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Short description: Unlimited or infinite benevolence

Omnibenevolence is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". Some philosophers[who?] have argued that it is impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such a property alongside omniscience and omnipotence, as a result of the problem of evil. However, some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, argue the plausibility of co-existence.

The word is primarily used as a technical term within academic literature on the philosophy of religion, mainly in context of the problem of evil and theodical responses to such, although even in said contexts the phrases "perfect goodness" and "moral perfection" are often preferred because of the difficulties in defining what exactly constitutes "infinite benevolence".


The word omnibenevolence derives from the Latin prefix omni-, meaning "all", and the words bene and volens, meaning "good" and "will", respectively. Thus the term means "all good will".[1]


The term is patterned on, and often accompanied by, the terms omniscience and omnipotence, typically to refer to conceptions of an "all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful" deity. Philosophers and theologians more commonly use phrases like "perfectly good",[2] or simply the term "benevolence". The word "omnibenevolence" may be interpreted to mean perfectly just, all-loving, fully merciful, or any number of other qualities, depending on precisely how "good" is understood. As such, there is little agreement over how an "omnibenevolent" being would behave.

The earliest record for its use in English, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is in 1679. The Catholic Church does not appear to use the term "omnibenevolent" in the liturgy or Catechism.[citation needed] Saint Thomas Aquinas in particular explained in Summa Theologica that God may indirectly want evil in the physical world, when this is necessary for the greater good of the order of the universe.[3]

Modern users of the term include George H. Smith in his book Atheism: The Case Against God (1980),[4] where he argued that divine qualities are inconsistent. However, the term is also used by authors who defend the coherence of divine attributes, including but not limited to, Jonathan Kvanvig in The Problem of Hell (1993),[5] and Joshua Hoffman and Gary Rosenkrantz in The Divine Attributes (2002).[6]

The terminology has been used by some prominent Roman Catholic figures, examples being Bishop Robert Barron, Doctor of Sacred Theology in his 2011 book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith.[7]

Philosophical perspectives

The notion of an omnibenevolent, infinitely compassionate deity has raised certain atheistic objections, such as the problem of evil and the problem of Hell. Responses to such problems are called theodicies and can be general, arguing for the coherence of the divine, such as Swinburne's Providence and the Problem of Evil, or they can address a specific problem, such as Charles Seymour's A Theodicy of Hell.

Proponents of pandeism contend that benevolence (much less omnibenevolence) is simply not required to account for any property of our Universe, as a morally neutral deity which was powerful enough to have created our Universe as we experience it would be, by definition, able to have created our Universe as we experience it. William C. Lane contended that pandeism thereby offered an escape from the evidential argument from evil:[8] In 2010, author William C. Lane contended that:

In pandeism, God is no superintending, heavenly power, capable of hourly intervention into earthly affairs. No longer existing "above," God cannot intervene from above and cannot be blamed for failing to do so. Instead God bears all suffering, whether the fawn's[9] or anyone else's.

Even so, a skeptic might ask, "Why must there be so much suffering,? Why could not the world's design omit or modify the events that cause it?" In pandeism, the reason is clear: to remain unified, a world must convey information through transactions. Reliable conveyance requires relatively simple, uniform laws. Laws designed to skip around suffering-causing events or to alter their natural consequences (i.e., their consequences under simple laws) would need to be vastly complicated or (equivalently) to contain numerous exceptions.


Religious perspectives

The theological justification stems from God's aseity: the non-contingent, independent and self-sustained mode of existence that theologians ascribe to God.[citation needed] For if he was not morally perfect, that is, if God was merely a great being but nevertheless of finite benevolence, then his existence would involve an element of contingency, because one could always conceive of a being of greater benevolence.[10] Hence, omnibenevolence is a requisite of perfect being theology.[11]

Theologians in the Wesleyan tradition (see Thomas Jay Oord) argue that omnibenevolence is God's primary attribute.[citation needed] Some Hyper-Calvinist interpretations reject omnibenevolence.[citation needed] For example, the Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its expression of this stance.

Christian apologist William Lane Craig argues that Islam does not hold to the idea of omnibenevolence.[12]

See also


  1. "Definition of Omnibenevolence" (in en). 
  2. This phrase is used in many notable encyclopedia and dictionary entries, such as:
  3. "Summa Theologiae: The cause of evil (Prima Pars, Q. 49)". 
  4. Smith, George H. (1980). Atheism: The Case Against God. Prometheus Books. ISBN 087975124X. 
  5. Kvanvig, Jonathan L. (1993). The Problem of Hell. Oxford University Press. pp. 4. ISBN 019508487X. 
  6. Hoffman, Joshua; Gary Rosenkrantz (2002). The Divine Attributes. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0631211543.  Used throughout the book.
  7. Robert Barron (2011). Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith. ISBN 978-0307720511. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Lane, William C. (January 2010). "Leibniz's Best World Claim Restructured". American Philosophical Journal 47 (1): 57–84. Retrieved 9 March 2014. 
  9. William Rowe used, as an example of needless suffering, a fawn horribly burned in a forest fire and unable to move, yet suffering for additional days before its death.
  10. "The infinity of God". Catholic Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 2008-05-02. 
  11. "Perfect Being Theology". 
  12. William Lane Craig. "Is the Islamic Concept of God Morally Inadequate?". Reasonable Faith. 

Further reading

  • Basinger, David. "In what sense must God be omnibenevolent?" International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 14, No. 1 (March 1983), pp. 3–15.
  • Bruch, George Bosworth. Early Medieval Philosophy, King's Crown, 1951. pp. 73–77.
  • Flemming, Arthur. "Omnibenevolence and evil". Ethics, Vol. 96, No. 2 (Jan. 1986), pp. 261–281.
  • Oord, Thomas Jay. The Nature of Love: A Theology (2010) ISBN:978-0827208285
  • Oppy, Graham. "Ontological Arguments and Belief in God" (Cambridge University Press) (1995), pp. 171–172.
  • Smith, George H. Atheism: The Case Against God,(Skeptic's Bookshelf) Prometheus Books (June 1980). ISBN:978-0840211156
  • Wierenga, Edward. "Intrinsic maxima and omnibenevolence." International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 10, No. 1 (March 1984), pp. 41–50.

External links