Monday, July 18, 2005

Conversations with Angie: Arguments for the goodness of God


But a person might argue that while God's existence is necessary for there to be evil, it may not follow that God is good. I think there are two ways to show that God IS good.

First, just look at the properties of good and evil and what they mean. Notice that evil is what ought to be avoided, and good is what ought to be embraced. That's just true by their definitions. Good and evil are not equal and opposite. If they were, then you could exchange good for evil and evil for good. Whether a culture adopts the moral law that "You should always do evil" as opposed to "You should always do good," would be an arbitrary decision. But we can see, by the very nature of good and evil, that good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided.

Since this distinction between good and evil comes from God, and since between good and evil, good is what ought to be done, and evil is what ought to be avoided, it's clear that this God has a preference for good over evil. Everything that ought to be done is good, and everything that ought to be avoided is evil. It follows that God only prefers good, and never prefers evil. God, then, must be wholly good.

There's a second way to show that God is necessarily good that comes from an objection to the argument I've been making. It's called the Euthyphro dilemma, and it goes sommething like this:

If something is good because God commands it, then "good" is arbitrary.
If God commands something because it's good, then "good" does not depend on God.

Both horns of the dilemma assume that "good" is something other than God. The first horn assumes that good is below God, or is created arbitrarily by God. The second horn assumes that good is above God, and that God is obligated to live consistently with.

If good is a necessary objective feature of the world, then good cannot be arbitrary, so the first horn of the dilemma must be wrong. But the second horn of the dilemma must be wrong, too, because good cannot exist independently without any foundation in a personal being. It seems, then, that "good" is neither above nor below God. "Good," if it is to exist, and is to be a necessary objective feature of the world, must be equated with God in some way. It can't be other than God. Good must be part of God's nature, and his nature must be unchanging in order to avoid being arbitrary. God doesn't make arbitrary commands, that are then defined as good. Rather, God's commands flow necessarily from his unchanging nature. And good isn't arbitary, either, because God must be a necessary being with an unchanging nature. God couldn't simply decide to change the rules--to exchange good for evil and evil for good--because God is what he is, and couldn't be otherwise. All of this arguing entails that God is necessarily good, and he's good by nature. Goodness is an intrinsic part of God's nature.

Now that I think about it, there's a third way to show that God is good. Remember the most basic moral imperative is "Do good." All other moral imperatives basically say the same thing, but in more specific circumstances. All we have to do is ask ourselves a question: Would the world be a better place if everybody obeyed the moral commands, or if everybody disobeyed them? Obviously, the world would be a better place if we all cared for each other, helped each other out, never murdered, stole, or lied to each other, etc. It seems, then, that God commands us to do things that are in our best interest. But why should God care about us in the first place? We're just a tiny insignificant spec of dust in the universe that God could easily ignore. But not only has God given us the moral law, but he has always provided a means by which we can know what that law is. He has made the moral law known to us and impressed upon us by giving us a conscience, and the moral law is in our best interest. The conscience God gives us encourages us to do good and avoid evil by causing us to feel the incumbancy of morality before we even act. It seems, then, that God is good, and that God also cares about us.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie:  Finally reconciling evil with God's goodness


At 7/18/2005 7:45 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well i think there's an important objection to be made though, here.

While we *think* God prefers "good," since we know it is Gods power to eliminate evil, he must see some purpose to it as well. In which case evil is serving some purpose to God and therefore isn't even evil... it is good!

Now, God commands everything, Good and Bad... thats the issue... not whether or not God is "good"!

Is "evil" outside the domain of God?

Think of it this way. Let us say that your daughter is going out to a nice dinner with a boy, and you fear that maybe the boy isn't very nice - he's got tatoos and stuff. You tell her to come home right after dinner, but she disobeys you and goes to his house.

So you sneak and follow her to the house and you see the boy trying to rape your daughter. Now, isn't the responsible, good, thing to do, to jump in right there and STOP the evil act from happening, even though you knew your daughter shouldn't have gone there? The "I told you so" thing doesn't work there. Why dont you STOP the evil act, and punish your daughter anyway for disobeying you, getting the BEST of both worlds. Teaching her a lesson without her suffering a terrible rape, which no one deserves.

So you see... what seems arbitrary about God is that God works in "mysterious ways" in that he is obviously watching some terrible things happening, but he could stop it an also scold us but he doesn't.

At 7/19/2005 4:17 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think you make a good observation that if God is good and creats a world with evil in it, then evil must serve some good purpose. In fact, I was going to make that very point in an upcoming blog.

And you raise a good point--that if evil serves a good purpose, does that make evil good? From a utilitarian perspective, I reckon it would. But utilitarianism is problematic precisely because it assumes something is good because of its utility. For example, the greatest good for the greatest number of people may involve the death of an innocent person, but that is clearly not good in itself.

Likewise, though some evil may have results that are good, the evil event itself doesn't become good for that reason. Jesus dying on the cross, for example, resulted in salvation for many, but it didn't mean the Romans had done something good by crucifying him.

I can see why things like rape and God's lack of intervention would cause reason to doubt God's goodness. I think that is perfectly understandable. But can we rule out the possibility that God has a good reason for it?

Well, let's go back to the point you brought up earlier. You basically made this argument:

1. Whatever God does, he has a good reason for doing it (which follows from the fact that God is good).
2. God created a world in which Elizabeth got raped.
3. Therefore, God has a good reason for creating a world in which Elizabeth got raped.

If it can be shown that God is necessarily good (which I think my arguments in this blog show), then we can deduce that there's a good reason for the rape whether we know or understand that reason at all.

I readily admit that I don't understand how a loving God could allow so much evil to exist in this world, and it troubles me greatly. But logic forces me to believe God has a good reason for it. It seems clear to me that there is a difference between good and evil, but such a difference isn't possible unless there is an absolute standard of goodness which must be a personal being, and that personal being must be perfectly good. If God is perfectly good, and yet evil exists, then there must be a good reason for evil to exist.

That is no comfort to me emotionally, but intellectually, it's all I need.


At 7/19/2005 6:06 AM , Blogger Steve said...

but if something has a purpose... God's purpose, that purpose cannot be evil (assuming God is good). Thus, if we assume evil has a purpose (which we might have to, since god could eliminate it or stop it), then we might deduce that rape, murder, nuclear war, and other things are actually good from Gods perspective.

At 7/19/2005 6:28 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

The key, as you point out, is whose purpose it is. Go back to my example with Jesus. God's purpose in Jesus being killed was quite different than the Romans' purpose in killing Jesus.

As far as natural evil, the Bible admits that God directly causes it. In Isaiah, it says that God creates disaster (which some translations say "evil"). God isn't morally evil for creating natural evil if he has a morally good reason for doing it.

Even in our own experience, not all natural evil caused by humans is morally evil. Punishing criminals is one example. We inflict suffering on people as a punishment for crimes. The natural evil we inflict serves a good purpose.

Another human example is going to the dentist. The dentist causes suffering, but it's for a good purpose.


At 7/19/2005 6:30 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

By the way, Steve, I appreciate you livening this place up lately. It had been pretty quite for a while there with no comments.


At 7/19/2005 3:00 PM , Blogger Steve said...

i enjoy posting Sam, I've learned so much in like a week!

thank you for the lively debates, I'll keep posting!


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