A Double Standard for Morality?

This started out as a response to a commenter but I thought it was important enough to use as a post for an article. I noticed in the recent Loftus-Wood ‘cross-fire’ debate on the infidelguy show, that Wood seemed to be using the argument that God has a different standard for morality than us. I seem to see this argument a lot. In fact, a recent commenter seemed to be using it against John, and then when I countered it, a different commenter defended it. I wonder how can it be justified that the Abrahamic God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality.

A father that smokes and tells his son not to smoke creates a problem in his credibility. While it is true that smoking is not healthy and the son is not justified in disregarding that advice, the fact that it can be shown empirically that smoking is unhealthy supports the fathers claim and weakens the effect of the charge of inconsistency. I don't see how anyone can support the claim that God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality. I don't see how anyone can support a double standard for morality. My argument is an argument from ignorance intended to show that it is more plausible that there should not be a double standard for morality.

The only way that I can see for the believer to refute it is to say something like God is a mystery and that we can not expect to dictate what God can do. This would be a mischaracterization and an appeal to the supernatural, specifically God, but the presumption of God and the supernatural is controversial. In the case that the believer says that God is a special case, for whatever reason, would be a case of special pleading, and they would have to show why morality rules for us don't apply to God. In the end, their presumption is still that God exists and as I said before this is a weak premise in that it is controversial on two, maybe three, points.
1. that there is a god
2. that it is the Abrahamic god
3. Possibly irrelevant, but that he had anything to do with scripture.

In the case that they choose that strategy, it would be an argument from ignorance as well, but weaker because its premises are controversial. I am not suggesting that I have authority to decide or dictate what God can or cannot do, I can only say what he should or should not do using informal logic and defeasible reasoning schemes.

The exchange in the forums went as follows.

Commenter1: have you ever stopped to realize how infinitely gracious God is to not have annihilated the entire human race?

Lee: Would you say that my dogs should be infinitely grateful that I don't kill them when I get up in the morning?

Commenter2:
I cant see the dog analogy as a viable one…Its an argument of proportion.

My point was that that there is a strong presumption that God shouldn't kill us therefore it doesn't follow that we should be grateful that he doesn't. For him to kill us would be immoral or criminal. There is a weaker presumption that I shouldn't kill my dog. It would be more immoral for God to kill me than it would be for me to kill my dog. I think this argument should expose the 'double standard' for morals that I see being argued by believers for humans and God. What follows is a 'dizzying' defense of that claim.

Most analogies are flawed, that is why they are a defeasible form of argument. But when analogies can be shown to be similar enough to a situation, they can be used to increase the plausibility of a position.
The dog analogy is not similar in the fact that I am not a God and my dog is not a human and I didn't create the dog.
The dog analogy works because of the relationship, not because of the proportion.

When a Christian says that we should be grateful that God lets us live, that sets up the relationship. In theory, God created us, he is more powerful than us, he has control of whether we live or die, we should thank him for our daily bread (which creates the presumption that he has some control over it), and we should thank him that he lets us live.

When I say that my dog should be grateful that I let him live, In reality, I did not create him (negative analogy), I am more powerful than him (positive), I am in control of whether he lives or dies (pos.), he should thank me for his food (pos.), and he should thank me that I let him live.

The discrepency in my analogy (that I did not create the dog), is actually a negative for the believers argument. Here's why. I should have used my son instead of my dog, because it would have been more appropriate but I didn't think about it. In a way, I created my son, or at least I was a catalyst for his existence.

Here is the rough hierarchy for that analogy, dog < son < me < God. For me to kill my dog is less criminal than for me to kill my son, therefore, I should be expected to be less likely to kill my son than my dog. Therefore, to say that my dog should be happy that I let him live has more force than to say to my son that he should be happy that I let him live, and it should have less force to say that I should be happy that God lets me live. It should be less likely that God would kill me than I would kill my son. Therefore, if God were to kill me, it would be more criminal / immoral than if I were to kill my son, or my dog.

If I injected God into the equation, it would have more force to say that I should be happy that God lets my dog live, less force to say that I should be happy that God lets my son live, less force to say that I should be happy that God lets me live. I know that in reality, my son and I should be equal in Gods eyes, but like I said, analogies are defeasible.

So for me to kill my dog would be less criminal than for God to kill me, and therefore it would be more criminal for God to kill me than for me to kill my dog, therefore there is a stronger PRESUMPTION that God shouldn't kill me therefore it can be EXPECTED that God shouldn't kill me, therefore it doesn't follow that we should be grateful that God doesn't kill us because there is a strong presumption that he shouldn't kill us because it would be criminal or immoral, more so than if I were to kill my dog.

53 comments:

Jarrod said...

"I don't see how anyone can support the claim that God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality."

I just don't know about this - maybe you can clarify what you're getting at.

You focus on the relationships in the dog analogy to show how the dog analogy doesn't, in fact, help Christians who are appealing to God's "mysteriousness." But without bringing mystery into it, and thinking about holding different things to different moral rules - intuitively, of course I don't hold a dog and a human to the same moral rules. I don't hold a child to the same rules that I hold an adult to. To me, as long as humans and God are fundamentally different creatures, there's room to say that each follows (or should follow) different moral rules. And if one is natural while the other is supernatural, it's even more OK to say there's two moral rulebooks at play. (Then, the question becomes "To what degree are the rules of morality similar," and, maybe, "Is one set of rules derived from the other?")

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Jarrod,
thanks for your comment.
To clarify,
I would not consider a dog killing anything immoral, but I would consider a man killing a dog or a child or another man for disobedience immoral, and I would consider god killing any of the above for disobedience immoral. I would hold god to a higher moral standard with the understanding that the term morality is in the eye of the beholder. I am using the laws of the united states regarding murder as a general yardstick. In general I would say that god should do better than us by our standards, since our standards would fall short of his.
hope this helps.

Sbygetz said...

My problem with the argument that God's morality is different than man's lies along a different tack. When someone claims:

A.) God is omnibenevolent
B.) God's benevolence is not man's benevolence and applies only to God

then they have just stated a tautology--whatever God does is "good" solely because God did it, and "good" has no other definition. This tells me nothing about God at all; rather, it merely strips the idea of "benevolent" of all meaning--God is not "good" in any recognizable sense, he is just God.

Ultimately, the argument boils down to:

A.) The definition of God is an omnipotent, omniscient being
B.) All actions of God are "good" regardless of their nature

Therefore:

C.) Being all powerful and all knowing makes all of your actions moral by definition

Therefore, this form of theism becomes just a worship of power as the ultimate morality, with no other moral code applicable. If Satan were to become omniscient and omnipotent, these theists would define his actions as "good", because they must be.

Furthermore, this theology makes no distinctions as to why it should only be limited to God. If a man is more knowledgable and more powerful than me, then does that make his actions inherently more moral (or at least beyond my ability to judge their morality)?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee! It's me - the anon from the prayer thread. Don't kill your dogs! :-)

In all fairness, if one had dogs that were killing one another and they would not stop being bloodthirsty inspite of all efforts to intervene, then one might have to reconsider especially if you had told them that you were preparing a steak dinner if they could all get along together to join you. Some dogs prefer blood over steak... But I know your dogs are terrific! Mine keeps sitting on top of one my SUV's though and the paint finish is getting ruined.....I love him though.

Jarrod said...

Thanks, Lee, that does help. So, God's morality is "better" then ours: God's morality is similar and more advanced (or something) than our morality. So yeah, he "should do better than us by our standards."

I'm not really going to defend the comment, "have you ever stopped to realize how infinitely gracious God is to not have annihilated the entire human race?". But, taking up something Sbygetz brought up, I think God operating according to his own mysterious standards allows for him to also operate according to our standards. What I'm getting at is that you don't have to choose between "God should do better than us by our own moral standards" and "God makes up his moral standards because he's the omnipotent, omniscient being." I think there's something wrong with both options. They're both unsatisfying: the first seems to want to keep God completely within the realm of humans' conceptual ability, and the second seems to make God merely capricious while voiding "good" of much meaning (as Sbygetz said).

Could God, in fact, be doing better than us by our own standards, but, because there's an inherent difference of perspective between humans and God, we're not always aware of it? It seems possible that sometimes we'd not only not be aware of it, we'd actually think God was failing by our own standards - when, in fact, God wasn't.

Maybe you should kill your dogs? Or, at least, the dogs will never be in the position - that is, your position - to fully evaluate your action or non-action. You know more about their situation and your situation than they do.

florin_miu said...

