Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?

Mike Johnson asks:

Question for discussion: If morality is exclusively human in origin and relevance, why do we judge the God of the Bible with it?

Explained:

On the premise that human moral values and obligations are a product of human evolution, they would necessarily only apply to human beings and useful in governing and judging human behavior, and would be subject to change and further “evolve” over time.

Many atheists object to what they conclude are “immoral” acts committed by God described in the Bible, i.e. murder, commanding genocide, incest, slavery, etc.

How can morality that only applies to contemporary humans be used to make moral judgments against a hypothetical Creator God, who, if He existed, would not be bound to moral laws from human conceptualization, based on descriptions of immoral acts that the Bible portrays as occurring thousands of years ago? Doesn’t this show that even the atheist who would make such objections holds that morality is universal and absolute regardless of time, place or person, thereby placing the origin of moral values and obligations somewhere outside the scope of human convention?

71 Responses to Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?

  1. The Atheist says:

    Excellent question! First, let me address a minor detail before moving on to the main point of your question. I think other animals share a sense of morality with us humans. Some of the great apes like bonobos and chimpanzees for example, demonstrate a sense of morality, albeit a less complex and nuanced sense than we humans have.

    The point of your question as I understand it is this: if morality is a human thing and is the product of evolution, vs. an absolute thing or a divine thing, then how can we humans judge the morality of God who is not a product of evolution and who is divine? Did I state your question correctly?

    If I believed that God who create me existed, I would defer to his definition of morality, regardless of how out of step it seemed with my own sense of morality. But to reach that point, I have to first believe that a Creator God exists.

    Atheists don’t judge God’s morality. In fact, anyone who judges God can’t be an atheist because atheists believe that gods don’t exist. To judge God, you have to first believe that he exists.

    To atheists, gods are hypothetical; they exist only in concept and not in reality. I and other atheists judge the soundness of the concepts. If for example one believes that it is immoral to torture someone for eternity, but conceives of a moral God who tortures some people for eternity, then that concept of God is flawed.

    As you point out, when we look at ancient writings like the Bible, we judge many of the acts it describes (genocide, etc) to be immoral. However atheists (and other non-Christians) think that the Bible was written by humans with no divine guidance, and we assume that the writers didn’t consider those acts to be immoral. They expected that those acts could be performed by a righteous God.

    Morality isn’t absolute or even constant. We see that it changes over time and that it is different across different cultures. Our modern, Western sense of morality is different in certain respects from that of the writers of the Bible. Despite important differences among different cultures, morality by and large is consistent. It is certainly not perfect and so it doesn’t seem to have a divine origin (in fact it appears to have evolutionary origins). However it is consistent enough for societies to form rules, laws, and religious norms based on this common sense.

    • Mike Johnson says:

      @The Atheist, thank you for your response. As far as animal “morality”, I think there are key distinctions between what we observe in animals and what we know of how we perceive morality, and it isn’t just a matter of degree or nuance. When something is mauled to death on Animal Planet, we don’t just get the sense that it is somewhat less murderous. We don’t think of it as murder or evil at all. When humans kill each other, it’s completely different. Biblical Christianity teaches that animals were not created with a sense of right and wrong, ability to reason and consider consequences, but rather react on programmed instincts that help them survive. It’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on in animal brains, but so far what we’ve observed hasn’t shown moral awareness as we experience it.

      I won’t go further on that here because I don’t think it is relevant to this question, except to say that obviously humans do not apply moral judgment on animals because I think we recognize the gap—a gap that is perceived as even greater than the one separating human morality and the morality of a hypothetical God, judging by how many atheists’ tend to talk about God in human moral terms.

      You have correctly restated the question, and I do understand that on the atheist view God does not exist, so any description or attributes of God would be purely hypothetical. When you say “Atheists don’t judge God’s morality “, I think that is the only logical recourse. To have any real opinion on God’s moral actions would mean applying our moral views on a Being who, IF He existed, would be out of our jurisdiction so to speak.

      However, so many atheists I have talked to have expressed their disdain for the type of God that they see in the Bible that I can’t help but think they do not see it as illogical to morally judge that God concept. I think they cannot help but think in those terms because of the universal nature of morality. Even if you don’t “defer to [God’s] definition of morality” on paper because He is theoretical, you still make a real moral evaluation of Him. The “concept of God is flawed” only if we have Him doing something not in line with our own morality.

      If “Morality isn’t absolute or even constant” as you say, this presents an even larger problem. Even if a clear-thinking atheist in the West is judging the humans who wrote about God as immoral, rather than the God concept, they are applying contemporary morality to another culture on the other side of the world for immoral concepts written centuries or millenia ago. On this view, there is really no reason to have any kind of moral opinion on what the Bible says. Yet we all do. I think this supports the idea that all humans have the expectation that morality applies to everyone regardless of belief, time or location.

      Regarding belief, I think thereis a fundamental difference in how atheist and theists in general define morality. When you say “Morality… changes over time and that it is different across different cultures” you are talking about our perception of moral law or our own beliefs on what is right and wrong. I believe this is because of the limits you put on moral law; they do not come from or extend beyond humanity.

      The Bible says that all people are created in the image of a moral Creator (Gen. 1:27) who wrote moral law on our hearts, of which our consciences bear witness (Rom. 2:15). Morality represents the laws we seek to follow, not how we interpret them or the beliefs we form about them. On atheism, our interpretation of them is all we have because there is no external source. It’s our interpretation of moral law that has changed over time and varies from culture to culture. What you see as minor differences in evolved understanding but “by and large” consistent morality via evolution, I view as different understanding of many moral laws but a general agreement on our understanding of the most obvious moral laws. Different interpretations do not change the truth of what’s being interpreted. Sometimes we get it wrong. :)

    • The Atheist says:

      Christian teachings notwithstanding, we do observe that animals act as if they feel guilty when they have transgressed the “clan rules”. Christian teachings notwithstanding again, we observer that different animals do reason to varying degrees. You made a claim here that I’d like to press you on a bit further. You said that “so far what we’ve observed hasn’t shown moral awareness as we experience it.” There is research in animal morality that is readily accessible. Do you disagree with it, or are you unaware of it?

      When we judge the morality of anyone, including the various authors of the Bible who wrote thousands of years earlier, we are clearly measuring their sensibilities against our own. We should respect that others may have morals that our different than our own, but all to often we don’t.

      But this is different in a significant way than the argument against Christian claims that the morality of the Bible is absolute. We can point out actions and concepts that are clearly immoral to the Christian (e.g., genocide), and ask him to reconcile that with reasons he accepts the actions or concepts as absolutely moral. He has to either admit that genocide is moral, or that the Bible depicts God as less than absolutely moral.

      At the end of your post, when you talk about the moral Creator of the Bible who wrote the moral law on our hearts, you seem to favor the position that I said I would adopt if I believed in a Creator – that I wouldn’t be in a position to judge the morality of my Creator who created my sense of morality. That would put me in the difficult position of admitting that “genocide is good”. You also said that “it’s our interpretation of moral law that has changed over time and varies from culture to culture.”, and not morality per se. If we take an example, genocide, what is another interpretation, perhaps the original interpretation, in which genocide can be seen as moral?

      • Mike Johnson says:

        I’m aware of the research on ‘animal morality’ but I disagree with the conclusion that animals are moral agents. I agree that there are similarities in appearance and behavior (common designer=common traits), but I think evolutionist presuppositions can cause us to project human reasoning and morality onto animals that “act as if they feel guilty” when there are other plausible explanations (i.e. fear response). I agree that animals are “morally considerable” by human moral obligation because God has charged humans with careful stewardship of HIs creation (Gen. 1:26). However, animals lack the ability for moral transactions; to make moral judgments and act on them. I would agree with Kant’s ethics on human understanding of personhood and self-reflection, further developed by Korsgaard. The truth a Christian has to consider is that scripturally, God made man, not the animals, in His own image. Our uniqueness supports this, as does the fact that moral expectations of humans are far and away greater than any animal (and it is generally considered immoral to act like an animal, unless you’re an animal). If human moral obligations were not universal, would we care so much about other species? Are we repulsed by animal cruelty because of our evolved instinctual reciprocal tendencies toward other species which make us aware of the importance of a balanced ecosystem and diversity of life, or is it because it’s just plain wrong?

        To clarify, re: “morality of the Bible”… The Bible isn’t the source of moral absolutes; God is. The Bible describes God’s moral nature. The Bible is both descriptive and prescriptive—just because something occurs in it does not mean it is telling us to do it. Some things only God has the right to do. “The Christian…has to either admit that genocide is moral, or that the Bible depicts God as less than absolutely moral” is another false dichotomy. God, as the author of life, has the right to give it and take it, and as God He is likely to have reasons for doing so that we will not know or understand. There may be good outcomes in loss of many lives that outweigh the good if that life were to remain. Being finite, there’s no way we could know. Consider that when God flooded the earth, almost all life, including those of babies and young children, was wiped out. Given that “man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time” just before the Flood (Gen. 6:5), are we sure that a sovereign God allowing those children to grow up in that wicked world wouldn’t have been the greater cruelty? Admittedly this is a hard concept for Christians, but if God exists as He is described in the Bible, taking life or allowing death and suffering (then and now) for His purposes is God’s sovereign right, and He doesn’t contradict His nature in doing so (Numbers 23:19). In the cases where God directed the destruction of certain nations as judgment and ‘innocent’ death resulted, I believe He had morally good reasons, even though I’m agnostic as to what they are.

        On the atheist view, nobody claims to not know what good is because Christians can’t fully comprehend or thoroughly explain God. There also should be no reason that I would have to provide a defense for God’s actions, since on atheism, morality is personal or at least localized to groups and/or eras of time. Clearly moral obligations are not prescribed by us; they are transcendent and over-arching enough to encompass the grandest Being imaginable. You may claim that “good” evolves, but absolutely nobody lives that way. The fact that there is debate over anything proves that everyone assumes we are all bound by the same rules and we have no livable expectation that basic morals will be different in the future. There would be no purpose in trying to persuade others to the right view if we didn’t all presuppose a universal standard for what is right. On the atheist view, there is nothing that guarantees my moral viewpoint is any less true than yours, so opposing views and paradoxical ideas can theoretically agree. But we all know better, because clearly we disagree. :)

        A thought experiment on moral evolution: Imagine the very first act or thought or inclination conceived or performed by some ancestor in our evolutionary past, whether or not that being thought of it as ‘moral.’ We have to look back on whatever and whenever that event was and define it as the beginning of human morality. At the point where morality in this sense first appeared, by what standard do we call it moral?

      • The Atheist says:

        Sorry to take so long to respond – I had an enormous about of work fall in my lap over the past several days.

        Let me try to answer all of the questions you had for me, and to expand on my view a bit, and also ask a few questions of my own:

        I thought as you did, that the discussion of animal morality was a bit of an aside, but I think it’s turning out to be a substantial part of this discussion. So I’d like to pursue it a bit more with your permission. When you say that you disagree with the conclusion of animal morality, do you disagree because you find aspects of the research that is flawed? If so, what are some flaws? Or is it because you find that there is a leap of logic? If so, where do you find the leap? Or do you agree with the research and the logic but simply don’t like the conclusion?

        Which evolutionist presuppositions to you disagree with?

