Christian Absurdity #6,187

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 8, 2009 in Christian Theology

If you’ve heard Christopher Hitchens speak about theism in the past few years, you’ve probably heard before his point about a God who watches human barbarism with indifference for 100,000 years and then intervenes only a few thousand years ago in the Middle East. I’ve heard him make this point probably three dozen times. But this is the best he’s ever done:

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Haukur December 8, 2009 at 6:37 am

We’re designed to live on the savanna we’ve escaped from.

I hate it when people say this. Top two reasons:

a) Human evolution didn’t stop the second the first people moved out of Africa. Hey, I can digest milk in adulthood.

b) Some people are still living on the savanna and haven’t “escaped” from it at all. Some of them, can you imagine, even like it there!

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Geeky Atheist December 8, 2009 at 8:56 am

As a fairly recent deconvert, I had heard this point a few times shortly after deconverting, and it never struck me as that effective. His delivery didn’t help me grasp what he was actually getting at.

But then one day, I saw another debate a few months ago, and it was delivered in such a way that I finally realized how powerful a point it is. I can’t remember which debate, but the above video is also great.

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Paul December 8, 2009 at 9:22 am

Geeky Atheist: But then one day, I saw another debate a few months ago, and it was delivered in such a way that I finally realized how powerful a point it is

If it comes to you, please post. I’d be interested in viewing (if available online).

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SteveK December 8, 2009 at 10:28 am

Hi Luke,

a God who watches human barbarism with indifference for 100,000 years and then intervenes only a few thousand years ago in the Middle East.

I’m unimpressed with this line of thinking as it suffers from the same false dilemma as Euthyphro. In addition, there is no real barbarism occuring in a naturalistic universe – just natural selection and his opinion about how it played out – so Hitchen’s comment does nothing to bolster the case for naturalism.

At best, his comment argues for some yet-to-be-discovered deity, or he is merely telling us an interesting fact about himself – that he wishes history unfolded differently than it did.

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Reginald Selkirk December 8, 2009 at 10:47 am

Haukur: Hey, I can digest milk in adulthood.

Ditto. Also, I have several copies of the gene for amylase, to enhance my ability to digest grain.

-

I managed to watch about half of the video. Hitchens was still hemming and hawing and hadn’t really gotten to the point yet. Is this really his best delivery of it?

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Conversational Atheist December 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

SteveK: … I’m unimpressed with this line of thinking as it suffers from the same false dilemma as Euthyphro. In addition, there is no real barbarism occuring in a naturalistic universe – just natural selection and his opinion about how it played out – so Hitchen’s comment does nothing to bolster the case for naturalism.

No, it’s not a case FOR naturalism — it’s pointing out the absurdity of the main revealed monotheisms.

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Rups900 December 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

Hey SteveK,

“I’m unimpressed with this line of thinking as it suffers from the same false dilemma as Euthyphro.”

Hey, do you reckon you could expand on this a little more as it sounds interesting and I would like to be clear on what you’re saying.

“In addition, there is no real barbarism occurring in a naturalistic universe – just natural selection and his opinion about how it played out…”

I assume here you allude to the lack of an objective basis, on naturalism, to call the behavior barbarism? If not then ignore the following. The problem is in my opinion, I’m not sure this is relevant. I think Hitchens point works as a reductio, i.e. IF God exists then the supposed situation is barbaric and absurd. Thus it matters not whether a naturalist can really call the behavior barbaric.

Take care

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Haukur December 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm

Reginald Selkirk: I managed to watch about half of the video. Hitchens was still hemming and hawing and hadn’t really gotten to the point yet. Is this really his best delivery of it?

I have no idea why Luke feels this is a particularly good version – I thought I’d heard better in some debate or other. The pacing seems a bit off here. But maybe I was just thrown off by that thing about the savanna (and a couple of similar things). I think the basic idea behind the joke is a good one.

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josef johann December 8, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Watching Hitchens made me think of something. I’m sure this point has been made elsewhere, but for me I’ve never seen it expressed in this way.

