Five Reasons In One We Can’t Judge God By Human Standards

Ebaur was wondering about why I set up one of the decision points in this chart the way I did, and asked yesterday,

God doesn’t pass muster against human moral standards. I don’t understand why we should be required to only judge God’s actions by the standards God puts forward. If the consensus of most humans is that some action is morally objectionable and God does just that thing… then can’t we still conclude God is immoral?

This is a very important question, because it aims straight at the nature and character of God and all reality. My answer today comes in five parts, but really only one: when God does what he does, it is so infinitely different from what humans do what we do, we literally have no standard that applies to him.

This post is turned out to be considerably longer than usual. (It’s about some very deep issues, so it could have gone even longer. I’m touching on things pretty lightly, in  fact.)

Here is a preview of what I’m going to be saying. There are two very different ways of viewing reality:

  1. One is based in the eternal character of God, the other is based in human experience.
  2. One seeks human wellbeing both on earth and throughout eternity, the other sees human wellbeing on earth as all that’s relevant.
  3. One finds in God a clear opposition between good and evil, the other is unclear on that relation.
  4. One takes an eternal view of justice, wherein God makes things right infallibly in the future state if not in this world; the other can only seek justice in this world, and does so very imperfectly.
  5. One view of reality sees God as King, Creator, and ultimate owner, who has all rights by nature over all people and things. Both views see humans as having rights only over themselves and their property. The second view sees human rights as the only rights that enter into moral decisions.

These five differences add up to one huge difference: God is so vastly unlike humans in who he is and what he does, there is nothing in human moral judgment that applies to God.

Read on to find out why this is true; why it’s not a cop-out, giving God some easy way out of moral problems; and why secularists often have trouble understanding how this could be true.

The rest of this post explains all that in more detail. It does not attempt to answer any question except the one ebaur asked. There will be more conversation yet to come on other questions related to God and ethics.

Two Ways of understanding reality

Let’s consider two very different ways of understanding reality. One is the historic Christian understanding, in which God is the sovereign Creator, the ultimate, the eternal, the Being before all other being from whom all other being derives. God (on this understanding) is wholly good in every aspect of his being, and from him all goodness derives. All that he does is good, and goodness is defined by who he is and what he does. Human or natural goodness is good insofar as it reflects and mirrors God’s goodness. (Note that I will not be using this statement of God’s goodness as a premise in my argument, so therefore it’s not setting up any circular reasoning. It’s just an aspect of the Christian view of who God is, or what the word “God” means, if you prefer.)

Another way of viewing reality, which I’ll call the secular way, is too multifaceted to describe in one short paragraph. Generally speaking, though, it’s the idea that reality is what it is because blind forces of nature made it that way Goodness is something we just recognize in human relations, and that it has to do with seeking the best for all people. Sam Harris probably speaks for many when he speaks of human wellbeing as our ethical north star, our guide for navigation.*

Two ways of understanding what goodness is

The secular view of wellbeing appears in various forms, including good health, adequate economic means, personal fulfillment, aesthetic pleasures, and loving relationships. On this view, to be good is to help as many people as possible experience as much of this as possible. All this is evaluated within the natural, visible world, since that’s all the reality secularist ethics recognizes.

Christian ethics isn’t limited that way. It starts with the one God who is before, behind, above, and around all of nature, including human nature. It sees human life on earth as a short temporal stage in an eternal journey. Therefore, while Christianity certainly affirms the ethic of seeking the best for all people, its view of human wellbeing extends beyond life on earth. If human souls are eternal, and if our eternal condition depends on our decisions, our character growth, and our relationship with God on earth, then the most good a human could experience is the eternal good that begins in a right relationship with God, making good decisions, and growing in character.

So far, then, in this compressed discussion we’ve seen two huge differences between these two ways of viewing reality:

1. One is based in the eternal character of God, the other is based in human experience. 
2. One seeks human wellbeing both on earth and throughout eternity, the other sees human wellbeing on earth as all that’s relevant.

Those aren’t the only differences. There is also a tremendous contrast in how each system deals with badness.

Two ways of understanding badness

It seems to me that secular ethics displays an uneasy relationship with the concept of badness, an unwillingness to name evil as evil. Contemporary ethics is intolerant of intolerance. It calls it bad to call anything bad. This is (shall we say) awkward at best.

Christian theistic ethics, on the other hand, understands the concept of evil, and is willing to call bad things bad. It recognizes that without this, it’s rather meaningless to call good things good.

God is not revealed as being simply nice and kind, however. Just as goodness is logically opposed to badness, so God’s goodness is actively opposed to badness. He calls on us to oppose evil as well.

The easiest, quickest place to locate evil is in the human heart. God’s goodness opposes my badness. His purpose with badness is always first to correct it and bring reconciliation with the guilty one, but failing that, in the end he’s sequester it, separate all evil from all good.

I wish I had space to explain how Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection make it possible for him to have a relationship with sinful umans, but I don’t. (It’s essential information for understanding Christianity, but not necessarily for this aspect of it.)

The third great difference between our two ways of viewing reality, then, is

3. One finds in God a clear opposition between good and evil, the other is unclear on that relation.

Two ways of understanding justice

There’s still more. God has a very long view, an eternal view, and he sees everything perfectly clearly. His justice isn’t limited to earthly settings as ours is.

Could it ever be just for a human to take another human’s life without cause? No. Could it ever be just for God to do that? Careful: it’s a bit of a trick question. What we see as being without cause, God certainly can and does see as having a reason and a purpose; That purpose might just as likely to accomplish a future good as it is to redress a past wrong.

What about that poor, unlucky fellow who dies for the sake of some future purpose of God, though? Isn’t he suffering some injustice? No. If God takes a life, there is no injustice. This is so for three reasons:

a. All deaths are deserved. The just penalty for rebellion against God is death (Romans 6:23, among other passages).
b. God superintends every death. The only thing that varies is the manner and timing of death.
c. Justice is not cut off at death, for God. He can do what we cannot: make it right to a person (including our “unlucky fellow”) after death, since the person’s soul lives on, still in the gracious and loving hands of our just God.

It sums up to this: God can take a life justly even if there is no apparent reason for it. This is not just about death, however, for that same principle applies to all other human pain and loss: God can and will make it right, whether on earth or after this life, and he does it infallibly. Humans can only seek justice for this life, and we do it very imperfectly. When we’re unclear about the distinction between good and evil, we also do it hesitantly, maybe even reluctantly.

Echoing in my ears I hear the mockery of “pie in the sky when you die by and by;” and the scornful objection that we’re letting God off the hook based on things he can do that we’ll never see. I think we all will see it, but the real answer to that objection is this. Based on who God is understood to be, according to Christian beliefs, how could it be any other way but this way? If someone is going to ask a question about God’s ethics, this is the very kind of God they’re asking about. Future justice isn’t ported in to save God embarrassment, it’s essential to his nature as God.

This then is the fourth major difference between two worldviews:

4. One takes an eternal view of justice, wherein God makes things right infallibly in the future state if not in this world; the other can only seek justice in this world, and does so very imperfectly.

Two ways of understanding who’s in charge of what

Finally, God is the sovereign king and creator. What we have he gave us, and we receive it as stewards or managers, not as absolute owners. That includes our very lives. If he takes a life, he takes what he has the right to have, for life comes from him, and his kingship is infinite beyond any human ruler’s.

 

That means it’s logically impossible for God to take something he has no right to take. The same obviously cannot be said for humans. I have no ownership rights whatever in my neighbor’s property, health, or life. Thus,

5. One view of reality sees God as King, Creator, and ultimate owner, who has all rights by nature over all people and things. Both views see humans as having rights only over themselves and their property. The second view sees human rights as the only rights that enter into moral decisions.

Five reasons we can’t judge God by human standards

Let’s review our five points now alongside the question that prompted them. There are two very different ways of viewing reality:

  1. One is based in the eternal character of God, the other is based in human experience.
  2. One seeks human wellbeing both on earth and throughout eternity, the other sees human wellbeing on earth as all that’s relevant.
  3. One finds in God a clear opposition between good and evil, the other is unclear on that relation.
  4. One takes an eternal view of justice, wherein God makes things right infallibly in the future state if not in this world; the other can only seek justice in this world, and does so very imperfectly.
  5. One view of reality sees God as King, Creator, and ultimate owner, who has all rights by nature over all people and things. Both views see humans as having rights only over themselves and their property. The second view sees human rights as the only rights that enter into moral decisions.

The question again was,

If the consensus of most humans is that some action is morally objectionable and God does just that thing… then can’t we still conclude God is immoral?

The one great reason we can’t judge God by human standards…

The answer should be clear by now. God cannot do “just that thing.” He never does what humans do, because he never does anything from within a remotely similar context or for remotely similar reasons. No action of God’s is ever comparable to any action by humans. It couldn’t be—it would mean he wasn’t God at all. Therefore there are no grounds for an objection like ebaur’s, where God is found to be immoral for doing something we find morally objectionable in humans.

… is because God is infinitely not like us

G. Rodrigues said it well in a comment this morning:

You do not quite grasp the vast gulf between us and God. God is not a being; something like us, except shorn of our limitations. Rather He is ipsum esse subsistens, Being Itself, the ground of all being, and creation is not a mere event located in the distant past, but the sustaining of being in being, of all being, in the here and now and at all moments. If per impossible God were to disappear, then everything, from the tiniest patch of spacetime to a ginormous black hole, would vanish and disappear into Nothingness. It is against this backdrop that one must understand the Moral Law and how God relates to it.

More to come…

All this discussion relates to just that one question about that one decision point. I don’t want anyone to think it’s intended to answer all questions about God’s morality. There’s more discussion ahead.

*There are many other versions of secular ethics, but this one seems to dominate a lot of discussion. The point of this article isn’t to provide a tour of all ethical systems, but to show how God (if God exists) cannot be subject to any human ethical standards at all. That points I’m making here with respect to the ethics of wellbeing can easily be generalized to cover all other non-theistic ethical systems.

Comments 97
  1. Aaron M. Renn

    This is a key question. One reason it comes up is that every church today talks about this loving, caring, warm, God who is our Father. Jesus even describes him in those terms. Yet what kind of loving father would deliberately hand his children over into the hands of Satan, as he did to Job and Peter, for example? It’s obvious that the moral standards God applies to us do not apply to him. You make a great intellectual defense of this, but the real problems aren’t intellectual, they are in the practical life consequences that flow from this.

