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Why Goodness Depends on God

Mother Teresa

One of the most common observations made by opponents of religion is that we don't need God in order to have a coherent and integral morality. Atheists and agnostics are extremely sensitive to the charge that the rejection of God will conduce automatically to moral chaos. Consequently, they argue that a robust sense of ethics can be grounded in the consensus of the human community over time or in the intuitions and sensibilities of decent people.

​What I would like to do is lay out, in very brief compass, the Catholic understanding of the relationship between morality and the existence of God and to show, thereby, why it is indispensably important for a society that wishes to maintain its moral integrity to maintain, at the same time, a vibrant belief in God.

​Why do we do the things that we do? What motivates us ethically? Right now, I am typing words on my keyboard. Why am I doing that? Well, I want to finish my weekly column. Why do I want to do that? I want to communicate the truth as I see it to an audience who might benefit from it. Why would I want that? Well, I'm convinced that the truth is good in itself. Do you see what we've uncovered by this simple exercise? By searching out the motivation for the act of typing words, we have come to a basic or fundamental good, a value that is worthwhile for its own sake. My acts of typing, writing, and communicating are subordinate, finally, to the intrinsic value of the truth. Take another example.

Just before composing that last sentence, I took a swig of water from a plastic bottle on my desk. Why did I do that? Well, I was thirsty and wanted to slake my thirst. But why did I want to do that? Hydrating my system is healthy. Why is health important? Because it sustains my life. Why is life worth pursuing? Well, because life is good in itself. Once more, this analysis of desire has revealed a basic or irreducible good. Catholic moral philosophy recognizes, besides truth and life, other basic values, including friendship, justice, and beauty, and it sees them as the structuring elements of the moral life.

​When Pope Benedict XVI complained about a "dictatorship of relativism" and when Catholic philosophers worry over the triumph of the subjective in our culture, they are expressing their concerns that these irreducible values have been forgotten or occluded. In her great meditations on the sovereignty of the good, the Irish philosopher Iris Murdoch strenuously insists that the authentic good legitimately imposes itself on the human will and is not a creation of that will. At the limit, contemporary subjectivism apotheosizes the will so that it becomes the source of value, but this puffing up of our freedom is actually ruinous, for it prevents the appropriation of the objective values that will truly benefit us.

This "basic goods" theory also grounds the keen Catholic sense that there are certain acts which are intrinsically evil—that is, wrong no matter the circumstances of the act or the motivations of the agent. Slavery, the sexual abuse of children, adultery, racism, murder, etc. are intrinsically evil precisely because they involve direct attacks on basic goods. The moment we unmoor a moral system from these objective values, no act can be designated as intrinsically evil and from that state of affairs moral chaos follows.

​So far we have determined the objectivity of the ethical enterprise, but how does God figure into the system? Couldn't an honest secularist hold to objective moral goods but not hold to God's existence? Let's return to our analysis of the will in action. As we saw, the will is motivated, even in its simplest moves, by some sense, perhaps inchoate, of a moral value: truth, life, beauty, justice, etc. But having achieved some worldly good -- say of writing this column, or slaking a thirst, or educating a child -- the will is only incompletely satisfied. In point of fact, the achievement of some finite good tends to spur the will to want more of that good.

Every scientist or philosopher knows that the answering of one question tends to open a hundred new ones; every social activist knows that righting one wrong awakens a desire to right a hundred more. Indeed, no achievement of truth, justice, life, or beauty in this world can satisfy the will, for the will is ordered to each of those goods in its properly unconditioned form. As Bernard Lonergan said, "the mind wants to know everything about everything." And as St. Augustine said, "Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our heart is restless until it rests in thee." You've noticed that I've slipped God somewhat slyly into the discussion! But I haven't done so illegitimately, for in the Catholic philosophical tradition, "God" is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life.

​Now we can see the relationship between God and the basic goods that ground the moral life: the latter are reflections of and participations in the former. As C.S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, the moral absolutes are, therefore, signposts of God. And this is precisely why the negation of God leads by a short route to the negation of moral absolutes and finally to a crass subjectivism.

Removing God is tantamount to removing the ground for the basic goods, and once the basic goods have been eliminated, all that is left is the self-legislating and self-creating will. Thus, we should be wary indeed when atheists and agnostics blithely suggest that morality can endure apart from God. Much truer is Dostoyevsky's observation that once God is removed, anything is permissible.
 
 
(Image credit: Albania News)

Bishop Robert Barron

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Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

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  • Vasco Gama

    I think that the response to the question:

    «Couldn't an honest secularist hold to objective moral goods but not hold to God's existence?»

    should be better addressed, as although one could suspect that the suggested answer is no, it is not clearly stated (and even less satisfactorily justified), although it seems clear that the author (Fr. Barron) holds this presumption.

    • Ben Posin

      Bravo, Vasco!

      The part that makes me throw up my hands, part in dismay, part in hilarity, is that the sole justification provided for why God is the necessary source of goodness is because Catholics call objective goodness God. Well, glad that's all sewn up...

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I don't get it guys. I do think Father Barron states it in a clear and helpful way: "absolute goodness" is indeed just another way of referring to the reality that we call "God".

        One may understandably question how Catholics can then go on to say things like: "Absolute goodness sustains the universe", or "Absolute goodness is three persons", or "Absolute goodness will allow you to go to hell", or "Absolute goodness told Abraham ..." etc. Those are all legitimate grounds for debate. We can legitimately disagree on whether those descriptions of, and reflections on, absolute goodness are valid and make sense, but nonetheless it does seem to help the conversation along if we begin with the understanding that the properties that we ascribe to "God" simply reflect our understanding of what "absolute goodness" is.

        • Vasco Gama

          Jim,

          And what do you thing it (something like «absolute goodness" is indeed just another way of referring to the reality that we call "God"») means to someone who is an atheist or an agnostic (who doesn't recognize "God", or even "absolute goodness", to exist)?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            My assumption is that some (not all!) who self-identify as atheists DO recognize the existence of absolute and objective goodness. I of course respect the preference of another to self-identify as an atheist, but I would say (usually quietly, to myself) that such a person is not really an atheist at all.

            If you are talking about a person who denies the existence of absolute and objective goodness, then you are of course right that "God" and "absolute and objective goodness" are both going to be meaningless expressions to that person.

            So, to summarize, this particular identification that Father Barron makes is perhaps only helpful in furthering dialogue with "atheists" who aren't truly atheists. (Again, sorry if it is offensive to say it that way, but I don't know how else to communicate it.)

          • Vasco Gama

            Jim,

            Let us assume that some one who is an atheist knows that objective good exists (as he is able to recognize it in reality, let us ignore the absolute part), how does it follow that from that he is not really an atheist. And whatever may follow from that.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Everything changes if we ignore the "absolute" part, so let me not leave that behind. Also no one can "know" that absolute and objective good exists, but let me interpret your question as being about one who "believes" that absolute and objective good exists. In that case I would say it follows *by definition* that that person is not an atheist.

          • Vasco Gama

            Yes I understand that the absolute part is significant, but that is not something I would expect an atheist to acknowledge.

            My point is that although the arguments of Fr. Barron make sense (and are somehow justified for a theist), they don't go far for atheists or agnostics (so they don't respond to the question, although they might be comforting for theists).

          • Ben Posin

            Jim:
            Let me try to make this clearer, though to me the error in logic here is one of those fundamental question begging things that are almost hard to articulate. Fortunately, there are others more articulate here who may jump in.

            Let's say I'm open to the idea that there could be something called objective morality. The question at issue is what would be/is this objective morality's relationship with God? This could be phrased a number of ways: Does objective morality depend on God? Is God the only possible source of objective morality? Could there be objective morality without God? The whole point of these questions is that it has not been established that, if there is an objective morality, God has anything to do with it. In fact, there are plenty of people like me who think that it makes no logical sense for God to be the source of objective morality, that God CANNOT be the source of objective morality in the sense that thesits seem to mean, so understand that there's a real dispute at issue.

            But what's happening here is Fr. Barron is effectively saying that God must be the source of objective morality, because objective morality is God/a part of God/an aspect of God. {That paraphrasing is actually giving him a lot of benefit of the doubt, because, as pointed out, a more direct interpretion of Fr. Barron is that he's making a purely semantic argument, by which cheese or gum or tennis could equally be the source of objective morality with a little word substitution.}
            Can you see how Fr. Barron has made a circular statement, with no persuasive or argumentative value? What reason do we actually have to believe that God must be the source of objective morality, or, perhaps better put, that there is a sort of objective morality we could have in a world with a God than we could have in a world without one? No reason is provided in this article.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Hi Ben,

            I do understand that there are real disputes to be had, and it's not my intent to gloss over that.

            I have to confess that I don't think that the existence of God per se is one of those real disputes. I really do chalk that one up to language differences, but perhaps I just don't have an adequate appreciation for the history of conversations on the site. My apologies to all who tire of ground that I am re-treading.

            Anyway, no, I can't see why Fr. Barron's argument is circular. I interpret it roughly as: "Objective morality must have some absolute, unconditioned grounding. It cannot be grounded in itself." That is not circular to me. Beyond that, Fr. Barron has a traditional preference for referring to the absolute unconditioned grounding as "God".

          • Ben Posin

            Did the grounding of objective morality create the universe? Is the grounding of objective morality omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent? And if we want to be Christian specific, did the grounding of objective morality take on human form and die on a cross? And does the grounding of objective morality have to be the thing that did these things and has these attributes? Fr. Barron, by calling morality's supposed grounding "God" is answering that question as Yes, with no justification provided.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I suspect Fr. Barron would indeed answer those questions with a "yes", but I would propose treating those as separate questions.

            The first point I would hope to get to is a shared recognition of a reality. If we both start by saying, "I believe there is an absolute grounding to objective morality", you might be willing to trust that you and I both have the same referent in mind. If I then say, "I refer to that referent using the word 'God'", you might still be willing to trust that you and I have the same referent in mind. You might even be willing to say, "Oh, if that's what you mean by God, then I believe in God too", and at that point we could both reasonably assume that there was neither misunderstanding nor dishonesty.

            If I go on by saying something incomprehensible like, "This salvation history thing that God does is so cool", you now have at least two options: you can assume that you and I never were talking about the same thing in the first place ("Wait a minute, in that case I don't believe in God."), OR you can maintain a belief that we were indeed talking about the same reality, and you can simply assume that I am mistaken about some attribute of that reality, even while humoring me by accommodating my antiquated language ("OK, I'll still use your 'God' terminology if you want, but I think you are mistaken about God's interest in human history").

            That latter approach becomes a discussion about the attributes of God rather than the existence of God. To me that is more fruitful. At least that way we have at least one shared reference point and some common vocabulary.

          • Ben Posin

            "The first point I would hope to get to is a shared recognition of a reality. If we both start by saying, "I believe there is an absolute grounding to objective morality", you might be willing to trust that you and I both have the same referent in mind."
            Why in the world would you think we'd have the same referent in mind for a phrase like "absolute grounding to objective morality"?

            Sure, we'd be pointing at a mystery box with the same fancy label on it, but we could have completely different ideas about what's inside, and probably do.
            If you tell me that "absolute grounding to objective morality" is by necessity something that has the attributes normally associated with the word God, and I don't agree, then aren't we pretty clearly not talking about the same thing?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Generally speaking, I have to assume that you and I have some commonality in the way that we express our experiences of reality in words. Otherwise it is impossible to have a conversation.

            I think it's entirely possible to argue about the attributes of a thing, while still sharing some common recognition of the reality of that thing.

          • Ben Posin

            Listen, you giddy goose, you knave, you rascal: the whole point of this conversation, of this article, is that we don't have an agreed upon definition or understanding or referent for the grounding of morality, if such a concept even has a referent and is not actually incoherent. We are trying to FIGURE OUT what it might be. Until we come to an agreement, we are discussing the contents of a mystery box, which may in fact be empty. If you have direct "experiences of reality" with an "absolute grounding of objective morality," this would be a good time for you to share them--we're not talking about cats, water, happiness, itchiness, or other commonly experienced referents. Fr. Barron says that God is what is inside the mystery box, but has not explained why we should agree with him.

            "I think it's entirely possible to argue about the attributes of a thing, while still sharing some common recognition of the reality of that thing." You wag, what is it you think we have commonly recognized? We don't have an agreed referent for the words you are using. We don't even necessarily agree that there IS any referent. This isn't comparable to agreeing that a woman was hit by a car, but disagreeing over the make and model...

          • Ben Posin, please cut out the excessive name-calling. Consider this a warning.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Brandon, I assume you are kidding (?)

            Ben's was an unsurpassable opening line, deserving of the SN highlight reels. I am still laughing.

            So much so that I am going to forego my descriptions of experiences with the mystery box for today, and simply tip my hat.

          • Ben Posin

            I do my best to take Brandon seriously, Jim. He is a serious person. I may be less serious. I may try to recreate the post later with a bit less Shakespeare-lite.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I have faith, and not without Biblical support, that the absolute ground of objective morality has a funny bone.

          • Slocum Moe

            designating people as name callers when they are not is name calling.

            If there is a God, we are all his children and therefore able to discern good from bad on that basis alone, whether we believe or not,

          • Ben Posin

            To be fair, I did (without factual basis) refer to someone as a rascal, knave, wag, and giddy goose. So I wouldn't call Brandon a name caller in this instance.

          • Veritas

            You simply reject this definition of God because you have some other concept of what one should mean by "God"
            Do feel that Fr Barron changed the rules of the debate by changing the definition of God?
            This then becomes a debate over how a theist is allowed to define God

          • David Nickol

            So, to summarize, this particular identification that Father Barron makes is perhaps only helpful in furthering dialogue with "atheists" who aren't truly atheists.

            Isn't this the mirror image of atheists who hold that religious people can't—at least deep down in their heart of hearts—really believe all the nonsense and fairy tales that the various world religions teach? (I am not stating this as my own position.)

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Possibly it is the mirror image, but only if the atheist in your scenario is proceeding on an assumption that the theist is both smart and honest. That is the assumption that I am proceeding with regarding atheists. I am ascribing our differences, at least on this one fundamental point, to differences in language, not to lack of intelligence or integrity on the part of atheists.

          • David Nickol

            only if the atheist in your scenario is proceeding on an assumption that the theist is both smart and honest

            I believe people (atheists and theists alike) can be highly intelligent and scrupulously honest and still be profoundly mistaken and perhaps even extremely self-deluded. Those who believe they see themselves clearly and objectively, or believe that if there was an error in their thinking they would spot it, or think everyone but them is affected by phenomena like confirmation bias or selective recall, they are almost certainly mistaken.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Agreed!

            The reasoning behind my statement was NOT: "I see clearly, therefore those who disagree with me must simply misunderstand." It is rather: "I have enough faith in our common humanity that my most fundamental experiences of reality must surely have some point of contact with the fundamental experiences of others".

          • David Nickol

            Agreed!

            Oh . . . well, then I take it back. :P

          • DAVID

            I think that if an atheist were to read, "authentic good legitimately imposes itself on the human will and is not a creation of that will," and were 1) to agree with it, and 2) to have a sound conceptual framework that affirms it, then Fr. Barron's argument would be invalid.

          • Vasco Gama

            Sorry, it sounds confusing, could you rephrase it.

          • Steve Willy

            That you are wrong.

          • Vasco Gama

            I am sure I am wrong about many things

        • "absolute goodness" is indeed just another way of referring to the reality that we call "God".

          But that's not what he said. He gave a semantic argument:

          "God" is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life.

          Could I just as easily say, "'Cheese' is the name that I give..." and then argue that goodness depends on cheese?

          • Andre Boillot

            An aged, smoked Gouda is something I'm quite comfortable worshiping.

          • DAVID

            I agree that Fr. Barron seems to bring it down to semantics. But I think it really comes down to a question of definition. In order for morality to be absolute and unconditioned, you would need to ground it in an eternal, all-powerful Being. You could call this Being "Cheese", but there is already a better word to suite the definition.

          • In order for morality to be absolute and unconditioned, you would need to ground it in an eternal, all-powerful Being.

            I figured that the article would provide an argument for that, but it doesn't. This statement, in fact, is precisely the grounds of dispute.

          • DAVID

            I think that if an atheist were to read, "authentic good legitimately imposes itself on the human will and is not a creation of that will," and were 1) to agree with it, and 2) to have a sound conceptual framework that affirms it, then Fr. Barron's argument would be invalid. In my opinion, this is not one of Fr. Barron's best articles.

          • Ben Posin

            David:
            " But I think it really comes down to a question of definition. In order for morality to be absolute and unconditioned, you would need to ground it in an eternal, all-powerful Being."

            Well...that's the question at issue, isn't it? That's the case that needs to be made, and isn't in this article. It's a two sided question, I'd like to point out: the question isn't just does objective morality require the existence of an eternal, all-powerful Being, but also whether an eternal, all-powerful Being could actually be the source of an objective morality. As I said above, the problem with Fr. Barrons' article may make more sense to you when you realize that I and others believe that God logically cannot be the source of objective morality, that God brings nothing to the table when it comes to making morality objective. What in the above article should change my mind?

          • DAVID

            I would pull out two quotes from the article:

            "In point of fact, the achievement of some finite good tends to spur the will to want more of that good."

            "Indeed, no achievement of truth, justice, life, or beauty in this world can satisfy the will, for the will is ordered to each of those goods in its properly unconditioned form."

            If its true that the achievement of any finite good simply leads to the desire for more goodness, then our desire for goodness is not conditioned by the finite. Our desire implies an infinite source of goodness. This source, as Fr. Barron later explains, is God.

          • Andre Boillot

            Do you think this would also apply?

            'If its true that use of meth amphetamine simply leads to the desire for more meth amphetamine, then our desire for meth amphetamine is not conditioned by the finite. Our desire implies an infinite source of meth amphetamine.'

          • DAVID

            The problem with a meth addiction, or any addiction, is that the physical craving lasts after the desire has all but been killed. I would say that meth addicts come to hate meth even as they continue to feed the addiction.

          • Andre Boillot

            Having not studied the biology / psychology of addiction in any great depth, I'm not capable of speaking to the distinctions between what you consider physical craving vs. desire - or for that matter, how you're defining 'desire'.

          • DAVID

            Desire is to will something that is good. A person could mistake meth for a good habit, but I believe that experience will sooner or later teach the person that it is not a good habit. At first, the person takes it to get high, but before too long, the person takes it to simply feel normal. If they don't take it, they will feel terrible.

            I've heard the stories of addicts for years. You start out having fun. Then you start losing friends, jobs, and spouses. If you don't seek treatment before too long, you wind up homeless, penniless, or even dead. Supposing you fend off the worst case scenario, and you feed your addiction for decades, then you lose your physical and psychological health.

          • Ben Posin

            I'm not sure I agree with your premises, but that's not my main point: ***how*** does Fr. Barron explain that the source of goodness is God?

          • DAVID

            If you understand that God is by definition infinite, then you understand that our desire for unconditioned (infinite) goodness cannot have any other source. There cannot be more than one infinite source, otherwise the source would be limited in some way, and not infinite.

          • Paul Boillot

            What if God were infinitely evil?

          • DAVID

            It wouldn't work by definition. What exists is good. God is the pure Act of existence, itself. Therefore, God is good.

          • Paul Boillot

            Wait, what?

            Correct me where I go off the tracks:

            Your definition of "God" - Infinite, the Act of Existence, Good.
            My definition of "God" - Infinite, the Act of Existence, Evil.

            I don't know where you arrived the the premise that 'what exists is good." Without that premise, it seems my definition is still valid.

          • DAVID

            How do you refute that premise?

          • Paul Boillot

            In addition to it be a painfully vague premise (all extant things are good? sex trafficing? Toblerone? manual transmissions?) I have no idea where it came from.

            Why is it part of the discussion?

          • DAVID

            I think you opened up this part of the discussion by questioning whether God was evil. I was trying to prove that God is not evil.

            I think that all things are good but they have to be used, or related to, in a proper way. Therefore, sex trafficking is a pretty darn bad way for some people to relate to others.

          • Paul Boillot

            Sex trafficking exists; it is not good, therefore any/everything that exists is not definitionally good.

            Without the premise "what exists is good," how do you know that my hypothetical God definition isn't the right one?

            IE

            "Your definition of "God" - Infinite, the Act of Existence, Good.
            My definition of "God" - Infinite, the Act of Existence, Evil."

          • DAVID

            Sex trafficking exists, it is not good, therefore any/everything that exists is not definitionally good.

            I see that, instead of addressing the distinction that I made between something existing, and something relating to something else, you pretty much passed it by without noticing. If you're not going to address what I write, there's no point in continuing this discussion.

          • Paul Boillot

            Have I "passed" your point up? I didn't mean to, I promise, but I'm not sure what I missed.

            Your argument is that sex, in it's proper place, is good, yes?
            Additionally, you state that sex trafficking is a distortion and misuse of sex (among other goods), and is bad, yes?

            But how does the fact that sex trafficking is a corruption of something that exists and is good, ie. sex (et al.), invalidate the fact that sex trafficking itself is extant. And that that thing which exists, sex trafficking, is bad?

            Shouldn't you change your premise to "everything that existed in it's original, uncorrupted state, is good," or something like it?

          • DAVID

            I guess that I would want to make a distinction between an existent and an act. When it comes right down to it, sex trafficking is an act, not an existent. Acts can be good or bad.

            I want to return to something you wrote in an earlier post:

            If he believes that atheists can't hold to objective moral goods, he's just wrong.

            Fr. Barron argues that our experience of objective morality points towards God. Here are two quotes:

            "In point of fact, the achievement of some finite good tends to spur the will to want more of that good."

            "Indeed, no achievement of truth, justice, life, or beauty in this world can satisfy the will, for the will is ordered to each of those goods in its properly unconditioned form."

            If its true that the achievement of any finite good simply leads to the desire for more goodness, then our desire for goodness is not conditioned by the finite. Our desire implies an infinite source of goodness. This source, as Fr. Barron later explains, is God.

          • Paul Boillot

            So, as I read you, every *thing* (material?) that exists is good, while actions can be good or bad?

            With respect to objective morality, yes, i read the OP, and Barron is wrong.

            The achievement of any specific good does not spur the will to want an unlimited amount of that good. Even if it did, the desire for unlimited good does not it's existence imply.

            I really want there to be a duffle bag full of non-sequential $50 bill under my bed right now....

          • DAVID

            So, as I read you, every *thing* (material?) that exists is good, while actions can be good or bad?

            Yes, things are good. For example, poison ivy is a perfectly good, leafy, green plant. It serves its purposes. It just shouldn't be exposed to people's skin. That would be a bad act.

            The achievement of any specific good does not spur the will to want an unlimited amount of that good.

            Speaking from personal experience, I would say that I can validate the claim. When I examine my own life, even the happiest times, I am certain that I never settled for the amount of good that I had achieved. I certainly didn't want less good things. I wanted more good things. There was never a limit reached which caused me to say: "I cannot be any happier." I was always "incompletely satisfied," to use Fr. Barron's description. To tell you the truth, I've never met anyone who is not striving after some good or another.

            Even if it did, the desire for unlimited good does not it's existence imply.

            I really want there to be a duffle bag full of non-sequential $50 bill under my bed right now....

            There's a difference between something existing and something actually being in our possession. The desire (for money) naturally points towards an object that fulfills the desire (the duffle bag full of money). But that doesn't mean that we possess it.

