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A new use of the Euthyphro dilemma

My specialty is not philosophy of religion but rather epistemology. No doubt the following argument has already been made by someone or other in the history of philosophy, but it may be useful to someone else precisely because it refrains from some of the more (to my mind) esoteric concepts in the philosophy of religion. This argument will make no use of phrases like "no distinction between essence and existence" or "metaphysically simple." Whether the concepts are there under some other guise I leave for the reader to judge, but the idea is that the argument will be accessible to those, including myself, who don't find some of those Thomistic notions helpful. It will become fairly clear that this argument owes a bit more to Platonism than to Aristotelianism.

So here goes:

To show, by reductio ad absurdam, that there cannot be an evil being who is the self-existent First Cause of all else.

Suppose that there were an evil being who was the self-existent First Cause of everything other than himself.

Then, there must be such a thing as the Good, independent of this evil being, against which this evil being sets himself, which he hates and rejects, for otherwise it would be meaningless to say that this being is evil.

The Good, therefore, is conceptually and metaphysically prior to the evil being.

The Good cannot be of the essence of the evil being's very nature, for if that were the case, it would be meaningless to speak of his rejecting and rebelling against it.

Therefore, since the Good which he hates is greater than he is and exists independently of him, the evil being is not actually the self-existent First Cause of everything else.

We have derived a contradiction from the supposition that there could be an evil being who is the self-existent First Cause of all else. Therefore, we conclude that there cannot be an evil being who is the self-existent First Cause of all else.

QED

The resemblance to the Euthyphro dilemma is fairly clear. One horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is that, if God (or "the gods" in Plato) loves the Good because it is the Good independent of himself, then the Good is greater than God. (The other horn is that goodness is arbitrary if we merely call it "the good" because it happens to be what the gods love.) The traditional Christian response to the challenge is to postulate a tertium quid--namely, that Goodness is real and is of the very essence of God's nature, not outside of Himself. Therefore, it is impossible that God should love that which is evil, but not because God is holding Himself to some standard outside of Himself. That response, as noted in the argument, is not available if one is postulating an evil First Cause, since the will of the evil First Cause is contrary to the Good.

It may be of some minor interest to readers to know that I got thinking about this by using the analogy of a human being who maliciously wills to make computer viruses. I proposed that analogy in a Facebook discussion and got some useful responses. Obviously, the will of the malicious hacker is an evil will, and he may be a real genius at creating computer viruses. This seems like a counterexample to a principle such as, "Evil cannot create," which might be used to counter the possibility of an evil First Cause. It then occurred to me, however, that the concept of a computer that runs correctly is necessary for the creation of a virus that harms the computer. In fact, a computer virus couldn't be instantiated in the real world at all and fulfill its unpleasant telos if there weren't some computer for it to attack. Therefore, the proper function of computers is both conceptually and metaphysically prior to computer viruses. Hence, the will of the creator of a computer virus, as a will to do evil, is derivative--it is a will to harm and subvert something good whose goodness is a reality independent of his desire to harm it. His "creativity" itself, therefore, takes a form that is derivative, parasitic upon the goodness he wishes to undermine or destroy.

That thought then inspired the analogy to the Euthyphro dilemma.

See what you think, gents.

Comments (77)

This makes a lot of sense to me; I think that evil involves an irrational destructiveness.

The conclusion seems correct, but why must the Good be "conceptually and metaphysically prior to the evil being," and "greater than he is"? Why can't we have two first causes? One of them makes all the evil stuff (rabies, cockroaches, leftists, category 4 hurricanes) and the other makes all the good stuff (angels, saints, sunsets, flowers, Moms and apple pie)?

I'm studying to be a Manichaean.

Without the "conceptually and metaphysically prior" Good, who is the evil being going to rebel against? Is rebellion even a coherent concept absent a settled order? It seems to me that the very idea of rebellion presupposes a prior principle against which the rebellion is launched.

I know right where this is headed, Kristor, and I like it a lot. Unfortunately, most of the many analytically trained philosophers aren't going to make heads or tails of it. I can hear them reading this and talking near the water cooler the next day:

Prof-A: "If this argument is about the world, he needs some data from physics for that!"
Prof-B: "Yeah! exactly. Where does he get off thinking this "thing" he has proved is God? Who'd worship that?"
Prof A: "Yeah, maybe it can't completely but evil but neither is Hitler or Ebola!"
Prof C: "What we need to be doing is sitting down and having and honest discussion about why women are so unrepresented in philosophy"

I see nothing wrong with the argument, but we also have to take into account our target audience, and most of them don't even seem to get the transccendtals, which is what this arguments implicitly rides on.

Somebody get Ed or Tony on the case at once! Because I've already wasted too much doing comboxes like this..

Bill, I think the answer to that is that the good being can have goodness be the essence of his nature but that the evilness of the evil being is meaningful only insofar as he is trying to mess up or reject what comes from the good being.

Rabies is a good example, here. It seems to have as its only function destroying the nervous system of mammals. But its function is therefore derivative. The good being can make mammals with functioning nervous systems without reference to rabies, but the evil being can make rabies only with reference to the functioning mammalian order made by the good being.

Untenured, did you really think that this is a guest post by Kristor, or am I just starting to sound like him? Heh. :-)

Untenured, your wish is my command. Well, close enough, anyway. What follows is all off the top of my head.

I don't think that in the supposedly "correct" manichaean world view, the good that the evil is rebelling against needs to be prior, only that it be not posterior. They are simultaneous: the good is constantly in tension with the evil, always and eternally. The evil is always fighting the good, but so is the good always fighting the evil - they are analogous in that respect. So the Good being independent of the Evil is a valid premise, the priority of the good over the evil is not (according to them, that is).

As an aside, probably the sophisticated ones deny any definitive embodiment of the principles of good and evil in an actual being, rather they insist that every being and every possible being incorporates BOTH principles to one degree or another, so that it is metaphysically impossible to have a single being that incorporates only one of them as purely either good or evil. Under this view, there is no "Evil Being", so they would deny premise 1 if it claimed that sense.

In reality, though, being and goodness are two sides of the same coin - they are convertible - so that a thing is just to the extent that it is good. And evil is a privation of being, so that evil is logically posterior to being. Also, it is impossible that evil should "explain" good or being, but good or being is the principle that explains evil. (To be fair, this latter would only lead to the conclusion that evil is notionally posterior to the good, it is known after knowing good and being. But the Aristotelian / Thomistic understanding of knowing makes it that this notional order is reflective of the order of being, for to know something is to have it (somehow) inhabit the mind, to have the mind like to the thing known, and this implies that the principles of knowing are analogous to the principles of being.)

In any case, because of what really is, what we really mean deep down by "evil" is lack or defect or deformity of being that belongs or ought to be there, evil as we understand it is always in reference to a good that is the more knowable than the evil. The good is more knowable because a thing is knowable insofar as it has being, and its being is convertible with its goodness. A being that is evil is always a BEING, which means that it is a good along with having a defect. We cannot possibly conceive of a REAL thing that is ALL evil and no good, the notion would be an empty placeholder because we cannot think of a being except as having so much good as its being is. It would be like thinking of a round circle, a fat skinny, a wise liberal.

Since we cannot possibly conceive of it properly, we cannot possibly derive true conclusions from premising it. It would be like trying to draw conclusions from assuming division by 0 in math - you can readily derive 4 = 5. Which, pretty much, should make it clear that it really is a reductio to assume an evil being - except for the position of the sophisticated manichaeans who deny a BEING who instantiates either good alone or evil alone. I think the answer to them has to (visibly or behind the scenes) rely on the notions that (a) what they then mean by "being" is therefore logically prior to either goodness or evil, and (b) whether they like it or not, being is, as such, good, so (a) means good is prior to evil.

It will become fairly clear that this argument owes a bit more to Platonism than to Aristotelianism.

Probably so, Lydia, but in my (very faint) recollection, the Neoplatonists at least would have trouble with an "ideal" form of simple, pure "EVIL".

What I meant by owing a bit more to Platonism was the continual reference to "the Good."

