- God's Own Ethics: Norms of Divine Agency and the Argument from Evil by Mark C. Murphy
By "the argument from evil" Mark Murphy has in mind two views: (1) Evil in the world proves that God does not exist, and (2) Evil in the world shows that God's existence is unlikely. Murphy rejects both of these views. He argues that, given certain understandings of the word "God," there is no reason to take evil as counting against God's existence in any way. While working toward this conclusion, Murphy focuses on three understandings of "God": (1) God as an absolutely perfect "Anselmian" being, (2) God as that being who is supremely worthy of worship by us, and (3) God as that being who is wholly worthy of allegiance from us. With these understandings in mind, Murphy maintains that God's ethics survives the argument from evil in both of its forms. Murphy is not offering a theodicy. He is not attempting to show that God is morally justified for allowing the evils that we find in the world. Nor is he suggesting that the argument from evil fails because we are in no position to fathom what God's reasons for allowing evil might be. Murphy is not even trying to argue that an Anselmian being exists. He aims to explain how attacks on theism that appeal to certain evils in the world can be sensibly rebutted in light of what an Anselmian being would be if it existed. He also tries to explain how an Anselmian being could be worthy of worship and allegiance, as Christians take God to be.
By an agent's "ethics" Murphy understands "that agent's dispositions to treat various considerations as reasons, and as reasons of certain types." For Murphy, "an agent's ethics fixes how various matters play a role in that agent's practical life, shaping and guiding that agent's deliberation and action" (1). With these thoughts in mind, Murphy divides his book into two parts. Part 1 (chaps. 1-6) considers what the ethics of an Anselmian being would be and whether the argument from evil succeeds in calling into question the existence of God given that God is an Anselmian being. In part 2 (chaps. 7-9) Murphy considers whether an Anselmian being could be worthy of worship and allegiance. Murphy divides his book into two parts because he recognizes that part 1's claim concerning the ethics of an Anselmian being needs to be supplemented by an account of how an Anselmian being could be God, considered as worthy of worship and allegiance. So, part 2 builds on part 1 in order to press forward to [End Page 111] the conclusion that an Anselmian being can indeed be thought of as worthy of worship and allegiance.
When telling his readers what the ethics of an Anselmian being would be, Murphy chiefly emphasizes that it would not be "our" ethics — meaning that it would not be an ethics of "familiar welfare-oriented moral goodness" according to which "the welfare of rational and perhaps sentient beings generally" is one of the values to which morally good agency responds (24). A morally good agent is good in this familiar sense, says Murphy, "only if that being treats setbacks to the well-being of rational and other sentient beings as to-be-prevented and so fails to prevent them only when there are other values that bear on the choice that make it appropriate to fail to act for the sake of well-being on that occasion" (ibid.). Murphy then goes on to argue that an Anselmian being would not be a morally good agent in this sense.
The main steps of the argument here are as follows. (1) A "pure perfection" is one that does not presuppose any limitation or weakness, and an Anselmian being must exhibit every pure perfection to the utmost (it could not, for...