Submit your articles for publication on C&P at caffeineandphilosophy@gmail.com.
The Godcast Addresses the Dis-Ontological Argument

The Godcast Addresses the Dis-Ontological Argument

SuperLutheran and Myles from The Godcast recently took a shot at my dis-ontological argument.

Their criticism was relatively snarky and obnoxiously nit-picky (at one point, they corrected a date that was one year off; 33 AD instead of 34), but given the fact that the version suggested to them was a snow-crunching, off-the-cuff, second-take of the concept, one can hardly blame them for being a little dismissive. To their credit, they did their diligence in offering charitable interpretations. They seem like a smart and fun pair of dudes.

Ultimately, however, they failed to grasp the heart of the argument:

Here’s the crux of the issue: “I think that’s a bad metaphor…” Okay, who cares?

Well he does.

Clearly! It’s one of those things where ‘well I wouldn’t have done it that way…’ Okay, but you didn’t do it!

Their opening segment about being wary of the overly-confident becomes a little odd when, later on, they dismiss with cavalier certainty all of the theological claims about Christian equality made in the book. Anyone who has read (or heard) the introduction to Holy Nihilism will know that my own certainty is actually much lower than Christians seem to always assume about critics generally.

They made an interesting point about distinguishing between moral perception and moral objectivity. But the entire faith in the Bible and in Christianity hinges upon there being some cross-over between these two; that the source of moral objectivity can be seen in the Bible, that it is even — to some extent — self-evident. This is the point of contention that the dis-ontological argument gets at: the basis for belief in Christianity is founded upon these subjective moral perceptions because if the world is not fallen, then Christianity is not only untrue, but irrelevant. Ascertaining this fallen state is a subjective moral judgment. Accepting Christianity is a subjective move, even if you believe Christianity is objectively true (“…you believe” being the key phrase). This means that attacking other people’s disagreements with the perfect righteousness of biblical morality by saying “well that’s just your opinion man” cuts the very ground out from underneath the faith.

They also got a little confused because my dis-ontological argument focuses on morality in a way that Anselm, Descartes, and Plantinga did not. This is not entirely their fault since the snow-crunch presentation was incomplete and, for a few reasons, less than ideal. However, ontology concerns the nature and being of things. There is no version of the Christian God that is not moral in nature, so it is entirely legitimate to examine the being of God with the complexities of morality in mind. If God is by definition a moral being, and if the morality of God is incoherent, then the being of God is also incoherent… by definition.

That said, I do feel bad that the most popular version of the dis-ontological Argument is a low-quality video — this was likely all the two had to work with in answering my criticisms. So I will leave chapter seven of Holy Nihilism here in its entirety, which is the chapter which lays out my argument more completely.

If the Godcast crew would be interested in debating the subject at some point, I would be more than happy to do so.


7. Is it True?

And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.

– 1 Corinthians 15:17

Everything that I have said so far, all of the destruction, the separation, the undesirability, if everything I have said is true, it would be of no importance if the Christian God exists.

For all of the reasons Jesus and his disciples have given over the past millennia, why would the destruction of the world matter if eternal life with God awaits on the other side?

On the other hand, if Christianity is false, then Pascal’s infamous wager — the idea that it is the better bet to believe in God because the consequences for unbelief are higher if he does exist than they are for belief if he does not — actually cuts evenly in both directions. The relative value of what is lost in this world seems smaller than eternity, but only for one who has eternal life. For mortals like us, with maybe eighty or ninety years to live, the preservation of the things we love in this world are urgent and important because of their urgency. We only have so much time. If we aren’t destined for the afterlife, then our family, our nation, and our short life on this earth is all we have, and it becomes all the more important to make the most of these.

Always taking all sides, the Bible actually illustrates this point of relative value very well:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.  And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.

– Mark 12:41-44

With the importance of truth once more emphasized, let us finally address the question: is it true?

§

Let me begin my argument by looking at perhaps the single best argument advanced in defense of the truth of the faith.

The arguments for God are old enough to have names. The argument that something cannot come from nothing, for example, and that the universe therefore must have some cause which is not itself caused: this is known as the “cosmological argument.” The argument which says that the world contains the appearance of regularity and design, which implies a cosmic designer: this is called the “teleological argument.” These have been discussed at great length elsewhere, but are ultimately uncompelling. Virtually no one comes to the faith through them; they simply serve as intellectual ex post facto justifications for belief arrived at through other means. And they are not particularly persuasive intellectually either. There is no valid logical move from an abstract belief in an “unmoved mover” and the knowledge that this being happens to be — of all possible deities — the God of Israel. And the teleological argument rests upon intuitions which the very theology it aims to support undermine. More on this shortly.

