God is not great

Religion isn't something I particularly touch on that often unless it strays into the realm of reality. i.e. testable claims. This time though I want to pose a question; How can God be as powerful as He is claimed to be when things like the Feb 22nd quake happen? The Dean of the ChristChurch Cathedral is on record saying;

The earthquake was not an act of God. The earthquake was the planet doing its thing the way the planet does.

To the Dean and any Christians out there;

You don't get it both ways. Your God is either all powerful, all forgiving, all knowing etc, or He's not. If he is all these things then he knew the quake was going to happen. It was within His power and ability to guide the "good" people out of harms way. It was within His power and ability to prevent the quake from happening at all. But that's not what happened. Instead He saw fit to take the lives of innocents, those too young to have had the chance to piss Him off. Instead He saw fit to take the lives of good people like Joseph Pohio, struck down while trying to shield an injured woman.

Your God is not merciful, forgiving or great and this is just more evidence against the character described. More evidence against the likelihood of the character existing at all.

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It is an interesting mental exercise for a wet Sunday afternoon when you have finished your library book, there is nothing on TV, you are not hungry, the computer is away being fixed, you have been and She has gone to sleep to just sit and imagine just what a universe without evil would be like.

Reproduction would still be interesting but people would be born perfect and would never die. The Earth would not become more and more crowded as the population expanded but would quietly increase in size to accommodate all of the new people. There would be no disease, no accidents, no politicians and of course no boredom because boredom is also an evil thing. Every one would be happy. There would probably be lots of wars to keep us occupied but nobody would get hurt and the morning after the after war party there would be no hang overs.

Everyone would have all of the money they needed and could work for pleasure if they wished. There would be no crime and no Labour Party. The World would not warm up or cool down unless it needed to.

And so on and on till She wakes up. Daydreaming is more fun than drinking.

Could a physical environment

Could a physical environment which is never at odds with humanity be logically possible? Could a universe exist where the ground becomes soft whenever we trip and fall on it, yet hard whenever we wanted to walk on it? I believe it could, but only if it contained a single person. As soon as you get two people, their needs could potentially conflict, and the universe would implode the first time someone wanted rain, while the other wanted sunshine.

Debates about whether omnipotence means you should be able to do anything at all, no matter how illogical, remind me of The Omnipotence Paradox - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omnipotence_paradox
I tend to agree with C.S. Lewis, in that being unable to do something which is a logical contradiction doesn't mean you aren't omnipotent. I tend to think that a planet earth without earthquakes is a logical contradiction of the laws of physics, which logically arise from the nature of the earth itself. Should the universe exist at all? Shouldn't a better one exist in its place? I feel I know too little about the universe to even begin to answer that.

As soon as you get two

As soon as you get two people, their needs could potentially conflict, and the universe would implode the first time someone wanted rain, while the other wanted sunshine.

Given that our experience of reality isn't necessarily as it actually is but rather our brain's virtual reconstruction based on our sensory input this mightn't need to be a problem as long as you allow for the virtual reconstruction to be arbitrarily distant from how objective reality actually is. Alternatively you could also throw objective reality away.

I was surprised by the Dean's

I was surprised by the Dean's comment too, as they came across as quite far from mainstream Christian theology. Sufficiently far that I suspect he said more and something has been lost in reporting two sentences. If I get a chance, I'll ask him about it on Friday at the memorial service, but he's understandably very busy at the moment.

This whole area of theology is known as the Problem of Evil, or more formally as theodicy (a term I've just learnt was coined by Gottfried Leibniz). As you'd imagine, there's many centuries of literature on the topic from some truly subtle (or devious depending on your perspective) thinkers, so if I run over some of the arguments here, please be aware that I may be butchering some of them terribly. My philosophical experience doesn't go past the introductory level.

The basic argument from evil against the existence of God runs as follows:

1. God is omnipotent (all-powerful)
2. God is omniscient (all-seeing)
3. God is omnibenevolent (all-loving)
4. A being with these three qualities would not allow bad things to happen
5. Bad things do happen
Therefore, God does not exist

I believe this is generally recognised as a logically valid argument. That is, the statements fit together properly, so if you disagree with the conclusion, you need to find one or more of the statements to disagree with.

The Abrahamic religions generally hold statements 1-3 to all be true. There are some exceptions in the Bible where God is referred to as not seeing certain things or not loving certain people, and you occasionally see folk versions of Christianity that ignore one or more of them, but for the most part serious Jews, Christians and Muslims hold to all three. This is why the Dean's statement sounds odd: on the face of it, he appears to be suggesting that God couldn't have stopped the earthquake, which would contradict omnipotence.

Other religious traditions, especially polytheistic ones, do vary on points 1-3. The argument wouldn't apply, for example, to the Greek gods, who don't love everybody, don't see everything, and don't have power to prevent each other doing things (except for Zeus, who is sometimes represented as omnipotent).

It's statements 4 and 5 where the debate really focuses. There are many many arguments, mostly variations on themes of humility or appeals to free will.

The approach that makes most sense to me is to question point 5, and ask what justification we have for believing that bad things really do happen. This may seem absurd initially, and was parodied by Voltaire in Candide as the position of Dr Pangloss ("everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds"). But it's actually an argument that respects the limits of human knowledge and asks whether we're really in a position to make absolute judgements about what is good or bad. Certainly lots of things happen that we don't like, but that doesn't mean that they're actually bad for us. We may be something like children who hate taking medicine because it tastes bad even though it's good for us. A loving God can see that the medicine is good for us, and won't deny it to us even though don't want it.

For this position to work, you really need to believe in life after death, or at least the possibility of it. If you do, then the fact that someone has died can't in itself be taken as evidence that a bad thing has happened.

Good old Leibniz, totally one

Good old Leibniz, totally one of my favourite mathematicians. However I think that the basic argument predates him. I have heard

Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot;or he can, but does not want to.
If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent.
If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked.
If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world

which is basically the same argument, dates back and is attributable to Epicurus.

Edit: I just noticed you said Leibniz coined the term for the problem, not the problem. Mea culpa.