Is God’s Goodness Always Good?

What happens when good doesn’t seem good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christians hold that God is good. We also hold that there is real evil in the world. It’s not an illusion. It actually happens. There are things in this world that are unjustifiably evil.

Let’s understand if skeptics see a problem here. I understand logically things work out, but emotionally, evil is a real problem. I’m wanting today to write about when the idea of the goodness of God is hard.

It’s easy to say God is good when things are going fine in our lives. That’s not a problem. However, as soon as we start having problems that are serious, many of us start to wonder about the goodness of God. Besides, isn’t it so obvious what should be done in this situation? Surely God who is all good and all loving and knows all would agree with what needs to be done and do what we ask. Right?

Not necessarily.

That’s when the goodness of God gets really difficult. If anything, it becomes more painful to believe in the goodness of God. You have to accept that what is happening is not necessarily good, as evil is never good, but that God is not doing anything wrong in allowing this evil to occur, whatever it is.

Do you still believe in the goodness of God?

If you don’t, you don’t really believe in the goodness of God. You believe in it only if God is doing what you think is good for you. God is subject to what you think. If you do believe in His goodness, then you believe in it regardless. That is the real test of belief in God’s goodness.

This is what happens in the book of Job. The book of Job is not about the problem of evil. You can look high and low and you will not find the answer to why good people suffer. It is also not God making a bet on a whim. It is asking why does Job serve God?

Does Job serve God because life is going good for Him and He gets all the goodies? Well, congratulations. Anyone can serve under those conditions. If you were a Christian and one of the wealthiest people if not the wealthiest in the world at the time and had a good family on top of that, it would be really easy to talk about the goodness of God.

Can you talk about it when things are rough?

What if Job lost everything? Would he still serve God? If he doesn’t, then he only serves God for the goodies. If he does, then he serves God because of who God is and it’s the right thing to do.

This is not to say Job can’t question and complain. He does. So do we. We can do that also. The Psalms are full of such cases. You are allowed to talk to God. He’s a big God. He can take it. You’re still supposed to trust Him in it.

C.S. Lewis said years ago this is the kind of Christian that puts the cause of evil in a panic. If a soldier looks up for a God who he feels abandoned by, asks why, and still obeys, then that soldier will serve through anything. That is a position we are all to take.

God’s goodness can be hard, but it is the best hope that we have. When things are rough, God is still good. He is still in charge and it is His story, not yours. Trust the author to work it out.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Book Plunge: Atheism: A Critical Analysis

What do I think of Stephen Parrish’s book published by Wipf and Stock? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Stephen Parrish has written a book that is highly philosophical, and yet at the same time, highly readable. The book is a look at the idea of atheism. Does it really stand up to scrutiny? He looks at it from a scholarly level and from a popular level both.

At the start, one gets treated to definitions. What is meant by atheism and theism? What is meant by religion and science? What is meant by the term supernatural? These are all terms that we use freely, but very rarely do we stop and ask what they mean. I am one who never uses the term supernatural thinking it is way too vague and when I get a claim such as someone talking about the evils of religion, I ask for a definition of religion.

He also deals with popular objections. Is atheism merely a lack of belief in God? What about the idea that someone is an atheist to many other gods out there. The one who identifies as an atheist just goes one god further. Sure, these are all piddly weak on the surface and the old atheists would have been embarrassed to see such arguments, but they are out there today.

Parrish’s work that presents problem areas mainly for atheism come in three categories and these can be broken down further. The first is the origin of the universe. This is an interesting topic in itself, but I am pleased to see that he goes even further and asks not only how the universe came into being but rather how does it continue in being. It’s not enough to ask why it came in the first place. Knowing how it remains here is something great to ask too.

The second area is the problem of the mind. How is it that the mind works? What is the explanation of consciousness? There are a plethora of different theories out there. Parrish works to explain the flaws in the other theories and gives a case for why theism has better explanatory power.

The last is ethics and morality. There is a subsection here on beauty as well. How is it that we live in a universe where there seem to be principles of good and evil that most people consider objective, binding, and authoritative? Could they all really be subjective?

