Friday, April 24, 2009

Q&A on God's justice and Christ's propitiation

I just thought this exchange between Damion and myself would be helpful for others.

what we consider good, such as the “infinite bliss and happiness”

We might indeed usually speak of it that way, but that's not what I'm after here. On atheism, does it make sense that ANYthing be called good? Whether it makes sense doesn't necessarily touch on whether people will believe it, as I'm sure you'd agree. Proof is not the same as persuasion.


on your theological premises, God would still be perfectly good if only one person (say, um, Enoch) enjoyed infinite bliss

You are right. Further, God would be perfectly good if NOONE enjoyed infinite bliss.
Compared with how it really is, one could say that He'd have shown less mercy and compassion that way, but one would not have a useful or reasonable way to judge that, or to judge God as wrong.


billions of souls suffering eternally counts for exactly nothing in the overall calculus of good and evil in the universe

No, I wouldn't say that. That's not a good thing, not at all. It's so distasteful and wrong, in fact, that it cost Jesus Christ His very life.


Does God acts in good ways because He embodies goodness, or does He embody goodness because he acts in good ways?

It's the former.


what precisely do you mean when you say that goodness is an ontological attribute?

I can't guarantee that my language is the most strictly correct and proper, philosophically speaking. What I'm trying to say is that God has revealed Himself as being good and there is every reason to trust Him. Further, there is no viable alternative for defining good in any useful way.


but on your terms no conceivable amount of harm (even the eternal harm of billions of souls) is unjustified so long as it is divinely ordained. Can you think of any harm which is unjustified, and in what sense is it so?

Former sentence is correct. For one thing, as I said before, we don't know the full plan of God and so have insuff information to judge. On atheism, I don't see any way to ground "justification", so that's another problem.
You asked for "any harm", in general, so I'd say that any and all evil committed by a created being, be it human or angel, would be unjustified harm. Sorry if that's not what you were asking for - elucidate the question and I'll be happy to respond to it.


it is only wrong to murder because God specifically forbade it?

I would say that, yes.
As I understand natural law theology (which is not all that well), I think a proponent thereof would disagree and say that it's also forbidden by natural law. I am not sufficiently versed in that to say either way.


you would say God just had to punish someone because He is perfectly just, so much so that ordinary outright forgiveness is logically impossible for Him

I guess you could say that, yes. The way that the law and justice are set up, wrongdoing must be punished.


justice (as we usually use the term) requires that the punishment for a given criminal fit his own crimes, God’s justice allows Him a loophole -- punish an innocent volunteer instead of the guilty party

Oh, I guess that wording, while a bit irreverent, fits, yes. The alternative is that, indeed, every criminal pay for his crimes, and his crimes are of infinite evil b/c they offend an infinitely holy God's holy law. God does not tolerate impurity in His presence, so we'd all be doomed forever to separation from Him. The only "candidate" for acting as substitute for mankind is God Himself.


Once again, it seems, you’ve run so far afoul or ordinary usage that you would actually be better off using antonyms.

And that would be a problem if I cared much about "ordinary usage". We do not judge God by man, but rather man by God.


Is God also being unjust in allowing sinners into heaven?

This is an excellent question, and speaks to the untruth of Islam. It's a major chink in the Islamic armor - Allah allows some sinful people into Paradise and the virgins and all that. And on what basis? Allah just --poof-- forgives the offenders.
The God of the Bible does no such thing. Take me as an example. All the times I've lied, been unjustifiably angry, looked with lust at a pretty girl, etc, these things have been fully punished. All the just punishment has been poured out on Christ on the Cross. My sin has been reckoned/imputed to Him and His perfect righteousness has been reckoned/imputed to me. Think of it as swapping bank accounts. At the Cross, I told Jesus I was sorry for all the 50% APR credit card debt I'd racked up and meant it. I asked Him for His Swiss bank acct containing €100 million. He agreed and did the switch.
Sounds crazy, right? To me too, but that's the reality. Christianity is too good to be true, only it really is true.
For those who reject the bank acct swap, they justly go to "debtor's prison". For those who accept the acct swap, they justly receive the money, since the guy who receives the bad debt has the resources to pay it. It's just that He's generous enough to share His incredible wealth with whomever might ask.


If they are non-believers, then by definition they *cannot* turn to God since they do not know God is really there.

God says that they DO know He exists - Romans 1:18-22. Further, that His law is written on their hearts, so that they have no excuse - Romans 2:10-15.
OTOH, it's true that they can't turn to God. For a person to turn to God, it requires a supernatural work on His part in their life.


I understand that you believe God is loving, but would not the hypothetical deity (affirmed by universalists) be far more loving than the one that you believe in?

How loving is it to refuse to punish all the evil done in the world? To arrive in Heaven and find an unrepentant Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot hanging out on the clouds with you? Especially since your last thought was "curse Hitler" as the SS guards threw the switch to flood your shower stall with sarin gas?
To arrive in Heaven and find the man who just finished raping and messily murdering you and your family there beside you?
I think this series of articles is very useful and illustrative of my meaning, for real.


I am *NOT* criticizing God but merely a man-made concept...

Fair enough, but you really do need to incorporate the idea of internal vs external critique into your argument. From my end, your viewpoint is man-made, and TGOTB really does exist.
So I ask myself - can atheism provide any grounding for making such moral critiques as I find here? So far I've not seen one, but I could be surprised someday.


But in this case you must give up on Anselm, because it becomes trivially easy to conceive of a greater being than the one you claim to worship.

Oh, that's a very interesting thought, actually!
I'll have to chew on that for a while, but I think you may very well have a great point WRT Anselm's ontological argument...

Peace,
Rhology

32 comments:

James Pate said...