          • Paul Boillot

            Okay, so I follow you on the whole poison ivy idea: good thing with it's own purpose. (Although I wonder how that fits in with the genesis account of toiling the earth, but that's another can of worms)

            There was never a limit reached which caused me to say: "I cannot be any happier." I was always "incompletely satisfied," to use Fr. Barron's description. To tell you the truth, I've never met anyone who is not striving after some good or another.

            Notice that you're talking about abstract happiness. That's not what Barron talked about. eg. "the achievement of some finite good tends to spur the will to want more of that good."

            It is not the case that achieving a finite good spurs an interest in infinitely more, as others have here pointed out, vis. satiation, fullness, contentment, temperance etc...

            There's a difference between something existing and something actually being in our possession. The desire (for money) naturally points towards an object that fulfills the desire (the duffle bag full of money). But that doesn't mean that we possess it.

            This reminds me of Aquinas' fourth proof, the argument from degree, an argument I find utterly unconvincing. Wikipedia's version:

            Varying perfections of varying degrees may be found throughout the universe.
            These degrees assume the existence of an ultimate standard of perfection.
            Therefore, perfection must have a pinnacle.
            This pinnacle is whom we call God.

            Personally, I think humans measure gradations against a standard of 0, rather than infinity. But more than that, even if we did desire goods in a measure of how close to perfect they were, the desire for something does not necessarily point to an object that fulfills that desire. I mean, for one, the duffel bag full of money that I want *does not exist,* but more than that it's trivially easy to switch the object desired!

            "I wish there were a red, blue bag made out of cotton leather weighing 12 liters under my bed full of invisible coins."

          • DAVID

            It is not the case that achieving a finite good spurs an interest in infinitely more, as others have here pointed out, vis. satiation, fullness, contentment, temperance etc…

            If its the case that our desire for "truth and life...friendship, justice, and beauty" is not infinite, then why aren't we satisfied/content with the finite amount that we have? Scientists are not satisfied with our current knowledge of nature. Artists always want to produce more amazing things. Political activists are never satisfied with the amount of justice in the world. Everyone wants to live longer and improve their quality of life….There's no fixed, finite limit to our desire for these things. Since the limit is not finite, it must be infinite.

            But more than that, even if we did desire goods in a measure of how close to perfect they were, the desire for something does not necessarily point to an object that fulfills that desire.

            It will probably be helpful if I give a better definition of the type of desires which are meant. We're not talking about just any sort of fanciful whim, we're talking about the basic desires which are universal to humans. All of these basic desires correspond to an object which satisfies them. The desire for food corresponds to the object: food. The desire for sleep corresponds to the phenomenon of sleep. Procreation is another one. Well, when we see how universal the never-ending search for "truth and life...friendship, justice, and beauty" is; when we see how much it acts as an engine to people's lives; when we see how basic it is; it must be one of those desires which has a corresponding object that satisfies it. Since it is an infinite desire, it corresponds to an object that can infinitely satisfy it.

          • Paul Boillot

            I'm going to take your points in approximate reverse order:

            "Since it is an infinite desire, it corresponds to an object that can infinitely satisfy it."

            I think we've covered this ground: it is possible to desire something impossible/illogical.

            "these basic desires ... acts as an engine to people's lives"

            All the basic desire you list which deeply motivate humans have clear biological origins, none of them seem to me to necessitate anything outside the realm of nature.

            "There's no fixed, finite limit to our desire for these things."

            Over long periods of time humans probably reach increasing plateaus, but for me anyway, its not the case that I can never be filled to satiation of "truth, friendship, justice, etc...."

            Absences makes the heart grow fonder: it's eminently possible to spend too much time in close proximity to loved ones, for a judge to be too just and never exercise restraint/mercy, for me to be exposed to too much truth, I can't read a Calculus textbook in one sitting.

            "Everyone wants to live longer and improve their quality of life"

            Not everyone wants to live longer, the mere fact of suicide is contradictory of that, and I don't necessary want to improve my quality of life so much as I want to learn to appreciate the quality I have currently.

            Lastly I want to tackle: "Since the limit is not finite, it must be infinite."

            This is a complex statement; even if it's true, there are many flavors of infinity. It seems more likely to me to be the case that that purported infinite desire is one continually escaping from 0, rather than chasing a receding ideal.

          • DAVID

            I think we've covered this ground: it is possible to desire something impossible/illogical.

            I'll clarify one thing and then we can move on. I wasn't arguing that impossible/illogical desires are not possible. I was arguing that impossible/illogical desires are not germane to this discussion. We're talking about basic, universal, human desires (truth, friendship, justice, etc.); desires which have corresponding objects which satisfy them.

            All the basic desire you list which deeply motivate humans have clear biological origins, none of them seem to me to necessitate anything outside the realm of nature.

            This is an interesting subject (material vs. immaterial origins) which probably deserves its own article.

            Over long periods of time humans probably reach increasing plateaus, but for me anyway, its not the case that I can never be filled to satiation of "truth, friendship, justice, etc…."

            Fr. Barron is not arguing that we never experience satisfaction or contentment. He's arguing that our experiences of satisfaction or contentment are always incomplete. He says: "having achieved some worldly good ... the will is only incompletely satisfied."

            Are you saying that you have reached the omega point of satisfaction? If you truly have, then you've proved him wrong.

            Not everyone wants to live longer, the mere fact of suicide is contradictory of that, and I don't necessary want to improve my quality of life so much as I want to learn to appreciate the quality I have currently.

            I accept the example of suicide. I'll have to put it another way: everyone wants to live a happy life indefinitely. If you were completely happy, stimulated, and care-free, and if this state of affairs were not compromised by any misfortunes or boredom, you would naturally want it to continue; you would "never want it to end."

            This is a complex statement; even if it's true, there are many flavors of infinity. It seems more likely to me to be the case that that purported infinite desire is one continually escaping from 0, rather than chasing a receding ideal.

            I'm defining the word "infinity" as "not finite." I don't really see why we should make it any more complex than that.

          • Geena Safire

            David, now you are just playing with tautology. What is good is, by definition, what is desirable, so of course you want more desirable stuff. But that has nothing to do with your claim that 'what exists is good.'

          • DAVID

            Woah! Are you reading this thread closely? At this point in the discussion, we're not even talking about "what exists is good."

          • Geena Safire

            Just because Paul took his response to your contention in one direction doesn't mean that I cannot respond to your unsupported assertion in another direction.

          • josh

            "Our desire implies an infinite source of goodness. "
            Hunger does not imply an infinite source of food. Usually the opposite in fact.

          • DAVID

            Its true that our supply of food is limited. Our hunger is also limited to the size of our stomachs. But Fr. Barron is talking about irreducible moral goods such as "truth and life...friendship, justice, and beauty." While its true that a good dinner can satisfy you until the next morning, the same is not true for these basic moral goods. Any attainment of truth, life, or justice will leave you "incompletely satisfied" and desiring more.

          • josh

            Firstly, the point is that it is a fallacy to think that a desire implies the existence of the object of that desire. This is only more true if you think it is an infinite desire. But secondly I would dispute that your so-called irreducible goods will leave me unsatisfied. When I appreciate something beautiful to me, I don't think "Gosh, if only this were infinitely beautiful!" I don't know what 'infinite' truth or justice or even life is supposed to mean. I am as alive as I want to be right now. I'd prefer to stay that way but I wouldn't want to commit to staying alive forever.

          • DAVID

            Firstly, the point is that it is a fallacy to think that a desire implies the existence of the object of that desire.

            I will grant that its a claim which can be argued against, but "fallacy" is not the right word to use. Far from being an unsound argument, its actually a good argument. We find that desires which are basic and universal to humanity do, in fact, have objects which satisfy those desires. It only becomes a fallacy if I were to argue that every strange whim that comes to my mind must be satisfied by an object that corresponds to it.

            But secondly I would dispute that your so-called irreducible goods will leave me unsatisfied.

            If you could be more fully alive than you presently are, would you refuse the offer? If you had the opportunity to hear or see something more beautiful, would you decline? I wouldn't. Or at least I hope I wouldn't.

            It might seem overly sentimental to say this, but people have dreams. Even people who have practically everything they want still hope for something in the future. And so I stick by what Fr. Barron says: when it comes to "truth and life...friendship, justice, and beauty," people are never fully satisfied.

          • Geena Safire

            I think that all things are good

            'I think so' is not logical support for your claim that 'what exists is good.' It is, instead, in the category of 'wishful thinking.'

            You can logically say that you believe that your life works better if you make the presumption that what exists is good. And it may in fact be so that, for you, this presumption may seem to have worked well for you (although we don't have an alternate-universe David to know whether that is actually the case). But that still doesn't provide any support for your claim.

          • DAVID

            You don't seem to be following the thread of this discussion too far. Perhaps if you read the whole thing, it would make more sense.

          • Susan

            You don't seem to be following the thread of this discussion too far

            She seems to be up to date. I've been following it and I agree with her.

            "I think so" is not logical support for your claim. And that was what you provided when asked to logically support your claim.

            I'm not sure it's Geena who's not following.

          • DAVID

            The reason that I doubt that both you and Geena have followed the discussion closely, is that most of the discussion does not revolve around the question of why "everything is good." Most of what has been written deals with Fr. Barron's article on objective morality. But, more to the point, I have answered Paul Boillot's questions about why I believe that "everything is good." I answered them to his satisfaction.

          • Susan

            I answered them to his satisfaction

            I did miss that part. It could be disqus. Could you point me to the link where you answered them to his satisfaction?

          • DAVID

            It would be very difficult to provide you with links to parts of the conversation which neither you know exist, nor I know that you know exist.

          • Susan

            It would be very difficult to provide you with links to parts of the conversation which neither you know exist, nor I know that you know exist.

            I followed the entire conversation as far as I know, but as I said, sometimes a comment gets lost in disqus.

            So, when you claim that you answered Paul to his satisfaction, there must be a specific comment (missing from my disqus view) that makes you confident that you answered Paul to his satisfaction. It's not in the discussion that I have tried to follow from the beginning.

            Maybe Paul has it.

          • DAVID

            Couldn't we do something easier? If you have any questions on the subject, I will try to answer them. Since you're already talking to me directly, it seems like the easiest thing to do.

          • Susan

            Couldn't we do something easier?

            Than asking you to support your claims?

          • DAVID

            I'm going to flag this as snark.

          • Andre Boillot

            The sauce, it's weak.

          • DAVID

            It was mean-spirited.

          • Andre Boillot

            You don't think you were being a tad coy?

          • Susan

            It was mean-spirited.

            Your unsupported claims are really piling up at this point.

            -All things are good.

            -Geena explaining that you supporting that with "I think so." is not logical support meant that she had not followed the discussion.

            -My support for Geena's point meant that I had not followed the discussion.

            -You had responded to Paul on the point to his satisfaction.

            -My requests for support for your follow up responses are mean-spirited.

            Perhaps you are right on one or more or all of these things but on a site that claims to submit to the rules of reason, you need to support them.

          • Susan

            It occurs to me that you might not be aware of your ability to link to specific comments from a discussion that might be missing from some other members' screens and that might have created a misunderstanding.

            Right click on the time indicator on the comment and "copy link address". Paste it in your reply.

            For instance, if I wanted to link to my last comment, I would right-click on "one hour ago", copy the link and paste it on my comment here. Like this:

            http://strangenotions.com/why-goodness-depends-on-god/#comment-1195963786

          • Geena Safire

            DAVID, It is relatively simple, not 'difficult', for you to provide any comment link requested:

            Hover your mouse over the word 'Share' underneath the comment of interest. Three icons will appear.
            Move your mouse directly to the right until your pointer arrow turns into a hand over the icon that looks like a pair of chained links.
            Right click on the chained links icon.
            When the box of options appears, click on 'Copy Link Location'.
            Return to your reply box and type the following, an HTML anchor tag: <a href="(paste the link here)">(type some relevant link text here)></a>

            On less of a technical level, Susan's request seems relevant. You claimed you had answered Paul's questions to his satisfaction, and Susan's perusal of the thread did not reveal to her such a conclusion. Your reply was along the lines of 'Well, if you can't already see what is so obvious to me, there's no point in me pointing it out to you more specifically.' That seems rude to me, even with the words you used.

          • Geena Safire

            This is the worst kind of logic, a violation of the most basic fundamental precept of logical discourse, a blatant shifting of the burden of proof, David. You made a claim without any support or proof of any kind: 'What exists is good.' When Paul challenged your premise, your reply was to ask if Paul could refute your statement.

            On this logic, you have likely sent thousands of dollars to Nigerian scammers because you couldn't refute their premise that they had $20 million and wanted to share it with you, and invested in several Ponzi schemes because you couldn't refute their claims that your investment was guaranteed to double.

            If I were to tell you that I can fly, would your default response be to believe me if you were unable to refute it? I would hope not.

            By the same token, your claim that 'what exists is good' is unsupported, and it is your responsibility as the claimant to provide support if challenged, not Paul's responsibility to accept if if he does not refute it.

          • DAVID

            It was a simple question. I wanted to know what problem he had with it. Once I knew, then I could address his problem.

          • Geena Safire

            Having few words does not make a question either simple or appropriate. Your 'simple' question was along the lines of "What is your proof that I am not able to fly?"

            Just because Paul chose to dance with you down one line of logic, using examples, doesn't obviate your burden of proof, which I am challenging more explicitly.

            Again, what is your support for your contention that 'what exists is good'?

            If it is just your opinion, the way you prefer to look at the world, that is fine, but know that this means that every part of your argument based on that opinion is therefore also merely opinion

          • Is this more a question of semantics? By that I don't mean that it's a quibble, but that it's a question about the meaning of the words "good" and "evil." Is your point that "good" and "evil" are labels that are fundamentally arbitrary? I don't know if that argument can be refuted, given your rejection of certain basic principles. But we still preserve the distinction as practical and necessary.

            Peace

          • Geena Safire

            Hi Glenn. I am not making any point, except to note that DAVID has not provided support for his assertion.

            DAVID is the one that made the assertion. I am asking for his support for his assertion.

          • Ben Posin

            I'm sorry that you are only learning this now, but as Paul has mentioned, God is actually by definition infinitely evil. He is, by definition, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent. His evil can be seen all through creation in either the suffering of living creatures or in the universe's hostility towards life.

            Now, some foolish atheists have argued that God doesn't exist because of the presence of unexplained good in the universe. They don't realize that just because we can't explain everything good that happens doesn't mean that God doesn't have an evil reason for permitting or causing it--after all, man is limited in knowledge and understanding, while God is not! Perhaps in many cases there is a higher evil that can only be achieved by permitting some good (e.g., perhaps some people have to prosper so that billions in poverty can be filled with greater envy and suffering, some cured of diseases so those who cannot afford medicine be filled with greater despair, some allowed to find love so others may be even more lonely, and so forth).

          • Michael Murray

            This statement about infinities confuses me DAVID. For example you can have the set of all counting (natural) numbers {1, 2, 3, ...}. It contains as subsets the set of odd numbers {1, 3, 5, ...} and the set of even numbers {2, 4, 6, ... }. Each of these is also infinite but they are limited because the set of odd numbers does not contain the even numbers and the set of even numbers does not contain the odd numbers. Likewise I see no reason we cannot have on the one hand an infinite God and disjoint from it the infinite collection of our desires. That might not be what happens in reality but I see no reason it is logically impossible as you seem to be suggesting.

          • DAVID

            In order for what you say to be true, we would have to suppose God to be "infinite but limited." But, of course, we don't suppose that. We can't put any legitimate limitation on God. The only limitation on God that I'm aware of (that I've heard argued) would be the limitation of non-contradiction: God cannot make true two different things that negate each other. For example, God could not make something exist and not exist at the same time, and in the same way. This would be an absurdity. Its hard to argue with that.

          • Michael Murray

            In order for what you say to be true, we would have to suppose God to be "infinite but limited."

            I am not talking about God. I am just explaining why this sentence is a false statement.

            There cannot be more than one infinite source, otherwise the source would be limited in some way, and not infinite.

            "Limited" does not imply "not infinite". As I have demonstrated.

          • DAVID

            Actually, when I think about it, numbers aren't infinite at all. You might have an infinite (unlimited) series. But each number in that series is limited and therefore finite. Therefore, aside from the series itself, we're talking about something which is finite in nature.

          • Michael Murray

            The set of all numbers is infinite. That's what I mean by, for example {2, 4, 6, ... } it is the set of all even counting numbers. I.e. the set of all counting numbers with the property that after you divide one of them by two you still have a whole number. This set has the property that it has an infinite number of elements.

          • DAVID

            You are not really talking about two infinities. You are talking about an infinite series of numbers which can be divided into even and odd numbers. The evens and odds come from one source.

          • Michael Murray

            No I really am talking about two infinities. The set of even numbers is an infinite set and the set of odd numbers is an infinite set. Their union, the set of all natural numbers, is also an infinite set. That's my point. Infinite doesn't have the property you claim it has limited implies not infinite.

            otherwise the source would be limited in some way, and not infinite.

            Maybe you need to use another term instead of infinite.

          • DAVID

            As I said before, you've only given an example of how something can be infinite in one sense, but limited in another sense.

          • Michael Murray

            As I said before, you've only given an example of how something can be infinite in one sense, but limited in another sense.

            Yes I agree. I've taken the common meanings of the words and shown your statement is incorrect. Do you have some other meaning you wan to ascribe to those words ?

          • DAVID

            But you haven't taken the common meanings of the words. Infinite means not limited. You are trying to show that something infinite is limited. You are proposing a contradiction.

          • Michael Murray

            So just to be clear. If I draw a line starting at me and extending out into space through the top of my head and never finishing that would not be infinite by your definition because it would be limited to being a straight line not going to my left or right ?

            It seems to me your definition of infinite is that it is everything ? That's not a typical usage as far as I'm concerned. "An infinitely long line" isn't usually regarded as a line that contains everything.

          • DAVID

            My definition is simple. Its pretty much the etymology of the word: in-finite is "not finite." Now, something finite is limited. Therefore, you could not say that something can be infinite and limited at the same time, in the same way: that would be a self-contradiction. I really don't want to make it any more complicated than that :)

          • Michael Murray

            Something finite is limited but something limited does not have to be finite. The set of even numbers is limited (they are not odd numbers) but is infinite as there are an infinite number of even numbers.

          • DAVID

            The set of even numbers is limited (they are not odd numbers)

            Therefore we have something which is limited in one way…

            but is infinite as there are an infinite number of even numbers.

            but is infinite in another way.

            My whole point is that it is not both infinite and limited at the same time, in the same way. Therefore, your example doesn't invalidate my use of the word "infinite."

          • Michael Murray

            My whole point is that it is not both infinite and limited at the same time, in the same way.

            Sorry but this makes no sense. Limited and infinite are different notions so it is nonsensical to say that they occur "in the same way".

          • DAVID

            That's right! It is nonsense. That's why I hold that "infinite" means "not limited." Therefore, I can't really see why you would object to me using the word in that way.

          • Michael Murray

            Because the set of even numbers is infinite and limited. A straight line that goes on for ever in one direction is infinite and limited.

          • DAVID

            But, as we've said before, its not infinite and limited in the same way. As long as you allow that "infinite" and "limited" are, by definition, mutually exclusive, then I think we're using our terms in the same way.

          • Michael Murray

            But, as we've said before, its not infinite and limited in the same way.

            No as you have said before. I have said that I don't know what "in the same way" even means in this context.

            As long as you allow that "infinite" and "limited" are, by definition, mutually exclusive, then I think we're using our terms in the same way.

            But I don't because I have given you two examples of objects which are both infinite and limited.

          • Guest

            By the way going back to God. You say that God must be the source of all our goodness because God is infinite if God wasn't the source of our goodness He would be limited and thus not infinite. But why cannot I reply "aha but God is limited in a different way to which He is infinite so there is no contradiction in Him not being the source of our goodness".

          • DAVID

            The best way that I can think to describe my point is this: your talking about a thing (infinite set of even numbers). You are giving that thing two characteristics: infinite and limited. The thing, itself, can have two opposing characteristics. But the two characteristics, themselves, are opposites, they are mutually exclusive.

            Let me put it another way. A person is fat and skinny at the same time. How is that possible? His belly is fat and his neck is skinny. Are the two terms "fat" and "skinny" opposites? Yes. Are the two terms mutually exclusive? Yes. But its also true that a person can be both fat and skinny in the manner that I've described.

            If you agree with what I've just written, and you see how "infinite" and "limited" can both be mutually exclusive, and yet describe the same object, then I think we've solved this.

          • Michael Murray

            So it's OK then for the object God to be both infinite but limited by being not the source of human goodness ?

          • DAVID

            Ah, but in God there are no limits.

          • Michael Murray

            Why not ?

          • DAVID

            God, as the creator of all things, would have to possess in an unlimited way what his creatures possess in a limited way. God would not only have to possess these qualities, God would have to "be" these qualities, since they could not come from any other source than Himself.

          • Michael Murray

            God, as the creator of all things, would have to possess in an unlimited way what his creatures possess in a limited way

            Right. So you are no longer trying to deduce unlimited from infinite as you did a couple of days ago

            otherwise the source would be limited in some way, and not infinite.

            I guess that's progress of a sort.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Yet again, the same canard keeps upping its weary head....let's have a go at it then.....

            "Ergo God Maximally Enjoys Getting Gangbanged", an amusing parody on Rob Lovering’s new book "God and Evidence: Problems for Theistic Philosophers" (2013)

            Of the five modes he [Lovering] employs to show theism is untenable, the fifth pertains to kinky fun gangbangs. Oh, of course, Lovering says nothing of the kind. But his argument is only just a polite way of saying the same thing I did over a snifter of fine whisky. (And I had not then even heard of his book.)

            Lovering’s other four arguments are, basically, (1) “if the evidence were good enough to warrant belief, there wouldn’t be so many nice, smart people who remain unconvinced”; (2) “a god can have no good reason to hide in the way he indisputably does”; (3) “just having faith” despite all that is immoral (by the theist’s own standards); and (4) “making excuses for why the evidence doesn’t fit what we expect from a benevolent superpower renders theism self-refuting,” because (and now I’m quoting Littlejohn) all arguments for God’s existence “assume that we can know what God would do in some situations (e.g., share evidence with us),” whereas the excuses apologists resort to all require asserting we cannot know that.

            And then, Lovering’s fifth argument is “omniscience is impossible.”...

            Read on those that dare....

            http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4932

          • Paul Boillot

            Of course there are.

            He can't make a rock he can't lift.

            But less sophomorically: you believe he limits himself for every free will he creates.

          • DAVID

            He can't make a rock he can't lift.

            The problem with this type of example is that it is not a meaningful limitation. A meaningful limitation cannot contain a self-contradiction otherwise it becomes an absurdity. The idea that God is both all-powerful (He can create any sort of rock imaginable) and not all-powerful (but He cannot lift the rock He creates) contradicts itself.

            ...you believe he limits himself for every free will he creates.

            Perhaps some Christians think of it that way, but I don't. God generates our existence in every present moment. By extension, God generates our freedom also. Far from limiting Himself, God has to use his power to keep our free will in existence.

          • Geena Safire

            your talking about a thing (infinite set of even numbers). You are giving that thing two characteristics: infinite and limited. The thing, itself, can have two opposing characteristics. But the two characteristics, themselves, are opposites, they are mutually exclusive.

            DAVID, You are, either intentionally or ignorantly, playing word games with words that have very precise and widely accepted meanings in logic and very elementary mathematics. In doing so, you are committing an equivocation fallacy.

