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How can God be good?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2007 10:04 am    Post subject: How can God be good?  Reply with quote

No, I'm not thinking here about the question 'How can God be good when there is so much suffering etc?' but rather about the logical/philosophical implications of the statement 'God is good'.

What do we mean by good in this context? What do we mean by bad? For the Aztecs, human sacrifice was neither wrong nor bad. It was right and good. Why? Because the Aztec gods required human sacrifice. If a god (any god) is believed to be the source of the right and the good, then those who believe in that god and fear it will try to comply with what they believe that god requires. I fail to see the difference between the Aztecs and Muslims (Christians and Jews are a little different!) Both wish to PROPITIATE their respective gods out of fear.

Regarding monotheism's uncreated God there is also a logical problem concerning the right and the good. If one says that 'God is good', then logically the notions of 'the good', 'the bad', 'the right' and 'the wrong' are independent of God himself and they precede him. This is what Bertrand Russell says on the subject:


Quote:
One form (of the argument) is to say there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God. You could, of course, if you liked, say that there was a superior deity who gave orders to the God that made this world, or could take up the line that some of the gnostics took up -- a line which I often thought was a very plausible one -- that as a matter of fact this world that we know was made by the devil at a moment when God was not looking. There is a good deal to be said for that, and I am not concerned to refute it.


As Russell is arguing in a manner to which monotheists are not accustomed, perhaps it will be best if I tried summarize his line of reasoning.

One

If the difference between right and wrong is due solely to God's will then that difference is meaningless for God himself. Let us imagine, for example, that God might decide to say to people that it is good to pray to him five times a day. But what he says to others and what he can say to himself are different. Allah himself cannot justify TO HIMSELF his commands by sayng 'they are good' because they are simply the expression of his fiat or will. For Allah himself 'the good' is a meaningless notion.

Two

As the notion of 'the good' is meaningless for God himself, then it is also meaningless to say that "God is good."

Three

Another difficulty is this. If you say "God is good" as one says "Mother Teresa was good", then 'the good' (along with 'the right', 'the wrong' and 'the bad') must correspond to a quality that is INDEPENDENT of the object or person to which it is attributed. This argument would be a logical consequence of affirming that 'the good' etc are NOT meaningless to God.

Four

In turn, this woudl mean that 'the good' etc logically precede the existence of God himself.


Would anyone care to provide a counter-argument?
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2007 12:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) gave out the traits for a good being and a bad being.
So Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) fits the traits for good being, so God is Good.

For example, Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) says the He will forgive all of your sins if you sincerely repent for them. And for the humans, there is a chance that humans can go to eternal heaven.

By this, you can pick up two traits of God, He is forgiving and He is merciful.

Forgiving and merciful are two traits that are considered good.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 29, 2007 6:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post Bob, it does provoke the brain cells.

But if you think like me that God does not exist, then the question becomes a lot simpler.

The definition of good is relative to the time, circumstances and side you're on when judging the attribute of good.

Based on the attributes of God confirmed by the Abrahamic trio, I can reach the conclusion that God is bad.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Raza wrote:
I think Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) gave out the traits for a good being and a bad being.
So Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) fits the traits for good being, so God is Good.

For example, Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) says the He will forgive all of your sins if you sincerely repent for them.


Who told you that? That concept is borrowed from Christianity. It's the concept that says even if you are a sinner all of your life, if you sincerely repent before you die, your sins will be forgiven and forgotten. Muslims often complain about this idea saying it's not justice and that one must always pay for their sins, and there is even a book of records and that all of your actions will be put on a scale and that you must perform good actions to outweigh your bad actions. So why are you conveniently borrowing a Christian concept that Muslims often complain about?


Raza wrote:

And for the humans, there is a chance that humans can go to eternal heaven.

By this, you can pick up two traits of God, He is forgiving and He is merciful.

Forgiving and merciful are two traits that are considered good.


The Islamic God values justice more than mercy because Muhammad valued justice more than mercy.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There is no such thing as good and bad, those are human inventions. There is only true and false and existent and non existent. If one sees the world as good or bad, then that is because one wants to get something out of the world. One wants personal gain.