        My understanding of Kant (and Korsgaard) is that he defines a Person as having the ability to reason. Do you agree that animals can reason and that some humans, like certain mentally impaired humans, can’t? Would you consider humans that can’t reason Persons? To provide some context to my question, Kant thinks it’s OK to shoot his dog because the dog is not a Person.

        Every species is unique, not just humans. Then our uniqueness doesn’t serve as evidence that man is made in God’s image. I would agree with a statement that it is immoral for us to act like certain other animals, but not your more general statement that it is immoral to act like an animal. For one thing, we do act like animals, a very specif type of animal. For another thing, we might think that it’s OK to be as gentle as a lamb, wise as an owl, or graceful as a gazelle.

        Morality isn’t universal. Some people care nothing for other species. Others like Jains for example, care deeply about species that you are I don’t care about. Jain monks are careful as they walk not to step on insects for example. The reason that any of us cares about other species is that we can empathize with them. We feel their pleasure and pain to a certain degree. In some cases this is because we share enough gestures and vocalizations so that we can recognize to a certain extent how the animal feels. In other cases, it’s simply a recognition of our similarities; for example we all have a brain and nerves and can feel pleasure and pain. We therefore project what might cause pleasure or pain to these species.

        When you say that the Bible isn’t the source of moral absolutes, God is, it seems to be a distinction without a difference. The Bible tells us everything we know about the Christian God; we don’t know about God outside of the Bible. In addition, if you believe that God is the Word on some level, and that the Bible is the Word of God, then the difference fades even more. In any case, when we talk about the nature of God, we are always talking about what the Bible’s says about the nature of God. Then the Bible must indeed be the source for any Christian claim of moral absolutes.

        When we’re talking about absolute morality, we’re not talking about who has the right to do what, we’re talking about the morality of an act. Is killing always immoral? We’ll probably agree that it is not. For example, we may say that killing an attacker in self defense or in defense of another is moral. But how about killing a child in the mother’s womb? Is that ever moral? If so, under what circumstances? If your answer to this and other similar questions is “when God does it, because God has the right to do anything”, then you are also saying that something is moral because God does it and not because there is an absolute moral standard that God obeys. For example, if God decided to punish all humanity for all eternity in a construct such as hell, regardless of “salvation status”, would that be a moral act? If God created all that exists including us, and if he is completely sovereign, then he has the right to do it and he can declare it moral. Do you agree? However Your admissions that “we know innately what good means”, that “as moral agents can recognize [good] universally”, and that “you can know God is good by the self-evident experience of good.” seem diametrically opposed to this theory that God is sovereign and even his acts that don’t seem “good” are still good, merely because God does them. This is precisely the dilemma we touched on earlier.

        You say that God cannot change who He is. We have the ability to change who we are, is God less able than we are? And if he is able, does God have the right to change who he is?

        Regarding your comment that no one lives as if our concept of “good” evolves, I think that’s right: we live by current moral standards. The recognition that our standards have evolved doesn’t seem to dampen our desire to live by standards we have today. Some of us do consider that our sense of morality will most likely continue to evolve, but that still doesn’t change our desire to live by our current standards.

        The reason we try to persuade others to live by our sense of morality is that it is our sense of morality and we feel strongly that it is right. For example we are offended by suicide bombing, even if we know that the bombers believe their acts are moral (they are obeying the words of God), we would like them to see from our point of view that it is not.

        I think there is a way to say that my moral viewpoint is less true than yours (and vice versa). if we begin with questions of why certain acts are more or less beneficial, we are likely to find common ground. We can compare our theories about why one act is better than the other in the context of which is more beneficial under what set of circumstances. For example, if we agree that doing God’s will far outweighs any other benefit, then we might agree that the crusades, the inquisition, and suicide bombings are moral acts. Or if we’re unable to agree on the benefit of doing God’s will, we might agree that the balance of a peaceful society and respect for the individual are paramount. Paradoxical ideas can’t theoretically agree, at least not in a rational discussion. However agreement on ideas doesn’t necessarily depend on the the acceptance of any one moral view over the other.
        It seems clear enough to each of us when intent does not involve morality (like when an ant carries a leaf to the ant bed), and it also seems clear enough to each of us when intent does involve morality (a woman returns a wallet that she finds on the sidewalk). The fact that there is a continuum of morality, and that there is no clear boundary in that continuum, doesn’t undermine our ability to recognize clear cases where morality is or is not involved. A view where boundary cases can undermine any evidence is a recipe for insanity. For example it allows us to call a grain of sand a “mountain”. To very liberally paraphrase Mat 17:20 – if you have faith, you can move a mountain the size of a mustard seed. :) The fact that the earliest moral intent is difficult to identify doesn’t undermine the idea that morality appeared at some point in the past, and that it has evolved to be what we experience today.
        I think you are right that there are systems that we might call “religions” that don’t accept a system of one or more gods. We could take a more liberal definition to include other types of belief in the spiritual, but I’m not sure how that would change the conversation here. I think it’s reasonable to consider Buddhism a religion in general, since most forms of Buddhism incorporate a belief in the spiritual (Buddhism’s is grounded in a concept of a cycle of death and rebirth). The agreement across sects about the nature of God doesn’t seem necessary to define a belief system as a religion. At most it means that the sects are simply different religions. As you point out, Jains don’t believe in a creator or destroyer God, but they do believe there is a “divine”. I think you could say that there is an area of overlap between atheism and certain religions like Buddhism and Jainism in that the thing that defines an atheist is the lack of belief in a god. One can believe in an afterlife without believing in a god and in that degree, some subset of atheists can overlap some subset of secular Buddhists. However I don’t think you can equate atheism to religions like Christianity and then draw conclusions on that basis.

        • Mike says:

          Sorry for MY delay in responding. After a week of no reply I wrongly assumed we were done and must’ve missed a notification until I happened to come back and check yesterday. :) Anyway, Happy 2012 to you and I’m glad to see a very well thought out response. I’ll do my best to address all points.

          Addressing this question first: “Which evolutionist presuppositions to you disagree with?”

          I don’t agree that evolution occurred on a macro level that explains the development of life on earth over millions of years from a spontaneously generated living cell. There simply isn’t evidence to support that which cannot be also used to support the Biblical concept that life was created to reproduce within kinds. That’s what we observe; varieties of cats, varieties of butterflies, varieties of roses; varieties of salamanders, varieties of finch, driven by natural selection. Novel structures and body plans occurring over time via genetic mutation isn’t observed. It would probably require orders of improbabilities to become the norm for a natural increase in information and complexity, the likes of which we never observe as we live life. Stratigraphic ordering is too inconsistent with evolutionary models (marine fossils at Everest’s peak, polystrate fossils, trilobite tracks spanning multiple layers, etc.) to say that it’s a better explanation than a large-scale flood. I could go on but there are other forums for ToE debates. :) I think that when we presuppose that evolution happened, its easy to claim new findings as evidence for it. Of course, the same can be said for creation. That’s the problem with looking at the distant past. I’d rather look to evidence that we can observe and test right now, which is why my original question is based on a moral argument.

          When discussing animal morality, evolutionists presuppose when we look at, say, a whale, we are looking at our ancestor and therefore the moral behavior of animals and humans must be the same. It steers the logic in a direction that seeks information about us while studying animals that we only assume is relevant to us. If we examine something we have most available, which is our own moral thinking, instead of speculating about the past or how animals think (far less observable), we can make sensible conclusions about its scope and origin.

          I believe that under “normal” conditions, human beings reason on the level I have mentioned earlier, specifically that we can reason about the implications of our actions; we negotiate moral transactions; we make moral judgments and act on them; we act in regards to a conscience rather than instinct, or simply recollection of pain or reward in familiar circumstances. I realize it’s difficult to separate some of those elements and I am not well enough read on animal morality to speak to it beyond a certain point. I don’t think animals “reason” the same way we do in considering moral obligations.

          But yes, I think mentally impaired individuals are persons, and it would be hard to argue that even the most severely impaired humans are devoid of moral reasoning. Recent tests have shown that people in vegetative states recognized loved ones (http://abcn.ws/yVcoM6), so those impaired in other ways may surprise us in the depth of their moral understanding. Re: Kant, I can’t say it’s permissible to shoot a dog without a reason, because although a dg is not a person, he is God’s creature and morally considerable by humans. But it is on a completely different level not okay to shoot a human unless there is a very good reason.

          I agree that every species is unique, but this isn’t the only reason to say the humans are made in the image of God. And acting like an animal can be viewed in a positive way, but I’d have to say generally it is not. “You’re acting like an animal” is seldom taken as a compliment. The assumption is I’m being unnecessarily aggressive, sloppy, mean or stupid. Owls are attributed wisdom because, some sources say, their faces look somewhat human, or as some legends have it, their keen vision allows them to see past “the blanket of dark magic.” In those cases, to say someone is wise as an owl, we’d actually be comparing a human to a human trait.

          Re: “Morality isn’t universal. Some people care nothing for other species. “: From what you say here and where you talk about “moral vewpoints”, it’s clear you are defining morality as each individual’s feelings or convictions about right and wrong unique to each situation. Obviously humans interpret things differently, but this doesn’t change the nature of what we seek to understand. The fact there is always something we all feel we should do or ought not do in any situation shows that we are innately aware of some type of absolute law independent of our point of view.

          That we agree on a majority of these “laws” goes a step further to show the universality of it. And when we, even though we disagree with others, expect them to see the same right and wrong that we do, it’s because we expect everyone is bound to the same law.

          And when we look to the distant past and imagine the first murder and have this feeling that it was wrong, we transcend any moral time or geographic barrier that we’ve postured which evolutionist presupposition demands.

          And finally, when many atheists make moral judgments on the concept of God, they are putting the highest conceivable being under the umbrella or morality that evolution demands be relegated to humans.

          Can you think of a single alien movie or book where the human race is portrayed as apathetic about the invasion and subsequent annihilation of our world or our abduction into slavery? Would it be OK for us to conquer another planet, since our morals don’t apply in their world? Didn’t Obi-Wan cringe when the Empire blew up the planet Alderaan (not his home planet)? Didn’t Dennis Quaid and the alien on Fryine IV (had to look that one up on IMDB) negotiate through hatred for each other before arriving at compassion and mutual respect? These are stories, but they’re written by real people who understand that morality is universal. We don’t write stories any other way because we can’t live any other way.

          I wouldn’t say that “we don’t know about God outside of the Bible” in the sense that you mean. There are those in the earliest portions of the Biblical narrative who knew of God. The Bible is an authority for believers because from it we know ABOUT God, His attributes, works, and the story of His relationship with mankind. We know OF God because His revelation through nature: “…what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.” That’s Romans 1:19-20, and yes, it is information from the Bible, but it provides the answer to why most people look at nature and understand that it has to be the work of a Creator. I think we also have an innate sense of God that can be suppressed, as 1:18 suggests, and it is on the level of the heart (synonymous with volitional belief) that “a fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 14:1) and His moral law is written on the hearts of men (Rom. 2:15). Without the Bible, we would still have at least a general awareness of God and His moral law.