An atheist reading this could think, “Ah. Those are issues, but surely he should discuss the issue that’s problematic for theists. The problem of evil.” He should and he does. He looks at this and a number of defenses and theodicies and then turns and says that on his argument, the problem of evil is more of a problem for the atheist than the theist.

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t spell these kinds of thoughts out even more. There’s a simple reason for that. You need to go and get the book yourself. I can’t help but think of the quote of C.S. Lewis.

“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — “Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

A man wishing to remain in his atheism should also realize that this book is a trap as well. While I am far more Thomist than Parrish is in my philosophy, there is far more that I agree with than I would disagree with. Anyone who is a critical atheist needs to get this for a critical analysis of that view.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Self-Contradictory Moral Relativists

How do moral relativists contradict themselves? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

This is not a blog against moral relativism so much as against moral relativists. I will in this blog accept that hypothetically moral relativism could be true. It could be true that there is nothing good or evil but thinking makes it so. It could be that good and evil are just subejctive ideas we have with no real grounding in reality.

I think that’s all nonsense, but I’m not arguing against that here.

What I am arguing against is the position of many people who espouse moral relativism. What I’m discussing happens on a regular basis and they never seem to see the contradiction. The people I know that espouse moral relativism the most often turn and post about all the evil things they think God does or God allows.

What will happen is you’ll have a thread on Facebook or some place like that and you will see someone say that the God of the Old Testament is an evil villain for putting people to death. Okay. They’re allowed to have that opinion. That’s a separate piece to argue against, but that is not the point here. Then in the replies to their claim, they will go and espouse moral relativism and say that there is no good or evil.

So let’s make this clear.

If you are a moral relativist, it is inconsistent to speak about something being good or evil and at the same time say that there is no good or evil. What you’re really saying ultimately is that God doesn’t exist because He does things you don’t like. In other words, the only God you’ll agree exists is one that agrees entirely with you. I would hope most of us would realize that if God exists, odds are we have a lot of claims wrong about reality and He knows better.

Now you could hypothetically say that if moral realism is true, then Christianity has a problem with the problem of evil. I don’t think we do, but at least you’re being consistent then and saying “On your view of moral realism, this is a problem.” Despite that, I wonder how it is that you can recognize the evil that you complain about anyway.

Let’s also be clear on something else. When we say that God is needed to know what the good is, that does not mean you need explicit knowledge of God in some way to know what goodness is. Goodness is part of general revelation and is there for everyone to know about. You need God to ground the good, but you do not need God to know the good.

If you want to be a moral relativist, that is your choice, but please do not be inconsistent and talk about the problem of evil or the evil things God does or anything like that. At the same time, be consistent and say that there is nothing truly good either. Good luck also living that worldview consistently. I don’t think it’s possible and every time I see a moral relativist complain about evil, I take it as further confirmation that it’s not tenable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Moral Ontology vs Moral Epistemology

What is the difference between how you come to know morality and the reality of morality? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the main arguments used for God is the moral argument. This is the idea that we need God to explain objective morality. While I hold to this, I prefer to speak of the argument from goodness. Still, there is a common misconception when it comes to this.

The theist will tell someone that they need to be able to explain objective morality. The skeptic will often respond that they can know these moral truths by some way such as empathy. This will then lead to laughter on the part of the skeptic saying you don’t need to believe in God to know moral truths.

The skeptic is absolutely right. In order to know moral truths, you don’t need to know that God exists. Since you don’t need to know God exists to know moral truths, then obviously God is not needed for moral truths. Right?

If a skeptic thinks this, this is a common misconception of the argument. This is not about how we know moral truths. This is about how those moral truths exist. We can all for the most part agree that it’s wrong to torture babies for fun. What we want to ask is how that truth itself came to be.

In a universe that is the result of blind chaotic events with no guidance behind them whatsoever, how is it that a moral truth relating specifically to human beings exists? Now as a Thomist, I would more ask how goodness itself exists since this is not a property of something that can be measured by physical and/or scientific means, but let’s stick to moral truths. Do we create the moral truths or do we discover them?