Setting aside the fact that a monotheistic god waits nearly 100,000 years before revealing itself, when it comes time for revelation, why should its revelation be restricted to a single geographical locale? Shouldn’t there be spontaneous, isolated revelations of the same truth, happening across the globe? For instance, Columbus could have found Native Americans who already had prophets preaching the truth of a specific form of Christianity, but who had been essentially unexposed to any European source that might have influenced them.

That still wouldn’t prove anything, but it would make a specific creed more plausible. But no single doctrine arises simultaneously in separate areas that agrees on specific details. You only find agreement in detail correlated with the possibility of the spread of those details between persons.

If we are talking about some truth about the universe that should be accessible to all, there is no reason for this. For instance, many truths of mathematics have been simultaneously discovered by different people who could not possibly have known each other.

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josef johann December 8, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Reginald Selkirk:
Ditto. Also, I have several copies of the gene for amylase, to enhance my ability to digest grain.-I managed to watch about half of the video. Hitchens was still hemming and hawing and hadn’t really gotten to the point yet. Is this really his best delivery of it?  

Reginald, the delivery really comes at about 2:26-3:00 and the rest is an elaboration.

SteveK: Hi Luke,
I’m unimpressed with this line of thinking as it suffers from the same false dilemma as Euthyphro. In addition, there is no real barbarism occuring in a naturalistic universe – just natural selection and his opinion about how it played out – so Hitchen’s comment does nothing to bolster the case for naturalism.
At best, his comment argues for some yet-to-be-discovered deity, or he is merely telling us an interesting fact about himself – that he wishes history unfolded differently than it did.  

I don’t understand this. The only thing natural selection does is give us context within which we can understand suffering. It doesn’t excuse suffering or say anything about the rightness or wrongness of suffering. We can still say suffering is wrong for other reasons.

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SteveK December 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm

Hi Rups900

I think Hitchens point works as a reductio, i.e. IF God exists then the supposed situation is barbaric and absurd. Thus it matters not whether a naturalist can really call the behavior barbaric.

With his comment, Hitchen’s is informally arguing for the false dilemma of Euthyphro – one that Christianity doesn’t teach. Christian’s don’t believe in the God Hitchen’s is attempting to describe so I join him in saying this sounds absurd. In short, Christianity teaches that the ‘is’ of physical reality and the ‘ought’ of moral reality are rooted in the same thing – the nature and being of God – and that reality could not have been otherwise because God could not be otherwise.

And it DOES matter if a naturalist can really call the behavior barbaric for the same reason it matters that a theist can. You can’t give the naturalist a pass here. Moral terms, as prescriptive terms, either describe factual reality or they don’t. Naturalism (or Luke’s desirism) lacks the ability to account for a prescribed reality. On what grounds can a naturalist say, “reality ought to be this way, but not this other way”?

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Walter December 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm

SteveK: Hi Rups900
With his comment, Hitchen’s is informally arguing for the false dilemma of Euthyphro– one that Christianity doesn’t teach. Christian’s don’t believe in the God Hitchen’s is attempting to describe so I join him in saying this sounds absurd. In short, Christianity teaches that the ‘is’ of physical reality and the ‘ought’ of moral reality are rooted in the same thing – the nature and being of God – and that reality could not have been otherwise because God could not be otherwise.  

You are still stuck on the horns of Euthyphro’s Dilemma. What does it mean to say that God’s nature is good? Is there a standard outside of God that God is measured against so that we may judge him to be good? Or is anything that God does or commands “good” simply because he is God?

If God is the yardstick, then ANYTHING he commands is to be considered “good” — such as commanding child sacrifice or the slaughter of women and children in other tribes that were not of Yahweh’s “CHOSEN PEOPLE”.

Appealing to God’s nature does not resolve Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

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josef johann December 8, 2009 at 6:07 pm

SteveK: And it DOES matter if a naturalist can really call the behavior barbaric for the same reason it matters that a theist can. You can’t give the naturalist a pass here. Moral terms, as prescriptive terms, either describe factual reality or they don’t. Naturalism (or Luke’s desirism) lacks the ability to account for a prescribed reality. On what grounds can a naturalist say, “reality ought to be this way, but not this other way”?  