Jarrod, if we cannot know that one of god's action is wrong because we cannot hold the same perspetive as it does (we don't know all the facts) we also cannot know if it is good.
Since we don't know all the facts we cannot tell the difference between a god that starts a huricane because it's blood thirsty and a god that starts a hurricane to punish some people that were going to produce a greater evil.
And if we cannot know, why make that claim at all?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Anon 1035,
Glad to see you back!
I hate to say it but it is not the case that 'the dogs are all killing each other...etc"
From what I can see, most of the dogs get along well enough and just want to get by without any hassles. Its that
pesky radical small percentage that mess it up for the rest!

Hi Jarrod,
That is an interesting perspective.
What does it mean to me made in gods image?
It seems possible that sometimes we'd not only not be aware of it, we'd actually think God was failing by our own standards - when, in fact, God wasn't.
How would you justify, or support it? Why does it seem possible?

Shygetz said...

Could God, in fact, be doing better than us by our own standards, but, because there's an inherent difference of perspective between humans and God, we're not always aware of it?

But that brings us directly to the problem of evil. Omnipotence means that God can do anything and omniscience means that he always knows exactly what to do; therefore, he could accomplish any good end through non-evil means if he desired. He is subject to the principles in Luke 12:48; to him, everything is given, and therefore of him everything is expected. Therefore, it is insufficient for him to merely do better that us; according to his own moral system, he must do perfectly. While I may not be able to tell if God is doing better than I could (as I am not omniscient), I DO know that he is not doing perfectly.

Vincent said...

No offense, but it's all rather pointless.
First off, the analogy isn't possible in real world physics/biology when considering a supernatural omnipotence.
God could kill you, but he could raise you from the dead. I don't see you resurrecting your dogs any time soon. Thus, god killing people isn't as bad using our human standards.

Also, referring to something as "more criminal" than something else is a loaded description. First, though the punishments differ, every crime is equally criminal. If you are using punishment as a gauge of morality, then you are using a ruler to measure how long you should make the ruler. Degrees of punishment reflect the communal sense of morality, not the other way around.
Second, you are creating a heirarchy without any basis for doing so. Why is me killing my dog less of a problem than god killing me? Death of a dog is not at some objective point in the good/bad scale so that whoever does it for whatever reason is equally culpable.

You have to question the presumption you assert: that god shouldn't kill us. How do you know? Many religious sects believe god should kill us because it will hurry forth the second coming etc.

So the basic question is: does god have a different moral standard from ours?
Assuming there is a god, and he's abrahamic, then yes, because god is not human.
Is there a different moral standard for a 50-year old man and a 17 year old man? Yes. Only one of them would be acting immorally if he slept with a 17 year old girl.

John W. Loftus said...

Vincent: Is there a different moral standard for a 50-year old man and a 17 year old man? Yes. Only one of them would be acting immorally if he slept with a 17 year old girl.

Vincent, just as a parent has different responsibilities than her children, and just as a 50 year old should not have sex with a 17 year old, I don't see where either of these analogies prove anything about a different (or double) standard for morality.

Moral responsibilities can be different for different people, organizations, and nations. A policeman may use physical force on someone, as can a whole nation in the case of a just war.

Our moral responsibilities will follow the same moral standards upon deeper analysis. The moral standard might be love, for instance. Our moral responsibilites may differ because of our position of leadership in this life. But please tell me where you find someone who shares the moral standard of love who doesn't also have the moral responsibility to do something about a rapist or famine or murder in process when all it would take is a snap of his fingers to avert it?

Let's say the moral standard is justice or fairness. Now please tell me where you find anyone who shares the same moral standard of justice who will pluck out someone's eyes or handicap them for life, imprision them for life, or send them to hell because of the mild ways we slight another person, even God?

Jarrod said...

florin miu,

Ah, good point: "if we cannot know that one of god's action is wrong because we cannot hold the same perspetive as it does (we don't know all the facts) we also cannot know if it is good." I don't think I have a good, direct response to that; everything I want to appeal to involves some sort of presupposition on the nature of God. The reason I make my claim in the first place is that it may be true - and, more than find out what we know, I'd rather find out what's true. But your comment brings the dicussion to a standstill which I'm happy with (I think). I do try to take on the other side's perspective, but there's still something that bothers me about calling God's actions immoral. If we stop calling God's actions good - well, maybe somehow we can get back to calling them good, or maybe not. But at least in the meantime God isn't conceived of as failing our own standards of morality.

Lee,

"What does it mean to me made in gods image?" That's rich, interesting question that I'd myself love to hear the answer to. I'd say being made in God's image means something like being endowed with special features that originate more directly from God than from the natural world: features like a conscious soul, rationality, meaningful emotions, meaningful relationships, and moral responsibility.

I say that it seems possible that sometimes we'd think God was failing by our own standards, when, in fact, God wasn't, because of the difference in information available to humans and to God. So, let's say moral standards remain the same for humans and God - each party will follow those standards according to different information. I'm never a good one for actual exmaples, but here's something. A divine lightning bolt strikes and kills someone standing next to you, someone you've known all you life to be simply a morally outstanding person. You conclude that God has at least some evil within his nature, for he apparently just committed a random murder - and random killing is not a moral thing to do. Yet, perhaps God killed a person who was going to have a drastic change of character and cause a good deal of harm to thousands of people. From our perspective, God senselessly killed somebody; from God's perspective, he saved many people's lives. I think I just described a situation wherein we'd think God failed our own moral standards although, in fact, God had not. Maybe everytime God seemed to behave immorally he was actuallly operating morally in light of more information than we have, or could ever have.

And Shygetz,

I do know we're squaring up with the problem of evil. And I think you see how I resolve it, at least to myself. But no, I don't think God can accomplish any good end through non-evil means. If the intended good end involved something like sufficiently meaningful free-will, then that which we call evil might very well happen on the way to that good end - as a direct result of humans and only as an indirect result of God. If evil was forbidden from happening along the way, I think, in that case, that the free-will of humans would be less significant. Free-will, as I'm sure you know, is the crucial idea.

Steven Carr said...

God has a different morality to us?

Do Christians believe that?

Do Christians really believe that if God lies to us, that is OK?

I think you will find that some Christians believe that God can kill us, but not lie to us.

It's a strange religion, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee! Anon 1035 again! I've recently been reading the parable of the persistant widow pleading to an indifferent judge for justice. In this parable, it seems to me that Jesus reveals a couple of values/priorities. Jesus claims that through persistance, that even an indifferent judge will grant justice. He says how much more God desires justice - in other words, God loves justice. Jesus advises us to persist in prayer - I've done this before. And what happened is this - I began to soften my heart towards the perpetrator - to love the enemy. At the end of the parable, Jesus poses a thought provoking question - who will He find who has faith when He returns? In other words, God's purpose supercedes justice - He desires salvation of both victim and victimizer. He understands the ulterior engines that drive people towards destructive/dysfunctional behaviors, whether it be more overt such as war and violence or more insidious, like spiritual/mental/emotional abuse and desires that we be set free from the spiritual viruses that infect our way of relating to Him and one another.

Thanks once again, Lee!

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
There are a lot of great comments and I’d like to answer them all individually, to challenge their premises and all, but I don’t have time. I want to live up to my agreement to defend my claims 100% so here is the core of the defense.

My argument and my intent with the question about ‘made in gods image’ and how to support us not realizing that God has better morals than us can be summed up like this. I think the authors of that phrase, among other things, wanted people to assume god had perfect morals and to try to live up to them. In that way we could realize that we all fall short of the glory of god and use our idea of what perfect moral standards could be and should be as a yardstick. While I don’t think the bible was divinely inspired, I do think that there is a lot of good teaching and instruction in it. We just have to ‘harvest’ it. But, how can I be so ‘presumptuous’ (pun intended) as to think I’m right on defining morality for God?
My presumption is stronger because it is founded in objective evidence.

Now some of you may say “lee you’re stupid to say that a presumption is objective” and you’d be right, but since there is no credible evidence to support the concept of the supernatural, then the presumption must necessarily default to the natural in a closed system. That is why I say my presumption is based on objective evidence because all the presumptions derive from the natural world. I’m sure some one will come up with a challenge to my terminology, so have at it. The claim still stands that, in this case, the only way to judge morality and justice is by an agreed upon standard or from some biological algorithm being investigated at Harvard university
http://moral.wjh.harvard.edu/

Until the supernatural can be shown that it is likely to exist and can establish a strong presumption to be used in propositions supporting conclusions, then all conclusions based on the supernatural are specious.

So in my view, debating that “God would or would not do this” is like debating that “Spiderman would or would not do this”.

I think that it is dangerous for people to so readily discredit sound standards for morality for specious reasons.

florin_miu said...

