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Why must God be good?

Ryan S. from the UK writes:

Are there any reasons philosophically why God must be good and not evil or indifferent?


CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear Ryan,

Thanks for writing in.

God is by definition worthy of worship. Can such a being be indifferent or evil? Of course not. For a being truly worthy of worship, there can’t be anything greater than or equal to it. It is singularly supreme, and necessarily so. And such a being will be good in the best way possible. And what’s that? To be essentially good: the very source and ground of all goodness. Obviously, if something is the very ground of goodness, it cannot fail to be good, and thus can’t be evil or indifferent. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be the standard of goodness. See Is God ‘forced by His nature’ to be loving?

But are we justified in believing such a God exists? Here, I think two arguments are useful to show this: the ontological argument and the moral argument.

The ontological argument says that since a worship-worthy being can exist, it must, since part of what it means for something to be worthy of worship is that it necessarily exists. Thus, if such a being can exist, it must, and thus it does. See Ontological argument: God is uniquely supreme and Reverse ontological argument?

The key to this argument, however, is whether such a being is possible. If it isn’t, then it can’t exist. But I think in most cases, while we may be willing to grant the need for some sort of evidence to declare that something does exist, most people will generally admit that, as long as there are no inconsistencies or absurdities entailed in the existence of some being, that such a being can exist. In other words, we’re generally biased towards needing a reason to think that something does exist, but the opposite is the case for possible existence; we’re biased towards granting possible existence to anything for which there are no obvious inconsistencies or absurdities. Thus, all else being equal, I think that most people would grant the premise that a singularly supreme being could exist. But if so, then the ontological argument shows that they are committed to the existence of such a being by force of logic.

Still, a general a priori assumption in favour of possible existence absent any inconsistencies or absurdities may seem to many a rather flimsy foundation on which to build a case for God. Is there anything that might ‘buttress’ our thinking on this matter? There are some arguments for the possible existence of a supreme being, but they tend to be rather conceptual, convoluted, and arcane. They’re not easily accessible, in my experience. So, this is where I would turn to more traditional arguments for God to buttress the presumption that He is possible. Of special interest here is the moral argument for God:

  1. If God does not exist, objective morals don’t exist.
  2. Objective morals exist.

Therefore, God exists.

I think we can take premise 2 as a given, here: we know torturing babies just for fun really is wrong, regardless of what anyone thinks. It’s objectively wrong; thus objective morals exist. See Why believe in objective morals? for more information.

The key issue is premise 1: if God doesn’t exist, objective morals don’t exist. In other words, if atheism is true, there is no such thing as objective morals. The only way for this to be false is if objective morals exist in an atheistic world. But many atheists themselves reject this. Dawkins said it really well: “The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”1 See Can atheism possibly explain morality and reason? for more information.

But positively, what makes God a fitting foundation for morality? He is worthy of worship; the greatest conceivable being. More particularly, He is the ultimate source and standard of goodness. We need such a standard for objective morality to exist. Otherwise, moral states are left untethered to reality.

And that standard must itself be perfectly good. After all, which is primal, good or evil? Goodness can exist of itself. It doesn’t need evil to exist. Evil, however, is merely perverted goodness (Why is sin attractive?). As C.S. Lewis explains:

… wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. …

To be bad, he [an inherently Evil Power] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And now do you begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are the powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself.2

And so, we come full circle. God being essentially good is necessary for objective morality to exist. Objective morality exists. Therefore, God is essentially good.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

Published: 28 March 2023

References and notes

  1. Dawkins, R., River out of Eden, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, p. 133, 1995. Return to text.
  2. Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, Geoffery Bles, London, pp. 36–37, 1952. Return to text.