Does goodness really exist?

It’s a question of faith.

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Flagler University, St. Augustine, FL. © Dave DuBay

What is “the good”? We’ve debated this question since ancient times.

More to the point, is goodness objective? That is, does goodness go beyond personal opinion?

The morass of opinion

If goodness is subjective then it’s relative. There would be contradictory notions of goodness, negating the existence of goodness as an absolute.

And if goodness isn’t objective then progress is a less meaningful notion. You can progress in your personal beliefs, but someone else might think your beliefs are wrong.

Is libertarianism or socialism more in line with the greater good? If goodness isn’t an absolute then one person’s idea of progress is another person’s idea of regression.

If goodness is objective, however, then objective progress is possible. But no one can say they have goodness all figured out, so we’re still grappling with subjective opinions. Even infallible revelations can’t escape this problem. The Bible and the Koran are allegedly the literal revealed word of God, but both can’t be true.

This leads to two options:

Postmodern relativism

We can believe that good and evil are in the eye of the beholder, which means accepting that progress is also subjective and relative.

Of course, relativism doesn’t mean anything goes. No one believes that. But it does mean there’s no objective way to settle a disagreement over what’s good, and therefore what’s right and wrong.

The problem with the Nazis is not just that they didn’t think that they were wrong—they actually thought their actions were right and good. A relativist cannot absolutely say that the Nazis were wrong. A relativist can only hope to persuade more people to abhor rather than admire the Nazis.

This leads us to a postmodern position: There is no Truth with a capital “T,” so what matters is winning the argument rather than finding the truth.

Faith

Another option is to believe that absolute good exists. This is faith—there’s no way to prove it. Relativism doesn’t require faith in the same way because a belief in absolute good is a belief in the existence of something while relativism is what you have left when you don’t take this leap of faith.

Further, goodness requires intentionality, which in turn implies consciousness. So to believe in absolute good is to believe in God, insofar as one accepts the belief that God is good.

But this leaves other questions unresolved: being perfectly good requires stopping evil, and being all-powerful provides the ability to do it. Yet, evil exists.

Another problem is that while many religious traditions believe miracles like resurrections and people walking on water, these events flatly contradict our experiences of how the world works.

So maybe God isn’t all-powerful. But that’s an opinion.

A tense situation

It’s a stark choice: Relativism’s condemnations of great evil are weak, and relative progress is not most people’s idea of real progress. A relativist must live with the tension this moral weakness creates. Absolute goodness, on the other hand, requires faith in God.  A believer must live with the tension resulting from difficult questions such as the problem of evil. And while God doesn’t have to be the biblical God, this option is less appealing to many people.

We must accept that it’s our lot to ask existential questions we can’t answer. And we must constantly remind ourselves that we’re fallible and prone to self-justification. Even if we choose to believe that absolute goodness exists, we must accept that don’t fully understand it and are guaranteed to frequently get it wrong.

In either case, rigorous self-criticism and constant striving to be a better person is the best solution.

Published by Dave DuBay

Dave is a Florida man. He blogs at https://davedubay.wordpress.com. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

One thought on “Does goodness really exist?

  1. In the words of Jesus, only God is good. But the Bible also says love doesn’t condemn, so if God is really love. . .
    We are better at condemning ourselves though. And creating our own version of what we think God is which is why every time we do something we have to create a god that called us to do it.
    God gave us freewill. We have dominion over this earth. People struggle with this because they don’t believe God can be all powerful and man can be free. He gives us wisdom to make the best choices but human nature still has a tendency to corrupt everything under the sun. And besides all of that, the world still goes on and on.

    Like

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