How could humans tell the difference between a god that allows a rape so it doesn't interfere with rapist's free will and a god who manipulates the rapist in order to perform the rape?
We can't unless that god decides to tell everybody about it.
For me there's a big difference between those 2 kinds of gods. The first may have an excuse (i don't buy it btw) and the other is plain evil.
And since we cannot know either way we cannot assign the attribute of "good" to god without erasing any meaning from the word "good".
I don't have an explanation for an absolute or objective way to determine if an action is good but I believe that the desire to improve a situation is a good thing. Taking the example of a rape a couscious being that is watching the event would do a good deed if he/she/it would try to improve the situation. Since the victim has a free will too a good way to improve the situation is to allow the victim's free will to manifest as fully as the attacker. So if rapist is allowed to manifest his free will to rape so should the victim should be allowed to knock out/kill/whatever the rapist. Let's say a sharp rock magically appears near the victim's hand and she can hit the attacker. Of it the victim won't be allowed to hurt the attacker so does the attacker should not be allowed to hurt the victim (like getting temporary impotent).
I don't know how many of you know about how dolphins try to guide the ships were the water level is low (gorges etc) so they don't strand. There were situations when the sailors tried to shoot them because of their ego ("I know better than you" kind of thing). Anyway, dolphins try to improve a situation that could turn into a desaster. It seems that there is a couscious process involved so we could say that the dolphins WANT to improve the situation. And they do... with their limited resources. Now imagine what a god with unlimited resources could do if it would WANT to improve a situation.
Again we cannot know if God is good and as a scientist said: "Things we don't know should remain unspoken".
But I guess if we don't pretend to know that god is good we cannot get confort in a future heaven. People need a "solid" foundation to get that confort and the foundation of the concept of heaven is the ideea that god is good.

Daniel said...

"I don't see how anyone can support the claim that God should not be expected to adhere to the same rules that we are expected to adhere to with respect to morality."

The point is this: even if God is not expected to adhere to the same rules, there is no immediate problem, except when theists do two things --
1) claim that "good" applies to God in the same usage that it applies to us
2) claim that there is an objective, intrinsic moral property to moral decisions/actions, like murder

to elaborate --

1) If God is "good", but we admit that God is allowed to do things that humans are not, and especially things that humans call "bad", then it completely contradicts any logic in applying this label to God. We may as well call God, "jabwoiefjwqeofiwejfwe" -- ie judging his moral character makes no sense, so God is not "good" in our sense nor "evil" in our sense, so God deserves no attribute of either.

2) If we say that there are objective moral values, like, "Killing infants is immoral," but then try to qualify that statement when it comes to God's own actions, then we enter a realm where ethics is relative not to the effect of some decision or action, but to the person acting! We remove the idea of intrinsic/ontological goodness, and give God a "free pass" because actions and decisions are not innately wrong or evil, simply because when God does them, only when we do the same things, they are innately wrong and evil. Relativism at its finest. Of course, Christians cannot escape relativism anyway -- read the OT and you will understand that in a hurry:
Moral imperatives like, "do not suffer a witch to live," and "stone gay people," no longer apply. They used to be morally correct, but now they aren't. There was no absolute, universal moral property about burning witches or stoning gays that was either right or wrong. No, instead, it is relative to the time and culture to which it applies. So Christians are screwed by their own relativity.

chris said...

Here's the argument I hear from most of you on this thread:

(1) If God does 'A' without sufficient justification, then God should be considered morally deficient. (Let 'A' be some action that should not be done without sufficient justification, such as killing humans. Let 'sufficient justification' be some good that (i) cannot be obtained without doing 'A' and (2) outweighs the bad consequences of 'A')
(2) God has done 'A' without sufficient justification.
(3) Therefore, God should be considered morally deficient.

I think all of us would agree that (1) is true. The task, then, is for the atheologians to give us some reason to think that (2) is true. The only support I have heard so far (I may have missed something -- apologies if I did) for (2) goes something like this: God did 'A', if Billy Bob did 'A' then clearly Billy Bob would be bad, so God must be bad. But this fails to establish (2) because it says nothing about possible justifications God might have for doing 'A.' Why is this important? Consider an example: Cletis killed Bubba. Can we infer from this fact alone that Cletis is an immoral person? No (or at least we shouldn't.) In a trial, we would want ALL the relevant facts, including any possible justification for Cletis' actions.

So the atheologian has to prove (2), but I suspect that it is impossible to give a successful argument for (2). But that is exactly what is needed to prove the "double standard" charge*. All the other stuff is just a bunch of red herrings.

*The "double standard" charge is roughly equivalent to (2). I.e., "God has violated his own standard (call it standard X) of morality" implies that God has done some act that requires justification (by standard X), but for which there is none.

**Let's also keep a distinction between charges concerning the consistency of Christianity, and those concerning the truth of Christianity as a whole. You can't start talking about the former and then shift to the latter ("God doesn't exist, so all Christian claims are false") as part of your argument. The "double standard" charge is one of inconsistency.

Vincent said...

Okay John,
I see what you are saying and my analogy is bad (I alluded to the fact that all analogies are bad in some respect).
How about this: does your dog have a different moral standard than you? I think you mentioned that you wouldn't think it immoral for your dog to kill something.
I think it's pretty clear that for the dog, the greatest good is helping the pack flourish. That's as close to an objective good as I could come up with.
So, what is the objective good for humans? For god? If they are all "helping the pack flourish" then perhaps all do have the same moral standard, but individual acts vary from situation to situation.

Another way of stating the question is: is there a universal good for all life? (assuming any god would be considered life).

See, arguing this stuff never gets anywhere because god is too undefined.

John W. Loftus said...

Chris & Vincent, here is our argument in a nutshell:

Either 1) God is not bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians, or 2) God’s ethical code is absolutely mysterious to us. At this point, the whole notion of God’s goodness means nothing to us at all, as John Beversluis has argued: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”

Chris, you ask the atheologian to "prove" a proposition. Falling short of that, what follows? Nothing that I can see, because we cannot prove much on either side of this great debate. Your argument is that it's possible there is a justifying reason for why God does practically nothing to help us.

So listen to yourself here. We have to prove something, whereas all you have to do is to argue something is possible. Hmmmm. You surely see what you're doing here, don't you? Let's talk about plausibility and probability from now on, okay?

As I've said before, you must punt to mystery here, and I understand why. We all do it from time to time. But whenever you're forced to do so, this means you have to lean on the other web of beliefs that support this weak strand.

Your web of beliefs can only handle so many weak strands, that's all.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I don't think this is fair.
You can't start talking about the former and then shift to the latter ("God doesn't exist, so all Christian claims are false") as part of your argument. The "double standard" charge is one of inconsistency.
because I don't remember seeing anyone say that 'all christian claims are false'. I remember me saying "Until the supernatural can be shown that it is likely to exist and can establish a strong presumption to be used in propositions supporting conclusions, then all conclusions based on the supernatural are specious."
I can think of some christain claims that don't fall into this category so my statement wouldn't apply.

Hi John,
"punt to mystery". I like that.

When a scientist has run out of ideas, they don't 'punt to mystery ' and just say "god did it" or "we can't understand god because we are not a leprechaun, oops wrong article, i mean, we can't understand his mind" that is when imagination takes over. Then they come up with the idea of "what would I need to....If it were possible....." and they figure out what is missing and it leads them to that "aha!" moment. It is problem solving technique that helps make the world a better place for all of us, and according to the Journal Nature, most of them have no religious orientation. Compare the value they add to the world to what Christianity has added. I think the balance tips towards the scientists.

Anonymous said...

It would not be immoral if God killed us right here and now. Everyone has sinned and the wages of sin is death. God is never changing and, like most people try to do, can never be put in a box. He is outside of our understanding and trying to completely understand Him now would be a mistake, because you couldn't do it.

Shygetz said...

Chris:

Cletis killed Bubba. Can we infer from this fact alone that Cletis is an immoral person? No (or at least we shouldn't.) In a trial, we would want ALL the relevant facts, including any possible justification for Cletis' actions.

Ok, to continue your analogy...Cletis killed Bubba. We know that Cletis killed Bubba beyond all doubt. Cletis refuses to say why he killed Bubba, or offer any justification. Therefore, by our morality, Cletis is morally deficient. Once Cletis has performed a harmful act, Cletis has the burden to justify his actions to be moral.

Now, substitute God for Cletis, and you can see that God is immoral by human standards. Which returns us to our original supposition; either God is not 3O (omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent), or else "benevolence" has no meaning when applied to God, making is a useless distinction.

