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Is God the Source of Morality?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians assert that God is the only source of morality.  Wanting to reject this assertion, atheists sometimes offer a counter-argument which claims to invalidate the Christian God as the source of morality.

The challenge is often referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma because it was first raised in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro.  The argument goes like this.  Either something is good because God commands it, or else God commands something because it is good.

Christians have problems with both options.  If you say something is good because God commands it, then right and wrong are arbitrary.  God could command tomorrow that murder, rape, and theft are right, and that love, kindness, and generosity are wrong.  That seems bizarre; it runs counter to all of our common moral intuitions.  It also conflicts with traditional and orthodox concepts of the Christian God.  If murder and rape can be declared good, then we have no idea what kind of God we are worshiping.

On the other hand, if God commands something because it is good, then goodness exists outside of God.  The ground for morality would then be independent of God -  a stand-alone entity.  God would be subservient to this source of morality, and therefore not God at all.  The Christian God is not subservient to anything outside himself.

What is the solution to this dilemma?  Christians have split this apparent dilemma by offering a third option: goodness is part of God’s nature.  God, according to Christians, is the good.  God commands the good because he is essentially good.  His nature does not change, so he cannot declare murder to be right tomorrow.  On the other hand, morality does not exist outside of him, but as part of him.  He is only subservient to himself, which is no subservience at all.

It turns out that no dilemma really exists once you understand the nature of God.  He truly is the source for all moral values and duties.


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Comments

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    But that doesn’t help me figure out what is good. I still either have to reason it out for myself or try to determine what God has commanded. The dilemma is exactly the same.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Yeah, I’m with Vinny here. I’ve never figured out why this third alternative is a solution. By assuming bothhorns, it does present a piece-meal solution (because each horn resolves a problem of the other horn), but it completely fails to address the problem left within each horn.

    Assuming the tautology “God is Good,” we are still left with the arbitrary determination of good. It is whatever God does. Further, we are left with Divine Command, because good is still whatever God commands.

    Basically it comes across as word-salad. Speak enough words, and presumably there is a solution there somewhere so other Christians can be convinced someone somehow resolved this problem.

  • Boz

    I don’t understand what you are saying in the third option. “God is the good” sounds very much like a meaningless deepity.

    Under the first option, my action X is morally wrong because Yahweh says so.
    Under the second option, my action X is morally wrong because it violates a particular moral rule.
    Under the third option, my action X is morally wrong because ??????

    ?

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    This is a common point of confusion. There is a difference between how we come to know specific moral values and duties, and what the source of those moral values and duties is. The dilemma has to do with the latter, not the former.

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Moral values are rooted in God’s nature. He doesn’t arbitrarily decide what the good is; it is built into him. The source of ultimate good is also not something outside of God floating around and forcing itself upon God, making God subservient to it. The source of good is God himself. The dilemma is therefore false; there are more than the 2 options offered.

  • Bill Pratt

    Boz,
    Option 1 says that X is good just because God arbitrarily commands it, and for no other reason. Option 2 says that God commands something because it is defined as good by some external source of goodness. Option 3 says that X is good because God commands it based on his own perfectly good nature. Clearly option 3 is different from 1 and 2.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    Bill,

    Have you read Plato’s Euthyphro? Socrates asks Euthyphro “What is piety and what is impiety?” He does not, as you have tried to do here, ask him the source of piety. Euthyphro falls into the dilemma because he wants to identify the gods as the source of piety, but that doesn’t answer the question of what it is. You have similarly answered a question that wasn’t being asked.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    The dilemma I have outlined is based on the dialogue. The dialogue has been used by philosophers (amateur and professional) to pose this dilemma to theists. I have personally been challenged in this manner several times, so when you say I am answering a question that wasn’t asked, you are just wrong. Maybe all of the people who have posed the dilemma have misunderstood the dialogue, but that doesn’t really matter that much, does it? It is still a dilemma that is posed by non-theists to theists, so it needs to be answered.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    Bill,

    No. You are wrong. The dilemma arises in the context of Socrates’ question. “Is God the source of morality?” is not the correct question against which to test your resolution of the dilemma because it is not the question that Socrates posed to Euthyphro..

