Rejecting the Premise of the Question

The Euthyphro Problem—The question whether things are good because God wills them or God wills them because they are good. These two aspects of the question do not do justice to a Judeo/Christian Biblical worldview.

Any concept we have of what is good must stem from God’s self-revelation. If we follow Judeo/Christian concepts and teachings concerning God and creation we see that our first glimpse at what is good comes from God in His creative act. In Genesis 1:1-3 we learn that God called light into existence, observed what He had done, and made the assessment that it was good.

If we ignore the Bible and its concepts and look at the universe from strictly naturalistic or evolutionary perspectives, we would have to say that our concept of good begins with a process the outcome of which is a perpetual, predictable, measureable system (order from chaos). Once such a system is seen as one which is favorable to and sustaining of life we come closer still to being able to distinguish between that which is good (pro-life) and that which is either hostile to or anti-life.

Approaching the discussion from the Judeo/Christian concept and understanding of God and the universe (where it rightly belongs and can best be viewed and discussed), we realize that we cannot make a separate postulation about “the good” or that which is good or good as universal or nominal category outside of God’s self-revelation and His revelatory acts in creation. The concept of goodness is only known to us because of God. Therefore, the question as to whether something is good because God wills it or God wills it because it is good is an inadequate framing of the larger question of goodness. God is good. We know this because in His self-revelation, we have observed Him to be inclined toward life. Our ability to determine what is good and what is not is traced back to the image of God in which we have been created. Further, we cannot rightfully imagine what things might have been like had God been evil instead of good. In a scenario where God was evil there would be no life since, as God, He would be pure in His nature and, consequently would not be life sustaining. It is not reasonable to postulate a universe created and sustained by an evil God.

 

 

13 thoughts on “Rejecting the Premise of the Question

  1. john zande

    Hi Scott. I believe your assumption regarding an evil god is wrong. True evil—conscious, calculating evil—would not seek to destroy life, but encourage it. It’s central purpose would be to cheer life on, to urge it to grow more complex, more bold, more adventurous, more expressive, more entangled, and ultimately, more vulnerable. In the perfectly degenerate eyes of a maximally debased being it is prospect and expectant optimism, not destruction, bankruptcy and wreckage that is the wellhead of the most fruitful entertainment and corrupted gratification. A city must be raised up before it can be torn down.

    • cscottfowler

      I think the problem with your assessment John is that you posit pure evil on the level of what we imagine an evil person might do to maximize its enjoyment. You overlook the aspect of evil that cannot contain itself, even hates itself, and moves beyond such an elaborate plot. In fact, pure evil is unsatisfied until it reaches a realized nihilism.

          • john zande

            Hi Scott

            Not at all. Provided the profit (pleasure) generated through self-denial was potent and nutritious enough, as it would be, there would exist every motivation to self-harm so as to maximise His pleasure. Have you considered the possibility that the Omnimalevolent Creator plays timed games with His creation? In this provision, His self-harming is, therefore, not permanent. It is endured for a specific period of time which 1) is pleasurable in and by itself, and 2) vastly increases the Creator’s experience of pleasure through the increasingly complex suffering of others. It is, after all, a matter of maximising yield… of maximising profit.

            Your counterargument here collapses also for a second and perhaps more self-evident reason. By your proposition, a maximally powerful being could not help itself but perform faithfully and unrestrainedly to its single-minded orientation, be it evil, or good. You believe in a maximally benevolent creator spirit, a spirit that by your presentation—your thinking—would not be able to stop itself from being maximally good… Yet this is not the experience of the world we see. No. This world is saturated by appalling levels of meaningless misery, which indicates the spirit you believe in is (should it exist) showing massive restraint in not acting as it must. By your equation, a perfectly benevolent being could not possibly watch the suffering which pervades Creation and do nothing. It could not watch a child being raped, or a puppy being set alight by some sick-minded individual and remain impotent, unmoved. By your equation, it could not help itself but intervene, and if it doesn’t, and yet remains maximally “good,” then it is evidence that restraint is not, as you have suggested, a mitigating factor.

            Indeed, the very concept of self-restraint—of self-harm—meets every requirement for a maximally wicked creator, for by exercising such purposeful, mindful, deliberate restraint He is in fact maximising His pleasure through increasing yield. This makes more sense to the narrative than a maximally good creator idly watching the child being raped, or the puppy being set aflame and doing nothing despite its natural compulsions for revulsion to such acts… especially those acts inflicted on the innocent.