I would say that the biggest thing left unargued in this particular post is that the Good must be personal. Could "the Good" be some kind of Platonic Idea? In that case, could the evil being make use of the ideas informed by (emanating from?) the Good in order to make things that are beautiful, healthy, and so forth, with the intent of marring or harming them later himself? The Good would then still be greater than and prior to the evil being, so he would not be the First Cause of everything other than himself, but could he be the first _personal_ cause?

I think one would have to argue against this by some route such as questioning whether the ability of the evil being himself to think, to know, to grasp the ideas of the Good could have arisen without being *caused* by something outside of himself--that is, that he cannot be the source of his own powers and abilities (the goods of his own nature), since he is by definition a fallen and evil being. And once one starts attributing to the Good the power and intent to make something (including the being who rebels and chooses to be wicked), one has ipso facto attributed a personal nature to the Good. But I didn't make that argument in the main post.

This is not a bad argument. The weakness, I think, is in the fact that the supposed "evil being" is not only impossible, but unintelligible per se. Still it shows that good is necessarily prior to evil... so evil is an effect.

Moreover, I think more philosophers should be talking in terms of "metaphysical and conceptual priority," or rather in terms of priority and posteriority in general.

I think Lydia gave me the better answer, Paul. "Rebel" should probably not be part of the premises at all. It seems loaded, since we might say that the Good is rebelling against Evil. The real question is whether, in the nature of things, evil can create. The answer, I hope, is 'no.' The intention of an evil being would be to corrupt and destroy. Only love can create. Also, we can know what the Good is without reference to evil, but evil cannot be known without reference to the Good.

..whether the ability of the evil being himself to think, to know, to grasp the ideas of the Good could have arisen without being *caused* by something outside of himself..

That seems important. It reminds me of Anselm's description of that being "than which no greater can be thought of." If a being greater than our evil one can be thought of, then he cannot be the self-existent First Cause we're looking for.

Kristor at the Orthosphere also has a recent post up which (imho) gives a good explanation as to why there cannot be two such causes.

Lydia definitely gave the better answer. I'm just a dilettante.

Actually, when it comes to this stuff, so am I. Now, if it were a matter of the relationship of Bayesian probability to foundationalist epistemology...I wouldn't be a dilettante.

Even if I were to grant that the First Cause can be classified and/or is required to stay evil or good with nothing outside itself to act as a standard, which I don't, there is still another problem as I demonstrate below:

Suppose that there were an evil being who was the self-existent First Cause of everything other than himself.
Then, there must be such a thing as the good, which is the privation of this evil being, for without a contrast it would be meaningless to say anything is evil or good.
The good, therefore, is conceptually and metaphysically dependent on the evil being.
The good cannot be of the essence of the evil being's very nature.
Therefore, since the good is utilized towards his own mysterious ends only to the extent evil allows it, the evil First Cause is not in conflict with any other other entity.

Then, there must be such a thing as the good, which is the privation of this evil being

Do you mean that the good is simply an absence of evil, or, to invert Lydia's analogy, that the code that causes computers to run properly is made by the evil being, while the good makes viruses to corrupt the code? Or that the virus-maker is really the good guy, and that what we call the good who makes properly functioning computer code is really the bad guy?

Step2,

I think your objection is phrased poorly. If there exists a self-existent evil being who is the first cause of everything other than himself (which would imply that this being is the metaphysical ultimate), then that being would be guilty of doing something wrong or failing to discharge his moral duties (since this is the definition of an evil being). But if this metaphysically ultimate being is failing to discharge his moral duties or is doing something wrong (to be called evil), where do these moral duties come from? By what standard can we say that this being did something wrong?

I think what you want to say is that it's coherent to suppose that a metaphysically ultimate being exists such that he performs actions which we say are evil in the actual world (but they would be good in this possible world). So it's wrong to say that the metaphysically ultimate self-existent being is evil. Rather goodness is simply different across possible worlds. But, then we should examine the following proposition:

(1) It is possible that a metaphysically ultimate being exists, such that he exists necessarily and he is necessarily good (however you define "good").

If (1) is possible, then an ontological argument of sorts would seem to follow. So we have something like the following:

Let G = A metaphysically necessary being, that is necessarily good, exists.

(1) Possibly, G.
(2) If, possibly, G, then necessarily, G.
(3) Necessarily, G.
(4) If, necessarily, G, then G.
(5) Therefore, G.

But, if "goodness" varies across worlds, then (1) cannot be true. In that case, something like

(1*) Possibly, not-G.

is true (simply because it's the logical contradictory of (1)).

This of course leads to a reversed ontological argument:

(1*) Possibly, not-G.
(2*) If, possibly, not-G, then necessarily, not-G.
(3*) Necessarily, not-G.
(4*) If, necessarily, not-G, then not-G.
(5*) Therefore, not-G.

Only one proposition can be possibly true, because each possibility implies the actual truth of the relevant proposition. So, which proposition is possible? For your objection to stand, which implies that "goodness" varies across possible worlds, (1*) must be true. Now, you stated the following:

"Even if I were to grant that the First Cause can be classified and/or is required to stay evil or good with nothing outside itself to act as a standard, which I don't, there is still another problem as I demonstrate below:"

If we grant this, you argue, we still face a problem, namely the possible scenario of an evil first cause. But, that implies the truth of (1*). Since, this is a positive statement on your part, you need to argue for the truth of (1*) before the objection has any bite. All of this of course is just some food for thought, whether or not my reasoning is correct.

Couple of things.

(1) Most analytic philosophers who are Christian believe that abstract objects are uncreated. So they already deny that there is a First Cause which created everything beside itself - perhaps this is true for all concrete things, but certainly not abstracta. Surely goodness is abstract, not concrete, if it is a real entity: at any rate, it is if you think of properties in anything like the way analytic philosophers tend to.

(2) I think I would reject the first inference. There is no more of a need to suppose that goodness must exist for evil things to exist than there is a need for evilness to exist for good things to exist: evil and good are contraries, but one is not defined in terms of the other any more than red is defined in terms of green or green in terms of red. Suppose that I'm wrong about this, however. Then why think that evil has to be defined in terms of (what is opposed to, or something of the sort) goodness? Why not think that good has to be defined in terms of (what is opposed to) evilness?

Now if you take up, say, a Thomistic metaphysics, you might really be cooking with gas, but that doesn't seem like what you're looking to do - rightly so, I'd say.

Then why think that evil has to be defined in terms of (what is opposed to, or something of the sort) goodness?

Well, quite honestly, because in terms of conceptual analysis I have no idea what I would mean by an "evil being" anymore if I don't mean something about the being's rejection of or opposition to goodness. Maybe you have some other concept that you attach to the sound and symbol "evil," but if so, it's in your head and not in mine.

This is also my answer to Step2, as far as I can tell.

And, in contrast, I do know what I mean or could mean when I talk about goodness and sub-categories of goodness without reference to evil. I know what I mean by saying that a rose is beautiful without reference to anything lacking or bad. I know what I mean or could mean by saying that a person is loving without reference to evil (malice, unkindness, etc.). More prosaically, I know what it means for my computer to work and accomplish this or that task without reference to its not working. I know what it means to have the experience of seeing clearly with my eyes without reference to their not seeing clearly.

Then, there must be such a thing as the good, which is the privation of this evil being, for without a contrast it would be meaningless to say anything is evil or good.

Step2, it just doesn't work. On a hundred levels, in a thousand different ways, it just doesn't work. Goodness and evil are not analogues in that sense. They are not perfectly parallel. Being is not the absence of non-being, that's pure nonsense and our minds cannot think it, not really. To be (without qualification) IS to be good in some sense, and to not be (without qualification) isn't to be evil in some sense. This also presents problems with the first premise:

Suppose that there were an evil being who was the self-existent First Cause of everything other than himself.

Are you supposing that he is the first cause of knowledge? Or of error? In order to have actual error in the mind, one has to first have at least 2 notions, and then equate them when they are not to be equated, or dissociate them when they are associate. But having the notions is, already, a kind of knowledge. Would it be in having "false" concepts? But what would that mean? Concepts of what does not exist? These are not ERROR: the fact that unicorns don't exist doesn't mean that the notion of "unicorn" is a defect of the mind. It would be error to hold a concept of what does not exist, and then assert that it exists, but that's a complex statement involving more than one concept, not just the single concept. Would it be a concept that is an oxymoronic thought - a large small, a square circle, a wise liberal? Mostly, we cannot think such things, but even so that doesn't explain the source of all our other concepts.

