Morals

Religious people believe that the ultimate authority in moral questions is God. God is the creator of all morality and God is the place where the buck unquestionably stops.

My question is this: if morality originates with God, and is not from some higher source, then aren't God's morals made up and hence arbitrary? If analogy is to be used to establish God as a source of morals because all morals need an intelligent moral source then the same analogy must be used to show that, if God makes morals up out of the blue, God is being just as arbitrary as are human beings who do the same thing.

Does this mean that we gain no advantage and are no more compelled philosophically to obey God's arbitrary morals than we are to obey the morals established by our best friend (or even our worst enemy)? Arbitrary is arbitrary, and the arbitrariness is in no way removed by making the arbitrary moralizer supernatural, all-powerful, incomprehensible, mysterious, or anything else usually attributed to God. So thinking of it in this way, if a God exists God's moral values are just God's own opinions. What then compels us to follow them and why are they so important (other than the possible eternal punishment aspect)?

the religious counter-arguements you will likely encounter are that a) G-d is good by nature and we are not, b) G-d is our parent and sets the rules in the same way a parent sets the standards of behavior for its children- or variations thereof.

I've always said morality is a cultural phenotype of certain genetic behaviors and no arguement has ever changed this opinon radically.

MS

These explanations have no basis in reality and also express a total lack of confidence in our own abilities. I hope there are better ones out there.

Are human beings not capable of setting up our own standards and then sticking to them? I'd argue that we are and there have been many such examples. If this is the case, then what reason is there to believe that we require our ultimate moral standards to come from God?

Also how can we believe God is naturally good when he does so many evil things in the OT (according to the standards of regular human morality anyway)? If god's actions are not good for us as humans, how can god be naturally good from our perspective?

(Sorry guys, haven't been around due to work and still don't have time but...)

MS is right, I have encountered those responses many times before.

---"a) G-d is good by nature and we are not,"

Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by many Big Thinkers throughout history, that response says nothing about the actual problem. The response assumes some criteria for "good"
and calls God "good" (by "nature"). But the issue is just that...what IS good?

If "good" is merely "what God is/says/does" then "good" becomes void of content or descriptive quality. Good defined merely "as God's nature" places no restriction on what God would do, either in the past or future. Under such a definition, if a Christian would protest that God wouldn't come down and start eating all our children "because He is Good" then the Christian really isn't saying anything. Because he has defined "good" as "whatever God does." And if it turns out to be in God's nature to eat children in the year 2007...well...that's "good." As is any other conceivable action God might perform, no matter how terrifying.

That is why for "good" to have any meaning to us, it must have some descriptive content outside merely equating to "God's Nature."

----" b) G-d is our parent and sets the rules in the same way a parent sets the standards of behavior for its children- or variations thereof."

But of course we don't feel that children ought to follow bad rules, set by bad parents. Which means that parental principle is insufficient, and we are brought back to uncovering a better standard of "good" and how we "ought" to act.

Prof.

Prof just slayed the ethical system of most religions in one post.

and that's why the best explanation I can come up with is the cultural expression of certain genetic traits.

I think you must start with accepting the premise of what defines God. If God is an all powerful, omnipresent, eternal being who made all things, then He is what He is. If by nature He is "good" then "good" is what He says it is. the law is articulated by the lawgiver and in this case, the law of good and evil are defined by the giver of law (moral law, physical laws, supernatural laws, etc.)

"I think you must start with accepting the premise of what defines God. If God is an all powerful, omnipresent, eternal being who made all things"

I think thats a big if. Prof kind of pre-empted this argument already anyway so you need to go a bit further. The other problem is that the list of apparent actions attributed to god are not good. He likes to kill and eternally punish people he doesn't agree with.

Ignoring the "if" you still have many other problems. For example what exactly compels us to follow God's laws and why are they so important (other than the possible eternal punishment aspect) if they are arbitrary? Aren't moral rules based on what is good to us as humans a better place to start than those of a god who is not human? Why do we need a god for this?

Rooster,

---"I think you must start with accepting the premise of what defines God. If God is an all powerful, omnipresent, eternal being who made all things, then He is what He is. If by nature He is "good" then "good" is what He says it is. the law is articulated by the lawgiver and in this case, the law of good and evil are defined by the giver of law (moral law, physical laws, supernatural laws, etc.)"

Rooster, bud, you need to go back and re-read my answer. You just re-stated the problem ;-)

When you say "the premise of what defines God..." who is doing the defining? If it's us - defining God as "good" - then clearly we don't need a God to know good, and we are (rightly) judging "good" from our viewpoint.

If it is God who is doing the defining, then you are right back to the "problem of emptiness" in the notion of "good." If "good" is to be defined by the All-Powerful/Omnipresent/Eternal Being who created us in the way you suggest, then "good" could mean anything at all. Imagine our creator showing up, but he has a different nature than you imagine he does. He appears tomorrow (with all the miracles needed to convince us he is our Creator), and begins to torture slowly every child on earth, saying He does so because it gives Him pleasure. This is why he created humans, so they will have little children whose suffering he values the most.

Now, on your argument, because this entity is our Creator, and since "good" is defined by the nature of the Creator, then His torturing of children would be "good." That is the principle you are using to define "good."

But how in the world could we actually, truly accept such a thing as mercilessly torturing all children as "good?" We couldn't. Or what if He tortured EVERYONE, slowly? If you wanted to still define "good" as whatever the Creator's nature is/does, but His nature is to cause us severe suffering, then we still have the problem that "good" no longer has any relationship to our own welfare or desires.

