Does the moral argument point to a benevolent God?

Philosophers who defend theism by making use of the classical arguments or some variation thereof (like the cosmological argument, the teleological and fine tuning arguments and the moral argument) have always been realistic about what each of these arguments, if sound, establishes. The cosmological argument establishes that the universe has a cause with certain features (the features of being spaceless, timeless and if Bill Craig is right, personal). The teleological argument, if sound, establishes that there is a creator with intelligent intentions. The arguments are obviously and intentionally limited in scope, so it makes no sense to complain that one of them doesn’t establish, say, the Apostles’ Creed. This is a point sometimes lost on apologists for atheism. Richard Dawkins, for example, complained that the cosmological argument doesn’t also tell us that the one true God has the properties of omniscience, omnipotence, creativity, mercy and so on. But the answer to this complaint, as Bill Craig duly noted, is a rather obvious “so what”?

I was prompted by a recent comment by a visitor to have another look at what I take to be a related and more recent line of argument against traditional arguments for theism, this time an argument by Stephen Law (I was prompted further still when Stephen Law joined in the discussion himself). In his original and enjoyable article “the evil-god challenge,” Law explains:

[E]ven if most of the popular arguments for the existence of God do provide grounds for supposing that there is some sort of supernatural intelligence behind the universe, they fail to provide much clue as to its moral character. Suppose, for example, that the universe shows clear evidence of having been designed. To conclude, solely on that basis, that the designer is supremely benevolent would be about as unjustified as it would be to conclude that it is, say, supremely malevolent, which clearly would not be justified at all.1

This is not an objection to the arguments for theism, but it is correct nonetheless. There is no reason here to think that the arguments in question are unsound, this is no more than the uncontroversial observation that those arguments are limited in scope. An argument showing that atheism is false is not, of course, necessarily an argument for Christianity in all of its fullness. (I am assuming that arguments that the greatest possible being must also be perfectly good are arguments in addition to the basics of the classical arguments for theism.)

If this were the whole story, then the response could be a fairly abrupt “so what?” But this is only 99.999% of the story. The rest of the story is as follows: Law then says during the remainder of the article that actually, the statement quoted above is true, concluding that “Perhaps there are grounds for supposing that the universe was created by an intelligent being. But, at this point in time, the suggestion that this being is omnipotent, omniscient, and maximally good seems to me hardly more reasonable than the suggestion that he is omnipotent, omniscient, and maximally evil.” After all, the thesis that God is benevolent faces the problem of evil, but this problem would not confront the believer in a malevolent God. Law does provide us with an inventive and almost amusing (in a good way) account of how the believer in a malevolent God could provide reversed versions of arguments that believers in a good God now give. For example, instead of a problem of evil, we might have the problem of good. Why would a malevolent God allow so much good in the world, perhaps much more good than evil? But just as theists now do, the worshipper of the malevolent God can wheel in a free will defence. Or, just as theists now offer an eschatological defence: God will put things right in the end and an eternity of heaven will outweigh temporary evils, the believer in the malevolent God can say that any good done in this life will be cancelled out with an eternity of suffering at the hands of a malicious God.

There does seem to be a degree of feigned amazement on Law’s part at how serious a challenge the evil God hypothesis really is, however. In his closing paragraph he says, as though he has no idea how his challenge could ever be met: “While I acknowledge the possibility that the evil-god challenge might yet be met, I cannot myself see how.” But he has already indicated how the challenge might be met: via a moral argument. The argument that moral facts about what is right and wrong, facts that we are indeed aware of (such as the fact that killing and torturing for fun are wrong), could not obtain unless there were a God. This type of argument is not merely an argument for a very powerful being, or a being who is intelligent, or a being who created the universe or who is a person (as in some of the other classical arguments for theism). This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain moral facts exist about duties to do good, duties that are reflective of the divine will for human beings. This would involve, not just any God, but one who is good (in the non-moral sense i.e. benevolent). An argument like this, Law concedes, is the “most promising” way to tackle the hypothesis of a malevolent God. He therefore does see how the theist who believes in a good God might respond. Why then, is this response not enough? Law gives just two reasons and no more:

Firstly, Law says, “However, to date, it remains, even among theists, controversial whether any such argument exists.” But this surely cannot be all that relevant. For starters, my anecdotal experience is evidently not the same as Law’s, since I am familiar with more theistic philosophers who would endorse, rather than eschew the moral argument. But that hardly matters here. Secondly and more importantly, it is contentious to say that such an argument does not exist in light of the number of theistic philosophers (not to mention theists in general) who think that such an argument does exist. The brute fact of disagreement over whether or not a decent moral argument has been offered surely doesn’t weaken any moral argument that has been offered.

