God and Goodness

Robin: Look, I get it, Jaime. As an atheist, you think that God’s wisdom is foolishness, that God’s righteousness is wickedness, and that the bloody death of Jesus on the cross is hateful and ugly rather than the epitome of love and beauty that Christians like I think it is. The Bible makes it very clear that the world simply cannot understand the way of the cross; those paradoxical ways that God uses the small to humble the great, makes the poor spiritually richer than the wealthy, chooses a finite fleshly body to manifest his spiritual limitlessness, and makes a symbol of death and isolation like the cross into the most transformative symbol of love and solidarity the world has ever known. God’s ways are just beyond ours and we cannot judge them by the world’s paltry standards of goodness, beauty, or truth. The difference between you and me is that I accept that there are some things just beyond all human understanding whereas you demand that everything make sense to human reason.

Jaime: I know you think all these supposed paradoxes make you sound deep and thoughtful and humble, but they don’t. My criticism of the evil in the Bible has nothing to do with some shallow inability to see how the materially poor could sometimes have more meaning in their lives than the rich, or how the formally uneducated might sometimes be wiser in important ways than some Ivy League alumni. Such banal paeans to peons could be made as easily by secular humanists as by Christians. They require no unique revelation from your god. My case that the god in the Bible inverts good and evil is based on the alleged genocides, slavery, misogyny, homophobia, racism, exclusivism and other nastily barbaric institutions and characteristics attributed to him right there in your Bible itself. There’s nothing sublimely beautiful and “beyond human understanding” about any of these things. If a modern day person tried to sell me on the idea that a god had told him to commit genocide, enslave people, and to force women to marry their rapists, and told me that I had to simply accept the goodness of all these apparent evils on faith that his god’s knowledge of goodness was simply beyond mine, then I would judge him to be both wicked and deluded to inordinately dangerous degrees.

Robin: You have an awful lot of faith in your feelings about Good and Evil, such that you think you can judge even God according to your standards of Good and Evil. But you have no basis to believe in Good or Evil if you don’t believe in God. So you’re just arguing incoherently. If there is no God, then there is no such thing as true Goodness or true Evil. There are just accidental states of affairs and subjective human preferences for some of those states of affairs and aversions to other states of affairs. And these preferences and aversions not only vary person to person but can be exactly opposite of each other from person to person. So one person calls a preferred state of affairs “good” and another, repelled by that very same thing, calls it “evil”—and vice versa with some alternative state of affairs. With no moral law giver there is no absolute basis to say anything really is good or really is evil. So when you try to judge God using these absolutes, you assume a moral law which requires God to give it in the first place. So you can only judge God immoral if you implicitly assume God exists in the first place!

Jaime: No, that’s absurd. But before I get into why, let me quickly note that even were you right and only God could create good and evil, it is still possible that God could be evil as it is clearly possible for any lawmaker to violate his or her own laws.

Robin: It wouldn’t be evil for God to not subject Himself to the laws He gives us any more than it would be evil for a pair of parents not to go to bed at 8pm just because they make a rule for their young children that they must go to bed so early for their own good. And if moral law derives only from the will of God, then that will cannot itself be immoral when it makes exceptions for itself.

Jaime: Oh, I see, genocide and slavery, et al. are only immoral for us but for God they’re totally cool because He’s—what? More mature than we are? Or just more powerful and, as such, entitled to abuse people at will with full moral authority?

Robin: But God does not abuse people. He is a God of love.

Jaime: Did someone rip the entire Old Testament and half the New out of your Bible?

Robin: No, God was working with imperfect people. The immoral things they did were not things he commanded.

Jaime: Yes, they were! He explicitly commands the Israelites to kill every man, woman, child, and animal, and goes out of His way to punish them when they do not! And the Deuteronomical and Levitical law codes are brutal. Your alleged god orders the stoning of disobedient children and gays and people who do as little as pick up sticks on a Saturday!

Robin: Look, these were already barbaric ancient peoples, God was civilizing them one step at a time. The Old Testament laws were comparatively more humane than others from the same time.

Jaime: I’m sure ordering these people to keep slaves and commit genocide in more “godly” ways than their neighbors did had a “comparatively civilizing” effect that made them relative models of humaneness. But how is this the evidence of a God who establishes an absolute Good and Evil? Can I be like your god and use this “absolute” Good and Evil to command genocides as long as they’re slightly less barbaric than Stalin’s or Mao’s?

Robin: Trying to outdo those models of consistent atheist morality, are you?

Jaime: There is nothing “consistent” about the moralities of Mao or Stalin and nothing about atheism that either logically or practically necessitates their violence and authoritarianism. It is your conception of goodness—which has it as a matter of assertion of raw might—that would justify their oppressiveness, not my conception of goodness as intrinsic.

Robin: I don’t believe any humans have the right to impose tyrannies!

