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July 02, 2012


Greg says at 3:35, “There can be a morally sufficient reason for God to allow evil for a season”. I’m good with that. That is, I understand what he’s saying and believe it. Then he goes on to say at 3:50, “God uses evil for good ultimately.” That is where I need more clarification.

My question is: How does God “use” evil? What would be an example? I understand allowing evil, but using evil seems to be something else entirely. What’s the difference between an all-powerful, all-knowing God using and doing? God does not do evil things.

If use simply means bringing good out of I’m fine with it, but I think “use” is a poor word choice if so.

What about the cross as an example? The cross was intended by God to accomplish a good purpose. His use of it was good. His decree of it was good.

But those who put Christ to death were sinning because their purpose was to destroy Him. Their act was a rebellion against God.

Intention and purpose can transform the morality of the same exact act. On a battlefield, a doctor could cut off a person's leg without anesthetic to save a life, and that is a good act. But an enemy could have come upon the same person and cut off his leg as an act of cruelty to try to hurt that person (not knowing it would help him). In that case, his act would be evil, and he would be judged for it. He unknowingly helped the man, and it was his not knowing and not intending this that determined the morality of his actions.

For the person being hurt, the pain is exactly the same. The act is exactly the same, as is the outcome. But for the doctor, the act is good; for the enemy, the act is evil.

Now imagine that the doctor is trapped under debris, and the enemy comes up and finds the injured man and says, "What shall I do to him that will cause him pain?" And the doctor yells out, "Cut off his leg!" The enemy does it to be cruel, and then leaves. The man's life is saved. Didn't the doctor use the man's evil for good?

Thanks, Amy! Excellent points.

The cross is a very clear example. As Christians, evil isn’t the first thing that jumps to mind when thinking of the crucifixion, but you’re exactly right. Mostly, we think of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. With evil acts today, especially when we or loved ones are victim, evil is precisely the first thing that jumps to mind.

Let’s say for the sake of discussion, that all evil acts on earth have a similar dynamic as the cross. That God is using them for the “ultimate” good. Should we not welcome this “evil” as Christians? That is the question. So we can say it was good that God sent his son to be crucified for us, but it was evil that it was done by men on earth. It was evil on earth. What do we say about the lone gunman in the high school?

If a man walks into a school and shoots it up, yet we know God is using that specific act to fulfill a certain desired outcome, it seems that we should have a very measured reaction. We do not. We mourn. We take steps to prevent it. We hate that it happened. As Christians we don’t’ hate that the crucifixion happened.

Rather than making sense of evil, as Christians, how do interpret evil?

We pass judgment on the actions of people on earth. As I said, the acts I mentioned were truly evil, as committed by the people who committed them. We bring those people to justice, and we try to prevent them from committing further evil. This is the task God has given us. It brings Him glory when we bring evil to justice and promote the good. This is what we can see.

God’s purposes behind the scenes are mostly hidden from us. We don’t hate the crucifixion because that purpose has been clearly revealed to us. But we ought to hate the fact that people so hated Jesus, they wanted Him dead.

We can only judge what we see. When, and if, we are able to later see the good that God meant from something, then we praise Him for the good that He did that was greater than the evil that men did—though it was accomplished through the same action (as in the case of the doctor and the enemy).

So we hate what is true evil—the acts of cruelty committed by men, but we love God and His good purposes, who only sovereignly permits what He wills. We know that “all things work together for good” in terms of His people and His purposes, so our grief is tempered with hope, but that doesn’t mean we hate cruelty any less.

And as Paul says in Romans 3: “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.”

Anyone who does evil is rightly condemned by God and society.

Thanks for the responses, Amy. They were very helpful. I agree.

I don't believe in fairies.

This statement saddles me with a (slight) burden of evidence: Until someone offers some evidence for fairies, I can reasonably claim to meet this burden by simply saying: I've never seen any sign of a fairy as they are commonly described. The world seems fairy-free to me.

That is: based on background information/experience, I don't believe in fairies. My burden at this point is met.

Suppose now that someone puts forward evidence for fairies.