The dog trainer studies the dog not because the trainer simply wants to know more about the dog, but because it wants the dog to suit his or her desires by performing the desired tricks. In that scenario, the dog can exhibit what the trainer believes to be good behavior and bad behavior. But let's rephrase that to be more accurate. The dog can exhibit desirable behavior and non desirable behavior.

A scientist who studies ants doesn't want to train them or use them to his or her advantage, he or she just wants to know more about them for the sake of knowledge and interest. Therefore, the ants cannot exhibit bad or undesirable behavior, because ALL of their behavior would be considered desirable. The only behavior that would be undesirable to the ant scientist would be a lack of behavior altogether.

If we parallel the ants behavior with existence, then it could be said that since behavior is good, then existence is good, and if lack of behavior is not good, then lack of existence is not good.

Therefore, aside from personal self interest, if there is a good and bad, then existence itself is good and non existence is bad. All the rest of it merely falls under the category of self interest.
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 12:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mutley wrote:
There is no such thing as good and bad, those are human inventions. There is only true and false and existent and non existent. If one sees the world as good or bad, then that is because one wants to get something out of the world. One wants personal gain.

The dog trainer studies the dog not because the trainer simply wants to know more about the dog, but because it wants the dog to suit his or her desires by performing the desired tricks. In that scenario, the dog can exhibit what the trainer believes to be good behavior and bad behavior. But let's rephrase that to be more accurate. The dog can exhibit desirable behavior and non desirable behavior.

A scientist who studies ants doesn't want to train them or use them to his or her advantage, he or she just wants to know more about them for the sake of knowledge and interest. Therefore, the ants cannot exhibit bad or undesirable behavior, because ALL of their behavior would be considered desirable. The only behavior that would be undesirable to the ant scientist would be a lack of behavior altogether.

If we parallel the ants behavior with existence, then it could be said that since behavior is good, then existence is good, and if lack of behavior is not good, then lack of existence is not good.

Therefore, aside from personal self interest, if there is a good and bad, then existence itself is good and non existence is bad.


“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong” by Carl Jung
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2007 6:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Raza wrote:
I think Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) gave out the traits for a good being and a bad being.
So Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) fits the traits for good being, so God is Good.

For example, Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) says the He will forgive all of your sins if you sincerely repent for them. And for the humans, there is a chance that humans can go to eternal heaven.

By this, you can pick up two traits of God, He is forgiving and He is merciful.

Forgiving and merciful are two traits that are considered good.


Hello Raza,

I do not think you have understood the logical issues at stake here. Part of the question is to do with the attributes of God/Allah. Let's take another example.

Allah is often referred to in the Koran (in the bismillah and elsewhere) as 'merciful' or  'the most merciful' 'ar-rahim' What does this mean for Muslim commentators?  Al-Mizan in his tafsir on the bismillah writes:

Quote:
Also, it teaches a lesson to mankind, showing them the perfect manner of starting all their talks and actions; it guides them to put the stamp of the divine name on all their activities; doing every work for the sake of Allah, associating it with His good names and attributes.


Mercy is one of the attributes of Allah. I have found no Muslim commentator who states otherwise. For a Muslim Allah describes himself in the Koran as ar-rahim. And so the logical and theological problem is this. PLEASE READ CAREFULLY AND TRY TO UNDERSTAND.

How can the attribute of MERCY which is supposed to be eternal (Allah cannot have attributes that are limited by time) really be eternal? How did Allah exercise the attribute of Mercy before Creation? The only object to which mercy could have been applied BEFORE creation was Allah himself. Did Allah require his own mercy? If He did then he is imperfect! If Muslims say that the attribute of Mercy is dependent upon the creation then they are arguing that one of Allah's qualities is contingent upon the existence of a created world, i.e. that one of Allah's attributes can only fulfill itself AFTER the creation of man (or the angels and jinns). Allah is therefore a being whose attributes are determined or limited by his own creation.

Now let's take the statement "Allah is good". For Allah himself, the distinction between 'good' and 'bad' CANNOT exist because Allah does not have the choice of  being 'good' or 'bad'. EVERTHING that Allah does is exercised through his will or fiat. The notion of 'the good' can only exist for beings who have the CHOICE between committing a good deed and a bad one. This does not exist for Allah. Therefore  the notion of 'the good' is MEANINGLESS for Allah himself. As it is meaningless for Allah to say 'I am good' it is also meaningless for us to say that  "Allah is good".

