On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
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14-03-2017, 05:45 PM (This post was last modified: 14-03-2017 05:59 PM by Glossophile.)
On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
This is something I've been tinkering with off-and-on, and I thought I'd share it for whatever it's worth. It's my own approach to the presupposition of God's goodness based on formal logic.

One of the theistic fallacies that's always seemed especially obvious to me is the circularity of arguing that any particular passage that makes God look less than perfectly virtuous must be either figurative or taken out of context. The question that we immediately want to ask is, for instance, "Well, how do you know that the Levitican condemnation of homosexuality is literal but the genocide of Noah's flood is figurative?" The typical response is something to the effect of, "Well, God is good, so he would never commit actual genocide." If asked how they know God is not genocidal, the theist often refers back to the Bible, bringing us right back to square one, even if we skeptics are the only ones who actually realize that we're back at square one.

Whenever we ask how theists know which passages are straightforward and which ones are not, the theists often evade or miss the underlying point being made, so this quasi-syllogism is my attempt to make that point more explicit. As you can see, the final conclusion is already presupposed in the initial premises, which is a textbook case of question-begging.

P1: God is purely and absolutely good.
P2: The Bible (or Koran, etc) accurately portrays God's nature.
C1: Any biblical passage that would cast doubt on God's infallible virtue if interpreted literally must be interpreted figuratively and/or re-contextualized.
P3: Given C1, there can be no biblical passage of which the correct and properly contextualized interpretation casts doubt on God's infallible virtue.
C2: Given P2 and P3, God is purely and absolutely good.

Since "God's infallible virtue" is synonymous with P1 being true, we can substitute P1 into the rest of the argument, and the fallacy becomes even clearer.

P1: God is purely and absolutely good.
P2: The Bible (or Koran, etc) accurately portrays God's nature.
C1: Any biblical passage that would cast doubt on P1 if interpreted literally must be interpreted figuratively and/or re-contextualized.
P3: Given C1, there can be no biblical passage of which the correct and properly contextualized interpretation casts doubt on P1.
C2: Given P2 and P3, P1.

The problem, of course, is that theists baldly presuppose P1 and use that assumption to guide their interpretation of scripture. I don't think it ever occurs to the typical theist that P1 itself needs justification until and unless they're confronted by a non-believer. So when they are finally challenged to justify it, I don't think they really know any other way to do so besides appealing to how they interpret scripture. In a sense, they have no choice but to be circular.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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14-03-2017, 06:09 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
P1 is so compelling to Abrahamic theists because it's really the main value proposition of their religious faith. If god is not ominibenevolent then why would you want to know him and why would you not in fact want to try to not have him so much as notice you? He is, after all, very powerful and if he finds you somehow wanting, he could squash you like a bug. Or as Gary Larson portrayed it, he could press the SMITE button on his computer.

So P1 has to be true or the whole house of cards falls down. Double standards and special pleadingse ensue. Things we would NEVER tolerate in a puny human are somehow okay coming from an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being. Indeed, one wonders how being omnibenevolent doesn't RAISE the bar for what constitutes good / moral / kind / benevolent conduct, rather than LOWER it. Yet the Bible unambiguously describes jealousy, rage, jealous rage, gloating, capricious violence, genocide, and all sorts of other hideous things to god almighty.

Suppose that the Trumpster decreed that anyone guilty of thinking they are greater than he, should have worms introduced into their bodies so that they would be eaten alive until dead. We would decry that as "cruel and unusual punishment", yet that is precisely what god supposedly caused to happened to Herod Agrippa in Acts chapter 12 when he accepted the praise of syncophants comparing him to a deity.

Ironically, in recent years, I have seen the attribute of omnibenevolence increasingly thrown under the bus in the service of theodicy. Especially by the universal reconciliation folks. They embrace Isaiah 45:7, "The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." One of these folks told me that god alone knows all the outcomes of actions, and god alone can practice situational ethics, doing evil that good may come of it -- something specifically prohibited to us.