Those impressed by this proffered evidence (possibly even including myself) will reasonably say that I owe a reason if I still don't believe in fairies.

So now answering the PE becomes my burden. Once I do answer the PE no burden remains and I can again reasonably say that I don't believe in fairies.

It should not be necessary to say that my burden remains met even if I should write a book in meeting it.


The existence of fairies has no affect on the existence of an objective moral law, the existence of something rather than nothing, the existence of life and consciousness rather than inanimate matter, etc. A belief or non-belief in fairies doesn't change every major aspect of a person's view of reality.

On the other hand, if you're going to assert a worldview that posits there is no God, you're making positive statements about all of these things: There is no objective moral law (or there is, though you have no explanation for it), something came out of nothing, life and consciousness came out of inanimate matter, (perhaps) a deterministic view of our "choices," etc. If you're going to positively assert a naturalistic worldview with all its implications (by denying the existence of the supernatural), you bear a burden of proof, just as someone who asserts a theistic worldview bears a burden of proof.


There are pictures of the fairies.

And their existence would have profound effects on my view of reality (and probably on yours too).


(And a picture of something points more specifically at the existence of that thing than those things you offer point at God.)


Am I justified or not in starting (before you present your evidence) with a low prior probability for your God.

I'll take your arguments from ignorance individually, if briefly.

I don't know if there is "objective moral law". If there is such a thing your claim to explain it is just that: a claim.

I never said (and I don't believe) that something came from nothing. If you say you have evidence that something came from nothing I ask: Where is your evidence for the nothing?

Given that life is a collection of chemical reactions that take part in biological evolution, it is reasonable to think they were collected by chemical evolution before that. It is not at all surprising that the details have been obscured.

Consciousness, whatever it is, is something the brain does.



There are a few problems with your comments. First, the difference in God and fairies is that God deals with ultimates of reality or the basis of a worldview. A fairy is a part of a worldview whereas God is the source/basis of a worldview. Everyone has a worldview and since theism makes good sense of the whole of reality, it is a reasonable and rational belief, unlike that of fairies. This is attested by 98% of the population. If you deny theism, you must explain - in a reasonable and plausible way - morals, the existence of the universe, the fine tuning of the universe, the emergence of life, conscienceness, the resurrection claims of Jesus, purpose and meaning of life, etc.

2nd, your rejection of objective morals is probably inconsistent with the way you live. Surely you think torturing babies for fun is objectively wrong. If not, I question your humanity. As for your denial of the universe coming from nothing, you are denying the consensus of modern science and cosmology. Theism has robust answers to all these things, yet atheism lacks the explanatory power to answer any successfully.

What exactly does it mean for moral values to be "objective," as opposed to not? And why should we think that our moral values have this mysterious property?

Hi Jorden,

God deals with ultimates of reality or the basis of a worldview

Maybe - IF he exists. Otherwise not.

Either way, he stands a poor chance of existing until you present evidence. Even then, unless the evidence stands up, he continues to stand a poor chance.

That is how the fairy analogy stands.

The things you mention are arguments for theism and that is the only way they give me any burden.

For example, I second Ben's question: Why should we?


Hi RonH,

You said. "Either way, he(God) stands a poor chance of existing until you present evidence. Even then, unless the evidence stands up, he(God) continues to stand a poor chance."

Is this true? Is existance grounded in some outside source presenting evidence? Would you Ron cease to exist, or not exist at all, if no one presented sufficient evidence for your existance? This is a claim, not an objection my friend.

RonH and Ben,

"What exactly does it mean for moral values to be "objective," as opposed to not? And why should we think that our moral values have this mysterious property?"

Objective moral values have been debated and accepted by more than just Theist. As to "mysterious properties", this isn't a new idea or argument. Barring sophistry, or relativism there are good arguments for objective moral values.


I didn't ask whether the idea of "objective" moral values was new. I asked what the idea is. In other words, what does it mean to say that moral values are "objective," as opposed to not?


Yes it is true.

Before you present evidence your god has a low probability because, as described, he is an extraordinary claim.

(And, again, I don't owe evidence that an extraordinary claim is false until someone offers evidence for it.)

