Thursday, June 08, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 4

If God is sovereign over all events, including human action, then somehow or other, God is the ultimate cause for the motives that cause people to act, whether doing good or doing evil. Granted, God does use secondary means to accomplish his will, but I'm talking about utlimate causes. You can trace all these secondary causes back to God. Does that make God the author of sin? Is God responsible for sin? Is God evil?

Remember that the will is the proper object of command since the will is the faculty of choice. What makes a person worthy of praise is that they act on a good motive (i.e. make a good choice). What makes them worthy of blame is that they act on a bad motive (i.e. make a bad choice).

Now let's go back to that post I mentioned a while back on "Debunking Calvinism." The author said that if God causes John to kill Bill (whether by decreeing or implanting the desire), then John is blameless. God killed Bill.

But as we can see from my arguments, two agents were involved since two wills acted from two desires. God is ultimately responsible for Bill being killed, but God was not the one who actually killed Bill. John killed Bill. Since two different persons with two different wills were involved in Bill's death, we have to assess them individually to determine whether we should praise or blame them. We have to look at the individual motives that caused them to act.

The reason is because whether a person is morally justified in their action or not depends on the motive they acted on. That's why we always want to know what somebody's intention was. We ask, "Why did you do that?" And when we have inadvertently caused somebody else harm, we justify ourselves by saying, "I had a good reason for doing that," or "That's not what I meant to do; it was an accident. I meant to do something else." If they intended good, then we praise them, and if they intended bad, then we blame them. When looking at God and John, we are looking at two different actions. God's willful action was to decree or implant a desire in John. John's action was to kill Bill.

In the story of Joseph in the Bible, we find that God had a different intention than Joseph's brothers did in selling him into slavery. God meant it for good, but Joseph's brothers meant it for evil. God's intention was to save lives. Joseph's brothers intended to take out their jealousy on Joseph and rid him from their midst. Likewise, God's intention for having Judas betray Jesus was to save people, but Judas' intention was to make money.

So, to answer the question of whether God is the author of sin, he is in one sense, but not in another. He is not the author of sin in the sense of being the doer of a bad thing. God never acts on bad motives. God always acts on good intentions to bring about good results. However, God is the author of sin in the sense of bringing it about that others sin. This, however, does not make God wicked since God does it for good and praiseworthy ends. God is responsible for sin, not in the sense of committing it, but in the sense of disposing the world in such a way that others commit sin.

Part 5

to be continued...

12 Comments:

At 6/08/2006 4:06 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Ephphatha,

Coupla quick questions:

What possible means do you have to verify God’s motive? You make the assertion that God never acts on “bad motives” but “bad motives” had to come from somewhere. Ultimately, by your own proof—God.

Did God create in humans—“bad motives” something that is impossible for him? If so, what set of criteria do you use to determine what else is impossible for God to do, yet He created humans with the ability? See, without any way to determine what is impossible for God or not, there is no way to come up with any such set of criteria.

Why, for example, does God “bring it about” that others sin for “good and praiseworthy ends.” Is evil necessary? Or could God bring about the same “good and praiseworthy ends” without resorting to bringing it about that others sin?

Two events are troublesome, to me, in this regard.

David’s Census. 2 Sam. 24:1. God is angry at the Hebrews (for an unspecified sin) so God incites David to sin. Eventually 70,000 Hebrews are killed for this sin.

I understand that you are saying we cannot solely lay the blame on God, because it was David that “sinned.” (How it would be a sin to do a Census is also an unknown.)

But let’s assume that the Census was a sin, and God was justified in punishing the Hebrews for some reason.

Why have David sin? If God’s killing 70,000 was a “good and praiseworthy end” and God was justified in punishing the Hebrews, there is no need for David to be involved at all.

It would seem you would have to demonstrate some “necessity” for David sinning before God can punish. Which creates a dangerous situation, especially when talking about God’s motives. This would make God angry at Israel, but NOT justified in punishing them until He incited David to sin.

That would appear to make God’s motives questionable.

The second problem is David’s baby. God killed him directly. 2 Sam. 12:15. Why have the baby suffer for seven days? What motivation is there for God to do this? Why kill the baby in the first place--it didn’t sin!

For humans to choose between moral and immoral, the choices must exist first. God had to create morality and immorality before we could choose. Without the ability to verify what the Creator of Evil does or does not do, assigning motives to Him appears to be guesswork, honestly.

 
At 6/08/2006 9:49 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Howdy Dagoods!

What possible means do you have to verify God’s motive?

We've already talked about this several times before. Check out this entry.

Did God create in humans—“bad motives” something that is impossible for him?

It's impossible for any being to act contrary to its nature. Since God is wholly good, it's impossible for him to have bad motives. But it's not impossible for him to create bad motives in other people.

If so, what set of criteria do you use to determine what else is impossible for God to do, yet He created humans with the ability?

The law of non-contradiction is the primary criteria I use to determine what's impossible for God.

Is evil necessary?

It's not logically necessary, but it's necessary in the sense that it serves a purpose. Since it serves a purpose, it's necessary for there to be evil so that purpose can be met.

Why have David sin?

I'm not really sure why taking the census was a sin either. I'm sure you could come up with all sorts of puzzling scenarios in which we might ask, "What was God's purpose in that? Why couldn't have have done it some other way?" I readily admit that I don't know God's purposes exhaustively. It wouldn't further my argument a bit if I could give you a satisfactory answer to these several events, because even if I could, there would still be several more events we could question. In fact, things happen every single day for which we might ask, "Why did God do that?" This is basically the whole problem of evil. But the best that you can establish is that we're ignorant of God's purposes in most cases, which I readily admit.

Why have the baby suffer for seven days? What motivation is there for God to do this? Why kill the baby in the first place--it didn’t sin!

Let's admit that neither of us knows the answers to these questions. Where does that leave us? At an impasse, obviously. If we don't know his reasons, then we can't say whether his motives were good or evil just from observing the events alone. We've got to have some other kind of argument. I've argued elsewhere that God must be wholly good if he is the standard by which good and evil are distinguished. That justifies me in assuming God's motives are always good whether I know specifically what his motives are or not. I trust God, so I don't need to know the purpose behind his every act.