          Killing without just cause is murder, and that is wrong, even for God. However, when God “kills” He is justified because He is the author of life. Taking human life is probably the only moral issue we can take with God because many see it as a contrast to His character. The sovereign Creator of life undeniably has this right. He doesn’t change what good is by taking life away because it isn’t wrong when God does it; it’s wrong when people, who are NOT the Creator, do it, unless it is under the conditions He has allowed in scripture (self-defense or capital punishment). Ultimately it is good for God to take life He deems necessary for His ultimately good purposes, or if He judges sin. Ultimately, because we can’t possibly see the end result and understand His reasons that it’s easy to condemn God because of it. Since it is ultimately good for God to take life for His good purposes, then there is no contradiction in His character or the moral law that is part of His nature. When children suffer and die, it’s hard to see this emotionally, but intellectually we can’t find God guilty if we understand who He is.

          You ask if God is less able than we are if God cannot change who He is. The inability is not due to lack of power or knowledge, but the idea would contradict Himself; God has said that He does not change (Num. 23:19, James 1:17). He also can’t make a square circle or a rock too heavy for Him to lift. These are logical absurdities, and logic and reason are also a part of His nature (Isaiah 1:18).

          “The reason we try to persuade others to live by our sense of morality is that it is our sense of morality and we feel strongly that it is right. For example we are offended by suicide bombing, even if we know that the bombers believe their acts are moral (they are obeying the words of God), we would like them to see from our point of view that it is not.”

          I don’t think we condemn bombers (if the survive) to prison because we feel strongly that they should see our point of view on their deeds. We condemn murder and make civil laws to punish and deter criminals because of the undeniably self-evident laws that compel us toward good and away from evil. In an arena of rational discussion, we can hardly call ourselves rational if we settle on the idea that such moral judgments are relative; that our morals condemn the bomber whose morals in turn condemn us for condemning an innocent man. We can say that “we desire to live by our current standards”, which is probably true, but haven’t we wronged the bomber who feels his moral standards differ? It almost seems a form of self-denial to deeply analyze the universal way we apply morality and say it’s because we somehow can’t get past an existential and emotional need to project subjective morality on everyone else.

          “The fact that the earliest moral intent is difficult to identify doesn’t undermine the idea that morality appeared at some point in the past, and that it has evolved to be what we experience today.”

          I think these are, in the vein of Occam’s Razor, assumptions beyond what is necessary. On evolution, we say moral acts first occurred in the past because the morality we use now had to have had a beginning. The fact that the earliest moral intent in the “continuum of morality” is impossible to identify is not because no one alive now was around to witness it, but that it is logically impossible for any moral thought or action to occur without an earlier standard by which we can call it moral. If activity passed from non-moral to moral at any point in time, that point requires a priori moral standard already in place. In light of the logical contradictions with the idea of moral evolution and the inconsistency between the idea of subjective morality and the universal way in which we always apply it, it seems moral law logically must have originated outside of humanity.

          With your last paragraph on religious systems, I fully agree. :)

        • The Atheist says:

          Hi, Mike. Sorry (Again!) for taking SO LONG to get back. I’m STILL swamped with work – people say “it’s a good problem to have”… but it’s still a problem.

          I’d like to respond, but you mentioned that when I didn’t get back last time, you thought we were done – so please let me know if you’re still around (either post here or send email) and I’ll respond in detail. Thanks for taking time to clarify your views!

    • donsevers says:

      Reply to Mike Johnson’s comment of May 30, 2012 at 5:03 pm. The column got too skinny!

      >But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself.

      This is a good discussion to have, but it certainly is not a necessary conclusion. There are many candidates for naturalistic morality. But again, that has nothing to do with this thread.

      >the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God.

      No. I am arguing on Christianity. Yahweh fails to be loving under Christianity. He is sovereign and under no jurisdiction that could pronounce him good or evil. To say he is Good without applying an external standard is like saying Kim Jong Un is good. We can say that, and hope that every action he takes is the best possible thing for the country, but then good becomes meaningless. He can order opposite things and we would have to say they were both good.

      So, either goodness does not apply to God, or we apply some standard of goodness to him and see how he measures up. Yahweh only measures up against an authoritarian standard that renders Goodness empty.

      >This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law.

      Come now. Are you prepared to dump science? Do you accept that the world was a paradise before The Fall? If so, you render yourself unconversable on countless topics. But EVEN IF, this were true, God had some choice in what followed from The Fall. After The Fall, women didn’t start exploding during childbirth. Their pain was multiplied. God had choices. Thus, it seems that even if ALL the suffering was caused by The Fall, God still determined what is possible and what is not.

      We can’t kill with our thoughts. God left this power out of creation. It seems he could have left more horrors out, say pediatric cancer.

      Here’s a funny video that makes this point:

      >Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices?

      Much suffering has nothing to do with human free will. EVEN IF it was ALL caused by human choices, it is not just for infants to suffer because of the sins of others.

      >Humans messed it up

      Horrendous animal suffering existed for eons before The Fall. EVEN IF we say it didn’t, we drop science and say that the lion lay down with the lamb in the pre-Cambrian, it would be unjust for an infant to suffer a birth defect for the sins of her ancestors.

      >God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

      But he could have just forgiven us. The brutal spectacle of the cross was optional. Again, it seems he just chooses more bloody methods than he has to. He has options and excellent connections. He could have ‘saved’ us in any way at all.

      It seems reasonable to say that an omnipotent God could have achieved all his aims with less suffering than we observe. If he couldn’t, if ALL of it is necessary, then God is locked in. He can’t answer prayer. He is more like a force of nature, a bystander to creation.

      God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering further. And he could do it without infringing on our free will. Humans don’t have a bomb that can destroy the solar system. God set things up so that we haven’t discovered it yet, or it isn’t possible. He could have set things up so that we couldn’t have made nuclear weapons, without infringing on our free will. Hiroshima was made possible by God’s choices, too. With great power comes great responsibility.

      Any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent.

      • Mike Johnson says:

        ” I am arguing on Christianity.” As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

        On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law but also because He doesn’t contradict His own moral law. Any and all good comes from God as part of His nature. He didn’t decide to be good; good doesn’t exist apart from Him. There is no comparison to Kim Jong Un’s moral compass and God’s moral law, because Kim is a follower and God is ultimately the leader. Kim recognizes objective moral law and tries to follow it, often poorly, and can be shown to contradict himself. All humans fail at this at some point. God cannot be shown to contradict Himself. It is reasonable to think that moral law has an external origin (Christianity claims it comes from God) but there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good. Then we’re onto an infinite regress.

        There is really nothing that shows we have to “dump science” to accept a historical Genesis account as there is plenty of conversation out there about that, most of which will be way off topic here. The Bible makes clear that man’s sin began with the fall in Genesis 3, but there was probably a certain amount of pain before then. I don’t think we can blame all pain and suffering on sin. Adam may have stepped on a stick, and Eve’s pain during childbirth “increased”,; it didn’t suddenly appear. Much more pain and suffering is present in the world because of the decaying effects of sin and we often react to it sinfully. God didn’t create cancer; cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

        And of course God retains the ability to choose, but He clearly allows us the ability to choose between right and wrong. And God rightly judges and must punish sin, of which pain and suffering is often part of those consequences. Is it fair for sin to go unpunished? Justice is something we all crave because we are made in the image of a just God. It’s a logical absurdity to expect God to deal with some sins and forgive other sins. He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature—He cannot arbitrarily ignore sin and still be just. The very nature of justice is that payment is made for crime, by someone. The only payment that could be made for all sin perfectly is the blood of a perfect sacrifice. Only God is perfect and sinless and therefore adequate payment.

        Thanks for the video link. It fails however because it completely ignores the reality of sin and its role in pain and suffering—God allows evil in that He allows us freedom to choose good or evil. The God represented in the video isn’t true to the Biblical form. And to suggest that if “Mr. Deity” allowed disease and natural disasters then no one would believe in Him doesn’t square with the present reality of a world that is conservatively 90% theistic, in spite of disease and natural disasters. But yes, it was funny. :)

        I’ve explained why God just couldn’t logically set up the world in some way that doesn’t take away both our opportunity to sin and our freedom. It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that. But sin always has consequences that affect others, and we expect that. If the CEO of a company goes to jail for insider trading, the company may suffer and jobs may be lost as a result his choices. We then blame the CEO and his sin rather than the system of cause and effect that is a necessary reality. If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away. He could have morally good reasons for doing so according to a plan that we should have no expectation as finite humans to be able to know or foresee.

        “God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering”. God does reveal enough of His plan, which involves redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering. I understand that it’s hard to see past all that is wrong with the world now. It may seem easier to say any conceivable god is weak, evil or absent. But weakness just doesn’t fit a God who created the universe, and evil doesn’t fit a God who represents good, and absence doesn’t fit a God everyone seems to want to talk about (and to) so much. Without power, goodness or presence I don’t think He would have the following He has, or at least without power and presence, wouldn’t be able to trick anyone into following Him. The good news about faith is that you don’t need 100% certainty to put it in something. Nobody has 100% certainty about crossing the street safely, yet we all take the steps, despite the fact that some don’t make it across alive. Faith requires reasonable belief.

        • donsevers says:

          ” I am arguing on Christianity.” As an atheist, you morally condemn God using morality that, according to your own worldview, can have no jurisdiction over Him. In that respect you are arguing from atheism (but making a pretty good case for theism).

          My worldview is irrelevant. Suppose Golda Meir was accused of murder and Hitler is the prosecuting attorney. His worldview would have no bearing on the case. He could present facts and definitions that would hold no matter what he thought. That’s what I’m doing. Comments about me are irrelevant.

          I am pointing out contradictions within Christianity. Jesus told us to love God and our neighbor. But that requires us to love a God who does not love our neighbor as much as he could. The facts show that God could have created a kinder world and still reached all his aims. Thus, there is more suffering than is necessary for Him for any purpose.

          >On Christianity, God is beyond condemnation from anyone because He doesn’t reside below any moral law

          Yes, you can say this, but then Good loses all meaning. God is not Good in this scenario because there is no way to judge him to be Good. He is simply God, and if we follow him, we are following mere Power, not Goodness. He may not be evil. Goodness may simply not apply to him. But we can’t say he’s good, either.

          >God cannot be shown to contradict Himself.

          If God allows more suffering than is necessary, then he is not as Good as he could be. We know God left some horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. There is no contradiction in a world without Stevens-Johnson syndrome, for example, yet there it is. God had something to do with that.

          https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/the-lucky-people/10150368609164005

          To keep God, we must admit he is not as loving as he could be and he plays favorites. I can’t follow such a God and love my neighbor, because following him requires that I sign on to a regime that could, with no effort at all, treat my fellows better, but simply doesn’t.

          >there is no reason to assume that God would need some external standard to pronounce Him good.

          For Goodness to have any meaning, there must be some standard. This is a general rule. Many victims of abuse say their abuser loves them no matter how he treats them. (This is Job’s situation.) If ‘love’ can mean anything, then it means nothing.

          >cancerous cells are most likely a biological effect of sin—not necessarily directly the sin of the one with cancer, but the sinful condition of the world (Romans 8:19-22).

          This is plainly unjustified scientifically, and it would be unfair even if it were true.

          >Is it fair for sin to go unpunished?

