Question on Moral Law Giver Argument

I have a question that I have a few thoughts on, but wanted to get the take of others on here as well.

How can we apply the moral law giver argument to not just a philosophy like post modernism, but also some of the early modern philosophies like those of Descartes? I think specifically of his evil genius theory (if you aren’t familiar with that theory, it basically raises the same questions the movie The Matrix raises in the 21st century) Even if the reality of the moral law is accepted- How do we know that the one who gives it must necessarily follow it? To apply this directly to Christianity- This is a link that seems crucial to make, in order to be able to assert God does not and can not lie, and therefore we can trust what he has communicated to us through the Bible.

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I am not a philosophy expert but if I boil your question down do you mean 'do as I say not as I do’?
I ask because in the Matrix I have always understood the movie to be about the truth as represented by the red pill the blue pill is representative of a world that is defined by relativism, what ever you want to believe.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

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Hi Scott,

I’m not familiar with his evil genius theory but I’ll try to address your question on how we know that the moral law giver (aka God) must follow it himself. I think this question may be slightly flawed in it implies that this moral law is somehow a matter of God’s preference rather than it being a direct reflection of his character, like God at one point dumped out his bag of moral attributes onto a table and moved some into the “good” category and some into the “bad” category. This would be a problem if it were true because it kind of paints God in a suspicious light and makes it hard to trust him. Why is he subjecting us to this random law? Does he even follow it? Does he have a separate one for himself? But scripture says that God is love and Jesus says that he is truth. God is not merely loving, he is love, he is not merely truthful, he is truth. So God does not “follow” this moral law because the moral law is a reflection of his very nature. He does not select the standard because he is the standard.

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Thanks @rla9316, your answer clarified something that had been nagging me for a long time.

I’ve always been uncomfortable when anyone says that God “can’t” do something. It always feels like a contradiction that will bring on arguments. I prefer “will not” (or “does not”) to “cannot.” But in the context of moral law being the reflection of His nature everything seems to fall in place in my mind. It becomes much less about His “potential” and more about His being–the “is-ness” of the “I am.”

Hope I’m being clear even if I am making up words.

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Great Question Scott! There are a number of verses that make explicit that God cannot lie such as:

Titus 1:2 “the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…”

1 Samuel 15:29 “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

Thus, from a strictly scriptural perspective we can rest on the fact that God does not lie. If the biblical witness is not warrant enough for confidence then we can also discuss the philosophical underpinnings as well!

Blessings,

Clint

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Hi Clint!

Thanks for the reply! I absolutely agree that scripture is clear that God does not lie. My thinking on this question is coming from an epistemology standpoint, and the philosophical underpinnings for how one can argue we know the Bible can be 100% trusted. Thank you for the verses as it is certainly of greatest importance to remember in which scriptures our Christian beliefs are rooted.

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Hi Robert- Thanks for the response!

You raise a great point about the question having a potential flaw. The first thing that came to mind was wondering if the question is only flawed if you start with Christianity being true and work backwards. It seems like it would be important to answer if one starts with skepticism. There are lines thought (Elon Musk for example) that say it’s much more likely we are in a simulation than not, so I do think it is an important objection to prepare for.

However, I started to reflect on what you were saying a bit more and this shifted my thinking. The key being when you said that the moral law is a reflection of the law giver’s very nature. That’s a great point because that would seem to be necessary if there is to be ultimate and all-encompassing truth under the moral law. I don’t know that it’s entirely ironed out in my head as to why that would have to be (which is okay) but I do think what you are saying is correct. Thanks again!

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Hi Jimmy! Thanks for the reply! That is interesting you’ve said that as I have heard of people discussing that there are some Christian themes woven into the movie. It was really interesting rewatching that part you sent the clip of because I really saw it through this lens when he talked about being born into bondage.

Hi Scott,
For that particular question, I would try to remember that God is not just an outside/separate entity, giving a moral law from afar, but is everywhere and in every thing; therefore, He’s greater than the Matrix in that he is not simply a designer, but is also everywhere inside the design itself. Now, because I’m just a unknowing human, I can only try to understand as best I can, but I certainly can’t claim to know everything about this subject of omnipotence, because that would be logically impossible.
Ben

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This is a very interesting question, @srodgers! You have a couple of questions here, and I’d like to pause over the word know… Because there is a sense in which we cannot know certain things fully and completely in this world…similar to what @benny1 pointed out. as Christians, we believe that we can know certain things about God (we can even ‘get to know’ Him relationally), but we also recognise that we will never be able to know Him completely…100%. Some things in life are unknowable. This is why, I contend that ultimately, everyone lives by faith in something.