    You didn’t answer my question though. Have you read the dialogue?

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    Yes, I have.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    The point of the dilemma is not that it invalidates the assertion that God is the only source of morality. The point of the dilemma is that it illustrates the emptiness of that assertion. Knowing where morality comes is only useful if it helps in determining what is moral and what is immoral.

    Saying that God commands only the good doesn’t tell me what the good is. I need some standard by which to assess what is good and what is moral. That standard may be based on reason, in which case the role of God becomes superfluous because God is simply that which reason tells me is good. On the other hand, that standard may be revealed by God to us in which case morality and goodness as independent concepts become superfluous because all that matters is what God has commanded.

    I understand why “Christians have problems with both options,” but telling me that God is good and that morality exists within Him is simply a tautology. Euthyphro’s dilemma does concern the nature and source of morals, but any attempt to resolve the dilemma necessarily fails if it does provide a way to answer Socartes question, “What is piety and what is impiety?” Your third option doesn’t to the trick.

  • Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    The question which Socrates poses at the center of the dialogue is, “The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.”

    My paraphrase of this question in the post, I think, is completely legitimate. In the context of the dialogue, Socrates is frustrated by Greek religion because it does not address the source of morality. Euthyphro keeps telling Socrates that whatever the gods do is pious, but Socrates points out that the gods do contradictory things. His dialogue never considers the idea that morality could be rooted in God’s nature.

    Put another way, Socrates wants to know, in the context of Greek religion, whether God is above goodness or goodness is above God. For the Christian, the answer is neither. God and goodness are equally absolute because goodness is God’s nature. This option is not one that Socrates considers in the dialogue.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    Socrates wants to know, in the context of Greek religion, whether God is above goodness or goodness is above God.

    In the context of pagan polytheism, I don’t even know that this question would have made any sense to Socrates. It seems to presuppose a type of monotheism that wasn’t part of the culture.

    Practicing religion in ancient Greece was a matter of performing the correct rituals to keep the gods happy. For Socrates, the source of morality was a philosophical question, not a theological one. He wouldn’t have expected religion to address it.

  • Bill Pratt

    But he was clearly frustrated by Greek religion’s failure to adequately address morality. That’s why Euthyphro was annoying him so much. He kept saying that what is pious is what the gods do. Socrates knew that explanation was insufficient. When you say he wouldn’t have expected religion to address his question, I agree that he wouldn’t have expected Greek religion to address it, but he was looking for some way to solve the dilemma.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ Vinny

    No. Socrates is the one doing the frustrating. That is how the Socratic method works. The questioner already knows the answers, but he uses the process of asking questions to lead the respondent to an understanding of the answer as well. Socrates isn’t trying to solve the dilemma. He is using the dilemma to demonstrate that religion doesn’t have the answer to morality. Socrates pretends to be seeking knowledge but his purpose is to demonstrate that Eurthyphro doesn’t have the answers.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    Is “God is Good” a tautology? If not, whence do you say we determine “good” without the use of God?

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Bill,

    Darrell Boan reproduced this piece of yours on his Facebook page and when I made a comment on his thread a little while ago he suggested seeking your thoughts directly. My comment on Darrell’s thread was to the effect that within Christianity there are widely differing ideas as to the nature of God. For example, inside Non–Catholic Western Christendom there is a monumental divide between Calvinists and Arminians. So when one uses a term like “the Christian God,” as you have done, the starting point is nebulous and it’s therefore very difficult if not impossible for any progress to made. So I’m curious as to your starting position and how you arrived there. The question I have for you is to ask what attributes you see fit to assign to God and how you’ve satisfied yourself that you have the nature of God right and can therefore start to build up or infer a morality that is commensurate with God’s nature?

    Cordially,
    Mick Curran

  • Bill Pratt

    I don’t think “God is good” is a tautology, but I don’t understand the rest of your question. Could you re-phrase?

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Mick,
    I don’t really see a monumental divide between Calvinists and Arminians with respect to the nature of God. I think that most orthodox Christians agree on the basic attributes of God, of which there are a couple dozen, depending on how you count them. I would say that most Catholics and Protestants draw upon the insights of Augustine and Aquinas in the area of God’s attributes (not entirely sure about eastern orthodox, but I doubt they are very different). Would you like me to list those attributes? Are there specific attributes that you think Christians are divided on?

