Another comic? Already? What’s going on here?!
Glad you’re back!
Was it Schopenhauer who said that?
…Naw, perfect malevolence doesn’t make sense. Only imperfect good or imperfect bad work — a perfectly evil being wouldn’t even exist.
(The ideal rejoinder to this is, of course, “that’s what he WANTS you to think.”)
(rats Wm, you beat me to it)
Alan thanks, I’m glad to be back!
Depends on your definition of “omnipotent”, which several Christian theologians have reduced to “just more awesome than anything else” as a way to get around the issue.
I wasn’t familiar with that, Canuovea. Admittedly I’m not up on all the philosophers, but I’d thought I was familiar with the theologians.
I know of a few variations by people who claim to be within Christianity:
1. Denying omniscience – open theists.
2. Denying omnipotence – Molinists and process theists, I think.
3. Denying omnibenevolence – some “Reformed” types (i.e. Calvinists).
Only the latter is really widely accepted as part of Christianity; the other two are still too new. There are ancient versions of both, but they were widely rejected in their time.
I should probably add a disclaimer — I’m not trying to say anything bad about Molinists or Calvinists. Molinists don’t CLAIM to deny omnipotence; what they do is say that “free will” is more powerful than God, so if He creates free will He can’t avoid having it act according to its own predetermined laws. Calvinists do deny omnibenevolence in favor of benevolence toward the elect.
It seems to me that the first two have clear definitions; the last one is just a hopeless muddle.
I took a philosophy of religion course recently. Quite enjoyable.
I’m not sure how accepted those theologians are though. Not very, I’d expect.
Still, that is one way out of the Problem of Evil. Or PoE.
Then there is the “Well, evil needs to exist in order for there to be a greater good” argument. Which nowadays is “free will”. Curley did a good job of poking holes in that. Free will? Okay, what about before there were humans? Or what about the natural disasters? Etc.
Still, the problem of evil is not insurmountable. Just fun to think about.
Well of course the problem of evil is not insurmountable. I surmounted it right here!
chaospet, zombies poison everything! With all due respect to Hitchens. And zombies. (Poisoning everything isn’t a problem, is it? Robots kill all humans, and you don’t hear anyone complaining about THAT. Yeah, I know, there are no humans here; but STILL, you know humans are only the first step; next comes entire planetoids, then they’ll come after bloggers.)
I think it’s fair to say that posing the problem of evil as a logical inconsistency is risky; it’s easy to defeat by simply making the claim that it’s POSSIBLE for God to have a purpose for evil. Posing it as an evidential problem (a cumulative case) is much more of a challenge.
Canuovea, you remind me of the Navy (which I do contract work for) — defining three-letter acronyms in a document, which they then never use. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Robots do that too.) Yeah, the PoE is bigger than the problem of willful evil; one reasonably interesting response is that a universe capable of evolving humans would have to contain natural disasters. (Naturally, not everyone who responds that way includes the word “evolving”; William Lane Craig sometimes does, Hugh Ross doesn’t but means much the same thing). This DOES seem to raise the question of why God NEEDED a spaceship — I mean, a universe capable of evolving life… Ad-hoc explanations like that point out just how strong of an objection the PoE is.
(What an awful movie; but at least it gave us that one decent line.)
Speaking of religion: I hope you’re plotting, scheming, and otherwise maliciously cogitating on how to celebrate this Resurrection Sunday.
Oh, that is this Sunday?
I like how PoE sometimes leads to the “Is it good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?” (IIGBGCIODGCIBITG) This is particularly the case when people start defining the greater good God had in mind that required evil as “In Order To Worship Him” (IOTWH). Now, both PoE and IIGBGCIODGCIBITG are some seriously interesting challenges…
But well, have you guys read Curley’s take down of Christianity? I wrote my paper for that class I mentioned on that. In short, I wasn’t all that convinced.
You’re referring to the “divine command theory” of ethics, I think. Your dilemma missed a case- either The Good is superior to God (so God commands things because they are good), or the Good is subservient to God (so things become good whenever God commands them, no matter their moral status before); but you missed the third case, where The Good=God (in some way). There are several ways to cache that out, but the point is that they avoid both horns of the dilemma.
