Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Evil Isn't the Problem, the Concept of God Is.

For years, I have been arguing that the evil atheist—someone who thinks that the existence of suffering in the world makes atheism reasonable—must be prepared to give a hypothetical outline of the sorts of evidence that they would find to be consistent with God’s existence. That is, unless they are just being dogmatic, the evil atheist needs to say what the world would look like if an omni-God exists. This is only fair since they are arguing that the existence of suffering, or the state of the world that we inhabit, is inconsistent with the existence of God. If it looks like there is no God here, then what would it look like if there were a God? A sudden cessation of the some evil like the genocides in the Sudan or Rwanda, or a miraculous cancelling of a tsunami wouldn’t do it. If a tsunami was suddenly, miraculously stopped, we’d have to wonder: “Well, where the hell was God when all of that other nasty stuff was happening? If he saw fit to do something here, then why not the bubonic plague, the Holocaust, or cancer? An omni-God would have done something about all of those, so there is no omni-God.” Suppose the evil atheist insists that there never would have been any suffering in the world from the start. Is that a satisfying answer? Not really. Hick and others have plausibly argued that real moral growth in free, finite creatures like us requires a challenging world that is not a hedonistic paradise. We need to see and learn from the consequences of our actions, and there need to be challenges in the world that we must meet in order for us to acquire certain kinds of moral and intellectual growth. Hick and this variety of theodicist need to argue that not even an omnipotent God could have achieve the same sort of moral growth in us by any other less painful method, and I haven’t seen a convincing argument to this effect. But the plausibility of the theodicy is at least great enough to raise doubts that the evil atheist should insist that a good God would make our world a paradise. It’s also possible that no matter how little suffering there was, and no matter how optimized an omnipotent God made the world with regard to suffering, the evil atheists would still be complaining. The worst of the suffering might only amount to an occasional paper cut, but they’d still be insisting that that shows there cannot be a loving and powerful God watching over us.

So roughly, the suggestion is that evil atheists are often being dogmatic. No state of affairs would really satisfy them with regard to suffering. They cannot outline empirically manifest circumstances that would convince them that God is real. So there’s something amiss deep in their argument.

But here’s another possibility. If God is an impossible being, then there could be no empirical circumstances that are consistent with his existence. That is, if the concept of God just doesn’t make sense itself, then no amount of theorizing about hypothetical worlds will give us a picture that reconciles God with reality. God’s existence isn’t going to fit into any of those descriptions of states of affairs because the very notion of God itself is rationally corrupt. God doesn’t fit with suffering or anything else because God just doesn’t make sense.

What does that mean? Deductive atheology has taken a couple of approaches. First, it has been argued that a single, essential property that is attributed to God is incoherent. Omnipotence or omniscience is impossible, for instance. And since God wouldn’t be God without omnipotence, then God is impossible. In a related set of arguments, logicians and philosophers have begun to suspect that since after centuries of effort we cannot devise an account of what omnipotence and omniscience are, the right conclusion to draw is that there really can be no such thing. This is not a deductive argument that they are impossible, as such. It’s more of a throwing up of the hands—nobody has been able to give a sensible account of the properties so it’s time to move on. It doesn’t make sense, after a point, to keep trying to sustain our concept of the aether, phlogiston, or caloric. At the very least, these arguments shift the burden on proof heavily onto the theist. If you think there is a God, you really owe us an account of what that being is that makes some basic sense. We’ve seen countless descriptions crash and burn now, so you’re really not entitled to move forward or have us take you seriously until you addressed some absolutely fundamental issues. See several of my earlier posts about omnipotence, omniscience, and deductive atheology for details.

The other approach that the evil atheist can take here is to say that the reason we can’t describe a world consistently with God and suffering in it is because the properties that are attributed to God are inconsistent with each other. God is alleged to be free and all just, or all merciful and all just, or transcendent and physical, or immaterial and the cause of the universe, for instance. But these pairs of attributes produce hopeless contradictions. (On a side note, the history of theology has produced countless tomes that engage in bizarre and baroque gymnastics to reconcile these sorts of problems in describing God. I recommend you only read enough of these to get the general sense of what they are doing. Any more will make you chew your own leg off like an animal stuck in a trap.) So God(MJ)—a God who is all merciful and all just—is impossible. And since no being who lacks M or lacks J is worthy of the name, there is no God.

