God Limits Himself

This argument is intended to provide the warrant (underlying principle) for the Atheist argument that the Problem of Evil negates a perfectly Just, Moral, Benevolent, Good, etcetera, God. It intends to show that the principle or Warrant comes from God himself. This is the first in a series of articles that create a complex argument against the existence of the Christian God.

It is believed that the bible is revelation from god. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness". In the bible, if he has not authored it himself, he has at least approved of being labeled as Good, Just, Merciful, Reasonable and Trustworthy among other things. Since God has approved of this to be said about himself, he implicitly agrees to behave that way. These are his limitations to his behavior. For example a trustworthy person will act in a way that supports that characteristic and is prohibited from acting in ways that negate the trustworthy characteristic. They are limited by their commitment to be trustworthy.

Goodness, Justice, Morality, Mercy and Reasonableness have a meaning and have characteristics that are more or less consistent between languages such as hebrew, Greek and English, to name a few. So If God has approved of these labels being applied to him, he has implicitly agreed to behave in a way that supports those characteristics. He has in effect limited his own behavior to comply with his self-proclaimed characteristics. If he is trustworthy, he will behave in a way that supports that characteristic. If he is reasonable, he will act in way that supports that characteristic.

Morality has meaning to us, and God has agreed to be Moral, therefore in order to appear Moral to us he must agree to behave in a way that doesn't violate enough moral principles to negate that characteristic.

- God is moral.
- the set of morality as understood by humans contains a set, or subset of moral principles.
- God has properties similar to the set of human moral principles.
- We say god is moral because we compare him to the set of principles comprising the set of morality. Otherwise we have no basis for the comparison.

So now if pick a valid principle out of the set of morality, and see if it can be compared to god, this should be a valid test of Gods similarity to the set of morality that we are comparing him to.

Additionally let’s add these qualifiers.
- We are made in gods image,
- God loved us so much that he have his only son so that none should perish

So how moral is god? How many of our characteristics of morality does god possess? And if we make a list of moral principles, and we compare it to god’s behavior can we come up with a value of "how moral is god when compared to our set of moral values"?

Then if we say that some principles in our set are "universal morals" I'd be willing to bet I could get a consensus that god violates some of those "universal moral" principles. A lot of them have been written about here on DC.

If god Violates a Moral principle he becomes less moral. This affects his trustworthiness in a negative direction.

If we say that it is reasonable to impose this set of morals on a human, and we say that god is moral, then we can say in some respect it should be valid to impose this set of morals on god. If we can't, then saying that god is moral is meaningless, especially, perfectly moral. So if humans cannot possibly be more moral than god, then God must meet or beat any expectations that we can place on a human. For example, If we say that a human is deficient in morality for condoning slavery, then if god does not at least meet that expectation, then he is deficient as well, unless we can say that violating this principle is not an indicator of a violation of this principle or any shortcoming of morality.

On what grounds does god not need to meet this expectation? On what grounds do people need to this expectation? If people need to meet this expectation and god meets or beats our expectations of morality, then he should be expected to do it to. Not just because I say so, but because it is consistent with what he has approved of to be said about himself, of which he says about himself, should be trustworthy.


17 comments:

richdurrant said...

As always you have all your ducks in a row. Very interesting topic to discuss. I am still mulling over the majority of the post here but an initial thought occurred to me. I don't condone sex before marriage, and my son knows this. So prom night shows up and I, thinking of all possibilities, decide to give him a couple of condoms for the big night. Keeping in mind that he knows I don't approve of sex before marriage, does giving him the condom contradict my principle? Or does it say, I understand you might make a mistake so at least be prepared to protect yourself from possible disease by using this if you break my rule. Since this is a real life experience for me I am interested in responses and thoughts here. To me I don't believe this condones the behavior but since the act of sex before marriage, being a sin to me, is the lessor of two evils. The act that can be forgiven and forgotten, and the possible negative life altering consequence of contracting a disease that could be deadly.

Now how I wanted to relate this here has to do with slavery. Is there a possibility of a similar scenario for God that is related here. Or in other words God doesn't condone slavery, but realizes it may be that his people, us, may decide to have slaves. Since that is the case here are some guidelines to follow.

I Don't know if this works but as I say it is a thought in progress.

zilch said...

Rich- first of all, for what it's worth, I applaud your decision to give your son condoms. Given the fact that preaching abstinence has very little effect, if any, on sexual behavior, it's best for your son to be prepared. My wife and I made very sure that both our kids knew about contraception and STD's long before they were old enough to be sexually active. Of course, here in Austria, sex education is thoroughly covered in public schools as well.