Jaime: No—you only believe the entire universe is one big cosmic tyranny and that it rightly is one.

Robin: No, it’s not a cosmic tyranny. God is a legitimate authority, who rules benevolently through love and justice. Dictators usurp power and set themselves up as gods. That’s the antithesis of God’s authority. It is the hubris of willful humanity at its apex!

Jaime: Right, when humans commit genocides and enslave people it’s ghastly hubris—unless they did it several thousand years ago and claimed a perfect being made them do it. In which case it is totally copacetic. Godly even! And the alleged god behind their violence is a paragon of moral virtue.

Robin: Again with the bold moral judgments from someone who has no basis for believing in Good and Evil at all.

Jaime: Look, either goodness is a concept knowable a priori, by reason alone or not only can’t I know good from evil but neither can you.

Robin: What do you mean?

Jaime: When you make claims about what does or does not allow for the creation of morality, you implicitly rely on beliefs about what makes a norm authoritative or not. You seem, for example, not to think that human feelings which differ from person to person are sufficient for creating a genuine moral norm. You seem also to think that there are some criteria which you think the god you believe in adequately satisfies to give him the rights to legislate legitimately where mere human dictators may not. Now, you might claim that your god specially revealed to you the ability to discern the conditions by which his true authority could be validated—in which case it is humorous that you keep trying to convince me with reasons that your views are sounder than mine and trying to get me to understand rationally why your god has legitimate moral authority. Or you think that investigating the intrinsic and rationally knowable nature of moral authority itself leads you to your belief in a god who is a legitimate source of moral norms.

But if you believe you can rationally assess, and rationally prove to me, the ontological necessity and moral legitimacy of your morality-giving god, then apparently you think you know the essence of morality and of moral legitimacy on rational grounds that could be communicated even to a non-believer like me. And if that is the case then apparently morality and moral legitimacy are not only graspable a priori but they are more fundamentally real and knowable than your god since your god is subject to, and could only theoretically gain legitimacy from, a moral order that is both more basic to reality and a more fundamentally understandable reality than he is. So, if we need to understand moral categories in order to infer your god’s existence and to legitimate claims that your god is morally good and authoritative, then apparently we must know these moral categories logically prior to any beliefs or lack of beliefs in gods.

In this case, I would necessarily be able to intuit these moral categories as an atheist, without any need for learning of the existence or dictates of your god. This means I do not need to believe in your god either to understand or accept the legitimacy of morality. In fact, since grasping and applying moral categories is the prerequisite for determining whether your god is moral or immoral—independently of his arbitrary, self-serving alleged claims about himself—I am perfectly in a position to judge that he is in fact disproven as a candidate for existence. Yahweh cannot both exist and behave as described in the Bible and be perfectly good, given the wickedness he is purported to have carried out and commanded throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

Robin: But you can’t know any such essential moral truths. It’s not that you can know moral good from evil and then either infer God must exist to make them possible or assess that God is good or bad by moral standards. Rather, discovering and understanding Goodness is identical with discovering and understanding God since God is Goodness. It is because of this that only the believer in the one true, perfectly good God adequately understands Goodness.

Jaime: Ah, and so those of us who think genocide is evil and that it has nothing to do with goodness just don’t really understand goodness. Only if we add an entirely superfluous concept to goodness—that it is a personal being—and then add an entirely contradictory concept to goodness—that this personal being of goodness itself commands evil actions like genocide—can we finally understand what goodness itself really is. The normal human a priori grasp of goodness is inadequate for this task.

Robin: If we start with your atheistic, non-believing perspective all we can say is that the allegedly “a priori grasp of goodness” made by ordinary humans is just a confusion and an error. It’s just a projection of feelings of preference for some things that treats those things as though they have an intrinsic quality of “goodness” when they really don’t. Only if we intuit that there is an absolute lawgiver who creates things to be intrinsically good can they have a real intrinsic goodness which can be thought about in some correct a priori way and not be just a mistaken trick of the mind whereby a reification of our feelings is confused for an intrinsic property.

Jaime: But you still need to know then that a god has the moral authority to make things good and bad by an act of will. In that case you need to already know that an adequately deputized being has such moral legitimacy.

Robin: No, all I need to know is that an omnipotent creator can create things with intrinsic properties. I don’t have to know that any moral absolutes preexist the creation of the moral properties. God does not create moral absolutes because He has prior absolute moral authority. God creates moral absolutes because He creates everything, including moral absolutes and (with them) the whole idea of moral authority itself.

Jaime: Then that contradicts what you said before when you claimed that your god is goodness. Goodness would be just a property your god creates but not a part of your god itself. Your god would be beyond good and evil the way it is beyond being any other specific created thing or kind of thing and beyond having any of the properties which it arbitrarily creates after existing itself.

Robin: Yes, God is completely unlimited by any of the properties of His creation.

Jaime: Including good and evil then.

