Why be Good?

shutterstock_38222407Following up on my earlier post on the moral argument for God’s existence, I wanted to address a tangent that I’m usually forced to let alone for the sake of sticking to the point.  That is, most of the objections to it show a marked confusion about the nature of Christian morality.

That is, if you think that threats of Hell are the basis of Biblical morals, you aren’t talking about Christianity.

One would think that the fact that Christianity is about forgiveness would be well-known enough that “You are good because you’re afraid that God will send you to Hell” would be widely recognized as a terrible argument.

But it is tragic that more people don’t know what the actual motivating force of ethical behavior is within Christianity. Far too many people, even many Christians, are missing out on the brilliance of the idea. So, what is it?

In a word, gratitude.

Christianity, though not necessarily the Christian, recognizes that reward-punishment systems tend to make us either arrogant or terrified, judgmental or guilty. This is a death-trap. Those who think they are good enough tend to be condemning to anyone not living up to their standards, and those who know we could be (and should be) better are very often plagued by self-accusation.

Terrible as it is that so many have fallen into this trap, this is a very big part of what forgiveness was meant to dispel. Forgiveness is meant to drill home to the arrogant person that he didn’t earn any right to claim to be good–and isn’t better than other people–while simultaneously showing the guilty person that she is indeed accepted.

Those who understand, and believe in, this truth will naturally begin to become a better person.

The process is simple, if difficult to live out: the one who knows she has more than she deserves is grateful, and genuinely grateful people do kind things without expecting to get something back, without hoping or demanding that she’ll be rewarded, but just because the thankfulness overflows out of her.

I, for one, believe that gratitude is the core of all human virtue. It is how we can help others without being secretly condescending or selfish. And that is the brilliance of the (actual) Biblical approach to morality.

73 responses to “Why be Good?

  • meinwords

    Christianity is a willingness to obey that comes from the heart, and is enabled by the Holy Spirit within us to please God.

  • john zande

    Are you suggesting only Christians can feel gratitude?

    Why be good? Easy! Gratitude is nice, sure. It produces the warm fuzzy, but it’s a temporary buzz. Pragmatically speaking, it’s selfish to be good. The pursuit of enlightened self-interest. If I am good I’m ensuring a happy, healthy, safe society, and I benefit from that. If I finance a mobile neutering service I know I’ll be happier in the future because I won’t see as many stray and suffering homeless puppies and kittens.

    • Mark Hamilton

      Do you consider yourself Ethical Egoist? This isn’t a rhetorical trap or nuthin’ I’m just curious. I don’t have anything against them and I’d argue that it’s the most logical ethical system to follow if you don’t believe in the existance of objective moral truth.

      • john zande

        I don’t even know what that is. I do good because it’s the right thing to do.

        Why do you do good, Mark?

        • Mark Hamilton

          Ethical Egoism is a theory of ethics. Sorry, I guess not every ethics class is as extensive in scope as mine was. As far as general outlines go the Wikipedia page isn’t bad.


          I also try to do good because it’s the right thing to do. I’m just wondering how you define “right.” Presumably from your earlier comment you might define “right” as “what’s in my enlightened self-interest.” That’s certainly very similar to what Ethical Egoism teaches. I’m more of a Virtue Ethics person myself (with a few reservations), but Virtue Ethics and Ethical Egoism have a surprisingly large amount in common. The Ethical Egoist believes that what is in his self-interest is right, and the Virtue Ethicist believes that what is right is always in his self-interest. The main difference is the definition of what is or isn’t in my self-interest. As a Virtue Ethicist I readily accept that there are occasions where the right thing to do will lead to my imminent death. It’s still in my self-interest to do it, but the Ethical Egoist might disagree with that.

          One more link to round things out here:


        • john zande

          I think you are seriously trying to complicate something that is not at all complicated.

          No social creature benefits from chaos. That’s it.