            In set theory terms, a 'set' is a collection of distinct objects.

            Each set has a description of the objects included in the set. Some examples: 'elephants over two meters high at the withers,' 'ants over two meters high at the antennae,' or 'digits in the number pi,' or 'people who are left-handed and/or have red hair.' This description is necessarily 'limited' because it defines the objects that are 'in' the set.

            The number of members in a set may be zero, a quantity, or infinite. In the examples above, the ant set has zero objects, the elephant set and people set contain a quantity, and the objects in the pi set is infinite.

            The description is a distinct and separate characteristic of a set than the number of objects it contains. Therefore, it is completely reasonable for a set to be both limited (in description) and infinite (in members).

             

            As to the specifics of your thread with Michael Murray, the mathematics of infinity, even in set theory, is not simple. One can state certain features about them with short, simple words, but the proof that they are true is complicated.

            As a few examples relevant to your thread: The set of all integers has infinite members. The members of the set of all odd integers is also infinite. The members of the set of all even integers is also infinite. These statements are all true.

            If you are interested in exploring some apparent paradoxes that emerge when thinking of mathematics of the infinite in simplistic terms, read about Hilbert's Grand Hotel Paradox.

            Plus: "you're" not "your"

          • Michael Murray

            By the way going back to God. You say that God must be the source of all our goodness because God is infinite if God wasn't the source of our goodness He would be limited and thus not infinite. But I can reply "aha but God is limited in a different way to which He is infinite so there is no contradiction in Him not being the source of our goodness".

            Or at least I would if I understood what "in a different way" means.

          • Susan

            My whole point is that it is not both infinite and limited at the same time, in the same way

            But your point was that something couldn't be both infinite and limited at the same time in any way as though one would negate the other. It's not true. Michael has given you a perfectly good example that undermines your premise(s). .

            You are confusing two ideas:

            1) Being finite is necessarily limited.

            and

            2) Being infinite iis necessarily unlimited.

            The first is true and the second is not.

            (I think I have that right. Michael will correct me if I don't, I hope.)

            So, you really need to come up with an appropriate word or word combo. "Infinite" is wrong.

            "Limitless" maybe or "without limits".

            Of course, then you'd have to explain how you know that but that's a whole other discussion. .

          • Susan

            Now, something finite is limited.

            Yes. That's correct.

            Therefore, you could not say that something can be infinite and limited at the same time.

            No. That's not correct.

            that would be a self-contradiction.

            No. 2, 4, 6, 8...... Limited and infinite. . Infinity can be limited. They are not conflicting terms.

            I really don't want to make it any more complicated than that :)

            What Michael is trying to explain seems simple enough.

          • Vasco Gama

            David,

            It seems to me that you are missing something in your arguing (or maybe I am wrong), God is the creator and sustainer of the universe (but God is not the universe). God is goodness as God is the source of all goodness, God is not the source of evil, but humans are capable of doing evil (as God made humans free and able to do good or evil, but directed to good by our nature).

          • DAVID

            Vasco, I think that I agree with everything you've said. Is there something in particular which is missing?

          • Vasco Gama

            I am not sure, but I didn't understand very well what was your point in this arguing about the infinitude or the limits of God. If you didn't see relevance on what I said, it is probably because I misunderstood something.

            Cheers

          • DAVID

            I think I see what you mean. Its hard to not to get lost in these threads.

            My argument was that God, who is perfectly infinite in every way, has to be the source of goodness. There cannot be another source of goodness unless we were to say that God is not perfectly infinite, but only infinite in some ways. At this point in the argument, Michael Murray is rhetorically asking: what if God is not perfectly infinite and is therefore not the source of goodness.

          • Vasco Gama

            I see what you mean. But I think it is not a very good way to frame it (I guess that the notion of God as infinite is related to omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence). It is doesn't seem anything so abstract as in the way the arguing was going on, which seemed that was drifting to strangeness. At least I felt lost to a point where I was failing see what was the point of the arguing.

          • DAVID

            I get caught up in side-arguments which sometimes seem futile. Perhaps I should avoid it.

          • Michael Murray

            My argument was that God, who is perfectly infinite in every way, has to be the source of goodness. At this point in the argument, Michael Murray is rhetorically asking: what if God is not perfectly infinite and is therefore not the source of goodness.

            Actually you didn't say "perfectly infinite in every way". That would have been different. You just said "infinite".

            This, of course, is impossible because then you'd have to throw out the concept of God altogether.

            Well .... But anyway that was never the question. What piqued my interest, as a mathematician, was whether your deduction that "infinite" implied "unlimited" was correct.

          • DAVID

            We ended with the understanding that "infinite" and "limited" are ideas that exclude one another.

          • Michael Murray

            No we didn't. I proposed an example of the set of odd numbers as something which was both infinite or limited. You, I think, tried to argue that even though that was true the notions still were mutually exclusive like a person being fat around the waist and skinny around the neck. I never accepted that as sensible and I still don't. If an object has both properties P and Q it is a nonsense to say that those notions are mutually exclusive. In your example the person has two properties P = "fat around the waist" and Q="skinny neck" it does have the two properties "fat" and "skinny". The properties P and Q are not mutually exclusive.

            Of course this discussion has become a little pointless as earlier today you asserted that God was unlimited for reasons that had nothing to do with God's infinitude. If you are not wanting to deduce unlimited from infinite I am happy. If you are even going to deduce unlimited from "perfectly infinite in every way" (whatever that means) I am happy.

          • Michael Murray

            Since you agree that something can be infinite in one sense and limited in another, it strikes me that, far from proving my statement wrong, you actually agree with it.

            No I don't agree. I'm perfectly happy with things being infinite but limited. As I said before the set of even numbers is infinite in size but limited. The straight line through the north and south poles of the earth continued for ever is infinite in extent but limited by having to go through the north and south pole. There are lots of things we call infinite that are limited.

            Why not just say God is the source of everything and dispense with using infinite in this confusing manner ?

          • Common Definition

            in·fi·nite
            ˈinfənit/
            adjective
            1.
            limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure or calculate.

          • I have to go with Michael on this one. For example, the set of even integers is both infinite and limited. This is the problem we get into when we start tossing around terms that don't work well with human intuition, and why math is more rigorous a discipline than theology.

          • That is not a mathematical limit. If you prefer mathematical definitions, you should stick to using the mathematical meaning of limit.

          • It's limited in the sense that it doesn't include everything, even though it's infinite, which the relevant meaning for this subthread.

          • Michael Murray

            So is it synonymous with containing everything ? That seems to be what David is saying because to say "it doesn't contain blah" is a limit ?

          • Susan

            Common Definition

            Source please. I couldn't find the "Common Definition" dictionary.

          • Your reply is amusing. It is the Google dictionary which is sourced by the Oxford American College Dictionary

          • Hey Michael - Welcome back!

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks Matthew.

          • [---
            Each of these is also infinite but they are limited because the set of odd numbers does not contain the even numbers and the set of even numbers does not contain the odd numbers.
            ---]
            But they are infinitely "countable". By analogy, I would say God is more like the "Real" set of numbers which is uncountable and also larger than the countable set.

          • Michael Murray

            I'm not really concerned about God in my reply. Just about the use of the words infinite and limited which appear to be incorrect.

            Choosing uncountable numbers makes no difference to my argument you can find an uncountable set which is a union of two disjoint uncountable sets. Take, for example the positive reals and the non-positive reals.

            But as you have bought it up why would you prefer to relate God to the real numbers ? There are many other bigger cardinal numbers.

          • [---
            I'm not really concerned about God in my reply. Just about the use of the words infinite and limited which appear to be incorrect.
            ---]
            I know you're not concerned with God:) But God was the context in which David used the word infinite. There are plenty of words in and out of mathematics that take on different meanings. This is one of them.

            When a theist uses "infinite" with respect to God, it also entails that the attribute cannot be quantified. This is why I was tweaking the example you gave to an uncountable set. You can't fully map the divine attribute to the human experience, the same way you can't fully map the uncountable to the countable set.

            [---
            But as you have bought it up why would you prefer to relate God to the real numbers ?
            ---]

            Only for the purpose of the post. That it is uncountable and.... and the double entendre:) I was thinking of transcendentals too, but I was avoiding imaginary or irrational numbers :)

          • Paul Boillot

            "Goodness" and "finite good" are too vague of terms for this to be completely intelligible to me.

            "If its true that the achievement of any finite good simply leads to the desire for more goodness"

            If we read it as "If its true that the achievement of any specific, finite good X simply leads to the desire for more X" then it is clearly not true: eating one gram of dark chocolate while sipping a dry cappuccino is something that, when achieved, I enjoy greatly. I enjoy not the eating/drinking, but the subjective experiences induced thereby.

            I also know that eating/drinking more than one or two of these consecutively will induce a subjective experience which is not pleasant, not a good I desire.

            Certainly not something I want to do forevermore, sequentially, until I perish.

          • DAVID

            But if you limit goodness to a subjective experience, then you sort of prove Fr. Barron's point. The article begins by noting the debate between theists and atheists over the question of whether atheists can believe in objective morality/goodness. Fr. Barron believes that they cannot. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you agree with him.

          • Paul Boillot

            I don't know if I agree with him, as he hasn't made an intelligible case.

            He asks the question "Couldn't an honest secularist hold to objective moral goods but not hold to God's existence?" He never answers it satisfactorily.

            If he believes that atheists can't hold to objective moral goods, he's just wrong.

            Finally, I just want to add that I don't know what you mean by "if you limit goodness"...I didn't choose the word "finite," Barron did.

          • Geena Safire

            one gram of dark chocolate

            Paul, that's only the equivalent -- in mass only, but not in quality obviously -- of two standard chocolate chips, or 1/28 of an ounce. That must be some wicked good chocolate!

          • Paul Boillot

            Serves me right for trying get on board with the metric system.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I interpreted the "Goodness" in the title of the article to refer to the finite goodness that we can experience in this world. To me, it is not just semantics to say that finite goodness cannot exist or be understood without being contextualized by an absolute and objective goodness. If you want to use the word "Cheese" to refer to that absolute referent, then yes, I think it would then be meaningful to say that "(finite) goodness depends on Cheese".

        • Paul Boillot

          "absolute goodness" and "objective moral goods" are not equivalent.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I understand the distinction, and I don't think I claimed that they were the same. I think the point is that objective moral goods must be grounded in the existence of absolute goodness.

          • Paul Boillot

            What is the logic/evidence behind that claim?

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Honestly, I don't have the competency in philosophy to defend that claim. My sense is that that claim is true, but it wasn't my intent here to mount a rigorous defense of it. I was only trying to defend the identification of "absolute goodness" with "God".

          • Geena Safire

            My sense is that that claim is true

            You can't even point us to a defense that you sense is a good defense? You are gambling your life's direction on commitment to a claim that you merely sense is true?

            I'd very much like to see a defense of your claim -- yours or that of someone else.. IMHO, something can be objective, by many definitions of the word, without having anything to do with absolute anything. You're both reifying and deifying 'goodness.'

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Sorry, I'm afraid I have to disappoint Geena. Let me parse your comment a bit though.

            I am gambling my life's direction on a belief in the existence of absolute goodness, and I am gambling my life's direction on a sense that I have some limited ability to reason or intuit my way toward a recognition of that which is objectively good. But as for the connection between absolute goodness and objective goodness? I respect and admire those who probe that connection, but honestly it doesn't get me all that excited.

            I would much rather spend my time focusing on the areas where I think I am likely to be wrong, rather than the areas where I think I am likely to be right. Life's too damn short to prove everything, so this seems like a wiser investment of my time.

            I am very happy to hear that I am reifying and deifying goodness! That is more or less what I pray for every morning.

          • Geena Safire

            Of course, I wish you all the best in your journey, Jim. How could I be disappointed by your finding joy in your way of commitment to the good?

            As for me, though, it is important to me to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.

            I share with you in being committed to doing good and becoming better...

            ...but I can't share in your reification of goodness as a thing, much less an absolute thing.

      • Steve Willy

        Your sophomoric response does as much to prove Father Barron's point as the article itself, in my view. Thanks for your steaming nugget of pseudo-intellectual, Hitchens-Dawkins parroting, basement dwelling, neck bearded blather, you faux-philosophical a-clown.

        • Paul Boillot

          First, you deserve this for winning the internet: http://theclearlydope.tumblr.com/image/73262328614

          Second, and quickly, before your post gets deleted: where else do you post? I'd love to spend some time with you in less civil environs!

          I checked your disqus profile, but you've made it private.

          • Paul, try googling "Steve Willy" comments.

            But I think you'll be disappointed. He seems to vary his comments little. Generally you find "neck bearded" and "blather" and "Hitchens-Dawkins." The only real variety seems to be in whether he calls an argument "faux-intellectual" or "pseudo-intellectual." I don't know whether he treats those terms interchangeably or if there are distinct characteristics for each appellation.

        • I don't think "blather" comes in "nuggets." It's more of a foam. Could you please rephrase for clarity?

        • Ben Posin

          Uh...well argued.

  • This reminds me of the problem solving methodology we use where I work. Parts of it mirror “Toyota’s Five Why’s” (not always five)

    Example: The vehicle will not start.
    Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
    Why? - The alternator not functioning. (second why)
    Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
    Why? - The alternator belt was beyond its useful service life (fourth why)
    Why? - The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why)
    One can continue to ask why, but no more “why’s” are needed for a service technician to fulfill his duty. For the ultimate questions of truth & goodness the “why’s” lead to a creator. One can continue to ask why, but no more “why’s” are needed for a person to fulfill their destiny.

    • Geena Safire

      For the ultimate questions of truth & goodness the “why’s” lead to a creator.

      Maybe yours do. Mine lead to 42.

  • I actually did not see an argument for why goodness depends on God in the article The closest Barron came is to say, "'God' is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life."

    It seems all I have to do is reply: "'God' is not the name I give to those things," and his whole argument falls apart.

    What am I missing?

    • Vasco Gama

      There is no argument, as that it corresponds to the Catholic definition of God. But you may disagree with that.

    • Hey Rob - I think the key term in the sentence you quoted is "absolute or unconditioned." The idea is not that God is another "name" for what is good, but that God is the absolute ground of what is good - the absence of which means that basic goods participate in nothing other than themselves.

      • Andre Boillot

        "that God is the absolute ground of what is good"

        I think the problem is that Fr. Barron does a poor job making this case.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          But he is proposing that as an elemental definition. How could one make a case for a definition?

          • Andre Boillot

            Jim,

            This site has hosted numerous, long, and nuanced discussions on issues surrounding defining 'God', 'good', and 'God as good', none of which seems evidenced here. Fr. Barron, who warns of atheists blithely dismissing God as necessary for morality, himself seems guilty of not giving the issue adequate consideration.

      • Hi Matthew. I'm not following this:

        the absence of which means that basic goods participate in nothing other than themselves.

        Could you explain that a bit? Specifically what you mean by "participate."

        • I'll try! I need help though. During the eight-part debate on this subject, Kevin Aldrich posted an article which I found really illuminating:

          http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/11/11150/

          I'd recommend reading the whole thing a few times. Here's one crucial passage, which describes how a (in one sense) independent sphere of human morality is altered significantly when God is brought in the picture. Natural morality is subsumed into (i.e., participates in) a supernatural context, and this changes both the content and nature of moral obligations:

          For, if we go beyond merely taking human nature as given and show that God exists and has created human nature, then we can reasonably conclude not only that human beings have a certain final end but that this end has been ordained by God and that he intends for us to attain it. This step leaves the content of morality unchanged but transforms the nature of moral obligation. Now when a man acts immorally, he not only acts contrary to his nature and makes himself a bad man; he also affronts God by his disobedience and sets himself in opposition to the divine will. With such assumptions in the background, it makes sense to say that the wrongdoer not only does wrong but sins, becomes not only a bad man but a wicked one...This supernatural final end does not conflict with the natural final end but includes and subsumes it. Hence, every action ordered to the natural final end is also ordered to the supernatural one, and every action contrary to the natural final end is also contrary to the supernatural one.

          • Geena Safire

            With such assumptions in the background, it makes sense to say that the wrongdoer not only does wrong but sins, becomes not only a bad man but a wicked one...

            Eww! Catholic guilt really is guilt on steroids. For example, this means that not brushing my teeth is not just 'bad' but is massively, infinitely evil because it offends and wounds and wrongs the infinite creator of the universe. Stahp!

            Matthew, do you really consider this to be crucial to the Catholic conception of good and evil?

            A second question:
            Do you realize the effect this kind of bizarre reasoning has on actual, normal human beings?

            As just one example, Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped by a cult couple and repeatedly raped by the husband, says that she didn't think of escaping after her rape because she was raised as a good Catholic girl, including that premarital sex ruins you, so she thought, at the age of fourteen, that no one would want her to return after losing her virginity..

          • Hey Geena - I find the "Catholic guilt" thing really interesting. Whenever I hear the phrase used it's almost always by lapsed Catholics who left the faith at a young age. Non-Catholics know that Catholics don't have a monopoly on something so human, and Catholics are wrapped up in the heart of their faith, which is trying to forgive as they've been forgiven.

            Rene Girard might point out that scapegoating Catholics as guilt-mongering obsessives is as good an indicator of the presence of guilt as any other scapegoat. Who doesn't jump at the chance to heap a world of blame onto the head of this or that religion, politician, actress, family member? Without our scapegoats, we would be forced to gaze on our own visage, and waste away like Christian Bale in "The Machinist." Guilt comes for us all, even - maybe especially - for those who decide there's no one out there to forgive them.

          • Andre Boillot

            Matthew,

            Sorry to intrude, couple things:

            Whenever I hear the phrase [Catholic guilt] it's almost always by lapsed Catholics who left the faith at a young age.

            Allow me to throw in my own anecdotes; this is a phrase I often hear from current Catholics, and it's not uncommon in pop-culture either.

            Non-Catholics know that Catholics don't have a monopoly on something so human

            Of course not, though it might be telling that guilt is so often paired with Catholics and Jews, and that 'Catholic guilt' and 'Jewish guilt' are concepts commonly acknowledged from within and without.

            Catholics are too wrapped up in the heart of their faith - that trying to forgive as they've been forgiven business.

            Forgive me Matthew, but I'll have to call 'No True Scotsman' on this.

            Guilt comes for us all, even - maybe especially - for those who decide there's no one out there to forgive them.

            I'm genuinely surprised at this, Matthew, I've generally thought of you as being above this sort of insinuation.

          • Andre Boillot

            Also, I forgot to mention this in my initial response, but it's not like this notion of 'Catholic guilt' rises out of a vacuum. I'm not particularly well versed in all the intricacies of the various non-Catholic Christian denominations, even less so of Jewish traditions (or other faiths) - but I do know the Catholic Church places an emphasis on the 'examination of conscience', in a way that I'm unaware of other faiths doing. Speaking for myself, I recall many years of being instructed in exactly how to convict myself of various crimes (be they external or of the mind), including the crime of not being rigorous enough in the cataloging of my transgressions.

          • Michael Murray

            Guilt comes for us all, even - maybe especially - for those who decide there's no one out there to forgive them.

            Certainly the Catholic Church provides a mechanism for relieving guilt via confession. But it also provides many additional reasons for being guilty by making a whole lot of things I don't think are morally wrong into sins. Impure thoughts ? White lies ? Masturbation ? Living in sin ? Effective contraception ? Eating meat on Fridays ? Crossing the centre line through the Church without genuflecting ? Not attending Mass ? Not going to Confession. Biting the Eucharist ? Swearing ? Disobeying your parents ?

            The list seemed endless when I was a teenager although I have to say living in sin and effective contraception were not on the horizon. It was more impure thoughts and masturbation.

            I wonder what the nett effect of more sins plus a mechanism for forgiveness is ?

            Michael

          • Michael - I've been pondering your comment for a few days after some false starts at replying. All I really want to say is that I understand where you're coming from. I think even Pope Francis understands: he's talked a lot about "rigorists" in the Church, Pharisaic types who make rules their religion and treat reconciliation like a trip to the laundromat - or worse, a torture chamber.

            Rules are important, but "God is not a torturer." (Scorsese's favorite line from "Diary of a Country Priest"). The revelation of the Cross (the true "mechanism" of forgiveness) is that God loves us, blemishes and all - and if that's not our center, we're off-center.

      • Okay, but neither the existence of absolute goods or a God has been established here.

    • Rob, don't get hung up on the name "God." It hardly matters what name we assign this transcendent source of objective goodness, justice, truth, etc. For example, calling God "Mystery" or "Supreme Being" or "Transcendent Ground of Reality" while retaining all of his same characteristics does nothing to affect the question of whether such a being exists or necessarily grounds objective morality.

      Bracketing what name to give it, would you agree with Fr. Barron that absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life exist?

      Do you think there are moral truths and duties that objectively exist, for all people in all places?

      • Brandon, I do think it matters -- on a website devoted to dialog between theists and atheists -- whether we give "absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life" the name of "God." That seems to be the whole point.

        I do believe that there are moral truths and duties that objectively exist, for all people in all places. I don't know that I (or anyone) can create a logical proof for this or identify exactly what those truths and duties are, but I believe that human nature is not infinitely malleable and human well-being is not infinitely arbitrary, so I think the truths and duties exist independent of my ability to identify or verify them. I don't think you'll see "God" in there, though.

        Ultimately, my belief in objective morality is based in my own subjective emotional experience, an experience that seems to be very nearly universal, to one degree or another, to our species. Perhaps this is why rigorous moral philosophy is such a millenia-old struggle: we still haven't learned enough objective information about our emotional nature to get far in our investigations

        • Mike

          Hi Rob,

          Can I ask a sincere question? I would venture that we would share several or most objective moral truths, but we would derive them from a different place. As a believer the objective moral truths come from God. For example, intrinsic human dignity would come from humans being "made in the image and likeness of God".

          I don't know many atheists, so I am curious where do you derive your objective moral truths?

          • Hi MIke. I'd redirect you to my statements above:

            "I don't know that I (or anyone) can create a logical proof for this or identify exactly what those truths and duties are"

            and:

            "Ultimately, my belief in objective morality is based in my own subjective emotional experience"

            In other words, I have moral beliefs but I understand I can't claim them to be proven as objective moral beliefs. That's because I rely on my own subjective experience of what constitutes human well-being and human harm. I also hold (unproven) beliefs that human nature is not infinitely malleable, and so the conditions and behavior that lead to human well-being and human harm are not arbitrary and can someday be objectively determined.

            In the meantime I rely on my own interior experience.

            Meanwhile, let me ask you: How do you know that your moral truths come from God as opposed to your own subjective views about who God is?

            Or, more pertinently, did your moral intuitions lead you to your acceptance of a given religion, or did your acceptance of a given religion create your moral views where previously there was only a blank slate?

          • Mike

            Hi Rob,

            If I'm honest with you and myself my moral intuitions are probably a convolution of my own moral views, and those of the Church. I was raised as a Catholic so I probably have some ingrained in me from my upbring, but I like to think I can also think for myself and either accept or reject some or all of what the church teaches. For myself many of my moral intuitions match the Church's but I didn't accept them blindly.

            I like to think that reality of moral objectivity is kind of like the reality of the universe. I don't think I can or intend to rigorously prove this. I think that there is some objective truths, goods, and evils. My ability or that of others to comprehend or accept these truths don't change their reality. In the same manner that the universe existed in whatever state it currently is, despite or inspite of my or others ability to understand them. For example dark matter existed long before we were aware of its existence. Humanity may never fully understand the universe, just like we may never fully comprehend morality, but it exists non-the-less.

