The "Evil-God Challenge" and the Fall of Man

 
 
 
Christian theists like me have often argued that the reality of evil actually suggests theism. That is, evil implies an intelligently and transcendently derived moral law, which in turn implies an intelligent and transcendent moral legislator – presumably God. Some skeptics have argued, however, that even if the law of good and evil suggests a deity, it suggests only a deeply flawed deity, one who at best allows evil and at worst actively promotes it. Philosopher Stephen Law, for example, has advanced what he calls the "evil-god challenge": According to the evil-god hypothesis, as Law terms it, there exists a creator of the universe, and moreover this creator is omnipotent and omniscient. Unfortunately that's where this god's similarity to the God of Christian theism ends:
 
But suppose he is not maximally good. Rather, imagine that he is maximally evil. His depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being. Call this the evil-god hypothesis.[1] 
 
Law goes on to defend the evil-god hypothesis against one potential defeater, the problem of good, or "why an omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely evil being would allow quite so much good into his creation." What makes the evil-god challenge so interesting is that for every theodicy proposed for the God of traditional theism against the problem of evil there is, or at least there appears to be, an exactly corresponding theodicy that can be proposed to defend evil-god against the problem of good. For example, against the soul-making theodicy of Hick, in which God uses hardship and loss to build the spiritual character of people so they can more deeply appreciate goodness, Law suggests that evil-god allows love and beauty only in order to accentuate hate and ugliness, so that sufferers can learn to more deeply despise the evil they experience. Just a few really wealthy, powerful people are needed "to make the suffering of the rest of us even more acute." Law's point seems to be that all the vagaries of our moral universe permit rational interpretations not just theistic and atheistic but downright diabolical. 
 
I suggest there is a way to break Law's rhetorical impasse, namely with an appeal to the ontology of goodness itself, as expressed in Augustine's observation that evil is (must be) privation of good. On this view evil is simply the absence of good, a corruption of what God has made. Thus a hateful, cruel and lazy man is also loveless, merciless and shiftless, whereas it would make no sense to say that a loving, merciful and diligent man is hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less. Love, mercy and diligence are positive moral attributes; hate, cruelty and laziness the negative attributes ascribed to those who fail them. This makes sense of Paul's statement that "all have sinned [committed evil acts] and [thereby] fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). Our ongoing experiences of evil in the world serve as constant reminders of the fact that man has sinned against his God by falling short of God's righteousness. Even the atheist philosopher Schopenhauer recognized that the very notion of moral perfection, of innate righteousness, points to the fall of Adam:  
 
Why the will erred, how it erred, how it could have erred, Schopenhauer does not say, and knows he cannot say – they are questions beyond all power of answer. But the idea of a fall…seemed to him a metaphysical and a moral necessity.[2]  
 
Following the ancient philosopher Epicurus, most of us at one time or another have asked, "Whence comes evil?" (We ask it, for example, whenever we find someone committing an act of overt wickedness and cry out in exasperation, "What's wrong with that person?") I propose that any acceptable answer to that question must begin with an acknowledgment that evil is not a thing to be examined or analyzed, but the practical, spiritually significant outcome of failing God's righteousness. But if God is perfectly good, and the supervisor of a perfectly good creation, it might still be reasonably asked how anyone could fail God's righteousness in the first place.  
 
My own answer begins with the historical-theological observation that God, as narrated in Genesis, at creation conferred great dignity upon human beings by giving them (us) not only wide-ranging moral freedom but tremendous responsibility to manage the affairs of the world we inhabit. Richard Swinburne alludes to this with his "argument from providence." The basic idea is that freedom is a great good. Human beings are baffled by evil (and attribute it to a failure of God) because we neither understand nor appreciate the power we have to influence the moral direction of the world.   
 
Consider the "Song of the Vineyard" in the fifth chapter of Isaiah, a parable speaking metaphorically of God's care and provision for his people:  
 
My Well-beloved has a vineyard on a very fruitful hill.
He dug it up and cleared out its stones,
And planted it with the choicest vine.
He built a tower in its midst,
And also made a winepress in it;
So he expected it to bring forth good grapes,
But it brought forth wild grapes (Isaiah 5:1-2). 
 