"How loving is it to refuse to punish all the evil done in the world? To arrive in Heaven and find an unrepentant Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot hanging out on the clouds with you? Especially since your last thought was 'curse Hitler' as the SS guards threw the switch to flood your shower stall with sarin gas? To arrive in Heaven and find the man who just finished raping and messily murdering you and your family there beside you?"

Yeah, but you believe the Jews in the concentration camp who didn't believe in Christ are also in hell, don't you?

Rhology said...

The final destination of everyone who has ever lived who did/does/will not have saving faith in Jesus Christ is Hell. So, yes. I hope you are not trying to score some kind of emotional point by focusing on one example.

James Pate said...

Not at all, Rhology. It's just interesting that evangelicals like to justify hell by focusing on extreme examples: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, mass murderers, rapists. But most of the people going to hell according to the evangelical mindset don't fall into those categories. Muslims and Jews also believe God will punish the wicked (unless they repent, as you note in your post). But Judaism makes provision for those in the middle.

So am I Jewish? No. The doctrine of hell just troubles me, and I'm not satisfied with a lot of evangelical attempts to justify it.

Rhology said...

Gotcha.
And I have had my own struggles with this idea as well. I mean, eternity is a long frakking time.

A few things comfort me:
-God is good. Far better than I am.
-God is wise.
-God knows exhaustively the hearts of all those who will end up in Hell.
-Sin is really really bad. By this idea alone we should be mollified; if we have a problem with Hell, usually it's b/c we don't think sin is all that bad. But it is. Really really really bad.
-It's so bad that we can consider that those who go to Hell remain unrepentant to their dying day. They suppress the truth they know about God in unrighteousness (Roman 1:18-22) to their dying day. And we're supposed to think they'd be HAPPY to close their eyes in death and open them to see the Jesus they rejected their whole life? I don't know about that.

Those are a few thoughts. But just to set your mind at ease ;-) I don't appeal only to extreme examples and hold to the Hell doctrine unabashedly, since that's what the Bible says.

Damion said...

On atheism, does it make sense that ANYthing be called good?

Sure, why not? Suppose that our universe is naught but matter and energy in motion. Would this mean that we cannot clearly see that it is good to have clothes, food, shelter, love, etc. and manifestly bad to go without such things? Would it not still be clearly good to help save a drowning person if you have the opportunity to do so?

(If you like, you can ask the same questions on the hypothetical that theism is true but we have no souls and our minds are extinguished at brain death...)

To frame the issues another way, who cares more for the "good" - A bystander who dives into Lake Michigan at some personal risk in order to save a stranger, or the lifeguard who does so only because she will lose her job if she fails to have a go at it? I would say that the person who does good for the sake of goodness is clearly more moral than the person who does good for the sake of gaining reward or avoiding punishment. What do you think?

On a wee bit of a side-note, two eminent philosophy profs hashed over these metaethical issues a little while back and I certainly thought it was good viewing. It is rare indeed that W.L. Craig meets someone who plays at (or even near) his level and that made it all the more interesting.


Compared with how it really is, one could say that He'd have shown less mercy and compassion that way, but one would not have a useful or reasonable way to judge that, or to judge God as wrong.

Heaven forbid that I would imply that "God is wrong" as that would be a quite silly thing for an agnostic to do. I am only saying that the concept of a perfectly good, merciful, or compassionate being is at odds with the concept of a being that chooses eternal damnation for its creatures (assuming there are other logically possible alternatives available).


[billions of souls suffering eternally] is not a good thing, not at all. It's so distasteful and wrong, in fact, that it cost Jesus Christ His very life.

If you were a universalist, it would make perfect sense to say that Jesus gave his life to prevent the eternal damnation of billions. As it is, though, it would seem that the most you can say is that Jesus gave up his life for the sake of an elect few.


What I'm trying to say is that God has revealed Himself as being good and there is every reason to trust Him.

When you say "God is good" it seems to me that you most likely mean something beyond merely "God does as He wills" because that would mean "God is good" even if God was the greatest sadist in any logically possible world. Surely the attribute of goodness must mean something more than acting in accord with one's own highest desires.

Speaking of the greatest conceivable sadist, suppose that God lied about the path to salvation to Abraham, Buddha, Christ, Dante, etcetera and merely created revealed religions for his own divine amusement. Suppose further that god intends to cast all human souls into outer darkness eternally, and could not care less about their suffering. On these suppositions, ask yourself whether an all-powerful (but highly malevolent and deceptive) being could easily make it seem as if "there is every reason to trust Him" especially when dealing with mere mortals like ourselves? Once you allow for the possibility of supernatural beings, pretty much anything goes and you've know way of knowing what is really going on except trusting on faith that you are not really dealing with something like Descartes' hypothetical demon.


Further, there is no viable alternative for defining good in any useful way.

It is surely useful (in some sense) to have the "good" spelled out on stone tablets, or else written down on vellum or paper. It makes the moral calculus much easier in specific cases, such as how not to boil a baby goat or whether or not one ought bugger the livestock. Perhaps, though, moral fitness is more like physical fitness, inasmuch as you cannot expect to get their without a decent amount self-discipline and hard work.


You asked for "any harm", in general, so I'd say that any and all evil committed by a created being, be it human or angel, would be unjustified harm.

If a God existed, He could directly intervene to prevent such harms (e.g. when the angels blinded the Sodomites pressing at Lot's door) but God most usually chooses not to intervene. W. L. Craig assumes this is because there are in fact offsetting greater goods which justify the allowance of such harms, and thus they are not really unjustified harms but rather misunderstood means to even greater goods, fully justifiable in terms of those goods. This raises an interesting problem for moral agents who are considering whether to intervene against apparently evil actions.


it is only wrong to murder because God specifically forbade it

If this is truly so, would you consider yourself free to murder (or torture, rape, pillage, etc.) if you were in my position, that is, free from faith in any particular deities and clever enough not to get caught?


