Louise Antony on Divine Goodness

I’m reading Debating Christian Theism, based on Keith Parsons’s recommendation. I just finished reading the essays by Paul Copan and Louise Antony debating moral arguments for God’s existence. Antony’s essay ends with a very interesting point.

In a way, it’s puzzling why, of all God’s attributes, moral goodness is the one held to be constituted merely by God’s possessing it. God is omniscient, but what’s true is not held to be true in virtue of God’s believing it; God is omnipotent, but something is not a possible power because God possesses it. In both these cases, we allow that something external to God delineates the domain, and the perfection of God’s nature lies in the perfection of the matchup between the two. To say that God approves the good because it is good is not to say that God is “bound by” an external standard any more than saying that God believes only what’s true limits his powers of cognition. A God who approves all and only what is objectively good would be a morally perfect being, just as a God who believes all and only truths would be an epistemically perfect being.

Geisler & Turek Rebuttal, Part 7: Chapter 8
Quentin Smith on Bertrand Russell on “Unyielding Despair” and the Meaning of Life
What if you Saw a Miracle?
Religious Experience – Recognizing God
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • Walter Van den Acker

    “A God who approves all and only what is objectively good would be a morally perfect being, just as a God who believes all and only truths would be an epistemically perfect being.”

    I fully agree with this, and that’s exactly why moral arguments for God’s existence fail.

    • far2right

      You atheists get all hung up on God commanding Israel to kill tribes and nations. This is nothing when He sends billions to spend an eternity in what is called a lake of fire.

      And you like to fancy yourselves “thinkers”.

      • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

        1. Your point is unrelated to the matter at hand, or to the post you’re replying to.
        2. Yes, Hell is far worse. But then, there are plenty of Christians who deny that the right interpretation of the Bible is that Hell is eternal, or alternatively claim that Hell is eternal but not a punishment but a free choice, etc.
        So, in order to be more comprehensive, and given that the claim is that Yahweh is morally perfect, one may point out to immoral behavior by Yahweh both in the Old and New Testament, explain why Hell would be immoral even if it were not a punishment and why it follows from Christian beliefs it’s not a choice of the damned to be there, but also alternatively keep pointing out to many of the atrocities in the Old Testament, including not only attacks on other tribes and nations, but also domestic laws (e.g., Mosaic Law is particularly unjust).

        • far2right

          Angry, “one may point out to immoral behavior by Yahweh both in the Old and New Testament”.

          Thanks for making my point.

          Righteousness and moral behavior are what God says it is.

          Walter opined that God may know that 1 + 1 = 2 because He decided such.

          That would mean that mathematics preceded God.

          The right conclusion is that God ordered it that way.

          No one has a choice to be in Heaven or Hell.

          That is God’s choice alone.

          If He has chosen to immerse you in a lake of fire for all eternity, that is His choice.

          And it is right and just and fair and good.

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            No, clearly that is not the case. If Yahweh chose to immerse me in a lake of fire for eternity, that would be profoundly unjust. And Yahweh is not God.

            If you’re going to say that Yahweh is God and the ground of morality, etc., or something like that, that actually does not properly handle a moral objection to Christianity. The point is that one may properly reject Christianity (or any other religion) on the basis of the false moral claims it makes, and in the case of Christianity, claims from both the Old Testament and the New Testament are available. But again, this is not the matter of the thread or of the posts you were replying to, so I won’t elaborate here. If you want more details on how I handle your objection and similar ones, I give them in the moral case against Christianity you can find here

          • far2right

            Your arguments for/against an absolute moral standard are frankly boring and quite meaningless.

            Which is why I redirected the discussion.

            Nevertheless, it is plain for any rational person on the outside of the secular community that if there were no God who commanded His subjects to honor their father and mother that said subjects would otherwise act in accordance with observed laws of nature and instead kill their parents when the male becomes old enough and powerful enough to take his father’s stuff.

            That is, of course, if there were ONLY the natural order.

            But such debate is tripe.

            A better topic of debate is why it is moral and just to immerse Angry Mainyu in a Lake of Fire for all eternity.

            Your petty debate pales in comparison to this clear and plain bible doctrine.

            Don’t you think?

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            I’m not angry, but somewhat amused by your argumentation. I suspect PoE, though it’s hard to say – I’ve encountered odder and sincere sometimes. Still, I have other things to do, and I think the exchange so far is sufficient, so have a good time in Heaven with Yahweh.

          • Keith Parsons


            You sound like a very nice, smart, and young guy, so let me share some wisdom that I have finally learned in my old age: Don’t try to have a rational discussion with those who are obviously incapable or unwilling to have one. Doing so is like wrestling with a pig. You wind up covered with filth and the pig enjoys it. Just ignore them. They will blow off a bit of steam and then just go away.

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu


            Thanks for the very nice and smart part (and likewise) and the advice.
            I’m not so young, though. I sometimes reply to posts in order to debunk some of their points in case some potential readers may be interested, not in order to persuade my interlocutor – though I will only do so for a while if they reply.