            • cscottfowler

              You have begun to assume that our conversation is about an Omnimalevolent creator, which even in my belief system does not exist. Further, the logic that I applied to a being of unrestrained evil does not apply to the One True God, in Whom you do not believe, nor do you profess to know, and frankly cannot understand since your reading of the Bible would not be through eyes of Christian spiritual insight. With Augustine, we believe that we may understand and that is exactly how it works. And by the way, using your words, God is maximally good but that does not mean He caters in the short term to what we decide is good, nor does He override free will.

              • john zande

                Hi Scott

                Yes, we are talking about an Omnimalevolent Creator: a maximally powerful, maximally defiled being… The perfect antithesis of the god you believe in, and are defending. They are equal in every sense and every measure, except disposition.

                And I was a Christian once, Scott. Schooled by Carmelite nuns, then Augustinian priests. I’m afraid your critique of my capacities to understand Christianity does not, therefore, hold any water.

                I’m also afraid your dismissive hand-wave doesn’t excuse your (good) god from the same criteria you have applied to its opposite number, an evil god. We are dealing with maximal beings here, and you clearly stated that such a being (regardless of its inclinations) cannot help but act through on its single known impulse. Your words, not mine. Given the state of the world, filled with meaningless suffering, I have merely demonstrated that by your own logic the (good) god you believe in is clearly capable of exercising massive restraint. It’s doing so every second of every day. Therefore, by quantifiable example, restraint is equally possible for an evil god.

                The problem you encounter here is that the restraint the maximally evil god shows can actually be rationally justified. It makes perfect sense and can be demonstrated, it can be quantified, whereas the restraint shown by the good god you believe in cannot be rationally justified. In fact, the restraint it demonstrates runs contradictory to its alleged disposition.

                In light of this, you’re free to now discard your “restraint” objection, and we can move on to any new point of objection you might think of, if you want.

                Free will is also not a solution. Free will is gifted by the Omnimalevolent Creator as equally as it is gifted by the Omnibenevolent Creator, for He understands that the trinkets of His greatest amusement and nutritional satisfaction must act freely so they may suffer genuinely. Consider this: A billion unthinking automatons smashing another billion unthinking automatons upon rocks is a trifle to the brief but stunningly potent harvest savoured from a single freely acting mother who in a moment of broken moral control drowns her children, or a lover who strangles his partner when his affection was found unrequited.

                • cscottfowler

                  Your past Catholic Christianity, which you no longer embrace, is hardly to be seen as proof of your insights into Christianity. In the Christian worldview, Satan is not maximally evil in that he is merely a created being and has inherent limitations in himself, and from a restraining Creator. Further, while goodness is indeed part of God’s character, His goodness does not override His righteousness. He does not have to step in to relieve the suffering of a world that has rejected Him, though He has made a way for that world to be redeemed. Our conversation started with hypothetical assumptions about how an absolute evil entity would behave.

                  Your view that Satan is the “The perfect antithesis of the god you believe in, and are defending. They are equal in every sense and every measure, except disposition” betrays your lack of understanding of Christianity, its theology, and Biblical Christian worldview. God is not a being that is bound by His own characteristics, wanting to do one thing but being forced to do another. He is “wholly other.” Satan on the other hand, is a fallen, imperfect, created, evil being (though not created as such) and cannot be credited with any logical “perfection” of evil. You seem to view evil as the pursuit of some kind of unbridled selfish fulfillment of pleasure. Satan, however, though he may have those motives as well, is driven by his hatred of God. Hatred, left unrestrained, destroys whatever it comes into contact with, including itself.

                  • john zande

                    Hi Scott

                    Who’s talking about the Christian character, Satan? I most certainly am not, nor do I believe you were in this post. We are discussing a maximally powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient evil Creator, not some minor, secondary demigod. The being I am referring to has no name—no name that we are aware of—and is certainly not the lesser species of corrupted spirit described in numerous human fictions and traditions. This being does not share His Creation with any other comparable spirit, as it is believed your Middle Eastern God does, as exampled in Christian theology through the character, Satan.

                    Now, you seem to be tripping yourself up here over the issue of restraint, which you presented as a potentially valid objection to the existence of a maximally evil Creator. By saying “He [your god] does not have to step in to relieve the suffering of a world that has rejected Him” you are conceding this god concept/hypothesis you believe in is exercising restraint. Has a puppy (being tortured) “rejected” your god? Has a three year old girl (being violently raped) “rejected” your god? Of course not. Even if by some bizarre means they had (sins of the father, perhaps), by not acting to stop their suffering (to stop the suffering which pervades everything) you are admitting your god is showing tremendous restraint by overriding his nature. By, therefore, conceding this point you are negating your own argument that a maximally wicked Creator could not also show restraint. By your own logic, by your own admission, a maximal being can indeed show restraint. You are saying so right here.

