Asked • 04/28/19

Is there an advantage of a theistic account in terms of being able to define goodness?

I have been watching some debates about the existence of god, such as Peter Singer vs. Dinesh D'Souza, or Christopher Hitchens vs. John Lennox. On the religious side, one argument comes up surprisingly often. It says if you take god out of the picture, there would be no concept of what good is. Goodness cannot be explained in an atheistic world, and so everything would be permissible. Of course, as an argument for the existence of another entity, I find it quite bad, but let's leave that aside. My question is: **Isn't a theistic account of goodness just as unsatisfactory as an atheistic one?** It seems to me that the analysis of _good_ would be _that which god wants_. But how is that comforting? Suppose god would want us to kill all Scandinavians for no apparent reason, then that would be a good thing to do. Or let's say female circumcision is something god wants to happen, etc. It certainly doesn't contradict the idea that god is a good god, as it would just mean that god is in a way in which god wants god to be. So where is the appeal? I guess it lies in the fact that (supposedly) you don't have to think too much about how to act and that being a good person grants you a reward and spares you punishment. But thats the way a legal system could work too. An atheist could just reply, "But that's no problem. Set up a dictatorship that rewards people acting in the way the dictator wants and punishes the others. The rules are those which are chosen by the dictator. According to your (the theists) account of goodness we would have a good system in an atheistic world." (Of course the appeal of eternal rewards and punishment is much greater than it is in this scenario, but that doesnt matter for being able to account for what good is. Also there would be issues of practical nature (e.g. setting up the regime, etc.), but let's leave this aside.) Am I missing something here? It seems to be quite a popular argument and I'm surprised that it pops up rather often in debates like that. So I want to know, how does this give the theist any advantage over the atheist, when it comes to being able to explain the concept of goodness, from a theistic or an objective perspective?

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