Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Benevolence and Happiness
My previous post has sparked some lively commentary (starting here and going forward) from one of our resident anonymous theists (Xians). Apparently writing a post about a specific theistic complaint and pointing out that it is a straw man is the same as being dishonest because somehow I'm claiming that happiness equates to what is best for us.
So, let's open up this thread for our anonymous thread hijacker to go ahead and defend his accusations and to defend his positions. For my part, I'll go ahead and open.
It's a rather complicated thing to talk about happiness, what is best for us, and omni-benevolence. So, I will try to keep the discussion from getting too deep and sum up my position.
First we have to think about what we mean by the terms and what conditions we are going to accept. We should conclude that happiness is that which makes people happy. Sometimes people are happy by getting ice cream or having a back rub, while others are made happy by getting handcuffed and whipped. What is "best for us" would be that which enriches or betters our lives. As for conditions, are we talking only about this world, this time, or are we talking long term and any possible world?
This is important, because what is best for us at this moment may not be what is best for us in the future. Also, delayed happiness now may lead to greater happiness in the future, so time is an important factor.
The final important factor is the supposed attributes of god, of which omni-benevolence is one. It's important that we don't leave out the rest, however, since many contradictions arise from trying to accommodate all of god's supposed qualities.
So, should god do what is "best for us," and is that the same as happiness? I think it's quite clear from the above that that question isn't very well answerable without setting the parameters that pertain to the question. It's far easier to talk about god's role in all this. Should he indeed do what is best for us? Let's consider the possibilities. Given the limitations of humans and this world, god may be justified at times in allowing us to learn lessons "the hard way." Of course, I would put limits on that. I wouldn't think that a child shooting himself in the face is a very justifiable way of "learning the hard way," that guns are dangerous. Innocuous things, however, we may be able to look past.
But, the problem with this is that is ignores the roles of the rest of god's attributes. If god has the power to eliminate evil, why create it at all? Would not it have been better to not create humans at all if it meant that evil would also not be created? Why would a perfect god need to create humans at all - god is already perfect and wants for nothing. god can't create more good by resorting to evil, since god was already perfectly good. This leaves us with the conundrum of the problem of evil, which theists have no answer for. A truly perfect and omni-max god would not have created us to begin with and therefore the ideas that happiness is what is best for us would not have ever been formulated. We would never have known about it because we would never have existed.
Now, I happen to enjoy existence, but it's simply incompatible with the idea of an omni-max god. Another way of looking at it would be that true happiness and what is best for us wouldn't even be considerations, because we'd never have to worry about either of them. So, in the end, I object to the theist's accusations and I object to the theist's straw man position.