        • Mark Hamilton

          Well the biggest and strongest social creatures benefit from chaos. But I think it’s beside the point. You simply said that you do good because it’s the right thing to do. I was just wondering how you define right: like an Ethical Egoist, a Utilitarian, a Virtue Ethicist (it certainly seems unlikely that you’re some form of Deontologist), or something else entirely. Ethics is a fascinating field of philosophy, and I think everyone should have a good idea why they do and prefer the actions they prefer.

        • Mark Hamilton

          I’ve already told you: because it’s the right thing to do. Now I also happen to think that right and wrong are actual objective constructs that exist apart from humanity, and thus that “rightness” is something that is either discovered by us or revealed to us. From the way you talk I assume that your concept of rightness is more based around practical concerns, which puts you pretty well in the Ethical Egoist camp. Like I said, nothing wrong with that. Well I mean obviously I think it’s wrong (as in an incorrect way to go about ethics) but it’s certainly a fairly logically consistent position.

        • john zande

          “because it’s the right thing to do.”

          Why is it the “right” thing to do?

        • Mark Hamilton

          Well I believe that there is an objective standard of “right” by which actions that deviate from the standard cane be considered “wrong.” Discovering exactly what the standard is requires using our moral senses, logic, the study of ethics, and revelation.

          What is your “right” that you refer to when you say “because it’s the right thing to do?”

        • john zande

          Right = the opposite of encouraging chaos and/or suffering.

        • cogitatingduck

          John Zande, ethical egoism has been around for a while. I think of Ayn Rand’s quasi-philosophy Objectivism. But I agree with mark, your appeal to self-interest sounds like a form of egoism and consequentialism. I think in some cases these are valid forms of reasoning.

          One thing that’s not so clear is Kant’s claim that duty must be done for duty’s sake. That’s what your statement “I do good because it’s the right thing to do” sounds like. I can’t figure much meaning beyond an autobiographical tautology. I would agree with your statement too, but it seems trivial. I’m sure you have it within you to qualify your statement a bit.

        • john zande

          Hi Duck

          No social creature benefits for chaos. That’s the only qualification necessary. For the theist, however, they (you?) must present some reasonable evidence to demonstrate that something outside of the natural environment shapes our inclination toward right behaviour. This is almost impossible as many researchers have demonstrated that empathy is a natural attachment to monkeys, and more recently the work done by Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal of Emory University demonstrated that capuchin monkeys clearly understood the fundamental nature of fair play. That is complex moral behaviour in non-human organisms. It’s no unique, rather naturally occurring. So again, no social creature benefits for chaos. That’s the mechanism.

        • john zande

          Duck, I’ll ask you: Why do you do good?

        • cogitatingduck

          John, you’ve qualified your reason for doing good by describing a mechanism, but morals are clearly meant prescriptively, not just descriptively. Moral agents definitionally are confronted with choices. Then they deliberate for a time, and of their own volition choose a course of action that they are in some respect responsible for.

          JL Mackie advanced Error Theory as one of many naturalistic ways of understanding what morality is. On this view, morals are meant by their utterers prescriptively, but they are very likely wrong. Since Hume, ethicists have labored under the fact-value split. There simply is no way to empirically verify what ought to be done, beyond what has already been observed.

          Consider the human voluntrary extinction movement. They value life on Earth, believe humans are a threat to that life, and accordingly have resolved to bring about the eventual voluntary extinction of mankind. They did not derive their moral imperatives from observing cappuchin monkeys; they used abstract reasoning to prioritize the values they act on (of course I think they have reasoned unsoundly). Whether you agree or disagree with the valued telos–end goal–Dawkins called this conscious foresight, the ability to revolt against the selfish gene.

          This kind of freedom, whether it is real or illusory, is what is meant by morality. But naturalism/materialism has no room for real agents, choices, consciousness or intentionality, let alone moral objects that could be correctly or erroneously be perceived. The burden thus is not on the theist, but on the atheist. I’ll give an agnostic a pass though.

        • john zande

          Could you answer my question, please:

          Why do you do good?