Robin: Well, yes, I guess. God could not be involuntarily bound by anything. But God would be perfect and so He would voluntarily be good anyway even though He does not have to be.

Jaime: Except when he isn’t good at all—like in the Old Testament.

Robin: In the long run God can bring good even out of evil, His ways are mysterious.

Jaime: And God, being beyond good and evil, can reverse the properties of good and evil radically, on a whim.

Robin: Yes. I mean, I guess.

Jaime: So then there is no absolute Good and Evil, after all, on your view since your god can reverse the properties at any time. So, how is that a basis for belief in a true and absolute morality?

Robin: Well, He could—but he wouldn’t any more than he would switch the essence of being a dog with the essence of being a cat even though He could do that too.

Jaime: How does it make any sense that the essence of dogs could become the essence of cats or vice versa? If a dog changed its features and the DNA which causes them, that’s not a dog taking on a cat essence, it’s a dog being replaced by a cat! The kinds of beings are still totally distinct. Properties cannot be made into their opposites in any rationally coherent way.

Robin: But God cannot be constrained. He must be able to do even what we think is impossible.

Jaime: If that’s so then the existence of such a being makes all human reasoning impossible since there are no essences that God cannot be surreptitiously flipping around and make into their opposites at any time by arbitrary, unannounced, and unrevealed whim.

Robin: But God wouldn’t do that.

Jaime: But how do you know that?

Robin: Because He’s perfectly good and not capricious! He does not just reverse good and evil like that!

Jaime: Except for when he told his “original” chosen people to commit genocide and keep slaves but started telling his modern ones that those things are evil?

Robin: He loves us, He wouldn’t deceive us.

Jaime: But he could and in principle is unconstrained by morality, since it is his invention and not something that he is subject to in any binding way. By your own logic, he created it and can dismiss it whenever he wishes. He can be systematically deceiving us all and having a good laugh at Christians like you who simultaneously believe in, first, his supremely malignant Old Testament deeds, second, his absolute independence of morality as its total creator, and thirdly and most hilariously naïvely, his “perfect moral goodness”. He might just be the most mischievously wicked tyrant of all time. Maximum evil with maximum praise for his “goodness”. I admit, this is a much more plausible prospect for a real god given the world we live in!

Robin: No, God cannot be malicious. If His nature creates the kind  of goodness it does—the kind we find in the world, then this goodness must be a true and necessary expression of God’s own nature. And therefore God must be inclined to do only what that same goodness requires.

Jaime: So then God can only be identical with the goodness we can intuit in nature and any alleged evil actions must not be attributable to God?

Robin: Yes.

Jaime: Then we can prove the god of the Bible is false, a fictional character and not the real god, by pointing out all his wicked deeds unbecoming the god whose goodness we can understand a priori.

Robin: Are you seriously claiming there is a God now—just to try to refute the belief in the Christian God? Is your atheism really just anti-Christianity? You’ll believe anything if it leads to the Christian God being false?

Jaime: No, I just think Goodness is a basic, a priori discoverable feature of the world. If you want to rename it “God”, then be my guest—as long as you don’t ridiculously claim it is a personal being with a Son, a thing for the smell of blood sacrifices, and a creepily excessive interest in consensual adults’ sex lives.

Robin: But again, if there is no personal God, then there is no true goodness or true evil, just human feelings!

Jaime: No, if there is your imagined highly willful personal god, then morality and goodness are just subject to arbitrary assignations of properties by that being. But if we do not confuse ourselves by invoking your metaphysically and scientifically baseless being, we can rather look for goodness right here in the natural world as one of its intrinsic discoverable features.

Robin: But how? How can you say anything is truly good and not be simply be saying you merely like that thing?

Jaime: Goodness is a matter of effectiveness relationships in the natural world. When I say that vegetables are good for me, I do not mean that they have an arbitrarily assigned property granted to them by an invisible supernatural super-being that makes the statement true independent of empirically and a priori analyzable real world functions. Instead, I mean simply they are good at effectively keeping me alive. And this effectiveness is wholly independent of my feelings too. Personally I hate vegetables, but they are good for me. I don’t even feel any special love for this fact that they are good for me—I rather begrudge it, truth be told! But it’s just true. And unless a god changed their effectiveness potentials to harm me in objective ways, no simple ascription of “properties of badness” by any god would make them bad for me.

Robin: What if it is God who set up those effectiveness relationships in the first place? Then God is the one who gives them those properties of effectiveness that makes them objective. And then, again, God is the source of goodness.

Jaime: If that is all you mean when you say that your god creates goodness, then we can dispense with worrying about whether or not he exists altogether and can certainly ignore your holy books. We certainly don’t need him or Christian churches for knowledge of goodness or morality.

Robin: You would need him to create goodness itself so there could be morality at all!