    My personal struggle in faith is that God makes huge claims for himself in terms of his character, and massive promises to us about what he will do. Yet these claims and promises do not appear to have any operational applicability in this world. That is, there’s really nothing to rely on in the here and now. Because no matter what happens, people like you will always defend it as being consistent with God’s character and word. If there’s no conceivable way God could ever be shown to be a liar, then there’s no way he could ever be shown to be true either. There might as well be no God. The results are the same.

    I believe that the Christian hope is ultimately an eschatalogical hope. This world is not our home and we are promised suffering, persecution, etc. here. But it costs nothing to believe in a God who promises eternal bliss in the bye and bye. Pascal noted that you really had nothing to lose by believing in such a thing. After all, we’re all going to die anyway, so why not comfort ourselves with the thought that we go to heaven afterwards?

    The real question of faith is never the future, it’s always now. Can I trust God in what I’m going through right this minute? That’s where the rubber meets the road of faith. The question is, what can we trust in him for right now? As near as I can tell, practically speaking, nothing. Nothing in his character or promises apply to us now in any sense we could realistically rely upon, at least not without and escape hatch or loophole for him. (Perhaps we can trust him to carry us to the finish line, but I’m not sure even here).

    Your post was long but I think can be summed up pretty easily as saying that God is a totally alien being beyond our ability to know or comprehend. Unlike the “personal Jesus” or “relational God” we hear about every Sunday in church, this God is the inscrutable God of the scriptures. I suspect something profound has shifted in our concept of God in which we are unaware. For example, probably the longest passage in John Owen’s book “Mortification of Sin” isn’t about sin at all, it’s a lengthy defense of the notion that we can’t really know God or even know but the tiniest bit about God at all.

    I’m sort of rambling on this, but it’s an area I wrestle with myself. Part of our ability to relate to other human beings is an ability to predict their behavior, in part based on moral codes. I assume if we get together for coffee, you won’t shoot me dead. But the obvious implication of your argument is that God could very much invite me to coffee and kill me, and this wouldn’t be anything bad or particularly out of character for him to do. Think about what that means to how we think about and relate to God, if we really internalize what you’re saying.

  2. G. Rodrigues

    @Aaron M. Renn:

    Yet what kind of loving father would deliberately hand his children over into the hands of Satan, as he did to Job and Peter, for example? It’s obvious that the moral standards God applies to us do not apply to him.

    The moral standards do not apply to God, but emphatically *NOT* for the reasons you seem to think. God did not “hand over” Job and Peter to Satan if by it you mean that God abandoned Peter and Job to be devoured by Satan. And the proof is that both Job and Peter were *not* devoured by Satan, but rather gave Glory to Him to their last dying breath.

    Yet these claims and promises do not appear to have any operational applicability in this world. That is, there’s really nothing to rely on in the here and now.

    You are making a mockery of every Christian martyr and saint, from St. Stephen down to the anonymous, ordinary man that, *because* of Christ’s Love, performs an ordinary act of charity towards his fellow man. Now, I can already guess what you are going to say: poor Christians, so full of themselves, yet they need an enticement, the carrot of Heaven and the stick of Hell, to even make an ordinary act of charity. What can I say? Christ came to call the unjust and the imperfect; we Christians have not yet arisen to the heights of your moral perfection and enlightenment, that we can on our own and without God’s grace, perform even ordinary acts of kindness.

    In short, you are making a mockery of countless Christians, who testify in their own voices to their own experience of how life-changing Christianity is. Maybe you think in terms of benefits; maybe material benefits, or being safe from harms. If that is the case, it is indeed true that Christians suffer the same lot as the rest of humanity (*), but since that is not how Christians think of their relationship with God, so what?

    (*) A few qualifications could be added here, but let this pass for now.

    But it costs nothing to believe in a God who promises eternal bliss in the bye and bye. Pascal noted that you really had nothing to lose by believing in such a thing. After all, we’re all going to die anyway, so why not comfort ourselves with the thought that we go to heaven afterwards?

    And you continue to make a mockery of every Christian: I am sure every martyr for the faith, while being chopped, roasted or eaten alive, must have thought that Christianity really cost him nothing. The founder himself, Jesus Christ, suffered an ignominious death and an insolent injustice, and then went on to warn His disciples that The Master is not greater than the Servant, and what He had gone through, they would.

    Now the thought *does* apply to the Atheist. I mean, if belief in the after-life, or in its illusion, brings such happiness, why not swallow the pill? What kind of ethical scruple prevents the Atheist from willing himself into belief? The answer is obvious: nothing, nothing at all.

    Your post was long but I think can be summed up pretty easily as saying that God is a totally alien being beyond our ability to know or comprehend. Unlike the “personal Jesus” or “relational God” we hear about every Sunday in church, this God is the inscrutable God of the scriptures.

    Ok, this false dichotomy is really grating on the nerves. It says either God is like one of us, tameable and fully graspable by our rationality, or else we are left with vague and pious bromides to console ourselves with. These two extremes are both false: neither can we perfectly understand God by the light of our own unaided reason alone, in this life at least, that is, we are really in the dark as far as God’s nature goes, but neither all we have are vague and pious platitudes that make no practical difference for the here and now.

    But the obvious implication of your argument is that God could very much invite me to coffee and kill me, and this wouldn’t be anything bad or particularly out of character for him to do.

    The implication may be “obvious”, but for all that it is not an implication, but rather an emotional outcry barely resembling a coherent thought. God does not “take coffee”, so probably, what you want to say is that God could snuff the life out of me on a whim, just like wanton boys dismember a fly. But God is not one of the Greek gods; you are reading the wrong play.

  3. BillT

    The real question of faith is never the future, it’s always now. Can I trust God in what I’m going through right this minute? That’s where the rubber meets the road of faith. The question is, what can we trust in him for right now?

    To keep every one of the promises he’s made. Those promises are manifold and offer the greatest reward anyone can possibly imagine. You can trust him to keep those promises because he sacrificed his only son in order to make those promises come true. And if he was willing to do that, to prove his love, what won’t he do for us?

    And it isn’t limited to future rewards either. His promises and belief in the reality of his sacrifice for us changes us from the inside out. Makes is bolder and more humble, makes us confident without bravado, assuages our doubts and fears, makes us radically generous, heals us from our addictions and keeps us from turning good things into ultimate things. The reality of the power of the Gospel has proven this to be true over and over and over.

  4. AdamHazzard

    There are two very different ways of viewing reality: One is based in the eternal character of God, the other is based in human experience.

    This should read, One is based in human claims about the character of God, the other is based on human experience. Unless you have direct and reliable access to the mind of God, which I, for one, do not.

  5. Tom Gilson

    If you reject the first way of viewing reality and accept the second, then it follows almost tautologically that you will reject the first, doesn’t it?

  6. Tom Gilson

    The first way of viewing reality doesn’t depend on the accuracy of human claims about God. It depends on God’s being able to communicate truly about himself to humans. You could deny that possibility, I suppose by begging the question, but I can’t imagine any other way you could reject it a priori.

  7. Hal Friederichs

    One need not deny the possibility of God being able to communicate with humans. A possibility is just a possibility. It will get you nowhere unless you can provide good reasons for thinking it is a reality.

    I know that God has never revealed himself to me. I suspect he has never revealed himself to AdamHazzard.

    So we are left with your claim that he has actually communicated his character to you. Or that he has actually communicated himself to someone else and you believe the claims of that person.

  8. Tom Gilson

    No, you are left with the tautology, for purposes of this discussion.

    For other purposes, your point might be relevant. But for here, it’s just a way of letting us know you view reality the second way.

  9. SteveK

    I know that God has never revealed himself to me.

    If know something about goodness, then you know something about the character of God.

  10. Jenna Black

    Hal,

    If you deny and reject all revelation of God and all human experiences of/with what people name, conceptualize and communicate about as “God” then any discussion of God’s moral character is just cocktail party conversation for atheists. The Bible is the testimony of many generations and many people’s experiences of/with God throughout several thousands of years of human history. Most particularly, it is the ancient Hebrews’ account of their relationship with God. If you don’t accept the reality that there is a “God” (by any name) with which/whom it is possible to have a relationship, then I can understand why the Bible makes no sense to you whatsoever. However, your claim that because whatever you call “God” has never revealed himself to you, does not mean that He has not revealed Himself to humankind, collectively and individually, throughout human history and today.

    I quote Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1959, 2004) in his book “God, Man and History” where he calls these very common experiences “encounters” with God and says this about “proof.”

    “If the encounter is experienced in reality, what need of proofs? If, however, the encounter is not part of possible human experience, what use all proof?”

    So, for you, what is the purpose of a conversation about God’s moral character? What do you expect to get out of it? I really am curious about this. JB

  11. Bryan Howlett

    I had an out of body experience when I was at college. I was lying on my bed and suddenly I felt like I was rising up. I was looking down on my body. Very strange.

  12. Andrew W

    Various responses:

    One is based in human claims about the character of God, the other is based on human experience.

    Not so. Everything in Tom’s post (except perhaps some examples) would be logically valid even if God never communicated with humans in any meaningful manner. The world could appear completely consistent with an atheistic worldview without being proof against an abstract omniscient God; all it would prove is that such a God isn’t effectively communicating with us.

    However, we Christian’s add a second claim, which is based on the human experience of
    (1) having a nature which is sympathetic towards super-natural claims.
    (2) God’s explicit communication of himself.

    —–

    That means it’s logically impossible for God to take something he has no right to take. The same obviously cannot be said for humans. I have no ownership rights whatever in my neighbor’s property, health, or life.

    From a moral stand-point, this is the big one. When it comes down to it, we have no more inherent claim on God than a character has on an author or a bunch of Lego figures have on the child that put them together.

    The difference, of course, is that Jews & Christians believe that this creator God not only exists but has given us sufficient perception to recognise him and has made promises to us that he intends us to rely on. This changes the moral picture somewhat, but not in a manner that removes the Creator / creature distinction.

  13. Bryan Howlett

    Re: My out of body experience. The point I wanted to make is about confirmation bias. Had I believed in a mind/body separation then I would have taken this experience as “proof”. I don’t though, so instead I took it as “proof” of how easily human minds can play tricks on their owners.

  14. Jenna Black

    Bryan,

    Your “out of body” experience and how you obviously discount its authenticity as an experience tells us absolutely nothing about spiritual and religious experiences that are shared by billions upon billions of people as experiences of/with God.

    For example, humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow says this about what he terms “peak experiences” in his book, Religions, values, and peak-experiences (1971).