          Are you suggesting that having a child born without a brain is a suitable punishment for something? If we say it is, then Justice means nothing. 1,000 kids die every hour of starvation. The sheer amounts of suffering make a mockery of any notion that our world is Just. And if we say it is Just in some inscrutable way, then we are simply saying we don’t know HOW it is Just. This is the same as saying we don’t know IF it is Just. If Justice can mean anything, then it means nothing.

          >He couldn’t “have ‘saved’ us in any way at all” because logic is also a part of His nature

          There is nothing illogical in God doing something kinder than the Crucifixion. Pepsi can make its ads violent, sexy or soothing. They have choices, and so does God.

          >It’s true that children often suffer from no direct action of their own, and I admit there is no easy way to talk about that.

          This is all we need to cast doubt on God’s goodness. It boils down to our emphasis: do we place more weight on an invisible, disputed God, or the solid, incontrovertible agony of our fellows?

          >But sin always has consequences that affect others

          Give God some credit. He could be a perfect accountant and have set things up so that sin accrues, fairly and proportionately, to each sinner.

          >If God is the Creator and Author of life, He has the right to allow life and to allow it to be taken away.

          Ok, but then he is a tyrant. I have 3 kids, but I don’t have the right to kill them. Once a being is conscious, we don’t own them. If God uses kids for his purposes, then he is a sadistic psychopath, ESPECIALLY because it would never be necessary for him for any purpose. He could accomplish anything at all without using kids.

          >redemption (John 3:16) and a new creation (Rev. 21:1-4). This is the end of unneeded suffering.

          What is God waiting for? If he can end suffering, it seems sadistic to stand by for centuries letting some sort of script unfold.

          • Mike Johnson says:

            Any legal judgment appeals to a higher law, so you’re right that personal views of right and wrong don’t really matter in that case. Any moral judgment also appeals to a higher law, correct? If not, then we are appealing to the very thing you imply should have no bearing on the case—our own worldview. And if moral judgment is an exception to that, then why? If relative morality is true, then no two person’s moral claims are guaranteed to be the same, and all claims are meaningless. I don’t think you believe that your claims are meaningless.

            Clearly, we don’t live as if morality was conceived by humans. Morality presents itself as universal law over and above humanity. Christianity makes perfect sense of objective moral law, and atheism really doesn’t know what to do with it. The reason your worldview IS relevant is because your arguments are based on an atheistic worldview and are self-defeating. Your claim that God is immoral is grounded in objective moral law that couldn’t exist without God, or some other being that has many of God’s attributes, including the intelligence and transcendence to place His law on our hearts.

            You are free to critique Christianity and morally condemn God for “not loving our neighbor as much as he could.” But in doing so you are obviously expecting any God to respect the same moral codes humans respect (or at least the ones you respect). If atheism is true, then any being outside of humanity cannot be held accountable to human law. If theism is true, then moral law would naturally be seen as something that is relevant to our understanding of God.

            If Good comes from God, then good isn’t meaningless; God gives meaning to good. Isn’t the reason you reject an ultimate standard for good because you reject God? You hold the concept of God up to a human standard for good, (so you can’t really say “goodness may not apply to him”) and a human standard can have no logical jurisdiction over Him. Good has to come from somewhere, and if everyone uses it to measure God to discuss whether He is good or evil or something else, then on the level of God is where we would find the source of good.

            Your note and your voice against Stevens-Johnson syndrome and other disease make a very compelling argument. You have my respect. I don’t have any love for the degree of suffering and death in the world either. You seem to have an ideal in mind of a degree of love and fairness we should expect from God, that He “does not love our neighbor as much as he could”; that “there is more suffering that is necessary”; that He “could have created a kinder world.”; that “He could have omitted one more” horror; that “He is not as good…” or “…loving as He could be”; that He should treat us “better”.

            The fact is that everyone sins, whether we think that sin is big or small (1 John 1:18; Rom. 3:23). At what level on the severe-o-meter should God start judging? If God only judged sin according to the degree of the sin, how would you match the judgment to the severity of the sin? And how would you determine the severity of the sin? How could we know the severity of some sins that may seem smaller but have far-reaching and long-lasting effects? And how do we put sin-value on the murder of a homeless man who has no family or friends? Would that earn a more or less severe punishment than a boy whose mere words scar another boy for a lifetime? If a clerical error causes a murder to go free and he goes on killing, who is worse, the murderer or the clerk? I think this type of justice administration is much better suited for a omniscient God. It seems you expect such a God to handle this task with His goodness and justice, but you condemn Him, according to a human and therefore irrelevant system of morals, for not doing it “right”, trumping His infinite knowledge with your finite knowledge. Is this reasonable?

            Even a newborn child, for which it’s hard to imagine disease as a fitting punishment, is infected with a sin nature. There are no easy answers for the mother of a child dead at birth or born with disease or deformity, but there are answers. A creator is an owner of that which he creates. Owning people is not immoral when it is God who owns them, because only the Creator has that right. If He owns us, He has the right to give and take away (Job 1:21). When we say He doesn’t own us, we imagine ourselves bigger than God. That much we can know and understand, but it’s by faith that we can trust God has good reasons for what He does that in the end outweigh the death or suffering we endure. And there’s no rational reason to expect that He would not have good reasons and therefore no contradiction in His character.

            The “agony of our fellows” is undeniable, but your conclusions for the reason behind the agony is. Why make the assumption that a God who would create, provide a world for, seek fellowship with, and redeem human beings would also allow them to suffer for unjust purposes? I imagine that my 3 year old son assumes that all of our discipline is unjust. If I deny him a second cookie before dinner, put him in a time-out for hitting someone, or forcefully prevent him from running into the street, he will think that I’m unfair, that I could be kinder, that I’m not as good or loving as he thinks I should be. As a parent I know and see many things that he cannot. He won’t understand this until he’s older. I’m not comparing the discipline or correction of a child to grown-up suffering and death except to say that to a child who thinks he’s been treated unjustly, it is every bit of a tragedy as the ones adults experience. Most tragedies adults can get through without screaming or tantrums. Any God that fits His description in the Bible will have knowledge and foresight that we can’t possibly have and an ultimate plan we can’t possibly see. If we trust and obey God as a child should a father and accept His Son’s sacrifice as the solution to the sin that condemns us all, there is still no guarantee of a pain-free life on earth. But we are not relegated to a life, and more importantly an eternity, of isolation from our Creator and the potential joy that brings.

            It’s obvious you have a very clear grasp of the amount of evil and pain in this world. God agrees that our pain is not the ideal, and there is of course cause to doubt—but it doesn’t have to end there. I suggest that it isn’t by reason that you reject God, but by your own will. You haven’t shown any real contradictions within Christianity and have actually helped prove the origin of morality to be well outside of human convention. I would recommend taking a look at Peter Kreeft’s “Making Sense Out of Suffering,” it’s very good. The question/answer format in your note reminded me of some of his style (he’s a fan of Socrates). There’s an audio by Dr. Kreeft which is along the same vein as his book. I listened to the first part, he gets into the good stuff pretty early on… (http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio/07_suffering.htm). Thanks for the discussion, I’ve enjoyed it. :) Enjoy your weekend.

            • donsevers says:

              Having a limited awareness and knowledge does not apply in this case. Remember, there are two kinds of claims we make, analytic/relations of ideas (like ‘bachelors are unmarried’) and synthetic/matters of fact (like ‘all swans are white’).

              We don’t need perfect knowledge to make the first type of statement. And we can’t be wrong about them. They follow from definitions.

              I’m not making factual statements about God’s goodness. I’m evaluating ‘relations of ideas’: is he Good by a given definition.

              And if we don’t evaluate him against a standard other than himself, Goodness loses all meaning.

            • donsevers says:

              Kreeft says “the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil. He urges us to view ourselves as protagonists in the midst of our own life stories. If good finally triumphs, as Christians believe, then the story is worthwhile, even with its inevitable suffering.”

              Please notice the word “must”. Defenders of God use such words to constrain God’s great power. They want to say that even God is required to do certain things. I don’t know how they justify this, except to save God’s skin.

              I can’t see why God humans “must’ undergo suffering. It seems that God could have ordained something involving less suffering and still achieved all his aims.

              The answer, of course, is staring us in the face. We are animals living in the natural world. It appears that our world was not set up this way on purpose, and that is a huge relief. Otherwise we would live in a divine petri dish.

              https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/animal-farm/10150692366329005

          • Candy Smith says:

            If God uses kids for his purposes, then he is a sadistic psychopath,

            No he isn’t psychopath .
            Even if he did, ITS IT ISN’T YOUR JOB TO JUDGE HIM!!

        • donsevers says:

          I sought God and found my neighbor. Jesus told me I must choose (Luke 14:26). I chose my neighbor.

    • donsevers says:

      Godandneighbor wrote:

      Correct. We are unjust when we take things that do not belong to us, like human life. God owns human life.

      Ownership does not necessarily mean whatever we do with something is moral. That depends on our standard of morality. I can own a cat, but it can still be considered immoral to torture or kill it. This line of reasoning is a non sequitur.

      >If « the things God does are good because He does them » this is conditional upon the truth that God can do none other than good.

      If God’s acts are simply defined to be good, then it means nothing to say they are good. It’s like saying “Everything I do is smart”. Um, ok. But now ‘smart’ means only ‘what you do’. It’s tautological.

      >Your conclusions about God’s injustice from « the facts on earth » come from an arbitrary idea you seem to have about the level of evil in the world being too high.

      No, it follows from ‘omnipotence’. If God had any choice in how he set things up, he could have created a world that was a little kinder. My ideas or judgments have nothing to do with it. It is a relation of ideas.

      >exactly how much is necessary, and necessary for what?

      Unless God’s purpose is to cause us to suffer, there is no contradiction in saying God could achieve his purposes with less suffering. This follows from omnipotence.

      >How much better?

      Well, God promises to bring us all to heaven after letting us be tortured on earth. What is he waiting for? If he could do it one second sooner and does not, he is not as kind as he could be.

      >Would you be satisfied with anything less than a perfect world with no evil or suffering

      It has nothing to do with me or whether I’d be satisfied. It has to do with God’s power and the definition of ‘loving’. If he could have created a kinder world and did not, he is not maximally loving.

      >even if the choice for evil could be taken away completely without taking away all freedom, which in itself would be suffering

      Much suffering has nothing to do with free will. But even then, God determined how much power we have. We can’t kill with our thoughts, yet we still say we have free will. God could have made it a little harder for us to hurt each other without reducing our free will.

      >What can anyone know of « His aims »

      Well, we must know enough to judge him to be good, or we can’t justify following him. So judging him is essential. If we only judge him to be good no matter what we observe, it means nothing to say he is good. If he is God, he is implicated in everything because he determined what is possible, even for free beings.

      >You seem to claim more insight into the mind of God than Christians do. :)

      I don’t need perfect knowledge to know whether an all-powerful God is as good as he could be. I simply have to know the definition of ‘good’ and read the news. God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering further. Any god that exists is evil or weak.

      >What is your motivation for trying to convince me or others of your view?

      None. I’m only pointing out what necessarily follows from Christian claims. People make up their own minds.

      • “I can own a cat, but it can still be considered immoral to torture or kill it.”