Stevek, no one is giving the naturalist a pass. Natural selection just isn’t a comment on the moral wrongness of suffering. It’s only “a pass” if you mistakenly construe it as a failed attempt to explain the moral wrongness of suffering rather than something that helps explain why there happens to be suffering.

For a Christian, the wrongness of suffering and the fact of suffering are infused in the same question, since God is both the basis of morality and the creator of the world. For someone who doesn’t believe in this sort of god, they are two separate questions. One of them being “why is there suffering,” another being “is suffering wrong”. An answer to the first is not a failure to answer the second.

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Sly December 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I have yet to hear a *good* theistic response to this. Nothing that sounds anywhere near probable.

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lukeprog December 8, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Sly,

Me neither.

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drj December 8, 2009 at 6:46 pm

And it DOES matter if a naturalist can really call the behavior barbaric for the same reason it matters that a theist can. You can’t give the naturalist a pass here. Moral terms, as prescriptive terms, either describe factual reality or they don’t. Naturalism (or Luke’s desirism) lacks the ability to account for a prescribed reality. On what grounds can a naturalist say, “reality ought to be this way, but not this other way”?

Hitchens is saying more than “reality ought to be this way”. He is saying, “if reality is a certain way, it ought to be this way”. Its really a prudential ought.

If its true humans have lived on this Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, then its reasonable to believe that a theistic God, one who cares about the suffering of humans, ought to have intervened much sooner and not at such an arbitrary point in time, roughly 2000 years ago.

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gallus1 December 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm

amazed that many still dont get the point hitchens was making……as tho he was arguing for a theory when in fact all he was doing was arguing against a particular one. 2 funny

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SteveK December 8, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Hi Walter,

Appealing to God’s nature does not resolve Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

It does if that nature defines the nature of reality itself. You (and Euthyphro) are trying to set up a false situation where a characteristic of a thing is found outside that thing, which is nonsense. By analogy, here’s Euthyphro’s argument applied to a geometric shape so you can see that it makes no sense to talk about the nature of a thing this way.

What does it mean to say that a geometric shape’s nature is square? Is there a standard outside of the shape that the shape is measured against so that we may judge it to be square? Or is any shape that the shape takes on, “square”, simply because it is that shape?

If God is the yardstick, then ANYTHING he commands is to be considered “good” — such as commanding child sacrifice or the slaughter of women and children in other tribes that were not of Yahweh’s “CHOSEN PEOPLE”.

God cannot command anything that goes against his nature so ‘anything’ is not truly anything. Second, if your premise is “God is the yardstick” then you’ve defeated any logical argument that concludes “God can’t be the yardstick”. Absurdity is not a logical argument, but it does carry some emotional weight I will admit.

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SteveK December 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm

Hi drj,

He is saying, “if reality is a certain way, it ought to be this way”. Its really a prudential ought.

If its true humans have lived on this Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, then its reasonable to believe that a theistic God, one who cares about the suffering of humans, ought to have intervened much sooner and not at such an arbitrary point in time, roughly 2000 years ago.

It’s the same argument, only with more requirements thrown in the ought (prudence).

I can appreciate and relate to the emotional aspect of this argument, but there is no way to get started with this kind of argument unless you begin with the premise “the nature of reality is such that it ought to be a particular way”. But once you’ve done that, you’ve ruled out naturalism being true.

You can attempt to end with this conclusion by starting without any “ought” in your premise, but then you land on one of the deadly horns of Euthyphro. Luke’s desirism falls prey to this.

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josef johann December 9, 2009 at 1:03 am

Stevek,

Suppose someone told me a horse walked through my yard, and then I said: “If a horse really walked through my yard, then I ought to see hoof marks, horse droppings, and perhaps eaten grass.”

Have I said anything about the moral rightness or wrongness of the condition of my yard?

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Haukur December 9, 2009 at 2:45 am

Sly: I have yet to hear a *good* theistic response to this. Nothing that sounds anywhere near probable.

I think that if forced to reply to this they would deny that they believe Heaven watched for 100.000 years with folded arms. Young Earth Creationists believe the Christian god took an active interest in earthly affairs right from the start. I think other Christians would take a similar view, though they would have to get more metaphorical about it. I know less about Muslims but I understand they believe their god to have sent multiple prophets all over the place throughout the existence of humanity.

