A common claim heard from followers of both Christianity and Islam is that God, or Allah, is just. God is the ultimate judge of our affairs, punishing the wicked and rewarding the good; depending of course on how one chooses to use their free will. This leads to a contradiction between the concepts, and there are many Christian and Islamic apologetics written in an attempt to overcome this paradox. However, they tend to attempt to reconcile the two from the point of free will while ignoring a much greater flaw. They overlook the claim that God is also all-powerful and if it did indeed create the universe than God must have “intelligently designed” the universe. So, baring these facts in mind as well, can God truly be just?
In order to determine whether God’s punishment is just, first we must look at a few of the characteristics attributed to God by both Christian and Islamic theology. The first characteristic we must look at is that of God being “all-knowing”. Exactly what does God being all-knowing mean?
All-Knowing and All-Powerful
According to Christian and Islamic theology, there is nothing that is unknown to God. He has known all things at all times, and there has never been a time that God did not know all things. Which means that there has never been a time that God did not know the future of our universe. Which means that he knew every evil deed committed by every single evil doer from the beginning of time. In effect, from the moment of creation God knew every single genocide that would happen, he knew every war and killing that would happen in his name, every child that would be raped by a priest. Every single evil thing you could think of, God knew these things would happen before he created the universe.
The more interesting thing to remember is that upon creating the universe, God knew every single moment that he would intervene and what the outcome of that intervention would be. In other words, God already knew that he would have to flood the Earth, God knew that he would have to rain fire down on Sodom and Gomorrah, and he knew the reaction from every parent whose child he would have to take away as a test.
Which leads us on to an interesting question. Could God have created the universe in such a way that these things did not have to happen? Well according to Christian and Islamic theology, yes he could have. According to Christian and Islamic theology God is all-powerful. This means that there is nothing that is beyond God’s power. So God could have created the universe in a different configuration; not only could he have created the universe in a different configuration but he would have known the future of each configuration.
In effect, God chose every single evil deed that has happened and that will happen. He chose a particular configuration where particular people commit particular deeds. To put it a different way, God chose which people he would punish and why he would punish them.
An Oft Overlooked Point
This is the point that Christian and Islamic apologetics tend to overlook. They tend mostly to focus on correlating free will with an all-knowing god. So does putting the two attributes together negate free will?
The answer to that is both yes and no. Free will can still be possible, however, it means that God chose the universe in which the person made that particular choice at that particular time. He could have created a universe where those events did not happen, or he could have chosen a universe where the person made a different choice. In other words, God chose the universe where you picked that particular choice.
Think of it similar to a simulation on a computer. Think of running a simulator that calculates every single possible combinations of universes and events in those universes. This would allow us to both know the future, and allow for free will. However, these universes don’t actually exist. Now imagine that the user of the simulation then goes on to choose their favourite configuration, the one that they would most like to see happen. The creator of the universe would still be all-knowing as far as the future goes, the being inside the universe would still have made a choice out of free will, however ultimately the choice was down to the creator of the universe. This is exactly how it would be if God had created the universe. This point can be further enforced by the claims by Christian and Islamic theology that God intelligently designed the universe.
What both of these points mean is that while a person may have made a choice to commit a particular deed, the choice was ultimately God’s. The only way that the choice could not have been God’s is if he could not have known the future of the universe. However, according to Christian and Islamic theology God cannot know something now that he did not know at the beginning of universe. Further proving the point that any deed committed in this universe, if it was indeed created by God, was ultimately God’s choice.
…Is It Just?
So the question that must be asked is whether or not it is just for God to punish someone for doing something that he had no real choice about doing? Is it just for God to punish someone for doing something that, ultimately, God chose for them to do?
According to the dictionary the definition of just is “Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair”. Is it right and fair to punish someone for something that you forced them to do?
To put it another way, if a scientist created an android whose sole purpose was to attempt to kill that scientist, would it be right and fair to punish him for attempting to kill the scientist?
Any reasonable person would of course come to the conclusion that it would not be fair to punish that android for performing that deed, after all it was the scientist who ultimately made the choice. The same logic then should be applied to God, meaning that the only logical and rational response to the question of “Is God’s punishment just?” is no, God’s punishment is not just.
Which means that either God does not exist, as a being with the attributes assigned to it by Christian and Islamic theology can not be all-knowing, all-powerful and just, or that the Bible nor the Qur’an are the word of god.
Hi, I’m Dave. As you can already tell, I’m one of the authors at AiR, as well as a member of the podcast. I’m also the Dave you see on our live streams on Twitch and YouTube. I am an atheist. I don’t use the ‘lack of belief’ definition though, and use the ‘belief God does not exist’ definition for me. I have always been an atheist, and have never been part of a religion.
While I do enjoy discussions around the existence of God, I try to post a wider range of content here. My focus is mainly on philosophy, as that is the topic I enjoy. I have a BA in Philosophy and Psychology, and am waiting on the results for my MA in Philosophy. Will find out in December whether I have been awarded the degree!
This is why my posts tend to focus more on the philosophy side of things. I try to post a wider range of topics than just those surrounding theism and atheism. You will also find articles discussing arguments from atheists that I find to be lacking, or poorly argued. This is mostly because I want to see the atheist community improve its arguments, and to see atheists give stronger and better arguments.
Hopefully you will enjoy some of my content, and I hope even more that it makes you look at certain arguments and ideas in a different way. Plus, hopefully some atheists that dismiss philosophy out of hand might actually see it’s more interesting than they first though. Philosophy is an awesome subject!