As far as whether or not this contradicts your principle, I would say that it is not black and white. If your son knows you disapprove of sex before marriage, but that you want him to be careful if he does decide to have sex anyway, then he will know that you are more concerned about his wellbeing than about his adherence to any hard and fast rules. That's a state of affairs that is more likely to win his respect, imho.

Second- the problem with saying that God doesn't condone slavery, but realizes that it happens anyway and so doesn't forbid it, is that you could say the same about any of His commandments or laws: people murder too, so why forbid it? People covet their neighbor's wives, work on the Sabbath, make linsey-woolsey cloth, and make fun of bald men. Why did God forbid (or send bears to maul people who did) these things, and say nothing about slavery? It's inconsistent, to say the least.

richdurrant said...

Hi zilch,
No it wasn't a precursor to add to all commandments. Like I said, it's a work in progress.

"then he will know that you are more concerned about his wellbeing than about his adherence to any hard and fast rules."

So being concerned about a persons wellbeing supercedes following rules? Does that include all? Apparently not because you later suggest I might be trying to attach this to other commandments. So do we have a list of rules that wellbeing becomes more important than following the rule? You are right that it isn't black and white. Now remember I am not claiming that my suggestion fits what God thinks about slavery. I know your applause for giving a condom to my son was from your worldview, and many don't share the same opinion as you. In fact many would frown on my handling of the situation saying I was condoning sex.

I do think that abstinence has effect depending on how it is handled. I was taught abstinence and remained a virgin until married with no regrets. Thats off topic though.

Many also claim that the slavery of the bible was different than the slavery of the south. Maybe not every instance of slavery in the bible fits this but there certainly are differences. So maybe with a certain instance of slavery mentioned in the bible, we could look at it and see if it fits. Was god condoning the slavery? He certainly didn't want; the Israelites left in bondage where they were forced to work and beaten. So does that imply that slavery is OK if Israel has slaves but not OK for Egyptians to have slaves?
I draw the comparison here because, and I am guessing only so correct if I am wrong, you seem to not feel that premarital sex is wrong, I do so we differ in opinion. There are instances of slavery described in the bible that are nothing like the slavery we know of from the south. Someone working as a slave for 7 years to marry a daughter. Is that wrong/immoral to have a slave in this manner or OK? If it's OK than those rules about owning a slave now apply and you are not allowed to beat, ect... this slave?
Are we comparing apples to oranges with the slavery issue? It is a broad statement so i have no doubt there are other examples from the bible that are slavery like in the south but I hope my point is being made. I'm not sure how clear I am because I really haven't completely thought through everything yet. so I am thinking out loud, if that can be done on a keyboard.

TheElect said...

Ok, when you say that God is limiting Himself to just those qualities, that is not exactly correct. There are qualities of God that He has not put into the Bible. And by saying that God is limiting Himself you are putting that limit on Him. The God of the Bible I know does not have shape nor form. Christians and people who are not Christians have a very bad problem of giving God an image, wether it be a physical image or an image that our minds have created to explain God. But there are no ways to describe God, He is indescribable. I don’t know how you have reached your conclusions. But I’m willing to find out, if your willing to tell me.

My e-mail is: neojesusfreak247@yahoo.com

richdurrant said...

"people murder too, so why forbid it?"

Just a thought on this. God said don't kill, not don't murder. So does God condone protecting yourself, even to the point of killing? Can there be reasons for killing to be justified? Protecting your family? Your life? Your Country? Seems like don't kill is straightforward, except now we introduce dilemmas. So if I protect myself by killing someone who was trying to kill me, aren't I breaking the don't kill commandment? Obviously yes I am. So if I boat down to Africa and round up some people at gunpoint and sell them as a slave, am I in the wrong? Certainly. If I buy people to use for workers on my plantation and keep them chained and beaten so they will work for me, am I wrong? Certainly.
Now if it is a custom that a man who wants to marry my daughter must work for me as my slave for seven years to earn the right to marry, am I wrong, as long as I treat him as outlined by law? maybe now we enter the justified stage of slavery where it becomes mutually beneficial or something. OK, so its a stretch but I am still thinking out loud, on a keyboard.

George Hasara said...

Parents providing condoms is an interesting analogy but it breaks down on a couple of key points. While sex for a young person can certainly be considered ill-advised – it is not a criminal act (usually) nor does it violate the rights of others. It is nowhere on the spectrum of kidnapping, restraining and forcing a person into servitude as with the case of slavery.

Secondly, as a parent providing guidance, you are very clear about your desire that your child refrain from sex. There is no ambiguity involved. However, with the Biblical account concerning slavery, there is not even a hint that this practice is considered fundamentally wrong.

My analogy to add to the mix is this: I support adhering to the Geneva Convention on warfare. However, anyone who has spoken to me on the subject knows in no uncertain terms that I am staunchly anti-war and my support for limiting suffering through a set of international rules is not a tacit approval of violence.

