A Question For Atheists

I know you have a criticism that God’s actions presented in the Bible are evil, for you have told us this repeatedly. My question is from what perspective do you judge that God performs evil? If you say that God does evil things, you must be able to judge other cultures from an objective perspective, for you would have to do this to determine that another culture is evil, such as Old Testament Israel. But if you can make this judgement, and do so objectively, then objective morality exists separate and apart from any one group’s perspective. I respectfully suggest that in making this claim, you have refuted your most common answers to how morals exist in the first place: herd instinct and social contract theory.

But if you say that morals are all cultural, herd instinct, or social contract, you give up your right to criticize God in the Bible, for God could have been working under a different social contract or herd. So to keep your criticism of God to which you hold so emotionally, you must hold that you judge God from an objective moral standpoint.

Further, by taking an objective perspective on cultural morals, you affirm that there are objective moral standards, which is one of the key premises in the moral argument for the existence of God.

So here’s my question: How can you say that God is evil, which undermines the main atheist arguments for how morals exist, and supports one main argument for the existence of God? Does this not bother you?

In reality, the only logical, reasonable answer for the existence of universal, objective morals is the existence of a moral law giver, God. Once we have recognized this, we can deal with the problem of why we often have issues with how God operates.

 

 

 

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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14 Responses to A Question For Atheists

  1. llondy says:

    One of the best ways to start a dialogue with those that reject God is to begin with areas in which they steal from a Christian worldview. All Atheists (and people in general for that matter) do so especially Americans so it is a great starting point. There is no objective morality if God does not exist so when you presuppose this at all you are in a sense borrowing from Christianity while at the same time denying it.

  2. jesse says:

    I’d be willing to concede to the idea that there is a ‘greater plan’ at work when god does allegedly evil actions – but to assume that is to assume Gods goodness – the very question to which the analysis of his actions hopes to answer. It’s not even enough to say that he’s working with different criterior because again this makes the idea that the opposite assertion (that god is good) equally vacuous. On what is the assertion that god is goood founded if we have no understanding of what it is that constitutes goodness or evil? If the theist can assert gods goodness, it can also be rejected. Also, when an atheist accuses god of doing evil, its enough to say that God is doing evil by hiw own standard! It says so in the bible that killing is wrong and that human life is sacred, yet genocide, slavery, war are all present in the bible and by gods own hand. Furthermore, euthyphro’s dilemma may lead us to conclude that goodness is infact sepsarate from God it is at least one of the horns of the dilemma. Of course all of this assume the existence of God to begin with – so using God as a defense against an argument that may show internal inconsistency of God and religion seems somehwat inadequate.

    • humblesmith says:

      Fortunately we do not have to assume a greater plan, for most of the situations in the Bible that are alleged evil on the part of God can be rather easily shown to have a greater plan. If we but finish reading the story that unfolds throughout the Bible, we find that there is a greater end. It is unfair to pick a few passages out, as if they are in isolation, when there is a larger storyline.

      You ask on what is the assertion that ‘God is good’ based……you have hit the nail on the head. The exact point is that there must be some objective standard of goodness, or we can make no judgement whatsoever. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, we have no ability to say one thing is better or worse unless we have a concept of good in the first place. Yet everyone makes such a judgement……..that some things are better or worse. Therefore there has to be an absolute, objective standard of good that is external to the subject being evaluated. If not, we not only would have no basis for evaluating good and evil, but more importantly…….we wouldn’t even have come up with the concept of good in the first place. If God did not exist, and all that existed were matter and energy, then all that would exist are chemical and physical processes and we would have never thought of the idea of good or evil,

      As for killing in the bible……I urge you, my friend, to read more closely. What is condemned is murder, and not the execution of guilty people. Further, God has the power to give life, and as such, has the power to take it up again, especially if there is a greater purpose (which again, the rest of the Bible story shows us there is).

      As for euthyphro, the problem is only a dilemma if one accepts the premises. As long as we limit the choices to the two options in the dilemma, why then, it is indeed a dilemma. The answer is to simply assert a third option……that God acts according to the standard of His own nature. Which is exactly the case.

      Would you perhaps have an answer to the question in the post?

      Blessings

  3. “My question is from what perspective do you judge that God performs evil?”

    From the same perspective that you judge that God performs good.

    “But if you say that morals are all cultural, herd instinct, or social contract, you give up your right to criticize God in the Bible, for God could have been working under a different social contract or herd.”