This "vineyard" alludes further to the Garden of Eden, where the first couple was given great provision and every reason to prosper under the watch of their creator. But they were also morally free, and therefore able to disobey as well as obey their Lord by eating of the one forbidden tree. Thus God asks his rebellious people, the "wild grapes" of his vineyard: "…O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah… What more could have been done to my vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, then, when I expected it to bring forth good grapes, did it bring forth wild grapes?" (v. 3-4). God being omniscient, the question is obviously rhetorical. We may call it the "good God challenge." The point seems to be that pains and problems may arise in the vineyard, no matter how well-tended, from within the "grapes" themselves. Here God almost appears to "isolate the variable" of free will, i.e., the freedom to obey or disobey, in the hearts of his people, with the understanding that the human heart is the one variable that divine providence cannot – or more properly, will not – directly control. 
 
All this seems consistent with Christian theology as well as observations of the world around us. Evil does not derive from an evil god, but from the corrupted hearts of countless evil human beings who have, in turn, been tempted by Satan (himself a corrupted being as thoroughly evil as one can be, hence as close to "evil-god" as one can be). The problem of evil is only "solved" as we come to God in repentance and obtain His righteousness, through another free act of will: the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ. Paul again lays it down to the Romans: "….for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:23,24, 26).
 



[1] Stephen Law, "The evil-god challenge," Religious Studies, 46 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 356.
 
[2] Salter, William M., "Schopenhauer's Contact with Theology," Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 4, No. 3 (1911), p. 290.

Comments

Jason Brophy said…
This is an interesting article, I think the heart of it is here:

“I suggest there is a way to break Law's rhetorical impasse, namely with an appeal to the ontology of goodness itself, as expressed in Augustine's observation that evil is (must be) privation of good. On this view evil is simply the absence of good, a corruption of what God has made. Thus a hateful, cruel and lazy man is also loveless, merciless and shiftless, whereas it would make no sense to say that a loving, merciful and diligent man is hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less. Love, mercy and diligence are positive moral attributes; hate, cruelty and laziness the negative attributes ascribed to those who fail them.”

I don’t see how what you’re saying makes sense though. I can certainly imagine saying someone is, “hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less.” True, we don’t word it that way, but we have ways of saying those things about people. An evil God could understand the characteristics it lacks, such as love, etc., and still live in the lack of those characteristics. The evil God could then impose a sense that love is good on its creatures, just to create instances of unloving experiences in life to hurt us. Or it could not even bother to impose a sense in us that love is good, it could just leave us to figure out that we would rather be loved, while this God puts us in positions where we are not loved.

I agree that evil is a lack of goodness, but why couldn’t there be a God who lacks goodness? One who understands the goodness it lacks, yet lacks that goodness all the same? Isn’t that what we mean when we talk about “evil people”? If there can be evil people, why not an evil God? I don’t see why that would be a problem for Law’s proposal, do you?
Joe Hinman said…
Excellent article Don! really some profound stuff there, Great minds think alike because I will answer the atheists who bring up questions about How do you know God is not evil? by turning to St Augie.

to answer Jason B.

"I don’t see how what you’re saying makes sense though. I can certainly imagine saying someone is, “hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less.” True, we don’t word it that way, but we have ways of saying those things about people. An evil God could understand the characteristics it lacks, such as love, etc., and still live in the lack of those characteristics. The evil God could then impose a sense that love is good on its creatures, just to create instances of unloving experiences in life to hurt us. Or it could not even bother to impose a sense in us that love is good, it could just leave us to figure out that we would rather be loved, while this God puts us in positions where we are not loved.

I agree that evil is a lack of goodness, but why couldn’t there be a God who lacks goodness? One who understands the goodness it lacks, yet lacks that goodness all the same? Isn’t that what we mean when we talk about “evil people”? If there can be evil people, why not an evil God? I don’t see why that would be a problem for Law’s proposal, do you?


I think you need to consider not only the nature of evil but also of the good and of God,

Since evil is the absence of the good that means good is the positive force that has to be accounted for, evil is merely lack of good and destructive capacity that comes with lacking good; good wood then need to be actually explained, We can't explain good as a stovepipe force that we contain and that the source of our being lacks, how could it be that the creatue contains something more that what the creator cloud give it?