The way that the law and justice are set up, wrongdoing must be punished.

If God set them up that way, is it not possible that he could change the rules? Perhaps rewrite the current substitutionary sacrifice loophole into something more like "I shall forgive anyone I please solely in accordance with my divine will - no substitutions necessary." Would not this hypothetical deity be more perfectly merciful than the deity which you are describing?


I guess that wording, while a bit irreverent, fits, yes.

I fear that genuine reverence is quite beyond me at this point, but I will try to be more sensitive for the sake of furthering dialogue.


...his crimes are of infinite evil b/c they offend an infinitely holy God's holy law.

I'm really having trouble wrapping my head around this one, and not only because of the repeated use of an abstract quantifier. It seems to me that the more good and powerful someone is, the more difficult it is to do wrong unto them. Suppose someone steals $100 from an ex-con with almost nothing to his name, and someone else steals $100 from Bill Gates. I would condemn both actions as theft, but surely the former theft brings more suffering and evil into the world. Another comparison might be discharging a 9mm at either Superman or Lois Lane - one of these actions causes far more harm than another.

How then can one "offend" one who is perfectly good and complete in and of himself?


...that would be a problem if I cared much about "ordinary usage". We do not judge God by man, but rather man by God.

I think we can all agree that we are not speaking God's language, but rather the language of the English and their colonial derivatives. If we hope to try to make sense when communicating with one another, especially on a medium with as much global reach as this one, we must use words in their usual sense or else stipulate some particular usage. Even stipulation has its limits, though. It is just downright confusing to stipulate "good" to mean "whatever the all-powerful creator prefers" and expect people to follow along unless they already share your theological outlook. Even quite a few theists do not conceive of the good in that way.


Allah just --poof-- forgives the offenders.

I never thought that I'd be put into the position of defending the concept of Allah, but this sounds like something that an all-powerful and all-merciful being ought to be able to do, if he wills it.


All the just punishment has been poured out on Christ on the Cross. My sin has been reckoned/imputed to Him and His perfect righteousness has been
reckoned/imputed to me.


I think that this concept makes sense, if we can suppose from the outset that "perfect justice" allows for such substitutions but disallows the possibility of outright forgiveness. I do not think this comports with what we usually mean by justice.

Imagine two judges, the first of whom pardons a criminal outright, while the second conditions her pardon on the presence of an innocent volunteer to take the punishment in the criminal's stead. I would contend that most speakers of English would see both pardons as equally "unjust" inasmuch as the lack of punishment fails to fit the crime, but the second judge would be generally considered even more unjust because of an unjust punishment of an innocent volunteer in addition to the unjust lack of punishment of the convict. Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I have no choice but to go with my understanding of what these terms are generally taken to mean, unless you clearly stipulate otherwise.


Christianity is too good to be true, only it really is true.

If Biblical Christianity entails that a significant majority of souls end up suffering eternally then I fail to see it should considered good news at all, much less "too good to be true" as you say. It would seem to me that cognitive extinctivism (i.e. all consciousness utterly ceases with brain death) would be a fair improvement on just such a situation. Of course, that is not a reason to believe (one way or the other) just an interesting side note.


He's generous enough to share His incredible wealth with whomever might ask.

So long as they are not yet safely housed in the debtor's prison? I may yet conceive of a greater and more beneficent benefactor than the one being described here.


God says that they DO know He exists So the term "non-believers" cannot used in an internal critique because they are just pretend. I have to ask, do you think that in order to know something one must first believe it to be true?


How loving is it to refuse to punish all the evil done in the world? Rather quite loving, I would think.


To arrive in Heaven and find an unrepentant Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot hanging out on the clouds with you?

First off, if there is indeed an eternal blissful afterlife, then all the temporal suffering caused by these three evil men fades into relative insignificance. After all, if one is heaven-bound then to die is gain.

More importantly, though, universalism does not necessarily imply unrepentance. Which is the being greater than which cannot be conceived: (a) one who *cannot* bring all moral agents into a state of repentance and grace or (b) one who does.

[ Side note: In one of Anne Rice's novels, an angel of god was given this onerous task -- fascinating read.]



...can atheism provide any grounding for making such moral critiques as I find here?

In typical agnostic fashion, I doubt whether either theism or atheism can aid one at all in making moral critiques. In the Craig's debate against Antony he basically argued that we should be moral because we fear divine wrath punishment and crave divine blessings, and that is nothing but ethical egoism with an afterlife and gods thrown in. Antony argued that we should be moral just because other sentient beings are affected by our moral choices, which I suppose is a good reason for those (like her) who come pre-wired with a well-functioning empathy module. Neither person managed to make a case for freestanding ethical norms which hold truth apart from the subjective desires of moral agents.

justfinethanks said...

The final destination of everyone who has ever lived who did/does/will not have saving faith in Jesus Christ is Hell. I've always wondered: when exactly did this metaphysical law start? When Jesus was born? When Jesus started his ministry? After he was resurrected? Or was there a bit of a grace period in between the resurrection and the ministry of the apostles?

I mean, assume there are three Jews who die believing in Judaism. One dies while Jesus is in diapers, one dies in Jerusalem while Jesus was doing his thing, and one dies the day after the "resurrection," brushing Jesus off as an eccentric Rabbi with overzealous disciples who got the Romans' nerves.

Which one is on Yahweh's bad side?

Also, what if you live your entire life as a devout Christian, but suffer a severe bout of alzheimers in your eighties. The rest of your life, you no longer believe that Jesus is God nor repent from your sins, but only because your mind is too decayed to "believe" anything or have a concept of "sin." Do you get a free pass and go to heaven or is the "you have to accept Jesus and repent from your sins" law super strict?

justfinethanks said...