Are you supposing that he is the cause of the physical elements - the protons and neutrons, the hydrogen and water and sulphur? What is the evil in the mere existence of protons, of water molecules? No, in order for evil things to be out of these elements, the elements must BE, and that is to be good in some sense.

If he is the source of evil, whence comes the beauty in nature? To say it is a defect of the evil is just to re-arrange the SOUNDS "good" and "evil", not to say something interesting about the concepts themselves.

Do you mean that the good is simply an absence of evil...

Yes.

...or, to invert Lydia's analogy, that the code that causes computers to run properly is made by the evil being, while the good makes viruses to corrupt the code?

No, by the premise of the argument the evil being is the cause of everything except itself. The viruses are closer to the purpose of the evil being, but even its absence in functioning code is part of his nefarious scheme to provide false hope that error, decay and corruption can ultimately be avoided.

If there exists a self-existent evil being who is the first cause of everything other than himself (which would imply that this being is the metaphysical ultimate), then that being would be guilty of doing something wrong or failing to discharge his moral duties (since this is the definition of an evil being).

I don't think it helps you to define ultimate evil in terms of failed moral obligations unless you are going to define ultimate good in similarly strict moral duties. Your (however you define "good") suggests you want to keep it vague.

This also presents problems with the first premise:

You understand this is the exact same premise Lydia used, right? Just because she immediately tries to undermine it doesn't mean I have to follow.

"I don't think it helps you to define ultimate evil in terms of failed moral obligations unless you are going to define ultimate good in similarly strict moral duties. Your (however you define "good") suggests you want to keep it vague."

How would you define evil?

No, by the premise of the argument the evil being is the cause of everything except itself.

Except that that's not the premise. She describes the hypothetical evil being as "self-existent," an uncaused cause, in other words; and by her "First Cause of everything other than himself" I assume she means "of everything in the cosmos." If you're referring to your own first premise, then it's not a fair parallel to her original.

The viruses are closer to the purpose of the evil being, but even its absence in functioning code is part of his nefarious scheme to provide false hope that error, decay and corruption can ultimately be avoided.

That's funny because she told me (not here) that she could surmise an evil being who, for example, might create bodies capable of experiencing pleasure only that the opportunity to inflict pain would arise. (She does not, I feel sure, believe this to be remotely possible.

Speaking for myself, I'd still get stuck on the problem of evil (if the word is to have any meaning) being able to create, since it's ultimate purpose is to corrupt and destroy. I'd think a being could create only according to the essence of its nature, and that only a being of infinite goodness, in which evil has no claim whatsoever, would be capable of it. Evil needs something to work with; goodness needs only to be. An evil First Cause would by its nature be required to bring about its own destruction, to prey upon itself. Therefore it cannot be self-existent, nor possess any of the eternal attributes normally ascribed to God.

You understand this is the exact same premise Lydia used, right? Just because she immediately tries to undermine it doesn't mean I have to follow.

Uhhhhmm yeah. See, in a reductio, you provide a premise that is FALSE, and then show how if you take it to be true, that results in nonsense. I was showing how it results in more nonsense (or other aspects of nonsense) than Lydia was showing. In your argument, you were providing what was supposed to be taken as TRUE (or at least possibly true) and trying to show nothing nonsensical comes from it.

The viruses are closer to the purpose of the evil being, but even its absence in functioning code is part of his nefarious scheme to provide false hope that error, decay and corruption can ultimately be avoided.

In order for evil to persist, it first requires that there be some THING in which inheres defect. But it is impossible that a thing that is, is lacking all possible good and is wholly defective (for then it would cease to be), and thus even in things gone wrong there will remain something in it that is still not defective. So this evil being, even in the long term, cannot engineer an ultimately "all bad" universal state of affairs. The very notion is nonsense.

Your problem, Step2, is that "being" is not parallel to "non-being" really, and it can be taken so verbally only by ignoring its true content. Being can have defect, but non-being cannot have good aspects. Privation can be said of being because a complex thing can have good under some aspect and fail to have it under all aspects. If you have a thing evil in one respect and deprive it of all its good, you get non-being, not a thing evil in more respects, so there simply cannot be "absolute privation of good" actually existing. So your thesis

Then, there must be such a thing as the good, which is the privation of this evil being,

is either *direct* nonsense, or is an attempt to invert not the LOGIC of Lydia's argument, but merely the referents for the terms "good" and "evil" (that is, trying to pretend that the correct term for whole, working, successful, beautiful, orderly, intelligible being is "evil" and the correct term for defective, damaged, unsuccessful, ugly, disordered, and irrational is "good".) Well, that's just a word game, not an actual serious thesis.

Ed Feser and his pit crew worked all that out, quite successfully, in tackling the "evil god" argument of Professor Stephen Law. (That's aside from the really poor showing Dr. Law himself made.) The dis-analogy between good and evil does not permit us to pretend that "privation" of evil is a good.

Step2, I understand your "nefarious scheme" idea, but as far as whether good has to have reference to evil or vice versa, the functioning thing (be it a computer or a bunny rabbit) can *exist* and be *comprehended* without there being such a nefarious scheme. Its very existence and meaning are not logically and necessarily dependent on the evil scheme to mess it up later. Whereas the evil scheme has no meaning if there isn't some functioning thing to mess up. Maybe you think that's an unimportant point, but it's a true point, nonetheless. For that matter, an evil being who makes something with the intent of messing it up could change his mind and just let it go on being.

How would you define evil?

It is as vague and formless as ultimate good is when used in these types of arguments. As soon as you start assigning moral duties to ultimate good I’ll consider detailing the moral failings of ultimate evil.

…by her "First Cause of everything other than himself" I assume she means "of everything in the cosmos."

I assume the same thing. You proposed that the good creates some things on its own independent power which it technically doesn’t have per that assumption.

An evil First Cause would by its nature be required to bring about its own destruction, to prey upon itself.

I would agree in a physical sense rather than a moral sense. You could imagine the first cause as a kind of radioactive decay where there is something completely internal to the entity that causes it to degrade.

Your problem, Step2, is that "being" is not parallel to "non-being" really, and it can be taken so verbally only by ignoring its true content.

Your problem is that you are projecting way too many assumptions onto my counterargument. At no point have I claimed that evil is non-being. At no point in Lydia’s argument does she assume evil is non-being, in fact she assumes an intellect and will in her example analogy.

…trying to pretend that the correct term for whole, working, successful, beautiful, orderly, intelligible being is "evil" and the correct term for defective, damaged, unsuccessful, ugly, disordered, and irrational is "good".

I clearly indicated the exact opposite, so I’m starting to wonder whose comments you are reading because they aren’t mine. The functional and beautiful “goods” are allowed by the evil first cause in order to ultimately bring about their damage and ugliness. This is the same logic as the standard theistic move that there is a greater good that will ultimately redeem all the particular evils God allows.

Ed Feser and his pit crew worked all that out…

Since nobody explained how or why Aquinas obliterated Aristotle’s version of the Unmoved Mover by making him the efficient cause of everything and therefore by Aristotelian metaphysics a Moved Mover, my regard for Feser’s pit crew has plummeted drastically.

"It is as vague and formless as ultimate good is when used in these types of arguments. As soon as you start assigning moral duties to ultimate good I’ll consider detailing the moral failings of ultimate evil"

If a self-existent evil being were to exist, that was the cause of everything other than itself, what would it mean to say this being was evil? Are you speaking in a moral sense, that he's evil because he's done something wrong? I don't think this is a difficult question. If the answer is no, then I think you owe an explanation of what you mean. If the answer is yes, then why are his actions morally wrong? If they're morally wrong, where do these moral duties come from?

Since nobody explained how or why Aquinas obliterated Aristotle’s version of the Unmoved Mover by making him the efficient cause of everything and therefore by Aristotelian metaphysics a Moved Mover,

I don't have a clue what you are referring to.

Since nobody explained how or why Aquinas obliterated Aristotle’s version of the Unmoved Mover by making him the efficient cause of everything and therefore by Aristotelian metaphysics a Moved Mover, my regard for Feser’s pit crew has plummeted drastically.