When we understand the arguments for evil atheism in this framework, we can see that the evil atheist’s case is really pointing to a much deeper, more serious problem that has nothing to do directly with suffering. We can’t reconcile God’s existence with the problem of evil in the world because the notion of God itself is incoherent. And until the theist can provide a description of God that makes some sort of provisional sense in the light of these widely argument problems, their position can’t even get off the ground.

18 comments:

Ketan said...

Matt,

I didn't understand why the argument that--the God just could have not made a world where there'd be no CAUSE (including human behavior and factors in physical environment) for suffering--is worthy of acceptance, if we're to call the same God omnipotent as well as all-good (benevolent, kind etc.)? If all the physical factors like floods, diseases, famine, etc. that cause suffering would have not been CREATED (as against eliminating them after their creation), and if the thoughts and tendencies that could lead one to do wrong (evil) would have not been instilled in the human mind, then there'd have been no suffering, and the God would have still been omnipotent, omniscient, and all-good. But, our world is NOT like that. What's the harm if in the process the world would turn out to be a 'hedonistic paradise'?

There's nothing different here that I've proposed from what you've anyway stated in your prior posts. But, I really didn't understand why do we need to accept incorporation of a moral 'learning curve' in the argument for a PERFECT God? A perfect God could've created us with perfect moral system without any suffering. Sending us, humans, with possibility of sinning when it'd been entirely possible to do away with such possibility seems a very circuitous and cruel (as it causes perceptible suffering) method of developing human's moral system.

I'd done a very amateurish post in an attempt to explore the basis of my morality. Would love to have your comments there:

http://ketanpanchal.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-morality.html

Take care.

Aristos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Deductive atheology is my favorite approach. Believing in the logically impossible is a departure from sanity. Logical and sane reasoning are synonymous. Deductive atheology is the strongest type of argument against God, since inferential atheology leaves open the possibility of God, making faith rational--which it cannot be because it is faith. This displays the inherent irrationality of belief in God that is supported by an ever-increasing body of evidence indicating robust relationships between faith and mental illness.

mikespeir said...

"Hick and others have plausibly argued that real moral growth in free, finite creatures like us requires a challenging world that is not a hedonistic paradise."

I think Ketan has already hit on this, but what would be the point of moral growth in a hedonistic paradise? There would hardly be the need.

M. Tully said...

Granted, the omni-God is logically incoherent. But historically, the rules of logic have had to change over time to match newly acquired data (no reason to think that our current generation has reached the pinnacle of observation).

So could I change my mind? Certainly. If Omni-god begins to spontaneously heal amputees, save his/her select (whoever they might be) from tragedies by violating every known law of nature, scientifically demonstrate that intercessory prayer causes significant differences in causal event outcomes and moves the stars around in a day to places that astronomers on every corner of the globe can agree didn't happen naturally, not only am I believer, I'm an evangelist.

A tough list of criteria you might say. Not really. An omni-god would have caused my brain to be empirically oriented, would know that to be true and given that s/he was the cause and also the eternal judge of my of future, would certainly provide the evidence necessary so that I did not err (I use the word I but I'm definitely not the only empiricist on the planet).

So do I find omni-god logically incoherent? Absolutely.

Based on that am I dogmatic about accepting evidence for omni-god's existance? Absolutely not!

Is the evidential bar I set really high? Yes it is, but we are discussing an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and omni-benevolent intelligence. For such an intelligence, it seems to be a rather low hurdle.

Anonymous said...

I don't think P and not P has ever changed. Things that are contradictory do not exist. If you changed your mind about the omni-god you would have to dogmatically reject the principle of non-contradiction, since a contradictory entity has never been observed and also cannot be inferred or deduced.

Chuck said...

