Is God Morally Accountable?

Atheists often express concerns over the behaviour of God. This concern is based on the ‘recorded’ behaviour of such a God in certain texts, or the behaviour that can be inferred when working on the assumption that a God exists. I maintain that such a concern is also the result of a level-head, unfettered by religious leanings. The atheist’s clear head on judging Gods is mirrored in many religious people evaluating the God of another religion. However, the meta-narrative point of the “Moral Argument for the existence of God” argues that God―the One True God™―is the very definition of morality. This questions whether God is morally accountable for what It does.

We should first deal with the atheist position, of course. That would be to maintain that God is not the definition of morality because (a) there is more doubt surrounding God than morality (b) there is significant doubt surrounding morality (c) morality is relative and defined by humans (d) morality is defined by some natural phenomena (e) there is no morality (f) some combination of more than one of the above. To entertain whether God can be held morally accountable is basically a game of literature: we are accepting a fiction for the sake of an interesting discussion. That is something we must never lose sight of in these conversations.

To a theist, morality is robustly defined by God. But we immediately run into problems: should we do unto others as we would have them do unto us, or should we wage wars and keep slaves? Is it a case of “thou shalt not murder”, or is defining of “murder” flexible enough as to allow ‘killing’ whenever? Essentially, the question is whether a knowable robust moral system actually exists in a religious framework. “Knowable” is important here, so long as contradictions exist but people still espouse confidence, what are we to do? Should I believe the Westboro Baptist Church and ISIS, or my grandma’s methodist congregation? And how can such a distinction be made?

But, let us assume that a robust moral system does exist. And let’s assume that “Do not create an organism whose life cycle necessarily causes the pain and suffering of others” falls under such a robust system. This not only forbids humans from creating a predator to release into the wild or to engineer a virus, it also bans God from creating… everything: all living creatures exist in a state of dissipating energy via predation (excluding plants). It is not just the eye-burrowing parasites that Stephen Fry refers to that are banned, but lions, tigers, foxes, humans. All predators necessarily cause death and suffering. Is God, therefore, morally responsible for the “nature red in tooth and claw” that It created?

Part of the answer of that question depends on whether one accepts the premise that God transcends morality. We certainly don’t believe that about our politicians; although they are the authors of our laws (a proxy for morality) they are never assumed to be above the law. However, to investigate and enforce the law, certain flexibilities do exist: the police can search and seize and trespass in their line of duty. So, perhaps we do acknowledge that is the pursuit of justice the normal moral rules can be subverted. But if the police could write, investigate and rule on the law, we would immediately acknowledge the tyranny of our situation. We intentionally have different bodies that can keep each other in order: politicians watch over the police, the police can arrest a politician. To say that God can be trusted to behave as all departments―to be a tyrant―is simply to assume that anything God decrees will be moral.

That argument is not without its supporters. There are people who believe that morality is simply the nature of God. But that does away with the robustness―the absoluteness―of religious morality. The only way I have ever seen this resolved is the assertion that God’s omnipotence, omniscience and morality are all extensions of the same thing; although we refer to them as different things (to suit the context we are speaking in) it is actually the case that there is only one quality―some nameless metaquality―that when met fully would appear like optimal intelligence, power and morality. But, from that, it would follow that optimum intelligence would result in (at least the knowledge of) optimal morality i.e. morality could be reasoned out. For that, we then do not need God.

We could, in theory, investigate whether this metaquality exists. It would follow that increased intelligence results in more moral actions (if this metaquality is real). However, I could not find one research paper in Google Scholar to confirm such a correlation. So, this metaquality would not only do away with the need for a God, but it also is not supported by the evidence.

Our situation, therefore, is that God either can be held a robust moral system, there is no absolute system but there is accepted tyranny or God is not necessary for morality. To word that differently, if God is necessary for morality, It is either the case that It can be held accountable to a moral standard or that God has authored a tyranny and convinced us to consider it moral (despite being the very antithesis to what any of us might mean when we use the word).

Categories: Religion

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29 replies

  1. A god who cannot adhere to our standards of morality is not worthy of worship.
    A god who submits to our morality is not god.
    So the moral choice is clear: A god who may exist but with whom we need not concern ourselves, or a god who is not god.

    • …or a god that is not good.

    • Can you further explain the statement “A god who cannot adhere to our standards of morality is not worthy of worship.”

      Does God require our worship to be God?

      • If god doesn’t need us, we don’t need god.

        • For me the answer as same as “If government doesn’t need us, we don’t need government”.