But the argument that I wish to explain in more detail is a rather esoteric philosophical construction known as the “ontological argument.” Despite its dependence upon logic alone, I believe this argument — especially in its moral form — actually does persuade people, even if they cannot give a technically precise summary of the argument itself.

“Ontology” is the study of being, of natures and essences of things, and of definitions. In the context of theology, ‘the ontological argument’ attempts to prove the existence of God as a matter of definition.

This argument originated with St. Anselm in the early 12th century, and was modified by René Descartes using mathematical analogies in the 17th century, and again by the logician Alvin Plantinga in the last few decades.

In its most basic form (Anselm’s), the ontological argument begins by observing that there is a continuum of greatness, and along this continuum, there must be something beyond which nothing greater can be conceived. The argument posits that existence is a quality of greatness—that between two otherwise equally great things, but of which only one exists, existence makes the existing entity greater. Therefore, the greatest conceivable thing must also exist. We call this God.

A problem which many people noticed with this form of the argument is that it allows for the existence of all sorts of unlikely things, depending on how we imagine them. But in spite of this apparent flaw, there is a core of seriousness which has led many highly intelligent people to the faith. With some tweaks, Anselm’s argument becomes something more interesting.

Suppose, for instance, that we divide all entities into two categories: “necessarily existing,” and “possibly existing.” A necessarily existing entity is something which must, by nature, exist in all possible worlds. Gravity, for instance, might be a necessarily existing entity. A possibly existing entity is something which could exist, but might just as easily not exist. The chair I am sitting in, or the book you are holding, are both possibilities, not existential necessities.

Given the nature of God, he must be a necessarily existing entity if he exists. Thus, the question of whether or not he does exist becomes a question of whether or not he could exist, because if it is possible that he could exist in some world, then it logically follows that he necessarily must exist.

Most people are willing to grant that the existence of God is at least possible, even if they are a little skeptical.

If it is possible that God exists, then God exists; it is possible that God exists: therefore, God exists[1].

It stinks a little of wordplay and sophistry, but it is at least compelling on its surface.

My favorite rendition of the ontological argument, however, is something I have pieced together from listening to Christians, who seem to revolve around this argument. It is, in my view, the strongest version of the argument, and it goes as follows:

We all can see “evil,” and can distinguish it from things that are merely “bad.” Things which are evil are, somehow, objectively wrong. This knowledge of evil is intuitive and visceral, without any a priori justification necessary. The existence of evil implies a continuum and an opposite ideal, an objective good. Logically, there must therefore be some greatest possible good which exists, on this continuum of objective good and evil. That greatest existing good, we call God.

We see a variation of this argument set forth in what has arguably become the most popular and accepted Christian apology[2] in the last century: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Lewis opens his book with the observation of a perceived objective standard of right and wrong, which can be seen in the way that people argue with each other. Even if they deny the reality of this objective law in some cases, they will nevertheless appeal to it in others. Everyone seems aware of this standard, even without being explicitly taught its rules.

Lewis observes also that everyone falls short of this appealed-to objective standard, which means that this law is not descriptive (like the law of gravity), but prescriptive. It tells us what we ought to do, rather than what we actually do. Such a standard — objective, yet prescriptive — seems to imply a law-giver. But the stronger argument is that the objective, prescriptive reality of moral truth logically requires a God as the furthest possible point on an existing continuum of moral perfection.

Lewis seems to anticipate the critique of the ontological argument described above: that it equivocates, swapping the Christian God with a theoretical component in a logical equation with none of the historical and psychological attributes ascribed to Jesus. He does not posit this moral-ontological case as a proof of the Christian God, but rather as proof of some higher power. The case for the Christian God in particular comes later, and is essentially a matter of narrowing down which story from among the religions on offer best fits the pinnacle of objective good described in the moral-ontological argument.

The Dis-Ontological Argument

The classical argument against the existence of God is the “Problem of Evil,” which asks how a perfect and loving God could create a world that contains evil. It is most succinctly summarized by Epicurus’ trilemma:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

– Epicurus[3]

The moral-ontological argument attempts to flip this problem on its head, saying that the existence of true evil — things that are objectively morally wrong, not just “bad” according to subjective opinion — not only does not disprove God, but in fact requires his existence.