That is not to mention the millions of acts that occur yearly with no possible moral justification. Birth defects, accidental child deaths, etc. have nothing to do with free will. They are called Acts of God for a reason, and they strike at the innocent. By human morality, it is immoral to kill someone because you think or know that their existence might later cause a crime. And yet, what else could be God's justification for these random killings and maimings? Similarly, the scale of God's killings belie the probability of a justification. For example, are you seriously arguing that every single one of those people needed to die in the Indonesian tsunami? Each of them were to be a future murderer, or rapist, or despot? If even one person was killed by a being that had the power to spare them, then it is an immoral act by God.

The Problem of Evil is not an attack on the consistency of Christianity (there are plenty of other ways to attack that). It is an attack on the truth of the 3O theology. If a 3O God is seen committing an immoral act then he cannot be 3O. Now, if you believe in a version of Christianity that does not include a 3O God, this argument will not bother you; however, the truth of a 3O God demands consistency from that God.

Vincent:

All you are doing is saying that God has different morals. That's fine (although theists are always the one clamoring about a universal moral code, but since I haven't seen you personally do that, I'll leave the hypocrite cannon un-fired). But then, what does it mean to say God is omnibenevolent? Nothing. Since man cannot understand God's motivation, then saying God is benevolent says nothing about his actions and is a useless descriptor that should be omitted. That leaves you with worshipping a God not because he is good, but because he is powerful.

Anonymous said...

I've disobeyed God and still he saves me. I would say that isn't good, it's great.

Steven Carr said...

I await with some eagerness Chris's reasoning that it is not really lying if God is lying.

Is it immoral for God to lie?

Chris hammers home to atheists that they cannot show that it is wrong for God to do things like lying.

So how can we trust a God who might have a morally sufficient reason for lying to us?

chris said...

Hi all. This is great. I'm sorry I won't have as much time in following weeks to keep up. Know that the following comments are made with great respect for all of you who are willing to have civil discourse on these topics. I admit that Lee had me down for the count on the prayer thread, but I was saved by the proverbial bell. You have all made some good points, and there is no obvious way to refute them. This is as it should be. My post will be long, so you might want to skip to the section addressed to you.

Even though most of you have disavowed my argument*(see below), everything you are saying reduces to it, as far as I can tell. This means that until someone gives us a reason to beleive (2), the charge of "double standard" fails.

But, to be fair, I'll play on your turf. I only ask that once I accept your terms, please stick with them.

John -- your disjunction of (1) and (2) is equivalent to the following conditional:
(L3) If God is bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians, then God's ethical code is absolutely mysterious to us.
This doesn't really make sense, since if God is bound by the Christian ethical standard, then we know what God's ethical code is supposed to be (it's not a mystery). I think what you meant was:
(L3*) If God is bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians, then God has violated those standards.
This can then give us a plausible disjunction:
(L4) Either God is not bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians, or God has violated those standards.

Let's examine each of the disjuncts. I'm assuming that you are claiming that one of them must be true, as in a dilemma. First:
(L4a) God is not bound by the ethical standards he sets down for Christians. (We'll call these standards CS.)
If a Christian accepts this, it is not clear to me what follows. Why should I think that God is bound by CS? This may be really obvious, but please explain exactly what is wrong with saying that God is not bound by CS. I think this will move us forward in the argument and help me see your concern more clearly.

Secondly:
(L4b)God has violated the ethical standards he sets down for Christians.

This is where the dilemma becomes shaky. The denial of (L4a) should entail (L4b), but I don't see how it can. I.e., if I say that God is bound by CS, then it should follow that God has violated CS. But this doesn't follow. What could follow from not-(L4a) is another conditional:
(L5) If God has violated CS, then he is morally deficient.

But now we are back to the original version of the argument I proposed. I agree that if not-(L4a) is true, then (L5) is true. Now (L5) could be used as a premise in a new argument that looks remarkably like the one in my first comment*(see below).

There's no punting to mystery here, unless you want to. All I'm asking is that you show that there could not possibly be any sufficient justification for the suffering that God allows.

Shygetz -- if God has not offered you an explanation for why he allows evil, it simply does not follow that God has no explanation or justification. That is just bad logic. (With all due respect.)

Also, an attack on "3O theology" just is a charge of inconsistency. You are claiming that the following propositions cannot all be consistently affirmed:
(O1) God is omniscient
(O2) God is omnibenevolent
(O3) God is omnipotent

Lee: We can dispute the existence of God if you like, but if we are disputing whether such a God has a "double standard," you have to grant that there is a God for the sake of argument, and then do a sort of reductio. Here's what your post sounded like:
Lee: God has a double standard
Chris: No, God might have good reasons for acting as he does
Lee: Yeah, but God might not even exist.

In a similar vein, you wrote:
So in my view, debating that “God would or would not do this” is like debating that “Spiderman would or would not do this”.

So, does it follow, then, that debating whether or not God has a double standard is like debating whether Spiderman has a double standard?


*Here it the original argument:
1) If God does 'A' without sufficient justification, then God should be considered morally deficient. (Let 'A' be some action that should not be done without sufficient justification, such as killing humans. Let 'sufficient justification' be some good that (i) cannot be obtained without doing 'A' and (2) outweighs the bad consequences of 'A')
(2) God has done 'A' without sufficient justification.
(3) Therefore, God should be considered morally deficient.

John W. Loftus said...

Chris, nice construal of my argument. I liked it.

But notice what slips in the back door:

All I'm asking is that you show that there could not possibly be any sufficient justification for the suffering that God allows.

Seems as though you're up to the same old tricks, eh? ;-) Didn't I ask you to talk in terms of what's plausible and probable?

Your argument is now that I must show it isn't possible that there is a justifying reason for why God does practically nothing to help us.

We still have to prove something, whereas all you have to do is to argue something is possible.

Is that fair?

If it's fair for you then it should be fair if I reversed it and claimed you must prove there is a justifying reason for God's inaction while I must only suggest that there isn't one.

Goose meet gander.
Gander meet goose.
Or, we could meet in the middle and stick with probability.

Shygetz said...

Chris:

Also, an attack on "3O theology" just is a charge of inconsistency.

But your problem here is that you insist on the modifier "omni". This is a skeptic's dream. If you just left it at "God is benevolent" then you would be correct; an attack on God's consistency with his benevolence would only indicate that he isn't perfectly good all the time. But you insist on the term "omnibenevolent". This means that God MUST be consistently and perfectly benevolent.

You are claiming that the following propositions cannot all be consistently affirmed:
(O1) God is omniscient
(O2) God is omnibenevolent
(O3) God is omnipotent


No, I am claiming that they cannot all be true given that one gratuitous act of evil exists in the world.

if God has not offered you an explanation for why he allows evil, it simply does not follow that God has no explanation or justification.

But God doesn't just allow evil; he causes it (e.g. Indonesian tsunami). Free will has no role to play here; the only defense is that God had no more merciful way to complete whatever beneficial end there was. In order to believe that, you would have to believe that every single person killed in that tsunami had it coming--that the most benevolent way to stop whatever future calamity was coming down the pike was to kill each and every one of the people who died in the tsunami--no more, no less.

Is that what you truly believe?

Similarly, it is an axiom of human morality that a person who causes harm to another person must justify his actions. As I said before, if Cletis kills Bubba, we don't just assume Cletis had a good reason to do so. Cletis must show his good reason. God in the very least has failed this test, rendering the claim of omnibenevolence false. Either God is not omnibenevolent, or else "good" has no real meaning when discussing God, in which case "omnibenevolence" has no useful meaning. Either way, the problem of evil crushes the idea of a recognizable 3O God.

Steven Carr said...

I see Chris took one look at the question 'Why should we trust a God who can lie to use?' and decided to dodge that.....

Chris thinks God is not bound by the commandment not to tell lies.

