God is a consequentialist

In this post I will be starting to lay our what my idea of the morality of God is. Many theists, such as William Lane Craig, claim that God is the grounding of objective morality. Either that, or that God is the even less defensible basis of an absolute moral code. I will look at both of these issues.

Let me lay out some groundwork about morality. One popular secular value system for morality is called consequentialism. This broadly states that the moral value of an act is derived from the consequences which the act brings about rather than the intrinsic moral value of the act itself.

Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, was a deontologist. Deontologists believe that the morality of an action is intrinsic and is valued on how well it adheres to objective moral rules. One of the classic criticisms to this position is known as the Inquiring Murderer thought experiment and is as follows. If a murderer came to your house and asked you where his prey was, and you knew, you would be obliged to tell the murderer and thus facilitate the death since there is a moral worth in not lying. Deontologists often claim that you cannot use people for a means to an end, they are the end in themselves. Thus, in the trolley experiment, where changing the tracks will cause the death of one person and not five, it is morally bad to change the track to save five, thus allowing the one to die since you would be using the death of one person to obtain the life of five others.You would be using the one person as a means to an end.

There are many arguments for and against such ethics. Divine Command Theories and Absolute Morality are also examples of deontological ethics. Kant called his rules <i>Categorical Imperatives</i> and you can see how similar they are to religious absolutist rules such as the 10 Commandments. In these cases, one would be obliged not to break the rules in in order to obtain the greater good because you are using the acts, people or other things as a means towards another end. For example, the poor chap who picked up sticks on a Sabbath broke the rule and was killed. The fact that he may have been getting sticks to feed and warm his starving family is irrelevant. Think the Inquiring Murderer. Greater goods are morally irrelevant in these codes.

Pragmatically (and we know this from simulation experiments of the Trolley Experiment), most people act as consequentialists. Myself, I adhere to utilitarianism – a form of consequentialism that values moral good by the amount of happiness an action brings about. This is a simplified definition of a very complex ethical outlook.

So why do I mention all of this? Well, it gives a short introduction to moral philosophy which should illustrate the double standards to which God and theists adhere. I wrote a piece about this, created a video and more recently an essay. I will copy the original passage below:

When debating morality and ethics with Christian theists, scorn is often poured on secular ethicists who adhere to moral disciplines that are not grounded in God. Usually, these moral approaches are consequentialist in nature. In other words, moral actions are defined by the consequences they deliver as opposed to the intrinsic morality of the action itself. The ends justify the means. As an example, such an approach might well be utilitarianism. Though this appears in many guises (for example, act and rule utilitarianism), it basically dictates that a good action is one which derives the most ‘good’, or happiness, as a consequence.
Theists claim that good acts are good intrinsically, and the basis for this goodness is the nature of God himself. Now, I do not want to get into the vagaries of Divine Command Theories but suffice it to say there are many good arguments against such positions.
What is important to understand, however, is that God is not a moral absolutist; he is, at least extremely often, a moral consequentialist. In other words, God does not (again, at least very commonly) believe that actions are right or wrong, regardless of their consequences or the contexts in which the actions take place, but derive their rightness from their context or consequences.
The proof for this is unbelievably commonplace. We could start with the sacrifice and death of Jesus. But there are far more obvious acts (or omissions). Take Noah’s flood. The death of all of humanity bar eight, the death of billions of animals and ecosystems, would strike many as being ‘not good’. Many could argue that such an action (enacted by God) is intrinsically bad. However, God nevertheless enacted this destruction. Why? Because there was a greater good that would come from it – there has to be or God cannot be labelled all-loving. The end justifies the means. God is being a consequentialist.
Let’s look at God allowing the 2004 tsunami, allowing the Holocaust, the floods, volcanoes, fires, other tsunamis and every single natural disaster since the beginning of time... In fact, by God allowing every single bit of suffering, every single death, that has ever happened to any human being or animal since the Big Bang (or Genesis Creation) we can see that on every single occasion God has been consequentialist. The consequences of every single piece of suffering must (if God is all loving, powerful enough to have it otherwise and knowledgeable enough to know how to have it otherwise) outweigh the intrinsic ‘badness’ of the action.
So either God (or the theist) believes that actions are not intrinsically good or bad, or the consequences of the actions are more important than the intrinsic value of the actions. Thus, even if intrinsic moral values exist as well as consequentialism, it seems that consequentialism trumps intrinsic moral value every time suffering is allowed to happen.
Therefore, the next time you get into a debate about morality with a theist and they try to denigrate secular consequentialism, demand that they explain such a criticism in light of God’s ubiquitous reliance on the virtue of consequentialism himself.

So what we have here, by all accounts, is the notion that God himself is a consequentialist. In the next post, I will look at the Old Testament declarations of moral absolutism and show that these are internally contradicted within the texts of the Bible continuing to illustrate the confusing foundations of morality exhibited by God and his folks.

In summary, God’s morality is unclear, contradictory and seemingly derived from values outside of himself.