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In all Abrahamic religions it is taught that everything that God does is for the good. Is it philosophically possible to argue that our universe is good without arguing from the perspective of a consequentialist?

An obvious problem with arguing that our world is good, is all the barbarity in nature, and when we as humans left nature (agriculture), we inflicted upon ourselves evil as barbarians of war, and violence.

A story Schopenhouer recounts highlights this very well. "Junghuhn saw an immense field entirely covered with skeletons, and took it to be a battlefield. However they were nothing but skeletons of large turtles, five feet long, three feet broad, and of equal height. These turtles come this way from the sea, in order to lay their eggs, and are then seized by wild dogs (canis rutilans); with their united strength, these dogs lay them on their backs, tear open their lower armour, the small scales of the belly, and devour them alive. But then a tiger often pounces on the dogs. Now all this misery is repeated thousands and thousands of times, year in, year out. For this then, are these turtles born. For what offence must they suffer this agony? What is the point of the whole scene of horror? The only answer is that the will-to-live [the world-will] thus objectifies itself"

I know that Nietzsche argues against making a value judgement on life; to quote him, "The consensus of the sages-I comprehended this ever more clearly-proves least of all that they were right in what they agreed on: it shows rather that they themselves, these wisest men, agreed in some physiological respect, and hence adopted the same negative attitude to life-had to adopt it. Judgements, judgements of value, concerning life, for it or against it, can in the end never be true. They have value only as symptoms, they are worthy of consideration only as symptoms; in themselves such judgements are stupidities."

It is a difficult point of view for me to understand; how can one genuinely argue that this world is good?

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  • So do you want it argued philosophically or theistically? Because those are two very different things.
    – Conifold
    Jan 21 at 5:45
  • Philosophically. I stated theists because it is well known that it's a fundamental part of their religious beliefs, at least in modern times.
    – Arcanus
    Jan 21 at 5:53
  • They do have philosophical arguments for it that go under the name of Theodicy, but those are predicated on the existence of a benevolent God. On secular accounts it is already problematic what good/bad even mean as applied to the world, but arguments for "cosmic goodness" go back to Plato. See organicism.
    – Conifold
    Jan 21 at 10:35
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    There are "serious" philosophical arguments for every position and its opposite. Are these arguments "genuine" (in good faith) or argumentation for its own sake or some ulterior motive... it's impossible to know. Jan 21 at 15:51
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    agree with @AmeetSharma you'd be amazed what theists can "do"
    – user57343
    Jan 21 at 16:41

2 Answers 2

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No need to make such complex logical analysis. Sometimes religious propositions are not logically consistent. For example:

Everything that God does is good includes the devil (because God created it all, or else it is not God, but one of many). Conclusion: the devil is good.

Such argument allows concluding that in order to follow a religion, in general, two options are available:

  • Either a subjective interpretation which fits subjective contradictions (see @Dcleve's answer, for some doctrinal, that is, group-subjective interpretations, that are not necessarily consistent); this is the way by which most religious/theists are able to accept religious statements;

  • or either no interpretation but dogmatic acceptance with the evident and consequent lack of logic regarding the whole (religious radicalism or religious fundamentalism). Although this approach implies rejecting logic, such rejection is logically consistent with this pure form of belief. Some religious openly reject logic and science, which is consistent with this argument: belief in God (ergo, on theistic arguments) does not admit doubt.

Punctually to the question, from a theist perspective, everything that God does is good must be accepted dogmatically.

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    Rodolfo -- One CAN be a theist, and not be a dogmatist. I cite myself as an example. Also, there are lots of dogmatisms that are not religions. It is more useful to think of religions, or any firmly held worldview, as a self- supporting memeplex. Most criticism will not dent the whole, and the plex includes protective memes that help deflect critiques. An effort to help question those beliefs, to be successful, must find a fault line that the protective memes do not shut down. I have found Objective morality, Euthyphro, flaws of DCT, and PofE in combo open other theists minds.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 21 at 16:27
  • Materialists/physicalists, if you are debating a knowledgeable theist, may have less success with this line of discussion, because one of the protective memes of a religion is to attack the validity of the critique from the criticizer's worldview, and objective morality is difficult to defend without causal realism for abstract objects (abstracts are non-material/physical). That this line of discussion is useful for me may not be 100% generalizable.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 21 at 16:37
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There are many ways we have come up with to try to understand morality.