The classical monotheistic example of how to apply that is to say that things become morally obligatory when and only when God commands them; but God will not command contrary to his nature, which is good. Thus, not all good things are always obligatory; but all things that are actually obligatory are good.
There are further problems to resolve (and please note that my specific example is NOT the only way to avoid the dilemma); that’s just the basic way to avoid the dilemma, which I found clever because it’s mathematically clear that the dilemma only covers godgood, leaving all solutions where god=good (in some sense) unaddressed.
The real mystery comes in the last panel: why is Nester grinning so, as he reveals his conclusion? Why would a malevolent God make him so happy??????????
Mark, because Nester is crazy?
Divine command theory…
I don’t find the “God = Good” excuse convincing. It just seems to be another way to say that God cannot do evil. Which suggests that there is still some abstract concept of good above even what god is. It also suggests that God is not omnipotent, so we come back to that again. It doesn’t so much avoid the horns of the dilemma as it does slightly delay the inevitable, by pushing the argument back a step where the horns behave more like boomerangs and come back to hit you in the head.
Whatever else you call my notation, you can’t possibly call it an “excuse”. It’s a loophole, certainly, and a vague generality; but the point is to illustrate a way out of a specific (and serious) dilemma, by using mathematical notation to show how the “dilemma” is actually a false dilemma.
“God=Good” actually illustrates MANY different solutions. Many of those solutions cannot possibly be true, of course; they solve only the dilemma for which they were crafted.
So, are you right that the example I gave destroys God’s omnipotence? I don’t think it does. If God’s nature is the Good, then God WANTS good. Doing evil (i.e. things outside of God’ nature) would be repulsive and uninteresting to God. Therefore, God can have all the power needed to do evil, and still be certain to not do it. And no, this doesn’t put Good above God, since God is more than a set of principles (in this model); but because God naturally wants the Good, nothing of God will do anything aside from good, so it clearly does not put God above the Good in terms of being able to be arbitrary.
This suggests another resolution, of course: to suppose that God=Good _literally_ — that God actually IS a set of principles (or, rather, a set of commands). I’m tired enough that I’m not thinking this through any further; I really don’t know why I’m still sitting here typing.
I still think that it means God would be limited. After a fashion, anyway. After all, if it is in your nature to be good, you simply won’t be able to do evil. Unless we are saying that someone can go against their nature. Then you have to define “nature.”
But that isn’t the point. If God “wants” to do good according to God’s “nature”, where does that good come from? It is a set of principles, in that case, that God did not create and that God’s nature makes God beholden to, even if god could, in theory, go against that nature.
If you say that God can do evil, against his nature or whatnot, but doesn’t, then that is essentially “God commands it because it is good.” Or at least that there is a conception of “Good” that is outside of God. Still very much within the problem of Divine Command Theory.
I’m glad you agree that your first paragraph isn’t the point… I was finding it to be a strange objection. The idea that something can be more powerful if only it wasn’t itself is very odd.
You ask where The Good comes from. The Good (according to my example) comes from God. It’s true that God did not create it; but so what? We already knew that there would be a moral problem if God had arbitrarily created The Good. At the same time, it’s not correct to say that The Good overrules God, because it’s essentially God. So Good is “up to God” (in the sense that it all originates from Him and that none of it contradicts any desire of his), but Good is not arbitrarily chosen by God.
You then repeat that there is a conception of “Good” that is outside of God. No, by construction there is no such conception (in this example).
Finally, I don’t know what you mean by saying that this is within the problem of Divine Command Theory/DCT. DCT is a specific attempt at an answer to the question of why ethics are binding on us. It’s not a _problem_ per se, although it may have (or it may raise) problems of its own. This is not “within” DCT, since this is an attempt to answer the question of the origin of goodness in general, whereas DCT is an attempt to explain why ethics are binding. The two are compatible, but they’re not identical, and if anything this is broader than DCT.
