Can God be described as “good”?

(Mitchell W McKain) #21

Yes, we have a fundamental disagreement on a couple issues: Euthyphro’s dilemma and nature of God’s omnipotence/omniscience.

The moral argument may be part of the first of these. I don’t believe this argument has any merit. I don’t believe any of the arguments for the existence of God are valid – not for the God I believe in. Just because something is true doesn’t mean an argument for it is sound.

The second of these ties to the nature of life, the universe, causality, free will, power, and love. I am a scientist who has come to a Christian belief and reconciling evolution with taking the Bible seriously has led to my position as an incompatibilist libertarian open theist. All of these things are logically interconnected.

“God” is a word and the question is, what does it mean. For me, goodness is the most important. And without that I will not use the word. Without goodness a creator is just a Demiurge. Without goodness, a dominating power is just a devil or “god of this world.” Confronted by either of these I will not bow any knee, and I will continue to believe in a more ultimate creator and power that is good, calling that one God instead. Character is more important than deed, more important than power, and more important than name.

Not at all. But if it is irritating to you, then by all means leave it.

I am a strong believer that these are things everyone must answer for themselves in order for the answers to have any meaning. Though bouncing ideas off of other people can be quite helpful. I know it has been immensely helpful to me.

(Patrick moore) #22

Ok, so on the basis that I am not irritating you, then I would like to drill down into the question of God and “the good”.

Let’s imagine that there is such an entity as God - a being that is not created but which exists, and furthermore who is responsible for creation itself. This is not something than our limited intellect can readily grasp as we are so used to everything having a beginning, but let’s just take it on faith.

This being, God, exists independent of everything else. It exists outside of the Law, your moral sense of what is good and evil. As the Bible says, God is simply “I am”.

To me it seems obvious in logic, that if you accept that this type of God exists, then goodness, the Law and his Word all proceed from the nature and personality of this God.

To me your arguement is exactly the wrong way around. “Good” is just a word. Your sense of good might vary from mine, and would certainly vary from that of an Aztec who believed in human sacrifice or a Carthaginian who believed in child sacrifice.

How do you “know” that your concept of good is objectively correct and mine or the Carthaginian’s is wrong?

Unless you anchor your definition of good and evil in something that is itself objective and absolute you have no way of making that arguement.

The only thing that is objective and absolute is God. So good must therefore be defined by the nature of God - whatever that nature is.

That is the point I am trying to make rather inarticulately.

(Patrick moore) #23

Arguing by analogy has limited value in cases such as these, but if I were a car dealer and I sold 100 billion faulty cars, that I knew were faulty, and which resulted in the death of billions - then I think i would have some responsibility.

One of my questions is why has mankind been made so weak and wicked. It seems that other creatures have free will and yet have a far greater resolution of spirit than man.

(Patrick moore) #24

To be clear - I am not trying to lay the blame for human evil at the feet of God.

If I get pissed off it’s clearly not Gods fault (or soley Gods fault) if I walk into a school and machine gun 59 people to death.

(Mitchell W McKain) #25

The definition of the being you are suggesting we presuppose is the deed of creating the universe. And this does not seems such an intellectual challenge for people have been writing about their consideration of this presupposition for more than 2,500 years.

It does not logically follow from the act of creation that the creator is good. Plato suggested that this was an evil being, calling it the Demiurge. Thus he and the Gnostics believe that this evil being had trapped our divine spirit/mind in an evil material existence. I do not think their belief is correct. The point is that it does not logically follow that the creator is good.

This presumes that the good is always and completely a product of some set of laws or a moral sense. This is not a presumption which I accept. I reject the idea that good only exists because of some kind of externally imposed law. There is in fact two elements in any system of morality.

  1. The relative: For some things it is more important to have a rule than what the rule is, like which side of the street we drive on. It is more important that we drive all on the same side of the street than which side of the street it is. There are many rules like this which are lines drawn in the sand simply because we must have a line drawn somewhere. And thus we must have some authority, whether society, religion or deity, to tell us where the line is drawn and without that standard dictated to us then these moral lines would simply not exist. But this fact that they must be dictated by an authority is precisely what makes them relative to the authority which has dictated them. Simply making the authority more powerful doesn’t change this in the slightest.
  2. The absolute: But for other things there are good reasons why some choices are better than others and there is nothing arbitrary about difference in those cases. But that means the difference between good and bad doesn’t come from dictation by an authority but from these reasons for the difference. And if God tells us about these differences then He is doing so because of these reasons.