Such a maneuver is necessary in order to avoid the Problem of Evil. But in making this move, apologists like C.S. Lewis lose track of their premises, opening themselves to what we might call the “dis-ontological argument:” the argument from purported nature against the existence of the Christian God.

From the beginning, the apologist depends upon our moral intuitions and their trustworthiness when he talks about objective moral standards. What else could he be referring to when he speaks of “some kind of standard of behavior which he expects the other man to know about”[4]? In his now famous debates with atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig makes a similar argument on the basis of intuition for objective morality:

If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist. By objective moral values, I mean moral values which are valid and binding whether we believe in them or not. Many theists and atheists agree that if God does not exist, then moral values are not objective in this way.

Michael Ruse, a noted philosopher of science, explains: “The position of the modern evolutionist is that morality is a biological adaptation, no less than our hands and feet and teeth. Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. I appreciate that when someone says ‘love thy neighbor as thyself,’ they think they are referring to something above and beyond themselves. Nevertheless such reference is truly without foundation. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction and any deeper meaning is illusory.”

Like professor Ruse, I just don’t see any reason to think that in the absence of God, the morality which has emerged among these imperfectly evolved primates we call Homo sapiens really is objective. And here Mr. Hitchens seems to agree with me. He says moral values are just innate predispositions ingrained into us by evolution. Such predispositions, he says, are inevitable for any animal endowed with social instincts.

On the atheistic view, then, an action like rape is not socially advantageous, and so in the course of human development has become taboo. But that does absolutely nothing to prove that rape is really morally wrong…

– Dr. William Lane Craig[5]

It sounds quite forceful. But Lewis and Craig and other apologists who lean heavily upon some variation of this moral argument rely heavily upon moral intuition. It seems wrong, and we want to find some case to validate this feeling.

This is not to diminish the value and validity of intuitions at all — quite the contrary. Our knowledge of the world is never complete or perfect, and so intuition about which facts and premises are most reliable is necessary for any action or conclusion (and implementing such actions and conclusions are often necessary to acquire more information anyhow). There is no escape from the necessity of intuition.

But for Christianity, intuition isn’t just a practical necessity. The believer’s knowledge of God’s existence depends upon intuition. If we can conceptualize God by intuiting the “evil-ness” of things, and inferring an opposing objective good, then the God hypothesis is the product of moral intuition.

This fact brings the observations of the Problem of Evil back to the table, but with a difference. Rather than judging God for his incompetence or neglect, the existence of moral wrongness — not only in the world but within the Bible — requires us to turn our focus on the trustworthiness of intuition itself. It requires us to examine the relation between theology and our own dependence upon our moral intuition.

The problem is that the Bible does not permit this. In addition to calling everyone sinful, worthless, untrustworthy, deceitful, foolish, and all variety of other invective, scripture explicitly separates personal agency from wisdom:

Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.

– Proverbs 28:26

Naturally, the source of this wisdom is not in the individual, nor is it even in “experience,” but lies solely in God.

But as I showed in Chapter 1, it is no easy task to distinguish between what comes from God and what comes from some other source. One’s own thoughts are often mistaken for God’s word. Personal intuition and divine revelation are distinguishable only by interpretation, and this interpretation must be performed by a sinful, worthless, untrustworthy, deceitful, foolish individual.

Either moral intuition is valid or it is not. It cannot be invalid to whatever degree it opposes Christianity, but valid in whatever capacity supports the faith.

Again, the point is not to judge the morality of God, which could be true independent of our own moral judgment. The point is to see whether the God described aligns with our moral intuitions. If his nature does not align with our intuition of good and evil, then one of two conclusions must follow: either our intuitions are so wrong that the very arguments for his existence—which are themselves based upon moral intuitions! — cannot be trusted, or the very concept of God becomes incoherent. In either case, the Christian God could not exist.

It is at this point that I would like to return to Luke 14:26, where Jesus tells his followers that they must hate their family.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

– Luke 14:26

By itself, this seems morally counter-intuitive, and this is putting it mildly. To me, hating one’s family approaches objective evil.

