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).