So, here’s the deal: Tess is extremely busy this week and I forgot to send the schedule to everyone else (this has since been remedied) and I’m exhausted and have a hundred other things on my mind. So, while I apologize that this may not have anything to do with writing, today you will get some of the random things that have been on my mind today. First, Alayna had her first serious ‘I might be in labor’ moment today. She wasn’t, but the doctor did say that it will probably happen fairly soon. Also, in the Euthyphro Plato raises the question of whether the gods are good because they do what they know to be good, or whether good is good because the gods do it. While the question was originally phrased in this way by Plato, it has become one of the major questions in Christian moral theology: does God do what he knows to be ontologically good by some outside definition, or is what God does good because God does it? Four major positions have been presented as a response to this:
- God does what he knows to be good. In Euthyphro Plato argues that the gods do what is good because they know it to be good. In both this text and in The Republic Plato argues for a conception of the good as an ultimate form of reality that the gods know better than men because they have greater access to knowledge of it. Thus, the good is good ontologically speaking regardless of what the gods say or do and the gods are then beholden to follow this ontological definition of good if they are to be deemed good gods (though in The Laws Plato retreated from this view and argued that for the good to have a meaningful ontological existence it must be founded in a divine mind). Many Christian thinkers have adopted a similar idea, arguing that God does what is good ontologically speaking and that this good is good regardless of who does it or who does not do it. Thus, on this conception God could do evil and be judged for it, but he chooses not to. However, this seems to impose an outside restriction upon God. If God does not decide what is good then who does? Where did the good as an ontological reality come from if it did not come from God? Who has the power and authority to tell God what he must do to be considered good?
- Whatever God says or does is good because he is God. Several Christian thinkers have adopted a volitional idea of goodness. God is sovereign and has all authority and thus whatever he says or does is the definition of what is good. Thus, God’s word defines what is good for reality and for men simply because it is God’s word. This idea sufficiently accepts God as sovereign and argues that the world must simply submit to his will. However, it also seems to argue that God could declare anything to be good. Thus, if God suddenly decided that rape, theft, or the sacrifice of children in the worship of Moloch are good then they would actually and ontologically be good. This makes ‘good’ entirely subjective and arbitrary, which seems to reject the actual notion of an ontological reality. If the ‘real’ good can be arbitrarily changed then it is subjective, not objective or fundamentally real.
- God’s nature defines the good and his word and will reflect this nature. Many Christian thinkers have argued for an understanding of the relationship between God and good that weaves a thread between the above two views. This argument goes that God’s ontological and unchanging nature defines what is good and evil: that which corresponds with God’s nature is thus good and that which does not correspond with God’s nature is evil. Thus, it cannot be argued that good is simply subjective or that it an be arbitrarily altered by God’s command. It is God’s nature, his essential and unchanging being, that defines what is good, not God’s word or action. However, this also defends a strong conception of God’s sovereignty: there is no outside ontological standard of goodness to which God is beholden and no one can be said to have imposed a standard of goodness upon God. It is God’s own nature that imposes the standard of goodness that his words and actions then reflect.
- However, this has led to a conception that God’s words and actions necessarily follow his nature: that is that God cannot do evil in the sense that he is ontologically incapable of doing evil. This seems to limit God’s omnipotence. While we may certainly argue that God has not, would not, and will not ever rape someone, it seems to limiting to say that God is ontologically incapable of rape. Proponents of this view have argued that it can fit within an understanding of omnipotence if we understand omnipotence as the ability to do anything that is within one’s nature to do, but this seems to be a deficient understanding of omnipotence. If, for instance, I am a perfect human that cannot fly or create stars I could, under this definition, be called omnipotent because I can do everything that it is within my nature to do. However, if a human can be omnipotent on his own then it seems to be of little value to say that God is omnipotent.
- A solution to this problem is a strong distinction between ontological capability and volitional capability. That is to say that it is correct to say that God cannot do evil. However, saying that God cannot do evil is not to say that God is ontologically incapable of doing evil, as if some greater power were restraining him, but to say that he is volitionally incapable of doing evil. God cannot do evil because he will not do anything that violates his own nature. This is something that cannot be said of humans: we violate our own nature on a regular basis. Even those who give a very loose definition or conception of human nature must accept that the average human experience existential and psychological crises because they violate that which they perceive to be their own nature. On a stronger definition of human nature it is necessary to accept that humans consistently violate those purposes for which they were created and thus violate their own nature. However, God does not violate his own nature, and thus because he is volitionally capable of perfectly living out his divine nature he is volitionally incapable of doing evil, which is that which is against his nature. Thus, God can do evil in an ontological sense (which provides a strong concept of omnipotence), but he perfectly refuses to do evil in a volitional sense (which provides a strong conception of his omnibenevolence that protects his sovereignty).
Just a few thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days. I hope that you enjoy them and that, in some way, they benefit your writing.