    No we don’t. Because we’re smarter now. And if we base morality on things we can actually determine, like harm, benefit, well-being, health, etc, we can tell that some moralities are inferior to others. They may have been inferior because they didn’t know as much, but they were still inferior.

  4. humblesmith says:

    The problem is that you’ve now said that 1) you judge God from the same place as I, which is by an external, objective standard that is not derived from the physical universe, and 2) by saying “no we don’t” you are denying all forms of herd instinct, social contract, and relative morals, While this is commendable, since it is the correct (and only) choice, it places the atheist position in a bit of a quandary. For the only way to obtain an standard for judging morals is to have an objective viewpoint separate and apart from all moral situations being measured. The existence of such a standard is the major premise in the moral argument for the existence of God……..namely, that an objective moral standard exists that can be applied to all people and all time.

    Perhaps you can explain how you have come to believe in an objective standard that is separate from the physical universe, yet deny the existence of anything that is separate from the physical universe? Or am I misunderstanding?

    And perhaps you can answer the question in the original post?

    Blessings

  5. My question is from what perspective do you judge that God performs evil? If you say that God does evil things, you must be able to judge other cultures from an objective perspective, for you would have to do this to determine that another culture is evil, such as Old Testament Israel. But if you can make this judgement, and do so objectively, then objective morality exists separate and apart from any one group’s perspective. I respectfully suggest that in making this claim, you have refuted your most common answers to how morals exist in the first place: herd instinct and social contract theory.

    Wrong. There is no objective morality. Even within Christianity morality has vastly changed over time. The idea that it represents some unchanging objective morality is utterly ridiculous. Slavery, for instance, was not even considered a moral issue at the times the various books of the Bible were written, NT or OT. The prohibition on murder itself has drastically changed from meaning “don’t kill a fellow Jew” to its modern counterpart.

    That is not to say that morality is relative, either. Human flourishing has been a direct result of recognition that older moral codes needed to be discarded for ones e.g. that included human rights, social safety nets, etc. It doesn’t take a god to figure out why killing and stealing are wrong. If I kill or steal, I am harming others in my community. We are not islands of individuals, but act cooperatively within a society. Killing someone could hardly be considered promoting social cohesion. This kind of morality is a bi-product of social survival strategies and also the reason why there are a number of rules that are similar regardless of culture. But as humans we have the intellect to create our own behavioral evolution. We can work towards maximizing human flourishing and well being. A biblical morality is quite counterproductive to this and should be abandoned for this reason. It’s a stagnant, barbaric, tribal, Iron Age moral zeitgeist, a reflection of the barbaric, tribal, Iron Age societies that wrote it down. There is simply no reason to even suggest a supernatural deity is required for morality when all of moral behavior can be explained from an evolutionary behavioral perspective.

    But all of this is irrelevant since with this question you open up a whole can of whoop ass on yourself. As Plato wrote in Euthyphro,

    “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

    There is no escape for anyone taking the position that God is the source of morality. If you take the first fork, then God is unnecessary to determining what is moral and we can figure it out for ourselves. If the second, as you seem to be doing, then what is moral is nothing more than God’s whim. This is the ultimate in moral relativism.

    And, again, none of this takes anything away from the fact that the concept of God typically held by the adherents of Abrahamic religions is a monster of truly biblical proportions. Even if this evil being existed it would be beneath me to worship it.

    • humblesmith says:

      You tell me there is no objective morality, then tell me that morality is not relative, but that it is universally true that killing and stealing are wrong. Sorry, but which is it?

      You list social survival strategies as a universal moral code. It is either the case that all groups have the same social contract, or not. If all groups have the same social contract, that survival is morally good, then we have a universal morality. If not, and all groups have a separate social contract, then we have relativism. You deny both of these positions, yet also hold to both. Your point is either contradictory or unclear.
      As for euthyphro, I’m afraid I already dealt with this above. The answer is quite simple and has been dealt with in philosophical circles for quite some time. The current atheist fascination with it truly escapes me, and can only show a lack of familiarity with the discussion. But to repeat, the problem is only a dilemma if you accept the two premises. It’s kind of like the salesman saying “you have two options: you can buy the red car or the blue car” when all the time there is more than one option. The euthyphro dilemma gives us only two sources for good; both of which are divine command theory. The dilemma fails to take into consideration that the source of good is not a command at all, but rather good is sourced in the being of God, in His own nature. Good is not separate from the being of God (as in the first fork) nor could it have been changed by a choice (as in the second fork). Again, to keep trotting out this tired old problem is not helping the atheist case.