      • Frank Morris

        Maybe I’m not thinking straight but to me a selfish act is not altruism or morality. If you do something that you know will benefit you, it is not morality, even if it also benefits others. It may be the right thing to do, but it isn’t an example of morality.

        A morality driven act is one where you act for the benefit of others, even though you expect a net loss or abstention from gain on your part.

        Some acts of morality start with sincere intentions but can result in unexpected rewards. These moral acts may benefit you, but they are hardly a majority of cases.

        I do good because I care about the needs of others. It isn’t always easy to put one’s own needs aside for others, but a belief that there is a God who cares about our needs does seem to increase one’s ability to help others more.

        I guess that’s why you never see “Atheist Relief Services” or atheist groups at the hospital volunteering to calm the grief of the dying. Atheists CAN do good for others, but people who falsely believe love is a chemical just don’t seem all that interested in helping others.

        Go figure.

    • Debilis

      No, I’m suggesting that theists have more reason and opportunity to be grateful than materialists.

      But I’d like to see some evidence that gratitude is “a temporary buzz”. I definitely don’t agree with that.

      Along similar lines, I’d also like some evidence that it is selfish to be good, full stop. I agree that it often is, perhaps even generally is. But I can think of quite a few situations in which selfishness and goodness don’t line up.

      I really don’t see the selfish value in giving to international charities, sacrificing one’s life to save a person one doesn’t know, or quite a few other things. It seems overly simplistic to wave off goodness as simply self-interest.

      • john zande

        “But I’d like to see some evidence that gratitude is “a temporary buzz”.
        -Ah, sorry, but it does always make me giggle when i see an apologist asking for “evidence” 🙂

        Of course, there are many, many examples where selfishness and good don’t line up. I was talking in general terms. Right action produces (not always, but the idea is) right action. There’s a saying in Brazil: money attracts money. The same principle can be applied to good behaviour.

        “It seems overly simplistic to wave off goodness as simply self-interest”
        -You’re being far too specific. Take many steps back and view it from afar.

        Now, you didn’t answer my question: Why do you do good?

        • Frank Morris

          John, do you then giggle at yourself? You are an atheist apologist asking for evidence, which is rather funny in itself. Materialists are those who deny overwhelming evidence to hold to their beliefs.

          The question “why do you do good?” has been asked by you multiple times and eloquently answered almost as many times. If the answers you are getting aren’t what you hoped, you don’t add anything to the conversation by annoyingly repeating the same already answered question.

          You can debate the answer they gave but repeating the same question is pointless.

        • john zande

          I’m afraid to say, but you’re dead wrong, Frank. Debilis’s answer is not at all satisfactory. I certainly wasn’t convinced, it might however work for him in some respects, but does ‘gratitude’ work for the 7 year old homeless girl in Aleppo today whose family has been murdered? I didn’t persist with the thread simply because i knew the conversation was going nowhere.

          Tell me: Why do you do good, Frank?

          Now, could you be so kind to actually explain what you’re even talking about regarding “overwhelming evidence”? Firstly, evidence to what? And secondly, could you actually please cite some examples of this “overwhelming evidence” which naturalist apparently “deny”?

          If you let me in on your little cryptic message I’d be more than happy to respond in-tune.

          Thanks in advance!

        • Debilis

          I know this isn’t addressed to me, but (as it is about me) I don’t think it is too rude to jump in to clarify:

          That is, there is a difference between not giving an answer that you, personally, find satisfactory and not giving an answer, period.

          You accused me of the latter (and, in general, tend to confuse the two). Whether or not we agree on the satisfaction of an answer, that I’ve given one is simply fact.

          As to your challenge of gratitude, I wish you’d mentioned this sooner, rather than simply repeating the question.

          The answer is “yes”, it does work for that person. At least, it does if the claims of the very poor are too be believed.

          Those who are in terrible circumstances have a choice between wallowing in those circumstances or finding a source of hope and gratitude. Both can be found in the claims of Christianity (whether or not you, personally, believe those claims, this remains true).

