"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Against my better judgement...

I have engaged Stephen Law over at his blog. He has a delightfully entertaining thought experiment going called "The God of Eth" in which he considered the possibility of God being "all evil". He then goes on to use the same arguments the theists use to support their "good God" hypothesis to support his hypothesis. He feels the evil God concept can be equally supported using traditional arguments for an all good God, therefore if one feels an all evil God is ridiculous, then the same should be true for the idea of an all good God.

Obviously I disagree with him. You can see my initial response here and the continuation of our discourse here.

I predict I will be put to shame fairly quick as Stephen (and probably many of his visitors) is a respected philosopher in his field and I'm just some schmuck art major from Minnesota. Either way it's an interesting conversation that hopefully will progress my thoughts on this issue.

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28 Comments:

Blogger Matt M said...

I almost got Law's 'The Philosophy Gym' yesterday, but opted from John Gray's 'Straw Dogs' - or, as I like to think of it, 'The Humanist Delusion' - instead.

Deciding to pop into bookstores for a quick browse is an unhealthy pastime where my bank balance is concerned.

10:18 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I like this comment by Law:

When I discussed the God of Eth with Richard Swinburne and Tim Mawson (Oxford dons both expert on religion)


Shades of psychological warfare?

11:20 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Shades of psychological warfare?

Heh. Perhaps! I have to admit I think it's pretty sweet that someone who has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Swinburne and co. is even taking the time to respond to me.

Thanks for jumping in there. I appreciated that.

7:36 PM

 
Blogger james higham said...

Just to say to both you and Matt - have a wonderful Easter break.

1:18 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks James!
I wish the same for you as well.

7:26 AM

 
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Logically impossible, Alex. Good is God, and God is Good.
Whatever God is, is good.
Since God is stronger than the devil, it is his side that is Good, whatever.
If Stephen Law is correct, he is meely defining Good in a different way to everyone else.

9:21 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Crushed,
And that's exactly why I think his thought experiment does not stand. In his experiement he uses good in the same way we not understand it, but in a world where God was what we now call evil the standard of good and evil would be completely different than we now now it. It just doesn't work out.

I think where he is missing me is he may feel there is some other way to measure good and evil aside from God's character. I just don't buy it. It there is no God then there is no such thing as good or evil.

10:00 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Since God is stronger than the devil, it is his side that is Good, whatever.

So... might makes right?

I think where he is missing me is he may feel there is some other way to measure good and evil aside from God's character.

Surely this makes the terms fairly meaningless?

How do you know that God's standard is worthwhile?

10:09 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"How do you know that God's standard is worthwhile?"

There's no way to know, it's entirely dependent on faith.

Incidentally, in the past, some heretics - namely the Albigensian Good Christians of the middle ages - are believed to have preached that The Creator, the God of the OT, was evil and worked in opposition to a purely spiritual goodness. Thus handily explaining the fact that the creator countenanced suffering within his creation. Taken purely as a good yarn, the notion that the Devil created the Earth appeals to my sense of good dramatic irony.

It just goes to show, there are a million ways to spin a theology; it really comes to nothing more than how one is brought up as to which kind of theology is adhered to.

1:29 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

So... might makes right?

Nah, I don't think this is it either. I don't think God is good simply because he's stronger than Satan. He made Satan, and when he made Satan, he made him good. But as with all freedom comes the possibility of rejection.

God is Good because there simply is no other standard but Him.

Surely this makes the terms fairly meaningless?

How do you see it?

How do you know that God's standard is worthwhile?

If there is no other standard but His, then I don't see that you have much choice. If God is true where else will you go to find a standard to live by? If He is the standard, then how would you have any hope of finding or even knowing any other standard?

Your question only holds if God is subservient to a higher moral good ethic. I don't think this is possible. If it were so, God would not be God.

8:10 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

God is Good because there simply is no other standard but Him.

Why should I reject my preferences in favour of God's preferences? If I think something is right, but God thinks it's wrong, why should I submit to His judgment?

I have my own standard.

How do you see it?

It means you can't say that genocide is bad, merely that God didn't want a particular genocide. If God decided to wipe out an entire people (as I believe he did a few times in the OT), you have no basis for saying that this action is anything other than good.