Dealing with some minor points first:
The problem with DCT,, as I see it, is that it means that God arbitrarily creates good. And that arbitrariness is bad. Hence, I find that an unlikely explanation for the problem of ethics, morality, etc. Or perhaps I should have said in my previous post “the problem of ethics, morals, and their existence”…
Alright, moving on.
So you are saying God=Good, meaning what?
Are you are saying (in this example) that the Good comes from God, but that God didn’t create it? Or define it, whatever. That seems a tad bit of a paradox.
Though perhaps “overrules” is the wrong way to phrase it.
Saying that “Good” and “God” both exist in some way… are they separate entities? Linked entities? Identical entities? What I’m trying to understand, I suppose, is what exactly you mean by this: “God=Good”. If I can’t figure it out, then I can’t really conceptualize how it fits in, or doesn’t fit in, with “IIGBGCIODGCIBITG?”
“not correct to say that The Good overrules God, because it’s essentially God” -What do you mean by essentially? That good is part of God’s essence? Or “nature?” In which case, what do you mean by that? Or are you using “essentially” as we normally do. As in, “more or less”?
It sounds as if you are saying that neither Good nor God overrule each other because they are constantly in agreement. Could they ever not be constantly in agreement? Can one be/have “Good” without “God?”
I see your point about “the problem with DCT”. But DCT doesn’t say that God creates good by commanding; rather, it says that God creates binding ethical imperatives by commanding. Without a command an action may be good, but it isn’t necessarily binding. So God does arbitrarily create imperatives; however, they are not arbitrary in the sense that some are good and some may be evil, but rather arbitrary in the sense that although he might not command ALL good things, he will command only good things.
You said: “So you are saying God=Good, meaning what?” Well, in the loosest sense, I mean that the dilemma covers only “GodGood”. It missed a whole set of possibilities where God is not subject to good AND good is not subject to God. I’m only giving one example of a way in which Good=God; another (incompatible) example might be pantheism, in which case Good=God (but also, in the same sense, Evil=God). In my example, God=Good in the sense that all good is contained in God’s nature and not contained anywhere else unless he creates it there (and evil is not present at all in God’s nature).
“Are you are saying (in this example) that the Good comes from God, but that God didn’t create it? Or define it, whatever. That seems a tad bit of a paradox.”
That’s exactly what I’m saying. Existence also comes from God, but God did not create his own existence. Good comes from God, but God did not create His own goodness. The only goodness that God can possibly confer on his creation is the same goodness he possesses by nature.
I apologize for using the word “essentially”; it’s not a good word to use at all in this discussion, due to the LONG history of this discussion. I think it’s fair to say that “goodness” is an attribute of God; in a sense that’s similar to saying that goodness is a part of God, except that (by ancient historical convention) attributing parts to God brings up a whole ‘nother set of questions (regarding “divine simplicity”) which I don’t think need to be raised. Anyhow, the point is that for the purposes of this example (and in classical Christian theology) anything good is good only inasmuch as it shadows the good that originates in God.
You ask whether it’s conceptually possible to be/have “Good” without “God” or without them being constantly in agreement. I think it’s a fine question to ask, so it’s at least not an IMMEDIATE contradiction in terms; i.e. it’s conceptually possible. There are a few ways to answer the question, though.
First, one might ask whether God could be subservient to Good, or Good arbitrarily defined by God. I think the answer is clearly NO, as proven by the arguments regarding the dilemma.
Second, one might ask whether there are other ways to cache out the expression “God=Good”. The answer is clearly “yes”, as pantheism is an example where all Good is contained by God, but all Evil is also contained by God. Amoral atheism also falls into this bucket by proposing that God and Good both fall into the “nonexistent” bucket (and of course presuppositional apologetics tries to convince people that atheism is necessarily amoral).
Third, one could ask whether some Good could be outside of a god, perhaps good things that are not applicable to the god. I don’t see an obvious objection to that, although my example didn’t use it.
Finally, some things that are in God might not be in the Good (without claiming they’re evil). A god with free will to create or not would be such a deity, since that god could choose between two plausible choices neither one of which is itself The Good. Also, the Trinity is not “the good”.