Without the ability to verify what the Creator of Evil does or does not do, assigning motives to Him appears to be guesswork, honestly.

If my arguments for God's goodness are unsound, then yes, I suppose it is guesswork.

 
At 6/09/2006 9:40 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Howdy back at you ephphatha. (And congratulations on graduating!)

I was not really using David’s Census or David’s baby as a “How do you explain that one!” but more of an example where God’s motives are not very clear, and by human standards would appear to be evil. Face it, if a human dictator acted as such, and we have no other information as to that dictator’s motives, we would call it evil.

Which has been my continual hesitancy in this area—we have no other information as to God’s motives.

I was actually thinking of that link, and I am glad you provided it. What I see (and hopefully you can explain) is when the going gets tough, we have a switch in methodology.

Two of your arguments that God is good are based on observations of humans. A human preference for good over evil, and the world would be a better place.

I am not trying to strawman you, so if I state this wrongly, please correct me. But it appears we could write this:

1. If humans prefer good over evil then God prefers good over evil.
2. If humans hold that the world would be better if good is exercised, then God holds that the world would be better if good is exercised.

While both arguments are fine, in and of themselves, it is the method behind them that I am observing. Simply put, we can see it boils down to a method of:

3: If humans A then God A.

(Frankly, I personally find this a sound argument in the world of theism.)

The problem comes in when I observe that while humans often DO prefer good, and often DO exercise good to make the world a better place, on occasions they also perform acts of evil and have bad motives.

If I apply the exact same methodology, I get:

4: If humans have bad motives, then God has bad motives.

And it is here that you say, “No, that is not possible.” I guess I am looking for a method by which you can claim humans prefer good, so God must, AND exclude humans have bad motives, so God must not. It would seem to stay consistent with your method, if humans can do it, then God can as well.

As to your third argument (second in order), it is simply an assertion that “God is good” without any argumentation. You assert it in a variety of ways, to be sure, but there is no proofing it out.

“God is good” is a comparative statement. It necessarily implies that in order to make some rational sense, we must also be able to discuss the possibility (maybe not the potential) of “God is NOT good.” Otherwise, we might as well say that “God is God” and be done with it.

To compare God to something, it must be external to Him. Otherwise, it has no meaning. I can’t bite this because we have no way to verify what that external good is, or whether God is following it or not.

I’ll try to explain. We are talking about a God. And we wrestle back and forth as to various concepts about this entity. Is it tall, is it short? Is it physical is it spiritual? Is it natural, is it supernatural? Can it replicate, can it create? And as we discuss it, various statements about this God are made.

And out pops, “God is good.” O.K. I have this entity. I have the idea of “good.” I weigh them in each hand, and come up with the comparison that they equate. But in order for it to have any meaning, there must be something out there, some “non-good” by which I can compare this God, and say, “Nope, that is not what this God is.” And that has to be external to God. (Since God is wholly good according to this argument.)

Now, if prior to any creation, all that existed was a God (a Good God) how can there be anything external to it? Worse, how can there be any comparison of this creature, if everything is internal?

I’ll try a (poor) analogy. “I am a man.” It is “internal” to me, in that I cannot be anything but a man. However, the statement ONLY has significance, because we are aware of something external to me that means I have the possibility of being something other than a man, and by stating “I am a man” I have limited that possibility. I could be a woman, a whale, a tablecloth.

We have something by which we can weigh me in one hand and a man, a woman, a whale, or a tablecloth in the other, and say, “He is a man.”

What we don’t have with God is the ability to place anything in that other hand! We do not have the ability to view God, and view “Good/Evil” in our other hand and say, “God is good” as compared to “God is evil.”

Further, the ONLY way we even know of the concepts of moral and immoral is by observing human nature. The philosophical argument that “God is evil” because we observe evil in the world is just as strong, and just as persuasive for “God is good.”

Well, not quite. You see, Humans have this thing called, “hope” in us. Many of us DO prefer good over evil. An evil God is too terrible to contemplate. So in the argument in the field of whether God is good over God is evil, people would much rather fall on the “God is good” side than the other. We have a natural bias toward it. Which should put us more on guard to not unconsciously slip into a preference for our bias.

Your arguments for God being good are not unsound. They are just equal for God being evil as well. And not as compelling as a God being the same as humans—moral, immoral, amoral and non-moral. Since that is what we see in creation, it would seem most logical that is what is in the creator.

 
At 6/09/2006 4:02 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Face it, if a human dictator acted as such, and we have no other information as to that dictator’s motives, we would call it evil.

I agree with that, and I think it's perfectly rational to raise the problem of evil because of it. There are two disconnects with the analogy, though. First, we have a higher capacity to understand dictators than we do gods, because dictators are people just like us. Whereas a God may be all knowing and all powerful with eternal purposes we have no capacity to grasp, humans are not like that. So it's much easier to figure out by mere observation whether a human is good or evil than it is to figure out by mere observation whether a god is good or evil.

Second, the philosophical case for the goodness of God that I made doesn't seem to work with people. Since we're in no position to judge gods in regards to the good or evil of their actions (since they're all knowing and have purposes we can never grasp), we have to rely on philosophical arguments. I think the philosophical arguments for God's goodness are sound, so I assume that whatever he does, however it may appear to me, God has a morally justifiable reason for doing it whether I know what that reason is or not. These philosophical arguments don't work for people, so we can't let the dictator off the hook because of them.

I don't think you've accurately represented my first argument for God's goodness. Whether people prefer good or evil is irrelevent to my argument. People often seem to prefer evil anyway. This is more like my argument:

1. By their definitions (not human preference), good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided.
2. God is the standard by which good and evil are distinguished.
3. Therefore, God prefers good over evil.