        It’s immoral because we don’t actually “own” cats either. God gave man careful stewardship over His creation (Gen. 1:26-28). Man is a special creation (killing people is murder), separate from animals (killing cats is mean), but we are still called to the humane treatment of animals (Ex. 23:5, Deut. 22:6-7, 25:4) and a regard for nature. What doesn’t follow is any kind of moral inhibition to torturing or killing your cat unless there is a universal dispensation of moral law. In fact, if “that depends on our standard of morality” then you could even decide to own and kill a human being without any moral violation at all, as long as your standard of morality allowed it. I know you don’t believe that.

        “If God’s acts are simply defined to be good, then it means nothing to say they are good. It’s like saying ‘Everything I do is smart’.”

        I’m not sure why you say this means nothing. Christianity defines good as a part of who God is, and that’s meaningful. Maybe you don’t like the circularity of it and wish that an attribute of God didn’t appeal to God Himself. That’s unavoidable in any type of argument for ultimate commitments (i.e. a defense of reason by reason is also circular. Fortunately reason is also rooted in the nature of God). Good WOULD be meaningless if all we had to define it was our own variant, inconsistent and ever-evolving ideas of what ought to be.

        “If God had any choice in how he set things up, he could have created a world that was a little kinder.”
        “God could achieve his purposes with less suffering”
        “If he could [bring us all to heaven] one second sooner and does not, he is not as kind as he could be.”
        “If he could have created a kinder world and did not, he is not maximally loving.”
        “God could have made it a little harder for us to hurt each other without reducing our free will”
        “God either can’t or won’t reduce suffering further”

        From what you have repeatedly stated, it would seem that all that should be required for you to accept a God who is maximally loving is a world that was only “a little kinder.” Maybe this world already IS “a little kinder.” Things could certainly be worse, couldn’t they? How do you know God has not already provided for “less suffering” in a world that was destined to be more painful than it is now? Do you know for certain that potential catastrophes were not prevented by God’s intervention? How do you know God did not send His Son to pay the penalty for our sin so that we can enjoy new life instead of the hopeless eternal trainwreck we were all headed for? The Good News is we can have confidence that last thing actually happened.

        You won’t define what you mean by “a little kinder” because I don’t think it would really matter. You say that your ideas or judgments have nothing to do with how good God is or isn’t, but of course they do. Your conclusions about God have everything to do with your own personal and unique idea of how loving you perceive God to be, according to your own standard of morality, no doubt shaped by your own observations of pain in the world.

    • Gram says:

      An atheist although believing God doesn’t exist may justifiably interpret God’s morality as a reflection of the man who created that specific religion. If a mean God is described it was likely a mean man who created that religion. If a kind God is described it was likely a nice man who created that religion. This seems a reasonable way of explaining why God has so many different personalities. And by this reckoning Jesus was probably nice!

  2. Atheists don’t have to hold God to human morality. But it’s important to evaluate a given god-concept according to some external standard. Here’s why.

    If God is held to no standard than his own, then Goodness is meaningless. To say God is Good is just to say God is God. He could order contradictory things and we would have to say they are both Good. And he could torture children and we would have to say it was Good. Goodness has no meaning in authoritarian, unaccountable regimes. You end up following mere Power.

    So, we don’t care what standard you hold God to, but it has to be something. Or you give up Goodness itself.

    • Mike Johnson says:

      Donald, you describe a conundrum only exists on the belief that God does not exist. You have to hold God to SOME sort of standard because you haven’t allowed Him to exist as that standard. Goodness is not an attribute or character trait that God has adopted, but rather goodness is a part of God’s nature. In a very literal sense God is good. This is why the Euthyphro dilemma is a false dichotomy; it excludes the possibility that these things are a reflection of God’s moral nature. If God were to be held to a greater standard, that greater standard would have to be God. As infinite and eternal Creator, He is first cause and first principal of morality.

      • >it excludes the possibility that these things are a reflection of God’s moral nature.

        This is Wm Lane Craig’s attempt to navigate the Euthyphro dilemma. But to simply say that God is good by his nature is another way to redefine “Good” so that God fits the definition. And it still require us to say that torturing kids is good because God stands by and watches, doing nothing.

        The first horn of the dilemma, where God is held to an independent standard, is the only resolution that preserves “Goodness”. The second horn or Craig’s resolution both give up any meaningful definition of Goodness.

        You can have Goodness or God, but not both.

    • The Atheist says:

      I would disagree with you on this one Donald. If there were a Creator God, then the Creator that created me would have by extension, created my sense of morality. I as a creature would have no basis for judging the morality of the creator of my morality. Stating that God is Good is not so much saying that God is God, but rather a confession that the creator of morality is beyond our moral judgement, and is therefore Good (in so much as he is Good, and not Bad, for having created us).

      • >I as a creature would have no basis for judging the morality of the creator of my morality.

        But it doesn’t follow that God is Good, only that you can’t judge him.

        >but rather a confession that the creator of morality is beyond our moral judgement

        This, too, doesn’t say God is Good, just that we can’t judge him.

        >and is therefore Good (in so much as he is Good, and not Bad, for having created us)

        This doesn’t follow at all. Such a judgment would require an independent standard to compare God to.

        And we can’t assume that creating humanity was “good”. It is true that none of the things we say are good could exist without humanity. But on balance it is not clear that existing is better than not existing. It really depends on how lucky you are or how much God favors you.

        What we want to avoid is saying that being served for dinner or made into ointment is Good. 30,000 kids will die of starvation today. Right now, a girl is spending her last moments with her killer. God will do nothing. To say that is Good in the light of such facts is just to redefine Good so that God fits the definition.

        The point is that saying ‘a God who watches little kids get tortured is good’ is meaningless. It simply means he follows his own rules. Leibniz noted that even the Devil does that.

        God doesn’t have to meet our standard of Good, but he has to be held to some independent standard, or it means nothing to say he is Good.

      • The Atheist says:

        Donald, I think it follows that God is Good without an external standard, but only by definition – it doesn’t say anything about the nature of God, but rather that we must accept the definition. However God happens to be, and whatever he decides to do would be good by definition, including genocide and being made into ointment. I think I’m agreeing with Plato here.

        Like you I want to avoid saying that 30,000 kids starving to death is good, and fortunately for me, that is easy to do. But not so easy for someone who believes in a Creator who is Good and who is above all standards by which Good can be defined.

    • The Atheist says:

      Mike, The question the Euthyphro dilemma raises is whether there is an absolute Good by which God is measured (in which case “God is Good” tells us something of God’s nature), or if instead God decrees that however he happens to be, that’s what is meant by “Good” (in which case “God is Good” tells us nothing of God’s nature). When you say that God is the standard, you are asserting the second part of the dilemma. In that case when you say that God is Good, it says nothing of God’s nature.

      The statement “God is Good” either means nothing, or it means that there is a standard that is higher than God.

      If I believed that I was a creature of the Creator, then I could affirm that I have no basis to judge morality and I would have to accept whatever the Creator tells me is moral. However, I would still be stuck with the dilemma of what it means to say that “God is Good”, just as you are now.

      • Mike Johnson says:

        “[W]hen you say that God is Good, it says nothing of God’s nature.”

        We know innately what good means because we experience good, and as moral agents can recognize it universally, so this tells us that God is. God cannot change what is good by decree, because He cannot change who He is. You can know God is good by the self-evident experience of good.

        • Happy Heretic says:

          No. this does not tell ‘us that God is.’ It tells us that people have no confidence and want to believe that someone is in charge. Grow up. No-one is in charge of you except you. With the support of people we can stay sober. There is no need of this ‘ God ‘ you keep harking on about. There is no God. Open the door. Step out of the cage of theistic belief. Smell the fresh air of freedom and individual responsibility. It is far more beautiful than any God based belief.
          Those who say A.A. is not a religion are the most dishonest of all, and most of all they are dishonest to themselves. A.A. is a religion, but it is quite possible to use the support of A.A. to get sober and still stay true to yourself; but it takes courage, same as it does everywhere.

  3. Happy Heretic says:

    Typical pseudo-logic god-fearing cr*p. Like much of the gobbledygook of A.A. it is written by the mentally ill for the mentally ill. This is the smegma of a syphilitic mind.

  4. The Atheist says:

    Addressing any comment in particular? :^)

  5. Happy Heretic says:

    Forget the bible and god which are created by humans. Look around and it is usually obvious what is right and what is wrong. A good guide is provided by Buddhism which is a non-theistic path – if it causes more suffering it is wrong; if it relieves suffering and leads to happiness it is right. The Buddha insisted you make your own mind up. Slavish observance of holy books leads to mega shitloads of suffering therefore…..

    • Anonymous says:

      Bad answer.

      • Happy Heretic says:

        Bad answer, ‘cos it challenges your brainwashed views? Bad answer ‘cos it pulls open your blinkers ? Or maybe bad answer ‘cos it is true.

        • Mike Johnson says:

          I’m guessing ‘bad answer’ because it really isn’t an answer or a challenge to theism. You say morality is obvious (correct) but say nothing to account for its source. You say is Buddhism a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

          And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things. There can be happiness in painless activities such as lying, adopting ignorance, smoking weed, or murdering someone with chloroform, and these are obviously wrong.

          • donsevers says:

            >You say is Buddhism a “good guide” but offer no foundation for “good.”

            Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.

            >And suffering does not necessarily equate to evil. There is pain and suffering in childbirth, healing, some forms of exercise, and telling and hearing the truth, and these are good things.

            They are only good things when they are necessary to achieve a greater good. An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means.

            We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.

            • Mike Johnson says:

              I kinda want to see how skinny this column will get.

              “Atheists don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality. We can and do, but that is irrelevant to whether God provides a basis for morality.”

              But in the attempt, an atheistic basis for morality is incoherent. The only logical source for morality is something that would have to be remarkably similar to the God described in the Bible, if not God Himself. As I’ve argued above, (Dec. 7 post), and the point of this thread, the mere fact that you pass moral judgment on the character of the Christian God shows that you already assume your moral obligations have enough scope and immutability and authority to actually obligate God. Can you do otherwise?

              “An omnipotent God would never have to use suffering. He could accomplish any logically possible end via any logically possible means. We know he left many horrors out of creation. It seems he could have omitted one more. If he could have created a kinder world and just didn’t, then that is chilling. It seems he just likes suffering.”

              This was a “kinder world” when God created it (Gen. 1). It was mankind who sinned by choosing to rebel against God’s good moral law. Is it “logically possible” to create man without a free will with which to make choices? Yes, but what kind of world would that be? In His omnipotence, God could intervene and stop our sin right before we do it by suddenly changing the course of our actions and thoughts when we are headed in the wrong direction. But what sort of maddening experience would that be, every hour of every day, waking up in a new place in spacetime with new thoughts? In His omniscience, He could logically prevent the desire from which sin always grows. But how miserable would we be without desire? God could remove everything and everybody in our lives that could tempt us and lead to evil desires. But since any thing and any person can be a temptation, what would be left?

              Out of love, God made a “good” creation. Humans messed it up, and God, again out of love, provided a solution to our mess through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross. And obviously suffering was a crucial part of that, but it passes your own requirement for acceptable suffering: It was “necessary to achieve a greater good”, which was redemption. This was the only suffering that pleased God.

