I've seen atheists ask this in various forms. The most recent I've seen is "prove God isn't evil." I answered that with three arguemnts only to find the atheists pulling the old relativism thing. How do we know good and evil even exist at all they said? Well, first of all, in answering the question about "prove god is not evil," the challenge was in reference to Christian ideas. To even ask the question assumes a Christian framework. You can't say on the one hand "God might really be evil," then say "but there's no such thing as evil." One get's the feeling of being set up for a cheap trick. Like we say "ok so God is evil in the sense that there is no such thing as evil. so what?" they say "O you admitted it, God is evil you said it ok that's the end of Christianity!" Those are two completely different questions to answer the one you must bracket the other. first I will present my arguments to prove that God is not evil, and to do that assume the Christian framework for good and evil. Then I will deal with the relativistic stuff (that there is no good or evil).
,,,,I am assuming there is such a thing as good and we all have a general idea of what that is. Now I also noted that many atheist in the discussion I allude to above (where the challenge was made "prove God is not evil") were assuming a contradiction in the Bible where on the one hand God says "love your neighbor" and on the other hand he says "slaughter the Amelekites kids." So there's the problem of a contradiction between the values God expresses and the behavior God exhibits. Thus we assume the values expressed are true values of good, and that is a meaningful term, but the question is does God seem to betray the very values that he instigates. Before giving three positive reasons to think God can't be evil, (that is a logical impossibility) we have to deal with the seeming contradiction in the Bible.
....The Bible seems to paint a picture, at least in the OT, that God is wiping out other groups of people and commanding he slaughter of their infants and so on. That is pretty strong reason to suggest that God might be seen as evil. He's doing things that the Bible tells us are evil. Then there is strong evidence that the Amalekite passage is added in latter. The text of 1 Samuel is one of the most heavily redacted in the Bible. As we will see, it's very presence in the canon has been brought into question, but the version we have is probably a corrupted second rate copy, and the LXX is closer, and Q4Sama at Qumran closer still, to the actual original.
Institutte Bibilcal Scientific Studies:
Biblical Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls and OT
"For the past two centuries textual critics have recognized that the Masoretic Text (MT) of 1&2 Samuel has much textual corruption. The Samuel MT is shorter than the LXX and 4QSama. The Samuel MT has improper word division, metathesis, and other orthographic problems. Certain phrases and clauses go against the Hebrew grammar rules. Parallel passages vary from each other" (See Charlesworth, 2000, pp.227-8).
Redaction of Infant Slaughtering Passage
Notes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible on 1 Sam 15:1-35
"Another story of Saul's rejection: The late source. Compare this section with 13:7-15, Samuel, not Saul is the leading figure once more."
This is the very passage in which Samuel relays God's command to wipe out the infants. So even though I still need to find more specific evidence for that very passage, there is a good chance of proving redaction. While its true that I can't produce an actual MS showing no infant slaughter command, the passage in which that command is given has been redacted. The odds are very high that this command was not part of the original passage, or we can regard it as such. We know that slaughtering infants in evil, and we have no obligation to accept a command as divine that we know to be totally at odds with God's law and God's moral code.
All the other verses must be dealt with in similar fashion, one by one, and an overview entailing a theory of inspiration adopted so that one knows how to approach scripture. For an example on this one might consult my page on the nature of Biblical revelation as an example.
Now I present the three arguments that prove God is not evil:
I. Being is good.
Being is not evil. We are all part of being, we all engage in the act of being. We know from our existence that existing is good and it's not evil. There's no reason to think it is. It's hard for a lot of people to get thier minds around the idea of God as being itself. I've certainly spent a lot of time blogging about the concept. I wont go into it here. It can be found on Doxa in several pages. I'm also just finishing my second book which is on the subject. Wait a couple of years and it will be out.
*God is being itself
being is good.
therefore God must be good.
One objection to this is that some atheists tried to evoke the notion that life is not good. One cna mean this either in terms of "my individual life sux," or in terms of amorality or some form of relativism. That would be cheating the issues here becuase I explain above the original challenge assumes Christian categories of good and evil. Moreover, one can condemn the concept of life itself by one's own experiences. I can have rotten life (to some extent that's what I make it) that doesn't mean all life is rotten. There is a goodness about life itself. Here I take life as a pragmatic form of existence. Existence in and of itself is "good," if not in a moral sense (which is one confusion of the argument--the mixing of senses between moral and pragmatic) at least just in the sense of the (apparent) goodness of open ended possibility.
II. Love can't be evil.
This is one of those mysterious points that of which atheists are most incredulous. Almost every time they will say "you are logic is so bad" on this point. When pressed they never say why. they can't give me a rule of logic that's violated, nine times out of ten it's a matter of rejecting the concept of a priori. That unusually happens becuase they have self esteem problems, as atheists are known to have.
The nature of love makes it the very definition of Good. What is the nature of the good, it's what love is, being kind, being gentile, caring about others, giving to others, living for others. How do we know this? First we have to realize we are not talking about butterflies in the stomach. Many atheists try to lose the concept of love in the emotions that go with it, which they sweep away as the side effect of brain chemistry. The kind of love experienced in romance, puppy love,infatuation, lust, sexual attraction and the like is what is meant here by "love." Here I speak of agape. This is "God's love" sometimes translated "charity." Although that is not a good translation. Paul Tillich defines it as "the will t the good of the other." I think that is a most apt decryption. The Greek does imply the willingness to assign to others the human dignity due them.