The second argument doesn't accurately represent my argument either. The problem with your representation is that you're confusing epistemology with ontology. The first premise in my argument is that people would be better off if they all lived morally, not that people believe they would be better off if they lived morally. And the second part isn't that God believes people would be better off if people lived morally, but that God has given a moral law that is in our best interest. So the argument goes something like this:

1. God has given us a moral law to live by.
2. Keeping the moral law is in our best interest.
3. Therefore, God has given us a way to live that is in our best interest.

“God is good” is a comparative statement....To compare God to something, it must be external to Him. Otherwise, it has no meaning.

If that's true, then we can have no universal standard of measurements. We calibrate our measuring devices to match whatever the universal standard happens to be. What's the value of the standard, then? If there is a universal standard of 1 pound (say some rock in some vault that we've decided to be the standard), then that rock must necessarily weight one pound. It's not meaningless to say so.

Suppose we wanted to have a universal standard of length called a hand, and we decided it would be the width of my hand. So whenever somebody says, "This horse is 19 hands tall at the shoulders," they mean it's 19 units of the width of my hand. And maybe they'd have wooden sticks with equal intervals of the width of my hand labled 1 hand, 2 hands, 3 hands, etc. How wide would my hand be? Well obviously, it's not meaningless to say that my hand is 1 hand wide. Granted we mean something different when we say my hand is one hand wide than when we say something else is one hand wide. But the difference is in the fact that my hand is necessarily one hand wide since it's the standard, but something else is measured in relation to an outside standard (my hand).

It's the same with God. If God is the standard of goodness, then it's not possible for God to be anything other than good. But God isn't good by comparison to some outside standard; rather, he is the standard.

 
At 6/12/2006 11:27 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha, I hope you know I had no intention of mis-representing your position or arguments, so I apologize for doing so.

Looking at what we have now:

1. By their definitions (not human preference), good is to be done, and evil is to be avoided.
2. God is the standard by which good and evil are distinguished.
3. Therefore, God prefers good over evil.


I still have concerns over No. 2 for Euthyphro reasons, of course. And for the reason we have no verification of this, that God IS the standard, other then mere fiat.

The problem, though, remains in the conclusion. Even a preference is not a mandate. God can still perform evil, despite preferring good. If you say that I am using the “human” definition of preference, then equally, I say you are using the “human” definition of good and evil. Where do the “human” definitions start or stop, and why?

Same problem with your dictator. We recognize what “evil” and “good” are, solely because of what we see humans do. If, as you understand, we cannot see what God does, we are unable to define what God determines as Good or Evil.

The only reason you have a philosophical argument is by our observation of humanity. To say it applies to God, but not humans, or to humans, but not God, removes the basis of the argument itself. Can we observe the world, and imply a creator, but then remove the creator from the world?

As to the second argument “God has given us a moral law to live by” this is unhelpful in the argument over God’s sovereignty or goodness. Whether God gave us a law does not preponderate toward him being sovereign or not, or moral or not.

He can give us a law, and be evil. He can give us a law, and not be sovereign. Or the opposite. The “giving of laws” does not provide any new information.

Further, the only “law” that God has given us has come from human lips. Not divine. If I recognize it is better to not murder because of the degradation of society, as a Human I can say, “Do not murder.” Saying, “God says, ‘Do not murder.’” Does not improve the law a bit.

We also recognize how society is better off with stop signs. Is that, too, a moral code from God? Of course not! Humans, recognizing what is good for society, and then placing a God “Stamp of Approval” on it is no different than humans recognizing what is good for society.

I liked the “hand” analogy. I think it is appropriate. It demonstrates exactly what I am saying. Using your hand as a standard of measurement, we have now eliminated other standards, such as my hand, for example.

The horse is 19 ephphatha’s hands tall. Not my hand, not paul’s hand, not Bill’s hand, not Jeff’s hand, not Sam’s hand (*wink*) not anybody else’s hand but yours.

The statement, “the Standard of Measurement is one ephphatha’s hand” we have made the comparative statement by which we have rendering meaning to the sentence. Further, we can compare other objects to see whether they are in conformance with this standard. It is an observable effect.

“God is good” provides us with none of that, if you define “goodness” as being God. Say “God is God” and be done with it.

(As a humorous aside, I would note that “Standards” are merely by collective agreement. Are you saying, in the same way, morality is merely by collective agreement? Just kidding--I understand the point of the analogy.)

What I see are too many unknowns. You can claim that it is impossible for God to do anything but good, but I observe what we would term as evil. It has to come from somewhere. If you hold to any of the cosmological arguments for God, it would have to come from God. And if we can do evil, there is no way to verify whether God does or not.

Our minds could not grasp the knowledge, capabilities, power, motivations, length, breadth or depth of a god. How can we have the audacity, then, to assert we know it is moral by any standards—human or otherwise?

 
At 6/12/2006 1:36 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Worrieth thou not, Dagoods. I didn't think your misrepresentation was intentional.

I suppose when you say you have a problem with the second premise "That God is the standard of good and evil," you're saying that having read the arguments I gave for it. If so, then you must disagree with my argument. If my argument is unsound, then I suppose you're right that we have nothing but fiat (or some other unknown argument) to say that God is the standard. I suppose there's no point in repeating my argument.

God can still perform evil, despite preferring good.

I guess that depends on what you mean. I've argued from compatibalism that it's impossible to act contrary to a preference. Our preferences determine our acts. Do you disagree with compatibalism?

Or are you using "can" in the natural sense rather than the moral sense? If so, then I would agree. God can, in the natural sense, do evil acts. That is, there is nothing physically preventing God from doing evil. He doesn't lack the power or natural ability to do evil things.

When I say God can't do evil, I mean it in the moral sense. All acts are determined by some inclination to act. It's a contradiction to say that God is inclined to do what he is not inclined to do. Since that's a contradiction, it's only possible for God to do what he is inclined to do. If God only prefers good, then, it's impossible for God to do evil. He would have a moral inability to do evil due to a lack of evil inclination.

I'm not really sure what you mean by "human definitions." These are human words, after all, so I would think they all have human meanings.

We recognize what “evil” and “good” are, solely because of what we see humans do.