Secondly, other than the more sociological observation that there is not unanimity in the acceptance of moral arguments for theism, Laws does give a reason for rejecting moral arguments, by reaching, as many have done, for that familiar line of argument from Plato’s Euthyphro. This is the only actual criticism of the moral argument presented here. But whether or not the Euthyphro dialogue shows a genuine problem for theologically grounded ethics is much more contentious among philosophers of religion and ethics than is the moral argument among theists! In reaching for this argument, Law reaches for an argument that as far as I can tell is widely regarded has having failed. Contrary to Law’s very brief suggestion, both of the horns of the dilemma: that either God is not really the source of morality after all, or else God’s commands are purely arbitrary, are avoided by someone who, for example, holds to a sophisticated version of a divine command theory of ethics.

But if the fact that not all theists accept moral arguments is irrelevant, and if the only reason Law gave for rejecting moral arguments is widely discredited, he has done nothing to fend off the force of moral arguments against the evil God challenge. If we recognise moral truths that require benevolent conduct and shun malevolent conduct, and if moral truths only exist because of the will of God, then this must surely count heavily – perhaps even decisively – against the hypothesis that God is malevolent rather than good.

Stephen Law then simply hasn’t done enough. Given the fact that he recognises that, in principle, a moral argument might do the trick of responding to the “evil God challenge,” it is painfully inadequate to simply say that not all theists agree, and then to make a brisk appeal to the supposed problem generated by the Euthyphro dialogue, a problem that is seldom taken seriously in the literature. What he really needed to do was to lay out the moral argument in its best form and then show that it just isn’t sound, and therefore fails to do what some say it does, namely show that theism is true, and also that it points to a good rather than a malevolent deity. Unless he does this there is no reason to grant his point, and the remainder of the article can, like the comment of Dawkins, be dismissed with a resounding “so what?”

Glenn Peoples

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  1. Stephen Law, “The Evil-God Challenge,” Religious Studies 46:3 (2010), 353. []

49 thoughts on “Does the moral argument point to a benevolent God?

  1. If we were the product of an evil creator, why would we (in general) seek the good and shun the evil? Not just in the sense that we think “that would be a nice thing to do” but in the sense that “we ought to do that, we have a duty to do so”.

    Also, what motivates people to do evil? Generally they are motivated by a desire for a certain good. Sadists torture because they derive pleasure from it. Scientists engage in vivisection because they believe that the suffering they inflict is justified with reference to a greater good. Even Hitler wanted to see his country great again which is not in itself a bad end. The end justifies the means.

    Good is seen intuitively as an end in itself, suggesting that the moral law-giver itself values the good. Evil may be seen as a means to achieve a good end, but I don’t know of anyone who sees the evil as an end in itself.

  2. Hi Glenn,
    do you think that when Craig says “personal” he means it in the sense as opposed to an unconscious force (impersonal cause)?
    I should clear that up again – I guess it’s pretty clear personal means something different than impersonal.

    But, if something is impersonal (lacking conscious activity – assuming Craig meant something along these lines) then whatever action that that impersonal thing can perform would have just performed it immediately. Since if this is the cause of all subsequent causes and nothing could have acted upon this first cause of all causes (to aid it in bringing about it’s effect) nor does it have the conscious wherewithal (agency) to perform that act that brings about the other subsequent causes.
    You’d need something, personal (agency), to consciously make that decision to either enact a series of other temporal causes or a series of simultaneous causes (which are held into existence by that first cause).

  3. If we recognise moral truths that require benevolent conduct and shun malevolent conduct, and if moral truths only exist because of the will of God, then this must surely count heavily – perhaps even decisively – against the hypothesis that God is malevolent rather than good.

    If the moral argument is valid, given that the argument is about “oughts” then it is simultaneously an argument for God and for a moral being. It is an argument for a moral-creator. Like the teleological argument is an argument for an intelligent-creator.

  4. Good point Jason about the discordance between the benevolence of man and the malevolence of God with Law’s claim. If this were the caso then the moral argument does not work.

    Glenn, I also wondered whether it is worth introducing the concept into your rebuttal of: bad is not an attribute in itself but a distortion of the good.

  5. Glenn you could add that Stephen Law fails to really address arguments from religious experience. From memory he seems to construe these arguments as arguments to the best explanation, i.e God explains the experience of God. But that is not how they are offered, Swinburne, Plantinga, Alston, Craig et al, argue that one is justified in forming a basic belief in response to experience. The fact one can explain these experiences by noting an evil deity could have caused them no more refutes these arguments than the observation that our sensory perception could have been explained by a Cartesian demon entails we cannot have justified basic beliefs in the external world.

  6. G K E – Yes, they certainly are relevant, as they indicate that proponents of moral arguments for theism have indeed given arguments not just for theism simpliciter, but for a God who embodies the very things that he wills as moral.