Oh, and and on the topic of morality and God, I highly recommend the recent debate between Yale philosopher Shelly Kagan and William Lane Craig on "Is God Necessary for Morality?" Craig can mark this one up to his (admittedly small) list of debates he hands down lost. Craig is so calm and collected normally, it was a little weird to see him get frustrated by Kagan's replies. He even stutters at a couple points.

rotsaP loeJ said...

That was an interesting interaction to read.

Justfinethanks:

in Biblical terms, "faith in Christ" is not entirely tied to direct knowledge of the incarnation. Jews who, as in your example, truly believe, are saved by means of their faith in God for the propitiation of their sin.

Damion:

although you are probably right in saying that the cultural construction of "justice" in modern America typically excludes the familial aspect found in Scripture (eg, punishing Adam's progeny for his sin, killing David's child for his, but saving Jesus' seed because of his righteousness; in short, the doctrine of imputation), I would argue that this is simply the modern, and highly American, heresy of individualism. It doesn't work that way biblically, nor really, it seems to me, in a lot of ancient literature.

So in this sense, I would argue that the perfection of God's justice logically entails that all moral blemishes be castigated, either directly or indirectly. Directly - well, this is the doctrine of hell, as (in Edwards' terms) an infinite offense against an infinite deity requires an infinite indemnity, which is a bill that mortals can never settle. Indirectly, and you have some variant of the Judeo/Christian doctrine of penal substitution.

Incidentally, I am not sure I see how aetheism provides a rigorous account of the good. I agree that people almost all have common categories for it, as your examples show. But I think this comes from common grace. If life really has no ultimate meaning, the construction of transcendent ideals must seem rather hollow.

James Pate said...

The "grace period" would probably end with Jesus' resurrection, wouldn't it? I mean, there's a passage in Acts (I think Acts 17) which says God once allowed people to walk their own ways, but now he's set a day of repentance, and he showed it would be by Jesus through his resurrection.

rotsaP loeJ said...

You may well be right. I would certainly agree that the "window of opportunity" as it were, is fairly restricted; that at a certain point a really devout Jew's piety would force him to recognise the Messiah, failing which he would merit damnation. I can't set a biblical date for when that would happen exactly, but you're probably in the neighbourhood.

Damion said...

I am not sure I see how atheism provides a rigorous account of the good. As I said above, neither belief in gods or the lack thereof can provide such an account. You need to define the good in terms which link the good to moral action. Obeying authority (divine or otherwise) just for the sake of avoiding punishment is nothing more than ethical egoism, that is, defining the good as acting in one's self-interest.

If life really has no ultimate meaning, the construction of transcendent ideals must seem rather hollow. Why must ideals be transcendent rather than something that exist in human minds? Sort of begging the question in your favor to assume the former case, I would say.

Damion said...

I would argue that the perfection of God's justice logically entails that all moral blemishes be castigated, either directly or indirectly.

I would argue that the requirement of pouring out one's wrath upon someone indicates the lack of the ability to forgive outright, without any retribution. You can call this a perfection, if you like, but it surely looks like an imperfection to me.

Who is the more perfect person, he who forgives 70x7 times a neighbor who sins against him, or he who seeks retributive castigation each time?

Paul C said...

"It's just that He's generous enough to share His incredible wealth with whomever might ask."

It's not generosity if there's an infinite supply of it, since they could keep giving without even noticing. Your analogies are as full of holes as your theology, I'm afraid.

Paul C said...

"Incidentally, I am not sure I see how aetheism provides a rigorous account of the good."

Why does it need to?

"If life really has no ultimate meaning, the construction of transcendent ideals must seem rather hollow."

So I don't.

rotsaP loeJ said...

A few quick points, and not to everything.

Damion,

I am not sure who it is that thinks the grounds of Christian morality is simply avoiding punishment in the manner of a mongrel puppy, but I certainly don't have that as a ground. Pursuing the good does have certain obvious advantages in Christianity, but that's like saying the main reason for driving safely is to avoid tickets. It's one reason to be sure, but hopefully does not stand alone.

Rather, I would say that the good, as defined by God, is pursuing his self-interest. As the old metaphysicians would say, God is the centre and source of being, being is the first and central good; therefore the best end or purpose (which is to say, the highest good) is the exaltation of God's being. Which is what he has been after since the dawn of human history.

I would say that the good must be transcendent to mean anything. If good is simply and entirely a social construction of human minds, then how do you bridge the is-ought question? If good is no more than what certain people happen to think, then it has no prescriptive power. No-one else has any particular reason to agree with them. Nor does it really have any descriptive power, outside the minds of whichever people happen to accept it. It is surely obvious that not everyone in the world agrees on the good. Thus, if the only criterion we have is "that which some people imagine to be good", the word essentially becomes an empty signifier. It is as if, in English, the word "shoe" meant precisely any object or idea the speaker might happen to have in mind. The vocable would in that case insignificant, in the sense of being a nonsense word.

I'll try to get to your other response in a bit.

Paul C said...

"It is as if, in English, the word "shoe" meant precisely any object or idea the speaker might happen to have in mind."

No it isn't. It's as if the word shoe meant any object that could be worn on the foot. It can cover a wide range of objects while retaining a core meaning, and also enables people referring to different objects to communicate about those objects.

On the other hand, if "shoe" only meant "what my religion claims it means", and you refute the very idea that when anybody else uses the word "shoe" it has any meaning - EVEN WHEN THEY'RE WEARING SHOES - then you are likely to find that people don't take you very seriously at all.

Damion said...