He will continue with his low probability unless the evidence you offer stands up.

I'll follow Ben again: I didn't ask if OMV's had been debated and accepted. I asked why I should think moral values are 'objective'.



“What exactly does it mean for moral values to be "objective," as opposed to not? And why should we think that our moral values have this mysterious property?”

Just because you think something is mysterious, doesn’t mean it is.


Well it's mysterious to me! And if it's not mysterious to you, then why not answer the questions?

“Before you present evidence your god has a low probability because, as described, he is an extraordinary claim.”


What explanations for the existence of the universe are not extraordinary claims? Aren’t explanations for the existence of the universe that don't account for things that at least “appear” to be self evident (such as design and objective morality) even more extraordinary, thus giving pure naturalistic explanations for the existence of the universe an even lower probability of being true?


Well it's mysterious to me! And if it's not mysterious to you, then why not answer the questions?

Ha! I thought my response was as thorough as your comment. I just didn’t know how thought out of a response (addressing mysteriousness) was needed. Of course, you could explain your claim of mysteriousness!


You seem to be suggesting that I was not clear enough in my original comment, but I fail to see what was unclear. I asked you guys what you mean when you talk about moral values being "objective" as opposed to not. Do you understand that question? Because if not, we're in trouble, because I'm not sure how to be more straightforward than I already have been.

When I say that the property is "mysterious" to me, I am saying that I don't know what the property is. In particular, I don't know what you mean by ascribing "objectivity" to moral values.

So if you really do mean something substantive when you claim that moral values are "objective," I would request that you explicate your meaning to me, because I have no idea what you are talking about.


I'm in no position to offer an 'explanation for the existence of the universe'. I think I said above that asking me for such an explanation because I'm not a Christian is an argument from ignorance. So are many, if not all, of the other demands that have been made in these comments.

Convert or I'll make you explain (my view) of consciousness. Good grief!

I'm just explaining why I don't believe in the Christian god. That's all.


That should have been...

Convert or I'll make you explain (my view of) consciousness.


I don't know what you mean by ascribing "objectivity" to moral values.

Oh, Ben. Is this really true? Its one thing to disagree with the existence of objective morality, but a totally different thing to claim to not know what one means when they speak of moral objectivity. I believe you’re being a bit disingenuous here. Can you at least acknowledge that?

Let’s take for example: Friend of Ben and fellow non-theist, John. John and Ben are having beer at a bar late one night. John says, “Can you believe the silliness of the Christian claim of objective morality?” Would you have nothing to say except, “What do Christians mean? I've always wondered."

Don’t we know the answer to this?


No, I am not being disingenuous or in any way dishonest.

Instead of speculating about my psychology, maybe you could try explaining what you mean when you claim that moral values are "objective." If you have difficulty doing this, then perhaps that's a sign that you don't have anything coherent in mind when you talk about moral values having that property.


I apologize. I sort of summed up your post, beginning with the fairies and ending with your response to Steve, in a quote. I agree with you on fairies and I also agree that the concept of God is an extraordinary claim. However, unlike with fairies, when discussing an explanation for the existence of the universe (why it exists, how it came to exists, etc.), we would expect an extraordinary explanation, because all available claims (whether it be God or natural means) are extraordinary claims. So, I fail to see why you believe that the probability of God’s existence is diminished based on the claim of His existence being extraordinary.

Considering, our limited pool of possible explanations (natural and supernatural), I think the probability of God’s existence is greatly increased by the explanatory impotence of naturalistic theories, despite how extraordinary God is.


Before evidence is presented, which claim has higher probability: ordinary or extraordinary -

I went out to lunch today or I won the lottery twice today?


Kwm your story about ben & john is funny-- and true of course but his motive may be something more benign. We have read ben's 100's of words on his attempt at an agnostic "proof" built on what man's consciousness will/can EVER know in the future (which is unprovable) (his proof assumes this is known by the Now) and on his "proof" of no objective proofs of God ( built on his assumptions about the consciousness of man forever into the future) Whom he very well knows is Who/What we mean as/within objective value steming from Immutable and Eternal Love, and, Immutable and Eternal Personhood. "Grounding" has already been raised with him only to be seen as un-necessary apparently..... Thus his silence on the question raised once as to the where and the why of society's moral semantics and evolved rules necessarily weighing on "me". All value in/on love and in/on personhood is mutable. Or, Immutable and Eternal Love lives forever within the Triune's I/You/We wherein Immutable and Eternal Personhood lies Uncreated.

