contradictions such as a square circle, infinitely powerful is hard to swallow. You pray for your team, another fan prays for his. Can he answer your prayers?

Omniscient means all-knowing. God knows everything, everything that has happened, everything that will happen. There is no « can happen », since he knows what will happen. Didn’t we just say that he can do anything?

How can he judge you for what you do, if he set up everything, knowing you would do exactly that? Everything is predetermined, since he knows what will happen. An all-knowing god can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him? An all-knowing god knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does god create people who he knows will end up in hell? How can he answer your prayers, if he knows what will happen, no matter what?

Omnipresent means being everywhere at once. Not just here, next to you, everywhere. Can that mean anything else but that god is everything? God is every particle of matter, anywhere in the universe. God is us too. God is the devil, god is everything evil.

Benevolent means is good, does good things. That seems easy enough. But how do you define good? Is letting people go to hell, good? If you are god, knowing everything that will happen, at that level, is there a simple definition of good?

It’s even more interesting when we try to combine these characteristics.

Omnipotent and omniscient. If you know everything, including what you are going to do next, how can you be able to do anything? You can only do what you are going to do.

Omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent. Why does evil exist?

God knows how to get rid of evil and suffering, god has the power to do it and does what is good. Yet there is evil and suffering. Either god does not know how, cannot, chooses not to or doesn’t care (or doesn’t exist).

If he doesn’t know how, he is not omniscient. If he cannot, he is not omnipotent. If he chooses not to or doesn’t care, he is not benevolent.

« Either god can do nothing to stop catastrophes, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist. God is either impotent, evil or imaginary. Take your pick, and choose wisely. » Sam Harris

So how do we define god?

This isn’t a trick question. It is fundamental. How can you believe in something so important, the most important thing in the world, if you can’t even come up with a coherent picture in your mind? If your cop out is “he works in mysterious ways”, you are just in denial.

God does not fit with either logic or reality.

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  • Ryan

    You shared an interesting quote from Sam Harris, ” Either god can do nothing to stop catastrophes, or he doesn’t care to, or he doesn’t exist.” But Sam conveniently left out another option that he wasn’t interested in. The argument is known as “the deductive problem of evil” but few philosophers put it forward because it has been defeated in recent years by philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga. It can be restated as follows:

    1. God is omnipotent and omniscient
    2. God is omnibenevolent
    3. There is objective evil
    4. For any evil that God allows, God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing this evil, even if we do not know what this reason is in some cases.

    So each of us as people who have been hurt (and have hurt others), are certainly within our “rights” to say that this argument is not entirely satisfying, but we can’t claim that its not logically consistent. I think my wife had a clear insight when, seeing I’d been hurt badly, replied, “Ryan, look at it this way, usually the ones that hurt you most are lashing out because they too are hurting deep inside.” So I guess the question for each of us to work through is, what is it that’s hurting? What do I blame God for?

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