I would say that the good, as defined by God, is pursuing his self-interest. As the old metaphysicians would say, God is the centre and source of being, being is the first and central good...
It is not at all clear that being is an unmitigated good. It seems obvious that anyone in a state of sufficiently intense torment (either on Earth in in the hereafter) would prefer to be annihilated altogether. So, being is at best a necessary (but not sufficent) ground of goodness. If God created humanity with the sole purpose of being sadistic towards us, it would be incredibly odd to say that God is good because he is the source of our being. Thus, good must mean something more than merely whatever the creator deity happens to like.


I would say that the good must be transcendent to mean anything. If good is simply and entirely a social construction of human minds, then how do you bridge the is-ought question?

If good is simply and entirely a social construction of divine minds, then how do you bridge the is-ought question? Why put the deities interests ahead of your own?


If good is no more than what certain people happen to think, then it has no prescriptive power.

This is only true if good people are prevented from wielding power in good ways. I'll allow that this certainly has very often been the case, as when the people generally believed that divine authority was vested in Earthly kings.


It is surely obvious that not everyone in the world agrees on the good.
It is surely equally obvious that most of those people are theists and still do not agree on the most significant moral issues of our time.

Damion said...

Let me clarify a little bit on the is/ought gap. To get to the "ought" part you have to be able to say to people "You ought to do X because it will make the world more like the world that you want to live in" or something along those lines. For most people, this is quite enough for most moral situations.

Theists basically do this as well, but they factor in the hereafter into the moral calculus, "You ought to do X because it will make the afterlife more like the one you want to live in."

In both cases, though, one must appeal to the moral agent's own desires and motivations. I just don't see anyway around this problem, since moral values and duties can be as objective as rocks and matter not a whit if they don't motivate moral action.

rotsaP loeJ said...

Paul,

a religious definition of shoes does not imply that only religious people wear shoes, nor that no-one else ever talks about similar objects. It would simply indicate that other definitions were ill-considered or inconsistent with reality to a greater or lesser degree. Which in the case of good, is pretty much my point: there is a transcendent Good with which human systems may more or less accord. This is what enables us to distinguish our weighting of moralities from our weighting of different flavours of cake.

Damion,

I agree that the ultimate corruption of being is indeed terrible to consider - I should know, I study Dante. But it still seems to me a sufficient ground for happiness as well, except perhaps in very extreme cases. I think you vastly underestimate the human will to live - we do not, for example, hear of mass suicides being characteristic of concentration camps or gulags.

In response to your next point, God's role as summum bonum is actually not dependent on his treating humanity in any particular way. My point was not that God gives us being and we worship him in gratitude, but rather that, in his role as perfect, non-contingent Being from which everything else derives he is (to use an astronomical metaphor) the gravitic centre about which all other beings contingent on his own naturally tend. It so happens that since being is the sine qua non of all felicity, this natural rapport also tends to ground and produce the greatest possible human happiness. But this is simply frosting on the ontological cake.

We do not, of course, see the full effects of this due to mankind's fallen state. Human nature has been corrupted from its true good, and even the best efforts on earth remain imperfect.

With your last sentence that "good must mean more than whatever the creator happens to like", I flatly disagree. Inasmuch as the ultimate creator makes all the rules (and constructs our minds), I would argue that good is precisely what he likes. We have no independent means on enquiry on the subject.

Your response to the is/ought issue is interestingly pragmatic. I suppose you realise that in saying prescriptive power, I mean moral authority, the ability to judge between competing moral claims, not simply physical authority, the ability to hit people who disagree with you?

In any case, the fact that theists have different definitions of the good is not a compelling argument for anything in particular. There are, after all, different gods in play among theists; perhaps some of them (theists or gods, whichever you like) are mistaken. What's your point? At least, unlike atheists, they make an attempt to ground their philosophy, instead of just taking it for granted.

On the other hand, I think I may agree with your formulation of morality - there is on some level a degree of self-interest. You define your terms very widely: I suppose in order for something to count as altruistic in your system, there must be no benefit at all, real or imagined, to the agent? I concede that does seem impossible: even if we imagine a person who conceives of the good as requiring his own annihilation - he would, presumably, experience a flash of pleasure at his own integrity.

I think my distinction was between the narrow self-interest I supposed that you were talking about, and the more cosmic level I have in mind. In our experience on Earth, for example, self-interest is commonly misunderstood, which leads people to all sort of objectionable behavior on the idea that it will lead to their own happiness. So although I do concede your overall formulation - that pursuing the good is in everyone's self-interest - I would argue that the perception of self-interest is merely that. It must be more specific to be any good.





(Of course by "good" here, I mean helpful for those of us who have to make moral decisions about competing claims of self-interest, not simply that it appeals to me personally.)

Paul C said...

"Which in the case of good, is pretty much my point: there is a transcendent Good with which human systems may more or less accord."

As a moral skeptic, I am under no obligation to accept that there is a "transcendant Good" until you persuade me otherwise. Go for it.

Rhology said...

Go for it? Why should I?

Paul C said...

"Why should I?"

I wasn't talking to you.

Rhology said...

Why should he? It's not like it'd be a good thing to do, is it?

Paul C said...

"It's not like it'd be a good thing to do, is it?"

That would depend if he, like you, was conflating different meanings of the word good, whether through deliberate malice or unfortunate ignorance, in order to salvage an argument which had been lost many times before.

Which is to say, once again: I wasn't talking to you.

Rhology said...

Yeah, silly me for thinking that "good" might justifiably be defined in a way that would apply to everyone regardless of whether they accept it or not.

Paul C said...

No, "silly you" for conflating moral and non-moral usages of the same word.

Damion said...

!0773H - rotsaP .rM

being... still seems to me a sufficient ground for happiness as well, except perhaps in very extreme cases.

Extreme cases such as an eternal and unchanging state of unthinkable suffering?