Is this your position?

10:41 AM

 
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Your reasoning is flawed, Matt.
Since God is the Prime Movr, any universe will be perfect TO HIS STANDARD. Therefore what we FEEL INSTINCTIVELYto be the absolut good, would necessarily be so. It stands to reason that our conscience would ALWAYS be th little bit of God in us, if you accept the Theistic line. It is inconceivable that God would design being whose consciences told them to do what he regred as bad (as in him being an evil god).

Good is what our hearts tell us good.
So yes, it IS an absolute standard. Our consciences are the crying ou, ainst all the voices, of tha absolute standard, perfection.

11:16 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

It is inconceivable that God would design beings whose consciences told them to do what he regarded as bad

My conscience leads me to being a pacifist (who regards violence as an occasional necessary evil) vegetarian who's incredibly libertarian when it comes to how other people choose to live their lives.

You with me?

11:44 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"He made Satan, and when he made Satan, he made him good."

But with the inherent capacity to be evil. That's the paradox that we're stuck with at the moment. For Satan to have the capacity for evil, his creator must have instilled it within him. If the creator did not, then the evil must have come from elsewhere, which would indicate that God is not a singular source of morality. Which takes us back to Matt's Q of how do we necessarily know that God's moral compass points the right way?

Now, most Christians believe that God is the only source of morality, but this leaves the problem of evil unresolved. Interestingly, the Hebrews didn't have this problem. They appealed to God's divine authority rather than God's divine morality. The OT is very specific about following God because you'll be in trouble if you don't (for he is a jealous God etc), as opposed to following God because he is intrinsically good. Likely under the influence of helenism Christianity switched that emphasis and moved away from the idea of God as vengeful and jealous to a more goodly God fitting in with contemporary ideas of what was right and wrong (these being very, very different to the OT). But they were immediately stuck with central question of where evil must have come from. The solution was to steal a bit more from Greek philosophy and mythology and elevate a previously ambiguous and unimportant angel of the OT to the level of God's ultimate protagonist, Satan.

Christianity wants a fall guy for evil, but at the same time wants to avoid dualism; so as a slightly slap-dash fix Satan is rendered an inferior and created being. But this just leaves asking the same questions; a) why did God create Satan with the capacity for evil, and b) why doesn't God simply destroy the shifty bugger?

Christian theologians surely can't have it both ways. God cannot be the source of all morality, and yet not be responsible for creating evil. And yet, if evil is separate from God, then Christianity must surely stop the pretense and confess that it is, after all, a dualistic faith and that the Gods answer to morality rather than the other way around?

12:01 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

EXCELLENT QUESTIONS!!!

This is exactly why I wish I could quit my job and just sit around poking at these issues! I have some thoughts you might find interesting. Try and be willing to keep an open mind. This thread is now my top priority. It's just a matter of carving out some time...

12:12 PM

 
Anonymous brad said...

Rev,

You bring up an interesting point about the (d)evil. From all I have read, the Hebrews (jews) do not believe in the devil. The devil as a character and force of evil is a creation of the christian faith, so christ would have an antagonist. For the Jews, god was both creator of good and evil. Evil was, in a way, the manifestation of his wrath. In fact, the term satan (for the jews) is really not a person at all, but an agent provocateur meaning "stumbling block" More of a literary device to teach a lesson than a real character.

What does that leave you with?

1:27 PM

 
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Matt. Aside from the vegetarin thing, broadly, Yes. Though I can think of causes where I would take up arms. But that's another issue.
Point is, God gave us three lights;
1. Our conscience, which is our little bit of him in us, to enable us to see the right path.
2. Our reason. Ultimately God is logical, but the world being blended with God and Evil, it cannot serve alone to guide us. But remember whatever is TRULY logical (as opposed to logical within certain preconceptions) is his will.
3. His Church.

Dr Incitatus. God did not create Evil. He created free will, which has a choice between Good and Evil/
God is the ultimate Glass Half Full guy. He KNOWS that ultimately, Glass Half Full- Good- wins.
OK, the first guy to get the choice, old Satan, chose evil. That just made things more interesting.
Listen people, most of us try to live our lives in a way that satisfies our consciences.
In a way that satisfies our inner God.
Matt, I don't think you have to undertand or accept that to be saved. Personally.

