Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 8

Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.

I have temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 so that I can do a little bit more research. These are questions that lie outside the area I generally consider my specialty (philosophy), so I want to do some research. Since I didn’t want to lose my incredible momentum of posing, I thought I’d work ahead to give me some time.

So, let’s cover question #10:

What law, moral code or justice system was God following when He absolved David of his sin? More importantly, what moral code or justice system was God following when He killed a baby as punishment for a sin He absolved? (2 Sam. 12:13-18)

This question is asked only from a complete ignorance of God’s ontology. Let’s cover divine simplicity, but let’s start essentially by isolating God from the universe.

First, when you apply an adjective to someone, some external quality is modifying or describing this person–in addition to this person’s ontological make-up (e.g. the indelible qualities that make him human). If I say that someone is moral, for example, I’m using some generally accepted definition of “moral” and saying that this person’s behavior and attitudes usually conform to it.

Let’s look at an extreme example. If this hypothetical person is a serial killer, I might still apply the same adjective, albeit with the caveat that he is moral except for the fact that he hunts innocent people as others hunt deer or venison. He has a deep scar in his psyche that causes him to do that, but it doesn’t change the fact that, outwardly and consistently, in all other areas of his life, he is moral as far as we can define the term. He has no traffic tickets, he never picks fights, he’s never late for an appointment, he finances his mother’s stay in a nursing home because she has no health insurance or estate. He has a wife that he never cheated on, and he’s raised his kids to do unto others as you’d have others do unto you. He gives to charities and volunteers to coach softball on the weekend.

Another example. A girl has an excellent figure, breasts that aren’t too big for her frame, smooth and toned legs that are slender yet athletic, and long hair that she obviously conditions and styles with great care. She has an extremely outgoing personality, and is polite yet witty with a hint of sarcasm. Her eyes are deep, contemplative, and mysterious. In short, men who look at her find her quite sexy.

However, she doesn’t shave her armpits, which becomes immediately noticeable because she favors shirts that bare her shoulders with the thinnest spaghetti straps. So, once again, you see that she is sexy with one caveat.

So, what have we learned? We are touching on Plato’s theory of forms ever so slightly. In all of our minds are universal forms. These are molds, external to the objects we perceive in the material world, that we use to classify and identify material objects. Check out this illustration:

Despite the numerous and obvious differences between these objects, I intuitively know that these are all chairs. Platonic forms at work: everyone has something like a blueprint in their brains for a “chair.” It’s similar to a blueprint in that it defines what a chair looks like, but it also contains negative data (i.e. it also defines what a chair isn’t).

Platonic forms are objects of conception, not objects of perception. Platonic forms, in other words, are only mental constructs we conceive in our heads. They are then automatically placed upon an object when we perceive it, that we may know what we’re looking at.

What to take away from this is that an object which we perceive is modified by factors external to it–the Platonic form.

Now, back up to before the universe existed. There is no time, no space, not even a vacuum. The only anything in existence is God. God, therefore, must subsist solely as himself, in himself, for himself, but he isn’t by himself. The full Trinity is present: Father, Son, and Spirit, coexistent and coeternal.

Tying this together, we discover that God can never, by virtue of his eternal nature, be defined by anything external to himself. The morality God possesses is an integral part of himself–which means his nature defines what morality is. This means that God is Plato’s form of the Good, the elusive source of morality and ethics Plato searched for but could never find.

The original question, “What moral code or justice system was God operating under . . . ?” is meaningless. We don’t define God by any moral code, nor do we constrain his actions to any specific ethical theory. That would be attempting to define God by something external, and nothing is external to God at the outset. In the beginning, there was only him (since he is before all). God therefore defines morality, and as such is not constrained by it, nor can it imposed on him. Rather, he imposes it on us.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on January 15, 2011, in Apologetics, God, Morality, Philosophy, Sin and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Fine enough. Then (as I understand) any word describing God is useless as inaccurate. Why bother utilizing terms such as “just” or “mercy” or “loving” as they have no meaning when it comes to God?

    Christian apologists want their cake and eat it too. They regularly use words to explain God—words such as “just,” “mercy,” “moral,”—and when we start asking how those words fit what we understand them to mean in view of what is claimed about their God, the apologist backs off and say words cannot describe God!

    If the words don’t have the same meaning as we understand them—don’t use them in the first place.

    • Nope, wrong. God is the perfect form of the words. The words have a specific meaning, but when applied to imperfect things they might not carry all of the intended meaning.