          • Mike

            Hi Rob. I thought I responded yesterday but I didn't see the comment this morning.

            I prefer to think that there are objective moral truths. I believe that they exist irregardless of our understanding or acceptance of them. For example, slavery is wrong. Slavery has always and will always be wrong. Even though it existed previously our change in attitude towards it don't change its truth. I make an analogy towards science. Namely the universe exists whether or not we understand it, or accept certain aspects of it. For example dark matter exists even though we don't know what is consists of, and didn't expect it to exist until recently. In the same way I believe that certain things are always true even if we don't accept them.

            I might agree with you that there is subjectivity in determining what an objective moral truth is, but it can exist without my accepting or understanding of it.

            To answer your other question I don't know that the objective moral truths I believe in come from God. I'm not even completely certain they are correct. I am always striving to examine my conscience and whether I am correct in my beliefs.

            I think that my moral intuitions are a convolution of my own intuitions and those of my religion. I was raised Catholic and I don't know how to entirely separate the two. That said as an adult I do my best to examine my beliefs in as an objective manner as possible. That said many of my intuitions match my church's teachings, and they were arrived at probably in concert from acceptance of my religion and my own intuitions.

          • I might agree with you that there is subjectivity in determining what an objective moral truth is, but it can exist without my accepting or understanding of it.

            Exactly. Subjective experience may be the best -- or even the only -- tool we have at this point for determining what objective truth is, but its existence does not depend on my subjective experience.

        • As far as I can tell, this is a non-argument for objective morality and a concession of moral subjectivism - which is to say, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

          So why shouldn't human nature be infinitely malleable and arbitrary, if all we're counting on for the "weight" of moral judgments is your emotional intuitions weighed against every other person's, each with his or her own myriad of experiences, desires, beliefs, delusions? It seems to me that if morality rests on the substratum of "feelings," the "center cannot hold." How are we not, like Nietzsche and Sartre saw, the legislators of our own moral dicta?

          • David Nickol

            So why shouldn't human nature be infinitely malleable and arbitrary . . .

            I just finished reading Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate in which he argues against those who believe we are born with virtually no human nature or that human nature is "infinitely malleable," and Pinker sees human beings as being largely shaped by evolution, with certain characteristics being deeply ingrained. For example, kinship and family are deeply important to our nature, and artificial arrangements for organizing families and raising children simply don't work (he gives the Israeli kibbutz and various communes as examples).

            To oversimplify, he sees human beings as having been quite thoroughly shaped to live as interdependent entities in groups, with inborn traits for cooperation, justice, "cheating detection," and so on. (However, he most certainly does not buy into the idea of the "noble savage," or believe that people are by nature angelic and are corrupted by culture.)

            He says the idea of human nature has been anathema in academia (particularly the left) and convincingly illustrates the absurdities that denying human nature results in.

            It seems to me that a lot of the force of the argument that there can be no good without God is fear. For example,

            The moment we unmoor a moral system from these objective values, no act can be designated as intrinsically evil and from that state of affairs moral chaos follows.

            "Intrinsic evil" is a very Catholic concept, and although I am certainly no expert, it seems to me there are other plausible approaches to morality (utilitarian ones) that don't rely on the concept of "intrinsic evil." Also, there are atheist philosophers who nevertheless believe in objective morality.

            I have on occasion argued both sides of this question, and I have no idea which side is right, but it doesn't seem to me that in human culture from the dawn of civilization, it has been necessary for people to believe that moral goodness has no grounding if there is no God. That is, I don't think any society has unraveled because atheism spread and everyone said, "Without God, everything is permitted." Whether or not that statement is theoretically true, people don't act as if it were. And even though I understand the fear experienced by some that if there is no God and people realize this (or if people don't believe in God) "moral chaos" will ensue, it is irrational to seek to persuade people (or allow oneself to be persuaded) that God exists because you find the consequences of atheism frightening.

          • Hey David - Since you reply to so many comments, and the replies are often lengthy, I have to limit myself to responding only when a primary comment is involved, not a reply to someone else. I will still read them, as I always do - don't want you to think I'm simply ignoring you - but I just don't have the time to respond to every comment you make point by point.

          • David Nickol

            I understand completely. It is too much to ask that everyone (particularly moderators) reply to every message written them. When I address a comment to someone, I do not necessarily expect them to reply, but only to read what I have written and realize I am right and they are wrong. :)

          • Arthur Jeffries

            This is a bit OT, but to what extent do you consider Pinker reliable? Though I've read Pinker for years, I am a bit disturbed by his habit of ignoring evidence that is contradictory to his theses. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá noted this tendency in their book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality as did Edward Herman and David Peterson in their damning review of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Did you find The Blank Slate to be convincing?

          • David Nickol

            Did you find The Blank Slate to be convincing?

            I found it convincing insofar as I think Pinker amply demonstrated that there are those in the behavioral and social sciences who very much want to believe in the "blank slate" and/or the "noble savage" for ideological reasons that they allow to color their professional opinions. Why it should be controversial (as it apparently was) to publish findings that facial expressions are universal among humans and biologically determined rather than learned and differ from culture to culture is beyond me. I think he conclusively demonstrates that humans have never been inherently peace-loving, selfless, naturally virtuous beings who are only corrupted by culture.

          • Arthur Jeffries

            Thanks.

          • Matthew I'm saying three things:

            "I believe objective morality exists, though I cannot prove it or prove what it consists of."

            "My reasons for believing objective morality exists are subjective."

            "Science is developing tools for objectively studying an individual's subjective inner experiences are improving, so my reasons may one day no longer be subjective."

            It may sound paradoxical to believing, for subjective reasons, that objective morality exists, but it is not a logical contradiction.

            Meanwhile, the theist of course is in no better a situation because the theist's decision to accept a given religion and its morality is a personal decision, informed by "his or her own myriad of experiences, desires, beliefs, delusions?"

            I don't understand how this

            So why shouldn't human nature be infinitely malleable and arbitrary...

            fits in the same sentence with this:

            ...if all we're counting on for the "weight" of moral judgments is your emotional intuitions weighed against every other person's

            Human nature either is infinitely malleable or its not. My moral intuitions inform my view of that question, but my moral intuitions do not affect the factual question whether human nature is actually infinitely malleable (Just as my intuitions about the boiling point of water don't affect the boiling point of water.)

          • Well, consider swapping out "objective morality" for some "objective truth" - say, evolutionary truth - and you may see why that strikes me as an odd way to demonstrate objectivity (meaning mind-independence).

            If I told you that objective evolutionary truth exists, but a) I can't prove it or prove what it consists of, b) my reasons for believing it are subjective, though c) my reasons may one day no longer be subjective - would you be persuaded that evolutionary truth has been demonstrated? Just the opposite seems true: evolutionary truth will have been reduced to a matter of subjective opinion or intuition.

            I would say the same is true for your take on morality. Now I don't deny for a second that objective moral truths exist - I agree with you that they do - it just seems to me that you're trying to have your cake and eat it too by grounding them in subjectivity.

          • At no point am I trying to ground objective moral truths in subjectivity.

            Rather, I am saying my belief that they exist (whatever they may reveal themselves to be) is based on my subjective experience. That's a big difference: one's belief that objective moral truth exists is not the same thing as the moral truths themselves.

            You wrote, "would you be persuaded that evolutionary truth has been demonstrated?" Of course not. And as I wrote above, I'm not trying to persuade you. Rather, Brandon asked me whether I believe they exist, and so I answered him while explaining why I believe so.

            It seems odd that I say "I don't know that I (or anyone) can create a logical proof for this" and you object that I've failed to prove or demonstrate the truth of my belief. That's not an objection -- that's simply what I already said.

            My subjective experience is not a reason for you to believe anything I say, but it would be irrational for me to deny existence of that experience simply because I cannot invite you into my brain to share it. The best I can do is reason with the experience and have and yet realize that it cannot be grounds for the persuasion of others.

            Of course, there is some objective evidence building up out there. We see the failure of totalitarian regimes that tried to build on a view of infinitely malleable human nature, and we see that moral concepts like "empathy" are not just subjective experiences but can be studies neurologically (mirror neurons are especially fascinating).

            So that's a start. In the meantime, I work with what I've got and recognize its limitations, both in its ability to afford me certainty and to persuade others.

          • Matthew, perhaps making this distinction will help. You wrote:

            evolutionary truth will have been reduced to a matter of subjective opinion or intuition.

            But that's not right it would be better to say: evidence for evolutionary truth will have been reduced to a matter of subjective opinion or intuition.

            And that's different, because the evidence currently available for a truth is different from the truth. A statement can be true without us being aware of any evidence at all, or with only subjective evidence, or with overwhelming objective evidence.

            The nature of our evidence for a fact does not change the nature of the fact; rather, it changes the nature of our belief about the fact. That's why you can have a subjective belief that objective moral truths exist. Either they do or they do not. The basis on which I form my beliefs about their existence does not change the fact of whether they exist.

          • Well, insofar as you're simply saying you need to be a subject to have a belief or knowledge to begin with - I certainly don't disagree with that! Truths don't know themselves; they need to be known by a knower.

            But I do think we need a stronger explanation for objective morality than the one you've offered, especially if we're convinced (as many people are) that some things (e.g., suffering of children) are really actually bad and others (e.g., agape love) really actually good in themselves. And if we argue that that's not true - perhaps because we're wary of the recourse to God - we need to be honest about what that means in the sphere of moral judgments and actions.

          • But I do think we need a stronger explanation for objective morality than the one you've offered

            I said something akin to that in my post, too. :)

          • Vasco Gama

            Plato and Aristotle provide very good arguments on objective morality.

          • Paul Boillot

            There is "mind-independence" and there isn't.

            Objective truths are independent of any one mind's subjective take on them, that doesn't mean that they would exist if there were no minds to know them.

            "Red is a color" is an objective truth about electromagnetic wavelengths and human brains. More than one brain will arrive at that truth, despite one or more brains rejecting it.

            If tomorrow there are no more brains, if they all disappear, then it will no longer be an objective truth.

            It is 'mind-independent' in that it does not rely on the subjective experience of one individual, but it is mind-dependent in that it relies on an observable facet of collective subjective experience.

          • Vasco Gama

            One thing is the subjective cognitive experience of percieving redness. The other is the objective fact that unless one is defective (blidness or colour blindness) when we say or we think about red (or redness) we objectively refer to the same thing (which is objective), and not dependent of personal subjective feeling or judgment.

            EDDIT (added)
            This doesn't enable us to consider that it was only possible due to some evolutionary adaptation (which is useful and convenient to humans), or that biology may elucidate us on how is we came to perceive redness. Or that red is the color of the wavelength of light from approximately 620–740 nm on the electromagnetic spectrum.

  • David Nickol

    Even if Fr. Barron were to come up with an airtight proof that that there is no moral goodness without God, that does not in any way imply that God exists.

    • Vasco Gama

      Well yes, if we recognize moral goodness to exist.

      • David Nickol

        Well yes, if we recognize moral goodness to exist.

        There is a difference between "recognizing" and "believing." You would have to demonstrate that something called "moral goodness" existed objectively. I don't see how that could be done without circular reasoning—that is, using the concept of moral goodness to prove the existence of God and using the concept of God to prove the existence of moral goodness.

        • Vasco Gama

          I don't have to demonstrate anything (neither I am trying to show that God or moral goodness exist).

          What I wrote is exactly what I meant, and is "if we recognize (as a fact, not an intuition, an impression, or a belief )" to exist".

          I know we disagree on a variety of things, you really don't need to pick (or be suspicious) on everything I write.

          • David Nickol

            I know we disagree on a variety of things, you really don't need to pick (or be suspicious) on everything I write.

            Please note that in this thread, I have not responded to any of your posts except those you addressed to me. I don't see how answering you when you address me is picking on you.

          • Vasco Gama

            I don't have any problem that people argue with me, except when it makes no sense, as in this case, where you accepted the proposition, say if M then God (airthigh prof. ...). and I just said well but if M then God.

            And you responded to me that
            «There is a difference between "recognizing" and "believing." ...»

            what does this have to do with anything?

            I don't even claim that the proposition (if M then God) is valid.
            And it makes no sense arguing that I have to show that M (objective morality) is true or not, Which was what you were asking to me.

        • Paul Boillot

          Additionally "objective moral goodness" is not the same thing as "unconditional" or "absolute moral goodness."

    • jakael02

      Putting philosophy aside, it seems easier for anyone (Atheists and Christians) who don't have a close prayer life to simply indulge in their anger, jealousy, pride, etc. which breeds immorality of any type. On the other side, one with a deeper prayer life, tends to know God and thus finds themselves with unexplainable, unscientific, untheological means (aka grace) to combat pride, greed, anger, etc. which makes the world a better place.
      When I am close in prayer. That is when I experience God's work within me and see evidence of his grace to guide me in morals. When I become distant in prayer, I struggle much, very much.

      • Paul Boillot

        "Unexplainable"?

        Mediation of any kind helps the brain regulate emotions, decrease heart rate, etc.

        I don't believe you're close to anyone during your prayer, except yourself, and I applaud you for doing so anyway. Mediation is a great way to better physical and mental well-being.

        • jakael02

          I spent seven years in the New Age movement and different mediation techniques. I do not subscribe that pray is just another form of mediation, although some forms of prayer can be meditative. However, in my experiences no amount of my mediation brought grace's that were evident into my life, only prayer has. This is because it's not what "I do" that brings grace, but what God does. Prayer opens me up to God's grace, while mediation is my effort to obtain spiritual effects.

          • Paul Boillot

            I will take your word that your previous meditations didn't work; that doesn't help you to establish your new meditations as supernaturally efficacious.

            I think that the placebo effect is well-documented enough to allow me to interpret your story as results-post-belief.

          • jakael02

            I didn't start praying post-belief. God worked a miraculous event into my life pre-belief. I was still in new age movement that converted me. I understand you don't subscribe to this but I just wanted to share.

          • Paul Boillot

            I hope I haven't come off as antagonistic to you; I think it's great that you've got a system that works for your personal well-being.

            All I wanted to address was your claim "On the other side, one with a deeper prayer life, tends to know God and thus finds themselves with unexplainable, unscientific, untheological means (aka grace) to combat pride, greed, anger, etc."

            Non-religious meditation is also a great "means to combat pride, greed, anger," as well as fear, doubt, insecurity, anxiety, etc...

            It is not inexplicable or unscientific...although it might be 'untheological' :P

            Thanks for sharing your perspective!

          • jakael02

            You make a good point. Non-religious meditation can be a good way to combat that. I agree. That type of meditation can be very scientific, so I see better your point from earlier. To better clarify, what I was trying to say as unscientific was the work of grace, which I thik you would agree with since you don't subscribe a God who gives grace via prayer. I enjoyed the discussion b/c I always learn much.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Actually, think about it.

      If we could prove that there is no moral goodness without God, and if we could demonstrate that moral goodness does exist, then we would have strong grounds to say that God exists, otherwise how could there be moral goodness.

      However, I think a better argument is that human nature is enough to establish moral goodness and evil for human beings, even if it is a rather weak basis without God, too:

      http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/11/11150/

  • David Nickol

    Why do we do the things that we do? What motivates us ethically? Right
    now, I am typing words on my keyboard. Why am I doing that? Well, I want
    to finish my weekly column. Why do I want to do that? I want to
    communicate the truth . . . .

    Fr. Barron has an astoundingly, incredibly simplistic view of human motivation and the ability of introspection to gain self-knowledge.

    I was recently reading about split-brain patients who are able to respond to commands directed to one side of their brains that is isolated from the conscious side controlling speech. If they are told, say, "Stand up and look out the window," they will comply, and when asked why the just stood up and looked out the window, they will always give a plausible reason. This is called confabulation, and there are many other examples. Here's one (involving choice blindness) from the Wikipedia entry for Introspection Illusion:

    Subjects saw two photographs of people and were asked which they found more attractive. They were given a closer look at their "chosen" photograph and asked to verbally explain their choice. However, using sleight of hand, the experimenter had slipped them the other photograph rather than the one they had chosen. A majority of subjects failed to notice that the picture they were looking at did not match the one they had chosen just seconds before. Many subjects confabulated explanations of their preference. For example, a man might say "I preferred this one because I prefer blondes" when he had in fact pointed to the dark-haired woman, but had been handed a blonde. These must have been confabulated because they explain a choice that was never made.

    Why do I want to do that? I want to communicate the truth as I see it to
    an audience who might benefit from it. Why would I want that? Well, I'm
    convinced that the truth is good in itself. Do you see what we've
    uncovered by this simple exercise?

    Are
    anyone's motivations so selfless, pure, and noble? Might Fr. Barron enjoy being in the public
    eye and having people look up to him? Might he not feel just a little
    superior because he has invented a "simple exercise" that answers a
    profound question? I am not intending to imply that Fr. Barron is less than completely sincere, but his exercise is not "simple"—it's mind-bogglingly simplistic.

    • "Might Fr. Barron enjoy being in the public eye and having people look up to him? "

      David, please lay off the character smears. There's simply no need for that.

      • David Nickol

        David, please lay off the character smears. There's simply no need for that.

        I don't think it would have been a "character smear" had I said, "Surely one reason Fr. Barron writes his column and makes videos is that he likes being in the public eye and having people look up to him." It is a quite reasonable assumption about anyone who starts a public ministry, becomes a politician, goes into show business, and any number of endeavors.

        However, I didn't assert that he likes being in the public eye and having people look up to him. I raised it, in the form of a question, as a possible factor that he might have left out in doing the "simple exercise" he set for himself.

        Now, had you objected to me saying, "Might he not feel just a little superior because he has invented a 'simple exercise' that answers a profound question?" That might reasonably be interpreted as implying more than a possibility, so I have stricken it an appended an apology. But I hardly think that rises to the level of a "character smear."

        On the other hand, I think accusing someone of making character smears might constitute a character smear, but I'm not complaining, since I enjoyed the attention. :)

      • Eriktb

        How is that a character smear. David simply presented an another reason as to why Fr. Barron may have written this article. There is no reason for any of us who don't know him to believe David's suggested reason isn't any more or less valid than the one Barron posted. That's the point of David's post; that the understanding Barron presents on motivation is simplistic.

    • Geena Safire

      wrt split brain patients and this web site: VS Ramachandran, in a TED talk, discussed a split-brain patient in which one hemisphere was an atheist and the other hemisphere was a theist. Might that indicate in which hemisphere the soul is operational? Or does it mean that, following the hemispherectomy, the person acquires a second soul? Perhaps for a discussion on another article...

      Separately, Barron may not have a simplistic view of human motivation; in fact, I would assume that he doesn't. However, along the lines of Scientology "personality tests," he is assuming that his readers have simplistic views of their own motivation and is using these questions as a 'hook' to draw his readers to read further..

  • David Nickol

    Couldn't one write an almost identical article title Why Evilness Depends on God?

    • Not really, because evil has no "being". It is just the absence of good. Think of darkness; it's only the absence of light. There is no source for darkness, one can only take away sources of light.

      • Andre Boillot

        "Not really, because evil has no "being". It is just the absence of good."

        How then would one describe something morally neutral?

        • Vasco Gama

          maybe it just doesn't exist (and it might be a matter or convenience)

      • Octavo

        That is an unhelpful assertion. I could just as well state that goodness is an absence of cruelty.

        ~Jesse Webster

      • Argon

        Yes, as David suggests, one can reasonably flip the argument around. One could likewise define good as the absence of evil.

        In any case, the notion that evil is 'the absence of good' has had a bit of a rocky road in philosophy. I've seen it invoked as means to avoid some issues related 'Problem of Evil' arguments but it's really an assertion, not something demonstrated or largely accepted among philosophers. See for example here or Google "concept of evil" for additional references.

        Aside: I really wish the author or those who post these articles would provide a decent bibliography (both pro and con), rather than one-side repetition of extensively discussed philosophical areas.

        • One cannot reasonably flip the argument around without change the premises.
          Premise #1: God is all good
          Premise #2: All things come from God
          Conclusion: Evil (or the absence of good) cannot come from God and cannot have “being”.
          The light/dark thing is an analogy and no analogy is perfect.
          How do we know what’s true? One way is via contradictions. If I say I have a square shaped triangle; we can know this is not true without any need for further evidence because it is a contraction. Saying evil can come from God is also a contraction.
          Before you question premise 1 and 2, please note that we all have a “philosophy”, or “belief system”, or “worldview” that does not pass empirical testing. From here we should continue to ask “How do we know what’s true?”

          • Eriktb

            If God is all good, and all things come from God, then all things must, by default, be good. We know that all things are not good. We know, assuming we accept your God as creator of the Universe and all that exists, that God created all things that exists. Evil exists, thus God must have created evil. Either your first premise needs to be altered or you must admit your conclusion does not follow you premise.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Eriktb, Could you explain what you mean by "evil exists"?

            The corollary to "evil is a privation of good" is "all that is, is good." This means that everything which has existence is ontologically good. So, we have ontologically good beings (asteroids, snakes, muggers) who have the capacity to do evil to other ontologically good beings who have the vulnerability to be harmed by them.

          • Eriktb

            I mean precisely what I said. Evil exists. If God created all that exists, then evil must be created by God. The problem is still a problem no matter how many times theists try to dance around it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Could you give a few examples of this "existing evil"? It may be obvious to you but not to me.

          • Eriktb

            Well let's see, there's murder, rape, theft, starvation, childhood death, disasters, etc.. Cue you saying that these are things that people do to other people or natural disasters that God has nothing to do with. This is of course false. God is omniscient, thus all sins committed are known to God before the sin is committed. God allows these actions to take place. In fact, God wills these things to happen as God is the reason those who commit the sin live to begin with. Not only is God doing nothing to stop said sins, God willing let's it happen thereby assisting in the sin being committed. Again, the problem of evil is still a problem for theists and probably always will be until the nature of God is imagined in a different way.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Eriktb, you packed quite a load of what I totally disagree with in just a few sentences! As I have time, I'll try to address them separately.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            > "Murder, rape, theft, starvation, childhood death, disasters, etc. exist."

            A murderer exists. The person he murdered used to exist. Murder in itself is what? It is the unjust deprivation of an existing person of his greatest good, life. Murder is what we call that. It is a privation or taking away of a good that ought to be there. Murder cannot walk up to you and kill you. Only something else, which is not evil in itself, can kill you.

            If you rightly object, an evil man did it, so evil exists, I think the answer to this is that the evil in the man who murders is also a privation of a good that ought to be there. Maybe the privation is genetic, or bad environment, or repeated vice, but it should not be there.

          • Eriktb

            Yet it is there and God knew that that evil would be there and willfully created that life knowing precisely what the outcome would be. So, God is the source of evil.

          • Vasco Gama

            God is not the source of evil, God merely gives us humans the possibility of acting in a evil way, if we find reasonable to do so.

          • Eriktb

            If you are completely in control of a situation, and you willingly allow evil to occur then you can be held reasonably accountable for that evil. God would have to be in control of this hypothetical situation. He would then have to allow the act to take place. Therefore God can be reasonably held accountable for evil.

          • Vasco Gama

            I just allow evil, since the good is what is essential (and what as significance in itself. If the essence was the inexistence of evil, there would be no point in creation. Then there would be nothing instead of something.

            To say that God is accountable for evil is meaningless (in fact He is the creator of all reality), and evil in itself only exists as free agents are permited to choose evil instead of good (and evil only exists as humans choose to do it).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            See above.