    “.. to the extent that all mystical or peak experiences are the same in their essence and have always been the same, all religions are the same in their essence and have always been the same. They should, therefore, come to agree in principle on teaching that which is common to all of them, i.e. whatever it is that peak-experiences teach in common (whatever is different about these illuminations can fairly be taken to be localisms both in time and space, and are, therefore, peripheral, expendable, not essential) …we may call [these] the “core-religious experience” or the “transcendent experience.” (p. 20)

    Maslow also says, “We must remember, after all, that all these happenings are in truth mysteries. Even though they happen a million times, they are still mysteries.” (p. 113)

    I also highly recommend these books on the neuroscience research into spiritual/mystical/religious experiences.

    William P. Alston (1991). Perceiving God: The epistemology of religious experience.

    Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg (1999). The mystical mind: Probing the biology of religious experience.

    Andrew Newberg, Eugene d’Aquili and Vince Rause. (2001). Why God won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief.

    Andrew Newberg (2014). The metaphysical mind: Probing the biology of philosophical thought.

    Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman (2009). How God changes the brain: Breakthrough findings from a leading neuroscientist.

  15. Bryan Howlett

    I don’t discount it as an experience. Not at all. I have also had a “transcendent experience” where, for about 24 hours, I felt sure I’d found the secret to life, the universe and everything. The answer that I had arrived at resonated so strongly in my mind that I had never before felt so excited and so in harmony with the universe. It was an amazing day. (I’ve tried, but failed to recreate that experience.)

    The point I’m making, is that two people can use the same experience to confirm whatever belief system they already possess.

  16. scblhrm

    Tom/Brian,

    Gravity is a farce.

    Funny!

    A farce ~ Like Logic.

    A farce ~ Like the (actual) capacity to have a (true) answer ~ to make a truth claim on reality.

    F-U-N-N-Y !

    Brian our brutally repeatable moral experiences – and also volition – all take logic with them if you burn them alive in the fire of nihilism’s absurdity. You better prove each step as you descend down that staircase if you mean for us to follow.

    We are moral beings – every one of us. We can sit with a man from the other side of the planet and compare our brutal moral experience in this life and our notes will overlap and cohere in fundamental ways. Scripture predicts that. They will also be mis-matched and fragmented in our perception thereof. Scripture predicts that too. We are volitional, moral beings. Scripture predicts that. We know reality and God both as in a marred reflection but we can and will motion towards our final truths / good. Scripture predicts that.

    Now, PN’s (philosophical naturalism’s) dive into nihilism’s absurdity is completely untenable – and it is wholly incoherent with the world we actually find, the real world we (really) reason, infer, about.

    Therefore, the PN can dive into final absurdity. Fine. But if he is telling us he has stumbled upon the truth – the answer – of all of reality he had better show his work – and he better not appeal to the self-evident, nor to logic, nor to ought-value-truth – on pain of absurdity. Producing a manuscript of some lesser work just won’t do.

  17. Tom Gilson

    @18: They’re not both likely to be able to use the same experience to confirm their beliefs.

    While it’s possible in many cases to draw conclusions regardless of personal experience, it’s not always possible to do so.

    Conversely, while we all hold some beliefs in spite of the evidence of experience, that fact does not entail that any one person’s belief about any one thing is held that way.

    Experience is a form of evidence, but there are others. Etc.

    And above all, you haven’t demonstrated that what you’re talking about has any relevance to the rest of the conversation. What is your point with respect to this discussion, anyway? Human minds can play tricks. So what? We all knew that. Tie it into the discussion, if you would.

  18. scblhrm

    Tom, Brian,

    Reasoning enslaved to physicality finds in the end just no such thing as inference, as reasoning, but rather useful delusions – at bottom – at the end of any regression.

    David Bentley Hart touches on this with, “[we]….encounter the world….. through our conscious and intentional orientation toward the absolute, in pursuit of a final bliss that beckons to us from within those transcendental desires that constitute the very structure of rational thought, and that open all of reality to us precisely by bearing us on toward ends that lie beyond the totality of physical things.”

    Hume’s problem remains fundamentally fatal to philosophical naturalism as it ever regresses to the self-evident – to all the stuff of Logic as that which must precede any bit or particle in motion. It must be Mind before Matter – else absurdity.

    In that line of thought:

    # 19 ties into this thread in that we are found – in those contours of that ad infinitum swath of ontological real estate – inside of Logic reaching past the end of ourselves. The alternative of absurdity just has no evidence behind it – it (literally) can’t have “evidence” – and it has *all evidence* (literally and by definition) against it. Man finds himself in a peculiar position. He cannot make truth claims but for that concession. The thread is about Moral Claims. Fine. Any claim ipso facto finds us landing *there* .

    That bring us to a second peculiar location which we can’t escape. Wherever logic goes, love (morality) goes. Wherever love goes, logic goes. We find in all our reasoning, in all our brutal moral experiences, that one does not, cannot, lead the other, but both depart and arrive as a singularity. That is our brutally repeatable experience – which every human (Mind) suffers, knows, tastes. Sees.

  19. Tom Gilson

    scblhrm,

    # 19 ties into this thread in that we are found –
    in those contours of that ad infinitum ontological
    swath – inside of Logic reaching past the end of
    ourselves.

    I have no clue what that means there. I’m sorry.

  20. scblhrm

    Tom,

    The paragraphs before that quote work up to it – it may have posted afterwards as “editing” was going on.

    Hume and the problem of the self-evident touch on logic – though – as we follow out all truth claims of any kind – we discover that in morality the landscape is the same.

    A = B

    Logic/Moral arrive or depart as a singularity. I don’t know of any sort of truth claims not wrapped up in one or the other of those to “eyes”.

    That fits remarkably well with the Christian predictions of how the stuff of reality will present itself to the stuff of mind/person.

  21. Bryan Howlett

    I didn’t say that all experiences are like that.

    I was trying to question an assumption that Jenna Black and Andrew W seemed to hold on evidence from experience.

    My view is that if you believe in God you’ll perceive certain experiences as evidence of that belief being true. If you don’t believe in God, you will perceive certain experiences in a different way.

    I personally was astonished at the strength of feeling of true knowledge and oneness I felt with the universe when I made my breakthrough in understanding. I didn’t for one second think that meant there was a God. Had my thoughts and answers been focused on God though, I think this feeling would have been massively convincing on a personal level. I can certainly see why people who have transcendent experiences can become convinced that they have found true knowledge.

  22. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    (I apologize for misspelling your name before),

    It does not seem that you have the means to claim true knowledge if you stay within PN’s means/ends. As per # 19 and # 21.

    You’d have to show your work – without appealing to lines of the self-evident at any step.

    Just because we experience gravity doesn’t mean gravity will come to our mind if we haven’t done the work to trace things back to their source. A ten year old will not know that he knows a part of Gravity.

    “Gravity? What’s that?

    It seems your analogy isn’t quite complete enough…. its stopping point is too soon for the stuff we are talking about.

  23. Bryan Howlett

    Sclbhrm, sorry but I can’t make head or tail of most of what you write. I have already gone over the reasons why I think your logic is based on inadequately supported hidden assumptions in a different thread.

    Tom, In terms of the thread, you seem to be saying it makes no sense for God to be measured against human morality, as God isn’t human. Fine. But then you also seem to say that God is good, and anything that we might perceive as immoral is ultimately just. That seems a little convenient or a little tautologous to me.

  24. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    I addressed #23 to Tom, but it is relevant to my last comment to you. When we make truth claims – even that of “X must be internally coherent” – and so on….. and so on… – we are reaching past the end of where PN can carry us. We outreach ourselves. The sort of location we land in is peculiar. Utility without Truth isn’t useful in the discussion we are having. I know you like “helpful models” whether or not they are true, (just as long as they are helpful) but untrue statements are of no use in this particular topic. We are speaking not of utility, but of logical and moral truths.

    Since you appeal to hidden assumptions on my end, then you employ the lines of the self-evident on your end.

    As such, you’re not logically coherent. If you want to hide from Hume’s problem of landing on the self-evident, where mind must precede matter, well that is okay.

    Let’s be clear that you are doing just that.

    Again, utility without truth isn’t helpful in this particular topic.

  25. Bryan Howlett

    Another question I have is: Is justice good? How does it differ from revenge? How does it compare morally with alternatives like forgiveness, empathy, understanding, teaching, helping, supporting, protecting etc.

  26. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    You’re claim that experiencing gravity failing to bring the wiki-definition of “gravity” to your mind somehow grants that there is evidence there that gravity may not be real is pretty silly. You’re claim of experiencing Truth (with a capital T I am assuming) means, like the ten year old who does not know that he knows part of Gravity, you too have to track that out and see where it lands. It will land in Hume’s problem of the self-evident, where mind must precede matter – else absurdity.

    But “I didn’t think of gravity “therefore” gravity may not be – after all – real” is stopping too soon. You have to go to the next step(s).

    So far that’s all I’ve seen your premise here on experience amount to.

  27. Bryan Howlett

    I have never mentioned gravity nor Wikipedia definitions, and I have no idea how you think it possibly relates to anything I’ve said.

  28. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    Tom brought it up in #17 and I’ve just been continuing it.

    It fits perfectly with your premise, your analogy of experiencing truth. The analogy of gravity is Tom’s, and that premise is your premise too – as far as I can tell.

    What “comes to mind” when we experience X isn’t the end of any rational regress on X and Christians don’t claim that it is. Yet you seem to.

  29. Bryan Howlett

    Scblhrm, re:#29, what I meant was that it felt like true knowledge. It resonated. I personally don’t worry about what’s True with a capital T because I don’t believe we can know anything for sure. You clearly do worry about it and you believe we can. I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I’m not interested in having more conversation on that particular topic.

  30. scblhrm

    “I personally don’t worry about what’s True with a capital T because I don’t believe we can know anything for sure.”

    Well there it is. That’s an important cornerstone in all moral claims one may make.

    The Christian finds that peculiar singularity that is Logic/Moral all arriving at once and/or all departing at once as all truth claims whether of logic or of the moral land in the same location. A = B. “It” absolutely (logically) lands in that location on the ontological map where man by himself, unaided, cannot go: to the self-evident – where mind in motion must precede bit or particle in motion. Hume and others have worked on it to varying degrees. It’s complex if you like long symbol-laden graphs, but, in the end, it comes down to something very simple and straight forward.