    I wish that those who think highly of the evil God challenge (assuming that there are people who do) would only read up on the moral argument itself.

  7. Hi Glenn

    Whilst your post is specifically addressed to Stephen (or at least his argument), he is pursuing his thread in the previous post, which makes sense, as it is all too easy to get side-tracked by new posts. So I will attempt an answer here, not so much on behalf of Stephen but just from my own understanding of the issues.

    It seems we are addressing 0.001% of the issue but a crucial 0.001% nonetheless! 🙂

    Addressing your two response to Law’s objections:

    1. Stephen is correct, no-one but philosophically inclined believers think much of the moral argument, since it is terrifically flawed in many ways – but I will address that in your post specifically on that topic.

    2. As for whether Stephen uses the Euthyphro to reject the moral argument, I am not sure and will not put words in his mouth. The point, as I understand it and, that I think that Stephen is trying to make and I will make here anyway, is that the moral argument fails to refute the evil god hypothesis.

    That is granting for the purposes of argument that moral argument does turn out to be both sound and valid or cogent, and that, again for the purposes of argument, we grant that there are moral facts, what does this say about the moral character of the deity?

    …. tumbleweed….

    nothing at all.

    Whether the deity is in some sense or another “all-good” or “all-bad” or else somewhere “in between” makes no difference at all since the moral argument has relativised moral facts to the deity’s “eternal unchanging nature” or whatever. That is it provides zero indication as to what that nature is and so as to what real moral (and immoral) facts are.

    Your core argument in this post is:-

    1. “The argument that moral facts about what is right and wrong, facts that we are indeed aware of (such as the fact that killing and torturing for fun are wrong), could not obtain unless there were a God.”
    Granted for the purposes of debate.

    2.”This type of argument is not merely an argument for a very powerful being, or a being who is intelligent, or a being who created the universe or who is a person (as in some of the other classical arguments for theism).”
    Irrelevant here

    3.”This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain moral facts exist about duties to do good, duties that are reflective of the divine will for human beings. This would involve, not just any God, but one who is good (in the non-moral sense i.e. benevolent)”

    This is entirely question begging. It is exactly this point that Stephen is challenging with his Evil God Hypothesis (EGH). It does no good ignore it and assume the Good God Hypothesis (GGH)and point to the purported “moral argument” to support this.

    Why? Well one can easily rephrase this in terms of EGH:

    “This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain immoral facts exist about duties to do bad, duties that are reflective of the divine will for human beings. This would involve, not just any God, but one who is bad (in the non-moral sense i.e. malevolent)”

    Alternatively one can flip the notion of moral and immoral on their head.

    Most significantly, since moral facts are relativised to the deity, the argument could read exactly as you originally stated it but it is now relative to an Evil God.

    There is no way to tell from this argument as to whether such a deity is good or bad.

    When one has a conceivability argument that can lead to opposite conclusion (in terms of what is good or bad, not in terms the existence or not of the deity in this case) then such a conceivability argument is useless. Indeed IMV the EGH is yet another nail in the coffin for the Theistic Moral Argument( as if it did not have enough nails)

    Indeed I really have not seen any argument yet to show that the purported moral argument makes EGH v GGH assymtetrical in favour of GGH over EGH. Until you do, you have not yet present even an attempted refutation of the EGH.

    I have been brief here but heopefully you understand the thrust of my argument.

    Back to you.

    (PS It would be good if you could switch on preview- dunno if you can do that with a default wordpress blog though.)

  8. Martin, as for whether or not the moral argument is “terrifically flawed,” I’ll just have to wait for somebody to make that case. I haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps you could oblige.

    I really don’t see how you can, on the one hand, say that the moral argument says “nothing at all” about the nature of God, even inserting a “tumbleweed” for rhetorical effect, implying that theists are just stumped into silence on this point, and then turn around and try to engage with the argument that the moral argument does indeed say something about God’s nature. That there is such an argument to be interacted with just shows that the whole “tumbleweed scenario” isn’t there, and that reference must surely have only been for rhetorical effect. Now, Stephen might not have been persuaded by this line of argument, but he has never, as far as I know, really explained why (perhaps that’s where the tumbleweed reference would be more appropriate!).

    I’m afraid your comments are wide of the mark when you say that the argument is “question begging,” and even more mistaken to suggest that Stephen has addressed this argument. He certain hasn’t – at least not publicly. I think your attempt at a re-phrase really shows that you haven’t seen the point of the argument at all. You re-phrase it thus:

    This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain immoral facts exist about duties to do bad, duties that are reflective of the divine will for human beings. This would involve, not just any God, but one who is bad (in the non-moral sense i.e. malevolent)

    But surely this fails because it is false. The reality is that the moral argument is borne out of the actual recognition that we have to do good in the non-moral sense. What you’re proposing is merely a verbal mirror-image that does not the reflect the reality that prompted the moral argument in the first place. The fact is, we do not have the recognition that we ought to hurt each other (for example). Given that this is so, the attempt to just change things around in this way doesn’t succeed as a rebuttal.