Jaime: No, because the objective effectiveness relationships would exist and be subject to rational investigation independent of any reference to the being that set up such relationships. Such relationships need no such intelligent design to come about or to be maintained and there is no evidence of such a creator behind them. They just are. And even were they set up by some super-mind in the first place, as long as they are rationally investigatable (as they are) then that is our best route to truth about them. The arbitrary (and often wildly wrong) hunches and fantasies of ancient nomads and modern egomaniacs who are bad at statistics provide no extra help in figuring out the differences between good and bad or right and wrong. Frankly, they can only be expected to hinder any progress on this score.

Your Thoughts?

This fictional debate was a continuation of the one begun in the post Hell As An Absence of God. For more debates between Robin and Jamie about theological matters see the posts Is It Just A Mystery Whether God Exists? and Examining Some Alleged Divine Attributes.

The considerations spelled out in the above post should offer a greater context and justification for the ideas in the following, roughly logically ordered, posts. Listed below are some of the most salient posts I have written on problems in value theory, metaethics, moral psychology, practical ethics, and normative moral theory. There are a lot of them but you do not need to read them all to understand any of them whose titles interest you in particular. So don’t avoid all of them for fear you cannot read all of them.

The Contexts, Objective Hierarchies, and Spectra of Goods and Bads (Or “Why Murder Is Bad”)

Goodness Is A Factual Matter (Goodness=Effectiveness)

Grounding Objective Value Independent Of Human Interests And Moralities

Non-Reductionistic Analysis Of Values Into Facts

Effectiveness Is The Primary Goal In Itself, Not Merely A Means

What Is Happiness And Why Is It Good?

On The Intrinsic Connection Between Being And Goodness

Deriving An Atheistic, Naturalistic, Realist Account Of Morality

How Our Morality Realizes Our Humanity

From Is To Ought: How Normativity Fits Into Naturalism

Can Good Teaching Be Measured?

Some People Live Better As Short-Lived Football or Boxing Stars Than As Long Lived Philosophers

The Objective Value of Ordered Complexity

Defining Intrinsic Goodness, Using Marriage As An Example

The Facts About Intrinsic and Instrumental Goods and The Cultural Construction of Intrinsic Goods

Subjective Valuing And Objective Values

My Perspectivist, Teleological Account Of The Relative Values Of Pleasure And Pain

Pleasure And Pain As Intrinsic Instrumental Goods

What Does It Mean For Pleasure And Pain To Be “Intrinsically Instrumental” Goods?

Against Moral Intuitionism

Moral vs. Non-Moral Values

Maximal Self-Realization In Self-Obliteration: The Existential Paradox of Heroic Self-Sacrifice

On Good And Evil For Non-Existent People

My Perfectionistic, Egoistic AND Universalistic, Indirect Consequentialism (And Contrasts With Other Kinds)

Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

Further Towards A “Non-Moral” Standard Of Ethical Evaluation

On The Incoherence Of Divine Command Theory And Why Even If God DID Make Things Good And Bad, Faith-Based Religions Would Still Be Irrelevant

God and Goodness

Rightful Pride: Identification With One’s Own Admirable Powers And Effects

The Harmony Of Humility And Pride

Moral Mutability, Not Subjective Morality.  Moral Pluralism, Not Moral Relativism.

How Morality Can Change Through Objective Processes And In Objectively Defensible Ways

Nietzsche: Moral Absolutism and Moral Relativism Are “Equally Childish”

Immoralism?

Is Emotivistic Moral Nihilism Rationally Consistent?

The Universe Does Not Care About Our Morality. But So What?

Why Be Morally Dutiful, Fair, or Self-Sacrificing If The Ethical Life Is About Power?

A Philosophical Polemic Against Moral Nihilism

Why Moral Nihilism Is Self-Contradictory

Answering Objections From A Moral Nihilist

If You Don’t Believe in Objective Values Then Don’t Talk To Me About Objective Scientific Truth Either

On Not-Pologies, Forgiveness, and Gelato

Yes, We Can Blame People For Their Feelings, Not Just Their Actions

Why Bother Blaming People At All? Isn’t That Just Judgmental?

Is Anything Intrinsically Good or Bad? An Interview with James Gray

My Metaethical Views Are Challenged. A Debate With “Ivan”

On Unintentionally Intimidating People

Meditations on How to Be Powerful, Fearsome, Empowering, and Loved

Is It Ever Good To Be Annoying?

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Why Misogynistic Language Matters

Sex and “Spirituality”

Can Utilitarians Properly Esteem The Intrinsic Value of Truth?

No, Not Everyone Has A Moral Right To Feel Offended By Just Any Satire or Criticism

Moral Offense Is Not Morally Neutral

 

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    In the Old Testament, Yahweh is displayed as a sadistic, narcissistic bully with the emotional maturity of a spoiled six year old. He kills people just because he can. He orders his followers to commit genocide, rape and slavery. The Befehl ist Befehl defense was shot down both legally and morally during the Nuremberg Trials. Another outcome of those trials was that a superior is responsible for the orders he or she gives subordinates.

