Post Author: Bill Pratt
Classical Christian theism affirms that God is the Good. David Baggett and Jerry Walls explain that
in some important sense we wish to argue that God just is the ultimate Good. This view . . . has a venerable history within Christianity. Thomists, Anselmians, theistic Platonists, and theistic activists, including such contemporary analytic philosophers as Alvin Plantinga and Robert Adams, all concur that on a Christian understanding of reality, God and the ultimate Good are ontologically inseparable.
Notice that last sentence. Ontologically inseparable means that God and the Good are the same thing. If we look at Thomas Aquinas’s view, in particular, we see that the
terms “being” and “goodness” are the same in reference, differing only in sense. A thing is perfect of its kind to the extent to which it is fully realized or developed; the extent to which the potentialities definitive of its kind—its specifying potentialities—have been actualized. In acting, a thing aims at being.
Being and goodness . . . co-refer, picking out the same referent under two different names and descriptions, . . . Since Aquinas took God to be essentially and uniquely “being itself,” it is God alone who is essentially goodness itself. This allows us to make ready sense of the relationship between God and the standard by which he prescribes or judges.
Many atheists still throw the Euthyphro Dilemma at Christians, as if it is a telling blow against the existence of the Christian God. This dilemma, in essence, argues that either moral laws exist ontologically independent of God, or moral laws are arbitrarily commanded by God. Both of those options are problematic for Christians, but as has been stated numerous times by Christian thinkers, there is another option – the moral law is built into God’s nature. In other words, God is the Good.
Baggett and Walls expand this point:
For the goodness for the sake of which and in accordance with which God wills whatever he wills regarding human morality is identical with his nature. Yet since it is God’s very nature and no arbitrary decision of his that thus constitutes the standard of morality, only things consonant with God’s nature could be morally good. . . .
We are inclined to think that the ultimate ontological inseparableness of God and the Good is something of an axiomatic Anselmian intuition; a vision apprehended, not just the deliverance of a discursive argument. That so many solid theists through the centuries have gravitated toward such a view bolsters this impression.
If God is the ultimate Good, such that necessary moral truths are reflective of an aspect of God, then indeed Plantinga is right that to apprehend such truths is to catch a glimpse of God himself. Moreover, if such dependence or even identity obtains or is even possible, then the Euthyphro Dilemma is effectively defused and the moral argument for God’s existence accordingly gains strength.