2:04 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
Have you started reading "Straw Dogs" yet? You'll have to let me know what you think of that.

2:41 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Dr Incitatus. God did not create Evil. He created free will, which has a choice between Good and Evil"

If I said you have the choice between eating an apple or a pear, but presented you with neither, then what use is your free will? For free will to be implemented, I would need to supply the choices. And in my supplying them, I am surely responsible for their being.

It seems to me that Christian doctrine is not terribly consistent on the subject of good and evil. On the one hand it describes evil as merely a perversion or lack of good. I can accept that. But then in the same theology we have this powerful emphasis on the personification of Evil. Evil becomes a force of action, not merely a modifier for to describe it. And yet in doing so it implicates God as a creator of Evil or implicates a second external force and thus a dualist theology.

I don't think these ideas are reconcilable, but I might not be thinking it through the right way.

3:48 PM

 
Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Yes they are.
God presented a choice. To accept His authority, or rebel. Evil is the choice of rebellion. To compare it, as you do, to an apple or pear, is misleading.
View Satan's rebellion as a fracture of all existence, into a Good, and an Anti-Good.
This is what evil is ultimately. It is the primary imperfection, the choice is not either or, but to obey or not. Obeying God does the disobedience. There is only one perfection, an infinite amount of imperfections.

4:00 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Crushed,

Aside from the vegetarian thing, broadly,


The more I learn about animals and the way they're slaughtered to provide us with food, the more "immoral" I see meat-eating as. In fact, I'd say it was one of my strongest moral feelings - am I right or are you?

God gave us three lights;
1. Our conscience, which is our little bit of him in us, to enable us to see the right path.
2. Our reason. Ultimately God is logical, but the world being blended with God and Evil, it cannot serve alone to guide us. But remember whatever is TRULY logical (as opposed to logical within certain preconceptions) is his will.
3. His Church.


Following 1 and 2 means that I can't believe in God. 3 gave up any real claim to leadership (moral or otherwise) a long time ago.

5:48 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

Have you started reading "Straw Dogs" yet?

I'm about half way through it. Starting to wish I'd gone for the Thomas Nagal book I saw instead.

As I said, it's pretty much 'The Humanist Delusion' - ie. setting up a strawman to knock down in a similar way to Dawkins. His real target is Utopianist thinking, the idea that through scientific humanism we'll one day reach paradise. It's not something I associate myself with (there's no guarantee that the future will be better than the past in my opinion), so whenever he makes a statement along the lines of "Humanists believe X" it's normally something I don't.

Gray has some interesting ideas, but in going for a lazy attack on what's essentially a minority position they never seem to really go anywhere.

5:54 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"
Gray has some interesting ideas, but in going for a lazy attack on what's essentially a minority position they never seem to really go anywhere."


In fairness, it's pretty hard to form a coherent argument against "atheism" without one's arguments being perceived as way off base by the majority of atheists. Every atheist is essentially a one wo/man church with its own doctrine. An open-ended doctrine subject to change at any moment.

9:28 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey everyone,
Sorry for the non participation. life = very busy.

Brad,
the Hebrews (jews) do not believe in the devil.

source?

The devil as a character and force of evil is a creation of the christian faith, so christ would have an antagonist.

This really sounds like pure speculation that puts the issue in a tidy little box. I don't think it's quite as simple as that.

For the Jews, god was both creator of good and evil.

They believed He ordained the good times as well as the bad, but good and evil? You'll have to fill me in on that one.

Evil was, in a way, the manifestation of his wrath.

Judgment is different than evil. Your boy may think his spanking is evil. Is it?

In fact, the term satan (for the jews) is really not a person at all, but an agent provocateur meaning "stumbling block" More of a literary device to teach a lesson than a real character.

Source? Everything I am href="http://www.beingjewish.com/basics/satan.html">finding is just saying Satan is an angel created by God specifically to tempt us. I am seeing nothing about him not being a personal, created being.

11:33 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"They believed He ordained the good times as well as the bad, but good and evil? You'll have to fill me in on that one."

Check out wiki's article on Satan.