When I was a Christian, I never had a problem with tsunamis or earthquakes. What changed my mind was the amount of unnecessary suffering inherent in evolution. Take Tay–Sachs disease. Infants with Tay-Sachs disease appear to develop normally for the first six months of life. Then, as nerve cells become distended with gangliosides, a relentless deterioration of mental and physical abilities occurs. The child becomes blind, deaf, and unable to swallow. Muscles begin to atrophy and paralysis sets in. Death usually occurs before the age of 4.

What would it take for me to reconsider my position? I think nothing short of the falsifying evolution will do.

Anonymous said...

"Deductive atheology has taken a couple of approaches. First, it has been argued that a single, essential property that is attributed to God is incoherent. Omnipotence or omniscience is impossible, for instance. And since God wouldn’t be God without omnipotence, then God is impossible. In a related set of arguments, logicians and philosophers have begun to suspect that since after centuries of effort we cannot devise an account of what omnipotence and omniscience are, the right conclusion to draw is that there really can be no such thing. This is not a deductive argument that they are impossible, as such. It’s more of a throwing up of the hands—nobody has been able to give a sensible account of the properties so it’s time to move on. It doesn’t make sense, after a point, to keep trying to sustain our concept of the aether, phlogiston, or caloric. At the very least, these arguments shift the burden on proof heavily onto the theist"

Just because we cant amke sense of something doesnt mean its false or fantasy. Does a nomad in the african desert have justification for dismissing TV because he hasnt the scientific understanding of E and B fields?

M. Tully said...

Anonymous,

"I don't think P and not P has ever changed."

A good general observation. However, at the subatomic level, P and not P existing simultaneously, frequently does appear to occur.

Also, I never dogmatically change my position on anything. But that aside, I accept non-contradiction (in the way I accept everything else) as rule that has never been falsified to date. If as in the above discussion, it were falsified in one instance, I would still accept it as a generally reliable tool, I just have new information that tells me it's not a 100% reliable. Hell, I don't throw out general relativity just because it breaks down at the quantum level.

Anonymous said...

Wave-function collapse is not observed, it is inferred. An equally efficient system that conserves the PONC is justifiable given that--since there is no means of confirming P and not P in the absence of observation--to say there is or is not a contradictory entity when there is no means of observation is an appeal to ignorance. WFC is one of many equally justified theories given the nature of justification via coherence (the negation of any system is as justified as the affirmation): however, since the PONC is required for logic itself it is preferred, as there would be no sufficient reason to accept any other approach since there would be no logical reason to do so. The Principle of Sufficient reason would go out the window as well. We might as well go back to alchemical spirits and communing with the beyond by getting rid of the PONC; there would be no sufficient reason to do otherwise.

M. Tully said...

"Wave-function collapse is not observed, it is inferred. "

So how should I view the data from the two-slit experiments? I contend that P and not P holds whether you use the Copenhagen or the Many Worlds interpretation. In any event, I have to assume P and not P to get the most probable outcomes. Which is all I'm concerned with; I want the best method of explaining what is observed and predicting future events. Metaphysical certitude may (does) make me feel good, but it doesn't test well empirically. If the evidence dictates a supernatural entity, I must accept it, even if it means I must change the rules of logic I use. Given with the available evidence to date, I place the probability of having to change my views at somewhere around 10^-34, I'm still not dogmatic about it.

Anonymous said...

There is more than the Copenhagen and other indeterminate interpretations of QP, and a contradiction cannot be inferred or deduced unless you abandon the cornerstone of logic--which is the PONC. That has to be done dogmatically since there is not a sufficient reason to abandon it given that the POSR is predicated on the PONC. As for how to explain the slit experiment you could say that photons and waves exist independently at currently unknown instances rather than together at known instances.

Also, a logical principle is true in every possible world, and in every instance in every world. If you say it isn't in at least one world or instance then it is not a logical principle. That makes logic itself breaks down. Anyhow, this is getting off topic.

M. Tully said...

"Also, a logical principle is true in every possible world."

How do we know? We have no data on any other universe;)

Your right it is way off topic, but it was fun.

Anonymous said...

wow this other anon is impressive! Can we clone you?

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