Step2, you don't really mean to trot out that incredibly lame thesis, do you? It's the metaphysical equivalent of a hanging curve ball.

As for Feser's pit crew, since the wheels have obviously come off the Sage of Pasadena's philosophy, they should probably all be sacked...imho.

Are you speaking in a moral sense, that he's evil because he's done something wrong?

What part of creator of false hope didn’t register? This is getting very tiresome. Either you begin to clarify your own position or you stop demanding clarifications about mine.

It's the metaphysical equivalent of a hanging curve ball.

While I suppose it would be educational to watch you miss the hanging curve ball with your humble opinion, I’m afraid you’ve put me in the awkward position of needing to apologize to Lydia for bringing up the topic at all.

While I suppose it would be educational to watch you miss the hanging curve ball...

Everything I write is educational.

...I’m afraid you’ve put me in the awkward position of needing to apologize to Lydia for bringing up the topic at all.

When are you going to apologize for being a liberal wanker?

Everything I write is educational.

If you meant delusional you would be right for once.

When are you going to apologize for being a liberal wanker?

When you stop being a reactionary blowhard, i.e. never.

''What part of creator of false hope didn’t register? This is getting very tiresome. Either you begin to clarify your own position or you stop demanding clarifications about mine."

Alright, well I wasn't aware that you would mock me for just trying to ask questions. You offered a suggestion about an evil self-sufficient creator of everything other than himself. I'm just trying to understand it. But, your first comment here gives me all I need. If he is the self-sufficient creator of all else other than himself, then by what standard is he doing something wrong? By what standard does he depend that obligates him to act morally praiseworthy? That's the problem. IF he is self-sufficient, then he is independent. If he is independent, then he does not depend on anything whatsoever. If that's true, then he can't be doing anything morally wrong, since that would entail that is he dependent on some external standard of morality. Now, let's try to have a respectful conversation, okay? As for my position, my position is simple. I already laid it out in the post you mostly ignored. I maintain that your hypothesis is poorly phrased. Your conclusion cannot be that it's possible that a self-sufficient creator of all else be evil, since according to your own definition of evil ("What part of creator of false hope didn't register?"), this being must be at least morally dependent on something outside. But then he isn't self-sufficient. For the rest, read my August 10 post at 10:50 PM.

Okay Jeff, let me respectfully reverse your logic. For all the consternation it's caused, all I did was switch out the ultimate purpose with something we would consider evil from something we would consider good, thereby making qualities of goodness temporary and incomplete.

If he is the self-sufficient creator of all else other than himself, then by what standard is he doing something right? By what standard does he depend that refrains him from acting morally blameworthy? IF he is self-sufficient, then he is independent. If he is independent, then he does not depend on anything whatsoever. The necessary consequence of omnipotence is that it releases the entity from anything we could consider a moral standard. So the argument is really about morality as it exists in the relation of creator to its creation.

There is an interesting tangential question Strange Fella posed above, whether or not it makes sense to even think of abstract forms as created objects, they may have an eternal coexistence with the creator. Alternatively, if morality is a created object then it can't be applied to a transcendent first cause, good or evil.

"If he is the self-sufficient creator of all else other than himself, then by what standard is he doing something right? By what standard does he depend that refrains him from acting morally blameworthy? IF he is self-sufficient, then he is independent. If he is independent, then he does not depend on anything whatsoever."

If he is self-sufficient then he IS the standard. His necessarily good nature is the standard so he is not dependent on something outside. An evil being, on the other hand, could not be the standard for morality because he is by definition not perfectly moral. If a being is self-sufficient, and evil is defined roughly as moral failure, then automatically by that definition, that which is evil depends on some outside standard. Think about it, if an evil being is that which is a moral failure (that he behaves contrary to how he ought to behave), then what outside entity is obligating that being to behave in a morally praiseworthy manner? It just shows the logically priority good has to evil. If he is obligated by some outside entity or standard (which would seem to be required to say the being has done something wrong) then he is dependent and not self-sufficient. But, the same reasoning does not apply to a necessarily good being who simply IS the standard for morality.

"There is an interesting tangential question Strange Fella posed above, whether or not it makes sense to even think of abstract forms as created objects, they may have an eternal coexistence with the creator. Alternatively, if morality is a created object then it can't be applied to a transcendent first cause, good or evil."

I wouldn't say morality is created. It's coherent to suppose that God's moral commands stem from his necessarily good nature. It would only be a problem if God created "goodness" itself.

"The necessary consequence of omnipotence is that it releases the entity from anything we could consider a moral standard. So the argument is really about morality as it exists in the relation of creator to its creation."

How does omnipotence provide for a problem?

If he is the self-sufficient creator of all else other than himself, then by what standard is he doing something right? By what standard does he depend that refrains him from acting morally blameworthy?

Oh, but I anticipated that in the main post. As I pointed out there, the usual response to this challenge is that God can have the Good as a part of his very nature. Therefore, God does not do good as a response to a standard outside of himself. But an evil being cannot have the good as part of his very nature. Therefore, the good which he goes against or fails to live up to (which is necessary to the concept of evilness) cannot be part of his very nature.

The thing is, Step2, that you think you can just reverse terms in all of this, but we disagree that you are being conceptually coherent and clear in so doing. You can't just do a switcheroo with the terms "good" and "evil" and have it all come out the same.

The necessary consequence of omnipotence is that it releases the entity from anything we could consider a moral standard.

What can I say to this other than no, it doesn't? I have trouble even understanding why one would think this.

If a being is self-sufficient, and good is defined roughly as moral achievement, then automatically by that definition that which is good depends on some outside standard. Think about it, if a good being is that which is a moral success (he behaves according to how he ought to behave), then what outside entity is obligating that being to behave. Internalizing a moral standard doesn't mean the standard only has a subjective character, it still has an external character that must be conformed to.

How does omnipotence provide for a problem?

Omnipotence is my shorthand way of writing "independent, self-sufficient necessary cause of everything other than himself."

Therefore, God does not do good as a response to a standard outside of himself.

I understand you want me to believe it is impossible by definition for God to do wrong, but I've read the Bible and am convinced there are examples where he did wrong. All attempts to explain away these examples are dependent on this same kind of "goodness by definition" and meticulously avoid any objective standard. But if God simply is the standard of morality, how would it be possible to universally condemn genocide or slavery or conducting a cruel test to have a parent sacrifice their child? You couldn't, by definition those may be good acts.

Step2, I think you may be conflating Divine command theory with the theory that goodness is part of God's nature. Interestingly, I believe there are well-known Christian writers who use the one phrase to describe the other position (I only learned this recently), but they should be kept distinct.

I think it is interesting that this has come back to the original Euthyphro dilemma.

"If a being is self-sufficient, and good is defined roughly as moral achievement, then automatically by that definition that which is good depends on some outside standard."

Not at all, the being can depend on himself if he is perfectly good.

"Think about it, if a good being is that which is a moral success (he behaves according to how he ought to behave), then what outside entity is obligating that being to behave."

None. He can depend on himself. An evil being cannot though because he is morally lacking. That being cannot be identical to the moral standard because being identical to the moral standard would require that being to be perfectly moral, which an evil being is not.

"Internalizing a moral standard doesn't mean the standard only has a subjective character, it still has an external character that must be conformed to."

Think about a king who gives commands to his people. By your reasoning then the commands of a king don't actually stem from that king. I also don't really think God has a moral "duty" to fulfill. If divine command theory is correct, then having a moral duty would require God to give commands to himself. Instead, God is to be adored for his necessarily good nature and his gift of salvation, not because he performs actions that he is obligated to perform.

"Omnipotence is my shorthand way of writing "independent, self-sufficient necessary cause of everything other than himself." Therefore, God does not do good as a response to a standard outside of himself."

Right.

"I understand you want me to believe it is impossible by definition for God to do wrong, but I've read the Bible and am convinced there are examples where he did wrong. All attempts to explain away these examples are dependent on this same kind of "goodness by definition" and meticulously avoid any objective standard."

You're confusing the nature of the burden of proof. If one objects and claims that God behaves immorally, then all the defender needs to provide is a possible counter example. There is nothing logically or metaphysically problematic about saying that God's actions are perfectly good. I'm not obligated to prove it, only to show that it's possible.