God is not merely a big guy with powers. God is the ground of being. The good is love that is the nature of God special revelation the Bible tells us God is love So being and love are both linked together in God, That is God's nature to be the basis of being and that basis is love.

for me that is an axiomatic formulation: God =love=being itself
Anonymous said…
Don: Christian theists like me have often argued that the reality of evil actually suggests theism. That is, evil implies an intelligently and transcendently derived moral law, which in turn implies an intelligent and transcendent moral legislator – presumably God.

This would indicate that good is only good because God has decreed that it is good, and evil is only evil because that is what God has chosen. Thus the rape of a child is not inherently evil, but rather we think it is evil because that is what we think God has decreed it to be.

This is linked to Epicurus' dilemma, of course, in relation to which you describe evil as "the practical, spiritually significant outcome of failing God's righteousness". Is this righteousness something God has engineered? That is, has God decided that child rape will be a failing of his righteousness? Or is child rape necessarily a failing of righteousness?

An alternative way to look at the question is this: God's first command is to love God (first of the commandments and also the greatest command according to Jesus). Is it necessarily evil to fail to love God? Or is it evil because God has decided it is evil?

Many nations have given people the right to freedom of religion. Would you say that that right contravenes the natural law of the universe or that it contravenes a law that God has decided to impose?

Don: Thus a hateful, cruel and lazy man is also loveless, merciless and shiftless, whereas it would make no sense to say that a loving, merciful and diligent man is hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less.

A side issue, but I am interested in your thinking here. Why does it make no sense to say that an individual is never hateful, never cruel and never lazy?

I ask because it looks to me like your argument is based on semantics - "cruelty-less" is not a word - rather than actual reasoning.

Pix
Joe Hinman said…
nonymous said...
Don: Christian theists like me have often argued that the reality of evil actually suggests theism. That is, evil implies an intelligently and transcendently derived moral law, which in turn implies an intelligent and transcendent moral legislator – presumably God.

This would indicate that good is only good because God has decreed that it is good, and evil is only evil because that is what God has chosen. Thus the rape of a child is not inherently evil, but rather we think it is evil because that is what we think God has decreed it to be.

Not to speak for Don but I think a better way to say it would be that our recognition that evil exists indicates that we know there is a universal standard of good and evil is a departure from that standard, That doesn't imply that good is only good because God arbitrarily picks (that's the Euthephro dilemma it's answered)..

This is linked to Epicurus' dilemma, of course, in relation to which you describe evil as "the practical, spiritually significant outcome of failing God's righteousness". Is this righteousness something God has engineered? That is, has God decided that child rape will be a failing of his righteousness? Or is child rape necessarily a failing of righteousness?


Euthiphro dilemma Plato writes about it. God's nature is the standard so it's independent of God bit it's not arbitrary either.

An alternative way to look at the question is this: God's first command is to love God (first of the commandments and also the greatest command according to Jesus). Is it necessarily evil to fail to love God? Or is it evil because God has decided it is evil?

you are just repeating the dilemma in a more specific application, so same answer applies; we have nature inborn instinct to know the good because it';s synonymous with God's nature and we are made in God's image.

Many nations have given people the right to freedom of religion. Would you say that that right contravenes the natural law of the universe or that it contravenes a law that God has decided to impose?

religion is not equivolant to truth, it's a cultural expression of universal human instinct. We can't help but filter our understanding through culture, language itself is culture,

Don: Thus a hateful, cruel and lazy man is also loveless, merciless and shiftless, whereas it would make no sense to say that a loving, merciful and diligent man is hate-less, cruelty-less and laziness-less.

A side issue, but I am interested in your thinking here. Why does it make no sense to say that an individual is never hateful, never cruel and never lazy?

you didn't read it carefully, he is saying in essence that hate ect is not a positive force, To be not hateful is not said to be hateless, One is not empty of a quality called hate when one loves, one is full of love not empty of hate,

I ask because it looks to me like your argument is based on semantics - "cruelty-less" is not a word - rather than actual reasoning.


Jesus said "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" If we have intuitive sense of good and evil then what we say is an indication of that knowledge,

Anonymous said…
JH: Not to speak for Don but I think a better way to say it would be that our recognition that evil exists indicates that we know there is a universal standard of good and evil is a departure from that standard, That doesn't imply that good is only good because God arbitrarily picks (that's the Euthephro dilemma it's answered).