As a separate issue that I didn’t think of before, it’s also possible to dodge the dilemma by claiming that God and Good are inherently non-comparable. HP Lovecraft famously and painstakingly took this route :-). More prosaically, most atheists (the ones who believe in absolute morality) could be said to take this route (since something nonexistent cannot be compared with something that exists), although I freely admit that one would only make this claim while writing a paper on this specific subject; it’s not a useful distinction to make otherwise, and I’m sure few of them would bother identifying themselves this way.
One more thing. This model doesn’t address the Problem of Evil.
I’m… awake now, which means I think I can actually respond to this in the 30 minutes before my class starts.
My understanding of DCT was that whatever God commands is good regardless of anything else. For instance “Kill your son” or “Kill them all, men, women, children, sheep, cattle, (yes sheep are cattle, shhh), and pet dog puppies.” This seems to presuppose that there is nothing but God’s will, and no such thing as “good” or “evil” except insofar as God says so. Which, I suppose, is the ultimate in arbitrary interpretations of DCT..
I hadn’t thought of DCT as something where there is good, and God will command good stuff, but not necessarily all the good stuff. Still, you are saying that God “will” command good and not bad. I see this as not quite fitting the DCT model simply because it seems to me to be reducing god’s agency.
Now, let me see… the dilemma covers situations were GoodGod… okay. So I take this to mean situations where we expect God to do good or be good in some way. Like… it doesn’t include if, say, Ann Rand were God and was just using the little people for her own enjoyment. Not commanding something because she wanted it to be good, or because it was good, but just because she bloody wanted it. Good might actually exist, it just wouldn’t be defined by ARG (Ann Rand God) or be related to ARG at all. This might have just been gibberish on my part.
Moving on… you talk about good being contained in God’s nature, in this example, and not anywhere else unless God so wishes it there. I’m still not entirely sure what you mean by “nature”.
If “nature” is an imperative directive, of some kind, that means God can only do good. If this stops God from doing something “evil” (as evil is not part of God’s nature at all), then God’s agency is limited. God does not have the same freewill we do. Conversely, if God can do whatever, regardless of God’s “nature,” that means either 1) God can do evil or 2) Even if it might be seen as evil, God is doing good because God can’t do evil.
“anything good is good only inasmuch as it shadows the good that originates in God….”
Okay. This is interesting. And God simply cannot act, or go against, the Good that originates in God? Or can God? Would that mean God is doing something “Bad”? This does seem to address the question because it means that Good isn’t what God says it is… but rather a kind of separate entity that is still part of God?
“First, one might ask whether God could be subservient to Good, or Good arbitrarily defined by God. I think the answer is clearly NO, as proven by the arguments regarding the dilemma.”
I’m not so sure the question is a matter of subservience of God to Good as it is God seeing what is Good and deciding, based on that, to pass it on in commands. That way it preserves God’s agency/free will and actually, in theory, makes God seem quite a bit more benevolent than something stuck commanding good because it can’t. I think of that as more acceptable. The problem is that it means God does not/did not create morality. It doesn’t mean that God is some how obligated to behave a certain way.
So I just don’t see “subservient” as a necessary part of the dilemma. Though if it is, I do see the problem. It either removes God’s agency or it makes God arbitrary. But I just don’t see the need for that.
I suppose this is similar to your third point. Or maybe Lovecraft I’m not sure.
Arrgh. Running out of time. Okay, let me see. Well. I’ll stop for now. But, no, it doesn’t address the problem of evil. Grr. Evil.
You’re right that your reading of DCT has been proposed and accepted by some; but you’re also right that it’s an extreme version. It’s been broken for thousands of years because it makes “good” entirely subject to arbitrary whim. Modern philosophers who accept DCT don’t hold that God’s commands define “good”; rather, they hold that God’s commands define “moral obligation”. Something else defines “good”.
No, it doesn’t reduce God’s agency in any way. It simply uses the fact that a free (undeceived) agent will not act against his own interests.
Yes, you’re right that Ayn Rand wouldn’t make a Good God. That made sense to me, although there was a missing character in your word “GoodGod” that I assume was an equals sign.