    Tie in:

    Christians claim moral truth can be known, is known even now in many ways, though in fragmentation. PN comes to the table unable to make any moral truth-claims.

    So all that is left (it seems) is the Christian’s internal consistency for the PN (philosophical naturalist) to “aim at” as he has no sure-footing of his own to compare to.

  31. Bryan Howlett

    To pick up on this supposedly analogous example of gravity.

    Let’s say two observant people experience gravity. One might notice it and assume a natural cause, one might notice it and assume a supernatural cause.

    In neither case is the cause self-evident. The proposed cause simply reflects the biases of the individuals.

  32. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    Truth Claims inside of Logic / Moral necessitate a different substrate (than Gravity does) there at the end of regress. Such was Hume’s frustration. Mind, those peculiar contours of the self-evident, “just must/does” precede matter and that just can’t be (in PN at least). We reason such. Experiencing truth, love’s ought, logic, reason, and so on therefore find different ontological substrates, ends of regression – else nihilism. And if nihilism – then the only target left for the skeptic is the internal consistency of God / Scripture’s meta-narrative as he has no external standard to appeal to other than what just is that final nihilism.

  33. G. Rodrigues

    @Bryan Howlett:

    The point I wanted to make is about confirmation bias. Had I believed in a mind/body separation then I would have taken this experience as “proof”. I don’t though, so instead I took it as “proof” of how easily human minds can play tricks on their owners.

    So effectively, you just trade one confirmation bias for another. Since you already “know” (certainly by dint of divine revelation) that “mind/body separation” (??) is false, any evidence that would seem supportive of it is discarded right out of hand.

    This is just hilarious. One would hardly believe that anyone could make this stuff up.

    Atheism: it starts in tragedy, it ends up in farce.

  34. Bryan Howlett

    scblhrm,

    I know you can write clearly, as sometimes you do. I wish you would do it more.

  35. Bryan Howlett

    @G.Rodrigues

    That is my point exactly. The theories on both sides are expressions of their proponent’s bias. The question then becomes how do we move forward?

    You said:

    …any evidence that would seem supportive of it is discarded right out of hand.

    This is completely wrong if you are talking about a scientific approach. Evidence is not discarded. Theories are discarded when they are untestable or do not match the evidence. Theories that are more supported by evidence are more accepted as the truth.

    Mind/body separation is a theory. The evidence is the out of body experience. I can discard the theory without discarding the evidence. You seem unable to distinguish between the two.

    I would not discard the theory, either, by the way. I don’t believe the theory has strong evidence to support it, but that does not mean that I have permanently rejected it. It is a theory that could be demonstrated evidentially. If strong evidence came to light that demonstrated it, I would not hesitate to accept and believe it.

  36. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    GR’s #36 is fundamentally critical.

    Experiencing Truth Claims and Gravity bring things to mind. But what “comes to mind” when we experience X isn’t the end of any rational regress on X and Christians have never claimed that it is.

  37. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    On #35 – would you like a link to Hume’s dilemma? Logic and what is needed there helps answer your question of “how do we move forward”. We build a worldview around logic.

    As we move forward we discover that it just so happens that moral truth claims necessitate all the same ends as logic.

  38. G. Rodrigues

    @Bryan Howlett:

    This is completely wrong if you are talking about a scientific approach. Evidence is not discarded.

    Right. I must have missed just how *scientific* ™ your “approach” is.

    Roll eyes.

    Atheism: it starts in tragedy, it ends up in farce.

  39. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    Let me clarify one line of thought in #35:

    Experiencing truth, love’s ought, logic, reason, and so on therefore find different ontological substrates, ends of regression than Gravity finds – else nihilism……

    ….. since you seem unfamiliar with the whole Hume/Reason thing I’ll look for a link for you.

    ……. if nihilism – then the only target left for the skeptic is the internal consistency of God / Scripture’s meta-narrative as the skeptic has no external standard to appeal to other than what just is that final nihilism.

  40. Bryan Howlett

    Logic is wonderful. But a worldview based purely on logic ends up in a tautologous heap. To build a correct worldview, you actually need to look at the world. When you introduce assumptions about reality into the mix, you are no longer building purely on logic. Your Truth™ (to copy G.Rodrigues style!) is now based on assertions, beliefs, biases. And to make matters worse, you won’t (or are unable to) check it against reality. You just have to believe it. It’s a dead-end.

    You keep going on and on about how you have the truth, but you’re only trying to convince yourself. I expect that deep down you know that you don’t have any real claim on the truth. If it were that true, obvious and simple, everyone would be convinced by it. Unfortunately it’s not and they aren’t.

    By the way, if you want to explain your logic clearly in simple words, I’ll be happy to point out some of the hidden assumptions you are making.

  41. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    You keep employing reason.

    And thereby proving your own defeat.

    But you aren’t even aware of that.

    I’ll look for that link to provide. It’s an old topic (Hume’s dilemma. …etc…). Perhaps you can solve it for mankind.

  42. Bryan Howlett

    No, there’s no defeat. Logic and reason are exceedingly useful. Unlike you, I do not profess to know the truth or to have consistent and coherent beliefs. My aim is for useful beliefs and better beliefs (more and more true).

    For some reason you can’t seem to accept that idea. Your black and white thinking won’t allow any intermediate shades of gray. But that’s your problem, not mine. My approach lets me gradually learn from reality itself, rather than by constructing castles of tautologies that are “true” but meaningless.

  43. scblhrm

    Bryan,

    You are reasoning.

    How unfortunate for you.

    I’ll find that link.

    BTW:

    “More true” ?

    That’s even worse for you than “Can’t know Truth”.

  44. Bryan Howlett

    Newton’s model of reality was for a long time accepted as true. It could be used to predict the movements of the planets or how a ball bounces or how buildings can be constructed to not fall down.

    These days quantum mechanics is a truer representation of reality.

    By the way, models can’t represent reality exactly else they would be reality. Models by their nature omit certain aspects.

    Maybe it’s the word “true” that you are stumbling over. The George Boole in you is saying, “True or false. You can’t have shades!” We can call it “accuracy” if you prefer, i.e. quantum mechanics is a more accurate model of reality than Newton’s.

  45. Bryan Howlett

    Hume’s Dilemma is of zero practical interest to me. No more than a police officer investigating a crime has to worry about it.

  46. scblhrm

    Tom,

    Perhaps: It can be worked such that the skeptic really doesn’t have anything BUT the target of Christianity’s internal consistency to aim at. I thought initially that he had some outside standard to appeal to. But really it all breaks down for him…… a final nihilism.

    Further – there is this problem for the skeptic:
    “For any argument for morality to get traction, it must appeal to transcendence. Without transcendence, you are essentially stuck arguing that an arbitrary snapshot of biology and sociology (let’s call it “now”) is somehow the pinnacle (by what standard?) of moral development.” (by Andrew in the other thread )

    The more I reason through it here the more I see that there are no real targets for the skeptic to aim at BUT Christianity’s internal consistency.

    Perhaps that is workable.

  47. Skyler Sinclair

    If we are to assume that God exists, I would imagine that He can be nothing short of Everything. He’s me, and you, and all the signals running through your brain as you read this. He, right now, is controlling everything you do, and giving you a little treat to make you believe you’re the one doing it. Because let’s be honest – do you really know how you’re doing it? Do you even know how to think, or what thinking IS? Could you tell me what your next thought would be, before you think it? We have no more knowledge of ourselves than we do of God.

    I often imagine this topic to be like trying to describe the shape of the Milky Way. We “believe” it to be a spiral galaxy, but we have no external viewpoint. Thus, we rely on little tricks to establish a perpetually faulty larger picture – which will remain incomplete until it is somehow fully established.

    So, why don’t we just face facts here? Or wait. What are those again? We can’t explain God because, if God exists, He doesn’t really want us to. He’s writing a story, with us as the characters, that we’re still in the middle of. And if He DOESN’T exist, then we’re just animals trying to evolve INTO God – an ultimate version of ourselves. A complete, eternal (semi?)logical system that is not complete yet. And in that case, The Brain will throw itself at itself until either total success or total failure – and our belief or disbelief in a God affects only our own personal mental development.

    As far as I’m concerned, this particular debate has nothing to do with the possible existence of God – if God wants us to know of Him, WE’LL KNOW. Therefore, it can only be a guideline for our growth. Do you want to know God? Then be like God. Think like God. Treat everyone as if they too are God. Treat your desk like God, your books like God, and your dog like God.

    Then maybe you’ll understand a little better. And if you don’t want to understand God, then you may as well give up on your personal evolution as well. By ignoring such grand possibilities, you are only harming yourself.

  48. Hal Friederichs

    Andrew,
    From a moral stand-point, this is the big one. When it comes down to it, we have no more inherent claim on God than a character has on an author or a bunch of Lego figures have on the child that put them together.

    This is precisely why I would never believe in the type of God that Tom is offering up in the OP. It is ultimately dehumanizing and robs us of the status of being moral agents.

  49. Hal Friederichs

    Jenna,
    If you deny and reject all revelation of God and all human experiences of/with what people name, conceptualize and communicate about as “God” then any discussion of God’s moral character is just cocktail party conversation for atheists.

    Why would you think that? How one behaves usually follows from what one sincerely believes. If one believes in a loving God that is accepting and forgiving of human weakness they will generally act differently than one who believes God wants to punish people for their sins. I am concerned about how those differing concepts of God have an impact on the culture we live in.
    For example the folks in Westboro Baptist Church differ greatly from those in Glide Memorial Church in their beliefs and actions. Don’t you think that affects all of us?

  50. Tom Gilson

    Bryan, good question here:

    Tom, In terms of the thread, you seem to be saying it makes no sense for God to be measured against human morality, as God isn’t human. Fine. But then you also seem to say that God is good, and anything that we might perceive as immoral is ultimately just. That seems a little convenient or a little tautologous to me.

    That’s not actually what I was saying, though I appreciate the chance to clarify.

    First, it’s true God can’t be measured by human standards, but it doesn’t mean that humans must therefore be unaware of the reality of goodness and evil. My point instead was centered on showing that this is logically impossible: “If the consensus of most humans is that some action is morally objectionable and God does just that thing….” And this is because God never does anything in the same moral context as humans do. The five points in the OP all fill out the reasons for that.

    Second, I do not say that anything we perceive as immoral is ultimately just. I would say that what we perceive as immoral is part of a much larger picture where justice is assured. We can identify real injustice. God can work sovereignly, in this life and beyond, to bring about justice in spite of that.