You seem to be saying that the standard exists outside of God. As an atheist I would agree; I think the standard exists, whether God does or not.

JH: Euthiphro dilemma...

Yeah, that one

JH: you are just repeating the dilemma in a more specific application, so same answer applies; we have nature inborn instinct to know the good because it';s synonymous with God's nature and we are made in God's image.

Do we have an instinct to know good? I disagree, it is not something we automatically know. Small children do not know right from wrong, and primitive societies engage in practices that we consider wrong, such as slavery and child sacrifice. We know good and evil exist because we have considered the situation very carefully, and with have millenia of previous thinking to draw on.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that being moral is (to some degree) about resisting our instincts, and that rape and murder happen when the perpetrator fails to do that.

JH: religion is not equivolant to truth, it's a cultural expression of universal human instinct. We can't help but filter our understanding through culture, language itself is culture,

So you reject the commandment to love the Christian God above all else?

JH: you didn't read it carefully, he is saying in essence that hate ect is not a positive force, To be not hateful is not said to be hateless, One is not empty of a quality called hate when one loves, one is full of love not empty of hate,

But we can flip that around, and make exactly the same argument for hate.

Love, etc. is not a positive force. To be not loving is not said to be loveless, One is not empty of a quality called love when one hates, one is full of hate not empty of love.

See, it makes as much (or as little) sense. People can be full of hate or love, they can do things for love or hate.

Pix
Joe Hinman said…
JH: Not to speak for Don but I think a better way to say it would be that our recognition that evil exists indicates that we know there is a universal standard of good and evil is a departure from that standard, That doesn't imply that good is only good because God arbitrarily picks (that's the Euthephro dilemma it's answered).

PX:You seem to be saying that the standard exists outside of God. As an atheist I would agree; I think the standard exists, whether God does or not.

No I really don't sse where you get that unless you think God is a biological organism and thus has genome, God is eternal nothing created he always has been. Thus the standard is his nature (love) but that doesn't mean it comes from some guiding law of genetics.

JH: Euthiphro dilemma...

Yeah, that one

JH: you are just repeating the dilemma in a more specific application, so same answer applies; we have nature inborn instinct to know the good because it';s synonymous with God's nature and we are made in God's image.

Do we have an instinct to know good? I disagree, it is not something we automatically know.

In a basic way we do, The same moral code is in effect in all cultures. Now it does vary in a lot of ways but they all say murder is wrong and stealing,promise breaking, a lot of sameness.

Small children do not know right from wrong, and primitive societies engage in practices that we consider wrong, such as slavery and child sacrifice.

there an age of moral accountability. there's an age at which children first begin to understand conversation of mass. Before six they don't. then at six they start getting it, that your mass is not going to change magically.Same with morality only it varies per individual. At some point most people who who are according to norm will come to understand thesane moral basics.

We know good and evil exist because we have considered the situation very carefully, and with have millenia of previous thinking to draw on.


that's fallacious as hell, doesn't matter how closely you consider it, the issue is what decides it? you can't make something become true by carefully consideration. The only area where it;s really changed is sexual, Other than that Semitics pretty much cone the same ultimate basic list, Look at the popularity of moral realism today. All that says is we know what is right and wrong,how? it's intuitive,

Joe Hinman said…
In fact, I would go so far as to say that being moral is (to some degree) about resisting our instincts, and that rape and murder happen when the perpetrator fails to do that.

Rape is not an instinct. Mating is instinct. Rape is an attempt to satisfy the instinct regardless of social and moral reality. Moral restrains tell us when to curb excess, and that is intuitive to an extent. I an not saying we don't need cultural refinement that's what civilization teaches us; we have basic intuitive sense but it has to be cultivated intellectually.


JH: religion is not equivolant to truth, it's a cultural expression of universal human instinct. We can't help but filter our understanding through culture, language itself is culture,

So you reject the commandment to love the Christian God above all else?



where did I say that?I can't see how you reach these conclusions you draw.