    Are you certain that you’ve understood this post?

  9. “This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain immoral facts exist about duties to do bad”

    Martin, that’s where you fail and fail hard. WHAT recognition about duties to do bad? Do you recognise a duty to do bad? Really? If this is how Stephen’s defenders must reply, then I wouldn’t be feeling too confident if I were him!

  10. “But surely this fails because it is false. The reality is that the moral argument is borne out of the actual recognition that we have to do good in the non-moral sense. What you’re proposing is merely a verbal mirror-image that does not the reflect the reality that prompted the moral argument in the first place. The fact is, we do not have the recognition that we ought to hurt each other (for example). Given that this is so, the attempt to just change things around in this way doesn’t succeed as a rebuttal.”

    I gave two further counter-points and you did not address these.

    Still evidence both in various scared texts, such as the bible and koran, regarding genocide, murder, slavery, infanticide etc. and in real history, especially with respect to the history of inter-religious conflict, repeatedly shows otherwise. In either case proponents on any side could have employed the purported moral argument and still the same repugnant results would have occurred. (That is just one reason why it useless but also that it is morally dangerous) too

    To expand on a different tangent, it is not the case “we do not enjoy the recognition that we ought to hurt each other” – well see the Inquisition which was the major, if not the most major contributor to torture methods or, more recently, Proposition 8 in California recently, to name but two of many possible examples. Many, not all, recognise that we ought not hurt each other for fun, but when it comes to deities many have recognised that we ought to others on behalf of a deity. They might recruit the purported moral argument to support their claims but this does not alter the fact that they are generating immoral facts on this basis.

    Now as regards the actual recognition to do “good”, as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Again past and present, supported both in history and in psychology many have claimed, often absolute sincerely, to be doing good when they were doing bad or extreme evil. And such claims for good have often been grounded in the commands, will or eternal natural of a deity.

    Maybe I have said the same thing three different ways or maybe there are significant differences between them. The above was just to expand one of my points hinted in my first comment.

    Indeed if we grant equal prior likelihood to the EGH and GGH then the EGH far better explains such evidence than a GGH, either through inference to the best explanation or Bayesian inference (granted that there is a deity for the purposes of argument).

    So yes I have understood your post and you yet to show that you have merely question-beggingly assumed a beneficent god. Now by testing your assumption by examining this assumption and see what results, you see it is useless in refuting the EGH. Not only is the moral argument itself is useless indeed it is a immoral argument to make, since it can and has been used to justify many horrendous evils.

    PS I noticed a preview button. Maybe I missed it before but anyway when I press it (using Firefox 3.6 on XP SP3) I get “Preview error”.

  11. ““This argument is borne out of the recognition that certain immoral facts exist about duties to do bad””

    You misread this. The point is that within many theistic-based religions, certainly with at least some adherents in the present and most likely with many more adherents in the past, they do have duties to do bad. Now, of course, they would see it that way but we do. A timely example being the September 11th plane-jackers.

    PS Preview now worked on this comment!

  12. Martin, you must surely be simply digging your heels in. Are you actually prepared to say that the moral facts that we find ourselves confronted with (facts that prompt the moral argument) include the fact that we really should try to harm people? The inquisition fails as an example largely because of ignorance but that would be somewhat tangential so I will be brief: They did not believe that the ultimate consquences of their actions would be to harm people.

    This line of response from you is a non-starter because of obvious falsehood.

    The remainder of your last comment fails in the same way. You’re investing time trying to show that people have the intention to not harm people but actually do harm people anyway (that is what I took from your reference to the road to hell), but this is surely not relevant, because the salient point is that people are recognising some moral fact involving a certain disposition (i.e. to not hurt/harm people).

    I’m sorry, but none of this even begins to tackle the issue raised.

  13. I said “Most significantly, since moral facts are relativised to the deity, the argument could read exactly as you originally stated it but it is now relative to an Evil God.”

    To be short this is really the key point and what you need to address.

  14. I posted my last comment before I read 16.

    “Are you actually prepared to say that the moral facts that we find ourselves confronted with (facts that prompt the moral argument) include the fact that we really should try to harm people?”
    You and I may not but that is being subjective. Being objective the evidence points otherways with people using whatever irrational arguments they have to make them think they they are not harming people such as your type of moral argument.

    “The inquisition fails as an example largely because of ignorance but that would be somewhat tangential so I will be brief: They did not believe that the ultimate consquences of their actions would be to harm people.”
    And your reply supports the point I just made.