I think you vastly underestimate the human will to live - we do not, for example, hear of mass suicides being characteristic of concentration camps or gulags.

I doubt that this fact has evidential value one way or another, but it certainly does comport well with the hypothesis that human rationality evolved to serve the needs of selfish genes.


In response to your next point, God's role as summum bonum is actually not dependent on his treating humanity in any particular way.
I thought that *was* my next point. ;)

If you define God as the very source and nature of the good, it matters not whether God desires the things that humans would like for themselves. On such a definition, one would still call God "good" even if He planned on damning us all to unthinkable torment evermore. If that does not clarify the massive rift between the concept of creator-centered "good" and the usual sense of the term I cannot think of what illustration might serve to do so.

If we stipulate "H-good" as things and states which we humans generally prefer (e.g. good food, stimulating debate, comfortable shoes, etc.) and "G-good" as the summum bonum you describe above, there is no good reason to suppose that these two types of goods intersect much if at all. There is good reason, though, to suppose that the vast majority of English usage of the term "good" is in the former rather than the latter sense. Since that is the case, I'd recommend that you use more specialized language rather than trying to appropriate ordinary terms for highly specialized usages. This recommendation carries no moral weight, of course, it would just make the task of doing apologetics more straightforward.


We have no independent means on enquiry on the subject.

If our minds actually function to process information in a rational manner, that constitutes a means of inquiry. What other means might one hope to have?


Your response to the is/ought issue is interestingly pragmatic.

No more than one might expect from a metaphysical naturalist.


At least, unlike atheists, they make an attempt to ground their philosophy, instead of just taking it for granted.

Grounding one's philosophy in revealed religion rather than rational discourse is like building a house on shifting sands. In one time and place, such things as theocracy, genocide, slavery and female subjugation are all part of the divinely ordained order of things, and some time later we find Christians smugly taking credit for overturning all of these ancient ways, all the while claiming to have grounded their philosophy in eternal moral norms.

Rhology said...

Sorry for the delay, all. I thought I'd give my own responses to Damion's first comment.

If all we are is just matter in motion, I DO dispute that we would know what good is. B/c everyone's definition could be different.



who cares more for the "good" - A bystander who dives into Lake Michigan at some personal risk in order to save a stranger, or the lifeguard who does so only because she will lose her job if she fails to have a go at it?Neither and both, on atheism. Each one doesn't matter just as much and matters just as much - zero.
I saw Craig debate someone else on this "can we be moral w/o God?" question and I thought Craig's approach was very poorly suited for this question, actually.



I am only saying that the concept of a perfectly good, merciful, or compassionate being is at odds with the concept of a being that chooses eternal damnation for its creatures (assuming there are other logically possible alternatives available).You need to prove that eternal damnation is objectively bad first, on atheism (for external critique) or on Xtianity (for internal).

Christ gave His life for an awful lot of people, actually. It may (or may not) be few in ratio to the entire human population of Hell, but it won't be a few. It'll be a lot.


that would mean "God is good" even if God was the greatest sadist in any logically possible world.W/o God as standard of goodness, my point is that you have no grounds to apply the labels of good or bad to ANYthing. Everything just IS. Sadism IS. Feeding orphans IS. Petting (or mutilating) puppies IS.


Suppose...suppose further...Then nothing matters, same thing as atheism. Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die, and we have no moral guidance.



Once you allow for the possibility of supernatural beings, pretty much anything goes I allow for that possibility b/c the Bible says so, and it's not the case on my position that "anything goes". What is your argument?


Perhaps, though, moral fitness is more like physical fitnessWe certainly agree on that.
The difference is that I have an actual standard to which to appeal. You have what you like, and there are 6+ billion different likes out there.

I agree with Craig's argument about the greater goods. It's not my strongest argument, but I think it is certainly good.



If this is truly so, would you consider yourself free to murder (or torture, rape, pillage, etc.) if you were in my position,Yes. Who would judge me? You? On what basis? Society? On what basis? Can't society change laws? So why not change the law I want? Give me more than "b/c that would hurt our society" - that begs the question.
In fact, a good argument can be made that that's why Hell will be so bad. Lots of people, deprived of God's common grace and therefore any motivation not to sin all the time. That'd be hellish, to be sure.


If God set them up that way, is it not possible that he could change the rules? No.


"I shall forgive anyone I please solely in accordance with my divine will - no substitutions necessary."I invite you to explore, then, how His justice would be satisfied against evildoers.


Allah, but this sounds like something that an all-powerful and all-merciful being ought to be able to do, if he wills it.How would Allah be just, then?



How then can one "offend" one who is perfectly good and complete in and of himself?Hmm, that's a good question. I guess I'd answer that, while God is complete in and of Himself, yes, He still does own the Earth and all it contains. He rightfully deserves that all humans worship Him 24X7, and of course that doesn't happen.


I think we can all agree that we are not speaking God's language, but rather the language of the English and their colonial derivatives.I don't agree that we aren't speaking God's language.
God is the necessary precondition for reason and intelligibility. And absent any alternative, He is the definition of good. So no, I can't accept the use of clumsy, sloppy language in this discussion, b/c it doesn't fit and it doesn't tell us anything.



It is just downright confusing to stipulate "good" to mean "whatever the all-powerful creator prefers" and expect people to follow along unless they already share your theological outlook.Then you need to present an alternative way to define "good" on atheism and argue for it.



If Biblical Christianity entails that a significant majority of souls end up suffering eternally then I fail to see it should considered good news at all, much less "too good to be true" as you say.It's great news b/c you deserve Hell (and so do I) and we can do nothing to change that. Instead, God changed the situation out of love and generosity, and offers that solution to us as a gift.