    William Lane Craig claims, as does Robin above, that The Big Guy In The Sky’s actions are always moral. When certain actions are pretty well universally considered immoral, pretending that they automatically become moral when done by TBGITS is special pleading, a logical fallacy. Nor am I convinced by the “parent” argument. Some years ago my father did something I didn’t approve of and I let him know that I disapproved. This wasn’t a son to father talk but an adult to adult discussion. If TBGITS acts in a way that I consider immoral, then as a rational adult I’m justified in thinking his actions are immoral. Otherwise it’s the old “do as I say, not as I do” argument which didn’t fly when I was ten and doesn’t fly now.

    Another argument is that if morality is absolute, which many goddists–particularly fundamentalist Christians, Haredi Judaism, and the Hanbali school of Sunni Islam–claim, then TBGITS is bound to act according to this absolute code or else he is immoral. If morality is black and white (something I personally don’t accept), then actions are either moral, neutral or immoral, regardless of who does them or orders them. Since “thou shalt not kill” is in the Bible, then TBGITS killing folks is immoral.

    • Qwetzaqwetal

      Since “thou shalt not kill” is in the Bible, then TBGITS killing folks is immoral.

      But technically, the commandment isn’t “One shall not kill”. It’s “Thou shalt not kill.” YOU killing folks is immoral. God is much better than you, and is above all those rules there for the little humans. (This is also in keeping with the half of the 10 commandments that are “YOU worship ME”.)

    • Brad

      I don’t disagree with your overall point, but I’ve always been taught that “thou shalt not murder” is a better translation of that command than “thou shalt not kill”. Of course, this opens the door to the “this example of killing is not murder” argument.

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      I think genocide and wanton slaughter come under murder. Yahweh is a big fan of both.

    • Brownian

      WLC claims that the OT genocides were just because those people were all bad.

      That’s a claim without any teeth; one made by a coward.

      I’d like him to point to a modern day group of individuals (a race, ethnicity or tribe) and say, “Yes, every one of those people, right down to a babe born today suckling at his mothers’ breast” could be justifiably killed, because they’ve no redeemable qualities whatsoever.

      Show us what the victims of the justice of God really look like today, and face the flak for advocating genocide.

      Because if you cannot make this claim about people today, what basis do you have for making this claim about some historical group about which you have no real information? The argument is a waste of words. You might as well talk about a tribe of purple people with propellers sprouting from their fingers as posit a group of humans so unredeemably evil, right down to the babies, that’s unlike any human group we can see today.

      The man is a fool, a barbarian, and a coward.

  • http://replacinggod.blogspot.com/ Fil Salustri

    There’s so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to start.

    Robin’s opening statement shows such ignorance of atheism, and such blind faith that the rest of the piece is just a distraction. First of all, Robin assumes god exists. The conversation, for me, stops right there. “Show evidence for god.” End of discussion, cuz there ain’t none.

    “The Bible makes it very clear…” says Robin. The bible makes something clear? Horse-hockey! This is nothing but a set of bald assertions.

    Robin says: “God’s ways are just beyond ours and we cannot judge them by the world’s paltry standards of goodness, beauty, or truth.” If god’s “ways” were so far beyond us, we – not to mention the ignorant peasants who were the first xians – wouldn’t even be able to tell he was there. And yet the zealots love to explain in detail god’s “mysterious” plan.

    Robin says: “The difference between you and me is that I accept that there are some things just beyond all human understanding whereas you demand that everything make sense to human reason.”

    Like what? Another bald assertion. I’ve never met a xian that could give a single “thing” that cannot be explained adequately (albeit not necessarily completely) by either (a) science or (b) “coincidence.”

    I could keep going, but I really can’t. (And I really mean “can’t” because I don’t believe in free will either.)

  • Ysanne

    Why do we have to subscribe at all to the existence of a well-defined, objective and discoverable property of “Goodness” that is intrinsic to the natural world?
    I think that doing so completely ignores conflicts of interest, the interaction between a culture’s history and its moral ideas, and the evolution of morality over time (and following progress in various areas).

    When Robin asserts “With no moral law giver there is no absolute basis to say anything really is good or really is evil.“, he’s spot on — but then, why would we need to pretend that subjective human categorizations are absolute and a-priori determined properties of things/actions?
    The basis for the everyday, practical use of good” and “evil” is that most people agree about of some fundamental preferences, mainly in areas that concern the basic functioning of society.
    But preferences, interests, issues and solutions change, and so do the agreements about “good” and “bad”. Just look at how the mainstream agreement about physical punishment for kids has shifted from “absolutely necessary and a good thing for the kid” to “bad and forbidden by law”, how medical progress forces us to question the equivalence of “keeping the patient alive” and “doing what’s best for the patient”, and how (at least in western European culture) the connotations of “war” have changed from “justice, glory and honour” to “horrible, uncivilised, bad solution”.