Do you mean that our knowledge of good and evil comes from observing humans, or do you mean we recognize specific instances of good and evil by observing humans? If the former, then I disagree, but if the latter, then I agree. Before we can recognize that a certain act is good or evil, we have to have some knowledge of what good and evil are that is prior to observing the act.

My point isn't that we don't see what God does, and can therefore not determine whether it's good or evil merely by observing it. My point is that we don't know God's eternal purposes, his grand scheme, the big picture, so we can't know God's reasons for what he does. Since we can't know his reasons, we can't judge by mere observations whether his actions are justified or not. We have to rely on philosophical arguments or presuppositions to make that determination.

The only reason you have a philosophical argument is by our observation of humanity.

This makes me think that you're assuming our knowledge of good and evil comes by observing humans, rather than recognizing specific instances of good and evil we see humans do. While I can agree that our moral senses can be awakened by observation, I think moral knowledge is generally not empirical. The only way we can recognize an act as good or evil is if we have some knowledge of good and evil already.

Can we observe the world, and imply a creator, but then remove the creator from the world?

I really don't know what you mean here. I do think we can infer a creator by observing the world, but what do you mean by "remove the creator from the world"? Do you mean "come to the conclusion that the world and the creator are two different entities"? If so, then yes. Whenever we recognize the existence of a cause by its effect, we also recognize that the cause and the effect are two different entities. For example, a muffin is evidence of a baker, but the muffin and the baker are not the same entity.

I've probably misunderstood your question, but assuming I haven't, what is the point of the question? I'm just having a hard time following your arguments.

It sounds like you're sort of making a cosmological argument for the eviality of God. (Eviality is a new word.) Your argument seems to go something like this:

1. Whatever properties are in the effect, they must also be in the cause.
2. There is evil in the creation.
3. Therefore, there is evil in the creator.

Is that what you're trying to say?

I agree that it is logically possible for God to be evil and give us a law that prescribes good. God giving us the law was the third argument I made for God's goodness, and unlike the first two arguments, it was not meant to be deductive. It's an inductive argument. It just seems to me that if God is going to bother to give us a law that would greatly be in our best interest if we kept it, this is evidence of his goodness. If we kept the moral law, there would be no problem of moral evil. We complain about moral evil even though God has given us the solution to it.

Further, the only “law” that God has given us has come from human lips. Not divine.

Whether the law comes from God or humans is a completely different debate. The link I gave you to above about the goodness of God came after some posts I made arguing that the moral law comes from God. So the post you read assumes as a premise that the moral law comes from God. Of course if it doesn't, then all this talk about whether God is good or evil is pointless.

If I recognize it is better to not murder because of the degradation of society...

You could only recognize that if you already knew the degredation of society was a bad thing or that preventing the degredation of society is a good thing. You see, most of the moral values we have, we have them for a reason, and the reason is always another moral value. You can't get an "ought" from an "is," so all "oughts" derive from prior "oughts" until you come to some basic "oughts" that aren't derived at all. There must be some basic standard of good and evil before anything else can be good or evil by that standard. So yes, saying, "God says 'do not murder'" does give legitimacy to our saying, "Do not murder." Even if we say, "Do not murder," since it degrades society, we must then go on to ask, "But what's wrong with the degredation of society?" And then you'd have to give a moral justification for that. The answer would have to be because of another moral value. Eventually, you'd have to come to some foundation for all moral values. As I've argued elsewhere, that foundation must be a sentient being. Nothing matters unless there's somebody it matters to. If life has any value at all, then there must be a sentient being who is the source of that value. All morals, in fact, must derive from a sentient being. If that being is God, then of course God forbidding murder gives legitimacy to us forbidding murder.

We also recognize how society is better off with stop signs. Is that, too, a moral code from God? Of course not!

But, Dagoods, surely you recognize there's a reason we have stop signs. It serves some good purpose. There is a moral justification for it. And if I asked you why we should bother with them, I'm sure you could give me some good reasons that would all have something to do with the good of society. There's a moral reason people ought to stop when they see one. If all morals derive ultimately from God, then yes, the moral imperative to stop at stop signs comes from God. This is consistent with the Bible, too. In Romans 13, for example, we are told to obey the civil law because it serves a good purpose--a purpose God has in establishing governments. Paul even writes that "he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God" (Romans 13:2).

You seem to understand the hand analogy, but I'm not sure why you don't think it applies to the statement, "God is good." You seem to be saying, "God is good," would then be a meaningless tautology: "God is God."

Well in the hand analogy, saying, "ephphatha's hand is one ephphatha's hand wide," is not a tautology, because my hand has more properties than width. It has flesh and bone, it has dexterity, texture, colour, length, etc. So when I say, "Sam's hand is one hand wide," I'm not saying, "Sam's hand is Sam's hand." In the same way, when we say, "God is good," we are not saying "God is God." God has other attributes besides goodness. He also has sentience and power. If it is meaningful to say that my hand is one hand wide (which it must necessarily be if my hand is the standard of length), then it is also meaningful to say that God is good (which he must necessarily be if he is the standard of morality).

You can claim that it is impossible for God to do anything but good, but I observe what we would term as evil.

But how can you call it evil if you don't know whether God has a justifiable reason for it or not? When you call anything God does evil, aren't you assuming that you know God has no moral justification for it?

Our minds could not grasp the knowledge, capabilities, power, motivations, length, breadth or depth of a god. How can we have the audacity, then, to assert we know it is moral by any standards—human or otherwise?

But, Dagoods, you're contradicting yourself. First, you said, using the dictator analogy, that we can call God's actions evil. Now you're saying God is too great for us to have the audacity to make moral judgements about God. Which is it?

I've already answered your question for myself. I agree that our minds cannot fully grasp the knowledge and motivations of God, which is why I think we're in no position to make moral judgements about God merely by observing his acts. Instead, I have a philosophical argument for God's goodness, and I assume his acts are good based on that argument.

Since you agree that our minds cannot grasp God's motivations, how can you turn around and make moral judgements about his actions just by observing them?

