Is god torturing babies for fun immoral?
Most of us would react immediately and say “of course”. But this is more of a question for those who believe that all morality comes from god or is defined by god. Usually, when faced with this sort of question, they run through the outcome of each answer (the question is a binary question so there are only two answers: yes or no). If they say “yes” then this necessitates a source of moraliy outside of god that god has to appeal to. If they say “no”, then they are implying that god can do the most obviously horrible acts and still be considered good. This second is more of an emotional reaction but it’s an appropriate emotional reaction.
Of course, the purpose of this question is to find out what the implications are behind the assumption that god is the source for all morality.
This is where the right-minded
believer will respond with “God would never torture a baby for fun”. But this doesn’t actually answer the question. It avoids the question altogether. Imagine a group of collge kids sitting at a bar drinking. Someone comes up with the question “What would you do if you have a billion dollars?” Most people would ponder the question for a bit and then answer with things that they would do given nearly unlimited resources. The point of the question is not the question itself
, but what drives people. What they are really like.
What would the group of college kids say to someone who answers the billion dollar hypothetical with “I’ll never have a billion dollars” or “It is impossible to have a billion dollars”? The question isn’t asserting that you have a billion dollars, it’s asking what would you do if you had a billion dollars. By refusing to answer the question, someone might assume that the poor student has something to hide by not answering the question. Or maybe they lacked the mental faculty to ponder hypotheticals.
If I had a billion dollars I would put half of it in a savings account and live off the interest, and then become a fulltime student for the rest of my life 🙂 From answering that question, a person might be able to gain further insights into my character and what drives me.
So the hypothetical question “Is god torturing babies for fun immoral?” isn’t meant to show how much of a bastard god is, but to question a fundamental premise. To question the nature of morality and whether it depends on the existence of god or not. Some theists might respond with a “definitional” argument; that is, god – by definition – will not torture a baby for fun. Much like, by definition, you can’t put a square peg in a round hole. Human beings also by definition cannot have Superman-like powers but it doesn’t stop some people from pondering what they would do if they have Superman-like powers (some might argue that Superman himself is a commentary on what a person would do with Superman-like powers). So the definitional response still doesn’t address the core point of asking that hypothetical.
Other responses that theists give (that they think are avoiding the question) actually give away the game. Some responses I’ve heard are “If torturing a baby for fun advances life somehow…” or “If torturing a baby for fun gives glory to god somehow…”. The first response is the first class of response. This shows that “advancing life” is the external standard that god has to appeal to in order to be “moral”. Thus morality does not come from god, but from advancing life. As long as we are advancing life, then we can cut god out of this equation. This class of response is the equivalent of answering “yes” to whether god torturing babies for fun is immoral.
The second class of response is more nebulous. How do we know what brings glory to god? This response brings us to Skeptical Theism
. The idea that because god is mysterious, we don’t actually know what is moral and what isn’t. Or modified for this case, we don’t know what brings glory to god and what doesn’t. Some might point to the Bible at this point, but the Bible is just as morally relative as any other cultural product.
What if a little boy out with his family on a camping trip getting dragged away and eaten by wolves brings glory to god? What if having your wife and children raped and killed brings glory to god? It would actually be immoral to try to prevent this! And in the Bible, it is exactly the Midianites who are the “immoral” ones for fighting Moses and the Israelites. In the end the Israelites killed every Midianite man, boy, and woman… but saved the Midianite virgin girls as spoils of war (Numbers 31). This class of response, then, is equivalent with answering “no” to whether god torturing babies for fun is immoral.
In the end, if a person wanted to question whether god is the source of morality, how else would they do it other than by asking hypothetical questions like this?