The other terminology here quite distinct from this difference between relative and absolute is that of objective and subjective. Objective means the same for everyone as established by the evidence given by written procedures which anyone can follow to get the same result. Everything else must presumed to be subjective, meaning possibly and even likely different for different people depending on personal experiences and choices.

But that sound very much like something evil people would say. To them “good” is just a word used by some people to manipulate other people and to control them. But this argument by the psychopath is one which I reject. Some people may indeed use this word “good” as a means to manipulate others, especially the Pharisees of different religions. But the way to overcome this and defeat the manipulative religion is to show how good is more than just a word.

It is precisely because their morality came from whatever their god dictated that they would do such things. And for this reason, atheists came to the conclusion that all belief in any kind of god must be discarded as an evil thing which short circuits human moral reasoning, citing examples of genocide commanded by this god talked about in the Bible.

But there is another alternative… that God exists and there are both relative elements of morality dependent upon dictated standards as well as elements of morality derived from reason which no authority (no matter how powerful) can avoid. Thus we can judge which gods and their religions are bad and should be rejected on a basis other than the essentially “might makes right” mentality which simply pushes ones own religion on everyone else. In this alternative, that of the free society, we only push things on everyone when there is sound reason and evidence to support it, and all the rest has to be left up to the personal choices we have in living our own personal lives.

Thus, I will side with other theists to oppose atheists declaring that all religion is necessarily evil, but I will side with the atheists to oppose those theists declaring that what they dictate is right regardless of all reason and evidence.

It is only objectively correct when there is objective evidence showing how it is bad. Otherwise it is a matter of subjective experience and however right it may be can only apply to your own personal life.

But this is demonstrably incorrect. The beliefs about God vary greatly between people in rather big ways and therefore there is nothing objective about them. Furthermore the majority of them are simply dictated by various religious organizations and that makes them completely relative as well.

Even if you do believe God exists as I do, then it remains a fact that God does not give us objective evidence of His existence. This is probably because a belief in His existence is not of universal benefit to everyone. For too many, God is simply someone people can blame the problems of their life and the world upon, and thus it is better if they do not believe in God at all.

We are more than biological organisms. We are memetic organisms. This greatly increases our free will and adaptability. It enables us to go beyond the interests of our bodies to devote our lives to many different things, even to some obscure species of bugs found in one small location of the world. But it also makes us susceptible to bad habits (i.e. sin) of thought and action which can destroy our freedom of will and turn us into slaves of those habits doing rather horrible things.

It is a problem of life that it can be both a fruit bearing tree or a ravaging disease. In the addition of our minds we have been given so much more life, that our choices can be on even a grander scale than that. We can be a destroyer of the earth, with weapons of mass destruction, toxic chemicals, or even a terrible idea like antisemitism or communism. Or we can be a savior of the earth, stopping such things as disease, war, and criminals by our efforts.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #26

There is no evidence that the adversary in this instance is Satan. Here you have him as the keeper of the prison which is also false. In the text there is an adversary who delivers to the judge who delivers to the officer (of the prison.)

The Judge is usually God and what one owes is sin. There is no way that people are indebte4d to Satan. We are indebted to others for our sins, which we must pay for, but we find forgiveness through God’s love when we repent, which is what we are talking about, not Satan.

(Patrick moore) #27

“The definition of the being you are suggesting we presuppose is the deed of creating the universe”

No, this is incorrect in logic. A God who pre existed creation could have continued to exist without the need for creation, and so my (entirely orthodox) God does not presuppose the act of creating the universe.

Now let’s imagine that time before the creation of the Universe when all that existed was God. In this time there is nothing to be decided by anyone but God. Does God have need of your two types of rules? A relativistic approach or an absolute approach? I don’t think so. In such circumstances I think God is a free agent, able to do entirely as he pleases.

“Thus we can judge which gods and their religions are bad and should be rejected on a basis other than the essentially “might makes right” mentality which simply pushes ones own religion on everyone else. In this alternative, that of the free society, we only push things on everyone when there is sound reason and evidence to support it, and all the rest has to be left up to the personal choices we have in living our own personal lives.“

I am struggling to understand what you mean in this passage. You seem to be suggesting that we can “just tell” which religions are morally superior to others by looking at the results. Whilst this approach has a lot of appeal from a common sense perspective of two people who have been raised from within the same dominant Judeo-Christian culture (so that we broadly agree on many things). This approach collapses when we disagree. (I originally typed out a couple of obvious examples but then deleted them as they made this reply too long).