Note that this angle of attack on Christianity is enormously old and originally pagan. Emperor Julian put it like this:

But that from the beginning God cared only for the Jews and that He chose them out as his portion, has been clearly asserted not only by Moses and Jesus but by Paul as well… Therefore it is fair to ask of Paul why God, if he was not the God of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles, sent the blessed gift of prophecy to the Jews in abundance and gave them Moses and the oil of anointing, and the prophets and the law … but unto us no prophet, no oil of anointing, no teacher, no herald to announce his love for man which should one day, though late, reach even unto us also. Nay he even looked on for myriads, or if you prefer, for thousands of years, while men in extreme ignorance served idols, as you call them, from where the sun rises to where he sets, yes and from North to South, save only that little tribe which less than two thousand years before had settled in one part of Palestine. For if he is the God of all of us alike, and the creator of all, why did he neglect us?

Julian’s work is only preserved as quotations in Cyril of Alexandria’s Against Julian so if you care you can look up how Cyril responded to this.

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Liam December 9, 2009 at 3:49 am

I was there for this!

It’s even better when he delivers it in person.

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Kiwi Dave December 9, 2009 at 4:00 am

SteveK, squareness is a descriptive term without prescriptive implications. Are you saying that your god’s goodness is purely descriptive and has no prescriptive implications?

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Walter December 9, 2009 at 5:32 am

SteveK:
God cannot command anything that goes against his nature so ‘anything’ is not truly anything. Second, if your premise is “God is the yardstick” then you’ve defeated any logical argument that concludes “God can’t be the yardstick”. Absurdity is not a logical argument, but it does carry some emotional weight I will admit.  

Your answer is: God’s nature is “goodness”, and He cannot go against his nature. This is entirely arbitrary. As a believer, how do you judge God’s nature to be good? Hypothetically, is there anything that God “could” do that you would consider evil? You sound like you are arguing that whatever God does or commands would HAVE to be considered “good” simply because His nature is “good” — at least according to your judgment of Him. If there is no yardstick, then anything God does is neither good nor evil, it simply IS.

Yahweh –as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible — definitely does and commands things which go against my own moral compass.

It sounds to me that you have a concept of god that just happens to align with your own personal moral compass. What a surprise! Perhaps we really do create god in our own image?

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ayer December 9, 2009 at 11:08 am

Why is this anything other than the standard problem of evil attack with the additional twist of God’s intervention coming 100,000 years into the 102,000 year history of humankind? As I believe Craig has pointed out, if the Second Coming occurs in 100,000 A.D., then the atonement will have occurred right at the mid-point of human history–so what? And since standard Christian theology holds that the atonement was effective for all people (those born before and those born after it in every part of the world), what difference does it make when it occurred? Under Calvinism, people are predestined anyway regardless of the time or place of their birth; under Arminianism, they are saved or lost based upon the knowledge of God that is given to them (however vague or incomplete); and under Molinism, God could choose to create that possible world in which every person who would respond positively if he heard the Gospel will be born under circumstances in which he hears it.

Under any of these standard Christian views, I don’t see how Hitchens point has persuasive force (any more so than the standard problem evil, anyway).

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SteveK December 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Kiwi Dave: SteveK, squareness is a descriptive term without prescriptive implications. Are you saying that your god’s goodness is purely descriptive and has no prescriptive implications?  (Quote)

I’m not saying that.

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ayer December 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Walter: Your answer is: God’s nature is “goodness”, and He cannot go against his nature. This is entirely arbitrary. As a believer, how do you judge God’s nature to be good?

Because his nature is identical with that standard of “The Good” by which we make moral judgments; what’s the problem here?

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SteveK December 9, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Hi Walter,

You sound like you are arguing that whatever God does or commands would HAVE to be considered “good” simply because His nature is “good”

I’m saying his nature ‘is’, just as your nature ‘is’. Divine revelation says this nature has the characteristic of goodness (among other characteristics). Now that bit of revelation about God’s nature could be true or false, but it certainly isn’t absurd, illogical or relativistic. It simply is, or it is not.