JH: you didn't read it carefully, he is saying in essence that hate ect is not a positive force, To be not hateful is not said to be hateless, One is not empty of a quality called hate when one loves, one is full of love not empty of hate,

But we can flip that around, and make exactly the same argument for hate.

nope does't work in reverse

[he reverses my take]
Love, etc. is not a positive force. To be not loving is not said to be loveless, One is not empty of a quality called love when one hates, one is full of hate not empty of love.


See, it makes as much (or as little) sense. People can be full of hate or love, they can do things for love or hate.

no it doesn't. you are dogmatically asserting some that obviously false. love is not the absentee of hate that is indifference. one could have no have and still not love. Love and hate are emotions, good and evil are not emotions, they are evaluations.
Anonymous said…
JH: No I really don't sse where you get that unless you think God is a biological organism and thus has genome, God is eternal nothing created he always has been. Thus the standard is his nature (love) but that doesn't mean it comes from some guiding law of genetics.

It comes down to choice. Did God make a choice about what is good and evil? If so, it is arbitrary. If God had no choice, then the standard exists external to God. Or if you say that choice is not relevant to God, then we are talking at cross purposes, because my definition includes the requirement that God is conscious and implicitedly capable of making choices.

JH: In a basic way we do, The same moral code is in effect in all cultures. Now it does vary in a lot of ways but they all say murder is wrong and stealing,promise breaking, a lot of sameness.

Societies have universally found that outlawing these activities is the only way for them to survive. Do toddlers automatically know it is wrong to steal? Or do they have to be taught?

And what of codes that are not universal? Given the popularity of slavery across cultures through history, can we assume slavery is not actually morally wrong?

JH: there an age of moral accountability. ... .Same with morality only it varies per individual. At some point most people who who are according to norm will come to understand thesane moral basics.

They come to understand them because they learn them from their culture. There is no mystical message from God. If there was, toddlers would know it. If there was, slavery would be universally condemned (or you have to accept that God condones it).

JH: that's fallacious as hell, doesn't matter how closely you consider it, the issue is what decides it? you can't make something become true by carefully consideration. The only area where it;s really changed is sexual, Other than that Semitics pretty much cone the same ultimate basic list, Look at the popularity of moral realism today. All that says is we know what is right and wrong,how? it's intuitive,

Interesting. I think morality and ethics is one area where philosophy is actually useful. Seems it is an area you reject altogether.

JH: Rape is not an instinct. Mating is instinct. Rape is an attempt to satisfy the instinct regardless of social and moral reality. Moral restrains tell us when to curb excess, and that is intuitive to an extent. I an not saying we don't need cultural refinement that's what civilization teaches us; we have basic intuitive sense but it has to be cultivated intellectually.

As you say, rape is an attempt to satisfy the instinct regardless of social and moral reality. That is morality overcoming instinct. Which is what I said.

Pix: So you reject the commandment to love the Christian God above all else?

JH: where did I say that?I can't see how you reach these conclusions you draw.

That is the impression you gave, but it was vague, and so I asked for clarification. I see you have ducked the question again.

Do you accept the commandment to love God above everything else as a moral truth?

JH: no it doesn't. you are dogmatically asserting some that obviously false. love is not the absentee of hate that is indifference. one could have no have and still not love. Love and hate are emotions, good and evil are not emotions, they are evaluations.

The claim was that love is quanititively different to hate, such that it makes sense to have a god of love, but not a god of hate. My position is that love and hate are opposites. I am not saying one is the absence of the other, but quite the reverse. Both are powerful emotions that will cause certain behaviours. One is positive, the other negative, but both are forces (in the loose sense of the word).

Pix
Joe Hinman said…
Anonymous said...
JH: No I really don't sse where you get that unless you think God is a biological organism and thus has genome, God is eternal nothing created he always has been. Thus the standard is his nature (love) but that doesn't mean it comes from some guiding law of genetics.

It comes down to choice. Did God make a choice about what is good and evil? If so, it is arbitrary. If God had no choice, then the standard exists external to God. Or if you say that choice is not relevant to God, then we are talking at cross purposes, because my definition includes the requirement that God is conscious and implicitedly capable of making choices.

Most dilemmas are based upon a false assumption that only two choices exist. My answer avoids both. Being God's own nature is is not arbitrary because it's based upon God's love.l Being God's nature he doesn't have to decide upon it, not having to decide as though it's a plan does not mean he has no choice, or no free will.It means doesn't have to decide on weather not not he's going to love he just loves.

