Can God be described as “good”?

Not a difficult question – not one that is going to have a great variety of answers if you poll the people of the world. They will say, of course it is bad. The only exceptions are likely to be psychopaths.

It is by definition bad but we can also easily demonstrate a ripple of bad effects on ALL of the people involved, from the parents, to the people on the tram. And these are effects which are objectively measurable by scientists.

Nope! Giving a different answer simply because of a prejudice against a name would be bad. But I suppose what you are really going for is turning back time to when these historical people were children, and then appealing to some kind of utilitarian consequentialist ethics by imagining that a lot of people would not have died because history took a different path. But not only am I a virtue ethicist and quite opposed to utilitarianism and consequentialism, but very much doubt that killing these children would create a better world, the result is not independent of the means. By such acts, you are creating a world where even more children are killed for the reasons of fear and expedience, which is not a better world. Furthermore, the implication is that the world you imagine is nothing but a video tape to be rewound to some earlier portion with all the rest remaining the same – but what happens in a video tape is not real. In the real world, what a child does in the future is not recorded in some unalterable thing. The child is simply a child and the future doesn’t exist except as a superposition of possibilities.

Seems obvious to me that God created life precisely so that He would not know everything that is going to happen – that is kind of the whole point of it. And it is obvious to me from scripture that the evil of mankind was a surprise to God.

Genesis 6

5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

If God is so sorry that he made man that he decides to blot them out, then how does that agree with shot’s belief in a God who knew everything which is going to happen at the beginning? Did God see that people were going to be so bad and liked it so He would have the enjoyment of killing them all? Sounds like a psychopath to me. So no, I do not agree with this interpretation.

Incorrect. The modern science view includes quantum physics where things exist in a superposition of possibilities. So while a lot of the laws of nature are time reversible, it isn’t the case that all of the laws of nature are time reversible and physical determinism is quite dead. The future is not written simply because some people choose to imagine it to be so.

Only by those who choose to take responsibility for their own lives. For others it probably better for them not to believe in God at all – the belief in God is not a good thing for them.

I think so too, but certainly not for the same reasons.

This is not a big problem for those who do not believe we are a product of design, which is frankly incompatible with the nature of life itself. Life is a phenomenon of self-organization - a product of growth and learning not design. We are not what somebody else made us to be, but what we made ourselves to be.

But I think a big part of the problem here is understanding what sin actually is. The understanding of sin that usually goes along with the ideas of creation by design and morality derived from authoritarian dictation is that sin is simply disobedience. But an understanding of sin that goes better with ideas of evolution and morality derived from reasons, is that sin consists of self-destructive habits – e.g. destructive of our potential, destructive of our ability to learn, destructive of our ability to love, destructive of our awareness, and destructive of our freedom of will. So the problem isn’t that God made us weak to resist sin, but that SIN makes us weak to resist sin.

Looking over other parts of Shot’s post points to extremely different origins. He, unlike myself, is obviously someone raised Christian or dominated by that way of thinking. He takes completely for granted such things as the Trinity, that calling Christ a liar is such a bad thing, and the reality of miracles performed in his name. I was certainly not raised Christian but by extremely liberal parents and my approach to truth was, of course, science first, then maybe philosophy, then finally let’s see if there is anything of value in this religious junk. I ended up converted to Christianity, though I questioned and tested every little piece of it with reason and logic and still I am Trinitarian and non-universalist. But I never took any of those things for granted so I am highly unlikely to argue for the goodness of God with those as my starting point.

Well I hadn’t thought much about this dilemma before but it seems to pose a problem for theistic morality if it asserts that the good is the good because God commands it. Basically the question is whether God commands a particular action because it is morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?

If God commands a particular action because it is the morally right one then it seems that there is some more basic reason which makes an act moral than the fact that God commands it. In other words, God is not required to know right from wrong.

But if the only thing that makes an act moral is the fact that God commands it, then the question arises whether what counts as moral is ultimately arbitrary. Whatever pleases God is the good. Certainly some apologists, notably William Lane Craig, argues that without acknowledging the significance of God’s command no atheist can possibly find any reason to act morally. (I trust that will sound as silly to everyone here as it does to this atheist.)

I suppose a Christian can concede that prosocial behavior which promotes a prohibition on acting in ways one would feel egregious if the situation is reversed does not require belief in God. At the same time, it is probably true that Christianity goes further to ensure its practitioners not only do no harm but also so far as possible act more charitably and kindly. Whether or not every Christian always acts in such a way, it is probably true that they feel the need to do so more strongly and lament their failings more keenly than an atheist has need to. Whether that is a good thing or not is something we might well disagree over.

Edited to say I am not at all sure I’ve clarified anything for you. The truth is this dilemma is new to me too so while I feel it is relevant to the original question of this thread, I’m not at all sure I’ve been helpful. Oh well, at least I’ve made a little progress thinking it through from where I start.


If your soul was chained to the molten rock that was to become the earth, your perception would be different.

Doesn’t Genesis say otherwise?