          Hope gives people a reason to keep going, and gratitude for things higher than this world give people a reason to continue to do good even when they aren’t getting anything out of it.

          In fact, it may be the only reason in cases like this. A homeless orphan in a poor country isn’t going to get anywhere by being kind. Your theory that we are good simply to get back better won’t help that girl in the slightest. Should she really be kind to everyone in a neighborhood full of half-starved murderers in the hopes that someone will give her food and shelter?

          And, should those people be kind to her in the hopes that a starving and embittered seven-year-old with massive trust issues will actually be worth the effort?

          That doesn’t seem like much of a motivation to be good.

          On the other hand, if they are genuinely grateful for the gift of life, and believe she’ll see her family again, even though a human can never really deserve an infinite good like eternity, then they have reason to be grateful.

          That’s not to say that emotions don’t need to be dealt with, but it is, long term, a much more real motivator than “be nice to and trust people even after watching your family get murdered, because that might get you a reward”.

          Personally, I’d commend the child who rejects that latter as something akin to prostitution.

      • john zande

        Debilis, i’m still waiting for your answer:

        Why do you do good?

        • Debilis

          I assume you’d agree that your personal giggling doesn’t constitute evidence. So, do you actually believe that people should support thier claims with evidence, or was that just handy rhetoric?

          If the former, support your claim with evidence, or quit insisting that I believe it.

          As to your theory of morality, we seem to agree on two things:

          1) That doing what is right is usually advantageous.
          2) That there are exceptions to this generalization.

          But, if there is even one exception, that means that self-interest is not the basis of morality. The one can’t simply be an extension of the other if they sometimes contradict one another. This is basic logic (the law of non-contradiction, if you’re interested).

          But, to answer your repeated question, I’ve already said that my motivation for doing good is gratitude. I know I’ve been accused of stating things too obliquely, but I thought that was pretty obvious to anyone really trying to understand.

        • john zande

          Chuckling because a believer in an entirely undetectable being who’s ONLY reference is in a book that the majority Jewish Rabbis today admit is fiction is asking for evidence.

          You have to admit that’s funny.

          I don’t think gratitude cuts it, though, Debilis. Does gratitude answer why you adhere to the speed limit, or don’t run children over at school bus stops? Of course not. Does gratitude explain why you don’t steal? Again, of course not.

          So, as you brought this subject up, and as your answer is clearly incomplete, I’ll ask again:

          Why do you do good, Debilis?

        • Debilis

          I’ll quickly point out (again) that I’ve given a number of “references”, and none of them are from a book.

          More to the point, are you saying that, because you don’t accept the evidence presented you, that this somehow excuses you from giving evidence?

          Really, do you believe that claims should be supported by evidence or not?

          If so, offer some. If not, why all the complaints about a supposed lack of it?

          But, yes. Gratitude answers why I am good. While I’m perfectly willing to admit that I, as much as anyone else, often take morally good acts for less than good reasons, that wasn’t what you asked.

          You asked why I am good. And, in my view, one is only good when one is acting out of good motivations. Hence, gratitude.

          And, yes, that helps me do the things you mention. I’m much less inclined to road-rage when I remember that I don’t deserve a car more than those born in poor nations–and am glad for what I have. I’m much more considerate in my driving around pedestrians when I quit demanding my right to get places quickly, and realize that I’ve already been given more resources than I’ve earned. I’m more honest in dealings with others when I remember that I have more money than I deserve.

          I’m also more likely to give to charities. Realizing that I have more than I deserve is an excellent motivator to do all these things without expecting payment back and (therefore) without getting angry when I’m not paid back.

          That is called gratitude, and it completely explains these things. And it has the added benefit of not being a selfish approach.

  • Arkenaten

    And that is the brilliance of the (actual) Biblical approach to morality.