  51. Tom Gilson

    Skyler: huh? You want me to worship my desk and my books? You want me to regard them as my creator?

    The God of the Bible has a name for that.

    Your imagination falls short: God is not “short” of Everything, you’re right about that, but that doesn’t mean he’s everything. He is infinite, and out of his infinite power he has created that which is not God, which can relate to God without being God.

    But your imagination exceeds itself, when you think that God is controlling everything we think, and then you suggest we decide to think differently?

  52. Jenna Black

    Hal, RE:#52

    Aren’t you straying from the topic? You ask me/us this question: “For example the folks in Westboro Baptist Church differ greatly from those in Glide Memorial Church in their beliefs and actions. Don’t you think that affects all of us?”

    The topic here is about God’ moral character and our (yours, mine and the ancient Hebrews’) judgments of God’s actions based on our understanding of God. We’re not discussing the impact (affect) of people’s moral choices based on their understanding of God and God’s will for humankind. This is the point. To make arguments about God’s moral character, interlocutors here who are believers and interlocutors who are atheists must disaggregate human moral behavior from God’s actions. IMO, we have pretty well established that the same “normal person” mortal standard and criteria does not apply to God as to “normal persons.”

    I think that this concept may help. A fundamental basis for making moral judgments is to recognize and acknowledge what power (capacity to act or refrain from an action) the moral agent possesses and then base our judgments about the agent’s actions on how he or she or He uses his/her/His power. Obviously, God is understood as having power(s) that humans do not. The moral question then becomes this: Does God use His power in ways that we humans consider to be moral?

    When you think about it, this is the entire basis of the idea and ideal of justice. We do not put a person who is insane or mentally incompetent for a crime because s/he was incapable of formulating a criminal intent and/or refraining from acting on a criminal intent. Think about what happens when we put an accused on trial for murder. The jury must decide on the accused “mens rea” or intent. If atheists claim that God is a moral monster but refuse to evaluate God’s intent in acting as God acts, then their judgment of/against God is simply a kangaroo court.

    I would be content if you agree to stick to an examination of what the ancient Hebrews sincerely believed about God’s character and God’s will for them and how they derived those beliefs and that understanding of God, as they articulate in their holy scriptures, rather than dragging the members of the Westboro Baptist Church into the conversation.

  53. andrew W

    This is precisely why I would never believe in the type of God that Tom is offering up in the OP. It is ultimately dehumanizing and robs us of the status of being moral agents.

    This is an assertion, not an argument. Care to flesh it out?

    Let me ask a question by analogy. Imagine that instead of talking about Lego figures we’re talking about tiny robots. Each is randomised at startup to show a pattern of colours in response to their creator’s input. Some he likes and keeps, some he doesn’t like and throws away. Is there a moral obligation of creator to creature yet?

    Extend the analogy, adding as much sophistication to the creatures as you wish. Tell me at what point the creator acquires a moral obligation to the creature that he did not voluntarily grant. Let me add a few key restrictions:

    (1) the creatures are never in a position to be outside the creators power

    (2) the creatures are unable to access a world beyond that which the creator can access and is aware of. Individual creatures may act in novel ways, but they cannot be aware of insights about reality that the creator is not privy to.

    (3) the creator is under no obligation to a third party

    At what point do the creatures become independent moral agents? At what point do they acquire a moral obligation from the creator that is not explicitly granted by him?

    Incidentally, this is an analogy to the weakest of the positions on determinism. If you want an analogy to the strongest, instead imagine that the creator has seeded every behaviour in every one of the robots, including his own inputs to it, and knows exactly how the scenario is going to play out. Now, one might complain that the creatures never become independent moral agents, but if so, what is the moral or philosophical problem with the creator treating them as if they are and acting accordingly?

    I’m not trying to start a diversion on free will vs determinism. Rather, I’m pointing out that nowhere along that spectrum does a moral obligation on God exist that is not explicitly granted by him, and that arguments about the justice or morality of the situation that exclude direct and voluntary moral imputation by God are ultimately nothing more than pride and rebelliousness (unless one can show a logical contradiction, by which I mean “your conclusion doesn’t follow from your premises”, not “your conclusion is offensive to my premises”).

  54. DJC

    Andrew W,

    At what point do the creatures become independent moral agents? At what point do they acquire a moral obligation from the creator that is not explicitly granted by him?

    An intriguing thought experiment which has a lot of relevance to technology today and the development of AI. Answering from a naturalism perspective, the creatures become moral agents when they are given moral emotions that drive them to laud, condemn, reward, punish the social behavior of other creatures like them as well as seek out lauding and social reward, avoid punishment, etc. Moral obligation to me as a hypothetical creator I think arises as soon as I give the creatures self-awareness. This is an attribute that basically turns matter into “feeling being” and in human values resonates powerfully with empathy. Once that happens, I no longer have true ownership. For AI research, self-awareness is going to be huge ethical issue.

  55. Andrew W

    Moral obligation to me as a hypothetical creator I think arises as soon as I give the creatures self-awareness.

    Why?

  56. Hal Friederichs

    Jenna,
    The topic here is about God’ moral character and our (yours, mine and the ancient Hebrews’) judgments of God’s actions based on our understanding of God. We’re not discussing the impact (affect) of people’s moral choices based on their understanding of God and God’s will for humankind.

    My point is that you can’t separate the two. And it is because of this that the claim that God is not subject to human standards is false.

    The believers in the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) and those in the Glide Mermorial Church (GMC) do not share the same concept or understanding of God: what his moral standards are and his will for humankind is. God has never appeared before me and told me which of these two concepts is the correct one (or at least the more correct one). All I have are my experiences and the claims of others regarding their experiences. Based on that I would conclude that the WBC’s God is an evil God and the GMC’s God is a good God.

    If we truly are moral agents capable of knowledge of right and wrong – which I believe we are – then we have to be able to judge between what a good God would be and what a bad God would be.

  57. Hal Friederichs

    Andrew,

    This is an assertion, not an argument. Care to flesh it out?

    Let me ask a question by analogy. Imagine that instead of talking about Lego figures we’re talking about tiny robots. Each is randomised at startup to show a pattern of colours in response to their creator’s input. Some he likes and keeps, some he doesn’t like and throws away. Is there a moral obligation of creator to creature yet?

    The very fact that you think comparing humans to robots created by someone is a valid analogy proves my point. We obviously don’t share basic assumptions about what a human being is.

  58. Tom Gilson

    Hal, just because some believers have different opinions about God, that doesn’t make him subject to our moral standards. It doesn’t do a thing to overturn the reasoning I gave in the OP. Your lack of experience with God doesn’t change it either. If my reasoning is right, then nothing you could add by way of side information would change the conclusion of the OP.

    Your last paragraph is interesting, though. If we truly are moral agents in a world created by God, and if we’re made in his image, we can certainly know the difference between good and evil, and we can think about God in those terms, ask questions, explore, and so on. That’s what Copan’s book is for, and that’s what books from opposing perspectives are for. We can do that.

    But here’s what we cannot do. We cannot apply strictly human standards to God. Let me explain what I mean in this context by, “strictly human standards:” they’re standards that we assume originate entirely in human knowledge and experience. Let me also remind you that in the OP I specified that the God of whom we are speaking is the God of historic, creedal, Christian theism.

    The first problem with applying strictly human standards is that “strictly human standards” by that formulation implies either that there is no God, or that God did not impart any moral knowledge to us when we were created. Both of those are contradictions of Christian theism. It amounts to, “Judge the Christian-theistic God (who by definition imparted us moral knowledge when he created us) by moral standards that were never imparted to us by any God.” Or in simplest terms, “Assume the Christian God doesn’t exist, then judge his morality.”

    The second problem with it is the one I indicated in the OP: our standards are the standards of people whose knowledge, power, justice, and access to eternity are limited, and who have no sovereign rights over the lives of others. To judge God by those standards would be to assume that God must act as if he did not have God’s knowledge, power, justice, access to eternity, or (as creator and universal King) sovereign rights over humans. It would be asking God to act as not-God; to bumble around with things and with people, not knowing really what he’s doing, and not really having any good idea what its effect would be. Would that be moral?

    I don’t see you grappling with the all-important matter of who God is. You’re anthropomorphizing him. You’re off topic when you do that. Your comments have nothing to do with the Christian-theistic God.

    And that’s necessarily the case, regardless of Westboro or Glide Memorial.

  59. Jenna Black

    Hal, #60

    I have not said nor do I think that we cannot judge “between what a good God would be and what a bad God would be.” We most certainly do and we can, but what we are judging, in reality, is other people’s and our own understanding(s) of God. In fact, that is what Paul Copan’s book is all about and what atheism is all about. Paul Copan wrote his book as a response to the New Atheists’ understanding of God as they “read” and judge God (allegedly) based on the contents of the Bible, both OT and NT, but primarily the OT. What we have in and from the Bible is the ancient Hebrews’ and later Jesus Christ’s and his followers understanding of God. In this discussion of Paul Copan’s work, we are discussing our judgments of the interpretation of God’s actions and relationship with humankind of as they understood God (and continue to understand God through biblical exegesis.)

    As I pointed out before, I arrive at my own personal understanding through my experiences of and with God, as well as what I know of and learn from and observe of other people’s understanding of God and how they live out their relationship with God. Atheists filter their understanding of God and their opinions about other people’s understanding of God through their own interpretive systems, which is that there is no reality behind the name/term God. So, we come at this discussion from very different paradigms and perspectives.

    So let me be clear. I don’t think that the folks from the WBC believe in the wrong God or a bad God. I think they simply have a profound misunderstanding of/about God and are acting in ways that God morally condemns despite their own self-rationalization and self-justification to the contrary. I feel no qualms at all about making judgments about the ancient Hebrews’ understanding of God and their response to God based on their understanding of God. But I make an effort to disaggregate God’s actions in the Bible from the interpretations and understandings of those actions that IMO, may misportray or misrepresent or be based on an incomplete understanding of the reality that we name God.

    And let me also say this about understandings of God: If I believed about God what atheists believe about God, I wouldn’t believe in God either.

  60. DJC

    Andrew W,

    Moral obligation to me as a hypothetical creator I think arises as soon as I give the creatures self-awareness.

    Why?

    Because, given my basic values, I can reach a reasonable conclusion that moral obligation to me applies to any self-aware beings. Let me outline the steps.