      You might want to check out this for a bit more info:

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/atheists-morality-again/

      Also, perhaps you’d like to answer the question in the orginal post?

      • humblesmith says:

        Oh, and btw, if you truly believe that there is no objective morality, I respectfully disagree. You see, every single person believes the same morality……that it is wrong for me to steal their stuff. If you happen to find someone who believes that it is fine for me to steal their stuff, then please send me their address and let me know when they’re not at home. So far, every human on the earth believes it is wrong for me to steal their stuff. They might believe it OK for them to steal my stuff, but not the other way round. It appears that this social contract thing only goes so far before it runs up against an objective set of universal morals.

  6. Mike says:

    Since morality can only exist when living conscious beings exist, morality is axiomatically tied into the well-being of conscious beings, and so logically, the greater the consciousness of the beings, the greater the severity of moral concern. From this we can derive that we ought to concern ourselves with the welfare of conscious beings since we are capable of moral responsibility.

    Morality is therefore the distinction between right and wrong as it relates to conscious beings, with right actions being those that intend to positively affect conscious beings, and wrong actions being those that intend to negatively affect conscious beings when it cannot be avoided.

    Morality is founded in nature itself, in the real experiences that affect conscious beings, and where our intentions and the effects of moral actions hold the objective foundation. Good morals like love, kindness, fairness and generosity would have the same exact affect towards living things without god and are therefore good in and of themselves.

    The divine command theory of ethics that many theists subscribe to neglects the unnecessary harm they can cause in some situations.

    Moral commandments that are issued by god may not appeal to what is in our best well-being at all, indeed many actually increase unnecessary harm.

    If the theist is expected to choose revelation over reason, and purposely do what will knowingly result in more harm, less well-being, and a reversal of moral progress because he thinks it will make god happy and offer him reward in the afterlife, morality becomes a mere game where people are only looking out for the pursuance of pleasure, and therefore goodness itself cannot be founded in god.

    To make the case that objective morals must be grounded in the existence of god, you have to show how the same morals would not produce the same effects in a universe without god, given the same set of axioms. The only logical reason why we would say any moral is right or wrong, would be in assessing the motives, principles and consequences behind them. To say god’s commandments determine objective moral values reduces you into believing that “might” makes “right”, and that the actual morals themselves can be meaningless. Thus god’s existence is not necessary to ground morality or to have objective morality.

    A common response to the Euthyphro Dilemma by theists is to try to sneak in a third option and say that god is good. In other words, what they’re trying to say is that the “Good” Plato speaks of in The Republic, is not independent of god, “Good” is god, and since goodness flows from god, his commandments constitute what is right and wrong. This is problematic on so many levels. Let me explain.

    First, defining god as the source of “good” is mere theological wordplay. It doesn’t demonstrate that “good” cannot exist independently of god. Even if goodness is an essential property of god, it is a property that can apply to other things independently of god’s existence. Just think of how being hot is an essential property of fire – fire must be hot, it cannot be cold. But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction.

    Second, why call something good? Epistemologically, we know in the moral sense that certain things are good because they positively benefit beings affected by them. Moral actions like love, kindness, fairness, and generosity positively benefit all beings affected by them, not just physically but emotionally as well. That’s why they’re morally good. If the theist thinks objective moral values are founded on the existence of god, he has to explain how these moral actions would not positively affect beings in a universe with no god, or how these actions would somehow be different enough that their goodness could be considered subjective. All things being equal, in a godless universe the affects of morally good actions would be exactly the same. Therefore, these morals are good in and of themselves and do not require the existence or the commands of a deity to make them objectively good.