Perhaps Jesus is simply speaking in a relative fashion. God is so important that by comparison, the true disciple would “hate” his family, even though in fact he loves them. I have heard this interpretation made, and always wondered what might happen to the faith if every verse was interpreted so acrobatically.

As I have shown, Christianity requires an absolute devotion, and Jesus says that we cannot serve two masters:

No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

– Matthew 6:24

Nor can you serve both God and family. Or God and anything else.

Notice that the hatred Jesus describes here is not relative — as in ‘you will love one so much that it will be as if you hated the other by comparison.’ The hatred alluded to is not some metaphor, but the inevitable byproduct of a conflict in loyalties. In the most gracious possible interpretation of Luke 14:26, hating one’s family means rejecting all loyalty to one’s family in favor of love for God.

This, I submit, is bad. At the very least, it is morally counter-intuitive.

This is not just a single verse taken for a spin by a critic. This dynamic reflects the nature of Christian spirituality espoused throughout the Bible, and Jesus even emphasizes this particular point about family later in Matthew:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword[6]. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

— Matthew 10:34-36

If you love your family more than Jesus, than you are not worthy of him. Your family and your God cannot both be your master.

These are not just words. Jesus’s disciples left their families to follow him, as did the soldiers of the first crusade a thousand years later when Pope Urban II enjoined them to go fight and die in a distant land by quoting the words of God:

But if you are hindered by love of children, parents and wives, remember what the Lord says in the Gospel, “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.” “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake shall receive an hundredfold and shall inherit everlasting life.”

— Urban II, Speech at Clermont, 1085

I do not mean to belabor the point. Family is not the be-all and end-all of life, important as it is. Other things matter too. But I will press on, because without overwhelming proof, most people would not be willing to believe that at its heart, Christianity is, in fact, anti-family. They have accepted Christianity’s claim to credit for all that is good in this world, even while it condemns this world and everything within it as bad.

Jesus’ words about family jump out with more unnerving contrast when we consider his admonitions about enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

— Matthew 5:45-48

We are, in other words, to love our enemies and to hate our family.

Suddenly, the popular interpretation that our hatred for our family is “relative” or otherwise hyperbolic seems a weak. Is the “love” for our enemies also relative? And if so, relative to what? To God? To our families? To how we otherwise might hate our enemies? The last would be the most generous, but the generosity undercuts the power of the language. Jesus does not say to “hate them, but not as much as you otherwise might.” He doesn’t even say to ignore them. He admonishes his followers to love them, and to hate their families while they’re at it.

This runs contrary to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deist’s “understanding” of the faith, but follows directly and predictably from the equality inherent in the twin doctrines of original sin and imago dei in true Christianity. Love your enemy and hate your family: through these corrective duties, the believer separates himself from his earthly identities and attachments.

Hatred is active. It is not a relative state of affairs, but a kind of negative focus on something that is a threat to what you love. It is related to disgust, and it is directed towards mind. The hatred we are to feel for our family is a hatred of sin, a hatred of separation from God caused by the idolization of the family.

To hate our family is to reject the affinity we naturally feel towards them, contra the equality Christian theology tells us we are born into as image-bearers of the Father and sinners against him.  To love our enemies is to embrace that equality in the only identity that matters in Christianity: that found in Christ.

I know the mind of the Christian apologist; I have listened to him for years now. He is already wondering what the Greek word was which was translated as “hate,” and if perhaps it was really something milder. But the word is μισεω (miseo) and means “hate,” pure and simple. It is used seven times in the Bible[7], and in each case, any meaning other than “hatred” in its fullest and true sense would destroy the passage. You are, in other words, to hate your family in the way that John says the world hates Jesus:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates (μισεῖ) you.

– John 15:19

This point is not finished.

Hatred is an emotion, a psychological state that prepares the body to commit violence. A claim that Christianity compels its followers to hate their families would not be compelling without some evidence of its completion, some theological example of this principle reaching its logical conclusion.

This example not only exists, but begins at the very beginning.

In Genesis 22, God makes an unusual request of Abraham:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac — and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.

— Genesis 22:2

As everyone knows, when Abraham raised the knife to kill his son, God intervened and offered a ram in place of Isaac. How generous. But what a commandment! Even if Abraham was spared from the commission of the act, God still tested him, turning his loyalty to his family against his loyalty to God. To one who loves both, such a request may seem twisted, but to the one who loves and trust God absolutely, there is no contradiction. There was no room for love for his family in the first place.