"And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good…"

God didn’t pronounce the light good. He recognized that it was good. This suggests that there are objective criteria which God uses to judge things good or bad. Look at it this way: if a skilled craftsman makes a wooden table, he might afterwards inspect the table and gauge its quality. He might look upon his creation and be pleased with his handiwork, or (upon inspecting his work) he might find that he made a mistake when he fastened on one of the legs. It is not the hallmark of a good craftsman that he deems whatever he makes good simply because he made it. In fact, none of us would hire a craftsman who constructs faulty tables, simply because “even a faulty table is good if this guy makes it.”

The Euthyphro argument is a challenge to Divine Command Theory.

(The above definition and everything in quote tags below is quoted from my ethics textbook: The Fundamentals of Ethics by Russ Shafer-Landau.)

The Euthyphro Argument (adapted to monotheism)

Here is another refutation of Divine Command Theory called the Divine Perfection Argument:

It is important to note, however, that a rejection of Divine Command Theory does not necessarily repudiate God’s moral authority. Examine the reworked theory below:

Sorry if I rehashed anything that has been brought up earlier. I imagine I’m not the first in the thread to cite Genesis 1 to argue the independent framework of “goodness” from God’s proclamations. The thread is way long and I’ve only read the OP and what comes after Mark talking about the Euthyphro argument. Hopefully, my post has helped to clarify the Euthyphro dilemma.

For centuries, philosophers have struggled to find a solution to this problem. They have failed to find a completely satisfying answer. They have, however, clarified the issue a great deal. There are a number of moral theories that attempt to ground morality on logic and fact, and many of them are quite compelling. At any rate, I disagree with the assessment that God is necessary for morality to be real. If that line of thinking (Divine Command Theory) is correct, then morality (as we consider it intuitively) still isn’t real… it is arbitrary… it is mere obedience… and as such has no reason to be associated with “goodness.”


It certainly did for me, thank you!

Now that you’ve clarified this I do have an idea for resolving the dilemma, but it is one which would require Christianity to edit its theology. I’d probably better keep that to myself. :wink:

1 Like

That objection commits the logical fallacy (in #2) of assuming the conclusion prematurely (or circular argument, then). Because in #2 the evaluator of the argument prematurely rejects what he is setting out to disprove: that God commands what is good and bad; and the evaluator puts himself in that seat of authority instead: “God would be imperfect if he did those things. Why? Because good and bad exist independently of God and I have independent access to that criteria to apply it to God’s actions.” But if the hypothesis being critically evaluated were true, then the evaluators (in this case us) are in no position to declare what is good or bad, because we aren’t God.

Now - all that said, I’m not defending that answer. I do agree with you that good / bad do exist and that God’s commands are not arbitrary. I’m only pointing out the obvious (to me) hole in what you labeled the “Divine Perfection Argument.”

What I hadn’t thought about before and think lends itself much more securely to this conclusion is your observation about creation where God *recognizes" the goodness rather than declaring it to be so. That may be reading too much into our English versions of those phrases, as somebody could probably still argue that the latter case applies too. But still, I think there are enough instances in the Bible where it is taken for granted that good and bad should be discernible to us (all of us) that it seems a fairly solidly scriptural stance to say that God cannot just arbitrarily declare anything as good or evil. After all, that’s what the whole ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ debacle was all about in the first place, right?


That made perfect sense of it to me as well.

It seems to me that the place for “divine command” to come into it is in terms of compelling compliance with what we too recognize to be moral. As I recall that is the point of judgement day and the carrot/stick afterlife alternatives.

I agree with that assessment. The argument certainly does seem circular in the way you have described it. I threw it in (for the most part) because I thought it helped emphasize the point that the Euthyphro argument is trying to make.

I suppose premise 2 might work if it were considered a test against our basic moral intuitions. (ie. Killing, theft, and rape are so egregiously wrong that any moral theory which would permit them must also be wrong.) But you make a good point. Considered apart from our moral intuitions, the argument, as presented, begs the question.

1 Like

Thank-you for posting this. The proofs, in their simplicity, make it much easier to understand.

1 Like

For me, the clearest definition of the goodness of God is in the symposium, which demonstrates the various opinions about Eros (the Love of God). The enlightened Greeks (Phaidros, Eryximachos, Agathon and Socrates) give a broad description of the many noble aspects of God in their various speeches. The materialistic participants in the symposium (Pausanias, Aristophanes and Aristodemos) provide a much different picture of God’s love in their speeches.

The Euthyphro dilemma is an interesting philosophical debate, but why not use all of Plato to answer this simple question that Socrates and the enlightened Greeks answer many times: God and goodness are synonymous.

Of course this way of putting it does make it sound as if God is a kind of idiot savant who is incapable of being other than good. I thought Dillon’s metaphor of the craftsman put Him in a more favorable light, looking over his work in Genesis and declaring it good.

But there is much I’ve heard from the old testament which seem to show even God has a dark side. And that argues against the simple equality God = goodness.

No… the real problem here is that Shawn hasn’t been very clear in offering an alternative. A version of this God = good has already been on the table, namely that God defines what is good, which sounds like divine command theory.