          • Kevin, I don't see that your reply above answers Eriktb's analysis.

          • Kevin Aldrich
          • Danny Getchell

            Vasco:

            I would submit to you that the difference between -

            (a) a universe in which morality was the result of cultural evolution, to the extent that all but two percent of humans had the same general concept of right and wrong, the remaining two percent being clinically sociopathic, and

            (b) a universe in which a God had instilled identical moral principles in all humans, but had also instilled the potential for rejecting those laws, and in which two percent of humans had taken advantage of that potential,

            - would be indiscernable to an outside observer.

          • Vasco Gama

            I would say that you are right. Although in the case of (b) it would only makes sense for someone that believes in God. But in no way the recognition of (b) as a valid assumption would have to forcely imply that morality in itself could not be accounted by an evolutionary description of human nature (in spite of until now the evolutionary descriptions fail to give any useful insight about morality, i.e. something we didn't new before).

          • Geena Safire

            the difference ... would be indiscernable to an outside observer.

            It might be discernable to neuroscience.

            If our brains' biological pathways with respect to social/prosocial decision-making are essentially the same as those of our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins -- and some pathways are already known to be so -- and if our brains' pathways for social/attachment evaluation and moral evaluation are the same -- and some are appearing to be so -- this supports the theory that the basis of human morality is physical and genetic...

            ...rather than our morality being the effect of some supernatural immaterial soul operating on/through our physical brain, also interacting (to a greater or lesser extent) with some collective or massive supernatural immaterial something else that is the absolute source of all the good stuff and none of the bad stuff.

            Of course, if our morality/sociality does turn out to be completely physical/genetic, it's still conceivable that this collective/massive supernatural immaterial something else might have intervened constantly during evolution, targeting just the gamete DNA of selected individuals of every species in our lineage to make trillions of specific, directed mutations over 4 billion years and ensuring that each of these trillions of mutated individuals and their descendents have a higher survival rate. It's conceivable.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I answer this above.

          • Vasco Gama

            Evil as such requires an agent that might have the will to act in a evil way (or that chooses not to do good)

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Cue you saying that these are things that people do to other people or natural disasters that God has nothing to do with. This is of course false. God is omniscient, thus all sins committed are known to God
            before the sin is committed. God allows these actions to take place. In fact, God wills these things to happen as God is the reason those who commit the sin live to begin with.

            I think you are saying (correct me if I'm misunderstanding you) that God is responsible for evil because he both creates persons and knows beforehand they will do evil.

            Here is an answer to this from New Apologetics:

            Question: If God knew that the gifts of freedom, power, and . . . significance would be abused, then why did he give them?

            Answer: In knowing of the eventual abuse of his maximal self-gift through sin, God either gives all that can be given and does exactly as he would have done as if he did not know that there would be an abuse of the gift, or he holds back his generosity in order to prevent the abuse from happening by giving something less than the total gift which he would have given originally.

            Necessarily, God either gives fully, as if evil were not a factor, or he gives something less in anticipation of evil. If God does exactly as he would have done were evil not a consideration at all, then the total gift is given without the least restraint even though he knows it will be abused; he creates exactly those whom he would have created, if evil were never to have been a consideration and gives away power and importance fully and without any degree of compromise in response to the threat of evil.

            However, if God holds back his generosity in anticipation of the evils that would follow from the abuse of his undiminished self-gift, then self-withholding in anticipation of evil (rather than uncompromising self-donation) becomes the guiding principle in the order of creation.

            Instead of unconditional love and generosity being the principle of divine action, reluctance to love in response to the threat of evil is elevated to the ultimate principle of being. Rather than the unconditional love of God, the power of evil takes the helm of the universe.

            It seems plausible at first glance that God’s goodness would be most exemplified by preventing the abuse of his gifts at the outset, but the deeper reality is that the self-withholding of God that would be necessary to prevent evil is the absolute enthronement of evil.

          • This argument seems to hold as inevitable that abuse would exist, and God can only acknowledge it in His choices or not. But why does God have to accept the abuse as inevitable. Why couldn't he, in all His power, have created a Creation where abuse cannot occur? Had He done so, then the whole "self-withholding" issue becomes moot.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives this answer:

            310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” toward its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.175 (412, 1042-1050, 342)

          • This just says God could have made a world with no evil in it but did not. It gives nothing in the way of an answer to "why." Furthermore it makes no sense: God in his infinite goodness created a world with physical evil in it? Sounds nonsensical to me.

          • Ignorant Amos

            Here is an answer to this from New Apologetics:

            Ever wondered why apologetics...new or old...are necessary to uphold the integrity of such a super being as your god, the one in the book I mean, not the theologically contorted and bent-out-of-shape entity that most believers are ignorantly unaware of, the one that has no resemblance to the thing in the holy books of millennia past?

            I mean, given that us humans are so patently inept at defending such a universe creating being, with all the attributes it is alleged to possess and that.it requires its creation to make excuses for all its foibles, most of which are on the face of it, not conducive to our survival, it seems a tad ludicrous to me.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Not only is God doing nothing to stop said sins, God willing let's it happen thereby assisting in the sin being committed. Again, the problem of evil is still a problem for theists and probably always will be until the nature of God is imagined in a different way.

            I think this is really the same objection that was answered by the long quote from New Apologetics.

          • Vasco Gama

            Kevin,

            While creating good, God allowed evil to exist (evil was directly created but was permited, in fact we can't recognize the existence of good if there is no evil). This doesn't mean that the nature of good is similar to that of evil, which is parasitic by nature and exists only as the absence of good. (Much like cold as the absence of heat, or dark as the absence of light).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I agree, Vasco, but I also tried to show above why that is an imperfect analogy, because "dark as the absence of light" is the inverse of "evil is the absence of good."

            Here is why.

            Light is what fills a void.
            Good does not fill a void. It is in actual beings.

            Darkness does not live off of light.
            Evil does "live" off of good.

          • Vasco Gama

            I agree that the analogies are debatable.

          • Geena Safire

            Actually, the analogy doesn't work because of science.

            According to physics, 'darkness' is mostly what 'exists' -- at the quantum level, a number of fields (electron, quark, Higgs, etc.).

            In this quantum darkness, all fields have a value of zero in the absence of vibrations (except the Higgs field, which is non-zero in 'empty space').

            If there are vibrations in the electromagnetic field propagated across space, we call these light, plus also gamma rays, X-rays, radio waves, microwaves, depending on the frequency.

            But these vibrations don't actually tend to "fill" anything.

          • josh

            Consider the contrapositive. Evil exists. Therefore at least one of your premises is false.

            Also note that contradictions don't tell you anything about truth when you are working with arbitrary axioms. They only tell you about consistency.

          • The conclusion was not "evil does not exist". When we observe an extreme lack of goodness or a lack or some perfection we have a word for it, "evil", so it exits in this sense. When we observe a lack of light we have a word for that too, "darkness"

          • josh

            So now you're going to draw an ad hoc distinction between "does not exist" and "doesn't have being"? As I tried to point out, the problem is with your premises and you don't persuade anyone by twisting yourself into knots like this. 'Evil', if it means anything, is more than an imperfection. A badly drawn circle is not evil. Good and evil are equally 'things' in our usage.

            You say 'darkness' is a lack of light. But think about what is really going on: Darkness and light are sensations. They both require the existence of your brain and your active awareness. In contrast, you don't have a word for the lack of awareness of UV light because you aren't aware of UV light either. Now think about what light physically is: it is an excitation of an electromagnetic field. Both 'darkness' and 'light' are states of that field. (In fact, the Catholics around here frequently insist that such a field is not nothing for fear of conceding that 'something from nothing' is indeed a possibility.) If you say that God created light then he equally created darkness. If he created good things he is equally responsible for bad things.

          • No analogy is perfect, one can always get side tracked in
            some weakness. You are getting lost in the arcane details about physical light. Also, all we have is finite/limited human language, so a term like “imperfection” can also be misconstrued (I used "imperfection" the way Aquinas would, sorry).

            A far as understanding being vs. existence let’s try a TV character like Mr. Spock. We can talk about Mr. Spock and see Mr. Spock, so he does exist in a sense, but he has no “being”, so he also does not exist in a sense. You cannot have a personal relationship with Mr. Spock. You can have a personal relationship with goodness itself, love itself, being itself, which is God himself (and again, analogies and words are only finite).

            Good talking to. Live long and prosper.

          • josh

            "You are getting lost in the arcane details about physical light." Actually, I'm trying to show you that your thinking about good and evil is flawed for the same reason it fails in your analogy. If you don't understand the arcane details of light how can you think you are talking sensibly about 'objective' morality and existence? Unfortunately, Aquinas only had a finite/limited human mind, which is why he made so many mistakes.

            I agree that we can reasonably talk about the concept of Spock existing while acknowledging that he is a fictional character, so Mr. Spock himself does not exist. But both the concept and the hypothetical man himself would 'have being'. The problem is in saying that the concept of evil exists but doesn't 'have being', and yet you don't mean that evil is a fiction or a hypothetical state of affairs.

            Be well.

          • Argon

            Hi Ben.
            Yes, by that I mean one can flip the premises and reach the same conclusions.

            One could also say, 'Good is the absence of evil'. That's the problem with trying to escape the Problem of Evil by describing evil not as a concept by itself but as absence of of something else. The trouble is that most people conclude that good and evil are both reasonable attributes. In other words, that there are evil and there are good acts/events/intentions, not that there are 'good' and 'lacking good' things.

            The light/dark analogy doesn't fit because light is photons/electromagnetic radiation. Dark really is the absence of photons -- Something real and enumerable. By contrast, 'good' and 'evil' are not substances. One might do better with the analogy that they represent opposite portions of the light spectrum or a continuum.

          • Ben Posin

            Ben @ SCM: What if we more completely flip it like this:
            1: God is all evil
            2 All things come from God
            3 Good (or the absenceof evil) cannot come from God and cannot have "being"
            I think you are pretty much acknowledging this though when ask us to hesitate in questionig premises 1 ande 2.
            Respectfully, I think trying to claim that good exists and evil does not, or evil exists but good does not, are equally absurd. It's playing games with words. Which can be fun, but doesn't advance our knowledge of reality.

          • Vasco Gama

            Good and evil both exist, while creating good God allowed evil to exist.

          • Danny Getchell

            Did God "create" good? In that case, is what we call "good" dependent upon a choice made by God??

          • Vasco Gama

            No, as far as Catholics understand God as goodness itself. In the same sense what is called good (and sometimes we are wrong about what we say is good) is good as much as it is consistent with God.'s goodness. Even if we fail to understand exactly what is good, and sometimes we fail to see it clearly, we try to acomplish it with the assistence of reason (and sometimes we fail).

            I know that it may sound as a circularity (but that is my understanding of it, and I can't claim that I a better explanation, as I don't).

          • "ask us to hesitate in questionig premises 1 ande 2." The point here is not about hesitation, but to ask you to question your own. We all have them, we just may not be aware of them.

      • Unless it is actually the other way around. How do we know we haven't got this backwards? How would it look if the actual creator was what we would call evil. That his values were pain, lies, the taking of life and so on. Certainly this being would lie and tell us that that it works the other way around. There is no way to know. What we call love is the absence of hate, kindness the absence of malice and so on.

        • Argon

          Yes Brian. Consider also the Manichean (or Gnostic?) positions with primary and secondary Creators.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          BGA, I think we can know things are the other way around because if God were evil then there would be mere creatures that are both wiser and better than him, and this I find absurd.

          • Why do you say that if God were evil there would be creatures that are wiser and better than him? In this scenario the real god is the evil demon and what you think of as God is a subserviant supernatural being.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The same situation obtains. Something created is superior to its creator. It would mean that the creation is greater than the creator. That does not seem possible to me, as if the part were greater than the whole.

          • Ben Posin

            Kevin:
            I submit to you that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnimalevolent (as I've been doing all over this thread today). What's the problem?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is better to be good than evil. That is the problem, Ben.

          • Ben Posin

            Kevin, first a character breaking aside: while this may seem silly to you, I ask you to trust that I am making a good faith effort to argue reasonably and logically from my premises. And I'll state that I sincerely believe that such arguments are as legitimate as the more traditional made where God is posited to be good.

            Onward: Kevin, God, who is omnimalovent, doesn't agree with you. He perfectly embodies the trait of malevolence, which humans can only imperfectly emulate, some going so far as to reject it and acting good instead. I could see why you could be confused at first, having mistakenly gotten things backwards and thought that God was omnibenevolent. You must have seen the world as full of people doing their best to be true to God's nature by being good, while some strayed so far as to do evil. But now that you know the truth of God' nature, it seems absurd that you'd declare God inferior to us when we can only imperfectly try to reflect his true nature.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ben, This scenario would make a good science fiction novel. It also reminds me of a novel I read in college about a world in which homosexuality was the norm and heterosexuals were a persecuted minority who had to carry out their sex furtively behind bushes in restrooms (this was in the 1970s).

            If God is evil, in fact if God is even a little bit evil, we would be right to be in total rebellion against him.

          • Ben Posin

            Kevin: I find it a little odd that someone who apparently believes the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being should be taken seriously dismisses the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnimalevolent being as science fiction.

            "If God is evil, in fact if God is even a little bit evil, we would be right to be in total rebellion against him." So what's logically impossible about that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Divine command theory is hugely in error.

            I think the idea that God could be evil is logically impossible because good is actually better than evil and a situation would obtain in which my six year old daughter is more moral than God.

          • Ben Posin

            Kevin:

            "Good is actually better than evil." Again, my malevolent God disagrees. You seem to be suggesting that "better" or "worse" when discussing morality is independent of Gods nature, and that maximizing human suffering is self-evidently bad. Sam Harris would agree with you, though most Malevolentheists and (and apparently Christians, going by this website) would disagree with you. I'd love to see your justification.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You want a justification for the claim that good is better than evil?

          • Ben Posin

            I want to know why it's better to desire and work for human flourishing than human suffering, given that God is omnimalevolent and perfectly desires and works for human suffering.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sorry. I have no interest in this kind of "what if" game.

          • Ben Posin

            Your time is yours to use as you see fit. Two things in closing:

            From my perspective, it makes no more sense to say that God must be benevolent by definition than malevolent by definition. As seen in my exchanges with Vasco, one can even use the same arguments to play apologist for either. I think you do yourself a disservice not to examine why you dismiss only one of these as science fiction, and not the other--at the least it might provide insight into the atheist mindset.

            Second: I don't think you, at bottom, actually believe that goodness is grounded in God--but maybe you don't even claim that, and I am getting confused. At most, you believe you believe that morality is grounded in God. Your previous discussion of natural law, and your responses here, suggest to me that you actually think an objective morality exists independent of God.

            Thanks for your time!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I'll address your second point.

            I believe objective goodness is grounded in God *and* it can be known independently of God.

            I think Miller does a good job of showing this here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/11/11150/

          • Ignorant Amos

            From my perspective, it makes no more sense to say that God must be benevolent by definition than malevolent by definition.

            Coincidentally, I was just reading Stephen Law's essay on the subject again on this subject, in my copy of "50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists"

            For those that want to posit gods, the evil god hypothesis is a bit of a problem.

          • David Nickol

            You want a justification for the claim that good is better than evil?

            This thought just occurred to me, and I am not totally sure it is relevant. Regarding the God of philosophers, what sense does it make to say he is good? If God is a being that exists outside of time, how does he do good? What does his goodness consist of? It would seem that God needs creation to do something that can be interpreted as good. In fact, he needs creation to do anything. It seems to me that goodness is something that plays out in time.

          • Ben Posin

            You know, I've thought about this issue a fair bit and this point has never occurred to me. Seems reasonable to me. Unsurprisingly, my take would be that this is a point against morality being grounded in God.

          • Kevin, perhaps a six year old child can be more moral than the God portrayed in some books of the Bible.

          • Geena Safire

            I think the idea that God could be evil is logically impossible because good is actually better than evil and a situation would obtain in which my six year old daughter is more moral than God.

            Perfectly said, Kevin!

            This is exactly what many of us have been trying to get through to you nigh these many moons! She's more moral than that God of the Bible, and so are you.

            Of course, the idea of an all-malevolent deity is presented also as a thought experiment to show the similar illogic of an all-benevolent deity that is a conscious person...

            ...and created the world and has a son who is also him and is intimately with and involved with every being's thoughts, actions, history, and dreams at every moment, and and reveals himself in burning bushes and pillars of clouds and...       ...etc.

            Divine command theory is hugely in error.

            Wonderful! You've also solved the Euthyphro dilemma in favor of the deity being a middleman since that which is ordered by the deity is so ordered because that action is good.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I can't agree with much of what you have said here but I do have a question. Are you and Susan the same person?

          • Ignorant Amos

            Are you and Susan the same person?

            How disingenuous and some might say insulting....to what purpose is the question?

          • Geena Safire

            I have to admit I'm with I. Amos on this, Kevin -- insulting. So I respond to you:

            1) No.

            2) What ever gave you that idea -- what evidence -- besides the likelihood, from our names, of us both having uteruses?

            3) Apart from whatever gave you that idea, why did it seem of value to you to actually express such an ugly idea that I would participate here discussing the importance of morality and yet be so duplicitous?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Geena, I apologize for that sounding insulting to you.

            I don't think having two identities on the internet means a person is duplicitous. I wasn't thinking anything ugly about either you or Susan.

            I've thought about it because of what seems to me remarkable similarities in both what you say and how you express it.

            So again, I apologize to you and to Susan as well if she's insulted by this.

          • Geena Safire

            Thank you, Kevin. My uterus and I both accept your apology.

            I would be interested in examples of where Susan and I write in ways that are similar. I know we tend to agree to a great deal, but I didn't think our styles were similar. If nothing else, Susan is generally much less verbose and less techy than I tend to be.

          • Ignorant Amos

            I don't think having two identities on the internet means a person is duplicitous.

            In netiquette it is the epitome of being accused of duplicitous behaviour....better known as "ballot stuffing" by a "sockpuppet".

          • Geena Safire

            What he said!

            As I. Amos noted, it is poor netiquette to have two identities on the same forum or in the same environment. A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception.

            They usually act in ways that provide the appearance of additional support from one identity to the other -- e.g., 'Yes, she is so right about that!' -- 'ballot stuffing' by a 'sockpuppet.'

            One identity can also be used as an opposing 'straw man' for the other identity to argue against.

            Sockpuppetry can also be used to regain participation on a forum on which one has been banned under a different alias.

            Also frowned upon are business marketing/sales folks posting positive user product or service reviews for the company's products, or positive book or film reviews. Or posing as a user with a problem at the company's web site which customer service is able to handle oh-so-quickly-and-easily.

          • Susan

            So again, I apologize to you and to Susan as well if she's insulted by this

            I'm insulted by the accusation of sockpuppetry which, as Amos and Geena have pointed out, is as dishonest as it gets on the internet and betrays the trust that proper discussion requires if we choose to do it on the internet.

            I'm not insulted by being mistaken for Geena as I admire her approach and her comments in general. I'm pretty sure that any objective analysis would not mistake one for the other in knowledge or style.

            I've thought about it because of what seems to me remarkable similarities in both what you say and how you express it.

            You are talking to non-catholics. We are both asking questions that are obvious based on your claims. (And we probably both have a uterus. ;-) )

            Our styles are entirely different and I"d have to say that overall, Geena's is better. :-)

            One of the obvious distinctions is Geena's emphasis on human suffering and mine begins with the suffering of non-humans. Either way, your deity is not a good moral explanation.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Sockpuppetry! I never heard of it before. How could I have missed it?

          • Danny Getchell

            Ben:

            If there is in fact an omnipotent, omniscient being who created us and the contents of our minds, then I think it's irrelevant to consider it as "benevolent" or "malevolent". It just is. And it's the boss.

            In much the same way, a group of Aztecs working on the temple housekeeping detail would not be in a position to apply the terms "good" or "evil" to their jobs.

            "Hey, man, remember this is Tezcatlipoca we work for. He's the boss. We have no standing to question him...."

          • Ben Posin

            That's all true, if one defines morality/benevolence/malevolence as "whatever God wants." And some people, who believe in divine command theory, do just that (read William Lane Craig's arguments trying justify various biblical massacres). And if someone takes that position, I'm not sure there's much farther for the conversation to move--though I've noticed that people who say God can do what he wants with us don't feel that parents can do whatever they want with their children, and seem convinced that God ISN'T going to order massacres in the current age, and that people who think they are hearing God give such orders probably need psychiatric help.

          • Vasco Gama

            The problem is that it is not consistent with reality. We can't recognize that reality is essencially evil (unless one is extremelly depressed).In that sense humans would be also essencially evil, they would try to harm each other, and themselves,...

          • MichaelNewsham

            And they don't?

            The Argument from Evil says we don't recognize that reality is essentially Evil because we don't want to, like the horribly abused child who convinces herself daddy really loves her, because the alternative is too horrible to think about. But that's a psychological objection, not a logical one.

          • Vasco Gama

            it is logical as evil is self contraditory. Such as why do you say that the abused child would have to love her daddy or think that he loves her, in an evil world there is no such thing as a "too horrible thing" (as it is prety much what reality should be)..

          • Ben Posin

            Ah, philosophers and theologians have long considered the Problem of Good. For while the world is clearly full of terrible evils and suffering (including humans doing truly horrific things to each other), there does seem to be a fair bit of good in this world. One possible explanation, of course, is free will: Our omnimalevolent God truly prizes free will, and for the sake of free will is willing to tolerate some good. You see, there's little point in the suffering or torment of automatons. In addition, giving mankind free will allows a higher form of evil, which is only possible when people are able to suffer through the consequences of their own choices, or are able to harm others of their own free will.

          • Vasco Gama

            « For while the world is clearly full of terrible evils and suffering (including humans doing truly horrific things to each other), there does seem to be a fair bit of good in this world.»

            The problem is that there is much more than a fair bit of good in this world. Or that humans do evil things indeed, but have to fool themselves into thinking that it is good (or at least not evil). Basically for humans to do evil is a mistake, in itself, it is clearly not the purpose of any action. Even considering that evil was the purpose what would account for the existence of goodness, it would have to be a flaw, a lack of consistence, a lack of persistence, but then in a evil world maybe such things as flaws, lacks of consistence of persistence could have merit on their own, in spite of leading to good. Such a world would make little sense, but why showld it be reasonable at all, probably it would be ultimately irrational and arbitrary.

            I think an evil world could not exist. Even if I postulate that it would be possible, this one we live in is can not be a candidate for it.

          • Ben Posin

            Vasco: I know there's a fair bit of good, but there's also a truly enormous amount of evil. I don't want to assume to muc about your personal life or situation, but I think it's hard for those in good situations (myself included) to emotionally grasp how many people are in truly horrific situations. I understand that it's difficult for you to understand how this is the worst world we could live in, but again, your understanding falls short of God's. Perhaps those allowed to experience good, and to believe in a good world, suffer greater disappointment and horror in the afterlife than they otherwise would, had they had lives of misery.

          • Vasco Gama

            Ben,

            I see what you mean but I can't fail to see reality, as it is for me or for those that I know. To make conjectures about what is not what I see, and include all the imaginary non sense that I arbitrarily choose doesn't seem a rational choice (I know my perception of reality is not perfect, but I can't escape it).

          • Ben Posin

            Vasco,

            I agree, it can be hard sometimes to look at the world as a whole. But man, is there a lot of suffering out there, beyond our own lives. Do some googling on Syria or Darfur sometime (unless you live there, I guess) , or about spider wasps.