Where I think my arguement has a rather significant weakness is on the question of responsibility.

For the sake of arguement, let’s assume that a complaint against God is accepted - that he has sent us into the world poorly made and that He has done so from an essentially egotistical motivation to prove his greatness and that he is careless of the huge cost in human suffering that results.

Ok. So does that absolve someone of responsibility if they become disappointed in life and walk into a school and kill 50 people?

If the answer to this question is no, then exactly how much of the responsibility for this act is God’s and how much belongs to the individual?

If we come to the conclusion that the individual has a responsibility that is greater than zero, then in a sense the “contributory negligence” of God becomes irrelevant. So long as man HAS SOME responsibility for his actions, then he is answerable for his actions and trying to point the finger of blame at God does us no good.

The only defence available to man in this event is that “I didn’t ask to be created”. Whilst true, it is not obvious what remedy can be offered at this late stage. As far as I can tell from scripture the spirit and the soul are eternal.

This does not answer the question of whether or not God can be described as “good” in the sense that we generally use that term, rather it says that this question is irrelevant. To the extent that God has given us his laws and shown us his will, acting contrary to that makes us culpable to Judgement (either under the Law or under the Spirit) - whatever our opinion is of God and the creation he has brought us into.

I feel that this assessment is probably correct as far as it goes. It may be possible to prove that God is also “good” but I have not yet seen the arguement to show that to be the case.

(Albert Leo) #28

[quote=“Randy, post:6, topic:39919”]
I think there is a paradox here. I think that @mitchellmckain voices a good concern that we can ascribe evil to God; and I agree that you put your finger on the problem of whether God can be good if we are created inherently evil.

IMHO the Teilardan view that we humans exist with one foot in the Biosphere and the other in the Noosphere helps us reconcile the apparent conundrum of a good God allowing evil to exist in the world he created. The freedom He allowed in Cosmospheric evolution resulted in extremely powerful forces that were both destructive & creative–e.g. black holes & supernova. God has given us humans the minds that are capable of discerning the creative potential of these forces, but only if they were to extinguish intelligent life somewhere in the Universe would we consider them evil.

As @Christy points out, when God gave freedom to strong forces acting in the Biosphere (which were responsible for creating complex life), both creative and destructive results can be expected. Taking the pleasure of sexual intercourse as an example, I’ve watched on Nova how a beachmaster elephant seal will trample over his own progeny to give battle to a rival to his harem–giving no “thought” to any injury resulting to the mothers and infants who get in his way. In contrast, as humans, we find satisfaction in the lengthy courtship displays of the albatross who ‘get acquainted closely enough’ so that it is safe to engage in a lifelong relationship.

In my personal experience I can imagine no earthly pleasure that can compare with the ecstasy of sexual intercourse that is open to the conception of a new human being and open to the lifelong responsibility that is entailed in guiding that new spirit to lead a productive, love-filled life. IMHO there has been immeasurable harm done by the warped truth in the passage “in Sin did my mother conceive me”. This does not take into consideration that the Gift of Conscience allows humankind the freedom to direct the evolutionary forces that applied so long in the Biosphere to the more ‘holy’ results possible in the Noosphere. It should be obvious that referring to the Noosphere has much in common with the more familiar concept of God’s Kingdom on Earth.
Blessings to all
Al Leo

(Randy) #29

I just listened to the podcast about the Jew, the Priest, and the Atheist Walk Into a Bar…Father Barron outlined Teilhard de Chardin positively too. I need to read more on him

(Mitchell W McKain) #30

What logic? You asked us to presuppose the existence of a being. I merely pointed out the most obvious thing you were specifying about this being you are asking us to presuppose. I certainly made no statement about what your presupposed God needed.

More to the point, you haven’t shown how any of the things you want to presuppose about this being imply that this being is good, nor how any of this mean it cannot be the evil Demiurge believed in by Plato and the Gnostics.

To be sure, I believe that the creator is good, but that derives from a motivation for creation pointed to by the nature of what He has created. But that has to do with the very nature of the phenomenon of life as I have already talked about above. And motivation directly ties to character. But your argumentation seeks to make good defined by a god who is defined only by power and creation alone, and who can therefore be used to justify any atrocity you want. And that is where I will side with the atheists against you.