Gumby on the shelf!

Amy my apology....I'm on my phone which is new .....I was assuming my email entered in the "post" set of buttens might have canceled this etc....well...Sorry though :(


If the universe coming into existence is an ordinary occurrence, perhaps you can explain it to me. You must have seen plenty of universes come into existence.

Ordinary - of no special quality or interest; commonplace; unexceptional


I re-read my post and I apologize if I am rambling. I was typing my thoughts out as I was thinking through them and I am afraid that some of my thoughts may have been jumbled together. I, at least not intentionally, was not trying to convert you. I was thinking through your comments, particularly the comment that prior to evidence being presented for the existence of God, there is a low probability of His existence because He is an extraordinary claim.

I agree that ordinary is more probable than extraordinary in most circumstances. That is why if I heard of someone hitting the lottery twice in one day, I would be more likely to believe that his or her winning was fixed or that somehow the lottery was designed for him or her to win. I would believe that any claims that his or her winning twice in one day through unintentional natural processes would be extraordinary claims. But, I would consider evidence of the impossibility or implausibility of the lottery being fixed as valid arguments and not dismiss them as arguments from ignorance.

When dealing with some extraordinary occurrences (the universe coming into existence was the first extraordinary occurrence that came to mind), it would seem to me that a naturalistic explanation would be less probable than a supernatural explanation, due to a naturalistic explanation’s lack of explanatory power, based on what little we do know about how the universe came into existence. One thing that we do know is that it “came” into existence. Another thing we know is that it appears to have been designed. How is the claim that the universe came into existence through pure naturalistic methods not an extraordinary claim?

I would also consider it an extraordinary claim to say that objective morality does not exist.

I hope my thoughts are clearer here. Thanks for the responses.

Ethical Objectionism:(Objective Moral Values, Moral Objectionism)

According to the ethical objectivist, the truth or falsity of typical moral judgments does not depend upon the beliefs or feelings of any person or group of persons. This view holds that moral propositions are analogous to propositions about chemistry, biology, or history: they describe (or fail to describe) a mind-independent reality. When they describe it accurately, they are true—no matter what anyone believes, hopes, wishes, or feels. When they fail to describe this mind-independent moral reality, they are false—no matter what anyone believes, hopes, wishes, or feels. There are many versions of ethical objectivism, including various religious views of morality, Platonistic intuitionism, Kantianism, utilitarianism, and certain forms of ethical egoism and contractualism. Note that Platonists define ethical objectivism in an even more narrow way, so that it requires the existence of intrinsic value. Consequently, they reject the idea that contractualists or egoists could be ethical objectivists.

Or if you prefer Richard Boyd:

1.Moral statements are the sorts of statements which are (or which express propositions which are) true or false (or approximately true, largely false, etc.);
2.The truth or falsity (approximate truth...) of moral statements is largely independent of our moral opinions, theories, etc.;
3.Ordinary canons of moral reasoning—together with ordinary canons of scientific and everyday factual reasoning—constitute, under many circumstances at least, a reliable method for obtaining and improving (approximate) moral knowledge.

A little less mysterious.


Thanks for the clarification. However, I still don't know what exactly is meant by the criteria listed in your quotes. Take the comment about "mind-independent reality" for instance. You think that God somehow "grounds" moral truths, right? Well, doesn't that mean that moral truths are dependent on God's mind? So on the above account of moral objectivism, it seems like the morals grounded by God are not objective, because they do not aim to describe a mind-independent reality. But don't you want to say that God's morality is objective? So then what do you mean by requiring a "mind-independent reality"?


Everything you say about Steve's definition of "objective" as used in "objective morality" applies with equal rigor to "objective" as used in "objective physical reality". Is it your contention, then, that "objective physical reality" is similarly 'mysterious'?