It would seem to me that cognitive extinctivism (i.e. all consciousness utterly ceases with brain death) would be a fair improvement on just such a situation. Nihilism. Hey, that's fine. It means that nothing I do matters, whether good or bad.
You can try to convince me differently, but that's just self-deception.


How loving is it to refuse to punish all the evil done in the world? Rather quite loving, I would think.Why? How is it loving to the many victims?
You don't think that there are more victims than evildoers in the world?


First off, if there is indeed an eternal blissful afterlife, then all the temporal suffering caused by these three evil men fades into relative insignificance.1) There's not for most people. It's not a good thing for someone to cut an unrepentant person's life short, for this Earth is as close to Heaven as they'll ever get.
2) Life is valuable, for all people are made in the image of God.
3) This is pretty callous of you.
4) This statement is far truer if "cognitive extinctivism" is true.


Which is the being greater than which cannot be conceived: (a) one who *cannot* bring all moral agents into a state of repentance and grace or (b) one who does.What is your argument for {b}? With this statement, all you've done is to appeal to intuition.



In the Craig's debate against Antony he basically argued that we should be moral because we fear divine wrath punishment and crave divine blessingsWhile true, that doesn't go nearly far enough.
We should be good for the sheer fact that it's the right thing to do. Further, b/c we love Jesus, Who has commanded and asked us to do good. And b/c we love people and the church. And to become holier, more like Jesus. I'd put what Craig said (if indeed you faithfully represented his case here, which I see no reason to doubt) AFTER those in the scale of importance.


Antony argued that we should be moral just because other sentient beings are affected by our moral choices, So what? Who says that 'affecting' other moral agents is good (or bad)? Why?



a well-functioning empathy moduleEmpathy is such a pathetic answer here."You ought to do X because it will make the world more like the world that you want to live in" or something along those lines. For most people, this is quite enough for most moral situations.But why make the world more like I want? Doesn't morality also inform desire? Where's the guide for that?


Grounding one's philosophy in revealed religion rather than rational discourse is like building a house on shifting sands.Hahaha - that's just silly. There is nothing else to be revealed, save the Eschaton, the End. God is 100% trustworthy.
What reliability, standard, or foundation does atheism offer?


we find Christians smugly taking credit for overturning all of these ancient ways, all the while claiming to have grounded their philosophy in eternal moral norms.To an extent, such Christians would have done so with poor understanding of why they were supposed to be doing what they were doing.
Let me recommend to you, if you're interested, this just-begun series of podcasts.



jft said:

when exactly did this metaphysical law start? It didn't start. It's always been and will always be this way.
However, you appear to be asking wrt Judaism and OT chronology. Believing faithfully and truly in Judaism up until Christ's appearance on the scene included an expectation of the Messiah who would complete all things. So your 1st and 2nd Jews would have had saving faith in the Messiah of God. The 3rd one rejected the Messiah of God and Hell is his destination.
And I agree with leoJ.

As for your Alzheimer's patient, what matters is not "belief" or confession but rather God's call. If God truly regenerated that person, by grace thru faith, then that person goes to Heaven. If He didn't, he goes to Hell.

Damion said...

...everyone's definition could be different.

Everyone's definition of "good" is somewhat different, in point of fact. Claiming that the highest good exists within an eternal immaterial mind does not change the fact that any two people will usually disagree on at least some moral issues, even when they are reading the same holy books.

Maybe moral truths exist apart from humanity, maybe not, but either way we will all disagree as to which moral propositions are really true. You have repeatedly assuming that moral truths are irrelevant if there is no one watching us from on high, but surely even in a godless universe we humans would have to create and enforce moral norms. This is no easy task, but that is why we create legislative and judicial institutions.

You need to prove that eternal damnation is objectively bad first, on atheism...

You need to prove that "bad" cannot be meaningful apart from divinely ordained objective badness, that phrases such as "perfectly good, merciful, or compassionate" cannot carry meaning to English speakers without incorporating theistic beliefs. If you realized all gods are naught but myths tomorrow morning, you would still think it good to give your kids bread, and bad to give them stones. You would realize that mercy and compassion are still meaningful concepts. You would go on trying to live a good life, even though no one is going to invest it with eternal significance.


without God as standard of goodness, my point is that you have no grounds to apply the labels of good or bad to ANYthing.


Only if you assume (as you do) that good and bad cannot carry meaning to us humans without having been divinely ordained. That, however, is precisely what you must prove. It is not enough to say there is no goodness without god(s).


Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die, and we have no moral guidance.

I do advise eating and drinking, especially if you are going to be killed tomorrow. As to moral guidance, I'd recommend books about ethics. I know of a good book on meta-ethics that you can download for free.


The difference is that I have an actual standard to which to appeal.

A fairly ambiguous standard, as far as I can tell. Can you name any significant moral issue that has not had staunch defenders quoting the Bible on both sides?


Who would judge me? You? On what basis? Society? On what basis?

Hopefully, a judge would judge you, and then sentence you to some hard time.

That said, your answer gives me pause. Would you really have no compunctions about murder, torture, rape, and other crimes if you discovered there are no gods looking down upon us? If so, I cannot in good conscience continue this conversation, lest I succeed in convincing you that gods are myths and thereby loose a sociopath upon society. I care enough about my fellow citizens that I'd really rather avoid doing that.

Rhology said...