I quite agree that God is a free agent, certainly in the beginning, and afterwards only constrained by His integrity and commitment to His own choices. But that only means that he was free to choose between good and evil just as He was free to choose between power and love or between control and freedom. It does not mean, however, that the difference between good and evil is purely relative with no reasons why some things are good rather than evil.

Incorrect. I am saying that there is more to morality than a bunch of arbitrarily selected rules. Human sacrifice is bad for a reason. And while you may be happy to do whatever depraved evil some deity commands you to do, I am not. I empowered by reason to say this or that is a bad religion which cannot be tolerated, and it is not just because of something dictated by another religion or deity. And NO, it is not by some thinking that we can “just tell.” It is a matter of reasons why some things are bad. Whether it is human sacrifice, rape, or the sexual abuse of children, the negative effects on the lives of people are measurable just as the negative effect of cigarette smoke are measurable.

Yes when it is only founded on the subjective dictates of feeling or religion, then it is going to collapse when feelings and religions disagree. And this is why a free society tells the religions to butt out and makes its decisions based on the measurable evidence.

As a novelist, I decide what the characters in my stories do. They have no real responsibility because they have no real life or consciousness. They are fictions only, as are all the events in the story. So the question is whether we are just characters in a story God has dreamed or written also. Because if so, then we also are not responsible, alive, or conscious either. But then the fact that we do experience consciousness suggests that this is not the case and instead of being characters in an already written story, we are a contributing writer of our own story and thus we have responsibility for the part we play. Does the fact that we have a reason to feel angry mean that we have no responsibility for what we do with that anger? Hardly!

Does this mean that we all are completely and equally free in what we do all the time? No. Free will is both highly variable and fragile, altered by awareness, medical and mental conditions, drugs, as well as bad habits which can destroy our free will altogether. But not all of these necessarily alleviate our responsibility for sometimes these are themselves a consequence of our own choices. The most you can say is that it would be very wise to leave all the judgments of such things to God alone.

Since that is manifestly impossible, this is no defense at all. The fact that he would even attempt such a “defense” only underlines the fact that he has chosen death over life, and thus he is perfectly condemned by his own words. Our choice is never whether to have a choice, never whether to be alive or not. Our choice is only what to do with the life and choices we have been given.

No, but it directly connects to the correct criterion for deciding whether God is good, for we can ask, “what is a moral reason for the creation of life?” It seems obvious that death and suffering is a natural and avoidable part of life, so how can the creation of life possibly be a moral thing to do? There is only one thing I can see which could possibly justify not only the morality but the rationality of creating life. It is love.

Just from the fact that he is the creator or omnipotent, certainly not. But we might see evidence for this in what He has created. But part of that is correctly determining exactly what in the universe is really His creation and what is not.

(GJDS) #31

A lot of thought provoking comment on this topic. I would like to make a few constructive remarks.

  1. Can we describe God? I want to emphasise this point, because a serious answer needs to deal with a few thousand years of theology (I mean Christian). The describe God as good, or otherwise, seems to me to mean can we provide a description to us as human beings that may satisfy our own view of what is describable as good.
  2. Responsibility for acts with outcomes that we would reason as good or evil. Such acts must be within our capabilities as human beings - regarding God, I cannot imagine anything that is beyond His power. Yet Christ as God was born, lived and died as a human being, and in this way God took upon Himself all of the outcomes that we may find as unacceptable and evil/death/suffering.

God resurrected His Son because He was without sin. I think we may engage in lengthy discussions, mainly on theodicy. I for one believe that God made possible the choice to good, but we human beings decided otherwise. The responsibility is ours for such choices.

(Shawn T Murphy) #32

This is where there is a logical error in your thinking. Before the creation of the universe, we cannot assume there was only God. John 1:1 says the Logos was with God in the beginning. So before He created the material world, He was not alone as you assume. It is in this time, that you must search for His reason of creating the universe - the time between creating the Logos and the Big Bang.

(Shawn T Murphy) #33

Yes, there is little evidence left in the Bible and in doctrine, but still exists in song.

For Judah’s Lion bursts his chains,
crushing the serpent’s head;
and cries aloud through death’s domains
to wake the imprisoned dead.
Devouring depths of hell they prey _
at his command restore;
his ransomed host pursue their way
where Jesus goes before. (St. Fulbert of Charters 1028 AD)

Jesus came to free the human soul from Death’s prison (Satan), and this is HIs redemption. But we all need to repay out debts, not to Satan but our debts to our King.