As for ‘how one can argue we know the Bible can be 100% trusted’… I suppose it will depend on what one is wanting to trust it for. One can ask many question of the Bible, and the answers to those specific questions will vary in ‘know-ability’. Do you have a specific question in mind about the Bible or idea of what it’s trustworthy for?

Amy Orr-Ewing, one of the founders of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, wrote Why Trust the Bible?, which approaches the topic from various angles, as do other titles. (I believe RC Sproul has one as well!)

I’d be interested to know if anyone in the @Interested_in_Philosophy group has any additional/deeper/better articulated thoughts!

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Hey Scott, this is a tough question when we resort to natural reason alone, that is philosophy without any scripture, I don’t think we can find a definitive answer, let me explain why:

If we remove special revelation (scripture) from our epistemological framework, which is ultimately rooted in faith to some degree, and look to the aspect of general revelation (nature) to discover a God who does not “lie” seems like a formidable challenge. The reason of this difficulty is due in part to the fact that general revelation does not explicitly reveal these kinds of complexities. We would have to apply a strictly natural reasoning to logically infer that God, once we demonstrate His existence (like the philosophers God), that He would either (a) be incapable of deception or (b) capable but does not choose to do so. But I am not quite sure, without special revelation, that we could even come to the conclusion of either A or B. We could get to the existence of “goodness” (not necessarily moral goodness) within the concept of God, but that would not even begin to give us an epistemological framework from which to infer A or B. Now, as a reminder, we are trying to use natural reason to make an inference about the behavior of another being from which we have no real grasp of outside the basic philosophical ideas of God (uncaused cause, unmoved mover, goodness, etc.). If we apply special revelation we can plow deeper into the question of “why, it is the case that God does not lie” (beyond just the scriptures, but the philosophical reasoning in support of the biblical witness), but without that illumination we are hampered by natural reason. Even if we assume the philosophical notion of God’s goodness (even a moral goodness), this does not tell us anything about deception, because in some ethical systems deception is not always considered evil, in fact it could play into a greater good- like lying to Nazi’s to protect the Jews. Even in biblical ethics, the 9th commandment of lying is not always condemned (For more information consult: An introduction to Biblical Ethics by David. Jones). In sum, I don’t think that natural reason alone can guide us into the conclusion that God does not, or cannot lie. It just won’t go that far, and that is not a problem with God but with the humans noetic faculties of what we are capable of logically parsing out without overreaching those boundaries.

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@srodgers

Scott, great question. Very incisive.

To be clear, I think your question is primarily an epistemic one, something like: “how do we know that God, or the God of the Bible, is the source of moral laws?” I hope I am rephrasing that to accurately convey your meaning.

One way to pursue the answer, might be by showing that a reductio ad absurdum occurs if the idea of God being the ground of the moral law is false. Let’s assume, for example, that there is no God, and therefore no moral law giver. The question then arises:

“Why would we expect on an atheistic, or a materialist view, that there are such things as moral laws, or facts?”

I think the consistent position to take, if God does not exist, is roughly that of Bertrand Russell toward the end of his thinking on the subject, when he assumed a non-cognitivist view of ethics; this entails that we can only have moral emotions vis-a-vis concrete states of affairs, but that there really are no such things as moral facts about the world. Thus, all moral statements are merely expressions of emotion. If there are no moral facts, then there are no true, or false, moral propositions; moral propositions simply have no truth value. So instead of making the claim, “Torturing children for fun is evil,” the emotivist, at best, can say something like “Torturing children for fun…yuck!”

So, first, by means of showing that on atheism there are no moral facts, we show that there can only be moral facts (i.e. cognitivism), if there is something transcendent to the material world. But what kinds of things transcend the material world? I can only think of two, either something like a transcendent personal mind or agent, or an abstract object (like a Platonic form, or the number 2).

Without going into a long proof for why a personal mind is a better explanation for moral facts than platonic objects or the number 2, I think we are justified in saying prima facie that a personal mind seems to be a much better fit as the source of moral facts than an impersonal object called “Justice” that is inexplicably instantiated in the world of concrete particulars, when certain states-of-affairs obtain. That just seems nonsensical.