It is more or less an axiomatic tenet that love is the background of the moral universe (consult Saint Augustine, and Joseph Fletcher). I am not sure it can be proved, thus making it "axiomatic." Like most axioms trying to deny it would be absurd. This is certainly true in terms of Christian theology.
1 John 4:
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
,,,,Don't even think about trying to argue that "you are trying to prove the Bible by the Bible." I am not trying to prove the bible I'm demonstrating the Christian categories which the original challenge assumes (so I have to go by the to answer the challenge). This is exactly what atheists would do to try and prove than an idea was Christian. If we are considering Christian ethics then we must consider that love is the background of the moral universe. Love is the basis of God's character. That either the issue becomes redundant if we consider the relativist position (which we will soon enough) or it rebounds onto the Christian categories and becomes a matter of what we think about the Bible. With a fundamentalist view of inerrancy it's hard to see how there is not a contradiction in the categories, what God says and what God does. Yet of course that is not the only Christian answer; there are several other views that take up different approaches to the bible that serve as alternatives. syllogism:
Love is not evil
God's nature is love and God is the original source of love
therefore God is not evil.
Thus, from the perspective of the Christian categories each of the above arguemnts individually prove that God is not evil and cannot be construed as evil.
III. Evil can't be the first thing.
Evil is the absence of the good. That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence. evil is rebellion against good. Evil is rejecting the good. all of this implies good is first.God is eternal so God has to be first. A lot of people reject the categories of good and evil becasue they don't like the way they are made. One of the major issues in atheism (even though many atheists don't realize it--a psychological problem) is self rejection leads to rejection of the idea that a loving God would make me the way I am. I was an atheist I know what it is to think that way. The old cliche "God is not finished with me yet" has it's uses and this is one of them.If you don't like the way God made you it's only becuase he's not finished yet. If you rebel against God you are not letting him finish you.
That means there has to be a good preceding evil to be departed from to create an absence.
Actual Atheist Objection:
"That doesn't follow. A hole is an absence of earth, the existence of a hole doesn't imply there was earth. Counter example to your premise." I this I argued "are you kidding? Isn't a hole defined by what's around it? That's like saying "I don't believe donuts exist, only the holes exist." A hole with nothing around it is nothing.
evil is falling away from, therefore, good is prior to evil
God is eternal and thus is prior to all things
therefore, God can't be evil.
Now we come to the issue of relativism. For those who do not hold to the Christian categories of good and evil but try to define them either by sweeping them away, or by using the terms relative to other standards, how does one come to ascertain the truth content of the Christian categories? The only way one can really do this is empirically. Of course this assumes there's a god. Though many atheists will try not allow such an assumption, it's pointless to ask about God's character if you don't assume there is a God, at least for the sake of argument. I have certainly spent enough time on this blog giving reason enough why one can assume God based upon any number of things. For those tempted to make comments and demand reasons I tell you now, see my 42 arguments, especially no 7 and no 8. I single out those two becasue they form the basis of the empirical approach. One might also see my essay on phenomenology and Method.
Certainly we are talking about taking religious experience seriously. The same reasoning that would allow one to understand God as reality would also allow one to understand God's character as love. It makes no sens to take up a challenge or to even issue one about God's goodness then turn around and say "you can't prove that becuase you can't prove god exists." Ok so that what sense would it make to argue "god is fictional but he's really evil?" The realization that leads to faith is the same realiation that allows us to understand God's love. It's simply an empirical matter. We experince God's presence, swe sesne God's love. In a life of 30+
years that has never been disproved. Even in times when I lost faith and thought God was disproved, even in times when I lost everything and thought God was evil, he was neither evil, or absent nor unfaithful. (see part 2 here).
excerpt from those last two links:
Looking back on it things actually were better after we left the house. At the time, however, we couldn't see that. Then it seemed like the end. We were scared, we were homeless, we couldn't find an apartment because we had "financial leper" on our credit. Since 9/11 getting an apartment in Dallas was next to impossible. When I first moved away form my parents and went to New Mexico back in 80, no one cared who I was or what my credit was. I gave them money they gave me an apartment. By 2006, however, in Dallas, it was next to impossible even if your credit was good. It really seemed like the end. I began saying "I am dead, I died, they just haven't told the corpse to lay down yet." I also began to say "God has cursed me." "God loves to crush his own guys, this is what I get for caring about my parents." You know I was practicing for the glee club. I was a tower of faith. We did find an apartment, we had a couple of thousand dollars from the guy who bought the house (because he was a Christian he said) even though the mortgage company actually makes them promise not to help the victim, not to give more than the mortgage price in a short sale. It's set up so the the victim losing the house can't get anything for his/her hard earned ears of struggle to buy the house. He bought the furniture and car and then let us keep them.
God was faithful to me even when I was not faithful to him. I was calling him a lair and shouting at him and I said worse than that. I called him a monster and told him he loved to hurt people. He didn't care, he's heard it all. I didn't shame God into helping me, he was working to help me anyway, I only held up the process and made it take longer by not trusting and not looking to seek the spiritual instead of freaking out because things didn't look good. Easy to forget, we walk by faith and not by sight. That means its' going to look grim. That doesn't mean anything you just have to trust God. Cultivate your spiritual relationship with God. Cultivate our inner life! It's a life long project, work on it every day.
That requires a life of faith to understand. The first step is to seek. Then it will fall into place. It wont fall into place when you renounce God and make skepticism your watchword. If your principle is to see through everyging, as C.S. Lewis said, you wind seeing nothing.