    So what you are saying here is that if you believe, according to your deity, that you must torture and kill people but this is ok, indeed morally good, because the “ultimate consequences” would not be to harm people, then you would do so? This surely makes my point that and an EGH explains this so much better than a GGH!

    “This line of response from you is a non-starter because of obvious falsehood.”
    And, pray tell, what is this so-called obvious falsehood? Making a claim without showing what it is is not an argument and not the basis to dismiss my argument.

    “The remainder of your last comment fails in the same way. You’re investing time trying to show that people have the intention to not harm people but actually do harm people anyway (that is what I took from your reference to the road to hell), but this is surely not relevant, because the salient point is that people are recognising some moral fact involving a certain disposition (i.e. to not hurt/harm people).”
    Maybe this is your “obvious falsehood”. Well an “argument from the obvious” when what is obvious is being questioned is not a valid argument.

    What I am trying to show is that your moral argument fails to point to a all-beneficent deity since it lacks the sufficiency conditions to be able to do so.

    An EG could likely be very happy with everyone endorsing the moral argument and the world, especially with respect to inter-religious conflict, could pretty much appear as it is. However this is far more difficult to explain based on a GGH.

    I did not realise this before but the more I look at it the more the moral argument stacks the cards in favour of an EGH over a GGH.

    Until you answer why this is not the case you have failed miserably to show that the moral argument refutes the EGH.

  15. Martin, I can only look at your reply and shake my head in wonder. You can wax rhetorical about me failing miserably, but honestly this just doesn’t look like a serious line of response and as such I’m not worried about anyone being persuaded by it. Not realising that I’ve offered an explanation of the falsehood of your claim (whether or not you agree with it) just leaves me thinking: OK, I’ll just leave this guy be. That you went as far as to say that I have implied that torture can itself be morally good is just absurd. Have you even read my comments? I’m sorry if that sounds dismissive, but there’s just nothing at all here for me to get my teeth into, Martin. You think you’ve stumbled onto an amazingly persuasive comeback, I think you’re uttering sentences that nobody can actually believe, and (apparently) not really grasping what’s being said to you. All the best.

  16. An interesting discussion.

    The compact version of my point is that the moral argument, allowing it to be sound for the purposes of debate, is that lacks the sufficiency conditions to eliminate an EGH. Another implication in trying this out briefly is that the evidential implication lends more support to an EGH than a GGH.

    Your rhetorical proclamations of this approach failing were clearly premature and without basis. Your inability to respond with little except a fallacious argument from obviousness and dismissing difficult challenges and so giving up, indicates how weak the moral argument really is, or at least your ability to use it.

    Since there you have provided no cogent response, whether your readers are or are not persuaded is irrelevant. As far as I can see, any unbiased observer could surely conclude is that you, in your own way, have conceded that the moral argument can be used to reject the EGH, and agree that it cannot.

  17. Martin, wow. Just wow. You don’t even seem to realise what just happened.

    Consider this shorthand version:

    Glenn: The moral argument arises because of certain moral facts that we recognise, including the moral duty not to harm people and to do good to them.
    Martin: But we can just turn this around and state that we recognise a duty to hurt people and do bad to them!
    Glenn: Well, not in the real world, because we don’t actually have the recognition you’re describing. But we do have the recognition that I’m describing, the recognition of the duty to do good to people and not harm them.
    Martin: No, as a rule we don’t have that recognition. Look at the inquisitors for example who did actually harm people.
    Glenn: No, it’s not the point whether or not their actions did harm people. The point is that they still did have the recognition of the duty not to harm people. Their actions don’t prove otherwise, since they believed that they were acting in the long term good of people.
    Martin: Wow, you think torturing people is morally OK?

    Just listen to yourself. I think anyone who really understands what’s going on here will sympathise with Glenn’s frustration. You simply haven’t understood what is being said to you. You’re keen to step up and take a shot, but that doesn’t mean that what you say warrants the investment of Glenn’s time (or anyone’s time) in addressing your points if in fact they’re just silly. If I were Glenn I’d be happy to let you have the last say as well. Any informed reader will just screw up his nose at your responses and say “is that guy serious?”

    Seriously, your responses are not just wrong, they’re ridiculous.

  18. While Dave’s comments are a little blunter than mind, Martin, he’s right.

    I noted that as a true observation of the real world, we enjoy the recognition of moral duties to do good to others and not harm them. You can call this a “fallacious” appeal to the obvious, but I just call it an appeal to the obvious. If someone claims that it’s obvious that the sky is blue, will you accuse them of committing a fallacy?