"But if God simply is the standard of morality, how would it be possible to universally condemn genocide or slavery or conducting a cruel test to have a parent sacrifice their child? You couldn't, by definition those may be good acts."

I also think you're confusing objective morality with "absolute morality." If some behavior is absolutely morally wrong, then it's wrong in every possible scenario. On the other hand, for something to be objectively wrong for creatures means that morality is simply independent of our experience. Clearly we all agree that there are circumstances that require death of others. Most would agree for example that the terrorist group ISIS should qualify as a group that must be removed from this world. When you understand the Gospel, that all have sinned against a perfectly holy God, it's not surprising that God would judge those who have sinned. In the many instances of the Old Testament where God wiped out an entire people, they were deserving of death. That's ultimately why God sent Jesus, so that we may avoid God's just punishment.

Not at all, the being can depend on himself if he is perfectly good.

Then what has he morally achieved, his own existence? Pretty impressive as a standard of goodness.

Think about a king who gives commands to his people. By your reasoning then the commands of a king don't actually stem from that king.

I don't understand how you made that interpretation.

I also don't really think God has a moral "duty" to fulfill.

Then you are talking nonsense. In your previous comments you were adamant in saying that an evil first cause is failing in one or more moral obligations, but then those obligations somehow disappear as soon as it is internalized in a good first cause. Where did those moral obligations go?

Most would agree for example that the terrorist group ISIS should qualify as a group that must be removed from this world. When you understand the Gospel, that all have sinned against a perfectly holy God, it's not surprising that God would judge those who have sinned.

You do understand those terrorists believe they are warriors in God's army and are fulfilling divine commands and prophecy by killing or converting all the sinners. That is likely the worst example you could have used to make your point.

"Then what has he morally achieved, his own existence? Pretty impressive as a standard of goodness."

Sure, but it isn't logically incoherent.

"I don't understand how you made that interpretation."

It's meant as an analogy to understand how morality can stem from a single being without having that being subject himself to something "outside."

"Then you are talking nonsense. In your previous comments you were adamant in saying that an evil first cause is failing in one or more moral obligations, but then those obligations somehow disappear as soon as it is internalized in a good first cause. Where did those moral obligations go?"

Exactly, the evil being would be morally obligated because he is by definition a moral failure. He has failed to fulfill the duties of some standard. The standard cannot be internalized for an evil being because he is morally imperfect. The being must be morally perfect to be the standard for moral perfection/morality. But even if we do say God is obliigated by himself, that wouildn't be problematic. It'd be similar to my having a high standard for myself in my actions.

"You do understand those terrorists believe they are warriors in God's army and are fulfilling divine commands and prophecy by killing or converting all the sinners. That is likely the worst example you could have used to make your point."

Just because they believe something doesn't make it true. The point was to help explain why God might command the extinction of a people. Now if God did command such a thing, it would be morally just since God would be the standard for goodness. But, I do not believe God has commanded ISIS to do what they're doing.

Just so I'm clear on this paradox, if you did believe God has commanded ISIS to do what they're doing, their actions would be morally just. For those who disbelieve the divine command, it is also morally just to remove the believers from the world.

So, Step2, you're continuing to assume that everybody who disagrees with what you are now saying is a divine command theorist? Is this really just lack of knowledge on your part? But if so, you must be ignoring my having called it into question, above. Maybe that's deliberate? You're confusing me here about whether you're being deliberately obtuse or invincibly and hence non-culpably obtuse.

No, not everybody. Jeff Hanes clearly is though. Furthermore, I think it is morally appropriate to point out the problems of being a divine command theorist.

In the many instances of the Old Testament where God wiped out an entire people, they were deserving of death.

Even the children and babies?

Step2: Then what has he morally achieved, his own existence? Pretty impressive as a standard of goodness.

Why do you keep talking like this, since it flat-out contradicts your description of an "independent, self-sufficient necessary cause of everything other than himself." ? And is your inability to imagine such a being the result of a difficulty with some Biblical passages? The reason I ask is that there was no Bible talk in Lydia's OP, and I think it ought to remain that way.

William Luse,

Even the children and babies?

Well, depends on what you mean by "Deserved". They didn't positively sin, but they were certainly born with the stain of original sin. God certainly has no obligation to let them live, or anything else. They "deserve" to die in the sense that they certainly don't "deserve" to have God go out of their way to save them from death. Luckily for all of us, however, He DID go out of his way to save us all eternal death.

I'm possibly getting more technical than you intended, though. Or I'm simply wrong.

To get back to my point and Lydia's retort:

I think that my concept of value is primitive. I understand through this concept that things can have a positive, negative, or neutral value. Positive value is what I call good, negative value is what I call evil, and neutral value is what I call indifferent. So I do not understand evil in terms of good, or good in terms of evil, but both in terms of value.

Step2, I think Bill Luse is right on the money to point out that the philosophical issue can be separated from the issue of biblical interpretation and/or evaluation. *In theory* (though it should go without saying that I don't actually believe this) it would be possible to come to the conclusion that there must be a necessarily good, personal First Cause and then to conclude that YHWH of the Bible was a lesser, created being who sometimes did wrong things. Again, that isn't my position *at all*. I merely bring it up to illustrate the way that the philosophical question about the necessary nature of the First Cause is in principle separable from the question of how one deals with this or that biblical passage.

I suppose that if one really is a divine command theorist that separation is less clean, but divine command theory, as I've pointed out several times now, is not the only response to the Euthyphro dilemma.

Strange Fella, I think you would be hard pressed to give concrete examples of negative value that could not be parsed in terms of the lack, perversion, etc., of positive value. Whereas it's quite easy to give examples of things that have positive value without reference to negative value. As I said above, a comprehension of the beauty of a rose doesn't require one to conceive of possible rose diseases or flaws, whereas the comprehension of diseases or flaw requires some notion of how the entity should be.

"Just so I'm clear on this paradox, if you did believe God has commanded ISIS to do what they're doing, their actions would be morally just. For those who disbelieve the divine command, it is also morally just to remove the believers from the world."

I don't believe he has commanded that situation with ISIS because I believe it's consistent to regard it as a counterpossible similar to affirming

CP: if 1+1=2 is false, then 2+2=4 is false.

Is CP true Step2? It's a counterpossible because the antecedent is an impossible state of affairs. But if the antecedent were true, then it seems right to say that the consequent would be true as well (however paradoxical that sounds).

"No, not everybody. Jeff Hanes clearly is though. Furthermore, I think it is morally appropriate to point out the problems of being a divine command theorist."

What problem? It's perfectly coherent to suppose that God's necessarily good nature is the standard for morality and we receive our moral duties from divine commands that stem from that necessary nature. Maybe you're thinking of the standard formulation of DCT that something is good simply because God commanded it. God's commands don't make some things good, instead, his commands communicate to creatures what is already good.

"Even the children and babies?"

Obviously there is difficulty in reading the OT passages that include the death of children, but I'd say that in that situation it's possible that God used that seemingly evil act to bring about a much greater good, such as eternal life with God in heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe in something like an age of accountability. Similarly for those who suffer with mental and cognitive disabilities (Autism for example), it certainly seems possible (it's at least logically consistent) to suggest that Christ's blood covers those individuals as well.

I'd say that in that situation it's possible that God used that seemingly evil act to bring about a much greater good, such as eternal life with God in heaven.

So God's a consequentialist, using human agents to slaughter children and babies that he might achieve a good end. In my branch of Christianity, intentionally killing children and babies even in war is murder. My advice is that you leave this stuff alone and stick to the philosophy. Lydia's OP was not an invitation to exercise our skills at Biblical hermeneutics.

I do think that Jeff's recent post makes clearer the brand of Divine Command Theory he subscribes to. As I mentioned upthread, that phrase has come to mean something other than voluntarism. I've gathered (from asking some recent questions) that this re-tooled version first showed up in the 1970's and has more in common with the theory that God's character is intrinsically good and defines what is good. Hence, Jeff Hanes's attempted reconciliation between our intuitions regarding right and wrong actions and certain Bible passages it clear that his version of DCT is not the voluntarist version which I, for one, had always used the phrase "divine command theory" to mean. If it were that, he wouldn't bother trying any reconciliation, for voluntarism would permit him simply to say that if God commanded it, it _becomes_ right in virtue of God's command alone.