      But with God, he is perfect and thus defines those words in their perfect form. I’m not “having my cake and eating it, too,” nor am I saying that words don’t describe God. I’m saying that God embodies the fullness of the meaning of those words; he defines the word in the first place, not the other way around.

      The words have the same meaning as we understand them–with no caveats or misunderstandings. It is us imperfect beings that don’t fully embody traits like “good” or “just.”

  2. Tying this together, we discover that God can never, by virtue of his eternal nature, be defined by anything external to himself.

    Thanks for clearing that up. That means that any human who says anything at all about that god is speaking from within god, and so anything we say can be taken as true.

    If not, by what standard do we determine what statements about that god are true and which are false?

    • Missed again.

      God reveals himself to us with his Word (the Bible) and his creation. To discover him, you start there. And that’s the point–we’re on a discovery process, not an arbitrary inventing process. You don’t apply any word you feel like to God. I’m actually arguing against doing that in my post.

      • That is, of course, the essence of begging the question: Before you can find out X, you must assume X.

        If we want to discover whether X is true, we must begin without assuming X.

        If, of course, you are not interested in discovering whether something is true, you are free to assume what you like. But you are not going to get anywhere convincing those who want to learn.

      • That is, of course, the essence of begging the question: Before you can find out X, you must assume X.

        I’m only begging the question if this is theism vs. atheism. But it isn’t. The question is not whether God exists. The question is one of attributes.

        My conception of God as perfection isn’t under scrutiny. So, reasonably, if God is perfection, I would look to him first to define terms associated with him. According to the Bible, God is a righteous judge. So, I’m not looking at an earthly judge and asking, “Does God behave like that?” I’m looking at God first to see how a righteous judge would act, then to a human judge and asking, “Does he behave as God has shown a righteous judge to behave?”

        You have to start somewhere. I’m starting with God, and that isn’t begging the question any more than going at it from the other direction.

      • My conception of God as perfection isn’t under scrutiny.

        And from that, all the fallacies follow.

        If you present an assumption that I can reasonably disagree with, you don’t get to say “my assumption is not under scrutiny” and expect reasoned argument to continue. You have disqualified your position by attempting to hold a positive proposition — that “god is perfection”, or however you want to phrase it — as out of bounds for scrutiny.

        There is an infinitude of mutually-incompatible positive propositions that can be presented. None of them has any special claim to be held out of reach from scrutiny. So, the only correct default position with respect to any positive claim is to start from the assumption that each one is not true.

  3. If God defines the words, but we cannot verify their meaning—this remains ineffective. Our definition could align with Gods, not align at all, or only partially align. We can never know.

    Sure, you can argue you are correct with your definition; you can just as equally be incorrect under this method.

    As to “revealing” through the Bible, this is equally problematic. God…revealing definitions primarily through two (2) languages that are now dead, in a culture we don’t fully understand? What is different about dikaios and our English word, “just”?

    • God’s being, and actions proceeding from that being, define not the word but the concept. This is the critical distinction that you’re missing. The word is the label we apply to the concept, and it can mean something different than what the concept attempts to impart. I may not have made that clear before.

      And our definition probably doesn’t fully align with God, but God exudes the perfection of that concept and that is how we must allow the word to be defined. Defining it any other way and then applying it back to God isn’t going to yield good results.

      My whole point is that we can’t define God by our limited definition of a particular concept. Rather, we must understand that God embodies that concept fully and it is we who are deficient. This makes your original question meaningless. That’s my point. You are quibbling about definitions and I’m trying to say that that isn’t how to approach God. Yet you’re still quibbling about definitions to try to make my answer look like it wasn’t an answer.

      Kind of ironic.

      • My whole point is that we can’t define God by our limited definition of a particular concept. Rather, we must understand that God embodies that concept fully and it is we who are deficient.

        That argument can only support the total abstinence from making any positive claims about such a being. If you want to be consistent with that and stop making assertions about this being, I’d be very happy.

        But if you want to make assertions, then others get to scrutinise them and ask how you know what you claim to know. Retreating to “we are flawed and our concepts cannot be applied” is then no longer a move available to you.

  4. Cory Tucholski: … if God is perfection, I would look to him first to define terms associated with him. According to the Bible,…
    Ah…but you aren’t actually looking at God. You are looking at what select humans (to the exclusion of others) claim about God. Which provides two (2) problems:

    1) What did the human mean? and
    2) How do we know if that accurately describes God?

    Claiming God defines the “concept,” but not the word leaves the same problems.

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