07 December 2016

God does not have morally justifiable reasons

Over the next few posts, I'd like to revisit some small parts of "An Atheist and a Christian Walk into a Bar" that were tangential to the central topics but nonetheless inspired me to reflect on them. 

For this post, I'd like to examine the refrain that God has morally sufficient reasons for doing... well, lots of things that seem to run counter to the idea of the universe being created, with humans in mind, by a benevolent deity—the indifference of nature to suffering, the hostility of the universe, etc.

Incidentally, this post was partly inspired by the following tweet exchange between the authors of that aforementioned book (click to enlargify):

Schieber is arguing that God is responsible for the suffering in the world, because he could have made a sinless world with free will—like we're presumably being promised in Heaven—but chose not to. Rauser's response is that the atheist has to show that God does not have morally sufficient reasons for going about things the way he apparently has.

I'll take that challenge.

Theists can't have their cake and eat it too, here; if we are going to define a consistent moral ontology on theism, we can't arbitrarily toss it aside when it appears that the purported architect of it all doesn't like to play by the rules as we have come to understand them. If the theist wants to claim that God is privy to rules we are not which allow Him to arbitrarily violate what we understand to be the basic concepts of that moral ontology, then they've only established that the theistic moral ontology is fundamental ineffable and thus meaningless.

Imagine Joe has created a board game and has invited some friends to his house to play it. Joe spends ten minutes going over the rules, and everyone in the group agrees to play by them. A ways into the game, the players begin getting frustrated because sometimes Joe appears to randomly disqualify or penalize players. Players are penalized or disqualified even when they are carefully playing by the rules. When the players complain that the game's rules appear random, Joe simply tells them it will all become clear in the end, after the game is over. Everyone gets up and leaves, because Joe is being a dick—it's impossible to play a game when, from the players' vantage point, the architect of the game can arbitrarily change or violate the rules.

In other words, it's impossible to claim that God has 'morally sufficient reasons' without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our entire understanding of moral ontology—particularly the theistic type, which, like a Sith, deals in absolutes—depends on us being able to clearly and consistently describe what constitutes a moral good, a crime of omission, or a crime of commission. One of the few things that most any moral philosopher could agree upon is that if one has the capacity to prevent or alleviate suffering, and doing so presents no risk of harm or even inconvenience to oneself whatsoever, then preventing or alleviating that suffering is precisely what one is morally obligated to do. If we could appeal to some inexplicable or ineffable 'rule' which would allow us to be justified in looking the other way, we'd be doing nothing more than showing that the entire ontology was a facade.

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