Thursday, December 30, 2010

Debunking the Moral Argument (Part 2 of 2): The Counter-Moral Argument

Thought Experiment
I have thus far justified that objective morality can exist without invoking a god.  Now I shall go on to prove that if a god does exist, that god cannot be the root of any objective morality.  I discovered this with a thought experiment, and I shall walk you through the same thought experiment to illustrate my point.    

First, let us define god as a being which is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and maximally good.  Again, I have granted the goodness of the Christian god only for the purpose of this argument—it is not my actual position that this god is a good god.  However, I shall be referring to the Christian god as maximally good for the rest of this post.  

The above definition is used by many of my religious friends, and I am sure no one will object to it.  Since omnipotence would be impossible without omnipresence and omniscience, we can simplify the definition to a being that is all-powerful and maximally good. 

Now, for this experiment I shall pose a question:  Would it be possible for a being to have omnipotence but not be maximally good?  I am not asking if it would be possible for the God of Abraham to be perceived as evil.  What I am asking is this:  Are the characteristics of omnipotence and maximum goodness as necessarily tied together as omnipotence is with omnipresence/omniscience?  Is god maximally good because he is all-powerful or is god maximally good and all powerful?  Essentially, could god be bad or is he bound to be good? 

One of two answers must be given to the first question (would it be possible for a being to have omnipotence but not be maximally good?).   Either yes, it would be possible for a being to be ultimately powerful and not ultimately good, or no, it a being that is ultimately powerful must be ultimately good.

Let us first examine what an answer no entails.  If it is true that any ultimately powerful being is also ultimately good, then the two qualities are inherently tied.  Although they have different definitions, we can proceed as if they were synonymous.  Ultimate power is ultimate goodness.  It is therefore logical to conclude that power is goodness by simply dropping the inoperative.  Essentially, any theist who would answer no to this question is accepting the principle of ‘might makes right’.  In any given situation, the person in power is also the person in the right. 

I would not expect anyone to argue the point that ‘might makes right’ is a tenable position.  It runs counter to what all Christian ethicists with whom I am familiar teach.  I may be proven wrong, but I do not believe it is the Christian position that goodness comes from power, so I will leave it as an assertion here that ‘might makes right’ is an unacceptable position for the theist.  However, if you would like me to justify this assertion, I would be happy to do so in the comments section, just ask.  

Since an answer of ‘no’ leads the theist to an untenable conclusion, he or she must answer yes to my question:   A being that is all powerful could also be malevolent.  However, the theist will hasten to add that the god of Christianity chooses to be benevolent.  It is not required of the Christian god to be good, but he is good nonetheless. 

This view would appear to only magnify the goodness of god (although a theologian may note that god is beyond any temptation to do evil.)  However, this position has the effect of negating the argument that moral objectivity is derived from god. 

If God chooses to be good and not evil, then that choice must be based upon an external, abstract concept of right and wrong.  We can imagine a ‘scale of goodness’ that god chooses to sit at the top of.  It is by this ‘scale of goodness’ that we can analyze god’s goodness or badness and discover that he is maximally good.  Because the behaviors that would be the most conducive to the well-being of other self-aware beings are all exhibited by god—behaviors like unconditional love, a respect for free will, a desire for us to be fulfilled by entering his kingdom—we can conclude that the Christian god is a maximally good god. 

However, this ‘scale of goodness’ (or however else you might like to imagine it—it is an abstract concept, not a physical entity.  Sam Harris uses a landscape with peaks and valleys to illustrate a similar point) must, by necessity, exist outside of god.   The scale must be applied to god so it cannot be part of god, otherwise the reasoning would be circular and we must answer no to the previously stated question instead of yes. 

Therefore, if God could be bad, and is not bad, morality cannot come from God.  An objective morality must exist independently of God in order for moral objectivity to be true and ‘might makes right’ to be false. 

The Counter-Moral Argument

The thought experiment I have outlined above can be reduced to a 2-premise argument, which I have written out below.  I am christening this the “Counter Moral Argument.”  Please, feel free to use this argument in any YouTube videos, blogs, or other media that you wish.  I have developed it to be shared and used by other polemic atheists.  However, if you do use it, I will just ask that you notify me and site my name (Ben Doublett) and this blog as your source.  The argument is constructed as follows: 

Premise 1:  An all-powerful being must be capable of malevolence, whether or not that being chooses to be malevolent.
Premise2:  An objective morality must exist outside of that being, by which it can be determined whether the being is a benevolent god or a malevolent god. 
Conclusion:  Objective moral values can exist in an atheistic or theistic world. 

If you would like me to clarify anything, please leave a comment below.  Hopefully, this piece has given you some ammunition to use against any theist or apologist who will attempt to argue for the existence of a god based upon the Moral Argument.  Any atheist engaged in debate with a theist should rejoice upon hearing the Moral Argument and respond with the simple question “could God be bad?”

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