Today in my newsfeed, I came across and article that asked a very interesting question: “Does moral obligation derive from God’s command?” This is a very interesting question, even for an atheist such as myself because obviously it influences the behavior of many people in this world.
I was looking forward to the discussion on this because it was published on the Oxford University Publications blog and features the writing of a Yale theologian. I was looking forward to a complex discussion of the issue, but what I found instead was drivel. More perverted theist logic.
Here is the answer given, “If god exists, you know he must be wonderful and you should do whatever he says. And he does exist, so there.” Don’t believe me, here is the quote:
There is a response to this objection. We can say that we know the principle that if God exists, God is to be loved to be true ‘from its terms’. This is how Duns Scotus puts the point (Ordinatio IV, dist. 17). We know the principle to be true because we know that if God exists, God is supremely good, and what is supremely good is to be loved.
Where I come from (not quite Yale, but apparently more connected to the real world) this is known as circular reasoning. Assume your conclusion and then plug it back in as the starting point.
Ignoring for the moment the difficulty of proving the existence of any god, and assuming some god exists, what is the evidence that he is “supremely good”? We have no such evidence, this is simply an assumption by Dr. Hare that god conforms to his Western Christian notion of “god.”
But there is nothing logically that says that god has to be a benevolent creature at all. There have been quite a few religious systems where god is not seen as benevolent in any way.
Marcion felt that the god of the old testament was a lower, wrathful and vengeful god who was an underling to the higher, all-forgiving god who sent Jesus. But even this “higher god” cannot be considered “all benevolent” as he allowed Yahweh to run around spreading evil. Hmmm, much like our current god who can’t seem to control Satan, even though that god is all powerful and all benevolent.
Obviously, if god is like Yahweh was to Marcion, we should, in fact, ignore his moral advice. Remember that for Hare, the old testament god is part and parcel to “god.” Recall that in the book of Job, god allowed a good man to be put through hell and back just to win a bet. Would such a god issue illegitimate “moral commands” just to test us? I would have to think he would.
In a more modern context, Jim Holt in this wonderful TED talk, thinks that if a deity does exist, the evidence points to one that is 80% effective and 80% malevolent. Again, obviously the commands of such a deity should be rightly ignored.
I would agree with Hare that if god had all the characteristics ascribed to him (all knowing, all powerful, etc.) and was in fact supremely good, it would be true that his dictates would have to be, by definition, good and therefore moral. Even if they seemed counterproductive in the short run, he must know their ultimate outcome and it must be good.
Unfortunately, we have no proof whatsoever that god in fact has those characteristics. Hare (like most theists) simply assumes that god must conform to his preconceived idea.
Christians especially like to throw around phrases like “the perfection of nature” which to them “prove” that god is all powerful and all loving. But anyone with eyes can plainly see that the universe, and Earth especially, is not filled with benevolence and beauty. It has some of that, sure, but also much that is ugly and violent.
I can see no evidence for a supremely loving god whose dictates are worthy of blindly being followed. Hare has simply assumed one for his own reasons, and decided that blind allegiance is what that god wants.
Both are highly dubious assertions, but apparently are what pass for logic in the theology department at Yale.
What do you think?