    Maybe you would be so kind as to provide an example that demonstrates this while at the same time clearly refuting any suggestion of punishment ( hell/separation from your god) by Yahweh/Jesus?

    • cogitatingduck

      Arkenaten, you seem to think punishment and gratitude are mutually incompatible. Under what circumstances do you think this to be the case?

    • Debilis

      If you’re arguing that another interpretation of Christianity is more accurate than my own, what is it?

      Simply demanding that I refute “any suggestion of punishment” doesn’t deal with the fact that Christianity is clearly a religion of forgiveness. I have no idea why anyone would consider the punishment meme a valid reading of the Bible.

      • Arkenaten

        Because your god is a monster.
        How else would you like it to be phrased?

        • Debilis

          How about with some evidence that actually apies to my beliefs , and some explanation as to how that contradicts anything I’ve said.

          That’d definitely help.

        • Arkenaten

          Why would t help? Are you have a crisis of conscience?

        • Debilis

          It would help because evidence is a much better reason for me to believe you than mockery.

          And addressing my actual beliefs, rather than a complete distortion of them would mean that what you are saying is relevant. As it is, I agree that the version of theism that you’ve been mocking is false. I just have no idea what that has to do with anything I’ve ever claimed.

        • Arkenaten

          In that case, rather than send us all on a chase around your blog, simply provide us with a short list of your beliefs, say half a dozen bullet points, then we would have a proper basis to discuss from.

        • Debilis

          I don’t see how this is the evidence I asked for.

          But for someone who’s claimed to be uninterested in me, you seem very interested in my opinions about all sorts of issues I’ve never raised.

          Now, you’re the one claiming that “[my] God is a monster”. Do you have any evidence for that claim? Is there any reason why anyone should believe that, or are we simply to believe it without evidence?

        • Debilis

          And how do you know that your understanding is right–and all those who disagree with you are wrong?

          I’ve never seen good reason to take it in the way you insist on taking it. But perhaps you have reasons you’ve not mentioned?

          If so, please name them.

        • Arkenaten

          Would you like a few quotes from a top ranking catholic theologian on why the bible is basically an unreliable and fallacious collection of spurious documents?

        • Debilis

          No, I’d like evidence and logic.

          That is, after all, what is demanded of me. If you’ve learned about it from an expert, that is fine, but let’s please see a logical reason, not an opinion.

        • Arkenaten

          Fine the evidence.
          The virgin birth was a false translation.
          There is n i evidence of a nazareth as described in the bible.
          There is no evidence of an Exodus.
          The character Moses is regarded bu every secular scholars and all other scholars except fundamentalists as a fictitious character.
          Jesus referenced Moses and the Law.
          The Jesus seminar deduced from logic and evidence that the vast majority of saying attributed to Jesus were not in fact said by him at all.

          The gospels are riddled with erroneous information and contradictions.
          There are no eyewitnesses to the events described.

          Christianity as you understand it is based on Pauline doctrine, Jesus’ message was primarily for the Jews.

          Anything else you need?
          On and the expert?

          Raymond E Brown good enough for you?

        • Debilis

          Great! Let’s get to evidence:

          1. Even if the virgin birth is a false translation (though I disagree), how is that evidence that “God is a monster”?
          2. Same question over the existence of Nazareth.

          In fact, I’m going to quit repeating myself here. You get the idea.

          These assertions (which is really all they are), don’t remotely support your claim even if they were true.

          But I’d be very interested in reading a quotation from Brown claiming that the Bible “is basically an unreliable and fallacious collection of spurious documents”. While he rejects inerrancy, and was a liberal scholar, that was not his position–so it would be very interesting to find him saying something so opposed to what he actually claimed.

        • Arkenaten

          Well the word betulah is the word for virgin, almah is not and no amount of clever gymnastics will make it change to fit a Christian meaning.
          And is Isiah a messianic prophecy. The whole issue is a Christian nonsense Period.
          …you can work out the rest yourself, and if you want a link to a un-biased non christian scholar simply ask, okay?

