This is a question that many non-believers pose to themselves internally. It is usually used as an easy reason to dismiss the idea of following a religion when there is no other reason that can be thought of to do so. Since God allows people to commit acts that we deem to be evil, the conclusion drawn is that God cannot be good and is therefore not worthy of our attention. This is a logical fallacy found merely in the definition of the word good.
Merriam-Webster defines the noun good as the following:
“Something conforming to the moral order of the universe”
But what exactly is the “moral order of the universe”? This is especially difficult to answer if we take God and man out of the equation. In nature alone, there is no moral order. There is only a food chain. Herbivores eat the plants and carnivores eat the herbivores. Within each group on the food chain there is merely a struggle for dominance through strength. The strongest lion leads the pride, the strongest wolf leads the pack, the strongest giraffe leads the tower, and it goes on for each group of animals. That is the moral order that we see in nature. Does that sound good?
Now we add man to the equation. Man seems to have developed a set of rules that are generally agreed upon as socially acceptable to follow. We call these rules “morals” because we are taught them from birth. Sure they change slowly over time, but the fact of the matter is that no matter where you look on this planet, these rules are put in place by whomever is in power. The person whose established dominance among their group. We typically call these groups governments and they are typically established following a violent display of power. In America, we had a very bloody revolution where we gained our freedom from Britain and then immediately elected the General in charge of our military as our President. This man began working to establish a system of “moral order” or “laws” within our own country. They were essentially the same laws that Britain had and were paid for with the same systems that Britain used. The only real difference was the source of the legislation. We had a struggle for dominance within our pack, it broke into two pieces and a new leader proved to be the strongest. It isn’t really all that different than what we witness in nature. Is this good?
I think that we did identify one real difference between the way mankind and animal kind behave. That is our system of rules. I mentioned that the basic rules stayed the same in America. No killing, no stealing, etc. Where did these rules originate from? This is the key thing that we need to identify. Are they some sort of innate sense of order emanating from the universe? If we look to the universe for an example of the morals that we find ingrained in most of humanity, I don’t think we will find it. In fact, more commonly, we find humanity following the “strongest being controls the rest” model that we find in nature rather than following the moral guidelines that we do often talk about. Stealing is wrong unless you are the controlling party in a country, then you can take anything that you declare a “need” for. Whether it is money through taxes, property through eminent domain, or even the lives of citizens via a draft or in the name of national security. This doesn’t seem to ring true to the moral good that we feel should emanate from humanity and falls more in line with animal nature.
So can we truly identify what is right or wrong without God? We can certainly come together as people and establish rules that make our daily lives better. But is there a true “universal” definition of what those rules are? Or are they simply defined by the strongest among us? I think we have already answered that question here and there are thousands of years of recorded history that do not discount my conclusion. There is, however, one exception to my findings.
There is the one example of a system that establishes rules outside of the “moral order of the universe”. As Creator, God has domain over all things. His will is the literal definition of what should or should not be. I think we can agree that nature has no defined ideas of good or bad, simply powerful or not, controlled or chaos. God has an established order. Everything that happens is either His will or not. If we follow the “moral order of the universe” then it follows that God, as Creator, would be the dominant being in that structure and everything that happens within that structure can only happen because He allows it. If God allows something to happen, that does not make it good or God’s will, it simply means that God is allowing it to happen. He is the one dominant being in the universe that allows people to disregard His rules without obvious recompense and this is only due to His grace and mercy. Make no mistake, just because something happens does not mean it is His will. It does not mean that it is good. It simply means that He is merciful.
So, is God good? I would argue that there is no observable definition of good or bad in the universe. There is only God’s will, God’s mercy, and in the worst cases, God’s judgement. These things are not good or bad, they are merely guidelines that exist outside of our control. Just as good would be, as defined by Merrium-Webster, if we actually could discern how it is applied in nature.
This is a blessing for believers and unbelievers alike. As God seems to be very merciful and has given us so very many things that we call good. So we should look to Him and follow His rules, as they seem to have our best interest in mind. He did create us after all.
Hi, I’m James Dusenbery, the Founder/Lead Editor at CanonOfReason.com. I have a deep passion for the Bible and am constantly studying one part or another. In addition to an interest in theology and Christian apologetics, I also love philosophy. My podcast and website merge these interests together to create a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else.