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Is God the good guy or the bad guy?

Is God the good guy or the bad guy? November 11, 2021

This is one of my shirts. It makes a fun and provocative statement that often gets a smile, but it also raises an important question. When the Christians think that they’re talking to God, how do they know? If there is a supernatural world populated with both good and bad beings, maybe one of Satan’s little helpers is answering your prayer instead of God, Jesus, or a saint.

Now consider the bigger question: who’s in charge? Is this a good world governed by an all-good god (the Christian view), or is a bad god in charge?

Think about the Problem of Evil, why a supposedly good god allows so much evil—tsunamis, childhood diseases and birth defects, millions of people living in abysmal conditions, and so on. Is this really the best that he can do? But drop the assumption that the guy in charge must be good, and things make more sense. You now have the Problem of Good—why the evil god in charge wouldn’t make things much worse. This question has potential answers: maybe having things bad but not too bad allows hope to flourish and then be dashed. Or maybe the guy in charge is just a well-meaning but imperfect craftsman—a celestial Homer Simpson or an extraterrestrial middle schooler who got a C+ on the simulation that we call our universe.

So is God good? (I’ll use “God” as our name for the being in charge of our world.) Let’s imagine a dialogue with a Christian.

Of course God is good! The Bible says so.

Yes, it does. Here are some examples.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)

For everything God created is good. (1 Timothy 4:4)

But the Bible is a sock puppet that can be made to say almost anything. God not only created good, but he created evil:

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, Jehovah, do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:38)

When disaster comes to a city, has not Jehovah caused it? (Amos 3:6)

The Bible isn’t much help to the Christian when it documents what God does when he’s off his meds. God demands human sacrifice and genocide. God supports slavery and polygamy. God drowned the world. These would universally be condemned as evil by anyone who didn’t have an agenda to defend God.

The Bible is also full of errors and contradictions, just the kinds of clues to suggest that an inept or even evil guy was behind it.

God is good by definition

If God did it, that’s “good.” He’s the Creator of Everything! How could it be any other way?

In the first place, this isn’t how the dictionary defines “good.” There’s no mention of God in the definition of the word.

But see where this takes Christians if the guy in charge is good by definition. There’s no amount of carnage he can do for these Christians to change their evaluation. Natural disasters, disease, individual calamities—it’s all good. If you can’t understand, then you’ll just have to content yourself with God working in mysterious ways. The Christian has completely disconnected themselves from reality by making their worldview indifferent to evidence.

This “God” could just as easily be objectively bad. Tricking us into believing that this very imperfect world is actually the best of all possible worlds is just the kind of monkey business that the Lord of Lies would do, isn’t it?

Imagine Satan in charge. He might do something abominable like convince Christians that the death of an innocent child is an acceptable part of his greater plan, if you can believe such a thing. Indeed, grieving Christian parents are told exactly that!

Christians have ceded their right to evaluate God’s goodness. Good or bad, this guy has convinced Christians that we must label every act of his “good.” Christians don’t say that he’s good because he performs actions that anyone can see are good; they say he’s good by default.

But God has his own morality.

What’s wrong with God following the same morality as he demands of humans? We were created in his image, after all. But if he has his own moral rules, what are they and how do you know? What rules can we be confident God will follow, or are you determined to clean up after him no matter what rules he breaks?

This is a beautiful world!

Just look around you—God’s hand is all over it.

A well-known poem says, “All things bright and beautiful . . . The Lord God made them all.” Puppies and sunsets and snow-covered mountains are beautiful. But tsunamis and guinea worm and cancer are not. Don’t forget that God made them, too.

I respond to the Design Argument, which says that life on earth is so complicated that it must be designed, here.

God has his own reasons

God could easily have his own reasons for things that appear strange to us. For example, the tragedy of the crucifixion led to the gift of salvation. Just because Noah’s flood seems wrong to you doesn’t mean that it wasn’t right from God’s standpoint.

This is the Hypothetical God Fallacy. It assumes God, offering no defense of the outlandish God hypothesis. Maybe God had his ineffable reasons for inspiring the holy books for Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and more—who are you to object that this makes no sense?

God’s children, made in his own image (moral and otherwise) would be able to weigh God’s perfect moral actions and find that they are always correct. They should feel intuitively right in an aha! sort of way, and they should show themselves to be logically right in an intellectual way. No one would say, “God has his own morality” except as a desperate attempt to avoid critique of God’s actions.

This is nothing more than, “Yeah, but you haven’t proven me wrong!” That’s true, but that was never the goal. All we can do is follow the evidence, and it doesn’t point to the supernatural. We have to evaluate the God claim with the evidence we have, and Christianity can offer very little.

It’s not God’s fault!

Don’t blame God for poor conditions here on Earth, blame Satan.

Here again, the Bible isn’t the Christian’s friend. Satan is said to have killed Job’s servants and his ten children, but that was with God’s approval. And that’s it.

Now consider God’s killings, also documented in the Bible. The Dwindling in Unbelief blog estimates five million people dead in 157 incidents plus another twenty million for the global flood.

Like God, “Satan” is a character who has changed over time. In the book of Job, he was simply God’s prosecuting attorney, making sure that Job was obedient for good reasons rather than selfish ones. The idea of Satan as God’s sworn enemy (as in Revelation 12:9, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray”) developed centuries later.

How can you know??

Well, aren’t you the cocky know-it-all? God is unjudgeable. God said, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

Here again, this is the Hypothetical God Fallacy. You don’t start with the assumption of God. An open-minded skeptic will consider religious claims on their evidence. We must evaluate the evidence as best we can; there is no other option. If God exists, what could please him more than that we use the brain he gave us to evaluate claims, not simply accept unevidenced nonsense because it’s convenient or pleasing?

As an aside, there were other versions of Christianity where the good guy wasn’t in control here on earth such as Marcionism and Gnosticism. This is also true for Apocalypticism, a strain of Judaism that influenced Christianity. These approaches neatly sidestep the Problem of Evil since adherents didn’t have to apologize for the crazy actions of the guy in charge.

What God does is sometimes evil by any reasonable standard. I can see how this might have developed. Imagine a skeptic pressuring a Christian about slavery or genocide in the Bible, with the Christian responding, “Well, uh . . . whatever God does must be good. Yeah, that’s it—God’s actions are always good by definition!” But, as we’ve seen, this unevidenced Band-Aid has consequences.

See also: And God is Not Good, Either

Gullibility and credulity
are considered undesirable qualities

in every department of human life—
except religion.
— Christopher Hitchens

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(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 2017-7-12.)

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