I myself am not entirely familiar with all the details of this new (and improved) version of Divine Command Theory, but it at least is not open to some of the criticisms Step2 is raising.

So God's a consequentialist, using human agents to slaughter children and babies that he might achieve a good end.

Did God not order every last man, woman, child and animal in Canaan exterminated that Israel would gain the promised land?

"So God's a consequentialist, using human agents to slaughter children and babies that he might achieve a good end. In my branch of Christianity, intentionally killing children and babies even in war is murder. My advice is that you leave this stuff alone and stick to the philosophy. Lydia's OP was not an invitation to exercise our skills at Biblical hermeneutics."

Respectfully, I think your concerns arise due to a misunderstanding and misapplication of consequentialism. I'd say that consequentialism is a theory which deals with the determination of our moral duty, which holds that it is our moral duty to act in such a way as to bring about the most favorable consequences for an individual, group or society. Now right away a problem arises in applying such a theory to God, because, as I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, on the view I've defended, God has no moral duties to fulfill. Moral duties arise in response to imperatives issued by God. Now, seeing that God does not issue commands to himself, God, strictly speaking, has no moral duties. Instead, God’s acts must simply be consistent with his perfectly good nature. So on this view, consequentialism cannot apply to God. His actions, such as allowing and commanding certain acts in view of overriding goods, must simply be consistent with his all-loving, and completely just nature rather than be ultimately based upon the consequences of those actions. We might actually view God as a deontologist of sorts. He acts in accordance with certain deontological principles, namely his essentially and perfectly good nature. Looking at deontological theory may also help in our understanding of how consequences are considered.

It's important to note that deontologists don’t simply ignore the consequences of actions. They take into consideration the consequences of actions when determining if a certain moral principle applies to a given circumstance. As an example, imagine a situation such that a doctor is treating a patient suffering from cancer. The doctor might ascribe to the moral principle that a doctor should not inflict unnecessary pain on a patient. Suppose he decides that the patient’s cancer is so advanced that continual rounds of chemotherapy and surgery would be ultimately unsuccessful and would result in many months of unremitting suffering for the patient. In this scenario, he may determine that it would be wrong to prescribe this treatment (I can't take credit for this analogy. My thanks go to JP Moreland). So, I think it's obvious that consideration of consequences can be factually relevant in our decision of which moral principle is relevant in a situation.

In sum, thinking about the consequences of commanding or permitting some instance of suffering doesn’t make one a consequentialist. The same applies to God. He may have some overriding good in mind when permitting or commanding suffering in the world, but he is not a consequentialist, not just because he has no moral duties but also because the overriding good must be grounded in other conditions, such as those of a deontological nature (God's essential goodness), in order to meet the needs for his permission or commandment of suffering.

Why do you keep talking like this, since it flat-out contradicts your description of an "independent, self-sufficient necessary cause of everything other than himself." ?

In the context of the discussion I was referring to God's moral obligations. Jeff’s repetitive appeals to omnipotence, defined as perfectly good no matter what, are a smokescreen diversion and I was using sarcasm to cut through it. Interestingly enough, Jeff agrees with my interpretation of him that God has no moral duties, even though he is all-loving, completely just and perfectly good.

And is your inability to imagine such a being the result of a difficulty with some Biblical passages?

It is more like entire chapters and themes of the Bible. I may be too shallow for the amount of imagination you are asking for. :)

God's commands don't make some things good, instead, his commands communicate to creatures what is already good.

So genocide is already good and creatures learned this moral fact when it was communicated. Awesome-ish.

"In the context of the discussion I was referring to God's moral obligations. Jeff’s repetitive appeals to omnipotence, defined as perfectly good no matter what, are a smokescreen diversion and I was using sarcasm to cut through it. Interestingly enough, Jeff agrees with my interpretation of him that God has no moral duties, even though he is all-loving, completely just and perfectly good."

With all due respect, I'm having a hard time seeing the relationship between omnipotence and God's alleged moral obligations. But, I do think God's actions are perfectly good, but not no matter what. Again, this gets into issues of counterpossibles. That it's necessarily true that God's actions are perfectly good does not entail that it's true no matter what. Being true in all possible worlds does not entail being true in all impossible worlds. Compare this counterpossible claim:

CP1: If the proposition God exists is necessarily true, it's true whether or not (or no matter what) God exists.

"So genocide is already good and creatures learned this moral fact when it was communicated. Awesome-ish."

If "genocide" is defined as a just punishment to the lives of those who committed a crime (sin) against an infinitely holy God, then yes. But I would actually define genocide as the unjust punishment/killing of a group of people.

Did God not order every last man, woman, child and animal in Canaan exterminated that Israel would gain the promised land?

But not necessarily ONLY for that reason.

I'd say that consequentialism is a theory which deals with the determination of our moral duty, which holds that it is our moral duty to act in such a way as to bring about the most favorable consequences for an individual, group or society.

If by this you mean that those holding the theory think that under certain dire circumstances they are permitted to choose an evil means to a good end, you would be correct. But I'm not sure that's what you mean. And of course the people who hold that theory are wrong.

Now right away a problem arises in applying such a theory to God, because..God has no moral duties to fulfill. Moral duties arise in response to imperatives issued by God..

Uh-huh.

God does not issue commands to himself...

No, he issues them to us.

So on this view, consequentialism cannot apply to God.

Except that in the passages that bug Step2, he uses people to carry out his imperatives. So let me rephrase: he makes consequentialists of us by asking us to commit intrinsic evils to achieve his good ends.

His actions, such as allowing and commanding certain acts in view of overriding goods, must simply be consistent with his all-loving, and completely just nature rather than be ultimately based upon the consequences of those actions.

That's a sweet gloss, superficial and question-begging though it is. And after your cancer scenario I suspect that you don't really know what consequentialism is. And after this - In sum, thinking about the consequences of commanding or permitting some instance of suffering doesn’t make one a consequentialist - I'm certain of it. We're not talking about "thinking" about suffering; we're talking about the murder of innocents. Children and babies usually fit that description.

The same applies to God.

Don't think so. You've already said that "consequentialism cannot apply to God." And that "the overriding good must be grounded in other conditions, such as those of a deontological nature" is just a theological ink cloud.

Could I suggest one more time (a suggestion you have so far ignored) that you drop this stuff no matter how much Step2 provokes you and stick to the philosophy?


Bill, I'm not quite sure I understand your annoyance with Jeff Hanes. I myself don't want the entire thread to go to trying to figure out the Canaanite passages, but it's Step2 who is pushing this, as you acknowledge. As for Jeff, he's giving more sensible answers than some I've seen, though they aren't the same answers I would give to those particular passages.

And as I pointed out, Jeff's attempts to respond there have clarified his own position--namely, that he is not in fact simply saying that God's commands make certain things right, as a voluntarist would say.

Step2, I myself don't have a cut-and-dried answer to the slaughter of the Canaanites and don't sign on to any of the popular ones. In particular, I'm annoyed by the "hyperbole" response (which IMO is much lamer than anything Jeff Hanes has tried) which says that the passages aren't really saying what they appear to be saying because they are merely using hyperbole. (Apparently, "Be sure to kill everything that breathes, including women and children, when you're this close to the Promised Land" is hyperbole for, "Be sure to use careful just war criteria and do your best not to kill any non-combatants." Or maybe it doesn't matter morally if they were told to _try_ to kill everything that breathes so long as they accidentally missed some. Or something. But I digress.) However, you greatly exaggerate the extent to which even the biblical view of God is deeply bound up with those passages. Indeed, if they disappeared tomorrow, Christianity would not be much affected.

As several of us have pointed out, however, the philosophical question of a perfectly good First Cause is separable from those particular passages, and at this point, I think you are just being pushy to try to insist that someone give an answer on those that satisfies you on a thread about the philosophical question of whether the First Cause must be good or evil. So I'm going to ask you to stop doing that.

But not necessarily ONLY for that reason.

Absolutely.

Except that in the passages that bug Step2, he uses people to carry out his imperatives. So let me rephrase: he makes consequentialists of us by asking us to commit intrinsic evils to achieve his good ends.

