It’s a good question — one posed by Ron H. in his comment on my recent “Darwinism and good” post:
What can adequately explain why something is or isn’t good? Equivalently: What is good?
For many (in practice this is most, I imagine), something is good if it turns out the way a person wishes. Good is reduced to whatever is the most pleasant outcome.
This view is problematic in that there is so much more to “goodness” than its typical subjective uses. There exists an objective good, whether or not we can ascertain it.
As a Christian, I view the concept of good through the lens of biblical revelation. The concept is there throughout Scripture, and shows up early on in the Old Testament book of Genesis:
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4, ESV)
Good is that which is wrought by God.
In the New Testament, good is applied on a personal level:
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18, ESV)
And to gifts we’ve been given:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17, ESV)
These are but a few examples that begin to show a biblical view of good. The Scriptures indicate that good is a reflection of God’s actions and his character. Good emanates from God.
Without such grounding, it becomes difficult to quantify good in terms other than mere personal preference. It would seem, for example, that a naturalist — who believes that the natural world is all that there is — has little grounding for appealing to the good. I can say that a little girl’s smile is good, because I know that she is a good creation of God.
Upon what can a naturalist base a view of good?