    We as a society make up our own rules. So what?

  • Dunc

    I think Socrates’ version was pithier…

    The other question I would have to ask Robin here is “Do you know which tree it was that Adam and Eve supposedly ate the fruit of in the Garden of Eden, contrary to God’s command?”

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      The tree is one of the reasons that I argue that theologically we have to be able to know what is or isn’t moral without God, and so deny the other horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

  • Artor

    Robin is not nearly intelligent enough to hold up his end of this conversation. Unlike the previous dialogue, which was eerily familiar, I can’t say I’ve ever seen this one play out.

  • http://ogremk5.wordpress.com OgreMkV

    Artor @5,

    That’s because Christians know better than to get involved in this discussion. They know it’s the ultimate loser for them. No matter what they say, it contradicts the Bible and their beliefs.

    I’d like to see ‘Robin’ answer this question:

    If God Himself came to you and said, “To truly be a good person and get into heaven and do what I want, you must kill and eat a human baby.” What do you do?

    One Christian answered it with “God would never do that”… to which I replied, “Then there is a morality that even God must/will follow which doesn’t allow certain actions to be considered ‘good’.

    The only possible response for a True Christian (and one that they would never, ever give) is “Pass the ketchup.”

    • Sarah

      One Christian answered it with “God would never do that”… to which I replied, “Then there is a morality that even God must/will follow which doesn’t allow certain actions to be considered ‘good’.

      To which he should have replied “Yes, God’s morality. He must/will follow his own instantated moral standard which doesn’t allow certain actions to be considered ‘good’” or “Yes. Morality. Which is God. Questions?”

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      If I knew that it was God as defined — which includes all-good — and God told me that that was the moral thing to do, then I would say that it would be immoral for me not to do it, since under any model God should at least know what is moral. Whether I’d do it or not is another story; I don’t always act morally but accept the consequences of it, even if that would be Hell. And I doubt I’d act in any way happy about it; being moral isn’t always pretty.

    • http://ogremk5.wordpress.com OgreMkV

      There’s another possible answer (I didn’t list all of them).

      The third answer is, “Well if God says it’s moral, then I have to do it, but I don’t want to do it because I find it repugnant.”

      Basically, the person is putting their own personal morality above that of God. Denying God’s will. In doing this, they are just a few short steps to atheism.

      150 years ago, it was perfectly moral to keep and beat slaves (if need be). Which just goes to show that the concept of morality doesn’t begin with God, but with the society… as evolutionary scientists and anthropologists have been saying all along.

    • http://verbosestoic.wordpress.com Verbose Stoic

      Well, since technically any sin does that and since by at least most Christian religions we all sin, I’m not sure why that would lead anyone to atheism or even be a step along the path. And also note that by the premises of your thought experiment no one in it could actually be an atheist; if you don’t know that it is indeed God that’s asking, then the moral obligation isn’t there.

    • Rosie

      Well, my own deconversion did rather follow that path, so it’s not impossible. I had always considered “sin” to be something I did rather by accident, in a “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” kind of way. The day I realized I had a moral disagreement with God was the day I realized I could not respect him. And it didn’t take long after that for me to conclude that he probably was a human construct (which is a simple explanation for why he appears so immoral and inconsistent) rather than an actual being.

    • Cwaaaaaat???

      I appreciate your comment, but I have to disagree that the two responses you give to the question are the only responses a Christian would make.

      My response to this question is this:

      You are speaking in “what if’s” and not in what actually is. The fact remains that God has never asked anything that contradicts right reason as such. If you can think of a real example that shows this contradiction, please let me know and we can talk about that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    If we cannot know what good and evil is ourselves, how can we know that what Robin calls God is good? We have no way to distinguish it from the Demiurge of Gnostic thought.

    • Rob

      Nor any way to differentiate God from Satan. There’s a sticky wicket for them.

  • Mike

    I feel forced to ask… is this Robin a real person or a strawman set up to illustrate your points? I sincerely hope it is the latter because if the former, Robin is sadly misguided and illogical.

    • http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/ peicurmudgeon

      This imaginary Robin actrually has better arguments than many of the christians I have argued with.

    • Cwaaaaaat???

      Oh, that is just so sad. If you ever want a discussion with a Christian familiar with logical and critical thinking, just let me know!

  • Mike

    Ok, I read a little more thoroughly and I now see that these are in fact illustrative arguments. Well written and effective ones at that.

  • ACN

    Daniel,

    I really like the Robin-Jamie conversations :)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thanks :)

  • Ace of Sevens

    To try to posit a better argument than Jaime, what if good and evil exist apart from God, but laws are meaningless without some sort of arbiter? God is good and ultimately enforces morality, though he didn’t create it. Just like murder may be illegal, but this would be fairly meaningless if there were no police or courts.

