Ep27-The Relation of Moral Obligation and God in LDS Thought (Pt 1) - The Problems of Theism & The Love of God Ch 3


In his contribution to The New Mormon Challenge, Francis Beckwith argues that the LDS view of God(s) cannot explain the existence of objective moral obligation and that the “classical” view which he purports to defend can.

https://www.amazon.com/New-Mormon-Challenge-Francis-Beckwith/dp/0310231949

Topics Discussed:

• Beckwith's Argument
• Why Beckwith’s Argument Necessarily Unsound
• Are Moral Laws Logically Dependent On God’s Nature?
• Is God a Morally Perfect Being?
• Beckwith’s Equivocation in His Use of “God”



Show Notes:

THE RELATION OF MORAL OBLIGATION AND GOD IN LDS THOUGHT

“In his contribution to The New Mormon Challenge, Francis Beckwith argues that the LDS view of God(s) cannot explain the existence of objective moral obligation and that the “classical” view which he purports to defend can.”

“Richard and Joan Ostling assert:
[Traditional Christianity] provides a theology of God being. Mormon theology has more in common with “process theology”: it is a theology of becoming. One difficulty is in satisfactorily tying a theology of becoming to an ethic of moral absolutes. . . . [Mormonism] does not resolve the problem of how a philosophy of becoming can posit a moral philosophy of absolutes or normative ethics. . . . [I]f a finite God with limits who did not create the world out nothing is off the hook on the question of being responsible for the existence of pain and evil, this leaves open another question: from where do we derive the principle of moral good? It is a difficult question if . . . Mormonism favors the principle of an absolutist or normative ethic. With a finite god, and a philosophy of progressive becoming, how does one introduce the idea of universals? How does one define moral goodness without the moral sovereignty of God?”

“Such arguments are based on meta-ethics and not ethics proper. That is, such arguments are based on the theoretical underpinning of moral obligation: “What is the source and explanation of the fact that we have objective moral obligations?” They are not based on the practical ethical question: “What are we morally obligated to do?”

“However, I believe that such judgments are fundamentally shortsighted with respect to the LDS view of the relation between ethics and God. The revelations of the Restoration point to a profound and thoroughly Christian view of ethical obligation that is not available to creedal Christians.

-In addition, I argue that creedal Christians cannot adopt the view that moral law is grounded in God’s nature, given the constraints of an adequate moral theory.

-I argue that Beckwith’s position is necessarily false because he takes all moral laws to be logically necessary.

- Moreover, I argue that the moral law cannot be the result of a rational mind if it is grounded in God’s nature.

-I also argue that if God is “necessarily good,” as the argument implies, then God is an amoral being in whom we cannot repose interpersonal trust.

-Finally, I argue that the view of God which Beckwith critiques is not necessarily the LDS position.”

Beckwith’s Argument

“According to a prominent stream of LDS theology, God the Father is a resurrected, ‘exalted’ man named Elohim, who was at one time not God. He was a mortal on another planet who, through obedience to the percepts of his God, eventually attained exaltation, or godhood, through ‘eternal progression.’”
Beckwith contends that, given this view of “God” it follows that “the Mormon God is not the being in whom morality ultimately rests, for the moral law is something that he had to obey in order to achieve his divine status.”

“if God’s decrees and acts are good, they are only good because they are consistent with an unchanging moral law that exists apart from him. God’s decrees are not good merely because they are God’s. For God was himself once a man who, through obedience to certain eternal principles and laws, eventually became God.”

VS his view

“In contrast, he argues that there is a neat explanation for the existence of the Good and moral obligation in classical thought. He claims that God’s commands are necessarily good and morally obligating because “God’s nature (or character) is such that it is eternally and perfectly good. That is, God’s commands are good, not because God commands them, but because God is good. Thus, God is not subject to a moral order outside of himself, and neither are God’s moral commands arbitrary. God’s commands are issued by a perfect being who is the source of all goodness.”

Says LDS believe in Moral absolutes

“Beckwith then outlines five conditions of “moral laws” which he maintains must be met by any adequate moral theory.
-First, moral laws are capable of being known; otherwise, we would have to be moral skeptics about our ability to conform to the moral law.
-Second, moral laws are necessarily capable of taking the linguistic form of a command that conveys the content of the law “to another mind.”
-Third, moral laws have an incumbency or “oughtness” about them that obliges us to act in conformance with them, though we are free not to do so.
-Fourth, a moral law is capable of inducing feelings of guilt in us when we violate it, although we can resist that feeling.
-Fifth, moral laws are not physical in the sense that they are material or extended realities; they are purely ideal realities.”