So, I think we can infer as a best explanation that a transcendent personal mind is indeed the source of objective moral facts. Then, the question emerges of what is this mind like? Here you bring up Descartes’ evil demon. Could it be the case that a moral law giver is more akin to Descartes delusion-inducing daemon, as opposed to the God of the Bible? It’s a good question.

Here I would suggest that God, who by definition is a maximally great Being, would also be a Being who possesses all great-making properties absolutely. Since moral goodness is a great-making property, God would have to be maximally good by the necessity of His own nature. And, as a maximally great and maximally good Being, God would not be able to contradict His own greatness, (otherwise He would not be the Being we are talking about, but some lesser Being). Thus, God cannot command that which is contrary to His nature, which is itself Goodness. Therefore, God can not command evil. If God cannot command evil, then He does not command it.

Further, if God does not command evil, and if we are convinced from other independent lines of evidence that Jesus Christ is God, and that Jesus affirmed the truth of the Bible, then we can deduce that the Bible tells us about the moral law by showing us who the true God is, who Himself is maximally Good. So maybe we could develop an argument:

Premise 1: God, as a maximally great Being, is maximally Good
Premise 2: A maximally good God cannot command evil
Premise 3: Therefore God does not command evil

Premise 4: Jesus is God
Premise 5: Jesus affirmed the truth of the Bible (Hebrew Bible)
Premise 6: Therefore, the Bible tells us the truth about God

Premise 7: If the Bible tells us the truth about God, then it tells us the truth about the moral law giver
Premise 8: If the Bible tells us the truth about the moral law giver, it tells us the truth about the moral law
Premise 9: Therefore, the Bible tells us the truth about the moral law.

I’m sure there are some points to quibble with here, since no argument on this or any other matter is flawless, but maybe this offers us a starting point for further discussion.

Peace,
Anthony

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Thanks for the insight Anthony! I would be curious to know your thoughts as to how we could plausibly assert from just reason alone that deception is absolutely inherently evil? We can establish that God is good (though this needs defining), but this does not tell us anything about whether God can deceive or not. A good being can deceive for the intent of achieving a greater good, for example. I just don’t think from pure reason alone we can plausibly suggest that God is incapable of deception of any kind, which I believe is the root of the question. What say you?

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@Clint

Nice! Now we are getting into it!

I would say as rational agents that we would certainly argue that while deception is objectively evil, it need not be absolutely evil. Here I am making the distinction between objective moral values and absolute ones. So, while it is objectively wrong to deceive, there can be contexts which make it morally justified to do so. Thus, it is wrong to lie, but if it is in the context of lying to Japanese soldiers during the Rape of Nanking, who are looking for another helpless Chinese woman to rape and murder, then it is not absolutely wrong. The wrongness is relative to the context.

Now, could God do this? Could God deceive based on contextual considerations? Or, are there contexts in which God would deceive us so that some greater good would come about?

First, let me say that I think it is evident that God hides things from us (knowledge, etc.), but there, again, I would want to make a distinction between hiding, or not divulging information, versus actually giving or presenting false information as if it were true.

I don’t think we would want to say that God presents false information as if it were true, which would seem to diminish God’s other great-making properties, like omniscience and omnipotence. For, if God is the maximally great Being, then God knows how to either give or withhold exactly the right amount and kind of information in order for the greatest amount of good to obtain in a world of free creatures. In knowing what free creatures would do in any given situation, I don’t see why He would need to deceive them as opposed to just allow those circumstances to obtain in which they then make their free will choices.

So, I think from reason alone, although I am now sure I’m missing something here, that we could say that if there is a maximally great Being, that this Being would know all true propositions, and also know what would be maximally good for his creation, and in knowing all those things, would not need to deceive His sentient creatures in order that they thrive or come into a free love relationship with Him. Any apparent deception by God, therefore, would be a result of man’s failure to properly discern truth. And I imagine this is something like what Descarte was going for, although I would certainly have to read him again.

Thoughts?

blessings,
Anthony

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Thanks for the responses! A whole lot of great thoughts here everyone! @KMac That’s cool you mention RC Sproul- I have actually watched his video/teaching series defending your faith. He spends the first 25(ish) of 35 episodes going through the historical thoughts on knowing, and philosophical issues surrounding knowing. He ends up providing a reason that is not too different from what I’ve heard Ravi Zacharias say- However, it is worded differently enough that I think they are both of value to hear!

@Clint and @anthony.costello definitely have quite the great conversation going! I feel like what Clint is potentially showing here is that there is an additional way/reason for which natural reason alone cannot show the Bible wouldn’t deceive us.