          • Guest

            This is more or less completely unrelated, but I’m wondering if there is a way I can get in contact with you Angra. I’ve enjoyed our past conversations and there was something I wanted to ask you. It doesn’t look like your blog gives your email address or anything. Feel free to send me an email at this handle at gmail.com.

          • far2right

            Yes, Keith.

            If you don’t want to engage in meaningful debate, just caricaturize your opponent without any meaningful thing to say whatsoever and depart.

          • far2right

            Yes, Angry.

            Go ahead and leave the discussion.

            No point in continuing with your meaningless argument.

          • Walter Van den Acker

            “Walter opined that God may know that 1 + 1 = 2 because He decided such.”

            In that case, as Keith Parsons IMO correctly observes, “God is good” is a tautology. It means that God has decided to call some actions moral and others immoral, which in turn means morality is subjective.

            As Wes Morrriston (not an atheist BTW) puts it, either God has reasons for calling certain acts moral or He hasn’t. In the first case, what makes those actions moral is not God but God’s reasons, which are definable without God. In the latter case, despite a load of expensive words to cover it up, God’s morality is a simple matter of might makes right.

          • far2right

            “God’s morality is a simple matter of might makes right.”


            Give that man a cigar.

            And that is exactly why 1 + 1 = 2.

            Because He made it so.

            And no matter how hard you try to spin it, you can’t change that fact.

            Thanks so much for making my point.

      • Walter Van den Acker


        I haven’t said anything about God commanding Israel to do anything, nor about God sending anyone to hell (or heaven for that matter).
        The reason why moral arguments for God’s existence fail, IMO, is because in order for God to approve what is objectively good, something must be objectively good, just as, in order for God to know that 1 + 2 = 2, it must be objectively true that 1 + 1= 2, unless you believe that God DECIDES that 1 + 1 = 2 or that God decides that a certain act is (im)moral, which seems to be the implication of at least some versions of Divine Command Theory.

      • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

        Insulting atheists — i.e., by doubting their “thinking” skills — is unnecessary, unproductive, and rude. If you’d like to actually make an argument, we would be happy to discuss it.

        • far2right

          “Your arguments for/against an absolute moral standard are frankly boring and quite meaningless.”

          Read my posts before you respond.

          So, be happy and discuss it.

          • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

            “Read my posts before you respond.” I don’t take orders from you.

            I’ll repeat this one more time: If you’d like to actually make an argument, we would be happy to discuss it. The comment, “Your arguments for/against an absolute moral standard are frankly boring and quite meaningless,” is not an argument.

            If, on the other hand, you insist on being rude and insulting people, you will become the first person I’ve ever banned from this board.

          • far2right

            The point is, I’ve already made my argument and no one offered a well reasoned meaningful response.
            I shall now look elsewhere for enlightenment.

          • https://docs.google.com/document/d/1al-RuUEVxHk3ldQQC8o0U5ES3T7MfnmxdaKjVAl0Zzc/pub Angra Mainyu

            You made a lot of claims. Based on them, it’s not entirely clear to me whether you are actually a Christian or this is a case of PoE.

            But in any event, there was no argumentation that would merit further reply in my assessment; making claims like that is not likely to be persuasive (and if there was some hidden argument that you meant to leave implicit, it was too obscure for reasonable readers to figure out).
            I did post a link where people can find moral objections to Christianity if anyone is interested, and in which there is a lot more substance than in your claims.

  • Kevin Harris

    I think the answer lies in the prescriptive nature of morality as opposed to the mere descriptive nature of things open to the omni-attributes. But I haven’t worked through this yet.

    • CleboOmusic

      Many matters of epistemology are prescriptive and evaluative(you should regulate your beliefs by doing x, belief y is unjustified etc), but God’s omniscience doesn’t ground the prescriptive bits of epistemology. So I don’t don’t see how the prescriptive nature of morality is a relevant difference.

      One could argue that their is a disanalogy between the omniscience explaining/grounding the prescriptive and evaluative bits of epistemology and benevolence explaining/grounding morality. I don’t think this route would be successful though.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      Kevin — Interesting. It’s not obvious to me why the prescriptive vs. descriptive distinction would address Antony’s point, so when you work through this, I’d love to hear more.

  • Keith Parsons

    I think Antony is right but the answer to her puzzle is quite straightforward: If God’s goodness consists in the (necessary) conformity of his nature to an “external” standard, then a secular ethical theorist could just invoke that standard and leave God out. Theistic apologists want to make a necessary connection between God and ethics, but if the predicates–whatever they are–that make good things good are definable without reference to God’s will or nature, then you can just drop God and go straight to goodness. On the other hand, if you define goodness in terms of God’s will or nature, you risk turning “God is good” into a tautology. This, of course, is the old Euthyphro dilemma, and it is not clear to me that theists have solved it yet.