I have heard many times from apologists and blogosphere theologians that God must be good. I am then given some variety of bad reasoning: circular arguments about God’s nature being good because goodness is defined by God’s nature, brute force arguments about God being either “Perfect” or the Creator and this is therefore just the case, the argument that human-defined morality simply isn’t binding or good enough―as if nature owes them a morality they are comfortable with, or the argument that one has felt that God is loving―although that argument tends not to vindicate domestic abusers.
I want to attempt to get under the brute force argument. The argument is that God is perfect and therefore God is morally good, because moral goodness is a set that falls under all-round perfection. The Creator argument is that God created all things and therefore must have also created all morality. But both argument fall prey to simple switch: replace good with bad and the arguments are just as strong.
God could be morally evil, and moral evil could be the subset of all-round goodness. I know that sounds absurd to us and makes me appear like some moral monster. But the intuitive sensation we get that “perfect” entails “moral goodness” we get from standing with an approximate understanding of what we mean by moral goodness. We have the intuitive sense that moral goodness has something to do with compassion, affection and avoiding harm and that these fill the set of perfection. This is more apparently true when one realises that the contrary seems more evidently true: hate, disdain and the encouragement of harm are blemishes on attempts on perfection. We use “perfect” and “extremely good” as near-synonyms, and morality is just one branch of general goodness and therefore perfection. Anything that is all-round perfect must be morally perfect, which would be the same as morally good.
But that is our intuitive sense, and its applicability dissolves when we are looking at the cause of such a relationship. Once we admit to the relationship between goodness and perfection being our subjective choice and that there is no brute reason for this relationship, the question becomes valid: assuming God’s perfection, why can moral evil not be the fundamental element God fulfils?
The easy answer is that evil is the absence of goodness, that God fulfils the positive quality and absence is the contrasting quality. God is good; absence of goodness is evil. But this simply isn’t true. Evil is more than the absence of goodness, and goodness is more than the absence of evil. Imagine a world of just rocks. There is no “moral goodness” in this world, there are only rocks; but there is no moral evil either. Although goodness and evil may readily be identified by their contrast to each other and so be mutually exclusive of each other, neither is merely the absence of the other. The question remains: why does God’s perfection not consist of moral evil instead of moral goodness?
A similar rebuttal exists when claiming that God is the Creator of all things. The claim is that God is the creator of all things and that morality is a thing, therefore God created morality. Moral goodness is also a thing, so God created moral goodness and God must be perfectly morally good to have created moral goodness. This begs the question, of course: the argument assumes that morality “exists”, which is a rather trite conclusion which can only really be reached after a discussion about both existence and morality. (And to not be entirely circular, those discussions can’t rely on God’s authority.) There are several other rebuttals, like making assumptions about an author based in its works: computers are entirely obedient and rational entities; their creators are not entirely rational and obedient.
But, I want to come back to this idea of evil being the absence of goodness. The argument makes the implicit assumption that moral evil is not a thing; that evil doesn’t exist. If evil did exist, then God would also be the author of that and then somehow God would be both perfectly evil and perfectly good. The argument becomes that evil doesn’t exist, but is the quality we label actions that are devoid of God’s goodness. (The argument then absolves God of any guilt by saying that freewill is good, even though freewill is the sole creator of evil.) But, again, evil is more than the absence of good. When a good person dies of natural causes, and thus their goodness disappears with it, they do not leave evil. Equally, when an evil person died, goodness does not suddenly flood their corpse. Inaction has no goodness in it, but it is not evil; it is entirely dispassionate. Throwing knives in a maternity ward is evil, but that is an action.
Thus, if goodness exists then we have agreed on a definition of existence that means evil also exists (one is not simply the negation of the other). If existing means that God authored it, then God authored both evil and goodness. If one tries to argue that God created goodness and humans created evil through their freewill, one has no recourse to defend against exactly the game we are playing in this post: What if We Swap them? What if God created evil and people created goodness through their freewill? After all, it makes more sense that we would want to live in a world of goodness than of evil; we have more reason to create goodness than to create evil.
Not that authorship matters to this question, because authorship doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about the author.