So how can anybody trust what his god says?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
I hope its not as inconsistent as it sounds.
here it is in a nutshell.
I'm not going to speak for anyone else so this is all about me.
morality means one thing to me. I don't see gods behavior as moral. I don't see his behavior in the bible as moral. To me that means I don't know what it means for god to be good. That means I think there is a double standard, and it sounds like to me that christians do to.
so if god exists, then he sets the standard for good, which seems to be chaotic, and I try to do no harm.
But extrapolate that. If christians will say that there is the 'god good' which is a mystery, and there is the me good that I can conceive of, then they can justify anything from slavery to apartheid, to trying to hasten the end times by rebuilding the temple or tearing down babylon because it is what god wants and god is good and his goodness is a mystery.
in short it is a blank check to justify anything that suits the christian agenda.
If there is no reason to morals, then animal cruelty can be tolerated, and all sorts of other things that I'm sure you can imagine if you think it through.
My point is this. that if there is a god, he should be someone we can understand and not have to 'punt to mystery'. and since he would have created the laws of the universe, and logic, then it follows that they should be useful to worship him with. To me, there is no logic, It causes me stress because it doesn't make sense and I cannot love something that I don't understand. it doesn't make sense. I hope that was not blathering but I have to get my internet when I can cause mine is still down.

and the spiderman thing. I don't think god exists, and I don't think spiderman exists therefore I think arguing theology and what god would do is like the arguing i used to do about comic book characters and star wars characters when I was a kid.
I'm sorry if I offend anyone, i know that alot of people have a lot of time tied up in theology, but to me, if god exists and he's perfect, then there should be no need for theology, it should be plain as the clear blue summer sky. I thought that way when I was a christian, too. See what happened?

take care, not sure I'll be back till after the weekend.

chris said...

John -- It is perfectly fair for me to argue as I have. We have to have some standard of protocol here, and it is widely accepted in both formal debate and law that the party who makes an affirmative claim must establish it, while the negative party is only required to show that the affirmative party has failed to do so. This can be done merely by casting doubt on the affirmative claim.

Now, I'm not splitting hairs here. Anyone who has done debate can back me up. If you want to suggest some other standard, I'm open to it, but this is the most widely accepted.

What follows from this is that you, Lee and others have taken, whether intentionally or not, the affirmative side. You have asserted that "God has a double standard of morality" or something like that. I am merely trying to show that your case fails. This is, admittedly, the easier task.

Now, if I had posted on my blog that "God is a perfect moral being" or that "God is possibly justified in allowing evil," then the roles would be reversed, and you could simply demand that I provide a possible justification.

Shygetz -- I didn't insist on 'omni' -- that was your term. However, I accept it.

OK -- so here's how the inconsistency charge looks:
(O1) God is omniscient
(O2) God is omnibenevolent
(O3) God is omnipotent
(E1) Gratuitous evil exists

So, you're claming that I cannot affirm all four of these consistently. That's the same as saying that "they cannot all be true." I have to jettison one or more. Is this right? So, I can't see how to construe this as anything but an inconsistency charge. But don't jump out of your chair! Charging the Christian with inconsistency is a perfectly acceptable way to "debunk Christianity."

As for your claim that God causes evil (I assume you mean gratuitous?), I'm afraid you're going to have to back that one up with an argument.

. . .it is an axiom of human morality that a person who causes harm to another person must justify his actions.

I'm not familiar with this axiom. Can you explain why you think this is an axiom? It doesn't seem to me that it is. What do you mean by "justify his actions?" Verbally?

Either God is not omnibenevolent, or else "good" has no real meaning when discussing God, in which case "omnibenevolence" has no useful meaning.

So, by this disjunction, if I claim that God is omnibenevolent, then this should entail that 'good' and 'omnibenevolent' have no useful meaning. How does that follow? Honestly, though, the term 'omnibenevolence'(OB for short) is somewhat new to me. I suppose we mean by it, "perfectly good in all respects" or something. So, I affirm that God is OB, and it still seems to have meaning.

Aside from logic, I know what you're trying to say. and I actually am troubled by this problem a bit myself. However, it is just patently false that the problem of evil "crushes" the idea of a 3O god. No contemporary philosopher maintains the logical problem of evil. There are other versions though. And it could be claimed that the PoE "crushes" theism in some existential way. That is at least close to being true.

Lee -- No offense taken. I was implying that perhaps your charge of "double standard" becomes nonsensical, based on what you said about spiderman. By the way, I don't think Spiderman has a double standard.

Since you didn't want to battle on the field I proposed, I'll meet you where you are. I can see your honest concerns, and I think they are valid. There is no "answer" for the PoE. I agree that we should be able to understand God. But understanding is a graded concept. I understand logic, but not like Saul Kripke did. I understand football, but not the way Tony Dungy does. I understand my wife, in some sense, but whoa! she is still a mystery. Do you know what I mean? If you are married, you know what I mean. Or just think of someone you know REALLY well. Can you ever know a person in some exhaustive, deterministic, atomistic way? As if you could predict all their actions or know their thoughts? No. Never. I'm not punting to mystery here. You know what I'm talking about. If you deny this, then I don't know what to say to you. But if you grant this, then claiming that God is, in some sense, beyond our complete understanding, is really not crazy.

There's more that could be said. My heart resonates with yours, though. I lost my father to cancer a few years ago, and it wasn't easy. I have experienced hard things that make me mad at God. For some reason, I still trust him.

Steven Carr said...

Chris still ducks the question of how he can trust a being that is not bound by the commandment to avoid lies....

Or the question of how he knows that God is morally right to kill us, but that God would never lie to us.

chris said...

As for the ill-mannered Mr. Carr --

Your first comment appeared while I was writing mine, thus I didn't even see it until mine was published. Second, I wrote a response last night, but lost it in the process for some reason. So, I will give it another shot. But you would be better served in the future to restrain your tongue, or fingers, as it were.

The question is a good one, I think. Could God have a morally sufficient reason to lie? First, let's define lie: A person lies just in case she asserts what she knows to be false with malicious intent. This won't help us, because, presumably, you could never have a morally sufficient reason to act maliciously! So, maybe we'll broaden our definition:
A person lies just in case she asserts what she knows to be false, with the intent to deceive.

Could God have a good reason to do this? Suppose we say 'yes.' Well, then the lie would be a good thing, at the end of the day. My parents lied to me about many things, and for good reason (I was too young, etc.). Should I therefore distrust them? No, because they did it out of love and concern. Also, a lie in this sense is essential for humor, which is a good thing.

Suppose we say 'no.' Perhaps there is some essential property of God's, like truthfulness, that simply precludes any possibility of lying. I.e., God is necessarily incapable of lying. But the act of killing a human being does not seem to conflict with any essential property of God. Could it conflict with love? Some killing is done in love (euthanasia). Justice? Some killing is done for the sake of justice (killing someone who attempts to rape and murder my 7-yr.-old daughter with lethal force). I suppose an argument would have to be made for the claim that killing is essentially incompatible with God's nature.

So, I suppose I'm inclined to take the latter position. It does seem that lying is a special case. God simply can't do it, anymore than he could cease to exist or make square circles.

Judging by your tone, I presume that this won't satisfy you. That's the best I can do for now.

Steven Carr said...

Chris is quite right.

His religion requires him to believe that God can kill us all without batting an eyelid, but we have to accept God's promises of pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die.

Therefore he makes a special case of one kind of morality, because otherwise his beliefs would fall to pieces in his hands.

The rest of us though, can see that this is just special pleading on his part.

And Chris simply asserts that atheists must show that God cannot have any morally sufficient reason for killing people, while he himself offers no proof that God can never have a morally sufficient reason for deceiving us about Heaven and Hell (despite his own Bible claiming God puts a lying spirit into people's mouths!)

Double-standards? I think so.

Until Chris can prove that there can never be a morally sufficient reason for his God to lie to us about the existence of Heaven, I will use Chris's own reasoning that shows that God can be a liar.

Steven Carr said...

CHRIS writes
'Some killing is done for the sake of justice (killing someone who attempts to rape and murder my 7-yr.-old daughter with lethal force).'

CARR
But Chris says God can't lie. It is just not in his nature to do so.

Presumably if a would be rapist asked God to tell him where my 7 year old daughter was, God would have to kill him, because He just couldn't lie , even if that saved my daughter from being raped.

chris said...

OK, I'll take the bait, Mr. Carr.

As I said, it is a good question. I took you to be arguing something like this:
(1) God can have morally sufficient reasons (MSR) to perform apparently harmful acts.
(2) Lying is an apparently harmful act.
(3) So God can have MSR for lying.

Is this close to what you were getting at? If it is, then here's how I would proceed: I need to show that either (1) or (2) is false, or that the reasoning is invalid. As far as I can tell, the logic is good. So I guess I would focus on (2) and say that lying is not in the class of "apparently harmful acts." Why? Because if we define a lie as necessarily malicious, then it is necessarily malicious, and (3) would come out false, by definition. If we define a lie in the other way, then yes, it follows that God could have a MSR for lying. I'm not sure how to escape this conclusion. However, this doesn't give you what you want, because defining a lie in this way is relatively innocuous. God's asserting something false to deceive us, but with parental love and concern, doesn't sound bad at all. Does it? You have to grant that it is for our best interests. So, you've won a victory of sorts -- I've had to change my position.

So, I don't have to show that "there can never be a morally sufficient reason for [...]God to lie to us about the existence of Heaven."