Perhaps no one wrestled with this story as thoroughly and deeply as Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard — himself a man of deep and serious faith. In his writings on this peculiar story in Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard grapples with the possible emotions an ordinary person might have undergone in such an experience: feelings of separation, from God or from family; feelings of lost innocence; perhaps of having failed some test — that the test was perhaps an ethical temptation, and that Abraham ought to have refused to kill his son, perhaps even killing himself instead, and on this, Abraham failed by drawing the knife…[8]

From the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, Kierkegaard concludes that Abraham’s greatness derives from the absoluteness of his faith. He passes through resignation to failure, and from the other side of this resignation — that he will not have a son, due to his wife’s age — he comes to expect the impossible. He expects a son, in spite of the impossibility. He expects the be the father of a nation more numerous than the stars, who will be a blessing to all the world, and he expects this even while preparing to kill his son. This is the “leap of faith.” One could argue that it is faith itself, and not the nation of Israel, which has been the greater child of Abraham.

Holy madness is not unique to Christianity. Its aspect is captured in the Germanic God Wotan/Odin, and is alluded to in Plato’s Phaedrus, where Socrates praises divine inspiration and the love which flows from it as superior to rational friendship. Kierkegaard himself makes the connection, saying of Abraham: “thou who first didst know that highest passion, the holy, pure and humble expression of the divine madness which the pagans admired…” (Fear and Trembling, “Panegyric”).

But in the Pagan world, divine madness was inspiration from a God or Goddess. The madness that caused fathers to sacrifice their children was not the same, and was a curse, hated by the Gods, not an admirable demonstration of faith.

When Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia, his grotesque act brought the wrath of nemesis back on himself; he was murdered by his wife upon his return.

Agamemnon’s actions fit a pattern of familial madness which began with his ancestor Tantalus. Tantalus doubted the gods’ omniscience, and so he murdered his son Pelops and attempted to feed his meet to the gods at a dinner. It was for this reason that Tantalus was condemned to the underworld to stand hungry beneath a fruit tree, whose branches would always recede from his grasp, “tantalizing” him. The Gods abhorred the sacrifice of a child, and punished the perpetrator with a creative torture.

Agamemnon’s own father, Atreus (son of a divinely revivified Pelops), followed in this evil tradition. After murdering his half-brother in childhood, he became engaged in a power-struggle with his twin brother, Thyestes. Atreus killed Thyestes’ sons and cooked them, then tricked Thyestes into eating them. After Thyestes had eaten, Atreus revealed the origin of the meat with the boys’ saved hands and feet, and Thyestes was banished for having consumed human flesh. Atreus was king.

Things didn’t get better. Thyestes consulted an oracle, who persuaded him to have a child by his daughter, Pelopia, and that the incestuous child would then take revenge against Atreus.

Pelopia and her father Thyestes did have a son — Aegisthus — who eventually did kill Atreus. But not before Atreus had two more sons. One of whom was Agamemnon. As with his fathers before him, his filicidal act brought divine retribution, not divine love.

It was Menelaus, Agamemnon’s brother, who broke the family curse, seeking reunification with his family (his wife Helen) rather than hating and sacrificing them for expediency in power, conquest, or mere curiosity.

One could argue that in the entire saga of the Trojan War, Menelaus was the only major figure to live “happily ever after.”

In contrast with this pagan abhorrence of unnatural and evil actions such as the sacrifice of a child, Christianity holds that anything is possible with God. Which is to say, anything is permissible under God’s direction.

I spoke earlier of the difficulty in distinguishing God’s voice from one’s own internal dialogue. The most terrifying of Christians is the one who claims to have no difficulty whatsoever in distinguishing the voice of God. It is such a person — if he is being sincere — who might suddenly and without warning kill and consume[9] a child, or worse, if the voice instructs him to, as it did to Abraham.

There appears one grasping handhold, a final, possible moral escape from the terrifying implications of absolute Christian devotion: Abraham didn’t actually kill Isaac. He was saved from having to perform the act. So God would never really command such a thing! Surely, he would not truly command me to hate my family in such a fashion!

Consider, then, one more example of pitting loyalties of family and God against each other. In the story of Job, God does not command Job to murder his family. He simply allows Satan—at this time, a kind of prosecutor in God’s court—to kill them off:

… there came also another [servant], and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:

And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,

And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

— Job 1:18-21

The cause of their death was a bet between God and Satan over whether Job’s loyalty to God was sincere, or merely the product of happy circumstances.