    Obviously, God doing immoral things is still a problem for this model, but a gnostic or theological liberal could say that Gog didn’t actually do those things. They were falsely attributed to him.

    • Ace of Sevens

      I meant I was trying to posit a better argument than Robin did for Jaime to shoot down. Of course, this line of thinking has its own problems as you either end up with a god that’s more conceptual than a real force in the world and does nothing except maybe administrate an afterlife (not a problem for sufficiently liberal theology), or you end up having to take people’s word on what God wants, which is its own can of worms.

  • Marta Layton

    Dan, I really like these dialogues, even if Robin makes my skin crawn just a bit. S/he’s not a strawman but rather an all-too-familiar depiction of a certain kind of Christian I’ve always found thoroughly discombobulating. I did disagree with some of Jaime’s points, but mainly because I think Robin was wrong to insist on God being good (at least in the moral sense). I also thought that Jaime’s ethics *does* boil down to subjectivism, because he doesn’t really lay out what kind of goals actions should be effective toward achieving. (I believe you can have an objective ethics and still be atheist, but I don’t think Jaime has accomplished that here.)

    I started to reply to them, but it actually grew into a full-sized blog post, and a rather long one at that. The issue of whether God should be described as (morally) good is one I find very interesting, philosophically. If you are interested in reading/responding (which you should not feel obligated to do if you don’t want to or don’t have time), the post is

    http://fidesquaerens.livejournal.com/62491.html

  • http://www.akatha.com Shara Neshani

    I appreciate hearing different sparks of insightfulness here and there. It is a great blessing that we can share our spiritual views. In relation to all your comments I would like to share that It is a spiritual law to not attempt to change another person’s consciousness by trying to force a change of their beliefs. Even though one person’s beliefs are different then our own, we love God most when we live as Jesus did and treat others as we wish to be treated. It is also a spiritual law to not harm any of God’s children. Jesus gave kindness to individuals that others greatly looked down upon. The only way to know if God exists or not is Not through pretty speeches but to experience God through what some have experienced when they have had near death experiences and as a result saw a great light and were comforted and met loved ones. It is a mythology that one must wait until death to experience God and Spirit. The ancient saints, many of them had these spiritual experiences which were recorded in the bible. Every person is loved by the spirit of God and can know God exists through direct experiences with the spirit of God through the ancient arts of spiritual practice which were arts practiced by Jesus in his early years. In the bible it was spoken of different heavens such as “the third heaven”. There are such heavens anyone can visit through spiritual practice which is the next level beyond prayer where a person can learn to hear the voice of God directly rather then through here say. But however to do so people need to use caution and ask only the highest God for help and protection because there are entities that are negitive that pretend to be God which caused much of the distruction you spoke of. It is my experience that the worlds are filled with illusions which includes people’s highly conditioned minds and it is important to not trust what people say but instead find out for yourself through bringing your questions to the (highest) God through contemplation and what is real will be revealed to you if it is God’s will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144762705 Dan Crane

    I am constantly amazed at the claim Christians throw at atheists about our inability to properly judge god’s actions as evil or immoral, when they have no problem whatsoever judging the actual character of god as good, just, etc. It seems extremely hypocritical to me.

    • Cwaaaaaat???

      I know this was 6 months ago, but i thought i would respond to this anyway :P

      DyslexicDNA, I am a Christian, but I COMPLETELY AGREE with you. It is very hypocritical. Both sides of the debate are reading and interpreting Scripture from their own point of view, according to their own personal biases and according to their own understanding of culture and history, etc. Instead, we need to all realize that the Bible is comprised of 73 books, each written in a different era and culture, in 3 or 4 different languages that are no longer spoken (each with it’s own particular manners of expression) and by authors that understood the world in ways vastly different to our own! And in spite of all of this, it remains evident that the Bible is a narrative–a story of God’s interactions with his people within the context of space and time (dimensions which, according to Theology, God himself transcends).

      Without this starting point, we will always just be giving completely subjective interpretations of what the Scriptures mean, rather than taking a close look at what the author meant to say when he wrote what he wrote, and what the people of the time would have understood by a certain expression, and ESPECIALLY in what historical and cultural context a certain action or allowance of God was done.

      For example: God giving rules on how to keep slaves in the book of Leviticus (Old Testament). These rules were given in the context of a world where slavery was the norm. Everyone who could, owned slaves and considered them to be less than human. God was taking the chosen people (the Jewish race) to the next level: treat your slaves with dignity, respect, kindness… to the surrounding cultures, this sounded ludicrous! God gradually lead us away from slavery. It is because of Christianity (things said in the New Testament and cultures eventually adopting this viewpoint, mainly through the influence of religious leadership) that slavery is looked down upon so severely today, though even now, it is not extinct. And so Christianity continues to be a significant voice against this injustice: right now, for instance, there is a huge conference on how to fight human trafficking going on in the Vatican. The participants hope to develop strategies and goals to fight this offense on political, social, and economic levels, among other things. None of this could be understood without first understanding an authentic interpretation of the Bible.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I think that is a woefully inadequate apologetics for the approval of slavery in the Bible. I explained why in this post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2010/07/why-progressive-interpretations-of-the-old-testament-still-do-not-justify-its-god-morally/

    • Cwaaaaaat???