One has to wonder about “divine revelation” that is so elastic and ambiguous in nature as to allow virtually any interpretation possible.

richdurrant said...

You're right George and I wasn't making that comparison either. What I was trying to bring out is at what point do i cross the line of condoning a behavior I believe is wrong.

In your analogy, you're anti-war, we share this sentiment, and you have gone so far as to feel it necessary to abide by a set of rules, Geneva convention. So if you were the one who set up the Geneva convention guidelines, does that make you pro or anti-war? If we compare that to slavery, you should be in the same boat Lee has placed God because you set up rules governing how prisoners of war are to be treated, that means you think war is OK. God set up rules of how to treat slaves so that means he thinks slavery is OK.

Thanks I actually like your analogy better.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi richdurrant,
Or in other words God doesn't condone slavery, but realizes it may be that his people, us, may decide to have slaves.
The slave holders have decided they want to have slaves. The slaves think its a bad idea. On what grounds would god side with the slave holders?

Lee Randolph said...

Hi theelect,
Lets give god an infinite set of moral principles. Now lets say that we can only comprehend a thousand of them. If god violates a good number of those thousand, we are justified is thinking that we were wrong about gods morality. It may be that god is moral in a larger number of ways, but we can't comprehend it so it is meaningless to us. If god doesn't agree to be moral in way we understand, then we are justified in thinking he's not really moral. If he does that, then we are also justified in thinking he is not really trustworthy. God made the agreement, gave it to us as his word, God gave us his word. He's got to keep his word or he's not trustworthy. He's got to act moral in a way we understand or he's not moral.

zilch said...

rich- morals are a tricky business, and I don't see that having an "objective" source of them (the Bible, the Koran...) makes it any easier to decide what's right and wrong.

As far as premarital sex goes- you are right, I don't disapprove of it principally, if no one is hurt by it (which of course is not easy to judge). Since I have never been married, all my sex has been premarital for me, so I'd be a quivering mass of guilt if I disapproved of it. And of course people can and do stay virgins until they are married. That's fine with me, as long as they don't tell me that I'm wrong to believe as I do.

By the way, though, teen pregnancy rates are much higher in the US, where sex education is poor and premarital sex frowned upon, than in Western Europe, with good sex education and not so many moral strictures against premarital sex. This of course says nothing about whether premarital sex is "good" or "bad". But just telling kids not to have sex doesn't work very well, statistically speaking. Those ol' hormones are pretty powerful...

About slavery: I'm perfectly willing to grant that some kinds of slavery are worse than others. But I will still go along with lee and say that God was remiss in condoning slavery in the Bible. Or, to put it another way, society as a whole (with a few holdouts in Sudan and other benighted cultures) has moved on in the last couple thousand years, and most people don't condone slavery, even if the owners are nice and the slaves sing happily on the plantations. Do you? If not, you are morally superior to the God of the Bible, imho.

And about "thou shalt not kill"- many Christians have told me that should be interpreted to mean "thou shalt not murder". Otherwise it would be a no-no to kill all the people who deserve death, according to God: adulterers, uppitty kids, Amalekite babies, etc. Or were you talking about the New Testament? Even so, there are problems, as you point out: what about self-defence? Where do you draw the line?

These are questions with no easy answers, for believers as well as atheists.

Happy New Year from chilly Vienna, zilch

richdurrant said...

"On what grounds would god side with the slave holders?"

I can't say that he sides with slave holders. If it is offered as a right for marriage, and the slave holder doesn't mistreat the slave, then because it was handled within guidelines, no problem.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Richdurrant,
terms of labor, mutually agreed upon is a little different than captivity don't you think? If this is not equivocation of 'slavery' then it is at least a special case and not representative of the population of slaves.

richdurrant said...

I would say yes. So who did God side with, the Egyptians or the Israelites?

I have to revert back to the Geneva convention thing. By your logic those who penned it condone war. Is that true? Did they? I can't say I really know without research. However, I have to guess that they don't condone war but were trying to handle it with as much humaness as possible.

Lee Randolph said...

Hi Richdurrant,
first off, there is no reason to believe, other than the bible, that the israelites were slaves to the egyptians. No historical evidence to back this story has been found. But there has been historical evidence to show that a semite(?) group of people were in charge in a province(?) of egypt. Not quite your bibles slave story.

And the writers of the Geneva convention were not in a position to say "you shall not make war or you will suffer eternal punishment" or "you shall kill pregnant mothers with because that baby could be a future threat".

richdurrant said...

"first off, there is no reason to believe, other than the bible, that the israelites were slaves to the egyptians."

Right but since we are using the bible, I was pulling an example out of it to show that there is evidence to the contrary of God condoning slavery.