    First basic values. I think we share the same basic values that enter into the argument, for example: we feel anger at injustice, we feel shame when we’re “found out”, we feel compassion when we see unjust suffering, we feel gratitude when someone goes out of their way to help. We didn’t learn those feelings, they just came naturally. Those values, motivations, or passions (Hume) don’t need justification, are important in and of themselves and provide an anchor to morality as a higher system of rules, laws, propositions, and obligations.

    Given those basic values, what is it about another person that elicits compassion, gratitude, anger from me? Neurological discoveries of mirror neurons suggest that empathy is almost like being another person (in limited capacity). So this leads directly to the inference that the inner world of other people is similar to my own and that they feel like I do.

    What’s the crucial thing about being and feeling? Self-awareness. If I’m unconscious, nothing can be of any value, only consciousness makes things truly matter. So I infer that my basic values apply best and most consistently to self-aware beings above all else and so any moral propositions or obligations built on basic values must remain consistent with that.

  61. scblhrm

    Hmmm.

    “Why?”

    Because I-Feel.

    Hard Stop.

    That really is the only available option for the philosophical naturalist. Cultural norms swaying in the winds. Christianized and otherwise. Feelings swaying in the winds. And logic? Fallacious conclusions housed in false identity claims and blind axiom’s circularity. Epistemology untenable in ontological ends. And still no ought of course.

    As expected.

  62. Tom Gilson

    sblhrm, I think you’ve hit on a huge part of the issue. I’m just having trouble finding where in this thread you’re finding that kind of “because” statement. I’m sure it’s there in other terminology, but I only have a moment so I’m only using the computer’s search function to look for it, and it’s not finding it.

  63. scblhrm

    “…… Those values, motivations, or passions (Hume) don’t need justification, are important in and of themselves and provide an anchor………”

    Anchor.

    Hard Stop.

    It’s a start…. Etc…. Hume takes Logic and Morality to the same places….. full blown naturalism has been consistent there along the way…..

  64. scblhrm

    Tom,

    Basically: It’s borrowing ontological collateral ~ “Anchors” aren’t heavy enough given the size of the Ship and the span of the Ocean in which it is adrift.

    I’m not sure if that answers your question Tom…..”Anchor” is a dangerous word and it was employed in DJC’s analysis. ……

  65. DJC

    scblhrm,

    Feelings swaying in the winds.

    No, absolutely not. I don’t expect any disagreement with Christians on the existence of basic values once we understand each other. Here’s a quote from C.S.Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

    Supposing you hear a cry for help from a man in danger. You will probably feel two desires-one a desire to give help (due to your herd instinct), the other a desire to keep out of danger (due to the instinct for self-preservation). But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help, and suppress the impulse to run away.

    C.S Lewis refers to three desires above that are intrinsic to human nature. I mean no differently when I talk about basic values. They are intrinsic, they are motivations and are important in and of themselves not because they are good or bad but because they move us.

    These desires in total may come from God, from the soul, from the fallen nature, from the spiritual nature, or, in the case of naturalism, from a blind evolutionary search that happened to result in highly successful, highly social organisms. A disagreement over the source is not important for this part of the argument.

  66. scblhrm

    DJC,

    I have no idea what you just said. Lewis – sure.

    Yours….not so much.

    Seriously.

    Can you write in an easier to understand fashion please.

  67. Jenna Black

    DJC,

    Haven’t we come full circle here? The question at hand is whether or not God’s moral character can be judged according to a human moral standard. If atheists argue that God can be judged by a human moral standard while maintaining the claim that God does not exist, they the question is really meaningless. As I have pointed out earlier, a non-existent anything can’t take any action, either moral or immoral, and cannot formulate and act on or refrain from acting on a purpose or intent (moral agency). So, a discussion of the moral character of the atheists’ non-existent God is nonsensical and fruitless.

    So, in a way, you are right. The source of a/the human moral standard is not at issue here. But whether or not God IS a moral agent with a will and intent in His actions toward humans, individually and collectively and as humanity and/or God is morality itself and is the highest standard of morality beyond which there is none (as Christians believe) is an issue/question here.

    When you speak of a “blind evolutionary search” that “just happened” to result in a creature with a moral consciousness, is it not in fact of a search for God you speak? I find the notion of evolution as a “search” in and of itself to suggest a Creator with volition and purpose. JB

  68. DJC

    Jenna,

    I’m guilty of getting a step away or two from the original topic; Andrew W made an analogy to robots which led me to conclude that, if I were God and had the same moral makeup and values I have now, I would feel a moral obligation to my creatures as soon as they became self-aware. So if God exists, I would conclude he does not share my particular moral makeup and values and be much more inclined to accept the view that God is not a moral agent with moral culpability (i.e. something like G. Rodrigues’ original comment) rather than try to wrap my head around the concept of “evil God”.

    When you speak of a “blind evolutionary search” that “just happened” to result in a creature with a moral consciousness, is it not in fact of a search for God you speak? I find the notion of evolution as a “search” in and of itself to suggest a Creator with volition and purpose.

    As I understand evolution, it’s an enormous number of mindless permutations of organisms with environments over massive intervals of time so whatever survives will be adapted in incredibly unusual and novel ways. The end result can look like volition and purpose without their actually being any to start with.

  69. Andrew W

    DJC,

    I may have misunderstood your argument, but it sounds like you’re arguing that an entity that discovers that it is self-aware and has moral feelings should assume that other similar beings are self-aware and have moral feelings, and this creates feelings of moral reciprocity.

    It doesn’t prove anything about whether such feelings are justified or should create feelings of moral reciprocity.

    It doesn’t address the situation where one being doesn’t feel moral reciprocity.

    Most importantly, it doesn’t even begin to address relationship and hypothetical obligations on a far greater being who grants self-awareness to lesser beings.

    —–

    Hal,

    We obviously don’t share basic assumptions about what a human being is.

    My basic assumption is that human beings are creations of a being that is infinitely greater than themselves. The general discussion is around whether there is a moral argument that would weaken or disprove that assumption (and/or related consequences). Any argument in this context that starts by denying this assumption has begged the question.

    If you don’t like the utility of the analogy, provide a better one.

  70. Jenna Black

    DJC, RE: #72

    First, in response to your wrapping your mind around an “evil God” concept, I’m with you there, but probably for different reasons. However, don’t you acknowledge that a discussion of accusations from notorious New Atheists against God as a “moral monster” do in fact entail someone’s ability to wrap their minds around the “evil God” concept?

    As for your description of the process of evolution, I disagree with you there. Evolution is, as you seem to affirm, a creative process that is somewhat, but not entirely, open-ended and therefore, “novel.” Evolution may be novel, but it is not random, and it doesn’t “just happen.” As a creative process, evolution is the act of a Creator, just as in all natural processes that lead to certain outcomes through predictable and ordered cause-and-effect processes. The question for atheists who espouse the “it just happens” theory of evolution is, why did the creature develop lungs to replace gills and feet to replace fins when land became its habitat?

    And to follow this logic, why did the human creature develop a self-awareness that gives it the ability to make moral choices when moral choices are necessary for its/our survival in social systems where we must live in cooperation with our fellows rather than exercising our ability to destroy each other and ourselves? Did this “just happen”? Or is it a response to the existence of a morality outside, beyond, “above” and transcendent (what many of us speak of as God) of our own personal preferences for pleasure, power and survival? I espouse the philosophy/theology called “biologos” in answer to these questions.

  71. scblhrm

    DJC, Andrew W,

    @ #73,

    Andrew W sounds somewhat disappointed in your reply DJC. And he should as all you’ve done, all you do, is present descriptives and simply appeal to your Christianized conscience for your prescriptive. Our core values exist but so what? Reciprocity is fragmented in the world we live in. Scripture explains that and justifies the use of “ought not be fragmented”. But you’ve not justified anything yet.

    Descriptive’s must appeal to a prescriptive.

    So you describe.

    That isn’t the question.

    You have to show us the Ought. The Why.

    Not the What.

    And Andrew W. expressly asked you for the Why.

    This quote gets to the point:

    “…………we seem to run into quite a high percentage of non-theists who either say morality doesn’t need ultimate foundation, that morality as cultural convention carries obligation…..etc….etc.

    Seems to me most of these are driving their philosophy on morals in such obvious self obfuscation that one of the most self-evident things in life becomes questionable to them.

    But what drives this?

    Respected philosophers – even atheistic ones along the history of theoretical thought – have nearly all universally stated the importance of grounding truth…..some say grounding truth is impossible, devolving into radical skepticism, but even they nonetheless noted its necessity if one is to claim knowledge.

    It seems that most of our modern day armchair philosophers aren’t quite so vigorous and will casually overlook logical leaps or never even look for grounding at all as they reason through life. Moral obligations show up most often as guilt. Ignore the guilt long enough and you can deny that moral law has ultimate foundational authority over man…….in one’s own mind anyway. So reasoning out a worldview to suit this comfort zone provides plenty of motivation to stay comfortably numb in fallacious conclusions. The alternative is too uncomfortable to even begin to consider.

    Transcendental argumentation seems to be the best way to show this most obvious denial of the need that for moral law to have force universally and eternally, it must be founded upon an ultimate proposition. Otherwise moral law is without authority to compel obedience…..” (Brad B.)

    Indeed. Ultimate propositions do that necessary *work* which atheistic morality’s fallacious blind axioms and false identity claims never can coherently *do* as they (those ultimate propositions) traverse that ocean we call the “infinite regress of the ad infinitum” and find the ontic substrate by which propositions – all of them – land seamlessly inside of their own ontological means and ends – in part in what we call the self-evident (where mind just must precede matter, else nihilism). Such is not only that troublesome hard stop which vexed Hume’s mind where logic is concerned, but, for all the same reasons, it is that pesky hard stop which forever troubles all moral semantics. Logic? Morality? Reason? Love? It is a peculiar ontic twist here that Ontic Identity finds its way in with all four as A = B = C = D for all of these are gained – and all of these are lost – as an ontic singularity.

    No one cares about your epistemology DJC because your regress is missing all the necessary ontic ends. Your anchor of I-Feel remains unfixed, changing, arbitrary (unless you deny evolution and claim final causes – and that requires an Agent guiding evolution) and fails to find that ultimate proposition as your fallacious blind axioms and false identity claims forever lack that precious prize of ought’s universal final causes.

  72. MG Bennett

    The question that you are addressing should be obvious to most people but it is surprising how many people fail to realise that God is author of the superior moral law and It reflects His character. He is not obeying moral standards but being Himself.

    There are the five most influential ethical theories. Which one makes more sense than one which has Jesus as a centre ?