          But then again, I wouldn’t trust anything in ”Matthew”, he ”borrowed” over 600 verses from ”Mark” and only the most credulous fool would afford any credence to the ”Zombie Apocalypse”

          Don’t get cute re: Brown. If you are genuinely interested in what he had to say then ask nicely and I’ll provide the quotes and the links.

        • Debilis

          I’m aware of the translation issues surrounding the Isaiah prophecy, but I didn’t comment on that.

          All I asked was “how on Earth does that constitute evidence that God is a monster?”.

          And yes. I was genuinely asking about Brown. I wasn’t getting “cute”. If you’d like to make a case based on his research, feel free to do so.

          But, so far, we’ve not seen any evidence at all that “God is a monster”.

        • Arkenaten

          Examples of why your god is a monster.

          The Biblical flood, the liquidation of the Canaanites, the doctrine of Hell.
          That’s quite enough to be going on with.

          The article pertaining to Raymond Brown:

          Please, I implore you, read this in context, think carefully and do not come back with anything silly , okay?


        • Debilis

          Now we’re getting closer, thank you.

          Of course, I don’t know what moral theory you’re using to declare God a monster. Is it always wrong to kill, even if it will result in a greater good?

          Most atheists I’ve debated have demanded that it isn’t.

          Of course, most atheists I’ve debated have also demanded that their morality is simply a matter of evolution–and I don’t see how we can demand that God be held to standards that are simply the simply the spin-offs of evolution.

          So, this is a start, but I need some explanation here before you’ve proved the point.

          I’d also need some explanation as to what understanding you have of these sections of the Bible. How literally are you demanding that we take them?

          This is particularly important in the case of “the doctrine of Hell”. Traditionally, Hell is understood as separation from God. But I don’t see how God’s letting people separate from him if we choose to makes him a “monster”. That seems a rather moral thing to do.

          As to Brown. Yes, as I’ve said, he’s a liberal theologian. The only objections I’ve had are:

          1) That this makes him automatically right, as opposed to those experts who disagree with him. In fact, the “borrowed from pagan” narrative (fun as it is in documentaries) has been discredited since Brown’s writing on it.

          2) This doesn’t remotely show that Brown considers the Bible to be “basically an unreliable and fallacious collection of spurious documents”. Liberal scholars are constantly pointing out that there are non-literal truths to be found in the texts they are said to “reject”. None of the quotations here say that the Bible can simply be dismissed in this way.

          Particularly if we demand on reading things as literally as you’ve demanded that we read the Bible.

          And that is the final point. You’ve (rightly) asked me to read in context, rather than simply pointing out what is literally said (and how a literal reading wouldn’t help your case).

          But this is exactly what I’ve asked you to do with the Bible. If you don’t want a literal reading of technical writings, then, surely, a book on spirituality is an open candidate for having non-literal sections.

        • Arkenaten

          Of course, I don’t know what moral theory you’re using to declare God a monster. Is it always wrong to kill, even if it will result in a greater good?

          First let me make it clear that these stories are hogwash and we are both on the same page here.
          Next, are you tacitly making a case for Divine Command Theory?

        • Debilis

          That is clear (I don’t know how it could not be, at this point).

          But, no. I’m not trying to make a case for any moral theory. I was asking what your theory was.

          If you want to know where I was driving with that, I thought it was pretty clear: I’ve never met an atheist who believes that there is such a thing as a standard of morality that is objectively binding.

          As such, I don’t see how an atheist can make a moral case–particularly against a non-human like God. Because that would require making the case that there is such a thing as moral truth–something the atheist denies.

          If you feel that you can make that case, feel free to present it. By what what standard do you determine that a thing is wrong?

        • Arkenaten

          You asked for evidence that God was a Monster.
          I gave you the evidence. The bible.
          If you, like me, hold this evidence in contempt then,
          I am very pleased.
          We agree on one thing at least. The Pentateuch is fiction.