— at least according to your judgment of Him.

No, the truth of what I’m saying would be according to the facts about God’s nature. My judgement, and yours, doesn’t do anything to change that. Our judgement interprets what is.

If there is no yardstick, then anything God does is neither good nor evil, it simply IS.

You are correct that God’s nature simply ‘is’. What that nature IS doesn’t depend on some external yardstick. If it did, then God’s nature would come to BE at the time the yardstick IS…and Christianty (via Judaism) teaches that this isn’t the case. That is part of Euthyphro’s false dilemma and Hitchen’s is falling for it.

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SteveK December 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm

A little correction/clarification regarding my last paraphraph….what God does, IS, and what his nature is, IS. The two are not synonymous, however only the latter has a moral component that can be said to be good. He could DO nothing and he would still have a nature – he would still BE.

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Sly December 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Haukur:

Julian’s work is only preserved as quotations in Cyril of Alexandria’s Against Julian so if you care you can look up how Cyril responded to this.  

Thanks!

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SteveK December 9, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Hi ayer,

And since standard Christian theology holds that the atonement was effective for all people (those born before and those born after it in every part of the world), what difference does it make when it occurred?

Here you mean the atonement of the cross, and you are correct that it didn’t matter when it occurred.

For those that don’t understand, there has always existed a means for atonement. The means by which a person is reconciled with God – made at one with (atone) – has always been the same throughout scriptural history. It has been by the means of grace by faith – or trust – in something that God has revealed.

The object of that faith has changed over the years until 2000 years ago when the object of faith was permanently fixed at the cross. So nothing has changed. Reconciliation with God has always been a matter of trust, which is faith.

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Walter December 9, 2009 at 3:54 pm

ayer:
Because his nature is identical with that standard of “The Good” by which we make moral judgments; what’s the problem here?  

Because it is meaningless to say that God is “good” unless there is a standard apart from God with which to measure him by.

You see, some theists believe that God commands them to fly planes into buildings to kill unbelievers. Further, they feel that this action is “good” because God wills them to do it, and any command from God must be “good”.

Imagine if we were to live in a world where God demands the murder of all male unbelievers and the rape of all female unbelievers. According to theists posting here, they could not condemn the actions of that deity because that deity’s nature must be “good”. Why must God’s nature be good? Why can’t God be evil? How do we judge?

When a theist says that God–or his nature–is good, then that theist is judging God using his or her own moral yardstick. To say that their morality comes from God’s nature is circular.

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ayer December 9, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Walter: Because it is meaningless to say that God is “good” unless there is a standard apart from God with which to measure him by.

I assume from your comment that you believe there is an objective moral standard by which to judge good and evil, but your question is whether that standard can exist apart from God’s nature. My answer is no. Moral values cannot exist as free-floating “things”–what would it mean to say, e.g., that “loyalty” (undoubtedly a “good”) exists ontologically? (This is the fatal flaw in Platonism). But the fact that they are grounded in God’s nature means it makes sense to say that objective moral values “exist.”

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Walter December 9, 2009 at 7:13 pm

ayer:
I assume from your comment that you believe there is an objective moral standard by which to judge good and evil, but your question is whether that standard can exist apart from God’s nature.My answer is no.Moral values cannot exist as free-floating “things”–what would it mean to say, e.g., that “loyalty” (undoubtedly a “good”) exists ontologically? (This is the fatal flaw in Platonism).But the fact that they are grounded in God’s nature means it makes sense to say that objective moral values “exist.”  

Pardon me if I am being a little thick here, since I am just an average Joe Lunchbox and not a philosopher.

Why does God have to be “the Good”? Why can’t God be “the Evil”? If “Good” is anything that God does or commands, then “Good” becomes arbitrary.

StevenK suggested that God cannot do things that go against his nature; that implies that God is constrained by an objective moral standard that is “above” him.

You seem to be saying that whatever God does, it must be considered good. Considering that some theists claim that killing infidels is mandated by God, this type of morality sounds very frightening to me.