    – egoism – the self and it’s needs are important.
    This theory has it’s merits but is so prone to arbitrariness wether we realise it or not.

    – utilitarianism – maximising pleasure and minimising pain for all concerned
    Good. Unfortunately often there are people caught in between who are somehow left behind.
    – deontology – duty is all
    Nice to keep your duty but who decides what it is? It might be something that harms others and yet highly dutiful for the person espousing it.
    – care ethics – relationships,empathy vulnerability lead the way
    That is also nice Tk start off with but it makes no sense to love your enemy and care for your enemy. So actually it limits itself to those we can muster enough will in is to wish good to.

    – virtue ethics – it’s all about developing a virtuous character
    Aristotle was driving at the most important thing that we need to work on – our character. Yet what would motivate us to do it when in this world sometimes the cunning and treacherous succeed? Without God one always feels on the losing side.
    Many not bad but pragmatic people decide that this is the way to make it.
    So God is the only guarantor that what we do could bear fruit and not remain clogged up somewhere in the cul de sacs of the fallen and corrupted world.

  73. DJC

    Andrew W,

    I may have misunderstood your argument, but it sounds like you’re arguing that an entity that discovers that it is self-aware and has moral feelings should assume that other similar beings are self-aware and have moral feelings, and this creates feelings of moral reciprocity.

    It doesn’t prove anything about whether such feelings are justified or should create feelings of moral reciprocity.

    When you talk about feelings being justified, it seems to me you are saying we can’t just accept certain basic, core emotions at face value. Here’s the thought experiment I raised: we hear indisputable evidence that a dictator lives in opulence while his (innocent) subjects starve. I think we all feel moral outrage. Is there some reason we need justification for this feeling? I don’t think we do. I mean, is there really any justification that could possibly make us feel gratitude and joy when dictators abuse innocents? It’s inconceivable.

    It doesn’t address the situation where one being doesn’t feel moral reciprocity.

    True. Whether Christian or naturalist, talking to a dictator is pointless. You have to remove them forcibly from power or wait for them to die or be overthrown. Sociopaths and psychopaths don’t feel shame, don’t feel the joy of giving, are tone-deaf to the music of morality. Only those with true moral feelings can understand moral reciprocity. Then they have an intrinsic “ought” that drives them to want to do good and to avoid evil (which of course conflicts with other drives as CS Lewis notes in my quote).

    Most importantly, it doesn’t even begin to address relationship and hypothetical obligations on a far greater being who grants self-awareness to lesser beings.

    I don’t see that station, rank, IQ, wealth, or power should subvert basic moral obligations between self-aware beings. It may in some sense strengthen them: i.e. the one with greater wealth and power has more obligations to those with less.

  74. Ray Ingles

    Jenna – “If atheists claim that God is a moral monster but refuse to evaluate God’s intent in acting as God acts, then their judgment of/against God is simply a kangaroo court.”

    I’m missing something here. Atheists are unjust if they refuse to evaluate God’s intent. But at the same time, we can’t possibly evaluate God’s intent because God’s ways are so much higher than ours. It seems like a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ kind of situation.

  75. DJC

    Jenna,

    However, don’t you acknowledge that a discussion of accusations from notorious New Atheists against God as a “moral monster” do in fact entail someone’s ability to wrap their minds around the “evil God” concept?

    Sure, it could be.

    I espouse the philosophy/theology called “biologos” in answer to these questions.

    Understood. I don’t mean to imply that evolution rules out God, but only that “God-less” evolution seems possible as far.

  76. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #78

    I have not said nor do I think anyone else has said that atheists are “unjust if they refuse to evaluate God’s intent.” I am simply pointing out that it is not possible to make judgments about a person’s morality in taking action X, Y, or Z without exploring and judging his/her intent, as we do in a criminal case in a court of law. Yes, there are what are called “strict liability” violations of the law, but in a case of someone causing the death of another person, whether or not that is murder depends entirely on the person’s intent.

    I also point out how it is difficult for a human being to know God’s intent when God acts. However, sometimes God reveals His intent, as is the case in Abraham’s pleadings to God regarding His intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. See Genesis 18: 16-33.

    What I question is this: For what purpose and with what intent do atheists presume to judge God’s moral character? You seem to be complaining that atheists are somehow in a double bind in doing so, when I happen to think that the entire exercise is hypocritical folly since atheists don’t even believe that God exists or that God can/does formulate a moral (or immoral) intent, let alone that He acts in ways that can be judged for their morality by any human standard.

  77. DJC

    scblhrm,

    … for moral law to have force universally and eternally, it must be founded upon an ultimate proposition. Otherwise moral law is without authority to compel obedience…..

    But that’s not good enough if no one cares about the ultimate proposition. First, human nature must be designed to recognize and accept, at least in some small part, the ultimate proposition.

    But if human nature is going to be fine-tuned to accept and recognize an ultimate proposition, why not finish the job and make it clear? Why not literally “write the law in our hearts”?

    It just wasn’t done that way.

    So in the absence of finding moral propositions in our hearts, we instead make do with moral intuitions (instincts, emotions, values). Some follow those intuitions to religion, some to humanism, but in all cases we are seeking moral propositions that best fit the moral instincts of our human nature.

    Following those intuitions is the “ought” of both Christian and naturalist. A person finds that he ought to be good and he follows that to the moral propositions of the Bible under the constant reflection and interpretation of Christian culture and community. Another person finds that he ought to be good and follows that to the moral propositions of any of a variety of non-theistic ethical systems under constant reflection and analysis by culture and community. The “oughts” of instinct now become the more formalized “oughts” of moral propositions in all forms of human interaction.

  78. Jenna Black

    DJC,

    I quote you these words from David Bentley Hart’s (2013) book, The Experience of God, p. 255:

    “If religious faith is any aid to moral life, it is so simply in making it possible to persevere in the certitude that real goodness not only truly exists but also can reveal itself to us.”

  79. Andrew W

    When you talk about feelings being justified, it seems to me you are saying we can’t just accept certain basic, core emotions at face value.

    Pragmatically, you might be right. Philosophically, you’re claiming that not only are you begging the question, but that you’re doing it quite deliberately. This isn’t quite the same as asking whether the Emperor is wearing clothes; more accepting that they exist but refusing to discuss where they came from.

    I don’t see that station, rank, IQ, wealth, or power should subvert basic moral obligations between self-aware beings.

    But you’re still using human-centric logic.

    Consider pet dogs. Dogs have concepts of social cause and effect. My family had a pet silky who would sit in a favourite spot until a family member was about to come out the door, at which point it would take off and chase all the birds away to show what a good job it was doing. I’ve seen dogs stand conflicted, wanting to do an action (usually involving eating) but knowing that the action had been proscribed and would result in punishment if found out. I’ve even seen them check if they are observed before taking such an action.

    I’m quite happy to grant that the motivations here are primarily social / fear of discipline rather than based in what we would term morality. In fact, that’s my point. Dogs can understand primitive good (approval) / bad (disapproval) distinctions with respect to behaviour. We humans understand this also, but can also process at an entirely different level (call it right / wrong), which puts us in a fundamentally different moral category. As a result, most humans consider that fellow humans create different moral obligations on us than dogs do (Peter Singer being a notable exception).

    Yet it is too easy to assume that we are not as dogs to God. Just as we have access to moral thinking dogs do not and that sets us apart from them, it seems arrogant to assume that no such distinction applies when referring to God. As such, we’re on very speculative ground if we assume that God’s moral obligations to us mirror ours to each other.

  80. scblhrm

    DJC,

    Yes – as the quote pointed out – today’s philosophical non-theists see no need to ground ought-love in any immutable ontic end of ought or of love. They don’t care about ultimate ends / coherence. Comfortably numb, so to speak.

    Your appeal to God’s writing such in our hearts simply points to that awareness you have that those means and ends really are all that can – finally – thusly ground such ontic ends.

    None of this is an argument against you. It’s all merely a descriptive of your own employed (here) philosophical means and ends.

  81. Ray Ingles

    Jenna – Well, atheists don’t have to believe in a God to evaluate God’s behavior as a character in the Bible. The same way we evaluate Voldemort, or Gandalf, or Zeus, or Loki, or God as portrayed in Pullman’s novels, or Satan as portrayed in Paradise Lost.

    Even if someone believes that the miracles described in the Bible happened, they don’t necessarily have to ascribe them to God. At least some commenters here accept that witchcraft actually exists and affects the real world, but they believe the effects happen by the action of demons.

    Now, you could say that (1) we can’t judge the actions of The Ground Of All Being because It’s so far above us, and (2) God as portrayed in the Bible is The Ground Of All Being, so therefore (3) we can’t judge the actions of God in the Bible. But that is introducing a premise, (2), that needs to be argued on other grounds.

  82. DJC

    Andrew W,

    Pragmatically, you might be right. Philosophically, you’re claiming that not only are you begging the question, but that you’re doing it quite deliberately. This isn’t quite the same as asking whether the Emperor is wearing clothes; more accepting that they exist but refusing to discuss where they came from.

    Without knowing exactly the question or claim or refusal you’re referring to, there’s not much I can say here.

    Just as we have access to moral thinking dogs do not and that sets us apart from them, it seems arrogant to assume that no such distinction applies when referring to God. As such, we’re on very speculative ground if we assume that God’s moral obligations to us mirror ours to each other.

    It’s not speculation since it is looking inward. I am quite certain that I have moral obligations to self-aware agents, there’s no guesswork there. It’s true that my moral obligations to dogs seems less than to other humans, but I’m not certain if that is species-prejudice or because the inner world of dogs is in some sense less textured, meaningful and valuable than that of humans.

    But in any case, the robot thought experiment leads me to conclude that God does not share my moral intuitions rather than that God is immoral. In other words, a God who does not share the moral intuitions of humanity is more likely, in my view, than a God who is literally immoral (i.e. same as Satan).

  83. Jenna Black

    Ray, #85

    You say that evaluating God’s moral character as God is portrayed in the Bible for you is done”…The same way we evaluate Voldemort, or Gandalf, or Zeus, or Loki, or God as portrayed in Pullman’s novels, or Satan as portrayed in Paradise Lost.” In other words, for you the question of God’s morality is merely an analysis of a literary character from the literary genre of fiction or mythology, not as the deity (God) of monotheism.

    My reaction and response to this statement is to conclude that you also believe that analysis and discussions of the Bible as literature are of no more consequence or transcendent value than is any discussion of any literary character from world literature, much like academics might do at a conference or a professor and students might do in English Literature 101 at a university.