By the way, I haven't "simply asserted" anything, so far as I know. I believe I have offered good arguments for whatever claims I have made. Please be specific about such charges.

So what about my claim that God cannot lie (for any reason)? This would certainly limit the range of good jokes God could tell. Have you heard the one about . . . okay, staying on target. Is this a bare assertion? Let me see if I can offer some argument.

Let's suppose that knowledge is the norm of assertion. In other words, to assert something is to imply that you know it. This is fairly standard. I.e., it would be odd to say, "Topeka is the capital of Kansas! But I don't know that." So, if this is right, and we define omniscience:
A being is omniscient just in case she knows all true propositions and believes no false ones.
So, if this is right, it follows that God should never assert what is false, since he has no false beliefs. Now if lying is assering something false, then it follows that God should not lie. Sadly, this doesn't get us to "necessarily, God cannot lie." So, instead of deleting the last several paragraphs of daunting philosophical machinations, I'll leave it here to test the mettle of any would-be assailant. : )

So, without an argument for God's necessary truthfulness, I guess I'm stuck with the position that God can have MSR to lie. Now, I could make a biblical argument, but I don't think you'd buy that. Especially since the charge really is that the biblical claim is defective somehow.

As far as your rapist scenario -- it's just silly. God is not a heavenly Google.

Steven Carr said...

I think Chris is gradually conceding that his defense to the charge of double moral-standards means that he now cannot say whether God has ever told the truth to people.

His 'defense' has just destroyed Christianity because now he has no more reason to beleive in Heaven than he claims atheists have any reason to believe it is wrong for God to allow people to rape little children.

chris said...

This is getting out of hand. I've tried to be civil and rational. I'm surprised that no one, even the atheists, has come to my defense here. If I said anything as ludicrous as Carr's last post, the retorts would undoubtedly rain down upon me like, well, rain. If he's the only one still in the conversation, I think I'm done. His point was good, even though I had to do all his arguing for him.

Steven Carr said...

Chris resorts to insults to cover up the fact that he preaches that nobody can prove that it is not immoral for his god to have lied about everything to mankind.

It is *his* argument that nobody can prove that lying is immoral if his god lies, because God is not held to the same moral standards as His creation.

So the only way he can now react is to start throwing out insults, because his beliefs have been shown to be self-contradictory.

I often find that people get angry when the fallacies of their beliefs are exposed.

It is a natural way to react.

Bob Kowalski said...

I have an entirely different problem with God not being bound by something recognizable as morality to human beings.

God made human beings in His image. This doesn't mean God has the physical form of a human being. Being made in His image means that there is something god-like in each of us. Up until the early Modern Period and the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution the similarity of human beings to God was in the possession of reason.

Being made in the image of God means that God's mind, His intentions, and His plans, are intelligible to human beings. God's mind can be understood at least in part by human beings.

Consider the alternative. If human beings are impotent to understand God's Mind at least in part.

If we as human beings cannot arrive at the honest conclusion that God's plans, intentions, and actions are for The Best(tm) then the only reason to submit to God's Will(tm) is that God is omnipotent. God's Power is Divorced from God's Intelligence/Rationality/Goodness. Human beings would be unable to see God's Goodness as Goodness. A Believier would obey God not because of Love but because of Fear. God's Omnipotence becomes the prime argument for obedience. Might makes Right.

If God's intentions, plans, and actions are unintelligible to humans, then from a human point of view, God is nothing but a bully screaming at humanity, "Do What I Say, or you'll be fuckin' sorry!"

Lee Randolph said...

Yeeha!
My internets back.
Hi Chris,
If I were you I'd use the lying spirit story in the old testament. God sent a lying spirit to pharaoh or something like that.

I'm going to try to use a diagram, with out drawing it here, hang on!
If I understand you, you are saying that if morality were a sphere, we and god would exist inside, but overlap in some way, with God able to see all of our area and we not able to see his area? I think that would satisfy a model of your argument. Is that right?

It would represent what I have in mind.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi all,
Thanks for holding the fort while I was gone.
You guys are good!.

Chris,
yes I have taken the burden of proof.
One thing I notice is that arguing that a thing is absolute always, always, always brings trouble. If you can find one exception it dashes the argument. Arguing that God is omni-anything is, in my view, the Achilles heel in the Christian argument.
If they said that god cannot break the law of non-contradiction, that god is the most powerful thing in the universe, most benevolent thing in the universe etc, it would be harder to criticize.
I think we have met the burden.
I think we have shown that if there is a god, there is one standard for it and one standard for us, and we can't understand his standard, therefore, it means nothing to us to say that he is good.
But my argument had an additional parameter which is a 'should'. We should be able to understand it, since we can't it poses a problem for the supreme intellect in the universe. God is not communicating himself effectively (if its there).
There's a nice juicy 'warrant' for you to go after. But please don't let that distract you from telling me if my diagram model matches your argument, or please describe a better one.
Thanks in advance.

chris said...

Hey Lee. Welcome back. The whole 'sphere' thing went clear over my head. Mathematics is not my strong suit, if that's the road you're going down. Were you using 'satisfy' and 'model' in the technical sense?

Also, how should I use the 'lying spirit' story?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
about the lying spirit, If I were you I would've said, God doesn't lie, he sends lying spirits.

then about the sphere. I had it wrong, it should be a big square but thats not really important. it can be a circle or a big square. This isn't math, but it is used in math sometimes, its like a logic diagrem, its called a venn diagram. Its an easy way to get a grip on ideas like this one. anyway...
heres a link that may explain it better.
http://regentsprep.org/Regents/math/venn/LVenn.htm

Imagine a big circle or square drawn on piece of paper, label that morality, then inside of the circle or square draw two smaller interlinked circles, label those man and god. Then shade in the portion that overlaps and call that 'shared morality'. This is what I envision for your argument, but it may not fit. You'll have to decide.

Steven Carr said...

LEE
Hi Chris,
about the lying spirit, If I were you I would've said, God doesn't lie, he sends lying spirits.

CARR
That wouldn't help.

Chris is trying to show that we cannot hold God to our moral standards, such as not lying.

He is also trying to show that God doesn't lie.

But if God can't be held to our moral standards, then Chris can no more trust him than we can trust our parents.

If , of course, our parents were not held to the same moral standards as we are...

If our parents declared that normal moral standards did not apply to them, they could kill us, rape us or (whisper it) lie to us.

We would never trust any being that claimed that it was not subject to the same moral rules as us.

Lee Randolph said...

HI Bob,
you summed up one of my beliefs quite nicely, except for the expletive.

Steven,
I agree with you. I stopped trusting god, I think a lot of people do.

As Johns 'archeology review' article says, how can anyone look at the holocaust and reasonably argue that there is a moral omni-everything god? Or look at the babies that die for lack of nutrition etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

In my mind, God is how people, a long time ago, rationalized Chance and uncertainty and it stuck.

chris said...

Lee -- I'm not sure the Venn Diagram approach is helpful. I'm not sure what it would mean to say that God's morality is a set of some kind. A set of what? Moral laws or truths maybe? In any case, it doesn't seem to illustrate my argument. My original point was simple -- God might have good reasons for allowing various instances of evil. I haven't heard anything so far that shows this to be false. As long as this is possible, there is no logical conflict between the existence of evil and the Judeo-Christian God.

One thing I have found frustrating is that most people here at DC seem to be unwilling to stick to the argument at hand. The only way we can make progress in the debate is to agree on terms -- definitions, premises, conclusion, etc. Once we are disputing the same propositions, we can make genuine progress. But much of what is written is just loosely connected thoughts, ideas, questions, etc., with each post raising an entirely new issue or facet of the debate. The result: more heat than light. People are venting their beefs with God or Christianity, but few seem serious about finding the truth.

I have laid out my premises and claims carefully. I have taken a clear stand. I have conceded certain points. I've been as generous as possible in construing others' arguments, even to the point of causing problems for my own view. I haven't changed my argument, except to admit where it was wrong. Can you (that's an inclusive 'you' -- everyone at DC) do the same?

I think the issues raised by each of you are very important and difficult for Christians to answer. I have done my best so far. Your points (almost) always have strong intuitive appeal, but without out an argument, it sounds like a certain Monty Python sketch ("Argument Clinic"). If we just want to share feelings, or make unsubstantiated claims to lash out at religion, that's fine. But I would much prefer rational argument.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,
Isn’t there a scripture in the Bible that warns Christians not to engage in debate over these things?
If there is would you please post it for me?

My original point was simple -- God might have good reasons for allowing various instances of evil.
Do you know what those might be? No, because you cannot know the mind of god, and even less chance for the atheist. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. So there really is no argument, since neither of us can know neither of us can say the other is false.
On the other hand…..