  • Mick Curran

    Hello again, Bill,

    Many thanks for your courteous response. I’m Eastern Orthodox. I agree that the influences of Augustine and Aquinas can be detected in Western Christendom but I’m very surprised that you do not see a monumental divide between Calvinists and Arminians with regard to the nature of God. However, if that’s your considered view then I accept it as valid. I’m curious as to how you arrived at that conclusion, though. I take it that you accept the 66–book Bible as your Authority but would you categorize yourself as Sola Scriptura or SOLO Scriptura? I’m not trying to catch you out. I’m just interested in how you got to your current postion.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    It stems back to our discussion regarding words having meaning. We understand and communicate regarding the world about us by application of words. You understand the differentiation between “the truck” and “the red truck” by virtue of the word “red.” “Red” is a characteristic determining you start looking for a particular type of truck—a red one—rather than any truck.

    In fact, if we use an unfamiliar word in a situation, our minds attempt to determine what is being communicated. If I say, “That truck is sick” you look for context. If it was beautifully painted, and completely decked out, you could surmise–even though the word “sick” normally has a negative connotation–in this instance I am using it as a positive compliment.

    Morality is the same way. When we use the words “immoral, moral and non-moral” those words are intended to have meaning the other person can understand—namely an action that either violates a standard, conforms to a standard, or no standard applies. We look at ”Action X,” compare the action to our standard (if any) and if it violates the standard, we call it “immoral” and if it conforms to the standard, we call it “moral” or (as we have been in this conversation) “good.”

    It doesn’t matter what ”Action X” is—it could be eating an ice cream cone, cutting someone, or making a gesture—we then apply it to our standard to make the determination. To understand and communicate what we mean by “immoral” or “moral.”

    You have said, in the context of this discussion:

    “God, according to Christians is the good.”

    “He [God] truly is the source of all moral duties and values.”

    “Moral values are rooted in God’s nature. He doesn’t arbitrarily decide what the good is; it is built into him. The source of ultimate good is also not something outside of God floating around and forcing itself upon God, making God subservient to it. The source of good is God himself.”

    “God and goodness are equally absolute because goodness is God’s nature.”

    You appear to be saying God is the standard to apply. But this renders the concepts of “immoral” and “moral” (or “good”) meaningless. It means, “God performs Action X and it is moral. We compare it to what our standard is—Does God do it?—and the answer is always ‘Yes.’ Because God did it.”

    It doesn’t matter what Action X is, whether it is the ordering of genocide, killing babies, kissing maids, making immorality, creating life, imposing death, damning people to hell, making leopards, going to sleep…the list is endless. By your standard, God does it; it is moral (or “good.”)

    The ONLY way we can understand whether God is doing something immoral or moral, is comparing to a standard that must be something other than God doing it!

    This renders “God is good” to mean the same thing. A tautology. (Coincidentally, “God is evil” would equally be a tautology, as the words “good” and “evil” lose all meaning without a standard.)

    As Vinny (and Socrates) pointed out—how do we know what God is doing is moral as compared to immoral?

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Mick,
    I do accept the 66-book Bible as authoritative. Could you explain the difference between Sola and SOLO? I haven’t seen that distinction before.

  • Mick Curran

    Hey Bill,

    As I see it, Sola Scriptura affirms that the Bible is the final authority on matters of faith and practice but it doesn’t necessarily involve dismissing tradition and history. SOLO Scriptura, on the other hand, is the “Me, Jesus and the Bible” approach that appears to prevail in some Evangelical quarters and which formally denies that any other authority apart from the Bible even exists. It might well be described as, “The Bible, only the Bible, and nothing but the Bible.” I equate Sola Scriptura with Calvinism and consider that SOLO Scriptura has grown out of Arminianism. So I’m proposing that two extremes exist and I’m inviting you to align yourself with either one or the other. I know you’ve already stated that you don’t see the monumental divide that I perceive (apropos the nature of God, at least) but perhaps you’ll concede that it’s at least theoretically possible for such a divide to exist given the distance between the presuppositions?