    I gather from this, then that you do not have the intent to engage in theology, specifically, the theology of the Bible based on the theological conversation that the OT allows us to have with ancient and modern Jews, none of whom, I conjecture, saw God as merely a character in/from their culture’s literature. Well, this is not a surprise, since atheism rejects theology as its fundamental principle, its starting and ending point. Perhaps, then, your intent is to merely send the message that you believe the Bible to be fiction of no particular morally edifying value or importance, and to once again, mock and ridicule belief in God and the sacred scriptures of Jews and Christians.

    I’m not impressed!

  84. DJC

    scblrhm,

    Yes – as the quote pointed out – today’s philosophical non-theists see no need to ground ought-love in any immutable ontic end of ought or of love. They don’t care about ultimate ends / coherence. Comfortably numb, so to speak.

    On the contrary, I’m not numb. It would be nice to ground ought/love in some grand powerful essence outside ourselves.

    Your appeal to God’s writing such in our hearts simply points to that awareness you have that those means and ends really are all that can – finally – thusly ground such ontic ends.

    Not all. Many of the world’s non-Christian religions provide similar grounding, raising the possibility that many religious means and ends are a comforting fiction. And further, science is grounding all mysteries of human nature in progressively more fundamental aspects of the universe. If that grounding does not eventually end in God, it may still end in something truly worthy of grounding.

  85. scblhrm

    DJC,

    Yes, I know. That is the sort of incoherent blind axiom which non-theistic philosophy is left with.

  86. Ray Ingles

    Jenna –

    My reaction and response to this statement is to conclude that you also believe that analysis and discussions of the Bible as literature are of no more consequence or transcendent value than is any discussion of any literary character from world literature

    Well, you could ask rather than just react. I think discussions of the Bible as literature are more important than many other works of world literature because of the influence the Bible has had on Western culture. (Nor am I the only atheist who thinks so, BTW.)

    The “transcendent” part is, of course, what’s under discussion. If there isn’t a God, or that God is not as described in the Bible, then yeah, it wouldn’t have “transcendent value”. That’s what needs to be established.

    So… no, I never said that I “believe the Bible to be fiction of no particular morally edifying value or importance”. And I’m sorry, but at what point did I “mock and ridicule belief in God and the sacred scriptures of Jews and Christians”? Specific links would be helpful. Is disagreeing with those beliefs the same as mocking and ridiculing them?

  87. Jenna Black

    Ray, RE: #90

    My understanding of this thread is that it is part of our discussion of Paul Copan’s (2011) book, “Is God a Moral Monster? Making sense of the Old Testament God.” My question to you is this: Do you think that Paul Copan is simply having a discussion of the God of the Bible based on a literary, fiction genre paradigm, and not responding to the New Atheists’ claims that God is a moral monster based on God as deity and not God as a fictional literary character?

    I ask this because if you really do enter into this discussion based on a literary analysis of God as a fictional character, then how can you make any sense at all of Paul Copan’s entire book, let alone his ample discussion of how the Hebrews understood God, which most certainly was not as a fictional literary character?

    And second of all, arguendo, if as you claim, God is a fictional literary character in the OT, your literary analysis would earn you an F in any literature class. This is because you ignore, overlook, and/or get wrong the critical elements of intellectually legitimate and valid literary analysis:

    1. The features and structure of the literary piece that fit the genre you classify it as.
    2. An understanding and appreciation of the authors’ intent
    3. A confusion of antagonist and protagonist in the “plot”
    4. Failure to keep straight which characters did what.

    This website is not a Bible as Literature Book Club. Can’t you make more of an attempt to match your analytical paradigm to the realities of the books (the OT and Paul Copan’s) that are being discussed and the task at hand? Is this really too much to ask? You can disagree with the beliefs of the ancient Hebrews all you want, but unless you argue about the content of the OT and about God as that which/whom the Hebrews deified and deify today in/through their sacred writings, your arguments are completely beside the point.

  88. Ray Ingles

    Jenna – Sure, Copan’s coming from a Christian framework. But he’s responding to people analyzing the Bible as (purported) literature and history. One of Dawkin’s most-quoted statements is “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

    Atheists only claim that God is a moral monster in the sense that anyone might say “Voldemort is a villain”: ‘There’s no such person as Voldemort, but if he did exist, he’d be a bad guy.’ Atheists don’t believe there is a God, so “if God existed and acted as described, then It would be a moral monster” is the only sense they could mean it.

    It’s the same with the Greek gods. The Greeks understood them through a rather different culture and philosophical framework than ours, and certainly not as literary characters. That doesn’t mean we can’t judge them in both a literary and moral way.

    your literary analysis would earn you an F in any literature class

    Your opinion is duly noted? I guess? Obviously I disagree, so how are we to proceed?

    The key case needs to be made – that (1) The Ground Of All Being exists in the way Christian doctrine says, and that the actions described in the Bible (2a) happened as described and (2b) were the actions of The Ground Of All Being.

    (Of course, if, as Tom says, “No action of [The Ground Of All Being] is ever comparable to any action by humans”, then I don’t see how we could have any expectations at all of what Its actions might look like. Is there any conceivable action we humans could witness that could be said to be inconsistent with that?)

  89. Jenna Black

    Ray, #92

    I am wondering, has Richard Dawkins published any analysis of how he arrived at this list of derogatory adjectives and descriptors for God ” the most unpleasant character in all fiction” with documentation from the OT (the alleged fictional source for RW’s characterization of God), citing chapter and verse? For example, do we know the “passages” from the OT that RW can cite as evidence to support his claims about this alleged Moral Monster called God? Like for example, where exactly does RW locate text in the OT to support his claim that God (and not the ancient Hebrews) was a “bloodthirsty ethnic cleaners”? Or that God is an “unforgiving control freak”? Or that God is “unjust”, citing specific examples and actions performed by God (not his followers or Covenant people Israel) and making the case that the allegedly fictional character committed (Himself) acts that any person would judge as being unjust?

    I ask these questions about text analysis (what we now refer to in education these days as “close reading”) where the reader is expected to find and produce evidence directly from the text to support his/her opinion about the characters.

    If RD has written such an analysis, then certainly Paul Copan could have responded to it, point by point, based on his knowledge of the Bible. But, unless you can show me otherwise and produce such an analysis to support RD’s claims against God’s moral character, then perhaps you can see why I question your apparent expectation that Copan should be responding directly to RD’s critique of God (from the standpoint of fiction), instead of taking the tact that he takes in his book, or the one that Tom as offered here for purposes of discussion of Copan’s book. Is your opinion that we on this Thinking Christian website respond to critics of God’s moral character who as you say, are “… people analyzing the Bible as (purported) literature and history” rather than critiquing God as the Creator of the Universe and the deity of monotheism?

    You claim this: “The key case needs to be made – that (1) The Ground Of All Being exists in the way Christian doctrine says, and that the actions described in the Bible (2a) happened as described and (2b) were the actions of The Ground Of All Being.” IOW, you say that we cannot proceed with a discussion of Paul Copan’s book until “the case is made” that God (the “Ground Of All Being” Is this a name used in the OT?) exists. You appear to discount that fact that the ancient Hebrews, from whom this alleged work of “fiction” comes and by whom it was authored, do not see God as “a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Rather, they worship this allegedly “fictional character” as the God of love, justice, mercy and truth who gave them the Law (Torah) to shape and guide their entire society and way of life.

    IMO, your paradigm for analysis of God’s moral character and the Israelites’ purpose in telling the story of their relationship with God are completely incompatible. So, in answer to your question as to how we proceed is this: We can’t (or at least I can’t participate) unless we agree on a paradigm for analysis of God’s moral character, which possibly we cannot if you believe that first, we have to establish God’s existence, and not just take the Israelites’ word for it, arguendo, at least: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4

    I really like Tom’s Logical Flow Chart. Can you at least accept this as a paradigm for analysis? If not, before I will participate, I’m going to insist on a “close reading” text analysis approach from you to which we can respond.

  90. Jenna Black

    Ray,

    And another thing… If you and your fellow atheists refuse to evaluate and judge God’s moral character based on God as God in the OT and insist on judging God is a role as a human being, we Christians can insist that you simply fast forward to the Gospels. There is your only legitimate source of a view of God in His role as a human being in the real life accounts of Jesus Christ. Of course, this will not make your task of moral character analysis more simple and less complicated, because in the Gospels (NT), you still have to consider God in His role as God, plus God in His role as God Incarnate as Jesus, the man, plus Jesus in the role of God Incarnate, all in addition to your moral character analysis of Jesus as man.

    This dilemma exists whether or not it is a legitimate and intellectually honest endeavor to analyze God as a fictional character to begin with. And we Christians will insist that you would have to establish your claim, if such is your claim, that the Gospels are fiction.

    Are you up to the challenge? JB

  91. BillT

    I am wondering, has Richard Dawkins published any analysis of how he arrived at this list of derogatory adjectives and descriptors for God…

    Richard Dawkins has never even read the Bible. Anyone who had read is “critiques” can see that. It’s just a bunch of stuff he’s hear elsewhere that he writes down as his own. It’s a joke.

  92. BillT

    And the “Bible as fiction” argument doesn’t hold up to any serious examination either. Just for starters you would have to believe that a group of moderately (if that) educated men in 1st century Palestine invented the modern literary form of the novel with no historical or literary precedents or antecedents. I’ve never seen that even remotely explained to any reasonable satisfaction and it’s only one of a number of problems with the above mentioned proposal. (It would be wrong to call it a theory as theories require evidence and it has none.)

  93. Jenna Black

    BillT,

    Yes, I agree. Richard Dawkins’ critique of God is a joke and is not grounded in anything other than RD’s intellectual snobbery and scorn for religion. This is my point. Paul Copan has given a serious, reasoned and respectful response to the New Atheists’ “critique” of God’s moral character. In response to this offer from Tom of an opportunity to engage in a discussion of Copan’s book, so far what we see from our atheist interlocutor Ray are demands that before he will engage seriously and respectfully is that we abandon our “Christian viewpoint” of the Bible. Instead, Ray in #85 claims that examining God as God is “… introducing a premise … [God as portrayed in the Bible is The Ground Of All Being] that needs to be argued on other grounds.”

    IOW, our atheist friend Ray seems to be unwilling to accept the intent of the authors of either the OT or Paul Copan’s book as a starting point for discussion of either book.

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