              • Happy Heretic says:

                OK. You can not show me this god that you posit. ( For he is imagined), but suffering is not imagined, and the world has plenty of that. Forget biblical ideas about ‘evil’. Buddhism asks you to look around and decide for your self. If something causes more suffering it is unskilful, if it reduces suffering, causes happiness and freedom, it is skilful. It is a simple but far reaching and profound basis for morality without divine intervention which, if we consider the history of theism has been a cause of immense suffering. ( One might even call that evil if one thought in these atavistic terms.)

  6. Mike Johnson says:

    Don,

    “Kreeft says ‘the protagonist must undergo suffering before the final triumph of good over evil…’ Please notice the word ‘must’.”

    I don’t remember that part in Kreeft’s audio, but I don’t think it’s useful to get hung up on the word “must” when it seems that logic is what requires suffering. Because logic is part of who God is, of course He is bound to it. He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, because that potential exists in every single choice we make. Thankfully God chose not to create a world full of amoral robots, and if we had no freedom to choose I think we might wish for suffering in order to make freedom possible—if we even had the freedom to wish for something. Would a little less freedom be an amicable trade for a little less suffering? Would it be acceptable for God to remove almost all freedom in order to remove almost all suffering? A logical Creator created a universe where logic exists, and it’s no more reasonable to expect God to lessen suffering without lessening freedom than it is to expect Him to make a round square or a rock too heavy for Him to lift. It’s simply absurd.

    To say we are merely animals and nature is all there is I think is the most unsatisfying answer because it only leads to more unanswerable questions: The most basic being the proposition that nature caused nature. What, then, made nature? Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural. The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved. At least the maltheist or misotheist could point to a basis of God’s moral law to condemn God. Moral evolution would create relativistic rules that simply don’t apply to God or anyone else for that matter. Of course even if we could explain life without God, we would still have suffering and death, but no hope for overcoming either.

    In your animal farm note you wrote that if God exists, we’re screwed. But if you imagine that the God described in the Bible exists, then you ought to imagine that how the Bible portrays Him is also true. There is nothing Biblical that suggests we are merely a science project for Him to observe and squash when He’s finished. “He must also be good, fair, just and loving,” and the Bible says He is (Jer. 29:11; Ps. 19:9; 1 John 4:16). Although “fairness” would mean we got what we deserved, and as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from. So I’ll give you that God is not fair. If God exists as He is described in the Bible, then we can’t really say that hell is on earth, that God saves based on our getting on His good side, or that suffering is the result of divine meanness. Christianity doesn’t actually teach that. On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11). That means that in order to conclude that God is not good and suffering is unnecessary, you must claim to know the mind and plan of God, or that you’re talking about a different god.

    • donsevers says:

      > He cannot create freedom and not allow freedom to choose evil, , because that potential exists in every single choice we make.

      Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.

      >Logically we need something supernatural to create something natural.

      We don’t know for sure this is a necessary relation. It’s a good discussion to have, but there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.

      >The moral question is absolutely unanswerable on naturalism because absolutely every moral evaluation we make appeals to obligations that could not possibly have evolved.

      Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.

      At any rate, this has nothing to do with whether God is Good. Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.

      >as sinners we deserve death, which God offers salvation from.

      But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.

      >On Christianity, there is no way humans can fully comprehend God (1 Cor. 2:11).

      Ok, but then you don’t know if he is good, either. Christians should want to avoid this version of a fine-tuning argument: That God is all-powerful and at choice, but is weak or constrained in exactly the right way to account for each and every instance of animal and human suffering that has occurred or ever will occur.

      What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?

      If there is no state of affairs where you would say God is not Good, then Good means nothing.

    • donsevers says:

      I heard this from a Christian this week:

      “I believe I’m an enemy of God because of what I’ve done and you believe you’re an enemy of God because of what he’s done (or hasn’t done).”

      He and I agree on this.

  7. Mike Johnson says:

    “Not all evil is due to human choices. That is ‘moral evil’. We still have ‘natural evil’. Natural evil seems due to natural law, which God set up. If he had any choice in the matter, it seems he set up this world to be more brutal than he could have.”

    The curse from Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:17-19 shows a change in how nature would respond, including “painful toil” and the prevalence of “thorns and thistles”, and a change in the resilience of the human body: “from dust you are and from dust you will return.” In Romans 8:20-21, Paul says that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…”. God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation. God set up nature, but it was sin that brought widespread natural disaster. What you call “natural evil” was not inherently evil from the beginning.

    “…there’s no contradiction in saying a natural world could exist without a supernatural one.”

    Yet everything we empirically observe about nature involves causation. Hence, the “Law of Cause and Effect.” Assuming that nature is ultimately uncaused makes a lot of unnecessary assumptions.

    “Do you claim that morals are actually IMPOSSIBLE on naturalism? That’s a strong claim. There are many naturalistic approaches to morality. The best ones in my opinion follow from our evolution as social animals. If you don’t find them satisfying, that’s one thing. But it’s much harder to say that they aren’t ‘moralities’.”

    Morality as we relate to it could not exist on naturalism because we clearly appeal to something beyond nature. Or at least our appeal goes higher than the highest intelligence we can imagine in nature (and as I said, it’s a big enough umbrella to include supernatural creators.) In my discussion with The Atheist above I laid out my understanding of the distinctions between human morality and animal “morality” …
    https://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45647
    https://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/#comment-45689

    “Atheists just don’t have to provide an alternative to theistic morality to show that theistic morality fails. We can show that it is authoritarian (and thus amoral), contradictory, bogus or incoherent.”

    But you haven’t shown any of that. :) God is authority, but if authoritarian submission means blind submission, that isn’t what God requires. We are given a free will to choose and a mind with which to reason it out (Isaiah 1:18). The last 3 adjectives only hold on the assumption of the first, which doesn’t hold. It’s also wrong to assume that because God doesn’t, that God can’t for lack of power or knowledge (re: a “weak or constrained” God).

    “But we know infants suffer horribly. They don’t deserve death. And if we say they do, then we must say God is using his own, higher version of Justice. If we can’t comprehend HOW his system is Just, this is the same as admitting that we don’t know WHETHER it is Just.”

    Within Christianity, there is no reason to expect we can fully comprehend God’s justice, no more than a baby is expected to understand why she needs surgery. There is enough revelation of God that we can comprehend by looking at what Christ did for us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” (Rom. 3:23-25). Whatever the details of God’s plan are, we can see that it is redemptive in nature, and that He is just, righteous and merciful.

    And yes, we can know if God is good because the Bible describes God as the source of good. If you insist on an external definition to define God as good, then I have to insist on an external definition for what you consider good. Within Christianity, however, there is no contradiction in the attributes of a sovereign God. And again, to say there is “too much” suffering begs the question, how much is too much? Others may have differing views about the degree of acceptable suffering. Isn’t there the potential of much more suffering and evil? And if it were cut in half, or a tenth, wouldn’t we still complain? There is enough we can observe about God’s power (ie. creation) to trust that He is not powerless in the face of evil and suffering. There is enough we can know from Scripture about His goodness that we can have faith that He is not just a brute arbitrarily permitting certain evil and suffering. I hate that children suffer and the sin that bought about the world’s corruption and decay, but while the creatures can question the Creator as Job did, we aren’t guaranteed an answer or the right to accuse. (Job 40:8; Rom. 9:20)

    Christianity is internally consistent, and its Gospel calls us not to strain over the question of whether God is just, but rather ask if we are just. “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

    “What if you ended up in heaven, but alone? Would you still sing God’s praises? Or would you feel a pang for humanity, not at its poor choices, but at the injustice of their fate?”

    There’s no reason to think I would be alone, but even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy. I also assume that my knowledge will be much more complete than it is now and I won’t view the condemnation of souls lost in sin as unjust. That much I can actually understand now.

    • donsevers says:

      >God allows the world to reflect the consequences of man’s sin on creation.

      If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.

      >“What if you ended up in heaven, but alone?
      >even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy

      This is Christianity. We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching.

    • donsevers says:

      >even in that case I think the presence of God would satisfy.

      The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s punishment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up forever. – Thomas Boston

  8. Mike Johnson says:

    “If God had any choice in what consequences followed from the Fall, then he is not as loving as he could be.”

    I still don’t understand what you have in mind for the ideal of “as loving as [God] could be.” Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering? “Not as loving” sounds as if you were hoping for something along a sliding scale ranging from the evil and suffering we know now to an absolutely sinless and painless world. What does your ideal balance of freedom/suffering look like? At what point on the scale would belief in a good God become tenable for you?

    “We can’t love God and our neighbor at the same time. We can’t follow the First and Second Great Commandments at the same time. This is the central contradiction of Jesus’ teaching. “

    The greatest commandment is loving God, which means IF I had to choose between people and God, I should choose God. The “second is like it” (Mat. 22:39) because God also commands us to love our neighbor, and through obedience of that we show love for God, and because people are made in the image of God. It’s important, but secondary, to love people. In any case, we can have both, because we are neither alone here nor will we be alone in heaven.

    You say you have made the choice to love people over God because your concept of God is one who doesn’t love, or at least doesn’t demonstrate that He loves us “enough”. I don’t believe the dichotomy that forces your rejection of God exists, but rather it’s an illusion stemming from a fundamental misunderstanding of God. Suffering and evil in the world are the result of sin. Sin is a choice made by people because we have freedom to choose. Any revocation of that opportunity is a revocation of freedom. Zero pain = zero freedom.

    God is logical and not free to contradict Himself and therefore didn’t create an illogical world where sin isn’t allowed and at the same time freedom is still available. Because of this, we are able to comprehend and make sense of the world. Evil and suffering wasn’t part of God’s original creation, and while He allows it out of logical necessity and for other reasons naturally beyond us, God’s love and compassion far outweigh and outlast His judgment and the pain He allows. Among many other selfless acts, Christ’s atoning sacrifice covering ALL sin is the greatest example of this. To focus on and draw conclusions from only one part of God is not making an accurate judgment of God—a judgment that (pointing to the point of this forum) we shouldn’t be allowed to make anyway if there is no moral Law-giver.

    • Happy Heretic says:

      The point of this forum to which you refer is rather lost on rational folks, because the god of the Bible is just as ‘exclusively human’ and much a creation of man as any work of art. Dr. Ambedkar puts the belief in god down to an inability to accept that we do not know all the causes of events. A little wishful thinking, anthropomorphism, and, hey presto there’s a god behind it all !
      Another way of shaking up theistic conditioning comes from a Buddhist story that when god realized that he had not created anything he bowed at the feet of the Buddha, the great human teacher, and begged him for a teaching. It is a symbolic story – experience, awareness and human compassion are far more advanced than any god or belief in god.

    • donsevers says:

      I believe we’ve covered this ground. Not all pain is the result of free will. Animal suffering preceded humans. Even if The Fall introduced all the suffering we see, it wouldn’t be fair for an infant to have a heart defect because her distant ancestor got in the cookie jar.

      The world makes sense on naturalism. To say God set up this world, this way, we have to say Bad is Good. And we can’t follow God without signing on to a regime under which billions suffer needlessly.

    • donsevers says:

      >Would you settle for anything other than a complete absence of evil and suffering?

      Christian theology says God promises this in heaven. If that’s true, what is he waiting for? If he could take his followers to heaven a second sooner, he is not as loving as he could be.

