Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is He Keeping His Distance? Or Is He Just Not There?

Special Guest Blogger Today: Professor Eric Sotnak, Philosophy, University of Akron.

There is a response to arguments from evil to the effect that God does not do more to prevent evil because if he were to do so, this would make his existence too obvious to us. God therefore intervenes in the world only cautiously, in ways that could be seen as having purely natural causes. In this way, God maintains an “epistemic distance” from us, that is necessary if we are to come to love and worship him freely, and if we are to take charge of our own lives rather than becoming dependent on God to do everything for us. There are numerous problems with this “epistemic distance” strategy. Here are just three of them.

First, the view seems to presuppose that one cannot freely love and worship God if one knows with certainty or near certainty that God exists. There is no good reason to accept this, however. I am certainly capable of love for all sorts of people of whose existence I am quite certain. Nor does it seem that I would be less likely to worship a God whose existence is in doubt than a God whose existence is certain. In fact, it seems quite the other way around.

Furthermore, if we are to believe the accounts of holy books like the Bible, people like Moses, and Jesus’ disciples had far better evidence of God’s existence than we do, but that did not prevent them from loving and worshiping God. Even Lucifer is represented as rebelling against God in spite of what we must presume to have been great certainty of God’s existence.

Second, many theists maintain that it is possible to prove God’s existence beyond reasonable doubt. Cosmological, Ontological, Teleological, and other sorts of arguments have been proposed as compelling assent from all but those blinded by sin or irrationality. But if it is possible to prove God’s existence, then epistemic distance would be destroyed.

Third, it seems that certainty regarding God’s existence is compatible with taking charge of one’s own destiny at least insofar as that is possible. Suppose God wants me to gather my own food rather than wait for God to provide me with everything. It might be argued that God would be justified in allowing me to starve to death if I fail to gather my own food. But God is omnipotent. It seems he could also easily enough cause in me powerfully unpleasant sensations of hunger which would motivate me to gather food and would cause powerfully pleasant sensations resulting from eating. These would, it seems, be enough to motivate me to act on my own. There would be no further need for me to die as additional deterrent.

The notion that God must maintain epistemic distance from us for us to have meaningful freedom is unsustainable, and thus cannot plausibly figure in responses to arguments from evil.


Tintin said...

This is well stated. As a further point, I have lately been reviewing the D'Souza debates with Schermer, Hitchens and Dennet and I am really surprised at the factual misrepresentations asserted by D'Souza. I think he really counts on the ignorance of the audience. Also, in his latest apologia for Christianity, D'Souza just recycles the old arguments that attempt to justify why a benevolent creator permits us to suffer. I have not encountered one satisfactory explanation for why an omnipotent and compassionate God allows children to die of starvation (and that's just the tip of the iceberg).

Reginald Selkirk said...

Here's something bizarre:

The problem of good almost insoluble for the atheist
by Greg Cootsona

The existence of good -- and the related realities of meaning, purpose, and beauty -- present together an almost insoluble problem for the atheist.

The Rev. Greg Cootsona is associate pastor of discipleship at Bidwell Presbyterian Church, adjunct faculty at Butte College, and convenes the Chico Triad on Philosophy, Theology, and Science, a dialogue group among academics in those three fields.

Tintin said...

Yes, well I think the replies to his statement showed how absurd it is. One thing missing from all of them, however, is that no one points out the fundamental basis of any social system has to be that no one can take another person's life or liberty except by force. This is why it is generally recognized that committing murder in self-defense is not a crime. However, if I intentionally kill someone because I fear with reasonable cause (i.e. I am being attacked) that I will not survive unless I kill my attacker, I may be breaking Christian law in which I am commanded not only to not kill, but to love my enemy. In this case my inalienable right to defend my life is at cross purposes with Christian proscription against forceful resistance. Ultimately, there is no institution or law that will be able to compel humans to give up their right to survive. Yet, Christianity does not expect most of us not to save our lives in the face of aggression; it informs us we have sinned by doing so, but then allows us through forgiveness and faith in its God to cleanse ourselves for the sin of defending our lives. I think it's obvious, that at least in the case of Christianity, if a moral system has developed in which it is a sin to defend oneself against aggression, such a system can only be a human invention or conceit.