    This is an interesting blog, by the way. Your posts are well thought out and engagingly written, if I may say so. God grant you many years!

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Mick,
    Thanks so much for your kind words. I really appreciate them.

    If I have to choose between Sola and SOLO as you’ve defined them, I’m definitely in the Sola camp. I believe that tradition and history are very important for Christians to know.

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    You interpreted me as following:

    “You appear to be saying God is the standard to apply. But this renders the concepts of “immoral” and “moral” (or “good”) meaningless. It means, “God performs Action X and it is moral. We compare it to what our standard is—Does God do it?—and the answer is always ‘Yes.’ Because God did it.””

    But that is not at all what I was saying. You have confused epistemology with ontology. I am not addressing how we come to know whether a particular moral action is moral or immoral. That is a good question, but not the question I was answering. I am only addressing what the source of morality of is. Where does it come from? What is it based in? The Christian answer to these kinds of questions is that God is the source of morality. It is part of his nature. This question of ontology is what confounds a naturalistic atheist, because pure naturalism has no good way to ground morality.

  • Mick Curran

    Hi Bill,

    I’ve a question. If a theist were to become convinced that no God existed and went on to adopt that idea as his or her starting point, wouldn’t that former theist necessarily have to redefine the word “morality” as something along the lines of “cultural norm” and dismiss the whole notion of Christian morality as meaningless?

  • Bill Pratt

    Mick,
    Yes, that seems true to me. That person would be left without a foundation for their ethics (God) and would have to develop a new one. Cultural norms are a candidate, but that of course would leave the person as a moral relativist because cultural norms only transcend one culture. In addition, they would only have a descriptive ethics, not a prescriptive ethics. Cultural norms can tell you what the current moral behaviors for a culture are, but not why you should follow them.

  • Mick Curran

    Bill,
    So if a theist turned antitheist would be categorized as a moral relativist do you consider that a theist ought to be classified as a moral absolutist?

    Blessings on the LORD’S Day to you. :)

  • Bill Pratt

    Yes, I think Christian theists are moral absolutists.

  • Mick Curran

    Bill,
    How do you understand moral absolutism? Do you qualify it in any way?

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    I understood you were talking ontology (what is) not epistemology (how to learn what is.) That is the point of the problem of tautology. You appear to be saying morality is God. Ontologically.

    Note two things. There is no difference between “God” and “God’s nature.” Ask yourself this—what is in “God” that is NOT in his nature? Or, alternative, what is in “God’s nature” that is NOT in God? They are one and the same. You are defining morality as what God is, making “Good is God” or “God is Good.” A tautology. What I pointed out before.

    Secondly, it is only in philosophical sophistry we divorce epistemology from ontology. They are dependent. Only by developing an epistemological method can we obtain ontology, and if we have no epistemology, we have on ontology. Likewise, only by realizing what we do or do not know (our ontology) can we utilize epistemology to obtain further information or clarification.

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Goodness is an attribute of God, but does not totally describe him. We are not saying God is only good. God has many other attributes, just as we can look at a rock and say that it is round, gray, and rough to the touch. Therefore, I don’t understand how you can say the sentence, “God is good,” is a tautology.

  • Bill Pratt

    Mick,
    I would qualify the abolutism. I would say that moral commands are absolute in their source (God), absolute in their sphere, and absolute in their order of priority. This ethical view is sometimes called graded absolutism among Christian ethicists.

  • Mick Curran

    Bill,

    Graded absolutism has been called Biblical Situation Ethics. Would you describe it as such?

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt, Interesting.  Before you were saying God is God’s Nature.  Now you have relegated it down to an attribute.   

    Notice what you said in your initial blog entry:  “God, according to Christians, is the good.  God commands the good because he is essentially good.“ [emphasis in the original] 

    So…if “good” is now an attribute—one of many things—what parts of God are NOT good?  What attributes does your God have that are not “essentially good”?   

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    Something is good if it is desired for itself. When I say that God is good, I mean that God is desired for himself. When I say that God is the ultimate good, I mean that God is the ultimate thing desired. I could also say that God is omniscient, which means that he knows all things that are possible to know. I could say that he is omnipotent, which means that he is able to do anything that is actually possible. These are three different attributes of God, but they each apply to all of God. So it is perfectly legitimate to say that God is good, God is omniscient, and God is omnipotent.