If we create moral truths, then they can be whatever we want them to be. We can say that it’s a supposed truth that it’s wrong to torture babies for fun, but then we can switch that and say that on Tuesdays between 4-5 PM in our time zones, it’s okay then. This would also really do away with objective morality which would mean there’s nothing to explain.

We don’t do this with scientific truths. It’s not that Isaac Newton created gravity. He discovered a scientific truth that was already there. In the same way, with morality, we discover truths that are already there. Before we humans arrived on the scene, there was a moral truth about babies being tortured for fun that was in existence.

And this is the question of ontology, the study of being. Epistemology, how we know, deals with how we discover the truths. The moral argument is not about how we discover the truths. There could be perfectly naturalistic ways of knowing moral truths just like there are for mathematical or scientific truths or other kinds of truths. What needs to be explained is how it is that those truths exist.

Feel free to explain how it is that you think we know these truths. There could be multiple ways or one way and that’s a fascinating discussion, but skeptics of theism need to stop confusing how we know with that there is a truth to know. It’s a fundamental mistake in the moral argument.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 11/25/2017: Brett Kunkle

What’s coming up? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

First off, your prayers are appreciated today. Earlier this morning, we took our little cat Shiro to the vet. He has some dental problems and likely will have one tooth extracted. We hope that all of his issues right now are dental. That’s all I think it is as well as other people familiar with cats we’ve talked to, but Allie is scared about it. We pick him up this afternoon.

Now on to the information about the show. I know the date is for tomorrow, but we’re actually going to be recording this on Wednesday so it could be a little bit longer before you get to hear it. Still, the content will be the same.

Getting apologetics out has always been important and today, it’s especially important to get it out to the young. Our youth need apologetics more than ever and the good news is, it’s out there more than ever. There are several great programs out there that are helping to introduce Christian apologetics to youth.

Someone told me about one of these organizations called Maven. It’s run by my guest this time. Maven focuses on the youth and gives them three of Mortimer Adler’s six great ideas. The three it works on are truth, goodness, and beauty.

Why do we need these? Because the opposite messages are being given to our youth every day. If we don’t give them a message, they’ll only receive one message and it won’t be the right one. Maven focuses on reaching the youth so they can be prepared to engage with the culture. The person behind it is my guest, Brett Kunkle.

So who is he?

According to his bio:

Brett Kunkle is the founder and president of MAVEN (www.maventruth.com), a movement to equip the next generation know truth, pursue goodness and create beauty. He has more than 25 years of experience working with junior high, high school, and college students. Brett has developed a groundbreaking approach to mission trips, creating a one-of-a-kind experience that immerses participants in real-life engagement in apologetics, theology, worldview and evangelism in Berkeley, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition, Brett is a Teaching Fellow at the Impact 360 Institute.  He was an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students and co-authored A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. He received his Masters in philosophy of religion and ethics from Talbot School of Theology. Brett lives with his wife and kids in Southern California.

I look forward to talking to Brett about these topics. As readers of this blog and listeners of my podcast know, I am quite passionate about making sure that the youth have apologetics. Please be watching your podcast feed for this upcoming episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. If you haven’t yet also, please go on iTunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. It means a lot to me to see them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Why God Is Not The Definition

If we say that God’s nature is good or love, what do we mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday on Facebook, I saw a friend of mine post a poem that was saying what love is not, and for the most part, I agreed with it. It ended with the poet saying that God’s nature is love. If you want to know what love is, look to God. That is where I begin to have disagreements.

If you wanted to say that God is the one who acts out what love is, then that is one thing, but too often when we have conversations about goodness and love, we just refer to God’s nature. What is the good? The good is God’s nature. I agree that God’s nature is to be good, but there is a problem with this approach.

You see, when we speak of this, first off, we normally mean only moral goodness, but there are other types of goodness. If my wife fixes a pizza for us for dinner and I say “My, this is a good pizza.” I am not saying anything about morality there. I am saying something about the quality of the pizza. If I read a book, I can say that it is a good book, but I am not saying it is a moral book.