@Clint I would be interested to hear what you mean by special revelation in terms of it giving extra knowledge that is supplemental to the natural reasoning we could use (and how this might function). How do you get to the next step in saying- okay it’s at the very least really probable that I’m not being deceived.

I also have a question for @benny1 . Could you speak a little more to your thought that God could not create and then function as an entirely separate entity from the creation? I really don’t know the answer here- But is hell fully separated from God, even in its design? If it is - Could God separate himself from anything he creates, at any time (as it relates to when he created it, even instantaneously)?

As a slight extension of my initial explanation of my question- I think it might be good for me to provide a little more on why I think this is so important for apologetics. Elon Musk’s argument is basically this (I think even though he subscribes to this belief he didn’t create it).

  1. “The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero,” or
  2. “The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero,” or
  3. “The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.”

He thinks 3 is the correction option- and therefore says there is probably a 1 in a billion chance we aren’t simulated. And if we are simulated, we can’t really trust our perceptions or really know anything about ultimate/base reality.

I think what he is saying is correct other than one crucial detail. There is something that comes before diving into all of that. First you have to answer- Is there a God, and if so would he want this to happen? And of course if you get to the God of the Bible, this radically changes things. As our society gets more and more technologically advanced I can see this being a much more common objection presented than it probably is now. That being said, it might be at least related to objections like “I think there’s probably a God out there, but there’s really no way we can know much about him”

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So, to recap, the backdrop of this conversation rests upon (1) the reality of the moral law; and (2) how do we know that the one who gives it must necessarily follow it (i.e. not lie Himself); in order to (3) trust what He has communicated to us through the Bible (excluding any scriptural references to the notion that God does not lie). In light of this, let me address some tertiary matter to make the primary issue more pronounced (for my sake).

It is important to note that deception, in the form of intentional lying, does not always constitute an objective evil, as I think we would agree that it depends on the context. For example, something like sports or games that require giving misinformation to gain an advantage over the opponent comes to mind. These intentional deceptions do not require moral judgment since those acts are non-moral in nature. Thus, the kind of deception we are talking about is one that violates the moral law; that is, the behavior or conduct goes against what appears to be an ethic (coming from “God”) that is rooted in our reality.

The heart of the question is how do we know that God must necessarily follow it, that is, not violate this principle that He himself commanded, simply on pure philosophical reasoning. God may be intrinsically good, but that is not sufficient for escaping this difficulty since we have already established that a good being can intentional deceive for the greater good. Hence, we need more philosophical “lumber” to build with. But this is where it starts to get daunting.

Since we are doing this without the aid of scripture, we have to abandon the notion of omniscience and omnipotence. To my knowledge, these concepts are philosophical ideas that originate from the biblical witness. As a result, we are severely handicapped because otherwise they would definitely help us. So without omniscience or omnipotence, it seems we are left stranded with little timber to make those, notwithstanding, warranted assertions.

Due to these constraints, I find it very difficult to be able to assert that God cannot lie without the biblical data; however, this is a question that I have been pondering on since discussed because there may be a way to do it by utilizing the relationship between God’s necessary existence, simplicity, and “goodness”, which do not require scripture, and may even be able to tie in the deduction that God is only able to ‘be’ true to himself. And since His nature is good, He is inclined (volitionally) to not lie while still remaining capable of not divulging information for the greater good. Something along these lines seems possible.

I hope this stimulates more discussion- God bless!

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Continuing the discussion from Question on Moral Law Giver Argument:

Absolutely, good question!

What I mean by special revelation is revolved around the Bible itself. Special revelation emphasizes the uniqueness of God revealing himself through the scriptural testimony. The Bible gives us insight into who God is without having to account completely for natural reason, since it is the testimony of God himself. As a result, we can draw upon the scriptural data and systematize and formulate what God says about himself. Things such as being omniscient and omnipotent among a host of many other so-called ‘attributes’ are to gleaned from the biblical text itself and utilized in conjunction with natural reason.

On the one hand, we have no revelation other than what nature and human reason tells us, that is, the testimony of the cosmos (natural law, etc.) On the other hand, we have the Word of God (scripture) that gives us a much deeper, richer, and more insightful testimony.

@anthony.costello But as I think more about this, I am noticing something very important that I missed. If God is goodness itself, that goodness would be incapable of making a deception of the immoral kind (i.e. lying) because it would betray the goodness of that character, who is goodness itself (the standard). Since this would be impossible because it would push the standard back further to a God who could not act in such a way, ultimately leading into an infinite regress. So it seems that based on the supreme goodness that we have perfectly good reason to trust it that we are not being deceived immorally, and God who is that goodness will not lie to you.