    Again, the example of describing a rock is helpful. I can say that a rock is round, gray, and rough. I am describing the rock with three different attributes. Each attribute applies to all of the rock – the whole rock is round, gray, and rough.

    So when we say that God is the ultimate good, we are not making an empty statement. We are saying that he is the one being in existence who is the most desirable. There is nothing more desirable than God.

  • Bill Pratt

    Mick,
    No, I wouldn’t. Situation ethics, as developed by Joseph Fletcher, does not hold that there are any absolutes. In contrast, graded absolutism holds that all of the biblical moral commands are binding to all people at all times and all places. Fletcher believed that the situation should determine what one should do, whereas graded absolutism says that God’s moral laws determine what we should do.

    It is only in rare instances where two biblical commands would conflict with each other, and there is no third alternative, that the situation would help a person to decide which biblical command takes precedence. For example, graded absolutism would say that a person should lie to save a life (e.g., people hiding Jews during WWII) if there was no other way out of the situation.

    An unqualified absolutist would say that when the Nazi’s knocked on the front door, you should tell the truth that you are hiding Jews, even though it would mean certain death for them.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    Oh. I’m sorry. I thought we were discussing morality. Wow…I have no idea why Euthyphro was even mentioned if we were talking about desire.

    Oh, the analogy with the rock doesn’t quite work because we are discussing the nature of a unique being—God—not one of many items. To tighten up your analogy (if you don’t mind), we would need to take a specific rock. And claim it is granite. But this means it is granite throughout. It may be round—it is round and granite. It may be one pound—it is one pound and granite. Describing other attributes of our rock, does not remove or displace the granite nature or essence of our rock.

    Every part of the rock is granite. Nothing is not granite. I understand when you say, “God is the good” you mean God is good through and through. If he is not—what part of God is not Good?

    The same way, what part of our rock is not granite?

  • Bill Pratt

    Dagoods,
    I agree that God is essentially good throughout, because God is a simple being. He is not composed of parts. Not sure what the issue is here.

    The reason I defined goodness is because you were claiming that the sentence “God is good” is a tautology, and I’m trying to show that it is not. We have the subject, God (a being), and we predicate goodness (that which is desired for itself) to the subject.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    In this discussion, what do you mean by “good”?

    The English language is fun. Yet occasionally the variety of definitions make discussions confusing. (Where else can we find words like “cleave” and “sanction” with opposite definitions!)

    Typically moral actions are broken down to three categories: 1) moral, 2) non-moral and 3) immoral. Where “moral” means the action following the standard, “non-moral” means the standard does not apply to standard and “immoral” means an action breaching the standard.

    In vernacular, we utilize other words, like “good” and “evil” where:

    “Good” corresponds to “moral;”
    “Evil” corresponds to “immoral;” and
    “Neutral” corresponds to “non-moral.”

    Of course, it can get even more confusing, because atheists sometimes use the “Problem of Evil” where the action complained of is a natural disaster, not a specific moral action. And worse, like I just did, we use the term “moral” for both the entire system (as in “morality system”) AND for a specific action under the system.

    Further, the word “good” can mean “moral;” but it can also mean of sufficient quality—“Good job on that test.” It can also mean desirable—“It is good to wear a hat when it is cold.”

    I try to use the terms people normally use, like you did in this blog entry. I presumed when you use “good” (because you are talking about a morality system) you meant “moral.” Otherwise the Dilemma doesn’t really apply.

  • Andrew Ryan

    We never got an answer to DagoodS question. As long as the only answer to the Euthyphro dilemma is the tautology of ‘God is good’, then the dilemma still stands.

    Any attempt by an apologist to offer a ‘No morality without God’ argument will always fall at the attempt to explain what they actually mean by ‘morality’. Either you describe it without reference to God, in which case God is not required, or you describe it purely as an attribute of God, in which case it becomes tautologous, and indistinguishable from saying ‘Evil is an attribute of God’.

    If there were two hypothetical universes, and in one God was ultimate good, and in the other God was ultimate bad, how would you know which universe you were in?