Do you have any idea how blasphemous this statement is?

"Except that in the passages that bug Step2, he uses people to carry out his imperatives. So let me rephrase: he makes consequentialists of us by asking us to commit intrinsic evils to achieve his good ends."

Again, In think the Moreland example helps illustrate how one can consider consequences without actually being a consequentialist. I think that we can consider ourselves deontologists in that we only consider the consequences of an action to determine the more fundamental ethical principles involved.

"That's a sweet gloss, superficial and question-begging though it is."

How is it question begging when I haven't argued that it's true, only that it's consistent with the theory I've defended? I first said the following:

/I'd say that in that situation it's possible that God used that seemingly evil act to bring about a much greater good, such as eternal life with God in heaven./

To which you responded by arguing that this entails that God is a consequentialist. To defend my position all I need to do is offer a possible alternative for illustrating how God might not be a consequentialist. It's not my burden to prove any undercutting defeaters I provide. Thus, I did not beg the question.

"And after your cancer scenario I suspect that you don't really know what consequentialism is."

No? I'm simply operating on the standard definition such that "Consequentialism, as its name suggests, is the view that normative properties depend only on consequences" (SEP) But you're free to offer your definition.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism/

"And after this - In sum, thinking about the consequences of commanding or permitting some instance of suffering doesn’t make one a consequentialist - I'm certain of it. We're not talking about "thinking" about suffering; we're talking about the murder of innocents. Children and babies usually fit that description."

I personally would deny that this was murder because murder seems to presuppose that some unjust act has been committed. I reiterate what I've said, namely that it is entirely possible that the killing of those children and babies was actually their eternal salvation.

Out of respect for this thread, I will not provide further attempt to justify those passages. But I do want to say that these passages are obviously troubling in some respects, since they appear to go against our moral intuitions. My answers might be incorrect. Who has known the mind of The Lord? Certainly not I. I only wish to illustrate that there do appear to be possible explanations which make some sense of the situation.

William Luse, what WOULD you make of the passages concerning the slaughter of the canaanite infants, then?

I would say that we know that killing is not intrinsically immoral. Perhaps killing an infant is not intrinsically immoral IF ordered directly by God?

But I'm just spitballing here.

In the context of the discussion I was referring to God's moral obligations.

Getting back to the basics of what this thread is supposed to be about: If a good God is the self-existent First Cause of all other beings, there is no reason to suppose there is a standard of goodness outside of the nature of that God. The standard of what it means to be a good (moral) angel, or a good (moral) man, is given by the angelic and by the human nature, but what it means to be angelic is to approach to being like to God in a certain (limited) fashion, and so being morally good as an angel means to be (in actions) like to God in a certain way. Since a creative good God creates according as His own nature is the exemplar for the form of each other kind of being, it is impossible to suppose (i.e. it is metaphysical nonsense to suppose) a created being whose goodness is to be some way opposed to godliness. Therefore, for all created rational being, morality must of necessity consist in being similar to the goodness of God.

But that does not imply anything about what the goodness of God must be like. If morality consists in a relationship to godliness, goodness in God cannot be THAT relation.

Now we can say other things about goodness as it is in God, but we can only say them epistemologically) because of the created order that gives us such insight. Goodness is effusive, for example. Goodness is transcendentally united to truth, being, and beauty, so that being is good insofar as it IS, and the beautiful is good insofar as it is true to the exemplar model of being. These are true of God even apart from creation, but it is through seeing created being, good, truth, and beauty that we grasp these. But all of these things that are true of the good are true of God without relation to anything independent of God. It is not like God's goodness conforms to a standard of goodness that is elsewhere.

In the order of coming to know (for humans), we start with sensible things and abstract from those, so we grasp what is generally true of the good after we understand the good more concretely. So it is only after we reflect on goodness as we experience it in things like hospitality that we realize that a characteristic of goodness is that it is effusive, but that isn't to say that that the order of reality is that way - that a thing's goodness depends upon its being effusive. So also, in God, his goodness doesn't have to depend upon his conforming to a certain standard that isn't himself. And, given what we said above about what it means for angels or men to be good, (conforming in act to their natures as expressive of God), if we think that implies something for saying God is good all we could be prepared to say is that God is good insofar as His act conforms to his own nature.

With all due respect, I'm having a hard time seeing the relationship between omnipotence and God's alleged moral obligations.

Yet you acknowledge this relationship when considering an evil first cause because you know that evil means a failure to uphold a standard. When the shoe is on the other foot for a good first cause all of a sudden there is no standard to be upheld, his power takes the place of the standard, in other words you claim might makes right without realizing it can be abused.

But, I do think God's actions are perfectly good, but not no matter what.

You can claim whatever you want, but when you void all moral obligations you don't have any basis to say "God's command was wrong or imperfectly good." According to your own view such a statement is impossible to make.

So I'm going to ask you to stop doing that.

I'll comply for the sake of Bill's peace of mind, but you should require the same thing of MikeT and MarcAnthony.

"Yet you acknowledge this relationship when considering an evil first cause because you know that evil means a failure to uphold a standard. When the shoe is on the other foot for a good first cause all of a sudden there is no standard to be upheld, his power takes the place of the standard, in other words you claim might makes right without realizing it can be abused."

Okay, now I think I'm seeing your reference to omnipotence. God's power (or omnipotence) isn't the standard, which is true on the standard definition of DCT. I've already stated that on the theory I've defended, God's power doesn't determine the good, rather God's nature/character is "the good." The benefit for this view is that it allows for divine commands but doesn't entail that they're arbitrary (because they stem from a necessarily good nature and so cannot be changed on a whim). But, power does come into play in a sense, since a being must have the power to maintain that standard of goodness, so if a being is a moral failure his power certainly was lacking. But, if a being simply IS that standard for goodness then clearly his power to BE good is perfectly executed without difficulty.

"You can claim whatever you want, but when you void all moral obligations you don't have any basis to say "God's command was wrong or imperfectly good." According to your own view such a statement is impossible to make."

According to the variation of DCT I've been defending, an action is good if and only if it is consistent with God's nature. Thus, God's commands are good if and only if they are consistent with his nature. I think you're having a hard time understanding how God can be good if he doesn't appeal to a further standard of goodness. If that's your worry, then any theory of morality that posits an ultimate standard for morality suffers since one can ask "without moral obligations, how can some impersonal standard for goodness (maybe Plato's Form of the Good?) be good?"

When the shoe is on the other foot for a good first cause all of a sudden there is no standard to be upheld, his power takes the place of the standard, in other words you claim might makes right without realizing it can be abused.

Step2, you said above that _you_ are the one using "omnipotence" as a short-hand for what we mean by self-existent First Cause. It's more than a little unjust to adopt this rather odd shorthand yourself and then foist it back upon those who disagree with you in the form of an accusation that they hold that "might makes right." We weren't the ones who decided to use "omnipotence" in that non-standard way.

The benefit for this view is that it allows for divine commands but doesn't entail that they're arbitrary (because they stem from a necessarily good nature and so cannot be changed on a whim).

The benefit of your view is that it elides the question of determining whether the first cause is good or evil or a mix of both, it simply is good by definition. If you think divine commands are necessarily good you should still be adhering to the Old Covenant even if you also adhere to the New Covenant, otherwise those standards were arbitrary and unmaintained.

According to the variation of DCT I've been defending, an action is good if and only if it is consistent with God's nature.

How could someone know if it was consistent or not? God's command itself cannot justify such a determination.

We weren't the ones who decided to use "omnipotence" in that non-standard way.

Would you agree that a self-existent First Cause of everything other than himself is omnipotent? If not that entails there is some other causal power.

"The benefit of your view is that it elides the question of determining whether the first cause is good or evil or a mix of both, it simply is good by definition."

It is consistent with the view that the first cause is good. That's all I need to show to illustrate its coherence.

"If you think divine commands are necessarily good you should still be adhering to the Old Covenant even if you also adhere to the New Covenant, otherwise those standards were arbitrary and unmaintained."

