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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Would Torture be Good if God is Evil?

Recently on my Facebook page, I was presented with this video from philosophy professor Stephen Darwall of Yale University who argues that one cannot hold to a view that morality comes from God.Because Darwall is a professor of philosophy, his arguments are more cogent than most, but I believe he gets the basis for good and bad wrong. In the following discussion with an atheist friend, I show how God's goodness is grounded in His nature, and also answer the question "Could there be such a thing as an evil God?" To see the complete thread, click here.

Lenny: This is an interesting video, Bernie. I appreciate that it is a thoughtful look at morality. However, the Divine Command Theory espoused here is not the same as the beliefs that I or historic Christendom has held. I don't believe that a value is good simply because God says so. That runs smack dab into the Euthyphro dilemma.

I believe that goodness is intrinsic to God - that is it is part of His nature. God tells us what is good because God is good. As a parallel, human beings are by nature communicative. We don;t choose to think using words and language, we do so because it is part of our nature to do so. So, there is a difference between the explanation above,which relies on God making proclamations that could be made another way and God making proclamations because they correspond to His nature.

For a counter-argument, this video by an atheist does a great job in describing the problems with rooting morality in a human framework. Check it out:
Moral Nihilist: The Intellectually Honest Atheist

Bernie: RE: "God tells us what is good because God is good. "

So that means that "good" is defined by "God" or more specifically defined by God's nature, correct? If so, makes me wonder where God got his nature from; and could it have been any different, and if so, then that different would have been the new "good?"

Lenny: I would word it more like good is that which corresponds to God's nature.

Bernie: So IF it were God's nature to be mean, then that would be considered "good?"

Lenny: That's Stephen Law's argument, but it begins to become confused. First, if we understand what evil is (a privation of the good), then we must realize that good can exist wholly apart from evil, but evil cannot exist apart from the good. That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist. Evil can only exist as a measure against the good, just like a dent cannot exist by itself but must be considered a defect in the original shape of another object. You can have a fender with no dents, but you cannot have a dent with no fender!

Secondly, William Lane Craig makes the point that If God is God, then he would be a being worthy of our worship. however, an evil anti-god is no such being.

Lastly, if an evil anti-god created the universe and his goal was to perpetuate evil, how would we then know what we're doing is evil? if we are following our telos, our purpose, then is such a thing even considered evil at all? You can see that positing a malevolent god starts to have some serious issues associated with it. I can't make any sense out of it based on objection #1 alone.

Bernie: RE: "That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist."

But you said the nature of God, whatever it is, is good. So if a god had an attribute of what we consider to be bad now, it would then be considered good, because it was the god's nature.

Lenny: Right. So the phrase "mean god" is akin to "square circle" since the word mean holds a moral value already.

Bernie: So if it would have turned-out that god thought torture was fun, we would all call that good, correct? Because, that is his nature, which defines good. Is that what you are claiming?

Lenny: No, for two reasons. First you are using a word like torture that carries moral weight. For example, would you say that a person is torturing a tree by picking off its apples? Of course not! The tree has a purpose - it provides food. To consume the fruit of the tree is neither torture nor cannibalism, but recognizing the value the fruit of the tree provides.

Moral values and duties are not arbitrary nor independent of the design of the one acting or of the thing being acted upon. Capricious morality (where God simply determines what's right and wrong by fiat) is more closely associated with Islamic concept of God than the Christian one.


  1. So if 'good' is only good because it is god's nature, and we can't talk to god about this (because he's invisible and always in hiding), how do we know that a prophet who claims to speak for god really has spoken to god? There's conflicting messages from self-proclaimed prophets; such as Moses, Joseph Smith, Muhammad, Jim Jones, etc. How do you know which one to believe; whichever one "feels" right?

    1. Test of an Old Testament prophet:

      "You may say in your heart, 'How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?' When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." (Deut. 18:22).


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