Or are you, as already charged, simply being disingenuous?


If you think that physical reality is mind-independent then it does not depend on God's mind. If you think that physical reality depends on God's mind, then it is not mind-independent. So in that sense, the argument does work the same, yes.

On another topic, I do request that people stop speculating that I am being disingenuous or otherwise dishonest. It is quite insulting.


To help us, is your mind real?

God is not Mind. He is Love. Love, being the only Uncreated, is, if we can cheat with word-smithing, "more real" than everything else, or, more "objective". But of course the Derived is just as "real" as the Un-Derived. Form and State are not a comment on real-ness, although you seem to think so. Sub-Photon fluxes, and the forces which weigh in, are "real". Yet we cannot weigh and hold them and tell one another of their shape and color, so to speak. But the Uncreated is perhaps M-Theory's eleven strings (which is illogical as it pre-supposes X to explain X, and so answers nothing), or, the Uncreated is Love Himself strumming on those strings for simple delight, but, either way, you and I face the same need to define "real" or "objective". If by "objective" we mean "real" then that is easy. If by "objective" we mean "touchable" then Ben's Mind begins to become "non-real" if "non-objective" and thus your arguments here die the death of circularity as it is contaminated by the Subjective.

I believe I think. I think thinking is a real event. I think about love, and, I love thinking. I love. If I love thinking about love, then which half of that is Objective? Subjective? We each make a claim on Ultimate Reality don't we. God is Love. Which is a whole other matter. But since you seem interested in Mind: Is my mind "real"? Is your mind "real"? By "real" do we mean "objective"? At what point inside our skull does the Subjective magically transform to the Objective? Once the immeasurable sub-quark fluxes and the larger photon fluxes get all jammed in close enough to then yield "mass"? Is that the transition? How does Ben define 'objective'? Is consciousness real? What will Mankind's Consciousness ever, ever, in the far off future, "come to know"? The Agnostic seems to think he knows. Can you show me my mind, your mind? More importantly, can you show me "all" of it? Is any of it tied to other realities by strings? Could it be? "Objective" means many things to many people. I think you mean that it is something that has mass, or something that is external to the random flux of photons reverberating amidst the sea of bi-lipid membranes ever downhill constrained by the Net-Sum of aimless forces acting upon them. It seems your whole thesis has stemmed, our has been touched, at some point, by such Non-Objective nuances beneath the sub-quark realities inside your brainstem and is thus invalid, for anything that reverts to the subjective is guilty of circularity.

If the Derived is in a different Form and State then the Un-Derived, is one or the other "less real"?

What is Un-Derived, Eternal? M-Theory's Strings? No-Thing/Nothing? How is this different than Love? Than Mind?

Logic. Love. Thinking. Consciousness. Are these "real"? If consciousness is "real" then what shape is it? What color? How do you define "objective"?

(My appology to str)

A helpful definition of "objective", the way that we moral objectivists use the term, would be: "existing apart from/outside human opinion" or the like. An example would be the difference between the statement, "vanilla ice cream is the best flavor" and the statement, "aluminum is a malleable material". The second statement is true regardless of anyone's opinion, and hence objective,the first one is not.


Thanks for the response.

However, there are at least two serious problems with defining "objective" moral values as those which exist external to human opinion. First and foremost, nothing in our moral experience justifies inferring the existence of nonhuman beings, much less nonhuman beings who happen to share many of our moral values.

Second, there doesn't seem to be any reason to prefer nonhuman moral values to human moral values. For example, suppose there exists a race of alien (i.e. nonhuman) beings who are very similar to us insofar as they form cooperative societies and share a common moral experience. Simply by virtue of being nonhuman, their moral values satisfy your definition of objectivity. Yet I very much doubt you would be willing to say that they have objective moral values without God.

So, it's not enough to say that moral values are "objective" iff they exist external to human opinion. The Christian apologist needs much more than that.

Why do we assume neutrality? What makes proof of God necessary for belief and disproving God is not required of the nonbeliever? I'm suspicious of the "setup".