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ayer December 9, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Walter: Why does God have to be “the Good”? Why can’t God be “the Evil”? If “Good” is anything that God does or commands, then “Good” becomes arbitrary.

Well, I’m no philosopher either, it’s just a hobby for me, but I will give it my best attempt. If God is the greatest being that can be conceived (as the traditional philosophical definition holds), and if there is an objective difference between good and evil (which I think you said you agree with), then God must be the epitome of “goodness” since goodness is a great-making property. If God’s nature is the epitome of “goodness” then all of his commands would be good since they flow out of that nature.

Walter: StevenK suggested that God cannot do things that go against his nature; that implies that God is constrained by an objective moral standard that is “above” him.

As St. Augustine pointed out 1500 years ago, “evil” is the privation of good. God cannot do things that go against his nature as “The Good”, but not being able to a “lesser thing” is not really a “constraint,” since evil is by definition simply a “lack of goodness.”

Walter: You seem to be saying that whatever God does, it must be considered good. Considering that some theists claim that killing infidels is mandated by God, this type of morality sounds very frightening to me.

Well, those theists could be wrong about what God mandates. The foundation of “The Good” and our ability to KNOW “The Good” are two different issues.

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Jeff H December 9, 2009 at 8:48 pm

ayer,

I think we’ve had this discussion before, but I’ll mention it again. If God is “the Good”, fine, whatever. We can define “good” as being “whatever God’s character is”. But why is God one way and not another? If goodness is judged only by God’s character, and if God simply “is”, then it seems goodness is arbitrary. If God were a misogynistic tyrannical child molester, that would be “good”.

Of course, your response is to fall back to the “greatest being that can be conceived”, but I fail to see how you imply that “goodness” = “greatness”. I think that ends up being an equivocation of the word “great”. There is, most certainly, a terrorist out there that is the “greatest terrorist ever born”. That does not imply goodness whatsoever. It seems as though the “greatest being that can be conceived” could also be greatest in the quality of “evilness”.

On somewhat of a side note (before you bring it up as a counter-argument), I’d also disagree that evil is, by definition, simply a “lack of goodness.” I think it goes beyond that. A chair has a lack of goodness, but we don’t usually call chairs evil. There exists a morally neutral area that lacks good but also lacks evil. Evil goes beyond this, and involves a degree of “moral badness”. Thus, I think it could be argued that if God is not as evil as is possible, then I could conceive of a greater being that is more evil than God.

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ayer December 10, 2009 at 6:56 am

Jeff H: Of course, your response is to fall back to the “greatest being that can be conceived”, but I fail to see how you imply that “goodness” = “greatness”.

I agree that the discussion assumes that “Good” is superior to “Evil”–but that seems to be uncontroversial (except perhaps to complete relativists or nihilists). I thought the criticism was that God’s will or nature cannot be deemed automatically “good”–that would be arbitrary–but that we appeal to an independent standard of “goodness” which exists in evaluating God’s will. This criticism thus assumes that “goodness” is superior to “evil,” since it presumes that the things God wills could be judged “evil” against this standard.

The problem with this Platonist view, as I mentioned earlier, is that it makes no sense to say that the objective moral values to which God would be subject just exist as free-floating “things.” As I said, what does it mean to say that, e.g., “loyalty” exists ontologically? These things must be grounded in the person of the greatest conceivable being. That is how objective moral values can be said to “exist”–they exist as the nature of God. Thus, God’s will is necessarily good because it flows from his nature as “The Good.”

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Walter December 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

ayer:
I agree that the discussion assumes that “Good” is superior to “Evil”–but that seems to be uncontroversial (except perhaps to complete relativists or nihilists).I thought the criticism was that God’s will or nature cannot be deemed automatically “good”–that would be arbitrary–but that we appeal to an independent standard of “goodness” which exists in evaluating God’s will.This criticism thus assumes that “goodness” is superior to “evil,” since it presumes that the things God wills could be judged “evil” against this standard.The problem with this Platonist view, as I mentioned earlier, is that it makes no sense to say that the objective moral values to which God would be subject just exist as free-floating “things.”As I said, what does it mean to say that, e.g., “loyalty” exists ontologically?These things must be grounded in the person of the greatest conceivable being.That is how objective moral values can be said to “exist”–they exist as the nature of God.Thus, God’s will is necessarily good because it flows from his nature as “The Good.”  

