Thinking Outside of the God Box

Disclaimer: I'm not a theologian, a philosopher or even religious for that matter. Consider this post a mental exercise.

In 341 BC on the Aegean island of Samos, a child was born to an Athenian couple, Neocles and Chaerestrate. The child, unable or unwilling to name himself at the time, was given the name Epicurus, presumably by his parents.

Epicurus, born a bit after Plato's death and a contemporary of Alexander the great, is credited among other things with the best presentation of "the problem of evil" - the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil and suffering with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient god.

Lucius Caecilius Firmianus, an advisor to the Roman emperor Constantine I (or just Constantine probably, back then), describes this presentation in his work De ira Dei, "On the Wrath of God":

God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?

This question by Epicurus makes the (reasonable) assumption that omnipotence is a global term, rather than a relative term.

But what if omnipotence is relative?

A common trope in the Sci-Fi genre used to explain wormholes involves one of the characters drawing a path on a piece of paper, which is supposed to symbolize a long space flight distance that would normally not be a feasible journy for humans. The character then folds the paper in half (with each end of the flight path in relatively the same area on each side) and pokes a hole in the paper with a pen connecting both ends with a "shorter" path, the hole in the paper being a wormhole.

Building on this methaphore, we could consider our existance to be in the confines of the peice of paper. We're goverened by certain rules in a closed system that to us are 100% of the realm of possibility. A being external to this system, like the character demonstrating wormholes, could then be considered omtipotent relative to the paper, being able to manipulate it outside of the confines of the closed system that the paper is aware of and "break" the rules of the closed system.

No one ever considers how the paper feels about this

Assuming the character also has a set of rules that govern it's existance in an external system to the paper, the character could later be rendered unable to reach the paper for any number of reasons. In this case the character is still omnipotent (in nature) in relation to the paper, but can no longer manipulate it.

Returning to the paradox of evil, if a divine being, governed by a set of rules that are part of an external system relative to our universe, would be rendered unable to reach or influence us, said being would still be omnipotent in relation to our existence, and could still be willing to prevent evil without doing so. The being could also still be omnicient, being aware of our existence from afar.

While this isn't meant as a logical argument to disprove the problem of evil (as it suffers from the ambiguity logical fallacy, basically changing the meaning of the word omnipotence to disprove the paradox), I personally see it as an interesting thought experiment as we're used to thinking about diving beings in absolute terms rather than relative terms.

Yoav Lavi

Yoav Lavi