 
At 6/13/2006 10:22 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Ephphatha – two quick side notes.

One. I see that I have taken this a bit far a field from your original blog, and while I did not intend to do so, I have enjoyed the conversation very much, so I do not regret doing so. Perhaps I should, but I do not.

Two. A few months ago I was reading on another Christian philosophical blog how it was obvious that God was not limited, and has the free will to commit evil, but deliberately chooses to not. I wish I could find it to point it out. I think either position is difficult to maintain in light of lack of verification, I just find it slightly humorous that both sides of the fence are adamant.

Let me take you last question. How do I make moral judgments about God? I don’t. There isn’t one. I make moral judgments about what other humans tell me their particular God does. And I question the morality of what the human claims that God does. And what I see are theists that hesitate and swallow. They realize the problem of aligning “Good God” with some event, and therefore retreat to “we can’t know” or “mysterious God.”

I find this position bankrupt of persuasion. To be told of a God that a person desires (i.e. a “good” God) and then run from the difficult questions as unknowns tells me the person really has no clue at all about what God is or is not like, and it is all built on a hope.

We have these ideas, these concepts. “Good.” “Evil.” “God.” I am lining them up and seeing how we come up with them, how they have any meaning, and whether they align or not.

The only way we know of “Good” is by humans. From what we observe other humans do, from what we ourselves as humans develop as a conscience, (although that is instilled from our environment around other humans) from what we learn, etc. “Good” in and of itself is not objectively observable. Your measurement by hand is objectively observable. I can see your hand, use it, compare it, and others as well would also be able to.

By “objectively observable” I mean there is no rock in the universe with morality imprinted in golden permanent ink, no Ultimate Being that has proclaimed, by definition, what is “good” as universally seen.

[You indicate that I would have to give some moral justification of why “degradation of society” is immoral. And some moral justification for that reason. Approaching an infinite regress. You indicate that at some point one must have a foundation for all moral values. O.K. I define “degradation of society” as bad. Done. See, you simply “define” good as that which is preferred. What gives you the right to define a word more than I? Or even a concept? Like it or spike it, to some extent, ALL moral determinations are relative.

I can play the same game, asking where your moral foundation is, and eventually you come to a God by definition. But you have subjectively picked the God of Christianity. It was a human choice. The hardest part for an absolute objective moralist is the fact that they are unable to convince other humans of the absolute objective morals. You may claim they exist, but are unknown, but that, too, is unpersuasive. What gives your unknown absolute morals any more viability than another’s unknown absolute morals?]

I am not trying to digress, but am pointing out that the definition and concept of “Good,” as we use it is amorphous at best, and each human is subjectively picking a standard. They may entitled it “objective” or “absolute” but it still boils down to a human choice as to which is the better system.

Our concept of God also comes solely from humans. Either another human telling us, another human writing it, or our own human mind internally interacting with it. There is no objective God to observe. No, “Hey, look. Its God!”

And, therefore, we have countless concepts of “Good,” and countless concepts of “God,” neither of which can be objectively determined.

I continue to attempt to determine what I should be observing in one hand as “God” and what I should be observing in the other as “Good” and whether that aligns with what I see in the world today. We are constantly left with the problem that any claim of God’s sovereignty and observation of what we call evil, with God as the ultimate cause, means that God is the cause of Evil.

Again, where I stumble is that if the Cause of Evil does or does not commit an Evil act, how would we know?

As to your hand analogy, having more attributes does not remove “God is Good” from being a tautology. You indicate:

1) If God is good, then He is the standard of Morality.
2) If God is the standard of morality, then He is good.

That is simply saying “God is God.” While he may have other things such as power and intelligence, in the field of morality, he has nothing but himself. Your hand may have veins and fingernails, but in the area of a Standard of Measurement, it only has itself.

Look, in order for “God is Good” to have meaning, we have to know what “God is Evil” means. If God is both solely good (because it is impossible for him to do evil) and the standard, we cannot know what “God is Evil” means.

If you tell me “that boy is tall” my mind has a way of understanding the comparison. We may not agree on “tall,” but at least I understand the idea. “The truck is red,” “He has power” all are comparative statements, by which they only have meaning because we understand the possibility of the thing NOT being tall, red or powerful.

If I tell you my ideas are “green” we stop to lose comparative analysis. You do not know what a “green” idea or a “red” idea is. This starts to break down as making no sense.

The only way in which you and I can discuss “God is good” is to know what this means. And to do that, we must have some concept of “Good” that is different than God himself. Some way in which we can say, “That is what it would look like if God did something Evil.”

And that is what we have when we look at the God of Christianity. Humans know when their God is doing something they think is evil, because of their reactions. That tells me I do not have to have a standard by which to compare God, they already do!

I love these cross-examinations:

Q: Did you have an affair with your secretary?
A: No.
Q: Did you have an affair with your nanny?
A: No.
Q: Did you have an affair with the dog groomer?
A: I don’t remember.

It is obvious what happened there. It is the same way with the Christian God:

Q: Is God good for sending Jesus?
A: Yes, of course.
Q: Is God good for providing redemption?
A: Yes, of course.
Q: Is God good for killing the Midianite boys? (Numbers 31)
A: We don’t know what God’s motives are.

Do you see how it becomes obvious the problem. Clearly even the Christian stumbles at this question. Why? Because humans have this concept of “Good” that doesn’t align with what is being proclaimed God did. They want to call God “good” but see an action that every part of their human being says is “evil.” So we develop long philosophical arguments that boil down to “God is good because we hope it is true, but bottom-line is we cannot know.”

I am not trying to down-play your arguments. Nor am I saying that others may find them intellectually stimulating. I do not find them persuasive.

Can God sin? You say God “can” in a physical sense, but “cannot” in a moral sense. I am looking for a simple yes/no answer. What I see is a bit of double-talk. If it is “impossible” for God to sin (because of moral, criminal, instinct or any other reason) then I see it as physically impossible for God to sin. If it is physically possible for God to sin, then his morals must allow for the possibility.