The most obvious interpretation of the alternative Shawn is offering is to say the opposite, that goodness defines God. But then since goodness is an abstract adjective which describes the difference from evil, this doesn’t leave God with much of those things usually attributed to Him, such as intelligence, will, creator, omnipotence, spirit, and omnipresence. On the other hand… this strongly reminds me of my own way of originally attaching meaning to the word “God” by equating a faith in God with an existentialist faith that life is worth living. And this definition put me on the path of determining what sort of God best serves that purpose. This suggests a little different way of stating the proposed alternative, where God is that which best motivates goodness in life and thereby making life most worthwhile – i.e. a personification of goodness.

Also one might point out that authentic goodness requires choice and that would mean the only consistent way of making God the personification of goodness is to say that He nevertheless chooses goodness over evil of His own free will. Doesn’t that sound reasonable?

OR… it suggests that goodness itself has a dark side in the opposition to and destruction of evil. It has often been my explanation that I can only believe in Christianity because of evolution, founded on the idea that the very nature of life requires evolution. But that means that life requires a great deal of death and suffering, and if you believe life is a good thing (and many think that a reverence for life is central to any idea of goodness) that by itself points to a rather dark side of goodness, and especially a rather dark side to any creator of life.

1 Like

Or at least chooses to maximize good which is really all any of us can do. Especially if one believes He accepted wildebeests being eaten alive by hyenas and wild dogs as an acceptable price to pay for the fruits of evolution. One often hears that God is omnipotent and so could just have skipped the nastiness of the savanna for the piety of churchly life, but I don’t think imagining God as capable of magic’ing anything at all in any way at all makes any sense.

Of course this is said in empathy for your point of view by someone who sees no role for any intention of any kind in our origins - at least not until we make the step from mammalian/simian to human. And even then no one would be content with God defined as an archaic product of consciousness who possibly had a role in creating our bit and then willingly stepped aside to play a complimentary role, giving our new part of consciousness an opportunity to do better.

Genesis 2:16-17 says;

“And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Which rather suggests that “death” was not part of God’s plan for mankind, but rather a curse that man brought upon himself as a result of his sin and rebellion.

believing in Christianity BECAUSE you believe in evolution seems a rather eccentric basis for one’s faith, and one that is contrary to scripture and pretty much all Christian theology.

Mitchell, whether you believe in evolution or not, your life is very worthwhile - because you are created and loved by God, not because you are a stepping stone to a higher life form and not because your grandad was a chimp.

Is that what happened to you?

Incorrect, because the death they died on that day was not a physical death. So the Bible does not suggest any such thing. With a living eternal spirit, physical death is not death at all, but birth into a much wider world of the spirit where there is God who is also spirit. It is only death because our spirit is already dead. This world with its limitations is just another womb in which we grow before being born in spirit. Spirit is the more tangible reality and the physical is just a simulation using the laws of nature to make things out of particles and atoms much like the way computer simulations make things out of bits and pixels. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies… What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 50 I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” 1 Corinthians 15

Incorrect again. The problem of evil and suffering has been the irrefutable flaw in theism for over 2300 years. But evolution changes this because it shows that living things are not clockwork toys made by a watchmaker, for life is a phenomenon of self-organization. Free will is the essence of life itself and we are not simply what we are made to be, because we are a product of growth and learning as we participate in the making of ourselves. But that means that suffering and death are an indispensable part of life itself, without which we would not even exist. Because of evolution the argument from the problem of evil and suffering fails utterly, and Christianity can be reborn in a new light if people do not cling to the filth and ignorance of the middle ages.

Ah! But I can do better than that. You think you are better than the animals simply because an ancient necromancer made a golem out of dust. But I know, that while the animals are our bretheren with respect to biology as shown by ALL the scientific evidence, we have another inheritance that comes directly from God making us literally His children. It is an inheritance of the mind. So while you strut in the pride of being a golem made by the magic to imitate primates so closely there is practically no difference whatsoever between your genetics, bodies and brain from those of chimpanzees. I am quite comfortable in the knowledge that I am another form of life altogether than what they are. They are biological genetic species while I am a memetic organism - a mind with a completely different set of needs, desires and inheritance directly from God as His child. And even if that inheritance was a bit corrupted by the bad habits started by Adam and Eve, it has been brought to us from God once again in Jesus renewed.

Mitchell, you said in an earlier post:

Is that really your position? That you can ONLY believe in Christianity BECAUSE OF evolution?

Yes. Without evolution, I would be an atheist. Without evolution, I would consider the problem of evil and suffering to be sufficient reason to believe there is no God – certainly not a God that created this world and which I would consider worthy of my regard.

Remember that I wasn’t raised Christian – far from it. Science was the source of truth, not any religion. Only a careful consideration of the Bible in light of what science has discovered led me to think that God exists and that Christianity is worth believing in.

1 Like

Dear Mitchell,
Based on your answer, would you then agree evolution demonstrates a slow beautification of
God’s creation?
Best Wishes, Shawn

I cannot tell you this for certain, but I can certainly imagine that is was possible. I do have the distinct feeling that I was one of the countless that Jesus freed after His victory over Satan on Easter Sunday though. I am deeply grateful for this.
Best Wishes, Shawn

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.