“Beckwith then contends that the LDS view is incapable of giving an adequate account of moral obligation and laws. To make this argument, he suggests that the LDS view does not fit well with Platonism or the philosophy that there are simply ideal moral absolutes.”

“He also reviews the divine command theory (the view that an act is good or evil solely because God wills or commands it),
 a “Rawlsian” social contract theory (which bases moral obligation on voluntary and implied contracts among “ideal” persons in the social context of the society in which they reside),
Aristotle’s theory of final causes (which bases moral theory on the fulfillment of human nature),
and a theory of moral properties emerging from physical realities (the view that moral obligation arises from the natural environment and supervenes in physical states of affairs in much the same way that complex properties such as mind arise from biological complexity in the theory of evolution).”

He concludes: “The above options seem to be the most viable alternatives to classic Christian theism that Mormonism could appeal to, but they all fail.”

Why Beckwith’s Argument Is Necessarily Unsound

“Beckwith maintains also that there is “an unchanging moral law that is true in every possible world.”

“If God exists in every possible world, it means that, no matter how we conceive things, it is impossible to consistently think of any way the world could possibly be without including God. ”
“However, this latter proposition is dubious at best.”...explain

“God (as conceived in the conventional tradition defended by Beckwith) does not exist in those possible worlds where there are vast amounts of unjustified evils.”...umm probably need to explain this one a bit....

“Thus, it also follows that moral law cannot be dependent on God or be included within God’s nature, because they can exist even if God does not ”

“The view that moral goodness must be independent of God’s existence in some sense is strongly supported by our moral intuitions. Consider the following conditionals:
P. If God did not exist, no one could be morally good or bad.
Q. If God were not loving and just, no one could be morally good or bad.”

“An analytic truth is one that is known to be true by virtue of the meaning of the words used, such as: “this wife is married.”

There is no world where torturing a baby is ok because 'torture' entails 'a morally objectionable act'

“Beckwith would undoubtedly counter that a possible world where there are sentient beings but where God does not exist is impossible because God exists of logical necessity and any world with sentient beings can exist only if God creates it. However, such a view requires us to alter the nature of logical space to assert that possible worlds where there are unjustified evils are not really possible. Such a view is a very large stretch of logic to make room for a logically necessary God. In any event, until we have some compelling argument to support such a revisionist system of logic, the assertion that God exists of logical necessity is dubious at best.”

Are Moral Laws Logically Dependent On God’s Nature?

“My objections to Beckwith’s view are versions of Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma. In its standard version, the dilemma is posed as follows: Is an act good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good? To take the first horn of the dilemma is to adopt the view that moral laws are arbitrary. For God could then command us to kill innocent children just for the fun of it and that act would then be our duty because it is good. On the other hand, if we assert that God commands an act because it is good, then we acknowledge that there are moral standards independent of God’s command by which we judge the goodness of God’s command.”

Beckwith says: “God’s commands are good, but not because God commands them, but because God is good.”

“First, I argued that it makes God’s commands arbitrary: “If God’s nature is logically prior to God’s will, then God is stuck with whatever his nature happens to dictate—and in this sense moral values are clearly arbitrary.”

Beckwith responded by guessing: “What Ostler seems to be saying is that God’s nature is a sort of impersonal, undirected force to which his will is subject.”

He then drew this conclusion: “Thus, if God commands, ‘Don’t torture babies for fun,’ because he wills it in every possible world’ torturing babies for fun is wrong, and that principle is the result of a good nature, then God’s command is ‘arbitrary’ because he has no control over the nature that apparently directs his will.”

“Beckwith is correct that I reject his view (that moral goodness is a constituent of God’s nature) because I accept (as does Beckwith) that the moral law arises only in the context of interpersonal relations. If the moral law is located in God’s nature, then it does not arise solely in the context of interpersonal relations. God’s nature obtains prior to any interpersonal relations in Beckwith’s view of God. I also accept Beckwith’s suggestion that the moral law requires a personal mind to give it existence and content. Yet if the moral law is located in God’s nature, then it cannot be the result of a rational mind, because God’s nature is logically prior to any rational thought God may think.”

This moves us back a step with Euthephros Dilemma:

“If God is good by nature, then he has properties of goodness in every possible world in which he exists. Thus, in every possible world in which he is located, God has properties such as being perfectly benevolent, loving, kind, etc. But if we identify moral goodness with God’s nature, as Beckwith does, then we must ask: Is God good because he has these properties, or are these properties good because they are God’s?”