          • Vasco Gama

            Ben,

            Sure we live in a world where there is pain and suffering, and we don’t have to go to remote places to find pain and suffering, there is enough pain and suffering around us. The thing as we can’t do anything about the pain and suffering that takes place far from us (except complaining and feel compassion), but individually and collectively we can do a lot about the one that exists close to us.

            For someone like us, that leave in the west, in a sense we are the lucky ones, and life might seem easy and comfortable (but we have to deal with other pains and other miseries I guess, are they better or worst, maybe we find comfort to find them better, or maybe not). For most people outside the North America and Europe, the rest of the humans from other areas consider that we live in paradise, and many of them want to come also to paradise (if they could), and many of them subject themselves to dangerous situations, in small boats and in long and dangerous journeys to get close to a barb wire fence, or an insurmountable wall and to these, our countries say no, you don’t belong here, please go back, probably with good manners.

            Before Christmas I meet someone from Syria that was staying in my country for a while (he departed by Christmas), we talked about the war and the situation in his country, and he explained me some things I didn’t realized before. He was from Damascus and all his family was there, he told me that things were more calmer now, but some time ago there was a lot of violence and killings, he was particularly concerned and outraged by the raping of woman and killing of infants and woman. But I have to say that he seemed quite a happy and pleased person, for someone whose country was being devastated by a civil war.
            Before he departed he told me that he wanted to have three children (in spite of in our first encounter he had told me that he was not intending to bring children to this miserable world).

          • MichaelNewsham

            The point of the Evil God argument is not to show that such a God exists, but that the arguments against work equally well against a Good God..

            For example, if you heard a tsunami was sweeping across the Indian Ocean basin and was going to kill 250,000 people and cause untold damage,and you could stop it by pushing a button would you do so? Of course, because you are a decent human being. So why doesn't God stop it?

            Would you eradicate malaria if you could? Human beings finally managed to wipe out smallpox, one of the most horrendous diseases ever. God could have wiped it out at any time, but chose not to. Why?

            The arguments I've heard against natural evil are-
            a) There might be some greater good that we don't know about.

            b) Related, this is a chance for "soul-making"- it gives people a chance to develop and display virtues like fortitude, courage, compassion and self-sacrifice.

            c) God gave us everything, so He can take it away for whatever reason he chooses.

            Any more? For all of these arguments can just as logically be used in favor of the Evil God.

            a) Whatever good thing happens, it might be some greater evil we don't know about. Wasn't it great that Germany was defeated in WW!?- leading to the Holocaust. Wasn't it great we developed medical science to ease suffering?- and caused a population explosion that means more people in absolute terms are suffering from hunger than ever before, and maybe the whole ecology will collapse in an outbreak of murder and cannibalism.

            b) This a chance for soul-breaking. While many people act bravely, generously and selflessly, many more look out for number 1, and behave selfishly and cruelly.

            c) The Evil God gave us everything, so He can torment us and take it away whenever He wants.

            Looking at the world, there is no evi9dence given to show why we should choose Good God over Evil God.

            (AFAIK, the leading practitioner of the argument is Stephen Law, who doesn't believe in either.)

            http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=2299

            http://lawpapers.blogspot.tw/2009/06/evil-god-challenge-forthcoming-in.html

          • Vasco Gama

            «The point of the Evil God argument is not to show that such a God exists, but that the arguments against work equally well against a Good God.»

            I am not very familiar with the argument of the “Evil God”, or what is the pretention of the argument.

            But as much as we can observe from reality (what we can say as objective evidence) it is entirely inconsistent with an “Evil God”. Plus I think that such a thing as an “Evil God” is logically inconsistent. I can’t pretend to understand even remotely what such a thing would be. But feel free to try to show me what should be the reality created by this “Evil God” and to what sort of universe should it correspond to.

            I see you are perplexed and don’t understand that God can allow pain and killing caused by natural events (such as natural disasters and disease). To some extent I am also perplexed and fail to understand it fully. I don’t have the pretension of understanding fully what God is or the cause that all these horrible things occur, however I understand it as unavoidable events in the order of the existence of reality, and in fact science gives very reasonable accounts for why this things occur (I am no expert, but I have no reason to suspect of the scientific account of those events). But I don’t believe that there is any arbitrariety in God, so I guess that in spite God wants to avoid suffering he can’t avoid this suffering through arbitrariety, as the existence would turn out to be capricious and arbitrary, but apparently God made a universe that is regular (in fact highly regular) and provided us the ability to grasp the intelligibility of the universe, which would not be possible without a consistent universe that seems to obey so laws (as described by science) and is intelligible, we could account for it if arbitrariety was introduced without cause (such as in preventing this events from happening).

            In a sense God provided us attributes to solve in part these problems, such as our knowledge allows us to deal with disease, and apparently we are getting better and better at it. And we also know that those natural disasters may occur, and can take measures to minimize the suffering from natural causes, and choose the places were life can be better and less contingent.

      • David Nickol

        If God created the universe from nothing, however, I don't think that it would be accurate to say that there was darkness before there was the universe. If darkness is the absence of light, there must be such a thing as light. Cold can be quite reasonably thought of as the absence of heat. I don't think we would say that there was coldness before the creation of the universe. So in effect God did create both evil and coldness, didn't he? If we accept the evil is merely the absence of good, darkness is merely the absence of light, and cold merely the absence of heat, they are all three inevitable parts of God's creation. He certainly could have created a universe where light was always present, warmth was always present, and good was always present. But he created a universe in which there could be absences of light, heat, and goodness. So it doesn't make sense to say he didn't create darkness, coldness, or evil.

        • Paul Boillot

          Additionally, before God created Lucifer, there was no evil, nor even a possibility of evil.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think "darkness is an absence of light" and "cold is an absence of heat" are only imperfect analogies for "evil is a privation of good."

          For there to be darkness or cold there must be a matrix whose default state is darkness and coldness. That matrix is the thing light or heat can fill.

          The analogy breaks down with good and evil, because in this case, good is the matrix and evil is the hole in the good, the something missing from the good that should obtain. Rather than evil being the matrix that good fills, good is the reality that evil eats away at.

          • Argon

            Or vice versa. That works too.

            Personally, I'm happier with the notion that good and evil are properties, not the lack of such.

            Actually, I'm happiest with the notion that good/evil is a metaphysical concept and probably orthogonal to the existence (or not) of the God of philosophers. I'm certainly not convinced one can reliably attribute good or evil to a first mover.

      • Susan

        Not really, because evil has no "being".

        What does it mean to "have being"?

        Barron's argument is not new. It has been used repeatedly in apologetics to claim the existence of objective moral values which depend, of course, without justification, on his unevidenced deity.

        The argument never attempts to explain what "good" means, by what standard it's measured, how we can claim that something is "good". It exploits the word without defining the terms. How can this lead to a useful moral discussion?

        It pushes our subjective buttons by giving examples that make us have visceral reactions (rape, murder, genocide, slavery... you know, the hit makers) and ignores the entire history of meta-ethics. We ALL agree (I'll bet almost to the person) on those issues because they're easy,which means we all are in subjective agreement. You have a long way to go from there to get objective moral values. I would LOVE to have me some objective moral values, but without rigorous definitions and justification of each of those terms, it is only wishful thinking.

        It ignores the extreme cruelty of factory farming, habitat destruction, reproductive rights, the right to die, the rights of the individual vs. the rights of the group and gazillions of very real, very difficult subjects, all of which require moral evaluation.

        It might as well replace "good" with a happy face and "evil" with a scowly face.

        "Good" is not a thing, nor is "evil". They are modifiers. They describe our positions on many things. in this case, on moral and ethical issues. To simplify things into "good" and "evil" without justifying those terms is to make a mockery of discussions about morality.

        Humans are not the only ones who suffer so Kevin Aldrich's link (further down in this discussion) to the apologetics that places the burden of "evil" on humans without addressing the hundreds of millions of years of suffering by sentient beings who outnumber us, precede us and surround us.

        It is just more apologetics that can be summarily dismissed because it ignores the moral standards by which an agent with sufficient knowledge and power should be measured.

        Sorry Kevin. You know that. We have been down this road before several times since Strange Notions began. Your unevidenced deity chose natural selection. Any omnipotent, omniscient agent who decided to do things that way is not good and cannot ground any sort of morality. Put as many happy faces next to that deity as you like. It's not good. Instead of taking that issue seriously, you have come back time and time again, pretending that it was never raised or at least that it doesn't matter. I'm sad to see you continually hit the reset button.

        I can try to define evil, not as a thing, but as an act:

        Inflicting unnecessary suffering on sentient beings

        It is not perfect. It can be torn apart in discussions and put back together again, but at least it attempts to frame the visceral responses that Barron et al exploit when they make claims about objectivity, goodness, morality and deities.

        There are no logical connections in Barrons's rehash of the same argument (I honestly wish apologists would stop writing arguments that were already written as though they were new or as though they now suddenly made sense). More importantly, there is nothing to be learned about morality.

        • You mention the premise that "Good is not a thing, nor
          is evil. They are modifiers.” Catholics will hold the premise that Good is more; it has eternal “being” or essence while evil is only the depravation of good.

          How do we know what's true? We ALL have belief systems which are un-evidenced (empirically). It terms of getting to know evil, try THIS

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Maybe my best friend when I was young was Toots. I bought her for $3.20 from a Mexican kid who was pushing a shopping cart of puppies past our house. She was some kind of a mutt who end up looking like a terrier.

          She had a full emotional life and was so intelligent. She had four litters and 19 puppies in all--we never had any problem getting people to take them--but she always developed some kind of calcium deficiency toward the end of nursing which almost killed her each time (the vet was able to help her with an injection). The look of worry and suffering those days was palpable, as if she were saying, "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"

          When she was about ten and cancer ridden my mom took her to the vet when I was at work to put her down. It was heartbreaking.

          Good is what made Toots happy. Evil is what made her suffer.

          Christianity begins with the idea that life on earth is a shitstorm and that God became man to fix sin and death by suffering.

          For the creation waits with eager longing for
          the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves,
          who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:19-23)

          Paul is hard to understand a lot of the time, but part of what he is saying, I think, is that creation itself rejects its bondage to suffering and death. I think Toots did.

          Since God is good, either God could not be "he who subjected it" or else this subjection means something different than what is meant by natural selection.

          • Susan

            Christianity begins with the idea that life on earth is a shitstorm .

            But it also claims that its deity created everything, i.e. the shitstorm.

            I wonder what the deity was thinking when it created prehistoric fleas.

            http://www.nature.com/news/super-sized-fleas-adapted-to-feed-off-dinosaurs-1.10135

            God became man to fix sin and death by suffering

            This has never made sense to me in general but for the sake of argument, let's say that this would fix things for humans.

            What about everything else that suffers? Why all that suffering that went on long before humans? Why all the suffering by sentient non-humans that will never be fixed? Why don't they matter? If they don't matter, why create them at all? As scenery for this twisted love story? Then, why bother letting hundreds of millions of years of suffering happen before humans were around that needed things "fixed"?

            It doesn't make sense of the evidence. It doesn't explain anything and it's immoral.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The Catholic Church does not necessarily claim that God has created everything directly; rather, it is possible he delegates everything that can be delegated; further it is possible that some angels to whom he delegated important functions they were created to carry out refused to carry them out, thus creating "holes" or lacunae in creation.

            This, from New Apologetics:

            DIVINE CHASTITY AND GIFTS OF POWER AND INDIVIDUAL IMPORTANCE

            There are many implications that follow immediately from the idea that God perfectly offers himself, loving each of us as if each were the only one. We will now look at only a few of these implications. Though these points can be deduced through a process of reasoning from the perfection of God’s self-offering, we will just state them as assumptions for now. Quotations are included to demonstrate that these ideas are already firmly established in Catholic orthodoxy:

            In self-gift, God gives away real power and importance in shaping the world to created persons.

            “God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is
            capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1884)

            “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 386)

            Because of the absoluteness of God’s self-gift, every power and role of importance that can possibly be given away is given away.

            “We can never give too great prominence to the Scholastic principle that God never does through Himself what may be achieved through created causality… For any result which does not require actually infinite power, God will sooner create a new spiritual being capable of producing that result than produce it Himself.” (Abbot Anscar Vonier, The Human Soul)

            In regard to the suffering of other sentient beings, I don't know if their suffering deserves to be made up for, but if it does, why can't that be made up for as well?

          • Susan

            This, from New Apologetics:

            I'm sorry Kevin. I sincerely tried to make sense of that and figure out how it applies to my point but I was unable to do more than guess.

            Can you explain how you think it applies?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Two points I have tried to make are:

            1. God did not create the shitstorm.
            2. Animal suffering could be redeemed, too, if that is necessary.

          • Susan

            God did not create the shitstorm

            What did your deity create?

            Animal suffering could be redeemed, too, if that is necessary.

            Where does it say that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It is possible that God only did what only God can do, create out of nothing and sustain the universe in existence. Everything else he could have delegated to persons he created. He would delegate these tasks to give them maximal importance.

            I am making the point about animal suffering.

          • David Nickol

            It is possible that God only did what only God can do, create out of nothing and sustain the universe in existence.

            Are you suggesting that God caused the big bang, and once there was matter and energy, he delegated much of the remaining work of forming the universe to lesser beings, who were not omniscient, omnipotent, and perhaps not all good? So perhaps the way life began on earth, and subsequently evolved (with "nature red in tooth and claw") is not God's fault. He might not be responsible for the small pox virus, or Down syndrome, or schizophrenia.

            Does "The buck stops here" not apply to God?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Yes. Whatever only God can do God did. Everything was delegated. Fulton Sheen said something like this.

            I think it is possible to say that the demons did not actively screw up the creation but refused to do the necessary things that they were created to do and only they could do. From that arises natural evil in the world prior to the appearance of human beings.

          • Susan

            it is possible to say that the demons did not actively screw up the creation but refused to do the necessary things that they were created to do and only they could do

            But your deity created the demons knowing full well that they would not do the job that your deity could have done on its own, which brings untold suffering to living beings who had no say in it, whatsoever.

            And your religion tells a story that is about rescuing a very small percentage of a species that itself is a very, very small percentage of all species (99% of which went extinct.)

            I will leave the gruesome details of the suffering behind that for you to think about. I do know this. No matter how much you or I think about it, we will not even scratch the surface. That is "natural evil". Nothing to sneeze at.

            Apparently, one of the things that "only" your deity could do was to create agents that wouldn't refuse to make sure that no innocent bystanders suffered.

            It wasn't a priority for your deity. Everything we mean when we talk about goodness, justice,compassion, etc. is undermined by that.

            Now, I think it's a story. I have been given no reason to think it's anything else. But based on the story and all the justifications for the story, it is not the story of a "good" agent.

          • David Nickol

            Yes. Whatever only God can do God did. Everything was delegated. Fulton Sheen said something like this.

            It seems to me any theological problem can be solved if you license yourself to make things up out of whole cloth. I thought only God had the ability to create something from nothing! While I can't think of anything that clearly and specifically says God did not merely create matter and energy from nothing and then delegate some or all of the rest of the shaping of the universe, I can think of absolutely nothing that suggests it, but endless things that suggest otherwise. For example,

            Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

            Why would Jesus consider that God himself had anything to do with the lilies of the field? God might have delegated the appearance of flowers to an angel, who of course might have subcontracted with a lesser angel to do the actual work.

            What about the Nicene Creed saying God is "maker of all things visible and invisible"?

            What about St. Paul in Romans 1?

            For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.

            If God is responsible only for matter and energy, looking around us—unless, perhaps, we are theoretical physicists—we see only the work God delegated to lesser beings.

            You can't make God like Chris Christie and get him off the hook by giving him credit for all the good things and pinning all the unpleasant things on his staff. You can't just make stuff up.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If "God the Creator, maker of heaven and earth" means God made everything directly, without any intermediaries, does that mean that God made New York City?

            Anyone who believes in God and in modern science already delegates everything except creation out of nothing, perhaps the laws of physics, and sustaining the universe in existence to another "creature," namely nature itself.

            Consider these statements from the Catechism about God and secondary (including personal) causation:

            > “Creation . . . did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created “in a state of journeying” (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained . . ..” (CCC 302)

            > “God protects and governs all things which he has made
            . . . even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures. (CCC 302)

            > The Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attribut[es] actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes” (CCC 304).

            > “God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan. (CCC 306)

            > “The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes . . ..” (CCC 308)

          • David Nickol

            If "God the Creator, maker of heaven and earth" means God made everything directly, without any intermediaries, does that mean that God made New York City?

            Certainly we are to interpret Genesis (and any statement that God created the universe ex nihilo) to mean that God created (in the beginning) the natural world—light, the sun, the stars, the earth, the land and seas, and life.

            Anyone who believes in God and in modern science already delegates everything except creation out of nothing, perhaps the laws of physics, and sustaining the universe in existence to another "creature," namely nature itself.

            I don't think nature is a "creature," and I wouldn't say that God "delegated" any of the work of creation. I would say he started the universe and left it functioning according to certain laws and principles.

            While I agree that most of the passages you quote leave an opening and do not directly contradict the idea that God delegated some of the work of creation, I see no hint whatsoever in the passages that he did, and no hint anywhere else, either.

            In twelve years of Catholic school and a good forty years of reading Catholic thought, I have never come across even a hint in Catholic teaching of what you apparently are saying. (And my family watched Bishop Sheen when I was a kid, too!)

            And supposing God did delegate tasks. When I supervised people at work, I was judged by their performance. You can't get an omnipotent, omniscient being off the hook for unpleasant things in the universe by claiming (with not a shred of any evidence of any kind) that those things are not God's fault because he delegated them to lesser beings who did a substandard job.

            Do you have any Catholic source that actually suggests God delegated some part of the creation process to another being or beings after himself providing (from nothing) matter and energy?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            “We can never give too great prominence to the Scholastic
            principle that God never does through Himself what may be achieved through created causality… For any result which does not require actually infinite power, God will sooner create a new spiritual being capable of producing that result than produce it Himself.” (Abbot Anscar Vonier, The Human Soul)

            “Notice also that the world is out of joint before man arrived in it. Somewhere in God’s universe there is a crack, a fissure. Something has gone wrong, and it has gone wrong because someone did not use freedom rightly. Someone used freedom in the sense of ‘the right to do whatever you please’. Look back over the evolution of the universe. See all of the prehistoric animals that have come into being and passed away. Everywhere in the unfolding of the cosmos there have been biological sprouts that came to dead ends. Everywhere, there are blind alleys. But you ask, “Why should the sin of the angels affect the universe?” Well, one reason might be that lower creation was put under the supervision of some of the angels. And when they rebelled against God, the effects of it in some way registered in the material universe. Nature became dislocated. Look at a complicated machine: Disturb one of the big wheels, break a cog, and you will also disturb all of the little wheels. Throw a rock into a pond, it will affect, in some way, through ripples, even the most distant shore. It could be, therefore, the fall of the angels accounted for maybe the chaos that was on the earth as described in the Book of Genesis. There is every indication that something went wrong before man was made.” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Original Sin and Angels)

          • David Nickol

            Thanks for the two sources. It seems to me they are entirely speculative and do not reflect any Catholic teaching that I have heard of. They are "Catholic sources" in that Abbot Anscar Vonier and Bishop Sheen were Catholic, but it seems to me they were Catholics speculating pretty much on their own, not Catholic authorities conveying official teachings of the Church or even widely held speculation.

            There is every indication that something went wrong before man was made.

            I think what Bishop Sheen is acknowledging, like a number of others, is that modern science has shown that a number of things in nature that had been interpreted as results of the Fall where present in nature before there could possibly have been a fall. I personally believe the reasonable thing to do is radically interpret (or drop altogether) the notion of a Fall. We now have had two theories of why what had been attributed to the Fall predates the Fall: God created a fallen world in anticipation of the Fall, and God didn't really create all the universe himself but delegated tasks to lesser (and perhaps fallen?) creatures long before the existence of man. Both seem like rather desperate attempts to salvage the theory of the Fall, which I personally think is unsalvageable.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David, Long before the rise of the modern world, the Church taught that the angels who fell fell before the creation of the world and that the universe was hostile to man even before Adam and Eve's Fall.

            Adam and Eve were created with a human nature and given preternatural gifts to preserve them from suffering and death.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            When I supervised people at work, I was judged by their
            performance. You can't get an omnipotent, omniscient being off the hook
            for unpleasant things in the universe by claiming (with not a shred of
            any evidence of any kind) that those things are not God's fault because
            he delegated them to lesser beings who did a substandard job.

          • josh

            "If God is love and he really loves his creatures, then he will give them
            maximal importance and causal impact in accord with their nature and
            function, and not take it away even if they misuse it."

            If mothers really loved their babies they would give them loaded guns, put them in the drivers seat and consult them on major financial decisions to give them maximal importance, and they wouldn't change things even if they started killing other babies.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Angel : God ≠ babies : mothers

          • Susan

            Are you suggesting that God caused the big bang, and once there was matter and energy, he delegated much of the remaining work of forming the universe to lesser beings, who were not omniscient, omnipotent, and perhaps not all good?

            Forgive me for the thread bleed David but Kevin specifically said "from nothing" and as there is no evidence that the Big Bang is "something" from the "philosopher's nothing", I don't think we should bring up the Big Bang. :-) Sorry, but around here, it's an important point. Actually, in general, it's an important point.

            But especially around here.

          • David Nickol

            I wasn't really concerned with whether the big bang was something coming out of nothing, but I agree (in so far as I understand contemporary physics) that it appears the big bang was not a matter of something coming from the "philosopher's nothing."

            It seems to me there is a problem with something coming from the "philosopher's nothing," because about any way you can think of to talk about it, the "philosopher's nothing" sounds a lot like something. To create something from nothing sounds to me like you take a quantity of nothing and transform it into something, as if "nothing" were some kind of raw material. If you say, "Where there had been nothing, God made something," it sounds like there existed a place with nothing in it that God filled up with something. But of course nothing can't have a location. As I have argued before, if God created physical reality, it seems to me he must have created "nothing" along with it. If physical reality is one of infinitely many things God could have thought up, but it is the only one he created, it seems to me that "nothing" is a concept that makes sense only in the context of thinking about physical reality.

          • Susan

            As I have argued before, if God created physical reality, it seems to me he must have created "nothing" along with it

            it seems to me that "nothing" is a concept that makes sense only in the context of thinking about physical reality.

            I agree. I hope you agree then that when Kevin said that his deity created and sustained existence out of nothing and delegated the rest (I think that's what he said) that there's no reason in physics or philosophy to hand him the Big Bang. It isn't "nothing".

            He's talking about something else and I was willing to leave that simmering on the back burner. I do wonder at what point this particular deity handed over responsibility, thus absolving himself of responsibility for all the suffering incurred.

            Some point from nothing, even though as you have pointed out, he would have to have created that too.

          • Susan

            I am making the point about animal suffering.

            I'm glad that you're making that point and can imagine that your choice of deity (This IS getting cumbersome. I do wish I could just say Yah..., oh, never mind) if it is good might make amends for its countless sentient creations. For that reason (and many others), I like you better than the character that is described by your religion.

            That is evidence that you are good and evidence against the other feller being good. You know which feller... your deity... :-)

            It's nice to hear how much you loved your dog. I understand that, although I never met her. I'll bet she was unique. They all are. In that sense, I don't understand it the way you do. But I understand loving a dog.