    I also agree that you’re exhibiting some signs of haste in not carefully taking the time to understand what is said to you. As I read through the comments here it looks to me like you feel a sense of victory because you haven’t realised what has actually been said here. As I read things, the fundamental claims made in this blog bost are still standing strong with no serious challenge to them.

    Dave is also right – and I mean no offence – in noting that I have no obligation to devote time and energy to just any old argument, no matter how silly. You can use that as an opportunity to claim some sort of victory (even making up stories about me “conceding” [!!!] that I am wrong), but that doesn’t make it so.

  19. Both Glenn and Dave are still missing the point.

    Glenn says “I noted that as a true observation of the real world, we enjoy the recognition of moral duties to do good to others and not harm them. You can call this a “fallacious” appeal to the obvious, but I just call it an appeal to the obvious. If someone claims that it’s obvious that the sky is blue, will you accuse them of committing a fallacy?”
    Oh dear, this is not what I was addressing. To repeat mere recognition of this is insufficient to ensure that by following a deity’s nature or equivalent there be such a minimisation of harm to others. This is what Glenn needs to show and has not.

    Now it is not just logically conceivable but more than evidentially plausible that any harm can or could be justified if it is claimed to be in the interest of a deity for a supposed “higher good”. The Inquisition example amply shows this and Glenn avoided addressing this because AFAICT he cannot answer this challenge.

    In addition to what I noted above, an EG could quite happily condone the moral argument, in another way. Two people could commit the same act with the same bad consequences. However the first does this knowing this an evil act whilst the second believes that they are doing good. It is more than likely that an EG would prefer acts done on the second basis to the first, as being more evil.

    So until Glenn addresses this insufficiency point, his argument has no merit.

  20. “mere recognition of this is insufficient to ensure that by following a deity’s nature or equivalent there be such a minimisation of harm to others”

    The appropriate response to this is: “So what?” As I hope the reader will clearly see, that was never the point of the argument. You’re construing things backwards. The point was not that by following a deity’s nature we will certainly minimise harm. That was never at issue. The issue was that we do in fact – in the real world – recognise moral duties. Among those moral duties is the duty to not harm people. This means that if our encounter with moral facts, if it favours any kind of deity, favours a deity who is (non-morally) good rather than bad.

    As I scan through your comments, Martin, I see nothing at all that really addresses this. I just don’t see anything to respond to.

  21. That’s true Jason. Although I don’t want to say that what the Inquisition did was good, anyone who has taken the time to learn about the history of the inquisition in its historical context will realise that it was an ecclesiastical court that was noted for being preferable to the secular equivalent.

    It’s just obviously shallow to think that they believed in doing harm to people rather than good. Whether they were correct or not isn’t the point – the point is that they, like we, recognised the duty to not harm people, and they acted on it, believing that they were working for the long term good of people. In other words, they most certainly did find themselves confronted witht he same moral duties that we find ourselves confronted with.

  22. Your reply addressed to me seems to miss the point of this whole discussion, as to whether the moral argument can rule out an EGH.

    Your (specifically non-shallow) answer to Jason again proves my point. That the moral argument is insufficient to point to a beneficent god over a malevolent one.

    Clealry, whether the Inquisitors were correct or not, you agree that “the point is that they, like we, recognised the duty to not harm people, and they acted on it, believing that they were working for the long term good of people.”
    Exactly.

    And their actions make much more sense on the basis of an EGH than a GGH.

    So your Moral Argument defence of a GGH fails.

  23. Martin you write

    That is granting for the purposes of argument that moral argument does turn out to be both sound and valid or cogent, and that, again for the purposes of argument, we grant that there are moral facts, what does this say about the moral character of the deity?

    …. tumbleweed….

    In comments #34 and 35 on the previous post a I refered to three of the most important moral arguments for theism in the Philosophical literature. Robert Adams, John Hares and Stephen Laymans, I noted that all three require that God be benevolent, or just in some substantive sense of the world. So what you say here is simply false. Try reading arguments before you comment on what they do and do not do.

  24. Martin, how on earth could my answer to Jason regarding the inquisition prove your incorrect claim that the moral argument does not favour a benevolent God?

    You’ve really mishandled that point. The point was, and continues to be, that we are confronted with the same moral facts, including the fact that as a rule we shouldn’t harm people. Nothing about this ensures that we will all act on this fact perfectly. There’s just no point for you to use here.

  25. Matt

    You did refer or assert those supposed 3 arguments, however as noted previously you have not made any of those arguments here. Until you do there is nothing to discuss.

  26. Question, is it immoral for the Police and the Judiciary to imprison and execute criminals?

    Yes, because their duty is to the higher good, the maintenance of a civil society. That is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

    “Not hurting people” as a criteria is so vague that it’s almost criminal. Should we therefore not pull diseased teeth, or cut out cancer? Perhaps we shouldn’t use “time-outs” for discipline? That must lead to some psychological pain.