Job’s story is not a demonstration of the need to actively hate one’s family, since Job was not told to kill his children. Nevertheless, it still demonstrates the tension between God and family which the faith finds and pushes on. Jesus insists on being first, and may expect dramatic proof of this loyalty. Hating one’s family — at least as a tool of emotional and spiritual separation — is the price of entry.

You shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

– Exodus 34:14

Does this match our moral intuitions?

Eventually, Job’s faith was rewarded with a new family, with health and more wealth and cattle and so forth. But in order to reach this level of faith, he had to pass through Kierkegaard’s “infinite resignation.” He had to relinquish all hope, all attachment and love for his family and belief in his own salvation. Only after this resignation would faith restore these things.

…Or perhaps it would not. With faith, it would not matter what happened in this world[10].

In other words, true Christian faith requires us to reject what we may think is “right.” What strikes us as “objectively” moral.

At this point, I hope the reader can already see the moral-ontological argument undoing itself within Christianity.

But focusing on Job would be to miss the great act of filicide in the Bible: that of God himself.

In the single act around which all of Christianity revolves, God sent his own son to die in place of others.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life

– John 3:16

Loving the world that hated him, and in action hating his own family for this love, God made a single human sacrifice meant to redeem us — or at least those among us who would accept this act on our own behalf.

But unlike Abraham, God did not withhold the knife. He sent his son to die an excruciating death by crucifixion. And when Jesus cried out on the cross “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”[11] his Father looked on in silence as he died. Like Agamemnon, God was the arranger of his own child’s sacrifice — 34 years in the making, and perhaps an eternity in the planning.

§

The God of Christianity is not a God of family and tradition, as many modern Christians imagine. His name is jealousy, and to even put such values as “family,” “nation,” or “tradition” in the same list as “God” is to miss the comprehensiveness of God’s demands upon his disciple’s loyalty. A Christian cannot be for “God, Family, and Country,” for one cannot even serve two masters, let alone three.

But more than this, Christianity is not even about morality. To say that God is the source of objective morals is to entirely miss the point of faith, and worse, to misunderstand God’s nature. To deduce the Christian God from “objective” morality is even more backwards than trying to justify morality without gods.

My presupposition is simply this: that family is good. Not absolutely good, not even good all the time; I do not need, nor do I believe in such a proposition. But generally speaking, family is good: emotionally, socially, financially, and — of course — biologically. It is a good master to submit to, and a worthy object of love among many. In short, Family is a good God.

Family is good: this is a moral intuition that is equal or greater in strength than our intuition that evil exists, upon which the ontological basis for belief in the Christian God rests. If evil does exist, then the hatred of one’s own family and lineage is certainly with the domain of evil, as is the sacrifice of one’s own child.

Christianity does not allow for this presupposition. Therefore, Christianity and its God are at odds with the moral intuitions upon which belief in an objective morality are based. If the Christian God exists, it is not — as Christopher Hitchens argued — that the divinity is owed an indictment. Rather, it is our own moral intuitions that would require an indictment, which must necessarily include restraints against making grand generalizations about “objective” good or evil.

But it is upon these very intuitions that the argument for the possibility or necessity of the Christian God is based.

As the source of “goodness,” God is asserted to be the source and measure of objective morality. But the existence of morality itself can only be inferred from our intuition, and the existence of God deduced from this morality. The God proposed in the Bible defies many of these moral intuitions within scripture, and defies all of them in potential, with sufficient faith.

Logically speaking, the God of the Bible destroys his own epistemological foundation: moral intuition. If evil does not exist then Christianity is false and there is no God. If evil does exist, then there is no Christian God because he does not conform to the very moral intuitions upon which our belief in his existence was built.

This brings us back to the ontological argument offered by Plantinga, that God is a necessary being, rather than a possible being, and so if it is possible that he exists, then he must exist. Most people, afraid of delving too far in, seem to split the difference and grant a half-way, “reasonable” position: ‘sure, he could exist.’ But the ontological argument in general — and Plantinga’s version in particular — grant no room for this, just as C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma[12] granted no room for half-way measures. And this all-in gambit cuts both ways. If God does not exist in one particular world, then he does not exist in any of them.