I haven't heard anything so far that shows this to be false.
Consider the following.
Until there is credible evidence to support the existence of the supernatural, the likelihood that natural explanations are correct in any given case is stronger. That means that any naturalistic explanation is more likely to be correct. I say the Bible is wrong about God, one indicator is the fact that God is either not as good as he is reported to be or his goodness is undefined. This wasn’t thought through very well by the authors because the bible, as it is, was never the goal. It was pieced together from oral tradition and historical writings, in a word ‘Folklore’. My argument used a rational process. The only point that I can see that a Christian could take issue with it is at the point that it introduces god. I concede that is the weak spot, but it is weak because there are no facts to back it up. No evidence of God to confirm or deny. Theoretically it works for me. Doesn’t work for you? Ok, we agree to disagree. It is NONSENSE. I know that. It was bait, intended to press the same point I always fall back on.

As long as this is possible, there is no logical conflict between the existence of evil and the Judeo-Christian God.
Then do you concede that Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are possible as well? Maybe Zuess and the Titans if we go with One Waves quote from Thallus in the ‘resurrection’ thread? I could argue that too, taking schemes from the Christian argument manual and changing the names.

But much of what is written is just loosely connected thoughts, ideas, questions, etc., with each post raising an entirely new issue or facet of the debate. The result: more heat than light……I haven't changed my argument, except to admit where it was wrong. Can you (that's an inclusive 'you' -- everyone at DC) do the same?
I feel your pain brother, but about Christians, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the beast (pun intended for a little light hearted effect).

But the fact is that until the Christian can show some credible evidence for, at the very least, the presumption for the supernatural, there is no rational basis for Christianity and Christians are not likely to have satisfying explanations for anything. I would even go so far as to say that Christians cannot properly carry out the reasoning process because they have no backing for their propositions. The weight of presumption against god is greater than for him.

I think the issues raised by each of you are very important and difficult for Christians to answer. I have done my best so far. Your points (almost) always have strong intuitive appeal, but without out an argument, it sounds like a certain Monty Python sketch ("Argument Clinic").
Now hold on there pardner, I take exception to that. I work very hard to get these arguments together, some times I even set them up like targets waiting to be shot at.

If they have a strong intuitive appeal, that is part of the definition of Fallacy. Maybe they are fallacies or maybe they are right. Figure out what is wrong in the reasoning. I bet you always come to the same conclusion, since there is no evidence for god, he can be undefined, a moving goalpost, anything is possible, even to the point of breaking the law of non-contradiction (which seems to be okay with Christians).

They are not fallacious, they just cannot be right for some reason. What is that reason? I’ll tell you what I think it is. They are not right because the Christian doesn’t want them to be, so they don’t accept them. No reason for not accepting them, because there is no presumption for the supernatural.

I raise these issues EXACTLY because they are hard. They are what got me on the road to deconversion. I want to help people think them through.

Stay tuned for my next article, I promise I’ll lay my argument out like bottles on a wall for you to shoot at. It will be called something like “a double standard for truth”.

Shygetz said...

So, I can't see how to construe this as anything but an inconsistency charge.

Because I am stating that it is illogical, not merely inconsistent, which is possible due to the nature of the Christian claim. You cannot logically hold all four premises to be true (3O + gratuitous evil), because you insist that the 3O premises are unconditionally true. Therefore, a single violation of any one of the 3O premises (i.e. one example of gratuitous evil) renders the entire conclusion illogical, as one of the foundational premises would be demonstrably false.

My original point was simple -- God might have good reasons for allowing various instances of evil. I haven't heard anything so far that shows this to be false.

So you are arguing that, throughout the history of the universe, not one case of gratuitous evil ever existed or ever will exist. OK, I will explain my simple argument against this again. EVEN IF you believe the absurd notion that every single creature killed by an act of God was killed in exactly that manner because it was the most benificent and least harmful way a 3O being could bring about his good ends, then you still have a problem. Human morality requires justification to be given for all harmful acts. If I kill a man, it is not sufficient for me to say "I killed him, so I must have had a good reason." No, I MUST justify myself to the interested parties. God does not do this in every case.

1.) Human morality requires justification for all acts of harm
2.) God does not justify all of his acts of harm
3.) Therefore, God does not follow human morality

Now, humans have no frame of reference for morality other than human morality. So, unless you can refute (3), then the statement "God is omnibenevolent" is either false (as we know he does not unfailingly follow human morality), or meaningless (as the term "benevolent" holds no meaning for us outside of human experience). Therefore, the idea of a 3O God is either false or misleading.

Steven Carr said...

CHRIS
My original point was simple -- God might have good reasons for allowing various instances of evil. I haven't heard anything so far that shows this to be false.

CARR
Just as we tell children about Santa Claus to get them to behave better, God mght be telling us lies about Heaven and Hell to get us to behave better.

Chris's arguments destroy all rational basis for faith in God.

Chris protests that people are developing 'side-issues'.

It is more a case that Christianity is supposed to be self-consistent.

So if Chris says something which contradicts Christian beliefs, we are allowed to say so.

God is supposed to be a moral being , who would never lie and deceive us.

Chris shows that this cannot be proved to be true, as Chris is adamant that nobody can prove that God has no good reason not to lie on suitable occasions, for reasons that he will never reveal to us.

So Christianity is proved to be inconsistent.

chris said...

Hey Lee –

We’re probably close to the end of this thread. I’ll let you and the others have the last word after this post.

Do you know what [God’s reasons for allowing evil] might be? . . . So there really is no argument, since neither of us can know neither of us can say the other is false.

Consider these statements:
(1) There might be life elsewhere in the universe.
(2) There is no life elsewhere in the universe.

Which one is more plausible? If you were in a debate, which one would you want to defend? At least (1) stands a good chance of being true, and could actually be proven. I’m not sure we could ever prove (2). My claim that God might have reasons for allowing evil is the same kind of claim as (1). All I have to do is come up with some possible scenario that justifies whatever evil we are considering. (Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense is just such a scenario.)

It is just a fact of logic that possibility claims are easier to defend than necessity claims.

I will let this horse die now.

Until there is credible evidence to support the existence of the supernatural

What counts as evidence, and why?

I say the Bible is wrong about God, one indicator is the fact that God is either not as good as he is reported to be or his goodness is undefined.

If I understand what you are saying, you are claiming that the Bible is probably false because it gives an incoherent (nonsensical) description of God? Is this correct? You can’t say that the proposition “God is good” is false without first accepting that God exists. Similarly, we can’t really say that the proposition “Gandalf is good” is true or false.

Then do you concede that Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu are possible as well?

Sure. I just thought you were “Debunking Christianity,” not Hinduism.


I feel your pain brother, but about Christians, but unfortunately that’s the nature of the beast (pun intended for a little light hearted effect).

You’re right about that. I expect more from enlightened atheists, though.

But the fact is that until the Christian can show some credible evidence for, at the very least, the presumption for the supernatural, there is no rational basis for Christianity and Christians are not likely to have satisfying explanations for anything. I would even go so far as to say that Christians cannot properly carry out the reasoning process because they have no backing for their propositions. The weight of presumption against god is greater than for him.

Wow. Those claims are just crazy. You need to answer my question about evidence.

No rational basis? Have you read any philosophy at all?

I bet you always come to the same conclusion, since there is no evidence for god, he can be undefined, a moving goalpost, anything is possible, even to the point of breaking the law of non-contradiction (which seems to be okay with Christians). They are not fallacious, . . .They are not right because the Christian doesn’t want them to be, so they don’t accept them. No reason for not accepting them, because there is no presumption for the supernatural. there is no presumption for the supernatural.

Lee – Listen, you are constructing a straw man. I am not “other Christians” or “most Christians.” If you are arguing with me, stick to what I’ve claimed. If you want to make an argument that most Christians are dumb, that’s fine, but that doesn’t have anything to do with our conversation. Stay on target, stay on target . . .

Howdy again, Shygetz .

You wrote:
Because I am stating that it is illogical, not merely inconsistent, which is possible due to the nature of the Christian claim.

We’re saying the same thing, Shygetz. You don’t have to fight me on this. I gain NOTHING by saying that your charge is one of inconsistency.

Let’s define inconsistent this way:
*A set of sentences is inconsistent just in case it contains a contradiction.*
I think this is a standard way of defining inconsistency. Consider the following set of formulas in propositional logic:
{p, q, pr, ~r}

This set is inconsistent, because it contains both r and ~r, which is a contradiction. Whatever is inconsistent is illogical, in a standard logic.