Hi Damion,

Just b/c one objective good exists doesn't lead to total agreement among everyone, especially when people are sinful and inconsistent.
How much worse is the situation when sinful and inconsistent people think an objective standard of good doesn't even exist! That's atheism.


but surely even in a godless universe we humans would have to create and enforce moral norms. If by "norms" you mean what people generally do, I suppose. I don't see why we'd have to enforce them, though. Quite a few species have gone extinct, you know. It means nothing to the universe if humans do the same.


you need to prove that "bad" ...cannot carry meaning to English speakers without incorporating theistic beliefs. I'd say you're the one taking this to the realm of the purely semantic. I'm interested in what's TRUE and then living and believing and thinking consistently with that. YOU need to do one of three things:

1) provide a standard for good and bad on atheism, or
2) admit that no such standard exists and therefore make no other moral statements that could imply that any moral judgment you make could possibly apply to anyone else, like "don't rape that girl" or "don't steal all my money at gunpoint to feed your crack habit and leave my kids and me destitute", b/c that wouldn't be bad at all. It would just be. OR
3) trust Christ as Savior so you can actually make moral statements, repeating God's statements after Him, so that said statements would actually have some meaning.



If you realized all gods are naught but myths tomorrow morning, you would still think it good to give your kids bread, and bad to give them stonesMy thoughts are chemical reactions in the brain, nothing more. My kids are no more valuable than broccoli. It won't matter what I think or what I give them; we'll all be dead in 100 yrs or less. Further, I might *think* it's good to give bread, but I'd be wrong. Would it be useful to them to get bread? Depends on how badly you want to beg the question of what "useful" means. Might I prefer it? Sure, and Jeffrey Dahmer preferred human flesh. So why's one better than the other?
Hint: This is the part where you offer an atheistic theory of morality (another hint: not 'empathy') and answer these questions, instead of borrowing moral outrage from a Christian-ish framework and then throwing it back out onto the table.



You would realize that mercy and compassion are still meaningful conceptsProve it.



I know of a good book on meta-ethics that you can download for free.It's not this piece of crap,is it?
Either way, does this e-book answer the question of WHY I SHOULD CARE?
Be advised that I like to ask a lot of "Why?" questions. And eventually, it gets down to a standard-that's-not-a-standard, propped up like it is one. I find it a pretty dishonest exercise, but I'm open to new discoveries, so by all means.



A fairly ambiguous standard, as far as I can tell. Um, so one minute you complain about the strict rules and mean, nasty regulations in the Bible and then the next minute, it's ambiguous? Can't have it both ways - pick one.
When was the last time you checked a decent systematic theology volume or two? Nothing ambiguous about 800 pages of tiny print (and no pretty pictures), my friend.



Can you name any significant moral issue that has not had staunch defenders quoting the Bible on both sides?Category error - you're supposed to be attacking MY position, not YOURS. You're the one who wants to base it all on humans.



Hopefully, a judge would judge you, and then sentence you to some hard time. Not if the society preferred my POV, then YOU'D be sentenced.
Answer the question, don't appeal to the luck of the draw that your hand of morality fits the glove of the zeitgeist.



Would you really have no compunctions about murder, torture, rape, and other crimes if you discovered there are no gods looking down upon us?I think YOU'RE supposed to be answering the question of WHY ANY OF THAT MATTERS if atheism is true. Why don't you tell me?



I care enough about my fellow citizens that I'd really rather avoid doing that.then I'd appreciate an argument why, on atheism, you or anyone should care about one's fellow citizens.
And don't worry, at the rate the non-answers from you are piling up, there's little danger of my abandoning my faith.

Damion said...

How much worse is the situation when sinful and inconsistent people think an objective standard of good doesn't even exist!

Is this an empirical question? If so, I can dig up some data on crime rates in secular democracies as opposed to similarly structured societies with higher degrees of religious belief.

It certainly seems like an open question whether an objective standard (or the illusion of one) really does any good. As I asked earlier, can you name any significant moral issue that has not had staunch defenders quoting the Bible on both sides?

I don't see why we'd have to enforce them, though.



We don't have to it just works out much better for us if we do.

It means nothing to the universe if humans do the same.

So what?

I'm interested in what's TRUE and then living and believing and thinking consistently with that.

Sounds good to me, although I cannot say that it is obvious to me that you really ought to do so.

3) trust Christ as Savior so you can actually make moral statements...

You imply here that Christianity is the only religion which claims to have divinely mandated absolute moral norms. Surely, you know that this is not so.

My thoughts are chemical reactions in the brain, nothing more.

Right.

My kids are no more valuable than broccoli.

Why not? How does this lack of value follow from the fact that your brain is essentially an electrochemical machine?

It won't matter what I think or what I give them; we'll all be dead in 100 yrs or less.

Implicitly, nothing matters AT ALL unless it matters FOREVER? Why is that?

Jeffrey Dahmer preferred human flesh.

I'm not passing judgment on cannibalism or non-vegetarianism, one way or another.

Either way, does this e-book answer the question of WHY I SHOULD CARE?

Does your chosen holy book do that? Offering eternal rewards and threatening eternal punishments is nothing more than ethical egoism on an infinite timeline. If you can answer "why should I care" on theism, without resorting to ethical egoism, I'd be terribly interested in hearing it.

...at the rate the non-answers from you are piling up...

I cannot tell if this is deliberate irony or not. Allow me to restate another question which you have avoided:

Would you really have no compunctions about murder, torture, rape, and other crimes if you discovered there are no gods looking down upon us?

You've not even attempted to answer these questions, so far as I can tell. If you cannot assure me that you have good reasons to avoid murder and rape, then I really should not continue conversing with you. If your belief in divine mandates is the only thing holding you back, I'd be foolish to attempt to unbind you therefrom.

Damion said...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around your repeated insistence that if there are no gods that nothing really matters at all.

Maybe the deductive argument goes like this:

1) No action or value REALLY matters unless it matters FOREVER.

2) On naturalism, nothing lasts forever

3) :. On naturalism, nothing matters.

Is that the argument behind you assertions that nothing matters on atheism?

If not, what is the real argument?

If so, why do you accept premise (1)?