                    You further confirm this admission by stating “God is not a being that is bound by His own characteristics” . This being the case, then the God I am referring to is equally not bound by His characteristics. In fact, as I have previously demonstrated, by exercising restraint (which enables growth and diversification) He is in fact maximising His pleasure-taking over time. The Problem of Good is not a problem at all for an Evil Creator, whereas the Problem of Evil remains a stunning problem for a benevolent Creator, and it cannot be rationally justified.

                    So, to return to the original point: it is clear your assumption (made in the post) concerning an evil god is wrong. The Omnimalevolent Creator does not, as Wes Morriston claims, have an intense dislike for anything you or I might approve of or enjoy, merely a different perspective on aesthetics, nutrition, and entertainment.

                    • cscottfowler

                      This is what happens when someone who believes in God discusses God and related subjects with someone who doesn’t. That you are willing to be so reductionistic as to discount God because His plan is not to see to it that every person avoids suffering. Of course it is a terrible thought for that a young girl is raped, or that children are being beheaded by ISIS, etc. But Free will means we can and have chosen the world we are living in. It is fallen. Another way to put the restraint issue is to say that God is in no way restrained. he is doing exactly as His plan and will dictate. However, believing in free will as I do, I do not then blame God for all that humans have done wrong. (I assume by the way that you are doing all that you can do to protect puppies and little girls since you are accusing God of not doing the same.) I do not try to rescue God by saying that the bad things that happen are unseen or unallowed by Him. But those things factor into the fall of mankind, something you don’t believe in.

                      However, what is this wierd belief you have about some un-named malevolent being? It sounds like you actually believe in some person, malevolent being, outside of any Christian frame of thought. Can you still be an atheist and do that?

                    • john zande

                      Hi Scott

                      Whether I believe in the Omnimalevolent Creator or not is completely beyond the scope of this discussion. You are discussing His existence, are you not, and I’m almost certain you don’t believe in Him. That said, when we look at the world that is, look at it teleologically, the probability of an Omnimalevolent Creator is far more likely than the probability of an Omnibenevolent Creator. This world can be explained with calculating, patient malevolence. It cannot be easily explained with benevolence.

                      Now, I’m afraid to say it, but I’m not the one being reductionist. You, Scott, made the claim that a maximally evil god could not show restraint. That was your objection. I disagreed, and to back my disagreement up I merely demonstrated that that claim was clearly incorrect because your maximally good god exhibits tremendous restraint, not acting on its primary nature: to be good. It is a “maximally good” god, isn’t it? Your claim was that a maximal god could not act against its nature. This, evidently, is a false claim.

                      And again, free will means nothing to this discussion. As I said: Free will is gifted by the Omnimalevolent Creator as equally as it is gifted by the Omnibenevolent Creator, for He understands that the trinkets of His greatest amusement and nutritional satisfaction must act freely so they may suffer genuinely.

                      So again, to return to the original point: it is clear your assumption (made in the post) concerning an evil god is wrong. It is incomplete, half-dressed, and not thoroughly thought-through.

  2. dfduncombe

    Hi Scott. I think the Euthyphro Problem is better answered from special revelation (Bible) rather than general revelation (nature). First, nature can just as easily be pictured as cruel as it can orderly. From a Darwinist perspective, which incidentally I do not share, the order of life is essentially competitive and predatory, which might lead the natural theologian to a vision of the Creator as the Divine Coliseum Master, the One who creates beings designed to challenge and conquer one another for His pleasure. However, God’s self-revelation in the Bible is one who is good. God calls Himself good, implying a definition of goodness outside of God’s own nature by which He can compare Himself. It would be a logical tautology for God to call Himself good if His own being defines goodness. Thoughts?
    Blessings, brother.
    David Duncombe

    • cscottfowler

      Hi Dave, welcome aboard. I agree with you. The truth is I think the question or “problem” itself is faulty, limiting us to only two scenarios, both of which seem to be formulated from the perspective of the nature of that which is good. However, unless one gets the God question right he or she is unable in the first place to recognize that which is good, and certainly can’t be trusted to examine it fairly.

      Point well taken concerning the naturalistic view of things. You are right. The strange blend of a natural theologian, buying into Darwinism, and from that making his assessment about the nature of God is an animal I was not considering.

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