I guess I do not see how one can have both bites of this apple. Consider me a simple man with little philosophy. Can God sin?

You seem to say that since God has the physical ability to sin, he created that in humans. But (according to this argument) God ALSO has the moral inability to sin. Where did the human moral ability to sin come from, if not from God?

That goes back to my original response to this Blog. You seem to be saying the physical ability to sin must be in the Ultimate cause, because the human has it. But the moral ability is there as well. Again, a consistent methodology would seem to say that the moral ability must equally have come from the Ultimate cause.

It sounds like you're sort of making a cosmological argument for the eviality of God. (Eviality is a new word.) Your argument seems to go something like this:

1. Whatever properties are in the effect, they must also be in the cause.
2. There is evil in the creation.
3. Therefore, there is evil in the creator.

Is that what you're trying to say?
Yeah, that sums it up nice enough. I would add that I am countering the claim that “there is good in the universe, so there must be good in the creator.” I have yet to see how those two can be separated out, especially since the same methodology is being used.

Remember, it is you that started off saying “God is the ultimate cause” in that he brings about the opportunity for others to sin. If the creator cannot have the “opportunity to sin” how can He create a creature with such an opportunity?

I can see how God could create creatures with less abilities. But not more than what God Himself can do.

When you call anything God does evil, aren't you assuming that you know God has no moral justification for it?

The same way you assume that God has a moral justification for it. What makes your assumption more persuasive than mine?

What I am saying, is that without the ability to verify, calling any action on the part of God “good” or “evil” is, frankly, meaningless.

I think we have reached the inevitable impasse. I probably won’t respond to your reply. Not because I don’t enjoy this—not at all! But there comes a point where we must part ways.

Thank you for the enjoyable discussion.

 
At 6/13/2006 12:26 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods, I think it's hilarious how you always say things like, "Coupla questions..." or "two quick side notes..." and then your post ends up being really long.

I'm also uncomfortable with Christians (or anybody) punting to mystery every time they can't solve a problem in their worldview. In fact, I wrote a blog about that here. But in my case, I'm not using an illegitimate tactic by punting to mystery. I'm not just blindly hoping God has a good reason for the evil I see about me. Rather, I have what seems to me to be a sound argument that God is not only good, but necessarily good. My conclusion that God has a good reason for evil follows deductively. If God is necessariy good, and God brings about a world containing evil, it follows necessarily that God has a morally good reason for bringing about a world containing evil. Since I've come to that conclusion without having to figure out specifically what his reasons are, it is not illegitimate of me to say his reasons are a mystery. Without my philosophical arguments for God's goodness, I would completely agree with you. In the face of miserable suffering, I would have to either conclude that God doesn't care, or else I would have to rely on blind hope that God has a morally justifiable reason.

You seem to be bringing up the whole moral-judgment-by-observation point, using humans as the prime example. I'm afraid I still don't agree with you here. What I have said about God applies even to people. Even with people, we cannot always assess the morality of their actions merely by observing them.

Let me give you an example. I was watching an episode of Gunsmoke one time. Festus had some hillbilly friends who lived in isolation from the world around them. They were extremely ignorant people. But one of their own had gotten sick and they couldn't heal him. So they sent for a doctor, and Festus escorted the doctor out there. When the doctor examined the man, he found that he could hardly breathe. There was a blockage in his throat or something. To save his life, the doctor performed a tracheotomy. That's where you cut the windpipe at the throat and insert a tube, allowing the person to breathe. Now obviously, we understand these kinds of medical procedures, and since we understand them, we also understand that the doctor was cutting his throat for good and praiseworthy ends. But the hillbillies only saw the doctor cutting the man's throat, and in their mind, cutting somebody's throat means killing them. And unfortunately for the doctor, the patient died. So they proceeded to hang the doctor. They assumed the man died because the doctor cut his throat. That's what they saw. They saw the doctor cut his throat, and then they saw the patient die. What else COULD they conclude without any knowledge of what a tracheotomy is?

What this illustrates is that we can't always assess the morality of somebody's actions merely by observing them. We have to taken into account what their motives were. If that's true with humans, think how much more true it must be with God! There is a tiny gap in knowledge between a hillbilly and a doctor, so how big do you think the gap in knowledge is between a doctor and an all-knowing God? At the very least, I think, we ought to be hesitant about judging God based merely on his actions without knowing what his motives are or what his long term objectives are. This seems so obvious to me that I'm surprised you would even question it.

Now to the foundation of morals. I find God to be the foundation of morals, and you seem to think my "choice" is just as arbitrary as you simply defining "degredation of society" as bad. There's a very simple reason why my argument is sound and yours is not. It's because morals, if they are to be objective, must find their origin in a necessary transcendent and sentient being such as God. I wrote about that here and here. Human conventions are not a sufficient basis for objective moral values, but God is.

And no, I don't "subjectively pick the God of Christianity." Rather, I argue that it's a God based on the moral argument for God's existence, and I base my belief that it's specifically the Christian God on the resurrection of Jesus. You've got to stop subjectively assuming what's going on in my head all the time.

You point out that all of our knowledge (about God and otherwise) comes from other humans--either somebody else telling us, or our own minds internally interacting with it. We don't observe God himself, so, you say, there's no way to objectively verify anything that people say about God. We can't look at what people say, and then go out and observe God in order to determine that what they say corresponds to reality.

But this argument mistakenly assumes that the only way we can know anything about God is by physically observing him. On the contrary, philosophical reasoning can tell us plenty about God. Moral arguments, design arguments, cosmological arguments, and even historical arguments can tell us things about God. You can't just come to a Christian blog and expect everybody to grant, as you do, that all these arguments have already been thoroughly refuted. Only if they've been thoroughly refuted can your argument work.

But even then, your argument is not without its weaknesses. All knowledge happens in the mind. If that "knowledge" is to be doubted merely on the basis that it's "our own minds internally interacting with it," then we can have no knowledge whatsoever. But clearly, we do have knowledge. The fact that we process knowledge with our own human minds is no reason to doubt it.

