Moral Arguments for Deity? Russell's refutation

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Reading Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian I stumbled upon a passage (The Moral Arguments for Deity) I don't seem to understand.

Kant, as I say, invented a new moral argument for the existence of God, and that in varying forms was extremely popular during the nineteenth century. It has all sorts of forms. One form is to say there would be no right or wrong unless God existed. I am not for the moment concerned with whether there is a difference between right and wrong, or whether there is not: that is another question. The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.

I marked the sentence that is of interest to me. What is Russell's argument here and where does this conclusion come from? Can you point out the hidden premises? Is the claim that, if God decided between possibility A and B and decided to do A, that he could have done otherwise and that there is no inherent qualitative difference between A and B before his decision?

iphigenie

Posted 2012-11-12T12:39:19.643

Reputation: 2 426

This is tangential to your main question: I would argue that Russell is wrong to say that its no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. Why God is good, and what is good for humans by Gods fiat are separate qualities. – Mozibur Ullah – 2012-12-03T02:05:56.303

@MoziburUllah So you're simply introducing two meanings of "good"? I don't think that reasonable. – iphigenie – 2012-12-03T11:15:47.157

i think you're right, it isn't 'reasonable'. The qualities of God, are surely transcendent, that is beyond our ability to reason. We can meditate on them, sure. To reason about the good, on our own human scale, is a far different exercise. – Mozibur Ullah – 2012-12-03T11:42:14.627

@MoziburUllah I'm not going to tell you why it's not helpful because I'd just be quoting Russell on this. Check out the paragraph mentioned in the question. – iphigenie – 2012-12-03T12:20:14.570

@MoziburUllah & iphigenie: If we take "____ is good" to mean "____ obeys God's command" then Russell's complaint that it is no longer significant is rejected. – Double AA – 2013-10-22T21:04:21.493

Answers

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Is the claim that, if God decided between possibility A and B and decided to do A, that he could have done otherwise and that there is no inherent qualitative difference between A and B before his decision?

Almost. The claim is that if you believe that what is right and what is wrong is defined by God's fiat, then whatever God does becomes, through his doing it, right. And therefore, nothing is right or wrong prior to God's action. Which means that God is not "good", except tautologically.

Michael Dorfman

Posted 2012-11-12T12:39:19.643

Reputation: 22 863

I got the part about what this means for us. I did not get what the emphasised sentence means, i.e. why there is no difference for God. As I see it the answer must say something about the qualities of things before the fiat. – iphigenie – 2012-11-13T23:15:37.530

2Correct. There is no right or wrong choice for God--whatever he chooses is de fact right. So, God is not acting morally or immorally-- He's acting amorally, completely without regard to right or wrong, because for Him they don't exist. – Michael Dorfman – 2012-11-14T07:57:08.553

@MichaelDorfman Does this not all assume that the moral laws are in flux? I always thought from a biblical context that they are a fixed concept. – None – 2012-11-18T06:56:12.767

1@gerdi: From a Biblical context, moral laws are in flux; different commandments were given at different times. But Russell is not making explicit reference to the Bible here. – Michael Dorfman – 2012-11-18T12:50:03.440

Just because God can declare which actions are good, doesn't mean that he has to follow those rules. He chooses to. I don't follow your first comment above. @MichaelDorfman – Double AA – 2013-10-22T21:12:24.763