      Hi Dan! I appreciate your comment, however, I was not attempting apologetics on the approval of slavery, I was merely trying to explain what authentic exegesis looks like. I admit that I was very rushed and simplistic in the example of exegesis that I gave (on slavery), but I do not have as much time as I would like to spare for commenting on blogs and such. Again, the main point in my comment was to explain some of the things in which biblical exegesis consists. I probably should have steered clear of examples that are more complex. If I have the time, I will definitely read your post on the issue of slavery and post there–I’m genuinely interested in your views!

  • Biannca Pace

    HI I would just like to say that you are all talking about the OLD Testament which is all about the Jewish God of fire and brimstone. SO in my view you are not Christians because the ” UPDATE” that our Creator sent was CHRIST and if you are a Christian then you need to only read what the Christ had to say, and even some of that has been changed to suit the potentate’s of the day. Check out the information and what occurred at the Council of Nicea- where reincarnation was removed from The Christ’s teachings, then you might realise that all you really have to rely upon is YOURSELF and by that I mean the highest that is in your self..your own heart and mind and soul. Oh all three ok… one alone won’t be sufficient.

    • alephsquared

      Do you think the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are distinct beings?

      Because otherwise you are saying that God, this perfect creator, flubbed up so badly at writing a book that he had to do a major retraction. That doesn’t seem quite right to me.

  • Biannca Pace

    alephsquared If you believe that God wrote every word that is in the Bible then you are really naive.
    The Bible is in two parts as it depicts two different time periods.

    Go back to the period immediately prior to the time when Moses delivered the Hebrews from slavery in EGYPT. THe Egyptian religion,( an intricate and noble one and ideal for that time and place), had reached it’s “USE BY DATE”

    Egyptians worshipped many Gods and most of them are depicted with HORNS on their head. WHY Horns? Because this religion was extant from around 6400 BC until appx 4200 BC., during the time that our Solar System was traversing the Constellation Taurus ( the Bull )!

    Time passed and our Solar System moving began to traverse the constellation Aries ( the Ram) and the new religious dispensation was given to Moses. He galvanised the Hebrews and took them to the Promised Land. They wandered in the desert for 40 years ( 40 is the number of transformation) and at some point Moses went up to the mountain top to receive the 10 Commandments in a vision which came directly from God.

    He came off that mountain and to his horror the Hebrews were worshipping a golden calf ( CALF, moo cow HORNS, the old Egyptian religion!) He was so furious that he broke the tablets containing the 10 commandments and made mincemeat( pun intended) of the golden calf! He told the Hebrews off , good and proper, for reverting back to the old religion. WHY ? Because he was responsible for bringing in the New Dispensation in the form of a new religion.

    Why? Because our solar system was beginning to traverse the Constellation Aries the RAM and it was time to expand the mind of humanity to embrace a new understanding of God’s word. And the OLD Testament is the story of that religion. Remember the symbols. Passover when the Angel spared the life of the children whose parents had put the blood of the lamb on their doors. Even today you will find that every Rabbi has a SHOFAH a beautiful musical instrument which is mad from the HORN OF A RAM.

    FAST FORWARD 2200years and the Messiah that they knew was to come arrived. At that time our Solar System began to traverse the Constellation Pisces- THE FISH and the new Religious Dispensation arrives in the form of the CHRIST. The symbol of the Catholic church to this day is the fish. Christ’s disciples were “FISHERMEN ” The story of the loaves and fishes etc. So what I am saying is that the latest “press release” from God has been Christianity as demonstrated by Christ in the NEW TESTAMENT. And that is the one that is still in place today. Christ said a new commandment I give you ” that you love one another” he came to show us that God is Love. Not the all too human God in the old testament that needs to be appeased and sacrificed to- the God of fire and and brimstone!! God transcendent a loving Father for God is Love and Love is the Key that takes us to our next evolutionary step.

    And that is what I was referring to when in my comment posted 2days ago.
    Sadly it’s been 2200 years and we still haven’t all understood LOVE, that is why it is important to really read the New Testament and read between the lines too.

    BTW, our Solar System has just begun traversing the Constellation Aquarius and we await a new religious dispensation.

  • Cwaaaaaat???

    Good job preparing this dialogue! But I must say that Robin is kind of an idiot!! I wouldn’t mind dialoguing with Jamie or any of the people who have posted here, or with the blog writer himself!!


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