    The theist cannot escape the Euthyphro Dilemma no matter how hard he tries. Take for example the biblical story of Abraham who god commands to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:5-12). Most Jews, Christians and Muslims agree that it would have been immoral for Abraham to have decided on his own to sacrifice his son for god and what made it moral was solely determined by god’s command. Also in the Old Testament, god commands the Jews to exterminate the Midianite peoples (except for the young virgin girls) and he awards the Jews their property (Num 31:2-18). Most Christians at least think it would have been immoral if the Jews had decided to take upon this genocidal conquest on their own, but here again god’s commanding of it makes it moral for the Jews to physically commit these acts. What these two examples illustrate, is that if something is immoral on its own and only becomes moral if god commands it, or vice versa, then the sole factor separating the morality or immorality of the action, is god’s command. This also means that god cannot be following an absolute and non-arbitrary morality: If something is morally good because god commands it, it must also be morally good if you do it on your own, because otherwise if performing these morals on your own wouldn’t be good unless god commands it, it means you take the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma – that something is morally good because god commands it. One objection I’ve heard to this is that god himself is actually physically doing the killing vicariously through people when he commands it. But believing that god is doing the killing when he commands it to people, as deplorable as that is, still doesn’t get you out of the problem of why killing (or anything else) becomes justified or morally right for people to do when god commands it. For the people who act because they believe god is commanding them, their justification for committing what would otherwise be considered immoral acts, is justified to them because they believe god gave them that authority. Hence, they are appealing to the authority – given by god’s commands.

    This is just a sample of a case I make for objective morality without god. To get the full argument go here: http://www.atheismandthecity.com/2013/02/a-case-for-secular-morality-objective.html

    • humblesmith says:

      I have written several posts on the grounds for morality, this one being but one. You might search for the others, since I’ve already responded to some of your comments.

      One hinge point of your argument seems to be trying to put the burden of proof on the theist by saying we “have to show how the same morals would not produce the same effects in a universe without god, given the same set of axioms.” You seem to hold this being the clamp that holds us to the Euthyphro dilemma.

      First, we do not hold to divine command theory. If that were true, God could have said “thou shalt steal” and it be just as moral as not stealing. We do indeed take the third option, appealing to God’s nature as the grounds for morality. Second, the appeal to God’s nature as the grounds for morality is the counterexample for the dilemma. The burden of proof is therefore on the atheist to defeat the counterexample; it must be logically disproved for it to not work. In other words, the appeal to God’s nature is a logically valid explanation, and must be disproved in the current situation for it to be eliminated as a counterexample. The atheist cannot merely appeal to another situation, as this argument does, since another situation does not disprove this one. I see nothing in the argument you present that shows grounding morality in God’s nature is illogical or impossible. Third, even if we take the challenge on your own terms, it still fails. You are correct that the same actions (love, kindness, fairness) would result in the same effects. The problem is that you have snuck in the assumption that these actions are moral, which is the very question we are trying to prove in the first place. Why would we want to be fair? Why would love be any better than hate? In a purely material world, all these actions would indeed result in the same effects, as you rightly point out. The problem is that they would not be moral, they would just be. I can mix vinegar and baking soda together on my kitchen counter, and get a reaction, but we don’t call it moral or immoral. Material and chemical actions, which are all that exist in an atheist world, have no morality or immorality in themselves. So the argument begs the question. Fourth, saying that good could exist independently of God does not demonstrate that it does or how this could be the case, which is the challenge for the atheist position. Saying that it might be possible for a different situation to exist does not prove that this current one does not exist. Euthyphro was supposed to be a dilemma, and the existence of another alternative destroys the dilemma. Fifth, we do not hold that things are moral if and only if they have positive benefit, which is what you seem to be saying. Again, saying positive benefit equals morality begs the question, and sneaks in what ought to be, rather than observing what is the case. Describing what is the case is the only option available in atheism.

      Further, none of this seems to address the current post.

      But thank you for your thoughtful post, I appreciate your ideas. You might also want to read the following:

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/does-the-existence-of-moral-evil-prove-or-disprove-god/

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/atheists-morality-again/

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/dawkins-vs-nietzsche-contradictions-in-atheism/

  7. Mike says:

    I’m not sure why your response doesn’t appear here, but let me respond to some of your points briefly.

    1. “First, we do not hold to divine command theory If that were true, God could have said “thou shalt steal” and it be just as moral as not stealing…..”

    But god did say that homosexual behavior, adultery, witchcraft and worshipping false gods is punishable by death. So if you don’t subscribe to divine command theory, why or why not should we obey these commandments by god? If your hero Dr. Craig says numerous times that god’s commandments constitute our moral duties – that’s divine command theory plain and simple.

    2. “Second, the appeal to God’s nature as the grounds for morality is the counterexample for the dilemma… The atheist cannot merely appeal to another situation, as this argument does…”

    “God’s nature” as I described in my comments would exist necessarily, therefore it is not necessary to appeal to god’s nature. If it’s OK to argue saying “Without god, there would be no objective morals”, that’s appealing to another situation to make a point. I am merely doing the same thing by saying without god, the same set of circumstances, and their effects would exist that we could come to know as good.