JH: In a basic way we do, The same moral code is in effect in all cultures. Now it does vary in a lot of ways but they all say murder is wrong and stealing,promise breaking, a lot of sameness.

Societies have universally found that outlawing these activities is the only way for them to survive. Do toddlers automatically know it is wrong to steal? Or do they have to be taught?

you have to believe that not stealing is utilitarian and thus more efficient and so the gene codes tells us do what is best to survive we figure out with our big primate size brains not stealing is efficient so we make rules against stealing. You can't get out of that narrative because it would make you a creationist to do so. There's no real reason to doge it either way. That narrative works with belief in God or with athiesm,

And what of codes that are not universal? Given the popularity of slavery across cultures through history, can we assume slavery is not actually morally wrong?

No one feels a moral obligation to own slaves.slave owners battle the moral obligation by reducing the value of the enslaved as people. I never said there's no conflict between the innate moral law and sin..

JH: there an age of moral accountability. ... .Same with morality only it varies per individual. At some point most people who who are according to norm will come to understand the sane moral basics.

They come to understand them because they learn them from their culture. There is no mystical message from God. If there was, toddlers would know it. If there was, slavery would be universally condemned (or you have to accept that God condones it).

NO they have then as a natural inclination even evolutionists have to admit that,that's why thee is a naturalistic ethics now, that's why moral realism. Culture and cdivilizatio fine tune and cultivate they don't in ent moral motions.

Joe Hinman said…
JH: that's fallacious as hell, doesn't matter how closely you consider it, the issue is what decides it? you can't make something become true by carefully consideration. The only area where it;s really changed is sexual, Other than that Semitics pretty much cone the same ultimate basic list, Look at the popularity of moral realism today. All that says is we know what is right and wrong,how? it's intuitive,

Interesting. I think morality and ethics is one area where philosophy is actually useful. Seems it is an area you reject altogether.


that's wrong, you need to read my blog. Ethics is one of the fields in my interdisciplinary repertoire to which I pay special attention, I oppose ethical naturalism and moral realism as philosophical schools in favor of deontology and virtue ethics,

JH: Rape is not an instinct. Mating is instinct. Rape is an attempt to satisfy the instinct regardless of social and moral reality. Moral restrains tell us when to curb excess, and that is intuitive to an extent. I an not saying we don't need cultural refinement that's what civilization teaches us; we have basic intuitive sense but it has to be cultivated intellectually.

As you say, rape is an attempt to satisfy the instinct regardless of social and moral reality. That is morality overcoming instinct. Which is what I said.

I said throughout this exchange that we need civilization to cultivate and refine the moral instinct,

Pix: So you reject the commandment to love the Christian God above all else?

JH: where did I say that?I can't see how you reach these conclusions you draw.

That is the impression you gave, but it was vague, and so I asked for clarification. I see you have ducked the question again.

I don't think it is. I'm only ducking opening a tiresome side bar on hose one can be commanded to love and how love is more than just an emotion.I still insist upon bracketing that discussion. because it will take us off topic.


Do you accept the commandment to love God above everything else as a moral truth?

of course

JH: no it doesn't. you are dogmatically asserting some that obviously false. love is not the absentee of hate that is indifference. one could have no have and still not love. Love and hate are emotions, good and evil are not emotions, they are evaluations.

The claim was that love is quanititively different to hate, such that it makes sense to have a god of love, but not a god of hate. My position is that love and hate are opposites. I am not saying one is the absence of the other, but quite the reverse. Both are powerful emotions that will cause certain behaviours. One is positive, the other negative, but both are forces (in the loose sense of the word).

Love and hate are not opposites,everyone knows this, this is common understanding going way back,, the first time I heard that was a sophomore in high school in 1972, in a discussion group of college students from North Texas State U (Now UNT). It's a common place among psychologists and ethologists,

Love and indifference are opposites, love and hate are both passionate engagements with the other.

Joe Hinman said…
Px I am going to do my next blog thing here on the command to love God, there I will discuss the side bar I didn't want to open here, Monday.
Don McIntosh said…
Pix: "This would indicate that good is only good because God has decreed that it is good, and evil is only evil because that is what God has chosen. Thus the rape of a child is not inherently evil, but rather we think it is evil because that is what we think God has decreed it to be.