(Patrick moore) #34


I find it very hard to follow your logic and your arguments.

I am not trying to score points, or to catch you out in a “gotcha!” Moment. I am trying to think things through for myself, and with the help of others.

Nor am I trying to damage tour faith or rain on your parade.

For example when I suggested that for arguement’s sake we presuppose that God is a being that existed before and was responsible for creating the universe (which is based on scripture), You countered by saying that the definition of the being I presupposed is the ACT of creating the Universe.

When I pointed out that this is an error in logic - that a creator must exist separate from and before his creation, you then replied by asking;

“What logic. You asked us to presuppose a being and I merely pointed out the most obvious thing we are specifying about the thing you are asking us to presuppose.”

This is clearly wrong. My assertion that god is separate from creation is obvious both in scripture and logic.

It is impossible to have a sensible conversation about this sort of topic if we are careless in defining our terms and arguements, and then compound the error by being defensive and trying to score points. This is just one of very many examples of this In your responses on this thread to this question.

(Patrick moore) #35

Hello GJDS,

It is nice to meet you and thanks for your comments.

I entirely agree with you on point 1, which is why I have tried to base my arguments entirely in scripture and orthodox Christian theology.

I am also entirely willing to be shown that God is good - eager to be shown that in fact. Being a Christian who questions the goodness of God is not a particularly happy place to be.

Given that scripture is the revealed word of God, I think it is reasonable to hold scripture up to scrutiny in the context of the reality of human experience.

Actions speak louder than words and so the life, death and resurrection of Christ are the crux of this arguement. Jesus said “anyone who sees me has seen the Father” and then he lovingly went to the cross for us. That is a very, very powerful arguement for the goodness and love of God.

As you say, we can talk endlessly about the fitness or otherwise of God’s creation and plan, but I doubt that scripture or science will really
Move us much closer to the answer.

So perhaps the answers that we have a choice.

We can look at the world and contrast
It to scripture and complain, or we can look at the life and death if Christ and take his word on trust that God is good.

Perhaps it as simple as thst

(GJDS) #36

Hi Patrick,

You make a good point in that scripture is the revealed word of God, and it also supplies us with numerous insights on humanity. The main point that perhaps should be emphasised in that our acts of cruelty and destructive outcomes cut us from God. This is in line with evil as something that is godless, or deprivation of the good that is from God.

Our experiences however, are understood by us as a mixture of good and evil, which again requires us to self-examine, and from such perplexing experiences, seek to find the good and from there to seek the source of all goodness, which is God.

(GJDS) #37

I am commenting separately on this because I am unsure as to its meaning. To make a point, as a scientist, I cannot see anything concerning the creation as anything but elegance and fitness. To say the creation is good is perhaps an understatement, and both poet and scientist have described it as simply marvelous.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #38

It may not be the happiest place … but you have lots of good company. The warp and woof of scriptures from Abraham to Jacob to Job and the psalmists are full of people calling God to account. Jesus himself has his recorded moment on the cross quoting the psalmist … why have you forsaken me? So while there certainly are the “my ways and thoughts are higher than your ways and thoughts…” passages to keep in sight, one would nevertheless have to abandon much of scriptural narrative to think that we haven’t been irrevocably equipped with a God-given sense of justice that even God himself is faithful to and inseparably one with. And when it seems to us they have become separated, we are invited to challenge God about it. But then we have Job’s choice before us if we are convinced that satisfaction on our terms has not been forthcoming: either curse God and die … or declare “the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” So there is a far side to this question, and what we do there may make all the difference.

(Patrick moore) #39

When I question the fitness of creation I am thinking of things like war, pestilence, disease, famine, frequent and repeated genicide, the third law of thermodynamics.

We clearly live in a very broken and dying world, and while the beauty of mathematics and a pretty sunset is some consolation, it doesn’t really cut it when stacked up against the rest and we clearly don’t live in any sort of paradise.

(Patrick moore) #40

I agree with your conclusion. As I said to another guy here, science and scripture probably don’t answer these questions.

To quote the soldiers in the trenches “we are here because we’re here, beacause we’re here”.

“Ours is not to reason why - ours is to do, and die”

The book of Job is a fascinating and frustrating read. As I read it God tells Job to basically shut up and stop questioning him because he is God and Job isn’t. Pulling rank clearly works when you are God but it doesn’t really answer any of these questions.

So all we have to fall back on is the person of Christ. If we accept him at his word then we can and should take it on trust that God is good,