      I’m breaking a key rule of authoritarian regimes: I’m second-guessing the Dear Leader. But we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves. If we hold God to no standard, then it means nothing to say he is Good.

      • Mike Johnson says:

        I’ve agreed that pain probably existed before the Fall. It was “greatly multiplied” or “increased” as a consequence of sin (Gen. 3:16). There is no record in Genesis of animal suffering before the Fall, but if it occurred it was probably the same type of pain Adam and Eve would have experienced before it was increased because of sin.

        “The world makes sense on naturalism.”

        A defense of naturalism with naturalism is hopelessly circular, much like a defense of reason by reason, or any other approach that seeks to limit explanations to humanity or nature, particularly when these things obviously appeal—as morality does—to something outside their spheres.

        “what is he waiting for?”

        To ask why God delays heaven is the same as a child asking why his parents delay whatever the child thinks he is immediately entitled to. Children think this unfair and may even doubt the reality of what was promised. Parents have good reasons and a good plan.

        “we have to evaluate God if we are to be moral ourselves”.

        But you can’t morally evaluate anything unless you are a moral being to begin with. And it certainly doesn’t make sense to morally evaluate God if moral law didn’t come from Him. How can the evaluation have any meaning or relevance? I’ve yet to see a coherent answer to this question on atheism.

        “we’ve covered this ground”

        You’re right, we are repeating arguments, and I think that may signal an impasse. Thank you again for the discussion. I’ve learned a lot from it and I wish you the best. :)

  9. […] the moral argument for God from the question I posed: “Do Atheists Judge God’s Morality?” at AskAnAtheist.wordpress.com, (you can also read that debate here), this debate happened. It follows the same type of discussion […]

  10. […] I haven’t even mentioned the harm that comes from turning against God’s design for relationships and the sanctity He put on human life, which I understand as something we don’t all agree upon as a concept that even exists. That will always be part of the foundational argument for me as I can see no other reasonable explanation for such basic notions as free will and do no harm that we value and treat as universal and objective rules we expect everyone to follow. Even atheists expect our concepts of God to follow these rules (A question I posted here https://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/) […]

  11. Jason says:

    I tried very hard to understand your point of view in your posts, Mike, but you seemed to be excusing your worship of an immoral being by saying that atheists just don’t understand because we don’t believe as you do. That’s kind of like saying that I can’t understand the good of the holocaust because I wasn’t a Nazi.

    • Jason, the argument shows that an atheist is inconsistent in his understanding of morality, which is the same understanding of morality that theists have—that moral law is objective, absolute and universal. You and I understand that the holocaust was inherently evil, and we expect everyone else to think the same way. That shows that we both understand moral law to be objective, absolute and universal. What you don’t understand or are unwilling to see is that a system of these kind of moral obligations requires that God (or at least a moral law giver almost exactly like the God described in the Bible) exist as a source.

      The argument that the God of the Bible is an “immoral being” is a completely separate discussion. God’s actions can be and are defended elsewhere, but that is irrelevant to the question at hand. The fact that anyone WOULD say that God is immoral, or that He was good, or that the holocaust was evil, or make any kind of moral judgment of any person or event in history, confirms that they understand that moral law applies to all beings everywhere throughout all time. Otherwise you wouldn’t care what any sentient being does in the past.

      By contrast, a Naturalistic explanation for moral sensibilities (derived from evolution) requires that it be completely flexible and subject to change from time to time, culture to culture, even person to person. There is no justification on atheism to apply what you believe to be morally right or wrong on any other being. That is the point of this discussion. So in one sense the statement “atheists just don’t understand because we don’t believe as you do” is correct, because it’s the presupposition that God doesn’t exist that causes the self-contradictory view of objective moral law be the result of Naturalistic evolution.

      • donsevers says:

        The Christain apologist, Wm Lane Craig, loves to say that atheists can’t say there is a problem of evil on theism because, on atheism, there is no good or evil. This canard is red meat for theists and has gone unchallenged even among atheists. Craig used it in his debate with Sam Harris and Sam ignored it. So, I’d like to clear things up, for the record.

        The Christian apologist, Wintery Knight, posted this here:
        https://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/atheism-christianity-and-the-problem-of-evil-and-suffering/

        “My point today is that atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God untilthey define what they mean by evil.

        It seems to me that there are 2 choices for what evil could be on atheism. What is NOT open to atheists is the solution above, namely, that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Because the universe is an accident on atheism – it is purposeless – there is no way the universe ought to be. We are accidents on atheism. There is no way we ought to be.”

        So, are atheists pinned? Must we remain mute on the problem of evil? Only if we are barred from exploring what would follow from theism if it were true. It is not self-refuting to engage in speculation. WK seems to be saying that only theists can discuss evil. In this view, I suppose only feminists can discuss feminism and only gay people can discuss homosexuality.

        Like Craig, WK commits a fallacy by combining arguments from theism and atheism in the same sentence. I paraphrase:

        ‘An atheist errs in accusing God of evil on theism because, on atheism, there is no evil.’

        An argument simply does not depend on the views of the speaker. It doesn’t matter whether an atheist, a theist, a maltheist, a misotheist, or a computer is talking. The beliefs of the speaker are irrelevant to the point being discussed.

        So, when atheists accuse God of allowing evil, we are necessarily arguing on theism (since God is required for the discussion), and our personal views are irrelevant.

        When theists turn and say, “Ha, on atheism there is no evil”, they are changing horses midstream. Atheists don’t have to rebut an argument from atheism in the middle of an argument from theism. It’s a distraction.

        Whether evil exists on atheism is a good discussion to have, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of evil and God’s character under theism. Oy.

        https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/changing-horses-midstream/10151077358334005

        • It’s true that the truth does not depend on the views of speaker, but I don’t think that’s what WLC was arguing. It certainly isn’t where I was going. An atheist certainly CAN discuss morality on atheism or theism, but however an atheist argues for moral evil, he refutes atheism. If atheism is true, there can be no moral evil. If moral evil exists, atheism can’t be true. The argument hasn’t changed; the point of this thread is and always was to show that atheism can’t be true under objective moral law. Since object moral law is as universally obvious as any other empirical observation, atheism can’t be true.

          • Meant ” Since objectIVE moral law is…”

          • donsevers says:

            >however an atheist argues for moral evil, he refutes atheism. If atheism is true, there can be no moral evil.

            There are many non-theistic ways to ground morality. Aristotle, Kant, Hume and Mill come to mind. Of course, you can always say “Well, none of those systems provide OBJECTIVE morality”. But when you do that, you’re simply defining ‘objective morality’ so that it requires a god. And you still have to deal with Euthyphro. You may need God, but morality doesn’t.

            >Since object moral law is as universally obvious as any other empirical observation, atheism can’t be true.

            Even if this were true, it would not uniquely point to Yahweh or even theism. The lawgiver could be a committee, an advanced alien, a natural process, or any number of things.

            But all that is tangential to the main point today:

            Atheists can point out that, if theism is true, then God would be evil. Here’s why:

            Either (1) God meets an independent standard of good or (2) he is his own standard.

            (1) Any independent standard of good that God meets (given the fact of suffering) bears no resemblance to any human standard of good. If ‘good’ can mean anything, then it means nothing.

            (2) If God is his own standard of good, then it means nothing to say God is ‘good’. That is only to say “God is God”.

            https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/animal-farm/10150692366329005

            • I think we covered this ground a while ago. Kant and others don’t hypothesize an origin for the same morality we all use and presuppose. I only define morality as objective because that’s the way we all treat it. If the source for moral law is the God described in the Bible, then Euthyphro’s Dilemma doesn’t apply because it doesn’t allow for “good” to be an integral part of God’s nature—He doesn’t adopt good as a character quality or look at goodness and define it. It’s who He is, at least if we’re talking about the Biblical God.

              Supposing a “committee, an advanced alien, a natural process, or any number of things” are responsible for objective morality makes two errors.

              One is that it’s a glossing over that doesn’t adequately explain the source. A cause for the moral law we all experience must be extremely powerful, all-knowing, transcendent, morally superior, just-minded, and personal. If by committee you mean human consensus, clearly that fails as no group of humans can come up with one universal law (and prevent it from changing tomorrow). And instead “natural process” you ought to suggest a specific process that can’t be shown as logically self-refuting.

              The 2nd error is that there’s no rational reason to assume beings on the order of “advanced aliens” while rejecting the idea of God, unless you are already predisposed by your worldview to reject God in any case.

              “God is his own standard of good”. It’s incorrect to say that it means nothing to say God is good, because we can also say good is God. It’s an inseparable part of who God is and it’s where we ultimately get our concept of ‘good’. Without water, we have no wet. Without brains, we have no thoughts. Without matter, we have no atoms. Without God, we have no good.

  12. Jason says:

    “Since object moral law is as universally obvious as any other empirical observation, atheism can’t be true.”

    What makes objective moral law universally obvious, gan? Slavery was once thought to be a compassionate practice that gave purpose to otherwise purposeless animals. In other words, slavery was once thought to be moral, yet it is now known to be disgusting and wrong. An objective moral law couldn’t change since it would have a source outside of human consciousness.

    ” You and I understand that the holocaust was inherently evil, and we expect everyone else to think the same way. That shows that we both understand moral law to be objective, absolute and universal.”

    Since the people who participated in the holocaust did so with the belief that what they were doing was for the greater good, it seems to show that moral law is far from objective, absolute, and universal. You have just proven the Naturalistic explanation for morals absolutely correct, gan.

  13. “slavery was once thought to be moral, yet it is now known to be disgusting and wrong. An objective moral law couldn’t change since it would have a source outside of human consciousness”

    Exactly, our interpretation of right and wrong can vary from person to person and change over time. But would you look back on slavery now and honestly say that it WAS right? I think you would say that it was always wrong, is wrong now, and will always be wrong in the future. And would be wrong if aliens came to earth and enslaved humans, correct? (If aliens existed they would have evolved completely separately from humans and there’d be no reason to assume shared moral laws between us). You think that the people who thought slavery was a good thing were wrong then, and so do I. THAT is what makes morality objective and unchanging.

    The same applies to people who thought killing Jews was morally right. Pretend it is now thousands of years in the future. Will we still look back and see how wrong that was, despite what the Nazis thought? The Nazis were morally wrong, and that is universally true in the past, present and future, independent of what people thought in the 1940s or the opinion of whoever is teaching history classes in 3040.

    Does that help in seeing what I mean?

    • Jason says:

      It doesn’t help in understanding why you believe that we need a god to understand the difference between right and wrong. And since you, as a christian, just said that slavery and genocide are wrong, always have been wrong, and always will be wrong, you admit that your god is immoral. The only difference is that I’m saying the concept of the christian god is immoral, and you are saying that the actual being you worship is immoral. I’d be perfectly willing to accept proof that your god exists, gad, but as a man with a conscience and moral compass, there is no way I’d ever worship him. I’ll reiterate: you’re posting in an attempt to excuse your belief in an immoral god, and I’m posting to refute the assertion that humans need a god to have morals. Nothing you’ve said changes either observation.

      • If good comes from the nature of God, then of course we need Him to know the difference. If there is no God, or a moral law-giver just like Him, then to avoid self-contradiction you ought to explain why you live as if He does exist.