[…] Is it necessarily evil to fail to love God? Or is it evil because God has decided it is evil?"

I think the Euthyphro dilemma is technically irrelevant to whether moral rules are objective, at least as far as morality actually concerns human beings. Let's say that God's notion of goodness derives from nothing but his own subjective opinion. (Keep in mind here that some subjective opinions are true, and an omniscient being's opinion is not likely to be false.) In that case we accept his moral rules on authority, in which case they would be internal to God but – the important part – still external to us (objective).

Appealing to Euthyphro as a defeater for legitimate moral rules is a bit like asking "Who created God?" – as if failure to provide a satisfactory answer would in any way imply that there can be no objective evidence that God created the universe.

Pix: "A side issue, but I am interested in your thinking here. Why does it make no sense to say that an individual is never hateful, never cruel and never lazy?"

Put it in context of contrasting virtue with vice. Being never-hateful or never-lazy is not strictly equivalent to being loving and diligent. It's a fine line, but one drawn easily enough in most cases. Here's an analogy you might appreciate: Atheists often tell me that whereas they do not actively believe in God, they also do not actively assert his nonexistence. They simply lack any belief in God. So the same sort of subtle asymmetry holds. Belief is a positive cognitive state; non-belief merely the negation of that state.

Pix: "I ask because it looks to me like your argument is based on semantics - "cruelty-less" is not a word - rather than actual reasoning."

You're right, cruelty-less is not a word. But that's sort of my point. Why would you think that there are so few words in our language conveying the lack of evil characteristics like cruelty or hate or laziness, and so many words conveying the lack of good characteristics like mercy, love or diligence?
Anonymous said…
Don: I think the Euthyphro dilemma is technically irrelevant to whether moral rules are objective, at least as far as morality actually concerns human beings. Let's say that God's notion of goodness derives from nothing but his own subjective opinion. (Keep in mind here that some subjective opinions are true, and an omniscient being's opinion is not likely to be false.) In that case we accept his moral rules on authority, in which case they would be internal to God but – the important part – still external to us (objective).

I can see what you are saying. There is a standard; it might be part of the fabric of the universe or it could be devised by God, but either way, mankind has a standard to follow. However, I would say that whether that standard is the arbitrary choice of an intelligent being is of the utmost important. Are we trying to follow arbitrary rules devised by someone one who can impose them just because he is somuch more powerful than us, as opposed to rules that actually mean something? Can we discern those rules by a consideration of the ethics, or only via divine revelation?

Don: Put it in context of contrasting virtue with vice. Being never-hateful or never-lazy is not strictly equivalent to being loving and diligent. It's a fine line, but one drawn easily enough in most cases. Here's an analogy you might appreciate: Atheists often tell me that whereas they do not actively believe in God, they also do not actively assert his nonexistence. They simply lack any belief in God. So the same sort of subtle asymmetry holds. Belief is a positive cognitive state; non-belief merely the negation of that state.

I get the analogy, but is that really the case here? Hate is not the absense of love. What the atheist feels in analogy is indifference; the lack of love. Hate is a strong emotion; it is not the absense of emotion.

Don: You're right, cruelty-less is not a word. But that's sort of my point. Why would you think that there are so few words in our language conveying the lack of evil characteristics like cruelty or hate or laziness, and so many words conveying the lack of good characteristics like mercy, love or diligence?

Yeah... "cruelty-less" would be the positive, and we have no word for it, and you want to use that to show that we do have words for the positive... You might want to re-think that one.

Antonyms for mercy: disapproval, disdain, ill will, malevolence, meanness, mercilessness, selfishness, unkindness, bad fortune, disfavor, cruelty, intolerance, uncompassion.

Antonyms for love: animosity, dislike, enmity, hate, hatred, ill will, indifference, neglect, apathy, coolness, disloyalty, misery, sorrow, treachery, unhappiness.

Antonyms for diligence: inactivity, lethargy, carelessness, disregard, idleness, ignorance, inattention, indolence, laziness, neglect, negligence.

Turns out there are quite a few on thesaurus.com

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