          I rest my case.

          • I disagree Hifzan[ maybe someday we will agree] with your analogy. A government refers to specific something. You can tell what it is, it’s nature and how it operates, the same isn’t true bout gods.

            • Makagutu,

              My reply are based on fundamental, philosophy and general overview of nature of God.

              I don’t like some who write an header articles in position of “When God existed” with conclusion “When God do not existed”. And, when being ask, it change the position to “If God existed”. So, what is your actual position, (1) Yes, (2) No, or (3) If.

              Two-headed snake were already worst, this is three-headed snake. Please pick a position when replying, it more easier to understand.

              For me, this is stupidity and lying to own self.

          • That’s a complete non-sequitur, but in any event we certainly don’t need ‘divine’ governance.

            • My reply based on “When God exist” and it follow the sequence, bla, bla….

              Your answer are supposed to based on premise “When God not exist” therefore we certainly don’t need ‘divine’ governance.

              In this basis, you are the one who not follow the sequence of premises as earlier you did mention “A god who cannot adhere to our standards of morality is not worthy of worship.”

              Which in my humble understanding, you are mentioning as:

              “When God exist, God who cannot adhere to our standards of morality is not worthy of worship.”

  2. I agree with all, but….. Not wanting to be nitpicky, predation “excluding plants”, one word: kudzu. Certainly plants compete and eliminate their competitors. They certainly “prey” on other species. Come on down here in the sunny South and see Kudzu in it’s full glory!! God made it too!

  3. Any talk of morality only makes sense when there are obligations to others. A man living alone in nature has no need for morals.
    A god who dictates morals but doesn’t live up to the same has no business talking of morality

  4. Allallt,

    This questions whether God is morally accountable for what It does.

    May I know, to whom God are accountable?

    • Hi Hifzan,
      If one is morally accountable, one is morally accountable to the person they have wronged. So, God would have to be accountable to the individuals suffering from bot fly larvae or bone cancer etc.

      • It depend.

        A suffering if being declare earlier (not necessarily worldly term and condition), it may not being accounted.

        As Muslim, we believe that, God have make a covenant to all children that being born to world as mention in Al-Araaf 172:

        And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we have testified.” [This] – lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, “Indeed, we were of this unaware.”

        Be Sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere”(2:155)

        Calamities and misfortunes are often tests from Allah.

        The Quran is no less than a Reminder to (all) the ‘Alamin (mankind and jinns).

        In this case, to remind all promise, term and condition that have been made/agreed before being born to the world.


  5. Is any being that is not responsible for their own existence worth worship? That is to say, if a being did not do anything to earn their place in the hierarchy of existence… why are they worth worshiping?

    • How can anything earn its existence?

      • It can’t… but that is not really my question. My question deals more with a being’s place in the hierarchy of existence. If God exists, then by default he is the most powerful being… but what exactly did he do to earn his place as the most powerful being? It would seem that if one had to work hard to obtain their power, they might actually be worthy of worship. But if you just have power and did not work to obtain it, then why is that worthy of worship? It would seem to be no different than worshiping the ocean. The ocean is very powerful, but it did not work hard to obtain its power. Neither God nor the ocean can even account for why they exist… nor can they account for why they have the power they have.

  6. Paragraphing will be helpful.

  7. “e) there is no morality” So…no. Amen.

  8. I don’t know if God is morally accountable. Frankly is there is a God like Yahweh he can go fuck himself. 🙂

    But seriously, that was a big part of my dropping of Christianity, and a criticism of Judeo-Christian religions in general, because the way God is portrayed it is clear that most humans I know are far more kind and compassionate. And if that’s the case, quite honestly I might as well burn for eternity, because being in the presence of someone who, according to our understanding appears to be a psychopath doesn’t sound any more appealing, even if he does know how to create planets out of empty space. The Judeo-Christian doctrine puts us all as rats in some grand experiment, so I might as well play my role as the person who used his God given reason to reject his creator. Clearly I’m a probabilistic possibility given the environmental conditions.

    There is nothing in this universe that dictates we are morally accountable to those we wronged. I would say though that it’s the human thing to do. To say you’re sorry, to really mean it, and try to make reparations. It builds trust, and increases bonding, which is important for a social species. I think there are social and thus evolutionary advantages for being accountable. Yahweh is clearly not human so I would say no he isn’t morally accountable. If such a God exists then I kind of thing most of us were screwed from the start. I agree with the first comment that if there is a God it’s most likely some impersonal creator with no personal interest in our lives and no desire for worship.

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