And in a world of objective morality, a God who is the source of objectivity in that morality must match the intuitions from which the existence of objective morality is inferred. This God must conform to the nature of intuitive morality, and no amount of historical speculation over supposedly empty tombs or arguments about the age of a shroud are even relevant because the ontological argument applies even if one was persuaded by historical evidence[13]. The relevance of the historical argument is contingent upon the belief in a fallen world, which is itself a moral intuition. If the world was not in need of redemption, then all of the historical evidence in the world (which is to say, not very much) in favor of Jesus’ existence and resurrection and so forth would not matter. Our need for salvation is the basis for any belief in the importance of Jesus’ existence, and the belief in the necessity of divine salvation is not historical, but moral. It still all comes down to moral intuition.

But the God of Christianity does not conform to these moral intuitions.

Interestingly, the teleological argument — that we can presume God’s existence on the basis of apparent design in the world — also succumbs to this dis-ontological argument, because the judgment that something appears “designed” is itself an intuition — not of a moral nature, but moral intuitions are not the only kinds of human judgments which the Bible enjoins us to distrust. They are merely the most common in religious debate, due to the prevalence of the Problem of Evil. But theologically speaking, all intuitions of this kind are to be distrusted. The believer is to trust God’s wisdom over one’s own, not just in matters of morality, but in matters of truth, and in all other things besides. Thus, using our intuition to establish the existence of this God through the appearance of design does not get us any further than morality.

In any case, the judgment that the apparently-designed is “good” in its design is a moral intuition.

If our intuitions are trustworthy enough to surmise the existence of an invisible creator-deity, how are we to distrust our intuitions on something as basic as the goodness of family?

For the philosophically-inclined, this brings us back to the question as to whether objective morality can exist without some kind of God. The answer depends greatly upon how one defines God, but a simpler place to start is simply questioning whether or not objective evil actually requires an equal and opposite objective good. It is conceivable that opposite objective evil is a broad-branching divergence of possible subjective goods; while nothing is completely good for all, some things seem truly bad for all. In this way, the possibility of morality, and the affirmation of our intuitions about evil, need not require an objective “good-giver” like Yahweh. This is a subject I will address in greater detail in the next chapter.

But as for the Christian God in particular, we have our answer.

By his nature alone, we know that he does not exist.

§

[1] This is a rough summary of Plantinga’s modal logic-based  formulation of the ontological argument.

[2] “Apology” refers to a philosophical defense, not an admission of wrongdoing. The practice of defending the faith through argumentation is known as “apologetics.”

[3] As quoted by David Hume: Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779)

[4] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. 1943.

[5] “Does God Exist? William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Full Debate.” Biola University. 28 Sept, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tYm41hb48o

[6] This particular verse (Matthew 10:34) is often alluded to by politically right-of-center Christians who believe that Jesus is authorizing militance and violence, perhaps even violence in defense of the nation. From the context of subsequent verses, however, it is clearly a metaphor for division, specifically division of the family against itself (and as we have heard, a house divided against itself cannot stand). This is not a point favorable to nationalism.

[7] John 3:20, “evil μισεῖ light;” John 7:7, “[the world] μισεῖ me because I testify that its works are evil;” John 15:18, “the world μισεῖ you;” John 15:19, “therefore the world μισεῖ you;” John 15:23 “he who μισῶν (mison) me μισεῖ my Father also;” 1 John 3:13, “if the world μισεῖ you;” and of course, Luke 14:26.

[8] Genesis 22:12 indicates that this is clearly not the case: “He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

[9] The ancient Greek peoples sometimes ate their burnt offerings, although the Hebrew peoples and their Mesopotamian ancestors were less likely to do so, preferring to burn the sacrifice completely (“holocaust” means to consume completely by fire).

[10] Kierkegaard makes a big point of Abraham’s faith being grounded not in the hereafter, but in the present world. This, however, does not extend to modern Christians, because Abraham’s faith was in God’s promise, which to him, was a promise of things which he was to receive in this life. God’s promise to Christians today is not like the promise made to Abraham, but is a promise of eternal life in a new kingdom after death and the passing away of this world.

[11] “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

[12] Lewis posited that logically, Jesus had to have either been evil, crazy, or the Son of God. From scripture, there is no way for him to be “a good moral teacher” or anything of that kind.

[13] As it happens, the historical arguments are fairly weak.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu
%d bloggers like this: