God, Reason, and Morality

The previous post brings up a question which I have thought about a lot: Can God act immorally?

It seems to me that the answer to this question is ‘yes’…and in fact I think we have clear examples of God’s immorality in the Bible (I am thinking in particular about Job). How is this possible?

Here is an argument

1. Causing unnecessary suffering is wrong

2. God causes unnecessary suffering (e.g. Job)

3. Therefore God (sometimes) acts immorally

What is wrong witht his arguement? I have heard some poeple say that it is a mistake to apply morality to God as He is not the right kind of object for moral evaluation, but why? He is rational, and so can see that ceratin actions are contradictory (or can’t be universalized, or whatever) and so should be bound by morality just like all other rational agents.

8 thoughts on “God, Reason, and Morality

  1. God cannot be evaluated morally since he’s the one that legitimate moral (for the people that believe, obviously). Basically what I mean is that if god does something then it is automatically good and so, moral.
    I think the problem is in statement number one. For us agnostics (you said you were an agnostic in your post in 08/13) statement number one is clearly true, and there is almost no need to ask why, it is just a starting point. But for believers, if they were consistent, they would have to admit that statement 1 is not necessarily true. If god is the one causing the suffering it needs to be false since, after all, god is the one that judges people. how could he judge wrong in people something that he did himself?. That would obviously hold true if we accept that perfection (god) includes good and excludes bad, which is something that I don’t think even religious people would be willing to argue.

  2. In order to structure such an argument you need to begin with a moral premise, such as “Causing unnecessary suffering is wrong”. I might as well proclaim that “Creating the universe is wrong” or even “Being God is wrong”, and the argument would be just as cogent.

    Just for fun though, here’s my argument for the affirmative.

    1. To do something bad is to act immorally

    2. Only existent beings can do something bad

    3. God does not exist

    4. Thus, God can not act immorally.

  3. How about:

    1. Attempting to govern people without their consent (tyranny) is wrong.
    2. Most of us never consented to being governed by God.
    3. Issuing commandments is an attempt to govern people.
    4. The Judeo-Christian God is said to have issued commandments.
    5. Therefore, as described in JC doctrine, God is a tyrant and is immoral.

  4. Hi Richard, another good question neatly posed (I like your style:) but I wonder if causing unnecessary suffering is necessarily wrong… How about if you decide to explore somewhere (just to satisfy your curiosity) and on the way you caused some suffering (e.g. you step on a bug, or your companions get sore feet), would that be wrong?

  5. Hty everyone, thanks for the comments!

    Sorry, again, for the delay in responding…I have been very busy!! No one tells you that the ten tenure-track involves a lot more than just teaching your classes!!


    Yes, I am an agnostic but I find these questions interesting…I think you are right that a beliver will adopt the strategy thatyou suggest and claim that God cannot be morally evaluated, but I don’t see why that should be true. If Divine Command Theory is true then what is rigt is determined by what God commands. Shouldn’t He, Himself, then follow the command? It seems to me that He should; sort of like the way in which He would have to follow the laws of logic once he created them. The same seems to be true if the moral standards are determined in some other way (like via reason, or via what maximizes happiness, etc…). In short, once we have the standards what is to stop us from applying them to God?

    I also think that you are rigt when you say that the believer will claim that the suffering caused by God is not uneccessary. But notice that in so doing they are implicitly admitting that God is/can be morally evaluated.


    Yes you are right that the argument must begin with such a statement, in fact I did begin the argument that way. I don’t see how this is in any way similar to saying that being God is wrong. ‘Causing unecessary suffering’ can be shown to be true on any viable moral theory, whereas the others that you mention cannot (if you are interested see this post). And of course I agree that if God doesn’t exist then He cannot act morally or imorally. My point was rather that should He happen to exist and be the way the he is characterized, could He act imorally…


    I tend to agree with that kind of argument (but notice that most of us never consented to be governed by the U.S. either, but now democracy is tyranny? I suppose the difference might be that I can move to Canada but there is no escaping the rule of God)…what is interesting is that in the Jewish tradition it is often held that God went around to the various people and asked them whether they would accept the Torah, which seems to recognize the spirit of your argument.


    Thanks for the compliment! You ask a good question yourself.

    I think we could debate about whether stepping on a bug causes suffering. There is no reason to think that insects experience pain and so most likely can’t suffer and if you change the example to something like kill a sheep or a cow then it does seem to be wrong to me.

    As for the companions feet, I don’t think that you are, properly speaking, the cause of his suffering. Surely he is there for his own reasons, he has not been forced to explore, no? If so then he is the cause of his own suffering. And since he is the cause he can decide whether or not the suffering is worth it or not.

    So I think 1 stands….

  6. why doesn’t God just tell Job the truth about why he is suffering?
    It is right there in the first chapter for everyone who reads the story?

  7. Hi Stew, I am not sure about what your question is…Presumably God doesn’t tell Job that he is suufering to prove to the Devil that Job will remain loyal to Him even if He doesn’t favor him (Job) because that would spoil the bet…

  8. The book of Job describes the suffering of Job as a result of Satan, not God. God “allowed” Satan the ability to impose the horrible events upon Job, but God did not personally impose the events upon Job. This may open up another conversation on why God “allowed” the events, but He has perfect reasons for all of his actions (Deuteronomy 32:4 / 2 Samuel 22:31 / Psalm 18:30). The concept is one of “causing” suffering. God did not cause the suffering, Satan did. Hope that gives a different angle on the concept.

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