So you are arguing that, throughout the history of the universe, not one case of gratuitous evil ever existed or ever will exist.

That is not what I was arguing, but, yes, I do believe it.


1.) Human morality requires justification for all acts of harm
2.) God does not justify all of his acts of harm
3.) Therefore, God does not follow human morality


Well done! Thank you for being so clear. We can work together on this.

OK – You’re argument is pretty good. Let’s spruce up the conclusion to make it clearly valid:

1.) Human morality requires justification for all acts of harm
2.) God does not justify all of his acts of harm
3.*) Therefore, God does not meet the requirements of human morality.

Now, I’m not sure what you mean by (1). Perhaps you mean:
(1*) Human morality requires verbal justification for all acts of harm.


Is that right? Because there is a difference between (a) there being a justification for my actions, and (b) my giving a justification for my actions. I assume you mean (b), right? If so, then I need to know what you mean by “requires.” If you mean that when someone commits or allows an evil, we WANT them to justify their actions, then I agree. But if you mean that:
(4) If an action is not verbally justified, then it is immoral.

Then (4) is obviously false. Someone who commits/allows a evil is perfectly free to ignore me. (Remember that we are distinguishing between evil and gratuitous evil. An evil will seem gratuitous to me if I don’t see any good reason for it.) Suppose I walk in the house, and tell my son that he must go to bed without any dinner. He says, “Why?” and I am silent. What follows from this? I can tell you what doesn’t follow – it doesn’t follow that I have no good reason for my action. So, I agree with you that we want God to justify his action/inaction. But even if God doesn’t, it doesn’t follow that he has no good reasons. In fact, there may even be good reasons for his silence. Perhaps his silence is just one more evil, for which God has a good reason – a reason to which we aren’t privy.

So, I think (1*) is false. If so, your argument is unsound.

By the way, I’m fine with just talking about “morality” since I don’t think there are multiple kinds.

Now, humans have no frame of reference for morality other than human morality. So, unless you can refute (3),

I’ve done that. I welcome your rebuttal.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Chris,

Which one is more plausible? If you were in a debate, which one would you want to defend? At least (1) stands a good chance of being true, and could actually be proven. I’m not sure we could ever prove (2). My claim that God might have reasons for allowing evil is the same kind of claim as (1). All I have to do is come up with some possible scenario that justifies whatever evil we are considering. (Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense is just such a scenario.)

I would take the the side of other life in the universe because it is plausible. It is plausible because coincidences happen. In a closed system similar things can happen more that once as long as they keep happening. A weak example is get enough people together in a room and you'll find some of them have the same birthday. Scientific theories have developed independently of each other in the same period. They had the same idea at the same time. The lights go out when the phone rings coincidentally etc etc etc.

Excuse me if I get my facts wrong, but the search for ET started with an idea from frank drake with his equation that showed that INTELLIGENT life was a probability. ET life was more probable. That was a REASON not a faith. Extremophiles on earth show us that life can exist in very harsh environments and the recent discovery of life forms that depend on Hydrogen Peroxide and another that depends on radiation show us what to look for. It is theorized now that the Mars landers in the seventies may have some confusing data that can be explained by hydrogen based organisms. It seems likely that if there is life out there we would find it on planets similar to ours because we know what to look for and how it works here. It is plausible that we have encountered life and not recognized it even here on earth. These are REASONS not faith.

You can’t say that the proposition “God is good” is false without first accepting that God exists. Similarly, we can’t really say that the proposition “Gandalf is good” is true or false.

I don't need to accept that god exists to say that claims about his goodness are false. If you said Darth Vader was good, I'd say he wasn't and give you REASONS based on events that happened in the movie. If you tell me that darth vader was good and that he was good in his own way, we'd be arguing similarly as we are now.

But since Gandalf and Darth Vader don't exist, it would be literary criticism. Much as this is.

Chris if you concede the Hindu gods are possible, then you must be saying that it is possible that Yahweh is not alone, that is not very characteristic of a Christian.

Crazy claims about reasoning? What is evidence? I never said Christians are "dumb", only that they cannot reason properly about things having to do with god. Let me explain.

I think you know what evidence is. For example, faith healers. They don’t work. If they did, it would be evidence. Do you really want me to bring up the miracles / prayers thing again? Where is the book that JESUS wrote, where are the pictures or busts of JESUS, where is all the evidence characteristic of a person that lived in his time? I can show you the financial records of a woman from jesus time and the complaint of a man about getting his jacket back he made to a local government member. If he existed, the evidence is slight. Not what you'd expect from god on earth, unless you want to say that we have no right to say what we could expect of god on earth.

Reasoning is based on fact. Truth is based in fact. Go look up the definitions of "truth, fact, reason" then look up "belief, faith,". You will find that in our language, truth and reason depend on fact. Fact is something verifiable. Look up belief and faith you will see that they depend on truth. They converge on Fact. If you have no verifiable god then you have no fact of god and the rest comes undone. That is why I say that Christianity has no rational basis, and Christians cannot properly reason about it because god is not verifiable. I think conflicting theologies are an indicator of that. Catholics, protestants and different denominations of each are an indicator of that.

If you keep looking and don't find something where it should be, chances are it is not there. Negative proof principle. I know this is defeasible based on new information, but none has popped up so I keep saying it.

I was using other Christians as an example. But your arguments based on 'possibility' are not as easy to defend as you think. As John pointed out to you earlier, there is a difference between possible and plausible. Plausible is based on reason, reason is based on fact. Presumption is based on reasonable likelihood. It is possible that god exists but not plausible. It is possible that life exists or has existed on Mars and more plausible based on new information about this hydrogen based life.

I am arguing against your points, its just that I am trying to attack the framework instead of the detail. If I can cut off your supply line maybe you will run out of possibilities and start arguing plausibilities.

yes I have read philosophy and I am well aware of the classical arguments for god and I am surprised that they were taken seriously. On a similar note, If I remember right, Decartes came up with the idea that nothing but ourselves can escape doubt, but then Popper came up with the idea of falsifiability and it worked better for science. But these are examples of gaining knowledge. We make a guess, test it, it if works, then we use it to make another guess (this is where presumption fits). In this way we build up useful information and a knowledge base that we can do useful things with. We throw out the old and less useful. You can't do that with Dogma. And the scientific method has added more good in the world than Christianity. Want to dispute that? Stop going to the doctor and start praying instead. Most cultures in the world buy into the scientific method, or at least it is widely accepted cross culturally, you can't say that about any given religion. Why is that? I would say it is based on verifiability.

And I am saying that inconsistencies in the Bible are an indicator that god as he is purported to be had nothing to do with it.

Shygetz said...

Now, I’m not sure what you mean by (1). Perhaps you mean:
(1*) Human morality requires verbal justification for all acts of harm.


Not necessarily verbal, but as I stated in my previous post:

"If I kill a man, it is not sufficient for me to say "I killed him, so I must have had a good reason." No, I MUST justify myself to the interested parties."

Interested parties must know the justification. If all interested parties knew of the justification beforehand, you wouldn't have to say a word. But you can't just take an evil action and presume justification in human morality, as demonstrated by my example above.

Someone who commits/allows a evil is perfectly free to ignore me.

They are? So, it would be in following with human morality for me to kill your family and remain silent on the issue, so long as I thought that I was justified? Are you sure that this is the morality? The Judeo-Christian ethic does not hold this to be so. The Bible is full of references to the moral need for justification of evil acts to interested parties (e.g. Numbers 22-25).

Suppose I walk in the house, and tell my son that he must go to bed without any dinner. He says, “Why?” and I am silent. What follows from this? I can tell you what doesn’t follow – it doesn’t follow that I have no good reason for my action.

No, what follows is not that the original act is evil. What follows is that, if the original act was evil and you refuse to justify it to interested parties, your refusal is evil. Human morality does not assume justification for evil acts. Your analogy causes the lay reader difficulty because you chose an original action that is of questionable to marginal evil so as to minimalize the evil of refusing to provide a justification. Change it to beating your son within an inch of his life and refusing to say why, then see how it stands up.

If a father beats his son within an inch of his life, but refuses to tell his son or anyone else why, has he necessarily commited an evil act? I say yes, even if the original beating was fully justified; what do you say?

Perhaps his silence is just one more evil, for which God has a good reason – a reason to which we aren’t privy.

Yes, but then according to human morality, he must provide justification for that evil, etc., etc., ad infinitum. So, this is no escape. Unless you claim that evil does not need to be justified to interested parties in human morality, then you cannot squirm out of the contradiction here.

Michael Ejercito said...

Morality is obedience to God.

Immorality is disobedience to God.