  • Under Rights Ethics -- the carnage on that beach is a horror.
  • Under utilitarian ethics -- the carnage is a horror if one is maximizing the utility of the individual living entities
  • But utility can be done over all of future entities, or over species, or ecosystems, or of Gaia -- and from these other utility perspectives, the beach is -- an unfortunate but not very important cost.
  • One can also do "balance" ethics -- and for them mayhem is of minor interest, so long as the balance is maintained.
  • One can also do virtue ethics -- focusing on truth, or love, or creativity. Under Truth that beach is not good. Under Love it is a horror. But under Creativity -- agents lived, acted, died, but recreate the next generation -- a Creativity virtue would not condemn that beach.
  • Under a Values ethic -- that beach had living things creating much value until that point -- the death was an evil, but one that seems intrinsic to life -- al life will die -- but so long as more life follows, yet more value is created.

You mentioned religious claims of this being a "Good" world -- none of these arguments support that this is the BEST of all possible worlds, or successfully address the Problem of Evil. The moral framings that tell us that beach is a horror, are correct. What the alternative framings support, is that this world, while morally imperfect, may be far better than a world with no life in it at all. This does not answer the Problem of Evil, but it CAN say this is still a worthwhile place, far better than a dead world.

When I have discussed the inability to defend the maximal goodness of this world with Mono-theists, the final position the best of them have generally fallen back to, is one based on fallibilism of worldviews, and pragmatic utility of theirs. The inability of the justification of ANY worldview to survive in depth scrutiny, is something one can discover from pursuing philosophic debates. Philosophers are generally excellent at skewering and dismissing their rival's arguments, with cogent critiques -- but less excellent at building their own alternative justifications. The Munchausen Trilemma, and the pluralism of logic, provide the theoretic background to understand why this will ALWAYS be the case, for basically ALL worldviews.

If one accept that worldview fallibilism is intrinsic to worldviews, then a failing for monotheism is -- no longer a critical flaw. If there are refuting test cases for all views, then the criteria for acceptance has to be something different from "no falsifications". The justification then becomes pragmatic utility -- the good that this worldview brings to the holder and the society/world around us when it is adopted.

They also pointed to the good PARTS of this world, to note that at least it is not under the control of an EVIL deity, and emphasized the fallibilism of human reasoning -- holding out the hope that this world MIGHT actually BE maximally good, but our failings might lead us to not discern that.

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  • It ultimately comes down to the question of whether having true free will is better than having no suffering. Once you think the latter is better, then without a doubt this world is highly inferior to the optimal one.
    – user21820
    Apr 21 at 17:23
  • The free will excuse for evil is logically invalid -- one can have free will and no suffering. It is also refuted in observation -- the extreme value of free will relative to suffering that the arguers assume, is not achieved in our world. We have very limited freedom of will, and under "absolute freedom is the maximal good" assumption, that makes our world very imperfect, and still leaves a major problem of evil. Plus, the question itself makes your reply irrelevant. The horror of the slaughter of the turtles has nothing to do with free will.
    – Dcleve
    Apr 21 at 18:24
  • @user21820 The answer I put together was arguments for why the world is in general more good than not. There is no answer for why the world is not perfect -- IE the problem of evil -- other than that we do not have an omni-God in our universe.
    – Dcleve
    Apr 21 at 18:47
  • You're wrong. You relied on the unjustified anthropocentric assumption that I was referring only to human free will. No. If there are powerful other beings that a God created prior to this world, the free will of those beings also have to be taken into consideration. If a being with true free will wants to cause suffering, you must either curtail that free will or allow suffering, and the more powerful that being is, the more suffering you have to allow to preserve free will.
    – user21820
    Apr 22 at 10:16
  • To anyhow claim that someone else's point is logically invalid without even thinking properly about it is just silly as well. I won't waste my time if you're not interested in having a sincere discussion at all.
    – user21820
    Apr 22 at 10:17

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