If I am someone who does not know what good is, how does pointing me to God tell me what it is? What am I to think of that? This is a godlike book? This is a godlike pizza? If I do not know the nature of God, how am I going to know the nature of goodness by pointing to something that I don’t know?

Many atheists also tie this in with the Euthyphro dilemma. The Liconas and Habermases regularly get together for Labor Day, so while over there yesterday, Gary and I watched Mike debate Larry Shapiro and it was quite frankly a massacre. Shapiro just did not know the subject matter at hand well enough.

In the talk, he presented the dilemma. Is something good because God says it is or does God say it is good because it is good? He said that no one had ever answered this question. Of course, this problem could be turned back onto whatever Shapiro thinks is good. Does society say something is good because it is, or is something good because society says it is?

Sadly, Shapiro doesn’t realize that Plato’s own student Aristotle answered the dilemma. He did it in a simple way. He defined goodness. That’s what we need to do. Aristotle started it simply by saying the good is that at which all things aim. There’s much more to it, but it is a definition.

That is the proper way to answer the dilemma also. Tell what love is. Tell what goodness is. Pointing to God does nothing to those who don’t know God and even if you do, it doesn’t help. After all, how does knowing God’s nature tell you what is meant by a good pizza?

We should all strive to know God’s nature, but let’s also make sure we’re conveying an accurate message. While I agree goodness and love can’t exist without God, one doesn’t need to know God to know what those are. We find out what they are and then that helps us understand God better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Could God Be Evil?

How do we know the ultimate is really good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, someone contacted me wanting to look at a claim about gnostic gods including the idea that YHWH is really the evil god of the Old Testament. This was a popular idea at the start when Christianity was on the rise. As I thought about it, I do plan on writing more about that tomorrow, but I think it’s important to start by going to our time for some good metaphysics. Philosopher Stephen Law has what he calls the Evil God Challenge.

It’s interesting to point out that the Evil God Challenge doesn’t rebut theism. Theism would still be true. The question to ask is how do you know that this ultimate being isn’t evil? Have you just assumed that He is good?

For some philosophical schools, this could be a problem. For someone who comes from a Thomist tradition, it is not. Often times many people have this idea about goodness that God is the standard of goodness and that the good is whatever corresponds to the nature of God or His will. The problem is if you don’t know what goodness itself is, then you’re just replacing an unknown with another unknown.

It also doesn’t make much sense. “This is a good pizza.” What does that mean? This is a pizza that matches God’s nature or will? What about a good book or action? The idea just doesn’t seem to fit.

If you’re a Thomist, you get your idea of goodness from Aristotle. The good is that at which all things aim. (By the way, this is also something that can be said back to the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s amazing that that dilemma was answered just a generation after Plato and so many skeptics still throw it out like nothing has been said about it.) Aquinas would take this a step further and say that all things aim for perfection. They aim to be. This is called actualization.

You see, for Aquinas, all created things have potential and actuality. Potential is some capacity for change. Actuality is when they do change and describes how they are now. I am sitting as I write this. I have the potential to stand. If I stand, I actualize that potential.

For Aquinas then, goodness is being. Insofar as something is, it is good. We are good when we act according to the nature God meant for us to have. That is why an evil act is considered inhuman. It is the misuse of good that results in evil. This would apply even to the devil for Aquinas. He has being, intelligence, and will. These are good things. The devil is said to be evil, and rightly so, because of how he uses them.

So what about God? God is being without limits. He describes Himself as “I AM.” If you want to know what it means to be, you look at God. He has no potential for change. He is pure being. Everything else is dependent on Him. Even an eternal universe would be dependent on Him.

If you want to know how this makes sense, picture how it would be if you had an eternal existence. Now you also have an eternal existence in front of a mirror that is eternally existence. You have been living for all eternity in front of this eternal mirror. Does the image in the mirror exist eternally because of you or would it exist there if you moved away?