If you can solve these logical and theological conundrums here then feel free to do so!
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good and bad are man-made concepts, as are desirable and undesirable. I don't take the phrase "God is good" seriously because you can't assign any absolute meaning to it.

But its a great question nevertheless because you can't answer it without attempting to define a "reality" in which good and bad makes sense.

Most of us define reality by our six senses: sight, sound, hearing, taste, touch and mind. These senses allow us to pick up and internalize our culture, upon which we decide right and wrong, truth and falsity. Senses are absolutely crucial to the equation.

Now lets change that mix of senses. Try describing the color red to a blind person or describing Mozart to the deaf. Are their realities the same as ours? If you ask a blind man to describe an elephant, you'll wonder if he's living in the same world as you are.

We can assert the color of our shirts with great confidence in court, until someone shines an ultra-violet light and change color itself. This is how much our senses are trustworthy.

What I'm trying to say is, I believe much of "reality" is an illusion, created partly by senses that are incomplete and the rest by faith. Many animals outdo us in sensory capability, being able to pick up sounds and colors outside the human spectrum. Some humans have more developed minds that can influence matter. But because we don't have these capabilities, we like to label them as unreal, a fantasy.

Coming back to "God is good." The argument now becomes:

1. Goodness is defined by cultural belief
2. Culture is what one learns from society
3. We can only learn what is captured by our senses
4. Our senses are incomplete at best, dodgy at worst
5. If we only have a subset of the full spectrum of possible senses, reality becomes relative
6. If reality is relative, then truth is relative
7. If truth is relative, then our concept of good and bad is relative
8. If good and bad is relative, the words "God is good" has no absolute meaning

The irony of god's "truths" is when people claim these truths to be absolute and inviolable when such "truths" are milled from flawed or incomplete realities.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

norwegian wrote:
Good and bad are man-made concepts, as are desirable and undesirable. I don't take the phrase "God is good" seriously because you can't assign any absolute meaning to it.

But its a great question nevertheless because you can't answer it without attempting to define a "reality" in which good and bad makes sense.

Most of us define reality by our six senses: sight, sound, hearing, taste, touch and mind. These senses allow us to pick up and internalize our culture, upon which we decide right and wrong, truth and falsity. Senses are absolutely crucial to the equation.

Now lets change that mix of senses. Try describing the color red to a blind person or describing Mozart to the deaf. Are their realities the same as ours? If you ask a blind man to describe an elephant, you'll wonder if he's living in the same world as you are.

We can assert the color of our shirts with great confidence in court, until someone shines an ultra-violet light and change color itself. This is how much our senses are trustworthy.

What I'm trying to say is, I believe much of "reality" is an illusion, created partly by senses that are incomplete and the rest by faith. Many animals outdo us in sensory capability, being able to pick up sounds and colors outside the human spectrum. Some humans have more developed minds that can influence matter. But because we don't have these capabilities, we like to label them as unreal, a fantasy.

Coming back to "God is good." The argument now becomes:

1. Goodness is defined by cultural belief
2. Culture is what one learns from society
3. We can only learn what is captured by our senses
4. Our senses are incomplete at best, dodgy at worst
5. If we only have a subset of the full spectrum of possible senses, reality becomes relative
6. If reality is relative, then truth is relative
7. If truth is relative, then our concept of good and bad is relative
8. If good and bad is relative, the words "God is good" has no absolute meaning

The irony of god's "truths" is when people claim these truths to be absolute and inviolable when such "truths" are milled from flawed or incomplete realities.


Loved your post and your views!
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 05, 2007 10:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Raza wrote:
I think Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) gave out the traits for a good being and a bad being.
So Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) fits the traits for good being, so God is Good.

For example, Allah(Subhanahu wa ta'ala) says the He will forgive all of your sins if you sincerely repent for them. And for the humans, there is a chance that humans can go to eternal heaven.

By this, you can pick up two traits of God, He is forgiving and He is merciful.

Forgiving and merciful are two traits that are considered good.

Hey Raza, why do you say (Subhanu Wa Ta'ala) after you mention Allah?

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