I see no evidence that God’s nature is necessarily “Good”. God may be the most evil being that I can imagine. Or perhaps, God is the most indifferent being that I can imagine, and he does not really care about humans.

Ayer, you seem to be saying that God ‘sets’ our moral compass to show himself as the greatest “Good” that exists. I just do not see it. If the tales in the bible are an accurate testimonial of this “Greatest Being”, then this deity does things which I find morally reprehensible.

Further, I am not a big fan of the Ontological Argument for God; it seems like a cheap way of trying to “define” God into existence. As Jeff has already mentioned: The Greatest Being imaginable does not necessarily mean that that being is the “Most Good”; the Greatest Being might be the “Most Evil”.

I won’t derail further by pointing out the difficulties in accepting the books of the bible as “divine revelation” from any deity. If there is a supreme deity, then IT might have nothing to do with any known religion on earth–but that is a whole other discussion.

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ayer December 10, 2009 at 11:21 am

Walter: I just do not see it. If the tales in the bible are an accurate testimonial of this “Greatest Being”, then this deity does things which I find morally reprehensible.

But the argument does not require you to accept the Bible; only the existence of the monotheistic God.

Walter: The Greatest Being imaginable does not necessarily mean that that being is the “Most Good”; the Greatest Being might be the “Most Evil”.

So you don’t believe that the property “good” is objectively better than the property “evil”?

Walter: If there is a supreme deity, then IT might have nothing to do with any known religion on earth–but that is a whole other discussion.

Ok, but that wouldn’t prevent you from accepting deism.

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Walter December 10, 2009 at 11:51 am

ayer:

So you don’t believe that the property “good” is objectively better than the property “evil”?
  

What does it mean for “Good” to be objectively better than “Evil”?

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ayer December 10, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Walter:
What does it mean for “Good” to be objectively better than “Evil”?  

It means, e.g., that if a deity does things you find “morally reprehensible,” you are making a statement that the deity has done something evil that is objectively morally wrong, not just that it is disagreeable to you subjectively (as a matter of mere opinion).

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Walter December 10, 2009 at 1:33 pm

ayer:
It means, e.g., that if a deity does things you find “morally reprehensible,” you are making a statement that the deity has done something evil that is objectively morally wrong, not just that it is disagreeable to you subjectively (as a matter of mere opinion).  

I thought that you were arguing against objective moral values as an ontological “thing”?

So, I am not sure how “good” can be objectively greater than “evil”, since, apparently, they are nothing more than concepts? In any case, I am not swayed by any form of the Ontological Argument for God–it just sounds like a word game, to me.

As an agnostic, I find Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason somewhat more compelling than most other arguments for God.

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ayer December 10, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Walter: I thought that you were arguing against objective moral values as an ontological “thing”?

I am; but I am not arguing that a standard for judging good from evil does not exist. I am arguing that it is identical to the nature of God. That is the form in which the standard exists.

Walter: So, I am not sure how “good” can be objectively greater than “evil”, since, apparently, they are nothing more than concepts?

Not sure what you mean here; aren’t “omnipotence” and “omniscience” also concepts? No one argues that an “omnipotent” being is not greater than one that is not omnipotent. The same applies to an “omnibenevolent” or all-good being; it is necessarily greater than one which is not omnibenevolent.

But I agree it all turns on not being a moral nihilist, i.e., one who believes that the concepts of an objective good and evil are meaningless.

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Jeff H December 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm

ayer:
I thought the criticism was that God’s will or nature cannot be deemed automatically “good”–that would be arbitrary–but that we appeal to an independent standard of “goodness” which exists in evaluating God’s will…

Yes, that was the criticism that others were mentioning. I, on the other hand, was accepting your answer to that and instead criticizing something else, which apparently you did not understand. (No fault of your own, probably just my inability to explain it.)

So your argument is essentially thus:

1. God is the greatest being that can be conceived.
2. Being “good” is greater than being “evil.”
3. Therefore, God must be good.