          • Ignorant Amos

            (This IS getting cumbersome. I do wish I could just say Yah..., oh, never mind)

            Susan, the word "Lord" is applicable here, from Adonai.. The Greek writing authors of the NT and Septuagint did exactly that when translating the tetragrammaton, YHWH, which is I AM...Elohim's reply to Moses when Moses tried to catch God out. Gods name being a secret known only to the few.

            The RCC band the use of YHWH back in 2008, allegedly because they said that in the Hebrew religion the name “Yahweh” was not spoken. Absolute nonsense.

            In Exodus 15: 1-19 we find "The Song of Moses"...

            In fact, if you cannot utter “Yahweh” then you will not be among those who “have gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark.” For “they sing the song of Moses” (Revelation 15: 2-3). Moses’ song in Exodus, the one that utters Yahweh’s name in praise 13 times, will be sung by the Christians who did not take the mark of the beast! If a religious organization will not let their followers say His name Yahweh, then how are they going to sing the song of Moses? This is leading the people down the wrong path–a path to destruction.

            Kevin takes the whole Yahweh issue to an extreme...the RCC doesn't have any issue using the name in written form, just in utterance....particularly in a liturgical instance. Why he gets all hot and bothered under the collar is anyone's guess. I suppose someone will get that way no matter how ya play it out.

            You could use one of the many other nomenclatures the believers in the god of the OT used, but that would open an even larger can of worms.

            Incidentally, there are 5,410 occurrences of the name in the Hebrew Bible...kinda weird for such a forbidden word.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Defend an evil god?

            No way.

            I believe God is totally against what you are against. Anyone who says God actually created evil deserves to be condemned. The picture you paint is of an evil god that God himself rejects.

            If I thought God was like that, I'd join you in a second in atheism. And if God did exist and was evil, all I could do would be to be a rebel.

          • Paul Boillot

            For what it's worth, I admire this very much "If I thought God was like that, I'd join you in a second in atheism. And if God did exist and was evil, all I could do would be to be a rebel."

            It might help you to understand that theists have not demonstrated to me that belief in a god is more reasonable than not.

            They've also not demonstrated to me that should a god exist, it would be what we would call "good."

            I'm glad to hear that if you felt the same way I do about the evidence, you would share my outlook!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks, Paul.

            I think that many Christians, based on a faulty understanding of God's permission of evil, and not able to account for it, fall into the heresy of God actually being "for" evil.

            And then, more innocent and pure-hearted souls look at the caricature, and reject this false image of God.

  • josh

    "By searching out the motivation for the act of typing words, we have
    come to a basic or fundamental good, a value that is worthwhile for its
    own sake."

    No, you've discovered a basic, personal want. That's pure subjectivism.

    "...Iris Murdoch strenuously insists that the authentic good legitimately imposes itself on the human will..."

    Iris Murdoch apparently should have insisted that someone explain the concept of 'No True Scotsmen' to her.

    "But having achieved some worldly good -- say of writing this column, or
    slaking a thirst, or educating a child -- the will is only incompletely
    satisfied. In point of fact, the achievement of some finite good tends
    to spur the will to want more of that good."

    'Slaking your thirst' in fact means exactly that you have achieved something that does not spur you to want more. See also: sexually sated. Full. Slept well. What you are talking about sounds more like addiction.

    But why, on a material account, would we expect people in general to be fully satisfied all the time? Desire, satisfaction (and pain) are all part of evolution's way to shape your behavior.

    "But I haven't done so illegitimately, for in the Catholic philosophical
    tradition, "God" is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned
    goodness, justice, truth, and life."

    No, "God" is the name you give to the person you worship. In an attempt to make this person superior and avoid the tough questions, you have tried to identify positive words with this person.

    "And this is precisely why the negation of God leads by a short route to
    the negation of moral absolutes and finally to a crass subjectivism."

    Doesn't follow at all. One can believe in objective goodness, justice, truth, life without believing they are a God. (Although the first two are in fact subjective in my view.)

    "Much truer is Dostoyevsky's observation that once God is removed, anything is permissible."

    Truer still is the historical fact that with 'Gott mit uns', anything is permissible and often in fact compelled.

    • MichaelNewsham

      While I agree with almost everything you say here, I don't understand your "No True Scotsman" comment about Iris Murdoch- who, not so incidentally, didn't believe in God and definitely didn't think God was necessary to establish Goodness- she was a bit of a Platonist

  • Kyle S.

    Reading the Old Testament, it seems as much is permissible with God as without.

  • Paul Boillot

    I think "God" is the term groups of religiously-inclined people have taken to calling the archetypal and super-ego aspects of human psychology.

    Our brains are so-wired that those without abnormal brain function are incapable of escaping empathy, vicarious thinking, what-if scenarios, and the golden rule.

    Without this "God," that is without an understanding that other consciousnesses exist, without the ingrained rules of well-ordered social cohabitation, without the ages-old inherited patterns of thought, human interaction is broken: morality and goodness are subservient to the needs of the individual in the present.

    Calling those things "God," and then pretending that that God is eternal/absolute/unchanging/alpha/omega/etc.etc... adds nothing to the equation.

    *Edit for complete thoughts.*

    Would goodness exist without them?

    No.

    Do we need to rely on supernatural hypotheses to explain/understand them?

    No.

    • Octavo

      It adds one thing that I can think of, the comforting notion that Someone is in charge of basic principles of the universe and has intended certain Purposes for humans.

      ~Jesse Webster

      • Paul Boillot

        "Someone being in charge" with "certain Purposes" is a neutral statement at best, to me, with respect to 'comfort.'

        I like to think I have learned well Orwell's lesson.

  • I think Father Barron goes wrong when he asserts that he has established the objectivity of the ethical enterprise. Rather, he has simply asserted that certain words identify some kind of objective moral values. Why is communicating truth or sustaining life moral and not his subjective belief that they are moral? How does he know they are objectively moral? He says that Murdoch "insists", but not "demonstrated" such values are imposed on the will. He says we have a "sense" that some things are intrinsically wrong. Having a "sense" and insistence and popularity are not the markers of objectivity.

    • "Why is communicating truth or sustaining life moral and not his subjective belief that they are moral?"

      Do you believe that telling the truth or sustaining life is *immoral*?

      • I believe that telling the truth is sometimes advisable and sometimes not. I do not think all life should be sustained all the time. As to whether these things are "moral" or not depends on what you mean by "moral" and "good". Theists and atheists mean different things by these terms and it can get very confusing.

        Father Barron appears to be saying not only does know both that objective moral truths exist, but that he knows what they are. I make no such claim. He has not substantiated his.

        No, I certainly do not agree that we can come to objective moral truths through intuition. We would need a way to check our intuition before we can call something objective. I do not think we can determine the existence or content of ultimate absolute moral truths as suggested by Fr B. I think all we can do is appeal to those values we all agree are desirable. But their (near) universality does not make them objective in the sense "objective" is being used here.

  • Steven Dillon

    Fr. Barron has come just shy of giving an argument for why God is necessary for objective morality. But, until he explains why we should identify the transcendent foundation of objective morality with God, we're stuck at square one.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      I have not yet seen an OP by Fr. Barron that is addressed to atheists and agnostics. This piece, like others, is for those who already believe in God. Or, perhaps, who want to believe in God but do not yet.

      • Andre Boillot

        "I have not yet seen an OP by Fr. Barron that is addressed to atheists and agnostics."

        If this is in fact the case, it's begging the question of why post it on SN. Of course, it's besides the point who he's addressing if he doesn't manage to actually ground goodness in God, and only God.

        • picklefactory

          Got to get those New Apologetics folks back. They were interesting.

          • Steven Dillon

            I'd quite lke to debate those chaps :) They're fairly busy though, as I understand it.

          • Paul Boillot

            Facebook seems like a uniquely poor medium for reasoned discussion, to me.

            Does that make me a curmudgeon?

          • Steven Dillon

            If it does, you'd be no less reasonable for it :P

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What do you mean, "Fairly busy"?

          • Steven Dillon

            I mean they seem to have a lot going on. I used to follow their fb page, but the posts are pretty infrequent.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            They have picked up quite a bit but I find it hard to find the active threads.

        • "[H]e doesn't manage to actually ground goodness in God, and only God."

          In what else could objective, transcendent goodness be grounded?

          • Andre Boillot

            In what else could objective, transcendent goodness be grounded?

            Fr. Barron doesn't say.

          • MichaelNewsham

            He could ask Iris Murdoch

          • Steven Dillon

            If goodness just is God, then goodness is not grounded in anything, since God cannot be grounded in anything.

      • Vasco Gama

        If this is the case (This piece, like others, is for those who already believe in God), then it makes sense.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I think so, which is why the "logic" is more informal (even though it is really there) and not rigorous. I think any article on SN should be required to demonstrate its arguments rigorously, which is hard work.

          • Argon

            They could use references to other works.... and try to be less one-sided. It's OK to acknowledge other positions in the original article.

      • "This piece, like others, is for those who already believe in God."

        Thanks for the comment, Kevin, but I disagree. I don't think Fr. Barron's article assumes the existence of God, nor is it aimed only at those who believe in God.

        In the article, he argues for absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life, and then explains how these things make up what classical theists mean by "God." He isn't first *assuming* the existence of God; he's leading readers to the characteristics of what we call "God."

        • Kevin Aldrich

          I'm not asserting that Fr. Barron assumes the existence of God but that he is engaging in a loose or informal kind of reasoning that believers will find acceptable but atheists will not. See above for my take on his argument.

  • Peter Piper

    I didn't understand why it should be problematic that achieving one finite good leads to a desire for more. Fr. Barron suggests that God, not being finite, can completely satisfy our desire for good. So, what of those who are not satisfied in this way (including atheists)? It seems they will desire good all the more. I don't see how this is supposed to undermine the moral integrity of society.

  • If I'm misunderstanding, I'm open to being corrected, but my impression is that Fr. Barron's moral argument is a bit silly and vacuous.

    If you simply define God as "goodness" and everything associated with goodness, of course anyone who believes in goodness will believe in God. You could use the same logic to define God as "the sun" and then point out that no one can believe in day without believing in God. It's vacuous and misleading.

    If Fr. Barron wants to make a point with substance, he should prove that belief in objective morality is dependent on a (supernatural) being with a mind. If one can believe in objective goodness that is not dependent on a such a mind, one can be a legitimate and consistent atheist.

    • "If I'm misunderstanding, I'm open to being corrected, but my impression is that Fr. Barron's moral argument is a bit silly and vacuous."

      Nolan, please keep in mind our commenting policy here at Strange Notions. It's OK to respectfully disagree with articles or other commenters, but there's no need to call someone's argument "silly." That sort of condescension is unhelpful.

      • Is it condescension if the argument really is silly?

      • Fair point Brandon. I had no intent to condescend. By calling the post "silly" I meant to communicate that I think Fr. Barron's post is trivial, and works to muddy the issue more than enlighten.

  • Fr. Barron did not even come close to proving that his foundational values (truth, life) are actually intrinsically good, nor has he proven that one must believe they are absolutely good to value and pursue them. I think his argument falls short both philosophically and pragmatically. (I know it's just a blog post, and he must keep his words short. No doubt he has some thoughtful follow up thoughts, but I am responding to the content of the post itself).

    I do not necessarily hold to this view, but one could consistently believe that these values are not absolutely good, and still pursue and enjoy them. E.g. If all sentient beings have an aversion to pain and suffering, then we can strive to avoid those things without thinking that pain and suffering and absolutely evil.

    • "Fr. Barron did not even come close to proving that his foundational values (truth, life) are actually intrinsically good"

      Do you believe truth and life are *not* intrinsically good?

      • Octavo

        I'm not sure that they are. Truth and life have value to many humans in many circumstances, to be sure. I'd say that truth and life have contextual value. For instance, the life of the termites eating the foundation of my house have negative value to me.

        • Paul Boillot

          Have you seen the Louis CK bit about having negative money in the bank?

          "Hey, do you want this free lemonade?"
          "No, I can't afford it.

      • I'm not sure what it even means for something to be intrinsically good. I suspect much of the debate centers around what we're talking about when we say "good."

        Fr. Barron seems to sneak in God by equating the two (God = absolute good), but I think there are probably better ways to conceptualize goodness.

    • Steve Willy

      Doesn't sound like you' ve 'even come close' to reading past the title.

      • Ben Posin

        But does he have a neck beard?

        • And is he faux-intellectual or pseudo-intellectual?

      • I read the entire article from beginning to end. Can you be specific about what I may have missed?

        Where exactly did Barron prove that foundational values are intrinsically good?

  • Kevin Aldrich

    In trying to uncover the informal logic Fr. Barron presents, I've come up with this which is open to critique:

    > We can use reason to reach fundamental goods, like truth and life.

    > That these are fundamental is self-evident.

    > They are moral because they are good.

    > Their opposites are bad and so evil for us.

    > We desire/demand absolute, unrestricted good, something philosophers call God.

  • Slocum Moe

    Goodness and badness resides in all of our hearts in about the same amounts whether we are religious or not.

    Jesus may have been a very good person but even he was tempted. Father Barron isn't anything like Jesus, just another one of us. Father Barron should tell us about his sins and how he deals with them, rather than concentrating on the supposed failings within those that he knows nothing about.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Without an objective moral order, there is no sin to confess, SM.

      • David Nickol

        Without an objective moral order, there is no sin to confess, SM.

        I am wondering if you and Fr. Barron would say that nothing abstract exists if there is no God. For example, would humor exist? I have seen video clips (funniest home video type stuff) that would seem to be entirely cross cultural (people being startled, falling down, etc.). Human facial expressions have been shown to be universal. For example, there is no known culture in which children growing up learn to frown when they are happy and smile when they are disgusted. If I have a film clip of an extremely dignified personage who slips on a banana peel or walks into the side of a doorway when trying to enter, and it makes the vast majority of people laugh who see it, would theists say that if there is no God, funniness is not "grounded" in anything objective?

        • Kevin Aldrich

          > I am wondering if you and Fr. Barron would say that nothing abstract exists if there is no God.

          I don't follow you. Moe want's Fr. Barron to tell us his sins, not tell us there is an objective moral order. My reply is that without an objective moral order there are no objective sins to confess.

          The foundation of the moral order is the good. For us, it is the good "for us." That means that the objective moral order is not an abstract idea but human nature rightly seen. Human nature would also explain why there are universal norms of humor.

          • David Nickol

            Human nature would also explain why there are universal norms of humor.

            Is there such a thing as "human nature" if there is no God?

            My point is to raise the question of what needs to be "grounded" in something ever higher in order to have a meaning. If there is no good without God, is there "human nature," or is human nature an invention or a mere "social construct"?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Human nature is a fact. "God" or "no-god" have to be accommodated to that fact.

            This might help: If God does not exist is doginess an invention? Well, dogs will be dogs no matter what.

            A great article on God, human nature, and morality is here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2013/11/11150/

          • josh

            Dogginess is an invention. We domesticated them from wolves. More importantly, the distinction between dog and wolf is ultimately an arbitrary one, albeit good enough for government work in most cases. But a dog is not an improper wolf or vice versa, and humans don't have 'proper' ends.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Well, then, to make it clearer, wolf and sheep. Human and gorilla.

            If course humans have proper ends. One proper end is to seek knowledge and understanding through reason, just as you are doing right now. Friendship is another proper end. There are a ton of other ones.

  • What I would like to do is lay out, in very brief compass, the Catholic understanding of the relationship between morality and the existence of God...

    OK. I'll juxtapose a secular understanding.

    Right now, I am typing words ... I'm convinced that the truth is good in itself.

    I don't think truth is good in itself. I think the relationship between truth and goodness is complicated. Many truths are good because they're indispensible for other things we value, like acquiring food, keeping warm, and finding love. Some truths are pretty nifty in themselves, too -- like an understanding of biology and math, even though I'll likely never use them. Some truths are very ugly and evil in the sense that I very much wish they were false and their opposites were true, like the truth that many children died of hunger today. Similarly, some falsehoods have a decent claim to being good in themselves even when I don't want them to be true, such as deeply inspiring fictional stories like Lord of the Rings.

    I took a swig of water ... because life is good in itself.

    I don't think life is good in itself. I think the relationship between life and goodness is complicated. Many people's lives are clearly good because there are enough good things in their lives that the people are glad to be living, and the people contribute enough good things to others' lives that other people generally agree. Some lives seem to me to be pretty nifty in themselves, too -- like the deep sea nautilus and the redwoods, even though neither experiences any goods and they don't really contribute any goods to others except the opportunity to enjoy that they're there. Some lives are very ugly and evil in the sense that I would have preferred they had never been and that some better life had happened instead, like the traditional example of Hitler but also more mundane examples like the lives of crop blight fungi. Similarly, some deaths have a decent claim to being instrumentally good even when it would still be fine if they had lived, such as the use of animals in early rocket testing.

    ... when Catholic philosophers worry over the triumph of the subjective in our culture, they are expressing their concerns that these irreducible values have been forgotten or occluded ... objective values that will truly benefit us

    Secular moral theories generally agree that some values are irreducible, but that some of these are irreducibly subjective and some are irreducibly objective. I've never actually seen a Catholic argument about why all values need to be objective to be important.

    Slavery, the sexual abuse of children, adultery, racism, murder, etc. are intrinsically evil precisely because they involve direct attacks on basic goods.

    FWIW, Abuse and murder are "wrongful use" and "wrongful killing" by definition, regardless of which moral theory is under discussion; use and killing are not intrinsically evil. I do not object to the other examples.

    The moment we unmoor a moral system from these objective values, no act can be designated as intrinsically evil and from that state of affairs moral chaos follows.

    OK, that's almost tautological, which makes me pause to wonder if you meant by "a moral system" to smuggle in a more specific meaning, i.e. "a particular moral system that I have in mind".

    So far we have determined the objectivity of the ethical enterprise...

    Wait, what? There wasn't any reasoning given that moral values are or must be objective.

    having achieved some worldly good -- say of writing this column, or slaking a thirst, or educating a child -- the will is only incompletely satisfied. In point of fact, the achievement of some finite good tends to spur the will to want more of that good.

    This is generally untrue. After slaking your thirst, you aren't more thirsty. I'm not sure what you were aiming at here.

    Indeed, no achievement of truth, justice, life, or beauty in this world can satisfy the will, for the will is ordered to each of those goods in its properly unconditioned form.

    That is generally untrue. Maybe some people value truth, justice, life, of beauty unconditionally, but clearly most do not. I don't. I'd sacrifice much beauty for a good night's sleep. Sometimes I sacrifice ethical concerns about the justice of Walmart's treatment of its workers for a lower priced household good. I'd prefer my social institutions to temper their pursuit of justice with large doses of mercy, privacy, efficiency, risk aversion, and social order. Maybe you meant to say that people ideally should desire those thing unconditionally in certain types of idealized scenarios?

    ... in the Catholic philosophical tradition, "God" is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life.

    In secular traditions, goodness, justice, truth, and life are distinct abstractions. There's no reason to believe they share a common indivisible spiritual act of existence. A secular person could give a name like "God" to the set of things they most value, but there's little point since it's just a word trick that doesn't provide any evidence of how things really are.

    ...we should be wary indeed when atheists and agnostics blithely suggest that morality can endure apart from God.

    Aw, come on, you know that's bogus. You just made it perfectly clear that there were very different definitions of "God" at stake.

  • Raphael

    Do atheists believe in "absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life"? If so, what is it?

    • Paul Boillot

      I can only reply for myself, an atheist and a humanist, but before I do I need to know what it is you mean by "absolute" and "unconditioned".

      Additionally, asking the question "do atheists believe... xyz" is almost always unfruitful. As a group of humans, 'atheists' are only defined as not believing in god(s), which I would stretch to include the entire 'supernatural' realm.

      Any other substitution for "xyz" is going to yield an "unknown" response.

      • Raphael

        Ultimate, supreme, ideal, utmost, highest, greatest, perfect, etc.

        Also, I'll go on asking about "xyz" when applicable. You don't need to answer them if you can't.

        • Paul Boillot

          Most of those words have slightly different meanings; you'll forgive me as I point out that my request for more clarity you answer with less.

          "Also, I'll go on asking about "xyz" when applicable. You don't need to answer them if you can't."

          Why do you seem aggrieved, Raphael? I didn't tell or ask you to stop asking anything.

          Far from telling you to stop asking, or claiming that I couldn't answer your fundamental question; I gave you my take as a humanist.

          You can ask any and all questions you like, the only effect will be to cement the point.

          "What do atheists think about Hitler?"
          -"There is no answer to that, 'atheists' only don't believe in god."

          "What do atheists think about abortion?"
          -"There is no answer to that, 'atheists' only don't believe in god."

          "What do atheists think about world-poverty?"
          -"There is no answer to that, 'atheists' only don't believe in god."

          "What do atheists think about aged, smoked gouda?"
          -"There is no answer to that, 'atheists' only don't believe in god."

          I, as an individual atheist, can answer any of those questions for myself personally, but I can't answer them logically about 'atheists' in general. I hope it hasn't come as too much of a shock to learn that 'atheists,' when collectively considered, are only connected by one thread:

          not
          believing
          in
          god(s).

          • Raphael

            If you can't (or won't or don't know how to) answer my question, I won't force you.

          • Paul Boillot

            Raphael, I'm sorry; I think we're talking across each other.

            I can, and will, answer your questions addressed to me, as a singular atheist.

            Before you ask me, or anyone else, "do atheists believe xyz," I hope you'll think about the following examples.

            1) "Do French people dislike Jews?" -- I'm sure some do, some don't, and some don't care.

            2) "Do gymnasts dislike Jews?" -- I'm sure some do, some don't, and some don't care.

            3) "Do anti-semites dislike Jews?" -- Yes, by definition.

            You see, Raphael, I'm trying to zero in on an aspect of language: that categorizations have limited range of descriptive power.

            The descriptor "gymnast" tells you nothing about a given individual's orientation to the Hebraic people. There is nothing inherent about being a gymnast that predisposes you one way or another.

            To ask "do gymnasts dislike Jews" is to ask for an answer that can be, at best, answered with approximate statistics, and which will be influenced by factors which have no causal relationship with gymnastics, as opposed to "do anti-Semites dislike Jews."

            Categorizing a person as "a gymnast" gives you no information whatever except that they practice gymnastics.

            In exactly the same way, asking "do atheists believe in ....[anything other than the existence of gods]" is a near-illogical question which can only be answered by giving statistics which will be determined by factors other than the one you're asking about.

          • Raphael

            Straw man.

          • Danny Getchell

            Two examples from the history of discussions here at SN:

            If Catholics want to know whether it's OK to lie in order to save lives, they can go to the catechism for an official answer.

            If Catholics are asked "what is love?" they can go to the Catholic Encyclopedia for a quasi-official definition.

            There is neither an atheist catechism nor an Atheist Encylopedia. This is why it's much easier to safely generalize about what Catholics believe, and not so to generalize about atheists.

          • Paul Boillot

            Raf, at this point you're replying to, what I think, are fairly cogent points with a two-word answer.

            I two-word answer, I might add, which doesn't seem to understand the definition of 'straw man,' or how to use it properly in-context.

            I'm reminded of The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and the eponymous character's search for the proper way to say "when in Rome."

            Could you clear up, for me, what you think I've said which is a straw man (I must confess I tried, charitably, to imagine what your antecedent might be, and I couldn't guess)?