The Christian concept of the Devil likely stems from a combination of hellenic and persian duelist mythologies and the Hebrew appocrypha (which are themselves likely drawn from a hotchpotch of prevailing mythologies, and hence separated from mainstream Jewish scripture). The ancient Jews, at least those who vociferously resisted foreign influences, did not conceive of a Devil acting in defiance of God, as Christians later did.

As your source describes, the term "Satan" in Hebrew is mainly a modifer used to describe someone or something being in opposition to something else, and it crops up in several unrelated places (I think it is even used to describe one of God's actions at some point).

There is no singular entity comparable to the Christian Devil. Not even the serpent is considered to be the Devil by the Jews, and neither is it even associated with the angel that acts as God's prosecution.

If you ask a Rabbi why Jews don't believe in the Devil, he'll tell you that such a belief is not compatible with a monotheistic faith. I tend to agree, although the RCC have rigidly maintained otherwise!

12:29 PM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

The God-based arguments here don’t seem to even begin to explain what it is about a standard that makes it a morally good one or not.

Alex,
“If there is no other standard but His, then I don't see that you have much choice. If God is true where else will you go to find a standard to live by?”

We can reason in the abstract and imagine counterfactuals. Any form of behaviour or outlook that we can imagine can be used as a standard against which anyone can be evaluated: I’m a bad football fan, Matt’s a bad Hindu, Alex is a bad communist, God is a bad democrat, Nelson Mandela’s a bad Jedi…

Some such standards seem appealing to us, some seem horrific, some seem morally neutral and others are debatable.

If some being is the source of all creation, and has particular views on how he wants created beings to behave, that tells us nothing about any moral value that those views might or might not have.

We may add that God is supremely loving, but all that does is stipulate a pragmatic means of gaining personal benefit – if we return that love, it’ll be blissful for us. And as for “To love God is to choose to submit to his authority”, I find that a deeply amoral statement. I’d want no part of any such ‘love’ and think it wrong for any being to ask for it. It’s the subordination of independent thought to obedience, at the expense of being denied happiness.

To create sentient beings with the capacity to submit or rebel, but designing them specifically so that they’ll suffer if they don’t submit – I can’t understand how that’s a good thing. If the only acceptable use of our free will is to choose obedience, then I fail to see how that’s a ‘moral’ decision.

In a sense, I agree with Ingsoc – if God created us then it’s reasonable to think that he’d make sure we have motives and instincts that correspond with how he wants us to act. But this doesn’t say anything about morality – it’s just agreement (and rather rigged agreement at that).

4:30 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Hey Tom,
The God-based arguments here don’t seem to even begin to explain what it is about a standard that makes it a morally good one or not.

I'd like to come back to this statement, as I don't think you are catching my argument here. That's probably due to me throwing it in the dirt, but if you'll allow me to take another toss I'll see what I can do. Don't let me forget. I'm juggling a ton of arguments and conversations at the moment and I'm finding myself just never coming back to various conversations simply because I have to much on my plate.

I would like to just quickly comment on this though:

To love God is to choose to submit to his authority”, I find that a deeply amoral statement. I’d want no part of any such ‘love’ and think it wrong for any being to ask for it.

Your sentiment is justified, however you failing to remember that God is not human. God is not created. The response of honor, submission and worship to the eternal creator and sustainer of all creation is the only appropriate response.

You may say that he is wrong to require it, but I think you are not fully appreciating who this God is to require such a response.

It’s the subordination of independent thought to obedience, at the expense of being denied happiness.

Tom if this is how you feel, no wonder you don't want to believe in God. The denial of happiness? Where on earth do you find that?

Anyway I gotta run. I'll be out for the rest of today. Catch you later!

6:09 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Hey Alex. On reflection, I hope that last comment didn’t sound too bad-tempered…

God is not created. The response of honor, submission and worship to the eternal creator and sustainer of all creation is the only appropriate response.

Hmm. I have to say I couldn’t disagree more. I think the concept of proprietorial rights – because that’s what it is – runs out at the point where some of the creations are sentient beings.

no wonder you don't want to believe in God. The denial of happiness? Where on earth do you find that?

Er, I may have missed something by a mile, but isn’t it your view that accepting and returning God’s love is the highest happiness there is (and not doing so is to miss out)?

7:06 AM

 

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