I’m arguing that this relies on an equivocation in meaning of the word “great.” In the first premise, at least as originally formulated by St. Anselm, “great” is used as a measure of quantity or amount. Such as, “this rich man has greater wealth than this poor man.” Omnipotence is seen as being “greatest in power.” In premise 2, however, “great” seems to be used as a measure of quality or value. In other words, it’s better to be good than evil, therefore good is greater than evil. But we might not say the same as far as my other examples – rich might not be better than poor, nor power greater than weakness. The first way of using “greatness” has no value associated with it, whereas the second does.

So yes, I agree that it’s “greater” to be good than evil. That’s fine. But if you are using “great” as a measure of quantity and not of value, one can be “greatly good” or “greatly evil”.

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ayer December 10, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Jeff H: So yes, I agree that it’s “greater” to be good than evil. That’s fine. But if you are using “great” as a measure of quantity and not of value, one can be “greatly good” or “greatly evil”.

On the Augustinian definition of evil as “a lack of goodness”, I don’t see the sharp distinction you are describing. For Augustine, you commit evil when you elevate the “lesser good” over the “greater good” (which, I suppose, could be thought of in terms of “quantity”). E.g., say a famous golfer cheats on his wife with multiple women. Sex is “good” in and of itself; but he has elevated this lesser good over the greater good of “sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse in the keeping of a solemn commitment of marital love.” He has thus comitted evil by choosing the lesser good.

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Justaguy December 10, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I find it interesting that Luke posted this as Hitchens refuting theism. Since he references “young-earthers” and scientists who happen also to be Christian, one could easily infer he is addressing only the Judeo/Christian version of theism. If one is generous to Mr. Hitchens, one might possibly ascribe to him that he is addressing the entire Abrahamic root. That conclusion would not be evident from the video, however.

He doesn’t actually refute theism, either, but merely addresses what he finds absurd about the version of theism he decides to present – knocking the perception/version of what he believes the God of that version of theism (most evidently the Christian version) should be like/do.

I, too, can take a Prius, complain it doesn’t go 200 mph and lacks a sufficient # of cupholders, conclude therefore that it sucks, then perhaps someone will post my video and claim that I have shown automobiles to be useless.

I find Hitchens entertaining, but if this is the “best he’s ever done” in refuting theism (or even one particular version of theism) he has much room for improvement. Perhaps Luke will also revisit his discernment about the strength of people’s “points” as well.

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Jeff H December 11, 2009 at 8:05 am

ayer:
On the Augustinian definition of evil as “a lack of goodness”, I don’t see the sharp distinction you are describing.For Augustine, you commit evil when you elevate the “lesser good” over the “greater good” (which, I suppose, could be thought of in terms of “quantity”).E.g., say a famous golfer cheats on his wife with multiple women.Sex is “good” in and of itself; but he has elevated this lesser good over the greater good of “sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse in the keeping of a solemn commitment of marital love.”He has thus comitted evil by choosing the lesser good.  

Well then I disagree with Augustine’s definition of “evil”. He’s saying that anything that is less than “best” (or “greatest good”) is therefore “evil”? I think that’s too black-and-white for me. If the “greater good” is to give $100 to charity (assuming you’ve got the money), then the “lesser good” could be to give $50 to charity. Does that mean that giving $50 to charity is “evil”? Of course not. It’s simply less good.

Goodness and evilness, in my view, is a gradient, or a hierarchy, if you will. The “best” would be at the top, and then it moves downward through “better” and “good” and finally comes down to neutral. After that, it moves into “bad”, “worse”, and “worst”. Evil is somewhere down in that lower area of “badness” in general. That’s somewhat simplistic since evil tends to have a notion of intent along with it as well, but at any rate, I wouldn’t tend to put “evil” anywhere else on the spectrum other than below neutral.

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Thomas Reid December 12, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Walter:
As an agnostic, I find Victor Reppert’s Argument from Reason somewhat more compelling than most other arguments for God.  

Walter, if you haven’t already, you might be interested to research the Conceptualist Argument. Chad McIntosh has a nice summary here.

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