Why Attacks on God’s Moral Goodness are Pointless

It is popular among atheists to use the existence of evil to disprove the existence of God. Lately, they have gone so far as to look at the attacks against the Canaanites to show that God is genocidal and not good. While I think we should explain both why evil exists in light of a good God and why He ordered the deaths of the Canaanites, I think that the atheistic arguments are ultimately pointless.

The arguments implicitly assumes that we are on equal footing with God when it comes to understanding justice and moral goodness. That is, we see God do x or allow x and assume that we can evaluate just as well (if not better) than God on if He should have done or allowed x to occur.

For instance, we look at the tsunami of Indonesia and ask, “If God is all good, why would He allow this to occur?” Or we can use Dawkins’ favorite chew toy and say, “If God is so good, why did He order innocents to die in the attacks on the Canaanites?”

But such an argument puts God’s goodness in a vacuum. It ignores that God is perfect in knowledge, meaning He knows what is ultimately good and what is ultimately just. Therefore, we must assume that any action He commits is perfectly good and perfectly just and whenever that action seems immoral or unjust to us, the flaw is in our understanding and not in God.

In fact, for the atheist to avoid this argument he must disprove that God is all-knowing, but to do so would mean that God is not really God (for by definition, if we accept Anselm’s argument, God must be all-knowing). That is to say, the atheist would first have to prove God doesn’t exist.

The atheist is left with two choices:

1) Prove God doesn’t exist, in which case attacking His goodness becomes superfluous (because He doesn’t exist)

2) If they can’t prove that God doesn’t exist (that is, that He isn’t all-knowing), then they can’t disprove His existence by pointing to supposed immoral actions

This is not an attempt at a cop out, but merely looking at the issue logically. If we take the whole of God into view when critiquing His actions, then we cannot critique His actions because we are lesser than Him and imperfect in our understanding of moral goodness and justice. Thus, we must prove that He is not all-knowing, that is, that He doesn’t exist before we can critique His moral actions. But if He doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to critique His moral actions.

While this doesn’t do away with the study of theodicy (as understanding why a good God allows evil is important), it does take away quite a bit of venom from the atheist’s charge against God.

11 thoughts on “Why Attacks on God’s Moral Goodness are Pointless

  1. to say we can’t judge the morality of god, is in its self to be without morals. What you are saying is that because he is god , all he does is just. In the 10 comandments it says “thal shall not kill”. but, if god orders you to kill it’s ok.
    if god kills its ok. It seems like god has a do as I say, not as I do mentality.
    as far as the Killing of the caanites, is it not possible that the hebrews slaughered them on thier own accord, an justified it by saying that god told them to do it.

    1. It’s because if we take the whole of God into being, we understand that it’s not a, “Do as I say, not as I do” scenario, but instead that He has a better understanding of what it means to “do not murder.” He has a better grasp on what is and is not moral and what is and is not just. In order to prove God is not moral, we must first prove that He is not all-knowing, but if we were to prove He is not all-knowing, then we would prove that He doesn’t exist.

      As for the Canaanites, it’s possible that the Hebrews acted on their own accord, but not probable.

    1. Nemo, respond with substance or your comments will be banned. You need to prove my argument is wrong. Simply saying, “It’s a church answer” does not suffice.

      I could say that your response is typical of an ignoramus who hasn’t studied philosophy, theology, Scripture, or logic, but that response wouldn’t prove how you’re wrong. Likewise, saying my response is typical of someone who goes to church doesn’t prove my argument wrong.

      I’ve tolerated your comments enough. Respond with substance or you’ll be banned.

    2. Whether or not it is a “typical church going christian answer” is irrelevant to the truth of the answer.

      What Joel is saying is that if God exists, He is by definition morally perfect, moral goodness and perfection are part of God’s essence, which is unchangeable. Therefore, if God exists it is impossible for created beings (you and I) to call into question His actions with an accusation of immorality because its simply impossible that He would have committed some sort of immoral act in the first place.

      Joel’s point is that one will have an infinitely easier time showing the non-existence of God rather than showing how God is immoral because to even talk about God is to assume multiple things about God, which happens to include moral perfection. This concept of God eliminates any possibility of immoral action on the part of God.

  2. You do realize that the same arguments you make for the morality of God are used by people who believe Hitler to be God?

    I think one of the biggest problems with the “God can do no wrong” doctrine is that anything becomes permissible. I don’t believe that drowning infants or killing entire cities full of people could ever be permissible. I find any deviation from that belief disturbing.

    I would point out that you contradict yourself in the title of this post by calling God good. If we cannot judge God and call him evil, then we can also not call God good.

    One disastrous implication of the belief in “God can do wrong” is that anything could be justified by believing that God wants you to do something. Since God can do no wrong, if you believe that God wants you to murder someone, then it’s perfectly fine to do it. Since God can do no wrong, then it would be okay for you to do anything if you believed that God wanted you to do it.