This allows them to be indifferent / immune to the criticism that god is a heartless dick and a cruel taskmaster. I think the notion appeals to some UR types because the fact that everything will eventually "come out in the wash" at the end of history, that everyone will be reconciled to god and worthy of heaven, means to them, somehow, that suffering doesn't matter.
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14-03-2017, 06:12 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
(14-03-2017 05:45 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  This is something I've been tinkering with off-and-on, and I thought I'd share it for whatever it's worth. It's my own approach to the presupposition of God's goodness based on formal logic.

Nice analysis. I suppose many theists must believe God is perfectly good to be worthy of worship. Of course, that doesn't make such assumptions any less circular.

All those mutually supporting assumptions make a nice story, which is all many people need for their social groups to function. Perhaps theists are annoyed with atheists because we're getting in the way of their real purpose, which is the social aspect of their belief systems. It's like we're pointing out the plot holes in some people's favorite movies.
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14-03-2017, 06:18 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
Isaiah 45:7
God is the self proclaimed creator of evil.

Depending on which version you want to use and I think this version suits me fine.

If they want to cherry pick the verses they like, I'll cherry pick the versions of the bible.
In an argument, I can even make up versions that don't even exist and they won't know the difference.

"In the early hemispheric texts, it clearly says the exact opposite of your translation. God was never seen as a good deity until the more recent versions came along despite the clear genocidal stories like the ones written in the plastocene era."

Don't you agree ?

Insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
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14-03-2017, 06:23 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
(14-03-2017 05:45 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  P1: God is purely and absolutely good.
(14-03-2017 06:09 PM)mordant Wrote:  P1 is so compelling to Abrahamic theists because it's really the main value proposition of their religious faith.

Is this true? Jews and Muslims too?

#sigh
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14-03-2017, 06:38 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
P1: God is purely and absolutely good.
My question: What is "good"?

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14-03-2017, 06:42 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
Glossophile Wrote:The question that we immediately want to ask is, for instance"Well, how do you know that the Levitican condemnation of homosexuality is literal but the genocide of Noah's flood is figurative?"
The answer is " they don't know ". But they will never admit this.

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14-03-2017, 06:43 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
(14-03-2017 06:38 PM)Alla Wrote:  P1: God is purely and absolutely good.
My question: What is "good"?

If you ask me, good is that which facilitates the well-being of sentient beings and/or minimizes the unnecessary suffering thereof. If you ask a theist, good is that which God commands and/or that which is consistent with God's nature. If we assume the latter just for the sake of argument, P1 becomes a tautology at best, and a whole new layer of circularity is arguably introduced.

The only sacred truth in science is that there are no sacred truths. – Carl Sagan
Sōla vēritās sancta in philosophiā nātūrālī est absentia vēritātum sanctārum.
Ἡ μόνη ἱερᾱ̀ ἀληθείᾱ ἐν φυσικῇ φιλοσοφίᾳ ἐστίν ἡ ἱερῶν ἀληθειῶν σπάνις.
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14-03-2017, 06:50 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
There is no absolute (universally agreed upon) standard of perfection.
Is perfection perfect because God says it is perfect, or does God say it's perfect because it is perfect ? (Basically Euthyphro's Dilemma redone for perfection).
Either way, a standard exists apart from God, and the source of perfection remains unknown.

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14-03-2017, 06:52 PM
RE: On the Circularity of Presupposing God's Goodness
(14-03-2017 06:43 PM)Glossophile Wrote:  If you ask me, good is that which facilitates the well-being of sentient beings and/or minimizes the unnecessary suffering thereof. If you ask a theist, good is that which God commands and/or that which is consistent with God's nature. If we assume the latter just for the sake of argument, P1 becomes a tautology at best, and a whole new layer of circularity is arguably introduced.
Thanks for your answer, Glossophile.
I don't think the Bible is clear on what God's nature is. I also think the Bible is not clear on what it means "God is good".

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