What I mean by “nature” is that which makes a being distinct from other beings. I used the term “essential”, and I may have been correct. God cannot disobey his nature, and that doesn’t reduce his agency because his nature is that which makes him distinctive. If he disobeyed his nature he’d cease to be God and become something else. “Nature” might include things like all possible desires… For humans, our nature includes things like how we have a body made of matter that obeys the laws of physics. Because God doesn’t change, his nature includes his goals and desires, at least the ones that aren’t merely relative to purely contingent things like creation.
You’re trying to say that because we can do either good or evil, while God can only do good, we have a stronger free will than God. I’m not sure that’s valid. For one thing, God has many more actions available to him, including some that are evil for us — consider Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers, which the brothers “meant for evil, but God meant for good”. Without a doubt, it’s not possible for one of us to intend for another to be sold into slavery and still “mean it for good”, but this is allegedly possible for God. For another thing, I’m not sure what good it does us to be able to will evil. It’s at least arguable that it’s a defect and not a strength.
Yes, Good (under this model) could be considered part of God; but you have to be careful. The Good is not a “separate entity”; that’s part of the point. Also, you might have to qualify “part”, as I mentioned before — Platonists don’t hold that God _has_ parts, and most of the western Christian church agrees. But either way, yes; I would say that in this theory The Good is contained by God, but He contains more than The Good (for example, he is a being, while The Good is not).
The point of “God is subservient to Good” is not to say that Good is a personal being that gives orders to God; the point is to express one arm of the dilemma in which we see God compelled by something external to him and out of his control to do something whether or not he wants to. The same is essentially true for the reversed expression, “Good is subservient to God”. Both arms have been neatly refuted for millennia. And that’s my point — your IIGBGCIODGCIBITG is the dilemma objection to the DCT, and as I said, both arms of the dilemma have been refuted since at least Plato, if not Socrates.
“I’m not so sure the question is a matter of subservience of God to Good as it is God seeing what is Good and deciding, based on that, to pass it on in commands. That way it preserves God’s agency/free will and actually, in theory, makes God seem quite a bit more benevolent than something stuck commanding good because it can’t.”
“Benevolent” means “having a good will”. How “in theory” can one be “more benevolent” by having a less reliably good will? What does “in theory” mean here — is there some theory of free will you’re thinking of, or a theory of benevolence?
And again, the point isn’t that God is “stuck” commanding good. The point is that God wants only good, so his commands are reliably good. It’s not like God would LIKE to do evil but can’t; rather, God wants only good, and can choose with freedom any good thing to command.
Finally: the reason your scenario implies that God is subservient to the Good is that it has God being morally obligated to the Good.
First off, I find the idea of “moral obligation” somewhat… unsteady. I have a gut reaction against it and I need to think about this. I think that the obligation part might be the issue. I put greater stock in the act of evaluating and deciding what is good rather than having a set of obligations. I suppose, also, that the idea of a “moral obligation” is a tad bit too black and white. I suppose I have a different approach to morality. As I suppose that these moral obligations come in the form of, for instance, commandments.
I’m also not convinced by the nature definition. Now, I’ve been driven briefly mad by Augustine, but even he didn’t think of a being’s nature as being absolute. For instance, the fallen angels are so bad because they chose against their nature. Again, according to Augustine. Though he seemed to be spout a bunch of word salad in most regards. But your point is that God simply cannot do something “bad” according to some kind of measure.
I’m going to ignore subjectivity because… well… most people don’t do something they think is bad on purpose. The idea of there being some kind of objective set of things/ideals/whatever called “good” is fairly shaky, but… we seem to have gotten into that. And, well, I suppose I started it? I don’t remember.
So let me see. God doesn’t create “Good”, it is there… God creates morally obligatory. But, according to this idea of God’s nature, God cannot do “bad”. Therefore, what God makes morally obligatory will always be good. Is that the idea?
I’m also not quite sure that concepts like choice and will are able to be made equivalent to a body that follows the laws of physics. But anyway…
God contains the good. Okay, I think I understand that. And, therefore, God, cannot change what is good because God is unchanging. That kinda makes Good like the US Constitution and Good like the US, but without an amending formula. Except better, of course.