I am not sure why I missed such a simple notion, but I must have been swapping between moral and non-moral categories without thinking about it when deliberating on this issue. This should clear up any “weeds”.

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@Clint

Love the convo, my brother!

It seems like you filled in my thoughts for me when you said:

Looks like you’ve more clearly articulated what I was trying to get at with my appeal to God as the maximally great being. A maximally great Being would be all-good, and in being all good (or the Good), He would be incapable of doing evil.

However, I think your original question was whether God would do something that might appear to be deceptive so that a greater good might come about? If that is the case, I wonder if we would have to say something like this:

  1. If God were to deceive, it would always be deception for the sake of a greater good
  2. Deception for the sake of a greater good is neither wrong nor evil (think “saving Jews during Holocaust” thought experiment
  3. Therefore, if God deceives He neither does wrong nor evil

That might work, although premise 2 is shaky to say the least. However, if we add in God’s perfect knowledge then perhaps we could modify:

  1. If God were to deceive, that deception would always be for a greater good
  2. Deception for the sake of a greater good is always right or good if all of the facts are known
  3. God knows all facts
  4. Therefore, if God deceives it is always right or good

Let me know what you think about this part.

Finally, there is still an epistemic problem you raised about how we can know concretely whether God is good apart from special revelation. Recently I have been studying up a lot on Beauty, and I think there might be some indication that an individual or community could know that the Creator is good by perceiving Beauty in the world. I think this would explain dualistic worldviews that predate the Bible, where there are two forces at odds, but one of them (the creative force) is superior to the destructive force. Of course dualistic views can fail to recognize the superiority of the Creator god, but maybe some did not. So, on natural, and empirical, revelation alone, one might have knowledge that God is both creator, and fully good.

Thoughts?

in Christ,
Anthony

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Really great thoughts here @anthony.costello ! I was pondering your last point and thinking a little about Romans 1 : 18-21. Interesting to think about just how deep our revelation and understanding might be just based upon observing nature.

No clue if I’m right here, but I have always thought of nature and the how everything works together within it to be the main thing those verses are talking about. That passage specifically mentions God’s divine nature and his eternal power (However, it doesn’t seem to exclude further revelation). With nature I’ve tended to (right or wrong) stop at nature revealing that naturalism is clearly incorrect- We aren’t just products of random chance. It shows a power self existent being must exist in whatever ultimate or base reality is. I never thought of it getting into morality- but perhaps beauty does allow for such a step!

Romans 2 mentions the law even being written on the hearts of the gentiles. That is what I always thought of as the “starting point” for us knowing ultimate truths about right and wrong.

I wonder if these two types of revelation are meant to be thought of in a less separated way that I have tended to do in the past.

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Actually, I think that just positing God as “goodness” itself eliminates any option for him to appeal to a greater good, and going back to some of the earlier conversation, I don’t think there really is a greater good when it comes to God himself. I mean to suggest that if God appeals to a greater good then he either (a) reaches to a standard outside of himself, which then means that he wasn’t goodness itself, but refers to another that is, or (b) he reaches to the standard within himself. Now if we follow the first thought, we will find ourselves with a potential infinite regress because we will have to keep pushing the standard back ad infinitum or until we actually find the ontological source of that standard, which leads me to option “b”. With this option we eliminate any potential regress and find that standard which is rooted in himself as the judge from which all things are weighed. Therefore, God cannot appeal to a greater good because he is “that which nothing good is in fact greater”. We can appeal to a greater good from the human perspective, but when it comes to God it would be impossible to apply it to him, thus eliminating the entire problem that started this discussion, lol.

@srodgers “Finally, there is still an epistemic problem you raised about how we can know concretely whether God is good apart from special revelation.”

I am really fascinated with the idea of beauty, but setting that aside, I do think we can concretely know that God is good apart from special revelation due to the fact of the moral law argument. There is a standard of supreme goodness like we had established earlier that gives us the necessary philosophical work to know that God is good apart from special revelation. I just made things a little more complicated from our prior discussions. We do not need special revelation to tell us that there is standard of goodness out there from which we call God, and that is enough to rest securely that he cannot lie to us since that standard cannot contradict itself because it then would not be good, and it would push the issue back to the inevitable supreme goodness who cannot contradict himself.

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