        “And since you, as a christian, just said that slavery and genocide are wrong, always have been wrong, and always will be wrong, you admit that your god is immoral.”

        God doesn’t and never did condone slavery and genocide, so no, that isn’t correct. http://wp.me/p2jkYM-45

        “as a man with a conscience and moral compass, there is no way I’d ever worship him”

        Yet you can’t explain conscience or your moral compass without a being like God. Without Him, the “compass” is actually a windsock.

        • Jonathan says:

          Gan, nothing you’ve said here successfully refutes Euthyphro’s Dilemma, although you seem to think it does. Either good derives from the character of God – i.e. God is good in the definitional rather than atrributive sense – or God conforms to a moral standard which is independent of Him – i.e. God is good in the attributive sense.

          Christians generally subscribe to the former, which is essentially a form of divine command theory. This would explain why the actions of God in the Bible are “good”, as well as why morality might exist independently of humanity, but the only way it could justify a moral law which applies universally would be if God decreed a such a moral standard applicable to all humans at all times, and which could then be interpreted objectively except where he commands them otherwise. That is to say, under divine command theory, there is no such thing as an absolute moral truth. It is simply a contingent truth, derived temporarily from God, to apply wherever he does not direct othwerwise. Christians cannot then hold that something is inherently evil – only that it can be evil depending on the way in which it relates with God’s character in the given circumstances. Any moral instinct which we have would then accord with the “general rule”, but not with the kind of exceptions we see in the Bible. I actually think it is Christianity which undermines any notion of morality, since rather than being granted access to the divine character which would allow us to discern moral good in all circumstances, we are required to view all moral decisions as contingent until our “relationship with God” clarifies the situation. Who’s to say, under Christianity, that 9/11 was evil? After all, we’re merely applying the contingent “general rule” here. They might have been doing God’s will after all.

          The latter option option implies a moral law in nature, which exists independently of God, and which we do not have any access to. God has access to it (otherwise, how could God be a source of morality?) and may have encoded it in our instincts, if he were so inclined. This is as disturbing than the first option, as God is not required to be universally good (and actually isn’t, according to the Bible) and had no reason to instill moral instincts in us when he created us. We could all be wrong about everything, on this account – we are entirely dependent on God’s interpretaton and application of the good as shown in the Bible, and the presupposition that he correctly gave us moral instincts. It is the greatest middle-man scenario in philosophy.

          It’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of the Gods conceived by humanity in history have been of the latter category – divine command theory appears only to have arose as it became politically convenient for those in power to postulate one God, who only they understood and could communicate to the rest of the population, and who was inherently good.

          Naturalistic morality does away with all of that. There is no absolute morality under naturalism, or if there is it has a natural basis, which we do not appear to have access to. Morality evolved through processes which you are no doubt familiar with, and it is this which gives us the moral instincts we feel today. There is no obvious moral law in the world – almost none of our actions are dictated by a conscious assessment or moral law, many cultures across history have used completely and irreconcilably different moral systems, and continue to do so, and even the absolute morals of the holy texts are violable under certain circumstances. No action is inherently moral in and of itslelf. Instead, moral systems develop through the collective benefit they provide society – our moal instincts, which are to some extent common to all of us, are adapted to our environment and it is by this standard that we assess our actions. Laws and social norms flow from moral standards which are commonly accepted by the majority of a given society – this will be common where people occupy common social environments – for example, socieities which are governed via a common political power structure. Philosophical systems provide ideas for improving or adapting moral systems in our societies, but they themselves will be culturally specific. It is worth pointing out that the rise of the internet, rapid transport, and other forms of globalisation may eventually unify the social environment of the world, and so produce a common moral norm. That’s a long way off, but it provides me with a kind of hope.

          • donsevers says:

            Excellent, thanks, Jonathan. Wm Lane Craig says he resolves Euthyphro via Divine Command Theory, but your explanation shows why he fails.

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/euthyphro-dilemma

          • donsevers says:

            Your best insight here is that DCT does not give us objective moral values. We only get whatever God does. WLC says that, since God is maximally good, he can only do good, so grinding kids up must be good, despite appearances. But Christians also say God is responsible for eminently good things like love and puppies. Well, if Good can mean anything, then it means nothing.

          • Jonathan, thanks for your comment! Hope you had a nice Christmas.

            If God is the origin of good as the Bible says He is (Exodus 33:19, 34:5-7, Psalm 119:68, Mark 10:18) then goodness is neither something God adopts nor something that comes into being when God acts. It’s part of who God is. DCT seems to say that an act could be evil before God does it, then His doing it transforms it into good. That’s a misunderstanding. God and good are inseparable; God does not approach or take on good from an outside source. God IS good.

            Where some people get tripped up is their moral evaluation of God’s actions (which atheism doesn’t allow for, hence the point of this thread). They think that since God condemns murder (unjust killing) but then is seen in Scripture killing people, commanding Israel to kill people, or today allowing many to be killed by human acts or other natural means, that God does evil. And DCT says this evil is made good by God doing it.

            But, if God is the creator and author of all life, all life belongs to Him, therefore He is not unjust when He takes life away. It also makes perfect sense that an all-knowing transcendent God will judge evil deeds by killing, allowing the natural consequences of man’s sin to take effect, or have good reasons to allow innocents to suffer or die for some greater purpose beyond our immediate understanding (like a child who doesn’t understand the seemingly unfair or even painful way he is disallowed from eating an entire cake or running into the street). God’s creation does not have the right to take life unjustly. With God, there is no such thing as unjust when He takes life. He owns life, has just reasons, and we have no basis to expect that we will always see or know what they are.

            God does not change His nature, and absolute moral law, which derives from His nature, doesn’t change either. How he chooses to relate to man has changed, but He is still the same God.

            Man’s understanding of God, however, is all over the place. That’s why we have numerous ideas of God and numerous interpretations of moral law, even though we tend to generally agree on the major ones. The fact that moral law exists in the first place shouldn’t be the case without a moral God who placed it in our hearts (Rom. 2:15). Of course in sin we will distort it to suit our own desires.

            If absolute morality doesn’t exist, how could you say anything like “There is no absolute morality under naturalism”, which you believe to be absolutely right and true? While you have your own unique understanding of what ought to be and what ought not be, your own set of particular ethics, you argue for your own understanding of morality as if it’s supposed to mean something to other people, who, on naturalistic morality, have no reason to interpret morality the same way you do. Why do we all hold to our own set of morals and try to convince others of what we think is good and right and true? Because we understand them to be universal and unchanging after all. That people and cultures disagree on the particulars is really irrelevant. Naturalism forbids them to be there in the first place.

            You allow that “if there is [absolute morality] it has a natural basis, which we do not appear to have access to.” Would you expect the statement “There is no obvious moral law in the world” be taken seriously by someone in a moral culture very different from yours? Should it be true for them too? While you’ve said “almost none of our actions are dictated by a conscious assessment or moral law”, I think it’s true that many are not readily conscious that every decision they make is rooted in some basic moral judgment of whether it is right or wrong to do. We take it for granted, yes, so to that degree we are not conscious of it. I’m hoping you will become more conscious.

            You vaguely reference “processes” by which morality evolved, but I wonder if you’d care to dig deeper. Can you imagine the first moral thought or act that doesn’t appeal to a pre-existing moral law? “Collective benefit” appeals to a moral good. What is the benefit that is to be perceived as good and therefore desired? Community? What is the inherent good in community? Survival of the species? What is the good in surviving and passing on your genes? There’s the dead end for Naturalism. Humans desire to live and flourish. Why? Why not just end this life of misery? A very few come to that end, but most carry on for some reason.

            If the internet spurns the globalization of a common moral norm, what if you disagreed with this new global morality? Would you be morally wrong? Just curious. :)

            The kind of morality that Naturalism requires is local, even personal. If that’s the case, then there is no reason for anyone to apply their moral ideas to anyone else, and it would be insane to think that a system of morals developed within human beings could have any relevance to God, yet humans judge God all the time.

            • donsevers says:

              >if God is the creator and author of all life, all life belongs to Him, therefore He is not unjust when He takes life away.

              This doesn’t follow at all. It depends on what ‘unjust’ means. My wife and I gave birth to our kids, but they don’t belong to us. If we say God can do whatever he wants and it’s all Just, then Just means nothing.

              DCT does not avoid Euthyphro. Either the things God does are good because they conform to an external standard or the things God does are good because he does them. Attributional or definitional. DCT is the 2nd option and this removes any possible meaning for ‘goodness’ or ‘justice’. We could HOPE that a definitionally good God would only do things we think are good, but the facts on earth rule that out. Any creator included far more suffering than would ever be necessary for him.

              Finally, EVEN IF DCT were correct that the same acts that are sins when we do them but are good when God does them because of his Authority over us, He would never have to do them! God could do better. He COULD meet our standard of Goodness and still accomplish all his aims. He really could. So our suffering is optional for him. He either enjoys it or is indifferent to it.

              >Why do we all hold to our own set of morals and try to convince others of what we think is good and right and true? Because we understand them to be universal and unchanging after all.

              This doesn’t necessarily follow, either. There are other possible motivations for trying to convince people of things.

              • “It depends on what ‘unjust’ means. [“if God is the creator and author of all life, all life belongs to Him, therefore He is not unjust when He takes life away.]

                Correct. We are unjust when we take things that do not belong to us, like human life. God owns human life. It isn’t that “God can do whatever He wants”, it’s that all the God does is just. God cannot decide to lie, for instance.

                If “the things God does are good because He does them” this is conditional upon the truth that God can do none other than good.

                Your conclusions about God’s injustice from “the facts on earth” come from an arbitrary idea you seem to have about the level of evil in the world being too high. I don’t like how high it is either, but, what is your ideal optimum balance of good and evil? If “Any creator included far more suffering than would ever be necessary for him”, exactly how much is necessary, and necessary for what? You surmise that God shouldn’t have to take life away because of His authority, and that “God could do better.” How much better? Would you be satisfied with anything less than a perfect world with no evil or suffering (even if the choice for evil could be taken away completely without taking away all freedom, which in itself would be suffering)? If one child died of cancer per year, wouldn’t that still be too many? What can anyone know of “His aims” that you say He could accomplish by meeting “our standard of goodness”? And by “our” do you mean yours? mine? whose? You seem to claim more insight into the mind of God than Christians do. :)

                “There are other possible motivations for trying to convince people of things.” [re: Why do we all hold to our own set of morals and try to convince others of what we think is good and right and true? Because we understand them to be universal and unchanging after all.]

                What is your motivation for trying to convince me or others of your view?

                (Sorry, feel free to reply to the original post, this narrowing is ridiculous) :)

  14. […] I haven’t even mentioned the harm that comes from turning against God’s design for relationships and the sanctity He put on human life, which I understand as something we don’t all agree upon as a concept that even exists. That will always be part of the foundational argument for me as I can see no other reasonable explanation for such basic notions as free will and do no harm that we value and treat as universal and objective rules we expect everyone to follow. Even atheists expect our concepts of God to follow these rules (A question I posted here https://askanatheist.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/do-atheists-judge-gods-morality/) […]

  15. Anonymous says:

    Should not judge God as he dors not exist.

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