I’m not sure that the dilemma is, necessarily, about something external. It seems to point out that God is somehow not entirely supreme because there is something that God does not have direct control over. That is, God cannot change what is good. That still holds in this scenario, despite the fact that Good is included in God, because God apparently cannot change itself.
Furthermore, the point about human free will and God’s free will is not necessarily about strength, I suppose, but variety (and if I said “strength” then I was having trouble getting what I was thinking across). Sure, God may still have a “stronger” free will, or even more “variety” of free will, but this scenario still means that God is limited in a way that humans are not. And that very thought irks some people.
Or put in a different way, people can “offend” God. God cannot “offend” God. This even holds up when we consider your definition of nature. Neither humans nor God can go against their essential nature. God cannot do bad, and humans cannot disobey the laws of physics.
As for my understanding of benevolent I’ll try to explain what I meant. And this might come out mucky, I’m not particularly good at this sometimes.
An act of good from something that can actually do, or choose to do, evil is of greater value, to me, than an act of good from something that cannot do evil. Or, if we wish to be subjective about it, someone trying to do something they see as positive for someone else when they could do something they see as negative for someone else, is more valuable than someone who must, at all times, try to do what they see as good.
I’m not all that impressed by a sponge absorbing water, because that is what a sponge does. It simply doesn’t have a choice. This is not entirely the point, all I am saying is that the sponge does not go against its nature because it simply can’t. (I am using nature as you use nature). And therefore it isn’t so impressive because it is too, not predictable but something like it. Not even the chance of variety, I suppose.
When it comes to good and evil, or whatnot, one could argue that humans are naturally selfish. I’m not entirely taken in by that argument. But either way, humans are not necessarily selfish (I don’t think they are, maybe that is phrased badly). And even if we reject the idea of humans being naturally selfish (which I tend to do), there is the very point that a person could decide not to do something. The choice has value, and the action’s value is based, in a sense, on the actual choice.
Then again, I suppose it depends on how determinist we are. I’m not particularly determinist, but I think that, even with determinism, the fact that we think and make a choice, even if someone could have predicted the outcome if they had all the variables, makes the choice have value.
To say that God, or any other being, must be good and that God cannot really do evil, or have evil intent, takes something away from the value of what that being does. At least, this is how I see it.
If someone stops and holds the door for you, you thank the person. If the door opens automatically because it is programmed to do so when it senses you, then you don’t thank the door. At least, you would probably be more inclined to thank the person than the door. The person didn’t have to hold the door for you, they chose to.
I suppose that there is a name of some kind for people like me? I don’t know it though. Not knowing what category you belong to can be helpful, though.
Your gut feeling about moral obligation seems correct to me. Without moral reasoning, moral behavior is merely reflexive. That doesn’t make it _worthless_ (after all, automatic door openers that consistently work are worth keeping); but it does seem to imply that unreflective behavior isn’t worth praising.
I think you’re assuming too much when you conclude that God doesn’t have the ability to reflect if he can do only good, though; because there are many, many possible good things to do even when one is not omnipotent. Even when and if DCT holds, there are many possible ways to apply the principles allegedly given in the divine command, although it’s plausible that DCT gives a smaller set of possibilities than non-DCT.
Oh, one more thing: “If someone stops and holds the door for you, you thank the person.” Ok, why? Because of a moral duty? Because of the consequences? (Including the social ones?) Your arguments previously didn’t rely on consequences; does this mean you believe that there is a duty of some kind to thank a moral agent when their moral act benefits you? OR… is thanking a non-reflective action, not itself worthy of moral note? The fact that you’ve demonstrated circumstances where thanks do not apply seems to argue in favor of reflection. Personally, I’m suspecting that giving thanks is a way of indirectly stating that a person is recognized as an agent rather than as simple means to an end. (Is this a side issue, though?)
BTW, have you heard of semi-compatibilism? “Compatibilism” is the belief that moral actions and determinism are compatible; “semi-compatibilism” is essentially the belief that whatever is true, determinism or indeterminism, moral actions are compatible with it. There’s a good page that explains it more completely at http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/semicompatibilism.html.
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