The Passion of the Atheist - The Issue of Benevolence (part1)

If one has the attribute of benevolence then they act with kindness and compassion regardless of whether it is their duty to do so or not.

The Issue of Benevolence (part 1)

The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolence as: "Well meaning and kindly". This definition is all well and good when applied to human standards because we are limited in just how much we can do. But when it comes to the notion of god it takes on a new dimension. You see, in defining the attributes of god, the ideas of omnipotence and omniscience are also at play when dealing with the notion of benevolence. So while humans most certainly are limited in what we can do to help one another, god by all accounts is not. According to the very nature of what god is, at least in the Judeo-Christian sense, he has the power to do as much as he wants for others. This concept then moves beyond a simple well-meaningness or kindly nature into the realm of what I label supreme benevolence. When dealing with this idea we must understand that since god's very nature is said to be such that there is nothing beyond his power, that for such a being to simply allow terrible things to happen when he has the power to intercede shows a marked lack of benevolence.

Now apologists will say that we have free will and so it isn't the place of god to intercede on our behalf. Of course this same logic can be applied to humans as well. We could say that although we may be benevolent towards our fellow man, if we see a man drowning he has free will and chose to put himself in that position. If we then simply sit back and allow him to drown this would not impugn our benevolence by this same apologist logic. We could say that it is not our place to feed a starving child and simply let them die of their own free will. Of course this makes a mockery of the very idea of benevolence.

So let's not dabble in the apologist rhetoric. Let's instead be honest. If one has the attribute of benevolence then they act with kindness and compassion regardless of whether it is their duty to do so or not. We do not save the drowning man because it is our responsibility, but rather we do so out of kindness and compassion and in doing so we prove our benevolence not by word but by deed. Should we expect any less from a supposedly omnipotent being who can do anything, including breaking the laws of physics? I find that it is not unreasonable to expect such if there truly were a benevolent god who cares about the plight of humanity.

There are many however who will claim that their god has in fact interceded on their behalf. The man whose home is passed over by a tornado may claim that his god protected and saved him. The one person who survives a plane crash may claim their god protected and saved them. But in each of these cases there is a glaring and disturbing fact right at the surface. You see, in each of these cases a god supposedly helps an individual while letting many others suffer or die. The question one is forced to ask then is what makes those people more important than all the others? Surely amongst those who were not granted a miracle there were plenty of people who believed just as strongly and fervently in their god, and yet their god did not do for them as he supposedly did for these others.

What is at play here is what is known as an ontological fallacy. It is a presuppositional fallacy that poses the notion that an individual is somehow the center of the universe. In its most basic form it can be equated to saying, "I'm so special that an omnipotent god has not only made this world just for me, but that he also looks after and takes care of me above all others". We can also say that within this fallacy is also an appeal to emotion fallacy because the notion itself appeals to the human emotional desire to feel special, important, and needed in some way.

Now, I'm not posing that you aren't special. But I most certainly am posing the notion that you are not the center of the universe and that you aren't so special that some omnipotent being holds you to be of greater importance than anyone else. That notion is ludicrous in the extreme.

But if we look back through the history of religion we'll well find that this ontological fallacy is actually the very foundation of at least the Judeo-Christian religion. From Noah to Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Moses and so on, each of these men supposedly claimed that their god showed favor on them, even spoke to them personally and that this gave them authority to speak on said god's behalf. Furthermore, this ontological fallacy is also what the preacher sells to the masses in order to entice them into belief. It isn't a hard sell either, given that it is a direct appeal to human emotion and the human desire to feel special and important.

But all this logical talk fails to really address the emotional aspect at play here on both sides. So in the next segment I want to examine these emotions at play on both the part of the theist and the atheist and really examine which of the two emotional sides carries more weight. I believe an objective look at these differing views and the emotional weight they carry will bring us to an understanding that only one side carries any justifiable weight at all.


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