          So , if this is no/w cleared up, on what do you base your belief in a god , if not the bible?

        • Debilis

          The “evidence” you presented was a series of claims that the Bible is unreliable.

          But I don’t remember agreeing that the Pentateuch is fiction. If you are willing to boldly claim something about me that I know is false, I’m not sure why I should trust the other things you boldly claim until I get some evidence relevant to the claim.

        • Arkenaten

          You only ‘know” your god, Yahweh, via the biblical texts. Unless you have some other source that refutes the scripture that your god was a genocidal maniac?

          And the Pentateuch is fiction. The consensus of experts says so, and these include Rabbis, most of the world’s Archaeologists, Egyptologists and …wait for it…Christians.

          So are you suggesting i give no credence to the opinions of the worlds’ leading experts regarding this matter?
          Or must I throw my lot in with evangelicals, like Ron Wyatt,Ken Ham and the Mark Hamilton’s of the world?

        • Debilis

          I’ve not been presented with any “scripture that [God] was a genocidal maniac”. I’ve only been presented with claims that scripture is unreliable.

          I’m sure we could go through, naming names about who has what opinion on how literally factual the Pentateuch is (though I’ve never been presented with even a single expert who claims that it is “fiction”), but that was completely beside the point.

          You claimed that “God is a monster”. I asked for evidence for that claim–but I don’t see how saying “Rabbis believe the Pentateuch is fiction” counts as relevant evidence.

        • Arkenaten

          You do not think the genocidal campaign as described in the closing verses of Joshua is evidence of a monster?
          How would you explain the actions of the Israelites towards the Canaanites during Joshua’s Campaign as ordered by Yahweh?

        • Debilis

          I simply don’t recall the command to genocide anywhere in that war.

          As to how I would describe those actions:
          In military terms, I’d describe it as an invasion–a conquest of land from another people.

          Whether or not one happens to like war or conquest, it does not show God to be a monster unless three conditions are met:

          1. The reports of God’s commands are literally accurate.

          2. The commands themselves were unjustified.

          3. The commands were so grossly unjustified as to warrant the label of “monster”.

          Running through these:
          It is strange to me that those who seem to delight in reminding me that many Rabbis (quoted as reliable experts) don’t take these passages as literally true can suddenly demand that this section should be read literally.

          This seems impossible from the point of view of a materialist atheist–who claims that morality is no more than a set of biological impulses programmed for survival.
          As God is a non-human, I see no reason why someone can demand that it is monstrous that he not follow our biological impulses.

          But even assuming the materialist had a basis for making moral pronouncements like this, I don’t see any reason to conclude things about what God knows. That is to say, no one has remotely shown that that such a command couldn’t have been justified. All I’ve seen so far are emotional appeals to repulsion at the idea.

          But not only would we need some vague evidence, asserted with great confidence (and scorn for theism), we’d need a proof before concluding that throwing around the term “monster” is rational.

          As such, I’m not convinced of any, let alone all three of these assumptions.

        • Arkenaten

          So what would convince you of the veracity of the text?

        • Debilis

          I’m tempted to take a line out of the New Atheist handbook and say “you’re the one making the claim, just show me the evidence and I’ll judge it.”

          But it is the veracity of your interpretation that needs support. What evidence do you have for that?

        • Arkenaten

          Well, as you lot are inclined to go with the consensus when it comes to such things as the historicity of someone called Jesus, the I think it best I behave like my Christian brethren and simply go with the consensus that consider the Pentateuch a work of fiction.

          And this is without even summoning evidence.

        • Debilis

          First, I don’t go with the consensus. I’ve been recommending that we with reason and logic.

          Second, if “I’ll go with majority, and that’s all I can say” is a weak response. I’ve answered that. Simply repeating that doesn’t say anything about the reasons I’ve already given.

          Third, “work of fiction” isn’t remotely what I asked about. I asked for evidence that “God is a monster”. Replying with “the Pentateuch is fiction” is completely weird.