Again, where I stumble is that if the Cause of Evil does or does not commit an Evil act, how would we know?

I have already answered that question over and over for you. I don't know why you keep asking it.

1) If God is good, then He is the standard of Morality.
2) If God is the standard of morality, then He is good.


Two, I did say. One, I never said.

I don't see how you can think "God is good" is the same tautology as "God is God." A tautology is when what you have on one side of the "is" is exactly the same thing as you have on the other side of the "is." When we say "God is God," there is exactly the same thing on one side of the "is" as there is on the other side of the "is." But when we say "God is good," there is far more on one side of the "is" than there is on the other side of the "is." So it is not a tautology.

You seem to be arguing that unless we can imagine what it's like for something to not be what it is, then it's meaningless to say what it is. That, I don't agree with. A yard stick is three feet long. If it were not three feet long, it wouldn't be a yard stick, so I can't imagine a yard stick not being three feet long. But that doesn't make it meaningless for me to say a yard stick is three feet long. Some people may not know how many feet are in a yard. It's not a meaningless question if they ask, and it's not a meaningless answer if I tell them.

They want to call God “good” but see an action that every part of their human being says is “evil.”

I agree with this. On the face of it, many things God does do seem evil. By then again, the actions of the doctor in Gun Smoke also seemed evil to the hillbillies, yet they were not.

So we develop long philosophical arguments that boil down to “God is good because we hope it is true, but bottom-line is we cannot know.”

You know good and well that's not what my philosophical arguments boil down to. If you don't find my arguments to be pursuasive (and you've said you don't), that's fine, but surely if you understand the arguments, you must know they don't boil down to "I hope, but I don't know for sure, that God is good."

It sounds like you don't buy the distinction I make between moral abilities and natural abilities. I don't understand why it escapes you. It seems perfectly obvious to me that there's a difference between having the sheer power to do something, but having no inclination whatsoever to do it. So the reason for your inability is morally relevent. I grant fully that God has the power to sin. God, however, has no inclination whatsoever to sin, if he is wholly good. God could sin if he wanted to. He just doesn't want to. And without the desire, he is unable. You can't want to do what you don't want to do, because that's a logical contradiction. He has a moral inability to sin, not a natural inability. This is not double talk.

No, I'm not saying that God was able to create humans with the ability to sin just because he has the ability to sin. All that's necessary for God to create both the physical and moral ability to sin is that God have both the physical and moral ability to create humans that way. I don't think God needs to have the physical ability to sin in order to create that physical ability in humans, and I don't think God needs to have the moral ability to sin in order to create the moral ability in humans.

I think you have misunderstood me to be making some kind of cosmological argument for God's goodness. I've never argued that since there is good in the creation there must be good in God. And I don't agree with the first premise in your argument (i.e. Whatever properties are in the effect, they must also be in the cause). That's why a cosmological argument for God's eviality would be just as unsound as a cosmological argument for God's goodness. I don't think it follows at all that if people have some property, that God must also have that property.

Neither God nor humans have the ability to act contrary to their intentions. All willful acts are in accordance with our intentions, so it would be a contradiction to say that we intentionally acted contrary to our intentions. So in that since, God has not given humans an ability that he lacks. They both have an ability to act according to their intentions and an inability to act contrary to their intentions.

The question is, "Can God cause somebody to intend to do something that God himself doesn't intend to do?" And I see no reason to think he couldn't. All God would need is some intention to cause somebody else to have an intention to do something. If God wanted me to eat a bowl of ice cream, he could easily cause me to have a mental disposition in which I wanted to eat a bowl of ice cream, even if God himself did not want to eat a bowl of ice cream. Where is the difficulty?

When you call anything God does evil, aren't you assuming that you know God has no moral justification for it?

The same way you assume that God has a moral justification for it. What makes your assumption more persuasive than mine?


The fact that I have an argument and you don't. Again, I do not just assume God has a moral justification. I gave arguments to show that God has a moral justification. You have not given any argument to show that he has no moral justification. It is you who has merely assumed, not me.

Thank you for the enjoyable discussion.

Thank you, too. Even if we have reached an impasse, I hope that we've at least come to understand each other a little better. I've gotten the feeling since you've been coming to my blog that we've just been getting stuck on the same issues over and over without making any progress.

 
At 6/14/2006 9:13 AM , Blogger DagoodS said...

Oh ho! A challenge to come up with something new, eh?

Alrighty then.

I have typically seen actions divided into four possibilities:

1) Moral
2) Immoral
3) Non-moral
4) Amoral.

We have beaten the moral/immoral horse for a while, what about the other two? A non-moral action is one that has no moral or immoral implications. Such as picking one’s sock color, or looking in a rearview mirror while driving. An amoral action is one which the person lacks the ability to make a moral intent, such as a child, or a person with impaired mental capability.

You indicated God can physically AND morally perform a moral action. God can physically, but not morally perform an immoral action. Can God physically and/or morally perform a non-moral action? Can God physically and/or morally perform an amoral action?

If moral, by definition, is preferred over immoral, where do non-moral and amoral fit in the preference hierarchy?

 
At 6/14/2006 10:49 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dagoods,

When I use the term "moral ability" I'm including all inclinations, dispositions, motives, etc., whether they strictly have moral significance or not. I suppose if you wanted to be more precise you might use another word besides "moral" but I hoped my explanation would clarify what I meant by the term. So yes, I think God can perform non-moral actions such as choosing one sock colour over another, as long as he has the inclination to do so.

I'm not entirely sure about that, though. One might argue that anything God chooses, he chooses it for some good purpose, which would make it a moral choice. But on the other hand, two different options might serve the same good purpose, in which case his choice of one thing instead of the other might be considered non-moral.

If I understand your definition of an amoral action, I don't think it's logically possible for God to do that. You stipulated that an amoral action is one in which a person lacks the ability to have moral intent. So if God does not lack the ability to have a moral intent, then it's not possible for God to perform an amoral action.