In that case, we'd STILL have to find SOME WORD to do the work of what we now call "good." And since the new word would essentially mean "good" (e.g. in some way desirable)...all we'd be doing is maintaining our concept of "good" anyway, and just representing it by a set of new letters.

You just can't take "good" out of human context and have it mean anything like "good" anymore.

Now, I think you'd agree we wouldn't call this Evil-Sounding Creator "good." So the principle "good is defined by the nature of the Creator" really doesn't work. You are left with really saying: "We should define GOOD as God's nature ONLY IF GOD's NATURE IS GOOD.

And you see how that high-lights the fact we can't escape our own value judgments in the process.

And in fact we are using OUR OWN sense of "good" in order to judge between possible Creators. The Creator I described is evil, the Creator you worship is (in your view) "good."

It's clear when you analyze these issues that you worship your God because on some level you judge him "good." You would not worship him if you judged him "Bad." (Or you might worship such a being out of fear, but you wouldn't consider that being "good.")

This is, again, why defining "good" as "God's Nature" is useless, and does not even represent how we actually go about employing the concept in real life. As it happens, God's nature may indeed be good. But these problems show us that "good" can not be DEFINED as "God's Nature."

Prof.

I thought there would be more answers from religious people on this thread.

"aren't God's morals made up and hence arbitrary?"

Yeah, I think it is arbitrary. Why can't I have wings to fly? Why do I have to get old?

j/k

You know, if God made everything, including morals, and the Universe is so amazing, I guess His morals are amazing too...

Love is all you need.

prof: When you say "the premise of what defines God..." who is doing the defining? If it's us - defining God as "good" - then clearly we don't need a God to know good, and we are (rightly) judging "good" from our viewpoint.

me: well, man did not just arbitrarily define the God of the Hebrews, the God of the bible willy nilly prof. I think you can see the results of arbitrary definitions of a god. You can see it in those who worshipped nature, or in despots who claimed to be gods.

In Christianity, the scriptures reveal the nature of God. Jews and Christians inspired by the Holy Spirit began with various stories, poems, eyewitness testimonies etc. began the process of relaying what God wanted revealed about Him.

Genesis reveals Him as Maker. He is also revealed as a law giver. He is also revealed as Judge. He is also revealed as Merciful. He is also revealed as our Provider. He is also revealed as a God of future promises. I could go on and on and that's just in Gen.

The scriptures reveal God's nature and define how He is good.

prof: If it is God who is doing the defining, then you are right back to the "problem of emptiness" in the notion of "good." If "good" is to be defined by the All-Powerful/Omnipresent/Eternal Being who created us in the way you suggest, then "good" could mean anything at all. Imagine our creator showing up, but he has a different nature than you imagine he does. He appears tomorrow (with all the miracles needed to convince us he is our Creator), and begins to torture slowly every child on earth, saying He does so because it gives Him pleasure. This is why he created humans, so they will have little children whose suffering he values the most.

me: well, I wouldn't call him good, I'd call him satan :-)

However, if he really was truly omnipotent, and none could challenge his power and his will, and he did make everything (in your scenario) it really wouldn't matter would it? I mean, if he was the ultimate lawgiver, the one by whom the universe existed, and who set up the laws governing nature, who upheld the world, the sun, etc. it would really not matter what we thought would it? If he called "good" torturing children, who would we be to tell him what was good or not? I mean, we might think this is "bad" but since he made our brains, how would we know that he didn't make us think it was bad? I mean it's kind of a useless exercise to presume that an omnipotent being, a maker of other beings, a lawgiver, couldn't state law to be whatever he wants it to be.

I am a potter. I make clay pots. I decide to make some and use them, others I break and destroy at my whim. So?

you: Now, on your argument, because this entity is our Creator, and since "good" is defined by the nature of the Creator, then His torturing of children would be "good." That is the principle you are using to define "good."

But how in the world could we actually, truly accept such a thing as mercilessly torturing all children as "good?" We couldn't. Or what if He tortured EVERYONE, slowly? If you wanted to still define "good" as whatever the Creator's nature is/does, but His nature is to cause us severe suffering, then we still have the problem that "good" no longer has any relationship to our own welfare or desires.

In that case, we'd STILL have to find SOME WORD to do the work of what we now call "good." And since the new word would essentially mean "good" (e.g. in some way desirable)...all we'd be doing is maintaining our concept of "good" anyway, and just representing it by a set of new letters.

You just can't take "good" out of human context and have it mean anything like "good" anymore.

Now, I think you'd agree we wouldn't call this Evil-Sounding Creator "good." So the principle "good is defined by the nature of the Creator" really doesn't work. You are left with really saying: "We should define GOOD as God's nature ONLY IF GOD's NATURE IS GOOD.

And you see how that high-lights the fact we can't escape our own value judgments in the process.

And in fact we are using OUR OWN sense of "good" in order to judge between possible Creators. The Creator I described is evil, the Creator you worship is (in your view) "good."

It's clear when you analyze these issues that you worship your God because on some level you judge him "good." You would not worship him if you judged him "Bad." (Or you might worship such a being out of fear, but you wouldn't consider that being "good.")

me: prof, for all your words, again, the nature of God was revealed two fold. It was revealed in His scrptures and then validated by pure goodness.

Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the manifestation of God in flesh and He didn't go around and kill little children. He healed the sick, He forgave sins, He raised the dead, He fed the hungry, He ministered and explained God's laws and in the end, He layed down His life that we might have life.

That is good.

I've always loved Euthyphro's Dilemna. That argument has been around since the days of Socrates. Amazing. And what is even more amazing is that people still don't fucking get it. Like Rooster.

That's ok sanguine...what I get, gives me joy. I have something of value. I believe that the hope of the resurrection gives me validity for following this man Jesus.