          And, last, I agree that this ” is without even summoning evidence”. That’s my problem. I’ve asked for evidence and, as you’ve just stated, you haven’t given me any.

        • Arkenaten

          If you are not prepared to take the Bible at face value then what are you left with?

          If you are prepared to disregard the Old Testament…or at least the text of the Pentateuch ( the text we have, which may or may not be based on an original) then that too is fine.

          But at some point there has to be an area where we agree what is (likely) true and what is false, surely?

          If there is nothing about the Pentateuch you feel comfortable with then let us disregard it and start afresh?

          My assertion that Yahweh is a monster is based on some of the actions described in the Pentateuch, namely his orders for the destruction of Canaan and its people and the obliteration of mankind in the Flood.

          This is the evidence that condemns Yahweh as a monster whether you are citing Divine Command Theory or not.

          If the Pentateuch is not regarded as evidence I am perfectly fine with this.

          So, merely tell me how you regard such scripture and we can move on.

        • Debilis

          I’m left with the more academic way of taking the Bible. You yourself have pointed out that many experts agree with me on this point.

          But I’m not “disregarding” anything in scripture. I’ve specifically challenged the idea that “literal” and “disregard” are the only options. You’re free to argue otherwise, but not to simply assume this when asking me about my position.

          But, getting back to your actual claim. I’m aware that you cite the invasion of Canaan as your evidence.

          In response, I’ve already presented three claims that need to be true in order for this to work.

          So far, I’ve not yet seen a defense of any of those three claims. Perhaps you will do so in the future but, until then, my challenges there have gone unanswered.

          That being the case, there’s no reason why I should accept your claim.

        • Arkenaten

          Oh, and the biblical Nazareth never existed at the time of your supposed Messiah. If you can find a single credible archaeologist that will state this in writing backed with peer reviewed evidence I will eat my laptop.

        • Debilis

          I’ll spare you having to eat your laptop, then, and not mention anything about that.

          Rather, I’ll simply ask how your confidently asserting that Nazareth didn’t exist is evidence that “God is a monster”. What on Earth does that have to do with it?

  • cogitatingduck

    John, when I do good, I do it because I want to. This is a little different from Debilis’ gratitude thesis, but not incompatible with it.

    • john zande

      Sorry, didn’t see your reply done here.

      You do good because you want to. So, it’s a natural compulsion, yes?

      • cogitatingduck

        Not completely, because I am a composite natural and supernatural object. Self does not really exist on naturalism, despite what an ethicist like Rachels will say. Given that I actually exist, an irreducible part of what I want, my desire, my will, is not explained naturalistically.

        • john zande

          Then you haven’t answered the question: why do you do good?

          “Because I want to” doesn’t explain anything. What motivates that want?

        • cogitatingduck


          “because I want to” is plenty meaningful if you know what desire is, and how it is distinct from other motivations. It supplies autobiographical information in stating the motivation’s efficient cause. Chock full of novel information. It’s not that complicated.

          “No social creature benefits from chaos.”

          What do you mean by chaos by the way?

        • john zande

          Sorry Duck, once again i got no notification that you replied.

          Granted, chaos is a broad word, but i’m essentially meaning things sow confusion and cause suffering. There is no neat definition, but i think you understand what i mean. No hermeneutics required.

        • cogitatingduck

          John, you are one of the more tolerable conversationalists on WordPress. All presuppositions aside, are you familiar with game theory? I think it’s an analytical tool that would fit your six word proposition well. Look up Alan Stamm’s tit-for-tat strategy. In geopolitics, an eye for an eye sends a clear signal, lessening confusion as to commitment and intent.

          Tit-for-tat diminishes chaos in a global society.

  • cogitatingduck

    *My bad. Correct author is Robert Axelrod.

  • If You Redefine Christianity, it’s Ridiculous | Fide Dubitandum

    […] as I’ve already written about the actual motivator, I’ll simply respond by wondering how someone who doesn’t seem even to know that Christianity […]

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