 
At 6/14/2006 1:31 PM , Blogger DagoodS said...

ephphatha – I understood (I think) what you meant by moral ability. Even non-moral and amoral actions have moral significance, in that they are not moral or immoral. It is how we differentiate them.

If I choose to push a stick, it is a non-moral action. If that stick is attached to a detonator with dynamite, it is still a non-moral action. If I realize that the bomb will kill people, it becomes a moral issue. The non-morality of the situation was significant, because upon differing situations the same act would no longer be in the category of “non-moral” and fall into a different category.

I didn’t figure out where you landed on whether God can commit a non-moral action. If every action God performs is a moral action, then we lose all categorization. By placing an ocean between America and England, God had no choice—to do anything else would have been immoral. Placing a certain planet on a certain galaxy billions of light years away, billions of years ago absolutely, positively had to be done, and to do anything but would be immoral.

And creating humans with the capability and opportunity to be immoral is actual a moral act. God allowing, and not preventing humans from doing immoral acts must be moral. Everything, everywhere, every how boils down to being a moral act. We become incapable of doing anything but moral acts. We may (and even GOD may) term them as something else, but every act, as an end result, is moral.

Even choosing between two moral acts does not make (by definition) that act non-moral. I can choose to give money to the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Each act is moral. Simply by having a choice, it does not render my providing money to the Red Cross as “non-moral.” The categorization and definition looks to the act itself, not necessarily other alternatives. (In the same way, I could say I have a choice to punch you or kick you, and since both are immoral acts, I have now rendered it non-moral by enunciating a choice!)

The reason I asked where non-moral falls on the preference hierarchy is that you indicated (as an argument for God being moral) “moral” is by definition that which is preferred over “immoral.” (I am avoiding the term “good” for this response, although I typically interchange “good” for “moral.” “Good” has a variety of meanings that can cause confusion.)

However, “non-moral” equally is preferred over “immoral.” Shoot, so is “amoral” for that matter, although usually amoral is in regards to an action we would think of as immoral, it does not have to be.

Using your same argument, if God must be what is preferred, and therefore God is moral, in the same argument, if non-moral is what is preferred, therefore God is non-moral as well.

If God cannot commit an amoral action, where did THAT come from? You indicate you act on the law of non-contradiction for determining what is possible for God. That in order to discuss God we must be confined by logic.

You have said it is impossible for God to do an amoral act. Yet God can create a human to do what is impossible for Him to do?

By the law of non-contradiction, God cannot create a rock he cannot lift. It is impossible. Illogical. But God can create a human that can do what is impossible for God.

We have now changed the age-old adage to “Can God create a human that can make a rock God can’t lift?” Fascinating. Or, if it is impossible for God to violate the laws of logic, can he create humans that can? How can I trust your logic, then? Perhaps God made you to do that which he cannot-contradict! *wink*

Can God perform a non-moral action? And if he lacks the physical ability to perform an amoral action—how can he create a creature to do that which is impossible for Him? This is a God we are talking about, not a car manufacturer.

 
At 6/14/2006 5:49 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

I didn’t figure out where you landed on whether God can commit a non-moral action.

That's because I'm not sure. I can see how it could be argued either way, but I haven't thought it through enough myself.

If God can only perform moral acts, then I agree with everything you said follows from it until you got to the part where you said, "We become incapable of doing anything but moral acts." Remember that the morality of any act depends on the will that was engaged in acting. That goes back to the whole point of my original post. If God acts by creating a being who does evil, and then the being does evil, there are two wills acting on two motives. God has one will, and the evil doer has another will. God act in creating the person may be a moral act while the person's acts may NOT be moral. So it doesn't follow that just because everything God does, it's moral for him to do it, that everything we do, it's moral for us to do it as well.

Our evil acts may serve good moral purposes, but they are not for that reason moral for us to do them. The reason is that we may be doing them for evil purposes. God may have a good purpose in it, in which case it's not immoral for him to cause us to do it, but we may have an evil purpose in it, in which case it IS immoral for us to do it.

Even choosing between two moral acts does not make (by definition) that act non-moral.

If that's true, then the analogy I gave above about God choosing between two equal options to serve the same good purpose does not show that God can do a non-moral act. The choice would still be a moral act.

In the same way, I could say I have a choice to punch you or kick you, and since both are immoral acts, I have now rendered it non-moral by enunciating a choice!

I think you have a good point there. Couldn't you say, though, that within the overall morally significant choice to harm me in the first place, the choice of how to harm me is non-moral as long as one way is just as bad as the other?

The reason I asked where non-moral falls on the preference hierarchy is that you indicated (as an argument for God being moral) “moral” is by definition that which is preferred over “immoral.”

Okay, I see where you're going now. Let me clarify a bit. It could be that everything God does, he does out of moral necessity. In other words, he ought to do it. It would be immoral not to do it. But it could also be that God is capable of non-moral acts--acts that are neither obligatory nor wrong. When I say that everything God prefers is "moral," I mean more specifically that it is morally justified. In other words, it's not immoral. It doesn't violate any standards of goodness. So it could be positively moral, or it could be non-moral. Neither kinds of choices are immoral.

If God cannot commit an amoral action, where did THAT come from?

Well, the way you defined "amoral" above, I don't see how it's possible for any intentional act by any being whatsoever to be amoral. The only kind of amoral acts that are possible are involuntary acts, since they are not intentional. If there are amoral acts, according to your definition, I suppose they may come from having mental impairments just as you said.

Yet God can create a human to do what is impossible for Him to do?

Yes. Neither God nor humans can act contrary to their own inclinations. So all that's necessary for a human to do what God cannot do is for a human to have an inclination that God does not have. I used the ice cream analogy above. A human may want to eat ice cream even if God does not want to eat ice cream. I don't see the difficulty in that.

Or, if it is impossible for God to violate the laws of logic, can he create humans that can?

No, I don't think it's possible for logic to be violated, so it's not possible to create anything that can violate the laws of logic.

And if he lacks the physical ability to perform an amoral action—how can he create a creature to do that which is impossible for Him?

By giving them a mental impairment, I suppose.

 

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