"And the writers of the Geneva convention were not in a position to say "you shall not make war or you will suffer eternal punishment" or "you shall kill pregnant mothers with because that baby could be a future threat"."

Again I agree, but if I grant this premise from your post, "If we say that it is reasonable to impose this set of morals on a human, and we say that god is moral, then we can say in some respect it should be valid to impose this set of morals on god.", then can't we also compare the writers of the GC to God in the reverse fashion? Meaning that if we say that God condones slavery because, for example, he set up rules to govern slavery, then those that wrote the GC condone war because they set up rules of war. This becomes true whether or not the Israelites were really slaves to the Egyptians, or the writers of the GC had any position to say "don't kill."

Lee Randolph said...

HI richdurrant,
sorry to take so long to reply.
Meaning that if we say that God condones slavery because, for example, he set up rules to govern slavery, then those that wrote the GC condone war because they set up rules of war.
Okay. Lets say you are right so I can make a point. What reason would the writers of the GC have to not condone war but write the rules? We are assuming that all did not condone war, which is not a good assumption. So they don't condone war, but wrote the rules. I'd say One reason is to minimize harm and to make the best of a bad situation. I'd also say that another reason is that if they wanted to stop it they couldn't. They were minimizing harm in the only way could. If they were gods, I'd bet they figure out a better way to handle it< I know I would. Unless you want say that it would impede free will for the decision maker minority to impede the free will of the larger general population that suffers the most.

In principle is it a good rule of thumb to let the minority overwhelm the majority? Should we throw law enforcement out the window because in principle, people should have the right to exercise their free will so they can be judged by god? I'd say that once god knows thier heart, that's enough to warrant intervention. He knows what the future holds, to let it happen is immoral. I would stop it, I would expect someone stronger than me to stop it, I would expect someone all powerful and all knowledgable and perfectly just to stop it too.

There is a violation in moral principles here that you are defending to maintain your faith.
In my opinion you are compromising your principles to make yourself feel better, because admitting that there is no god is scary.

God is breaking his word. he is not good, moral or just. he is the creation of backwards humans.

richdurrant said...

"Okay. Lets say you are right so I can make a point. What reason would the writers of the GC have to not condone war but write the rules? We are assuming that all did not condone war, which is not a good assumption. So they don't condone war, but wrote the rules. I'd say One reason is to minimize harm and to make the best of a bad situation. I'd also say that another reason is that if they wanted to stop it they couldn't. They were minimizing harm in the only way could."

We are in agreement to this point. Although I would add that the only way that the GC could accomplish these desires is if people follow it. It does no good if someone decides it doesn't apply to them. So even in an attempt to minimize harm, it is useless if no one chooses to follow the rules.

As far as God knowing how to handle things differently, I have no doubt that he does know.

"In principle is it a good rule of thumb to let the minority overwhelm the majority?"

No it isn't, however the majority can be wrong.

"Should we throw law enforcement out the window because in principle, people should have the right to exercise their free will so they can be judged by god?"

No we shouldn't and God's judgment isn't ment to usurp our legal system here. But certainly you wouldn't want people forced to do what the majority deemed moral? People will be judged by God regardless of any legal system on earth. god's judgment is reserved for after we die not here and now. The here and now is for learning and mistake making.

"I'd say that once god knows thier heart, that's enough to warrant intervention."

That's what you would say but are you right? Minority report, if you've seen the movie, plays a little to this end you're speaking of. They had the ability to predict people breaking the law and stopping them before it happened. This in principle is a good system. It appeared as though it would save many lives and keep people on the straight and narrow. But one problem arises, up until the point of committing the crime you still have a choice. This line is used in the movie in trying to stop our big hero, Tom Cruise, from committing the crime he is predicted of doing. The same thing applies to us, you are on trial, not God. It's the time for us to learn how to make choices and fix mistakes.

"In my opinion you are compromising your principles to make yourself feel better"

Which principles am I compromising? Back to a comment Zilch made in the beginning, "then he will know that you are more concerned about his wellbeing than about his adherence to any hard and fast rules." I think there are many things that would appear to us as God limiting himself, when in fact they are along the same principle. The letter of the law and the spirit of the law. The letter of the law says don't kill, to use the old example again. That is as straight forward as you can be, thou shalt not kill. Go ahead with some say that it meant murder, whatever, it is crystal clear. That is the letter of the law. You kill someone at all and you have broken the rule, period. But if you enter into the spirit of the law, it opens up more possibilities. All of a sudden, to kill someone defending your family is OK. Killing someone in a war fighting for your freedom is OK. So how do we manage all this crazy stuff? We can talk in circles for years on end. I think God does limit himself to making sure we sink or swim by our choices, either to being saved or being damned.

I'm not scared to admit there is no God, I just know there is a God:)