This also means that ultimately, God is good since He doesn’t possess any lacking in His nature. If He does, then He is not God and whatever does possess that is God. The bottom line is that when you reach the end of the chain of being, well you find God right there.

This is why the Evil God Challenge doesn’t make much sense to me. I’ve only given a brief snapshot of this of course. For those interested in more, I recommend reading a more sophisticated Thomist like Edward Feser’s Aquinas.

Tomorrow, we’ll see how this works with Gnosticism.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Good Without God

What do I think of Greg Epstein’s book published by Harper Collins? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Epstein’s book Good Without God is an odd read. It’s written by an atheist no doubt, but it’s not the same shrill angry rant against religion that you encounter. Epstein does strike me as someone I could have a reasonable conversation with, even though at times Epstein does make many of the same mistakes about religion.

Consider how he says that religious people like to say that Hitler was an atheist to avoid talking about the Crusades and the Inquisition. Hitler wasn’t an atheist, but there’s no doubt that Stalin, Mao, and Pol-Pot were. I also think we should talk about the Crusades and Inquisition. He also points out that the Nazi belt buckles had “God with us” written on them.

Which is what they’d had long before. It was a motto that was made and not made specifically for the military. It just carried over to the Nazis. By this standard, all of our wars have to be specifically religious wars because we have “In God We Trust” written on our money. (Wait. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. A lot of atheists might run with that.)

Epstein’s book surprisingly is a lot of self-help for atheists and thinking about many different issues. He does at least think that atheists shouldn’t be seeking to destroy religion. He does think some have been too ardent in their war on religion. Still, as you read the book, you get the impression that a lot of atheists are trying hard on so many issues that don’t make sense. Can you speak of being fortunate in anything for instance? What happens when you want to thank someone and there’s no one to thank?

Epstein also doesn’t really answer the main question. What does it mean to be good? At one point, he says that there is a knockout blow to theism on this. It’s the Euthyphro dilemma from Plato. If you don’t know this, it’s where Socrates questions Euthyphro on goodness and says “Is something good because the gods will it, or do the gods will it because it is good?”

This is supposed to be a killer to the moral argument because how is it known what is good? Just replace gods with God. Now some might say “God’s nature is the good.” I have just as much a problem with that. The problem is the same. It still doesn’t tell us what the good is. “The good is God’s nature.” Okay. How does that fit?

The sad thing is that this question was answered not too long after Plato. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics wrote about what goodness is and said that the good is that at which all things aim. Thus, he answered this by giving a definition of goodness. He spent some time fleshing that out of course, but he did answer the question. Unfortunately, atheists are a little over 2,000 years behind the times.

In fact, Epstein after this seems to take an approach of moral relativism, but if there is no truth to a moral issue, how can you have a debate over which view is true? You’re just discussing preferences. How can anyone even be good without God if good itself has no real meaning?

Now Epstein later on, does try to answer this question more by saying that things are only good in relation to human beings. In other words, if we weren’t here, there wouldn’t be anything good. I dare say this strikes me as a bizarre position. Either we discover goodness in these things and they are good, or goodness is an idea we throw onto them but they don’t essentially possess.

At this, we could just as well throw the Euthyphro dilemma back at Epstein and have him answer it. Is something good because of how it relates to us, or does it relate to us the way it does because it is good? Without a proper foundation for goodness, Epstein will be caught in his own dilemma. He could escape by postulating an objective goodness beyond human beings, but then he has a problem with what this will be ground in.

What this means is that in the long run, Epstein has written a book to address a question and never really addressed it accurately himself. Not only that, we could just as well ask who is asking this question? Who is the theist out there making a claim that you can’t be good without believing in God? Perhaps there are a few laypeople making this claim, but most of the scholars and academics in the field would never make such a claim.

Epstein’s book can be an interesting read to see just how it is a lot of non-religious people think, but it’s still desperately lacking. In fact, if anything, Epstein’s book shows me even more that goodness makes no sense without God. Hopefully Epstein will see that same way soon.

In Christ,
Nick Peters