  • Bill Pratt

    There is no such thing as ultimate badness, as badness is a parasite on goodness. There cannot be badness without a pre-existing goodness for badness to twist and distort.

  • Bill Pratt

    I have answered this challenge before by noting that basic moral rules are known a priori by human beings. We agree, by nature, what it means to act morally. When we look at these moral virtues that we know from our basic human intuition, we then look for a source of these virtues. Where did they come from? As Christians, we see that God has these moral virtues (based on revelation), and has them in a perfect way, so we rightly conclude that He must be the source of moral virtue. There is nothing circular about this argument.

  • Andrew Ryan

    The ‘bad is a corruption of good’ argument strikes me as semantics. Corruption already has a negative connotation. Apart from that you could easily argue that good is a ‘perfection’ of bad. That aside, if your argument worked, then atheists could use the same argument to form an objective morality.

    Sorry, yes it is circular. And it’s an is/ought fallacy to say that what you intuitively feel is right must actually BE objectively right. People intuitively feel that all sorts of things are ok that you would disagree with.

  • Bill Pratt

    Semantics? Please explain to me what a purely evil or bad world would consist of.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “Please explain to me what a purely evil or bad world would consist of.”

    Doesn’t your own concept of heaven and hell include this idea?

    That aside, by semantics, I mean that although one could describing a bad act as merely being a corruption of a good one, one could equally flip it the other way round. One could say that good acts are ‘merely’ improvements on bad acts. Is giving someone a smile an improvement on scowling at them, or is scowling a corruption of smiling at them?

    “As Christians, we see that God has these moral virtues (based on revelation), and has them in a perfect way, so we rightly conclude that He must be the source of moral virtue.”

    Isn’t this begging the question? You’re including in your proof the ‘fact’ that you ‘see’ this to be true, and that you ‘rightly conclude’ it. You could equally replace both terms with ‘assume’.

    Even if you conclude that we have intuitions to act in a certain way, and you reject that this situation is what one would EXPECT in an evolved social species, and you further conclude that this situation can only be explained by a deity, it is still a leap to claim that these intuitions MUST be moral ones. Could a deity not have written immoral behaviour onto our hearts? I’m not saying that our intuitions are not moral, I’m saying that it is an ‘is/ought’ error to assume that they are.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hell is not pure badness and no Christian that I know has ever claimed it was. Not sure where you got that idea. Again, there is no such thing as pure badness, as badness needs goodness to exist at all. If you can describe a purely bad world, you would be the first in history to do so.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “. Again, there is no such thing as pure badness, as badness needs goodness to exist at all.”

    I already addressed this. You could equally argue that the opposite is true. You’ve addressed no other point I made.

  • Bill Pratt

    OK, then make the argument. Describe a purely evil world.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I have met many Christians who view heaven as a place without sin, and describe hell as being all bad. You disagree, that’s fine. It wasn’t really a major part of my argument, and isn’t something I’m that bothered about discussing. Either way, if you subscribe to this view of bad being a distortion if good, then you’ve got the framework for an objective morality that doesn’t require a God to ground it.