Well it's not exactly "required." You're welcome to believe in God without justification if you like. It's just that some of us are interested in minimizing our unjustified beliefs. So if I come to realize that my belief in God is unjustified, I'm going to respond with doubt and skepticism. Maybe you don't respond the same way, which is fine.

It all comes down to interests and dispositions.

Hi Ben, thx for the reply. I take exception with your inference, such moral rules would indeed be objective, existing outside of the human mind. what I would take issue with, is the authority of such laws if they came from aliens, supposing they existed. Secondly, you arbitrarily assume that the God of the Bible does not exist, and I would contend that unless He does, one cannot prove that anything at all is objectively real and not an illusion of the mind, a "matrix reality"(if you're familiar with the movie the matrix). I can justify our shared belief in the objective reality of the material world this way: since God treats the world the same way we do, that its objectively real, and since he cannot lie, that belief must be true. However, how do you justify that belief?


What if I only believe because God made it possible for me to believe by giving me that belief? What would you say of that interpretation? That is what I believe, but it isn't of my own ability that I believe it. That idea tends to ruffle feathers in a lot of different camps. That isn't my intention, but I find it hard to debate with someone that rejects the Truth in light of that conviction.

Hi SCBrown, I have a question for you: Are you a materialist? Correct me if i'm mistaken, but it seems to me that you presume that only material things are real when you ask: "If consciousness is real, then what shape is it? What color?"


Well I agree that it would be inappropriate to call alien morality "objective." But that's sort of the point. It shows that whatever you have in mind for objectivity goes well beyond merely nonhuman existence. There must be some other ingredient, as yet unspecified.

Also, I'm not assuming that God doesn't exist. I'm an agnostic---I think perhaps God really does exist, but then again perhaps not. We just can't say one way or the other.

As for the matrix, I agree that we cannot prove we are not in the matrix. But I don't see how it helps to say that God exists, unless you add that God is the sort of God who wants us not to live in the matrix. I don't see how you can get that from Christian theology though. For instance, in your argument above, you suggest that God treats this world as if it were not the matrix. Yet I don't see that anything in Christian theology tells us God treats the world we see as nonmatrix. I'm not even sure what you'd expect him to do differently if we ever did become trapped in the matrix.

Even so, you are welcome to simply presuppose that God exists AND that he has created such a world where we are not in the matrix. But why add on the extra assumption that God exists? Why not simply presuppose that we are not in the matrix?


My feathers are safely unruffled. : )

Actually, that's very similar to my old position, back when I was still a professing Christian. I knew I didn't have any justification for my belief, but I persisted in my belief and chalked it up to the work of the Holy Spirit. I figured that God was more or less implanting belief in me as a free gift.

But after a while I lost my belief, so that was that.

Hey Ben,I think you're missing the thrust of my argument. We both believe in the objective reality of the material world, and I can and did justify that belief. It seems to me, however, that you did not, but asked instead, "why not just assume that we're not in the matrix?" One, doing so is unjustified, or arbitrary. Arbitrariness doesn't prove anything. Secondly, if we take your approach, so much for "being interested in minimizing unjustified beliefs" ;-) .

Ben, in addition to what I said earlier, the first verse of the Bible makes the very assumption of the objective realty of the material world by asserting that He created it, just as we assume the same thing by debating what reality actually consists of, or includes.


I'm not sure it's accurate to say that I "believe" we are not in the matrix. I certainly assume it in everyday practice. But I do not claim to know that we are not in the matrix. It's just that I have a sort of psychological preference to the assumption that we are not in the matrix. If that counts as a belief, I do not claim it to be justified.

As for minimizing unjustified beliefs, notice that I used the word "minimizing" instead of "eliminating." Certainly we are going to be stuck with unjustified beliefs. Some of these will not trouble us---the belief that we are not in the matrix, for instance. Belief in other minds is another example. But in those cases we should be humble about our epistemic situation, and admit (to ourselves if not others) that we don't have any justification. If our belief persists after that, so be it. But most of the time that does not happen---belief evaporates when we realize we have no reason to believe.

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