    In the case of the Inquisitions the principle they revolved around finding people who professed to be Christians but were not, Cathers in the first Inquisition, Muslims in Spain. These people posed a threat to social order, the Cathers by rejecting civil authority, the Muslims by acting in support of Muslim attackers of the Spanish community.

    Contrary to the propaganda put out by Protestants and atheists, the Inquisitions were not particularly lethal, not particularly feared, and unless they had cooperation from local civilians, not especially effective.

  27. Glenn

    “Martin – so until somebody makes their case there’s nothing to discuss?”
    Duh, of course. Talk about the obvious,

    “Now you know why I have no motivation to discuss your argument!”
    This is a non sequitur.
    You have attempted to make a case I have given you a number of rebuttals and you have failed in any meaningful way to respond to the most significant ones and now no have no motivation to do so. I am not surprised, since I cannot see any way of saving your argument. This again looks like you are tacitly admitting defeat.

  28. Jason

    Your last post seems quite confused and irrelevant to the debate in this thread.

    You say:
    “Question, is it immoral for the Police and the Judiciary to imprison and execute criminals?…Yes, because their duty is to the higher good, the maintenance of a civil society. That is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
    Not sure of your point here since this naive version of classical utiltiarianism could be read as saying it is not immoral. Then again AFAIK mostly no modern uttilitarian makes arguments that way anymore. Further the theist philosopher Henry Sidgwick was a utiltiarian and argued that God was a utilitarian, but only by rejecting the Moral argument!

    ““Not hurting people” as a criteria is so vague that it’s almost criminal.”
    I think the term that Glenn originally used was harm not hurt, but take that up with Glenn! Clearly it is not obvious to you that is everyone’s duty not to harm others…

    “In the case of the Inquisitions the principle they revolved around finding people who professed to be Christians but were not…,” and this justifies torturing and murdering them. Right, what a dispicable great immoral code you have.

    “…Contrary to the propaganda put out by Protestants and atheists, the Inquisitions were not particularly lethal, not particularly feared, and unless they had cooperation from local civilians, not especially effective.”
    Aaaah, so that makes it ok then? How do you know you aer not eating up Catholic propaganda. Double standards? The fact that they invented that large majority of torturing devices but only tortured and murdered less than some think makes them OK?! Not!!

    And what relevance is any of this to the discussion over whether the Moral Argument points to a GGH over an EGH? Nothing. I do not think you understand what an argument is Jason and will not waste any time replying to you again unless you actually make some sort of relevant point to the discussion.

  29. Martin: “I do not think you understand what an argument is Jason”

    You spew rhetorical rubbish like this and then ask people to donate their precious time to you. Do you actually realise that time has value, and people could be doing other things with it? The more I read the more I think your time would be better spent picking fights down at the arcade.

    You haven’t offered a substantial argument at all. This is why I asked you “Martin – so until somebody makes their case there’s nothing to discuss?”

    You say “duh,” it’s obvious, yet you don’t do this very thing. So there’s nothing to discuss.

  30. Water off a duck’s back Glenn.
    Anyone who’s still bleating about the Spanish Inquisition after the latest research shows that in 345 years they handed over a mere 3200 people to the civil authorities for execution is too historically ignorant to be worth my time.
    Hey, if he’s not going to respond to anything I say, I can say whatever I like… 🙂

  31. “You spew rhetorical rubbish like this and then ask people to donate their precious time to you. Do you actually realise that time has value, and people could be doing other things with it? The more I read the more I think your time would be better spent picking fights down at the arcade.”
    What a great example of empty rhetoric, Glenn, you really know what you are talking about on this topic.

    Clearly this thread has run its course. To pursue it further would be pointless. What I have learnt is that contrary to your assertion that the theistic moral argument eliminates the EGH, it actually lends more support to an EGH over a GGH! That is interesting and a discovery, at least to me. Thanks for enabling me to make that discovery Glenn.

    I am signing off the RRS comment feed now, sayonara!

  32. Sam Harris has argued both that torture is justified in stopping terrorism, and that some people hold beliefs so terrible that killing them is the only rational course of action.
    He has also stated that he does not regard water-boarding as torture. Interestingly enough that was one of the techniques used by the Inquisition.
    The latest research refutes the atheist propaganda, and the Protestant propaganda that it was based on.

  33. Glenn,

    So, is this thread why you’ve not answered my simple request for a definition of a term “appeared to me treely.” I won’t argue with it, it’s your term. I just wanted to know. If your not too busy explaining yourself over and over again. lol

    Just kidding. Though reading some of the content here was starting to make me think I would be way in over my head. This thread gives me hope that I may be able to keep up with some things.