          • Raphael

            You are more interested in arguing about something completely off-topic to my original post. I couldn't care less about your preference for sentence structure due to the disunity of atheists. (The straw man.) Your avoidance to answer my original question already speaks volumes. I am done with this and shake the dust from my feet.

          • Paul Boillot

            I'm sorry that I can't break the laws of semantics and vocabulary to be able to speak cogently for all atheists on any topic you'd like me to.

            Your original question asked:

            Do atheists believe in "absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life"?

            That's not a logically valid question, as you asked it.

            Now, you seem upset, "your avoidance to answer my original question"....I'm sorry. I asked for clarification of your original question, and then got sidetracked with your refusal to change "do atheists" to "do you."

            Had you done so, I think I would've remembered to answer you, I certainly thought I had answered for myself anyway, but up re-reading the thread it seems that I thought it out but didn't write it out.

            If you knew me personally, I promise you that sort of forgetfulness would not be unexpected.

            In any case, before you clean your sandals, here's your answer for the [modified] question.

            "Do [you] believe in "absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life"?"

            Absolute/Unconditioned goodness - no.
            Absolute/Unconditioned justice - no.
            Absolute/Unconditioned truth - no.
            Absolute/Unconditioned life - I'm not sure what that is.

          • josh

            Raphael, he's not avoiding your question. He's asking you to clarify what you are asking because the original question was very poorly formed.

    • I don't.

  • MichaelNewsham

    BTW, doesn't saying "Truth is good in itself and "Life is good in itself" state precisely that goodness does NOT depend on God?

    • Ben Posin

      Well, yeah. As do claims that a malevolent God is logically impossible because it would be inferior to a benevolent God (or similar claims that God HAS to have certain characteristics like honesty).. As do claims that morality can be derived from "natural law." Beliefs should have to "pay rent" or have consequences...

  • David Nickol

    Here's an interesting passage from Terry Eagleton's The Meaning of Life: A Very Short Introduction:

    . . . . [N]othing is missing when I reply, "Because I put it on the gas," when asked, "Why is the kettle boiling?" Someone, however, might suspect that I have not really explained why the kettle is boiling unless I also explain the chemical processes which underlie this, and then the laws that underlie that, and so on until we have reached a bedrock where all questions come to an end. Unless there is an absolute foundation, there must surely be something lacking. Everything must be left hanging precariously in the air. And this, for some people, is the case with meaning. Surely, if meaning is simply something we get up to, it cannot act as a sure infrastructure for reality. Things must be inherently meaningful, not just meaningful because we make them so. And all these meanings must add up to one overall one. Unless there is a Meaning of meanings, there is no meaning at all.

    The question in my mind is whether it is reasonable (or even feasible) to be a person who holds that unless there is a Meaning of meanings, there is no meaning at all. Suppose in a high school somewhere, there is a student who brings guns to school and begins shooting teachers and classmates. And suppose there is a teacher who risks (or even loses) his life while preventing the shooter from entering a classroom to shoot as many students as possible there. Would the theist who believes goodness depends on God say that an atheist can make no meaningful distinction between the acts of the murdering student and acts of the heroic teacher?

    Would those who hold goodness depends on God argue that, if there is no God, it really makes no sense to call some things good and some things evil? Must every statement be "grounded" in God to make sense?

    There are certain things or behaviors that would almost universally be agreed to be good (the heroic teacher) or evil (the student shooter). If it were to be definitively proven that there is no God, from that point on could we still characterize mass murderers as evil and heroic protectors as good, or would former theists have to argue that "good" and "evil" were categorizations that could no longer be defended?

    • Moussa Taouk

      "Could we still characterize mass murderers as evil and heroic protectors as good, or would former theists have to argue that "good" and "evil" were categorizations that could no longer be defended?"

      I think "good" and "evil" would no longer be densible as "good" and "evil". The closest position would be to change the meaning of the words to mean something like, "that which gives greatest happiness" or "that which allows the human species to thrive" or some other such thing. But the words as they are generally understood would become empty shells.

      • David Nickol

        But the words as they are generally understood would become empty shells.

        I think words that designate good and evil in various world languages existed long before Christians made religious arguments like the one Fr. Barron is making. Also, anyone who has taken an introductory course in ethics and has been disappointed on the first day (like me) when the professor announces that the course will not teach how to tell right from wrong knows that there are many schools of thought in moral philosophy that all discuss good and evil, moral and immoral, but they each have their own theory about what makes things good or evil. So if the New York Times tomorrow publishes a story that a philosopher has definitively proved there is no God, and they print the proof, and everyone agrees on it, I don't think good and evil will have to be redefined.

        I know I asked a question, you answered, and now it seems like I am telling you you got the answer wrong! But I didn't make the question clear. What I really meant was that if people who think like Fr. Barron do suddenly discover there is no God, do they abandon altogether the effort to distinguish—in any way—between acts they formerly branded immoral and acts they formerly considered moral? Or do they maintain there is still something meaningful that can be said about acts they used to call immoral and acts they used to call moral? Do they say, "If a little old lady asks you to help her cross the street, you can help her, or you can push her under an oncoming bus. It simply doesn't make a difference if there is no God."

        • Moussa Taouk

          "Or do they maintain there is still something meaningful that can be said about acts they used to call immoral and acts they used to call moral?"

          Well... some things I imagine would stay the same. But I think a whole lot of other things would change. I think what it comes down to is motivation. What motivates one to do good?

          If God exists, then the motivation for doing good (for a Christian) is love of God and therefore love of neighbour. But what would be the motivation if God is removed from the equation?

          Every individual might give a different response. For me, I think I would become a lot more selfish. That is... I would do whatever served my interest. i.e. contributed to my enjoying this life. If helping old ladies was something that made me happy then yeh, I'd still help her. The meaning I derive from it is limitted to my sense of satisfaction or self-importance. I would see no greater meaning beyond that.

          Whereas with God in the picture, I would be obliged to help the lady whether she stank or not, whether she talked too much nonsense or not, whether I was tired and couldn't be bothered or not. i.e. whether or not the act made me happy is entirely besides the point as to whether or not I do good. The motivator is love. The meaning is outside of my own ego because love wills the good of the other even at the expense of one's own desires. Without God I imagine this (at least to a large extent) would be reversed.

    • "There are certain things or behaviors that would almost universally be agreed to be good (the heroic teacher) or evil (the student shooter)."

      What does "universality" have to do with the goodness or badness of an action? As you've noted within previous posts, in today's society "slavery" is bad, but in the past the majority of people within the world would have probably said slavery was ok or even good. Was slavery good back then because the majority thought it was good?

      According to the society that you have grown up in and the majority of societies that exist today what you said would be the case, but I don't believe that would be the case for all people within all societies. There are quite a few people in this world who support the Taliban. They wouldn't be growing in strength and number if that were not the case. They have been known to do some pretty horrendous things with girls attempting to go to school (e.g., school bombings, shootings, attempted killing of Malala Yousafzai, etc.…). What is the ground for saying their actions are not morally justifiable? Is it simply because a majority of people say their actions are bad? A majority of people within some communities or even countries might say the Taliban's actions are good. How big of a majority does it need to be for something to be a bad action? If a majority of human beings were to start to believe the Taliban's actions were "good," would that make their actions good?

      What about people who as children were sold into the sex/drug trafficking world and then as adults follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and buy children to go into the sex/drug trafficking world. If they themselves were bought into that particular world, told their entire lives that it was okay to sell people, why is it "evil" for them to sell children? It is what they have been taught. It is what they know. If you've been taught that a particular action is "good" your entire life, what makes that action "evil?"

      • David Nickol

        What does "universality" have to do with the goodness or badness of an action?

        It is of course theoretically possible for a unanimous opinion about good or evil to be wrong. However, I wasn't raising the question of whether public opinion determines what is moral and what is not. I was merely observing that certain things are universally (or nearly so) considered right and wrong, and would those categories have to be abandoned if it were definitively proved that there was no God. For my purposes, it really doesn't matter if the vast majority that believes school shootings to be evil are right or wrong. I am asking if the concepts "good" and "evil" disappear if God is proved not to exist. Or rather, do they disappear for those who believe along with Fr. Barron that goodness depends on God.

        Would those who believe that goodness depends on God, if it were proved that God did not exist, be forced to say, "To call a school shooter evil or a teacher who risks his own life to save his class good is like calling a school shooter triangular and the teacher who risks his life quadratic. The statements are meaningless nonsense."

        • "I am asking if the concepts "good" and "evil" disappear if God is proved not to exist. Or rather, do they disappear for those who believe along with Fr. Barron that goodness depends on God."

          Considering that "evil" is something considered to be associated with the spiritual realm, the spiritual connotations of the word would most likely disappear, but I don't think that the word itself would disappear. It's part of our vocabulary. Language changes with time along with a culture, so the definition might be tweaked, but the word itself would not disappear. If someone like Fr. Barron or myself were to stop believing in God, then the spiritual connotations of the word would not have the same significance because we would stop believing in the spiritual realm.

          "To call a school shooter evil or a teacher who risks his own life to save his class good is like calling a school shooter triangular and the teacher who risks his life quadratic. The statements are meaningless nonsense."

          Every single culture whether it be religious or atheistic (e.g., countries under communist rule) has something that is said to be good/favorable and something to be bad/unfavorable. This is sociology. So, no I doubt that the statements would become meaningless.

        • Steve Willy

          The atheist would be free to draw whatever distinctions he or she desires between the shooter and the teacher but, if the atheist values intellectual honesty, he or she must admit that any such distinctions are (on atheism) completely subjective and subject to alteration at the whim of the person drawing them. Lets say the school teaches a fundamentalist form of Islam. Someone like Sam Harris would defend the shooter on utilitarian grounds, arguing that these children would have inflicted greater harm as future jihadists. Indeed, the shooter would be a hero and the teacher a criminal.

          • josh

            But Harris would argue, (if we wrongly imagine that he would endorse such a scenario in the first place), that he isn't being subjective at all. The objective facts determine that shooting the threat is better for the overall well-being of humanity than allowing it to come to fruition.

          • Steve Willy

            Since Harris has advocated the premptive use of nuclear weaponsson countries he considers too religious for the health of the world, what I am saying isn't hard to imagine. It is shameful that you would suggest otherwise. Genocides are born of such lies.

          • Andre Boillot

            I'll take this one opportunity to ignore the obvious trolling, and (mostly for the benefit of others) clarify what Harris has said on this topic. First, he doesn't advocate a preemptive strike, which he describes as being "an unthinkable crime". Here is what Harris does advocate:

            We must come to terms with the possibility that men who are every bit as zealous to die as the nineteen hijackers may one day get their hands on long-range nuclear weaponry. The Muslim world in particular must anticipate this possibility and find some way to prevent it.

            Se, the point Harris is trying to make is that nuclear deterrence only works when both actors value their continued existence, that jihadists do not, and that everyone (including Muslim nations) needs to recognize the threat that they would pose and do everything to prevent their acquiring these weapons - because once they do, it's too late.

            http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2#premptive_nuclear_war

          • josh

            Your reading comprehension is shameful. Andre points out what Harris has actually said.

          • Paul Boillot

            You are wrong.

            1) He has not advocated preemptive use of nuclear weapons.
            2) He has taken pains to explain himself to those who misunderstand him.

            http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/response-to-controversy2#premptive_nuclear_war

          • David Nickol

            Since Harris has advocated the preemptive use of nuclear weapons on countries he considers too religious for the health of the world . . .

            Could you name a country Harris considers "too religious for the health of the world" against which Harris has called for a nuclear strike? No, you can't, because what he discusses is a possible, future, hypothetical nuclear-armed Islamic country willing to launch a first nuclear strike, which country is unconcerned about massive retaliation. Whether such a country will ever exist is unknowable, but if we are unable to prevent one from arising, a preemptive first strike against such a country would be one possibility that would have to be considered seriously.

          • Paul Boillot

            "Sam Harris would defend the shooter on utilitarian grounds"
            - Unevidenced, and false to boot.

            "such distinctions are (on atheism) completely subjective "
            - Unevidenced, and false.

            Harris actually advocates for atheists moral objectivism.

          • David Nickol

            Someone like Sam Harris would defend the shooter on utilitarian grounds . . . .

            Sam Harris (or "someone like Sam Harris") would defend a school shooter if it were fundamentalist Muslim children who were being shot? Can you quote anything that Sam Harris has ever said that would justify you making that assertion? If Sam Harris sued you for libel, what would your defense be?

            I would point out that the kind of justification you imagine Sam Harris would give is precisely the religious justification given in the Old Testament for the Israelites to wipe out whole cities, including men, women, children, and cattle. It is also a religious justification that Muslim extremists use to justify killing "infidels" in terrorist attacks. And, of course, it is similar to the religious justification given by the Catholic Church to execute heretics.

            if the atheist values intellectual honesty

            Surely the atheist, as you imagine him or her, would not value intellectual honesty. If I understand your position, intellectual honesty is a concept that would be empty of meaning. But please note that in my hypothetical scenarios, I am not talking about atheists and theists. I am talking about a hypothetical world in which it has been conclusively proven that God does not exist.

            It is interesting that the "before" world, where God was believed to have existed, and the "after" world, in which it has been shown that he does not, do not differ at all empirically. Parents still love their children. The vast majority of people "like" children, look upon them as vulnerable and innocent, and care about their welfare. Laws against murder still exist. There are still police departments. Yet you seem to feel that if there is no God, people will not be able to make any meaningful distinction between a teacher saving lives and a student murdering fellow students. It seems to me you are painting yourself into a corner, and that the only conceivable reason you could give for why murder (or rape, or torture) is wrong is "because God says so."

            There are atheists who believe in objective morality, and they would agree with theists on many reasons why murder is wrong—for example, for the benefit of everyone in an organized society, there must be good order, and allowing murder (theft, rape, drunk driving, etc.) is not consistent with good order. From your position, it would seem that all the atheists and theists who subscribe to some kind of "natural law" theory about the wrongness of murder are profoundly mistaken. Theists might maintain that the primary reason murder is wrong is because God forbids it, but you seem to be implying that all the reasons (which may be secondary for theists and primary for atheists) simply make no difference if there is no God. An "intellectually honest" atheist should apparently forget about all "secondary" reasons for considering something wrong because (apparently) those secondary reasons are meaningless without the primary reason.

            I think most people would agree that the world seems to be set up in such a way that some things are wrong or evil (murder) and some things are good (an act of kindness or compassion). They may not agree on the ultimate reason why the world seems to be set up that way, but I think they would agree that it is, or seems to be. And the position I see you backing into is that they are all wrong about the world. The only thing that matters is what "God says" is right or wrong, and if there is no God, then there are simply no good reasons not to shoot children and no good reasons to try to protect children from being shot.

            If someone who take the position you seem to be taking (I hope I am wrong) has an atheist holding a gun to his head, there are no reasons he could give to the gunman not to shoot.

          • Steve Willy

            My point, despite your lengthy digression,remain that any 'secondary reasoons' for morality ( reasons that exist without a belief in God) are subjective and can change with the circumstances. There can be atheist morailty but it cannot be immutable. And that renders your world view indistinguishable form Stalinism. No amount of faux-philosophical, pseudo-intellectual sophistry can hide this fact. Any who says otherise is intellectually dishonest. And dangerous.

          • David Nickol

            And that renders your world view indistinguishable form Stalinism.

            What is my world view? I haven't shared it here. Nor do I think "Stalinism" constitutes a coherent world view, so my world view, whatever it is, could scarcely be indistinguishable from Stalinism.

            No amount of faux-philosophical, pseudo-intellectual sophistry can hide
            this fact. Any who says otherise is intellectually dishonest.

            So you divide the people into two groups, those who agree with you, and those who are intellectually dishonest. Even the Catholic Church grants that there are those who do not accept Catholicism who are mistaken, or have only partial truth, but who are not "intellectually dishonest."When the Church executed people for heresy, it believed them to be very wrong, but it didn't accuse them of intellectual dishonesty. You are, in effect, saying those who disagree with you are evil.

      • David Nickol

        By the way, are you saying that something can be evil even if everyone thinks it's good? That is, are you saying, "That is good," and "That is evil," are statements that can be true or false? Or are you saying that when someone says, "That is evil," what he is really saying is, "In our culture, we strongly dislike that"?

        It seems to me that for those who maintain that, "That is good," and, "That is evil," are objectively true or false statements, it is problematic to make too much of a case that people can honestly disagree. The more difficult it is to know an objective truth, the less sense it makes (practically speaking) to argue it is an objective truth. If you are faced with a choice between X and Y, and one of them is objectively right and the other objectively wrong, the fact that one choice is objectively right is of absolutely no help to you unless you can know whether it is X or Y.

        • I was trying to see what you believed. Do you believe that there are objectively good/evil actions or do you believe that good/evil actions are dependent upon what the culture of the time says... Or do you believe something else?

          Yes, I do believe that there are objectively good and evil actions. I'm not sure I'm following your logic with disagreeing with people. If I speak with someone who does not believe there are objective truths and I say there are objective truths, then why can't we have a conversation where we honestly disagree with one another?

  • cminca

    "What I would like to do is lay out, in very brief compass, the Catholic understanding of the relationship between morality and the existence of God and to show, thereby, why it is indispensably important for a society that wishes to maintain its moral integrity to maintain, at the same time, a vibrant belief in God."

    You have outlined a CATHOLIC understanding. Which may be different than a Jewish, Unitarian, Wiccan, Atheistic, or Taoist understanding of the same issue--the relationship between a definition of morality and a belief in, and set of dogma for the worship of, a particular version of God (or lack of God).

    A Catholic understanding. An opinion.

    And as opinion--no more valid or "truthful" than anyone else's.

  • Steve Willy

    Predictably, members of GNU-r/atheist nation have dragged them selves out of the primordial ooze and clicked on this article in order to declare, at the top of their lungs that there MUST be a 'logical fallacy' here because the author believes God exists. Face it, neck beard boys, you started formulating your 'rebuttals' in your heads before you even finished reading the title. No amount of pseudo-intellectual sophistry can conceal this. I think the 'critics' here tacitly know that the moral argument kicks atheism in the balls and leaves it curled up on the ground in a fetal position, gasping for the air that it knows it does not deserve but that it sucks down anyway solely to satisfy its own hedonistic impulses.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      We don't want or need any trolls here, Steve Willy.

    • Paul Boillot

      "neck beard boys"

      Dude.

      I just shaved yesterday, what's your problem?!

    • Danny Getchell

      Mr. Willy, I salute you!

      Your devastating logic and incisive phrasing have quite won me over. I shall hie me to a priest straight way!!

      • Steve Willy

        Wow, your comments have really opened my eyes. I mean, this is mind blowing stuff! You make some powerful points, except ... let’s put the Hitchens-Dawkins Kool-Aid down for a while and look at reality: Kalaam Cosmological Argument, the Argument from Reason, Fine Tuning of Universal Constants, irreducible biological complexity, the argument from morality…. Your entire world view lies shattered at your feet. If you truly honor the gods of reason and critical thinking half as much as you claim, you would plant your face firmly into your hand, step away from the device, find a quiet place, and rethink your life. Indeed, why are you even bothering to comment at all? No atheistic position can be taken seriously until two threshold questions can coherently be answered. 1. Why is the atheist even engaging in the debate. On atheism, there is no objective basis for even ascertaining truth; there is no immaterial aspect to consciousness and all mental states are material. Therefore, everyone who ever lived and ever will live could be wrong about a thing. By what standard would that ever be ascertained on atheism? Also if atheism is true, there is no objective meaning to existence and no objective standard by which the ‘rational’ world view of atheism is more desirable, morally or otherwise, to the ‘irrational’ beliefs of religion. Ridding the world of the scourge of religion, so that humanity can ‘progress’ or outgrow it, is not a legitimate response to this because on atheism, there is no reason to expect humanity to progress or grow. We are a historical accident that should fully expect to be destroyed by the next asteriod, pandemic, or fascist atheist with a nuke. In short, if atheism is correct, there is no benefit, either on an individual or societal level, to knowing this or to spreading such ‘knowledge.’ 2. Related to this, why is the atheist debater even alive to participate. If there is no heaven, no hell, no afterlife at all, only an incredibly window of blind pitiless indifference, then the agony of struggling to exist, seeing loved ones die, and then dying yourself can never be outweighed by any benefit to existing. As rude as it way sound (and I AM NOT advocating suicide) the atheist should have a coherent explanation for why they chose to continue existing. Failure to adequately address these threshold questions should result in summary rejection of the neckbeard’s position. In the end, we all know you can’t answer these questions because yours is a petty, trivial, localized, earth bound philosophy, unworthy of the universe. Finally, is there a basement dwelling troll left in the multiverse who doesn’t drag themselves out of the primordial ooze and logged onto this site in order to announce our collective atheism towards Thor, that gardens can be beautiful without fairies (a powerful rebuttal to fairy apologetics, by the way, but it leaves a lot unanswered about the Gardener), and that we cling to Bronze Age skymen due to our fear of the dark? Let me translate that to neckbeard: you are unoriginal, you are wrong, and you are a clown. Also, FTW atheism is incoherent: http://communities. washingtontimes.com/neighborho... http://www.catholicthinker.net.... peterkreeft.com/topics-more/4-... http://www.reasonsforgod.org/t...

        • josh

          Ignorance, irrationality and condescension? You must be a joy at parties.

        • Paul Boillot

          FYI

          All of your links lead to 404 pages or dns errors.

          If you want to do an html reference, as Geena S. taught me, you have to write ....link text...'

          (Remove the periods after the "<" signs)

  • nowornever

    So here's my question- are things good because God commands them, or does God simply know what is good, and therefore command those good things? If the former is the case, are you arguing that if God endorsed rape, torture, and murder, those would be good? And if the latter is the case, then you haven't addressed the actual problem- where does good originate- at all.

  • tz1

    Even if "good" is objective, if there is no enforcement or consequence beyond the grave, then it is moot. a .0001% interest rate over eternity means heaven or hell. Salvation or damnation. One can know the difference between good and evil, then choose evil if they have nothing to lose. Independent of whether morality is relative or objective

  • CK

    I was with you right up until the point where you quoted St. Augustine. You start off with such a well-reasoned, logical argument, then you suddenly make this leap to God with no logical connection to that argument.

    You turn around and state "in the Catholic philosophical tradition, "God" is the name that we give to absolute or unconditioned goodness, justice, truth, and life." You're basically validating your initial point by saying "look here, I've made this sound argument for why goodness has intrinsic value, now we can say that it's also entirely due to God because my beliefs say so." Your Catholic philosophical tradition might give God as the name of absolute or unconditional goodness, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world does.

    I firmly agree with you on the point that there are moral absolutes. And I'm not strictly saying that God is not the source of absolute goodness. However, nothing about your argument ties God to those moral absolutes, beyond a religious assumption that God is already the source of unconditional goodness. The whole point of your argument was to prove why you can't take God out of goodness and have goodness survive. Yet the way you've setup your reasoning, all it takes is for a person to hold to different religious views than you, and your entire argument becomes invalidated.

  • Jarod

    The reason why we have morality is because caring for each other human being in turn helps our survival. It's evolution at its finest, you work together to better your chances at living and reproducing to further your line just like any other animal on the planet. This does not come from a man in the sky.

    • Michael Murray

      I agree it's evolution and nothing to do with imaginary GOAB's but not all animals behave in this way. We do because we are primates and evolved in small groups of animals sharing a reasonably large number of genes in common. So helping those around us survive spread our genes.

      PS: GOAB = Ground Of All Being