  • Paul Harris

    God is not good

    If God is the ultimate being, then that God cannot be good. When we are saying that God is good, we are passing some judgment on God, we are saying that He is good. But by what standard of goodness are we judging him good? From where has it originated? As believers say that their God is the all-thing and everything that was there, therefore this standard of goodness could have originated from God only, and not from any other source, because except that God there was no other source from which it could have originated. So we are judging God good by His own standard of goodness. But this is a dangerous principle. Because if this principle is being followed in other cases also, then there will be complete chaos. Then everybody will start claiming that he should be judged for his action by his own standard only, and not by the standard of other people, society, or state. And he can legitimately claim this, because he will say that God has made man in His own image. So the principle that is followed in case of God should also be followed in case of each and every single human being. Why should there be any deviation from that principle in case of man? Is he not created in God’s own image? So, after killing six million Jews Hitler will claim that he is innocent, because he thought it absolutely necessary to efface their race from the surface of earth, in order to save mankind from future disasters. Therefore by his own standard of goodness and badness he has done nothing wrong.
    Therefore the above principle will have to be abandoned and we will have to seek for some other principle. In that case if we say that God is good, then we will have to admit that the standard by means of which we judge God good has not originated from Him, but from some other source. Here there are two possibilities:
    1) This standard is prior to God,
    2) It is coeternal with, but not originated from, God.
    In none of the two cases above, God is the all-thing and everything that can be there. So believers cannot claim that their God is the all-thing and everything that is there, and at the same time claim that He is good.
    Bertrand Russell, although an atheist, has already shown that God cannot be good, for the simple reason that if God is good, then there is a standard of goodness which is independent of God’s will. Here Russell is also admitting that if God is to be judged good at all, then He will have to be so judged by a standard that should not, and must not, have originated from God. In Hindu mythology, Brahma (Supreme Being) is said to be beyond good and evil. He is neither good, nor evil. But both good as well as evil have originated from Him, who is neither good nor evil.
    The main problem is that most of the believers are irrational people. They attribute to God many properties that cannot be attributed to Him legitimately. A God who is one cannot love, cannot hate, cannot be cruel, cannot be merciful, cannot be benevolent, cannot be all-loving, cannot be just, etc. If we say God is love, then before creation whom did He love? So if we say that God is love, then it can only be self-love. If we say that God is cruel, then we will have to admit that He is cruel to Himself. If we say that God is all-loving, then we will have to admit that this all is coeternal with God, and that therefore He has not created us at all. So we should not revere Him, for the simple reason that he is not our creator! Perhaps due to their fear of eternal hell-fire after death some people try to appease God by repeatedly saying that He is Good, whereas in reality He is not good. But does that mean that God is evil? No, not at all. Einstein has said just the right thing here: Subtle is His way, but He is not malicious!
    In one sense it can be said that the creation of the universe was God’s greatest wrongdoing. It was His biggest blunder. Because with this creation came hunger, misery, death, suffering, sorrow, slavery, murder, rape, treason, torture, and what not! Now we cannot undo what God has already done, because it is not in our power to destroy the entire universe. But we can at least destroy the earth; science has given us that much power. So it is up to us to decide what we should do. But if we do not destroy the earth, then in a sense we also become responsible for all the future evils on earth. We do not destroy the earth because we love life, thus allowing evil to run its course as before.
    The principle that God is to be judged good by His own standard of goodness is intrinsically a bad principle. Because in that case we are giving unlimited license to God to decide what is good for Him. And He can arbitrarily choose any act as good for Him that is abhorrent to others. Here believers will say that God is of such a nature He can never act badly. By saying so believers are admitting that God’s acts are good not because those are God’s acts, but because God always acts conforming to some moral code. So Russell is correct in saying that there is a standard of goodness that is independent of God’s will.
    Another reason can be given as to why God cannot be good. If God is good then the question “who created God?” cannot be answered properly and there will be an infinite regression. Believers are very clever people indeed. When this question is raised, knowing very well that they have no answer to this, they cunningly place their God outside the causal space-time universe, and then claim that causal rule does not apply there. But when the question comes as to whether God is good or evil, they blissfully forget that they themselves have placed their God outside the causal universe where not only the causal chain, but also none of the other categories of the created world would apply: goodness/badness, love/hate, justice/injustice, beauty/ugliness, compassion/cruelty, benevolence/malevolence, big/small, high/low, etc. & etc. And they will take no time to declare that their God is pure goodness itself, thus showing their utter inability to think consistently.

  • sean

    There a a couple of problems with your answer to the Euthyphro. First, the Bible. The Bible documents many actions taken by God, or things said by God, that I’d consider bad. For example, genocide, or subjecting people to burn in Hell forever because of a lack of belief in him. My second problem is this; if God’s nature is aligned with the good, then I must ask about the origins of his nature. For example, if God created his own nature, then he did indeed decide what right and wrong are. If he didn’t create his nature, then God isn’t the ultimate source of moral authority. He’s bound by this greater morality. Right?

    Where am I wrong here?

  • sean

    A better way of asking the question is as follows. wither God’s character/nature is good because it is God’s, or God’s character/nature just in line with what’s good? If the answer about his nature is one, then it’s still arbitrary. If it’s two, then goodness is exterior to God’s existence.

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