  34. Martin, sorry I don’t need to make these arguments they have already been made in the literature. The point is that when you and Law state that moral arguments for Gods existence, even if sound do not establish that God is good, you are ignoring the actual moral arguments that have been made.

    You can choose to limit your claim to none of the argument I have made establish the existence of a good God over an evil God, but that was not laws original argument was it.

  35. I jumped over here from the latest ontology/epistemology post, because I was wondering some things about this whole ‘evil god’ argument.

    In Prof. Law’s post-debate blogs he does a lot of shoring up points he didn’t get to deal with to his satisfaction in the debate. Of course, he spends a lot of time explaining the evil god challenge. I must confess, I don’t see how this poses a problem at all since it seems to be the equivalent of responding to an argument with sketch comedy. At the surface, the biggest problem I have with it is that it casts ‘evil’ as the sort of thing that could be reality-grounding. Since the challenge is parodic, it fails to apprehend the fact that serious arguments for the existence of God are trying to get at the thing that is holding every other thing up.

    that said, I understand that your post has to do with the moral argument as a refutation of Law’s challenge. I had always thought that simply given the other attributes that God is supposed to have, bracketing the omni-benevolent one for now, that they would naturally point to a person who preferred things that were good. To put it another way, it seems that the only way that a person could think the evil god challenge was a good one is if they were a moral nihilist. It doesn’t even seem like you could be a hardcore utilitarian and stomach the evil god challenge. Since Law, understandably, wants to brush the moral argument aside, the evil god challenge depends on other arguments, like the cosmological and teleological (it doesn’t seem that the ontological argument would work for him, even if it did otherwise). Even then, the cosmological and teleological arguments suggest a being that is as powerful as a being can be and as well-informed as a being can be. I don’t think even a fellow like Peter Singer would say, “oh yea, if a supremely well informed person exists it could totally be a person that wanted to make a world that had the least amount of well-being imaginable.”

    At any rate, I am asking a question, but my questions always sound like statements. I’m wondering if I’m misunderstanding the challenge, or if I’m being too bold in my inferences from certain theistic arguments. I read Law’s recent post-debate blogs, but it’s very difficult to see why he thinks the evil god challenge illustrates anything important about theistic arguments that are not arguments from morality in the first place.

  36. I think I can shrink my question down. Is Law arguing that the likelihood of evil god is the same as God, and then suggesting that means there is no God? Effectively he seems to be saying “this incoherent thing does not exist, so why think that God does?”

    It seems that the “evil” in “evil god” is ad hoc, while when we describe God as “good” this is not ad hoc, but an important metaphysical conclusion. Aside from those considerations, it seems the argument works only against design and cosmological arguments, if it works at all.

  37. Yes, that’s an effective summary. In the recent debate with Craig, Law is dismissing all arguments for God on the basis that he believes his ‘evil God hypothesis’ is as equally valid as a benevolent God hypothesis and since both can’t be true, neither are. Therefore, he concludes, unless someone can show why that evil God hypothesis is false, all other possible arguments for the existence of God are irrelevant.

    As Craig repeatedly points out, the evil God hypothesis has nothing to do with or say about the cosmological argument (or any other argument that is separate to the moral argument for the existence of God). Law has no response to any of those that are of any note.

  38. sorry that’s not entirely accurate… Law says that since the evil God hypothesis is so obviously false, then so is any argument used to show a God that is good (as he believes it uses the same logic, just with the opposite outcome).

    After re-reading my comment it didn’t quite say what I thought it did 🙂

  39. That’s what I gathered, Nathan. I really don’t understand why Law thinks that this is good, and I’ve found his subsequent clarifications more confusing. I think that what is confusing to me is that I want to be charitable to Law, because he knows more about philosophy than me, but I just can’t fathom why somebody who does this for a living thinks that “evil god” is a good challenge. It seems like arguing against the existence of horses by running some modal excersize involving unicorns.

  40. P.S., it seemed to me as well that all Craig needed to do was point out that theists don’t use the same logic as Law was using in his argument, which he did. I was disappointed however that, as in his debate with Harris, Craig did not go the extra mile as far as explaining why it is important that God is good, that evil is a privation of good, and he didn’t really justify the first premise of his moral argument except with quotes from Ruse, Dawkins, etc. He just left it with, “well, it’s part of the definition of God… and all these other atheists agree with me about the moral argument.” To be fair, all I heard Law do to knock down the moral argument was throw around Swinburne’s name.

    1. Hi Cody. Life being what it is and my psyche being what it is, the book is the kind of project I need to invest a sustained, focused effort on. I was hoping to be able to come up with a way of working on it more or less full-time so I could do this, but my professional situation being what it is (having to work a 40 hour week in an entirely non-academic context), I’ve drawn a blank. So the book is on my list of things I would do if I had the opportunity at the moment.

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