    3. “Third…You are correct that the same actions (love, kindness, fairness) would result in the same effects. The problem is that you have snuck in the assumption that these actions are moral, which is the very question we are trying to prove in the first place. Why would we want to be fair?…”

    If I take a sledge hammer and smash a rock, so what, it’s a rock – no moral element there. If I take a sledgehammer and smash someone’s head open now there’s a moral element to it. Even though at a purely physical level we’re all atoms and quarks, we’re alive, we’re conscious and we can feel pain and we’re sensitive to our external environment. That’s the whole reason why morality exists at all as I explained. Why would we want to be fair or to love? Because this positively benefits beings affected by it, and the opposite of these morals would lead to great unnecessary harm, suffering and misery.

    4. “Fourth, saying that good could exist independently of God does not demonstrate that it does, which is what our argument holds. The bible says that God upholds all things (Colossians 1:17) which would indicate that in fact God’s nature does impact all things. Saying that it might be possible for a different situation to exist does not prove that this one does not exist. Euthyphro was supposed to be a dilemma, and the existence of another alternative destroys the dilemma.”

    I already addressed this when I said “defining god as the source of “good” is mere theological wordplay. It doesn’t demonstrate that “good” cannot exist independently of god. Even if goodness is an essential property of god, it is a property that can apply to other things independently of god’s existence. Just think of how being hot is an essential property of fire – fire must be hot, it cannot be cold. But “hot” can apply to many other things independently of fire. For example, microwaves cause things to be hot and so does friction.”

    The burden of proof is on you to successfully demonstrate goodness cannot exist without god since you’ve agreed love, kindness and fairness would have the same exact effects. First you have to define goodness, explain why something is good and give an example of it, and show how without god, it wouldn’t exist.

    5. “Fifth, we do not hold that things are moral if and only if they have positively benefit, which is what you seem to be saying. Again, saying positive benefit equals morality begs the question, and sneaks in what ought to be, rather than observing what is the case. Describing what is the case is the only option available in atheism.”

    Give me an example of a good moral that causes negative harm in every situation. Surely the appeal to at least some positive benefit is why you would consider something moral, even if the ends justify the means.

    Why ought we to obey god? Because he will punish us? Because he is good? Because obeying him will lead to a better society? Because he says we have to obey him?

    I don’t like the appeal to authority that theism implies. I’d much rather appeal to reason than authority. If moral X positively benefits the common good, that’s enough reason for me to ought to do it, and it’s enough for any reasonable person to also. If moral P causes unnecessary harm for no reason, than moral X is objectively better than moral P.

    Science gives us the “is” because it’s descriptive, and philosophy gives us the “ought” because it’s prescriptive. David Hume’s is/ought dilemma is much understood. It’s not that we can’t derive an ought from an is, we just have to rationally justify it when we do. I think I’ve made that case by noting that since morality can only exist when living conscious beings exist, morality is axiomatically tied into the well-being of conscious life, and so logically, the greater the consciousness of the beings, the greater the severity of moral concern. From this we can derive that we ought to concern ourselves with the welfare of conscious beings (especially us) since we are capable of moral responsibility.

    So if we ought to do moral X because GOD is good, it is not any different under the atheistic view that we ought to do moral X because IT is good

    • humblesmith says:

      Wow, my own comment got caught in the spam filter. I need to watch myself more carefully.

      My time is booked up for a few days, so a response will have to wait. For now, I’ll leave it sufficient to say that you continue to hold that we ought to have the well being of individuals without showing why it ought to be best to have their well being, rather than let them die. The whole argument is presented from the presumption of a moral ground that it denies exists.

      • Mike says:

        I understand if you’re busy, life is hectic, but your presumption about my argument seems as if you haven’t read a word I wrote. What moral grounding am I denying exists exactly that you claim? I’ll give you time to properly respond since you may have made that remark on the run.

        • humblesmith says:

          Since these comments are off topic, I’ve replied in new posts made over the last week or so. I believe I’ve responded to most of your comments, so if you have anything further, please respond there. If anyone wants more on morality, click on the “morality” category on the right of the main page.

          As for here, I make note that the topic of this post is still not answered.

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