I think you brought up a good point, which I will admit I failed to consider. You appear to be arguing that if some command is necessarily good, we should necessarily follow it (meaning always follow it) (We'll call this principle P). There are a couple of routes one can take to address this concern. First, I think we can phrase things better by nailing down what kind of necessity attaches to the truth of God's good commandments. We could distinguish two propositions:

(1) If God commands x, then x is necessarily good.

and

(1') Necessarily, if God commands x, then x is good.

Now (1) entails P, but (1') doesn't. This is the classic distinction between the necessity of the consequent and the necessity of the consequence. Now, I think the laws and commandments can be viewed in the following way: There are unchanging moral laws such as "do not steal" and "do not unjustly kill another (murder)." We can call these commandments Type M commandments. Now these commandments do seem to entail the necessity of the consequent. We can revise our propositions and add the following:

(1'') If God issues commands of Type M, then those commands are necessarily good. (we are to always follow them)

Now there are other commandments that many call the ceremonial laws. Certain commandments that God issued were unique to a particular time or situation. One example is the sacrificial system of the OT. These sacrifices were good in that they signaled the need for a ultimate sacrifice (namely the sacrifice of Christ). Clearly this law is no longer necessary since Christ came and satisfied that need. So for sake of clarity and precision we can label these as Type C commandments.

(1''') Necessarily, if God issues commands of Type C, then those commands are good.

So, we can say that there are indeed commandments that we must necessarily follow, but there are some commandments that are conditional to particular situations. So, it's not true that if God's commandments are necessarily good, one should still adhere to the Old Covenant since for commandments of Type M, the necessity involved is that of (1'') and for commandments of Type C, the necessity involved is that of (1''').

"How could someone know if it was consistent or not? God's command itself cannot justify such a determination."

I think you're question confuses moral ontology, the question of the ontological grounding of morality, with moral epistemology, the question of how we come to know the moral truths. The answer to the latter has no impact on the answer to the former. Even if for sake of argument (I do not actually grant this) we granted that we humans cannot know whether or not some action is consistent with God's nature, it doesn't follow that it isn't consistent. Similarly, just because we might not be able to know if something is occurring on Pluto, it doesn't follow that nothing is occurring.

Would you agree that a self-existent First Cause of everything other than himself is omnipotent?

Whether or not I would agree with this, it does not follow that the goodness of his nature or his commands follows from his _omnipotence per se_. Surely you ought to be able to see this. And if one did argue (which I don't, particularly) that one can prove omnibenevolence from omnipotence and vice versa, that would not mean that "might makes right" but only that the "omnis" are all interderivable, which would be an interesting and non-trivial philosophical conclusion.

I'd like to mention that due to my upcoming class schedule, my focus will be on my studies and I will probably not have the time to continue in an unending debate. So, Step2 and William Luse, If you'd like, you may have the last word. It was a pleasure to discuss these important matters with you.

Bill, I'm not quite sure I understand your annoyance with Jeff Hanes.

Well, it's nothing personal. I'm sure he's a fine guy.

...he's giving more sensible answers than some I've seen, though they aren't the same answers I would give to those particular passages. And as I pointed out, Jeff's attempts to respond there have clarified his own position--namely, that he is not in fact simply saying that God's commands make certain things right, as a voluntarist would say.

If you've been able to make sense of it, then I tip my hat. It's all a fog to me. I just want the God-of-the-Bible talk to go away, especially this attempt to apologize for passages no one can explain. (I read William Lane Craig's attempt, and he was as inept as any. Some of his phrasing was hauntingly similar to Jeff's: "Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill.") The only saving feature of the Canaanite passages is that (as far as I read) no slaughter takes place on the page. However, Saul really does massacre the Amekalite infants in Samuel. In any case it has no place in the thread, which I had thought from the OP was an attempt to exclude logically the possibility of an evil self-existent cause of everything.

MarcAnthony: William Luse, what WOULD you make of the passages concerning the slaughter of the canaanite infants, then?

Nothing. They are a mystery to me. At the same time they've never disturbed my faith, which is held fast by the belief that Jesus Christ is the true manifestation of God's nature, and by the Catholic Church's infallible guidance as to what is demanded of me in His name.

I would say that we know that killing is not intrinsically immoral.

No, but murder is, i.e., intentionally killing the innocent. And innocence does not equal "sinlessness."

Perhaps killing an infant is not intrinsically immoral IF ordered directly by God?

Perhaps not. But if I told you that I heard God telling me to run an infant through with a sword, you might think I had mistaken a demon for God.

Perhaps not. But if I told you that I heard God telling me to run an infant through with a sword, you might think I had mistaken a demon for God.

Probably, yes. But on the other hand, we do not think it of the Israelite conquerors. We can easily say that the only reason we don't believe it was a demon is because the Church said so, though. I'm fine with that.

I am curious why people often have a hard time with the Canaanite passages but not the 10th plague. Is it the assumption that being killed by Azrael is any better than being killed by an Israelite? I agree that these passages are hard, but I never hear people condemning God for sending the angel of death into Egypt like I do the Canaanites.

I am curious why people often have a hard time with the Canaanite passages but not the 10th plague. Is it the assumption that being killed by Azrael is any better than being killed by an Israelite?

It's worse for the Israelite, because he, a human being, is deliberately killing an innocent baby. But I think we've done enough with this topic for this thread.

Actually, my recollection is that atheists do try to make a challenge out of the 10th plague (or God's sending down fire on Sodom, etc.)

That's all I need to show to illustrate its coherence.

Coherent or not, it's an elliptical line of reasoning that assumes its conclusion and obscures every attempt to determine if it has truth value.

Even if for sake of argument (I do not actually grant this) we granted that we humans cannot know whether or not some action is consistent with God's nature, it doesn't follow that it isn't consistent.

The point of your "consistency" theory was supposed to provide an assurance against doing something bad. If that is in fact unknowable or even improbable it negates your assurance.

It was a pleasure to discuss these important matters with you.

Thanks, good luck in school.

Whether or not I would agree with this, it does not follow that the goodness of his nature or his commands follows from his _omnipotence per se_.

If it does follow from some other property nobody has attempted to describe which one. The only thing you posited in your own argument was omnipotence, so that seems to have limited the available options.

If it does follow from some other property nobody has attempted to describe which one.

The goodness of God's commands, obviously, follows from the goodness of his nature. The goodness of his nature doesn't have to follow from anything else. This should be obvious. It shouldn't even need to be said. There is no reason to treat the goodness of God's nature as derived from some other property of his, as, in some sense, a secondary property. Why in the world should it be? God is essentially good.

The only thing you posited in your own argument was omnipotence, so that seems to have limited the available options.

I never mentioned omnipotence as the source of God's goodness. In fact, I think it's an extremely odd use of the word "omnipotence" to hold that the semantic content of "self-existent first cause" is _identical to_ the semantic content of "omnipotent." That's why I've flagged that as an oddity of yours all along! If one can argue that a self-existent first cause must be omnipotent, that isn't the same thing as saying that the two terms mean exactly the same thing! I made this point already, and I'm getting a little tired of repeating myself. I'm getting even tireder of having you attribute to me the position that God's goodness is a secondary function of His omnipotence or that might makes right or any such nonsense.

I'm getting even tireder of having you attribute to me the position that God's goodness is a secondary function of His omnipotence or that might makes right or any such nonsense.

My comment about might makes right was directed against what Jeff conceded is in fact true for basic DCT. You aren't a divine command theorist so it wasn't directed at you. Jeff's sophisticated version of DCT is also based on an appeal to the nature of God, but even there he admitted that to enact/sustain the commands requires potency. Phrased differently and more pointedly what would it mean for a good first cause of everything to be semipotent?

Phrased differently and more pointedly what would it mean for a good first cause of everything to be semipotent?

Since I already answered that, I'll just cut and paste. I'm genuinely sorry if you don't understand how the answer takes care of your problem. I already said:

If one did argue (which I don't, particularly) that one can prove omnibenevolence from omnipotence and vice versa, that would not mean that "might makes right" but only that the "omnis" are all interderivable, which would be an interesting and non-trivial philosophical conclusion.
I think it's an extremely odd use of the word "omnipotence" to hold that the semantic content of "self-existent first cause" is _identical to_ the semantic content of "omnipotent."...If one can argue that a self-existent first cause must be omnipotent, that isn't the same thing as saying that the two terms mean exactly the same thing!

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