This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig - please help me to understand, why must God be good? You have stated that goodness is fundamental to our concept of God, but why? What if our concept or definition of God is wrong? Why is it necessary that God be a being worthy of worship? Is that simply a condition that we have established to suit our preconception of God? Could a being like the gods of H P Lovecraft exist, immortal and amoral?
I respect your reasoning, and often feel that the inherent goodness of God is taken as a given, but I'm unclear why. Thanks!
"It is conceptually necessary that God be good. That is to say, goodness belongs to the very concept of God, just as being unmarried belongs to the concept of a bachelor."
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
It seems to me that that last line says it all: “it is conceptually necessary that God be good. That is to say, goodness belongs to the very concept of God, just as being unmarried belongs to the concept of a bachelor.” Think about it. If someone said, “Why must a bachelor be unmarried?” we’d explain to him that by “a bachelor” we mean an unmarried male. Certainly, we could re-define the word “bachelor” to mean something different or could imagine a language in which “bachelor” means something different, but that has no relevance to the fact that the concept of being (what we in English call) a bachelor entails being unmarried. The conventionality of the words we assign to certain concepts doesn’t make the concepts themselves conventional.
So with regard to God, the concept of God is the concept of a being that is worthy of worship. That’s what we mean in usual theological contexts when we use the English word “God.” The word itself is conventional; we could use instead “Dieu” or “Dios” or “Gott” or “Bog.” But if one is not talking about a being worthy of worship, then he’s just not talking about God. He’s talking about something else, say, the creator of the universe or the cosmic designer, who may not be good. But necessarily, he’s not talking about God. So, sure, there could be immoral and amoral gods, but in that case God presumably does not exist (unless you think He created these lower beings).
As St. Anselm saw, God is the greatest conceivable being. If there were something greater than God, then that would be God. But necessarily the greatest conceivable being is good because it is better to be morally good than morally imperfect. So when we talk about God, we’re talking about a perfectly good being. If you use the word “God” to talk about something else, then you’re just not talking about God. Again, the conventionality of the words we use does not make the relevant concepts conventional.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.