    1. None of what you said proves what I said wrong. Instead, you point to unintended consequences and false comparisons. That doesn’t prove any of what I said to be wrong.

      Secondly, how does anything become permissible? We’re not God, therefore we can’t establish any standard we want. We must follow the standard God has laid forth, but He has a better understanding of what is good. Therefore, whenever He does something that seems morally curious to us, or morally wrong, we must keep in mind that He perfectly understand what is and is not good while we do not.

      And certainly if we cannot say God is not evil we can still say He is good. Evil is the absence of good, therefore we can say He is not evil, but good. Good is a part of His essence. In order for Him to be God, by definition He must be “all good.” If He is not all good, then He is not God. It’s a presupposition.

      If you want to argue for unintended consequences, then I can easily turn to atheism and say that because it doesn’t have an absolute foundation for morality I can do whatever I want. But what does this accomplish?

  3. The attacks on God’s morality is not pointless, if you consider that the atheist position is that God is created by the human mind and not vice versa. Also, that the Bible is a book of myths and stories, not a sacred divinely revealed book. In order to support your own position, you have to prove that God is a real entity that revealed itself in the Bible, and it is not just a human creation. Thus, the burden of proof is on your shoulders.
    Also, I have to ask – why, by definition, God must be all good and if he is not all good, then He is not God?

    1. Lucian,

      You would first have to prove that God is a figment of the mind. Once this is proven, showing that God is evil is superfluous. If you cannot prove that He is a figment of the mind, then what God does is irrelevant to whether or not he exists. You’ve actually proven my point; if God is a product of the human mind, then the stories about him are irrelevant. If he actually exists, then the attacks on his moral goodness are irrelevant.

      God must be the greatest possible being, otherwise he cannot be God by definition. This would include knowledge of justice and ability to act on justice.

      1. You didn’t get my point. The maximum that you may prove philosophically is the deist position (not necessarily, though). This position does not say anything about God. It may well be an indifferent God. It does not say anything about the Bible being divine revelation either.
        When a book is offered to you, if you know nothing about it, the default position is that the book is written by the humans, and made by the human mind. Any other affirmation about that book must be proven. If you lack evidence to prove any position that is non-default, there is no reason to believe in the truthfulness of your statement. The only reasonable statement, if you cannot prove that the Bible is the revealed word of God, is that the Bible is a book just like any other book – simply a product of the human mind. I do not need to prove that the Bible is not revealed by God. It is not possible to prove a negative, unless someone can give a proof of the positive first. The burden of proof is with you. I think this is a very simple philosophical issue.
        Also, I find your opinion that “if God is a product of the human mind, then the stories about him are irrelevant” quite strange. The idea of God obviously has cultural relevance, even if the Bible would be a book written by humans. A lot of people consider it divinely inspired and live by it, and some would even kill for what they consider to be the truth of it.
        There is a similar problem with the statement in the second paragraph as well. The idea of justice is a human idea. Considering that God may be the greatest thing possible, it does not follow that He is good and just. We, humans, may like him to be that way, and consider that a perfect God should be just. He may care less about these issues (if He exists, of course)

      2. All you’re doing is proving that theodicy is a problem for support of the Christian God – it does not, however, say anything about the EXISTENCE of God. That is the point I have been making that you’re missing.

        All you’re doing is offering different platitudes and canned arguments without actually dealing with what I’m saying. I’m not saying you need to prove the Bible isn’t infallible or anything of that sort. That wasn’t made in my argument or any of my responses. I’m saying that theodicy doesn’t disprove God. Yes, such a view may only leave us with a basic view of God, but this still leaves the Christian in a superior position than an atheist; at least we believe in someone who exists (although our view of him might be wrong) instead of outright denying his existence.

        Let me try to simplify this:

        Theodicy arguments, even ones from the Bible, do not disprove the existence of God (or disprove the God of the Bible or prove he is not good). There are two reasons for this:

        1) Philosophically – all we have to do is say that God is a maximal being (and logically this follows) and therefore he understands justice more than we understand justice. Thus, if he says an action is just, then we are not qualified to question him.

        2) Theologically – We must take the God of the bible as a whole. If you’re going to try to prove that God is inconsistent with something, then you need to take him as a whole instead of focusing on parts. Once you do that, we are presented with the Bible saying that God is perfect in knowledge and in goodness. If both are true, then we are unqualified to question him. Thus, the atheist must disprove the system rather than attempt to defeat the system using the system.

        If God doesn’t exist, then pointing to his supposed evil actions is superfluous. Prove he doesn’t exist (which can be done by proving naturalism via an infinite regress of material events) and there’s no need to rely on theodicy.

        I don’t know how I can explain this any better.

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