“If God is good because he has these properties, then we imply that there is a standard apart from God by which we judge his goodness. That is, God isn’t the ultimate standard of moral goodness; rather, the moral content of his properties is the standard of moral goodness. On the other hand, if properties such as being generous, loving, kind, etc. are good merely because God has them, then their content is not important; what is important is that they have a certain “owner” rather than a certain moral content.”

“Beckwith can respond to my arbitrariness objection only by impaling himself on the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma: If the moral law is not arbitrary, then there must be moral standards independent of God’s nature. In this case, the moral standards are established by the meaning of the words used and not by God’s nature.”

Is God a Morally Perfect Being?

“Beckwith also seeks to defend his view of God against the argument that, if God is perfectly good by nature rather than by choice, then God is an amoral being. The argument is essentially that, if God is perfectly good by nature, then he is not a moral agent because a being who must, of logical necessity, do what is good is not free to do what is wrong and therefore is not free in a morally significant sense.”

“Given the choice between moral freedom and perfect goodness, Beckwith argues that we should give up moral goodness.”

Says... (but) “if it is possible for God to be tempted by evil and choose against his character, then it is not unthinkable that He would do so.”

The point seems to be that if God really could do evil, then such a thought is very uncomfortable because we must admit the real possibility that he will do evil.”

“I agree that, if God is free in a morally significant sense, then it cannot be logically impossible that God would do evil; what I deny is that the logical possibility of God’s doing something evil is a reason for failing to trust or have faith in God. Indeed, I claim something profoundly more important and significant for religious faith: In the absence of genuine ability to go wrong, we cannot genuinely trust or have faith in God in any significant sense.”...how so?

Gun in safe story/analogy

“Could I trust my wife to be faithful to me if it were impossible for her to be unfaithful?”

“Epistemic warrant or certitude is not the same thing as trust.”

“We cannot trust a rock to abide by the law of gravity even though, necessarily, it will do so. We cannot trust a machine, the weather, or a law of nature. We may depend or rely upon them; but we cannot repose our trust in them. Nor can we trust logical necessities. We can only trust persons when we repose faith in them to do as they say they will. ”

“What is wonderful in our relationship is that she is free to choose to end the relationship at any time but freely chooses to love me and remain faithful to me. Such freely given love is more valuable to me than any love that would be impossible for her to refrain from giving. It means that her love for me is a choice, an expression of who she is and what she chooses to give.”

“Their faith is in logic and necessity rather than God.”

“It is logically possible that such a being could do something wrong, but in the presence of his love, trust in him is the only meaningful response.”

Beckwith’s Equivocation in His Use of “God”

“Beckwith acknowledges that “one can find in contemporary Mormonism at least two distinct identifiable views of deity: (1) plurality of finite gods theology; and (2) Monarchotheism, a view that holds that there is one eternally existing though finite God, who is above all the other gods.”

-Sidenote..who holds the 2nd view other than you?

“Let me make clear that, in my opinion, we ought not consider God to be the only ground of moral laws and obligations because that view is unacceptable. ” How so?

“There are at least three different views of an “eternal God” in LDS thought:
1. There is the view (critiqued by Beckwith) that the Father became “God” at some first moment through obedience to moral principles that were given by a prior god, the Father’s Father.
2. There is another view that there is “an Eternal God of all other gods” and this eternal God is the Father (which Beckwith calls “Monarchotheism”).
3. There is the consideration, compatible with either 1 or 2, that there is an eternal Godhead of three divine persons. Although a divine person may become flesh, as Christ did, there is always a Godhead from all eternity who is the “one eternal God” of scripture. Views 2 and 3 seem to me to be consistent with LDS scripture, and I believe that they can be reconciled with the King Follett discourse as well. I do not believe that view 1 is consistent with LDS scripture. However, even in view 1, there is an acceptable sense in which there is an “eternal God” that can function as a source of moral law and obligation: in the sense that there has always been an eternal chain of three divine persons. Although a divine person may become flesh, as Christ did, there is always a Godhead from all eternity who is the “one eternal God” of scripture.”

“in view 1, there is an acceptable sense in which there is an “eternal God” that can function as a source of moral law and obligation: in the sense that there has always been an eternal chain of gods who act as one council of gods. This eternal council of gods could eternally function as the ultimate authority, moral and otherwise. Even though the Father has not always been God in this view, there have always been gods who act as one Deity to govern the universe.”

Comments

Popular Posts