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Showing posts with label Euthyphro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Euthyphro. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why the "Evil God" Objection Fails

Traffic lights across the world use red and green to signify stop and go. 1 From that, the concept of red communication stop or lack of progress while green means continued movement have spread well beyond the automobile. For example, they're used in machinery power switches to signify whether a machine is operating. They're also used in financial reports to show whether a stock is falling (red) or rising (green).

But why these colors? Why couldn't it be blue and orange? There's no objective need for choosing red and green instead of blue and orange to represent stop and go. The Chinese traditionally associate the color red with fortune and luck. Given this, on mainland China, rising stocks are displayed with a red arrow on a graph, while green means the stock is sinking.2

What if some of our other assumptions about what we believe to be up and down are wrong? What about our assumption that God is inherently good? Every once in a while I hear atheists offer a counter-argument to the all-good God concept by asking "what if God isn't good, but malevolent? How do you know that god is good at all?" One example of this is a post by John Loftus on his blog Debunking Christianity:
But what if Satan is the good guy? What if he rebelled against God because he was aware of God's evil plan to create this kind of world and with it condemn human beings to hell forever? What if Satan told Adam the truth in the garden and wanted him to have a true knowledge about God that was forbidden him? What if God was the one who revealed a lie, that Satan was the bad guy even though he isn't?

… What if this so-called cosmic war is being won by the wrong guy? What if in response Satan is sending prophets (i.e. intellectuals), to tell believers the truth, that God is a liar, an evil egomaniac, a moral monster? What evidence is there to deny my scenario? Evidence. That's what I'm asking for in any scenario. Probabilities are all that matter. For if any of these scenarios are to be taken seriously then people are within their epistemic rights to believe the Scientology tale too.3

What Makes Good Good?

Loftus asks for evidence, and I think we can offer some. The problem in Loftus' proposal is that if we were to grant it, it runs smack into another favorite objection offered by atheists: the Euthyphro dilemma. In his Euthyphro dialogue, Plato asks if God is considered good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good? In Loftus's scenario, we have an objective good that sits outside of God, one that he should obey, but doesn't. But how does this work? If God is understood to be pre-existent and it was he who created all things including Satan, the concept of a moral law sitting outside of God is nonsensical. There is no good and evil per se. There is only the universe as it was created to operate and it functions as it functions.

As the Moral Argument concludes, the very notions of good and evil, right and wrong require God to exist. An all-good God is the foundation for our moral values and duties. He is neither beholden to some external principle nor does he create moral values arbitrarily. The good is found within God himself and moral values simply reflect his nature. But with a supposed evil God, there's no way to know what good actually is; thus there's no way to understand what the term God means. An evil God really becomes an oxymoron at that point, given that part of what we mean by God is he who grounds moral obligations.


1. Scott. "The Origin of the Green, Yellow, and Red Color Scheme for Traffic Lights." Today I Found Out. Vacca Foeda Media, 08 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.
2. Jiang, Feng, Su Lu, Xiang Yao, Xiaodong Yue, and Wing Tung Au. "Up or Down? How Culture and Color Affect Judgments." Journal of Behavioral Decision Making J. Behav. Dec. Making 27.3 (2013): 226-34. Web.
3. Loftus, John W. "What If Satan Is the Good Guy?" Debunking Christianity. John W. Loftus, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 17 June 2015.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Would Rape Be Moral If God Commanded It?

Last week, I recounted a time speaking with an atheist woman on the campus at UC Berkeley who said that rape would be OK if the person doing so truly believed he was right. It showed the folly of those who held to moral relativism. The post spurred a comment by Mark, who asked, "If the man had been commanded by God to perform the rape, would it then be a moral act?"

While Mark's question seems to offer a twist on the concept of grounding morality in God, the objection itself is not a new one. In fact, we know it's been around for at least 2,300 years because the Greek philosopher Plato set it forth in one of his dialogues, where the protagonist Socrates asks Euthyphro basically "Is God good because he follows some intrinsic goodness independent of Him, or is good whatever God declares to be good?"

Euthyphro's dilemma is famous because both options have disastrous consequences. If there's some independent concept of goodness, then even God is obligated to be good. But what or how does one then discover that concept? What grounds it? And how can God be God if He must obey laws like the rest of us? Doesn't this make God a little less omnipotent? But if we take the other option, that good is simply whatever God says is good, it makes good and bad pretty arbitrary. God could conceivably do what Mark asks (command that rape is now a good thing) and sins become virtues while virtues turn to sins. What kind of morality is that?

Splitting the Horns of Euthyphro's Dilemma

Christians have not been unaware of Euthyphro's dilemma. God's relationship with morality has been written about extensively by the likes of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and others. However, the solution to this dilemma is not as hard as one may think. The answer lies in the fact that there are more than the two choices that Plato laid out in his original dialogue. Christian theology teaches that God has certain intrinsic properties within Himself, such as love. Love cannot exist without a person to express it and when the Bible says "God is love" it communicates that it is a fundamental part of God's nature to love. Similarly, goodness is something that flows from the nature of God Himself. When we talk about doing what is right or wrong, we are comparing our actions to those that God would naturally approve or disapprove of us performing.

For an example of actions flow from nature, we can look to ourselves. Human beings are naturally linguistic creatures; we think in terms of language. If I asked you to plan your evening in your mind right now, you would invariably use words as you thought about your options. We don't think in only pictures but we use words and sentences, even if we aren't communicating our thoughts to someone else. Language is part of human nature and it simply flows from us. To try and violate this nature is pretty much impossible, because there is no other way to think about abstract ideas like morality.

As language flows from human nature, so goodness flows from God's nature, and it would be impossible for Him to violate His nature. Because of this, we see the question Mark asked becomes nonsensical. To ask if rape would be a moral act if God commanded it makes as much sense as to ask whether God could make a rock so big that He couldn't lift it. God simply would never command rape to be moral. We can therefore split the horns of Euthyphro's dilemma and provide a third option.

By grounding moral attributes in God's nature, we achieve two things: 1) moral attributes are objective, they don't change because God' nature doesn't change and 2) God isn't somehow obligated to follow an independent law, but He follows the law within Himself. Thus, objective moral values make sense and we can know that the good is just that.

Photo courtesy Emmanuel Huybrechts via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license.
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